an English translation of the novel

Page 148-149

He was pointing at the tree trunks. Their bark didn’t have the usual tortoiseshell pattern like normal red pines. Instead they were covered in lumps that looked like tumors or cancer cells.

Then, I saw that some of them resembled human faces.

Faces twisted in unimaginable pain, screaming faces, faces of the dead.

I shivered and looked away.

“Let’s hurry.”

I was almost prepared to face even more horrible sights ahead. Instead I was amazed by what I saw.

There was a slope that had been more or less cleared by falling boulders. The trees were sparse and the ground was full of mountain azaleas. What was weird was that even though it was already autumn, they were all in full bloom, covering the slope with red and pink flowers and filling the air with the most fragrant aroma I had ever smelled.

“How pretty…” I said, breathing in their perfume and going for a closer look.

“Stop. Don’t touch them,” Satoru caught me by the arm. “There’s something wrong with these flowers. Look,” he pointed down at his feet.

The ground was littered with the corpses of innumerable ants, bees, beetles, spiders, and other insects.

“Don’t you think this smell is way too strong? There’s probably some toxic substance in it.”

“In the azaleas?”

“They’re not normal flowers, no matter how you look at it.”

His words seem to break the spell. I looked at the flowers I had thought so beautiful until now, and shuddered at their deceptive poison.

No, that wasn’t the only reason I had shuddered.

“Where is this chill coming from?”

There was a cold wind blowing from the depths of the forest.

“…let’s take a look,” Satoru said, looking as if he were preparing himself for the worst.

As if possessed, we made our way toward the source of the wind.


Page 150-151

“Snow!” he shouted.

“It can’t be. It’s still autumn. It’s not snowing anywhere.” I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Satoru touched the white powder that covered the roots of the trees. “No…wait. It’s not snow.”

“Then what is it?” I didn’t have the courage to touch it.

“Frost. There’s a lot of it so it looks like snow. I don’t know why, but the ground is much colder than it should be so the water in the air froze.”

The only place where frost never melted was in the permafrost layer deep underground.

It’s all messed up, I whispered to myself. Everything here had deviated from the normal rules of nature.

We took a detour around the frosted area. A hundred meters later, the forest ended abruptly.

“Careful,” Satoru said quietly.

We lay on the ground and crawled toward the forest’s edge.

It was a dizzying sight. Beneath us was a bowl shaped hole in the ground two hundred meters in diameter and a hundred fifty meters deep. It looked like a giant ant lion pit.

“Unbelievable. Did a meteor do this?”

“Sh,” Satoru put a finger to his lips. “There are people over there.”

There were human silhouettes at the bottom of the hole.

“…it wasn’t a meteor. One that’s big enough to make a hole this size would cause a huge explosion. We never heard anything,” he whispered in response to my earlier question.

“Then what is this hole?”


Page 152-153

“Stop asking me about everything.”

“What? You don’t know the answer?”

Satoru looked offended. “I can only hypothesize. The hole was probably made by those people down there.”

“What for?”

“Sh,” Satoru shushed me again.

The two people were slowly floating upward. I was afraid they were going to come toward us, but they landed on the other side of the hole and started walking away. When they were out of sight, Satoru began talking at a normal volume.

“…they were definitely trying to excavate something.”

I stared down into the bottom of the crater. There was something down there, but it was hidden in the shadow cast by the hole. If I were on the other side, I would probably be able to see it. Suddenly I had an idea.

“Satoru, make a mirror over there,” I pointed.

He immediately realized what I had in mind. The air shimmered and blinding rays of light flashed in all directions. They gradually converged and a silver mirror appeared.

“Point it down more.”

“I know already! Yeesh.”

He slowly angled it downward. Soon we were able to see what was at the bottom of the hole.

We were stunned into silence. Hadn’t I come here time and again? Why did I not realize where we were until now?

The mirror reflected a large building almost completely buried in the dirt. Just one glimpse of the dark wood and I knew it was Shun’s house.

 

We didn’t talk much on the way back.

Even though we had come across many strange things in the pine forest, most of our thoughts were focused on Shun.


Page 154-155

I didn’t know what had happened, but it looked like the Earth had tried to swallow Shun’s house whole. It seemed impossible to survive something like that. So why was I convinced that Shun was still alive?

Where was he now? Was he okay? Did he need help? All these unanswerable questions whirled around in my head.

“You said he left home, right? So he’s gotta be okay,” Satoru said, more to himself than to me. “Let’s go look for him tomorrow morning. I’m sure we’ll find him.”

“Shouldn’t we go right now?”

“The sun’s going to set soon. We don’t have a clue where Shun is right now. I know you’re worried, but we’ll have a fresh start tomorrow.”

How could he be so calm? Wasn’t he worried? Unlike Satoru, I wasn’t confident at all.

We arrived at the park where we were supposed to meet up with Maria and Mamoru, but there was no sign of them. We waited for a bit, but decided to go home.

“See you tomorrow, then.”

The words were unsuited for the situation. It sounded like we were parting after a picnic in the park. We went our separate ways; Satoru headed toward Hayring and I took my canoe back to Waterwheel.

Shadows stretched across the village as the sun went down over Mt. Tsukuba. Braziers were lit all over town, making the waterways sparkle with orange reflections. This was always my favorite time of the day, when I could enjoy the scenery as I reflected on the day’s events and looked forward to what the next day had to offer.

I tied up the canoe behind our house and went in through the back door. I was surprised to see that both my parents were home early.

“Welcome home,” mother smiled. “Dinner is ready. It’s been a while since we’ve eaten together.”

Father stared at me as I sat down at the table, then grinned broadly.

“Look at you. You’re all covered in dirt. Go wash up”


Page 156-157

When I came back, I expected my father to ask where I had been, but he didn’t. He was talking about the plans to install street lamps in the center of the village, as it seemed that using only braziers was not enough. But incandescent bulbs would require electricity, which was only allowed to be used to power the loudspeakers in the public hall. So in order to move forward with the plan, they first needed to revise the Code of Ethics.

“No matter how many times we petition, the higher-ups at the Ethics Committee never agree to it,” my father, the mayor, grumbled as he poked at a piece of fish with his chopsticks.

“It would be nice if you could do something about the lights in the library first,” mother said. Her job as head librarian put her in a position even higher than the mayor’s.

“The library already uses a fifth of our annual budget.”

“I know. But we’ve had to work late recently, and the phosphorescent lamps are too much of a hassle,” she pointed at the light above the dining table.

At that time phosphorescent lamps were widely used for lighting. Often called bontan balls, phosphorescent lamps are large circular vacuum tubes whose insides are coated with a special paint containing platinum or iridium. After you charge it up with your cantus the lamp would shine for a specific amount of time. However, it only lasts for about half an hour before the light starts dimming and you have to charge it up again, so that was annoying.

“Right now only Waterwheel has electricity to spare. But it’s impossible to lay down cables all the way to the library in Hayring.”

“Can’t you just build a new waterwheel next to the library?”

“That would be difficult. It would obstruct traffic, and the canals there flow too slowly to produce electricity.”

The more they continued their spirited discussion, the more I felt that something wasn’t right. It was as if they were purposely putting on this show to prevent the conversation from moving in an unwanted direction.

“…hey, do you know what happened to Shun?”

The two of them fell silent instantly.

I felt my pulse speed up. I knew full well this was a dangerous question, so why did I say it out loud? Was I angry at my parents for carrying on such a useless conversation at a time when we were so worried about Shun? Or was I gambling on the chance that I might discover some sort of clue?