Ghost of a Chance

Case 1: Evil Spirits All Over!? (Part 14)

[Hanamaru Karaoke Bar]

"This is ridiculous." Naru muttered, feeling incredibly disgruntled as he wondered how he had let himself end up in his current situation. The music was loud, the singing was obnoxious, and there were way too many people crammed into the small room that Hitomi's class had reserved for their party. Haruka, the rough-looking girl with bleached hair, and Shizuka, the girl with the dark bob and glasses, were singing a duet to an enka song. Despite Haruka's initial reluctance to join in, she was really getting into it now.

"This is class 3—A." Hitomi said with a wry but proud smile. They ate ridiculous for breakfast. "Sorry you kind of got dragged into this against your will, though. They don't mean any harm. They might be a little strange, but they're good people, and they mean well." She added with an apologetic smile. Naru really didn't look at all happy to be there… He was giving off a really intense aura of wanting to be somewhere else. "Try not to be too hard on them. They're all a little extra excited and obnoxious today since we're finally free from the stress of school and studying for exams. I thought poor Shizuka's head was going to explode! And I'm pumped up too, since I was able to win that bet with my grandpa, after all!" She added with a cheeky grin, thinking back to that sweet moment of victory.

Naru's eyes widened slightly as he glanced at her.

"What did you just say?" He asked.

"I had a bet with my grandpa that if I placed within the top 5, I could—"

"No, not about that." Naru said, quickly cutting her off before she went off on a tangent. "I meant the part about stress."

"You mean, the part about how it was so bad that I though Shizuka's head would explode?" She asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yes, that. It gives me an idea…" Naru said thoughtfully. Of course, stress! Why didn't he think of it sooner? He couldn't believe how slow he had been!

"Naru—" Hitomi started to ask, furrowing her brow slightly in concern, when someone grabbed ahold of her.

"Come on, Hitomi, don't just sit there!" The girl with big hair (who turned out to be 'Hana-chan') said excitedly, pulled her over to sing as a new song began to play. "They have our song!" Hitomi shook her head and smiled as she accepted one of the mikes and began singing along to Go!!! By Flow with the rest of her class. A few of them were off-key, and a lot of them had terrible accents when singing the English parts, but they all sang with great spirit. It was very touching, a real tear-jerker.

Naru decided to use the opportunity as a chance to escape, while they were all distracted. He decided to let Hitomi have the rest of the evening off so she could party with her friends. He wouldn't need her again until tomorrow anyway. There were preparations he needed to make first…

—∞—

[Monday, Day 5]

The next morning, Naru the first thing Naru did was make his way to the Principal's office. He wanted to use a neutral and private setting for this experiment, and the principal's office was perfect since it was one of the few rooms in the school that had curtains. He had already called and gotten permission to set up last night.

"Excuse me…" Naru said politely as he entered the room, trailing off when chair behind the principal's desk spun around, revealing that it's occupant was not the principal, as he had expected, but Hitomi. Today she was looking very smart and stylish with her long curly hair pulled up on the top of her head and was wearing a modern kimono with black, pink, lavender, and light-blue tessellation patterns over a white background, and pink obi with black and white plum blossoms on it. Her usual white medi-eye patch had been replaced with a black one that had a pink heart on it. Hey, if she had to wear an eye patch, she might as well have fun with it, right?

"Good morning, Shibuya-san~!" She greeted her favorite narcissist with a Cheshire cat smile.

"… What are you doing?" Naru asked, slightly chagrined.

"Sitting in the principal's chair." She replied automatically with a straight face.

"Yes, I can see that. I can also see your classmates dressed you again." He retorted dryly. "The question is, 'why?'"

"Because when I went to look for you at the old school house, you weren't there, so I thought maybe the principal might know what you were up to, but he wasn't here yet… and I've always wanted to try it." She explained frankly. It really was a nice chair, even more comfy than it looked. "Besides, what's he gonna do about it, expel me?" She asked, raising an eyebrow. She graduated yesterday, so the principal had no authority over her anymore. "And for your information, this is the kind of thing I normally wear. My grandpa's a real stickler for tradition, so she got me in the habit of wearing kimonos, though I like to put my own twists on them." He couldn't see it now because she was sitting behind the desk, but she was wearing some sheer lavender knee-high stockings with a polk-a-dot texture and some cute black flats instead of the usual white tabi socks and geta. "Anyway, where did you go yesterday? You missed out on an epic game of hide-and-seek."

"You played hide-and-seek?" Naru asked dubiously. Did they graduate from high school, or elementary school?

"Well, with our class's rules, it was more like a combination of hide-and-seek, tag, capture the flag, and manhunt. This time we used a cat café as our base, and the rest of Akibahara was our designated playground/hot zone." She explained. With all the wacky and creative characters in her class, it had been just as awesome as the Hunger Games, only less lethal and more friendly. "Call it our last 'hurrah' before we have to get real jobs where everyone expects us to start acting like adults." She added with a shrug. "More importantly, what's that you've got in your hand?" She asked curiously, nodding at the big black case he was carrying.

"It's for an experiment."

"Cool."

"Which you can't be in the room for."

"Boo." Hitomi pouted in disappointment. "Why not?"

"Because your participation would only complicate the matter." Naru replied firmly. "And, since you graduated yesterday, you no longer have any obligation to follow the principal's instructions to assist me."

"Geez, don't be such a stranger, Naru-chan!" Hitomi chided him. "I may have graduated, but I thought I should at least see this thing through to the end. And I don't like giving up half-way. I'm not going anywhere, so it looks like you're stuck with me." She finished with a smirk.

"You know curiosity killed the cat." Naru told her.

"But satisfaction brought it back." Hitomi answered with a radiant shit-eating grin. Naru let out a sigh. He could tell that, like a certain someone, letting her tag along would be a lot easier in the long run than wasting his energy trying to get rid of her.

"All right." He conceded. "You can stay, just be careful not to let yourself get hypnotized along with the others."

"Hypnotized?" She asked, tilting her head slightly to the side.

"You'll see."

"Ahem!" The principal said, clearing his throat to get their attention. Both teens glanced over to see him standing in the open doorway. "Why are you sitting in my chair, Matsumoto-kun?" He asked pointedly.

"Because it's comfy, sir." She replied honestly with respect. The principal sweat-dropped. "I take it you want me to move?" She asked.

"Yes. That would be much appreciated." He replied with a wry smile. He didn't want the younger students getting any ideas if they happened to see her…

Hitomi very wisely vacated the principal's seat without further ado.

"Now," The principal said as he sat down in his comfy chair and relaxed, "who else are we waiting on?"

"Everyone else you hired to investigate should be arriving shortly." Naru replied. He had already called and arranged for them to come at the arranged time. "And two students. I would appreciate it if you would have them called out of class once the others arrive."

"Understood." The principal said with a nod of his head.

–∞–

"Good morning." Mai greeted her friends as she entered her classroom.

"Good morning!" Keiko and Michiru greeted her eagerly, running over to meet her halfway.

"Hey, Mai, I heard you had something terrible happen yesterday." Michiru said urgently.

"Eh? How do you know that?" Mai asked, surprised they already knew.

"Kuroda-san. She's been bragging about it to everyone." Keiko explained, pointing over to where Kuroda was surrounded by a group of their classmates.

"Still, it was surprising, huh?" Michiru asked her.

"Mm-hmm." Keiko agreed with a nod. "Out of nowhere, Shibuya-san called us up."

"What? When!?" Mai asked anxiously, suddenly grabbing her by the shoulders.

"Last night, right?" Keiko said, glancing at Michiru for confirmation.

"Yeah." Michiru agreed.

"Last night? He's been missing since yesterday!" Mai said incredulously. That jerk! "What did you talk about?" Did he happen to mention why he didn't come back yesterday!?

"Ah, um… this and that... Stuff about the old schoolhouse, and about you, as well as um…" Keiko answered a little nervously. Mai was getting really intense about this…

"As well as stuff about Kuroda-san." Michiru finished for her.

'What is that guy up to!?' Mai wondered, furrowing her brow in confusion and annoyance. What did he want to know all that for? If he had enough time to chat with her friends, he could've at least called her to let her know wasn't just lying in some ditch somewhere!

"Kuroda, Taniyama…" Their teacher called out as he entered the room, making sure he had both girls' attention. "Come to the principal's office immediately."

–∞–

[The Principal's Office]

"Excuse us…" Mai called out politely as she opened the door and entered, followed by Kuroda.

'Naru!? Hitomi-sempai!?' Mai thought, so surprised to see them standing there in front of the principal's desk, that she stopped short. Looking around the room, she noticed they weren't the only ones there. 'Masako… and everyone else? What's going on?' She wondered. Why were they all sitting while Naru and Hitomi were standing?

"Please, sit down." The principal told the two girls, indicating the two empty chairs that were waiting for them.

"Now everyone who was involved in the incident is here." Naru stated. "I just need a moment of your time." He told them, signaling for Hitomi to turn off the lights and start closing the curtains. He waited for her to finish before turning on the odd-looking device that he had carried in with the briefcase earlier. The large, round red bulb glowed red, slowly fading in and out.

'That's a strange light.' Mai thought as she stared at it. 'It comes on, then goes back off.'

"Please focus on the light." Naru instructed everyone who was seated in the chairs around the light on the principal's desk in soft, hypnotic voice. "Please match your breathing to the light. Slowly now… relax your shoulders…" Naru paused when he noticed the Hitomi seemed to be dropping off as well, even though she was standing, and flicked her ear to snap her out of it and remind her that she wasn't supposed to be following these directions. Hitomi let out a quiet gasp of surprise, but had enough sense not to cause enough of a scene to disturb the others. She narrowed her eyes at Naru to let him know that what he had just done was not appreciated. "Can you hear yourself breathing?" Naru continued to address the others, ignoring her. "Inside your mind, please count your breaths." Hitomi watched as the others' eyes grew heavy, and they stared at the light with an unfocused, half-lidded gaze. "Tonight, the chair on the 2nd floor of the old schoolhouse will move. Tonight, in the laboratory, in the old schoolhouse, is going to move…" Naru glanced at Hitomi and signaled for her to open the curtains again.

CHK.

"!" Everyone winced and snapped out of their trance at the abrupt flood of sunlight into the room.

"Very good." Naru said. This part of the experiment was over. "Thank you very much, everyone."

"That sure is bright." Takigawa commented with a yawn, rubbing his eyes.

"What's going on here?" Ayako asked, shielding her eyes from the sun, wondering why she felt so sleepy.

While the others all stretched an yawned, Naru packed up quietly left the office with Hitomi on his heels. She was about to ask him what came next, when Mai ran out into the hall after them.

"Naru! Hitomi-sempai!" Mai called out as she caught up. "Where were you yesterday?" She figured Hitomi had probably been busy with graduation, but what was Naru's excuse?

"Here and there." Naru replied cryptically. "I heard you got hurt."

"Really? Are you all right?" Hitomi asked, concerned, as she took another look at her spunky kouhai.

"Oh, it's nothing." Mai said a bit flippantly, though she was pleased to hear that they were concerned about her after all. "So, what was that about?" She asked, referring to what had just happened with the light.

"It's a se-cret~!" Hitomi told her with a playful wink.

"Eh~?" Mai said with a pout.

"Don't you have to get back to class?" Naru asked Mai pointedly.

"Never mind about that." Mai said carelessly. Who cared about class when something so interesting was going on?

"Huh. I see. You want to be stupid." He commented with the hint of a smirk.

"…!" Mai reared back incredulously with a vein throbbing on her forehead, gritting her teeth in annoyance. This guy…!

Hitomi sweat-dropped and smiled wryly. Mai had her sympathy, but Naru had a point. Not everyone could afford to skip class and still be able to make A's.

"See you after school, Mai…" She said, giving the younger girl a little wave as she and Naru stopped to slip their shoes back on.

"Ah, hold on, there's something I wanted to ask you." Mai said quickly before they could leave. "Did you come back last night, Naru?"

"To the old schoolhouse? No. Why?" He asked.

"Oh, um, no reason." Mai said a bit nervously with a slight hint of blush dusting her cheeks. "Well, I'm going back to class. Bye-bye." She said quickly, waving them off with a nervous smile.

"Hmm…" Hitomi hummed curiously. That seemed a little suspicious… Mai didn't break another camera, did she? She hoped not. Oh well, since it seemed to have something to do with Naru, Hitomi decided she might try asking Mai about it later, when he wasn't around… if, of course, she was still curious by the time they saw each other again.

"Can you borrow your cousin's car again?" Naru asked Hitomi as they made their way over to the old building and SPR van.

"Sure, but why?" She asked curiously.

"We're need to pick up a few things from a hardware store."

"Got a list?"

Naru pulled one out of his pocket and handed it to her.

"Well, I have most of this already." She said. "I can just ask Shou-chan to bring us my toolbox and pick up some plywood and nails on his way over."

"That's fine." Naru said. "I'll reimburse him for whatever he spends."

"All right." Hitomi agreed, pulling out her cell phone to call him. "Hey, Shou-chan, guess who~!" She greeted her cousin cheerfully when he picked up. "You're taking a break for lunch? Well, that's perfect. Could you do me another favor, and…" From the look on her face, Naru could tell her cousin was being difficult. "Yeah, I know you already paid me back for finishing that order for you, but—Oh, really?" She asked, raising an eyebrow. "In that case, you leave me no choice: December 24th, 2002." She paused for a moment to let that sink in. "So, now that I have your attention, this is what I need: my toolbox, about fifteen sheets of plywood, and the bento I forgot to take with me when I left this morning. They're in the back of the fridge." She waited while he repeated it all back to make sure he had it right. "Yep, that's it. See you soon, Shou-chan." She said brightly, snapping her phone shut. "He'll be about 15 minutes." She informed Naru.

"What was that date you mentioned?" Naru asked.

"Oh, that. One Christmas Eve, Shou-chan got drunk and blacked out."

"Is that all?"

"Yeah, nothing bad happened... but he doesn't know that." For some reason, even though she had already tried explaining to him nothing happened, Shou was convinced he had done all sorts of embarrassing crazy drunk shenanigans. She had long since given up trying to convince him otherwise since he refused to listen to her on the matter, and instead started using it as blackmail material to get him to do her bidding.

"I see. Do you resort to blackmail often?" Naru asked.

"Only for Shou-chan." Hitomi answered honestly with a shrug. "And only when he's being unreasonably stubborn… which is actually quite often, now that I think about it. Anyway, don't worry about it. It's an affectionate sort of hazing; a common phenomena amongst my family. What's that?" She asked, pointing to the tape recorder, which had been taken back out of it's box. It looked like it was on and hooked up to something, because there was a cord leading from it into the building.

"It looks like someone set up one of the mikes." Naru said, leaning over to examine it more closely. He rewound the tape and plugged in a set of headphones. "It sounds like someone's running."

"Let me see?" Hitomi asked. She put the headphones on just in time to hear Mai give a speech defending Naru. Mai was awesome. Hitomi smiled and handed the headphones back to him. "Wind it back a minute, you're gonna want to hear this."

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