Part 126: The Sweet World of Witches
Silent. Black. Cold. Painful.
Rosa regained consciousness bit by bit... And the first thing she thought... was that it would have been better if she hadn't. After all, with her body this cold and hurting, the pain grew the more her consciousness returned. It felt like she'd been sleeping on ice-cold marble in the darkness, lying face-down for a long time.
...Aaah, this is why I always tell myself. Even if its just for a nap, I've got to at least grab a sofa. I know that, if I naively try to close my eyes for just a second...and end up sleeping on the floor or in the study chair, it'll hurt my body later and make things difficult... Since I slept on such a cold and hard floor, even my bones are ice-cold. Since I slept on such a hard and cold floor, the half of my face pressed down against it hurts a lot. If I were to look in a mirror right now, I'm sure I'd see an embarrassing mark. I didn't think that just rubbing it would make that mark disappear, but I stroked the hurting side of my face anyway, trying to smooth it over...
I thought it was pitch black, but it looks like it isn't. After all, I can faintly see my own body. Without a doubt, there was some source of light, but even if I looked up at the ceiling... or else the sky, there was only an expanse of blackness, and I couldn't see a proper light. My body alone was slightly lit, whereas everything else was sunk in darkness... That's what this world was like.
It was almost as though Rosa alone had been abandoned in a forgotten world. As her mind grew clearer, she started getting nervous about why she was all alone in a lonely place like this. When she was about to call out, asking if anyone was there, she heard the patter of footsteps coming towards her. They were light footsteps, so she thought it was probably a kid. She didn't sense anything disturbing, so she wasn't afraid. But they also weren't Maria's footsteps, so, wondering who in the world would be in a darkness like this, she stared in the direction the footsteps were coming from.
...As she did, a faint, approaching silhouette came into view.
...Who is it? I don't know this kid. But, the expression on his face was like a lost child separated from his parents. As a parent with a daughter herself, Rosa felt as though her chest had been torn apart...
The instant the kid muttered that infantile word, she felt pain in the half of her face that had started hurting from the cold floor, as though it had been pierced by long, thin, hard needles. Without thinking, she pressed her hand against that side of her face.
'...Are you all right...? Does it still hurt...?'
"...Thanks, I'm fine, little guy. Where are we...? It's really... cold."
'...Come this way... You mustn't stay here...'
That child took my other hand and pulled with a grim expression on his face.
Rosa didn't have a clue what was going on. However, a single honest expression on a child... can often tell the truth better than a hundred words from an adult. She didn't know the situation, but even so, she dashed along with him, still being pulled...
...Even though she was running, she couldn't even feel any wind. It was as though she was still inside a nightmare, that kind of unreal sensation...
So even though I ran, I couldn't maintain my sense of balance, and my legs got tangled and I fell. Even in a world that didn't feel real, the pain of smashing my face against the cold, hard floor was reality itself.
'Uryu, are you okay...?'
"Ah, nn... I'm sorry, my head hurts."
...When the kid said that... infantile word 'uryu', pain like being stuck with needles ran though my head again. Even though it had only happened twice, I was somehow able to understand that the child's word was the cause of my pain. So I said so frankly.
"I'm sorry. Could you stop saying 'uryu'...?"
"Nng, wait a second, didn't I tell you to stop...?"
'U, au, uu-! Sorry...'
I had the feeling that this child's apology caused a sharp pain in my forehead this time.
What is... this child...? I know there's no malice in him, but when I'm around this child, my head hurts...
'...Are you okay...? Let's go, quickly... You mustn't stay here...'
"Why shouldn't I be here...? Hey, where is this...? Who are you? Where is your Mama...?"
That child stared at me with round eyes. This kid's Mama... is me...? Who? Who is... this kid? I don't remember at all.
'Did you... forget about me...? You made me, right...?'
"...Wait a second, stop kidding around. Maria is my only child... That's right, where is Maria? Where is she?! Maria...?!"
I suddenly grew nervous about Maria not being there. Why am I all alone in a place like this? Where is Maria?! I'm only able to be me because Maria's there for me...!
'...Maria is here, but she's not Maria now. It's better if you don't meet with her now. That's better for your sake, and Maria's as well. For Maria's sake as well, escape.'
"Huh...? What are you saying? Where is Maria? Maria?! Answer me!!"
'Maria's gonna find you...! Come this way, quickly, Mama...!'
That child pulled on my hand again. He was probably pulling me in the opposite direction from Maria. So I stopped walking.
"Let go...! Just who are you...?! What gives you the right to call me Mama...?!"
'...Mama is the one who made me... Did you forget...? For Maria's birthday present, you made me with your own hands, did you forget...?'
"...You... couldn't be... Maria's... Sakutarou...?!"
'Yes... The lion stuffed animal Mama made...!'
When I knocked his hand away without thinking... and looked at my palm... a hole the size of a thumb had opened there, and deep-red blood gushed out. It was a hole so big that I could see through to the other side...
'U-Uryu...! Are you okay?! Are you okay?! What's wrong...?!'
Sakutarou noticed my wound and panicked. As far as I could tell by looking at him, he couldn't understand why my hand had sustained a serious injury. But in my eyes, it felt like I'd been injured because he'd grabbed my hand. Regardless of whether there was malice in him, I understood that this child was something that would do harm to me, and he instantly seemed eerie...
"Go away...!! You have nothing to do with me...! Sakutarou was just a disgusting, crappy stuffed animal, right...?!! I don't know you, I'm not your Mama...!! Go away...! Disappear!!"
It gaped open, and pitch-black insides peeked out. No blood poured from it. Only an empty blackness peeked out. Then, from the insides of the gash, cotton snow poured out, and as bits of cotton scattered, he slumped over. Then, all that remained was a crumpled yellow cloth... and bits of cotton that looked like sticky, crushed cotton candy. A lion... stuffed animal.
Without a doubt. These were the remains of the Sakutarou stuffed animal I tore apart on that day, while overcome by my emotions. The instant I realized that, a long, sharp shriek that could rupture an eardrum tore the world apart...
Like a flood from a broken dam, or like a broken TV... Maria cried out in a high-pitched voice. Her voice, which made the ears throb, brought up two emotions in me... One was regret, 'Yeah, I was overcome by my emotions and went overboard'. It was a mother's desire to kneel down right away, hold Maria's head, cry with her and apologize.
...In actual fact, I did that right away. I held Maria's head and apologized, crying. But Maria didn't stop crying. On the contrary, she rejected me, the one who had torn her closest friend apart, and pushed me away forcefully with both hands. I had been on my knees in an unnatural position, so I fell backwards easily. Maria scraped together the yellow scraps of cloth and cotton bits, buried her face in them, and cried even more...
Watching that, another emotion welled up. It welled up rapidly. And then, it burst. After all, she refused to make up with me even though I'd apologized, and there was nothing else I could do now anyway, and it was all Maria's fault in the first place...!! Since she's too busy playing with stuffed animals all the time like this, she can't make any friends, and that's why people treat her like a freak...!! This is a perfect opportunity to give her some instructive guidance! After all, it's not like I was pampered all the time...!! Everything eventually breaks, is stolen, is destroyed by someone! Even I had lots of toys and treasures stolen, broken, mocked, and thrown away by my brothers and sister and Father and Mother...!! But when I cried about that, while I might have shed a few tears, not once did I sob like this and trouble my parents, throw a tantrum, get mad, hit the floor and kick and make a racket...!! Even though I always wanted to, I thought I'd get in more trouble if I did, so I always, always held it back.
At that moment, I felt something strange. The same feeling as when you use a tool recklessly, and it finally breaks, so that only the base is left. But I wasn't using a tool. I'd just been repeatedly hitting Maria's head with both hands.
So, I looked at my hands.
As though only that part of my arms had become ceramic. No, as though all of me from the wrists onwards had suddenly become ceramic, and had broken and fallen. They must have gotten filled with cracks because I hit Maria too much... before falling off. After all, look, aren't both of my wrists lying smashed by my feet...?
There was no pain. But the shocking sight of my hands breaking off from the wrists onwards made me scream...
"Wh-What is this?! What is this?! My hands, my hands, my hands...!! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeekkkk!!!"
Ignoring my confusion, Maria spoke with an icy voice, slowly moving her hands away from her head, where they had been defending against my barrage...
"...What's happening?! My hands, my hands...!! What did you do, Maria, what is this, what on earth is this...?!"
Behind Maria's back, a black silhouette had appeared. It was the silhouette of an adult. Who?!
"Mama hit my head more than she patted it. She never opens picture books. She doesn't even make me food. I go to buy it myself."
"...But I mustn't go to the same store more than once, mustn't have my face remembered, mustn't talk to the policeman... Why? Why is that? Is it my fault?"
"Am I not allowed to have Mama pat my head, have picture books read to me, or eat dinner with Mama...? Why not? Why not?!"
"I didn't do anything wrong!! It isn't my fault, it's Mama's!! Mama's fault!!"
"Mama wouldn't play with me, but Sakutaro did! He even read books, watched TV and ate meals with me!! He was a much, much better friend than Mama was!!!"
"...I-I'm not proud of it...! B-But what am I supposed to do?! I'm busy with work, work I tell you!! You know that, right?! It was unavoidable!! There's nothing I can do!!"
"True enough. It was unavoidable."
"Unavoidable that you'd injure your daughter, tearing her heart apart and making her tears run with blood...! In that case, there's no avoiding the same thing happening again, right here, right now...!!"
"Come, MARIA...! Enough of the excuses from a woman who calls herself a mother. Can you forgive her, or not...?! Is she innocent... or guilty?!?!"