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Right after that.
“Hey! What are you doing here?!”
A chariot, pulled by a gigantic horse, stops before me.
Grandfather gives me an incensed look from above.
Somehow, I can foresee what is about to happen, down to the exact words, even.
I’m sternly told off, just as I expected, and I’m told once more to hurry up and pick up the assistant.
I hightail it to the village. It’s about time, too. I want to get this job over and done with.
It feels like I’ve spent an eternity searching for the assistant.
My head feels quite fuzzy, too; I hope I haven’t come down with a cold.
I don’t see any familiar figures near the 《Lamb and Olive》, where we were supposed to meet. Neither do I see the doctor.
I find no answers, even after I steel my heart and question everyone nearby.
As I stand at a loss, a woman calls out to me.
“Are you from the mediator’s office?”
It’s the doctor who examined the assistant.
Having established the assistant’s disappearance, followed by an exchange of introductions, we split up to search for him.
I leave the village, cross some grasslands interspersed with knolls, and reach the edge of the densely forested foothills. I’ve got a good vantage point from here. I believe I’ll be able to find my way back relatively quickly even if I do get lost, which I fear I wouldn’t be able to do if I ventured any deeper into the forest.
As I advance, the trees scattered around grow denser and denser. I stop walking once I find myself within some truly lush forested land.
“…is it?” “…… Preparations are-…” “…… Over here……” “… - the ingredients ……?” “… -thing is in place…”… just needs to slip and- ….."
I hear the fairies’ whispers echo from somewhere out of the blue.
But though I can hear them, none are visible.
Looks like there are quite a few fairies nearby.
As I hesitate over whether to call out to the fairies or not, I hear a new voice, this time, a human’s.
Humans are the top priority for now, so I direct all my attention to the source.
“Hellooo?” calls the voice of the unseen individual.
This is quite a secluded area, and there wouldn’t be any other people who just happen to be looking for someone else like I am. The doctor should be back at the village, and I’m here, so naturally, this must be the voice of the one missing, the assistant.
… It feels a little too high for a male voice, though.
The trees block my line of sight, and my field of vision is minimal. I try to get a better view by peeking out as I shift from tree to tree, but the interstices between the distant trunks seem filled in with other trees, making the whole thing pointless.
I keep seeing the same scenery no matter how far I go.
The trees in this forest are arranged so that the forest looks the same no matter where you look. It’s definitely artificial.
The illusion of endlessly circling around in the same place takes hold of my heart faster than embers to a pile of dead leaves.
“They’re the only ones… They’re the only ones who could pull this off!”
Out of breath, I charge through the maze.
Even though I know someone is there, I emit a surprised “Oh, my” when I finally see the person hidden behind the trees.
Standing there is a woman I don’t know.
Of course, she is a different person from the female doctor from earlier.
She has a slender body and clear eyes. Refined looks. Youthful. About my age. In her late teens, perhaps twenty.
We stare at each other, frozen in place. She probably didn’t expect this encounter either.
Just as I realize I need to say something to her to stave off the awkward atmosphere, she greets me herself. I respond with a friendly smile.
“Good day. Are you taking a walk?”
She’s looking for someone, too.
Once again, we split the work. I feel a powerful sense of déjà vu as I wander around my designated search area.
Now, I’ve got a good idea of what’s cooking.
Doubtless, this is the fairy world.
The fairies have manufactured this situation by interfering with the universe’s workings. In this case, the result is an illusion that deceives people, drawing them in and making them walk in circles…
Every time I deepen my friendship with them as a mediator, I feel like I’m being drawn deeper and deeper into their world, little by little.
“I’m probably not in danger.”
It’s almost impossible for the fairies to direct their malice at me.
But the tools they’ve made have put me through some terrible experiences, and it’s dangerous to assume any interactions with them will automatically end well.
I need to be careful.
Still, that woman from earlier… Despite having had a face-to-face conversation with her, I can barely remember what she looked like.
Her face, her height, her outfit, her atmosphere… It’s vague, or should I say, indistinct.
I stop and think.
But the mystery doesn’t look like it’ll solve itself any time soon, and my hazy suspicions are only further mired in cloudy darkness. I’ve got an inkling of a reason and a cause. But I can’t carve out any concrete conclusions, and my intellectual hunger is sated no more than the stomach of a starving person staring at a picture of a burger1.
Just what is it that I suspect?
The moment I resume walking, I fall over.
I shouldn’t have had my head in the clouds, as it were.
Uh-huh, I’m falling again.
Even though this is happening to me right now, I continue to gaze at the sky as if it were none of my business.
But I’m currently executing a perfect half-backflip, so it isn’t as if I can look anywhere else but up.
I spot a floppy yellow object – a banana peel – rippling across the corner of my vision in slow motion as my field of view rotates.
It must have been kicked up the moment I stepped on it. Strangely enough, I’m not surprised.
All I can think is, “I knew it.”
I’m sprawled out on the grass and have no idea how I got here.
I slipped, I fell, and I passed out. That, I can remember.
… But… what happened before that?
And… before that…?
I can’t remember at all. The details aside, I haven’t lost sight of the general idea of what I’m supposed to be doing.
I’m to go pick him up.
I don’t know what he looks like, but at any rate, I absolutely have to meet with him. Because he –
“… Because… he…”
A wave of something like sympathy washes over me.
How am I able to sympathize with someone I don’t know?
It would not be impossible to do so… The assistant was the sole inhabitant of an isolated environment. He apparently lost his parents early on and couldn’t even understand language.
“Yup, truly pitiable.”
But what does he think?
To understand that, we must imagine a world without words.
He knows no language. He may have heard some words when he was born, but by the time he could form coherent memories, he’d lost access to them. Language is a system, and he wouldn’t have been able to make any headway without a teacher. Even if he had a good textbook, he wouldn’t have been able to learn on his own.
Because that would require analysis, and such analysis would require language. Perhaps he could have developed a new language from scratch, but that would surely have taken an inordinate amount of time.
The assistant doesn’t know any language, but he’s an intelligent human, so it’s okay; we are, after all, second place on Earth’s smartness tier list.
But even with intelligence, how would he think through the small details without words? Would he just act like a wild beast, a slave to his instincts and desires?
No, I’m sure he’s wanted to ponder the little things.
But what is a thought without words?
Thoughts tend to be more virulent than even the most contagious of viruses. When two different views meet, an ideological difference begins brewing. Old humanity has made several “blunders” due to this and has suffered deep wounds, borne the weight of discrimination, and begat independence many times over.
A brilliant youth living alone in the grasslands who knew no language.
He had access to the minimum resources required for survival and no significant threats.
What would he have felt he lacked…
He was then given shelter and brought into human society, where he could not integrate himself to the extent that he couldn’t even learn any language.
What prompts his fitful, spasmodic wanderings?
What is it that one is looking for when they wander… I think I already know the answer. I believe I do, considering what I’m currently doing…
A woman stands by a stone wall.
There is something slightly lonely about how she looks, talking to the wall. No, she isn’t actually talking to herself…
I sneak up on her.
Like some kind of hoodlum, I tiptoe to her from behind.
I put a hand on her shoulder and call out, “Hi there!”
She lets out a confused “Hwuh?” and turns toward me, but even I’m startled when I see her face.
I try to back away, but an invisible force grabs me and pulls me closer to her. Resistance is futile. I can’t move a finger, and my body accelerates, charting a course toward her face. We collide.
A dog barks somewhere.
“It doesn’t… hurt?”
I stand alone on the side of the road.
“Something the matter?”
“Ah… A fairy.”
When I look down, I spot a fairy on the stone wall.
My memories from before are hazy, but I recognize this scene.
“I was having a conversation with you here. Isn’t that right?”
It feels like I’m interrogating the fairy, somehow.
“That’s right… Detective-officer-sir,” replies the fairy, with its head hung low for some reason.
“And you guys are playing some kind of elaborate prank again, aren’t you?”
“Come on, just spill the details; you’ll feel much better for it.”
“I would if I could,” says the fairy before abruptly pulling out a banana - “Wanna eat it?”
Yes, a banana.
This banana is definitely a strange one.
In the first place, what is a banana? Aren’t they more than just simple fruit? But no matter how much I ponder on the deeper meaning of the fruit, I can only conclude that a banana is naught but a banana.
I end up giving in and eating it.
“Mm, it’s delicious. Banana cake.”
The fairy writhes in agony.
“… Chocolate banana parfait.”
The fairy twists its body, unable to resist.
“Ah, ah, ah!”
It finally flops onto its back and begins rolling around.
“An éclair, made with a whole banana.”
As I continue my banana confectionery pitch, increasing the stakes all the while, the fairy continues to work itself up to the point of no return.
“… I realized it after saying it out loud, but bananas go awfully well with chocolate, don’t they?”
Ahh, how I wish I could make something with bananas. I’d really like a refrigerator to store ingredients like bananas as well.
As I immerse myself in the dream world of my hobby, the fairy disappears. Only a faint voice saying, “I can’t wait!” lingers on.
I look to the side and see what looks like a carriage coming from the direction of the village.
The fairies tend to avoid openly showing themselves to people other than me.
In place of the missing fairy, I see a strange dog. The sight fills me with an indescribably terrifying feeling of cosmic horror. The dog looks quite adorable but gives off an eerily lifeless impression. It doesn’t seem to mean any harm, but that only strengthens how uncanny it is.
“That dog again…”
The dog has been staring at me, but when I return its gaze, it turns and walks off as if it were just some stranger whose eyes happened to meet with mine.
With both the fairy and the dog gone, my surroundings instantly regain the weight of reality, and tranquility fills the air once more. But only for a moment.
“Hey! What are you doing here?!”
The atmosphere of realism is smashed to smithereens yet again when Grandfather slides over on his chariot to dress me down for forgetting my appointment.
After a lot of yadda yadda, I head to my destination earnestly. As the village draws near, the dirt path morphs into cobble, and the number of passers-by increases. No two houses bordering the street are the same. Some are white, some red, and some brown, a harmony of colors that seem purpose-made for this very street, to see the abodes off in their twilight years-2
I feel like I’m revisiting a scene I’ve seen before… as if I’m in a lucid dream.
I’ll give you a summary of what happens since this bit is getting rather stale now: I enter the village, look for the assistant a little, fail to find him, and in the process, meet the doctor who was his minder, then proceed to split up, with me heading into the forest.
And so I find myself walking through the woods.
In search of the assistant, whose face I haven’t even seen.
At this point, it feels like I’m looking for the essence of assistant-hood rather than the assistant himself.
A pointless fantasy flashes through my mind.
Eventually, I stop before a furnace.
What a twist, there’s a furnace sitting in these woods.
This thing’s large and should be proportionately heavy, yet it has been installed in such a remote place… But, well, it isn’t like I’ve got anything in particular to say about it. It’s there, so it exists.
“… My, what a thing to see…”
In the meantime, she arrives.
The two of us stare at the furnace for a while. But I can’t help but say it when she steps forward and tries lifting the lid.
“Um… That’s going a tad too far, don’t you think?”
It’s a small act of defiance against harmonie préétablie3.
There’s no way we’ll find a whole roasted Assistant inside, after all.
“Oh, what are all of you doing here…”
A third lady arrives.
She seems a little puzzled by the fact that we’re already here, but in the end, she acquiesces and joins the conversation without a fuss.
With three of us here, anything’s possible.
I don’t feel like a stranger for some reason, so the conversation is lively.
“I see, so you’re looking for someone?” “I am, too!” “Why, so am I.” “I’m supposed to pick up my Grandfather’s assistant.” “Oh, Me too!” “Ah, so am I!”
This exchange would probably sound pretty farcical to anybody who overhears us.
But as one of the participants, it’s quite fun.
Part of me knows how strange this is, but… it doesn’t matter either way.
All three of us probably feel the same.
That said, it’s quite strange how I can’t seem to make out the faces of the others even when we’re having a face-to-face conversation.
We talk about a lot of things.
The fact that I keep forgetting what was said recently is a little strange, but I’m not overly worried.
This place is rather overwhelming, but I don’t think it’s worth sweating the details.
“More importantly, don’t you think this furnace looks easy to use?” “I was thinking the same thing.” “I’d really like to bake a pizza in it.” “We could if we had the ingredients.” “Why don’t I go bring what we need?” “I’d rather mass-produce cak-”
I suddenly slip and fall right in the middle of the conversation.
I watch the peel of the banana I’d just eaten cross my field of vision without much surprise.
My consciousness suddenly goes dark.
Now, I’m rapidly approaching the point where Grandfather will lecture me.
The surreal hilarity of Grandfather in his chariot prevents me from ever forgetting this scene.
I see myself standing beside the colossal horse with my head drooping in dejection, with both hands in front of me in an “I’m sorry for being bad” pose. Still, I really am not sorry on the inside. It’s true; I’m the one saying it, after all.
I zip through the grassy plains, headed straight for the two figures at an incredible speed.
I feel like I am not moving through some grounded physical means but rather by another, more unscientific method.
And just as I am about to collide with my other self, I hear a single “ｂｏｗ.”
“And you know what, you-”
Before I know it, I’m getting scolded by Grandfather.
As usual, my memories of what happened right before are unclear, but I have a hunch about what will happen next.
The village seems to capture the holiday spirit perfectly as is.
I walk on in search of the assistant.
I know I won’t be able to find him, but I keep looking all the same. It’s as if my life is on a rail.
I walk around for a while and run into the doctor on the outskirts on the way back.
She gives me a befuddled look. Perhaps she’s become aware of the looping, too.
If we were to go with the flow, this would be our first meeting.
Half of me is aware that this is the first time I’ve met the doctor. The feeling is probably a remnant of what my original self must have felt.
I should have been cautiously thinking over this puzzling feeling of familiarity, but… I just can’t get my guard up about it.
I’ve obviously been taken in.
But what about the doctor?
Even though she hasn’t experienced as much chaos as I have, she still seems to have some questions about this incomprehensible situation stuck in her throat.
But for now, I’ll wait for her to introduce herself so I can safely get through this section.
“… I wonder how the Assistant would have been able to reflect on himself if he had been in such isolation.”
The doctor sets right into it.
Looks like she’s decided to cut to the heart of the matter by suppressing the feeling of this being our first meeting.
“People wouldn’t be able to learn their language if separated from their learning environment, right? Children who are born and brought up in isolation… They miss out not only on language but also on emotional development. They are cut off from the majority of their emotions.”
“Was the Assistant only taken into custody recently?”
“Not really, but he’d been undergoing therapy for a long time because of his poor health. He’s frail. Only recently were we able to get him into an education program. He had a gentle disposition, so he didn’t throw tantrums no matter what happened to him. Still, he hasn’t yet overcome his difficulties in interacting with others. However…”
The doctor pauses for a moment, then begins again with measured words.
“He is, in essence, incredibly wise. I mean, he was born that way.”
“So even when he couldn’t speak, he was intelligent enough to think for himself?”
“That’s right. However, his presence was so weak that I could barely even feel the humanity in him. It seems your grandfather came to the same conclusion. As for me, I could usually sense that the assistant was nearby and could give him food and a change of clothes, but… he’d often completely slip out of my perception…
“He was invisible as a person. And to make matters worse, he couldn’t talk.”
“Yup, just so. Hey, how do you think he’d be able to define himself in such solitude? Would there even be anything he could do? You’d expect him to end up in some kind of autistic state, wouldn’t you? But he isn’t autistic.”
“Something a wise non-individual would wish for…”
I wonder what it could be.
Being the layman I am, no solution to this psychological problem shows up, no matter how hard I wrack my brains. The answer I arrive at is so artless it’s frankly embarrassing to say it out loud.
“I suppose he’d want a personality? Or an ego, a character maybe…”
“Yup, yup. You get me! That’s gotta be it. He wants a personality!”
She seems to have expected that very answer, but I’m still a little embarrassed. Her goal doesn’t seem to be to tease me, though. She then says something surprising.
“I feel like he’s looking for one.”
“… Did he drop his personality somewhere?”
I end up ejaculating like a fairy.
“That’s what he’s thinking! I’m sure!”
The doctor’s seriousness knob is maxed out.
“So he didn’t drop anything!”
“I think so, too!”
“He’s smart, isn’t he?”
“Maybe he’s just trying to find himself with a new free-thinking idea nobody else would ever have thought of!”
What’s with her…? I’m at a loss for words.
“His world is still uncertain and vague! And that’s why… something so mysterious… happened?”
Ah, this conversation is just drenched in idealism. And since I’m currently in the middle of a mystical experience, my thoughts are getting increasingly tangled as time passes.
But then again, “…Maybe the assistant never existed in the first place.”
“I’m not letting you escape reality with a smile on your face like that,” she replies.
“Come to think of it, when Grandfather said the assistant was just an ordinary macho-man… I see now; perhaps he said that because the assistant still hadn’t settled on an identity back then.”
“Even I didn’t question it until yesterday…”
What would I do if I were in the assistant’s shoes?
I can’t even imagine it.
“What are you going to do now, doctor?”
“… I don’t think he’s around, but I’m going to have to look around the village once, aren’t I. I’ll probably search the outskirts if I haven’t found him by then. What about you?”
“I think I’ll go to the forest.”
I feel like that place is the most suspicious.
When I reach the furnace forest (I’ve given it a name now), things look slightly different.
Three ladies are sitting around the furnace, talking.
They’re all young.
That’s all I can say for sure because I’m somewhat unclear about their appearances.
Isn’t that weird?
You see, I can’t even make out what kind of people they are, even as I look each of them in the eye.
These women with forms so dim, with outlines so undefined…
And they’re all probably…
The furnace seems lit, seeing as a long white plume stretches above it.
“Oh, welcome” “Hello” “Good day”
It’s a bit weird to get a typical roadside greeting in the middle of a forest like this…
I suppose I’ll just join the circle for now.
“We were just minding the furnace.”
I see. This furnace is quite functional; apart from having space for a pot, you can harness the waste heat to bake with it by putting a griddle underneath.
“I found it quite easy to manage the heat; we could make quite a few things with this, you know?”
As one of them expresses her opinion, another claps her hands together.
“We’d even be able to make sweets here if we had the ingredients.”
“The problem is procurement.”
Why do I feel like I’m watching the three witches of the forest discussing their next concoction?
“…Um, everyone? Is it okay to make sweets here?”
The three others stare at me.
“You say that, but you know the truth, don’t you?” “This is a phenomenon beyond human comprehension.” “I can’t be certain of this, but there probably aren’t four people here, but rather just o-”
I feel I can’t let her complete that sentence.
“What are we going to do about the assistant?!”
The three of them look bitter. I must have hit a soft spot because one of them starts mumbling excuses with a frown.
“…I mean… the fairies… said they wanted to eat sweets…”
“Are the fairies here?”
The three promptly point to the same place.
In the indicated direction is a single tree. Perhaps sensing they’ve been called out, a platoon of fairies begins an unruly march from behind the tree.
Every fairy stops when they hear their leader’s command.
“Platooooon, BALL UP!”
Every single fairy proceeds to turn into a ball.
The leader can’t resist my tickle attack and unravels into anthropomorphic form again.
“So, you guys are behind all this, aren’t you?”
“I can’t really ‘splain it all in one go, but… We wanna eat sweets.”
“You just told me what you wanted, though?”
It’s time to punish this meddler.
“So, you put all this together for that?”
I ask not only the fairies but the three girls as well. The answers come in rapid succession as if it were a relay event.
“There are so many kinds of sweets.”
“Hrm,” I say.
“I was looking for the assistant, and while spacing out here… they begged me to make some.”
“We made a furnace.”
“I was all out of ideas on where to look, so I thought I’d take a break.”
“We got a lot of staffers together?”
“We all just ended up here without knowing it.”
“This is our playground.”
I thought this was a strange place, but sure enough, it’s just the fairy dimension. I’m exhausted.
But… something still bothers me.
“I’ve probably been here a few times…”
“So why don’t I remember what I did here?”
I understand that today’s been a vague day as a whole. It’s probably all the fairies’ work.
But, when I reminisce on this series of events, I get the feeling there’s a particularly solid veil over this area in particular. Something exceptional.
“Could it be that leaving this fairyland causes amnesia?”
I turn to the three girls and implore, “Hey, you guys ought to know… You lot are a part of this, aren’t you…”
My strength flags, and I sit down on the spot.
Ahh, I should’ve known. These people probably don’t remember much of what they’ve done. They wouldn’t be able to look back on the past.
“Okay, fine. But I have one request.”
“… Let me remember at least some things that have happened… Please.”
“I’ll take this up with the secretary.”
The secretary, huh?
“Ah, right,” says the fairy, as if remembering something. “You won’t be able to remember this place.”
“Well, yes, that’s what I’m asking you about…”
“This place, it’s cut off from the past.”
A calm assertion.
My eyes probably look like dots right now.
“The possibilities are infinite?”
“It’s like the future in a bottle?”
“And because of that, I’ve been here a few times… What’s that mean?”
“Every time you go back to the past, it just goes pop-” At this point, the fairy begins searching for words, perhaps realizing the explanation wasn’t cutting it, “In easy mode… It’d be a slack space?”
“A slack… space…”
I wonder what’s so slack about this place. I don’t really want to think about it.
If physics, quantum mechanics, causality, and every other kind of universal law were to suddenly just slack off, I’m sure the academics engaged in serious study of it all would be offended. I wonder if Grandfather would be amused. I don’t know. Either way, people who cut others too much slack are undoubtedly suspicious, mhuhu, ohoho (My brain’s shorted out).
“Ingredients, want ’em?”
“Right. I’d like ingredients and other utensils as well, please. And about a hundred more people to help.”
While I’m in a serious discussion with the leader, one of the fairy cohorts takes the negotiations forward with the three girls.
I suddenly find myself interrupting their conversation with an admonitive tone.
“You’re asking for a hundred more people, but what will they do? Twiddle their thumbs on the lawn or something?”
I begin a nonsensical interrogation (I’m getting quite impatient).
“Apparently, there are a lot of fairies hungry for sweets. Thousands of them.”
“Even so, how could you say that to them? Those fairies would really do it, too!”
I mean, those hundred people would all be…
As my frustration grows, the fairies bring something to me, bucket brigade4 style.
“Somethin’ for you~”
It’s a banana.
There it is.
Yet again, a banana, that essence of fruitiness, stands in my path.
The three girls and the fairies have the same look on their faces as if they’ve instantly become accomplices for this one moment.
Everyone has an archaic smile plastered on their face, silently pressuring me into eating this mysterious banana.
I can’t defy this peer pressure!
I finish the banana in an instant.
But this time, I’ll keep a tight hold on the peel, I’ll be careful not to drop it near my feet.
“This is a new version.”
“What kind of banana works in versions?”
“The kind of banana that’ll make you slip right away?”
“Wha-? … Eeeek!?”
I instantly tip over.
I haven’t even taken a single step!
And what’s more, that banana peel, that skin which should have been nestled in my palm, is somehow entwined with my toes.
Goodness, I’ve somehow gotten myself yet another ticket on the banana peel express.
The original expression was “画餅さながらに虚しい骨折りに終わります” which loosely would mean, “to end up wasting effort on nothing, like a painting of mochi.” The “Painting of mochi” part is a Japanese idiom which boils down to, “pictures of food won’t fill stomachs.” ↩︎
I’ve taken some liberties with this translation but I quite like the sound of it, so this is how I’ll leave it. ↩︎
Harmonie préétablie, or Pre-established harmony, is one of the theories that attempt to explain the mind-body problem. Essentially, a (kind of fatalistic, imo) worldview where every event happens because everything in the universe was programmed just-so (presumably by God). Proposed by Gottfried Liebnitz (The calculus guy). Here’s a wiki article. ↩︎