Part 68: A Family MatterPart 68 - A Family Matter
It couldn't be. Rimi, too.... could see Di-Swords?
Was what I'd thought for a second, but I was wrong.
"So I kind of wanted to see it, too."
"And then she slapped you? I don't get it."
"Considering how all she ever talks about is swords."
"The second we went in her hospital room, she started going off about Gladiator or something, totally freaked me out."
Apparently they'd already stopped receiving outside patients, and you could've counted the number of them left in the lobby.
Except, there were about ten people gathered in front of a big LCD TV set up in one of the lobby's corners.
Thanks to the warmth of her hand, I managed to scrape by without any further cowering. I had the sensation that my strained heart was smoothly melting away.
Rimi was my support.
Rimi reassured me.
Rimi stayed with me.
Parts of her were overly optimistic, but as long as she was by my side, I could just barely hold up under the terror that assaulted me.
I was so glad Rimi was there for me....
"Hey, you guys, come take a look!"
Misumi-kun, who had gone up in front of the television at some point, beckoned to me and Rimi.
All the other people gathered there--elderly patients and young patients, and even nurses--had their eyes glued to the TV screen.
What on earth was there?
And I fearfully took a look at the screen. Upon seeing the banner text displayed there, I was stunned.
News-24 Presenter: "At approximately 3:00 this afternoon, the Shibuya Police Department arrested a suspect in the September 29th homicide commonly known as the 'staking,'"
News-24 Presenter: "One of an outbreak of murder cases in Shibuya called the 'New Generation Madness.'"
News-24 Presenter: "The murder suspect under detainment is Komaeda Shingo, twenty-five years old and unemployed."
News-24 Presenter: "As was stated in the Shibuya Police Department press conference held a short while ago, he is at present only considered a suspect in the murder of Outa Hisashi."
News-24 Presenter: "Their current stance is that hereafter, they plan to explore possible charges related to the other cases as well."
News-24 Presenter: "'Outa-san was real persistent about chasing after the woman I've been going out with, and I finally snapped and strangled him. But he was a zombie and wouldn't die, so I stopped his movements by pinning him in place.'"
News-24 Presenter: "--Such were the incomprehensible contents of his testimony."
News-24 Presenter: "The police investigation revealed that Komaeda is not currently in a relationship with any woman, and they also suspect him of potentially being on drugs--"
As it all unfolded, the TV screen showed a live broadcast of the suspect about to be transported by car.
The screen blinked violently with the flashes of the lit-up cameras belonging to the reporters thronging all around.
The suspect had a jacket covering his head, preventing me from making out anything whatsoever about his appearance.
Rimi's hand squeezed mine harder. Still gazing at the TV screen, she murmured to me.
"You weren't the culprit or anything, after all."
"The guy called 'Shogun' was only playing a prank on you."
"Even Kusunoki-san was simply mistaken in her reasoning."
"See? This resolves everything."
"You don't have to be afraid of invisible shadows anymore."
I wasn't a sleepwalker; nor did I have multiple personalities. Which meant my normalcy and sanity had been proven.
At the same time. It also signified a denial of the blood-soaked Rimi I'd seen there. That hadn't been reality. Surely it was one of my delusions.
It was the end. The nightmare that had gone on tormenting me for close to a month had now ended.
I would have to cower in fear of shadows, and cover in fear of "God's gaze," and frantically try to obtain a Di-Sword, no longer.
Despite that, why was it?
A sense of dissatisfaction with this explanation lingered in the depths of my chest.
It didn't ring true that "Shogun" would stalk me for the sake of a mere hoax.
But maybe I found myself thinking about it that way because my "sense of what was regular" had gone numb over this past month--
SFX: BRRRRRR, BRRRRR
Though I'd set it on vibrate, it was nevertheless impermissible to use your phone in a hospital.
I braced myself. Maybe I would hear "Let Me Pass" again.
I quickly checked the caller's name.
SFX: Click. Beep, beep, beep, beep.
They'd most likely been aiming to leave a good impression on customers with a bit of a pun, but frankly, it was at the level of a granddaddy's gag, Ban thought with a sigh.
There were currently twenty "Froggy's Pad" stores under development in the capital metropolitan area, and they were also said to be in the midst of further expansion.
Ban was visiting the first store among them, a shop in Harajuku that Gero-froggy fans considered sacred ground.
But Ban quickly regretted having come here.
He muttered quietly to Yua, who had accompanied him and showed him the way to the store.
"But I really don't fit in here, being my age and all."
Even now, there were only about five people including Ban and Yua, and all of them except for Ban were high school girls.
If a dull-looking man like Ban walked along Takeshita Street with Yua, surely those around them would assume he had something lecherous in mind.
And then looking like he was buying a trendy mascot character for her.... He'd come across as the stereotypical dirty old man. Melancholy settled over Ban.
On top of that--
"Could be 'cause I've gotten too self-conscious in my old age, though."
"Lately I've sensed someone's gaze.... Once in a while, it really frightens me...."
"Oh, so it wasn't just me."
"I'd be more worried about you. If a stalker had his sights on you...."
"N, no....! Please don't say such scary things...."
"Relax. If there were someone like that, I'd put him in cuffs for you."
Ending that line of conversation with a grin, Ban gazed fixedly at the various frog mascots left on the shelves.
"By the way, Yua-chan, how many times have you been here now?"
"It, it's my first time, too...."
"There aren't too many customers...."
"Is it a quiet sort of boom, or something?"
"Ah, I mean only on the weekends, when the new items go on sale."
"People say there are especially incredible lines on Fridays...."
"It opens at 18:00 to accommodate students, but according to the rumors, those queues alone are enough to completely fill up Takeshita Street...."
"Only on the weekend, huh. More and more suspicious."
For now, Ban picked up two "Teary Gero-froggies," which had been released last week, and took them to the register.
Yua, apparently not intending to buy any, trailed after him.
The store clerk was a dumb-looking man in his twenties with green-dyed hair. His ears were pierced, and he wouldn't have seemed like an employee if he hadn't been behind the register.
At least, he didn't look ready to be dealing with customers.
The clerk stared unreservedly at Ban and Yua.
Store Clerk: "A present for your daughter?"
"Cause she said she wanted it no matter what."
"Well, I've gotta act fatherly once in a while. Ha-ha."
Ban put on a friendly smile and bowed repeatedly at the younger cashier.
"More importantly, I'm interested in these frogs. Could you tell me a little about them?"
"Are these Gecko-froggies really all that popular?"
Store Clerk: "Actually, it's Gero-froggy. They're crazy bang-bang popular, man, its outta this world."
"Ahh, Gepu-froggy. Do the new ones always come out on the weekend?"
Store Clerk: "Seriously, I'm tellin' ya, it's Gero-froggy."
Store Clerk: "And, like, don't say the new ones. They're 'new-froggies.'"
Store Clerk: "There's super huge lines on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and they sell like mad. It's totally bang-bang wack. They sell like mad, for real."
Store Clerk: "Like, totally bang-bang wild, I mean it."
There was something off about this cashier's speech quirk, the words "bang-bang."
Why did he emphasize them so much? It probably wasn't intentional, but Ban had the hallucination that this young store clerk was using his name without any honorifics.
"It says on the label that it's made in China, but d'you know who the maker is?"
Store Clerk: "Hah? Maker?"
Store Clerk: "Look, Gero-froggy doesn't have a parent brand or whatevs. Gero-froggy is just Gero-froggy, ya know? Doesn't it end there?"
Store Clerk: "You, like, way don't get it, Pops."
Store Clerk: "I'll tell you for the record, but nobody makes Gero-froggies. They get bang-bang born."
"Kids today can't even carry on a proper conversation."
"Anyway, what the hell was up with his appearance?"
Yua came to an unforseen halt. She clutched the edge of Ban's suit, pulling him up short.
"P, please look, Ban-san."
A white 2-ton truck was parked in the direction where Yua pointed. Some people were in the middle of lowering cardboard boxes from the back of it.
And they kept on carrying them over to the back of the Gero-froggy store.
"Ohh! Must be the new Geji-froggy, the one going on sale tomorrow."
"U, um, it's Gero-froggy--"
"Nice work spotting it, Yua-chan. You're great."
"Eh, no, I'm...."
Except, the Gero-froggy cardboard boxes being hauled out of it did feature a Gero-froggy illustration and the company name.
"Shinkou Incorporated.... You ever heard of 'em?"
"Er, I haven't...."
All the while, I felt as if I were wandering about in a nightmare.
Nanami's various facial expressions appeared and vanished in my head.
She was straightforward in how she showed her emotions.
When she was mad, she'd puff her cheeks up in a big pout, and when she was happy, she'd smile so much, I got embarrassed just from looking at her.
Each of those expressions in my memory set my heart into a tumult.
The phone call. What exactly had the words Nanami conveyed to me meant....
The bandage I'd seen her wearing wrapped around her wrist before at school, was it really....
Where was Nanami now? At school....? Or had she already gone home....
We came out onto the roof, Rimi supporting me as we went.
"....I, I think I'm go, going to go to my parents' home next."
"Now? That's pretty sudden."
"E, even walking, it takes less than half an hour...."
"A, and, um...."
"I'd like you to co, come with me...."
I made my request to her, so nervous it felt like my heart would leapt out of my mouth. I myself was a tad surprised I'd been able to put it into words and actually say it.
Positive, Negative or Neutral?