Sgt Tanaka is compos mentis but may
ask for interview to be cut short due to severe breathing difficulties.
TL: Mr Tanaka, let us start by expressing our relief at your speedy
recovery following the events of February 28th. As you will already
know from our previous correspondence, when a public servant makes a claim with
Toko-Life, we have to conduct a short interview. It’s a mere formality in your
case, Mr Tanaka, as no one would refute the severity of your injuries. However,
company policy clearly states that the claimant must describe the reason for their
grievances in full. If you wish us to return at a more convenient time this can
be arranged, but please be aware that your settlement may…
(MT interrupts TL with
MT: Ask your questions.
TL: Very well, Mr Tanaka. Please could you describe the events of February
28th in as much detail as possible? Pay particular attention to any
actions resulting in your hospitalisation.
MT: Can’t you just read my original statement?
TL: Please, Mr Tanaka, we need to hear this from you in person.
MT: Have it your way. My wife and I live only fifteen kilometres from
the —— estate so
I was first to arrive on the scene. I found the homeowner, ——– —— lying unconscious in
the forecourt. He was in a mess,
certainly in no condition to be moved, so I left him for the paramedics. When I
entered the house… (coughs violently/ spits into cardboard tray) There were bodies…
(coughing continues/ brief intervention from nurse) And the girl.
TL: The daughter of Mr ——. Do you still maintain she was your attacker? That she
killed all of those men?
MT: Of course, I don’t have a brain injury (coughing bout returns/
nurse arranges breathing apparatus).
MT: Incidentally, why do you say men?
TL: I don’t follow. Are you certain you’re up to this, Mr Tanaka?
MT: You said she killed all of those men.
TL: Yes, there were twelve male victims in total. I’m surprised you
weren’t made aware of this.
MT: And the women of the household?
TL: A few were discovered hiding in the walk-in freezer. The rest had
fled across the riding paddocks to the stable blocks.
MT: Do you have the case report on you?
TL: Yes, but…
(MT turns to nurse and asks whether the ward has a photocopier).
MT: I want a copy of that report. TL: This is highly irregular, Mr
Tanaka. I can’t just hand over sensitive material. I could lose my job.
MT: And I could sue the NPA for withholding information. If being a
party to that is really in Toko-Life’s best interests, then by all means, keep hold
of your document.
(TL gives MT case report
<legal bound/ 49 pages> MT
hands nurse document/ insists on photocopy/ nurse complies. Nurse returns/ MT hands original back to TL before reading copy).
TL: Mr Tanaka, if you are well enough to continue please could we finish
the interview? I have other clients to see this afternoon.
MT:(not looking up from
document) You want to know why I’m in here? An eight-inch kitchen knife cracked
three of my ribs before collapsing my left lung. I’d be in the basement morgue
if my wife hadn’t packed my hard-vest that morning. While it seems implausible that
a fourteen-year-old girl could do this to a grown man, my colleagues verified
my account at the time.
TL: The same colleagues who now refute your account of events? Is
it possible you were mistaken?
MT: (looks up from document) I know what I saw. Or maybe you think
I should claim for a brain injury?
TL: Not at all, Mr Tanaka. I’m simply saying that if your account
does not corroborate with that of your colleagues’, your settlement could run
MT: You mean it could be delayed. That’s not gonna happen. Listen, I
understand why my colleagues did it. If they wanted any shot at a future
promotion they had to distance themselves. I’m not bitter; I worked with some
of those men for over a decade. In fact, I hope one of them lands my job.
TL: You don’t plan on returning to work?
MT: This settlement will make up for the money I’ll be losing
through voluntary retirement. That’s why it can’t be delayed (skim reads
through document and settles on a page). To ensure this, I’m going to amend my
initial statement. I’d like it to be known that my attack was not carried out
by the fourteen-year-old daughter of ——– ——,
but by the terrorist cell who assassinated city governor, ——– ———.
TL: Mr Tanaka, you can’t simply read the material in the case
report and pass it off as your own.
MT: What case report? (drops document into bedpan) How would I come
by one of those?
TL: Well I guess we’re done here. You shouldn’t hear from us until
arrangements for the settlement are finalised. Good afternoon, Mr Tanaka.
Though we’re at least a few blocks clear
of The Crying Lemon, I still shrink away from the open at the sound of distant
police sirens. My mac is soaked in alcohol and my slippers in gore and though
the rain is helping to clear the stench, I’m still a mobile crime scene.
I find shelter beneath
the awning to a traditional handicraft shop, sitting cross-legged at the base
of the window in the only dry patch available. The display houses patchwork
dolls with buttons for eyes, tea containers made from cuts of bamboo, patterned
sushi dining sets, plush floor cushions, and rolls of hand-dyed fabric. It
seems a strange shop to find in Yōkoso Harbour. The merchandise would better
suit a country home many miles from the coast.
My apartment is
lost. I know that. It’s a shame because I’d begun to feel its heartbeat: the
way the water spluttered from every tap; the ping from the kitchen radiator as it heated up; the family of mice
scurrying behind the kitchen units; the sort of sensations that make a home. I
know if the front door is left unlocked it can swing open of its own accord and
though there’s nothing of real value inside, I dread the thought of setting up
another homebrew kit from scratch. I couldn’t care less about Nanashi’s opinion
of my saké, there’s just no way I’m going back to stealing bottles.
“You reek,” he
says. “Ditch that mac of yours.”
“No chance. Even
if it were ripped to shreds, I’d still keep it.”
to that miserable garment will be our downfall.”
“Akemi gave me
this coat and it’s all I have left of her. How would you feel about throwing
ludicrous comparison. I’m not asking you to harvest your organs.”
I reach into my
mac pocket and lift out Greaser’s stolen possessions. There’s a leather wallet,
a blue asthma inhaler and a crumpled pack of Seven Stars cigarettes. If we do
get caught, I don’t want anything connecting us to his murder.
wallet, I hesitate over a disturbing photo. A woman poses on a garden chair with
a toddler on her knee. The child is grinning, but the woman’s face has been
burnt away with a cigarette end. Is this Greaser’s family? Why would he deface
her like that? This isn’t helping my state of mind.
Inside the money
compartment is a stack of crisp 10,000¥ notes. How does a low
paid door attendant come by so much cash? I take enough to live it up in Tokyo
for a solid month then reach to the side and drop the wallet through a sewer
“Jackpot! I bet that’s
more than those whores make in a year,” Nanashi says. “We
should visit String Beetle for a Junmai fountain.”
Occasionally Nanashi and I will spend an evening pick pocketing.
Around Christmas time, after a particularly profitable shift in the city, I treated
Nanashi to a Junmai fountain at the String Beetle restaurant. I’d take him
there every evening if I could. The restaurant serves its famous cocktail via
taps that rise up from the centre of the table. Customers are supposed to refill
glass tumblers, but since Nanashi is invisible to others, I just let him glug
straight from the taps. He left more alcohol on the surface of the table than
in his stomach. That night I got away with blaming a faulty tap and they didn’t
even charge me for my meal. People don’t get that lucky twice.
“We need to spend this money carefully,” I say. “The cops
could trace it.”
“We should hire a night ferry from the quayside. We can
afford one with on-board entertainment. I crave the company of sophisticated
women, especially when they’re serving saké by sea.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I said carefully.”
“Shoki, I’m getting thirsty.”
He’s being sincere. Splinters have started to emerge across
the surface of his mask, and his numerous limbs have turned the consistency and
colour of peeled corn. If he goes without alcohol for too long he’ll dehydrate,
killing us both in the process. At least, that’s what he’s led me to believe.
“That small newsagents on the way to the train station
opens soon,” I say. “I’ll get you a bottle there.”
“Train station? Where are we headed?”
“Excellent. Are we stopping for the day?”
“You mean are we hanging out in the arcade?”
“Well are we?”
“I need to meet with Gotō…”
“And after that?”
“I’m getting straight out of there. You’ve seen what
the city’s done to Mama.”
He stretches out
a tendril so that it clears the awning and when he sends the heat through it
fizzes and steams in the rain. “Always blaming everything but her. At least I
acknowledge my addictions.”
“You don’t have
a clue what she’s been through.”
“You’re wrong, I
know exactly what she’s been through and it’s no more than any other hopeless creature
wasting space on this exceedingly cramped island.”
I rest my head
back for a moment only to be interrupted by another siren. It’s closer this
time, maybe a block away at most. At the same time a police cruiser edges
silently out from a side street like a conger eel poised in a crevice. We turn
at the same time, argument abandoned instantly.
“You think they’re
still looking for the girl?” I ask.
longer your concern.” He directs a number of fingers towards the eastern
skyline. Rising above the rooftops are the recently
built sumo stables, a training complex for professional wrestlers. The previous
summer the mayor of Yōkoso Harbour unveiled the stables by cutting a rope with
a commemorative silver axe, a ceremony typically performed by ship builders to launch
new vessels. It doesn’t look much like a boat to me; more like a gigantic
steaming basket, the interior filled with sticky rice, each grain the size of a
Yōkoso Harbour is famous for producing many of Japan’s
national sumo champions. Triangular yellow flags surround the roof of the
stables, each one representing a past winner. There are countless theories as
to why great wrestlers are made on this coastline. Some say it begins with a
diet of our celebrated kelp. Others believe our men are descended from the
war god Hachiman himself. Personally, I’ve never understood the sport. Sumo
hardly seem athletic to me, more like a bunch of overeaters who never really
got over being bullied at school.
“Keep your head down and stick to the walls,” Nanashi says.
I take the next left from the handicraft shop, following
Nanashi’s outstretched limbs as if dowsing for water. The emergency vehicles
are gathering, their blue and red lights staining the haze of fine rain above
After navigating a few back alleys too narrow for vehicles
to enter, I step out onto Salt Ring Street. The sumo stables loom large, a
proud symbol to some, an eyesore to most. As we approach, there’s a distinct
smell in the air, a mixture of sweat, straw and something that brings images of
cattle to mind. The yellow flags fluttering in the dark high above us sound
like roosting bats.
“The wrestlers won’t start training for hours,” Nanashi
says. “Perfect spot to lie low.”
“What about your thirst?”
“We’ll treat the police sirens like claps of thunder. When
they’re far enough apart, we’ll know the storm has died down. That’s when we’ll
“How do we get in there?”
“A rear door. I spotted it on the way back from the noodle
vendor yesterday. It’s the cleaners’ entrance.”
“You notice the strangest things.”
“I notice what’s important.”
Following the smooth contours of the stables, we arrive at
a small door, barely visible against the wood panelling of the building. The
entrance is secured with a padlock.
journal, I turn to the front page, revealing a plastic baggie stapled to the
inside cover. It contains hairclips of varying design. I remove one with a pink
and green enamel flower at one end. Unable to twist the flower off by hand, I
place the hairclip on the ground and strike it with a rock. With the flower
removed, I ease the pin into the padlock to gauge its depth and mechanics.
Satisfied, I slide it back out and then delicately bend the metal prongs.
Finally, returning pin to lock, I search for the sweet spot and with a subtle click it opens.
“You’ve come a
long way since your father’s liquor cabinet,” Nanashi says.
I flinch at the mention of Papa.
Moving inside, the cattle smell increases twofold, though
I’ll take it over the booze and blood of The Crying Lemon. The electrics are
off, but white chalk lining four sparring rings creates its own natural light. I’m
drawn to a sound at the back of the hall. Passing between thick wooden poles
and over lengths of rope pinned to the floor, we come to a row of slatted shelves
supporting laundered sumo belts. The noise is coming from an industrial heater
left on overnight to dry the belts and warm the stables before morning practice.
Sliding a few belts to one side, marvelling at their
weight, I hop up and lie flat.
“Unless you want my finger in an orifice as an alarm clock,
I wouldn’t fall asleep,” Nanashi warns.
Faintfoot stop on the pavement below our apartment? Could she sense us watching
arbitrary questions keep you awake?”
I nod. “It was
unexpected. It’s hard to imagine her hesitating for anything.”
“She was asking for
permission to cross the street.”
“Red Gate isn’t
“It’s owned by
“Every street belongs
to the dead. Some old crone presides over Red Gate, though her name now escapes
I sit up, using
my forearms for support. “I didn’t think they could stick around for long. Now you’re
saying they can be landowners?”
“That part’s irrelevant.
She just happens to be the oldest of the dead and therefore the most entitled. Their
ability to ‘stick around’, as you put it, usually depends on motivation. The
crone’s an exception to this, having been nominated Red Gate supervisor and
gifted a prolonged afterlife.”
“How do you know
all of this?”
“She filled me
in while you were having one of your occasional naps.”
“She was in our
always spirits in the apartment.”
picturing dead eyes watching me sleep.
“I’ll give you a
more specific example,” Nanashi continues. “I heard about this factory worker
in Osaka who’d booked tickets to see a World Cup match with his boy. It was
supposed to be a bonding session between father and son before the old man was
due in hospital for a brain operation. Anyway, days before the start of the
competition, his aneurism burst and he died without having told his son about
their planned trip to Yokohama Stadium. But he was determined. He used whatever
willpower he had left to guide his boy to the office drawer where the tickets
were stashed. He even had enough time to sit in the stands while his wife and
kid watched the game.” His mask becomes dense and grey like wet concrete. “Faintfoot
needs no willpower when revenge is her motivation. She’ll stop at nothing until
Gotō’s in the ground. Only then will she join her ancestors.”
“But she must still have a mind of her own.
Why else would she ask for permission to enter Red Gate? Maybe she can be
“If you think she
can talk though her issues, you’re gravely mistaken. That girl is now a shell emptied off all humanity.”
“So Gotō’s next
and I can’t do a thing about it.”
concern! Maybe I should stop making saké my concern? Maybe I should just lie
here over this heater until your mask’s dry enough to flake apart?”
“Torture me all you want. You’ll only be subjecting
yourself to the same desperate thirst. Maybe you should test me? If you knew true
suffering maybe you wouldn’t rush headlong into every situation I advise
“So visit a brothel because they serve fabulous drinks but
don’t mess with the spirit there or she’ll likely turn you inside out. That’s
“And don’t you wish you’d taken it?”
I lie flat and roll over to face the wall.
“Let’s change the subject,” he says. “What to do with the
doorman’s bankroll? Considering we’re already here, we should stake the
money on a few matches. The box-office opens in a few hours and I have a failsafe
method of picking winners. A fighter’s size is just a distraction; the true champ’s
crowned before he’s even stepped into the ring. Take the famous Kōji
on the rare occasion of losing a bout, his eyes would always give him away.”
I can’t ignore
the irony. Nanashi stole the money he now wants to gamble from the still-warm
corpse of an ex-wrestler. He has no respect for the dead.
the money,” I mumble, barely conscious as waves of heat rise up against my
Nanashi goes rigid
and imagine he looks like a statue of a Hindu goddess with dozens of arms.
“Not till you’ve
replaced my possessions,” he says.
You didn’t own anything.”
kit was mine.”
your tune. Just a few hours ago you said my saké was rancid. Besides, I got the
parts, I put it together and I did the brewing. What did you do?”
His tendrils slide
around my throat. “It was mine,” he
I bolt upright. “Get
He flexes until
I can barely breathe.
will blow it all on Pachinko!” he growls. “A quarter million yen spent
feeding ball-bearings into a bottomless machine!”
When we moved to
the city, Mama started visiting the Pachinko parlours, sprawling amusement arcades
filled with rows of slot machines. These days she spends what little money she
has sustaining her addiction. I’ve tried talking her out of it, but she just
acts like nothing’s wrong. She stopped listening to anyone after Papa left.
I point rapidly
at my neck and Nanashi releases his hold on my windpipe. Doubling over, I begin
to cough violently, my eyes streaming with tears.
“I want her
clear of that terrible apartment building,” I say, dapping my eyes on a sumo
belt. “If she moves to the Harbour, at least she’ll be shot of the parlours.”
“And what about
“What about us?”
“Where are we to
park will do for now.”
“You can’t be
serious! Open air, grass… trees. I’ll
“It’s only for a
“We should at
least stay in a hotel with room service. We could have Misty Ginza’s on tap!
Just a quick call downstairs and they’d arrive on one of those classy metal
trays with folded serviettes. C’mon, you’ve always liked watching the dry ice
settle over that cherry-red base.” He pauses, tapping his mask thoughtfully. “I
should’ve guessed. It’s down to him, isn’t it? That’s why we’re headed for the
“Safe in his
arms you mean.”
“Tiger’s just a
“So you know who
I’m talking about.”
“I don’t know
“A so-called friend
shouldn’t have that hunger in their eyes.”
Some of the homeless
men staying in the memorial park have the hunger Nanashi’s referring to. Like urban
foxes, they’re always looking for something vulnerable to drag from the open
and tear apart behind the bushes. Tiger is not one of them.
there and that’s final!” I slide down from the shelf. “I need some air.”
“The streets may
not be clear yet.”
“I don’t care if
they’re swarming with cops; I can’t take another minute in here with you.”
“Fine with me. Seems
I’ll be getting my saké sooner than expected.”
outside, I replace the padlock and make my way back around to the front
his head back to allow raindrops from the overhanging roof to patter off his
mask. “I must hide from this rain. Exposing every sin of heart and skin.
I shall wait for the sun and for freedom. Thereupon, I shall dance until my
palms burn blossom pink.”
“Is that poetry?”
“Quick as ever. Don’t
suppose you’ve heard it before?”
I shake my head.
“Can’t say I’m
surprised when the radio’s flooded with tedious J-pop sung by artists valued
for their hairstyle over their talent.”
From the stables,
we head away from the harbour front and into a dimly lit alleyway. Something
blocks the path and I have to clamber around a spilled container of tissue packets
advertising the Satellite of Love Hotel. The packets look to have been spread out
strategically and it’s not hard to imagine that if I followed their trail, I’d soon
arrive at the hotel entrance.
“Who wrote the
poem?” I ask.
“The celebrated Yokohamian,
Magohachi Shintaro. Died in 1923 and not from the earthquake surprisingly. Your
ancestor was a close personal friend of his and something of a poet himself.”
“You don’t mention
“I didn’t think
you were into poetry.”
“Not poets. I
mean my ancestors.”
“If I started
listing their inestimable virtues, I’m sure it would only demotivate you
“But I want to
hear more about them. What sort of people they were; what they got up to; if
they were like me at all.”
nothing like you,” he says tersely. “Each one a man. Each unwaveringly dedicated
to the task set out before him. Each obedient, focused and strong.”
just said they were different.” Inside I’m hurting. “Maybe it would help if you
stopped fixating on my dead relatives and told me about this task?”
“I’ll tell you
when you stop fixating on your living relatives.”
“You know I
can’t do that. I’ll gladly disappoint you if it means they’re safe.”
“Then don’t ask
about your ancestors again. The subject of your bloodline is now closed.”
“Fine with me.”
I cross my arms.
ginger-and-white cat paces out from behind a pile of trash bags stopping just ahead
of us. It doesn’t move a muscle even as the breeze picks up. It could be taxidermy.
seen me yet,” Nanashi says.
“Why do you say
would’ve bolted already.”
“How can you get
such a kick out of repelling animals? I bet you hate it when Neko ignores you.
Maybe you’re losing your touch?”
mother’s cat could see through those infected eyes or walk on those decrepit
legs, she’d flee just as quick as the rest.”
cat finally moves, but not for the shelter of the rooftops. Instead she pads
towards us. As she approaches, I reach out to stroke her. “You were saying…”
“Don’t do that! She’s
I pull away at
the last moment as she rolls onto her back and writhes about gleefully.
stretches from my shoulder until he’s only inches from her. “She’s a confident
one, I’ll give her that. Not like her weak, domesticated cousins.” Making a
straining sound, he forces bright bands of colour to the surface of his mask. “Does
the mangy flea-farm want to play?”
His words freeze
her to the spot and for the first time I notice her spine accentuated beneath
patchy fur. Slowly she tilts her head to look up at him, her eyes wide and
unblinking, tail swaying nervously from side to side.
her,” I say.
He doesn’t quit.
Instead he remains perfectly still, holding her gaze. “What a life you must’ve endured
to be so unafraid of me.”
contest continues until she blinks suddenly in quick succession and then darts
up the side of the closest building, vanishing from sight behind a clothesline overloaded
with towels. Nanashi withdraws to his usual position on my left shoulder and
the bands of colour gradually fade from his mask.
When I next spot
the cat, she’s standing at the edge of the tallest building, stooped low, wiggling
her backside like a baseball player preparing to swing.
doing?” I demand.
But I already know.
As she leaps, for
a fleeting moment I’m convinced she’ll make it to the neighbouring building, and
then her high-pitched whine says otherwise. She catches her paw on a telephone
wire, spins tail-over-head into a window ledge and then plummets, hitting the
tarmac a few feet away.
There is no
death toll, just a leaden thud. I try to stutter something, to express my
shock, but nothing comes forth. My hands are trembling and I think I’m going to
puke. “What did you…?” Again, I already know.
Blood leaks from
the cat’s head and trickles to soak through an open tissue packet. Her rear
legs are twitching.
followed us everywhere,” Nanashi says, “begging for food, whining incessantly, spreading
its mites. Useless thing didn’t even land on its feet. I heard they always did
The amusement in
his voice is the worst. If not for that, I might have avoided hallucinating. First
the alleyway walls shudder. Then a ton of masonry shifts, the bricks at the
base moving in sequence like centipede legs. Instinctively, I plant my feet and
spread my arms out wide.
“What are you
doing?” Nanashi demands.
could never appreciate what I’m going through. Even though I know it’s all in
my mind, when I’m hallucinating I feel enslaved. Sleep specialists have told me
that the potency and realism of my experiences are highly unusual, leading me
to believe that Nanashi is somehow to blame.
I scream. Murderer echoes back.
A dog starts
barking as lights in the buildings overhead are switched on.
“Dammit, Shoki! You’ll
wake the whole street.”
In my delusion there’s
only a few feet of space remaining and I’m certain the walls will crush me
where I stand. I feel the rough brick against my palms before my elbows buckle
under the pressure.
Ahead of me lies
the broken body of the cat. Damp fur wraps her bones and the rain has gathered
in her glassy eyes. Her tongue hangs loose from between her teeth. “Leave me be,” she utters.
Horrified, I step
over her, turning side-on to shuffle towards the alleyway exit. With only
seconds to spare, I make a dive for freedom. I’m too late. My right foot gets sandwiched
and I’m plucked from mid-air and dashed against the tarmac. Ignoring the pain
in my shoulder, I tug frantically at my knee joint. When it doesn’t budge, I
watch helplessly as the round bones to the sides of my ankle are pushed inwards
and the tendons across the top are forced to the surface, bursting through my
skin like tent poles through fabric. I try to scream but blood fills my mouth
and then spills from the edges of my lips.
As the alleyway
walls come together, the pain vanishes. Resting my head back, I gaze
upside-down at a vintage clothes boutique across the way. The shop window has
been vandalised and circular cracks look like age rings inside a tree trunk.
They begin to spiral. Flashes of colour erupt. Psychedelic.
In which Shoki and Nanashi follow a revenge spirit into a local brothel hoping to prevent a death.
Basement Brothel Blues
“Gotō’s lackeys are not your
responsibility,” Nanashi persists.
“I couldn’t care
less about his hired thugs,” I say. “I just can’t stand back and let Faintfoot ruin
another girl’s life.”
His mask jolts
disconcertingly as he shakes his head, becoming speckled with white flecks like
one of those snow globes found at Christmas market. “Believe me, those girls were
ruined long ago.”
I take the
journal and move back through to the lounge. Slung across the arm of my sofa is
a vintage 1970s lime-green mackintosh. It’s the only item of clothing I’ve ever
cared about. I push my arms through the sleeves and tuck the journal into the right
Wasting no time
changing from my slippers or locking the apartment door, I rush down the stairwell
to the lobby, avoiding contact with insurers currently inspecting my
neighbour’s blackened living room.
As soon as we’re
outside, I can see my breath in the chill air. The buttons are missing from my
mac so I slide my hands into the pockets and draw the edges together.
Yōkoso Harbour differs
from many Japanese towns in that the street names are based on popular
landmarks instead of area codes. Red Gate Street takes its name from an old
theatre at the north end. The building entrance was bricked up years ago but
the surrounding wall is still bright with colour. The pavement below is always
littered with peels of dry, red paint. There seem to be endless layers, as if
the decorators knew the theatre would one day be abandoned and vowed to keep
its memory alive.
I hurry across
Red Gate to reach the basement steps. A lamppost overhangs the entranceway,
rising up from a pyre of bent and sodden cigarette ends. Moths and midges swarm
around the frosted lamp competing for space while eager spiders welcome the chaos,
priming their webs for a long feast.
The door to the
basement is dented in places and plastered with graffiti. The Crying Lemon is a
far cry from the upmarket establishments of Shiranami. Though the services on
offer are just as sordid, at least in the heart of the city the yakuza have
zero tolerance for vandalism. To the left side of the door is a makeshift security
panel fashioned from chicken wire. I take the steps and knock on the panel, hearing
a bolt strain as it’s pulled across. With a final clunk the door grinds open.
A wash of buttery
light bathes my face and music vibrates underfoot. A door attendant stands
before us, a giant of a man virtually filling the dimensions of the entrance.
He’s wearing a body-hugging white t-shirt and has tucked a packet of cigarettes
beneath the sleeve like a Greaser from ‘50s America.
Nanashi says. “Only job going for retired fighters.”
Nanashi may not
like people, but he sure can read them. Greaser has cauliflower ears, a
retreating hairline, a disproportioned upper body and swollen, pale hands. At
some point in his life he was definitely a wrestler.
“You’re not one
of our girls,” Greaser says. “What do you want?”
With Nanashi’s appearance,
lying became a necessity. And now, after years of practice, I can weave a story
as if I’m performing Rakugo to a packed audience.
“I’ve be sent
from The Honey Emporium,” I reply. “I’m sure you’ve heard of it.” The Emporium
is a popular club in Shiranami’s red light district. I’ve passed it many times
on my way to Mama’s apartment, unable to resist gawking at the girls and their
chaperones dressed like they’re attending a movie gala. “They’re looking out
this way for venues with potential. Clubs that could represent the famous Honey
Greaser looks indifferent.
spending long in each place,” I continue. “Just enough to get an impression and
take in the atmosphere.”
His expression remains
“Your words are
bouncing off a wall of flesh,” Nanashi remarks.
“I could easily
skip your establishment,” I press. “But I’m sure your manager wouldn’t pass up
“When it comes
to the door, I make the calls,” Greaser interrupts.
I have to maintain
the upper hand. “So the dents and graffiti are your responsibility?”
He flushes with
anger and the neglected muscles in his neck tighten as if he’s reversed time to
his wrestling days. “Unless you want a painful exit from this place, I’d watch
Spreading my mac
and stretching my t-shirt at the collar, I reveal the raw blisters. “You couldn’t
expression changes from anger to intrigue. He removes a see-through-plastic
lighter from his trouser pocket, which he rolls deftly between his chubby
fingers, all the while studying my neck. After an uncomfortable silence, he sits
back on a barstool and lights a cigarette he had tucked behind his deformed ear.
He gestures to
the sloping corridor ahead with a doughy hand. “I get off in a few hours. Maybe
you’d like a tour of the Harbour? It’s at its best come daybreak.”
reluctantly and step in. His eyes are on me, unblinking even as he exhales
I often attract men, which puzzles me considering the state
of my clothes and the perpetual deep rings beneath my eyes. It’s not a
sympathetic interest either; reasonably good-looking guys have propositioned me
on occasion. Nanashi is insistent: “Bring someone back. Boy or girl, I’m not
fussed”. And blatant: “Since I can’t do it, I’ll watch you on your back
instead”. Consequently I’m still a virgin.
The corridor descends
to slatted wooden swing-doors seen in any Spaghetti Western. Pushing through,
we enter a spacious room centred by an oval cocktail bar. The décor is in
keeping with the café above. Large plywood cutouts of lemons are nailed to the
walls and seem to shift beneath the mood lighting, as if dorsal shapes cutting through
To the far side
is a karaoke stage where a drunken crooner is attempting to silence his critics
by wielding a microphone like a bola, swinging the cord dangerously close to a
rotating mirrorball overhead.
I recognise the man.
His name is Keitarou. At one time he was a fisherman and rented the apartment
across from us. I happened to be sitting on the pier when the bailiffs came to
repossess his trawler. He acted like a maniac that morning, swinging a knotted
rope above his head much like the microphone in his hands now. It strikes me
how similar the two events are, as if he’s transformed his misfortune into a
bizarre stage performance.
to end his routine and he’s dragged out through a fire exit where he’ll be
lucky to escape unharmed.
to the kaleidoscope of drinks bottles behind the bar. “Just a small glass?” he requests.
“Wait till we
get back,” I whisper.
“A taster then?”
I ignore him.
bitch!” He inhales dramatically before letting it back out with even greater gusto.
“Never mind my lovelies, I’ll be with you before you know it.”
A Chinese girl
wearing an off the peg jade kimono is studying me from a nearby sofa. She
frowns at the oil stains patching my t-shirt and the scorch marks along my mac
collar. Though our lives are worlds apart, at that precise moment the pitiful
looks we exchange are identical. To my relief a balding man sits down beside
her and whispers something distracting in her ear. She laughs falsely and turns
to offer her full attention.
the bar, I spot the private quarters to the right of the karaoke stage.
Faintfoot will be back there searching for a host. She’ll be after a girl who
knows the premises intimately, someone with access to a weapon, and above all,
someone easily manipulated. I don’t have much time.
on hot skin, girls huddle around the lone salaryman at the bar. He clutches his
briefcase to his chest, clearly out of his depth, probably many miles from
home, abandoned by his colleagues for whatever services they offer here. Beside
him, the barman is preparing a cocktail for a heavyset man with a neat goatee
and gelled-flat, white hair. Though I’ve only met Gotō the one time, this man
bears a striking resemblance to the yakuza boss.
the air. “What’s he having? I’m getting vodka, Tia Mariaandsomething else. Is
slides the white cocktail to the patron and I know it’s Gotō’s lookalike when he lifts the glass to his lips with
a gloved hand. As a child, you’re taught many rules of etiquette, not wearing
gloves indoors being one of them. Most people stick to these traditions, but
Gotō isn’t most people.
As I move
towards the lookalike formulating what to say, a girl wearing fake clip-on
pigtails nestles up beside him. I change direction at the very last moment,
ducking into a nearby lavatory.
finished room has chrome basins set in pink marble and a wide, concave mirror.
Plastered across the mirror are countless star-shaped stickers, each one
centred by the flawless face of a pop idol. They are perfectly ugly.
I enter the far
cubicle, lock the door and take a seat.
to one side and activates the Sound Princess, a device that produces an
artificial flushing effect.
I cut it short
with my fist. “I’m never convincing that gangster to leave.”
“Then we get a
drink and go,” Nanashi suggests.
abandoning the girl now. I have to stop Faintfoot instead.”
He groans. “This
I cross my arms.
“There has to be a way. Tell me or I’m adding extra ingredients to your
“Just know it
won’t taste quite how you like it.”
His mask turns wasabi-green,
sprouting patches of something dark and fungal. “Nothing’s changed; you face
her now and she’ll kill you quicker than a sloppily prepared blowfish.”
“If I can face
her then surely I can do something.”
“Shoki, I wouldn’t
lie to you about this.” He sounds different; his voice is softer, almost concerned.
I don’t know this Nanashi.
“Then why point
her out in the first place? I would’ve been none the wiser.”
“I just thought
you’d be glad she hadn’t found the real
Gotō. How was I to know you’d go on some idealistic crusade?”
“I don’t buy it.
You might think that mask gives you a poker face, but I can tell when you’re
lying. You knew I’d follow her down here.”
He taps the
cubicle wall, leaving black marks like Rorschach patterns.
coward, admit it!”
tells me everything.
“I knew it!”
“Of course you
knew it! Hardly a stretch to imagine this place was on my radar. I was just waiting
“Who else? I
knew she’d be along soon enough. Gotō’s doppelganger has been in and out of
this place for weeks, even sitting upstairs when they’ve got coffee instead of
girls on the menu.”
I know his alcoholism
can be a problem, but I never imagined he’d stoop to this.
“Don’t look at
me like that,” he says. “You have no idea what it’s like to truly desire, to
fantasise for months with no relief. Every time that rancid homebrew passed my
lips, my mind was transported here, tasting a Crying Lemon cocktail. And now, finally,
when that swollen sack of cats opened the front door, I could smell every sweet
bottle. The nectar drifted up that slope as if borne on the back of divine Amaterasu
I know this Nanashi.
“You’d risk our
lives for a drink?”
“Not just any drink,”
I kick the cubicle
door a little too hard, causing the bolt to hang loose. Outside they’re playing
the blues song Midnight Moon by Timbo Ells. Just a few cords are enough to take
me back to the attic veranda beneath the mountains. Papa slides a vinyl LP into
the record player. The needle lowers as he sits in his rattan chair, feet up on
a three-legged stool, wisps of smoke from his cigarette dense in the cold air.
Where did they
get a copy of that song? And why play kitsch J-Pop one minute and obscure American
blues the next? Nanashi begins to hum along, clearly not troubled in the
slightest by this extraordinary coincidence.
“Shut up,” I
say, my mind a jumble. “Just shut the hell up!”
the lavatory door swings open and the Chinese girl in the jade kimono saunters
in, placing a dainty purple handbag to one side. She leans forward to inspect
her eyelashes in the mirror. All I can do is stare from the exposed cubicle.
She glances at
my reflection. “The clients are all taken,” she says.
Ignoring her, I
step out and head straight for the exit.
“Did you hear
me, Goth?” she continues. “I said there’s no one for you.”
I’ve been called
many names – especially when caught pickpocketing – but never a Goth. I’m wearing
a bright-green mac, not a corset, black eyeliner and ripped stockings.
I wheel around and hiss at her like a cat.
“You really know how to intimidate people,”
Nanashi mocks. “Maybe try out animal impressions on Gotō and his posse?”
girl’s balding client is examining a framed print of cormorants diving for
fish. He doesn’t notice me as I edge around behind him. Passing beneath an
archway decorated with fake ivy, I come to the first of the entertaining rooms
and place my ear to the door.
Nanashi is now
singing Midnight Moon. Timbo Ells is Papa’s favourite blues musician. The New
Yorker’s voice is unique, almost a growl at its lowest pitch. Though Nanashi’s
impression is admirable, he’s only trying to annoy me.
“Quiet,” I insist.
He raises his
“Shut it! I
can’t tell if there are people…”
cuts in; “writhing up against each other like a catch of eels on a trawler.”
This isn’t the
“What are you
doing, Shoki? The bar’s back there.”
Placing my ear to
the next door, I recoil immediately from its ice-cold surface. I have to rub my
earlobe vigorously to regain some feeling.
I’ve found her.
“There are far
safer ways to get back at me,” Nanashi continues. “Why not settle our little
dispute over a few Manhattans?”
I turn the
handle. Through the gap I can make out a dressing table supporting a collection
of plush toys and a ceramic lamp with a mandarin shade. Behind the table is a
corkboard plastered with nightclub flyers. Nudging the door further, I reveal
Faintfoot. Her head is bowed and sheer black hair covers her face. Her
short-sleeved white shirt is dotted with thumb-sized smudges. At first I take
them for mud stains and then one moves beside her shirt pocket. They’re slugs!
Her corpse must have been left in a damp place, probably a cellar or shallow
grave ironically swarming with life.
is close to her kind his body heats up until I feel like I’m shouldering a
clothes iron. I haven’t yet entered the room and already his elemental form prickles
arms and fingers are outstretched, reaching for a petite girl applying lipstick
before a full-length mirror. Nanashi insists I can’t stop Faintfoot, but if I
can get to the girl first, I won’t have to.
As I move inside,
Nanashi folds around me like a foam neck brace, only one made of molten larva.
I cover my mouth to prevent a whimper from escaping, but fail to notice the plastic
fumes now rising up from my smouldering mac. They fill my nostrils. I sneeze
into my palm.
Faintfoot turns to
observe me, her black hair parting in the centre. Her eyes are milky white, the
pupils grey beneath the surface like hard-boiled yokes. The slugs are
everywhere: gathered in the sunken nape of her neck, poking out from between
her lips, settled on her crown, their countless shiny trails glistening amber
in the lamplight.
I can’t tear my
eyes away. The cream carpet beneath my slippers wavers and then seems to unravel.
I’m sinking! Scrambling for purchase, I claw at the carpet but it parts between
my fingers like tofu left out of the fridge.
The girl is
panicking. I must look like I’m having some sort of seizure. She’s trying to
edge around me to reach the door. I’m
blocking her escape! I’m putting her
As Faintfoot drifts
across the room, I can only think of one thing: when she takes the girl what
will happen to the slugs? Will they disappear or become a part of her, moving
just below the skin?
I’m about to
disappear when I feel one of Nanashi’s fingers press up against my earlobe. For
once I welcome the sting; the pain brings me back and the carpet is solid
again. Finding my feet, I lunge ahead and seize the girl by the wrist. She struggles
wildly, smearing purple lipstick down my t-shirt. I try to restrain her
flailing hand but she catches me square on the jaw. The room shudders, as do my
legs. When I’m pushed back, I lose my footing, and then I’m falling, down and
down until my head meets a solid surface.
Where am I? Why can’t I see? Who’s talking?
Why is my back wet? Is that water? No, it’s thicker. More like paint. What’s
that noise? A horse? Can’t be anything else. It’s growing. Getting louder.
Closer. I’ll be trampled! I’ve seen horses stampede a thrown jockey in the
Japan Cup. Hooves are disturbing the paint. It’s lapping up against my thighs.
Where are my tracksuit bottoms? Am I naked? I’m naked! They’ll find me naked,
trampled and covered in paint!
When I come to, I’m
assaulted by a smell. It wrinkles up my nostrils like the leftover carcasses from
fish market sloshing about in thawed ice.
“Take it easy,”
I scramble to my
feet and immediately regret it. Lightheaded, I lurch to one side, scattering the
plush toys and the lamp from the dressing table. The back of my head is
throbbing and there’s a patch of dry blood beneath my hairline.
girl?” I start, setting my hands down and concentrating on the nightclub fliers
until I can clearly read the words ‘Foam Party at the Acid Cellar’.
probably frolicking in that lookalike’s entrails.”
Panicked, I head
for the door, kicking soft toys from my path as I go. The girl’s makeup
collection is scattered outside: purple lipstick halved, mascara pen bent,
concealer tray cracked. Slugs also litter the carpet, dry and shrunken like spent
fortune cookies. At least she’s been spared that fate.
Have I gone
deaf? No, it really is that quiet. What’s happened to the music? And what is that smell? It’s coming from the bar
area, intensifying as I stumble along the corridor. When I reach the
lavatories, the source becomes clear. The tiled floor is waterlogged. Alcohol from
dozens of broken bottles soaks my slippers, mixing to create a nauseatingly
powerful smell. When the full impact of it hits me, I’m desperate to get away. I
make a beeline for the exit, splashing through the pungent liquor.
Nanashi tugs at
my hair. “The place is empty,” he says. “Grab any leftover bottles.”
It’s enough to
distract me. I catch my ankle on something bulky and sprawl to the ground. I’m
only a few feet shy of the swing-doors; close enough to reach out and push them
aside. Instinctively my eyes move to the object that has caused my fall. The
bar isn’t empty – Gotō’s doppelgänger
lies facing us. Puncture wounds pepper his neck, and blood has pooled beneath
him turning the alcohol thick like tar. He has an intricate tattoo, which I can
see through his saturated shirt: a silvery eel coiled around a red baseball
His dead eyes
are on me.
“I can’t move,”
I whimper. “Help me.”
“Will you give
me what I want?” Nanashi asks.
Whenever I’m in
a vulnerable position, which seems all too often recently, Nanashi asks me the
same thing. It’s safe to assume his desires will involve either drink or sex, possibly
both, but there’s something in his request that terrifies me.
Fear motivates me
into action. Unable to stand, I shuffle to the swing-doors and half push
through. The combination of blood and piss brings tears to my eyes.
“This is just
undignified,” Nanashi says.
“Well help me out
He reaches down
and clamps his tendrils behind my knees as if attaching jumper cables to a car
battery. When he sends the heat through, I feel new empathy for mechanical
parts. Muscles recharged, I muster what little willpower I have left, get to my
feet and head for the exit.
At the top of
the slope, Greaser is slumped in his stool. His arms hang loose like a sleeping
“Stop!” Nanashi demands.
“We’re not leaving empty-handed.”
I don’t have the
energy to challenge him or the stomach to look upon Greaser’s startled face. Nanashi
stretches from my shoulder to rummage through the doorman’s clothes. He returns
swiftly to deposit a collection of items into my mac pocket.
Hands shaking, I
unbolt the door, shouldering through when I hear the clunk.
It has started
to rain. Reaching the top of the steps, I lean against the lamppost to steady
my nerves and catch my breath. Bloody footprints cross Red Gate to disappear into
I can still help
“Walk the other
way,” Nanashi says, guessing my intentions. “She’s better off in hospital.”
mean an institution! I’m not leaving her like this. I don’t care what you say.”
He doesn’t have
to. Police sirens. Closing in. Fast.
And with that Nanashi
has won. I imagine he’s grinning behind that expressionless mask. The police
will discover the girl squatting in the alleyway, clutching the murder weapon,
wondering whether the blood covering her hands is her own. If I had succeeded,
I could’ve led her away, cleaned her up and taken her to Tiger for sanctuary.
This week I added the second chapter of my YA novel, The Sinking World. This part introduces readers to my protagonists, Shoki Nakamura and the demon Nanashi, who has haunted her since childhood. It also describes her chronic insomnia and explores some of the problems associated with this condition. I found writing from a young girl’s POV pretty challenging but feedback from professional writers, tutors and agents has been largely positive. I’m hoping the novel can empower teens Shoki’s age.
A lot of work was done on Inspirisles, including a completely original character sheet for my Foundlings, pixel representations of my four gods, and more information throughout setting.
Today I gave first feedback to my RPG Workshop (@RPGWriterWrkshp) mentees. One of them had the bones to a fantastic concept and I hope he steals some of my ideas for his druidic themed adventure.
Having still heard nothing from the deaf associations contacted this week, I had a realisation about Deafness & Dragons, where my expectations were clearly too high. I need to work with what my resources and experience allows, therefore I’ll be concentrating on deaf awareness and BSL for my Hatchlings groups and holding off on the dream of a completley inclusive D&D environment for the deaf community.
For the week ahead, I will continue to offer feedback to my mentees on their projects. I will flesh out Inspirisles content including completing the Questing section and pixel representations of friends and foes. I will also download a BSL signed alphabet, which I can adapt for Hatchlings groups.
In which we are introduced to our protagonists, Shoki Nakamura and the demon, Nanashi.
They call this country the Floating
World. Yet sometimes, when I move to the window, I expect the town to have sunk
into the crust of the Earth to be swallowed up by the magma. This morning the
streets of Yōkoso Harbour are still there. And unfortunately, so is he.
perched lazily on my left shoulder. A plain, grey mask covers his face and only
his red eyes are visible through the small openings. I try to avoid those eyes.
There’s something foreboding there, like the first firebombs blinking in the
night sky over wartime Tokyo. His countless ghostly fingers rest on my neck, stroking
and tapping the raised tendons beneath my skin as if they are piano keys. But
he’s no musician. His fingers only burn and scar whatever they touch.
“So that quaint
little café is actually a hotbed of depravity and you don’t think to mention
it?” he asks.
“Why would I?” I
reply. “Not like it’s the sort of place I’d go to meet friends.”
“Puh! You? Friends?”
I think of Tiger
and the other homeless residents of Shiranami Memorial Park. On the occasions I’ve
stayed there, someone was always awake to keep me company. I miss the park. I
“Of course, it
won’t be an authentic pleasure house,” Nanashi continues. “I’ll wager it’s some
pink salon or soap palace guaranteed to leave the tongue and tackle limper than
“If you’re not
interested then stop talking about it.”
shouldn’t have kept it to yourself.”
This coming from
the king of secrets: secret name, secret past, secret motivations.
I walk over to
the electric cooker where oil has started to pop and spit from the base of a
wok. I drop in a handful of noodles that I bought from an elderly vendor who
always calls me ‘little man’. I could blame his poor eyesight, but when I’m
wearing baggy tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie, I can look a bit tomboyish.
“Do you plan on stuffing
your face whenever you can’t asleep?” Nanashi asks. “When I said you needed a
thicker skin, I didn’t mean a fat suit.”
“What are you on
about? It’s not like I eat junk food. Besides, last time I wore my hair up you
said I looked like a shabby calligraphy brush. So what am I? Fat or thin? I
can’t be both.”
He stretches to
look me up and down as if scrutinising a catwalk model. “Neither. You’re
I’m shapeless. He’s the one whose limbs
and fingers constantly divide. And that mask of his goes through more changes than
a Kabuki actor on performance night.
I shove the
noodles to one side and tip in a dish of tofu chunks, broccoli florets, cashew
nuts and diced spring onion. The mixture meets the hot oil, sending droplets up
my bare forearm. I hardly notice. When the tofu begins to brown along the edges,
I pour in a broth of vegetable stock, soy sauce, sugar, ginger and whisky. Nanashi
stretches over the mixture to inhale the fumes. He slumps back when the whisky
“What a waste,”
I glare at the
space between the oven and the fridge where there sits a strange device that
could double as a prop for any Science Fiction B-movie. I kick it hard enough for
the homebrewed saké inside to slosh about.
“Hey, take it
easy,” Nanashi protests.
“You take it
easy! That’s half a keg you’ve drained this week already. I’m not brewing again
till Friday so you’d better slow down.”
I know he won’t.
He’s incapable of pacing himself when it comes to alcohol. If he had a body or anatomy
of any description his vital organs would resemble mouldy figs by now.
expensive,” he says. “And someone worried about money doesn’t then buy whisky to
go in their stir-fry.”
whisky’s from your emergency supply in case the homebrew kit malfunctions
again. And secondly, did I say it was expensive? You’re just knocking it back
at a rate of knots and I can’t keep up.”
“I need it to
stay strong, you know that. You wouldn’t deny a bodybuilder his protein
“I would if they
stunk out the apartment and leaked through the floorboards.”
“Back to this
again. I told you the valve was faulty.”
“You left me sleeping
while a gallon of saké was busy marinating the neighbour’s carpet.”
“I dealt with it.”
talk about that. Of all the actions you could’ve taken, including waking me to
discover any minor repairs were covered by my damage deposit, you decide to set
his place on fire.”
“If he’d smelt
the alcohol he would’ve called the cops.”
“The same cops probably
now investigating an arson case.”
paranoid as usual. The blaze only touched his living room before the neighbours
started wielding extinguishers.”
“Just like your
cremated the tofu, I remove the wok from the hob and empty the mixture into a
bowl. I switch on the alarm clock radio above the fridge before carrying the
food over to the lounge window.
…The attack onpopular musician,Ms Kazuko
Tanaka, known to her fans as Jo-Jo, has shocked the music world, emphasising
concerns surrounding negligent security within the industry. An obsessive fan
stabbed her during a live performance at the Fluid Rooms on Mercury Mile.
Paramedics attempted to stabilise her condition, but she was pronounced dead
shortly before reaching hospital. The twenty-two-year-old trained at the Tokyo
Music Academy and was due to begin a tour of the United States this summer…
clinical voice rasps through dust-clogged speakers. His tone is always the same
whether he’s reporting on the tragic murder of a young musician or reading out
the soccer scores.
It’s a little after
two in the morning and all is quiet. My apartment is only a short distance from
the docks though it’s too early even for the car manufacturers to be at work. In
a few short hours my apartment walls will begin to vibrate as the factory
machines warm up. I imagine they have a life of their own beyond their coding,
a consciousness reserved for the dead of night when the security guard has
dozed off in front of the CCTV panel. It would be like a ballroom dance: welding
robots would bow deeply before reaching for a partner. Pneumatic arms would
connect, tubes would coil and molten-metal sparks would shower the factory
floor. The display would end just as the security guard stirred.
…The radical feminist group, Lips have used their popular radio broadcast to launch a scathing attack
on the Prime Minister. The controversial programme was aired following a
consensus to refuse the group a representative in court. Unfortunately for
legal reasons we cannot air the Lips broadcast…
The New Year refuses
to fade despite two months having passed. Tangerine lanterns still sway from
rafters, trampled strips of confetti streak the pavements, and a kite dangles
from the telephone cable beyond my bedroom window.
is big on festivities, to the point of inventing occasions to celebrate. Last
October the crested ibis become extinct from the wild and the locals had their
children create bird masks with red faces, beady yellow eyes and elongated
black beaks. The procession that followed was like a Venetian carnival with
every child dressed as a plague doctor. For an insomniac, having not slept for
three solid days, witnessing eighty-or-so children wearing pale cloaks and grotesque
masks pass beneath the window was comparable to a fever dream.
“It’s time we
moved,” Nanashi says.
I shake my head.
“What is it this time?”
dissatisfaction with our living conditions is a regular topic. I could turn the
apartment into a distillery and he’d still find something to complain about.
shit-dribbling gulls,” he explains. “How can you put up with them? Always clambering
across the roof tiles with their ridiculous feet, this way and that, this way
and that, all the while screeching and flapping their wings like apocalyptic
messengers.” He waves his countless arms like a sea anemone beneath a breaking
I sigh. “Is that
“No, there’s the
“You’ve gotten used
to it;” he says, “living here has dulled your senses.”
“My senses are
what they were up north surrounded by all that untainted mountain air.”
mountain air you couldn’t stand.”
“I’d take it over
this stench. Think about it… sea-weed.
Imagine a Zen garden with weeds. They’d be plucked from the ground and
incinerated on the spot.”
about kelp. Doesn’t bother anyone else. In fact the salarymen can’t seem to do
without it. They believe it’s got healing powers or something. Convinced enough
to empty their wallets if they see it anywhere on a menu. Tiger told me that
with the right ingredients you could even make soap out of it.”
“What does the bum
know? Bet you had to barter for that useless piece of information. What did he ask
for? Donuts please, Shoki. Cigarettes please, Shoki. A blowjob please, Shoki.” Between each request he bows mockingly.
disgusting! He’s never asked me for anything and you know it. What is it with
him? Are you jealous?”
mask changes from the usual grey to terracotta with smooth lumps of amber appearing
on the surface. “How could anyone be jealous of that subhuman?”
hit a nerve.”
With a faint
groan, he turns away.
I rest my forehead
against the windowpane. The glass is reassuringly cool. “Is that it? Nothing more
to get off your chest? No more smells bothering you? Maybe I should buy an air
rifle and pick off those gulls one by one? I’m sure that wouldn’t draw any
I can feel his anger.
He’s visibly trembling. I know he wants to retort, to shower me with curses
like acid rain, but something’s holding him back.
“Look, the gulls
are only a problem when they start mating,” I say, attempting to pacify him. “That
won’t happen till at least March. And I admit the kelp can smell a little, but
only during the summer months when it’s baking on the shoreline. There’s no
reason to move right now.”
...And in local news. Despite lengthy
protests, plans to build an offshore wind farm are to go ahead this spring. Spokesperson
for OceanMill Hydroelectrics, Haruto Eda said the operation would mark a new
chapter in Japan’s clean energy future…
Ignoring me, Nanashi
has switched his attention to The Crying Lemon café. Though its security
shutters are down, steam continues to seep from vents connected to the brothel downstairs.
I often watch the girls smoking on the basement steps, huddling like arctic
penguins in the chill air while they tout for customers. Since setting up the
homebrew kit, Nanashi’s interest in the outside world has admittedly dwindled,
though how I noticed such a place before him is beyond me.
I lift a large portion
of noodles with my chopsticks and attempt to pick clear the charred tofu chunks
with my fingers. Realising I’m getting nowhere, I head for the kitchen bin.
at the window,” Nanashi barks.
meal’s ruined so I’m taking a shower. If you don’t bother me for the next five
minutes, I’ll fix you a drink as soon as I’m out.”
mere prospect of alcohol should keep him quiet.
snapping the pull cord to the bathroom light, the already dreary space is now
remarkably bleak. I wouldn’t shower so often but for Nanashi’s constant remarks
on my personal hygiene. I don’t know why I listen to him? I guess I’m like any
other girl my age when it comes to these things.
in the bathroom, I routinely inspect the ceiling for spreading damp. I’ve used
thick emulsion paint to cover a large patch in one corner but the moisture
always manages to bleed through. Damp is where the jellyfish come from.
my t-shirt, I drape it across the sink before stepping from the bunched legs of
my tracksuit bottoms. Forgetting to put on underwear is just another symptom of
sleep deprivation. I’ve also placed frozen food in the oven, mistaken emulsion
paint for moisturiser and added rat poison to the homebrew instead of rice, which
Nanashi still drunk without complaint.
the longest time, I wouldn’t bathe or shower in his company, and if I had to, I
would always wrap myself in a towel. I gave up this pretence after waking from
a rare sleep to discover him fondling my breasts.
in the bathtub, I draw the plastic curtain across before switching on the
shower. The spluttering jet forms a cold pool around my feet. I wait for the
temperature to rise before leaning forwards. The warm spray passes straight
through Nanashi, striking a particularly angry blister above my left collarbone
from a recent quarrel.
every scar is of his making. The raised tissue crisscrossing the length of my
thighs is barely visible to the naked eye and yet still prevents me from ever undressing
in public for fear of being labelled a self-harmer.
my head back, I let the water overwhelm me. I enjoy the brief feeling of
disorientation as the stream hits my eyelids and trickles down into the hollows
of my ears. I feel safe in the knowledge that I can return to the real world
simply by opening my eyes.
reach blindly for the shampoo.
bathroom light flickers to life.
I flail and knock the showerhead with my hand, pushing the jet into the curtain.
I back up against the wall; my palms flush to the tiles, fingers rigid and
spread apart like dehydrated starfish.
scuttles across the lino. My breathing turns shallow and raspy. The thing scratches
the smooth surface of the bath side. I imagine a crab: leathery green shell,
eyes attached to stalks, jagged legs, bulbous claws. It’s trying to climb up!
Can it do that? Maybe a spider could, but not a crab; they’re not as agile.
What if it’s a Spider Crab? Would that make a difference? Can they climb?
in the tub, I listen as its claws open and shut and picture them clamped around
my toes, squeezing, rings of blood framing my nails, bruises blossoming like
ink in water.
and his amusement is enough to bring bile to my throat. I retch and spit out undigested
noodles. The shower stream washes them down where they settle over the plughole
guard. A single piece of tofu disintegrates in the water, leaving residue like
gets louder. The crab has burrowed through the side of the bath. It’s directly
beneath me! The stiff tips of its legs echo off the fibreglass layer separating
us. I reach up and lift the showerhead from its cradle. If the crab gets
through I’ll spray it, and if that doesn’t work I’ll club it into a pulp.
The scratching ends.
The light bulb pops
and fizzles out.
I stay there for
a minute, not moving a muscle. I know as soon as I draw the curtain across everything
will be exactly as it was. I’m certain of this, just as I’m certain there was
never a crab in the first place.
scream. “And damn you.”
“Nothing to do
with me. You’re the one seeing things. What was it this time? Jellyfish from
the ceiling? Eels from the plughole? Octopi from the showerhead perhaps? Now stop
your whining and return to the window.”
He digs his fingers
into my shoulder blade. I feel a scratch against bone. I may have a high pain
threshold, but Nanashi can still hurt me.
cry. “Enough… please.”
“To the window,”
I switch off the
shower and step from the bath. Struggling back into my tracksuit bottoms and
t-shirt, which cling to my wet skin, I stamp theatrically across the lounge, my
hair trailing water as I go.
hard as I reach the window. Nanashi leans over and wipes clear the condensation
my breath has produced on the glass. I half expect his fingers to cut through
like one of those gadgets professional thieves use to break stealthily into
museums and galleries.
The street below
is deserted and there are only distant sounds: the familiar chugging engine of
the weekend road-sweeper, an intermittent car alarm, Nanashi’s ‘apocalyptic
messengers’ screeching from the rooftops.
My hair’s dripping…”
“I said wait!”
Out of nowhere a
young girl emerges from the alleyway running alongside my building. She moves
to the edge of the pavement and then stops abruptly, eyeing the tarmac as if
it’s been freshly laid.
She could pass
for an ordinary student: she’s wearing a typical school uniform and though
she’s exceptionally skinny and pale, it is a popular look these days. She could pass, but for one glaring oddity –
she doesn’t have any feet! It’s why Nanashi calls her Faintfoot.
“Why do I have
these eyes?” I groan.
Nanashi lowers a
cluster of fingers, suspending them inches from my face. “Perhaps you’d rather
Sometimes I long
for just that, for all my senses to burn away. In that place beyond darkness
maybe I could truly sleep.
leaves the pavement and drifts towards The Crying Lemon. Even from such a distance,
thick glass between us, I can feel her malice. If her sinister energy were
visible it would leap from her like solar flares.
Nanashi leans in
until his mask is practically touching the windowpane. I glance at his
reflection, just for a second, but long enough to look into his eyes. I can
usually detach myself from his cruelty, ignore his malicious words and tolerate
his soldering fingertips, but there’s no escaping those eyes. What terrors have
they seen? What atrocities have they guided?
“She’s after your
baseball enthusiast,” he says.
doing here? I told him to stay clear of the Harbour!”
“Relax, he’s not
“You just said
she was after him…”
“But not that
she’d find him. Gotō’s probably lounging
in a rooftop Jacuzzi someplace surrounded by smooth-skinned women serving
“So why is she heading
to the brothel?”
maggot must’ve hired someone to pose as him. Wouldn’t have to be anything
elaborate; wearing the same aftershave would peak her interest.”
I dash into the
bedroom and fling open the bedside cabinet door. Inside is a leather-bound
journal, which I remove and place on the duvet.
“What are you
doing?” Nanashi asks.
I negotiate a
cluttered pile of equipment used in homebrewing and lift a towel from a
clotheshorse beside the radiator. Feverishly drying my hair, I squeeze the last
of the droplets free and then gather the damp mass up into a bun to secure it
in place with a pencil. “I have to stop this.”
This week I added the first chapter of my YA novel, The Sinking World, I’m hoping people discover my writing through an interest in Dungeons & Dragons, as I’m very proud of my take on modern Japan and the young female protagonist I’ve created. The novel explores my interest in the supernatural, but also chronic illness, isolation and violence.
A lot of work was done on Inspirisles, including a character sheet for my Foundlings, descriptions of my four gods, the Inspired, bios for key characters, a set of class options and finishing touches to the world map. I’m making good progress with the setting but the task will surely stretch beyond my August deadline.
I am also acting as a mentor for the RPG Workshop (@RPGWriterWrkshp), which I discovered through Ashley Warren via Twitter. I have a couple of mentees who I hope to help throughout July and they seem to have much in common with me. Hopefully I can be a source of inspiration and growth for them on their road to publication.
For the week ahead, I hope to make contact with potential candidates to endorse/fund my projects. These include the British Deaf Association, Action on Hearing Loss (again) and Bristol County Council. Beyond this, I will continue to mentor for the RPG Workshop and complete the Questing section of Inspirisles.
During my Masters degree in creative writing, I wrote a YA novel set in contemporary Japan. The story followed teenager, Shoki Nakamura, a girl who could see the spirits of the recently deceased and quickly became entangled with the yakuza and ghosts hellbent on revenge.
The novel is currently in limbo, between agents and without a home. I feel it would make for a compelling tabletop RPG and I’d like to adapt it down the line, but for now I’ve decided to share it with those visiting the site.
I will update the page with a new chapter each month.
Unable to complete this heavy task for our country Arrows and bullets all spent, so sad we fall. But unless I smite the enemy, My body cannot rot in the field. Yea, I shall be born again seven times And grasp the sword in my hand. When ugly weeds cover this island, My sole thought shall be the Imperial Land.
General Tadamichi Kuribayashi Battle of Iwo Jima March 17th, 1945
Police Sergeant, Masaru Tanaka was unclogging the lawnmower, wondering why he should spend his free time maintaining an artificial roof lawn, when his wife approached to hand him his pager. After rummaging through their freshly laundered clothes she had found it still clipped to the hem of his trousers. Now it displayed an unusual dispatch code reserved for matters of national security, and though Masaru assumed it had malfunctioned in the wash, he could not take that chance.
As was typical,
he arrived first on the scene, parking behind a row of immaculate topiary
bushes resembling horses in mid jump. Masaru believed his promotion through the
ranks had as much to do with punctuality as with anything else. He found modern
methods of law enforcement insufferable and was forever ripping textbooks from
the hands of rookies in favour of a night patrol. Out there, driving beneath
city lights whilst the swarm of human suffering and inhuman crimes crackled
through the scanner, he could tell precisely who was cut out for the job.
He switched off
the engine and opened the glove compartment to remove a pistol. Having only
ever fired the weapon in practice it acted more as a deterrent, but he still
kept it clean, oiled and stocked just in case.
contacted dispatch on route, but they had given him very little to go on. And according
to the code streaming across his pager, backup was still fifteen minutes shy of
the country estate. For now he was on his own.
Taking a few deep
breaths, he stepped from the car and moved immediately up the driveway to find cover
behind a large stone urn. Disturbed by his presence, ants emptied from a gaping
crack in the base. Some attempted to scale the thick rubber soles of his boots
while others disappeared beneath the tread as if fishing trawlers passing
through the Ebihara Marina tunnel.
out a fraction to view the forecourt. Nothing moved. He expected to see birds occupying
the central lawn or drinking from the twin fountains at either end, and there
were none roosting in the trees which remained as still as torii gates at the
entrance to a shrine. The silence too was unearthly. Having tolerated ear-splitting
sirens for years, Masaru’s hearing was admittedly poor, but this was different;
he felt like he was trapped in a Polaroid.
As if to justify
his unease, a few feet shy of the house there lay a body. Masaru recognised the
individual. Shigeo Kasai had been in every paper that week. He was the sole
financer for the recently elected city Governor,
the same city Governor now facing allegations of corruption. Maybe this was a matter of national security? Mr
Kasai’s left leg was resting at an unnatural angle and dry blood had formed a broad
halo around his scalp.
Keeping low, Masaru
moved across the forecourt, his pistol bobbing left and right to track his eye
movements. Reaching Mr Kasai, he crouched to check the man’s pulse. There was a
rapid but shallow beat, like the sensation of lifting a hamster from its cage.
Without medical attention he had around half an hour to live, maybe less. Masaru
hoped his backup would arrive with paramedics in tow.
It looked like a
clear-cut suicide attempt: open elevated window, no signs of tampering,
injuries consistent with a fall from that height. And yet Masaru had that ache
in his gut he had learned to trust over the years, that ball of undigested
instincts that now directed him to the house.
In place of a
traditional Japanese entranceway constructed of sliding panels, the Kasai
family home was American in design with a single hardwood door. As Masaru approached,
he felt his anxiety increase with each step. He was not afraid for his life; he
had always been a little too willing
to risk that. Instead it had to do with his impending retirement and a feeling
of inevitability. That this was the end of things.
The door had not
been forced. He turned the handle and used the barrel of his pistol to ease it
open. The same stillness he had felt outside was present here; a kind of mantle
draped over the realities of time and space.
A lavish chandelier
hanging above the entrance hall illuminated many canvases of modern art lining
the walls. With their clashing colours and chaotic brushwork, Masaru could not
discern them from the artless daubs of a toddler, yet he had little doubt
selling a single piece would double his retirement package. Beneath the canvases
were sealed display cabinets containing antique ceramics of Chinese origin. Anybody
could tell their considerable value and he was almost saddened to see a toppled
cabinet and fragments of the ancient porcelain scattered across the
floorboards. Saddened, that is, until he noticed the bodies.
As part of his
captaincy training, Masaru had undergone regular psychological appraisals. One
of these sessions was used to evaluate a candidates’ reaction to violence. He had
been shown war photos taken during the Nanjing Massacre followed by slide after
slide of disturbing images: starving prisoners, mutilated bodies, mass graves.
At the time he had responded calmly and assuredly, never believing a police
officerwould witness such brutality.
He was wrong. This
was another massacre. The Shiranami Massacre.
The door came to
rest against a chauffeur in a grey suit. The man’s peaked hat lay crumpled under
his matted hair and the right lens to his sunglasses had split, revealing a
deep, bloody cavity. Further in lay a young man whose tennis whites were now utterly
red. Another body was slumped at the base of a door like a draft excluder and two
more were sprawled on the staircase, their contorted expressions sharpened beneath
the glare of the chandelier.
There were more
victims, but Masaru had stopped looking. He was doubled over with his hands on
his knees. To stop himself from vomiting, he allowed a string of saliva to fall
slowly from his lips.
What was he dealing with here? Masaru had a keen interest in history and as he gathered himself to survey the bloodbath once more, he was reminded of mercenary ninja from the Sengoku period, adept killers who required but a single opportunity to dispose of a target. And as the floorboards creaked beneath his boots, he half expected a throwing star to spin out from the shadows towards his throat.
The scene before
him was preposterous. And if it were not for the homeowner lying outside, he
would have considered himself the victim of a practical joke. But this was no
retirement stunt. His colleagues were not waiting to surprise him. The bodies would
not miraculously get to their feet to remove wigs, makeup and prosthetics.
The whine of
distant sirens made him breathe a little easier.
Then she appeared at the top of the
He nearly dropped his pistol. Her eyes! Full. Feverish. Feral. Masaru had seen eyes like those before, but never on a person. They belonged to trainee attack dogs confined to kennels during the starvation phase. Blood glistened through her hair and streaked her knitted cardigan. It was thickest along her right arm, unbroken crimson to the very tip of a kitchen knife she held.
She approached, making
no effort to negotiate the bodies on the stairs, her eyes fixed on the open
Masaru heard the
skid of tyres on gravel.
In any other
circumstances, he would have assumed the girl a lucky survivor. Knife to be
used only if the Sengoku ninja discovered her hiding place. Except, Masaru
realised, she was the ninja.
knife,” he demanded.
She kept coming,
eyes never straying from the door.
He aimed his
pistol at her shoulder. “I said, drop the knife!”
wasn’t on her mind? Maybe she wanted death? Maybe a bullet was preferable to the
Masaru turned to
acknowledge his colleagues, the briefest of movements, but enough for a ninja. She
was on him before he could even cock his pistol. The knife flashed and he felt the
punch, the spike of pain, and then nothing.
As he collapsed,
his colleagues opened fire. The girl flailed her arms as she was sprayed with
bullets, her fingers refusing to surrender the weapon even as she hit the deck.
From the floor, Masaru
tilted his head towards her. He watched the hunger leave her eyes with the last
of her breath. Then something else left her. Like steam from a rice basket. It
formed in the air above her, at first hazy and indistinct, then crystal clear.
A figure. A woman. Torn stockings covered shapely legs, slender hands ended at
crudely broken nails, and a white shirt hung loose exposing a filigree bra and a
necklace of bruised finger-marks.
Masaru was rolled onto his back and an oxygen mask placed over his nose and mouth. He tried desperately to turn his head, to look upon the woman’s face, but the paramedic was stronger. Masaru felt a needle in his shoulder followed by the sting of drugs entering his bloodstream. Then he was lost. Covered by the mantle. Lost in time and space.