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Miyoko no Naku Koro ni
Punishment Chapter (1st Arc)
Episode 3: Mistake
Fumie and Miyo entered the simple room where they slept. The other two girls who shared the room were there making something of a fuss. For the first time, Miyo looked at them closely. One of the girls had light brown eyes and dark brown hair of medium length; she looked lively and cheerful, and the same age as Miyo. The other child was had to be about a year younger than her. Her brownish-red hair was cut shorter than the older girl’s. Her eyes were big, round, and dark blue in color.
As Miyo and Fumie entered, the older girl with the brown eyes was singing a song of some kind, reading the words off a battered sheet of paper. The younger girl ran around trying to snatch the paper back, blushing red and insisting that the song was no good.
“Oh, what song is that?” Fumie asked, suddenly losing the disapproving look she’d worn since seeing Miyo. Now, the long-haired girl in the pink shirt looked eager to participate in whatever was happening.
“…Even still, I say there is magic in the soil!” That was the last line of the song, and the brown-haired girl sung it loudly before breaking into a fit of the giggles.
“Oh, let me see it,” Fumie said, trying to get a glimpse of the paper. “I can sing well, you know.”
The smallest girl snatched the sheet of paper back. “You two are so mean!” she said, sweating and blushing. “It’s just poem I wrote and it’s not good enough to be a song! Besides, it’s mine, so you have no business taking it!” Her voice was high, almost shrill.
“Alright, alright,” said the brown-haired girl with an adorable smile. She stopped her laughter and gave the younger girl a pat on the head. “I didn’t mean any harm, Sayu-chan. I’m really impressed that you wrote a pretty poem like that. I was only laughing at my terrible singing voice, butchering it so badly.”
“Well, it seems I missed all the fun, then.” Fumie said with a mildly disappointed look. She caught the eyes of the two girls and indicated Miyo. “I brought the girl like you asked. There was nothing to worry about. Ebina punished her lightly.”
“That’s good news,” said the brown-haired girl. “Thanks, Fumi-san. And Miyoko-san, nice to officially meet you. Wow, you’re pretty. Look at that blondish hair! Oh, I’m sorry.” She calmed down somewhat. “My name is Eriko. The lovely little poet here is Sayuri, or Sayu-chan. You met Fumie already. Don’t think that she’s usually such a grump. She’s just a little jealous of you, probably.”
“I am not jealous at all,” Fumie muttered.
“Anyway, no need for honorifics — you can just call me Eriko. May I call you Miyoko?”
Miyo didn’t respond right away because she was honestly overwhelmed. Not five minutes ago, she’d been bound with ropes and burned with a lit cigarette in a dark storeroom. But now, here she was with three other girls who were full of life and expression, in a room temporarily lit up by the evening sunset. Eriko could smile so genuinely even in a place like this. Miyo didn’t understand it. The sudden change caused a bit of dissonance at the very least.
“It’s alright,” said the youngest girl, Sayuri, with the slightest of timid smiles. “Miyoko-san, Eri-san and Fumi-senpai are nice girls. We’re not trying to trick you or confuse you or anything. I couldn’t speak for a while after Hosoda gave me the Goose Penalty on my first day. But thanks to Eri-san, now I can talk again.”
Miyo looked at Eriko again, starting to think she must be some kind of angel. Shaking off the thought, she said, “Sorry about that. I was just a little overwhelmed. I usually go by Miyo, like in school and wherever.”
“Then you’re Miyo-chan!” exclaimed Eriko, and she gave the new kid another dazzling smile and a pat on the back.
Already worn out by the relative intensity of the situation, Miyo turned away. Fumie and Eriko chatted avidly about something, but she wasn’t listening. Miyo laid out her light, thin, and ragged futon, and brusquely threw herself down it, facing the wall rather than the other three girls. They, in response, fell silent for a moment.
“I heard you skipped dinner and that’s why you got the Smoked Bird penalty.” It was Fumie’s voice. “Well, listen, new girl. You’re coming to breakfast with the three of us in the morning. If you keep lying around and staying sick and depressed, someone much worse than Ebina will get his hands on you.”
With great effort, Miyo sat up again and faced Fumie, Eriko, and the quiet little Sayuri. “Thank you all,” she said in a low voice, with the best excuse for a smile she could manage. “I look forward to breakfast tomorrow.”
After breaking their fast together the following morning, Miyo and her new acquaintances were allowed to play outside in the property behind the main house. Ebina was assigned to supervise them. It was a fine day outside, quite warm and sunny, with a slight breeze. The trees looked elegant, the grass felt soft, and there were several kinds of beautiful little wildflowers here and there. Miyo found her spirits lifted despite her recent loss.
For a while, Miyo felt more alive and really did have fun, playing tag with the other girls, and then laying in the grass under a maple tree and playing Shiritori. She even dozed off for a few minutes in the warm, fragrant grass. When she woke, Miyo saw Eriko and Sayuri kneeling and admiring some late-blooming tulips. Eriko explained that she secretly stole the bulbs and planted them here in a mini garden. Sayuri looked happy and so at peace as she caressed the yellow and orange flowers gently.
Miyo wanted to join her, but her mood was instantly ruined when she saw Sayuri push up her long sleeves to avoid getting them dirty; her arms were covered in scars and burn-marks. The rage and hatred that Miyo felt when talking to Ebina the previous day returned. So she shot a glare at Ebina, who stood a few yards away, writing on paper and a clipboard.
“Don’t glare like that,” said Fumie. She came from around the other side of the big maple tree. “Glaring daggers will get you as much trouble as talking back to the staff, you know.”
Turning to face Fumie, Miyo planned to give some kind of snarky reply, but she stopped short. The modified pink towel that Fumie usually wore for a shirt had been cast aside because of the warmth. Underneath, the long-haired girl wore a sleeveless and battered off-white shirt. There were old bloodstains on it. Bruises covered Fumie’s bare arms as well as her lower legs where she had rolled up her long, loose pants to stay cool.
“This is unacceptable,” Miyo murmured, just loud enough so Fumie could hear. “Are all the kids here so bad off?”
“What are you talking about?” Fumie asked, blushing just a little. “Things have been slowly improving. As long as we can keep Hosoda under control, life here will get even better. The night before last, I got beaten with a stick, but look. There are only bruises, and they’re pretty light. No fractures. Nothing twisted, crushed, or broken.”
Fumie held up her left hand, which she often covered by folding her arms and tucking her hand under one arm. Three of the fingers on it were disfigured and crushed. The bones would never straighten out or heal properly ever again. Apparently, that was not uncommon for the “penalties” here. Seeing this made Miyo completely lose it. She stomped over to where Ebina was scratching away at her papers with a fancy ball-point pen.
“You won’t get away with treating us like this!” the child cried, trembling with ire. “This is evil! You’ll pay for it one day. You and all the other terrible people here!”
“Oh I’m sorry,” replied Ebina with biting sarcasm, “would you prefer to be locked in your rooms all day and yelled at by a huge man anytime you laugh or sing? I can send you back inside.”
“So you’re allowed to have a nasty attitude and we’re not, even though we’re the ones being abused?!” Miyo screamed, clenching her fists. “Tell me, how many times have you burned Sayuri? Three times? Six? Did you know Fumi-senpai got beaten black and blue? I bet you looked the other way and let it happen. You big, stinky bitch!”
Instead of being dismissive or sardonic like usual, this time Ebina looked truly angry, grim, and menacing. She walked toward Miyo until she was standing less than a foot away. And then she shot out her hand to grab the angry child.
Miyo dodged. She spun around and put her everything into a kick right at the shin of Ebina’s right leg. The tall woman stumbled, and caught herself in a kneeling position. Her clipboard came apart and her papers went flying away in the breeze. Miyo still wasn’t done. With her enemy finally at a level with hers, the child slapped Ebina’s face as hard as she could. She might have next tried to punch her in the nose, but suddenly, Miyo realized Fumie and Eriko were behind her, screaming at her to stop. At last, they caught her arms and held her back.
“We’re sorry!” Eriko exclaimed loudly, as Ebina slowly stood up and dusted off her dirtied grey skirt. “It was my fault for not teaching the new kid how to act! She’s really sorry, too!”
“It was my fault, as well,” said Fumie, bowing her head and forcing Miyo to do the same. “See? We’re all very sorry.”
“That won’t cut it this time.” Now Ebina’s face looked hateful and cold. She grabbed Miyo by the hair and started dragging her away as she kicked and screamed insults. “No matter how well the rest of you cover for her,” Ebina said, looking back at Eriko, “this child needs to be punished. She’s gone too far. I’ll make sure she gets a real penalty this time. I’m taking little Miyoko to the Master of Penalties himself.”
To Be Continued