(PAINTING THE SCENE)
Jonathan M. Peterson
© 2015 Jonathan M. Peterson
All locations, person, and events in this literary work are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real life is coincidental.
This novel is dedicated to the following:
My girlfriend Marian
And the characters who suffer under my imagination
I’ve always been fascinated by Japan and its culture. I know I’m American, but I’ve always thought of living in Tokyo for at least five years when I had the money, writing and enjoying the lifestyles that it had to offer. So, inspired by my lifelong goals and dreams, I decided to write a mystery set in a modern-day Japanese high school. So for my American readers, here’s a few things you need to know:
In Japan, common courtesy dictates that one must use an honorific when addressing someone, with the exception of when couples talk to each other, or just depending on the person.
Also, they address each other by their last names, with the exception of relatives and couples, and occasionally childhood friends. I’m keeping that tradition in this book, however, for my own sake, I will refer to characters by their first names for most of the cast. Although, that’s only in the case of main characters and characters with the same last name.
The title—Shin Kaiga—is the Japanese translation for the phrase, “Painting the Scene”. You’ll understand its importance later, but I choose to address it by its Japanese translation simply because I like how it sounds.
And lastly, I have never heard of a place called Yokohanamori. That name simply popped into my head while I was writing the storyboards for this series. But there are other places that I’ve heard of, like Shinjuku and Akihabara, that have a setting in this series, so I try to keep it as fictitious as possible.
Thank you, and please enjoy the first volume of Shin Kaiga.
Tuesday, May 3
The evening sun burned as it ducked into the horizon, casting the art club room in a blazing orange glow. It created a fiery atmosphere in the room, intensifying the effects of the paint on the canvas that Ohno Hina was using. She continued stroking the brush against the canvas, her movements guided by her imagination and inspiration, her mind so zoned out that she didn’t notice the departure of her fellow club members.
Even though she was skilled enough to avoid messes, she had taken off her navy blue blazer, wearing only the white blouse, red bow, and knee-length khaki skirt. Past experiences reminded her of how difficult it was to remove paint from the fabric, and those same experiences told her to keep her chestnut brown hair—normally allowed to fall to the small of her back—tied back in a low, loose ponytail that ended just below her shoulders. Her hazel eyes were completely focused on the painting in front of her, and yet at the same time, seemed like she was gazing at something a million miles away.
A hand clamped down on her right shoulder, and she looked up, startled. The art teacher and art club advisor, Obata Yamato, stood behind her in his dark gray business suit, a kind smile on his face, and from behind his oval-shaped glasses, his dark eyes locked on the beginning stages of her painting.
“Ohno-san, is this what you planned on displaying for the festival?” the middle-aged educator asked.
She nodded slowly, not speaking, as per her usual behavior. Obata turned his smile to her and removed his hand from her shoulder, then started towards the door of the club room. Her eyes stayed glued to him until he stopped at the door and turned to regard her one more time, setting the room key on the chair next to her door.
“I’ll be in the teacher’s lounge whenever you’re ready to leave,” he informed her. “Just make sure you put away your supplies.”
She nodded again and murmured, “Thank you, Obata-sensei.”
He exited, closing the door behind him, and she turned her attention back to her canvas, seeing it for the first time since zoning out. She had finished the frame of fiery colors, their startling colors sticking to within her penciled-in lines. It was going exactly as she had planned, and once she was done, it was going to be one of her best works of art.
She lowered the tip of her brush into the small cup of dirty water beside the pallet of paints, then reached over for more red. But her brush came up with a murky brown, and she sighed, disappointed.
“I guess I have to buy more paint on my way home,” she muttered aloud. She glanced at the clock, seeing that it was half past six. “I should get going, anyways. Mom will probably have dinner waiting for me when I get home.”
Packing her belongings, she carefully lifted the unfinished painting and settled it on an easel in the far corner of the room, placing a cloth over it to prevent damage from sunlight or being viewed before it was ready. She packed her paint and brushes into her cubby, secured the clasp on her bag, pulled on her blazer, and exited the clubroom, locking the door behind her. Pocketing the key, she started a casual trek through the buildings to the teacher’s lounge at the front of the school.
After a few minutes and a flight of stairs, she reached the main corridor where the faculty offices branched off. Starting down the hall, she noticed an open door on the left, next to the shoe lockers, the name card reading “INFIRMARY” beside it. Hina stopped just outside the room, her curiosity directing her movements, and took a couple of steps inside the room.
To the door’s right, a ghastly white figure in a tattered school uniform stooped over the desktop computer, shrouded in what appeared to be a supernatural glow. Long white hair draped down his hunched male form, blocking his facial features. Her heart began to pick up the pace, going from a walk, to a jog, to a gallop in less than five seconds, and her breathing matched it. She staggered back a step, her footsteps drawing the attention of the figure in the room. It turned to her, startled by her presence, and what she expected to see wasn’t a human face.
It was the face of a grotesque monster.
Hina screamed, and she stumbled backwards. In her haste, she tripped over the heel of her right shoe, and fell backwards. The back of her skull collided with the opposite wall and she slumped limply against it, her mind spiraling into the void of unconsciousness.
In her brief moments of trying to stay awake, she watched as the ghastly figure passed over the threshold of the infirmary, and then vanished.
Then she blacked out.
Wednesday, May 4
The class of forty-two students rose from their desks in unison as their homeroom teacher gathered his materials at the podium positioned in front of the class. The man in the brown business suit nodded to Aoyama Hideko, the female representative of Yokohanamori High School second-year Class D.
“BOW!” she barked.
The class complied as the teacher exited the classroom, sliding the door closed behind him. The students relaxed and sat back down in their desks, and Toshi Kohei sighed to himself, watching through black rectangular glasses as the young man beside him slump back down into a hunched sleeping position. Being two years younger than the rest of his classmates, he was self-conscious about the way he looked to others, hoping that they didn’t find him too young to bother themselves with. Kohei ran a hand through his cropped, dark brown hair, and then picked up his wooden pencil, reached across the three-foot gap between the desks, and poked the boy’s arm with the pink eraser-head.
“Come on, Fushigi,” he said in a low voice. “You’ve gotta stay awake!”
Yurui Fushigi groaned loudly, raising a hand and lazily waving off his classmate’s concern. “Little cousin, if you don’t let me sleep, you’ll be forcing me to embarrass you in front of the entire class,” he said, his voice somewhat muffled by his arm. “Do you want that to happen?”
Kohei blanched, his hand retreating. There were quite a few things about his personal life that he didn’t want his classmates to know about. “Um…no…”
A malicious chuckle rose from the huddled form. “Good little genius boy.”
The younger boy sighed and leaned back in his chair, his training weights clinking together under his uniform—which was two sizes larger to avoid tearing—and watched out of the corner of his eye as a feminine figure dressed in the typical girls’ school uniform approached their desks. He looked up at Aoyama Hideko, her bob-cut hairstyle curled inwards, but she was too busy glaring down at Fushigi with her fierce, chocolate brown eyes.
“Yurui-san,” she said, her tone firm. “Wake up, or I’ll wake you up!”
A muffled chuckle arose from the wild mess of dyed sunflower-blond hair, and a pair of sea blue eyes peeked up from behind his arms. “My dear Aoyama, there’s nothing you can do to me that will make me stop sleeping during my free time.”
Her eyebrows twitched in annoyance as he returned to his previous position. Kohei laughed sheepishly at his cousin’s actions, and noticed her withdraw a large paper fan from behind her back, lifting it high above her head with both hands.
“HII-YAH!!” she shouted.
The paper weapon swung down in a swift, powerful arch, and the broad edge of the fan slammed against the top of Fushigi’s spiky head with a loud SLAP!! Everyone’s head turned in their direction as Fushigi’s head shot up, both hands clamped onto the spot where the fan had impacted. His red necktie swung loosely from around his neck with his sudden movements.
“Ow!! Damn it, that hurt!” he griped.
Hideko huffed, irritated, and placed her clenched fists on her hips. “Then quit sleeping in class!”
“Well, how the hell am I supposed to get any sleep, then?”
“Oh, I don’t know! I guess like every normal person in the world—at home, in bed, during the night!”
Kohei stood, holding up his hands, palms facing out. “Okay, guys, let’s just calm d—.”
Both teenagers snapped their heads in his direction. “SHUT UP!!” they barked in perfect unison.
Kohei immediately dropped back into his desk, a puppy defeated by the vicious hounds, and thought that they looked like gender-swapped opposites in their respective uniforms. “Okay,” he whimpered.
Fushigi positioned himself diagonally in his chair, shifting his khaki-covered legs into the aisle and crossed them. “Let me paint the scene for you,” he began, and Kohei knew that he was about to start on another of his rants, or “monologues” as the older boy preferred to call it. “A young artist, scouring away at his precious craft into the wee hours of the morning, until the rays of the morning sun are bleeding through the window blinds. A deadline looms over him, driving him to—.”
“Oh, so you were working on your porn manga all night again?” Hideko interrupted. “That explains it!”
“DOUJINSHI ISN’T PORN MANGA!!” Fushigi roared, hopping up from his chair.
The raven-haired girl waved off his tantrum, turning to her right. “Regardless, you shouldn’t be sleeping in class. As punishment, you will be in charge of putting together our class’s installment in the school’s Founders’ Day Festival.”
Kohei sighed, knowing that their argument was far from over. The Founders’ Day Festival was a day set for celebration of the founding and establishment of Yokohanamori High School. Most schools let students have the day off in that case, but Yokohanamori was one of the few that hosted a festival, drawing in the town’s citizens for fun and school spirit. Each class put together some sort of display, booth, or event, and some classes even use it as a way to earn money for certain fundraisers.
Fushigi dropped back down into his desk chair, folding his arms over his chest. “Not happening. The festival is a waste of my time.” He cracked a cocky grin. “Anyways, you can’t just force somebody to take on that little task. There has to be a vote.”
Hideko smirked, peering at him out of the corner of her eye. “All in favor?” she called out to the class.
“AYE!!” replied everyone in the room, except for Fushigi.
He scowled sideways at Kohei. “You damn traitor!”
Kohei simply shrugged.
Fushigi turned his glare back to Hideko. “Fine, I’ll do it. However, there are always two representatives from each class for the festival.” Reclaiming his cocky grin, he raised his voice in order to address the whole class. “All in favor?”
Hideko scoffed, turning fully to face him, and crossed her arms over her own chest. “I guess that’s fine by me. That way I can keep an eye on you and keep you from making it into some kind of perverted fantasy for you.”
He shrugged, leaning back in his chair again. “Whatever.”
The bell chimed over the PA system, and the students rose from their desks, clamoring as they got ready for their next class. The students had a choice in their elective class, having the options of art, music, or study hall during the period. Kohei himself had decided on art, as did his cousin, and Kohei glanced over as Fushigi stood and tucked his school bag under his arm.
“Why do you do that?” Kohei asked as they began exiting the classroom.
“Do what?” Fushigi asked, his tone bored.
“Pick fights with people.”
“I didn’t pick a fight—Aoyama did.”
“But you didn’t have to retaliate!”
“She called my doujinshi ‘porn manga’! I was defending the moral integrity of my masterpieces!”
Kohei rolled his eyes. “I know, but you didn’t have to make such a big deal out of it!”
Fushigi shrugged. “Whatever, man.”
Kohei sighed, and they entered the art room as the sound of an object crashing to the floor reached their ears. On the other side of the room, Ohno Hina scrambled around on the floor, picking up her fallen supplies. Ohno was a childhood friend of Fushigi and Kohei, and the best friend of Kohei’s older sister Kanki.
Kohei crossed the room and knelt down to aid her with her belongings, his sudden presence causing her to jolt up a bit, and he noticed the white bandage wrapped around her head. “Are you okay, Hina-chan?” the bespectacled boy asked. “You’re a bit paler than normal.”
She nodded hurriedly. “Yeah, I’m fine!” she insisted.
“Hina.” Fuhsigi’s firm voice drew her attention as he knelt down beside her, locking gazes. “Don’t lie. You didn’t get any sleep at all last night, did you?”
She hesitated, then nodded slowly. “Last night, as I was leaving the school, I saw a…”
Her voice trailed off, and she dropped gaze to the dried paintbrushes in her hands. Fushigi placed a hand on her head and rubbed, a habit he’d picked up when they were younger, and she looked up at him
“Go on,” he said in a reassuring voice.
She gulped, then nodded again. “I saw a ghost.”
Kohei blinked, confused. “A ghost?”
“Yeah. The sight of it made me fall backwards, and I got knocked out. The nurse said I had a minor concussion, so my mom kept me awake all night.”
Suddenly, Fushigi laughed raucously, receiving a fierce glare from Kohei. “What the hell are you laughing about?!”
“Hina,” the spiky-haired sixteen-year-old chuckled, “you probably inhaled too many fumes from the paint you were using. You know there’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“I can show you what it looked like!” Hina protested. She grabbed her sketchbook from the scattered stuff on the floor and started flipping through the pages, then turned the book around to the boys, displaying a rather detailed sketch. “I drew it last night since I wasn’t allowed to sleep.”
Kohei’s jaw dropped in awe, eyes widening behind his rectangular glasses as he gazed down at the sketch of a terrifying-looking monster dressed in a school uniform. The body appeared human, but the face was distorted and grotesque, ghoulish.
“Wow,” the younger boy said. “Hina-chan, that’s good! It looks like it could be a monster from an action manga!”
She nodded slowly, but she didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic as him. The bell chimed again, and Fushigi stood, walking away while Kohei continued helping Hina with her supplies. The younger cousin settled into his chair next to Fushigi as the art teacher Obata Yamato walked into the classroom.
“Good morning, class!” Obata-sensei greeted cheerily. “I know how eager we are to show off our skills for the festival, so let’s continue with our art projects!”
Fushigi yawned loudly, his noise blending in with the growing din of the classroom, and lazily withdrew his large sketchbook from his schoolbag. Kohei glanced over at the page that the spiky-haired boy had opened to, and just like his reaction to Hina’s drawing, his jaw dropped in awe.
Ohno Hina was a talented artist, but Yurui Fushigi’s skills were leagues ahead, and not just with manga-style sketches. The picture he’d been working on for the festival was an action still-shot of a sword-wielding man fighting a grotesque monster, and Kohei recognized the subjects from Fushigi’s doujinshi series Piercing Silver, the main hero and the main villain of the art that he’d been creating for the past couple years.
“Incredible!” Kohei breathed.
Fushigi shot him a sideways glance. “You always say that about my art work.”
“Well, I can’t help it! You’re a far better artist than I am!”
The blond teenager shrugged. “So what? You’re much smarter than I am. You’re the one who skipped two years of school, remember?”
Kohei frowned. “Well, you would have already been in your second year of university if it isn’t for the fact that you refuse to take school seriously.”
Fushigi laughed loudly. “Yeah, right! University classes would cut into my doujinshi time more than high school already does!”
Kohei sighed as his rambunctious cousin continued laughing. “What am I going to do with you?” he murmured.