By Jesse Workman
2009 Samurai Fiction Contest
Kayotaka Fukiage crouched in the alley, waiting for his Beloved to come out of the sake house. He had spotted the man, sitting among three comrades, talking animatedly and drunkenly to two other men. Fukiage couldn't take his eyes from the man's head. It was beautiful and curved; surely the brain beneath the solid well-formed bones of his skull would be oozing with life force. The door crashed open and slid shut again, breaking Fukiage's concentration momentarily. He trembled slightly, whether from holding his posture for so long, or from shear unbounded desire he did not know. The figures that exited the sake house fumbled and stumbled, swaying drunkenly, causing twisted, disfigured shadows to dance on the walls in the dim light. Neither of them was the Beloved, and that gave Fukiage a swift, yet brief, sense of disappointment. He was hungry. On the edge of his vision, a shadow moved in the refuse. Distant flickering light from the street beyond caste the rat's scuttling body in demonic relief against the brown and grey shadows. Fukiage tensed, estimated the distance, and kicked as hard as he could at it. He felt his foot connect with a satisfying squishy crunch, and the dead rodent's body flew like a missile out into the street beyond. He hoped the broken body would hit one of the drunks, or a passer by. This did not happen. He was hungry He chided himself on not having the sense to have eaten the rat. Not much, but something; it might have given him slightly more energy while he waited. He was hungry.
This had been, of late, one of his favorite hunting locations. His favorite brains were those of samurai. Something about the mental discipline, or their warrior training, gave the brains a particular relish. What was more, he enjoyed killing the killers, that moment when all their zen-like calm of battle snapped with horror at the dishonorability of their death; such moments tasted sweet. He also enjoyed killing the samurai in compromising moments of weakness. Even they could not deny the body's needs. Then, their deaths were sour, but humorous; he would often spend days laughing about it. He had killed and eaten nine previous Beloveds in this place, and number ten would surely exit soon. And then
He shifted position. A wind blew through the alley, bringing with it the stenches of the sewers and the rotting sea. He grew somewhat impatient as he waited. Nine, and they were delectable; their brains supplied much knowledge. He focused his concentration for a moment wondering if the Beloved was in fact a samurai investigator. Maybe, the man was not as drunken as Fukiage thought he was. Oh, then, the fight would be exciting. Usually, he swung his club, or an ax, or whatever was handy, and killed the victim with one great brain-bashing blow. Then, he could drag away the body and consume the brains at his leisure over the next hour or two. One of his Beloveds actually knew the name of the lord who was so vexed by the disappearances of his samurai. He tried to remember and almost thought he saw, as though reflected in water, the features of the lord. But he lost the vision. It had been too long since he had eaten his brains. Sometimes the memories were permanent and he could remember them indefinitely, but more often, after he ate the brains and absorbed them into himself, their knowledge and memories would become a muddled puddle. He sometimes fantasized as to what would be the result of eating the Shogun's brains, or even in the dark small hours, the emperor himself. What would happen if he ate the brain of a God? He was so hungry.
The sound of a furtively sliding door alerted him to movement at the back of the sake house. In the wavering shadows, he saw him, his Beloved, moving into the alley with swift assurance. The man seemed drawn toward him, looking straight into his hiding place. Fukiage rose up, no longer seeing any reason to hide.
"So, it is you." the samurai said. He drew his sword, and moved swiftly through the darkness. He did not hesitate. He showed no sign of fear. Fukiage tensed. Just at the edge of his vision, he saw a flicker of movement and heard furtive footsteps in the mushy muck of the alley. A page? Too small to be an adult. Fukiage's eyes glowed. He raised his club. He knew he was much faster than any simple human, faster and more skilled than any puny samurai. The page scuttled and skittered, much like the rat he had kicked so recently. His brain would make a nice dessert, Fukiage thought.
"Jiro, Go!" the samurai commanded, and then Fukiage lunged with the club. He missed. The samurai kept out of his reach and moved to counter his attack, knocking the tip of the club to one side. Delectable. Fukiage twisted and tried to move in closer. The samurai spun in close, kicking at the club, or at the hand holding the club. Fukiage froze with a momentary shock. No Beloved had ever dared to actually attack him directly. His eyes glowed a vibrant visible red. He tried to twist to one side, and failed. The kick connected, and at the same moment the refuse ridden ground betrayed them both. The samurai, having completed the kick, lost control and kept spinning in that direction of his kick. He fell forward into the wall, managing to catch himself somewhat, breaking his fall, but his sword drove into the soft mud at an angle. He fell onto the handle of his sword, which went further into the mud, point first. Fukiage had spun to avoid the kick. He fell facing the street at the mouth of the alley, and worse still, the club sailed out of his hand and landed somewhere in the darkness. Though he heard it fall, he could not pin-point where it was. There was no way he could retrieve it now. Scrumptious! Mouth-watering delight! How good his brain would taste! Fukiage began laughing. He moved to rise, but the samurai was much quicker, and he still had his weapon. Fukiage didn't care. He tensed, calling upon all the Ki energy he had. Hunger blurred the edges of his vision. He noticed the page still lingered at the edge of the battle, the little bratling. A ratling, bratling, and Fukiage wished he had eaten the rat.
The samurai sank into a fighting stance. Fukiage continued laughing. The samurai advanced slowly at first, and then with a blur of motion, using the slime under his feet to add to his momentum, he half lunged, half twisted forward. Fukiage saw the move, timed it, and knew he could move aside so easily. He kept laughing. When the samurai flew past him, and drove that pretty sword into the wall, then Fukiage would finish him at his leisure. He drew a deep breath to laugh all the louder, waited until the very last possible second, and then The sword drove into his belly. The samurai twisted the blade and kept moving forward, like a dancer. He kicked out one leg as he went by, striking Fukiage in the knee. Fukiage released the breath meant for laughter into a blood-laden choked croak. He landed face first in the muck, steadily turning red from the blood. There was a moment of choked strangled silence. Fukiage lay in the mud stunned and paralyzed from the pain. In all his long life, he had no memory of ever being stabbed so well, with such skill and determination. This was a mortal wound. He should be choking and gurgling out his last, but Fukiage was more than mortal. He saw the samurai on his feet, unscathed, ready for battle if it should present itself. Yet, for him, the battle was over. There was a hint of relaxation in his manner as he watched his enemy die.
"Jiro," he said. He wasn't
even out of breath. "He is dead now. We-"
Fukiage heaved himself upwards. Blood and guts spilled out into the mud. He concentrated with all his might. First, the blood flow slowed and then stopped. The samurai couldn't keep paleness from betraying his terror at the spectacle. After that, the guts melded into a glowing blue ball, and then seemed to melt inward. Next, the wound began to close, and then did close, tattered muddy clothing being the only trace of the gaping gash that had only been there seconds before.
"Brains!" Fukiage said
determinedly. "Braaaaaaaaaaaaaains! Your brains."
He walked slowly forward, staring the samurai into rigid immobility. When he moved to run, Fukiage cut him off and lunged forward with all the lightning speed his body allowed for. There was a blur of black motion, and then the samurai's sword spun through the rotting night air. He slammed the samurai against the thin wall of the sake house, boards crunching and cracking. Fukiage didn't want to do so much damage the walls fell in. So, he carried the squirming samurai back into the center of the alley. The man kicked and thrashed with terror, but the fight was over, and the brains. Fukiage hurled the samurai into the ground with all the force he could manage from that angle. The squashed splat was satisfying, but more satisfying still was the choked scream of the samurai, who knew despite everything, that his life was over. Fukiage fell upon him, grabbing and snapping first one arm, then the other. He leaned back, grabbed a thrashing leg, and snapped it like a twig. The pain must have hit the samurai all at once. He tried to scream. It would have been a loud blood-curling scream, but Fukiage brought his forearm down, crushing his windpipe. He gurgled and drowned in his own blood, as Fukiage rose. He would find his sword, hue open his skull, and eat his brains. After some searching, maybe ten seconds, he saw the mud tinged glint of the samurai's sword.
"With your own weapon, even!" The samurai coughed like a dying fish. "Such is the honor of the samurai!" Fukiage laughed as he brought the weapon down, cleaving the top of his skull. One blow wasn't enough for him to get at the brain, so he struck a second time, and then a third. There was a soul-torn gasp from the shadows: the page. The page was still here, had seen everything, and would go and gather the authorities. Fukiage couldn't allow him to escape. The brains would have to wait. He turned on the page. He made as if to move to grab him to finish him, when he spoke.
"I will avenge my master,"
he said in a tremulous voice. "I shall commit Seppuku, come back, and kill
you. Before the Gods!"
For a moment, Fukiage couldn't believe what he was hearing. Something like that hadn't happened for centuries, and to have the commitment, to have the clarity of purpose to do such a thing was nearly unheard of, save in foolish children's' stories. But, as one second passed, and the boy did not run, then two, and then three, Fukiage knew he meant it, and knew he was in trouble if he succeeded. If he did, he would become an unstoppable revenant, unkillable because he was already dead, undefeatable because his cause was the most just, the most dedicated. He knew if he himself killed him, that too was an honorable death, and again, the revenant. Fukiage watched him draw a long knife. He lunged forwards. The boy dove to one side. He half ran, half jumped toward the dead body of his master. He was close now.
"My master!" he cried. "I will avenge you!" And he raised the knife gloriously against the flickering flame of the light beyond the alley. Fukiage leapt through the air, kicked the knife away, and came down on the body of the Samurai. He almost lost his footing as he landed on it. His weight drove the dead body down into the bloody muck.
"You'll never," he said.
The boy fell back a step. The body was driven deeper into the mud, and it was then that Fukiage noticed it. The head lolled. Some of the brain had spilled out into the mud, but not all And even as they were, they might still be harvested The page stepped toward the wall for balance. Fukiage instinctively followed, grabbing at the air, stepping on the lolling head, driving it entirely under the mud. And, they both stepped through the oozing brains. The muck slurped greedily. Fukiage threw his hands up into the air.
"No!" But, it was too late. All the brains were gone. "No!" The page bent and impossibly found the dagger, and ran.
"No!" Fukiage yelled. "Brains!"
But, the brains were gone. Such good brains; such delicious and palatable brains;
like thin bean curd gruel; and now the mud got to have them
And the page
Fukiage bolted out into the street and gave chase.
The page ran ahead, but Fukiage had no worries of catching up. He could run fast indeed, and then this little pathetic escapade would be finished. He would drag the page off somewhere and hold him prisoner. If he couldn't break his will, then he might be able to beat the curse by letting him starve slowly to death, or thirst. Perhaps he could figure out a way to break the curse, but capturing the page would give him time, something he did not have much of. The sun wouldn't kill him, but it tended to make him weaker and sicker with pain in the head and dizziness. Sometimes, a liberal supply of brains would give him a little time in the full light of day, but tonight he was hungry, so hungry. And, there were so many potentially light midnight snacks available If only But, the page hadn't slowed, and was even now picking up speed, running toward a winding maze of darkened streets. Fukiage had to be careful. His area of the street was becoming more full of night venders, flower sellers, portable wheeled shops with various wares, teas and spices, vegetable sellers surrounded by half-starved poor from the poorest quarter, fish-mongers, merchants selling amulets of once powerful but now dead Gods for luck Fukiage gritted his teeth, wove among the idiots staring He simply had to catch him. He put on a burst of speed running for an instant as fast as he could. Several people were knocked down. Two were seriously trampled. They screamed. Blood and teeth spewed out of their mouths and into the mud. An enraged vegetable merchant tried to grab Fukiage as he ran. For a short distance, Fukiage dragged the man behind him, and then turned, kicked out, and left him on the ground twitching and half dead. He had him now. He was right behind him now. Pain shot through his chest. He was hungry.
"You'll never get away."
Fukiage shrieked. "You'll never die, by the Gods! You'll live."
The page redoubled his efforts. He darted into the maze of streets, navigating skillfully through the crowds. People moved out of his way, and then stared angrily at Fukiage. He roared and tried to break away from the crowds, but could not. He began to punch his way through.
"Stop him," somebody behind
him shouted. "He broke my uncle's jaw."
"Thief," Fukiage shouted, with sudden inspiration. "Thief! Thief! He went that way."
"He knocked my brother's teeth out." another voice behind him yelled. Then to his horror the page joined in.
"Thief! Thief! Catch the thief."
Now, people were aroused to act, but slowly and stupidly, like a half frozen to death house fly. Not knowing who the thief was, they blockaded all the adults, but the page ducked away and fled.
"No. No!" Fukiage hollered. In a berserk bout of blows, he cleared a path before him. His eyes glowed redly. People began to notice and now they tried to avoid him. The page ran on desperately. Fukiage saw that the street ahead of him curved sharply to the right. There was a side street that looked like a more direct route. He could cut off the page and subdue him. The foolish idiot. He broke right, noticing too late, the horses tied to posts, the various glassware venders He careened into a horse that immediately kicked him as hard as it could, screaming in spooked pure animal terror. Fukiage flew backwards, and to the left, landing amidst a glass vender's cart. The glass shattered. The cart collapsed. The lantern mounted atop the cart immediately fell into the bamboo of an adjacent lamp oil display. It irrupted into flame, flame that engulfed Fukiage. On fire, riddled and cut with shards of broken glass, screaming, he got up and tried to run further, but waves of agony drove him back to his knees in the muddy excrement of the street.
"Thief," the page shouted
from a long way off.
"He broke my cousin's nose." another voice added. "Catch that miserable ruffian " The world receded making sound and sight seem as though a wall had gone up between Fukiage and the world. His body sent electric shocks of pain through him. Still on fire, he tried to roll around to put it out, but failed to do so, since he was covered in the flammable oil. He let out a piercing howl. He focused all his Ki again, trying to heal his wounds. As he did so, he got up to run. A wave of blackening dizziness drove him back to the ground, and now, an angry crowd was assembling at both ends of the street. Never, in all his time, had he been so badly injured. He stumbled forward, and then gathered up the last of his strength and charged the crowd. As he ran, he grabbed a long wooden pole from the burning cart and swung it in a wide arc. He connected, and the burning pole broke in half. The man he struck fell dead under the blow.
"Fire!" a distant voice
Behind him, the bamboo shops were beginning to flare up, soon to become a great conflagration. He heard the whoosh as tiles on roves ignited. Burning embers rained down on Fukiage and the crowd in the street. He threw the pole in an over-hand arc, hitting another by-stander with a loud satisfying thwack. He didn't look back to see if he was dead or not. He ran. He ran like he never had before.
"You will live!" he shrieked.
"I'll keep you alive forever!"
He saw a distant running shadow against the glow of the burning city. The page ran out onto a wooden bridge. Fukiage followed. The page leaned back, holding on to the rickety rail, and then threw himself forward.
"Noooo!" The page drove
the dagger into his belly. As Fukiage watched, he heaved himself off the bridge,
the dagger sticking into his stomach, and hit the water with a bloody splash.
He sank under the water.
Fukiage froze at the end of the bridge. Behind him, the city burned with a beautiful festive glow, which reflected on the black waters. He swayed with weakness. Maybe, the page wouldn't rise. Maybe, the curse was only made of empty words. Maybe, if he got out of this city alive, he could eat birds and bugs until he got enough strength back to hunt bigger prey. Maybe Then a white emaciated hand broke the surface. Fukiage knew his end had come. The revanent rose majestically out of the water and took a step toward him.