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Chapter 1 (Too many Long-Islands)
“How did I end up here?” Zack wobbled back and forth. “Pissing on this grave?”
“I do not know,” a male voice said in a slurred Japanese accent. “You tell me, foreigner.”
“Huh?” After lurching forward, only the gravestone kept Zack upright. “What were we talking about?” He glanced about, but there was no one else in sight. Huh? Oh well — His vision fogged, and the thought died.
“How did you come to this particular grave and decide to piss?” The voice sounded angry for some reason.
“Are you a cop?”
“No … .”
“Good … I’d say … one too many Long —” Zack threw-up onto the gravestone. “— Islands.” While pulling bits of chicken from his mouth, he stumbled backwards.
“What are Long-Islands?”
“You know … .” Trying to clear his vision, he blinked. “The cheap and awesome drink?”
“Drink? … You mean alcohol?”
“Of course.” Zack checked his cellphone, but its battery was dead. “What else would I be talking about?”
Few lights lined the graveyard, but the neon — Love Hotel — signs flashing nearby made up for it. Gravel shifted under Zack’s feet. When the incense mixed with the vile remnants of his night celebrating the end of a shitty relationship, he coughed. The jarring sound echoed through the small, Japanese mausoleums.
The voice groaned. “Perfect … just perfect.”
“Who are you?” Or where are you?
“Who are you?”
“I asked you first.” Zack pinched his own arm. It hurt. He was drunk, but not dreaming. Dad always said, ‘If you keep talking to yourself, eventually someone will answer …’ but fuck, really?
“While living, I was known as Shinji … .”
Living? “Shinji it is.”
“Yes … I am a ghost.” While Shinji made booing noises, his anger seemed to wane. “Though, having a body again could be useful.”
“Having a body?” After rubbing his temples, Zack stretched his back.
“Your body will be mine!”
Ignoring the obvious threat, Zack took a deep breath and looked into the star-lit sky. I hope I can hold down — He dry heaved.
“Hold what dow—”
Zack unloaded the last of the food in his stomach onto the gravestone then — with his pinstriped suit jacket — scrubbed the sour tasting liquid from his lips. Several, long moments later, he staggered back onto the pathway. “You can read my thoughts?”
“I am in your head … .” Shinji growled. “So … how did you end up pissing on my grave?”
Well … . Zack stared at the daunting overpass. I hate stairs.
I’m not stalling. Zack took the first step. I broke up with my girlfriend earlier today and went out to drink my sorrows away. …
Earlier that day, the sun shined bright. Zack pulled the buzzing cellphone from his pocket. “Fuck … really?” he said in English.
The crowd jostled Zack, and the smell of week-old socks hung in the air; Akihabara normally carried a much harsher stench. In Electric-City, the flashing lights and screaming solicitors made for a wonderful spectacle. While he removed his sunglasses, the wind brushed past his short, blond hair; the girls loved his deep, hazel eyes. Despite being outside all the time, his complexion was still paler than every other foreigner he knew.
“No, thank you.” Zack pushed past a contact lens salesman. “I have good eyes.” He winked, and the girl behind the solicitor blushed. It seems like my Japanese has improved.
The best part about Akihabara was that most of the other foreigners would leave after dark. The Hub became an ideal place to meet people and practice Japanese. When his cellphone rang a second time, Zack made sure to stand among the deafening speakers.
Zack stared at his cellphone. She needs to stop calling. Before flipping it open, he sighed. “Yes. … What do you want?”
“I want to break up.” Sena sniffled. Her English was still a bit choppy.
This is perfect … .. Zack rolled his eyes. “You called me for this?”
Sena hesitated. “I never want to see you again.”
Zack cringed. She sounds serious this time. His chest heaved, but he maintained his composure. “Fine … but I’m staying in the apartment until I can afford to move.”
“Fine!” Sena hung up with a crack.
Time to get double-drunk. While Zack strode into The Hub, he hummed. “Long Island Ice tea,” he said, switching to Japanese, “Jumbo.”
It was a bit early, so Zack had his choice of seats. He took a booth in the backroom and went through two more Long-Islands before Happy Hour ended. The smooth music flowed in one ear and out the other. Nothing registered in his mind. With the help of alcohol, he avoided crying over Sena — not by much though. By the time he finished his fourth, people began to pile in by the dozens. The bounce returned to his step.
Zack grinned at the two cute girls who stood in line ahead of him. “How are you two doing tonight?” He tightened his favorite pink tie and straightened the pinstriped suit-jacket.
The girls giggled and stepped up to order. While the black-haired one wearing purple lipstick turned to face Zack, the one with red-dyed hair and glasses pointed at the menu. Purple-lipstick smiled, and the fact that she didn’t know a word of English was written across her face.
“How about you two come sit with me?” Without breaking eye contact, Zack slid to the second register and ordered another Long-Island. Afterwards, he gestured the girls towards his booth.
Purple-lipstick grew bouncy. “Are you alone tonight?” She took her drink and followed Zack.
“For now.” Zack winked. Sena is already out of my thoughts.
“I’m Yuki and my friend’s name is Moe. And you?”
“I’m Zack. Are you from around Tokyo?”
Yuki smiled. “I’m from Japan.”
“No shit. I said around Tokyo. …”
“Oh … yeah, I live in Chiba.”
“Really?” Zack scratched at his two-day beard. “Me too. What part?”
“Down by Inage.”
“I have some friends down that way. I live in Nishi-Funabashi.”
“Wow, that’s close.” Yuki began to fiddle with her hair then brushed it back over her ear.
Zack worked his charms on the girls, and they melted in his hands. For some reason, a foreigner speaking Japanese was like a magic show; it captivated everyone — well, everyone who didn’t hate magic.
Keiko walked into the bedroom and dropped her glass of water. “What?”
The shattering sound echoed through the room, causing the two shadowed figures in the bed to sit up. While Shun’s eyes widened, the woman glared at Keiko. The sweet smell of sex covered the walls like a thick paste; so much so that Keiko thought she could taste the salty flavor of infidelity.
Keiko flipped on the light-switch. Tears rimmed her eyes. “What are you doing, Shun?” Her voice cracked, and she found herself wishing that her boyfriend had been a foreigner like in all the recent TV dramas; they never cheated like this. Or better yet, like the man in her recent dreams, the Emperor of her soul … though, she would apparently have to share him with another … but at least he would be honest about it. “I said, what do you think you’re doing?”
Keiko released Light and threw together a Blasting-Piece.
Shun stumbled from the bed. “I can exp—”
A massive beam of white, hot energy ripped through the wall next to his head, and Shun froze in place. The slut in his bed squealed. Despite that, she was still able to release Light into the air around the bed. She wanted to fight? The back of Keiko’s neck itched.
Keiko embraced the ecstasy and gritted her teeth while the power washed over her — in its wake, she relived last night’s sex with Shun. Trying to fight off the elation, she released Light from both hands.
Shun stepped between the two girls and held a hand out towards each. “Eka, don’t you recognize her?”
Eka’s brown eyes bulged, and she dispersed her power. Climbing to her knees, she bowed her head low. “Sorry … .”
While she balanced herself between rage and grief, Keiko held onto her power. She began to paint, moving both hands through the air and crafting images with the Light. “I could understand if we had not agreed to be in an exclusive relationship —”
“Listen … .” Shun gulped. With chattering teeth, he watched Keiko form a pair of forest backgrounds. “I thought you had gone out of town this morning —”
“Shut up!” Once four stars — the keys — were inserted into each painting above the trees, the Blasting-Pieces wrapped around Keiko’s hands and released a pair of energy bolts from her palms, disintegrating the two pictures of her on the far wall. “Eat shit and die!” After turning, she stomped from the room. “I never want to see your face again!”
“Keiko … wait!” Shun moved towards the living room.
“Go jump off a bridge!” Keiko grabbed her purse and strode out of Shun’s apartment, slamming the door behind her.
Apparently, Shun made no attempt to follow her.
Keiko’s anger waned, and the tears begin to flow freely. I hate all Japanese men! She bit into her lower-lip and fell into a run.
Zack sat the remains of his sixth Long-Island on the table and looked at his watch. The numbers blurred together, so he squinted. “Damn … only ten minutes till my last train.” He scrambled out of his chair and turned towards the bar. “Time for one more Long-Island!”
The plaques on the wall were no longer visible. The entire bar cheered. He had been putting on a show for everyone: being friendly, telling jokes and chugging drinks. Before he went home, they wanted him to guzzle one more. The cute girls left earlier, but they had given him their numbers before doing so. If everything went according to the plan forming in his head, the three of them would have dinner later in the week. Everything was looking up, and that made him dizzy.
“Another Long-Island, please.” After taking his drink, Zack returned to the center table and held his glass high.
Talking stopped, and the smell of fried fish wafted into his face. Zack was hungry and stuffed at the same time. His head spun. He counted to three, and then bottoms up. While he drank, the drunken crowd clapped. He looked at the time; five minutes until his last train.
“Sorry guys … I got to go!” Zack checked his pockets and ran off towards the train station.
The few people around the station stood just far enough apart to prevent Zack from sprinting. The smell of week-old underwear drifted across the platform and turned his stomach. After pushing past a group of children, he spun around an inebriated couple. The train was there, and the doors were closing.
“Shit!” All other thoughts slipped from Zack’s mind. He pushed an old man out of the way while he slid onto the train.
The old man cursed.
Zack turned with a deadpan stare. “Sor—” Vomit spewed from his mouth, covering the old man from head to toe.
The doors shut.
Finally … my ecstasy has been refilled. Natsumi zipped her pants up and stared at the two naked men sprawled across the conference room table. “I expect that there will no longer be an issue with my building permits.”
The fat, building inspector, Kensuke, pushed himself up with his hands. While breathing heavily, he grinned. “I suspect everything is in order.”
“Good … .” Once Natsumi pulled her bra into place, she glanced at the government official, Haruki. “And the fees?”
Haruki grunted, but the paper-thin man did not sit up. “All … paid for and up to date.”
Natsumi pulled her dark green shirt on and ran her fingers through her blond-dyed hair, flicking it outside of her shirt. “Excellent.” She spun to the door of the room. “I will have my associates contact you in the morning.” Before stepping out of the conference room, she grabbed her purse. The door clicked shut behind her.
The low, night lights flickered in the hallway while Natsumi walked down it. Despite coating the two men with perfume beforehand, the rank smell of body odor clung to her skin. A buzzing hum radiated from her jeans.
Natsumi pulled her cellphone out and flipped it open. “It is done. We will not have any more trouble from the government.”
“You are amazing,” Fuji said, voice squeaking through the phone like some oversized rat.
“Tell me something I do not know.”
“Well … your father is currently undertaking some big operation.”
“I do not care.” Natsumi shook her head. “Do you have anything relevant to report?”
Fuji laughed. “What has you on edge?”
These strange dreams that I keep seeing. “Nothing.”
“Alright … .”
“Just get back to work.” Natsumi sighed. “I will come straight to your place.”
Groaning, Natsumi closed her cellphone with more force than she had intended. Why do my dreams, of all things, have me on edge? While she returned the cellphone to her purse, her hands trembled. I will never settle down with just one man, and even if I did, I would not share him. “Foreigner,” she spat the word like a curse. “There … is no way that would ever happen.”
The gray SUV parked on the curve beside the building cranked its engine when Natsumi approached. By the time she climbed into the passenger seat, she had pushed her thoughts away. After she instructed the driver where he was to take her, the SUV peeled out, tires screeching.
Zack’s cellphone alarm went off, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. Where am I? He glared at the sign before standing to step off the train. “Home … .”
Men and women drunker than Zack packed the stairs leading up. Their rancid smell nauseated Zack. He stopped breathing through his nose and looked down. Happy that his suit was still clean, he took one step at a time and held onto the handrail.
Only a bit further. Once he reached the top of the stairs, Zack straightened his back. I should go to the bathroom.
A cute girl wobbled in front of Zack and smiled. “Hey foreigner, where are you going?”
Home. “Your place?” Nailed it.
She took Zack’s hand and used it to keep from falling over. “Come with me.” She pulled him around the flower stand and into the handicapped bathroom. She was quick with her fingers, unbuttoning his pants and inside his silky boxers before he could even voice a word of protest.
“Well … this was unexpected.” Zack closed his eyes and let the dark-skinned Japanese girl have her way with him. His world contorted. His body quivered. Goosebumps ran along his arms.
Right as they finished fucking, the station attendants banged on the door. They forced Zack to rush through the gate, thus preventing him from actually using the bathroom. He stumbled out of the station and down the stairs on his way home. He started singing his favorite Journey songs, a mistake considering he walked past the Daily Yamazaki — a convenience-store.
I don’t … think I can make it home. When he reached the long stretch, Zack slowed, feeling the full force of the Long-Islands. I think I’m … going to hurl again … and I’ve … got to piss like a motherfucker.
Gasping the entire time, Zack crossed the overpass and strolled down the street. Yeah, that’s basically how I remember it. He turned at the red-light.
Shinji harrumphed. “You lied … you went out to drink, then your girlfriend broke up with you.”
I don’t remember it that way, but sure.
Shinji sighed, and it was as if his rage had melted away completely after hearing Zack’s story. “So … .”
Bright signs flashed on the side of the Love-Hotel behind his apartment and illuminated the streets. A pattern of close cropped apartments followed by a vast open space littered the area. The constant sounds of construction rang through the air. Night was the only time the oil-like stench wasn’t thick enough to taste. A good thing, since it always made Zack gag.
Zack shuffled forward as if he were a zombie. “So … who are you again?”
“I am Shinji, remember?”
Oh yeah. And how did you get into my head?
“You pissed on my grave.”
Is that some type of code?
“I should kill you.”
As a voice … I don’t think you’re capable of that. Zack laughed while he fumbled in his pocket for the key. Besides, how does pissing on someone’s grave implant a two-way communication device in your head?
“Two-way … communication device?” Shinji sounded confused.
You know … kind of like a cellphone.
“A cell … phone?”
How else could you speak to me inside of my head? Zack tilted each ear to the ground and tapped his head. “Nothing fell out. …” He unlocked the door and took his shoes off. After stumbling through the narrow hallway, he spun into the kitchen. He stuck his head under the sink and drank his fill.
“You woke my spirit, and now I will take your body as my own.”
Oh yes … that sounds real plausible. Zack stumbled into his bedroom and dropped his clothes on the floor before falling face first into the bed. Once he cracked his back, he pulled the covers around himself. “Good night, Shinji.”
Zack stared into pink clouds, and warmth washed over his body. Where am I?
A wooded trail led him to two towering mountains — one black and the other white. They stood in Zack’s path and ordered him to climb their monstrous peaks. Both threatened to kill him if he wouldn’t.
“What?” I don’t understand … .
Zack’s chest thumped. The demands pounded against his reason until an eerie silence drifted through the air. A stale wind carried the stench of rotting meat. He gagged, and his stomach turned. On the way up, the acidic bile burned his throat and on the way out, his mouth. The dirt at his feet — oddly — didn’t absorb the vomit.
“I’ll just go back —” Zack turned to watch the ground fall away into nothingness. “Yeah … this won’t end well.”
The mountains daunted him and screamed of danger. Climbing either could mean certain death, yet climbing neither ensured it. The ground behind him continued to vanish, urging him forward.
“I won’t choose either!” Zack’s voice bounded through the winding paths that led around each of the mountains. “I refuse!”
Suddenly, Zack’s shadow pulled away from his body and wrapped its hands around his neck. He stumbled forward, struggling against the shadow. The harder he fought, the more impossible victory seemed. His head felt light. While prying at the fingers, he gained no ground. Soon, he gave in and let the shadow wash over him. It pulled his insides like a wave’s undertow. His soul thumped. Silence. Then … he found peace, and with an unseen force, crushed the mountains before him.
“Why?” Zack stepped towards the ruined mountains. He screamed like a school girl when a massive, Godzilla-like monster rose from their ashes.
The monster lit the land afire and rampaged unchecked. Zack reached out with the unseen force again and was rebuffed. He attacked the ground at its feet. Nothing. No matter how many rocks he hurled or strikes he attempted, nothing worked. He slumped until a twinkle caught his eye. After looking up into the sky, he saw a string attached to the beast. If only he could cut that string.
“If I focus … .” Zack felt something draw the breath from his body, and he gritted his teeth. “I can’t fail now!” His muscles trembled. With a burning pain echoing through his bones, he fell to his knees. I … can’t … .
Next: BURNING Chapter 1