1 – Dream
Oh, it’s that dream again.
He, Yamagata Tatsumi, was clearly aware that he was within a dream.
Were the dreams wherein you could clearly tell that “this is a dream” called lucid dreams? While thinking such a thing, Tatsumi always viewed the usual dream as if it was unrelated to him.
The location was 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 before 20. To Tatsumi, who was a high school freshman until recently, although a repeater, 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 may be blonde. Or rather, a more whitish color, the so-called platinum-blonde.
The color of her pupils was unknown because her eyes were closed as she concentrated on her prayers.
Her race seemed to be from the West. However, it felt slightly different from the Americans, or the British, whom Tatsumi knew. Well, Tatsumi wasn’t that knowledgeable about them, 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, such a phrase surfaced in Tatsumi’s mind.
The reason why he thought of such a word may be because the girl praying in his dream then resembled a priestess rather than a so-called witch.
The holy maiden was praying eagerly, forever and ever, in the dreams that Tatsumi sees.
Tatsumi thought, with a dim mind, while looking at the familiar ceiling.
When did it start? When did he 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. Still, while constantly having the same dream many times, he noticed an abnormality.
And the intervals between each dream gradually shortened.
Once a month became twice and then it became the thrice, 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 then that he saw her in his dreams every day?
“Ten days ago.” That phrase made him realize something.
“… Ten days ago? That’s…the day I…lost Chiiko…”
Chiiko, that was the name of his last but 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 certain hot spring region on the occasion of his passing the exam into his preferred high school. Their car, which was being driven by his dad, was hit by a truck because the truck driver had been dozing off.
Of course, Tatsumi was in the car too. But while he miraculously escaped from death, the rest of his family died almost instantly.
The view of the front of the truck encompassing the windshield. Tatsumi didn’t remember very much after that. This was because he had lost consciousness for a few days after the accident.
The severely injured Tatsumi had bone fractures in several places and was forced into hospitalization for more than two months even after regaining consciousness.
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 had 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 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.
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-30s, 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 because she was busy.
Furthermore, she clearly declined 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?”
Being told that directly by his aunt, Tatsumi could do nothing but nod.
His aunt became his guardian only on paper, and Tatsumi’s life living alone began.
As for the expenses and the costs of living plus school, only the necessary sum was transferred to an account every month. Only this, his aunt did well, or was it because that’s how the contract was arranged?
Possibly, his aunt may have put a part of the insurance that should have been transferred to him in her own pockets.
Tatsumi had thought about it, but he didn’t plan on checking it up, nor was he interested.
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 enter some facility or orphanage. If he had to choose, then living alone like that was way better.
Tatsumi disposed of the single house where he lived with his family and moved to an apartment close to his school.
The single house where he lived was too spacious for Tatsumi to live alone in, and the maintenance costs such as taxes 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 high school life went well.
Tatsumi had spent the first few months which decided one’s new life 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 him, so Tatsumi was often left alone.
Because he was absent for the entire first semester, his grades could not keep up with his classmates.
Therefore 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 if it was only out of habit that 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 his family vacation in question and stayed at home. Therefore, 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 instead of a classroom and silently handed over the dropping-out notification to his homeroom teacher.
The homeroom teacher seemed to have expected it, and although they made some remarks to stop him, there was no enthusiasm behind them, and thus the curtains easily 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 aforementioned dream of the holy maiden.
He repeated this lifestyle for 10 days.
What he completely lacked now was any hope and will to live.
Tatsumi raised his body from the bed and grabbed his cellphone left beside his bed, beginning to display several pictures Chiiko while gazing at them one by one.
“Chiiko…I… What should I do…? Alone…without you, I…”
This was a question he repeated many times throughout the last 10 days.
Tatsumi stared at Chiiko’s innocent face on the screen of his phone.
A soft body which was wrapped in silverish gray feathers.
But her head was a wonderful snow white.
A white-faced cockatiel. 
His beloved, last family member who grew up with him ever since he was a child.