Cutscene: Night Sweats

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Faces marched through the swimming dark, expressions of fury fun-house distended by slats of periodic light. Jabbing fingers launched accusations. Quick vignettes and tableaus intercut: a bare bulb hanging at the end of a fraying wire, searing nearby cobwebs; a melody hummed in the next room; human organs slopping, steaming on icy asphalt.

These were superficial images, screening veils, references to transient happenings in his life significant only for what they portended. Behind them he sensed the true substance of the dream, heavy as a black hole, dragging him forward on wires. He could not dig his heels into the slurry of nothing underfoot. He gripped fistfulls of dense shadow, bent the whole of his body's waking strength to bucking the inertia of the dream stuff as it ferried him ever-nearer that picket line of family and friends. The dream would not permit physical reality to gain any traction. He slid inexorably.

Their mouths yawned with hunger. Red light boiled out of their throats. Clawed fingers snicked. Nauseous light sparked where they threshed the viscous shadows.

The still images came more quickly, each a card ejected from a deck of memories. Dark, suspicious eyes glimpsed across a crowded bar room. Pellets of fire boiling off into night air the queasy color of verdant shadows, beneath a sickly moon, to the sound of maniacal laughter. A view through the diamond fire of a chandelier as streamers of light burst violently from masked bodies strewn like dolls across a glowing marble floor.

A clawed hand plunged into the mouth that opened above his left hipbone. It sucked the taloned fingers greedily; pain bolted through his belly; a woman's hand came down violently on a vat of steaming water and splashed its scalding contents across his dream, expanding everything, bursting with light--

Izo woke up. He sat bolt upright and regretted it; the wound in his abdomen was still sore, had been opened so many times now that the scar was sure to be an ugly one when it finally knit. Cold sweat soaked his shirt. Anger jagged behind his sternum, accrued like debris in his temples.

The stress was really starting to get to him.

He slung his tangled blankets off and paced to the window to throw it open, disappointed by the warm humidity that puffed inward. Still-damp hands braced on the sill. His crown left a misty wreath on the plate glass. Everything felt sticky.

The street beyond was grainy and gray as old film, but mercifully empty. No sign of the white car, at least. He didn't know whether or not the absence was a good thing.

Not for the first time, he thought about the wisdom of staying here. If two half-crazy females could find him here with a little bit of digging, it stood to reason that a few greasy gangsters had all of the resourcefulness necessary to track him down, even if they were from out of town. In Tokyo there had been a thousand or more other men with whom he could have been confused. Here? The Aoba outside of his window drowsed fitfully. Drunk students laughed down the main thoroughfare two streets away, oblivious. None of them were like him.

This place's facade of innocence could easily be his undoing. What lay beneath it ought to worry him more, but the surrealism of the supernatural continued to hold him at arms' length from the revelations of the last three months. He could not internalize it; the weirdness of everything reduced it to mere cinema.

When he checked his phone, the screen glowed blankly. No messages. He'd have liked to believe that no news was good news, but couldn't come around to that way of thinking. They were here, whoever they were -- men in jewel-tone silk shirts and hard swagger, nosing around like inept bloodhounds. They couldn't be Sumiyoshi-kai, and for that he ought to be grateful. If they had been, he reasoned, they'd never have been so inelegant.

Even clumsy dangerous men are still dangerous, though. The radio silence, the lack of blips on the radar, even after all of the feelers he'd put out...

He flipped on a lamp, resaturating the room with color. His limbs felt cold and numb, and he sat down at his desk to rub life into them while he waited for the tattered remnants of his dream to dissolve. The anxiety remained, knuckling his stomach. He didn't want to count on his new acquaintences to provide shelter or run interference. Aside from the fact that he didn't trust any of them yet, and the fact that dragging them into his problems went against everything he believed right or decent, they were busy kicking sand in one another's faces and probably more than halfway to the onset of some sort of adolescent civil war he didn't pretend he understood.

What were his options, though? A few more days of getting less than two hours of sleep, trying to juggle university courses and his evening work for the family, and his alertness would be at an all-time, lethal low. At that point, he might as well just turn himself in and get it over with.

Fuck it. He wasn't going to get any more sleep tonight, anyway.

He flipped on his computer monitor. It blasted his room with cold, sterile light, like a comforting dose of hard reality. It incinerated the last stubborn scraps of his nightmare.

The email began, 'Honorable Iriesama...'

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