chapter five — the headless lady comes at three in the morning
It was another bright and sunny morning at St. Marguerite’s School.
The hallways, normally filled with running students clutching their textbooks after having piled out of the dormitory en masse, were now empty on this Sunday morning, and quiet enough to hear a pin drop.
A petite woman emerged from an atrium lined with unglazed copper-colored tiles on the floor, and strode purposefully into a corridor that was enclosed by a high ceiling trussed with innumerable beams. She wore large round glasses and wavy brunette hair down to her shoulders, and looked remarkably baby-faced on account of her large, moist eyes. This woman—Miss Cécile—grumbled to herself, a large loop of keys gripped in her hand.
“If I recall correctly, the answer key to that textbook was in the reading room…. My goodness, Kujou, you keep asking questions that no teacher would know the answer to. I hope you don’t think that being a teacher means I know everything… when that’s not even possible! So keep in mind, Kujou….”
She continued talking to herself, her voice echoing in the empty hallway at a slightly louder volume than it needed to be. “—That when I was a student here, my grades were awful, just awful compared to yours, OK? Got that? …Wait, this isn’t exactly something I should be boasting about….”
Her shoulders slumping, she walked up to the door of the room in question, inserted a large key into the lock, and turned it. “Oops, the lock is rusty. Well, I shouldn’t be surprised; it’s been such a long time since anyone’s gone inside that people started calling it the ‘Sealed Reading Room’….”
Cécile opened the huge door, which was the deep brown color of laurelwood. A dusty, damp smell wafted into the hallway from the interior of the reading room. Inside was an oval tea table and bookshelves overlaid with glass doors. She hurried inside. “I need to find that answer key to prepare for Monday’s lesson—right, this one. Okay…”
She quickly walked back to the door, hugging a thin book to her chest. But then she suddenly raised her head and looked up at the wall.
Cécile tightly closed her large eyes.
And then she opened them again.
As she stared at the wall, tears began welling up in her eyes.
Then she tremblingly closed them once more….
“It’s, it’s … a ghost!”
Screaming at the top of her lungs, she tore off her glasses and dashed out of the room as fast as she could.
Meanwhile, in another hallway on the other side of the U-shaped main building….
“All right… So over there is the bathroom where the spirit of the Sphinx appears and asks a riddle. And where was that ghost of the dead Indian elephant that was brought to Sauvure for an exhibition…? And then…”
The girl, dressed neatly in her uniform, had been walking around campus peering into her notebook all Sunday morning. She was a lively young lady with short blond hair, bright blue eyes, and long, lithe limbs reminiscent of a young doe.
The girl—the foreign student Avril Bradley—came to a stop.
“Hmm… I knew it was going to be difficult to find my way around with just a map. So I still don’t feel too familiar with the campus. But since I won’t be starting classes until next week, I haven’t made any friends yet. …Oh, I know!” She clapped her hands together.
“There’s Kujou, that Oriental boy who rescued me from the storehouse. Let me think…. Where could I find him? It would be nice if he could show me around campus, but it’s not like I can go in the boys’ dormi—whoa!”
The floor suddenly seemed to shift underneath Avril’s feet, causing her to fall hard on her bottom. “Oww!” she groaned while looking down to see where she had tripped.
Her foot was caught in a gap where the flooring had moved out of place. She removed her foot and eyed the hole suspiciously.
There was something inside.
She saw the faint sheen of a gleaming purple object.
Despite not knowing what awaited her in the darkness, Avril—perhaps bravely, perhaps recklessly, but either way without a moment’s hesitation—thrust her hand into the hole. She grabbed hold of the purple object, and held it up to the light.
Clasped in her hand was a large necklace. It was beautifully arrayed with glittering purple jewels, and yet it also seemed somehow sinister. But Avril was heedless of the peculiarly weighty aura to that necklace, and she casually held it up to her face and examined it from every angle, her large eyes open wide.
Then she suddenly cried out, “Oh! Th-this is the same necklace that was in one of the best ghost stories of all, Countess Ashenden’s ‘Poison Flower’!”
She excitedly flipped through her notebook until she found the correct page, and then compared the description in her notes with the jewelry she held in her hand. “I knew it! But why would it be here? Oh my gosh! Now what? Well, anyway … I just found something fantastic. Yahoo!”
Avril stamped her feet on the ground, then happily exclaimed again, “Yahoo, yahoo!”
In a quiet corner of the campus of St. Marguerite’s School, in a room on the second floor of the boys’ dormitory…
“Whoa! What time is it?! Did I oversleep? …Oh, wait, it’s a Sunday.”
A young, small-boned Asian boy jolted awake in a large mahogany bed, decorated with a motif of intertwining leaves, and fumbled for his clock. Deep black eyes the color of ebony stared out from underneath his short black hair.
“…Well, even if it is a Sunday, the third son of an imperial soldier couldn’t possibly allow himself to indulge in a single moment of indolence. I have to wake up immediately, wash my face, eat my breakfast, and then get to studying—oh, but I’m so sleepy. Wait, wait, I’ve already been late once this week after getting dragged into that murder case. And then I jumped out of the window of the classroom, and that counts as an absence even though I did show up on time. So that’s two demerits already. Let’s wake up, then. …But I’m still so sleepy….”
The boy—Kazuya Kujou—sat up sluggishly, his expression as serious as ever despite the sleepiness in his eyes. He tied together the front of the dark blue yukata he wore as a nightshirt, and just as he was about to climb out of bed to wash his face, heard a knock come from the door.
“Who is it?”
“…It’s me!” A deep womanly voice answered in a singsong tone.
Kazuya jumped up in surprise. While in the middle of groggily considering the fact that it was now too late for him to pretend he was out, he saw the door open on its own.
“Good mo-orning, Kujou!” The voluptuous redheaded housemother stood at the door. “You know, there was this creepy guy with a weird hairstyle,” she began to say, but then broke off mid-sentence and gave Kazuya an intense stare.
“That looks pretty. It’s got a wonderfully Oriental flair! …I’ll take it!”
“Y-you’ll take it?!”
The housemother began to roughly yank off Kazuya’s nightshirt. His struggling was for naught as his yukata slipped off his body and was snatched away along with his sash. Kazuya shrieked and dove under the covers of his bed while shouting at her in protest, “That’s my nightshirt!”
“Can I wear it to a dance party in the village tonight?”
“No, you may not! Please give it back!”
“I’ll give it back to you later.” She grinned and waved her hand at him, then swiftly turned on her heel to leave his room.
Just as she was about to close the door, Kazuya quickly asked her, “Um, what was that you were saying about the creepy guy with the weird hairstyle?”
“Whaddya talking about? …Oh, that.” She poked her head back into the room. “Right now, there’s this young fellow with pointy blond hair in this style that I can’t even begin to describe, but only made me think what a waste of a handsome face, and he said he had a message for you. Hmm, what was it now. Uh … sorry, I forgot.”
“I think he wanted you to go somewhere.”
“…You mean, to the library?”
“Oh, yes! That’s it!” The housemother nodded, then grinned and waved at him, and shut the door behind her.
He looked outside the window. The bright springtime sunlight shone in from the French-style window, scattering light upon the carpet. It was an idyllic Sunday morning.
“Okay … to the library, then.” Kazuya reluctantly climbed out of bed and started to unenthusiastically put on his clothes.
He had placed a letter that he had received last night from his second eldest brother on the mahogany desk. Kazuya folded it up and tucked it into his breast pocket, then left his room.