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Chapter 11 - Labyrinth in the Dark Woods

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“Menma. Where are you!!”


As he called for Menma, Tetsudo thought, it would be great if Jinta could sing with him…but this wish, sadly, cannot be granted.


Jinta and Naruko were gone already.


Sigh, this is great already, Tetsudo thought. To have Jinta still willing to mention Menma was already the greatest of all.


Back then Jinta was everyone’s leader.


Jinta was also the one who brought Tetsudo, with a thin and small body, and dumb, into Super Peace Busters. Jinta was very smart, and he excelled in sports, like a glittering hero. He would also speak to Tetsudo with a smile as brilliant as sunflowers in the summer.


“Your nickname...because you’re called Tetsudo…let’s call you Poppo!”


Poppo. This nickname to Tetsudo, who was often neglected in the class, was undoubtedly a new name that signified a fresh start.


He knew about Jinta’s unattendance in high school.


But he thought this unimportant. There are many more things out there in the world, and Jinta could see them.


Then, when they met again after five years, Jinta completely assented his idea.


He said Menma’s name once again.


This was more important than anything to Tetsudo. It didn’t matter if Menma truly existed or was just a hallucination.


Something that had always been clinging to ‘Menma’ in Jinta’s heart was being brought out. And as such, the Super Peace Busters gathered together again.


Jinta was indeed still everyone’s captain. From Tetsudo’s perspective, he was the strongest and eternal hero.


He just wanted to cry out loud—to cry out loud in his heart the name of Menma.


“Menma. Menma!”


As Tetsudo cried, Menma also followed him and cried. This name, Menma, reverberated in the dark woods. The light coming from Tetsudo’s flashlight reflected on Menma’s chest, coagulating into a shadow.


Menma could, from Tetsudo’s calling her own name, feel the happiness and joy of being one of the Super Peace Busters, albeit she shouldn’t exist here. She was also afraid for herself now wasn’t one of the Super Peace Busters.


Happy, yet afraid—it wasn’t an even split: the happiness was the major part. After all, it was a joyful event to be with everyone here.


“Hey. Menma-san!!”


Tetsudo could call upon her name. This was indeed some source of her happiness.


“Menma!!”


Meiko also cried, cryiny out without attention something sunk deep in her heart, and spewing it out.


“Haah…Haah.”


As Naruko ran, she thought wanderingly.


(Why would I follow them when I am wearing high-heel shoes…)


Every time she stepped on the uneven road, her high-heel shoes would sprain her ankle—at least let me change into platform shoes.


Not only her high-heel shoes but also her clothes and nails had been armed. A band with poor elasticity bound her ankle, giving her the feeling of being strapped tightly. She now could let her become more confident, stand before people, and face their eyes. She now could get along with her early-maturing friends without being timid…


Nevertheless, does she really need to arm herself in front of the Super Peace Busters? She didn’t know.


Besides, she gradually forgot the reason why she was running. Naruko didn’t believe in Jinta’s words. In fact, everyone didn’t. It was just Atsumu trying to tease Jinta, for he didn’t like him from the very start. And Chiriko’s thoughts were hard to understand no matter when. Back then she was already an early-maturing child who would look at things from a side imperturbably. And Tetsudo maybe…truly believed in him.


(But…even if this was the case, isn’t this awful?)


The first one to propose was perhaps Jinta.


But if it wasn’t Tetsudo who cohered to him, Atsumu who fanned the flames, and Chiriko who neglected it…the one being manipulated would actually be Jinta.


Right, Jinta was the real victim, Naruko thought in some part of her heart.


Although she threw a tantrum at Jinta at the workplace for his saying Menma’s name, her anger wasn’t simply because Jinta would say a deceased person’s name so esaily, but also some subtle thoughts she had.


Jinta could see Menma.


If this was the truth—of course, the truth looking at it from some perspective—then every one in Little Peace Busters who had been playing around with Jinta’s feelings was unforgivable. This certainly included herself. She knew she shouldn’t have joined in such a despiteful act.


But she would always let the people around her to affect her.


Jinta’s back was fluttering in her eyes, and she want to cease his back. If she let him off, he would get hurt…why would he even bear such serious pain when he was already riddled with scars?


“Hey!”


Her shouting voice was louder than she expected. The face Jinta had when he turned his head, at that moment, always seemed to have a slight open in his lips…just like those days. Naruko’s heart thumped greatly. She uttered quickly as she was afraid of the shame that her heartbeat would be heard.


“D-Don’t you think that what we’re doing are too dumb?”


(No…this wasn’t it)


“You said you saw Menma. That was just Matsuyuki’s joke…if you…if you stop mentioning Menma, then everyone can…”


(This wasn’t what I wanted to say!)


The things she wanted to say in her heart and the things she spoke couldn’t be in synch with her feelings. Perhaps it was just a slight deviation in her tone, but what that meant was completely different.


Jinta said in an obviously unhappy tone.


“Then why are you coming along?”


“That’s because…”


Jinta stopped saying anything and left.


Undoubtedly, she didn’t want to anger him. When Naruko stepped on to catch him, but for her unappropriate armour, her clothes scratched with something buldgy on the floor with a subtle angle.


“Ah?!”


She couldn’t help screaming. She was about to fall, but right at the next instant…


“Anjo?!”


Jinta who had ran back in a few steps fiercely caught hold of Naruko’s hands, catching her from the back.


Naruko’s ears reddened…


“T-Thanks! Sor…”


“Stop kidding.”


Naruko’s words were interrupted with a low voice. It was a male voice that had undergone the adolescent change of voice.


(Yadomi’s hands…are trembling?)


“Are you an idiot?”


At this moment did Naruko noticed that the ground she was stepping on was beside a dark and deep valley.


This was a scene she hadn’t seen but had imagined for a few many times.


It was the place where Meiko’s sandals floated.


“Yadomi…”


“If you really…not only Menma but you would also…”


The man’s words gave her hears a hot sensation. The trembling hands that were grasping to her wrists…his tensed fingers…


“You’ve grown.”


“Huh?”


Still unconscious, Naruko’s body had lost the strength that had been holding onto her.


Merely this could puff out some sweetness in her heart and body…Maruko said along her light breathing patterns.


“Hey. Did you really, really see Menma?”


“Uh…”


“Actually, you really like Menma, right?”


“What?!” Jinta came back to his senses, and violently let go of Naruko’s wrists, but Naruko still continued, “because you really like her, so you would see things that actually didn’t exist…”


“You, you….”


Ascribed to Jinta’s waver, a hot, damp feeling shot from the bottom of her eyes.


She didn’t believe it, but…


“Um...if you can see Menma, then take good care of her. Although I don’t know why, I ask for your help…”


“Anjo…”


His words completely matched her feelings. It was not only for Meiko but also Jinta…she also hoped she could treat her gently.


Some warmth of Jinta’s palm still remained on Naruko’s wrist, sticking to her skin like a scar. She thought herself as useless for becoming so heated up just because of some contact with him.


Without even blinking, Chiriko looked at Atsumu roasting the meat he brought. The steak needs to be turned over, otherwise it would be burnt, Chiriko thought. Atsumu who looked steay was surely preoccupied.


However, she didn’t remind him. She wanted to let him experience the failure of burning it.


“Ah.”


The colour of the smoke changed. Atsumu who frantically turned the meat gave out a small cry.


“Indeed. You rarely cook, yet you brought these things to act cool.”


Atsumu groaned.


“I think it’s bad for you to speak in a way as if you have seen through people.”


“Where’s it bad?”


“You won’t be popular among boys.”


“Thanks for your care.”


Among the Super Peace Busters, only Atsumu and Chiriko still had a friendly relation. Although they said everyone had good feelings and never left each other, but in this group, there are disparities in how strong the feelings are. And at that time, the weakest feelings perhaps belonged to Atsumu and Chiriko.


What was Atsumu thinking? Chiriko was thinking. If she could see through him…at some level she knew how Atsumu thought, but when she wanted to have a deeper look, the focus would be lost, and everything would beome blurry.


As their ages grew and as the distance of a friend grew, she gradually couldn’t see what a person Atsumu is. Every now and then at this moment, Chiriko would increase the prescription of her glasses.


If she could see through him…


“Stop messing around.”


“Huh?”


Chiriko couldn’t reply to Atsumu’s soft words.


That, you see, was because she couldn’t look through him again.


Atsumu lifted his head.


Along with the burnt meat and the roasted smoke, the flames of the candles swayed in the gloomy greyness, shining upon Tetsudo and the others who came back dismayed of failing to find Menma.


Jinta and Naruko was a bit of a distance apart…


“What. Menma’s not here! Yukiatsu!”


“…”


Atsumu stared straightly at Jinta.


Beside him was Meiko, who had been making him flighty and impetuous. Of course, Atsumu wasn’t aware of Meiko’s presence.


“Hey. Yukiatsu. Is the meat roasted?”


Meiko called Atsumu by his nickname.


The honey-sweet voice he longed was near him, yet Atsumu wasn’t aware of this. He just plainly stared at Jinta.


Jinta didn’t go to school. His hair had grown, but his height wasn’t much different. Still, he had a cool feeling.


Perhaps it was the truth, or perhaps it was just an effect of past memory that Jinta appeared like this in Atsumu’s eyes, however the reason…


(He was repugnant.)


Atsumu glared at Jinta. Noticing Atsumu’s eyes, Jinta also glared back at him, but he didn’t stay for so long and soon averted his eyes.


(I won…)


I had to make out the winner and the loser like a kid, but why?


Why do I have no such feeling of winning—why was this?


“Hey. The precious meat are burnt!”


“The second round is coming. Wait for a moment.”


As I looked at Matsuyuki Matsuyuki sprinkled the salt and pepper on the meat, I threw into my mouth those crab-sized German sausages thoughtlessly.


It had been some time already and the cold German sausages taste oily.


How repugnant…everything, including this damp night, was repugnant.


Matsuyuki was roasting some other meat expresionlessly.


He said he saw Menma…with such calmness.


Undoubtedly, he must have lied to us. What was he planning—how useless. If he were to play an act, at least play to the end…


“Speaking of which, you’ve gone too far, Yukiatsu! You act so calm and refuse to come with us…”


“Uh?”


Matsuyuki stopped his hand that was turning the meat, and said lightly and peacefully, “When Menma appeared in front of me, she asked me to tell us to stop messing around.”


“Uh…?”


Matsuyuki was staring at me, with that smile that only belonged to the corner of his mouth—he was trying me again with those disgusting eyes.


“Eh? Did Menma say this?”


Standing beside me, Menma cocked her head in astonishment.


So this was the case…what was he planning—that bastard.


He joined this BBQ just to scoff at me? And bought so expensive meat just for this?


“Taking her wish as an excuse to capriciously fool around is perhaps just giving trouble to Menma.”


Matsuyuki looked at me, seemingly wanting to continue.


“Stop, Matsuyuki!”


Everyone had noticed Matusyuki’s intention, and Anjo looked even more unstable than Matsuyuki or I.


“Menma wouldn’t want this to happen, right? Five years have already past, yet we’re still reluctant to leave.”


“Oi, Yukiatsu, you…!”


“Mmm..”


“I am already introspecting myself. Although I carelessly joined Yadomi in this, Menma would definitely feel unhappy for this.”


“…”


“Yadomi. You’re such a poor thing. Menma’s not here, and you don’t even go to school. How deplorable…”


“Jintan!”


Menma stared at me with her round eyes.


I had already become a sandbag. I don’t care what you say.


“But, when you do such senseless things, the real one who’s poor isn’t you but Menma…”


I couldn’t understand Matsuyuki’s feelings. Did he hate me because I said that to Menma that day?


“That’s wrong!!”


I looked at Menma.


Menma shook her head potently—not to me but everyone.


“That’s wrong! Who’s poor…Although Menma don’t understand, and don’t know why I would be here…there are many, many scary things out there and many places I’m not sure of, but…!”


When I came to my senses, Menma had already been crying.


Her face was cried to a mess, and her fists tightly clenched.


“When everyone could gather together…when everyone could think of Menma’s things, this was undoubtedly the reason of my happiness!”


“Ah!”


“Hey. Yadomi. You should forget about Menma already. Stop letting her stuck in your mind…”


“No! That’s nonesense…that’s nonesense!”


Her voice couldn’t reach Matsuyuki’s ears, yet she still continued to rebuke him.


“Even if Menma died…Menma still hopes everyone could be good friends! So…”


As if casting off her tears, Menma vibrantly lifted her head.


“So, stop quarreling for Menma!!”


“Hey. You.”


“Uh…Yadomi?”


Hey. You—I carelessly let it slip off my mouth.


Stop quareling…stop qaurreling for Menma. Do you have to worry for us to this date?


Your will was drivelled by others, your denying unheard, and your words unable to be sent.


Aren’t you the one who was hurt the most?


“Heh…It seems like you have something to say, Yadomi?”


Matsuyuki wore a provocative smile.


I had to say something.


“Ah…ah…”


What I wanted to say were beyond numbers.


However, the words seemed to be stuck firmly on the depths of my throat. No matter what I say, I would be reckoned as an idiot.


I don’t want this to happen.


This wasn’t because I lost my qualification as a leader, for I didn’t care about that thing long ago.


This was because Menma was here. Perhaps she was only my hallucination, but she was, in fact, here, and her eyes were welled with tears, her shoulders trembling. I didn’t want her to scoff at me.


No matter what I say, Matsuyuki would want to destroy me elatedly, however, his pain, or should I say, my pain, would hurt Menma even more. So…


“Hey. Yadomi. What’s the matter? You don’t have anything to say now?”


“That’s enough! Yukiatsu!!”


At the moment Hisakawa wanted to grab Matsuyuki by the arm…


“…”


Menma suddenly ran as if she had made her mind.


“Uh…?”


She ran to the bag of fireworks Anjo had put on the floor, and stretched her hand inside…


“Believe in me!” As she cried, she tore off the wrapper.


“Uh?!”


Everyone wasn’t aware of it at the start.


But when I started to scream, they followed the direction of my eyes and lost their ability to speak like I.


“What?!”


“Ehhhh?!”


Having found their voices, they made an extremely normal voie of people who met summer ghost stories first-handedly.


In front of my eyes, Menma opened the fireworks and took out a piece. I could see her, but they…


“What’s that? Why is the firework rod moving by itself?”


“Hey, Yadomi! Stop joking, what mechanism is this?”


Even Matsuyuki had a tensed face, his voice going crazy.


“Stop playing around…Stop it, Menma!!”


Actually I noticed this from the start. Menma could touch anything. Could hallucinations touch things? No, it didn’t matter whether it was a hallucination now.


If that was the case, then the evidence of Menma’s existence are limitless.


But I didn’t want that to happen.


Menma had been our pal. Even now, she was our pal. She had the same soft smile she had at that time. She would always say ‘yo’ or ‘bobobo’ like a kid.


It was the spirit that was right for the summer…I didn’t want to let the Super Peace Busters to look at her like that.


“Menma!!”


But Menma didn’t stop. She didn’t care whether they would be scared of her, or mistook her. She lightly put the rod in her hand near the candles Tsurumi had prepared for the spirit stories.


Seee…


Following the striking sound as fast as bubbles in soft drinks, the leading-line of the rod was ignited.


“!!”


In front of everyone, Menma swung her rod through the air.


The light’s trace pierced through the darkness.


It brought back the memories of that summer.


Everyone added their pocket money together and bought some fireworks. For children were restricted from playing fire, they would want to do it more when they are restricted, as they would become excited when doing bad things. Therefore, everyone waited for the sky to darken.


It was the same on that day: the rod was ignited with a ‘seee’ sound like the bubbling of soft drinks. Looking at the fiery rod, everyone cried out in joy.


“Wuagh! Excellent, Jintan! It’s round! Round!”


We were indeed children. Looking merely at the fascinating fire rod wasn’t fun. We swung the fire rod around and drew endless light traces in the dark. I swiftly twisted my wrist and drew a few circles in mid-air, and when Menma saw me doing this…


“Guess what this is!”


She swung her fire rod and drew a strange figure.


“What’s that, eight?”


“Ah, is that infinity?”


Tsurumi was right. Menma nodded her head in happiness.


“That’s right. It’s the symbol for infinity!”


“Eheh. What’s infinity?”


“Don’t you know, Popo? Infinity is the meaning for on and on till forever.”


Menma nodded again to Matsuyuki’s explanation.


“That’s it! This is us—the Super Peace Busters!”


And then, she suddenly wore a smiling face.


“It means that we are best friends for on and on till forever!!”


“…Menma.”


A flower was drawn by the traces of the fire rod in the darkness.


This flower was made by the repeated swinging of Menma’s fire rod, repeatingly telling us the meaning of ‘best friends’.


“Ah…”


Everyone who was originally scared…looked at it and started to remember the things at that time; their faces also relieved.


It wasn’t the face of seeing summer ghost stories first-handedly.


It wasn’t simply astonishment and puzzlement.


“It’s really…Menma.”


Just when Anjo murmured in her subconscious…


“…Who’s kidding!!”


When Matsuyuki roared, Menma’s actions stopped.


“Yukiatsu…?”


“Who’s kidding? What is this? I don’t believe it! I will never believe it!”


Matsuyuki’s roaring sounds reverberated in the dark woods.


His fretful and restless footsteps left gradually. No one stopped him: everyone only listened quietly to his leaving footstep sounds.


Matsuyuki’s voice disappeared. The buzzing sounds of summer insects dominated nearby places again, but everyone was still silent.


This silence represented everyone believed in Menma. This silence declared this truth with the loudest voice.


The fire rod in Menma’s hand had burnt to the end while we weren’t noticing.


“Jintan.”


Menma smiled to me. It was the same unsightly, acidulous smile she had on that day.


“Sorry.”


She apologized to me for a reason I didn’t know.

Previous: Chapter 10 - BBQ Next: Chapter 12 - The Common Trauma

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