A forbidding sound echoed from the clock in the living room.
Mayuzumi, who had been sleeping on the chair, woke up. She rested her fair, unsteady hand on the desk. The way she lifted her body up, she looked like the dead waking up from her coffin.
“It’s time,” she murmured.
I gave a nod. After waiting in this room from dusk till midnight, the time had finally come. We had to stay in the room if we were to stop Makihara from hurting himself. We ate the food that Higasa had packed in the fridge, and while waiting, I cleaned up the room. But the slow ticking of the clock was frustrating. Although not as bad as Mayuzumi, my desire to see the oddity as soon as possible won over my fear of it.
Would the sea come?
At first glance, the house remained unchanged.
Then I heard the sound of water. Mayuzumi quickly jumped down from her chair and started walking. I followed behind, and so did Higasa and Akari. Water splashed periodically from the first floor. It was as if a child was playing in a puddle.
Down the stairs, Mayuzumi stopped on the last step. The lighting on the stairs bathed her figure in white. Her milky cheeks looked even paler. Her motionless figure seemed terribly sinister.
She raised a finger and pointed straight down the hallway.
The white light wavered like the moon reflected on the surface of the water.
There was a puddle on the floor. A sweet, fishy smell filled my nostrils. An organic stench that reminded me of a dead creature.
The smell of the sea.
The water was a pale blue. The sea streamed in through the night, blue as the day. Staring at the tranquil azure made me feel like I was being swallowed.
But the child in my belly did not move. It stayed quiet and still.
Which meant this was nothing to be afraid of. There was only the sea, steadily expanding.
I stared silently at the beautiful blue.
“Odagiri-kun,” Mayuzumi muttered grimly. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but would you mind kneeling down next to me?”
“If you want me to carry you ’cause you don’t want to get wet, just say it.”
I rolled up my pants and took off my socks. As soon as I got on my knees beside her, Mayuzumi sat in my arms. I then lifted her body like I was holding a doll.
I turned to the sea in front of us. Sounds of a child playing drifted in from far away, and each time, the surface of the water quivered, stirring up the white light. Mayuzumi tapped me on the head, and I dabbed my fingertips on the pale blue water. The water was thick and soft, as deep as my ankles. Its temperature, similar to blood, reminded me of amniotic fluid. As I walked down the dark path, I felt as if I were walking up a birth canal.
I could hear rushing water from behind the glass door leading to the living room.
I moved as silently as possible. A loud splash came from behind. I glanced over my shoulder and saw that Akari had jumped into the sea without listening to Higasa. The water soaked her bandaged feet. Higasa tried to persuade her, but she shook her head and started walking.
We made our way down the hallway and into the living room. There was a large table in the old kitchen, with several chairs around it. There was also a refrigerator and a television set. All the furniture was immersed in the blue water.
A sea filled with the light of summer. Its blue color, which resembled colored glass, stood out distinctively in the darkness.
Splash. Splash. Splash.
The sound was coming from somewhere nearby. I took a closer look and saw something round. Something was moving across the water at a terrifying speed. But I couldn’t fully make it out. A white silhouette zipped past my vision and disappeared.
Suddenly, Mayuzumi pulled my hair. She pointed to the ceiling, telling me to turn on the light. I set Mayuzumi down on the table and searched for where I thought the switch was. Once I found the cord, I pulled on it. There was a click and the light came on. I waited for my eyes to adjust to the light, then looked around.
There was a monster.
The child in my stomach burst out laughing. A mass of flesh resembling a caterpillar was running around, splashing blue water all over the place. Its entire body looked like a lump of fat. The surface of its white skin was covered with red vessels, and two folds that looked like fins wrigged on its abdomen. There were also eyeballs attached to what appeared to be a head. Coated with a thin membrane, it was looking around wildly from side to side, as if searching for something.
Suddenly, the monster came running to my feet. Before I could evade, it slammed into my knee. My leg was buried in the soft flesh.
Its warm texture was reminiscent of human organs.
Every hair on my body stood on end. I reflexively kicked the monster away. There was a yelp.
The voice of a frightened woman. Loud splashes came from behind. I turned around to see that Akari had tripped. She stood up, squeezing her dress.
“I’m fine,” she murmured to the flustered Higasa.
The monster I kicked away was writhing on the floor in the distance, rubbing its head against the wall like a frightened dog.
I turned to Mayuzumi to ask what it was.
An animalistic grin was plastered on her face.
She was watching the monster with a nasty look. There was an amused glint in her eyes.
Mayuzumi was enjoying herself.
“What’s in the sea is not a mermaid,” she mumbled, and looked at me.
“If it’s not a mermaid, what is it, Odagiri-kun? Look at it. A hideous creature, wouldn’t you agree? What do you think it is?”
“What do I think?” I mumbled.
Mayuzumi nodded. “I don’t really care if it’s a mermaid, a monster, or something else altogether,” she said in a melodious tone. “Just give me your honest opinion.”
A chill crawled up my spine. A thorn was stuck in my throat.
“It’s nothing but a monster to me,” I managed. “Or a lump of meat. Either way, I can’t really tell what it is exactly.”
Mayuzumi raised a finger and moved them in the air, tracing the monster’s shape.
Her smile was still there.
“That’s the mouth, the eyes, the nose, and the ears,” she said in a singsong tone.
She was right. Beneath the bloated flesh, there were indeed eyes, nose, and mouth. Its translucent lips were quivering. There were teeth inside.
“What an utterly miserable creature. I wonder how it turned out that way. There’s nothing more cruel than a half-finished hunk of meat. Not that I care, of course.”
Mayuzumi shook her legs clad in knee-high socks. The knot in my gut tightened. But I couldn’t think of what to say. A child’s shrill laughter came from the pit of my stomach, piercing my ears.
I had a feeling we were missing something crucial.
But I had no idea what it was.
“So what do you think, Mayuko?” Higasa asked. “We couldn’t come to a conclusion ourselves, so… Um, can we eat this thing?”
I frowned at the disturbing remark. Eat?
“Knock yourself out,” Mayuzumi said. “Whatever it is, it’s done with once it’s eaten. Just cut the guillotine cable, no questions asked. You’re not wrong. It’s the quickest way.”
Mayuzumi took out a chocolate from her handbag. She tore the golden wrapper with her teeth and licked it. The paper drifted in the waves.
“This is your case,” she added. “You decide what to do with it.”
Higasa nodded, then turned to Akari standing behind him.
“Akari-sama… I mean, Akari. Can you do it?”
Akari nodded wordlessly. She raised one hand into the air. Moving her fingers silently, she made a shape.
Like a child playing with shadows, she made a fox with her fingers.
The shadow was reflected on the wall. Suddenly, it shook its head. Akari’s hands were completely still. But the beast on the wall moved its head restlessly. Like a living beast, it sniffed around. Then it split into two, and then split again. Four more shadows appeared and began sniffing the area, mouths snapping open and shut.
The shadows on the wall were alive.