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The International Writers Magazine - Dreamscapes: From the Archives

Ryan Madej

The probability is, despite a lack of foresight, I have lost my way. Not just metaphorically, mind you, but literally. I’ve always started out with bad directions, whether it be in life or love, and now I was paying the price. The cosmic pendulum has finally swung away from me, sending my body hurtling into the void.
chair in a dark room

At least that’s how I feel today as I stand on this subway platform, a 9mm Glock pressed deep into my trench coat pocket. For once I feel secure, like nothing can stop me. Except them, of course. They have the power to end it all. A few calls were made, and on some piece of paper, real or not, my life is in their hands. I had taken the wrong train, and now there was no choice but for me to head back toward them. A heavy silence weighs down upon me as I stand here rigid as a post in deep tar. Sunday morning. I’ve been up all night wrestling with a wealth of old memories, that flickered and burned so brightly again they have left a permanent image on the wall of my mind, nearly paralyzing me.

How did I get here? Not in the philosophical sense, which I believe happened by transmigration anyway, but into this earthly predicament. My answer is incomplete, for I have not reached my desired destination, but I suppose there are some conclusions to be drawn. I wish I could say it was not over a pretty girl or money, though in a certain way it always is with me. For years I’ve been running away from myself., unable to confront the raging shadow within, until I met Mr. Soseki.

Up until a few weeks ago, I was a freelance photographer traveling the globe, taking pictures of seemingly random places, when he spotted me inside a Tokyo bookstore, which seemed seemingly random in itself. He saw the camera around my neck, and since I was a non-Japanese, he decided to pick my brain about a project he had been planning. He needed a good, non-Asian photographer, for reasons he refused to explain, and he thought I was the ideal candidate due to my non-threatening nature. I was wary. One does not often get approached by mysterious strangers, but in the spirit of intrigue, I joined him for tea.

Soseki was a man of taste and refinement. He was also something of a rarity now, standing in contrast to the ultra-modern landscape of Tokyo that buzzed, blinded, and hissed around you. He read the Japanese classics, and the Western ones as well. During that first chance meeting, which seemed like a perfect prelude to a late night nocturne, we discussed the validity of Hegel and the pessimism of Sartre. His English was impeccable; his manners, unblemished.

After much talk and sipping of tea, he got straight down to business. He offered me two thousand dollars for my time and effort. The only stipulation was that I ask no questions, either of the project or his involvement. I agreed. He gave me a number to call in two days, and a private car would pick me up from my hotel. In the blazing afternoon, as we stood shaking hands, I felt almost compelled to abandon the deal. Yet, the greediness inside me clouded any doubts I may have been having. My mental map was lost at that point. I began wandering aimlessly, again…

The next two days were spent in daydream. I sat on the tiny balcony of my hotel room, drinking double scotches and looking over the clotted landscape before me, flooding my senses with the sights and sounds of the neon Mecca. After a time, my mind inevitably drifted back to home. A home thousands of miles away on the Plains. A home where no one awaited my return. What a stroke of luck, I thought, to be here now, unaware of where I was going. That peculiar sense of being, akin to some sort of freedom, flowed through my veins with ease. Early on the second day, I made the call.

Mr. Soseki lived in a house that was befitting a man of his uniqueness. It was neither traditional, nor modern, but had accents of both. He came out to greet me, looking as dapper as the first day I had met him, a Malacca cane in his right hand. He asked me if I had eaten, wondering if I would join him in the garden for lunch before getting started. I agreed, so long as there was scotch to be had. He smiled, and gave a small laugh. Yes, of course, he said, there is plenty of food and drink. As we entered the main foyer, with its almost absent light, I felt the intense yet creeping movement of ice up my spine, which normally would cause me to mentally unfurl, though this time I felt almost comforted by its presence.

Art pieces, mostly Japanese, hung on the walls of the hallway that came to a division some fifty metres from the door. One had a sense of walking through a museum rather than a house; and in hindsight, I can say that my sense of place had disappeared, as though I had been transported to some new plot of land, freshly planted with the seeds of uncertainty.

Upon entering the garden, the very essence of a childhood dream came to life. A half- dozen trees blooming with cherry blossoms set the blood in my body in motion. Mr. Soseki could see the pleasure on my face. He calmly admired the blooming flowers with me, a small smile forming at the corners of his lips. Within days they would be gone, so I felt blessed to have seen their fragile beauty before it all faded. Beauty walks a razor’s edge, as a wise man once said, and from that moment I believed it. Our meal was already prepared for us as we sat down. A gentle breeze passed through the garden, and for once in a long while, I was at peace. Perhaps the only troubling thought in my head, if it could be called troubling, was the lack of communication between Mr. Soseki and myself that afternoon. Despite the Zen-like quality that permeated itself around us, I could sense a displacement, or at least an elusiveness I had not felt before.

Mr. Soseki pulled me out of my introspection by offering me a drink, which he said we could partake in within his shaded home. A wave of disappointment came over me, for the blossoms clinging to the branches had imprinted themselves in my mind, and I knew I would never see them again. Back inside the house, down the other hallway, we made our descent into the basement. The walls of this area of the house lay blank, with the exception of a Hokusai print portraying the same cherry blossoms I just had the pleasure of viewing. We entered a tiny room equipped with a full bar. Mr. Soseki asked what I was drinking, and without hesitation I asked for a double scotch, neat of course.

He seemed amused by my request, for he gave a slight chuckle before pouring my scotch along with a small cup of sake for himself. We drank in silence. I noticed two other doors inside the room, and intuition told me I would be walking through one of them very soon.

Just as my thought was completed, Soseki read my mind. "I’ll be back in two hours my friend. The money will be waiting for you, along with a ride to take you back to your hotel… Sound good, my friend?"
"Yes." I said meekly.
"Excellent. Go through the door on the left and snap away."

He left. All that needed to be done was my part. No questions asked. I approached the door slowly, deftly turning the knob and gently swinging the door open. My hands groped for the light switch. When I found it, I paused before flicking it on.

In the middle of the room, tied expertly to a chair, was a young woman of indeterminate age, naked and bloody. She was beautiful, despite the obvious tortures that had been inflicted on her. My initial reaction was to walk out and forget what I had seen, but a nagging, deeper sense of the macabre made me pull out my camera. The woman was barely conscious, yet she radiated a calm unlike anything I had seen, as though the situation she was in brought out something primal and usually hidden from the recesses of her being.

I could feel the same process happening to me. I could feel that same primal energy move to my fingertips with every snapshot I took. For a brief moment, I thought I saw her smile; time suspended. Now I was truly lost. Riding the spiral to the end. I was tempted to touch the blood that was drying on her limp body, that snaked like a crimson river and broke into tributaries at her thighs, only to merge once more in a sea of red at her feet. She smelt of lilac and lavender, despite the metallic scent of blood that clogged her pores. All beauty must die, I thought, but this woman would live to see another day in spite of my dark indulgence. I untied her, not knowing why, before taking one last shot of her doll-like face.

Walking out of the room, my mind cluttered, I felt time resume its usual state of intense advancement. Soseki was waiting at the bar, a thick envelope in his hand, a French cigarette in the other. "I take it everything went well." He said coolly.
"Yes." I said, almost whispering. "Everything went well."
"Good, here is your payment. A car is waiting to take you back to your hotel… Bring me the prints as soon as possible." I could see suspicion in his black eyes. He didn’t escort me out. The afternoon sun blazed down on me and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Despite the dire situation I allowed myself to be led into, I felt surprisingly at ease. I held the pictures in my hand, going through them one by one. Each frozen moment I captured showed me another side of beauty that only the deeply sensitive and perverse could see. Rain fell outside my window. Four days had passed. the hours slipped by without consequence, silent and breathless. Then, the great pendulum shifted, and the phone was ringing louder than before. I knew who it was. Calmly, I picked up the receiver.

"I want the photos, my young friend."
"I don’t think that will be possible, I’m sorry."
"Well, that is unfortunate. You leave me with few options. But it would seem by your deviant attitude that you have already made your decision, for better or worse."

He hung up. I put the receiver down, then poured myself a drink. A cheerless Sunday was waiting for me. Thus everything comes full circle. The trains are unusually full today.

I can feel the Glock’s weight against my thigh. I used the two grand to buy the piece and extra rounds of ammunition. Best money I ever spent. The photos are on their way back home. I think of the young woman and wonder what kind of lover she would have made.

Songs dance through my head, then fade away, note by note. A small smile forms on my lips. I caress the St. Christopher’s medal around my neck that my mother gave me years ago. She said I would go places, far beyond my imagination. How right she was…

© Ryan Madej 2009

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