“Let’s go over the rules,” Mayuzumi said.
They were facing each other like they were having a tea party. Kotori was crawling on the water behind them, drenched all over as she moved forward. She touched a red flower and broke the stem.
She picked the flower and tore the petals with her teeth.
The shredded flower disappeared into her mouth. She ate like she was devouring prey.
Mayuzumi read the rules to the cat, keeping her eyes only on her. The cat listened with a smile.
“She made a wish to the witch, and a curse befell her,” Mayuzumi said. “A curse that prevented her from leaving the glass coffin.”
“So what do you think, lovely lady?”
Mayuzumi gracefully picked up a piece of chocolate in the shape of a flower and set it between her teeth.
The flower broke into pieces.
“There is no way to break only the curse. Kotori wished for something from you. Just like those who put their trust in the fox. If you make her renounce her wish, the curse will be lifted. Am I right?”
“Impressive. You’re on the right track. This is nice. I’m having so much fun.”
The cat smiled delightfully. Ignoring the pastry, she picked up a sugar cube for tea and munched on it.
Kotori wished something from the cat. Like the Little Mermaid, she asked a witch to grant her wish, and was cursed in turn.
To save her, the princess’s sisters cut off their hair and told her to kill the prince.
The Little Mermaid was the representation of the people I couldn’t save.
How could I save Kotori?
“Odagiri-kun,” Mayuzumi said. “First of all, you should stop Kotori-kun from eating flowers.” Her eyes remained fixed on the cat.
The sound of flowers being torn to shreds continued behind them.
Kotori munched on the flowers without rest. The sight of her eating while shedding tears suggested an addiction.
“Those red flowers originally grew on the dead,” Mayuzumi added. “She shouldn’t be eating them. Though it appears the flowers here a little different. The issue is her odd behavior.”
It was as if the flowers had enchanted her.
Kotori looked up, confused, then flashed a broken smile. I walked up to her and bent down.
She cocked her head. “Hmm…?”
I quietly took away the flower in her hand. Kotori did not respond. She swallowed the flowers in her mouth as her big, clear eyes regarded me. Her small mouth opened.
And she screamed.
Kotori reached out a hand. Crying like a child, she tore the red flowers. I quickly grabbed her by the waist and pulled her away, but she kept resisting. Her palm brushed against my face repeatedly, her fingernails tearing at my cheeks. It hurt.
“Ah, ah, aaaaaaahhhh!”
“Please calm down, Kotori-san. That flower’s—”
Kotori stiffened all over and arched her back. Blood poured from between her teeth. Red foam spilled from her mouth along with drool.
“She bit her tongue!”
I inserted my finger on the edge of Kotori’s lips and forced her mouth open. I then pulled a handkerchief out of my pocket and shoved it into her mouth. The cloth turned red. She wasn’t losing much blood, providing me a slight sense of relief. She fell flat on the ground. I held her small back to prop her up. Her limp body was terribly heavy.
Tears spilled from her closed eyes. She had fainted.
“This is impossible,” Mayuzumi said. “It’s like she’s under a spell.”
If we took the flowers away from Kotori, she could die.
Just like Ophelia, who died a madwoman.
“The curse can only be lifted by renouncing her wish. You should know that,” the cat said.
I glowered at her. The cat gleefully picked up a sugar cube.
What exactly does the cat want? Her goal was beyond me. But as long as Kotori was behaving weirdly, we had no choice but to play her game.
As the story went, Kotori was enchanted by the flowers. Taking the flowers away from her could lead to her death. I picked up the flowers on the ground as I lay Kotori on my lap.
Why does she eat flowers?
I tore the flower and shoved it into my mouth. I smelled iron and a sweet scent.
“Odagiri-kun, do you like eating flowers?” Mayuzumi joked.
Ignoring her, I chewed on the petals. Fragrance reminiscent of make-up brought to mind a woman. I continued munching on the petals, bearing the sensation of them sticking to my teeth.
It did not taste good. It smelled, but tasted like nothing.
Why would she eat this? I couldn’t even imagine it.
“Eating flowers is a kind of metaphor,” Mayuzumi said in a low voice.
I raised my head.
Yuri’s smile deepened. “Nice. Not bad at all. A little too fast, I suppose.”
Mayuzumi picked up a cup. She stared at the tea inside and squinted.
She tilted the cup, letting the contents spill onto the water. Amber color diffused.
“Do you have any hot chocolate?” Mayuzumi asked “Somewhat strong, if you don’t mind.”
The water momentarily turned red, then returned to normal. I was reminded of Tsubaki’s suicide. The smell of iron stirred it up more. Kotori woke up. Her thin fingers touched the handkerchief stuffed in her mouth.
She pulled out the cloth soaked in blood and drool.
Her wrists were wrapped in thick bandages.
I just now wondered: why were her wrists bandaged? It seemed like she had slashed her wrists or something.
The hospital did not inform us of any self-harm. Had that been the case, her escape would have sparked more urgency. We would’ve been called earlier. The wounds on her wrists were most likely sustained after she arrived at this location.
The wounds on her wrists and the water filling the floor. As I combined the two together, a grim image appeared in my head.
Put an arm inside the tub and slit the wrist.
Similarly, press the wrist against the shallow water and let the blade slide across.
A chill ran down my spine. A lot of time had passed since her disappearance. If she had repeated the act numerous times, this water would have her blood in it, albeit a very small amount. The red flowers swayed. I bent down and tore one of them. The water that filled the pathway seemed to be designed to seep into the soil through the gaps between the bricks. And the red flowers were absorbing the water.
I wanted to dismiss it as a wild idea. But I had a feeling that was the reason for her wounds. Potted flowers spitting out human flesh, giving form to the resentment of the dead. But these flowers did not spit out flesh. Instead they bloomed, waiting to be eaten.
Those flowers were blooming on the dead.
What if these flowers were blooming on blood?
Those flowers were based on the wish of the dead.
What if these flowers were blooming because of Kotori’s wish?
My eyes blurred. The child in my belly giggled. The water touching my skin changed, and something gathered around my feet. A red circle formed. The diffused blood gathered to one spot.
Blood touched my body.
And my vision switched.
Mayuzumi and the cat disappeared. A field of flowers stretching in all directions.
I was alone in the forest.
The sky was painted black. The sea of red flowers went on as far as the eye could see, red as blood. A girl’s arm passed through my vision. It seemed to be mine.
I had turned into a girl, watching the world through her eyes.
One of her arms was bandaged. She was tearing the flowers with her wounded arm.
When was this? What I was seeing was Kotori’s memory that my child devoured.
But the sea of flowers should have burned up. Kotori had not seen a field of red flowers since that night.
This was impossible.
Her pale fingers ripped a flower from its stem, bringing it to her mouth. The unpleasant aroma I had just tasted earlier spread on my tongue. My field of vision, fused with hers, was displaying a nightmarish scene.
Then it dawned on me.
I was seeing through Kotori’s eyes. This was how she saw the world.
She was still trapped in that forest.
The sensation of petals sliding down my throat frightened me. Crushed petals clogged my throat, making it difficult to breathe. I felt like I was being strangled. I was sweating, burning up, and my heart was beating considerably faster. It was unbelievably painful.
Yet, I continued to eat the flowers.
Questions filled my mind, and fear filled my chest to the point that I wanted to scream out.
Her emotions pulled me in. I was almost to the point of having a panic attack. I wanted to cry out like a child. At the same time, I knew. Even if I asked for help, no one would come.
Which is why I have to save her, the calm part of me thought.
I rid myself of the emotions clinging to me.
There was no time for games. No time to get eaten or swallowed.
“That’s enough, Uka.”
My voice echoed from somewhere. The sound of chewing stopped.
My vision switched back. My physical senses separated itself, and I returned to my own body. I found myself in a bright, sunlit greenhouse. The blood that had stuck to my legs diffused back into the water. Red flowers rustled. My whole body was drenched in sweat, like I’d been underwater. Steadying my racing heart, I looked around.
Then I noticed something.
Only one side of the tea table was occupied. The cat, resting her chin in her hand, smiled boredly. Her cheek was still swollen.
She was studying me.
Mayuzumi was nowhere to be found.