Chapter 8: Her Revenge

To get straight to the point, we proceeded to take the lives of seventeen people all told, including the first three.

The fourth victim was the girl's former homeroom teacher. After killing the man who, now in his sixties, had been battling with stomach cancer, she stated "Let's take this as far as we can go."
And so she added on thirteen more people she had deep grudges against who weren't part of the original plan.

As far as relationships, the breakdown went like this: seven were middle-school acquaintances, four were high-school acquaintances, two were teachers, and there were four "other"s.
The gender statistics: eleven women, six men. How they were killed: eight died immediately, four ran, two tried to talk it out, three resisted. Those were the final results.

Not everything went exactly to plan. In fact, we failed many, many times. In getting to the seventeenth murder, our targets ran five times, the police arrested us four times, and we suffered major wounds twice.
However, the girl "nullified" it all from happening. No, we didn't play fair at all. We abandoned all responsibility and had everything our way.

It may seem like I'm just laying out numbers here. But if you talked to me right after I'd finished helping with the seventeenth murder, that's just how I'd describe it. By about the fourth or fifth, each of the victims were just numbers to me.
That's not to say none of the victims left any impression on me. Still, it wasn't who was being killed that was important to me, but the girl's every action in carrying it out.
The more deeply-rooted her anger, the more blood that spilled, the greater her reluctance, the most radiant her revenge was. That beauty alone didn't grow stale no matter how many times I saw it.

Once the eleventh victim was made deceased, the supposed time limit on the accident's postponement, the ten days, had already passed.
And on the fifteenth day, when all seventeen were dead, the effect seemed to somehow hang on.
Even the girl found it odd. I considered that while continuing her revenge, a strong desire to not die just yet arose that prolonged the postponement.

After completing the seventeenth murder amid a thicket red with maple trees, the girl took my hands and we spun around in the falling leaves, like dolls in a mechanical clock.
When I saw her innocent smile, I felt like I finally understood the greatness of having accomplishing something.

And when the postponement came to an end, that smile would be lost forever.
I thought it such a horrible loss, as horrible as the world losing one of its colors.

I'd done something there was no taking back.
By this time, I could feel such a pain in my chest at last.

Once the girl was done expressing her endless joy, she came back to her senses and let go of my hands awkwardly.
"You're just the only one I have to share my happiness with, you see...", she insisted.
"I feel lucky for that," I replied. "That makes seventeen, right?"
"Yes. All that's left is you."

Dry leaves piled on the seventeenth corpse. The tall, large-nosed woman who had minutes ago been breathing was one of those who had joined the girl's sister in abusing her.
We'd tailed her on her way home from work and spoken to her once she was alone. She appeared to not remember the girl she had once tormented, but the moment she pulled out the scissors, the woman sensed danger and fled.
At first, this led me to think she might be troublesome to deal with, but that she chose to escape into a thicket was nothing short of idiotic. We could easily focus on her murder without worry of being seen.

One thing that disappointed me was how the girl, quickly becoming practiced in murder, came to no longer bathe in bloodspray or meet significant resistance.
While her swift movements and her pinpoint accuracy with the scissors were beautiful, it was a little sad no longer seeing her get bloody and weary.

"Once I'm out of targets to take revenge on, I doubt I'll have a very strong will to keep my postponement going," the girl remarked. "In essence, your death will mean mine."
"When are you doing it?"
"I'd better not delay it too long. ...I'll have revenge on you tomorrow. That will put an end to it all."
"I see."

I squinted my eyes as the sunlight came from the west through the trees. The whole thicket was a shade of red that felt like the end of the world.
And indeed, for the girl, the end of the world was nearing.

It was our final dinner together. I suggested having a meal at a fancy restaurant suitable for a day of celebration, but she promptly denied.
"I hate formal places, and I don't know anything about manners," explained the girl. "I don't want to be so nervous for our last meal that I can't taste the food."

She was exactly right. So in the end, we ordered steak at our usual family restaurant and toasted with soft-drink-like wine.
Perhaps because of her mature expression, as long as she wore the right clothes, one could easily see her as a college student, so the waiter didn't say anything about her being old enough to drink.

While picking at a montblanc at dessert, the girl informed me "I've never eaten a montblanc before now."
"Your thoughts?"
She made a grim face. "I didn't want to learn this late in the game that there was something so delicious in the world."
"I know how you feel. I wish I didn't learn so late how fun it was to eat with a girl I like."
She gently kicked my shin as if to rebuke me. But I knew from my fifteen days of experience that she wasn't angry, she just came to seek awkward contact when she was drunk.

"Well, lucky you, you'll be able to forget once my postponement ends."
"I didn't say I wanted to forget. Just wanted to know sooner."
"And that's what you get for driving drunk. You idiot."
"Right you are," I nodded.

Looking displeased, the girl put her elbows on the table and pointlessly swirled her wine glass.
"The fun of buying clothes, the fun of getting my hair cut, the fun of going to an amusement center, the fun of drinking, the fun of playing piano all day - I never wanted to know any of it."
"Right, keep on getting angrier at me. That grudge is what you're going to kill me with tomorrow."
"...Don't worry. I will carry out my revenge." She took a swig of wine and slowly gulped it down. "Sweet talk all you like, you're the one who ended my life. None of the things you've done for me will cover that up."
"Fine by me."

The time for worrying had passed days ago. Now I was just looking forward to the moment she stabbed me with her scissors.
It was sad to imagine being stabbed by the person I loved, but it wasn't so bad considering that regardless of why, I would temporarily be the only thing on her mind.

The reason I was content with being killed wasn't because I saw it as atonement for killing her, nor did I want to take responsibility for my assistance in many murders.
I just wanted her to successfully take revenge on as many people as she could, and offered myself to be the last.

And, strictly speaking, I wouldn't die. I'd only temporarily die for the duration of the postponement's effect.
In the main timeline - not quite an accurate description either, but being commonly used in movies and books, it stuck with me - the girl was already dead, so no "cat" or its "claws" existed to kill me.
As long as that other me didn't commit suicide, I would get to keep living.

However, the one who would keep living was one who would never know the girl while she still lived.
That was my punishment for one accidental death and assisting in seventeen intentional ones, I insolently supposed.

"I just have one question..."
"Yes?", she replied, slightly tilting her head.
"If our meeting hadn't been the way it was, what do you think would have happened?"
"...Who knows. It's pointless to consider."

I couldn't stop myself from imagining, though. What if I hadn't run her over?

I rewinded back to that night. After buying beer at the supermarket, drinking it, and starting to drive, a slip of the wheel would drive me into the gutter, and I wouldn't be able to get the car out.
I didn't have my cellphone either, so I would just have to wait in the rain for a friendly helper to drive by.

Then the girl would appear. Why was a high schooler walking around at this hour, way out here, without an umbrella, all by herself?
Though finding it strange, I would ask her, "Hey, can I borrow your cellphone? My car's stuck, as you can see." She'd shake her head; "I don't have a cellphone." "Oh, too bad... Say, aren't you cold?" "I am." "Do you want to warm up in my car?" "No. That's very suspicious." "Personally, I think you're pretty suspicious, walking around on an empty road in the dead of night without an umbrella. Don't worry, I won't do anything weird. Suspicious persons like us should get along, right?" The girl would hesitate, then wordlessly get in the passenger's seat, and we'd both sleep.

We'd wake up to the morning sunlight. A truck would be honking its horn. It would tow the car out of the ditch. We'd thank the truck driver.
"Now, I should get you home. Or would school be better?" "I won't be able to make it now. Because of you." "I see. I guess I did a bad thing." "Since I've given up on school now, please just drive around at random." "A joyride, you say?" "Please just drive around at random."

After joyriding around rural roads all day, I'd part with the girl. What a strange day, I'd chuckle.
A few days later, she and I would happen to meet again. I'd stop the car, and she'd wordlessly get in instead of going to school.
"Well, how should we waste today?" "Please just drive around at random, mister kidnapper." "Kidnapper?" "Stranger, then." "Nah, I think kidnapper is better." "Isn't it?"

Then we'd come to meet almost weekly. Having found a wonderful means of recreation, we'd help each other rehabilitate from our ills.
Years would pass, and the girl would push through high school to graduation, and I'd be reintegrated into society and work part-time jobs.
Even then, we'd go driving every Friday night. "You're late, mister kidnapper." "Sorry about that. Let's go."

What an absurd, ideal relationship. But even if we had met in such a way, while I could have possibly gotten close with her, I certainly wouldn't fall in love.
By going along with her revenge, I felt I came to deeply understand her. That could have been a biased impression, however.

That night, I woke up from a pressure on my lower stomach. Someone was straddling over me. My five senses, sleepy and dulled, came back one at a time.
First was hearing. I heard rain falling on the roof. Next was touch. I felt hardness with my back and the back of my head; I'd slipped off the sofa and was sleeping on the floor.

Then, something sharp was thrust at my neck. I didn't even have to think to realize that it was the girl's dressmaking scissors.
When she said "tomorrow," she had apparently meant the moment the date changed over.

My eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. The girl was not in her evening wear, but had changed into her usual uniform.
As soon as I realized that, I felt the reality that yes, this was the end.
I felt everything was going back to normal.

"Are you awake?", the girl asked weakly.
"Yeah," I responded.
I didn't close my eyes. I wanted to see how she carried out her revenge to my very last.

I couldn't make out her expression in the dark. But her breathing and her tone told me she probably wasn't trembling with delight, nor was her face contorted with rage.
"I'm going to ask you some questions," she told me. "As a last confirmation."

A sudden wind blew, shaking the whole apartment.

She asked her first question.
"You assisted me over these fifteen days to atone for your actions. Is that right?"
"More or less," I answered. "Though by doing that, I just added to my crimes."

"You claimed you fell in love with the sight of me taking revenge. Is that true?"
"It is. I doubt I can make you believe it, but..."
"I'm not looking for anything but "yes" or "no,"" she interrupted. "You want me to kill you because, in accordance with your objective of atoning, you want me to get revenge on as many people as I can. Correct?"
"Right." Strictly speaking, I didn't want to die, but if those were my only two options, then it was closer to a yes.
"I see." She seemed to accept my answers.

I mistakenly believed that these questions she was asking me were to assure herself that I actually sought the conclusion we were about to arrive at, justifying her murder.
I thought that the more I said "yes," the more it would push her to commence with her revenge.

The questioning came to an end. My heart raced; it was happening.
My mind was clear, and the attunement of my senses rapidly escalated. I even felt the slight trembling of the girl's emotions via the end of her scissors. Slowly but surely, that hesitation went away.
I could tell her conviction was building. The scissor point advanced, albeit only millimeters. The stimulus to my pain receptors brought my attentiveness to its maximum.

The fear of death and the anticipation of beauty melted together like a drug filling my brain, causing a flood, wrapping me in an aimless ecstasy that made me want to shout.
My body shivered to the core. That's it, pierce it right through, I cheered. Put an end to all of it with those scissors. Deal the finishing blow to this walking corpse who'd deserved death for twenty-two years.

It was unfortunate that I couldn't see her expression in the dark. Would she be joyful as blood spewed out my neck into her face? Or angry? Or sad? Or hollow? Or perhaps she'd be completely lacking in -

"I can certainly understand your thinking," the girl said.
"That's why I won't kill you. I refuse killing you."
She took the scissors away from my neck.

I didn't understand what was happening.
"Hey, what's this? Are you really losing your nerve now?", I asked provocatively. But the girl heeded it not, and threw the scissors onto the bed.
"It doesn't exactly constitute revenge if I kill someone so desperate to be killed, does it?", she supposed, still sitting over me. "I won't grant your one and greatest wish. ...That is my revenge."

By then, I realized what she meant by "last confirmation."
She wasn't trying to ascertain whether her murder would be justified, but how meaningless it would be to murder me.

"...So if this fulfills your revenge," I thought, "why hasn't your postponement ended?"
"It simply hasn't sunk in yet. No need to worry; I will die. It shouldn't be long before the remnants of my will burn out."

The girl stood up drearily, straightened her blazer's sleeves and the creases on her skirt, and walked away from me toward the front door.
I wanted to get up and chase after her, but my legs wouldn't move. I could only lie on the floor and watch her go.

As the girl reached the door, she remembered something and came to a stop. She turned around and walked back.

"There is one thing I need to thank you for," she nearly whispered. "Despite all the wounds on my body, you called me "beautiful." I don't know how serious you were, but... it still made me very happy."

She got on her knees next to me and covered my eyes with her hand. With the other hand, she held my chin.
Her soft hair brushed on my neck. As if giving me mouth-to-mouth, her lips gently encompassed mine.

I don't know how long the moment lasted.
Our lips parted, and she took away her blindfolding arm and left the room.
Instead of a goodbye, she parted with "I'm sorry."

For the first time in ten days, I lay down on an empty bed and closed my eyes.
Fumbling around, I grabbed the scissors the girl threw aside. I put the point under my chin and breathed steadily.
I didn't need to look into any proper method. I knew what to stab and how, I knew how long it would then take to die - after she'd showed me ad nauseam, I knew.

My beating pulse felt the blade. My mind was calmed by that fixed rhythm. I suddenly recalled hearing that when people died, their hearing remained to the very end. The other senses would die off, but hearing would hold on until just before death.
If I stabbed my own artery now, my senses would fade, and I'd die hearing nothing but the sound of raindrops.

I temporarily put down the scissors and reached for the CD player. I wanted to at least decide the sound that accompanied the end of my life.
Putting on an unfittingly noisy song seemed more suitable for my death than a sad song that lamented it.
I put The Libertines' Can't Stand Me Now on full blast, then threw myself on the bed again and grabbed the scissors.

Alas, I listened to three songs just sitting there. I hadn't expected myself to start enjoying the music.
Come on, get a hold of yourself. You're going to go through the whole album at this rate. And then what? "Next album?"

Fine, the next song. Once the next song is over, I'll do away with this ridiculous life of mine.

But as the fourth song was seconds from ending, there was a knock on the front door.
Ignoring it to focus on the music, I heard it being busted open. I hid the scissors under the pillow and turned on the light.

The art student, entering without permission, hit stop on the CD player.
"You're a neighborhood nuisance."
"Just different tastes," I joked. "So did you bring a CD to replace mine with?"

The art student looked around the room and asked, "Where's that girl?"
"She left. Just a while ago."
"In the rain?"
"Yeah. I exhausted her good graces."
"Huh. That's a shame."

She took out a cigarette and lit it, offering me one as well. I took it and put it in my mouth, and she lit it for me.
It had an order of magnitude more tar than I was used to, almost like the ones Shindo used to smoke, so I nearly started to choke. Her lungs must have been pitch black.

"Where's the ashtray?", she asked.
"The empty can." I pointed to the table.
After finishing her first cigarette, she started on another without a moment's delay.

She must come here with something to say, I supposed. Being upset about the noise was just an excuse.
I think she'd told me that once. That she was horribly bad at saying what she really thought.
So she was probably in deep thought now, because she wanted to say something important to me.

Upon finishing three cigarettes, she finally spoke.
"If I were a good friend of yours, I'd probably say you should go after her right now. "Or else you'll regret it your whole life," or something. But since I'm such a sly and clever woman, I won't say that."
"Why not?"
"Hmm. Why not, indeed?"
Without any connecting logic, she said over her cigarette, "Winter's coming soon."

"You know, I was born in the south. Even when it snowed there, it was rare that it ever stayed to the next day. So I was astonished when winter first came for me here. Once the snow piles up, you don't see the ground again until spring. And thanks to this image of snow as this light and fluffy pure-white stuff, the heaviness of snow piles, the dread of walking on icy roads, how snow looks like volcanic rock when it's exposed to exhaust fumes, and so on... it was a little disappointing."

I didn't find myself thinking "what is she going on about now?"
This was just the awkward girl's best way of expressing herself.

"But even so, when it snows a lot at night, and a plow wakes me up in the morning, and I open my fogged-up window to look at the street, it's a sight to see every time. Like the world got a fresh coat of white. And on the other hand, when I get back home at night shivering, it's also great to have a warm cup of sugar-loaded coffee."

She paused there.

"...That's all I'll say. If you still want to go see that reaper, I won't stop you."
"Right. Thank you."
"Seriously, between you and Shindo, why do all the guys I get friendly with go away so quick?"
"I guess only people who start thinking about dying understand your charm."

"That doesn't make me very happy," she laughed with confliction. "Hey, I've always wanted to ask. Did you never so much as hold my hand because you just didn't have any interest in me? Or was that out of courtesy to dear departed Shindo?"
"I wonder. I don't really know myself. Maybe I resigned myself to never beating him from the start."
"...Thanks, that's an answer that does make me happy. I think I feel a little better."

She held out her left hand. Probably not her right because she was wary of my injury.
"Will you at least give me a handshake this last time?"

"Sure, gladly." I held out my left hand. "Goodbye, uh..."
"Saegusa," she told me, grabbing it. "Shiori Saegusa. First time properly using my name, eh, Mizuho Yugami? I like those kinds of non-committal relationships."
"Thanks for everything, miss Saegusa. I found our relationship pretty comfortable, too."

She readily let go of my hand. I didn't want to prolong it either, and turned my back to her.
I buttoned up my coat, tied my boots tight, and opened the door holding an umbrella.

"I'll be lonely with you gone," I heard miss Saegusa remark from behind me.

The traditional tactic would be to go around to places where I thought the girl might have gone.
But there was no need. I happened to know where she was headed. She'd left me a few clues.
I thought about them in the order they occurred to me.

The first clue, I found when I bought tickets to get on the train. My wallet had been tampered with; the cards were arranged differently. I didn't even need to ponder whether it was the girl's doing.

My first thought was that she'd taken just enough money from me to spend during her remaining time. But checking carefully, I found not a single yen missing, and my ATM and credit cards were untouched.
After considering several possibilities, I decided on this: she was looking for something I possessed, and checked my wallet because it was likely to be there.

The second clue was the "I'm sorry" she left me with. An apology directed at the person who killed her.

What was that an apology for? She'd clearly explained the "thank you" just before it: "Despite all the wounds on my body, you called me "beautiful." I don't know how serious you were, but... it still made me very happy."
But no explanation for the "sorry." There was no way she just didn't think it was worth explaining. After all, I was racking my brain trying to figure it out.
Maybe she had a reason for not explaining it, yet at least wanted her feelings to be known before she went. So it probably didn't just stop at "I'm sorry."

The third clue was back four days ago. While the girl was showering, I thought I'd continue writing my "unsent letter" to Kiriko, so I opened the headboard cupboard, but the partially-written letter was gone.

I didn't pay it much mind then, but - having no doubt in my mind the girl had read it - why didn't she put it back where it was?
In my room, so utterly bare as to lose the feeling of being "orderly," losing something was simply impossible. And yet I never saw that stationery since.
Unless she meant to tease me and hid it in a CD case or between books, or threw it in the trash, only one possibility remained: She still had the letter.

After thinking this far, I looked back on all the days since meeting her. It was a simple puzzle.
My memories were distorted.

Why did she hate her surname of "Akazuki"? Why were her "classmates" a mix of high schoolers and college students?
And as I'd wondered from the start, why was she walking alone without an umbrella in that desolate place the day I ran her over?
But really, why had I taken so long to notice something so simple?

Some of the clues, whether consciously or not, were left behind by the girl's own hand.
She should have been able to hide it if she wanted to, but she left evidence of having gone through my wallet. She said "I'm sorry" as she left.
She'd left just one string leading to the truth.

If miss Saegusa hadn't knocked on the door then, I would have plunged the scissors into my throat without ever knowing. I needed to thank her. In fact, she'd helped me time and time again.
But I didn't regret how we ended up parting. That anticlimactic end was a perfect fit for our relationship, I'm sure.

Having no car, I took one train and three buses to my destination.
The third bus got stuck in traffic on the way. There'd been an accident in the rain, and I saw fire trucks and police cars going down the opposite lane.
I told the driver I was in a hurry, paid the fare, got off there, and walked alongside the row of congested cars.

At the bottom of a low slope, there was a flooded area spanning several hundred meters, and the water went up to my knees at its deepest part.
At this point, long socks wouldn't be any help. My tightly-laced boots filled with water regardless. My wet clothes stole away my body heat.
The cold and the atmosphere made my wounded pinky begin to ache. And thanks to the side wind, the umbrella was little more than a consolation.

Soon a strong wind came, and as I grabbed the handle of the umbrella tightly, its skeleton broke to pieces.
Now rendered useless, I tossed it to the side of the road and walked through the rain so severe that I could barely keep my eyes open.

After walking about twenty minutes, I finally escaped the flooded area. Emergency vehicles surrounded an overturned mid-sized truck and a highly-damaged station wagon.
Every turn of the sirens illuminated the raindrops and the wet ground, turning the whole area red. Car horns echoed from the direction of the traffic jam.

As I turned the corner, a high schooler riding a bicycle holding an umbrella in one hand nearly ran me over. He noticed me just in time and hit the brakes, then the tires slipped, making him and the bike fall over.
I asked if he was okay, but he ignored me and pedaled away. After turning to watch him go, I went back to walking.

I knew exactly how much longer I'd need to walk to reach the girl.
Because this was the town where I was born.

The whole park was flooded, glittering from the morning sunlight peeking between the clouds. I could see just a single small wooden bench, appearing to float on the water.
The girl was sitting there. Naturally, she was soaked. She was wearing the knit nylon jacket I loaned her on top of her uniform. A broken umbrella leaned against the back of the bench.

I trudged through the puddles to approach her from behind and covered her eyes with my hands.
"Who is it?", I asked.
"...Don't treat me like a child."

She grabbed my hands and pulled them down to around her solar plexus. I fell forward and assumed the stance of hugging her from behind.
She let go after a few seconds, but I was fond of the position and kept it.

"This brings back memories," I told her. "On the day of the accident, I sat in the bench you're sitting in now all day, pelted by the rain. I was trying to rendezvous with someone. ...No, that's not the right way to put it. I was just one-sidedly waiting for Kiriko to come."
"What are you talking about?"
I knew she was playing dumb. So I just kept talking.

"In sixth grade, because of my dad's job, I had to change schools. On my last day at my old school, I was about to head home feeling all lonely when a girl talked to me. She was Kiriko Hizumi. Though we'd almost never talked before, as we were about to part, she told me she wanted us to be penpals. I suppose anyone would have done the job for her; she just needed someone far away to send letters to. And I'd merely found her request hard to turn down - at first, I wasn't actually that into the idea.

"...But as we went on writing each other, I realized our thoughts were almost frighteningly similar. We found agreement in everything we talked about. She'd understand feelings which I thought impossible to convey to anyone, in exactly the way I intended them to be understood. It didn't take long before our correspondence, started so unassumingly, became something for me to live for."

Her body was cold. Because she'd been waiting in the rain for me, for who knows how many hours. Her face was pale, and her breathing quivered.

"One day, five years into our correspondence, Kiriko wrote that she wanted us to meet and talk in person. I was glad. She wanted to know more about me, and wanted me to know more about her. That fact, at least, really filled me with joy."
"...But you didn't go to meet her," she said. "Isn't that right?"

"Exactly. There was no way I could go meet Kiriko. I don't remember the exact time, but shortly after entering middle school, I started to lie in my letters. And not just one or two little white lies. My life was miserable then, not to mention insipid. I didn't want to write things just as they were and disappoint Kiriko, or get her pity. So I faked having a perfectly healthy and fulfilling life. If I hadn't, I thought our correspondence would have quickly ended."

As I explained this, I began to ask myself if this would have really been the case. Would writing letters about my lonely life at a middle school where I just couldn't fit in really be reason to stop being penpals?
I would never know now.

"But that desperate effort came to be my downfall. The girl who I trusted most in the whole world told me she wanted to meet in person, and yet if I responded to her plea, all of the lies I'd told her would go to ruin. I knew Kiriko would hate me if she knew what kind of person I was underneath my cover of lies. She'd scorn me the moment she found out I'd written falsehoods to her all those years. So regretfully, I gave up on meeting Kiriko. I never replied to her letters again, either. I didn't know what to write. That's how our relationship ended. ...Of course, giving up on a five-year habit was hard. Refusing to let go, I still wrote letters to console myself, with no intention of mailing them. I slowly piled up letters that no one would read."

I took my arms off from around her and went around the bench to sit next to her.
She took something out of her bag and handed it to me. "I'll give this back."
It was the unsent letter I wrote to Kiriko. So she did have it.

"From what I've heard thus far," she mused, "your story about sitting on this bench the day of the accident, waiting for miss Kiriko, doesn't sound logical."

"My friend's death is what set things off. We knew each other since high school. He was a guy I could trust, so I ended up telling him about how I'd lied and lied to my penpal, then stopped replying to her when I was about to be found out. Then about a month before he died, he told me, "You should go meet Kiriko Hizumi." He had no doubt it'd be a positive thing for my life. And it was rare for him to suggest something to me like that."

Yes, Shindo always hated giving people advice or listening to their troubles. Similarly, he hated being given advice or asking others to listen to his troubles.
He hated the tendency of favorably accepting anything as long as it was done in good will, even if it lacked prudence or judgement. That was taking a huge amount of responsibility, and so long as he lacked the confidence that he could handle the issue, he felt he shouldn't say a word about other people's lives - that was Shindo's view.

So for him to give me some real advice worth calling advice, he must have been pretty serious about it, by his standards.

"So I decided I'd send a letter for the first time in five years. I wrote that if she was willing to forgive me, she should come meet me in the park near the elementary school we used to go to."

I raised one of my legs to cross them, which caused a ripple in the puddle, making the blue sky shimmer at our feet.
The desolate tree branches and sky as cloudless as if it'd given up on everything made me feel that winter was approaching fast.

"I waited all day, but Kiriko never came to the park. It wasn't unreasonable. I'd completely ignored the letters she kept sending after I stopped replying; suddenly saying "I want to apologize" only after my friend died was really pushing my luck. I knew she must not have needed me anymore, which made me miserable. So I escaped into alcohol. I bought whiskey from the store on my way back from the park, and just started driving right after drinking it. And then, I ran you over."

I took out a cigarette and my lighter from my pocket. The oil lighter lit without issue, but the wet cigarette had a terribly bitter taste.

"I see. I more or less understand it now," the girl said.
"That's it for my story. Now it's your turn."

She put her hands on her knees and stared deep in thought at the peeled bench seat.
"...Say, Mizuho." She used my name. "Do you know why miss Kiriko didn't come to this park on the day of the accident?"
"That's what I came to ask," I replied.

"What I think," she prefaced cautiously, "is that miss Kiriko did set out for the appointed place. However, it took her considerable time to work up the resolve to do so. This time, it was she who had a reason she couldn't go meet you. Indeed, she couldn't look you in the face. On the other hand, learning that after five years of silence, the person who she thought had long forgotten about her still wanted to see her, she must have been happy enough to cry. After weighing her options at length, miss Kiriko decided she would go meet mister Mizuho."

She seemed to be speaking in as indifferent a tone as she could manage. Like she was denying her words the chance to show emotion.

"However, her decision came a bit too late. She fled the house, still in her school uniform, past 7 PM on the promised day. On top of that, it was raining terribly, so the buses and trains weren't properly functioning. Ultimately, it was around midnight that she reached her destination. Naturally, there was no one in the park. She sat on the bench, struck by the rain, and lamented her own foolishness. She finally understood just how much she had hoped to reunite with mister Mizuho. Why was she always making these mistakes? Why did she worry about useless things and neglect what was most important? Miss Kiriko, in a state of stupefaction, began to trudge back the way she had come."

And I knew better than anyone what happened to Kiriko after that.
She and I had reunited in the worst possible way anyone could imagine.
What's more, neither of us had even realized it.

"There's one thing I don't get," I pondered. "What did you mean by "you couldn't look me in the face?""
"...This isn't the appropriate place to explain that."

Kiriko put her hands on her knees and stood up laboriously. I did the same.

"Let's go back to the apartment for now. We'll take warm showers, put on dry clothes, eat tasty food, get some good sleep, and then go somewhere appropriate for talking about the truth."
"All right."

Kiriko and I barely talked on the way back.
We held each other's cold hands, and I walked slowly to match her pace.
There should have been so much to talk about, but upon actually reuniting, it seemed as if words weren't necessary. The all-understanding silence was comforting, and no one wanted to speed it up with excessive words.

After napping together for a few hours on the bed in the apartment, we took the rickety shuttle bus from the station to the "appropriate place," arriving as the sun was beginning to set.

It was an amusement park on top of a mountain. After buying tickets and passing through an entryway with a jacket-wearing rabbit doll, we were met with a faded fantasy spectacle.

Behind the stands and ticket booths, a merry-go-round, and a revolving swing, I could see such attractions as a giant Ferris wheel, a pendulum ride, and a roller coaster.
There was noise from the attractions all around me, and shrill voices yelling. Large speakers around the park played infinitely cheery big band music, and I heard the sound of an old photoplayer among the attractions.
Despite what a rainy day it was, there were huge crowds. It was about half-and-half between families and couples.

Kiriko looked at it all nostalgically, holding me by the hand.
I, too, walked through the amusement park I'd surely never visited before with a sense of familiarity. Perhaps I have been here, I felt.

She came to a stop in front of the Ferris wheel.
After buying only the tickets we needed from an automated machine, we got onto the gondola.

As we looked down on the park, one of the lights shining in the darkness went out. I think it was a lamp near the fountain.
That was only the beginning; though it was certainly not yet closing time, lights continued dropping off one by one.

The park was disappearing. And at the same time, I felt something I'd lost inside me slowly returning.

The magic's fading, I realized.
The postponement of the accident was ending, and at the same time death came to Kiriko, everything she had postponed was going back to normal.

Nearly all the lights were gone. The once-flourishing amusement park was now an inky black sea.
When the gondola reached the top of the wheel, my memories returned.

Chapter 9

Novel List