Tokyo Demons Book 1: Chapter 1
Audio version of Chapter 1 can be streamed on YouTube below:
You’re Never Alone
April 1st, 2002
A male classmate crashed into Ayase as he rushed through the hallway. He sent her careening into another student, who cried out in surprise as Ayase’s shoulder slammed into him. The boy who’d knocked into her turned, mouth open for an apology, as her books tumbled to the floor.
Ayase grimaced as pain bloomed in her shoulder. She knelt down for her dropped books; the boy dropped to follow suit, but he fell unsteadily and knocked heads with her. She cursed under her breath as he stuttered out apologies.
“Oh, man, I didn’t mean to… You okay?” Awkward fingers touched the tender spot on her forehead. She brushed him off and collected her things.
“I’m fine,” she murmured. “It’s okay.” He managed to hand her a notebook before she reached for it. She pushed the books to her chest, glancing up as she stood.
The boy smiled to reveal crooked teeth. He brushed a strand of wildly dyed orange hair from his face.
“Sorry,” he cooed. “First day, right?”
Ayase shrugged. Watch where you’re going, she thought.
The boy half-bowed his head and dashed off down the hallway. Ayase smoothed out her skirt and turned back to the door looming beside her.
The number tacked to it matched the one on her schedule. The open sliding doors revealed dozens of students sitting on desks and lounging against windowsills in those precious moments before the first bell. They definitely looked like freshmen…
This had to be it.
“Need some help?”
Ayase turned to find herself staring at a tie. She tilted her gaze higher up to meet the eyes of a tall young man, his short hair lazily spiked and a disarming smile on his face. He raised his eyebrows.
“Um…I don’t think so.” Ayase folded her schedule and slipped it into her jacket pocket. “Just looking for my homeroom.”
“You’re here? Cool.” He tilted his head. “You pick a seat yet?”
“So we pick seats, too. They’re pretty lenient here.”
The boy smiled and fingered his hair. “I know. I’ve never been to a school that let me keep my spikes. There was a kid with crazy orange hair running around; it was pretty weird.”
“I saw him.”
“Cool.” He smiled again. “What’s your name?”
Ayase paused a moment. “Watanabe,” she said at last. “Ayase Watanabe.”
“Watanabe-san. May I sit next to you in class?”
Ayase paused again. “I…guess so?” she murmured as she maneuvered around him and through the doors. She found a few open desks near the back of the class, so she rested her books on one and sat down. The boy took the seat beside her and smiled even more brightly than before–if that were possible.
“By the way, I’m Sachi.” He tapped a thumb to his chest. “If you need anything, just ask, okay? You seem like a nice girl.”
Ayase furrowed her eyebrows slightly. “Sachi-kun?”
“Sachi.” How could she seem like a nice girl? She’d barely completed a half-dozen sentences…
The concept dawned on her more slowly than she would’ve liked to admit. Was he…was he hitting on her? On the first day of school? When she didn’t even know his–wait, she did. ‘Sachi.’
Ayase swallowed and slumped in her chair. So much for staying invisible. But why her? She wasn’t pretty and she hadn’t said anything interesting.
“Are you okay?”
Ayase frowned and closed her eyes. “Fine, Sachi-kun. Sachi. I’m just tired.”
“Yeah, isn’t it way too early? Everybody’s half-asleep.”
“Mm.” She rounded her shoulders inward, hoping that the action would dissuade him from asking so many questions.
It worked. “Try and catch a few minutes of shut-eye,” Sachi said gently. His arm brushed her own as he passed by; a moment later Ayase heard him greet students on the other side of the classroom.
Ayase relaxed. Closing her eyes made her remember that loud dorm neighbors had kept her up late the night before. She let her insides calm, the steady drone of chatting classmates turning to syrup in her ears. It’s okay, she thought. Everything’s going to be okay. She felt herself drift off.
Ayase jumped in her seat. Heart racing, her head jerked to the middle-aged woman who’d thrown the door shut behind her. The students quieted. The woman stomped to the front desk and dropped her bag onto the desktop with a loud clunk.
She looked up through half-lidded eyes. “First bell hasn’t rung,” she said in a mildly slurred voice. “Get the talking out of your systems now.” She fell into her seat, opened her bag, and pulled out a bottle of what looked like aspirin.
The talking in the class slowly returned. Ayase, the thundering in her heart still pounding in her ears, panted and looked down at her desk.
A large bug stared back at her from the desktop. Her eyes widened as the artificial lights in the room flashed off the insect’s shining back.
She slammed a hand down over the bug. With her heart in her throat she quickly scanned the students nearby.
Nobody noticed her. Sachi was talking to some boy and everyone else seemed fairly occupied, so Ayase curled her hand and reminded herself to breathe. She swallowed hard.
The first bell rang as the door slid open.
Jo was still too tired to properly survey the room. Since the students were scrambling into their seats as the bell echoed, he picked where the population was sparsest–the back. He found a seat two desks away from some silent kid with a blank look on his face and behind a tall student with spiked hair. Fine. Jo fell into his chair, dropped his books to the floor, and promptly clunked his head upon the desktop.
“Welcome to Fukuhashi High School,” came the tired introduction from the front of the room. “I’m Miwa Hamada, your homeroom teacher. The principal of Fukuhashi doesn’t believe in opening ceremonies, but if you’ve looked at your schedules you probably know that every morning,” she yawned, “one full period will be devoted to homeroom, to keep you informed of school events and regulations. It’s also an open period for study, quiet talking, etc. Since I feel like a train hit me this morning, you can do whatever you want as long as you keep it down. Any questions? No?”
The tips of Jo’s lips curled upward. He knew a hangover when he heard one.
Jo looked up as the teacher scraped her chair back and left the class. He felt a wave of unusual affection–the teacher reminded him of his second-to-last foster mother.
Blinking sleep from his eyes, Jo scanned his classmates. About 40 in all, maybe a few more guys than girls, some definitely prime game if their vacant conversations were any indication. There was a kogal with short, reddish-dyed hair nearby, adorned with loud jingling bracelets and an expensive mobile phone that hung from her bag. She definitely wasn’t paying enough attention. Jo double-checked for witnesses in his immediate vicinity.
His gaze fell on the silent kid two seats down. The boy stared blankly ahead, hands in his lap, book bag closed and untouched. He looked like something out of a zombie movie.
“Hey,” Jo said, in an attempt to seem friendly. “Stay up late last night?”
The boy didn’t move. “Hey,” Jo said again, louder. “You alive over there?”
The boy blinked once and flicked his eyes toward Jo. He stared a moment, saying nothing, before dropping his eyes to stare down at his desk.
Jo frowned. Damn, he thought. That was rude as hell. “Forget it,” he muttered.
Jo looked back to the girl with the reddish hair. She was flirting with a classmate, gesturing with long-nailed fingers as she talked. A few other students chatted around them, but a desk sat unoccupied nearby. Jo got up and made for that desk.
“…tried the food yet? It’s pretty bad. How was the food at your old place?”
Jo glanced at Spike as he passed. The guy was flirting with an ordinary-looking girl who seemed not only confused, but really uncomfortable. Jo wondered why anyone bothered flirting on the first day of school. The first day was to survey. Check the layout, feel out the students…or, in Jo’s experience, to case the joint.
Jo took the desk near the kogal, dropping his book bag beside hers. He made sure to catch the eye of the guy she flirted with and briefly flash his hands in a no-weapons stance. Jo raised an eyebrow approvingly.
The guy smirked.
“Mind if I sit here?” Jo made sure to ask both the girl and the guy at the same time. He tilted his head at the silent kid in the back. “I just want to read, and he’s creeping me out.”
Neither minded. They agreed that the guy looked like a druggie–so better to stay the hell away from him. Jo thanked the two of them and pulled a magazine from his bag. He flipped it open on his desk.
Their guards were successfully down. Neither member of the couple paid Jo much attention after that, not even when, five minutes later, he bent to switch the magazine and slid the girl’s mobile phone up his sleeve.
Hamada-sensei didn’t return until a few minutes before the bell rang. By then, Jo had gotten the kogal’s wallet–and the phone of the guy she’d been flirting with.
Ayase’s focus was wasted on her classes that day. She hadn’t expected to learn much on the first day of school, but not…nothing. Not less than nothing, considering her second period teacher didn’t even manage to finish taking attendance.
She’d heard that Fukuhashi was a pretty wild place; it was completely funded by the government and had the lowest admission standards in Tokyo, so it obviously had its fair share of soon-to-be drop-outs and slummers. The unsupervised dorms were packed with students who were no longer welcome at home or never had a home to begin with–which explained the loud partying that had kept her up the night before.
But it seemed like Fukuhashi was also the last resort for the teacher population. Ayase’s angry language teacher couldn’t find his lesson plan, her stuttering math teacher was clearly ravaged by anxiety, and her elderly classics teacher was borderline senile. Ayase tried to pay attention and record anything that seemed important, but by lunchtime she was left with effectively useless notes. Half of them sounded like the classics teacher’s directions for a class that no longer existed.
Ayase sighed. As her classmates whooped and jumped out of their chairs at the announcement of lunch, she clapped her notebook shut and slid it back into her bag. I won’t need you anymore, she thought.
“Did you bring your lunch, Watanabe-san?”
Ayase threw a sidelong glance at Sachi. Hadn’t he lost interest in her yet?
“Uh…no,” she murmured. “I was going to…” She trailed off as she stood, her hand sliding into her pocket. She gripped her change and it made an audible jingle.
He smiled at her. For the thirtieth time that day. “Sure,” he chirped. “Do you know where the cafeteria is?”
“I’ll find it.” She excused herself with a stiff bow, then made a beeline for the door. It wasn’t until she was halfway down the hallway that she finally breathed easier.
Dammit. She sighed and followed the signs that pointed to the cafeteria. If she ate in the classroom, was Sachi going to sit with her? She’d kept an eye on him during the day–whenever she brushed him off, he barely blinked before chatting with someone else. She hoped he was one of those boys who went into knee-jerk flirtation mode at the sign of a new girl. That meant he would probably move elsewhere if she was unresponsive enough.
The short hallway that led to the cafeteria was a complete bottleneck. Students ran past Ayase excitedly, jostling her back and forth as they rushed the double doors. When she finally squeezed her way into the cafeteria, she found herself in a sea of chattering classmates, numerous enough to break any fire code.
The line for food was a nightmare. Ayase noticed a few vending machines against one wall, so she opted for speed over quality. She passed a table surrounded by a throng of older students; a pretty upperclassman with bleached hair was sitting atop the table and smiling coyly at her fans. Based on their cries, they thought they were at a strip club. Ayase tried to ignore them and the bad taste they left in her mouth.
One of the vending machines had sandwiches in it, so Ayase bought one of the few that remained. She punched in the code for a tea in another machine but received some sort of sports drink. She was debating whether or not to keep it when someone thrust a milk carton in her face.
“Wanna trade?” A classmate in a mussed uniform waggled the carton back and forth. “That damn machine never spits out what you order. Milk gives me the shits.”
Ayase preferred milk to the purple substance in her hand. She handed him the sports drink and accepted his carton. To her surprise, he suddenly grabbed her wrist and pulled her closer.
“Hey.” He smiled like a predator, revealing several missing teeth. “You a freshman? Can you lend me money for smokes?”
Ayase was too surprised at the sudden contact to reply. When he took advantage of her silence to wrap an arm around her waist, her surprise turned to alarm and she jerked backward.
“Don’t…don’t do that,” she said quickly.
The boy whistled through his missing teeth. “What? I’ll pay you back!”
A tall upperclassman suddenly loomed over them. “Sato-kun,” he said evenly. “You’ve been warned about this.”
Ayase’s assailant let her go, his wide eyes flying upward. “I…I was just trading,” he said quickly, holding up the sports drink in his defense. “See? I wasn’t bothering nobody, senpai.”
The upperclassman’s cool gaze never shifted as he snapped gloved fingers. He jerked his thumb behind him.
The teen bolted in that direction, properly punished.
Ayase knelt to retrieve her milk. “Thank you,” she murmured as she stood. She felt weirdly embarrassed and she wasn’t sure why.
The upperclassman smiled down at her. “This school is swarming with packs of wolves,” he warned quietly. “Either find your own pack or hide behind something bigger.”
The cryptic tone of the message bothered her. That, and the black gloves the upperclassman wore–they made him look like a burglar, and she could think of no reason someone would wear gloves to school. His smile did nothing to suppress her creepiness alarm.
“Right,” Ayase mumbled before slipping away. She passed the crowded table again; someone had brought a stereo and turned on a throbbing dance track. The pretty upperclassman was deftly turning down requests for a table dance. The boys were hooting so loudly that they drowned out the squeaking lunch monitor who was trying to break up the mob.
Once she was successfully in the hallway, Ayase checked her purchases. She’d crushed her sandwich a little and her milk carton was dented, but at least her lunch was still in one piece. She let out a breath.
That was awful, she thought. She vowed to never venture into the cafeteria again.
In the new calm of the quiet hallway, she rediscovered how tired she was. By the time she reached her classroom, she wanted nothing more than to curl up in an empty corner and eat her food in peace.
Sachi looked up the moment she stepped inside.
“Hi!” he called as he gestured for her to sit with him.
Dammit, Ayase thought.
Proceed to Chapter 1, page 2–>