Chapter 7

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Hole 2: Grave Keeper

Chapter 7

Underneath the noon midsummer sun with a cloth wrapped around his head, the prisoner Muoru was digging a hole with the shovel he had already gotten used to.

He thrust the blade into the ground, scooped, lifted up, and dumped. Then he swung his shovel downwards again. The series of movements were never interrupted, like he had the precision of a machine and the smooth methodical motions of a wild animal.

“Gooood Morning Mole-tan.”[1]

With a smile that showed a happiness seemingly coming from the bottom of their heart, Crow appeared and interrupted Muoru’s work.

“Mole-tan…?”

Muoru glared back at Crow with scorn in his eyes….but then his sights became glued to Crow’s head. Specifically, to the huge object atop their small bobbed hairstyle.

“You…that,” Muoru said with a groan.

“Uh-huh, it’s the thing I promised you. Look.”[2]

“Thank you[3]…no, I’m sorry, it’s just I didn’t think you’d actually bring it.”

“What are you talking about? It was no sweat. But really, I don’t understand why you wanted this…can you put it on for a bit?”

“Of course,” Muoru answered, tying the cord beneath his chin. The skin of his cheeks were automatically pulled upwards and started to itch.

Great, this is perfect. Of course he couldn’t do much with just that. But at the very least it gave him the appearance of being full of energy.

He felt like he wanted to participate in a Double Ten[4] to use up his excess energy. However, besides his headgear, he had no equipment for the activity, or a course to run on. So he would just have to continue putting up with digging holes.

Amazed by how excited their actions were making Muoru, Crow sighed in disbelief.

“You really like that? What could that simple thing be good for?”

“Don’t worry about it. Someone who only likes shiny things probably wouldn’t understand.”[5]

“What? How did you know I like money?” Crow asked, leaning their head to the side. Then they laughed. ”Money is great! Collecting it is fun! If you have money you can do anything! And of course it’s shiny, but I also love the fact that it’s enjoyable to use. Until you enter the next life, money is a good thing to have.”

This time, it was Muoru’s turn to be surprised.

He felt it was unpleasant for a child to say those kinds of things while wearing an innocent smile, like that of an angel.

Up till that point, Crow had been behaving as if they were making some grand proclamation. But then, Crow made an ugly smile and asked, “By the way Mole-kun, are things going smoothly with the girl?”

Muoru tried to show Crow a face of hesitation, as he stepped away from the grave he’d been digging until now. Then he beckoned over to Crow, as if inviting them to a secret conversation.

As Crow pranced their way closer, Muoru said in a small voice, “Ah, maybe you could say it’s going well.”

“Really…what happened?”

“I tried to be honest with her. That’s all.”

“Ah, is that right? And I thought the unfriendly Muoru was much more fun. Oh well, if it makes her happy then I suppose it’s alright.”

Muoru raised his arm to push Crow.

“Oy.” Crow dodged his blow effortlessly, as if they were weightless. But then with the same force as if they had been bitten by a snake, Crow sank beneath the ground.

“Ey, wait a minute Mole-kun. What are you doing! My butt hurts!”

With a sigh, Muoru recovered his shovel. The hole Crow had fallen into, specially made by the mole, was narrow and deep. A child’s body could be buried up to its head, but Crow’s fingers could barely reach the edges of the hole.

“I didn’t want to trick you like this, but it can’t be helped. I unfortunately don’t have many options to choose from. So, since I’m being honest about this, I hope you will be the same.”

“What do you mean?” Crow asked with a face looking like it was about to burst into tears. “Aren’t I a good crow? This kind of thing is cruel.”

Without paying any heed to the complaints coming from beneath his feet, Muoru asked, “There are things you haven’t told me, right?”

Crow’s expression darkened.

Crow 2

“Let’s start with you. You show up way too much. The people who frequently come and go from the outside world are the employees from the food wholesalers. And if we don’t include them then we’d have to talk about your mask-wearing friends. They come about as often as the wholesalers. But even they don’t come as often as you. Plus, all of them seem to always go back and forth in a big trailer. So, I think it’s only natural for me to have questions. Now tell me, why are you the only one who can move about freely from this place?”

From the bottom of the hole, Crow smiled. “Well, well. You catch on quickly. It’s regrettable that you were only made to dig holes. Has anyone ever told you that?” Crow’s smile looked inhuman, as if their face had been cut from the edge of their lips to their cheeks.

“Okay then, why don’t we talk?”

Even Muoru smiled. Crow’s words were funny.

A good crow? What a joke.

It was well known that since a very long time ago, crows have had the reputation of being ominous birds.

 

#

Then evening came.

The boy was busy leveling the hole he’d used to intimidate Crow. For Muoru, filling holes was particularly more enjoyable than digging. All he had to do was place a loaded shovel above the hole, tip it, and let gravity do the rest.

He filled the hole until the dirt was level with the ground, then he used his shoes to lightly stamp out the traces of the dig.

That was exactly when he saw the small-statured Daribedor walk over.

“What’s that, Mr. Prisoner?” The old man asked, staring curiously at Muoru’s head.

“I found it. It won’t be a problem right? I think it’s a simple consolation for when I buried that monster.”

“It’s fine, I suppose.”

“Okay, but other than that, can I be of any use? Do you need help with another burial or something like that?” Muoru asked as he placed his shovel on his shoulder.

Daribedor shook his head. “I came about tomorrow’s work.”

Then leading him outward, they eventually reached a massive unused plot of land amidst a jumble of tombstones in the graveyard.

Muoru already had a bad feeling about the assignment.

Daribedor bent down, drew some markers out of his pocket and stabbed the first into the ground at his feet.

“The hole will be from here…”

He walked with even smaller steps than Crow, but his feet didn’t stop. They never stopped. The two of them just continued walking and walking. For the longest time Daribedor didn’t even make an attempt to put down the second marker in his grasp.

Time seemed to be flowing frightfully slowly.

This is good, stop. Stop already, Muoru wished in his mind as he glared at the old man. He felt like catching the old-man off guard, rushing to him and yanking the back of his custom-made tailcoat to stop him.

“…to here,” Daribedor finished, eventually placing down the last of the four markers.

Muoru barely registered what he’d said. It was such a massive distance. It made the hole he was ordered to dig earlier for that fleshy monster seem laughable.

“Well, then. I know it’s a lot to ask, but if you can, please begin tomorrow.” After that brief statement, Daribedor politely bowed his head, turned back towards the mansion and began to walk past Muoru. The boy didn’t really want to have any sort of close conversation with the old man, but as he passed…

“Am I burying an airship?” He couldn’t help but ask.

Like a cicada, Daribedor laughed, and then he left.

It seems like I’ll have to do it earlier than I thought.

Daribedor had told him it’d be okay to start tomorrow, but Muoru’s body was already in motion. Though he was starting a little ahead of schedule, he knew he wouldn’t be able to make that much progress, and yet he worked nonetheless. Soon he was forced to go back to the stable and fetch the cart he used for moving dirt.

The size was really absurd and it wasn’t entirely a joke when Muoru asked if it were an airship. Of course he wasn’t just talking about the hull of the ship, but also the streamlined air-sac stuffed with helium.[6]

The bigger they are, the more power they have.

The first one he saw, the monster with just the face, was buried in a hole that could fit in the stable.

The one that had hurt Meria had been twice as large. It possessed a terrifying power, and was essentially immortal, to the point where it was doubtful that a company of elite tank corpsman could stop its movement.

And now, the hole he was digging was for something even larger than both of them.

And if that were the case, then just how powerful is the monster they expect to put in here?

He couldn’t help but shudder. Did a monster like that really exist in this world? He felt like just one of them could lay waste to an entire country.

So in that case, did a grave keeper have to stop a single country’s destruction – or more than that, were they supposed to prevent the death of humans with their very own bodies?

Muoru poured all his energy into digging out the hole and a mountain of dirt soon piled up before his eyes. In fact, by the time the sun had set, the dirt was taller than he was.

Muoru was grateful that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and that the moon was shining brightly. And perhaps, that night sky was also the reason why Meria wasn’t carrying her usual lantern.

“Muoru…?” Meria asked with a doubtful voice as she came up to Muoru’s side. It made sense since half of his body, up to his hips, was in the hole.

But when Muoru looked up, he noticed that she seemed to be looking strangely at something on his head.

Ah, that’s right. Though he’d just received it today, he’d completely forgotten the feeling of it. It was something his head was used to. The item Crow had brought for sure didn’t have a national emblem, but it was the same design and shape as the officially adopted equipment the infantry used. Even the size was exact, as if it had been fitted to Muoru’s head with a tape measure.

“Ah, this?”

As Muoru was about to tell her its name, with difficulty she said, “A helmet?”

The two of them then moved and sat on the edge of the hole. Seated directly beside him, Meria seemed extremely embarrassed, but at the same time, she also looked somehow happy.

In that good mood, Muoru explained how incredible the helmet was. Since ancient times helmets had been used continuously to protect the body’s most important part. As the current age came, the combination of steel and plastics made them both lighter and tougher. And with tank shells and grenades flying across the battlefield and spreading shrapnel with each explosion, protective gear for the body was essential. They could also, for the most part, protect a person from handgun bullets shot from mid-range or farther.

The lives of countless soldiers were saved from raining bullets because of these. And probably, even that leader[7] who was sniped in an open car during a parade could have been saved if he’d worn a helmet.  But of course, the battlefield wasn’t the only place where helmets are considered necessary. They were also used in various ball games, sports, horse riding, when riding a motorcycle, at the construction site of a new mine…

“…but why are you wearing it now?” Meria asked? Though she seemed to be enjoying listening to Muoru, it was her first question on the subject.

Muoru found it difficult to respond.

In the middle of the night, shade had no meaning, and of course bullets weren’t flying towards him.

The reason I’m wearing this…

“It feels good,” the boy answered.

“Really?”

Seeming to have honestly accepted his response, which he’d only said under pressure, Meria cocked her head to the side, envy written across her face. It was like she actually believed the helmet produced that kind of effect.

The boy started to correct himself, but he quickly stopped himself. Instead, he undid the strap beneath his chin, then with both hands held out the helmet towards Meria.

“Would you like to try it on?” he asked.

Meria’s eyes lit up. “Can I?”

Muoru nodded and then Meria casually removed her hood.

…Honestly speaking, the moment he’d been waiting for the longest time to happen, to see Meria with her hood down, was no accident.  In fact, handing over the helmet had been his plan all along.

The hair she was hiding within the dark cloth spilled down from her shoulders to her back. Being so close to one another, he could also smell the faint scent of soap, but that wasn’t the most striking feature. Illuminated by the moonlight, Meria’s light brown hair sparkled beautifully, as if it had sugar woven into it.

Then, looking bashful, Meria faced Muoru and held out her hands to receive the helmet. Her arms were slightly spread wide, as if she were waiting for him to hug her.

….He couldn’t do that, though he hated to admit it.

Meria was cute.

He liked her.

The way she hung her head to the side, the way she fluttered her eyelashes- each of her movements he couldn’t help but love.

He felt like if he hugged her tightly now he’d end up stealing a kiss.

…but he couldn’t do that.

As to why, he wasn’t quite sure, and it was difficult to put the feeling into words. But when he handed over the helmet, looked at the girl’s pale and delicate hands, then looked back to his own dirt-stained hands, the reason became clear.

She and I are from different worlds.

He really liked everything about her.

Not just her physical appearance, or her body- though I’m certainly not denying that. He liked everything, even her heart which Crow had said was like a skeleton’s. And just seeing himself reflected in her blue, tranquil eyes made him feel like the insides of his arms were slowly twisting.

If someone asked why he felt that way, the only answer he could probably give was that her heart was burned into her eyes. He’d never felt this way before. And in his mind he was strongly considering how good it would be to really be hugged by her.

But, she was a grave keeper.

She’d taken in the power of the dark, couldn’t die, couldn’t go out into the sun, and couldn’t leave the graveyard.

And he was prisoner #5722. But it was a false charge and he did not intend on spending the rest of his life here digging graves…I won’t do that that, no matter what.

Since the helmet didn’t fit her head, it nearly completely covered her eyes.

“It’s heavy,” the girl mumbled.

Muoru laughed. “Meria, your hair’s caught in the strap.”

“Huh?”

Muoru made his move and reached for the strap hanging beside Meria’s neck and gently pulled it forward.

…. What he’d just said was a lie.

Muoru softly put his hand on the helmet as it slipped down on her head.

The edge of the helmet’s lower half was now at her lips, completely blocking her sight.

Thinking she couldn’t see anything, Muoru inched his body closer without making a sound. Then he kissed the helmet directly above her forehead.

“Muoru?”

“It seems like it doesn’t fit you after all,” Muoru said as he backed away and removed the helmet from her head.

Did she feel it?

His heart seemed to be beating with enough force to break his ribs.

If he was this flustered from just touching the steel, he wondered what would happen if he’d kissed her for real.

Fumbling with the strap, he peeked to his side and saw Meria staring at the helmet in his hands, a slightly regretful expression on her face.

She didn’t seem to have noticed what he’d done.

“Meria…” Muoru began, shifting his body to hide his reddening cheeks.

“Just like I’d said the other day, I came here as a result of a false charge. And the fact that I’ve become a prisoner is nonsense.” The girl silently nodded in agreement and Muoru continued. ”So, I will escape from here. I will leave this place. And when I finish digging this grave – that will be goodbye.”

The expression Meria showed when she understood was the second most awful of the reactions Muoru had expected.

“Right…that’s better…for you.”

There was surprise on her face….and sadness.

Muoru felt a bit of sadistic joy that Meria was sad that he was leaving her. But the second most awful reaction also made him feel the most at ease.

Though there was no excusing the fact that he had a selective imagination, in truth he simply couldn’t imagine what would happen had his admission not gone over well and she backed away, crying or something.

But regardless of her reaction, what he had to do didn’t change.

There was no time.

Like it or not, he had to do it.

This was the last time he would dig a grave as a prisoner.

His only wishes now were that the plan would go well and that he’d be able to handle what came after.

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[1] “Tan” is similar to “kun” it is a cute title of endearment usually used for someone close to the speaker.

[2] It’s worth noting that Crow’s dialogue is written in katakana, this is to give the impression of childishness

[3] This “San-kyuu” is a Katakana form of the English phrase “Thank you”. It is generally considered a childish phrase and in this case is meant to be sarcastic. However, after the pause, Muoru shifts to a more adult tone which is shown in the text by a switch to hiragana.

[4] 20 kilometer Military march

[5] Shiny here refers to gold coins, jewels, or fancy possessions.

[6] Streamlined: Having a contour designed to offer the least possible resistance to a current of air, whatever, etc.; optimally shaped for motion or conductivity.

[7] Most likely a reference to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, however it could also be referencing the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 7

  1. “8. A reference to the Assassination of US President John F. Kennedy”
    Given the settings similarities with the late-modern period, it could be a reference to Franz Ferdinand.

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