Kasumi was finally convinced the world would come to an end when she saw a female announcer burst into tears on the last episode of NHK Special. The white dwarf star that had been swelling up in the far-off distance was heading toward Earth at sub-lightspeed, and in two months, it would collide with Earth like a cue ball striking a nine ball.
Hundreds of nuclear warhead missiles had already been launched toward the star dubbed the “Great King of Fear” and landed on target. The Great King of Fear, which had slowed due to the inexplicable law of gravity, performed a peaceful show in the heavens, painting the blue sky wispy white and emitting missile fireworks on its surface. The human race saw how puffs of white smoke could float on a thin film spreading over the sky in this manner; it was infuriatingly beautiful. The spectacle reminded onlookers of dandelion fluff drifting through the azure spring sky, and some musician christened it “Enormous Spring.” Kasumi thought that was clever. Of course, it didn’t do anyone any good, but being able to think something sensible like that was nonetheless one virtue of humanity. Cappy, Kasumi’s dog, was sound asleep, its tongue sticking out as if it were thumbing its nose at the planet’s impending doom.
The day before the world was supposed to end, Kasumi woke up in the morning and slipped into her school uniform as usual. She had nothing else to do. Besides, she didn’t dislike school. On the other hand, her best friend, Tomo-chan, had left for a trip a few days earlier, saying she would spend time with her boyfriend. By this time, she would have lost her virginity. Kasumi was a bit disappointed she couldn’t ask Tomo-chan what it felt like, but it didn’t matter because she wouldn’t have a chance to try it herself, even if her friend could tell her.
What kind of underwear did Tomo-chan wear? She would have grown-up undies now, but it’d be funny if she had on her bra and shorts printed with Rilakkuma, the brown cartoon bear, which she’d bought when she was in sixth grade. What would her boyfriend say if she showed him the Rilakkuma underwear when they had sex for the first time, as the end of the world drew near? Maybe he said something like, “Why are you so calm?” If Kasumi were Tomo-chan’s boyfriend, Kasumi would surely weep.
While riding the train on the Tozai Line, Kasumi pondered these things and smiled. Usually packed with commuters, the train car was now almost empty, so she could sit in any seat she wanted. It was like the Tozai Line at 2:30 p.m. when she faked illness and left school early.
When she was done with the day’s classes, she went to the entrance-exit, where she’d been assigned to clean. There Kurihara lay in wait for her. She had blocked him on LINE because about a week ago he’d begun texting her incessantly, saying things like “Let me do you.” Now, she would have to face him.
Kurihara stepped forward, placing himself between her and the exit. “Do you like someone else?” His lips twisted in a sneer and he didn’t wait for her response. “No, you don’t.”
Kurihara had an odd look on his face. Kasumi wondered why he was so convinced she wasn’t interested in someone else.
“If the world’s ending tomorrow, I think I’m just the right guy for you, Kasumi.”
Kasumi’s brow furrowed. Why was he calling her by her first name? He’d always called her by her last name, “Kijima,” all along, and his sudden familiarity was disconcerting. Kurihara’s shoulders heaved as he breathed hard. Kurihara grabbed her shoulder as she tried to pass him without acknowledging his crude proposition. His cold touch gave her chills and made her cringe. Sweat beaded on his forehead and upper lip and dripped down his temple.
“Hey you! I’ve got the hots for you!” His grip tightened painfully on her shoulder. “Why won’t you at least talk to me?”
Kasumi wanted to snap back, but to her surprise, a lump in her throat choked off her words. She wanted to escape, but her legs were frozen. Kurihara grabbed both her shoulders, his cold hands heating up with violent force.
“Leave her alone,” a voice said. It belonged to Fujieda from the baseball club. As he looked down from his 180-centimeter height, Kurihara let go of Kasumi’s shoulders.
“That’s against the rules,” Fujieda warned him.
“But I don’t have much time left,” Kurihara whined.
Then they argued for a while before Kurihara finally gave up.
After making sure Kurihara was gone, Kasumi asked Fujieda. “Are you playing some kind of game?”
“Come with me.” Fujieda took Kasumi’s hand, and together they entered the broadcast equipment room near the entrance-exit. Feeling his warmth on her wrist, Kasumi followed him without any resistance.
“About the rules I mentioned . . .”
Then Fujieda took out his cell phone and showed her a LINE channel exclusive to male students. When he scrolled back through its history, a list of girls appeared, each with a string of comments: “I want to rape her.”…”No, you can’t touch her – she’s my favorite.”… “That one is free.”…”I’ve already fucked the one in the freshman class.” In short, they were freely discussing which girls they were going to fuck.
“What is this? Human rights violations? Fujieda-kun, are you part of this too?”
“Of course not!” Fujieda raised his voice. “I mean, some of us have nothing to do with this. I’m trying to stop them.”
Kasumi thought the world wasn’t so bad after all.
Seated on the cold floor of the broadcast equipment room, she stared at Fujieda’s face, which was gradually coming closer. Oh . . . was he trying to kiss her? Well, it didn’t matter anymore. The world was about to end. She wondered if she should close her eyes.
Then, just as he was about to kiss her, she heard a crackling sound and saw Fujieda’s face flying away from her. He toppled sideways and groaned. Then his body trembled as something struck him in the side of his face.
“I saw her first! She’s mine!” someone screamed. It was Kurihara, who stood over him, swinging a bat. Hissing blows landed on Fujieda’s head with muffled thuds.
Just as she screamed inside her head, Kasumi grabbed a microphone stand next to her and swung it with the forehand she had perfected during after-school tennis practice. Kurihara shrieked in agony and fell to the floor. As she hesitated, wondering if she should finish him off, a pool of blood began to spread over the floor. Kurihara writhed in pain, holding his neck, but he soon breathed his last. Apparently, a metal part lying on the floor had plunged into his neck as he fell.
Two dead boys in the broadcast equipment room. Maybe she’d better tell her teacher, Kasumi thought as she left the room.
Then her homeroom teacher Koike happened to pass by. When he saw Kasumi, he shouted, “What’s the matter?”
“Uh, they’re, like…dead. Kurihara and Fujieda-kun from Class B.”
“Are you hurt?” When Kasumi shook her head, he ran past her into the broadcast equipment room. After a few seconds, he shrieked. “How did they die?”
“Died . . . more like were killed,” Kasumi said.
“Did they kill each other?”
“No. Kurihara killed Fujieda-kun. I killed Kurihara.”
“But why?” Koike shouted, grabbing Kasumi by the collar. Hey, wasn’t this sexual harassment? His face was so close to hers… But she refrained from blurting this out. “I was almost raped,” she said briefly.
“What . . . rape? Were you raped?”
“No, I wasn’t. Kurihara killed Fujieda-kun with the bat. Kurihara tried to rape me, so I resisted him, and he ended up dead. I told you already.”
Koike crumpled to his knees dramatically, as if he’d been hurt. He seemed deep in thought, like a Greek statue. Then he said, “Let’s talk in homeroom. There’s a meeting soon.”
Just as Koike said, a homeroom meeting for all the students began at 15:45. He had Kasumi stand next to the podium. Koike declared in a loud voice, “I don’t think this planet will be destroyed tomorrow.” He added, “When I was young, people made a fuss over Nostradamus’s ‘Great Prophecies.’ Everyone thought the world would end then too, but it didn’t. In all likelihood, it won’t end this time either.”
“Tell you what, let’s do this,” Koike said at the conclusion of the homeroom meeting that had lasted over an hour. “If the world doesn’t end tomorrow, let’s discuss once again whether or not what Kasumi did was a crime. Until then, we won’t call the police, nor will we clear out the bodies. The crime scene must be preserved. Understood?”
Kasumi suddenly recalled a summer’s day much like this one. Back then, too, she gazed into the schoolyard in the middle of a never-ending homeroom meeting. A large, mountainous cumulonimbus cloud approached and dyed the summer earth dark as night. She remembered it well; she had thought it’d be nice to sneak away with a boy she liked and kiss him on such a day. She was going to kiss Fujieda-kun. But he was dead now. As she pondered such thoughts, she became unbearably sad and had to keep herself from crying in front of her classmates.
Kasumi went home for the day, ate dinner, and took a shower. She threw up a little bit in the toilet. Then she rinsed out her mouth thoroughly, brushed her teeth, and went to bed.
The next morning, she woke at ten past seven as usual, and while she washed her face at the bathroom sink, she died along with all the other living creatures. She was sixteen.
Born in 1979 in Chiba, Fumiki Takahashi is an award-winning Japanese author. While still a student at the University of Tokyo, he made his literary debut in 2001 with the novel Tochugesha. Since 2007, he has edited the literary journal Hametuha. Authors he admires include Kenzaburo Oe, Michel Houellebecq, and Gabriel García Márquez. He has a short story in Bewildering Stories and another forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine.
Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations of Latin American literature include Silent Herons by Selfa Chew, My Father Thinks I’m a Fakir by Claudia Apablaza, and The Torments of Aristarco by Ana García Bergua.