Part 76: Madam Beatrice
October 5th, 1986, 12:21 AM
Rokkenjima had always been empty, except for the Ushiromiya Family household. So, checking that the doors and windows were all closed had no real purpose. However, ever since the time Natsuhi had condemned such an attitude as being careless, the nighttime rounds had become part of the servants' daily routine.
...In the first place, Natsuhi had ordered this because of the occasional witch disturbances. Everyone who came and left this island knew about the legend of Beatrice, the witch of the forest. It had become established as this island's characteristic ghost story. Because of that, it was only natural that some people would claim that, when they thought they were alone in the mansion, they would hear a strange sound or see the shadow of a person. However, when that created a little too much of a disturbance and reached Natsuhi's ears, she made a fuss, thinking that some suspicious person might have been entering and leaving. Apparently, she had roused all the servants and had them check throughout the mansion. Because all of that panic over the witch had happened before Gohda's arrival, he had only heard about it from the more senior servants.
Ghost stories like that could be found in any workplace. Even at the hotels and restaurants Gohda had worked at, there had been plenty of them. So when he heard about that story on this island, he'd given a forced smile, thinking 'Ah, so they have that kind of thing here after all'. That forced smile aside, he had figured that, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, and had taken it seriously. Gohda went along with it on the outside, but in his heart, he'd assumed it to be a childish trick. At first, that is.
He could understand how someone doing the rounds on an eerie night like this... might believe they'd seen a ghost if they saw a lace curtain waving in the breeze from a window that hadn't been closed.
"So, if you make fun of the witch of the portrait, there is a curse. It seems there was even a servant who received a serious injury and quit. Well, I wouldn't want that. Think of my age. I probably wouldn't be granted a workplace this hospitable again... Aaah. Witch of the portrait, I'm working sincerely, so please give me some peace."
Gohda prayed to the portrait, his hands together, as though he was at a Shinto shrine...
The kitchen? Was that the sound of something metal falling on the floor? Maybe a mouse or a cockroach had come out and knocked over some of the dishes. No, no, how could that be? It was usually cleaned thoroughly!
Thinking he'd check out what that noise really had been, Gohda entered the kitchen.
To a cook like Gohda, the sound felt like the lid on a pressure cooker or something shaking. Surely, there wouldn't be a pot on the burner when no one was in the kitchen. Even if someone was using the gas, walking away from it would be quite dangerous.
...Just in case, Gohda decided to inspect the area around the gas range...
When he did, in the corner with the gas range, the pressure cooker really had been set out, just as he'd thought. But the flame wasn't on. And yet, the lid was clanking... Was something fermenting and leaking gas? How could that be? Then was there a mouse or something inside? How could there be? Ridiculous...
When people were watching, Gohda acted as though he had a bold personality fitting for his build, but he actually had an unexpectedly timid side to him. He was frightened that there might be something inside, and he couldn't bring himself to check it carelessly... In his cowardice, ..he grabbed a nearby wooden pestle, and with a *clunk!* he tapped it a little forcefully against the side of the pressure cooker.
When he did, the clanking sound suddenly stopped. He should've been relieved that it had stopped, but the fact that it had stopped when he'd hit it was even more eerie, and made him even more suspicious about what was inside...
He repeated that many times, trying to build up his own confidence. The gap between what he was saying and what he was doing was quite comical.
"Who would believe in a witch, who would believe in magic or curses...? Come on, show me what you really are...! Take that!"
...He removed the lid of the pressure cooker.
...There was absolutely nothing frightening like he'd imagined.
"...Whew. Hahahaha, it's only natural. There's no way there could have been anything inside."
By now, Gohda realized that he had been a coward. So, while he still had some doubts as to what had caused the lid to make that sound, he figured it wasn't a big problem, and decided not to worry about it too much. Then he took the lid he'd grabbed... and softly set it back down where it had been. It's fine, it won't make a sound. Of course it won't. As if witches or magic could exist...!
BGM: Red Dread
All of the pots and dishes in the kitchen started clanking at once. It grew even stronger, so that finally, the lid to one of the pots fell off...!
Lids fell off the other pots one after another, and another, and another...
"Eeeeeeeeeepp!!! As if... as if witches could exiiiist!! As if I'd believe iiiiiiiiiit!!"
When the number of arms grew to seven, a loud, shrill laughter split the air.
"If you don't want him, I'll take him, he's all mine!!"
"Wait, I said nooooooooooo!! I'll take him!!"
"Huh?! Wha, whaa?!?! HYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!"
Kuhihihihi, first one wins, first one wins, right?!
Come on, search, search, find her, find her...!
Don't be noticed by the relatives in the dining hall, right?
And don't get noticed by the kids in the guesthouse, right?
Search in silence, kill in silence!
After all, it's still just the first twilight!
Hey, hey, I found her, I found her, she's in the rose garden.
Why's she standing around there without an umbrella?
She's already given up, all mine, all mine, all miiine!
You blockheads can just sit there and watch!
I told you, nooooooo, this one's miiiiiiiiiiiiine!!
Come on, if we take any longer, we'll be scolded by Beatrice-sama!
Let's take care of it all at once!
There, found her, surrounded her!
Come on, let's get along and do it all at once, okay?!
"...Wh-What is... this...?"
"...Just what is this... this old hag...?!"
"There's got to be some mistake!! One more time!!"
"...Why can she defend against us?!"
"Move aside! One more time!!!"
"...No matter how often you try, it won't work. This person... is good."
"...I am waiting for that child. Would you mind calling for her?"
"D-Do you really expect us to run errands for you like that?!"
"...After all, even I have manifested by now. I was certain that you had awakened."
"Ronove, it's been a long time. Yes, truly, a long time."
"This person's talking to Ronove-sama without using 'sama'...!"
"...And... it's been a long time since I've seen you too... Beatrice."
"Sh-She's not even using 'sama' for Beatrice-sama..."
"The previous... Lady Beatrice..."
Then, after she was wrapped in a golden sparkle, she burst and disappeared, and Kumasawa's form was no longer there.
Her hair was long, beautiful, and vividly youthful, and her figure in that elegant dress couldn't possibly have been mistaken for an old lady... No, this looked like a completely different person from Kumasawa.
"...Well, well, Teacher. I never even dreamed that we would meet each other again."
"Yes, neither did I. I certainly never dreamed that my sleep would be disturbed."
"Such a troublesome time for you to awaken. If you'd remained asleep as usual, the first twilight could have ended without much trouble. Or perhaps I should be glad you're here. I was just getting a tad bored."
"...As usual, it seems you're toying with sinless people in a vulgar game. I believe I taught you several times that the power of the Endless Witch mustn't be used to cause people trouble."
"Don't say that, Teacher. Isn't boredom our natural enemy? This is just a little spice to escape from that."
"...Tch. The more the corrosion advances, the stronger my power becomes, and the easier it becomes to summon my minions. But who would have thought it would release the seal on you, Teacher, at the same time..."
"It's precisely because I predicted such a thing would happen... that I slept so very close to where you were. Though, I prayed in my sleep that I would not be woken again. Being reunited with you like this is a very sad thing for me."
"You're as cunning as always, Teacher... *cackle*..."
"...Certainly, Madam Beatrice."
"I have already passed that name on to this child. Come now, step back, furniture girls. I may give warnings a second time, if you did not listen to the first. However, do not expect to receive a third..."
"...Step back, Seven Sisters of Purgatory. If you get dragged into this, only dust will remain..."
After that, what remained was the Beatrice whose daring expression didn't falter... and the teacher Beatrice, who had given up that name and wore a composed smile...
"Well then, Teacher, what tea shall I prepare for our long-awaited reunion?"
"Let's see. This reunion was longer in coming than the visit of a comet. Perhaps I will accept your hospitality. And if it seems a mistake has been made, I'll have you return my name and the title of Endless Witch."
"*cackle*cackle*! So, even the title of Endless Witch has a license renewal policy?"