Take a gander!
Come one, come all!
Ladies and gentlemen, do you mind stopping by for a moment? This way, please. Don’t hesitate to come closer.
Today’s performance is special. A magnificent and repulsive grand display.
You don’t want to miss it. If you watch, you will have a story to share for generations to come.
Keep your eyes open and don’t blink.
Just a little bit more until the actors are ready. Until then, please stay in your seats. If you miss this, you will regret it terribly. If you’re bored, then let’s review the play from the other day.
The first act was about a man consumed by guilt.
The second act was about a girl driven to a corner.
The third act was a tale of two dead people.
And now for today’s performance—ah, looks like we’re ready.
Do you hear the bells ringing in the distance?
Ah, never mind me. Just talking to myself.
The show is about to begin.
Gather around, ladies and gentlemen, and pay close attention.
You’re about to witness a very fantastic play.
A truly absurd story, riddle with desire.
A tale about a fox.
I was dreaming of a picture book.
Tragedies that I’d ruminated over and over again unfolded before my eyes. Bright blue seawater spread out at my feet, and salty drops touched my cheeks. Blood spilled from the cabinet as the door creaked open. A corpse was buried inside, its body curled up like a fetus.
Flames seared my skin, and small hands waved softly.
A young man was telling the whole story in a gentle voice.
Once upon a time, there was a fox.
First was the story of a man consumed by guilt.
Second was the story of a girl who was driven to a corner.
Third was the story of two dead people.
“Goodbye,” the girl whispered with a smile.
She ran off with a spring in her steps. Soon she would revert back to a lump of flesh. I knew what was going to happen, but try as I might, my hand couldn’t reach her.
I could never grab her arm.
What I was seeing was not images from a picture book, but reality. Following a predetermined story, the plot progression could not be changed.
The narrator eventually concluded the tale. He turned to me, his only audience.
The thin eyes behind the fox mask smiled. Twirling his dark blue umbrella, he asked me a question.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?”
Because these tragedies were all of your making.
The picture book unraveled, pages scattering everywhere. Torn pages turned to flesh and plopped to the ground. Rotten flesh crumbled like melted cheese. I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I couldn’t deny the words he threw at me.
He was right. About everything. But that didn’t stop me from screaming.
I didn’t know that to say, but I tried anyway.
My screams were swallowed by the chirping of cicadas.
I could see the dingy ceiling past my outstretched hand. Sweat trickled down my chin. I took a deep breath and exhaled. My whole body was drenched with sweat, as if I had just dived into the ocean. I looked at my palms and saw ugly, twisted scars caused by burns and lacerations. I wiped my face with them.
Suddenly, I felt intense thirst and hunger. But I didn’t feel like getting up.
The crying of the cicadas rang loudly in my ears. Terrible heat and humidity enveloped my body, clinging to my skin. I felt so uncomfortable that I thought my body was starting to rot. Then it hit me.
It was summer now.
I wasn’t sure how much time had passed since that day. I realized that I had left Mayuzumi’s apartment and returned to my own place. What happened in between, I couldn’t remember. Countless times I tried to recall, but the missing memories wouldn’t return.
What happened to Mayuzumi and Shirayuki after that?
When I tried to rack my brain, a fog rolled into my head.
My stomach hurt so bad. I checked and saw a smear of blood on my shirt. The scar that sealed the child was swollen like a ragged surgical mark. The edges had ripped open, and drops of sweat and blood were trickling down my stomach. Feeling a dull, terrifying ache in my guts, I curled up.
As I closed my eyes in a fetal position, I felt drowsy again. No matter how much sleep I got, it wasn’t enough. Then I fell into slumber, fully knowing that doing so would only bring back the nightmares.
I was just so tired.
I didn’t have the energy to move, or the desire to do anything. I just wanted to sleep.
If I stayed curled up, no change would come to the real world.
I didn’t care what happened out there anymore.
Listening to the shrill cries of the cicadas, I fell asleep.
Just as I lost consciousness, a thought came to me. At first I drank small amounts of water. Then eventually I got tired of going to the bathroom, so I stopped drinking altogether.
In that case, I should die of dehydration soon.
Why was I still alive?
“If you don’t want me to die, then stay with me.“
A gaze pregnant with madness turned to me. She reached out and grabbed my sleeve. As she pulled her arm back, I saw another face. A familiar visage smiled at me gently.
Words spilled from her slightly-parted lips.
Shizuka’s face crumbled, leaving behind a lump of flesh.
I reached out and was about to scream, when I heard the sound of a television switching on.
The images before me vanished. I woke up from the dream and opened my eyes. In my blurry vision, I saw an unfamiliar figure. There was a woman sitting in the room that should’ve been empty save for me. Bare thighs were peeking out from her short tight skirt.
Her skin was oddly pale for the height of summer.
It was like the skin of the dead.
The woman took out a pack of ice cream from the convenience store bag beside her and opened the seal. Her short ponytail swayed. Sweat dripped from the tips of her long eyelashes, and her strong-willed eyes flickered.
I was struck with a strange sense of déjà vu.
I knew her.
I was sure. But I couldn’t remember who she was exactly.
The woman munched on the soda ice cream. A sugary drop fell on the tatami mat.
Her eyes regarded me abruptly.
“Oh? You’re awake?”
The woman crawled toward me on her knees and looked into my face. Red lipstick colored her small lips. Soft flesh curved into a smile. I felt visceral disgust.
Her smile was that of a predator’s.
“It’s been a while. I was worried about you. Every time I came here you were asleep, I was starting to wonder if you were still alive. I was afraid you’d just drop dead without regaining consciousness.”
The woman rummaged through the convenience store bag and pressed a wet wipe against my neck. I cowered. But she wiped the sweat away anyway without hesitation.
Her touch was tender.
But her eyes were cold, as though she was observing an animal.
“I don’t know if you remember, but I don’t really care. It’s not like this is a happy reunion or anything. But there’s someone out there who doesn’t want you to die. Said they couldn’t let you go when they were having so much fun.”
Suddenly, the woman took out a thermos from the bag. She poured the contents into a cup and gulped it down. Her lips seemed to turn even redder.
She pulled my face in closer. Before I could resist, her lips pressed onto mine. A thick tongue slipped between my teeth. I felt something being poured into my mouth. Warm, thick liquid flowed down my throat. The woman’s tongue wriggled softly like an underwater creature.
The intense smell of iron shocked my eyes open.
It was blood.
I tried desperately to turn my face away, but the woman wouldn’t remove her lips. Blood stuck to my dry mouth. Something slapped my stomach from the inside. The child was restive.
As though the smell of blood woke her up.
The woman’s tongue slithered playfully, then slowly moved away.
“That should do it,” the woman said cheerfully as she brushed up her ponytail.
A red trail flowed down her lips. It stood out vividly on her pale skin.
The lukewarm sensation went down my throat.
“Hang in there,” the woman said. “Suffer, grieve, despair. Live like you’re crawling at the bottom of hell. Promise?” She smiled.
What the hell did she make me drink?
Right before I could ask the question, the woman retreated out of my reach. I stumbled, unable to muster up the strength to stand. The child in my belly laughed with glee.
“Even when you grow weak, as long as the demon is revitalized, the mother will not die. Unless the demon itself rips your belly open,” the woman said melodiously.
My eyelids grew heavy and dropped. Just before sinking into a muddy sleep, the woman smiled.
“Enjoy the wolf’s blood.”
Five cases of double-suicide in the subway… suicide by drowning in the pool… family suicide… mass self-immolation… string of suicides… emergency…
When I woke up, the woman was gone. I slithered my tongue inside my mouth, but there was no taste of iron. The TV was off. As always, there was only me in my small apartment.
It could’ve just been a dream.
There was no way that an unfamiliar woman could make me drink blood in real life.
It had to be. As a matter of fact, the door was still locked. The knob turned, but it couldn’t be opened. Just then, I heard a bang. The knob turned and then returned to its original position.
I heard Nanami’s voice.
“Odagiri-san, are you not home? That’s weird… He should be back by now. Odagiri-san! You’re not home, right?”
She assumed I wasn’t around, yet called for me anyway. Strange way to go about it, for sure. She kept calling my name hesitantly. She must be vaguely aware that I was inside. But she didn’t have the courage to check. As the granddaughter of the landlord, she had the right to unlock the door if the need arose. Still, she hesitated.
“I guess he’s not around,” she murmured.
Footsteps receded away. Good. I didn’t want to see anyone. I felt a dull pain in my stomach. Looking down, I saw the wound had opened further. I was about to see the baby’s fingertips. Now that I was away from Mayuzumi, my stomach ripping open would lead directly to my death.
I thought I should feel scared. Yet I smiled.
The aggravation of my wound was tantamount to an execution.
I searched through my mind, but found no fear. In fact, as I was lying down, I longed for my stomach to open up. I’d grown tired of thinking. I just wanted to be free of all kinds of torment. I wished my brain would just shut down, so it would stop spewing out stupid thoughts.
People died because of me. And my death would render that fact meaningless.
There would be no way to grieve over it.
Suicide. Double-suicide. I remembered the disturbing words I had just heard in my dream. Smiling, I curled up.
“What’s wrong with wanting to kill myself?”