1 – 10 : Chapter 1 ALMOST PARADISE : Good bye, WADATSUMI / He and a little witch of Tokyo Bay

 “What you have to be careful about the underwater of the night…?”

 Stopped her hands digging a nest of ‘mud shrimp’ Kohada looked up at him.

 “Don’t! You must not do that!”

 In the next instant the girl made a very aggressive face and powerfully stood up, so Ho’ori unintentionally moved backward several steps. After one blink, she was standing at his just front. At the center of the frowning, the point of her small nose twitched being excited.

 “What are you thinking, sheriff!? Don’t forget that you are sheriff!!”

 “No, I’m a supervisor…,”

 “Don’t cheat!”

 “…Sorry.”

 She said with a menacing look, so Ho’ori was forced to apologize. He had his eyes away from her and looked toward the surface of the river. Now the tide was at the lowest level. The river looked as stopping perfectly like the surface of a huge mirror and more glitter than on the highest tide time. On the tidal flat of the early summer, the peculiar salty smell was inflowing into the holes of Ho’ori’s nose, and the strong sunlight was stabbing his whole exposed skin from every direction.

 Making a left turn toward Aioi bridge from the mainstream of the river, and going more a little, making a right turn and passing through the lock gate, there is a canal which called ‘Asashio-Unga’. ‘Unga’ means a canal. Because this canal is very shallow except the center line dredged for boats, especially at the back of the building of the synthesis high school a wide tidal flat which was consisted of muds mixed with fine sands appears, in low tide time.

 On this flat that was also one of the most famous amusement parks in this river, the pirate children were having it their habit to hunt many targets such as seashells or fish being caught by tiny pools. However, the best popular prey on the flat was ‘mud shrimp’ called ‘ana-jako’.

 This afternoon too, on the way of patrol by riding the bayak, Ho’ori had met them, main members of Tsukuda pirate, Kohada, Tsubasu, Kajime, and some others. And, at that moment, the kids were exactly getting the climax of this hunting. Inserting some tiny painting brushes between their headbands and foreheads, keeping small buckets aside, in a squatting position, each child was enthusiastically aiming at residents of the underground.

 “Hey, shut up, Kohada!”

 Tsubasu scolded her like whispering. Of course, he was clearly a gentle guy, but it was just the moment when he finally reached the final step of this hunting, so he couldn’t choose other ways.

 “My shrimp can retreat into the deep yet!!”

 “Sorry. I must apologize to you. But…, I must blame sheriff for his crazy plan…,”

 Kohada tried to continue talking, but because her boyfriend glanced at her with keen eyes, she let her voice smaller and smaller. But after all, was forced to close her mouth perfectly by the aura of the boy, so focused on the boy’s hunting in a serious face.

 Tsubasu nodded to her a little and had the eyes back to his own foot again with a very serious look. Ho’ori watched at it as well. Exactly now, at the tiny entrance of the hole just by the feet of Tsubasu who was keeping in a squatting position, a painting brush, which had been inserted from brush head into the hole of mud shrimp, was being pushed out gradually. If the owner of this hole got wariness against its enemy on this timing, a hunter must wait for the next chance again, for a long time, from the beginning. So, the perfect silence was being required.

 Mud shrimp, although they were called ‘Ana-jyako’ by residents around here, officially are not classified as ‘shrimp’ nor ‘Syako (means ‘mantis shrimp’ in Japanese)’ on biological studies. On taxonomy, their scientific name is ‘Upogebia major’, and is a crustacean that perfectly differs from shrimp’s. Its body shape resembles mantis shrimp a little, so people call this crustacean ‘jako (the voiced sound of ‘syako’)’. A matured individual has about 10-centimeter length, and the body, which looks like a shrimp or a crawfish, is designed more roundish with a smooth surface.

 Almost all of them have reddish-brown or subdued gray color and are populating in almost all tidal flat of Japan, each making and living in a deep Y shape hole which has two entrances. However, to the children of the river, the most important theme was that this crustacean was very delicious with a unique affectionate taste. After washed well and made them vomit mud by soaking in a bucket filled with the water, put off the claws and legs, preparation will be perfect.

 Especially as a fried menu or an ingredient of miso-soup, this creature is one of the best blessings of nature. In Japan, it had been known as a local specialty menu in Kyushu from old age, but in the area of ‘the river’ too, since the water and the bottom were purified perfectly, people who love this taste increased greatly. On this day too, Ho’ori heard that Tsukuda pirate kids were hunting the mud shrimp by the order from a local nursing home.

 “I just asked you as a general question. With nothing special. I don’t understand why you got so angry.”

 While looking at the hole at the feet of Tsubasu, Ho’ori whispered to Kohada again.

 “You know that the night is the best hour for watching nocturnal creature’s lives, naturally. Night diving is one of the general ways to observe creatures living underwater.”

 “It may be so, in other places. But, in this river, circumstances are different. Maybe the words ‘danger’ of you and of me are pretty different. Truly, seriously, a night of ‘the river’ is dangerous.”

 As same as him, Kohada also answered with a small voice while being careful about Tsubasu’s face color. 

 “Of course, the here kids, regardless pirate children or not pirate children, strictly keep the rule that must not go onto the night river. We pull up our bayaks onto the shore before sunset and pay attention never to get close to the night river. We never do even to set traps all through the night. If we set it, it needs to be pulled up within that daytime. …I heard ‘Fins’ is not doing so, but to the end, because they are bad guys, so they are doing so.”

 Of course, we do not it, she said so. And,

 “I know you are a decent adult.”

 I cannot understand why you are trying to show a bad model to kids…, staring up at him, the girl seriously said with a tone like being really confused.

 “Of course, I’m an adult, but…,”

 “S, H, E, R, I, F, F!!” 

 At then, Tsubasu moved his mouth clearly without voice and thrown keen eyes at the two, so Ho’ori and Kohada perfectly closed their mouth in a rush. The time was coming. At feet of the boy, at the destination of his serious sightline, to the entrance of the tiny hole on the tidal flat, the root of the brush-head was finally appearing.

 The paintbrush which had been inserted into the hole house from the brush head was being pushed up by someone’s power. Yes, the brush looked to be moving by itself but in truth being moved by the resident of the hole. The most important moment of this hunting had started. Mud shrimp usually lives in the deep of the hole and eats microorganisms being contained in the mud around them, so they are not violent basically. But they behave against invaders very strictly, if someone impolitely penetrates from the outer world into their sweet home.

 Painting brush fishing is the way to use this behavior. When a fisher inserts a paintbrush from its head into a nest, this crustacea regards that hair-head as an enemy that is trying to break their peaceful territory. And starts to exclude this brushy outsider from their home by strongly pushing up. The look of that moment, almost all people would not be able to imagine it from usual their mannered life-styles. They become very active and aggressive. Pinching the brush head with claws, they push this invader up and up to the outside, finally, they try to throw away the whole of the brush from the entrance of the hole with their whole power. At that time, they get closest to the entrance, so that moment becomes the chance to hunt them. In practice, it is the only chance to appear during the long-long process.

 Mud shrimp’s nest is very deep, so for capturing them, digging a hole is the simplest way, but it is very inefficient. Professional fishermen usually use a mechanical suction pump which has a fuel tank, but that way is too bulky for children who need an easy way in their daily playing. After all, this hunting using a painting brush was a really exciting and the easiest way as a hunting process, so was the favorite way of the kids living in around the river.

 In the next instant, Tsubasu powerfully thrust both hands into the mud around the entrance of the hole in a rush as deep as the wrists and quickly looked for the target with the tips of fingers.

“OK!”

 His nodding was the signal of his hands captured the prey successfully. But caution must be needed yet. If he would hold and pull mud shrimp’s claws strongly, this crustacea would cut their own arms by itself and should escape in rush to the deep of the hole which the boy’s fingers never reach. For this amazing ability, the point of this hunting was relying on fingertip feeling of human side and the hunter was required to hold directly and quickly the whole body of the target being in mud yet.

 At the next moment, in Tsubasu’s right hand, there was the nice size mud shrimp being captured while scattering the water containing glittering mud and sand. The prey was thrown into his bucket soon without any trouble. Watching the success of his hunting, Ho’ori and Kohada sighed deeply at the same time.

 “But some adults are making a sortie to the night river shore, for fishing, isn’t it?”

 Ho’ori restarted talking about that theme again, so the big eyes looking up at him looked to be astonished and to ask him, such as,

 (You want to talk about that theme more? Really?!)

 You are very persistent!

 The shining eyes were insisting on so. But he continued,

 “Lure fishing targeting for Suzuki (Japanese snook) is very popular now, I heard so.”

 While saying so, Ho’ori himself also was feeling himself as unnaturally persistent to the theme. It was not an adult-like attitude. It might be owing to that he had been thinking about that night since this morning for too long time. In addition to that, Ho’ori was recalling the words which Kohada had used to warn about the danger of the river. He heard it before he had broken into the night water as a guide. At that time, he couldn’t hear the detail about the danger what she had mentioned. What is dangerous? The torrents? The criminals? The flower garden under the water? Or…, the witch?

 “In practice, I think you should restrict also them even if they are really mature adults.”

 After muttered so, Kohada squatted down and restarted the work that she made a hole’s entrance wider to observe the nest easier. While doing the work she continued the words.

 “I think adults are not sensitive. For example, night fishermen or Dagon net’s writer too. Their sense is very poor. And…, maybe some kids are so, too. Do you know that almost all kids of ‘Fins’ are migrated people from the mainland? I think this fact is not unrelated to this fact. Probably, for this, they try to go onto the night river carelessly. From the beginning, they are not sensitive.”

 “Not sensitive? To what?”

 Ho’ori asked the girl. But she didn’t reply soon, folded arms and thought for a while, moaned a little. Then,

 “Against…, to the bad atmosphere?”

 “Practically, it’s contributing to making the background for fisher agreements between pirates.”

 From the rear of the two Kajime said. To Ho’ori who looked back,

 “Now, the river is very cleaned and many fish are coming back here. But if people, of course including us, will continue fishing more and more than necessary without making rules, no one knows how is the future. This can be understood even by kids. No, it might be said that, because fishing results are connecting with their wallets directly, the pirate children consider this problem more seriously than ordinary adults. Can you understand to here, sheriff?”

 Ho’ori nodded. Certainly, the scale of fishing by the kids was very smaller than it of professional adults, but thinking about their potential abilities, especially keen eyes and pure desire, they were superior to any adults acting on the river. So, exactly now when people had gotten back to the rich environment like the old days, we needed to consider it seriously. The resources management was a very important theme for the now pirates in the new paradise.

 “For this reason, between the pirates of this river, there are strict rules about fishing. The most important example is ‘Don’t do fishing in the night river’. Because that hour is the time when fish most relieve their tension. It’s the hour when fishing becomes easy, but it’s also needed that we give them pure rest time. The night is the time of other creatures. Our fishing time is from after sunrise to before sunset. But unfortunately, from the beginning, there are also fools who don’t try to understand these themes such as resource management or other problems. Tiny kids are so too. It’s difficult to understand for them. But if we are showing the night river as the place where is scare or ominous on daily lives, such babies also naturally get serious about the rule.”

 On Kajime’s hunting, he didn’t use painting brushes. He used a living mud shrimp as a decoy. Though the first mud shrimp of course was borrowed from other kids, by his skill, it was usual that the profits become bigger than debt in a moment. Almost all the time, he could settle a debt with two or three mud shrimps within fifteen minutes.

 Kajime inserted the decoy into the target nest from its head after tied a tip of string to a tiny clothespin which pinched the decoy’s fin tail. Naturally, the master of this house begins to attack this miserable invader soon. After making sure of the attack, Kajime starts to pull the string slowly and carefully. The master will chase the puppet for driving away completely, but when it reaches the entrance of his house following the decoy, it will know that it itself is exactly the prey of a human. The boy’s hands will capture it together with the mud around it and the decoy, and at the next moment, the master of the house will notice itself being in a small bucket.

 In Kajime’s opinion, using decoys makes this fishing easier because he can make mud shrimp’s wariness loose than the way using a paintbrush. And now also, it didn’t betray the words of himself, Kajime was getting mud shrimps one after another smoothly and easily. Certainly, his skill was at the level which could make people watching his hunt imagine that natural resources management is very important and necessary. And he continued the words,

 “Of course, there is a person who doesn’t mind our rules and goes onto the night river. For example, a bitch witch, Toyomi. And addition to that, I heard Fins are setting all-night traps. They seem to set cage-type traps before sunset and to pull up them after sunrise of the next day.”

 “Really!? I envy the bad guys a little. I heard night fishing makes fish’s mouth opened easily. Big shrimp, big seabass, oh, big conger. Especially at the night after heavy rain, it must be a fishing paradise more than daytime. The winning of Fins is natural!”

 Tsubasu agreed to Kajime from his heart and put some distance from him, then restarted the work to search the next hole. But,

 “Hey! Don’t fill sheriff’s brain with your shit! Kajime’s words are completely wrong! He is perfectly misunderstanding it!”

 Kohada said strongly and shook her head.

 “Listen, the danger is real. You, Kajime, you look yet not regretting you putting the video cameras for recording the night river!”

 “Of course, yes, I’m doing, captain. I’m regretting and reflecting on my careless attitude. Of course, I show absolute obedience to you, our great captain. So, though I was very sad, I’ve abandoned my researching project perfectly.”

 The boy said as if making a fool of her a little, so,

 “You…, really YOU are…,”

 “What is dangerous? Of course, even me, know the night river shore is dangerous. Yes, simply, we can never recommend playing on the night river shore to anyone. Because it’s dangerous. But Kohada, from your words…,”

 It sounds that the danger that you talk about is different from the danger that we think about…, because Ho’ori asked her with a serious tone, the girl stopped the wildly strides to Kajime and looked up Ho’ori. Ho’ori continued,

 “It’s not that Kajime is saying that he will go to the night river directly. Why you forbid him even to record with remote control cameras? What is so dangerous on the night river, in your opinion?”

 Kohada growled a little, and,

 “I don’t want to talk about that. Cause I’m sure there is someone to make a fool of me.”

 “Of course, there is such person by you. I know you are cutely pious about some folklore. From the almost beginning of your life, I have been forced to see you acting in very timid. I remember, in the neighbor buggy, you were so noisy cause of being frightened by your own fart, so I couldn’t sleep well. Do you remember? Moreover, you made a piss splash against me…, Oh, hey! What are you doing…!”

 A clod of mud strongly attacked Tsubasu’s face from the front. The boy cursed the girlfriend and started to run to the waterside while spitting muds.

 “Wash well your dirty memories too!”

 Kohada yelled triumphantly to him and,

 “Remember! The reason I cried was that your burp was dreadfully stinking!”

 And then, she looked back to Ho’ori again. 

 “OK. I think, you, sheriff, can listen to this story to the end keeping a serious face.”

 To the serious eyes of the girl, Ho’ori also nodded seriously.

 The captain of the Tsukuda pirate started the story.

  “When I was elementary fourth…,”

 Ⓒ2016 Takagi Tokio

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