The rest of his story was long, yet simple. A tale of a man’s horrible life.
Yuusuke spoke at length about how terrible his father, Sagara Yuujirou, was. Yuusuke’s mother, his first wife, was also essentially killed by Yuujirou. She had a weak constitution and when the mental stress kept piling up, she fell ill. But Yuujirou never learned his lesson. He used his money to force the young Asako into marriage. The result was violence. Drinking. Debauchery with his mistress. Driven to a wall, Asako hanged herself along with her child.
It sounded like a story you’d hear about anywhere. But that commonplace tragedy would never have been commonplace for the people involved.
She hanged herself and her daughter.
“The laughter he hears in his ear? He had it coming. I think he deserves way worse.”
He was smiling, his eyes dilated.
I knew it very well. People in pain had this look in their eyes.
“But your father seems to have been driven to a corner. He’s even asking the daughter of the Mayuzumi family, a family he despised, for help. What will you do if he goes insane?”
Yuusuke’s lips curved into a smile. His bare teeth looked like the specimens on display.
“I’ll laugh,” he answered. “Right in his ear.”
“What is, Odagiri-kun?”
“I’m talking about Saga Yuusuke.”
“No, not at all. His behavior is understandable. Wishing misfortune on someone you hate is, in a way, a sign of a sound mind.”
Mayuzumi stuffed her cheek with chocolate truffle. After parting with Yuusuke, I had dinner in our room, while she did not so much as touch her food. Even though she had already taken a bath, she was still eating candy.
“You’d have to be able to kill others for no reason to be considered insane.”
Perhaps she was right. Imagining doesn’t make one guilty of a crime. In fact, I was currently thinking about going home and soaking in the bath. I wanted to get as far away as possible from the image of the dead in my mind.
“I think the bath here is nice,” she said. “Do you not like wooden bathtubs?”
“Mayu-san, can you please stop guessing what people are thinking?”
“Hmm. I don’t understand why you value your residence that much.” Not listening to what I said, she lay down. Her white thighs were exposed, but she didn’t seem to mind. “If you wish to get away from, why don’t you just jump on a train?”
If only I could do that. If I didn’t have anything inside me, I would have left a long time ago.
I’m stuck here because I can’t do that.
“Well, night is coming. Night is coming, Odagiri-kun.” Mayuzumi said in a sing-song voice and leapt to her feet. She looked up at the ceiling with glee.
“Let’s see how frightened you get when the dead laugh.”
A smile danced on her lips. She must be imagining something.
Her innocent look made my stomach churn.
A man’s scream ripped through the darkness.
Woken up from my shallow sleep, I kicked off the futon and stood up. It was a good thing I slept with my suit on. I tried to call for Mayuzumi, but she was already awake.
“I heard it,” she said. “I see. What a wonderful voice.”
My eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. Mayuzumi’s voice was clear; fortunately she didn’t seem to be sleepwalking. As I tried to ask her if she was cold in her thin nightgown, my eyes widened.
I felt like I was hit on the head. Mayuzumi was wearing a negligee like a noblewoman. It looked cold, but she didn’t seem to care.
But that wasn’t the problem.
She was wearing a nightcap with a pom-pom on her head. The pom-pom itself was shaped like a cat, bouncing around with its cute and round eyes.
What the hell is that?
“Um, Mayu-san. What is that?”
“Let’s go, Odagiri-kun.”
“Hurry up. We might miss something important.”
I doubted there was anything more fascinating than this. More eerie than fascinating, actually.
Swallowing my words, I followed after Mayuzumi. My breath came out in white puffs in the cold, dark hallway. The anguished screaming continued, mixed with the sound of head banging, and something dripping.
The sound of blood.
I hope you go insane and die.
Yuusuke’s smile flashed through my mind.
Mayuzumi flung the sliding door open. Yuujirou, in his nightwear, was inside, scratching the wall with his fingers, scraping his nails as though running them on a grater. But he didn’t seem to care. His blood had already wet the tatami mat. His fingers continued squriming, like he was trying to tear down the wall.
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Slowly, he sank to the floor, then suddenly began clawing at his face. His left ear’s earlobe was missing, with only a gauze covering it. He scratched at the spot where his left ear was. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. His nails dug into the flesh, his blood dripping. The seductive woman desperately stopping him with the servants must be his third wife. After a while, a man, who looked to be the attending physician, rushed over and restrained the old man’s arm.
“Forgive me. Forgive me, Asako. Asako!”
The old man still writhed and screamed. In between his pleading, for a split-second, there was another sound.
A woman’s voice.
A high-pitched laughter.
I turned around. White snow blanketed the garden. There was no response.
Someone was standing in the middle of the dark, pure-white scenery. A trail of footprints led from the open annex.
Yuusuke was there, smiling, watching the old man in pain.
The sound of the corpse swaying rang in my head.
My vision blurred, and I collapsed to my knees. Slowly, my stomach began aching. Not from a physical trauma, but a visceral pain, something I never thought I’d experience.
It was like pain during labor.
Come to think of it, Mayuzumi’s favorite kind of cases were also the favorite of the thing in my stomach. Some time had passed since it came out that summer, and it had been revitalized. I could hear chewing. The thing inside me was eating something. It was probably feeding on the thoughts and memories of others.
Damn you. Stay still.
I fell flat, clutching my stomach. The hard floor was like ice. Freezing.
I heard Mayuzumi’s voice in the distance. Watching her blurry figure, I desperately tried to move my lips.
Stop. I don’t want you to see weakness from me.
I would rather get ridiculed for my sorry state.
Please, no more.
My consciousness faded.
Slice. Slice. Slice.
Someone was hanging over the corpse of a black animal in the snow. A knife drew sharp trails with mechanical speed. Blood spurted with every slash, melting the snow. Then they began probing the sliced belly, picked something out of the red entrails and pulled it out. It was still pulsating. Carefully, they cut it lengthwise. The contents spilled out.
My vision switched, turning red, like red parasol spinning.
A boy was sitting in a corner of the room, holding his knees, his face ashen. Cicadas chirped outside. The dark shadows reflected the hopelessness that lingered on his face. His palm was bruised from countless pinching.
Three weeks ago, his mother passed away. Since then, his wound had been slowly healing.
The boy’s face remained frozen. He still retained his handsome features even as he grew up.
It was Yuusuke as a child.
Memory stirred. He barely talked about his late mother.
Suddenly his emotions came crashing onto me. Yuusuke’s mother, pushed around by his father, had used him as an outlet for her stress. Relief that she had died. Despair that she never showed him any love until the end. These two feelings dug deep into my chest. Raw emotions that the thing in my stomach devoured.
Stop. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to feel it.
Feeling nauseous, I covered my mouth. I didn’t want to know how others felt. I didn’t want to feel sorry for them. Sympathize with them.
Because nothing good would ever come out of it.
Someone stood in front of the boy. A woman with long, black hair peered into his face, and the boy slowly lifted his gaze.
The woman, her face taut with tension, asked, “Are you Yuusuke-kun?” She bent down to meet the boy’s gaze, and held out her pale hand. “I’m Asako. Nice to meet you.”
The boy’s eyes grew wide. Time stopped. The woman smiled.
Cicadas chirping. Her smile was bright and lovely against the intense light of summer.
She would hang herself a few years later.
“Do you understand?” A voice came from behind. The scene in front of me was frozen in place like a beautiful painting. “Do you understand this pain?”
This despair. The hatred that begins here.
My stomach hurt. Still, I forced myself on my feet. I slid my hand into my chest, but there were no cigarettes. I couldn’t count on nicotine for help.
“…I don’t give a shit,” I answered.