It was a dark alley where nobody walked. Yuki slid into the looming darkness as she held her purse tight, afraid, trembling from the shivers of the night. Her long black hair tied behind her shoulders, she wore her favourite heels and the tight skirt her boss Hime-sama forced her to wear on dinner nights. Dinner nights… Those evenings with corporate investors she both hated and respected, in an overpriced sushi restaurant in the middle of Tokyo’s famous Chuo City.
As she passed a closed convenience store, she couldn’t help but look inside. Perhaps it was the flickering light from the refrigerator that caught her attention. She brought her hand to her forehead and leaned against the window to see better. It was all damp inside. She knew this because of the condensation she could not wipe off, which must have been caused by some extreme moisture behind the pane. The light flickered again.
Yuki strolled to the side along the wall, hoping to get a better angle to see what was happening.
Something wasn’t right.
Behind the blur, she could see something laying on the ground, right by the refrigerator. It appeared motionless. She only saw a shadow, nothing more.
A noise came from the back of the store.
It startled her, and she almost dropped her tiny purse. She thought she was going crazy for a moment. She squinted to see better.
There was a tiny space close to the window frame where there was no steam. Yuki bent to the right and slid her gaze through this opening. She could not see past the aisle of bakery goods and fluffy pancake mix, but she could catch a glimpse of what was at the foot of the refrigerator.
It was a pool of dark, oozing liquid. Blood! she thought. She had seen enough movies to know it was blood. But there was something else. Something that made her spine freeze instantly. There was a reflection in the blood. A figure she could not see behind the aisle.
And it stared at her.
Eyes black as night.
Panic gripped her lungs. She spun on her heels and clicked and clacked back into the dark alley of Chuo City.
She made it home. She slammed her door shut, rid herself of her beige trenchcoat, ditched her heels in the corner and dumped her bag onto an arbitrary chair against the wall of her living room. She freed her hair and headed to the bathroom; she needed a bath!
This night had been so strange. First, a boring but exhausting dinner, then what happened at the convenience store. She was convinced someone had been murdered there. She thought she had to call the police, but something stopped her. She could not explain it, but it scared her as soon as the idea crossed her mind.
And so, she sank into the warm water with the relaxing scent of cherry blossom oil. Her tense shoulder muscles needed this moment to come to a calm. She closed her eyes, trying to forget the talks of thousands of yen and the vile looks of Yamamoto-san from Accounting, whose behaviour towards her was borderline sexual harassment. She submerged her head in the water, feeling the warm sensation appease the pores of her face. In this moment, everything seemed like a distant memory already, and she felt she could do with a night on the couch watching Netflix and sipping on a cup of green tea. Her neck loosened. Her arms did not ache anymore from stress and fatigue. She was at peace.
Until the putrid smell of decay forced itself into her nostrils.
Her eyes snapped open. It was worse than sewers. It smelled of death.
The water was blood. She was covered in blood! Yuki screamed until her voice failed her. She staggered out of the bath and collapsed on the floor, naked, and her ankle burst. She screamed again.
She wanted to wipe the blood off her face. She rubbed her hands on her arms, but the red stuck to her skin like it belonged there. It latched onto her as it dried quicker than she could wipe it off. She had to use her nails. Removing the dried blood felt retching at first. Then it changed to something oddly satisfying. Yuki regained her calm. The long peels, similar to peeling one’s own skin after a sunburn, brought her quietude and comfort. Her frightened heart slowed down, and she even felt herself become excited about this game of peeling, searching for the best layer of blood to remove, like when one tries to peel an orange in one go.
The more she kept busy, the more comfortable she felt. She even chuckled in satisfaction at some point, when she pulled a strip off from her ribs to the side of the hip. But slowly, she felt something else. Her head became dizzy, and her bathroom began to spin rapidly around her. The world slowly faded. Her eyelids fell little by little, and as hard as she tried, she could not stop herself from sinking to the ground and plunging into a deep, unconscious sleep.
Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep – the incessant sound from the heart monitor in Room 1223.
“What do you think happened, Sensei?” Agent Takashi asked.
He held his notebook with his red pencil, prepared to take notes while he addressed Doctor Watanabe-san.
“It is good that you got to her in time,” Watanabe-san retorted, unsure yet of how to answer the agent’s question.
Takashi nodded. “Wasn’t it for the neighbour who heard her scream, she would have bled out on the bathroom floor.”
“Did you see anything out of the ordinary in her apartment?” Watanabe-san asked out of curiosity.
Takashi shook his head. “No, Sensei. Everything was perfectly normal.”
Watanabe-san cast a concerned glance on the poor woman who lay unconscious on the hospital bed. She was covered in bandages, her face barely recognisable. He then turned back to Takashi, who was still eager to take notes. “I just wonder what drove her to peel off her own skin like that.”
Words: fluffy, sushi