And Then…

~~~

Cut in half at the waist and still giving out pep talks.

Punched through a wall complete with outline but didn’t see the guy who did it.

Unsurprised when zealot’s little fob ends up impaled on out-of-nowhere spike.

Chained in abject fuck pose, whiny.

The wife still went back, after he threatened to chop her?

Who’s this?

Spam?

Ah, not now mum, I’m trying to think. Map my way out of this shit.

No money

some money.

maybe enough money

to get Portuguese lessons. Move to Lisboa. Glare at all those pastel coloured buildings until I’m in one. Fuck a poetess. Mimic Pessoa. Achieve something intangible that I don’t yet know of, that might add something in some way.

Why does Nezuko have breasts? She’s 12.

~~~

Tak forced himself off the couch the same moment he saw 48 episodes to go on I Died And Got Reincarnated As A Reincarnation Machine Capable of Infinitely Reincarnating Better cos if he didn’t he’d never leave the flat.

Staring out the window at the other people in brighter windows, he worked out the logistics for the night ahead.

Dinner.

More anime.

Forums.

Porn.

Defence of anime.

Last time he’d really cared enough to type anything out was the RE:ZERO debacle.

You only see five seconds of his normal life cos there’s nothing to see.

His entire existence is vapid.

Vacant.

Other V words he couldn’t think of at the time, but later, when it was four days too late, he came up with vacuous.

Was he vacuous?

To the guy watching him look at this restaurant menu, probably.

But it was hard to choose.

Everything just looked so…familiar.

Vacated.

~~~

In the atrium outside, Tak sat and stared at couples pretending to still be interested in what the other had to say and thought, what is an atrium?

Am I in one right now?

Realising that none of the couples were going to finger each other, he walked onto one of the quieter roads and headed over to a place where some couples might finger each other, possibly even go bareback, if he found a good bush and stayed there long enough.

Did tree costumes ever work?

Wouldn’t the two of them see your eyes?

He checked his phone, dug up seven videos related to bush voyeurs, all blurry.

Maybe I should just get a girlfriend?

A combative type, not a doll.

Reluctant to talk about her own work.

Yet capable of Howl 2

Willing to-

Huh, what’s that?

A neon green ripple effect?

Here?

~~~

Too tired to blink or say wah or put hands up to defend himself, Tak let the green wave seep through him.

Based on deft calculation, he predicted a portal to a vaguely medieval world where the girls had lamplight eyes and Faye Valentine tits, where smoke hung, where foxes could monologue, where magic was something viable if you bumped into the right mage, at the right tavern, with the right cloud of pink enervation subsuming you.

Tak blinked, at long last.

Medieval was right – stone wells, one storey shacks, animals in lieu of farming tech – and there was a Japanese girl five yards away. Though the cut of her yukata was too elaborate to make any kind of guess about her chest size.

Cosplay?

Not with that look of baffled horror.

He checked behind for remnants of green swirl, but there was nothing except a grey-looking tree trunk, which meant the anomaly was him.

Anything advanced would seem like magic to primitives.

Clearly counted for JoJo hoodies too.

Ah well, she’s pretty enough, and if I can just adjust the setting on that facial expression of hers then who knows?

Pulling back monochrome pics of Japanese language books, as well as stills of all the anime he’d ever watched, Tak advanced on the girl with hands out in a begging pose.

‘Konnichiwa,’ he said, mildly surprised at the number of creases on his own palms.

Sounds came out of the girl’s mouth in one continuous stream, and whatever he was spooling out of his own seemed to be terrifying to her.

Switch to Cantonese?

Impress with basic knowledge of future tech?

Before he had a chance to conjure up a notepad and sketch out a bicycle pic, she was off, tripping over the stuff he would just call barley from this point on, screaming something that definitely wasn’t, ‘we have a sexy visitor.’

Não problema, Tak thought, rubbing his eyes, yawning like a battle cry, having a brief moment of displacement horror then sitting down on a nearby rock. No police stations or bodybuilders in sight. And I don’t think medieval Japanese people had pitchforks, so…

The girl kept up a decent pace and soon vanished over a slope fifty metres away.

Nearby, a fox crawled out of a bush, saw a human and dematerialised.

Probably a glitch.

Wouldn’t happen in Kyoto. Which is where I should be going next. Straight to the palace with my submarine catalogue. Target a girl who isn’t fucking a samurai. Cut pubes before I show her my dick.

Assuming they have scissors there.

Ten minutes later, a dozen ant-sized men came running over the slope, half of them waving pitchforks.

Plastic?

Didn’t look like it.

Too rusty.

But at least they weren’t guns.

~~~

After initial caution [and pointing at his hoodie], the dozen men laid into Tak with zori and fists.

One guy tried to use his pitchfork, but panicked at the last second and stabbed the ground.

‘This is not the Japan I’m used to,’ slurred Tak, spitting out globs of blood and crawling towards the guy who looked marginally diplomatic.

The one who’d only punched him twice.

‘Tasukette!’

It was probably mispronounced, but the guy appeared to understand. Seventeen kicks to the face later, it was confirmed.

The other eleven switched to kasu and his fault for sitting on our rock, then left, and the girl who’d started this whole thing, in Tak’s eyes at least, came forward. She bent down next to his bleeding head and dropped her kosode from one shoulder. Taking his hand, she placed it flat on her bare skin and counted to eight in Japanese.

Tak stared at her face, transfixed by the sheer boredom within.

Then the hand was gone and the diplomat was standing there with a bucket, which he dipped fingers into and, chanting advanced Japanese, proceeded to smear thick, turquoise paint onto Tak’s forehead.

‘This is starting to feel a bit weird.’

‘… … … … … …’

‘But as long as it’s not a sacrifice.’

‘… … … … … … …’

‘You don’t have a spare room, do you? Or a hospital?’

‘… … … … …’

‘Sponge and water?’

~~~

Sim

Hinoki poles

he’d recognise them anywhere

though the skulls with green stripes of paint smeared on the jaw were new.

Blinking like an evangelical watching Mujo for the first time, Tak scanned the clearing for more portals or, at worst, glitching foxes that were good with knots

but there were only regular foxes

and they all looked completely feckless.

Well, maybe there’s something useful in that decorative trunk, he thought, pushing himself up into a sitting position.

Right on cue, the trunk shook

mist rolled in from a nearby mist machine

the lid fell of

surplus mist rolled out [this time purple]

followed by a woman’s head, which after a few wild swirls, settled into an erratic bobbing routine within the maelstrom.

The foxes gawped

then fled

truly embarrassing themselves.

Meanwhile, the woman’s head turned into a woman’s torso turned into a woman’s thighs turned into a woman’s sense of repeated disappointment as she sized up her snack and saw they’d smeared it in that turquoise shit again.

‘There’s a river nearby,’ she said, swirling a figure 8 around the hinoki poles, ‘go there and wash yourself.’

‘Might be difficult…’

‘What?’

Tak rotated and dropped on his side, showcasing the restraints.

‘You are not Japanese.’

‘Physically, no. Spiritually…’

‘Where are you from?’

‘A shithole.’

‘This is a place?’

‘In terms of infrastructure…ah, pra foda…if that’s even the right way to say it…I’m from the future. A portal appeared in-…I summoned a portal and came here and some peanut brains beat me up and…here I am. Hopefully the most interesting sacrifice you’ve ever had.’

The woman’s head disintegrated into purple vapour and spiralled clockwise, possibly its thinking process, then transformed back into a full body woman plus yukata [that was actually a kosode to the local guy in a tree costume lurking nearby].

‘You are not the first to spin this story…’ she said, taking his hand and stamping it on her forehead. ‘The last one described a helicopter. As if I didn’t know of such things.’

‘I despise helicopters.’

‘Then he put his hand between my legs and said future guys could fuck longer than two minutes.’

‘Definitely not true.’

‘With eleven inch dicks.’

‘Err…depends where the ruler starts.’

‘I consumed him despite the paint.’

‘Good.’

‘I may consume you too. Depending on where your hands go when I untie you. How you act back at my ryokan. Your writing ability.’

‘Err…’

The woman’s hand swirled purple and cut the rope around his wrists. Then swept him up in a surprisingly comfortable hurricane effect and shimmied him all the way to a nearby ryokan.

JEWEL OF KAI according to the chipped sign outside, next to the fox bones, just past Shingen’s almond farm.

Depositing him on a futon and laughing when momentum rolled him off, the woman who may or may not have been a friend or cousin of Yuki Onna, lit an okiandon in the middle of the room and told him to get started.

‘On?’

She tossed him a notebook.

‘You want me to write a story?’

‘My desires are listed on the first page. The handwriting may be illegible so, in short, I wish you to write a serial with a bi-sexual demon main character, a vague sense of ennui, at least four side characters, male and female, who all want to sleep with her. They should be witty and tough, but not enough to best my protagonist. Low points can feature, as well as flaws, but they must stem from the mistakes of others. Male characters, of course, should all get what’s coming to them. Female characters will orbit my decision-making but never display wisdom that I lack. No military tech or male feminists. Or end of chapter cliff-hangers. Can you handle this?’

Tak was reading along with her outline and, at the end of it, nodded cos her hands were swirling purple and he knew what they could do.

‘For human food, I only know how to cook mountain asparagus. This will be your meal from now on.’

‘Okay,’ said Tak, picking up the pen that was sitting by the futon and trying to wipe off the dried blood stain.

‘Water is in the stream outside. Toilet is the bushes. No sex unless I’m in an odd mood. No masturbation. And no closet fantasies of you slowly eroding my defences and fucking me on that bridge outside.’

‘I hope that’s not retroactive.’

‘Now, start writing. I expect at least two chapters a day, each one at least 2,000 words. Slow build-up narrative is acceptable.’

Tak nodded again, tapping the notebook with the pen. ‘Is there a name I can call you? Maybe use it for the main character too…or a variation on it.’

‘River Bitch.’

‘That’s not a normal-…’

‘No more commentary. Write.’

~~~

She wasn’t the best with katanas, but the situation called for…

Knives, daggers, spears, why not just use my bare hands on this drooling pervert, with his stupid undercut, adidas top, spud-like…

Groping my tits? With that head on him?

‘Sit,’ said River Bitch, in giant bubble jacket and ski mask. ‘Focus on the motorboat.’

Tak dropped the pen and then himself.

The futon caught two thirds of him but not his head, which landed on concrete posing as tatami

pain was processed and treated like an Afghan

and

dizzy he

focused on the stories he’d written before, when he was eleven, the dinosaurs taking over one of Jupiter’s moons and setting up a post office where they helped aliens deliver proto-coal to their pre-teen human pals in Hong Kong.

Would she appreciate the non-human MC?

Doubtful.

Unless there was a swirly purple postmaster.

He punched his thigh in frustration, then quickly thought of Maggie Thatcher fingering herself on Morecambe beach to stop his dick rising. When that didn’t work, he switched to Pol Pot touring the perimeter of a bus depot and it seemed to do the trick.

Don’t think of fucking her

Don’t think of fucking her

Don’t think of

Outside, the weather changed from grey to greyer to grape to bold neon purple as River Bitch sailed back in with a batch of fresh asparagus.

Before she could say, Chapter 3, NOW, Tak grabbed the notebook and trapped it under his legs.

‘Were you just picturing Pol Pot touring a bus station?’

‘Depot.’

‘Silly boy. If your brain is that much of a crutch then I’ll just have to take you to my bed. Ride the disease out of you.’

‘Err…if that’s what you want…’

Want is a human word. Mood is my general barometer, and I do feel a bit quizzical right now. Or enigmatic. Though that could change if your latest chapter is substandard.’

Tak tensed up his arms as if that would somehow make the words on the page appear better – or standard – but it was no good as she’d already used her purple ways to snatch up the notebook and

jesus, her eyes were purple too

flared up

did that mean she was mad

or erotically charged?

Ideally both, but knowing his luck, probably neither.

Or was neither a good thing?

He thought it out while staring at the pile of asparagus and finally decided he had no idea, she was a demon, purple eyes could mean anything and, shit, there she was again, Fantasy River Bitch, telling him she’d never read anything so insightful and fresh, and now that she’d spent one and a half days with him, she realised time was irrelevant and what really mattered was how someone made you feel when you were alone together in a ryokan and she shouldn’t say it, but could he please put his hand on her breasts and slide his-

‘What is this?’

‘Err…notes?’

‘It’s fixated on men.’

‘Yeah, but she’s punishing them.’

‘Wrong, wrong, wrong…wrong. All male characters should be in the background, doing nothing. Watering the plants if you need some kind of reality to it but…this…all you do is centre them. As if it’s not my own story.’

‘Actually, the next thing I was gonna write was an all-women banquet scene. Talking about aircraft deployments.’

‘You mean helicopters are involved?’

‘Sorry, tank deployments.’

‘Military tanks?’

‘Defensive.’

‘Against who?’

‘Men. Unseen men. Spectres of them.’

‘Useless,’ she wailed, almost electronically as her head morphed purple and shredded the notebook she’d just flung across the room.

‘Wait, that had the first two chapters, the ones you liked.’

‘All my patience…goodwill…’

‘Okay, maybe we just have dinner first. I’ll give it another shot tomorrow.’

‘You don’t deserve my cooking.’

‘I understand. I fucked up. How about we skip the bed thing too? It feels like it’s not that kind of night and I don’t think you’re really up for it anyway. In fact, let’s just keep this whole thing non-sexual.’

‘Transparent as eskimo glass…’

‘Nani?’

‘Shifting to the refrain two days then sex tactic. I warned you, do not fantasise about me. There are no defences to chip away at.’

Tak stared at her raging purple eyes, ordering himself not to clap. ‘You have got to be the most perceptive person I’ve ever met. That was incredible. I genuinely was trying to forego sex so you’d fuck me at some point. The only thing you got wrong was the timeline as I was kind of hoping it would happen tonight.’

‘Revealing yourself to be a deceitful pervert is a poor move.’

‘Well, we’re all perverts on some level…’

‘… … … … …’

‘Ah, your native language…’

‘… … … … … … …’

‘Hopefully praise.’

‘This scenario has grown stale. And your writing is awful.’

‘Okay, I don’t want to sound dramatic, but you’re scaring me. How about I just pack my things…which I don’t actually have…and you let me leave?’

‘… … … …’

‘Was that yes?’

‘I’m hungry.’

Swirling into yet another weather metaphor, River Bitch pinballed around the ryokan lobby walls for two minutes straight then shifted her wispy tendrils to Tak, who was still camped on the rolled up futon sofa, hoping this was some kind of erotic routine mist demons performed before turning human again and fucking men they secretly had a soft spot for.

Unlike Bakunin, he was wrong, but that was okay as having his life energy sucked out from his neck wasn’t the worst way to go

in fact

in some ways

he felt like it was the closest he’d ever come to knowing a girl

even if her name probably wasn’t River Bitch.

~~~

Green light bulbs

a sign with NO HAWKING

murmurs in what sounded like Urdu

Tak opened his eyes

closed them

then opened them again, controlling his urge to gawp at the clinic-style waiting room he was sitting in.

Was that really Urdu?

He adjusted his ears, picking up other languages, some of them seemingly beyond human.

I don’t believe in heaven, hell or purgatory, he told himself

but this might be something similar.

‘Succubus?’

It was the man next to him, a young Pakistani guy in a VOTE WEED t-shirt. He seemed excited to see Tak, and was definitely less stern than the other dozen or so people in there so…

‘Purple mist demon.’

‘Ah…never heard of it. Female?’

‘Some of the time.’

‘Mine was a Jinn. Very tricky. Together seven years and then one day I say I’m gonna try crypto and he eats me. Or sucks out my soul. I’m not sure about the exact definition of what occurred.’

‘Your Cantonese is excellent.’

‘Ah, that’s just your ears. After two minutes in here, every word you hear filters through in your own language.’

Tak tried an ‘ah’ face and looked at the wall. Apart from the NO HAWKING sign there were several posters. A grey alien with a speech bubble – MORE THAN THIS? A group of different-coloured humans next to BOUNDARIES KEEP US SAFE in red capitals. A grinning cat saying ‘YOU BELIEVE RIGHT, YOU LIVE RIGHT.’

‘Don’t look at them too long,’ whispered the Pakistani guy. ‘They’ll warp things.’

‘They do seem a bit contradictory…’

A tannoy system somewhere in the room called out his first name along with room number YEAH.

‘Am I supposed to go there?’ he asked his only friend.

‘That was your name?’

‘I think so.’

‘Fuck…you must’ve been killed fast.’

‘One and a half days.’ He paused, thinking back. ‘About forty minutes of actual talking time.’

‘How did you manage to piss the thing off so fast?’

‘I don’t know. She came out the trunk angry. I think I did well to last as long as I did.’

‘One and a half days…’

‘Okay, don’t get smug, she would’ve done the same to you.’

‘Unlikely, my friend.’

The tannoy sounded again, calling out TAK – ROOM YEAH seventeen times in a row. Giving out a final ‘she half wanted to fuck me, actually’, Tak unstuck himself from the plastic seat and wandered out through the only door.

The corridor appeared well-lit and infinite and

then a black hole

with void attributes

in it and no one knows

or cares

that was the feeling dripping down his ID walls, and he choked on it until the void emptied

and the corridor returned

with the door to Room YEAH wide open in front of him.

~~~

Inside the room were three walls and a potential fourth replaced by a giant, gaping hole.

Within that hole was a Barbara Steele mannequin floating just left of centre

blue skin, twisted crown

Malatesta grin

and in front of that was a woman with her back turned, Magyar hat slanted almost completely off her head, muttering, ‘times are tight, explore yourself,’ over and over and over and

‘Hello?’ tried Tak, edging to her side, not getting too close in case she had purple mist for arms.

She turned, arms regular, face stitched on, and looked solely at Tak’s left eye.

‘Times are tight, explore yourself.’

‘Yeah, I heard you saying that, but…’

‘Times are tight.’

‘I don’t know what it means.’

‘Explore yourself.’

‘Am I dead? Is this purgatory?’

‘Times are tight.’

‘Hell?’

‘Explore yourself.’

‘Please don’t let it be heaven.’

‘Times are tight.’

Tak took a breath of whatever gas was floating around the room and burrowed deeper into the woman in front of him. In earlier times, he would’ve been paralysed, but now he’d had his life energy sucked out, he felt curious more than anything. Whose face was she wearing? It looked a bit like Ingrid Pitt, which would match the 60’s horror theme of the place, but far as he knew Ingrid Pitt was dead and the skin around the edges looked a bit artificial, so it was probably just…something…he didn’t really care about…in any tangible way.

‘Times are tight, explore yourself,’ the woman repeated, hat toppling off.

Sim, sim.’

He moved to the gaping hole and tried to reach a hand out to pull in the Barbara Steele mannequin, tell her how much he rated the first half of Nightmare Castle, but she was pretty far out…and pretty fucking elegant too…even drifting there, in a void…two thirds of her blue chest waiting to be-…

Fuck, am I still doing this?

Do I even have a dick anymore?

Something in the gas-release mechanism changed gear, emitting a hissing sound followed five seconds later by luminous smoke.

Both told him he should probably exit, but when he turned, the door wasn’t there, it had been filled by another void, this one with Hazel Court spinning cold, robes transparent, a bored-looking crow on her head and

the other walls were the same

utter void-scape

with 60’s horror icons waiting for him to suck in the smoke and

jump through

tell them to their face

how he wasn’t looking at their tits

not really

cos that’s what perverts would do

and he was-

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