A single cigarette glowed in the darkness.
“Come on, hurry up and do it already,” he dared the grade school-aged boy, whose nerve-wracked face, not yet grown out of its childhood roundness, emerged out of the darkness in the tiny dot of cigarette light.
“...What, you scared?”
The boy’s hands were shaking, his face stiff with terror. He whispered into the boy’s ear, a jeering smile at the corners of his lips, “Are you that afraid of hurting your own body? Is it really that scary, burning yourself?”
The boy froze, the cigarette in his right hand hovering over the back of his left. That tiny cigarette end easily topped four hundred degrees Celsius.
“...You’re still just a baby,” he snorted a laugh, grabbing the boy’s hand. “This is how you do it.”
He pressed it with the cigarette down against his own left hand.
The cry had come from the boy. The heat flashed through the top of his head. He shut his eyes tightly and endured in silence. They smelled burnt skin.
The terrified boy jumped back and stared at him. The cigarette fell to the ground, scattering ash. Pressing against his burnt left hand, he sucked in a tight breath and smirked at the boy, eyes flashing.
“If you can’t even do this, then you’ve got no right hanging around here, kid. Why don’tcha go on home and get into the bath with your mama like the baby you are?”
Looking more afraid of him than of what he had just done, the boy backed away and quickly disappeared. He slumped back against the wall, right hand pressed against the throbbing burn on his left as the boy’s footsteps rapidly receded.
“...Ha. What a weakling.”
He looked blankly out into the darkness at the sound of his name. Mitsui, at eighteen his senior by four years, stood in front of the garage looking at him.
“Drove that crew-cut out already, huh? Thought I’d finally get to debut him, but you keep running ’em off.”
“That kid’s way too soft.”
Mitsui gave him a faint, amused smile.
“First graders are supposed to be soft. You not goin’ home? It’s past midnight.”
“I’m here because I don’t wanna go home,” Takaya retorted, lighting a new cigarette in a well-practiced gesture. “Who’d wanna ever go back there? Fucking bastard.”
“... You’ve got a younger sister, don’t you? You gonna just leave her with your old man after he has a few? That’s pretty rough, man.”
“Miya went to stay with our neighbors a week ago.”
“Go see her, then.”
Takaya sighed, exhaling cigarette smoke, and glared up at Mitsui. “What the hell are you complaining about? Why don’t you stop sticking your nose into other people’s business and go have some drinks inside?”
“... Humph, look at the junior high brat trying to talk back like he’s on the same level as us.”
Mitsui sat down next to him and held out a plastic bag containing a small amount of a clear liquid.
“Pity you don’t drink. Guess this is the only thing left if you can’t get drunk.”
Takaya looked coldly at the bag, then snorted a laugh and took it. He pressed his mouth against the opening and inhaled the vapor inside. The familiar intoxication spread from his head to his chest, then throughout his body.
“... You got anything better?”
He fixed cold, glazed eyes on Mitsui.
“I know some guys who’ve got some uppers. I’ll put you in touch if you wanna do it.”
“You just want a lab rat ’cause you don’t wanna do it yourself. Humph, what a coward.”
“Damn right. I’m just a bystander who enjoys watching fools making a mess of themselves. I’m looking forward to seeing how far you’ll fall.”
“... Guess I’ll fulfill your expectations then,” Takaya sneered. “Just keep laughing at me.”
“Hmn. My room’s free, you can use it if you’re cold. We’ve got girls over in the garage, so it’s getting crowded. You don’t like that kinda stuff, do you?”
“If you’re gonna be mixing it up, you’d better let me have a piece of the action.”
“Drop the act. When you’re ready to throw your virginity away, I’ll be sure to give you a personal lesson.”
Takaya snorted, eyes glassy. “Screw you, jerk.”
“I’m gonna shut that fresh mouth of yours up, too.” Mitsui crouched and yanked Takaya’s head up by the hair. “...Go wait in my room,” he said, and went back into the garage. Eyes following him, Takaya took another deep breath from the plastic bag. His shoulders began to shake as he laughed, immersed in a feeling of well-being, his head tilted back against the wall.
“Who the hell wants to get screwed by you?” he sniggered, eyes heavy, no longer feeling the pain from the burn on his left hand. He leveraged himself upright, swaying as he stared at the blurring lights of the city glowing from the darkness.
He had nowhere to go.
Would he rather die like this by the side of the road? he wondered as he started walking unsteadily. The Orion constellation twinkled in the cold sky. Was it that late already?
His parents had gotten divorced about a year and a half ago, right around the time he entered junior high. His father had gone berserk when he had lost his business with a large loan still unpaid and started binge-drinking on a daily basis. His mother, unable to endure the violence in that horrible house, had divorced his father. She was now remarried and living in Sendai.
Ougi Takaya was currently a second year student at Fukashi Junior High School, and his younger sister Miya was still in elementary school. His father had repaid about half of the loan after selling the house, but his prospects for repaying the other half were slim to none. He had gone downhill again recently and was now obsessing over some woman, even bringing her home some days.
He erupted into violence at the smallest provocation and took everything out on his children. Even as he endured the cursing and swearing and abuse, Takaya had resolved to take Miya out of that house. That had happened a week ago.
After Miya had been taken in by their neighbors, Takaya had stayed with various acquaintances. But he didn’t have that many friends, and had finally ended up at this garage.
As usual, his father was drinking. After the divorce, he had managed to get re-employed several times, but had never been able to continue for long, and spent what little money he earned on alcohol and women.
They fought whenever they saw each other. Takaya would have borne it if his father had only taken it out on him, but he could not forgive him for raising his hand against even Miya. And then he had brought a woman home. Takaya had lain sleeplessly through the night to the sound of his father’s obscene bellows coming right from the next room, and at dawn, looking at Miya’s face streaked by tears even in her sleep, had desperately held back a killing rage.
How many days had it gone on like that?
He couldn’t hope for anything from his relatives or the other adults around him. They had turned their backs as soon as money became involved; he could ask them for nothing. He had not the least intention of doing so.
Only—he had Miya. He had to protect his sister, no matter what it took. The home which should have been his sanctuary had become a battleground that held no place of rest. He had taken up smoking to calm nerves stretched to the breaking point and adopted a tough fa?ade outside to cover up the injuries he received at home.
He had met Mitsui, leader of the largest gang in the area, last winter. Mitsui would be in his third year of senior high now if he had continued school, but had dropped out after the first year. Takaya didn’t know what he did during the day, but had heard that he was a fringe part of some mafia group and ran errands for them. He gathered his gang by night at the garage and threw wild parties with girls and drinking. Takaya had met him when he’d gotten into a fight with one of the gang members; afterwards, he became the only junior high member of the group to talk to Mitsui on an equivalent basis. Stealing, extortion, and motorcycle-riding were some of the things they had taught him.
But Takaya, who had always been something of a lone wolf, had never enjoyed doing things with other people, and could often be found smoking or inhaling paint thinner by himself, off in his own world. Rather than wanting to be with Mitsui’s gang, he seemed to simply want somewhere to be.
Before he realized it, he found himself with cigarettes and a cheap knife constantly in his pockets—though he had only ever hurt someone with the knife once. That person had been Mitsui, who had stepped in to stop the fight between Takaya and his underling. Mitsui still bore that scar above his eye. That was the only time he had actually used the knife against another person, but somehow it made him feel better just to have it with him.
Even now Takaya’s hand was wrapped around its hilt in his pocket.
Takaya left Mitsui’s garage and tottered alone down the dark streets.
Insulated by the thinner he had inhaled, Takaya didn’t feel the cold of MatsumotoMatsumoto City (松本市)
The largest city in Nagano Prefecture, Matsumoto is surrounded by mountains and is acclaimed for its beautiful views.’s November wind. Or perhaps it was the simmering hatred he felt towards his father as his hallucinations called to mind the beatings he had received.
(All of this...is because of him.)
He griped the knife in his pocket tightly. Tonight, Takaya thought.
Miya was no longer there. He could go back to the house and kill the bastard tonight.
I can never escape from him. So long as he’s my father, so long as he’s alive, I can’t run away from him like Mom did.
He would be captured after killing his father, sent to the juvenile detention center...there was no path ahead of him that did not lead downward. But there would never be any worth to his life anyway, so he might as well kill the bastard. Better for Miya that way, too.
(Nobody needs me.)
He glared up at Sirius twinkling in the night sky with murder in his eyes.
I’ll kill him...
A car passed him, and for a moment its lights fascinated and dazzled him. He returned its taillights’ glower as the cold winter wind swirled up from beneath his feet to ruffle his hair.
He tied the knife hilt tightly to his right hand with a handkerchief and concealed it in his pocket. His mind, seething with thoughts of murder, took no notice of the frozen wind from the north.
(Once you’ve killed one person, is there any difference in killing two or three...?)
Why not stab the ones he passed along the way too?
He climbed the dark hill road, dizzy from the thinner.
His mind circled back continuously to images of his father’s swinging fists. The way he’d been punched and kicked into ragged tatters for expressing the slightest opinion. The way he’d been hit again and again for a hate-filled glare out of a bloody face. “I’ll not have you looking at me like that!” his father had yelled. Miya had been screaming. “Dad, stop! Please stop!” He’d truly thought that he was about to die when his father had raised the kitchen knife. He’d been so terrified that he couldn’t even run. That was when the neighbors, concerned about the noise, had entered to intervene.
He trembled with humiliation and fear. There were too many such memories.
All of it was his fault, he snarled into the night. All of it, that bastard’s fault.
(I’m gonna kill him.)
For an instant fallen and scattered leaves formed a black beast in the darkness. Startled, he reflexively whipped the knife out of his pocket before realizing that it existed only in his imagination. Breathing a sigh of relief, he took a step and stumbled against a crack in the pavement. He fell forward, unable to catch himself, and landed with the point of his own knife right in front of his eyes, its chill glint sending a shiver down his back.
He snapped out of his daze, disgusted with his shameful fear. Was this what someone supposedly on his way to committing a murder should look like...?
Lying where he had fallen, he laughed wretchedly at himself for his hopelessly pathetic bumbling. This jumping at shadows was evidence of his own ridiculous cowardice.
(I’m just a stupid kid...) he mocked himself bitterly.
Nothing but a pathetic little wet-behind-the-ears kid.
As quiet fell once more around him, he suddenly heard what sounded like someone sobbing.
He strained his ears, and—yes, he was sure of it. Even in his dazed state it made him get up and look around, wondering what was going on so late at night. He was in a residential area, and pretty much everyone was quietly asleep in the houses around him. There weren’t many with light still on. But he heard that convulsive sobbing again, quite clearly, from one of the houses in front of him.
(Could it be an auditory hallucination...?)
He finally found the house in question and walked up to it. It was completely dark. The voice seemed to be coming from the garden, and he peered into it through the fence.
The sobbing was coming from a crouched boy who looked to be around junior high school age.
(What’s with him...?)
What was this kid doing at this time of night? he wondered, mystified. Was he a ghost? He shivered.
The boy turned as he sensed Takaya’s presence, and the streetlights illuminated his face.
This was no ghost.
(What the? He...)
He looked familiar.
(He was in my class last year...)
Takaya couldn’t immediately put a name to the face. The boy was the first to speak.
He looked just as surprised as Takaya. The sound of his voice triggered Takaya’s memory.
Hurriedly scrubbing his tear-streaked face with a sleeve, Narita Yuzuru stood.
“Why were you crying...?”
“I-I wasn’t crying.”
Yuzuru still looked young enough that he had often been mistaken for an elementary school student until just recently, though he was in his second year of junior high. They’d been in the same class in their first year, but had spoken pretty much not at all. Ougi Takaya could barely put a name to Yuzuru’s face, since he’d started skipping school on a regular basis midway through and probably couldn’t even properly be called a classmate. —Narita Yuzuru, on the other hand, knew somewhat more about Takaya, who was, after all, a rather conspicuous student. Actually, there were few in the school who didn’t know him—or rather, of him and his reputation for being first on the problem children list.
(Why is he here?) both of them wondered, staring at each other. Takaya suddenly realized—
“Oh, right, I guess this is your house, huh?” He pondered for a moment. “So why were you crying?”
Yuzuru glared at Takaya, eyes bright red. His eyes caught at something behind Yuzuru: a mound which looked like it had something buried inside.
“What is that...?”
Yuzuru turned slightly and replied, “My bird’s grave—...”
“Your bird...? So that...” Takaya returned, looking completely nonplussed, “that’s what you were crying over?”
Yuzuru rubbed at the corners of his eyes again and sniffled. “She’s not a ‘that’. She’s been with me for a long time. Is it that weird that I’m crying over her?”
“It is that weird, stupid,” Takaya answered in amazement. And here he’d been wondering what was going on, so late at night. He felt like an idiot, and it infuriated him. Were there really junior high students who still cried like this over a dead bird in the middle of the night?
“If you’re gonna cry over something like that, then you’d have to cry all night long if you had roast chicken for dinner, wouldn’t you? You still in elementary school or what? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself at all?”
“Shut up!” Yuzuru scowled fiercely at him. “You’ve got no right to talk like that when you don’t know anything! Sure she was just a bird, but I loved her! She was finally going to lay eggs, but because I didn’t help her in time...! If I’d noticed and treated her, she wouldn’t have died...! It was my fault, that’s why—!”
Takaya looked at Yuzuru, slightly surprised. Yuzuru suddenly recalled who he was talking to. He shrank slightly into himself.
Takaya stared at the bird’s grave. His right hand tightened slightly on the knife hidden in his pocket. —What the hell?
Why the hell did he have to meet someone like this when he’d been on his way to killing his own father? Someone crying outside on a cold night just because he’d let a bird die...
Takaya was truly angry. Beyond angry.
“You’re an idiot. It’s not like she was a woman.”
“What a baby. Look at you sprouting waterfalls for a bird. Anything alive is gonna die someday, moron. They die when it’s time for them to die. If you’re gonna cry and scream over every little thing, then you’ll never stop.”
“Wh, what did you say?!”
“You know I’m right, blockhead. There’s lots of scum the world’d be better off without. They should all just go and die already. Then nobody’d have to look after them, and they’d stop bothering everyone. The world would be a much better place. They should all die, every one of them should just drop dead!”
“You...” Yuzuru said haltingly as if he had somehow seen right through Takaya—“what are you carrying in your pocket?”
Yuzuru’s round eyes were looking straight at him. He inadvertently looked away and pushed the knife deeper into his pocket.
Then Takaya’s eyes flashed again, and he glared warily at Yuzuru. It frightened Yuzuru a little, but even so he asked timidly, “Is it that...you can’t go home?”
Takaya’s shoulders quivered as if he’d been struck. Yuzuru approached him. “Do you...not have anywhere to go?”
Though nervous, there was also worry in Yuzuru’s voice. “Aren’t you...cold? If you are...”
This kid pitied him, he suddenly thought. Takaya abruptly turned his back on Yuzuru and started walking away.
“Um, wait. Ougi!” Yuzuru hurriedly climbed over the fence and chased after him. “Wait! Wait a moment!”
Takaya ignored him and kept going.
Yuzuru unexpectedly pulled on his right arm, and his hand wrenched out of his pocket. Yuzuru’s eyes abruptly widened. Takaya’s feet stopped for a moment.
(He saw it...!)
He thrust Yuzuru off with all his might, and Yuzuru staggered away with a shriek, releasing Takaya’s arm. Takaya started running. He wanted to get away from Yuzuru just as fast as he could. He ran until he could no longer hear Yuzuru’s voice. He had come to a small park.
He struck his right hand against a wall again and again, the knife in it clutched so tightly for so long that his fingers would not loosen their grip. He beat his hand against the wall until the handkerchief securing the knife to his hand was stained red with blood—until the handkerchief slipped off in the same instant the knife broke at the hilt with a clink. It grazed past Takaya’s cheek and fell to the ground.
He looked at the knife blade, panting.
(He saw this...)
Not simply the knife, but his repugnance towards it. His gutlessness. Yuzuru had seen through to his weakness.
He fell to his knees on the ground, still staring at the broken knife.
He hit the ground with his fists. He couldn’t bear it. He couldn’t stand that a kid like that, a sheltered brat, had seen his weakness. His cowardice disgusted him.
(I’m not gonna let him get away with it!)
He couldn’t let it end like this. If he didn’t do something to that kid—that’s right, see if he didn’t erase him...!
He whirled at the voice calling his name. Narita Yuzuru stood beneath the park’s street lamps, out of breath. That he had followed Takaya here startled him for a moment, but he immediately fixed Yuzuru with a hate-filled glare.
Yuzuru, transfixed by fear, could only manage in a small voice, “Ah...um...”
“What did you come here for?” he snarled as menacingly as he could, but in reality it was Takaya himself who was afraid. “Go home, you stupid moron, or I’ll beat you to a pulp.”
“But, your hand, it’s bleed...”
“Did you not fucking hear me? I’m gonna beat you up!”
The threat achieved its desired effect, and Yuzuru backed away and left the park. Takaya bit his lip hard. His fists, clenched so tightly that they were bloodless, trembled. Someone like that had seen his weakness, the side of himself that no one else had even glimpsed. This cowardice which he refused to admit to anyone... The knife which was its flip side, the secret no one else knew about.
It was utterly humiliating that someone like that had guessed it—had seen it...!
His killing hatred towards his father, which had held him so tightly in its controlling grip, evaporated. The humiliation that had seized him was so strong that it had wiped away every other feeling. It immediately transformed into a perverse one-sided hate towards Yuzuru.
Clawing at the ground as his wounded pride howled, Takaya shot a glare burning with hatred into the darkness.
(That little punk...)
Sirius’ light pierced the empty sky.
The cold wind snapped against his skin and roared past his ears.