The large residence with a thatched roof looked more like the set for a period piece than somewhere anyone actually lived. As I opened the front door, my eyes met with a burglar young enough to still get away with being a freeter.
As my heart jumped up into my throat, I reached for the umbrella stand and grabbed a wooden sword that had been bought as a souvenir in Kyoto.
“What the hell happened to our home security!?”
I shouted out louder than necessary more to gain control of my panicking heart than anything. When I swung up the sword with relative seriousness, the burglar managed to unfreeze his body and move. His body readied to flee. With loud footsteps, he shot out onto the open porch and then into the unnecessarily large yard.
The burglar tripped over a stone in the yard and fell flat on his face. Wallets and an ornamental bear spilled out of the backpack he wore. He hesitated over whether he should pick them up, but he finally decided to give priority to flight.
My overall small granny must have finally noticed the ruckus because she headed out to the porch. She smelled of incense, so she must have been cleaning the Buddhist altar.
“What is it, Shinobu? Did a stray cat get in?”
“It was a burglar. Honestly, what happened to our house’s sensors?”
“Sorry. Your granny likes a nice breeze, so I had a window open. That shut off the switch.”
“No, I’m not blaming you. And when I say ‘sensors’, I’m not really talking about the security company either.”
“All the agricultural products in these Intellectual Villages are brand names, so we get so many thieves. I was left speechless when I heard a bunch of grapes costs 30,000 yen.”
“Yeah, but the junmai daiginjo dad and the others make in the facility out back is at least 50,000 yen a cup, right?”
The burglar had spilled his spoils across the yard, but granny checked inside to make sure nothing else was taken. Burglars had started to steal even the solar panels on the roof, so it could be a real pain.
Meanwhile, I put the Kyoto souvenir back in the umbrella stand and decided I might as well report it to the police with my smartphone. It likely wasn’t going to do any good. The village’s police stations were incredibly short on officers and they rarely answered the call from the 110 operator due to either listening to music with headphones during the day or sleeping at their posts at night. Also, they could hardly stand up to a real armed group of thieves. If people actually believed the police could do anything, they wouldn’t exactly pay the security companies so much out of their own pockets, now would they?
When I finished with that process that I had decided I “might as well” do, I walked across the wooden floor of the hallway and further back into the residence.
The thatched roof house had no redeeming value outside of its age, but it did have a few points in its favor.
One of those was the real Zashiki Warashi that lived inside.
“Honestly, isn’t it a Zashiki Warashi’s job to protect the house and keep this kind of thing from happening?” I muttered as I arrived at a door.
Without knocking on the sliding door (can you even knock on sliding doors?), I forcefully opened it and shouted at the top of my voice.
“You, Zashiki Warashi!! Quit slacking off and do your job!!”
But the Zashiki Warashi in question was not there.
After staring into the empty room for a second, I headed for a new destination. I knew where she likely was if she was not there. It was possible she was out (even if she was a Zashiki Warashi), but that was highly unlikely in the middle of a summer day as hot as this one. She would only bother to go out for a walk early in the morning or in the evening.
It may have been the case for all Zashiki Warashis, but there was one characteristic that the one in our house definitely had. Due to this characteristic, I knew one place that had either the highest or second highest appearance rate for her.
That place was my room.
“…That damn indoor Youkai.”
This time there was no reason to knock or say anything. I grabbed the handle of the sliding door to my room and forcefully slid it to the side.
“You’re getting careless, Zashiki Warashi. How the hell did you overlook a burglar!?”
The Zashiki Warashi that had entered my room without permission glanced over at me. She was a black-haired beauty that looked perfect in a red yukata. The Youkai’s body proportions were much too glamorous to be called a “child”.
She was wearing special goggles for a 3D movie.
She was holding a wireless controller and controlling a character displayed on the big screen.
For an instant…
Just an instant…
My body froze up despite the fact that I knew this was what Youkai were really like. A single word took control of my mind. On an impulse, I opened my mouth and shouted.
“Appearances!! You need to keep up appearances as a Youkai!! The culture of Youkai is part of this country’s traditional arts! Do you want to lose that!?”
“Yeah, but isn’t that idea of Youkai just taken from manga and anime? Youkai are supposed to blend into the background of each passing era. The idea of the ‘good old’ Youkai that fit into the ‘good old days’ is nothing more than a recent trend. There’s no real reason for us to stay exactly the same.”
“Yes, but a Zashiki Warashi is supposed to bring fortune to the house it lives in as well as drive out burglars and such.”
“I don’t wanna do that!!”
The glamorous Zashiki Warashi removed the goggles, took a pause in the video game, and then turned to face me while still sitting cross-legged.
The hem of her yukata was flipped up and the white of her thighs stabbed into my eyes, but she did not seem to mind.
“I would rather you didn’t shove all the battling onto us Zashiki Warashi! I am completely confident I would lose spectacularly to another Youkai and even to a human if they were Onmyouji class!!”
“This is the 21st century, so I doubt that profession even exists anymore. Also, if this was some Onmyou master thief or something else straight from a light novel, I think he would steal things in a more fantastical way, you damn Youkai.”
“Also, if I did more Zashiki Warashi-like things, wouldn’t you actually get mad at me?”
“You mean sneak into my futon and straddle me with no warning in the middle of the night?”
That was apparently a characteristic of all Zashiki Warashis, and it would have been fine if she looked like the stereotypical Zashiki Warashi. However, when it was done by one whose bust exceeded 90 cm, it was more than an adolescent boy knew how to deal with. Rather than feel lucky, I would feel a shock rush through my body like my heart was jumping up and breaking my ribs.
The dynamite body Zashiki Warashi was completely unaware of all this, so she casually changed the subject.
“More importantly, you went to the Sanatorium, didn’t you? The sweets shop is on the way. I assume you at least bought some popsicles on your way back. Can I count on at least that much?”
“Shut up. Huh? They’re gone… Oh, when I grabbed the wooden sword, I…”
I headed back to the front entrance, but not to treat the Zashiki Warashi. I simply did not want the popsicles I had bought to melt before anyone could eat them. The box of 10 popsicles was indeed lying on the floor. I had dropped them when I reached for the wooden sword to deal with the burglar.
I returned to the room with the Zashiki Warashi and she immediately pulled a soda-flavored popsicle from the box. I received no thanks whatsoever. However…
“Nnnn!! Air conditioning isn’t bad, but you just can’t beat cooling down from within.”
“Your smiles at times like this really do fit the ‘child’ part.”
She ignored my comment. As a Youkai who was as old as the house, she may have seen it as the nonsense of a human child.
“Speaking of the Sanatorium, did Madoka say anything troublesome?”
“…She’s more or less troublesome through and through, but she was extra troublesome today.”
“If it’s that bad, I think I’ll plug my ears right now.”
“No, you’re listening to this. I’m getting you involved in this even if I have to force you.”
The reason I had gone out into the heat during summer break was to head to a facility known as the Sanatorium so I could visit an acquaintance named Madoka.
However, Madoka did not have some horrible illness.
She was simply a classmate of mine.
As the old-fashioned word “sanatorium” suggests, it was simply meant to add to the atmosphere of the Intellectual Village just like the thatched roof of my house. The facility had nothing to do with tuberculosis, mental illness, or anything else medical. The Intellectual Village created a brand-name image of the “good old days”, and the Sanatorium was something like an attraction.
I had no idea why the rich would pay so much money just to be hospitalized there despite having nothing wrong with them. But then, taking a trial tour of the JSDF had become a popular means of dieting, so businesses had been created around providing strange ways of staying healthy.
Since it was targeted towards rich people with odd tastes, the price was of course ridiculously high.
My classmate Madoka-chan had a rich enough family, but she herself was a super high school girl who did day trading herself.
They must have been focusing on providing the expected image, because the waiting room had overly strict means of preventing escape installed in place.
“Hello, how are things outside?” Asked a girl in a thin surgical gown with a smile so lively I doubted anyone could be healthier than her.
“Peaceful…other than the off-season Yuki Onna I met at the bus stop. Y’know, I’m not going to have interesting things happen to me all the time.”