The next time I woke up, the sun was already high in the sky. Awoken by the almost mad-sounding chirping of the cicadas, my head felt heavier than usual and I struggled to move my tense, heavy-feeling body, going to check out the store.
"You're awake, Ryoko?"
"Ah, Dad. Sorry, my body felt like lead and I couldn't move... How's the store? Is it shut? Is it because I was asleep? You should've woken me..."
"No, you're fine... Just... Ah, the shop is fine, too. Are you feeling ill? You should rest all day today. And there's... the ritual, too. Everyone in the village is especially busy, so there's no work. You should stay home, too. Take it easy. That would be best..."
Was the sadness I thought I could see in his eyes behind his usual kind words just my imagination? The village ritual? To take the day off from work because of that... Nothing like this had ever happened before. That was when it happened. A loud sound came from the house phone. Seeming somehow surprised and confused, my father picked up the receiver. One or two words were exchanged at a time, in short sentences, and then he told me with a stern face to go back to my room... and not to leave the house today, then quickly left. What could be going on...? Something definitely felt strange. With my father... and with me.
Perhaps my brother had gone out somewhere too, because the house was filled with silence, and I sat absentmindedly down and let it wash over me. I felt like a memory was coming to the surface, but I couldn't remember what it was... I felt like I had forgotten something important. But when I tried to think about what it was, my headache came back. Not only that, though. The closer I felt I was getting to the memory, the more pain began to shoot through the backs of my eyes and my chest...
I could hear the sound of something ringing inside my heavy head.
"Ah... The phone?"
Dragging my heavy-as-lead body along, I picked up the receiver.
"R-Ryoko! Is that you, Ryoko!? ...Is someone there right now?"
"Toshi? No, there's no one here. Why are you all flustered?"
"Is... everything okay with your body? Do you... do you remember anything about yesterday?"
"Uh, n-no... I... think I'm okay. Yesterday... Yesterday I met with you and Nobukuni... Ow. S-sorry. Whenever I try to remember, my head hurts... I can't think of anything. But why?"
"...Nevermind. Listen, Ryoko. Something is weird about this village. I don't know what this important ritual is, but the people of this village are hiding something bad. I spent all of yesterday thinking about it. I have no definitive proof, and I don't know why they're doing it... But I do know that if you stay in Tsukuyomi your condition will only get worse and worse. So let's get out of here. I'll take you back to Tokyo with me. Even if you don't like it... I'll do it. I have no choice."
"But Toshi, that... I'd like that."
"There's no time for hesitating, Ryoko. Have you... Did you hear about Nobukuni?"
"Huh? What happened to him?"
"Nobukuni is... He's dead. Not dead - killed."
"But the villagers won't say anything. They just ask who told me that. My parents, my family... yours, too... they've all gone mad! So... let's get out of here together. There has to still be time. Being in this village, you... The next to be killed, like Nobukuni... I'm an outsider now, like he was, so... I might be the next to be killed."
"Toshi... There's no way..."
"I know that what I'm saying is hard to believe, I do. But... Something about this village is insane, that much is true. Have I ever lied to you before? Believe me! So let's run. Let's get away from Tsukuyomi, together! And let's get married. You... will be my bride. I'll... I'll protect you."
I'd never heard Toshi in such a flap before. He told me casual jokes, but I'd never seen him lie or take responsibility for people... I believed him. It was true that since Toshi and Nobukuni had come home, and everyone started talking about the ritual, I felt like something strange had started happening to my body. And though I knew nothing about what had supposedly happened to Nobukuni, something in the way Toshi spoke caught me... Why...?
As my thoughts jumbled around in my head, Toshi's voice came through the receiver. "Come to the station tonight, and don't let anyone see you. If you really want to, I'll take you straight back with me... But I'm sure you're being guarded. Did they tell you not to leave the house? ...My family used the feast as an excuse for me not to go out. Something must be going on today. So..."
We discussed meeting up at the station at night, and then I hung up. And then, as I was going to put the phone down... Stab stab stab... Boom boom boom... throb throb throb... Throb throb throb... Boom boom boom... The awful, bottomless pain assaulted my body...
Chatter... chatter... chatter...
...The moon has told me... It is time...
The sacrifice... who has forgotten herself...
That innocent young girl... Tonight... It's tonight...
With her young... beating heart... I....
The moon will tell me... Teach me the future... of this village...
Her heart... and both eyes... and then...
Yes... One more... ...Her mouth!
Tonight... take the sacrifice... to that place!!!
That night. In order to fulfil the promise I made to Ryoko that afternoon, I was at Tsukuyomi Station around the time of the last train. The lights were on, but the station building seemed somehow gloomy. The heavy midsummer humidity settled on the platform, making the blood-red bench seem to glow strangely in the dim light.
...She was late. The slightly early meeting time I'd told her had passed, and Ryoko still hadn't appeared. What was wrong? Was she okay...? What if something had happened, like yesterday...? Thinking this I was unable to contain myself and hurried back to see her. I ran down the steep stairs from the station, which was on high ground, and rushed along the meandering mountain path. The damp, humid air clung to my body.
Even when the houses came into sight, as usual there was no sign of life... But I definitely felt unrest in the air. The moon shone with a brilliant glow. A house somewhere had its lights on, but it didn't seem like a family gathering. Come to think of it... When I slipped out of my house earlier and went to the station by a path around the back... I thought I recalled seeing a group of people from the council hurrying off somewhere. ...The ritual? Could something really be happening tonight?
As I surveyed my surroundings with unease, from my hiding place I heard voices and footsteps.
"...Preparations have been made... For that influenced girl, too..."
"Tsukuyomi... We must hurry... is waiting... The memorial service..."
The girl? The influenced girl? Who...? Hearing those words I remembered how Ryoko had been yesterday, and was taken aback. Could it be her they were talking about?
I hurried after the voices... the villagers proceeding with speed, so that I wouldn't lose sight of them. As I desperately chased them through the darkness, I didn't even know where I was anymore. Through the forest, brushing past plants, by a stone passageway created for some unknown purpose, then up some steps... I arrived at a mysterious building that I had no idea was even in the village. Without hesitation, the villagers stepped inside a door that had been left open. I followed them, and peeked through a gap in the door. And as I did so...
There stood several candles, surrounded by villagers with their faces covered, crowded around... Standing before a stone dais, that looked just like an altar, was Ryoko in a loose-fitting white outfit, and I could see her face in profile. Ryoko watched an old woman on the other side of the altar while slowly, barely perceptibly shaking her head, seeming to be in a trance.
(This is... the ritual? Ryoko's in it?)
Casually taking a better look at the encircling villagers' faces... I saw that they were Ryoko's father, and mine... and Nobukuni's father... They were the family heads who participated in council, and the men who had been there when Nobukuni was killed.
Ryoko was in danger! As soon as I instinctively knew this, I quickly opened the door and pushed the villagers apart, shoving my way through, and ran up to the altar. But Ryoko stayed in her trance, muttering deliriously.
"Hey! Ryoko! It's me! It's me!"
"I'm... Toshi's... bride... Toshi's... Today... Wedding..."
I couldn't hide my impatience and irritation at Ryoko not seeming to notice me. I grabbed onto her arm and held her as her relaxed body swayed violently.
"Hey! What's wrong, Ryoko? Snap out of it! Please! It's me!"
"...'Me'? Who? ...Toshi?"
Ryoko finally turned her head towards me, and looked at me with unfocused eyes.
"That's right, it's Toshio! You know that, right?"
That's when it happened! Ryoko's eyes flew wide open, and in a flash her beautiful face was warped with fear...
Emitting a piercing shriek, she broke free from my grasp with a sudden strength I didn't know where she'd got.
"No, no! You're not Toshi! Toshi is over there. My Toshi is..."
Again she became fixated on my face, and exclaimed: "You're... Nobukuni, aren't you! Why are you here? Today is me and my darling Toshi's wedding! Isn't this a beautiful wedding outfit? Toshi asked me to marry him. So... don't get in the way! I won't let you get in the way anymore! Hurry up and leave, and... don't come back ever again!"
W-what...? Didn't she recognise my face? Shocked, I stood there in silence... and then the shadows encircling the altar that I had pushed my way through all had the same wide, bloodshot eyes as Ryoko, mumbled angrily and began to walk forwards, surrounding me silently. Perhaps they had it hidden on them, but they had something dimly shining in their hand, and brought it down...
I didn't know who hit me, but a heavy impact ran through my back. I heard the cracking sound of a bone inside my body breaking. It suddenly hurt to breathe... My mouth flapped open and closed unconsciously...
"Take care of him later! Continue the Rite of Clairvoyance..."
The cold, deep voice rang out as my consciousness gradually slipped away... It was that old woman's... I gathered my waning strength and looked over towards the altar.
"...Oh, the moon... The moon is trying to tell me something... Give me power! Bring the sacrifice's heart here! Bring her eyes here! And bring the innocent young lady's mouth... trembling with the agony of death... here!"
As though abiding by these words, still appearing in a trance, Ryoko in her white clothing lay down on the altar. The man standing beside the old woman, apparently guarding her, stood before Ryoko with a happy-looking expression on his face. Then, he rose the heavy, glinting blade in his hand high... And brought it down with all his might, piercing Ryoko's stomach! Slash! Slash! Squish!
As Ryoko's body was being sliced up, she jerked around on the altar... Taking no notice of this, the man reach into her bloody stomach and rooted around, tearing at something with his knife... He held up some writhing red-black mass in his palm, and handed it to the old woman.
An eerie smile appeared on the old woman's face, and she quietly took the red-black ball... ...and chomped down on it... ...and nibbled on it.
As blood squirted out from the mass, the same entranced expression as Ryoko had appeared on the old woman's face. The man beside her moved from Ryoko's mutilated stomach to her face, and using the knife he chopped off her mouth, before pulling out both her eyes with his fingers...
I couldn't think anymore... But... but... I watched the one I loved become a hunk of meat, just like Nobukuni, without doing a thing... I didn't know what was going on. All I felt was some kind of squelchy sensation flowing through me...
And then the old woman, covered in blood splatters and her mouth stained dark red, announced as though chanting, while glaring at the villagers: "The 15th of August 1985... The 72nd Tsukuyomi announces! The 73rd Tsukuyomi... The 74th Tsukuyomi..."
Now I could only catch bits and pieces of the voice... My final memory was the old woman, giving off a stench and standing before the hunk of meat, going silent. What was Tsukuyomi? Why Ryoko? Why would...? Tsukuyomi Village... My beautiful hometown... In my head, as my consciousness faded out... I remembered my beloved Ryoko's smile...