But I Love Her
The two bodies fell to the floor after the mist cleared itself back to its original scene. It never seemed as though Nakashima never moved at all but she bore all her of hatred and anger into Mariko. Mariko knew that it wasn’t Nakashima’s power that kept her on the ground - it was the power of her own gloominess and the guilt she had at that time.
If she had paid attention, it would’ve been Mariko who died. Not Nakashima. Unlike Nakashima, Mariko didn’t really have much to live for. She didn’t have a goal in mind until she was in university and she never had a man look at her the way Okamoto did … At least, that’s what she thought.
When the two hit the ground, they groaned, mostly Okamoto, and Mariko watched everything from a distance. She didn’t want to face them - she expected Okamoto to be disappointed in her, sure, but the one person she didn’t want to see react was Yukari.
Nakashima just floated there with a dark look on her face. It’s impossible for Mariko to tell what sort of feeling she tried to convey but all Mariko could do was give a wail. Her cries didn’t even echo in the hallway like it usually would. Her heart crumbled, and her heart ached. It hurt to be there and it hurt, even more, to know what sort of reaction her only friend in Okutari would have.
Then suddenly, Mariko saw Nakashima into full focus as she suddenly appeared before her. She had the same blank look on her face but Mariko could tell she didn’t even pity her - instead, it was a look of silent joy that was angrier than it was worth. It wasn’t pity because if it was pity, she wouldn’t have haunted the school.
“And you know, I shouldn’t be at this school after all this time. And it’s so strange, Mariko! It’s so strange that even though I’m angrier at you, I’m tied to this school by chains! Chains that you should be wearing!” She moved the heavy looking chains attached to her with ease. They made an awful noise that Mariko had to hold hear closed and she was immobile. Maybe she was right. “Maybe whoever up there knew this witch could come back! Oh, but when would that be? 10 years? 20 years? Hell, maybe when you died, you could come back to Okutari! That’s where you belong, isn’t it?! Isn’t it? How lucky am I to have you come back? You know, I should thank the youkai who gave your mother that illness! I didn’t realize how quickly things fell into place!”
“Shut up…. Shut up!”
“Ah, now you’re growing a backbone! As soon as I mentioned your dear old mother, you want to fight back? You’re pathetic! You already gave up on your friend! Well, that’s natural - you gave up on me.”
“I…” Mariko was at a loss for words.
“And here comes the backtracking! ‘Oh, no, Nakashima-san, I didn’t mean to! Oh, I didn’t have any friends!’ Do you realize that I literally gave my life for you? My body got strangled because of a sick old man’s perversion. Because you bewitched him - you didn’t need me.
“I came to Keisetsuin High School alone, and you were the only one who became my friend. And then you said all that crap about me not being smart enough for Okamoto. When the coach praised me, you rejected me further. I shouldn’t have helped you. I should’ve let that nasty old man have his way with you.”
“But I didn’t.”
Mariko stepped back as she saw how close Nakashima was to her. She could see how unnaturally pale she was, how red and angry her eyes were, her once silky black hair is now coarse… she looked nothing like the girl she used to know. Her human teeth no longer jutted out in a cute way - but rather her teeth became completely sharp. If she had skin still, would it be deathly pale or as white as it is?
“And now… I look like this.”
Mariko wanted to move but it was then Nakashima wrapped the chain around her waist. The chains were so heavy that Mariko couldn’t think to move… or so it seemed. As more tears streamed down her face, she stayed silent and Nakashima continued.
“Do you want to know what’s the most messed up part? I realized that I was jealous. Jealous! Of a weird chunni like you for that adult attention you got… and I got it too! Do you want to see under the bandages? Those are the last remaining imprints of his hands after all!”
Mariko clenched her fists and tightened them. She could feel the faintest blood stream around it because of how tight she held.
“I’m sure you remember the old man’s house. I bet you look away every time you pass by it or you pretend you don’t see it. I know you remember it, Mariko. But let me tell you something that’s at least a little comforting! He passed away! He passed away shortly after he was arrested - I heard Masa-chan tell me. But that would explain why his house looked like it burned in the distance, so he must be in Hell - where he belongs.”
A whisper echoed in her head. She recognized it as her own - however, the words that were said didn’t belong to her. It seemed more of an incantation, but she could tell this whisper could be trusted whole-heartedly. It was as if a ghost of her old self was trying to protect her.
She listened without worry.
“What a pity! I imagine he might’ve been too scared to see me after what he had done to me! Guilt doesn’t belong to the likes of him… or even you. You carry my blood on your hands, after all. Mariko. Come join me and maybe I can forgive you. I can forgive you and you can bear these chains.”
The chains didn’t seem to touch her. However, Nakashima didn’t seem to notice. She was more into her spiel as Mariko suddenly felt warm and her tears started to stop - as though someone comforted her tears, as though she had been given… the color that can only be described as peach started to flood her mind.
“And when Masa-chan joins me in the afterlife, you can right even more wrongs by letting me stay long enough for him. Then you can be here in Keisetsuin all alone. That’s what you’ve wanted, right? Didn’t you want to make it up to me?” She started to laugh and only her laugh was allowed to echo in this strange hallway.
“Nakashima-san… you talk too much.”
She opened up her eyes and suddenly stood up. The chains readily fell off of her and then disappeared. When it reappeared, Nakashima-san was about to react when it seemed even heavier and it made her fall to the ground.
“I know what I did was wrong. And I’m sorry. I’ve realized long ago what I did you was horrible - I should’ve never said those things. I should’ve been happy for you. I should’ve… there’s a lot of things I should’ve done.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway! You can apologize all you want but I’m never going to forgive you! Especially if you decide to take your life! Even if you come back to Okutari - dead or alive - just know I would never welcome you here! I will make your afterlife hell! You’ll wish you were in hell after I’m through with you!!!”
Mariko’s body started to glow with a peach color. Maybe, maybe, she was a witch…? A real witch… the real witch Okutari… she remembered a story she read in Yamakoshi that touched her heart about a woman from Okutari who was called a witch, but only because she was so ethereally beautiful… but it turned out that the townspeople were right. Instead of embracing the kind witch, they forced her out of town and was eventually executed when they found her.
She didn’t understand - but maybe this witch’s spirit was still around Okutari and was trying to protect her. Regardless, she accepted the temporary power.
“I… don’t expect you to forgive me. I never had before.”
To Be Continued…