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Stories and Studies of Strange Things

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It’s not surprising that the ‘king of ghost stories’ takes an interest in Kyouka and Atsushi’s situation when he arrives. It’s not surprising that any writer would take an interest: Kyouka can acknowledge that the circumstances that led to them being in the library are unusual, and that many of the authors here are people who are known for focusing on unusual things and trying to understand them more completely. The kinds of writers who focus on ghost stories, especially, have an eye for the bizarre.

Koizumi isn’t unlike Ranpo in that way, but unlike Ranpo, he isn’t pushy.

Kyouka can tell he’s fascinated when she relays the story of how she ended up here and why she has the same name as an author he knows. It’s written all over his face when he says, in his slightly broken Japanese, “How ‘complicated and bizarre’! You have one of these Abilities, you said?”

“Yes,” she says, and doesn’t elaborate.

Koizumi chuckles, and even though she thinks he’s going to pry about her Ability’s nature, all he says is, “It’s wonderful that even in this era, we still have mysterious occurrences that cannot be explained through normal means. I have much to learn!”

The kinds of writers who write ghost stories are bizarre in themselves, but Kyouka appreciates him not asking any further.

When Koizumi and Izumi hold their ghost-story-telling-party, Kyouka makes sure to attend. Most of the writers do, except for the few who can’t stomach scary stories. (Miyoshi, shivering, wishes her good luck when she passes by on her way to the room where the party is being held.)

Koizumi is a different kind of writer than Ranpo. Ranpo’s endings are flashier, and he relies more on shock value. For someone like Kyouka, who’s seen bloodier and gorier in real life, those endings won’t scare her much at all, though they work on plenty of the writers. The stories Koizumi tells are more subtle, with endings that linger in her mind like a chill settling over her body.

When the turn to tell a story comes around to Kyouka, she clears her throat before Chuuya, sitting on her left, can assume she isn’t participating as a non-writer.

“There is a library where all the rooms are filled with books, except for one room that’s empty of anything but tables and chairs.”

The room they’re sitting in is the same. It’s normally used for library staff meetings.

“Since it doesn’t have any books, the visitors don’t go there. But the staff who come into clean say that it always feels cold, even in the middle of summer, and they don’t like to stay there for longer than they have to. During a heatwave, three of the librarians decided that the room would be a good place to take a break. But… only two of them came out.”

Kyouka pauses for a moment, for effect. “When the two of them were asked what had happened, they said that the ghost of a woman had appeared before them. The third one, who didn’t make it out - she’d appeared right behind him, with her sword against his neck.”

She happens to be across from Koizumi in the circle, and so it’s Koizumi who suddenly has Demon Snow behind him with her sword on his neck. Not close enough to actually cut him - she does like Koizumi - but close enough to be felt.

While most of the writers jolt away or pull out their weapons as quickly as they can manage, and Koizumi goes very still, Atsushi turns to her with a frown. “Kyouka.”

Kyouka nods, and Demon Snow sheathes her sword and steps back. “It’s alright. That’s my Ability, she won’t hurt you.”

The authors relax slowly and return to where they were sitting, and Koizumi lets out a breath. “What a terrifying story you’ve told! I must say I haven’t been so ‘surprised and afraid’ in a very long time.” He smiles at Kyouka, then turns around to face Demon Snow. “So this is the true nature of your Ability?”

“Demon Snow,” Kyouka says.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Demon Snow,” Koizumi says, and lifts one of Demon Snow’s hands - the one that isn’t on the hilt of her sword - to kiss the back of it.

Kyouka looks to Chuuya first, who shrugs. “It’s your Ability, you can tell him if that’s weird or not.”

“That’s weird,” she says, with more confidence than if Chuuya hadn’t given his opinion first. “It’s a part of me.”

Koizumi turns back to Kyouka with a small smile. “Ah, forgive me, forgive me for being so effusive. I was only ‘joyful’ to find a tale that could make me so afraid. …Now, I believe it was your turn, Nakahara?”

“I’m not doing that for my story,” Atsushi says, on Chuuya’s other side.

“That’s fair,” Chuuya says. “Hmm, let me think…”

Chuuya tells a story about another world where someone with your name exists as your complete opposite, and asks how you would know which of you came first and whether you were the ‘real you’. It might be more scary if Atsushi could stop snickering.