‘Koniro’

“Professor?” came a trembling voice from under one of the benches. “I’m scared.”

“Of course you are,” the professor boomed from where he stood squarely on the platform in front of the chalk board. “You are young. You will learn.”

Just like every other day, Professor Takahashi wore his uninspired teaching uniform: a black robe over grey trousers made of fine wool, a pale cotton shirt and a thin knitted navy tie from his university days. His hair, once proudly black, was now a distinguished white that had become wiry with age. He had lost count of the drills, the false alarms and the melodrama this classroom had seen over the years.

On the seismometer, the needles barely twitched. The tick of the second hand circling on the clock was unbearable.

“I wish it would just hurry up,” Itsuki whispered to Haruto. They exchanged an eye roll. Crouched in the furthest corner, tiny Reo was sobbing, “We’re all going to die, we’re going to die, I know it,” over and over again.

And then it came. The ceiling was the first thing to go, breaking like cookie crumbs and raining down over the desks. Beneath their knees, the floor trembled. It chattered their teeth. Haruto let out a giggle, even though he knew it wasn’t funny.

Professor Takahashi remained stoically at his desk. It had never been this bad before, but he was determined not to alarm the pupils. He brushed a fragment of black polystyrene from his shoulder.

“Almost over,” he called with convincing certainty. The seismometer continued to scratch out its pointy path on the reel of paper; one that told a different story entirely. Water began to dribble out of the tap. Reo was crying so hard, the breaths caught in his throat.

Outside on the playing field, Principal Suzuki was finishing the roll call. He had ticked off everyone from the cafeteria, the playground and the office. He began to read out the list of classrooms: Ki-iro, Ni-iro, Shiro. Momairo and Daidairo. Waves of hands went up as he announced each one. All present and correct. There was only one room missing. Koniro.