A wall of charcoal black tiles. She wasn't in her bedroom. Saki gasped and sat up. Her right arm stung from having been glued to a warm, white floor instead of a mattress. She heard someone crying. Saki spun around, panic hampering her movement. She slammed her back against the unfamiliar wall.
Four stalls greeted her, each painted steel grey. Four sinks were in the room, each accompanied by a mirror and a soap dispenser. A restroom. She shouldn't be in one. A fog had entered her mind, making it difficult to recall anything. She knew for sure that her club activities had concluded early and she had been on her way home when. . .
Something. But what?
Saki's memories appeared. Not having felt particularly adventurous, she had taken the quickest route back to her house. The same one she had gone down for the past three years. Friday was a day away, and it looked like her weekend wouldn't be burdened with homework or studying. For once. Only her most unproductive hobbies were to be entertained until Monday inevitably arrived.
That was it. Saki didn't know what she was doing in the restroom. She wasn't alone. Two girls dressed in uniforms from the same high school were sitting on the floor at the other end of the room. One had wavy hair while the other sported a short, boyish cut. The girl with the shorter hair looked away from Saki, her grimace expanding. Whatever show Saki was inadvertently putting on had not yet ended for the other girl, who continued studying her.
Their outfits drew Saki's attention to her clothing. Faint residue from the noodles in her boxed lunch that she hadn't managed to scrub out of her blazer stood to attention. Her boots were still on, which drew her attention back to the other girls. No loafers. Sneakers. They had to have been on their way home as well. Neither of them had their bags nearby.
While still on the ground, Saki searched for her briefcase. Nothing. Her phone was missing. Again. Dad wouldn't be pleased, especially when she told him that she had misplaced her entire bag. Her allowance would cover it. The local library would be seeing more of her for a few weeks.
Saki put her hand against the wall to help herself stand up, dodging a hand dryer. "What happened? Was there an earthquake?"
The short-haired girl hid her face further while her classmate shook her head.
Her next guess, though highly unlikely, needed to be satisfied and hopefully earn her a spoken reply. "A hurricane, then?" Saki stepped away from the wall.
Another non-verbal 'no' came from the girl with the wavy hair. Her current audience wasn't very talkative. Or helpful. Someone outside the restroom would have answers. Saki rounded the corner, passing a trashcan built into the wall and a switch for the lights. She entered a small hall. Another girl in a different uniform sat against the wall, sobbing openly. Her bag was also absent, and she wasn't wearing loafers.
The restroom didn't have an entrance.
A taste of the crying girl's distress passed to Saki. She wasn't in a good situation. Dizziness overtook her, and she stumbled into the wall on her way back into the restroom. Saki gripped the edges of a sink in her hands. She gazed into the mirror to check and see if she was having a nightmare. Her reflection wasn't distorted and obeyed her every movement. It would usually do that in hyper-realistic dreams, which she assumed she was experiencing.
Having gone through a wretched gauntlet of nightmares as a child, Saki had come to develop a guaranteed way of escaping unpleasant dreams. All it took was a quick turn of her head to the right, and she would wake up. Saki closed her eyes, put a hand to her chin, jerked, and popped her neck. She tried again—a third time to be sure.
"Nice try, but we're all awake."
Saki turned at the sound of a new voice to find the short-haired girl speaking with her. She tightened her grip on the sink and observed her reflection once more. "Wonderful."
She made her way back to the small hallway occupied by the crying girl. Saki placed her hands on the wall and felt its warm surface meet her palms. She slowly made her way along the barrier. Smooth. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Saki came to a stop where she believed a door should be. She pounded a fist against the wall, listening intently for any kind of hint.
"What are you doing?"
Another new voice. This time from the crying girl. Judging by how bad her face looked, she had been at it for quite some time. Her haircut earned her a double-take from Saki. It was fetching. In the eighties. Now, it looked out of place. She wore it well, though.
"I'm checking how thick the walls are." Saki could tell the girl didn't understand. "There could be a spot that was recently closed off after we were crammed in here. If we find it, all four of us might be able to break it down."
In the time it took to blink, the crying girl had her hands on the wall. "What should I be looking for?"
"Okay. Hear this?" Saki pounded on the wall, producing a solid thud. "That's no good. We want a hollow sound. It could be anywhere. We should search the whole room. Will you help me?"
The crying girl looked startled by Saki's question. "Absolutely!"
A rush of hope. Her new friend had to have felt it, too. Saki kept it in check. Escaping the sick trap might wind up being more complicated than she would like, but she wouldn't give up. Saki, her mother, and little brother would have to pry dad off the pervert who had done this to them. It would be worth watching. Her imagination had nearly carried her away. Such thoughts would have to wait until she had either escaped or gotten rescued.
No secrets were revealed. Back in the restroom, the short-haired girl had joined the search. She looked right at Saki, eyes wide. A sharp shake of her head inspired no confidence.
The other girl stood in the back corner, toying with her hair. "Isn't all that out of some video game?"
Yes, but that was beside the point. Saki had an answer ready. "My father renovates houses. I learned it from him. I now know the walls around us are solid, which I couldn't say for certain ten minutes ago."
The crying girl tugged at Saki's arm. "What about the ceiling?"
Saki nodded. "We'll check that in a minute. Let's take a quick break." She put a forefinger on her nose. "I'm Watanabe Saki." Her hand dropped back to her side. The best part of her introduction was next. Pride caused her to bristle. "I go to Kadenokoji High in Asaka, Saitama."
She didn't receive the reaction she had expected. It wasn't the time to boast, but she couldn't help it. The admission requirements for Kadenokoji were some of the highest in Japan. It wouldn't earn her any points here.
The crying girl gave a short bow. "Ishida Tomoe. I'm also from Saitama. I go to Kasukabe Kyoei, which is in Kasukabe."
For some reason, Tomoe's name sounded familiar to Saki. She didn't have any time to figure out why.
"You two are from Saitama as well?" The short-haired girl was suddenly very interested. "Oh, sorry. Fujiwara Jun. Inagakuen Public High. That's in Kitaadachi."
Saki looked at the girl in the corner and watched her roll her eyes. She bit her bottom lip. They probably weren't going to get along. She looked like one of the popular girls.
"Yokoyama Eiko," the popular girl said as she joined the group with her arms crossed. "I'm also from Inagakuen High."
"Are you friends with her?" Saki asked, gesturing to Jun.
Eiko shrugged. "We're not in the same class, so we haven't ever had the chance to talk. I've seen her in the halls, though."
"Why do you want to know if we are friends, Watanabe-san?" Jun asked.
Saki shook her head. "Saki is fine. There's no need to be formal, especially in this kind of predicament. I'm trying to figure out what's going on. Two students from the same school were put in here. It might be a clue."
Eiko scoffed, unimpressed. "Kadenokoji must be one of those schools for the elite."
Saki knew better than to be flattered. "It's not for the elite. It's for high performing students."
"Why haven't I ever heard of it, then? Based on the way you said it, I should be familiar with it."
Tomoe and Jun offered no support. They weren't familiar with it either.
Saki changed the subject. "Alright, we're all from Saitama. I don't suppose this restroom looks familiar to any of you, does it?"
"It. . ." Jun hesitated and rubbed her arm. "I think it looks like a hospital restroom."
Their replies deserved encouragement. Saki readily gave it. "Any information is better than nothing."
Eiko clicked her tongue and went back into her corner. "Let me stop you right there. In case you haven't figured it out, we're here for the amusement of some sick pervert. There's probably cameras in the toilets or something."
Saki wasn't about to be bullied during such a dangerous situation. She held her ground. "I was going to suggest we look for them and break any we find."
Eiko rolled her eyes. "I'm sure our host would love that."
"He would come in here, though," Tomoe said. "Maybe we could get passed him."
Jun spoke with another burst of energy, "What if he has a weapon? What if there's more than one of them? Something about this setup says team effort to me."
"There's probably two or three of them," Eiko said. "I suppose it could just be one person. Some people are really committed to their hobbies."
Saki took that as a jab and ignored it. She had no faith in her ability to dodge while being attacked. The four of them together might stand a chance, though. It was better than catering to the whim of their kidnapper. "I'll take my chances."
Eiko burst out laughing and covered her mouth with her hand.
"What's your problem?" Saki demanded. "Do you want to say in here?"
Eiko regained her composure. "Of course not, but we will be better off if we cooperate with our host while we wait for the police to arrive. You're getting way too excited, and it's going to get you hurt."
She didn't get it. Saki needed to spell it out for Eiko. "Look. I have a good idea of where this is going, and I'm not sticking around long enough to find out if I'm right."
"Do you honestly believe I didn't think of that as well?" Eiko marched up to Saki and leaned in to whisper. "The safe thing to do is wait and draw this out for as long as possible. If all we have to do is put on a show in this restroom, so be it. We should wait until he comes in to feed us before we try to get out of here."
Saki stepped away to get Eiko out of her ear and rubbed the tickle out of it with a palm. "He will wait until we are starving before he does that since we'll be too weak to resist. Unless he's a complete idiot."
"Like you?" Eiko asked. "You just told him what he has to do. Thanks."
"He's not an idiot," Tomoe said, coming to Saki's aid. "If he built all this just for us, he knows what he's doing."
"Eiko. . ." Jun wore a pained expression, torn due to having to pick a side. "Saki is right."
"Do as you like," Eiko crossed her arms and retreated to her corner.
Saki sighed. "If you don't want to help me, that's fine." She turned to address the other girls. "I'm not asking for your help, either. It's your choice. I don't want to force anyone to help me. The. . ." Saki trailed off, searching for something to lighten the mood. "I can't imagine going more than a day without a bath, so I would like to get out of here. Right now."
It wasn't one of her better attempts. Tomoe and Jun didn't laugh, chuckle, or smile. She didn't bother attempting to read Eiko's expression.
"So, we should look for cameras, right?" Jun asked.
Saki nodded and opened the door to a stall, discovering a Western-style toilet that didn't do anything but flush. Water was in the bowl. A handrail was mounted on one side of the wall while the other had a metal dispenser for toilet paper. Saki spotted a lock on it, which seemed out of place. She reached underneath it and pushed up. The roll inside was fresh.
She got down on her knees. Thankfully, the floor and toilet were spotless.
"This will get a little disgusting," Saki felt the flushometer for any loose parts. "Check everything. Even the inner portion."
"Cameras can't get that small, can they?" Tomoe asked.
Jun barked a laugh. "Of course, they can. They've got cameras hidden inside fountain pens. It's easier than ever to do this kind of thing."
Saki's lips curled upward in disgust as she reluctantly ran a finger along the inner rim. She wasn't sure it was necessary. Perverts could get creative, though. She didn't feel any dampness, which was unexpected. The toilet hadn't been flushed for a long time. She grabbed the handle and pulled down. They had running water.
After checking to make sure the dispenser held no secrets, she proceeded to move to the next stall. Tomoe stood near the sinks, wearing a look of confusion. Saki skipped to the third stall since Jun was inspecting the second one, being careful to open the door with her arm since her fingers were dirty.
Saki got down on her knees again. "Make sure it flushes, Jun."
"Got it. I don't think I'm finding anything."
Eiko emerged from her corner and went over to the sinks. "We had better not have to drink out of those."
Saki heard the water from the faucets running behind her. Eiko verified that all the taps could dispense water and breathed an audible sigh of relief. The stall next to Saki flushed. She searched for a hidden camera a second time. A quick scan of the ceiling revealed nothing either. If their captor hadn't bothered rigging all the stalls, there probably wasn't going to be anything in the last one. She still had to check, just to be sure.
Jun almost collided with Saki on her way to the final stall.
She blocked Jun from going forward. "Don't worry. I'll check the next one. Go ahead and wash your hands."
The hand dryer started at Tomoe's request. "It looks like this has electricity." Not to be outdone, she moved to the trash can. "I'll see if I can find anything in here."
Saki entered the final stall and bent over, not bothering to get on her knees. No camera. Another peek at the ceiling caused a new problem to become apparent. Unless she had missed something, there were no vents in the room. It was completely sealed off. Air would be limited. She immediately decided against telling anyone else unless it was necessary. They didn't need to panic.
Tomoe and Jun both washed their hands while Saki thought of her next move. If they weren't being filmed, they could still be watched. Through the mirrors. Saki sprang out of the stall. Before touching anything else, she washed her hands.
"Did you find anything?" Tomoe asked.
Saki moved over to the hand dryer. "No, but I'm not done yet."
She knocked on one of the mirrors. It sounded like there was nothing behind it. Maybe. She had to be wrong because she was running out of ideas. Saki knelt, undid her laces, and pulled off her left boot. The heel would be strong enough to break the mirror. Saki stood up, weapon in hand.
Eiko intervened. "Don't be ridiculous. There's an easier way to tell if the mirrors are real." She put her finger against the glass. "This isn't fake." Eiko went down the line and repeated the process on each mirror, leaving Saki holding her boot. "All of these are fine."
Saki put her foot back into her boot and tucked the laces inside it to avoid tying them. "You're certain?"
"I am. See for yourself. Put your finger up against the glass. If your reflection touches your finger, the mirror is fake. There's also a way to check if you have your cell phone with you. Mine's gone. I don't suppose you have yours, do you?"
Saki shook her head. "I keep mine in my bag during school."
Jun turned to Tomoe. "Do you have yours by chance?"
Tomoe looked confused. "I don't have one of those."
Jun chuckled. "Really? How do you manage without one?"
"I just do." She hastily changed the subject. "Saki, do you have any other ideas on how we can get out of here?"
Saki nodded. "We can check and see if the ceiling is thin. One of you would need to stand on my shoulders and pound at it to see if there's a spot we might be able to get through using a handrail."
Jun shook her head. "Saki, how about you stand on my shoulders instead? You know what you're looking for."
"Of course. I'm in the athletics club. I wouldn't have any problem carrying you."
Saki took off her boots and set them neatly to the side while Jun turned her back to her. She opened her legs and held her up hands in the air as if surrendering.
"First, you need to grab my hands," Jun said. "Okay, now step on my hips—one foot at a time. Don't let go of my hands! Step up on my shoulders next. There. You're a natural. When we need to move, grab my hands again."
"I hope my knee socks don't stink," Saki said.
Jun snickered. "It's fine. Just be sure to keep your balance."
It was easier than Saki thought it would be. She turned her attention to the task at hand and banged on the ceiling. "This is concrete. Just like the walls."
"Stay up there and keep trying. I'll walk us over to that hallway."
Jun slowly made her way to the doorless corridor. Saki kept banging on the ceiling to no avail. There needed to be a weak spot somewhere just above their heads. If there wasn't, they would have to confront the reality that they were trapped for reasons that couldn't be logically explained.
It was just as Saki feared. "We're not getting out of here through the ceiling. How do I get down from up here?"
Jun spread her legs. "The same way you came up."
Tomoe had Saki's boots ready for her the moment she was on the floor. She leaned against the wall and put them back on, trying to think of what to say next.
"Hey. Hey, I just thought of something," Jun said, the confidence in her idea temporarily abating her dread. "What if we rip a sink off the wall? That would weaken the wall, right? We could dig our way into the part with all the pipes and crawl out through that way."
Saki shook her head. "These walls are all thick. We wouldn't be able to get through them using a railing."
Jun uttered a nervous laugh. "That doesn't make any sense. We were put in here by somebody, right? He went through all this effort just to seal us in and walked away? That can't be. He would want to watch us suffer!"
Eiko appeared from around the corner. "Maybe he's got infrared cameras pointed at us."
"There wouldn't be any point. We would show up as featureless blobs," Saki said.
Eiko gestured to the room around them. "He obviously has quite an imagination."
"Okay. If we were all abducted, where are we?" Saki asked. "Was this restroom built inside a warehouse out in the middle of nowhere for just this purpose? I don't believe that."
"Do you have a better explanation, Saki?" Eiko asked, raising her defenses.
Jun interrupted. "Wait a minute. We're all from different regions of Saitama. How did he keep us all drugged long enough to kidnap us, take us to wherever we are, and seal us in?"
"He could be an anesthesiologist or some other kind of doctor," Eiko replied.
"A doctor has time for this?" Jun demanded. "Eiko. Those two girls are from different schools. Did he nab all of us on the same day? How? Asaka is nearly an hour away from Kitaadachi. That is a long time to have two girls passed out in the trunk of your car, assuming he has one. Do you think he took a train? Maybe he did. All of us look small enough to fit into four separate suitcases. Yeah, that's got to be it. Do you know how stupid that sounds?"
Tomoe started sobbing. "We must be in Jigoku."
"Stop it, that's impossible," Eiko said. "If I can be sure of only one thing, it's that I'm not dead. None of you are dead, either. Even supposing we somehow were, what could any of us have done to warrant a punishment like this?"
"I think I'd know why I wound up here," Jun replied without thinking. She covered her mouth and averted her eyes from the group.
Saki needed to comfort Tomoe and draw attention away from Jun's mistake. "Whatever happened, it's not all bad. We have running water. That should keep us alive until the police get here." She didn't believe a word she was saying. "If all four of us were abducted on the same day, somebody was bound to see someone suspicious. The police will be able to see where all of us were before getting kidnapped using our cell phone numbers. That may help them."
Tomoe made herself stop sobbing long enough to get out a question. "What are you talking about? What's a cell phone?"
The sweat on Saki's back went ice cold. Tomoe's ignorance about the possibility of hidden cameras and her lack of a cell phone was strange. Her hair and outfit already looked like she had walked right out of the eighties. Perhaps there was a reason for that.
"Tomoe. What is today's exact date?" Saki asked.
Tomoe wiped away her tears. "It's the twenty-ninth of October, 1985."
Eiko's reaction was immediate. "You're lying. You're obviously a cosplayer. It's the sixth of October, 2023."
Saki noticed Jun looking at her, hoping desperately that her reply would match up. "It's the twenty-first of October, 2021."
Silence. Saki could hear her heart beating. Nobody said a word.
Eiko trembled. "Why would you both lie about today's date?"
"I'm not lying!" Tomoe insisted.
Saki felt temporarily detached from the situation as if she was watching it from above. A terrible memory had come to her mind. "Tomoe, you were walking home with Kiyama Hideki. Both of you stopped at a convenience store along the way. You bought a drink and stepped outside ahead of him while he was chatting with the clerk. And that was that."
"Yes!" Tomoe couldn't believe what she was hearing. "That's exactly what happened. How did you know that?"
"A friend of mine told me that story last summer during a thunderstorm while the power was out. I didn't sleep that night. I couldn't stop thinking about how it must have felt. To up and vanish like that."
Eiko clicked her tongue. "If you two think you're funny, you're not."
Saki's hands balled into fists. "You're so right, Eiko. I made all of that up. In fact, Tomoe and I are in this together. You're on a variety show, with Jun. Our key grip is going to plow into here with a bulldozer right where you're standing, so you might want to move a few steps to the left. You've got five seconds." She held up her fingers and counted them down silently. "Uh-oh. I guess he's a little late. Whatever shall we do now? Will our ratings still be okay?"
"Fuck you, you stupid bitch!" Eiko left them.
A stall door opened and slammed. Saki shook her head. Of all the people she could be stuck inside a room with. Eiko's temporary reliance on English for vulgarity was more amusing than it was insulting.
"Do you know what became of Hideki?" Tomoe asked, unphased by Eiko's outburst.
They must have been close. Saki spoke carefully, "I don't, sorry. He most likely went on to live a normal life. After all, the story was about you. Not him."
Jun gave a worried glance toward where Eiko had stormed off and then turned to Tomoe. "He never stopped thinking about you. If something like that happened to me, I wouldn't ever forget who I was with."
It didn't seem right to point out that she was having the same experience, so Saki said nothing.
"What should we do now?" Tomoe asked.
When Jun didn't answer, Saki had to reply. "We need to remain calm. Panicking or getting angry isn't going to do us any favors. All of us appear to be from different periods in time. That being the case, anything could happen. Like I said before, we've got water. Our situation would be much worse without it."
"So, we wait?" Jun asked.
Saki nodded. "Until we come up with a new plan or something happens."