Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hariyama-san, Center of the World, volume 2: Urban Legend 2 ~Taxi Elegy~

happy March! this time around it's a horror story. do note that this particular story comes with a warning for graphic/disturbing content. I can't go into detail without spoiling, but... well... Narita.

the next interlude ties into this story and is fairly short; I hope to have it done sometime this month.

Hariyama-san, Center of the World 2
Urban Legend 2 ~Taxi Elegy~
Genre: Urban Legend 2






Urban Legend "Taxi Elegy"

It happened on a night of gentle rain. A certain taxi picked up a female customer.

The woman with a dark secret told the driver her destination, but after that, she did not respond to any of his questions. Feeling uneasy, the taxi driver headed straight for the location he was given, but--

"Miss, is here all right?"

As he spoke, the taxi driver turned around -- but there was no sign of the woman, and the drenched seat was the only ominous trace of her that remained.


Saitama Prefecture, Tokorozawa, a certain apartment

"This is probably one of the most famous urban legends, you know."

"But there are a lot of similar stories. It's even told overseas, and there are variations in Japan too, with palanquins and ox carriages."

"In the most common version nowadays, the destination is a house where a woman recently died… is what they say, anyway. --Hup."

As she spoke, the girl wearing a sailor uniform threw herself atop the bed. Enjoying the sensation of the springs recoiling underneath her, she opened her mouth happily. "Muu, this new bed is great! When you said you got it secondhand I thought it'd be a piece of junk, but it should be a lot nicer sleeping on this than the old one!"

"You won't be sleeping on it, right, Lulu?"

"Not right now, anyway."

The smile of the girl named Lulu -- Lulu Akagami -- still contained a hint of childishness, but she directed a slightly mature glance at her boyfriend.

From the speakers connected to the computer issued a song with a unique feel to it, and the room itself filled with an even more unique, eerie mood.

"Oh, I know this song. Um, it's John Delta, right?"

"Yeah, you're right. ...Lulu, you really know a lot. They're a pretty niche unit."

John Delta. They were an odd group of artists composed of a Japanese girl on vocals, along with a black man and a white man. They almost never appeared on TV, but the way that singing voice resonated uniquely with the hearts of the listeners had earned them enormous popularity among hardcore.fans.

Lulu looked at the jackets of the CDs on the shelves next to the bed as she spoke, wearing a proud expression. "Hehe, well, you remember me telling you about Hariyama-san? Her dad did the design for this jacket!"

"Huh? Really? ...Hmm. He can do anything… You know, Class 7's Hariyama-san is beautiful but really unsociable and smiles sarcastically a lot."

"She acts like that, but that girl's pretty easily moved to tears."

"Hm… really."

The same sort of small talk as usual. It was a pointless, languid conversation between a boy and girl who got along well. They should have continued on like that again today, but--

"By the way, do you believe in ghosts, Lulu?"

Muu's expression grew a little more serious as he spoke, looking at his John Delta album.

"Huh? Umm… well, they're scary, but turning into a ghost after I die and flying around sounds like fun, so I kind of hope they exist. But what's up, all of a sudden? Is this about the taxi story?"

"Well... about that. The group of three people who did this song… apparently they can see things."

"See... what?"

Puzzled, Lulu turned her gaze to Muu, who looked as if he was forcing the words out. As if unable to stand her look, Muu sighed and answered, "Well, you know. Ghosts… or something."

"Huh, really?"

"It doesn't seem to bother you," Muu replied, caught off-guard by her easy answer.

"Um, well... That sort of thing happens a lot in the entertainment world."

"I guess that's true…"

Leaving aside Muu, who was still off-balance, Lulu returned to the story that interested her, her mood changing as she began to speak. "Anyway, about that taxi story… have you heard the news about the taxi incidents?"

"Yeah, the serial taxi robberies…? Oh, we'll be late for the movie if we don't get going."

"Ah! You're right! Umm, okay, let's grab a taxi on the way!"

Lulu jumped up from the bed, panicking as she remembered the reason she had come to Muu's house today. The girl grabbed her school bag and raced for the door, and the boy stood to follow, taking only his wallet and cell phone.

"A taxi… I think we should be able to find one at this hour. How should we pay?"

"Let's just split it!"

Muu followed her out of the room, sighing at Lulu's bright voice. After carefully locking the door, Lulu and Muu headed for the main street at a run.

The two of them went into town again, to chase away the memories of the incident that had occurred in the past and take back their normal lives. Without realizing that they were headed toward an existence that defied all common sense, that would overturn the very foundation of those normal lives--


...I'd picked up some annoying customers.

As I paid careful attention to the scenery visible through the windshield, my ears couldn't help but focus on the two people in the back seat.

"Right! The taxi robberies… they don't seem like just any old robberies to me!"

"Yeah. The drivers… they haven't found any bodies, but it's already looking pretty hopeless."

I took my job really seriously, but the customers didn't care about that. Of course, these were customers too and I couldn't just tell them to shut up. ...But I really, really wished they'd be quiet.

Sweat beaded on my hands on the steering wheel as I was forced to continue my job without saying a word.

"I know. They find the taxis, and only the drivers are missing… and there are traces of blood on the driver's seat… and the weirdest thing is that the seatbelt's fastened and all!"

"Which means… what? The body gets torn apart and falls through the seatbelt…?"

They were really annoying customers. It'd been three years since I started my job as a taxi driver… but I really didn't like these customers.

I'd heard of the taxi robberies too. It was a really popular topic lately… but all I knew was that people were disappearing along with the taxis. The stuff about drivers vanishing and leaving behind traces of blood was just an exaggeration. God.

The customers I'd picked up on the way to the train station were a girl wearing a sailor uniform and a boy of about the same age.

From the way they acted, I immediately knew they were a couple. They were at the age where they were in love with being in love. I wanted to enter into their world. There was no way I, a taxi driver and a stranger nearly ten years older than them, could enter into their world.

I knew. I knew that. But still…

That was why I thought they wouldn't talk about those things inside a taxi. See?

Of course, I'd had a lot of customers I didn't like for practical reasons. Those who tried to run out without paying; those who started arguing and tried to weasel their way out of paying. The guys who chowed down on convenience store bentos and spilled them everywhere. I'd had to steel myself against drunk guys vomiting and pissing too.

Well, that was fine. Those were things you had to be prepared for if you were gonna do this job.

But this… it might've been nothing to other guys, but for me, it was the worst possible situation.

I'm… you know.

...I hate scary stories!

"You know, the taxi ghost story builds on the horror of something happening inside an enclosed space, so things like that have been told around the world for a long time. It sort of builds off a template."

Logically enough, the boy then began talking about the ghost story. Oh, this guy I could still stand. He acted like ghosts were just a superstition. The problem was the girl.

"But… they say templates like that summon the real thing! So maybe one's drawing close to this taxi even now!"

Wait, wait, wait. Don't say anything that'll make me freak out.

It's fine if it's just you. You'll be getting off the taxi soon anyway. But I spend the whole day in this taxi doing my job, okay? Until late at night… Not to mention I'll be using this taxi for work tomorrow and the day after too. If you think you might be summoning something, then I'd like you to stop talking about it.

But if I said, "Sir, Miss, please just leave it at that," it would sound like I was a loser who believed in monsters.

I drove, steeped in anguish, until the boy called Muu told the girl the words that would be my salvation.

"Oh right, I heard there's a charm that'll definitely protect you if you're attacked by ghosts."

"Huh, really?"

Really!?

Help from an unexpected corner. No, it wasn't like I believed in ghosts, but it was good enough just having one more way to put my mind at ease.

I focused the bare minimum of my attention on driving to avoid an accident and concentrated the rest of my mind on the boy's voice.

"So what you do is--"

"Oh, wait, Muu."

!? Hey! Why'd you stop!?

"Driver, here will be fine!"

"Huh!? Oh, y-yeah! That's 1300 yen."

Even I thought I sounded like an idiot. And I really was an idiot. While I had been absorbed in their story, terrified, we'd already reached the traffic circle in front of the station that was their destination.

Stupid, if I'd known it would be like this, I would've driven slower…!

The boy who knew how to save me got out first and handed 1000 yen to the girl, who drew 300 yen from her own wallet and offered it all to me.

I took it, feeling conflicted, and gave them my very best professional smile as I said, "Thank you for your business."

After making sure the girl had exited, I let out a huge sigh.

I looked outside the window, searching for a change of mood, and thought to myself that the atmosphere around the station had really changed. The lineup of shops looked to be completely different than it was three weeks ago, and I sighed again at the swift passage of time.

I wanted to stay here for a little while longer to calm down and let the fear fade from my heart, but the world was not so willing to give me a break from my job.

I turned at the sound of a knock on the window. Standing next to the taxi was a young woman not so different from the girl earlier. I reflexively opened the door and let her inside -- but another two men appeared immediately after, and I grew slightly nervous.

An Asian girl… normally I would assume she was Japanese, but… the two who entered the car after her were a black man with dreadlocks, wearing sunglasses, and a white man, also wearing sunglasses, with skin so pale it was startling.


"Oh… so you're John Delta."

"Yeah. Have you heard of us?"

I continued chatting with the girl in the passenger's seat as I gripped the steering wheel. In the back seat, the black man did nothing but laugh "Hyahahahahaha," and the white man covered his face, wearing a complicated expression, and seemed disinclined to talk. Though I felt uneasy about the two foreigners, my nervousness slowly dissipated as I talked to the Japanese girl.

"...No, I'm sorry. I don't listen to much music… I'll look for you at the store next time."

"Isn't it easier to just check the Internet?" the girl said innocently. She wore casual clothes and did seem like some idol sneaking off in disguise for some shopping.

Come to think, the two foreigners behind me could have been some kind of bodyguards. But they were part of the same unit, with the white man writing the lyrics and the black man in charge of composing the songs.

"I can only sing! I'm totally incompetent! Incompetent!"

The girl laughed shrilly as she put herself down. She really didn't look like she'd be good at the lyrics or composition, but her laughter was surprisingly clear and lingered gently in my ears.

Of course, the sound of it was soon drowned out by the throaty laughter from the back.

...Though the only two who'd been laughing were this girl and the black man. The white man wasn't laughing at all… wait, was he even still alive?

The thought made me a bit uneasy, but we were nearly at their destination. Geez. It looked like I would be able to finish my job without incident this time.

But right after that thought crossed my mind -- "Ah," the girl whispered, looking straight ahead.

Was there something there?

The moment I turned my gaze to look -- a nervous yell echoed throughout the small, enclosed space of the car.

"Stop, s-stop, please stop, right now I'm begging you stop right now stop the car right now!"

The strange Japanese seemed to have come from the white man in the back seat. To be honest, I jumped so hard I thought I would burst.

It was perfectly understandable that I suddenly applied the brakes without thinking about it. ...No, it was something I really shouldn't have done as a taxi driver with a class 2 license, but I was only human, so I hope you can overlook it.

Feeling giddy, I stopped the taxi on the shoulder of the road and put on an extremely calm expression. I called out to the white man in the back seat, "S-Sir… Please don't scare me like that…"

"Ahh, sorry about that, that was extremely rude of me, and I'll pay you and you can keep the change, so I wanted to ask if we can get off now, but how can you forgive me?"

I was surprised at how fluently he spoke Japanese, but more than that, I was overwhelmed by his strange, threatening attitude.

"I'm extremely grateful to you for taking us this far, but right now I can't control the urge to get out of this car, and I don't think it'll go away, so if you open the door, I will be even more grateful to you, so if you'd please hurry up, I…"

I'd heard the comparison "speaking like a machine gun", but the white man's speech reminded me more of a shotgun. Assailed by the bullets of his words, I accepted the money and had already opened the door.

"Ah, ahhhh, I will show you my gratitude by thanking you. Thank you."

The white man practically rolled out of the car, followed by the black man, who continued laughing as always. And lastly, the Japanese girl said, "Sorry! He's not quite right in the head!" and threw open the passenger-side door.

I thought she would leave with that -- but she suddenly stopped moving and stared at my face.

The girl had introduced herself as the vocalist of John Delta. She had a cute face but eyes that seemed to see through everything, like a wild owl. Her eyes like glass balls gave rise to a tense atmosphere within the car.

And then, wearing an expression that I couldn't quite tell if it was laughing or serious, she spoke, still looking at me. "...Be careful, okay? I think you'll be fine if you just stay strong."

"Huh?"

And before I could think of anything to say, the girl closed the passenger-side door and left, following the two foreigners.

...What was that about?

Those were customers that made me feel uneasy, more than scared or angry, in a way the couple from before had not. We were still about one kilometer from their destination, so why had that white man panicked so much? Maybe he'd really needed the bathroom? Oh, that I could believe.

Okay… maybe I would return to the station and look for new customers… Wait, that last customer had said he didn't need change… but he'd given me a 10,000 yen bill! I wondered if this was really all right, but he'd probably realized himself the trouble he was causing.

In that case, maybe I'd take a break for a bit.

The sky through the windshield was a calm blue. I stretched out within the car to shake off the sleepiness brought on by the sunlight shining down on my body.

I reached toward the dashboard, thinking I would read the sports section of the newspaper I had picked up before going to work--

--And then I saw her.

In front of me, on the shoulder. On the edge of a thick grove of trees was a girl wearing a knapsack, looking at me and waving.

Without thinking, I dropped the newspaper on the floor in front of the passenger's seat. ...Damn. Well, I could just pick it up later. Anyway, I couldn't leave a customer waiting.

Lately, it wasn't unusual for an elementary-schooler to take a taxi. It was a lot different from when I was a kid. Well, I guess there were kids who used them even back then.

I slapped my cheek to wake myself up before I could get lost in my vague memories. I revved the engine a little and lifted my foot from the clutch, letting the taxi slowly advance toward the child.

"...Huh?"

A sound of confusion involuntarily escaped my mouth.

Right after I checked my rearview and side mirrors to make sure there was no one behind me, I realized the girl had disappeared from where she had been standing previously.

'She vanished?'

Puzzled, I looked around. When I turned my head to look behind me and to the left, I found the girl again. She was already standing next to the car, giving me a soft smile from beside the rear door.

When the hell did she... it looked like I'd spaced out a bit. Geez, sunlight was supposed to be good for you, but sometimes it caused its own share of trouble.

"Please come in."

As I opened the door, I gave her, not my professional smile, but a true smile directed at a child. Of course, there had also been countless cases of children with whom I'd done the same but who had given me no end of trouble when they rode.

I glanced in the rearview mirror as those thoughts crossed my mind and found that the girl had already planted herself right in the middle of the back seat.

...Huh? She's inside already. I hadn't noticed at all. I really wasn't paying attention. I would have to be careful while driving.

Flustered, I closed the rear door and glanced at the girl's face in the rearview mirror. "Okay, Miss, where are we going?"

The moment I spoke, the girl looked extremely happy. Her smile was overjoyed.

?

...Well, she was a kid, after all. Maybe it had been hard for her to talk to a taxi driver.

Deciding to go with that, I continued to wait for the girl's reply. She was a little girl with glossy black hair and cute features. She would definitely grow into quite the beauty. She might even grow up to be as cute as the vocalist girl from before. ...Though there was something a little unsettling about her eyes.

The girl from the high school couple who had ridden even before that was cute too, but she was no good at all. I couldn't stand the kind of obliviousness that had her telling taxi horror stories inside of a taxi.

...Ugh, I remembered something scary.

The girl continued to smile without saying anything, resulting in a strange silence inside the taxi. It was kind of creepy. Was it just me, or had the air inside the taxi gotten a little colder…?

In the silence, the girl's smile began to make me feel uneasy. Her smile was as fixed as a still photograph, as if time had stopped around her…

"To Tama Lake, please."

Time began to move again.

She was really just a normal girl. Geez, that high schooler's story really got me all nervous…

"Okay, got it."

I smiled more widely than necessary and stepped gently on the gas pedal. Though the smile was half to reassure myself...

In response to my smile, the girl in the rearview mirror again gave me an ear-to-ear smile of her own. A smile so very, very happy that it would make one feel uneasy just looking at it--


About five minutes after we set out. A harmonious atmosphere had come to life between the young girl and me as we undertook the journey to her destination.

"No, I'm new around here…"

"I see… it must be tough, but work hard, okay?"

I'd thought she was kind of a strange child, but when I spoke to her, I found she was actually a cheerful and intelligent girl. She acted very mature for her age… not to say that she was worldly, but that she was curious about me and was able to strike up a conversation.

She looked like she was probably in fifth or sixth grade. At this time of day, she might just be leaving school, but I wondered what she was doing at Tama Lake. Maybe she would be meeting up with friends or family at the nearby amusement park.

Anyway, I didn't want to ruin the atmosphere now that we'd finally broken the ice, so I searched around for a conversation topic and decided to talk about the people who'd just now gotten off.

"Oh, now that I think about it, right before you I had three strange customers. Have you heard of John Delta? They're… something like a music group."

"I've heard about them. Three people… yup, that's them! They don't really appear on TV, but they're really famous among… a certain group of people."

"Huh, really?"

I hadn't known at all, and they were a unit even this girl had heard of. Maybe I'd have to start looking into music so I could get along with my customers…

Ah, if I'd known they were that famous, I would've asked for their autographs. I could've bragged to my coworkers… Well, considering how they'd been acting when they left, maybe I couldn't hope for much.

"Those people… the girl and the black man… I've heard they can see things."

"See... what things?"

In response to my cheerful question, the girl once again spoke in an endlessly bright voice.

Just one word.

Just… one… word…

"...Ghosts."


A certain place in Tokorozawa, Shinkichi Hariyama's home, outside

"Haaaariyaaaama-saaaaan!"

The doorbell was right in front of her, but instead the girl called out loudly in her own voice.

"Hahaha." "..."

On the other hand, the two people wearing sunglasses stood behind her, their expressions a complete contrast.

The girl sounded extremely childish, but the wind around her stirred as it would at the voice of a god or fairy. The front door opened, as if it too stirred with the wind, and in front of the three people -- John Delta -- a single man appeared.

The glasses-wearing man had the kind of face that no one would hate or even resent. When it got down to it, it was an “endearing face”, with features that contained not a hint of disagreeableness.

The expression on that face, on which there was nothing that stood out in particular besides the glasses, was one of pure, unbridled joy upon meeting dear friends.

"Hey… it's been a while, you three! Kodama-chan, Strega-san, Claritas-san, you all look like you've been doing well!"

He gave the three an ear-to-ear grin. The two men showed no reaction, but the girl called Kodama laughed a little with embarrassment in response -- then narrowed her owl-like eyes and glared at the glasses-wearing man and his surroundings.

"Ahaha, Hariyama-san, you look great too. And those around you are doing really well."

Kodama had clearly said something unnatural, but the man called Hariyama-san laughed a little, troubled, and swept his gaze over his surroundings.

"Oh… so there really is something there? Like our ancestors or something?"

"Hmm, they're pretty fuzzy to me. What do you think, Strega?"

"Hahaha."

The black man, Strega, said with an unwavering smile, "Dialga, gulleye, la, alien, wiras. Sura, regold, jal, la, bolt, rietalri, alalaci."

It was impossible to tell what language he spoke in, but Kodama smiled brightly and interpreted her companion's words as if it were nothing. "Umm, he says, 'The ghosts of humans and aliens and dragons, and a spirit with the face of a fish, and some sort of monster I don't really recognize that's got all these tentacles and screws, are all floating around!'"

When he heard the girl's words, delivered without an ounce of hesitation, Hariyama-san spoke with a strangely relieved expression.

"Ahh… I'm really glad I don't have a sixth sense…"


"G-ghosts?"

"Yeah, and not just that… they can see spirits and other abnormal things too."

...She'd said a word I didn't like.

I felt slightly disconcerted, but, well, it was just a kid's story. I smiled awkwardly and gave her the appropriate response. "Wow… ghosts, huh?"

"But it's not like they make money off it or do it as a job or anything. ...Just that when you put on one of their CDs, there are rumors that ghosts appear more often."

...I take back what I said before. I'm really glad I didn't get their autographs.

To hide my shameful, cowardly thoughts from the girl, I gave her an even more ordinary response. "But I wonder if it's true."

"I think so."

"Why?"

"Because… it seemed like those people could see me…"

Shit!

...Ugh, that guy just cut in front of me. Did the driver even have a license? The idiot was even wearing a red knit cap like he thought he was cool or something...

"Ah, er, sorry. Honestly, kids these days drive so wildly… Well, I'm still just twenty myself. ...Um, did you say something just now?"

"No, nothing… Just be careful and try not to have an accident, okay?"

"Haha, I definitely wouldn't do anything that endangers a customer," I replied professionally. I sensed that the girl smiled behind me.

I sensed that…

...she was smiling?

When I glanced in the rearview mirror, the girl really was smiling. The corners of her mouth were curled with joy like a doll, and her delighted gaze was focused on me.

Smiling… huh?

Smiling… huh?

Sensed… sensed… what?

How do you… sense that someone's smiling?

It's true that I had known the girl was smiling just now. But… I didn't hear her laugh, and there was no sound of air escaping her lips… and I hadn't seen it in the rearview mirror.

Then… how? How had I known she was smiling just now?

Doubt.

My senses and my brain had definitely felt that she smiled. ...Without using the five senses of my body at all.

I did not believe that I possessed any special ability. If there was anything, it had to be…

It was...

I didn't want to think about it. Right now, I just had to do my job.

"Anyway… you speak really formally to me even though I'm just a kid, Mr. Driver."

"Huh? Well… it just happened naturally. Hahaha." I tried to respond casually to her statement to hide the unease I had felt just now, but--

"The driver I rode with before was really scary, you know…?"

...Huh?

I was uneasy again. What was it about this time?

Even as I thought to myself that I had to find out -- it occurred to me. If I figured out what that unease was… no, even if I hadn't figured it out, my subconscious already knew!

And the moment I faced my subconscious and realized the truth behind that unease--

Creak.

I heard… a sound. A sound that came from inside of me.

Electricity ran through every nerve in my body, sending a momentary shiver up my back.

It was the sound of my spine stiffening. I knew the reason for it.

It was fear.

And I also knew the reason for my fear.

The girl's last words--

Had been spoken from right next to me. I had heard them from the passenger's seat.

I felt my heart rate increase. I was so afraid I couldn't look to the left. I couldn't turn towards the passenger's seat, the direction of her voice. Instead, I discreetly glanced in the rearview mirror.

...But it reflected--


The figure of the girl still sitting there.




My gaze reflexively moved to my left.

...And there I saw nothing but the passenger's seat and the door and window beyond.

There was nothing at all unusual. Nothing… right?

But I had definitely heard her voice… no, not just her voice, but like before… I had strongly sensed her smiling to my left.

The nervousness tickled at me, similar to when the barber cut the hair at the nape of my neck. But it was magnified several times over, becoming an unpleasant nagging that wouldn't leave me… I definitely felt something like that from my left side.

"Is something wrong, Mr. Driver? Taking your eyes off the road is dangerous."

The girl's voice sounded different than it had previously. ...No, it was just a normal girl's voice. Nothing was different, of course.

...Damn, I was all wound up because that couple had been talking about weird things. That had to be it.

"Ah… um… I'm fine."

What was this?

A terrible unease had settled down in my throat. It was an unease like that which I'd felt the very first time I'd experienced a strong stomachache or headache. It was the unease of not knowing the reason for the pain I felt. It strongly resembled the temporary uneasiness I felt when ill and wondering if my life was in danger.

Back then, the uneasiness had vanished when the pain had gone or after I'd been seen by a doctor. But right now, I was still trying to figure out how to handle that "pain".

The harmonious atmosphere from before had already begun to vanish. It was because I sensed something was wrong, but when I thought about it, the silence only served to increase my unease. I couldn't even remember anymore when it started, even though it had only happened a few minutes, or maybe several dozen seconds, ago. It was all a haze.

Even though the girl had done nothing wrong.

...That was what I wanted to believe.

She was just a normal girl. I wanted to believe that.

Uneasy, I glanced at her face in the mirror again.

At that moment, the girl casually issued directions. "Ah, turn left on that road, please!"

"Oh…"

Ahead of us was a roundabout way to Tama Lake. It was a neglected road suddenly devoid of life where neither cars nor people seemed to pass very often.

But I couldn't just ignore my customer's directions… and that deeply ingrained habit impeded my judgment. The moment I thought "Damn," I'd already turned the steering wheel.

And was I imagining things? The girl's behavior was growing steadily more childlike than before.

"Sorry, Mr. Driver! There's just somewhere I really wanna go before we get there…"

Only about half the girl's words were getting through to me.

The signs of life around us were disappearing very, very quickly. In a single instant, the clamor of the town vanished. Though it felt as if my head had been suddenly covered by a cloth, we continued down the rough road through the copse of trees.

You could reach a place like this just by taking the right road. This town really was backward compared to the city. Just thirty seconds ago we were on a street with convenience stores and everything!

As I sat there confused, a voice sounded from behind me.

"What's wrong? Mr. Driver… You've been really quiet for a while."

Her voice was cold.

It wasn't that her voice was without emotion. I felt… the temperature of her voice.

It was cold. Really cold! Just now!

If there was some sort of god or even a demon reading my mind, I would tell them in a loud voice! Right now, I could feel the temperature of her voice! Believe me! I definitely felt a cold that chilled my whole body… my soul, my heart!

There's no way that could happen!

I was hallucinating! There was only a normal girl sitting behind me! She'd been talking so happily about John Delta just a little while ago!

"Oh, right, it's here, right here!"

"? W-What is?"

She really was starting to sound more and more like a kid.

Feeling strangely on edge, I regretted my actions of a few seconds ago. I shouldn't have asked what she meant.

It was a mistake to ask. That was what my instincts told me. While we were on the subject, maybe it was a mistake to give this girl a ride in the first place.

Or maybe even those three people had ridden… or the couple who wanted to go to the station…

I shouldn't have become a taxi driver. That was what I decided. I was able to decide that without waiting for the girl's answer.

And as for the reason… once again…

She was sitting in the passenger's seat.

"It's here…"

As I felt my mouth suddenly go dry, I just sat... and listened to the girl's words.

"This is where… I was murdered by the taxi driver I rode with..."

I could do nothing but listen.

Nothing!

What else could I do!?

In this situation!

Someone like me!


A certain place in Tokorozawa, Shinkichi Hariyama's home, parlor

"That girl was amazing. Even I could see her really, really clearly!"

"Hahaha." "......"

The three members of "John Delta" loitered in the Western-style parlor, killing time with idle conversation as they waited for Hariyama-san to get the documents they had come for.

Kodama and Strega would sometimes glance at thin air, and Strega was speaking to "something" in a surprisingly normal way, but Claritas simply clutched his face and muttered to himself without saying a word about his companions' behavior.

They were the same as always, but if there was one thing about today that was different -- it was when Claritas had suddenly declared that they were getting off the taxi.

As a result, they'd had to walk about one kilometer after they had disembarked… but the female vocalist did not seem at all displeased about it. Instead, she told her friends her impression of the thing she had seen.

The black man she spoke to wore a cheerful smile as he made sounds of agreement, while the white man kept his head down and remained silent.

"After that… I looked back, but… the taxi driver had opened the door, which means he saw her, right?"

"Hahaha." "......"

And, showing neither condescension nor pity for the taxi driver who had carried them, the girl continued to speak lightly about the true nature of the thing they had seen.

"That… it's been a while since I've such a 'dark' being. If she's an evil spirit--

"She would probably kill someone, given thirty minutes with them."


The moment I heard her words, what I did -- was not leap from the car, nor look straight at the girl and respond--

But step harder on the gas pedal.

"Don't… haha… don't… hahaha… don't joke like that, please. Saying you were killed… that's not something a kid should be saying."

It was the wrong thing to say. I spoke without thinking.

Even as I said such meaningless things, my brain and my foot put all my strength into stepping on the gas pedal. It wasn't that I thought I would make it if I went faster. I just wanted to escape from that place.

...Even though, no matter how much I increased the car's speed, the source of my fear was inside that same car... right next to me!

"You already know I'm not joking, don't you?"

Stop, shut up.

No, please be quiet.

Please go away. Please.

Why… how did this… why!?

"O-Oh dear… how did you get to the passenger's seat?"

I knew. I already knew how. But my mouth had opened on its own and my lungs struggled to draw breath.

My instincts clung to hope. There'd been some mistake. There had to be.

The words of that couple played over and over inside my head. "But… they say templates like that summon the real thing! So maybe one's drawing close to this taxi even now!"

"Summon the real thing!"

"Summon the real thing!"

"Summon the real thing!"

Shut up shut up shut up shut up. Stop this girl is such a cute elementary-schooler there's no way she's a ghost everything up till now is definitely just a mistake that's right I'm just tired!

I'm just… tired.

I'm… tired.

……

"Hey… Mr. Driver… why don't you just… look at the truth?"

The girl spoke to me invitingly… as if inviting a friend to test their courage.

"I'm driving right now! I can only look straight ahead!" I yelled.

It was completely meaningless. What the hell was I talking about at a time like this? It was just like a comedy. Ah, but it would be great if it was just a comedy.

I sensed laughter coming over me. I knew the girl in the passenger's seat was laughing.

When the ghost said "I'm behind you right now…" in horror movies and ghost stories, I always bragged, "I definitely wouldn't turn around! I'd smack 'em with an elbow or a backwards kick!", but... but, but… that was impossible!

Not because I was driving… but… I didn't know if it was my instincts or what, but I couldn't not look...! Whenever I saw a horror movie, even though I'd cover my face in fear, I'd slowly start watching from between my fingers. It was just… like… that… but more intense…

More than… an intense temptation…

It pulled my gaze… like I'd been hypnotized… and pulled… and pulled! I was being pulled!

In the next instant, I looked.

At the girl who, still smiling, took the utility knife that had appeared in her hand at some point -- and sliced open her own neck. Red liquid gushed out, and a moment later, I was seized by the sensation of drowning in a sea of lukewarm blood.

I braked suddenly.

A shock.

And then--

☆★

Saitama Prefecture, Tokorozawa, Shinkichi Hariyama's home, parlor

"But, ghosts… we can't touch ghosts, so they can't touch us either, right?"

"Mm. That's not true."

The new John Delta album was slated for release in three months. As he spread out the documents on its design, Hariyama-san began a casual conversation with the mediums.

In response, the female vocalist began to speak in an extremely bright voice, as if she were just chatting with friends. "Well, what Claritas says is that, in this world, ghosts and souls and such are like balls of information! Consciousness is an exchange of electrical signals, so you can just think of them as the aggregation of those exchanges… um, well, that doesn't really matter. Anyway, Claritas defines beings made up of a special kind of 'information' as ghosts. But he said it's different in every world and a lot of other things I don't really understand."

"That's fine. You've already lost me."

"Yeah, I don't get it at all, so it's fine! Umm. So then… right, spirits are balls of information, so they can attune themselves to other kinds of information and rewrite it. If a ghost touches something, it's not like they're touching it directly, but they rewrite the information about its current state in a way we can see."

Kodama spoke about such extraordinary things in an innocent voice. Hariyama-san smiled vaguely and nodded, giving no indication as to whether or not he understood. Entranced by her own words, the girl continued to talk without regard to her surroundings, as if caught in her own world.

"So normally, only people who have matching informational 'colors' can see ghosts. Well, Claritas says we're different. But you know, sometimes a ghost's cluster of information gets really dark. Maybe it's because of resentment or something like that… but then other people can see them too. Right, Claritas?"

"......"

The white man she suddenly spoke to did not move. He did not look at Kodama. He only remained silent, hanging his head and wearing a gloomy expression--

"......"

He just remembered what had occurred when they suddenly exited the taxi and continued to tremble violently.

And tremble,

And tremble.

☆★

A rain of red… no, calling it a flood would be more accurate.

Blood poured heavily down onto my body, a lukewarm… no, rather, a red liquid so warm it could only be called hot…

The moment I recognized it, my nose filled with the raw, metallic smell.

...The reason I could think about it so calmly right now… was because it had already happened.

Right after my vision filled with red, I definitely saw the girl.

I saw the girl, cutting into her own body like it was wet tofu even as she sat in the passenger's seat! Like tofu! Tofu! What was even happening!? She was… cutting into… a human body… easily… so easily!

Right then... my mind went completely blank! Well… you know how it is, right? Even now, my shoulders and legs are shaking and my voice won't work at all!

And for some reason, the taxi radio just wouldn't connect… Someone… someone explain this to me… please!

I remember screaming at the top of my lungs. The moment I thought my shouting would be swallowed up by the red liquid that swamped me--

It disappeared. All of it… every last bit of it disappeared! The red color! The metallic smell! The heat of it on my body!

And… the girl next to me, whose body should have been shredded…

The next thing I knew, I was spacing out as I drove down the center of a road on which no other cars could be seen. Even with all that was happening, I hadn't let go of the steering wheel. I was lucky; I'd avoided having an accident.

What… was that?

Even I thought it was strange to have recovered my composure so quickly, as soon as I woke from the nightmare. But it was said that humans were able to think more calmly than you would expect. At the very least, it was true in my case.

But… but… really… what was that? It would be fine if it was just a dream, but I couldn't even begin to explain what had just happened.

A dream.

I'd heard of waking dreams before. I didn't know exactly what they were, but… maybe it was something like what had happened just now.

...The smell of rust had completely vanished, along with all traces of the blood that had covered my body, and even the sounds and sensations… everything that had given rise to my uneasiness had disappeared altogether.

I could… only think it had been a dream. I was tired. That was what I wanted to believe.

I did think that was impossible, but there was still something that disturbed me…

I could still, still, think calmly.

I was so t-t-t-t-t-terrified it p-p-p-p-paralyzed me.

Every time I thought calmly about w-w-w-w-what had just h-h-h-h-happened I s-s-s-s-s-started to s-s-shake.

I, had to, stop.

T-t-t-t-the car running   down   the r-r-r-r-r-oad

Right   the brake   I had to   apply the   brakes! Anyway, the brakes!

Realizing there was something I had to do, I forced my brain into gear. I just had to step on the brakes, decelerate, and stop on the shoulder of the road. That was all. I just had to hold on to reason until that had been completed.

I took a breath, preparing to stop, and glanced behind me in the side mirror. ...To tell the truth, I didn't want to look in the rearview mirror.

I didn't see anything. No oncoming cars… and no one coming up from behind.

Good…

Breathing a sigh of relief, I stepped on the brake, but--

While the sigh dropped easily from my lips, my foot did not move.

?

It wasn't that I wasn't putting enough power behind it. There was a weird sensation in the brake pedal and I couldn't really step down--

--And that was when I noticed.

Somehow, my brain and body were acting completely separately. The moment I noticed that, all the bones in my body creaked, and my mouth and lungs together formed a scream -- but I was still calm.

When I dropped my gaze, I saw a slender, white object lodged into the space between the brake and the floor -- the arm of a human child.

I knew immediately whose arm it was.

…The girl's own arm… which she had earlier shredded with the utility knife.

I'm scared. Scared scared scared scared scared scared scared scared.

I calmly felt fear. While my mind was not ensnared by panic, my body was instead ensnared by intense nausea and chills.

"What's wrong? Mr. Driver… you can't stop here."

I heard the girl's voice.

In that instant, the air inside the car grew colder and my skin began to prickle. At the same time -- something caught my leg.

The arm underneath the brake pedal… had slipped out at some point and was grasping both my ankles. It wasn't holding on tight at all, but for some reason, my feet wouldn't move. It was as if I had been hypnotized.

"We still… haven't reached our destination."

Her voice… was coming from the passenger's seat.

On the passenger's seat was a red, red knapsack, the kind used by elementary school girls. ...I could easily guess what was inside.

Why… why did this…

"Oh… good… finally… I can finally touch you."

No… no no no.

"That means… you've gotten closer to me."

She sounded a bit childish and a bit like an old con man.

"Look… you can see them, right?"

Unable to defy the girl's words, I… focused my gaze outside the window. Around the taxi… the window… the windshield… was something fuzzy and transparent, a bit like a hologram…

Not... something. I… already knew that.

"They're your friends."

They were… taxi drivers.

They turned their empty gazes on me, showing no emotion and or any will of their own, gathering close around the car even as it drove down the road.

...It was as if they were saying they would steal the driver's seat from me.

I knew immediately who they were. I'd heard rumors about them just a little while ago. They had to be the taxi drivers who had disappeared.

Ahhh, ahhhhh, I understood, now that it had come to this, now that I'd separated from my body as it ached with fear. The criminal behind the disappearances… no, the murders... was this girl. The girl's... ghost… no… evil spirit… or perhaps she was some other kind of existence…

Anyway… at this rate, I would become one of these translucent drivers too!

They filled the entire landscape visible through the window and in the mirrors -- and maybe they knew I saw them, because they began to laugh. Only their jaws and tongues moved; their empty, staring gazes remained fixed on me.

All together

All together

As if they were one being, mocking me.

Hehehehehehe.

Hehehehehehehehe.

He he he he he he he.

He                   he                 hehe                      hehe                 he                   he
He   hehe   hehehe   hehe                                                hehe   hehehe   hehe   he
Hehe                                                                                                            hehe
He                   he hehe he he he                           he he he hehe he                   he
He he he                                                                                                 he he he
Hehehe    he    he    he                                                        he    he    he    hehehe

A prison. It was just like I was imprisoned. I was trapped by that unnatural laughter with no hope of escape. I couldn't step on the brake or move my right hand to the door handle either. From the moment I first heard the laughter, my body ignored my commands and continued driving the car on its own.

Maybe these drivers felt nostalgic for the way they had lived.

Was I the only one who heard the laughter? Anyone passing by me on the road wouldn't notice anything strange about my taxi.

"Well… it's about time for me to get off. Sorry, I don't have money -- so I'll just make more pieces of you to match the fare."

Make more pieces... she probably meant to chop me up.

When I looked over… the flap of the knapsack in the passenger's seat had opened. I caught a glimpse of the inside. The interior should have been white, but it was dyed the ugly color of blood. But the girl… the girl's head was not inside.

Well, I already knew that. Because I could sense the girl laughing… from right next to my ear.

I let fear overtake my body and cast a glance… only a glance to the side.

And then… I saw it. The moment the smile disappeared from the girl's face.

Oh, this was definitely a sign that she was about to kill me. It was hopeless. Hopeless--

"Huh…?"

But--

What I heard next were words that I did not expect to come from the girl's mouth.

"What… is this…"


Saitama Prefecture, Tokorozawa, Shinkichi Hariyama's home, parlor

"But that was really mean of you, Claritas. You stopped the taxi all of a sudden like that… because you thought we'd get involved, right?"

"Hahaha."

Hariyama-san had gone in search of snacks. The female vocalist rapped the white man sharply on the head.

As before, Claritas showed no reaction. That was what his team members Kodama and Strega thought, but--

He abruptly lifted his head, regarding them with bloodshot eyes, and spoke. "Don't -- don't be stupid. I've told you over and over and over and over not to be stupid, over and over. I'm different from abnormal people like you, who can see things that shouldn't be seen. Girl? Malevolent spirit? Hmph! Not to brag, but I didn't see or feel anything like that!"

He began spewing the bullets of his words with the ferocity of a machine gun, like a tape recorder on fast-forward.

Kodama looked taken aback for a split second, but she quickly regained her composure and replied to Claritas with a slightly sulky expression. "Ahh, you're calling other people weird again! Ugh, don't you believe us?"

"Hahaha."

"Yes, of course I do! Naturally, if you two saw it, it existed! In actuality! Right there!" Claritas shouted forcefully.

Kodama made as if to answer again, but… "...Huh? Wait, then, Claritas… you really didn't see that girl?"

"I've told you over and over that I can't sense ghosts, over and over! ...Ah, so you two really didn't notice?"

"Notice what?"

Without answering Kodama's question, he quietly shook his head and asked the other two, just to be sure. "Ahh… ahh… now that you mention it… that's right, Kodama, Strega. What you saw… did the girl you saw get in the taxi?"

"Yeah."

"Hahaha."



"I see…"

Hearing their answers, emotion crossed Claritas's face for the first time.

"...Poor thing."

His sympathy was clearly not for the driver, but for the girl he himself could not see. Trembling violently, he made a guess as to the current situation.

"If she's noticed… she's probably terrified right about now.

"What an unlucky evil spirit, to ride that taxi…"


"What… wh… what is that!?"

?

I wondered what was wrong. I'd already given up, and yet the girl's confused voice echoed in my ears.

"What… is that… is the meter broken? But… it's on the rate chart too… huh? What… is this?"

? What was she talking about…?

The girl glared at me and told me nervously, "Read it… don't ask questions, just tell me out loud what my fare is!"

Geez, what was she going on about? If she was going to kill me, then she should just get it over with. If she was going to let me go, then just let me go…!

"Hurry and read it!"

Uncomprehending, I did as she ordered and read the fare reflected on the meter. My voice shaking, I read off what I thought was a very normal thing.

"Y… Y-Your… Your… Your fare is… one… one thousand rai hundred rainty yen!"

"What… what does that mean!? Read it properly! How can you mess around at a time like this!? Don't you realize the situation you're in!?"

"Huh… huh?"

Why was the ghost mad?

"Rai… what's rai hundred rainty yen supposed to be!?"

What… "rai" was "rai."

"What... what's this number? The one that looks like a sharper hiragana , kind of like the letter L."

"Like… like I said. It's 'rai.' One, two, three, four, five, six, rai, eight, nee, ten… that rai."

"...Nee... What is 'nee'!? What happened to seven!? And where did nine go!?"

"...Seven? Nine?"

Why was she screaming at me about something like this right before she killed me? This girl… could she not even count?

The girl looked around inside the car with amazing energy, and her eyes alighted upon the sports newspaper that had fallen under the passenger's seat. The newspaper floated into the air on its own and came to a halt next to me, in front of the girl's head.

And then… after a single glance, the girl wailed in a voice even more bewildered than before.

"What… the date on this newspaper…"

"Sedecimber third… Sedecimber… what is this!? What in the world…!?"


Saitama Prefecture, Tokorozawa, Shinkichi Hariyama's home, parlor

"What's wrong, Claritas-san? Did you have another dream about another world's version of yourself?"

Having returned with the snacks, Hariyama-san set a teacup in front of the agitated Claritas. He asked, "What was it last time? Your other-world self was taking a strange test to check for a sixth sense… and in a different world, you had some nightmare about a god's bubbles…"

Claritas stood up forcefully and clutched Hariyama-san's shoulder to interrupt him. Then he began to speak, as if completely ignoring the previous conversation topic. "...Hypothetically, just hypothetically, Hariyama-san! Just think about it! I just want you to consider it! Hypothetically! What does someone who's become a ghost, someone dedicated to causing fear in others, what do you think someone like that is afraid of!? No, wait, don't just think about it! Go through it logically! Hypothesize! I want to hear the conclusion at the end of your line of reasoning! That's all! That's all! That's all!"

Claritas clutched his head and slumped over the table, his gaze fixed unwaveringly on Hariyama-san's eyes beyond his glasses.

"Ghosts… well, when it comes down to it, ghosts used to be living humans. They're afraid of the unknown. Things that defy what they think of as common sense… for example, for humans, it would be things like ghosts or demons… they would be terrified by things they don't understand. Because it pokes holes in their information, their past, and their common sense! So, so they are afraid! Their bodies are made of information, and so they'll be crushed into pieces and disappear completely!"

"Haa." Even after seeing Claritas's haunted expression, Hariyama-san did not show an ounce of disgust or fear. He didn't understand at all why Claritas was suddenly saying this, but he nodded anyway.

Claritas trembled violently, perhaps again remembering what had occurred. "That taxi… the taxi we were riding, Hariyama-san! It was clearly, clearly strange! Not like the ghost of a taxi, but more… more unfamiliar than a ghost...! It was a little… only a little different! That's why, that's why…"


Monologue of the information that makes up the girl

--I was murdered.

I was strangled by the taxi driver. Strangled. STRANGLED.

I'm sure of it. That's what I remember. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe… it's a muddled memory I got from one of the other ghosts I met.

I'm sure of what I am. I'm a ghost. Before I was murdered, I was human. I lived and breathed as a human being.

My soul lingered in this world to get revenge on the taxi driver who murdered me. I struck fear into him and shook his soul until it resonated with me. I made him fear me, and then I killed him, made him feel even more fear and loneliness, and took control of his soul. That's how I grew stronger.

...So I had my revenge just like that.

In the beginning, all I could do was show myself and cause accidents. But the first accident I caused and the first person I killed was the taxi driver who murdered me. Even now he's stuck on the back of his taxi like discarded gum on the road. It's a good feeling.

But -- after feeling satisfied for a bit, I suddenly grew afraid. What should I do now that I'd had my revenge?

No… what would happen to me?

Why did I exist?

I was a ghost, a soul. If I lost my reason for being in this world, I would go to heaven… wait, go to heaven? I hadn't been visited by an angel or one of my ancestors, so did a place like that really exist!?

I got scared, so -- I stayed in this world. I even hung around babies and pregnant women to see if I would reincarnate. At first, I only had the knowledge of a young child, but… my soul synchronized with the taxi driver I'd killed and the souls of things like myself floating around… and I stole their knowledge. And then I used all that knowledge to see if I could be reborn or go to heaven. I tried everything I could think of, but in the end, nothing worked.

I was scared.

What would happen to me if my current form was destroyed? Would my consciousness just stop… and fall into eternal darkness… no, not even darkness. It would just be erased.

I was scared. Scared. Scared--

What if I turned out like the things that were like me that I met floating around… what if I slowly faded into thin air and lost sight of myself?

No. I didn't want that.

So… so I made myself a new goal. I would kill all the taxi drivers. I would hate them, and trample them, and make them fear me, and then I would kill them. That was what I decided.

Every time I killed, my sense of self grew stronger, and I felt like the color of my soul was getting darker. ...No, it really was getting darker. The more I killed, the more people there were who could sense me.

Everything was supposed to go well today. I would kill him, and that would be the end of it.

But…! But…!

No! No no no!

What I saw in this taxi… it wasn't me! It was different from my memories… from my common sense and the world I knew!

Numbers I'd never seen before, a date I'd never seen before. Even when I looked at the words on the newspaper, I saw lots of hiragana I didn't recognize.

The newspaper said the cold war between the North Pole and South Pole had ended. Were there countries at the North and South Pole? Looking at it, it says that Noria, the country at the North Pole, is the world's biggest military state.

It's wrong, no, no, it's different from all the knowledge I've absorbed up till now. I don't know any numbers rai and nee! I don't know about a Sedecimber!

It's a lie! This is all a lie!

I decided to kill the driver as fast as I could to break free of the current situation. If I didn't kill him quickly and get away from this taxi… the lie would turn into reality!

Scared, I moved my consciousness from inside myself back to the space inside the car. But at that moment--

I noticed an even greater abnormality.

The drivers I had killed clung to the sides of the taxi. I realized their laughter was slowly fading away. And… their forms were fading from sight.

Impossible. They… shouldn't be disappearing yet.

Even as I felt my body begin to distort, I looked outside, searching for the vanishing dead people to distract myself from my fear.

A second later -- I regretted it immensely.

I shouldn't have looked outside.

"Where… are we…?"


Saitama Prefecture, Tokorozawa, Shinkichi Hariyama's home, parlor

"One type of curse is a struggle between information. From the target's past to their future, from their memories to the DNA inside their cells, all of the information that proves their existence, their life -- that information struggles with each other, interferes with each other, and destroys each other. By the way, that is what we call fear."

His eyes haunted, John Delta's leader continued to speak in a whisper with his hand still firmly clutching Hariyama-san's shoulder. He expounded on his strange theory about ghosts, whether or not there was any meaning behind it.

"Let's think about it, no, please consider it. Let's pretend we become ghosts after we die. But say even if we accept that no wait however what does it mean to accept it… Let's think about it. What would a ghost think? 'If I'm destroyed, where will my ego go?' ...That's right, for humans there's an afterlife, but…"

As he listened to the interrupted sentences passing as Japanese, Hariyama-san mulled over Claritas's words and responded, "A ghost would think there's nothing ahead for them?"

"Or they might think they would be reincarnated, but no one knows for sure… From what Kodama and Strega have said about the things they see, religion isn't very popular among ghosts. Right… normally ghosts would believe there's nothing more that can kill them! And that's why, that's why! The terror they feel during a crisis--"

And there he paused for a moment, his whole body trembling with fear, and then concluded.

"It is most likely at a level that a living human cannot comprehend -- that is my guess."


"Where… where are we… this is… different, it's different! This isn't the town I know! It looks a lot like it, but… but… it's different!"

Give me a break. Just give me a break already.

This girl… this ghost… what's she been yelling about? If you're going to kill me, just finish it already. If you're going to spare me, then please spare me!

That was what my reason wanted to say, but my emotions had run away with me, and all I could do was sit there, teeth chattering.

When I thought the girl was finally done shouting for the time being -- she looked at herself in the rearview mirror and began to wail even more pathetically than before. "No… no…  no… in the mirror… I'm… changing... I'm changing…!"

Spurred on by the girl's words, I sent her a fleeting glance… and her face really did look a lot different from before. Blood was running from her mouth, her face was turning purple from lack of oxygen, and her eyeballs…


I didn't want to look anymore. Because… because it was like looking at the face of a corpse. Because that corpse's face was twisted in an expression of terror.

"It's my face… when I was killed…! No, no, I don't want to go back! I don't want to… don't want to die… like I did then… but… back then… back when I was alive, was that the real me!? But this world… is different… from what I remember… why is it so different!? ...Huh? ...What?"

As always, I had no idea what she was talking about, but the girl fell silent for a moment and then began to whisper in a voice devoid of emotion.

"The mirror… why? This... mirror… why? Right and left are… why… why doesn't it reverse the right and left?"

She was talking even more nonsense…! What… what was even happening!?

I was finally able to move my mouth and form words, and I somehow succeeded in yelling out what was on my mind.

"There... There's no such thing as… a mirror that reverses the right and left!"

"No…. nooooooooooooooooooo! I can't take it anymoooooooore!"

She screamed like a toddler throwing a tantrum, and then she began to shout at me. She didn't hide her fear at all as she turned to me, who was also afraid, and without hesitating, she shrieked, "Hey… what am I? I'm… what even am I!?"

That's what I want to know!

"Help me… help me, Mister!"

I'm the one… I'm the one who needs help here…!

--The next thing I knew, I was driving down a familiar road.

It was the street in front of the station! If I just... If I could just make it to the traffic circle, my friends in the company could…! I could see my living coworkers!

Maybe they could help me. Hope welled up within me, but in contrast--

"...Don't kill me… Mr. Driver, don't kill me… it hurts…"

The girl's voice contained nothing but despair. No, not even despair remained. It was only an entreating whisper, as if her instincts were crying out.

"It hurts… it hurts…"

I turned my attention away from the girl's voice. I couldn't take it anymore. I didn't understand what was happening at all. But I could no longer stand the girl's bitter cries, so I didn't listen to her voice.

...Even so, I couldn't stop the yells that entered my eardrums… That was what I thought, anyway, but somehow… from the moment I decided to reject her voice, I felt like her voice really did grow softer. Maybe I was about to fall into another trap, or maybe she really was weakening and this was a heartfelt cry for help.

But I knew, didn't I!? She tried to curse me and kill me!

...But…

The girl's eyes as she gave her dying screams. When I looked in her eyes, the eyes of a scared child, I felt just a little bit guilty. That was how much fear and suffering were contained in her screams. So much that I ended up feeling sorry for her, even though she had tried to kill me… and there was the fact that she was a kid… Her dying screams really were full of agony… and they made me too scared to even run away.

But… in the end, I couldn't move. That's right, I couldn't do anything.

Of course I couldn't do anything! What was I supposed to do!?

I could no longer feel her arm around my legs. When I took my hand off my ear, I could no longer hear her voice.

I reached the traffic circle in front of the station that served as the taxi pick-up point and stopped the car. At the same time, I let go of the steering wheel and glanced at the girl's face--

Glanced at… her face…

Her face…

When I looked over, she was already gone. Only the red knapsack on the passenger's seat remained.

I could no longer hear the girl's voice. I couldn't feel her presence either. At last I felt warmth suddenly return to the inside of the car… and I realized the knapsack too had disappeared when I wasn't looking.

With that, almost all traces of the girl vanished. All that was left behind was a huge wet stain on the passenger's seat. Like in the old ghost stories, the seat was completely drenched. The only thing different was that--

The seat was drenched in fresh, bright red blood.

Red, so red--

As if that red was begging me to do something.


Saitama Prefecture, Tokoro-zawa, the traffic circle in front of the station [1]

As I sat dumbfounded, my ears registered the sound of someone knocking on the back door.

...A customer.

To be honest, I wasn't in the mood to take anyone. But if I didn't, it would be just me alone with the red stain, and I couldn't stand that.

It would be fine as long as they could all fit in the back seat. There were two customers when I checked, and I calmed myself and opened the door, but--

"Then the taxi ride will be your treat, Mumu!"

"You really are selfish, Luu."

……?

? ? ?

Huh…?

Weren't these the kids I'd brought here around noon? Maybe they'd finished what they came for. Still, I felt like their faces looked a little different… They got in the taxi and asked that I take them to the neighborhood where they'd gotten on this morning.

"Hey, Mumu, have you heard the urban legend… about taxis?"

"Oh, the one there are rumors about lately?"

…? Huh? Didn't they talk about that on the way here…?

Thinking I might have fallen into a timeslip, I looked at the station clock, but the time was around what I thought it should be. Were they different people, then…?

...Huh? The area around the station… wasn't it different before? This morning I'd thought it had really changed... but now it looked the way it always had…?

Ahhh, I just didn't know anymore. Was everything I'd seen just a hallucination? But my wallet did contain the 10,000 yen bill I'd gotten from the white man.

...I was tired. That had to be it.

I'd have to make up some excuse for the red stain on the passenger's seat for the company...

Ahhh, time to call it a day. I'd just go home and sleep. With the lights on, if I could…


"You know, the taxis that drive around here… they say if they go down a certain route, they're thrown into a parallel world that looks a lot like this one… They're only there for about an hour, so a lot of the time they don't even realize it… There are a lot of little differences between this world and that one… and if you notice too many of them, you can't make it back!"

"Ahh, that urban legend sprung up because of all the taxi disappearances lately, right? Is that where it comes from?"

"Mm... But it's been around for a long time. You know, sometimes it mentions paper lanterns on palanquins or lights on ox carriages…"

"Wasn't this area under development around when ox carriages were in use?"

"So about that…"

"Yeah, yeah…"

"..."

"..."

The young man and woman cheerfully talked to each other in the back seat, fully enjoying their daily lives as if to shake off the horrors of the past.

Without realizing that this taxi had undergone an experience that defied all common sense--

Urban Legend 2 ~Taxi Elegy~ -- Fin.



[1] This takes place in the alternate Tokorozawa, which is indicated by the kanji: while the Tokorozawa where the series takes place is written 所沢, the other-world Tokorozawa is written 所座輪. They're phonetically the same, or "almost the same, but just slightly different."

2 comments:

  1. Oh damnnnnnnnn this was batshit I loved it. So intriguing and such surreal shit, rly good fun. I'm like half AHHHHH abt it and half what the fuckin fuck was that? Which tells me that it was definitely Hariyama-san for sure.

    It's not Hariyama-san if you aren't confused about literally everything but also grinning from ear to ear at how fuckin surreal everything is

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks a lot-
    Hariyama is still as entertaining as I remembered.

    ReplyDelete