Tokyo Demons Book 1: Prologue
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This series has an accompanying set of cultural notes.
The top of his desk was clear. He had dusted and wiped it down, leaving the lingering scent of disinfectant in the air. He stared at the blank canvass before him, imprinting that open space inside his mind. It was a plane in two dimensions. An x-axis and a y-axis. The invisible point at its center was zero, dividing his plane into four quadrants.
But all he cared about was the x-axis. He focused on the invisible horizontal line slicing across his desk. The line was a single dimension.
He closed his eyes and saw the world in four.
Transcribing his mind into a palpable diagram always proved difficult. First he let the bare fingers of both hands drag across the desk, the feel of clean, finished wood along his fingertips providing him with tangible vectors. He lifted his fingers and placed them in the center point of the desk. Four fingers, two on each hand, pressed tightly against each other on the invisible zero of his line.
He murmured the current date.
Then he slowly dragged his fingers apart, two fingers to the left and two fingers to the right.
His mind finally began to align itself to the single dimension he forced upon it. He paused to pull his wallet from his jacket and unzip the change pocket. A number of small cards, carefully cut to a uniform size from larger index cards, were tucked inside. He let the cards spill onto the desk, causing chaos on his open space. The neat handwriting on the cards indicated places, names, or events. The color of the ink or graphite varied from card to card, reflecting the changing writing utensils he used as he transcribed his notes whenever necessary. He spread the cards out before him so he could see them all at once, in no order.
He closed his eyes. Carefully, he pressed his fingers against one card and dragged it to its place along the line. Then he did another. For several minutes he arranged his cards along the x-axis, some bunched so tightly that he had to stack them on top of each other. Left of zero was fairly simple. Right of zero was far more difficult.
Once he had his cards laid out, he paused. One remained. He lifted the final card; he had written out a single name on it, four kanji double-checked against the school registry.
He placed the card on zero.
It was auspicious, that name. The first time he had read it, he’d wondered if it were some cosmic joke. The kanji for Kado was the kanji for “gateway.”
And that was exactly what Kadoyuki would be.
Blackest nights lit up too bright
Siren’s pull of neon light
Curled up bodies in the park
Breathing sounds inside the dark…
Ayase Watanabe frowned. Sitting on the edge of her bed, one knee-high sock pulled up her calf and the other still bunched in her hand, she twisted her free arm to flick the tiny switch on her bedside alarm clock.
The music vanished. Relief flooded through her.
They’re playing that one on every channel now, she thought in defeat. As she pushed her toes into the remaining sock, she reminded herself, for the millionth time, to get a CD alarm so she wouldn’t be at the mercy of the radio.
The sock had a hole in it. It wasn’t obvious until the faint peach of her big toe winked out from the white fabric. It caught her attention for a moment, but she knew her school slippers would hide it. She pushed herself from the bed and stepped toward her full-length mirror.
Her reflection stared back at her, donned in government-issued black, white, and gray. She tied the ribbon hanging from her collar into a bow that matched the enclosed picture. She swayed her hips a bit, watching the hem of her skirt dance back and forth over her knees. She cleared her throat, took a breath, and bowed as low as she could. The skirt rose up the back of her thighs.
That’s not too bad. The skirt still covered enough of her legs, even when she bent in half. She straightened and reached above her head, her fingers outstretched toward the ceiling. The hem of her blouse shifted upward, but not far enough that it exposed any skin.
She dropped her arms, satisfied.
Ayase was prepared. She knew high school would be more difficult than junior high and she wasn’t taking any chances. She liked that her uniform was a little loose, giving her free range of motion without the risk of flashing an audience. She had money, her keys, and a list of emergency phone numbers in her pocket. Her mind was clear and focused, ready to dutifully interact with her classmates before politely blowing them off.
She would be fine. She looked like a normal student, average in every way. A girl who would blend into a school crowd and disappear.
It was the best she could hope for. She reached for her comb to brush her bangs into her eyes.
There was shaking. Shaking and a voice.
“Um, hello? Hello?”
Jo Oda snorted in his sleep. He refused to wake up yet–he was having one of those good dreams.
Money and women. That was it right there…a bank heist, a femme fatale in black leather in the getaway passenger seat, partying in Tijuana. It was like that American movie he’d seen the other day.
Jo frowned and hugged his pillow tighter. Just like that movie. He’d liked the end to that one.
“Oda-san, it’s 6:45.” Shaking again. “Oda-sa–”
“Go away,” Jo croaked into his pillowcase. “I don’t know who you are, but I’ll break your arm if you keep doing that.”
The hand on his shoulder lifted. Footsteps creaked across the room.
“Um, I’m your roommate. School starts in twenty minutes.” Jo heard the sound of a drawer opening, the slight scraping of a comb through hair. “I thought you’d wanna know.”
Jo snorted and buried back in his pillow. It was gone, though–the bags of stolen loot and the girl in leather solidified into movie shots in the back of his mind. Some hairy-chested action star replaced him in the front seat of the car.
Damn. Jo lazily lifted his eyelids. 6:50 the green-lit alarm numbers pointed out. 6:50. 6:50. 6:51.
“Hey.” A teenager who looked vaguely familiar squatted beside the bed. He brushed too-long, too-thick bangs from his forehead to behind his ear, though they broke free and fell right back to where they’d been. “You okay? You want a canned coffee or something?”
Jo closed his eyes. “I’ll get one later.”
Jo heard the creak in the floorboards as his roommate stood again. “I’m going. See you.”
Jo made an unintelligible gurgling noise. He opened his eyes to see his roommate kneeling by the doorframe. The guy stood up–a crumbled snack bag of Jo’s in his hand–and threw the trash into a wastebasket across the room. He left and closed the door behind him.
Jo moaned. “Goddammit,” he snarled as he jammed a hand under his pillow. He pulled out with a cigarette box, shook it. His lips closed over the end of a stick and pulled it free of its confines. Screw school at 7 am, was all Jo could think as he flicked his lighter at the end of his cigarette. When the fire caught, he dragged deep, closed his eyes, and let the warm smoke trail out from the creases of his mouth and widened nostrils. His insides calmed, if only slightly.
I’m running low. Jo lifted an eyelid and rolled its eyeball to the bedside table. His wallet, resting open, seemed painfully thin. He’d partied too late with a new group the night before. His fingers flicked deftly through the remaining bills.
He sighed. Taking a long drag before pulling the cigarette from his mouth, he balanced the lit stick between his fingers as he opened the table’s drawer and rummaged through. Within moments he pulled free with another wallet. He flipped it open.
The ID of a college boy stared back at him. He checked the bill sheath and found some loose cash and a few credit cards. After scratching the money up into his grip, he squinted at the identification. The boy didn’t look enough like Jo for him to swap it with his current fake ID. He closed the wallet and crammed it under his mattress for later disposal.
He finished his cigarette as he slowly pushed his legs over the bedside.
“Hm,” he murmured as he ground the stick into his ashtray. I guess school’s still good for one thing. He stretched his arms over his head and took a deep breath. The cracks in his shoulders popped one by one.