Chapter 1 - The Unknown One Who Went to Bed / "Night of Rubik's Cube"
"...What is this? Custard pudding?"
The girl said as she poked the yellowish-white object in front of her with a sulky expression.
"Have a taste and you'll know."
"Hmmm... hm?! Th-This..."
She guided the spoon into her mouth, then froze up.
"It's not sweet! This is a fake! What malicious food... When something has a soft foundation and covered with black sauce, it just has to be a pudding!"
"Don't call the food malicious. It's simply tofu, coagulated soybean juice. You don't like it?"
Haruaki sat just opposite of the girl after removing the apron he had on. The girl's ill temper was obvious as she chewed the chilled tofu. She was now wearing a borrowed shirt and hot pants.
"Hmph, it's not bad. It's inferior to the crunchy snack I was munching earlier, though."
"Poor tofu, being compared to a rice-cracker."
"So, that was called a rice-cracker. Now, that one had a unique food texture. It was sweet but spicy at the same time, and that feeling while crunching at it... h-huh? Why are you looking at me?"
Haruaki simply answered that it was nothing, and looked away from the face that said she was caught off-guard. He started eating too. Haruaki thought that this situation was just like what the old sayings said: To eat while you can, since you can't fight a war on an empty stomach. The girl who sat opposite of him unnecessarily checked that the food in front of her was a fish, looking at the broiled mackerel pike as if she had never seen one before. After her thorough observation, she placed down the spoon and fork she was holding. Haruaki imagined what she was going to do and initiated a warning before the girl's bare hands got the mackerel.
"Wait. You'll have to go over my dead body first before you can eat something with bare hands in front of me."
Haruaki reached for the mackerel plate to prevent her hands from grasping it, but for some reason the girl suddenly backed off the tatami space she was sitting on.
"Hey wait. I just misunderstood things earlier. I was a little confused at first, but I'm alright now. I even lent you those clothes, didn't I?"
"I-I'm not sure... I mean, you recently played with THAT part of my body earlier in front of the gate..."
"But I didn't know I was touching THAT part of your body. Oh hell, I'm sorry anyway. Just forgive me already, 'kay?"
Haruaki asked her a cliched apology while he started on the mackerel pike with his chopsticks.
"Watch me, I'll show you how to dismantle this mackerel. Just do it first like this, then grab its head, and then pull it away with those nasty fishbones. It's easy, isn't it?"
The girl watched with interest for a while, but she quickly recovered her wary face. After a few seconds, she snorted with an ill temper as she sat back in front of the table.
"By the way, what's your name?"
"...I'm called Fear."
Fear quickly shut her mouth, as if she were surprised that she'd told him her name.
"Fear, is it?"
"Well, yes. It's none of your business though... you can just call me whatever you want."
"Unfortunately, you're part of my business now. You just became my top priority. In fact, the way you became my top priority was almost foul play. So, what are you anyway? What kind of box are you?"
Without warning, she raised her eyebrows in outrage and started making holes in the broiled mackerel, just after Haruaki raised a question mark at her answer.
"Shut up! It's none of your business, you fool!"
"Whoa! What kind of cursing was that?! I haven't heard them for a while. Anyway, are you a brat, having an outburst like that?!"
"I haven't heard that for a while too... wha, hey! Stop attacking that mackerel and close your mouth!"
"Digging up a lady's past like that! You should learn some respect, you shameless brat!"
Haruaki thought that he didn't want to hear that from HER. But being the sensible one, he decided to give up.
"Whew... Well, I won't push you if you don't want to tell me about your past. I know it's not exactly filled with happy memories."
It seemed that her temper had somewhat cooled down because of Haruaki's honest words. She was at a loss for words and turned her face down.
"I... hate that appearance. I wouldn't want to turn into that form unless its absolutely necessary. Someone told me coming here would be easier with that form. So, I had no choice but to give up..."
"Who told you? My old man?"
"He said his name was Honatsu... Are you his son?"
"Yeah. And my name's Haruaki. How's my old man doing?"
"I don't know. He said that he still had something to do over there."
"As much of a free man as usual, I see. Geez, I'm tired of complaining about him though. As long as he keeps sending money for my living, I'll keep up with his game."
"I don't understand you two... I mean, you and your father. I thought an ordinary man wouldn't try to understand the likes of me."
"We've been receiving cursed tools like you since I was a kid. Usually, tools that we accept are those with a slight curse in it, but there are rare occasions where a tool who can assume human form like you comes here for help."
After a brief silence, Fear let out a sigh and placed down the fork she was holding. Her serious gaze pierced Haruaki as she looked up, her silver hair swaying slightly.
"I'm going to say something serious."
"I... I was placed in some dark dungeon, thrown away long ago by my last owner. Yachi Honatsu came one day and found me. He tried to talk to me, and I told him my wish."
Haruaki already had an idea what her wish was. But, cursed tools who came here with their own will were often the ones who needed to confirm the purpose of their existence by putting them into words. Knowing that, he chose to let her say it out loud from her own mouth.
The girl who was not human answered in a whisper, biting her lips softly,
"I want to free myself from my curse."
"How much do you know...? About the curse, and about tools like me?"
"Well, here's what I know; First, a tool changes its quality in a negative way if it continues to receive negative thoughts. Second, a tool that receives negative thoughts often affects the owner and the people around it. And third, in exchange with the negative effect it brings upon the people around it, it may show a mysterious charm and function..."
"Is that all?"
Haruaki narrowed his eyes and looked at Fear, who was speaking with her eyes looking down at the table.
"To add one more, I know that after receiving all the negative thoughts and curses from humans, an item would become... something that's in front of me right now."
Yes. A tool which received too much grudge from humans will earn a human quality----
Haruaki didn't know the specific details, but he knew that an item gains a personal thought which affects its essence as a tool. It was a result of receiving grudges from people over and over again. In the end, they'll possess their own mind, soul, and an ability to change forms with its own will.
"That's right. It started with a single grudge. I was made to harm people and because of it, I had received much hatred, grievances, and murderous intents. From those grudges, I was branded with the abominable curse of [driving my owner into insanity.]"
Haruaki noticed that the girl was gripping her hands tightly. He thought it was better not to ask more about her about concrete details of the tool that she was and about what she meant by driving her owner into insanity.
"My curse doesn't end there. The grudge I received gave me [human qualities] and my own will. To me, who was nothing but a tool in the beginning. Let me correct myself, I was not given those capabilities; I was forced to have those capabilities. Have you ever thought about how bad the affinity between a will and a curse was? I envy those tools which only have a slight curse. They won't realize by themselves that they were burdened by a curse. How fortunate it is to be blessed with ignorance!"
For a moment, she took a deep breath.
"I came here believing in Honatsu's words that I can free my curse here in this place. That's the reason why I came, but I was not told about the details of what I have to do. Tell me honestly---- Will I, will I be able to lift the curse from myself without affecting the people around me? Remember that Honatsu sent me to you, so that makes you my current owner. If you're just lying about here being a place to free one's self from a curse, you would be the first to receive the harmful effects that come with it."
Her eyes looked straight into his. But those eyes reflected undeniable fright and doubt. That was why Haruaki simply told her,
"Yes, you can."
"I said you can free yourself from your curse here. You see, I don't have strong spiritual sense or special ability like my father, but it seems that I have a unique body constitution which repels curses, which makes me unaffected by them. So, whatever your curse is, it doesn't work on me. Hahaha! Fear me, you violent little girl!"
"What the...?! Wait, you said that I could lift my curse here, but how?"
"I'm not sure about the details, but this place has been a very pure land for a long time, and the area where this house was built was the center of the pure energy that comes from the land. That's why just being here would fill you with positive energy. They say that this place is protected by some kind of force field, though the rate of cleansing is kinda slow. Just leaving the tools here would eventually lift the curse."
Haruaki remembered the woman who set the force field around the house. Her outfit caught many eyes, and she said that the force field would last for the next hundred years. He supposed that there won't be a chance to see her again, if the force field would really last that long.
"And, there's another way of lifting a curse. The mechanic is simple; if a curse comes from negative thoughts, you just have to receive positive thoughts by helping people around you. If you keep on receiving them, the curse will be neutralized eventually."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean to say that you have to vaguely perform acts that people will be thankful for, I suppose. You just have to live here and work as a part-timer or volunteer for public events... I think?"
"W-Wait, why was there a question mark in the end?"
Fear leaned forward, which sent the mackerel bits flying at Haruaki's face. He wondered if Fear did that on purpose.
"Well, it's not as if I've actually tried lifting a curse from myself. That was just what I've heard."
She puffed out her cheeks like a child, making a sullen expression.
"I can't believe it... I mean, I don't think that simply sleeping or working here would lift the curse. Besides, I doubt that my curse could be lifted in a leisurely phase..."
"You're right about going leisurely. Being able to assume human form would mean that many curses have been gathered in your body, so it would take years to free yourself. I don't know any other ways of lifting a curse, so maybe you'll just have to be patient about it."
"Hmmmmmmmmmmm, I still can't believe it."
"Don't worry so much about it. Even if you can't believe for----"
Ding dong. The door bell rung suddenly. Fear seemed to be frightened by it, so Haruaki told her that it was just a bell that said there was a visitor. He stood up and pointed at the table.
"The food will get cold, so eat it now. Especially the mackerel pike."
"Good evening, Haruaki-kun."
A familiar smile greeted Haruaki as he opened the door. The smiling girl was wearing big round glasses like ones that you'd see in a manga. She had an apron around her well-endowed body and it was impressionable. The pot that she was holding reinforced the familial impression that shrouded her.
"Hey, Konoha. What is it?"
"I've made too much Nikujaga for myself, so I thought that I'd share some with you. It's a bit late already, so maybe you can have it for your breakfast tomorrow."
"That'll be a great help. I was just having my dinner right now... Oh yeah, it's just great that you came now. I have a favor to ask of you."
Konoha slanted her head in question. At that exact moment, Haruaki heard footsteps coming toward him.
"Hey, Haruaki. The food was kind of lacking in quantity. Isn't there any left? I would like to request for a rice cracker if there's still any left."
"You eat too fast!"
Needless to say, the person who came behind Haruaki was Fear.
"Um, Haruaki-kun? Who is that child?"
"Oh yeah, the favor I was going to ask you was about---"
An openly belligerent voice came from Fear as she broke into the conversation.
"Hey, you there! We've just met and you started calling me a child. How dare you speak to me like that, you unfortunate-looking woman!"
Konoha was still smiling, but Haruaki sensed a dangerous aura coming out from her. Fear stood behind him with arms crossed, looking aggressively at Konoha. Haruaki thought he saw a lightning bolt run between Konoha and Fear.
"You two there. Why are you raising a hostile aura in front of my house?"
"I think you're just imagining things. I'm not angry, really. After all, they're just words of a CHILD."
At that moment, Haruaki felt a violent aura rising behind him. He sensed danger, so he quickly changed the topic.
"Er... Oh yeah! Hey Konoha, have you made anything else besides this? I mean, have you eaten your dinner? Why don't you eat here for a change? It's been a long time since the last time you ate here. It seems that I have to cook more food anyway."
"Well, if you say so... I think I will. Come to think of it, it has been a long time since the last time we ate together, Haruaki-kun."
"My cooking skills haven't improved though."
"It was great, so don't worry. I think I'm getting hungry just thinking about the dishes you make."
Konoha smiled and entered the house. Suddenly, an insulting snort came out from nowhere.
"Go ahead and eat. Hah, I think that being able to send all the nutrients you eat to your breasts is some kind of talent. I bet that your brain's very light."
Haruaki heard a clashing metal sound. Almost at the same time, he saw Konoha kneeling on the floor, catching the pot that almost fell from her hands. He looked at the floor and saw the handle of the pot, which was cut cleanly in half.
"...I think it's very sad when a person eats, but the nutrients don't go to their breasts... Oh, I was just talking to myself."
"Ahahaha-- I'll go ahead now."
Konoha let out a feigned laugh and went into the living room. Fear was staring at her back and was murmuring with hatred;
"What kind of character does that woman have...! Maybe I should curse her!"
"She's not usually like that. In fact, I have this feeling that you were the one who started the fight. Why are you being so hostile anyway?"
"It's none of your business! I just didn't like what she said when she saw me. That's enough reason for my hostility. Besides..."
A weird smile came from her angry expression.
"I just realized now that bullying that Cow Tits woman is going to be fun. She'll see, I won't lose the next time...!"
Fear went back into the living room, letting out an evil snort as she walked to the living room.
Haruaki was worried about what could happen if he left those two together in the living room. But, he had to cook some food for Konoha and the hungry juvenile so he had no choice but to leave those two together in the living room. Haruaki made a plate full of an easy saute dish. Adding together some rice and miso soup for Konoha, he brought the food into the living room. He was greeted by a view of two girls throwing dry laughs at each other. Only God knows what happened while he was in the kitchen. He didn't even want to know.
"I only sauted what was left in the fridge. Is that okay for you?"
"No problem. I've made quite lot of Nikujaga anyway."
With a "Ta-da" sound effect, Konoha lifted the lid of the pot she brought with her. Inside the pot was a steaming soup of brownish broth and beef, letting out a fragrant smell of soy sauce. To put it simply, it looked delicious. If you'll take a good look at it, you'll notice that an excessive amount of beef was covering all the other ingredients like potatoes. The beef formed a great pile, just like a mountain sitting on a pot. If you ask me, it's more of a Niku-Niku-Nikujaga instead of a simple Nikujaga.
"Um, so, doesn't that look good?"
"It looks delicious, just as always."
Meat-demon Konoha's face lit up with a smile.
"I see, this definitely looks delicious. You can easily see that it was made by a gluttonous incarnate of appetite."
With that remark, the round lid that Konoha was holding fell on the table, cut into half. Without a word, she picked up the half circles and threw them behind her. After that, Konoha mouthed an Itadakimasu and started eating with a cheerful (that was how Haruaki interpreted Konoha's expression) face.
"I've no clue why or how this meal has turned into a tense atmosphere, but I guess I have to make an easy introduction at least. Konoha, our visitor here is called Fear. As you might guess, she was sent by my old man."
Konoha sent a look at Fear while she took loads of beef from the pot. Fear, on the other hand, completely ignored her.
"Fear, this is Konoha. Well, what can I say... er, she lives in the room inside the house's outer building, and we're also in the same school level though our classes are different. She'd been like a childhood friend since I was a kid and----"
"And she's not human."
Fear said without a pretense. It was followed by few seconds of silence and,
"...That's right. She's something like your senior here in this place."
"I thought so. A lid would never break into half by itself. I know that tools who could assume human form could usually keep the nature of their original form even if they turn into human form—I suppose you're some kind of blade aren't you?"
"Would you answer me if I asked what was your original form?"
Konoha asked with a smile pasted on her face. Fear replied with a snort. Uncomfortable silence went on as they ate their dinner. All of their plates were almost empty when Fear spoke to Haruaki.
"So, you wanted to say earlier that I could believe what you said because there's a precedent."
"Er... Yeah. that's right. Konoha did a lot of helpful things like working part-time since when she first came here."
"He's right. Thanks to my deeds, I'm almost free from all of my curses."
"Almost, you say. What would happen if you become completely free from curse?"
"Tools with only a slight curse would just turn back into a normal tool. But according to my old man, the negative energy that built up inside the tools who could assume human form went over the original nature that it had so even if you were able to neutralize those negative thoughts, their human form will be kept. That means that you two will just be free from the curse that you have."
"So, I won't turn back into my original form... I see."
"To be honest, I don't know much about it. Just ask my old man once he comes back."
Fear wasn't even listening to Haruaki. She just kept silent and nodded, murmuring "I see... I wouldn't...I see..." as she did. It was as if she was trying to hide the expression of relief on her face. Fear finished up the remaining food on her plate and asked a question to Konoha.
"Haruaki said earlier that you've been together with him for more than ten years now. Does it really take that much time?"
"I think it also depends on the degree of your curse, but..."
Two empty plates covered the table. For a moment, two eyes----one silent and one with a hint of hostility----looked at each other.
"The amount of grudge that we'd accumulated within ourselves are so great that whatever you do, we can't easily forget, throw away, or repent for them... You get on my nerves, but at least, in that aspect, we could have something in common. This is something that could be shared between you and me, as a same ruined state of mind."
Fear started to say something, but just looked away and said;
"...It's the same for me, you know. You get on my nerves too..."
"Well, you just have to take it easy. I think there's nothing I could help with though."
It was a composed statement of a senior. Konoha had said those words with a lot of ease. Fear, of course, just snorted.
After that, Haruaki also finished his meal, so he cleaned up the table with Konoha and went to the kitchen to wash them. When he came back, Fear was hugging her knees and was looking up at the ceiling with a blank stare. He brought an after-dinner tea, so he handed one to Fear and started drinking his.
"Oh yeah, Konoha, could you bring some of your old clothes? I wouldn't say right now but I just thought that it would be better if Fear had something to wear. I know that the size won't fit though."
"...Sorry for having small breasts!"
"I didn't mention any part of your body that wouldn't fit!"
Haruaki almost dropped the yunomi that came from the opposite side of the table.
"I guess that cannot be helped... Alright, I shall bring some as soon as I can."
"Thanks a lot."
"Say, what are you going to do for tonight, like where will she sleep?"
"Huh? Well, I suppose she's gonna spend her night here. I'll just lend her one of the Japanese rooms."
"S-She'll be staying here?! Isn't that a bad idea, since I think it is!"
"But you see, the accessory dwelling is already full... Kuroe isn't home and her room is locked."
The accessory dwelling was made like an apartment, with two rooms inside. Konoha was living there with another housemate, but she was always away for about half a month, so Konoha didn't really feel that she had a housemate living next door.
"By the way, make the guest room as luxurious as possible. That way, you can compensate for what you did to me."
Haruaki asked Fear, and he received a reply with a threatening attitude.
"Don't say you already forgot what you did to me earlier! Toying with my body like that... I've never had someone put his finger there! My face was burning with embarrassment!"
Haruaki was about to say that Fear was just a box at that time, when he heard a sound of yunomi rolling off on the tatami. He saw that Konoha was trembling as she stood up. A false smile covered her expression for a while but it eventually broke into tears.
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh! I can't believe it! Have you two already done THOSE kind of things?!"
Konoha ran away from the living room covering her face with her hands. They just heard the violent sound of the entrance door being shut. Fear just nodded with content and said,
"I'm not sure what happened, but I've won. I feel great."
Dull-colored stone floor was all that there was. The room smelled of metal and of metal-like stink. The air was congested but it wasn't stagnant. The air was clear. Clear like the air inside a tomb or a casket. There wasn't anything that could tell time. There was only a dead space, without a trace of any living things. The only thing that you could feel from there was the constancy and blockade. The mass of steel that was left there didn't have anything to do other than to whisper the same words over and over again. It wasn't even said aloud. It just made circles within its mind. Like an endless loop. When it's awake, while it's asleep, when it opened its mind, and when it closed its mind. It's freezing, it's cold, it's dark, it's freezing, it's cold, it's dark, it's freezing, it's cold, it's dark, it's freezing, it's cold, it's dark. It went on and on-----
She opened her eyes. There was nothing inside the Japanese room. She raked up and embraced the futon that was given to her. There was only the sound of scraping futon. There was some warmth left in the futon but it was a false warmth... It was just an accumulated heat from covering someone. So, it was the same as having no warmth at all. Shards of her dream sent a chill down her spine. She knew that there was a difference between this room and the dungeon room where she was kept. But, even though there was a slight warmth and sound inside this room, she couldn't help thinking that this room was the same as the place where she was kept. She silently opened the sliding door and walked along the porch. Moon light illuminated her path as she arrived in front of another room. She entered. A boy was sleeping. He was laying in an odd position and his futon came off below his waist. A slight snort came from a faintly smiling face. The girl kneeled down before the rolled-up futon and slowly reached for it. She stroked it for a while, then she brought it up to her cheeks. It was someone else's smell. Someone else's warmth. That, perhaps, was the first time that she felt those things.
Next day, during lunch break at school. Haruaki opened the lid of his lunch box and thoughts about the problem he left alone in his house came to his mind.
(I wonder If she'll be alright alone. I left her a note and some leftovers from my lunch box, but... Wait, what if she can't read?)
When Haruaki visited the girl in her room this morning, she was still sound asleep with a happy expression. He tried to wake her but she didn't wake up so he just left her a note that says he's going to school and he'd left her some food. Haruaki wondered if she was still asleep. When he woke up this morning, his futon was gone. When he entered the girl's room, he saw that the girl was covered with HIS futon while hers was abandoned on the corner of her room. How it happened was still a mystery to him.
"Hey Haruaki! What's with you? You petrified all of a sudden after you opened your lunch box... Maybe you should be moving your body more, not just for cooking and housework. Baseball is great, if you'd just give it a try!"
A classmate whom Haruaki always had his lunch with spoke to him. His name was Hakuto Taizou.
"His withered expression is nothing new, but it does have a different glow compared to his usual expression. Maybe---- he made some girl pregnant? Hahaha!"
"Kana! Enough of your vulgar jokes!"
A girl with healthy sun-kissed skin, Miyama Kana, followed Taizou's teasing with her own. The class rep, Ueno Kirika, remonstrated Kana about her vulgar remark.
Kirika let out a disgusted sigh and turned to face Haruaki.
"Forget Kana's reckless remark. But, I too think that you lack the concentration that you usually have. Is there some thing that makes you anxious?"
"Huh? No, no, I don't have any problem. Maybe I caught a chill last night."
"Did you hear that Taizou-san? Kirika-chan just said something like this: I'm always looking at Yachi so I know something's wrong with him! Ohh, If there was something I could do to comfort him..."
"What a villain you are Haruaki! Since when did you steal the class rep's heart? Did you save a princess? Have you set a fire to a forged bill factory? Did you kill someone in a clocktower with a pair of scissors?"
"Both of you! Stop s-saying nonsense! How foolish!"
Taizou and Kana had been Haruaki's friends since his junior high years while Kirika became his friend in high school.
Kirika was a formidable class rep. She was calm and composed at all times and her grades were top-notch. She always wore a knee-length long skirt, which gave her an impression that she was born two decades later than she should have. She also hated to expose much of her skin, and was always wearing a jersey during physical education classes and even in summer, she wore a long-sleeved blouse. Because of this, only few people tried to get close to her and she was often alone during her first few days. It was only Kana, who was friendly to everyone, who forcefully brought Kirika with them. There was a specific reason though, why Kirika started to take her lunch together with them.
"Setting aside those worthless remarks, let us proceed to our daily showdown. I'm confident with my fried eggs today. I'll get back for all my previous losses! I'm counting on you two for the judge."
Kirika opened her lunch box and brought it to Taizou and Kana's table.
"So, Kirika-chan. Do you think you have a chance of winning today?"
"I've tasted it several times. Plus, I got hold of the fact that Yachi might have caught a cold... that means his taste organ might not be working well. I decided that today is the day."
A spirited glare pierced Haruaki.
"Oh...where is she getting all that motivation...?"
"Well, they say that maintaining health is part of the battle. We only care about the taste, so don't worry. After all, we are the judges. Alright, here I go---!"
"I'll have this first! ------Wow Kirika-chan! These fried eggs are just great! I love the crunchy bacon bits!"
"Really now? So, it's great huh? Hehehehe...!"
Kirika saw the two gave her food a good evaluation and smirked. But, that smirk was off her face immediately since the battle was still ongoing. The judges reached for Haruaki's lunch box and-----
"Akki's fried eggs are delicious too! It's soooo good! ...Hmm I wonder where this strange taste comes from?"
"Haruaki, what did you add to your fried eggs?"
"I've put some avocados in it. Hehe, I based it from an old cooking manga."
Taizou and Kana looked at each other and nodded. They grabbed the winner's lunchbox and raised it above their heads, looking like funny symmetrical statues holding a lunch box.
"Um, the tastes were both great but we decided that Haruaki won for his novel idea!"
In that moment, Kirika lowered her head, both her hands shaking.
"Ugh...! Novelty... They're right. My attention was tied to the taste and I failed to give a thought about an original idea...! So I learned today that a conservative idea alone is not enough to go against the ever-changing idea these days!"
"...Hey, class rep, I keep telling you that you shouldn't be THAT serious with the battles."
Haruaki tried to reassure her. Kirika raised her head and said;
"I can't keep on losing to a man especially when it's about cooking! I'll win for sure next time!"
He'd already heard that line many times. But, telling that now to the class rep would be suicidal so he kept his mouth shut and just returned a bitter smile.
After that, they proceeded on having their own lunch for a while. A little later, Haruaki heard a classmate calling out to him that he had a visitor. He looked at the door and saw a familiar face.
"It's Konoha-san! She's just as...well, you know, as always! Damn it Haruaki, please tell her that I, Taizou, send my appreciation for her being as beautiful as a belladonna!"
"I don't know why Hakuto would choose a poisonous flower to compare her to. It's plain stupid."
Haruaki ignored the conversation behind him and walked over to the door. It was his first time seeing Konoha in school today.
"There's nothing important, really... It's just that I worry about that girl..."
"I tried to wake her up but she wouldn't so I just left her alone with a note."
"Was it ok to leave her alone?"
"From what I saw last night, I think that she's harmless enough but, hmmm... now that you mentioned it, I'm starting to worry about her. After all, we didn't talk that much."
"Have you seen her... true nature?"
"Just a little bit, when I saw her for the first time. She was a big mysterious box."
He started to think about something for a moment but decided that he had no idea what she was and shook his head in surrender.
"Well, if you say that she's alright, I guess she is. I suppose there's nothing to worry about."
Konoha bowed her head in good bye and went back to her classroom.
(She said there's nothing to worry about, but...)
When a person starts to worry, it won't leave him until he checked on what was worrying him. It was like having second thoughts about your answer in an examination when you checked it over for a correction. Haruaki had no choice but to stare at the slow-moving clock inside the classroom and wait for the time to go home.
After school, Haruaki and Konoha met at the shoe lockers.
"Don't you have a student council meeting today?"
"I am skipping it. Do not let it concern you."
That was all the communication needed. Haruaki hurried back to his house together with Konoha who was known to others as his cousin. They arrived at the gate, opened it quickly, then entered the house. There they saw—
The scene inside could not be more tragic. A table was tilted upside down, one leg piercing the sliding door. Cupboards were turned over. Sundry unused items belonging in the closet were scattered all over the floor... In merely half a day, his sanctuary of repose had turned into this state of anarchy. This was no ordinary event.
Haruaki searched for the silver-haired girl, his heart beating wildly. He found her immediately. She was lying face-down on the porch. There was not a movement from her. He kneeled over her and picked her up. He tried to talk to her while he shook her body. Her eyes opened and she blinked with a blank stare. Konoha went to the kitchen to get some water but hurriedly came back.
"We've got a problem! The kitchen too is in wretched condition!"
"Just what in the world happened here... Fear! Come on, Fear!"
"Ugh... Stop shaking me... I'm alright..."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Oh, you just don't know what I've been through."
Fear sat up and held her head. Her head was drooped as she breathed in and out, as if saying that she was about to say something very important. She raised her head and said;
"Listen... A light-green alien with three legs came here a while ago and----"
Before Fear could finish, Haruaki's hand smacked the back of her head. A good sound came out from his strike.
"W-What are you doing all of a sudden?! You want me to curse you?!"
"I should be the one asking you what were you doing! I get it, you had nothing to do so you tried to destroy the house didn't you? Look at what you did!"
Fear faced away.
"Then how can you explain my collection of rare dishes being sucked by the vacuum cleaner?! I could only take it as a presentation of malice against me! Have I done anything to you?!"
Haruaki cornered her. Fear just made a sullen face and glared at Haruaki.
"Shut up! I don't care what you say about me! I'm feeling sleepy so I'll go get some sleep! Don't even try bothering me!"
She ran away to her room. Haruaki was taken aback by her sudden outburst and lost the willpower to follow her.
"That little... tsk, she should try to be the one to fix these things up! So this is how she repays me for my kindness!"
"...Um, excuse me?"
Konoha was the one who was poking Haruaki's shoulder. She said to Haruaki awkwardly:
"I think that in that situation, you have some faults too, you know."
"Why? I can't explain what she did other than playing a prank against me."
"Well, if you try to look at things around you, maybe you'll see what I mean. Try to look at the garden over there. Or at the kitchen."
Haruaki tried to look at where she pointed out. It was totally different from how he had left them this morning. He still couldn't see anything other than Fear trying to play a—
"...Huh? ...That girl... was she trying to...?"
The first thing Fear did when she entered her room was to mount her futon, taking out her anger by punching it. The moment she was out of breath, she laid out the futon and lay down beneath the covers. But, even that was not enough to vent her frustrations completely.
"Hmph... Hmph! That idiot, that shameless brat...! He doesn't have to be so..."
He didn't even try to listen to my explanation. How annoying. Well, to tell the truth, she wasn't that enthusiastic about trying to explain things to him...
"There's no way I could tell him what I've been up to."
She can't explain THAT to him. It was too embarrassing and too disappointing. She had that much pride, at least. She couldn't help it but----it was annoying. After letting out a big snort, she rearranged the futon and covered her head again.
For the few days that Fear spent together with Honatsu, she was taught by him the basic Japanese reading and writing, as well as the common knowledge about the modern world. That was why Fear was able to read the note that Haruaki left for her. She thought that leaving her alone here was impertinent but there wasn't anything she could do about it so she just ate the breakfast/lunch that Haruaki left for her. After the meal, Fear murmured to her self.
"...Phew. How boring."
She was sitting at the porch and looking up at the sky. That was when the "urge" hit her. It was a refreshing experience since it was her first time, but it was kind of embarrassing thinking about it------The call of nature.
"Being a human wasn't as comfortable as I thought."
She went to the washroom, making a face. After a few moments, her mission was completed.
"Now that was convenient. Haruaki said that it was called a faucet. I was quite amazed."
Fear stood before the wash stand, washing her hands and thinking about the great changes of the world around her. She mastered the use of faucet. Though she was amazed sometimes at the technology, she thought that it was not enough to make her afraid. While she was shaking the water off her hands, something inside the room caught her eye.
"Hm. I know that machine. It's called a 'washing machine.' You put water and detergent to it and it will wash the clothes automatically."
Fear remembered what Haruaki said last night. She had to do something that [people would be thankful for] in order to lift her curse. Now, she thought about her current condition. She had nothing to do. Maybe she should start doing something that would be helpful for people. Haruaki also said that it would take a lot of time to lift the curse. If so, she should start early to finish earlier than it will originally take.
"...Hehehe. Thank me for what I'm going to do. And marvel at my true capacity...!"
First of all, she grabbed the clothes in the laundry basket and put them inside the washing machine. Next, she searched for a box of laundry detergent and found a box of powder besides the washing machine. She tried to smell and it smelled like soap. She thought with confidence that this was the laundry detergent. Finally, she put the detergent inside the washing machine-----one whole box of it. After the procedure, she tried to push different buttons and saw that the machine started to operate.
"I can do this...hehehe. I'm amazed by my adaptability. Well, maybe I should clean the house next!"
The thing that she needed was called a vacuum cleaner. According to Haruaki, it was a box with long nose attached to it. She found the vacuum cleaner inside the closet.
"I know too that this machine requires electricity. There should be a nose-like hole on the walls. Hm, this should be it. It does look like a nose hole. But, hmmmm this fork at the back of the vacuum machine won't reach those holes...... Wha?!"
The cord extended as she played with the plug. She was surprised by the unexpected movement. She coughed, held her head high, and looked at her left and right.
"...It was just a feint. I knew about that."
She inserted the plug into the consent and tried to push all the buttons of the vacuum cleaner. It revved up and started to suck in dust. Perfect. Fear slowly moved the vacuum and cleaned the whole room. She started to enjoy using the vacuum, so she proceeded on cleaning anywhere that she pleased. She gradually got used to it and became faster as she cleaned. Though, there were some unknown phenomenon where the cord became heavier and crashing sounds resounded behind her. Fear tried to look back but something more important entered her sight. It was a black eight-legged insect that was crawling above the tatami.
Goosebumps rose all over her. Fear asked herself why did it have to appear in front of her. She vilificated her luck and tried to run away but she quickly turned back in self denial, thinking that she shouldn't back off against a spider. Grabbing the vacuum cleaner, Fear rushed to the spider. The machine she was holding wasn't a convenient vacuum cleaner anymore. It was an advanced weapon that could send that wretched spider into another dimension.
"Turn into ash with the power of electricity!"
The spider quickly changed its direction and was able to evade the attack. It went inside the open closet where the vacuum cleaner was placed. Fear couldn't hold back so she inserted the vacuum inside the closet and tried to suck in the spider. The vacuum hit other things inside the closet while fear was maneuvering it. They came crashing out of the closet. The vacuum must have sucked in something big since the vacum suddenly stopped working after raising a weird sound.
She was the one attacking a while ago but now the table was turned against her. She backed a few steps and quickly shut the closet door. She sat down, let out a sigh and thought of letting go of the closet door. What should I do? Should I attack again? No, there's no need. he won't be able to get out unless I open this door. That's right, I'll just keep it shut. I'll just have Haruaki terminate it when he comes home.
"I didn't see anything... Yes, that's how it is."
Fear saw an object familiar to her rolling near her feet. It must have come from the closet. It was a cube in a size where one could hold it in their palm, having a surface of 3x3 tiles. Every tile was painted with different colors. She slanted her head and tried moving the cube. The colored tile shifted. She thought that if the tiles are moved right, the color on surface of the cube would be uniform.
"......Oh! I forgot that there are things that I should be doing right now."
Fear placed the cube back on the floor. That moment, she heard a buzzing sound coming from the washing machine. She remembered that she was washing clothes.
"...Well, it certainly is showy. I wonder if it was necessary to do that much."
Bubbles were bursting out from the washing machine like a mountain. Not only that, the overflowing water made a pool on the floor. Anyway, if there are washed clothes then they must be hung to let them dry. Fear rescued the washed clothes out of the washing machine and placed them in a basket. She got out into the garden and went to the drying pole. The garden was carpeted with green grass and it felt good to her bare feet. Fear stood before the drying pole, wrung the clothes and set them on the pole to dry. There were triangular beak-like things on the pole but she didn't know what its used for so she put them away. Maybe it was a charm or something.
"This is the last... one. Phew. It's perfect."
The clothes waved like a flag. Thinking that she was the one who did it caused a strange sense of fulfillment course through her.
It came when she tried to turn back, confident about her victorious feat-----A gust of wind.
There was no way she could go after it, and the towel went up over the roof. She made a wry face and jumped high onto the roof. She heard a sound of something breaking below her but the towel was more important at that moment. She collected the towel and jumped down to the ground. At that moment, another gust of wind came, as if it was playing a prank against her. Because of this, some of the clothes flew high up onto the branch of a tall tree. She clucked and placed the collected towel on the pole. The moment she let go of the towel, the gust carried it up again, on to the tree branch. Damn. It was endless.
"...Er, well. Clothes will dry faster if there was a wind to dry it. That means that those clothes over there on branch will dry faster. When viewed from a broad perspective, it was better that it went up there on the tree... or at least, I think that way."
She forcefully convinced herself and turned back to the house's direction, trying not to look at the waving clothes on the tree a strange thing came into her view. And it was...
First, there was the living room. The cabinets were turned over and the table on the center was slanted into a weird position. Its foot pierced through the sliding door. The cord constricted around the table. She didn't notice because of the appearance of the spider and the cubic toy. Somehow, she thought she knew what that caused weird phenomenon earlier. Adding to that, many things which came from the closet were scattered on the floor and the vacuum cleaner was lying dead on the floor. Fear also noticed that something fell from the roof and saw that it was a gray-colored roof tile. It must have been the breaking sound she heard when she jumped over to the roof.
It was the first time that Fear thought that something was strange. It seemed that the house became disarranged, more than before she started cleaning. In fact, she had a feeling that it was completely wretched. She wondered why.
"Could it be that I have done something wrong?"
Two people's footsteps answered her question. Fear slowly went over the porch and laid on her stomach, thinking. A poltergeist or an alien. Which would be more credible if she were to reason out?
"Hmmmmmmmmm. I have this feeling that what she tried to do was too predictable but, could it be really...?"
Haruaki murmured to himself while looking up at the laundered clothes swaying on the branches of the tree located in the garden.
"If she was just playing around, she wouldn't think to put laundry detergent into the washing machine... Except for the quantity she put in it. If you go to the washing machine right now, you'll see for yourself that it's foaming like a crab."
Konoha raised her hands and formed a "scissors", trying to imitate a crab. Haruaki picked up the Rubik's cube that was laying on the floor.
"Really. Where did she find this thing?"
"Um, Haruaki-kun...? Do you remember the time when I first came here?"
"I can't remember much of the details, but I do. You did some strange things back then."
She came to this house when Haruaki was about to enter grade school. Of course, he didn't remember the clear details but he could still remember Konoha's impression.
"I thought so. Well, I wanted you to forget all about it at first but thinking about it it now, I'm glad that you still remember how I used to be."
"Hehe. You just have to tell Fear-san what you told me back when we first met. With that, I bet all the problems will be solved."
"I don't remember what I told you. What did I say back then?"
"Well, Haruaki-kun, you have hardly changed at all. No need to think too hard, simply tell her whatever comes to mind and it will be fine."
After that, Konoha offered to help cleaning up the house but Haruaki politely refused. He felt that it was something he had to do, and not anyone else. Konoha didn't argue with him. Later, after Konoha went back to the outer building, Haruaki left the Rubik's cube on the table and looked up at the ceiling.
"Oh hell. What am I supposed to do..."
Then evening came.
"Hey. Are you awake?"
He waited patiently for the answer. After few moments, it came to him.
"Shut up. I'm asleep."
"No you're not. You answered my question."
"Shut up and be silent if you don't wanna be cursed."
"Alright, alright. So, don't you have something to say?"
After an interlude of silence, Fear replied that she didn't have anything to say to him. Haruaki said never mind and sighed. Talk about being stubborn.
"You might not have anything to say, but I do. Well, er... I'm sorry."
There was no reply. There wasn't anything he could do for her silence so he just continued speaking.
"I already knew what I should have done, but I forgot. You look like a human but you aren't-----but in reality, you're a human so you might have some difficulties at first. There might be things that you wouldn't understand, and there might be times where you bother other people. There also might be times where you have a quarrel with someone. Konoha also went through all of that."
"I'm not sure what you're talking about but don't compare me to that Cow Tits. It pisses me off."
"Yeah, okay. Well, what I want to say is... that you don't have to hurry trying to lift your curse. And, if there is something that you don't know, just ask me and I'll teach you so long as it is something that I know. I left your dinner in the kitchen so you can have it when you get hungry. I'll be going now. Oh, I forgot, here's my present for you. Take it."
Haruaki left the paper bag he was carrying onto the floor in front of the sliding door. After that, he went back to his room, yawning as he walked away.
After a few minutes, the sliding door silently opened. After some minutes of observation, a pale hand reached out and took the paper bag. Then the sliding door closed as silently as it had opened.
Inside the paper bag were some clothes. They were somewhat big but most of them were universally fitting one-piece dresses. There was also new underwear in plastic packaging. A note fell from it saying "Underwear is plenty enough for a child"...
Fear threw the note on the floor by reflex. She noticed that behind the paper was another note addressed to her. It said, "If you want a bra, try to work part-time diligently and buy one yourself. You will be able to do so once you grow accustomed to living here... Well, as cursed tools our bodies will not be growing, which implies that no such necessity will arise, I mean, it would be futile for you to..."
Fear stomped her heel into the note before she finished reading. There were other things inside the paper bag other than the clothes. It was the cubic toy from earlier. And, there was also...
"...A rice cracker."
Her stomach growled. Haruaki said that she ate all the stock so he must have bought it for her.
"H-Hmph. I won't be bribed that easily. Does he think I'm such a child that I'll fall to his scheme?"
Despite her muttered complaints, her hands opened the snack and dug-in to the treat. Her other hand played with the Rubik's cube. Sound of creaking plastic filled the room.
"Hm. Sesame seeds. It's coated with sesame seeds. How fragrant..."
Fear thought about Haruaki while two sounds resounded inside her room. Well, I'll forgive that shameless brat for now. He should thank my merciful heart. First things first-----I should ask him where this wonderful snack is being sold.
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