A Deeper Understanding (Story)

The lift doors opened with a gentle hiss, and Edward stepped inside. He took the stares with British stoicism, and replied with a charming smile, gazing cheerfully from one face to next with his bright blue eyes.
‘Ohiyo,’ he said with a nod. He loved Japan!

He caught a coy glance from the beautiful woman standing at the back of the lift, but she averted her eyes and her face returned to neutral. She was dressed in a magnificent kimono, deep blue with depictions of lush forest life printed in a stunning pattern. Her immaculate hair was bound up with wooden pins shaped as stylised serpents, and her delicately featured face was pale with make up.

Edward’s view of her was blocked as a man stepped right in front of him, intimidating in his dark sunglasses and expensive suit. The final person in the lift grinned at him. He was a younger man in colourfully-fashionable street wear, with orange hair jutting from his head in extreme contortions.

Edward took a step back from the lady’s bodyguard, riding the lift in silence, but sneaking glances at her the entire way. As the lift slowed to a graceful stop, the woman stepped alongside her bodyguard, gestured to him, then stepped out of the lift without glancing at Edward.

He watched her go, his smile faltering at the lack of acknowledgment. Before he could even begin to pine for an opportunity lost, her bodyguard proffered a plastic swipe-card, holding it out with both hands.

Edward took the card, saying, ‘Thank you,’ before realising his language choice and fumbled for the words in Japanese.
‘Save it,’ said the bodyguard in American accented English.

The card was the colour of the woman’s kimono, and along one edge was a series of calligraphy-painted kanji. As the bodyguard left, Edward raised the card, trying in vain to find a kanji he recognised.
The young man’s orange hair peered up over his shoulder.
‘Sugoi!’ he said.
‘What is it?’
‘The card says it will open a door. It grants you a private audience with the lady.’
‘But who is she?’
‘Don’t know. Maybe a celebrity? Or maybe just very wealthy. Seems you are a very lucky man.’
Edward thought so as well, and his smile regained its former strength. He introduced himself, and so Edward met Jiro.

The two left the lift, going to the nearest Starbucks for coffee. Through the crowd, a man turned and stopped in front of them, sending all three sprawling to the floor. The blue card spun from Edward’s grasp, slipping past the muscular shoulder of the accident inducer.

All three men watched the card, and their assailant made a grab for it as it slipped past. Edward gasped and shoved him away, giving Jiro the opportunity to pick it up.

Cautious now, they stood again. Edward and Jiro shuffled closer, studying the man who had tripped them up. He was wearing a fitted white shirt, and a similarly designed pair of black pants. He stretched his arms, making rigid muscles ripple, then dropped into a fighting pose.

‘Jiro, what do we do?’ Edward asked.
‘Follow me!’ he said, and turned and ran. Edward followed, and the martial artist started after them.

The crowd was thick, but not impenetrable, and Edward and Jiro pushed through, staying ahead of their attacker, but not shaking him.
‘Escalators! Ima!’ Jiro yelled, lurching sideways, dragging Edward by the arm. They ran down the overtaking space of the ‘up’ escalator, their panic encouraging people to give them room. The footsteps behind them were close.

At the bottom, they dived aside, merging with train commuters and trying to blend in. Jiro bobbed down, and Edward followed suit, moving behind large concrete pillars supporting the overhanging floor. They were both breathing hard. Jiro gestured for Edward to stay, then edged out, sneaking a peak behind them. The stalker was waiting for him, and delivered a swift punch to Jiro’s face, sending him toppling backwards.

‘Shit!’ Edward swore, running out to help. The attacker turned on him, facing up ready to strike, and Edward did the same. Edward threw out a series of quick jabs, thankful of the years of boxing he had gone through. None connected, as the unknown man blocked and evaded with ease. His hands and arms were rock hard, and Edward knew he was outclassed for both skill and fitness. He dared to glance around, hoping that the centre security would be rushing towards them, despairing when he saw no-one.

He fended a punch to his head, beginning to retaliate when the subtle kick hit him in the thigh. He hadn’t even seen the motion, and his leg muscles cramped under the impact. The next blurring kick drove through his arms and into his stomach, leading into a spinning kick that whistled upwards into the side of his head. Stars burst into his vision, and he flew to the ground.

‘Oi!’ Jiro yelled, waving the blue card at the attacker. Edward had a moment to recover, and stood again. As the attacker charged, Jiro flicked the card to Edward, missing him, and making him scramble after it. Edward saved it before it dropped through the railing and fell down to the open centre of the mall. He turned ready to throw the card back to Jiro, and was tackled over the rail, the attacker falling over the edge with him.

The world spun as Edward fell. In moments he felt his attacker grip his flailing arm, and his fall spun sideways. The man had caught a protruding rail, and flung Edward in on the next level, then swung down after him. The forceful throw slammed Edward into a concrete wall, and he collapsed to the floor.

The attacker stood over him, and Edward looked up through blood that streamed across his eyes. The blue card fell from his fingers, and he pushed it away in defeat, not even sure why he had fought this long for it.

The attacker looked down for a moment more before going after the card. That moment was enough to allow Jiro to run through and kick the card away. Still running, he scooped it up and threw it out into the open space beyond the rail. From behind him, Jiro heard shoes squeak on the floor as the attacker changed direction after the card, then watched him launch into the air over the rail and fall out of sight.

‘Wow,’ Edward said, as he slowly got to his feet. ‘That guy’s insane. I hope I never see him again.’
Jiro helped him walk to the nearby lift, then hit the button to close the door. With a large grin, Jiro opened his hand, revealing the blue card.
‘What? How did you get it?’
‘A trick. I switched cards!’
They were both laughing as the doors slid shut, until they looked through the glass into the livid face of their attacker.

‘Muri dayo!’ Jiro exclaimed, and Edward gasped in astonishment. The lift started moving, and as they dropped away, they saw the man leap upwards. Shaking his head, Edward looked at the lift control panel.
‘Did you push a button?’
Jiro grunted a no. ‘I thought you did.’

The lift panel flashed as they moved below the basement level, travelling through darkness for long moments. As it finally settled to stop, they were in a passage carved in rock. The lift doors opened, and without thinking, they stepped out. The passageway was unlit, but not in complete darkness. Light filtered down the passageway from a well lit room ahead.

The pair glanced at each other, uncertainty featured on each face, and cautiously walked towards the light.

As they approached, they could hear trickling water, and the pleasant smell of damp soil became more obvious. The room had many small openings set up high around the room, and from these natural light was piped into the room. Raised ponds filled the floor area, filled with floating waterlilies, and lush greenery lined the walls. A small paradise far beneath the surface.

People moved into view, and the two visitors froze. The beautiful woman who gave Edward the access card was standing near the edge of a pond with a man. She stepped up to the edge, with her back to all watching, and undid her kimono. She gracefully stepped into the water, letting her kimono settle onto the edge while she lowered herself down. She beckoned the man closer, and he disrobed down to his underwear and followed her into the water.

Edward and Jiro clapped each other on the back, and edged closer along the passage. They watched as the man drifted closer, and the woman dropped away completely under the water. She emerged again with water running from her long black hair, her facial features moved and shifted, and her skin changed from pale white to a scaled green. Instead of radiant beauty, the man was in the water with a serpent creature.

Edward and Jiro both had inhaled deeply, ready to unleash a heartfelt scream. Instead, an arm pinned their heads still, and a firm hand clamped their mouths shut.

They watched the man in the water as he turned for the edge, but did not make it. The serpent dove under, flicking her tail into the air, showing no trace of legs. The man had made the edge, but was unable to escape. He was attacked from beneath the water and dragged under screaming.

In the passageway, Edward and Jiro now looked at who held them – their attacker from the shopping centre. He looked at both of them in turn, assessing if they were safe to release.
‘Damare yo,’ he said to Jiro, and then an exaggerated, ‘Shhh,’ to Edward. ‘This my hunt, you go now.’
‘What is that?’ Edward asked.
‘Yato no kami; snake spirit. Want people dead.’
Still confused, Edward and Jiro took their opportunity to leave, quietly backing away from the monster hunter. They didn’t relax until the lift doors closed and they started their ascent.

‘Oh dear God, thank you!’ Edward said as the lift approached the ground floor of the shopping centre. The door opened and a gun poked through. Sunglasses still in place, the serpent woman’s bodyguard stepped into the lift with a smile.

Constructive criticism welcome.

© 2008 Damian Herde

A Deeper Understanding (Story)


Toowoomba, Australia

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For the Bubble Bestiary, or Don’t Pet the Griffins Short Story Project: Y

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