Part 184: Notes from a Certain ChefNotes from a Certain Cook
Original Translator: theacefrehley of AnimeSuki. Edited by Tiistai and oath2order
Since they call it the Seven Islands of Izu, I used to think that the archipelago of Izu was comprised of no more than seven islands.
At first, I was told that Rokkenjima was a considerably small island.
However, compared to what my poor imagination envisioned - an island the size of a tatami mat, shaped like a whale's back and with a single palm tree growing on it - Rokkenjima seemed actually quite vast.
The coastline of the island is a little over 10km. At its widest point, it is probably about 3km across.
On a map it would certainly appear small but when you take into account that it's a private island, with only the mansion of the Ushiromiya family built there, it's unimaginably vast.
I remember well how the presence of the imposing mansion beyond a beautiful rose garden made a great impression on me on my first visit.
Not even in my wildest dreams could I imagine my life as a cook would take such a turn. As though it was something out of a comic book or fairy tale, I was summoned to be the exclusive cook for a millionaire.
That said, the fact is that things like pride, conventions and ties of obligation were held in high regard there.
So when the head chef who kept all the cooks working together with his powerful charisma had to retire due to his deteriorating health, everything blew up in one fell swoop.
For a cook with exceptional skills and pride, the only person they can respect is a cook that surpasses them.
That's why no matter how inflexible, conceited or juvenile we were, as long as the head chef held his authority we all did our work as one.
So, with the head chef suddenly retiring, perhaps this was the inevitable outcome.
We split off into a few factions.
Among the kitchen staff, a certain person was the popular candidate for the next head chef. He was greatly appreciated for his respectable achievements and skills as well as his leadership over the enthusiastic juniors, among other things.
However, he was actually also a very obstinate man and he didn't get along particularly well with the hotel side.
What the hotel side needed was a chef who would produce satisfactory results within deadlines and budgets suitable for them, rather than a chef who would go over deadlines and budgets in order to produce results satisfactory to him... That difference in priorities spelled trouble for the cooks.
The candidate recommended by the hotel side was a typical opportunist. The kind of person who owed his position to his talent at sucking up to the bigwigs rather than at cooking. Rather than put his efforts into his cooking, he spent his time vying for the position of 'head chef.'
Needless to say, that man was appointed as the head chef. The person siding with us was named as his assistant.
We weren't satisfied with the result, but we decided to resume work in the kitchen in order to observe the situation for the time being.
However, the differences to the predecessor became immediately obvious, and dissatisfaction among the cooks exploded.
Many of them did not approve of his methods, which disregarded the pride they felt as cooks. Of course, I was among them.
Before long, the assistant and his sympathizers decided to force the hotel to negotiate by slamming down our letters of resignation.
We felt that there was no longer any other way around it at that point.
It turned out that the assistant hadn't really been on board with our reckless methods from the start.
I didn't find out about it until later, though.
Being young at the time, we were just eager to raise a revolt alongside the assistant and stick it up to that damn annoying head chef successor.
As a result, what we got at the end was an unexpected twist.
The assistant was dissuaded from resigning at the last moment, so he didn't join the coup d'état. ...In fact, the hotel side saw this as an opportunity to purge the kitchen where the factional infighting had intensified, and to that end dissuaded personnel useful to them from resigning in advance and wittingly overlooked the outbreak of the coup.
I wasn't dissuaded.
...In other words, it was the perfect pretext for the hotel side to fire me.
We, the younger ones, felt betrayed by the assistant and the others, and prepared to go on strike, but...
A cook is a cook because he makes food. And if he doesn't make food, he can't make a living.
Starting with the people who had calmed down, they quietly backed out from the uproar one by one, found new jobs and disappeared... That was when I recognized just how inexperienced I was.
Being a former cook from a well-established restaurant can be an asset, but it is also a burden. Finding a new place to work was not a simple task.
I tried finding employment from restaurants and hotels of the same rank, but because connections are tight in this industry, the details of the troubles were already made widely known and potential employers were warned that the relations between them would have to be reconsidered, should they hire one of the troublemakers. It was as if a circular notice had been sent out to make the rounds.
It seemed like I would never get another chance to call myself a cook again...
One day I received a call from a junior who had been on my side and quit together with me.
At any rate, a millionaire family was looking for an exclusive cook and they wanted someone very skillful.
However, skilled cooks are typically already attached to somewhere, so finding a free one would be difficult. They also have ties of obligation to those places, so there's no way they would just thoughtlessly resign even if someone waves a high salary in front of them.
In other words, it was a perfect job for someone like me.
Serving as an exclusive cook in a mansion on a solitary island... that doesn't sound too bad.
Besides, I couldn't afford to be picky with my economical situation anymore. The status that would come with the job would satisfy my youthful pride, as well.
And so, I decided to participate in the selection process for the Ushiromiya family.
Besides me, more than 10 young cooks had gathered there.
To be honest, I may have been the oldest one there... I still thought of myself as young, but standing among of a bunch of truly young people ended up making me feel overly self-conscious.
The young cooks were also full of inspiration, however. With further experience they would grow into even better cooks.
In terms of experience, I really had the upper hand here.
My proficiency at customer service, which I had learned under the former head chef, was also greatly appreciated. The difference between a cook who coops up in the kitchen and a hotel chef who carries the dish himself to a VIP customer and even has a pleasant talk with them is clear as day.
That's why at first, based on the response I was getting, I felt like I would hired for sure.
...Nevertheless, there was also the possibility that they would prioritize hiring young people, based on reasons like "habits from other workplaces might cause issues".
In the end, it was all in god's hands.
Thus I became the cook in the exclusive service of the Ushiromiya family.
There's a part in my contract that states I'm strictly not allowed to serve food to anyone besides those connected to the family during my contract period, and that gave off a very <executive> feeling, stimulating my pride most of all.
My cooking mustn't be offered to anyone besides relatives of the Ushiromiya family...!
Not bad. And so began my second life in the mansion of Rokkenjima...
I'm sure it wouldn't be interesting if I just wrote on and on about my hardships as a cook and a servant. I'm not that interested in writing about it, either. Rather, I'd like to write about something interesting from my life at Rokkenjima.
And the most interesting thing there must be the legend of the Golden Witch, Beatrice.
BGM: WITCH IN GOLD
There was something different about this one, though.
Japanese ghost stories are typically about departed spirits, or the Japanese youkai. This one was about the Golden Witch, Beatrice-sama, so... it felt really out of place.
Admittedly, the Ushiromiya family mansion gives off such a sense of anachronism that even if a ghost wearing a triangle headband like Oiwa-san popped out, it would probably just make you snicker. Perhaps that ghost story was the perfect fit for this mansion.
They say that the Lady of the portrait, which is prominently displayed in the hall, wanders about the mansion every night. That Lady is the master of this mansion at night and if you fail to show proper respect to her, you'll suffer a terrible fate. Stuff like that.
From what I was told, some servant who had taken Beatrice-sama lightly and spoke ill of her apparently had to quit because of some serious injury.
...Well, that's how it goes. When misfortune strikes, it's all because of Beatrice-sama's curse.
That means that whenever something bad happens, it's not unlikely that people would start feeling like shifting the blame to the person that failed to pay proper respect. I understood that right away and made sure not to forget to show my reverence for Beatrice.
But in my thoughts I was sneering at her, thinking there's no way someone as ridiculous as that actually exists...
The senior servants blindly accepted this Beatrice ghost story.
Rather than being just a simple "show respect or you'll be cursed" kind of deal, it felt more like a real person had died an unnatural death in the past and was still being revered to this day...
Humans are funny creatures. Live among a group long enough and you'll eventually start feeling like they do.
At some point even I started feeling a shiver down my back whenever I passed by that huge portrait during my nighttime rounds, as if her eyes were glaring at me.
Even so, I still didn't think of it as anything more than a ghost story... At least, not at first.
The nighttime rounds are a lot of work because we're supposed to make sure that every door and window in the huge mansion is locked up. But since the family members are already asleep, it allows the servants to take a weight off their shoulders.
It happened on a night like that.
As I was passing through the hall I happened to notice a figure of a person, disappearing at the top of the grand staircase. I even heard the sound of footsteps.
I was kind of slacking off a little since I had thought that Master and Madam were already sleeping, so I hastily regained my composure and tensed up.
It had been a soft, fleeting figure, and so it left a vaguely feminine impression on me.
There was nobody among the servants with a silhouette like that, so I naturally assumed it must have been Madam or Milady. The silhouette had looked like maybe a négligée or something like that.
But the more I thought about it, the more it felt odd.
Madam is a very strict person and she's always saying that the corridors of the mansion were the same as public roads.
What she means by that is that people shouldn't be walking around the corridors in indecent clothing, such as a nightgown.
As a matter of fact, the Ushiromiya family members always dress formally, even in their own home.
A man should be able to relax in his home by wearing more comfortable clothing, but such logic doesn't apply to the Ushiromiya family.
Indeed, I've sometimes happened to see Madam reprimanding and lecturing Milady because of her unkempt clothes.
So, thinking about it carefully, that silhouette was definitely not something you would normally see in the mansion. The more I think about that figure, the harder it gets to imagine it was anybody from the mansion...
Who on earth was it that I saw...?
Could it really have been... Beatrice-sama...?
The place where I saw that figure was the hall. Right in front of Beatrice-sama's portait.
Now that some time has passed it's actually more unsettling to think about than back then.
Kanon was the temporary name of this servant boy who was permitted to wear the One-Winged Eagle.
Early on, I used to think I wouldn't be able to get along too well with him. Not that I think so any longer.
...Anyway, what I had witnessed was so unusual that I thought I should talk about it with him.
He had served here many years longer than I had... and knew a lot more about Beatrice-sama's ghost story... and yet, he was someone I could talk to from a slightly superior position.
I started the conversation with that in mind.
I wanted to talk to someone about my earlier experience.
It's not like I absolutely had to talk about it, but if I hadn't I wouldn't have been able to calm down.
Indeed, now I understand well the feelings of that barber who couldn't help shouting 'the King has donkey ears'...
"...I wonder if that might have been Beatrice-sama. ...Kanon-san, have you ever experienced anything like that?"
He was standing still and silent, staring at me with eyes that looked like they were evaluating me.
...Like a cat trying to decide whether to stay put or run away.
Just as I started wondering if he had flat-out ignored me, Kanon-san responded.
"...When I was on my shift doing the rounds one night... I saw a golden butterfly."
"A golden butterfly...? ...Don't they say that when Beatrice-sama is about to appear, they fly around to announce her...?"
That's how the story goes.
Butterflies that glitter like gold are said to be a sign of Beatrice's appearance.
It's similar to the will-'o-wisp that come out before a ghost appears.
"...Among the old servants, the golden butterflies are said to be the precursor to Beatrice-sama's appearance... and that if you follow after them, you might be able to meet Beatrice-sama, but it's also said that you should never do that."
"You didn't follow after them then, Kanon-san...?"
"That's right. ...Doing that would be disrespectful towards Beatrice-sama."
"...Wasn't there a servant that followed after them who had to quit due to a serious injury?"
"That's what I heard. ...It seems that Beatrice-sama is generous to those who respect her, but cruel to those who are disrespectful."
I got the feeling that Kanon-san thought that even just idly talking about Beatrice-sama was disrespectful... I felt like there was something more than just hatred towards me there.
"I'm sorry for wasting your valuable time. I'm sure I must have been mistaken... Perhaps it was Madam or Milady in a nightgown and I just misunderstood what I saw."
"...Neither Madam nor Milady would ever walk around the corridors in clothes like that."
"But I did see a figure like that. It was white... like a woman wearing a négligée or something."
"...I've never heard of Madam or Milady having any nightwear like that."
Maybe that contradictory answer had been the answer since the beginning.
That female figure had been neither Madam nor Milady.
...Perhaps it really had been Beatrice-sama after all.
It didn't make any sense. I didn't want to acknowledge that witches exist just because of something like that... I had to find out who that figure had been.
Those thoughts might have shown up on my face and Kanon-san must have noticed it, because he then spoke to me as though he was giving me a warning.
"Hahaha... No, no. That was not my intention at all."
"I... also used to doubt Beatrice-sama's existence."
"Oh? Is that right, Kanon-san?"
"Yes... I felt the same as you do now, Gohda-san. I had my doubts about this mysterious witch that the older servants kept on insisting over and over that I had to show respect for. ...I even planned on uncovering her true identity, should she have one."
That was unexpected.
Here I was thinking he blindly believed in Beatrice-sama, but now he was telling me he also used to doubt Beatrice-sama's existence.
...It piqued my interest.
"In that case, Kanon-san... why do you believe in her now?"
"......Because I was shown a miracle that... only a witch could perform. No, not a miracle. That was a warning. Beatrice-sama warned me because I had profaned her by doubting her existence."
"...Could you tell me more about it?"
He fell silent again.
At this point however, I wanted to resolve the uncertainy I felt, so I refused to drop the issue easily.
Eventually my persistence paid off and he began his tale about the 'incident' that caused him to believe in the existence of the witch...
Simply put, it went like this.
One day, he had been organizing the tools in the gardening storehouse, tidying the place up. He said that he forgot to return the storehouse key to the keybox in the servants' room and had gone to bed with the key still in his pocket.
The storehouse shutter can only be opened with a single special key. There are no master keys or spare keys for it.
In other words, nobody could have entered the storehouse that night.
Then came the next morning.
In order to take care of the rose garden, he opened the storehouse to pick up some tools. He was in for a surprise.
"That's absurd... If Kanon-san had the key the whole time, wouldn't the gardening storehouse have been a closed room? There's no way anybody could have made a mess inside the storehouse or drawn any weird shapes."
"...I could hardly believe it myself back then. I still can't forget the shock I felt when I opened the shutter and saw the state the storehouse was in. It was like a tornado had blown through it. There was that eerie magic circle too."
"...I'm sure that anyone would be distraught if that happened to them. However, we could also consider the possibility that it may have been an elaborate prank meant to frighten you."
"Yeah, that's right. You are young. Couldn't some other servants have just been teasing you by playing a prank like that?"
"...But I had the key. Nobody could have entered the storehouse on that particular night."
"Couldn't there still have been a spare key that you didn't know about, Kanon-san?"
"...No, there shouldn't be."
"Can you really assert that? Kanon-san, you may not believe there's a spare key, but it's impossible to prove that it 'does not exist'. The truth is that a spare key might exist without Kanon-san's knowledge. With that in mind, this mysterious storehouse incident can be explained as someone's prank."
I felt like I had become a great detective, just for a bit. Naturally, he had no objections.
It improved my mood and I blurted out disparaging remarks about Beatrice-sama.
There's no way witches exist. Surely it's all just misunderstandings, surely even the numerous mysterious incidents caused by the witch can be explained with some sort of coincidences, tricks or whatever.
...Upon hearing that, Kanon-san's eyes flew wide open. His facial expression was unforgettable.
He looked as though I had said something unforgivably dreadful... My careless comments seemed to scare him out of his wits.
His uncanny expression that I had caused by getting so carried away left a lasting impression in my heart, like a thorn...
For that reason, only a few people were scheduled to have their the work shifts that day. In fact, Genji-san and I were the only ones on duty.
"When the cat's out" and all that, isn't that what people say? I remember it was quite a carefree day.
Genji-san stayed in the servants' room the whole time, being very busy with paperwork.
In the meantime, I grabbed a can of beer and some persimmon seeds and secretly took a casual stroll through the rose garden, raising a toast to the roses. It really was a wonderful day and I found myself thinking it would be nice to have a day like that every week.
I mean, even preparing the meals was a task quickly finished, since I only had to make enough food for me and Genji-san.
And because the food didn't require much effort, cleaning up was equally simple. I used this rare opportunity to tidy up the whole kitchen even more diligently than usual, flashing a wide smile at the sparklingly clean sink.
It fell to Genji-san to do the nighttime rounds, so once I had finished I went to the servants' breakroom to take a leisurely shower and wash away the fatigue of the day. (Fatigue my foot, all I had done was have a drink in the rose garden...)
But then the telephone rang.
Getting a phone call this late was very surprising, so I thought it must have been something urgent.
Genji-san is the kind of person who thinks it's impolite to make a phone call in the middle of the night, so even if something urgent happened during the night he would rather go up to the other person's room to knock on their door than call them on the phone.
Since it must have been Genji-san who was calling, I picked up the receiver in a hurry while covering myself with a bathtowel, wondering what could possibly have been going on.
Yes, what is it? His reply was quite simple.
"...Please come to the kitchen as soon as possible. Hurry."
Genji-san's voice sounded uncharacteristically nervous.
I remember realizing just from the tone of his voice that something strange must have happened.
...But what on earth could it have been?
The kitchen is the most important position in this job for me. If something had gone wrong there, the responsibility would no doubt be mine... But could I, of all people, really have caused some kind of a blunder in the kitchen? Anyway, I changed back into my clothes and rushed to the kitchen.
And what I saw there... I doubt I'll ever be able to forget.
"I need you to help me. It's too much for me to manage alone."
As I was looking at that bizarre scene, I was all the more astonished that Genji-san's nervousness had only affected the tone of his voice...
At any rate... the kitchen, my pride and joy... that should have been tidied up and neatly organized... how could this have happened...?
The pots and bowls that I had polished to a silvery shine... were all piled up in a tall heap on the table... as if they were children's toy blocks.
And around that pile were ladles and other utensiles lined up in a radial pattern... How should I put it... At first impression it seemed like aboriginals had used the cookware to build a totem pole or something.
BGM: CLOSED MY HEART
Needless to say, it sent shivers down my spine...
That's when that thorn came back to my mind.
...This is it. This is what Kanon-san saw inside the gardening storehouse... It's the same thing...
"...Gohda. We mustn't let the other servants see this. Let's clean this mess up tonight."
"Th-tha-that's right... Let's clean it up... Wh-who could have done this...!"
It was weird to even say that aloud.
There was nobody on Rokkenjima that day besides me and Genji-san, after all.
I would never do something this stupid, so that means... the culprit is automatically Genji-san...
No, but wait... Genji-san would be the last person to do something as absurd as this, wouldn't he...?!
What is up with this messed-up prank?! Is he harassing me?! But Genji-san himself is cleaning it up with me. Scattering things around and then cleaning them up himself... would he really do something that pointless just to scare me tonight...?! That's unimaginable!
I tried figuring out the culprit behind this grotesque magic circle prank... but the only one I could think of was the Golden Witch, Beatrice.
"G-Genji-san, when did you notice this...?"
"I was on my way to the servants' room after finishing my rounds when I noticed that the kitchen door had been left open... I took a peek inside and saw this mess."
"Could it have been... a burglar...?!"
"Everything was without question locked up. Besides, no burglar would take the trouble to come all the way to Rokkenjima."
"Then... who could have done this...?!"
"......There's no need to investigate it. Anyway, Gohda, you clean up the pots. I'll erase this thing. By no means can we let anyone else lay their eyes on this graffiti."
"Ah, um... This is just what I heard from Kanon-san, but apparently something like this had happened before, in the gardening storehouse... D-does this kind of thing, uh... happen often...?"
That might have been something I shouldn't have asked.
Genji-san is the kind of person who won't stop moving his hands even when he needs to move his mouth, but this time he stopped in his tracks and lift his head with a stern look on his face...
"...Damn that Kanon. I told him not to talk about it."
"I-I'm sorry, please don't scold him! I was the one who insisted...! More importantly, please tell me...! Has this kind of, uh, stuff... happened before as well...?!"
"...Sometimes. It's just a prank."
"J-just a prank, you say, but who would...! I mean, there's nobody here but me and Genji-san, you know?! Who else could there be?! I certainly didn't do this! Genji-san, was it you?! That can't be right!! Then, what's going on here, who did this?!"
"...You shouldn't pry into it. Just be silent and clean up... And never say a word about this to anyone. Not even to the Master, not to mention Master, Madam or Milady either... Kanon will be punished later."
"I-I'll never ask again, so please...! Genji-san, would say this was done by Beatrice...?!"
"Do not say that name in vain."
It almost sounded like a threat.
At the same time, he seemed to be half-acknowledging that Beatrice-'sama' was behind this.
...Bizarre incidents like this... they're probably not limited to the gardening storehouse case either.
And each time they happen, they're dealt with and covered up before anyone from the family notices, no doubt...
"I'll watch my tongue, so... please tell me. Did Beatrice...sama... do this...?"
"......I think so. ...There have been even more incomprehensible incidents in the past. Things clearly impossible for a human being."
"...A young servant on a night shift once saw a golden butterfly and started following after it. She chased it up to the back door entrance, which was locked, but she lost sight of it and gave up."
"If I remember correctly... even if you see a golden butterfly, you're not supposed to follow after it, isn't that right...?"
"What?! You, you mean... That young servant chased after the golden butterfly, gave up... and by the time she turned around, they had already been drawn there? During the few seconds when she had her back to the walls?!"
"...She couldn't have overlooked the wall. She strongly asserted that there had been nothing drawn on the walls at first, and that it had all happened between the few seconds it took her to check that the back door was locked and to turn around and walk back."
"N-no-no way, you're kidding me... Hadn't it been just a joke between the servants...?"
"...She called for me and I went to help erase them... They were complex patterns. Certainly not something you could draw in just a few seconds or simply overlook. Soon afterwards that servant had a high fever. She was hospitalized and had to quit. I heard she moved back to her hometown after that. She hasn't contacted us since."
"...That's ridiculous... No-no, that might have been an elaborate prank as well! Or rather, perhaps that young servant herself was the culprit behind that prank in order to make fun of everyone, or something like that..."
"...I see, that's also a possibility... Let's stop this chitchat now... Although, I've also had first hand experience... with something that was definitely impossible for humans."
"Oh. W-what was it...?"
That's where Genji-san stopped talking... And after a long silence he decided to ignore me and resume cleaning...
For Genji-san, who is very strict regarding his work and, in that sense, a very pragmatic person, to keep his silence when it came to Beatrice...
His silence alone told me in a more eloquent way than a myriad of words ever could that witches do, in fact, exist...
BGM: DEAD ANGLE
Eventually, we finished cleaning everything up.
...Even if we said that there had been a weird totem pole and magic circle in the kitchen, I'm sure nobody would ever believe it.
Genji-san warned me again not to speak of it to anyone...
That night, I drank strong alcohol as I forced myself to forget what I saw.
After a while, I had convinced myself that it had all been just someone's ill-natured joke.
But even now I still sometimes feel frightened.
Such as when I enter the kitchen the first thing in the morning in order to make breakfast...
What if the cookware has been stacked into an eerie pile again? It scares me.
I shouldn't be thinking about this.
I'm hoping I'll be able to forget by writing this down.