Ghost of a Chance

Case 1: Evil Spirits All Over!? (Part 15)

Mai steeled her nerves as she headed over to meet up with Naru and Hitomi once school was over, trying not to think too hard about the kind, smiling Naru from the dream she had the previous evening… and what said dream could mean… She stopped short when her eyes landed on the stoic narcissist, who didn't notice her approach because he was wearing headphones. His raven hair was gleaming in the golden light of the setting sun.

'Uwah, no!' Mai cried internally, quickly covering her face with her hands. 'I'm remembering it, no matter what I do! Maybe I really do…' She started to think, peeking through her fingers just as Naru sensed her staring and turned to face her. 'D-Don't look this way!' She mentally yelled at him, blushing furiously out of embarrassment upon finding herself caught.

"Were you the one who set up the mike on the 2nd floor last night?" Naru asked her, deciding to ignore her strange behavior. Strange seemed to be the normal for most of the students he had met at this school so far.

"Ah, yeah. I actually wanted to set up the video too, but I couldn't figure it out…" She explained nervously, glad he had decided not to ask about why her face was so red.

"It was a pretty good job, for you." Naru said. "It picked up some fairly interesting sounds."

"Very interesting." Hitomi added with a Cheshire cat grin as she popped out from the side of the van, surprising Mai. She had been napping in the backseat to make up for staying up all night playing hide-and-seek with her classmates, when their conversation woke her up.

"Hitomi-sempai!" Mai exclaimed, caught off guard by the older girl's sudden appearance. She hoped she hadn't noticed how she was staring at Naru… "Ah, that's right! You know those shoe cubbies, the ones that fell over? They were warm! You said that if a poltergeist moved something, it would feel warm, right?"

"I'm impressed you remembered that." Hitomi said.

"Oh, thanks." Mai said a little shyly, rubbing the back of her neck. "Speaking of being impressed, Sempai, I heard you managed to get into the top 5 for Todai. Is that true?"

"Yep~!" Hitomi responded brightly with the radiance of a thousand suns.

"Wow, that's amazing!" Mai exclaimed, staring at her in awe. "Does that mean you won that bet or whatever with your grandpa?"

"Double yep." Hitomi stated with a smirk.

"What bet?" Naru asked. She had started to mention something about this the previous evening, too.

"Well, when I told my grandpa I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to go into the family business, he got all mad and said that if I took Todai's entrance exams and got into the top 5, without studying, then I'd be free to do whatever I wanted, but if I came in 6th or lower, I had to do what her wanted, which may have possibly included an arranged marriage… So, I said 'challenge accepted'." She finished confidently, crossing her arms.

"Wa-Wasn't that a huge risk?" Mai asked, sweat-dropping. She hadn't heard about the consequences for if she lost, just that she bet she could get in the top 5…

"Not really. I had a feeling I could do it if I tried." Hitomi replied with a shrug. After all, her dad was able to pull it off when he was her age. That was probably what had given her grandfather the idea in the first place. "And anyway, even if I lost the bet, I probably could've worn him down over time. It was just easier and faster to get what I wanted this way."

"Y-Yeah, right… easier…" Mai said, more than a little chagrined at how easy she made it sound.

"Oh, Mai-san's here, too." John said as he arrived, surprised to see both girls. Hitomi had been the one he talked to over the phone, when Naru had her call and ask him to come.

"John?" Mai said, glancing questioningly at Naru and Hitomi, the latter of which smiled and greeted the priest with a friendly wave.

"All right." Naru said. Everyone was they needed was there. "Shall we get started?"

–∞–

"Hmm…" Mai said thoughtfully, watching as John finished drawing a circle around the chair Naru had placed in the middle of the room with white chalk, while Hitomi carefully adjusted the angle of the infrared camera they had also placed in the room, on tripod. She had tied back her kimono sleeves using a black ribbon. "A chair and a night-vision camera?" it almost looked like they were preparing for some kind of strange ritual. "Hey… Hey, I said!" Mai called out, a little annoyed when Naru didn't answer. She stopped short when she saw what he was working on out in the hallway. "Naru-chan, what's that?" She asked curiously, forgetting all about the chair for the moment.

"Radar." He replied.

"You mean that thing that's on airplanes and stuff?" Mai asked. "What are we using it for?"

"If I told you, it wouldn't work."

"But I'm your assistant." Mai said, frowning, as she put her hands on her hips. "Hitomi-sempai obviously knows what's going on. Why can't I?"

"I'll let you know tomorrow, but you can't ask me until then." He said firmly. "And don't bother asking Hitomi, either. I gave her strict instructions not to say anything."

"Mmm…" Mai pouted disgruntledly, feeling left out. She flinched slightly when Naru picked up a hammer.

Did she think he was going to hit her with it?

"Take that plywood over there, and board up all the windows and doors in this room for me." He told her, deciding to give her something else to think about for awhile.

Mai took the hammer and stared at it for a moment. It was a small, traditional Japanese-style hammer. For crying out loud, he could at least tell her a little bit, couldn't he!?

BAM. BAM. BAM.

For the next twenty minutes, Mai, John, and Hitomi worked together to hammer the plywood over all the windows and doors to seal the room shut, inside and out.

"All finished…" Mai said, sounding worn out. Some of her nails were a little bent here and there, but whatever. "Eh?" She said when Naru handed her a marker.

"Now I want the three of you to sign all of those boards." He said. Mai and John exchanged a confused glance, while Hitomi pointedly looked elsewhere, playing innocent.

"We're finished writing…" Mai said when they were done, panting slightly.

Hitomi sweat-dropped. Was she okay?

"All right, then sign here too." Naru said as he finished taping a piece of paper over the boards covering the room's doors. "You can go home when you're done."

"Ne, what's the meaning of all this?" Mai asked while Hitomi went first.

"You'll find out tomorrow." Naru told her as he walked away.

"Hold on, Naru!" Mai called after him, furrowing her brow in annoyance.

"I'm sure Shibuya-san has something planned." John said calmly. "Why don't we just wait for tomorrow?"

"Yeah, it'll all make sense then." Hitomi said rather cryptically.

"Tomorrow, then!" Mai huffed in aggravation. "Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow!"

—∞—

[Tuesday, Day 6]

"… Or so I thought, but it's been bothering me so much, I couldn't sleep at all!" Mai grumbled as she trudged to school early the next morning with dark bags beneath her eyes. Come to think of it, she hadn't had a good night's sleep since she met Naru…

'Huh…?' Mai thought when she rounded the corner and realized that the second of the two figures over by the SPR van was taller than Naru and leaning on a crutch. 'Ah, it's the real assistant.' She realized. 'Wow, this is awkward… considering I'm the one who got him injured, and all…'

"You're awfully early today." Naru commented when he saw her. For once, she had managed to get here before Hitomi.

"W-Well, I can't stop thinking about that thing we set up yesterday." Mai said, bowing nervously to Lin. Six days, and he was still on crutches…

"Wait a little while longer." Naru said. "Everyone will be here soon."

"Everyone? You mean, Miko-san and the others?" She asked. "Why?" He didn't answer. Was he ignoring her again? 'W-What's with him!?' She thought. She noticed Lin was looking at her. "A-Are you feeling better now?" She asked with a nervous smile. Her question was met with an even more intense silence. 'H-Hurry up and get here, everyone!' Mai pleaded, silently willing the others to come and rescue her from this super awkward situation.

"Wow, you're early today, Mai." Hitomi remarked as she walked up, as if in arriving in answer to Mai's prayers.

"Hi-Hitomi-sempai!" Mai exclaimed happily, beyond relieved to see her.

"Oh, hello, Lin-san." Hitomi respectfully greeted the older man with a bow. "I see they finally released you back into the wild?"

"Yes, finally." Lin said tersely, annoyed just thinking about how long they had kept him in that hospital. You would think he had actually broken his ankle with the fuss they were making, rather than simply spraining it.

'S-Sempai really is amazing…!' Mai thought, being able to talk with such a stern-looking man so easily…

–∞–

"So then, what are you going to show us today?" Takigawa asked once everyone had arrived and Naru had them all gather in front of the boarded up classroom on the 2nd floor. Even Kuroda was there. Despite being on a crutch, Lin was holding a camera with his free hand, ready to record whatever was about to take place.

"Shouldn't you give it up now, before you embarrass yourself?" Ayako asked.

"I just need you to be witnesses to the experiment." Naru replied coolly. "Mai, John, and Hitomi. Confirm that the paper you signed yesterday hasn't been damaged in anyway."

"Let's see…" Hitomi said, moving closer with Mai and John to examine it for signs that someone might have tried to remove it. "Looks fine to me."

"Yeah, it's the same as it was yesterday." Mai agreed.

"Right." John confirmed.

"All right." Naru said, taking the crowbar in his hand. Without any further explanation, he wedged it into the seam between the boards over the doors, and used to rip the first panel off in one fluid motion. Mai's and John's eyes widened in surprise. Hitomi was impressed. Naru was a lot stronger than he looked.

CRRCKK. CRACK!

Naru kept going without even the slightest pause between boards until he had finished uncovering door enough to open it.

"What's going on!?" Mai wondered aloud.

"See for yourself." Naru said, stepping aside so they could get a better look. Hitomi followed Mai and John as they moved to stand in the open doorway, curious to see if everything had gone the way Naru had expected it too. She was not disappointed. Her eyes widened in amazement along with Mai's and John's. The chalk circle was empty; the chair was now all the way on the other side of the room.

"Shibuya-san! The chair… The chair has moved!" John exclaimed.

"Yes, it has." Naru stated calmly as he entered the room and hooked his laptop up to the camera. Hitomi thought he looked like he was almost on the verge of smiling.

"H-Hang on, what does this mean?" Ayako asked, sweat-dropping. What were they talking about?

"Hey, Naru-chan…!" Takigawa said, also wanting an answer.

"Thank you for your cooperation. I'll be leaving sometime today." Naru stated abruptly.

"You're not saying that you've solved the case, are you!?" Ayako asked.

"That's exactly right." Naru said.

"Land subsidence?" Mai asked.

"Yes, I believe that explains everything about the case that the principal hired me for."

"Ha! So how do you explain the disturbance the day before yesterday?" Takigawa asked.

"That was poltergeisting." Naru replied calmly.

"If you know that, then how—"

"What else could he do?" Ayako said, cutting the monk off. "He's incapable of driving the spirits out, right?"

"In my opinion, there is no need to exorcise." Naru told them. "Would you like to have a look?" Naru rewound the footage on his laptop for them and turned the volume up.

CLATTER.

"!" Everyone gasped when the chair began to wobble and shake inside the circle before sliding back across the room, as if being dragged by an invisible person.

"Hahh!" Mai gasped, instinctively clinging to Bou-san, as they watched the chair hit the wall and fall over, landing in the position they had found it in upon entering the room. "W-Was that…?" She asked nervously.

"That's full-fledged poltergeisting, isn't it?" Takigawa exclaimed.

"Humans are to blames for half of all poltergeist phenomena." Naru stated.

"You mean like pranks?" Mai asked. "But no one could get in here."

"Yes. We sealed off all of the entrances. I even had Mai, John, and Hitomi sign everything, so we would know if someone had forced their way in." Naru explained for the record.

"Even is they tried to replace any broken boards, they wouldn't have been able to properly duplicate out signatures." Hitomi added.

"That more than proves that it was the work of spirits!" Kuroda said excitedly.

"I placed a suggestion yesterday with everyone who is here, that in the evening, this chair would move." Naru revealed.

"In the principal's office…" Mai said.

"I'm pretty sure—at least, as of yet—this method has never failed me." Naru stated confidently.

"But no was able to get into this room." Mai reminded him.

"Poltergeisting can be caused by a type of psychic energy." He explained. "Most of the time, it happens unconsciously. For example, say someone is stressed out. He or she strongly desires to be noticed, or wants attention from others, and is unconsciously building up energy. In such cases, with autosuggestion, a situation like this can occur."

"So, you're saying this chair was moved by human willpower?" Monk asked.

"Most likely. At least, my experiment to prove this did not fail." Naru replied matter-of-factly.

"Who could it be…?" Mai wondered aloud. 'Wants to be noticed… wants to get people's attention… Some one who wants to be the center of attention… Miko-san and Bou-san are also like that?' She thought, glancing around the room. 'But most likely…' She followed Hitomi's gaze and her eyes landed on Kuroda.

"Who… me?" Kuroda asked nervously when she realized everyone else was staring at her. "Are you… trying to say that I did it!?"

"More than anyone else in this room, it makes the most sense to assume it was you." Naru told her. He wasn't accusing, merely stating a fact. "From the start, I felt like you were trying to draw my attention. For example, you mentioned that you saw the spirits of wartime victims and nurses. However, there is nothing to substantiate that this area was attacked, or even that the school was used as a hospital. Not even that there was ever a hospital here at all. That would mean that you were either mistaken, or intentionally lying."

"I wasn't lying!" Kuroda protested.

"I thought you were just pretending to be spiritually sensitive at first," Naru continued, "so when phenomena occurred that could only be considered poltergeisting, I was honestly at a loss. This happened despite the fact that my instruments clearly indicated there were no spirits, and Hara-san concluded the same thing. So, the cause had to be human. Poltergeisting is generally caused by children in their early teens. There are also cases in spiritually sensitive girls. They do it unconsciously, when extreme stress builds up. The underlying currents are: 'please, look at me' or 'notice that I'm here'. Subsequently, the person who is causing the activity is likely to become a victim of the activity… to get people's attention, an unconscious desire to be the center of attention. If this were happening in a household, the suspect would usually be one of the inhabitants, but in this particular case, no one lives here. So who would most likely end up the center of attention? That would be Kuroda-san… or Mai."

"Meee!?" Mai shouted incredulously, shocked. "What a creep…! I can't believe he was doubting me…" She mumbled under her breath. The nerve…!

"That's just what one would expect from your boss…" Takigawa said sagely, nodding his head, while Hitomi patted poor Mai sympathetically on the back.

"If you compare the two, obviously it would be Kuroda-san who would have more to gain. You were famous for being spiritually sensitive, ever since middle school." Naru continued, ignoring them. "You said there were spirits in the old schoolhouse. But… what would happen if there were no such thing in the building? And if all of the events that where believed to be spirit-related happened as a result of land subsidence?"

"Everyone would doubt her powers… and she'd lose the trust of her peers." Hitomi said sympathetically.

"Exactly. She would lose her status—Kuroda-san would be terrified." Naru said. "You felt a great pressure from your intense apprehension, and unconsciously, you thought to yourself, 'No, that can't be. There have to be spirits here. They can't not be here. There has to be poltergeisting going on here. It has to happen.' And then.." He stopped when Kuroda began to tremble and looked like she was about to cry. Hitomi stepped over and placed a comforting hand on the younger girl's shoulder.

"It's all right." She said softly. "No one's blaming you."

"The unconscious mind acts on its own. Hm…" Takigawa said thoughtfully. Mai raised her hand to show she had a question.

"Before exams I always wish the entire school would collapse… but it never happens." She said.

"That's just a difference in talents." Naru told her, earning a wry and bemused smile from Hitomi. "I think Kuroda-san is a latent psychic."

"Saikikku?" Mai asked.

"One who has supernatural abilities." He explained before turning back to Kuroda. "You might not be aware of it, but you probably even have some level PK." Kuroda seem to perk up a little upon hearing that. "I'll just say this for Mai's sake, but PK stands for psychokinesis."

"Well, thank you for your kindness." Mai remarked sarcastically, chagrined. Why did always feel the need to single her out?

"For Kuroda-san, it was necessary that there be evil spirits present, in order to obtain attention from others for herself. In order for her to be who she was." Naru concluded calmly.

"Wow… I can kind of understand how that would feel." Mai said.

"Eh?" Kuroda said.

"The truth is… deep inside, we all want to special… I think. To be accepted by as special by others… for whatever reason. It doesn't matter what it is, they just want some special talent that sets them apart from others." Mai said thoughtfully with a small smile. "For Kuroda-san, I'm sure it must've been you spiritual abilities, huh?" Kuroda blushed as she glanced between the two girls, and they finally saw her smile for the first time. Hitomi smiled proudly at her kouhai. Well said, Mai.

"Does that satisfy everyone?" Naru asked the others.

"Not yet." Ayako said, steeping forward. "By that explanation, her elevated stress came about after you gave your theory for subsidence, right? Then what about me being shut up inside that classroom and the video being erased?"

"Should I explain?" Naru asked Kuroda. She nodded timidly. "Miko-san, in your case, it's because this was stuck into the door's groove." He said, holding up a nail.

"A nail?" Ayako said, surprised.

"Oh, so that's why you were playing with it the other day." Hitomi said, hitting her fist against her palm, as if to say 'aha!'. "You picked it up after we busted down the door."

"I noticed it right away, but didn't think it was worth mentioning." Naru said.

"You mean, someone did it on purpose!?" Ayako asked incredulously as her eyes widened slightly in realization, rounding on Kuroda. "It was you!?"

"I'm sure it was just meant to be a small prank." Naru said dismissively. "Right before that, you were giving her a hard time."

"Then what about the video?" Ayako asked.

"That was intentionally erased."

"Did she do that too?"

"By the time Mai and Hitomi arrived at the base that day, Kuroda-san was already there. So, most likely, yes."

"Unbelievable...!" Ayako grumbled.

"S-Sorry…" Kuroda apologized timidly. Mai gave her a friendly pat on the shoulder and smiled to let her know her apology was accepted.

"So, what do we do?" Takigawa asked. "The principal hired us to make this place ready for demolition."

"I plan to report this to the principal: the old schoolhouse was haunted by those who died in the war. They have been exorcised, so you may go ahead with demolition. Is that okay with you, Kuroda-san?" Naru asked. Kuroda nodded. Hitomi smiled. Despite his usual behavior, Naru really was a pretty nice guy, deep down.

"How kind very of you. But are you sure you shouldn't tell him the truth?" Masako asked.

"Kuroda-san is keeping herself suppressed enough, even now. I don't think it's necessary to run her down any further.

'Naru…' Mai thought, smiling. 'Geh!' She flinched when she noticed how close Ayako had suddenly moved in on him.

"Hmm… Naru, you're quite the feminist, aren't you? Do you have a girlfriend?" She asked coyly.

Hitomi raised an eyebrow at the older woman. Was she serious?

"I'm not sure I understand the point of your question." Naru stated dryly with an extremely unimpressed look on his face.

"I wouldn't mind putting up with you, younger though you are." Ayako said, giving him a 'come hither' stare.

"I appreciate the offer, but unfortunately, I can't. I'm too used to looking in the mirror." Naru said with the hint of a smirk.

"Pfft!" Hitomi snorted softly in amusement, causing the damn of self control to break as the others burst out laughing. Lin was the only one left with a straight face.

"So, who exactly are we going to say performed the exorcism!?" Ayako demanded quickly to change the subject, blushing furiously out of embarrassment.

"Hm? Isn't it fine if we just say everyone worked together?" Hitomi suggested.

"Nobody minds that, do they?" Naru asked the others. They all exchanged a glance before smiling and nodding in agreement. "Mai…"

"I know." Mai said, holding a finger to her lips to show that she understood not to tell anyone.

"Lin, let's start breaking camp."

Hitomi and Mai helped carry the infrared camera and its tripod back to the van since Lin was still on crutches and already had his free hand full with the small, hand-held camera he had been using to record their witness accounts.

"Ha-ah. It wasn't such a big deal after all." Ayako said, stretching as they walked outside.

"You were still pretty anxious, considering." Takigawa reminded her teasingly.

"Cut the kidding." Ayako retorted.

'Everyone's leaving…' Mai thought a little sadly as she watched them walk away. 'I guess they would, too. The investigation is over, so there's no reason to stay here…'

"Shouldn't you be getting back to class?" Naru asked Mai as he took the tripod from her to load it into the van.

"Oh, I was going to see you off. After all, it may not have been for very long, but you were my boss." She said with a smile.

"No need." He said as he turned his back to her. "Why don't you hurry back to class? If you get any dumber, it will be beyond anyone's control."

"Oh, is that right!?" Mai demanded hotly. "Very well! I'll work as hard as I can to smarten up! Good bye, then!" She declared in a huff as she dashed back to class.

"Geez, Shibuya-san. You don't have to be so shy." Hitomi said with a knowing smile on her face that kind of pissed Naru off, but secretly amused Lin, because she had hit the nail on the head.

"Feel free to leave anytime." Naru told her bluntly.

"Wow, you're really not cute at all…" She said, sweat-dropping, as she smiled wryly.

"Actually, before you go… There is one more thing we'd like to discuss with you." Lin said, exchanging a glance with Naru.

"?" Hitomi said, wondering what it could be.

–∞–

"Whoa…" Hitomi said once they had finished showing her the video Naru had made of her shooting an arrow using the thermal imagery camera. "Does that mean what I think it means?"

"Yes. You also appear to possess some form of PK." Naru stated calmly. "With your permission, I would like to do some further studies."

"What kind of studies? Will your findings, whatever they are, be made public?" She asked, furrowing her brow slightly.

"Not without your permission." He said solemnly.

"… I need to think about this." Hitomi said tentatively, not quite sure how she felt about it yet.

"That's understandable."

The three of them stood in silence.

"How did you learn so much about all of this stuff anyway?" Hitomi asked after a moment. "Is there a technical term for this field of study?"

"The field of study concerned with the investigation of paranormal and psychic phenomena is called parapsychology. Parapsychologists study telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, apparitional experiences, and other supernatural and paranormal claims." Naru explained, glancing curiously at her. "Why? Are you possibly thinking of entering this field of study?"

"Maybe…" She admitted with a small smile, rubbing the back of her neck. "To be honest, I've always had a slight interest in the supernatural. And it was fun working with a real ghost hunter."

"It can be dangerous too." Lin said seriously.

"Everything in life comes with a certain amount of risk." She replied with a wan smile.

"We're opening a new office." Naru said, surprising Lin. "If you're still interested after thinking it over for a few days, this is where we'll be." He told her, handing over one of the new business cards they had ordered with the address for their new location on it. "We could use more people." Hitomi accepted the card and smiled.

Their office really was going to be in Shibuya this time.

—∞—

[A few Days Later…]

Hitomi was helping Lin unpack and finish setting up the office, while Naru made a certain phone call. After running a background check on Mai, he had decided to hire her too, since Hitomi was only going to be working for them part-time. Since she wanted to work with them, but didn't completely want to give up the family business, either, she made the decision to split her time between the two.

"Is that you, Mai?" Naru asked when he someone picked up the phone again after he had asked the school secretary to page her. "You don't have to yell." Naru admonished her when she got excited and answered so loud they could hear her across the room. Hitomi smiled wryly in amusement and shook her head as she listened to Naru's end of the conversation. Sounds like it was business as usual with those two. "Your payment." Naru continued. "Your payment for assisting me. If you don't want it, that's fine, too. Okay, I'll send it to you within the week. One more thing, does your school allow you to have a job? If you'd like, how about coming to work for me? It's office work, but I could use another hand. Okay, then come by the office sometime. The locations is in Shibuya-ku, Dogenzaka." He could feel Hitomi staring at him. "Also, you were a big help earlier. Thanks." He added. Hitomi smiled in approval. There, that wasn't so hard, was it? "See you on Saturday, then." He said, hanging up.

And that was how Hitomi and Mai both came to work at Shibuya Psychic Research, or SPR, for short.

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