My brother disappeared right before my eyes...
Just thinking about it made Miku feel like what was in front of her had been sealed away behind a heavy door. Mafuyu, her only remaining relative after her mother's death, had vanished. Mr. Takamine, to whom Mafuyu was an apprentice, had gone missing at this mansion. When Mafuyu learned of this he became concerned about his benefactor, and itching to do something he came here.
Just like Miku, Mafuyu had a sixth sense. Just getting close to the mansion, he should had felt its odd, intense aura that pained her heart. But even still, he'd gone inside, and then disappeared. If a person she loved were drowning, even though she couldn't swim, she would dive in. Even knowing she couldn't help them, she would drown with them. That was the kind of person she was. Even herself, she knew that Mafuyu didn't know how to talk to her, and that he suffered due to it.
Since her mother's suicide, Miku had become increasingly isolated from others. It wasn't by choice. She couldn't open up. For some reason, whenever she lay herself bare, her relationship with people she considered friends would simply break down, and she would be shunned by her circle of friends. She'd known that for a long, long time. She had known it since she was just a child.
"Kagome, kagome, the bird in the cage, when will you come out? In the evening of the dawn, the crane and turtle slipped. Who stands right behind you now?"
As always, Miku knew that someone was standing behind her. This had only surprised her playmates at first. After that, they looked at her doubtfully and call out that she was a cheater. When she tried to prove that she wasn't cheating, her friends would suddenly run away before she noticed. When she approached them, they looked at her indifferently and left. Not understanding why, she would chase after them, and they were cruel to her. Hated her. Teased her. They were always gunning for her, to the point of bullying.
And Miku realised that she was the demon in a game of demon tag. We weren't actually playing, but I was really the demon. Even though she hated being the demon, in real life she was forced into it... how deeply had that wounded her? People who haven't experienced it wouldn't understand. So Miku hid herself. Hid her demon self... No, that's wrong. I never thought of her as a demon. But it can't be explained to other people, so she could give no explanation or comprehension, and in the end it would just repeat so she said nothing.
When our mother committed suicide, too, I understood well how she felt. For Miku, a child, how many times had she wanted to do the same thing? How many times had she thought about it? How much had our fully-grown mother suffered? Just thinking about it made me feel overwhelmed. I thought it would be incredibly imprudent if I said this to someone, but the two things I wanted to say to my mother were "Thank you" and "I'm glad you're at peace now".
Somehow, not even once had Miku wanted to die.
As I recalled the past, my mood grew gradually darker. Even still, she was all alone, lonely, in this mansion with its strange atmosphere.
With each step she took, the floor creaked. I felt Miku's fear as she was giggled at. And sometimes, I saw them. Things that normally can't be seen. The moment she turned the corner of the hallway, opened her pretty round eyes wide, standing still and pressing both hands to her mouth. Five, six metres ahead stood a woman in loose white Japanese clothing. Her long, waist-length hair floated around her like she was rising up from out of water. Her thin body staggered, like she was about to fall over. What surprised me more than anything was her eyes. They had been crushed by something, her black, dribbles of black blood oozing from her hollow eye sockets. She held both arms out in front of her, dragging her feet as she walked.
"Wheere... where are you..." the woman muttered, in a voice like shaking silver paper.
"Demon..." Miku murmured, reflective.
Even amidst the overwhelming fear, the woman's lonely, wandering figure caused memories of when she herself was the demon to appear. The woman didn't fail to hear her voice. Like being pulled along by a thin rope, she suddenly turned in Miku's direction and quietly got closer. Her steady footsteps from when she had been wandering quickened as she set Miku in her sights, speeding up like she was being attracted to her.
"No... don't come near me!" Her eyes opened wide and she turned her head to the side.
No, I'm not the person you're looking for, so don't come near me.
But the woman drew closer, like that thinking was her confirmation. I felt her back muscles tighten. Her legs were frozen, unmoving. Until then, she had seen many, many things other people couldn't. But this was the first time it had ever been so vivid.
It was obvious that the woman before her eyes was not of this world. But even still, the clarity of her presence itself was surprising, so frightening it was impossible to breathe. I have to run away. I don't know what will happen if I'm caught. As she thought this, desperately she began to move her legs.
Her legs were as stiff as a rod. It's no good, I can't get away. The woman wasn't even five metres away. Even in the dark mansion, the woman's body contained a light, phosphorous, like a hitodama, so as she got closer I could clearly see her and her expression. Contrasting with her blue-white, lifeless cheeks and lips, the blood that flowed from both eyes was so dark red that it was black. It even looked like perhaps her resentment had taken on a colour and was bleeding out of her.
Of course, she had no reason to resent Miku herself, but that was unrelated. Perhaps it was anger directed at someone who had once demeaned her. But as she wandered as a ghost for such a long time, all that was left was a severe resentment towards this world, directing her hatred at anyone that wasn't her. People simply came across her out of bad luck, something Miku knew from experience.
Oh, please. Go over there. I'm begging you. Tears appeared in her eyes. The woman already stood right before her eyes. Her fingers reached out, grabbing at the air, seeming to touch Miku's cheek. At that moment, an image appeared in Miku's mind, just like watching TV.
It was mostly in low-quality monochrome. The rough-looking, old scenery showed the spot where the woman's eyes were crushed. Men who looked like Shinto priests held the woman, and put a Noh mask on her face. But it wasn't simply a Noh mask. The spots where eyeholds would normally be punched out were covered. Not only that, but sharp needles extended from the inside of the mask. If worn, the two needles would pierce the wearer's eyeballs.
I could only think of it as a scene of torture. The woman turned her face away as she sobbed, begging for forgiveness. But the men, without the slightest hesitation, held her limbs tightly, forcing her to face forwards, immediately pushing the mask on. A throat-tearing scream rang out. The woman, finally released by the priests, crouched down and tore off the mask with both hands. But her eyeballs were already gone, and fresh blood, thick like syrup, was spilling from her empty eye sockets, staining her white kimono a dark red.
How dreadful. Why would they do such a - aah! The moment the shock of the cruel scene hit her, Miku was hit with a fear that felt like pain. The woman had touched her. It felt like countless cold hands were closed directly around every bone in her body. Her bones bent, creaking. It was like waking paralysis. Her whole body felt numb, like an electric current was running through it. The woman's anger was no longer coming though her voice, but gradually coming through her body.
"It's daaaaark... It's daaaaark..."
Along with her scream, her body swayed in desperation. It wasn't physically possible, but her body, having overlapped with the woman's, suddenly separated, and Miku collapsed onto the floor in front of her. Her soft kneecaps met the splintered corridor floorboards. A smarting pain ran through her. But compared to the fearful tremors that hit her when she was grabbed by the woman, perhaps this wasn't quite so bad.
"It's daaark, daaark..." the voice echoed from behind.
The woman suddenly turned, changing direction, away from Miku. Rather than pulling herself to her feet with a wobble, she seemed to tumble, and somehow escaped the place, throwing her all into moving. She dragged herself along, staggering, one step at a time. She increased her pace, and the knees she had scraped earlier began to hurt.
It's no good, I can't run.
Her legs trembled with the effort. She would be caught again. And this time, she wouldn't escape. If she was grabbed by the ghost of the woman with the crushed eyes, she might sap away her lifeforce. She felt almost like giving up when she heard it.
"Over here!" said a voice from somewhere. As she thought she had misheard, she scanned the area. A girl stood by the left-hand corner of the hallway, about five or six metres ahead. She was still young, with a bobbed haircut, wearing a kimono. If she thought calmly about it, there was no way a human child would be in a place like this by herself. And momentarily, Miku sensed an extraordinary aura coming from the girl.
But still, the girl didn't seem to bear her any ill will. On the contrary, she seemed pure and innocent-hearted.
"Over here!" The girl pointed to the left.
There was no time for hesitation. She desperately stepped with wobbling legs, turning the corner of the hallway. But standing there was...