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2307
Parsee didn’t particularly like humans. Sure, they’re the main source of her sustenance, as the fleeting desires of youkai are not particularly filling meals for the hashihime, but she often finds ones that know to resist her provocations, and while she’s envious of their willpower for doing so, she’d much rather not interact with such persons at all.

As such, she was incredibly annoyed when she found the small boy, dressed in the casual attire of the Outside World, knocking on her front door.

“So there is somebody in this house!” The boy beamed up at her with an irritatingly gleaming smile, “Hello, misses, what are you doing living under this bridge?”

“How even did you get here?” Parsee asked, her sheer disbelief at this entity finding its way down there overriding her immediate disgust and envy at his cheerfulness.

The boy’s smile widened, “Your house is always under the bridge! It doesn’t matter which bridge I crawl under, your house is always here!”

“You...well, did your parents tell you that it’s okay to knock on the doors of strangers?”

“No, but I thought that you must be lonely living under a bridge like this!” The boy fished through his grade school backpack, and produced a bottle of yellow liquid, which he offered to the recoiling hashihime. “So I thought you would like someone else here!”

“Uhh...thanks.” She said with false sincerity, taking the bottle. Her abilities were finding no purchase in the bright mind of the child, and she just wished that he’d go away to wherever he came from. “But I’m sure your cheerful self wouldn’t want to make friends with a lousy youkai like me.”

“What’s a youkai? And you’re not lousy! You have such pretty green eyes, and I really like how your voice sounds!” The child eagerly pointed out his opinions, and Parsee groaned, “And I never saw such fancy clothing, except on TV before! Ooh, and those long ears! Are you one of Santa’s elves?”

She quickly cut him off, “Kid, do you say this to everyone you meet?”

“Of course! Everyone I meet has so much good and nice things about them! I think you’ll be happier too if you just know that...” He turned back at the sound of something only he could hear. “Oh! I think mom’s calling for me! I’ll bring my friends over next time!”

The boy hurried off, disappearing as he exited the underside of the bridge. Parsee silently weighed the pros and cons of new Outside World visitors and wondered if she should tell the shrine maiden about this. The yellow liquid in the bottle was cold, sour and sweet. Not a flavor she liked, but not all bad either. She was rather jealous that he had access to such a thing in the Outside World.

While she waited for a reappearance, the boy didn’t return until several years later. Parsee only recognized him by his curly brown hair through the window as he stumbled his way across her yard, muttering “So this wasn’t a crazy dream I had...”

“Yeah, turned out I can’t bring anybody else along, or I can’t reach this place.” Was how he explained his prolonged absence. He had brought along a “Coke”, a disgustingly sweet drink which felt like pins on the back of her throat.

“You really shouldn’t come here.” Parsee muttered, her abilities still finding no purchase in the teenager, “This isn’t your nice, comfortable world, and certain people beyond the bridge here will hunt you down for your trespasses.”

“Really? Oh that sucks. But it’s probably because my presence here would invite doom or some other reason, Parsee.” The second thing he did after Parsee foolishly opened the door again was to abruptly ask for her name, which startled her too much to refuse. “It’s not like I need to escape here or anything. Everything’s pretty good above the bridge. My grades are fine, my parents are happy with me, and I’m about to go into junior high!”

“Surely there’s something more you want, right?” Parsee said, carefully sipping the drink, “It sounds great, but I am sure it’s not perfect.”

“Well, yes. I wish that Thelma and Lisa would stop picking on me so much. Oh no, please don’t eat them or anything if you could do that as a bridge troll,” The hashihime choked on her soda as he said that, “They’re nice people and very good singers and dancers, but they just don’t get along with me, that’s all.”

“You do not want anything from them?”

“Why would I? As long as the people around me are happy, I’m happy. Even if they don’t want to be my friends.”

Some more small talk ensued, but Parsee made sure to hurry him out as soon as she saw the opportunity. She idly considered drowning him the next time he shows up if he continues to treat her like a friend, but decided against it. While Outsiders were not protected, this one probably had some weird properties she wouldn’t want to deal with more than his personality.

At least he took Parsee’s fictitious warning to heart. It was several more years, nearly a decade, until he knocked on Parsee’s door again, a young man now.

“Hi Parsee!” He happily greeted her, handing her a corked bottle, “I brought some champagne. I’m out of college, and I’m going into my first job. Thought I’d drop by to at least celebrate this occasion.”

He really did think of me as his friend. Is what Parsee thought to herself darkly as she partook of the fizzy wine. Average and bland in all aspects was what the champagne was. “Looks like you’re doing quite well for yourself in your world.”

“Ha ha ha, you’re right. Though, I guess it could be better. My college was nice and had great facilities, but I probably should have gone to my other choice. The job isn’t what I wanted, but the people there seem really cool!”

“And as long as the people around you are happy, you’re happy, right?”

“Yeah! Yeah. I’m just saying that I kind of want things to be a little better, you know?” He scratched his head, “I don’t get why the staff at college got the wrong information about the job prospects coming out of it. I talked to them many times and they were reliable, open and honest about everything.”

“Maybe you’re giving them too much credit?” Having had a few drinks at Yuugi’s house earlier, the champagne was just enough to tip Parsee over the edge into giving honest advice, “You seem to like everyone you meet, but do they really deserve your trust like that?”

“Mom and dad always told me that everyone was good inside, and I haven’t seen any reason to doubt that. Everyone I meet turned out to be great people, so I think maybe you should try that, Parsee!”

She chuckled and agreed, with no real intention of following it. “So, other than that, your future seems pretty good right? I am right jealous of it really. Going off on your own and finding more happiness is what you’re heading towards, I think.”

“Yeah, finding my own...happiness. But I’m already happy, Parsee.” He stared at his bottle for a little too long.

With the alcohol’s influence, Parsee let him stay around and talk for a while longer before escorting him out, watching him stumbling out of the bridge underside. Strange, she thought, even though he clearly sees problems now, he still lacked any strand of jealousy to hold onto for her.

It was yet more years later when he turned up again, bearing high-quality wine. He had gotten somewhat fatter, and his curly hair seems thinner than it once was. “Hey, my wife’s expecting soon, so I’d thought I’d drop by to celebrate with you one last time.”

“One last time?” Parsee asked as she took the wine bottle.

“Yeah, as a family man I don’t think I want to take the risk of visiting you, what with the hunters and all that. Really sorry about that.”

“Oh no, it’s fine. Congratulations on getting married and having the child. I’m quite envious of the successful life you are leading.” Parsee casually tried to grasp at the strands of his latent jealousy, and gave up after one try this time. “I’m sure your parents are overjoyed at the news.”

“Oh yeah, they are ecstatic. They had always told me that they wanted grandkids. It’s why I had to study hard and get a good job too, so I could get my beautiful wife in the first place. My folks cared a lot about me, you see.”

The hashihime clinked her cup against his, “To your success, and your continuing happiness.” Parsee cheered, “Sounds like you’re all set. You’ve got all you wanted, and everyone around you is happy.”

“I did get everything I want, huh. Feels weird.” He took a big swig of the wine, and curls his lips downward, “It feels really weird. I have this empty feeling for some reason since I got married.”

“Maybe you’re not really achieving all of your goals?”

“No, that can’t be right. I did what everyone wanted me to, and everyone around me was happy with it. Everyone around me were great people, so what they wanted me to do must be good.”

“Go out and find more things that you yourself want to do then.” Parsee laughed, “I still want to lure...um...guide more people across the bridge, for example, so surely you can find...”

“I can’t, Parsee.” He suddenly interrupted.

“Hmm?”

“I can’t think of anything I want, from myself. All I see is...gray.”

The youkai shrugged, “Well, I guess we’ll share this wine until you think of something.”

They continued drinking in mostly silence until the large bottle was completely drained. The man checked his watch, and then left with a final farewell.

As he went out the door, a slip of paper dropped from his wallet and onto the ground. Parsee went over to pick it up, but before she could say anything to him, he had already disappeared out of the underside.

She turned the paper over, and instantly her instincts as a hashihime sends goosebumps down her spine. Every, from the expression, the posture, the look of the woman in the picture, clad in her elegant wedding dress, screamed of the person which had left her, leading her to fester into a youkai under a bridge in the first place.

As expected, it wasn’t even five years later when he came back, blind drunk and wailing with a bag of liquor bottles.

There wasn’t much conversation to be had. Parsee let him sprawl out on a spare futon while he talked in drunken slurring about about how his wife took the kids along with half of what he had, before flying across the country to get married to a younger man which she had an affair with. His liquor that she helped herself to while he rambled on was cheap stuff, meant to get one unconscious with not much in the way of taste. Still, alcohol was alcohol, and her youkai physique handled such distillations better than its target audience.

His rambling faded out after a while, and Parsee thought that he’d fallen asleep, when suddenly he blurted out, “Parsee, do you know what happiness feels like?”

“Of course, as brief as the exhilaration might be every time.” She replied, furrowing her brow in surprise as there still was no response to her abilities even in this sorry state. “I thought you did know.”

“I…I’m not sure any more.”

With that, he fell asleep. Parsee finished off the rest of the liquor and turned in soon after as well. When she woke up next morning, she found him gone, and a hastily scrawled note apologizing for his behavior.

The next visit was also a few years later. His previously brown hair had a good deal more white in it now despite him still being in his thirties, and he was unshaven. Hard whiskey was the drink of choice this time, and they start off putting down shots in absolute silence.

“You came back again.” Parsee finally said, after half the bottle was depleted. The test of her abilities was a routine at this point, with still no response.

“My second wife left me. Didn’t even have an affair or anything. Just said that I was too ‘needy’ and ‘emotionally draining’. I don’t get what I did wrong. All I did was to try and make her happy.”

“I don’t see anything either. But...you still have your career and your other friends, right?”

“A dead-end, and friends are leaving my life every year. They have their own jobs, their own families to worry about. My folks are getting old, and I don’t think they’ll be around much longer than a decade or two. I don’t really have time to make any new relationships, and I didn’t get any new ones.”

“I thought you said that everyone around were great.”

“Like I said, they have their own things to deal with. Maybe I should take your advice and look for things that bring me happiness from within me.”

Three rounds of drinks passed as he stared alternatively at the ground and at Parsee’s eyes. Then, he groaned and shook his head. “I just see gray. Nothing but a endless gray expanse in the path ahead of me.”

“You truly find no intrinsic joy in this world at all? How ascetic. I’m jealous.”

“I tried turning to religion, but that offered no hope for my life either. All it offered me was the promise of comfort in death. And I don’t know if your world is like this, but in mine, all faiths condemn you for suicide.”

He put down another shot. “I guess that’s what I really want, to die. I won’t bother you with it.”

The whiskey was surprisingly enjoyable to drink, and Parsee had a mind to keep all of it for herself, “Say, why don’t you spend the night here today? Some domestic comfort ought to put your mind in a better state.”

The mostly broken man accepts without a word, and makes no protest as Parsee chugs the rest of the whiskey. All she had to do was prepare a meal for two, and lay out the spare futon alongside her own. The man was in no state to do anything beyond eating and sleeping, and did just that in that order, without a real smile on his face.

As he fell asleep, Parsee heard him mumble, “Your green eyes are still so pretty...”

It was another two decades until he came again, during which Parsee seriously wondered if he had actually went off and died. So it was quite a surprise when he showed up, in a somber suit and jacket, carrying a small bag of condolence gifts and a bottle of vodka.

“Sorry for your loss.” Parsee said before he crossed the door. He doesn’t reply.

It took three shots before he started talking. “Dad passed the year before, and mom just two weeks ago. Their friends came to their funerals, plenty of them. Few of them even knew I was their son.”

“That is terrible.”

“This world is terrible. I’m just trudging along the gray path, no good end in sight. I’m alone now, Parsee, there’s nobody around me any more.”

“How so? Surely someone like you who sees so much good in everyone shouldn’t be ending up alone.”

“Lies, they were all lies!” He angrily slams his head onto the table, “All I did my whole life was look up to others, serve others, and they did nothing for me! They keep saying I’m ‘acting too weird’ or ‘not like a real friend’ when that’s all I’ve been doing!”

“Hmm?” Parsee perked up at the relatively new information.

“All I did was see their positives! When in reality everyone was nothing more than a stinking pile of negative shit! I trusted and relied upon each and every one of them! And I ended up with nothing! Nothing! And the company had the nerve to throw me out after all I’ve done for them too! This is all a pile of horseshit!”

“Wait, when they said you’re not a real friend, did they point out anything?”

“How the hell should I know what the fuck their abstract bullshit meant? They talk about a lack of feelings and love, as if there was ever any feeling involved in love but the sense of obligation! They talked about how I acted like a robot trying to buy affection, when that’s all a relationship ever was! How do you ‘feel’ anything but obligation when starting one and guilt when ending one? And they felt no guilt!”

Now Parsee understood half of his peculiarities, “Are you saying that you...can’t feel love? Or actual happiness for yourself?”

“What, are you going to say that shit at me now?”

“No, I stopped caring about love a long time ago.” Her nature acted up, “But you also said that you saw the good in everyone, and I’ve only known humans who knew love that could say such things.”

“I don’t know what I’m seeing anymore?! I still see it, no matter how hard I try to not to! Even if I avoid people, I still see it on TV, on the Internet. Every time I mentally gauge someone I still only see their positives even when I know that will bite me in the ass!”

“I...” Parsee still has no idea how that could work, “I have no idea how you’re managing it then. Honestly, I am impressed, and jealous, of your ability to maintain that attitude even with all of that sorry stuff happening to you.”

“I wish I knew, then I could stop it.”

Drinks pass in sullen silence until the vodka has been completely depleted. Then, as if struck by lightning, the man bolts upright. “I don’t know, but I realized what to do about it now. I’ll get back to you when I find out.”

He was out of the door and out of the underside faster than Parsee could react.

A mere six months later, in the night cycle of Old Hell’s Artificial Sun, Parsee woke up to a tap, not quite a knock, at her door.

It took her a few moments to realize that the charred heap of flesh on her doorstep was in fact alive. A few strands of curly hair could still be seen on the thing’s head as it crawled in.

“A bit of water, please.” He croaked out.

The hashihime hurried to get him the drink. He gurgled, and forced it down his raw throat, “Thank you, Parsee. I was lucky that they had...a decorative bridge in that building.”

“What did you do.”

Its charred lips curled into a smile, “I...found happiness, Parsee. I also found...why I was able to access your house so easily. I found out you’re not a bridge troll...but a hashihime.”

“You really thought all this time...Yes, I am a hashihime, go on. How did you get like this?”

The intense, body wide third-degree burns that have penetrated into his organs meant that even if she called Eientei here right now, he’d be dead before they would arrive. So she simply got another bowl of water and listened to his last words.

“I tried to stop it. My view. I saw those disgusting politicians from that one country on their country’s channel...shoving their views in my face...I was vomiting at my view of their good side despite their decadent wealth. So I traveled there, disguised myself as an oil worker, then drove a tanker truck into their palace while they were meeting...and nature took care of them. That moment...as the flames rose...I felt real happiness.”

“So you never did see people’s good sides because you liked them.” Parsee realized it now, why none of his strands were accessible, how she never figured it out due to her own blind spot for her own nature, “You saw their good sides because you were utterly consumed by jealousy for their positives. And you confused your fantasies of being them for happiness.”

He chuckled, a hoarse, gurgling sound. “When I took their wealth...their gilded lives…burnt it into flames, my jealousy...was soothed. They’ll never know why I killed them...but you will, Parsee.”

“I suppose so...my friend.”

Another chuckle, then coughing, slowed breathing, “One last thing...please, as the only one who never left me...let me see your pretty eyes until I’m gone...then consume my envy-soaked flesh, as my payment to you.”

Parsee obliged, keeping her eyes on him until he drew out his final breath in a shuddering death rattle. She felt a little hollow, as this half century long story drew its curtains.

Which was made up quickly. Afterwards, she cooked and enjoyed the tastiest meal that she’d ever had in her life.
A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
Well done.


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