an English translation of the novel

Page 163-164

“Why?” Satoru asked sullenly.

“Because if this actually happened, wouldn’t blowdogs die before their enemies did? They’d become extinct in no time.”

It was a simple but irrefutable point. Satoru crossed his arms and pretended to contemplate the problem, but I was sure he wouldn’t be able to come up with anything.

Just when it looked like I was right, he started speaking as if there had never been a break in the conversation.

“…mhm. After he met the blowdog, he also saw an evil minoshiro.”

I almost fell out of my seat. “What do you mean ‘mhm’? Hello? What happened to the blowdog problem?”

“He backed off when he saw it swelling, so it didn’t explode. But who knows, maybe the whole thing about it exploding is fake anyway,” Satoru said, trying to slither out of the conversation like a lizard shedding its tail. “And then as he was climbing up Mt. Tsukuba, he encountered an evil minoshiro,” he opened his eyes wide in a show of surprise.

“Is that the same as a false minoshiro?” Mamoru asked.

“Yeah, at first glance it looks like a minoshiro, but if you look carefully, they’re completely different.”

“But why is it evil?” Maria asked, frowning.

“People who meet an evil minoshiro die before long.”

How absurd.

“So how did that guy die? He didn’t, right?”

“He probably will soon,” Satoru said, not batting an eyelid.

If we just left it here, it would be like every other time Satoru told one of his pointless stories. But Shun made a surprising proposal.

“Why don’t we do this for our summer camp report?”


Page 165-166

“The evil minoshiro?” I was surprised.

“That, blowdogs, and other creatures. This is a rare opportunity, so I want to find out whether they exist or not.”

“That sounds interesting,” Maria and them agreed immediately.

“Wait, guys, do you even know what you’re saying? If you meet an evil minoshiro, you’ll die.”

As expected, Satoru was trying his hardest to dissuade us from this idea, in fear that his lies would be exposed.

“No one’s going to die,” Maria snickered.

“But how are you going to catch one? I forgot to mention, but cantus doesn’t work on them.”

“What do you mean?”

Who knows what he was saying out of desperation. We all turned to look at him.

“Um, I’m not too sure.”

“Explain it anyway.”

“…”

In the end, Satoru surrendered to our volley of questions. So our camp research topic was decided.

But thinking rationally, there’s no way that you’d be able to find so many rare animals. So we decided to keep the originally vague theme, “Species Around the Tone River”, so that in the case we couldn’t find anything, we could write about normal minoshiro, haythatchers, and stuff like that.

 

Let’s return to the summer camp. Not ten minutes after finding the warbler’s nest, I let out a little shout.

“Look! There’s a huge nest over there.”

For some reason, Shun raised his eyebrows doubtfully. “It looks like a yellow bittern’s.”

“Yeah. One that big probably is,” Satoru agreed.

It was rare that they had the same opinion, which somehow made this more believable.


Page 167-168

“But it’s pretty crudely built.”

The three canoes converged around the nest. It sat a lot lower than the warbler’s nest, but was quite exposed in some areas. Any animal with sharp vision would be able to see it from the opposite bank.

Shun half-rose off his seat and peeked into the nest. “There are five eggs.”

My heart sped up momentarily when my bare shoulder brushed Shun’s as our boats stopped side by side. I pretended to study the eggs and nest carefully. Yellow bitterns are the smallest in the heron family, but still far bigger than the sparrow-sized warbler. Its nest was almost twice as big around, and the eggs were like bluish miniature chicken eggs.

Shun plucked an egg out of the nest and stared at it carefully. His jaw dropped.

“Woah, that’s surprising. Even though I half-expected it.”

“What?”

“Saki, hold it.”

He picked up the egg between two slender fingers and dropped it in the palm of my hand. It felt pleasantly cool, like ceramic.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“You don’t get it?” He picked up another egg and tossed it at Satoru.

I was surprised at how roughly he was treating them. “Wait, what are you doing? Those poor chicks.”

“Ahh,” Shun smiled slightly. “They’re fake. Look closely.”

He picked out another one and put it on top of a nearby rock. Before I could blink, he smashed it with a paddle.

The shell fractured, revealing no white or yolk, but a black, fetid clump. Even more surprising, an antler-like structure started sprouting out of it, branching off in all directions.

“What is that?”


Page 169-170

“‘Devil’s Hand’. You’ve heard of it, right?”

Actually I hadn’t. I pinched a spike with the tip of my finger; it felt as thin as paper.

“Be careful, the edges are really sharp.”

The Devil’s Hand had veins coming from its core that gave it elasticity. And as Shun said, it was sharp, with barbs poking out along the edges.

“It’s usually folded up inside the egg, but when it shell is broken it comes bursting out.”

“Why?”

Satoru answered from behind me, “If a rat snake or rosary snake eats it, the egg will explode it its stomach. And when it tries to cough it back up, the barbs will just dig deeper into the stomach and eventually tear it open. Then the poison inside the black smelly part will leak into the snake’s body.”

How gruesome. Rosary snakes have evolved to eat eggs exclusively, raiding nests and eating all the eggs at once, digesting them later on. Their name comes from the way they look after they have gorged themselves on eggs. If one managed to eat multiple fake eggs, I can only imagine how terrible the aftermath would be.

The eggs did not bring life, but certain death.

I took out my notebook and made a quick sketch of the fake egg.

“There are a lot of fake warbler eggs in Pinewind, but this is the first time I’ve seen a fake bittern egg,” Satoru said wonderingly, holding the fake egg up to the sun.

“To lay an egg of this size, the bird must be pretty big, right?”

“Nope. It’s the same size as a haythatcher,” Shun said.

“How do you know?” Satoru looked at him.

Shun jerked his chin at something in front of us. What we saw surprised us.

There was a tiny face peeking out at us from the thicket of reeds. It looked just like a heron’s, with a beak-full of dried grass. But its eyes were red and lidless, scales covered its face, and the black lines running from the corner of its eyes made it obvious that it was not a bird.


Page 171-172

The haythatcher slowly unwound itself, slithering up a thick stalk. Most haythatchers are a blackish or greenish brown, but this one was light green, like a young sprout. Although its beak was almost identical to a bird’s, you could tell that the rest of it had not changed much from its predecessor, the yellow snake.

It was building a new nest, deftly inserting the reeds in its mouth into various places around the nest. The bittern’s nest was built twined around the stalks of the reeds, but the haythatchers nest was more like a warbler’s. It looked similar enough to be deceiving.

“The fake egg might have been the haythatchers, since they have a habit of building multiple nests in the same area.”

I looked around at Satoru and saw him putting the fake eggs into his backpack. There was only one left in the nest.

“What are you going to do with those?” Maria asked.

“Just in case we don’t run into a blowdog or an evil minoshiro, we can write about these for our camp report. Fake eggs that look like bittern eggs are pretty rare.”

“But would taking them be bad for the haythatcher?”

“Since they’re fake, leaving one should be enough. As long as the nest isn’t empty, it should be okay.”

Satoru’s theory sounded okay, but if that really was the case, then wouldn’t the haythatcher only lay one egg to begin with?

At any rate, I thought the snake with the curious face was more cunning than we gave it credit for.

The haythatcher’s strategy for survival was brood parasitism.

Brood parasitism involves the parasitic parent laying its eggs in another animal’s nest. The egg hatches quickly, and the animal pushes the original eggs out of the nest. To me, this is probably the cruelest thing animals do in order to survive. In Africa, there is a kind of bird called the honeyguide, whose chicks are born with hooks on their beaks in order to kill the chicks in the host nest.

According to “The Natural History of the New Japan Islands”, a thousand years ago, there were only a few species of cuckoos that were brood parasites. But now, just within the area we were in, {even though there are animals that actually tended to their own young, even more are looking for a good nest to invade.} The world of birds is one of never ending struggle.