“Tachibana Kotoko-san,” I called to make sure.
“…Yes.” She nodded.
The sweet fragrance blurred my vision. For a split-second, a different thought crossed my mind. There was nothing strange about this. If I got hung up on foolish questions here, I would never get my old life back. Why return to a twisted life?
There was no happiness by Mayuzumi’s side. I would be alive, but not living.
I almost lost myself in that thought, but I held my ground. So what if there was no happiness by her side? I had prepared myself for that a long time ago.
Despite all this, I still wished to live.
I turned to her again. Kotoko looked like she was about to cry. My presence alone couldn’t possibly keep the apparition at bay. That meant only one thing.
Her case itself was a lie.
“Do you know Mayuzumi Asato?”
A crack appeared on Kotoko’s face, and her gentle smile crumbled. Like an ugly wound, her lips twisted and quivered. I knew then that she knew Asato. The scene behind her began hissing like heated glass. My vision doubled, the sight of a normal road overlapping with the one with arms growing out of it.
“…Who is that?” Kotoko replied in an icy voice.
“I know you know him. You could never produce this scene otherwise.”
Memories from when I met her until now replayed in my mind. I walked up to an arm and kicked it away. The scales stuck to the sole of my shoe. I bent down and picked one up. The thin, blue scales glowed with iridescent light. But since she was lying, it had to be something else, not a scale. When I closed my eyes and opened them again, the scale turned into a scrap of paper, its surface filled with patterns. Suddenly, it squirmed like an ant and penetrated my skin. Ink infiltrated my capillaries.
It was the true nature of the illusion.
“There’s no apparition,” I said. “You were just showing it to me.”
As soon as I realized the truth, the countless arms vanished. The dead flesh quievered and disintegrated with a zapping sound. All that was left was confetti fluttering on the sidewalk.
“When you were sitting on that bench, you grabbed my arm and pressed a piece of paper against it. That was the first illusion. Then I kicked the illusionary arm, or I thought I did, but I actually ended up getting in contact with more scraps of paper. The patterns on the paper allowed you to induce hallucinations to me at any time.”
My vision gradually regained clarity. Kotoko took a step back
I went on, glaring at her. “Not only that. Your scent had an addictive effect.”
A sweet, sweet smell. A soft scent, like a fruit. Every time I inhaled that pleasant fragrance, I felt numb, as if I had been administered anesthesia. How comforting it would’ve been to let myself be wrapped in the ecstasy.
“Why did you do it?” I asked sharply.
“No, no, nooooo!”
Scratching her head, Kotoko screamed, then turned and ran away. As soon as she was out of sight, my stomach howled. My knees buckled as I tried to chase after her. The stabbing pain came rushing back. My vision darkened, but I forced myself on my feet. I couldn’t let the pain hold me down now.
I had to see Mayuzumi.
“I’m just a fourteen-year-old girl.”
She laughed. My legs shook from fear. Dragging my body, I walked the seemingly endless distance to the apartment. I took the elevator up to the top floor, and when I reached the room, my eyes grew wide. The door was open. I peered through the small gap and there was only grim darkness. Suddenly, the door opened form the inside.
A boy emerged, smiling. A human skull came to mind.
“I knew you’d come. The experiment was a failure… or was it a success?”
“Yuusuke… What did you do?”
“Relax. It’s not showtime yet.” Yuusuke put his hand on my shoulder. My legs froze. “I just came to greet her. Do you really think Asato-san would do something to her when she’s weak? She’s his precious little sister, you know.”
Waving goodbye, he said, “See you around.” After a while, the numbness subsided. Was it some kind of a drug or spell? But there was no time to think about it. I kicked open the door and barged into the room.
Mayuzumi was sleeping on the couch. Her body, wrapped in a black, mourning-like dress, was unmoving.
How long had she been there? All this time? Her arms were as pale as a corpse’s.
Screaming her name, I lifted her up. Like she said, her body was nothing more than that of a fourteen-year-old girl. She was terribly helpless and had no way to protect herself. She had no external injuries, but she didn’t open her eyes. My ice-cold fingertips began to shake. Why did I leave her alone? Why didn’t I listen to her? Regret came crashing like waves. It was strange. I had decided that if she died, I would laugh. Laugh at the death of the girl who revelled in the suffering of others. Yet my eyes were burning, tears welling up.
I couldn’t comprehend her death. It was unthinkable, like the end of the world. Everything that had happened since I met her flashed through my mind. A black gothic lolita attire. Red parasol. A cat-like grin. She was the worst person I had ever met. But she had always been by my side.
What am I gonna do if I lose her? How do I live from now on?
Unable to utter the words, I embraced her body tight.
“I can hear you… Can you keep it down? And stop whining so close to my ear.”
Wearily, she raised her body and gave a big yawn, twisting her neck grumpily like she always did. She didn’t just look the same; she looked better than the last time I saw her.
What is going on here?
“B-But… A deadly curse Asato cast on you…”
I was confused. Even though my sentence barely made sense, Mayuzumi still understood what I was trying to say.
“What are you on about?” she asked curiously. “My brother could put a curse on me, but he still wouldn’t be able to kill me unless he did so physically. What I was afraid of while you were away was fire or burglary. Not that that matters anymore. I think you have the target of the curse wrong.”
A roundabout answer, typical of Mayuzumi. Before I could ask her more questions, my vision grew darker. The smell of rust filled my nose, and I could hear the fresh sound of blood spilling. But Mayuzumi looked fine. She looked down at me with a troubled look on her face.
“What I’m trying to say is… Did you notice?”
“You forgot my warning, didn’t you?”
Mayuzumi pointed at my stomach. My once-white shirt had turned bright red. My belly was ripped open, warm blood pouring out like an endless stream.
“A person can tear open easily.”
A small hand was trying to crawl out of the womb. Dull and gray, it peeked through the flesh. A body bathed in blood struggled to emerge from the gaps in my innards.
The creature in my stomach was trying to crawl out on its own.
My vision blurred, and I collapsed.
Someone was crying. It sounded like crashing waves. I strained my ears and realized that the voice belonged to a girl. She was weeping, her voice shrill, crying out for something.
The Little Mermaid had to be loved, or she would die.
“Can you help me?”
A voice locked away deep in my memories brushed my ears.
No. Don’t! Stay there and die. Please.
I yelled, begged. Sorrow and anger filled my heart. I wanted to get rid of the sound, but I didn’t know how. The voice went on, seeping into my body like poison.
“Would you please help me?”
It wasn’t a plea. She believed, unconditionally, that I would help her. Coercion in the form of a request. Suddenly, the pain went away. Someone was closing my stomach, and the memories along with it, slowly sinking deeper, locked away once more.
This is why I hate getting involved. Nothing good comes out of showing too much sympathy.
I don’t want to have anything to do with anyone.
I have to continue living in solitude.