Silence fell. A moment later, three sets of footsteps sounded, followed by the door opening and slamming shut. The backyard must be beyond that door. The old man exhaled sharply and turned to me. Gray eyes gleamed beneath wrinkles. His face, surrounded by flab, was hideous. As I stared into his cloudy eyes, I sensed something odd.
There was a calm glint in his eyes, as if he was observing me.
“You have a demon, an abominable being, in your belly, but you can’t really tell from afar. A wall of flesh can be such a magnificent container. It’s not every day you encounter such a case. The mother’s protection strengthens the connection of the creature’s existence to reality. But to think that its mother is a man. Ah, the irony. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Odagiri?”
I couldn’t say anything back right away. I ruminated over the old man’s words. Like he said, there was indeed a demon in my belly. It was an undeniable fact.
But how does he know that?
“I did not expect that reaction,” he said. “I thought someone working for Lady Mayuzumi, a famous esper, would be sharp. Or is it that surprising that I know this much?” His tone was mocking.
“Who told you that?” I asked.
The old man burst into laughter, exposing his yellow teeth. His mood had changed completely. He had decided that I was not worth his concern. With a sneer reminiscent of a monkey’s, the old man slapped his knee.
“Who, you ask? It doesn’t matter who told me, Mr. Odagiri. The point is, I either know or I don’t. Is that clear? That is the only thing that matters. You have a demon in your belly, which can at times be a powerful weapon. It was conceived out of a woman’s emotions, no? Now what? What does it matter? What’s next? How? Why? And then? I knew. About you. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter.”
He waved his wrinkled hands around like some jester. A goldfish-shaped ruby on his finger glinted. Then he grinned like a Cheshire cat.
“The only thing that matters is whether that information is useful to me or not,” he continued. “Collecting goldfish. My beautiful, gorgeous, lustrous fish. Goldfish, goldfish, goldfish. Oh, that sinful fish. I want goldfish that no one has seen yet. In short, anything else does not matter. I am not interested in useless espers. To the common folk, supernatural powers are a load of shit.” He spat the last words out.
He had taken off the mask he was wearing in front of Mayuzumi. For someone maintaining close relations with espers, his face was contorted with disgust.
“In other words, I’m not interested in your suspicions, your queries, or your story. Not one bit. Now that you know that, do you still have any questions for me?”
He interlaced his short fingers. His condescending eyes said he didn’t want to talk. Leaving would have been easy. I didn’t come here to talk to him in the first place. But I stayed where I was. I stepped in front of the old man and stared down at his obese body.
I don’t care about you either.
But there was something I wanted to say.
“Actually, I do,” I said. “I do have a question for you.”
“Oh? What would that be?”
“What did you do to those girls, you scumbag? What do you think people are?” I spat out.
The old man looked aghast. His gray eyes widened behind his wrinkles. Then his face contorted, and he covered his mouth. Crude laughter spilled from behind.
“Hehe… Hehehe… Hahaha! Is that it? Is that what you wanted to ask? Bwahaha!”
The old man slowly covered his face with both hands. It sounded like he was crying. Abruptly, his fingers parted.
“Preposterous!” he screeched.
My eardrums tingled. He looked completely different now.
“Why would I reveal the manufacturing method to a brat like you?! Huh? Are you stupid?! You’re just a worm who takes the fruits of people’s labors! You think I’d tell you so easily? Know your place, you idiot, moron, imbecile, piece of trash!”
I gawked at the frenzied old man. He was furious that I asked him about his manufacturing method, in other words, how he raised the girls. He thought I would steal his secrets.
I didn’t give a damn about that. How did he even arrive at that conclusion?
“Why would I steal that shit?! I feel nothing but disgust for what you might have done. Raising humans as goldfish? The very idea is fucked up. It’s sickening.”
“Not interested, huh? Don’t lie to me, trash. You were also captivated by the beauty of those girls, weren’t you? Did you think I wouldn’t notice? Ah, this is why I hate espers,” he mumbled. “They think people are stupid. The fools.”
He wasn’t listening to what I was saying. He seriously thought that I was trying to steal the girls’ “manufacturing method”. He also misunderstood something else. I’m not an esper. I just have a demon in my belly.
Then it hit me.
The realization left me speechless.
From a normal person’s point of view, am I not a normal human being anymore?
I couldn’t deny it. Can you call a being with a demon in its belly human? Cold sweat trickled down my back. It felt like my throat was being squeezed.
I don’t even want to think about it. My whole body quivered.
“This is the problem with you people,” the old man said. “You are the ones who bend the rules of the world as seen by ordinary people. You have access to the netherworld? To the layman, there’s no such thing as a netherworld. Can they materialize drawings? Depict their own notions into this world? Of course not. Impossible. You people can do so with ease. You are certainly a higher class of creatures than mere mortals. Your world is bigger than that of ordinary people, and you have access to the depths of the abyss. That is why you look down on people and try to put your feet on their heads whenever you see an opportunity. It’s always the same. Every clan that prides itself on its supernatural abilities has a look that says, ‘I am different from the others.’ I have a better term to call you lot. Monsters.”
The old man turned his vicious gaze on me. He looked at my belly and clicked his tongue.
“Acting all ignorant, huh? I can tell. You’re all linked to some other place, especially Mayuzumi. Those who have transcended the laws of this world peer into some distant shore beyond this realm. And you’re proud of it. But keep in mind: such people cannot live a normal life in this world. You don’t belong here. I have met and buttered up to all sorts of espers. I’ve bowed down to them, all so I could use them. That’s why I know. This world is ours. You can look down on others all you want, but that fact will never change.”
Those who came in contact with something not of this world cannot live a normal life.
What they see and feel is too different from others.
As such, there is no way they can live like normal people.
“You will never find a safe haven like this paradise I have created,” he said.
Calling this twisted building paradise was crazy.
But I couldn’t tell him that. My throat was tight, and my tongue was oddly dry.
We will never find a safe haven.
I didn’t know how to respond to his words
Maybe he didn’t intend to, but the old man’s words were almost fatal to me. I’m just a normal human being. I’m no esper. I’m not like Mayuzumi. But deep inside I knew.
I would never be able to return to my old life again.
I will never find a safe haven.
I should have known that a long time ago.
I conquered that wound that day when the cherry blossoms were falling.
The day I took her hand as she smiled.
“So what?” I forced my dry tongue to move. Relieved that my voice sounded level, I stared straight at the old man. “I may not die peacefully, but what does that have to do with how fucked up you are?”
A person’s eccentricity is no excuse for their insanity.
He stared at me for several seconds, and then smiled. The anger that had filled his face slowly vanished, replaced by a smile tinged with malice. But strangely enough, there was also a hint of affection in it.
It was as if he was remembering fond memories. His gaze held the fondness of someone looking at a photo of himself from long past.
“No. It does not have anything to do with it,” he said.
His gray eyes momentarily cleared. He lowered his eyelids quietly.
Then his lips twisted. “You will die a painful death one day, Sir Odagiri.”
I turned and left. The old man watched me go in silence. We’d said all that was needed to be said. Without looking back, I put my foot on the spiral staircase. I heard faint singing in the distance.
Yuusuke’s nursery rhyme drifted in the wind.