The Snow Maiden

I was always a straight B student. Because a C made me look dumb and an A wasn't worth the effort. Scoring an A is for suckers. This pissed off the wrong people (my parents), so I was punished by being sent out here: a village in the snow country. But instead of building character, I met this village's darkest secret: the girl in the snow. She was dead and she changed my life. - UPDATES EVERY MONDAY, WEDNESDAY AND FRIDAY!

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My latest story! I think it's the best yet :)
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21. Chapter 21

It would be easy to think that this wasn't a library. A few dusty shelves, even fewer tables, wooden chairs and a desk manned by someone who must be the librarian because I don’t think anyone would want to spend their free time here. The old man looked up and there was surprise in his face. 


"Oh! Are you a student? New here?" 


He looked at me, his expression vague, his eyes looking at me and yet looking past me all at the same time. Unnerved, I gave a slight smile. 


I said, "I'm a student, but I don't go to school here. Due to circumstances, I am spending my winter break here." 


The old man nodded. "Students don't usually come here. They use the school library." 


"Then who comes here?" 


The old man's vague expression. His empty eyes. The scent of books that hadn't been touched in years. This place creeped me out, but it was exactly the type of place I needed. 


The old man said, “Hmm...the students don’t come and the local folk order books online now, or they go to the next town. Our library has been defunded...or rather there are no funds." 


Which made sense to me. The local school library would get its funding from the Board of Education or the Ministry of Education or whatever. Local folk who wanted to read a book wouldn't wait for the weeks and months for the local library fulfill a request. Which meant that nobody needed this library. 


I said, "Then why are you here?" 


The old man said, "Hmm...some of the local folk have been wanting to close the library for a while now, but I've persuaded them to keep it open...at least until I die. Doing this job can get me some pension benefits from the prefecture government." 


I almost laughed. Sly old man. If I was him, I'd probably do the same thing. Easy job, easy money. 


The old man said, "Like I said, this library has been defunded and that means we don't have any new books coming in. You'll need to go to the local school to access the books you might be looking for. Here, I'll write you a note and the security guard will let you in." 


I said, "Thank you, but I don't need a note. There's something in this library that I can't find in the school library." 


The old man looked at me with surprise. "What are you looking for?" 

 

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The old man showed me to a corner of the library and I got down to work. 


Newspapers. Lots of them. Skyscrapers of ink and paper. 


This place didn't even have the budget to scan and index these newspapers, so I had to go through the physical copies one by one. 


Why so many? 


Because Yuki never gave me a timeframe. She could've died last year or she could've died a century ago. So this made my search a little harder. But there was some information that I could use as a compass. 


Yuki was obsessed with vending machines. After a bit of research using an ancient Widows 95 library computer, I found out that vending machines first came into use in London in the 1880s and were introduced in Japan in 1888, during the Meiji era.


Alright, so that narrowed down the window from 1888 to now, around 140 years. Still too wide. 


From all my conversations with Yuki, her Japanese vocabulary was relatively modern and she never spoke of suffering or any kind of war. Granted, she says she lost her memory, but usually if a person manages to survive a war, it changes them forever, and I don't sense any kind of post-war trauma from her. So that would put the time period of her life after the Russo-Japanese War and the Second World War. 


But then I found something else. An important piece of information. Something I almost overlooked. 


While vending machines first came to Japan in 1888, they only sold cigarettes and were confined to Tokyo and other larger cities. It wasn't until the 1970s, during the golden bubble era, when vending machines rose to popularity in Japan because that was when they came up with the technology to serve hot and cold drinks. Meaning that since Yuki was obsessed with vending machine drinks, she had to have died after the 1970s. 


I asked for all the local papers from 1970 until the present day. Almost 50 years worth of reading, but still manageable if I went through it systematically. The trick was not to read the contents, but to only scan the headlines of the first two or three pages. After all, in this sleepy little part of Japan, a murder would be big news, the biggest news the paper might ever get. It'd be in big bold characters.


The old man put on his glasses and his vague expression vanished. Then he looked at me as if I was insane. I ignored him and got work. He shrugged and sighed and muttered something about 'young people these days'. 


I started from 1970. Lots of headlines. Lots of minor local issues. Incoming snowstorm. Frozen streets. Hot summers. Local elections for government posts no one cares about. The end of the bubble era, the collapse of the economy, a wave of suicides. It was interesting to see which parts of Japanese history managed to penetrate these mountains and touch this village in this corner of the world. 


But nothing about a girl who was murdered. Nothing about a missing person. 


There was one piece of news that caught my eye: in 2003, Aunt Reiko's inn, Hana no Sato, then still under the management of her late husband, burned down due to a gas leak in the kitchen. I remember my mom told me my dad lent them almost all the money needed to rebuild this place in exchange for shared ownership. After that, her husband died and she had to manage this place on her own. I hate to admit, but I really admired Aunt Reiko for her grit. No matter how hard it gets, she refuses to bite the dust. 


I looked at my watch: 5pm. My three hours of fleeting freedom have passed. It was time to go back.


The pile of newspapers on the table: gone from enormous to huge. I've managed up to 2003, but there was still almost twenty years of papers to go. 


I told the old man that I'd be back tomorrow and asked if I could leave the newspapers on the table. He nodded and said that he wouldn't touch them. I thanked him and left.

 

I came back the next day and everything was gone.

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