While my eyes were closed, my brain cells made their pilgrimage of thought more proactively than usual. Within all of that, it occurred to me.
There are those who say humans die all too easily. There are those who lament how obstinately they hold onto life like cockroaches. No matter which view I took in a favorable light, I couldn’t help but believe death was the more noble, righteous, desirable option presented.
Yet, after a filthy life ridden with mistakes, I, the man who didn’t know when to let things go, opened my eyes to yet another day.
My deceased parents were before my eyes, side by side.
… No, I’m not lying here.
“Been a while…”
I hesitated to choose between that and ‘good morning’. Like karate practitioners, my parents messily bent to and fro in their bow. It was at that point that my eyes and my brain finally connected, reaching an understanding.
The newspaper clipping was removed from my line of sight. In its place was Dr. Koubi, a white ceiling as her background. She was wearing silver-rimmed glasses today. The doctor and a newspaper, what an unfitting pairing.
“That was in terrible taste.”
“A joke like that’s not bad enough for an idiot who tried to commit suicide.”
Her cold tone was peppered with anger. I had never dealt with this attitude from her before, and I hesitated on how I should deal with it. Whatever the case, it would be rude to speak with myself lying down, so I tried raising myself.
I must have been lying still a while, my body was stiff, my back somewhat painful, but my torso lifted without any issue. There was no need to look around, the scent of disinfectant told me this was a hospital. The scent that stirred up my nasal cavities wasn’t particularly unpleasant. I had experienced a far more offensive stench the first time I’d been in a hospital’s care.
My eyes burned at the midday sun streaming in through the window as I surveyed my body a short while. I spied neither a blood transfusion nor any bombastically wrapped bandages. No part was terribly hurting, my wrists continued on to fully-formed hands, my toes were all there. If anything, my head felt a little short of blood, but the rest felt no different from rising out of bed normally. Perhaps I had undergone some modification surgery, I considered as I sought an explanation from the doctor. Come to think of it, why was she even here? It was one mystery after another.
“… I’m not dead… am I?”
“Then are you trying to say I’m dead too?”
Her words were wrapped in thorns. Not at all comforting to the ear, yet I couldn’t think of any apt countermeasures so I opted to treat her as I usually would.
“Hey, it’s my world of death here, there’s no need for the people around me to be dead… though I guess I’m not dead yet.”
So I failed to die again.
“Did I really dream up the fall?”
“You undoubtedly did fall not into dream land, but in reality. You jumped down from the roof of the department store, spun in the air until you were falling horizontally, crashed straight through the rain awning, showed the whites of your eyes, foamed at the mouth and flopped down unconscious. You’re in luck the awning ran diagonal, you got out without any physical injuries.”
“… Well I’ll be damned.”
I was beginning to feel sorry I was taking up a hospital bed.
“How are you feeling?”
She rudely scratched her head, asking only as a social courtesy. Once I told her I was in perfect health, if not terribly ashamed, the doctor nodded and then grabbed me up by the collar.
“What were you thinking?”
It didn’t seem like the mood to tell her, ‘ninety percent of my mind is comprised of pointless nonsense’. I searched out words that would be appropriate for the moment.
“Err, how should I put it.”
“Can I hit you?”
Her bloodshot eyes gazed at me. I shook my head to the side.
“The hell’s up with that.”
“Personally speaking, I find it perfectly reasonable that I be hit, but Mayu has already hit me and I don’t want my lip being cut up any further.”
My cheek was smacked while I was still droning on. A slap this time.
It hurt like crazy.
She dragged my collar—still firmly clasped—closer and began violently shaking it until my head was bobbing like a doll’s. And the Doctor cried.
Why? I was the one whose cheek was going numb here. Had I sprouted sharp barbs? A terribly sticky sweat festered about me. How unpleasant, how baffling. She cried but didn’t avert her face. Didn’t wipe her tears. Was she waiting? Was I supposed to ask? The silence was suffering.
“You’re crying… you know?”
That line presumably lacking in humanity was the most I could muster. I braced myself for the slap to make a round trip, but the doctor’s reaction betrayed my expectations. Her features curled close to self-derision, the pressure on my neck loosening.
“Am I crying?”
She ignored my abrupt lie. Her fingers traced the lines of her cheek. She extracted the liquid that symbolized her emotion and licked it, as if to ascertain its authenticity.
She swallowed it down. She was far from smiling.
“Looks like I really am a failure.”
The hand around my collar thrust me right back from where I came. Unable to recover in midair, I touched down at a crude angle and caused the bed to creak out. Even if I fixed my position at that point, that would hardly help me follow these developments, so I tried waiting to see if someone would drag me up again. My forehead was heavy. The blood must have been gathering to it. My cheek itched.
I waited for the doctor’s words to continue. What sort of abuse would come next? This time I would brace my heart to avoid any confusion. The great outdoors delivered an owl-like bird call free of charge, removing any frayed ends from the surface of my consciousness. I was ready.
I grew impatient. Three hundred, six hundred, I continued measuring out the seconds. I scratched my cheek, I touched my forehead, I suspected the doctor had already left the room, but it was too much of a pain to lift up my body and put my eyes to work confirming that fact.
I eventually grew tired of the systematic bird songs and my staring contest with the ceiling. Reluctant as I was, I started the conversation from my side.
“How long was I asleep?”
“Two whole days. There was nothing wrong with your body, so your doctor said it had to be a problem of the heart.”
She immediately replied. Perhaps she’d been waiting for my words.
“Were there any murders when I was out?”
“You know I’m not the right person to ask about recent events.”
“What about the repair cost for the awning?”
“Misono paid. She’s quite the well-to-do lass after all.”
“And what’s Mayu doing now?”
There was a bit of a time lag before she answered what I really wanted to know.
“Probably sleeping.” Her indifferent reply wasn’t too far off from my estimate.
“She’s acting perfectly normal, isn’t she.”
I exercised my eyes to their very limit to confirm the Doctor’s heavy nod. As I thought, was all that occurred to me.
“A large majority of her emotions have rotted away. It’s the envy she’s got left that retains her humanity at the bare minimum level.”
My jump wouldn’t be nearly enough to bring back her sense of guilt. Even if I died.
“And you’re sure she won’t be livid with you?”
“You can’t bargain for what isn’t there.”
If any sorrow remained in Mayu, she’d have committed suicide ages ago. So this was for the best. The very best of the worst.
“She’s already forgotten how to be angry… her heart’s dead, after all.”
Perhaps bringing up her heart with a psychiatrist was a foolish move.
“It’s not dead. Just sleeping.”
She immediately refuted, as was expected of her. That had always been this doctor’s assertion.
‘The heart only dies at a man’s last breath. No matter how warped it may become, we humans are only able to live by virtue of the heart. That’s the very thing that defines us as living beings, or at least that’s what I want to believe.’ I had heard that pet theory a number of times. I had refuted it just as many.
“If there’s no hopes of ever waking, it’s practically the same as dead.”
Whenever these conversations began, the doctor eyes would look oh-so fed up with me. They were far removed from the appraising eyes a presiding doctor should save for their patient, it was as if she personified the irritation of caring for a fool.
“Those are some big words, coming from someone who detested his humanity and voluntarily abandoned it. If there are no hopes, just make them yourself.”
She belligerently stood by a cliché. Both I, and she, were sick and tired of hearing this argument. Lately, we’d reached a tacit agreement to cut it off early, sparing the rest from pointless debate. This time was no exception. It was time to change the topic.
“Is it alright for you to be here, skipping work.”
“No, not in the middle of the day; of course not.”
Where was Japan headed with people like her welcomed as working members of society?
“So I quit.”
She had salvaged my body with words. My spinal cord commanded me to jump up and stare at the doctor. She was sitting crouched in her chair, her knees pressed up against her body as she closely observed her toes.
“Wait… umm, why?”
“Because it wasn’t for me.”
Her attitude was so loose I was convinced even a teen quitting part-time work for no reason at all could be more commendable. Her cheeks had dried off from her tears; they could now fulfill their original purpose to bend into a cynical smirk.
“Did you honestly believe after I got my job, that’s all I’d be doing for the rest of my life? That’s pretty prejudice of you.”
“No, I mean Doctor, if you’re no longer a doctor professionally, I can’t help but still see you as a doctor. Let’s just say it’s complicated.”
“I see, complicated, is it,” the doctor bitterly laughed. She stretched her legs out from the chair, pressing her heels against my bed to form a bridge. “When I was working, I was sure a day was eight hours, but now it feels like I’m properly living twenty-four. It’s the best, I’m glad I quit.”
“… Aren’t you mistaking ‘living’ with ‘wasting’?”
“Hmm, as a member of society, you’re trying to tell me that working is the true and proper form for any human to uphold. You pretend to be removed from the framework, but you’re a pretty good kid.”
The blooming woman more than a whole zodiac cycle older than me pouted her lips, expressing her frustration in a childish fashion. Her meaningless tantrum had her flapping legs strike her heels against the bed and at times she would catch my shins in it. The Mayuification has advanced, I felt the urge to cynically retort.
“I made sure to have someone take over from me, you don’t have to worry about your examinations.”
Her heels had settled on a peculiar rhythm as if she fancied herself the drummer in a band.
“Oh really,” I said back.
“You don’t sound too interested.”
“I doubt I’ll be going anymore… ah.”
I really should have lied. I was already starting to regret it. The malicious former doctor wouldn’t let that remark slip by. Her eyes flashed as she morphed into a mischievous child.
“Oh, what’s this I hear? You liked me thaaat much? Dear, dear, how delightful.”
“I didn’t go there for the diagnosis.”
“Hmm, I see. Looks like I actually accomplished my role as a doctor.”
She laughed a laugh appropriate of her age. Her legs flapped—happily this time—raising a thunderous tremor that dismantled the discipline of the hospital. You’re going to trouble my fellow patients, I was about to warn her only to notice a bit late that the place was deserted.
“Hold on, could this be one of those adolescent dramas? The ones where you find out you’re glad you became a doctor after you resign?”
Was she humiliating me, or being honest? When she said that, it paradoxically gave me the impression that she’d never once been glad she was a doctor during the time she’d served as one.
Was she well aware of that herself? Or perhaps,
My heart leaped in curiosity. I contained my rationality telling me not to pry.
“Why did you become a doctor?”
“Ah, you’re trying to change the subject.”
“You really want to know? It’s neither a drama nor a documentary.”
“I don’t hate historical recaps.”
Suspending the motion of her heels, the Doctor fixed her face on my face. “Hmm,” she left a moment of silence before she began.
“My place has been a house of doctors for generations now, so I chose my career pretty easily. The same theory on how the world expects the son of the hero who defeated the demon lord to be the next hero. A psychiatrist was the one thing we’d never had in the family before, so if I became one it would be like we conquered every field there is. It felt a little cool, you know. You’d naturally think so as a human being.”
Please don’t add more obstacles to me being considered a human being.
“Honestly, anything would have worked. I didn’t feel like entrusting my dream or my future to my occupation. In the first place, see, no matter how hard I work I won’t be leaving anything behind. Forget the world, forget Japan, I’m not going to leave any impact on this tiny little town. The only other thing I can do is leave descendants, and that’s not happening from me.”
You’re not going to marry? I nearly asked but contained myself just in time.
“Meaning there is no meaning to my life. Objectively speaking, of course. Life should be taken as an individual, sure some people think that way, but I don’t like that sort of thing. Rather than recognizing yourself, being recognized holds way more value. People only live within other people, after all… we’re getting off track but going under that immature train of thought, thinking it would be the same no matter what I became, I grew up to be Sakashita the Psychiatrist.”
Is there no happily ever after…? Perhaps not. It wasn’t over yet. The Doctor gazed at the palm of her right hand, the hand that had grabbed me, opening and closing her fingers on repeat.
“On top of that irresponsible ambition and motive, I went and did it. I went and raised a hand against a patient. I might be shameless, but I’m not isolated enough to continue on with that disgrace. So I quit.”
She brought it to a close. In no time, she had bent her body to cast the sum of her weight into the backrest as she looked up at the ceiling. She didn’t seem to be seeking any audience input, nor did I have anything I felt the need to say.
“Hey, what does it mean to treat someone?”
A voice of sparse emotion shook my eardrums.
“… Sorry, I’m getting a sense of déjà vu.”
“I’ve asked you before. You gave a wonderfully hackneyed forty-point answer.”
Huh? My heart’s diary mentioned a hundred somewhere.
She overlapped her hands behind her head, taking a large stretch before the next time she opened her mouth.
“Treating the body, and treating the heart. I don’t know which is more difficult, but it’s obvious which is the more ambiguous. In the first place, what does it even mean to treat a heart? To normalize human emotions? How do you define normal working order? Then is it fine as long as you can return a heart to its prior state? By what criteria? Once you’ve gone through the healing process, you can just leave them to figure it out on their own? When the one in question might not have any such intention?”
The ceiling was smacked with such questions in rapid succession. Surely those weren’t meant for me, or so I remained a spectator only for her heel to drop down on my ankle. What’s more, she continued without affording any time for my opinion.
“There are decent folks among my in-patients. A large majority of them are normal. There are a few who lack motivation, and a few seeking an abnormal level of regulation, but if I’ll have my say, they’re all people you could find anywhere in society. Despite that, I can understand why society sees them as strange. There are people who were alienated, and detested that so much they hospitalized themselves… within all of that, it’s only around ten percent of them, the ones who are completely on a different wavelength, whose minds are set with a delusional world as its base. For example Misono’s Maa-chan world.”
She raised the name specifically to draw my interested. I fell for the bait and looked at the doctor, but she was quite the busy lady with her heated ceiling discussion and our eyes didn’t meet.
“The background of any happiness that girl feels is the color of misfortune. No matter how much misfortune is around you, it’s fortune as long as you keep the focal point on happiness. No matter how brimming with happiness she seems, the background it paints is a uniform disaster. It may be the difference between being subjective and objective, but from my point of view, that living mass of misfortune is happy as can be as long as Mii-kun is by her side. And if being happy’s all you need, then look at that, my job’s done. Plain and simple.”
“… That really is simple.”
I offered no particular rebuttal to that one. Was I really her favorite? I was starting to think otherwise.
“Let’s say we had Misono hospitalized again, we restore her falsified memories, we restore a mentality far from good health, and all we get back is an unfortunate past. Then what? I speak from on high and tell her to face it, don’t look away, and somehow find happiness again? There are those who commit suicide unable to endure it. Telling someone not to look away from the truth is no more than forceful audacity of an arrogant soul. I won’t accept it.”
Her pointed voice conveyed her will. I was supposed to be on the patients’ side, yet my heart thought of Mayu without denying any of her points. The Doctor slowly lowered her face and this time her eyes had focused on the tips of her toes.
“My clinic has someone who talks with themself in the mirror all day, and a paranoid one who keeps whispering he has latent powers, but I compare them to myself and I have no way of knowing who’s happier. I don’t know any concrete happiness, but perhaps those people know it and perhaps they’ve experienced it. It’s happiness their surroundings won’t accept, but it isn’t something anyone should snatch away from them so easily. I mean, even if they get ‘better’, there’s no telling they’ll ever be happy again, more so, someone who’s reached that state once before will always be scorned by those around them… or at least they were prone to thinking so, for the rest of their lives.”
She expressed a distressed past tense. It didn’t lead to any amicable settlement, apparently.
“I mull and I mull, but if I don’t get an answer I’ll run away. Because I’m a wimp. Honestly, if I keep at it I’m scared my heart will be the diseased one. I’m terrified that the truth I’ve fostered and used as the compass for my actions will be painted over. Maybe saying I’m quitting because it’s not for me is an excuse, in the end it might just be that. Yeah, that’s definitely it.”
When she was finished, she finally looked at my face. Her clear-weather eyes were dazzling. As if to fulfill the opposite role of Natsuki-san, her eyes were brimming with light. They bore an uncanny resemblance to the eyes of those I’d seen admitted to her before.
They resembled the eyes of a schizophreniac.
Where had their and her eyes received their discerning light? Her lips squirmed, tearing apart her dry skin.
She intentionally paused.
“Are you happy, being with Misono?”
A faint haze shrouded my vision as I emitted a chipped voice.
Was that a lie? The doctor didn’t say anything. It was neither BS nor correct. Her face turned away in a blatant show of indifference. Meaning, even if I were frolicking in the midst of true happiness, she wasn’t one to readily accept it.
“Now then. I should get going.”
Her heel lifted, sensing out her will to depart. And using her lowered foot as an axis, she performed a forward summersault, tumbling onto the bed.
My gray cells were occupied with question marks. Before I could spit any of them out, I received a palm strike sending me falling from my resting place. No time to insert a gentle ‘Nooo’ or a ‘Waaah’. The fall just short of one meter hurt way more than jumping off of the roof.
I retrieved the glasses the Doctor had dropped in her role before standing. The patient bed was now fully occupied by the sprawled out form of a former working adult, the epitome of health.
“… Now look here.”
You should set your sights somewhere further, I would have said had I not lost the motivation to continue. “What does it matter?” The doctor didn’t shy back.
“There’s no need for someone who’s perfectly healthy, uninjured and undiseased to be taking up a hospital bed, is there?”
Why was everyone in this town (me included) so prone to actions that forced reflection? I had not the brave spirit to lament aloud, so with a single sigh as the sign of my acceptance, I sat my aching rear down on the pipe chair she had been using before. A dull pain raced through my eyes as I nonchalantly slipped on the glasses in my right hand.
“It’s not like there’s anything to do if I go back now.”
“The employment office’s doors are always open.”
“What are you trying to say? Netaro slept for three years and worked hard for six. I’ve worked hard six years, so I deserve twelve years of paid vacation, no doubt about it.”
“Your example and your calculations are all wrong.”
I accepted the serious air had vented out, brushing aside the hair hanging over my forehead. I wanted more than anything to knead the doctor’s story and my answer in my head, but I found myself putting it on hold.
My shoulders were stiff, this is what the jester got for playing a part that didn’t suit him. I started circling them to loosen them up, looking over at the doctor only to find she was already one foot in the coffin of dreams. I ended up having my misgivings she really might be turning into a petit-Mayu.
She reacted to my glance with a rub of her eyes, a stretch and a yawn.
“Hoowh right, your uncle and aunt were beside themselves with anger. Good luck.”
“Oh… you’re right, makes sense. Now my head’s hurting.”
“That sounds serious, how about I prescribe you a half dose of happiness, ahahahahahahahah!”
Under the influence of her stupid laugh like she was the happiest soul in the world, my head really was starting to hurt.
“… Doctor, what are you here for?”
“Do you not know what it means or looks like to check up on a friend?”
She made it seem like the most obvious thing. While her to-the-point tone and words did nearly move me, I definitely didn’t know of any checkups that involved lying down and yawning in the patient’s bead.
“Come to think of it, Natsuki said she was coming too.”
“Urp.” I blatantly scowled.
She smiled in such a way one glance was enough to know she was enjoying every last minute of this.
Once the doctor started into a true sleeper’s breath (just leave already), I thought to myself.
If I’m alive,
“Well, how should I put it, I’ve let the chance slip by.”
I did make a promise. Now how about another go?
I was alive.
The next day, after I’d been forced to attend a simple checkup along with a curse-ridden lecture exhibition via my aunt and uncle, I reunited with Mayu who appeared with a limp in her right leg. According to her, the other day, when she was walking down the steps from the roof, she completely mistook a step and sprained it. Her story had imparted me with a muddled mix of feeling sorry and feeling rather indifferent as I left the hospital behind me.
Yellow withered leaves were piling on the path. The sweltering heat from back when I started living with Mayu had been replaced with cold air like the first dip in a pool. I was considerably surprised the moment I noticed the chill of the hospital night.
While the summer heat had lingered far too long this year, it was finally taking its leave. It wasn’t long before I would be tossed in a jail cell, which meant my last summer until adulthood was over. I definitely didn’t long for its return, but I was crossed by a slight regret I hadn’t taken in a deep whiff of it while it was still here.
Now then, that was enough basking in emotion, it was time to return to the usual me.
“Don’t you think it’s terrible?”
I arbitrarily agreed to Mayu’s complaint I had failed to hear a single word of.
“That stupid liar hit me the moment she saw my face and she was on the run before I could get back at her. I’ve always thought it, but there’s something wrong with that liar’s head. Mii-kun, you’d do good not to meet her again.”
“Hmm… Do you remember doing anything that would have made her angry, Maa-chan? Like taking on a cheeky attitude or something?”
“Not at all,” she completely denied it.
“I see. Then it’s definitely not your fault.”
A thoughtless endorsement more thinly-veiled than a fallen leaf. She quietly bobbed her head in delight. While I never had such plans to begin with, I’m better off not having kids. I’d spoil them so much an outrageously selfish idiot will be born into the world. I just knew it.
“Come to think of it, we never ended up going on that field trip.”
I changed the topic, not wanting to discuss the Doctor with Mayu. When everyone in class was probably having fun at a service stop in Kumamoto or Nagasaki, Mayu was right here. I couldn’t tell for whose sake, but if I hadn’t taken part in no-rope bungee jumping and I actually took part as one of the travelers, would Mayu have come along?
“I mean, Mii-kun wasn’t going.”
So isn’t it obvious? Her words seemed to implicitly, firmly declare.
… I was deemed necessary. I guess that worked out for now, though the teacher would definitely be angry.
“That’s why I want to go on a trip, just the two of us.”
“Yeah, one of these days.”
When she was deciding something we’d never have the chance to partake in, I calmly made the promise. A completely uninteresting falsehood. It lacked any sense at all. The whole point of fiction was to paint over an everyday of far too much reality with vibrant, colorful lies.
I walked crunching leaves with each step. I lived on with lies on each breath.
I was back at Mayu’s place. I walked into the living room.
Come to think of it, what ever happened to those kids? They hadn’t gone stale yet, had they?
“Maa-chan, could you whip up some lunch?”
I sent Mayu to the kitchen, jogged to the back and slid open the screen. A stench I had lost my familiarity with in three days away burned my nose and my eyes.
A boy and girl huddled together, four eyes in total filled with an innocent light looking up at me. I nearly faltered at those looks as if they were staring upon salvation. I closed the screen, propped up my body, resisted the urge to look away and raised a cheerful voice.
“Maaan, I thought I’d be back by morning, but got held up all day. The wife’s going to give me hell for this.”
I received a greeting more forceful than my opening of the screen. The two of them stretched their chains to the limit to approach my feet.
“Hey, what happened? You stopped coming to see us.”
As she clasped my ankles, Anzu-chan looked just one push away from sobbing; her tear glands were in danger. S-stop it, I timidly squeaked—in a delusion that didn’t suit me so I left it at a delusion.
“Mnn, it’s not that I stopped coming here, I was completely MIA.”
I pacified them as I crouched down on the spot. Just before my bottom could hit the ground, they pounced. My consciousness flew for an instant. I let my guard down? They’re going to go straight for the neck… the moment I was bracing myself for that, I could no longer elude the vilification of being a failure of a human being.
They just embraced me, nothing more.
Upfront and boldly, the two of them rubbed their grime-covered faces all over my chest.
Though I didn’t want to ruin the mood, so I didn’t bring it up. It was quite an unpleasant scent. A smell of despair, like a sewer channel had been flooded with natto. My goosebumps were the one thing I couldn’t keep hidden.
“W-w-w-what’s with you two, cannibalism isn’t cool and I’m not tasty at all.”
“I-I mean, I thought you weren’t coming back…”
Anzu-chan bashfully murmured. For a moment, I came under the misapprehension I possessed a wholesome little sister. Kouta-kun looked up at me with pleading, upturned eyes.
“Where did you go?”
Don’t ask that like a newlywed wife! I dammed up that statement in my heart.
“That’s a story for another day…”
I took a deep breath of the undesirable air, polluting my lungs even further. Now then,
“Did she give you food?”
“Yes. It was delicious.”
“I don’t want to make Mii-kun angry, she kept muttering.”
Anzu-chan’s impression was on point. Their mental ages were close, so perhaps they were on a similar wavelength. Regardless, had I ever actually been angry at anyone before? While I rarely carried kindness or compassion, my negative emotions were just as frozen over. I could no longer be angry or envious.
If a normal person was a deftly-constructed handicraft, I was a plastic knockoff. I didn’t hate that about myself… though I knew how half-baked that made me.
“Hey, is Mii-kun, umm…”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
I remember how she was mulling over how to stop calling me ‘you’, so I sent a little help. “I see, so it’s Mii,” she came to an agreement with a moderately softened expression.
“Hmm, Mii-kun… Mii-kun.”
I watched her relish rolling the word around her tongue before taking another deep breath.
“That should resolve one of your doubts.”
And that left another one. How to bring this lenient kidnapping to its conclusion. I had to do ‘something’ about these kids, do ‘something’ about the incident, and return Mayu to being just an ordinary high school girl.
I tried considering it seriously for once, as rehabilitation for my half-asleep head.
My head was awash with fragmentary thoughts, I put my head to such laborious work I might begin witnessing hallucinations. My brain cells worked so vigorously heat began gathering to my head with my brow at the center.
In the midst of it all, the resolution I arrived at on the department store roof abruptly came back to me.
A runaway, a murder, and a kidnapping.
I reeled in the flash of inspiration that had left my hands in freefall, I chewed it over and looked over the two of them.
“Umm, Onii-san? You’re making quite a face.”
A large majority might think that using humans as disposable pieces is the worst thing you can do. Was it really that bad to treat another as a tool in the process of saving your special someone? I wanted to prioritize Mayu. For my own sake.
… So I decided I would ‘use’ these kids. I relaxed my shoulders and my brow, exhaling a large, long, tainted breath. All that remained in my empty body was a back-facing resolve.
I’d make them all disappear.
I’d put all my efforts to making them disappear.
The kidnapper, the kidnapped, the murderer, the murdered, and those to be murdered henceforth.
The day after I was discharged, I used my position of paid vacation to head out from the early morning and finish my business. I had to climb up walls and evade security cameras in the process, a game of artificial structure athletics also called playing ninja. It was only after my exhausted body demanded a second sleep that I dragged my body back to the apartment.
There wasn’t a sound in the room. Mayu hardly required explanation, and I’d played with the Ikeda siblings late into the night, so they were still deep in their dreams.
I flipped on the TV, collapsed onto the sofa and my mind had sunk before I knew it. I dreamed a rare dream where I found the meaning of true happiness in the middle of a conversation with some mysterious old hag, but I had forgotten it by the time I woke up.
The rest of that day was spent as an ideal day off– me only active for half of it. Tomorrow was the real show, that was enough for today.
The day after that. I cursed my excess sleep from the day before; the oversleep had caused a headache to torment me from the moment I rose. When this was supposed to be my busiest day of the year, my body felt so sluggish.
“… Well, it doesn’t really matter.”
I just had to make sure the exhaustion didn’t make it to my heart. To act not as a rotten corpse, but a doll made of mud. I carried it out so easily rather than vomit, I thought I might start spewing tears.
And that’s why (though it’s completely unrelated), I skipped the lessons that were supposed to restart today. First thing after rising, I rummaged through the room where Mayu coveted indolence. I searched through the desk drawers and the boxes in the closet one by one. The work was so tedious I felt the urge to entrust it to a certain detective woman.
Another hour of searching and I finally found what I’d been looking for: the keys to the chains. Why exactly they had been in the shoe cupboard at the entrance was impossible for an amateur to deduce so I shelved the question.
I dropped by the siblings to make sure it was the right key. They were already awake, reading through the borrowed manga they had left far too many grubby fingerprints on. As I entered, they lowered their hands to greet me.
“…… I see.”
I didn’t feel any strong feelings when she called me that.
I stooped down in front of them and passed the key through the hole on the handcuff-looking shackles around Kouta-kun’s leg. It fit in perfectly. I twisted one round and felt a resistance. The fetters were undone.
This truly would remove all factors tying the kidnapping victims to this place.
“Eh…? Umm, Onii-san?”
“Not yet. I’ll take them off tonight.”
I redid the lock, pretended I didn’t see the looks on their faces, pretended I didn’t hear their voices and left the room. I made for the bedroom where the curtains were shut, sitting not on the bed but the floor as I waited for Mayu to awake.
Nine at night the same day, Mayu and I were sprawled out over the bed. She was maintaining consciousness for once, the two of us lazing around waiting for sleep to take us. As my hands were free, I parted her hair with my fingers, exposing her ear to the open air and pinching her earlobe. To my amazement, her ear was feebly flapping in response.
She was still in her pajamas from the night before, and the next time she took a bath, she’d probably change into her next set of pajamas. With innocent eyes that could only ring true due to her abnormality, Mayu posed the question to me.
“Mii-kun, do you like older women?”
Did she expect me to smile, stick up my thumb and say ‘of course!’?
“You get along with that liar. If you’re on good terms with someone so crazy in the head, the only conclusion Maa-chan can reach is that you like old women.”
A terrible phrase. Had the doctor heard that, all non-aggression pacts would be off the table.
“I do like pretty older women, but not exclusively…”
“I want to hurry and grow up.”
If the doctor heard that one, she would have graciously invited us to a nice walk behind the shrine at midnight.
“Why did I have to be the same age as Mii-kun? Why do I have to be young? Why do I have to be Mayu? What do I have to be me…? Am I me? Hmm, hmmm?”
Mayu recited those philosophical quandaries like a nursery rhyme when all of a sudden she furrowed her brow. Her eyes darted left, gazing at some distant point as if she was peering deep into herself. Her eyes were narrow and grim. This was not the usual, it wasn’t that the problem was too difficult. The issue seemed to lie elsewhere.
She thrust the side of her face into her pillow, all facets of her apart from her puffed cheeks seemed to give off a rationality she had been previously disconnected to.
“Mmmm… Gnnnn, gaaah!’
She raised cries of earnest thought. Would she start working again with a good whack? What would I do if she bit me? My hips drawing back, I watched over Mayu as these new wavelengths tormented her.
Her bizarre noises of agony flew for around five minutes before she finally stopped moving like a demon had left her, her face planted firmly in the pillow. If I could hazard a guess, this was a sort of ritual unknown to the general public.
Mayu’s head turned sideways, dragging the pillow below it so she could look at me.
“What is it?”
“I, see, I hate myself.”
Her tone carried barely any intonation. Her attitude was as if the classroom’s Misono Mayu and the Maa-chan that lived when we were alone together had mixed, and for some reason, it felt too rough and unpolished.
“… What’s this, all of a sudden?”
Mayu had drafted up a face with no meaning or emotion
“I don’t know, it just occurred to me.”
“… Hmm. I can’t say the same for myself.”
Did that mean I liked myself or liked Mayu? Did I mean both, or was it another lie? The true intent didn’t matter. I just had to throw her off track.
“Why do I hate myself? Do you know why, Mii-kun?”
It proved ineffective. Mayu’s eyes wavered, seeking out her answer.
“Who knows? I don’t hate you, Maa-chan.” I replied with a huge lie.
Hmm, Mayu gave a half-baked response and turned her head to face the opposite direction. Her hair flowed to form a thin veil over her bare shoulder. Unlike her arms, Mayu’s shoulders didn’t have any visible scars. They glimmered like a salt lake, a brilliant white that aroused a cold impression. So transient it might part at the press of a finger.
I held Mayu close. Her small body easily settled into my arms that were by no means large-built themselves.
“Hey,” when I called out, she rolled towards me with a slovenly look on her face.
“What is… mmfh?”
Ah, she was back to normal. Good.
“Maa-chan, do you like me?”
She nodded with a dozing-off, ambiguous grin.
“I really, really like Mii-kun.”
“I see. Yeah, I see.”
I was so moved the soup broth was gonna boil out from my eyes.
“What about Mii-kun?”
She curled up in my chest as she returned the question. I didn’t even have to think about it. Where exactly was there any need to tease her with lines like, “I think Koguchi-san from the other class is charming.”
“I like you.”
“Eeeh, you don’t reeaaally like me?”
“I like you to death.”
“Ah, me too.”
She sent a carefree smile. If I really had to say, it was more that I liked her enough to want to kill her.
“Hey, Mii-kyuun.” She called me by a humiliating title that was hard to determine as a promotion or demotion.
“What is it, Maa-tan.” I stubbornly returned fire. I was so stricken by shame the moment it left my mouth that I began getting my will and testament in order.
Mayu snuggled up close. Was she trying to assimilate? Her body was stuck fast to mine. Her breath tickled my collarbone. I could feel her mouth opening from the sensation on my skin.
In regards to that issue we are well aware of the gravity of the situation; we have conducted repeated consideration and deliberation and the short of the matter is that at present, any discrepancies with the current policy must be brought up at a company-wide meeting and it impossible for me to offer you a split-second decision, it is simply my nature as a Japanese man that makes it difficult to say no and,
“If you’re happy, then smile.”
My throat, brain and chest were strangled all at once. Misono Mayu was asking about happiness. Carrying right on from that person. This had to be karmic levels of harassment.
My eyes had gone so stiff inside they almost fell out of their sockets, burning with impatience. The sights out the window mixed in with what I had seen from the hospital room, smearing into a watercolor blur of another world.
“When I stay like this, I feel so calm. I smell Mii-kun, this is happiness.”
She sluggishly stretched out her words. Her eyes firmly blinked as they shed yawn-induced tears. Mayu’s mind was melting into dream, it was losing the boundary line.
“Mmmm, I’m sleepy…”
What part of my time with her was I remembering?
“Go to sleep. Maa-chan. Sleeping suits you best.”
I had the heart of a NEET. I couldn’t discern any emotions I’d been given or express them.
“But Maa-chan isn’t a kid anymore, she can stay up…”
“Only kids say stuff like that.”
What human emotions did the junk that was piling up, burying my heart correspond with?
“Mmm, you’re treating me like a child…”
Would anyone apart from me be able to identify it?
“Alright, have a nice trip to dreamland.”
… I knew, I could definitely figure it out now. I put off giving an answer. I had enough time ahead of me in the cell.
“… Yeah, okay.”
I didn’t have a mirror in front of me, I had no clue if I succeeded. Mayu’s eyes didn’t open, her consciousness cut right then and there. She made the same old sleeping face, the one the seemed to say neither good or bad fortune existed in the world. She accepted this situation as simply a natural part of her everyday life.
“… Now then.”
That was probably the only opportunity I’d ever have to use sleeping pills on this kid. Drugging her tea carried an unprecedented stimulation, I honestly thought it wouldn’t be strange if someone developed a habit out of it. Presumably, those old-day criminals who poisoned their victims had secretly developed an addiction.
I rolled Mayu up on the sheets. I made a white spring roll out of her, and once that task was finished I stepped down from the bed.
I didn’t move immediately, I gazed at her sleeping face a while. I stared long and hard, burning it deep into my hippocampus. To make sure I remembered.
“… I’m sorry I’m such a liar.”
I imparted the parting words I could put the most heart into.
I left the room and closed the door.
I passed through the dim living room and entered the back room to remove the fetters as I’d previously proclaimed. Contrary to their bodies, their eyes were perfectly clear, pushing passed their eyelids to expose as much of themselves as possible as they smacked questions into my every action. Once the two of them were free, I stood and answered in what was practically a monologue.
“C’mon now, you get to go home.”
And I was going to bring an end to this.
To start with, and while there was no deeper meaning to it, I decided to let them wash off the grime.
“Here you go, a bath towel. I’ll wash your clothes now, so put on this shirt when you’re out of the bath and wait.”
I swiftly handed Kouta-kun a change of clothing and a towel. Perhaps the Ikeda siblings couldn’t accept my conduct, as they both had their heads locked in a firm tilt.
“Umm, Onii-san. Are we, umm…”
“What, you’re too embarrassed to hop in together? Siblings are allowed to bathe together between the ages of six and twelve. Stick out your chest with pride.”
I cut him off with a brisk prattle and sent the two of them into the bathroom. The moment they tried to stop and turn, I shoved them in with a push on the back.
“See you in an hour,” I said and closed the door behind them.
“Hey! Just listen for one second!”
“I refuse. Come back once you’ve cooled your head.”
“This is a hot bath!”
It wasn’t the time to hold a skit.
Once I’d sealed them in the bathroom, I took a seat in the short corridor connecting the front door to the living from. I sat in the darkness, caring not to flip on the lights as I let the black space suck me in. That alone was enough to quell my heightened beat. Was this what smoking tobacco felt like?
I opened and closed my eyes at irregular intervals, enjoying the slight difference between my inner darkness and the one that surrounded me. The black was thicker under my eyelids. Plainly obvious, I’ll admit, but I got the feeling it was quite the convenient way to express myself.
My eyes eventually grew accustomed, greatly altering the quality of the two darks. The game was now only wearisome. I drove my eyes from the outside world like I was spitting out a chewed-through piece of gum.
My sense of touch grew sharper, both inside and out, to compensate for my sealed sense of sight.
The coldness of the floor. The tingling of the air. A sting in my throat.
The replay started on its own.
I was born to a terribly plain household. Our family owned some land in the countryside and the grounds were needlessly vast. While my drunkard father would often let the geezers who drank with him stay over, we always had a room or two to spare. It was a two-story building and it even had a basement. We lived in that house as a family of five. My brother was two years older, he began dying his hair blonde from the moment bleach was within arm’s reach. Despite his gaudy appearance, he was a bookworm who rarely played outside and kept his futon in the room with the library. At the dinner table, he never raised any topic that didn’t pertain to the contents of his books. My little sister was four years younger than me, and her mother wasn’t mine. She had a short fuse, the family was always on edge around her. I was the one who babysat her most of the time and received violence as my reward more often than not. She never smiled at me, not once. The house had two mothers. The first mother died around three years after giving birth to me. I don’t remember why. All I have is a vague memory of her lying there, her back turned. She had an unnaturally large number of joints on her arms and her legs. Two years after that, a woman with a large stomach came to live at our house. The woman married in on paper with no ceremony, and my little sister was born three months later. My brother never said a word to my little sister or her mother. He gradually grew isolated. He killed himself, jumping off the rafters smack dab in the middle of the school assembly to usher in summer break. Father and I were the only ones at the funeral. My sister and her mother no longer felt constrained when living in the house. My sister turned five when my brother died. She would go out to play every day and would return home covered in mud, dirt, and scrapes. My sister had grown fond of the game of killing the mountain’s wildlife. After a certain day she stopped coming home. The service was held with only me and my little sister’s mother. The house was reduced to me, my father and her mother,
And eight years later, I was the only one left.
“Though that’s a lie.”
The same old falsehood. Every sentence in that paragraph was a lie. It was quite clearly removed from any relation to any facet of reality. Don’t take it so seriously.
“… Though that’s a lie.”
Correcting a lie with a lie wasn’t the best feeling. But there were some things even I was incapable of lying about. Even if the one in question had fabricated himself and valued a makeshift truth far higher.
From the point of view of those concerned, it was all just one big lie.
For me and for her.
“I, see, I hate myself.”
I unpleasantly tried mimicking her tone. It really rubbed me the wrong way.
“I’m sure you do, Misono Mayu.”
It made sense. She herself was what she hated most.
Misono Mayu was a murderer. The one who once resolved an old kidnapping incident by murdering the culprit was Mayu.
It started with her own parents.
Why did that kidnapper, the old man let it happen? No, the moment he stepped on the maddened path of kidnapping, he had likely become the only one in the world who could understand himself. There was only one thing I understood when looking at the culprit.
His smile when he was having the time of his life could be summed up in the word vile.
Confine someone for close to a year, and you run through most every game that can be played with pain. Perhaps he was getting bored. And ironically, the culprit got along well with Mayu’s parents. If he wanted to get any more entertainment out of Mayu before her emotions died entirely, perhaps this would be the perfect stimulant.
The kidnapper invited her well-natured parents to his house and captured them. He ordered Mayu to kill them. Otherwise, he threatened, both Mayu and I were dead. Mayu’s emotions peeked out for once in a long, long time; she cried and said she couldn’t do it. The man was terribly delighted by exactly the reaction he was expecting. It took ten seconds for him to grow tired of that and not only did he kick her swollen face with all his might, he used the carving knife he’d readied for her to dig a deep red channel in her thigh. It was her parents’ screams that reached my ear over her own.
Her emotions were restored, she recalled what it meant to feel pain, and now Mayu had no other means to protect herself save for fulfilling the culprit’s commands. It was around that time that my eyes were covered. The kidnapper’s wife had been moved by her conscience. You can’t watch, she said. But she hadn’t covered me completely and I could still catch a thin glimpse through the gaps in her fingers. My lips and teeth were too shaking, too useless to tell her.
The kidnapper called out body parts in his vulgar voice. Each time he did, there would be a brief pause before a dull sound would overlap with a scream. I didn’t know what would become of my heart had my eyes not been covered, witnessing that unworldly use of a knife. The ability to look away, the strength to close my eyes had disappeared from me.
I was driven by such fear I knew it wouldn’t be long before I screamed myself, but I knew I’d be next on the list if I made too much noise and desperately held it in. My front teeth dug in so hard my lower lip was nearly detached, I covered my ears with both hands. Try as I might, I could only dampen the noises, I could never cut them off completely. I feared the taste of the blood flowing from my lips.
A scream, another scream, finally that disgusting throaty voice I had grown accustomed to hearing, and the sounds were gone. The sounds were all gone. When the ineffective blindfold was stripped away, what lay before me: the kidnappers collapsed on the floor, Mayu’s parents who no longer maintained their original shape, and Mayu, back arched, liquid dripping from her body and knife. Five figures in total.
Why had I stumbled upon such a scene? I had seen it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears, and yet my heart obstinately denied the concept of understanding.
Mayu had ended the case through murder.
She refused to remember it, along with the fact she had turned the blade on me.
“… I wonder why I didn’t die.”
I had survived by cheating. Her body had covered me and saved me. The kidnapper’s wife.
The person who served as my replacement for her own sake. Who took on my wounds for her own sake. Who falsified her own identity for her own sake.
“They all died, every last one of them.”
Right in front of my eyes. They all spouted something, be it blood, tears or last words.
And I lived on like nothing had happened at all.
Happily ever after.
I keep getting kept alive. Fearing the ill will of others, covered for and cursed by others, I continued to live. My way of life held no value at all. I was always made to play the fool. Making light of conversation and sneering at philosophy.
Just like that, I had grown desperate trying to convince myself I knew at least just one more piece of reality than everyone else, making sure I could look down on the world from on high.
I cast the self-suggestion so I would always have composure on my side. That was the way I always lived. Ever since the moment I held fatal terror towards another human being.
“… I’m scared.”
I’m scared of people. I’ve brushed up against their dark portions too many times, I’ve grown terrified of my own race. Of course, I hate things that terrify me. That’s why I hate humans, and as long as I’m human myself I’m a target but I can’t live on like that.
If I really did hate myself so, I’d have to kill myself. Then what do I do? I have to learn to like people… but I’m pretty sure I’ll die before that happens.
My only option was to freeze the emotion of hatred. I just had to lay my emotions to eternal rest. I felt no loss at being hurt, and wouldn’t hesitate to hurt others. Both a man of virtue and a hazard to society. It didn’t matter if the wholesome people around me stopped accepting me as human. I just had to make them think to place me in the abnormal. That was the lifeform I tried to become.
I held my shoulders. My shoulders had forgotten how to shake, they had abandoned their professional duties as body parts.
“… Aah, why can’t I just be a shut-in…”
I held my folded knees, leaned my weight back, became a daruma and rolled along the hard floor. Between that, and taking in enough moisture you feel nauseous, which one looks happier? Won’t someone philosophical kindly tell me?
Having them wear freshly-washed shoes, I led the two fresh-out-of-the-bath siblings outside.
It was colder than expected. The long-awaited outsides had the two of them spread ample dissent across their faces as they stood stock still at the door.
“How do you like the great outdoors?”
I sucked in the air that would definitely come out white as I forcefully started a conversation.
“I never realized it had become so wintery.”
Kouta-kun reservedly answered. Sure enough, at least the nights were already beginning to hide away the hints of autumn.
Anzu-chan pulled at my sleeve. She rubbed the nose of her turned-down face before looking up at me.
“Do we really have to leave?”
A feeble question. An inquiry like a clinging plea. Kouta-kun was looking up at me as well, directing some form of expectation. It was honestly quite troubling.
“You don’t want to go home that badly?”
“You want to stay in what’s practically a jail cell?”
She nodded again. I was growing ever more troubled. Precisely because I knew the reason, I hadn’t the words to press further. I could only reject them.
… I piled up thoughts again.
I shook my head.
“You have to go. That room isn’t your home.”
And it wasn’t mine either. I placed a hand on their despondent backs as I directed them towards the elevator. We made it down to the first floor. We crossed the bleak hall and stood on the night road.
Was the atmosphere lively today? The night clouds I looked up to flowed by at a rapid pace. My body and mind trembled at the cold.
It was time to go now. Time to make this the last murder.
The Last: ‘the withering murder’
I let them slip away. My impatience and delight quarreled over the first blunder I’d made. Almost as if they had measured out my conduct beforehand, the two of them took flight without even looking at me. I found myself pursuing them in shock.
A pleasant game of tag. The pale skin of two children surfacing under the miniscule light. They raced in a straight line never once looking back. They didn’t seem to be leading me on. Was it my mistake to go out today? Or would this make for a valuable experience? I felt like placing a bet.
The two plunged into a shrine. The sound of gravel underfoot and my own breathing annulled the silence. I personally preferred hide and seek over tag, so it was about time I captured those backs and entrusted my body to the subconscious. None the less, running fast while keeping wary of my surroundings in their entirety was a difficult task. Therefore, it was more realistic to wait for their legs to rest.
I pulled the knife from its scabbard and threw it at their hips. The knife flew towards the boy’s feet in his mad dash for the grounds, and only barely grazed before the gravel sent it away. But that was enough. The sense of pain the tip delivered had thrown off his pace. The girl so worried for the boy trailing behind tried to turn only for her right leg to cross her leg and force her to fall. The boy had been holding her hand, and dragged down on top of his crumbling posture, he braced himself before hitting the gravel.
Closing the distance in that interval was simple enough. I bent down, pinned the boy’s ankle with one hand and pulled my other knife with the other. I held it up high to confront these two challengers.
While the boy’s eyes did waver, he didn’t look away. He neither moaned nor cried out. He didn’t plead for his life. Was it alright to be so optimistic as to assume his body was frozen in fear? It was possible the slight quiver in his body was simply from the cold. I hesitated a slight moment, regardless of the fact there wasn’t a single restraint placed on me, and shifted my eyes to the girl who hadn’t left the boy’s side.
Why aren’t you running?
The answer wouldn’t come from the girl. Her tightly shut mouth rejected any dialogue with me. Just what could these children be thinking?
I hesitated to lower the knife. It felt so tasteless and uncanny to entrust it to my unconscious and end this with matters unresolved. I needed to ascertain this foreign nature that surrounded them.
You’re going to be killed you know. I ended up spouting such idiotic lines. They didn’t react, they simply peered into my eyes. Bearing a close resemblance to my own appraising eyes, while it was said the eyes spoke just as much as the mouth theirs’ were terribly unsentimental.
Those are some nice eyes, I sincerely felt the urge to compliment. Especially the girl’s. Eyes like steel that knew not how to waver. They drew a strong impulse for me to manufacture them into an ornate ornament. I now excessively desired the girl. How disappointing, regrettable she had to be handed to the funeral parlor.
I wanted to force those lips open and make her raise her voice.
Perhaps I’d cut out just her neck and take it home with me. Would we be able to establish any communication before those irises lost their sheen? No, no, that was no go. There was no way I could simply look on as these eyes grew muddled.
My curiosity was changing to lust, dimming the foreign feeling my eyes had captured. They were turning into little more than a quiet boy and girl. This was a change in cognizance. The next change would be a more quintessential one, a change to mere flesh. While I had taken a liking to their eyes, I decided I would try thoroughly destroying the boy’s. Culling is fundamental to raise a vegetable garden. With two equal pieces of art, cruelly destroying one to raise the value of the other was an effective strategy.
Now then, it was about t— A sudden chill led me to look to the side. The moment after, I heard the sound of something swinging through the air behind me. I swung my right arm, putting up a check with my knife as I took distance.
I directed my flashlight to confirm what was in front of me. He was there, standing where I had been a moment before, gripping a thirty-centimeter wooden stick he had likely picked up on the fly. A white hoodie and faded blue jeans, a man whose coloration was light all around.
“Yeah, yeah, get running.”
With a bitter face, he swung the stick like he was directing traffic, directing the two into the thicket. I felt some regret as I let them get away, turned off the light and confronted him.
It was difficult to say his eyes were clear by any measure. But the air he gave off synergized with the construction of his face to conceal any unnatural properties… that wasn’t it, every part of him was unnatural so nothing stood out.
“I know you like them young, but how about some standards, Mii-kun.”
He regained a poker face and spoke both calm and composed. A thorough composure that made me wonder if he even had a guard to let down at all.
Who are you?
“What a cold question; despite everything, I’m so popular in these parts they call me the Drain Ditch.”
I’m sensing just a little bit of bullying with that name.
“How rude. You can only say that because you don’t understand the true value of the drainage ditch. In the first place, can you even explain how they work? Can you withstand the drab scenery that would be left in the absence of drain ditches? Do you know the exquisite dampness of them?”
… Fine, then Drain Ditch it is.
“Hah? Who are you calling a Ditch!?”
He triumphantly declared. I know I’m not one to speak, but I’m pretty sure he’s the sort who could contribute to society just by taking it easy on a hospital bed.
While he readied his stick, he didn’t try to close the distance. He was either waiting for me to make my move, or was simply inexperienced.
“No need to panic yet, right Mii-kun? Don’t glare at me like that.”
You sure talk a lot. Are you the one who called me out?
“… You’re not a genie in a lamp. How exactly would I call out a murderer?”
He seemed quite perplexed as he waved his hand to deny it… then it wasn’t him?
“Still, to think the day would really come where I’d be fighting with a cypress stick.”
His shoulders dropped in lament. At least give me the poison needle, he added on in whisper.
This man was clearly not accustomed to fighting. He didn’t know how to move or take the initiative. I graciously approached for him. While his complexion didn’t change, his body visibly grew tense.
The stick he swung passed right in front of me, I stepped in before he could recover. I thrust the knife into his unprotected torso. I had aimed at the pit of his stomach, but his body lurched violently as if he’d torn a muscle, and I only grazed his flank. He used the same motion to take distance with a cartwheel. Despite the lack of fear on his face, his shoulders were swaying intensely.
I closed the distance again. I wasn’t going to kill, I would chip away at his fighting spirit and his mobility. He took the second move to avoid my attack. His eyes were focused on the knife in my right hand, his stance small and low to knock it aside with the stick. I abruptly raised up my left.
His attention darted to my left arm without suspecting a thing. He took a short backstep, as his gaze turned up face-and-all. I stepped in sharply with my right foot and pierced the blade between his left shoulder and elbow with nothing to stop me. I stabbed it deep to separate flesh from bone. His well-ordered white teeth grit, he didn’t cry out. You’re close enough to attack now, his eyes seemed to say.
He twisted his unsteady body to swing his stick horizontally. I pulled out the knife, bent down to dodge, stuck the knife into his right thigh up to the grip and sliced.
That erased any foolish notion he had.
He clenched his molars so hard foam spilled from the corner of his mouth like a crab, his legs crumbled like his mind had gone distant. He fell with no preparation, hitting the ground face-first. This was no time to play the gentleman. Instead of helping him up, I nimbly retracted the weapon peeking out of his body and took a step back. The pain of a blade pulled out and a blow to the face, the two impacts restored his consciousness and teary-eyed as he was, he lifted his face.
“… You’ve lost the time to panic, Mii-kun.”
Then when exactly was I supposed to panic? He didn’t seem panicked either as he looked up to me, or rather the sky, and sighed.
“You got me… I know how to withstand pain to an extent, but I can’t twist the makeup of my own body. I’m not being a good-for-nothing lay-about here, I’m just in a life-or-death pinch.”
He sat up limply like he was listening to a gym assembly, scratching the back of his head. The false strong front he put up suited him strangely well.
“In the first place, why does someone from a cultural club like me have to conduct combat with a murderer? These rough matters should be left to the string-user in the black mantle…”
He complained. He was mumbling to himself as if I wasn’t even in eyeshot.
“Don’t you think so?”
Or so I thought when he suddenly sought agreement from me. I shrugged and made that my response.
“You don’t know who I’m talking about? This is why you kids these days, shifting away from books…”
If I had a mirror to look at, perhaps I’d be smiling. Talking with this guy caused my hastened murder impulses to decline. Any tension or crisis seemed to be mitigated by his mere presence. I had never imagined someone could not only refrain from pleading for their life, but even make small talk with the person trying to kill them.
An amalgam of interest and curiosity ordered me to speak with him. I tried following along for now.
… So, in the end, why did you appear here and get in my way?
“You want to know?”
I sincerely nodded. I mean, you just might be the same species as me.
When I told him that, he scoffed as if it was obvious.
“Then what is it, between me and you, you want to see who’s more human? Oh, that’s a nice one. You’ve got a reputation as a murderer after all. And I guess that makes me an it? You’ve got to be kidding me, we can’t play tag with two ‘its’.”
His words reached me with their characteristic lightness. They carried a persuasive power that made me inadvertently agree with him.
But there are all sorts of humans out there, aren’t they?
“Of course there are, but I wouldn’t say we’re different enough to divide by species. We don’t have anyone that can lay eggs from their mouth, and no one who bleeds blue. On the contrary, we’ve all got red blood flowing through our veins and nothing but lies spewing from our mouths. Meaning, you’re just trying to be cool using the term species, and what you’re really looking for is someone who shares your tastes.”
I’ll take that as reference, but… you keep dancing around the subject.
“Oh, why I’m here? It’s not for justice or anyone else’s sake. It wouldn’t be cool for me to say it, and in the first place, if that’s the case, I’ll have to tack on a word after that. One fatally pathetic excuse.”
The edges of his mouth curled a little happily as if he was imagining the scene. But he immediately settled at expressionless.
“I like going to the convenience store.”
He abruptly said. So do I, I replied.
“I thought I’d add a nice little night walk onto today’s visit. And I saw you pushing down a tender boy and a girl, so I called out hoping to join in myself.”
That was quite a fishy reason. Rather, definitely a lie.
“Come to think of it, now that you let those two get away, you’re going to get caught,” he said before immediately adding on “not that I care” in an uninterested tone.
“It’s nothing for me to worry about since I’ll be killed here. Right, I’m going to be killed. So there’s something I’d like to ask, but for all those corpses, did you dissect them before or after you killed them?”
If I took my sweet time taking apart living humans, I’d have been caught a long time ago.
“That’s what I thought, but I just wanted to make sure. If you were going to take up the former, I’d have to harden my resolve to kill myself… oh, sorry, I take that back. I don’t need any resolve for that.”
I just need to be desperate, he off-handedly conceded.
“Can you die for someone’s sake?”
“Then can you die for your own sake?”
I can’t do that either.
“As I thought. Humans can’t choose death for any compensation… oh, but I’m different. I’ll die not for anyone, not for myself and not for world peace. I’ll just die for no reason at all. Like if I stumbled upon my girlfriend cheating, I’d kill myself without a word, something like that. Ah, I guess that’s technically for someone else’s sake. No, it’s escapism, so for my own? Doesn’t matter.”
However, he strung his words.
“I encountered something far scarier than death a long time ago.”
There’s no such thing for me. When I told him that, he laughed like it had been an exquisite joke. He carried right on.
“It’s to live while missing a part of the human body. That’s more scary than anything. For example, for your wrists to be cut off. For all the toes on your feet to be severed… I’m scared of being forced to live on with a broken body. It’s scarier than anything else.”
He stared at my face while he monologued.
“I’m terrified of dismemberment. I think I developed a trauma from this book I read as a child. There was this story about a murderer who cut off hands, see, and cutting baby hands seemed so raw and forceful it gave me goosebumps.”
He shook a bitter face, perhaps recalling it. Before I could say anything, he was speaking one-sidedly again.
“And so, whatever you do, don’t cut off my hands. I’ll curse you.”
Putting it like that just makes me want to do it more.
“You’re rotten to the core, how about you take a page out of my books? People can already easily imagine exactly what they tell you not to do; you need to thoroughly carry out precisely why they didn’t tell you, find something far worse. Then listen to them grit their teeth as they complain they’d been barking up the wrong tree.”
… You’re pretty rotten.
“Don’t praise me, it’ll get to my head.”
He triflingly said.
“When I die, it’s that, you know. I want to die in someone’s arms. But being embraced from the front, like this, sorta, being covered by someone, I can’t really take it psychologically.”
You’ve got a lot of traumas.
“They say traumas are the proof of life.”
No one says that.
“Would you like one?”
Not one of yours, no.
He snorted at my commonplace answered and wormed his fingers into his wound. The thick blood that stuck was pulled into sticky strands between his fingers as he played with it like melting chocolate.
When he looked at me after that, his features were suddenly fearless.
“I’m going to be killed by you here. But that will be the end of it. Your role as a murderer is over.”
He handed down a prophecy. It felt even less authentic than the morning horoscope.
“When she knows I died, a talented detective will pin you down as the culprit.”
… A detective?
“A friend of mine, she’ll put her all into the investigation over personal grudges and circumstance. She’ll find you and play lab rat with you. She’s a sadist, you see, she’s essentially the god of verbal abuse. You’d better prepare yourself… ah, I wanted to live some more.”
His expression didn’t change in the slightest, it was difficult to determine if he was serious or not. But, hypothetically, even if he was, I looked forward to what entertainment could be had meeting that detective. More so, I wanted to confront her, and then—
My goosebumps reacted first. Then my fear. A clear change in his will shook my vision.
He had plotted out the moment of my unsightly comedy and used it to counterattack.
In a straight line, no less. The mouth I saw in that instant mouthed this. His lips bent crooked and ghastly. His eyes lit with joy just barely contained.
My fear had my body react at its absolute fastest but even that was too slow. He pounced at my knees, scooping away my footing in a double-leg takedown. The knife I swung as I collapsed only grazed his head and made off with a few hairs.
I cursed my own folly. My back tumbled onto the stone carpet. The sharp rocks stuck in making me hard of breath. I had not the time to take it easy. The instant I forcefully tried to rip him off by plunging my knife into his brow, his left hand thrust out even faster, pushing something long and slender up against my right arm. Sparks flew the next instant. My eyes were clad in enough light to make me dizzy.
It was followed along by a sharp heat and impact to my right arm that for a moment made me wonder if it had burnt off. He had used that momentarily lapse to cry out as he snatched the knife from my hand and stab it into my right arm. This time it was my turn to cry out, but he wouldn’t even permit that. In my vision burned from the light, he shoved his hand into my mouth. He pressed the tip of what he had used before, presumably a stun gun up against my throat and flicked the switch.
A sharp pain, like a needle had pierced from in and up through the top of my head assailed me. Sudden nausea and loss of willpower. The nerves in my face were paralyzed, I couldn’t contain the tears or snot. He pulled out his hand upon confirming I’d lost the will to resist.
“Of course, it’s a lie. The only thing that can kill me is time or heart, something sickeningly romantic. A sickening murderer should just sleep in the meat drawer of the freezer. I don’t hate living to begin with. I’m a sweetie I am. I don’t know any female detectives in the first place, and if my girlfriend caught me cheating with someone like that, I’d have no choice but to choose death. What am I, a ninja?”
He over-exercised his mouth while he pulled the knife from my arm. I couldn’t even raise a groan at the pain. It was like a steel ball was embedded in my face, the worst sort of oppressive feeling had stolen expression from me.
I was now little more than a corpse capable of slight thought.
“Unfortunately for you, this isn’t my first time facing down a murderer… a shame you can’t remember.”
He said something but I couldn’t pick it up. I was wracking my brain desperately to escape from this unpleasant sensation.
“But you really are an idiot, Mii-kun. I was retorting to myself the whole time. Are you supposed to be a protagonist who swore never to kill again? Are you supposed to be a boy stuck to the display window yearning for a trumpet? I wondered if you belonged to an evil organization that faithfully refrained from attacking during the transformation sequence, and I suspected you might be a hero of justice respectfully hearing out every word of the villain’s tragic backstory. On top of that, I wondered if you’d been stuck on a deserted island alone for half a year and with only animals to talk to, and I wondered if you’d jumped into the future and met someone who actually understood your words for the first time. Was talking to me really that interesting?”
It was precisely as he said. Why had I acted under the premise of not killing him immediately? Why was I enjoying a friendly chat? It was a defeat that made his evaluation of ‘foolish’ an understatement.
I saw him stoop down by my side. Had the cut in his thigh opened up? “Oww, oww,” he jokingly muttered. He took my left arm, pressed the joint against his knee, and folded it without hesitation. While A shrill shriek escaped back of my throat, he showed no reaction. This was probably something of the same nature as when I took apart bodies. The attitude of someone at work.. He dislocated both my legs while he was at it. The pain was numb by that time, the steel ball that was supposed to be only my face had unpleasantly reached the rest of my body.
I failed. He must have realized it, I can only kill people subconsciously. I was being broken. No, was I already broken?
While I couldn’t tell whether he was lying or not, the fear he spoke of a moment ago was seeping into my body ever-so-slightly. I wanted to die. I wanted to die and put an end to this unpleasant, impaired self. I tried my best to get it across with my eyes, but he wasn’t looking at me.
My eyes caught sight of the knife, dripping with his blood and mine. I couldn’t distinguish which was which, the liquid was all the same color. I didn’t care whether our meeting had been intentional or fate, but this alone I could accept.
We were the same species.
It was just as you said.
But so what?
It happened, just like I thought it would.
It didn’t end at a talk.
Was that my fault?
Did I mistake the process?
If we had started with a talk, then what?
Could we have been friends?
Did I want to be?
I felt like taking back that wish, yet I also felt like accepting it from the heart.
“Remember me in the revolving lantern.”
Only those words he said to look cool remained at the end.
Aah, I’m going to be killed by a member of my race.