Story 6: Other Short Stories – Part 2
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
Translator Note: This part contains all of the ficlets written for Volume 2 of Yes, No, or Maybe Half?
Your Unknown World
Director A-ko-san’s Work Experience Story (under a pseudonym)
You know how they often say TV stations are haunted? But I’ve never believed those rumors. I’ve worked in TV for nearly 10 years and haven’t seen a thing. Maybe people were sleep deprived and imagined that they saw something? I think it’s far scarier to have an editing station break down on you and you lose all your data, or you head out on an assignment and you realize that you accidentally forgot to bring the tape.
But, hmm, I suppose now that I think about it… There was that one thing…
It was completely out of the blue. Evening had come around and I went to the staff room for the show that I work on. We chatted and discussed the topics for the broadcast that night.
That was when that guy, you know, Minagawa Tatsuki, said something really weird.
All of a sudden he just blurted out, “Good evening, Sou-chan.” And it was to Asou-san. I was like, “Huh?” and it was like time stopped for a split-second. It wasn’t just me, but everyone had that reaction. Like, who was this Sou-chan he was referring to? I mean, from Minagawa-kun’s standpoint, Asou-san is far above him in prestige and seniority, and I’ve never heard anyone address Asou-san like that before. He gives off this aura that makes it hard to get close to him, and he’s not the type of person to be on the receiving end of people’s jokes.
At first I thought that maybe Minagawa-kun was forced to do something as part of a punishment game, but he looked like he was enjoying himself far too much for it to be that. I asked Kunieda-san if he knew anything about it, thinking that maybe something had happened at the announcer department, but he just said, “I’m not too sure,” looking a little troubled. Minagawa-kun just said, “It’s a secret~”
No, I would say that Asou-san didn’t look angry at all. He was normal as usual. Maybe Minagawa-kun wanted to get some kind of reaction out of him because he kept pestering him. Saying things like, “Sou-chan, what did you do over the weekend?” or “Sou-chan, I hear they’re having an eel special at the cafeteria.” He kept saying “Sou-chan” every time too. Like he was checking to see if he was there. Well, Asou-san pretty much ignored him, but when I walked by behind him, I realized that it wasn’t quite the case.
I heard him mutter, “7,” under his breath.
I swear to god it’s true. It was a really low voice, but another staff member heard it too. It was an “8” when he heard it. I realized that he was counting the number of times Minagawa-kun had called him “Sou-chan.” I was like, uh oh, he’s probably really angry, so I warned Minagawa-kun about it. I told him to cut it out, but he was only more amused by it. He even joked, “Maybe he’ll grant me any wish I want when I get to 100!” …Uh, yes, he’s an idiot. Maybe ridiculous would be a better way to describe him. It’s like he has the mentality of a 5th grader. There was pretty much no stopping him at that point. Our producer said, “He’ll stop when he gets bored with it,” so I pretty much decided to leave it alone.
So things got busy from there, and then maybe one hour before the broadcast, I think it was? Someone heard a “10.” Minagawa-kun laughed that he finally reached the double digits, but then he immediately went and said “Sou-chan” again, rambling about how his wardrobe was hideous today—how his suit, shirt, and necktie was pattern on pattern on pattern. That was when Asou-san started counting again.
This time it was a “9.”
It was like, what, wasn’t it at “10” just now? But it wasn’t like I could say it to his face. I was flustered and my heart was racing, but Minagawa-kun kept on going, saying, “Sou-chan, want some tea?”
…Yeah, that was “8.” After that, I was sure about it. When I thought that maybe it was a countdown to something, I got really scared. Like goosebumps scared. Like maybe something might happen if the count got to zero. And I don’t mean like a screaming match, more like something-could-happen-to-the-Earth type of bad. Kinda like how a butterfly could flap its wings in Beijing and somehow trigger a hurricane somewhere in the world.
Some of the staff probably thought the same thing because people surrounded Minagawa-kun half-crying at him to stop. Like please just give us a break here, but Minagawa-kun didn’t look like he would stop any time soon. But eventually he did, when the count hit “3.” Thank goodness.
In the end, I never found out what all that “Sou-chan” stuff was about. I never asked, and I don’t want to know. There are some things in the world that you’re better off not knowing.
(First published in a blog post celebrating the release of Dear Plus Bunko’s “Center of the World” in June 2015.)
Stop the World
Long after the sun had set and the moon hung high in the night sky, Kei had lost all his willpower to complain about going back to work and instead decided to quietly give up on his fruitless protests.
Dammit, I need to get to sleep.
But if he went to bed, tomorrow would come, and at noon he would have to put on his suit and become Kunieda-san… It was such a pain in the ass. It was a pain in the ass, but if he suddenly had to go to the emergency room for his appendix or something, he would probably involuntarily grumble to himself, Dammit, why couldn’t this come during vacation!? And that was why Ushio told him that he loved his job. Even though he really didn’t. However, if Kei had to clearly define his feelings towards his job into words, it would be difficult for him. The first thing that came to his mind was that he needed to eat, of course.
There were no evening papers published on Sundays; there were very few news shows on at night; and this strange bit of spare time was slowly ticking away, and it irritated him even more. He lazed around on the bed checking the Internet news on his cell phone. Since it was the last day of his vacation, he thought that he might as well just fall asleep without doing anything special…but then Ushio came upstairs from the studio.
“Sorry, I didn’t realize it was 11 already. I totally forgot about dinner.”
“I’m so hungry I don’t care anymore.”
“You could have said something.”
Whenever there was no sound coming from the first floor, Kei imagined Ushio sitting in front of his computer, his concentration plastered all over the monitor. At the very least, Kei knew this very well. Honestly speaking, it really, really bothered him that Ushio’s life immediately went on as usual, showing zero reluctance at spending their time apart from each other, but Ushio had been preoccupied with Kei these past few days that Kei thought that he might not have gotten as much work done as he needed, and Kei couldn’t bring himself to interrupt him.
“All right, I’ll get to making our last supper.”
“Don’t make this bluer than it already is.”
“I’m pretty hungry too, so I’ll do something fast and easy.”
From the kitchen, Kei heard the sound of plastic wrappers for instant ramen tearing open. Kei loved instant ramen, and so he was perfectly fine with it. After about a 10-minute wait, Ushio brought over a clay cooking pot to the table. It was completely out of season, but when he uncovered the lid, he found two eggs cracked on top of the Sapporo Ichiban noodles (salt-flavored), and they looked perfectly steamed, all bright white and yellow. There were chopped green onions scattered around the pot and to top it all off was freshly ground black pepper.
Oh man, this is gonna be so good.
“Butter, butter, butter.”
“Hold on, I’ve already melted some and added it in. Geez, you really like grease and fat.”
If it wasn’t enough Kei had planned to add more, but it was perfect the way it was. They used chopsticks to pull up long strands of noodles stuck with bits of egg from the steaming clay pot. Ushio had mentioned it before, but it felt like they had spent ten years worth of nights like this together—far longer than they actually had, and it baffled Kei.
After Ushio finished cleaning up, he pulled two chairs over in front of the bed and said to Kei, “Sit.”
“I’m going to brush my teeth and sleep.”
“It’ll be quick.”
Kei wondered what Ushio wanted as he sat down like Ushio had asked, and for some reason Ushio’s smartphone was on the bed connected to a similar-sized device with a cable.
“I’m turning off the lights,” Ushio warned before flipping the switch, but the room didn’t turn completely dark.
On the wall at the back of the bed, there was a pillow-sized projection of a screen. Apparently the smartphone was hooked up to a mini-sized projector.
A time code counted down 3, 2, 1, and a deep blue-tinged darkness appeared. Then there was a red dot. Then surrounding the dot was a ring of colorful red, yellow, and orange dots. Then came another ring, and another ring around it. The embroidery spread larger and larger, and new ones bloomed in different areas of the screen.
“It’s the director’s cut,” Ushio said sitting next to him.
There was all this activity on the screen, but somehow it was a soft and quiet fireworks show. He had liked it when the commercial played on TV (well, Kunieda-san did), but he liked this version far better. It was understandable that he hadn’t realized that this was Ushio’s work when he saw the finished commercial with a part of his memory missing.
“The TV version’s kinda busy and jumbled.”
“You think so?”
“The other CG are in the way, and the sound effects, music, and voice-overs are distracting.”
“Well, it is for a clearance sale. It’s more important to appeal to people’s ears than their eyes when it comes to commercials.”
“Doesn’t it make you mad?”
Seeing the version without all of the added effects, Kei now felt like the pop-like font, the tag lines, the model with the high-pitched voice, everything, pretty much ruined what Ushio had originally made.
“Well, they only commissioned me for materials for a commercial. If they had asked me to direct the total package, I might have had more of a say in it, but in the end, the purpose of a commercial isn’t to air my work.” Ushio smiled wryly at Kei’s frown and wrapped an arm around him to pull his head over. “It would be a lie to say that I don’t regret anything about it, but this line of work pays far better than anything else. But even with all the freedom that clients may give me, if I’m not careful, I might end up digging my own grave in this business… Anyway, work is hard. I’m just trying to make a living.”
It was unusual for Ushio to open up for topics like this.
“But I think I’m happy enough having you watch my work like this.”
“Idiot, it’s not work if you’re only showing it to a single person.”
“I guess that’s true. How about we play it at the Kunieda Kei museum?”
Kei leaned himself completely into Ushio’s shoulder. Their own little fireworks show bloomed one after the other on the tiny screen on repeat. Kei prayed, wishing that morning would never come. Not because he was running from something, but because he wished to be locked up in this moment forever.
Someone with god-like powers, are you listening?
(First published as a gift-with-purchase bonus paper for Dear Plus Bunko’s “Center of the World” in June 2015.)
Change the World
The party was in full swing; Ushio was full from dinner, and all that he wanted to do was to drink as much as he wanted as he talked to people all night long until he fell asleep. It was in the midst of this merrymaking away from home when he received a message on his cell phone.
“Hey, how’s it going? Enjoying the hot springs? Which do you like more: lucky pervert scenarios or murder mysteries?”1
They were only letters on a screen, but Ushio’s brain automatically translated the message with sound.
Now that’s a talent. Not mine, but his.
“How did you know?”
Ushio quickly sent off his reply with a beer in one hand, and almost immediately his screen filled with additional dialog balloons.
“Because I can see everything and anything~ Anyway, I had a little request, and after a bit of sleuthing around, that was how I found out.”
“My paisen2 asked me to investigate whether you were on a trip with people from Persons. Kunieda-san said not to tell you, so I’m gonna take it to mean that he actually wants me to tell you.”
Did he really?
Ushio frowned at the cheers from the UNO game.
“I didn’t ask him what he was going to do with the information. Paisen’s on vacation now, so he just might come over. This is the last night you can have any orgies.”
Don’t even joke about it.
Ushio lightly shook his head, found that he wasn’t very drunk, and got up. As he tried to slip away from the party, Kizaki caught up after him.
“Tsuzuki-san, do you plan on heading to the baths?”
“Yeah, just for a bit.”
“You’ve had a bit to drink, so please be careful.”
“Thanks, I will.”
Ushio was impressed at how sharp Kizaki’s eyes were. Kizaki hadn’t used his status as a presenter to pull rank between him and the staff, and even though Ushio knew that Kizaki was the source of Kei’s stress, he didn’t hate the guy. Ushio was sure that Kei wouldn’t want him to change his feelings on his account either.
At any rate, Ushio knew that if Kei really became serious, he would never lose to anyone. His gears were just a little misaligned right now.
Out of the number of open-air baths at the inn, Ushio chose one that was the smallest and little further away from the building and found that there was no one using it. He rinsed off before getting in and submerged his body into the hot water.
Would he come? No way, he wouldn’t.
They had left on complicated and awkward circumstances, and with Kei’s anxiety, he would never come all this way. Ushio decided to go see Kei once he got back to Tokyo. It didn’t cross Ushio’s mind that it would be giving in or losing to do so.
But if Kei were to come, how exciting would that be? Would he come as Kunieda-san or as Kei? What face would he make and what would he say?
Ahh, I’m not the slightest bit mad at him.
There was still the urge to get a word in—to tell him to stop flying off the handle after stewing in his thoughts by himself, but that didn’t matter anymore.
As long as you come to see me, that’s more than enough.
The stars twinkled brightly as steam rose up against the distant night sky. Would Kei be watching this same sky tomorrow? Ushio looked up at the view and hummed quietly to himself.
If I could reach the stars, I’d pull one down for you…or so the lyrics went.3
(First published in a blog post celebrating additional printings of Dear Plus Bunko’s “Center of the World” in June 2015.)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.