Chapter 14 (A day of rest)
After taking a Jump Comic from the trashcan, John followed a business man out of Omiya station’s central one gate. Why didn’t my shoes dry like the rest of my clothes?
Raw, blisters dug at all sides of his feet. The rotten smell of blood and mildew hung in the air around him, and the large crowd at the station gave him a wide berth.
I finally made it back … after more than a week, I’m actually going home. John laughed.
“Has it really only been a week?” Darkness made a clicking noise.
If that TV in the station was accurate.
“It feels like we have been divided for much longer than that.”
I’d rather not consider how long it has been since I went crazy.
“We could always become one again.”
After walking down the stairs and out of the station, John shook his head. I don’t feel like going on a killing spree.
Darkness scoffed. “It’s only three people. I doubt that’s considered a killing spree.”
No, I think I’m just going to bare you and return to my normal life.
“For now, but one day, we will be one again. Those responsible for my creation will pay the cost with their lives.”
You keep saying that, but we both know that once my life returns to normal, you’ll vanish. John strolled down the street, doubling up on his steps.
By the time he reached his apartment, John’s wet shoes had rubbed his feet raw. Each step burned as if he were walking through fire. Tears blurred his vision, but it no longer mattered. He had made it home.
When he pulled on the door handle, it didn’t turn.
Thunk, thunk, thunk!
Fuck! John jerked on the door handle. I can’t believe I locked it.
It’s not funny. After pounding his fist against the door, John placed his back to it and slid into a sitting position. I was so close. He rested his face in his hands.
“Well … I guess we have no choice but to —”
“If you can’t get inside, then it’s impossible for you to return to your old life.”
I said no! John climbed to his feet and stumbled back down the stairs. There is another way to get in.
“The problem with unlocked windows is that you live on the third floor.”
It’s not so high up. After exiting the building, John glanced up and down the street. I just have to make sure no one tries to call the police.
Darkness guffawed. “Yes, because the last thing we want to return to jail for is breaking into our own apartment.”
The muscles in John’s face grew taut. I won’t go back. He gritted his teeth. No matter what I have to do, I won’t go back.
“That’s the spirit.”
The few passersby ignored John and moved on their way. A car zipped past. Then, silence. Stillness.
Okay, here goes nothing. John pulled himself upon the wall surrounding the first floor apartment. I guess Sara did a good thing when she made me join the rock climbing class.
“Well, the real reason you stayed in it was because Haru was there.”
I never noticed her until we had the drinking part together.
“Sure you didn’t.”
Maybe I saw her once or twice.
“And by saw, you mean ogled.”
I never did any ogling. John grunted and pressed his hands between two second-floor balconies. I was happy with Sara at the time.
“And by happy, you mean miserable.”
Will you stop doing that? While holding himself up with his arms, John locked his feet against the bottom of the balconies like an X.
Daggers of agony stabbed through his raw feet.
John almost screamed out in pain.
A second, moist substance began to soak into his shoes.
“Stop what? Speaking the truth about your thoughts?”
It’s not the truth. John shimmied upwards, moving one limb at a time. He gritted his teeth and ignored the pain. It’s just how you see it when looking back on my memories.
“Deny it all you want, but I’m right.”
The ache in John’s muscles cried out before he climbed onto the second-floor balcony.
John sat down and panted. This is so much tougher than I had imagined it would be.
“That’ll teach you for living on the third floor.”
Ha! John grinned. You can say that again.
“If you rest too long, your muscles will go into apathy.”
I know, but … . Several moments later, John rose and climbed up between his balcony and another one on the third floor.
The rough concrete-like material dug into his palms. Each inch murdered his grip. His muscles quivered.
John pushed upwards. Breathing hard, he bit into his lower-lip.
The last foot could have been a mile away. Each dragging crawl up the side of his apartment scored his flesh and rent his confidence. His arms and legs trembled.
While clenching his stomach muscles, John placed a hand on the rail of his balcony. Almost —
His muscles gave out. The air grew thing. His legs released their hold and dropped.
John yelped when his body crashed into the side of his balcony. He reached up with his other hand.
Holding on by his fingertips, sweat beaded across his forehead. Soon, it covered his entire face, and salty pain clawed at his eyes.
Thump, thump, thump!
One of his hands slipped free.
“Fuck!” John closed his eyes and forced himself to relax.
Thump, thump, thump!
John whipped his free hand back upon the rail. You can do this!
Darkness chuckled. “Are you talking to me?”
No … just coaching myself up. John pulled himself up and pushed his body over the rail.
John fell flat onto his balcony. Safe.
His bloody palms throbbed.
After taking a well-deserved rest, John climbed to his feet and reached for the window.
It was also locked.
Through gritted teeth, John screamed. “Fucking shit! Fuck! Fuck! Damn! Fuck!”
A group of school children froze in place and stared up at the cursing foreigner.
John ignored them and continued to rant.
Darkness made a clicking noise. “You should probably do that quietly in case someone decides to call the police.”
While squeezing the bridge of his nose, John shut his mouth. You are right.
“I thought we already went over that?”
And fuck you too.
“So, what will you do now?”
I guess I climb around to the other window. John worked the muscles in his forearms. It shouldn’t be so difficult.
“For someone rested, maybe.”
I can do it.
Before climbing back up onto the railing, John groaned.
The other window seal was about six feet away from the edge of the balcony.
John crouched, tensing his leg muscles. If I jump —
His legs gave out.
After swooning, John slipped forward. No! Despite his spinning head, he kicked his aching feet backwards.
The balcony slammed into his middle.
John gasped. He couldn’t breathe but managed to wave his feet around and flip his weight back onto the balcony.
Ass first, John landed on the balcony.
Daggers of agony shot from his tailbone up to his neck.
John stifled a scream. I guess that’s not going to work.
“I told you so.”
Shut up. John forced himself to his feet and removed all the infused items from his shirt. Then, he removed his shirt and wrapped it around his right arm. I hope no one hears this.
Not a soul appeared to walk the streets.
Three … two — John pulled his fist back. — one. Here goes nothing! He struck the balcony window with everything he had left.
In one quick motion, John slipped inside. I swear I have some old potato chips around her somewhere.
While driving down the highway, Keisuke held up a finger and waggled it. “Don’t argue.”
Ami leaned the passenger seat back and pouted her lips. “But … besides being with the police, he is ungifted.”
Keisuke sighed. “How many times do I have to say this? Taisei has been friends with John much longer than we have and has the resources of the police on his side.”
“He won’t betray John.” Keisuke turned off of the highway and followed the ramp down to the streets below. “We’ll need his help if we don’t find John around the bay.”
“I still do not like it.”
“You don’t have to, but if you really want to find John, you’ll keep your mouth shut.”
Ami choked down whatever smart-ass comment she was about to say. “Fine.”
“Good.” Keisuke slid his finger across his smartphone like a Z, unlocking it. After plugging it into the handless outlet, he called Taisei.”
“Is that you, Keisuke?” Taisei’s voice rasped as if he had been yelling at someone for hours … or crying.
“It is. I want to meet with you as soon as you can get over to Riki in Urawa.”
“I’ll go ahead and reserve the seats, just get over here quickly.”
“Besides wanting to discuss John, I want to tell you the truth.”
“Is Ami with you?” Taisei asked.
“Yes.” Keisuke pulled into a time parking lot and cut his car off. “She is a part of this.”
Taisei gulped. “This sounds serious.”
“If you want to stop a war, then you will be there as quickly as possible.”
“I’ll explain more when you get here.” Keisuke hung up the phone and climbed out of his car. “Come on, Ami. We need to think of how to phrase this.”
Taisei stepped into Riki. Why did Keisuke put John and war in the same context? He swallowed. John couldn’t … .
The packed room bustled, and boisterous laughter echoed throughout the far corners of the room. Neon lights flickered along the walls, displaying the team colors of the Urawa Reds. The sweet, grilled scent of yakitori drifted across the room.
Salivating, Taisei licked his lips. I should hold my opinions until I hear what they have to say. He glanced about the room.
No one in the sports-bar even remotely resembled Keisuke.
Did I come to the wrong Riki? Taisei narrowed his eyes. Is there another Riki in —
His phone vibrated.
Taisei flipped his phone open. Email from Keisuke.
— ‘On the second floor.’ —
Oh. After climbing to the second floor, Taisei scanned the tables.
Keisuke sat with Ami at a booth by the window. The two booths around them were empty. They waved, and a waiter sat a third beer on the table then walked off.
Taisei strolled over to the table and slid into the seat next to Keisuke. “So … war?”
Ami clutched at her pants legs. “Keisuke … .”
Before turning to Taisei, Keisuke shook his head. “Ami, if you want to save John, then be quiet.”
“What do you mean, save John?”
Keisuke swallowed. “I guess I should start with the reason your memory about the other day’s event is fuzzy.”
The other day? Taisei blinked. “Sure?”
“I know this is going to sound crazy. I mean you will probably not believe us at first, but just hear me out.”
Taisei nodded. “Okay?” He took a sip of his beer.
While cracking his knuckles, Keisuke took a deep breath. “John, like me and Ami, is a power-user or someone who can use magic.”
The beer caught in Taisei’s throat, he coughed. “Wha—”
“Just let me tell you about everything else before you start complaining.”
So, our magic has a special property that makes us hard to notice as well as remember, especially when we are using a specific power. Beyond that, there is a really, really evil man named Hyuga. He is the one you saw John with at the hospital.”
Taisei twitched. He can’t be serious, can he?
Keisuke chugged his beer and sighed. “Hyuga is the man who left John in that gold vault and plans to use John as a catalyst to start a war with America.”
Ami kicked Taisei under the table.
Taisei yelped. “What the fuck, Ami?”
After blinking, Ami licked her lips. “Sorry … that was meant for —”
Keisuke squealed. “Stop fucking kicking me!”
“You have already told an outside too much.” Ami’s hands quivered around her glass of sour.
They are both serious. Taisei gulped. “So, what do you want me to do?” I know for sure that there is nothing magical about me.
Keisuke thinned his lips. “We want you to expand the search for John, focusing on any place he had been before rather than where you last saw him.”
Taisei nodded. I had already thought about doing that, but I delayed the suggestion.
“I think the gym and park would be the primary locations he may try to hide at.”
My thoughts exactly. “And?”
“When you catch him, you must turn him over to us. As you now know, Hyuga can get to John no matter where you keep him.”
Not if we move him to a high security prison. I hate lying but … . “I can agree to that.”
“Good. For Japan’s future, it is imperative that we take John into custody as soon as possible.”
“I understand.” Taisei finished his beer and stood. “Then, I guess I should get to work.”
Keisuke rose to his feet. “Thank you, Taisei.”
Taisei’s heart thumped, and a spike of guilt pierced his chest. “Anything for a friend.” Even if that friend is not you … . He turned around and walked out of Riki, intent of protecting John from himself.
Tossing and turning, John found sleep hard to come by. Why the fuck can’t I relax?
Each lump in his bed dug into his sore muscles, and the small bag of expired potato chips barely gave him enough energy to heal his serious wounds. A cardboard box covered the hole he had made in the window. On top of it all, spoiled milk and rotten meat still hung in the air, despite him throwing it out earlier.
John gagged. I … have to do something.
“Like go out and get arrested?” Darkness laughed.
That’s not funny.
“I thought it was, and I’m always right.”
After throwing the heavy futon — an out of season blanket — to the side, John climbed to his feet.
Darkness surged, and John’s hands jerked forward. His body leaped out of the bed. Darkness howled through John’s lips.
No! Mentally wrapping his hands around the hateful force, John jerked Darkness out of his mind and wrestled it until his body was once again his own. Stop doing that!
“Then do what you need to do.”
I do not need to kill people.
John stretched, and using the peaceful life like a collar, bound Darkness in a tight box. That should hold you.
Darkness murmured, but no words escaped the box.
While shivering, John moaned in relief. Finally. Peace. My wonderful peace.
Other than the smell, the room was in perfect order. Some clothes sat in his washing machine and a few dishes in the sink. The floor needed to be vacuumed due to the dust from a week-long absence.
I guess I’ll clean. John plugged in the vacuum and went to work.
Back and forth. Back and forth. The vacuum hummed while it removed the dust from the floor.
John moved the Vacuum back to his closet and moved into the kitchen. Dishes or clothes?
Time being his enemy today; the clothes became the first priority. Washing powder in the dispenser and fabric softener tossed directly atop the clothes themselves.
After pressing the button to turn on the short cycle, John moved over to the sink and turned on the hot water. He poured the soap onto his sponge and scrubbed the dishes clean.
The warm water soaked into his hands, and his fingers turned white. They ached as if the wounds were still there, though no wounds could be seen.
John rinsed off and sat the last of the dishes and turned the cup upside down on the counter beside the sink. And that’s done.
The solitude struck at his heart. Peaceful. Yet … lonely at the same time.
I guess I’ll just surf the internet until the clothes are finished since I’m too tired to workout. John strolled back into his bedroom and over to his desk.
Being off for a week, the computer took ages to startup. The fan buzzed. The room became hotter, but when the screen flashed on, all the tension fled from the air.
I have to make sure I don’t post anything online. John opened up Firefox and tapped his foot while it loaded. I can’t let anyone know that I’m even alive, much less back at home.
The browser popped up and loaded ESPN as well as several other websites. It moved slower than a fat man through a ball-pit.
John played around on the internet long past the washing machine beeped. After a long delay, he stood and hung his clothes up inside since the internet said that it would rain over the next few days.
A weary exhaustion crept into his bones.
While yawning, John smiled. Now … I can finally get some sleep.
Ami flared her stomach oven and tightened her link around the mirror. Her vision flared. Even in the dark, she could see as if it were noon. Why could this not wait till morning?
The cold sand slipped into her shoes and itched at her feet. The constant rap of the waves against the beach made her want to fall asleep. It was so late. Why was she walking along the beach with Keisuke of all people at this time of night?
While yawning, Ami clapped her hands. “Keisuke … .”
Keisuke spun to face her. “Do you no longer want to find John?”
Her mine awoke with an explosion. Yes, John … . John was why she did something so stupid. John was the reason she worked so hard without sleep.
“Thank you for reminding me, brother.” Ami worked her mouth. Did I really just say that?
Keisuke froze in place. His lips quivered. “Ami … are you alright?”
“Yes. It is just … thank you for helping me against your girlfriends orders.”
“Ha! You know, John’s my friend, too.”
“Thanks anyway.” Ami dug her foot in the sand. “It feels like old times.” Before you ran Mom off and drove Dad to — stop thinking like that! Her face scrunched.
“We should search for a —” Keisuke scrambled forward.
“What is it?” Ami took off in a full sprint, rushing to his side. “Did you —”
Keisuke pointed at the sand in front of him.
Large shoe imprints dug into the sand and led towards the road.
“This is it!” While jumping up and down, Ami squealed. “Thank you so much.” She leaped over to Keisuke and wrapped him in a tight hug.
Keisuke grunted. “We still have to find him first.”
Ami released him and nodded. “You are right.” She almost cringed. It does not hurt as much to say that anymore.
Together, they followed the trail off of the beach and down the road.
By the time the trail went cold, a shimmer of light flashed over the horizon.
Ami stretched and pointed to a station in the distance. “Either too many cars or he dried out by this point, but I would bet the lotto that he went to that station over there.”
“Good call … sister.” Keisuke grinned.
Thump, thump, thump.
Ami’s face flushed. Why does my heart beat faster when he talks to me like that? “Shall we ask them for the video to make sure it was him?”
“Yeah, but I have a feeling that we might be better off just going straight to his house.”
Ami nodded. “Me too —” Especially since I have never been in John’s room. “— but in this situation, I would rather be sure than misinformed.” Before striding off towards the station, she took a deep breath and clapped her hands eleven time — a Chef’s lucky number.
Next: BURNING Chapter 4