Hideo Furukawa

Illustration by Leif Engström

This is a fiction, and this is not a fiction.

Let's make a pyramid of soil and sand appear. Even better, let's make the pyramid appear within the premises of a school, in a corner of the sports grounds. Shape-wise, this pyramid is what we'd call trapezoidal. But its base is less than ten meters long, and it's not even three meters high. In short, it's too small for a pyramid (even a trapezoidal one).

Or is it? If we posit a pyramid appearing on the premises of a primary school, isn't it big enough? In fact, this structure occupies the grounds of an unknown primary school in a certain provincial city of present-day Japan.

What sentiment will the children have towards this pyramid?

Perhaps they would want to revere it? As a temple, basically. Will they detect a smell like that of the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia, the precursors of this trapezoidal pyramid...

In terms of sanctity, yes. Because it is a structure impenetrable to the masses: you shall not violate. But in any case, none of the children revere it. Ropes coloured in cautionary black and yellow are set up around the pyramid, so in the first place, no one even tries to approach it. Then there are the teacher's verbal warnings—'you shall not violate,' of course.

In this respect, it resembles the pyramids of ancient Mesopotamia, but how does it compare to the pyramids of ancient Egypt?

There is no smell of the grave to this pyramid. There isn't the slightest whiff of 'royal tomb' about this pyramid in this unknown primary school, in a certain provincial city of Japan. In this respect, we can state that there is no resemblance at all. We can state this for now.

But when a month passed, when two months went by after the appearance of the pyramid, something happened.

When everything that has been taken as 'present' in our narrative up till now ended irrevocably—became the 'past,' in other words.

Signs of entry, many of them, were discovered on the pyramid. The whole thing was quite bizarre. First of all, there was no sign that anyone had climbed up the pyramid's sides. And despite the fact that no tracks remained on the slopes, countless footprints had risen up onto the flat summit. What's more, all of them were small. There were tracks, of course, up to twenty-five centimetres in size, but even so, they all spoke of the soles of children's shoes, most of them sneakers, rather than shoes for adults.

And while the footprints were numerous, so too were the number of individuals that could be deduced from them.

They spoke of a hundred, two hundred who had gathered on the pyramid's flat summit and walked all over it.

In one night, at that. That was the second bit of bizarreness. The school's surveillance cameras had no record of intruders in such numbers. Actually, there was no trace of anyone entering the premises illegally. The videotape proves as much. Digital data from other security equipment confirms the story.

But the truth is, the footprints were there. Extremely tangible footprints. What do we make of this? We have no choice but to judge: they were really there. The pyramid surrounded by bicoloured ropes that you shall not violate, had been violated. In a single night, by a hundred, two hundred. By children, at that...

Such things must not happen, fumed the school officials. We must not let it happen again, they fumed hysterically. Likewise, the town fumed, and fretted. In higher places, the municipal office, the town council, and sundry parties fretted unanimously. For this reason, work went ahead in a heartbeat. The destruction of the pyramid began on an accelerated schedule.

Bury it in the dirt.

Deep in the grounds of that very school.

That which was shaped from earth returns to earth. If you wanted to, you could say that's all there was to it. But why was this soil that gave birth to the pyramid piled up as 'soil' on school premises in the first place? This soil used to be the topsoil of the school grounds. A shallow layer had been scraped off. Why? In order to dispose of it, because the whole schoolyard was contaminated by radioactive matter. But highly radioactive 'soil' could not be dealt with as ordinary waste. No one anywhere would accept it. Neither within the village nor without, not outside the city. Certainly not outside the country. Because it had nowhere to go, it remained in the schoolyard and consequently, turned into this impenetrable pyramid.

And if a place for it outside the school could not be found, it would have to be buried.

Once buried, no one could ever touch it again.

In this way work went ahead, and the pyramid was interred. In this sense, the pyramid came to smell of the grave. It was now the equal of the pyramids of ancient Egypt. In fact, a monument proving this was also built. This monument is a post. A mechanical pillar about two metres tall with a solar panel attached, in other words, a monument that echoes belief in the sun god Ra. The beliefs of ancient Egypt.

Solar power enables the measurement of radioactivity in the area, twenty-four hours, three hundred and sixty-five days. This is a monitoring post.

This is not a fiction, and this is also a fiction. Whatever this is, because it has been written down, a writer exists. That writer was a student of the school (that is to say, this school) that now owns the forsaken monitoring post. Even now, that writer takes a stroll on the grounds of that former school, just once or twice a year. And feels—hey, there are children running around underground.

Cheering, walking, sprinting around.

No, in truth, there are no children. Only footprints.

translated from the Japanese by Sim Yee Chiang