Chapter 1: Nonexistent Neighbor

—The reason Fukamachi Naoya decided to attend the first lesson of Folklore Studies 2 was simply “I dunno.”

He became a first-year student at Seiwa University’s Humanities Department this spring. Seiwa University was a private university with its campus located in Chiyoda, Tokyo. According to the introduction on the university’s website’s home page, their academic policy was to respect students’ freedom and individuality. But, to Naoya, university was a place that offered him more freedom and space than he could have ever gotten up to this point in his life after high school.

At any rate, he had full control over which lectures he was going to take. With the exception of mandatory classes, he could choose whatever electives he wanted to fulfill his requirements. He had been given a paper with his schedule on it, along with how to pass the classes and details of the lectures. Looking at it, he wholly felt the difference between high school and university. But he had no one else but himself to blame if the classes ended up pointless since the responsibility lay solely on him. He hoped that he didn’t pick any boring lectures or overly-complicated classes. Nevertheless, it was hard to judge a class based solely on its description. If he wanted to know if they were worth taking, he had no choice but to attend the first class.

Folklore Studies 2 was one such elective he picked from the Humanities Department. He didn’t have any particular interest in folklore studies, or, more precisely, he had no idea what kind of field of study it was. He had the vague idea in his mind of people researching local festivals and old folktales. Still, he found the class description a bit interesting, and it included this line: “We will explore school mysteries and urban legends to gain a general overview of what we call folkloristics.”

School mysteries and urban legends… This made Naoya think this class was like something right out of a TV show, so he was interested in how it would be handled in a university lecture setting. The lectures would be in Room 201 of Building 1 during third period on Wednesdays. The one in charge of the class would be Takatsuki Akira, an associate professor in charge of history, folklore studies, and archeology in the Humanities Department.

Naoya entered the classroom and was surprised to see that practically all the seats were filled despite it being a large lecture hall. Even though folklore studies wasn’t a very common discipline, it seemed quite popular. The room was filled with the commotion from energetic students. Naoya reflexively grimaced; he had been bad with crowded places since long ago. He thought about turning around and going home for a moment, but since he was already here, he decided otherwise. Doing an about-face without even listening to the lecture would be a complete waste. He plugged his ears with his earphones and pressed the play button on his music player. He resolved himself, pushed up the bridge of his glasses, and began to walk down the lecture hall’s steps to the front where there were still empty seats.

Just then, he happened to make eye contact with a brown-haired male student along the way. Naoya couldn’t remember his name, but he was certain that they were in the same mandatory language class. The student appeared to have also noticed Naoya. He lightly waved his hand and said, “Yo! What, are you also taking this class?”

Naoya paused his music, removed one of his earphones, and replied, “Ah, um, yeah, I plan to.”

“Cool. I’m probably going to take it too. Hey, did you know that the teacher, Takatsuki, was it? He’s kind of famous. This guy here isn’t even part of the Humanities Department, but he came here just to listen,” the brown-haired student said and pointed to the student sitting next to him. They were probably friends.

Students from other departments could take lower-level classes as electives. Students from other departments joining this class was probably the reason for the massive crowd filling this hall. However, what was this about Takatsuki being famous? Was he someone who appeared on television?

Just when Naoya was about to open his mouth to ask, the brown-haired student leaned over to Naoya and asked, “Oh, right. You see, the rest of the kids in our English class were talking about going for a drink tonight. Wanna come?”

“…Huh? Is it already the season for drinking parties? Isn’t it too soon?” Naoya involuntarily frowned at the sudden invitation. University students had the public image of often going out to drink at parties, but it appeared that this was indeed fact. Incidentally, a majority of first-year students should still be underage.

“It’s fine. There’s no faster way to make friends than this, y’know? You can even exchange info with those in your lectures and clubs. So, what are you gonna do? You coming? I heard there’ll be plenty of girls.”

“Ah… Sorry, but I’ve got something tonight.” Naoya was purposely vague with his words.

“‘Kay,” the brown-haired guy replied with a carefree nod. “Well, there’s bound to be more drinking parties in the future. You can just come to the next one.”

“Yeah, sounds good. Later.” Naoya casually waved his hand and began walking down the stairs again. He could hear the brown-haired guy and his friend talking behind his back.

“Who’s that bland glasses-guy? A friend?”

“Uh, he’s in my language class. I remember him because we all had to introduce ourselves in English for class and our seats are pretty close… although I forgot his name.”

“Dude, then you can’t say you remember him.”

Since Naoya also didn’t remember the guy’s, they were both at fault. As he listened to their conversation from behind, he retorted in his head, “Well, sorry for being a bland glasses-guy.”

Apparently, many people completely changed their appearance to be more fashionable once they enrolled in university, but Naoya didn’t see the need to do so. In the first place, he started living by himself this spring, so he had to hold a tight grip on his purse strings. He felt that there was nothing wrong with him continuing to wear his ensemble from high school of a hoodie and jeans to university. Besides, it was perfect if he was bland. He didn’t want to stand out.

He finally found an empty seat in the second row from the front and sat down. When he did, he heard the conversation of the two girls seated behind him. The clear voice of one girl and the cutesy voice of another girl with a lisp entered his ear.

“That reminds me. Have you decided on a club yet, Yuki?”

“Eh~? Not yet~. But, I was thinking about joining the tennis club~.”

“You were in the tennis club in high school, right? I want to try the announcer research group.”

“Go for it, Kana! You’re good at talking, so you’re totally fit to be an announcer~. Oh, more importantly, remember that get-together I mentioned yesterday~?”

“Ah, sorry. I {have something to do} Friday.”

The clear voice of the girl suddenly and harshly distorted. As if processed through a machine, the highs and lows of the sound were a ridiculous mess. The pitch randomly went back and forth between a deep, low voice that hardly resembled the original and a high-pitched, metallic screeching. Naoya turned around, enduring the chills running down his back. There, he saw a short-haired girl and a fluffy long-haired girl continue to talk as if nothing happened.

“I see. Nothing can be done if you’re busy~.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. I’ll make up for it next time.”

“It’s fine. I’ll ask someone else~. In return, you’ll come to the next one, okay, Kana~?”

“I got it, I got it. {I’ll definitely go to the next one}.”

As the short-haired girl’s voice distorted again, she looked over at Naoya with a suspicious look on her face. He quickly faced forward. When he did, he secretly addressed the long-haired girl inside his head.

I don’t think the girl sitting next to you really likes get-togethers.

Suddenly, the rest of the noises in the classroom began to reach his ears—an assortment of students talking to each other and students chatting on the phone.

“No way. You serious? I’ve always been in {the basketball team} since high school.”

“Eh~? Rikako’s number? {I have no clue~}.”

“Shaddup. {It’s not my mom. I’m talking to my girlfriend}!”

“Come on, it’s just a joke! Don’t worry about it. {Those clothes suit you}!”

The voices filling the large classroom wildly distorted, melding together into an insufferable cacophony. Naoya covered his ears and faced down. Several voices behind him suddenly burst into laughter. He was astonished how they could laugh among all of this. Just then, the voice of the long-haired girl seated behind him went crazy and loudly grated his ears like a shrill violin. Shut up. Shut up. He felt sick and had trouble breathing. This was why he hated crowded places. He really should have gone home. It became too unbearable. He was ready to plug his earphones back in. But it was just at that moment.

“Hello, class.”

That voice— That undistorted voice miraculously made its way directly to Naoya’s ears. It felt like a straight ray of light piercing through murky and stagnant air. He raised his head as he reflexively sought the source of the voice.

He finally noticed a man standing on the platform[1] in front. He wore a splendid three-piece suit over his tall, slender body. He was also holding a microphone, so he was probably the associate professor in charge of this lecture. Still, he looked awfully young for the position.

“Huh?” the man muttered and looked down at the microphone. “Um, my apologies. I forgot to turn it on.”

The man’s voice finally came through the speakers. The chattering inside the classroom changed into laughter. Even those two girls seated behind Naoya giggled. The two girls whispered amongst themselves.

“Oh my god. He’s cute.”

“I mean, he’s so~ handsome! I’m totally going to take this lecture~!”

Naoya thought that this man certainly was handsome with his large eyes, double eyelids, and beautifully-formed nose. A sense of geniality appeared on the smile formed on his thin lips. The word “heartthrob” that often appeared in books was indeed a match for his graceful face that also gave off a gentle air. It was unclear whether his light brown hair was natural or dyed.

“Let me start again. Hello, class. I am Takatsuki, and I will be in charge of Folklore Studies 2. To our new first-year students, congratulations on your acceptance. And to the second- and third-years, let’s have another good year,” he said, surveyed the room, and gave a quick bow.

His voice felt strange as if it was a cloudless sky. His voice was on the higher end of the male vocal register yet it felt soft and nice to Naoya’s ears even through the speaker. It seemed that not only was this handsome man’s face good but also his voice. He was one-of-a-kind, blessed by the heavens. But Naoya couldn’t understand something; he didn’t know why it became easier to breathe when he heard the professor’s voice.

The girls seated behind Naoya immediately looked up Takatsuki on their smartphones.

“Hey~, it says here that Takatsuki-sensei is only 34 years old~!”

“Eh? You’re kidding. He looks like he’s in his twenties! I mean, what’s with him? An associate professor who’s not only young but also handsome?! Hey, is he single? He’s single, right? Can you find it written somewhere?”

“Yup, look~. I knew it. Takatsuki-sensei appeared on TV before. He trended on Twitter as ‘the mysterious, handsome associate professor’ explaining youkai on a special TV program about bizarre happenings.”

“No wonder why I thought he looked familiar.”

Naoya listened to the conversation happening behind him and finally understood. This had been what that brown-haired student meant when he said their professor was someone famous.

“Now then, is there anyone here who can tell me what kind of discipline folkloristics is? …Yes, you there with your phone out. Perfect. Sorry to ask, but can you look up the definition of the word ‘folkloristics’?” Takatsuki looked at the girls behind Naoya and asked. It appeared that he had a clear view of the two girls looking at the phone and talking.

“Ah, u-umm… I-It is a field of study that mainly focuses on the development and history of the lives and culture of the general masses through the examination of folklore…?”

Although shaken by suddenly being pointed at, the fluffy, long-haired girl searched folkloristics online and read out the definition. Takatsuki grinned.

“Ah, a definition from a digital all-in-one dictionary. Thank you very much. But a dictionary definition is a bit too stiff, don’t you agree? Through the examination of folklore …You may hear the words but not understand what they mean. Folklore refers to the manners, customs, traditions, folk tales, proverbs, songs, and dances passed down from generation to generation. People don’t think much of why we have our manners and customs nowadays, but we generally do the same things our ancestors did long ago such as scattering beans and eating ehomaki on Setsubun[2]. We folklorists research how such practices that have withstood the test of time and legends told by parents to their children have come into being and how they have changed with the times. We come to learn people’s lives and their way of thinking through the circumstances that produced legends and their reasons for hosting festivals. This is what this disciple is about. This is folkloristics. Yanagita Kunio’s research on folklore and Orikuchi Shinobu’s thesis on marebito[3] are quite famous, so I’m sure you have read about or heard of these people before.”

The chit-chat among the students gradually died down. Takatsuki’s voice was the only thing that echoed in this now quiet classroom.

“There may be people present among you who already know who I am. ‘He’s the one who appeared on TV before, talking like an expert on youkai.‘ Yes, it’s true that I did that before as my current research is focused mainly on ghost stories and mysteries. Stories—scary ones, strange ones, and ones that involve youkai and spirits—that interest me are the ghost stories and urban legends that are told in the modern age. This includes ‘Hanako-san of the toilet’ and ‘Kuchisake-onna’, although the latter is a bit old. I research the circumstances that brought such stories to light and the stories believed to be their inspiration.”

Honestly speaking, Naoya wondered if doing such could be considered a field of study. Was this handsome man really researching such things?

However, it was a fact that the students inside the lecture hall were beginning to have their interest piqued by what Takatsuki was saying. There was no longer anyone on their phones talking to others. It was the same for Naoya. He didn’t have any particular interest in urban legends, but he found whatever Takatsuki was saying was interesting.

Above all, Takatsuki looked to be the most fascinated despite being the one talking. His eyes twinkled like the sparkly eyes of a child. Naoya had attended several lectures within the several days since his first day of university. He had encountered various professors and lecturers, and each one of them had their own way of lecturing: professors who made zero eye contact with the students and had their eyes glued on the textbook as they muttered the words out loud, associate professors who didn’t care at all about the listeners’ level of comprehension as they rattled on with technical terms, and lecturers who ignored the students on their phone or sleeping and continued to dispassionately give their lecture. Compared to them, this lecturer was far more interesting.

“Now then, everyone, I have two favors to ask. The first is that I would like everyone to cooperate in my research,” Takatsuki said and surveyed the classroom again. “I created a website called Stories Next Door. I posted the link on the folklore studies page on the Seiwa University website, so please take a look at it later. I listed and categorized all the anecdotes of the urban legends I’ve heard and gathered throughout the years, but the general public can also submit their stories. As such, I welcome everyone to submit their own. Whether it’s a story you heard, a strange happening you experienced, or one of the Seven Mysteries back in your school. …Oh, but please don’t make up stories or write lies. Doing such will create new urban legends. While that would indeed be interesting to see, it’ll only be a hindrance to my research and analysis. Hmm, let me explain with an example.”

Takatsuki picked up a piece of chalk for the first time in this class and faced the chalkboard. Naoya thought Takatsuki would begin to write some words, but it turned out to be something that looked like a fat snake. …Or, at least what Naoya thought was a snake. It had no legs, a long tail, and a zigzag that came out of its open mouth, which was probably its tongue.

Takatsuki pointed to what he drew on the board and declared, “This is a tsuchinoko.”

Laughter erupted inside the classroom. It appeared that he wasn’t blessed with artistic talent.

“I’ll explain further about the tsuchinoko at a later date, so there’s no need to take notes on it today. I believe many of you already know it, but the tsuchinoko is a UMA[4] that came into popularity in the 1970s in Japan. Its length ranges from 30 cm to 80 cm. Its head is triangular, its body short and thick, and its tail narrow. In truth, the story of the tsuchinoko dates back quite a bit. The name ‘Noduchi’ appears in Records of Ancient Matters and The Chronicles of Japan as the name of a field god. There is also a god named ‘Notsuchi Hebi’ in Illustrated Sino-Japanese Encyclopedia which was compiled during the Edo period. Although sightings of it had been reported all across the nation from Tohoku to Kyushu and the highest bounty for it so far has been 300 million yen, no one really knows how it truly looks.”

Takatsuki smoothly wrote “Records of Ancient Matters” and “Illustrated Sino-Japanese Encyclopedia Notsuchi Hebi” besides the picture of the tsuchinoko. Compared to his clumsy art, his letters were quite beautiful.

“Let’s say, for example, someone wrote ‘I spotted a tsuchinoko in Yokohama!’ on my site addressed to me,” Takatsuki bent his finger and tapped on the blackboard picture of the tsuchinoko. “When I read that, I will be so happy.”

The classroom broke out into laughter again.

“After that, I would attempt to substantiate the claim. I would find the person who reported such and have them lead me to the location where they spotted the creature. Then, I would investigate the area for some time.”

The class continued to laugh. Naoya also felt a chuckle escape his lips. He had imagined Takatsuki in his stylish suit roll up his pants and enthusiastically rummage through the thicket with a butterfly net in hand.

“Furthermore, I would go around and ask the people living nearby if they had ever spotted a tsuchinoko. I’ve heard of first-hand accounts around Tamagawa and Tsuchiura in Kanto, but I haven’t asked around Yokohama yet. I would surely be zealous in my search for the creature. However, then I would learn that the rumor of the tsuchinoko was, in fact, a lie.”

Then Takatsuki drew a large X-mark over his drawing. “I would surely be absolutely devastated. My eagerness to search for the creature would actually have a terrible, adverse effect. Through my actions, an incorrect legend would be created in the area.” Both of Takatsuki’s shoulders dropped. His face looked dejected as he stared at his drawing.

“Because I went around asking everyone about the creature, the denizens might end up thinking that maybe there is a tsuchinoko in this area. They would say that since a university professor came all the way here to find one, it must exist. Or the people might be under the wrong impression, mistake something else as a tsuchinoko, and propagate the wrong story that what they found was undoubtedly the real thing. If that happens, it’ll be a confusing mess. There was originally no tsuchinoko living in the area, but because I went there, legends of a tsuchinoko sighting would take root without any basis in relation to the area’s land or culture. My attempt to search for a tsuchinoko would be nothing more than bothersome to tsuchinoko hunters and researchers.”

This made logical sense to Naoya since it would cause credible rumors of a tsuchinoko to spread in a place where there never was a tsuchinoko. …That would be if we leave out the validity of tsuchinoko hunters as an actual profession.

“Therefore, please do not submit any intentionally fabricated stories or false rumors on Stories Next Door. I also do not need any story you’ve read online. Such are unnecessary. What I want you to submit are stories you’ve directly heard from someone and those you’ve experienced. This is my first favor. I hope you can help me with it.”

Takatsuki lowered his head to bow. Then, he looked around again. His clumsy drawing of a tsuchinoko was left on the board.

“My second favor to ask involves the lecture formats. I fundamentally split one lesson into two sessions. The first session will be the ‘introduction’ where I will present various anecdotes related to a certain theme. The second session will be the ‘explanation’ where I will logically decipher the stories presented in the first session, using the stories’ connections, roots, and cultural background. As such, I believe you will be confused if you only listen to the explanation without listening to the introduction. Listening to a confusing 90-minute lecture is no fun, right? As such, those who cannot listen to the ‘introduction’ session don’t need to attend the ‘explanation’ session. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t come, but I don’t think there’s much meaning in attending for you. That is my second favor: Please attend every lecture if possible.”

Takatsuki’s words caused ripples of chatter among the students. “He’s surprisingly strict, huh,” Naoya thought. No, it was probably reasonable to require students to attend every lecture.

Then, Takatsuki grinned.

“Well, I understand that you are all students. This might be the period in your life when you can have the most fun. You are probably busy with part-time jobs, club activities, romantic relationships, and the like. Naturally, you may fall sick or need to take bereavement leave. Given that, I will hold supplementary lectures for those people who cannot attend the ‘introduction’ session for some reason. I will schedule them during fifth period on Fridays as a general rule, but if that proves to be difficult for you, please see me in my office. I will now hand out the material about the ‘introduction’ sessions. Naturally, listening only to the ‘introduction’ without listening to the ‘explanation’ will lead to a similar result.”

The classroom was still noisy, and the noise mainly came from the girls. They got excited and asked questions such as “Eh? We can go to Takatsuki-sensei’s office?” and “OMG, will we get personally tutored by him~?”, driving the conversation into some other direction.

“These have been the main points of my lectures I wanted to highlight here. I will spend the remaining time today on a normal lecture. A conventional one would be good for the first lecture, so let’s discuss the ‘taxi mystery’ today. I’m sure everyone has heard such a story before. The one about the seat of the taxi being wet after the passenger leaves the car. Today will be the ‘introduction’ session and next week will be the ‘explanation’ session. If you aren’t interested in this topic, you are free to skip next week’s explanation. Okay then. I will distribute the material, so please pass it down the row.”

Takatsuki said and he handed a stack of paper to the students seated in the first seat of each row. There was no one sitting in front of Naoya in his row so Takatsuki walked up a step and directly handed the stack to Naoya. The paper had various stories from occult journals, weekly magazines, and articles from sports magazines printed on it. Place names and dates were underlined in the passages.

When Naoya passed the stack to the girls behind him, the two glanced at the paper, exchanged looks, and appeared to be on the verge of laughter. One’s face asked, “Is this really a university lecture?” while the other’s face said, “Yeah, but it sounds fun.” Naoya probably had a similar look on his. For the first time, he thought that university was an interesting place. Moreover, he thought that the man known as Takatsuki Akira was an interesting fellow.


After Takatsuki’s lecture ended, Naoya was immediately bombarded in all directions by a storm of people recruiting for their individual clubs as soon as he stepped out of the building.

“Are you a freshman?! Are you interested in English theater?! We’ll be performing a part from Amadeus in Club Hall 2A later, so please come!”

“We’re the tennis club, STEP! Let’s sweat together and enjoy our youth! We also have get-togethers with other schools! You’ll get to pair up with the ladies from a famous women’s university!”

“We’re the movie research group! We have watch parties every Friday, and we welcome those who are interested in independent films!”

“We’re the rakugo[5] research club~! We’ll be opening up the entertainment hall every day this week at 5 o’clock!”

Naoya’s hands were stuffed with flyers in the blink of an eye, many of them having been forcibly pushed onto him. He quickly took refuge in a small path to the side of the campus and stuffed the flyers inside his bag. Even though students weren’t differentiated by their years through the color of their slippers or badges, he couldn’t understand how the upperclassmen could identify who were freshmen.

Around this time in April was apparently an important time for clubs to secure new members. There wasn’t much recruitment going on in the morning, but when the afternoon rolled around, they increased and grew more forceful. The campus in particular had club booths lining the main road and was stuffed with upperclassmen waiting to ambush the underclassmen passing by.

Naoya fixed his tugged hoodie and crooked glasses and let out a huge sigh. Entering that area would be equivalent to diving into a school of piranhas. He had no choice but to circle around the back.

He decided on that, but the moment he took a step, someone called out to him, “—Are you a freshman?”

He turned around, annoyed, and he saw a pair—a male and female—dressed in tidy clothes, standing there.

The one who called out to him was the female student. Her long, black hair was tied in a ponytail.

“If you’re looking to invite me to your club, I’ve had enough,” Naoya replied like how you would refuse a newspaper seller, causing the female student to wryly smile.

“Oh, we’re not like that. I wouldn’t consider us a club. We’re…how can I put it…a more casual group where everyone can gather whenever they want and just talk.”

“Yeah, a casual group. We also sometimes bring up a theme and host a little debate session. Oh, but I guess it’s not really a debate but more like a discussion,” the male student said and deeply nodded. The smile he had plastered on his face was suspicious.

“…If you’re hosting discussions, I don’t think you need to specifically recruit freshmen,” Naoya said.

The male student exaggerated a head shake and responded, “Not at all! Fresh opinions are always needed, even for a simple discussion. Oh, right, for example, what is your take on life? We are born, study, attend university, join society, get married, and experience many things, but we still all die in the end, right? In that case, what is the purpose of living?”

“Um, I’m sorry, but I don’t have much interest in philosophy.”

“No, like we said, we do more than casual conversations!”

“Right, casual conversations. …Come now, if you don’t join a club in university, you’ll have a tough time finding a place for yourself. That sounds so lonely, doesn’t it? We have a room where we can all gather, and any member can freely use it. You can come by whenever you want and have a nice chat with everyone. We really are a simple discussion group.”

They purposely repeated “simple” as the two slowly closed the distance between them and Naoya.

Wait, could this be? Naoya thought and asked, “—Are you some kind of cult?”

When Naoya said so bluntly, the smile plastered on the male student’s face twitched for a moment, but the female student maintained her smile.

“Oh, why would you say that all of a sudden? {We aren’t like that}.” Her voice in the latter half twisted and distorted.

Naoya sighed. He took out his earphones from his bag and said, “…I read somewhere before that people’s faces twist when they lie. I guess that was wrong.”

In response to Naoya’s statement, the female student made a puzzled face, “Eh?”

Naoya stuffed the left earphone in and said, “I have no intentions of rejecting you simply on the basis of being some kind of religion. I’m sure that religion can be a support for some people and even save some people. But I personally am not a believer. I’m fine being all alone. Now, if you’d excuse me.” He quickly bowed, turned around, and walked away. 

“Ah, wait,” the voice behind him called out, but he had already stuffed the right earphone in and turned his music player on. It played the theme song from a drama that was popular recently, and he no longer cared about the voice behind him.

There was a warning written in the university orientation document about being careful of people inviting you to join dubious religious groups mixed among those canvassing for their clubs.

Naoya didn’t know if that pair of students was one of those advocating for a “dubious religion”, but he had no intention of playing along. As soon as they lied, he cut all ties.

—It wasn’t true that her face distorted when she told a lie. It was her voice that did.

Though with that being said, it appeared that only he could sense that. Since that moment, Naoya’s ears were capable of perceiving people’s lies as distorted voices.

The first time it happened, he didn’t understand what was happening and was terribly bewildered. When he told his parents that he occasionally heard distorted sounds, they promptly questioned if their son was deaf. But no matter how many hospitals they visited or how many ear and brain examinations he went through, no one could find anything wrong.

Thus, Naoya realized later on—that the distortion only happened to people’s voices. Moreover, only the voices of those who lied were distorted.

Hearing the distorted voices was very unpleasant, and he felt sick whenever he had to hear them for long periods. But what he hated even more than that was that he now realized whenever someone told a lie.

People can easily tell a lie. Whether to protect themselves or to keep airs, people readily fabricated the truth. Even those you thought were close to you could deceive you with a calm face on. It was a truth no one wanted to know. This world was saturated with liars. Distorted, grating voices flooded his ears.

He thought numerous times that it would have been better if he just blocked these ears of his. If he jammed the center of a ballpoint pen or an incense stick into his ears, he wouldn’t be able to hear anymore. But whenever he was about to do it, he ended up hesitating and never going through.

Since it happened all of a sudden one day, perhaps his ears would naturally return to normal suddenly one day as well. However, such optimism diminished as the years went by.

Instead, he developed a minimum way to cope with it.

If he didn’t want to listen, then he could just play something else in his ears. He truly believed the inventors of portable music players and earphones were geniuses. The music resounding in the earphones practically drowned out all outside noise.

And even if someone were to lie, he didn’t need to take each one of them to heart.

He simply needed to draw a line. Between himself and those around him. An invisible yet definitive line.

And, he needed to ensure that he never stepped past the line.

Expressly isolating himself would cause all kinds of trouble, so he wanted to avoid that. He would need to be able to hold a decent conversation with anyone, laugh alongside others, and build dependable relationships.

But he must never get closer to anyone more than necessary.

He must never step past the line and take someone’s hand.

Why? Because when that person eventually lies to Naoya, he would surely realize.

That was why he had no intentions of joining any of the university’s clubs. He wouldn’t participate in any “simple discussion groups” either. This bare minimum rule certainly applied to informal drinking parties as well. But this was what he wanted. With glasses and earphones acting as a barrier for his eyes and ears, he could disconnect from the outside world. He could separate himself from the filth every day when people lie to each other.

That female student said before that he’d be lonely and have a tough time finding a place for himself in university, but he didn’t particularly feel lonely or anything. The world inside his barrier was always quiet and calm.

In addition, it wasn’t like there was no place for him in this place known as university. There existed a perfect place for those who liked to spend their time alone in university: the library.

The library at Seiwa University was a truly splendid building, standing eight stories tall with three basement floors. It was stocked full of literature on every subject, newspapers, weekly magazines, and films. It also provided Wi-Fi. Many of the seats in the reading corner on the first floor which had a large lighting window to allow outside sunlight were filled, but he realized on the third day of coming and going through the library that the farther he went downstairs, the fewer people there were. Not only were the ceilings lower on the basement floors than on the upper floors, which gave off an oppressive feeling, but the air conditioning was also lousy, leading to poor air circulation. In short, it might have been a problem with the library’s structure.

Naoya took his spot on one of the seats along the wall of the second floor of the basement. Then he took out his smartphone.

He searched up the website Stories Next Door that Takatsuki had talked about before.

What came out was a website with a surprisingly neat design. A varied selection of urban legends and their illustrations and some incomplete stories submitted by the general public was systematically organized.

At the top of the site was this one sentence: “Please tell me the strange stories you’ve heard from next door.”

Curious, he went to the submission page. The top of the list had the newest submission. It went like this:

“A long time ago, I heard a story from a lady sitting next to me as she told a beautician at a beauty parlor. I thought it was a bit interesting, so I submitted it.

It was a story from the woman’s childhood. She said that during that time, an old man clad entirely in black tights frequently appeared. He didn’t do anything. Rather, he simply made noise as he ran around the house. No one else in her family ever seemed to notice, and the woman had naturally accepted this being as a part of her life.

Then, one day when she returned home from elementary school, that old man was dangling from the clothesline with both hands and swinging. Seeing him, the woman thought, ‘Oh, it looks like he got washed by Mom, and he was washed and hung to dry.’

After that day, she never saw that old man again. Her childish mind believed that he disappeared because he was washed. I wonder if he was some kind of modern-day youkai?”

Naoya finished reading and could only tilt his head, unsure of what to make of this.

This was to be expected from a story submitted on an online platform. There was no punchline. Or rather, he didn’t know how he should feel about the content itself, in the first place.

He thought that the image alone of an old man completely clad in tights was more along the realm of comedy than horror, but if it really wasn’t a youkai but a person, that man would simply be a pervert. Thinking that, Naoya felt scared for some reason. However, since the woman’s family didn’t pay any mind, it must mean that it was some kind of supernatural being. Although it didn’t make any sense for it to disappear after being washed and dried.

Takatsuki must be categorizing these kinds of stories, and for academic reasons.

What he learned from the first lecture of “Folklore Studies 2”, or rather from university, was that if there was something that interested him, no matter what it was, there was bound to be some kind of field he could study.

Naoya took out his partially completed schedule from his bag.

He wrote in the blank spot for his third period on Wednesdays—”Folklore Studies 2″.

After that, Naoya got up from his seat to search for a library terminal that could be used to search through its collection.

The books Takatsuki mentioned in the lecture—Records of Ancient Matters, The Chronicles of Japan, and Illustrated Sino-Japanese Encyclopedia—should be in the library’s possession. He wanted to check if the tsuchinoko was really described in them.


He agreed that the man named Takatsuki Akira seemed like an interesting person.

Or rather, the further along the lectures went, the more he came to realize that this man was a “surprisingly unfortunate hottie.”

One time, Takatsuki was unusually late to his own lecture. About ten minutes after the lecture started, he rushed into the classroom and quickly turned on the microphone.

“Sorry for my lateness! I thought the fruit sandwich I had left on the desk was still fine even after being bathed in sunlight, but after I ate it, I really shouldn’t have! I was stuck in the bathroom for some time from all the stomach pain. Sorry about that!”

…Many of those present in the classroom thought that it was best to not scream such things out loud.

Another time, he drew the transitions of the Kuchisake-onna on the blackboard. They were absurdly horrible drawings. In the beginning, her long hair and face mask were the only identifiable characteristics, but then came the red coat, the white bell-bottoms, the red hat, and even the red sports car she drove. However, when looking at the drawings on the blackboard, the students sitting behind Naoya whispered among each other, “Doesn’t it kind of look like a kindergartener’s drawing of their ‘mommy’?” …He could agree that those drawings certainly had that kind of feeling.

In any case, the lectures were nice to listen to, and the subject matter was intriguing. While the number of students attending slowly decreased in his other lectures as the days went on and some even had to downgrade from lecture halls to mid-sized classrooms, Takatsuki’s lectures were thriving as usual. Even if it wasn’t as crowded as the first day, it still felt like around 80% of the lecture hall was filled.

On the other hand regarding the matter of the students who skipped Takatsuki’s lectures—this revealed another characteristic unique to the man known as Takatsuki Akira.

During the week’s “explanation” session which happens after the previous week’s “introduction” session, Takatsuki would always scan the room and take note of some students.

“You and you. Oh, and you, you, and you. All of you didn’t attend the last session nor did you come for the supplementary lecture, yet you showed up for this one? Are you sure? Should I pass you last week’s material?”

Whether it be a student sitting in the front seats or one all the way in the back, Takatsuki would ask the same question. Was his eyesight that superb? Or was his memory that terrifyingly good? It was like he remembered the faces of all the students present the previous week, despite there being over 200 in attendance.

And Naoya learned that Takatsuki not only memorized their faces but also their names back in the beginning of June.

The moment when the lecture ended and students stood up from their seats, Takatsuki turned the microphone back on and asked.

“Oh, right, I forgot. Is there a Fukamachi-kun, a first-year from the Humanities Department here? Is Fukamachi Naoya-kun present?”

“…Huh? Oh, here! P-present.”

Having his name suddenly called, Naoya jumped out of his seat. This was the first time Takatsuki had ever specifically named someone. In any case, he raised a hand and announced his presence.

Takatsuki looked at him. “I would like to talk a bit about the report you submitted the other day. Do you have some time after this? If not, please come by my office at a later date.”

“I-I have time. It’s…fine,” Naoya answered.

Takatsuki nodded, said, “That’s great,” and beckoned Naoya over. 

Naoya reluctantly went against the torrent of students exiting. He headed to the platform in front so he could exit from the door at the back of the room. Today of all days proved that sitting in the back was the worst.

The report referred to the assignment Takatsuki gave during last week’s lecture. The task was to choose one of the topics presented in the lectures so far and summarize it in your own words. But Naoya couldn’t understand why he was suddenly called out for it. Did he greatly mistake the assignment?

When Naoya finally made his way to the platform, practically all the students had already left. The inside of the classroom was quiet, and Takatsuki was in the middle of erasing the words he had written on the blackboard.

Naoya faced the man’s back dressed in a luxurious, Western-style suit, and he timidly called out, “Um, is there something wrong with what I wrote…?”

“Oh, sorry. I must have surprised you by suddenly calling you in front of everyone.” Takatsuki turned around and brushed off the chalk dust on his fingers. “Can you come with me to my office now? Or do you have to prepare for another class later?”

“I don’t have any more today. I only have this class on Wednesdays.”

“That’s great. Then, let’s go.” Takatsuki grabbed his bag and began walking away.

The entryway by the blackboard was generally not used by students and for the faculty’s exclusive use. Takatsuki went ahead with graceful yet brisk steps, so Naoya quickly followed behind.

They had only ever seen each other from across the classroom—from the platform to the seat in the tiered lecture hall—so this was Naoya’s first time seeing Takatsuki this close up. When they stood side-by-side like this, the difference in their height was evident. Even Naoya, who was 172 cm tall, had to look up a bit to see him. Takatsuki probably exceeded 180 cm. Because his legs were long, his stride was wide. Naoya had to quicken his pace to match with Takatsuki.

The faculty entryways led directly outside to the campus. Even though the lecture hall was tiered and the door in the back exited to the second floor, the lower level was on the first floor.

As they walked across the sunbathed courtyard, Takatsuki said, “You don’t need to be so nervous. Your report was well written. You also attended all the lectures so far and have been taking notes. You’re a very diligent student.”

With a bright smile, Takatsuki looked at Naoya. His clear eyes appeared bluish for a moment, causing Naoya to widen his eyes. This was different from the bright blue eyes of a Westerner. It was deeper and darker, almost like the indigo of the night sky.

“Fukamachi-kun? What’s the matter?”

Naoya had unintentionally ended up staring at Takatsuki’s face. When he looked up, he saw the man looking puzzled back down at him.

He wondered if what he saw was a result of some light reflection as the man’s eyes had returned to their usual dark brown color.

“Oh, no, it’s nothing. …Um, sensei?”


“Do you really remember the faces of all the students present in the lecture?”

“I do remember. Since long ago, I’ve had a better memory than most people,” Takatsuki said and smiled. But Naoya felt that this wasn’t really answering the question.

Around this time, the courtyard was in a state of chaos. While recruitments died down after April, clubs returned to their usual activities and students could be spotted doing whatever here and there. The dance club danced to music being played, the drama club performed vocal exercises in a circle, a large group played with a large jump rope, and the street performance research group attempted to juggle.

Takatsuki nimbly made his way through the crowds and walked towards the building with all the laboratory rooms.

Naoya asked, “If there was no problem with my report, why do you need to see me?”

“Well, actually, I wanted to talk to you about what you included in your report,” Takatsuki answered.

The inclusion in his report referred to the extra credit Takatsuki proposed to students when the assignment was given: “Include a strange experience you’ve encountered, although it can also be a story you’ve heard from someone else. However, as I’ve mentioned previously, you can’t submit fiction or lies.”

Naoya decided to write about the strange incident that happened when he was a child.

Takatsuki continued, “Just to confirm, that was something you personally experienced, right? Not something you heard from someone or read somewhere.”


“Okay. It was a very intriguing story, so I wanted to know a bit mo—”

It was at that moment. 

All of a sudden, the sound of wings flapping could be heard directly next to Takatsuki. Naoya was also surprised and reflexively looked in that direction. He caught sight of two white doves flying away. A pair of students wearing silk hats and carrying sticks chased after them in a panic.

“…They’re probably the magic research group. If they’re practicing pulling doves out from their hats, it’ll be better to do it inside… Sensei?”

At that moment, Naoya noticed that Takatsuki was standing beside him, frozen stiff. His bag slipped from his hand and his tall figure swayed. Naoya quickly extended his hand to support him, but he wasn’t strong enough and the two fell onto their knees on the ground.

“Takatsuki-sensei? Sensei, are you okay?!”

When Naoya peered into his face, the man’s face looking downward had completely lost all its color. Was he anemic? The students around them noticed something off and surveyed them in concern.

Then, Takatsuki lightly pressed his forehead and opened his mouth, “…Yeah, sorry about that. I must have surprised you.” His voice hinted that he was still weak, but his tone was steady. “I’ll get better with some time, so you don’t need to worry. I’ll be fine.”

“Are you anemic?”

“Um, I guess you can say that. …I’m actually scared of birds.”

“Huh? Birds…you say?” Naoya asked. Certainly right before that moment, birds flew right past Takatsuki. But even if they were birds, they were harmless doves. “You’re scared? Why…? I doubt doves attack people.”

“I know that, but I’m scared of all birds. I have ornithophobia,” Takatsuki said and stood up. While his complexion was improving, he was still unsteady on his feet.

“A phobia? Why are you so scared of birds?”

“Fukamachi-kun, have you ever watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds?”

“I haven’t.”

“Then, you should definitely watch it. Then, I’m sure you too will also fear birds.”

“Please don’t spread your phobia to other people.”

“Oh, but this wasn’t caused by the movie, I’ll have you know. —Since long ago, I just can’t be around them. I’m fine with tiny birds like sparrows and parakeets… Oh, but I wouldn’t be able to handle them if there was a flock of them. The sound of flapping wings just fills my ears,” Takatsuki said with a frown. 

It seemed that he was really bad with birds. But while Naoya had heard that those with phobias like arachnophobia could react terribly, he wondered if seeing their fear was enough to make them this pale and on the verge of collapsing.

“Are you sure you don’t need to go to the infirmary?”

“I’m fine. I’ll take a break in my office.”

“Oh, okay. Then let me hold your bag.”

Naoya wanted to offer some help, so he reached out to pick up Takatsuki’s bag. Takatsuki seemed surprised by this as he blinked several times. He looked at Naoya and faintly smiled.

“Thank you. But it’s pretty heavy since it’s filled with my laptop and documents.”

“All the more of a reason for me to do it.”

Just as Takatsuki mentioned, Naoya felt the weight of the bag as he lifted it up. He didn’t think it was something someone who was still unsteady on their feet should carry. Naoya started walking with the bag in his hand.

Takatsuki faced him and said, “Fukamachi-kun, you really are kind. You seem like the type who will surely give up their seat for the elderly on the train.”

“…Not really. I think I’m pretty normal.”

“‘Normal’ is something that is difficult to define, yes? But if you believe in your heart that those who are kind to the weak are normal, then I find you to be a very likable person.”

“That’s a very scholarly way of saying it, I guess.”

“Well, I am a scholar after all.”

Takatsuki’s smile was more prominent now. He was probably feeling better now.


Takatsuki’s office was located on the third floor of the research laboratory block. As this building was a nest for instructors and graduate students from every department, a first-year like Naoya had hardly any reason to visit. Each instructor’s office had their names printed in small letters next to the undecorated number plates that labeled each room. Takatsuki’s room was 304, and the door wasn’t locked as Tatatsuki simply pushed the door open and stepped inside. Naoya followed behind him… when he stopped dead in his tracks.

There was a person on the floor.

A long-haired female student lay flat on the ground between the table in the middle of the room and the bookshelves by the wall, looking like she collapsed on her way inside. She was dressed in a long, baggy shirt and seasonally-appropriate denim pants. The way books were scattered around her made this sight resemble some kind of crime scene. Even the way her finger was placed on an open book was exactly like she was leaving a dying message. She remained still despite the sounds of Takatsuki and Naoya entering the room.

“Huh? Huh?! U-um, s-should we call for an ambulance…?!” Naoya asked in a panic.

“Oh, it’s fine. She’s always like this.” In contrast, Takatsuki was composed. He tapped the woman on the shoulder, “He~y, Ruiko-ku~n. Didn’t I tell you before that you shouldn’t sleep in such a place? Come on, it’s time to get up.”

“Hmmm…?” The woman named Ruiko squirmed around as she got up. “Huh… What? Akira-sensei? …Oh dear, I guess I ended up falling asleep…”

“Sigh… You know you shouldn’t push yourself too hard just because your research presentation is coming up, right? If you’re stuck somewhere, you can always come to me. I’ll look over it later. In any case, let’s stop sleeping on the floor, okay? Look, it left a mark on your cheek.”

“Okay… I’m sorry. It’s just that the cold floor just felt so nice…”

Ruiko took the hand Takatsuki offered and sat down on a nearby folding chair. Just as Takatsuki pointed out, the line from the floorboards was imprinted on her cheek. She looked like a mess with her red-framed glasses crooked and her long hair tied in a half-haphazard mess.

But then Ruiko noticed Naoya. Her eyes sluggishly blinked behind her crooked glasses.

“Hm…? Akira-sensei, who is this cutie? …A first-year? Hey, what’s your name?”

“Oh, umm, it’s Fukamachi. I’m a first-year in the Humanities Department.”

“Oh, I see. I’m also a first-year, but for my doctorate. My name is Ubukata Ruiko. Nice to meet ya.”

A soft smile spread across her bare face as Ruiko introduced herself. She still seemed to be out of it.

Takatsuki picked up the scattered books as he said, “Ruiko-kun, Fukamachi-kun is a guest. You shouldn’t be trying to flirt with him. I’ll go make you a cup of coffee now, so drink some and come back to your senses. —Wait. Ruiko-kun, aren’t you supposed to be teaching at the cram school today for your part-time job?”

At that moment, Ruiko jumped. She fixed her crooked glasses and looked down at her wristwatch. Her eyes suddenly widened and the chair fell down with a crash.

“Damn it! I totally forgot! U-um… okay, so if I go home now, change, and put on some makeup… Alright, I can barely make it! Then I’ll take my leave now. Thank you for reminding me, Akira-sensei!”

She snatched up her bag that she had apparently kicked underneath the desk and rushed out of the room in a flash. Naoya watched in a daze as she left like a gust of wind.

Takatsuki chuckled and said, “Fukamachi-kun, let me just tell you in advance. She’s a bad example of a graduate student. Not everyone studying under me is like that, okay?”

“Uh-huh… Graduate students have it hard, I guess…” In any case, Naoya sensed that there were many aspects of her that he shouldn’t mimic.

“Yes, she’s a very diligent and passionate girl. Research labs and libraries practically become a second home for graduate students whose presentations are coming up. —Anyways, Fukamachi-kun. Sorry for all the strangeness from the onset. In any case, please take a seat there.” Takatsuki said, took his bag from Naoya, and placed it on the table. Then he walked deeper inside the office. “Since you’re here, how about something to drink? What would you like? The choices are: hot chocolate, coffee, black tea, and roasted green tea. Both teas use tea bags. Oh, the hot chocolate is Van Houten[6], by the way!”

“Oh, then I’ll have a coffee.”

“I recommend the hot chocolate—”

“I don’t really like sweet stuff.”

Naoya wished Takatsuki wasn’t holding the bag of Van Houten while looking utterly devastated.

Naoya wondered if he should let someone who wasn’t feeling well not too long ago make drinks, but Takatsuki’s complexion was looking much better. Just as the person himself said, he recovered quickly.

Naoya sat down on a folding chair and looked around Takatsuki’s office. It was rather spacious. Besides the table in the middle, there were also two desks, each with a computer, in the corner of the room. There was a window that directly faced the door on one side, but the other three walls were completely covered by books. Naoya could almost smell the scent of a used bookstore here. He spotted plenty of monthly issues of Mu[7] and obscure books on local legends mixed among the technical books. This seemed very much in character for Takatsuki.

A kettle and coffee maker were on a small table in front of the window. Takatsuki grabbed some cups from the small cupboard to the side of it and said, “Fukamachi-kun, is this your first time inside the research laboratory block?”

“Um, yes… The research rooms you see on TV dramas are surprisingly accurate. I’d imagined they were something like this.”

“My room is actually on the tamer side. Funabashi-sensei, who teaches archaeology, has clay figures and baked earthenware in their[8] room, and Tamura-sensei, who teaches Western medieval history, has a set of armor and spears in theirs. Mitani-sensei, who teaches Japanese history, has a shelf full of ichimatsu dolls[9].”

“…Is Mitani-sensei studying ichimatsu dolls?”

“No, it seems it’s just a hobby of theirs. They found and bought some in a flea market, but half of them were burnt. They were quite a horrific sight. Mitani-sensei said they don’t move, but the students are scared and hardly ever approach that office.” Takatsuki said and laughed as he made their drinks.

Naoya was reminded of how nice Takatsuki’s voice was to listen to. It was soft and his tone was always bright, but most importantly, Takatsuki never told a lie. Not a single one during his lectures or all the way during their trip from the classroom to the office. This was very rare for Naoya to experience.

People lied as easily as they breathed. Some may say one to spice up the conversation to entertain their listeners, but it was still a lie nevertheless. But Takatsuki didn’t even do that. That made it very nice to listen to. Naoya felt like he could feel at ease constantly listening to this voice.

The moment he thought that, he heard a voice deep from the depths of his heart.

But there’s no guarantee that he won’t lie in the future.

Naoya’s heart trembled from the sudden doubt brought forth from within himself. The voice continued to berate him.

Surely that man will lie one day. It’s only natural. Don’t trust him. Don’t get close. Don’t approach. After all, you’ll become [—].


Suddenly, Takatsuki’s voice could be heard right next to Naoya.

Naoya raised his head in surprise, seeing that somehow Takatsuki was standing next to him with a tray in his hands. Takatsuki’s face was beautifully arranged like an actor, and it was so close as he peered into Naoya’s face that Naoya wanted to comment that there was no need to get this close.

“What’s the matter? You look scared all of a sudden.”

“Ah, no…”

Naoya wanted to answer “it’s nothing” but when he was about to, he noticed that Takatsuki’s eyes had turned blue again, causing Naoya to gulp upon seeing them this closely.

It happened again. Takatsuki’s eyes were a deep azure. The night sky he saw when he used to frequently go over to his grandmother’s home in the countryside was of a similar color. It was also scary how he felt that if he kept looking, he would be pulled into some unknown void.

“—Sensei, are you half or three-fourths Japanese?” Naoya unintentionally blurted out this question.

Takatsuki shook his head in confusion. “Huh? I’m not. Why do you ask?”

“Um… I feel like your eyes…look bluish once in a while.”

Takatsuki placed the tray down on the table and looked a bit troubled. “People tell me that sometimes. I don’t really understand why myself… Well, I heard that the ratio of melanin can affect the color of the iris, so maybe I have a different amount than others, leading them to appear that way in different lighting.” Takatsuki took the cup of coffee off the tray and placed it in front of Naoya. “—Here, yours.”

The cup had a psychedelic Buddha designed over the entire surface. It was quite an avant-garde cup. Naoya asked, “…Why a Buddha?”

“Oh, that’s a souvenir a student of my lab had given me from their trip to Nara. Fukamachi-kun, do you dislike Buddha?”

“No, it’s not a matter of disliking… or rather, sensei, yours…”

“Hm? Is there something wrong?” Takatsuki asked as he took the seat in the chair next to Naoya. Takatsuki had a blue mug, and said mug was filled to the brim with hot chocolate. There were even marshmallows floating on top. The sweet scent from it was dizzying.

“…Sensei, you’ve got quite the sweet tooth.”

“Your brain runs solely on glucose, you see. And I think it’s best to proactively fuel your brain.” That meant that this man ate such sickening amounts of sugar on a normal basis. It was a wonder how he didn’t get fat from it. Well, his sweet face matched his sweet drink.

Takatsuki took a sip from his cup and smiled in satisfaction before saying, “Now then, Fukamachi-kun, let’s get down to business. I want to talk about that strange experience you wrote about. All the other students wrote similarly strange stories, but a majority of them were slightly altered snippets from the Internet or books. But yours was different. It gave off the feeling that you truly experienced it. That’s why I called you here. Right, your story… went like this, right?”

Takatsuki suddenly looked up as if looking at the sky and began reciting.

“’This happened when I was an elementary student. Back then I would go visit my grandmother’s home in the countryside, and I looked forward to the local festival they hosted every year. But, I had a fever that year and couldn’t attend. Yet when I woke up in the middle of the night and heard the sounds of the taiko drum, I thought the festival was still going on. I snuck out alone from the house, but when I arrived at the festival grounds, all the booths were closed. Only the Bon dance was going on as everyone present danced underneath the plethora of hanging, unfamiliar blue lanterns in beat with the drums. What was weird was that the usual dance music playing on speakers was nonexistent and everyone was wearing some kind of mask. When morning came, I told my family and grandmother about the festival, but they all said, ‘I’ve never heard of such a festival. Why would anyone do that?’ This might have all been a dream, but since this was something strange I experienced, I thought I would write about it.’”

It was like Takatsuki was reading the words floating in the air. Naoya looked at Takatsuki in shock. He couldn’t remember exactly what he wrote despite writing it, but he felt that it was exactly as Takatsuki said. Every word and phrase might be exactly the same.

“Sensei, you remembered every sentence I wrote?”

“I believe I mentioned this before; I have a slightly better memory than others. I can remember anything after reading it just once.”

“Is that like ‘photographic memory’ or ‘perfect memory recollection’?” Naoya read somewhere before that some people could perfectly recall every detail they saw or heard.

“Hm, yes, it’s something like that. It’s actually helpful and convenient for people in my line of work,” Takatsuki nonchalantly stated. It was no wonder how he could remember the faces of the absent students in his lectures every time. and he could tell that other students copied from the Internet or books because he must have read them before and could perfectly recall them. “But instead of me, let’s focus on you, Fukamachi-kun. I have several questions about your experience I would like to ask. May I?”

“Yes… although I don’t remember much since it happened a long time ago.”

“I’m fine with what you can recall. You said you were in elementary school, but specifically how old were you? What grade were you in?”

“The fourth grade.”

“Okay, then you were old enough. By that time, you should have acquired plenty of knowledge and common sense. You mentioned the countryside, but where exactly?”

“Nagano. In the mountains, far away from the station… although I don’t remember my grandmother’s actual address. I went there every year when I was young, but I never paid close enough attention.”

“I’m intrigued by the phrase you wrote: ‘unfamiliar blue lanterns’. What did you mean by that? Are you saying that your festival doesn’t normally use blue lanterns?”

“Yes. They’re normally red, and the store’s name would be written in the center… but that was the first time I ever saw blue ones used. And I never saw them again.” When Naoya went to the festival with his cousins the following year, he confirmed it with his own two eyes. There wasn’t a single blue lantern like the ones from that night among the ones hanging around the festival grounds.

Takatsuki nodded in intrigue. He wasn’t taking notes because there was probably no need for such. He continued to ask, “You didn’t write what happened after you arrived at the festival grounds in your report. Did you dance with everyone and stayed there till the morning?”

“Oh… no, I didn’t dance. Um… I just watched from outside the circle. And by the time I realized it, it was morning and I somehow made it back to my bed. That’s why I thought it was a dream.”

“I see. That is usually how things go. But… something must have happened for you to think It wasn’t a dream. I really experienced it, right?” Takatsuki asked, and Naoya was momentarily at a loss for words. Takatsuki took advantage of this opening and continued, “If you thought this was just a dream, you wouldn’t have written about it for this report. Something must have happened that convinced you that this wasn’t a dream. Something that proved that you participated in that midnight festival. What was it? What happened to you to make you determine that this wasn’t a dream?”

Takatsuki was expectedly sharp. Naoya reaffirmed that this man must be smart. He probably couldn’t keep the truth from this man, but he didn’t know how much he should reveal. To buy him some time before answering, he brought the cup to his lips and thought deeply. If he ignored the psychedelic Buddha, the coffee flavor itself wasn’t bad.

If he told the true story of what happened that night, no one would believe him. And if he did talk about it, he would have to disclose the situation with his ears. But that was something no one would ever believe. It was better if he didn’t tell.

He put down the cup and stated, “When I woke up, there was grass on my pajamas. I was sleeping the whole time since I got my fever, so there was no way grass could get on me unless I went outside. Thus I thought, Oh, I guess it did happen.”

This wasn’t a lie. It, in fact, happened. Although naturally, that wasn’t the only reason why he determined that it wasn’t a dream.

“I see…” Takatsuki lowered his eyes a bit, reflecting on Naoya’s words. He lightly rubbed his chin with one of his hands. Then he asked another question, “You said that everyone dancing had masks on… but what about you? Were you too wearing a mask that night?”

“How did you know that?”

“I thought that if you were also wearing a mask, you could participate in the festival as well.” Takatsuki continued, “This is what I think. That was a festival of the dead.”

“The dead…?”

“In the first place, the Bon dance was a way to memorialize the dead and spirits who’ve returned to the physical world during the Bon Festival. Depending on the region, people would hide their faces with masks, conical hats, or kerchiefs when dancing. It was said to allow the dead who have returned from the spirit world to blend in without being discovered so they can dance together without the prejudice of who’s alive and who’s dead. —In other cases, the reason is that if the face of the living gets seen by the dead, they’ll be dragged over to that side.”

Naoya felt his heart freeze from Takatsuki’s words.

He recalled his grandfather’s words from that time as they echoed in his ears: It’s too late. They’ve noticed you.

Wanting to distance himself from the voice, Naoya asked Takatsuki, “Sensei, is there also some kind of meaning behind the blue lanterns?”

“Blue lanterns themselves are pretty normal and commonplace. However, if that festival doesn’t normally use them, then there should be some meaning behind them. Let’s see… I associate the color blue with the blue paper lanterns that were used for the One Hundred Stories from the Edo Period.”

“Paper lanterns?”

“Yes. During the ghost story boom of the Edo Period, these Gatherings of One Hundred Stories were all the rage. During these gatherings, people used lanterns covered with blue paper. The book The Otogiboko, written in Kanbun 6[10], contains a story titled ‘Speak of ghosts, cometh ghosts’ where it describes the procedure on how to conduct the Gathering of One Hundred Stories.” Takatsuki said, his eyes again looking off somewhere in the air. “‘There art rules to the One Hundred Stories. On a moonless night, affix blue paper on thy lanterns. One hundred wicks thou shall light. With one story told, one flame extinguished. With one flame extinguished, the space groweth dark. Attracted by the blue light, something terrible will cometh.’[11] —In other words, on the night of a new moon, light 100 blue paper lanterns. After someone tells a story, they put out a lantern, and everyone enjoys the atmosphere as the area gets darker. I think it’s rather intriguing for blue to have been used during that time period. People back then held the belief that the color blue was connected with the other world.”

“The other world…?”

“The world opposite to ours. Think of it this way. If our world is for human beings, then one opposite to ours is for inhuman beings. Fukamachi-kun, I think the festival you participated in the past was a festival for them. Either everyone present there was deceased or it was a mixture of the living and the dead but you couldn’t distinguish which because of the masks they wore. Either way, I would love to go to a festival and ask for more details from them.” Takatsuki said, his eyes twinkling like an excited child. He took another sip of hot chocolate. Then as if he suddenly recalled something, he took his mouth away from the cup and looked at Naoya. “That’s right. I had one more question for you. Did you eat or drink anything from the festival?”

Naoya managed to control his body from jumping up. He looked at Takatsuki behind his glasses and asked, “Why would you ask such a question?”

“Going somewhere and eating the food there means becoming a member of that place. The concept of ‘being unable to leave the underworld after eating the food there’[12] as mentioned in Records of Ancient Matters is that very thing. Izanami ate the food from the realm of the dead, making her a denizen of there. If you had gone to a festival for the dead and were prompted to eat something… or if you had actually eaten—”

“I-I didn’t! I didn’t…eat anything!” Naoya quickly cut off Takatsuki. The sweet taste surrounding his tongue that day resurfaced in his memory. He quickly drank the coffee in his cup. Its scent and bitter flavor overwrote the memory.

Takatsuki looked suspiciously at Naoya. “Okay. Then that’s fine.”

“—Um, sensei,” Naoya faced Takatsuki and asked to change the topic.

“Hm? What is it?”

“Why are you so interested in these strange stories? I saw the site you made: Stories Next Door. There were all kinds of stories—ghosts, monsters, youkai, urban legends, etc. Do you really believe all of them?”

“…Naturally I don’t think they’re all true.” Takatsuki wrapped both hands around his cup of hot chocolate and replied, “As I discussed during my lectures, many of these stories have some kind of basis in which they are formed. To warn, to teach, or to give an explanation to the unexplainable. In other words, they are all fabricated. But, you know, there might be some true tales among them.”

“True tales…?”

“True stories from those who experienced real mysteries. Or maybe a second-hand account… What I want to know is if real mysteries exist in this world. And if they truly exist, I want to know about them. I want to meet them. To encounter them.”

“You’re very curious.”

“I’m often told that, ah ha ha,” Takatsuki laughed. This laughing man’s face truly resembled a child’s. If an innocent child grew up without ever being corrupted, they would probably become someone like Takatsuki. Then he suddenly remembered and mentioned, “Oh, but speaking of the site, because I kept it up, I got to see all sorts of submissions. And there are even some among them who came to me directly for consultation.”


“Some of those who experienced strange things want to have their mystery uncovered and resolved. This one right here just came.”

Takatsuki reached his arm out to grab his bag off the table. He took out his laptop from inside, clicked around, and showed Naoya the screen. It displayed an email that appeared to have been sent from a contact form on Stories Next Door. The sender was female and she wrote that she would like Takatsuki to come see her rented apartment where she encountered a ghostly happening.

“A ghostly happening…?” Naoya asked.

“She didn’t give details, but it seems like something appeared. Oh, it sounds so interesting~!” Takatsuki said, his eyes twinkling.

“So, sensei, what do you plan to do about this?”

“Hm, I’ll definitely have to go talk to her. Maybe do some investigating.”

“Sensei, do you possess a sixth sense?”

“I unfortunately don’t even get a single tingle. But you don’t need a sixth sense to investigate.”

It seemed that Takatsuki wasn’t joking. Naoya recalled the story Takatsuki told before of how he received a reported sighting of a tsuchinoko and went out to search for it… There really was something off about scholars. In any case, it seemed that Takatsuki was done asking about Naoya’s report. As such, Naoya felt that it was time for him to head home. The conversation was heading off to something not related to him.

Naoya finished his coffee, grabbed his bag, and stood up. He announced, “Then if you’ll excuse me—”

But before he could finish his sentence, Takatsuki suddenly shouted, “Wait, Fukamachi-kun! I just came up with a brilliant idea!” and grabbed Naoya’s hand.

Wide-eyed, Naoya looked down at Takatsuki, still holding his hand. But when Takatsuki stood up, the one looking down was now looking up. Naoya looked up at Takatsuki in confusion, but Takatsuki looked down at Naoya with his usual twinkling eyes.

“Hey, Fukamachi-kun. Do you want a part-time job?”

“A-a part-time job?”

“Yes. Specifically as my assistant. I want you to accompany me when I go talk to this person,” Takatsuki said with a smile, still holding Naoya’s hand.

Naoya couldn’t keep up with the conversation. “Wh-why me…? You say you need an assistant, but there’s nothing I can help you with?! I’m sure one of your graduate students could provide better support than anything you’ll get from me. Like that upperclassman from before.”

“Hm… but everyone is so busy. Besides, I don’t need someone with advanced knowledge. I have enough in my head. Um… what I need is… common sense.”

“…Come again?”

“Well, you see, I… unfortunately don’t possess the common sense everyone else seems to have.” Takatsuki truly looked troubled by this, but he was saying some seriously crazy things. Or rather, Naoya just wanted him to let go of his hand already. Takatsuki added, “Also, there’s another thing I need help with. I always get lost whenever I go to a new place.”

“Can’t you just check a map?”

“Of course I check the map! But maps aren’t very detailed, right? Buildings and roads are depicted, but when I’m actually standing there, there’s so much more stuff around me. Stuff like vending machines, bicycles parked on the side, store signboards, produce on display, pedestrians, and dogs on their walk. All of this stuff simultaneously enters my field of vision and my head can’t take the information overload. The map and landmarks no longer match up for me…” Takatsuki said and lightly tapped his temple.

It appeared that Takatsuki’s abnormal memory capabilities were a double-edged sword. A normal person would only pay attention to and care about only the necessary details when looking at a scene. The brain unconsciously filtered information, pruning the unnecessary and highlighting the necessary. But, Takatsuki’s mind most likely vividly recorded everything within his field of vision in his memory, no matter what it was. And it was difficult for him to correlate what his extremely detailed vision informed him with what the utterly simplistic map depicted.

“That’s why the capabilities I’m looking for in an assistant are common sense and a sense of direction. So, what do you think, Fukamachi-kun? Are you someone with common sense and can read a map?”

“…Yeah, I guess.”

“Then, it’s decided! I’ll match your schedule. When can you start?” While still holding Naoya’s hand, Takatsuki pumped his hand up and down in lieu of a handshake as he brightly asked with a smile.

Experiencing how one-sided this exchange went, Naoya reconfirmed that this man might actually be lacking some common sense. But the wages proposed next didn’t sound at all bad, and after weighing the situation with his wallet, Naoya accepted Takatsuki’s proposal.

[1] Japanese classrooms have a platform (usually wooden) in front of the classroom where the teacher stands.
[2] Setsubun marks the beginning of spring. People would throw soy beans out their front doors or at people dressed as oni. The traditional food eaten during this day is also uncut, rolled sushi for good luck.
[3] Marebito refers to the ancient concept of supernatural beings visiting and gifting wisdom to the people.
[4] UMA or Unidentified Mysterious Animal is how the Japanese refer to a cryptid.
[5] Rakugo is a form of Japanese story-telling done by a single person, and most of the stories are comedies.
[6] It’s a brand of cocoa whose name comes from Coenraad Johannes Van Houten, a well-known innovator in the processing of chocolate.
[7] Mu is an ongoing monthly Japanese magazine that is known for their occult stories.
[8] I do not know any of these teachers’ genders so I’m sticking with “they/them” to be safe.
[9] Ichimatsu doll is a type of Japanese doll that depicts a child in an expensive kimono. They’re the type you usually see when stories talk about haunted dolls.
[10] Kanbun is an era in Japan spanning from April 1661 to September 1673, making Kanbun 6 equivalent to the year 1667.
[11] I don’t know the actual translation used in The Otogiboko, so this is all my translation.
[12] Yomotsuhegui. You can see this concept also appear in Greek mythology in the story of Persephone and Hades about the creation of the seasons.

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7 responses to “Chapter 1: Nonexistent Neighbor”

  1. Nairisz Avatar

    This is such a cool novel! Will you update it in the future? I really like drama and manga ver, just today I just found out for the novel.


    1. AdCaelum Avatar

      Yes, yes, for sure! I’ve had the second part at 50% for the longest time. I’ll definitely update it when I get the chance.


  2. ADE_08 Avatar

    Hello ! Thanks for sharing this novel, really thank you so musch. I will be looking forward for the next parts :DD


  3. nairisz Avatar

    Thank you for the update! Looking forward for the next chapter ❤


  4. ACharacterInTheWind Avatar

    Funnily enough this series (the drama adaptation) is the reason I finally decided to learn Japanese. Being able to one day read the original work has been a motivation of mine. These translations really help out, so thank you very much for translating!


    1. AdCaelum Avatar

      That’s amazing! Good luck on your studies!


      1. ACharacterIntheWind Avatar

        Thank you for the kind words 😀

        Keep up the good work and good luck with your translations as well!


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