After that, I slept three more times and woke up three times. When I woke up the second time, my mouth felt strangely sticky. But other than that, time passed with nothing unusual occurring. I felt like a rotting corpse. Like my arms and legs, which I hadn’t moved for a long time, had long since decomposed.
I wasn’t even sure if it was daytime or nighttime.
The only thing I could tell was that it was summer.
“The end,” Asato whispered in my mind.
I smiled thinly in response.
He was right. This was the end of the story. I had no intention of reading the next tale that the fox had prepared.
I’ll come down from the audience seating myself.
“That was fun, wasn’t it?”
Recalling his voice made pain jolt through my chest. I forced my mind to think about something else. The wound in my stomach was gradually getting worse. It made a sound as it began to tear from the edges.
At that moment, a tap came at the door. Someone was knocking. It wasn’t Nanami. If it was her, she would definitely call my name.
Who was it, then?
I felt uneasy, but I couldn’t be bothered to think too much. It didn’t matter who it was. As long as I didn’t answer, they should leave soon. From the outside, there was no way to tell if anyone was home.
If I didn’t answer, it would be as if I wasn’t in.
But the knocking continued. And it sounded different. Rough, like the door was being kicked.
Bang, bang, bang.
Knocking turned to an odd, rhythmic banging.
What the hell is going on?
With an oddly cheerful cry, the door slammed open. The broken lock dangled in the air. Eyes hidden behind sunglasses narrowed.
Frowning in pity, Saga Yusuke took a step back.
“It’s open, Mayuzumi-san.”
“Thanks. I appreciate the help.”
Light footsteps sounded. The cicada’s cries quickly faded. I stiffened, my eyes open wide.
A regal figure in Gothic Lolita was standing in the doorway.
Against the backdrop of the dazzling blue sky, she stood out like a ghastly nightmare.
Mayuzumi stepped into the room with her shoes on and stared at me with cold eyes. Her pretty face had a small smile on it. Cold sweat trickled down my spine.
Like a fish gasping for air, I frantically moved my mouth. I wanted to come up with some excuse. I didn’t want her to see me in this sorry state. But I couldn’t say anything.
She said nothing either. Silently, Mayuzumi twirled the parasol in her hand.
Red flower opened. Mayuzumi smiled with her cat-like eyes.
“Hello there. Long time no see, Odagiri-kun.”
“…Mayu-san,” I called in a shaky voice.
Mayuzumi walked over to the TV and turned the switch on.
A scruffy audio began to play.
Next, a follow-up report on the series of mass suicides in Nago City.
Five cases of suicide by jumping into the subway line.
Group suicide by jumping from Central Tower.
In the Minami Ward, suicide by drowning in a pool used for competitive swimming.
Family suicide in Nishi Ward, Hachiouji, and Komaba.
Mass self-immolation at Yatabashishita.
In addition, in the second week of July, the bodies of five men and five women were found, believed to have committed mass suicide using charcoal. As we have often reported on this program, the string of suicides shows no sign of abating. The city has responded by setting up emergency consultation services, but another victim has been found. The series of incidents seemed to be triggered by…
“It looks like the fox’s next act has started,” Mayuzumi murmured with a smile. “Are you still out of it?”
The information I had just heard ran through my mind at high speed.
The fox’s first story was over. Which meant the second one would begin.
The opening bell had already rung. The play went on even without an audience.
“Yes. Your leaving won’t change a thing.” Mayuzumi nibbled on her chocolate. “Whether you’re alive or dead. Whether you care or not, it doesn’t make any difference. These are matters that affect only you alone. Your grief is meaningless to anyone but you.”
Her tone was light. A sweet smell wafted through the air. Mayuzumi smiled, but her words rang true and sharp.
“I can guess the reason for your grief. But to choose suicide as a result is you simply pleasuring yourself. You are free to find pleasure in the act of self-destruction, of course. But allow me to ask you a question.” Chocolate snapped. Mayuzumi flashed a gorgeous smile and inclined her head. “Do you still want to die? Do you really want to die a meaningless death? Not for you, not for anyone else?”
Her words reached my ears softly, sweetly.
She asked if I wanted to die in vain.
But I kept my mouth shut. I understood what she was saying. My dying wouldn’t change a thing. Wouldn’t mean a thing. The truth was that willingly dying because you killed someone did not have any logical correlation. There was no connection between the problem and the solution. Choosing my own death was simply an act of self-gratification. Suicide was the ultimate escape, the destruction of the self.
But what’s wrong with that?
I couldn’t die just because I was tired?
Tears spilled down my face. I didn’t want to cry in front of Mayuzumi. A feeling of shame that I had forgotten filled my heart. But the tears wouldn’t stop.
I wanted her to leave me alone. The mass suicides, the fox’s tragic drama, the new victims—they all didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want to know anything. I couldn’t do anything anyway.
If it was the same whether I was around or not, then I’d rather be gone.
I didn’t even feel like helping others anymore.
“I see. If that’s what you want, I’ll say no more.”
Mayumi nodded in agreement, even though I didn’t say anything. As always, she was able to read people’s thoughts. She did not criticize people for their choices. She probably didn’t really care whether I killed myself or not.
Then a question came to mind.
Why did she come here, then?
The next moment, I felt a burning sensation in my stomach.
It felt like my internal organs were being stomped on. My stomach squeezed, and tears and snot streamed down my face. Gastric juice rose up and splashed onto the tatami mat. The vomit looked reddish in color.
It was as though I drank a lot of blood.
Mayuzumi frowned at the sight. But she didn’t remove her leg from my stomach. Instead she pushed the rubber sole into me mercilessly. Compressed, the child inside cried aloud. Right before the baby could reach out an arm, Mayuzumi pulled her shoe back.
Her sole was stained with blood.
“Looks like she’s doing fine,” Mayuzumi said. “That’s a relief. By the way, Odagiri-kun. If you want to die, can I have her?” she asked easily.
I froze, not knowing what she meant. She said she wanted the child in my belly. But she wasn’t something that could just be handed over.
Yet she asked for her with a smile.
“The reason I picked you up was that baby in your belly. It’s not every day a person gets pregnant with a demon. You were worth taking in. That’s what I thought at the time. It wasn’t out of pity for you.”
The red parasol spun round and round.
“The exit to hell only leads to more hell. Yet you said you wanted to live. Now you say you want to die. Then I will respect your wishes. However, once you’re dead, the child will move as an independent creature. Or it may die with its soul still attached—or, in human terms, with its umbilical cord still connected to its body.”
I was reminded of how Asato once tried to remove the monster from my belly.
He tried to get the child while keeping me alive.
If I died, the child wouldn’t listen to anyone.
Or was there a possibility that she would die with me?
“I don’t want that,” she went on. “I don’t have any intentions of using demons. They’re too much for humans to handle. But I don’t want it to die either. They’re rare creatures after all. It would be a shame to lose it because of one human being’s death.”
She dismissed my death as something insignificant. Wearing a smile, she stretched her leg out again. The tip of her leather shoe stroked my half-opened wound.
“While the child only listens to you, anyone can take it out,” she said softly. “But you will die, of course, with your belly open.”
Suddenly she crouched down. Black ribbons hung to the floor like a cat’s tail. Her fingernails, manicured a glossy black, caressed the festered wound.
Yusuke, arms folded, said nothing. There was only a frown on his face.
Fingernails pressed against the wound. Sharp, like a surgical scalpel.
Mayuzumi’s red lips curved gently.
“If you don’t want it anymore, I can have it, right?”
Was she telling me to die?
That if I wanted to die, I might as well die now?
Nails dug into flesh. Sharp pain stabbed my stomach. The baby was watching.
Mayuzumi’s smile was no different than usual.
The same smile she always wore when she was in the office, chocolate in hand.
That was the most terrifying part. Cold sweat trickled down my spine, and my heart pounded faster. Words rushed up to my throat, but my rational mind held it back.
I wanted to die anyway. What could I even say at this point?
But I couldn’t stop myself.