an English translation of the novel

Page 36-38

I’m going to talk a little bit more about my childhood.

In Kamisu 66, children are required to start going to school at age six. The one I went to was called Harmony School. There are two other similar schools called Friendship and Morality.

At that time, the population was a little bit over three thousand. I only found out after researching about education in the ancient past that having three schools for such a small population is apparently quite remarkable. But this only served to show that the true nature of the society I was born in was a lot more than meets the eye. As for other statistics during the same period, over half of the adults in the community were, for whatever reason, pursuing education related professions.

This is inconceivable for a monetary economy. But for a community based on mutual cooperation, money is not necessary. {The spread of human resources naturally directs itself toward areas that are needed the most, and those people complete tasks as required.}

Harmony School was about a twenty minute walk from my house. It’s even faster by boat, but the oars are too big and heavy for children to row, so walking is preferable.

The school is in a quiet location a little ways away from the town center on the southern edge of Hayring. It’s a one-story structure made of dark, polished wood in the shape of an A. The front entrance is the crossbar of the A. When you go in, the first thing you see is the phrase “Cherish Harmony” framed on the wall. It’s the first article in the Seventeen-article Constitution written by a sage from the ancient times called Prince Shoutoku. It means to build everything on harmony. That’s where the name of our school comes from. I don’t know what sayings are hanging on the walls in Friendship and Morality.

Along the side of the entrance were faculty rooms and classrooms. More classrooms are lined up on the right arm of the A. Although the number of people at school, faculty included, was no more than a hundred fifty, we had over twenty classrooms. The administration wing was on the left and students were not allowed to enter.

In the yard in front of the building were a sports field, jungle gyms and other playground equipment, and an enclosure for animals we raised such as chickens, ducks, rabbits, hamsters and more. The students take turns caring for the animals. In the corner of the yard stood a white, wooden instrument box. No one knows what it’s for; in the six years we were at the school, it was never once used.

The courtyard surrounded by the three school buildings was a huge mystery. Students were strictly forbidden from entering and we never had any excuse to.

Apart from in the administration wing, there were no windows that looked out onto the courtyard. So the only time we had a chance to peek inside was if we happened to be in there when the door was opened.

“…so what do you think is in the courtyard?” Satoru asked us with an eerie grin. We all held our breaths.

“Wait, you don’t know what’s in there either, right?” I couldn’t stand him dragging out the tension like that.

“Well, not personally, but there’s someone who did,” Satoru said, looking annoyed at being interrupted.


Page 39-41

“Who?”

“Someone you don’t know.”

“Not a student?”

“He graduated already.”

“What’s with that?” I made my disbelief obvious.

“That doesn’t matter, just tell us what he saw already,” Maria said. Everyone made sounds of agreement.

“Okay. Well, people who don’t believe it don’t have to listen…” Satoru glanced at me slyly. I pretended not to notice. It would have been better to walk away, but I actually wanted to hear what he had to say.

“When students are present, teachers never open the door that leads to he courtyard, right? You know, the one in front of the administration building that’s made of evergreen wood. But that time, they accidentally forgot to check if there were people around and opened the door.”

“You already told us this,” Ken pressed.

“In there was…an incredible number of graves!” He was obviously exaggerating, but everyone else seemed awestruck.

“Wow…”

“Liar.”

“That’s freaky,” Maria covered her ears with her hands. I told her she was being ridiculous.

“So, whose graves are those?”

“Huh?” Satoru had been enjoying the effect his scary story had on the others and was caught unprepared.

“Since there are so many of them, whose are they?”

“I dunno. Anyway, there was a ginormous number of them.”

“Why would they deliberately put graves in the school courtyard?”

“Like I said, I only know that much.”

It seemed like Satoru was taking the easy way out by insisting that since he only heard this from someone else, he didn’t have the answer to everything.

“…maybe they’re students’ graves?” Ken said, and everyone fell silent.

“Students? From when? Why did so many die?” Maria asked in a low voice.

“I’m not sure, but I’ve heard that some people don’t graduate from here and just disappear…”

The students in the three schools in our town all entered school at the same time, but for reasons I’ll explain later, graduated at different times. But this time it felt like Ken’s words had somehow touched on a subject that was deeply taboo and no one knew what to say to that.

At that moment, Shun, who had been sitting apart from us reading a book, looked over. In the light coming in from the windows, I realized that he had really long eyelashes.

“There aren’t any graves.”

Everyone was relieved by his words, but then a huge question occurred to us.

“What do you mean there aren’t any? How do you know?” I asked for all of us, and Shun answered nonchalantly.


Page 42-43

“There weren’t any when I saw it.”

“Huh?”

“Shun, you’ve seen it?”

“Really?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

We showered him with questions. Satoru looked disappointed at having his thunder stolen.

“I guess I never mentioned this before. Last year, there was one time when the homework wasn’t collected. An assignment on a personal observation for science class. The teacher told me to bring them when they were all turned in, so I went over to the administration wing.”

We all waited with bated breath for him to continue, but Shun took his time marking the book he was reading with a bookmark.

“One of the rooms filled with books has windows that looks into the courtyard. There were some strange things out there, but no graves.”

It seemed like he wanted the conversation to end there.  I still had about a thousand questions I wanted to ask, so I took a deep breath.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Satoru said in an unsteady voice I’d never heard before. “What ‘strange things’? Explain properly.”

You didn’t want to explain anything yourself, I thought, but I wanted to hear Shun’s answer, so I didn’t interrupt.

“Um, how should I say this. Lined up at the far end of the courtyard were about five of what looked like brick storage rooms, with big wooden doors in front of them.”

Although his answer didn’t explain anything, it had a strange truth to it. Satoru, unable to think of further questions, tsk-ed.

“So, Satoru, that one guy who graduated, what did he see again?” I pressed. He seemed to realize that the situation had turned on him and hesitated to answer.

“Like I said, I only heard it from someone else, so I don’t really know. Maybe he mistook what he saw, or maybe at that time there were actually graves,” he dug himself deeper into the hole.

“Then why are the graves gone?”


Page 44-46

“I have no idea…but did you know? That guy saw something even scarier than the graves,” Satoru found a chance to change the subject.

“What did he see?” As I expected, Maria took the bait.

“You can’t ask right away. Satoru hasn’t thought of something scary yet, so give him some time,” I teased, but Satoru was serious.

“I’m not lying. That guy really did see something. It wasn’t exactly in the courtyard, but…”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“So what did he see?” Ken couldn’t resist any longer.

I thought Satoru would be smiling conspiratorially at sharing the secret, but instead his face became expressionless.

“An unbelievably huge shadow of a cat.”

It went completely silent.

At this time, I admired Satoru for his oratory skills. If there were ever a job for making scary stories, he would be the first to be picked for it. Though of course, I can’t think of any society that would have such a dumb job.

“Is that, a copycat…?” When Maria asked the question everyone was thinking, we all started talking at once.

“It seems like copycats show up at the elementary school a lot.”

“But I wonder why?”

“Isn’t it obvious? They target children!”

“They often come out at night during autumn.”

“They sometimes show up at your house, but usually only around midnight….”

We were simultaneously afraid of and attracted to the dark. We were obsessed with scary stories about evil spirits in the mountains and rivers, but out of all of them, copycats were the ones that made us shiver with fright. Although the stories circulated among children were all embellished, most agree that copycats are about as large as an adult. Although they have the face of a cat, their limbs are abnormally long, and they slink behind children like a shadow. When they reach a deserted area, they’ll reach out from behind and pin the child down. The child will go numb as if hypnotized, then the copycat opens its mouth a hundred eighty degrees and chomps down on the child’s neck so he can’t pull away. In that way, not a drop of blood will be spilled, so the child’s body will never be found, and so on.

“And then? Where did he see the copycat?”

“I don’t know whether it was a copycat or not. All he saw was a shadow,” Satoru said confidently, his previous embarrassment forgotten. “But the place where he saw it was really close to the courtyard.”

“Where though? There’s no way to enter or exit the courtyard from outside.”

“It wasn’t from the outside.”

“Huh?” I doubted what Satoru was saying, but then why did I feel a shiver run up my spine?

“It was at the end of the hall in the administration wing and disappeared right in front of the door to the courtyard…”

No one could say anything to this. Although I don’t want to admit it, Satoru got the result he wanted. Anyway, they were nothing more than made up stories told among children. At that time, I still believed that.


Page 47-48

Looking back on it, my days at Harmony school were pretty happy. Even though it was just going to school and meeting our friends, we couldn’t help but have fun every day.

Starting in the morning, we had math, language, social studies, science and other boring classes, but the teachers kept an eye on all of us to make sure we all understood the material, and patiently explained to those who needed help, so there was never anyone left behind. At the same time, we also had a lot of tests — one every three days, if I remember correctly. But most of them weren’t related to what we were learning. It was short essays like “I’m sad, because…”, so they weren’t really stressful.

Rather, what was more difficult were self-expression assignments. Although drawing and clay-sculpting was fun, writing daily essays was annoying. But it’s probably thanks to all the practice I got then that I can write this story without much trouble.

After the boring classes, we spent all afternoon playing. And since we had two days off for the weekends, we spent a lot of time running around outside to our heart’s content.

When I first entered Harmony school, I had already explored all along the lazily winding canals, gazing at the thatched roofs of the houses, going as far as Gold. During autumn, the entire village is covered in golden ears of rice, which is where it gets is name from. But the village is actually more interesting during spring and summer. When you peered into the paddy fields, you could see pond skaters darting on the surface of the water, and loaches and mosquitofish swimming underneath. At the bottom, tadpole shrimp crept about, stirring up mud to conceal themselves among the weeds. In the canals and reservoirs providing water to the farms were giant waterbugs, water scorpions, watersticks, diving beetles, and other insects, as well as crucian carps and various fish. The older kids showed us how to use cotton thread and dried squid to bait crayfish, and after a day, we had caught a bucket full of them.

There were also a lot of birds in Gold. In the spring, the cries of skylarks wheeling through the sky echoed all around, and in the summer, before rice was planted, dozens of ibises frequented the fields to hunt loaches. Ibises mated in the winter and built nests in the nearby trees. The young ibises left the nest the following autumn, and although the sound of their cries wouldn’t be considered beautiful, the sight of a flock of light pink ibises in flight was quite majestic. Other birds that we often saw flying around were black kites, brown eared bulbuls, great tits, Oriental turtle doves, puffer sparrows, triwing crows and more.