Part 91: Days Enraptured
BGM: Toy Box
"But even so, Yasu always had this look, like someone else had taken whatever it was away. It really pissed me off!"
"That kid just didn't know how to concentrate. If you do things without thinking, it's no surprise that your actions grow careless."
"But it was only like that in the beginning, right...? After some time, that kid started concentrating, and all of that bad stuff stopped happening..."
"Hmm, really? Well, it was all stuff that anyone should be able to do anyway."
"Learning to do things that everyone can do is part of growing up. I doubt the rest of you were so clever about everything when you first started, yes?"
"...Are you kidding? If we weren't clever, we'd never have been selected to work for the Ushiromiya family."
"We're supposed to be the elite!! The fact that Yasu was young was no excuse."
"That's right. If Yasu is supposed to learn cleverness by growing up, then that should be done before coming to work for the Ushiromiya family."
"Come on... That kid worked really hard to balance school and work... I think you're all being too harsh..."
"We were selected because we made it through a harsh process, right? There's no need for us to pamper Yasu."
"I'm sick of this. I don't get why someone as dull-witted as Yasu was chosen!"
"Being selected as an Ushiromiya family servant was an achievement that all Fukuin children respected. The older servants had achieved glory by making it through the strict selection process. Yasu was so clumsy that they all wondered why that child had been selected."
"...Of course, Yasu was working very hard for a child of that age. However, before long, the unsatisfied older servants started being mean to Yasu whenever they got the chance. Even after getting used to life on Rokkenjima, Yasu didn't manage to make a single friend. At least, not any human friends..."
"...It's a witch pulling pranks on me. I mean, I knew I'd put it right there, and I just glanced around... when it disappeared..."
The witch had pranked me again. I left my master key behind, Madam found out, and I got in a lot of trouble. Why, when I always put my master key in my pocket after I use it... Why was it in a place like that...? And this is the third time it's happened. The last two times, I realized that it wasn't in my pocket, and managed to find it before anyone found out.
But the third time, Madam found it. I was really mad and frustrated with that witch in the red dress.
"Hohoho, Beatrice-sama's pranks can be quite troublesome. But if you're dealing with a witch, shouldn't you be able to use some sort of charm?"
Kumasawa-san started fishing through the kitchen cupboards, saying 'now where did that get to'. The thing she finally found and brought to me... was a kite string. She stretched it out for me to see, then used a knife to cut off a 50 cm piece.
"Spiderwebs? Like the ones the evil spirits of Rokkenjima fear?"
"Good, I'm glad you remember. It is said that the spiderwebs on this island are imbued with magical power, and that they are very effective at repelling evil. See? If you stretch it out like this, it looks like a spiderweb, doesn't it? Hohoho, this way, that spiderweb-hating Beatrice won't be able to prank you anymore."
That... does make sense. It really does look like a spiderweb when pulled tight. Since Kumasawa-san says so, it must have some pretty strong evil-repelling power. I can just ask her to make several of these kite strings for me, and then I can tie them to everything I don't want to lose. But, clearly, that won't be very practical. I'd have strings all over me.
"What about things I can't keep tied to me, like pencils and erasers?"
"Hohoho, for times like that, there's a different charm. All you have to do is make a house for Mr. Pencil and Mr. Eraser."
Make a house...? You mean, build a roof and a bed and stuff??
"...See, if you leave Mr. Knife lying around, he'll get lonely and cry."
"...Poor thing. We need to get Mr. Knife home..."
"Here is Mr. Knife's house. See, his whole family of knives is waiting for him. 'Mama~, I'm ho~me.' 'Welcome ba~ck.' See?"
Kumasawa-san returned the knife to the knife-holder under the sink. Even though she had done something so ordinary, I felt slightly moved, as though the lost little knife had finished his adventure and finally returned home. Once he slid into the spot he was supposed to be in, all the knives would be together and could have a party... Then, Kumasawa-san said we should give them their privacy, and shut the door...
"The poor things hidden by the witch must get lonely easily. So, when the witch tells them she'll take them somewhere fun, they're just happy to go along with her. What can you do to stop them from doing this?"
"Take them home right away..."
"Exactly. They're lonely, naughty kids, so they'll go with the witch if they get the chance. So, you must always take them home quickly."
"...Look at that Mr. Key you just tied to a string. He's sitting there all alone, crying and asking you to put him in his home in your pocket."
The voice of the lonely master key finally reached my ears. I hurried to pick it up, took the other end of the string and tied it to my pocket button, and put the key in my pocket.
"See, 'I'm ho~me'. Mr. Key gets lonely so easily, so let's take him home right after we use him, okay? If you keep making little friends like this, even Beatrice-sama won't be able to prank you much longer..."
BGM: Le 4 Octobre
When break time was over and I stood up to see what I should help with next, I felt a tug, and the key ring with the master key fell to the floor. Once again, I had left the master key on the side of the sofa and forgotten it was there. The instant I stood up, the string pulled on it and it fell to the floor. Without Kumasawa-san's spiderweb charm, I would probably have left that master key lying here again. The master key left all alone would have been led away by the witch and disappeared... Whew, that was close... And, once again, I heard the master key, who had almost been left alone, cry and tell me that it wanted to go home...
"...I'm sorry. Come on, let's go back home to my pocket..."
Yay, I'm home! Thank goodness. I almost got pranked by the witch again...
All of a sudden, I heard a wild, shocked voice from over my shoulder. It was a voiceless voice. A witch's voice, the kind you can't hear unless you try.
"It's a spiderweb charm that Kumasawa-san showed me. Apparently, it works very well."
"Yes. I hate to admit it, but it does. I wouldn't want to touch that. After all, you wouldn't want to put your finger on a razor and slide it across, would you?"
"...Uwa, that's a scary example... My finger hurts just thinking about it..."
"But good for you. Even though you lost your key again, Natsuhi didn't yell at you. *cackle*cackle*, you should be thanking me!"
"Because I annoyed you, you learned about the charm, right? Thanks to that charm, you've managed to take care of the forgetfulness that made you leave keys lying around. In other words, it's all thanks to me. Wahahahaha, don't I deserve some gratitude?"
Even without the witch's pranking, if I didn't have the charm, I would have gone to my next job and left the master key here. If that happened, then surely, I wouldn't have been able to find the key, and it would've been a big mess.
"This is what they call punishment to teach someone a lesson. By magnifying your mistakes, I've shown you what they are, as a friend! Don't you see how much you've grown?"
"...Nn, nnnn... I get the feeling that Kumasawa-san's the one I should be thanking, not you."
"My, my. What a thankless job we witches have. *cackle*."
"Anyway, I win this time. Okay, I need to get back to work now."
"Very well, my friend. We'll call this your victory."
"However, I'm bad at giving up. I'll keep watching you, even more closely now, until I can even the score. Prepare yourself. There are still several small items that a person like you is likely to forget. You can't attach string to all of them. *cackle*cackle*...!"
"The spiderweb charm isn't the only one I have. I also learned the 'take them home' charm. I won't let you have your way anymore."
"Hmph. Let's see how well you can actually do. Even so, that's quite the bright smile you've got there. When a witch comes, that's a time to cry, not laugh. Your break time is over. See if you can manage to do your job today without slowing down the older servants."
"Sure. Today is Sunday, and the weather is wonderful. I'd better do my best."
"Go do whatever you can. Oh, that's right, Reine's been in a bad mood all morning. You'd better try and avoid eye contact with her. Also, your fortune for the day is 'water hazard'. Make sure you take care when standing near buckets of water. This is you we're talking about. I'll be waiting for you to knock over a bucket and get scolded just like usual."
"*giggle*. Thank you, Beatrice."
But now that I could talk with her, it felt as though she wasn't all bad. Of course, there was no need for me to be grateful to her. The witch Beatrice despises boredom, and mocks the misfortune of others instead of eating food. Humans and witches are different. Incompatible beings. And yet, it felt as though we could become friends.
Of course, she's still a witch. I mustn't get careless. And yet, not being careless is a good thing. Thanks to the tricks and charms I use to keep her at bay, I'm able to concentrate. That could hardly be a bad thing. Those things will be useful for my job and my life, even without the witch's pranks. I see, so this witch called Beatrice really is like a demon. Apparently, it's possible to build up a friendship through verbal abuse...
BGM: Far (piano version
"Because of all the charms?!"
"Hohohoho. That's right. That was a very faithful kid. All of the charms I taught were followed flawlessly."
"With strings attached to everything? Or else that 'going ho~me' thing?"
"Yes. That kid would sometimes say it out loud. It was really cute, like watching someone play house with a bunch of tools."
"Just like a kid!"
"But it was a kid, right?"
"With adults, you can say something one way and all of them will understand. However, there really are many different types of kids, and you need many different ways to teach them things. If you can find just the right way, they learn quite easily."
"Some kids learn better when they're punished, and some learn better when they're praised."
"I used to scare a neighborhood kid and tell him that a fairy would take his things if he didn't keep good track of them. Hohoho, this was the same, except the fairy became a witch..."
"Still, doesn't that sound like fate?!"
"After all, you knew this kid was Beatrice's child, didn't you?"
"Yes, I did know."
"It must have been strange... to tell Beatrice's child that the witch Beatrice would play pranks on you unless you put your stuff away neatly."
"Hohohoho... I just thought of it after the child came and told me that a witch was stealing things and pulling pranks. I took it as a sign that the late Beatrice-sama had become a witch... and was coming to teach her child to keep track of things. That's why I thought this the best way to teach that child."
"That kid started out with a bad reputation for forgetting and losing things, but got a lot more cheery after overcoming those bad habits."
"By surpassing weaknesses, those weaknesses become strengths, and that is how people gain confidence and grow up. Those small spurts of growth, made me feel as though this was my own grandchild."
"...Good work with the big cleanup today. We never know when an important guest might come and borrow one of the rarely used rooms. It is important that you do not slack off in your cleaning."
"Of course. All of us are fully aware of this fact."
"...I wish that were the case. When I looked around, I found this. Whose is it?"
All of the servants swung around to look at me, the usual offender.
"Come on. Yasu again?"
"Y, you shouldn't be so quick to judge."
"I have mine, of course. There's no way I'd drop something that important. And the rest of you?!"
"I have mine..."
"So, it was you, Yasu! Do you still not get it, even after that scolding Madam gave you?! You're just so...!"
Genji-sama's face was as expressionless as ever. However, those were unmistakably words of praise.
"*giggle*, that's right. You won't drop them anymore. After all, you have your charm now."
There was only one servant who hadn't raised their key. As she muttered 'it has to be Yasu's key, not mine' and fished in her pocket, her face went pale...
"M, my... apologies..."
The older servant turned red and hung her head. Behind her, though no one else could see it, was the witch.
"*cackle*! My friend will not make the same mistake again. After all, I'm stalking this child all the time, and it can't afford to leave an opening! But it's a shame. If I'd known this girl here would lose her key, I could've pranked her this time...!"
"Please don't prank people other than me."
"Huh? Did you say something?"
"N, no, nothing..."
"When people compliment you, it feels like they've acknowledged you!"
"It's very important. People can't grow without it."
"And what happens when people grow?"
"First, they find some latitude. Jobs that used to make them scared, that made them worry about whether they were doing things the right way or not can then be carried out with confidence."
"That's right! Once things are easy, that gives you some latitude!"
"And what happens next?"
"It gives you a chance to enjoy your time more. You might say that it gives you time to relax."
"If you're tense all the time, that just wears you out! It's good to relax a bit, if you can!"
"You mean, you learn so much that you can start slacking off on the job?"
"It sounds bad when you put it that way. However, there's nothing wrong with skillfully carrying out your tasks quickly and using your free time to enjoy yourself. Times like that are what make a human's life rich."
"He also invents dishes with the leftover ingredients!"
"Playing a bit and refreshing yourself can also be good for your efficiency. You might say that inventing dishes combines work and play."
"Even Genji slacks off when no one's looking. He'll watch TV or swipe some of his master's drink. And he reads complicated books."
"*cackle*cackle*! In short, it's all about cleverly using the gaps between jobs to play. If it goes too far, it can turn to laziness. However, people only become mature when they learn to balance work with pleasure. Simply put, if all you care about is work all the time, you're not fully mature."
"So, that kid learned how to play between jobs?"
"It's hard to imagine that serious kid slacking off at work!"
"It started with interaction. That kid formed a relationship with Kumasawa, the person who was always kind, and started borrowing books from her and talking together about them."
"Even I had friends at school, but because of my work, there was no chance to deepen our friendship. Jessica was always kind and modest, but there was Natsuhi's stern order to think of, so we couldn't play together very much."
"...So, at that time, Kumasawa, the one who was always as kind as a mother to me, was the person I felt closest to."
"Kumasawa was old enough to have grandchildren. They couldn't exactly run around and play together. You developed an interest in Kumasawa's hobby."
"And what's Kumasawa's hobby?!"
"Books. It might be hard to believe, but Kumasawa was a huge mystery novel fan."
"The kid wanted to find out what sorts of books they were and started reading them?"
"That's right. The nice thing about mystery novels is that you can talk about them while you read them. Even Kumasawa, who already knew the answer, must have enjoyed listening and hearing what sorts of theories a young intellect could create."
"Of course, I didn't start right away with the complicated books Kumasawa read. First, I asked for her recommendations and got books from the school library. I would even bring them into the servant room and read a bit during every break."
"Every time a new theory popped into my head, I told Kumasawa about it, and she, who already knew the answer, would nod at my theory and grin. That was a lot of fun for me."
BGM: Le 4 Octobre
"...Yeah, just a bit more... Another one of the Indian figures just disappeared..."
"*giggle*. You've become a total mystery nut. If you get too excited reading, you won't be able to sleep again."
"...According to Kumasawa-san, the culprit has already appeared... But I don't have a clue who it is..."
"What's that book called?"
"It's by Agatha Christie. 'And Then There Were None'. It's really interesting. Almost like it's a crime happening on Rokkenjima."
"Yes, that's a really famous mystery novel. Wasn't that one a perfect crime, at least until the culprit confesses to the truth in a message bottle at the end? An incredible book."
"Shhh, shhh! I'm enjoying myself, so don't spoil me! Go take a bath now, I'll go by myself later...!"
"Okay, okay. See you later then. Don't forget to take a bath, okay?"
Shannon picked up a change of clothes and smiled amusedly as she left the room. I probably won't be able to read the whole thing tonight. Even though I know that, I just keep turning the pages, unable to find a good place to stop.
My new joy, the mystery genre. The mental game of thinking and theorizing. And also talking about it with Kumasawa-san. All of that left me enraptured.
"We can't have that. I'd better find a place to stop soon."
"*cackle*. In the ancient times I was born in, we didn't have pleasures like mystery novels. I've been reading over your shoulder, and this really is an interesting book."
"Beato, who do you think is the culprit?"
"In 'And Then There Were None'?"
"Yeah. Who is U. N. Owen, I wonder..."
"That's the culprit who lured the victims to the island."
"There are only ten people on this island. And U. N. Owen doesn't exist."
"Someone must have stranded them on the island and waited somewhere far away for them to die of starvation."
"No, that's not right. He or she is on the island. They're one of the ten people. I just don't know who..."
"...That's just how it is."
Since, if you doubt that, you're stuck, or it's just one of the assumptions of the mystery genre, or... hmmm...
"The culprit owns the island, correct? They might be hiding in some hidden room."
"Or maybe they're like me! They may be a thousand year old witch! No, no, if they had to go to all this trouble just to kill ten people, they couldn't be a thousand years old. 495 years old at most, I'd say. *cackle*cackle*!"
"Closed rooms do appear a lot in mystery novels. And books often use the phrase 'it could only conceivably have been done with magic'. And here I am, with a witch right before my eyes. It's a complicated feeling."
"Pft, *cackle*cackle*! Very entertaining, these closed room murders. Once you read the answer, it becomes a tale about humans, or a mystery novel. But, if you take out the part that reveals the answer, it becomes a tale about witches, or a fantasy novel."
"...Hmmm? That's an interesting way to look at it. So, there's only a tiny difference between human novels and fantasy novels?"
"If a trick exists, it becomes a human novel. If there isn't one, it's a witch novel. If you just take out the last few pages of that book you're reading, you might think of Lady U. N. Owen as a witch on the same level as me...!"
"...That might be surprisingly wise, coming from you. So, the culprit of detective novels without an answer is a witch."
"All of the dark places in this world belong to us witches. So, I could reign as the culprit to all detective novels across the world."
"Except, if you reason it out right and find the true answer, then the witch is done for."
"*cackle*cackle*. Detective novels are quite interesting, it seems. This looks to be a truly entertaining thinking game."
"That's right. This is a thinking game. You fight against the book, make a theory, and then compete against friends who have also read the book."
"Yes, but it's also a fight between humans and witches. Will you allow for or deny the magic of my closed room murders? It's a game of chess!"
"...So, it isn't a book I'm reading, but a challenge against you?"
"Indeed! As Shannon said a short while ago, this story apparently has the truth revealed by a message bottle at the end. So, if you can't expose the truth of the tale before that point, you lose."
"After all, the message bottle just happened to drift somewhere that it could be seen. If it got smashed and sank before anyone saw it, this would be a perfect crime, or in other words, a witch's crime that's impossible for humans."
"...That's a fun way to look at it. A fight between me and the witch. Yeah. I really like thinking of it that way."
There's a reference gag here - Ryukishi is a professed fan of the Touhou Project games, one of which contains a character named Flandre Scarlet, a 495-year-old vampire with a whole Agatha Christie motif. Her theme song is even named after a reference to U.N. Owen.
"...I do have one theory: you want to play with me, don't you? I've been reading books so much, you've gotten lonely."
...Incidentally. The game Beato and I played with 'And Then There Were None' ended with my defeat. In the end, I wasn't able to build a satisfying theory, and I had to learn the truth from the message bottle. Luckily, it did manage to drift into human hands. If it had sunk to the bottom of the ocean, as Beato had suggested, I would have no way of knowing the truth. In other words, I was forced to acknowledge U. N. Owen as a witch.
Mystery. I once thought it was just a genre for novels. To think that it can so easily become a fight between witches and humans, truth and fantasy. I was instantly enraptured by this new 'game'. As the months passed by, I read through all of the mystery novels in the school library, and started to read mystery novels for adults. I discussed them with Kumasawa. I discussed them with Shannon. I played my game of theory chess, the fight between witches and the truth.
Those days... were so much fun...
Oh, I am one yet many. Here's to the fun game of the mind that enraptured me...