Disclaimer: I do not own Eerie Queerie or the following quote.
Why am I loved only when I'm gone?
The sun fell a bit below the horizon, casting the woods into dusk. A few birds chirped, filling the forest with noise. Everything else was hushed, giving things a calm feeling.
The silence of the forest carried into the small cabin that rested within it. From inside the cabin came the dim glow of candle light and a few quiet voices.
Mitsuo sat around a small coffee table in the center of the cabin's living room. To his left, Hasunuma sat with a look of impatience on his face. To his right, Ichi sat, his face impassive. A candle sitting on the middle of the table burned low, causing flickering shadows to dance across the young males' faces.
Mitsuo broke the thick silence with a worried voice. "How long has he been gone now?" He was referring to Mikuni.
Hasunuma turned to face him, smiling a little. "Long enough," he replied, his voice containing a bit of hatefulness. Mitsuo sighed; his question hadn't been answered.
"A few hours, I think." Ichi remarked, still gazing into space. His voice was low, as if he didn't want to disturb the silence more than was necessary.
Mitsuo had thought the same thing. Mikuni had left earlier that day after dropping them off at the cabin. He said he was going to the village priest's house to discuss ceremony procedures, and he hadn't been back. That had been that morning.
"He should be back by now," Mitsuo said, his voice full of worriment. He didn't know too many details about the ceremony, only that involved a powerful crystal, but he was sure that Mikuni should have been back by now.
"He said he didn't know how long he would be gone," Ichi stated in reply. He lifted his silky black hair from his eyes.
Mitsuo fell silent at Ichi's words. Ichi was right. Mikuni had stated he might be gone a while. But still...
Hasunuma must have caught the look of anxiety on Mitsuo's face, for he gave a reassuring smile. He grabbed his arm, giving it a warming squeeze.
"Don't worry," his said, his voice smooth, "if he isn't back within thirty minutes, we'll go check on him."
Mitsuo smiled back, feeling a little better. "Thanks."
Time ticked by, and the uneasiness that had settled into Mitsuo's heart grew stronger. No one had spoken for a while.
Mitsuo looked around him, standing to stretch his legs. Hasunuma looked up at him and nodded. It had been half an hour. It was time to go.
It was dark in the forest as the three males walked through the forest. They were following a narrow path that would take them to the outskirts of the town.
Mitsou walked, clumped between Hasunuma and Ichi. He felt safer this way, and he was glad for the comfort of his friends. He had his arm looped together with Hasunuma's for extra comfort.
The only sound in the cool air was of their feet clunking across the hard ground. No one spoke. There was a tense atmosphere around them, for they all felt as Mitsuo had earlier. Had something happened to Mikuni?
Mitsuo looked upwards at the canopy of leaves above him, hoping that they would find him. None knew where the priest's house was, but, if Ichi's memory served him correctly, there was a small store at the end of the woods. They would ask for directions there.
After ten minutes of brisk walking, the trees gave way, proving Ichi's memory to be correct. A small store was in the distance, made visible only by the bright streetlights that surrounded it. Night had fallen, and the stars were out, but the store's front window still held a sign that said "open."
Mitsuo turned to face Hasunuma. Hasunuma smiled, and began his walk to the store.
"Hey, stop." Ichi whispered when they drew closer. The three boys stopped abruptly. Mitsuo turned to Ichi as if to question him, but Ichi began to talk before he could.
"Look. Right there." he said, pointing his finger. Mitsuo followed the direction, surprised at what he saw revealed in the store's lights.
"Is that a little girl?" Mitsuo asked, glancing at Hasunuma. The dark-haired boy nodded his head and began to walk forward.
"Should we ask her if she's seen Mikuni?" Mitsuo asked, trotting forwards to match paces with Hasunuma. He once again linked arms with the taller boy. A small smile flashed across Hasunuma's face before leaving.
Ichi scowled and ran to catch up.
As they got closer, they began to be able to make out the girl's features. Her hair was long and dark, reaching down to the middle of her back. Her eyes were a soft brown. Her face was angular, and her chin pointed slightly.
The girl looked in their direction as she heard feet crunching on gravel. She gave a friendly smile and wave, flashing a set of pearly white teeth. Hasunuma walked up, and the girl looked slightly surprised to see him walking towards her. She shuffled slighty, wiping at the skirt she was wearing.
Hasunuma stopped in front of her, Mitsuo at his side. He wasted no time in asking her what he wanted to know.
"Have you seen a tall, blonde-haired man? He's in his twenties, and he wears the robes of a preist. His name's Mikuni."
The girl looked startled upon hearing Mikuni's name, but she soon gave a reply. She smiled broadly.
"You must be his friends! I'm glad to meet you!" She laughed upon seeing looks of confusion cross their faces. Her laugh was clear, bell-like. It sent a shiver down Mitsuo's spine.
"I'm sorry," she said, still looking at Hasunuma. "I'm Natsuki, the daughter of the village priest."
Mitsuo let out a breath of air he didn't know he had been holding. She would have seen Mikuni. He knew it.
"So, you've seen Mikuni?!" he said, his voice rising in pitch. "He's been gone all day, and we were getting worried."
Natsuki laughed again, causing goosebumps to form on their arms. "Yes, I've seen him. He's attending to my father at the moment. He'll be staying the night." Mitsuo's face grew even brighter, Hasunuma's face adopted a look of irritation, and Ichi's face stayed blank. He hadn't spoken yet, and he seemed to be keeping his distance.
Hasunuma scoffed. "And he didn't even tell us? Some of us," he added angrily, casting his eyes towards Mitsuo, "were getting really worried."
Natsuki's face grew serious. "I'm sorry," she said, bowing slightly. "I'm afraid that I'm at partial fault here. I was told by Mikuni to inform you guys about it. I was just on my way, actually, but I was a little nervous about walking into the woods alone.
"He made you walk here by yourself?" Hasunuma scoffed. "That sounds like him alright." He turned his head slightly, facing the dark woods beyond. He saw the store clerk looking at them through the window.
Natsuki shooked her head slightly. "Of course not!" she exclaimed. "It was just that I didn't want him to leave father alone, so I offered to walk by myself...Mother works at night, and she won't be back until morning." She glanced downwards, gasping in shock. Her eyes scanned a watch that she wore around her wrist.
"I'm late! Now what'll I do?" She looked around quickly, her expression switching to one of worriment.
"What's wrong?" Mistuo asked kindly, curiously. She looked at him before answering.
"I've stayed out too late." she said. "You see, my home is on the other side of town, a good walking distance from here... It'll be too late by the time I get home."
"What do you mean?" Mitsuo asked her, continuing his interrogation. Her words still made no sense.
"By the time I get home, everyone will be asleep. I can't knock on the door, for I don't want to wake Father up... He needs her rest." Her tone was sad, and she looked frustrated.
Ichi spoke, startling Mitsuo. Everyone turned to face the dark-haired boy.
"If it's all right with these two," he said, indicating Mitsuo and Hasunuma, "you can stay with us tonight. Tomorrow, Mikuni can take you home."
Mitsuo nodded his agreement quickly. Hasunuma looked shocked and annoyed, but he knew he had no choice.
Natsuki beamed. "Really? Thank-you!" she practically yelled. "Should we get going?" The three boys nodded, and they set off.
Each of them smiled, but each smile held a different meaning. . .