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Chapter 1 – The Pervert and the Stony Cat

Say if there was a popularity contest to decide on the best swimsuit style. What would be number one?

Is there anyone who has not thought about this eternal question of life even once? I ponder over it every day, just so you know.

Some people reveal their ulterior motives when they claim that the bikini is the best, what with how unrestricted it is (when you can see the boobs). But no, hold on – there’s also the one-piece type swimsuit, a smash hit among those who like to fantasise about pure girls.

My mind is occupied with something much deeper, though. There is a third great power at work here. Let us not forget the competitive swimsuit.

Before you laugh and point at me, I’d like you to check out the girls’ swimming club activities pronto. It’s not as boring as you think. Without any doubt, you will realise that the competitive swimsuit is the stuff of magic.

(Disclaimer: I hold no responsibility for the enormous difficulties in life you may face should you barge into the pool in the name of research on this magic.)

So, you ask, just how would you observe the swimming club?

Simple.

At my high school, the field grounds are directly adjoined to the outdoor pool. Unfortunately, the pool is blocked up by a reinforced metal and concrete wall. But on my third day of high school, I discovered a thin gap on the corner of the wall. You could catch a glimpse of paradise without anyone from the pool side noticing you. It was an oasis from heaven.

Naturally, peeping is a crime. An absolutely heinous crime.

But hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!

I joined the Track and Field club, where we carry out our club activities towards the very end of the track grounds. It was the closest club to the oasis. If I got tired from practice and accidentally spotted the inside of the pool while I was leaning against the wall chatting to my fellow club members, it couldn’t be helped. There was nothing I could do about it.

To quote what my favourite perverted Irish author Oscar Wilde said even while he was in prison: “I don’t regret for a single moment having lived for pleasure.” It’s just as he said. How could I let any chance to see a summer paradise slip between my fingers?

If I miscalculated anything, it was about the Track and Field club itself.

I should have investigated it thoroughly while I had the chance to back out. You see, because the club is for mixed genders, I thought I would be surrounded by sweaty girls in their gym clothes. When it comes to being near girls without much clothing, the Track and Field club kills two birds with one stone. Looking back, it was all wishful thinking. My romantic prospects in the Track and Field club were non-existent right from the start.

In the summer of my first year, I never saw a single swimsuit. I was in hell on Earth.

Every day I was thrown and tossed around like a dirty dishrag ad nauseum, and whenever I got home I slept like the dead. Since I was too tired to watch any late night shows I recorded, the unwatched episodes of the swimsuit idol competition piled up.

But there was no way I could quit. The Track and Field club is under the Steel King’s fist. I can just imagine any normal person looking at me dubiously if I said that, though. “Who’s the Steel King?” they’d ask. “A relative of the King of Distortion (1)? Or maybe a colleague of Andrew Carnegie (2)?” Well, no. Imagine one of those demon army sergeants from war flicks. They’d flee without their shoes on – that is how intimidating the Steel King is.

When the biggest delinquent in town was causing a ruckus at the downtown arcade, yelling stuff like “Huuuh? Whatchu lookin’ at? I’ll flay the guts outta ya!” and so on, he accidentally bumped into the Steel King. Then, after the thorough treatment he received, he opened his mouth and said, “Ah, my life is at your service. Your wish is my command, sire.”

It was a dramatic turnaround. I’ve lost count of all these miraculous stories by now.

…ah crap, who cares about the Steel King anyway? I want to discuss swimsuits. I want to discuss swimsuits with every man in this world. As long as water and swimsuits exist, I can go on living.

So as I was saying, competitive swimsuits are magical. I came to this conclusion in the summer of my second year of high school, after one full cycle of the seasons. At that time, I was finally starting to get used to the Track and Field club’s practice routine.

Unfortunately, at the same time I came to that conclusion, my life was in crisis.


That day, I stretched diligently in preparation for a full-scale five-kilometre run. I had pulled a calf muscle, you see. By chance, the gap in the concrete wall was in my line of sight and I could see the pool ahead of me. (It was just a coincidence. Couldn’t be helped.)

The blazing July sun shone overhead. With hardly any breeze, the sun held itself high in the southern sky. The summer haze rose up across the track grounds – it was the kind of hellish weather that scorches you from head to foot.

The poolside was one step higher than the base of the wall. I could see a great number of bodies dressed in bold, revealing navy-blue competitive swimsuits splashing around in the glistening water. Whenever they did their bending and stretching exercises, I could see less of what they were wearing and more of their angelic limbs.

It was then, as I stood in awe in the presence of swimsuits, that I understood. The power of the competitive swimsuit lies in how it leaves the spectator spellbound to the spot. It’s the kind of fetishism that guarantees a young guy won’t be going anywhere. You stand there, appreciating to the highest degree both the woman’s assets and the tightness of her outfi-

“Oi, Yokodera, what are you doing?”

I thought my heart stopped. A moment later, my heartbeat was throbbing wildly and so was my head – all my blood had rushed up there.

I had been in the Track and Field club for one year and four months. Uh oh, had my humble oasis been found out?

With a sinking stomach, I looked behind me and realised it would have been better if my heart gave out after all. With long, tied-up black hair, the lone person standing there before me was-

“T-t-the Steel K-!”

“Steel? I don’t get it. Say things clearly.”

“St-steel… is, um, iron. And you know what they say – you gotta strike the iron while it’s hot… which is like when you strike a girl when she’s young, and that would, uh, mess up her head. That’s not a good thing, is it?”

The Steel King glared at me sharply. “…what are you talking about? Have you got sand in your ears? Yokodera. I hate weaklings the most. Do you know what I hate after that?”

All hail the absolute monarch, the president of the Track and Field club. While her face was shrewd and intelligent, her trademark feature was her black ponytail. Her no-nonsense manner gave her a tomboyish appeal. With her considerable bust and her supple limbs, it wouldn’t be so strange to see her on the opening colour pages of a track and field magazine.

…and as long as she has those withering, demonic eyes to correct you with, you couldn’t say otherwise.

 

HenNeko-017

The club president’s expression was always the same. Cool, piercing gaze. Thin, drawn lips. There was no trace of laughter or sadness on her face no matter where you looked. The only emotion that could seemingly scratch her iron surface was exasperation. Her haughty pride was as immovable as iron, and so people called her the Steel King. In my opinion, her parents had an impeccable naming sense, whoever they were.

I clamped my mouth shut.

“Yokodera? If you don’t know, I’ll tell you,” the club president continued quietly. Her husky voice seemed to come from hell itself. “It’s having my trust betrayed.”

“Uuuuuuh, w-wait, I think there’s been a slight misunderstanding here…”

“There is no misunderstanding. If you betray me, you will die and rot in hell.”

A rumour that the club president was a black belt in karate, judo and aikido flashed through my mind. She was a kendo and Kung Fu master, and plus she could count with an abacus and do calligraphy. The absolutely horrifying part was that she had achieved the highest grade in all of these things. While calligraphy and counting on an abacus are not what a tough guy would study, she wielded the writing brush and abacus purely as dark instruments of human destruction, and she was a master at them.

So now, if I revealed in a moment of weakness that I had betrayed her trust by peeping on girls – even if it was a gift of chance and it was by coincidence that I was peeping on the girls in the swimming club – I had no idea what would happen to me. Out of the nobility in her soul, the King had told me herself what she hated the most. And yet, as it so happened today, I overlooked the crisis at hand. My life points were in mortal danger.

There was nothing for it.

“Ah! Prez! Look over there!”

“What?”

“The sky’s pink and there’s a space whale! Ahhhh, the world’s gonna end! I gotta go home early!”

“Hold on, we’re not done talking. The whale is… huh? Where? Is it to the east? Or maybe the south? Hm? Never mind – we can leave that to the world defence forces to handle.”

Just as I made a break towards the back gate, she grabbed me by the scruff of my neck. My escape failed. Just as you’d expect from the Steel King, she had eyes in the back of her head. My world was already over.

“But I am also a man,” I said aloud. “Now that we have come this far, I will not say any apologies. It was a sudden impulse. No, it was a coincidence. No, no, let me correct that, it’s a conspiracy from a secret intelligence organisation. I was set up!”

“Then what were you talking about before? World defence forces this, secret intelligence organisations that… what thrilling… never mind. Spare me your fairy tales. I told you not to betray my trust since you will be the next club president.”

“It’s true – from the moment I was born I have not thought for a single second about peepi… Did you say I’ll be the club president?”

“…peeping? What’s that?”

Two people talking at cross-purposes. Our conversation was like the ends of a blunted pair of scissors, failing to meet each other.

“So, uh, when you say club president, what exactly-?”

“You don’t have to ask – it’s obvious what I mean. So, what’s peeping?”

“It’s a thought experiment where you imagine complex organisms peeping at humankind in a miniature garden. We are all being peeped upon!”

“Complex organisms…? I don’t really get it – say it in track and field terms.”

“It’s like if Carl Lewis was trying to compete with a bullet train while inside the bullet train and the conductor was watching and laughing?”

“I don’t get it at all.”

“I also do not comprehend it. It is a privilege to meet a fellow ignorant! By the way, president, you are a club president. You can only be yourself, in other words, you are the club president.”

The club president opened her tightly pursed lips faintly enough to let out a frustrated sigh. With great effort, she placed a hand on my shoulder. I chose the principle of non-resistance as if I were Gandhi himself.

As they realised what was happening, the Track and Field club members at the edge of the grounds buzzed with interest. Somehow or other, the club president seemed to be gearing up for a speech. I’d been minding my own business by the concrete wall, and now I was the centre of attention.

“This should go without saying, but I’ll say it once more.” The club president delivered her speech to the club members lined up behind me – I thought I was finally being let go. But instead, she pinned me to the ground with her eyes. The Track and Field club had instantly become a stage show. Without the club president’s say-so, I couldn’t get away. “Yokodera, I did not emphasise this to you sooner, but you are a man of great talent.”

“…are you being sarcastic? Is this a trick question? Or have you been trying to catch me out all along? Well, there’s nothing to catch me out on. I’m innocent, I swear!”

“Why are you shaking? Do you know what time of the year it is right now?”

“Huh? It’s the time of the year when girls wear skimpy outfits.”

“Right – wait, is that right? Ah well, next week it’ll be July. It’ll be the final summer for the third-years. There’ll be a talk after the inter-high is over, but I want to get things out of the way before the next semester starts.”

“Ooooh, sounds tough.”

“Why are you looking as if this is none of your business, future club president?”

I saw a light-brown, sun-tanned finger in front of me. It was pointed straight at – me?

“…uh, what?”

“Why are you looking behind you? I am acknowledging you.”

She looked angry as always, but unless I heard wrong, I think she might have just praised me. It was the first time the Steel King had ever said something nice to another person. I think this might be a world first.

I was in a daze. None of the club members had prepared a placard for this big success. Everyone looked at each other sheepishly. In our Track and Field club, the King’s lone voice called all the shots. If she said crows are white, then white they are. If she told you to run, then run – even in the rain. She was always right, and even when she was wrong she was right.

And she nominated who to do what?

“So, uhhhh, is this a trick…?”

“I was thinking a lot about how the next Track and Field club president should be a person who will take after me. Yokodera, from the day you have joined you have not skipped a single practice. You do not neglect to train yourself. What’s more, you have grown significantly. Indeed, you are our club’s most valuable asset.”

“Y-you’re exaggerating!”

“Of course, you have developed some odd habits a while ago and there is always room for improvement. But your heart is in the right place. There is no boy who loves the Track and Field club more than you. Others should take note of this boy’s example, so that you all can awaken as true members of the Track and Field club.”

Looking as regal as always, the club president flicked her ponytail as she issued her speech. Somehow or other, my secret wall had not been found out.

But now my situation had become even more ludicrous.

The club members looked at me with collective envy. Their thoughts were so obvious it hurt: “So you think you can be the second King just ‘cos the Steel King said something nice to you, huh? Man, give me a break. It’s not even a big deal, so don’t look so smug!”

I’m not proud of it, but it’s true that I am a dedicated Track and Field member. Refusing to succumb to the Spartan training from hell, I’d taken the initiative and my jump results began to improve drastically, as well as my times for the 5000-metre race.

Needless to say, this was all for the sake of swimsuits. Pleasure and pain are two sides of the same coin. When I stretched, it was so that I could put my hand on the wall, and the more I raced with the others towards the finish line, the more I could take my time near the wall. If you’d told me I would be the future club president, I’d have taken that as a joke.

I was sorry for taking Track and Field seriously – it had blown up in everyone’s faces. It wasn’t what it looked like. “Prez! T-thanks a lot for the kind offer, but uh…!”

“Hm?”

“It’s not about whether I love or hate the Track and Field club.”

“Uh-huh.”

“When I joined the club back then, you could say I, uh, had a different goal in mind…”

“Enough with the false modesty. You’re entitled to your freedom of speech.” The Steel King irritably kicked the ground. There went her previous generosity and goodwill.

“I’m speaking freely, but I’m not entitled to my freedom after the speech,” I said. The words came out like magic. A second voice from inside my head had taken over. Spooky.

“So, what is it? Ask what you want.”

“I’m only just asking.” (the second voice)

I could see the depths of her killing intent in her sharp eyes. Her steely pressure coiled around my body. Who could stand before the King and defy her? If she got serious, no one would be able to stop her.

…even so, I had to tell the truth.

If I didn’t say it, I felt keenly that I would regret it for the rest of my life.

“I am really sorry, and this is incredibly hard for me to say, but what I am trying to tell you is that I…”

“You’re too indecisive! Clearly, say it clearly!”

“I was born into this world to be your successor! To be the next club president fills me with deep emotion! I humbly accept your offer!”

“Hmph! Yokodera, to hear you say that fills me with confidence! Don’t betray my trust.”

“…yes.”

I had been babbling just before, but I was already back to my senses.

Satisfied, the club president pulled her head back. I had no doubt that when she retired I would be a puppet president and she would still be ruling behind the scenes with her iron fist. In the lull that followed, the other club members sighed because they understood. I just wished they would sigh for my sake.

I had a vision of following a grey-coloured path all the way to its end, my surroundings entrapped in a wall of steel. A short, dark shadow fell across the ground, and as it spread itself wide, it swallowed up the entire world.

Goddamn it, I thought, from the bottom of my heart.


I am an easily misunderstood person. It’s been like that for ages.

In elementary school, I thought that I could see up girls’ skirts on the shiny reflection of the corridor floor. So I furiously scrubbed the floor with a rag from top to bottom, only to have the principal announce what I was doing in front of the entire student body. “This is Yokodera-kun from class 5-1. What a virtuous lad, never forgetting to do his daily public service in our building.” But the service I really wanted was the one you could get from girls.

Another time, I thought I could see up the girls’ skirts whenever the girls jumped across the overgrown weeds on the way to school. So I furiously watered the weeds every day, only to get interviewed about it on local television. “This middle school student has loved nature for three years. What a virtuous lad, transforming this lifeless school road into one of flowers.” But the floral design I really wanted to know about was the one on panties.

And this other time, I thought I could see up the girls’ skirts whenever bicycles zoomed past and the wind flipped the skirts up. So I furiously rode my bicycle day and night without ever averting my eyes, only to have an article written about me on a national paper. “This astounding high school student makes it his business to chase crime to the ends of the earth! What a virtuous lad – here he is receiving a letter of thanks from the police.” But what I really wanted to catch was a girl’s heart.

No matter what I do, people think I’m a nice guy. I end up putting on a façade every time I open my mouth.

From elementary school to high school, I haven’t matured at all. On the contrary, I silently pray to see swimsuits every single day, and lately, my perversions have increased. For example, if I see a girl in a swimsuit, I can guess her three sizes. It’s embarrassing what that says about me as a person. That’s not who I am at all!

No, that was a hollow statement.

I’ll be honest. I want to be true to myself. I want to focus more on girls. I want to see girls in their various shapes and forms. I want to get intimate with girls in every way, both in and out of their pants.

That’s why becoming the president of the Track and Field club is out of the question. As long as the Steel King ruled with her deep, abiding love of order, that club would have a dark, dark future.

I wanted to quit the club and have a “Why, Senpai, is this your classroom? I’m getting this kind of special feeling from being in the same room as you. Come to think of it, now that we’re alone together, shall I close the door, tee hee?” kind of afterschool rendezvous experience. And after doing the nasty, I wanted the “Geez, you forgot your jersey, but I suppose it can’t be helped. I’ll lend you my sweater, but since I’ve only got one, let’s wear it together, tee hee,” kind of rosy development. It would be an improvement over being in the club. Even if it was forbidden, I’d keep rebelling, and then a more serious student would take up the club president’s duty.

…yeah, I should’ve said no back then.

Past or present, it’s always been the same for me. I’ve only ever hidden behind a façade and said what I didn’t mean whenever I should have told the truth. Why was it that I couldn’t say the right things at the right times? No matter how many words I utter, my simplest, honest desires will never reach the other person.


I was on the way back from school. In the summer, the sun was slow to set and the shadows fell long and haphazardly across the asphalt. Instead of going straight home, I headed for the children’s park. When I got off my bicycle, the person who had been sitting on the bench broke into a hearty applause.

“I heard the news, you lady-killer! That’s some special treatment you received – damn, do I envy you!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, O future Steel King!” He snickered loudly.

This was Ponta, who had a dirty reputation way back from elementary school. He was a soldier whose name was derived from a long career of valiant deeds in the world of porn. He went from “Porn Hunter” to “Pornter” to finally “Ponta”. Seeing as porn was once a part of his name, he only said stupid things whenever he opened his mouth.

When I entered high school, my time out of school had dwindled thanks to my club activities, but because this park was the exact midpoint between our houses, it ended up being our hangout.

“It’s not as good as it sounds. My head’s been aching all day.”

“I’d say it’s an honour to be noticed by a beautiful senpai. What, is there a catch?”

“I mean, think about it. What a Steel King is, in general. Wouldn’t it be weirder if she were just a beauty and nothing else?”

“Whaddaya mean?”

I sat down at the edge of the jungle gym. “When you think of steel, you don’t usually think of beautiful steel maidens or steel princesses.”

Ponta thought about that for a moment. “I see how it is. So if she’s just a king who’s already turned to the dark side and thrown away her girl side, then you guys are out of luck being kept awake by her all night!” He smiled bitterly. “Stop being so blasé about it.”

“No, really, she’s just a bother…”

Like Ponta, I kind of had expectations at first. The older students had fought over her once or twice when they talked about the good-looking girls, and it’s natural for a guy to lie in bed fantasising about what she was like. But those fantasies dispersed like the ephemeral evening dew. Let’s just say that when it came to those clueless Don Quixote types, all it took was one punch to convince them out of trying to court the King. There was no room in the Steel King’s heart for love or leisure. Her aim was self-discipline. She even forced that upon those who were already in a club, and the Track and Field club members were no exception.

I shudder to even think about this so-called beauty and I’m careful not to step on her steely toes. As a romantic candidate, she was out of bounds.

“Well, whatever. Why don’t you take the chance to live out the Track and Field dream?”

“You should’ve told me that ten years ago. It’s too late – there’s no way I can do that kind of stuff now.”

“What are you saying, little rabbit? Slow and steady wins the race. Go forth and become the star of the Track and Field world!”

“What is up with you, Ponta? That’s not like you. Or me either.”

He said some oddly passionate things. I wondered if maybe he was addicted to those kinds of videos – the kind where an amorous coach and a beautiful athlete get it on despite the age difference.

“Heh heh heh, you’re too naïve. Naïve as a newborn baby.”

“Huh?”

“I’ve already moved on from porn.”

“Yeah, yeah – if you can move on from porn, I can move on from the cycle of reincarnation.”

“You’d never believe it! Hold on and look at this – I reckon this is what I’ve been waiting for.”

Ponta opened the schoolbag that was next to him and took out a huge stack of goods. It was bulging, so I couldn’t begin to count how many books and videos were packed inside… but wait.

“N-no way! The entire ten thousand yen collection of A Princess’s First New Year’s Greeting! That’s the legendary impossible-to-find collector’s edition! And this is the banned street corner swimsuit collection! What is this – your hidden collection?!”

“I don’t need these anymore, so I’m selling them to you.”

“Wha-?”

I stared slack-jawed at Ponta. His face was completely sincere – he wasn’t joking. No way. This one time at his house, Ponta punched me because I almost spilled soft drink over his lewd photo collection. He had the bloodshot eyes of a madman and he socked me right in the gut.

Thinking of that, I thought maybe he was getting ahead of himself. How long had this been going on? He must have received money. Oh yeah, I’d heard these days he had only one kidney.

“Hey, lady-killer. You do know that I sold my organs so that the children in Africa can have a good life?”

“…uh, yeah?”

“They’re humans just like us who live in the same world just like we do – I just can’t forgive the injustice of it all! But my piggy bank is empty. I ask you as my best friend, will you take this off me for one hundred yen? With a hundred yen, the children can drink forty litres of water.”

“Hundred? Wha-? A hundred yen?”

Ponta had a deep look of compassion across his face as if he were an enlightened being. I’d had the exact same thought of selling my organs, but I had no idea what to make of this spiritual gap between us. It was impressive, though. Very impressive. To think he had gotten so excited over seeing big-breasted African babes – that’s just the kind of perverted thing he would say.

But then, why would he get rid of his only treasures in the first place? “…tits,” I said.

“Huh?”

“Buttocks.”

“Eww.”

“Curvy hips.”

“Oooooh no, we can’t have that.”

“You didn’t react to the three major titillations! Are you sick, Ponta?”

“I have awoken. I now realise what the meaning of life is. Clouds plume, birds tweet and flowers wilt. This world is full of treasures more important than female bodies.”

“W-what’s happened to you…?”

“I heard the Word, you might say.”

Ponta looked up at the westward sky with a faraway look in his eyes, as if he were seeking Gandhara (3). It was like he had suddenly attained all this newfound wisdom.

I wondered if there was still time to take him to a medical checkup…

Just as I fell into a bemused silence, Ponta suddenly laughed. “Don’t give me that face. Perhaps you, too, may be saved by the Word – and it all started with the cat deity on Ipponsugi Hill. You know about it, right?”

“…you mean the Stony Cat statue?”

Confused and struck by what he said, I also looked towards the west. The view of Ipponsugi Hill emerged on the outskirts of town, rising up over the top of the massive jungle gym and craning over the roofs of all the houses. The uplands were covered with pleasant, green swathes of grass and an ancient cedar tree towered on the summit. Through someone’s prank or otherwise, a wooden cat statue was enshrined unobtrusively at the base of that large tree.

AKA the “Stony Cat”.

That beckoning cat looked similar but not quite the same as a real cat, and its peculiar appearance helped explain why that hill had become something of a pilgrim spot.

“Have you heard that rumour about the Stony Cat’s power when you give it an offering?”

“No, what?”

“Tut tut, since you don’t know, I’ll fill you in. Imagine a dashingly handsome young man, aged sixteen, bravely enduring the tyranny of a vicious adult. To him, the raging tempests of society run high and his end-of-semester exam isn’t graded. Then, in March, he’s accused of slacking off by his classical literature teacher!”

“…wasn’t that you, Ponta? Isn’t it embarrassing talking about yourself like that? If you’d just prepared for the test better, nothing would’ve happened. So isn’t that your own fault?”

“Hey, I’m trying to comfort myself. Stop pouring salt on the wound! I was copying your paper in that test! My exam preparations were perfect; I was just surprised when my test paper went missing. One thing led to another, and after a week’s wait I took the makeup exam. On the reading comprehension about Hikaru Genji (4), I answered that he is a lolicon with an Oedipus complex who is beyond saving – that’s the only possible interpretation. Yandere, tsundere, married woman, ojousama, genki girl – I only wrote a list of character traits and didn’t get the grammar at all.” Ponta stood up on the bench, and yelled his weird, blustering speech to the empty sky. “That’s one dirty text! Everything is about his horniness, and then he gets in trouble over his horniness, like whoa…!”

Somehow or other, I felt relieved. Ponta hadn’t changed on the inside. That was good, then. I gave him my one-hundred yen coin and packed his treasures into my schoolbag.

“That’s where the rumour of the Stony Cat comes in,” he went on. “If you give it an offering, it’ll take what you don’t want and give it to someone who needs it! It’s the polar opposite of a normal cat. What other cat does deliveries? Obviously, horniness isn’t something you want. So the young man thought: what was an example of something perverted that he so treasured? That’s right – his body pillow! So I offered that up to the Stony Cat – and lo and behold, something mysterious happened. My perverted desires have completely left me – classical literature here I come. Vroom vroom vroom! So then I safely got through my makeup exam, and all the way up to today I feel as if saying goodbye to my horniness has made the world seem more beautiful!”

“Hip hip hooray. Now, since I haven’t said goodbye to my horniness, I’m off. Kthxbai!”

“H-hey! I haven’t properly thanked you, so thank you! And may God’s blessing be upon you…!”

I stepped hard on my bicycle’s pedals and put as much distance as I could between the park and myself. Ponta yelled something behind me, but I couldn’t hear him. My schoolbag made rattling noises as its contents jumped up and down on the seat.

And that was that. In his brief time as a sage, Ponta had made a grave mistake by leaving things to me. His treasured goods were in my hands. No matter what anyone said, they were mine now.


“…the phone’s not ringing.”

I ate dinner, watched TV, had a bath and appreciated my treasures for one hour. By then, it had gotten really late, but my cell phone never vibrated at all.

I assumed that Ponta, who had become so serene lately, would be crying and begging for his stuff back. My guess was that he wasn’t thinking straight. As if anyone would sell such a useful product of human wisdom for one hundred yen. Yes, it was gallant of him, but that gallantry wasn’t manly at all. Maybe Ponta was actually a girl. Now that would be an unexpected plot twist. Not that it was a development I approved of.

…in any case, just where did Ponta’s horniness go?

The makeup exam for classic literature was already four months ago. He’d had more than enough time to cool his head. Had he not looked back on his treasures even once in that time? How many kilometres would he have to run to get away from the magnetic pull of breasts, to the degree that he never yabbered on to me about them once? It had to be the doing of something beyond all human intelligence.

Outside the window pane, I could see Ipponsugi Hill in the summer night sky. Manmade lights twinkled from the houses; only at the hill did total darkness and silence return.

I remembered the rumour of the Stony Cat, uttered to me in such feverish tones: “If you give it an offering, it’ll take what you don’t want and give it to someone who needs it.”

I gulped.

I knew what I didn’t need: my façade. Pretending to be honoured at becoming the future club president, only saying politically correct things – to me that was, as Ponta would probably put it: “Utterly redonkulous!”

The good thing about Ponta was that he was honest. If it’s bad, he’ll say it’s bad. If it’s good, he’ll say it’s good. Me, though, I’m not nearly so open about myself. Thanks to the stuff I said under my façade, my life was not really my own. If I could only say my true feelings clearly without bending under the Steel King’s pressure, I could get closer to the world of swimsuits.

“It’s my only wish,” I muttered. “It’s not too much to ask…” I was grasping at straws and I knew it. I wallowed in the quagmire known as my façade.

It was no joke that I suffered because of my own actions. That was why it wasn’t so strange that I, who had a stony façade, would rely on the Stony Cat for help.

My gaze flickered towards Ipponsugi Hill, where that peculiar cat statue lay.


I stopped my bike at the foot of the hill and slipped through a gap in the fence. Since the hill was in fact private property, its surroundings were enclosed in barbed wire. Still, it looked like no one was taking care of it. The weeds were overgrown, the ground was downtrodden and the barbed wire was all torn up. I hadn’t heard about all the kids playing around and vandalising the place.

Using my flashlight, I trudged up the narrow dirt trail with a great deal of effort. My back bent under the weight of my body pillow. Luckily, the hill was a small one and it only took ten minutes to reach the summit. There, the ancient cedar tree spread itself out, its single thick bough appearing to cradle the night sky.

The Stony Cat was there that night too, propped up by the base of that tree.

Its face was about half as big as my leg. It was three feet tall, stood on two feet and was crudely made. Even though it had eyes, whiskers and a nose carved into its wooden face, the Stony Cat had so little in the way of expressions that for some reason I thought it looked strange. While a normal cat raises one paw to beckon, this cat had both paws raised. On top of that, the back of its paws were faced my way.

Maybe Mother Nature was its maker. The sight of it was both awful and awe-inspiring. I didn’t know how long it had been enshrined, but I had a sense that it had always been there. Looking at this creature, I could certainly see how the bizarre rumours had come about.

Because of the bugs gathering around, I turned off my flashlight. As if on cue, the darkness instantly became total. I put my body pillow in front of the cat and immediately set down to pray – or so I intended. I hesitated first. “Hmmm, maybe it’s better if I do this,” I muttered as I removed my leather belt and fixed my body pillow up straight.

By impulse, I had mail-ordered a body pillow just like Ponta’s. It even had a name: “Barbara.” A posing shot of an idol I liked at the time was supposed to be printed on the fabric, but when I got the pillow I was shocked. The image was from another dimension, a creature from an alien invasion. I didn’t have the wisdom to return it nor the guts to trash it.

You see, Ponta and I forced each other into having it. It was a pass-the-parcel game spanning a couple of months. Recently, as a way of congratulating him for passing the high school entrance exam, I snuck it into Ponta’s locker. Then at some point in March this year, it had ended up back in my closet. Come to think of it, it was in March when Ponta prayed to the cat statue. He said he used the pillow as an offering, but then just how did it find its way to my closet through all the wind and rain?

Barbara was being used twice for religious purposes, so she had to be satisfied with herself. “I wonder if this god will be happy with a body pillow of all things as an offering,” I thought aloud. “I hope it’ll be okay…”

Then again, since Ponta’s wish was granted and all, I figured no other offering would work. Good thing it was the middle of the night. If someone saw me lugging Barbara around, just what would they thi-

Plonk. Someone kicked a rock.

I held my breath in the darkness. Who was it? The police? A high school kid walking around with a human-like object strapped to him with a belt was just asking to be arrested for disturbing the peace! If they searched my house, my treasures would be confiscated! Destroyed! I’d rather die.

Yeah, that probably wouldn’t happen, but if the Steel King found out, she’d be furious: “Body pillows are a sign of weakness! Such insolence!” She’d probably beat me to a pulp. That’s not the kind of hard-core hobby I’m into. Same thing if I was discovered by a neighbour or by someone from school. I didn’t want to live out my youth under the dubious title of “Barbara’s boyfriend”.

I had no intention of dying – socially or physically. Man, oh man. What was I gonna do?

While I struggled to hold my thoughts together, the sound of footsteps trampling through the undergrowth grew nearer. I was frozen to the spot, unable to make up my mind between running away or announcing myself. I didn’t even question why anyone would choose to go to Ipponsugi Hill of all places.

Ahead of me, I saw a beam from a flashlight teeter from side to side. It was practically right under my nose already. The intruder was only a metre away or so. Argh, I didn’t care if it was the police, the Steel King or a complete stranger. I’d rather live to fight another day than stay in these dire straits.

The instant I stood up, we collided.

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!”

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek!”

We’d been closer than I thought. Had my eyes misjudged things in the dark?

“E-eek! Eww! P-p-perv…!” the intruder yelled.

“W-whadju say?!” I yelled.

The flashlight fell to the ground, casting light on the offering in front of it. And in that split second, Barbara could be seen for the bizarre sight that she was. You could not unsee the vision.

What vision? Answer: a naked body I’d just fooled around with and then thrown aside!

“Eeeeeeeek, it’s a pervert! Do I need the police or the ambulance – right, I need the police!”

“D-don’t bring the police into this! Barbara’s not alive, so it’s okay!”

“I’m sure the police would love to be brought into this! Now if you excuse me, I have business to do in a phone box!”

It was the voice of a girl I didn’t know. Still, I understood that it was the voice of someone who had encountered a degenerate lowlife.

“Wait wait, let’s talk this out first! This is all a big misunderstanding!”

“Lalalalala, I can’t hear you! I’m not looking at you! I saw nothing!”

“You saw nothing?! That’s not gonna hold up in a cross-examination, you know!”

“Of course it will! All the policemen in Japan are on my side! The policemen are mighty! They’re invincible against perverts!” The girl’s screams were getting more incoherent by the second.

The prospect of being handcuffed and jailed got much more real much more quickly. At this rate, if I went back to town my hit points would be in the critical zone!

The girl tripped over her feet, and at that same moment, her chest bumped against my hands.

Silence. We were in a precarious stalemate.

We sized each other up as if we were playing cat and mouse, and then our noses bumped. That instantly broke the spell.

“Eww eww ewwwww! You need to be in love to do those sorts of things!”

What sort of things?! Just shut up and I’ll be gentle with you! Then we’ll all be happy!”

“Gentle or rough it’s still eww! My life sucks right now!”

“Get over yourself already!”

The girl wriggled violently, and at that same moment, I put her in a nelson hold (5).

She was frantic. So was I. Struggling wildly against each other, our feet tangled up and sent us tumbling across the undergrowth. Our knees touched, and somewhere I felt skin under my fingertips. My first thought was that girls are really soft to touch, and then I realised this would look really suspicious to other people. I had unwittingly stumbled across the line into criminal activity.

“I’m not tasty at all! I’m skinny and flat and I’m not wearing any underwear, so I’ll taste really yucky if you eat me! It’s true – don’t kill me!”

“Don’t say such sad things about yourself! Have some more self-esteem!”

“I don’t need any self-esteem as long as my body still belongs to me! My measurements are the worst in the class! I’ll taste better if you wait for two years, so I… I… want to be pure until then…!”

Without warning, the girl stopped resisting. The darkness clouded my view, but I didn’t need to see anything – I could sense it from her voice.

This girl was crying.

The tears and the snot streamed down her face, and her childish body hitched as she let out a hoarse sob.

I felt my panic rising, which didn’t help my growing headache. Even though I had just become a criminal, I had my morals. A boy who makes a girl cry is the worst. No matter how low you sink, that is the absolute.

I clasped my hand on the girl’s shoulder, which was pressed up against the ground. As I hovered over her, I inhaled deeply and said, “Hey, listen! Barbara’s just a body pillow!”

Her shoulder was so fragile I felt a pang in my chest. She was as delicate as china, and I feared that her weak and brittle frame would shatter under my touch.

In that moment, I threw away my façade and my dignity and I bellowed with all my lungs. “She’s not human, just a collector’s item I brought up here! I’m not dangerous and I won’t hurt you! Honestly, I’ve never pushed down a girl before either! My body’s pure!”

My voice echoed throughout the entire hill.

I took out my flashlight so that two beams now shone on the body pillow. The dim circle of lights revealed a lump of fabric – the symbol of a young man’s lusts. I depended on it to clear me of my crimes.

“…so this is your first time pushing someone down, I see,” she answered. “If you’re as pure as you say, could you get off me right now, please?” The suspicion still showed in her eyes.

Satisfied that she was no longer crying, I did as she said.

You can see just from that conversation that I would never touch a “forced sex” video. I could never be excited by a girl’s crying face. I have my morals. Whenever I choose what to download, I refuse to use anything from that genre – that is my absolute!


It was a humid night. The grass had a suffocating stench. Because the moon was hidden behind the clouds, we had to rely purely on our flashlights to see each other. After shining our light here and there around the hill, we settled down at the base of the cedar tree. For now, we kept our distance and sat two metres apart.

“…and that’s the story.” As a way of excusing myself for carrying around a body pillow in the middle of the night, I opened up to her about everything. “I thought if I prayed to the cat statue, I’d get rid of my façade.”

The girl hugged a paper bag to her chest and stared pointedly at the ground. Her body was very petite. You’d think she was a grade schooler just from her stature. I couldn’t see her face clearly, but I figured she was cute. I felt as if I knew her from somewhere too.

“Ah, I didn’t make up the rumour about the offering just now,” I added. “My friend actually tried it.”

“It’s okay. I heard the same rumour. It’s spreading quite fast, it seems. I didn’t believe in it, though.” Up until now, the girl had kept to herself, but now she turned to face me. “Is your club president really that scary?”

“If you ask me, even a bulldozer on steroids couldn’t match up to her.”

“A bulldozer?” the girl laughed. She must have thought something was funny. It was only a soft chuckle, but it sounded like a bell, high-pitched and clear.

She rubbed her eyes furiously with both hands. After that, she rummaged around for something in her paper bag. When she turned her hips, she couldn’t reach me, so she sidled up closer and placed something in my hand.

“Is this…a pork bun?”

“Yes. Has it gone cold? Go on, eat up.”

“Thanks.”

After clamming up around each other for all this time, the distance between us shrank down to a metre and we each took a pork bun. It wasn’t that warm, but because I was tired and hungry, it hit the spot.

She was a thoughtful girl. Although I wanted to know why someone her age would be taking a walk at this hour with a pork bun in hand, I didn’t ask. It sounded a bit rich for a pervert to ask. Why, anyone could feel like going for a walk in the night. She felt like it. So did I. Could be something you did when you messed up your mail-order shopping or whatever.

When the girl finished her pork bun, I was still eating. She kept looking at my face. “In our family, there’s a tradition that if a man embarrasses a girl, he has to take care of her for the rest of his life. Prepare yourself for it!”

“Uhhh.”

“…I was joking,” she sighed wearily in the dark. “You didn’t have to sound so put off…”

No, no! That was my façade! I care too much about appearances under my façade and I react weirdly – but I was actually really happy on the inside! Man, do façades suck – they’re the root of all evil!

When I told her all of that, the girl finally understood and sighed once again. “Is a façade really such a bad thing?”

“To me it is. I reckon if I’d just told you earlier that this was a body pillow like I meant to, I wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“Mess, huh…”

“Um, well, about that. I meant that I wouldn’t have done such an awful thing to you!”

“It’s okay. I’m just a crybaby.” She trembled faintly. Somehow, I got the impression she was about to start crying again.

“There are times when it’s good to be a crybaby, you know!”

“When is that?”

“Huh? Uh, um… it depends on the situation, I guess…”

“If you’re trying to cheer me up, then take responsibility until you die,” the girl said sulkily.

I couldn’t see her, but I was certain she was pouting. After all, she was just a kid with erratic mood swings. Without thinking, I laughed, and the girl couldn’t help but laugh along with me. I didn’t have a little sister, but if they could be anything like this little girl, I wouldn’t mind having a dozen of them, give or take.

“I want to be more mature,” she said. “I want to be able to hide my feelings without crying or getting mad easily.”

“Don’t you think girls are cuter when they show their emotions?”

“Not at all! I hate being childish…oh right, we came here to pray. Want to try it together?”

“Mmm, I forgot about that.”

Swallowing what was left of my pork bun, I turned around to face the cat statue. I got on my knees and lowered my head. Next to me, the girl did the same.

At first, I didn’t know what to wish for, but the simplest sentence came to mind without me thinking hard about it: I pray to get close to all the girls in swimsuits and skirts. It was the stereotypical kind of thing I’d pray for on New Year’s.

“Er… uh… I pray to lose my façade, stop telling lies, and to never be misunderstood again.”

“My turn: I pray to lose the ability to express my true emotions.”

We opened our mouths and made our wishes nonchalantly. I assumed our prayers would have no special meaning, that it was all an extension of childish rituals like writing a letter to Santa.

The wind began to howl. I remember having a hallucination where all of a sudden the Stony Cat blew up to massive proportions. My head stung with white-hot pressure. But soon enough, the heat slid down my throat and faded away forever.

I wasn’t sure why, but when I realised what had happened, I was sweating hard.

“…what’s this? How many of my pork buns did you eat?” The girl was cool and collected, completely opposite from how agitated I was.

I felt like a boyfriend scared on his first date at a haunted house. It was nothing short of embarrassing. “I only ate the one you gave me,” I insisted.

“But there is one less than that here.”

“Didn’t you eat it? When I ate mine, you munched on two without noticing it. You’ll blow up and get fat! Anyway, it’s getting late, so let’s go home. Shall I walk you?”

“I am not that much of a glutton. Excuse me if I enjoy eating. No, I will not get fat. My house is close by, so I am fine on my own. Hm…” The girl paced around, refusing to give up on her search.

She wasn’t the only one.

“…what’s this?” I strained my eyes to peer at Barbara in front of me. While her picture was still as unfortunate-looking as ever, the leather belt I’d used to carry her along was gone. It could have been the darkness, but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t see it. “I can’t go home carrying something like this in the open! No one’s gonna play along with my harmless little fantasies.”

When I thought about the travesty that was walking home with Barbara by my side, I groaned.

…looking back, we were careless. When we prayed to the Stony Cat, we underestimated its power, even after everything that came to pass.


TRANSLATOR’S NOTES

(1) A reference to Boogiepop, one of the earliest modern light novel series.
(2) An industrialist credited for pushing forward the expansion of the American steel industry in the 1800’s.
(3) Gandhara is an ancient kingdom which existed in what is now Pakistan.
(4) A reference to the eponymous character of The Tale of Genji, said to be the world’s oldest novel.
(5) A kind of wrestling technique that involves pinning the partner’s arm and neck from behind.

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