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Final Chapter: Good Morning
When I woke up, I was in my room in the facility, completely unchanged from the norm.
My pajamas were soaked with sweat and clung to my skin. I felt like I'd had a very long nightmare. I lifted my hazy head and touched my forehead. I thought I felt something sticky like blood, but when I took my hand away in surprise, I saw nothing there.
...Was it really a dream?
I timidly approached the closet and swung the door open. But my soul was not sucked in; I just saw my clothes hanging inside. I heard no rabbit or cat. It was a normal, unremarkable dresser.
Relieved, I changed out of my pajamas. I checked the clock. It was past twelve. Was it afternoon, or midnight?
The hallway outside was very bright. The air felt a little warm. It looked like noon to me.
...What about the other children?
Suddenly worried, I knocked on Letty's door beside mine and opened up. Letty was sleepily sitting on bed in frilly pajamas.
"Oh... Allen? I had a really, really scary dream. ...It was really sad, and painful. Are you okay, Allen? You look sad..."
Surprised, I touched my cheeks. Indeed, it did ache a little around my eyes. Even though I thought I'd only cried in a dream...
"...Yeah, I'm fine. You don't look so good, so maybe you should rest some more. It's only noon."
After expressing some concern for Letty, I left the room. I checked on Chelsy, Joshua, and Stella, but they were similarly sleepy and dazed. Then... Teacher.
I went to Teacher's room and knocked. I didn't hear the voice I always did. I knocked harder to the same result. As I twisted the knob, my heartbeat got louder. A prickling pain strangled my chest.
I forced my heavy body to open the door. Teacher was asleep in bed. It felt like a rare occasion to see him asleep in his own bed. Maybe that was the first thought to come to mind because I didn't want to face the reality.
"...Teacher?", I called as I approached. But he showed no reaction. His face was pale, and he gave a more sickly impression than usual. Getting uneasy, I put my hand on his chest. It slowly moved up and down.
...He was alive.
I called for him again, but he didn't respond. I held his hand sticking out of the sheets in my little hands.
"...Good night, Teacher."
I let go. I found myself searching my pocket, and noticed something hard and thin in my usually-empty pockets. I pulled it out - the golden locket Teacher always wore. Teacher had given it to me in that World. So those were real occurrences, not a dream.
Holding the locket, I suppressed my welling feelings. Remembering everything, my chest tightened, and I had trouble breathing. Pushing through it, I opened the locket to find a photo and a note.
The photo showed a boy and a girl with similar faces. ...The young Teacher I met in that World, and his sister Fiona. The note had a phone number and the name "Cliff," as Teacher had said.
I rubbed my eyes with my worn-out arms and steadied my breathing. There there, there there, there, there... I repeated in my mind.
...I had to call him. Teacher told me to.
I remembered there was a phone in the entrance hall. I left Teacher's side to leave the room.
Finding the phone, I picked up the receiver and put it to my ear. An artificial sound echoed. Good, it was connected.
I carefully dialed the number while looking at the note so I wouldn't get it wrong. After a few dial tones, a familiar voice came through.
"...Yes? Hello? Huh, it's not often you're the one calling me. If you're calling to ask for help cleaning or something, that's gonna be a no."
Mr. Cliff responded in his usual cheerful voice. He seemed to think Teacher was calling.
"...Is that Allen I hear?" Once I spoke, his bright tone lowered drastically.
"Ah, I see..." Mr. Cliff understood the situation. "You don't need to say anything. He's told me what would happen for it to come to this."
After a short pause, he continued in a pained voice I'd never heard from Mr. Cliff before. "Get your things packed. And tell the other children to. ...I'd appreciate if you could do his, too. It'll take me a while to get there, so please. ...Give me some time to think, okay?"
I said nothing more except "Okay," then gently hung up.
Once the receiver was placed back, I lost all energy and collapsed on the spot. An abnormal powerlessness ate at my body.
What should we do now? What would happen?
I had decided what I wanted to do. But...
"...Keep what you really want a secret."
I put my hand on the wall and stood up. I had to pack. So I walked back to my room.
Warm sunlight came in through the windows. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and peaceful chirping tickled my ears.
A long time had passed. Joshua and Chelsy had recuperated and returned home to their families. They seemed to be on good terms with their parents again.
Letty, Stella, and I were staying at Mr. Cliff's house. He was at times at a loss with our peculiarities, but he was helping us go to school. I was working hard to repay him as soon as I could. I'd recently gotten a part-time job.
"Hey, Allen, what're you doing?"
While I was deep in thought, a young man with long silver hair lept up onto my shoulders. It caught me off-guard; there was no way I could hold him.
"Stop it, Joshua. You've gotten stronger lately, so that really hurts."
"Yeah? I bet you'd get a little stronger if you played basketball, Allen! You're always either reading or folding paper planes, that's why you're so scrawny."
Joshua grabbed my arm and swung it. Shaking his hand off, I sighed.
"Oh, Allen, Joshua. I haven't seen you for a while."
A woman with brown braids in a distinctive red and white outfit came running from the end of the white hallway. But she nearly tripped on the way, and a friendly-faced woman with white hair and reddish-purple highlights managed to stop her.
"No need to rush, Chelsy, they're not going anywhere! Oh, Allen, Joshua, good morning! ...Huh? I mean, it's already noon, so... Good day?"
Letty pondered as she lifted Chelsy up. Behind them, an eye-catching woman with long black hair approached with a dumbfounded look.
"...This is a hospital. You should be quiet," Stella scolded. The two looked at each other wryly.
"Well, let's go," I said to the others, then slid open the nearby door.
Teacher was taken to this hospital where he and I first met. He was still sleeping, still breathing. His peaceful expression hadn't changed all this time.
"Teacher, I brought one again today."
Joshua took a little paper plane out of the dark red backpack he was wearing, and put it on Teacher's blanket. Letty, Chelsy, and Stella all took out their own and did the same, piling them higher.
"In a practice game the other day, I nailed a throw in a real bad situation, and everybody went wild! It was super embarrassing when I tripped and twisted my ankle after that, though."
"...You used to be the one who made us fall over. Surprising us with frogs, and worms..."
"Oh, er... s-sorry about that, Chelsy. Heck, that squishy feeling's so weird, even I don't wanna touch 'em anymore!"
Joshua shivered with disgust, but had his usual mischievous smile. Chelsy next to him had a gentle smile, too.
"Teacher, mom's... gotten a lot better," she said, grabbing and letting go of the sleeves on her one-piece. Her faintly red cheeks hadn't changed since she was young. "Maybe it's because dad started taking more days off to help look after her. She says when she's fully recovered, she wants to be a teacher again. ...I want to be a teacher myself someday, like you and mom."
"Letty, Stella, you got anything?", Joshua asked, putting his hands behind his head. "Better say it soon, who knows when you'll get to visit again."
Letty twisted her neck and thought, then her face lit up and she spoke with glittering eyes. "...Oh! The other day, I went with Chelsy and Stella to a newly-opened sweets shop and had cake! It had fluffy cream, and bittersweet strawberries, and it was really good!"
Lately, the girls had been going out periodically to eat or go shopping.
"Huh? You went there? Nice! It's not easy for a guy to go there alone. Next time, can you take me along? ...I wanna have some recommendations for when Teacher wakes up."
Stella acknowledged Joshua's request. Just like that, the room was silent. Joshua suddenly looked back at me with realization.
"Allen, what've you been up to? Report in!"
"Um... I like that TV series they show on Thursday nights, so the other day, I bought the book it's based on. And then the book next to it had a really pretty cover, so I bought that one too. Then I also bought a book I'd wanted before, but was sold out at the time, and..."
"Agh, enough! Enough! No more about anything printed! It's seriously always books with you, Allen! You're gonna turn into a real live bookworm someday!"
"...And you've been talking about nothing but that basketball club of yours, Joshua. Maybe someday you'll turn into a ball?", I joked. We looked at each other and laughed.
We met at Teacher's hospital room occasionally when our schedules aligned, bringing letters to Teacher in the form of paper planes.
We knew they wouldn't be delivered to him there or anything, that it was just for consolation. But just getting those who lived in that facility to meet face to face blew away plenty of my hesitation and pain.
"...Oh yeah, the desk is getting full of paper planes now. We can't throw them away... So what should we do?"
"I'll sort them out. I don't have any real plans today, and sometimes they get put in roughly..."
"Really? ...Thanks, Allen. I'm worried about mom and dad, too..."
Chelsy smiled at me, her cheeks getting a little redder. For some reason, Joshua was fidgeting behind her. Everyone said some parting words to Teacher, got their bags, and left the room. Stella, who left last, suddenly stopped on her way out and turned to me.
"Allen. ...You've really come to resemble Teacher."
"...You think so? What's this all of a sudden?"
"...No. I won't say anything. You decided it, after all."
Stella's clean black hair swayed as she left the room. Her all-knowing remarks would always give me chills.
Once everyone was gone, I sat on a nearby stool.
"...Spring has come again. I like it. It's nice and warm."
I naturally wasn't expecting a reply, but I spoke to Teacher regardless.
"Letty's the same as ever. Always eager to play. I've stopped seeing Rick anymore. It's a little sad, but... I'm sure it's for the best. Chelsy seems to have reconciled with her dad. She's very good at cooking. And she's slowly starting to talk to people, even people she doesn't know. ...Oh yeah, Joshua told me he found someone he likes. That surprised me. He joined a basketball club, and I feel like he's gotten even more mischievous since. Studying's still not his forte, like always. Stella's always looking weary of our antics, but she seems to enjoy this life well enough. ...Mr. Cliff and the others are all very nice people."
After that, I took a breath, and steadied my wavering determination. It had been eight years. I kept it secret from the others, even consulting the research Teacher left. But surely, it seemed, an ordinary person couldn't do anything when it came to the Worlds. As such, this was the answer I'd come to.
"...There's no way we could forget. Mr. David, you're the only one we could call our Teacher. If it weren't you... There'd be no point."
...There was a lot I still wanted him to teach me. And I hadn't given him back what he gave me. I cast my eyes down and bit my lip.
"We'll save you. We absolutely will. There's honestly a very low chance of success. Everything may not go well. But I'm sure this is best."
I slowly stood up, and spoke without turning around.
"...You've been watching, haven't you?"
There was the sound of running water. My heartbeat felt faster than usual.
The emptiness and sense of loss, like trying to catch a cloud - I no longer felt it. I had regained everything. Thus, only one means remained to connect back to that World.
...I wouldn't regret it. A normal person wouldn't be able to do anything. So then...
I took a deep breath and looked at the person in front of me.
Taller than I was then, slightly longer blond hair. And... gold eyes.
Certainly, this person in the mirror was me. I twisted the knob to stop the faucet, and the sound stopped with a squeak.
There there, there there, there, there... It's okay.
I recited that charm to myself. I left the bathroom and hurried back to Teacher's hospital room.
When I opened the door, Teacher, who had lay sleeping for eight years, now had his eyes open wide, staring at his palms, feeling his body.
Seeing Teacher moving after so long brought me all kinds of emotions. But these temporarily stopped deep in my chest, and I just smiled as I spoke.
Teacher looked startled, and turned his pale face to me.
"...Good morning, Teacher."
Why did his eyes look so sad?
People sure are funny, huh.
Tell 'em not to do something, and they do it without hesitation. Doin' whatever it takes to do what they think is "right." Regardless of how much you can't believe anything another guy says, they got no problem clinging to the fuzziest little thing. They think their selfish acts'll make people happy.
"I'll give you my soul, as long as you return Teacher's soul here once the door is open."
For somebody who said he had nothin', you've got a student with a lotta respect for his Teach.
I wonder what kind of story you'll be showin' me now?
I'll even lend you a hand. You better not bore me, now.
I'm △ (mi) ○ (wa) □ (shi) × (ba) - Miwashiba. I'm writing that out here so that no mysteries remain. In this novelization, I struggled with the publisher to clear up all of the game's mysteries, but whether I actually cleared them all up? That is the mystery, even for me.
When I was in middle school, I saw Let's Plays of free games on a certain video site and thought, I want to make one of these too!, which was the birth of the original Alice mare. But I was unfamiliar with the software at the time and gave up.
A few years later, however, I wanted to tackle game creation again, so I went fishing through my old files, adding things until it was completed. It was played by far more people than I expected, and I'm seriously surprised it got to the point of this novelization.
My dream for the future is to be an artist!, I've boasted since childhood, but I couldn't have had the faintest inkling that I'd be writing a novel someday. To be honest, it isn't my first time producing a novel, but that's a past I'd rather not discuss, so let's just put that aside. Instead, I think I'll discuss an influence in the creation of the original game.
I think it was when I was ten. My beloved great-grandmother passed away, and for the first time I felt the great loneliness and fear that comes with someone close to you dying. That night, I sobbed and folded countless paper cranes, when my grandfather came along and kindly asked, "Why are you folding cranes?"
I replied, "I'm folding lots of them so they can carry great-grandma back home!" Grandpa stroked my face and told me, "You don't fold cranes to carry great-grandma home, you fold them to carry her up to heaven."
After my grandfather said those words to me, as well as "See 'em off with a smile, or they won't go to heaven," I became able to see the people dear to me off with a smile. My grandfather has also passed away now, and my grandma sometimes speaks of him with sad looks.
How old they'd be if they were still alive, how you wish you'd been more like this to them... In Japanese, we have the proverb "counting the years of dead children" to mean "crying over spilt milk." Because indeed, we can't interfere with the dead or the past.
Regret for the dead just weighs both parties down, someone told me years later: the living can't move forward, and the dead can't go to the afterlife. That's been burned into my brain ever since. My grandmother counts grandfather's age on her fingers every year, and it worries me every time.
This is a story of people trapped by regret too, so to speak. But I'm certain I'll never make another story so dark. Most importantly, I can't even get myself excited. I like a happy ending.
Lastly, to the publisher, the designer, the people who played the game, and the people whose first experience with it is this book, you have my thanks. I'm indebted to so many of you for this wonderful opportunity. Thank you very much!
- △○□× (Miwashiba)