Cash isn't the only thing I take from my father's study when I leave home. I take a small, old gold lighter – I like the design and feel of it – and a folding knife with a really sharp blade. From another drawer I take out a photo of me and my older sister when we were little, the two of us on a beach somewhere with grins plastered across our faces. My sister's looking off to the side so half her face is in shadow and her smile is neatly cut in half. It's like one of those Greek tragedy masks in a textbook that's half one idea and half the opposite. Light and dark. Hope and despair. Laughter and sadness. Trust and loneliness. For my part I'm staring straight ahead, undaunted, at the camera.
Who took this, and where and when, I have no clue. And how could I have looked so happy? And why did my father keep just that one photo? The whole thing is a total mystery. I must have been three, my sister nine. Did we ever really get along that well? I have no memory of ever going to the beach with my family. No memory of going anywhere with them. No matter, though – there is no way I'm going to leave that photo with my father, so I put it in my wallet. I don't have any photos of my mother. My father threw them all away.
The man's face is on the small side, his features regular. Pretty, rather than handsome, might describe him best. When he looks down his longish hair falls over his brow, and occasionally he notices this and fingers it back. His sleeves are rolled up to the elbows, revealing slender white wrists. Delicately framed glasses nicely complement his features. The small plastic name tag pinned to his chest says Oshima. Not exactly the type of librarian I'm used to.
"Feel free to use the stacks," he tells me, "and if you find a book you'd like to read, just bring it to the reading room," He lays his pencil on the desk and adds, "Are you in high school?"
"Yes, I am," I say after taking a deep breath.
"This library is a little different from the ones you're probably used to," he says. "We specialize in certain genres of books, mainly old books by tanka and haiku poets. We might get the occasional graduate student, but very seldom someone your age. So – are you researching tanka or haiku then?"
"No," I answer.
"That's what I thought."
"Is it still okay for me to use the library?" I ask timidly, trying to keep my voice from cracking.
"Of course." He smiles and places both hands on the desk. "This is a library, and anybody who wants to read is welcome."
"It's a really beautiful building," I say.
He nods. "The Komura family's been a major sake producer since the Edo period, he explains, "and the previous head of the family was quite a bibliophile, nationally famous for scouring the country in search of books. If you're really interested in this building I suggest you take the little tour at two. I know you'll enjoy it."
"Are you the one who does the tour?"
Oshima smiles. "No, I'm just a lowly assistant, I'm afraid. A lady named Miss Saeki is in charge here – my boss. She's related to the Komuras and does the tour herself. I know you'll like her. She's a wonderful person."
When I come to I'm in a thick brush, lying there on the damp ground like some log. I can't see a thing, it's so dark. I struggle to raise my left hand – why is it so heavy all of a sudden? – and bring my watch close to my face, fixing my eyes on it. The digital numbers read 11:26. May 28. May 28 … a day like any other, the same exact routine. Nothing out of the ordinary. I went to the gym, then to the Komura Library. Did my usual workout on the machines, read Soseki on the same sofa. Had dinner near the station. The fish dinner, as I recall. Salmon, with a second helping of rice, some miso soup, and salad. After that…after that I don't know what happened. I see a restroom nearby and go inside and it turns out to be fairly clean. I take off my backpack and wash my face, then check out my reflection in the blurry mirror over the sink. I prepare myself for the worst, and I'm not disappointed – I look like hell. A pale face with sunken cheeks stares back at me, my small neck all muddy, hair sticking out in all directions.
I notice something dark on the front of my white T-shirt, shaped sort of like a huge butterfly with wings spread. I try brushing it away, but it won't come off. I touch it and my hands come away all sticky. Under the flickering fluorescent light I realize what this is – darkish blood that's seeped into the fabric. The blood's still fresh, wet, an there's lots of it.
Man alive, how'd you get all that blood all over you? What the hell were you doing? But you don't remember a thing, do you. No wounds on you though, that's a relief. No real pain, either – except for that throbbing in your left shoulder. So the blood's gotta be from somebody else, not you. Somebody else's blood.
Nakata never went into these conversations with cats expecting to be able to easily communicate everything. He wasn't sure why, but striped brown cats were the hardest to get on the same wavelength with. With black cats things mostly went well. Communicating with Siamese cats was the easiest of all, but unfortunately there weren't too many stray Siamese wandering the streets, so the chance didn't present itself often.
Even knowing what to expect, Nakata found Kawamura impossible to decipher. He enunciated his words poorly, and Nakata couldn't catch what each one meant, or the connection between them. What the cat said came off sounding more like riddles than sentences. Still, Nakata was infinitely patient, and had plenty of time on his hands. They'd been talking for nearly an hour, going round and round in circles.
"Mr. Kawamura, this is Goma. The cat that Nakata is looking for. A one-year-old tortoiseshell cat. So once more I'd like to ask you, have you seen this cat?"
Kawamura gazed at the photograph again and nodded.
"If it's tuna, Kwa'mura tied. Tied up, try to find."
"By tuna, you mean the fish?
"Tries the tuna, tie it, Kwa'mura."
Just then Nakata thought he heard a small laugh behind him. He turned and saw, seated on a low concrete wall next to a house, a lovely, slim Siamese looking at him with narrowed eyes.
"Excuse me, but would you by chance be Mr. Nakata?" the Siamese purred.
"Yes, that's correct. My name's Nakata. It's very nice to meet you."
"Likewise, I'm sure," the Siamese replied. "Please call me Mimi. The Mimi from La Boheme. There's a song about it, too: 'Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi."
"Nakata's very happy to meet you, Mimi-san."
And indeed without any hesitation at all he slit open Kawamura's belly. This time the scream was audible. Maybe the cat's tongue hadn't been fully paralyzed, or perhaps it was a special kind of scream that only Nakata could hear. An awful, bloodcurdling scream. Nakata closed his eyes and held his trembling head in his hands.
"You have to look!" Johnnie Walker commanded. "That's another one of our rules. Closing your eyes isn't going to change anything. Nothing's going to disappear just because you can't see what's going on."
Nakata did as he was told and opened his eyes.
Once he was sure they were open, Johnnie Walker made a show of devouring Kawamura's heart, taking more time than before to savor it. "It's soft and warm. Just like fresh eel liver," Johnnie Walker commented.
"Please, Mr. Walker, Nakata can't stand it anymore!"
"That won't fly, Mr. Nakata. I'm sorry you feel bad, I really am, but I can't just say, Okay, will do, and call this off. I told you, This is war. Once the sword is drawn, blood's going to be spilled. If you don't want any more cats to be killed, you've got to kill me. Stand up, focus on your hatred, and strike me down. And you've got to do it now. Do that and it's all over. End of story."
Johnnie Walker started whistling again. He finished cutting off Kawamura's head and tossed the headless body into the garbage bag. Now there were three heads lined up on the metal tray. They'd suffered such agony, yet their faces were as strangely vacant as those of the cats lined up in the freezer.
"Next comes the Siamese." Johnnie Walker said this and then extracted a limp Siamese from his bag – which of course turned out to be Mimi. "So now we come to little 'Mi Chiamano Mimi."
Nakata slid the door open and was about to leave when he stopped and turned around. "Excuse me, sir, but will you be in this area tomorrow evening?"
"Yes, I will," the policeman replied cautiously. "I'm on duty here tomorrow evening. Why do you ask?"
"Even if it's sunny, I suggest you bring an umbrella. There will be fish falling from the sky. Just like rain. A lot of fish. Mostly sardines, I believe. With a few mackerel mixed in."
"Sardines and mackerel, huh?" the policeman laughed. "Better turn the umbrella upside down, then, and catch a few. Could vinegar some for a meal."
"Vinegared mackerel's one of Nakata's favorites," Nakata said with a serious look. "But by that time tomorrow I believe I'll be gone."
The next day when – sure enough – sardines and mackerel rained down on a section of Nakano Ward, the young policeman turned white as a sheet. With no warning whatsoever some two thousand sardines and mackerel plunged to earth from the clouds. Most of the fish were crushed to a pulp as they slammed into the ground, but a few survived and flopped around on the road in front of the shopping district. The fish were fresh, still with a smell of the sea about them. The fish struck people, cars, and roofs, but not, apparently, from a great height, so no serious injuries resulted. It was more shocking than anything else. A huge number of fish falling like hail from the sky – it was positively apocalyptic.
Not long after this Nakata found a truck driver willing to give him a ride as far as Kobe. A sleepy-looking man in his mid-twenties, not very tall, with a ponytail, a pierced ear, and a Chunichi Dragons baseball team cap, he sat there in the restaurant, smoking and flipping through a comic book. A gaudy aloha shirt and oversize Nikes completed his wardrobe. He tapped his cigarette ashes into the leftover broth in his bowl of ramen, started hard at Nakata, then gave a reluctant nod. "Yeah, okay. You can ride with me. You kind of remind me of my grandpa. The way you look, or maybe how you talk, kind of off the point…At the end my grandpa got senile and died. A few years ago."
I don't know if ghost is the right word, but it definitely isn't something of this world – that much I can tell at a glance. She's got to be a ghost. First of all, she's just too beautiful. Her features are gorgeous, but it's not only that. She's so perfect I know she can't be real. She's like a person who stepped right out of a dream. The purity of her beauty gives me a feeling close to sadness – a very natural feeling, though one that only something extraordinary could produce.
I'm wrapped in my covers, holding my breath. I can see the large flowering dogwood just outside the window, glistening silently in the moonlight. There's no wind, and I can't hear a sound. The whole thing feels like I might've died, unknowingly. I'm dead, and this girl and I have sunk to the bottom of a deep crater lake.
She reaches up and touches the hair at her forehead – her slim, girlish fingers rest for a time on her forehead, as if she's trying to draw out some forgotten thought. She's looking at me. My heart beats dully in my chest, but strangely enough I don't feel like I'm being looked at. Maybe she's not looking at me but beyond me.
Miss Saeki comes to my room after nine that night.
"I haven't seen this room in a long time," she says. She stands by the wall and looks at the painting. "Or this picture, either."
"Is the place in the painting around here?" I ask.
"Let's go for a walk," she says. "I'll take you there."
I walk with her to the shore. We cut through a pine forest and walk down to the sandy beach. The clouds are breaking up and the moon shines down on the waves. Small waves that barely reach the shore, barely break. She sits down at a spot on the sand, and I sit down next to her. The sand's faintly warm.
We sit there looking at the scenery. Wind blows through the pine forest, sounding like a crowd of people sweeping the ground at the same time. I scoop up some sand and let it slowly spill out between my fingers. It falls to the beach and, like lost time, becomes part of what's already there. I do this over and over.
"What are you thinking about?" Miss Saeki asks me.
"About going to Spain," I reply.
"What are you going to do there?"
"Fight in the Spanish Civil War."
"That ended over sixty years ago."
"But you want to be a part of it."
I nod. "Yup. Blow up bridges and stuff. But in reality I'm here in Takamatsu. And I'm in love with you."
I put my arm around her.
You put your arm around her.
She leans against you. And a long spell of time passes.
You hold her in your arms, draw her close, kiss her. You can feel the strength deserting her body.
"We're all dreaming, aren't we?" she says.
All of us are dreaming.
"We've reached the ridge," the brawny soldier says.
"We're going to go straight to the bottom without stopping, so watch your footing," the tall one says.
I follow them carefully down the tricky, slippery slope. We get about halfway down, then turn a corner and cut through some trees, and all of a sudden a world opens up below us. The two soldiers stop, and turn around to look at me. They don't say a thing, but their eyes speak volumes. This is the place, they're telling me. The place you're going to enter. I stand there with them and gaze out at that world.
The whole place is a basin neatly carved out of the natural contours of the land. How many people might be living there I have no idea, but there can't be many – the place isn't big enough. There's a couple of roads, with buildings here and there along either side. Small roads and equally small buildings. Nobody's out on the roads. The place is too small to be called a town.
Finally, the whole object was out, revealing its entire form. The creature was about a yard long, with a tail, which finally allowed Hoshino to figure out for sure which end was which. The tail was like a salamander's, short and thick, the tip abruptly tapering down to a thin point. It had no legs, no eyes, no mouth or nose. But it most definitely had a will of its own. No, Hoshino thought, it's more like a will is all it has. He didn't need to figure out that logically, he just knew it. When it's on the move, he thought, it just happens to take on this shape. A chill ran up his spine. Anyway, he concluded, I've got to kill it.
Hoshino went back to the kitchen to look for something else to use as a weapon, but couldn't find anything. Suddenly he looked down at the stone at his feet. The entrance stone. That's it! I can use the stone to smash the thing. He bent down and tried to lift it. It was terribly heavy, and he couldn't budge it an inch. "I see – you're back to being the entrance stone," he said. "So if I close you up before that thing gets here, it won't be able to go inside."
Hoshino strugged with all his might to lift the stone, but couldn't.
"You're not moving," he said to the stone, gulping down big breaths. "I think you're even heavier than before. You're a real ball-buster, you know that?"
Behind him the rustling sound continued. The white thing was steadily getting closer and closer. He didn't have much time.
"One more try," Hoshino said. He rested his hands on the stone, took a huge breath, filling his lungs, and held the air in. He focused all his energy on one spot, and put both hands on one side of the stone. If he couldn't lift it this time, he wouldn't have a second chance. With all the strength he could muster he gave a groan and lifted. The stone raised up slightly. He put his last ounce of energy into it and managed – like he was stripping the stone off of the floor – to lift it up.
His muscles were aching for fresh blood, his lungs dying for air to make that blood, but he couldn't breathe. He knew he was about as close to death as you can get, the abyss of nothingness gaping open right before his eyes. But he ignored this, focused all his strength one last time, and pulled the stone toward him. It lifted up and, with a massive thud, flipped over and fell to the floor. The floor shook with the shock, the glass door rattling. The stone was tremendously, profoundly heavy.