The corridors of the school were dead silent save for the echoes of our footsteps. It felt strange wandering the school at night, as if we’ve gone to another world. Shadows flickered as we pass by empty classrooms, giving me a sense of unease. It was all so creepy; everything was just too quiet.
“Umm…hey,” I called out to Hideyoshi, who was walking in front of me. My voice reverberated, but he did not respond. He continued walking, ignoring me. I let out a sigh as we continued down what seemed like a never-ending hallway.
“Here we are.” He announced as we finally arrived in front of a clubroom with no name.
“Prez, it’s me and Takatora.” He called as he knocked on the door. In response came a gruff voice.
“Welcome to the Artificial Research Club. I’m Nobunaga Kenjirou, the current sitting president. Very pleased to meet you.” The club president greeted as he placed his right hand out to me. They were huge, almost twice the size of mine.
“H-hello. I’m Takatora Ryuuko, nice to meet you too.” I responded timidly, keeping my hand to myself. He noticed my uneasiness and promptly pulled his hand back.
“Please, have a seat.” Hideyoshi pulled out a chair for me at the large table in the middle of the room. “Would you like some coffee?”
“2 sugar and cream please?”
He chuckled to himself at my request. His laughing made me felt a bit embarrassed as I sat down.
“Please relax. You can have some snacks if you want.” The president said as he took a seat across from me.
Various open bags of chips and candies were spread across the table. The scent of coffee and sweets strongly lingered in the air as I looked around the room. It was a typical medium size club room, the ones usually for recreational activities. From the looks of it, it could’ve been for photography or a small art club.
Books and paper laid scattered about on the desks and even on the ground, as well as numerous equipment. I could see a small electric stove, a bunch of dumbbells and…a broken bicycle? It was upside down with its front wheel replace with what looks like a giant rock. It looks like some sort of makeshift grindstone. There were also what seem to be Futons behind where the president was sitting. All the mess made me wonder if someone had been living in here.
But the thing that caught my eyes was the giant whiteboard in the back of the room. On it was numerous pictures of places of the city, strange diagrams and even photos of people, many with crosses over them. It reminded me of those bulletin boards they keep clues and evidence on in those detective dramas. I could not read everything, although a single word stood out on the top of the board that connected to the rest of the information. It read, “Artificial” in big bold letters.
“Please don’t mind the mess. We don’t usually have other people around and well, we don’t often get a chance to clean either.” He said nervously as he noticed I was looking around.
“All these things, do you…do you guys live here?”
“…Yes.” He replied shyly.
“In Artificial, we don’t actually have homes to go to. So for us, the school and the clubrooms are the only places we could stay at. But we’ll get to that in a little bit. Takatora, how are you feeling?” The president stared at me, his small, frightening eyes glaring through his glasses.
“I’m…I’m feeling much better now.” I responded while trying to break away from his scary gaze.
“What’s wrong?” He asked with concern, yet it only seemed to make him look even scarier.
“Prez, it’s your face again. You’re scaring her.” Hideyoshi told him.
“Eh?! Oh…uh…I’m really sorry.” He hid his face in embarrassment.
“No, no! I don’t mean to…it’s just, you look…” I quickly tried to reassure him.
The president hung his head in resignation.
“People always tell me, that my face; I always look angry and scary. I try my best to relax and not look as scary but it just ends up worse.”
“Umm…President? You really don’t have to force yourself.”
“We also keep asking him to wear a mask, but he just won’t. The Prez, especially when he smiles, look like a freaking serial killer from a horror movie doesn’t he?” Hideyoshi snickered as he carefully placed a cup of coffee in front of me. “Two sugar and cream.”
“Thank you.” I laughed nervously as I took a quick sip. A warm mix of sweetness and bitterness enveloped my tongue. A perfect blend of coffee and cream, swirling together harmoniously as it gently warmed and eased my rigid body. The wonderful taste brought a smile to my face.
“You like it?”
“Yes, it’s delicious.”
He beamed at my compliment before taking a seat and a sip as well.
“I have no doubt you have many questions.” As the President’s gaze went to where my right arm was, I instinctively moved to hide it. “My apologies, I didn’t mean to stare. We’ll do our best to explain everything we can.”
“Please…, I just want answers.” I said, still sheepishly holding my right shoulder.
He took out his phone and slid it across the table.
“Mitsuhide, I’ll leave it to you.”
As he said that, the phone turned on and projected a live chat. On screen appeared a male student, looking like he just woke up. He was wearing our standard school uniform and from the looks his ascot, he was also a senior.
“Geez, Kenjirou. Do you really have to do this so late at night? I need sleep too, you know.” He yawned as he adjusted his ponytail. That voice, it was familiar…
“Y-you! You’re the one that called me on my phone before! The one that tried to warn me-!”
“Oh? Hey! You’re Ryuuko, right? How are you doing, it’s me, Mitsuhide Juntaro! Man, am I glad you’re okay, ha ha!” He laughed as he waved to me through the screen.
Seeing him acting so friendly and even calling me by my first name made me felt very uncomfortable.
“Senpai, your usual self is showing. Maybe, just this once, you could show some restraint?”
“Hahaha, why don’t you shut the hell up, Takuya. Ryuuko doesn’t mind at all, right?”
“Actually, I would prefer if you-” I tried to protest.
“Perfectly fine! Afterall, we’re already good friends, aren’t we?”
“Anyway, am I glad to see you’re okay. You took some serious damage and I was very worried. Not to mention-“
“Mitsuhide, just get to the point.” The president pleaded while shaking his head.
“Alright, alright. I was just trying to be friendly, sheesh. Ryuuko, I’m sorry to say this but this world is not our world.”
“Huh…HUH?!” I leapt out of my seat in surprise. “What do you mean-?!”
“Senpai, you really couldn’t have find a better way to ease into such a bombshell?”
“Did I not just tell you to shut the hell up? Or can you not even read my lips now?”
“I, unfortunately, do have a hard time reading what you say cause everything that comes out of your mouth is crap.”
As I watched the two bickered, I heard the weary sigh of the president while covering his face with his giant hands in shame. He looked so tired, as if this was something of a regular occurrence.
I was speechless, not just because of the absurdity I have just heard from Mitsuhide-senpai but how nonchalant these people were after presenting such a revelation.
“These people are dangerous…what have I gotten myself into?” I thought to myself as I sat back down, and quickly took another sip of the coffee. Its wonderful aroma and deliciousness were the only thing that I could understand in the midst of all this madness.