T/N: Somewhat NSFW illustration
There was a boy who had, until graduation from middle school, been called this countless times.
There was a hot spring village nestled in the mountains of Akita, far from human society.
As a well-hidden hot spring it was popular and received visitors throughout the year, but in the face of a declining population, it was a shrinking community.
The boy was born in this village perhaps fifteen years ago.
‘Perhaps’—for this information was uncertain.
As an infant, umbilical cord freshly cut, he had been wrapped in cloth and abandoned at the entrance of a certain hot spring inn.
Thereafter, taken in by the old woman who owned the inn, this infant was adopted by the owner’s daughter and her husband; and blessed with the same degree of love as any other child, and an environment twice as wealthy, grew quickly.
Yet, before he was fully grown emotion- and thoughtwise, there was external interference.
It was a commonplace situation: there appeared ones who were jealous of this boy, that despite the lack of blood relation was raised by these powerful figures of the village; and they sought to hurt him both mentally and physically.
But as a result, the village came to know of the abnormalcy of this boy.
When the boy had just entered elementary school, his seniors picked a fight with him.
All five who approached him to cause trouble were older than him and large-sized, infamous ruffians in the neighbourhood.
Back then he had not yet known he was adopted, and not understanding what they were saying of him, he had merely tilted his head in confusion.
But perhaps angry that he made no reply, the seniors began to get violent.
The senior punched the new student and grabbed his collar as he staggered; anyone would have guessed it would turn out as a one-sided bullying incident.
In truth, it did indeed end up a one-sided fight.
But the winner was opposite to what anyone had expected.
That was the first time he displayed his ‘ability’.
It was not that he had trained specially before attending elementary school.
It was not that he had a body of steel, and there was no way he could have any kind of monstrous, vending machine-lifting strength.
All he had was one thing that could even be called a ‘sense’.
The same way some carnivores can, by instinct alone, sense the whereabouts of their prey.
The very instant after his collar was grabbed by the senior, the boy retaliated.
He grabbed the senior’s ear, and wrenched it downward.
The senior, sensing instinctually that his ear was being torn off, let go of the boy’s collar and shrunk on himself unthinkingly—only to be headbutted in the bridge of his nose by the six-year-old boy.
Of course, it was not a conscious decision.
The boy had simply intended to attack his opponent as quickly as possible with a hard part of his body.
Although it was, indeed, odd for a child who had just entered elementary school to think such things.
And the young boy had no concept of ‘mercy’ or ‘holding back’.
And if one were to give an example of a personality trait of this boy—
It could probably be summarised by this word alone.
The boy was a coward, and so detested fear.
That was all there was to it.
He had twice the average sensitivity to fear, and detested it twice as much as others.
As a result it could be said that by the combination of this cowardice and his ‘ability’, a ‘monster’ was born.
The senior who had spoken incomprehensible things and attacked him had qualified as an object of his fear.
He had to push the fear away from himself.
He had to remove the fear from before his eyes.
Following his instincts, the boy continued to kick the crouching senior.
Unmistakeably targeting his face.
Using the tip of his foot, crushing even the senior’s fingers covering his face.
Even as he saw blood drip to the floor from between those fingers, there was no hesitation.
Again, and again
With that incident as a starting point, the boy became feared by all around him.
As it was the senior who first attacked him, and also by the fact that he was the son of a powerful family in the village, they were able to prevent the incident from escalating—but the boy’s life was twisted.
Though in a sense there was no twist at all; for perhaps it could be said that he was simply obeying his instincts, walking forward on a straight path.
Despite the declining population of the village, other than the senior who the boy had severely injured, there were many problematic children.
There were older boys who intended to teach this brazen child a lesson, under the name of avenging their friend. With even middle schoolers in the mix, if he were to be ganged up on by such a group, he would most certainly be powerless.
Or so one would be led to think, but—
When the new student was punched by the first attacker, and straddled on the ground, in that instant—without hesitation, he thrust his fingers into his opponent’s eye.
Although the eye itself was not gouged out, at the sight of their friend screaming with blood dripping out his eye, for a moment, the seniors gulped in fear.
Their friend was yelling and sprawled on the ground; and it was a boy no more than six years old who picked up a nearby stone and made as to continue his attack.
At this horrendous scene, they thought one thing in unison:
That what was before them was something different from themselves.
It was a child more than one head shorter than themselves, who had not even hit puberty.
In spite of that, it felt as if they were facing a wolf or a bear of that size.
If they were to recollect themselves and attack the child in a group there would be a significant chance of success.
However, bousouzoku or gangs, both used to fighting in groups, would be one thing; asking this of elementary and middle school students who were only acting tough was too much.
The first one to attack him next met with the same fate.
As they saw their friend having his teeth knocked out and broken with a stone, their legs were frozen.
As would be expected it was eventually regarded as a case of excessive self-defence, but as he was only six years old, after police involvement he was sent to the juvenile counselling centre.
After that no one else in the village attacked him, but when he reached the age where one would consider whether they could make it to middle school—people from the surrounding regions who had heard the rumours from the village’s delinquents appeared, and began to pick fights with him.
The reason was exceedingly simple.
The seniors from back then had grown up, and the area they moved within had expanded; while they had fights as well, they built new friendships—and in that process, by impulse, they mentioned the name of the boy who had tried to kill them in the past.
Their memory of their past trauma embellished in their minds, rumours of the boy spread as such: ‘At six years old he tore someone’s ear off, was completely unafraid even against ten people, and broke a whole set of ribs with a stone—a prodigiously strong child.’
And the delinquents from these foreign regions, who had picked a fight half out of curiosity, came to realise.
That just as the exaggerated rumours would imply, the boy had grown up, ominously enough.
Those were the words said by one who had been injured half to death by the boy, who had just entered middle school.
—He’s a monster.
To avenge their friends.
On occasion, to display their strength to those around them, to become part of legend.
Ruffians, each confident in their own strength, arrived one after another from the surrounding regions.
The boy met all of them with his own attacks.
The boy was only ever afraid.
Despite his intention to live honestly there was an irrational amount of enmity directed towards himself; this, above all, was terrifying.
The boy began to train his body.
To protect himself from the incomprehensible terrors that came down on him.
Even in this period the rumours continued to spread, to the point where even challengers from other prefectures appeared.
The days filled with fighting. The training to repel that terror.
With that, ‘experience’ and ‘diligence’ were built on his natural ‘ability’.
Nothing made sense.
He never made any provocation, but yet others picked fights with him; and on top of that each day the ones who did so feared him and called him, over and over, a monster.
In the third year of middle school, when the boy turned fifteen, he gave up on everything.
And as an orphan, by this age he had already come to understand.
While he felt gratitude to the parents that had raised him, he no longer looked forward to anything the world could offer.
All he could do was most likely to continue living this worthless life, labelled as a monster.
After all, when it came down to it, that was how the world was; how life was.
To the point where he was made to believe this at only fifteen—the world had indeed treated him callously.
It was not that he had been made to suffer more than he should.
Despite all of the assault cases he incurred his family had never abandoned him, and the police, in light of the fact that the boys who attacked him wielded knives and metal pipes, judged his behaviour as rightful self-defence, and managed to spare him from having to enter a boys’ home.
But still eyes that looked upon him only held an unreasonable amount of hatred and fear.
The kindness of his family only made the boy lonelier.
He could only feel that he, who was so called a monster, was impinging on this family of decent people.
In this situation that seemed no more than being dead alive, the boy stopped holding on to hope, and without even despairing, continued to live a life where he could feel no meaning.
Thinking all along that this could continue for the remainder of his life.
At this juncture, the boy met a turning point.
On a day nearing the end of summer, a tourist from Tokyo came to the village.
On the way back from watching the Oomagari Fireworks Festival, he had come to visit the remote hot spring village of the rumours.
The guest, staying at the number one hot spring inn in the village, happened to witness a fight between the boy and some delinquents.
The guest gazed curiously at the horrible fight, and immediately after, smiled as he said to the boy:
“It’s nice for kids to have so much energy.”
The boy’s face was shocked.
Until then his fights had been witnessed by tourists numerous times, but all of them had watched with fear-filled eyes; none had smiled so happily.
To the boy who stood in the centre of the fallen, bloody delinquents, the traveller continued.
“It’s good to follow your human instincts while you have the energy to spare.”
To this man, who seemed to have no trace of morals, the boy spoke.
What did he mean by human instincts? Did he think he was a monster?
And then the tourist replied.
“? You’re asking strange things. If you’re not human what would you call yourself?”
With a gentle smile, the man continued to speak.
“It’s true you seem to be good at fighting, but doesn’t that just make you a human who can fight well…? There are people more inhuman than you in the world, and even supernatural creatures exist, after all.”
The boy was shocked at the tourist who spoke these strange things.
But he did not appear to be lying.
The boy felt himself a strong waver at being called ‘human’ in his current situation.
What exactly had this tourist seen before?
As the tourist stood to leave, unthinkingly, the boy asked.
He asked where the tourist had come to this village from.
And the tourist, with a bright smile, replied.
The boy had heard of this place.
It was one of the famous cities in Tokyo, but to the boy, who had hardly left his village, it was a feat to even know just the name.
Interested, the boy, with the web function on his barely-used smartphone, began to research ‘Ikebukuro’.
The sharply-taken videos of the supernatural creature known as the Headless Rider and the man who threw vending machines.
Time passed as the boy grasped at this information.
He swallowed, and as if obsessed, continued to fish for ‘information’.
The Headless Rider.
The mysterious bartender.
Keywords reminiscent of a manga surfaced and vanished from the screen.
He felt his heart pounding, loudly.
At a time where he had accepted the loneliness of thinking, ‘After all, I’m a monster,’—a new world had opened up to him.
The boy, who had spent his days fighting in and out, through the small screen of the smartphone, saw the world.
There was certainly ‘fear’ there as well.
The ‘cowardice’ that had rendered the boy a monster had eased to a certain extent as he grew, but even so, it had not disappeared.
The Headless Rider was scary.
The man who threw vending machines was scary.
The Slasher was scary.
Hundreds-strong gangs were, inevitably, scary.
But that impact forced his heart onward.
His curiosity surpassed his fear.
In a normal situation, this was where he would feel the need to put distance between the terrifying Headless Rider and himself.
He should have thought to avoid Ikebukuro at all costs.
But he realised his own true desire.
—To live and die as a monster, like this—
—The loneliness of giving up on the world and dying like that is the scariest thing of all.
Eventually, the information from that tiny screen grew insufficient—
And so when the time came where he had to decide his future, to the parents who had raised him, he made a selfish request.
Although he had only ever taken up fights from those who provoked him first, it was a fact that his fights had troubled the family greatly.
There had also been times involving the police where delinquents, in their resentment, had set fire to the hot spring inn.
Perhaps it was his guilt from those issues, or perhaps it was his gratitude towards his family for never having abandoned him in spite of that; up till then the boy had never made a single selfish request of his parents.
Maybe because he had given up on the world, as opposed to his life that was inundated with fighting, he took a completely serious attitude towards life, and had never demanded anything from his parents or grandmother.
And this boy, for the first time since he fought in elementary school—made a request for the first time.
I want to enter a school in Tokyo—in Ikebukuro.
His parents hesitated at this sudden request.
But to the boy who said, passionately, that he wanted to learn more, his grandmother, the owner of the hot spring, spoke.
Staring at the boy, who did as told, his grandmother continued, quietly.
“You’re a timid child, but… You’ve grown while we weren’t looking, haven’t you?”
His grandmother spoke in the village’s unique variant of the Akita dialect, and smiled at the boy.
In the end, afterwards, with his grandmother’s final say, the boy’s request was accepted.
And so the boy who was called a monster came to Ikebukuro.
To face the world he had given up on once more.
To meet the true ‘monsters’ he knew not of yet.
The boy’s name was Mizuchi Yahiro.
What he would see from now on remained unknown.
Who would the cowardly monster meet in the city of Ikebukuro?
And what would he accomplish, or not?
No one knew this, but the only certain thing was that—
The city itself would not reject any kind of person that came.
One and a half years past the end of the Dollars:
Ikebukuro now welcomes a new wind.