When the Cicadas Cry, Snow in Summer
1995 again…?

Thursday, June 1st, 1995

It's cold. It's so very cold. So cold that the chill was eating away at the skin beneath my already heavy layers of clothes. So cold that I couldn't feel my hands or feet. So cold that I could be dying at this very moment and I'd never know it. But so cold, and so quiet, that there was nothing more beautiful in the whole world – nothing more beautiful than this frigid, deadly night.

Lying there at the base of a small mountain of snow, staring at the beautiful and hazy moon, marveling at its quiet elegance and at the soft glow of the stars around it, listening to the eerie but peaceful howl of the wind as my whole body slowly sank into the soft surface beneath me – it was as though I could forget about everything. Forget all my worries, all my troubles, any pain I'd ever felt or any regrets I'd ever had. I shut my eyes and breathed in, the gently falling snow touching my face with a soft but sudden sensation in intervals that I began to focus on –

I'd fallen into a trance. I just let loose every muscle in my body and lied still. No concern for anything or anyone around me, not even for myself. In a few moments I let all my thoughts disappear. And in those few moments when I stopped thinking, I felt a kind of bliss that was easily the most valuable thing in the world. I felt for a few moments that I was off in a different world – in a wide open space, where nothing matters, and therefore meant more than anything else ever could. At least to someone like me, who adores this bliss more than anyone would consider healthy.

But then my eyes open, and the illusion is gone and all my troubles come back to me – but even then I'm still staring up at the moon. And whenever I look up at the sky, I always feel a little jealous of the moon – because for the moon, that bliss lasts forever. It's a lonely feeling – gazing up at something that's always just sort of there in a way that other people wouldn't understand. And being so lonely, I wonder – is there any point to coming back from that bliss? If being here in a place where I could be bothered by other people who don't understand what I'm saying, is there any point to staying here? Maybe dying here like this was a way for me to finally achieve that bliss that would last forever. But I don't want to die. Even though I care so little about living like this I don't want to stop living. Because there's something – some desire I can't describe – that makes me want to stay here. And so all I do is just stare – on and on, into a deep void that probably reflected what was inside my head pretty well.

In the end I'm not moon, or the stars in the sky, and I'm not something that can disappear forever without a trace. I'm a person – I'm Sonozaki Rion, I'm seven years old. One day soon – sooner for you than for me – I'll be about fifteen, but for now I'm just a seven year old girl. And I'm just lying here, letting the nonsensical world around me wash over me.

At some point I'd definitely fallen asleep. I felt a little drowsy, and I thought I'd been asleep for quite some time, but the moon was still right where it was when I'd shut my eyes. The wind was blowing over the top of this small hill and while it scattered some snow it didn't make the cold any more lethal than it already was.

It takes me a little while to notice – or rather it takes me a little while to remember that I'm actually not lying here by myself. My right arm was numb this whole time, but very slowly the feeling in it returns and I realize someone else's arm is wrapped around it. It actually seemed like someone was trying to pull me closer to them in their sleep. I shift my head without really thinking, wondering who it was that was lying here with me. It's another girl, more than twice my age, with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a snow dusted parka like I was, her eyes shut and a small smile formed on her face despite how her already pale skin was stained with frost. She almost seemed like she could've been dead, but she was breathing very comfortably, probably more so than I was. I shift my arm away from her since her weight on it started making me feel uncomfortable, but as I did she almost immediately stirred. Her eyes opened and she let out a rather reserved yawn.

Our eyes meet and she smiles again. "Good morning, Rion-chan." She says tiredly, rubbing at her eyes with her snowy gloves without wiping them off. She gets snow in her eyes and starts shaking her head to get it out before she giggles at her own mistake.

"…Good morning, Miyuki-chan." I say quietly.

She practically beams at me. "Hmhmhmm… I finally got you to call me Miyuki-chan. See? I told you I was going to win."

"Whatever." I dismiss her comment and go back to staring up at the sky.

She frowns. "Come on, Rion-chan. You need to be more receptive to things like this." She stands up with a huff, dusts herself off and stretches. "Now, let's see… Yes, I'm sure we're headed in the right direction now." She looks off towards the endless snow field ahead of us.

"Isn't that the way we came?"

"No, no, Rion-chan. You can't trick me like that this time. I'm sure we're going in the right way this time."

"You said that before, and we still haven't seen anybody…"

"Always be optimistic, Rion-chan. As long as we keep going, we'll find someone."

"Yeah, as long as we don't hit the ocean first."

She crouches down right by my head and with her index fingers she pushes my cheeks to get me to smile. "Op-ti-mi-sm. We'll get you home before you know it. Now let's get going – don't forget the bag, it's your turn to carry it." With that she jogs off ahead, mainly to warm herself up, shouting all kinds of motivational things while she was doing it.

This very bubbly person is Miyuki Akasaka. She's a friend of my Mom, and she's a very happy person. Happy to the point where I'm sure she's faking it, especially in the situation we're in right now. We've been traveling together every since this all started.

I grab the bag that we buried under the snow by its exposed strap and yank it out before I throw it over my shoulder and walk off after her. Blood was rushing to my limbs again and before I knew it I was back at my normal walking pace as Miyuki and I head off into the darkness. The moment we're back in our quiet traveling mode Miyuki becomes a lot less animated and her upbeat chanting stops. And the cold once again start to wear on us. But we keep on moving regardless.

I suppose if I'm bothering to talk about all this stupid stuff, now would be a good time to actually explain what's going on –

Up until two days ago I was spending the first few days of my summer vacation in Tokyo with my mom. Since my mom very often found herself without a job and dragging me from place to place with her was an inconvenience she didn't want, after I was four I was sent to her hometown, a backwater village called Hinamizawa, a place that I've despised ever since I'd been dumped there. I'd spent well over a year in that cramped village on my own without so much as a single letter from her, and so this small trip to Tokyo was her penance. Since her living conditions were far from stable, she ended up convincing Miyuki to take us in for the week. Miyuki was apparently close enough to my family that she accepted us happily. My mom insisted it was because she liked me in particular, but I didn't see any reason why a total stranger would be that interested in someone else's kid. We were going to see Tokyo Tower in person on the 30th, which neither of us had ever done before.

I'd never admit it out loud, but I had fun going shopping with her. She might've had no sense of style, but my mom knew how to entertain children. I could see Tokyo Tower in the distance from Miyuki's apartment building, and I was a little mesmerized by it – it made sense, since I'd be lucky if I saw a building that tall again until I'm twenty. I was interested in even just standing in front of it – almost excited, really.

At midnight on the 30th, I was actually so excited that I couldn't sleep. I wanted to go by the window and stare at the tower more. But as I left my room I heard voices from outside – Miyuki and my mom were talking about something serious. I couldn't quite hear them from inside my room, but I couldn't bring myself to open the door – I sensed danger from them. Danger from two people that up until this very moment have been smiling and making jokes like nothing was wrong in the world. I always knew it was just an illusion, but part of me desperately wanted to cling to that illusion.

My mom left – I heard a loud slam, which prompted me to go out into the hall. And she was gone. Miyuki thought I'd heard the whole conversation, and immediately tried to cover things up, but I didn't let her.

I demanded – I demanded to know where my mom had gone. But she couldn't tell me. All she said was for me to go back to sleep. She couldn't maintain her pleasant appearance – she was cornered, and I wasn't backing away. I concluded in that moment that she was just another adult, just like all the others, and I stormed off to the kitchen, where I could see Tokyo Tower. I knew that I was going straight back to Hinamizawa now – there's no way Miyuki would've wanted to bother with a stranger's daughter. She would do the responsible thing and bring me back.

This happened all the time. The moment I took interest in even the slightest thing in this shitty world, it was taken away from me. I don't really remember right now, but I probably cried. That's something I did a lot.

And I went to stare out at the tower, but then –

Then something a little miraculous, but at the same time totally impossible happened.

There was a great burst of light in the sky just above the tower – like a ball of fire that had appeared, only to erupt into a great burst of light that lit up the night sky. And from that great light descended a monster – a red dragon, the same you'd find in any western fairy tale, with great white horns and massive wings, five times the size of a human being. The red dragon fell out of the sky, one of its wings pierced by a long black spear of some kind, spewing harsh, blue fire from its mouth as it spiraled downward, casting its fiery breath at that great light, while simultaneously trying to fly towards it –

And it became impaled on the tower, the tip of the spire piercing its chest, killing it instantly. It was both a moment of awe and terror. I called for Miyuki, saying things that naturally sounded impossible – I wanted her to come see the dragon, I wanted her to go with me to the tower to see it in person. I definitely sounded delirious, but I'd just seen it with my own two eyes.

The blue fire fell from the sky, and as it did, it suddenly began to snow – first gently, but in no more time than I could call out to Miyuki in came a blizzard so intense that both the dragon and the tower vanished from view completely, even blotting out the light in the sky. Miyuki did see the snow – and marveled at the impossibility of it. Very harshly she told me to go to bed – and I listened.

The following morning the snow hadn't stopped. It had just increased in its intensity. The outside world was a great white void that I felt could swallow me up without warning. Miyuki tried to get me to sit and watch TV with her to diffuse some of the tension, but none of the stations were operating save for one news network. We had no idea where my mother was, and no matter how long Miyuki sat next to her phone it never rang. Even though it was probably against her better judgment to let me watch the news she did nothing to stop me.

Naturally all anyone was talking about was the snow –

A blizzard right before June that had suddenly appeared out of nowhere and absolutely ravaged Japan. According to what little contact there was with the outside world it wasn't just Tokyo that had been hit – all of Japan was engulfed in this storm that was showing no signs of ceasing. There was almost a constant video feed of the streets outside the news building – from where they were filming it was possible to see the outline of the snow covered street even through the video feed.

But there was buzz about the light in the sky as well. The newscasters were reporting that people had seen a great light form just over Tokyo Tower, and that some unidentified thing had fallen out of the sky, but no one had been able to confirm that such a thing had ever happened. No one could so much as step outside their homes without being blown away by the snow, which if it persisted long enough was going to end up eating away at some of the smaller houses in the area.

But more importantly, the people that had seen what I had seen – at least the ones that were recounting the moment they did on the TV – seemed almost delirious, and their description of what happened sounded far more intense and violent than mine did. But we'd all seen the same thing, right? Calling this storm some kind of alien invasion, saying things like the apocalypse was on its way – why were people so afraid of what they'd seen?

But as the day went by and Miyuki made us tea I kept on watching the coverage while she kept trying to get a hold of people she knew but to no avail – things suddenly got worse.

A cameraman managed to make it out onto the street at some point, and very quickly the situation got a little scary, even for me watching from a mile away. Just on the side of the road the camera captured a huge frozen thing sticking out of the ground –

Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a person. A person so thoroughly frozen it looked like they'd been hosed down – they'd been frozen so quickly and so suddenly the icicles extended outward from them like streaks. Very quickly the person was identified as another newscaster – and once that distinction was made, and it was clear this was more than some freak storm, things began to fall apart very quickly.

The phone lines were still working, as the studio opened a sort of hotline for people that were separated from their loved ones – and the people called in droves. But it was more than just concerned people – hysterical people shouting and screaming about the light over the tower and how God was about to descend multiplied in frequency as well.

And then at one point one of the newscasters that had stepped out for a moment came back in with his whole suit in disarray and his hair suddenly disheveled, shivering and softly murmuring 'so cold, so cold' over and over even though he was inside where it was warm. And in a crazed voice he started shouting, directly in front of the camera. He'd seen the tower – he'd seen the light, he'd seen the red dragon, just like I had. And he said that this was only the beginning, that the snow would never stop and that soon everyone would be claimed by the white void. But he said one more thing that was eerily familiar to me –

The time has come – give everything you have to Oyashiro-sama! That is the only way you will ever find the light in the darkness!

It was right after the man had spoken those words that Miyuki suddenly snapped back to reality and shut the TV off, scolding me for listening to such garbage. She was trying very hard not to panic, and she asked if I wanted to play a game with her. I shook my head, telling her I didn't feel like it, and curled up on her couch and stared blankly out the window at the great whiteness.

Midnight on the 31st eventually came. I was unable to sleep, but I decided it would be best for me to just stay in bed. It would be a silent, peaceful night if not for the raging storm outside – I only really slept well on very quiet evenings, but one this particular night I was actively thinking about things.

That name – Oyashiro-sama. It's the name of the deity of my village. Something that's native to Hinamizawa. Something people on the outside shouldn't even know about, let alone speak so reverently of like that man had. It didn't make sense –

I eventually snuck out of my room anyway. I turned on the TV to watch the news again, because I figured there wasn't anything else I could do to pass the time –

And as I do –

On the screen is that same newsroom, bathed in fresh, red blood. There wasn't a soul in sight, but something terrible had clearly passed through. The big round table the reporters would speak around was completely coated in fresh blood and the walls to the side were streaked similarly, and the fake city skyline painted into the back wall was covered with bloody handprints. I turn off the TV immediately – I didn't react well to seeing blood. And like this – I couldn't get the image out of my head. If I weren't so tired I probably would've screamed.

I went into the kitchen, trying to peer out the window to see if I could make sense of anything outside.

Funnily enough, I could – I could only barely see the sidewalk just below the window, but I was able to make out just a little thanks to a streetlight that was uncovered enough to light just a little. It would've been impossible to see anything if we were any higher than the third floor of the building, but in any case –

I saw people –

A group of people, at least nine or ten of them, slowly, very, very slowly, stalking down the road, their clothes covered almost completely in snow and being buffeted by the winds but eliciting no reaction from any of them. They just kept walking like they couldn't feel a thing – there was something very unnatural about them. Something very scary about them –

And then, somehow –

One of them sees me. One of them manages to spot me from all the way down there and with a defiant point opens their mouth as if to say something before the rest of the people with them slowly look to where they were pointing.

And then they all start moving at a slow jog, heading straight towards our building. I panic.

I head straight for the door, making sure it was locked – I opened the door, closed it, locked it, and made sure it wouldn't open no matter what at least twice. But what good would a regular old door do to stop a bunch of people?

I had no idea what to do, so I went straight to Miyuki. I woke her up so she was in a bit of a daze, but I tried to explain what was happening as best as I could. She didn't believe me, of course, but I kept on insisting and insisting until –

Until sudden the whole building shook. A low, demonic rumble rung out all around us and the shaking became extremely violent to the point where things started to be scattered around the room. Miyuki told me to calm down, saying it was just an earthquake, but I was well past the point of calming down. Eventually Miyuki's ceiling fan broke free of the ceiling and fell, smacking me right in the head and stealing my consciousness instantly.

When I woke, I was outside. The sky was clear, the moon was full, about twice its normal size, and glowing vibrantly, the snowing had become little more than a light dusting and –

And I was still on Miyuki's bed, only there was no ceiling, no floor, but more importantly no Miyuki. I called out to her without thinking, but she responded to my cries immediately. She found me there with a bag slung over her shoulder and some winter clothes she'd managed to find over her other shoulder, telling me that everything was going to be alright.

We were – presumably – right in the middle of Tokyo, and the whole world around me was nothing more than a frozen tundra. Endless snow in every direction but south –

To the south were ruins – ruins of the Tokyo Tower, which was now leaning off to its side at about half its regular height, the base either completely destroyed or buried so far beneath the snow it could no longer be seen. There was no light above it, and there was no dragon stuck through it. It was just a tower – a destroyed tower, with the remnants of some of the buildings around it. So much had been blown away or outright buried that I could see the tower completely unobstructed from so far away. And around us was what very little remained of Miyuki's bedroom, which had somehow managed to sit above the snow despite being on a very low level of the building. Everything above it – and everything around it, save for some scattered bits and pieces of wood and concrete, was seemingly blown away.

I asked Miyuki what had happened. She told me honestly – she said she didn't know. But she said there was no sense in sitting around and thinking about it. Her nervousness and lack of decisiveness from before had magically vanished completely, even though we were in a worse situation now.

Very quickly she decided that we would head off to try to find some signs of other people. Miyuki had heard on the news that the snow was not as intense further north, so she decided that we would make way for Hinamizawa, which was not all that far to the north from here. It would take a good amount of time to get there on foot, but we didn't exactly have any other ideas. I decided not to question what had happened to everyone else around us, or what had happened to my mom, because there was absolutely no point in doing so. I silently agreed to go off with her. And here we are, many hours into our walk, to the point where we had to stop to rest for a few hours.

No matter how long we went on for, the moon never so much as shifted. Miyuki was sure that it was now the 1st of June, but even then we'd gone on for long enough that the sun should at least start rising. But there was no sign that was ever going to happen. It was like this night was endless.

Miyuki insisted on being optimistic about things. She actively wanted me to talk to her, even though it wouldn't be of any benefit. But despite that, even now, she's going back into her social routine.

"You know, I've always been a little jealous of you, Rion-chan." She begins.

"Why?"

"You've got such a huge backyard. And you live in such a big house, too. It must be nice to have a whole house like that almost entirely to yourself."

"It's ok, I guess." I don't feel like talking about Hinamizawa. I never feel like talking about Hinamizawa.

"So what's it like? Being a daughter of the famous Sonozaki family?" She asks, her voice sounding a little excited.

"Famous?"

"Sure, your family is very famous. I'm sure plenty of children your age look up to you just for that."

"I don't look like a Sonozaki. No one else seems to think so…" I point out something I'm very conscious of – the Sonozaki family was very much known for having green hair and green eyes that stood out as dignified individuals, even among children. But as for me – I had dark red hair, with perhaps a little orange to it, my eyes were blue, and I carried no presence whatsoever. I looked nothing like a Sonozaki. And all the time people would look down on me just for that, even within my own family. It didn't help that I was the daughter of the head of the family – it didn't help that I was going to be inheriting a title I didn't even want without my consent.

'This girl is going to succeed the head?'

'She's Mion-sama's daughter. It can't be helped.'

'Her mother was already helping around the house at her age. But she's doing nothing with herself at all.'

'If this child is the future of our clan, then maybe Furude will take over soon after all. What a shame, dooming us all just because she's unmotivated.'

'She has bad blood in her and it shows. Maybe it's time to stray away from our traditions and invest in some common sense.'

People of all ages would just glance at me and have the same, stupid thought. My birthright as a Sonozaki is something I'd trade away for just about anything. Sure I lived in a giant house, and I had a huge backyard or whatever – I didn't care about any of it. If it meant dealing with bullshit from so many different people I would burn it all down if I could just get rid of it all just like that.

It also didn't help that I had no father to come to my defense. Whoever it was that put me in my mother's stomach was long gone by the time I was born. But not once would she ever tell me anything about them – nor would she to anyone else. But in any event, that man had changed her life to the point where she no longer cared enough about her family to maintain it. The Sonozaki family used to have real power in Hinamizawa, but over the years the Furude clan, another family with elitist children popping out of the woodwork, began to take all that power away. The family head, my mother, did nothing to stop this. She never came back to the village to sort things out – even when she came for me she would never do so in person. People respected my mother blindly – even though she was such an irresponsible person people adored her, and placed all the blame for the stagnation of the family solely on me. Even though my aunt Shion's son Runon wasn't an exemplary individual at age five either – but still jaded enough to hate me like everyone else did.

"Is that so…?" Miyuki trails off. "…You shouldn't let people like that get to you. You're just as much of a Sonozaki as anyone else in your family."

"It doesn't matter what you think."

"…Do you really feel that way? I'm sorry, then. But I do want to hear more about you, Rion-chan. Especially now when we have nothing else to do with ourselves but talk."

She had a point but I still wasn't willing to play. I was ready to just turn off completely and had no interest in speaking with someone else.

"I don't feel the same way." I speak flatly. She giggles in response. "…What's so funny?"

"I'm sorry. It's just that my papa used to say the same thing all the time. You could never convince him to do anything he didn't want unless you were really cute and really sweet, like I was when I was a little girl. You're a lot like him."

"…What's your dad like anyway?"

"Hm… He was very quiet and very stern on the outside, but whenever he saw me he'd light up like a big Christmas tree. I didn't realize how serious he was until I was much older – he was always so happy when I was around him back when I was little."

"He was…?"

"Oh, he's not alive anymore. He got very sick a few years ago."

"He did…?"

"…I know it's tough not to have a father around. But I can only imagine what it's like for you, Rion-chan." Her voice is just a little more serious as she says that. "I'm sorry if I upset you. I just wanted to know a little more about you, is all."

"…No, it's ok."

She smiles at me when I say that.

I decide then that it's a good time to ask her –

"Akasaka-san, can I –"

"Miyuki-chan." She interrupts me almost automatically.

"…Miyuki-chan, can I ask you something?"

"Of course. Anything you want." She responds happily.

"…You believe me, right? That I saw the light people were talking about?"

She was silent. Since we started traveling together this was really the first time I'd asked her about this directly. But eventually she replied. "No matter what you think you saw, don't tell anyone you saw anything like a dragon, okay?"

"But I'm telling you, I –"

"It's not healthy… For people to be talking about things that don't exist like dragons and strange lights. Especially not at times like these. Okay?"

I wasn't entirely sure what she was getting at, but I decided to accept that. And with that we were walking in silence again.

The snow sparkled in the light of the moon, like thousands of tiny fragments of light that would scatter and crash on the wind's whim. And here we were, crossing a sea of these fragments, with no end in sight. The further along we went the more I began to think – Hinamizawa was probably buried like this too. The chances that it survived were extremely slim, I thought. Part of me felt a little relieved. After all, if there was no Hinamizawa I couldn't go back to it. And returning to Hinamizawa was the last thing I wanted to do.

But then what? All that was left after that was for me to shrivel up and die. Even though I hated it so much I had no life outside that village. I didn't appreciate the life I had, but I had no intention of choosing any other kind of life.

All I really want is that blissful darkness.

But my thoughts are suddenly interrupted – Miyuki suddenly calls out. But not to me – she's calling out to someone else.

Off in the distance, just past this hill we were climbing – there were three people off in the distance, sitting in the snow. Taking me by the hand, Miyuki runs off towards them. None of them seem particularly animated though –

But before I can get a better look at them, Miyuki stops moving a little too quickly and crouches down in front of me, grabbing me by both hands. "Rion-chan, I need you to do something when we go up ahead, ok?"

"W-What?" I'm still a bit rattled from having stopped so suddenly.

"I need you to close your eyes. And I want you to promise not to open them until I tell you to, okay?"

"Why? Why can't I –"

"I know you don't think you have to, but please, I want you to listen to me, just this once, okay? Promise you won't open your eyes."

I silently nod my head and once I shut my eyes she guides me by the hand past the three people – of course as we pass I open my eyes. All three of them – as expected, they're just like that man on TV. They're all dead, frozen solid. But more than that, they're very peaceful. It's like they accepted their death willingly. Like they wanted it.

Seeing them like this –

I can see why Miyuki didn't want me to open my eyes. I should've listened. I feel sick.

We continue our trek across the snow in total silence. But eventually we clear a hill and we find the ruins of a building off in the distance – it's some kind of a church. A very Catholic looking establishment. Why one would be in this area was a mystery, but for all we knew that thing could've blown over from another country.

"Let's stop in there for now, until the sun rises. Ok?" I don't really respond, but Miyuki pulls me by the hand anyway.

The church interior seems like it's mostly intact. Most of the building seemed to have surfaced, and there were only holes in the stained glass windows. Everything inside aside from the pillars that held the building up was either overturned or ripped from its foundations and scattered everywhere. I was sure this was a Catholic establishment – there were torn up psalm books and damaged crosses all over the place. We managed to clear out a small circle for ourselves and I sat down while Miyuki went around looking for things to start a fire with.

In here the light from the moon was very scarce. Without a fire we never would've been able to see anything at all. But thankfully Miyuki lit one with some things she found lying around without much issue. We sat next to each other, basking in the warmth, and as usual Miyuki decided to start talking about a whole lot of nothing again.

"So… What do you do for fun?" She asks.

"…Nothing much." I'm a little surprised I can still answer questions like these as though we weren't in such a terrible situation.

"You said before you don't have to many friends, right? But you know, you can have fun by yourself. It's not impossible."

I don't really have a response for her, so she just keeps on talking. "I know your mother likes playing video games. Have you ever played any?"

"We don't have anything like that at home. I'm supposed to sit and read all day." I read a whole hell of a lot – hence why my vocabulary was kind of advanced for a seven year old. I have no clue what any of the stuff in any of the books I read actually meant, and I ended up just reading a dictionary more than anything else. But even then I don't feel like doing any of that anymore. There's not much of a point, really.

"That's no fun. Your Aunt Shion should at least know better than to let those old geezers make you sit around all day. It's not healthy."

"I don't see Aunt Shion very much. She lives with her husband at his house."

"Ah, I see…" She trails off. "…Even if you can't do any of that, you definitely have a notebook or something lying around, right?"

"Well, yeah."

"Then you can write. That's what I used to do… See, I didn't have a mother growing up, either, so after I came home from school and I waited for my papa to come home from work I would sit in my room and I would write about things."

"Write? About what?"

"About whatever you want. You have a favorite story, don't you?"

"…Well I haven't really thought about it much, but I guess so."

"Well what would that story be like if the characters did different things? You can have fun thinking about things like that, and then writing them down."

"That doesn't sound like it would last very long."

"Not if you don't stop thinking." She says with a smile.

I think about what she said for a little bit. But before I can give it any serious thought she starts speaking again. "…I'm sorry about your mom."

"I don't mind…" I fall silent before I decide to get one bit of honesty off my chest. "…Part of me doesn't really care… About what happens to her. I know it's a terrible thing to say, but…"

"No, I know exactly what you mean…" She wraps her arm around my shoulders. "But you need to understand that there's two sides to every story. There's always a reason for why people do everything."

"…Even a reason why you're trying to talk to a total stranger like this?"

She's silent for a few moments, but she does answer. "… Yes, exactly."

And then we sat there, in silence, listening to the crackling of the fire, just like that. I couldn't really understand her. I wasn't old enough to be able to. But for now, I guess this was enough. As long as I could ask her later.

It's funny. I don't think I've ever shown this much interest in another person before.

A little while later she asked if I wanted to play a game with her again. This time I had no other choice but to say yes.

It was fun. Miyuki came up with things that I ended up enjoying. Very simple things, not involving all that much physical activity, that I would be good at without much issue. She knew exactly what kind of things I'd enjoy –

It took me awhile to realize, but slowly I began to think – maybe Miyuki was at least a little like me at one point. Maybe that was why when I sat down and took her seriously I understood her a little more. It occurred to me then – maybe she was talking with me for her own sake. Maybe she wanted to talk to me because if she didn't have that connection she couldn't keep herself together.

She might've been a lot older than I was – but it's not like she was just some pathological liar that didn't have a heart. She was a kind person. It hadn't really occurred to me that such people existed.

I felt bad. I wanted to make it up to her, so I went along with what she wanted. Eventually it got late enough and I was tired enough that I actually managed to start dozing off. I found myself resting against Miyuki's back as we both started to fall asleep.

But then she suddenly moves.

"Who's there?" She calls out to the darkness.

And from within that darkness –

I hear a sound.

Lalalalala….lalalalala….

A voice, a cheery, childlike voice echoing through the ruined chapel.

Lalalalala….lalalalala….

Lalalalala….lalalalala….

And from within the darkness emerges a girl, no older than I was, in a long, white dress that spilled out onto the floor, with blonde hair and bright, red eyes.

Miyuki suddenly backs away. "…S-Satoko-chan…? But… But that can't be, you're too young –"

The girl spreads her arms out wide, and she smiles just as wide – her eyes are empty

"Lalalalala… Does Oyashiro-sama sing, too?" She speaks, in a childlike voice –

And from within the darkness come three howls –

Wolves. But – here? Was that even possible?

Miyuki scrambles to her feet and pulls me up along with her, not waiting another moment and even leaving the bag behind we take off as I hear the sound of many footsteps hitting the tiled floor behind us. Miyuki pulls me out of the chapel and down the left side of the building – but then one of them jumps through a window just in front of us.

It was a white dire wolf, its mane smeared with fresh blood – and what a horrifying sight it was to behold.

I was unable to keep my screams to myself anymore. Miyuki managed to get around it and we kept running, trying to lose just that one wolf, not even considering how there could've easily been two more. And as we ran left and right, trying to find some way to escape with our lives, that inane laughing rung out all around us.

Eventually Miyuki gave up and bolted away from the chapel. I could hear the sound of the dire wolf following us in the snow, and most regretfully I looked behind us –

There were indeed three of them, all the purest of white – and they were after us.

And so we kept running, until Miyuki eventually trips and falls.

I try to pull her up, but she doesn't seem to respond – no, she's now suddenly occupied with snow on the ground.

"We need to run! Get up!" I start shouting at her.

"This…" She trails off, seemingly in a daze. "…This isn't snow, this is… this is salt." She gently tastes some of the snow on her gloves. "But… where could…!" And suddenly her eyes widen. And in all of a moment's notice she's up on her feet again, pulling me by the hand, moving as fast as her body could take her.

But eventually she falls again. She tries to stand – but she finds herself unable.

"…Rion-chan, listen to me."

"Come on, we can talk later, we have to keep going –"

"I want you to keep on going. If you go north – you will reach Hinamizawa. I promise. You have to keep going without me."

"What? No, no, I can't do that –"

"I'm going to find your mother, okay? I can't – I can't go back there with you until I've brought her back."

"But if I leave you here you'll –"

"Just go!" She shouts, pushing me away from her violently. "I'll be alright. I promise." She smiles at me – but the tears welling up in her eyes tell me everything I need to know.

"But that's…"

"If you don't go now, you won't get a chance… Please, go."

As I see the dire wolves off in the distance I make my decision –

I leave the smiling Miyuki in the snow, and I run off into the night, my face heating up as tears start welling up at the corners of my eyes.

I have no clue –

No clue where I'm headed, no clue if I can even outrun those dire wolves –

Does Hinamizawa lie ahead? I had no idea. Did I even care enough? Absolutely not. But –

But I had no other choice but to run.

And at the very least –

I didn't hear Miyuki scream.

I kept on going – through that endless night, through the endless cold, trudging through at a horse's gallop. I'd never run like this before – no, because I was running of my own free will. But I wasn't being powered by newfound courage – no, I was being driven by a profound sadness. A kind of sadness that made me angry. Truly, truly angry. And this was an anger that wasn't directed at anyone but myself –

The snow gets deeper the further I go, to the point where it's nearly up to my knees. But I keep on going. I go as fast as I can, without rest. I can't stop – not now. Not when someone just died for my sake. If there was any reason for me to keep on living, even if for just the moment, it's this – because dying like this isn't fair. It's not fair to Miyuki.

Hinamizawa might be my hell on earth – but I'd rather take living in hell than dying when I finally had a reason not to.

And so I keep on running, battling the snow, battling the limits of my tiny body –

And then –

It's like it all just suddenly came to the end –

The snow simply cut off. The dirt path beneath it exposed long before I realized I was running along it. The trees reappeared, the sounds of wildlife suddenly filled my ears, like I'd just taken off a pair of earmuffs –

And I found myself at the top of the hill.

Down below I saw it –

That village I hated more than anything else in the world – Hinamizawa, beautiful from a distance, untouched by the desolate night.

And from behind the mountains in the distance, the sun rose.

I let my tears fall freely – the endless night had ended. But what came next? What was I going to do with this life that I didn't deserve?

At the very least I had time – Miyuki's time, that she gave freely.

What I did with that time –

I had to make it all count. Every second.


On May 30th the skies above Tokyo split apart and true death spewed forth
Japan was engulfed in the salt hail
And those that bore witness to the heavenly sign of the end lost both rhyme and reason.
Those that survived told stories of pandemonium and dragons -
And when the winds died and the skies cleared
80% of Japan had been wiped away, leaving nothing behind but soot and ash
As the planet opened up and swallowed it whole -
And spat back out what it did not want.
As though years and years of pain, suffering, rebirth and retribution –
As though time had stopped and ceased to be –
And millions of lives were lost to the darkness.
Millions worlds shattered – millions of fragments devoured for all time.
But from the soot and ash rise the phantoms, born from the desires of those left behind.
A Great Hinamizawa Disaster, unlike any other –
Where only Hinamizawa was spared.
Take heed, children of man.
The watchers will laugh, as they dance in their merciless skies.
And those skies –

Are the skies of your future.