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Authors: Mizuki Nomura

Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Fiction

Book Girl and the Captive Fool

BOOK: Book Girl and the Captive Fool
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This letter is my warning to you.

You have to get away, please.

Every time you rest your sweet, poison-laden hands on my heart, you send it reeling and my spirit thrums crazily. I can’t control the destructive impulses that surge through me.

I tremble with a desire to cut you apart. When I close my eyes, all I see—night or day—is you.

I yearn to cut your spiteful gaze apart—that pale, dignified face you turn on me, your slender, arrogant throat—to carve away your ears and nose, to dig your eyeballs out of your head. My heart cries out to etch a crucifix into your supple chest and to paint your entire body in fountains of warm blood.

You have to get away.

I know I’ll cut you apart.

Prologue–Memories for an Introduction–I Used to Be a Fool in Love

She was too pure, too beautiful…

There was a fledgling scriptwriter who paid tribute to the woman he loved with those words, but when I was in middle school, I was trapped in a mire of passion that made his pale in comparison.

When I woke in the mornings, my first thought was of Miu’s face. Her tea-colored almond eyes and her plump lips. The rustle of her brown hair tied up in a high ponytail.

Miu always peeked at me with teasing, playful looks.

Good morning, Konoha.

Good morning, Miu.

Every morning I would greet the Miu of my imagination. Her eyes would crinkle with her smile, and joy would shoot through my heart. I would head to the bathroom in a haze of nervous excitement, eager to get to school so I could see the real Miu just one minute—one second—sooner.

How would Miu smile at me today? Would she be teasing me today? How far had she gotten in the story she was writing? I wanted to see her! I wanted to hear her voice and see her smile.

I couldn’t wait to get to school, and I would linger under a sycamore along the way until Miu came. When she appeared, bathed in pure light, her ponytail bobbing, I would pretend that I had only just gotten there and run up to her shouting, “Miu! Miu!”

She was all I could think about during classes, too. When her seat was behind mine, I would turn around constantly during the day, and the sight of her bangs falling across her forehead or of her lowered lashes never failed to send a thrill through my heart. When we changed seats and her desk was diagonally in front of me, I never grew tired of gazing at the slender taper of her neck or her profile that reminded me of a budding flower.

Miu usually had a sky blue binder open in front of her, writing a story on loose-leaf paper.

Writing out the dreamlike world she was creating…

The beautiful words that flashed and danced like light on the page.

When they streamed from Miu’s lips, the words shone even fresher and more beautiful, driving me ever deeper into my dreams.

You’re special, you know. I’m only showing this to you, Konoha.

Every word Miu spoke to me was sweet like sugar drops.

Back then, I was walking on air, an utter fool for love; with her smiles washing over me, I was an incorrigible dreamer.

I assumed that Miu would, of course, feel the same way about me, and I never doubted even for a moment that we were bound together by destiny.

Even after we started high school, even after we went to college, even after we got jobs, Miu would be at my side, writing her stories and calling my name with a teasing smile. And that wasn’t all. Some day Miu would become a real author, and everyone would know how good she was. That’s what I believed.

But in the spring of our last year of middle school, I debuted under the pen name of Miu Inoue as a brilliant, mysterious author who happened to be a lovely fourteen-year-old girl, and I lost Miu.

And now, in my second year of high school…

… I’m a perfectly normal high school boy, going to class like anyone else, and I go to the book club’s room after school and write “snacks” for my not-at-all-normal club president.

Chapter 1–Don’t Leave a Crumb


Tomb of the Wild Chrysanthemum
tastes like freshly picked apricots,” Tohko murmured affectionately as she flipped through a collection of stories she’d borrowed from the library. “It reminds me of being on a footpath bathed in the light of the setting sun, plucking a rouged apricot between your fingers, then popping it into your mouth and sloooowly biting into it. Its thin skin ruptures, and a gentle tang and joyous sweetness seep across your tongue as your heart squeezes tight at the forlorn bitterness of it! Ahhh, the sweetly ephemeral memories of a boy’s first love!

“The author of
Tomb of the Wild Chrysanthemum
was Sachio Ito, who was a disciple of Shiki Masaoka. He published the story in the magazine
Little Cuckoo
in 1906. It was acclaimed by the great Sōseki Natsume. The classics really are wonderful! It’s like how apricots produce different fruit every year—it’s fresh and delicious every time, no matter how often you eat it!”

Sitting at the old oak table, I wrote Tohko’s improv story in a notebook.

I guess Tohko was really into old Japanese love stories lately, because yesterday she had read Ogai’s “The Dancing Girl” and
before that Yasunari Kawabata’s “The Izu Dancer” and before that Ichiyō Higuchi’s
Growing Up,
and she’d expounded passionately on them all.

“That’s school property. You can’t eat it,” I warned her placidly as my pencil raced over the page.

“I
know
that!” she answered, pouting. She had “accidentally” eaten a library book before, and she’d whined that she was too embarrassed to go apologize on her own, so she’d forced me, her lackey, to go with her.

She gave a desolate sigh immediately after. “But it looks soooo good. Argh!”

She was like a toddler looking in the window of an ice cream parlor and nibbling covetously on her fingers.

“No eating it.”

“I know, I know! Augh, this part here? It’s ever so slightly tart and totally delicious!”

“I’m serious. You can’t have any.”

“Fiiiine,” she replied lazily, her face like that of a cat basking in the sun. “I’ll just wait until your snack is ready, like a good girl.”

The room stood at the far western end of the school building and was extremely cramped, stacked all over with mounds of old books. Tohko had set her fold-up chair next to the window, and she sat with her legs drawn up on it, awash in the autumn sunlight streaming in the window as she paged through her book with slender fingers. Her white kneecaps peeked out from under her pleated skirt, and her long, black braids that looked like cats’ tails spilled over her shoulders.

Tohko is a goblin who eats stories.

She rips up books or pieces of paper with words written on them, pops them into her mouth, and munches away at them, then swallows primly.

She seemed to be deeply upset at being categorized as a “gob
lin,” and she would plant her hands on her hips and declare, “I am not a goblin. I’m just a book girl.”

And certainly, there was something about her that was reminiscent of an old-fashioned, unsullied maiden… if you ignored her extraordinary bibliophilism and the fact that she adored books so much that she ate them up with satisfied crinkling.

We were the only members of the Seijoh Academy book club: Tohko, in her third year, and I, in my second.

Autumn was half over, and other clubs were already starting to hand over responsibilities to their younger members. Was Tohko ever going to step aside? Seijoh was a ticket to college, so she
must
have been taking entrance exams… But she didn’t seem to be studying at all. Was she going to be okay? She couldn’t be planning on repeating a year in order to stick around, could she…?

I was beginning to grow uneasy when Tohko started talking to me.

“Next month is the culture fair. My class is running a curry restaurant. What’s yours doing?”

“We’re doing a manga café. All we have to do is line up the desks and chairs, get some instant coffee and tea bags, then put out manga, so it’s no big deal. I don’t really care about stuff like the culture fair or field day, so I’m fine with that.”

“You shouldn’t be so aloof. It makes you sound like an old man.”

“I think a high schooler who thought the culture fair was the most important thing in the world would be more unusual, actually.”

“If you keep looking so bored with everything, your face is going to freeze that way.”

Tohko pouted and turned the pages of her book. Then suddenly, she shouted, “Hey!!”

It happened just as I set down the final period in her snack, so I looked up in surprise.

What was it? What had happened?

Tohko held the book in both hands, her eyes bulging, and she trembled uncontrollably.

“Th-there are pages missing from this book. The most famous line is missing—it never said ‘You’re like a chrysanthemum, Tami.’ Their banter is completely gone. But that’s the best part! It was so unaffected! Oh my god, you can see where they cut it ooouuutttt! Who would do that?!”

“… Tohko.” I sighed and put a hand to my head.

“Wh-why are you acting so disgusted, Konoha? You don’t think
I
ate it, do you?!”

“I warned you over and over not to eat school property… ugh, why me?”

“No! It wasn’t me! I’ve been with you this whole time, so I’m innocent!”

“You didn’t tear it out and sneak a bite while I was writing your snack, did you?”

“So you really do suspect your president! How could you?! I wouldn’t do that! Even if a bookstore or library has superdelicious books on display and I happen to wander in when I’m hungry and even if my stomach starts grumbling just from the sight of the covers, I don’t
do
anything!” she declared firmly, puffing up her flat chest.

“Besides, it’s so crass to pick out all the best parts and just leave the rest. I eat everything, from the very beginning to the very end. That’s just being polite to the author.”

I couldn’t argue with that. Tohko would happily devour any book straight through to the end. When I sometimes wrote improv stories that didn’t suit her palate, she would whine that they were too spicy or too bitter, but she would choke down every last scrap.

“No, I wouldn’t expect a glutton like you to leave anything
behind,” I murmured in agreement, and her mouth pulled down into a sour frown and her eyes turned petulant.

“I don’t hear any respect for your club president there.”

Then she closed her book and leaped up from her chair, valiantly declaring, “Anyway! I refuse to overlook someone only eating the best part! I was saving it for last. It’s like sneaking all the ginkgo nuts out of egg custard! It’s like stealing all the strawberries off a shortcake! Like picking all the shrimp out of a seafood gratin! It’s the act of a devil, stealing the moment of joy you’ve been waiting for out from under you and casting you instead into a pit of despair! The enemy of all gastronomes—I mean, of all readers! The enemy of the book club! We’ve got to stop this criminal and put the screws to them, no matter what. This is a top priority investigation, Konoha!”

I was afraid this would happen. I hated getting dragged into Tohko’s detective games all the time. Unbelievable. I tore my steaming-fresh improv story out of the notebook and held it out to Tohko.

“I’m done writing your snack. You want to save it?”

Tohko had been on the verge of flying out of the room, but she pulled to a halt.

“Er…”

Today’s prompts had been “Musashi Miyamoto,” “heated carpet,” and “dancing at the Obon festival in the summer.” Before I’d started writing, Tohko had hugged the back of her chair and excitedly dictated, “Autumn requires chestnuts. Write me a story like a Mont Blanc made from Japanese chestnuts!”

But I had no idea what it would taste like.

I dangled the pages from my fingertips, and Tohko gazed at them covetously, like a horse confronted with a carrot.

Finally, she plunked back into her seat and held out both hands with a beatific smile.

“I’ll have it now. Thank you!”

Addendum:

Tohko polished off the Mont Blanc–like improv I wrote, shrieking, “Oh noooo! Musashi Miyamoto is having a showdown with a heated carpet and the Obon dancing!! The heated carpet rolled up around him and burnt him to a crisp! The chestnut paste is too hot and goopy. There’s radish where the chestnuts should be! And there’s mayonnaise on top. It’s soooo grooooss. Urk—ugh… bleh…”

In the end, she covered her mouth with a hand and fell back limply against her fold-up chair, so the investigation was put on hold and I sidestepped the danger.

The next day was a beautiful, clear autumn day.

Tohko had seemed pretty beat up the day before, so I wondered if she’d made it home all right. With that thought running through my mind, I stepped into my classroom and ran straight into my classmate Kotobuki.

“Oh—”

“I-Inoue!”

Kotobuki had been on her way out to the hall, but she suddenly recoiled and her face tensed.

I put on a fresh smile ready for public consumption and tried to give her a friendly greeting.

“Morning, Kotobuki.”

She glared at me then, her eyes reproachful. “Same anemic smile as always. How can you be so flippant with every single person you talk to, Inoue? Get out of my way.”

Then she walked off quickly.

I’d heard that Kotobuki had covered for me while she was in the hospital during the summer and that had made me think that maybe she wasn’t so bad, but the second term had started
now, and she was still acting the same as ever. She’d always been a harsh beauty and had never been a very friendly person, but I felt like her natural personality was even worse around me and that she gave me her prickliest looks and comments.

Had it just been a hallucination when I saw Kotobuki hang her head and look like she was about to cry in her hospital bed? What she’d said that day had been nagging at me, but I could hardly ask her about it.

Sighing, I set my bag on my desk, and my classmate Akutagawa came over.

“Morning, Inoue.”

“Oh, morning, Akutagawa.”

I guess Akutagawa had seen that exchange with Kotobuki. “Don’t let her bother you,” he reassured me.

“Thanks, but you’re a little late for that.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. If Kotobuki suddenly started being nice, I think I’d keel over in shock. Oh, hey, can I check my math homework with yours?”

We opened our notebooks on my desk and exchanged brief conversation. Akutagawa’s notebooks were always perfectly organized and easy to read. His sober, tranquil personality came through even in his handwriting.

He was tall with broad shoulders and cool, masculine features, and he was calm, honorable, and balanced—Akutagawa was a lot of things I wished I could be. We weren’t close enough that I would call him a friend, but it felt comfortable being around him.

Just then, Akutagawa’s pants pocket vibrated.

“ ’Scuse me.”

He pulled out his cell phone, checked the screen, and frowned.

His face was dark as he glowered at the display, and there was something threatening in the air around him that made my heart skip a beat.

Akutagawa muttered another apology in a steely voice and went out into the hall.

Who could that call have been from?

His family? A friend? Maybe a girlfriend?

But he’d never mentioned anything about a girl before. He was such a placid person that his look of momentary loathing unnerved me. So even Akutagawa could look like that…

I never imagined that that would be the start of all the trouble.

I was walking down the hall during lunch when I felt someone looking at me.

“Um, Inoue?”

A weak voice had called out my name, and I turned around to see a meek-looking girl with glossy hair pouring down her back.

Wait—I think this girl is in my grade.
I didn’t know her name, but I’d seen her occasionally. She was pretty, so she left an impression. I wonder what she wanted from me

The girl looked like she was bursting with nervous energy.

“I’m sorry to stop you like this. Um, my name is Sarashina. I’m in class three. You’re… Kazushi’s friend, right?”

“Who’s Kazushi?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Her pale cheeks flushed red. “I mean the boy in your class, Kazushi Akutagawa. I’m going out with him.”

She was Akutagawa’s girlfriend?

I was so shocked, I stared back at her skeptically. Sarashina watched me with a look of desperation on her face. Her hair was lushly soft, and her face seemed pure and kind—a perfect honor student beauty. She would be a perfect match for Akutagawa.

This was the first I’d heard of Akutagawa having a girlfriend. I knew lots of girls liked him, and just recently there had been a
cute, light blue envelope stuck into one of his textbooks. I’d asked him if it was a love letter, but he mumbled something and seemed uncomfortable.

Since Akutagawa and I were the kind of acquaintances who didn’t even know much about each other’s families, it wasn’t that strange to find out that he had a girlfriend.

“Er… I’m sorry. I didn’t know he had a girlfriend.”

Suddenly Sarashina’s face clouded over.
Oops—maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

BOOK: Book Girl and the Captive Fool
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