Case 1: Evil Spirits All Over!? (Part 13)
"Okay, I'm back!" Hitomi announced as she hopped out of the passenger seat of her cousin's van to moment it rolled to a stop next to the SPR van, which Naru was sitting in the back of, analyzing some of the data from earlier. Shou had insisted on driving her since it was already dark. "So, what did I miss? Where is everyone?"
"Mai saved John from a collapsing ceiling, and then they all left for the day." Naru replied stoically as he paused to glance up at her, correctly assuming the young man with her was the cousin she had mentioned earlier.
"Ooh, impressive." Hitomi said, praising Mai, while Shou sweat-dropped. This was starting to sound a lot more dangerous than she had let on…
"Did you finish collecting the data I asked for?" Naru asked, getting them back on task.
"Yep, it's all here." She replied brightly, handing over some handwritten notes and copies of some rather official looking documents and diagrams for the water tables and locations of local aquifers. Everything appeared to be in order apart form one thing…
"This doesn't look like your handwriting." Naru said, glancing back up at her from the documents.
"That's because it's mine." Shou said as he walked over to join them. "Hi, I'm Matsumoto Shouta, Hitomi's cousin."
"Yes, I guessed as much." Naru stated coolly, furrowing his brow slightly, as he shot Hitomi a questioning glance, clearly irked that she had not done the work he asked her to do herself.
"What? You never said I couldn't delegate." She pointed out defensively with a shrug. "And you're welcome for using my connections with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport to get you the latest data updates before they'll become available to the public in about two or three days."
"What? Since when do you have connections to the MLIT?" Shou asked, impressed. He'd lived here his whole life, yet somehow Hitomi's ever growing circle of acquaintances always seemed larger than his…
"Hana-chan's dad works there, remember?" Hitomi reminded him. "I gave her a call, and she had him fax it over by saying it was for a school project. Come on, Shou-chan, keep up!" She chided her cousin playfully, while Naru flipped through the pages of data.
It was just as Naru had suspected.
"Good work." He told them.
Hitomi blinked, surprised. She hadn't really expected to receive any actual praise, even though it was a job well done… She smiled. It was a nice change of pace.
"You can go home now." Naru added bluntly, ruining the effect.
"Wha—" Shou started to exclaim incredulously, but Hitomi cut him off. She had already warned her cousin about Naru's difficult personality. He obviously hadn't been paying much attention.
"—You're telling us to leave after coming all this way?" She asked, raising an eyebrow at the narcissistic boy. "What about you? You're not planning to stay and work here all by yourself, are you?"
"Forget about him, Hitomi." Shou said, clearly still disgruntled over Naru's brusque dismissal. "If he wants to do the rest of the work by himself, then let him. You're having your graduation ceremony tomorrow, remember? You need your beauty sleep—ow!" He said incredulously when she gave him a light punch in the arm.
"Just what are you trying to say, Shou-chan?" She demanded with a brilliant shit-eating grin. "I'm always pretty."
"Except for the rare times you wake up looking like a troll—Ow!" Shou cried out in pain when she stomped on his foot.
"And you wonder why you have so much trouble getting a girlfriend…" Hitomi commented with that eerily calm smile still plastered on her face. Shou-chan was a really slow learner, wasn't he?
"If you're just going to play around, then I suppose you may as well help me start packing up some of the excess equipment." Naru stated, interrupting their little family circus. He was finished with most of it now that his suspicions had been confirmed, but there were still some conditions he wanted to monitor overnight.
"Okay." Hitomi agreed, nonplussed. It was better than letting him go in alone, which he was likely to do if they said 'no' and he was in that much of a hurry to leave.
"Huh!?" Shou said incredulously. Did they really have to? "Didn't he say one of the ceilings collapsed earlier?"
"If you're scared, then you can wait out here." Hitomi told him as she moved to follow Naru inside. "We should be fine as long as we're careful, but feel free to call for help if you hear a loud crash and neither of us comes back out again."
"A-ah, wait for me!" He called out grudgingly, hurrying after them. If anything happened to her, the old man would have his hide!
"Phew~" Hitomi said, resting on the SPR Van's rear bumper once they finished loading all the packed boxes. She really must be tired, because they felt heavier this time around. "Is that all of it?"
"For now." Naru replied calmly, completely unaffected. "You should go home and get some rest before your graduation."
"That sounds good to me!" Shou said, ready to get away from the dangerous old school building. This place gave him the creeps!
"What about you?" Hitomi asked Naru. "If you want, we can give you a ride home." She knew Naru didn't want to move his van, but they could take him in their car.
"No thanks. I'm going to stay and work a little while longer." Naru said, opening his laptop again.
"Mm, okay, then… as long as you're not planning on going back in by yourself." Hitomi said, a little concerned about leaving this workaholic on his own. "And don't fall asleep out here without a blanket, or you might catch a cold."
"Geez, you're such a mother hen!" Shou said as he grabbed his cousin by the shoulders and started steering her over to his car so they could finally go home. "He's a guy. He'll be fine."
"All right, all right! You don't have to push me." Hitomi said, frowning slightly in annoyance as she broke free and opened the passenger door and climbed in. "Bye, Shibuya-san! See you tomorrow after the ceremony!" She called out cheerfully with a wave as Shou backed out and drove away, leaving Naru to work in peace. She was a little sorry she wouldn't be there for the great reveal…
[Sunday,Inside Class 3–A]
"Settle down, everyone. Settle down." Hitomi's homeroom teacher said boredly as he walked into their noisy classroom. "I know you're all excited, nervous, and ready to graduate, but before we still have a few minutes, so I was instructed to hand out your test scores from the second round of college exams you just finished.
Hitomi immediately snapped to attention and swallowed a nervous lump in her throat as she waited for the teacher to get to her. With bated breath, she began to slowly open the folded piece of paper he had placed on her desk—
"Ah!" One of the other girls gasped in surprise when she saw her own score. Hitomi turned to see that it was Shizuka. "I-I did it! I passed!" She cried out in relief as tears of joy streamed down her face.
"No way! For real?" Harada asked, leaning across his desk to peek over her shoulder as the whole class perked up and got up to have a look and congratulate her. They had all been rooting for her. Shizuka was by no means an idiot. She just had problems with major dyslexia and had always struggled with testing well as a result.
"That's great, Shizuka!" Hitomi exclaimed happily, giving her a friendly pat on the back.
"Yeah." Shizuka agreed wiping her eyes. "What about you, Hitomi? What does yours say?"
Their classmates watched eagerly as Hitomi went back to her desk to finish opening her results and took a moment to read her score and overall placing against all of the other high-schoolers who had taken the test for Todai from across the country.
"Y… Yes!!" Hitomi cheered, jumping out of her chair. "Bwahahaha! Oh, yeah! Top 5th in the country—Take that, old man—Hah!" She laughed, grinning triumphantly as she put her foot on the desk in a Captain Morgan pose and made a 'V' for victory, while her classmates cheered.
"Way to go, Hitomi!"
"As expected of our class's young Ojou-san!"
"Matsumoto-kun, I can see your underwear." The teacher deadpanned, hoping a bit of embarrassment might curb their rambunctiousness and get them to calm down and behave themselves before he had to present them for their graduation ceremony.
"Nice try, Sasaki-sensei," Hitomi said with a laugh, completely unfazed, "but I'm wearing shorts under my skirt today!"
"Yeaaah!" They all cheered, getting even more wound up. Sasaki-sensei sighed.
"This is going to be a long morning…" He grumbled.
"Oh come on, you're totally gonna miss us, Sensei!" Haru said with an impish grin. "Admit it."
"Never out loud." He retorted bluntly.
[Outside the Old School Building]
As Mai approached the old school building that morning, she was surprised to see Naru sleeping in the back of the van. He must have fallen asleep while reviewing the data from yesterday, that workaholic.
"Na-ru-!" She called out to wake him up. "You're going to catch a cold, sleeping out here!" At least he had draped his jacket over himself.
"Nn... Mai, huh?" He said when he stirred and opened his eyes to see who had woken him. He could hear birds singing. "What are you doing here this early in the morning?" He asked, holding a hand to his head. He couldn't have been asleep that long.
'D-Damn it, he really does have a handsome face!' Mai thought, blushing slightly despite herself. It wasn't fair for someone to look so good when they were just waking up after sleeping in the back of a van all night! "M-Morning? It's already past 11 A.M." She informed him a bit nervously, waving her hand.
"Hey!" Takigawa called out, getting their attention, as he walked up with Ayako and John. "What's up with your lab?"
"What's going on, little boy? Getting ready to leave already?" Ayako asked.
"Correct." Naru replied coolly.
"You must be kidding—why!?" Mai asked, taken aback by this revelation. Hadn't they only just started!?
"You mean, you're running away, because you can't handle it?" Ayako asked with a smirk.
"That's can't be right." John said, looking disappointed.
"No." Naru said calmly. "I've determined that this case has been solved."
"Eh?" Mai said.
"You exorcised them, all on your own?" Takigawa asked, surprised.
"No, I didn't. There was no need." Naru told him, opening his laptop.
"No need…?" Takigawa asked, sharing a look of confusion with the others.
"What do you mean?" Mai asked as Naru began typing and brought up a series of charts on the screen for them to see. "What's that?"
"A level scale graph. Last night, I compiled the results of all or my measurements. This building sank more than 0.2 inches overnight." Naru stated.
"What!?" The others exclaimed, leaning over to take a closer look at the graphs.
"It's land subsidence." Naru finished in conclusion.
"So, what? You're saying that was the cause of all those strange phenomena?" Ayako asked dubiously.
"This whole area is reclaimed swampland." Naru explained, holding up the packet of data Hitomi and her cousin had collected for him the previous day. "When I had Hitomi look into the distribution of wells that were once in use, she found out that there was a large underground water vein that passed directly underneath this school. But upon checking the wells around here, it was discovered that they were mostly dry."
"Which means…?" Mai asked.
"The ground here was weak to begin with, and the water has dried up, so if it is hollowing out underground, then this will cause the land to shift and settle. Naturally, the old school building that was built above it will sink too. This area is the most severely affected. The settling is progressing more rapidly on one side of the building, and as a result, various parts of the building are starting to deform and distort."
"So, then, the chair moving, and the ceiling collapsing, was all caused by the ground sinking?" Takigawa asked.
"Yes. the floor of the classroom at the eastern end, where the ceiling collapsed, was three inches lower than the west end." Naru answered patiently.
"Three inches is…" Mai said thoughtfully, trying to remember how to convert measurements in her head.
"… About about 7.5 centimeters." Takigawa finished for her. Mai sweat-dropped. That was a big gap.
"Then, what about the rapping noises?" Ayako asked.
"It wasn't rapping. It was the sound of the building creaking as it sank." Naru told her. "We should have the area around the old school building declared off-limits. This building is going to collapse before long." He added, glancing up at the ancient structure.
"This can't be!" Kuroda protested when she showed up moments later and heard the explanation behind the 'haunting', she had immediately run to the base room to confront Naru, who was in the process of packing up the remaining equipment that he had left out overnight. "Then, what was it that attacked me!?" Naru stopped what he was doing and turned to face her. Was she really going to play this game, with him? This girl really didn't know when to quit.
"If that really did happen, then maybe it's the work of a floating spirit that likes to follow you around." He remarked rather condescendingly with a straight face, causing Kuroda to rear back in embarrassment.
"It really was real! I really was attacked!" She insisted stubbornly.
"Are you really leaving, Naru?" Mai asked.
"Yes, the job is done." He said, getting back to work.
"I see. I guess it is, huh?" She said, playing with her short hair as she let out a nervous laugh. 'Huh? For some reason, I feel disappointed…' She thought. And for some reason, she also felt like maybe it wasn't really over yet…
"There is a spirit here, really." Kuroda insisted, clenching her fist.
"No, there aren't. The research results have proven that there's nothing here." Naru stated firmly.
"Maybe you just can't perceive it!" Kuroda yelled at him in frustration.
"Then you should exorcise it yourself. If you do have spiritual abilities, that is." Naru told her, beginning to lose his patience with her.
"!" Kuroda visibly flinched and narrowed her eyes at him.
"I've decided that my work here is done, so I'm leaving." Naru said, loading the last control panel into the box.
"Oh well, it feels kind of like the dream is over." Mai said with a sigh.
"What do you mean?" Naru asked, glancing at her.
"Well, here's an old building in the corner of the school, which really seems to have something about it—stories about it having ghosts, and all—there's a certain sort of romance to it, isn't there?" Mai asked, playing with her hands as she spoke. "I mean, I wouldn't want someone to have really died or anything, but it would be nice if it had some, just for some harmless ghost stories…"
"Maybe so." Naru said thoughtfully. Mai was also beginning to remind him of—
"Aaaah!" Kuroda screamed and threw her arms up to shield herself when the glass panes behind her cracked and shattered, sending shards of broken glass flying everywhere.
"Kuroda-san!" Mai shouted anxiously, running over to check on her.
BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
"What is that!?" Ayako asked nervously.
"It sounds like somebody is hitting something!" Takigawa said, furrowing his brow.
"The sound of knocking!" John exclaimed. "Another one of Tisane's conditions!"
Naru couldn't believe what he was hearing. As the others had said, that definitely wasn't the sound of a creaking building. Those were classic knocking sounds!
"Naru!" Mai said as she glanced nervously up at her boss. "Naru?" She asked again, wondering why he was just standing there.
"!" Mai gasped and whipped her head around when the doors to the hallway suddenly slammed shut. Her eyes widened as they continued to slide back and forth, as if someone was repeatedly opening and closing them.
"This is really dangerous!" Takigawa exclaimed. There was way more than just ground subsidence at work here!
"Outside! It's going to collapse!" Naru said, grabbing Mai by the arm, as he led her and the others out of the broken windows on the opposite side of the room. He was glad now that Hitomi had suggested using a classroom on the ground floor.
"Are you all right, Kuroda-san?" Mai asked once they were all safely out of the building. Kuroda nodded.
"You're bleeding. Let me see your hand." Ayako told the quiet girl in a firm but gentle voice. "It's okay, the cut isn't deep."
"So what was that?" Takigawa asked Naru. "You're gonna tell me all that was caused by the ground sinking too!? That was a full-on poltergeist, wasn't it!?" He shouted sternly. If they had been any later in getting out…!
"Far from the sound of the building warping, someone was definitely knocking on the walls!" Ayako added.
"This makes four of Tisane's nine conditions that have been met." John said regretfully. He didn't think Naru was wrong about the subsidence, but given what they just saw…
"How can you say your data turned up blank? That's ridiculous!" Ayako continued angrily. "We were this close to being the butt of your childish joke!"
"It's time for us to show a little grown-up earnestness." Takigawa said decisively.
"Good grief, I can't even stand to be near you!" Ayako huffed at Naru, turning to leave with the monk.
"What's with them!?" Mai demanded incredulously. "Now they start getting along—Naru! Your hand…!" She gasped when she glanced at the noticeably silent narcissist and saw the blood on his injured hand.
"It isn't nothing." He said calmly. "It'll stop bleeding soon."
"But…" Mai said hesitantly.
"I'm fine." He insisted with tone that left no room for argument. "Take care of Kuroda-san."
"I'd appreciate it if you'd leave me alone right now." He stated coldly. "I'm so mad at myself, I could throw up."
"Oh… okay…" Mai conceded hesitantly. She couldn't help but worry as she watched him way away on his own. He was going to be all right, right…?
Naru could hear excited voices and laughter as he approached the front gate of the school, and he soon saw why. The official part of the graduation ceremony had ended, and all of the third years were now saying their goodbyes and celebrating by taking pictures, and quite a lot of them were exchanging buttons for some reason. He spotted Hitomi right away, thanks to her bright naturally blonde and curly hair.
"Ah, Shibuya-san!" Hitomi called out when she noticed him standing off to the side, contemplating how to get through the swarm of students. "Are you here to give your report to the principal?" She asked, slipping away from the others to talk to him. "He's over there, talking with the parents." She said, pointing him out. Even though he had been released from the hospital, the principal still had a small bandage on his head.
"No, it's not over yet." Naru said evenly. Despite his seemingly stoic façade, Hitomi could tell something had upset him, because he seemed extra tense.
"Did something happen?" She asked, frowning slightly in confusion. She was sure the case was solved now that they had confirmed his theory that is was all being caused by ground subsidence. Naru hesitated to answer for a moment, and her neglected classmates took advantage of this to butt in.
"No fair, Hitomi!" A girl with big hair and elaborately decorated artificial nails scolded Hitomi as she and two other girls came over and slung their arms around her. "You can't just slip away and ditch us for this stud—what about the after party!?"
"That's right, you promised you would come!" The second girl with a short and straight black bob and glasses reminded her.
"Don't even think of escaping on your own." The third girl, who had her wild bleached hair pulled up in a ponytail, deadpanned with a vein throbbing on her forehead.
"Relax, I'm not going to ditch you." Hitomi told them, sweat-dropping. "I was just talking to Shibuya-san. I told you all about him the other day, remember?"
"Oh, right… The ghost hunter." The short-haired girl said, nodding her head.
"Hey, nii-chan, why don't you come with us?" The girl with big hair suggested excitedly.
"Actually, I—" Naru started to decline, but his reply fell on deaf ears as she whipped her head around and called out to the rest of the class.
"Guess what, everyone! We've got a hot ghost hunter coming with us now!" The girl with big hair declared grandly, eliciting a cheer from the rest of their class.
"Yeah! To the Karaoke bar!" They all shouted enthusiastically, and Naru immediately found himself being grabbed and swept along with the crowd before he even had time to blink, much less make a break for it.