Death stood at the threshold. His navy blue umbrella trembled in the wind as the rain lashed the nylon canopy. Death stepped forward. The sky shuddered, shrieks of thunder slicing through the Osaka sky. Death smiled. The Land of the Rising Sun welcomed him with tears and curses.
Death snapped his umbrella shut and thrust open the sliding door, the flimsy paper quivering in his hand. Warmth snaked over his face. Choking. Suffocating. He eyed the kerosene heater glowing orange in the corner. He could’ve kicked it over. He could’ve stabbed it with his umbrella and let the heat bleed onto the floor, morph into fire, burn the infernal shop to the ground. They wanted heat? He could have obliged.
But no. This was a sophisticated, modern heater and would turn off if toppled. There would be no havoc, no mayhem, no burning of bodies. Another time then. At twenty-three years of age, time was a novelty Death had in abundance.
High pitched shouts of ‘irasshaimase’ infested the shop upon Death’s arrival. Smells of salt and soy sauce ravaged the box-sized restaurant, the shop struggling to hold the ramen counter and five stools within its confines. The workers were as cockroaches, skirting around the stools and scuttling past patrons in an attempt to force their bodies to fit.
Death slid his umbrella into the holder by the door and took the last open stool. The lumpy salaryman next to him gave a repulsive moan of ‘oishii’ in gluttonous enjoyment of his meal. He flashed Death a smile, bowing his head. Death did not return the greeting.
His hand itched for his favourite axe. The one he’d gotten last Christmas from, what was her name again? The anorexic cow. Was she dead yet? He couldn’t remember. Never mind her, the axe was beautiful. Delicious edges sharp enough to slice through muscle and bone in a single swoop. The gluttonous pig beside him was overdue for an axing, his ill-fitting suit splattered with ramen soup. If he shrieked ‘oishii’ after one more bite, Death would shove the man’s chopsticks down his throat and into his oesophagus.
Death had another man’s demise to consider. He couldn’t kill the gluttonous pig, even though it would have been a public service. He was meant to learn the art of … what did Father call it? Oh yes. Self-control.
Father was no fun.
The man Death had been paid to kill was Mr Kenji Yamada. Death had to give the man credit. He was smart. He had well-hidden the millions he’d embezzled from his employer and hadn’t spent his ill-gotten gains on flashy cars and expensive houses. He had spent the funds on luxurious sex vacations in Laos and drug-fuelled parties in the Ukraine. Unfortunately, one of the brothel owners in Laos knew Mr Yamada’s employer. One thing led to another and three days ago, five hundred thousand US dollars had landed in Death’s bank account.
Mr Yamada was smart.
He was not smart enough.
‘Sir, what you like?’
Death looked into dark, expectant eyes. English. The waitress had spoken English. She must have tried Japanese and given up when he’d ignored her. Death knew a smattering of Japanese words, but as a rule of thumb he pretended to know none. He loathed the language’s exuberant intonation and constant apologies.
Shouts of ‘irrashaimase’. A newcomer knocked into Death’s back. Death dug his fingers into his leg. Self-control.
‘What ramen you like?’
From behind the counter, the waitress pointed at the single-page, laminated menu on the bar. No English was written, but there were pictures a-plenty.
Death scanned the menu, grinding his teeth when the gluttonous pig jabbed him with his elbow. Death inhaled. Self-control. Death exhaled.
The waitress stood with an eager smile, her lips teetering on the edge of indecision. Whether she would laugh or not was a mystery even to her.
Death braced for the revulsion, the stabs of disgust synonymous with public displays of joy. He waited.
Waited, waited, waited.
The moment did not come. Instead, delight gnashed at his chest. The feeling wasn’t the same ecstasy he felt after shredding a man’s body into strips as thin as rice paper, but Death still recognised the feeling for what it was: pleasure. The girl’s smile was sweeter than the scent of blood mixed with a touch of lavender.
That reminded him. He needed to make another batch of liquid potpourri next week.
Her smile fell. The movement was slight, but Death saw it. He’d been staring too long and she was uncomfortable. Rage burned at the lining of his stomach like sulphuric acid through a shinbone.
Death inhaled. Death exhaled. The kill wasn’t what he needed. He needed her to smile. When a human wanted another human to smile they performed a particular act. What was it again? Yes, of course. They did what Death reserved for dreaming up a delectable homicide.
Her full grin returned.
‘Forgive me,’ he said. ‘I was staring.’
She nodded three times in a row. ‘You want ramen, or want to stare?’
‘Given the option, I’d rather like to stare.’
She shook her head, lips pinched to veil a smile. ‘That’s bad. Very bad.’
‘It is, how do you say …’ The fist of her right hand bounced off her left hand’s open palm. ‘Creepy! It is creepy.’
A laugh snaked through his lips as he bowed from his seat. ‘My apologies, I wouldn’t want to be creepy. I’m Beom-Seok.’
‘Kimiko.’ She bowed, the depth of the movement constrained by the bar in front of her and the wall behind her. ‘What you like to eat?’
‘What do you recommend?’
‘Eeto ne.’ She squeezed out from behind the bar and stood beside him.
She was five feet tall. A handmade headband with a blue sequinned flower pinned back her fringe. She was delicate. Beom-Seok could have snapped her neck with one hand. She was petite. A standard-length kitchen knife would slide through her stomach and out her back.
She leaned over and tapped a picture in the right-hand corner. Beom-Seok inhaled the scent of rose water and soy sauce.
‘Much people like shoyu ramen,’ she said.
‘What do you like?’
‘Tonkatsu ramen.’ She smiled her delectable smile. Her deceitful smile. Beom-Seok did not appreciate most human gestures but he knew them. He knew this one. Her smile was a red herring, a benign and amiable distraction from the sagacity hiding in her eyes.
‘The tonkatsu ramen then.’
‘Ii desu ne, you will not regret, we have best ramen in Osaka.’ She scribbled on her notepad, her pen painted with the Canadian flag. ‘Your English is so good. Where you from?’
‘South Korea, but I work in London. Your English is quite good, too.’
Waving her hand in front of her face, Kimiko batted away the compliment. ‘No, no, no, I am studying to be English teacher but am not good yet.’
‘Perhaps you should practice more. Tomorrow night, with me, over dinner.’
The rise at the corner of her mouth was wry bordering on amused. ‘No, no, too soon. I don’t know you, you might be crazy person.’
‘I prefer the term eccentric.’
She held the menu in one arm, the other hand slipped into the pocket of her waitressing apron. ‘I don’t know this word.’
‘Kimiko,’ a voice said.
Beom-Seok’s hand reached for the Forge De Laguiole blade strapped to his calf. He inhaled. Self-control. He exhaled. Behind the bar, an impish fool with age-stained hair and disfigured teeth waved Kimiko over. His mouth was stretched taut, his weight shifting from one foot to the other.
With a bow and an apology, Kimiko hurried away.
Death forced his hand back to his lap, sans his custom-hilted blade. A waitress with blotchy skin smelling of spoiled milk served Death his dinner. The ramen was not the best in Osaka, but this was not Kimiko’s fault. She was wiping the opposite end of the bar, ruining her delicate hands as she hummed a tune in C major.
Death paid his bill. Upon his request, the blotchy-skinned waitress informed him the shop closed at three in the morning. He left, leaving his umbrella behind.
Standing outside the shop, Death checked his gold watch.
Time to make a man dead.
Osaka’s sobs had turned to whimpers, the mist wetting Death’s face. He descended under the city, boarding the subway and sitting in the furthest corner of the car. University students destined for nightclubs and salarymen heading home piled onto the carriage. Their hearts thudded, their blood slithered, their lungs expanded and deflated.
For the girl in the white mini-skirt, Death would’ve chosen a guitar string to slice her throat. A high E string. Thin, ruthless. For the man in the Armani suit, he’d select a pair of gardening shears. His Gardenite ones, perhaps. No, Fiskars brand for this particular gentleman. The shape of the Fiskars blade was better at controlling blood loss, guaranteeing Death’s kill didn’t die or fall unconscious before he was finished.
Death exited the subway at Shinsaibashi Station, pushing through the masses of businessmen, high school students, and pasty wakugin sticking out like neon signs. Above ground, the covered pathway bustled with takoyaki and okonamiyaki food stalls, the smells of cabbage, octopus, and flour mixing with those of damp earth and asphalt. Death stuffed his hands into his long black coat, the heels of his leather brogues echoing against the cream and pearl tiles.
Following directions from memory, Death went to the scene of Mr Yamada’s impending demise. The unlucky fool lived in an unremarkable apartment in an unremarkable part of the city. The building’s outer walls were white stucco with single glazed windows and no storm shutters. There was no security guard, security door, or security system. Death climbed the cement steps to the third floor, apartment thirty-two.
He knocked on the door.
‘Chotto matte kudasai ne,’ Mr Yamada called from inside.
Yes, he could wait. There was no reason Death could not be patient.
The heavy, metal door inched open and Mr Yamada’s round, pink-flushed face peered through the crack.
‘Good evening,’ Death said in English. ‘Do you have a moment to speak about our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ?’
‘Nan desu ka?’
Death’s foot landed in Mr Yamada’s pudgy gut, sending his body reeling backwards. Death entered the apartment, locking the door behind him.
‘Cho-chotto matte kudasai!’
‘Shut up, you imbecile.’ Death kicked Mr Yamada’s head into the wall, the thin plaster crumbling. Delicious blood spilled down the back of Mr Yamada’s neck. While Mr Yamada struggled to stand, Death slipped off his top layer: his coat, button-up shirt, shoes, and trousers. Folding them, he laid them on the sofa. The second layer consisted of plain black socks, a white tank top, and medical grade scrubs for trousers. Reaching into his coat pocket, Death pulled out silicone gloves and slipped them on.
Mr Yamada had managed to stand and was balancing himself with one hand on the wall, the other on his aching head. Death’s feet slid across the tattered, bamboo flooring. Slipping the blade out of its holster on his calf, Death sank the weapon into Mr Yamada’s back. The gasp, the sputter from his lips was—
Death pushed Mr Yamada to the floor. How interesting. Since Death had learned to kill, he had thought of nothing during the act of crushing a life but the deliciousness of writhing, shredded limbs, the bliss of making his target beg for release from its blood and muscle shell.
This night, there were thoughts of Kimiko, too.
Death wondered if Kimiko enjoyed killing. Common interests were fundamental to successful romances, that’s what Father said.
Spittle dripped from Mr Yamada’s mouth as Death’s knife thrust into his stomach. Kimiko. That deceptive smile, that unassuming joy in her lips, her words. Death snapped Mr Yamada’s wrist, the hand dangling as a human hand was not meant to dangle. If Kimiko belonged to Death, she would not have to work in that inferior ramen shop. No more demeaning manager or dirtying her hands with bacteria-infested rags. The knife plunged into Mr Yamada’s forearm, thick red blood spewing onto Death’s face. He would take her to Paris. Private plane, five-star hotels. Mr Yamada crawled for the door, pulling his limp body like a slug. He’d take her to the Champs-Élysées. He’d buy her Chanel and Louis Vuitton.
Wrenching Mr Yamada by the throat, Death flung him deeper into the apartment. Kimiko would look irresistible draped in black silk sheets, her fragile, lithe body welcoming him. She’d wear pink lingerie. Death speared Mr Yamada’s lungs, blood and air racing out in equal measure. He’d make her smile, laugh. She would fear him. At first. He’d force her to get over that.
Death checked his handiwork, walking the perimeter of Mr Yamada’s mangled body. The pathetic creature choked on his own blood and bile, his legs and arms smashed into shards. Mr Yamada would be dead in thirty minutes. In the meantime, he would receive the slow, agonising death his employer had requested. Undressing, Death wiped his bloody face and placed the red-stained clothes in a plastic bag from the kitchen. Donning his trousers, button-up shirt, and coat, Death carried the plastic bag and his shoes to the door. Slipping off the plastic socks and stepping into the brogues, Death surveyed the state of the apartment: smashed mirrors and lamps with Mr Yamada’s blood and brain matter drenching the bamboo floor.
Leaving the apartment, Death hopped the last train to Tennoji. He stashed the bag of bloody clothes in a pile of filth amongst the homeless and the whores. After walking an hour, he hailed a cab and returned to where he’d began.
Sliding open the flimsy paper door, shouts of ‘irrashaimase’ rang out. Warmth touched his face. Comforting. Soothing.
‘Mr Beom-Seok.’ Kimiko. A strand of hair lay stuck to her bottom lip, her face flushed from the heat. ‘You come back.’
‘I’m afraid I forgot my umbrella.’
She stepped around the bar, pushing a stool out of the way as she came closer. ‘That very important.’ She held up two fingers, her blue nail polish chipped at the edges. ‘In Japan, people steal only bicycles,’ she lowered one finger, ‘And umbrellas.’ She lowered the second finger.
‘Only two things?’
‘I’m quite certain they steal hearts as well.’
Kimiko glanced up, mouth twisting as she translated in her head. Her nose wrinkled, her laugh muted by her hand on her mouth. ‘Hido—i!’ Her voice pitched up two octaves.
‘Much, much too much.’ She lowered her hand. ‘But I like much too much.’
Beom-Seok snapped his gaze to the manager. The manager’s words suffocated on his tongue as he busied himself with empty ramen bowls.
A sliver of soy sauce trickled down Kimiko’s cheek, a taint on her smooth, supple skin. Beom-Seok reached to wipe it away. He paused, fingers poised to touch her.
He did not want to bruise or bludgeon. He found her most pleasing alive, with the blood inside her body and her limbs intact. How did a person touch without intention to harm?
He could be gentle. Couldn’t he? He had never tried. The word itself was a disease infesting his blood, his chest, his heart. Yet, there was a vague possibility he possessed a modicum of gentleness. Wasn’t there?
Beom-Seok’s fingertips grazed her skin.
He needed to wipe away the impurity. He needed to press hard enough to erase it and no more. He pushed into her skin.
He traced his thumb down her cheek, pink sprouting in the places he’d touched.
His thumb moved to her round chin, her thin bottom lip doused in a glossy, healing balm.
His touch broke from her skin.
She looked at him, eyebrows tilting down.
He held up his thumb. ‘Soy sauce.’
Her fingers traced her skin where the impurity had been. Beom-Seok wanted to hold those fingers, to kiss them.
‘Ah!’ She hit her right hand fist against the open palm of her left hand. ‘Wasurechatta.’ Stepping to the umbrella stand by the door, Kimiko pushed aside the cheap plastic umbrellas and pulled out his navy blue one.
‘I have very good memory. This one’s yours.’
His hand brushed hers as he took the umbrella, her chin lifting high so she could meet his eyes. Her eyes were the colour of soil after a fresh rain. Eyes that had seen so little of the world. He would show her. He would show her beauty, show her adventure, show her art.
‘You’re right, this one’s mine.’ With a careful touch, Beom-Seok brushed the wisp of hair from her mouth. ‘All mine.’
About the Author: Icy Wildes is a speculative fiction and horror writer with a penchant for exploring themes of trauma, power, and societal structures. Previous publications include her flash fiction Gone in the literary arts journal Brushfire. Her characters, themes, and settings are inspired by her time working in Japan, Scotland, the US, and her current home of Dublin, Ireland.