Part 150: Hachijo Ikuko
Yes, it must be... the sound of rain... In that case, what are those two bright lights coming towards me? I don't know. However, they came at me with a screeching sound... and stopped right in front of me. A blaring noise came at me over and over. Whatever's shining those bright lights... is threatening me. It's probably telling me to get out of the way. However, I was incapable of moving even a finger...
There was sound... and a car door opened. Car. Door. Apparently, I was lying on asphalt under the pouring rain. I saw a shadow, which was apparently the driver, open an umbrella and come towards me...
The shadow questioned me. Of course, I couldn't answer it...
"...If it is, then I must apologize. Yes, on a day with such fine weather, anyone would want to take a nap in such a lovely garden as this. And yet, unless my memory fails me..."
The shadow crouched down and looked into my face. It was a woman.
I... clenched my chest. I felt I needed to answer somehow and communicate my intentions. So, finally, I managed to let a short groan escape my lips.
"...I see. So you aren't roadkill yet."
And that... was how I met Ikuko.
BGM: Le 4 Octobre
"It's lucky that damage is all we have to deal with. Spend much longer in a spot like that, and things would likely have been much worse."
"...True. In any event, I recommend getting this checked at a large hospital."
"Thank you, doctor. Please keep this off the record. It may not be much, but here's some money for your troubles."
"I see no reason to speak of this needlessly, but... no, no, I couldn't possibly accept that much..."
In the end, the doctor took the money and swore to keep quiet about the matter. Eventually, Hachijo returned.
I nodded weakly, letting her know that it wasn't so bad for now. But... where is this place? A room I have absolutely no memory of, in a house I don't remember at all. And, first and foremost, here's a woman that I've never seen...
"To start off, let me introduce myself. I'm Hachijo Ikuko. I don't mind if you casually call me Ikuko, or act more formal and call me Hachijo-san."
"The Hachijo family is a large landowner that's fairly well known in these parts. Unlike my accomplished brothers, I'm what you might call a little eccentric. After I got into a bit too much mischief than was good for me, my parents finally ran out of patience and kicked me out. I'm now confined to this house. As a hobby, I like to read detective novels... and also to write them. My age... is a single woman's secret."
"My heart is that of a girl, but I'm approaching the point where calling myself one would be increasingly absurd. Heheheheh."
With the haze my mind was in, it was extremely hard to make out what she was talking about. However, I was able to pick up on the fact... that she was trying to talk to me cheerfully.
"...So, what's your name?"
Logically, I know that, being a human, I must have a name. And, I do have the feeling that I did indeed have a name. However, no matter how hard I tried to remember what it was, it just made my head hurt...
"Is there anything you can remember besides your name...?"
My head... no, even my heart was a mess of torn flesh, and I couldn't remember a thing, not even who or what I was... But I must remember. I had some kind of purpose... or maybe a mission. In order to remember that, I first have to remember who I am.
Who am I...? What is my name...? Where was I born... and what was my birthday...? I need to remember something, anything...
"Age? *giggle*. That's my little secret."
"I look like I'm 18...?!"
"O, oh, so that was your age...! Well now, I thought you were being a bit too flattering. Hahahaha."
When I asked myself how old I was, the number 18 had floated into my mind. To be honest, the number 18 felt a bit out of place. My mind felt much younger than that, and my pathetic body felt much older.
"I see. So you're 18. And, that's all you can remember."
I nodded weakly. I never knew that knowing nothing about yourself could make you feel this powerless.
Hachijo... Ikuko gave a satisfied laugh. From then on, I took the name Hachijo Toya.
My inability to move my body was apparently due to a traffic accident. On that day, I had been hit by a car, and Ikuko had picked me up from where I lay on the street. If she hadn't hit the brakes... She probably would've driven straight onwards, thinking she'd run over a dead dog or something. Later on, I, perhaps rudely, suspected that the one who hit me might have been Ikuko herself, but when I saw her completely undamaged front bumper, I gave up on that theory.
She also owned the hill behind her and was more than capable of enjoying the four seasons in privacy. As time passed slowly, my rehabilitation continued, and my ability to move improved little by little. However, it seemed I really did suffer some form of brain damage. Finding out who I was... looked like it would be a very difficult task.
In the beginning, when I couldn't bear not knowing my identity, my head often hurt so much it felt as though it would explode. However, as I slowly accepted the fact that I was a new person, with the new name of Hachijo Toya, the headaches became less frequent. The whole time... no memories returned to me except the fact that I had been 18. However, I was unable to remember any more, unable even to be sure that 18 was my true age, and eventually, I stopped trying to remember my former self.
"...I had some trouble falling asleep. So, I decided to read your manuscript."
"My, my. How far did you manage to get?"
"I finished it."
"...Now there's a surprise. You managed to read through all that in a single night?"
"I was surprised too. Once I got into it, I'd finished before I knew it. It was like I was just skimming it, or maybe like I was reading each page in a glance..."
"It sounds like you have some talent at speed reading. So, how was it? What did you think of it?"
"I liked it a lot. Still, if you don't explain that part about the ocean currents a bit more clearly, it might be a little unfair for the reader... Oh, but I thought it was great that you had the foreshadowing with the ring right there at the beginning. After I finished, I had to go back to the beginning and slap myself for being so easily tricked. I think that feeling's the best part of a detective novel."
"...Um, did I say something to offend you? If I did, you have my apologies."
"Of course not! Why are you apologizing...?! I'm just shocked, that's all. Your detailed opinions are worth the same as praise, I believe... I guess you have some talent as a critic or a detective novel writer too."
...A detective novel... writer. A critic. From across the fog of oblivion. I seem to remember myself... fighting and arguing about mysteries, or something like that. That way of fighting, which I must have learned in the past... sent a surge of excitement through me. Mystery. Fighting... My head... hurt... I accepted a painkiller and swallowed it with fresh water brought up from the well. Who am I... really...?
But no matter how much I thought, I couldn't remember. From what I've been told, the frequency of the headaches might be lessened by brain surgery, but there was no guarantee that it would do my memory any good. Ikuko said that she would let me have surgery if I wanted it. However, I refused. Even if I can't remember it, the real me is still there, sleeping inside my head. I was scared... that the surgery might harm that 'me' somehow.
By now, I've gotten used to dealing with headaches. As long as I don't force myself to remember the past, the headaches don't torment me every day. So, bit by bit, I became free of the headaches... and got used to my new life as Hachijo Toya...
BGM: Far (piano)
Hachijo Ikuko. A very strange woman. First off, she was apparently the daughter of a very well-off family, just as she had said. However, she was considerably eccentric, and the 'various mischievous incidents' she spoke of had apparently gotten her within an inch of being disowned. As a result, she had been given this house, and had been ordered to live here quietly and alone. She had never been a particularly social person, so she happily accepted this new state of affairs, living however she pleased with servants to take care of her. She had no friends. No one ever came to visit. When I wasn't around, she only ever talked to an old black cat she kept as a pet, named Bern. I don't know her real age. She doesn't seem to be too old to marry yet, but with an isolated life like this, she isn't likely to meet people. She sometimes says that she just hasn't met anyone worth the trouble, but I think she's already given up on marriage.
Her everyday life was very simple. She would either read through the many detective novels that were brought to her, or else write detective novels herself. At first, I thought she was some novelist at a private retreat, plugging away at a new book. However, the manuscripts she finished just ended up clipped together in a pile. With me as the sole exception, it didn't look like she ever let anyone read them. A novelist is someone who writes novels for people to read. So, I figured you could hardly call her a novelist when she kept writing novels no one would ever read.
"I show them to you. Only the better ones, of course."
"Haven't you ever thought of sending one to some publishing company? It's a shame for things to be this way, when your works are so interesting."
"My works can't stand up against the pros. I sent one in once, but it was absolutely no good. I understand my position. This is just an amateur's pastime."
"I don't think amateur is a fitting word for someone who's so well-versed in detective novels from all times and all across the world."
"Being a big eater doesn't mean you'll make a good cook. Reading every detective novel you can get your hands on is no guarantee that you're a good detective novelist. That's how it is. That's why this is nothing more than a pastime."
"...Is it really fun to write novels that you won't show to anyone?"
"It used to be. Once."
"What about now?"
"I like getting to hear your opinions. At any rate, I've finished writing the chapter. I'll go make some tea, so would you mind reading it again and sharing your thoughts with me?"
Saying this with a smile, Ikuko thrust a pile of manuscript paper at me. When it comes to detective novels, reading and writing are the same. It's boring if you just do it by yourself. You only get something really precious when you share the world with someone else.
"Toya? Are you okay? I'll go get some headache medicine."
"I'm fine. I'm more interested in this manuscript. I can't wait for the new chapter."
The seasons passed. Together with Ikuko, in this town whose name I didn't even know, we spent our days debating detective novels and talking about ideas for new plots. At a glance, they may have appeared to be stale and unproductive days. However, Hachijo Toya found satisfaction with this new life.
BGM: Ballade Continuer
With a dramatic flourish of her pen, Ikuko signified that her manuscript was now complete.
"What do you think...?! I tried using your plot to make Tsujiko's tragic love scene at the end a bit more moving."
"I think it's very good... I think the last farewell is sad enough to make it moving as a story, not just a reasoning puzzle."
"...That's thanks to your plot. Compared to this work, everything I've written before now is worth little more than scrap paper. Even as I was writing it, I was excited to be the first person in the world who got to read it. I've never felt that before."
"I just mentioned some ideas. You're the one who turned them into such a fascinating story, Ikuko-san."
At some point, she roped me in as well, and I also started my journey in the world of writing detective novels. Apparently, the old me had some talent for mysteries and detective novels and the like. And, my talent seemed to be of a fairly unorthodox kind. I tried turning famous mysteries from across the world on their head, twisting those ideas into something new.
However, a few ideas aren't enough to make a book. No meal is complete if all you can do is chop up vegetables. Thanks to Ikuko's writing, a skill she had built up over many years, my ideas were transformed into a work of fiction. In this work, 'the Strange Tale of Beatnik Island', the two of us merged the best of our respective personalities, and, though I hate to brag, it had turned into a masterpiece that we could show to anyone without shame.
"Hello? Please bring us some champagne. Bring a glass for yourself as well. This is the best job we've done so far, so let's celebrate."
Ikuko called for some champagne over the internal phone line. Joined by the servant who happened to be working that day and the cat Bern, we raised our glasses high and toasted our accomplishment.
"Let's hear it. I love hearing your ideas, as long as I'm not in the shower or on the can...!"
"Why don't we try submitting our book? I've never read something this interesting before. I'm sure lots of other people will want to read it."
"...You think so? I tried once in the past, thinking the same thing, but the result was..."
"I believe in your talent, Ikuko-san. What about you?"
"Of course, I believe in your talent."
"Then it's decided. To Ikuko-san's big debut."
"To Toya's big debut!"
We clinked our glasses once more. The evening wore on...
Before I knew it, I must have passed out on the sofa. There was a blanket covering me. Ikuko-san must've put it there. The lights were out in the study, but it wasn't dark. The computer's monitor was glowing. Outside, it had started to rain.
...It reminded me of the day Ikuko-san found me and took me in. Because of that, whenever it rains, I find myself wondering who I was, and I usually get headaches. So, I wasn't sure whether the pain was because of the rain or because I drank too much.
"Oh, did I wake you up?"
"No, I slept well. Thanks to that, I feel refreshed."
I turned on the light and looked out through a gap in the curtains. As I'd thought, it was the sort of pouring rain that always reminded me of that day.
"It's raining pretty hard out there. The wind looks pretty strong too. I hope the rain gutters don't get clogged with leaves again."
"...I just cleaned them the other day, so they should be fine for a while."
Her answer sounded a little abstracted. Apparently, her attention was absorbed by the computer.
"You've been pretty hooked by that computer lately, Ikuko-san. Did you find an interesting article or something?"
BGM: Revelations (instrumental)
"I told you about the Rokkenjima mystery a few days ago, remember? It's been really huge on the net lately. The discussions, theories, and even the Forgeries have been quite entertaining. Forgeries are stories, all based on the premise that yet another message bottle signed by Ushiromiya Maria existed and drifted to one of the nearby islands..."
Ikuko kept showing off her knowledge of the subject. However, a huge bell was clanging inside my head. The noise was so great that I thought my head would split open. Unable to tell what was the floor and what was the ceiling, I crumpled and clutched at my head...
"Toya... are you okay...?!"
The Rokkenjima Explosion Accident. The many disquieting rumors surrounding it. The scheming of the relatives after Ushiromiya Kinzo's vast wealth and the hidden gold... And the truth? Ushiromiya Eva, the sole survivor, said nothing. Eventually, the granddaughter... Ushiromiya Ange... who escaped harm because she was absent on that day, would inherit everything...
Ange, Ange... Ushiromiya... Ange... I am... Ushiromiya... gyahh... No good... my head's... getting split open...
An incomprehensible scene pierced my eyelids from the inside like a blade of light. Just what... am I looking at...? Who... are these people... calling to me... but not by the name Toya...? Who... am I...? Who are these people...? What is... this memory...? Help me, Ikuko... Someone else's memory... is hurting me...