Stage Fright

Act 1 - A Saboteur in Our Midst

The atmosphere at Fuka Academy was really starting to liven up as the start of the school festival was less than two weeks away. In the school's auditorium, rehearsals were under way for the play that would be put on for the festival goers.

"Hajime-kun, let's take it from the top of that last scene again," a tall dark-haired girl instructed her young fellow thespian. "Only this time, try and be a bit more expressive. Remember, you're supposed to be extremely agitated in this scene so move about the stage some more and try flailing your arms a bit."

"Okay, I got it, Kyoko-chan."

As Hajime began his reading, the painted backdrop that was suspended from above mysteriously came loose and started to fall forward.

"Hajime, look out!"

"Are you sure you want to do this, Takumi?" Akira asked as the two stood beside their desks waiting for homeroom to start. "Isn't there something else your club could do for the festival?"

"What are you talking about? I think it'll be a lot of fun," Takumi assured her. "A maid café is sure to be a big hit with the students and will give the cooking club some much needed exposure. Not only that, it's bound to bring in a lot of money for us as well. Besides, all the girls in the club were thrilled when I made the suggestion and all agreed to dress up as long as I agreed to be the host."

"Yeah, that's what worries me," Akira mumbled under her breath.

"Akira, we talked about this. I thought you were okay with me being in the club."

"I am. I don't have a problem with it, it's just that…"

"The whole maid café concept kind of makes you a little uncomfortable?"

"Well, yeah. I guess," she said with a bit of uncertainty. "All those girls dressed in those skimpy costumes and you being the only guy…"

"Sounds to me like you're jealous again."

"Idiot! I'm not jealous!" she defensively shot back, becoming all flustered.

"You know, there's a really simple solution to all of this," Takumi pointed out. "If you're so concerned then why don't you help us out? That way you'll be able to keep watch over me. Besides, you've already got the outfit so why don't you…"

"I already told you," she annoyingly reaffirmed her position. "I only bought that stupid thing to wear to your anime convention. There's no way that I'm going to let anyone at this school see me dressed in that thing."

"Okay, okay. It was just a suggestion. You don't have to get all…"

Takumi was suddenly caught off guard as he noticed his good friend Hajime enter the classroom on crutches.

"Hajime, what happened?" Takumi asked with great concern after rushing over to him, followed by Akira, to see what had happened. "Are you alright?"

"Oh hey, Takumi, Akira," his friend greeted them sounding somewhat embarrassed. "Yeah, I'll be alright, I just sprained my ankle yesterday during rehearsal. It's pretty badly swollen so I'll have to use these crutches for about the next two weeks."

"Two weeks? But the play's in only…"

"I know, I know. But there's no way I'll be able to perform in this condition."

"Gee, that's pretty rough," Akira sympathized. "What's going to happen with the play now?"

"That's just it, I don't know. Kohei-san, who's our stage manager, would be the most qualified to take over for me except he's refusing to do it."

"How come?" Takumi wondered. "Is the role that demanding?"

"Not at all, it's just that…" Hajime started to cautiously look around him to see if anyone else might be listening. Then, in a low whisper, he leaned in to the two and added, "There've been some strange goings on lately ever since we started rehearsals."

"Strange?" Takumi curiously remarked. "How strange?"

"Well, there have been several accidents on stage all involving props or set pieces. That's why Kohei-san doesn't want to do it. This whole thing has really got him spooked. He along with several other people seem to think that the entire production is cursed."

"Cursed?" Takumi said rather astonished.

"I know, it's silly," Hajime acknowledged, "but we haven't been able to figure out how any of these accidents could have happened. There's been no evidence to suggest faulty construction or even sabotage for that matter. Luckily though, no one's ever gotten hurt."

"Until now," Akira concluded, looking at his cast.

"Actually, I didn't get injured from anything hitting or falling on me, although, I narrowly escaped getting hit when the backdrop mysteriously started to fall forward. Luckily, Kyoko-chan noticed it and pushed me out of the way. Unfortunately, when she did that, that's when I twisted my ankle."

"She's the head of the drama club, right?" Akira asked.

"Yeah, and she's also playing the female lead in the play. I feel really bad for her; she put so much effort into this production. Did you know that she wrote the entire script by herself?"

"Wow, that's pretty impressive," Takumi noted. "So what's the play about?"

"It's a tale of forbidden love between a samurai and the daughter of the daimyo lord that he serves. I think it's brilliant. She's really amazing. I know she's going to be a great writer someday, but I just worry about her sometimes. She's way too critical of her own work and doesn't seem to think that it's ever good enough. And now with the play in danger of being cancelled, that only adds to her worries. I just wish there was something I could do."

Sensing that his friend obviously had feelings toward Kyoko, Takumi smiled as he then inquired, "Isn't there anybody else you could ask that might be able to take over for you?"

"Not really," he dishearteningly replied. "All the other guys in the drama club already have other roles to perform and it's just too last minute to ask somebody from outside the club to step in."

"Maybe not," Takumi optimistically retorted. "I mean, it's not much, but I did once have the lead in a play back in elementary school. So if you'd like, I'd be willing to step in for you."

"You'd do that for me?" Hajime was startled at his offer.

"Absolutely. Of course, I can't guarantee you that I'd be any good, so naturally you'd have to audition me first."

"No, no, I'm sure you'd be fine," Hajime excitedly replied. "Thank you so much, Takumi. You don't know what this means to me. Meet me in the auditorium after school and I'll be happy to help you out in any way that I can."

"Everyone, please return to your desks," the class rep announced to everyone as their teacher entered the room.

"Oh, here's a copy of the script," Hajime quickly pulled from his book bag and handed it to Takumi before hurrying back to his desk. "Look it over when you get a chance, and thanks again."

"Takumi," Akira whispered as they both returned to their desks, "what are you doing? How do you expect to perform in this play while juggling your duties in the cooking club?"

"Don't worry, Akira, I'm sure I can handle it," he reassured her. "Besides, it'll give me a chance to investigate and maybe get to the bottom of this case."

"Case?" Akira was rather astonished at his view of the situation. "Investigate? Uh, Takumi…"

"All bow!" the class rep instructed as Akira just continued to look dumbfounded over Takumi's remarks.

"Hajime-kun, are you sure about him?" Kyoko questioned, sounding somewhat uncertain as they sat in the first row of the auditorium looking up at Takumi on stage.

"What have you got to lose? Besides, he was gracious enough to offer to help us, so the least we can do is give him a chance."

"You're right," she acknowledged, then looked up at Takumi. "All right Takumi-san, why don't read your character's speech that starts on the bottom of page ten."

"Page ten? Got it."

After having him go over several passages, Kyoko was extremely impressed with his readings.

"I've gotta say, Takumi-san," Kyoko remarked as she and Hajime joined him up on stage, "you're not bad. Your voice projects well and your diction is pretty impressive."

"You see, I told you," Hajime said excitedly.

"Thank you, Kyoko-san," Takumi happily replied.

"I should be the one thanking you," Kyoko added, "otherwise we'd probably have to cancel the entire play. I take it that Hajime-kun has told you what's been going on. This whole notion that this production is cursed is simply preposterous."

"I agree," Takumi concurred, "So do you suspect anyone who might have a reason to sabotage your play?"

"Several, actually. It's my belief that…" Kyoko hesitated as she noticed her stage manager approaching.

"So what's the deal, sempai?" a young blond-haired boy came over and questioned his senior, sounding rather irritated. "Is the play on or off? I'm kind of getting tired of all this uncertainty."

"The play will go on as scheduled, Kohei-san," Kyoko informed him, then introduced, "Kohei-san, this is Takumi Tokiha. He will be taking over for Hajime-kun."

"Pleased to meet you," Takumi pleasantly remarked.

"Yeah, yeah, it's a pleasure," Kohei abruptly greeted him as he then warned, "So listen, kid, I hope you know what you're getting into. There've been a lot of unexplained happenings taking place lately, so I hope you don't frighten easily."

"Uh, no," Takumi was slow to respond, "Not really."

"Good, because you may be getting more than you bargained for."

"That's enough, Kohei-san," an annoyed Kyoko replied.

"Sorry, sempai. I just thought that he should be made aware of all these weird phenomenon. Well, seeing as how we're going on with this, guess I'll go and set the stage up for you for the first scene."

"Uh, thank you, Kohei-san," Kyoko hesitantly said as she watched him depart. Then turning to Takumi she added, "You'll have to excuse Kohei-san. He's always been a bit superstitious. Unfortunately, he's kind of scaring some of the other cast members with all his talk of the paranormal. I hope you don't take what he says too seriously."

"Not at all," Takumi understandingly replied. "I'm sure that there's a perfectly logical explanation for what's been going on. Besides, I don't scare that easily."

"Well that's good to know," Kyoko was relieved to hear, then announced, "Well, we've got a lot of material to cover so we better get started."

Takumi seemed to be making a lot of headway after only three days of rehearsal, even managing to memorize quite a bit of his character's lines. Having cleaning duty along with Akira the following day, Takumi left a bit early for rehearsal since Akira had offered to finish up for him. As he made his way out of the classroom, Takumi was suddenly grabbed from behind by a mysterious figure decked all out in black and looking like a ninja.

"Wha… what do you want from me?" Takumi nervously asked the masked figure.

"Shut up and listen carefully," the cloaked stranger instructed in a deep tone of voice while keeping a firm grip on him. "If you know what's good for you you'll drop out of the play and quit snooping around and asking questions."

Now genuinely scared, Takumi tried to justify the situation considering that Akira was the only ninja that he knew.

"Akira… please tell me that it's only you," Takumi pleaded.

Overhearing him from within the room, Akira slid open the door. "Did you call me, Taku… LET GO OF HIM!"