Day 14: The Past with Mary-san
“One, two, three, four… ‘You open a marriage scam business but are instantly caught. Pay an $100,000 fine’… I’m on the steady path to bankruptcy!”
‘Gnnn… I’ll make a recovery. Spin the roulette!’
The spinning sound of the cheap spinner slows to indicate a number.
“You got a six. Which means… ‘Your child is born. Receive congratulatory gifts’. Serves you right!”
‘Again!? Just how many children am I supposed to pop out in this game!?’
“That makes five. Well now, I’m happy you seem to have forged a blessed household.”
‘Twas Mary’s vexed voice.
For the past two days, we’ve been playing the Game of Life. Though it’s just a knockoff I got at a drugstore in the area. To my surprise, it was surprisingly well made, it came with a proper spinner attached, and the map was on the longer side, providing a relatively long span of enjoyment.
‘Akira, the moment we changed the rules, you suddenly became way too overpowered…’
“I really wonder why. Perhaps my instincts are just geared towards self-destruction.”
‘That just makes you a failure of a human being.’
On Mary’s sulky voice, tsk, tsk, tsk, I wag my finger left and right.
Naïve, too naïve, Mary.
“Happiness isn’t all there is to life. Life’s all about reflecting on it all- fortune and misfortune- as the days pass you by.”
‘No, on this very game board, your life has far surpassed what could be called a disaster.’
I have to admit, this game my house fell into debt the moment I was born, and even as I shouldered my parent’s debt while making my way to university, my house was burned to the ground. My property and fortune all lost, I tried playing the stock market, only for a world-wide recession to cause the prices to fluctuate violently, forcing me to put up all I had as collateral. In a last-ditch effort, I tried dyeing my hands in a marriage scam business, but I was caught in no time… it’s misfortune on a level where something has to be up.
However, that is precisely why I am strong. The reason being, this isn’t your ordinary game of life.
“You’re stronger the more times tragedy strikes, at least in ’The Game of Failing Life’…!”
‘Is that really something to brag about…?’
The Game of Failing Life.
The rules are simple. Lower your total assets as much as possible, that’s all there is to it.
But for some reason, the moment we switched over to it from standard rules, I gained a strength matched by none. In normal rules, I always lost to Mary, but this special clause named me the absolute victor. I was consistently put on the fast track to a life of complete failure.
… Could it be I’m possessed by a god of misfortune or something?
I tried asking, but Mary gave a dubious response.
‘Er, well, I can’t really say. I’ll admit you have a nature most worthy of a god of misfortune’s possession, but…’
‘Yes. It’s said that good luck comes to those that smile, but on the other side of that, gods of misfortune and other such existences classified as calamities often choose dark and sullen people.’
“Am I that dark…”
What natural verbal abuse.
When I was about to crumble, Mary frantically came in to follow through.
‘Ah, that’s not what I meant! I’m not talking about you personally! … Um, there are some people who are just born with a disposition that attracts irregularities and evil spirits more easily. Akira, you’re pretty much something like that.’
Pretty much something like what?
“No, I mean, I’ve never seen a ghost in my life, you know?”
‘You drew me.’
“Ah, I see.”
Come to think of it, that’s right. I can’t help but get to thinking of Mary as just a normal girl rather than an irregularity. Perhaps it’s because we play together every day… though even I say that, we’ve only got around half a month of this time left.
There, I ask what suddenly came to mind.
“… Huh, wait a second. Then could it be the reason I don’t have any friends is–”
‘Ah, that’s just a problem with you personally.’
“That was fast!”
This accursed body that draws evil ends up rejecting the presence of others… with that super-cool setting, I’d meet a hot demon hunting sorceress and turn her hostile on a misunderstanding, only for the intervention of a third party causing us to work towards a common goal; a secret fight to protect her, the girl who tried to leave the organization after learning too much… a bond that deepens in the face of danger, the last boss gives a grand laugh… I had even imagined about seventy percent of the way up to the moving final arc.
I sulk as I ask Mary.
“And so? Why can’t you say if I have a god of misfortune possessing me?”
‘Because gods of misfortune aren’t urban legends, they exist in the religious department. Even if I have clairvoyance. I won’t be able to sense their presence.’
“You urban legends are like that. You’ve got way too many rigid categories, and it all sounds like an inflexible bureaucracy…”
‘Unlike the fine gentlemen of the religion and folklore departments, we urban legends are still newcomers to the industry. We can’t make it in the big leagues.’
She makes it sound like there’s some discord between the departments.
It’s a hard world we live in. I thought over it as I spin the roulette and reach the goal.
“There we go… all my possessions total up to a promissory note of $1,350,000.”
‘You shirked paying off a single dime…’
There’s no doubt I left the world, leaving only an outrageous debt behind.
I spin the spinner for Mary, gazing on as her funds continue to snowball in size.
At this rate, Mary’s going to reach the goal as a multi-millionair.
Mary was sulking.
I surmise that previous penalty was giving her cold feet. That really was a nice one, if I do say so myself. A penalty where you have to do nothing but praise the victor for five minutes.
It seems Mary’s ridiculously good at acting, and despite the slight embarrassment mixed in, she continued throwing the good points I was unaware of at me, so I was sure she had to like me or something, but once five minutes were up… ‘L-lie. That was all a lie, I don’t know a single good thing about you… I-I’m serious, you know? It’s not like I just spoke out what was really on my mind,’ She insisted, so it looks like that’s not happening!
… Well, it’s a sorrowful tale, to have it all be a lie, but that aside, it’s quite a wonderful, hard-to-obtain experience to have everything you do affirmed. I hope she pulls out another one like that next time.
I lightly brush my bangs aside as I speak.
“Give it up. Your loss is already set in stone.”
‘Muh, gngn…! … Sure enough, you have a point.’
“Oy, oy, don’t be so down. The times you fall are the times you should laugh the loudest.”
‘You’re right. You’re right, but–’
“Good grief, you hate having to take a penalty that badly?”
‘I don’t want to, or how should I put it, if I have to do something like that again, my feelings will lea… N-no! That’s right! I am obstinately against the concept of penalties! These tyrannical agreements that ignore the free will of those subjected to them should be abolished!’
“Then how do you think I feel when I’ve carried them all out to this day..?”
I sense what feels like her averting her eyes from the phone.
Hah, I let out a sigh.
… Well, I’m no demon. I admit I do have an urge to get Mary to wait on me and say embarrassing things through a penalty. A large urge. An exceedingly large urge. But despite all of that, you know, it’s precisely by letting her off with a tolerant heart, that I can show her the broadmindedness of an adult, is it not?
That being the case, in order to show Mary my tolerance, I made a certain proposal.
“Mary, just this once, I don’t mind exempting you from a penalty.”
“But under one condition.”
‘… I wonder what I’m feeling, I can’t imagine it being anything decent.’
“Oy, oy, Mary, think back. Was there ever a time where I ever said anything unreasonable or lied to you?”
‘So many times I can’t even begin to list th…’
“No, of course not. You can’t remember a single time, right? Thinking back on it now, just how much of a wholesome, gentle young man, overflowing with consideration and sociability am I… I have to say I fear myself.”
‘You liar! We have a liar here!’
Ignoring Mary’s accusations, I present my proposal.
“Could you take a picture of yourself and send it to me?”
‘… A picture, is it? … Y-you mean a pervy one?’
“Wrong! What do you take me for?”
Hmmm, this tone is, you know. The tone of someone who simply, honestly believes I’m a pervert. It looks like I need to sit down and have a good, long talk with Mary one of these days.
“… No, um, I just thought to commemorate the moment.”
But, well, if you insist… wait, no, that’s wrong. I don’t have any particular ulterior motives this time, but when I gave out a normal reason, Mary let out a slight voice of surprise.
“So, you know. However things go, you’re eventually going to reach my place and become Mary-san, aren’t you? After that, we won’t be able to take it easy and play over the phone anymore, and it’ll be lonely… so to remember this summer, I wanted some more picture of you.”
“D-don’t misunderstand me! I just wanted some pictures of a beautiful girl, nothing more!”
‘Akira. Just now, you sounded seriously happy. Please don’t say anything that’ll make me seriously consider, ‘This person might actually just be like that’.’
“Ah, got it.”
‘Please wait just a moment.’
The photo sent after a little bit of time wasn’t the usual selfie.
A young girl projected against an expanse of sunset sky, her whole body dyed in crimson.
A body so slender it might snap, her small silhouette capped off by a straw hat.
With the backlighting, I couldn’t see her face itself. But I could tell the girl was smiling.
I mean, it was so gentle and quiet, a picture that made me feel at ease just looking at it. She had to be smiling.
‘… How was it?’
‘I-is that so…’
When I inputted my frank impression into the phone call that came, Mary bashfully shrank her voice.
… I mean, nice things are nice. I can’t help but praise them.
“Did you have someone take it for you?”
‘Yes, I asked an old man who was walking around the area… truthfully, it’s not good for an urban legend to interact with anyone who isn’t the target.’
But even so, I wanted to send a proper photo, said Mary.
“… I’ll treasure it. Once you get over here, let’s take one together.”
‘Yes, of course. I guarantee it’ll become a most bizarre ghost photo.’
“She guaranteed something crazy…”
So it’s definitely coming out as a ghost photo…
Well, if you say that, then this one’s practically a ghost photo already.
For a little while, silence passes as I gaze at the photograph.
It wasn’t as if it was awkward, and it wasn’t as if I had nothing to say, even if we didn’t talk this was plenty. So no one spoke… How should I put it, over the course of this summer, Mary had picked up some stoicism and grown a little loose in a good sense, but my excessive looseness had healed a bit, and perhaps I’ve gotten a little better at reading that thing called the mood.
As I gazed at the photo, and thought over such things, I noticed a certain something.
“Mary, Can I ask you something?”
‘Ah, yes. What is it?’
“It’s about your clothes… why are you wearing a one piece?”
‘Is it strange?’
“No, it suits you extremely well.”
Those garments that gave off a vibe more summery than any other, they fit a delicate silky-black haired young girl exceedingly well. There was no doubt in my mind they suited her. However.
“Mary-san was based off of an old western doll, right? Then shouldn’t it be a fancy dress?”
‘You’re fixating on something strange. I mean, a dress would be way too hot, would it not?’
No, yeah. That’s definitely true. Come to think of it, she’s exactly right.
But why does that explanation feel so unsatisfying…
Their values are human-like in the strangest places, these urban legends. Yeah, if they’re made from human imagination, then perhaps you could simply call it obvious.
For argument’s sake, she added on what sounded like an explanation.
‘Of course, the irregularity called Mary-san has her characteristics. But originally, until the very end, Mary-san isn’t supposed to be seen by her target, so no matter what I look like, it wouldn’t really damage Mary-san’s image.’
“Even in camo?”
‘Yes, even in camo.’
“Even Japanese clothes?”
‘Of course, even Japanese Clothes.’
“Even a maid uniform?”
‘I presume even a maid uniform.’
“Even a swimsuit?”
‘I’m sure even a swimsuit.’
“Then come over to my place in a swimsuit.”
‘Very well, then a swimsuit… is not happening!? Why are you leading me as if it’s the natural flow into walking around in a bathing suit in public?’
‘Why do you look so purely perplexed!? So you were unaware, it was a desire that welled up from your subconscious!? Oh my, how scary, this person is scary!’
No, no, I’m not thinking anything particularly indecent. In order to prove that, I call over to Mary in a tone of sincerity.
“No, of course I’m joking.”
‘That didn’t sound like a joke…’
“It really was just a joke. It’s not like I ever wanted you to come to my place wearing an old-style school swimsuit.”
‘You narrowed it down!? … I’ll say it just in case, but I’m not going to wear one. I’m really not.’
“The pairing of a straw hat and school swimsuit is precious…”
‘You definitely intend to dress me up, don’t you!’
… Whoops, it looks like my heart’s voice leaked out just a bit.
In order to lower her guard, I change the topic.
“… By the way, Mary, getting back on subject, why are you wearing a one piece?”
‘…? What do you mean?’
“No, as I was saying. If Mary-san can act out her legend no matter what she wears, then looking at it the other way, is there any reason you’re wearing a one piece specifically?”
‘Ah, so that’s what you meant.’
Mary plainly said the reason.
‘It was my previous target’s tastes.’
I collapse onto the floor.
From the phone, I hear an, ‘Akira? Akira!?’ but I can’t bring myself to stand.
… What is this feeling, it’s like you’re playing with a friend you thought you got along with when suddenly they start reminiscing about some guy you don’t know and say, ‘He’s my best friend,’ that sort of sensation. No wait, I don’t have any friends, and I never have.
Then this is quite possibly the sensation you get when you find out your first love- that one girl you looked up to with racing heart and a hint of admiration- already got together with a hot boyfriend ages ago. No wait, forget a first love, I’ve never fallen in love with anyone, so I don’t have such experience.
Perhaps, if you want me to make it a little easier to understand, this is definitely that sensation when your little sister brings home a boyfriend… ah, crap, I’m going to die…
‘Akira!? Get a grip on yourself!’
“… Y-yeah, I’m fine. I’ll pray for your happiness…”
Farewell, this life -forever me.
I don’t really get it, but that’s how it feels.
As I found myself withering up, I heard some sort of panicked voice from the phone.
‘… W-w-what am I supposed to…!? Why did Akira collapse when I started speaking about uncle…!?’
I feebly stand and ask Mary.
“Who’s this uncle fellow?”
‘Whah, you were listening!? … He was my previous target. Around that time, I didn’t have clairvoyance yet, and I didn’t know his name, so even now, I’ve gotten to calling him uncle.’
“… And did uncle like one pieces?”
‘No, rather than like… he said they reminded him of his grandchild.’
Let’s try imagining it a bit.
Summer. White one piece. Straw hat. A refreshingly polite tone.
I hit my hands together in enlightenment.
… A granddaughter. She’s a granddaughter who came to the countryside to play over summer break.
To be more precise, a young girl who you’d want to be your granddaughter in such a situation.
‘H-huh? Akira recovered? More than that, why is he nodding with a triumphant look on his face?’
“Mary, your previous target had good tastes… I’m sure we could drink some nice ale together.”
Like this, we humans- even if we never see each other directly- through the bond between one person to the next, we’re lifeforms capable of deepening our mutual understanding. Humans are wonderful.
‘I don’t really get it, but anyways, that’s the reason. That’s why I’m wearing a one piece.’
“I see… which means. If I picture it hard enough, would I be able to change your outfit?”
Let’s try imagining.
A composed air, sleeves on the longer side, an outfit with a collar, well-to-do Mary. A fan in one hand, wearing a yukata as we watch the fireworks, childhood friend Mary. Her scarf a little loose, having overcome the summer heat, sailor uniform Mary. A simply shirt and skirt, bespectacled honor student Mary. [Bleep] and [bleep], a [bleeping] Mary.
‘Cut it out. I’m sensing a real impending danger, so please stop… well, it’s likely going to be impossible.’
Is it that? Am I lacking in spiritual power?
When I said that, Mary gave a slightly embarrassed response.
‘At this point, the circumstances were different. Back then, I wasn’t even the trainee of the current Mary-san.’
“… So you were the trainee of the trainee? This is sounding like a Matryoshka.”
‘Umm, I guess you could call it that, but it’s a little different… would you give me a bit of your time? I want to tell you a story.’
“That’s just what I wanted.”
My interest welled up at what Mary had done up to now.
On my acknowledgment, she quietly began to speak.
‘… Um, to get the premise straight, in the first place, it’s not as if I was born into this world as a Mary-san trainee.’
“That’s why you were the trainee of the trainee, right?”
When I ask, I sense a head shaking on the other side of the phone.
‘No, that’s not what I meant… in the first place, Akira-san, have you ever heard of any Mary-san trainee irregularities besides me before?’
“I mean… of course not. Mary-san is Mary-san. To start with, I’ve never heard of an irregularity in training… wait a second, isn’t that strange?”
I mean, going off of Mary’s explanation, aren’t irregularities something born from human imagination? As long as some Mary-san trainee irregularity isn’t known to humankind, there’s no way such an irregularity should exist.
‘Yes, that’s right. Originally, the irregularity called Mary-san trainee didn’t exist.’
“Then what are you? A normal girl just self-proclaiming the title?”
Hmm. I had always thought of her as an irregularity, but it does seem she was nothing of the sort; just a normal human playing at the idea of being a Mary-san in training, who continues challenging a supernatural hurdle. She who forges her own path.
Receiving a deep impression, I nodded to myself, but across the phone, I could hear a frantic voice from Mary.
‘Please don’t settle at any strange conclusions! We’re still at the opening of the story! … A-ahem. Um, you see, my existence was originally one made of a shapeless thought.’
“… A shapeless thought?”
‘Yes… let me ask you, has there ever been a time when you felt an immense, irrational fear? You don’t know why or how, but your mood suddenly takes a bad turn, and you’re assailed by an immense anxiety?’
“… Well, I won’t say I haven’t.”
While my sister says I’m terribly optimistic, even so there are times when my mood takes a nosedive. I mean, that’s just what to expect from humans. Everyone knows that certainties don’t exist, everyone understands absolutes are impossible.
Anxiety and fear don’t just accompany life, they undoubtedly live next door.
When I said something along those lines, it seems Mary nodded.
‘Yes, a majority of people would agree… and I was born from that, that nameless urban legend… if I had to name it, perhaps ‘Vague Fear’? I was originally a portion of it.’
‘… I don’t really see how this is connecting to Mary-san.’
Just how does that convert into Mary-san?
As I thought about it and groaned, Mary spoke a little taken aback.
‘… Um, if I may?’
“What is it?”
‘No, um, you’re a kind person, and I knew that you wouldn’t pull back in the slightest if you learned I was originally an existence like that. However, when you’re reactionless to such an extent, my position after I mustered my courage to speak is…’
“What a pain!”
This isn’t some shojo manga, like I care about those subtle niceties.
When I said that, Mary sounded a little dissatisfied, but somewhat happy.
‘I’d like it if you don’t write off an urban legend’s distress as a pain, good grief… getting back on track, the Vague Fear urban legend doesn’t have any definite form.’
“Well yeah, it’s Vague after all.”
‘Yes, precisely… and Vague fear is the sort of thing that exists, casting a veil over any and everything. For example the dark corners, for example the dead of the night, for example in a mirror, and for example…’
“… In a phone line, is it?”
… I see, I’m starting to see it.
“So to summarize you were doing this Vague Fear schtick in a phone line. There, the active Mary-san just happened to pass by, and she was short on hands, so she decided to scout you…”
That was fast.
‘Urban legends are those made by human hands. That would induce an unfeasible state of affairs where an urban legend set up another urban legend.’
“… Then what is it?”
On my sulky words, Mary answers quietly.
‘One day, to me… no, to my origin, that is. A phone call came in.’
“… Why did you have a phone number?”
‘It wasn’t an ordinary phone number. The owner had already left the world, it was a number that had been discontinued… meaning even if you called, the very notion of anyone answering was impossible. In short, that phone number itself was furnished with the proper disposition to become the base of an urban legend… at that time, I turned to the caller and said something as the Vague Fear. I can’t remember what it is I said. A Vague Fear barely has any sense of self… by all rights, that’s where it should have ended. But the person on the other end said this. ‘Is this Mary-san?’ he asked.’
“Ah… you mean.”
This time I think I’m seeing it.
‘Yes… at that moment, I attained self as, ‘An existence that can be mistaken as Mary-san’. I separated from the Vague Fear, and obtained an essence as a single seed of an urban legend.’
“That’s why you’re a Mary-san in training?”
‘That’s right. When you really get down to it, I wasn’t Mary-san, I was only ‘Less than Mary-san’, so it’s an appropriate term, don’t you think? … Of course, the one who gave me that title was also the caller.’
“And that was uncle?”
When I said that, Mary’s voice changed to one of yearning.
‘… Yes, he was a gentle soul. It seems right after he called, he realized he had phoned the number of his son who passed in a traffic incident. Surprised when I picked up, he reflexively spoke out the name of an urban legend he knew.’
“That was a fine play.”
‘I’m thankful to him. Because of that, I was able to obtain sentience, and I became able to talk to you like this. But at the time, it was terrible. I wasn’t even a Mary-san in training and I didn’t have clairvoyance. It was a real trial slowly drawing out his location bit by bit in our daily phone calls.’
When I asked, Mary clammed up for a bit before going on.
‘… The truth is, uncle was hospitalized. I didn’t ask the specifics, but he said he had some disease of the blood and he was plagued by a slight degree of dementia. Perhaps that played a part in why he called the number of his departed son.’
“… I see.”
‘Yes… he was in a hospital, so the time he could spend on the phone was limited, and it was impossible to get too many things out of him at once. So I would spend day after day, hour after hour looking for uncle.’
“… How was it?”
‘It was fun. Uncle told me I was like a granddaughter and gave me this form. I was still so vague and hazy, let along a shape, I was an existence that didn’t even have a definite name, so perhaps that’s why I changed so much on a single thought.’
And that’s the reason for the one piece.
… And the fact she’s still wearing it means…
“… I’m no good at beating around the bush, so I’ll ask straight out.”
“How is that uncle of yours doing?”
‘He passed… on a bright moonlit night. When I reached his place and snuck into the hospital room, perhaps he noticed my presence. Uncle’s eyes lightly opened… with a surprised smile, he said this to me. ‘Thank you for coming’ he said.’
‘It was a quiet time. I stood there not knowing what I should do, and after that, uncle closed his eyes without a word. By the next morning, he had already gone cold… I slipped out of the hospital before anyone could notice and found someplace to cry. I never knew a human dying was something so sad.’
Mary spoke in a voice calm, as if to let me feel out her heart.
‘But it wasn’t just sad. At the moment, I definitely thought, ‘If there’s someone out there who’ll smile because of my visit, then I want to try being Mary-san’… If I told anyone, I’m sure they’d laugh at me. What is an irregularity saying? But I think it’s alright for one such irregularity to exist. Not because they were born as one, an existence that became an irregularity because she wanted to.’
‘After that, I went to the Urban Legend Association and had them formally recognize me as a Mary-san in training… Uncle was on the bed the whole time and I was unable to stand behind him; since I could only half-establish myself as Mary, I only got enough points for clairvoyance. So I called your number and… huh, Akira?’
Snnfff, my nose makes a sound.
“… What is it?”
‘Um, are you cry…?’
“… I ain’t crying. I’m totally not crying at all. This room is too cold, it’s got my nose running.”
‘… But those tears are…’
“It’s sweat. This place is too hot I’ve started to sweat.”
‘You’re contradicting yourself, you know?’
A confused Mary.
… Of course, I’m not crying at all, but it was a tale that really made me feel something. To summarize, unlike me, Mary’s the sort that lives with a resolute goal in mind.
For someone without any particular goal, someone like me who’s just going to university because he can do a bit of studying, she’s someone I can honestly respect.
That’s why I’ll say it.
“… Now then, Mary. It’s time for your penalty.”
‘Heh!? I already sent you a photo, didn’t I!?’
“Good grief… didn’t they teach you in school not to take someone’s words at face value?”
‘Why!? Why has it come to this!?’
… To summarize, because this girl could so easily pull off what I could never do, perhaps I was just a little irritated.