[Chapter 3 – Rosebays in the Night]
“You’re the reason Dad died,” I mutter to Naho while gritting my teeth. I can’t stay here like this or I won’t be able to control myself. I storm out of the dining room and head for the front door.
“Sorai!” Mr. Murakami yells out to me.
I don’t know my way around, but anywhere is better than that house. Sister? Yeah, right. To even consider her family is absurd. If anything, she’s taken my only family away from me. I spot some tall buildings in the distance and head in that direction.
I enter what seems to be a shopping district, infested by students enjoying their Friday night without any worry in the world. They look like they are conversing amongst themselves, but I know what they are actually doing; they’re mocking me. They laugh at my isolation, my solitude. They see someone with nothing left and can only scorn his misfortune.
“You know, my dad’s a real jerk sometimes,” I overhear two kids’ conversation, “he won’t buy me the new Persona game that came out.”
“At least you have a dad!” I almost scream out at them. But I keep silent. This is not somewhere I can stay either. I quietly find a side alley and sneak through it.
A nearby clock reads 7:04. My only companions are the darkness and a can I’m kicking around. “They’re all idiots,” I mutter as the image of those two kids flash inside my head, “Dumb brats.” Frustrated, I punt the can as hard as I can.
It bounces off a sign in front me and whacks me in the face.
“Paulownia Park,” the sign reads. It guards over the entrance to a deserted playground. I walk in and observe the structures. The swings sway back and forth in the breeze, as if spirits ride them. The bar cage creaks, as if it’s a beast waking from slumber. I find a child’s shoe left behind in the sand box, obviously the last remains of the child’s kidnapping or gruesome murder. Then I notice the centerpiece and namesake of the playground, a large Paulownia tree
The barren tree towers over the playground structures. The branches are void of any leaves or color. In this darkness, they resemble long, bony fingers extruding from a ghostly specter. Are you here for me, evil ghost? Are you here to kill me too?
I’ve got nothing left anyway.
“Leave me alone, you brutes!” a voice shouts from the other side of the park.
“C’mon honey, we just want to show you a good time.”
I leave the poltergeist tree and approach the voices. Six teenage boys surround a lone girl.
“Good timing. I’ve been itching to pick a fight,” I mutter to myself.
“Yo. How’s it hanging?” I bark out to no one in particular.
“Who’s this?” one guy remarks.
I nonchalantly walk into the circle and direct my attention to the girl. “Hey there. Name’s Yamanaka Sorai. You can just call me Sorai. What’s your name?” I ask while extending my hand for a shake.
Surprised by my sudden appearance, she takes a few seconds to answer, “Um. Hayashida Rinako. Listen, I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s quite a situation here, and you just put yourself right in the middle of it.”
“Oh, don’t worry. My intention isn’t to help you at all, but I suppose that may be a byproduct.”
She apparently expected me to be some kind of knight in shining armor because my response surprises her. After regaining her composure, she retorts, “Well, uhm, fine! I sure don’t want the help of an idiot who put himself in the middle of a bunch of thugs.”
“And I sure don’t want to help an idiot who put herself in such a mess in the first place,” I answer.
“Okay, that’s enough,” one of the men steps forward, “I think we’re going to have to teach this kid a lesson, huh, boys? Try not to hurt him too…”
I stop him short with an uppercut to his chin, sending him flying into another man and knocking them down. Two down. Four to go.
The other men are dumbfounded by my sudden action. I’d say I’ve got about ten seconds to attack unchecked. I focus my attention on the guy closest to the two men on the ground and lunge at him. Using the momentum of my leap, I jab my right fist into his abdomen, causing him to bend forward. I grab his head with my other hand and slam his face into my knee, followed by a roundhouse kick into his side. I send him ten feet away and in the dirt. Three down, three to go.
By this time, the others realize they’re losing members and dive in on me. One of them restrains my arms from behind while another takes a boxing stance in front.
“You bastard, take this!” the boxer wannabe exclaims.
I exhale a deep breath and arc my body forward. Just before the boxer attacks, I snap backward, head-butting the one restraining me. He loosens his grip and I slip out. While he clutches his bloody nose, I grab his wrist and fling him over my shoulder at the advancing boxer. The attacker is quick and sidesteps my makeshift human missile. It seems he’s a bit more experienced in a fight than the others; he barely even flinched when I hurled a man at him. He continues his attack and fires a right-handed jab at my face. A rookie mistake; the head’s a small target and easy to miss. I spin my left foot behind me so my side faces him and tilt my head backward. Not finding his mark, the boxer falls forward due to the momentum of his punch.
“Oh? Looks like that had some power to it,” I whisper into his ear as his head crosses my face.
I sweep my back leg forward, tripping my already falling acquaintance. His exposed back is just asking to be punished. I jam my elbow straight down and he slams into the ground with a loud thud.
“Yeah, you’re going to feel that in the morning, my friend.”
Four down, two to go.
At this point, the guy I used as a human missile is back on his feet. He is definitely the one in best shape here, considering round is a shape. The pudgy man tries to tackle me to the ground. I quickly throw myself on my back to dodge the fatty. All I see when I look up is a giant blob.
I fling my arms above my head and bring my knees to my chest. I push off the ground, feet first, straight into his lower stomach. I launch him upwards and straight back the way he came. I land on my feet and brush the dust off my shoulders. Five down, one to go.
The last thug draws out a knife and brandishes it in front of me, as if it will help. If anything, it dissuades me from pulling my punches. He brings the knife to his thigh, supporting the bottom with his other hand. He leans forward and charges to try to stab my heart.
“Hoh? It seems you know how to use a knife, buddy.”
To stab with a knife, you lower the knife below your target and stab upward to get the best results; slashing it side to side is not only haphazard, it’s likely to result in only minor gashes or lacerations. A knife’s stab is an efficient attack at a pinpoint location. Unfortunately, this guy’s got the same problem as the boxer. If I know where the attack will go, it’s easy to dodge.
When he’s almost within range, I jump backwards to match his speed for a brief second. In this moment, he seems still from my point of view. I grab the arm that’s supporting the knife under the hilt and pull it toward me. Using his own momentum against him, I use myself as a fulcrum as I swing him around a half circle. I throw him as hard as I can and he falls to the ground, losing his grip on the knife. As he tries to get back on his feet, I strike.
“Well, it’s been a while since I played leapfrog with Dad, but… up we go!”
He’s still half on the ground, so I vault over him with one hand on his shoulder. As I clear his head, I grab the back of his head. I smash his face into the dirt with a mini pile driver as my vault carries me further. Six down.
“Oh? It seems one of you got back up.”
The thug I uppercut at the beginning manages to stand back up.
He pants heavily as he regains his composure. The blow to his head should have disoriented him somewhat.
“Don’t worry; you’ll all walk away from this with only a couple bruises and maybe a broken nose if you’re this guy,” I remark while pointing to my leapfrog partner, “I had a great time though. Thanks.”
I turn around and start walking back to the park entrance.
“Heh, he gets one surprise attack on me and he thinks he’s such hot stuff,” he taunts me, “Fight me like a true man and then we’ll see who laughs at the end.”
I scoff and continue walking.
“You’re going to walk away from a challenge? You sure are a sorry excuse for a man. I feel bad for whoever raised you dishonorable coward, probably a pathetic excuse for a dad.”
“What did you say?” I demand.
He continues, “I would almost say you’re a disgrace, but I suppose you can’t disgrace anybody when you work off of a miserable role model.”
“You’re a disgrace.”
His words echo in my head.
“You’re a disgrace.”
END OF CHAPTER