Friday, June 1, 2012

Prologue (e)


I wave my hand at Sumomo and Hitomi as they slowly disappear inside the building. The flock of curious students lost interest in me and Junko and disperses.

Meito: "Well Andou, what's the problem with the modifications we made?"

I think I mentioned it earlier, but I'm partly responsible for tinkering on my underclassman's bicycle. We decided to work on it yesterday during our club activities.
I prefer mechanics over electronics so I decided to help Junko with her project. But we didn't even touch the brakes, so now I'm kinda curious to know what went wrong.

Junko: "Here... look..."

We both crouch near her bicycle and examine the Shimada cassette on the rear well. It was supposed to have become lighter and more compatible with the derailleur. The idea was to make changing gears smoother and faster.

Junko: "The chain broke..."

Meito: "Why did it have so much tension?"

Junko: "Modification... I messed up..."

Somehow the broken chain got stuck in the rear brakes and prevented them from working. If I wasn't seeing it with my own eyes, I wouldn't even think it possible.
In the first place a chain shouldn't break so easily, but this one is pretty old. It seems that Junko assembled her bicycle from spare parts that she salvaged from various places.
I'm so focused on the mechanical problem at hand that my senses fail to perceive the incoming of an unsavory character until it's too late.
It's Maaya Teramoto and her groupies, fantastic! I thought I finally got rid myself of her since I've been switched to section A, but it appears I've been too optimistic.
Her aquiline vision, powered by her stylish glasses, infallibly spots me and locks on me.
I try my best to pretend I didn't perceive her evil aura, I keep my eyes focused on Junko's bicycle. I hope that by ignoring her, she will ignore me as well. Naturally, that's just wishful thinking...

Maaya: "Good morning, Oda-san."

Meito: "... Good morning..."

I don't make any effort to hide my displeasure.
What does she want from me? Why me? She didn't even look at Junko, and she is crouched right next to me. I wish I was the one who gets ignored by her for a change.
No such luck though. And I mean... literally.
Wherever Maaya Teramoto goes, luck gets sucked away and only misfortune and despair remains.

Maaya: "I sense a very dark cloud looming over you, Oda-san. It's particularly ominous today."

Here... she goes... again...
I wonder why the kind of hers gets called "fortune teller". "Misfortune teller" seems a lot more appropriate to me. I've never once heard her foreseeing something positive in my future. There's always some kind of disgrace awaiting me.
The sad part is that she's often right. But no matter what she or her groupies say, I don't believe in that occult stuff. It's not like I make a point on denying it, I just prefer to stay out of it.
I said that I don't believe in occultism, but that doesn't mean I'm completely sure that it's all a lie. You can consider me an agnostic.
The bottom line is that I live by the philosophy of "don't wake the sleeping dogs". Whether it is to get their favors or to avoid their wrath, I just prefer not to meddle with supernatural forces. It can't bring anything good.
Naturally Teramoto doesn't share that view. In that regard she's a walking bomb. If spirits and gods really exist, one day she's bound to cause Armageddon.
She is the heir of an important family of Shintoist priests with a history dating back to the Heian period. Or so they claim. But she's not exactly what you would expect from a dedicated miko. She is quite... unorthodox in her approach to the spiritual world.
If you want my opinion, she shows a lot more knowledge about third-rate occult garbage than the philosophical tenants of her religion. She uses her heritage as a way to legitimate practices and rituals that have absolutely nothing to do with Shintoism at all.
How can the crowd of girls that constantly surrounds her not question all that is truly beyond me. But it seems that the girls of my age have a particular weakness for astrology, divination and fortune telling.
As a result it is not an exaggeration to say that Maaya Teramoto is the most powerful person in this school. No one in its right mind would openly go against her, she has far too many followers.
Most of them are girls, or more precisely: practically all of them are females with a very few exceptions. But that doesn't make them any less dangerous.
Which is why I keep wondering why does she keep pestering me. Maybe she thinks I'm too defiant? If that was the case, Junko is even more defiant than I am, as far as I know. She's one of the few girls in this school that can't be bothered by occultism at all.
By the way, Teramoto is also the president of the occultism club. How could the teachers approve something like that is beyond me.

Meito: "What will it be this time, Teramoto? Will I get bad grades? Will I get scolded by Nagaoka? Will I get involved in a scuffle with Baba of 3-D again?"

Maaya: "Far worse! The kind of misfortune I sense is unprecedented! I think your very life is in danger!"

Teramoto's tone doesn't really seem to seriously imply what she says, but the girls around her open their eyes wide as if I've just been sentenced to death. What a ridiculous charade.

Meito: "Hey, hey... don't kill me off so easily now! That isn't fun not even as a joke..."

Maaya: "It doesn't necessarily mean that you will abandon your mortal spoils. No, I don't think it will come to that. But your life as you always lived it will come to an end! And it won't change for the better!"

Nice, so typical of Teramoto. She never makes clear-cut predictions, it would be a problem if  they didn't come true. She makes them vague, and then she elaborates all sort of metaphorical interpretations so that in the end she will always find a way to demonstrate that she was right.
Knowing her, should I change haircut starting from tomorrow, she would say: "See? Your life has changed and not for the best!"

Maaya: "It may not happen today, but today is the turning point! You must act now or all will be lost!"

How clever!

Meito: "So let me guess: you just happen to have with you the perfect charm that will protect me from this impending doom."

Maaya: "Oh my! I didn't know you were gifted with the talent! You might become a seer if properly trained."

Meito: "Please... stop messing with me..."

Maaya: "Here, 2000 yen and it's yours."

Meito: "That's too much!"

Maaya: "What are you talking about?! This is a precious and very powerful charm. Is your life not even worth 2000 yen?"

No matter how you look at it, that's just one of the cheap 300 yen charms that are sold at her temple.

Meito: "I... don't have the money with me..."

Maaya: "No problem, you can pay me later."

Meito: "Well... thanks... but no thanks..."

She would probably ask me to pay the interests.

Maaya: "Is that so... That's very unfortunate. I feel sorry for you, Oda-san."

Meito: "Hey, nothing happened yet..."

Maaya: "But it will! It'll definitely happen. It's a certainty, so it's perfectly logical for me to feel sorry for you right now."

The groupies nod in perfect unison.

Meito: "I'll worry about that when it happens..."

Maaya: "It'll be too late then. Oh well, I did my part. I can't save those unwilling to be saved."

If you are that willing to save me, then just give me the charm for free!
Teramoto sends a quick glance at Junko who all this time did nothing but stare blankly at some point in the distance. For a moment I fear about the consequences of an argument between these two incompatible individuals, but nothing happens.
Teramoto and her groupies walk away, and I can finally sigh in relief.

Junko: "You should be careful..."

Meito: "Don't tell me you really believe in Teramoto's predictions. I thought you were one of the few girls immune to her madness."

Junko shakes her head.

Junko: "Don't make her your enemy."

Meito: "Oh, you mean that. Don't worry, we've been classmates the whole past school year and I survived. I don't think she hates me or anything."

Junko: "That's a good thing..."

I know well what she means, but she's being a bit too serious about it. It's unsettling.
I decide to change the subject.

Meito: "At any rate lessons will start soon, so we don't really have time to fix your bicycle. We can do that after school, during club time."

Junko nods.

Meito: "Let's just take it to the lab for now."

The "lab" is how we call our club headquarter. It's in a building on the back of the school. I think it was originally meant to be a storage room of some sort, now it's basically a workshop. There are all sorts of instruments, tools and spare parts in there.
It's the ideal place for our activities and we don't need to worry about causing too much noise for the other clubs.
I carry my underclassman's bicycle on my shoulder and start walking around the perimeter of the school's main building. She decides to follow me.

Meito: "I can do this by myself, there's no need for you to follow me."

Junko shrugs.

Junko: "Nothing better to do... there's still time."

I wonder if that's her way to be cute.
As she walks beside me, she keeps looking forward without ever moving her eyes in my direction.
The silence is a bit awkward, so I try to strike a conversation.

Meito: "So... how do you like being in the second year?"

Junko: "Not a big deal, really..."

Meito: "Are your friends from the past year still in your classroom? It sucks when..."

Junko: "There's never been any particular person that I care about."

I feel a Siberian wind blowing all of a sudden.
I don't know if I should be more shocked at what she just said or at the fact this is probably the longest sentence that I ever heard coming from her.
I mean, except for when she talks about her projects. She can be pretty talkative then. As talkative as a robot reading a textbook can be.

Meito: "Is that... so? I see..."

Awkward silence. Awkward silence. Awkward silence.
We finally reach the lab, it's quite a chaotic view. There is a distinctive smell of synthetic oil, paint, and burnt metals.
I place Junko's bicycle in one of the few corners that isn't already occupied by appliances, shelfs, tables, stack of spare parts and tools.

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