Part 22: Encounter, Part 5
I stopped praying and clasped my hands over my mouth. I knew I'd scream if I didn't. Could this be Yoshie? Was the school legend real?
But the footstep sounds didn't start again. If this was indeed Yoshie, then she'd stopped in front of the classroom and was just...standing there.
I had no concept of time anymore. I stayed in my hiding spot for what was probably only a few minutes, but it felt like at least an hour.
(Maybe whoever it was...is gone...)
I gingerly edged my head out just far enough to get a glimpse of the room...when suddenly...
Background Sound: Footsteps
The footsteps rang out once more. It sounded like they were headed right for me. And they might have been inside the room... I honestly couldn't tell. I scrambled back into my hiding spot and covered my mouth with both hands.
This was too much for me. My breathing was coarse and erratic, and my face was a mess of tears and snot.
(God, plase...save me!)
I was inconsolable. The footsteps just wouldn't stop! What on earth were they doing?! It almost seemed like they were running around in circles, just to scare me!
I mouthed these words over and over again, and moved my hands to my ears in a vain attempt to block out this torturous sound. And as if in response, the sound changed.
Background Sound: None
Sound Effect: Door
It was a loud, dull thud, followed by silence. No more footsteps. I'd heard that sound hundreds of times before. It was the classroom door sliding open.
What little safety I'd felt here was pretty much gone. But to be fair, I wasn't absolutely certain the spirit had seen or heard me, either. The prospect of stepping out into the open wasn't a desirable one, but I had to decide if it was better to stay where I was...or to make a break for it.
Video: Classroom 3-4
Staying in one place for too long seemed like it would be inviting trouble, so I took a deep breath and reluctantly crawled out, as quietly as I could. But almost immediately...I felt something.
Or perhaps "struck" isn't the right word. There was a little force behind it, but it wasn't a hard slam. More like someone trying to get my attention.
(Is that...a wooden rod? Or, no, it's...a finger?!)
I knew I wouldn't like what I was going to see, but I had to face whatever this was. So...I turned around. And there, looming over me, was...
A figure was peering down at me from above the podium, with one emaciated, wishbone-like finger extended toward my face. I recognized this person instantly. No doubt about it...this was the strange old woman who'd supposedly passed away earlier.
*pant* *pant* *pant* *pant*
A ghost! There really was a ghost in this school! My breathing was ragged and my heart was pounding so hard I thought it might explode. Plowing through all the desks in my way, I ran as fast as I could toward the classroom door. But that was as far as I could go.
???: What's wrong...?
But how in the world did she get to the door before I did?!
*pant* *wheeze* *pant* *wheeze*
I needed to get out of here now...to get as far away from this place as I possibly could.
(If the front door is blocked, maybe I can get out through the back... But if I do that, I can't leave the school without running right past her! There's no way she'd let me by. But I have to do something...)
I bit my lip and continued scanning the room.
(Something... If I just had something I could use to fight back...)
I didn't have time to think carefully about it... I just had to grab something and hope for the best. There were two choices, and I had to pick one on impulse, before it was too late.
We're given ten seconds to make this choice. We quickly grab the bag of salt.
(This looks like...leftover salt from an old chemistry experiment?)
I'd heard that salt was used in purification rituals, so it seemed like a natural choice.
(Okay, this is coming with me!)
(I'm scared, but...well, here goes nothing!)
She really was trying to catch me. I wasn't just being paranoid. She was going to kill me and turn me into a ghost like her! I was convinced. This had to be Yoshie, the teacher from that urban legend.
(No! I won't let her get me!)
Bracing myself, I darted toward the door at the back end of the classroom. There wasn't a moment to lose. If I didn't act fast, I probably wouldn't be able to act at all.
Unsurprisingly, trying to outrun a ghost proved to be a fruitless endeavor. The spirit saw me and moved at breakneck speed to intercept.
Gyeeeeaaaggh! D-Don't come any closer!
I thrust my hand into my pocket and withdrew the bag of salt, then threw the entire thing directly at the old woman's face.
(Sh-She recoiled! Now's my chance!)
I ran down the hall as fast as my legs would carry me, briefly glancing over my shoulder after a moment to confirm that the spirit was still writhing.
Video: Classroom 3-4 ends here.
I just kept on running down that dark hallway, with nothing but adrenaline and mortal fear to keep me going. I reached the stairwell at the end of the hall and made a mad dash toward ground level. I was determined to get out of this building alive!
Finally, still moving at top speed, I reached the windowed door leading outside.
(Almost there! I'm almost out!)
Luckily, the malevolent spirit hadn't caught up to me yet. It actually seemed like I might be able to escape. I might actually survive this!
I grabbed the handle and tried pulling it...
Sound Effect: Locked
No... No! It's not opening! Why? Why?! I'm so close! Please! Please, open! I'm begging you!
(I have to think of something else. At this rate, that horrible woman's going to... No, I can't let that happen! But, what do I do? What can I do?!)
Putting my thoughts in order, I came to the sudden realization that I was right near the umbrella racks. Unless the spirit had taken it or something, my umbrella should still have been where I'd left it.
Aha! Here it is!
I practically tacked the rack, grabbing my umbrella in one swift motion. Not from the handle, mind you, but from the top. Then, taking aim at the glass part of the door, I swung as hard as I could, smacking it dead center with the sturdy plastic handle.
The glass wasn't going to break so easily, of course...but it did crack, giving me the impetus I needed to go in for a second hit.
*pant* *pant* Break, damn you! Break!
Again and again I struck the glass. I had the umbrella gripped so tightly that the metal skeleton of the canopy was leaving indentations in my skin. I was sure there had to be a better way to do this. But I didn't have the luxury of time to figure out what it might have been.
*gasp* She's coming this way! *pant* *pant* *wheeze* *pant*
I began smacking the glass even harder, even faster. My hands were killing me...but this was my only hope of survival. Finally, after far too much effort...
Sound Effect: Shatter
The glass shattered onto the floor, making one hell of a sound. Tepid air whooshed in from outside. It was still pouring rain. But I was free now...free to escape this hellhole.
*pant* *pant* ...Okay!
The pane I'd broken was on the lower half of the door, and I didn't care if I cut myself -- I got down on my hands and knees and I crawled like mad!
(I did it! I'm almost outside! I can actually escape! I'm...safe!)
But it didn't last long. Before I was even halfway through the door, I felt something coiling itself around my arm. With a start, I looked back.
You mustn't go outside.
A tall, shadowy figure had appeared behind me in the entranceway. And she had me in her grasp. There wasn't much more to her than an indistinct, flickering silhouette. But I could clearly see she had a broken neck. Was this a different apparition?!
Her scraggly, root-like fingers were squeezing my arm with tremendous force, pushing aside muscle and tissue and pressing right on the bone.
Nooo! Wh-Who... What are you?!
Ouuuaaggh... Th-That hurts! That really hurts!
I was shaking hysterically and tears were streaming down my face. I was absolutely convinced that I was going to die here.
L-Let go of me!
S-Stop...please... You're... You're really hurting me!
I felt like my arm would snap in two at any moment.
Let's be together...forever...
She wasn't just grabbing, but twisting as well. The pain was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. I couldn't think about anything else. My mind was absorbed by the unconscionable agony.
*pant* *pant* ...nnggh...ggh... Tsu...kasa...?
I thought my arm was about to snap off. And then, all of a sudden, I was whisked away. Whisked away by Tsukasa.
No time to explain. We have to run!
Tsukasa was still holding onto me tightly after saving me from the brink of death. He led me back into the school at an incredible speed.
Video: Escape ends here.
He practically spit these words as he continued running.
(Why is Tsukasa here...?)
I tried to match his gait, and once we were a bit more in sync, I looked up at his face.
After we'd reached the end of the hall, he suddenly veered into the last classroom before the stairwell, pulling me in with him.
I'm fine. I...ergh... I can walk by myself, really.
Oh, sorry. My bad.
I moved away from Tsukasa and almost immediately spilled onto the ground like a house of cards.
Whoa! You sure don't seem okay to me!
M-Maybe not, but...I just need a few...ungh...
Hey. Don't push yourself.
Oh! Sorry! Is it your arm that's hurting you, then?
Yeah. I don't know how bad it is...but it really stings. Like it's on fire.
I draped my other hand over the sore spot, where I assumed there was probably one hell of a bruise. I started rubbing it gently, but it didn't help at all.
B-But, then we'll be...
...exposing ourselves to that ghost again, right?
Just thinking about going back out there and facing Yoshie made me shudder. I couldn't believe he was even entertaining the idea.
Tsukasa's gentle reassurance actually made me forget the pain in my arm for a moment. I had to stop myself from blushing...or try to, at any rate.
We need to treat your injuries as quickly as possible or they could get worse. The nurse may not be in, but I can at least apply first aid.
All right, then. Let's go!
Tsukasa offered me his hand. And I graciously took it, squeezing it tightly as he led me back out into the hallway.
Despite the fact that nothing had really changed -- I was still in just as much danger as I had been -- the paralyzing fear I'd been feeling was gone. If it were just me, I would've never been able to do this. I would've frozen up. But with Tsukasa leading the way, I felt like I could do anything.
With my blessing, Tsukasa upped his pace significantly.
(Please, don't let her show up!)
I prayed silently for smooth sailing as I followed Tsukasa's lead.
I gently squeezed his hand again, as if to reassure myself that he was still with me. I was starting to think maybe Yoshie was gone...maybe we'd thwarted her...but of course, just as I was thinking that, she made her presence known again.
*gasp* What the hell was that?! Show yourself!
An unearthly voice reverberated through the dark corridor. I immediately drew myself into Tsukasa's back.
It must have been waiting here to ambush us.
It's all right. Stay calm!
The ghost was moaning and wavering before us. We'd never be able to get past it.
I'm going to draw that thing's attention. While it's distracted, I want you to run.
What?! N-No way! We'll run together!
It's a keepsake charm my grandmother gave me. When I pointed it at that thing earlier, it definitely had an effect.
But... Tsukasa, you'll still be putting yourself right in harm's way!
Stay where you are!
We really didn't have time to be arguing. It was closing in fast. And as it did, I noticed the spirit's figure had become more defined. She was a tall, young woman, with her head turned sideways at a 90 degree angle. The tale of Yoshie suggests she fell down a flight of stairs, so a broken neck would certainly fit...
Tsukasa ran too, darting ahead of me for a few short moments.
This video covers the remainder of the update.
Tsukasa ran as close as he possibly could to get Yoshie's attention, then turned tail and began sprinting off in the opposite direction.
Amazingly, it worked. The spirit began chasing Tsukasa, leaving me completely unobstructed.
(This doesn't feel right. Should I really escape without him?)
I was torn. On the one hand, I knew this was my best chance. But I couldn't help worrying about what would happen to Tsukasa if his charm failed. I stopped for a moment and glanced over my shoulder. He was still running, and the shadowy figure was still in hot pursuit.
It's fine! I told you to keep going! Once you're out of harm's way, I'll be right behind you. I promise!
...I still can't believe I fell for it. But this was right about when I realized the truth. Tsukasa had no protective charm. He'd just made that up so I wouldn't object too strongly to him serving as decoy while I got away.
Music: Revolving Door Brass
(No! I can't let him go through with this!)
I stopped in my tracks and shouted out at the top of my lungs.
I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting myself into, but I had to do something. And calling the spirit's name definitely seemed to have an effect.
That's right! I know your name!
Shishido! What are you doing?!
All at once, the black figure was facing me, though I never saw her turn around. She was flying toward me now, ignoring Tsukasa.
I repeated this like a sutra and stuck one hand into my pocket, grasping tightly onto the one and only item I'd stashed there.
(Unlike him, I have a real protective charm!)
Tsukasa's care, his effort, his beliefs... They were all packed into this pencil. And when you get right down to it, that's what a charm is, right? I squeezed the nubby little thing in my pocket, mentally preparing myself for the confrontation ahead. The confrontation I'd impulsively initiated.
I won't! I absolutely will not!
(God! Please...protect me!)
I closed my eyes, lifted my hand from my pocket and brandished Tsukasa's pencil intently. The gauntlet had been thrown. I was putting a lot of faith into this...and I really, really hoped I hadn't made a mistake in doing so.
I opened my eyes to find that the shadowy spirit...Yoshie...had stopped dead in her tracks. Did it work? Was Tsukasa's pencil keeping this vengeful soul at bay?
Suddenly, I was whisked off my feet and slammed against the ceiling.
I could see him down below. He was frantically staring up at me and desperately leaping. He was trying to...catch me, I suppose. Even though he knew he'd never reach.
I called out to him, over and over again, in my mind. If he could get away...if he could survive this ordeal...then it would all have been worth it.
Yoshie was still drawing near, and I was helplessly pinned to the ceiling. I had no chance at all. There was no doubt in my mind that my life was over. I clung to the relief I felt at Tsukasa's safety. It was the only thing keeping me from losing my head entirely.
...Then, all at once, the situation took a complete 180. It was like a miracle.
Before I had any idea what was happening, I found myself bathed in a gentle light.
The woman...from this morning...?
It was the old woman who had collapsed in front of my house. She was standing down below me, enveloped in a warm glow.
Sound Effect: Whoosh
And just like that, I fell to the ground. Whatever Yoshie had done to me, the old woman must have nullified it. That must have been why she came to me this morning. And why she had come again now.
I felt like I was going to faint.
Yoshie's spirit was gone. She'd vanished along with the light. Around us now, the only sound was the pitter-patter of raindrops on the school roof.
I'd suffered quite a bump on my head from my fall and was decidedly disoriented...but I still had enough sense to put my arms around Tsukasa's neck.
I'm sorry. It's just...
...I wanted to protect you. I couldn't bear the thought of losing you...is what I wanted to say.