Hertz's Adventure
Encounter with the Spectacled Genie - Part 1

Using his finger to push his slipping glasses back up onto the ridge of his nose, Young Hertz continued his journey.

As far as he could see in every direction, the earth had been blanketed with a thick layer of white. The fine powder covering the ground in undulating lumps and clumps was actually made up of pale granules of sand, which were light and fluffy like the freshly driven snow.

'Where's the river supposed to be?' came the raspy voice of a youth named Midas from behind.

Midas, a skinny boy with hair the color of tobacco leaves protruding from the butt of a hand-rolled cigarette, was Hertz's most trusted friend and one who never hesitated to tag along with him on one of his impulsive adventures.

'It's just a little further,' Young Hertz replied without turning his head to look back at his companion.

The two of them had set out for the spindly river which cut directly across the center of the parched white desert and the oasis beside it; a rest stop well-known for being the last place of refuge for those travelers and their camels who were brave enough to cross the scorching dunes.

Young Hertz and Midas had planned to camp there along the riverside that evening before attempting to trek across the remainder of the barren lands the following day.

'So, do you think we'll really be all right?' Midas asked as he unwrapped the silver wrapper of a half-melted candy. 'There's been a rumor going around about a genie appearing in these parts. And believe it or not, but some say that he'll even gobble up whole people!'

'Rumors are just that: rumors,' replied Young Hertz. 'But, I might consider their veracity if we ever did happen to come across a real one,' he added, brushing off the idea with a chuckle.

No sooner had the words left his mouth when a booming voice thundered from somewhere behind them, 'Then how about you start considering that now?'

Upon hearing this, Young Hertz turned quickly around, his eyes searching for the source of the questioning voice.

There standing before him was the figure of a decrepit genie swathed in a robe of incomprehensible black, its back more bowed than the curled spine of a cat's seeking its master's attention, and a pair of old spectacles perched atop the curved shape of its talon-like nose. Yet, the more Young Hertz looked at the genie, the more unsure he became as to whether he was staring at something resembling a shriveled old man or a ghastly old woman.

Midas froze in terror as he saw the tall, robed personage not far from his side. 'I-I'm not s-s-scared,' he stuttered with a face whiter than the desert sand surrounding them as he noticed Young Hertz's gaze fixated on the genie. 'My candy just got stuck in my throat is all,' he croaked out as he bumbled through a jumble of ridiculous excuses in his head.

A complex smirk of wrinkles curled across the genie's cheeks, giving the illusion that something else was living below its haggard skin.

'Oh my, how cruel it is to have been gobbled up whole! What a piteous fate for that sugared lump of candy in your gullet.'

Not seeming to mind that the spectacles had begun to slip from its nose, the genie continued to shake its head, gripped by some mad delight.

'But fear not, my little drop of sweetness, for I shall avenge you by digesting the very marrow of these boys' bones as I change them into the dust of these arid lands!' The genie narrowed its turbid eyes and trundled toward Midas.

In an instant, the sleeves of its robe were flung back exposing thin, gnarled arms which shook like a pair of long withered branches in the wind. The genie's fingertips extended, sharp as pointed tridents, and sped toward Midas' twitching face, advancing with precision, or at least that's what it seemed like until they passed by the boy's face and stabbed futilely at the empty air.

As if being slightly amazed by the failed attempt, the genie cocked its head in surprise, but soon thereafter, took notice of what had been amiss. In a hurry, it brought both hands up to its ancient face and began to neatly adjust the pair of spectacles which sat crookedly on top of the bent nose.

'I've had poor eyesight since I was a child, too...' said Young Hertz to the creature as it fumbled with the glasses. 'And it looks to me like yours is worse than mine.'

As soon as the genie took in the young boy's words, another, much larger set of furrowed wrinkles appeared on its face.

'How did you know?' it asked suspiciously.

The genie tweaked the position of the spectacles on the bridge of its nose before turning back to Young Hertz and inquired again, 'How did you know my eyes were so bad?'

Young Hertz exchanged incredulous looks with Midas, both taken aback by the genie's apparent obliviousness. However, while this was occurring, another expression had taken over the wizened face.

'So that's it, huh? I see how it is...' the genie went on as it raised a bony, white finger and pointed at the set of glasses Young Hertz was wearing. 'Those are magical spectacles, aren't they!' the creature declared triumphantly.

'Specta...what?' said Young Hertz with a confused look on his face.

'Indeed, they must be!' the black robed genie muttered as it cast its eyes heavenward while ignoring Young Hertz's response. And once more, the crone-like figure began to tremble with glee.

<TO BE CONTINUED>

ハーツ少年の冒険 〜 眼鏡魔人との戦い編・上 〜

ずり落ちる眼鏡を指で押しあげながら、ハーツ少年は今日も旅を続けていた。

見渡すかぎり、真っ白いものに覆われた大地だ。ふっくらと分厚く地面を包んでいるのは砂粒で、それは降りたての雪のようにふわふわと軽かった。「川はまだかな?」

後ろからミンディ少年のかすれた声がした。吸殻(すいがら)からはみ出たタバコの葉みたいな色の髪を持つこのやせぎすの少年は、毎回こりずにハーツの冒険に付き合ってくれる、かけがえのない友人だった。「もうすぐさ」ハーツ少年は振り向かずに答えた。

2人が目指しているのは“白い砂漠”の中央を横切る一筋の川だった。そのほとりは砂漠越えにいどむ旅人とその供のラクダが、最後の休息をとる場所として知られている。ハーツ少年とその友ミンディも、今晩は川辺でキャンプをするつもりだった。「でも、大丈夫かな?」溶けかけのキャンディから銀紙をはがしながらミンディは言った。「この辺には魔人が出るって噂だよ。すっごく見境のないやつで、なんでも丸呑みにしちゃうんだってさ」「きっとただの噂だよ」とハーツ少年。「ほんとに魔人が出てきたら考えよう」

そう言って笑ったとき、すぐ後ろで声がした。「それなら今すぐ考えなくちゃな」

あわてて振り向くハーツ少年。その目に飛び込んできたのは―――黒々としたローブに体を包んだ老人の姿だった。猫よりずっと丸い猫背。カギ爪形の鼻の上には丸眼鏡を乗せていて、よくよくその顔を見ると老人なのか老婆なのか分からなくなってくる。

ミンディはすぐ横にいるローブ姿の人物を見つめたまま、凍りついたように立ち尽くしていた。「ぼ、ぼくは、平気」ハーツの視線に気づくと、砂よりも真っ白い顔をしたミンディは早口で答えた。「キャンディを丸呑みにしちゃっただけさ」

老人のほっぺたに、にぃっと複雑な形のしわができた。まるで皮の下に別の生き物がすんでいるような感じだった。「おお、おお、丸呑みとはなんと残酷な!かわいそうなキャンディちゃん」

老人は鼻眼鏡がずれるのも構わず、ぷるぷると小刻みに頭をふり続けた。「キャンディちゃんの無念はわしが晴らしてやるからな。この小汚いガキどもを骨の髄まで消化して、砂漠のチリにしてやるぞ」

老人のにごった瞳がミンディの方に転がる。とたんにローブのすそがひるがえって、中から枯れ枝のような腕が突き出してきた。三叉矛みたいにとがった老人の指先は、ひきつったミンディの顔めがけて一直線―――と思いきや、少年の鼻先を通りすぎ、むなしく空中へと突き刺さった。老人は少し不思議そうに首をひねったが、すぐ何かに気づいたようだった。あわてて両手を顔に運ぶと、鼻の上で斜めになっていた眼鏡を丁寧にかけ直し始めた。「僕も小さいときから悪いんだけど……」ハーツ少年は老人に声をかけた。「おじいさんも、ずいぶん目が悪いんだね」

少年の言葉を耳にしたとたん、老人の顔面に新しいしわがギュルっと盛り上がった。「なぜ分かった」

眼鏡をぐいと鼻筋を押し付け、老人はハーツ少年に向き直った。「なぜわしの目が悪いと分かった」

ハーツとミンディは顔を見合わせた。その間に老人の頭の中でまた何かが弾けたようだった。「そうか、分かったぞ。おい、小僧――」老人は白骨みたいな指でハーツ少年の眼鏡を指した。

「貴様のそれは、魔法のスペクタクルスだな」

「スペクタ……なに?」

「おお、魔法のスペクタクルス!」

少年の声を無視して黒ローブの老人は天を仰いだ。その身体はまたぷるぷるし始めていた。

〈つづく〉

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