The air here in Osaka during January bites the skin. Even my pea coat -- I bought it in Kyoto when I was still a university student, a full decade ago -- feels flimsy this time of the year. I try not to go out at night, because it gets even colder after dark. I stay at home and watch TV and smoke cigarettes. There's a great big mountain of Lucky Strike boxes next to my bed.
I always thought the goddess of cigarette supply-and-demand was a bitch who always made me run to the store way past midnight. On that night -- it was the 15th, I think -- I called her "the bitch to end all bitches" for the eighth time and began walking to the convenience store, which is twenty minutes away.
One time I was brushing my teeth and I had a vision of my goddess as a Vanessa Redgrave type, heavy on heels, Gitanes and Chanel No. 5.
Between my apartment and the convenience store is a big, abandonedwarehouse that was built by the old tobacco monopoly. It's made out of brick and it's the size of a department store and the older kids back in junior high said student radicals tortured and killed members of rival sects there by cutting them apart with scalpels. Or maybe it was student radicals cutting up members of their sect because they'd veered from whatever it was that was considered orthodoxy. The stories seemed to waver each time I heard them being told, but they all told of ghosts. Ghosts of badly cut-up university students who'd suddenly appear near the warehouse in the middle of the night.
When I tried to turn up Bill Evans on my iPod, a bookish-looking kid appeared right in front of me. He was about twenty and his left cheek was hanging from his jaw. And, he was dragging his small intestine behind him. Looking like a rope covered with pink gloss, the kid's small intestine gave off steam.
It was obvious that he was a ghost, the tobacco warehouse ghost of junior high legend.
"Good evening," he said.
"Good evening," I answered.
"I am here to mess you up, just like they did to me."
"Good for you," I said, which was a bad idea, considering the kid was a lot bigger than I was.
"Don't give me that kind of crap, old man. I'm going to make you wander this world forever like me. You will never know death."
With that the kid -- displaying a strangely superior half of a grin -- pinned me against the cold brick wall of the warehouse and began stuffing his small intestine down my throat.
I began choking. I tried to push the kid away, but he was much stronger than I was.
I was in big trouble.
When the kid's vile-tasting small intestine made it halfway down my throat, even my gag reflex seemed to give up on me. The kid was going to do to me whatever it was that he wanted. Slowly, my consciousness began to fade.
Suddenly, the kid yanked his small intestine out of my mouth. I fell and vomited on the ground. When I looked up, the kid's expression was that of horror.
"I'm so sorry," the kid said.
"Hey, I've heard stories about you. It must be a PTSD thing," I said.
"No, it's not you. I wouldn't have bothered you had I known what was on your back."
With that the kid ran away and disappeared into the darkness.
I didn't know what the kid was talking about. Nothing was on my back -- or so I thought.
I turned around. Nobody was there. But did I smell Chanel?
Then I thought I heard a lighter lid close. And was that the smell of Gitanes in the air?
It was very faint, but I thought I heard heels walk briskly away.
When I finally made it to the convenience store I bought a carton of Lucky Strikes and a DVD of the first Mission: Impossible movie.
When I made it home I shoved the DVD into my laptop and I thought I saw Vanessa Redgrave give me a wink.
When I whispered that I wouldn't stop calling her the "bitch to end all bitches," her eyes merged into one and her teeth became arm-length fangs.