This really wasn’t the sort of weather to be running in, and they weren’t even running. They were sprinting. Through shaded alleyways and winding streets, past mewling cats and panting dogs, over dried up canals and up punishing inclines. Aya’s hands fumbled with her camera bag, her heart slamming against her chest as her lungs heaved in hot air. And still, the girl she chased remained out of reach.
Surely she couldn’t be that slow? Surely the kid couldn’t be running that fast? At a pace that neither of them could sustain, the two neared the boundary into the Northern District, winding paths slowly shifting to paved, sun-baked streets. It was as if they were physically struck by the difference in heat; exposed out in the open, with no shadow in sight, the full power of the summer sun met them. Aya’s heart skipped a beat, then two, sweat stinging her eyes. A sharp pain shot into her chest, but it passed in the next moment.
For the child, however, it finally proved too much. She stopped, stalled, and then pitched forward, her face flushed and dry as she fell face-first onto the searing pavement.
And, in the lukewarm safety of Spice Tea, Fumiko could see all this go down as well, her travel flask halfway up to her lips as she watched a familiar face chase a child down until the poor girl collapsed in the heat.
The difference between Kingyo’s exterior and interior was stark. Though from the outside, the establishment rocked a dark wood and paper door vibe, complete with a name etched into wood that mimicked the sweeping strokes of a brush and a red lantern that buzzed with the sound of LEDs, the inside rocked a...rock vibe. Heavy metal played softly, while the linoleum floor contrasted with jet-black walls adorned with various photos of metallic legends. The countertop was lined with shiny red stools, while the A/C at the back blared at a crisp 20 degrees Celsius, so cold that Mochizuki shivered.
Though not particularly wide, Kingyo was certainly long, a narrow establishment with a long counter for customers to eat at, but little in the way of proper tables. Behind the counter was various gas stoves, ovens, and grills, all of them turned off at the moment, while the door off to the right was slightly ajar. Through it, the bespectacled youth could see what looked to be a storage space the size of a closet.
The only other person inside the izakaya was a girl sitting at the counter, an apron draped over her shoulders. Her hair was cut at shoulder-length and dyed blonde; her ears were pierced while her bright eyes were piercing. Other than a slight nod towards Mochizuki when he entered, she was wholly focused on her melon soda float, jabbing at green, foamy ice cream with a long spoon while a news station sounded out from her smartphone.
“...are still asking for citizens to call in to report any sightings. The hotline number is…”
Above, the clock ticked seconds away, reading 2PM.
Otoya managed half a circle before the delinquent lost his balance from being grabbed and fell over backwards, the rest of the sprayed paint catching onto the right side of his face. He twitched, eyes immediately tearing up as his nostrils flared, trying to expel whatever had entered it. “Shit, fuck, agh!” came out in sporadic bursts as he waved about wildly, unable to even see who grabbed him. One kick of his legs sent the box tumbling away, the mutilated cat rolling out into searing daylight.
His buddies, though hesitant, took only a moment before realizing that Otoya was just another vandalizing punk rather than someone dangerous. The bigger one, a crew cut lad with a black teardrop drawn below his right eye with a Sharpie, pounced up first, chest out as he grabbed the pretty boy by the collar. “Oi, fuckboi! Trynna start sumthin’ up with the West Park Bois?!”
The smaller one, with his hair sloppily dyed red and slicked back with a handful of gel, hunched his shoulders as well, lower jaw jutting out into a (threatening) grimace. “Yeah! You wanna fucking go?!”
It took a bit of finalging, a couple more apologies, and a sharp, keen eye, but after some tip-toeing, Iwao found an opening, seized the opportunity, and broke out into the front of the orderly mob. The smell of briny water was intense, and the cool air emanating from styrofoam boxes filled with ice was absolutely delightful. Mackerels, eels, red snappers, shrimps, and even a couple of large, spindly spider crabs were on display. Truly a summer’s bounty.
“Iwao!” The Somalian fisherman beamed. “Dyed your hair again, did you? Looks wonderful, like sunlight spun into a spool!” It was yet another one of Captain Belo’s myriad of talents: an uncanny memory for any of his customers, one-time or regular, as well as the sheer audacity to spit out flattering poetry. Rumors circulated, of course, that he had a PhD in Memory Studies from Stanford or Oxford or another -ford, or that he was a Poet Laureate from the United Kingdoms after his stint as a legendary Somalian mercenary with 600 confirmed kills, but for all his charm, Captain Belo never gave out his last name, and thus, Google never offered conclusive hits.
With a sweeping of his large hands, he waved off towards his bucket of eels, the fat sea snakes writhing languidly in the clear water. “Hot day, isn’t it? Good day for unagi, I feel! For you and your sharehouse buddies, how about I offer you five of these squirming beauties for 3000 yen? Good for skin, good for eating, good for virility as well!” The fisherman winked at that. Hijirido University’s co-ed sharehouses weren’t a secret to anyone, and neither was the fact that a disproportionately high amount of people in those sharehouses were hooked up with each other now. Midterm study sessions, as it were, sometimes were more potent than trips to Disneyland for forging romantic bonds.
Before Iwao could respond, however, an arm, sleeved with silk and bearing a fashionable watch, stretched out right by his ear. From behind, a young man in designers brands that definitely couldn’t be found in Tenoroshi called out, “I’ll take it! 3000, yeah? I’ve got 4000!”
She trembled, sourceless terror springing through her. Already, the sight was melting away, evaporating. The hand. From the sky. Made the building disappear. She blinked, once, twice. But though there were many gaps in the Central District’s cityline, Sayuri couldn’t find the gap that was new. Her memories were escaping her, sourceless terror gradating into meaningless confusion. Had to write it down. If she wanted to leave any mark of this, she had to write it down.
Two arms, slim and pale, wrapped around her, resting comfortingly beside her neck. A familiar pressure was there, the warmth different from the heat of the sun. With only the suggestion of cologne undercutting his natural musk, Hiroyuki leaned against her, his lips grazing her left ear. “Morning, Sayuri,” he murmured, “Sounds like no one else is home right now...”
His hands traveled lower, his body pressing closer.
Hiroyuki grimaced, retracting and looking at his bare foot. Raw egg yolk clung to it, the slime falling away from, but never off, his toes. Gross, there were shards of shell as well. His eyes narrowed briefly, seeing the rest of the meal that Sayuri was preparing. There was anger there, but it was quickly replaced with bemusement. He chuckled, stepping away. “Clumsy as always, eh, Sayuri? Clean this up and finish cooking, will ya? Hungry as hell right now.”
With that, he turned away, tracking more egg onto the floorboards with every step as he strode for the washroom.