I stood quietly, holding the torch.
The midsummer festival was finally about to end. An unexpected visitor had once again, in the blink of an eye, solved some foolish murders committed by a fellow visitor, leading to the arrest of that foolish visitor—and I was smiling the whole time.
Fools shouldn’t commit murder. They’ll only be found out and judged in the end.
And I refuse to be judged.
I extended my free hand up to touch my face. I pulled down my lower eyelid with the pad of my index finger and scratched beneath the eyeball. As I scratched, I could hear the sticky sound that it made.
Whenever I feel stressed or angry, my eyes get itchy. Very, very itchy. It was the same back then. When I hid there, holding my breath, my eyes burned with such an itch that I wanted to cry out, but I gritted my teeth and endured it, even though I was a child. It would be over soon, soon, very soon.
At that time…
Yes, my thoughts always go back to that time. To memories of a murder.
Am I trapped in their spell?
The ancestors marched toward the square with torches in their hands. I heard the faint sound of their footsteps crunching on the gravel road. The villagers continued to make noise with drums, whips, and guns, jubilantly welcoming back the spirits of the dead. The whips cracked over and over again. The pounding drums were deafening, vibrating the chilly air of the night sky.
The night sky was getting more stifling, as if a dark ceiling was dropping, pressing down on me. It was starting to feel like I was on a small stage rather than under the stars. The climax of the festival always felt that way. The echo of the drums shook the dark sky.
The line of ancestors, dancing gaily, was nearing the square. They wore clothes in gaudy colors of red and black, and hideous tunics made of straw. Those from the land of the dead look so different from us in the world of the living. Their clothes, their movements, their piercing voices, all of these made it hard to believe they were once humans just like us. Nevertheless, we still had to happily see them off, our distant ancestors, with a joyous midsummer festival.
They were coming closer.
At the head of the line was a man wearing a black mask. In contrast to the other men dancing joyfully behind him, stamping the ground and jumping into the air, the man in the black mask walked with jerky, strange movements. His arms swayed stiffly and his legs thudded forward on the ground, as if it had been a very long time since his limbs had last moved. His gait was unsteady, on the verge of falling down at any moment, but still he advanced, leading the line of dead.
Ambrose did a fine job of making the mask, and I felt pleased at this. To be able to march wearing a mask he had made himself must make him feel pleased, too. This important duty was given to him as a reward for being a capable headman’s assistant. He must surely be proud.
The ancestors at last set foot inside the square.
We welcomed them with cheers and gunshots, and they marched even more joyously. The villagers joined the line of dancers, showing them the fruit of our harvest—ripe vegetables, casks of wine, and sumptuous fabrics.
I made no attempt to dance with them. I simply stood in a corner of the square, gazing out at the scenery.
No one knows that I killed someone.
Hee, hee, hee! Laughter overcame me. I couldn’t contain my joy.
The din of the festival swelled through the square. Villagers danced, some carrying vegetables, some with fabrics, some with wine flasks. Shouts, rumbling drums, and cracking whips reverberated, drowning out my laughter. No one seemed to notice me.
Hee, hee, hee…
The man in the black mask suddenly stopped.
I was the only one who saw him.
I swallowed my laughter. An alarm began to sound inside of me, but I didn’t know why. Run away, something seemed to whisper. My legs were frozen, rooting me to the ground. My heart began to pound.
I was getting a bad premonition.
For a long moment, the masked man crouched very still.
And then he moved jerkily, lifting his head.
That alarm sounded again. But it was too late. I had already locked eyes with the masked man. I couldn’t move.
Those large blank eyes carved into the mask, one higher and one lower—
They met my own, with a force so strong that it nearly rang aloud.
I screamed, but no sound came out.
The man in the mask said something. But the words were too far from my ears, and I couldn’t hear them. Even so, as he spoke them, I could clearly hear the murmur of another voice inside of me.
It’s too late. What you’ve done has been found out…. Harminia!