By a stroke of luck, the clouds came out and drifted across the sun so we could look up a the blue sky as we lay back to nap on the canoe.
The rhythm of the waves lulled me half to sleep. But after narrowly escaping from the jaws of death part of me was still too wound up for me to fall asleep completely.
What were we going to do from now on?
We had learned the forbidden truths. If Satoru’s theory was right, we were now targets for “removal”. Was there any way to escape this fate?
I felt something slipping down my chest under my shirt. Reflexively, I held it down with my right hand.
I pulled it out and stared at it. It was a charm on a purple string. “Protection against karma demons” was embroidered in a complicated design on the front. This past spring, everyone from Sage academy had gone to visit the shrine and received a protective charm.
The teacher had told us never to open the charm, but it’s human nature to want to do things the more you’re told not to do them. Out of all the students who had been given a charm I was the quickest to submit to curiosity. I waited impatiently until I was alone, then opened the charm.
The charm wasn’t sewn shut, but simply tied with string so I could easily take out its contents. Inside was a folded piece of white paper and a glass disc. Written on the paper in black in were strange words that looked more like pictures than writing. It gave me a creepy feeling so I quickly folded it again. I looked at the glass disc for a long time.
It was made of clear glass about five centimeters across and looked like a small galaxy. In the background were faint golden threads in woven geometric designs and different images seemed to float up to the surface. I saw small bamboo stalks, that upon closer inspection also had tiny leaves and intricate red fruit. Next to it, pencils, cups, flowers and other familiar items floated by. And under all of these was a “purity mask”.
“Purity masks” are masks made of damp clay and white chalk that children wear during the Demon Chasing festival. It resembles a human face but has no expression or individuality. But this mask was different. As I stared, I somehow saw my own face in it.
Lying in the canoe with my eyes closed, I felt the glass disc through the charm.
I turned quietly and peeked at Satoru. He was using his backpack as a pillow and seemed completely relaxed, rocking with the rhythm of the boat. Judging from his even breathing, he seemed to be dozing.
Although sticking your nose into things you’re not supposed to see is a bad habit, at times it helps to calm me down. I opened the charm and took out the glass disc.
The light reflecting off the glass might attract attention from the others so I cupped the disc in my hand and looked into it.
How should I describe the uneasy feeling I had then?
That is, at first glance it seemed indefinably different. But I had looked at it enough that its composition was branded into my brain. But since I wanted the comfort it provided, I stared at it as if I wanted to eat it.
No. There was something different. It wasn’t just my imagination that made originally perfectly balanced bamboo stalks seem crooked. Rather, it was the geometric designs in the back that were askew.
Then, when I focused on the purity mask, a shiver ran through my body.
It was melting… It was such a tiny change, and the result still looked like me, but the purity mask seemed to be slowly changing into a karma demon’s face.
Instinctively, I threw the disc away from me, into the lake.
Hearing the splash, Satoru raised his head.
“Nothing,” I said, forcing a smile. “Shouldn’t we get going?”