Author: Keishi Ayasato
Illustrator: Sadoru Chiba
The melancholic Neon Tetra.
These would be the description associated with Hatsuhime Akisaka on first glance.
Hatsuhime’s eyes had a strange green tint to them. They resembled butterfly wings, and fish scales. Within the dull, black iris, there was a green tint looking up at me.
I did not know if the tint really existed, or if it was a hallucination caused by her pained expression.
Hatsuhime Akisaka’s my high school classmate. She’s always sitting in the corner of the classroom, doing nothing. She does talk with some girls, but I never did see her initiate any conversations. No matter how rowdy the classroom was, it was always quiet around Hatsuhime. It was as though she was viewing the ruckus through the glass, looking completely aloof.
Hatsuhime Akisaka was like a Neon Tetra. She was watching the fish with a melancholic look, as though encased in an aquarium.
So when she looked up at me from the ground, I found her to be adorable.
And I, unacquainted with such an impression, dared not look at her face directly.
“…So, that Hatsuhime-san, why are you at my doorstep.”
That Hatsuhime-san? Which one? I guessed she probably did not understand what I meant, so I should explain.
Hatsuhime slowly tilted her head as she stood before my apartment, her hands together. The black hair resting on her shoulders shook. Her uniform was completely spotless, and clearly, she was a prim and proper princess. The school uniform always had an added element when worn by a girl. Hatsuhime Akisaka’s pretty face was thus enhanced by 40%.
It was basically our first time meeting, but she did not look nervous in the slightest. She was observing me silently.
The fish eyes were peering at me through the aquarium.
The Neon Tetra were melancholic, nothing interesting to them other than observing humans.
“Just here to talk…may I?”
“Eh…huh? Sorry, but we’re basically meeting for the first time. I’m going to have my food now, you know?”
“Will you die if you do not eat punctually?”
Hearing this unexpected response, I raised my hands, venting my frustrations on the princess I could not communicate with.
“No, but I’m really hungry now. And I don’t understand you very well, Hatsuhime-san.”
“Will you die if you do not speak to a girl you do not know?”
“Looks like communication breakdowns nowadays are more serious than I thought.”
I answered with a hint of fear. Nevertheless, her response remained cold.
She merely kept her head tilted, not making a sound. In my mind, I quietly affirmed again.
Hatsuhime Akisaka was a Neon Tetra. It was obvious I could not communicate through human language. Having such thoughts, the uneasiness vanished.
“So, what do you want from me? Why are you here? Anyway, can’t you just leave.”
“I thought you would be someone more caring, Ariya-kun.”
“Unfortunately, that kindness so happened to fall into the large trash bin last night.”
Hatsuhimefrowned. A translation for that expression would be ‘now that is a pity’.
The joke didn’t work. I gave up on trying to mislead her, so I shrugged, and opened the door.
Hatsuhimebowed, and tried to enter, as though it was a formality. I reached my hand out before where she was moving, trying to stop her. She frowned, and stared at me with her green eyes.
She looked feeble, but knew nothing of fear. Those were the eyes staring at me.
“3 minutes. I’ll cook up a meal in 3 minutes. Is that okay?”
“Frozen food isn’t good for the body.”
“Unfortunately, it’s made by hand. I’m just defrosting it since it’s not frozen.”
So, what does she want from me again?
I added with a little more seriousness this time. After all, my stomach’s hungry.
Having an empty stomach for a long time isn’t good for mental health after all. Especially today, when I left my stomach empty for this one meal. Of course, Hatsuhimefrowned.
With a serious look, she opened her mouth, and muttered like a Neon Tetra blowing bubbles.
“I want you to eat me up.”
At that moment, I was thinking, what in the world is she saying?
* * *
Eat. Capture. Taking pictures. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, there’s no sexual tones.
Hatsuhimewasn’t the type to make sure jokes. During the summer of our first year, a teacher tried to harass her sexually, and got a hand punctured through. The moment the teacher’s hand was on her shoulder, it got stabbed through by a mechanical pencil.
Well, the teacher wasn’t planning to harass her, but to get a feel, a feel on the skin to be used in his delusions at night. It’s a difficult thing to touch and feel, until recently that is.
I looked away from Hatsuhime-san’s white neck, and opened the fridge door. The stew from days ago was stored inside. While whiffing upon the cold air with the unique stench, I asked.
“So Hatsuhime, does your skin ever get tanned? It’s so white you’re like a zombie.”
“No need for the praise, if that is what you are getting at. Why say such things?”
“I’m not praising you. It’s close enough to sound bad. Anyway, I don’t intend to bully you.”
“In that case, I do not understand. Why say such things?”
“Nothing, just connecting it to what I’m thinking. Nothing special about it. By the way, I prefer white skin. You can be happy about that.”
Hatsuhime’s large eyes blinked. I guessed I couldn’t get through to her. Once again, I checked that she was a Neon Tetra. Really, I wanted to hear from her if living on land is fun.
I took out the utterly frozen bag, and dumped it into the microwave.
I pressed the button hard.
And over the next three minutes, I had a conversation with Hatsuhime.
Now this is a huge problem. I don’t know if three minutes will be enough here.
“Alright, let’s start. First off, why do you want to be eaten by me?”
What if I had misunderstood and ripped your uniform off?
I swallowed the rest of my words, since if I had said it, it would be deemed as sexual harassment. I don’t want a hole on my tongue.
Hatsuhime sat before the table, her mouth opened, making a bubbling sound.
“You know about my older sister’s death days ago, do you not?”
“Yeah. Her corpse was found ten days ago. Because of that, the police and reporters showed up, and there were lots of interviews. The teachers were so naggy, and we all had to gather in school. It’s troublesome.”
I responded curtly, shrugging as I smiled back at her.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t too familiar with her sister, Natsuko Akisaka, when she was alive. All I remembered was her running on the field, her legs shriveled like a lamb. Her eyes were filled with viciousness, and she looked like a wild animal on the run. However, I was forced to hear the rumors thanks to my friends. I suddenly remembered Yamaguchi bawling out loud. He used to walk home with me every day, but ever since Natsuko’s corpse was found, I never saw him again.
“Well, just to correct myself, Yamaguchi was crying out out. I remembered he’s been in a panic ever since that morning, and he was taken away by a teacher, it seems. My sincerest condolences. Guess she’s a nice person.”
I wasn’t so cruel to say anything about the one my friend loved.
Regardless of my true thoughts, this should be kindness, I guess. I stared at the stew that kept spinning, resisting the urge to whistle. Seriously, my stomach was growling away.
Hatsuhime clenched hard. She closed her eyes.
And then, she opened her eyes again, glaring at me with her green looking eyes.
“——The culprit is you.”
“——Ehhh, you’re wrong though.”
For some reason, she said something ludicrously out of this world.
Hatsuhime looked up at me, nodding as she maintained her grim look.
“……I see. Well, I just wanted to say it.”
“I thought this would end up like ‘you discovered a different culprit from the police’, Hatsuhime-chan. You can’t be accusing people like that. It’s bad for the heart. Maligning people is a scary thing to do, and I haven’t done anything like that.”
I stared at the spinning plate while reciting away.
Right at this moment, my food’s dancing a happy waltz.
“This world is really scary. What’s the cause of death again? Beaten up? Nowadays you can kill with the edges of a school bag if hit repeatedly.”
“There has been lots of similar cases around here for a while. Sudden murders even. Like corpses without arms or fingers.”
“Ahh, that? Seems like the area around here has become infamous because of these incidents. We got used to these interviews. It’s stupid that they’re focusing on the students who might have something to say.”
“Ariya-kun, you eat meat? Did you not state in school that you hate it?”
Suddenly, Hatsuhime questioned me. I was blindsided by it, but I answered.
“H-hm? Well, I don’t eat beef, chicken or pork. Why?”
Is Hatsuhime asking to go out with me because she’s interested in my profile? Now that’s a bad joke. I don’t have an option of going out with Neon Tetras. The mermaid princess that became a bubble told me that a love with fish will only end up unhappy.
“Why can’t you?”
“I can’t eat them because I find them disgusting. However, I’m probably just overthinking it.”
I replied, taking a whiff of the fragrance coming from the spinning stew.
“Yeah. My parents hate fish. Meat every day. Despite that, my stupid bespectacled big brother has been talking about raising a pig farm every day. I’m the only one eating vegetables every day for dinner. Every day, every day, and the same goes on. After that, I stopped buying meat from the supermarket. However, I don’t like fish and vegetables. Well, the dishes I like have meat though, so I guess it’s pitiful of me. What a pity.”
Hatsuhime shrugged. She was the one asking, but she seemed to have no interest in me.
Well, it’s all for nothing, but what I like and not has nothing to do with Hatsuhime. It’s no wonder she has no interest. I started to digest away the anxiety in my heart.
“—-I do not like meat either.”
Just when I was planning to end the conversation myself, she agreed with me. I really had conflicted feelings about this response.
If I had to correct myself, I like meat, just that I can’t really eat it.
Hatsuhime looked up at me with gloomy eyes. The black eyes appeared to be glowing green.
Looking at the colors resembling a Neon Tetra, I gulped silently.
“I saw a hamster cannibalize another. My sister and I raised one each. Mine was called Hatsuhime and hers was Natsuko. Same name as their owners. Both of them looked so happy, running around happily. But one day, Natsuko took a bite on Hatsuhime.”
“Well, that’s a tragedy.”
“My sister and I never took care of them well.”
“This isn’t a comedy. Take proper care of them.”
You should at least feed them promptly.
So my retort was ignored by her. How rude.
Her eyes were fixated on a certain place. I didn’t know if she was focused on this three minute time limit, but she looked as though she was trying to poke a hole through the microwave oven with her eyes. It’s a chilling stare.
“Seeing that thing has left me impressed.”
Hatsuhime nodded in confirm. The stew smell started to fill the room.
The smell whetted my appetite, but I was starting to feel down. My stomach’s empty, but my brain cells were asking for rest. I didn’t know how to deal with the singularity in this room, Hatsuhime Akisaka.
Hatsuhime continued on, ignoring my fatigue. The words were like a tape on fast forward.
She was going so fast, I was wondering, would she end up tying her tongue?
“The hamsters showed signs of a fight. They were hungry, and thought of each other as food. One won, and the other became feed. This can be considered normal, no? The strong loses, the weak gets eaten. This world is really world. Even those that are weak and feeble, flawed in personality like me can be protected and keep living. It just feels so odd, like chewing on lead. Once I saw the hamsters cannibalizing, I understood. I live on for the strong, so I guess this is to be expected. I wanted to be eaten by my sister, Natsuko Akisaka, the one stronger than me.”
Well, her sister will be troubled by that. I really mourned for her.
I stared at Hatsuhime’s face. There was a sickly gloominess on her face, and I responded as quickly as she did.
“This is exactly the same as what the pigs at the farm wish for. But the pigs can’t choose who they’ll be fed to.”
“Their future dreams are to be, food. Me.”
“That’s too much, seriously.”
I can’t keep up with what kids are thinking these days. Goodness gracious.
I said with utter incredulity, and turned away. I prepared the plate for the stew, along with the drinks. One glass of malt tea. The clear color shivered uneasily.
“But my sister got eaten, so I too want to be eaten.”
But her sister got eaten.
I regurgitated the words in my mind, and asked a rhetorical question.
The surface tension broke. The malt tea overflowed from the rim.
Hatsuhime shot me a serious look. Her sister got eaten. Eaten. Hunted. Devoured. Cannibalized. These terms echoed in my mind, and I took a deep breath.
“Yeah. I know that your sister had a hole punctured through her face. Right where the fat is, the tasty part got cut off, and incisors can be seen from there. I don’t know why the culprit took that away, but you think that’s to be eaten?”
Natsuko’s body might be as strong as a wild animal, but the softness of the cheeks might be incomparable.
The little sister Hatsuhime had an unhealthy thought, wondering if Natsuko was eaten, but there was enough evidence for that.
“—-But the culprit’s Yamaguchi, right?”
I recalled seeing Yamaguchi. On the morning Natsuko’s corpse was found, he panicked, yelling incomprehensible things, and went berserk.
Natsuko. Natsuko. I really really love you. You’re still by my side now, right?
He left school, taken away by the teachers, and was never seen again.
The boy A who had been stalking her might have been him.
It was all but confirmed. So, Hatsuhime’s arrival here was a mistake.
“Look, you’re here at my house because you want to continue the food chain, right? In that case, go look for Yamaguchi. It’s pointless to come to my house. I’m a harmless, kind guy after all.”
“…Ariya-kun, you told the police and teachers that you don’t know why he wanted to kill my sister, right?”
“Yeah I don’t. I would have stopped him if I knew. I’m a guy who can’t hurt a bug after all.”
The moment I said this, a cockroach strutted by my sights. I squashed it silently, and there was a strange, indescribable shape beneath my foot. I removed my sock, and left it there.
“That didn’t count.”
Hatsuhime nodded quietly. Obedient kids will become great adults in the future.
She spoke up again. The turning plate will soon stop.
“Yamaguchi-kun said he did not cut my sister’s cheeks.”
“Well, that’s a lie, right? He collected her hair and fingernails and ate them though.”
“That was what the police said. The wounds on the corpse might have been done by him. I do not think so, for he does not seem to be strong.”
Eating meat has nothing to do with being strong or not. I wanted to say so, but I gulped.
Hatsuhime was staring at me with serious eyes. Again, she said.
Large amounts of bubbles popped out. Noise banged at my eardrums over and over again. I felt I was being swallowed by water.
“I found it strange. Ariya-kun, you said you did not know, but you did say you knew of Yamaguchi-kun’s stalker antics, right? You knew about him eating her hair and fingernails. You should not have been able to see her corpse. The police hid such information. Maybe news might have leaked in this little town. Despite that, why can you imagine that much? How did you figure out that was the area with the perfect amount of fat, soft and nice to eat? You know about the school bag with sharp corners too.”
Ariya-kun, I find that every single word you say is weird.
Strange. Is that so? A little fear struck me. The Neon Tetra peering through the glass could actually understand human words. What else could he feel other than fear? Hatsuhime Akisaka continued on, her tongue rolling like a disc.
“This area has been dangerous for quite a while. A few murderers, some corpses with missing elbows, some with missing fingers. There a few few points though, not all of them are the same. This time, the police suspected if it was the serial killer again. Though we know it was not the case, it seemed that person was involved somehow. Someone took the flesh away. If that is the case, it was not Yamaguchi-kun who ate my sister. Ariya-kun, you have a determined look, and due to personal interest, I investigated you.”
There was some excessive information mixed in there. I might have been happier if not for the situation, or awkward, maybe? The goodwill of the Neon Tetra was overbearing to me.
“That day, you saw that Yamaguchi-kun went elsewhere alone, even though you often returned home with him. You found him suspicious, so you tailed him, found my sister, and ate her. No?”
Hatsuhime finally asked the question she had wanted to ask.
Sighing, I raised my hands. Your delusions are way too strong. Well, since you say that, I’ve only one answer.
With a smile, I nodded.
Hatsuhime maintained her grim face, her hand pointing a finger gun. Clearly it was a threat.
The finger gun that could not fire was pointed at me, and Hatsuhime continued to ask.
“Ariya-kun. You can’t eat beef, chicken or chicken.”
The fingertip went from my chest to the microwave.
10 seconds left on the timer. The spinning plate will stop. The scalding stew was boiling inside. She pointed at the dark brown stew, sounding confident.
“But this is the smell of meat.”
The bullet was fired, and it hit the bullseye.
It can’t be a perfect stew if there’s no meat inside.
“—-So, what exactly are you cooking in that stew?”
I slowly turned around, and took out the frozen bag from the microwave, making sure I was not scalded by the contents.
An alluring fragrance of meat. I tilted the bag sideways.
The rich contents spread on the white plate. The stew released a frothing steam. There were ginseng, melted potatoes, and crumbled meat.
I laid the spoon on the table, and sat. I ignored her stare as I continued to eat. The overflowed tea stained my shirt. I then remembered I forgot to clean the table.
Clearly, I was rattled to a certain extent.
“—-Three minutes passed.”
So, that’s the end of the conversation.
I wanted to end things off like this, but Hatsuhime’s stare never changed. She was still staring at me.
I continued to stir the stew. My stomach was being agitated. Though I wanted to start eating, it seemed she had no intention of heading back. The spiel of words left me awkward.
What should I do to erase the stubborn conviction?
I shook my head a few times, and spoke up.
“Hey, Hatsuhime. Isn’t there a possibility that I saw Natusko’s corpse after the murder, and ran away because I didn’t want to get involved? Also, there’s all kinds of meat besides beef, pork and chicken, you know? Lamb, mutton, crickets.”
“Please stop showing your delusions in unexpected moments. That’s dangerous if it’s not me you’re talking to.”
There should be a limit to how incomprehensible a Neon Tetra can be.
I teased, but Hatsuhime showed no change on her face. I picked up the spoon, and this movement alone caused the tender meat to crumble.
“Want some? It’s just ordinary meat.”
Hatsuhime stared at me, as though probing, sizing me up.
The clear eyes were glowing green. I was planning to bargain again, unable to accept the gloom that would happen if negotiations broke down. I thought hard, and spoke as earnestly as I could.
“Hatsuhime, have you thought about the issue about possibilities?”
I inhaled hard, bringing the hot air into my empty stomach.
Then, as though I was sprinkling some feed to the Neon Tetra in the water.
“You’re unhappy about your personality flaws, and start to admire the world of eat and be eaten. What caused it was the hamster with your name. Why do you think your Hatsuhime was the weaker one? They might have equal power, right? Natsuko might have survived with a little advantage, so you thought Natsuko’s the stronger, because of the belief that the weak is food to the strong? The ones living on this world are the winners. In that case, between the human Natsuko and Hatsuhime, aren’t you the stronger one? If eat and be eaten is natural, why haven’t you thought of eating and remaining alive?”
At the very least, I’ll continue to eat, to feel that I’m still alive.
I actually said such irrational things. However, I wanted to express what I was thinking.
“…Also, what we just talked about has nothing to do with whether this is human flesh.”
I chimed in at the end. No way I would admit what she said.
For some reason, Hatsuhime gave me a kind smile. She didn’t ignore my ridiculous words, and nodded silently. From that gesture, I could sense a childish innocence.
Hatsuhime Akisaka’s a Neon Tetra. Seeing that beautiful face, I was strangely satisfied.
My irrational advice seemed to work on fish.
I looked away from her green eyes, hissing as I scratched my head gaudily.
“Also, anything will get people curious. It’s up to you to take it as you will. Just make up your mind after eating. A tasteful might change your world.”
Hatsuhime Akisaka blinked, nodding in an obedient manner.
I started stirring the piping hot dish, took a scoop of tender meat, and brought it to her.
Hatsuhime’s white fingers received the spoon.
Her white fingers were a little cold. The gloomy Neon Tetra was feeling the warmth.
This time, I started to feel that I might have fallen for someone for the first time.