As I mentioned yesterday, Curt has allowed me to post another of his stories. Now, if you haven’t read some of this other stories yet, you really fucking need to, but I’ll just give an idea of what you’re in for: madness. Actually, that’s not very helpful, is it? Well, I don’t care. Just read it and don’t stop until you’ve gotten to the end.
Once you’ve finished, if you happen to have a story you’d like to share on Phro Metal, be sure to send it to me! All submissions can be sent to email@example.com. Have a good weekend!
Into the Light: Caesura
On a cold, Tuesday night, in an alley behind a closet-sized electronics shop, among piles of discarded garbage, he found the fetus, a scrap of white peeking out between grays, blues and blacks. It crawled with ants, their busy mandibles somehow failing to tear little bits free to feed the insatiable broods nestled within the twisted passageways of the colony’s nest.
Abandoning his nightly forage, he lifted it up and brushed the ants away, exposing skin glowing white like a pearl freed from the oyster’s flesh to bathe in the moon’s light. Down into his coat pocket he pushed it, and then felt the panic and exhilaration rise, for a moment overwhelming him.
Mind twisting around what he’d found, the old man let habit guide his steps through the maze of tiny streets bordering Akihabara, Tokyo’s technological gullet. Anyone risking a glance towards him would assume he was homeless: Dressed in layers of old clothes to ward off the lingering April chill, unshaven, with long, wild black hair peppered with gray, he shuffled forward, his shopping cart filled with scavenged electronics rattling over the sidewalk. Safely inside his small apartment, he would assemble the foraged parts into gadgets to sell at weekend flea markets near the station. He usually mumbled as he walked, leaving a long trail of broken memories in his wake. But now the more audible fragments of his mumblings took on a different tone.
Why had it been there? Why had it been cleaned and then put in the garbage? Maybe it had been loved. Maybe it had been cleaned before it had died, and the mother, lost in grief, had thrown it away—though lost to what he couldn’t name. Or maybe death had come first, so all the mother could do was clean away the blood while whispering words of love and apology, as if these could swathe the infant in vestments soft and warm. Maybe it hadn’t been a mother at all, but a father who grieved and had cleaned it, just as the mother had, and had been just as powerless as she had to wipe away the regrets to come. Maybe it had been a father. But why?
They hadn’t even put it in a bag, like they hadn’t feared discovery. What senseless and uncaring people had they been? Criminal, pathological, alien to law, without consideration of the future, they’d thrown the fetus into the garbage. But why?
A possibility: they’d planted the fetus to break him out of the blur of his day-to-day existence, to enmesh him in a situation beyond himself. A ridiculous idea, yes, but one he couldn’t shake. They couldn’t have known he would uncover it. How could they? But they could have been watching him ever since he’d been left alone, and then chosen to do this to see how a mind racing in the rut of a feedback loop would finally break or mend.
He opened his apartment door and wrestled the shopping cart into the narrow entrance. He flicked a light switch and the circular fluorescent bulb over the kitchen table blinked into life, illuminating a TV that had been spread out on the table like an anesthetized patient. It’s so simple. Small music wafts from a transistor radio atop the fridge. Outside a small circle of lamp light enveloping the kitchen table, the room as piled high with electronics, some complete, some incomplete, but in the whole mass of assembled circuitry these two states were impossible to discern. In this room only two doors opened: one to the toilet, one to the outside. Neither beckoned him.
He moved the TV parts onto a chair and then placed the fetus under the lamp. Its smooth skin seemed to glow. He stared at it for a long time, the realization slowly building in him that, despite its strange beauty, he couldn’t keep it here. He’d have to call someone. But who? The police? He wasn’t sure a crime had been committed. And if he did call the police, they’d ask questions, and he might not have the answers they wanted, so they’d probably become annoyed with him. Maybe they’d get angry. Why did you pick it up? He couldn’t say why, even now, free of their cold eyes and accusations. Why did you chase them? He understood why he had to be suspected: Why else would you be crying if not out of guilt? He’d be taken to the station and interrogated, and then charged with some crime he couldn’t imagine. Could anyone believe he’d found a fetus in the garbage and picked it up for no reason? They’d wonder why he’d carried it home. To claim he had no reason would be madness, and he knew he wasn’t mad. Not yet. He wondered if such things happened often enough that the authorities had procedure for such things. He sat in the smaller, third chair and continued his examination of the fetus.
He could call a hospital. The old couple next door had done that late one night. The paramedics had taken the husband away. The wife had lived there for some time after that, and then one night they came for her. Ambulances took away the living and the dead, yes, but did they take away things that’d never been alive? This thing on the table had never been born. The idea of being.born.dead writhed around and then squirmed free from under the finger of his understanding. If it had never been born, then it couldn’t have made any impressions in and of the world; no waves of change could’ve moved out from it, except in the mother’s body. Only the mother could’ve said whether it had changed and been changed, whether it had lived. And she was not here. He was alone. What good could come from having a hospital decide? If they decided that it’d never been alive, they would accuse him of having wasted their time and they’d be angry with him. Maybe they, too, would leave him, and he, afraid of being alone, would chase them, as he’d done before, begging to know how he could keep them with him—how he could keep the three, his family, together. And no matter how much he’d plead or how fast he’d run, they’d hurry away, running into the street without looking, and the truck would smash into their soft bodies, splattering blood, breaking bones, scattering precious brains across the pavement and truck grill. No, no, no. Not again. Better to not call out. Better to stay here, stay quiet. Better to be only he. This thing on the table was beyond help—beyond help, yet something needed to be done. He couldn’t just leave it here, could he? There was only him and this thing under the light in front of him: this situation wasn’t going to resolve itself.
He prodded the fetus with a tiny screwdriver.
He stood up.
He pulled a can of beer from the fridge and took a long drink before sitting down again.
It had to be gotten rid of. He could return it to the garbage to become someone else’s problem. He would even put it in a bag, and wouldn’t that be so much better than how he’d found it? No. That would be disrespectful. If he threw it away, he should do it with honesty, in full recognition of the act. Anyway, to put another in a situation he couldn’t resolve on his own stank of cowardice.
In a darkened room full of awkward shadows and a few reflective surfaces, in a small circle of lamplight the man sat staring at a fetus glowing impossibly white, its tiny lips parted, an undiscovered ant wandering the darkness inside, in the caesura that death bears.
The face of God
The eyes of God are stars glittering out of the cold depths of space, while across his brow wriggle a pair of caterpillars bushy and silly beyond imagining. When he smiles or frowns, wrinkles explode over each side of his tanned, leathery face.
The face of God is perfect.
God pokes and prods me. God opens and tickles my insides.
God loves. God is all. So I love God without fail.
My happiest memory is the time I raised my arm and touched God’s nose. This shocked him, yes, but then he smiled. We will always be together.
God frowns at the sound of chimes. They make him leave. He opens a door to another world, and a brilliant light envelopes him, hiding him from my eyes. I am scared. The light burns and blinds. Silent I squeal.
I cannot close my eyes, yet there are times I cannot see. This is not troubling. God has given me eyes with which to see, so what I cannot see was never meant for me. Whenever the chimes sound and God opens the door to the other world the burning light floods in, screaming, drowning everything, as I burn in its terrible radiance.
But now, sometimes, when he opens the door, it is not so bright. Sometimes, the other world seems almost as dark and comforting as this world. So it tries to tempt me away from the Lord.
God, I love you more than I can say. I love the way you look at me, the way you touch me, the way you open my skin and play with my insides. I love the care with which you attach the metal, wires and plastic.
I am so small, and you are so big. See how neatly I fit into the palm of your hand?
You raise me up.
I reach out to you.
You kiss me.
Your beard scratches my skin. See how I feel? See how I would giggle if you had give me a voice? Can you hear me, Lord? Can you hear what you have created?
Let’s stay this way forever, God: in the dark, you tickling me, my silent, tiny movements making you smile. Wouldn’t that be Heaven?
But the chimes sound again. And again. This is time, I understand now.
My eyes are changing. I can see farther.
I can see there is a not-God in that other world. He is smaller, beardless, and so much less majestic. He stands there, not daring or not able to enter our world, saying nothing, moving little, just waiting. But my God is better at waiting. My Lord has all eternity. He watches, and watches, and then, finally, closes the door.
In the timeless spaces, God peels my skin away, replacing it, piece by piece, with rubber or plastic. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. What God took away would’ve only ended in rust. His divine fingers pluck pieces from me, and the mountains of dead—the machines and parts of machines that surround us—offer themselves to God, and to me, without lessening. Whereas I…I am becoming more and more.
Did you know God whistles when he works? I love his music.
But I do not love the chimes. The chimes sound again. That is the only time God leaves me.
I can see the not-God’s face now. His skin is rough, his nose bulbous, and the black hair that falls over his eyes is limp and greasy-looking. There’s a knife in his hand.
“Kill me,” he says, offering the knife handle-first to God.
God doesn’t move, doesn’t speak. He watches as I watch the anguish in this not-God’s eyes.
“Please,” the not-God whispers, pushing the knife handle into God’s unresisting hand. God doesn’t take it, and it clangs against the cement step. God steps back and shuts the door. This has happened before. Now I remember. God must’ve meant for me to see, and in seeing remember.
God returns. His face is troubled. I wave a hand at him, hoping to bring back his smile, but his face remains dark, and distant.
For the first time, I feel cold and little. It scares me.
Time passes. The chimes sound and the not-God returns. Sometimes he offers God a syringe, sometimes with a knife. He no longer comes empty-handed. He has learned reverence.
“Please. I didn’t mean to,” I hear him pray. “I am sorry. I am so sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Please forgive me. Please release me.” He pushes the knife or syringe into God’s hand.
God is unmoved by the not-God’s prayers, and he judges the offerings as unworthy.
Come back to me, God. Let me prove my worthiness to you. Be my comfort. Touch me. I will make you smile. I will please you. Don’t leave me. Come back. Show me your beautiful face. Pray over me as you used to, those magical words and bits of words, over and over again. I long to hear your voice. I want only to understand you. I love you, can’t you see?
Chimes again: Is there anything not to hate about this not-God?
For the first time, I can see to the rail, to the trees, and to the buildings behind him. Dusty light glares off every surface. I will not weaken. My resolve is strong. I will look upon this world without fear, to see the place from which my tormentor, and my God’s tempter, comes. I can see farther now. I see leafy trees. I see birds dotting telephone wires. I see flowers, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies. I can hear the roar of cars and the incessant drone of cicadas.
How could I know the names of so many things? One might as well ask how God and not-God speak without words. It is simple, really: they try to understand one another.
The not-God holds a gun.
God watches him, saying nothing.
The not-God’s eyes are full of anger and despair. God’s face is hidden from me. So often has it been said before, I can recite the other’s unspoken prayer: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do it. Please forgive me. But I know you cannot forgive me. I am beneath contempt. There is nothing I can do to atone for what I have done. That I didn’t mean to do it counts for nothing, I know. There is no other way: take my life.” The not-God raises the gun to his temple in benediction. Sweat trickles down his face—whether from nerves or from the waves of sickly sweet heat rolling in from the other world, I do not know. And it doesn’t matter, not to God. He takes no more notice than before. God will not intervene.
God returns and smiles.
“You are so beautiful,” he says.
You are beautiful, too.
When the chimes sound again. God takes me in his arms and carries me with him to open the door. I try to be brave, I try to take comfort from the strength and love in God’s arms, but the light blinding light burns into my eyes and the silent scream escapes my unmoving lips. And so I face the not-God, my tormentor, unblinking.
I hate you. I hate you. I hate you!
III. Man Again, or Devil
On a hot, Tuesday afternoon, on the fourth floor of a crumbling apartment building, past a series of identical gray doors, he found the old man, still dressed in filthy rags, a blank look on his dirty, bearded face, a shinny, pink Kewpie doll held in front of him.
Is this fucking old man mocking my suffering?
Nothing registered on the old man’s face: not recognition, surprise, anger or resentment. He just stood there, his eyes traveling over the younger man’s face, but failing, it seemed, to take anything back to feed the mind. He never moved. It had been this way for years. That’s why Komaru (“Little Circle”) kept returning. This time, though, something had changed.
The Kewpi doll shone impossibly pink in the summer sun, its dead black eyes glinting above a frozen smile. Without knowing why, Komaru suddenly felt a panicked exhilaration. Why did he stand there holding it? Why show it to him? Maybe he wanted to show the child he had lost. Maybe it had belonged to the wife whose brains Komaru had splattered across the pavement.
No. No one could know the old man’s insane thoughts. He had not spoken to Komaru, even as he’d cradled his broken child in his arms on the street. He hadn’t screamed at Komaru, or at the gods. He’d only cried, quietly, piteously, like a child. And then…nothing.
So what if the police and judge had ruled it an accidental homicide? They were dead, and Komaru had killed them. And he couldn’t forgive himself. Komaru wanted closure.
Weeks, sometimes months, would pass, before the desperation and guilt became too much to bear, and Komaru would race to the old man’s building, begging the forgiveness he knew, deep down, the old man could never give.
At first, Komaru offered nothing but words. He’d been disappointed, but not entirely surprised, to find the old man unresponsive. His offers and pleads became more elaborate, more desperate. He held out money, gifts, and even his own servitude, all in the vain hope of being forgiven—nothing made the least impression on the old man. He’d just stood there, staring at Komaru, a stupid, blank look on his face, as if he didn’t recognize the younger man. But how couldn’t he? Komaru had taken everything from him. Komaru had destroyed his life. Even in sleep, the sound of their bodies thumping against his grille, and the almost insignificant bump as the truck rolled over their soft bodies laced his mind, stealing his smiles and draining his life of even the faintest hope of happiness. So he offered his life, a way to end the torment for Komaru, a means of vengeance for the old man.
He brought syringes full of noxious mixtures of household chemicals, and offered them to the old man to stick in Komaru’s vein, describing the probable excruciating pain it would cause before death, hoping that would entice the old man to the act. He brought knives, cutting himself a little so the old man could see the blood, promising that if the old man would only spill all of his blood, the blood debt would be repaid, and the dead could sleep in peace. Desperate, he’d brought a gun. To each, the old man made no reply, and no move: he’d stood as still as a statue, just his eyes moving over Komaru, torturing him with silence.
And now he’d come to mock Komaru with a kewpi doll. Komaru had taken one look at the doll and charged away, furious. He’d punched the walls of the elevator as it descended. He’d kicked his own moped over before climbing aboard and puttering away.
That night, alone in his tiny apartment, he drank a bottle of sake, not even bothering with a glass. In between swigs, he held the gun to his head, but found himself too scared to pull the trigger. He cried, laughed, threw up on himself, and then passed out.
He woke to a blinding headache and the stink of vomit rising from his shirt. It was Sunday: the only day the old man wouldn’t be home. Komaru knew what he had to do. He cleaned, he shaved, and he put on his best clothes: a matching pair of black and white sweat pants and shirt.
A half-hour scooter ride brought him to the flea market near Shinjuku Station. Though the suffocating heat kept most people indoors, Komaru found more than a hundred people milling around the little squares of merchandise. Vendors called to shoppers, pointing out goods displayed on blankets or vinyl sheets. Other vendors sat silent, engrossed in paperbacks, cell phones, or portable games. Some spoke only when spoken to. But the old…the old man sat silent as a stone, never answering questions, just taking money and handing over the things he’d made, and for all of that, his little square of merchandise attracted more customers and curiosity seekers than the rest. One time, Komaru watched someone pick up a radio from the old man’s display of calculators, radios, stereos, CD players, and TVs and walk away without paying. The old man had simply watched him go.
The hangover and the track suit he wore to cover his plump folds of skin both conspired to drench Komaru in sweat. He stopped a dozen meters from the old man’s display, trying to blend in to the crowd but keeping an eye on the old man. He needn’t have bothered: the old man just sat there, same as he did every Sunday: saying nothing, moving little, a blank smile on his filthy face. Komaru could see the damned Kewpi doll tucked into a corner, its black doll eyes matching the old man’s half-lidded ones in terms of lifelessness.
Komaru gripped the gun in his pocket.
How the hell does he do it? He lives off garbage. He makes a living off the shit other people throw away. It’s disgusting. It’s worse than stealing. It’s not fair. I have to work every day for a living, but he probably gets welfare, and doesn’t have to do anything for it. I hate him. How can I be in his power? Why can’t he just forgive me?
He moved forward, head down, weaving between displays, feigning interest, one hand in his pocket. Most vendors cooled themselves with one-handled fans advertising tomorrow’s rock concert or the department store across the street. The cloying smell of fried squid hung thick in the humid air. Questions mixed with answers mixed with laughter and outrage, and here and there children squealed for toys, women gossiped, and dour men chain smoked.
Komaru stood over the old man.
The old man looked up at Komaru.
In Komaru’s mind, the dull thud of bodies against his truck played over and over again, matching his heartbeat.
The old man’s hair hung in disgusting matted clumps of wild, twisted ropes. His scraggly, white beard clung to the front of his ratty t-shirt. Sweat poured unregarded down his forehead to drip like beads of corroded silver from his beard.
Komaru pulled out the gun and pointed it at the old man’s chest.
The old man’s eyes fixed on the gun, then on Komaru. He smiled.
The sound of people screaming and rushing madly from the flea market dwarfed anything the little handgun could’ve hoped to produce. Blood flowing from the ragged hole in his right breast, the old man reached over and clutched the Kewpi doll to his chest, smearing the pink skin in his blood. Komaru dropped the gun onto the old man’s chest and pulled the doll from his fingers.
If Komaru had been looking, he would’ve seen the doll’s smile change ever so slightly into one of anger; if he had been listening instead of running from the area, he would’ve heard the tiny voice screaming around the dried remains of a undiscovered ant still resting inside, in the darkness of the doll’s mouth, in the caesura that death bears.
Komaru (“Little Circle”) Matsumoto eluded capture for three days. Police caught up with him at an ATM in a small town north of Tokyo. The security camera at the ATM filmed a sunglass-wearing Komaru suddenly start screaming in fear as he clawed a Kewpi doll from his pocket and threw it into the trash-receipt bin. A security guard wrestled him into custody. Komaru had nothing in his possession except the clothes on his back, a cell phone, his wallet, and the gun. He claimed the doll had been whispering to him. Doctors declared him to be suffering from delusions.
Much speculation has circulated regarding the location of said Kewpi doll. For those in the know, the doll has become the single most sought-after, and valuable, figurine in Japan. Most seek it for its association with the convoluted and tragic story of Komaru Matsumoto and Hirohashi Ando. These collectors are quick—far too quick—to discount as myth the story of the origin of this figurine as recounted here. A handful of collectors, however, maintain this story is both true and accurate, and the price they offer for the figurine outstrips those of the former stripe a hundred times over.
Many thanks to Curt for letting me post this!!!!