Every single kid was whispering at the gathering of the Kuromiyama Elementary School the next morning. Everybody was talking to someone else even if they weren't in the same class or grade. The huge latest-model steam heater was on at full blast, but the big auditorium was cold. The kids were letting off their own steam---the rumors were hot. Makoto, was wearing a scarlet baseball jacket with a team logo on the back, fidgeting as he talked to Akira Morishima, who stood in front of him. The kids next to him were busy talking to the kids next to them, and so on. "There seems to be a lot of talk in Hokkaido, too." "Really? Then everyone all over Japan knows!" Akira said in a low voice, facing front and keeping up appearances as the kid standing at the very front of the line of the fourth graders in the second class. Akira had had the honor of standing there for the last four years, ever since the first grade. "Be quiet," said the chairman of the children's club repeatedly from the stage. He was trying to hide his regret that he couldn't be part of steam-pipes rumor mill, but he'd probably try to catch up with the rumors once he got back in the classroom. " I heard it's cursed by the kid who solved Version V," Makoto whispered, pretending to be paying attention to the chairman. "Be quiet!" shouted the chairman. Akira nodded as if agreeing with him, but looked down and giggled. The chairman's small pointed nose, big ears and restlessness reminded Akira of a squirrel. Akira was waiting for an unguarded moment when the irritated Mr. Taninaka, the teacher in charge of his class, stopped pacing back and forth and went away. Then Akira covered his face with the sleeve of his duffle coat, and said "the kid even died just before he solved it. Satoru said "No-Life King" was ten times harder than Version V." "If Satoru said so, then it must be true." Satoru was Akira's younger twin brother. Akira said they'd been triplets but the other brother had died soon after his birth. Ironically, his name was Tsuyoshi (Strength). Akira said he'd had a mole under his right ear, but Satoru insisted that it had been in the middle of his face. In short, they each wanted their brother to resemble them. Akira was in the fourth grade, Satoru the third. They discovered Satoru was slightly autistic in kindergarten, so he spent a year staying inside the house. His parents worked hard trying to help him, but he couldn't speak well when he entered the Kuromiyama Elementary School a year later. Luckily, whenever Makoto talked to Satoru, Akira was next to him. Akira said Makoto could communicate with Satoru by gazing deeply into his eyes. Makoto tried that but couldn't do it successfully. Despite this, Makoto wanted to communicate with Satoru because he respected Satoru's strange insights; particularly, his clipped advice on computer games. Once a week Satoru held a computer game lecture at his home. "When you get into the sea, you'll see the 65% from the bottom. Kill the fifth jellyfish after waiting three seconds. Then you can get the drug." When Akira was with him, Satoru's explanation was easy to understand. If not... "How can you find these hidden tricks so easily?" The kids visiting him all asked the same question. Akira, exultant, always told the kid asking the question to repeat it. Then he grasped Satoru's shoulders firmly and had him turn to the side. The answer was always the same. "There's a rule," said Satoru, voice rising at the end of each sentence, as he combed his bangs with his fingers. "Be quiet, please!" said the children's club chairman wearing the bright-colored plaid flannel shirt and thick navy jacket, in a gravelly voice. Behind Makoto, Kat-chan was absorbed in conversation with a big-earred girl in the next class. Kat-chan had become the target of the bully Mochizuki in a fourth grade because he was fat and slow and only talked to a couple of friends, including Makoto. Therefore, it was strange that he was talking to this girl. "Weak kids who get bullied seem to die first," this girl's spiteful words made Makoto cringe. Kat-chan turned to Makoto, his face lit up. "We've been talking about who'll get cursed first. That's what she thinks," he said. Makoto couldn't guess whether Kat-chan really thought so too or was just hiding his true feelings. Embarrassed, Makoto took his eyes off of Kat-chan and looked away. Mino-chan, who looked like a cheap nappy-headed doll because of his tight curly hair, was standing in the middle of the line, nodding repeatedly. Makoto could tell he was really scared because he had this habit of opening his eyes wide when he was afraid. He must have been repeating "HUH," his favorite expression of surprise. Mino-chan's dark-complexioned face shook many times. Makoto thought, "there he goes again." The teachers rarely bothered to interfere when the kids were lining up by class. The line bulged where Mino-chan was standing. Even the "steam" of their rumors billowed wildly. "The principal is going to talk to you now. Be quiet and listen up!" The skinny vice-principal, irritated by this scene, screamed into the microphone. Breaking the momentary silence his surprising comment caused, the principal walked up onto the stage. "Good morning," he said. The children responded much slower than usual. "G-o-o-d-mor-ni-ng!!" ......."---mor-ni-ng!!" That special rhythm which enables people to make a chorus with one word didn't work well that morning. The principal was a man of experience, however. He demanded a "good morning" in chorus, wiping his thick tourtoise-shell eyeglasses with a handkerchief that lay on top of his big stomach which was bulging out of his maroon jacket. "Good morning," he repeated "G-oo-d-mor-ni-ng!!" The second greeting was delivered in harmony. The principal seemed pleased, smiling and nodding, looking over the heads of all the children sandwiched by the six graders on both sides. "I know it is very cold since it is mid-January. I am cold, too. The vice principal said I am lucky that I have so much fat to keep me warm, but I feel cold, too." The kids turned their ears to the principal quietly. "I read the newspaper this morning and found an editorial....do you understand 'editorial'? Well, it's the opinion of that newspaper; they put what they think in the editorial. The editorial said," the principal cleared his throat, looking up at the ceiling, pausing. The intention of the principal was to have the children wait in expectation of his next words. However, in this case it proved to be his downfall. The principal seemed to realize that he had paused too long because he let the next words out in an unusually loud voice, "The problem is the Disu-kon game!!!" He had already died by the time the ambulance arrived. He left the world, along with all the things he wanted to talk about. The auditorium was in total chaos. Children were screaming with fear. It was mass hysteria. The auditorium was full of screams, anger, roars, crying and "No-Life King." The evening papers carried a small account, with the headline "Elementary School Principal Has Apoplexy Fit During Morning Assembly," but did not carry his words, "The problem is the Disu-kon game!!!" For children all over the country, the Principal's words were very important, because they foretold the beginning of No-Life King. The first enemy, "Fats," had fallen. "No-Life King has entered Vision I." The dreadful premonition that had seized the Kuromiyama Elementary School spread quickly through jukus, telephone networks and computer networks. Kids all over Japan had accessto the news.
Copyright (C) SEIKO ITO , EMPIRE SNAKE BLD,INC. All rights reserved.