Hasumi is unlucky. It probably isn\'t a curse.
Disclaimer: This series and its characters etc etc are the property of people who are not me.
1. Manga-based. I am not much of an anime watcher.
2. Kawaii Onikui-Tengu-sama is still under a rock.
When Ryoukan was only a month old, an astrologer told his father that the child was born under an unlucky star and would bring misfortune on his family. His father did not believe the fortune and had the astrologer thrown in the street with only a nominal fee in his pocket. The slighted soothsayer shook his head at the arrogance and wilful ignorance of the young, then tripped over a loose stone and fell into a muddy puddle. Shortly afterwards, he was run over by a carriage at a crossroads.
Ryoukan did not remember any of this, of course. His grandfather used to tell him the story as an object lesson of some sort that he did not understand, and then his mother would call him over for some mochi and tell him to go out to play with other children instead of sitting by himself in the corner.
The ill luck that dogs Hasumi's every step is something of a joke by now. Nobody even notices when, during a routine fire drill, Hasumi pauses to talk to the kind old cleaning lady and the school jacket slung over his arm is caught by the closing door, causing him to spill his books, papers and lunchbox over the floor. Even Hana-obachan has not noticed, carried away by a tide of sweaty, chattering young men before he remembers to call her.
He's used to it. Sighing, Hasumi squats and patiently gathers up the well-trodden notes he had painstaking written out again after someone had spilled tea over the last set and thoroughly smudged the ink. Shoe-prints aside, they're not too badly damaged, and his books are only slightly kicked about. The lunchbox and its contents have to be written off as a complete loss, however. He'll have to join the neverending lunch queue and hope there is still something left by the time his turn comes.
Someone stumbles over him as he picks up the last book and manages to apologise two and a half times before being dragged off by his oblivious friends. Hasumi starts picking up his things again.
One of Ryoukan's earliest memories as a child was of sneaking out of his bed at night to play with the little girl who lived under the stairs. They were the best of friends until his frantic parents found him under the stairs the night the fire broke out and pulled him from the small space, scolding him for not being in his bed. /Why were you hiding there? his father shouted at him, and his mother said, /We were worried to death when we couldn't find you.
They would not listen when he screamed that his friend was still inside, and his grandfather only shook his head and patted him until he fell asleep exhausted from crying. No one knew anything about his friend under the stairs, and he never saw her again.
It is the sound of bells that catches his attention first, a soft jingle barely audible over the murmur of voices and tromping of shoes. He looks up; the source of the jingling turns at the same time, fair hair shining in the weak sunlight from a window. It is a boy, wearing small bells on a cord around his wrist and a uniform that somehow manages to fit and seem ill-fitting at the same time.
The boy seems momentarily startled, then a delighted smile breaks over his face. He waves at someone, presumably behind Hasumi. Hasumi feels strangely disappointed as the boy comes towards him, still smiling, then his heart skips a beat as the boy stops in front of him and begins to help him gather his things.
"Popular, aren't you?" says the boy with cruel irony, with a nod of his head to indicate the masses flowing past them, and Hasumi feels his cheeks burning with humiliation. The boy seems surprised, as though at himself, mouthing No? and shaking his head slightly, but it is only for a moment, and he is smiling brightly at Hasumi again as he hands over the papers he has collected. "Here."
"Where are you from? Should you be wearing the school uniform?" Hasumi asks him brusquely, trying to regain some dignity, and is unspeakably relieved when no other mishaps befall. He really does look too young to be a first year even.
The boy frowns at Hasumi thoughtfully, his strange red eyes assessing. When he smiles again, it is much less pleasant. With his arms taken up with the jumble of jacket, books and papers, Hasumi can't do anything when the boy says, "You're a first-year, aren't you, Hasumi-kun. Run along and join your class," and pats his head insultingly. The boy vanishes back into the crowd, leaving Hasumi gaping as Tanaka and Yamada come running back again after finally noticing his absence.
"Do you know who that is?" he asks them. They look surprised.
"You don't know?" asks Yamada. "He's Ichinomiya-senpai from the folklore department."
"It's best not to associate too much with him," says Tanaka. "He's good, but a little strange, if you take my meaning."
"I think he's nice," mutters Yamada, and turns a little red.
When Ryoukan was seven, another fortune-teller came by, warning of sorrows and tragedies that only he could avert, which he would gladly do out of the goodness of his heart, for just a token payment. Ryoukan's father swore at him and had him thrown out. The charlatan stood in the street and cursed them all, but most particularly Ryoukan, whom he declared would grow up without a father, be loved by someone unsuitable, fall in love with someone he could never have, never have children of his own, be afflicted by many unsightly diseases and scorned by all his friends, betrayed by his children, and probably just about anything the man could think of until Megumi-san, the maid, threw a basin of washing water in his face to shut him up.
His father's business took a turn for the worse. They moved to the countryside, and later that same year, the family home was destroyed in an earthquake. Only Ryoukan survived.
"I am doomed," wails Tanaka in a piercing whisper as they wait outside Kawaguchi-sensei's office. "I just can't do it!" Yamada tries to shush him in vain; he is too far engrossed in his self-pity to notice or care about the stares of the passing students, or that his laments may be overheard by the infamously unsympathetic Kawaguchi-sensei.
He's been like that all day, alternately bawling about writer's block and how useless all his research has turned out, and bemoaning his own incompetence and how he has let his family down. Yamada thinks he may have stepped in something and offended a /kami/, or perhaps been latched onto by a malignant spirit of some sort. Hasumi thinks it's complete nonsense and Tanaka should be ashamed of himself for making such a fuss, but he can't help but worry along with Yamada that their friend does not seem to be taking the pressure too well.
"Oh. Yes, I've seen that article before, Sensei. Thanks anyway." They hear Ichinomiya-senpai's voice floating from the office as the door opens; he sounds disappointed. Hasumi wonders why. Ichinomiya-senpai stops outside the office and closes the door, the bells on his wrist chiming softly. He sweeps the three of them with a narrowed stare, and Hasumi privately curses Yamada's insistence that they bring Tanaka, at this particular time, to beg Kawaguchi-sensei for an extension on his term paper before it becomes too late.
Since their first meeting, Hasumi has embarrassed himself before this irritating senpai again too many times. When Tanaka had said that Ichinomiya was good, what he meant that he was good at his work, not in morals or personality. Hasumi gets a reference wrong on the first page of his first essay; Ichinomiya immediately notices and points it out when they run into each other in the hall and Hasumi drops the incriminating paper in front of him. The notes he copies off Yamada to replace the ruined ones are filled with mistakes even he can spot, and he has to buy a new set off a far too amused Ichinomiya. And then there are the countless minor daily accidents seemingly designed to make him look like a clumsy fool that Ichinomiya always manages to witness. No wonder he always seems pleased to see Hasumi. He probably thinks of Hasumi as comic relief.
Except he isn't smiling now. He looks from Hasumi to Tanaka to Yamada and back to Tanaka, who ignores the senpai he professes to dislike and loudly blows his nose into his handkerchief, unashamed. Yamada looks oddly hopeful.
Ichinomiya-senpai mutters something into the cup of water in his hand, then upends it over Tanaka, who shuts up from sheer surprise.
"What the hell-" Tanaka begins angrily, jumping to his feet, and is suddenly transformed by inspiration. "I have it! Yes! Yes!" he screams and runs down the hallway, forgetting all about his soaking or his friends. Yamada sighs in relief.
"What's all that noise out there about?" roars Kawaguchi-sensei from inside the office, and they make a break for it before he comes out with his walking stick to wreak retribution for the disturbance.
Whenever he had the opportunity, Ryoukan liked to walk by himself in the woods. It was on one such occasion that he found the small brown fox in the hunter's trap, whimpering in pain and terror, its leg all torn up from its panicked attempts to get free. Its eyes were bright with fever and tears as he came closer to look at it. It snapped at him when he attempted to stroke it soothingly; he pulled his fingers back just in time. Thinking over the problem, he took off his shirt and put it over the fox's head so it couldn't see while he worked the jaws of the trap open. Fortunately, it was too weak to struggle much when he picked it up and washed its hot, swollen leg in the stream, and afterwards it thirstily lapped the water he carried to it in his hands. It regained its strength much faster than he expected. When it finished drinking, it licked his hand and limped away, pausing to look back at him when he hesitantly called out, "Goodbye."
Afterwards, he was punished for getting his shirt so dirty.
"Ideally, we should go direct to the source to ask," says Ichinomiya scornfully, cutting into their debate over research methods as the Voice of Authoritative Non-Sequitur. Hasumi scowls at the intrusion into their room. They run into Ichinomiya more often than Hasumi likes, and Ichinomiya does not seem at all averse to joining them, freshmen or not. The other seniors tend to avoid him unless they need him to write a paper for them, which he has no objections to doing for the right price. Hasumi disapproves.
"How else would we know, for example, that rokurokubi expose their necks to sleeping people? Don't you agree, Jyuu-roku-ro-chan?" he drawls, drawing a finger down the back of Yamada's neck.
Yamada squeaks and claps his hands over his neck. "E-expose? I-I don't know anything about ex-exposing anything."
"Do we even know that rokurokubi exist, much less that they do expose their necks to sleeping people? Who made up such a ridiculous story anyway?" Tanaka demands, eternally sceptical.
"Jyuurokuro?" Hasumi asks, distracted, before he can think how rude it is when poor Yamada has never spoken of his given name for obvious reasons.
Yamada is fortunately not offended, only resigned. "Strange name, I know," he says, sounding plaintive. "I wanted to be Takeshi, or maybe Akira, but no, my family would have none of it."
Tanaka kicks Hasumi in what he probably thinks is a discreet manner under the table. Ichinomiya laughs behind his fan at them. "Your room-mate," he says to Yamada at last, "he's drunk out of his mind and can't find his keys. Go save him." Yamada blushes again and scurries away.
Ichinomiya-senpai gives Hasumi a small, private wave and follows Yamada. "What's up with him and Yamada?" Tanaka asks, then frowns at Hasumi, who is, oddly, feeling a little warm. "Or with him and you?" A sudden gust of wind knocks Hasumi's pens from their stand; ink splatters, papers flip and blow across the table, smudging the helpful comment Ichinomiya scrawled on his notes on his last visit.
End part 1