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"Kuwaa~n... aanaan iya aaaaan... ufuu~n...," as the usual, strangely erotic sound of the idiotic bell could be heard behind him, Banri was already halfway across the bridge, at the head of the group.
"Sorry, are we going too fast today?"
He turned to look back at the club's vice-captain, who had been running just behind him.
"Yeah, let’s go a little slower."
While pulling out the pony-tail, which had fallen into the jersey's collar, the vice-captain turned around too, and looked back at the other club members, who were running behind them.
If they went at their normal pace, the seductive bell could be heard when they were one quarter over the long bridge. The club manager, Kanada-san, followed the end of the line on his bicycle, where he kept an eye on the first year students (who weren’t all that strong yet) so they wouldn’t get left behind, and rang the bell, which was about half-way through their normal forty minute run.
"Haaasss beeenn ruuunnng by..."
"Kana~~~da~~~~!" ...Holding imaginary microphones in their left hands and waving their right fists to a R&B rhythm, Banri and the vice-captain sang out in chorus. "Upperclassmen are idiots!", a second-year student running up after them gazed upon the two with disapproval. Another of the second-years said, "Don't they do that every day?", with a stunned look on his face. No matter how uncool it was, or how tired the juniors got of it, they couldn’t do anything about it. Looking at the vice-captain, Banri said, "Nothing wrong, is there?" Playing along with him, the vice-captain replied, "Right," and nodded.
Banri and the other track club members ran this bridge every day, what was said to be . Even as a local, he thought the same: it was certainly long. A big river separated this side (the mountains) from that side (the sea), which could be sensed in the hazy distance. Especially now, the scenery was blurred by the dusty spring wind and, somehow trembling, looked even more distant. Because the bridge was so long, ten years ago, a travel program had featured it on their show.
Next thing you know, there was a bridge boom! City Hall climbed on board this expected fad, saying, "Let's make sure we please the tourists that will surely descend upon us!" They had interminable meetings upon worse meetings, and in the end, on the mountain side of the bridge, they set up statues of the "Seven Gods of Fortune". The child-sized statues were arranged along a fairly sloping mountain trail, making an easy hiking course. Just before the grove of trees was cut off by the bridge at the end of the trail, above Fukurokuju, a huge bell was hung, with its sound bringing good fortune to the opposite bank. Practically saying "Please sound the bell", a mallet was placed beside it. The fact that the bell's toll reverberated in a strangely sensual way they decided to leave be: "Well, there's nothing you can do about it."
However, the few tourists that came were busy taking pictures of the view from the bridge, and consequently the only visitors to the statues were either the neighborhood dogs on walks, or the local high-school track team training. The dogs, of course, couldn't ring the bell. The only person who would make the perverted noise by ringing the bell was Kanada.
"Huh? What happened to that guy?"
Banri spotted someone, after he eased off on his pace, and turned back around. Surprised, the vice-captain asked, "Eh? What?"
"Look, there... Maybe he is not feeling well? Is he alright?"
On the bridge itself, a little further ahead of Banri's group, a man wearing a khaki jacket was crouched down. He was clinging to the knee-high guardrail as if he could hardly hold himself up. Banri glanced sidelong at the guy, but hesitated to call out to him, instead slowly approaching, quietly said to himself,
"I’ve got a bad feeling about this..."
That very moment, he passed by.
Their eyes met sidelong, quietly.
The man crouched down as if blind drunk, or maybe crying, or perhaps suddenly fallen ill, covered his face with both hands and looked at Banri through a gap between his fingers. On the back of his hand, a single mysterious character, something like a or a , was gleaming with a faint yellow light that Banri noticed because it flickered. He didn’t understand its meaning, but leaving that aside, the man's eyes were opened wide in surprise.
Startled, because the area of the man's half-hidden nose had a strange...
Because he was looking way over to the side for too long, he lost his balance and stumbled a few steps. He really didn’t want to be seen like that.
Calling out his name, the vice-captain sounded surprised, too. As if it were to blame, the elbow of Banri's windbreaker was nudged.
"That’s dangerous! What’re you doing?"
"But, but something about that guy… what!? No way!?"
Stubbornly, Banri was already running backwards, blinking while searching for the person he must have just passed.
He may have been seeing things, or it may have been a waking dream.
However many times he looked back, the unfortunate phantom was now nowhere to be found. He suddenly wasn’t there. He had simply disappeared.
Was it entirely his imagination? Was it a hallucination? No, or maybe, no way… did he fall off the bridge?
But he couldn’t hear the sound of anything dropping into the water.
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