Have a short update.
Understood, Spring-heeled Joplin.
Spring-heeled Joplin will take over the rest.
Interlude 2: One Man’s Trash is his Mistake
He wanted to forget that memory now.
But it was a memory he should never forget.
That was what Sōji Kuzuhara continued to tell himself.
It would never come to an end.
He would continue to dream about it.
Because only in his dreams could he be punished now.
With that thought in mind, Kuzuhara accepted his inescapable nightmares once more.
‘I wanted to be a hero.
‘Not a warrior, but a hero.
‘That was what I said, but that wasn’t actually the truth.
‘I was just… scared.
‘I was scared of killing someone. Scared of ending someone’s life with my own two hands.’
So Sōji Kuzuhara aimed for the hand.
He had seen many a fictional cop pull this trick; on TV dramas and cartoons.
Believing that he also could pull it off, he acted to escape the fear of taking a life—
And brought on the worst possible scenario.
Before his eyes a man trembled, clutching his right hand.
“My hand… My hand…!” He wheezed, almost sobbing. But he quickly wrapped up his bloodied hand in his sleeve and began to stagger away like a drunkard.
Kuzuhara did not need to remember who this man was at this point. But he knew well that the man was a criminal he had to apprehend.
He made to chase right after him.
But at that moment, the young Kuzuhara spotted something.
The young police officer who worked with hope and pride in his heart spotted something he should not have seen.
A single stream of red beginning in the shadows.
And the source of the flow—the skinny arm of the child lying there.
“Fuck… Fuck…! My hand! What the fuck did you do to my hand, goddammit?!”
He could hear the man screaming; but Kuzuhara was already rooted to the spot.
‘She might still be alive.
‘It might not have been my gun.’
Raising his vain hopes to a god he never believed in, he forced his frozen feet to take a step forward.
And at that moment, his ideal world crumbled as the girl in the distance and the sea of blood was dragged before him in the blink of an eye.
And images of the girl and the bullet began to shoot past him everywhere as though time itself was being rewound.
What the crime scene inspectors told him countless times came back to life in his head.
The bullet hit the wall of the container next to the storage room at a very low angle, partly crumpled as it flew forward at a slightly different trajectory.
Into Kuzuhara’s blind spot.
Into the head of a little girl hiding there.
The crumpled bullet successfully drove itself into the girl’s head, leaving a crueler mark than usual in its wake.
The images converged on the mass of flesh lying before him and fell forward.
Part of her head had been blown away, leaving her face a grotesque mess.
She must have just started elementary school. The girl seemed to be the right age to be playing with dolls, but it was her body that looked more like a doll—limp and completely still.
No consciousness, no voice, no memories of the past, and no hopes for the future.
In other words, her life was gone.
Kuzuhara wandered for what seemed like an eternity before the understanding finally hit him.
Perhaps an eternity might have been preferable—but his mistaken flow of time came to a cruel end and gave Kuzuhara no real time at all. No time to think, no time to have regrets.
In his dreams, he cried out.
Had he screamed so loudly in reality as well? Or did his howl resound even further? Not even Kuzuhara himself knew the answer.
He had screamed to destroy the reality before him. And now, as his all-erasing cry came to an end, the girl’s face melted and was replaced by the face of a man.
He had never seen anything like the man’s face before. The vaguely unbalanced features sneered at Kuzuhara.
“How does it feel to shrink back from killing a villain and kill a little girl with your own two hands?”
“Who… are you?”
‘I know him.
‘I know this bastard.’
“How does it feel to shrink back shrink back shrink back from killing a villain kill a little girl with your own your own your own your own your own two hands?”
“Stop… stop it.”
“How does it feel to shrink back shrink back shrink back from killing a villain kill a little girl with your own your own your own your own your own two hands?”
“I told you to stop it!”
“How” does it feel to “shrink back shrink back” shrink back from killing a “villain” kill “an innocent” little girl with” your own” your own your own your own your own “two hands villain “kill” own hands an innocent how does it feel kill villain girl innocent villain little girl with your own two hands feel shrink back killing innocent how does villain little girl shrink back killing innocent” girl villain back innocent to kill how hands own innocent little villain with own hands girl kill “” “ “ “ “” How” “ “ “own hands” “little girl “” “” “ “” “ innocent”” “ “villain” “ “ “ “” “” “” “”” “”” “” “” “ “ “ “ “ “” “” “ “ “” “” “ “ “ “ “” “” “” “” “ “ “ “ “ “” “ “” “ “ “ “”
The man’s face shifted from one form to the next.
Into the face of his innocent superior who was shot to death because of his mistake.
Into the face of the girl’s father, who shot the superior to death.
Into the face of the girl’s mother, who screamed next to him.
Into the face of the investigator who told him that his bullet was the one that killed the girl.
Into the face of the police official apologizing on television.
And into the face of the little girl.
And finally, into Kuzuhara’s own face.
And Kuzuhara finally remembered.
That though the face kept changing, the voice never had.
That the voice belonged to the escaped man whose right hand he had shot off.
And at that moment, he was dragged back into reality.
“—wake up, Kuzu. Kuzu! Sōji! Sōjiiiii!”
Someone was shaking him violently. Kuzuhara opened his eyes.
“You looked like you were having a nightmare, Sōji. Are you okay?”
Next to him was a familiar face.
Pale skin and red eyes, with attractive features and a childlike expression.
“What’s wrong, Sōji? Was it a bad dream?”
As the woman furrowed her brow, Kuzuhara remembered that he was in the van that acted as the moving broadcast station for Buruburu Airwaves, which doubled as its DJ Kelly Yatsufusa’s home.
‘Right. Come to think of it… this is the first time I had this dream when I was with Kelly.’
Forcing his senses awake, Kuzuhara sat up and reached for his shirt.
“Ugh. I put on a Bōyokudan CD the whole damned day today, and it was like generation asshole or something. All that nostalgic-as-fuck punk rock just wanna made me go back to the five o’clock shadow days, y’know?”
“When have you ever had a five o’clock shadow?”
“…Anyway, what the hell was that all about? Dream about huge-ass monsters coming to eat you alive or something?” Kelly asked, her style of speech a complete mismatch for her looks, as she stared at Kuzuhara.
Kuzuhara said nothing. Kelly put on a darker look.
“Hey, does this have anything to do with the girl you met at the resto earlier?”
“Relax, you don’t have the skills to cheat on me or anything. And I know that girl—and she’s not the type to ever date you. But its still does bother me just a teensy bit.”
Kelly seemed to pout, looking away, but before Kuzuhara could even respond she took the blanket in her hands and wrapped it all over his head.
“And-that-is-why-you’d-better tellmewhatthatnightmarewasabout, dumbass! Heehahahaha!”
Unable to speak even if he wanted to, Kuzuhara struggled to keep breathing and remembered why he had that nightmare.
Convinced that the girl he met the other day was the reason, he recalled their meeting at the restaurant.
It was near the end of his shift, when he was about to have a late lunch.
A girl from the Eastern District came to tell him something. The stuff of his nightmares.
The explosion at the junkyard was ultimately deemed the Guard Team’s responsibility, although one they caused for their work.
The Western District’s organization had contacted him as he listened to the Guard Team’s explanation—the message said to send them back to the Eastern District.
The executives of the districts must have come to an agreement.
Incidents like this were not uncommon, so Kuzuhara was not particularly bothered. Other than the disappointed onlookers and the fight the younger policemen tried to pick with the Eastern District, things were fine.
But before he received word from the executives, he heard a particularly memorable name from the Eastern District.
‘Yakumo Amagiri, huh.’
Kuzuhara did not have any particular opinion on the name.
He had led the volunteer police on the island for three years now, but not once had he ever met or even glimpsed the so-called Killer Ghoul.
He sometimes even wondered if Yakumo Amagiri existed at all, but those who controlled the island seemed to assume he did. The reason Kuzuhara never met him was likely because Yakumo was said to move mostly in the Eastern District and the Pits.
Above all, Yakumo Amagiri probably did not approach because the volunteer police patrolled specific routes on a regular basis. Even if he was present on the patrol route, perhaps the police’s presence compelled him to stay quiet, Kuzuhara thought. And yet he could not confidently say that the urban legend was real.
Kuzuhara knew well the Guard Team’s skill. How could anyone face them so many times and emerge unscathed?
Could someone like that really exist?
Or perhaps he really was just a legend after all?
Kuzuhara had seen the Eastern District’s boss several times. He was the type to use the Guard Team to create an urban legend for the sake of entertainment. He and the rainbow-haired terrorist were of similar minds.
Kuzuhara ate his omelet-soba combo in silence as he thought—
A muted female voice.
When he finally realized that she must be talking to him, he looked up. There stood a girl in a leather jacket, whose eyes were hidden beneath her bangs.
She flinched when she glimpsed the scars on Kuzuhara’s face, and quickly bowed.
“G-good afternoon! Um… you would be Mr. Kuzuhara, yes?”
“I know you… you’re from the—” Kuzuhara began, but he was quickly interrupted by the voices of the children at the restaurant.
“Hey, look! This girl’s making a move on Kuzu!”
“Not the other way around?”
“Is this an affair?”
“You can’t leave Kelly, Kuzu!”
“Kuzu’s gonna throw her away like a used rag! With a big life insurance policy on her!”
“Don’t be stupid. There’s no way Kuzu could have an affair! But I bet Kelly’s gonna misunderstand anyway.”
“But he’s still gonna survive—I mean, he’s Kuzu!”
“Then he’s gonna watch the van burn and light his cigarette and say, ‘I told you you’d get burned…’!”
“You’re awful, Kuzu… disgusting!”
“You really are trash!”
“We can’t even recycle you!”
“Half of all the trash in the world is bad for the earth, you know.”
“You’re the opposite of Bufferin!”
“Enemy of girls!”
“They say every man has seven enemies when he goes outside… but Kuzu’s enemies are all the girls in the whole wide world!”
“That’s why Kuzu is always gonna be Kuzu—eek!”
At the conclusion of the children’s chorus, their mother came up behind them and hit their heads with the back of her knife.
The eldest son was dragged into the kitchen by his ear, clutching his aching head. His siblings trailed after, horrified.
Kuzuhara watched them depart with a sigh, then turned to the girl.
“You’re… Miss Sahara. Captain of the Guard Team, correct?”
“Oh, yes!” Jun said, finally snapping out of her shock. “I… uh… I heard that some of our members caused trouble for you earlier. So, umm! I-I’m very sorry!”
Kuzuhara did not know what to do as Jun bowed nervously.
Jun did not look like the type to belong on the Guard Team, let alone the artificial island. But Kuzuhara had seen her before when he was bodyguarding Yili—Jun had been there as Gitarin’s bodyguard, giving orders to the Guard Team.
He also knew that the two cylindrical cases slung over her shoulders contained custom-made lightweight chainsaws. Supposedly she became a different person when she started the engines, but Kuzuhara had never seen her in that state.
‘Then again, the Eastern District is full of crazy characters.’ He thought, ignoring the fact that he himself could catch bullets in his palms.
The girl, he acknowledged, was indeed the leader of the Guard Team. And taking into account the fact that his superior in the Western District was also a beautiful woman, he supposed the two sides were not so different after all.
“About what happened at lunchtime, right? I think the bigwigs got things sorted out. You didn’t have to come all this way to apologize.”
“No, but… I thought it would be good to apologize in person anyway.”
“…I see. Take a seat.”
‘Maybe she has another reason for coming here.’ He thought, pointing her to the seat across from his.
Being a central figure in the Eastern District, she must have a very good excuse for coming all this way.
‘If someone told me to go alone to the Eastern District’s casino… I’d turn them down on the spot.’ He thought, putting himself in Jun’s shoes. ‘I have to hand it to her.’
Or perhaps she really did come to the Western District without a thought, but Kuzuhara doubted that such a person could lead the Guard Team.
“…There’s no need for formalities. You wanted to talk about something, right?”
“…Yes.” Jun smiled faintly, glad that Kuzuhara was quick to pick up on things. She also must have been put at ease by the sight of him interacting with the children.
But as soon as she began to speak, her smile was wiped away.
“…I should have come to talk to you in the summer, as soon as it happened, but… …I’d just like to confirm something. Did Yili tell you about what happened?”
Kuzuhara stiffened at the mention.
Several months ago, while Kuzuhara was on the mainland to visit the graves of his superior and the girl he killed, there was a serial killing case on the artificial island.
The victims were executives of the organizations controlling the two districts. The killer timed his actions specifically that Kuzuhara was not present, and shed a great deal of blood in the city.
“No. It was all over by the time I cam back. The volunteer police had almost no involvement in the case, and Yili just told me that I didn’t need to know.”
“I… I see. So that’s what she said.”
“…Frankly, I’d be happy if you could tell me what happened. And don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone that I heard from you.” Kuzuhara said gravely.
Jun hesitated, but eventually she nodded and revealed the cruel truth.
“…What I’m about to say might be difficult for you to hear. I know I’m being selfish… but I would be grateful if you could listen.”
“Will you… protect this island with me?”
It was an unusually grave proposition. Kuzuhara found himself frowning.
But the moment Jun continued,
That his assumption that he was forgiven had been wrong.
That the incident that destroyed Sōji Kuzuhara’s world had not yet come to a close.
“Ginga Kanashima… the one person you lost at the shootout five years ago.”
“He is the one behind this summer’s murders. He was flaunting the deaths at you. …And this part is my own fault—during our confrontation, I lost him.”
Kuzuhara’s fists tightened.
His heart beat through his body, threatening to tear his eardrums apart. The beat grew faster and faster until it felt as though his heart was about to collapse.
With her eyes hidden, the girl continued.
Neither blaming him nor offering him comfort.
“He was lying low overseas for some time, but supposedly he’s coming back. Maybe he’s already on this island as we speak—”
Jun’s voice seemed to grow distant.
His reality was overwritten, his senses reliving the moment of fate.
The truth behind the two shots he fired.
He had aimed for the hand the first time, scared to take the man’s life. As for the second shot…
When he saw his foe take aim at him, out of terror he aimed at the center of the man’s body—that he could easily end his life. To kill him.
The man who had been afraid to kill had, a second later, fired a shot to take a life.
The result was one lost life.
A life that hadn’t even crossed Kuzuhara’s gaze.
A small girl who had not even existed in the world his senses captured.
By the time she leapt into his world, she was already a silent corpse.
Kuzuhara was once more caught in the nightmare of his past.