For her, I killed someone.
I will never forget the shock I felt the first day that I met her. Her mother was leading her by the hand under a slightly overcast sky. In that moment, without any shadow of doubt, I realized that I was born for her. She was more beautiful than anyone who had ever come into this world. One look and she stole my heart. But I was too ugly a man. Someone who didn’t deserve to live. Therefore, I did not have any words to say to her. But I was happy just to be able to look at her from afar.
Yes, for her, I killed someone.
For her alone, I ended a life.
And it is for her alone that I kill again today.
A few weeks had passed since Mayuzumi’s full recovery and the incident with Kugutsu. But even as the cherry blossoms began to fade, there was no word from Mayuzumi Asato.
“It was the same with your case,” Mayuzumi said. “He’s fickle and passive. He won’t make a move unless it’s at the most opportune time and the situation is favorable.”
She took a bite of chocolate. I couldn’t bring myself to reply. My vision was blurry from lack of sleep. Kugutsu howling and Chihana’s body flashed through my mind. Kotoko’s smile followed, before it popped. It then abruptly switched to a different smile.
An old, familiar face quivered forlornly.
Shaking the images off, I turned on the TV. There was a follow-up report about a serial murder case that’s drawn a lot of attention. The victims were women between the ages of thirteen and twenty. All of them had their stomachs ripped open and their bowels pulled out. It was Mayuzumi’s cup of tea, but she didn’t pay any attention to it. I guessed she wasn’t interested in cases seen only through a screen. The news was giving me too much anxiety, so I turned it off. Silence descended once more.
I tried to say something, but I swallowed the words. Time ticked by. Impatience burned in my chest, but there was nothing to do. As I closed my eyes, the scene from that day sprang to mind.
Blue and red parasol facing each other. Both owners had the same exact smile on their faces.
Mayuzumi Asato and Mayuzumi Azaka. Asato had a grudge against Azaka.
Come to think of it, I didn’t know the exact details of their feud.
“Mayu-san, is Asato—”
The doorbell rang. With a shiver running down my spine, I bolted toward the door, grabbed the knob and pulled the door open.
A boy with a big smile on his face raised his hand.
“Hello! Now it’s actually long time, no see, huh, Odagiri-san?”
I immediately grabbed him by the chest and pulled him down. For a moment, Yuusuke looked surprised, then he grinned.
“Where’s Mayuzumi Asato?” I hissed.
I thought I went too far, but I was sure that Yuusuke had some connection to Asato. I couldn’t let him get away.
Yuusuke, however, waved his hands playfully. “Come on, now. Don’t look at me like that. If anything, I’d love to know where he is. I couldn’t reach him anymore because I gave you guys some advice. It wouldn’t hurt for you to feel respo—Ow!”
I put more pressure on the hand pinning his shoulder. But his smile still remained. When I saw that he wasn’t afraid of violence, it hit me—his senses were numbed.
“I surrender. I surrender!” he said. “You’re so mean. I didn’t know you were the type to let your fists do the talking. I’m against violence.”
I loosened my grip, and Yuusuke stood up, giving a flippant bow. He showed so sign of concern. There was definitely something missing from him.
“As I was saying, it’s nice seeing you again,” he said. “I’m glad to see you both doing well.”
“Likewise,” Mayuzumi replied. “My cold is gone, thankfully. Odagiri-kun’s belly is closed as well.”
I turned around and saw Mayuzumi standing there. Her white ankles were showing through the lace of her long skirt. With her matching hat, she looked like she was wearing some twisted mourning attire.
“What can I do for you today, Yuusuke-kun? I believe I’ve already paid you back in full last time.”
Yuusuke chuckled. “Yeah, we’re even. It’s just that I was scouring the internet a bit, and I came across something interesting.” He picked up a brown envelope that had fallen to the floor and pressed it against my chest. “I don’t know if it’s Asato-san’s doing, but I’m sure he’s involved. You should be hearing from your family soon. This is so exciting. I can’t wait to see your reaction. Maybe you won’t be laughing then.”
He gave a smirk, his teeth peeking from underneath upturned mouth. A nasty grin that reminded me of skulls.
Mayuzumi responded with a similar smile. “Thank you. If it’s that interesting, then I look forward to it. I’m sorry you had to come all this way, though. Why did you bring this to me?”
“A simple reason, really. I got nothing better to do. I’m trying to poke my nose into your affairs as much as I can. A person who had already experienced the most delightful thing in their life cannot be satisfied with mundane amusements. The only people who interest me anymore are you guys.”
My brows furrowed. By “most delightful thing”, he probably meant his father hanging himself. He probably watched it with a smile. He might have even clapped and cheered the whole time.
“That’s right, Odagiri-san,” he said. “I cheered pops on together with Asako-san and Aki.”
“Stop reading people’s thoughts.”
“My bad. You’re so simple-minded, I can’t help but mess with you. That’s probably why Mayuzumi-san likes you.”
Who’re you calling simple-minded? I don’t want to be liked by Mayuzumi. Talk about creepy.
But before I could say anything, Yuusuke laughed and waved his hand. “Bye, then. I’ll be back some other time, so see you then.”
“Don’t ever come back,” I mumbled. Mayuzumi, on the other hand, saw him off with a wave.
I turned around, envelope in hand, and sat down on the sofa.
“What an amusing kid,” Mayuzumi said. “I think he’s gotten even more cheerful after his father’s death.”
“He’s probably just broken. I wonder what’s in this.”
I opened the envelope and pulled out a picture. It had a very low resolution, like it was found randomly on the internet and then enlarged. Once I saw what was in the photo, I gulped.
A dead woman, dressed in a gothic lolita outfit.
In a dark forest, a familiar figure was crucified to a tree, her pale hands hammered with what looked like wedges. Dark-red fluid poured from her torn belly. I was glad for the low resolution. A red parasol was leaning against the tree next to her. It looked as if a large, red flower was offered as tribute to the departed.
I was certain of her identity.
“Calm down, Odagiri-kun,” a calm voice said.
I lifted my head. A person who looked just like the one in the photo was sitting in front of me.
“I’m here,” Mayuzumi said as if to calm me down.
I knew that, but still. Then who was in the photo?
I turned the envelope upside down, spilling the entire contents. Several similar photographs were scattered about. A girl in a gothic lolita attire was crucified in different places—a forest, a concrete wall, inside a room. Her torn belly was dyed crimson, her organs out in the open. There was a red parasol lying next to her in every photo.
“…What the hell is this?”
Mayuzumi picked up one of the photos and flipped it over. There was a handwritten URL on it. I opened my cell phone and connected to the Internet. When I typed in the URL, the screen displayed a forum . It seemed to be a forum specifically for grotesque images. There was a thread dedicated to serial freak murders. An image was uploaded to the thread, causing an uproar.
“It wasn’t just normal killings?” I muttered as I scanned the countless, manic comments.
“The police are probably restricting information. It’s to prevent copycats and to identify the killer. Information about a corpse dressed in gothic lolita outfit with a red parasol by its side would cause turmoil if it leaked.”
Mayuzumi took the phone from me and stared at the screen with great interest.
She pointed at the URL. “This must have been addressed to me. Either he waited for me to notice, or he anticipated Yuusuke’s actions. Or perhaps Yuusuke himself was lying. There’s no way of knowing, but anyway, look at this.”
It said “Azaka1.jpg” The other images all had similar urls except for the number.
“Was this Asato’s doing?” I asked, but I was already sure of the answer.
This was some kind of threat or warning. Only Asato would use human corpses for such a thing. I bit my lip at the senseless cruelty depicted in the photo.
He killed people for that reason alone. It made me sick.
But Mayuzumi negated my conviction. “Who knows?” she said.
I looked up in surprise. Mayuzumi was studying the photo with a calm look.
“I don’t know,” she repeated, her eyes fixed on the corpse that looked just like her.
Her eyes were clear, as if she was ready for something.
“…Mayu-san?” I called reluctantly.
The telephone rang. Surprisingly, Mayuzumi walked over and picked up the receiver herself.
“Yes, it’s me. Hmm, so I was right. No, I learned about it just now.”
I didn’t know who she was talking to, but Mayuzumi’s tone was a little different than usual.
“I see. I understand. For once, I have to listen. I will be there.” The call ended, and she turned around. “Yuusuke’s hunch was right. It’s a summons from my family.”
A shiver ran down my spine. We severed our communication with the Mayuzumi family a few weeks ago.
According to Mayuzumi, the main family was not aware of Chihana’s actions. She visited Mayuzumi of her own discretion. After learning of the event from Mayuzumi, the main family purged those who were affiliated with Chihana. At the same time, Mayuzumi gave them strict orders never to get in touch with her again. The fact that they contacted her this time suggested the gravity of the situation.
“A woman of the Mayuzumi family was murdered,” she said.
I turned my attention back to the photo. The dressed corpses looked like several dead Mayuzumis.
“She was dressed to look just like me,” she added with a smile.