The Snow Maiden

I was always a straight B student. Because a C made me look dumb and an A wasn't worth the effort. Scoring an A is for suckers. This pissed off the wrong people (my parents), so I was punished by being sent out here: a village in the snow country. But instead of building character, I met this village's darkest secret: the girl in the snow. She was dead and she changed my life. - UPDATES EVERY MONDAY, WEDNESDAY AND FRIDAY!

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My latest story! I think it's the best yet :)
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15. Chapter 15

 

Miyazono always finds out. One way or another. In this respect, she is a lot like Aunt Reiko. Just a lot younger. 


It turns out that the man I walked in on was called Takeshi-something. I forgot the last part of his name. Anyways. Miyazono said he is staying long term. He's been here for two months and will stay for another two. God knows why. What is it in these mountains that he seeks? And doesn't he have a job? Can he even get that much vacation? I remember my dad saying that even if you get vacation time from the company, it's hard to go on vacation because you are worried about work piling up at the office. So how on Earth does this guy have both the time and money for this?


I'll leave it to Miyazono to find out. 


Later Miyazono told me that the girl he was with was indeed a college girl. Twenty-something, pretty as they come, ambitious too, interned at the company and fell in love with the boss. Not an unusual story. But it does make some delicious employee gossip. 


I asked her how she found out and Miyazono said when she brought the trays to up the room, the man (Takeshi) got a phone call and went down the hall to take it. She came face to face with the other girl in the room and she struck up a conversation. 


Just like that. 


Which is scary if you think about it. Miyazono is sixteen or seventeen (haven't asked her yet) and she can so easily talk to a twenty-something year-old adult and lure this kind of personal information out of them. In just ten minutes. 


I guess if there is something she wants to know, there is no stopping her. 


I'm pretty sure the man, Takeshi, would change his mind about countryside kids if he knew what was going on in Miyazono's mind. She is more cunning than anyone I knew at school in Tokyo. 


But there was one thing I couldn't ask her about: Yuki. 


A ghost in the forest who needed vending machine drinks in order to pass on. Just thinking those words made me realize how ridiculous it all was. 


But. 


Fact was that she was still there. Ghosts exist for a reason. Somebody had caused for her to be there. A killer. The last time I met her, Miyazono came before Yuki could answer my question: who killed you? 


If I worked from the assumption that there was a murder, then there will be evidence, one way or another. I just have to ask for any cases of reported murders or a girl suddenly vanishing in the past. If Yuki was a tourist, then there's bound to be a local newspaper report on that. I mean in a small place like this, a murder would be the biggest news of the decades. And if she wasn't a tourist, then somebody will know. This was a small village after all. Everybody knew everybody. 


But I didn't get to see Yuki for the next week or so. Aunt Reiko kept me busy. Because she always finds out, one way or another. Maybe she noticed portions of eel and rice missing in the kitchen, put two and two together and figured out what happened. Maybe it was just her instinct. Either way, she increased my workload and I was busy from dawn till dusk. 


She also put Miyazono in direct charge of me. 


We scrubbed the floors together, the baths, the kitchen. Anything that could be cleaned, we cleaned it. It made me wonder where all the regular staff went. It's high season and suddenly Hana no Sato was primarily relying on two part-timers. 


Well, whatever. Not my problem. 


One evening, we had finished cleaning the bath and were due to clean up the lobby next. But Miyazono didn't go upstairs. Instead she sat down on the benches next to the vending machines that were placed outside the indoor baths. People would finish their bath, put in a few coins and enjoy a drink. 


There is only one thing I can say with full confidence that Japan does better than any other country in the world: baths. We know that stuff inside out. 


I asked Miyazono why we weren't going upstairs. 


She said, "The lobby is as clean as it gets. We just have to vacuum it and rearrange the slippers. We can take a break down here for now." 


Which was odd. Miyazono never disobeyed Aunt Reiko's instructions like that.


Miyazono said, "The bath won't need much cleaning next week." 


"Why?" 


"I looked at the ledger. Next week we'll get a whole wave of foreign tourists. And foreign tourists aren't usually comfortable getting naked in front of strangers and taking a bath like that." 


"Huh...I guess it's because this is usually only done in Japan." 


"Yeah, there aren't many countries that do this. Do you know why we have that in Japan?"


I shrugged. "Never really thought about it." 


"It's because in the past, when warlords in Japan wanted to have a conversation with the enemy, they needed a way to ensure that neither party had any weapons. And the only way to make sure of that was to have everyone bathe completely naked together. You can't hide any weapons if you're wearing nothing." 


I said, "I bet there's one guy who tried to shove a knife up his ass before he went bathing." 


Miyazono stared at me for a moment and then burst out laughing. "Seriously, Yamata-kun, you're the only one who can say that with a straight face." 


I chuckled. The idea of it was amusing. 


After Miyazono had calmed down, she pulled out a tiny coin purse. She said, "Pick something from the vending machine, my treat." Then she added, "It's not like Aunt Reiko is paying you much." 


"She's paying me nothing." 


She grinned. "Exactly." 


I gave her a chagrin smile and stood and went looked at the vending machine. 


I had already given Yuki the milk tea and chocolate milk. I have a can of orange juice in reserve. There were about fifteen more drinks in the vending machine. 


Another thing Japan does better than any other country: vending machines. My country sure loves vending machines. God knows why. Maybe it has something to do with our declining population. 


I said, "I'll take the milk coffee."


"Good choice." 


We sat down. I didn't touch my drink. Instead I asked Miyazono, "Are there any legends or horror stories in this village? Like...murders for example." 


A moment of silence. Then she said, "Why do you ask? You found a dead body in the forest?" 


"No, but sometimes I wonder. Every village has its own myths, legends and horror stories. I'm just wondering what this village might be hiding." 


Miyazono glanced at me. "Anything to do with your trips to the forest?" 


"Uhm...I guess. Maybe. I don't know." 


Silence. Eventually Miyazono said, "Even if you find a dead body, it's better to stay quiet about it." 


"Why?" 


“The Chinese had a saying in the past: the mountains are tall and the emperor is far away.” 


“What do you mean?”


"Do you see a proper police station anywhere near here?" 


"No." 


"Out here in the mountains, the rural folk deal with incidents on their own. You could say that they have their own justice system." 

 

Somebody was coming down the stairs. Miyazono finished her drink. She said, "Let's get back to work."

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