Demon Child, Chapter 6.
from Aili's translation of Ono Fuyumi's Mashou no Ko.
Hirose was woken up by the sounds of a noisy alarm clock. Once he opened his eyes, he saw that Takasato had already gotten up and was sitting next to the window, gazing at the concrete road out the window.
"Morning..." said Hirose, and Takasato smiled and replied with a good morning. "You sure woke up early. When did you get up?"
His body feeling heavy, Hirose slowly propped himself up.
"Sleep well?" asked Hirose as he got up.
Takasato nodded and said, "Yes."
"You're probably not very used to sleeping in someone else's place, huh?" asked Hirose.
Takasato tilted his head, saying, "Actually, it was better than sleeping at home."
"I could hear the sounds of waves." Hirose nodded and Takasato smiled. "I fell asleep listening to the waves."
"I see," said Hirose as he stood up to go wash his face. With a mind that was muddled as if it was shrouded in a thin fog, he tried to decide whether the events of the previous night had been real or a dream.
—It hadn't been a dream.
He came to this conclusion as he wiped his face with a towel, and when he went back to the 6-tatami-wide room, Takasato had just finished folding up the futon.
"Sorry to trouble you."
"Not at all," smiled Takasato, as he reached his hand out to get the uniform that was hanging by a hanger on the lintel.
"Takasato," called out Hirose. Takasato stopped and looked back at him. "I think for now, it might be better if you didn't go to school."
Takasato looked at Hirose. Hirose smiled dryly.
"I feel it's best if we wait until those idiots have calmed down."
He figured that the students' agitated mood should've settled down a little bit because of yesterday's incident. It wouldn't be a big deal if the resentment that arose from Iwaki's horrible end and the other deaths associated with Takasato was purely an exception, or if it only added another negative rumor, but the shock of having personally killed one of their classmates caused them to lose control of their emotions. They used the event of hanging Takasato to subside that shock in their minds. The passing of a night should have been enough time to settle them down, and they should have had more than enough time now to consider whether what they had chosen to do was right or wrong.
—And then, they'll understand how horrible it was.
They'd surely comprehend that if they'd harmed Takasato, they'd see the results of revenge. They'd surely realize that they could not be let off the hook for pushing Takasato out of the window.
Perhaps sensing Hirose's point of view, Takasato nodded, and as he did so, he sighed lightly.
- - - - -
Pacing back and forth in front of the school gates were two or three people who probably had something to do with the broadcast media, but compared to yesterday, the number had obviously dropped. It was still a bit of time before school started, and the interior of the schoolyard prior to when the students attended class was silent.
The morning meeting held everyday in the faculty office started 30 minutes earlier than usual. The faces of the steering committee members carried a thickly weary color. The headmaster sternly conveyed that they had to calm the unrest in the minds of the students as soon as possible and to restore the school schedule as quickly as they could. Regarding the accident of the day before yesterday, it had occurred simply due to the mistakes of those directly involved, and thus he prohibited the passing on of irresponsible rumors.
Hirose's educational training would end on the day after tomorrow. On the following day, a Friday, and on the day after that, a Saturday, they would follow the set plans and proceed with the research publication. After the morning faculty meeting, the student teachers were assembled in the break room, and school officials firmly asked that though the training period was concluding, they not speak inappropriately.
On his way back to the prep room after listening to the announcement, a member of the staff called out to Hirose in front of the office.
"Are you Hirose sensei?" It was a female staff member past middle age. Her high-cheekboned face carried on it a look of intense trouble. "Can I ask you to pass this on to Gotou sensei? They're absence notifications."
The second-year homeroom teacher was in the middle of a meeting. Hirose nodded and took the memo. On the small piece of paper were listed six names. There were only names written on the top, with no reasons for their absence. Among them were certainly those who were afraid to come to school and called in sick, but it couldn't be assumed that this was case for all of them.
Hirose returned to the prep room and waited for Gotou. He gave the slip of paper to him after he came back from the meeting. Gotou furrowed his brow, but he didn't say anything in particular about it.
"I'm letting Takasato take some time off as well."
To this Gotou didn't say anything either, and simply nodded weakly.
- - - - -
Hirose walked with Gotou to the classroom.
"It's so quiet." Though the first bell had already sounded, the school was surprisingly still. Gotou stopped and looked around.
"Ah, what an uncomfortable feeling."
The students' open-minded clamor as it had been before couldn't be heard in the school. In the quiet, somewhere beyond what the eye could see, there seemed to be the noise of a commotion. It was a wave-like noise as if created by a countless number of hushed voices.
"It seems like everyone's extremely nervous..."
For no reason, Hirose and Gotou also spoke softly. Anxiety permeated the school and pressed down forcefully on the people. There was no way to casually break through this sort of quiet.
In the entire school, the 2-6 classroom was even more noticeably lonely and still. All the students should have been in the classroom, and moreover, every one of them seemed to be holding their breath, not making any sounds. As Hirose pondered whether or not to open the door to the classroom, Gotou lifted his hand. He sighed and opened the door, putting on a face as if nothing was wrong. Suddenly, the atmosphere in the room shifted and the eyes of all the students looked over.
"What is it? Why's it so quiet?" Gotou looked around the entire classroom. About one-third of the seats were empty. "Quite a few absences. Hirose, take roll."
Gotou said this with his usual loud and clear voice, and Hirose nodded reluctantly. He walked up to the podium and called names. When he got to Tsuiki's name, he got a reply and couldn't help but look up. He saw that face he hadn't seen in a while.
After he finished roll, he discovered that a total of 11 students were absent. Those with absence notices, including Takasato, numbered seven. The remaining four hadn't contacted the school on their own.
"Hirose," called out Gotou. Hirose nodded and left the podium. Gotou stood by the podium and surveyed the class. "The school isn't going to punish you. However, not being punished doesn't mean that what you did is going to just completely disappear. This matter is being concluded an accident."
The classroom suddenly filled with an atmosphere of relief.
"Takasato admitted that he fell out because he wasn't being careful. —You guys really think about that."
Hearing this, all the students consciously looked away. Gotou sighed lightly. The mood of the classroom didn't change at all. There was no way that Gotou's words had alleviated the anxiety in the hearts of the students.
Of course, thought Hirose. The hearts of the students were curled up in extreme fear. The nervousness in the classroom came naturally from fright. What they were afraid of wasn't the punishment of the school officials, but the direct retribution from having hurt Takasato. That was the only thing they were scared of.
Gotou said that he had to go to the faculty office to make some phone calls, so Hirose went back to the prep room by himself. He didn't have a class the first period. He looked absent-mindedly over the training journal he had written in, and after a bit, Gotou returned. When he entered the prep room, he collapsed into his chair as if he were paralyzed, and Hirose gave him a cup of coffee he'd brewed.
"How did it go? Didn't you go make calls to the houses of the absent students?" asked Hirose. Gotou heaved a deep sigh.
"Three of them got injured in accidents. Four are taking sick days, saying they have headaches or stomachaches. The other three didn't elaborate."
So something did happen, pondered Hirose to himself. "What's the situation with the ones who were injured?"
"One of them fell off of the balcony in his home and only suffered minor injuries, so it wasn't anything serious. Another fell into the space between the train platform and the train, getting just a few light scratches. The other fell down the stairs and is in the hospital for some complex bone fractures."
All of them had 'fallen' from somewhere, just like Takasato had fallen from the window. Hirose had a deep reaction to this.
"Hirose, how do you see it?"
Hearing Gotou's question, Hirose looked at him.
"Do you think this is the curse of Takasato?"
Hirose was taken aback. He hesitated for a little bit, and then responded honestly. "I'm thinking that if it was all by accident..."
Gotou revealed a teasing smile. "If you say it like that, it sounds like you aren't confident that they were just accidents."
Hirose nodded. "My natural impression is that Takasato is innocent. He's not that kind of person, even though he has suffered so much harshness—"
"Sometimes those who've suffered will lash out violently in an instant," interrupted Gotou.
"I understand that. But, he wouldn't use those sorts of violent methods. I'm thinking that he's probably not the sort to wish death or suffering on people."
Hirose spoke in a quiet yet confident tone. "Because that's just the way it is."
Gotou raised his eyebrows as he looked at Hirose.
"Gotou-san, you've said before that I should be able to understand Takasato, and I'm pretty sure that I can. Takasato is a person who's lost his native land."
"Lost...his native land?"
"Takasato doesn't remember what happened when he was spirited away. But he's said that to him, that place made him feel comfortable. Just like me. Illusions have taken hold of us alike."
Gotou remained silent and urged Hirose to continue wordlessly.
"Our illusions are that this isn't the world where we should exist. When I'm at odds with the world, there's no way for me to hate this world— At least, it's something I can't bring myself to do. I've previously thought, why is it this way? Why aren't things smoother and easier for me? I told myself that it must be because I'm not of this world, so I can't blend into this place. This has always been very forced."
"There's only one thing I desire and that's to return to my home. Since I was a child, I've often argued with my mother, but I've never wished for her death. I simply thought, 'I want to go back,' and that's all."
"Don't you think that's something everyone's thought about before?" asked Gotou. "It's not just you guys. When I was young, I thought the same thing. Although, to be honest, I have really hated people before. I've silently called other people 'bastards' so many times, it's uncountable."
Hirose sighed. "I get it, but our situations are a bit different. I was once on the verge of death. At the time, I was sure I'd seen those plains. In my heart, it was a definite reality. Takasato is missing a year of his life. It doesn't matter if he'd really disappeared for a year or that the year disappeared from his memory. That may be a kind of illusion, but it isn't an illusion without any basis. And also, before this illusion allows us to face reality, it lets us first to have thoughts of running away."
Gotou stared fixedly at Hirose, and then immediately looked away and murmured to himself, "So this isn't an issue of what's on the outside and what's on the inside?"
"Outside and inside?"
"Even if these accidents had something to do with Takasato's fall, they have nothing to do with Takasato's individual will. It's just..."
Hirose pause for a moment. What was the best way to talk about it? The white arm that would suddenly appear around Takasato. The unusually-shaped woman that he saw the night before. Though he knew he had very clearly been face to face with that woman, he didn't suppose that Gotou would be able to understand it.
Something existed by Takasato's side. Was it that thing that organized these acts of vengeance again and again, and thus wasn't Takasato's doing? Was the hand that had grabbed Tsuiki's leg is hand of that woman?
Hirose sunk into contemplation, and this time, looking up at the ceiling, Gotou opened his mouth.
"How much do you think they'll get hurt?"
"The number of people or the degree of the injuries?"
Hirose sighed. Based on examples, Tsuiki had only brought up the subject of the spiriting away, and Hashigami had only goaded Takasato. As a result, the two of them had suffered revenge to such a degree. Even without considering the death of Iwaki, Hirose could already imagine that the degree of retribution would be incomparably extraordinary.
"I think perhaps everyone who was there at the time will suffer from retribution. In terms of the degree of the injuries, it'll be extremely brutal."
"Like Iwaki?" In Gotou's tone there seemed to be hidden the sense of having no alternatives. Hirose didn't dare respond easily. "They really did overdo it; this I'll admit. However, at the time they were in an agitated state. When people in a group begin to lose control, those involved have no way of containing it. Say they did contain it, then sometimes it becomes even more dangerous. Hirose, you probably understand this, right?"
Hirose shook his head. He could understand Gotou's analysis, but he couldn't accept it. That "something" that was by Takasato's side probably wouldn't evaluate everything so carefully. Just like in the actions taken against Iwaki, "it" didn't seem to have any heart of mercy or pity.
Gotou stared at Hirose as if he were someone waiting for a verdict. Hirose shook his head again. Gotou heaved a deep sigh, and then there was a long period of silence.
"...I'm afraid of Takasato, Hirose," said Gotou in an isolated voice.
Upon hearing it, Hirose hastily lifted his head. He stared at the profile of Gotou, who was gazing up at the ceiling.
"In the prep room, there are a wide variety of people coming and going. Even if some of them act strangely, there's no question that they're all human. But Takasato... I just don't know. I really can't parse out Takasato's real face. It's to the extent that I don't know what he's thinking about. Or does he think about anything at all? He's too abnormal. Honestly said, he makes me very uncomfortable."
"Is it strange for me to say these things?"
Gotou smiled lightly. After smiling, he slowly leaned back into the chair again and gazed up at the ceiling.
"I don't remember when it happened. It was probably the beginning of the first term. After school, I was strolling about the schoolyard and I passed by the entrance to a classroom." Gotou paused for a moment. "...The sky was already starting to get dark then. Someone had remained in the classroom, and that person was Takasato. I was going to call out to him, but I couldn't make a sound. It was because I'd seen something strange."
Hirose felt his heart beating faster.
"Takasato was sitting in his own seat, and there was something next to his hand."
Gotou nodded, and then stood up to open the locker out from which he pulled a sketchbook. He flipped through it and took a sketch out of it, giving it to Hirose to look at.
The rough lines were drawn in pencil, and it had been colored with watercolor. However, he still couldn't tell what it was. Even the outline was missing in several places; it didn't convey any shape at all.
"I focused as hard as I could, but I still don't know what it was. I knew that there must have been something there, but I just couldn't tell what it was. The size of it was as big as a large dog, and it was crouched next to Takasato's feet. That's the complete impression I have in my head."
Hirose looked over the sketch and it made him think of the painting that Takasato had done.
"After I got back here, I immediately drew it, but in the end I only drew that. I can think of a faint impression, but I just can't grasp its shape."
Hirose simply nodded continuously.
"I feel like that thing was crouched next to Takasato's feet, and Takasato was just looking out the window. Then, an arm appeared from the dark areas of the desk."
Once again, his heart beat wildly as if it was about to surge into his throat.
"It was the white arm of a woman; there was no mistaking that. It looked to be naked up to the upper arm, a woman's arm carved out of marble. It appeared in front of the desk and stroked the hand that Takasato had rested on top of the desk. It sat on top of the surface of the desk as it tried to take hold of Takasato's hand. However, neither under the table nor in the darkness could I see any human shapes."
It was that woman, thought Hirose—Had he never seen certain shadows in the classroom? Wasn't that what Gotou was bringing up?
"Takasato didn't seem to see the arm. However, he was smiling. In the moment the arm came into contact with him, he was definitely smiling. The arm immediately shrunk away, and at the same time, whatever it was that had been by his feet also sunk into the floor."
Hirose didn't say anything.
"Honestly, I'm very glad that you took an interest in Takasato. I was afraid that if I were left by myself to think all over the place about this, it would be unbearable."
Hirose didn't respond, and Gotou smiled bitterly, saying, "I'd thought, if you heard the story of the spiriting away, would you develop an interest in Takasato? I can't understand him. His background is too indistinct, and that makes me uncomfortable—But I did feel that perhaps you might have a different sort of response."
Hirose simply nodded.
"Or do you also fear Takasato?" asked Gotou. Hirose shook his head.
"I don't. I've never thought that." Saying this, Hirose smiled for some reason. "Takasato and I are cut from the same cloth. I think that of all the people I've encountered, he's my only companion."
Gotou didn't say anything. Except that in the moment that Hirose said those things, his face revealed an extremely complex expression. Hirose sent him an inquiring look, but he shook his head. As if he had suddenly lost interest in this topic, he stood up.
Gotou didn't look back. He wiped his hands on the towel at his waist, and then silently made his way in front of the easel. He crossed his arms and looked over the canvas.
Hirose sighed, and when he opened up his training journal, Gotou finally spoke.
"Hirose, can you do something ill-mannered for me?"
The second period of this day was chemistry class, and it was a shared course for classes 2-5 and 2-6. During the break period, the class 5 representative came to ask about the classroom instructions. Hirose let him know that they were going to use the laboratory for the next class, and at the same time, he asked the representative to pass this information on to the students of class 6. Then, he went to the lab himself and stood by the window, looking out at the sports grounds.
Close to the center of the sports grounds was the slight bulge of a small sand mound. The flower bouquets could no longer be seen there. Iwaki had been taking chemistry, and before class began, Gotou asked Hirose to help him draw a line. He drew a long line in the attendance roll, across Iwaki's row. It meant that he would never again come to class. Hirose used a ballpoint pen and a ruler to draw the line, and for some reason, he thought of the touch of that hand. At the same time, he thought that after the training was over, he would go to Iwaki's house and light a stick of incense for him. Because of the mess that had arisen previously, Hirose hadn't been able to make it to Iwaki's funeral.
The students of class 5 came in a few at a time, and with their help, Hirose began to set up for the experiment. Just as all the implements were readied, the class bell rang, but none of the class 6 students had shown up.
Hirose felt uneasy. "I'll go see what's going on," Hirose said to Gotou.
But Gotou responded, "I'll go myself." And then he left the lab. Hirose wrote the procedure up on the blackboard, but he was extremely distracted. After he'd finished writing, Gotou brought only five students back with him, one of which was Tsuiki.
"Hirose, come here for a minute." Hirose had been called into the prep room by Gotou.
"What's going on? Where are the rest of the students?" asked Hirose quietly. Gotou replied quietly as well.
"It's a boycott. They've said that there are too many dangerous things in the lab. They don't want to come."
Once he heard this, he knew that they were afraid of retribution.
"When I went, all I saw was Tsuiki standing outside of the classroom, as if he'd been kicked out of there. I lectured them loudly, are you guys really skipping class? But only a few of them came out. The rest are all boycotting."
"What do we do?" asked Hirose. Not knowing what to do either, Gotou sighed.
"Today, why don't we just let it pass? ...There's no other way."
Hirose could only nod.
- - - - -
Excluding Iwaki, there were still 17 students from class 6 that were taking chemistry. The other 22 had chosen to take biology. When the classrooms needed to be used, it was fixed that biology was held in the class 5 classroom, and chemistry was held in the class 6 classroom, so at this time, the biology students should either have been in the class 5 classroom or the biology lab. Among the 18 students who were taking chemistry, only five of them had shown up at the lab. Then, taking into account that another five of them were absent, a total of seven students had remained in homeroom.
As Hirose proceeded with the instructions for the experiment, he thought about this. Then, an intense noise suddenly sounded out from somewhere. It was the sound of people yelling loudly. Hirose and Gotou stopped the students who made as if they were going to get up and rushed toward the hallway. The gymnasium was directly across from the windows of the hallway, and to the right the classroom building could be seen. It might have been gym class. Students and their teacher were gathered in front of the open door of the gym. They were all looking upwards and shouting continuously. When Hirose followed their lines of sight and looked up, he couldn't help but gasp. He saw several figures on the roof of the classroom building.
Hirose felt dizzy and immediately grabbed onto the window frame. He wanted to look away, but he couldn't.
The uniformed figures were lined up neatly at the edge of the roof, as if just a gust of wind could have made them lose their balance and send them tumbling downward.
Entry onto the roof had always been prohibited for students, so there was no separating railing there. At this nervous moment, it was no longer that important how they had opened the series of locks in opening the door. The students lined up close to each other seemed as if they had been tied together with rope. Though even looking at them from far away, he could see that it was the neckties that were part of their uniform. Hirose unconsciously counted the number of figures, and when he reached seven, he was sure that they were the students of class 2-6.
Don't! he called out internally. We need to stop them! We have to! We need to think of a way to save them! But what could we do? There wasn't any time. There was nothing Hirose could do. Even if he ran there at this instant, it would be too late. What was there to do? What could be done?
The anxiety in his heart froze his entire body. All he could do was stare at those seven people. He felt dizzy, and his intensely beating heart made him feel like he was suffocating.
Among the students who were, like sculptures, originally unmoving, the one on the very left suddenly stirred. Hirose's thoughts jumped, and then his brain became blank. That student lost his balance as if he had been pushed from behind. Hirose heard him shouting something, and the rest of the students who had been bound together by their neckties, swayed with him like a rising wave. Ah, thought Hirose. After he sighed, he didn't know what to say. He couldn't help but close his eyes, and he didn't mean to cover his ears, but all the sounds around him completely vanished from his hearing.
When he opened his eyes again, he could no longer see any figures on the roof.
- - - - -
Hirose couldn't remember the commotion that arose after the incident, as he had passed that time muddle-headedly. When he came back to his senses, Hirose discovered that he was sitting in the prep room in a daze.
He felt like he had been daydreaming and then suddenly woke up. His sense of reality was that delicate, and the only thing that he could understand was that he wasn't dreaming.
Besides Hirose, there was no one else in the prep room. Where had Gotou gone to? He suddenly remembered that he had been in the midst of asking about what had happened. And then he thought, why hadn't I been called over there? Then he recalled that Gotou had seen that he was on the verge of passing out, and so had ordered him to stay and rest.
Sections of his memory continued to come back, and contended with each other in his mind: the seven people lined up on the roof, the rest of the students looking up at them, the gray ties that bound their wrists, the laboratory that had descended into panic, the ambulance, the police, the students who had been hurried out of the school gates, the screaming, the uproar, the three who had died at the scene, the four who were critically injured...
Hirose held his head, and a sobbing sound rushed to the top of his throat. He hadn't the means to stop that upwardly gushing sorrow, because a question had suddenly arisen in his mind.
—How could he tell Takasato?
What was the best way to tell him? Takasato himself should have known that something was going to happen. He must have had a realization. Because in that instant when Takasato had fallen out of the window, the events that would happened today had certainly already existed. Though this might be the case, how was he going to tell him about this tragedy?
For a while, Hirose searched his mind for the appropriate words, and then a laugh escaped him. His mood was already completely inclined toward Takasato, because he cared more about Takasato than those seven students, even though of the seven students who had jumped off of the roof, there were still four who were currently hovering between life and death.
The smile on his face became bitter. All Hirose could do was continue to smile bitterly to himself.
Hirose didn't go home until it was after nine. Takasato was sitting by the window with a book in his lap. His eyes, however, were staring out the window.
The sound of his greeting was reserved and stiff. Hirose tried his hardest to think of something appropriate to say, but he couldn't. He hestitated a while, so Takasato spoke again.
"You're home pretty late."
"Was there...a meeting?" asked Takasato stiltedly. He appeared pensive. Hirose thought, He knows. He knew that retribution would happen.
Hirose nodded and pointed outside. "Why don't we go eat? You're probably hungry."
They made their way to a late-night coffee shop, and got something to eat. Hirose didn't really have an appetite, and Takasato seemed the same. On the way back, Hirose asked Takasato if he wanted to go for a walk. A half moon had come out, and a strong breeze caused the scattered clouds in the sky to drift about.
They were walking on the road beside the weir, and after a bit, they arrived at the broad mouth of the river. The river was wide, but after a long period of silting up, the sandy mud had made it so that the actual water only flowed through half of the area of the river. It probably also had something to do with it possibly being low tide on this day. The dark water crept through the black mud that seemed to take up half the width of the river. Near and far, the water of the sea looked dim. The glistening water flowed upon the glossy mud.
"How many people...died?" asked Takasato as he stood on top of the weir, looking down at the sea.
"In the end, there were five. The other two are still in a coma, though they say it's just a matter of time."
"I don't know."
"Was it an accident?" asked Takasato. Hirose shook his head.
"I really don't know. For some reason, the students who had refused to go to chemistry and stayed in the classroom, suddenly jumped off the roof. The distance from there to the pathway below was four stories, probably about 12 meters or possibly even more. Three people died at the scene, and the rest had become unconscious, never waking up at any point in time. One of them died just like that, with his eyes closed. No one knows what had really happened."
"People aren't supposed to be able to get onto the roof."
"Yeah. But I looked at it myself, and it seemed like the door was open. As to why it was open, no one knows that either."
"Did they really jump down on their own?"
Hirose sighed. A breeze blew by and carried that breath away, gliding from the top of the weir to the black mud.
"I saw it with my own eyes, Takasato, the moment they jumped with their bodies upright. There were many others who had witnessed that scene. It looked as if something had pushed them off, but no culprit could be seen. Looking at the entire situation, it can only be said that it was a group suicide."
Takasato was silent for a while. The moist wind passed gently by from the night sea. The movement of the air was so fast. It was then that he remembered someone saying something about a low pressure front approaching.
"Were there only seven people?"
"Three others were hurt, but they didn't have any serious injuries. I suppose there were only seven." For now. Hirose swallowed these words forcibly.
"Was it all because of me?" It was a quiet and lonely voice.
"I wasn't because of you."
"If I ran away, then nothing would have happened."
Hirose looked at Takasato. Takasato was staring out from the weir.
"If I'd have clearly resisted them and escaped from them, then maybe nothing would have happened. If I hadn't obediently let them push me out and fought back and ran from them, then I nothing would have happened. If I'd done that, then at least I could have..."
"I don't think you could have ran from them."
"Even if you had escaped, at most you would still have been beaten up. Just like student teacher A, who'd gone and tried to stop it," said Hirose. Takasato cracked just the shallowest of smiles, which then immediately disappeared.
"No matter what, the situation wouldn't have changed. It wasn't because of you."
They'd said they were afraid of going to the laboratory for class, that there were a lot of dangerous things there, and so they'd refused to go to class. Like the burners or chemicals, there were too many things where just one tiny mistake could turn into an accident.
When Gotou had gone to get the students, he'd seen Tsuiki standing by himself in the hall. Tsuiki had previously verified it. He'd said, when the student from class 5 came to tell them that class would be in the lab, and he stood up to go to the lab, no one else moved at all. He stood at the door and looked back, asking, "Aren't you guys going to the lab?" Then he was pushed out of the classroom and they shut the door. And so, he had been standing out in the hall, waiting to see if anyone would come out.
He'd also said, the student who'd pushed him out of the classroom had said this, "You weren't there. Consider yourself lucky."
On the day that they had pushed Takasato down, Tsuiki hadn't been there. That he was scared of Takasato and refused to go to school had saved Tsuiki's life. Thinking about it, it was ironic. Very ironic.
Originally, Tsuiki had been an offender, and the rest of them had been bystanders. It was because Tsuiki had previous been an offender, that he didn't hurt Takasato more cruelly. And those who did hurt Takasato even more were originally supposed to be students who were bystanders. Because they were afraid, they kept themselves away from the lab, but those who went to the lab were saved. It was only those whose minds were full of warnings that jumped off of the roof.
Takasato spoke quietly, "It had to do with me."
"No, it didn't," said Hirose.
Takasato rested his arms on the weir and buried his face between them. "If only I'd never come back."
"Takasato." Hirose said his name comfortingly, but he still lowered his head.
"If I'd just left, then this wouldn't have happened. If I didn't come back, it would have been better for everybody, but I..."
This was the truth, and thus Hirose didn't say anything in reply. He thought, for Takasato, it would've been better if he hadn't come back. To Takasato, "that place" had been somewhere that he felt right in. If he could have stayed in "that place" forever, then he wouldn't have to suffer these hardships.
The wind blew stronger and the sound of the sea arose regularly. While they were lost in thought, the moon and the stars had disappeared. Above the dark sea there continued the endlessly expansive and lightless night sky. The evening was deep and heavy in this way, and one could faintly smell that rain was about to come. There, the two were simply breathing for a while in silence.
"...Say, Takasato." Hirose was leaning against a pillar and sitting cross-legged on the futon. Takasato was sitting next to the window and looking out of it through the break between the curtains.
After they came home, he'd taken a bath, laid out the futon, preparing to sleep, but he wasn't sleepy at all. The daily accidents were taking their toll on Hirose, and his mental exhaustion was worse than that of his body. Though this was so, sleepiness couldn't the least bit overtake him. He knew very clearly that the reasons for this were that his nerves were tightly strung and his sleep had been uneasy.
Hirose sat blankly pondering. Looking out the window, Takasato too looked like he was in a daze.
"Takasato, do you believe in ghosts or monsters?"
Takasato widened his eyes and looked a little bothered.
"Have you ever seen a ghost?"
Takasato shook his head. "No. But if you're talking about things a little out of the ordinary, then..."
"That arm you saw when you were spirited away?"
"Then what about an atmosphere?" asked Hirose further. Takasato suddenly knit his brow. "Have you ever felt a strange atmosphere?"
Takasato stared at Hirose, and then looked as if he was thinking about something.
"I've seen something strange before. It was by your side." Hirose forced a smile. "It was a white arm. And then there was a shadow with an unknown origin. I didn't see them very clearly, but I think there's something strange lingering about you."
After he said this, Hirose revealed a bitter smile.
"How troublesome. I'd never believed in this sort of thing." Hirose looked back at Takasato who was looking at him with his head slightly tilted. "I wonder if you've been possessed by something."
Takasato's eyes became wide.
"The one that's cursed isn't you. It's that thing."
The white arm that had grabbed a hold of Tsuiki's leg, whatever had put a nail through Hashigami's palm, and then whomever had substituted for Iwaki as a support leg in the cavalry battle, and that unusual stain Hirose had seen when Iwaki died. No matter which, they were all abnormal phenomena. They were all things that belonged outside of this world, whose existence couldn't be explained by common knowledge.
"...There's the griffin," Takasato suddenly said. Puzzled, Hirose looked at him. "I don't know quite how to say it, but I call it a griffin. It's like a big dog...or maybe bigger. It's about that big, and sometimes it flies, so I think it has wings. That's why I call it a griffin."
"Have you seen it before?" asked Hirose. Takasato shook his head.
"Sometimes I feel its presence next to me. It really is just a feeling. Sometimes I feel like there's a creature by my side that seems like a dog. It's been there since I was little, and at first I thought I was just being paranoid."
Takasato laughed softly.
"It's always crouched near my feet, like a tame dog. At times, I feel like it's calling out 'Ah!' but when I look over at it, I don't see anything. I don't know where's it's gone to all of a sudden. Sometimes I feel like I see something like a shadow, but most of the time I don't see it. —Wasn't there that one time when I met up with sensei after school?"
"When you were asking me all those questions, it was there then. When sensei came into the classroom, you looked in the direction of where it disappeared, so I thought perhaps people other than myself were about to sense it."
The shadow that had disappeared somewhere in the classroom.
"It was like keeping a secret dog. It'd even been a bit fun," said Takasato with a faint smile, before that happy expression vanished almost immediately. "Sometimes I feel a person's atmosphere. There's a person's presence and it's almost as if they want to touch me. The smell of the sea always accompanies those times... I call it Murgen."
"Murgen?" Hirose had never heard this name before.
"Do you know sirens? In the 6th century, there was a siren that was caught by humans. Later on, since she was baptized, she became a saint. Her name was Murgen."
"Whenever I feel sad, Murgen and the griffin will appear and gently stroke my shoulders or rub their bodies against my legs. I think they're comforting me."
By the time he finished, his voice was shaky.
"But, why?" For the first time, his usually quiet tone was full of real emotion. It carried with it Takasato's strong feelings. "I was thankful to Iwaki. I really was."
"But, how did it come to that?"
Hirose naturally couldn't respond to that.
"Why did they do that sort of thing? They'd never hurt me before, only ever comforted me. I thought they were my companions."
These words weren't directed at Hirose. Takasato had realized the cause and effect of the entire situation, that undeniable connection between the presence that appeared around him and the unfortunate incidents that occurred often.
"Why did they let him die?"
Just like bodyguards, thought Hirose. But extremely malicious bodyguards. Just like an excessive mother's love, they use these methods to protect Takasato. They mercilessly disposed of those who hurt Takasato. What was important to them wasn't whether or not Takasato had been hurt, but rather how they would make their judgment. They had determined that Iwaki had been Takasato's enemy, and thereby Iwaki was eliminated.
He's finally comprehended the actual situation, thought Hirose. The true character of the thing called the "curse." It was necessary to separate them from Takasato, or else Takasato would sooner or later be forced to face this dilemma. This was not something that was far off from now. Nothing had yet happened to more than half of the students who had pushed Takasato down, but if Tsuiki and Hashigami, who had only brought up an uncomfortable subject, had suffered such a degree of retribution, then there was no way they would let the students go and allow the situation to conclude calmly in this way.
—However, what could be done?
- - - - -
That night, a strong wind arose. The waves rumbled restlessly. Hirose lay in the darkened room tossing and turning, unable to sleep. From the flow of the atmosphere, he knew that Takasato, who was sleeping next to him, was slow to sleep as well.
Very late into the night, just when Hirose was drifting with some difficulty into slumber, he heard what seemed like a woman's voice next to his ear.
—Are you an enemy of the king?
Hirose responded with something.
What did he respond with? Hirose thought hard about it over and over after he woke up, but he couldn't remember.
＊ ＊ ＊
＊ ＊ ＊ ＊
A man and a woman were standing on a weir, gazing at the night sea.
The man was silent, and the woman was talking by herself. Everything she said sounded like idle chatter, but in reality, hidden in her words was intense sarcasm. The woman seemed like she was trying to provoke the man, and the man had no interest in dealing with it.
It was then that 'splat' came the soft sound of something slapping against the mud.
It sounded like a small fish flipping about on the mud. The man checked out the area below the weir, but there was only sticky muck over there. He didn't he could see fish in such a dark place, but based on his curiosity, the man looked over in that direction anyway. As expected, he didn't see anything upon the surface of the mud. The woman still continued to jabber on. Perhaps she was fuming inside, as her words became very obviously sarcastic.
The man held onto the weir with his hands, and once again there was a sound, 'glump.' This time it sounded like something was sinking into the mud. The woman finally shut up.
"A fish?" she asked, as she looked down at the area below the weir.
"I wonder if it's an eel."
How could that be? Before the woman could respond, another clup came out from below.
'Glump. Klup, klup. Splat.'
The man knit his brow. Suddenly, the smell of the tide became very strong. The sounds didn't stop; there continued to be the sounds of something squirming upon the dark face of the muck. If the sounds were caused by eels, there would have to be enough of them to cover the entire surface of the mud.
"What is it...?"
"I don't know," whispered the man as he waved his hand for the woman to step back, but not once did he move his line of sight from the bottom of the weir. 'Slurp,' there continued to be a sound like someone licking their lips. Small ripples formed upon the stagnant muck.
There was something there.
There were small, countless somethings.
The man looked fixedly down there. A mysterious glimmer shined out from the muck, and the entire thing began wriggling. A group of something surged into the area directly below them. As the man very cautiously leaned his body over to look, the woman released a suppressed scream.
The man hastily looked back at the woman and saw that her face was frozen as she peered toward the surface of the sea. Looking over at what she was looking at, he too couldn't turn his eyes away from the sea. In the midst of the completely muddy water of the sea, something swelled up out of its center like an island in the middle of a river as if it had been sliced open.
The two were no more than 200 meters from the dark mass that looked almost like a giant turtle shell. Perhaps it was because it had floated up from under the muck or because of the swelling black shadow that looked like a round hill of mud that the entire curve appeared to be in the midst of quickly dissolving due to the continuous drip of the mud.
"What is that?"
The smell of the sea became thicker and thicker. The glup, glup sound beneath their feet grew louder and louder. It seemed clear that something was coming closer. The sound edged slowly towards and arrived next to their ears, as if it was about to crawl up from below the weir.
The man suddenly grabbed the woman's upper arm and pushed her body, and started running as if he was rebounding. He pulled the woman who was unable to react because of her excessive shock, away from there. He looked over behind him as he ran back to the road next to the weir.
After running ten-some paces, he looked back and all he could see was something that was black. He could see a slimy sheen like that of mud. It had climbed over the weir and made a glub, glub sound as it drip onto the road. The woman stood still, and following that the man stopped as well. That muddy thing crossed the road making a wet, unpleasant sound and passed over a concrete slope. It flowed down towards a house below the weir and slid into the goldenrods growing thickly outside of its walls, creating a black stream.
Sensing something different, the man turned around and saw that the thing they'd seen at the mouth of the river was about to sink into the mud. All he saw was that the swelling would soon become an undulation of the mud, and then disappear beneath the muck. Afterwards, all that was left was the smooth surface of the sea of mud.
The man looked again in the direction of the road. On the road paved with concrete and not asphalt, there only remained the traces left behind of the muddy thing that had dragged itself across it.
"What was that thing just now?" The man wanted to look at the muddy tracks on the ground and walked forward, but the woman grabbed his arm. She shook her head, signaling for the man not to go. The man looked at the woman, then looked back at the muddy tracks, and then nodded his head gently.
All around them was the strong smell of the sea.
"Let's go back," said the man resolutely. It was a warning that came out of instinct. It was best not to get any closer to that thing. If he really wanted to get a closer look, it wouldn't be too late to wait until tomorrow. It was probably better to come back and confirm what they saw after the darkness was swept away and the day was bright, when nothing could hide.
The two quickly started jogging away. The smell of the sea followed them closely like a clinging tentacle, and there it included the overpowering stench of the tide.