The next morning, I returned to the village alone as a light dusting of snow fell from the sky.
Even though I used my cantus to propel the skis, I had to travel such a long distance that my legs were weak with fatigue. Thoughts of what Maria and Mamoru would do next, as well as all the unknown threats in their future weighed heavily on my mind.
I finally arrived at the dock in Oakgrove and found the place deserted. Even on Sundays there were usually a couple of people hanging around, but I thought nothing of it and simply felt lucky that there was no one to see me.
I untied Hakuren 4 and headed for home. I had used so much of my cantus to get here that I could no longer concentrate fully and my eyes were bleary with tiredness. The canoe drifted from side to side and bumped into the edges of the canal.
Even as I left Oakgrove and made my way back to Waterwheel, I didn’t come across a single person.
I finally began to feel that things were not quite right.
Nothing moved along the banks. It was as if Kamisu 66 had been completely abandoned.
The gentle drift of snow became hard, wet flurries. It piled on the prow of the canoe.
I was shocked when my house finally came into view. My parents were standing together by the dock, without even an umbrella to keep off the snow, which had piled up on shoulders and heads.
“Sorry,” I said to them as I turned to dock the canoe. “I couldn’t come home yesterday…”
They smiled faintly at me.
Finally, my mother spoke. “Are you hungry?”
I shook my head.
“I know you must be tired, but the Board of Education asked for you. Come with me,” my father said gravely.