Chapter 1 (Cutting to the fire)
The sharp sound pulled Zack from the recesses of sleep.
What’s going on? Zack opened his eyes.
Sena, the Japanese woman he began dating seven years ago, stood beside the bed, looming over him in blue jeans and a pink T-shirt. She held part of his suit jacket in her left hand and a pair of scissors in her right.
A jolt of energy zipped down Zack’s spine, and he screamed. Then, he scrambled to the other side of the bed. His hand slipped over the edge. Thunk! He crashed into the floor. “Sena! What the fuck?” After rubbing his head, he clambered to his feet.
While Sena’s brown eyes followed his every motion, her long, untied, jet-black hair swayed back and forth. “How many times do I have to tell you?” Sena’s shrill voice ground the English language like coffee beans. Her flat chest heaved.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Zack glanced down at his favorite suit that he had accidently fallen asleep in.
Several holes and entire sections of the jacket were missing. The pants had been cut to ribbons.
A stampede of blood collided with his brain. His teeth ground together, and he clenched his fists until his knuckles turned white. “How could you do this? Why would you do this?”
Sena climbed atop the queen-sized bed and strode towards him.
Thump. His heart leaped into his throat, and he swallowed. Before he lost control of his temper, he took a deep breath. “Fuck it! I don’t care.”
Sena took another step forward. She screamed. The high-pitched screech bit into his ears like fingernails sliding down a blackboard.
Zack’s toes curled. “Shut up!” He backed up to the sliding glass doors that led to the back-porch. What’s her problem today? Everything was so nice yesterday.
The stomach turning screech died out. Sena blinked, and the scissors trembled in her grasp.
From behind him, bits of sunlight shined through the drawn blinds.
His left leg began tapping.
A boiling sound rolled from the kitchen and into the bedroom.
The delightful scent of curry floated on the air.
Zack’s brow wrinkled. “Are you cooking?”
“I was!” A feral growl rumbled through her thinned lips, and despite being over a foot shorter than him, her presence filled the room. “Before you fucked up again!”
What did I do? Zack sighed. “I don’t care what set you off! What you did to my favorite suit —” He gestured to the holes and exposed flesh. “— is unforgivable!”
Sena lunged forward.
Zack grabbed her by the wrist and lifted her into the air. I need to get out of here and calm down before I do something I regret.
While squirming in his arms, Sena squealed. “You’ll regret this!”
I already do. Zack tossed her out of the bedroom and slammed the door shut.
The door handle raddled.
With a firm grip, Zack locked the door.
Thunk! The scissors stabbed through the door.
Zack’s eyes bulged. What the fuck did I do?
Stomping sounds moved away from the bedroom.
After taking a deep breath, Zack removed his ruined suit and then put on a new one with pinstripes. Once he grabbed his favorite pink tie, wallet and cellphone, he unlocked the door. A long moment later, he opened it and peeked outside. “Sena?”
Zack stepped into the kitchen then looked around the corner into the living room.
Sena stood in the center of the living room with a torch lighter in one hand and his precious sketchbook in the other.
His breath caught. Thump! His heart slammed into his chest like one of the jackhammers making noise outside of his apartment.
That sketchbook contained his best work: a lifetime of final drafts that he had spent months and months perfecting on blank pieces of paper. There were art collectors who wanted to buy some of his sketches, yet he turned them down because they were his babies.
Zack’s blood turned into ice, and he shook his head. “Sena … .” He held his hands out towards her. “Think about what you’re doing.”
A smirk split her face. “I have.” Sena ignited the lighter.
Tears rimmed Zack’s eyes. “Don’t —”
“If I don’t teach you a lesson now, you’ll never learn.” Sena placed the flame against the sketchbook.
Zack dashed forward.
The fire engulfed the dry paper in an instant.
When she dropped the burning ashes onto the floor, Zack froze. His lower-lip quivered, and his knees weakened. Then, he gritted his teeth and cocked his fist back. His muscles trembled.
Thump. His heart fell into his stomach, and Zack turned away from her. While tears flowed down his cheeks, he sniffled.
Smack! Sena slapped him in the side of the head.
A wince scrunched his shoulders together. He rubbed at the spot she had hit then glanced at her.
Sena raised her hand. “How many —”
Zack spun and pushed her away from him. He rushed down the hallway, and after shuffling into his shoes, burst out the front door. I can’t believe she did that. As if walking through the desert, he trudged away from his apartment and into the gravel-filled parking lot around the twelve-story mansion — a large Japanese apartment building.
The morning light of the noon-day sun reflected off of the three cars in the large parking lot.
Zack shuffled up to one of the cars and rubbed at his bloodshot, hazel eyes while they looked back at his disheveled, blond hair. I have to get it together before —
From behind, a door clicked open. Thud! The door crashed into a wall.
“Get your lazy ass back here right now!” Sena’s voice echoed across the near empty parking lot and into the construction site next door.
Zack froze in place then 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.”
“You’ve had enough of me? Me?”
Smack! Something hit him between the shoulder blades.
Zack’s knees buckled, but he caught himself before falling. He glanced down.
A high-heeled shoe.
“Sena —” Without turning, Zack ducked. Too predictable.
A second high-heeled shoe whizzed overhead. Thud! The black high-heel slammed into the car beside him.
Zack spun then glared at her. His jaw tightened, and he balled his hands into fists. “Stop throwing things at me!”
“Stop leaving the toilet seat up!”
“You burned my sketchbook and cut up my favorite suit for that?” His voice rolled from the parking long and into the alley beside the Love Hotel. He bared his teeth. “Every day, you get crazier and —”
Sena spat before marching forward in her purple house slippers. She grabbed him by his pink tie. “I swear that if you ever do it again —”
By inhaling through the nose and exhaling out the mouth, Zack relaxed the tension in his muscles.
Using her free hand, she grabbed him by his hair and jerked his head back.
“— I will stab you with a knife and make you clean up the blood.” Sena stared into his eyes.
A snarl wrinkled her forehead. Sena pulled at his hair again. “Are we clear?”
“That’s not the correct answer.” Sena tugged on his hair once again.
While fighting the urge to strike a woman, Zack set his jaw. “Fine! I understand! Now let me go before I do something we both regret!”
Sena released his hair. “As long as you —”
“Short-tempered bitch.” Zack straightened his pinstriped jacket.
With incredible speed, Sena’s hand shot forward.
Zack knocked it away. “I’ll come back when you calm the fuck down.”
After retreating to the sidewalk, Zack walked down the road towards Nishi-Funabashi station. Why is she always like this?
The rotten squid-like smell from the Love Hotel’s open dumpster on the left and the clanging sounds of construction from the right intermingled. Together, they pushed him down the road in a haze. With each step, loose gravel shuffled under his feet. A pair of garbage trucks rumbled past. The stink of hot garbage moved with the wind and slammed into his face like a tsunami.
Zack gagged. Acidic bile climbed up and burned his throat.
The world turned, and a dizzy spell twisted his stomach.
Zack wobbled up to the dreaded overpass and grabbed onto the rail. He paused for a long moment. Whoever thought putting one step where there should be two is an asshole.
On the other side of the overpass, the walkway forked to the left and right. Small apartments cluttered the area with a few trees here and there. The tiny road to the left led towards a large highway while the path to the right took him through a graveyard — the quickest way to the train station.
After walking past a pair of large, Japanese gravestones, 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! No fucking way! I … . He hurried down the walkway. Must … be … strong.
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 that smelled like barbeque cooked on a mesquite grill.
Zack’s mouth watered. He stepped up to Yaki-NJ’s yakitori stand and licked his lips.
The old man, Yaki-NJ, looked at Zack and arched a gray-haired eyebrow. “Have another fight with Sena?” he asked in Japanese before tightening his white bandana.
Zack nodded. “Today,” he said in his best Japanese accent, “she cut up my favorite suit and then burned … my sketchbook.”
A train rumbled down the tracks to his right. A block further, the yellow-striped train stopped at Nishi-Funabashi station.
After shaking his balding head, Yaki-NJ pulled out a pair of basic yakitori, dipped them in sauce and then slapped them onto the grill. He wiped his hand on the greasy towel tied to his belt then pulled on the collar of his white T-shirt. “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 whenever I try to meet new girls, they only want to fuck. None of them are ever interested in a relationship.” Zack swallowed. “The worst part is, the longer me and Sena are apart, the more I feel guilty. I often think that maybe I deserved the beating despite how petty her reasoning was.”
“How long have the two of you been together?”
“More than seven years.”
Yaki-NJ whistled. “Wow. Was she always abusive?”
“No. While we were in college together over in the US, she was an angel.” Zack picked up the yakitori and took a bite. “But when I moved to Japan —”
A tingling sensation itched at the back of his neck.
Shivers raced down his legs. What’s going on? Zack glanced to his left.
Nothing but the usual sea of people
After taking another bite, Zack looked to the right.
Among the crowd between Zack and the train tracks, a large, Japanese man strode up to a blond-haired, Japanese woman. For some odd reason, it felt like Zack, the man and the women were the only people in the area. A white oval appeared in the air beside the man, and he reached into it. His hand and forearm vanished into the picture-like object. A moment later, he drew a small white-knife from it.
Zack’s eyes bulged, and his breath sputtered. What just happened?
Yaki-NJ peered in the same direction. “What is it?”
Zack pointed at the man amid the milling crowd. “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? Zack ground his foot into the pavement. “Never mind. I guess I’m just —”
The man slashed through the straps of the woman’s Louis Vuitton purse and snatched it from her grasp.
The woman screamed.
The man pushed through the crowd and sprinted towards Zack.
Not a single Japanese person lifted a finger to stop the man.
Adrenaline raced through Zack’s body. I have to do something
In his mind, Sena said, “How many times have I told you not to cause trouble? I won’t bail you out of jail again!”
Zack’s muscles froze. He swallowed then stepped aside.
When the man ran past, he met Zack’s eyes. A snarl crossed the man’s lips, but he didn’t stop.
Zack blinked. “Huh?” Where did the knife go?
Yaki-NJ sighed. “Are you okay, Zack? You could have gotten hurt if you didn’t move.”
Zack’s hands trembled. “I’m … fine.” He munched the yakitori down and placed two-hundred yen onto the counter. “Thanks for the chat, but after all of that, I need to drink.”
Yaki-NJ laughed. “Try not to pick up too many girls.”
Zack’s heart sank. “What good would it do?”
“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 convenience 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 wanted to get drunk but wasn’t in a beer mood, and the lemon-flavored Shochu Highball packed quite the punch.
The freckle-faced high school girl behind the register rang him up, but she never bothered looking at anything other than his eyes. A grin the size of Mt Fuji grew across her face.
Zack paid the three-hundred and twenty yen before breaking eye contact. Then, he moved towards the door.
She made kissing sounds.
Zack ignored her.
Back outside the Daily Yamazaki, police spoke with the woman who had her purse stolen as well as Yaki-NJ.
Zack cracked open one of the Chu-Hais and downed it on the way into Nishi-Funabashi station. A warm sensation filled his body, and the heavy weight disappeared from his shoulders. He 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 Chuo-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 him out to Yaki-NJ.
The large thief — Thiefsy as Zack now called him — 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 Chuo-Sobu-line platform and hopped on the train heading towards Chiba.
Thump-thump. Zack’s heart pounded against his chest. As if someone were tickling him, his neck tingled once again. 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.
The train took off.
Zack sighed before stumbling across the Chuo-Sobu-line platform and onto the yellow-striped train bound for Tokyo.
Only one place could take his mind off of Sena and that psychotic thief. Well, in one of her bipolar-like rages, Sena was probably more psychotic one.
Twenty-seven minutes later, Zack walked out of Akihabara station. A few Long-Islands from the Hub will make the world right.
Buzz-buzz. In his pocket, his cellphone vibrated.
Zack ignored the phone call and stepped onto the sidewalk where the late afternoon sun blazed overhead.
With neon lights attached to every towering 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. The stink of week-old socks hung in the air.
Bile rumbled up Zack’s throat, and he gagged. After swallowing, he took a deep breath through his mouth. At least the smell is not as bad as it usually is.
A cute solicitor in the ace-contact uniform approached him with a coupon. Her orange hat and tight, white vest whistled whenever the wind brushed past it.
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 like every other Japanese woman did and blushed. “I … agree.”
Oh god. While smiling, Zack cracked open his second 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.
Vibrations rolled over his skin while an automated voice talked about the day’s sales. Some J-pop tune played in the background.
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.”
“Fine, what? I’m the one who’s pissed off!”
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. Fuck me with a knife. Thump. The heartbeat hit him in the chest like a sledgehammer. He gasped. 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 souls of his shiny black, dress shoes.
“Fine, but you better start looking!” Crack! Sena ended the call by slamming her cellphone shut.
The can of Chu-Hai slipped from his grasp. Thwap. It hit the ground. Chu-Hai fountained out onto his legs.
Despite the fact that this suit was dry-clean only, Zack trudged through the carbonated beverage. His vision blurred.
Next: WATCHING sample scene