1 (part 5)
by, July 17th, 2016 at 03:53 PM (1050 Views)
Soaked in oil and heat, the kitchen entered the 1 o'clock resting period.
Surviving the afternoon mayhem also made today a peaceful one.
Anyone who survived tonight's crowd would be putting their chef jackets away afterwards.
In the kitchen that just met with a fierce crowd of hungry customers, the newcomer was left standing alone to himself.
"I---- should, put this on?"
The new member asked in a troubled voice.
"I know how you feel. I was skeptic myself, but boss's orders. I suggest putting a smile on that face and taking it out there. You're taking this to the shopping district tomorrow, too. I'm really sorry about this. At least the rain stopped, so how's about a headstart, eh? I'll pay for your dinner if you make it back in one piece."
His senior, dressed in a blinding orange uniform, placed his hands together in an 'I'm sorry' pose, and made him do something completely unreasonable.
Ten years ago, Misaki City was a town of plowed fields and forests.
With development still underway, buildings were being placed in a row in front of the station, two-storied constructions were also multiplying in the residential area, and the agrarian landscape from before faded away from the station's view.
And within it, the remnants of a long-ago country town could still be found in this portion of the urban area -- Shiroinuzuka, which was said to be the air pocket of Misaki City.
A long slope that was paved on a conspicuously tall hill.
Far away from the station that people built their whole lives on, was the residential area of long ago.
In the past, building houses on high land in Misaki was a faulty attempt. No human could live at such steep heights.
Shiroinuzuka, the hill that rose in the center of town, made its point for the case -- there were no private houses beyond this point.
While the asphalted slope stretched on for miles, it soon met the edge of the forest, and after that was a road similar to a mountain path that only went further up the hill.
The vending machine halfway up the slope stood alone, and served as the border marker between the town and the hill.
Even without extra plans to build a new playground for the children, people knew there was nothing beyond this point.
Why, yes. That was correct.
Beyond this point, people knew was only a spooky house.
Aoko Aozaki hiked up the long slope.
The entire town was spread out below her.
A townscape that had the symmetry of a toy town.
While it would have been picturesque for it to be by the sea, Misaki City would always be a mountain town.
It was cloudy now, but the view of the clear sky from here was a breathtaking sight.
The hard climb was a small price to pay for that view, but today, not even a glimpse of its beauty was in the sky.
"......*sigh*. My bike's no good on a rainy day, either. How about getting a bus that stops by here twice a day? C'mon."
Soon it would be two years that Aoko started going back and forth between this slope and her school, but the lucky things were a matter of luck.
"What, it's still locked?
......Alice isn't home yet."
Aoko shrugged it off, and touched the worn iron railing.
The heavy iron gate quietly gave way as if showing the young girl in.
----Built at the top of the hill was a spooky house.
This was the old story that went around Misaki Town for a long time.
And with the town's development came a new set of hushed rumors relating to said spooky place.
Like lights coming on at night in a house that was abandoned and decrepit for who knew how many years now.
Like the disappearance of hundreds of gathering crows on the hill.
Like children who wandered in vanishing into thin air on days when the fog was thick.
Like somewhere deep in the night, there was an ungodly scream so loud that it was heard all the way in the residential area. ......An embarrassing rumor that Aoko was itching to fix.
Then there was the rare sighting of a luxury car driving up the slope.
The rumors got better and better with each passing day.
In that sense, the European-style building on the hill that people thought had fallen apart, was raised from the dead several years ago.
It was just somewhere that no one approached.
Ruins that were hidden by the dark forest during the day.
Straight out of a fairy tale, a remnant of magic that was lost forever as time went on.
was the Kuonji residence.
Everyone in Misaki Town knew it -- a witch's house was built at the top of the hill.
Aoko Aozaki chose to stay at a certified haunted house.
Needless to say, "haunted house" was a popular label for it.
The Kuonji residence was a noble European-style building whose origins were carried over from Britain.
Using it as a dormitory was no stretch of the imagination. Using it as a house on the other hand was going a very long way with it.
Normally, a house would have a main building with as many as three entrances while completely surrounded by a garden.
A towering iron fence walled off the entire courtyard, thoughtfully coiling around the creepers of thorned plants.
And on an elevation that separated from the main building, thrown in as an extra was a sort of receptacle that was built complete with an annex of its own.
It came as no surprise how lavish the house was going to be.
To those living in town, a building as extravagantly built as this had an ominous feel to it just from being built at the top of the hill.
Aspersions, misunderstandings, and friction with the locals were prices of fame, in a way.
But since only two people lived there, they had no say in the fact that people treated them like they were vampires.
"......Well, other than myself, I can see Alice being capable of that."
(Vampire Princess Arisu)
She placed her hand on the main entrance upon reaching it.
The brass key that went with the double doors perfectly was, however, not for the shabby use of fitting into keyholes.
With one hand, Aoko pushed the door open, and went into what people would call a "haunted house".
......By the way.
Other than the vampires, ghost-related things were never said to be absent when the situation called for it.
Like the weather outside, the lobby was clouded by gray.
The architect's plan for the entrance was probably to minimize the use of electric lighting.
The ceiling had a stairwell that led upstairs to the second floor.
Light from both day and night poured in from the skylight above.
On a rainy day, it was as dark as the hours before dawn.
Like the cold, dark stars in the sky, the moonless night made every single thing come to a standstill.
The way to the living room was directly east of the lobby, and it was where they would sit and relax. Preferring to be out of her uniform first, Aoko climbed the staircase.
The staircase hugged the wall until it reached the landing on the second floor hall.
Stairs leading to the third floor attic were undoubtedly found at the rear of the hall.
Two years of staying in this house, and Aoko never had any use for it.
Broadly speaking, the Kuonji residence was divided into two halls placed in the east and west directions.
Though Aoko was given a place to stay only at the east part of the building, she managed with at least two rooms for her personal use.
Having some kind of door trapped inside a picture-book world once opened, she had no need for an attic that was being used as a storeroom for the last five years.
Aoko's room was at the end of the east hall corridor.
On her first day here, she chose a small-sized room. It was less about modesty, and more of sparing her the trouble of cleaning it.
In her room was a largish bed and her desk made out of mahogany, and her wardrobe and her outerwear stood in a row together with her nine-row bookshelf.
These were all that she carried out of her parents' house.
All the things that made up Aoko Aozaki's sixteen years came down to this display of her youth.
Finally, the room that was next to this one was the second room that she was borrowing for her personal use.
"----Oh, right. I'd better check on the watchtower Alice gave me. I bet it's broken by now."
She went to check the result of her late night's work, which had lasted her till the morning.
Separated by a wall from her room, the study was so unlike anything that Aoko Aozaki had in her life just now. It was yet another thing that became part of her life for less than one year.
This part of her life was for something other than herself.
It was her proof from here on. For other people, it was a lonely world without entry, a lonely world that was meant to be without entry----
"Oh, man......it's worse than broken, it's completely gone......I guess it was too soon for me to try it on my own, huh? ......Oh, well. Laugh away, little robin."
The inhabitant making itself at home spread its wings and flew away.
Her talent was ordinary, her effort was given freely, and her mistake was accepted without fear.
Mostly seen as optimism, it was just so Aoko to be happy-go-lucky.
She went back downstairs after changing out of her uniform and into her regular clothes.
Opening the east side door, she followed the dark, basement-like corridor.
The windowless corridor was pitch-black without electric lighting. Flipping the lights on, Aoko opened the nearest door.
"A life without electricity, huh? ......I don't want to imagine that."
The living room had undergone changes to its arrangement and was now more modern, which was just the way she wanted it.
Walls set with a rich pattern,
large and utterly dignified sofas,
and the finest Persian carpeting.
In the extra space of this stronghold, sat a 30-inch television set that did not go well with everything else in this room.
Like a king that was unashamed of how naked he was, the TV was placed between the two sofas as they did everything they could to look impressive regardless.
The owner of this European-style building detested its presence, but having this in the household provided commoners like Aoko a crucial sense of relief.
Her first day of staying at this house had her waging a war with her housemate over this one thing, but now it acted as an instrument of civilization for them both.
"......Oh, hah. Maybe I'm one to talk.
As it turns out, we're a household that's out-of-sync with the times, too."
Letting herself feel good about it, Aoko went to make tea.
Heating some water in the kitchen next door, she used a teapot and brewed her black tea to perfection.
She blew on her cup.
She sank further back into the sofa.
She took one sip of black tea, then one more.
'Ah, I wonder what I'll be doing today,' she idly thought on her third sip, her ears pricked at the clock needle's sound.
The feel of the soft sofa seized her with an impulse to sink herself down into it.
Fiercely blinking her eyes, Aoko stirred from the cushions.
It was no fantasy or dream.
Before she knew it, a girl was sitting before her.
Not all that surprised, Aoko touched a finger to her teacup.
The black tea that she just served was completely cold.
"Was I asleep?"
Aoko asked the girl sitting at the other end of the table.
Without lifting her gaze, she replied with less interest.
----Were she silent, she might have been mistaken for a beautiful doll.
The girl sat on the sofa, reading an old book.
She had slender arms and legs, and white skin that never knew the light of day.
Her somber refinement made her distinctly inhuman.
Her raven hair was a purer concentration of the color black than Aoko's.
Her dark pupils quietly pored over the page.
The black attire that was reminiscent of a nun's habit was the uniform of the all-girls school that she attended.
The gloom suited the girl so well -- it was apparently amiss for Aoko to mention that it suited her too much.
......She blended with the landscape.
Born to appear the way she did, she seemed so unreal.
The girl had her eyes cast down. The whiteness of her neck was beautiful even to a girl like Aoko.
This girl was the other half of the two occupants of the haunted house.
Her name was Alice Kuonji, a housemate of the same age as Aoko.
"How long was I asleep for?"
"An hour and some. ......Sleeping here will make you sick with a cold, you know."
Alice replied to her question without much interest, but Aoko was used to it.
She turned to the wall clock to see its hands pointing to 7 o'clock in the evening.
She had slept for two hours.
It was a terrible day, afterall. She earned herself some sleep after staying awake all night.
"You could've woken me up, though.
My black tea's cold now."
"It was already cold when I arrived."
"I guess. I just thought I'd say it."
Aoko swallowed the rest of her chilly black tea in one big gulp.
Cold tea and the poor heating facilities of the Kuonji residence were enough to rouse a person from a half-sleepy state.
"Even Fortnum & Mason's not this great when you drink it cold.
Good to see you home, Alice. I wonder if me getting lazy without you around is also a rare treat.
Today was either a bad day or God's punishment to me. It's too soon to tell, but I might have to get down on my knees and pray for mercy, you know?"
Aoko shrugged her shoulders, mentally resigned to the thought that she had to pay in pounds instead of pennies.
"So, did something happen?"
Nearly two years of living together, and they were still taking notice of how the other was feeling.
Aoko being Aoko,
and Alice posing a question being Alice.
Aoko immediately launched into a report for her housemate, who was still not meeting her gaze.
"I'd better apologize to you first.
That thing that I completed last night didn't work out, afterall. I guess it broke from overboiling when I took my eyes off it for a second. It had to be it, even though I did the stitches and took out two, oh, three circulation cords."
'Aww, forget it.' Aoko spoke like it was someone else's problem.
"......Would you care to explain?"
"The school called me up this morning.
They needed help with a transfer student, and it took up the whole day to do it, too. So when I got back, there was nothing left of it.
Are you angry, Alice?"
"......It's fine. Aoko, getting angry everytime you destroy something is going to make us fight for the rest of our lives, isn't it?
I have a replacement, so just start over from the very beginning.
Other than that---- shouldn't you be the one who's angry?"
She was unusually shrewd today.
At times like these, Aoko just hid the fact that she was angry by playing it cool.
"Right. This transfer student we had was unbelievably out of place.
Apparently they were situated really far into the mountains, so they don't get how we do things around here. You know, there are such things as a spirit world just beyond the temple gate, but that there's the real deal, Alice."
Alice perked up at the mention of her name.
Aoko thought she was just going to let her rant without really listening, so she told the rest of the story.
"This guy got on my nerves the minute we saw each other. He seemed close to passing out when he saw his classroom.
He must've thought that a classroom was where he'd have a one-on-one lesson with a teacher......well, that was no biggie. I could deal with it, him kidding around with that idea."
"Then, after I told him exactly how his classroom was going to work, do you know what he said?
'So then, Aozaki. What are the rest of the classrooms for?'
What else would classrooms be around for?"
"Man, it's like, his mind stays on what I tell him if I don't explain it well.
Maybe he doesn't think about what he's asking? Or I'd say he doesn't have an imagination, or that he's never used it before.
Well......he totally gets what I say to him on the first go, so maybe he's not an idiot......"
"You certainly are going out of your way to criticize someone.
......Does his hopelessness mean that much to you?"
"Absolutely not. But, there's no telling what he'll do tomorrow, and it kind of worries me is all."
Of course. The chances of him fouling up and making her clean up his mess were very high, and it was all that she worried about.
Maybe, she thought so.
If not, then she had no reason to fret over the transfer student who ruined her whole day today.
"He sure was a weird guy, though. You'd be surprised at how well you'd get along with him, Alice."
"......'A spirit world just beyond the temple gate' are fine words, I'm sure."
But, we can't get along if we can't meet each other first, can we? the girl said so with just a look.
'Don't you agree, Aoko?' she simply replied.
"So, Alice. What's the book you're reading?"
"A derivative work on the theory of spiritual evolution. It's a reproduction of the Spiritual Diary."
"Ah, Swedenborg. You can't help reading it now, can you?"
"It's tedious in print, but this is a forgery, afterall.
There's dramatic praise for his merits and shortcomings. A very well-written adventure novel, in its own way. The author had the presence of mind to give the name Kant to the secret organization standing in his way.
......The handwriting is your grandfather's, though."
"......Wow, so this was one of his hobbies.
He was always kind of a jokester. I'm just so sorry he isn't around anymore."
Aoko seemed to mourn the passing of her grandfather.
"He wrote to you this summer, didn't he?"
"Hush! I'd like to think of him as being gone, thank you."
Sighing, Aoko leaned as far back as she could.
The wornness of the cushions gave way as Aoko sprawled herself out on the sofa.
"......Going back to what we were talking about."
Alice looked over at Aoko for a moment.
Swallowed by the cushions, Aoko's body stiffened.
Aoko's mental state lying down was a bit dried out.
Alice blamed her for her silence.
Even today's curious incident was a thing of the past for them.
......If she ignored the stab of Alice's silence, their talk would end here.
The two of them would leave it as it is, then try again to readdress the elephant in the room the next day.
However. Aoko Aozaki never shied away from anything.
"Sure thing. What is it?"
Without getting up, Aoko turned to Alice with that question.
"It sort of hurts that you weren't able to accomplish it today."
"That's why I'm thinking really hard on it.
School priorities are part of growing up, aren't they?"
"That's fine, I suppose."
Alice's mechanical-sounding voice made Aoko grit her teeth in frustration.
She knew what Alice was trying to say.
All by herself, Aoko perfectly understood how bad things looked for her.
The arrangement she made with her school life acting as her front, and the way she was carrying on with her life right now.
Even when she said she could live as a recluse in today's times, Alice told her it was an inadequate way to hide herself.
In other words, her silence was telling Aoko----
"......You want me to make up my mind, don't you?"
Today's bad performance was a very minor slight on Aoko's part.
She weighed her time at school and her life at this European-style building. Failing to do something right by putting her education first all of a sudden was a minor incident.
But it did reflect on the way Aoko was making her choices at the moment -- she simply acted on her over-optimism.
"......It's not Alice's choice.
This, is something that I need to decide for myself......"
The basics were completed within a year and a half.
But she felt it ever since she could remember.
'Once chosen, someday that day, for certain, will come.'
Then her decency and her sense of right and wrong would be put to an end for good.
Aoko raised herself from the sofa with all her might.
Her sights landed on Alice. Reposed and slender, the girl looked on in silence.
"OK, Alice. We'll get this done sometime next week.
Is that good enough for you?"
"Yes, Aoko. If you're fine with it."
Aoko shook her head at the thought that she heard the same words several hours before.
Of all the things today, why did the countryboy keep crossing her mind?
"Then I'll let you do the rest. I still can't do it by myself."
"So the park it is, then?"
"It's fine by me. Oh, wait. Don't we have something else to do?
How about we take care of that first?"
"It depends on whether or not there'll be a change in the forest. I'll let you know when there is."
Thus ended their short exchange. Alice dropped her gaze back onto the book sitting on her knees.
The most important conversation they had to have had together was over.
Then they went back to how they usually were with each other -- housemates that got along regardless of what just happened.
Sitting back, Aoko snatched up the remote and turned the TV on. Alice, who was reading, looked up to maybe watch what was being shown on the picture tube when,
suddenly, she made a noise that came as quickly as it went.
She pressed a hand to her mouth.
Almost having said something, she stopped herself before she could share what was on her mind.
Sometimes, she had no control over it; it was rare to see it happen.
Looking back, Aoko used to hear at least one syllable escape her mouth. She looked over at her adorable housemate.
"Hm, what is it?"
Aoko lowered the TV's volume. Her willful eyes lit up with the mischief of a cat's.
"......It's probably nothing, but..."
Trapped with the question of whether or not she should share, Alice turned her face away in embarrassment.
The expression she was making had a certain glow to it that was delighted in a displeased sort of way.
Even her father would think that he had given her an appropriately precious name if he could see her now.
"......Today, I saw something strange on my way home, I just thought maybe I should tell someone about it......"
Aoko nodded, urging her to keep going.
"It was nothing special. It had no meaning to it whatsoever.
But, I couldn't understand how it worked no matter how hard I thought about it.
......Aoko, why does a big, human-like cat wobble about delivering food to people's houses?"
For a moment, Aoko thought Alice was making another one of her "jokes".
Actually, she was prone to thinking that.
But Alice was sincerely bothered by it.
And while Aoko was not a fan of Alice's idea of being funny, the girl was telling her about something fascinating that she saw with her own two eyes.
"Hmmm......there are two things that I find hard to believe in your story but, let's refute them one at a time, shall we?"
"It's alright. It also occurred to me that it was a puppet-sort of thing.
But going to all that trouble to wear an elaborate stuffed cat, and getting sent out onto the streets to deliver take-out? I wonder if it's that simple?"
"Before I ask why they're doing something so hard, I'd ask what kind of normal they think we live in for them to do that."
To that, Alice nodded a little in agreement.
"Anyway. You get a lot of things in this world. If types like you and me exist, then there's room for a lot of other different things, like a guy who's never seen the world outside of the mountains that he's always lived in.
I would've asked what they had that cat look going for, though, if I were you."
To that, Alice just looked away for a bit.
"......Hmm......a cat making his deliveries in the residential area at sundown......I guess it would look like a daydream scenario with the sunset glowing in the background.
......So, what are we doing for dinner tonight?
Since we're on the subject, why don't we get take-out too, huh?"
Aoko gleefully suggested they get food delivered to their place.
Dinner in this house ran without a turn system of any kind. What they actually had was a rough system of having food ready for two people.
Even when there were times they had to survive without dinner for a week when they got careless, the two girls preferred this arrangement above everything else.
Either they were too lazy to cook, or they just liked food deliveries.
Tonight's decision was a common occurrence. Therefore, this house was given cautious treatment by the restaurants of Misaki Town.
Usually late at night......after 8 o'clock and things had quieted down......the unhappy restauranteurs would get a call to go to the very top of that godforsaken slope.
"It's still before 8, we should make it. Let's go for Kongetsu. We haven't called them in a really long time. I'm getting soba with egg!"
Lining up her poker-card display of the menu listings, the student council president was ecstatic over what food they should order for. Without looking at Aoko's happy face, Alice spoke without hesitation.
"Sorry, I already ate dinner."
Aoko froze upon hearing those words.
Food deliveries were made with a minimum of two orders. So without someone else to order with, there would be no food deliveries made to this house tonight.
The world was so unfair to the princess who wanted someone to fetch her just one order of soba.
On a separate note, a devilish condition that went,
"Starting next year, all food deliveries will be made with no less than three orders,"
was being approved as a move against the twosome living at the top of the slope -- something that they still had no idea was happening.
Grrrr, no wonder you're back late!
You don't have club activities, and it only takes you twenty minutes to get from here to school by bus. I didn't even think to ask why you finally got here past 5!"
But how sad. Aoko was too half-sleepy to also note that she had fallen asleep.
"Aaagh, how could you do this to me!? We had a silent pact that we'd bring back food for each other when one of us goes out!
I went out last time and I got you your share, didn't I?!"
Who knew up to what point she was serious? Either way, Aoko was not a happy camper.
Other than the black tea that she just had, she started out this morning hungry, then proceeded straight to the phone call and the rest followed without her eating anything. Her stomach's quiet from all this was borderline miraculous.
But, seeing as this was her fault, and since it had nothing to do with the current issue, Aoko's nonstop revenge against her housemate's tyranny,
"......By this, you mean?
When you went downtown, had sushi for your dinner, then brought back my portion in a plastic bag from a convenience store, of all things?"
instantly came flying back to herself.
"W, wait a sec! I didn't come back empty-handed!"
"The truth should, at times, be concealed."
Alice stared back at her coldly.
Actually, standing next to Alice and telling her about rotating sushi while the girl wordlessly ate the convenience store stuff, really was a mistake.
But given Aoko's attraction to new things, she was seized with the urge to go see the new "conveyor belt sushi restaurant" that just recently opened at the time.
There was hell to pay for both liar and truth-teller.
"......I understand. I completely understand. If that's so, you got me back for last time. Can we just call it even?"
Showing no sign of saying no, Alice's eyes were trained on the book again.
Showing no sign of saying yes, either, just made it a bit alarming.
"Doesn't matter, today's a bad day for me.
I'll just be going to the kitchen now to brush up on cooking."
Aoko stood up without actually talking to anyone.
"Oh, I forgot to ask. Alice, where did you get dinner?"
Abruptly, the hand that turned the book's pages stopped.
Keeping Aoko company while she was reading, she decided she had quite enough, and closed her book.
Alice rose to her feet, book in hand, and crossed the living room at a brisk pace.
She turned back to face Aoko the moment she reached the door.
"Are you ready to hear this?"
"Uh, I might as well be......"
Left without much choice, Aoko gave her a dubious nod.
Then Alice, as if it were nothing,
"The cat I met today, gave me a spare menu."
gave a short answer, and left the living room.
----------------------------------------------------------------END OF CHAPTER----------------------------------------------------------------
(1) Nocturne - is not a Beethoven piece. Composed by Franz Liszt in 1850, also known as Liebestraum No 3. The word is German for "Dreams of Love", and was conceived originally as one of three poems by Ludwig Uhland and Ferdinand Freiligrath. The three poems depict three different forms of love. Named after Freiligrath's famous Notturno, it is the music to unconditional mature love ("Love as long as you can!", "O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst").
(2) Gymnopedie No. 1 - another popular music piece by Erik Satie. There's a bit of history behind its conception. Satie claimed that he was inspired by Gustave Flaubert's novel Salammbô, which was set in Carthage during the 3rd century BC. (This was also the fictional opera featured in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.) It was also possibly based on the poem of J.P. Contamine de Latour ("Les Antiques"), who makes use of the word gymnopédie. Gymnopédie is a Greek word made of two words: "gymnos (naked)" and "pais (child, youth)". Gymnopaedia is a particular dance in Ancient Greece that trained Spartan youth to be both elegant and strong. Either Satie chose it to title his piece for a mysterious reason, or he just used the term to garner attention with its absurdity and risque overtones.
NOTES: As for why I chose to title this chapter as "Not an Ordinary Person" -- I had a Not Another Teen Movie flashback to a plastic bag.
"......Hmm......a cat making his deliveries in the residential area at sundown......I guess it would look like a daydream scenario with the sunset glowing in the background."
- Was tempted to make it "like a Studio Ghibli movie".
青子 (Aoko) -(青) 'blue', (子) 'child'. Color Class. An ultra light-sensitive color.
有珠 (Arisu) -(有) 'to be', (珠) 'jewel'. Glass Class. Denotes Alice's cuteness.
草十郎 (Soujuurou) - (草) 'grass', (十), 'ten', (郎), 'son'. Plant Class. The 10th successor to weed[whackers].
山城和樹 (Yamashiro Kazuki) - (山) 'mountain', (城) 'castle'. (和) 'harmony', (樹) 'tree/timber'. Sceptre Class. Royal status unknown. Holds the Emperor card.
天誅殺 (Tenchuusatsu) -Divine Capital Punishment. Sodom's Super Combo in Street Fighter Zero. Aoko's punishment for Chapter 1.