Chapter 1: Close Encounter of the Third Kind
Somebody had said that it felt amazing, so he’d decided that he would try it for himself. “I’ll sneak into the school pool for a swim on the way back from the mountain retreat,” Asaba Naoyuki thought.
It was the final day of his middle school second year summer vacation1, and it was about 5 past 8 P.M. He parked his bike at the nearby video shop, slung his stuffed duffel bag over his shoulder, and walked back to school along a poorly lit street. He jumped the side gate on the north side, and passed quickly behind the building where the clubrooms were.
Feeling like a spy that had snuck behind enemy lines, he peeked out from the shadows of the incinerator. The only redeeming quality of a school in the countryside was the size of its schoolyard. Having been trampled on throughout the summer, the soft white lines that some lousy club member had drawn resembled the Nazca Lines to eyes that were not yet completely used to the dark.
To his right was the worn down gymnasium. Straight ahead was Sonohara City Middle School’s wooden main building, so worn down that it even had its own distinct atmosphere about it. To his left was the school’s newest addition, the Sonohara District 4th Shelter.
It was dark, and naturally nobody was around. Distant sounds carried through surprisingly sharply: the ring of an endlessly ringing telephone, the siren of a patrol car chasing something down, the running engine of a distant moped, someone being thanked by a vending machine for buying juice. Suddenly, the red character for “Buddha2” appeared on a big circle looming in the night sky. It was the billboard for a Buddhist altar shop that was recently built on the outskirts of town. It would have broken the mood, so he pretended not to see it.
The clock tower in the center of the school building indicated that it was 8:14 P.M., but this was no ordinary 8:14 P.M. It was 8:14 P.M. on the final day of his middle school second year summer vacation.
To Asaba, who at this point hadn’t touched his homework at all, that school building with the clock tower separating the school grounds and sinking into the summer night sky was a veritable three-story wooden time bomb. That clock tower was despicable. He felt like time throughout the world would stop at 8:14 if he cut the life out of that clock’s cogs. If that happened, then summer vacation wouldn’t end, and second semester wouldn’t begin.
For a month and a half now, despite the fact that the only people who looked up at that clock dial were the buzz cut members from the sports clubs, the fact that nobody would notice if it took a little break, and the fact that it didn’t even have a second hand, that clock tower continued to shave off time, one second at a time, for the eternity that was about a month and a half.
And now, Asaba was left with barely 13 hours. In about 13 hours, boom. Second semester would begin without mercy. The science and homeroom teacher of class 2-4, Kawaguchi Taizou, 35 years old and single, would probably line up those who couldn’t turn in their homework on the platform, glare at them with scientific eyes, and while scientifically striking their heads with the attendance record, demand a scientific explanation for why their homework isn’t turned in3.
“But Sensei, I couldn’t help it. I was abducted by aliens on the first day of summer vacation and taken to these pyramids on the other side of the moon. These pyramids were their secret bases for invading Earth, and the prison I was thrown into had seven other boys and girls from countries around the world, who were abducted just like me. We escaped from the prison, stole their ray guns and went on a rampage, somehow destroyed the pyramids and escaped in a UFO, and were finally able to return to Earth just last night. There wasn’t any time to do homework. But, thanks to us, humanity was saved from complete destruction, and with that, you and I were able to be here today, Sensei. No, that’s not it. Like I said, this isn’t sunburn; it’s radiation exposure caused by the UFO’s anti-gravity field. Here, please take a good look. Doesn’t it look like the Lucky Dragon No. 54?”
“I’ll definitely get torn apart.”
That being said, the result probably wouldn’t be much different if he spoke honestly and said, “I was holed up in the mountains behind Sonohara Base with Suizenji-san, the President of the Newspaper Club, searching for UFOs the entire summer.” That reality was hiding with Asaba in the shadows of the incinerator, and in about 13 hours, it would be established as plain historic fact.
Asaba Naoyuki’s middle school second year summer vacation was swallowed up by the mountains behind Sonohara Base and vanished.
13 hours left.
Even a death row inmate has the privilege to a final smoke. That’s why it would be okay for him to sneak into the school pool for a swim tonight. It was only natural.
Somewhere immediately nearby, an unseen cicada gave off a quick chirp in the dark. Asaba confirmed for the final time that nobody was around. Only the three-story wooden building was glaring at Asaba with all of its windows open, as if saying, “I see through all of your wicked acts.”
Asaba was aware that the faculty room was to the left of the center of the school building, and that to the left of that was the so-called “nap room.” It was a small tatami-matted room, whose use remained unknown. If the night watch Sensei was around, then he’d probably be in there.
However, there were no lights leaking from any of the school building windows, and Asaba didn’t even know for sure whether his school had posted a night watch Sensei in the first place.
His destination was to the side of the gymnasium, about 30 meters from the incinerator where Asaba was hiding. The pool wasn’t surrounded by a fence, but by a wall of tall interconnected plastic panels. It was like the infamous Berlin Wall; an impregnable, unshakeable wall that completely absorbed the male students’ cries of resentment, “we can’t watch the girls’ swimming classes with this!”
But right now, to Asaba, that wall was an ally. Thanks to that wall, there was no possibility of him being seen while swimming in the pool at night.
The point of entry had been taken care of. Asaba was well aware that the door to the locker room was completely loose, and even if it was locked, all he had to do was forcefully turn the knob and the lock would give.
All he needed was courage.
“There shouldn’t be anyone here. There’s no way I’ll get caught.”
But he couldn’t wipe away a lingering doubt. If by any chance anyone saw him, then he’d be in for a good scolding.
He made a run for it.
Knocking around the duffle bag on his back, he ran the final 30 meters, with nowhere to hide. He rolled into the shadow of the L-shaped concrete wall that concealed the doorway to the locker room. He caught his breath, looked around once again, and finally felt a little at ease.
With both hands, he turned the doorknob with all of his might. The lock disengaged without the least resistance, leaving in his hands the sensation of worn down metal chafing against itself with a click.
At that moment, he heard the siren of a patrol car. Even though he knew that there was no way it involved him, Asaba unconsciously flinched and stopped in his tracks.
“There it is again,” he thought. He had heard it before as well, hiding in the shadows of the incinerator.
The siren melted as it faded into the distance, suddenly ceasing and disappearing.
“The patrol cars are out in full force tonight. I wonder if there was some kind of incident. That reminds me, shortly before summer vacation there was a circular notice that went around saying, ‘there is a possibility that a spy from the North is hiding in the vicinity, so be careful.’ I guess spies don’t give a damn about summer vacation.
He took a deep breath.
He quietly opened the door to the locker room, and peeked inside.
It was pitch black.
“It’s too dark. It’ll be impossible to change in here,” he thought. “Turning on the lights is out of the question.” After thinking about it for a bit, Asaba decided to just change where he stood. “It’s in the shadows of this covering concrete wall, so there’s probably no way anybody will come.”
He lowered his bag from his shoulders and pulled opened the zipper. It was at that moment when Asaba realized his grave error.
This was on the way home from his mountain retreat.
In other words, the contents of his bag were all items for a mountain retreat. Things like a toothbrush, a towel, extra clothes, bug spray, a camera, and a small wireless transceiver. No matter how you think about it, there was no need for swimming trunks during a mountain retreat.
And thus, he had no swimming trunks. He was terribly disappointed.
Asaba crouched down. His disappointment resembled that time when he’d made a spur-of-the-moment decision the night before to go rent an adult video at a ridiculously far away video shop, only to realize when he laid his hands on the perfect video the next day that he had forgotten his wallet.
A wild idea ran through his mind.
“If it’s come to this, then should I just swim stark naked? Should I just go for something crazy like that?” For just a brief moment, he felt that swimming stark naked in the middle of the night in the school pool would actually feel kind of amazing. Then he became worried that maybe he had some kind of exhibitionism fetish. “Maybe going naked is a bad idea after all.”
He blindly dug through his bag, wondering if he had anything that could serve as a replacement for swimming trunks.
A pair of crumpled up short-shorts came out. It was the school designated gym short-shorts that he wore to sleep in his sleeping bag.
Making sure one more time that nobody was around, Asaba hastily took off his pants and boxers, and tried the short-shorts on. He took off his shirt too and looked down at himself. The short-shorts had unusual pockets, and unlike swimming trunks, they had no inner lining so they felt extra breezy.
“These don’t feel too bad,” he thought. “I’ve already come this far anyway.”
He strengthened his resolve. Asaba kicked his clothes into his bag and entered the locker room. Following the barely discernible silhouette of the lockers, he fumbled his way through the damp, chlorine-smelling darkness. He passed by the showers and the sterilization tank. While keeping aware of the slipperiness of the wet floor with the bottom of his foot, he thought about how it was definitely around this area last summer where Miyake was messing around and had gotten covered in blood.
Asaba vividly recalled Miyake’s cries, “Sensei, I’m going to dieeeee, I’m going to dieeeeee,” and apologized in his mind.
“My bad, Miyake. You were just too hilarious that time.”
He pushed open the swinging door, and stepped onto the night poolside. There, Asaba’s amusing reminiscing ceased. Instantaneously, his attention was focused onto something else, and he stepped on a hose and nearly fell over.
There was somebody else by the night poolside.
It was a girl.
1. 中学二年の夏休み: a bit long in English, but there wasn’t really another way of putting it.
3. 科学的: scientific might sound strange, but it is the original text
4. 第五福竜丸: A Japanese tuna fishing boat, which was exposed to and contaminated by nuclear fallout from the United States’ Castle Bravo thermonuclear device test on Bikini Atoll, on 1 March 1954.