A Chuck Wending prompt – RANDOM SONG TITLE STORY CHALLENGE
Song title: “Do I wanna know?” by Arctic Monkeys
I bolt for the door, but have no chance…
He has me!
Yanks me back. Right away.
He drags me to the furthermost corner of the room.
His grip in my hair is so strong! Ouch! STOP! Why is he so strong? I stand up. Why is he so incredibly fast? I don’t even see him move! How is this even possible? I got pulled back so fast and so easily as if I have no weight at all.
“Gomen nasai!” I stammer. My apologizing has no visible effect- Why is this happening to me? Why won’t he let me go?
As I enter with my keycard, he has me.
With a knife, or a dagger.
By my throat!
The hotel room is a mess! Furniture on its back, pillows ripped apart… Lights on.
And my things? Neatly folded on the floor, in a plastic bag with red markings. My suitcase closed. What does he want? Is this robbery?
First thing, I try to talk to him.
I think I say something German, then English. I don’t know, maybe even Hungarian.
He doesn’t answer. Maybe he only speaks Japanese… Crap! My Japanese isn’t good. I only learn some useful and polite phrases three months ago. My mind is blank, for once. I only remember ‘itadakimasu,’ meaning: Bon appetite.
Of course, this happens to me!
Gosh, my bad-luck-powers are back!
A lunatic Asian man holds me, hostage, with a knife, in my hotel room! What is it with this hellish week? First my almost-car-crash, two days ago, then the metro stops for hours, with no reason between two stations, and now this!
He points to the floor. “Sit!” He understands! That’s good, I hope. Under the window are some grocery bags. He must have brought those with him. I sit down. Why isn’t he in someone else’s room?
“What do you want?” I bark the question. “Why won’t you let me go?“ Silence.
Is it dark outside? Already?
His silhouette looms over me. As if for the first time, he looks at me. His pale face shines, like teeth in a withered skull. Why is his face so familiar? He looks so sad. Instantly, I feel sympathy for him. How weird… Or? Maybe not so weird. Behold the Stockholm Syndrome. I have to be careful, I need a clear head, not a mesmerized potato on my neck.
“Because…“ He speaks very gently and carefully. “You are possessed.“
“I-WHAT?” I slap both hands on my mouth. “Are you crazy?” Where is my mind? I shouldn’t say that to my captor. I continue a little wary of the consequences. “Possession? There’s no such thing!“ I wait for the glint of rage in his eyes. I wait. No blaze of anger… Only sorrow.
From the inner pocket of his jacket, he pulls out three little folded paper cranes. Balancing them on his palm, he shows them to me. The cranes arrange themselves, shifting into place, with their beaks pointing at me.
That is — strange… “How? …How do you do that?”
“You do. Not me.” He observes the movements for himself. I do? That is impossible! I do nothing.
The man pulls out more of them and places them on the floor, the bed. All the same, origami cranes, made of copy-paper. They balance themselves, wherever they are put, and peek at me.
I swallow hard. They move on their own? How? Thermal waves pulse through my guts, I feel them in my cheeks too… The bottom of my stomach plummets into oblivion, and dizziness leaks from where it is hiding, to kick me in the teeth. “Try to stay calm. This won’t make it any easier for you.”
The night grows darker and stronger. The sky withers to ink, hiding the stars. There’s no moon either.
He says easier for me? What on Earth does he mean? I sit, my back against the wall, staring at the white birds. I look at the man. He is much younger than I thought! He’s barely a grown up. Brown eyes, dark wiry hair, jeans and a knitted pullover. His too big leather jacket has seen better days. It’s patched on the elbows.
From another pocket, he pulls a pen with a brush on the tip. He paints something on his palm and shows it to me. “I can’t read that. I can’t read Kanji.” He paints his other palm too. After holding it to my face, I shake my head. “No idea.”
“Well, this is bad. I wasn’t expecting, that you can’t read. It’s going to be complicated.” He scratches his chin. I can read! I tell him offended. “That’s no good. I can’t write Romaji. Not good enough. The symbolism of your world is not what I’m used to. And a mistake is not an option. It is too much at stake.”
“At stake?” What’s that even got to do with me? Romaji and Kanji, with me, being held here, hostage? This man is bonkers! I wreck my brain. How can I escape? Running is no use.
“You know, there are three things I must know before I let you go.” I am all ears! “Form, truth and regret.” He continues, walking up and down between the paper birds.
“What do you remember? Were there any strange events lately?” I nod. What were those things he wanted? Do I have to discuss philosophy with him? Truth? What does he mean with regret? “So please tell me.” He asks most interested.
I swallow. “…Why is that important?” I have to play for time. Maybe someone notices that something is wrong. Clerk’s desk do your job! That’s it!
I have to get on the phone! And call for help.
“Fine!” Dizziness creeps back into my head. My eyes hurt. Why is it so hard to focus on a thought? I feel like dreaming. Letters and shapes crawl away, when I try to read or think. “I had a near car crash the other day.” He’s keen on hearing it. “Can I move around a bit? It helps to concentrate.” He gestures that I can. So I’m on my feet and start walking. First in small elliptical figures, near him, then in larger ones. I sneak towards the phone. The paper beaks follow my every step. Must be magnetic weirdness…
“I was driving from Shibuya to Chiba. As always, that stretch of the highway was cramped. I’ve been shopping in Shibuya. It started raining half way. I knew it would, but the power of the cyclone surprised me.” He cocks his head, listening intently. “The traffic was slow. Not everybody was careful.”
Nearly at the phone now. “Street and others were barely visible in the torrent.” Two more steps. “Suddenly, a huge truck broke into my side of the traffic. Like angry bull horn slow toreros, it kept rolling over and pushing aside cars. As if they were toys. One of them even exploded into a fireball. I guess you saw that on the news.” He shakes his head.
At the phone.
Electric fire shoots up to my hand. The phone electrocutes me! Pain races up my arm. Fingers cramp into claws. Ouch, that hurts!
My ears ring. Ringing!
I hear the ringing of the phones. In the next room, to the left and right, and down the hallway. Above this room. They all ring in unison.
The man looks at me unfazed. “Please, don’t stop. We’re nearly there.” I hold my hand to my chest.
The ringing continues. What’s going on?
I want to pick it up. I want to scream for help! The cranes gawk at me.
What’s happening to me? My heart gallops. I swear, he hears it too. The whole hotel does…
“I saw that people were on the phone behind me. Probably making emergency calls. The truck hit traffic some several hundred meters before my car. And I had a first aid kit at hand. I’m a doctor. So I got out of the car, and ran up to the accident. Maybe I could help.” My throat tightens.
“Then I saw it, the truck had gasoline loaded. The driver was dead, the way his head…” The man stands up and comes closer. I stagger back. “It… It, uhm. I looked for other injured people. There were so many… And… It smelled like burning hair.”
The phone keeps ringing.
Next thing I know, I’m on the floor. The wet touch of a finger on my cheek. I cringe. Air refuses to enter my lungs. Can’t breeze! I pull myself into a knot.
It’s his pen, not his finger.
“Do you remember?” He asks, pointing at my burnt hand. It looks like charcoal! OH, MY GOD! How can that be? I don’t understand… Why isn’t my hand moving? It’s been only a spark… I don’t need more-
“No more!” Please. I’ve had enough. “Please. Don’t…”
“How did you get back here?”
“-Metro.” The answer falls out of my mouth, before I can stop it. Is he pitying me? What’s that look? He sits down, legs crossed, an arm length away from me.
“Not by car?” His hand folds around the sheath of the dagger. Suddenly that doesn’t bother me. I can only look at the paper crane on his shoulder.
“Couldn’t find it.” That has been strange. “I looked everywhere. It was gone, someone must have drove it off.” I stare at my black hand. Now that I think of it… “Someone stole it from me. With my everything – inside. Money, phone, cards, keys… Everything!” I have to go to the police tomorrow, and press a charge.
“Didn’t you lose something else too?” I look back at him, baffled. Something else? Before I enter the room, I know I miss something. It’s weird. “Was it your kage? I mean, your — shadow?” He pulls out the blade. This time I recognize it, it’s a broken Japanese sword. A damaged katana.
“I had this feeling. Being alone…” The edge of the blade glows in the darkness. It radiates warm and golden, like a lit candle.
“Tell me. How does it feel -” His eyes lock on mine. “-to be a walking corpse?”
Rustling fills the room. The origami birds move erratically. A hand full fly off, wings beating. He furrows his brows, watches the cranes. “What did you just say?” A walking corpse? I exhale the vocals and consonants.
“How does it feel, to be a walking corpse?” He studies my face.
“I’M NOT DEAD!” The impact of his last sentence is more than I can take.
“Prove it.” He demands.
“Prove, that you’re alive, and we have no business. I let you go.” How? “When did you eat the last time?” I swallow. I can’t remember.
“Dunno… I’m not hungry. That doesn’t mean anything.”
“Your hand. Observe. You are a doctor, aren’t you? Look at that burnt hand of yours. Do you think a spark can do that?”
“– No.” That can’t be…
I stare at my black rigid fingers. I try to move them. Nothing. I’m not dead. I can’t!
“Did anyone talk to you, or answer you?” I shake my head, unable to open my mouth. Nobody looks at me, nobody has.
“But this is Japan! People DON’T LOOK at each other.” A white wave of rolls over me. Is this panic? My mouth is dry, my fingers sweat. My knees go jello-I can’t be dead.
“You made the phones ring in every room. Every day. For the last three months. After changing the phones, cables, no technician knew what to do. And your room vandalized, every time when someone slept in it.” My room? “Finally, the concierge called for me. To find out.” He gestures to the paper cranes. “Took me a month to fold them. There are exactly thousand.” The origami birds settle down.
I’m not dead.
“And there is the thing with your shadow.” I open my mouth, but the words refuse to get out. ” You don’t have one.” They are stuck somewhere inside. I’m not dead. I feel my heart bulge. My eyes burn. I want to cry, but can’t. “I’m sorry, for what happened to you. It’s not your fault.”
“But my things?” I point at my suitcase… It’s gone! The furniture stands where it uses to stand. Everything’s all right! Nothing’s broken, nothing ripped or overturned. How can that be? “My everything?” He shakes his head.
He points the dagger to his pinky. A blood drop clings to the tip of the dagger. His face doesn’t betray pain. A crane lands on the dagger sucking up the red. A crimson dot marks the breast of the paper bird. In a blink, all birds — float! They buzz, like a beehive. Threat radiates from the paper mass in mid-air. The man stands back. I try to back away too.
I’m not dead.
The hum picks up the volume. Does it sounds like speaking? In a very deep voice? Someone speaks, repeats words. Over and over. The static charge grows. The hair on my neck stands on end.
The birds levitate in the shape of a ring. Only one bird, the one with the blood, moves to the center. The white of the paper glows pearly.
The glint is now a blinding white beam.
I’m not… I can’t!
With a shriek, they zero in on me.
pic: Ryo-no-onna, (meaning: a ghost of a woman) Noh-Mask