Author's Note: Future chapters will be shorter when possible. Sorry; I had a lot of material to cover for this prologue.
(Shion's note: I have no intention of referring to my grandmother as "Grandma" in this memoir. The words denoting her miserable person include "Oryo", "The Hag", "The Monster" and "this woman".)
When I first became aware, around the time I started to speak, two facts were abundantly clear to me: I was a twin, and one of us twins would become the family head. Soon after, I learned the story of my birth from Oryo Sonozaki. Mom had been too upset to even mention it. When our clan heard that Akane Sonozaki was pregnant with twins, they were horrified. Some of them even encouraged mom to abort us. Losing a couple of babies would be easier for the family to handle, they said, than dealing with the trouble of raising two family heirs. Our family folklore said that twin heirs only caused conflict and division with the clan and the village.
About four hundred years ago, somebody came up with the tradition of Yokunomaeni. It means "before the bath." Whenever twin heirs were born, someone would strangle and kill one of the newborns before its first bath. (This, like many horrible Sonozaki customs, was never made public to outsiders.)
When Mion and I were born, our mom and dad refused to have either of us killed. Oryo insisted, and offered to dirty her hands herself. Dad was forced to physically restrain the Monster to keep her hands off our throats. Finally, she condescended to change her mind, saying that some traditions were no longer needed. In reality, she gave up trying to kill one of us because my parents, Akane and Hajime, threatened to go public with the story and also receive police protection.
Growing up with that story was bizarre, but I think being a twin is still the strangest experience of all, for me. The experience is different for everyone, I'm told. Before clear thought develops, many twins are confused, thinking that they are the same person. I remember feeling at first that Mion was another me. I was never sure if I was Mion or Shion. In my defense, I had at least some excuse for my identity confusion.
At age three, it was the duty of the eldest Sonozaki heir to be branded with a large tattoo paying homage to our "demon blood." The tattoo was the character oni, meaning demon or ogre. It was designed to look crooked and monstrous, like some chilopoda insect. I was the eldest by minutes, so the duty fell on me to receive this mark.
Barely understanding what was going on, my sister and I took action. We switched places. I acted as the youngest while Mion took the role of eldest. We never told anyone. Mion took my place and received the mark on her back. Such an act of kindness goes beyond words. However, being the "youngest" meant that I would now be treated as an inferior.
The preferential treatment of Mion finally made it clear to me we were entirely separate people. I felt frustrated at Mion for being the favorite, and for naturally having a better personality than me. I began to think Mion was the "real" daughter. I was a copy made by mistake. As I grew up, I would always struggle with the feeling that I was not a real person at all. On the other hand, I could never stay angry with Mion, because I was sure that being the heir came with its own suffering. As a child, I never made a fuss about being mistreated. But that didn't mean it was easy to bear, either.
***The Mark of the Demon***
My earliest memory is pretty typical of life with my family. I must have been about five when this happened. My parents, Akane and Hajime Sonozaki, had just moved into the large family estate to live with my grandfather Oryo Sonozaki, the current family head. I tried getting used to the new living arrangement, but one day, I caught Oryo throwing away some of my favorite baby dolls. As might be expected of a five year old girl, I screamed and cried. Mom had told me to always obey, so I didn't tell to her stop messing with my belongings; but seeing them thrown away was so sad for me that I completely broke down. Nothing could quiet my shrill, miserable sobs.
Oryo grabbed me by the shoulder with a grip strong enough to numb the nerve. The Hag began dragging me somewhere, and my knees burned with the friction against the stone flooring. When I screamed in pain, Oryo slapped me. Mion and mom came running after us, asking what was going on. Oryo explained she was taking me to "the cellar", which was actually the ancient Sonozaki Underground Torture Chamber. I'm sure this woman had no intention of truly mutilating me, but she at least wanted to punish my screaming by scaring the shit out of me. I screamed and Oryo slapped me again, making my ears ring. Mom protested, and Oryo slapped her too. She drew her hand back to give me a third blow.
Mion darted between me and the Monster and received the full force of the slap. My clever twin had figured out that crying was my crime, so she began sobbing as well. She told Oryo that both of us needed equal punishment. This did the trick of making the Hag grudgingly back off. She cared much more about Mion than she did about me. She stopped hitting us and sentenced us to chores. Intent on making sure our punishment was not equal, however, she assigned the hardest tasks to me and the easiest ones to my sister. Still, I worked without complaint, fearing for my safety.
At the end of the day, I snuggled up to my sister in our shared bed. I thanked her for protecting me. Even though she could have enjoyed being treated as the superior daughter, she instead worked hard to lessen the abuses directed at me. She had been doing that since we were born. She was obedient, polite, and sweet-natured, while also being something of a free spirit who made little stands against our grandmother in her own way. In my mind, Mion was perfect. It didn't seem fair that part of her name had "demon" in it. It didn't seem fair that she had to have the oni tattoo marking her forever.
Around age five, my perceptions about my sense of self began to change. Until then, I thought myself an inconvenient copy of Mion. But then something Oryo said began to shift my thoughts a little. When we took baths together, I tried not to talk about the tattoo on Mion's back. I wondered if she envied the smooth, clear skin of my back. One day, when Oryo was babysitting us, I thought hard about how Mion must be feeling. Quiet sobs escaped my mouth. A few lonely tears slowly trickled down my face.
"Stop that this instant," snapped the Monster. "You selfish brat. What do you have to cry about?"
"S-sorry for making noise," I apologized despondently. "It's just that Mion has that big mark on her back. I feel sorry for her. Mom said the word on her back was oni. But Mion is not an ogre or a demon. Right?"
"That's correct," rejoined Oryo, bothering to answer my question for once. "But it's tradition for the heir of the family to have that mark. It's to show that we have demon blood deep in our history. Demons once populated the village of Hinamizawa. Now, today's villagers aren't demonic, and even the Sonozaki family has lost most of it monster blood. But they say that every few generations, at least one person appears who transforms into a demon. To try to take responsibility for that, the family head wears the mark of the demon."
My family was mostly Shinto, so at that time, I believed what Oryo said about the demons. I also believed in our guardian deity Oyashiro. It wasn't a stretch of my imagination to believe the legends. That included the legend of a person transforming into a demon every few generations.
"You don't think mom, or our uncle, or Mion will ever turn into demons, right?" I asked anxiously.
"Of course not," Oryo said with a cruel glare. "It's already clear who the demon is. It's you, Shion Sonozaki. Why do you think I call you akuma when you are disrespectful? You were never meant to be born, Shion. You're the one they should have let me strangle. Mion is growing into a strong girl who cares about the rules. Your stubbornness and over-dramatic emotions reflect badly on your lovely sister. You are a demon purposed to bring destruction and defile the family head."
Oryo then looked me in my room and went to spend time with Mion. I sat there, numb with shock. I couldn't believe I hadn't noticed the Hag had been calling me a demon. She wouldn't stop now, either. That was when I began to think: not only am I an inconvenient copy of Shion, but I also might not be human. Didn't it make sense that I could be a demon unconsciously undermining my perfect sister? I would have nightmares about it through much of my childhood. Nobody took it seriously when I wept, asking them to please not call me a demon anymore. They kept to their traditions. That's the only thing at which the Sonozaki family excels.
***Oryo the Monster***
My family moved away from the main estate to a house in the better part of Okinomia. I would go to elementary school there, while Mion would be driven to Hinamizawa each day to a separate school. According to The Hag, Hinamizawa should not know about my existence if it could be helped. After all, Mion was the real Sonozaki girl, and I was just a demon who copied her appearance. (Not that I blamed Mion—she was my only comfort in those days. We played a lot every day when she returned from the village.) This arrangement still wasn't enough to satisfy Oryo, though. After two years, she still thought there was danger of my existence being discovered by Hinamizawa. So she ordered my parents to send me to boarding school.
They started sending me away when I was eight. I never made any friends at school because I was never taught how to interact with people, and I messed things up. The supervisors at my dorm targeted me, because I would not argue, and often kept me locked in my room except for class. They didn't feed any of the girls enough, and many of grew sick and frail as we existed in a state of near-starvation. Despite our conditions, when we didn't make excellent grades, we were ridiculed and fiercely bullied by teachers and students alike. Oryo chose the schools I went to, and so I told her they were terribly strict and that they mistreated me. She refused to give my concerns any thought; she wanted me to experience suffering and strife. I realized that even those abusive religious academies were safer than being at home. However, as much as I despised my cruel grandmother and the cowards around her who would not stand up against her severe abuse, I couldn't stay at school forever. I would still have to return home during the breaks when school closed.
I went through a rebellious stage around ages and eight and nine. I found out about my mom and dad's history and how cruel Oryo had been to them. Akane Sonozaki usually followed the traditions expected of her. In some cases, she loved the traditions; learning Kenjutsu was a must for every Sonozaki leader, male or female, and Akane enjoyed it. There was one point in her life, however, when Akane rejected tradition and actually did what was best for herself. She did enter an arranged marriage. She fell in love someone from outside Hinamazawa— Hajime Ando, the leader of a gang of yakuza. Akane married Hajime, but Oryo refused to recognize or approve of their union.
The arguing, bickering, and yelling that ensued clouded the women's memories enough that they could not remember who suggested the kendo bout. Either way, they were both amiable to settling the matter with a sword fight. Though the match was fierce, Akane's younger mind and greater agility eventually ensured her victory. All her life, Akane had lived under her mother's cruel thumb. Still, she cared enough about the village to want to lead it someday, so she endeavored to follow the many rules and customs of the depraved family. Beating Oryo in a sword fight was Akane's first victory as a woman fighting for her rights. Unfortunately, she would only end up falling harder, into more coercive control, as a result.
Oryo was a woman who seldom admitted when she had lost. She held the power to make decisions for all of her relatives and most of Hinamizawa village. So, showing her true colors as an incurable Monster, Oryo announced to everyone that her daughter was no longer approved to be the next head of the Sonozaki family. The right of headship would pass to Akane's children. In the meantime, Oryo would continue as family head. In addition, the hag demanded that my mother should undergo a painful ritual as a way to atone for the "insult" of beating her mother in a fair battle. Mom never told me what that ritual involved, but she is missing one of her fingernails, and she still looks disturbed if I ask about it.
The family head continued showing cruelty to her daughter, my mom. She insisted on supervising the birth of me and Mion, as well as choosing our names. She then told Akane that she would be withdrawing her financial and emotional support, leaving her to raise twin daughters on her own. Oryo promised to extend support again if Akane agreed to submit to her, follow the rules, and attend council meetings. Hajime soon ran into work trouble, and couldn't make enough money to comfortably support a wife and two daughters. They were going to lose their house. And so, with her will and heart both broken, Akane agreed to Oryo's selfish demands. Oryo agreed—or rather forced—Akane and Hajime to live with her.
Hearing this story, I felt empathy and love for my mom, because she had stood up for herself. And though she started acting as Oryo's ragdoll once again, I couldn't justifiably be angry with her; circumstances left her no choice but to crawl back to her mother. My anger, I decided, should rightfully be aimed at Oryo; everyone else was a victim. Thus, I stopped showing respect to the Monster and refused to eat in the same room as such a beast. In return, Oryo began abusing me again every time my parents made me come alone to visit the old hag.
She insulted me, belittled me, withheld any love or nurturing, slapped me, and beat me, sometimes gagging my mouth or tying me up to prevent me from yelling or escaping. She would always come up with some lie about how I had misbehaved or disrespected a tradition. My mother probably would have stopped this abuse if she knew of it, but she believed the lie that Oryo wanted to spend time alone with me to give me supplement school lessens. I couldn't bear to tell Mion, so I hid my bruises from her. (It felt strange to hide anything from Mion, since we communicated with letters while I was at school, telling each other everything.)
It was around this time that I first started to notice and make use of one of my other selves. When I was in pain, when I was helpless, when I was losing my mind… another part of me came out. She was me, and yet not me. She was a person who could not feel physical or emotional pain. When she took over, I became able to tolerate Oryo's abuse—the systemic belittling as well as the beatings. As someone who could not feel pain, this other self had an instinctual desire to understand pain, and had no problems inflicting it on others. When were alone, I talked back to the old hag. I said terrible things to her. Before she could tie me up, I'd try to punch her or trip her. This aggression only caused Oryo to do even crueler things, but at the same time, it saved me from experiencing the true horrors she committed.
***The Demon Goes to Sleep***
Eventually, the severe abuse became less and less frequent. Perhaps Oryo thought that beating an eleven year old girl was a little much. She visited us less, and when my mother visited her, she started giving me the option of staying home. The continued emotional abuse was neither better nor worse than being beaten, but at least I wouldn't have to worry about bruises anjymore, or waking up in the night in pain. Besides bullying, hunger, and isolation at school, the immediate threats to my safety had been neutralized. My focus shifted.
Instead of dreading and fearing Oryo, I began to dread myself. For some reason, at random times, my other self would come out. I'm only slightly aware of myself when I've changed. I'm unable to do anything but watch from a dreamlike state. The other me bullied students, betrayed her word, stole food, and started fights— fights in which she could feel no pain. It was rare for me to remember any of this on my own; I would hear the stories from classmates and teachers, and slowly start to recall. Being fairly weak and having a strong sense of justice, I couldn't imagine myself starting fights or bullying others. This unfeeling person inside of me is so different from my true self that I call her Haruka. It means "distance," because she's distant from pain, conscience, and perhaps reality.
I began to think Haruka was proof of my imagined demonic possession. I truly must be a demon, I thought. I did everything I could to try to cure myself and find peace of mind. I studied ancient documents about demons. I had three different exorcists try to remove my "demon." One of the "exorcisms" was actually a purification ritual by a Shinto Priest and a Miko. I prayed for hours to both Oyashiro and the Christian God that my school believed in. I even took up Buddhist meditation, striving for their so-called "Enlightment." In the end, none of those things gave me peace or quieted "the demon within." I didn't find relief until I wrote to Mion about my fears.
"You don't have to worry about being a demon," part of her letter said. "The stories of oni blood in our family are only myths. I know our family has traditionally been Shinto, but all across the country, more and more people are departing from their traditions. People don't need spirits. A lot of people don't worship any gods at all. It's because we have so much knowledge now. And because, thanks to education, we can use reason. There's no need to believe in stories that don't make sense. Yoma, Oni, Akuma, they're all fictional. Most spirits and gods are fictional, too."
I was shocked to see these letters written by Mion, the one who respected and upheld the Sonozaki family. Quickly, though, I saw her explanation written below. "I said that people don't need spirits. But that depends on the people. Whether or not gods and demons are real, many people find comfort and joy in worshiping them and the traditions surrounding them. Since there's no way to absolutely be sure, I think it's fine for someone to believe in gods or the supernatural. Our village needs Oyashiro. I actually do believe in Oyashiro, you know. I think she was a person who protected the village long ago, and part of her soul still clings to Hinamizawa. The Oyashiro whose presence I have felt is kind and benevolent. So, if anyone claims that cruel traditions and demon stories are related to Oyashiro, they are definitely wrong."
That was ultimately the letter that changed the course of my preteen and early teenage years. Well, it was a combination of the letter and the fact that I started middle school soon after. This academy was still strict as hell, but it fed the students, and I found my head getting clearer. I started reading books and articles by modern thinkers and atheists. I learned about logical arguments and logical fallacies, and developed the sense not to believe anything without using some critical thinking skills. At the same time, I kept busy with schoolwork.
The instances of Haruka coming out became less and less frequent. I stopped believing in gods and in demons, though I respected my sister's devotion to Oyashiro. Soon, Haruka disappeared altogether. I forgot about her like she had been a bad dream. I made a few friends in middle school, and continued writing long letters to Mion. For a few years, I lived as a normal girl. Things did not go wrong again until I was sixteen. That was the year my other self—and selves—would reawaken.