chapter three — the ghost ship Queen Berry
An oppressive air settled upon the flooded lounge. Only Victorique remained coolly detached, while the other four people would drop their eyes down, then look up to glare at each other, over and over again.
Cloudy drops of water dripped down to the floor from the walls and ceiling, which were soaked with seawater. Dampness permeated the entire lounge.
“…This ship once had eleven boys and girls on board. They were the ‘hares’,” began Maurice, groaning and shivering, hugging his knees like a child.
The other four shared a look.
Then Julie Guile jumped out of her seat and stood in front of Maurice. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Hey… What happened to them?” asked Ned Baxter in a low voice.
“…They died. They killed each other.”
“That was part of the plan,” murmured Maurice. He looked up fearfully. The same blood-soaked message from before sprawled ghoulishly across the wall of the lounge. As Maurice looked up at those words, panic and despair flickered in his eyes. He parted his bloodless lips, and said, “I can’t tell you any more than that, or else I would be committing a breach of my official duties. But … at any rate, at the end of that fateful night on this ship, the Queen Berry, we recovered the children’s bodies and disposed of them into the sea. Immediately after we finished our retrieval operations and left the scene, the coast guard arrived to secure the ship, but of course it was already empty. Since there were still some traps left on board that hadn’t been triggered yet, along with evidence that there had been fighting, the coast guard tried to conduct a search, but the ship was already sinking, and they were forced to evacuate. A-as for your story…”
Maurice pointed at Kazuya. “That ghost story you mentioned hearing from your classmate was based on this incident from ten years ago. When I heard you mention how the Queen Berry has been reappearing in the sea, trying to lure people on board, I was positive….” his somber voice grew strained, “…that this ship is a ghost ship!”
Ned and Julie exchanged an incredulous look, their faces stiffening anxiously. Ned grabbed a tennis ball and threw it into the air. He caught the falling ball, then threw it again. As for Julie, she got up and began to pace back and forth across the lounge.
Maurice continued, his shoulders beginning to tremble slightly. “This is a ghost ship, raised up from the bottom of the sea by the grudges of those dead children. And now, ten years later… They’ve brought together the adults who sent them to their deaths, in order for them to die here….” His face turned waxen. “And we too shall die….”
As his trembling spread over his entire body, and a wretched look twisted his features, he exclaimed, “You’re only kidding yourself if you think we can make it to the radio room! We’ve been cursed by those children—by those hares!”
Someone burst out laughing.
Maurice shot Kazuya a glare. But Kazuya quickly shook his head, and turned to Victorique sitting beside him. She was looking down at the floor, her face hidden by her long blond hair, like spun golden thread.
Her thin shoulders were shaking convulsively.
Kazuya reached out to brush away Victorique’s hair, and tell her to stop making such weird noises, but then he saw tears streaming down her face … tears of laughter.
“Hey! What’s so funny!?”
The others stopped what they were doing—Ned playing with his tennis ball, Julie wandering around the room—and turned to stare in surprise at Victorique, who was in the middle of a laughing fit.
With graceful movements, Victorique pulled a pipe from her bag, lit the fire, and took a puff from it, uncaring of the adults gaping open-mouthed at her. She slowly blew out a mouthful of smoke directly into Maurice’s face. He broke into paroxysms of coughing, and had to wipe away tears from the corners of his eyes with his fingertips for several moments.
After spending a minute smoking her pipe, Victorique finally put her unoccupied hand into one of her lacy pockets. Her small hand emerged from the pocket grasping an envelope. Kazuya recognized it as the invitation that Victorique had discovered on Roxane’s yacht.
Ned caught sight of it. “Oh, I received one of those, too.”
“So did I,” said Julie. “I found it in my locked car.”
“Let me ask you one thing, Maurice.” Victorique faced the diplomatic official, who was more than three times her age, and addressed him with a smile. “What do you think? Do ghosts write invitations?”
Kazuya and the others snapped back to reality. They locked eyes with one another, blinking as if they had awakened from a dream.
Maurice opened his mouth for a rebuttal, then shook his head dispiritedly. “But … still … Be that as it may, it’s still strange. There’s no doubt that this ship sank. And then there’s the message in blood on that wall. The lights were out for no more than ten seconds! Given that short of a time, it’s impossible for a human to write such a long message in such large letters. And what about this lounge? It’s completely different from before!”
Tears collected in his clouded eyes. Boiling over in frustration, he shouted, “Then you explain it! If not ghosts, then who else could’ve done it?!”
“Why, humans, of course,” murmured Victorique in a quiet voice, her laughter finally ceasing.
Ned apprehensively squeezed his tennis ball.
Julie fingered the heart-shaped pendant hanging from her neck, which seemed to be another one of her habits, and continued to pace around the room. She took five steps, then turned. Then she took another five steps. Her movements were absentminded, and yet precise. Victorique glanced at her, and frowned slightly.
The pendant was enamel and in the shape of a heart. It looked old, and the paint was chipped in places. The design seemed rather childish, and didn’t match Julie’s crimson-colored dress, but she caressed that pendant with her fingertips as if it were very precious to her.
“These are all things that humans can do. Think about it,” said Victorique.
“What? What are you talking about?” Maurice thrust his face into hers, boxing her in.
Victorique twisted her body away from him in distaste. She turned to Kazuya and commanded him irritably, “Kujou, you explain.”
“Huh? About what?”
“The reconstruction of chaos.”
“…You’re asking me?!”
Her clear green eyes bore into Kazuya’s own. He lasted only three seconds before giving into the power of her gaze, and answered, rattled, “Um, let’s see, so Victorique takes a number of fragments, that is, of chaos, or in other words, the mysteries of this world, and puts them all in a saucepot and boils them up, yes, just like a stew. Next, she puts it in a bowl, and then, basically, that’s the reconstruction. And once the mystery is neatly wrapped up, the inspector takes the credit for himself…. Wait, what was I talking about again?”
“Enough, you half-witted savant.”
Victorique ignored Kazuya, who was mumbling to himself that if he were really a half-wit, then he wouldn’t have been able to study abroad in the first place, and launched into her explanation. “First of all, ghosts do not write invitations. You all know this, correct?”
Ned was the first one to nod, then Julie, and finally Maurice grudgingly gave a nod of his own.
Victorique waved the invitation in the air. “That means somebody wrote this to bring us together here on this ship.”
“But this ship sank a long time ago!”
“How do you know this is the same Queen Berry that sank ten years ago?” asked Victorique quietly.
Maurice opened his mouth, about to speak, but then closed it without saying anything.
Victorique continued. “Allow me to propose a hypothesis here.”
Everyone held their breath, watching this little girl speak with such authority.
In a soft voice, Victorique declared, “That someone familiar with the events of the past constructed a ship exactly like that one.”
The lounge fell dead silent.
Ned and Maurice shared a wordless look. Kazuya was dumbfounded.
The sound of dripping water echoed in the flooded lounge.
At last, Julie collected herself, and timidly asked, “What do you mean by that?”
Victorique turned to Julie in her usual confident manner, and in her low, husky voice, began to explain. “My reasoning for this is exceedingly simple and logical. First, the Queen Berry apparently sank ten years ago. If that is true, then the ship we are currently on is a well-crafted replica.”
“If you think of it this way, then everything makes sense. We can also explain the seemingly supernatural events that have occurred. How about that?”
Julie knitted her brows, and thought for a moment. Then she responded, her tone uncertain, “So, then…?”
Victorique rolled her eyes in annoyance. With her pipe still in her mouth, she wearily said, “Try using your nose a bit.”
Kazuya and the others scrunched up their noses, taking a sniff of their surroundings. But the lingering scent of smoke from Victorique’s pipe was getting in the way, and Kazuya found it hard to tell what he was supposed to be smelling.
Victorique went on. “Don’t you smell fresh paint?”
“Oh!” Kazuya recalled the odor that he had encountered earlier, something smelling like paint thinner that had filled the entire lounge. He had the feeling that this was one reason why his headache had been so awful, and not simply because of the sedatives….
“And then there’s the wine that I was looking at before. Do you remember, Kujou?”
Kazuya did remember, now that she mentioned it. Victorique had looked appalled when he blurted out that they were on a ghost ship, and she tried to show him a wine bottle and a glass that she had poured. But then the lights went out that very moment, and with all the commotion, he had completely forgotten what she had been talking about….
“A bottle of that same wine should be on the bar counter of this lounge, too.” Victorique pointed to the bar, and the others turned to look at it. A row of wine bottles were lined up closely together on top. “The wine that I uncorked and poured into the glass has gone back inside the bottle. Don’t you find it strange?”
Kazuya made a murmur of surprise. The bottle that Victorique had uncorked and the glass filled with wine were clearly nowhere in sight. He walked over to the counter to investigate, and found a bottle affixed with the same label, but this time it was still corked.
Victorique beckoned Kazuya to hand her the bottle. “This wine was manufactured in a Sauvure winery in 1890, over thirty years ago. The culprit must have included this wine in order to faithfully reproduce the state of the real Queen Berry ten years ago. However…”
She shrugged, then uncorked the bottle and dribbled it into a dirty glass within reach. The same bright purplish-red liquid as before flowed out of the bottle. “The contents are fake. Once I pour it, I can see that it has the characteristic brightness of fresh wine. Aged wine should have a muddier color. And as for the scent…” Victorique lifted the glass to her nose. “See…. It even smells like new wine.”
“What does this mean?” asked Kazuya.
Victorique pointed at the label. “This winery burnt to the ground when war broke out in the summer of 1914. It’s impossible to get ahold of it now. So someone must have just reproduced the label to cover up the original one on this new bottle of wine.”
The four looked at one another, their faces uneasy.
“…E-even so!” shouted Maurice. “What about the message in blood on this wall? And this flooded lounge?! What happened to the body?!”
“You don’t have to shout, Maurice.” Victorique grimaced, rising from her chair. She walked to the door with tiny steps and opened it. “This room is most likely not the same one we were in at the start.”
Maurice was shocked into silence.
“We came out to the deck of the ship, and when we returned, we passed through the same hallway and entered this room without a second thought, but why is that?”
Julie ventured a hesitant murmur. “But this door was open, and the other ones were shut….”
“Right. Now… Come, Kujou.”
Kazuya stood up. Victorique walked into the hallway, and signaled to him with her finger. “Open all of the doors on this side, starting with this one.”
“Okay…” Kazuya opened the door next to the lounge’s entrance. It opened to a luxurious first-class cabin. Chandeliers hung down from the ceiling, overlooking the large canopy bed and the cozy sofa. Even the tablecloth and the closet were made of the finest materials.
Then he opened the door next to that room. He found exactly the same type of room.
Kazuya opened several more doors only to find more cabins. Fast losing patience with this exercise, he walked back toward the lounge. This time he opened the door on the other side of the entrance.
An unexpected scene unfolded before Kazuya, and he gasped. He turned to Victorique, speechless. She nodded with a knowing grunt, and waved over the remaining three people.
They all peered into the neighboring room.
…There they found exactly the same lounge as before, as if they were staring at a photograph. The tables, bar counter, the small stage, and…
The bloody message on the wall.
The opened bottle, and the glass filled with wine.
And the corpse of the heavy-set man on the floor, an arrow piercing his brow.
Julie and Maurice cried out in astonishment. They turned to Victorique, and she nodded in satisfaction. “This is the room we were originally in. I still don’t know who closed this door and opened the other one, but as you can see, it’s a very simple trick.”