Chapter 7:

Episode Seven

But I Love Her

If Mariko wasn’t horrified before, she covered her mouth and took a few steps back, maybe more, to get away from him. He had a very deranged smile on his face - as though it were the grandest news he ever had to share. Instead of admitting to wanting to take his own life, he just announced the birth of his first child - it was seriously deranged!Bookmark here

However, his smile quickly went away when he realized that Mariko continued to step away from him. He tried to step closer to him as a more confused look replaced his deranged happiness.Bookmark here

“Inai-san, aren’t you happy for me? Why are you backing away from me?”Bookmark here

By now, even more tears streamed down her face, Mariko wanted nothing more than to leave Okutari right at that moment. But her mother… but her mother…Bookmark here

Once Mariko bumped into the same corner she just was before, she slumped down and tried, even more, to get away from him. However, Okamoto watched her with saddened eyes - it seems that she couldn’t understand his deranged logic.Bookmark here

“I’m not doing it because I’m sad. I’m doing it because I want to be Hiromi-chan. You understand, don’t you? You remember how sad I was when she died. I was inconsolable. I never showed up for class again that year. Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember?”Bookmark here

She wouldn’t remember because she wasn’t there. She left and she didn't have the time to really notice that Okamoto had stopped going to school, much less for the rest of the school year. How could she have known? To say her relationship with everyone, including the teachers in the school at that time was rotten would be an understatement. She was a witch and the school was the townsfolk who wanted to hang her.Bookmark here

Mariko couldn’t respond to him. She didn’t want to ever tell him about what happened to her. Surely, by the time he came back, he noticed that she was gone, right? But even if he did notice, even if he had the capacity for more than one person in his head at that time, it wasn’t like Okamoto sought her out. He never attempted to contact her - not even when she visited to essentially bury her grandfather.Bookmark here

And yet, he talked to her as though she knew him inside and out. That was extremely selfish of him, wasn’t it?Bookmark here

“Wouldn’t that make you want to kill him?”Bookmark here

Those thoughts weren’t her own. She shook her head - both as an answer to Okamoto’s question and to question Nakashima-san surely cruelly whispered to her.Bookmark here

“N-no! No, Okamoto-san! I don’t remember!! I was being bullied! I was bullied so badly that my family had to leave… Not even the teachers would believe it! Okamoto-san,” Mariko erupted as she shut her eyes tightly with hot tears pouring out of her. She didn’t even know how she got to this position but here she was. “Okamoto-san, I wanted to say goodbye! But you-you were so sad… I’m just so insignificant…!!”Bookmark here

Okamoto was silenced but then he started to laugh, which surprised Mariko that she could be horrified even more.Bookmark here

“T-there’s no way… Really? You were gone? I-I thought… I thought you went into hiding…” He continued to laugh but it started to turn into a strange hybrid of laughter and sobbing. Mariko dared to crack her eyes open and looked up. She saw him trying to steady himself against the wall as he tried to process everything.Bookmark here

“N-no one would tell me what happened to you. They just said… the witch was gone. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t understand it but Hiromi-chan said that they only meant you hid away from everyone…”Bookmark here

No way. He really was that naive, wasn’t he? He never saw any poison that not just the students gave her - but the poison she gave back. He never saw her as a witch or anyone bad - just as Mariko Inai… But it didn’t change anything about this situation. He still wanted to commit suicide and Mariko absolutely had to address that.Bookmark here

“Why would you want to take your own life? Okamoto-san, even if I know about everything from back then, it doesn’t mean you should be reckless and throw away your life! Didn’t you want to become a teacher because of the students? And why 30 years old? Why is it so specific?”Bookmark here

Okamoto looked sheepish and in a way, childish. He seemed to be embarrassed at the fact that Mariko had asked him that even through her tears. She was surprised at herself but she could also feel the adrenaline rushing through her body even though she remained huddled in her corner. Bookmark here

“A-ah, I thought you would understand, Inai-san? I thought you would feel my pain… wasn’t she your friend? That-that’s what Hiromi-chan told me...Sh-she said that you were friends…” Mariko could tell he was losing himself. Did she lie about that to him? Why would even the deranged spirit of Nakashima-san lie about that?Bookmark here

When Okamoto seemed to have noticed Mariko calming down from her crying, he seemed to try to recompose himself. He cleared his throat and tried to straighten his posture again. To Mariko, it was like Okamoto never grew up from his high school days. It was strange seeing a grown man acting like a high schoolboy.Bookmark here

“A-as for the age of 30… well, this is more of my preference. I wanted to die at 30. It’d be easier for Hiromi-chan to imagine herself as a 30-year-old version. She never got to see me at 20 years old… But if I kill myself in the school at 30, she’d know how to look! She’d know what to expect!”Bookmark here

He then hugged himself. “Inai-san, I’ve been so lonely without Hiromi-chan. The worst was university. I… don’t know how to live without her. Even after all this time, I visited her. The school allowed me to come back as a teacher… they knew my pain. They understood it. They felt so bad for me, Inai-san, that they hired me as soon as I graduated.”Bookmark here

Truly, Okamoto Masahide was a broken boy even now.Bookmark here

Mariko could see that plainly and clearly. He didn’t know about the life outside of Okutari. He may have been a transfer student from Yamakoshi but in his heart, he belonged to Okuari.In his mind, he believed he belonged to Hiromi even longer after death. It upset Mariko’s heart more than just a person wanting to throw away his life.Bookmark here

He was sick. He needed help. And the administrators of Okutari knew what to say and do to lure him back to the school, probably at the behest of Nakashima-san’s spirit. Would she really want to have claimed him for herself?Bookmark here

Was she still that selfish?Bookmark here

Before either of them could talk much further, they heard an unfamiliar scream and the sound of bones being crunched - they both jumped but Mariko then realized who it was.Bookmark here

“Yukari!”Bookmark here

She stood right up and ran past the broken boy before her. She gave him a quick, somewhat hopeful, glance as she passed by him. She didn’t want him to commit suicide - that’s what he was meant to do. The idea upset her greatly but she needed to tend to her friend immediately.Bookmark here

Once she entered the hallway, she saw the body of her friend floating unnaturally as her arms bent in a way that no human should ever. Her face was completely twisted in pain as Mariko called out for her. She didn’t need to know what happened as it’s fairly obvious - Nakashima-san found her.Bookmark here

“Nakashima-san, your quarrel is with me! I’m the one who did this to you!”Bookmark here

“I don’t care anymore. I don’t care, I don’t care.” Her voice growled as she phased in. Her ghoulish appearance made Mariko take a few steps back until she hit Okamoto, who surprised her. “You’re so annoying. You’re an annoying witch, you know that? Do you think you can bewitch others into hiding in the school? Do you think you can bewitch those around into listening to you? Of all people?”Bookmark here

It was then Mariko saw her body flash red. Yukari whimpered and groaned in pain as she dangled but it didn’t stop her from trying to kick her.Bookmark here

“You think you can bewitch others into doing your bidding? When Masa-chan wants to talk with you, he’s meant to do it alone. You bitch!! It’s your fault she’s hurting like this!” Bookmark here

Nakashima-san threw Yukari to the ground - right where she broke her bones. Yukari yelped and Mariko immediately went to her side. She started to cry again and tried to beg for her forgiveness. Yukari had been rendered unconscious as she couldn’t seem to have taken the pain any longer.Bookmark here

“You want to add another body count to yourself, don’t you? Oh, and you call me selfish? You call him selfish? You’re the most selfish of them all! You act high and mighty but you yourself had never grown out of high school either!”Bookmark here

By now, Nakashima-san’s voice echoed in the hall as though the hallways themselves became her mouth. As though the windows became Nakashima-san’s eyes, Mariko felt helpless. The doors started slamming themselves shut and Mariko cried as she clung to Yukari. She could hear Okamoto grunt as he seemed to try to open a door.Bookmark here

“H-Hiromi? What’s going on?”Bookmark here

When Mariko managed to look outside, it was no longer a pitch black but a pitch red. Something swallowed all of them up whole and Mariko realized that there multiple eyes on the windows - they looked every which way and didn’t seem to look at anything long enough to focus on it. However, something told Mariko that those were Nakashima-san’s ‘eyes’ and they were focusing on them - but what else could they have looked for?Bookmark here

“Masa-chan,” Nakashima-san still had a ring of girliness in spite of everything before her. “I’m punishing the witch. I’m punishing the witch! I thought I told you when I was in that accident, that a witch was involved. Did you ignore me? Oh, I absolutely hate it when you do that!”Bookmark here

Mariko tried her best to lift the unconscious Yukari with whatever limited adrenaline she had left but with the other woman unconsciously draped over her, she had to depend on her own strength.Bookmark here

“Where do you think you’re going? You can’t leave this school. The school is a part of me.”Bookmark here

Her voice echoed. From this point on, every utterance, every noise, every giggle, every angry moan, it echoed in the halls as though they were inside her mouth. Bookmark here

“Even worse yet, this school is a part of me. Especially you, Mariko Inai… The Witch of Okutari!”Bookmark here

Something caused Marikot to freeze. Was it her own heart or was it the cruel power of Nakashima-san?Bookmark here

“Your friend,” she said that word with such disdain, “may know all about you being bullied after I died but does she know? Does Masa-chan know? Do they know what happened that night? Do they know what I tried to do for you? Oh, rather, what I ended up doing… after all, it’s your fault I’m dead.”Bookmark here

Mariko screamed at that last part. If anything, she didn’t want Okamoto or Yukari to know the truth. But it did more damage than good. It was pointless. The ghost floated and a smile curled up with glee as she spoke.Bookmark here

“Wake up.”Bookmark here

“Ugh… Mariko… whe-where… are we… I thought you were going--”Bookmark here

“Shut up, Nakashima-san!” Mariko managed to find the strength to scream again and to keep screaming. Even though her words would never echo in this space, it was enough to get Okamoto to come and help her with Yukari. She didn’t want anything to do with him so she refused his help. She glared at him much like how she glared at the others… back then.Bookmark here

She saw him step back but Mariko glared at him and Yukari even when she tried to ask what was wrong.Bookmark here

“Let her go.”Bookmark here

Against her will, Mariko tossed Yukari to the ground and with a grunt, she landed on the linoleum floor below. Somehow, blood didn’t come out of her broken limbs but the sound of bones shattering echoed again. Mariko was not herself but internally, she wept and screamed and cried and begged for Nakashima-san not to tell them anything. They don’t need to know. They didn’t need to know. They shouldn’t know…!!Bookmark here

Yukari was almost rendered unconscious again but Nakashima-san made sure she was awake through her power. At this point, Nakashima-san seemed to awake a new ability as she started to move the living adults like dolls. A red glow surrounded them as she lifted each of them up but she lifted them so effortlessly and easily, it was clear she had some practice before.Bookmark here

She placed Okamoto and Yukari next to her and threw Mariko across the hallway. Then she made Mariko immobile as she watched the other two abide Nakashima-san’s whim.Bookmark here

“If you will never tell them, then I will.”Bookmark here

Okamoto and Yukari weren’t allowed to scream. They weren’t allowed to move. Were they even allowed to breathe? Nakashima-san didn’t care. She wanted to show them the truth of that night then and now. She had to at least show them the crime that this witch of Okutari committed all those years ago. She enveloped and drowned the hallway in a red mist and suddenly, everyone could see a flashback that only belonged to Nakashima-san.Bookmark here

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To Be Continued…Bookmark here

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