We Don't Open Anywhere

 
 

We Don't Open Anywhere Volume 1 Chapter 2


I watched someone get murdered once.

It was back when I was still in kindergarten. Both my parents worked and were away from home a lot, so my grandma usually ended up taking care of me. My parents married late, which meant that my maternal grandma, who was a widower in her seventies, was firmly in the "geezer" camp. Having to take care of me probably put a toll on her.

Despite my parents' neglect, though, I was a pretty satisfied kid. In retrospect, that was probably thinks to my grandma working her ass off. The two of us were as thick as thieves.

On that day, the two of us were looking after the house as always. I had roped grandma into playing hide-and-seek, forcing her into the role of seeker. Opening a closet's aged, poorly-fitted door, I found and wedged my five-year-old body into a pile of densely packed futons and muted myself.

Grandma was having a difficult time finding me and was noticeably flustered. Watching her from a crack in the door, I laughed silently to myself.

Suddenly, the front door could be heard opening.

Thinking that perhaps I had run outside, Grandma hurried to the entrance.

Immediately, I heard a scream. And at the same time, an unfamiliar, threatening voice.

At my young age, all I could do at the unsettling atmosphere was tremble anxiously.

I could hear two sets of footsteps drawing near, one belonging to my grandma. Instinctively, I balled myself up among the futons and held my breath. But at the same time I was assailed by a strange sense of duty, as if it were my responsibility to observe what was about to happen.

I could just barely make out my grandma and the man from the cracked door.

"Dammit, the place was s'posed to be empty...! Oy, hurry it up!"

Driven by the man's angry voice, Grandma opened the chest of drawers. She was likely looking for cash or the bankbook, but as she didn't know where it was and was panicking, she just opened and closed drawer after drawer. All the while, the man was growing gradually more irritated.

After a little longer of this, Grandma handed the man a stuffed envelope. It was likely filled with cash.

"No hard feels, grams. Just can't be lettin' myself get caught. Blame yourself for being home on the wrong day."

The man took out a sharp object (I think it was a pocketknife or a kitchen knife, but in my panic I didn't pay much attention to the particulars). In alarm, Grandma screamed something incomprehensible. This earned her even more ire from the man, who pinned her arms behind her back.

Grandma screamed.

"Help me... Maa, help me!"

Although a kindergartener like myself would hardly be able to accomplish anything here, she screamed frantically nonetheless.

But even in the face of my beloved grandma's bawling, I didn't leave the closet.

"Maa! Help me! Help me!"

Watching my grandma scream my name over and over, I wanted to remind her, "we're playing hide-and-seek, so I can't come out until you find me."

The blade swung.

A death wail.

A moan.

A weak, self-derisive laugh.

Tears.

A pool of blood.

Until it was all over, I kept perfectly still. I was still playing hide-and seek.

I was playing hide-and-seek to this day, unable to return to the real world.

 

 

"You're Masato Yahara, right?"

As I was putting my indoor shoes in the worn-out shoe rack, a girl called my name. I recognized that voice. Having a bad feeling about this, I heaved a sigh.

"...You sure you've got the right guy? Kou's still back in the classroom, right?"

"Please don't try to blow me off."
Miki Kouzuki glared at me with trembling fists.

I'd suspected that she had something she wanted to say to me. Without meeting her eyes, I spoke.

"Is this about tryin' to get me to away from Kou?"

Having the words stolen out of her mouth, Kouzuki knit her eyebrows.

"He doesn't have shit for magic resistance. If I, a magus unaware of my own powers, am around him I'll be a bad influence and stain him in my attribute. And that wouldn't do anyone a lick of good. Something along those lines?"

Kouzuki's eyes widened in surprise.

What the hell? I thought her value system was gonna be something more interesting, but it ended up being something even I could come up with.

Rapidly losing interest, I set my loafers on the floor.

"So I'm a magus, huh. You're givin' me too much credit. Anyways, everyone would just run away from me before I could cast a spell on 'em anyways."

"Y...you understand magic?"

"Who knows. I just translated what I was sayin' into your gibberish."

"I...if you understand that much, please just stay away from Kouta. You said that everyone just runs away from you, but there's one exception."

There was no need to clarify who she was talking about.

"Staying away from him would be for Kouta's sake. If he keeps being surrounded by my magic, he'll take on my attribute. He'll be able to avoid getting stained in a poor attribute like yours or Matsumi-senpai's."

"Go fuck yourself."

I glared at Kouzuki unconsciously. Knowing what kind of person she was only amplified my rage.

"You're full of yourself. Who the fuck do you think you are, going around babbling about how you're going to protect Kou or some shit. Did Kou ask for that? He didn't, did he."

"...I thought that would be for the best-"

"For the best? Pretty words from everyone's favorite freakshow. Keep your fucking self-satisfactory bullshit in check, wouldja? Is Kou even the one you're really tryin' to protect? ...Heh, you can't even refute it. What you're tryin' to protect by force-staining Kou's ass..."

I spit it out.

"Is your flimsy-ass, brittle little closed world."

It seemed that her self awareness didn't extend that far. Her face went white at my words.

I drew close to Kouzuki, who was slowly shrinking away from me, and lifted her up by the collar of her uniform.

"But by talkin' to you like this, I realized that something I don't need to worry about. You just aren't worth my time."

Fear appeared for the first time on Kouzuki's face. ...Nah, that ain't it. Since the moment she called out to me, her fists had been trembling from how hard she had tried to hide her fear. That's how powerless a person she was.

"He'll just come to hold you in contempt, and that'll be that. Later."

I didn't want to so much as look at her any more. Releasing her collar, I walked away from the shoe rack without sparing her a second glance.

With all the rumors swirling around her, I figured she'd have a little more of a backbone in her. But she was just another person with no faith in their own damn world. She just wanted Kou in order to reinforce her world.

She was just like all the others. She gave off the sound of chains.

Her chains were quieter than others, maybe, but that was all there was to it. She was just another nobody, far removed from the ideal I strived for.

She was just as much a nobody as I was.

Chains.

I started seeing the chains when I was in ninth grade.

In contrast to my peers, who were grappling with entrance exams and relationship woes, I could feel myself growing distant.

The contents of their worries even drove some of them to cut their own wrists, but I couldn't see at as any more serious than whether a sand castle was knocked over or not. After all, even if they wounded themselves they didn't plan on dying. I — I, who truly knew death — could tell that those wounds were nothing more than a tool to highlight the extent of their woes.

Once I became a complete bystander, simply gazing on them in observation, I noticed something.

Everything they held dear was created.

With so much information flowing down the muddy stream of our world, a simple papier-mâché construction is enough for them all to implicitly believe it.

They were being controlled.

Made to dance in perfect harmony, they were being controlled by fiendish, brutal chains.

Then, I became able to see those chains. And from the materialized chains, I could even hear noise. The rattling noise they made was raucous. The noise was so raucous it sapped all vitality from me. Once that was finished, I began losing my ideals as well. Lost in the pursuit of cheap pleasure, I no longer cared if the world was in color or monochrome, or if it was real or simply the inside of an image. To that end, I engaged in a series of unethical activities. Pleasure was all that was real to me, but was merely ephemeral, and in the end time simply passed while nothing else changed. My world was peeled apart by the chains. It was a simple, complete excoriation.

When I finally managed to regain a grip on my peeled-up world, a thought suddenly floated to my mind, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

I wanna kill someone.

Murder had taken the color from my world and reduced my reality to the state it was in today. Ironically, as a consequence of its gravity, it was also what lay just beyond my outstretched hand. No matter where I reached out towards, I would run into those homicidal urges. Like a butterfly trapped in a spiderweb, no matter how much I struggled I couldn't move. From where I was, I couldn't see anything else.

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

Wanting to flee from the chains and the noise, I reached out my hand. This time, my hand got caught on those homicidal urges. They began controlling me.

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

 

But even then, I would never have believed it.

That there could be a person unfettered by those chains.

 

 

"Kusukusu... you two really are interesting, aren't you?"

I could tell that the girl, who had a childish face and and looked somewhat off-balance, was different from the moment she started speaking to us.

Her smile seemed like it was free of any influence from the events of the outside world.

"Whaddya want?"

Who was she? Like Kouzuki, was she trying to take advantage of how fragile Kou's chains were?

"Oh, Ririko was just thinking how she wanted to become good friends with Hiiragi!"

She didn't react even a little to my display of animosity. And she didn't give the sense that she was playing dumb. Humans are creatures bound by fear. Anyone would react to the presence of violence.

Then what was wrong with her?

It seemed that "different" didn't cut it. She was clearly lacking something fundamental.

"What's so interesting about you two are the call signs you're giving off."

She spoke as if her peculiar words were commonplace. That was something neither I nor Kouzuki was capable of. This girl didn't desire salvation, and she had no doubts in her own world. In actuality, she was basically rejecting interaction with the rest of mankind.

Inside a closed world that was like a perfectly sealed-off room, she had no need to grow.

I'd heard rumors about this. Rumors about an upperclassman who had been coming and going from a psychiatric hospital since she enrolled.

"Hey, are you that Ririko Matsumi chick?"

"Oh, yes. Ririko is Ririko, of course."

According to the rumors, she lacked boundaries. Unable to tell where her "self" began and ended, she supposedly saw everything outside her body as simply parts of herself. She was under the misapprehension that not just her body but everything she could more or less freely manipulate was part of her. Although it was a bit more allegorical in my case, I'd certainly had times where I felt unable to put down my phone, as if it were a part of my body. But as far as she was concerned, her unification with her electrical devices was no allegory. To her, using electrical signals from her brain to move her limbs wasn't just the same as using a remote to change the channel on TV, the remote and the television themselves were just parts of her body.

It was a world beyond comprehension. But regardless, it was the world she lived in.

A different world from the rest of us.

"Interesting, aren't they? White and ultramarine, huh. Aren't most people orange? But you two are different. Ririko likes white, you know. Makes me want to do something."

I had no idea what those colors meant in her code. All I could tell was that they were code for something else.

I glanced at Kou. Even though he's confused, he wouldn't reject another, even if that person is Matsumi. But even Kou likely won't be able to grasp her world.

...Actually, is that really true? This is the same Kou who's spent a whole month getting to know me, after all.

"Hey, hey, can Ririko read you?"

"Read me?"

"Oh, that's right. Most people can't do scanning. But, but, you see, Ririko can do scanning!"

Maybe Matsumi, who blurs the boundaries between electrical devices and her own body, is deluded into thinking she can fulfil the role of an electrical device herself?

But something quickly makes me realize that that perception was halfhearted.

"Beep bibibi, bip bip bibeep."

It's not a delusion. It's something far worse. In that instant, Matsumi became an electrical device.

That's right. Why didn't I notice it sooner?

This chick doesn't have any chains at all.

The moment I realized that, it felt as if the false machine noise was causing the world to violently lurch. I couldn't keep my footing. The world was slanting simply because I had become aware of my own change. Unable to remain in place, I began tumbling. I was rolling. Rolling and rolling. Rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling.

How did this happen?

...Ah, because I didn't believe. I didn't believe that a person without chains could even exist. That's why my world was doing an about-face.

"Beep bibibi, bip bip bibeep."

The sun went out. What illuminated my world in its place was Matsumi's eyeball. Within those dead-fish eyes, her pupil was focusing like the lens of a single-lens reflex camera. Taking on heat, her eyes began to sear me. It burns! It burns! It burns!

Beep bibibi, bip bip bibeep.

The noise pursued me and, as I spun through space, bored its way into my body. From near and from far, the noise continued to ring. I had long since lost track of where it was ringing from. I was becoming to create the noise as well.

The lens was simply floating in space.

Those eyes turned towards me.

"Ah-"

What part of me were they looking at?

They were looking at me burning and tumbling through space. I'm begging you, don't expose this hackneyed end of mine. Those pitiful limitations of mine. Those banal thoughts of mine.

"...don't."

I didn't want to know.

"Beep bi—"

I didn't want to know. I didn't want to know. I didn't want to know.

"DON'T!"

As I scream, the floating eyeball lens vanishes. In that moment, I'm assailed with vertigo and the world goes black. Once the light returned, I could see Kou looking concerned and Matsumi pouting.

"You don't have to shout like that, you know..."

"Excuse me, Matsumi-senpai, what was that just now...?"

"Hold on, hold on. Ririko's going to put it into words now."

Matsumi stopped being human again.

She somehow got information about Kou, and she's translating it such that we can understand it as well. A computer turning binary into letters and images.

"Unconsciously rejects his mother due to her hysterical temperament. Receives mixed messages from his father. Neither parent approaches parenting with any degree of consistency. His sister enjoys killing cats. Has been ordered by his family to deal with the cat corpses. Will listen to anything he is told. Susceptible to brainwashing. Versatile. Abnormally good at understanding the value systems of others. Has no self, so regards others with-"

"Th... that's enough! Matsumi-senpai, please cut it out!"

She returns to being human.

"So? So? How was that? How'd you like my scanning? Did Ririko get that all right?"

"Senpai, can we go now?"

"Whaat? But Ririko wanted to chat more! He's white, after all! He's the only one!"

"Sorry, but we got places to be."

"Ririko understands... Well, Ririko guesses it can't be helped then. Ririko guesses she'll see you later then, Tanihara."

Not thinking, I stopped in my tracks.

People read my last name, "谷原," incorrectly all the time. So the mistake itself wasn't particularly notable.

"Huh? Aren't you Tanihara?"

"It's read 'Yahara', Senpai."

So in other words, that's what that meant.

Matsumi's "scanning" gathers information visually.

 

We strolled through an abandoned shopping district, shuttered up as a result of its inability to compete with a large nearby shopping mall.

I gazed at Kou in silent shock.

Even when faced with Ririko Matsumi, he didn't give up on trying to comprehend her. If we hadn't gotten lucky, he would have completely taken her in.

It would be fine if he got invaded by Kouzuki. He'd be treated as a freak, sure, but at least he'd be able to keep on living. But Matsumi was no good. If he took in something broken, he'd become broken as well. It would be like downloading a malicious app.

"Get this through your head. Don't talk to that birdbrain again. She'll be a bad influence on you. Got it?"

Kou nodded. But it wasn't because he was convinced, it was because he felt the situation called for it.

I didn't what his true intentions were. ...Hell, I didn't know if he had any intentions in the first place.

"Masato, did you understand what was going on with that scanning thing?"

Scanning.

Based on the fact that she got the information visually, I had a hunch as to what the trick was. But it was tough to put into words.

I suspected the reason she was able to guess my name was because she subconsciously knew it already. Even though the time she spent in the hospital kept her from showing up at school much, she was still a fellow student of ours. There was plenty of times she could have run across our names.

The only abnormal part was how she went about recalling that information.

Normal people quickly forget information they don't need. For example, we don't remember the faces of every person we pass on the street.

But what if this "scanning" let her pull out memories from deep in her brain, memories that anyone else would have lost? If that were the case, then simply having passed us in a hallway would be plenty for her to know our names.

It then followed that her being able to put names to faces, as well as dredge up all that information about Kou, was simply the result of outstanding insight born from her recollection, observational, and analytic prowess. Of course, she couldn't do that all the time, but only when she was in a trance state from putting herself under the self-hypnosis called "scanning."

Seen from the outside, a skilled fortune-teller would appear to be able to trace the steps of another's life. Hell, even I'd be able to guess whether someone's a virgin or not a good chunk of the time. But Matsumi was on another level. She was able to come up with his personality, his familial structure, and even where he lived. It was practically a superpower.

It was abnormal.

If I told told Kou all this, nothing good would come of it. It would just end up driving him towards taking her in.

"... not even a little."

So I dodged the question.

Even if Kou didn't believe me, he neither pressed me nor showed signs of dissatisfaction. Ahh, now that I think about it, there's something wrong with this guy too.

The light in front of us turned red and we reflexively stopped.

"Why the hell'd we stop?"

"The light was red, wasn't it?"

"There ain't any cars here."

Ahh, I can hear it. I can hear that noise again.

Just beyond my field of view lay those chains. Beautiful chains that acted as if they owned us, designed to stop us from moving.

I couldn't help but despise the chains. They bound me and were the cause of everything that drained color from my world.

...or so I thought.

And because that's what I thought, I yearned to be a person without chains. I truly thought I desired release from those chains.

But then I met such an unfettered person.

And what did I feel, upon gazing at that person?

Fear.

I was scared of that person without chains. I felt fright. A feeling that implied unimaginable distance.

There was no chance I could become a person without chains.

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

As if flaunting themselves, the chains' noise echoed.

You will never be released.

Shut up.

You will be bound until the day you die.

Shut up!

But you already knew that, right? The reason these chains will never be torn off is because you yourself have no desire to tear them off.

I SAID SHUT UP!

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

The noise keeps resounding.

The sound of chains. The sound of common sense. The sound of morals.

And the sound of my desire to kill.

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

"Ahh... I wanna kill someone."

 

 

After parting ways with Kou, I was unable to muster the urge to return home and inside took the train into the suburbs. While the area around the station was prosperous in comparison to the shutter town I had just left, the dust and general atmosphere made it clear that it was past its prime.

I wandered about aimlessly. A department store that would likely be demolished in a few years. A old-fashioned movie theater that looked wholly unfit to bring a date to. A bookstore that had been repurposed into a shop for otaku goods. The town, which was connected, bound, and encircled by power lines, stunk of sewage. If you boiled down all the mud, the sludge, and the coal tar, it seemed like it like it would make for delicious, piping hot ramen broth.

I sat on a bench in front of the station and observed the passersby. The people waiting by the station were like marionettes, each and every one of them glued to their smartphones. Social networks, forcing them into round-the-clock surface-level pleasantries. Aggregation sites pushing morals upon them that are neither right nor wrong. Blogs flooding with comments, not from individuals but from their very souls. All an horrifying gambit to strengthen the chains. A colossal trap.

The definition of people who would be better off dead.

Let's suppose that that definition was "people who are detrimental to society." If that's the case, people who killed innocents would be better off dead. People whose contributions to society were outweighed by the harm they cause to others would be better off dead too. People whose deaths would be rejoiced at rather than wept at and people who inspire anarchic thoughts, those people would obviously be better off dead. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we just rounded up all those brutes and left only the good people?

...It probably would. With fewer recessive genes around, of course humanity's going to be wiser. If, hypothetically, the world was in peril and we had to trim the population, you can bet your ass that the morals around protecting the weak and disadvantaged are going to be the first to go and there'd be large-scale massacres. ...Well, it doesn't have to be something as over-the-top as that. All I'm trying to get at is that there's plenty of people who could die and no one would mind.

"Yo."

I call out to a passing woman in an immaculately-pressed suit, likely on her way home from the office.

In that instant, I got the impression that although she works hard and contributes to society, she frequently tramples on the feelings of others. Huh, maybe I'm awakening intuitive powers like Matsumi's? Or maybe it was just a delusion of mine? I don't much care either way. As far as I cared, she was a detriment to society - someone who was better off dead.

"Are you speaking to me?"

"Yeah, anyone's fine. There's plenty of ya around. Now, a riddle. When's a door not a door?"

"When it's ajar... Excuse me, what did you want?"

"Who ordered you?"

"Huh?"

"Who ordered you to say 'when it's ajar'?"

The woman stopped in her tracks, fear spreading across her face.

"Nobody ordered me to do anything... what's going on..."

"That's right! No one ordered you to do shit, right? Then why does everyone answer the same fucking way? There's gotta be plenty of other reasons why a door wouldn't a door, right? Then why's it gotta be ajar and not a dormant volcano or somethin'?[1]"

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

Ah, shut up. This chick's chains were particularly noisy. Women tended to have grimmer, sturdier chains than men.

"You're pissing me off. You want me to fucking kill you?"

"Wh...what are you talking about? Is there something wrong with you?"

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

"Get outta my sight. If you don't, I'm gonna fucking kill you."

Not bothering to hide her repugnance, she quickly ran off.

Heh. Once I considered what I just did objectively, I give a strained laugh.

It would seem I'd developed a bug.

Walking around is too much of a pain. After clenching my teeth and somehow dragging myself to a nearby park, I layed down on a bench. Overheating to an unbearable degree, my brain forcibly entered a shutdown state. My consciousness faded away dreamlessly.

 

 

I opened my eyes.

The blue sky flooded into them.

I couldn't form thoughts. The sun's blinding light assaulted my eyes, and the painful stimulus gradually restored my consciousness.

My back flared up in pain, and I remembered that I had been sleeping in a park. I reached for a cigarette, but found to my dismay that my pack was empty. What a fucking joke.

I clutched my head, slowly recalling the events of yesterday.

There's something wrong with me.

I was aware of how desperate I was getting, but I was able to keep a cool head for now.

But it seemed unlikely that I would be able to fully get back to normal. Upon learning of the existence of a human without chains, I stopped be able to brush away my homicidal urges, which were now simmering to the point of boiling over. I could go mad at any moment. There was even a part of me that wanted to go mad, knowing that there was a chance that doing so might grant me the impetus to commit murder. From that small reason alone, I knew I was past the point of being able to contain these urges. It was past the level of sexual desire, and was more akin to a hunger that scalded my throat. There was no chance the urges would subside.

I would either kill or go mad.

It could only be one or the other.

 

I decided to return home briefly. I had no idea what my parents would say at this point, but if I didn't they were liable to file a missing person report out of obligation and a desire to leave a paper trail. And I was out of money. I knew of a method to solve both those problems at once. A method I had used often since middle school.

Kicking aside an empty can as I entered the house, I noted that my parents weren't home. After fishing through the shelf where grandma pulled the envelope from before she died, I slipped two ten-thousand yen[2] bills into my wallet.

But where should I go? I had no destination in mind. But in this state, I couldn't stay at home, nor could I go to school.

For a moment, I briefly contemplated going to school. Thanks to my reputation, at least all the jackasses I wanted to avoid would stay away from me.

And Kou was there.

Kouta Hiiragi. A man with no firm sense of self. Generally, people analyze what kind of person they themselves are and form a sense of self around that. In a certain sense they label themselves.

But Kou doesn't. As a result, his self doesn't settle into any one shape. I dunno what made him like that, but based on Matsumi's scanning the cause probably lies with his family circumstances.

Because his self isn't set, Kou tends to take on whatever form his partner wants him to. Every time he interacts with someone, his personality changes little by little. As a result, he's become able to truly understand others, and not just on a superficial level. He'll probably grow accustomed to Kouzuki's magic in no time, and he fully understands my madness as well. He doesn't resist it, either. That's why if he's careless, he'll end up understanding Matsumi as well and taking her in.

That reminds me, Matsumi likened Kou's color to "white." I get it, that kinda makes sense. Kou can take on any other color. That in and of itself is dangerous. That's why Kouzuki is being all meddlesome and trying to stain Kou in her color; she's trying to prevent him from getting stained in a malicious color like mine.

Being accepted by others feels good. I learned that for the first time when I met Kou.

Kouzuki's probably the same. That's why she trying to keep him for herself.

I guess I can't go to school after all.

It's dangerous for me because Kou is there.

Kou is the ultimate sympathizer. He would no doubt accept even me, who's enveloped in homicidal urges. Upon being accepted by him, I would stop perceiving myself as abnormal, lose my last bits of resistance, and eventually take action. I could picture it easily.

I grabbed a pack of cigarettes from my room and lit one with a shaking hand. The nicotine settled me down a bit, but the urges were unabated.

I slipped a butterfly knife into my pocket as a de facto tranquilizer. I could kill at any time. I could make that call whenever I wanted. Knowing that somehow helped me preserve my sense of reason up until now. But that bit just now was simply meaningless. It simply served to rile me up.

A paper-thin line was all that kept me from using this knife up till now. But that paper-thin line held within it a world of difference.

But I knew.

As I was now, I was liable to cross that line.

 

When I came to my senses - when I truly came to my senses - it was already night.

Once again I found myself wandering through that deteriorating suburb.

While I knew little about killing time, I knew quite a bit about killing. All I had to do was noncommittally indulge myself. My mind simply sought pleasure without applying any deeper meaning to anything. In other words, I was deteriorating as a human. I was an animal with intelligence but no use for it. There are a surprising number of humans who fit that description, so I didn't lack for companions. Hip! Hip! Hoorah! Other people were necessary for the pursuit of pleasure. Transient relationships were best. Human garbage was best. If they were men, though, they'd sooner or later commit some kind of sexual assault, so I tried to avoid that. I wasn't into fucking chicks while they screamed, and taking risks for something I wasn't into was right off the table.

So I looked for women. Chicks who were into give-and-take relationships. Animals who sought only pleasure like I did. Some of them got clingy, but their kind feared rejection, so once dealt with none of them pressed the issue. Once they got hooked on drugs and drowned in pleasure, any chick would become almost disgustingly docile. Once I was done with with them, they would without fail use every word and action at their disposal to wail about how lonely they were or some shit, but I couldn't give less of a fuck about their pitiful emotions.

"You're pretty good."

One of those women spoke up to me when I was playing darts at an amusement center. What was her name again? I think she told me, but I forgot.

"Do you play darts a lot?"

"Somethin' like that."

Through this meaningless conversation, I got authorization to step into her territory. It was obnoxious, but a necessary ritual nonetheless.

The chick wasn't a so-called "gyaru[3]". She was no beauty, but her face was attractive enough to put her on the receiving end of gossip. She wore a cheap-looking black dress with hideous pink frills. I could tell from experience that she was available.

The ritual had gone on plenty long enough to move to the next step.

"Anywhere you wanna head after this?"

"Nah, not really, I guess."

"Follow me, then."

Although she no doubt knew what was to follow, she simply followed me without putting up any opposition.

Where should we do it? The park? Nah, my back hurts, so a cheap hotel would be better... Such thoughts filled my head as we boarded the elevator.

Leaving the building, we neared a tunnel running underneath the railway. Right as I put my hand on her back as a lip service, I heard an unexpected voice.

"Is that you, Yahara?"

There stood the class representative, carrying a plastic folder and clearly on his way home from cram school — Shuuichi Akiyama.

I was planning on feigning not being able to hear him due to the train passing, but when I reflexively looked over my shoulder, our eyes met.

"What do you intend to accomplish by not coming to school. Your friends are worried about you, you know."

His words were exemplary yet insincere. It was almost as if someone was making him say them. First of all, did this guy even think I even had friends?

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

Oh, shut up already.

For some reason or another, my earlier hedonism had been enough to temporarily silence the chains. But in the face of this man, that was impossible.

His chains were grotesque, grimmer and sturdier than any other's.

Feeling an onset of vertigo, I plunged my hand into my pocket and grasped my knife, my de facto tranquilizer.

"What will come of you continuing to neglect school? You will simply idle away your days. If you fail to put in the effort now, many paths will become closed to you, and you will regret it fiercely. Even you should realize such a simple thing."

"The fuck are you going on about? Don't go judging everything according your values."

"I believe my values are extremely commonplace values."

"Don't I fucking know it."

And that's the thing I hate more than anything else.

"You know it, yet you rebel against it. Don't you think you're acting a little childish?"

Akiyama pushed up the bridge of his glasses.

Maybe what he's correcting with his glasses isn't his eyesight, but him himself? He was extreme enough to harbor such delusions. He could only see the corrected, beautiful world. Unimportant things didn't even enter his view. It's like he's forgotten that when he takes off his glasses, the blurry, hard-to-grasp world in front of him is the real one.

Akiyama's gaze shifted from me to the girl. Faced with the honor student Akiyama's reproachful gaze, she uncomfortably lifted the corners of her mouth.

"Your girlfriend? Won't you be imposing on her, dragging her around at this hour?"

He spoke unaffectedly. He likely doubted that there was any woman who would willingly spend time around me.

"She ain't my girlfriend, though."

"She isn't?"

"Just some chick I picked up off the street. We were thinking of going and fucking. Get it?"

"Excuse me?"

At his confusion, the girl gave an embarrassed smile. Of course he's not going to be able simply nod and accept something like that.

Glancing sidelong at Akiyama, I give a snicker.

Hey, look, he can't even hide it. Inside that disgust-filled expression, he's jealous that I'm getting laid. That fucker's so fastidious he probably wouldn't admit he even had desires like that.

"You... have quite some nerve, saying such immoral things so brazenly."

"Jealous?"

"I'm well aware of how proud of your faults you are. May I ask you a question, though? How often do you do things like this?"

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

Oh, this isn't good. Shut up. This guy's chains just won't shut up.

"All the fucking time, man. What, you want to get in on this shit? I can teach you how to. It's easy, all you gotta do is lie about your age to register for dating sites. Studying ain't good for shit, you feel me? You know, if we all just gave in to our primal desire for pleasure, we could all just live as happy-ass animals."

Akiyama just glared at me silently.

"...Um, I just remember something I have to do, so I'm going to head home, okay?"

"Yeah."

The girl had lost interest. I still couldn't remember her name as I watched her run off.

Akiyama watched her recede far longer than I did.

"Yahara."

Akiyama spoke, gazing off into the distance.

"What?"

"I believe it is unwise to indiscreetly give voice to the thoughts of others. But I see you and I do not share that opinion."

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

That noise was whispering to me.

Kill.

Kill. Kill. Kill.

It's time for you to join the world of killers. That's the only path left available to you.

Despite being more tightly bound by those unholy chains than any other, Shuuichi Akiyama was enough of a freak to feel not agony but comfort from their embrace. There was no human who symbolized the chains as much as he did. That would make him the ideal sacrifice, no?

"You wanna sermonize? Fine by me. In any case, let's head somewhere less crowded."

"I see; very well. I would rather nobody else carelessly inserted their voice in our conversation, after all."

"Yeah, right. Wouldn't want anyone getting in the way."

I didn't want anyone to get in the way.

Not until it was all over.

 

Unlike a large city like Tokyo, all you had to do in the suburb was walk a little and the tall buildings would be replaced by rice paddies and vacant lots. Past a convenience store with a sprawling parking lot belying its defunct state lay a similarly-defunct factory. I neither knew nor cared what the factory had originally produced, but the sensation of being underground brought about by its oily, metallic odors made it ideal. I didn't know what this iron press was designed for either, but when I laid my hand on it it was icy-cold to the touch.

"I'm surprised that you knew about a place like this."

"I told you about all the chicks I was forcin' myself on, right? You gotta know about places like this to do shit like that."

Akiyama scowled in repugnance.

Honestly, I'm surprised he'd follow me to a sketchy-ass place like this so easily. Could he not even begin to imagine himself being in danger? ...Well, he probably couldn't. That was the kind of victim I was dealing with here. The kind of guy who was filled with baseless conviction that he couldn't possibly get involved with the kind of incident you see on the news.

He was one of them. Hell, he'd probably even be shocked at the sight of one of his classmates smoking.

"So? I'm ready to be preached at."

"Before we start, would you mind turning on a light? It's too dark for me to even make out your face. I feel that that would somewhat defeat the purpose of this conversation."

Did he really think that being able to see my face would make his shitty-ass sermon stick?

"I think someone left a lantern here..."

Squinting to look for the electric lantern, I found it beside a pile of cigarette butts. As I flicked the switch, Akiyama's form came dimly into view.

"For you to have lead me this far, I can assume you have at least some intention of hearing me out?"

I choked back laughter. Akiyama didn't seem to consider for a moment the possibility that he might be assaulted, let alone killed.

I'm sure what's floating through his mind is something along the lines of a naive-ass after school special. The pitiable delinquent, coming from a bad background, finally finds someone who understands him and, struck by his sincere actions, gets back on the straight and narrow.

What a nice story. Even I, without an ounce of cynicism, think it would be nice if we had more of that kind of story. I've seen a lot of delinquents, and most of them are scum through and through. Defective from their very genes. Deficient in brains, empathy, fear, and imagination, the lot of them.

But in spite of all that, this guy has enough faith in his persuasive abilities to follow me all this way. I half wanted to see what the it was about his speech he was so confident in. Hell, maybe they'd even be enough to convert me.

"Let me start by asking you something. Are you happy with the way you're living right now?"

"As if. I'm always wishing I could change, you know?"

Even right now.

In any case, I was about to be able to change. Not that I had any idea what I was going to change into.

"Then why not simply be more diligent? From what I can see, you certainly aren't stupid. I mean that, by the way. All it takes for people to change is to find an objective and to put in the effort necessary to achieve it. At the moment you're lapsing into depravity, but if you take a slightly longer view I have no doubt you can overcome such temptations."

I laugh inappropriately upon hearing that from the most nearsighted man imaginable.

"So you're saying if I just become a straight-A student like you, my life'll open up and become all peaches and fuckin' cream?"

"It doesn't necessarily have to be studies. Anything you find that you can put your all into works. And that's all it takes to open up your life. I'm sure there's some activity you could find yourself getting engrossed in."

"There's nothin' like that."

"Are you certain? What about sports, say, boxing or rugby?"

I wanted to throw up. Is this guy actually referencing old after school specials, then lumping all delinquents together in one convenient little category? Faced with such a blad lack of imagination, I began to doubt if he was even truly a straight-A student.

"And if you do indeed find something you want to do, the more paths you have available before you to choose from the better. As you are right now, paths are vanishing."

"Dumbass. No one who was willing to work their ass off just to keep future possibilities open would be in this situation in the first damn place."

"You mustn't give up on yourself. Envision the future, and stride towards it!"

I hadn't suspected his little sermon would fail to resonate with me to this extent. The things he was saying were ostensibly correct. Perhaps they would have resonated more from a different mouth.

But the words felt like they had no weight behind them. They held none of the speaker's true feelings. It felt like he was simply reading out of some manual on delinquent correction. The words were completely those of another.

And on top of that, the sound of chains.

His thoughts and mine were in parallel, destined to never intersect.

"Those chains of yours. I'll pass on being bound by them, thank you very much!"

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

Ahh, I can't hold it in any more.

I should just kill him. I can't bear to listen to any more of this. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. When I open up his flesh, my future will open up as well. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I don't want to be here any more. I'm never coming back here again. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. This place is empty; no one will hear him scream. His death wails will be a hymnal for me alone, a noise sufficient to drown out those chains. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. His blood will go flying. I don't know how my world will change. But if nothing else, my monochrome world will be dyed red. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I should just kill him. I should just kill him.

"Chains? I'm not sure I see any chains to speak of... What are you talking about, Yahara?"

Looking around, he frowned.

"I'll tell you, so you can die in peace."

"...Yahara?"

"Chains. The preconceived notions that bind us. That's a useless definition. They're essentially rules without order. Morals, forced upon us. Their noise is annoying. I've always wanted to escape them. The only way I can escape them is by killing. In other words, that noise is basically the sound of my desire to kill."

I pulled the butterfly knife out of my pocket. With a flick of my wrist, the blade flies out.

"Now I can get out of here!"

My reluctance to kill vanished.

Immediately, my hand was filled with the sensation of flesh. It was softer than I expected, barely giving me the sensation I had slashed at all. The experience was lacking.

"Now you can get out of here, hm..."

The red blood dripped loudly.

Now that I think about it, it's strange. Even though we constantly have blood flowing through our bodies, we only ever think about it at times like this. It's like not being able to see the forest for the trees. It's not that our awareness is limited, we're simply under the impression that it is.

"—On that point alone, we are of the same opinion."

What sentiment did that smile carry? It seemed similar to the sense of accomplishment a child would display upon digging up an anthill and earnestly squishing its inhabitants.

"Your life has no value... or rather, you're like a vermin that deserves to die."

Akiyama spoke bluntly, his voice carrying no inflection.

He pulled out the knife.

As he pulled it out, blood — lifeblood — poured from my chest.

Releasing my wrist, Akiyama pulled the knife out from my chest and tossed it aside. Fluids burst out like a stopped had been uncorked. Red liquid spilled out from my mouth. No matter what it was I was regurgitating, it wasn't anything good.

"You thought too little of me. Did you really believe that I had no idea why you brought me here?"

I knew it. Akiyama was a deviant.

"You should have realized it as soon as I had you turn the lantern on. I had you light it so I could make out your movements."

Everyone likely, to varying extents, realizes that they're bound by something. Even if you couldn't see the chains, you could definitely feel them choking you.

But Akiyama was completely unlike that. He had no doubts in his own world. He never doubted that what he saw as just was what the rest of the world also saw as just.

Akiyama was too much of an honors student for his own good, and as a result had never been reproached or criticized by the adults in his life. So he was under the misapprehension that everything he did was just.

That was his abnormality.

"I was well aware of your murderous aspirations. And from our discussion, I could tell that those aspirations were not something you were capable of escaping from. That is why I judged it necessary to eliminate you."

The thoughts Akiyama held were widely held by society to be just. But nobody's cogs are aligned perfectly. Perhaps the misalignment was small at first. Something another could easily notice and alert him to. But because of how much of an honors student he was, he had nobody to point it out to him. So that continued twisting into the form Akiyama desired. And though the misalignment had grown to lethal proportions, even if someone were to point it out Akiyama was past the point of heeding the words of others.

Vainglory. There was no man alive better suited to that word than Akiyama. I should have recognized that.

"You said something about helping me dying in peace, if I recall? It would appear I am now in a position to offer parting words to you."

Looking down on my fallen body, Akiyama dug his heel into my face.

"I offer you this explanation so that you can die in peace. Would your world change if you killed someone? I offer you the answer you sought for so long."

My vision went dark, gradually fading. My sense of pain left me as well, the only thing I could feel any more being a cold sense of emptiness where the knife had stabbed me.

"The answer: it would not. Or perhaps it would? You weren't a very good point of reference, after all. After all, you're simply vermin. What emotion stirs within you when you kill a cockroach? I'm sure you feel the same thing anyone does. Nothing but disgust."

The noise of the world started fading as well. Great, now I didn't have to listen to Akiyama babble any more.

I fell into the void.

Everything disappeared.

All that was left were my thoughts.

For argument's sake.

For argument's sake, if I had successfully killed Akiyama, would my world have changed?

Ahh, I came close enough to tell. I can picture it as if it were real. Even if I had successfully killed Akiyama,

My world wouldn't have changed.

It wouldn't have changed a bit.

There would simply have been a corpse rolling around in front of me. And having lost my last thread of salvation, I would have gone mad.

Thinking about it, such a conclusion wouldn't have been half bad.

But even so, I thought.

If by some miracle I survive this, I would still try to kill Akiyama. I would definitely kill him.

Not to change my world.

Not to erase the sound of chains.

I would kill him because he pisses me off. I would kill him out of simple hatred.

I would be the most hackneyed, worthless killer imaginable.

Indeed.

I am, to a degree that disappoints even me, an unremarkable person.

 

Rattle, rattle. Rattle, rattle.

I can hear them. I can hear them in my ears, which should no longer be able to hear at all.

I knew. In truth, I've known for a long time. The cacophonous ringing was never the sound of other people's chains. It was—

—the sound of the chains that had always been wrapped around me.

  1. The original joke here went about as follows:
    • Masato: "What kind of pan (bread) can you not eat?"
    • OL: "A frying pan?"
    • Masato: "Why'd the answer have to be frying pan? Why couldn't it have been A-kyuusenpan (class-A war criminal)?"
  2. ~$180
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gyaru