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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6. Chapter 6

Aunt Reiko is a tough one. Her hair bobbed and black, stern when facing employees, kind when facing guests. Clothes: Made in Muji. She was the owner and manager of the Hana no Sato ryokan in this little ski village. It wasn't always hers. Based on what my mom told me, she married the original owner about twenty years ago when she dropped out of university, went traveling and then ended up working at this ryokan when she ran out of money. She met the owner and they got married. 


It was a brief marriage. Just five years in, the husband died and she inherited the property. They never had children. My mom told me that Aunt Reiko was still young at that time, barely twenty years old, and instead of selling it and starting a new life, she cut her hair short, changed her wardrobe and like my mom said, 'became a proper adult overnight'. 


This was the person I had to face after my little excursion. 


Yuki had vanished and I was so shocked that I couldn't move for a moment. Was it all a hallucination? I looked around: her footsteps were still there. Which scared me even more. Because this proved that she was real. That she wasn't a figment of my barren imagination. I had to acknowledge the supernatural. 


Calm down. Calm down. 


I took several deep breaths, waited for her to come back, but there was nothing. It was then that I began to feel incredibly cold. My fingers hurt, my feet icy, my legs became lead. Ugh...I forced myself to move. The sun was almost below the horizon and the temperature dropped like the American property market in 2008. 


That's right, I read the news. Just because I'm a B-student doesn't mean that I'm unaware of the outside world. In fact, you could say it is the straight A students who are unworldly; all they know is what's in the textbooks and they study so hard that they never bother to look around themselves or read anything that isn't in an exam. 


“Yuki, I’m leaving now," I said. 


Nothing.


I shoved my hands in my pockets and headed back. 

 

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What waited for me back at the village wasn't pretty and it was pretty much what I expected. I had originally planned to slip out for only a little and to be back long before sundown. But this unexpected encounter with Yuki, a supernatural being, a half assed ghost, a lingering spirit with regrets about vending machines, took a lot of time. 


And so when I stepped through the staff entrance at the back of the ryokan, I found a note prowling in the cubbyhole where I usually put my outdoor shoes. 


It was Aunt Reiko's handwriting. It said: "You're late. Don't bother serving dinner for the guests. No dinner for you tonight. Come to my office at 9pm." 


No exclamation marks. No signature. No question about where I've been. 


The handwriting was neat and on point. It was neither male nor female. Almost like a printout. And yet when I read the note, I was quaking in my boots. She told me not to bother serving dinner to the guests. Which means she saw my absence as a disruption to the service that the ryokan provides. Which means I have committed the ultimate sin: upsetting the experience of the guests with my behavior. Which means there will be hell to pay. 


No dinner tonight. I guess that was my punishment. 


But what really scared me was the last part: Come to my office at 9pm. 


Maybe I will join Yuki at 9:01pm, local time. 


With a heavy heart, I put away my shoes. It was dark and cold down here; the employee entrance went through the basement and we had to climb up the stairs to get to the ground floor. What should I do? Hide in the basement? Go to the tiny room I was given? Where should I spend my final hours before 9pm? 


I heard someone come down the stairs. My heart stopped. Was it Aunt Reiko? 


"Yamata-kun? Is that you?" 


It was a girl's voice. Far younger than Aunt Reiko's. And far kinder. 


Miyazono Haruka came down the stairs. She wore plain dark blue jeans, a dark green T-Shirt and she had her shoulder length hair tied up in a ponytail. She was a year younger than me, but she was here on voluntary basis. When I first met her two weeks ago, she said that she worked here part-time during the winter holidays. Why? I had no idea why anyone would want to do this work when they could be relaxing.


In short, she was the ideal worker and Aunt Reiko loved her. Young, hard working, and not eligible for benefits because she was underage and part time. Maybe Aunt Reiko could even file her wages as a tax deductible. 


"I'm back," I said. 


Miyazono emerged from the darkness. "We've just finished serving dinner. Where have you been?" 


Her voice betrayed no emotion. 


I said, "Just took a walk outside. Got lost and then found my way back." 


Miyazono shook her head. "Aunt Reiko’s pissed, you know? Well, I mean, she is pissed at you. She's going to tear your head off." 


Gee, thanks for giving me the heads up. "Yeah, I know." 


"Go to your room before she sees you. I'll try calm her down. I'll tell her that you got lost." 


Miyazono, you are such a good person. I wanted to hug her and thank her, but I doubted that this excuse was going to work. In fact, I think it would just make Aunt Reiko even angrier. This village was so small that you'd have to be a genuine moron to get lost in it. And Aunt Reiko knew that I wasn't that dumb. After all, it takes quite a bit of intelligence to consistently and purposefully score Bs across the board. 


I looked at the clock. It was 7:45pm. 


Maybe I should spend my last 1 hour and 15 minutes on God's blue earth watching a bit of TV. Or maybe I should listen to my favorite playlist again. 

 

I followed Miyazono upstairs.

 

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