1 – Dream
Oh, it’s that dream again.
He, Yamagata Tatsumi, was clearly aware that he was within a dream.
Were the dreams where you could clearly tell that “this is a dream” called lucid dreams? While thinking so, Tatsumi always saw this reoccurring dream as if it was unrelated to him.
The dream was set in a basement somewhere. It wasn’t very large; it was about the size of a school classroom. And, in the dark room, a single woman was on her knees, wholeheartedly offering her prayers.
The surroundings, from the walls, to the floor, and to the ceiling, were made entirely out of stone. That appearance was what lead Tatsumi to guess that the place was a basement.
The only sources of light were some lit candles, whose flame gently swayed.
The woman’s age seemed to be just under twenty. To Tatsumi, a tenth grader, she appeared to be either of the same age as or a little older than him.
Her long, straight hair went past her waist.
That hair reflected the red light of the candles, sparkling in vermilion gold, but its actual color was probably blonde. Or rather, it could be a more whitish color, making her the so-called platinum-blonde.
The color of her pupils was unknown; her eyes were closed, for she was deep in her prayers.
Her race seemed to be from the West. However, it felt slightly different from the normal white person. Well, Tatsumi wasn’t that knowledgeable about white people, being Japanese, but there was no doubt that she was exceedingly beautiful.
A sharp nose line and chin. Each part of her body was also very exquisite and developed. It was a pity that her eyes were closed due to her prayers.
Looking closely, her lovely petal-like lips were faintly but constantly moving. She seemed to be reciting some sort of incantation or ritual prayer in a language unknown to Tatsumi.
Suddenly, Tatsumi thought of that phrase.
The reason why he thought of a “holy maiden” might have been because the girl praying in his dream then resembled a priestess rather than a witch.
The holy maiden was praying eagerly, seemingly without end, in the dreams that Tatsumi saw.
Tatsumi thought, with a dim mind, as he stared at the familiar ceiling, “When did it start? When did I begin to have that dream?”
Tatsumi thought for a while, remembering the holy maiden seen in his dream.
Has it already been a year since he began having this dream? In the beginning, it was about once in a month. Tatsumi knew the abnormality of having the same dream, over and over again.
And the intervals between each dream gradually shortened.
Once a month became twice a month and then it became the thrice a month, then before long it was once a week, followed by once in three days. And now he had the dream of that holy maiden almost every day.
Had it been about ten days since the time when he saw her in his dreams every day?
Ten days ago. That date made him realize something.
“… Ten days ago? That’s…the day I…lost Chiiko…”
Chiiko was the name of his last and dearest family member.
It had been about a year and a half since Tatsumi lost his parents and younger sister in a traffic accident.
It was when they all went to a hot spring region to celebrate him passing the exam to go to the high school he wanted. Their car, being driven by his dad, was hit by a truck. The truck driver had been dozing off.
Of course, Tatsumi was in the car too. But, although he miraculously escaped from death, the rest of his family died almost instantly.
Tatsumi remembered seeing the front of the truck through the windshield, and that was it. He was unconscious for a few days after.
Even after regaining consciousness, he had severe bone fractures and had to stay hospitalized for another two months.
And in those two months, his life had completely changed.
Tatsumi had lost his parents and younger sister in an accident all at once.
Tatsumi heard that his neighbors took care of the funeral after being discharged from the hospital. Apparently, the expenses of the funeral would later be paid from the insurance money of his family.
Fortunately, the remaining insurance was enough for him to survive until he became an adult. A lawyer in charge had explained the details, but because of the situation, he didn’t remember much of it.
That said, Tatsumi, who had just entered high school and was a minor, could not possibly manage the remaining insurance finances.
The management of the insurance ended up being left to his aunt from his father’s side, who was his only remaining relative.
His aunt was in her mid-thirties and unmarried if he remembered correctly.
Because she lived pretty far away from where Tatsumi and his family lived, she could at most be called an acquaintance. What’s more, even during his family’s funeral, she hadn’t shown up due to being busy.
Furthermore, she clearly refused to take in and look after Tatsumi.
“I can take guardianship of you, but everything else will be noninterference with each other, alright? Or do you want to go to some facility or something?”
Tatsumi could only agree.
His aunt became his guardian only on paper, and Tatsumi’s life living alone began.
Necessary funds for living and school was transferred to Tatsumi’s account every month. This was the only thing that Tatsumi’s aunt did well, but that might just be part of some contract.
It was possible that his aunt took part of Tatsumi’s money into her own pocket.
Tatsumi had thought about it, but he didn’t plan on looking at the records, nor was he interested in the money.
He could very well accuse his aunt of neglecting her duties.
But then his aunt would become disqualified as his guardian, and he would have to be taken into a foster family or orphanage. If he had to choose, living alone like he was would be the better option.
Tatsumi sold the house where he lived with his family and moved to an apartment close to his school.
The house where he lived before was too spacious for Tatsumi to live alone in, and the maintenance costs would be too great. And above all, living alone in a house filled with memories of his late family was too painful for Tatsumi.
Tatsumi had managed to pass the exam for his school of choice, but it was hard to say that his new life went well.
Tatsumi had spent the first few months of school on a hospital bed.
Even after being discharged, painful rehabilitation was waiting afterward. By the time he left the hospital after finishing all of the rehabilitation and returned to everyday life, the first semester was already over and the school had already entered summer vacation.
Tatsumi was absent from the first semester of the tenth grade entirely. As a matter of course, from the second semester onward, he was an estranged existence.
Tatsumi turned up at school suddenly in the second semester. His classmates seemed to have been informed of his misfortune beforehand and every single one of them interacted with him as if he was a tumor.
There was no bullying or malicious intent, but it was somehow uncomfortable for them to deal with a victim of such unfortunate circumstances, so Tatsumi was often left alone.
His grades could not keep up with his classmates because he lost an entire semester of learning.
His grades steadily dropped, and he quickly became a bottom-ranker who couldn’t keep up in school.
Still, the reason why Tatsumi had continued to go to high school was that his late family was very happy when he passed the entrance exam.
Tatsumi continued going to high school in order to meet the expectations of his family.
But his grades weren’t doing well, there was no club he was devoted to, and he had nobody he could call a close friend.
Before long, he simply continued going to school out of habit.
Even with the life he had, he was able to look forward to the future. That was because he had Chiiko, his one last family member with him.
Chiiko did not participate in the family vacation and stayed at home. And so, she didn’t die like the rest.
Chiiko was always there waiting for him when he returned to his apartment.
Tatsumi spent his days with only that thought keeping him going.
Even with his dearest Chiiko, the day of parting came.
It had been more than a decade since the day Tatsumi met Chiiko. As a birthday present for the very young Tatsumi, his parents introduced Tatsumi and Chiiko to each other.
After that, they were almost inseparable.
When Chiiko couldn’t eat by herself, he took care of her meals.
After she had grown bigger, they ate ice cream together during summer. When it was winter, they cuddled up in the kotatsu together.
When it was spring, they went out for walks together, and when it was autumn, they enjoyed various seasonal harvests together.
When Chiiko got sick, Tatsumi held her and rushed into the hospital, and when Tatsumi caught a cold, Chiiko would always stare at him with worried eyes.
Chiiko was his dearest, but a parting approached by way of lifespan.
It is about just ten days ago that Chiiko had finished her natural lifespan.
Chiiko had taken her last breath in Tatsumi’s arms as if she was sleeping. Tatsumi could still vividly recall the sensation of that time.
The dreadfulness as the warm and fluffy sensation of Chiiko’s body as it gradually grew colder.
Tatsumi silently cried throughout the night in his apartment void of anyone else.
He cried and cried, and continued crying. At daybreak, Tatsumi took Chiiko’s body that had gone completely cold to the neighboring riverbank and buried her corpse there.
He made a small grave and, although they were wildflowers, placed some flowers in front of it.
Putting his hands together before the grave, he prayed for her happiness in the next world.
Tatsumi prayed and kept praying for her, for a long time.
He wanted to keep praying forever, but he couldn’t.
High school life greeted its second spring. No, it was the first spring for Tatsumi.
With his poor grades and having missed the entire first semester, it was decided early last year that Tatsumi would have to repeat the school year. So when the new school year began, he never showed went to school even once.
While part of the reason was because he had to repeat the year, he wanted to be with Chiiko who had begun weakening from old age.
Without going to school and rarely even leaving his room, Tatsumi looked after Chiiko.
Now that she had lived up her natural lifespan, he made up his mind. He decided to drop out of school.
Without any close friends, and having now lost Chiiko, he had absolutely no attachment to high school life.
After returning to his apartment, he changed into his long neglected uniform and headed to school.
He went to the staff room directly, not even going to the classroom, and silently handed over the dropping-out notification to his homeroom teacher.
The homeroom teacher seemed to have expected it, and although they said the usual things to stop people from dropping out, there was no enthusiasm behind them. Thus the curtains closed on Tatsumi’s high school life.
It was after that, did he start to have dreams of the holy maiden every night.
Dragging on the sorrow of having lost Chiiko, Tatsumi shut himself in his apartment room.
During the day, he would do nothing but motionlessly stare at Chiiko’s birdcage. Then at night, he would crawl into bed and have the same dream of the holy maiden.
He repeated this lifestyle for ten days.
What he completely lacked now was any hope and will to live.
Tatsumi raised his body from the bed and grabbed his cellphone, opening up pictures of Chiiko.
“Chiiko…I… What should I do…? Alone…without you, I…”
This was a question he thought about many times throughout the last ten days.
Tatsumi stared at Chiiko’s innocent face on the screen of his phone.
A soft body which was wrapped in silvery gray feathers.
Her head a wonderful snow white.
A white-faced cockatiel. 
His beloved, last family member who stayed with him ever since he was a child.