I heard a whistling sound. It was close by, and I heard it every time I heaved my chest. So I knew that it was not the wind, but a sound coming from me.
On the little path to Ellen’s house.
After his words made me lose consciousness at the end of the conversation, I woke up on a cold floor.
I could only hear my labored breathing.
In the depths of my ears, I heard the voice of the black cat I’d just heard, and “my” laughter.
I lived in a rural village with my father, a hunter.
A sick witch who had lived longer than she should have.
…And here I was after switching bodies with her.
Ellen’s memories, all the things she’d seen, were in her body.
Her life in the slums. Her bedridden days. Her parents who didn’t love her. The back alley she ran into after killing them both. Her meeting with a demon, and the house she was taken to. The days she spent after becoming a witch.
I visited with a basket of flowers, and saw Ellen breathing laboriously.
I let go of the basket and ran over.
Thinking on it now, I can’t exactly remember what we said to each other. I’m unable to.
After a word or two…
And she said that she wanted to borrow my body, just for a day.
Ellen ran, leaving me behind.
Her betrayal echoed in my ears.
My body was hot like a fire had been lit. I sobbed in terrible sorrow.
…Why, you ask?
I heard the voice of the black cat.
Are you still saying that?
The moment I realized that voice wasn’t his, suddenly a cutting pain ran through my throat, making me cough.
…Tell the truth, or it’ll keep going, I felt I heard a voice say.
I clutched my throat with all my strength, desperately enduring as I rubbed my head on the floor.
I knew it would be painful in her body.
What if my body was stolen?
I didn’t even entertain those thoughts.
Yet, embarrassment over what?
Over the voice of society, who said there must be good?
Didn’t I hate it?
I had switched bodies with her.
It was because I wanted to be a kind-hearted person.
It was because I didn’t want “If only I could take your place” to have been a lie.
I was afraid.
My legs trembled, wanting to flee.
But I was more afraid of something else.
That would have undeniably cut my heart into pieces like a cold blade of ice.
I complied with her wish.
Because I loved her. Because I felt sorry for her.
Those were the earnest feelings I had for her, so I decided to lend her my body.
Her words came back to me.
Wasn’t I the same?
I wanted to be her kind-hearted friend to the end. The sole friend whom she could put her trust in. I wanted to love her, who’d said she loved me. I didn’t want to betray her who believed in me. Even if it came to giving up my body.
I shouldn’t have lied.
Believed in father, who said he didn’t know such a girl.
The black cat’s words returned to me.
The words I thought were the black cat’s, which I didn’t want to hear, were all my own.
…“For just one day… I want to borrow your body.”
She appealed on the verge of tears.
My soul was tested.
In its place came something warm from the backs of my eyes. Even though I couldn’t see, I felt it was red.
Ellen knew I would do this.
Knew I was kind, and wouldn’t betray her.
Of course I would find myself comfortable around her. Because she knew more about me than I did.
She was looking at my body, and my expression that told of its life, its sights, and all the future ahead of it.
On the floor covered in bodily fluids, I heard a ringing in my ears.
Though it couldn’t be so. I was Viola.
This body remembered her, and teasing me, it showed me her memories.
It made me nauseous trying to explain it.
She crushed human skulls like a child stepping on ants. But I also knew how it brought her agony.
And I was one of them.
Her life in poverty? Her misfortune of being born sick? Her parents who didn’t love her? The demon’s whisper?
And how could her heart have been brought back onto the right path?
It was Ellen.
Ellen squatted next to me and told me without emotion.
…I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not wrong. I’ve always lived the right way, haven’t I?
Something coughed out from the back of my throat. I didn’t know if it was peeling skin from my throat or something from my stomach. The sharp pain erased the phantom Ellen.
My vision was the same blackness, but I felt somehow relieved to not have the air coming into my eyesockets.
I would die, in this room.
…For a witch to die, must she despair?
Back when she betrayed me.
She’d toyed with me, to the end.
All the days we’d spent together were nothing more but strategic preparation for today. Even her friendliness was just a game.
…I’ll soon vanish no matter what I do.
and finally, I heard nothing.
Darkness covered me like a black cloth.
Yet still, my senses did not fully leave me.
Or maybe something else.
It was made of human bones, which looked like rubble.
It was Ellen.
She looked peaceful, like a mother carrying her baby.
…To be loved.
She focused solely on being loved.
The white mountain below her was no doubt the remains of the people she’d sacrificed, which the demon had eaten.
I just quietly looked on at the spectacle.
She’d lived for centuries as a witch.
It was a spell to switch bodies with someone else.
She wanted my - Viola’s body.
Her feelings resounded with me painfully, and my heart hurt.
I could go on and die in her place.
She could go on and live in my place.
In that moment, I felt I could now truly empathize with her.
She who sat atop the mountain of bones slowly opened her eyes.
Her eyes gave such a seductive light, I couldn’t think of her as a seven-year-old.
She looked toward a radiant light, like the entrance of a cave. And with his back to that light stood my father.
With the backlight, I couldn’t see his face. Stepping up the pile of bones, father approached Ellen. He stopped beside her and stuck his thick arm out to her.
Now, it reached for her.
I had a bad feeling, and wanted to slap the hand away. But it seemed I was only seeing a vision, not sensing the presence of my body; I could do nothing.
It was no longer the hand of a seven-year-old girl.
There I was, with a golden braid swaying along my shoulders, sitting and holding my skirt.
…When I saw that smile,
I realized everything.
She wanted to be loved.
I screamed, though I couldn’t voice it.
But I was not. Ellen’s cells smiled. In fact, they seemed to delight at my understanding.
I shook from my core.
I feebly balled my fists to stop myself from rampaging.
Yes, I could go away. But if father were hurt, that was a different story.
How much would it hurt me?
It hurt. It hurt. I couldn’t see, but I desperately opened my eyes to see.
…No, no. This can’t be.
…It’s all my fault. Because I ignored what father said and went deep into the forest. Because I met her. Because I believed her.
I couldn’t just die.
I was lying to think that it would be fine to keep it this way.
I laughed with misery. But it could only come out as crying.
I panted, my heart nearly crushed.
Ellen, smiling with my face, took father’s hand and left the skeleton mountain for where the light was.
I screamed desperately.
Though there was no backlight, Ellen’s face was pitch black, only her red lips standing out.
It had nothing to do with how my throat was ruined.
Between things vomiting out my mouth and blood, I kept screaming.
and regret for myself,
…But I was wrong.
The pieces of my body which I thought were falling off became countless petals, floating as if blown up by a strong wind.
A storm in which I was at the center.
I was shaken.
What felt like my body vanishing was the sensation of emitting magic power.
My life, which I thought as a fading candle, became a roaring fire.
I couldn’t stop my feelings. I couldn’t stop the outpouring of magic. Like the pleasant feeling that comes when one cries aloud, I could not stop.
…Suddenly, visions came to my head.
An child had his spine crushed by a snake and died. With that vision, a room with a snake living in it was created.
With the remaining magic of this body, based on her memories, I was creating the house’s traps.
I found myself choking.
I didn’t want to see this. I covered my hollow eyes. But the visions continued without mercy; the reconstruction of the house would not stop.
The red carpets, the demon’s tongue. The descending blades, his carnivorous fangs.
This house was the house made for the demon to eat humans.
The house that encouraged her desire.
…the witch’s, house.
My magic laid the wood floors, piled the stone walls, creating the house in the blink of an eye. Work that would require years was over in mere seconds.
The waves of magic spread as if tearing through the forest air. It made birds scatter in surprise. Rose vines weaved through trees like ferocious beasts.
A red shock ran around my body, and I scratched at my eyesockets.
…Was I trying to kill Ellen? Did I want to? I didn’t know. No. I couldn’t stop it. I want my body back. Ahaha. I lied. Did you think I’d give it back? No. I…
The blonde-haired girl turned to face me.
The leaves rustling against each other.
I was sleeping in the middle of a familiar garden.
That’s right. I’d lost consciousness.
I turned to the familiar voice and saw the black cat looking at me.
The smell of flowers was strong enough to make me choke. Red and blue flowers swayed above my head.
Unmistakably, it was my garden.
I felt like I was in a house much like my own, only it was someone else’s.
I could more or less guess.
“…Did Viola do this?”
I dimly recalled.
Even that ragged body had magic left in it. Viola had used that little scrap of magic to trap me in the forest.
I almost yawned in the carefree afternoon air.
“Eh. There was the possibility.”
“You didn’t ask.”
I sighed and sat up.
My eyes widened at his phrasing.
I knew what he was trying to get at.
I looked at my fingers, covered in leaf residue.
I wasn’t a witch anymore.
Yes, much like the first time he spoke to me in that back alley.
I said not too seriously, and stood up.
Taking in the sensation of my feet on the ground, I went step by step.
I headed for the exit of the forest.
I brought my nose to the roses.
The petals shone cold like razor blades. They could have easily sliced into my neck, but showed no sign of it.
The exit to the forest was blocked by a startlingly huge patch of roses.
Roses that had before been my limbs. Now, they had a different intention, and blocked my path.
Unmistakably, they had been a part of my body. And now they were her own flesh and blood.
I knew how to make these roses wilt. I knew how to take her body away.
That cute little bottle I had put away in a shelf one day. The key to destroying the body of Ellen, the witch.
A normal human, especially one only thirteen years old, wouldn’t be able to bear it in my body.
For decades, for centuries. My heart being eaten away at by sickness.
A reason not to despair in that body.
Betrayed by me, who you thought your friend, you can only writhe in agony in that room.
What could make the light of hope shine on you?
Perhaps you still want to believe me, Viola. You stopped me thinking I might give your body back.
But I quickly stopped, finding it boring.
“What’ll you do?”
He sat upon a stump.
I could just barely see the red-roofed house from here through the green branches.
She must be waiting for me in there.
My mouth loosened into a smile. I stood on the balls of my feet.
My forelocks were swept up, and I smiled, my back to the roses.
It wouldn’t be killing me anytime soon.