Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Birth of a Zerozaki

From Zerozaki Soushiki's Human Test.

It is said that men kill people according to plan, women kill people on impulse. No matter how impulsive an action it might be, when men murder there is an element of planning to it, and no matter how carefully they have planned when women murder this is something impulsive about it. But this is a ludicrous, infantile prejudice that Muto Iori did not believe a word of...or at least, would not have believed a word of if she had actually been aware that the theory existed.
Iori had once heard baseball referred to as an unscripted drama. There was no telling what would happen next, nobody could tell what would happen, nobody knew what the outcome would be -- there was no script. It was completely ad libbed. This made a lot of sense to her now, even though she felt it was a strange thought to be having.
An unscripted drama.
How was that fun?
"...this is a joke, right?"
Muto Iori, a high school girl, had just faced the first great crisis of her life. This is, perhaps, not the most accurate way of putting it; a more objective way of describing it was that the crisis that had been nipping at her heels for quite some time had finally caught up. Thinking back on it, every moment of her seventeen years had been spent running away from it. Rather like the games of basketball they played in gym class; while everyone else would have described basketball as a game in which the goal was to get the ball and throw it into the basket, Iori viewed basketball - and any other sports involving balls - as games in which the goal was to run to a place where the ball would not come. Volley ball, soft ball -- even catch or bowling. If she managed to avoid touching the ball the entire game, then Iori considered that a great victory. She did not bother wondering what it was she had defeated. But all her life...
She had been chased.
She had been running away.
The latter phrase felt a bit more accurate, but now that it had caught up with her, the distinction ceased to matter. Endings always arrive unexpectedly. Just like when your watch battery dies -- or when lightning knocks out your electricity. Things just ended - abruptly, even impulsively (in the sense that there had been no plan involved) with no script or foreshadowing.
"It's like...my life is over! Or did it ever start?"
This idea had been with her for a very long time. Since she was a child. Not a premonition or anything she'd learned, just a certainty -- a hazy thought she she would never really amount to anything. In elementary school they'd had to write an essay on what they wanted to be when they grew up, and Iori had written two pages along the lines of "I want to work in a cake shop, but if I can't I want to be a nurse," without once thinking she could ever really be either. (She hadn't even wanted to be either of those, really. She had just copied the one her older sister had written. Originality was less important than the arrangement of ideas in essays.) On the practice test a few weeks ago she'd gotten a perfect score in four subjects, and her teacher had said, "I can count the students like you on my eight fingers. You can get into any college you like with these scores," Iori had just wondered why she was being counted like an octopus or spider, absolutely sure there was no college on earth she would ever be able to attend. She was still sort of stunned she'd managed to finish her required education and move on to high school. That was an endless source of confusion for her. This morning, before she left for school, she'd read an article in the newspaper that had resonated with her. In the train that ran past her school, a twenty seven year old man named Sawagishi Tokuhiko had been found murdered, the article said. He had been cut to pieces with something very sharp. It was a very shocking case, but there was no reason she should particularly care about it -- it had nothing to do with her, she didn't know anyone named Sawagishi, and even if he hadn't been killed, it was extremely unlikely that she ever would have met him -- there was no connection to her life in the past or the future, but even so, Iori had felt this murdered twenty seven year old was like her. Like this man who had been killed for no reason in a train in the country, Iori felt she would never reach any destination, like she would always be traveling on a one-way ticket.
She would never get anywhere.
She would always be on the way.
It was like she was flailing about in a bottomless bog, and had run out of breath, so that even though she had plenty of strength left, she was done for.
"...but...uh...this really isn't my fault..."
It was currently four thirty in the afternoon.
School was finished, and she was on her way home. (She had no club activities.)
She was under the bridge, and every few minutes a train would rattle by overhead with an unpleasant sound. There was no one around. It wasn't even worth calling a deserted area - this was the kind of Lagrangian point you can only find in the country. And here Iori stood, all alone.
Except for the body of the dead high school boy at her feet.
"...so this is really bad."
She was pretty sure this boy in uniform with the butterfly knife sticking out of his throat was her classmate. But he hadn't made much of an impression. Iori didn't ascribe any more meaning to "classmates" than "people her age who sit in rows in the same room studying." They were all entirely interchangable, and indeed, they did change once a year, so she hadn't bothered learning their names. Learning them wasn't going to help her get anywhere.
So she was forced to lean down, careful not to get blood on her sleeve (school uniforms were expensive) reach into his breast pocket, and pull out his student ID. It had a picture of him, and his address and all kinds of other information, and the name Kagawa Yasumichi. She remembered him now. Iori clapped her hands together. His nickname was Yasuchi. An awfully cute nickname for someone as thuggish looking as he was, so it had stuck in her mind.
"...so, Yasuchi, what are you doing here? Being dead? This is the problem."
That was certainly part of the problem, but she didn't have to think long to come up with the answer. After all, it was Iori herself who had stabbed him in the throat with the butterfly knife. There was really no way to turn that answer into some sort of narrative trick. She didn't need to be careful about getting blood on her sleeves, since she was already completely covered in it, and her hands remembered exactly how it had felt.
"I finished him off..."
She had been heading home like normal when he'd called out to her, and she'd followed after him until they reached this deserted area. Was he going to ask her out? Ah, youth! To be so young! She had been thinking when Yasumichi suddenly yelled something she couldn't understand and pointed the butterfly knife at her. But even then Iori failed to register that the crisis was upon her, and had simply thought, What a tiny knife. Yeah, right, how are you supposed to kill anyone with that little Swiss army knife? You might break the skin but not get through the muscle...and while she was being randomly, inappropriately amused, Yasumichi was lunging right for her, aiming the tip of that tiny knife at Iori's heart. Iori was quite surprised, but this action seemed extremely logical to her - once he'd produced the knife, it was only natural for him to use it - and it was her that was out of synch with the situation. But even at the height of her surprise, she had not been aware of any crisis...no...
It was the exact same crisis she had always been aware of.
...she didn't really remember what had happened after that. All she knew was the fact that she had stolen the knife from him, and thrust it into his throat.
"Augh, I've done it now."
I did it.
Open and shut.
This was really bad.
She was like the killer on a Wednesday night suspense drama. But in that case, there must be someone watching her from the shadows who would try to blackmail her later. And then she would be forced to kill again. Or like that killer on Columbo (an episode about an actress who had suddenly killed someone) should she try to hide the crime? No, no, thinking seriously, this might be perfectly legal self-defense. Yasumichi had pulled the knife on her first, so that was obvious. Yay for self-defense. Viva! But was it okay to kill people in self-defense? She was pretty sure it was okay, but she'd learned that from TV. But wasn't this a little straight forward for a TV show? Oh god, how far could this unscripted drama go? Was there going to be another fuss about kids today?
But she felt like that wasn't the real problem. Too bad for her classmate, but the important thing here was not that she'd killed him. The critical point was that this thing Iori had been fleeing, avoiding like the basketball, had touched her at last. She had been safe as long as she was running, but if it ever touched her, then she had lost.
She had lost.
Something she had barely been holding together had suddenly broken.
That's what it felt like.
"Ew...all because you had to go and attack me, Yasuchi!"
For lack of anything better to do, she tried blaming him, genuinely meaning every word. He had already been weird the moment he had called out to her in the classroom. As his nickname suggested, Yasumichi was an outgoing, cheerful person, but today he had seemed a little hollow, and when he had spoken to her he hadn't made eye contact. She had thought something seemed a little strange, but how was she supposed to guess that he was going to attack her with a knife? Iori wasn't psychic.
"But...this is weird. There's no way I could do something like this."
She tried saying it cutely, but this proved meaningless.
She had stolen the knife and stabbed him with it. Easy to say, but not anything a frail, weak, adorable girl (self-described) could do to a sturdy, athletic boy. Using the magical phrase, 'a series of miraculous coincidences' was not going to work. Iori had stolen the knife from Yasumichi exactly as she had intended to, and stabbed him with it exactly as she had meant to. That much, she remembered. Her hands...her body remembered. It was no unpredictable coincidence. Obviously, as her basketball survival technique suggested, Iori was quite bad at sports, and had no interest in any kind of martial arts. Even as a child none of her fights had ever progressed beyond insults. But her body had moved in response to Yasumichi like it was following practiced motions, like she was putting a song she knew only too well on repeat. Just like standing up, bowing, and taking a seat in class.
"Like the hero of a shonen manga, when my life is in danger the ability sleeping within me awoke? In that case...could I possibly have a previously unforeseen talent for killing people? Ah ha ha!"
She tried laughing, but it didn't help.
Oh well. There was nothing else she could do now but turn herself in. She was a minor, and if she turned herself in they might lighten the sentence. Or should she talk it over with her family first? If they heard their youngest daughter had been arrested from some third party the shock might seriously kill them, and that would be awful. Or should she take responsibility for her actions by herself? They always said so. Trying to figure this out, Iori went to move away (even though she had killed him herself, she still didn't want to look at the corpse of someone she knew for long) turned around, and froze in her tracks.
There was a man looking at her, leaning against the concrete wall so normally it was as if he had been standing there since long before Iori and Yasumichi got here. He was abnormally tall for someone Japanese, but so thin he didn't really seem like a big guy. His arms and legs were extremely long, even allowing for his considerable height. He wore a suit and necktie, with his hair combed straight back, and a pair of silver framed glasses, but this rather normal fashion fit him astonishingly poorly. His silhouette was like some sort of wire-frame model.
Iori tensed. He had seen her.
If he called it in, instead of her turning herself in, then the punishment would be stiffer. (Self preservation.) Why was he staring at her? If someone was watching, they should be lurking in the shadows! Then there would be nothing she could do...or wait, if he saw the whole thing, then he knew Iori wasn't guilty -- he knew it was self-defense. How could he blackmail her? He might even testify in her defense. In that case, she would be very grateful. No, no, don't panic. There's nothing to suggest he arrived conveniently in time to see the whole thing. He might have arrived just after she stole the knife. Just as likely.
But while this ordinary series of reactions were running through her mind, another part of it -- possibly the main part -- was busy feeling like something was wrong.
This man...
Had she met him before?
"Just now," the wire-frame model said without any warning. It was hard to read any emotion in his voice. "Just now you said something very accurate indeed. Like the words of the Buddha himself."
"Eh? Ehh?" Iori said, taking a step backwards. What? What did he mean? Like the Buddha? That was a hell of a way to start a conversation. "Wh-what?"
"But if -- while according the accuracy of that statement the utmost respect -- I must point out a single mistake, I would prefer to use the term 'nature' rather than 'talent.' 'Talent' and 'nature' are rather similar things, but the former is developed while the latter is repressed, and we should not ignored this fundamental difference. A careless mistake, but one that is all too common - nothing to beat yourself up over."
"What? You? Hunh?" she asked, confusion robbing her of coherence.
Ignoring Iori, the wire-frame model moved his legs, strode past Iori, and squatted down beside Kagawa Yasumichi. He proceeded to chuckle in a sinister fashion.
"One stab to the throat...mm, splendid work. Much too splendid. Goes right past splendid and becomes a bit of a negative, frankly. Perfect things, it turns out, are unexpectedly dull. They lack any trace of individuality. Somewhere, somehow, they lack individuality. Certainly, individuality is a illusion, but without illusions, everything would be boring. So...um, what was your name, cute little girl?"
"Eh? Ah, um, Iori. My family name's..."
"Oh, who cares about family names? I only needed your given name. Hm, Iori...same name as Miyamoto Musashi's adopted son. I could not be more envious. I have never in my life met anyone with such a magnificent name."
"Um, nice to meet you, I guess..."
"Nice to meet you indeed. Presupposing the all important theory that something indeed is about to come of our meeting, and then this is indeed the beginning of that thing."
A thought appeared to strike him, and the wire-frame model took the hilt of the butterfly knife, pulling it out of the body. Like pulling out a cork, dark red blood began pouring out of the hole. Iori yelped, and averted her eyes from what now looked even more like a corpse than ever.
"...very impressive that you managed to bring about a person's death with this toy-like knife. So surprising. Look, the blade broke! Not even because it struck a bone, the muscles alone snapped it in two. This is why I can't stand western knives. They are far too brittle," the wire-frame model said, showing the blood stained knife to Iori. Iori averted her eyes again. The wire-framed model, observing this, tilted his head in puzzlement. "Mm? Oh! Iori! Is this your first time killing someone?"
"Eh.....ehh? What do you mean?"
"I am inquiring if you do not make a daily habit of killing other people."
"O-of course not! Obviously!"
"Of course you're killing people?"
"Of course I'm not!"
"I see, I see. I thought so," the wire-frame model said, nodding. "Obviously," he muttered, a little irritably. "Then I was absolutely correct to use the Buddha in that simile. And now I've used the word correct a second time! No matter who you are, everyone is a little nervous their first time out, so nothing to be worried about. When was my first? I suppose I was too young to remember."
"Ah...um, um, um," Iori stammered, with all her might. This was bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. This guy was really weird. "So, it's been really interesting talking with you, and if possible I would love to talk with you all day, but I think I'd probably really better go to the police...but please, carry on by yourself if you like! Can I go now?"
"The police? Whatever for?" the wire-frame model asked, standing up as if he genuinely couldn't comprehend this. Standing this close to him, Iori, who was not terribly tall, looked like a child. She remembered the idiom "high enough to touch the sky" from class. Free association brought the phrase "sky high" into her mind as well, but that had nothing to do with the current situation. Iori considered attempting to run away from the wire-frame model advancing towards her, but despite the more bizarre aspects of her personality, she had a reputation in school for being friendly. If she ran away from the wire-frame model her, it might damage that reputation. This thought was enough to stop her body as she started to twist away, and make her face him again.
"Oh, no, Iori! Come now, come now, come now, Iori! Hold it right there! Surely this can't be true, and I ask with fear of being thought a fool so great my knees are literally knocking together, but Iori, you can't possibly be considering turning yourself in, can you?"
"Yeah, I am. Of course I am!" Iori said, waving her hands in front of her chest. "This isn't some stupid mystery novel, and there's no way I could ever hope to cover up the crime! I don't know where you came in, so I'd like to make it absolutely clear that Yasuchi attacked me first, and I'm standing on fairly firm ground here."
"I do recommend that you reconsider. If you go to the police, you will only end up killing policemen," the wire-frame model said firmly. Weirdly firmly. "Likewise, avoid consulting your family or friends or any school teachers. You don't want to kill your family or friends or teachers, do you? You might have other opinions on your teachers so I shall avoid mentioning them again, but Iori, you have already taken that step, and if you meet people again, all you will be able to think about is killing them."
"That...that's not true. I'm not a psycho killer, or anything..."
"No, no, that is exactly what you are, a psycho killer," he declared.
Firmly declared.
"Just a little soft, having just been born. But the sheer strength of the evil in your aura...I thought for certain you were my brother, but apparently I was wrong. Oh dear. Heh heh. This certainly is a surprise. So unexpected. Like an amusement park about to go bankrupt! Whatever shall I do? Whatever is expected of me?"
The wire-frame model threw up his hands, spinning around. "Augh! A big star right in the center of my time table! Honestly. Heh heh. Heh heh heh."
Iori had no idea what these metaphors could possible mean.
He proceeded to pace furiously around the corpse, thinking things over.
"........................um," Iori said, folding her arms and trying think as well, though not in imitation. First, this situation. She had been rudely accused of being a psycho killer (and however much she might deny it, having undoubtedly killed someone, she wasn't that much different) so what exactly should she do about this wire-frame model man? He was wearing a suit, but despite this, no one would ever mistake him for a traveling salesman, and his complete lack of reaction to the dead body was weird (not that she was any different.) Was it safe to assume he did not plan to call the police (she certainly hoped he didn't.)
He was strange.
A very strange man.
But...no matter how strange a man he was, her feelings right now were weird. More than weird -- positively mystifying.
Being around this wire-frame model...

She was starting to feel like killing someone wasn't that big a deal, wasn't anything at all...

But that was stupid.
She had killed someone.
So why wasn't she...
Why was she so relaxed?
Or was it always like this? Was killing people, once you actually went and did it, just like this? Not that big a deal? This was just like the girls in her class boasting about what they'd done with their boyfriends, nothing more than that. Once you actually tried it out...same thing every child said when they first learned to ride a bike.
Even though she'd killed someone.
What that okay?
Even though...she'd murdered someone.
"Hmmm...oh well," the wire-frame model said, shrugging off-handedly. Sliding his heels, he walked backwards towards Iori till he was about five centimeters away, and only then did he spin around. Five centimeters. A very...forward distance.
"And...and, Iori...there is absolutely no need to feel upset about killing him. You can't feel upset, so there is not reason to feel guilty about that. And it was all his fault anyway."
It was like he was speaking right to her heart, and even though she knew this must be a coincidence, it was several moments before she could respond. But on second thought, the wire-frame model's words were very good news.
"S-so you saw Yasuchi attack me?"
Oh good, oh good, what a relief. A smile started spreading across Iori's face, but the wire-frame model heartlessly shook his head.
"I didn't see anything. All I saw was the result, here. When I arrived it was all over. 'All over'? ....heh heh. So, I do have one question for you, Iori. Did your boy here say anything strange?"
"Er..." Iori hesitated. "Yeah, he did shout something...what was it?" She couldn't remember. What was it? "Oh, right, something about reading about a family of dog gods..."
"Okay, okay, very okay. Your memory appears to be a little faulty and not at all reliable, but if you say that much then as far as I'm concerned that is more than sufficient."
The wire-frame nodded, as if it all made sense now. But then he crooked his head, and frowned. "Hmm...incidentally, I don't want you to get the wrong idea about me, Iori. I am not Moguro Fukuzou, and what's going to happen next will not be very much like Yousuke's Bizzare Adventure, so please resign yourself to that fact."
"In other words, I have not appeared to save you in your hour of needs, nor have I come to help you develop that talent for killing that you mentioned. I may have scissors but I am not carrying a bow and arrow. I would not have you think of me as that kind of person."
"Mm? The comparison does not compute? You look puzzled. Hmm...thanks to the influence of a certain individual, I now often read manga. I am quite the fan. I am first and foremost a history buff, but a comparison from history would be even harder to follow, yes? I was doing my utmost to communicate with the young, but it seems my efforts have been in vain."
She admired the effort, but it had been rather pointless.
And patronizing.
"I realize they are not exactly the latest trend, but the influences of a poverty stricken home or bad friends causing them to veer off track, or perhaps self-defense or hatred have caused a young blonde girl to do something regrettable at which point a man in a suit calls out to her from behind and pulls her into an underworld of assassination...this was quite a common motif in foreign films a while back. The girl does not need to be blonde and the man does not need to call out to her from behind, but I have no intention of imitating that type of agent. As proof of which, I said absolutely nothing until you turned around. The notion that someone will appear at a turning point in your life is beyond arrogance into absurdity. And not only me; there is no one in this world who could possibly guide you. Why? Because you will no longer be arriving anywhere."
"I won't be..."
"Of course you seem to have already given up all hope of that, so in your case, you might well never have intended to get anywhere."
The way this man talked was both decisive and aggravating. But Iori understood what he was trying to say. Certainly, she had vaguely hoped that at this moment of crisis a hero (whether of lightness or darkness) would appear to save her, and it wasn't like she hadn't wanted someone to step in and save her, and it wasn't like she hadn't prayed that someone would...but all of those were wishful thinking. Angels offering salvation or demons offering to grant your wishes were not so easily encountered. So she nodded.
"Yeah...and no matter how you look at it, I killed Yasuchi. It's my fault."
"...no, it's not your fault at all."
He disagreed with her again.
And this time rather grimly. There was a weight behind his words that did not brook argument. The wire-frame model continued, firmly, "Like I said, the only one to blame here is the one you call Yasuchi."
Once again, Iori froze in shock. Without any warning whatsoever, the wire-frame model had produced what appeared to be a gigantic pair of scissors from behind his back. They looked basically like scissors, and there was no other word handy to describe them, which is why they 'appeared to be' scissors, but in reality they were not scissors at all. Compared to them, the butterfly knife really was nothing but a toy. But more than the scissors, what really made Iori freeze...
Behind the wire-frame model...
With blood still flowing from his neck, Kagawa Yasumichi had stood up, and was gazing at them with hollow, empty eyes.
"Exactamundo! This is all Yasuchi's fault!" the wire-frame model sniggered, spinning the giant scissors on his finger tips. "The very fact that he must stand up and kill his target even though he has received a fatal knife wound to the throat, and is at this very moment dying!? If this is not 'fault' then what on earth is? Just like the man I met on the train! Not worth feeling sympathy for at all!" he said, addressing Yasumichi, so pale from loss of blood that he was looking ever more corpse like.
Why? Iori felt herself turning pale as well.
How could he be alive?
That wound could not have been more fatal.
He should not have been alive, he should have been long since finished dying, yet...
"Yasuchi-kun. You 'fail.' I have no more hope for you at all."
The scissors gleamed.
The very fact that they appeared to gleam was miraculous. They had been twirling around the fingers of his right hand a moment ago, but somehow they were spinning on his left hand now.
Then the hole Iori had made in Yasumichi's throat vanished. To be more strictly accurate, the entire head, hole and all, vanished.
Kagawa Yasumichi's head had been cut clean off his body.
The head hit the ground with a wet thunk like a watermelon, and a moment later the body fell as well. Despite her confusion, Iori knew that this time it would not rise again.
Despite her confusion.
No...that wasn't it.
She wasn't confused at all.
This tingle, this shiver...

Was excitement.

The man in front of her had cut off another person's head without so much as flinching, and she was...impressed.
His movement, his skill...
Compared with that, her own movements when she had stabbed him were like a child's prank. So much for her movements being practiced. They had been pathetically, comically clumsy, desperate struggling.
He was so far ahead of her.
"My name is Zerozaki Soushiki," the wire-frame model said, introducing himself at last. "Iori!"
"Y-yes!" she said, straightening up.
There was a fine tension from her head down to her toes. She had been completely, utterly wrong. At the least, this man was not any ordinary strange man. He was far, far more advanced than Iori. Looking closely, he was quite handsome, as well. The thin eyes behind his glasses seemed impossibly attractive to her. Oh. This man was not strange. He was...
"Will you be my little sister?"
...a freak.

Copyright Nishioisin, 2006, published by Kodansha.
Excerpt translated and posted under the principle of fair use, representing an insignificant portion of the work as a whole.


  1. We gotta figure out how to put things behind a cut.

    This also reminds me I have yet to get to readin' that (apparently badly translated) Zaregoto novel.

  2. Reading this just makes me want to read the rest of it and how it is supposed to tie into the Zaregoto