Tokyo Demons Book 1: Chapter 2
Audio version of Chapter 2 can be streamed on YouTube below:
She watched TV and sewed, like most nights. A half-finished piece of birthday cake rested on the table before her, its accompanying fork encrusted in crumbs and white-and-pink frosting. She dragged on her cigarette, the orange tip glowing brighter as she pulled, then released a thick cloud of smoke. The smell of it matched that of the room.
It was time. Young Jo closed his hands behind his back, cleared his throat, and checked in the hallway mirror to make sure his collar was clean. A single white string lay against his black sweater; he angrily pulled it off. Then he swallowed and stepped into the living room.
His second-to-last foster mother turned her head. Her smile was seeped in that straight, honest caring Jo knew was for him.
“Hey, baby.” She beckoned him with her head. “C’mere and have some cake.”
Jo walked up to her, though he didn’t join her on the couch. She held out the plate with the cake and he politely declined.
“You sure? You’ve been looking skinny lately.”
Jo shook his head. Without a word he pulled his hands from behind him and offered them toward her. The small box, wrapped in birthday paper of blues and reds and yellows, looked like a mosaic of colored affection against his palms.
Her eyebrows raised. “For me?” she asked. “Jo, sweetheart, you didn’t have to.”
Jo smiled. His second-to-last foster mother carefully picked the box from his hands and unwrapped it. She placed the white cardboard lid gently on the table and reached in. She inhaled sharply as she pulled a tiny crystal rabbit from the box’s cotton-filled interior.
“Jo!” She turned to him with wide eyes. “You got this for me?”
Jo shrugged, and smiled. The rabbit was her Chinese zodiac sign. She liked knickknacks, and he’d seen it in the store window…he’d saved his arcade yen for a month to buy it.
“Sweetheart, did you pick this yourself?”
Jo nodded. When he’d finally gotten enough money, the price had raised. He’d gone into the store and stared at the rabbit and thought he’d cry.
“You went out and got me a birthday present?”
Jo nodded. The man in the store had been really mean, and had yelled at Jo for being there without a parent.
“You didn’t have to!”
Jo shrugged. He’d wanted that rabbit and hated that man and loved her.
His second-to-last foster mother crammed her cigarette into her ashtray and pulled Jo in for a great big hug. “You’re such a sweetheart,” she cooed into his ear, rocking him back and forth as her hair brushed his cheek. She smelled of flowers and cigarettes and not at all of alcohol. “You’re the best kid ever, you hear me?”
Jo slid his arms around her. He’d just slipped the rabbit in his pocket. Slipped it in and left the store.
Jo smiled. She was happy, and it had been easier than he’d thought it would be.
Jo took a long drag on his cigarette and leaned his back against an unmanned bar. Things were going perfectly. Perfectly. He couldn’t remember the last night he’d done so well. If he had to calculate it in his head, he figured he was already 50,000 yen richer–and that didn’t count all the money he’d made at school. If Jo worked that club right, he could return every few months and really clean up. He jammed his cigarette butt in a nearby ashtray and dispersed thick smoke from his nostrils.
He found himself face-to-higher-face with Sachi. The tall classmate waggled a bottle of soda and smiled at Jo. “Hey.” He gestured to his drink. “Can I buy you one?”
Jo actually winced. That’s it, he thought in resignation. This guy can’t be real.
But Jo was in a good mood–the kids in that club were (unknowingly) treating him already. He figured he would cut Sachi some slack. Sachi was just new at taking people out, right? It was the beginning of high school–a lot of his classmates didn’t know squat about dating. Maybe if Jo gave Sachi some pointers, things would be less humiliating for all involved.
“I don’t need you buying me anything, Sachi,” Jo lectured. “Save it for that girl you’ve got the painfully obvious hots for. Ayase or whatever, right?” He pushed another cigarette between his lips and searched his pocket for his lighter. “I don’t know why you’re ditching her for me right now. What was even the point of tonight?”
Sachi’s eyebrows furrowed slightly. “I’m not…ditching her,” he said. “I wanted to give her some space. I left her with Kiyoshi.”
Jo sighed. “You left her,” he repeated. “With Kiyoshi.”
Unbelievable. Jo touched the edge of the flame to his cigarette and snapped the lighter shut. “Sachi,” he mumbled around the stick. “Maybe you’re not good at sizing up threats, so let me do it for you. You’re not ugly or anything, but Kiyoshi is better-looking than you. I’m better-looking than you. The very, very first rule of dating is don’t ask a girl out and invite two other guys who are better-looking than you.” He dragged deeply, released. “And don’t leave her with one to try and buy drinks for the other. How could you possibly think that’s productive?”
Sachi paused a moment. “I don’t…productive?” He frowned. “Jo, this wasn’t meant to be a date with her.”
“You were flirting with her all day.”
“I wasn’t flirting.”
“Yes, you were.”
Sachi put down his drink. “I was trying to make friends,” he responded, slight frustration behind his voice. “Like I’m trying to make friends with you.”
Jo sighed. He puffed on his cigarette.
“Fine,” he said at last. “Whatever.” He was starting to come to the conclusion that Sachi, although painfully naïve, wasn’t the same kind of naïve Jo had assumed. It probably wasn’t worth his effort.
Besides, he thought. I’ve listened to him talk enough for one day.
Sachi sipped from his drink and said nothing. Jo smoked. A throng of teenage dancers pulsed to the throbbing baseline.
Jo took a long drag again, allowing his eyes to roam the club as the warm poison filled his lungs. A cynical part of him wondered if Ayase was making out with some other dude in a corner somewhere. She’d already gotten three guys to take her to a club on the first day of school–maybe she was more of a man-eater than her attitude implied. It would certainly be the cherry on top of Sachi’s efforts that day.
But Jo didn’t see her. As Jo’s smoke swirled in front of his eyes, he came to the conclusion that she’d either gone to the bathroom or left entirely.
“Jo?” Sachi asked after a moment.
He took a breath. “Do you really think…Kiyoshi’s good-looking? Like, to girls.”
Jo rolled his cigarette from one side of his mouth to the other. “He’s a jock, right? Jocks can always get laid. Besides, the overgrown hair and puppy-dog eyes make him non-threatening.”
Sachi set down his bottle. “You sound like you know a lot about this kind of thing.”
More than you? Jo thought. That’s not saying much.
“Hmm.” Sachi scratched his chin. “I guess that’s a good thing for Kiyoshi. He’s sorta…got his eye on someone.” Sachi sighed. “You’re his roommate, Jo. Maybe you can help him.”
“Sure,” Jo dismissed. “Whatever you say.” He didn’t add, to be polite, that he had countless better ways to spend his precious time.
Ayase’s head hurt. She slowly lifted her eyelids, then shut them to stop the world from spinning. She swallowed the bile in her throat.
It was hot, wherever she was. Hot and cramped. She was nearly upright, her legs sprawled in uncomfortable positions and her hands bound behind her back. Something solid but soft rested against her cheek, and it rose and fell almost in tune with her breathing. She could vaguely remember getting grabbed and hit in the head. She tasted blood on her teeth.
She at last managed to open her eyes. She was in a tiny, dark space where a few bare slits of light glowed from a grate in a metal door. She gingerly turned her head and made out the shape of a broom leaning against the wall. Based on her position and the smell of cleaning fluid, she figured she was in a janitorial locker or something.
She rested her head against the moving softness and closed her eyes. She was still dizzy, and she found it oddly comforting…it was a little warm, and it gave great relief to her spinning head. It was only the back of her mind that murmured she was probably resting against a breathing person, a male chest if she didn’t know better, and Kiyoshi’s unconscious body if she had to guess. When she finally listened to her intuition and jerked back, she did indeed recognize that shirt. Even in the dark she could see Kiyoshi’s head resting awkwardly in a corner, and the fact that she was squashed against him so tightly that her thighs were straddling one of his.
Color flooded to her face instinctually. Damn. She tried to squirm herself off him, but any movement with her hands bound resulted in her legs tightening around him. She quickly gave that up–it wasn’t like there was anywhere to squirm to, and she was uncomfortable enough without accidentally grinding him.
With the fog in her head finally dispersed, her mind raced. What the hell had happened? Where were they? She could vaguely make out voices on the other side of the locker and it made her heart pound in her ears. Had she and Kiyoshi gotten too close to something they weren’t supposed to overhear? She swallowed and tried to listen to anything she could make out. After a moment, she realized the heartbeat throbbing in her ears was on a slightly different beat from another dull pulse that bled through the walls.
Then they were still in the club. It was a slight relief–she wasn’t tied up on a boat and being shipped into slavery or anything. She tried to grasp at that straw of good news as she wriggled against whatever was binding her hands.
Kiyoshi suddenly moaned. Ayase froze.
Several points and counter-points flashed through her head. Should they make noise to try and get help? But what if whoever was on the other side of the locker had put them there in the first place?! She made the lightning-fast decision that they needed to stay silent; she stared at Kiyoshi, praying with everything she had that he would wake up quietly.
But he didn’t wake up at all. He simply stirred, mumbled some not-words, and murmured a single name:
Ayase held her breath.
Kiyoshi made a little grunt before finally settling down. He went silent once more, his breathing falling into its previous unhindered rhythm.
Thank you. Ayase swallowed. She didn’t know who Mai was, and frankly, she didn’t care. She needed to get her hands free before anything else happened.
She stopped at that. There was a way to…she watched Kiyoshi carefully for a moment, determined to diagnose his state of sleep. It really did seem like he was still out cold–his deep breathing indicated he was oblivious to her presence and probably would be for a while.
Ayase took a breath. Then do it, her mind calmly stated. He won’t see you. It made sense, she knew, but Ayase still felt acids swirl in her stomach. She bit her lip. It wasn’t like she had much of a choice…slowly, carefully, she closed her eyes and relaxed her bound hands.
Her fingertips began to dissolve. Slowly at first, the particles of her body that broke free took on the form of small, shining insects, near-silent and uniform under her command. First her fingers dissolved into the bugs, then her palms, then her wrists until the closet filled with dozens of them. The cord that bound her fell to the floor as the wrists it bound scattered into the air. Once she was free she mentally pulled the insects back to her body, and they quickly returned and reformed into her missing hands.
She let out the long breath she’d unwittingly held. She shifted carefully so she could stretch her hands out before her and flex the fingers.
Fine…she was fine. It hadn’t hurt a bit. That wasn’t too bad, she thought as her nerves slowly began to settle. She had to admit that she hadn’t really known if it would work–she’d only intentionally turned her body into insects a few times in her life–but it had been as easy and natural as she’d feared.
She dropped her hands and swallowed. There was no more time to hesitate.
It took her a minute or two to free Kiyoshi; she needed to roll his back to her and contort very oddly so she could use her teeth to tear his cord. She felt around the back of his head and brushed a bump there, but no blood. She positioned his back against the wall again as silently as she could.
“Kiyoshi?” she whispered very, very quietly. She shook him gently. “Kiyoshi, wake up.”
He moaned and turned his head. She turned it back to her and leaned close.
“Kiyoshi, come on.”
Ayase paused, but he was clearly just dreaming–it wasn’t time for that. She furrowed her eyebrows and shook harder.
“Kiyoshi!” she hissed in his face. “C’mon, you have to–”
He suddenly surged forward and kissed her. Despite her brain’s shrieking protest, she was still too shocked to react in time. His body crushed into hers, sending them back to slam against the door of the locker.
Proceed to Chapter 2, page 2–>