Yukihito carefully removed the sand from the tip of the brush, cleaning it up. He stopped the tip of the brush, which contained a large amount of ink, in mid-air. Ink dripped off the brush and left a black mark. Yukihito looked up in the air once and held his breath. He stared at the sandy ground in front of him with a serious gaze. The next moment, he pressed the tip of the brush on it and moved. Wildly, yet carefully, he ran the brush across the sand.
After drawing the last stroke, Yukihito slowly lifted the brush off the ground.
He stared at the finished character and let out a deep breath.
On the dry white sand was a single imposing word.
We stared at it with bated breath. Suddenly, ‘god’ began to stir. The sand shifted noisily, even though there was no wind. The ‘god’ trembled, ready to morph at any moment.
Its movements were wilder than anything I had seen before.
The ground sank in the shape of the letters, and the surrounding sand wriggled like a mandala.
The trembling grew fiercer. The letters quivered.
Then it peeled itself off the ground.
And started walking.
“To think he painted it with a very serious look,” Yusuke said.
“I can’t believe you didn’t make any progress at all,” I added.
Yukihito covered his crimson face. He was terribly embarrassed. The ‘god’ landed on the ground in an imposing manner. It looked incredibly out-of-place in the otherwise peaceful park.
At its feet was a shadow in the form of the word ‘god’.
“I wish Mayuzumi-san were here to see this.”
“She would probably scream.”
Mayuzumi was not a big fan of strange creatures that were beyond her comprehension. If she saw this, she would let out a rare, genuine scream.
Not that I was really interested in hearing it.
The beasts lifted their heads and started to move. They sniffed the surroundings warily. The ‘god’ was oblivious to the approaching danger. It remained standing proudly on its two legs. Suddenly, one of the beasts opened its mouth and lunged at the ‘god’.
Immediately, the ‘god’ bolted away. Shaking off the beasts, it ran as fast as it could. ‘God’ scrambled up and down the slide and ran around the sandbox. It even jumped on the swing and swung it a few times for some reason. It left a trail of dust in its wake.
“So fast,” Yusuke muttered.
“Sure is,” I agreed.
“That’s a god for you, I guess.”
“An awful god, but still technically one.”
Yukihito turned bright red and shrunk more and more. The ‘god’ continued running away from the beasts. Soon, the distance between the ‘god’ and the beasts began to widen. The beasts then stopped moving and went back to Akari. Just as I prepared myself for another bite, the foxes’ shadows deformed. Six palms overlapped and returned to the shadow of Akari’s hand. Then there was silence.
It was over.
But the ‘god’ was still running around the park.
“What do we do with this thing?” Yusuke wondered.
“We just leave it, I guess.”
Casting a glance at the ‘god’, I approached Akari. She opened her honey-colored eyes blearily and stared at me in wonder. She looked like she was dreaming.
“Thank you,” she said.
Is she mistaking it for Higasa again?
“Odagiri-san, and the other two,” she added.
“Oh, us too?”
I pressed her wound with my handkerchief. She raised her arm meekly.
“I was awake the whole time,” she murmured. “I was scared. I was watching.”
Her large eyes narrowed slightly. She was smiling.
“So, thank you,” she said with an awkward smile. “Thank you so, so, so much.”
We exchanged looks, not knowing how to answer. Yusuke smiled and Yukihito turned red. We didn’t do much. I turned my face back to her. Her eyes were closed.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Why was she apologizing?
She touched my arm with a trembling hand. Her fingertips caressed the bite wound.
Akari hung her head bitterly. “I’m so, so sorry.”
Then out of nowhere, Yusuke screamed. I turned to see what was going on.
The ‘god’ was running out of the park.
It ran off into the distance, leaving a cloud of dust behind. Where was it even going? There was no hesitation in the way it sprinted away. We watched the ‘god’ run straight ahead at tremendous speed.
Its silhouette seemed to sparkle.
“Akari!” Higasa cried.
He closed the car door and rushed over. He was probably out searching for her. Akari raised her hand from my back. We took the train again and hailed a taxi from the nearest station. Akari guided us through the complicated route, walking half the way. Since I had run out of stamina earlier, carrying Akari on my back was tough.
But the struggle was finally over.
“Akari-sama, why did you go out without telling me? Look. You’re terribly hurt. Do you have any idea how worried I was?”
“I’m sorry, Higasa.”
“Why do you always do this? You should just leave everything to me…”
Higasa trailed off. Snapping back to his senses, he looked at us. Yusuke’s eyes widened at his manner of speech and whistled.
Higasa scratched his cheek. “Ah, my bad, lad. Really sorry for all the trouble she caused you. Akari sometimes goes out when something’s bothering her. I’m so glad you guys were around.”
Akari grabbed Higasa’s arm and stood on the ground. Higasa’s gaze wandered around. After a bit of hesitation, he steeled himself. His expression changed, and he bowed deeply.
“Thank you for saving, Akari-sama. I will never forget this debt.” He lifted his head with a serious gaze. “Anyway, I gotta treat Akari’s injuries, so I’ll see you around.” His tone changed. “Sorry I can’t give you guys a lift. I’ll pay you back later. Tell Mayuko I said hi.”
“You really don’t have to. I just wanted to help. Take care, Akari-san.”
“I’m actually kinda hungr—”
I stomped on Yusuke’s foot and waved with a smile. Akari was leaning against Higasa with her eyes closed.
Slowly, she opened her eyes. “Goodbye.” She waved.
Just seeing that smile was enough.
I thought I was vindicated.
“You’re too nice, Odagiri-san. You must be a masochist. Or a beta male.”
“Where are you even learning all these wrong definitions?” I turned to Yukihito. “You must be exhausted. You came all the way here and you had to help us. Sorry about that.”
Yukihito shook his head wildly. A motion that said not to worry about it. The three of us walked along the twilit street. We could’ve asked the taxi to wait for us, but I forgot. I wondered how much longer we had to walk before we could hail one.
I was completely spent. But I felt quite good.
I felt bad for getting these two involved, but my gloomy mood had subsided considerably. I looked up at the darkening sky. I thought I heard waves for a moment. The auditory hallucination sounded distant now, leaving me shocked.
The summer sea was far away. What I saw several days ago seemed like it happened in the distant past.
What happened should not be forgotten. I couldn’t say that there was no point in crying over spilled milk. I knew that. But I had no choice but to tread on the past and continue living.
I clench my fists tight. In the end, everything I did today I did for myself. Running around to help Akari was just me wanting to lessen the feelings of guilt, if only a little. But I still wanted to believe that everything was going to be okay. I didn’t ask myself what exactly was going to be okay. I just kept telling myself that.
Everything was fine still.
I could do something for someone else.
“So, Odagiri-san. You owe me, remember?”
“Dinner’s on me. You can order whatever you like, but only within my budget. As for the favor I owe you, I’ll pay you back some other time.”
“Seriously? Are you sure about that? I bet your budget is only enough for a beef bowl. Let’s go to a restaurant!”
“Don’t worry. I got it. Actually, wait. Let me check my wallet.”
A motorcycle passed by, leaving a cloud of dust on the roughly-paved road. It reminded me of something. We exchanged glances.
“Uh, what do we do now?” Yusuke asked. “What if Shirayuki-san finds out about this?”
Blood instantly drained from Yukihito’s face. It was easy to imagine what would happen. We looked at each other again.
There was only one thing to do.
“We’ll just have to keep it between us,” I said.
“Good idea!” Yusuke agreed. “It didn’t look harmful anyway. Surely it wouldn’t ruin the ecosystem or anything.”
Yukihito nodded aggressively. It didn’t feel right keeping it a secret, but picturing Shirayuki gave me a bad feeling.
We used the Minase clan’s ability to create a strange creature and let it escape.
If we told her what happened, we might not make it back alive.
“All right! Let’s go get some meat!”
“I think my wallet can handle a cheap barbecue place. I’m glad I went to the bank. Yukihito, do you like meat?”
My wallet would probably decrease in size immediately, but eating outside once in a while was not a bad idea. It was better than being cooped up in the apartment.
Grieve and regret, and then what?
There was nothing I could do.
I watched Yusuke and Yukihito as they searched for a yakiniku restaurant. They looked like normal boys this way. I might as well take this chance to make them happy.
Just then, something tugged at my mind. What happened to that girl in white?
The next thing I knew, she was gone.
“Odagiri-san! We got a taxi! The yakiniku place in front of the office, right?”
I raised a hand. “Wouldn’t it be better to drop by the office first?”
While the two of them were kicking a fuss, I was wondering if the kid made it home safely. She must have been from the neighborhood. I pictured a figure in white.
And immediately forgot about her.