Mutou Tamotsu peered down into the coffin and went stiff. The flowers he'd prepared for their parting wouldn't leave his hands.
The tatami room was not very wide itself, and within that room was a coffin.The face of the one stretched out in that coffin was peaceful with no particular signs of disturbance, but there was most certainly a sense of separation conveyed on that face.
He hadn't seen him lately. Even though before he had been coming over all the time. Tamotsu was so caught up in his own grief that he couldn't have imagined Natsuno who had been out of sight and out of mind had fallen ill.
(I should have at least called.)
Why didn't he, he asked himself. If he had done that much then at least he could have paid a sick visit.
Since last night's vigil, Tamotsu couldn't stop repeating those regrets in his mind. He lost his brother, Masao had passed away, Tamotsu should have realized it then. There was nobody who would be eternally at his side. Just saying "see ya" didn't mean that you'd definitely meet someone again. Meeting them as you did today might be the last time, that was a truth he should have realized sooner.
And this really was an eternal separation. Just like with his brother Tohru--and just like with Masao, from here on, the being called Yuuki natsuno would no longer be a part of Tamotsu's life.
His sister Aoi urged him with a tearful voice, and Tamotsu released the white flowers. Bearing that pain he took two, three steps. Turning back he fled to the corner of the tatami room. There weren't many in attendance. It might have been since he hadn't moved here that long ago. Strangely, there were no signs of any people who looked to be his classmates either. Because of that the emptiness of the tatami room was distinct. There with him was Aoi who had followed after him and patted his shoulder.
"You can still see him at the temple. Natsu's being buried in the village."
First looking to Aoi as she spoke comfortingly, Tamotsu then looking to the gathering of his father and Hirosawa and the others.
"He's.... it's true he's being buried at the temple?"
"That's right," Hirosawa said sympathetically. "Yuuki-san said that since he'd finally become a member of the village, he wanted to have him buried here too."
I see, Tamotsu said with a pain clutching in his chest. "......He never was, even at the very end of the end, able to get out of the village."
Tamotsu, Aoi said reproachfully. Tamotsu knew it sounded like he was condemning Yuuki who'd made the decision about his burial. ---But.
"He should have been cremated. If they did that, at least he could become smoke and get away. Nee-san, you know too don't you? How much Natsuno really wanted to get out of the village."
He had quietly been making arrangements to do so. And yet in the end he couldn't get out.
Hirosawa and the others exchanged looks. With a look to Yuuki, who was sitting beside Azusa who seemed in a daze, who looked up as if surprised, Tamotsu fled the room. If he stayed behind there, he thought he might end up saying something like please don't be so cruel as to bury him here.
Aoi stood from the seat beside him to chase after him.
"I know how you feel but you can't do things like that. To Natsu's dad, he decided it thinking it was the best thing."
"Mm...... I know."
"And Natsu said it himself, he doesn't care and won't know what happens after he's dead."
Tamotsu gave a smile, and covered his face that seemed as if he might cry on his sleeve. "......Yeah."
Desperately fighting back the tears, somehow he swallowed down his sob and looked up, only to see Aoi crouching covering her face.
"......I've had enough of this. How long is this going to go on?!"
Tamotsu nodded. Really how much more of this would there be? They lost their brother, their childhood friend, Natsuno had died---and, who would be next? He didn't think this would be the last. Surely soon new of someone else's death would come and Tamotsu would lose another major figure in his life. It might have been one of his parents or it might have been Aoi. Maybe it'd be Tamotsu himself.
"The Tamo's Hiro-chan too, it seems like he's sick now they say......"
Aoi lifted her face at his murmuring to himself. "Is he?"
"Yeah. He hasn't been coming to school for a while now."
Aoi let out something between a sigh and a sob. "......What's going on?"
Yeah, Tamotsu nodded. Since that summer there had been a lot of dead people he'd been told, and it was true. He didn't think that it would continue into this many people. Talking at school, all of his classmates said "it's cursed there, ain't it?" In truth, that might have been the case he thought. Not just as a joke, but some god of pestilence may have been cursing them, here in this village. It was quietly corroding the village, thinning out the people. --The Oni were dragging people off into the mountains.
Tamotsu suddenly furrowed his brows.Dragged off by an Oni, that was what this was like, he thought, a thought that pulled at him itself.
"Natsuno...... The last time I saw him, he did something weird."
"Yeah. Remember, on the day Masao's vigil was. It came that night right? At that time he'd brought a bunch of videos he rented. And they were all horror flicks."
"......Natsu did? Was Natsu into that kind of thing?"
"I don't think he was. Until then, he'd never brought up anything like that. And at the time he didn't seem like was watching them seriously or getting into them. He was fast-forwarding through them one after another. Like he was looking for something......"
Yes, when it came to the vital or the scariest scenes, he fast-forwarded. The only scenes Natsuno was watching seriously were the scenes that didn't seem very interesting, just the conversations. For example the scenes where the man hunting the vampires talked a lot.
Suddenly Tamotsu's eyes opened.He couldn't remember what videos Natsuno had rented and brought that day. But there was one other trend that the miscellaneous assortment had besides being horror.
"He......" Natsuno was suspicious, he thought. That this might be the work of Oni. And then he died. If the successive deaths were the work of Oni, he was carried off by an Oni. ---Those who suspect that Oni exist are taken away by them.
"......What is it?"
Aoi tilted her head. Tamotsu repressed the chill running down his spine and shook his head.
"No, it's nothing. I'm just thinking too much....... About a lot of things."