I washed my dishes after dinner with the window open to let out the smell of stir fry so I could actually sleep in my tiny shoebox apartment. Late fall in Yonezura was definitely cold, but the heat from cooking had warmed my place, and I needed the stir fry smell to dissipate before bed or I’d dream of nothing but food.
I heard a clink outside, very close, which was strange on the fourth floor.
On the metal bar bolted above my window—each apartment had one designed for hanging futons to dry—a rope arched over and looped through like a pulley. I stared in shock as a piece of paper safety-pinned to the rope rose to the middle of my window.
I walked to the ledge, pushed aside the screen, and reached out to grab the paper.
Look down! it said, in spare and precise kanji.
The vice captain of the archery team stood in the parking lot, waving both arms over his head like a fool.
I leaned out. “Takahashi-senpai?”
“Sumisu!” Taka-senpai called up, the Japanese pronunciation of my name, Kei Smith. Mom had insisted on giving me a Japanese first name even if my last name was my dad’s American one.
Good lord. I looked around to see if anyone else had their window open. A few of the other apartments at the international dorm did. I would catch flack for this. Taka-senpai always doted on me during archery team practice. He claimed to merely be on the lookout for my Western technique—despite the fact that my mother is half-Japanese and I spent most of my early childhood, including my first archery lessons, in Japan—but the captain and our other teammates always teased him for it.
I stared at him, not wanting to say “Can I help you?” and draw even more attention.
“Sumisu-san!” Taka-senpai called again. “Want to come down here and chat with me? I have something cool to show you!”
I blinked around my apartment. “Do you want to come up?” The security door was usually propped open—he could have just come in and knocked on my door.
Taka-senpai shook his head so hard I worried it would twist right off.
Goodness, I could never understand rural Japanese modesty. I shut the window and threw on a jacket. Downstairs I stepped into my shoes while Taka-senpai watched from outside, trying, and failing, to look nonchalant.
“What did you want to show me?”
Taka-senpai shrugged on his backpack and whipped around to glance over the dorm. “Shhh, this way.”
I followed him down the streets leading to the station, through the station and to the other side, along the path that led to the town park.
I started feeling wary. What could we possibly do in the park at night? I’d heard people went there to commit suicide, and that the police would check the trees each morning before opening the park for the day. Was Taka-senpai actually some kind of creep?
“I don’t want to go in,” I said, slowing down.
Taka-senpai stopped, his eyes searching my face. “I can’t show you this in plain sight of buildings. There might be a camera.”
Oh hell no. “Then I guess you’re not going to be showing it to me,” I said.
He furrowed his eyebrows. “Are you afraid of the dark?”
He blinked and then ran a hand over his face and through his hair. “We’ll just go to the edge of the park.”
“I’m not losing sight of the street,” I said.
“Fair enough,” Taka-senpai said, leading the way again.
All of my senses were afire. He clearly didn’t get why the trip was making me nervous. This park was the only place people in Yonezura could go to do something unobserved. The one murder case in the town’s entire history had happened in this park in the middle of the night. I had no desire to become murder story number two. I slowed down, forcing Taka-senpai to also slow or else leave me behind.
“They tend to congregate at the castle,” Taka-senpai said as we crossed the bridge over the moat to the park. “It’ll be harder to find them from the edge.”
I clenched my teeth. All of my muscles tightened, ready to sprint off at a moment’s notice.
We stopped outside the edge of the park.
Taka-senpai surveyed the area. “There’s one.”
I squinted my eyes in that direction, not finding anyone. Was Taka-senpai really crazy?
Taka-senpai knelt by the side of the bridge, at the juncture to where it met ground again. I hesitantly lowered myself beside him, wary that he might turn on me and toss me in the moat. The water was cold and shallow, the bottoms and sides of the moat paved, and it was a long way down.
Taka-senpai zipped open his backpack and pulled out a crossbow.
I scrambled away, my breath caught in my throat.
“Shh!” Taka-senpai said. “You’ll startle it away.”
I struggled to form words. “It?”
“Yeah, the crow.” Taka-senpai waved me back over.
Taka-senpai fiddled with his crossbow, clearly ignorant of my distress. I watched as he affixed a bolt into the groove, my interested piqued.