T/N: This volume has themes of abuse and drugs and such throughout. Discretion advised?
The Commentator | Or: Ramblings of a Certain Informant
A few years ago. Shinjuku.
“Hello. How are you?
Actually, to be quite honest it’s not all that important.
It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re full of life or in the pit of despair.
But I do wonder why you’re here to see me.
Someone your age should know by now, right? Contacting a shady person like me won’t land you anywhere good.
Ah, so it’s the Headless Rider again.
Earlier in Ikebukuro, we talked about… how people would respond faced with the Headless Rider, correct?
How humans display a diversity of reactions when encountering something different.
It could be a monster or some kind of supernatural occurrence; even another human.
But when it’s a human like themselves rather than an unknown that they witness, the reaction produced might once again be different.
You don’t know what it is – but it apparently exists.
That’s the kind of thing that stirs the human imagination the most.
Just speak with the Headless Rider once and it ceases to be an unknown. You might not know what the Headless Rider is exactly; but at that point you would at least have realised that it’s a rational being that can understand language.
Just by reaching that point the it ceases to be an unknown.
But you have to meet the Headless Rider for any of this to happen.
Say there’s a person who’s never seen the Headless Rider before – if they were to believe on the spot someone claiming the Headless Rider understands Japanese as well as anyone else, that would be singular proof that the speaker holds a great deal of that person’s trust.
And here the Headless Rider demonstrates something extraordinary.
It’s clear enough that the Headless Rider is an abnormal being, yes?
Just one look at those undulating shadows or that soundless engine can tell you that much; its existence is beyond present knowledge.
There are plenty of people who think it’s a farce, but just the same there are many people thinking this:
‘Ah… The world is growing ever-stranger.’
Half of these people are terrified; the other half are elated.
Atheists and those who reject supernatural phenomena might panic, perhaps.
Ah, but those two groups might not always be equivalent. I’ve seen both atheists embracing the paranormal, and devout believers who reject it.
Leaving that aside… That a world beyond human knowledge does exist, right there.
That might instill certain emotions.
For example… desire.
You’d think fear would come first, right?
Perhaps that would be the normal reaction.
But they do exist.
People who experience yearning when they see, in our world, impossible things; things that can’t be explained by science – they do exist.
For example, those completely entrapped by reality, with no hope of escape, who wish to run away from that reality.
This world is a lie. There has to be a world where my life doesn’t have to be so hard.
Nonetheless, however much they think that, life isn’t going to change, is it?
Because they lack the ability to free themselves by their own strength.
So they seek.
A turning point!
A turning point, no matter how tiny, to turn the world inside out!
You’ve thought of it too, right?
If only I had some special power.
If only my legs were faster.
If only my arms were stronger.
If only my mind were sharper.
If only my face were more attractive.
If only I could sing.
If only I could draw.
If only I could understand the feelings of others.
If only I had psychic powers.
It starts with those minute desires.
A desire for a version of themselves with something more.
But eventually this transforms to resentment towards reality.
It’s the accumulation of frustration at how, no matter how hard they try, they remain powerless and unable to surpass themselves.
It’s not the fictional kind of power they desire. They’re not looking to spout fire from their hands, or anything like that.
It could be the shred of courage a bullied student needs to tell someone what’s going on.
It could be the spark of killing intent a beaten child needs to just lightly push their parent from the top of the stairs.
It could be the minimal level of writing ability needed to fantasise the death of an enemy and pen it down in a journal.
Well, to be frank, it doesn’t even have to be anything as depressing as that. There are probably people who simply hate their day-to-day life for being tedious.
In any case, what I’m saying is, all of these people, with their various brands of discontentment towards reality, have this one wish in common.
‘If I cannot change, then the world has to change,’ that is.
What if at this point, a turning point signifying a change in the world were to show up on TV?
Something that shatters the laws of physics and the common sense of society, that threatens the foundation of the world itself.
Think about it.
Say the Headless Rider is a ghost.
If that were proven, it would be as good as proving the existence of an afterlife.
If such a thing came to pass, the world would be overturned.
Would suicide rates increase? Or go down?
Do you think someone would kill themselves comforted in the knowledge of a definite afterlife?
Or would they despair that their consciousness would live on after death and give up on suicide?
You might find it despicable for me to use such childish theories as an example, but in reality something so meaningless can have a significant impact in people’s lives. That’s what it means to be human.
At any rate, those who hold the Headless Rider in regard might not be people who’ve met it directly, but in fact those who watch it from afar, you know.
To a certain demographic, the Headless Rider represents hope.
People have realities they can only swallow.
In the end, it hinges on the individual.
Upon meeting the same fate there will be those who deny and reject the situation, inasmuch as those who accept it defeatedly. Of course, there will also be those who take things in stride positively.
An unescapable reality is something everyone has, no matter how slight.
That’s why, no matter what path they choose to take, it’s only another form of humanity. It’s valid in my eyes.
Even if the path taken is what the world at large would label criminal.
Because I love humans.”
Present time. One morning. The Tatsugami household.
“Himeka. It’ll be all right, right?”
So said Himeka’s mother, in a frail voice. She was a woman aged beyond her years, and her face seemed somehow drawn.
“You won’t – you won’t disappear, right? Himeka?”
Tatsugami Himeka had two sisters, older and younger.
However, both had gone missing, their last words being that they might be able to meet the Headless Rider.
It had been half a month since the last had been heard from either, and while the police had put up notices, there was no trace of their whereabouts.
Considering that two of the woman’s daughters had gone missing at the same time, it was no wonder she was weary.
But Himeka knew.
Her mother had long been weary before things had come to this.
And she knew as well that even if her sisters were to return safely, her mother would continue in this weary state.
Rather than weary, it would be more appropriate to describe her as ‘broken’.
Despite not verbalising it, Himeka had always had that thought.
“Himeka, please, please don’t leave me alone with him. Don’t leave me alone with someone like him.”
Himeka knew, as well, that the someone her mother spoke of was her father.
And she had grown used to this very scene years ago – of her mother mumbling words such as these, not directed at Himeka who stood beside her, but with her forehead against the wall in the corridor.
Her mother rubbed her forehead against the wall, talking to it.
Normally she was not always this way; in general she had a fit like this once a day or so.
After two of her daughters had vanished, the frequency of it had not worsened by much; in fact, it was the fact that nothing had changed that sorrowed Himeka.
Even so, the emotion was not to such a degree as to affect her expression.
With her usual cool expression, she stroked her mother’s back and spoke.
“It’s okay, Mother. They’ll come back soon. Both of them.”
And her mother said, calmly, though it was inscrutable if it was in reply or merely a coincidence:
“It’s the Headless Rider’s fault.”
Himeka was silent; her mother, as if voicing the words for herself to hear, repeated the words under her breath.
“Aya, Ai, everything… That thing stole everything, everything from me! AAAaaAAaaaAAH!”
As her mother began to scream hysterically, Himeka hugged her softly from behind.
“It’s all right. It’s all right, Mother.”
Deaf to her daughter’s words, the woman continued to cast words into the space between herself and the wall.
“I knew it, I knew it… I should have stopped them, even if I had to kill them to do it… I should have stopped them…”
“I knew it… I asked on the internet, you know? …Everyone said horrible things, Himeka. Incomprehensible things. It’s definitely the Headless Rider’s fault, all of it, isn’t it? You know, right? Himeka.”
Even with her mother calling out her name at the wall all this time, Himeka’s eyes reflected neither anger nor sadness.
She simply steeled herself knowing that this was her everyday life, and that she had no choice but to accept it.
Even so, the feeling she mustered was, rather than resolve, closer to a sense of defeat.
And so, the girl, living the everyday life she had come to give up on – met an anomaly that had slipped into the city.
It was nothing so overtly different as the Headless Rider.
It was the monster who took the form of a harmless boy; Mizuchi Yahiro.