NARRATOR: "I woke up, took my pills, had a nice shower, quickly slipped on my uniform, ate a tasty breakfast, grabbed my bag, and headed off, all as per my usual daily routine. It was only after arriving in class that the normality of the day was thrown off. After taking my seat, I watched my classmates trickle into the room over the next hour, until every empty seat was eventually taken, other than Hanako's."

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HANAKO: "I can never get used to the idea that she just doesn't show up to class every now and again. It feels all the more worrying now as well, given that Lilly's left. As Mutou continues to drone on, I find my gaze flicking every so often over to her seat, as if she might appear there any moment now. Nobody else seems to care at all about her absence, but they have little reason to. Hanako being absent from class, after all, is perfectly normal. Or at least, it was. Her attendance hasn't been all that bad from what I've seen in my time here, but it was apparently much more spotty beforehand. This is also an ominous time for her to be gone. It's the day before her birthday, and my suspicions are starting to rise, after the breakdown she had in class when it was mentioned. An increasing amount of my thoughts is taken up by how I can help her, but in the end, I feel like I can't do anything."

NARRATOR: "The bell heralding the beginning of lunchtime rings out, shaking me out of my thoughts. A collective sigh of relief can be heard from the class, though Mutou looks quite put off. He dislikes being interrupted in the middle of his exciting lectures, after all. Just when I'm wondering what I should do on lunch break, given that Hanako and Lilly aren't here, the solution presents itself."

MISHA: "'Afternoon, Hicchan~!"

SHIZUNE: "..."

HISAO: "'Afternoon Misha, Shizune. You both look as bright as ever."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Shicchan wants to know if you'd like to have lunch with us today~?"

HISAO: "Sure. It'll be good to have some company."

NARRATOR: "The cafeteria hums with activity, much like my old school's did. Yamaku is different, though, in how... strangely civilized the lunchtime rush is. What one would expect to be an unruly mob chomping at the bit to get to the serving area is, rather, a neat and organized line. There's a small amount of jostling, and people's heads are often craning around to check on what's happening up ahead, but it's pretty subdued. This is due, no doubt, to the very serious rules regarding such matters in this school. The same strict discipline is observed when students move in the hallways, or come to and from their dormitories and the school gate. While the reasons for it may be slightly off-putting, I've come to quite like this sense of order that's enforced in the school."

NARRATOR: "I didn't really like being told by Shizune and Misha to get their lunches, though. I feel a little used as I take a seat at the table where they're sitting, plunking their food down in front of them. Sweet bread and strawberry milk for Misha, a bowl of ramen and juice for Shizune. I heave a sigh of relief as I put it all down, after the significant difficulty I had carrying it all in addition to my own lunch."

MISHA: "Thank you~!"

NARRATOR: "Misha claps her hands together before popping open the wrapper and digging into her bread ravenously. Shizune simply gives an appreciative nod before giving her steaming ramen a stir and blowing on it a little to cool it down. I open my own lunch, another packet of sweet bread, and take a bite before washing it down with some juice. The bread is very sweet, so much so that I end up forcing myself to stomach it just to get the experience over with. Midway through, I decide to take a break from the difficult task and ask what's on my mind."

HISAO: "So, I'm guessing you two had a reason to drag me down here? You two seem to always have an ulterior motive, after all."

MISHA: "What are you faying, Hiffan~! We mon't hafe any uffer mofiffe~."

NARRATOR: "Her mouth is full of sweet bread as she speaks. It's a pretty unpleasant sight. Shizune looks a little grossed out, before going back to eating her ramen. I wait until Misha swallows what she has in her mouth before speaking again."

HISAO: "You're not buttering me up to make me work with you after school?"

MISHA: "Nope!"

HISAO: "Not trying to extract information from me that I might not want to give?"

MISHA: "Nuh-uh!"

HISAO: "...Fine. You win. I guess you just wanted to eat lunch with someone as intelligent and handsome as me, then."

MISHA: "That's it, Hicchan~! You got it~!"

NARRATOR: "Shizune looks unimpressed as Misha finishes signing our conversation, and sucks in the last of a long noodle as she signs her own thoughts."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Shicchan says you shouldn't be so suspicious of us~. She's just doing her duty as a class representative, after all~."

HISAO: "How is she... err... are you doing that?"

NARRATOR: "As much as I hate to admit it, it looks as if I still have trouble communicating with Shizune. It should be a simple matter of keeping eye contact with her and addressing Shizune instead of Misha in my speech, but when somebody else is doing the talking for her, it's a surprisingly difficult task."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "It's the class representative's job to ensure everybody's doing all right in class, isn't it~?"

HISAO: "Not... really... Wait, how is making me get your food ensuring that I'll go well in class?"

NARRATOR: "Shizune huffs and adjusts her glasses disapprovingly."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "So this is the thanks we get for giving you companionship during lunchtime?"

NARRATOR: "That's a total dodge of the question. Wait, hang on..."

HISAO: "How did you know that I...?"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Lilly's away and Hanako is absent, and since those two are the only people you hang around with..."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "You also made it kind of obvious to see~..."

NARRATOR: "Ouch. I may well have done so, but she didn't need to rub it in. Maybe this is payback for before."

HISAO: "Right. Well, thanks. I appreciate it, and that isn't sarcasm."

NARRATOR: "The two nod, and we get back to finishing our meals. It feels a little embarrassing to be accompanied just because they noticed I was lonely, but it isn't as if they're strangers either. It isn't long before I finish the last of my bread and start on the last of my juice, and as I do so, I find my mind wandering back to what I'd been thinking about before the two interrupted my train of thought. It feels like I'm the only one in the class that so much as acknowledges Hanako not being there. It felt like this the other times she skipped class, but now it's even more acutely annoying. Does nobody care if she's happy or not? Have they just written off any possibility of helping to make her better? Even Mutou doesn't try to keep her in class, and I'm still not wholly convinced by his reasoning."

MISHA: "Hey Hicchan, is your juice past its expiry date?"

HISAO: "What?"

MISHA: "You were pulling a weird face, like this~."

NARRATOR: "As if it were needed, Misha mimics my own expression. Her exaggeration makes me grimace, though Shizune at least takes some amusement from it."

HISAO: "I was just thinking about Hanako."

MISHA: "Oh?"

NARRATOR: "Misha's interest is piqued, and so is Shizune's, once my words are interpreted for her."

HISAO: "I'm just worried about her being absent so often. Especially now, though, what with her birthday coming around."

NARRATOR: "The memories of that incident in class are still fresh in their minds. Their faces alone are telling that much."

HISAO: "Do you know anything about Hanako? Anything that might help?"

NARRATOR: "Misha shrugs and looks to Shizune, who mulls on this for a while."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "The only people she's ever talked to for more than a sentence or two are you and Lilly."

NARRATOR: "Shizune may not be able to convey Lilly's name in a derisive tone of speech, but I feel as if it comes through in her sign language. The effect is lost, however, after Misha's interpretation."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "There are a couple of things we know about Hanako as Student Council members, thanks to the records that pass through our hands, but we can't say anything about what's in them."

HISAO: "Understandable."

NARRATOR: "It sounds a lot like the nurse's “patient confidentiality.” Every time I find someone that knows something about Hanako's past, it turns up being a dead end. The only way I'll ever find out is by asking her. I don't know if she'll let me know such things, but if it's for her sake, I have to at least try."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Don't worry about it, Hicchan~. It happens every year, after all~."

NARRATOR: "That doesn't remove my sense of worry at all. I still feel a little at fault for what happened in class, but this feels like it goes further, even without their confirmation of that fact. Misha notes my troubled expression, her own usually happy and reassuring face dropping."

MISHA: "Everyone has problems they have to deal with, right, Hicchan?"

HISAO: "Yeah. I just wish I could help Hanako more with hers."

NARRATOR: "With that, the conversation trails off on a depressing note. Eventually Misha manages to pick the mood back up through her usual bright and bubbly antics, but my mind remains focused on Hanako. I'll go check on her later. I make sure my door is locked after dropping off my school bag. The dorms are quiet. Mutou kept me occupied longer than I expected, discussing my studies after classes ended and pressing on me some worksheets to give to Hanako almost as an afterthought. Absorbed in thought, I'm late in registering the shadow that appears in front of me. Looking up reveals the owner of said shadow."

KENJI: "Hey, man. Haven't seen you in a while."

HISAO: "Oh. Hi."

KENJI: "What's with that response?"

NARRATOR: "My absentminded greeting visibly annoys him. I'd probably have had the same reaction."

HISAO: "Sorry, just thinking about a lot of stuff."

KENJI: "“Thinking” is a pretty poor excuse to not be aiding the war effort."

HISAO: "And how goes the war?"

KENJI: "I am preparing. Right now I need money to help with those preparations."

HISAO: "If you want me to loan you money, just say it."

KENJI: "No man, I'm good."

HISAO: "You're... good? You don't want my money?"

KENJI: "Hey man, don't look so surprised. It's insulting. I'm pretty big in the competitive bowling scene, but yesterday, I found some guys who didn't know that."

HISAO: "I'm fairly sure that betting would be against the school rules..."

KENJI: "School rules don't matter; this is a war situation. People these days, they have no appreciation for what war means."

HISAO: "So what do you need this money for, dare I ask?"

KENJI: "Non-perishable canned food. Building materials; mostly corrugated iron and wood panels. First aid kit. Camping heater. Portable radio. Sleeping bag. Flashlight. Mechanical clock."

NARRATOR: "At first it strikes me as a rather random assortment of objects and materials, but after a few seconds, it clicks."

HISAO: "Isn't that a list of materials for a fallout shelter?"

KENJI: "Ah, so you've read a Protect and Survive booklet[1]. It's good to see someone so knowledgeable about how to protect themselves."

HISAO: "You don't seriously think..."

KENJI: "It's a non-zero possibility."

HISAO: "No, I'm pretty sure there's zero possibility of that ever happening."

NARRATOR: "He slowly and dramatically raises an eyebrow. Well, as dramatically as one can raise an eyebrow."

HISAO: "The chance is, I don't know, zero point one to the trillionth place. It's infinitesimal. Besides, where can you build a fallout shelter anyway? Certainly not on campus."

KENJI: "It's my summer holiday project while I'm at home. My dad said I can do it."

HISAO: "Really?"

KENJI: "Yeah. He thought it'll improve my crafting skills and manual dexterity. Or something."

NARRATOR: "Knowing Kenji, his dad probably just thought it might keep him out of his hair for a while. Still, it does make me wonder what his parents are like. Maybe they're totally normal, and Kenji is just an aberration. On the other hand, maybe this kind of paranoia and fearful survivalism runs in the family."

KENJI: "Hey, want to help me build it? You look like the type to be handy with tools. If I had your help, we could make a really badass bunker instead of just a fallout shelter."

NARRATOR: "I doubt that. Playing soccer before my accident gave me good footwork, but I've never really tried my hand at anything approaching real handiwork."

HISAO: "I'm not, really. I'm busy over the holidays anyway, I'm afraid."

KENJI: "A shame. If the feminists ever get a hold of the launch codes, I fear that so few will be prepared."

HISAO: "And your fallout shelter will protect you from a nuclear bomb explosion, in the case that this does happen?"

KENJI: "A fallout shelter isn't meant to protect against the blast. That's what a blast shelter is for. I thought you knew better."

HISAO: "My mistake..."

KENJI: "My home's pretty far away from any major military sites, so the fallout following a nuclear exchange is a bigger concern than the blast itself. What this'll do is keep the dust and other particulates away from me, my food supply, and my sleeping area. It's gotta last me at least fourteen days, though."

HISAO: "Fourteen days is a pretty long time."

KENJI: "It is. I need one liter of water a day for drinking, two optimally so that I can wash as well. Toiletry is easy enough; just garbage bags and a bin placed outside the shelter area. Food means canned supplies, of course."

HISAO: "Of course. And the radio is for outside communication?"

KENJI: "Right, right. So I can pick up government alerts on what's going on outside. I need a mechanical clock rather than an electric one in case the electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear airburst fries it, too. There's all the other stuff I need as well, like extra clothing, matches, and candles. I think I still have time to gather it all, though. Maybe."

NARRATOR: "As much as I hate to say it, I'm a little impressed. He's really researched this and thought it through. Then again, I don't know if I want to live in a post-apocalyptic world with only people like Kenji having survived."

HISAO: "It sounds like you really know what you're doing."

KENJI: "Damn right I do."

NARRATOR: "It must be hard, living in constant fear like this. He hardly ever socializes either, so the fact he went bowling with others is in itself something of a surprise. This mentality reminds me a little of a certain someone. Thankfully, her fear of others doesn't manifest in such a distinctly eccentric way. One thing I know for sure is that I certainly can't tell him exactly why I haven't been hanging around with him much recently."

HISAO: "It's late. I have stuff to do. I'll think about making a fallout shelter or something, though."

KENJI: "Yeah, all right, that's cool. A man has to do what he's gotta do, after all. You should hang out with me sometime, by the way. You're a cool dude. Cool dudes should hang out together, right?"

NARRATOR: "For some reason, that compliment actually feels kinda nice. The situation with Hanako being what it is, though, means that I probably won't be able to fulfill his request. For now, at least."

HISAO: "That'd be good. I'll talk to you later about it when I can."

KENJI: "Cool. Later, dude."

NARRATOR: "He retreats to his dormitory room. I had better go see Hanako. I stand outside of the door to Hanako's room, hoping that she isn't in too much of a state as I nervously clutch the worksheets Mutou asked me to pass on to her. It's one more reason to visit her, and it gives me something to talk about, so I suppose I should be thankful to him for giving me the task. With a long breath to steady myself, I rap my knuckles on the door in front of me."

NARRATOR: "...Silence. I listen intently for any sound of shuffling coming from inside, but I can't hear a thing. I knock on the door again, slightly harder. till no answer. How strange. Scratching my head, I make one last attempt at getting her to answer as I knock on the door one final time."

HISAO: "Hanako, it's just me. Mutou said to give you some stuff."

NARRATOR: "For a while, the attempt seems just as unsuccessful as the last. Just before I slip the sheets under her door, though, I hear the handle rattling. As the door opens halfway, I quickly try to see how Hanako's faring. It's a task made somewhat more difficult by her oversized gown hiding so much of her body. She doesn't look sick, or at least not immediately so. To be honest, I'd have preferred that to her expression right now. She looks terribly tired, and appears to be barely acknowledging my presence."

HISAO: "Hi, Hanako. Mutou wanted me to give you these since you weren't in class today."

NARRATOR: "I hold out the loose sheets, which she tentatively takes in her hands. The way she moves is devoid of thought. Her posture is slumped, in an unusual manner for someone that's so often tense and wound up. Even her eyes keep looking away from mine, doing their best to avoid eye contact. I move my head a little to try and get a better look, but she just ends up turning away."

HISAO: "Are you... okay? If you're feeling sick or anything, I could go get a nurse."

NARRATOR: "It feels almost pitiful to put on such a routine “get well soon” act. I can't think of anything else I could possibly do for her, though. She seems to collect herself a little at the notion... but only a little. Her head remains turned away, but her eyes move towards me."

HANAKO: "I'm fine."

NARRATOR: "An awkward silence follows. As it lingers, I notice that the sleeves and the cuffs of her gown bear slightly damp stains. Her cheeks are a bit red, too. Has she been crying?"

HISAO: "I see."

NARRATOR: "I hesitate a little before coming out with the words I really came here to say."

HISAO: "Would you like me to stay? I don't have anything urgent to do at the moment, so it wouldn't be any trouble."

NARRATOR: "Her eyes slide away from me, and I lose any hope for an improvement of her mood. I wait for a response, but she doesn't say anything, nor give any kind of gesture. She just stands there, looking away from me."

HISAO: "Hanako...?"

NARRATOR: "She slowly shakes her head."

HISAO: "Okay. Um... good night, then."

NARRATOR: "With that, Hanako steps back and closes her door without a second word. More than a little worried, I retreat back to my room. Wandering up the hallway, I keep mulling over what happened. It felt like Hanako was only half there, as if I was interacting with a robot that was just doing what it was programmed to without any real thought. She was a husk of a person. This is frustrating. I had hoped that meeting Hanako would help the situation, but I feel like it's only made it harder to understand her. How am I supposed to try and help her when she quite literally shuts me out like that? I don't even bother to turn on the light, opting instead to simply change into my pajamas, quickly choke down my evening pills, and collapse onto my bed."

Next Scene: Faraway Presence


  1. "Protect and Survive" is a series of public information booklets produced in Great Britain in the eighties regarding nuclear attack