Sample Chapters:

Our music tells us who we are

-Tauticus, 39 AD

Rape, murder; it’s just a shot away, it’s just a kiss away

- Merry Clayton

Prologue – Metal Machine Music

“Isaac Palmer woke from one nightmare into another.  He had been dreaming of vampires, but when his eyes bolted open what he saw was a beautiful corpse.  Track marks up and down her arm.  Drugs may have done her in, but it didn’t seem the likely cause of death—her throat had been slit.  Half of her body’s blood was on the once-white sheets, the other half on Isaac.  There was over twenty thousand U.S. dollars in cash in his pocket. 

“Out of the door with barely enough time to dress, his skin cracking dry under the caked blood, he was at the airport and on a flight to Tokyo before he could properly understand what had happened.” 

Part 1: Songs From A Room

Chapter 1 – Bird On A Wire

I sat on the flight trembling. Nervousness, exhaustion, hangover, nicotine withdrawal, cold... I felt all of these things simultaneously.  My clothes were dirty.  A thin jacket covered most of my black shirt, still stained with blood, but it wasn’t enough to keep me warm.  How had I gotten into this mess?  In my mind I went over what I knew about my last day in Australia: drugs… sex… violence… guns…  

Okay now, take it one step at a time.  I had been at work, I had gone home, I drank a few beers, I headed out to the concert on my own because none of my friends—the few useless friends that I did have in town—would go with me; I got a ticket, I got some beers, I watched one band, I watched another, I watched yet another, I had a lot of beers.  I stuck around because I had nothing better to do, they stopped serving beers, I stayed even longer, I was pretty drunk, I was pretty sleepy…  That was all I could remember.  Where was the part with the girl?  How did she fit into the picture? 

“Can I get you something?”  The flight attendant looked over my shoulder with a happy, expectant smile on her face, clearly eager to help me quench my thirst.  These planes—so cold, so dry. I smelled terrible… 

“I’ll have a beer,” I said.  “No, better give me two.” 

“Two?”  She reached over to her cart for the beers, then frowned when she saw my trembling, tattooed hands.  I gulped down the first one, nursed the second.  Some sort of movie was playing on a screen at a sharp angle to the left of my seat.  This was only the second time I had ever been in an airplane.  The Japanese girls sitting next to me had been asleep since even before take-off, but several hours into the flight I was still a jangle of nerves.  I’d woken up next to a dead girl, and yet I was not in handcuffs—nobody had broken down my door and taken me in for questioning, I had not been interrogated or tortured, nor had I been thrown into a cell with a bunch of hardened criminals.  Strange how everything had fallen into place, like a no-fail formula: split death scene, run home through morning streets, break window to get into room so it would look like it had been burglarized, throw passport and some money and a notebook and a twenty grand wad of U.S. dollars into a backpack, jump into a cab, get to the airport, pay for a ticket in cash, and proceed to the boarding gate; no questions at check-in, no questions at customs about my visa overstay, nobody even coming into the cabin at the last minute before take-off to escort me from the plane..

Just clear sailing, off towards another brightening horizon… 

Chapter 2 – The Story Of Isaac

Japanese customs were a breeze as well, although the guy refrained from smiling broadly and saying “welcome to Japan.”  In fact, he didn’t say anything I could understand at all, except a string of Japanese punctuated after a pause with the word “pass-por-to.”  Of course, I didn’t bother to declare the massive wad of cash in my carry-on.  The ease of movement for a person who should be on a watch list... I was beginning to get suspicious.  If I’d been involved in a murder, wouldn’t Interpol… or somebody… already be on my case?  Isn’t there some sort of Big Brother network that keeps track of suspicious characters crossing borders?  Or does the ‘license to kill’ extend beyond just secret agents and politicians? 

Once I was through customs, it finally began to dawn on me—although I was nearly home free, I was still in a totally foreign country.  Why had I picked Japan?  Sure, it was an advanced economy, it was big and I could easily lose myself in anonymity among the faceless masses, and I’d always been interested in the place; but I didn’t know anybody there, and I couldn’t speak the language.  I had no idea what I’d do to stay alive once that 20 grand ran out.  If I ever had reasons to doubt that forces beyond my understanding had control of my destiny, they were gone now.

I was in Narita airport.  It was early morning.  I had nothing to do but wait and see what happened to me.  I sat in a chair for a while, watching for familiar faces, seeing only mysterious strangers who may have passed me twice but never three times; there was nothing recognizable about this place at all. 

Airports were strange places: you’d never see a better representation of the nations of earth or a greater a variety of national costumes, but it was an alien environment—and me an anthropologist on Mars.  I walked around for a while to orient myself, but finally just sat for several hours in the lounge chairs, watching people coming and going, thinking about what the hell had happened, or just thinking about nothing. 

I went to change money and I traded the maximum amount of Australian dollars they would take, becoming a millionaire… but what does it mean to be a yen millionaire? 

There was nothing to do but eat… although with my unease and nervousness and all the butterflies in my stomach I couldn’t say I was actually hungry.  I wandered around the airport, and after a long search found a convenience store, ate some rice triangles since they seemed cheap, interesting, and less disgusting than the packaged sandwiches.  The labels were color-coded, so I bought a green one, a blue one, and another that was salmon-colored.  They were pretty good, but kind of fell apart on me.  I liked the salmon-colored one the best.  I suppose it had salmon in it.  

I took a bus downtown.  It seemed that the best way to get grounded in my new environment would be to see the town and learn how it works.  Tokyo—where anything was possible. Or at least all those bright lights made I picture in my mind when I think of Tokyo make it seem so. I could get rich, I could get famous, I could find myself working in a back alley crystal meth lab run by North Koreans, I could get knifed in the streets.  But with a hellhound on my trail, I suppose what I was really hoping would happen was I would fade into obscurity.  I had woken up next to a dead girl!  And I had no idea what had happened.  If they caught up to me here in Japan, how would I explain my way out of it? 

Well… I really had no idea what I was going to do the next day, the next week, the next month.   Twenty grand wouldn’t last forever, and Japan is one of the most expensive countries in the world.  Twenty-four hours earlier in Sydney the thought had gone through my head about going to places where my money would last longer, like Thailand or Cambodia, instead of Japan.  Now I was wondering if I would regret deciding on Tokyo… 

At the train station, I still had no idea where I was, or what I was doing.  The station itself was a maze of shops and offices for train-related stuff.  I was blocked from going up to the platforms without a ticket.  I walked across the square and turned around to look at the building itself: what I saw was an old red brick train station-like structure that seemed to have survived from some distant horse-drawn era, except that modern high tech bullet train platforms had been added on top of it.  I found an information board with some English on it and a map of the station area.  It seemed like there were a million places to get on trains in the ground underneath my feet, a whole second world. Every building facing the train station seemed to be owned by a bank. I looked out across the square at the bank buildings, behind them were the walls of what the map told me was the Imperial Palace although I couldn’t quite make it out.  Wasn’t able to spot Mount Fuji in the distance—too bad, because it might have given me some proof that I was in Japan and not some fantasy dream world that looked like Japan...  I don’t know how long I stood there taking it all in, but it must have been a while—it had started getting dark. 

So, I had orientated myself, but I still didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night, or with whom.  But it didn’t matter much to me, somehow—I was happy to be free and anonymous.  Night was falling.  I went into a convenience store, got some more food, some beer, some cigarettes.  The posters on the store’s windows were a blaze of strokes and slashes, the row of magazines and newspapers an incoherent blur of alien symbols.  I hadn’t heard a word of English since talking to the flight attendant.  But rather than feeling alienated, this was actually comforting; with the jumble of thoughts in my head, I preferred the white noise of a foreign language to empty conversation or—worse yet—prying questions.  Where ya from?  How long ya bin in Japan?  Pretty weerd place, innit? 

I bought a bagful of beers, and found a dark spot outside the train station to sit down.  Not knowing anything about this place, I had to think hard about what to do next.  But nothing came.  Watching people, I saw the full range of Japanese faces.  People coming and going, fat and thin, tall and short, young and old, ugly and not-so-ugly; usually well-dressed, the occasional bum or scholar or high school student; or maybe someone in a crappy work uniform—old, short, skinny, wobbly, uncertain, squinting, whatever.  Everybody navigating their way through society to the best of their skills and abilities, each assigned a specific task until everything more or less fell into place. But seeing the rejects mixed so baldly with the success stories made me wonder why, even here on Mars, some had the tools for success that others didn’t.  I began to feel quite warm, drunk and sleepy.  Nodding off, my mind floated back and latched onto a memory.  It was the face of that dead girl, an Asian face, like the ones I was seeing all around me but fixed in a sickly death grin, and all of a sudden I was bolt awake! 

Chapter 3 – A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes

… a Japanese face, like so many of those that had walked past me at the station.  Was this what had brought me to Tokyo instead of somewhere else?  I thought about that girl, and everything that she was, or might have been.  Parts of her body that once worked smoothly that were now broken, irreparable.  A girl with a past, friends, parents, a history, possibly an education, roots going back, a story to her life that was now a big meaningless nothing.  One less person walking around in the world, one less body.  The body—I broke out in a clammy sweat…  How long does it normally take for a corpse to be discovered?  But I was here, and I had less to worry about than if I was sitting trapped in an airport lounge in Sydney.  What had she really died of?  Me?  Herself?  Somebody else? 

After a while, I finally did drift off to an uneasy, dreamless sleep.  I woke up clutching my bag, my body stiff with pain.  I sat up and searched for another beer. 

I looked at my watch.  It was 1:30, way past midnight, and hours until morning.  No moon in the murky Tokyo sky.  The streets were empty, bank building lights glowed from the upper floors.  My elbow itched.  I pulled up the sleeve of my shirt—there was still some blood trapped on the skin there in black gooey threads.  I wanted to throw up, but managed to wipe most of the goo away with the receipt I found in the empty convenience store bag, its rough edges scratching my skin and sending up shards of cool pain. 

Seated near me was a small group of Japanese guys and one girl—there were six of them sitting on the sidewalk cross-legged in a circle, some also leaning against the train station wall.  I wondered what the hell they were doing there so late at night, maybe it was a situation where the trains had stopped running and they were stuck there until morning.  I guess they didn’t have moms who would pick them up late at night in station wagons they drove in on from the suburbs.  But the night was mild, and what I had heard about Tokyo was that it was pretty safe; I should probably have been more worried about myself than them, but I knew that if there were trouble at least I could take care of myself—these guys were pretty scrawny.  I wondered which one of these guys the girl was with.  Or was she with all of them? 

I was getting bored, and the night was going to be long.  It was still pretty early.  I decided to go and get some more beer and try to make friends.  When I came back, I sat at the same spot for a while smoking.  I wondered if there was any chance of playing it cool and waiting for one of them to come over and bum a smoke off of me.  Mmmm… probably not. 

I went over—their group was sitting only a short distance from me.  “Excuse me, when is the first train in the morning?” 

They were all shocked that I was speaking to them, except the girl—she just stared at her knees. 

“Do you live in Tokyo?” 


“I came from Australia today… yesterday.  My name is… Isaac.” 


“What time is it?” 

Silence.  I pointed at my watch, and the guy looked at his watch.  Then he moved it over so that I could look at it.  It showed almost the same time mine did.

“Do you want a cigarette?”  Two of the guys turned me down, then took out their own packs of cigarettes from the pavement in front of them—brands that were different from mine—and we all lit up and smoked for a while in silence.  It gave me some time to look at them more carefully.  They all had moderately sculpted hair, sticking up at interesting angles, except for one guy who had thick, straight, black hair that sat on his head like a helmet, covering his ears entirely and going nearly down to his neck at the back.  Everybody had some sort of t-shirt on, most of them quite plain.  One guy had the number 95 on his, another had the word ‘t-shirt.’  Someone had a picture of two rabbits fucking, which I thought was funny.  The guy with the helmet haircut had long sleeves.  All of them wore clean sneakers on their dainty feet.

The girl was dressed like the guys, except that she wore a long-sleeve shirt just like Mr. Helmethead.  Her hair was neat and straight, colored a strange wheat-and-grey color.  Her bangs formed a perfect line just above her eyebrows, and her hair fell down to her shoulders. 

After a long time spent sitting in an awkward silence they started to forget that I was there and began talking quietly to each other.  I even heard the girl say a few words every once in a while.  Her spoken voice was almost at the volume of a whisper, generally soft but somehow with a bit of a nasal sneer to it.  I thought about going away and doing something else, but then I realized that there was nothing else to do.  And besides—if these people were getting uncomfortable with me around, it wasn’t really my problem. 

I opened a beer and took a few sips.  Staring off into the distance, I counted six cabs go by one after another before I saw a passenger car.  I thought about the high castle walls that—perhaps it was my imagination—I could almost see off in the distance through the office towers.  I wondered how many Tokyo drifters had sat around here, with all that royalty just on the other side of a bunch of thick stone walls. I wondered how many countries in the world have their royal family living in a fortress right downtown. I wondered if the emperor played any musical instruments. And I wondered how often space aliens had descended on the ancient tribes of this island to teach them their other-worldly culture. 

Eeeeetohhh… how—old—are—you?” 

I looked around.  Had somebody talked to me? 

“Twenty five,” I said, looking around trying to figure out which of the guys had spoken. 

“Twenny fi?”   The guy with the helmet head said.  He moved his finger in a pattern over his hand, paused, then repeated the motion.  After a few times I realized that he was drawing a two and a five over and over again with his finger on the palm of his other hand. 

“Oh, yeah.  Yeah.  Twenty five.”  Feeling stupid, I quickly drew the numbers on my own hand.  “How old are you?” 

The guy looked surprised, pointed his finger at his nose and looked at me as if he were saying ‘who, me?’  I nodded.  “Eeeeetohhh… ahhh… twenni-won.”  He drew a two and a one in the same way in the palm of his hand.  Twenty one.  Wow—a baby! 

I looked around at the other faces, but nobody was volunteering information, although by now most of them were smiling at me a bit, sheepishly. 

I looked over at helmet-head.  “What’s your name?” 

Eeeetohhh… I—Yoshi.”  

“Yoshi.  I’m Isaac.” 

I offered Yoshi a beer, kind of like a reward for putting in the effort to accept a stranger, but he just held up his hands.  I looked at the others, but they put up their hands too.  I guess if anybody was going to get drunk tonight, it would just be me. 

“Do you like music?” 

Eeeeehhh… yes.” 


“Yes.  And Sigur Ros.”

“The Sugarcubes?  Björk?” 

Eeeetohhh… no.  But Black Sabbath very good.  Deep Purple?” 

“Uh—not really.  Shonen Knife?”

“Shonen da-re?  Who… who is it?” 

“From Japan.  Do you like Cornelius?” 

Everybody said together “nooooooo!” 

So I guess music really is the universal language. 

After the packs of cigarettes were smoked and crumpled into balls, the night became a bit of a hazy blur and one by one everybody anonymously drifted off to sleep.  But I stayed awake.  I looked at the girl, the first to slumber, who had barely spoken at all the whole time.  Sleeping there she looked peaceful, although every so often her brow furrowed as if she were in pain.  I could see beads of sweat appearing on her nose.  A Mazzy Star song came into my head.  I thought about the film “the Straight Story.”   Up in the skies above a shooting star flashed by.   And at one point… I might have been hallucinating, but I thought I saw a deer walk down the street over there by the Mitsubishi UFJ Bank building. 

The sky seemed to be lightening just as I saw the first guy in a suit and briefcase coming out of the train station doors, followed by five or six women, then another few men.  Bankers, clerks, government workers.  It took a lot of clean living for these people to get this far, I wonder if I’d ever get my ass off the ground and actually get even part of the way into a life they had been born to live, folks whose entire lives were devoted to their plain old bourgeois-ness.  I wonder if any of them could lose their marbles and taste a bit of what I called a life.  Crazy.  But who was crazier—them or me? 

Shops were opening and people were starting to get visibly annoyed walking around our camp.  I saw a guy in a uniform who looked like a cop walk by, but he didn’t say anything.  The kids slept on.  Yoshi hadn’t moved since he fell asleep around 3:30.  The girl woke up, looked around.  Her eyes were narrow with sleep.  She looked straight into my eyes but didn't seem to recognize me, then poked Yoshi. 

Morning had broken.  Soon my new friends were up and moving around.  I wondered what would happen next.  Could I rely on anybody for a place to crash?  I decided I’d try to push my luck, just to see what would happen.  As they moved towards the subway, I moved with them.  We got to some sort of ticket wicket, and there was some sort of a discussion.  Some of the guys used some sort of ticketing card to get right through the turnstiles, and they were gone.  Yoshi and a few others headed off in another direction.  I decided that I’d have the best luck with Yoshi, so I stuck close to him.  We got to another, different set of turnstiles, and the same sort of thing happened again, except this time in broken English. 

Eeeetoooohhh…” he muttered. 

“How can I buy a ticket.  Ticket?  Ticket?” 

He looked a little confused, then he moved over to the ticketing machine and looked at me. 

Eeetoooohhh… where?  Where are you going?” 

“Mmmmm… can I go to your house?” 

“Your house?  Your?”  He pointed to himself.  He looked off to his left, thought to himself for a while, and said something to the girl.  Then he pushed a few buttons, showed me where to put in money, and I got a ticket.  I followed Yoshi and the girl and two other guys, and got through the turnstiles.  We went up to the platform, which seemed pretty crowded already.  There were people everywhere.  I think it was a Thursday morning, or maybe a Friday.  Some were getting their breakfast from little booths that sold food, eating noodle soup from bowls perched dangerously on narrow ledges.  Thick queues had formed and trains were whizzing by just inches from people’s bodies.  Everything was crowded.  I looked up—there was some kind of metallic covering over the track, then buildings and dead neon lights could be spotted above it rising up twenty or thirty stories.  It was crazy and quite bizarre—I had never been to Japan before and here I was in the heart of everybody’s morning routine.  I’d never seen such a crowded place before.  Every inch of the wall space, the ground, and the sky above, was covered in writing of some sort or another in all the colors of the rainbow. 

Several trains passed.  Then another train came and we got on board.  We were squeezed in tight like cigarettes in a new cigarette pack.  Ouch!!!  Somebody’s elbow was in my stomach, something hard was pressed against my butt, and there was something hard near my groin; I’d never before been so intimate with dozens of stranger.  Strangely… perversely… I was a bit turned on by the experience... 

I never quite lost sight of Yoshi and the girl.  After about five stops, nearly everybody in the train got off, and it was suddenly nearly empty.  I could finally breathe again, and look out of the windows. 

“Is this still Tokyo”? I asked Yoshi.

“No… it’s iinaka,” he said to me and smiled.  I didn’t bother to figure out what that was supposed to mean. 

Chapter 4 – The Partisan

After about forty minutes on the train, Yoshi and the girl got off.  I don’t know where the other guys had gotten off, I hadn’t seen them leave and I didn’t notice them saying goodbye to Yoshi either.  We passed again through turnstiles.  My ticket didn’t work, or I needed some fare adjustment or something, because there was loud beeping when I tried to get through. Yoshi had already walked through ahead of me.  He seemed hesitant, but he turned around and spoke with the station guy, and I paid some money and was let through.  The whole process took about ten minutes, and these people were talking the whole time.  What could require so much explanation?  I started to get suspicious and was preparing to bolt, but in the end the guy bowed to us and went back into a little booth that had a few other guys dressed like him in it. Once again I had not been detected and was passing right by under the nose of authority again.  I was getting away with it. 

We went down a shambling corridor, headed down an incredibly narrow staircase, and were suddenly in the grey morning light on a sidewalk in some rural township.  The three of us walked along, past crumpled little shops that seemed to sell insurance, or real estate, or stocks, or something incredibly dull.  There were several convenience stores—hey, they have 7-Elevens in Japan too! 

We got to some concrete building, and headed in.  It looked neither old nor new, neither well-maintained nor run-down, but certainly cramped.  There was barely enough room for the three of us in the stuffy elevator.  The air in there was terrible, and I was even more painfully aware of how bad I smelled.  The elevator moved at what seemed like a snail’s pace up to the fourth floor.  We got out, walked along a dark corridor, stopped in front of a rusty apartment door.  Yoshi fished out a key, and we went into his place.  It was incredibly small—a kitchen that was jam-packed with cooking crap and half-eaten food lying all over the place; the other room had clothes strewn on the floor and a mattress lying on the ground.  Yoshi went over to the mattress, threw himself down on it, and began to snore. 

Now it was just the girl and me.  She went into the bathroom, came out a second later.  I tried the toilet out next—after I had closed the door behind myself, it was hardly the size of a coffin.  I took a leak, being careful about my aim, and washed my hands.  Rolled up my sleeves and washed my arms up past the elbows—needed to clean away that dried blood, it had been bothering me all night. 

I got out of the bathroom, the girl was in the kitchen.  I went in to take a look at what she was doing, then went back into the other room to see what I could find.  There was a huge CD shelf going up one wall.  It was all there: Deep Purple, Queen, the Sex Pistols, Lou Reed, Nico, the Scorpions, Judas Priest, Bob Dylan, the Misfits, Black Flag, the Velvet Underground, AC/DC, Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath, Rush, Radiohead, Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Nick Cave, Jeff Buckley, Tim Buckley, Hawkwind, Motörhead, and a bunch of Japanese bands I’d never heard of before like the Boredoms, Masonna, High Rise, the Surfers of Romantica, Merzbow, and the Ultra Fuckers.  Hey—cool band name! 

I went into the kitchen, the girl gave me a bowl of miso soup and some rice.  I was starving—I couldn’t remember when I’d last had warm food!  It tasted good. 

After eating, the girl quietly put everything away.  Being in a cramped kitchen with me, she seemed smaller than she had when we were sitting on the street.   She was really teeny weeny.  I wondered if she was a teenager, but I doubted it—she had the mature step of someone already in her twenties.  And besides that, what kind of a teenage girl would live on her own in Japan? 

She came over, walking past me and looking at me out of the corner of her eye as she passed. She went over to a drawer and pulled out a clean towel and a new toothbrush in a plastic wrapper, walked over to the bathroom. I watched curiously what she was doing—she put the towel on the toilet seat lid, the toothbrush next to the sink, and turned on the water, testing it to see if it was hot.  It was going into a tub and filling up.  She shut the door behind her.  I went back to looking at the CDs on the wall.  For such a messy room, the CD rack was meticulously well attended-to.

I spent the next twenty minutes going over the CDs. Boris, “Pink”; Boris, “Akuma no uta”; Boris and Sunn 0))), “Altar”; Boris and Merzbow “Sun Baked Snow Cave; Boris and Haino Keiji, “Black: Implication Flooding”; Boris and Kurihara Michio, “Rainbow”; this guy was really into Boris, whoever he was.

From time to time I looked up.  I was itchy all over.  I could hear the girl as she splashed in the bathroom. Frosted glass on the bathroom door meant that I could half-imagine what was going on.

I went back to looking at this guy’s box sets. Samhain, Bruce Springsteen “Born To Run” special 30th anniversary edition, multiple Led Zeppelin sets. I was flipping through the booklet from the coffin-shaped Misfits box when she came out, fully clothed. She looked at me curiously, grabbed me by the elbow, and steered me into the bathroom and pointed to the bath, saying something in Japanese.

Kusai da. Chotto ohuro haire.

Yeah, whatever.

I stepped into the bathroom and started to take off my clothes. Then I realized I had forgotten fresh clothes to change into after the bath. I got out and grabbed a clean t-shirt and shorts.  I was already wearing my money belt with my 20K so that was safe.  I went back into the bathroom, stripped, and climbed into the water.

I soaked into the water.  I felt it fill my pores, as if I were an old dry dusty garbage sponge that had baked in the sunlight and moonlight for 40 days. I was soaking up the miracle waters of a real Japanese bath. It was a fantastic, full-body feeling. I was floating in space, ladies and gentlemen, and when I closed my eyes a thick wave of lava swept over my consciousness.

After a while I began to feel pickled, so I got out. I dried myself off.  A fan blew cold air onto me.  I hadn’t noticed it before. I found a razor and shaved, dried off my hair, then used a few hair products that were sitting on the shelf.

I got out of the bath feeling like a new man. In the next room the girl had rolled out a mattress for me.  She said something in Japanese that made me guess I was supposed to sleep there.  Strangely enough, I didn’t feel so very tired.  I lay there for a while thinking about the crazy day I had just lived through—sex, death, drugs, flight to freedom, all night on the streets of Tokyo, and now I was relying on the kindness of strangers.  It was finally over, and I could move on with my life.  Jeez.  But how long would it take for my past to catch up with me?  How much freedom was left on the clock? 

Suddenly, I felt something behind me.  It was the girl.  She had put her arm around me from behind, and was rubbing my chest.  It felt good.  It felt really good.  I waited for a second, and the rubbing stopped.  I turned over and looked at her.  She was so small next to me.  I noticed that she was really pretty—nice eyes, smooth skin, and full lips.  I kissed those lips, and they kissed back. 

We quickly struggled out of our clothes and it was all arms and legs.  She touched me all over and then made love anxiously and noisily, whimpering and moaning.  When I took her from behind she used one hand to rub herself, her spine moving like a whip—she was very energetic; it felt like nothing I’d ever experienced.  I was alarmed to have Yoshi in the room passed out so close to us—I still didn’t know the nature of their relationship—but it was just too much of what I needed to resist. 

When it was all over, and I was just starting to fall asleep, I suddenly realized that I didn’t know her name.  Not just that, but I had never once even spoken to her. 

Chapter 5 – Seems So Long Ago, Nancy

I didn’t sleep well, and when I slept I had grotesque dreams.  I was being interviewed for a job, but I didn’t know what the job was, so I was bluffing my way through vague questions that didn’t seem related to any job I could understand; in another, I was interviewing a person, but I didn’t know what the topic was, I was just asking vague questions so I could figure out how to finish the interview.  I had been sitting in that chair for so long my legs had gone numb.  I reached down and felt my thighs.  My pants were gone.  My money belt!  Where was it!?  

I woke with a start and felt at my waist—omigod, the money belt was still there.  I looked around, confused about where I was and struggled to remember.  Realizing that I was in Japan in a stranger’s house, I closed my eye and slept some more.  The room was hot, sticky, and smelled bad.  The blinds were only half closed and let in a lot of light.  It was irritating, it bore a hole into the back of my throbbing mind, but I couldn’t be bothered to get up to close it.  Neither could anyone else, it seemed. 

After some time, I knew I couldn’t sleep any more.  I rolled over, sat up, looked around the room.  The blinds were still half-closed, but the sky outside seemed to be darkening.  Yoshi was still an inert mound.  I reached over to the girl and touched her small, hard breast.  She bucked, and turned over.  Her eyes small with sleep, she didn’t look as attractive as she had the night before, with creases in the soft skin of her cheek.  She reached down and grabbed at me.  I jumped into action. 

“What’s your name,” I whispered.

“Name?  Na-mai?  Mei… meidama.  Mynameis Meidama.” 

Meidama.  Nice. She had her clothes off in no time and I struggled out of mine, our mouths licking and probing.  Everything on her was so small, compact, firm.  She was tiny beneath me, I had to be careful not to crush her.  This time she was quieter, not moaning the way she had the first time.  Yoshi stirred once, but this only made my movements more frantic as the little viper slithered beneath me.  It was a fantastic, summer feeling. 

When it was over, we lay together. I saw her looking at me.  She studied my chest, my arms, tracing the lines of the tattoos that I’d put on my body those bored evenings when I was living on that orange plantation in Australia.  A flame burst around each wrist, a huge axe on my right arm, a knife on my left.  The Chinese character for “good” on my right shoulder, the character for “evil” on my left. 

Zen,” she mumbled.  “Aku.” 

“What?” I asked. 

“Your shoulder – ‘zen’ here,” she pointed at my right shoulder, “and here ‘aku’ – it’s ‘bad.’” 

Afterwards Meidama went off into the shower. I tried to follow her in, but she pushed me back, put a finger over her lips without saying “shhhhh,” and shut the door. 

I spent the time flipping through magazines that were lying around the place.  Yoshi didn’t stir once.  Guitar magazines, comics, music mags, fashion pages, all sorts of crazy stuff.  I went back  to the CDs.  I found a box set by some band called Van der Graaf Generator.  Weird...  The Nuggets collection.  Lush.  Ride.   Neil Young.  Gram Parsons.  The Cure.  Big Star.  The Sisters of Mercy. 

Meidama came out of the shower fully dressed in new clothes, and went into the kitchen.  I followed her there.  I went up to kiss her, but she pushed me away, pointed towards the shower.  I got the idea. 

Taking my stuff into the shower room I had been in the night before, I remembered why she didn’t want me in there—the shower stall was microscopic.  Once into the stall, I could barely maneuver.  My elbows bumped into the walls, then the water control, and I was scalded with boiling hot water. 

“Aaaaaaghhhh!!!” I screamed in agony. 

I turned off the water completely, then started again with water at a normal temperature.  Scrambling for shampoo was tough—which of these bottles was shampoo and which was conditioner, rinse, gel, shaving cream?  Sniffing at a few, I decided to reach over to the sink and use the hand soap instead to clean my shoulder-length hair, somewhat ratty from my recent botched attempt to add red streaks. 

Feeling a bit better, I got out of the shower.  Now Yoshi was awake, his eyes small with sleep.  He said something to me, must be something like “Hey man, are you OK” or something.  I said, “sorry, it’s OK.  Okay.” 

Meidama came out, handed me a glass.  I took a drink – it was strong. 

“What’s this? Sake?”

Chigau!” she wrinkled her nose.  “Ehhhh… no.  Sochu.” 

“Rice wine?” 

“Eeeeehhh, wain to chotto chigaimasu…  Eeeehhh… yes—wine.” 

Yoshi was spacing out in the corner, with a blanket wrapped around himself.  Meidama opened some windows; it had clouded over and was raining outside. She lit up a cigarette, and turned on the stereo.  It was the first Black Sabbath album.

Yoshi said something, she took off the Sabbath, and put on Modern Lovers.  Strange that these young people listened to such old music. 

After some instant noodles, we seemed like we were getting ready to go out.  I was nervous.  I still didn’t know what I was doing in this country.  I didn’t know who these people were, although Yoshi and I seemed to be getting along OK.  I had gone through his albums and indicated to him which ones I approved of, and he had smiled, nodded, laughed, and said things in Japanese to Meidama.  I had mentioned three Japanese bands that I had heard of to him (Shonen Knife, Loudness, and Yellow Magic Orchestra), he’d laughed and said “Yellow Magic Orchestra.”  I mentioned a few actors and directors, and he got excited and mentioned a whole bunch of names I’d never heard of.  It was probably a bit like saying “Robert DeNiro” to a film buff, and he launches into a chronology of every director and actor he’s ever worked with.  I guess I really needed to learn more about Japan.  But then I looked at Meidama and I thought… I already had learned a bit more about Japan. 

It was 11:00.  It was Friday night… probably.  Siouxsie and the Banshees were playing on the radio.  I had instant ramen in my stomach, and the sochu was flowing.  I was starting to feel quite light and fuzzy.   Or, come to think of it, maybe it was a Saturday night.  These walls had been most of what I had seen and known of Japan so far. I was starting to feel like I was trapped. But I liked this cage, somehow.

“Are you going out tonight?” I asked Yoshi and Meidama.  “Out?” 

They looked confused.  Somewhat drunk, I jumped up and made diving motions towards the outside.  They laughed, and said “no, no, no.” 

Yoshi fired up the VCR and began showing me old Nirvana videos.  It was interesting, somehow, that he had all this obscure collectors stuff, but I didn’t know what it was all leading to.  We watched Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols on tour in California, and then some Iggy Pop performances I never knew existed.

“Are you students?” I asked.  “Do you go to school?” 

“School?  Ahhh… yes.  Ahhh… we go to school.  I from Hiroshima.  She from Korea.  We go to school here.  In Tokyo.” 

“Korea?  You are from Korea?  Wow…” 

Meidama smiled, and looked down.  Her bangs now completely covered her eyes.  She looked like a mushroom. 

“Do you like Murakami Ryu?”  Yoshi asked me.  “This is his book.”

I hadn’t heard of this writer.  Seemed like an awkward way to change the topic.  I looked over a slim volume that Yoshi was handing me.  The Japanese writing made no sense at all, bizarre jiggles that jumped from very complex blocks to single-line squiggles. 

Ehhh… here is the book in English.  I practice reading English with this.” 

Now another book, the same size, but all in English.  Almost Transparent Blue was the title.  Seemed like some poorly translated crap.  Meidama brought me another drink.   I cracked the book and started to read.  From the first page I was hooked—it was a bizarre orgy of bugs and vomit, sweat and sex, jazz, and crazy drugged-up Japanese hippies sleeping with black American servicemen.  Crazy stuff.  I had five or six more glasses of sochu.  I don’t know when it happened, but I passed out… 

… it might have been hours later, I woke up to a familiar sound—Meidama moaning with sex.  I felt heat rising in my brain.  Not sure what to do, I reached over to where I thought my drink was before.  Finding something, I took a deep drink, and passed right out again. 

… it might have been hours later, but I woke up with a familiar feeling.  It was Meidama again, feeling at my crotch.  I looked over, there was Yoshi sleeping.  I was limp, relaxed, I couldn’t respond to her.  I stepped up, went to the washroom, threw up into the toilet…  

Part 2: Trompe le Monde

Chapter 1: Trompe le Monde

It was several months later that I was finally ready, psychologically, to put the CD into a player and give it a listen.  I put it in late one night when I was at work in the Gamma Livehouse in Osaka, after everybody had gone home.  That was the best time of day, when I finally became comfortable in my skin – a part of society, but with nobody around. 

I knew that particular Pixies CD intimately anyway from repeated listens years ago when I was living in Hawaii.  But the association it now had with my nightmare in Tokyo made it tough to listen to again. 

I let my mind wander back a bit—I’d been in Osaka already nearly six months since my eventful five days in Tokyo.  After the mysterious break-in, I got on a train again and rode into Tokyo.  I thought about jumping on a plane to Korea, but I didn’t want to take my chances at customs: Interpol, or one of those corny Tintin international police agencies, might already have caught on that I’d entered Japan at that point, so I didn’t want to push my luck.  It seems I hadn’t been careful enough in Tokyo, so Plan B was to try even harder in the country’s second-biggest city. 

I had gone to the bullet train station and asked about tickets.  The nearest one leaving was going to Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe.  I had enough Japanese yen on hand to get to Osaka, but not to Kobe, so Osaka it was.  I jumped into the train and got to town near midnight. 

Wandering around the city, it felt like my arrival in Tokyo except for the fact that I stepped out of the train already in the heart of a bustling downtown entertainment area instead of some farming-village-that-happened-to-have-an-international-airport-in-it that was Narita.  I wandered around until I found a pub that looked like it catered to foreigners.  Hanging out in the bar until they closed, I made a few friends, but also—after talking to the staff—found out that they were hiring.  The first night they gave me a spot to sleep in the upstairs office, then arranged for me to get a room in some kind of staff dormitory not far from the pub.  They didn’t ask too many questions. 

I tied my hair back for a while, braiding it and curling it up into a sort of bun.  I let my facial hair grow out into a sort of beard.  Ten days after I had started working I cut my hair fairly short, but not short enough to attract attention.  Most people didn’t notice.  With a beard grown out, and shorter hair, I hardly looked anything like what I did when I was in Tokyo.  That would be the best I could do for cover for the time being, before I thought of something smarter. 

Outside I was different, inside as well.  I still didn’t know about my status in police investigations, in Australia or elsewhere, but there was barely a second that I didn’t think about it.  My idyll with Meidama and Yoshi and the bands had been great, but it was an illusion, it had nothing to do with hard reality.  But maybe the words of the old cobbler were coming true—I hadn’t left Japan immediately, and if I could evade detection by the authorities maybe I could, should, would have to live here forever.  But at least there was one thing that had improved my existence in Japan—after a few months working among Japanese people, I had picked up a pretty good working knowledge of the language, and was learning a lot more with every day.  I could even read a bit of the script.  If a fortune teller had told me a year ago that I’d be reading Asian squiggles and understanding all that weird kanji stuff, I’d have laughed.  But, then again, if someone had told me that I’d wake up next to a dead girl, I’d have… well, I’d have probably punched that person in the face!  Life was strange, stranger than… 

I was also finally learning a bit about Japanese bands.  I’d been to see Elephant Kashimashi in concert, same for some of the better big-label bands like Puffy, Yura Yura Teikoku, and Spitz. 

There was something else that had changed – as a foreign guy hanging out in bars in Japan, I had plenty of opportunities with girls.  At the end of an evening, some of the drunker ones were practically draping themselves on me.  But my experience with Yuriko seemed to have scarred me somehow psychologically, and I wasn’t… rising to the occasion any more.  The drunk girls that hit on me actually caused me a lot of grief and heartache, I had to pass them on to the fat bouncer who worked there.  I had no idea how he handled them, and I didn’t care.  But when I derailed a few potential situations, like with one of the waitresses, it seems like word got out that I was probably gay—one of my male colleagues came onto me, as did a few of the regulars.  But when that went nowhere as well, I was ignored by practically everybody. 

I found a new job in a café, and I stayed there for a while, earning just enough to get by.  Evenings I spent by myself, usually in my one-room cubbyhole of an apartment counting and re-counting the thick wad of bills I had left over from “waking up in the morgue.”  But when I got bored of serving coffee I was drawn back into the gorgeous, wild world of live music in Japan.  One night in the Gamma Club live house, watching the incredible Ydestoroyde, I sought out the owner of the club, Yamakusai Busu.  He had one been in a band called The Busaiku.  A genial, drunken fellow, he casually offered me employment in his bar.  With my jet-black hair, and Asian tattoos, I thought I could fit into his small staff and blend in fairly well, have fun, and hear more great music as part of my job.  It excited me, and gave me hope at a point when I was feeling pretty down.  I quit my job at the café, and retreated permanently into the strange night-time entertainment world of Japan, which—roughly translated—was called “the water trade.”  It was a wild world, baby baby, and like the tide, it came and went. 

Part 3: Candy Apple Gray

Chapter 1 – Crystal

I awoke.  Everything was white with light, a hot sun blazing down on me and the pure white plain I was lying on.  There was a figure above me, her head blocking out the sun.  I was blinded by the corona of the sun shimmering around her head, but I knew that it was Scheherazade.

“Go back to sleep,” she said.   I did what she said. I always did what she said. 

I don’t know how much later it was that I woke up.  I looked around me.  Everything was white.  I was clothed in white, my skin was white; maybe my hair and eyes were white as well but I couldn’t tell because I didn’t have my mirror.  My tattoos—they were gone!

I sat down, imagined a white sun traveling across the white sky, then setting to a white sunset, then a white moon rising crossing the white nighttime sky before setting in the west as well.  If I stared hard enough at the sky, I could almost see that pale sun set against the blanched solar shell.  I sensed the end of the world was coming, but if it came it would be white as well. 

I waited for someone to come to me.  When I was alone, it was never long before someone came to join me. To talk to me. To ask me questions.

After a very long time, a very very very-very long time, it seemed that nobody would come, and I started to think of ways to pass the time.  I tried to remember ever phrase that I had ever head that used the word ‘white’ – white night, white knight, white house, white light...  I tried to remember every album title that included the word white – white light white heat, white 1, white 2, guilty of being white, the white room, white dirt, white fog, white bird, into the white, white lies, white flag, white noise…  I tried to think of every band that had the word white in it – white zombie, white lion, whitesnake, buck white, white flag, whiteboy, white face, white caps… 

I stared at my hands. What had I done with these hands? I tried to watch them going about a normal day, when I realized that I no longer knew what a normal day was.  If I needed to use these hands to open a can of creamed corn, would I still know how?  If I was sailing through an endless sky of white, could I use those hands to stop myself?  Could my hands ever be used to touch anything ever again?  Would my feet walk on real streets in a true city?  Or was this white space all that there would ever be again? 

I tried to reach for the ground.  There was something there, although it didn’t feel like the kind of ground I knew before.  It was hard, yet also soft.  I tried walking on it but I was too weak to get up. I used my finger to write words on the ground.  It was an exercise – my hand was moving back and forth, the letters were saying things.  I was communicating, if only with myself.  It was fruitless, but it was all that I could do.  I communicated with myself in English.  Then I switched to Japanese.  Later I tried German, French, and Chinese. 

I stared at the ground.  Small shapes began to form in front of my eye.  I looked at them, fascinated, trying to understand what shape they were taking.  At first they were architectural – buildings in cities that I had once lived in, train stations I had passed through, buses I had spent time on; then a face began to appear out of the mist.  Long nose, medium-length hair, thin lips, somewhat pointy chin, sagging jowls.  I gave a start—it was my mother!  How many years had it been since I had seen her?! 

“What have you done with your life,” she seemed to be saying.  “This is not what I had in mind for you all these years.  Do you think your father and I raised you to be like this?” 

Her tone softened.  “You were always a good boy when you were very small.  You listened to almost anything that we told you.  All of the people passing in the street would stop and look at you.  They all remarked what white skin you had.  Nobody could believe it.  You were like a little snowman with your fat round face, but you were just a baby boy.”

She was quiet for a while.  I wanted to say something to her, but there was nothing I could say.  I wasn’t aware of myself any more, neither my past nor my future, nor either my living present.  I could remember nothing.  I was a blank slate.  At this stage I could be anything to anybody. I could start a new life in Kansas, or Cleveland, even Cambridge or Kingston.  Or for that matter, why not Kumamoto… or Kunming?  There were places for me all over the world.  But for that I needed to be patient. 

I wondered what would happen next, or how long it would take for anything to change.  Ever again.  My legs ached.  My head was heavy.  My eyes burned.  I thought I saw a swirl in the mist.  For a second, I thought I might have seen a flash of grey.  It was there for a second and then it seemed to disappear.  It was a phantom, a wraith of some sort.  It seemed that I wasn’t completely alone.  I tried to call out to it, but no sound came.  I realized that I hadn’t spoken since I had woken up from my dream about Scheherazade.  I tested my voice, but nothing came.  I was completely blank.  I was nothing.  I was a void.  I was a spirit, a phantasm, an archetype, sheerly the product of someone’s imagination with nothing of my own to be me, to be what I was and had always been until now… 

I woke up, finding myself in a room that was completely white.