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  • i found my dog

    My father and my mother
    didn’t love me.

    So I X them.
    I’ve been in this house ever since.

    I could see beautiful patterns.
    Black curves like ivy, or like snakes, decorated the ceiling. As my eyes followed the patterns, I noticed how regulated they were. Buried in a soft bed, I gazed up at the unfamiliar ceiling.
    It was just like lying in a sunny spot far below. Despite being inside, I could feel the sun. There was the faint aroma of flowers.
    How comforting. I had only just awoken, yet already felt ready to fall asleep again.
    But I certainly wouldn’t do that.
    In the corner of my thoughts, a calm part of me asked:
    Where is this?

    Pushed by curiosity, I reluctantly sat up in the bed.
    My light purple hair fell upon the pure white sheets. Yes, rather than a dirty blanket, beautiful embroidered sheets covered my body. They were so smooth, I found it hard to escape this dreamy state of mind.
    I looked around the room. It was square, with a single door. I had been sleeping on a big bed in the room’s center.
    It was a lovable room.
    The floor covered with flower-patterned tile led me to think such. The walls were neatly lined with closets and tables, as well. Everything seemed just the right size for my height, making me think it had been prepared just for me.
    The color red drew my eyes to a table, upon which I saw flowers. So that was why I could smell them despite being indoors.

    “Up and at ‘em?”
    Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice from behind and turned to face it.
    I squinted at the rays of light coming through the window.
    There was a huge window on the milky-white wall, at the sill of which sat the black cat.
    I faintly recalled the black cat’s figure, and his boyish, overly-familiar voice.
    Last night. The cold back alley. Me loitering around with a knife. The black cat on the fence. The conversation we had. They came to me, then vanished. Feeling like it had been a dream and this was the continuation, I talked to the cat.

    “Where is this…?”
    “Told you, didn’t I? It’s your house.”
    My house?
    I did feel like he had said that. Going back through my memory, I found there was nothing whatsoever after nodding to the cat. I supposed I had lost consciousness just after, but how did I get here?
    I moved to get out of bed, then noticed I was wearing a well-tailored white blouse and a red one-piece.
    Surely the black cat hadn’t dressed me, had he?

    This is becoming very strange, I thought. I got off the bed. My bare feet touched the polished floor. Surprisingly, I felt no pain in my legs.
    Stepping on the flowery tile, I went over toward the window where the cat sat.
    I touched my hand to the window. With just that action, the window opened itself up. A calming breeze blew in, stroking my long hair.
    Outside, I could see many large trees, with sunlight streaming through them.
    Birds chirped and tweeted. I looked skyward.
    Through dense, lively leaves, I could just barely see a light blue sky.
    I was deep in the forest.
    What’s more, this room was quite high up.
    The wind was unceasing, smooth against my body. The rustling of branches sounded like a welcoming whisper.

    “Welcome, Ellen. My dear witch.”
    Absorbed in feeling the wind, I replied a few seconds late.
    “That’s right. Thought I told you? I want to make you a witch.”
    Had he said that?
    I looked at the cat doubtfully and blinked. Just then, a forelock swung into my eye.
    Last night, the black cat had gone on about a lot of abnormal things about eating souls and demons, yet I felt like he had never said the word “witch.”
    “As for what a witch is? Well, you’ll figure it out soon enough,” he yawned, either unwilling to explain or not wanting to bother.
    I didn’t want to ask much more about it, either.
    In this clean forest air, I felt like any words or thoughts were positive ones.

    The black cat looked rather cute then, sitting in sunlight that made his fur look gray, the wind blowing at it. Yet he had looked rather eerie last night, in the darkness, with only his eyes dubiously gleaming.
    He looked me over as he spoke.
    “Hmm. Y'know, you got a pretty cute face, Ellen. Just what I like.”
    I looked at the cat, making my disgust plain to see.
    What was he saying about this ugly face? I reached for my cheek to check for the swelling. Yet I was surprised to find my fingers touched smooth skin.
    I continued to feel my cheek, with a sense of malaise I perhaps shouldn’t have felt. Not that I was hoping to be wrong.

    I quickly looked around the room for something to see myself with. I found a dresser and peered at the mirror.
    I met eyes with my reflection.
    She had nothing wrong with her face or legs - she was perfectly healthy.
    I took a few steps back and looked over my body. I couldn’t see so much as a trace of the ugly, sore skin. The only red on my body came from my big ribbon, my one-piece, and my lips hanging half-open in shock.
    “Sort of a privilege for witches,” the black cat casually said.
    I couldn’t take my eyes off the mirror. I touched my cheek which had always been so swollen and sore. I could hear my heart pounding.
    Is this a dream? It’s fine if it is. I just don’t want to wake up, in that case.

    Whether he knew how I was feeling or not, the black cat waved his tail, as if to clear the dreamy mist.
    “Thing is, you can’t leave the house. 'Cause you’re a witch.”
    His words suddenly dragged me back to reality. The pit of my stomach felt cold, and I timidly asked.
    “I… can’t go outside?”
    The cat tilted his head, staring vacantly.
    “So what if you can’t? It sure ain’t a boring house, I can tell you that. C'mon, follow me.”
    Once he spoke, I suddenly heard the door unlock. I turned to the open door in surprise, and the black cat was already sitting there.
    I quickly looked back to the windowsill. Yet though the cat had just been sitting there, he wasn’t anymore.
    “Now, right this way!”
    He spoke from the door with his back to me. He turned his head around and whipped his tail invitingly.
    I blinked a few times, then followed behind the black cat.

    Outside the room was a long hallway.
    Sun streamed from the windows, warming up the wooden floor.
    I walked several steps behind the black cat, whose footsteps made no noise.
    The hallway had pedestals placed at fixed intervals, decorated with red flowers. They were the same as the ones in the room I’d slept in.
    The flowers filled wide, pot-like vases. The petals were a color that seems appropriate to call deep crimson, folded upon each other to form the shape of each flower.
    I felt the water must have been freshly replaced. The petals and stem seemed so lively, covered with dew.
    I softly touched a petal, and my finger sucked up some of the water.
    “What’re ya doin’?”, the black cat stopped and said.
    I hurried after him and found stairs down at the end of the hall. He cheerfully stepped down, and I followed.
    At the bottom of the stairs was a door.

    Opening the door, I found a large dining room with a fireplace.
    Over a huge table was draped a white cloth, and upon it were two gold candle stands. Teapots and teacups were neatly arranged and illuminated by the candlelight.
    The burning red candle flames sent heat through the room.
    Perceiving a vivid color, my gaze went to the corner, and yet again I found those red flowers.

    “Now, take a seat.”
    After the black cat spoke, the chair nearest the fireplace slid itself out.
    I sat in the chair as he urged me. Then the seat beside me pulled itself out as well, and the cat leapt on.
    Once the cat and I were seated, a teapot on the table began shaking. Then it floated into the air, and tilted itself to pour into a teacup. A reddish-brown liquid filled the cup with a pleasing sound.
    Simultaneously, a sugar cube came out of a clear bottle and fell into the cup as if sucked in. Then a waiting tea spoon stood up and stirred the cup’s contents.
    Once the spoon settled back in place, the table returned to silence, as if nothing had happened. I stared at the steaming cup in front of me, dumbfounded.
    I was surprised, but it was nothing to scream about. My heart was oddly calm, likely because of the smell of the drink.

    “Drink up,” the cat urged.
    I saw my face in the reflection of the drink. I took the teacup in both hands and slowly sipped it.
    Warm. Sweet. It seemed to seep into my entire body. Though to be honest, before I drank it, the nice smell had overwhelmed my lungs - but that was all. I had never been so pleased by a drink before.
    The black cat seemed satisfied with my reaction and spoke proudly.
    “No worries about starving here. Nor freezing, 'course.”
    As if working in unison with the black cat’s remark, the fireplace behind me lit up.
    My mind was still hazy. As if taking in his words, I rolled the flavor around in my mouth.
    “What is this called?”
    I asked for the name of the unfamiliar drink.
    “It’s black tea.”
    I looked down at the teacup which warmed my hands.
    All I had ever had to drink before was impure water and diluted soup. I never even knew such a delicious drink existed.

    While I was asking questions, I looked over at the flowers in the corner of the room.
    “What are those flowers called?”
    “Which ones?”
    I pointed at the red flowers.
    The cat spun to face them, then turned back.
    “Oh, they’re roses. You didn’t know that?”
    Like before, I repeated the word in my mouth.
    Rose. It had a wonderful sound to it.
    …There’s so much I don’t know, I thought.
    Everything before my eyes seemed so colorful. It was a strange feeling. Coming to know something you didn’t know. For some reason, it pleased my heart.
    I was befuddled by each and every happy thing presented to me. And I also began to accept the way of life in this house.

    Suddenly, a door opened that was not the one I came in through. I turned to look in surprise and saw someone coming in, pushing a kitchen wagon.
    When I saw him, I nearly dropped my teacup.
    He was a big man, easily over six and a half feet tall. Disturbingly, he had no head. His skin was covered with patches, stitches all over his body. He wore pitch black pants over the legs that propped up his frightfully large upper body.
    “Sheesh, don’t startle her! You can’t just come in like that.”
    I was able to quell my fear thanks to the black cat talking to the man carefree. The man cringed and hung his shoulders in apology, looking quite pathetic.
    “This is our cook,” the cat explained, and I looked him over again.
    The small dirty cloth he wore over his front was an apron, I realized. It didn’t seem appropriate for the muscular giant at all.

    “Food’s ready?”
    The cook nodded at the cat’s question and pushed the kitchen wagon over to me.
    There was a plate on the wagon with a silver cover on top. The cook courteously placed the plate and cover on the table in front of me.
    He took off the silver cover. And when he did, there came to my eyes and ears -
    “H-Hold on! What the ****’s this?!”
    - the black cat in hysterics, and a muddy green soup.
    It wasn’t just the color of the soup that was odd. The gray cutlery, too, seemed irregularly-shaped, and appeared to be fashioned from stone.
    All of a sudden, a black figure leapt onto the perfectly orderly table.
    I stared blankly at the soup as bubbles appeared and popped in it.

    “Geez! What’re you tryin’ to serve here? I told you to treat her and everything!”
    The cat complained, and the cook twisted his thick neck.
    “Huh? That’s weird. I thought you liked this?”
    I don’t know where the voice came from, but it was low and hard to make out.
    The cat’s whiskers flicked up.
    “Ugh. You seriously mistook her for the last one? This guy… Just make it normal. VERY normal. Do it again!”
    Craning his neck all the while, the cook collected the plate and pushed the kitchen wagon back.

    The closed door echoed, and the cat spoke through a sigh.
    “Man, he
    would come out with somethin’ weird… Sorry, I hope you can forgive me.”
    Forgive him? I silently shook my head. My stomach was plenty satisfied with the tea, and I didn’t feel particularly hungry. I thought I might have even eaten that strange soup, but I didn’t say anything.
    The cat continued to mumble complaints.
    “That guy’s useless, I tell ya. Last one left him behind, after all.”
    …Last one?
    I asked, my curiosity piqued.
    “Did someone live here before me?”
    “And… she was a witch, too?”
    “Yep,” the cat nodded. Then he seemed to reminisce with eyes looking into the distance.
    “Nobody’s lived in this house a long time. Really, reeeally long time.”
    Was that so?
    I gazed around the room.
    Even if no one had lived in it, it seemed very well prepared to accept me.
    I felt like the carpet in all the rooms and the tablecloth, while not brand new, must have been treated with much care and preserved for many years. And those red flowers seemed to have just recently had the water changed, too.
    I recalled the touch of the water droplets on my finger.
    “So the house is real glad you’re here, too,” the cat said, leaping in place.
    A house that revives itself when someone lives there. Are there such houses as that? While it absolutely wasn’t normal, it seemed like a fitting description.
    As I went on thinking while drinking tea, the black cat suddenly raised his voice as if he had a great idea.
    “Oh yeah, there’s a better place. Lemme show you.”
    Without waiting for my reply, he jumped off the chair. I quickly drank the rest of the tea and followed.

    I asked as we climbed the creaking stairs.
    “Isn’t this the way we came?”
    “Yup. But it’s all good.”
    The black cat had opened the door we entered the dining room through, and we climbed up the stairs we’d just gone down. I was suspicious, but followed him.
    At the top of the stairs, I found a hallway that felt different from the one before. I turned around and suddenly found no stairs, only a blank white wall.
    “This waaay!”, the cat called from down the hall. He had traveled quite a distance while I looked away.
    Was he just hasty, or did he have strange powers?
    I placed my palm on the wall that had been stairs, then hurried off after the cat.

    The black cat stopped in front of a thick door.
    Open 'er up, his gaze said. I took the heavy gold handle and slowly pushed it.
    The door opened with a comforting sense of heaviness.

    Inside the room were long continuous rows of bookshelves. One row after another; I couldn’t see the end of them. The walls were packed with bookshelves too, reaching as high as the ceiling.
    Many open books lay on the calmingly-colored floor. They weren’t shrouded in dust, but rather felt like someone had been using them until just recently.
    It was a room that carried the stillness of the indoors on a rainy day.
    I became fond of the room at a single glance.
    Perhaps picking up on this, the black cat spoke like a tour guide.
    “We have lots of books here. Stories from lots of lands, stories from lots of people. Useful stories and useless ones. Our stories, and your stories.”

    I walked through the bookshelves like I was stepping into a labyrinth.
    The shelves were neatly lined with books large and small, their covers spanning the color spectrum. And all the books seemed to be waiting for me to reach for them at any moment.
    As I ran over the bindings with my finger, I felt tantalized. Before I could voice my concern, the black cat spoke at my feet.
    “Ellen. Can you not read?”
    I looked down at him in surprise.
    He was correct.
    “I’ll teach you. C'mere.”
    He brushed his tail against my ankle and walked toward the back of the room. I followed.

    In the back of the room was a long wooden desk and a chair.
    On the desk was light-colored paper, a capped bottle of ink, and a quill; all the implements needed to write.
    I sat in the chair that pulled itself out.
    “Well, let’s see, what should I teach you first…”
    The cat jumped up on the desk and started to hum. He seemed to be enjoying himself more than me.
    I took in the smell of the ink in the area, and found roses on the windowsill.
    Those flowers again. Were they in every room?

    I asked, not taking my eyes off the roses, “About the person who lived here before…”
    “Did they like roses?”
    He followed my gaze to the roses.
    “Yeah,” then turning back to me, he said “You’ll come to, too.”
    “Okay,” I nodded.
    In truth, I was already beginning to. I felt something coming from those roses that grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go. I wonder why they made my heart beat fast?
    I didn’t know at the time. That roses, to a witch, are like her flesh and blood. And that their vines serve as the weapons to take people’s lives.

    “Let’s go with "Ellen.”“
    Breaking from thought, I looked at the cat.
    "It’ll be your first word. Here, this is how you write your name.”
    As he spoke, the quill lifted up. It touched the ink, then whirled and danced around the paper, drawing smooth letters.
    I looked at my name as if staring a hole in it. The quill moved into my right hand, then the force moving it was gone.
    I wasn’t particularly surprised by the occurrence anymore.
    I gripped the quill and wrote the letters. My hand trembled a little. Surely, I thought, because this would be a memorable first step in my learning.

    In the corner of my vision, a petal fell off the rose.


    I spent much time in the room of books for the next few days.
    I quickly learned the alphabet. I could read simple books. The black cat told me I had a good memory.
    I picked out books at random from the innumerable supply. Yet doing this, I surprisingly found books just the right difficulty for me.
    In reading, I immersed myself in worlds I didn’t know. Just as the cat said, there was no getting bored in this house.
    As he loitered around me, he would sometimes say things I didn’t quite understand, and tell me old stories.
    As I toured the house on a whim, he introduced me to the inhabitants.
    Yet he didn’t seem to want much from me. If all it took was my parents’ souls to be given this life, I would have been satisfied with that being that.
    I didn’t think too deeply about the black cat.

    This life brought me such happiness. It’s okay for me to be here, because I’m a witch, I silently told myself. I didn’t question what a witch was, exactly. The black cat said nothing, so I asked nothing.
    Sometimes my parents would come to mind. But I soon forgot them. I didn’t need them now. I looked upon my past self coldly for desiring their love to such a degree.
    All I desired was a healthy body, a warm bed, and on top of that, fulfillment of my thirst for knowledge - then I would be pleased as could be.
    Thinking that, my past self seemed so pathetic.
    I forgot all about the weapon I had obtained, and concentrated daily on having my eyes follow the letters.

    “The form of the witch’s house changes…”
    “The form of the witch’s house changes based upon the witch’s power.” That’s what the book I read that day said.
    Certainly, this house wasn’t normal. Yes, objects moved around on their own, but also, when I wasn’t looking, hallways would multiply and doors would vanish.
    There were doors when I went back the way I came, and some stairs would lead to nowhere.
    Was it all changing based on my - on the witch’s power? I wasn’t consciously using any power, but I had opened doors thinking that I wanted to rest and found them leading directly to my room, so I thought it might be so.
    The house must have had rooms I had yet to see. I hadn’t found this room until today, in fact.
    I closed the book and looked around.

    It was a beautiful garden. The floor was covered with grass, and artificial roses were systematically placed around.
    Surely there was no deep ground for it to reach into, yet in the center of the room was a single large tree with abundant leaves, spreading its roots.
    Yet I knew I was inside from the high ceiling and the walls that surrounded it.
    I sat on a wooden bench underneath the tree.
    With my back to it, I looked up at the tree.
    I felt like I’d seen a tree like this somewhere before.
    I felt? I should have known.
    But I pretended that I didn’t.
    Hollow expressions. A town of people with cloudy skies embedded in their eyes. Dirty back alleys. And… the spectacle of a burning building coming to mind, I shook my head.
    I was a resident of that town no longer. I wouldn’t remember anything about it. Because I was a witch. Here in this house, I was allowed to live freely.
    Yes, only in this house.

    The black cat said that I couldn’t leave. That as a witch, I had to live here.
    To begin with, I thought that was fine. Because I had freedom here. Like he had said, I never felt bored here, and I would never freeze.
    But at times, I would feel lonely.
    There were people living here who could talk. But I felt like they had no heart. Toys seemingly created to tide me over.
    When they listened to me, and smiled, and then became expressionless again - the emotion I felt in those moments - ahh, indeed. I am alone. The thought made a cold wind blow in my heart.
    I wanted warmth. The first thing that came to mind was a human hand. A hand much like mine. A hand to hold. I wanted a human friend. That was the clear desire that came to mind next.
    …I wanted a human friend.
    That desire heated up my chest.
    If I told the black cat, would he be able to grant my wish? I thought of him like some kind of god at the time.
    I’ll go talk to him.

    As if to still my heart, I put the book to my chest with both hands and stood up from the bench.
    I stepped through the grass, hearing it crunch beneath my feet.
    Suddenly, strange plants by the wall came into sight. The plants looked like coral with many red feelers reaching skyward, and they seemed to be whispering amongst each other.
    So these grasses could talk.
    I spoke to them. “Good day.”
    The red plants’ whispers stopped at once. Their feelers moved as if searching for something, or as if looking my way. After some time, the red plant in the middle spoke, I dare say as a representative.
    “Good day. What do you need?”
    It was a composed woman’s voice. It had a certain sharpness, and carried an intellectual air.
    I decided I’d try asking them.
    “Do you know where the black cat is?”
    “I do,” another red plant interjected.
    As if to wrest back control, the middle plant grandly waved a feeler.
    “Simply go all the way down that hallway. You’ll find the black cat there,” it said, pointing.
    Looking in that direction, I saw a stone passage.
    “Thank you,” I said to them, then left. Once I did, the plants began whispering amongst each other again.

    I entered the stone passage.
    The cold touch of the stone floor ran through the soles of my feet. I had abruptly gone from a lawn-like floor to a stone one, after all.
    The floor, walls, and ceiling of the passage were all made of stone, and it was terribly dark. The light of the torches on the wall was weak.
    …It was a little scary.
    Though I didn’t turn back. Because I knew that this house had no ill will against me. Because the residents of this house would surely not trouble me.
    As I proceeded on, I felt my soles getting colder. It was a sensation I had forgotten. Since coming to the house, I had mostly been walking along soft carpets, and down wood-floored hallways warmed by sunlight.
    And yet… I thought. The feel of this paved stone. It was disgustingly similar to something in my memory.
    Yes. It was the cold back alley -

    Suddenly, I heard a woman’s scream behind me, and I turned around with a start. But there was nothing there - only darkness that had quickly returned to silence.
    A cold sweat came over me. I breathed restlessly, and began to walk again.
    Trying to hide my fear, I spoke.
    “Black cat? Are you here?”
    The question echoed hollowly in the dark corridor, the darkness seeming to suck it up. As I expected - I suppose I expected it - there was no reply.
    As I walked, I found iron bars on the wall to my left.
    It was a jail cell. The cells continued some rooms past that one. I looked inside, and could see nothing but darkness within. I sensed no one there. Like a patrolling guard, I continued walking down the hall.
    My surroundings didn’t change one bit.
    Was the black cat really down here?

    Just as I thought it, I stepped on something hard and stopped.
    I took my foot away and looked down at the object.
    When I saw it -
    My heart leapt up, and I thought it was going to stop.
    The torches on the wall clearly illuminated it at my feet.
    That thing on the ground.
    I had seen it.

    …It was father’s pipe.

    Swallowing a scream, I backed away.
    Suddenly, I heard moaning from down the hallway. A familiar voice. My pulse quickened. When I saw the human shape in the hall, I turned around -

    “You up and at 'em?”
    …I woke up.
    I was sleeping face-up in my usual bed.
    I turned to the voice and saw the black cat relaxing on a chair and looking at me.
    …Had I been dreaming?
    My heart was still pounding.
    My soles still felt cold. I could still feel the sensation of stepping on the pipe.
    I took a big breath. I covered my eyes with both hands.
    “I had a weird dream.”
    I didn’t explain. I wasn’t sure how to explain. The situation I was in? Or what it made me feel?
    I was relieved it was just a dream, but I found I couldn’t answer to at what point it became one. The scene of that dark hallway made me restless.

    I lied down like that for a while, then the black cat spoke.
    “Logic is a prerequisite to learning things, you know.”
    “Huh?” I looked at the cat.
    He continued at ease.
    “You’ve only just learned to read. You need to study. Learn what’s right, and what’s not right. You need to read that stuff from between the lines. Of course, it’s the same when you’re talking to somebody.”
    I didn’t understand what he was trying to say.
    I scrunched up my face. He was talking about things I didn’t get again, so I didn’t reply, while he continued.
    “Those ladies always lie no matter what you ask 'em, so you gotta be careful.”
    When he said that, I broke from my silence and sat up in realization, looking at him.
    Those ladies. The red plants?
    Suddenly, I noticed the color of the book on the table. Wasn’t that the book I had been reading?
    The cold sweat seemed to return.
    Was it not a dream?

    “Look, it’s my bad for not telling you. Though I did put those weirdos there 'cause I thought it’d help in your studies.”
    The black cat yawned. “So, what did you need from me?”
    I had opened my mouth to ask, but his words closed it.
    I had questions.
    What was this house? Why was there something that belonged to father here? Who was at the end of that hallway…?
    But I wondered what would happen if I asked those questions.
    Those things were long over. I’d put an end to them myself.
    I didn’t want to think about anything I had intentionally thrown away.
    Remembering I had a request for the black cat, I had my head switch gears. My cold soles were already warmed, and my heart had already calmed down considerably.

    I looked the cat in the eyes and said, “I have a request.”
    “Hmph, what is it?”
    What I found that I really wanted.
    “I -”
    It wasn’t the cold cat’s body, the ugly cook’s meals, the fantasies the books provided, the residents of the house - I wanted a human.
    I dropped my gaze and held the edge of my sheets. Even though I was free, my body simply wasn’t used to voicing my desires.

    My throat finally produced it.
    “…I want a friend.”
    I felt the room go silent at once.
    I cast my eyes down, not knowing how the black cat was reacting.
    When I looked up at him, curious, I found that he was looking at me with much the same expression as always, though perhaps a little astonished.
    “That’s easy. Just invite one,” the cat readily replied.
    “Invite one?”
    He waved his tail. “'Cause you can’t leave the house. How else but to have them come to you? Your body’s got magic power in it. And that power extends to the surrounding forest, too. Think of the house as the brains, and the forest as the limbs. Well, you can just give it a try.”
    I nodded.
    My power. Was that my power as a witch?

    The cat closed his eyes in example.
    “Just close your eyes and imagine. Start with yourself. Then the room, and the walls. Once you got that, start heading out. You’ll pick it up quick.”
    I did as he said and closed my eyes.

    In the darkness, I imagined myself on the bed. Then the pattern of the floor spread outward, and the rest of the room appeared. Next, I saw the house’s red roof. Even though I had never seen the roof or known its color.
    I was looking down on the house from directly above. It was surrounded by green trees. Colorful flowers bloomed in the garden outside. Yes, this was a house in the woods. I saw the birds flutter away, and then -
    In the blink of an eye, my view flew up at incredible speed, widening.
    I was looking down on the entire forest from high in the sky.
    I could see everything in the forest at a glance. Where there were rabbits, sticking their heads out. Where there were nests with mother birds protecting their eggs. I could sense the breath of every living thing in the forest.

    When I opened my eyes, the vision was cut, and I was back to the room. I felt like I hadn’t breathed for a few minutes, so I gasped and coughed.
    The black cat looked at my face with worry.
    “Right. That’s how it feels to use your magic. Might be a bit rough your first time. But you’ll get used to it. And it’ll be easier once the house is well.”
    What did he mean, “once the house is well”?
    I thought that was odd, as tears formed in my eyes, but I didn’t ask. I was stimulated by the feeling of using my powers, and I felt like I might actually be able to make a friend.
    I got my breathing in order, closed my eyes again, and looked around in my vision.
    Like the cat said, I quickly got used to it.
    Using my powers, I could see places that weren’t here.
    “It’s called magic viewing.”
    I could hear the black cat from outside the vision in my head.

    It was like there was a spider web over the forest, with the house at the center. When anything touched one of the threads, it would respond as if plucked. That was the sort of power it was.
    And I learned that I could freely move the things within the forest around, and even create paths. I could make paths that went around and around to the same place, getting people lost.
    But for what? Why did witches have this power? I didn’t think deeply on it then.
    Without being taught, I learned most everything about manipulating the forest.
    And then I found him.
    A lone boy playing in the woods.

    “Hey, I don’t look weird, do I?”
    “I told you, no! How many times you’ve asked me now?”
    Standing in front of the door, I was restless. I touched the ribbon on my head again and again to make sure it wasn’t slipping.
    The cat let out a tired sigh. “You’ll be fine. You’re cute, Ellen.”
    “Yeah. Look, your friend’s here already.”
    Past the door, the boy was lost in my garden.
    Though it was more correct to say I got him lost there.
    I gripped the front door handle. I’m meeting my first friend, I thought. I was nervous.

    “Oh, right.”
    The cat was going to leave, then turned back, remembering.
    “You can’t go outside, alright?”
    “I know,” I groaned, when suddenly the door swung open. I almost fell over, and I hurried to brace my legs.
    The air from outside came inside - and I saw the boy standing in the middle of the garden.
    He had scruffy chestnut-colored hair. A tanned face dotted with freckles. Dirty, patched clothes, and he held a twig in his right hand. He gazed at the colorful flowers of the garden.
    He was the same boy I had seen through magic viewing.

    When he saw me, his face brightened at once and he ran over.
    “This garden’s awesome! This your place?”, he asked, his eyes sparkling.
    His voice… It was a boyish voice, unlike the cat’s in that it has more inflection, and a bit of a lisp.
    Just hearing him excited me, and I struggled to nod. He showed no timidity, curiosity bringing him inside the house.
    “Your house is huge! And it smells real good, too!”
    “Um -”
    My voice squeaked with nervousness. I knew my face was red with embarrassment, thinking he’d find me shameful.
    I cleared my throat and pressed out some words.
    “Do you want to eat together? I have, um, pastries.”
    Maybe it was a little too sudden.
    Ignorant to my worry, his eyes went round.
    “Really? Sure!”, he said with joy.
    I nodded. I led him along, and he threw the twig outside before coming in.

    The cat had at some point vanished, and the boy stood where he had been.
    “Whoa, wow… It’s such a pretty house.” He looked around the spacious entryway.
    I closed the door and turned back to him.
    The boy looked at me blankly.
    Gripping the ends of my skirt, I managed a smile.

    “I’m… Ellen. Will you… be my friend?”

    The boy started coming to visit my house regularly.
    Perhaps he was more after the sweet pastries and tea than he was after me. Such delicious things seemed to be rare even in the world outside the forest.
    The boy felt like he’d found a secret place. Thus he wouldn’t “let it out” to anyone else, which for me was perfect.
    It was exciting to feel like we were sharing a secret, and I didn’t particularly want a lot of hustle and bustle.
    The boy smiled at me. He said my name. When I waved, he waved back. I became entranced in playing with him.
    We bathed in the sunlight under windows, read books, and wandered the house, yet I didn’t pass him by the whole time.

    “What is it, Ellen?”, the boy asked as I looked around for the black cat.
    “Oh, nothing.” It didn’t make any difference if he was here or not.
    So I sat down next to the boy.
    He was lying down and reading an encyclopedia open on the floor.
    “Hey, can you read the name of this bug?”
    I read the word he pointed to. “Um, it’s XXXXXXX (the bug’s name).”
    “XXX…? That’s a weird name.”
    “Yeah,” I giggled.
    “Ellen, can you read all the books here?”, he said, looking around at all the shelves.
    “Only the simple ones…”
    The boy rested his chin in his hands and looked down at the encyclopedia’s illustrations.

    I sat up, having thought of a good idea, and asked.
    “Hey, do you want me to teach you to read?”
    The boy thought for a moment, then shook his head.
    “Nnnah. It won’t do me any good bein’ able to read. My dad an’ my mom can’t read neither. Don’t need it in their work, they says. …Hey Ellen, what does your dad do?”
    “…My, father…”
    The sudden nature of the question made me stop short.
    “…I don’t know. What he does.”
    Not noticing the serious tone of my voice, the boy continued to flip through the book.
    “Hmm. But you live in such a big house, so I bet you’re pretty rich. And you got all these books. ’s nice. Would be nice to be a kid here. Ooh, cake!”
    The door opened, and the cook brought in cake and tea on a tray. He was as disturbing as ever, but the boy seemed to see him as a normal person.
    He waited for the cook to place the cake down, then ate it with a smile.

    I smiled as well, but I was still thinking.
    I knew nothing. About my father, and about the woman who was my mother. Because I’d drawn the curtain on them while still knowing nothing.
    I felt my cheeks ache, and I touched them. Was it regret? Surely not. It was just loneliness. I could get along with this boy, and most kids like him, but I had no one like my parents.
    I had nothing.
    I was overcome with loss. I had a hole in my chest. Through which the wind blew, making me shiver.
    No, but it’s fine. I have a friend now. I could look at the boy and feel relief. I could cover up the hole and feel a warm wind.

    I felt a pain run up my leg. I pressed my ankle in haste. Are you okay?, the boy said with his gaze as he peered at me. I’m fine, I smiled.
    I looked down to check that it was perfectly normal skin.
    …Just my imagination. I wasn’t sick anymore.
    Because I had become a witch, and was permitted to live here.

    One night.
    I slept in the bed in my room.
    I wasn’t sure if it was a dream, or a scene I saw with my powers. I saw the black cat sitting up on a roof. I knew it was the roof of this house, from the shape and color.
    The cat silently looked up at the night sky.
    Looking closer, there was a crow beside him. It was one to two times his size.
    It didn’t seem to be attacking him. It faced the cat and noisily cawed at him; they were apparently talking.
    The cat responded with a few words. I couldn’t hear what they were.
    Their conversation concluded, the crow flapped its great wings and took off, vanishing into the dark sky.
    The black cat returned to looking at the sky.
    A strong wind blew, and the leaves of the forest rustled. Once it died down, the cat muttered.

    “Better be soon…”

    But I couldn’t hear that muttering, and my senses sank into darkness.

    That day.
    It was a rather clear, windless day.
    The boy came to visit in the early afternoon.
    I met him in the entryway and invited him to come inside as usual, but he stopped me.
    “Hey, Ellen. You wanna play outside?”
    I stopped with my hand still on the handle.
    “I… can’t go outside.”
    “Why not?”, the boy asked with honest eyes.
    With my eyes swimming around, I said “Um, because, I’m sick.”
    The boy carefully looked me over from the red ribbon atop my head, to my one-piece, to the ends of my toes, and laughed.
    “How? You’re totally healthy, Ellen. Just come out for a little bit, you’ll live.”
    I said nothing.
    “There’s this HUGE bug on the log over there, and I wanna know if you know what it’s called.”
    The boy innocently ran off.

    …You can’t go outside.
    The black cat’s voice came back to me.
    Just afterward, so did the boy’s.
    …Just come out for a little bit, you’ll live.
    A sweet invitation.
    I pursed my lips.
    …Yeah. Just for a little bit.
    I was already imagining playing with the boy in the garden a few seconds ahead, and put one foot forward.
    And in the next moment -

    I felt like I was whacked in the head with a mallet and fell to the ground.
    Suddenly, my vision blurred. I felt sluggish, like there was something big on top of me.
    The boy noticed and hurried back to me.
    “What’s wrong?!” He held a hand out to me after my trip.
    Trip? No, I had not tripped. A sharp pain attacked my joints, rendering me unable to stand.
    “U-Um, I just…”
    I held my aching right eye. It ached? Why? I felt pain behind my eye, and noticed something warm leaking through my fingers.
    The boy leaned back, realizing before me that it was blood.

    Overreacting to his rejection, I insisted I was fine and forced a smile.
    The skin on my cheek heated up and crumbled.
    The boy’s face went pale and he backed away. He was already quite far away - now it looked like he was about to run.
    His frightened face… His eyes were like he’d seen something inhuman.
    I was confused myself, but tried to deny what was happening.
    “N-No, you see, this is -”
    Before I could finish, he turned his back on me and fled. He ran desperately, almost tripping over himself.
    I reached my arm out for him.

    …Why? Why are you running? We’d played together. You were my friend. Why…
    I couldn’t manage to yell.
    My hand became a claw, reaching for the shrinking boy’s back.
    When I saw the skin on that hand red and swollen, my eyes flew wide open.

    At some point, the black cat had appeared next to me as I lied on the ground.
    He had vanished entirely since the boy came along.
    “I told you you couldn’t leave the house, Ellen,” he said, in a sing-songy “I told you so” way.
    “After all, Ellen. You were sick, weren’t you?”
    As if that word were a signal, my whole body shook. A familiar pain crawled up my legs and face. I felt a chill, yet the swollen areas of my skin and the backs of my eyes were horribly hot.
    I looked down at my red, sore legs, then frightened at the cat.
    “My sickness wasn’t cured?”
    “'Course it wasn’t. You didn’t do anything.”
    I felt like I’d been pushed off a cliff.
    I thought everything was settled when I became a witch.
    When I became a witch, had I not been reborn?

    “You lie.”
    “I don’t,” he said with a swing of the tail.
    “You can be healthy inside the house. Because you’re protected by magic. But once you leave, it wears off. And you’re back to normal. Particularly since you were sick, it’s really best not to go out. So now you know.”
    The black cat raised an ear.
    “And now you’ve made another one run.”
    “Another one”?
    His phrasing made me shiver. Because it made me feel like he knew my past, and how my parents gave up on me because of my sickness.
    The fleeing boy overlapped with the images of my abandoning mother and my father who never looked at me.

    “But it’s alright, Ellen, you see? Even if you can’t cure your illness, a witch can’t die.”
    “…What do you mean?”
    “I mean you can live forever.”
    Since he said it so casually, I didn’t immediately understand the gravity of it.
    “That’s right,” the cat answered to the voice in my heart.
    “Even if you let your sickness advance, and your legs rot away, and you go blind, and your face gets so swollen you can’t even tell who you are, you can live,” he grinned, “forever. Because you’re a witch.”
    His words circled around in my head, and my vision went black.
    I had delighted to see myself in the mirror. Now, in my imagination, the mirror was cracked, and crumbling to pieces.
    Would I live, still sick, forever?
    If I couldn’t be cured, wouldn’t everything be the same as it had been? No, it would be even worse. To keep living with my sickness. To not die even as it worsened. I wouldn’t be able to leave that house. Would I be bound to live there - forever?
    Because I was a witch.

    Because I was a witch, he said.
    I wanted to tear at my body, like I’d done before. But I resisted it. Because I knew it wouldn’t solve anything. And because someone else was watching. And his heart would be pleased to see my emotions shifting.
    I trembled face-first on the ground, and prayed that this was just a dream. But I couldn’t calm my labored breathing and just let time pass.
    Gradually, the impatience and sadness swirling inside me consolidated into a single emotion.
    It was hatred for the black cat.
    I endured the pain in my legs to stagger to my feet. Grinding my teeth hard enough I thought the back ones might break, I looked down at him.
    I had meant to glare at him, but with the stinging pain in my eyes, I couldn’t focus. Still, I stared down the black demon before me.
    He was waiting for me to take refuge back inside.
    He was waiting for me to complain and plead for help.
    I wouldn’t grant him that.

    “Oh, c'mon, Ellen. Don’t give me that look, you’re embarrassing me,” he said, not at all perturbed.
    I took a breath before yelling at him. But I didn’t yell, and instead spoke across a long breath.
    “…Why would you do that?”
    My voice came out lower than expected.
    The black cat didn’t answer.
    I continued.
    “What’s the point?”
    He said nothing.
    I went on in the verge of tears.
    “If this is, is how it’s going to be, then I, I’d…”
    “Rather just die?”, he interrupted. My body shook.
    I’d rather just die. I opened my mouth to agree, but only a slight breath escaped; my throat would make no sound.

    The cat shrugged his shoulders.
    “Weren’t you cold, in that alley? You didn’t have a house or anything anymore. You wanted someplace warm.”
    The cat spoke in his usual way. He wasn’t scorning me, nor acting cocky.
    “I gave you what you wanted. I wouldn’t think you should hate me for that. Warm food, knowledge, friends, oh, and I’m a friend too. And a healthy body to boot. Well, or so it seems, at least.”
    I heard my pulse starting to pound.
    “You didn’t even know. But you needed to.”
    “Know what?”
    I tried to stay strong, but my voice trembled.
    “Just how unhappy you were.”
    I looked at the black cat with an expression of disbelief.
    He paid it no heed and went on.
    “A human who doesn’t know warmth simply freezes to death. But one who does knows they’re cold as they die. So they’re unhappy. Get it? You were unhappy. But if you died like that, you’d be happy. You should have known your unhappiness.”
    “Don’t be ridiculous!”
    I screamed, turning pale. I didn’t want to hear any more. The strain made either blood or tears flow from my right eye down my swollen cheek.
    I should have known?
    “That’s ridiculous…”
    I felt my feeble resistance crumbling. I was dizzy, and about to faint.

    I couldn’t fully understand what the black cat was saying.
    But I felt I had the gist of it.
    I’d learned all manner of things in this house. I had the freedom of a healthy body. The enjoyment of learning things I didn’t know. And I could play with friends. I had all kinds of possibilities.
    Now that I knew all these things, the reality of my sickness, compared to the time when I knew nothing, was much more severe.
    I felt like I was being made to dance on his palm. The black demon’s eyes saw through everything, forgiving nothing.

    All of a sudden, I noticed I was gripping a knife materialized in my right hand.
    The cat who had yet to show any movement shifted his gaze. He saw the knife and whistled.
    “Just destroy everything you don’t like, eh? Nice. Nice and simple. I like the cut of your jib. But I think there’s another way.”
    I screamed and swung the knife down on the black cat.
    It didn’t matter where I hit. I just wanted to make the slightest dent in his carefree tone.
    He didn’t dodge.
    The knife slipped right through his ribs, the blade sinking pleasantly deep into his organs.
    He showed no pain, bulging his golden eyes up at me.
    I didn’t take my hand off the knife, and he didn’t take his eyes off me.
    “It’s important that you shout "it’s cold,” Ellen.“
    Behind his usual carefree voice was a sharp coldness.

    I wanted to run away right then and there, but my eyes only swam, and my body wouldn’t move.
    The cat nimbly leapt up and pushed me down.
    He forcefully stepped on my swollen cheek with a front paw.
    I screamed. The intense pain of him directly touching the nerves in my cheek rippled through my body.

    The cat brought his face close to me and opened his mouth. The knife still protruded from his side.
    He whispered.
    "You just want to live? Live a long life? No, you have a desire. Say it, Ellen. Tell me what it is you can’t bear not to have.”
    …He was right, but I didn’t want to tell him.
    I turned away. But he wouldn’t let me escape, and continued to whisper.
    “You weren’t loved. Not by anyone. Your father didn’t look at you, your mother abandoned you. Even though you weren’t loved, even though you wanted to love them. Yes, because of your sickness, you weren’t loved. How strange. There’s no reason not to. You really should have been. Say, even that boy abandoned you when he found out you were sick. How cruel. It’s all because of your sickness. You know what you want, don’t you? What you really want, from the bottom of your heart. Don’t you? You can’t go back to that cold, dark alley.”

    His every word stabbed at my heart.
    I didn’t want to hear it. I shouldn’t have. My ears tried to filter out every word, every syllable he said.
    As I moaned, enduring the pain, I found my moaning turned to wailing.

    …I knew. He didn’t have to tell me.
    I wasn’t loved. And I wanted love. So I wanted a human friend. I longed for someone else.
    But wasn’t it all a lie?
    Even the boy ran away when he saw the real me.
    Just like mother and father.
    I would forever be unloved.
    Because the curse of my sickness would go on forever.

    I cried, like a deserted child. Like a child realizing no one would come to pick them up, so they just kept crying.
    I thought I would never have anything ever again.
    With no one loving me, my spirit would rot in this house.
    All because of my foolish choice.
    Because I had naively accepted to become a witch.

    My heart sunken into despair, I could see nothing.
    There was no ray of light in the darkness.
    Just when I was about to hear nothing as well,
    I heard him whisper.

    “I’ll teach you a spell to cure your illness.”

    My ears rang and my hair stood up on end.
    I stopped crying and stared at the black cat. I felt the warm sunlight on my skin again. Come to think of it, it was still early afternoon.
    The cat stepped off my body. With a whip of his tail, my body returned to as it had been.
    I felt the pain and unpleasantness soften. The appearance of being cured calmed my heart.
    The black cat confirmed the hope in my eyes and spoke.
    “How, you might ask? Simple.”
    He wore his usual innocent expression.
    “Just feed me like you did before,” he moved his mouth.
    “I gave you magic because you let me eat your father and mother. Same thing,” moved his mouth.
    “I told you there was another way, didn’t I?”, his mouth.
    “That’s exactly what this house is for,” it continued to move.
    “Feed me more people. And I’ll teach you a spell to cure yourself.”

    The cat trotted toward me. He casually put a paw on my shoulder, coming near enough to my ear to eat it.
    And I heard his mouth smack open as he said,

    “You can have anything you desire. Because you’re a witch.”


    The next day.
    I sat at the dresser, looking at myself in the mirror.
    The mirror glittered in the rays of the afternoon sun. Sometimes I heard birds chirping to disrupt the silence.
    In the mirror was a girl who had lost her expression.
    I’d woken up in bed like always. There was nothing wrong with my body. The room’s peaceful air was the same as ever.

    But the way I saw things had changed.
    I now saw that it was fake.
    I saw that inside my body, my sickness was still progressing.
    A bird tapped on the window with its beak.
    …To inform me that the boy was here.
    I felt a sharp pain in my eyes.

    I opened the front door.
    Along with the smell of the garden and the slight brightness came the boy, with an anxious look on his face.
    When he saw me, his face brightened.
    “Whoa, Ellen! You look great!”
    He sighed with relief, then faked an apologetic expression.
    “Um, sorry 'bout yesterday. For just running like that. I just thought you looked like a monster or somethin’. Scared me. I guess it was jus’ me.”
    A monster.
    That word stuck in my ears.
    I loosened my lips into a smile.

    “Oh, please. I just tripped and got all muddy. I can’t believe you just ran away, XX (the boy’s name).”
    “Really? Thought so. Just seemed weird. Man, I’m a dummy. Hahaha!”, the boy awkwardly laughed.
    “Heh,” I laughed with mouth only, keeping up my smile.
    It was peaceful now. The misunderstanding cleared up. We had hope to play together in the future.
    I invited the boy into the house.

    I shut the door, quarantining the house from the outside world. I felt like the sound carried further than usual.
    “Go into that room. I’ll bring some pastries.”
    I pointed at the door in front of the entrance. The gesture and words were all done unconsciously.
    He went into the room and shut the door. I knew that sound that would follow.

    Yes. It had locked itself.
    I heard him noticing something amiss through the door.
    “Hey, Ellen, there’s nothing here. And it got dark all of a su…? U-Uh? Ellen! Why’s it locked?!”
    The boy futilely turned the handle.
    He was frightened by the sudden darkness, no doubt. While I listened, I took a few steps back and squatted against the wall.
    “Hm, I wonder why…”, I muttered, putting a hand to my mouth.
    “Quit jokin’ around!”, the boy shouted, furiously hitting the door. The sound grabbed at my heart, making me sad.

    I distantly gazed at the door. I recalled the boy as I listened to his screams and the beating at the door.
    My first friend.
    I liked you.
    Your hands were soft and warm, like a kitten’s.
    But you scratched my heart. You hit a sore spot, never to be touched. My torn heart spewed pus, and I couldn’t move.
    My nose and mouth clogged up, and I couldn’t breathe. No. No, I want to breathe. Because I still don’t know.
    What it’s like to love, or be loved.

    …Can I eat it?
    I heard a voice from somewhere. It sounded like a girl about my age.
    You want to eat?, I answered in my heart.

    …Yeah, the voice replied.
    You can, I answered.

    The next moment.

    A shock like a huge elephant ramming into a wall shook the house.
    My body hardened in surprise. Bits of stone fell from the ceiling.
    The boy’s voice stopped.
    Still feeling the reverberation, I realized what had happened.
    The walls of the house had squashed the boy’s body.
    How did I know?
    Because it was my house. It was like a part of my body.
    Like one could feel the sensation linger after crushing a grape between their fingers, my body knew everything in the house.
    The house made a sound of crunching the boy’s body. Of slurping his flesh. Even though I should have heard no such sounds, since the house had no teeth to bite or tongue to taste.
    And yet I heard them.
    Delicious, delicious, it trembled with joy. It wept with emotion. I heard the whispers from every direction, worrying me.

    I heard the lock click open.
    It was like a signal from the door that I could go in.
    I stood up. My eyes were locked on the door in front of me. My heart beat fast. My legs naturally carried me forward. The sentiment I’d felt before killing the boy was overwritten by the curiosity before me.
    I slowly reached for the handle.
    Touching the cold handle, I slowly turned it.
    The door soundlessly opened.

    There was no atrocious scene to be found.
    It was a cramped room surrounded by gray walls. There was nothing placed in there. Only, on the floor a few steps ahead, there was a red stain that had once been the boy.
    A familiar red.
    But I didn’t keep looking at it. Because there was a more captivating color above it.
    My gaze went from down to up, and I saw…
    …a purple haze.
    That was the first time I saw the demon’s true body.
    A flexible form of mist. His face, repeatedly appearing and disappearing, seemed like one that had negotiated with numerous beasts and men. It was an abominable thing that did not seem of this world.

    And yet, why…
    …did I find it so beautiful?

    Clap, clap, clap.
    I heard a clapping from nowhere.
    The singular clap gradually turned to louder applause.
    Applause, applause, applause -
    The entire house was overjoyed. For the fresh blood.
    And for the birth of a new witch.

    That’s when I realized.

    There was no running away from them.
    And I had no intention of doing so.
    The demon knew this.
    That I would satisfy his hunger to live out my own desires.
    That as a prisoner of this house, I would perform as his ideal witch.
    I was entranced by the demon.
    Yet at the same time, I entranced him.
    I would surely go on to kill innumerable humans.
    And for that, I would receive innumerable happinesses.
    Because I desired.
    Oh, I desired.

    …Just that one thing, to be loved.

    The applause did not die down.
    Like a parent celebrating their child’s independence, the house held my shoulder and cried.
    The house’s tears wept out of the ceilings, walls, and floors, coming toward my feet. In no time, they were climbing up my body, warming my eyelids.
    Like cups overflowing, my eyes began to cry on their own.

    I couldn’t go back.
    There was no way back.
    A spider’s web had been dangled in front of me in that back alley.
    The demon’s deceiving silver web.
    This was inevitable from the moment I decided to grab it. Even if it had only been the demon’s slimy, glittering drool.

    Perhaps the demon understood my thoughts as well.
    He respectfully bowed. Even that slight action had an overwhelming force behind it, that could destroy the forest and flip the very earth over, and it rippled against my cheek.
    The demon seemed to kneel for me.
    He took the back of my hand and kissed it.
    A few seconds passed, which could have just as easily been eternity.
    The demon whispered in a voice not a boy’s, not an adult’s, not a man’s, not a woman’s, but a beautiful voice I had never heard the likes of before.