Story III – Part 01

Translator: Kell

The mermaid, having fallen in love with the prince, visited the witch’s house. In exchange for her voice, she received a potion that turned her tail into legs.

“If the prince were to marry another girl, you’ll turn into bubble and disappear,” the witch said to her.

She agreed and went to the prince.

“You can call it a tale of pure love so fierce, but from a different perspective, this is a story about contracts. In order for the potion to have a lasting effect, she must earn the love of the prince. If she failed to fulfill the terms of the contract, the potion she drank will turn into poison. Do you know what this means, Odagiri-kun?”

Mayumi lifted her gaze from the book. Her eyes were as cold as a witch’s, but her cheeks were red as fire.

“There’s no particular need for love to be the goal in this story,” she said. “Suppose the mermaid princess’s love is not real. If she simply wants to go to the human world, then you still have a story. The prince’s love is just a means to an end. If she only wanted feet that would never disappear, the plot would still be the same.”

Perhaps she had a point. But that really didn’t matter.

“You have a cold. Please stop talking nonsense and get some rest.”

“You should know how bored I am the moment I started reading these books. With this, I’ve read all the books I own. Did you know? The famous detective Holmes used cocaine to relieve his boredom. So, Odagiri-kun. I believe it is your duty as my assistant to find me a recreation better than drugs before I become a junkie.”

“Unfortunately, I’m busy taking care of someone sick. Also, I would appreciate it if you stopped calling me your assistant only when it benefits you.” I smiled.

You usually treat me like a slave.

Mayuzumi shook her legs in protest, causing the pile of books to collapse. Unfortunately for her, sick people have no right to speak. My pet theory is that times of peace and quiet is heavier than the earth. My plan was to force her to understand that.

People might call that brainwashing, but whatever.

I went to the kitchen and peered into the pot. The porridge was boiling nicely. I cracked an egg into it, and took a taste. The half-boiled egg melted softly on my tongue. I’m not good at baking sweets, but I’m good at cooking.

For starters, I need to make her eat something other than chocolate.

“Mayu-san, porridge is ready.”

“I don’t want it. Think about it, Odagiri-kun. How can I eat something I dislike when I’m feeling weak? I would rather die than ingest anything other than chocolate.”

Then die.

I wanted to say it with a big smile, but held myself back. As I stared at her, Mayuzumi went under the covers. The two pompoms on her nightcap bobbed, and the red eyes of the two rabbits glistened.

It had evolved. As I observed it closely, Mayuzumi peeked from underneath.

“Why are you staring at my face? I won’t die, so can you please leave me alone? Having someone watching you when you’re vulnerable is unsettling. Any living creature has that instinct.”

“R-Right. If you wish.”

I turned away from her, but then I realized she had to eat something.

Maybe I can fool her by topping it with chocolate.

“By the way, Odagiri-kun, I have a favor to ask you.”

“Yes, Ma’am, I understand. Whatever do you need?”

I turned around immediately, assuming that my thoughts had been exposed. Perhaps she’d become less perceptive, but all she did was mutely reach her arm out of the futon, and waved a piece of paper in her hand.

“I received a case by fax yesterday. A girl wants protection because of apparitions around her.”

“So… she needs a bodyguard. That’s unusual. It’s not your kind of case, either.”

“Yes, it’s not my cup of tea. But I haven’t given her an answer. So, I want you to go see her and listen to what she has to say.”

“I guess I can do that… When do I meet her?”

“At twelve o’clock today.”

I looked up at the wall clock. It was already twelve. I thought the blood vessels in my forehead ruptured. The bowl I laid down on the table made a loud bang.

Peace and quiet would forever be out of my reach, it seemed.

“Tachibana Kotoko?”

When I arrived at the cold park, I called out to a girl sitting on a bench. She jerked up her head, then nodded. Her big, light-brown eyes widened and gradually relaxed in relief. Her smile reminded me of a friendly dog.

“I-I’m so glad you’re here.”

She looked good in her off-white sweater and slim jeans. Her lightly-pigmented, short hair also gave her a lively impression. She smelled like sweet fruit. Perfume, perhaps?

After briefly studying her, I shrank back a little. She was different from how I pictured her.

There were no strange shadows about her. A woman in a pure-white dress and a grinning boy flashed in my mind. Most of Mayuzumi’s clients were abnormal, but this girl was clearly an outlier.

There was no way such a person would come to Mayuzumi for a case.

“Thank goodness,” she said. “I thought you’d never come. I’m really glad you’re here.”

“Um, excuse me, Tachibana-san. May I ask you a question?”

“Ah, y-yes, of course. Sorry, my mind was somewhere else. What is it?”

“You faxed our office, didn’t you? Where did you get the number?”

I’d been wondering about that. The Mayuzumi Psychic Detective Agency was not listed in the phone book. Clients were usually introduced by Mayuzumi’s acquaintances or relatives, or just appeared at the office out of the blue like something led them there. And in both cases, there was a common denominator. Those who incurred someone’s grudge deserved it and those involved were fated to be involved. But this girl was different. It didn’t look like she fit in either category. How did she find her way to Mayuzumi?

“Um, I’m sorry if I bothered you,” she said. “Are first-time clients supposed to visit the office in person?”

“No, that is not the case at all. It’s just that our office’s fax number is not listed anywhere.”

“What?” Kotoko cocked her head curiously. “I found it on an internet forum.”

A strange chill ran down my spine.

My face stiff, I asked, “On the internet?”

“Yes, on the internet.”

This had never happened before. Despite Mayuzumi’s gaudy appearance, our office had never been talked about on the internet. An odd feeling crawled up my spine like a slug. I sensed that something was about to happen to my twisted but stable life.

Fragments spun and tumbled through my mind. A rooftop. The blue sky. Someone disappearing at my fingertips. Finally, a pure-white snowscape. Mayuzumi Asato. Even when the name came up, the person under the red parasol didn’t say anything—never told me anything, even as time passed.

My stomach ached.

“Um, are you okay?” Kotoko looked into my face with concern.

I shook off the images in my head. “I’m fine. You asked for personal protection, yes? You mentioned apparitions appearing frequently in your surroundings.”

Kotoko bit her lip hard. Fear flashed across her face.

“Yes… You might not believe me, though.”

Tears welled up in her big eyes. There was not a trace of madness in her appearance, and wearing a baffled expression, she looked genuinely helpess. I was dumbfounded.

I had forgotten about it because I’d only ever seen aggressors.

For a victim caught in an unreasonable situation, there was only fear.

“What’s the pro—”

Kotoko sneezed. She sniffed and put her hands into the sleeves of her sweater. Come to think of it, it was too cold to be talking outside today.

“Why don’t we go somewhere else?” I suggested. “We’ll freeze out here.”

“…Um, well…”

Kotoko quickly grabbed my arm as if to stop me, then immediately let go, shrinking in embarrassment. Perhaps she didn’t trust me. As I tried to call to her again to reassure her, a crack appeared on her face.

The look on her face changed so dramatically that I thought I saw a crack. Horror suddenly filled her face. Her whole body convulsed, as if she had been electrified. Words slipped from her trembling lips.

“My… leg…”

I turned my gaze downward, and saw something.

“My leg…”

White fingers, like dead flesh, had dug into her thin ankles. Its skin was glistening like it was alive. Scaled white arms, reminiscent of fish and drowned corpses, gripped Kotoko’s legs from under the bench.

Reflexively I kicked the arm away. The sole of my shoe sank softly into the arm, sending goosebumps all over my body. The arm slithered away under the bench, its scales rustling, and disappeared.

It left behind traces of seawater.

When I looked at the sole of my shoe, I saw several scales stuck to it. I took one and wrapped it in a napkin. Trembling, Kotoko covered her face. The skin peeking out from the bottom of her jeans bore red finger marks.

“…Let’s go somewhere else,” I said.

Sobbing and biting her lip, she nodded, but her legs were shaking, and she couldn’t seem to move. Staying where an apparition had appeared was dangerous. Holding her shoulders, I helped her up her feet.

“I’m sorry… I just…”

“It’s okay. Come now,” I said as if comforting a child, then walked on.

A sweet fragrance wafted from her body.

Leave a Reply