Hole 2: Grave Keeper
“The strange guy often comes around noon.”
They were free to sit anywhere they wanted in the sprawling, vast graveyard grounds, but probably due to human nature Muoru found himself sitting next to a tree.
Underneath the starry sky that seemed to stretch on forever, he and Meria sat side by side on the root of an elm tree.
“A strange guy?” Meria craned her neck at Muoru’s words.
“Ah, what’s a good way to describe them? I mean, I don’t even know if they’re a boy or girl. Oh and by the way, Meria, do you know anything about the monster hunters wearing masks?”
Other than the time Crow had talked to him, there had been several times up till now where he’d been rounded up by the group of masked people for a burial. But other than giving him simple instructions they never talked to him. And what’s more, those times didn’t even seem like the atmosphere for conversation.
Certainly people like Crow were an exception among exceptions.
“Um…” Meria scrunched up her face, as if painstakingly scrutinizing Muoru’s question.
“I know a bit about them, but it’s difficult to say. I’ve been told that they come and go in order to mark The Dark, but they never show their faces or speak. At least not to me….”
–If they don’t talk to you and they don’t talk to me either then…
Silence answered Muoru’s question and Meria, with a troubled expression, turned away.
This is what always happens, Muoru thought as feeling of both dejection and discouragement spread through him. In times like these, no matter what he tried to ask, it was useless. She had completely shut down and he couldn’t force her to respond. And it would be a terrible waste to sour their relationship by pressing the topic of Crow, despite all the effort it took to just get their relationship to this point.
I’d have to repeat everything…
The night was significant because it was the time he could attempt to get useful information out of Meria. But though she was a skilled listener, she didn’t really try to say anything herself. Up until now he’d been painstakingly talking about himself and the outside world as bait, even though he was unsure whether or not he could really maintain the conversation. But after one month of talking about himself, it was only natural that he was running out of material. So, tonight he’d tried changing it up a bit and talking about Crow- yet it didn’t matter, the result was the same as always.
Unsure what to say next, Meria suddenly looked up and said, “Forgive me.”
“Huh?” Muoru asked, bewildered by the unexpected apology.
“Muoru, you always work all day long. However, even though you must be tired you still come out to see me at night….”
“But, after all that I never know what I should say…”
“Why is that?” Muoru asked back in a somewhat challenging manner. Meria’s way of speaking was slightly irritating him. ”Why can’t you talk?”
The fact that she cared at all about him being tired and whatnot was annoying. After all, he wasn’t doing anything more than the same kind of monotonous work he was accustomed to. With that kind of work all he needed was physical strength. Even more so, the fact that she was worrying about him angered him much more.
After hearing Muoru’s slightly harsh words, Meria looked like she was about to cry. “But,” she started, “I feel…”
“I feel you hate me.” She looked away immediately, waiting for his judgment.
The question was so shocking that Muoru’s mind fell into a state of half-suspension. He felt like he’d heard a similar story somewhere before. Granted, the two stories didn’t exactly mirror one another, but it did seem like they came from the same tree. No, it wasn’t just a story he’d heard before, but it was something he was guilty of as well.
But even though Muoru had always been uneasy about whether she hated him, he never imagined that the girl was thinking the opposite.
“Oh, I feel the same way.” The words seemed to pour out of his mouth without his consent, possibly due to the unknown emotions stirring inside him.
“If one of us is doing the hating, then it is definitely you who hates me. Me however…”
Meria’s blue eyes opened wide and as she strangely cocked her head deeply to the side, she asked, “Why? What did I possibly do to make you feel that way?”
“Uh…” the boy hesitated. He thought he shouldn’t speak; however, at the same time he felt that staying quiet only made the situation more awkward.
In attempt to escape from Meria’s gaze he looked away and continued. “No, what I meant was…I saw you bathing.”
Meria’s skin was more transparently white than any person he had ever seen in his life. But in an instant everything from her ears to the back of her neck turned scarlet.
“Th….that…” and each time she tried to say something she only became even more red.
Eventually, she covered her face and fell silent before she was able to say anything intelligible.
Muoru bit his lip hard.
He was starting to hate himself. And for some reason he was starting to feel ashamed of his actions. When it came to digging his own grave, the work he did during the day was plenty.
“But…” he said, forcing himself to shake off the feeling of self-loathing rising in his chest.
It may have been mostly out of desperation, but as he’d told himself when he left the stable, his primary reason for talking to Meria was to get information out of her.
Though he thought it had mostly faded away, he still felt a bit angry. Perhaps it was because Meria seemed to be falsely accusing him of purposefully peeping. So, borrowing from the embers of that anger, Muoru continued.
“I know it’s just an excuse, but at the time I really didn’t do it on purpose. Besides, it’s a bit your fault too. The mansion probably has its own showers. So, why then did you have to wash up outside?”
Meria blinked. “But, I’m not allowed inside the house.” Even though what she said was so unexpected, she maintained a flat tone.
“What?” Muoru asked. “Well, where do you sleep?”
For a moment Meria looked like she was thinking about what to say, but then she pointed to the ground.
After thinking about it for a moment, Muoru asked, “In a basement?”
“That’s um…” the boy hesitated.
How in the world was he supposed to interpret that? It sounded strange to him. And even though it might have been just his impression, he felt that a person living underground was not common. Generally, people with good social status didn’t sleep beneath the ground.
Really, no one slept underground, besides maybe soldiers on the battlefield who slept in trenches at the front lines after an enemy explosion went off.
However, Muoru had his doubts about what she’d said. If he collected all the bits of information he’d gotten about the mansion, it didn’t seem like the basement was directly connected with the building. And more specifically, that would mean she didn’t have the right to come and go into the building as she pleased. If so, wouldn’t that make her just like a prisoner?
“I’m not angry,” Meria said. ”I even said so the other day. You haven’t done anything particularly cruel or painful to me, Muoru.”
Tossing around his thoughts concerning the basement, Muoru snapped to attention and listened carefully to her words. As she looked at him with the hem of her dark blue robe tightly gripped in her hands, her cheeks once again flushed.
“But, but…that…was embarrassing, but…”
“I’m sorry.” He had to apologize. Even if he hadn’t intended any of it, he still felt that looking was mean. “Lo…look, that’s that. But they say that forgiving one another is important. If people don’t call a ceasefire then the war will never end…so since we’re the same in this matter, what do you say we call a truce?
As soon as he was finished, he felt like he’d committed another mistake. I shouldn’t have said that.
Not only did it seem to suggest that they should stop the conversation already, and that it’d be okay if Meria didn’t talk anymore, but at its core it also seemed to suggest that she should stay away from him.
But for some reason Meria didn’t simply nod in agreement to his proposal.
There was some kind of confusion between the two of them. He clearly understood that she wasn’t angry about him bringing up the peeping incident again, but her silence now didn’t make him very optimistic.
Yet why did it look like Meria was worrying so hard over this? Most likely she was hesitating about something, even though just the other day she’d seized the courage to say to him, “I’ll be your friend.”
Before she’d expressed her concern that she didn’t know what a friend was. She probably still wasn’t sure. But about that…
“Ah.” Muoru suddenly remembered what he’d said to her the first time she’d worriedly declined his offer.
Friend, well, um…it’s one step past acquaintance…what is it…Mutual? No more than that… in order to know each other better two people think about getting closer…kind of like that. In reality, Muoru didn’t really know what he was talking about. He’d just given her an answer on the spur of the moment.
-That night, it felt like so long ago.
Since then Meria had heard a lot of his stories; he often rambled in a disorderly way, but he did indeed talk a lot about himself. In fact, in many ways he felt Meria knew the person “Muoru Reed” better than anyone else.
But when it came to her, he found it difficult to say he knew anything at all about her.
And about that, doesn’t she feel the same way? Doesn’t Meria want me to know more about her?
He was being self-centered, and maybe his thinking suggested an inflated ego. But at the same time he didn’t feel the thoughts came from his conceitedness. In fact, he felt like Meria’s feelings were being directed at him. And if that were true, wouldn’t that mean that Meria had definitely come out to see him?
Before he’d felt there was a deep chasm between the two of them. A hole which couldn’t be filled by any means. And at first he thought the day she would talk about herself seemed far off in the future.
But when they parted ways that night and Muoru said to her, “See you.”
With a slight wave of her hand, Meria replied, “Yeah…see you.”
So maybe, that day was surprisingly close.
Soon however, cold water was thrown on Muoru’s high spirits.
As Muoru tried to return back to the stable, Daribedor ambushed him in front of the mansion. The old man placed an electric lantern, with its blinding white light, at his feet.
He lifted his right arm slightly and drew closer. “You’ve grown quite close to the girl haven’t you?”
There was a hard, clicking sound. It was a sound Muoru was quite accustomed to, though he hadn’t heard it in a long time…a firing hammer.
Daribedor was aiming a black revolver at Muoru and even in the darkness Muoru could clearly see the shape of the small muzzle. Though the bullet would be small, it would still be enough to kill a human.
“If so, is there anything wrong with that?” Muoru asked cautiously. It was tempting to think the old man hadn’t noticed his meetings with Meria. But the real problem wasn’t that he was aware of the situation, it was how he’d judged it.
His employer Daribedor had the right to deal with him, with any prisoner, however he pleased. And so whatever job he made Muoru do, no matter how many days he withheld food from him, and whether he sent the prisoner back to the detention center or not were all perfectly within his power. And in the worst case scenario, so would shooting him dead in this place.
I don’t plan to simply kick the bucket like that.
His facial expression hardened without thinking. He had various injuries but luckily or unluckily he’d yet to experience getting shot. And so though he couldn’t imagine what kind of pain it would be, judging by the caliber, unless it went terribly awry he felt it should certainly result in instant death.
If that’s true…
With the gun pointed at him, the small old man showed the most repulsive smile.
“I’m not that worried about that. Rather, I’m impressed you were able to win her over. It seems like you have an impressive ability for deception, isn’t that right?” Daribedor laughed loudly, an irritating sound that was getting on Muoru’s nerves.
…was he reprimanding me for seeing Meria?
Despite resenting Daribedor for saying whatever he liked without knowing about any of the hard work it took for him to get this far with Meria, Muoru remained completely stoic.
The old man’s cheap attempt to provoke him was annoying. But he’d had a lot of experience with that kind of thing. In fact, his ability to maintain an emotionless expression and tolerate the jokes from most of his older army companions helped make him more mature than his looks seemed to suggest.
If I’d known, would there not be a problem? Or…would Daribedor have an issue with me regardless of what I did?
“You look like you want to say something,” Daribedor said, the smile vanishing from his face. In the dark, the wound where his nose should have been seemed like a darker hole than even the muzzle of the gun.
Muoru answered, “Not really…I just don’t think you ever warned me that playing around in the middle of the night would interfere with my work.”
“Of course, I’d only do that if there seemed to be some kind of deficiency. But Mr. Prisoner, you surpassed my expectations long ago and have done extremely well. Yes, really far beyond your duty…” As he spoke his finger rested on the trigger. “At any rate, preserving the tranquility of that girl’s heart is not a job we can do.”
A gunshot roared through the air.
Reflexively all the muscles in Muoru’s body stiffened and unintentionally he squeezed his eyes shut.
In less than a second the boy understood he hadn’t been hit. There was not a wound anywhere on his body.
He opened his eyes and saw a small hole in the ground at his feet. Steam was rising up from it and mingling with the gunpowder smelling air.
“However, can you remember this for me?” Daribedor smiled again, making a literally, terribly warped expression on his face. “It’s unnecessary to think about using the girl to try and escape. Even if you use her, it would by no means change anything…No, rather if I felt like it, I could get another laborer as many times as I’d like. And you are by no means the first gravedigger to be buried in the hole they’ve dug.”
Daribedor fired another bullet, creating another hole in the ground, this one being much closer to Muoru’s toes. Then with a satisfied look, the old man went back into the mansion.
Muoru remained there motionless, his eyes locked onto the two holes at his feet but his mind not really registering them.
Ringing in his ears more than the sound of the gunshot or even any kind of threat Daribedor had made, was the phrase he’d used to describe Meria.
And for a long time after Muoru stood in that spot, pondering what the old man meant.