Chapter 1: Reunion and Exultation

The light scared me.

When the light from outside crept in, many scary things came too.

But when I got hungry, I wished it would come.

“I’m hungry.”

“…Me too.”

“I wonder when dinner is coming.”

“Not until it’s night.”

“…But if we’re in here all the time, we can’t tell when night comes.”

“…I hope it comes soon.”

From then on, words were not exchanged.

Instead, stomachs rumbled in protest.

The two of us gazed blindly into the dark.

Until the light slipped in through the darkness and crept its cold fingers across us.

 

“Just say that the principal’s name is ‘Fujiwara Mototsune,’ the student council president is ‘Sugawara Michizane,’ and the teacher in charge of year 11 is ‘Tachibana Hiromi.’ Something like that, anyway,” I said. [0]

“And how does that appeal to anyone in any way whatsoever?” Kaneko retorted, dismissing my idea with a loud sigh. I wanted to sigh too. I could have racked my brains all day and still not have come up with a satisfactory answer to his question.

Kaneko was the class-rep in charge of the welcome pamphlets which would be distributed to the freshmen entering the school in the coming year. He had been going around the classroom asking for input on positive features of the school he might include; I, his current victim, had been caught near the entrance to the classroom. The problem was, our school – no, our town even – was just a small place in the countryside with nothing worthy of mention. The names of the school staff were perhaps the only things out of the ordinary about our school, strange to the point of sounding as if their parents had intentionally named them in that manner as a joke. That was my best attempt at coming up with an idea.

“What else is there… Maybe you could mention how one of our students was butchered the other day…” I added.

“I can’t do that,” Kaneko answered with a sour expression. Perhaps it had been imprudent of me to even suggest it.

“Then why not just write something like, ‘We have an open and free school atmosphere,'” I concluded, my contribution a second-rate answer lacking in both originality and depth. Kaneko gave a wry smile, as if silently complaining that he’d heard that idea one too many times already, and sighed.

“It’s not like I even wanted to do this, you know? I really need to get to my club activities, after all.”

“Club activities? Haven’t they been suspended because of how dangerous it is at the moment?”

“Not our club; particularly since the tournament is almost here. There’s simply no way our club captain would accept a ban on club activities. No, we’ve got training going on clear ‘til midnight. Unofficially, of course.”

As Kaneko played the part of an elementary school kid proud of staying up late, a girl appeared behind him – Misono Mayu, a classmate of ours. Pushing her way past Kaneko, who was blocking the entrance, she walked out into the corridor.

“Hey. Wait,” Kaneko called out.

Misono-san turned, and as if to contradict the calm and cool impression she usually gave, she subjected him to a withering glare. “What?”

“Um… Aah…” Kaneko, intimidated by her belligerence, forced a sloppy smile and looked away. He looked to me for help, but I ignored him, my gaze continuing to linger on Misono-san.

“What?” she repeated. Her face had twisted in obvious displeasure.

Misono Mayu was quite pretty. No, to be honest, she was beautiful; actually, let me correct that again – she was gorgeous. In my opinion, anyway. In short, she was quite desirable. Full marks.

Traces of brown ran through her medium-length hair, exposing the fact that she had once dyed it brown, but had since grown bored of it and reverted to her original color, black. The long sleeves of her shirt, peeking out from under her blazer, were out of place in the terrifically humid weather of October.

“Sorry, but I have plans,” was her blunt reply.

Misono-san always exercised an excessive politeness when interacting with her classmates, a stance that rejected others. However, as I saw it, this was a manifestation of her wariness of others. To me, Misono-san seemed like a small, scared animal.

“Sorry for stopping you. If you’re in a rush, then don’t worry about it,” I replied in Kaneko’s stead. I see, she mumbled, heading directly toward the stairway with steps both quick and unsteady. Kaneko, watching her retreating figure, relaxed his shoulders and heaved a deep sigh of relief.

“Was Misono always that intimidating?” he murmured.

“I don’t know… Perhaps she’s practicing to be the oni at Setsubun[1].” My nonsensical reply notwithstanding, I was nearly one-hundred percent sure I knew what the actual reason was. Kaneko’s head was cocked in puzzlement; that’d been his state for quite some time now.

“Plus, these days, she leaves so early…” Kaneko glanced back at the classroom with suspicion. Mirroring his movements, I peeked back at the room out of the corner of my eye. Between those who were cramming textbooks into their bags and those who had stayed behind to chat with their neighbors, there were still many students left in the room. In that respect, especially considering the fact that Misono-san’s desk was the furthest from the exit, it was fair to say that she had indeed left rather early.

“I’d say that that’s pretty normal if you’ve got plans, though.”

“Every day?”

“Sure. Maybe her mom’s in the hospital or something.”

As if.

“Anyway, even if you were to ask, you’d likely only get some generic answer.”

Kaneko scratched his forehead, his moment of curiosity having passed, and finally straightened his neck.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. But I have to say, that so-called ‘open and free school atmosphere’ just doesn’t seem all that accurate when you’re looking at her.”

“True enough.” I gave a half-baked reply. It was, not in fact, true. Despite how easy it would have been to rebut his comment, I’d decided that agreeing with him had been the most effective way to cut our conversation short. “Well then, it’s about time for me to go as well.”

“Alright, see you tomorrow.”

We waved lazily at one another, and I turned to make my way down a corridor permeated with lukewarm and stagnant air, a product of the tepid afternoon sunlight. Quickly, I stepped through the still corridor, casting occasional glances at the class next door, and raced down the stairs, skipping every second step. At the building entrance, I watched as Misono-san clumsily changed her shoes. As she passed through the school gates, I counted to ten before following, making sure to keep my distance. My plans for this afternoon involved playing detective.

 

Recently, this town – with its utter lack of alluring features – had had the pleasure of multiple mentions on national television, which had drawn to it no small degree of attention. Mostly from the police. This had all been due to two recent incidents of note. Well, I say two, but chances are that the two incidents were perpetrated by the same criminal, and so it’s up to the individual to decide whether or not to treat them as two separate incidents.

The incidents I speak of were a serial murder case and a missing persons case. These heinous episodes had haunted the town for the past few months. The serial murder case in particular had been all the more shocking given that murder in this town was such a rare event that the last instance of this crime had been in the period when samurais roamed the lands brandishing their katanas. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. It was definitely a once-in-eight-years incident, though.

It had all begun when a middle-aged man in his forties had been found dead beside the community center, his corpse a complete mess. Though, technically speaking, the exact cause of his death had been the chunk of flesh torn from his chest, he’d been savaged in other ways as well. His eyes had been gouged out, the fingers of his left hand had been severed, and half of one of his ears had been sliced through. It was speculated that his wounds had been the result of a game the murderer liked to play, and society naturally fussed over the murderer’s mental condition. The next victim had been an elementary school child who had not lived to see their seventh birthday. In this particular instance, the body of the child was found with a face so deformed by the countless stab wounds inflicted upon it that it had been utterly unrecognizable. As a result, all elementary school children were strongly encouraged to travel to and from school in groups, and school ended around midday as an extra precaution. The residential association, along with the police, made regular patrols of the neighborhood in an effort to dispel the threat posed by the murderer. In spite of these precautionary measures, however, there had been no progress made in unveiling the identity of the perpetrator, let alone their arrest.

The other incident that had taken place recently was the disappearance of a pair of siblings. A fourth-grade boy and his second-grade sister had gone missing around sunset one day. Although, of late, there had been numerous warnings against wandering outside after dark, they had apparently been to little effect in this instance. Unlike the victims from the other cases, however, the corpses of the two had never been discovered. This anomaly had led people to hypothesize that this was instead a kidnapping incident, and not a murder. The police, without leads on either case, were hard-pressed to determine whether or not the crimes had indeed been perpetrated by the same individual. I had, however, read recently in a weekly magazine that the police had finally decided to treat these events as two separate incidents. The magazine in question had highlighted the kidnapping case in an attempt to forcefully tie it to a case from the past.

“……”

Twenty minutes had passed since I’d first started tailing Misono-san. Unfortunately for me, this was the first time I’d ever attempted to shadow someone else. I am ashamed to admit that I am but an amateur; I had no prior experience as a stalker. I was thus having great difficulty grasping the correct distance to maintain when tailing her. The thought that “I should have bought a book on this and read up” crossed my mind, accompanied by a pang of regret. I was far enough behind that her figure was the size of a dictionary when seen from my perspective. As the unbroken countryside scenery held nothing but rice fields as far as the eye could see, there was a decided lack of cover I could hide myself behind should she turn around. I needed to build up the courage to leap into a water canal on the off chance she decided to look behind her. Fortunately, Misono-san never seemed to worry about what was behind her as she hurried home. Her pace – which she likely believed to be quite brisk – was, in fact, rather unsteady. Despite not suffering the effects of a fever, she nonetheless swayed from side to side as she walked.

Eventually the road became a paved path, and the number of houses we passed as we walked gradually increased. As I reached this new area, I began to feel as though I had crossed the threshold into someone else’s life.

Up ahead, Misono-san wiped the sweat from her cheeks and nape. In this sweltering weather, where even the short-sleeved summer uniform would not have kept its owner cool enough to avoid sweating, she must have been roasting. Yet her pace never slowed, and slouching ever forward, she made her way. On the way, an elderly man walking his dog greeted her politely, but apparently his presence never breached her tunnel vision and she completely ignored him as she continued on. Feeling pity for the man, I gave him two small bows as I passed, one for her and one for myself. The elderly man gave me a puzzled look before dropping his gaze to his dog, as if it might have held answers he sought.

“…It’s further than I thought,” I mumbled to myself. We had traveled far enough that it seemed more sensible to bike to school than to walk. However, I knew that she was incapable of riding a bike. Her sense of balance was crippled, as was her sense of depth perception. It was for that reason that she had to grip the handrails when ascending or descending the stairs. When playing volleyball, she rarely managed contact with the ball. Basketball was worse still – she caught passes with her face and her shots almost never touched the backboard, let alone the rim of the basket.

…Let me make this clear now – that I am in possession of such knowledge is certainly not due to any form of stalking. Indeed, while my current actions may seem very much like stalking, they are, in fact, two very different things.

At long last, we entered the residential district. This rural land, purchased at great cost by the landowners of the country, now advertised “For Sale” signs on all the lots. On that note, these signs had been here for some years now, yet I had no recollection of the number of signs ever decreasing – a spectacular failure. The company should’ve first considered whether or not they could imagine themselves enjoying life in such a barren backwater before greenlighting such a project.

Misono-san, after passing through the cluster of deserted houses, headed to the supermarket on the other side of the intersection. As she crossed this road without a traffic light, she accidentally hooked her right foot on her left leg and stumbled. I clenched my fist and restrained myself from jumping out to catch her. Misono-san, on the other hand, simply continued to stagger her way over to the supermarket. There were but a scant number of customers at the flower and vegetable stands outside the store, possibly due to the time. Instead of following her in, I waited for her outside as I pretended to contemplate what to buy at a nearby vending machine. A young man who had just finished refilling the vending machine moved out of the way as I walked towards it.

“……”

The missing children – of both the current incident and the previous one – were students of an elementary school nearby. Eight years before there had been another missing persons case. A man in his thirties had kidnapped a boy and a girl, both in their third year of elementary school, and had confined them in his house for over a year, abusing them both physically and sexually. The case had eventually ended with the death of the man. This new case, which closely resembled the last, had the town murmuring about the appearance of a second “kidnapping man.” In other words, it was widely believed that this wasn’t just a missing persons case, but rather a kidnapping. I, however, found the rumors off-putting. It felt terribly discriminatory that the kidnapper was simply assumed to be male. If the motive behind the kidnapping was money, for example, then it could well be a woman. Actually, even if the kidnapping had been born of the desire to maim and kill, the perpetrator could still be a woman. Such prejudice is disrespectful toward women. So much for gender equality.

As I waited for Misono-san, I sipped the cold tea I’d purchased from the vending machine and contemplated the many issues facing society.

“……”

There have been twisted comments made which insinuate that since, according to stereotype, only women spent a ridiculous amount of time shopping, a man spending similar amounts of time should be considered feminine. However, the moment you experience the wait for yourself, such views start to make a lot more sense.

“……Where is she?”

I drained my seventh bottle of tea, and tossed the empty bottle in the trash. At this point, I’d begun to feel quite queasy. My forehead throbbed like it had the time I’d nearly drowned in a pool. For the last forty minutes, I’d been hovering around the vending machine and pouring tea down my throat. The young man who’d been stocking the vending machine came back as part of his route and stared at me, taken aback by the unchanging and, frankly, suspicious scene. Perhaps I struck him as someone who might be a kidnapper. I smiled like a good citizen might. That might have given him the impression I was a murderer instead.

Twenty minutes after my heartwarming exchange with the young man, that is to say, after having enjoyed an hour-long teatime, Misono-san finally exited the building with a bag in her left hand. The fact that the amount of time she had spent and the amount of items she had bought were clearly mismatched caused my heart to sink. Admittedly, it might also have been the tea churning in my stomach. I hid in the shadow of the vending machine in order to avoid being seen by Misono-san. The apples protruding from her plastic bag heeded the call of gravity multiple times, falling from her bag. Misono-san, pausing a number of times to gather fallen apples, returned to the intersection and proceeded to waddle across the street while hounded by a cacophony of car horns. I quickly crossed the road after her, deliberating all the while on the course of action I’d take if she were run over: would I rush to her aid or would I race off in the opposite direction?

Misono-san turned right after the intersection, taking her to the center of the newly-built residential area. Amid the forest of apartment buildings stood her apartment, where she lived alone. Ignoring the many apples falling from her bag, Misono-san disappeared into the poorly-painted, light blue apartment building. After collecting her abandoned apples, I looked through the window and, confirming that she had boarded the elevator, passed through the automatic doors at the entrance. After walking through the hall connecting to the corridor, I came across a bright, open yard covered with turf. I had previously observed that the first floor housed a handful of stores including a CD store, a bookstore, and a manga cafe. It was an impressive building indeed, and was thus out-of-place for this town, let alone as the domicile of a single student. Grateful for the lack of an auto-lock on the entrance door, the building’s sole country-esque feature, I raced up the emergency stairs on the side of the building to the elevator’s destination – the third floor. I opened the light blue door and peeked out into the corridor of the third floor. Misono-san had already arrived at her room, room 307, and with her bag resting on the floor beside her, had inserted her key into the keyhole.

From my vantage point, I saw that she struggled with opening the door, for she repeatedly turned her wrists before pulling the key out and putting it back in again.

From the fact that she had not made any stops besides the supermarket, I deduced that returning home had been her main objective. If that was truly the case, I would’ve liked to have invited myself into her home, but there was a major obstacle impeding my plans: the lock on her door would naturally hinder my entrance. Nor did I have any plans to play burglar, if but for one reason – I lacked the ability. Furthermore, it seemed extremely unlikely that Misono-san would unlock the door and grant a visitor entry.

…That left me with but one option.

If opening the door on my own was infeasible, then I simply needed its owner to do my work for me. In the meantime, it seemed that Misono-san had finally managed to unlock the door, and she retrieved her key from the doorknob with a wipe of her brow. As she slowly opened the door, I mumbled, “It’s time,” and physically stepped past the point of no return. I trotted toward her, naturally and casually picked up her bag with a “Let me get that for you,” and continued on into her home.

“……Huh?”

As Misono-san struggled to process what had just occurred, I proceeded into the entranceway with calm composure whereupon I carelessly threw off my shoes and walked toward the living room, making my steps as loud as I possibly could.

“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?!” Misono-san yelled, but I paid her no heed as I entered the neatly maintained living room. On my eighth step, I flipped around and took a bite of one of her apples without asking.

“This room looks both spacious and clean, doesn’t it? But I see some dust on top of the TV. Perhaps it only looks clean because there’s not actually much furniture in here?” I questioned as I turned to face her, only to find that the expression adorning her face had shifted from shocked to murderous. Her eyes had narrowed, as if to cover the glint in her irises, and she clutched an empty vase tightly in her grasp. She probably meant to use it as a weapon. That definitely wasn’t the correct attitude to take when welcoming a classmate.

“What are you?” she hissed.

“I’m not a what. I’m a who. I’m your classmate,” I answered flippantly. As I rolled my half-eaten apple onto the table, I scrutinized the back of the room out of the corner of my eye. In one corner of the concrete-built, Western room was a tightly-shut, dark-red fusuma door[2], denying entrance to the room laying behind it. From the looks of the structure, it seemed to be a Japanese-styled room.

“Um… Can you go home? You’re inconveniencing me,” Misono-san commented, doing her utmost to appear composed, yet utterly failing to keep from glancing at that room every few seconds. Were I an elementary school teacher, I would applaud her honest demeanor.

“If you’d like, I certainly could go home. But I’d like to hear what the other party has to say before doing anything.”

“…I don’t know what you mean.”

“This is what I mean,” I replied as I turned to the Japanese-styled room. An instant later, I heard the creak of strained floorboards and instinctively jumped to the side. I grabbed the sofa and somersaulted over it in an attempt to place some distance between us. From where I now stood, I could see that my previous position was currently occupied by both a vase and an electric self-defense weapon, both in the hands of Misono-san.

“That’s a bit excessive, really. It’s a real shame you failed, though. That was even your last chance too. You really should’ve attacked me right as I passed through the entrance.”

With this distance between us, there was no possibility of her attacks succeeding. No matter how infuriated she might be or what weapons she might wield, she had ceased to be an object of fear. Misono-san stared at me with a poker face, yet the anger radiating from her could be felt from where I stood. Holding her pen-shaped stun gun at chest level, she shuffled slowly across the floor, giving no signs she planned to plunge toward me out of sheer rage.

“Do you know?”

“Obviously.”

Obviously I didn’t know a thing, that is. I didn’t know what Misono-san had been speaking of, nor did I know what justice was, nor social morality, nor ethics, nor Misono-san’s favorite thing, nor how to socialize, nor even the nutritional information of an apple.

There was no way I’d know all that. Well, one of those was a lie.

“Don’t bother. Even if you pulled out a machine gun, I’m confident you wouldn’t be able to kill me.”

Did I ever mention that I love to bluff?

Misono-san moved to block my path to the room. Her overly honest attitude which prevented her from lying had me wondering how she managed everyday life.

“It must really be important to you. Maybe it’s the room that’s important. Or maybe you’ve got something stored within that affects your social standing, reputation, or financial assets. Could it perhaps be something fatal to your position in society?”

Without going into specifics, I probed the issue with my words, failing to get a reaction out of her. I concluded that it was time to stop playing around. I had no way of gauging at what point madness would claim her. Moreover, I had not come to visit Misono-san today just to bully her. And I certainly hadn’t come to confirm her sins.

“It’s been a while,” I said. Like a magician revealing his tricks, I spoke her name.

“Maa-chan.”

 

Misono-san’s stun gun and vase hit the floor. Her shoulders shook in silent sobs, which, to an outsider, may have suggested she had been the victim of bullying. She, like a baby deer seeking its mother, took an unsteady step in my direction. Her pupils quivered and her shaking intensified.

“Do you remember me?” I asked. My voice was faint; my words had been spoken almost unconsciously.

“Mii…kun?”

…The name echoed in my ears, triggering a wave of nostalgia. It had been eight long years since I’d last heard that name.

“Maa-chan.”

Misono Mayu’s shoulders shook violently. I embraced her thin and bony body, as if to still her quaking. A feminine fragrance mingled with the smell of sweat to fill my nostrils.

“Mii-kun….?” she murmured once more, still unable to believe what was happening.

“There, there.”

“Mii-kun.”

“There, there.”

“Mii… kun…”

I rubbed her back like a mother comforting a forlorn child. That was all she needed to break down completely.

“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!”

Mayu burst into a waterfall of tears, as though she had suddenly and abruptly broken down. The deluge of cool teardrops ran down her neck and shoulders and collected in a puddle which soaked her surroundings.

“Mii-kun! Mii-kun, Mii-kun, Mii-kun, Mii-kun, Mii-kun!”

With her back still supported by my arms, Mayu continued to repeat that name again and again before finally crumpling to the floor, tears still racing down her cheeks.

She wasn’t just any old classmate to me.

Together we had been tortured. Together we had been broken. And together we had gone mad.

A relationship desired by none.

Misono Mayu and I had been victims of the kidnapping eight years ago.

 

Thirty minutes later, we had cleaned up the fragments of the vase and things had calmed down.

“I’m sorry. I just wanted to tease you a little,” I apologized. We were seated on the sofa as I stroked her hair. Tears continued to escape Mayu’s eyes. She pouted in disapproval but did not complain as I embraced her.

“Mii-kun, you jerk. You almost gave me a heart attack.”

“I could say the same.”

She had indeed come close to stopping my heart, not to mention mere inches from caving my head in and shattering my bones to a fine powder.

“I’m going to confiscate this.”

Dangerous things shouldn’t be left in the reach of children. Mayu didn’t react as I collected her stun gun from the floor; it seemed she no longer cared.

“Idiot. Moron. Mii-kun, you dummy.”

Mayu’s vocabulary seemed to have regressed to that of a child’s. The calm and composed façade she maintained at school had vanished without a trace.

“Why haven’t you said anything until now?” she asked.

“I didn’t notice until recently. I didn’t know your full name, after all,” I lied. However, my answer did nothing to dispel her displeasure.

“Liar. We used to play together all the time when we were kids. There’s no way you wouldn’t notice.”

“Wow. What shrewd judgment. What a clever girl.”

Patting her on the head, I sidestepped her suspicions. It wasn’t that I couldn’t tell her why, though; it was simply because she likely wouldn’t have understood.

“Mayu, you have such a small head. Almost like an…”

Mayu interrupted me mid-sentence with a finger to my lips. Turning, she shifted in place to face me.

“It’s not Mayu – it’s Maa-chan,” she declared, releasing my lips.

“Don’t you think you’re too old for a nickname like that?”

“No! You have to call me Maa-chan!”

Mayu flailed her limbs like a child throwing a tantrum, though saying that she had, in truth, reverted to a child’s mentality was likely more accurate.

“And ‘Mii-kun’ sounds like a cat’s meowing.” My complaints continued.

“What’s wrong with cats? Do you have a problem with this?”

Of course I do, I thought.

“Mii-kun is Mii-kun, and Maa-chan is Maa-chan. That will never change!”

The desperation of her pleas, reinforced by the weight of her tears, imbued her request with profound gravity. Giving in to the situation, I nodded my assent.

“Yeah, you’re right. The name ‘Mii-kun’ brings to mind a blue robot, and Maa-chan sounds like some mascot,” I babbled.[2.5]

“Yes, yes! Mii-kun, you’re a genius!”

Her tear-filled face taut, Mayu reached over and patted me on the head. Some part of me recognized that I was making a critical mistake, but my mind proved incapable of devising any possible alternatives or solutions. Objectively speaking, it would have been strange to calmly come up with ideas in a situation like this anyway.

“I’ve been waiting for sooo long. For the day when Mii-kun would reenter my life with a grand entrance, and call me ‘Maa-chan,'” Mayu added.

“Oh… I see.” Encouraging… it was not.

“…Oh yeah. Do you mind if I take a peek at what’s in that room?” I asked, turning my head to the Japanese-styled room.

“Of course not!” Mayu exclaimed as she pulled herself off me. The second I stood, however, she twined her arms around my neck and hung on my back. It was a little stifling, but the konaki-musume[3] rode piggyback as I moved toward the Japanese-styled room, all the while praying that my guess was wrong. Never hesitating, I wrenched the fusuma door open. The room’s only contents were the two children that had been kidnapped.

“…Hmm,” I murmured, closing the fusuma door and making a U-turn straight back to the couch. Once seated, I turned the television on. The screen showed a couple enjoying a date at the amusement park on a weekday. They rode the ferris wheel and the boy sniffed his girlfriend’s shoes. Mayu bounced onto my lap and I altered my breathing patterns to compensate.

“I don’t like mushy dramas,” Mayu remarked. She snatched the remote from my hands and pressed ‘8.’ The television switched to a variety show, but I resolved myself to deal with the elephant in the room before I got too comfortable.

“Maa-chan,” I called, running my fingers through her hair, half-resigned to the hopelessness of the situation.

“Did you kidnap those kids?”

“Yep!”

Mayu answered cheerfully and freely, as though without a care in the world. Her face beamed with pride as she met my eyes, as though begging for approval and recognition. I wonder how I’d react if that were indeed the case? I might just give her a pat on the head.

“Mii-kun. Hey, Mii-kun. Why don’t you stay here as well? Let’s live together.”

I affected an air of ignorance, pretending that I hadn’t understood what she meant by “as well.” “Don’t make requests and demands in the same breath,” I countered instead.

“So? So? How about it?” Mayu prompted, eyes bright with expectation. I wondered if her personality at school was all a mask. The actions of the “little girl” before me were too natural to be anything but real.

“Let’s see… Living together would mean sharing the same house, right…?”

As students, expectations were that our relationship remain pure. That, however, didn’t seem likely to apply if the person in question was already dirty. I also needed my uncle’s permission as he was technically my guardian.

“We’ll go to school together, and eat dinner together, bathe together, and go to bed together. Doesn’t that just sound wonderful?” Mayu prompted.

“Yeah, that sounds all well and good, but what about living costs?”

“I’ll pay, don’t worry!” She tempted me with the life of a kept man. But I didn’t mind. The situation was only going to be temporary anyway.

“I’ll discuss it with my uncle today. If he says no, I’ll just run away.”

I reached a childish conclusion. Mayu, on the other hand, seemed convinced that this was going to happen, her eyes lost in a dream-like state.

“Ahh, I wish I’d known about this earlier. Then we could’ve been in the same group for the class trip.” Her disappointed tone was a mismatch for the joyous expression on her face. I played along and showed a downcast look. A false one.

“Okay, that’s enough of that sickly sweet topic for now,” I said, cracking my neck. The Japanese-styled room had followed expectations. Misono Mayu was indeed one-half of the two mysteries plaguing this town. Now that I had confirmed my suspicions, however, I was at a loss for what to do next. The fact that I had already presumed as much notwithstanding, witnessing firsthand the accuracy of my prediction had still come as a shock.

“Isn’t something like living together meant to be a joyous occasion? And yet I’m coming into this with nothing less than a crime hanging over my head…”

I wanted to pull my hair in frustration. And then I’d throw my head away and exchange it for a new one[4].

“Nya nya? Are you okay? You look as pale as death.” Mayu, who had stopped daydreaming, began poking my face instead. Gazing directly at my face as she mumbled childish words like “nya,” she passed a moment in contemplation before clapping her hands in an epiphany.

“You’re hungry!”

“You’re right… There’s no end to my problems; I might as well fill my stomach…”

This was no time to collapse under the burden of the problems weighing me down. The hour hand of the clock above the television pointed just past five, while its minute hand hovered over the eight. Uncle and Auntie would have finished eating by now.

“Mii-kun, you always eat so much,” Mayu observed, much the way a mother would to her son. She hopped off my lap and, arms akimbo, stood between me and the television. “So I, Maa-chan, shall make you a meal!” she announced with pride. With the light of the television behind her, she seemed positively divine, and I nearly fell to my knees in reverence.

“Please do.”

“So what would you like to eat? I can make anything.”

“Then anything you don’t like sounds good to me.”

On reflex, I made a biting rejoinder. Maa-chan’s tears, which had only just stopped, welled up in her eyes once more.

“I’m joking, it’s a joke. An Esperanto joke. I want what you want, Maa-chan. What makes you happy makes me happy. Honestly.”

It was a compliment so hollow it was verging on being as shallow as the girls that loiter around Shibuya. Nevertheless, Mayu’s tears subsided as she proudly declared, “Leave it to me,” and ran off to the kitchen without stopping to put her slippers on.

It was super effective.

Mayu’s arrival in the kitchen was heralded by a dull thump. I followed after her to see what had happened. At first glance, the room appeared well-kept, though in truth it was anything but. The manner in which utensils were organized was completely incomprehensible. Who keeps their knives with their chopsticks?

Mayu was retrieving her apron from a shelf. Blushing, she draped the apron over her uniform and shyly presented herself to me.

“What do you think – does it suit me?” she prompted, glancing up at me. I couldn’t think of a suitable compliment so I hugged her instead. That seemed a satisfactory substitute.

“Mii-kun, I like you sooo much.”

By the time I released her from my embrace, Mayu’s face was tinged with red and her expression had bloomed into an attractive smile filled with charm.

“So when do you want the wedding to be?”

“Wait. What?”

All of a sudden, ours was a matrimonial relationship.

“Wouldn’t it be great if our first was a girl?”

Children now? Things were escalating faster than in the “Hand of the Heavenly Bride.”[4.5]

To stave off any further development in our relationship, I glanced around for a potential distraction. Though there was nothing in the kitchen that might serve, I remembered a question I had planned on asking.

“What about the kids’ dinner? Are you planning to make some for them too?”

Mayu left my side to pluck two pieces of bread from a bag hanging off the fridge.

“This is for them,” she explained.

“…No. That’s not enough.”

“What? Why not?”

“Just because. You can cook right? At least give them something decent.”

Mayu’s gaze dropped in obvious displeasure. Venomously, she squashed the bread in her hands.

“It’s fine. This is how much we got. No, actually, we used to get even less. I’m even giving them all the water they want.”

“That’s true, but…”

Her standards had hit rock bottom.

“You brought them here of your own accord, so you have to do at least that much. Don’t you remember how much we suffered from hunger?” I decided to add. In our case, we were even forced to “perform” for food.

No, food’s the wrong word. Even after exhausting ourselves “performing,” the most we’d ever managed to scrounge together had been but mere scraps. It was ironically appropriate for us, who were basically animals.

Mayu nodded in agreement, though her expression was one of naked disappointment.

“If Mii-kun says so…”

“It’s not a demand, Maa-chan – it’s a request. I want you, of your own will, to feed them. It goes without saying that – since it’s just a request – you can turn it down.”

My words, filled to the brim with counterfeit kindness, made me sick. The truth was, I knew that if I phrased things that way, she was incapable of denying me. The depravity of my heart disgusted even me.

“Okay, but… oh, I know – then Mii-kun, you have to listen to my request too.”

Mayu’s smile renewed itself, as if she had just come up with an ingenious idea. While, technically speaking, I was free to reject her wish since it was just a request, but what good would it do if I permitted logic to trample my emotions to such an extent? I gave her a nod.

“Woohoo! Just give me a second!”

Tossing the pair of flattened bread pieces on the kitchen island, Mayu opened the refrigerator door with great enthusiasm. After watching her for a few moments, I left the kitchen with the bread in hand.

Reaching into the bag I had left lying on the sofa, I extracted my cellphone. Scrolling through my contacts, I selected a number I had come to be very familiar with. Auntie answered almost immediately and I explained that I was going to have dinner at a friend’s. Auntie was probably eating her favorite – dried squid – as incessant chewing noises sounded over the receiver as she gave her approval and told me to come home as early as possible. After returning the phone to my bag, I continued to sit on the floor and, closing my eyes, relived all that Mayu and I had shared in the past. For ten long seconds, memories flashed through my mind, filling me with horror.

 

Concluding my business, I slid open the doors to the Japanese-styled room. I made my way to the center of the room, pretending I hadn’t noticed the gazes focused on me, and turned on the lights.

“Nice to meet you, I guess?”

I attempted a smile similar to that of a children’s educational TV show host for a favorable impression, only to realize that, in this place, smiling was beyond me. As I took in the cramped, if now brightly-lit room, an oppressive stench assailed me. The overpowering scent invaded my nostrils and the instinctive desire to cover my nose overwhelmed me. The two had neither showered nor had their clothes been washed since they’d arrived here, and since the bucket that served as their toilet had been left uncleaned, it was no surprise that the room reeked so powerfully. I closed the fusuma door behind me to quarantine the smell and prevent it from leaking. Choked by the polluted air as I was, it was a Herculean task keeping a straight face.

Of the two residents of the room, the older brother watched me through fearful eyes while the younger sister glared at me, her already thin eyes narrowing even further. Their only common point was that their legs had been cuffed to a nearby pillar. Small cuts on both the pillar and their legs stood as evidence of previous attempts to escape. Brother and sister both held their breath, their mouths shut tight in a grim line. I sat down before them with perfect posture. It was a habit of mine to sit politely when meeting someone for the first time. The older brother’s gaze revealed a look of shock at my politeness.

“Ikeda Kouta-kun and Ikeda Anzu-chan, I imagine?”

I studied their faces as I called their names. The older brother shook his head up and down, as if he felt fear in the form of gravity, answering my query. His sister, on the other hand, kept her gaze on the wall, stonewalling my attempts to converse with her. Well, that was only natural.

“You can call me Onii-san[5]. Onii-chan is also an option, of course.”

“Uh… right,” Kouta-kun mumbled.

“But my name’s a secret,” I added, attempting to turn my plain character into a mysterious one. Ignoring the wary look in their eyes, I dangled the bread in front of their faces.

“Are you hungry?”

“Er, um, y-yes. Actually, no…” Kouta-kun gave an unintelligible answer. Anzu-chan, seemingly unable to watch any longer, finally opened her mouth to speak, her eyes never leaving the wall.

“Duh, we’re hungry. We haven’t had a bite to eat since this morning. Hurry up and hand that over already.”

Her tone held naught but naked frustration and aggression. Without hesitation, she reached for the bread. I placed the bread in her small hands. Anzu-chan tore the already tattered bread to pieces, as if about to feed some koi[6] in a pond. She must have been checking for something, but the bread held neither custard, nor chocolate, nor poison.

“We’ve also made you some real dinner today,” I said.

Anzu-chan’s bread autopsy came to a halt as she turned to me, her eyes widening in surprise.

“Um, what do you mean?” Kouta-kun asked. His face was filled with anxiety; anticipation was nowhere to be found.

“The girl that kidnapped you is making dinner at the moment. I don’t know what she’s making, though.”

“Making what? Dinner? What’s in it? Poison? Or are you gonna make us eat cooked cockroaches?” Anzu-chan demanded. That confirmed my suspicions of her previous act being a check for poison. That wariness of hers left a good impression on me. So much so that I wanted to bully her a little. On the other hand, Kouta-kun watched on anxiously, likely worried that his sister would anger me.

“Poison and cockroaches, huh… Well then, Anzu-chan—”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Ikeda-san, then. If I were to serve a dish with either of those in it, would you eat it?”

“Of course I wouldn’t.”

“What if I told you I’d kill if you didn’t?”

“If I ate it, I would die either way anyway.”

I shook my head. “That’s not what I meant. If you don’t eat it, your brother’s the one who dies,” I corrected. Kouta-kun’s body jolted. Tears welled up in his eyes. Anzu-chan cast a look of contempt at her pathetic brother.

“It’s easy to make a unilateral decision when the consequences are yours to bear alone. However, you need to think about who else your decisions will affect; you have to take responsibility for your actions.”

For example, my responsibility for Mayu.

Upon hearing this, Anzu-chan lowered her head, her glower having lost its sharpness. Kouta-kun, watching us both, interceded.

“Um, I’ll eat it, so…”

“Hmm?”

“I’ll eat it so, um, please don’t say things like that to, um, Anzu.”

Stammering as he spoke, Kouta-kun nonetheless managed to convey his strong will. His gaze pierced through me, leading me to realize that he was indeed an older brother. Anzu-chan, unable to hide her surprise, clung to Kouta-kun’s arms with teary eyes.

“Please don’t bully Anzu,” he repeated.

“……”

His words set aflame what remnants of a conscience I had left to me, cutting me deeply. Children can be so relentless sometimes.

“I don’t want you think of me as the kind of trash that enjoys toying with people’s dignity and lives. It was a rhetorical question. Forgive me. Please don’t take it too seriously,” I apologized, prostrating myself.

“Uh, I, I’m sorry too.”

Kouta-kun mirrored my action. Naturally, Anzu-chan did not.

“It’s your fault for asking something like that,” she muttered. The ones who actually do such things are the ones at fault if you ask me, but I kept that to myself. There was no need to continue such a conversation any longer. It wasn’t that I hadn’t gotten anything from the exchange, but rather that my heart would give out under the strain they were placing on my conscience before I got any further.

They must’ve been starving, for they tore into the bread which Anzu-chan had examined – more like pulverized – in silence. Despite the absence of verbal communication, I could tell from the way they faced each other that they treasured each moment they shared with one another.

I simply sat, my legs crossed, my chin resting on my arm, observing the two.

The older brother, Ikeda Kouta, was in the fourth grade of elementary school. His skin color was impossible to determine, hidden under a layer of filth as it was. He had a thin body and hair that reached his eyebrows. Though he was the elder sibling by a gap of two years, he seemed quite leery of his sister’s moods. It seemed, however, that it did not stem from a fear of his sister, but rather from excessive affection. In my mind, that was a pass. The younger sister, Ikeda Anzu, was in her second year of elementary school. She, too, was covered in grime. Her shoulder-length hair was curled upward; perhaps she had slept on it. She was a jumble of obstinacy and pride, which was reflected in her mature manner of speech. This pair that Mayu had kidnapped looked considerably thinner than they had appeared in photos in the papers, though there were no bags under their eyes.

“Mrm, whut?” Anzu-chan scowled, struggling with the food in her mouth. The sight of her glare, seen alongside her cheeks packed as full as a squirrel’s, was heartwarming indeed.

“I was just thinking that sisters are kinda nice.”

Anzu-chan blushed, her cheeks still bulging with food, and looked away. Or not. Actually, the glare she directed in my direction grew more menacing still.

“I’m not, mm, your shister,” she grumbled, squeezing the words through the food in her mouth.

“You’re right. But when you see a dog, you wouldn’t feel the urge to kill it, right?”

“Mmnh? What?”

“You really are a good girl, aren’t you?”

Irked by the smug look on my face, Anzu-chan forced the rest of the bread down her throat so she could tell me, “You’re gross.” Kouta-kun choked, and lowered his head in apology on behalf of his sister. What a sight we must have made – an easygoing kidnapper and his apologetic victim.

“Anyway, now that you’re full, I have something important to talk to you about,” I said.

“That only made me hungrier,” Anzu-chan retorted.

“Anzu, shush.” Kouta-kun hushed his sister with a word of caution. I glanced at the two faces and continued to speak.

“I have a request. I would like you to say that I was the one who kidnapped you. Forget about the girl that actually kidnapped you. Make no mention of her existence. If you can promise me that, then…”

I went on promise them that I would free them if they accepted my request. It was a lie. Honestly, there had to be something terribly wrong with a person if they could believe something as shady as that. If someone were that trusting and gullible, they wouldn’t survive long in this world full of deception.

Eventually, I would have to kill these two.

The dead tell no tales after all.

I would act just as the rumored murderer would.

“U, um,” Kouta-kun raised his hand.

“How might I be of service, Kouta-kun?” I gave a flowery reply.

“When you say you’ll ‘free’ us, do you mean that, um, you’ll let us go?”

“That is indeed what I mean.”

“Oh… I see. T-Thanks, I guess…”

The words leaving Kouta-kun’s lips seemed reluctant, almost as though he had no desire to leave. Surprisingly, even Anzu-chan looked less excited than I’d expected. It was almost as if they’d gone out of their way to get kidnapped.

Kidnapping is subjectively worse than murder. When someone is murdered, their suffering ends with their death. In a kidnapping, however, the victim continues to be haunted by the incident long after they’ve been freed. They have to continue a life replete with insanity.

Even though it’s beyond repair.

Even though it’s worse than death.

They have to keep living.

They continue to be kept alive.

Forced to grapple with societal norms that have long since fallen outside their ability to comprehend.

…Damn it. Erased, it is not.

“So how exactly did you guys end up here?” I asked in a bright tone that masked the spite behind my question.

“We were, um, playing outside and then she came, and, uh, brought us here…” Kouta-kun hesitantly answered, casting Anzu-chan an uncertain glance. Anzu-chan, despite facing the other way, had her hand on Kouta-kun’s. I nodded and pretended I understood. Inwardly, however, I was screaming ‘objection!’ [6.5]They were playing outside even after the string of recent murders? I highly doubted that. The news had reported that they had gone missing during the afternoon, so they had indeed been outside at the time. But it was highly unlikely that their parents would’ve simply allowed them to leave the house to go play… I think.

The irregularity in his story was firmly lodged in my mind, but I decided it would be better not to involve myself.

“What are you doing in here?” The fusuma door crashed open and a bitter voice called out to me from behind. I turned to find the cold and composed Mayu from the classroom holding a frying pan in one hand. Her attitude, fitting for a seventeen-year-old, created the illusion that her age regression just fifteen minutes ago had all been a lie. A quizzical expression on her face, Mayu stepped into the room and stumbled on the tatami mats. I hurriedly caught her and was rewarded with a dry, “Thanks.”

“My pleasure,” I replied, with pointless decorum. I glanced over at the contents of the frying pan.

“It’s yakisoba[7].” Mayu held out the pan with a bright smile; it was either her favorite food or a dish she felt confident making. The aroma of the sauce, mixed with the smell of the room, forced my hunger to subside.

“Let’s get something to put under the pan…” I suggested.

Unfortunately, Mayu seemed to not comprehend my Japanese, as she set the frying pan directly on top of the tatami mats. A burning hiss, accompanied by the smell of burnt grass, reached me. This room was now nothing less than a veritable symphony of putrid odors.

“Let’s eat in the kitchen,” Mayu said, tugging on my sleeves. Gently, I rejected that idea.

“We’ll eat here.”

“Why?”

“Because you were cooking for them as well, right?”

Mayu lips parted, words of dissent at the ready. Fortunately, she restricted her response to a slight exhalation. Her attitude making it abundantly clear that she was unhappy about the situation, Mayu nevertheless obediently took a seat and handed me a pair of chopsticks. With my eyes, I urged her to hand some chopsticks to the other two as well. Mayu obliged by roughly tossing them into their laps. For a time, the two simply blinked in surprise. That did not last long, though, as the siblings gave in to their hunger and turned to me for the go-ahead. I gave them a nod and scarcely a moment had passed before they were reaching for the frying pan with their chopsticks.

“Be careful; it’s hot.”

The two seemed not to hear as they had their heads in the frying pan. They probably would’ve tucked in even if it had been poisoned. They didn’t even give me a chance to get some for myself.

“Delicious!”

“Yeah, it’s so good!”

Even Anzu-chan offered honest praise as she greedily inhaled her food. Any normal person would be overjoyed that something they had cooked was so appreciated, but Mayu was abnormal. Clearly irritated, she watched the two devouring the food she’d made, all the while grinding her teeth and gripping her arm so hard her fingernails bit into her skin. I was worried that she might scream at them, but she did nothing of the sort. No, Mayu was not that meek a girl. Instead, she slowly raised her chopsticks. What happened next made me feel faint with shock. With great force, she swung the tips of her chopsticks down toward Anzu-chan’s head in an attempt to impale her.

“Stop!” I cried, extending my right hand to obstruct the chopsticks. Maa-chan’s colorful chopsticks pierced straight through the top of my palm and out the back of my hand.

“…Ow…It looks like an alien has forced its way out from my hand….”

“…Mii-kun?”

Mayu looked first at the chopsticks protruding diagonally out of my hand, and then at me, a puzzled look occupying her face. The siblings, too, stared at my hand, though they never stopped eating. Those kids must have hearts of steel… or maybe just a ravenous appetite. Mayu didn’t react until blood started gushing out of my wound.

“I’ll get something to dress the wound,” she said, rising to her feet. Her tone was so light. She clearly had no sense of guilt whatsoever.

“There’s no need for anything that drastic; I’ll be fine with a band-aid…”

“No. If you get germs in there, your hand will get all bubbly.”

Bubbly, huh. I wondered what that would be like. Would it be my flesh that would “get bubbly” or my skin?

“And I’ll also make dinner just for you.”

That wasn’t really what I wanted to hear. When you’re offered food other than what everyone else is eating, it feels like you’re being discriminated against. I stopped Mayu as she was about to exit the room.

“You don’t need to make anything for me. I don’t want to trouble you.”

“Oh, it’s no trouble.”

Well, it’s trouble for me.

“I’ve had enough for now. You know I’ll… uh… be having you tonight anyway.”

Regret washed over me the moment the words left my mouth. Embarrassment dyed my face a deep crimson, and my face felt hotter than it had ever been. The children stared daggers at me and their look of censure hurt far more than my wound. I looked over at Mayu, half-fearing her reaction. Albeit unnecessarily, for she wore a demure expression. She grabbed my hand, complete with two new fingers branching out from my palm, and pulled me outside the Japanese-style room. Closing the fusuma door behind her, a radiant smile blossomed on her face.

“Really?”

“And what might you be referring to?” I replied as a gentleman might, for God only knows what reason.

“So, so, you’ll have me? Today? Tonight? Woohoo!”

It was far more effective than I could ever have imagined. She’d thrown her arms into the air in celebration. Does sulphuric acid run through the brains of young maidens?

“Um, we can discuss that later on… C-Can we get some band-aids first?” I did my best to divert focus to the chopsticks that were making themselves at home in my palm. I wasn’t sure whether my ploy worked or not, but Mayu nodded with a smile and raced off like a dog going after a bone. After seeing her off, I walked back into the Japanese-styled room and sat down where I’d been seated earlier. With my free hand, I took hold of the objects growing out of my hand.

“Ow, geez. It’s grazing the bone. Ouch, ow ow. Ah— it slid out. This is giving me goosebumps.”

I removed the chopsticks from their temporary home while making a racket by myself. A red dome of blood surfaced on my palm, dyeing the creases of my palm dark red. Licking my hand in an attempt to keep the tatami mats clean, I felt the weight of a stare on my person, so I glanced over to my side. The stare belonged to Kouta-kun, but what really surprised me was that the yakisoba was entirely gone.

“Um, thank… you.”

“For what? You should thank Onee-san[8] instead. She’s the one who made the food so your appreciation should rightly go to her.”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” he replied. “You protected Anzu,” he continued, with a shy smile and a small bow. His attitude made me feel that he’d grown more attached to me. Anzu-chan, on the other hand, feigned ignorance as she scoured the pan for remaining scraps of yakisoba. Laughing, I told the two not to worry.

…I guess the relationship Mayu and I shared was one where a situation like this was laughable.

There really weren’t any words to describe it.

 

As soon as I finished treating my wound, I hurriedly left Mayu’s house. Although it was difficult to leave when faced with a Mayu with tears in her eyes, I didn’t have the luxury of allowing my life to revolve around hers. Half of that’s a lie, though. As I left her apartment, I was chilled by the frigid night air, the wind making me shiver a little as it blew.

“…What an eventful day.”

It had been a day which had stunk as much as hydrochloric acid. I glanced at my hand, now densely wrapped in bandages. Mayu had returned only to cheerfully announce that “There’s no more band-aids!” and, despite her ignorance of medical matters, had attempted to dress my wound. The number of bandages used had been the only part of the treatment that could be considered first-class. I pulled them off, though the smell of medicine seemed to have already ingrained itself onto my hand. Today seemed to be the day of bad smells.

“I can’t say I ever expected to be involved in a kidnapping again…”

Only this time, I was the kidnapper. The only relationship where positions should ever swap is that of childhood rivals. The pair of siblings who had been kidnapped also occupied my thoughts. As I’d observed and interacted with them, I’d been struck with the impression that something was off. There existed a contradiction somewhere – it seemed to me that they had accepted their situation far too easily – but I was having difficulty putting my finger on exactly what it was that bothered me.

“…Wait.”

I had forgotten to ask something I had been meaning to ask. My gaze flitted back to the apartment building, lit up by the night lights in each room. Like shadow art, its intimidating presence seemed to amplify the darkness around it.

Oh well, I’ll ask her tomorrow. It hadn’t been terribly important either way and I didn’t feel like turning back just to ask. Plus, I had the feeling that if I did go back, Mayu would’ve forced to me to stay the night. My aunt would’ve beaten me over the head with a stone lantern if I’d done that.

So I’ll ask her tomorrow. If I remember.

Why did you kidnap those children?

 

The Eighth Incident [the subconscious murder]

I like chicken skin. I also enjoy salmon skin, as well as the cheek meat of sea bream. Were I to rate these highly in isolation, though, I must admit such an approach would be rather lacking in decorum. To do such a thing would be comparable to carving off the ears of a person, and then proceeding to judge those ears to be of greater value than the individual themselves. Utter foolishness. The person would yet have their eyes, their mouth, their limbs. Someone who failed to enjoy these to their full potential can only be described as profligate to the extreme. I, however, do not find the least pleasure in either cannibalism or arts and crafts that use parts of the human body. Let us thus depart from this topic and instead consider matters of greater import to my future. Oh, he died. I am a firm believer that a foundation built upon views coming from all angles is vital to avoid building a house upon the sand. Truth be told, I would love nothing more than to ask another to share their thoughts with me. Someone like me. Someone with the same habits as me. Someone who sees things differently despite standing where I stand. To sit down at a cafe, with another of my kind. This has been the desire of my heart ever since I reached the limit of what I could achieve by thinking on my own. One concern, however, did weigh on my mind. If I really could find another like me, would things really end with just casual conversation? If I must be honest, I have something of a short fuse, and I also can come on a little too strong when it comes to those I like, which can be discomfiting. Furthermore, it wasn’t unusual for me to begin dialogue with a fight. I thus hesitate to seek out kindred spirits. I’m scared. Scared of looking in the mirror. Scared of swinging my fist at a reflection of myself… For better or worse, I have not yet come across anyone like myself. To date, I have only chanced upon one like me just once, and that for but a scant few seconds. Perhaps my kind hide themselves like a species hunted to endangerment. Even if there are undoubtedly a vast number of us. I enjoy midnight trips to the convenience store and music sung by a pretty girl. If someone also boasted the compulsive tendency to kill in addition to skill at hide-and-seek, then we just might be the same kind of person. Well, I guess I can compromise when it comes to music taste. Even if they preferred male vocals, I’d still welcome a comrade with open arms. That’s how desperate I am. Even if I were to receive the most suspicious of e-mails, one that hinted at the location of one like me, my brain’s protestations notwithstanding, my legs would take me to the spot in question. Today, as I made a visit to the local convenience store while on the lookout for someone similar to me, I found my enemies patrolling the vicinity like savanna predators. I wish to simply coast through life on my way to becoming a full-fledged member of society. Or so I hope, anyway.

 

Translator notes and references

[0] Every character named here is named after someone from the Heian period.

[1] Oni of Setsubun: The oni is an ogre-like demon depicted often in Japanese art and fables. Setsubun is a Japanese festival held just before the beginning of spring which plays host to a ritual for cleansing evil, represented by the oni.

[2] Fusuma: traditional, rectangular Japanese doors that slide, rather than swing, open and shut.

[2.5] The blue robot refers to Doraemon, whose girlfriend was Mii-chan. The mascot refers to the baseball team Chiba Lotte Marines’ mascot, Maa-kun.

[3] Konaki-musume: a pun on “konaki-jiji,” which is a type of Japanese youkai. “Jiji” means “old man,” while “musume” means “young girl.”

[4] Anpanman: this is a reference to Anpanman (アンパンマン), a Japanese picture book series, and later, cartoon for children.

[4.5] This refers to dragon quest ‘hand of the heavenly bride’.

[5] Onii-san: a polite, yet amiable way to refer to a young man. Alternatively, Onii-chan. (Can also be used to refer to one’s older brother.)

[6] Koi: a colorful, ornamental variety of carp often kept in outdoor koi ponds or water gardens.

[6.5] This is a reference to the game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

[7] Yakisoba: a Japanese noodle dish that is derived from the Chinese chow mein.

[8] Onee-san: a form of address that is the female analog of “Onii-san.”

* For further information, the respective Wikipedia pages offer greater detail.