Seishin at last left the temple office after a long meditation and contemplation. When he looked to his watch the date had already changed, entering into the early hours of the 21st.
Through the temple grounds, through the graveyard to the lumber path, he came out at the Maruyasu lumber yard. He set his eyes on the Ozaki Hospital, where the lights were on on the second floor.
He was opposed to hunting the Shiki. But some kind of plan of compromise had to be found. He couldn't ignore the village's distress any further.
Were the Shiki's lives the priority or were human lives the priority? The answer Seishin had to come to was obvious. Humans took priority. As to why, that was because Seishin was human. For Seishin who was not a Shiki, to treat Shiki's lives as if they were equivalent to human life was to transcend his own humanity. It was to look upon humanity as another, and even to look do so to the Shiki, thinking like a god, he realized. But Seishin was only a man. In that case he would have to hold the vantage point of a human, and doing that the answer was obvious. The Shiki were a threat, and thus an enemy. If they didn't kill them they would be killed. They had to exterminate the Shiki to uphold their own safety.
While half trying to convince himself of this, Seishin went towards the side staff entrance of the Ozaki Hospital. The staff entrance was locked. Since the light was on at the nurse's station, Toshio must have been up above with Kyouko. And so he pushed the interphone button. The answer was some time in coming. Before Seishin himself could say anything, he heard Toshio's voice asking: "Seishin, eh?"
Right, he answered. There probably wasn't anybody else who would come at this hour without calling first.
"You came at a good time. My hands are a little full right now. The window in my room's open, so do me a favor and come in that way. I'm in the operating room."
Seishin tilted his head, but for the time being went towards the back garden. Entering into Toshio's bedroom, he crossed through the main wing of the house where everybody seemed to be sleeping with quiet, concealed footsteps towards the hospital. He went to the second story using the front stairs in the corner of the waiting room. As he passed by the sick room, he could see that only the nurse's station light was on. The recovery room was dark, and peeking in all he could see was the screen. It didn't seem like anybody was there, so he thought that Kyouko must have been taken to the operating room too. He wondered if the sickness had gotten that bad.
He was sure he should have been able to get to the operating room through the nurse's station, but when he put his hand to the door it was closed. He tried returning to the recovery room, but that was closed up too. With no other choice he went down the hallway to the free door pushing it open. The door to the front room opened easily.
Clothing was thrown and scattered about the seats of the front room. Looking towards the operating room beyond, Toshio was still in his white doctor's coat, bent over the operating table as he turned to look at Seishin. Surgical lighting shone above the operating table, over a white naked body from which Seishin averted his eyes without thinking.
"Take off your top clothes and gown up. They're in the wash room next door. While you're going there, take the clothes on the seats in the front room to the laundry room for me."
Hurry, Toshio cut him off, once again turning to face Kyouko. Kyouko's face was white, her eyes firmly shut.
"Kyouko-san, don't tell me that she's,"
I see, Seishin murmured in his heart. When he'd seen Toshio in his white coat, it had occurred to him that it was beyond the point of taking life saving measures now.
As he was told he returned to the front room, gathering up the scattered clothing to take to the washroom. While looking for the washing machine, Seishin became frozen in place. What were those test tubes lined up? Most had a dark red liquid in them, with most separating out. The brownish red samples prepared looked like they were spotted with blood.
Seishin peered from the washroom to the operating room. Turning around the corner, he saw Toshio's handiwork. Toshio was sutring Kyouko's chest. Above Kyouko's shoulder was a stake pulled out and stained with dark reddish blackness.
Seishin swallowed a breath. Toshio's eyes rose from his task. "It's just what it looks like. Kyouko's dead."
"......Did she, revive?"
Yeah, Toshio nodded. He cut the suturing thread.
"This--no, I guess it's already yesterday---evening she rose up. She just went to sleep permanently a bit ago."
To sleep permanently was a fitting phrase. Yes--an awoken corpse had its sleep disturbed. This was putting it back to sleep. And this time into a sleep that would be permanent. No matter what words one used to cover it up, it was killing a Shiki and that truth wouldn't change, but certainly calling it putting them to sleep would weaken the resistance on the hunter's part. That was the magic of words.
"It's messy," said Toshio, his white coat splotched all over with blood. The cuffs of his sleeves were bright red. "Gown up. Put on gloves too. It might be dangerous to touch bare handed."
While saying that, Toshio took of his white coat. He held it out towards Seishin. "While you're going, take this one to be washed too."
Nodding, Seishin took the white gown in hand as Toshio followed and sat down on the only chair in the washing room. Taking off his gloves and throwing them away, he lit a cigarette.
"Toshio......" Seishin sought out the detergent in the washroom, poured what looked like a suitable amount in and hit the switch. "What are those test tubes?"
"Kyouko's blood," Toshio said turning his eyes to the test tubes. "Looks like they're mostly dead, now."
"That's probably the right term for it, anyway. That's most likely their real form. I dunno how to put it but the blood itself's alive, like, you know? I mean, it ain't like the blood itself is moving like an amoeba and attacking, but." Toshio leaned back into the chair heavily, completely worn down as he breathed out the smoke. For a while, he gazed as the smoke as if seeking something in it. "......Yeah, they're alive, I think. And they starve to death. Or maybe they suffocate to death. Once they die it separates out."
"The blood does?"
Toshio nodded. "Those ones that change color---the ones that haven't separated out yet, they go bright red again if you add human blood to them. They come back to life. The reason they attack people is probably based on that, I'm thinking." Toshio said, giving a sarcastic laugh as he looked as Seishin who still stood there bewildered. "Kirishiki Seishirou and Tatsumi aren't Shiki. They're probably human."
"That can't be."
"That's all I can figure. Kyouko reacted to sunlight. The sunlight's no good for them. They burn and blister."
Seishin found himself looking to the operating room. Toshio continued, still exhausted. "Even if it doesn't look like it, there's no sign of it left's all. Their ability to recover from injury's nothing short of miraculous. You can literally see it close up before your own eyes. A blade or a sharp edge or something used half-heartedly isn't going to stop them."
"Effective. Probably using a shotgun at close range or something would be too. Don't give them time to recover, destroy the blood vessel system in one go is the only way I figure. Or possibly, like the legends say, cutting off their head.
Their blood's alive. And their brain is alive. But the fact is that Kyouko's breathing and heart rate never came back. Just, before she herself rose up, brain waves appeared. For a while they completely disappeared but they came back. Whether they really stopped completely, or if they were just slight enough at the level where the machine couldn't pick up on them, that I don't know, but I think I can at least say that Shiki aren't brain dead, they're corpses with an active brain. What's alive is probably that weird blood. I can't say for sure, but."
Seishin blinked. ---Right, if Kyouko rose up, it could only mean she had died once.
"When did Kyouko-san die?"
"Five days ago...... On the 16th. After four full days the brain waves appeared, yesterday morning she started responding to the sunlight. She revived just past evening. I don't have any basis for comparison, so I can't say that all the Shiki revive about at that rate, but."
Seishin swallowed a breath. "......You were hiding it? That Kyouko-san died? Why?"
Toshio murmured. "I thought she might rise up."
Seishin was at a loss for words.
"So even though she died, you didn't say anything and were hiding the corpse? You confirmed that she rose up, drove a stake into her and killed her......?"
"I didn't have any other way," Toshio said, lazily closing his eyes. "Not a single drug had any effect. Their healing rate's abnormally high. Did seem like incense and smells like that had an effect. Magic works too. For whatever reason it looks like it provokes a fear response. Crosses, honzens, both got her to show signs of fear. But it doesn't seem like they're afraid of Buddhism itself. Seems like it's the spectacle that scares them. Like that radiation shape behind the Buddha's head. Same with the cross, a straight lines put into that shape must scare them. But the only reaction it evokes is a fear response. It'll be effective in repelling an attack but they won't put them to sleep for good."
Seishin could feel himself going pale. "Not a single drug had any effect? ......You tested them?"
Yeah, Toshio nodded. "So I figure there's no way to stop them from rising up after they're already dead. At least, not by any means I could do in secret. If we're going to stop them from rising up, we'd have to stake them when they're buried or cut off their head. There's no other way to stop those who have risen up or to keep them from rising up in the first place."
Sitting before Seishin who had lost his capacity for words, Toshio turned his eyes to his hand suddenly aware of it. It had burnt down to the filter; throwing it away, he turned around.
"Lend me a hand. For now we've got to clean up the operating room. We have to put Kyouko in clean bedclothes and get her back to the recovery room. ---Ah, and the wound'll have to be covered with a bandage or something."
Asked that by Seishin, Toshio stood there looking at Seishin dubiously. "I can't let other people see her like that, can I?"
Toshio shrugged his shoulder. That wasn't what Seishin was asking about, but he didn't interject.
"I can't just keep other people from seeing that part. She'll have to be put in a white burial kimono and all. Explaining the wound itself I can probably get around saying it had to be done for treatment purposes or something like that, but I don't want anyone to really see exactly what kind of wound it is. All I injured was a corpse but other people probably won't look at it that way. They'll think I killed Kyouko for sure."
"Is that not exactly what you did?"
Toshio looked up and stopped on his way to the operating room, turning to face him. "What'd you just say?"
"You killed Kyouko-san. You hid that she died and preserved the corpse. You used her once she revived for a lab experiment, and at the end of it you killed her."
"Seishin," Toshio's mouth opened. "It wasn't like that and you know it."
"It wasn't like that? What part was wrong?"
"Listen, Kyouko was,"
"Kyouko-san was ill. With an unknown illness. It's possible that that was the result of being attacked by the Shiki. But none the less, she died. And then she rose up."
"Exactly. Kyouko became a Shiki."
"Then answer this, what is a Shiki? Setting aside the reasons behind it, they are patients who died of a disease whose initial symptoms are anemia. They die and a strange post-mortem phenomenon occurs. For whatever reason it seems like after a fixed period, they revive. ---Doesn't this mean that by the real meaning of death, they are not dead?"
"Kyouko was dead."
"If she revived, she is not really dead. Isn't a part of the definition of death that it's irreversible? Since she revived, no matter how much it resembled death, it was not death. It was only an apparent death. Patients that appear death rise. These risen patients, they attack people. This strange disease spreads by means of these attacks."
"I told you, they're vampires!"
"You're free to call the disease with these symptoms "Vampiric Illness" if you want. But it doesn't change the fact that you killed a patient who revived from an apparent death."
"Listen," Toshio said thrusting a finger out at Seishin. "Kyouko died. She woke up but during that time she had no pulse and no breathing, her heart was stopped. She didn't come back to life. That was a corpse."
"And the medical basis for that is? What's the definition of "death' that you're proposing?" When asked that by Seishin, Toshio kept his mouth shut in spite of wanting to speak. "Was she really dead, was that really a corpse? Can you objectively say that without any doubt?"
"Death is irreversible isn't it? Can you call a reversible death death? Do you need to reacquaint yourself with the definition of death? Or can you just declare that a body that's not breathing and has no pulse is a corpse? Does a corpse have brain waves? Why would a corpse move?"
That's, Toshio faltered.
"Wasn't what you should have been doing been finding out whether Kyouko was really dead, why, if she was, the corpse was moving, why something thought to be dead revived, finding the source of that, and seeking a medical treatment for that?"
And yet Toshio was seeking a way to kill her. He used his own wife. That was the reason he went through the trouble of hiding her death, of hiding her corpse.
"If you could say that it was to save your patients, I would cooperate with you completely! ---But, if it's to obliterate patients who go against your understanding and common sense, I cannot cooperate."
Toshio looked up and leveled a glare directly at Seishin.
"Then lemme ask you this, how do you want it? What will it take to please you?"
"The deaths are continuing in the village. The victims they attack are dying. Are you saying to leave it be and watch it carefully? The Shiki being killed is cruel and people being killed isn't? Refusing to be their food, taking steps to repel the enemy to protect ourselves is unforgivable? ---Nobody wants themselves or their own family to die. Even you yourself, didn't you say that you wanted to put a stop to this? If it's a disease, it should be stopped but if it's because of the Shiki attacking we should just let it be, is that how you want it to be?!"
This time it was Seishin's turn to be pressed for silence.
"If we show consideration for where they're coming from, are they gonna make concessions too? They must have to attack people. If they don't attack people, they'll starve. Probably if they starve, the blood dies, and the person does too. So to avoid that they desperately attack people. You pity the Shiki and won't hunt them, so what, do b you plan to tell them to stop attacking and die that way? Are you thinking they're going to take you up on such an unreasonable demand?!"
"That part of you's insufferable cowardice! At the heart of it, you just don't want to dirty your own hands. So the Shiki rising up isn't something you couldn't call coming back to life. Maybe so, I mean, the brain was moving. The person themselves was probably thinking even. They got feelings. If you base it on all that, there's no difference between them and people. If you call killing erasing a single personality, then hunting the Shiki and killing a person might be the same. And you're not a Shiki. So you don't need to dirty your own hands killing anyone. That's why you can approve of Shiki hunting humans. Hunting the Shiki means getting your own hands dirty. You'd have to take part in the massacre. So you're saying you don't wanna. ---Am I wrong? "
"......That's it precisely," Seishin sighed. "I don't want to become a mass murderer. Because I don't think that fatally wounding another, no matter how much of a just cause there is behind it can be justice. It isn't that I approve of the Shiki hunting humans. Be they Shiki or be they human, I think that one should not slaughter others. But, as to whether Kyouko-san attacked others or not to prolong her existence, that it something that should have been left to her to decide. That is not just an argument that I'm making verbally. Even if I could condemn her actions, I could not order her to do this or that. The only one whose actions I am able to control are my own."
"And so even if they are a Shiki you don't want to kill them, and that's your own freedom of choice, you wanna say, right?" Toshio's mouth tapered into a warped smile. "Right now you and me are the only ones who know what's really going on in this village, and us standing here and letting the Shiki do what they want saying it's their right is an act that indirectly approves of and leads to other people being slaughtered, but that's not your problem, in other words."
That's not it, he wanted to say but even he himself wasn't sure if that wasn't in fact what he meant.
"You can criticise but you can't order? Just before, when you were blaming me for murder, you mean to tell me that was just criticism?"
Seishin hung his head. Toshio spit out: "Since you don't seem to get it, let me spell it out for you. People like you are called hippocrites."
That we are, Seishin murmured in his heart.
"I made a choice, I acted on it. I can't just let the contamination spread. So I'll hunt the Shiki. They're my enemy, so even if they're a part of my own family I'm not letting them off. This is my justice. Unless you've got something to say about that, get out. I don't have time to listen to your "criticisms." "
Seishin had no words to return to that. And so, he did exactly as he was told.
There was no mistake in Toshio's labeling him a hypocrite, he thought. Seishin didn't want to hunt the Shiki. Indeed, it was true that he didn't want to dirty his own hands. He didn't have the courage to take an action classified as a sin. He couldn't build up the murderous intent to decisively commit a sin just because they were a threat to him and his own.
Whether they were human or not didn't make a different. He didn't want to kill anyone. To tell the truth, if all of the people---he wished for the Shiki's wish to come true. If it did, the God that he believed in, that reasoning would become universally consistent, as he wished.
Seishin thought, trying to make a playful excuse for himself as he went.
(Either can desire to kill, or there are those who cannot desire to kill......)
When faced with a threat, there were herbivores who could not do but flee, and there were carnivores who could intimidate that threat, who could repel it. He wasn't a carnivore, and so he did not have such bloodthirsty logic within him; would that excuse work?
While thinking he returned to the temple. Dejected, he turned to the temple office desk. What a cowardly and unjust sheep he was. He could only go on living while munching on bits of grass while holed up in a safe place.
While thinking, he opened the drawer. Taking out the manuscript, he then cocked his head.
Something about it seemed just faintly off. For example, the sides of the Japanese writing paper, the corners. It made him think of when he'd passed his manuscript to an editor, when it had passed through somebody else's hands before returning to him.
(Somebody touched it? ......It couldn't be?)
Neither Mitsuo nor Miwako laid a hand on Seishin's desk. Much less did they ever pull out the drawer and look inside.
Tilting his head he turned the manuscript paper over. None of the numbered pages were missing. Taking stock of all he had written he aimlessly looked over the paper, and that was when Seishin's hand stopped.
There was writing in the margins of the paper. Lightly pencilled letters. Of course it wasn't in Seishin's handwriting, as Seishin did not write in the margins.
Why did he kill his little brother?
Seishin stared fixedly at those letters.
The older brother gave in to a whim. He didn't feel like writing more than that. Just as Seishin himself had, he had just been driven by a meaningless impulse. It was precisely because he didn't have the desire to kill that the older brother who wandered the wasteland's anguish was so deep---.
While thinking, Seishin paged further into the manuscript when he once again came upon the writing.
Killing without the intent to kill is an accident, not a murder.
There is no murder without the intent to kill.
There is no intent to kill without a reason.
Seishin stared at the writing was a hollowed out feeling. Those letters had arrested his gaze.
(But,) Seishin stared at the writing. (......There really wasn't any reason at all.)