It was a dark, cramped place, uncomfortably humid from Victorique’s trapped exhalations. Her fever had steadily risen, leaving her on the edge of consciousness. She closed her eyes and hissed out hot, panting breaths in the darkness. Her awareness was growing dimmer. Clutching the edge of the down quilt with her little hands, she slowly opened her green eyes and groaned. But a fierce light still lingered in those eyes, defiant against her weakness.
Victorique moaned softly. “I’m never … coming out!”
A dismayed sigh came from outside of the darkness—someone had heard her.
Cécile walked through the garden maze and arrived at Victorique’s bedroom. “Excuse me, Miss Victorique, there’s someone on the telephone for—oh, excuse me, doctor.” She halted inside the bedroom, her eyes darting restlessly.
A wizened man wearing a white coat and a flummoxed look on his face was standing in the corner of the room. His square leather bag sat open on the bedside table. He stared back at her, a large translucent syringe still gripped in his hand.
Cécile turned to look at the bed. Victorique was nowhere to be seen. But there was a lump in the middle of the covers, and it was quivering ever so slightly. When she imagined what was underneath, she had to laugh. “Oh, dear…”
“Cécile, as soon as I mentioned the word ‘injection,’ this happened.” The elderly village doctor in the white coat gave Cécile a pained look, clearly at his wits’ end.
Then a hoarse voice came from the center of the bulging covers, punctuated by ragged gasps for air. “I hate pain! …Achoo!”
“It works because it’s painful, Miss Victorique.”
“You’re lying to me.”
“…I am not lying.”
There was no answer.
Cécile still met with no response. She had tried to raise her voice, but with her round glasses and countenance reminiscent of a chubby puppy, she couldn’t quite project enough authority. Meanwhile, the lump underneath the covers showed no signs of budging.
The doctor shrugged. “If we try to pull the covers back, she’ll probably unleash a scream the likes of which the world has never heard before. Cécile, this little runt must be one of your students. Do something!”
“B-but what…?” Frowning, Cécile pondered to herself.
Silence filled the bedroom. Other than an occasional sneeze from the covers, there was no other sound.
The French windows creaked softly in the wind. Tree leaves glistened under the summer sun.
“Oh!” Cécile clapped her hands, and pointed at the neighboring room. “How could I forget? Miss Victorique, you have a telephone call from your friend.”
“Wh-what makes you say that?”
“I don’t have any friends,” Victorique murmured, a faint melancholy coloring her voice.
“Then who is Kujou?”
Inch by inch, the quilt slowly started to move. The lump grew…
Cécile silently winked at the doctor.
“…Kujou?” A slight hint of joy seemed to enter Victorique’s voice.
“He called from Sauvrème. He sounded rather frantic.”
Cécile clenched her hands, and gave Victorique another verbal nudge. “He kept shouting that it was an emergency. If you don’t hurry, he might hang up.”
“Hmph…” The quilt wriggled some more. “Damn that Kujou… A thickheaded man as usual. I’m sure—” she coughed, “—he’s been doing foolish things with that foolish face of his and gotten himself involved in some foolish incident in Sauvrème,” Victorique said, raising her voice with a touch of glee. She sat up in bed, coughing.
Cécile and the doctor both stared at her in amazement. With her body still entirely hidden under the covers, Victorique slowly began to move like a ghost possessing the down quilt. She carefully stood up and walked toward the next room.
Cécile exchanged a look with the doctor, and gave him a nod.
And then she furtively stuck out her leg.
Victorique stumbled over Cécile’s leg and fell to the floor, releasing a loud series of sneezes as she tripped.
“Now!” yelled Cécile.
Victorique’s little head emerged from the blanket, her face contorted in pain. As she slowly looked over her shoulder, her green eyes widened in disbelief.
Someone had grabbed her thin arm when the blanket had slipped away at the moment of her fall. It was the doctor, wearing a triumphant smile. He plunged the syringe into her arm.
Victorique’s face crumpled. Droplets of tears spilled like pearls from the corners of her eyes. “Ugh…?”
She drew in a large gulp of air, then let loose a wretched, disconsolate scream the likes of which the world had never heard before.
“You’ll regret this. Damn you, Cécile. Damn that doctor. How’s this supposed to lower a fever? It hurts. It hurts…” Sobbing and sneezing, Victorique hobbled to the next room.
The doctor picked up his medical bag and sauntered away in satisfaction. Cécile announced in between her giggles that she had another class period to teach, and left the cottage.
Now alone, Victorique got up again, rubbing her arm where a tingling pain remained from the injection. At last, she reached the other room, and stood in front of the phone, wiping away her tears again and again with the back of her hand, bawling like a child. Shoulders heaving, she reached for the receiver, and shakily brought it to her ear with her small hand…
And heard Kazuya’s voice crying out frantically.
“Victorique? Are you there? Victorique! Look, I’m in big trouble. Stay calm and listen to me. Hello? Can you hear me? Victorique!”
“…Idiot!” Victorique spat. She listened as Kazuya was rendered briefly speechless, which was soon followed by an outpouring of his vehement rage.
But next came a roar like rushing wind, and what sounded like something crashing into the phone. Then she heard the unfamiliar voice of a child intone, “Twelve o’clock…”
The strange cry reverberated, and the line suddenly went dead.
Dumbfounded, Victorique stared at the phone, and at last her cheeks swelled up. She was angry.
“What on earth do you want from me, Kujou?! Do you realize just how much I sacrificed in order to come here?! Because of you, I was subjected to a very painful injection, and yet I still came out to answer your call! Ugh…”
Victorique’s shoulders fell sadly, and she shuffled back to the bedroom. She picked up the fallen quilt from the floor with a trembling hand. It was light and fluffy, but she struggled to heft it back onto the bed as if it were very heavy.
She exhaled heavily. With her face redder than ever, and her breathing hot, she collapsed onto the bed.
Finally, Victorique’s labored breaths settled into the calm and even rhythm of sleep.
And the bedroom was once more filled only with silence…