Part 90: The First Friend
BGM: Far (piano version)
"...Didn't you use it to clean the window frames?"
Ah, The small broom is a small, thin broom that looks like a large paintbrush. We use it to clear out the dust in small corners, like window frames. It's one of the cleaning tools I was put in charge of...
"Come on, that's your responsibility, right?! What're you doing, idiot?!"
"Quickly, go and find it... You have to do it before Madam finds out..."
"Yasu lost the small broom again. Are you some sort of genius at losing things?!"
"That's why I'm always telling you, never give things to Yasu. Yasu's always careless and losing things."
"Don't say that, can't you see this kid's working hard...? Come on, quickly. I'll wait for you."
O, okay... Not wanting to hear the servants complain even more, I spun around and headed off. If you lose a tool, you get in trouble. If no one knows who did it, we all get yelled at, so one of them will probably tell Madam that it was my fault. Still, it's my fault that I lost it in the first place. I wonder when I lost it. When, when...
The chapel is a large building behind the mansion. However, no one ever goes near it, normally. Even so, we are ordered to clean the chapel a few times each year. Kinzo calls it a sacred building, so Natsuhi is very strict about it... We clean every little nook and cranny, from top to bottom. It had taken all day. I had been in charge of cleaning the window frames, but I had also been given many smaller tasks. While those small jobs kept me busy, I had completely forgotten the small broom, and I must have left it lying around somewhere.
...I began to hate myself for it. This isn't the first time this has happened. It happens all the time. Every time I set something down, it always disappears. It goes somewhere else. Vanishes. I've come to think that these might be pranks by the witch Beatrice. The ghost of the witch Beatrice borrowed the power of Rokkenjima's evil spirits to become reborn. Until Kumasawa-san told me, I never knew the meaning of the shrine on the rocks by the sea...
"Hey, Kumasawa! Let us hear too!"
"Tell us the scary, scary tale of Rokkenjima's evil spirits!"
"Hohoho, very well, very well. Rokkenjima used to be called Azukishima. However, even deeper in the distant past, it was known as Akujikishima. It was rumored that sailors who got too near the island were dragged down to the bottom of the sea and had their souls eaten."
"...Those frightening spirits do exist on this island, you know? Hohohoho."
"It was Kumasawa's favorite ghost story. Every new servant who came to the island heard about it. Though such a story could usually be laughed off, on the night of a violent storm on Rokkenjima, that island where nothing exists except the Ushiromiya mansion, everyone would listen meekly."
"The shrine by the coast was there to seal the evil spirits away!"
"And the Master had that eerie occult hobby!"
"And the mansion was so creepy, something must have been lurking around somewhere!"
"Hohohoho. True, true. Sealing up the spirits was all that the traveling ascetic could manage. The seal just managed to hold them, but to this very day, they wander through the mansion, night after night, searching for a victim. Hohohoho..."
"Have you seen the Master's study?!"
"I have! It's like some kind of demon laboratory!"
"There's that rumor about the Master researching demons!"
"They also say he's researching how to revive his mistress, Beatrice!"
"Didn't they say he was gathering children to be sacrifices for his magic experiments?!"
"Waah, scary! What'd you do if the Master asked you to come into the study alone?!"
"I heard that, long ago, one kid went into the study and never came out!"
"She must have been a victim of an experiment to give Beatrice's ghost a new body!"
"Hohoho. Very true. Beatrice-sama has become a ghost, and wanders around searching for a body. The VIP room on the second floor is where Beatrice-sama dwells... You must always be respectful when cleaning that room... If you aren't... uhihihihihhihhi~!"
"In the eyes of teenage boys and girls, with their powerful imaginations, the ghost story was both terrifying and fascinating. It gave them a sense of solidarity, since they all got to experience the same tale. Then, that sharing became an obligation, and accepting the story became a rite of passage for joining the community. This was something that had been passed on since long ago."
"I heard about it too, mostly from Nee-san."
"I heard it too. From Kumasawa-san, mainly."
"So, not only the timid-looking Shannon, but a boy, Kanon, and a big adult, Gohda, believed in the ghost story?"
"Well, I didn't really..."
"There are tales of ghost stories and jinxes in all jobs. There were several stories of the sort at the hotel I once worked at."
"So, you thought it was stupid, and you didn't mind it at all?"
"...I think there was a need to blend with the community."
"That's it. Ghost stories and jinxes are all the local rules of your workplace. If a newcomer breaks those rules, they can't expect to be welcomed in."
"Exactly. If I said witches couldn't exist, that it was ridiculous, then I'd get into a fight with Nee-san. It was easier if I just appeared to go along with it."
"Come on. If you look at it that way, you'll be cursed... There was one servant who got seriously injured..."
"Hahaha, all workplaces have stories like that. No matter how incredible the ghost stories and tales about the company founder are, you accept and believe them. That's what it means to blend in with your new workplace."
""Wow! Everyone's so mature!""
I had been cleaning the windows with it, so it had probably been set down near one of those. When did I leave it behind, I wonder. Now that I think about it, I don't think I had it anymore when I reached the last window, so I must have completely forgotten to clean that window frame.
Through the window, I could see the others leaving in groups. Shannon turned around and glanced up, looking worried. I don't want to be responsible for making everyone wait, so I'm actually glad they're leaving without me... Still, naive though it may have been, I wanted them to wait...
BGM: Witch in Gold (cembalo)
I'd better find the small broom fast. No, that's not all. I also need to clean the window frames I forgot. Madam is strict. She'll probably check all of the windows carefully. If she does, I'll be the one that gets in trouble tomorrow. But really, where did I lose it? Why did I lose it? The darkness grew and grew. When it became dark enough that I would need a light before long, I began to panic. I dashed around and around the chapel, tears streaming down my face...
As I stumbled about pathetically, I could feel the presence of a prankster witch, giggling at me from under the door and up by the ceiling.
As she gains the power of Rokkenjima's evil spirits, her strength steadily grows, and she waits for the day of her resurrection. And, for some reason, she's peeking out at me, and if I ever take my eyes off something for a second, she snatches it away and hides it.
This isn't the first time this has happened. Whenever I look away, keys, handkerchiefs, pencils, erasers... all of them vanish almost right away. Even though I was planning to use them later, or just wanted to put them in their proper place, they disappear as soon as I turn around. It isn't someone hiding them as a prank. It's happened many times when I'm the only person around. Everyone always says I'm too careless and forgetful, and they laugh at me... get mad at me. I do try to be alert, but like some kind of bad joke, I lose things easily when I forget about them for just a short while. So, sometimes, I think 'well, this eraser is just going to disappear sooner or later', and I stare at it. But at those times alone, it doesn't disappear. Nothing disappears when I'm alert.
But as soon as I think I'm safe, and the tension relaxes just a bit, then something else will disappear...! Why is it always me...?!
...Yeah, I hear it. I can hear that witch laughing at me as I lamely run around in circles...
Listening to that voiceless laugh, I finally slammed my hands against the wall, crying tears of frustration.
"Please, just stop it...!! Why do you always hide my things and get me in trouble?!"
And, the witch answered. Fool. Isn't it obvious?
I couldn't bear it. Even though I knew what she said was true, hearing it said directly was incredibly annoying. I understand. That small broom probably is somewhere in this chapel. No, that's not quite it. Right until I came to this window here, I'm sure it was right by this window frame. That's right, I'm sure I put it by this window. But the prankster witch Beatrice used her magic, and just before I reached this spot, she instantly teleported the small broom to the next window over. The instant I approached that window, a hole appeared beneath the small broom, swallowing it up. And it came out by the next window after that. It landed right inside it, as though it had been there the whole time. And this happened over and over again! As I ran up to that window, the small broom fell into a magic hole and went to the next window. And when I went to that window, it went to the next window...! And I realized that she was just making fun of me!
So no matter how much I searched, it would be useless. But if I stop searching, it'll be just sitting there by one window or another. So, this isn't a search. It's a test of endurance. I kept chasing after the small broom, and Beatrice kept making it escape to the next window over, trying to make me give up. This is an eternal chase... that'll end only when one of us gives up...!
So, I kept going around and around, even to windows that I knew I'd already searched. If it's not by this one, then the next one, and the next one. And the witch kept moving the small broom to the next window, and the next one...!
BGM: Terminal Entrance
*giggle*, heh heh hahhahahahahahahahahaha...!!
The shrill, voiceless laugh of the formless witch continued to mock my sobbing. The witch is right beside me, laughing at me. As I dash around the chapel, she's following along with me, taunting me.
Then... she must be... there. She's right behind me, just over my shoulder, still cackling away. I know that turning around won't help, since she has no form. I can try to look, but I mustn't look with my eyes. Once my eyes tell me there's nothing there, I won't be able to 'see' anymore. I learned that from the Director of the Fukuin House. You mustn't try to see with your eyes. You must see with the eyes of your heart. The whole world is filled with God's love. In the many blessings of everyday life, one can see God, and angels, and the Holy Ghost. If you try to look at them with your eyes, you cannot see them, so you won't be able to 'see' them. So you won't be able to feel them or understand them. With the eyes of the heart, you will quietly understand. You don't look at them. You 'see', and draw them with your heart. In this way, I learned how to recognize beings not of this world at the Fukuin House.
...It doesn't just mean being able to 'see' God. This power lets one see all of those not of this world.
"...Hoh, So, you can speak to me?"
"I'm clumsy, bad at my job, and I do put things down and forget about them a lot. But I know which things were my fault, and which things were because of your pranks."
"How amusing... Not only can you perceive me in my formless state, but you even understand my little game. It seems you're a more interesting creature than I thought, Yasu."
...I'm usually called Yasu when one of the older servants is laughing behind my back at some mistake I've made. So, when I hear that name, it feels bad. She called me, not by the blessed name given to me by the Fukuin House, but by that unblessed name. Upsetting the heart is a classic move for evil beings to make. By doing that, they make it so that their presence isn't noticed. To beings like witches, being understood is like shoving them out into the light of day.
"...It won't work. In the Fukuin House, I learned how to perceive those not of this world. So, I already understand you."
"Very interesting. You've taken me, a being so faint that I'd fly away if you blew on me, and trapped me, perceived me. You're an interesting kid, Yasu!"
"It won't work. I've now understood and perceived you. No matter how many unpleasant things you say, you'll just expose the ugliness of your heart."
Without turning around, I slowly let my range of vision fill the entire chapel. It was as though the viewpoint of my soul was floating out from the shell of my head. See, inch by inch, my range of vision is floating out of my head... and drifting upwards. As I looked down at myself, standing there with head hanging and eyes tightly shut... very slowly... rose up to the ceiling of the chapel. And when I looked down from there... I saw myself, standing in the center of the chapel, and the witch standing behind me.
...Apparently, the witch realized that I could see her. She turned around... and raised her eyes to look at the eyes of my heart, floating by the ceiling... At last, I could see the witch Beatrice... with the eyes of my heart...
The demonic lips... twisted in an ugly curve. It was clearly a challenging, repulsive, demon's smile... She wore a blood-red dress and hat. The design was completely different from anything humans wore. Her hair was blonde. It had countless beautiful curls, like a princess from a picture book, but there was no trace of cuteness about her.
"...I did think you were a bit different from the other humans, but it seems I was mistaken."
"You're totally different from those other humans, not just 'a bit'. *cackle*cackle*...!"
"You sad witch, who can be seen by no one, heard by no one. Have you been pulling these pranks all the time just to catch the attention of humans...?"
"I use what little magic I have to interfere when humans aren't looking, but no matter what I do, none of them think that it's magic. They decide that they just made a little mistake, and blow my existence away like the candles on a cake."
"If so, then I've just saved you. Because I understand you... and have perceived you."
"...Saved me? *cackle*cackle*cackle*! To me, this meeting with you is nothing more than a new way to kill time."
"It's getting dark. I don't have the time to play with you anymore."
"Oho. My apologies. I was so engrossed that I didn't notice the time."
"...Please give it back. My cleaning tool."
"That small broom, or whatever you call it? It's right there, by the next window."
"But as soon as I get close, you'll move it to the next window over."
"*cackle*cackle*! My form is elusive, as is my magic. With a snap of my fingers, I can do anything...!"
The witch snapped her fingers, and various things throughout the chapel were sucked into a black pitfall beneath them, disappearing. No, they didn't disappear. The instant they vanished into the dark holes, other dark holes appeared in completely different parts of the chapel, and the vanished objects fell out of those. Chairs, musical scores, clocks, and vases started appearing and disappearing all across the room. It made it feel as though countless tools were flying about the chapel...
I wonder where the witch draws the line between pranks and magic. When she snapped her fingers again, all of the loud, flying objects returned to their original spots, and silence fell.
"I've taken a liking to you. You've perceived and captured me? *cackle*cackle*! That works in reverse. It means I've perceived and captured you."
The Fukuin Director told me not to try and 'see' evil beings. If you 'see' them, they will possess you. Now that I understood this witch, a bond had been formed between us.
"That is correct. Now that you have acknowledged my existence, I have formed a bond with you. After all the years I've spent in boredom, it will be nice to have a young kid like you to talk to."
"I will talk to you from time to time. So, will you stop pulling pranks like this?"
"No, I won't be here to talk to you, but to play with you! *cackle*cackle*. And if we're playing, pranks are just part of the game, right?"
"Heheh. Very well. I've had enough fun for one day. The sun has sunk and the moon is full. I'm a bit tired after appearing in front of you for so long. Let us call it a night. Look how much fun we had with just a single broom...!"
"Please, give it back."
"No way. I'll keep this as a token of our meeting. Got a problem with that?"
"...If I said I did, would you give it back to me?"
"I never listen to humans! However, I might lend an ear to a friend."
"...If you give it back, I'll acknowledge you as a friend."
"What do you mean, you might...?"
"I'll take my time in deciding whether you're worthy to be my friend. After all, witches are like demons! If you ask us for an answer, we'll never give one right away. *cackle*cackle*!"
"...Understood. Then, I'll leave the small broom with you. Please give it back when you decide to become my friend."
"Very well. Will this broom become a bridge of friendship between us, or not? I will hang onto it for now, making my decision in my own good time."
When the witch snapped her fingers, the broom for which I had searched so long fell out of a hole in the air, landing between the fingers she had just snapped...
"This is goodbye. This game with you was far from boring. Let us play again sometime."
"If you're my friend, that is."
"When a cat toys with a mouse, does it try to become friends with it first? *cackle*cackle*, ahahahahahahahahahaa!!"
When I returned to my body, I felt suddenly tired, and let out the breath I'd been holding. Of course, when I turned around, there was no one to be seen. I couldn't feel the witch's presence anywhere anymore.
It had gotten very dark by this time. I decided to leave the chapel. There's no point in searching for the small broom any longer. Not until the witch decides to give it back.
I went out of the chapel. The chapel key had been left in the lock. I used it to lock the door. What am I going to do about the small broom? There's nothing I can do. I can't even blame the witch. I must acknowledge that I'm responsible for giving the witch a chance...
It was the broom I had been searching for all this time. Don't tell me... that it'll be swallowed up by a dark hole the instant I bend over to pick it up...? No. This is... a sign from the witch. A sign that she acknowledges me as a friend.
I picked it up.
Oh, I am one yet many.
"...However, as some of you listeners may have noticed, this was not a meeting with the real Beatrice. The witch I then called Beatrice would later be known by another name."
"...However, she was clearly not human. And being bonded with one who is not human means being bonded with their world. I still had no way of knowing the varied fates that waited for me on Rokkenjima..."