Part 87: Ghost Story of the VIP Room II
Video: The VIP Room
Before we started that 'lights out' time, the hallways were brighter. But to avoid wasting energy or something like that, we'd started keeping the lights at night to a minimum. So, even though I was inside my own house, it was very obviously 'the middle of the night' here. If Mom found out that I was wandering around at a time like this to do a test of courage in the VIP room, which I'm not supposed to go in, I'd get in a lot of trouble. To make sure she didn't find out, I tried to hide my breathing and my footsteps.
...So, the silence felt unbelievably loud. Even though it was so quiet, that eerie sound of the wind was noisy. The sound of twigs rustling. The sound of some pillar in this old mansion creaking. What's that sound like a beak tapping against glass? Though it was so quiet, all of the little, suspicious sounds made it seem noisy.
Damn, I'm an idiot. Why couldn't I have brought a flashlight, at least? A flashlight to use inside my own home? Hah, that's even more idiotic... I mumbled this to myself, hoping it would drown out the sound of the wind just a little...
BGM: Eternal Chains
The door to the VIP room. This was the VIP room, the room for important guests. However, as far as I knew, it had never been used before. None of the guests who came to this mansion... were important enough to be given use of this room.
Though I'd been clutching the key all this time, it didn't feel warm at all. It still ruthlessly and icily tormented me. Or maybe that was a warning. 'If you go back to your comfortable room and hide in your bed, this night will pass like any other...'
"...Don't mess with me. I can't give up after coming this far."
Even though the key was freezing in my hand, telling me to go back... It slipped into the keyhole quite easily. All that's left... is to turn the knob... open it... and I'll be inside the VIP room. It's not like I've never been in the VIP room. Long ago, when I would often play hide-and-seek or go exploring, this room that I rarely entered had seemed unusual and exciting. However, I got in trouble for going in, and was told that this room was important, so one mustn't enter without reason. After that, they made a rule of locking up unused rooms, and I couldn't go in anymore. So, it's probably been several years since I've gone into the VIP room. In fact, it might be more than ten years since the last time. The inside of the room is probably different from how it was when I knew of it. Come to think of it, even then, I felt that there was something unsettling about this room...
Slowly, I pushed the door open. It was light, and even after I let go of it, it kept opening by itself, as though beckoning me in... Beyond it... was a darkness as thick and heavy as ink... Even the dim light that peeked in from the corridor seemed bright in contrast.
...*gulp*. I stuck my head in, feeling about for the light switch next to the doorway. This was a horribly awkward and uncomfortable way to do it. All I really had to do was step inside and search for the switch from there. Unwilling to take even a single step into the room, I timidly stuck just my arm into the darkness and felt along the wall...
However, once the light turned on, the darkness vanished in an instant. And there, exactly as it had been... as though not a thing had changed in all these years... was the VIP room.
...The curtain and bed cover might have been slightly different, and maybe the chairs and the like had changed too. Still, if I had to put it in words, I'd call it the feel. The stiff, lifeless feel of this room hadn't changed. If I hang around here, someone might find me. I'd rather not have Mom find me here. I readied myself, and though I couldn't even bring myself to enter this room with the lights out, I finally entered.
As soon as I closed the door, I felt an oppressive, suffocating sensation. Alright, I've shut myself in the VIP room. Come out, Beatrice.
"...What time is it now...?"
I looked around the room, but I couldn't see any clock. I'm not in the habit of wearing a watch around the house. Damn. Now I'm not sure what time it is. Still, I know it's only a few minutes at most. I tried to suppress my desire to use 'going to get a clock' as an excuse to run away from this place...
...Even so, just standing around like this was boring. When I looked around again, searching for something to sit on, I found something strange.
BGM: At Death's Door
...If this room had been used often by someone, I'd have thought it was just one of their personal belongings. But there is no one living in this room. So, it's impossible for this to belong to the room's owner.
"...What is this, an offering or something? Creepy..."
It did look like an offering. A small French doll was sitting on the side table. The doll's hair... was gold. It was wearing a black dress. Just who managed to find this doll, and where? There's no doubt that someone placed the doll here to symbolize Beatrice. Does that mean... this doll is supposed to be the owner of this room, or something...?
And, as though it was an offering to that owner, there sat a small plate with several cookies and wrapped chocolates. It was all set out neatly, and there was no dust piled up on the doll. In other words, both the doll and the offering were taken care of on a regular basis by the servants, and kept in good condition along with the rest of the room. Taken care of? No, it's more than that. It looked like an offering... no, like some sort of worship, a prayer saying 'please don't curse us'... So, while the doll was eerie enough by itself, psychologically, it was even more unnerving to think about how it must have been kept safe and worshiped in a place like this.
"Stupid. Am I supposed to clap my hands together and say 'please don't curse me'?"
Jessica forced herself to look away from the bizarre doll. She couldn't bring herself to sit on a bed that wasn't hers. Then again, she didn't really feel like sitting down on a chair either. She had lost any desire to sit on anything in this room.
...What the hell am I doing? Hanging about in the VIP room this late just because that fight with Maria is still eating at me... This is totally pointless...
Beatrice. Just when did that strange witch start living in this mansion...? Grandfather's always yelling about Beatrice. Since it's apparently the name of his dead mistress, people started talking about how her ghost must haunt this mansion. There's that kids' horror story about the witch in the forest, which might be a ghost story made by the adults to stop the kids from going in there. The portrait Grandfather had hung in April was really striking. And there was also that weird epitaph. The creepy words on that, which sounded like some sort of ceremony with human sacrifices, made the name of Beatrice seem all the more unnerving. At some point, those stories mixed together, and they now say that the witch Beatrice exists.
...I don't believe in Beatrice... because I know she's just a fictional person made by the fusion of a few horror stories. The Beatrice who was Grandfather's mistress probably did exist. But she wasn't a witch.
In fact, I've heard that kids were once threatened about wolves living in the forest. Apparently, the kids realized that wolves couldn't exist on the island, so it was changed to the witch. When the portrait was hung, that once-vague character suddenly had a face, and people acted as though she'd been around since long ago.
...That's right, it's all a ghost story someone made, a fiction. And Maria calls Beatrice her best friend, and the servants worship her like a household shrine. I just don't get it, and it creeps me out...
There was a phone on the bedside table across from the one with the doll, and it was ringing noisily. However, I was only surprised by the first ring. By the time it had rung three times, I'd regained my cool enough to grumble about this being a prank done by someone trying to scare me.
...If I rush to pick it up, I'll probably hear someone laughing at me, saying 'were you scared?' I thought about ignoring it instead, but it kept on ringing incessantly. It was a pretty loud sound to have going on and on this late at night. If Mom somehow manages to hear it from her room, I'm screwed.
"...Okay, okay, I've got it, I've got it. Might as well say 'ya scared me' or whatever..."
I decided to pick up the receiver. I'll just say 'that surprised me, wahahaha', and maybe follow that up with 'looks like Beatrice didn't show up after all'. After all, this is my victory, in a sense.
BGM: Happy Maria! (instrumental)
"Huh? M, Maria...?!"
I don't get it. Did I hear that wrong...? Why would Maria be calling here...?!
"Thanks for teaching me that fun song last time. In return, I'm gonna sing you a song, Beatrice. I just learned this one! Uu-!"
The voice, the intonation, the manner of speech... all of it clearly belonged to Maria. But... what's she talking about, all by herself...?
Maria just kept on talking happily as I stood there, stunned and unable to interrupt. Eventually, Maria started singing an old, familiar kids' song that even I knew. I don't... get it.
"...Maria? Hello...? Wait a sec, stop singing...! What's going on? I don't get it...! Hello?! Ah-"
"What... the hell... was that...?"
Does being in darkness really slow us humans down so much...? I know it's dark, but I really do have absolutely no idea what just happened. What was that shuffling sound just now? I, I'm not sure... I can't explain it. It was an incredible slithering sound of someone crawling out of a bed. It wasn't 'like' that sort of sound. It wasn't that vague. I definitely heard that, right next to me, clearly. However, there was no change to the bed. No one had been sleeping there in the first place, and the sheets were still perfectly straight. Someone had crawled out of the bed, and had laughed in a creepy voice before leaving the room... That's... what it felt like.
Felt like? I'm here, and the bed's right there. I'm not only in the same room, I'm right next to it. So, why am I so unsure about what happened just a few seconds ago?!
I gripped the receiver, which had gone completely silent, and waited there alone, unable to move, in a quiet room that seemed exactly identical to the one I had first entered...
...Huh? What...? If nothing's changed since the beginning, I can just pretend that the last minute or so didn't happen. And yet, if something has changed, that would be proof that something really did happen...
Did it fall to the floor...? No, it's not there. No matter where I look, from whatever angle, it's not there. Though the offering plate with the cookies and chocolate is still here, the thing they were being offered to, the doll, is gone.
Then, what just happened...? Is the Beatrice-sama doll supposed to have cackled out loud and left the room...? No, that crawling sound was too loud to have been made by a doll. It was a noisy sort of sound, like a kid playing with a blanket and using it as a cape. Then, what...? Is that Beatrice-sama doll... supposed to have turned into a human... and then run cackling from the room...?
After that, nothing happened. The doll alone disappeared, and nothing else changed. In a VIP room that had remained completely unchanged and was filled only with the sound of wind and rain, I stood there, too shocked to move...
"...I looked everywhere, even under the bed. But I didn't find it."
"Just what did you think had happened in that room?"
"I don't think it was actually Beatrice-sama's curse. It might have been a prank done by the servants."
"Maybe they'd recorded Maria's voice previously. They then called at exactly 2:00 and pushed the play button. They could've cut the power at the switchboard or something."
"...Then, someone who had been hiding in the VIP room beforehand would make a creepy laugh, take the doll, and leave. If that was how it happened, everything fits."
"Doesn't sound like you're really convinced."
BGM: Minute Darkness
They made Maria sing beforehand and recorded it. Then, someone called the VIP room and replayed that recording. Then, someone waited until exactly the right time and tripped the breaker for the VIP room. To turn off the power to the VIP room, you'd have to go down to the basement. There's a switchboard booth down in the boiler room. There's no phone line down there, so you'd need a different person to play back Maria's tape. And you'd need another person to hide in the VIP room and cackle before leaving. And, just how long would this last person have to hide in the VIP room beforehand...? How long would they have to hide in the pitch-black VIP room--under the bed, for example--waiting to scare Jessica, who might or might not come...?
"...There's no way it could be a witch's curse. But still. To me, it's even creepier to imagine that many people planning everything down, to the slightest detail... and waiting for several hours in the darkness just to scare me..."
"I agree. A curse would be better. Did you ask the servants about that later on?"
"What's the point? They'd just play dumb, of course. And there had to have been at least three of them... On that day, only Genji-san, Gohda-san, Kumasawa-san, and Shannon stayed the night. So three of those four helped out with that creepy prank? It doesn't make sense...! That's why... I couldn't ask about it."
True, it had been a strange experience for her, but it wasn't something completely impossible for humans to do. Even so, it really must have been more unnerving to imagine a large number of people planning so carefully just to scare Jessica. It's no surprise that Jessica found this scarier than Beatrice's curse.
"...No. I was probably scared and mistook what I saw and heard. The doll probably just fell somewhere, and I just had trouble finding it."
"Are you trying to say you imagined the whole thing...?"
"Other than the doll disappearing, there was no other proof that anything had changed. Later on, I talked to Maria, and she said she didn't know anything about that song or the phone call. I don't know if she was lying or not, of course. Anyway, what happened that night... is just something I thought happened... and there's no proof of any kind."
"That's ironic. Even if you had met Beatrice directly, you wouldn't have been able to prove that either."
"The shock lasted for a while, but as time passed, I began to think that lightning or something had shut off the power for a second, and maybe one of the trees in the garden had fallen, which I mistook for that slithering sound."
"And the laugh?"
"Maybe some strange bird. Anyway, I might have misheard something to get that sound... I act tough, but I'm actually a real coward. That's why I let my imagination get ahold of me. I tried to use that as an excuse to help me forget everything that happened that night."
"To let everything be wrapped in darkness..."
"...People are actually pretty good at forgetting things if they try. After that night, I'd feel uncomfortable every time I heard the word 'Beatrice'. But I tried hard to not let it show on my face."
"...That's all. I can't tell you any more than that."
BGM: Le 4 Octobre
"You got it. I have one last question."
"About the VIP room?"
"No. About the dining hall."
"The dining hall?"
"On the day of the family conference, just before your ghost story, all of the relatives were gathered in the dining hall, right?"
"Yeah. Except Battler hadn't come back to the family yet. Everyone else was there. Everyone except Grandfather, of course."
"And Ange wasn't in the room because of her stomachache. Her seat was next to yours, wasn't it?"
"Was that the seat to your right?"
"That's enough. Try not to think. You'll just get a headache."
"What's up, Jessica? Why the confused look...?"
"...Well, uh... right... left... ???"
"Hahah, you're so weird. How is it going, Will? Have George nii-san and Jessica told you anything useful?"
"A bit. That ghost story about Beatrice was pretty fun."
"Ghost story? What are you talking about?"
"The one about Beatrice's ghost appearing in the VIP room at 2:00 in the morning. Pretty scary story."
"I've never heard of that. I don't know who put that out there, but that'd be really rude, making up ghost stories about the women our Head is indebted to."
"A model answer..."
"Do you know about the epitaph, Lion?"
"That epitaph by Beatrice's portrait."
"...My apologies, but I have no idea what you mean."
"'Behold the sweetfish river running through my beloved hometown'."
"...Just what... are you talking about?"
"So, in your world, no, in this world, the portrait exists, but not the epitaph."
"Of course, I know about the large portrait of Beatrice hanging in the entrance hall. But I haven't heard of this epitaph. What is it?"
"...That's a very interesting difference. You've lived on Rokkenjima all your life, right?"
"Of course. What's your point?"
"When you were a little kid, you were told not to go near the woods, Threatened about it."
"Yes. They always said to stay away, since it would be dangerous if we got lost."
"Because a witch lives in the forest?"
"A witch? What witch?"
"The Golden Witch, ruler of Rokkenjima's night. Beatrice."
"...Beatrice is a woman to whom Grandfather owes a great debt. Don't you think it's a bit rude to treat her like a witch or a ghost?"
"...You don't know about the witch Beatrice?"
"I know about the Beatrice who came here in a submarine along with the gold, and about her daughter, who was raised in the hidden mansion. We just learned about those two together a short while ago, right? Where does the witch come in?"
"...I see, so that's it. Then how did they scare you... to keep you from going into the woods?"
"They said that wolves lived in the forest."
"...Wolves, not a witch... Of course. Very interesting."
"It isn't interesting to me. What are you talking about? What is this witch?"
"I'm just talking to myself. I have one more question."
"Please, go ahead."
"During the family conference, who sits to your right at the dining table?"
"My little sister, Jessica, sits across from me. The next in rank is Aunt Eva's son. So, George nii-san is the one on my right... What's your point?"
"I get it. It's all mashed together in a confusing mess. But it is interesting."
"Well, I don't have a clue."