Bottom of Town
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Snow.

As far as I could see, everything was covered with snow. It has buried roofs, and further hung out and down. I trod on and shivered.

There was a few strings of footprints sparsely. Somehow I was not a only one on the street, I guessed. A poem from Hyakunin Isshu, heard at kids' classroom, flashed across my mind. "山里は冬ぞさびしさまさりける," the fact I was not alone didn't erase snow nor coldness, though. Far from that, it even clearly felt like snowing intensified as soon as I entered.

It seemed the town of ever-night was moderately lively, albeit no people on the street as far as I could see. Meanwhile, I wouldn't judge myself as a significant wizard, so a gain in snowing with only one person visiting might mean most of ones inside would not capable of using magic. Thankful if it was that, in several different ways. It would have put me to big trouble if, in such a time, robbery ambushed me or someone who might want not to be witnessed was laying some magic circle, no matter how I was better or worse than them.

Having soaked up coldness definitely, the big baggage was torturing my shoulder over the outerwear for wintertime from inside the bag made of thin cloth. I looked back for a second to check that there was no suspicious footprint, and then walked as fast as possible.

I had no idea who has send the luggage, nor where they were. I came thinking to ask anyone who'd likely know something anyway, unfortunately, I could see no entrance of shops. It might have been good if I had dropped in one of those small shops passed by a short time ago, though I've somehow given them go-by because they're too close to the entry point. But it may usually cause problem to backtrack in places like this, anyway I had no choice but walk forward. Thankfully again, soon after turning a gentle corner, a doorway with noren appeared in my sight.

Hot air from heaters poured as I opened the door, and instantly that smell of a kerosene heater that didn't differ from the outside so much wrapped me. It seemed, at length, I was evading coldness this time.

There was woolly an bustling atmosphere in business. It might be full of the shadowless dead and the quick who have lost their shadows. Or, were it shadows that were lost by the living human? My memory is vague about that, it doesn't matter anyway this time, though. The most important thing is to find a barmaster. It seemed like I was achieving soon again.

A person, a human-form whose shape is a bit sharper noticed me from behind the counter, and they smiled at me when eyes were met. A stool just right in front of them was vacant like it was aimed for my visit.

"Welcome, it's cold outside, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," I smiled back tenuously.

"Is there anything to ask?"

Is there anything to ask. It was a strange thing to question on. Surely it's not a way to take an order in a bar. It was well within preparation, of course.

I felt from my neck up flush with mental strain and hotness in the room. Now that I was here, gotta get it done quickly.

"A person asked me to give… this back to who has sent this." "Oh."

I loosened drawstrings of the bag on my lap. Nylon swished. A stock pot appeared from inside.

"A pot." "Here's a letter."

I fumbled about in the bag, took an envelope laid under the pot and held it out. A brief pause. Were they hesitating? But the barmaster received quietly. There was additional wired silence while they read it to themself. Soon the barmaster spoke of their own accord once again.

"I think you also have a right to read this, may I read out?"

For a moment, my heart pounded like a temple bell being hammered up. Maybe it didn't show on my face. I hoped so.

"I don't mind either way, I, am not so… good at reading." "Then here I go."

Besides, it was a strange exchange of words again.

ZENRYAKU DEAR BENEFACTOR

Thank you so much for helping a scatterbrain like me once upon a time
Giving up kyusei koko couldn't get along well, after long year I begun working in a Chinese restaurant, at the time I lost my predecessor when I was yet an apprentice or not, it was when I was struggling to let the restaurant prosper that I was grieved because I couldn't manufacture essential taste, my passion going round and round and got nowhere, and patrons coming around less often
Fortunately my wife was clever and amiable and put her such a lot of labor yet not going bankrupt, and I felt chagrined as losing my predecessor's taste, so one day when I was wanting alcohol giving in to despair I reached your shop

Once you listened to my anguish you immediately gave me this pot
Dubiously I went back to the restaurant and boiled water, and as you said!! A soup with taste of my predecessor was done!
Thereafter everyday my shop prospered and I could send my sons to universities

Yet, it's a very hard thing to say, but my wife has developed dementia without me noticing, and I've spoken callously without noticing, and laid heavy burdens on sons too, thus I might have failed to fulfill your will
The pot no longer couldn't prepare my predecessor's taste
Though I've been using the pot as a common one, this time sickness of disease of Alzheimer has attacked me, and I was forced to end the business, and we're considering about how to do with the pot as my son proceeds to sell the shop and apparatus

It's painful for me to write such a letter, but I'm thanking you thoroughly
Thank you very much hope you don't mind me such rambling prose

Yours truly

A glimpse of the letter revealed me strings of letters produced by a word processor. A question occurred to my head whether the client has typed the letter by himself or his son has done, though it didn't matter. Maybe the barmaster knew it. That barmaster was folding the letter smilingly, and then put it back inside the envelope. As far as I saw, none of the shadows inside private rooms seemed to react.

"Now, let me take the pot." "Yeah."

They laid the letter somewhere and reached to me, so I helped the pot to get over the counter by lifting the bottom of it. The barmaster seemed to examine the heaved pot inside for a moment, but soon put it down somewhere over there looking content, and it made a soft clank.

"Thank you so much for coming all the way."

"Ya."

The barmaster gave a deep bow. I followed suit reflexively.

"It's trivial for our gratitude, but this is for you. Have a glass, please."

They said and put a small glass on the counter. It was filled with clear liquid. I hear their voice as I examined the glass upheld by my hand.

"Are you worried?"

The barmaster was smiling, with their face uncertain of their age or gender. Alphabets inscribed on the glass reflected the light between us.

The inscribed words seemed to be English. There? fear not the spirits, but be… I'm already finished around here. I've been not good in English too from the first. It's a useless defense however, a half of my life has gone since I've left America. Has gone. This spur-of-the-moment thought suddenly let me occur me in today's form being picked out from my home that I couldn't remember where it has been in America like a kitten. Indeed, I cannot say I was my true wish to leave my foster father's home all by myself, but have I felt like being kicked out? That faded porch beside the front door. A creak from a rocking chair. Voices of sisters and brothers. Sunlight of the fall.

There were quiet sounds that snow was piling up.

"You shouldn't despise or revile the spirits, or this may lead you astray."

The barmaster said. It was soft and barbless voice. But, meanwhile, it felt like a whisper from the bottom of a bottomless marsh pond.

The glass that I was about to drop danced in my hands, spilled drink fell on my cold-proof pants, and legs of my chair chafed the floor, and made loud — although pretty much muffled compared to the material world — noise. But it was not their voice. It was an antique radio just beside me that spoke. It was noise from this that have been heard intermittently from some time ago, listened to carefully.

They chuckled silently, as I might perhaps look so confused, brought back from languors suddenly. I had to push out panic that have crept up jumbled together with nostalgia, pretending no to know. It's important to put on an innocent air. Stay vigilant, but never focus on digression nor immediate profit (like a little while ago). It's the foremost basic of the basics to come back from another world without losing myself. Although books were no use at all for me, I owe a lot to The Library about learning this golden rule.

While my flurry, the barmaster has prepared to serve nibbles.

"Here you are, it's otoshi. Vinegret a la Kiev."

Red diced vegetables were served on the dish of crab with a dent on its back. The crab looked up toward me, moving shiny black eyes. Before the crab slowly beginning to pick up vegetables from its back and eat, the barmaster said.

"Though they had places to go, some kids have been here for a long time, not wanting to leave the town."

The barmaster kept their smile. They might be puzzled even only slightly, maybe.

"All the siblings born same time with this kid has already gone. They may come back when it's possible, then they'll reunite again…"

The crab with a silver dish on its back has taken on cutting ferns grown densely over the counter. Red petals got scattered on white wood. The barmaster was working on something with their head down, beginning to look somehow far too much paler in their face with a profile that was as white as snow outside over the backdrop of deep black dried sea cucumbers. While trying hard not to think too much about looks of the barmaster, I couldn't resist a question and involuntarily spoke.

"Imitation of Creation, or magic of dependent arising, or…" "It's generation using backlash as creative energy." Poor knowledge about thaumaturgy was soon softly chipped in.

"So… it's backlash of Flat, snow thing." Somehow I could tap jargons middlemen from the Coalition have used from beyond oblivion. I can't deny that I was feeling on top of the world.

"They were made by interweaving both vectors of creation and destruction." "Uh-huh."

But that's the end. As expected. They kindly continued the talk despite my spiritless response.

"In a sense, every single crystal of that snow is a well with a high rig that draws life from destruction. It too could be called life itself as contrast with nothingness."

"destruction and life…"

I heard a thud of snow starting to melt fell from a potted hardy banana taking up its position beside the heater. How can they get a green hardy banana in this town?


Down to a road with a nice outlook, through a street like a residential area, I saw the sun rising between a line of ginkgo trees and shrubbery with remaining snow on it. A town below was sparsely scattered with snow, too. If it's not skewed time-wise, it might be June outside. That meant it was still inside the town here.

It might be able to go outside by walking down the slope as I was. Then again, soon the line of ginkgoes ended, a brick wall covered by plants blocking the road. They are fresh and green though still snow was on them. Of course, it was not a dead end, and there was a big iron double door, as if hidden by vines of kudzu and goldenrod. This might be the exit.

Though pulling it, I got a heart-throb imaging a merciless feel, the door opened lightly regardless my inner little panic. Of course I knew. It's not so hard to walk through Drunkness Street by a Type Blue accustomed to pass The Way, with a calm mind and minimum come-and-go of things. To only walk through.

It means that if you weren't, nothing here wished to hold you down, which makes me feel a bit loneliness. Of course, it's one way of how things go here.


Perhaps noticing I was at a loss for words in conversation, the barmaster smiled, and silenced for a moment.

"Well… so"

Same warding again.

"A reaction bears a reaction, so it winds up… after all, by pouring whatever piled up destructive thingies? Onto the cities with much people."

They kept their smile.

"It may as well the fate of the humanity they decided by their own right by not choosing to avoid the catastrophe. It's a little sad, but I always believe you choose your best way.

And if the time come, this place might fall too. Together, we'll never be alone."

A drop of molten snow (how could so much snow remain inside the heated room?) fell from the leaf of the hardy banana again. I might look quite surprised. Smile on their face felt like getting an evident hint of sorriness.

A whistle of a locomotive blew from far away. Was this the sound of the radio too? Carried away by the sound, my mind was entered by the green body of the locomotive, then a flaming-red torii however beneath snow. It might be the time to go, before getting any trouble. An upside-down lighthouse reflected on the black surface of water. The barmaster said.

"Thank you for coming such a long way today. We would love you to come back and visit us again."

Orange lantern light came turning and wrapped the world, and instantly I couldn't see nothing else. Fumbling around with eyes half-closed and confusion with the direction of gravity, I somehow grabbed my bag, and then, in the next second I was standing in the alley at dawn.


Rustling of grass around the door felt forming some human voice. It might the one of the barmaster, or it mightn't be similar them at all.

"Already forgot / never forget / will forget?
Do you remember / can't remember / don't want to be able to remind?"

"Don't quite know…"

There were only the temperature and the humidity of outside that tickled my nose after speaking out my answer. All the trace of alcohol that has filled the town has now gone.

Seizing the reward now, should I go home, or have another drink? The side of a viaduct, known as a haunted spot for those who don't know The Way, is halfway far-off from the both directions. 24/7 service food courts or super markets, or even worse, hamburger stores or convenience stores by compromise. It's not fun either way.

What time was it now? It was about the summer solstice, but it was already pitch-dark. The street was almost empty too. It seems I was destined to walk home in a drizzle if I didn't act snappy enough.

If only I've had tsukidashi before the crab have eaten it… No, vinegared ones are tough for a empty stomach. To begin with, it was my fault to enter Drunkness Street hungry with a failed schedule.

I reluctantly began to walk with my head down so that raindrops wouldn't get in my eyes, and my face would become hard to see. Hoping any of usual stores has only few customers now, and I could arrive before the rain got any harder. On the way, the only things on my mind were the diner I used to go while in America and the grilled cheese sandwiches I had there that were not remembered for a long time.

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