Demon Child, Chapter 3.
from Aili's translation of Ono Fuyumi's Mashou no Ko.
The first week of training was soon to be over. It was Saturday when the students had only a half-day, but most of the students remained at school in the afternoon in order to prepare for the forthcoming athletics festival. The chemistry prep room was occupied by the regulars.
It was uncertain where the first-year Nozue had heard the news of Hashigami's injury, though he was carefully explaining what had happened.
"It was a 5-inch nail. Except for the head of the nail, the entire length had gone through his palm. And even though he went to a hospital and got a doctor to pull it out, the process of doing so was really tough."
"Yikes, how scary!" exclaimed a first-year named Sugisaki.
The air conditioning was on in the prep room. Gotou as usual had gone out for lunch. The students had taken the beakers out by themselves and were either drinking juice that they had bought at the store or the coffee that Gotou had prepared.
Tsuiki was taking a day off today. They'd heard that Hashigami hadn't come to school either.
"Hashigami-san's a pretty handy guy. He's good at carpentry work too."
The first-year Nozue's words had caught Hirose's attention.
"Is that so?"
Nozue nodded meekly. "Hashigami-san is actually an otaku."
Hirose didn't understand what he meant.
"Hashigami-san's room is amazing. If we're just talking about VCRs, he's got about five of them. He uses them to record anime. He's got a great antenna system set up that he uses to record rebroadcasts from broadcast stations that are far away."
"Yeah, and the shelves he puts videotapes and cassettes on take up an entire wall. Hashigami-san built them all himself."
Iwaki smiled. "Even monkeys fall from trees." [note: this is an idiom which means that no matter how good one is at something, they can still make mistakes.]
Sugisaki laughed loudly. "Even Hashigamis puncture themselves with nails."
Hirose let out a short, obligatory laugh, but he wasn't satisfied with this explanation. There was something he just didn't understand.
"That's right, I heard that Tsuiki was acting weird yesterday or something?" asked Iwaki. Hirose nodded disconcertedly.
"You seem to know quite a bit."
"I think someone in our class was there. I heard he ran away in a fluster, that he got into an argument with Takasato."
"Yeah... Hashigami said some trivial things, and then it turned into something like that."
"Trivial things? Hashigami-san was there too?"
"Oh, I know. It's that thing, the spiriting away," said Nozue excitedly. Hirose nodded vaguely.
"What's the spiriting away?" asked Sugisaki curiously. Nozue then proceeded to tell a story of which only half had actually happened and the other half he had made up himself.
"Don't believe him. Most of that Nozue came up with by himself," replied Hirose with a cynical smile. Nozue pouted unhappily when he heard this.
"It's a bit troubling. Everyone goes about casually broadcasting this stuff everywhere. —But the spiriting away seems to be for real."
It was just at that time.
"I think it's probably better if you don't talk about this just because you think it's interesting."
It was the second-year Sakata.
"Why?" asked Iwaki as he turned around.
"Someone in my class has said before that bad things will happen to you if you just casually talk about it."
"What do you mean by bad things?" The one who had asked this was Hirose.
Sakata shrugged, saying, "I'm not clear on it myself. The classmate that had said it doesn't seem to like to talk about it. He was in the same class as Takasato when they were first-years, and he said it wasn't good to talk about it. I heard it wasn't too good for the guys who'd made fun of Takasato..."
Everyone who was there was a little taken aback, but Hirose couldn't help but start to take this seriously.
"It wasn't too good? Do you mean like accidents or something like that?"
"Probably. They say that nothing good happens to people who bully Takasato. Everyone who's made fun of Takasato's been hurt."
"No way! You're making this up!" said Iwaki. Sakata could only tilt his head in hesitation.
"That's just what I heard. But, a lot of people have been hurt because of this, and didn't someone die on a field trip that spring? Of course, those are just rumors too."
This was the first time Hirose had heard anything of the sort and he peered at Sakata's face.
"Yeah, when they were riding a ferry, someone fell into the sea and drowned to death. I think it was someone in class three. It'd happened on the way back from the field trip, and so they had to stop doing that field trip altogether. It was in the newspapers. Didn't you see it?"
"Ah, I don't remember..."
"They say that the day before, that guy didn't like the look of Takasato, so he got two of his friends and the three of them beat him up. That one guy died and pretty bad stuff happened to the other two too."
Iwaki wasn't pleased and spoke up. "You're making this up."
"I'm not. Why would I do that? Of the other two guys, one of them was run over by a truck and got his leg broken. The other got into an accident while riding a scooter without getting a license and was hurt really badly. He was suspended from school and later dropped out. At any rate, none of those three are at this school anymore."
After Sakata finished, he pursed his lips. "I seemed like someone died when I was a first-year."
No one said anything else. Hirose knew that everyone was shocked, except that he wasn't able to speak because of an apprehension that arose inside him. He could understand now the reason why Tsuiki had been so distressed, and all the students present expressed a strange anxiety that was also due to these rumors.
The following day was a Sunday, and for the sake of making it more convenient for the students doing prep work, the school officials opened the doors of the school. It seemed like Gotou was spending his entire day holed up in the prep room. Hirose had heard that the rest of the student teachers had also come to school to use this opportunity to rehearse in studying the class work. After thinking a bit about it, he himself got in touch with Gotou and told him that he would be at school in the afternoon as well. Then, he left his apartment early in the morning.
An insecurity that wasn't entirely selfless was bothering him and made him feel like he had to find out the truth. Following a note that Nozue had written for him, he went to Hashigami's house for a visit. Once he had clarified things with Hashigami, he would be able to relax. However, he also knew that if everything had happened purely by accident, he would feel quite a bit disheartened.
Hashigami's house was located in the center of the new town area that also contained the school. There were many park facilities in the spacious residential neighborhood. This town was full of a comfortable atmosphere, which was in concordance with the image of a commuter town. Hashigami's house was at one corner of this residential neighborhood, and after just one glance, one could tell that this building housed only those of a wealthy economic status.
Hirose rang the doorbell, spoke his name and said that he was looking for Hashigami. Very quickly, Hashigami came down the spiral staircase that was in the entrance hall.
"Eh? Hirose is you?"
"You look like you're doing well," said Hirose. Hashigami cracked a smile.
"Honestly, I skipped school. Saturday was a half-day anyways, right?" he joked as he made a funny face and then pointed to the second floor. "Let's go upstairs."
- - - - -
Hashigami's room turned out to be as Nozue had described. The interior was filled with videotapes and that sort of thing. On the wall of the large approximately 8-tatami-wide room was set up tall shelves up to the ceiling. They were finely crafted shelves that had even been varnished. Had Nozue not mentioned this before, Hirose would have thought that these shelves had been bought from elsewhere.
"Did you make all of these shelves yourself?"
Carrying an electric water pot back into the room, Hashigami laughed, a little embarrassed. "Yeah, it's a little awkward using stuff that's been made to a regular specification."
"That's really great."
"Naw," laughed Hashigami self-consciously.
"With such skillful hands, how did you manage to injure yourself?" When Hirose asked this, Hashigami held out his bandaged hand for him to look at.
"Are you talking about this?"
"I heard you put a nail through it?" asked Hirose, and Hashigami's expression became a little stiff. He thought it over a little bit as he fiddled with the end of his bandage.
"...The nail went into my hand by itself."
Hirose didn't know how to respond to that, so he just stared at Hashigami. Hashigami pouted a bit like a child might.
"Hirose-san, do you believe in ghosts?" This sudden question caused Hirose not to know what to say for a moment.
"I need to say upfront that I don't believe in that sort of thing," Hashigami said with determination.
"I'm the same way... I'm more inclined not to believe in stuff like that."
Somewhere in Hirose's mind, there appeared a little alarm, because the events that he'd seen the day before had remained in his mind.
"But I think it was a ghost that did this," said Hashigami in a quiet voice.
"Why do you think that?"
"Because I couldn't see the offender who drove the nail into my hand." Hashigami dropped a teabag into a teapot, and then poured some hot water from the electric pot in and covered it. "When I was doing the nailing, I wanted to finish securing the archway that we're setting up at the entrance. I was holding a nail with my left hand and a hammer with my right. But the nail that ended up going through my hand wasn't the one I was holding."
As he said this, Hashigami got a nail from off of his desk. It was about 5-inches and was slightly bent in the middle. He could see immediately that it was an old and rusty nail.
"So that's the nail?"
"Yep. I brought it back from the hospital, as a memento."
Hirose thought, what an unusual memento; although, he didn't say that aloud.
"I'd brought the my own hammer and nails from my house. I mean, it's stuff I like using. But that nail wasn't my own nail."
"Why?" asked Hirose curiously. Hashigami shrugged.
"I didn't bring any rusty nails like that. Don't people say that if you're cut on a rusty nail, you'll probably get tetanus? It sounds a little scary, so I throw rusty nails away, not to mention the fact that this nail's already bent like this. Some people hammer the nail back into shape and then use it, but I think that no matter how you hammer it, it won't go back to its original shape."
After Hashigami said this, he tossed the nail back onto the desk.
"I was doing my hammering in a corner area when I felt like something had cut the palm of my left hand. When I flipped my hand over to look, I saw that nail sticking out of my hand."
"All the way up to the head?"
"No way," laughed Hashigami. "It was just a little bit of the tip. I think it might be better to say that it was stuck into my hand, rather than say that it punctured it. Without anyone's touching it, the nail was propped up, slanted against my hand."
Hashigami's tone was plain, though it sounded to Hirose like it was plausible.
"I thought this was weird and wondered what was going on. I put down the nail I'd been holding and I brought my hand towards my face for a closer look. And then there was a clack and suddenly someone was hitting the nail."
"Who was it?"
"Right. I couldn't see anyone, but I felt like someone was hitting the nail in with a hammer or something. The blow knocked my hand away, so I threw my hand to the ground for support, and then I heard another clack. I finally realized that that nail had been driven into my hand."
It felt like the temperature in the room was slowly falling. Hirose unconsciously looked up at the air conditioner near the ceiling.
"I was so scared, I couldn't even call out. My thought processes had stopped. Then, there was another sudden hit. It didn't hurt very much, but I was at a complete loss. I wanted to move my hand from the ground, but I couldn't. As I was thinking how impossible this was, the nail was hit again. As a result, the entire length of the nail had been pushed through my hand, except for the head was sticking out a little. I was afraid and shouted, what the heck is going on! Isn't that funny?"
Hashigami chuckled dryly.
"The guy behind me asked me what happened, and I told him that I'd been nailed. My hand was completely stuck to the ground, so then I reached my hand under the other one and gently took my hand off of the ground. There was a hole on the ground where the nail had been, but no blood was dripping down. It wasn't until then that it started to hurt, and I hurried to the infirmary."
Hashigami poured the black tea into a cup.
"It might be bitter," he mumbled. The tea that had sat forgotten to one side was already maroon in color; it looked like it would be pretty bitter.
"I figured that my values might change because of this, so I kept the nail as a memento."
"Have they changed?" asked Hirose calmly. His own voice sounded dry.
"Not really. I feel like it doesn't have anything to do with me, though I was a little scared yesterday. When I was trying to sleep, I kept feeling like there were going to be other nails coming at me from whatever place. I was afraid to close my eyes, thinking stupidly that if I closed my eyes, the nails would come right at them. But, I ended up falling asleep anyway."
Hirose simply nodded. He didn't know what else he could respond with. What Hashigami had said innately held some sort of mysteriously persuasive power, but something in his own mind resisted swallowing it whole. Thus, he couldn't add his own comments to it.
"I didn't believe in ghosts, and now I still don't believe in them, but there's some doubt in the back of my mind. What exactly was that? I think this is what they call confused, huh?"
Hirose could still do nothing but nod.
When he could no longer think of things to say, Hirose left Hashigami’s house and proceeded to Tsuiki’s house for a visit. No one knew exactly where Tsuiki’s house was, so he looked the address up in a class directory and stopped at a police box for directions.
Tsuiki’s house was on the outskirts of the new town. This area looked to be composed of a disorderly mix of ready-made houses built in recent years and old houses that have been around since some time ago. In actuality, the old houses were not that old, but they had a completely different flavor than the newly-built houses that surrounded them.
Hirose rang the doorbell. Tsuiki's mother came to answer the door. Hirose told her his name, and then she went upstairs to get her son. For a little while, he heard the sounds of conversation coming from upstairs, and then Tsuiki's mother came back down.
"I'm sorry, but he says that he's not feeling well." However, her tone didn't sound apologetic.
Is he all right?" asked Hirose. Tsuiki's mother crinkled her brow.
"Excuse me, but may I ask if you're a friend of his?" From her tone, he could distinctly hear the meaning of "I don't remember your name or your face."
"No, I'm a student teacher. Gotou sensei told me to come and check up on the situation." In his head Hirose apologized to Gotou, and then Tsuiki's mother covered her mouth with her hand.
"Oh, is that so? Please excuse me."
Hirose could only give her a perfunctory smile, as she said, "It's because you look so young." She directed him to the second floor.
"Please go upstairs. I don't know what that child is up to, always saying that he's not feeling well. The doctor clearly said that he could go to school if he relied on a cane, but he insisted on taking the day off. He used to be a diligent child. I keep thinking, what exactly happened to him at school?"
Hirose nodded vaguely and climbed up the stairs. The room from the top of the stairs seemed to be Tsuiki's room.
"Since you're a teacher, you should say you're a teacher, or else how was I to know?" She said this as she opened the door without so much as a knock, and then turned back to Hirose. "I'll go fix some tea."
"Ah, you needn't bother."
Tsuiki was scrunched up under the covers of his bed.
"How are you feeling?" asked Hirose. Tsuiki poked his head out of his summer futon.
"Hirose is sensei's name?" Tsuiki had asked the same question as Hashigami had.
"How's your leg?" Hirose asked with a smile. Tsuiki lifted himself up and wearing a track jacket, he sat on top of the futon. He moved his leg over as if it were very heavy, and Hirose saw that it was bandaged all the way to the ankle.
"Yeah, it's not that bad."
"Really? The day before yesterday I went to the infirmary, but you'd already left."
"How did you manage to cut your foot?"
Tsuiki didn't reply. It was just then that his mother, who had entered with some barley tea, saw his expression and smiled a worrisome smile.
"He just says that it was an accident, and won't say anything further. Ever since he entered high school, he speaks less and less. —My younger brother was like this as well."
Just as his mother was about to sit next to Hirose, Tsuiki said curtly, "Mom, why don't you go downstairs?"
"It's not like we're talking about anything important. Just go downstairs."
"All right." She looked at Hirose, then looked at Tsuiki, and then left the room. Hirose was silent in thought for a bit, and then listened to the footsteps of Tsuiki's mother as she went downstairs. Tsuiki remained in a closed up posture and seemed also to be carefully listening to his mother's footsteps.
"Well, Tsuiki," said Hirose. Tsuiki looked at him with a bothered expression on his face, as if he was discouraged about something. "Does your injury have anything to do with Takasato?"
Upon hearing this, Tsuiki screwed up his mouth.
"You said before that nothing good comes out of getting involved with Takasato. I've heard about all sort of unfortunate events being talked about. Is that how you got your injury too?"
In that moment, Tsuiki looked like he wanted to say something but didn't say anything after all.
"I just came from Hashigami's house."
"Is Hashigami-san okay?" Tsuiki suddenly leaned forward. Hirose nodded.
"Yes, it wasn't anything so severe."
Hearing Hirose say this, Tsuiki contorted his face and asked, "Did something happen to him?"
Hirose realized that there simply hadn't been any conversation between the two. "Oh? Are you worried about him? Were you worried that something might have happened to him too?"
"What happened to him?"
"A nail." Hirose extended his own left hand. "I think it pierce him. Though Hashigami said that the nail had done it itself."
Tsuiki hung his head.
"Hashigami said that someone he couldn't see had deliberately done this to him."
"Does sensei believe him?" Tsuiki asked directly. Hirose nodded his head frankly as well.
"He didn't seem to be lying. Truthfully, I partially believe it and partially doubt it, but once I've come here to see you, I would really like to believe this sort of thing."
Tsuiki hung his head still. Hirose could see that his hands that were resting on his knees were trembling, and he knew Tsuiki was scared.
"If Takasato is made angry, people die." After patiently waiting a while, Tsuiki finally opened his mouth, but what he had said was startling. "When I was in junior high, I was taking a cram school class with a guy who was in the same school as Takasato, and he often spoke of Takasato. He said there was a weird guy at school, someone who had been spirited away before. He said that if someone were to make Takasato mad, that they would die, and if someone were to make him unhappy, they would be seriously hurt. At the time, I'd thought that it was all a bit ridiculous..."
"Are you talking about what had happened on the field trip?"
Tsuiki shook his head. "He was only joking, so I didn't believe him. Then, he brought up something strange that had happened to him in the summer of the third year of junior high. He'd said that he was afraid of doing swimming lessons in gym class, because he'd felt something tugging at his legs, which had scared him. He'd been crying as he said this during cram school."
Hirose simply listened silently.
"He'd said that it was because he'd hurt Takasato before. They'd had a fight during P.E. or science class. Afterwards, he would always insist that it must have been because of that."
"What are you saying...?"
Tsuiki shook his head. "I don't think he was clear on it himself. He just said that something had been pulling on his legs. He'd told the teacher that he wasn't feeling well, so he didn't want to swim, but the teacher didn't accept his explanation. He'd told me that he could very soon be pulled down by his legs and drown to death. It turned out that he really did die. He had drowned in the swimming pool."
Once again, Hirose was speechless.
"When I started my second year, I was put in the same class as Takasato. At first, I had no idea that he was Takasato. Later on, other guys had told me that if I had anything to do with Takasato, I'd be cursed. I'd heard that during our first year, there'd been people who were seriously injured or died. I didn't intentionally listen to these rumors, but I just didn't feel comfortable. As a result, during the field trip..."
"Yes, I'd heard."
Tsuiki nodded. "Seeing that look of unhappiness that Takasato showed the day before yesterday, I knew then that something was going to go wrong..."
Hirose urged the quiet Tsuiki to continue speaking. "And then?"
"Then when I was working, there appeared a weird hand that grabbed hold of my leg."
"A weird hand?"
"It was pale, and it looked like a woman's hand. I was using my knee to support the veneer of the signboard, but then someone grabbed onto that leg. It was like someone was using both their hands to embrace it tightly. I tried to kick it off, but I couldn't move my leg at all. I think the person who was pulling the saw didn't notice it at all, and still continued sawing. The saw kept getting closer to my leg, and I knew that if this kept on, my leg would be sawn off, but I couldn't move. I lowered my head to look beneath the veneer, and I saw a pale, woman's hand holding on to my leg. But there wasn't anyone under the veneer at all."
"Didn't you call out?"
"I couldn't make a sound. All I could think about was that my leg was going to be sawn off, so what could I do? In my mind, I was pretty clear on the fact that my leg was definitely going to be sawn off, but I didn't know what to do. So, it was a relief to me that in the end my leg was only hurt a little bit. I told myself, ah, that was good, I hadn't made Takasato too mad."
Hirose felt that from a certain viewpoint, it was this sort of thinking that was scary.
"But then, when I was in the infirmary getting treated, I gradually started feeling a bit uneasy. I was afraid that things weren't done yet, so I ran back home. Though this is how it ended, without anything else happening..." Tsuiki couldn't help but look at Hirose. "Sensei, what was it like? After I left the classroom, was Takasato very mad?"
Tsuiki was agitated. Hirose simply shook his head.
"No, it didn't look like Takasato had cared that much."
"Do you think that this is it? Do you think he's not mad anymore?"
Hirose sighed heavily. "Nothing else has happened to Hashigami. I don't think anything else is going to come about."
Hirose in actuality had no basis for saying this, but Tsuiki looked like he was really happy. He let out a sigh of relief and smiled, but then his expression suddenly because stiff again.
Hirose understood his meaning and nodded. "I'm not going to talk to anyone else about this. So, don't worry about it."
After Hirose said this, Tsuiki unloaded the intense worry he had carried in his brow, and sighed deeply.
Hirose definitely didn't believe in the talk of the so-called "curse of Takasato," but he could feel deeply the flood of belief by a portion of the students in the "curse of Takasato."
People believed Takasato would bring misfortune upon people. So, every time something suspicious happened, they would inevitably involve Takasato. Hirose understood how this worked. What he didn't understand was, was this simply an innocent belief or was it reality?
- - - - -
"Hey." When he opened the door to the chemistry prep room, Gotou greeted him casually. He was still standing in front of his easel.
"How are Tsuiki and Hashigami?"
Hearing Gotou ask this, Hirose was suddenly dumbstruck, although he followed it with a wry smile. "So I've been discovered by you, huh?"
"At the very least, I can still grasp your thought processes. If you hadn't gone, I would have. How are the two of them doing?"
Hirose handed over to Gotou some juice he had bought at a nearby vending machine.
"Hashigami seems quite energetic. Regarding Tsuiki, I guess he's doing pretty good as well."
"So did it turn out to be Takasato?"
As Hirose pulled open the ring pull, he looked fixedly at Gotou's face. "What does that mean?"
"Didn't Takasato have a quarrel with them the day before yesterday? That's what Iwaki had said."
Hirose examined Gotou's expression. Because students ordinarily went in and out of the prep room, Gotou knew all about what happened between the students. It wasn't inconceivable that he would know about the "curse of Takasato." However, Hirose was thinking that Gotou quite appeared to believe in the talk of the "curse." It was incredible that he would use that sort of tone when speaking.
"Is Takasato the cause?"
Hirose thought of the promise he had made to Tsuiki, and he couldn't help but feel a little lost.
"Don't worry. I'm not going to tell other people about it."
"...At the very least, that's what Tsuiki believes. He says it's the curse of Takasato. In regards to Hashigami, it seems likely that he doesn't know anything about it."
After Gotou wiped his hands, he sat down and opened the can of juice.
"Takasato's a problem child. From a certain viewpoint, he's an extremely difficult problem child. He's not fundamentally the sort of person who creates problems over small things, but everything around him turns out to be a mess. He's the eye of a typhoon."
"...Is it appropriate to say this to a student teacher?"
Gotou simply smiled bitterly and look at his juice can.
Hirose felt it out, asking, "On the very first day, Gotou-san said some things that were quite profound. Were you referring to this?"
Gotou nodded. "Yes, I was."
"I heard that Takasato curses people, and I also heard that during a field trip, a student had lost his life because of this. —Is that for real?"
Gotou furled his brow. "It is true that a student died on a field trip. The police ruled it an accident. That idiot drank alcohol on the ferry back. Our students for the most part conduct themselves appropriately, but in their midst, there are still a few whose behavior is out of control. That particular one never followed the rules, and he had even been marked by the student guidance department. That student and a few others who were likewise marked, were drinking beer together until they were very drunk. They said they wanted to get some wind, so they ran up to the deck. As a result, he fell into the sea. Other passengers witnessed him fall. There's no doubt that it was an accident."
After Gotou finished speaking, he tilted his head upwards to take a drink of the juice.
"For me, I think it would be too forced to decide whether or not there's some other meaning to that accident."
Hirose nodded, and then asked, "Gotou-san, what is your impression of him?"
Once Gotou heard this, he directed his gaze at Hirose for a moment. He then looked at his hands and quietly asked, "Do you have an interest in Takasato?"
"I don't know," replied Hirose honestly. He felt that Takasato was a student unlike any other. However, if it was only because of this, he probably wouldn't be interested to this degree, would he? Hirose was never great at figuring these things out. The reasons that had caused him to keep this in his mind was because of that painting, that indescribable one that Takasato had painted, the "spiriting away" rumor, and the appearance of Takasato attempting to remember what had occurred in that period of time.
Gotou smiled and then looked up at the ceiling.
"I used to be full of interest in Takasato too, in many aspects. I looked up everything that could be looked up about him. It's in my nature to be curious." Saying this, Gotou smiled cynically. "Many dead and injured people have appeared all around Takasato. It looks like there really are a lot. For example, when he was in junior high, in his third year there are already four deaths.
"Four deaths... Were there that many?"
"Just about. Three died in traffic accidents, and one died from illness. The cause of death for each of them was clear, with absolutely no room for doubt. —By the way, Hirose, didn't deaths occur when you were in junior high?"
Being asked this very bluntly by Gotou, Hirose hurriedly searched his memory. "There were a couple. I remember one of them was in a traffic accident, and another was a teacher who died from illness. I didn't really know either one."
Gotou nodded. "Right, and Takasato's situation is similar. One of them was in the same year as he was, but the others were mostly unfamiliar with Takasato. If you let those guys talk about it, they'll blame the curse of Takasato. It may be chance, and it may very well not be. How can we be certain?"
"You have a point."
"It's the same with the field trip. One person died and two were seriously injured, but it all happened by accident. No matter how you look at it, it was purely accidental. Because, it wasn't until a month after the end of the field trip that something had happened to the third person. Could we really connect that to Takasato? —I don't know."
Hirose nodded in agreement.
"But Takasato is still feared by most. People are sensitive to deviation, but on the other hand Takasato won't suffer harassment, because people believe that he'll curse them."
Hirose nodded, and then, a little puzzled, he said, "I've heard other strange rumors having to do with Takasato..."
Gotou nodded in a straightforward way. "The spiriting away?"
"Is that real?"
"It seems to be. At the very least, he really did have to re-attend a year of school. It was during his fourth year of grade school."
"But about the spiriting away..."
"It's said that he disappeared from his garden."
After Gotou said this, he threw out the empty can, and then handed to Hirose an empty beaker that had been sitting to one side. Hirose silently accepted it, and together with his own portion, he poured coffee into it.
"I heard that it had happened in the courtyard. It was the February of his fourth year in grade school. Takasato was in the courtyard. His family's house was an old building, one of those houses with a storehouse built in the yard. That house had a courtyard somewhere and Takasato had been there."
Gotou put large portions of cream and sugar into the instant coffee that Hirose had handed over, and then stirred it.
"The courtyard was completely blocked all around by the buildings and walls, and without going through the interior of the house, there was absolutely no way out. In order to enter the house, one has to go in through the corridor of the living room, and his mother and grandmother had been there at the time. The sliding door of the corridor had been open, and they could clearly see everything in the yard. I heard that they had only looked away but a moment, and Takasato disappeared."
"They both confirmed that it hadn't been possible for Takasato have passed by them. The height of the wall was as tall as the roof, and there had been nothing in the yard that could be used to stand on. On one side was the storehouse that hadn't been opened in quite some time. On the other side was the wall of the bathroom with only a window that light could get through, over which a trellis had been installed to block the sight. As for under the floorboards of the building, there was no way for a person to fit themselves into there. In other words, Takasato had to pass through the living room to leave the yard."
Gotou tossed the medicine spoon into the sink, and it made a loud sound.
"That's how it was when Takasato vanished from the yard that was impossible to leave. It was as if he had just suddenly disappeared, and that's why people say it was a spiriting away."
"But..." Before Hirose could say much, Gotou casually waved his hand.
"According to what the police have said, of course they call it a kidnapping. It was something like someone sneaking in over the wall and taking Takasato away. Perhaps it was because it was profitable, or perhaps it's possible that they originally had this kind of purpose, but then afterwards felt something for Takasato. However, there's a hole in these two explanations."
Gotou raised his eyebrows. "The other side of the wall was the neighbor's yard."
If that's so, then the criminal crept into the neighbor's house and then crossed over the wall and invaded Takasato's house.
Gotou continued, "In any case, Takasato spent a year somewhere. Actually to be more precise, it had been a year and two months. When he came back, Takasato didn't have any memory of it. What had really occurred, absolutely no one knows."
"Didn't the police investigate?"
"I think they did, but they didn't find anything. Forget about who'd done it, but even where Takasato had been or how he'd gotten back, up until now no one knows."
"How did he get back?" asked Hirose curiously. Gotou nodded.
"Takasato came back after a year and two months. I heard that that day was the day they were proceeding with his grandmother's funeral. He had just suddenly appeared at the place where they were holding the funeral. However, not one person saw him walking back."
"The person that discovered Takasato was someone who had come to pay their respects and had been in the entry hall. When they saw a completely naked child coming through the door, they were very surprised, and then when they immediately realized that it was it was Takasato, who had disappeared a year ago, they were even more shocked. Takasato's house is located in the inner part of the old town. In order to get home, he had to pass through the town. Because there was a funeral on that day, there were people going in and out of Takasato's house, but no one saw Takasato going through the town."
"How very strange..."
"There were even people chatting in the roadside farm. They were very certain that no suspicious cars or people had passed by, but they couldn't confirm that they had seen Takasato. That is to say, it was just like when Takasato had disappeared; he had suddenly returned."
"I see. So is that the so-called spiriting away?"
"That's how it was. The Takasato that returned had not only grown taller, but had gained some weight as well. His health was extremely good. —Perhaps the only one who knows exactly what happened is Takasato himself."
There is no doubt that Takasato is of a different nature, thought Hirose to himself. Just looking at those experiences, his existence was already different. According Tsuiki's way of speaking, Takasato's spiriting away was a very famous story. Hearing it, of course it was famous. How did the people around Takasato react to his return? Not all of the reactions would have been pure and whole-heartedly cheerful, would they have? The neighbors would probably have made him the subject of gossip, and his classmates would probably have made him the target of mistreatment. None of these things was hard to imagine.
To Takasato, it wasn't an experience that was worth much celebration. Some of the students looked at Takasato as a deviant, and currently, his past was still having some sort of effect on him. Takasato probably knew this as well. Since this was so, then wouldn't Takasato naturally want to leave his past behind?
"It seems like Takasato really wants to remember," said Hirose. Gotou nodded.
"More or less. It looks like Takasato cares about the fact that he has been abandoned by his classmates, or else he probably wouldn't want to remember."
For Takasato, the reality of his own previous spiriting away wasn't taboo. Hirose felt that this fact was really incredible.
"Regardless of if it's a curse or any other such rumor, things having to do with the spiriting away still have an effect on him after all, don't they? To be honest, I don't quite know why Takasato is so persistent in trying to remember what happened."
"Though, perhaps you can understand it," said Gotou simply.
"Hirose, if you can't, then no one will be able to."
Hirose understood what Gotou had implied, but he didn't know how to respond.
A man threw out his cigarette butt. In the pitch black night, the small, red light of the fire fell and hit the concrete, scattering tiny sparks. The sound of waves echoed in his ear. The half moon appeared in front of his eyes, above the silver waves of the night sea.
He used the tip of his foot to stamp out the cigarette butt that had fallen to the ground. He reached his hand to the pocket of his polo shirt and pondered whether or not he wanted to smoke another one, but in the end he still took out the crinkled pack of cigarettes. The flame from his Zippo burned as he lit it. He smelled the strong smell of oil. As if he wanted to avoid that oil smell, he turned his face away, and thus a car parked under the weir entered his field of vision.
He revealed a thin smile. For a college student whose income came entirely from part-time jobs and living expenses sent from home, this car was a bit too extravagant. It was a car that had been bought with a promise to his parents that he would return to his hometown and work at a business there. In reality, the main office of the business from which he already accepted a tentative offer in the summer was located near his hometown, but the actual activity happened at the business office in Tokyo. Moreover, he had always hoped to work in Tokyo. He knew that this hope was just about within his grasp.
He didn't have any feelings of guilt. He figured that being a kid was all like this, and being a parent was all like that. All the boarders around him had all done the same sorts of things. Parents would always hope to keep their children by their sides, and kids would always want to fly out from their parents' house. Regarding his parents' situation, they hadn't stayed by their own parents' side just to make them happy. Hereafter, he didn't seem to have any plans to live together with them. His parents appeared to have planned to live with him, welcoming the happiness of elderly life, and requesting that their children do the things that they weren't able to do. Did that look way too shameless?
He laughed as he shook off some cigarette ash. It was still the period where he was getting used to driving his new car, and that wasn't conducive to driving long distances. Driving his car nearby his apartment when he had calculated the traffic to be lightest had become a recent habit.
—If he'd had a girl by his side, that would be perfect.
Thinking about this, he smiled bitterly. The classmate that he had dated from before the summer had gone to be with a useless skirt-chaser. Perhaps the main reason he had been defeated was that the moment he asked his parents to buy him a car was too late.
He flicked off the ash from his cigarette again and then threw it away. The cigarette butt that he had thrown to the outside of the weir drew a crimson trail as it fell to the beach far below. As he was watching it flying down, he sighed, and then he noticed a shadow on the beach.
The beach was small. It seemed to be low tide just then, but the distance of the waves lapping against the shore wasn't very far. The human figure came closer towards the water's edge from a point far away. He thought this was suspicious, and when he focused his gaze, the figure appeared to be a young woman.
He couldn't help but look down at his watch. It showed a time that was past one in the morning. He looked around at the entire beach. There was no one else except for that woman. It didn't look like a couple of lovers who had agreed to meet up in the middle of the night.
The woman walking on the beach stopped when she wasn't too far away. She turned to look at him, and after pausing for a moment, she walked straight towards him. He waited uncertainly for the woman to walk closer.
When she reached the area under the weir, she stopped and looked up at him. She appeared to be around 20 years of age, and though she wasn't outstandingly hot, she had the look that he liked.
"Are you alone?" she asked.
"Yes. What's a girl doing out here all by herself?" he asked back. She gently nodded her head.
"Can you give me a ride into the city?" Her voice carried a reliant sound.
"Sure," he replied.
He thus revealed a slight smile, and then he looked left and right, a little confused.
"It's to the right," he said. There were steps on his left side that went down to the beach.
He walked down weir and waited by his car. The woman climbed up from the beach very quickly. After she identified him, she walked down from the weir. She looked to be a very small woman. Rather than saying that she was a woman, her figure was much more like that of a teenage girl.
"Where do you live? I can take you back home." He asked this, but she shook her head in worry. Seeing this, he couldn't help but wrinkle his brow.
"Then where do you want me to take you? You only said into the city, so how am I supposed to know where to go?"
She lowered her head, a bit stunned. Her height only reached his shoulders. When she had lowered her head, her long hair fell from her shoulders, revealing her neck which was slender like a child's. She appeared to be pretty calm. Perhaps she was only a high school student.
"New town?" he asked. It was as if she sighed in relief when she lifted her head to give a slight nod. He had some suspicions in his head, but he still opened the car door.
- - - - -
While he was driving, she didn't say a word the entire time. No matter what he had said to her, all she did was nod or shake her head without the intention of saying anything.
"Did you get dumped by your boyfriend?"
Even with a question this direct, she still simply shook her head in the same way she had been.
"What were you doing in a place like that at so late a time?"
It was then that she finally spoke up. She replied in an isolated tone, "I'm looking for something."
What a depressing girl, he thought to himself as he felt a little displeasure at the same time.
"It must have been a bad feeling, walking by the sea at night," he said strongly and clearly, and then he immediately thought of a ghost story he had heard regularly. Someone had given a ride to a girl and then in the middle of the drive, the girl disappeared. —The ghost tale went something like that.
It can't be. He turned to look at her. Although the girl in the passenger seat was quietly hanging her head, no matter how he looked at her, she didn't seem to be a ghost.
"What are you looking for?"
She lifted her head. "The ki."
"A tree?" [note: among other things, "ki" can mean "tree" in japanese.]
Is she talking about a tree? He turned to look at her.
"I'm looking for the ki, because I haven't been able to find him, so I've been distressed."
"Oh?" he replied dubiously.
"Don't you know him?"
When he was asked this, he shook his head.
"Is 'ki' a name? So you're not talking about something like a gingko or pine tree?"
"Yes," she nodded. "I'm looking for Taiki."
"Taiki... Is that a guy?" he asked.
She shook her head. "It isn't a person."
In an instant he stared fixedly at her. In his head, he felt that it didn't have any meaning, and that he couldn't understand it. He felt a chill as he was shut in the small space of the car with this girl whose background he didn't know.
"Don't you know Taiki?"
"No...I don't." As he said this, he stepped on the gas. The needle of the speedometer rushed up. Although he was still trying out his new car, now was not the time to be thinking about things like that.
"Is the entrance to the new town okay for you?" It's better to say that it was a reminder than to say that it was an inquiry. He didn't want to take this girl any farther. The girl nodded silently. He said nothing as he sped up a hill.
- - - - -
As the car raced about for about ten minutes, it was hard to see the traffic lights in front of it. Because it was deep in the night, they had all changed to flashing light signals. Across the intersection, he could see shadow of the new town. All around, a sparse number of cars began to drive past them.
He sighed, and looked to the side. The girl simply sat hanging her head. He thought his own unfounded fears laughable, and then tried to talk to her again. His courage had increased a little bit.
"We can see the residential neighborhood now. What do you want to do? Do you just want me to take you to the entrance? Or do you want to..."
Keep going? Before he could finish, he swallowed his words stiffly. The girl looked up hesitantly.
"You..." He wanted to speak, but he couldn't say anything. The car was surrounded by darkness. His image reflected off of the window, and he looked through it over to the passenger seat. The figure of the girl wasn't there. He turned to the windshield and saw the passenger seat empty without even a shadow.
A chill crept from the bottom of his feet. He locked his line of sight dead ahead, forcing himself not to look at her. It was then that he suddenly heard a whining sound, like the whine of melting plastic. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the sight of the figure of the girl slowly collapsing.
He couldn't stand it any longer and turned toward the passenger seat. All that was left in the seat was a bubble about the size of a person that was in the midst of gradually melting.
He stepped on the emergency brake. Under the strange centrifugal force, the scene all around spun continuously. When the car stopped, it was splayed horizontally across the road. It was good that there were currently no cars passing by.
He composed his breathing and looked to the side. Other than the trace of having been soaked by water, the passenger seat was devoid of anything at all.