On October 17th, the first call of the day that came to the temple office was, on that day too, as expected, a death notice. Seishin had a bad feeling when he picked up the phone. Tamo Sadaichi's grave voice conveyed that Tamo Hiroya had passed away.
"This morning, he was getting worse and worse. We called an ambulance when he went into convulsions but he didn't make it to the hospital."
Is that so, Seishin back channelled to him before giving words of condolence.
"Thank you very kindly. However, it isn't as if our home alone could avoid misfortunes. Rather, we've been extraordinarily fortunate not to have had a death come to our family until now. Well, it's impossible not to think it would have been better if it weren't a high schooler like Hiroya but someone older like myself or Baa-san, but."
That restrained voice dug into Seishin. Even with the deaths continuing in the village, that didn't lessen the pain of loss in one's own family. However, that death was spreading through the village like a disease was already that distinctly unmistakable. Even while knowing that, Seishin did nothing. He stayed holed up in the temple, idly wasting his time.
Tamo Hiroya was in his second year of high school, in eleventh grade. Having come and gone at Tamo's house many times, of course he knew him. Sadaichi and his wife Kiyo had brought him along with them often to help out at the temple too. He was a lively and polite young boy. That boy Hiroya was dead, he thought painfully, thinking that such a tragedy should not have happened. But there was the possibility that Hiroya would rise. Knowing the kind of byo Hiroya was, he couldn't help but think that it would be unforgivable to thrust him back into the grave a second time.
Seishin covered his face in both hands. As he did, the phone rang again. When he picked up the receiver, it was Toshio. Toshio indifferently conveyed Tokujirou's death. He didn't have any particular words of blame nor sarcasm. That only made him feel even more guilty. While all of this was happening, moment by moment the damage was spreading. Are you seeing all this while keeping your silence, he had the feeling Toshio was asking.
"The phone rang just now didn't it?" Mitsuo peeked into the temple office. Seishin nodded.
"Sadaichi-san's place's Hiroya-kun and the Yasumori's Tokujirou-san seem to have died."
Is that right, Mitsuo mumbled, resignation in his voice, then shaking his head. "Junior Monk, what are we going to do in this case?"
"In this case?"
"The Mourning Crew. Tokujirou-san was the care manager, wasn't he? Since it's that very Tokujirou who's dead, normally it would pass on to Sadaichi-san. However, Sadaichi-san is also..."
Aa, Saishin mumbled. Since the Sadaichi household also had a misfortune, Sadaichi could not be the care manager.
"And Maruyasu are relatives, aren't they?"
At Mitsuo's bewildered question, Seishin gave an equally bewildered nod. Going by ranking, after Sadaichi would be the sawmill's Yasumori Kazuya but the Maruyasu Sawmill were relatives of Tokujirou. They'd be performing the funeral. Likewise, the Tamo relatives couldn't take their place. This was, as far as Seishin could remember, the first time something like this had happened.
"I will try consulting with father. I have to tell him about what happened to Tokujirou-san as it is."
"That's right," Mitsuo said, discouraged. "No doubt it will depress him. After all, that gentle head monk had completely changed personalities in demanding to go pay him a sick visit."
Seishin nodded and with a heavy feeling turned to part. Calling out to his father in his sickbed, he reported on Tokujirou's death. Shinmei who was laid atop the bed with an open book turned to look at Seishin, and then murmured "I see," lowly. He didn't seem to be particularly shocked, nor to be mourning. As expected, his father had gone to Tokujirou to say his goodbye during that sick visit, he realized.
"And also, Sadaichi-san's place's Hiroya-kun. In this case, who would become responsible, I wonder?"
Shinmei looked to be in thought for a time and then, shortly after, said to consult with Takemura Gohei. Seishin nodded, and then, mentally tilting his head at his father's seeming disinterest, went on to consult with him further about the details. As he departed the room, he met with Miwako, her expression unusual.
"Seishin, Tokujirou-san has---"
Yes, Seishin nodded.
"What ever could this be? And Tamo-san's place's grandson too, they've said?"
"What will you do?"
Asked that by Miwako, Seishin blinked.
"What will I do?"
With a pale face, Miwako ushered Seishin into a nearby room. "Will you go to the service? You can't not go?"
Seishin was bewildered. "What are you asking? Of course I must--"
"Even so, with as busy as it may be here lately, I wonder if you couldn't have a nearby temple substitute for you? I mean, Tsurumi-san's condition is also poor after all. There are only you and Ikebe-kun, and for two separate houses, there's no way to do it is there?"
"Yes, that is why I will discuss it with them, as we have no choice but to ask one to move things back a day, that is also what Father has said."
"That would be rude to the deceased. Please have someone in from a neighboring temple. That would be more sensible for everyone."
Seishin tilted his head and looked at Miwako. Miwako looked away nervously.
"It isn't as if I'm saying this because I don't want you to go. ......Of course I know that you must go. But."
Seishin stared with penetrating coldness at Miwako as she cut herself off and turned away covering her face. "But...... It's finally come to the point where there is nobody left at the contractor's. Tamo-san's place has finally had a funeral. I know that Tokujirou-san and Sadaichi-san have taken care of us. I know that. But, if you don't get a little more rest,"
"There still has not been the ceremony to officially transfer you to the position as head of the temple," Miwako cried. "If you fall here, what will happen to the parishioners? If the worst happens, if the head of this temple and the head priest pass on, I'll..."
Seishin felt something unnecessarily bitter in his mouth.
"......I'm being careful enough."
"But there are rumors of an epidemic too!"
"It is fine. I really am being careful enough. I know where I stand. I know where you stand as well. So please do not worry."
Comforting Miwako who collapsed into tears, Seishin went straight back to the temple office. That heavy bitterness lurked in his chest, and having no place of refuge from it was painful.
He couldn't blame Miwako. Seishin had no siblings. Seishin couldn't imagine how much shame Miwako must have bore until he was born. Even now Shinmei had yet to be relieved of his obligation as the head priest, Seishin had no wife, and it must have been shameful not to have a successor yet. The head priest's wife was expected to support the temple from within the family. With Shinmei falling ill, with Seishin being as he was, it wasn't hard to imagine that Miwako harbored feelings of not carrying out that duty of hers well enough.
Miwako bore the same burden of expectations as himself, and while the expectation itself was by no means pressuring him, he did have the desire to meet that expectation, and aware that he could not, those unspoken expectations could warp into an unspoken menace at any moment, Seishin knew that well.
But---said a part of him that was disappointed in Miwako. When before a spectacle as terrible as this, was that all that she could talk of, was that all that she could think of, he couldn't help thinking. He understood that thinking such was unreasonable towards Miwako. But even while knowing that, there was a part of him he was aware of, wanting to say is that the kind of person you are.
He knew. Seishin was not Miwako. Miwako didn't know the real circumstances. She could only imagine, but she had no way to confirm or deny whatever she imagined. That was how isolated people were from each other. He understood Miwako's position but he thought, is this really the time for that? But it was arrogant to think that. It wasn't the time to think that. But he was at his wits end unable to avoid thinking it. In other words, Seishin had an understanding towards Miwako but that was indeed not enough.
Seishin understood that he couldn't control it. Why could someone like him understand others?
Seishin himself didn't know why he chose death. That wasn't all, he couldn't understand why his stumbling blocks were not like anyone else's. He didn't know why it was that while he could not forgive actions they could not help taking, and yet he harbored deep affections for Miwako and Toshio.
(In terms of people, the one who I'm most lost about may be myself.)
And then his cognizances of other people, their reflection would warp in his heart. Something lurked and warped his heart, something he couldn't control, something whose true form he should not have been able to grasp. So of course neither Toshio nor Miwako could understand it. That isolated feeling of not being understood had him angered at even himself, he thought.
(I'm sure probably.... that he's the same.)
He still didn't
know why he killed his little brother. That wasn't all he didn't understand. Why was his little brother following him, the reason to that he also didn't know.
The reason he couldn't understand that was, ultimately, because he hadn't understood his brother while he had been alive, there was no doubt. In truth, he couldn't remember his little brother very clearly as anything but a Shiki.
(My reality is nothing more than overlapping, crammed cognizances reflected in a warped mirror......)
When Seishin thought of "Miwako," the unconscious expectation of "wanting him to be like this" was cast over the reflection of "Miwako." When Seishin imagined Miwako,
When he turned back to look at his little brother,
the Miwako he called to mind was only the illusion to which he put the name "Miwako" and nothing more, wasn't it?
he first tried to remember the form he had hidden beneath hemp robes. Beneath them should have been his corpse desecrated by mercilessly, violently inflected wounds but strangely he couldn't remember what his unchanged form should have looked like.
It was possible that Seishin had never so much as once seen Miwako herself.
Or perhaps. he turned his eyes away from his little brother's husk, he had never once looked at him straight on.
His little brother who had become a Shiki had no wounds. He was just blue and faded, he was more like a ghost than a dead body that had risen up but he was clearly corporeal material, he didn't look like the phantoms of the evil spirits that dwelt in the wilderness.
It was just that he remembered his own actions. In the clarity of twilight, he attacked his little brother in the fields. He had a hoe in hand. Driven by an impulse with no reason he attacked, and afterwards he was terrified at his action, and he added to the destruction as if to completely exterminate his brother and with that to bury his own act.
That might have been exactly what it was he thought. To tell the truth, he didn't have any memory of the exact moment. As if swept up in a fever, his awareness was narrowed, splendidly colored over with a destructive hue, and then all he remembered was the sad and gloomy feedback-sensation that came countless times.
Even his little brother's blood smeared corpse left only a vague impression on his memories. Rust red specks of blood spread out over the surrounding grass. That alone he could remember with strange clarity. He remembered the feel and the weight of his little brother's remains as he dragged them into the bushes, that leaving the bushes behind him seemed to lack a certain sense of reality, all of it was so vague and unclear that if he tried to remember his little brother and the highs and lows beneath the hemp cloth, what came to mind was a statue vision of him as he turned in surprise to face his brother when realizing he'd been struck with a weapon.
Many times did he try to draw out that statue and see the details, to look into his turning little brother's face, to see malice towards himself, to see a grudge that would drive him to revenge, or possibly even lamenting his own fate, he looked for that as well as he surveyed him but he couldn't see any of those things. Just like the Shiki, his eyes were unfeeling, colorless empty hollows, just eyes opened in shock, thinking of nothing but turning to face him. And at the same time strangely in that moment he remembered his own face warped by overwhelming, murderous intent and madness as if he remembered himself reflected in those eyes more clearly than his little brother's face.
He asked the man with furrowed brows but of course the man could not think of anything. It seemed as if that mouth were open to scream something, but the voice that screamed was not within his memory. In truth, he didn't remember if he himself had screamed. He just had his mouth open as if screaming, and instead of screaming he may have swung his weapon.
(Reality is not a single definite thing for anybody......)
People were somber beings.
They were in the darkness of unilluminating ignorance from which they could not escape.