Chapter 1 (Too many long islands)
Zack slammed the door behind him and stomped away from his apartment. I hate her so much.
When the tears rolled over his lips, they left a salty residue. The pounding sounds of construction beat in tune with his racing heart. Around the twelve-story mansion — a large Japanese apartment building — only three parking spaces had cars in them.
If I could actually find another girl for more than a one-night stand, I would definitely never find myself crawling back to Sena … or accepting her apology. Zack sniffled.
From behind, a door opened and slammed against the wall.
“Get your lazy ass back here right this instant!” Sena’s shrill voice ground the English language like coffee beans.
After freezing in place, Zack swallowed. “No.” You can do this, Zack. His hands trembled. Just stand up to her. “I’ve —” Stop thinking and do it! “— had enough of you for one day.”
Sena harrumphed. “You’ve had enough of me? Me?”
Something hit him between the shoulder blades.
Zack’s knees buckled. He glanced down to stare at a high-heeled shoe. “Sena —” Without turning, he ducked.
A second high-heeled shoe whizzed overhead.
Zack spun to glare at Sena. His jaw tightened, and he clenched his fists. “Stop throwing things at me!”
“Then stop leaving the toilet seat up!”
“You cut holes in my favorite suit for that?”
Everything seemed to gain a crimson tint.
Sena spat before marching forward. She grabbed him by his pink tie. “I swear that if you ever do it again —”
By inhaling in through and nose and exhaling out through his mouth, Zack forced himself to relax.
Using her free hand, she grabbed him by his blond hair and jerked his head back.
“— I will stab you with a knife and make you clean up the blood.” Sena stared into his hazel eyes.
While fighting down the urge to strike a woman, Zack gulped.
With a snarl causing wrinkles to appear on her forehead, Sena pulled at his hair again. “Are we clear?”
“That’s not the correct answer.” Sena tugged on his hair again.
Zack gritted his teeth. “Fine! I understand! Now let me go before I do something that we both regret.”
Sena released his hair. “As long as you —”
“Short-tempered bitch.” Zack straightened his pin-striped jacket.
With incredible speed, Sena’s hand shot forward.
Zack slapped her hand away. “I’ll come back when you calm the fuck down.”
After retreating to the sidewalk, Zack walked down the road. Why is she always like this?
The raven-sized, Japanese crows flapped their wings.
Zack pulled out a tissue and then blew his nose with it.
Cars zipped by, going in both directions. The stink of gas and rotting meat hung in the air so thick that he could taste it.
Acidic bile climbed up his throat. It burned.
His esophagus dried.
After a long moment, Zack worked up enough spit to choke the vomit down. Why does this place always smell so bad?
The construction sites to his right and the Love Hotel — a high class hotel with an hourly rate for private getaways — to his left answered his question. Even worse, a bit further down the road, a trash separating facility had set-up shop.
At the red-light, Zack took a left and held his breath.
A few garbage trucks rumbled past.
Zack hurried to the dreaded overpass. I wish we at least lived on the other side of this monster, even if we had to live beside a graveyard.
Each step felt like a small mountain. Who thought making such steep steps was a good idea? An asshole, that’s who.
Halfway over the beast, Zack was huffing. I seriously want to kill someone. He shuddered. Well … not seriously but damn.
On the other side, the walkway forked. A small road to the left. A graveyard on the right. The air on this side of the super-highway was fresh with a hint of incense.
Zack glanced in the direction of his apartment and sighed. I should go back and tell her I’m sorry. Maybe — He shook his head. No! I won’t go running back to her this time! He walked into the graveyard and continued moving towards the station.
Around the station, people milled about in an undulating mess. They pushed back and forth, going in every direction. Several independent conversations filled the air more than the heavenly scent of yakitori — Japanese chicken on a stick.
With a pharmacy to his left and the train tracks ahead of him, Zack stepped up to Yaki-NJ’s yakitori stand.
Yaki-NJ looked at Zack and arched an eyebrow. “Have another fight with Sena?” he asked in Japanese.
Zack nodded. “Today,” he said in his best Japanese accent, “she cut up one of my suits, and we started yelling at each other.”
After shaking his head, Yaki-NJ pulled out a pair of basic yakitori, dipped them in sauce and then slapped them onto the grill. “I’ve met her a few times, and she seemed nice enough. But if the two of you keep fighting like this, I don’t think you should stay together.”
“I know … .”
“Then why haven’t you broken up with her?”
“I have before, but we just end up getting back together.”
Yaki-NJ laughed. “That sounds about right. How long has it been now?”
“About seven years.”
Through pursed lips, Yaki-NJ whistled. “Wow. Was she always like this?”
Zack picked up the yakitori and took a bite. “After the second year.”
“And now you’re in too deep, to really move on?”
While nodding, Zack took another bite. His neck began to tingle, so he glanced about. What’s going on?
Between Zack and the train tracks, a large man strode up to a woman. He carried a small white-knife.
Zack’s eyes bulged.
Yaki-NJ peered in the same direction. “What is it?”
For a brief moment, Zack pointed at the man. “He looks like he’s about to stab her.”
“With what? His fist?”
“No, the knife.”
Yaki-NJ narrowed his eyes. “I can’t see a knife from here. Is it in his pocket or something?”
How can you not see it? While he chewed on his lower-lip, Zack shook his head. “Never mind. I guess I’m just —”
After slashing through the straps of the woman’s Louis Vuitton purse, the large man snatched it.
The woman screamed.
The man sprinted towards Zack.
Should I take my frustration out on him? Zack hesitated before stepping aside. What could I do against a knife?
When he ran past, the man met Zack’s eyes. A snarl crossed the man’s lips, but he didn’t stop.
Zack blinked. “Huh?”
Yaki-NJ glared at Zack. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
“My mind was elsewhere.”
Once Zack finished his yakitori, he placed two-hundred yen — about two US dollars — onto the counter. “Thanks for the chat. Now, I think I need to drink.”
Yaki-NJ laughed. “Try not to pick up too many girls.”
Zack’s heart sank. “What good would it do? Anytime I pick a girl up, she only wants to fuck and never speak to me again.”
“I’m sure you’ll find someone to spend the rest of your life with.”
“I have … and I’m miserable.” Zack trudged towards the Daily Yamazaki — a connivance store.
“You know what I mean,” Yaki-NJ said from behind. “One day, a good woman will come along and not treat you like shit!”
I wish. After stumbling into the Daily Yamazaki, Zack grabbed a couple of Chu-Hais. He wasn’t in a beer mood, and the lemon-flavored Shochu Highball packed quite the punch.
Outside the Daily Yamazaki, police spoke with the woman who had her purse stolen as well as Yaki-NJ.
I can’t get involved. Zack cracked open one of the Chu-Hais and downed it on the way into the station.
Zack touched his Suica — a train card — to the electronic receiver at the ticket gate and walked through it. After working his way down to the Sobu-line platform, he stretched.
Farther down the platform, a large man stared at Zack.
Zack swallowed. Shit, shit, shit! I shouldn’t have pointed at him.
The large thief — Thiefsy — grinned.
“A train bound for Chiba is arriving,” the automated male voice said over the intercom. “Please stand behind the yellow line.”
Maybe … . Zack dashed across the platform and hopped on the train heading towards Chiba.
Zack’s chest pounded. As if someone were trying to tickle him, his neck tingled. Wait for it … . He pretended to sit down.
Thiefsy sauntered towards the train-car Zack was in.
Beep-ding, beep-ding, beep-ding.
The doors began to close.
While holding his breath, Zack bolted out of the train.
The doors shut.
Thiefsy slammed his fist against the door. That strange white-dagger glowed in his grip.
Zack sighed before stumbling onto the train bound for Tokyo.
Only one place could take his mind off of Sena and that psychotic thief.
Twenty-seven minutes later, Zack walked out of Akihabara station. A few Long-Islands from the Hub will make the world right.
In his pocket, his cellphone vibrated. Someone was calling him.
Zack ignored it and stepped onto the sidewalk where the late afternoon sun blazed brightly overhead.
With flashing lights attached to every building, bargains were easy to find. Despite that, screaming solicitors covered the streets of Akihabara — or Electric City as most in the Kanto region called it. Loud music blasted from every storefront. Week-old socks drifted on the wind.
Bile rolled up Zack’s throat, and he gagged. After swallowing, he took a deep breath through his mouth. At least it’s not as bad as it usually is.
A cute contact solicitor approached him with a coupon.
Zack leaned in close, almost nose to nose with her and winked. “Sorry, I have perfect eyes.”
The solicitor stared into his deep, hazel eyes and blushed. “I … agree.”
Oh god. While smiling, Zack cracked open his once forgotten Chu-Hai. I better get out of here before —
Who the fuck is calling me? Zack reached into his pocket and pulled out his cellphone. “Sorry, little lady, I have to take this.” I guess that’s as good an excuse as any not to do something with her that I’d regret.
Sena’s name flashed across the display.
Is she calling to bitch at me again? Zack took a big gulp of his Chu-Hai and strolled over to a random storefront’s loudspeaker. I hope this works.
A long moment passed.
Making sure the receiver faced the speaker, Zack flipped open his cellphone and placed it to his ear. “Hello?” he asked, switching back to English.
“Why is it so loud?” Sena’s words snapped like a whip.
“Just a loud area.”
Fuck, I can already feel the guilt washing over me. With an iron grip, Zack squeezed the can of Chu-Hai. “What is it, now?”
“I-I … I never want to see you again.”
Zack’s heart stopped for a long moment.
The heartbeat took him in the chest like a sledgehammer.
His stomach clenched.
To keep his lower-lip from quivering, Zack bit into it. Then, he swallowed. I must have misheard. He stumbled away from the loudspeaker. “Sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
“It’s over.” Sena’s voice cracked. “For real this time. I’m going to stay with my parents until you get your stuff out of here.”
This is new. Tears rolled down Zack’s cheeks. “Fine … but I’m not moving out until I can find a place I like.” He pressed his toes against the ground.
“Fine, but you better start looking!”
The call ended with Sena slamming her cellphone shut.
The can of Chu-Hai slipped from his grasp.
It hit the ground.
Chu-Hai fountained out onto his leg.
Despite the fact that this suit was dry-clean only, Zack trudged through the carbonated beverage.
His vision blurred.
Zack shuffled towards the Hub — a British pub. This must be a dream.
His breaths came in ragged bursts while he climbed the stairs into the Hub.
Before wiping his eyes, Zack forced himself to smile. I … need more than a few drinks. He stumbled into the Hub.
With a soccer game playing on the TVs, the few patrons at this hour didn’t seem to notice him. Several strands of tobacco battled against the mouthwatering scents of fried fish. To top it off, eighty’s rock played through the loudspeakers.
Zack’s shoulders relaxed. Journey always calms my nerves. He approached the register.
The three female bartenders looked him up and down.
The shortest of the three smiled and said, “Welcome to the Hub,” in broken English. “What can we serve you?”
Zack licked his lips and tried to remove Sena from his thoughts. “A Long Island Ice Tea,” he said in Japanese, “jumbo, please.”
As if one person, all three bartenders said, “Huh?” while their eyes bulged.
For a brief moment, his lips trembled. Keep your mind off of Sena! He pulled out his gold-members card and paid the short one. Focus! Happy Hour prices are wonderful.
The one with a nose-ring made his drink.
Zack took it and retreated to a booth in the back room. What a lovely soccer game.
The smooth Long Island burned on the way down.
I wonder if I should — He sniffled. Be a man, Zack. Stop acting like a baby! He pulled the straw out of the Long Island and placed it onto the table. Then, bottoms up.
A tingling buzz crawled across his skin. His body heated up. A fire blazed inside his cheeks.
Zack closed his eyes. Fuck Sena! He hiccupped.
In his mind, Sena screamed at him. She picked up his favorite coffee cup and hurled it across the room.
The cup shattered beside Zack’s head.
Sena stormed across the room, a ruler in hand. “You are a worthless piece of trash!”
“The world would be better off if you were dead!” Sena slapped him across the face with the ruler.
As his memories changed locations, a tear rolled down Zack’s cheek. A rapid heartbeat later, more followed.
Sena smiled while they walked through Tokyo Disney Sea. She clutched onto his arm and nuzzled against his shoulder. “I love —”
Zack killed the memory and climbed to his feet. No! He wiped his eyes before buying another Long Island along with some fried chicken.
With narrowed eyes and a frown decorating her face, the short bartender stared at him. She reached across the bar and grabbed onto his wrist. “What’s wrong?”
Zack shook his head. “Nothing … .”
A lump filled his throat.
Her frown deepened, but she released his wrist. “Okay?”
After taking his drink, Zack returned to his seat. He drank until the short bartender brought his food, and then he ate.
His mind went blank. A good thing.
People began piling into the Hub by the dozen, and every seat filled. Groups even packed around the standing areas. Of all the new patrons, Zack was the only foreigner. Unlike Sena, it made him feel special.
Before Happy Hour ended, Zack grabbed another Long Island. I feel wonderful! His eyes wrinkled with a smile. Now, I just need to find —
Two beautiful girls walked into the Hub, blocking his path. They both wore a strange, crystal-orbed necklace like one of Zack’s co-workers.
He blinked. I guess Yuuki isn’t as unfashionable as I had thought.
While staring at him, the black-haired one who wore purple lipstick sniffed the air. Her eyes narrowed, and her lips thinned.
The one with red-dyed hair and glasses first felt at the back of her neck, then her lower back. She shook her head.
Are they mocking me? Zack sipped on his drink. “How are you two doing tonight?”
They both started. Probably because they had never heard a foreigner speaking Japanese before. Their mouths worked, but no words came out.
Zack swayed back and forth. “How about the two of you come and sit with me?”
Purple looked at Red. Red nodded, and Purple became bouncy.
What’s going on? Zack took another swig of his drink. “It’s the booth right —” He pointed towards the back-room. “— over there.”
Purple beamed. “Sounds great.” Her voice was high pitched and squeaky as if she had been swallowing helium. “We’ll head over there once we get our drinks.”
Zack smirked then returned to his seat. Things are looking up!
Sena’s face popped into his head.
Zack took a heavy drag on his straw and killed the image. I’m over Sena … I just … I have to be. I have to move on.
His stomach turned.
While grinding his teeth, Zack tapped his foot. I’m better off this way. Now — He rubbed at his eyes. — there’s no chance that I can go crawling back to her.
His vision blurred once again.
“What’s wrong?” Purple asked as she took the seat directly across from him.
Zack dried his eyes. “Nothing.”
Red sat down beside her. “So … what are you doing here?” Her voice was flat.
Zack’s brow furrowed. “Huh?”
Purple nudged Red in the side. “What she meant to ask, was what is your name?”
“Oh. I’m Zack.”
Purple licked her lips. “I’m Yuna and —” She elbowed Red in the arm. “— this is Moe.”
“So,” Zack said, “do you stay around here?”
Yuna said, “Yes,” while Moe said, “No.”
Zack’s right eye narrowed. “Okay?”
“We live down in Chiba.” Yuna turned to glare at Moe. “Some of us don’t consider that near here.”
Moe rolled her eyes.
Zack chuckled. “I live down that way myself.”
“Oh?” Yuna licked her lips. “What part?”
“Yeah.” Yuna twirled her hair. “We stay down in Inage.”
After taking a big gulp, Zack found his drink empty. “I’ll be right back.”
The girls began to whisper among themselves.
Zack stumbled towards the bar.
By the time he returned, the girls had finished their drinks.
“Can I get the two of you anything?” Zack sat his Long Island on the table.
“Not tonight.” Yuna handed Zack a business card with her phone number on it. “But you can call me tomorrow for dinner.”
A jolt shot down to his toes. “That sounds perfect.”
The girls stood.
Zack glanced between them.
Yuna brushed her fingers past Zack’s cheek. “Sorry, but work called. We have to go.”
“Oh.” Zack pouted his lips.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Both Yuna and Moe strode out of the bar. For some reason, their crystal-orbed necklaces glowed.
A transparent tiger walked beside Yuna’s legs.
And over Moe’s shoulder, a transparent hawk flew.
I’ve had too much to drink. Zack scrubbed at his eyes before picking up his Long Island. Or not enough.
A few more Long Islands had Zack in good spirits. He randomly talked with the other patrons, but always returned to his own seat. The plaques on the far wall were nothing more than blurry splotches of brown and gold.
Beep, beep, beep.
The alarm on his cellphone rang. Ten minutes until his last train.
Zack stood and held his glass high. “This is goodbye for tonight!” Zack chugged the Long Island.
The other patrons clapped.
His head spun.
“Leaving?” a deep, rumbling voice asked. “But we just got here.”
Zack turned and locked eyes with the oversized Japanese man that approached his table. Impossible. He gulped.
Thiefsy smirked. “Me and —” He gestured towards the five blurry shapes behind him. “— my friends were hoping to share a drink with you.”
“Then I need another —” Zack slipped around Thiefsy and bolted out the door.
Shouts echoed from behind.
With every stride, Zack’s stomach twisted into a tighter knot.
Zack smacked his Suica against the train gate and slipped his wallet back into his pocket.
He ran face first into a padded pillar.
He landed flat on his ass.
“Get him!” Thiefsy’s voice sent shivers down Zack’s spine.
After climbing to his feet, Zack scrambled up the escalator.
“The doors are closing,” an automated male voice said over the loudspeakers. “Please stand back.”
Fuck! Zack dashed for the closest door.
Thiefsy and his gang topped the stairs and pointed at Zack.
The stink of burned potatoes filled the air on the platform.
Bile rose into the back of Zack’s mouth. He pushed passed a blurry, gray-haired old man.
“Fucking shit,” the old man said in a youthful voice.
Zack turned to apologize to the old man.
Vomit spewed out of his mouth and covered the old man from head, to toe.
The old man stumbled backwards.
Thiefsy’s gang closed in on the train.
The doors shut.
While sliding away from the door, Zack swallowed. There goes my dinner.
His head did somersaults.
Zack wobbled into the next train-car and plopped down into a seat.
By the time he reached Nishi-Funabashi, he couldn’t even see his own outstretched hands.
His stomach grumbled.
“I … food then.” Zack pulled out his wallet and pressed his Suica to the vending machine’s card reader.
First a pork cutlet sandwich popped out, then a sports drink.
Zack devoured the sandwich and sipped on the sports drink while he crawled upstairs. “I … bathroom.”
The handicapped bathroom sat beside the ladies’ bathroom, but the men’s bathroom was on the other end of the station.
“Fuck it.” Zack stumbled into the handicapped bathroom.
“I intend to,” a husky voice said.
The door shut behind him.
Zack spun and lost his balance. He crashed into the wall beside the toilet.
A dark-skinned Japanese girl locked the door and sauntered up to Zack. She ran her fingers down his chest. “I knew I’d find you again.”
“Who … you?” Zack struggled to stay the darkness creeping in from the sides.
“You were really drunk last time, too.” She undid his belt and pressed her soft lips against his neck. Her blond-dyed hair batted against his chest.
When she bit into Zack’s neck, a moan slipped through his lips. He curled his toes.
She dropped his pants and ran her fingers through his hair.
Goose bumps prickled down his arms. A shiver darted from head, to toe.
Using his hair, she pulled Zack into a kiss and reached into his silky boxers.
A moment later, everything went black.
Patter, patter-patter, patter.
While wobbling back and forth, Zack glanced around then down. “How did I end up here? 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?”
Crickets chirped, but nothing else moved.
Huh? Zack’s vision fogged in an out.
“How did you come to this particular grave and decide to piss on it?” The voice sounded angry for some reason.
“Are you a cop?”
“No … .”
“Good … then I’d say … one too many Long —” Zack threw-up onto the gravestone. “— Islands.” While pulling bits of pork from his mouth, he stumbled backwards.
“What are Long-Islands?”
“You know … .” Zack blinked. “The cheap and awesome drink?”
“Drink? … You mean alcohol?”
“Of course. What else would I be talking about?”
From behind, a Love Hotel’s flashing neon signs illuminated the graveyard. Gravel shifted under his feet. The traces of incense mingled with his vomit.
Zack choked. With both hands, he covered his mouth and inhaled through his nose. Deep breaths. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
After making a smacking noise, the voice groaned. “Perfect … just perfect.”
“Who are you?” Or where are you? I wonder if he’ll help me get home.
“Who are you?”
“I asked you first.” Zack pinched his own arm. He didn’t wake up. I understand now. I’m broken. Sena won.
“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 squeezing the bridge of his nose, Zack gave up. He didn’t care anymore.
Sena was gone. A gang with invisible knives chased him. And now a ghost had possessed him. He had reached rock bottom. There was nothing else to be said but fuck it.
Shinji cackled. “Your body will be mine!”
I don’t give a shit. After taking a deep breath, Zack looked into the star-lit sky. How did everything turn out like this?
“That is what I keep asking you.”
Zack staggered back onto the pathway. One foot in front of another. Can ghosts read thoughts?
“I am in your head … .”
Oh. So, I am just talking to myself again.
Really? Then who are you?
“I am Shinji, remember?”
A grumbling echo made Zack’s eyes water.
“Are all foreigners as stupid as you are?”
No, I like to think I’m unique.
Before massaging his temples, Zack exited the graveyard and trudged up the overpass. So, how exactly 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.
Shinji growled. “That’s it! I’m done! Tell me how you ended up pissing on my grave, now!”
Well … . While he shuffled back to his apartment, Zack recounted the story of his day.
I hope you enjoyed the chapter.