A helicopter flew by after school.
The chopping sounds of the rotations grew nearer and nearer—almost surprisingly close—and didn’t seem to be going away. The noise was directly overhead for so long that I even started to think it might be landing in the school’s yard, but finally, it disappeared off into the distance.
There were four of us in the Earth Sciences lecture room, the Classics Club room. I was reading a book, Satoshi was doing some kind of homework, and Chitanda and Ibara were off in a corner, talking and giggling about who-knows-what.
With the helicopter’s massive noise, however, the situation in the room almost seemed to freeze. After the sound disappeared, a mutual silence descended upon the room. It felt a little strange. Although I wasn’t making it a point to try and break the silence, I spoke up suddenly.
“A helicopter, huh?” I had already heard the sound of helicopters countless times in the past, but this time, it brought something to mind. “Ogi liked helicopters, didn’t he?”
I had directed that statement at Satoshi and Ibara, but Chitanda was the one who responded instead.
“Ogi-san? Are you talking about Takahiro Ogi from Class 2-B?”
“From Class 2-B, like I said.”
How would I, a freshman who had never associated with any school activities outside of the Classics Club, possibly know the name of a sophomore? I closed the book in my hands.
“You don’t know the ‘Ogi’ I’m talking about. He was an English teacher back in our middle school. Satoshi, you remember him, right?”
As I asked this, Satoshi placed his mechanical pencil on the desk. He tilted his head, somewhat in apparent uncertainty.
“Of course I remember Mr. Ogi. He was my homeroom teacher in my last year there. It’s just that I had no idea he liked helicopters.”
It was my turn to be taken aback. Satoshi was usually the one equipped with all sorts of detailed knowledge on myriad subjects.
“I thought it was pretty well-known. That he liked helicopters, that is.”
As I said this, I glanced over at Ibara. I figured at least she’d know.
The three of us—Satoshi, Ibara, and I—had all come to Kamiyama High School from Kaburaya Middle School. Chitanda alone was different. Even though Ibara definitely noticed me staring at her, her gaze was completely in the opposite direction. All she said was, “Okay.”
Something was off. Did Satoshi and Ibara really not know anything? I wasn’t the kind of person who takes special interest in observing the faculty at our school. The fact that someone like me knew about it while they didn’t was dubious at best. Not to mention, Ibara and I were always in the same class back then. There’s no way she didn’t know about it.
“Don’t you remember what happened, Ibara? I don’t remember when it was, but a helicopter flew over Kaburaya at some point.”
“Yeah, like how many times?”
There wasn’t an ounce of warmth in her response. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen what a friendly Ibara looked like.
“I’m talking about a specific time. Ogi stopped teaching all of a sudden and walked over to the window to look up at the sky. He stayed there the entire time, from when it got close to when it eventually disappeared, and then laughed it off, saying, ‘I like helicopters’ or something like that before continuing the lesson.”
“Hm,” Ibara started to say as her face scrunched up, trying to remember. “Now that you mention it, you might be right. I think something like that did happen, actually. Was that really Ogi?”
“Yeah, it was.”
What a relief. I guess it wasn’t just my imagination.
On the other hand, however, Satoshi continued to tilt his head in uncertainty. Back and forth, left and right. Maybe it was some sort of exercise to loosen up his shoulders? He stopped moving all at once and then finally interjected.
“Something’s not right about that.”
“Right or wrong, I definitely remember it happening.”
“But there was a time back when a bunch of SDF helicopters flew by in a squadron over our school. It was a huge spectacle, but I don’t remember Mr. Ogi reacting at all.”
I had a couple questions.
“What do you mean by ‘in a squadron?'”
“How did you know it was the SDF?”
“I can’t imagine who else would fly a bunch of helicopters in a V-formation like that.”
That makes sense. I had one more question remaining.
“Are you dead certain Ogi was there at the time?”
“I think it was him, at least. I remember looking up ‘ATM’ in the dictionary when I saw the helicopters and made the connection… which meant I was in English class, and Mr. Ogi was the teacher. I only ever had him for that class.”
I bet Ibara and Chitanda were trying to figure out what helicopters and automatic teller machines had in common. This ATM is an abbreviation for anti-tank missiles, the kind that military helicopters often came equipped with. But I digress.
“You have a point. If something like that flew over the school, then I could imagine Ogi would’ve ran outside and danced in the schoolyard.”
“I don’t think he would’ve danced, though.”
It was just an example.
It looked like Ibara was also trying hard to remember what she could. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure it was Mr. Ogi that got all happy when he saw the helicopter. That was a while ago… probably right after we started our first year there.”
“Now that you mention it, I remember thinking ‘this school has some really weird teachers’ when it happened,” I commented.
“But just like Fuku-chan said, I don’t remember him reacting to any helicopters after that.”
Right after we started our first year there, huh? My memories are all hazy, but I think Ibara was right. I don’t remember anything like that happening later.
Satoshi also seemed to remember something. “You know, though, if it’s Ogi-sensei we’re talking about, then there was something way more interesting that—The Shocking Legend of Ogi!”
“Stop making stuff up.”
I figured Satoshi was just going to make up some tall tale or something, but instead, he looked surprisingly earnest.
“No, I’m serious. I’m not making anything up. He told us himself.”
He always did love his stories. I stayed quiet, and in return, he smiled to the brim and started preparing as if he were about to deliver an epic saga.
“The thing about Mr. Ogi, you see… I didn’t believe it at first either. I’m not sure you’ll be able to come to terms with it, even if I do tell you. I wouldn’t say it’s beyond the realm of possibility, but—”
“Get to the point already.”
“According to the man himself, he’s been hit by lightning three times in his life so far.”
As far as Chitanda was concerned, Ogi was simply a stranger who loved helicopters and withdrawing money from ATMs. Sure she had boundless curiosity, but there was no way she’d get interested in something like this. She didn’t really add anything to the conversation but spoke up regardless.
“Oh really? You mean like lightning, lightning?” she asked as she pointed her finger to the ceiling. Satoshi nodded.
I’d never heard about this story before. I silently turned to look at Ibara, and judging by the way she shook her head slightly back at me, it looked like she hadn’t either.
Chitanda’s brow began to clench furiously. Come on, you don’t even know him…
“And three times at that. It’s a miracle he was okay.” she responded.
“The thunder hit him just like that!”
It was unfortunate that I heard that. I’d be doing myself a favor if I pretended I never heard it.
“It’s not like it hit him directly, but he said it still messed him up. He said that it once it knocked him unconscious, I think. He was laughing about it, saying he still has the burn scar to prove it,” said Satoshi.
“I see… But at least he’s still alive. That’s the silver lining,” Chitanda responded.
It’s true—getting hit by lightning could definitely lead to death in a lot of situations. Ogi didn’t have any obvious injuries as far as I saw, and while he was pretty short, he seemed like a really healthy guy. Considering that was after being hit by lightning three times, calling it a silver lining felt like an understatement.
It did start to bug me though. Hit by lightning? And to top it off, three times? Is that even possible?
Kamiyama City wasn’t known for having frequent lightning storms, and yet only Ogi managed to get struck three times? I wasn’t necessarily calling Satoshi a liar. Sure, he fabricated stories every now and then, but he never once prefaced those with a: “I’m not making anything up!”
So, was Ogi the liar? That also seemed unlikely. There were lots of guys that liked to play up their own misfortune, but saying “I was hit by lightning three times” seemed, I don’t know, way too obvious to be a lie.
A tiny fraction of an idea started to form as I racked my mind for an explanation. It wasn’t a very cheerful one.
“Satoshi, do they have old newspapers at the library?” I asked.
Satoshi looked a little dissatisfied with the conversation changing so suddenly, but he still answered my question.
“Yeah. The school’s library has some too.”
“Mhm, but ours only has scraps related to the school itself,” Ibara chimed in.
Oh yeah, that’s right. I almost forgot, Ibara worked in the library. When I occasionally went there, I usually saw her behind the counter.
This didn’t have anything to do with Kamiyama High School, so there probably wouldn’t be enough information. I grabbed my bag.
“I’m leaving now. I’m going to drop by the library, wanna come?”
As I said this to Satoshi, he returned a distrusting expression. “What’s going on here? It almost looks like you’re starting to get motivated.”
Was I getting motivated? I don’t think I’d call it that. It was really tugging at my mind, so I couldn’t really help feeling…
The second I muttered that, it almost felt as if the atmosphere around me changed. No, it definitely did. Satoshi covered his mouth with his hands, and Ibara made a face that looked as if she had suddenly eaten something sour.
Satoshi started to gesture wildly and said, “Houtarou? It is you, right? Oreki Houtarou? You haven’t been taken over by aliens, right? Or were you possessed by Chitanda?”
“I’m standing right here you know,” Chitanda interjected.
“I think you’d better go home right away, Oreki. Go straight home and get some rest. Wrap yourself up nice and warm and I’m sure you’ll feel all better tomorrow,” Ibara quickly continued.
…Was it really that strange for me to do something spontaneous like this? I’d say it was as spontaneous as spontaneous breathing, honestly. I had no idea when the library closes, but I doubt it was open 24/7. It’d be a pain if it was closed by the time I got there. I’ll forego inviting this rude bunch and try to make it quick.
As I got up to do just that, someone else stood up from their chair at the exact same time. It was Chitanda.
“Oreki-san, you’re curious, aren’t you!?”
“I guess so, yeah.”
“Are you going to try and find out the answer?”
“There’s a chance nothing will come up, but it’s probably the best chance I have.”
W-what the heck? Chitanda quickly made her way over to where I was, pushing her way past the desks and chairs as she did so. She finally stopped about one meter away, and her black eyes fixed on mine.
“To think there was something that could possibly capture your interest, Oreki-san… I want to know what that is! I’m curious!”
This one’s a pain in my side as well.
Satoshi apparently had to finish his homework, so he didn’t join us. Then again, it’s not like I’d be devastated if he wasn’t able to in the first place. Honestly speaking, it would’ve been a big help if Ibara was able to come, considering she worked as one of the high school’s library staff, but the two of us weren’t really close enough to make requests of each other like that.
That meant only Chitanda was waiting next to the school’s front gates.
Then was the moment that most students started to finish up with their club activities. Students in their school uniforms started to crowd the entrance on their way home from the club-filled high school with no end in sight. The students in athletic clubs were still out on the school grounds, but it looks like, for the most part, things were wrapping up right about now. I could see girls from the track club carrying hurdles over their shoulders and boys on the baseball team walking around the diamond as they picked up the various bases.
I always walked to school, but Chitanda had a bike. I guess she wasn’t waiting, strictly speaking, as I saw her nonchalantly pedal on over from the bicycle parking lot behind the school.
“Shall we be on our way, then?”
As she said that, something suddenly dawned on me.
At this time, there were students on their way home around us as far as the eye could see. For Chitanda and I to go to the library together, she’d have to get off her bike and push it amidst the crowd. I pictured the scene in my head.
That would probably be impossible. No surprise there.
“Go on ahead.”
Chitanda glanced at me. “You can get on…”
Me sitting behind Chitanda as she pedaled… I pictured the scene in my head.
That would definitely be impossible.
Now that I think about it, there was no reason she should’ve waited here in the first place. If she wanted to know what I was going to look up, then it’d be better for us to meet up at the library. Instead of just telling her to go on ahead again, I’ll give her something to start with. She began to pedal off.
I thought for a little and then called out to her, “Hey, Chitanda.”
“Yes?” Still upright on the bike, she paused and turned on her shoulders to look back at me.
“When you get to the library, check to see if you can search the old newspapers electronically. If you can, can you search for articles that mentions the name Masakiyo Ogi?”
“I understand. See you later then.”
I saw her off as she pedaled away, and I couldn’t help but think the bicycle didn’t really suit her. Though, no matter how girlish she was, that’s not to say I imagined her in some kind of horse-drawn carriage or rickshaw either…
I blended in once more with the rest of the leaving students. I’d keep Chitanda waiting if I walked too slowly. Running there would of course go against my energy conservation policy, but a faster pace wouldn’t hurt at least.
I stared down at my feet as I briskly walked. The city library wasn’t that far off from my normal route home; all I had to do was take a quick detour. It was the path I’ve already gotten so used to, following alongside the river. Sometimes I went around it on rainy days to go through the roof-covered shopping street with the arcade in it, but for the most part, I came and went on this street. The crowd of students that originally gathered at the school’s entrance gradually thinned out more and more—maybe some going to their house, others to cram school, and so on—and eventually I was the only Kamiyama High student still walking along the river.
I was a little tired from walking so fast, so I raised my chin and brought my head up. I realized there was a compact car coming from behind, and I moved to the side of the road. Finally looking up in front of me, I saw the familiar sight of the snow-capped Kamikakiuchi mountain range towering like always in a line in the distance.
Kamiyama City was located at the base of this Kamikakiuchi range. If you leave the city—on a school trip, for example—you’ll realize that the mountains continue on like an enormous screen, and it inspires a sense of freedom and unease at the same time. The massive range, its tallest ridge stretching along 3000 meters above the ground, prevents even the atmosphere from passing, and the weather on both sides are completely different as a result. Apparently. I’ve never actually seen it for myself. That’s what was written in a textbook I read once, and my sister gave the same account.
My sister as well, the kind of person that traveled all over Japan and the world with a “I’m going out for a bit,” went to the mountain range that towered before me countless times. For the many things Tomoe Oreki was, however, a mountain climber was apparently not one of them. I’m pretty sure all she conquered was the easier half of the range, with mountains directed at beginners at only 2000 meters high.
I was also taken there once in elementary school. It goes without saying that hiking is the antithesis of my energy conservation principles. I’ll probably never set foot on a mountain again.
There was still some time left before evening. It wasn’t like I forgot about Chitanda, but I took a second to gaze at the line of mountains I should’ve been so used to seeing.
It wasn’t by coincidence that I was preoccupied with the Kamikakiuchi range.
Noticing as I entered the library, Chitanda approached me with soft steps and handed over a printed-out sheet of paper.
“I found some information on Ogi-san.”
She didn’t really have to print it out for me. I’m pretty sure copies costed 10 yen per page, so I fished out a 10 yen coin from my wallet and offered it to her. She accepted it silently.
What Chitanda found was a newspaper article from last year.
“Kamikakiuchi Range Trail Beautification”
The beautification of the Mt. Abumi trail, organized by the Kamiyama Mountaineering Club, is now underway as of the 26th. 11 members, including volunteers, have participated in removing trash from the trail and the surrounding areas. Masakiyo Ogi (39), president of the Kamiyama Mountaineering Club commented, “With hiking becoming more popular in recent years, more and more hikers aren’t careful in how they treat their surroundings. I wish people were aware of how their poor manners affect the mountain.”
“I see Mr. Ogi was a mountain climber,” said Chitanda. My expression probably darkened a little as she peered at me before continuing. “Umm… is something wrong?”
“Not really. Did you search all the old magazines?”
“I couldn’t look at anything older than five years, but you can request that at the counter over there.”
As she said this, she started to look a little more uncertain about my attitude.
Hearing that he was struck by lightning three times got me wondering… Was it even possible for something like that to happen on flat ground?
I guess it was. I have heard stories of people from all over the world surviving even after being struck dozens of times by lightning. I pursued a different line of thought, however, and it looks like I was right.
That said, I really wish I wasn’t. As this thought went through my mind, I approached the counter.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for a newspaper article,” I asked the young woman with silver-rimmed glasses sitting there in front of a computer.
“Okay. What are you searching for?”
I requested an article from the year I entered middle school, some time from April to May.
The sound of clicking keys continued uninterrupted for a moment. Instead of checking the keyboard or the monitor, she continued to look in my direction as she typed. “Do you have any keywords?”
I thought for a second. “Try ‘stranded.'”
Without asking why or even changing her expression, she entered it into the computer.
I wonder if she’s a librarian. Before, I was under the impression that everyone who worked in a library was a librarian. Some time ago, Ibara found out about this understanding of mine for some reason or another and made fun of me for it. Setting aside whether she was a librarian or a part-time worker, she did a pretty quick job. Almost immediately, she had a list of the newspaper articles that fit my request.
“There are twelve hits. Would you like to narrow down your search even more?” she asked.
“There’s not very many results. Could you just show them to me, please?” I responded.
The woman turned the monitor so that it faced me. It looked like the database didn’t actually contain the articles themselves, but was just a means by which to search for them. Only the headlines were displayed, but among them, I found the words that confirmed my suspicions.
—”Hikers Stranded in Kamikakuchi Range, Search at Standstill”
“…It’s from May 9th. It says the newspaper it’s from right here. Let’s go find it,” said Chitanda.
There wasn’t a trace of lightheartedness in her voice.
Chitanda was never good at figuring things out. Even if I realized it, Ibara realized it, and Satoshi realized it, Chitanda alone would all too often be stuck clueless. From how she sounded now, though, it was probably safe to assume she already figured out what happened. I silently followed after her as she led the way.
Although we were looking for the article without any help, it wouldn’t take too long to find it as long as we knew the date. Not even a minute passed before we did. It was Friday, May 9th’s morning edition. The reason Kabuyara Middle School’s English teacher Mr. Ogi said he liked helicopters likely came from what happened on this day.
The article went like this:
“Two Kamiyama Mountaineering Club Members Reported Stranded”
On the 8th, Kamiyama authorities were notified that Kouichi Tawarada (43) and Isao Muraji (40) failed to return from their hike at the time they designated in advance. Both are members of the Kamiyama Mountaineering Club and reportedly went hiking on Mt. Shikoro in the Kamikakiuchi range. A rescue party was dispatched, but efforts have been at a standstill due to inclement weather in the surrounding areas. Prefectural authorities transferred a rescue helicopter to the local police, and an aerial search is scheduled to take place once weather conditions improve.
“Which means… what?”
Chitanda likely already knew the gist of what happened; she just didn’t want to have to put it into words. All of this was my idea, so it was probably my responsibility to be the one who answered.
“What this means is that Ogi didn’t really like helicopters.”
There were more people in the library than I expected there would be in the evening. I saw children and elderly people, Kamiyama High School students wearing the same uniform as us, and even what looked to be students from other schools. I guess we should be quiet in a library. I lowered my voice a little.
“Ogi was struck by lightning three times. This is probably the truth, but I wasn’t so sure about how it happened with him being a normal middle school English teacher. So that’s what got me thinking. What if he frequently went to places where lightning struck more often?”
“In the mountains, you mean,” replied Chitanda.
“Yeah. I thought, what if Ogi was not only a teacher, but a mountain climber as well? That’s when I immediately put two and two together and realized the meaning behind why Ogi said he liked helicopters that day. I didn’t want to believe it, so that’s why I came here to check.”
And now, we have the article from the past here in front of us—an article about two stranded members from his mountaineering club.
“Why did Ogi go over the window to check out the helicopter that day? It’s because that helicopter had a special significance. Maybe the helicopter flying overhead was important to him somehow, I figured.
“To expand on that, he absolutely needed to know whether or not the helicopter was able to fly. That’s why, when he heard the helicopter’s sound, he went to see it himself immediately without even thinking.
It was impossible to understand anything from just seeing an English teacher show interest in helicopters.
If you changed “English teacher” to “mountain climber,” however, that opened up many more possibilities. Not to mention Kamiyama City was the home of the Kamikakiuchi mountain range, its tallest ridge stretching along at 3000 meters above the ground. If you started wondering why a mountain climber was so preoccupied with helicopters being able to fly, then it wouldn’t take anyone very long to come up with some possibilities. The things that linked mountain climbing and helicopters were aerial photography and transportation. If it was neither of those two… then it could only be rescue.
Chitanda’s voice was also in a whisper, although I got the feeling it wasn’t only because we were in a library.
“This article says that the weather on the 8th was really bad, so helicopters wouldn’t be able to fly.”
I didn’t say anything after that. She probably understood it as well. I won’t say anything pointless.
What Ogi wanted to know was probably if the helicopter on standby with the Kamiyama City police was able to fly there. In class, as he taught his 7th graders the ABCs, he wondered if the weather in the distant Kamikakiuchi range ever recovered. If the range cleared up, the helicopter would fly. If the helicopter flew, then the two who were stranded would have a better chance of being saved.
“How must he have felt…”
As Chitanda muttered this, I once again recalled what happened three years ago.
Ogi had rushed to the window, and once the sound of the helicopter finally died off into the distance, he returned to his podium. “I like helicopters” was his excuse. I think I remember what his face looked like then. Maybe my memory’s off.
“I don’t know how he felt, but I’m pretty sure he was smiling.”
Maybe it was just because he was in front of his students.
In the newspaper published a couple days after that one, it said the remains of the two stranded mountaineering club members were finally discovered.
It was the police helicopter that found them.
When we left the library, the sun was already setting, unsurprisingly. Although this was just a small detour for me, Chitanda and I lived in different directions. As we exited from the front, and I was getting ready to say my goodbyes, Chitanda suddenly started to say something.
She turned to face me.
Her head seemed to hang almost imperceptibly.
“May I ask you something?”
“Why were you curious?”
That, huh? I smiled sourly before realizing it. “Is me being spontaneous like this really so strange?”
Chitanda smiled as well. “I suppose I would say so, yes. It is very unlike you.”
“Well, I guess ‘if I don’t have to do it, I won’t,’ after all.”
“No, that’s not what I meant.”
She immediately shot down my go-to motto. Hesitating somewhat, she continued.
“Oreki-san, you do so much for other people. You’ve helped me countless times as well. You never worry about things related to yourself, though. So then why today of all days did you want to find out about something you were unsure of…? I’m sorry, I can’t help myself. I’m so curious.”
I felt like she was wrong about one thing—really, really wrong.
I get the feeling that clearing up that misunderstanding would take a while, though. It was already getting dark out. I decided to make it quick and just answer her question.
“When I heard the story about the lightning, I made an unfortunate inference in my head.”
“Yes, that’s what you told me.”
“If that inference was correct, I’d need to be more careful from then on. That’s why I came here to confirm it.”
If we were talking an involved week-long investigation, then that would be a different story, but if it just took rummaging around some old newspapers to find the answer, then it wasn’t really a problem. I even had some help.
Chitanda still looked confused about the whole thing.
“After knowing about that incident, I can’t just go around and say whatever I want about Ogi liking helicopters. That’d be insensitive. Of course I’d have to be more careful,” I responded casually.
For some reason, though, Chitanda’s massive eyes were fully open. It looked to me as if she was completely taken aback. Out of reflex, I started to worry that I accidently said something bad. I tried to think and expand on what I meant.
“By insensitive, I mean like, ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about!’ kind of thing. Though, I’ll probably never see Ogi again, so I guess I have no idea what I’m talking about…”
“Oreki-san, that’s so…,” Chitanda suddenly said to me.
Her mouth moved as if tripping over her words, and then she stared blankly at me. What finally came out was a single sentence.
“I can’t really put it into words.”
I didn’t have the slightest idea of what she was trying to tell me. Well, if she couldn’t put it into words, then I wouldn’t really be able to listen to those words either.
“Alright, well, see you. Thanks for helping me out.”
“You’re very welcome. Goodbye.”
It was a short exchange. Chitanda’s house was far—even though she had a bike, it’d be completely dark by the time she’d arrive. She was the one who wanted to come, but still, I felt a little guilty about the whole thing. I definitely owe her for this.
On my way home, I suddenly looked up in front of me.
The mountains of Kamikakiuchi were already completely enveloped in the darkness.