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    1298 reviews
    212 in the last year
    92.5 overall bias score
    24Styles
    397 91.5 Heavy
    336 89.7 Power
    216 93.3 Progressive
    199 91.4 Death
    171 88.4 Thrash
    141 88.9 Symphonic
    128 89.9 Folk
    112 90.0 Black
    110 89.3 Gothic
    106 92.9 Doom
    102 86.9 Speed
    45 84.5 Industrial
    29 88.1 Ambient
    24 88.4 Experimental
    24 81.4 Technical
    23 84.9 Metalcore
    14 69.1 Grindcore
    11 75.8 Stoner
    7 87.7 Viking
    7 78.4 Sludge
    5 85.4 Pagan
    3 50.0 Brutal
    1 80.0 Funeral
    1 70.0 Deathcore
    70Countries
    204 88.7 Germany
    169 89.2 United States
    135 89.5 Canada
    100 89.6 Finland
    98 89.7 Japan
    87 89.1 United Kingdom
    78 87.2 Sweden
    65 88.2 Russia
    50 87.2 China
    35 85.5 Italy
    35 85.4 Netherlands
    23 86.2 France
    19 84.6 Norway
    18 89.0 Taiwan
    14 81.5 International
    10 87.2 Portugal
    9 91.9 Israel
    8 75.3 Spain
    8 72.1 Switzerland
    7 86.6 Austria
    7 86.1 Thailand
    7 85.9 Bulgaria
    7 79.5 Indonesia
    6 87.1 Greece
    6 86.5 Denmark
    6 85.9 Iceland
    6 73.0 Korea, South
    5 86.8 Faroe Islands
    5 81.1 Brazil
    5 62.8 Chile
    4 91.2 Australia
    4 87.5 Tunisia
    4 70.6 Bangladesh
    3 79.7 Colombia
    3 78.8 Hungary
    3 78.8 Liechtenstein
    3 72.1 Belgium
    3 69.7 Ukraine
    3 61.5 Ireland
    2 77.4 Vietnam
    2 76.0 Uganda
    2 72.8 Nepal
    2 60.4 Iraq
    2 53.0 Mexico
    1 96.0 Belarus
    1 96.0 Venezuela
    1 95.0 El Salvador
    1 92.0 Kuwait
    1 90.0 Poland
    1 89.0 Algeria
    1 89.0 Luxembourg
    1 85.0 Czech Republic
    1 82.0 Lithuania
    1 81.0 Uzbekistan
    1 80.0 Botswana
    1 80.0 Hong Kong
    1 80.0 Syria
    1 78.0 Uruguay
    1 75.0 Kazakhstan
    1 75.0 Unknown
    1 72.0 Angola
    1 72.0 Bolivia
    1 70.0 Curaçao
    1 70.0 Estonia
    1 70.0 Mongolia
    1 69.0 India
    1 67.0 Kyrgyzstan
    1 67.0 Qatar
    1 65.0 Argentina
    1 27.0 Philippines
    47Years
    25 84.6 2019
    105 88.8 2018
    87 87.2 2017
    98 86.1 2016
    62 87.8 2015
    84 88.4 2014
    90 88.0 2013
    85 89.9 2012
    75 87.6 2011
    58 85.4 2010
    53 86.5 2009
    39 85.6 2008
    47 86.1 2007
    38 85.5 2006
    37 89.2 2005
    28 87.2 2004
    20 85.8 2003
    22 85.6 2002
    18 84.4 2001
    11 80.6 2000
    20 87.2 1999
    16 86.0 1998
    15 85.2 1997
    12 85.8 1996
    11 86.0 1995
    12 77.3 1994
    11 82.6 1993
    13 88.0 1992
    10 78.4 1991
    8 88.4 1990
    14 85.5 1989
    9 83.4 1988
    9 85.9 1987
    10 82.4 1986
    11 87.2 1985
    8 88.1 1984
    8 86.2 1983
    3 88.8 1982
    6 79.3 1981
    3 82.3 1980
    1 77.0 1978
    1 85.0 1977
    1 67.0 1976
    1 97.0 1975
    1 85.0 1972
    1 83.0 1971
    1 75.0 1970
    568Bands
    29 85.2 Loudness
    27 90.8 Iron Maiden
    24 86.7 Voivod
    21 79.6 Edguy
    20 85.0 Grave Digger
    20 82.3 Stratovarius
    19 96.2 Amorphis
    19 88.3 Ария
    18 78.4 Annihilator
    17 89.2 Therion
    16 90.1 Senmuth
    16 82.8 Metallica
    14 85.5 Dream Theater
    12 91.4 The Vision Bleak
    12 84.0 In Flames
    11 88.5 Anthrax
    11 87.2 Anthem
    11 83.4 Avantasia
    10 85.2 Elvenking
    10 81.3 Crematory
    10 68.5 Within Temptation
    9 83.8 Black Sabbath
    9 83.1 Rebellion
    8 86.7 Helloween
    8 85.8 Moonspell
    8 84.9 Blaze Bayley
    8 83.7 Iron Reagan
    8 80.8 X Japan
    8 79.7 Ewigheim
    7 83.9 Stryper
    7 82.0 Alestorm
    7 81.1 Ghost
    7 73.9 Krypteria
    7 70.2 Eluveitie
    7 58.2 Коррозия Металла
    6 95.7 人間椅子
    6 86.5 ดอนผีบิน
    6 81.4 Judas Priest
    6 81.4 Anvil
    6 79.3 Dimmu Borgir
    6 77.7 Nightwish
    6 77.5 Overkill
    6 74.4 Atrocity
    6 74.1 Ensiferum
    6 64.9 HammerFall
    5 89.9 Ayreon
    5 89.7 Loviatar
    5 88.2 Seraphim
    5 82.4 Apocalyptica
    5 80.2 Kreator
    5 74.9 Gamma Ray
    5 72.6 Axel Rudi Pell
    5 63.5 Opeth
    4 95.4 Unbeing
    4 94.0 Orphaned Land
    4 93.5 Septicflesh
    4 90.0 Týr
    4 89.9 The Old Dead Tree
    4 89.7 Heaven's Cry
    4 89.2 Sólstafir
    4 87.3 唐朝
    4 86.6 The Foreshadowing
    4 85.7 Epica
    4 84.4 閃靈
    4 83.6 Klaymore
    4 83.2 Nanowar of Steel
    4 81.9 Children of Bodom
    4 81.0 Powerwolf
    4 79.9 Nine Treasures
    4 79.2 Blind Guardian
    4 78.7 Turisas
    4 76.9 Rusted
    4 76.6 Фаэтон
    4 74.7 The Samans
    4 67.9 Sonata Arctica
    4 53.9 Manowar
    3 96.7 Pantommind
    3 95.6 暴君
    3 91.9 Putamen Insula
    3 91.2 Absu
    3 91.0 Unisonic
    3 90.9 Savatage
    3 90.4 Screaming Savior
    3 90.2 Sex Machineguns
    3 89.8 Rush
    3 88.8 Myrath
    3 88.4 Sabbrabells
    3 86.0 Xandria
    3 85.7 The Dogma
    3 85.3 Levia
    3 85.0 Vektor
    3 84.8 Shining
    3 83.2 Magellan
    3 82.7 Les Ékorchés
    3 82.1 Flower Travellin' Band
    3 81.2 Masquerader
    3 80.8 Barque of Dante
    3 79.9 Kartikeya
    3 79.3 Striker
    3 78.9 Wolfsbane
    3 78.8 Elis
    3 78.5 Omnium Gatherum
    3 77.7 Primal Fear
    3 77.7 Sabaton
    3 76.2 迷魂殿
    3 75.5 Soilwork
    3 75.4 Bruce Dickinson
    3 75.0 Metalium
    3 73.0 Timo Tolkki
    3 72.5 こくまろみるく
    3 71.1 Wintersun
    3 68.9 Revolution Renaissance
    3 68.7 Kamelot
    3 67.5 Iced Earth
    3 65.2 Queensrÿche
    3 58.6 Motörhead
    3 57.2 Beyond the Black
    3 52.5 Tengger Cavalry
    3 50.0 瘧鬼
    3 47.8 Running Wild
    2 95.6 Leviathan
    2 94.2 Fractal Cypher
    2 93.6 After Forever
    2 92.6 Sigh
    2 92.4 Nevermore
    2 91.8 Mely
    2 91.2 Kypck
    2 90.6 Black Crown Initiate
    2 90.0 Deep Purple
    2 89.6 Amaseffer
    2 88.4 Evergrey
    2 88.4 小雨
    2 88.0 Marienbad
    2 87.4 Vallendusk
    2 86.8 Edenbridge
    2 86.2 Satan Jokers
    2 86.0 Northern Haze
    2 86.0 Tiamat
    2 86.0 Trick or Treat
    2 85.2 Activator
    2 84.2 海市蜃楼
    2 84.0 White Wizzard
    2 83.4 Arkan
    2 82.2 Saidian
    2 82.0 Dagoba
    2 82.0 Volbeat
    2 81.8 Kingdom of Salvation
    2 80.0 Death Angel
    2 80.0 Tainted DickMen
    2 79.6 Die Apokalyptischen Reiter
    2 79.0 B.A.R.F.
    2 78.0 Communic
    2 78.0 Finnr's Cane
    2 77.6 Symphony X
    2 76.0 Delain
    2 76.0 Threatening
    2 75.0 Kobra and the Lotus
    2 75.0 Seventh Dimension
    2 74.0 Seven Kingdoms
    2 73.8 Nocturne Moonrise
    2 73.6 Katatonia
    2 73.4 Megadeth
    2 73.2 Mongol
    2 72.0 Lord Symphony
    2 71.8 Гран-КуражЪ
    2 71.6 Atargatis
    2 71.0 Luciferian Light Orchestra
    2 71.0 Sodom
    2 70.0 Ação Libertária
    2 70.0 Cryptik Howling
    2 70.0 Vantablack Warship
    2 69.2 Nightwitches
    2 69.0 TYP1
    2 68.0 Gygax
    2 68.0 Morbid Angel
    2 67.2 রক্‌স্ট্রাটা
    2 66.0 Metalwings
    2 65.8 Stream of Passion
    2 63.2 Nokturnal Mortum
    2 62.4 Kingfisher Sky
    2 61.4 Waltari
    2 60.4 Acrassicauda
    2 60.4 Timo Tolkki's Avalon
    2 55.4 Tierra Santa
    2 55.2 DragonForce
    2 53.2 Lacuna Coil
    2 52.0 Saxon
    2 51.0 Voodoocult
    2 48.8 Leaves' Eyes
    2 44.0 Axxis
    2 31.0 Kitsune Metaru
    1 99.0 M.H.X's Chronicles
    1 98.0 Akphaezya
    1 98.0 Galneryus
    1 98.0 United Mind Club
    1 98.0 末裔
    1 97.0 Agalloch
    1 97.0 Dalriada
    1 97.0 King Diamond
    1 97.0 Ne Obliviscaris
    1 97.0 Novembers Doom
    1 97.0 Unlucky Morpheus
    1 96.0 Cea Serin
    1 96.0 Le Grand Guignol
    1 96.0 Serdce
    1 96.0 Sexto Sonar
    1 96.0 Thormesis
    1 96.0
    1 95.0 Ark
    1 95.0 Clair de Lune
    1 95.0 Die Verbannten Kinder Evas
    1 95.0 Ex Libris
    1 95.0 Eïs
    1 95.0 Hevein
    1 95.0 Idle Hands
    1 95.0 Light & Shade
    1 95.0 Paradise Lost
    1 95.0 Subterranean Masquerade
    1 95.0 Unexpect
    1 95.0 天幕落
    1 94.0 Melted Space
    1 93.0 Blood Dancer
    1 93.0 Bow Wow
    1 93.0 Delta
    1 93.0 Gargoyle
    1 93.0 Impureza
    1 93.0 Orion's Reign
    1 93.0 Rhapsody of Fire
    1 92.0 Depth
    1 92.0 Martyr
    1 90.0 Anubis Gate
    1 90.0 Artillery
    1 90.0 Batushka
    1 90.0 Darkness over Depth
    1 90.0 Daylight Dies
    1 90.0 Diamond Head
    1 90.0 Dio
    1 90.0 Divine Ascension
    1 90.0 Draconian
    1 90.0 Dresden/Leningrad
    1 90.0 Dæmonarch
    1 90.0 Ego Fall
    1 90.0 Elysian
    1 90.0 Inquisition
    1 90.0 Nocturnal Excision
    1 90.0 Pokerface
    1 90.0 Purgatory
    1 90.0 Sanguine Glacialis
    1 90.0 Satyricon
    1 90.0 Storm Corrosion
    1 90.0 Swallow the Sun
    1 90.0 Ulver
    1 90.0 Visigoth
    1 90.0 Аспид
    1 90.0 深山
    1 89.0 RiverGate
    1 89.0 Triskèle
    1 89.0 Vindsval
    1 88.0 Dissona
    1 88.0 Einherjer
    1 87.0 Breaker
    1 87.0 Seventh Section
    1 86.0 Back to R'lyeh
    1 85.0 Abitabyss
    1 85.0 Asiana
    1 85.0 Barren Earth
    1 85.0 Black Tower
    1 85.0 Equilibrium
    1 85.0 Esthète Sinistre
    1 85.0 Immanifest
    1 85.0 Jade
    1 85.0 Liv Moon
    1 85.0 Master's Hammer
    1 85.0 Mercy Isle
    1 85.0 Mägo de Oz
    1 85.0 Panzerkreutz
    1 85.0 Psychotic Waltz
    1 85.0 Sun of the Sleepless
    1 85.0 Syu
    1 85.0 塔罗圣徒
    1 84.0 Black Label Society
    1 84.0 Droid
    1 84.0 Orphanage
    1 83.0 Baroness
    1 83.0 Lizzy Borden
    1 83.0 Thor
    1 82.0 Allen - Lande
    1 82.0 Cloak
    1 82.0 Ivory Twilight
    1 82.0 Kielwater
    1 81.0 Exmortus
    1 81.0 Zindan
    1 80.0 Albiorix Requiem
    1 80.0 Anarchadia
    1 80.0 Aquilus
    1 80.0 Bleeding Gods
    1 80.0 Boris
    1 80.0 Caladan Brood
    1 80.0 Celtic Frost
    1 80.0 Chaos Synopsis
    1 80.0 Church of Misery
    1 80.0 Conception
    1 80.0 Cypecore
    1 80.0 Dark Tranquillity
    1 80.0 Digger
    1 80.0 Ebonylake
    1 80.0 Eden weint im Grab
    1 80.0 Enslaved
    1 80.0 Fanasia
    1 80.0 Fogalord
    1 80.0 Giftdwarf
    1 80.0 Guardians of Time
    1 80.0 Haggard
    1 80.0 Hellyeah
    1 80.0 Instanzia
    1 80.0 Iron Savior
    1 80.0 Kamlath
    1 80.0 Killswitch Engage
    1 80.0 Korpiklaani
    1 80.0 Longhouse
    1 80.0 Lords of Black
    1 80.0 Magic Kingdom
    1 80.0 Mastery
    1 80.0 Moldun
    1 80.0 Motor Sister
    1 80.0 Nicko McBrain
    1 80.0 The NULLL Collective
    1 80.0 Orfeu Rebelde
    1 80.0 Persona
    1 80.0 Saber Tiger
    1 80.0 Samsas Traum
    1 80.0 Skinflint
    1 80.0 Snowy Shaw
    1 80.0 Sovannak Ké
    1 80.0 Stass
    1 80.0 Theandric
    1 80.0 Thoughts Factory
    1 80.0 Turbokill
    1 80.0 Union Made
    1 80.0 Velnias
    1 80.0 Хранитель
    1 80.0 卸甲
    1 80.0 腐尸爱美丽
    1 80.0 零壹
    1 79.0 A Pale Horse Named Death
    1 79.0 Bức Tường
    1 79.0 Edge of Attack
    1 79.0 Le Jardin des Mémoires
    1 79.0 The Metaphor
    1 79.0 Nataly Kruger
    1 79.0 Oroku Saki and the Foot
    1 79.0 Powervice
    1 79.0 Riot City
    1 79.0 Sparta
    1 79.0 Чёрный Кофе
    1 78.0 Architects of Chaoz
    1 78.0 Drakarium
    1 78.0 Holyarrow
    1 78.0 Hymn Above Traumatic Emotion
    1 78.0 Moonsorrow
    1 78.0 Musspellheim
    1 78.0 Nerve
    1 78.0 Psychotrain
    1 78.0 Symfonia
    1 78.0 Vital Science
    1 78.0 Крылья
    1 77.0 Adagio
    1 77.0 Artcell
    1 77.0 Concerto Moon
    1 77.0 Darkane
    1 77.0 Electric Wizard
    1 77.0 Mar de Grises
    1 77.0 Mystica Girls
    1 77.0 Orden Ogan
    1 77.0 Orisonata
    1 77.0 Ozzy Osbourne
    1 77.0 战旗
    1 77.0 梦灵
    1 76.0 Dead Mariners
    1 76.0 Project Alcazar
    1 76.0 Switchblade
    1 75.0 Accept
    1 75.0 Akira Takasaki
    1 75.0 Augury
    1 75.0 Black Infinity
    1 75.0 Blaze
    1 75.0 Diabulus in Musica
    1 75.0 Divine:Zero
    1 75.0 Dog Slayer
    1 75.0 Empyrium
    1 75.0 Fleshgod Apocalypse
    1 75.0 Gorguts
    1 75.0 Holy Dragons
    1 75.0 Iron Man
    1 75.0 Kampfar
    1 75.0 Khemmis
    1 75.0 Machine Head
    1 75.0 Metal Church
    1 75.0 Midnattsol
    1 75.0 Mortemia
    1 75.0 The Old Garden Geranium
    1 75.0 Oppression
    1 75.0 Peste Noire
    1 75.0 Power Trip
    1 75.0 Seeds of Iblis
    1 75.0 Sinsaenum
    1 75.0 Thunderstick
    1 75.0 Traveler
    1 75.0 Vacant Throne
    1 75.0 X-Ray
    1 75.0 Радиус
    1 75.0 Харизма
    1 75.0 ザ☆メンテナンス
    1 74.0 Ankh
    1 74.0 Promiscuity
    1 74.0 Your Last Wish
    1 73.0 Gwyllion
    1 73.0 Holy Knights
    1 73.0 Mayan
    1 72.0 Alma Eterna
    1 72.0 Beautiful Sin
    1 72.0 Neblina
    1 72.0 Shadow Host
    1 72.0 Valley's Eve
    1 72.0 春秋
    1 72.0 陰陽座
    1 71.0 Eclipse
    1 71.0 复活
    1 70.0 Arch Enemy
    1 70.0 Bethlehem
    1 70.0 Crash
    1 70.0 Custard
    1 70.0 Dark Mirror ov Tragedy
    1 70.0 Dark Sanctuary
    1 70.0 Deathwhite
    1 70.0 Def Leppard
    1 70.0 Finsterforst
    1 70.0 Fromhell
    1 70.0 Hansen & Friends
    1 70.0 Lost Society
    1 70.0 Morto Kacho
    1 70.0 Municipal Waste
    1 70.0 Ossuaire
    1 70.0 Primordial
    1 70.0 Probot
    1 70.0 Sentenced
    1 70.0 Servantes
    1 70.0 Sinisthra
    1 70.0 Sleep
    1 70.0 Tankist
    1 70.0 Trillium
    1 70.0 U.D.O.
    1 70.0 Visions of Atlantis
    1 70.0 The Walking Dead Orchestra
    1 70.0 Woodhawk
    1 70.0 Барон Унгерн
    1 70.0 マグダラ呪念
    1 70.0 悪魔大群
    1 69.0 Earthshaker
    1 69.0 Fragarak
    1 69.0 Mêlée des Aurores
    1 69.0 Мастер
    1 68.0 Maverick
    1 68.0 X-Mantra
    1 67.0 Asgard Legionnaires
    1 67.0 Darkestrah
    1 67.0 Ommatidia
    1 66.0 Burzum
    1 66.0 Morgue
    1 66.0 ゼ[Ze]
    1 65.0 Angtoria
    1 65.0 Asriel
    1 65.0 Civil War
    1 65.0 Epiclore
    1 65.0 Fates Warning
    1 65.0 Gypsyhawk
    1 65.0 Korpius
    1 65.0 Mind Imperium
    1 65.0 Old Season
    1 65.0 Pain
    1 65.0 Rata Blanca
    1 65.0 Ring of Fire
    1 65.0 Ryder
    1 65.0 Shock
    1 65.0 S.O.D.
    1 65.0 Southern Cross
    1 65.0 Warsenal
    1 65.0 夜莺
    1 65.0 그슨대
    1 64.0 Green Army
    1 64.0 Круиз
    1 63.0 Earendel
    1 63.0 Sunn O)))
    1 62.0 Heljareyga
    1 62.0 Silent Resentment
    1 62.0 Some of the Few
    1 61.0 Gabriels
    1 60.0 Armored Dawn
    1 60.0 Cain's Dinasty
    1 60.0 Chaos Magic
    1 60.0 Chevalier
    1 60.0 Di'Anno
    1 60.0 First Fragment
    1 60.0 Force
    1 60.0 Gogmagog
    1 60.0 Graveyard
    1 60.0 HexFire
    1 60.0 Highway
    1 60.0 Hwimory
    1 60.0 Ingrimm
    1 60.0 Korsair
    1 60.0 Pantera
    1 60.0 Twisted Sister
    1 60.0 Uncured
    1 60.0 Venom
    1 60.0 冥無幻妖、「忌み双児」
    1 59.0 PowerMetal
    1 58.0 Buffalo Theory MTL
    1 55.0 Steve Harris
    1 55.0 Toxic Shock
    1 55.0 Tribulation
    1 55.0 Trivium
    1 55.0 The Unguided
    1 53.0 Burning Point
    1 52.0 Noein
    1 52.0 Rwake
    1 50.0 4th Dimension
    1 50.0 Akoma
    1 50.0 Dashengun
    1 50.0 Deathroner
    1 50.0 Glorior Belli
    1 50.0 Ice War
    1 50.0 Jorn
    1 50.0 Smallman
    1 50.0 Tony MacAlpine
    1 50.0 Transatlantic
    1 49.0 The Art of Dethronement
    1 47.0 Alien Avenge
    1 47.0 Queensrÿche
    1 45.0 Death
    1 44.0 Kamijo
    1 42.0 Autumn
    1 42.0 Dornenreich
    1 42.0 Gojira
    1 40.0 Amon Amarth
    1 40.0 Cruachan
    1 39.0 Andi Deris and The Bad Bankers
    1 33.0 Thrash or Die
    1 30.0 Crossfaith
    1 30.0 Eisregen
    1 30.0 Elend
    1 30.0 Hades Archer
    1 30.0 Talsur
    1 27.0 A Hero for the World
    1 25.0 Van Canto
    1 20.0 Battle Beast
    1 20.0 Chaostar
    1 20.0 Masterplan
    1 20.0 OSI
    1 17.0 Feather Crow
    1 17.0 Ministry
    1 15.0 Abusive Dump
    1 14.0 Exodus
    1 10.0 Böhse Onkelz
    1 10.0 Havok
    1 5.0 Tarja
    1 1.0 Sabazius
    1 0.0 Seventh Army
    9Formats
    965 92.1 Full-length
    119 87.0 EP
    62 90.3 Live album
    59 88.8 Compilation
    37 88.4 Single
    20 86.3 Video
    17 77.4 Demo
    11 77.5 Split
    8 72.7 Collaboration
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    0.150 44 TrooperOfSteel
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    Data from Encyclopaedia Metallum · Analysis by glenn mcdonald · Updated 27 May 2019

    Source: http://www.furia.com/em/rev_kluseba.html

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  • 2019 NBA Champions: Toronto Raptors

    2019 NBA Champions: Toronto Raptors

    2019 NBA Champions: Toronto Raptors

    2019 NBA Champions: Toronto Raptors

    2019 NBA Champions: Toronto Raptors

    2019 NBA Champions: Toronto Raptors

    2019 NBA Champions: Toronto Raptors

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  • St. Louis Blues

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  • Ladies and gentlemen!

    I have been working on this short story for about half a year but I have only found the time to complete it accurately today. This is the second tale of the mysterious femme fatale Hanako. More tales about her will follow in the future. Enjoy!  

    Attention: This is a horror short story. Some elements might be brutal, disturbing and frightening. These are the purposes of a horror story. It's a fictitious story inspired by Japanese horror animes, mangas and movies. It's not based upon real events, locations or people. Except for the fact that I wrote this short story, it doesn't have anything to do with my convictions, personality or preferences. Again, if you're not eighteen years old, you shouldn't read this. Please note that there might be mistakes in the text. I don't have an editor. I'm my own editor. You have been warned.

    Hanako at the international school

    It was pouring rain outside and Hisato’s mood wasn’t any better than the awful weather. He had spent his summer working in the pastry shop of an overtly demanding baker. Since he was his father’s childhood friend, it was impossible for him to quit. To make matters worse, his girlfriend’s family had moved to Hakodate and she had decided to break up with him to start a new life. His mother had had a kidney surgery and had spent most of the vacation at the hospital. His father had visited her regularly and Hisato had been spending most of his free time with his little brother Katsuki who had been more interested in watching anime than having conversations with his older brother.

    Hisato apprehend his last year in high school. He had just avoided summer school as his grades had been mediocre last school year. He knew that the upcoming year was going to be the most challenging one yet. Hisato still didn’t know what he wanted to do after completing high school. His friends were regularly talking about their ambitious dreams to become actors, doctors and lawyers but Hisato couldn’t share their enthusiasm. Whenever they asked him what he would like to do later on in his life, he looked down, changed subject or avoided giving specific answers.

    The bell rang and interrupted his gloomy mood. His English teacher stepped inside the room. She was always perfectly dressed. Her hair was severely combed in an anterior direction. She wore heavy make up. Hisato always thought she made a tremendous effort to look at least ten years younger than she actually was.

    ‘’Good morning, dear students and welcome to your final year at Otaru International School.’’

    She went on to rattle about the importance of the final school year, how challenging it was going to be and that the students needed to make up their minds about their future lives. It was all torturous talk to Hisato who looked out of the window to get some distraction but only saw the empty school yard, the busy main street and the foggy beach of Ishikari Bay covered by plastic debris and algae.

    ‘’I almost forgot to introduce you to your new classmate! Please welcome Hanako!’’

    Hisato turned around and looked at the girl sitting in the back of the class. He wondered how he couldn’t have perceived her appearance earlier today. It must have been due to his gloomy mood. Hanako looked splendid. She had dark, long, silky hair. Her oval face was gentle and smoothly shaped. She had alert eyes, full lips and rosy cheeks. Her skin was immaculate, her body was very feminine and her legs were unusually long. She looked almost too perfect to be true until Hisato noticed a small peach-coloured half circular scar below her right eye. Somehow, this minimal flaw made her look even more intriguing.

    Hisato noticed how excitedly some of the boys around him looked at their new classmate. Strangely enough, Hisato didn’t feel sexually aroused by the beautiful girl at all. He thought that he was probably still getting over his recent break-up. Still, he couldn’t stop looking at Hanako. She had a very strong aura that was strangely inviting and mysterious at once. Hanako was unlike any other girl he had ever met.

    She was also dressed unlike any other girl. She wore an elegant black silk kimono with a complicated formal tateya musubi obi knot. She wore two black satin armbands covering her wrists and a large neckband with a ribbon. Her hair was pinned-up elegantly with large purple pins. Hanako almost looked like a bride.

    Otaru International School had a loose dress code that forced boys to wear pants and polo shirts and girls to wear a dress covering knees and shoulders. Hanako’s dress respected these requirements but her stylish traditional appearance wasn’t comparable to what others girls would wear. She almost looked as if she came straight out of the nineteenth century. Hisato already saw several girls looking at one another in surprise and even heard some of them gossiping about Hanako’s elegant clothes.

    Suddenly, the boy next to Hisato stared at him. Hisato looked at him with surprise until he realized that the boy sitting right in front of him also stared at him. When he turned his head around, he realized that all the boys in this classroom stared at him, some with a look of surprise, others with an expression of confusion and then again some with barely veiled anger in their eyes. Their looks sent shivers down his spine until he finally understood why they kept looking at him. Hanako only had eyes for him. She looked at him intensely and smiled mysteriously as if they were sharing a secret only they knew about.

    Hisato felt irritated because he didn’t like the attention but also because he had never seen this girl before in his life despite sensing a strange interest for her. However, his interest was respectful while the other boys looked like they were about to get up and approach Hanako immediately. If she were looking for a quick new acquaintance, Hisato should have been her last choice. Perhaps this modest distance was exactly what attracted them to one another. Their mutual interest was more profound than simple sexual attraction.

    Their teacher had expected Hanako to step forward and introduce herself but it was as if she were glued to her chair with her eyes only focused on Hisato. The teacher realized the shifting mood in her classroom from curiosity to hostility and broke the awkward silence with an uncomfortable harrumph.

    ‘’Hanako’s family has just moved to Sapporo. Please be so kind and help her with her integration. Hanako, we are very pleased to have you among us.’’

    The teacher smiled brightly and Hanako smiled back to her but it was a bitter smile that didn’t seem to be genuine.

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    Hisato was sitting by himself and eating some seaweed salad that wasn’t as fresh as it should have been when his best friend Genzo sat down beside him. He had gone to a local American restaurant and bought a large cheeseburger with fries and a coke.

    ‘’Why are you sitting here on your own instead of being with your future girlfriend?’’

    ‘’I’m not interested in having a future girlfriend right now.’’

    ‘’I understand you have had a dreadful summer but you should turn the page and seize that opportunity.’’

    The two teenagers looked towards Hanako who was sitting all by herself and eating some sushi and drinking a cup of Aloe Vera tea. Suddenly the girl who had been sitting next to her in class approached her. Hisato didn’t like her very much. Her name was Yuka and her father was the owner of a large local soda company who liked to show off his gigantic yachts, private jets and expensive cars. Yuka was the most popular cheerleader in school and thought the world was hers. It was obvious to Hisato that she didn’t approach Hanako to be her friend.

    ‘’Look, girl, you can wear grandmother dresses all you like but this is my turf. Don’t even try to get in touch with any guys in our class. Do you understand, fancy freak?’’

    Before Hanako could reply, Yuka had taken her cup of tea and spilled the drink all over Hanako’s beautiful dress. The new student rose up in surprise but Yuka had already turned her back on her and approached a group of cheerleaders who had been filming the incident and started giggling loudly. Hanako looked gloomily at Yuka as she left the cafeteria with her cheering friends.

    ‘’Hey, Hisato, I didn’t know you were such a womanizer. That new girl only has eyes for you. I don’t understand what she likes about you but we all know you’re a boring guy who couldn’t get a summer job by himself and needed to ask his daddy to help him find one. Don’t even think about approaching that cutie. She’s mine!’’

    Hideaki sat right next to Hisato and put his arm around his neck. Hideaki was the captain of the high school football team and known for having numerous sexual relationships with the most popular girls in school. He had been working as a ticket agent at Sapporo Dome where his father was one of the managers.

    ‘’Mind your own business!’’

    Genzo tried to defend his friend but Hideaki turned around swiftly and put his big hands on Genzo’s tummy.

    ‘’Oh, hi, Fatso. I can’t believe I didn’t even see you given your gigantic size. It’s probably because you’re even more boring than Hisato. Enjoy your ugly burger, outsider!’’

    Hideaki stood up, laughed at the two friends and walked towards his team colleagues who were witnessing the confrontation from afar and couldn’t stop laughing about it. The boys then went outside for a short football practice. Hisato and Genzo were finally on their own. Genzo shook his head in disappointment.

    ‘’This autumn seems to get even worse than that horrible summer.’’

    ‘’I don’t like it one bit.”

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    Yuka was on her way home. She had just finished her cheerleading practice. Her friends had sent her some pictures and videos of the incident with the new student. It was not the first time Yuka had intimidated another classmate. In a certain way, it was a mark of respect. Yuka didn’t care about most people. If she approached a classmate in such a hateful way, it simply meant that she considered her a potential concurrent. Yuka was upset that Hideaki had only eyes for Hanako since the beginning of the day.

    A cold blow suddenly rushed through Yuka’s blonde hair. She shivered and turned around but didn’t see anything. The wind must have been caused by a passing truck. She was walking down the main street of the industrial area of Otaru. Yuka wanted to go to one of her father’s factories and take a ride home in his new car instead of taking public transit.

    She continued to walk down the road beside numerous parked trucks but even though the sun was shining and Yuka was anticipating meeting her father, she had goosebumps and felt like she was being observed. She looked over her shoulders once more but she was all alone.

    Yuka moved on when someone suddenly grabbed her right arm and violently pulled her in the tiny space between two parked trucks. Yuka wanted to scream but her attacker put the other hand on her mouth and muffled it. Before Yuka could react, her body was twisted around, someone pushed a knee in her stomach and violently pushed her on the street.

    Yuka fell to the ground and could finally see who had been attacking her. The noise of an approaching truck suddenly caught her attention. Yuka heard tires screeching and a honking horn. She had time to turn her head away from the sight of her assailant and now faced the hood of a large vehicle.

    It was the last thing the vain cheerleader would ever see as the hood of the trunk broke her neck, bumped into her side and threw her bloody body ten feet across the street before it hit a traffic sign.

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    During the first week of school, there were numerous activities related to possible career choices. On this second day of school, Hiseato’s uncle was going to present his job as a member of the city council. The senior grade students had gathered in a small auditorium with a gigantic screen that was going to be used for a brief presentation. Hiseato knew he didn’t want to get his uncle’s job. It involved a lot of bribery, hypocrisy and pretentiousness. Hiseato didn’t really like his uncle who had divorced his wife and also abandoned their son to focus on his next career steps and getting engaged to the mayor’s eldest daughter who was twenty-five years his junior.

    ‘’Hiseato, you won’t believe what I’ve just heard on the news today!’’

    Genzo was out of breath when he sat down next to his best friend with a bottled iced coffee in his hands.

    ‘’No, Genzo, what is it then?’’

    ‘’Yuka is dead!’’

    Genzo had only whispered those three words but Hiseato rose from his chair as if his friend had yelled the horrible message at him. Some students around him looked at him and giggled. They apparently weren’t aware of what had happened yet. Hiseato sat down and looked at his friend in disbelief. He still remembered Yuka insulting Hanako quite vibrantly at the cafeteria.

    ‘’How did that happen?’’

    ‘’It was a traffic accident. She got hit by a truck last night. She was dead right away.’’

    Before Genzo could give any further details, the principal made her appearance on stage. She always dressed like an ambassador, delivered lengthy speeches and appreciated being in the spotlight. She introduced her guest with enthusiasm and made sure to point out that he was Hiseato’s uncle. Hiseato sank back into his chair and wanted to disappear.

    He looked over to Hanako who was sitting a few rows beside him. She was dressed in a red kimono today and her hair was braided elegantly. Hanako realized Hiseato was looking at her, put a big smile upon her face and waved in his direction.

    The lights in the auditorium went out and the presentation was about to start. However, there seemed to be a technical issue with the computer. Some students started to giggle.

    But suddenly a picture appeared. But it was unlike anything the students, teachers and principal had anticipated. It did indeed show Hiseato’s uncle. But it didn’t show him in his office, with the mayor or during a press conference. It showed him in a filthy hotel room with a helpless naked boy chained to the bed.

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    Hideaki blew out the smoke, looked across the roof of the gym and shook his head in disbelief. The football team had just finished its practice and the captain smoked a cigarette with his teammate Bunji.

    ‘’I wish I could make it unseen. That picture will haunt me until the end of days. I’m not even surprised that Hiseato’s uncle is a pedophile. His whole family is a bunch of weirdos. I’m glad the cops came so quickly.’’

    ‘’You can say that again. I’m just wondering who exposed that picture.’’

    ‘’I wouldn’t even be surprised if one of his victims were one of the students. Revenge could be a strong motive.’’

    ‘’Maybe it’s Hiseato. You never know what his uncle could have done to him when he was a kid.’’

    ‘’That would explain why he is so weird. Man, we shouldn’t make jokes about it. Sincerely, that whole thing is creepy. First, Yuka dies in a random traffic accident. The next day, Hiseato’s uncle gets exposed as a pedophile. Our school seems to be haunted. What’s next?’’

    ‘’You will be discharged and Genko is going to be our new captain!’’

    Bunji laughed and threw his cigarette into the abandoned schoolyard. Clouds were gathering and a few drops of rain were already falling. Bunji shivered.

    ‘’I’m going home. How about you?’’

    ‘’I’m fine. I’ll finish my cigarette. See you tomorrow.’’

    Bunji left the gym roof while Hideaki stayed behind and thought about the eventful start of the school year. His thoughts were somber but his attention slowly shifted towards Hanako. Hideaki didn’t even understand why he was so obsessed with her. She barely spoke to anyone, dressed weirdly and seemed to have an unusual interest in Hiseato. And yet Hideaki desired her like he had never desired a girl before.

    Hideaki suddenly heard a noise and turned around. He thought that his coach might have caught him smoking. But nobody was on the roof. Bunji had already left as the rain intensified. Maybe the noise had been caused by a stray cat.

    The football captain turned around, finished his cigarette, stood up very slowly, stretched his arms and legs and looked around the modern infrastructures of the prestigious private school.

    With the increasing sound of the rain, Hideaki didn’t hear the person behind him coming. The violent blow to his back was so unexpected that he stumbled forwards, slipped and lost balance.

    Hideaki didn’t even have time to scream as he fell from the roof. He managed to turn his body during his fall and could see the unexpected assailant who had pushed him with such force. His eyes opened widely in disbelief. Hideaki was in complete shock until his body hit the ground fifteen feet below the rooftop. His world faded to black with the sudden impact followed by an ugly cracking sound as his neck twisted in an unhealthy angle.

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    Two weeks had passed since Yuka had accidentally died in a traffic accident and Hideaki had committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the gym. The school’s two most popular students had died within twenty-four hours and the atmosphere was somber. The principal was busy organizing seminars about road safety and suicide prevention but her pretentious enthusiasm made coping with those grisly events even more difficult. By being so involved, she simply did too much.

    Hiseato also had to deal with the fate of his pedophile uncle. He had lost his job, was currently in prison and awaiting trial. Hiseato had expected to get bullied in school but nobody seemed to care about him after the two tragic deaths. Even at home, his parents and his brother didn’t bother talking to him. Hanako had tried to invite him to a coffee shop on two occasions but Hiseato had refused the offer twice. He wasn’t in the mood of hanging around with girls. He preferred spending time with his best friend Genzo who truly understood him.

    They had just finished a science laboratory and were heading for their lockers. As Hiseato opened his locker, he saw a folder that hadn’t been there before. He looked around to see whether someone in the vicinity had deposited the file in his locker but Genzo and him were all alone.

    Hiseato looked at the folder. It read Wakkanai Orphanage. Hiseato opened the file and saw the picture of a very young boy. He didn’t recognize the boy immediately but Hiseato had a jolt when he read his name. He turned the pages of the file frantically and found more evidence for what was becoming clear to him now.

    Genko realized that something was wrong with his friend and approached him cautiously. Hiseato looked at him but instead of explaining the situation, he gave his friend the file. Genko read the file with modest confusion that slowly transformed into alert interest and suddenly into shocked surprise. He closed the file and looked intensively at his friend.

    ‘’We need to discuss. Let’s have dinner at the burger restaurant.’’

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    Hiseato was still shaking his head in disbelief while Genko and he were waiting for their burgers.

    ‘’I just can’t believe my parents didn’t tell me they adopted my little brother.’’

    ‘’Maybe they were just waiting for the right moment to reveal the truth.’’

    ‘’Genko, I’m not a child anymore. I’m seventeen years old.’’

    ‘’Well, your brother is only fourteen. Perhaps they didn’t want to confuse him.’’

    ‘’He deserves to know the truth!’’

    The burgers were being served to Hiseato and Genko. Genko put some ketchup and mayonnaise on his fries. Hiseato had ordered some onion rings instead and grabbed a bottle of honey to pour some over it.

    ‘’I’m just wondering who deposited that file in my locker.’’

    ‘’Well, I might actually have a guess.’’

    ‘’What do you mean?’’

    ‘’There is only one person who is constantly trying to get your attention. She keeps looking at you all the time. She has invited you to the coffee shop twice already. She has tried to team up with you in science class.’’

    ‘’You mean Hanako has deposited the file in my locker?’’

    ‘’I have seen her strolling around our lockers during lunch when I went back there to grab the can of coke I had forgotten inside.’’

    ‘’Genko, there are hundreds of students walking around our lockers every single day.’’

    ‘’The girls’ lockers are on the other side of the basement. She wasn’t even supposed to walk around there. I’m telling you; she is acting very suspiciously.’’

    ‘’Let’s assume you are right. How could she possibly know about my brother’s adoption? How did she even get the file? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.’’

    Genko didn’t answer as he was starting to eat his burger. Hiseato started with his onion rings. He had gained three pounds of weight over the past two weeks. His friend’s negative eating habits started affecting him. But Hiseato preferred to have dinner with his friend these days than to dine at his place where his parents and brother kept ignoring him.

    His friend was enjoying his burger when his facial expression suddenly changed. Genko’s rather pale face suddenly turned reddish and he started to cough and sweat. He let his burger fall on his plate. Hiseato could see the tiny shrimps in the curry sauce of his burger. Genko had ordered a simple chicken curry burger. The shrimps weren’t even supposed to be there. And Genko had a severe seafood allergy.

    Genko fell from his chair as his eyes were popping out. He was breathing heavily, choking intensely and trying to vomit. Several customers stood up and looked at Genko in disbelief as they didn’t understand what was going on. Hiseato ran around the table, went down to his knees, grabbed his friend’s fiery head and tried to make him vomit to get the shrimps out of his body. Genko’s body was shaking uncontrollably and Hiseato wasn’t able to stabilize him. A waitress approached helplessly and called for the manager. Genko’s eyes turned white as he suddenly stopped shaking and didn’t respond to Hiseato’s help anymore.

    ‘’Someone call an ambulance! Good God, my friend is dying! He has a severe seafood allergy. What are you guys waiting for? Call an ambulance!’’

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    Four weeks had passed since Genko’s death and two weeks since his funeral. Nobody could understand how the shrimps had gotten in the burger sauce. The cook swore positively that he hadn’t put any shrimps on the burger. The waitress said that she had brought the burger straight from the kitchen to the customer. Somebody must have modified the burger while it had been waiting on the counter before the waitress could pick it up. There were no cameras in that area of the restaurant. The police was investigating the mysterious case and the restaurant had been shut down.

    Hiseato had developed a depressing routine over the past two weeks. Each day after school, he went to the cemetery before taking the Semi Rapid Ishikari Liner from Otaru to his home in Zenibaku. When he took the usually busy train late in the evening, it was almost empty. Hiseato had become more and more isolated and even Hanako had stopped asking him to go to the coffee shop. As a matter of fact, she had been missing in school for the past few weeks. Hiseato started to think that she was creepy. He couldn’t forget what Genko’s last words to him had been: ‘’She is acting very suspiciously.’’ Hiseato had initially thought that his friend was exaggerating but he didn’t know what to believe anymore. Three students had died under mysterious circumstances. His uncle had been exposed as a pedophile. He had found a file about his brother’s adoption. Hiseato felt that there were more gloomy surprises coming his way.

    It had been a misty and rainy day when Hiseato went on the train and sat on the last seat to the left of the last waggon where he would usually sit in order to avoid meeting anyone who knew him. Hiseato noticed that somebody had left his newspaper on his seat. He picked it up and rose his eyebrows. Hiseato had never read the Sapporo Daily Newspaper because the publishing house had gone bankrupt when he was a little child. The newspaper he had just found had been published roughly twenty years ago.

    Hiseato read a few articles about economy and politics until he stumbled over a medical article. The article talked about the first successful sex reassignment surgery performed on a citizen of Sapporo. It talked about a local man who had become a woman. Hiseato already wanted to turn the page when he suddenly stopped. He recognized the doctor on the small picture whom his mother had often visited when he was a child. Hiseato started reading the article more closely and couldn’t believe his eyes. His heart missed a beat, his eyes popped out and his breathing stopped. Hiseato shook his head and read the article twice to make sure he hadn’t misread it. He hadn’t. Hiseato had missed his station and was now heading to downtown Sapporo but he didn’t care at that point anymore. Reading that article was a life-changing experience. And now he had more questions than answers.

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    Hiseato’s brother Katsuki stayed at his best friend’s place at the weekend. This was the occasion Hiseato had been waiting for so eagerly. He could finally openly talk to his parents two days after having read the newspaper article. His parents were still feeling depressed over what had happened to Hiseato’s uncle and they weren’t too enthusiastic when Hiseato had told them that he wanted to have a serious talk with them after dinner. They had been surprised by his unusual sense of urgency. After all, Hiseato had been quite melancholic himself since his best friend’s tragic death.

    The family had just finished dinner. Hiseato’s father wanted to know what was going on but his son insisted on waiting until his mother had washed the dishes. When she was finally ready, Hiseato put the file of his brother’s adoption and the newspaper article on the table. Instead of explaining himself, he watched his parents read the file and the newspaper article in shocked disbelief. Hot tears were running down Hiseato’s cheeks as he was suffering through the frosty silence until his parents had finished their reading session. His father and mother looked at each other in bleak despair.

    ‘’My son, I think we owe you some explanations.’’

    His father spoke very slowly and calmly. He had a defensive body language and was avoiding eye contact with his son. Hiseato had never before seen his father so insecure and reserved.

    ‘’We also owe you an apology.’’

    His mother seemed to deal with the situation a little bit better and she seemed more saddened than shocked. Hiseato had thousands of negative thoughts on his mind. He felt like accusing his parents. He felt like yelling at them. He felt like tearing the whole kitchen table apart. He could barely control himself and was surprised by his own discipline. Perhaps the dreadful events of the past few weeks had started to suppress his emotions.

    ‘’Your father and I had been best friends in college. I had gone through a lot of intimidation for behaving like a woman, dressing like a woman and falling in love with men. Your father was the only person who appreciated, encouraged and supported me. When I finally became a woman, our solid friendship turned into a love story. Your father and I had always dreamt of having children but that wasn’t possible biologically speaking.”

    His mother smiled at Hiseato and he immediately felt his frustrations decreasing. Being an outsider himself, he could empathize with the horrors his parents had gone through two and a half decades ago.

    ‘’It’s an incredibly complicated process to adopt a child. There are so many administrative obstacles. But we wanted to have our own family and fought very hard for it. We visited numerous orphanages but most of their principals refused categorically to give a child to a transgender woman. After several years, my doctor at the time recommended Wakkanai Orphanage where a transgender woman worked as an educator. We immediately fell in love with you. You had such bright and vivid eyes, you could already walk really well at your young age and you liked to draw little animals. We knew immediately that you were the child we had always wanted.’’

    Hiseato smiled warmly before somber thoughts came back on his mind like grey clouds announcing torrential rainfall.

    ‘’Who are my real parents?’’

    His mother hesitated and sighed. She looked at her husband who still hadn’t spoked yet. So far, his parents’ anecdotes were those of love and courage. Hiseato wondered why they had never told him the truth until he realized that it was actually his own story and not the story of his parents that was so tragic.

    ‘’You’re real parents are a poor farmer’s daughter and the mayor’s son from a village in Northeast Hokkaido. Your biological father abused your biological mother very badly. He would actually end up killing her and going to prison where he remains until today. The couple had three children that had been brought to three different orphanages. Experts thought that it would be the best idea to separate the three children in order to deal with their early childhood traumas.’’

    Hiseato shivered as he continued to listen to his mother.

    ‘’You had only been with us for a few months, when we got contacted by the orphanage again. Your younger brother had been transferred to Wakkanai Orphanage. He was a very depressive and solitary toddler and needed a companion. We were asked whether we could imagine adopting your brother as well. That’s what we decided to do.’’

    Hiseato finally understood why his parents had never told the truth to their children. He wanted to know the whole truth now. Hiseato had a few more questions.

    ‘’You said that there were three children. What happened to the last one?’’

    Hiseato’s mother hesitated yet again as tears filled her eyes. His father remained silent. Hiseato understood that this conversation was one of the biggest challenges his parents had ever faced despite their already complicated past. Hiseato started admiring his parents’ unexpected resilience.

    ‘’You had a little sister. She was the most complicated case. You were a really joyful child. Your brother was suffering from depression but our love managed to set things right. Your sister however was different. She was transferred from one orphanage to another. Nobody could deal with her. She would physically assault toddlers, kids and even educators. We had been thinking about adopting her but that wasn’t possible. She was deemed too dangerous and was eventually transferred to a psychiatric hospital.’’

    Hiseato was in shock but the story wasn’t over yet.

    ‘’When she was thirteen years old, she killed her psychiatrist and escaped. Nobody knows where she is today. She is considered very dangerous.’’

    Hiseato suddenly had a terrifying thought.

    ‘’What’s my sister’s name?’’

    His father looked at him for the first time during the entire conversation. His eyes were frosty, intense and scared.

    ‘’Her name is Hanako.’’

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    Katsuki and his best friend Tomoki were less than pleased when they learned that Tomoki’s parents had hired a teenage girl that was supposed to keep an eye on them and Tomoki’s infant brother Umeji. They felt like they didn’t need a babysitter and could take care of Umeji but the parents insisted that the girl’s curriculum vitae was excellent and that she would prepare them an extraordinary meal. The parents had to leave in a hurry because Tomoki’s grandfather who had been suffering from colon cancer for months was on his deathbed in a hospital in Aomori.

    The two teenage boys however changed their minds when they met the girl who would keep an eye on them. Katsuki had rarely seen such a beautiful girl. She wore a clean red kimono, decent make-up and had the smoothest hair he had ever seen. Even though the girl was about three years older than the boys, they were immediately attracted to her.

    ‘’Hanako is quite something, isn’t she?’’

    ‘’You can say that again. I wish I had a girlfriend like her. She’s one of a kind.’’

    The boys stopped playing their video game when Hanako advised them that their dinner was ready. Katsuki and Tomoki were surprised to see that Hanako had prepared three delicious bento boxes for them. When they arrived in the kitchen, she was already feeding Umeji some fruit porridge.

    Tomoki and Katsuki started to eat while Hanako was bringing Umeji to his crib. She came back and smiled radiantly at the two boys who happily smiled back at her.

    Suddenly Tomoki started to cough. Katsuki looked at him in surprise. His friend’s eyes were rolling hectically, his pale face had turned red and he was sweating uncontrollably. He tried to rise from his chair but collapsed immediately. He hit the ground with a muffled sound. Katsuki was speechless.

    ‘’Don’t worry about him. He will wake up in two to three hours. I’m only here for you, my little brother!’’

    Katsuki looked at Hanako in disbelief. Her smooth face suddenly looked cold. She slowly rose from her chair and was holding a large knife in her hand.

    ‘’You will never abandon me again!’’

    Katsuki got up and looked around frantically. Hanako was standing between him and the entrance to the house. Katsuki turned around and ran up the stairs to the living-room with the balcony. Hanako followed him slowly but steadily. Hanako opened the door to the balcony and looked around. The garden was at least fifteen feet below him and Katsuki was afraid of heights. He turned around to look for another way out but there was none.

    Somebody was ringing the doorbell downstairs. Katsuki started to scream for help but knew he couldn’t get past Hanako. She lifted the knife with a fake smile.

    ‘’Katsuki!’’

    Katsuki turned around and saw his brother entering the garden below him. He had come on his own and was the one who had been ringing the doorbell.

    ‘’Hiseato!’’

    Katsuki was briefly distracted and that led to his demise. When he turned around, Hanako was standing so close to him that he could see her small peach-coloured half circular scar below her right eye on her seemingly immaculate face. Her smooth face transformed into a scary grimace. Her friendly eyes were suddenly popping out madly.

    The piercing pain in his chest transformed into a burning feeling as his blood was running out of his body along the knife and dropping on the floor. Some of it had splashed upon Hanako’s face who laughed hysterically as she was pushing the weapon deeper into her brother’s heart. She bent forward, her lips touched her brother’s and she kissed him with cold passion.

    ‘’Goodbye my brother!’’

    Hanako pushed Katsuki with such force that he fell over the balcony’s grid. His brother was screaming frantically below him. The last thing Katsuki saw was Hanako’s blood-covered dress, the red knife that she had raised triumphantly and her glowing demoniac eyes. Katsuki crushed onto his brother before he hit the ground but he didn’t feel either impact anymore. His heart had stopped beating as his world had turned into eternal darkness.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Okomoto shook his head in grim disbelief. Ichiro looked to the ground in bleak despair. The medical unit transported Katsuki’s lifeless body away. The two officers heard the child’s sobbing mother and the haunting screams of the father. They had discovered the scene of the crime as they had arrived just minutes after Hiseato had run to the house in an attempt to inform his brother about their sinister family ties. Hiseato had been rushed to the hospital. He had lost consciousness when his brother’s body had hit his head but he would live. Tomoki had just awoken in the kitchen and a nurse was taking care of him. Umeji was unharmed. Tomoki’s and Umeji’s guilt-ridden parents had been informed about the incident and were on their way back home.

    Hanako had escaped yet once again. The police officers had been putting the pieces of a complicated puzzle together. They had been called when a girl that fit Hanako’s description had been caught entering and leaving the restaurant on camera shortly before and shortly after Genko’s tragic death. The officers had then learned about the tragic accident that cost the life of a cheerleader and what appeared to be the suicide of the captain of the senior football team. The officers investigated those grisly events as their intuition told them that those weren’t random circumstances. But they needed proof and they found it when interrogating the truck driver that had hit the cheerleader who claimed that she seemed to have been pushed by someone and when talking to the football captain’s best friend who had sworn positively that his friend hadn’t been suicidal and that they had had a perfectly normal discussion just minutes before the young man’s grisly demise.

    The officers had then heard several students talk about the new girl who had joined them and who seemed to make almost all the boys fall in love with her and all the girls brutally mad at her. Okomoto and Ichiro studied her file and realized that it had been faked. Her family name had been made up. The people who had been indicated as her parents were a couple that had been stabbed to death in their own basement. But Hanako had stopped attending school as soon as the police had started investigating Genko’s death. She seemed to have vanished but now she had come back with a bang.

    ‘’We start understanding her patterns. We will predict her next actions. We will catch her soon.’’

    Okomoto spoke with sinister determination. It seemed that he was rather trying to convince himself than his depressed partner. Ichiro sighed deeply and looked at his colleague in a mixture of fatalism and fear.

    ‘’I’ve heard this so many times before. I’ve already lost one partner in this ongoing investigation. I don’t want to lose another one.’’

    Okomoto had never heard his usually quiet colleague speak so emotionally. He put his arm around his neck and then patted his back in encouragement. He knew that wouldn’t help but he wanted to send a positive sign.

    ‘’If I have to sacrifice my own life to stop Hanako from committing further crimes, I would be willing to do that.’’

    Ichiro turned around and Okomoto thought for a second to see tears in his colleague’s eyes. Ichiro turned away, lit a cigarette and exhaled the faint blue smoke. He then spoke quietly but firmly.

    ‘’I would be willing to do that, too.’’

     

    The End

     

    Hanako will return.

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  • Ladies and gentlemen!

    I have been working on this short story over the past few months. I wanted to take a break from the grisly horror stories about the femme fatale Hanako. This short story could rather be described as a drama. It's also a homage to Japanese Yakuza stories from the nineties. In order to freshen things up, the story takes place in rural Taiwan. Enjoy!  

    Visitors

                Today was the day.

                It was a brisk Sunday morning. Akira was sitting by the window of his small apartment. He could overlook the dirty backyard of the building. Trash cans were piled up in the left corner. A rusty bike lay in a puddle of mud. The old pickup truck near the entrance was partially covered by a light blue canvas. The quiet neighbour from downstairs was hurrying towards the bus stop on the windy old country road. He used his suitcase to protect his head from the increasingly heavy rainfall. The plum rain season had just started in late May and the upcoming typhoon season was predicted to be quite intense.

                Akira took a sip of his lukewarm liquorice tea. He had used his last teabag this morning. He took a look at his watch. It was eight o’clock.

                Someone knocked on his door. Akira tried to ignore it at first. But after a short break, the visitor knocked more vehemently. Akira sighed but tried to ignore the noise in the hope the visitor would just give up and go away. The knocking turned into banging and Akira could distinguish an irritated voice.

                ‘’Open up! I know you’re in there!’’

    Akira didn’t speak much Mandarin but he could tell that the visitor was getting increasingly impatient. As a matter of fact, Akira hadn’t adapted to Taiwanese culture at all even though he had spent the last four years of his life in the southern suburb of Kaohsiung. Akira had never wanted to live abroad. But after avenging the brutal murder of his boss, the leader of the Fujimoto clan, he needed to leave Japan in a hurry four years ago. The last message Akira had received from the son of his boss who had taken control of the small Yakuza clan in Kagoshima was already nine months old. He was told to stay put and wait for further instructions. Akira had been waiting patiently but started to wonder whether the members of his clan had forgotten about him.

                Akira looked at his watch. It was five minutes past eight. The elegantly dressed man in his early forties stood up and walked through the spartan living room towards the tiny floor with the old wooden door. He looked through the peephole and recognized his landlord. He was a small man in his early sixties with a grumpy attitude. His long grey hair looked as chaotic as the nervously spasming muscles in his face and his twitching hands. Akira opened the door just a little bit and his landlord hectically pushed his foot into the small opening.

                ‘’Mister Yamamoto, this is my last warning!’’

    Yamamoto wasn’t Akira’s real last name. He had told his few acquaintances to be an independent writer. The landlord always spoke very loudly and slowly to Akira as if he were a little bit deaf and stupid. Akira could understand this attitude since he actually didn’t speak much Mandarin. That didn’t mean that he didn’t understand what people were telling him. He was just a man of few words.

    ‘’You haven’t paid the rent for the last three months. I will give you until Friday evening to pay your debts. Do you understand?’’

    Akira nodded very slowly but didn’t show any emotion on his face. His calm demeanor seemed to confuse the landlord at first and then to startle him. He raised the index of his left hand.

    ‘’You better take this seriously! My patience has its limits! You have until Friday to settle your debts!’’

                The landlord turned around and Akira slowly closed the door. He went back to his chair in the living room and looked outside the window. Akira felt bad for not paying his rent but the last time his clan had sent some money was nine months ago. He hadn’t found a job in Taiwan. As a matter of fact, he had come illegally to the country on a fishing boat. Akira wanted to keep a low profile and prevent getting caught by authorities.

    The rain had intensified. The old lady from the apartment block across the backyard hurried to take her dresses from the retractable clothesline that reached from her window into the backyard. The grumpy old man from the apartment block on the left side of the backyard stared at Akira. This wasn’t the first time that the old man observed him. It seemed that he didn’t like strangers. The first time Akira had come across him when they had been waiting for the bus, the old man had spat right in front of his feet.

                Somebody knocked on Akira’s door again. Akira briefly looked at his watch. It was quarter past eight. He stood up a little bit faster than just minutes earlier and smoothly paced towards the door. He couldn’t see anyone through the peephole. Akira opened the door carefully and looked around. Nobody was there. The anonymous visitor had already left. Someone had left a small package behind. Akira took the small package and saw the crest of the Fujimoto clan on it. He smiled very briefly and went back inside his apartment.

                Akira went back inside the living room and saw a man with a long dark coat leaving the backyard. Akira went into the small but functional kitchen and took a cutter knife out of the bottom drawer. He meticulously opened the package and saw a little black box. Akira opened it very slowly and saw two objects. One was a teabag and the other one was a short letter. Akira was disappointed that there was no money in the box. He sighed and calmly read the letter to himself.

                ‘’A man will visit you today. He will be asking you for weapons. Serve him a cup of tea.’’

    Akira looked at the small teabag that was filled with dark herbs and smiled just a little bit. This was the first time in four years that he had a job to do.

    He took a lighter and burned the short letter in a small ashtray. He opened the kitchen window a tiny bit to get rid of the faint smoke. He went back to the living room, sat down and finished his cup of cold tea. It tasted terribly but he didn’t mind. A few young children were playing in the rain and throwing mud at one another. A housewife from the apartment block on the right side yelled at them. Akira took a small booklet from the desk and grabbed a pencil. He wanted to kill some time by writing a poem. This was Akira’s favourite pastime activity. He usually wrote one poem per day. His new poem was going to be about a man on a mission. Akira thought about some key words, a specific poetic form and possible stylistic devices. He decided to write a haiku. It was going to be short but efficient, just the way Akira liked it.

    Somebody knocked on his door yet again. Akira looked at his watch. It was almost ten o’clock. He put the booklet and the pen away. He breathed in profoundly, stretched his back and arm muscles a little bit and breathed out very slowly. Akira felt ready to accomplish his mission. He went to the front door and saw an elegantly dressed man who was holding a religious book in his hands. Akira felt a slight disappointment. His visitor certainly wasn’t the one who was going to ask for weapons. He hesitated briefly but decided to open the door nevertheless.

    ‘’Good morning, sir, would you have five minutes for me to talk about God?’’

    His visitor didn’t even wait for an answer and paced inside the apartment. He made a few superficial compliments regarding some decorations and introduced himself. Akira hadn’t even said a single word and was only listening to half of what the visitor had to say. He didn’t want to be impolite to the visitor. He was thinking about offering him a cup of tea until he remembered that he had run out of teabags earlier today and that the new teabag was for a special occasion later that day. He decided to offer the visitor a glass of plum juice instead and they sat down in the living room. The visitor only stopped talking after several minutes when he took a first sip of his plum juice. Akira didn’t want the visitor to overstay his welcome. He decided to take the opportunity of this brief moment of silence to ask his visitor some questions

    ‘’Tell me, do you have a family?’’

    ‘’Yes, I do. I have a wonderful wife and three daughters. We live in downtown Kaohsiung.’’

    ‘’Do you have a regular job?’’

    ‘’Yes, I do. I’m an administrator at the sugar factory. I work there from Monday to Saturday.’’

    ‘’Do you have any pastime activities?’’

    ‘’Well, talking with people like you is my pastime activity.’’

    ‘’How did you even get here today?’’

    ‘’I took public transit. It had two bus transfers. It took me about two hours to get here. I will visit all the apartment blocks of the suburb today.’’

    ‘’Do you get paid for this?’’

    ‘’My only reward is to get people interested in my religious community.’’

    Akira smiled just a little bit and then looked very seriously at his visitor. He seemed to be uncomfortable to be asked so many personal questions. His visitor was used to be the person who asked all the questions but not to be the one who needed to answer them.

                ‘’To keep it short, you spend every Sunday away from your beloved family. Despite a busy regular job, you are forced to spread religious propaganda to strangers every week. Due to your busy lifestyle, you have no pastime activities. You can’t afford a car and your religious community doesn’t even give you one which means that you need to take public transit for many hours to spread your messages. You don’t get any financial reward for what your doing either. And I suppose most people aren’t even mildly interested in the things you have to say. Your life seems to be quite pitiful to be honest. Who would possibly want to have a similar lifestyle by joining your community?’’

                This was the longest speech Akira had ever delivered in Mandarin. He paused for a while and waited for his visitor’s reaction. The man had his eyes wide open, opened his mouth as if to speak but closed it nervously when he didn’t know what to say. He made Akira think of a stranded fish.

                ‘’You have a wife and three daughters to take care of. Stop bothering strangers on a Sunday morning. Go home and spend some quality time with your loved ones.’’

                His visitor stood up, nervously walked past Akira and paced through the living room towards the door. Akira smiled faintly as he saw his visitor running across the backyard. He stopped briefly, turned around and looked Akira who was looking outside the window. Then, he abruptly turned around, hectically left the backyard and ran towards the bus stop. The visitor had left several things behind. Akira picked up his umbrella and his religious book, put both objects in the trash bin outside his apartment block and went back inside his apartment.

    It was about time to finish his haiku. Everything was ready but Akira didn’t know how to start. His mind was blank and he didn’t have any inspiration. He felt the void growing inside of him. It made him feel more and more uncomfortable.

    Akira decided that ne needed something to eat. He went into the kitchen. Akira had been eating instant noodles for the past two weeks. He would eat some more of them today. Akira was running out of money. Maybe his clan would send him some more money once he had accomplished his mission. Akira realized that his own life wasn’t so different from his last visitor’s life. He was also working for an institution that didn’t seem to care about his own personal well-being. The only difference was that the visitor had a family but Akira didn’t even have that. His brother got assassinated during a conflict with another clan six years ago. His mother had suffered from depressions since then and was slowly dying in a poor retirement home. His father had left her and Akira hadn’t heard from him for nearly five years.

    Akira slowly ate his noodles. The warm meal in combination with the humid atmosphere made him sweat. The noodles filled his stomach but were completely tasteless. Akira had run out of vegetables half a week ago and had emptied his last bottle of soy sauce last night. Akira stared at the empty bowl. He still didn’t have any inspiration for his poem.

    Someone knocked on his door with determination. Akira quickly rose from his chair as if he were awakening from a nightmare. He cleared his throat, wiped the sweat off his forehead and put his hair back in position. He looked at his watch. It was quarter past noon. Akira was ready to do his duty.

    Akira was surprised to see a woman when he opened the door. Then again, the letter from his clan didn’t specify the visitor’s gender. The woman in front of him made a tremendous effort to look younger than she actually was. She had dyed blonde hair. She wore heavy make-up. She was wearing a colourful dress that was much too small for her and would have rather fit on a young girl’s body. Akira estimated that she might be in her early thirties but tried very hard to look as if she were in her early twenties.

    She didn’t look unattractive to Akira but her eyes behind her make-up looked tired and her body language could be described as exhausted. Akira felt that he might have met the woman before but he couldn’t recall the circumstances. Taiwanese women often looked quite alike to him.

    Only now Akira saw that the woman wasn’t alone. A shy young boy was hiding behind her and looking at Akira with big and curious eyes. He was holding onto his mother’s dress.

    ‘’You have no idea how long it took me to find you!’’

                The woman spoke with an aggressive undertone but Akira didn’t react to that. He was a man of few reactions as well. His visitor seemed to be infuriated by his lack of emotions.

                ‘’Don’t you even recognize me?’’

                Her voice expressed a mixture of anger and disappointment. Akira thought about the women he had encountered since his arrival in Taiwan four years ago. And suddenly he remembered. The woman in front of him had been a waitress at a sushi shop in Taipeh where Akira had been twice or thrice shortly after his arrival in Taiwan. He recalled that the woman had looked very sad when he had met her because she had been going through a difficult break-up. Akira had tried to recomfort her and she had brought him to her modest apartment. They had made love all night and the next morning they both felt better. None of them had been interested in a serious relationship however and their paths hadn’t crossed again – until today.

                ‘’This is your son Wei-ting. I’ve taken care of him for the first three years. It’s your turn now.’’

                She pushed the young boy forward who still hadn’t spoken a single word. He looked back and forth at his nervously upset mother and his stoically calm father. He didn’t seem to understand what was going on.

                His mother nodded as if to convince herself that she was taking the right decision. She briefly looked at Akira again and he could sense the disdain in her eyes. The moment only lasted a second and the woman whose name Akira didn’t even recall turned around and walked towards the staircase. She hesitated briefly, expecting a reaction from Akira which never came and turned her head to look at father and son one last time.

                ‘’By the way, he is mute.’’

                Those were the last words she said before rushing down the stairs in disappointment. Akira looked at his son and still didn’t know how to react. He opened his door a little bit further and smiled at the boy in an attempted encouragement to make him come closer. The boy hesitated briefly, looked behind him and then stepped forward very slowly.

                Akira led his permanent visitor to the living room and saw his mother at the entrance of the backyard, looking towards Akira’s apartment before turning around and walking towards a small motorcycle. Akira knew she wouldn’t come back again.

                Akira silently invited his son to sit on the couch and gave him the paper and crayons he had planned on using for his haiku. He still hadn’t written a single word on this eventful day. The boy slowly drew something and Akira could distinguish a distorted face with gigantic tears rolling down its cheeks.

                ‘’My name is Akira. Do you want something to drink?’’

                The man on a mission knew that what he was saying was pitiful to comfort his child but he felt the need to break the silence for once. His son nodded slowly without looking up from his drawing. Akira smiled hesitatingly.

                He went to the kitchen and prepared a glass of plum juice. The man on a mission realized that he needed to buy something to eat and drink for his unexpected visitor. Akira was used to not eating for days but he couldn’t expect such a thing from a young boy. The young man had hidden a few coins inside a book in his bedroom. It wasn’t much and was supposed to serve in emergency situations only but Akira told himself that this most likely was an emergency. The coins might be enough to buy some fresh fruits. There was a little market about thirty minutes away from the complex building. Akira thought about going there immediately but then recalled that he was expecting yet another visitor. He couldn’t miss him. His loyalty to his clan was more important than family ties.

                He went back to the living room where his son had finished his drawings and carefully took the glass of plum juice that was offered to him. Akira smiled when his son drank it eagerly. His son seemed to like it. Akira had just finished that thought when his son puked the plum juice on the carpet. Akira sighed. Maybe water was the better option.

                Akira went back to the kitchen to get some towels in order to clean up. He suddenly heard some banging on the walls. A woman was screaming frantically and got interrupted by a yelling male who sounded furious. Akira didn’t understand what they said but he was clever enough to realize that they weren’t getting along at all. The noise intensified as the man seemed to hit the wall that was shaking. The glasses on Akira’s kitchen counter collided and made a high ringing sound. Akira realized that his son had come to the kitchen. He didn’t say a word but was staring at the shaking glasses. Akira looked at his watch. It was close to one thirty in the afternoon now.

                The man on a mission couldn’t ignore those disturbances. He opened his front door, went in the hallway and knocked on his neighbour’s door. The yelling of the man stopped but the faint crying of the woman didn’t.

                Akira heard thunderous footsteps and his neighbour cautiously opened the door. He only knew that his neighbour was a divorced construction worker with a serious drinking problem. The man stood bare-chested in front of him, was smelling of alcohol and sweating profusely.

                ‘’What the hell do you want from me, you dirty Jap?’’

                Instead of giving an answer, Akira’s left fist hit the neighbour right between the eyes. He kicked the door open with his left foot. The force of his entrance surprised the neighbour and before he could react, Akira used his right fist to punch him in the jaw with such force that the neighbor flew through the floor and was only stopped by a couch in the living room. Akira paced forwards and used his left elbow to break his neighbour’s nose with an ugly cracking noise. His opponent started to bleed profusely as the grey carpet got covered with red spots. Akira grabbed his opponent’s arm, bent over and sent his opponent’s body flying across the couch onto the glass table that shattered into a myriad of pieces. The neighbour’s surprised scream turned into a painful sigh as he sank back and momentarily lost consciousness.

                Akira didn’t move and tried to distinguish whether anyone in the building reacted to the fight. The walls were so thin that the fight must have been heard by at least a dozen people. But nobody walked down the stairs, knocked on the door or yelled anything. Everything seemed to be quiet.

                There was one thing Akira heard however. He could hear a woman cry. The young man now took a closer look around him. The apartment looked shady. Empty bottles were lying on the floor of the living room. Akira saw a used syringe on the kitchen counter. A pornographic magazine was lying on a chair. The door to the bedroom on his left side had been opened just a little bit. Akira turned around and his heart missed a beat when he saw his son standing in the entrance to the apartment. He almost looked like a ghost.

                Akira suddenly felt bad for his son. His furious mother had abandoned him like a used glove. His father had offered him ugly plum juice. His son didn’t even get anything to eat. And now he had to witness a violent physical fight between his unknown father and his rude neighbour.

                The man on the mission snapped out of his somber thoughts and focused on the crying woman that seemed to be in his neighbour’s bedroom. Akira slowly went towards the bedroom but looked at his son who wasn’t moving.

                ‘’Please go back to our apartment, Wei.ting.’’

                His son hesitated but turned around and went back to their flat. Akira sighed with relief. His son couldn’t speak but they understood each other rather well.

                Akira now went into the bedroom and saw a young woman who was only wearing a pantie and who had been chained to the bed. Her mouth was covered with a gag. Her upper body was reddish and covered in hot candle wax. A leather whip was lying on the floor. An unused condom could be seen on the bedside locker. The woman’s clothes had been thrown through the entire bedroom.

                He had seen a lot of violence in his life but what he saw here made him feel angry. Treating a woman like that was abominable. Akira looked at the woman. She was almost still a child. He supposed she was about ten years his junior. She had beautiful silky hair, soft peachy skin and particularly long legs but Akira was oblivious to her beauty under those grisly circumstances.

                He took the cloth out of her mouth and the woman immediately started to cry. Akira freed her from her chains. He picked up her clothing and brought it to her. The woman was rolling on the bed and suffering from pain and shame. Akira didn’t want to startle her, sat on the corner of the bad and waited for her. She slowly turned around and looked at Akira. Her mouth formed a faint smile and Akira sensed a feeling of gratefulness in her eyes. It had been many years since someone had last expressed thankfulness to Akira. He knew he wasn’t a good person but he would have liked to change a person’s life for the better just once in his lifetime but everyone who knew him ended up suffering terrible fates.

                The woman’s eyes suddenly opened widely and Akira immediately realized what that meant. He quickly pushed himself to the side and the baseball bat hit the spot where he had been sitting just half a second earlier. Akira grabbed the vase on the bedside locker and threw it into the surprised face of his opponent who stumbled backwards against the wall. Akira could hear the glasses break in his kitchen through the shaking wall.

                Akira took advantage of his momentum and stormed forward. His neighbour attempted to hit his face with the baseball bat but Akira had come so close that it only hit the side of his body. His left fist then exploded into his neighbour’s face and Akira felt how his neighbour’s shattering teeth cut into his fist and made it bleed.

                The neighbour screamed in pain but was still trying to resist his opponent. Akira had underestimated the tough construction worker. He grabbed his sides, lifted the shaking neighbour into the air, made a few steps around the bed and threw him through the closed bedroom window that shattered into numerous pieces.

                Akira heard the surprised scream of the neighbour that was interrupted by a muffled impact. Akira looked out of the shattered window and saw that his neighbour had landed in a trash container behind the apartment complex. His bones weren’t broken but his body was covered by fine glass cuts. The neighbour looked at Akira in terror before his eyes turned white and he lost consciousness yet again. This time, he had passed out for good. Akira grabbed the baseball bat next to the window just to have an improvised weapon with him. He had become a little bit rusty but was now prepared to defend himself viciously.

                He turned around and looked at the sobbing young woman. She looked at him and didn’t seem to know whether she should feel relaxed or scared after what she had just seen. Akira nodded towards the woman’s clothes.

                ‘’Get dressed and come with me.’’

                Akira thought about calling the police to help the woman but immediately refuted the thought. He was still an illegal immigrant and didn’t want to get questioned by investigators. The neighbour had passed out for a while and was surely not ready to attack them again. Before he could have his revenge, Akira wanted to make sure that the woman had safely left that filthy apartment complex.

                He didn’t bother to clean everything up but made sure to close the door behind him when he left the apartment with the shivering young woman. He had also brought a bottle of milk and some chocolate bars from the neighbour’s fridge. Akira at least wanted to be able to offer something to the woman and his son.

                Wei-ting was patiently sitting on the couch and opening his eyes widely when he saw his father and the unknown woman. Akira only realized now that they were also covered in bruises and cuts. Akira hurried to the bathroom to grab some disinfection spray, two cloths and a few small plasters.

                He sat down with the scared woman and took care of her wounds. He was able to disinfect the cuts but couldn’t do much about the hot candle wax that had burned her smooth body and the hits that had swollen her lips and jaws. It was only after taking care of the woman that he disinfected his own wounds. He threw the cloths away, went to the kitchen and prepared three glasses of milk and three chocolate bars. His son’s eyes shone brightly at the sight of the meal and Akira felt proud for the first time in a very long time. The woman didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything which didn’t surprise Akira. He felt quite exhausted himself.

                The woman touched his arms hesitatingly.

                ‘’Thank you.’’

                Her voice was merely a whisper and Akira smoothly patted her back. He wanted to give her the opportunity to start a conversation instead of forcing it upon her. He lay back, took a faint sip of his milk and a small bite from his chocolate bar.

                ‘’You came right on time. He wanted to rape me.’’

                The woman looked down and felt ashamed. Akira took her in his arms and looked at her swollen face. Only now he realized that the woman didn’t look like other Taiwanese women. She seemed to come from a southern country. She interpreted the question on Akira’s face.

                ‘’I didn’t even introduce myself. My name is Dara. My mother is from the Philippines. My father is from South Korea. They met at the university in Taipei. My father left us, went back to Korea and took all the money with him. That’s why I started working as an escort.’’

                Akira listened carefully but didn’t make any comments. He could empathize with the young woman. In a certain way, they were both outcasts in Taiwan.

                Dara looked at Wei-ting who was chewing on his chocolate bar. She smiled sadly and turned to Akira.

                ‘’Is that your son?’’

                ‘’I assume so.’’

                ‘’I wish I had a son. A happy family is all I had ever wished for. If I had more money, I would want to become a nurse and help babies and children.’’

                ‘’His name is Wei-ting. I’m sure he’s longing for a happy family, too.’’

                Akira and Dara looked at Wei-ting and everything seemed to look unusually harmonious. Akira had a son who seemed to feel at ease in his apartment despite his eventful arrival just hours earlier. He had a young woman in his arms who admired him. And Akira felt that he had a positive impact on two people around him for once. But he also knew that those whom he loved always ended up getting disappointed, hurt or murdered.

                Akira suddenly thought about his mission again. The scary thought interrupted the idyllic situation. The person he was waiting for could arrive at any moment. Akira didn’t want Wei-ting and Dara to witness what he had to do. And he didn’t want them to be exposed to any more dangers.

                Akira looked through the window of the living room. It had stop raining and a few rays of sunlight were reflected in the puddles of mud of the courtyard. New clouds were gathering however and it was going to be a stormy night.

                ‘’Why don’t you two go outside and play while the sun is shining?’’

                Dana looked at him with a bright smile and even Wei-ting lifted his head in excitement. Akira also sensed how Dana’s positivism faded into fear. He knew exactly what she was thinking.

    ‘’I will take a quick shower and keep an eye on both of you. He is not going to hurt you anymore. But I can’t protect you forever. Dana, if you want your dream of a happy family to become true, you need to get out of this place and you need to change your ways. Are you willing to do that?’’

    Akira looked very closely at Dana’s reaction. She nodded quietly but firmly. She then stood up, waved at Wei-ting who rose quickly and took his hand.

    The man on a mission waited until Wei-ting and Dana had arrived in the courtyard. The usually busy and loud complex building was suddenly calm and peaceful. Akira smiled happily but also felt a sting of regret that he was getting prepared for his mission while his son and the young woman were enjoying themselves. Akira was sick and tired of disappointing people, hiding his identity and lying to everyone around him.

    Akira took a quick shower. Since he had promised Dana to keep an eye on her, he only took five minutes even though he would have wanted to stay there for at least five hours. His bruised body needed some rest. But he had a mission to accomplish.

    He put on his best trousers and shirt and went to the kitchen to prepare some tea. Akira looked through the window of his living-room. Wei-ting was chasing after a stray dog and Dana was observing the scene with belly laughter. The nightfall was getting closer now. Akira looked at his watch. It was almost six o’clock now.

    A man who was entirely dressed in black entered the courtyard. It was obvious that he didn’t live in the apartment building. He was sharply dressed, moved very smoothly and looked around very slowly to get accustomed to his new surroundings. He seemed to be looking for a specific flat and when he saw Akira standing in front of the window, the man had finally found it and nodded with a quick smile.

    Wei-ting and Dana were unaware of the man who entered the apartment complex. Wei-ting was tickling the stray dog while sitting on Dana’s laps. Akira still smiled when the last visitor of the day knocked on his door.

    Akira opened the door and even though he had never met his visitor, Akira felt that he knew much more about him than the visitor could anticipate. The man was perhaps five years younger than Akira. He was Japanese, dressed elegantly and looked sharp. He reminded Akira of himself when he had come to Taiwan four years earlier.

    ‘’Good evening. I was told that you are selling something I am interested in buying. Do you have a few minutes?’’

    The man spoke fluid Japanese and Akira felt a painful sting in his heart when he realized that he hadn’t spoken Japanese to anyone but himself for more than four years. He was longing to come back home. But he knew that it wasn’t possible.

    ‘’We can take as much time as we need.’’

    Akira saw a long shape on the left side of his visitor’s pants. He knew that it was a knife. The members of his clan were specialized in knife fighting. They only carried those weapons when they were on a mission. Akira immediately knew what that meant. He had expected this and was yet severely disappointed. His own clan had turned against him. His visitor had been sent to assassinate him. He had been sent to cut loose threads.

    But Akira wasn’t the only one who had been targeted here. The clan was obviously attempting to get rid of the visitor as well. Akira wished he would have had his fate of a quick demise instead of living in obscure loneliness abroad for more than four years.

    Akira thought about the absurd situation. His visitor had a sharp knife. He had a teabag. It was an uneven duel. Akira needed to be extremely careful.

    He led his visitor into his modest apartment while always keeping an eye on him. Akira took a final look through the window of the living-room. Dana and Wei-ting weren’t there anymore. They must have left for a short stroll with the stray dog.

    Akira went to the kitchen and offered his visitor a seat. His visitor stared at the neighbour’s baseball bat that was in the corner. Akira smiled at him.

    ‘’I have been a quite solid setup pitcher in college.’’

    His visitor nodded and took his seat. He put his briefcase on the table, pulled a paper and a pen out of his jacket and touched his hidden knife so briefly that a normal spectator would have missed it but Akira’s trained eyes immediately sensed that his visitor was getting prepared for his own mission.

    ‘’Do you mind if we drink some tea before discussing business?’’

    His visitor nodded hesitatingly and smiled nervously. Akira took his two most beautiful teacups and poured the hot tea into them. His visitor noticed the broken glasses and rose his eyebrows.

    ‘’This is a terrible place with terrible walls separating terrible neighbours.’’

    Akira gave his visitor the teacup, put his own teacup in front of him and sat down smoothly. While his visitor was particularly nervous, Akira felt relaxed. Despite his crucial mission, he didn’t think about his clan anymore and imagined Dana and Wei-ting playing with the stray dog instead.

    His visitor looked at the teacup but hesitated. Akira smiled, took his visitor’s teacup, drank from it and gave his visitor his own teacup. His visitor felt visibly better, nodded with a smile and took a sip himself.

    Akira felt the almost unnoticeable bitterness in the aftertaste and knew that the hot feeling in his throat wasn’t only the heat. His visitor also seemed to sense something unusual. He looked at his teacup and then at Akira’s face.

    ‘’This is spicy liquorice tea. It’s a local speciality. Not everything about this place is bad.’’

    His visitor nodded, opened the suitcase and took a folder out of it. He opened it slowly and showed Akira a picture of his mother who was sitting in a wheelchair in a retirement home and looking at two elderly women playing chess.

    ‘’Our boss is taking care of his clan members and their families in Japan.’’

    Akira nodded with a smile. He understood exactly what the visitor was attempting to tell him. His mother wasn’t in danger. Akira felt a sharp sting in his stomach. It almost felt as if his inner organs were slowly set on fire. His head got slightly dizzy and his view blurred. He had trouble focusing on what his visitor had to say.

    ‘’Let’s talk about the weapons…’’

    His visitor stopped and touched his sweating forehead. He then looked at Akira who was sweating profusely as well. Akira smiled and pointed towards his visitor’s pants.

    ‘’The deadliest weapons are those that are invisible.’’

    It took Akira an incredible amount of focus and strength to pronounce these few words. He observed how his opponent tried to pull his knife but he could barely get it out his pants and let it slip through his fingers. It fell on the ground with a sharp ringing sound that echoed painfully in Akira’s head.

    ‘’Best regards from our boss.’’

    Akira’s final message was a painful whisper. He leaned to his left side, fell from his chair in slow motion and hit his head smoothly against the counter before softly hitting the ground.

    His opponent tried to get up from his chair to grab his knife but the quick movement was too much for his body. The visitor tumbled backwards, tried to grab the chair and sank uncontrollably down with it. The chair broke with a muffled cracking. The visitor lay helplessly among the pieces of broken wood. He turned his head towards Akira and the shocked surprise on his face turned to bitter sarcasm.

    ‘’I didn’t expect it so soon.’’

    Akira smiled but that faint movement of his stiff face seemed to make his head explode. He could see a myriad of explosions before his eyes. The suffering face of his visitor faded and Akira thought about the beautiful but fragile Dana and the quiet but quick-witted Wei-ting. If this world were a better place, they could have been a family. It wasn’t meant to be.

    His last visitor had stopped moving but Akira pushed a final sigh of relief knowing that Dana and Wei-ting had each other and wouldn’t be harmed anymore due to his fateful loyalty.

    When Akira closed his eyes once and for all, he was finally in peace.

     Today was the day.

    The End

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