“Just do it.”
That was what Shino said to himself as he looked down the short hallway into the room where his four friends sat. They were in the back room of a club in Roppongi, where they could hear each other talk. Beyond it, the club pulsed with music and people packed in so tight there was barely room to dance. Shino wasn’t into the club scene, and neither were his friends, really. But the women in town liked to go, and if you didn’t want to spend the night alone you did what the women wanted. Hiroaki and Noboru were between girlfriends, but the rest of Shino’s friends, himself included, were taken. Soon, Shino wouldn’t have any friends left. Honda-san had been very clear, kill them or Honda-san would kill Yuki. Trading one life for four didn’t seemed right, but Honda-san assured Shino that he would kill Yuki in a way that made whatever Shino did to his friends look like mercy.
Shino put his hand against the door frame, and lowered his head. He didn’t want to do this. Eiji, Noboru, and Takatoshi had been his friends since middle school. Shino didn’t meet Hiroaki until high school, but they were best friends. If there was anyone Shino loved more than Yuki, it was Hiroaki, but that was a different kind of love– and Yuki would die far worse than Shino would ever let his best friend.
Takatoshi smiled when Shino came into the room, and the rest of Shino’s friends looked up to greet him.
“You’re here!” Takatoshi said.
“Yes.” Shino wanted to say something else, but his mouth was dry and his throat felt tight.
“Are you going to just stand there, or are you going to sit down?” Takatoshi asked.
He thought about telling them, giving them some reason for what he was about to do. But if he did that, they would try to stop him or run like hell. Either one was bad.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“For what?” Takatoshi asked.
Shino took the gun out from behind his back and shot him. He shot Noboru next, then Eiji. When he got to Hiroaki, Shino froze. It was Hiroaki’s chance to escape, but he only stared back at him. Finally, Shino pulled the trigger, and the bullet went through the center of Hiroaki’s forehead, leaving a hole that hovered above his eyebrows like the setting sun. Hiroaki’s eyes stared upward as if lost in a daydream. Shino looked around and noticed that, out of all his friends, Hiroaki was the only one who didn’t look scared.
Shino forced himself not to run as he exited the back of the club. He went straight to Honda-san’s, an apartment in another part of Roppongi. Shino wasn’t sure if Honda-san owned the building, but he was the only one who lived there, and his bodyguards made sure that no one got in without Honda-san’s permission. They took Shino’s gun at the door and told him to look for Yuki on the top floor. The smug looks they gave each other scared him, and Shino took the stairs as fast as he could, afraid that if he took the elevator Honda-san would have it stopped just to fuck with him.
Yuki was in the bedroom, splayed out on the bed with Honda-san forcing himself on her. Shino went to save her, but something hard struck the back of his knees and he hit the floor. He looked up to see Yuki looking back at him. She smiled, and Shino realized how Hiroaki must have felt when Shino pointed the gun at him. Like the most important thing he understood about the world was about to change.
“I have bad news,” Honda-san said. “I’m not going to let you fuck my girlfriend anymore.”
Honda-san’s bodyguard, the one who hit Shino, laughed, as Honda-san continued to thrust between Yuki’s legs. Now that Shino was there, she made sure to put on a show, bucking her hips and clinging to Honda-san like his dick was the only thing keeping her alive. Shino watched with the detached interest of someone visiting a butcher’s shop, who saw the blood and severed flesh, but felt no connection to what it was or where it had really come from.
“You made me kill my friends,” he said.
“They annoyed me,” Honda-san said. “You do too, but I didn’t want to have to kill them myself.”
“Do you want me to get rid of him?” The bodyguard asked.
“He can stay and watch,” Honda-san said. “But if he touches himself, beat the shit out of him.”
Shino got up and left. No one tried to stop him.
The next day, the police came his apartment to tell him his friends had been found shot to death. They didn’t treat him as a suspect; they only wanted to know what enemies his friends had or who might have wanted to hurt them. Shino said he couldn’t think of anyone. That week, he went to the memorial services and funerals, mourned with his friends’ families, and paid his respects. He didn’t sleep much, but he went to work, ate, and took care of himself. For a while, he worried that Honda-san might try to blackmail him, but eventually Shino realized that, as far as Honda-san was concerned, he had served his purpose.
As weeks became months, Shino had to force himself to leave the apartment for anything outside of work. It was either that or lose his sanity. When he stayed in the apartment too long his mind went bad places, and while Shino believed he deserved punishment, he wasn’t sure insanity was the best way to do it.
He was out in a restaurant when he saw Hiroaki’s ghost. Shino stared, unable to take his eyes away, as the ghost walked up to the bar and sat next to him.
“It’s too early for you to come back,” Shino said.
Then Hiroaki turned, and Shino saw it was all some trick of the light. The person next to him was a woman, and not even a Japanese one. But somehow she still look like Hiroaki, the way she tilted her head and how her eyes lit up when they met Shino’s.
“Shino-kun?” She leaned in and whispered in his ear, “It’s not too early.”
Shino shoved himself out of the chair. The woman got up, and he ran outside before she could say anything else. He headed for the nearest crosswalk without paying attention to it, and a car came at him from out nowhere. Suddenly someone’s arms were around him and Shino could smell Hiroaki’s cologne as he was pulled back onto the sidewalk.
“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” The woman spun him around and cupped his face in her hands. “Shino-kun?”
She peered into his eyes. Hers were blue, not brown. Her hair wasn’t black, and she wasn’t tall and skinny. Yet she smelled like Hiroaki and spoke with his cadence, one Shino would have recognized anywhere, even in someone else’s body. Shino started to cry–whether because he believed it was Hiroaki or thought he had gone crazy he wasn’t sure yet–and buried his face in the woman’s shirt. She embraced him, and stroked the back of his head.
“It’s all right,” she said. “Let’s go back to your apartment. I’ll explain everything.”
The woman sat Shino down at the kitchen table and made him a cup of tea. She knew where everything was, what kind of tea he liked. Shino watched the way she moved, and tried to imagine her in Hiroaki’s clothes. Then he realized he didn’t have to: she was wearing them. Not the exact ones, and certainly not the same size, but he recognized Hiroaki’s fashion sense.
“Hey,” she said, “You still buy Sapporo!”
Shino always kept Sapporo in his fridge since it was Hiroaki’s favorite, and they often spent the night at one or the other’s apartment. The woman took one out and brought it to the table, where she twisted the cap off with her shirt. “Shit. How long have these been in the fridge?”
“Eight months,” Shino said. “You weren’t around to drink them.”
This time when Hiroaki looked at him, Shino didn’t have any doubts. He was sure that the next thing Hiroaki would ask was what happened. There was no way he could remember and still be sitting there. This was Shino’s karma: to look the ghost of his best friend in the eyes and tell him he killed him.
“Are Eiji, Noboru, and Takatoshi here, too?” Shino asked.
“Do you see them?”
“I thought maybe their ghosts were around, like yours.”
“Do I look like a ghost?” Hiroaki sat back. “Go on, try to see through me.”
“You’re inside someone else.”
Hiroaki’s forehead creased, then he smiled. “It’s not like that. The woman who used to have this body killed herself. They saved her at the hospital, but she didn’t want to go back.”
“You’re a woman?” Shino asked.
“It was worth it. I was worried about you.”
“You were worried?”
“Of course, you’re my best friend.”
“I shot you.
“I don’t understand,” Shino said. “If you remember, why are you here?”
“What do you mean?”
“I killed you! Why are you here, if you’re not going to punish me? You have a body, Hiroaki. You can do whatever you want to me. I won’t even fight back!”
Shino’s whole body was shaking. Hiroaki moved his chair closer, and held him by the shoulders.
“Shino-kun, I know you didn’t want to hurt anybody. We’re not mad at you.”
“It’s my fault,” Shino said. “I believed her.”
“She tricked you. If she wasn’t a woman I would…” Hiroaki looked down. “Actually, I can do whatever I want to her.”
“Don’t,” Shino said. “Stay away from her, and stay away from Honda-san.”
“Do you still love her?”
“Love her?” Shino asked. “I hope Honda-san gives her a disease that rots her from the inside out. I don’t want you going near her because I don’t want anything happening to you.”
The rage that Shino hadn’t felt when he found out what Yuki did to him bubbled to the surface. He wanted to kill Honda-san, wrap his hands around his throat and watch him die. He wanted to kill Yuki too, but if he did that he wouldn’t be a man.
“I won’t do anything,” Hiroaki said. “I promise. But you have to do something for me.”
“I’m here on a tourist visa. I have enough money to go between America and Japan a few more times, but after that I’m going to be stuck in the States. The woman I changed places with has a job, but I don’t have any of her memories. I can’t even speak English.”
Shino’s mind immediately went to the worst case scenario: Hiroaki homeless and living on the streets, unable get enough to eat or drink, much less ever see Japan again.
“What can I do?” He asked.
“I don’t want you to leave.”
“You would marry me just to keep me around?”
“You gave up your dick for me.” Shino said. “How did you decide which one of you got to go, anyway?”
“We each gave a reason why it should be us. I told them I was the one who loved you the best.”
“I already said I’d marry you,” Shino said. “You don’t have to flirt with me.”
Hiroaki gave him the finger. “Fuck you. You haven’t even taken me on a date. How do I know I want to marry you?”
“You want to go out for ramen?”
“You take me out to ramen on our first date? You’re not getting laid tonight.”
“I think we should wait until after marriage. I don’t want people to think you’re that kind of girl.”
“Fine,” Hirokai said. “But you’re paying for everything, and afterwards we’re going to one of those fancy dessert shops.”
“In other words, you want me to be a better boyfriend than you.”
Hiroaki never had trouble getting girlfriends. He had trouble keeping them, since he always treated dating like a painful process to be endured. “All right, no dessert shop,” he said. “But I want beer.”
They went out to the same ramen stall they always did, where Hiroaki ordered his usual bowl. He ate it like a man, something Shino found touching in a way. Later that night, as they were walking from one bar to another, a group of teenagers walked by and turned to look Hiroaki up and down. Shino grabbed Hiroaki’s hand and glared at them.
“I don’t want them to get any ideas,” Shino said, when Hiroaki gave him a funny look.
“Horny assholes. I’m not even dressed in girl’s clothes.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Shino paused. The truth was that Hiroaki had certain attributes that a men’s t-shirt did little to hide. When they got back to the apartment, Hiroaki made it clear that he had yet to process the fact that some things had changed.
“Look,” he said. “I don’t have to take my shirt off.”
He unclasped his bra and took it out through one sleeves of the shirt. He took off his jeans next, and Shino was surprised to see that Hiroaki was wearing women’s underwear.
“Men’s underwear leaves too much room,” Hiroaki explained. “It’s not like I got girly colors or anything.”
As they got into bed together, and Shino told himself it wasn’t any different that the countless times they had before. Except that every time he rolled over and accidentally brushed against Hiroaki, he felt a woman’s body and not a man’s. After several times of pulling away like he’d been bitten, Hiroaki suspected something was amiss.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
“I keep bumping into you.”
“I’m not used to bumping up against that in bed,” Shino said.
“You’ve slept next to women before.”
“I didn’t have to worry about accidentally groping them in my sleep.”
“They aren’t that big,” Hiroaki said. He grabbed Shino around the waist. “You want to feel me up?”
“Come on. We’re engaged, you can have your way with me.”
Shino wrestled free, but Hiroaki grappled him onto his back and straddled his hips.
“I told you not until after we were married,” Shino said.
“You don’t want to wait that long.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you’re hard.”
Shino didn’t do anything when Hiroaki kissed him. It was too far to go for a joke, and he should have been angry, but his skin felt hot wherever Hiroaki touched him and his brain was taking a long time catching up to his body. When it finally did, Shino grabbed Hiroaki’s hands and pinned them together. Hiroaki pulled back. He looked beaten down, like being rejected had taken everything he had left. Shino remembered what Hiroaki said about loving him best, and suddenly understood that it wasn’t the only thing he said to convince their friends to let him be the one to come back.
“It’s OK,” Shino said. “It’s OK. I love you.”
“As a friend.”
“I wouldn’t have thought of you like this before.”
“I know,” Hiroaki said. “I shouldn’t have done anything.”
Shino still had Hiroaki’s hands pinned between his own. He had a feeling if he let go, Hiroaki would leave the room and never come back.
“You’re not listening,” he said. “I don’t know what would have happened, if we tried to be together before. I don’t know if I could touch a man, and feel horny. But I’m not saying that I couldn’t have fallen in love with you. We would have just had a really lousy sex life.”
“I’m not a man anymore,” Hiroaki said.
“You are.” Shino let go of Hiroaki’s hands and touched the side of his face. “You’re my best friend, I love you, and you make me hard.”
Shino kissed him, and it didn’t take long before he was hard again and his bare skin was pressed against Hiroaki’s. They made love slowly, and when they were done Hiroaki fell asleep curled up against him, his body warm and soft against Shino’s. He snored as much as he had when he was a man, but Shino didn’t mind.
The next day, they went to Hiroaki’s hotel to get his things.
“So am I gay?” Shino asked, on their way back to the apartment.
“No,” Hiroaki said. “You aren’t gay.”
“You aren’t a woman.”
“I have a woman’s body.”
“You’re the same person.”
Hiroaki shrugged. “We fall in love with people, we fall in lust with bodies. So you’re gay and your dick is straight. Happy?”
“I don’t care. I just didn’t want you to think I only wanted you for your boobs.”
“I don’t,” Hiroaki said. “Can we stop for beer on the way home?”
Shino was amazed at how quickly they fell into a routine. He worked during the day, and Hiroaki took care of the apartment–which was to say he kept it slightly cleaner than Shino would have on his own. Shino still felt guilty about what he did to his friends, but he focused on the future. He was going to get married. There was going to be paperwork, meetings with government officials, and money spent on so many things that he would have an aneurism if he thought about it too much. He wasted an entire afternoon looking at rings in a jewelry store only to leave empty handed, convinced that Hiroaki would think he had lost his mind if he came home with one.
A few weeks later, Shino called Hiroaki on the way home from work as usual to ask what he wanted to have for dinner and see if he wanted to meet anywhere. When Hiroaki didn’t answer, Shino called a few more times but kept getting voice mail. He thought Hiroaki forgot to charge the battery, or maybe was in the bathroom and couldn’t hear it, until he got to the apartment and saw the door forced open. Inside, there was blood on the floor and signs of a struggle. There was also a note from Honda-san. There was no mention of a ransom, or what Shino had to do to get Hiroaki back, just Honda-san’s address and what time to be there.
Shino showed up at the house to the same smiling bodyguards, who told him the same thing: go to Hondas-san’s bedroom. Shino found Hiroaki beaten and unconscious on the floor. At first he was unresponsive, but when Shino felt for a pulse he groaned and opened his eyes. Shino helped him to sit up and carefully brushed Hiroaki’s hair away from his face. There was a large wound across his forehead, still wet with blood.
“Did he touch you?” Shino asked.
Hiroaki shook his head and winced.
“No. I’m fine.”
“You look like shit.”
“They beat the crap out of me before they knocked me out.”
“No one told you to fight back,” someone said.
Honda-san stood in the doorway with Yuki. She looked different; her face was sharper, and there was a cruel, frantic look in her eyes. Honda-san looked bored.
“What do you want?” Shino asked.
“Nothing,” Honda-san said. “This was her idea.”
Yuki gave Honda-san a look that would have made him worry about the safety of his dick, if he had noticed her giving it. “I helped you when you wanted him to shoot his friends,” she said.
“That was different,” Honda-san said. “This is jealous bullshit.”
“I’m not jealous! You think I care if he dates some fucking gaijin? She’s not even pretty.”
Shino stood. His blood roared in his ears, and his voice shook the air until the room itself seemed to vibrate. “What the fuck do you want? Just tell me what the fuck it is, and you can have it!”
Honda-san was silent at first, then started to laugh.
“It isn’t funny,” Yuki said.
“Bullshit. He didn’t fight this way for you! He got up and walked out!”
“That’s because I was fucking you!”
“Calm down,” Honda-san said. He took a gun from inside his jacket. “This is for you,” he told Shino. “There’s only one bullet inside. So you have to decide: shoot yourself, or shoot her.”
“What if I decide to shoot you?” Shino asked.
“My bodyguards will come in and shoot both of you.”
Hiroaki stumbled to his feet and grabbed Shino’s shoulder for support. “You shithead. You killed my friends. You think I’m going to let you touch him?”
“What the hell is she talking about?” Honda-san asked.
“Nothing,” Shino said. “Give me the gun.”
He didn’t want to kill himself, but he didn’t have any other ideas. The only thing he could do was stall for time and hope he thought of something. Hiroaki tried to grab the gun, but Shino side-stepped and left him standing alone in the middle of the room.
“Promise me you’ll let Hiroaki go,” Shino said.
“Wasn’t Hiroaki one of the dead ones?” Honda-san asked.
“Yes,” Yuki said. “The tall ugly one.”
“You made him shoot me,” Hiroaki said. “I should have killed you as soon as I came back!”
Honda-san looked between Shino and Hiroaki. “You’re both crazy.”
Gunshots sounded from the first floor, and Honda-san turned towards the door. Shino saw his chance, but before he could pull the trigger, Honda-san turned back and pointed a second gun at him. The two of them stood like that, neither moving, until a loud ping announced the arrival of the elevator. A few seconds later, there was a polite knock on the bedroom door.
“Honda-san?” One of the bodyguards called out. “We have a situation. Some crazy old guy attacked us.”
“Is he dead?” Honda-san asked.
“Yes,” the bodyguard said. “He’s definitely dead.”
Honda-san opened the door, and the two bodyguards walked in. They both had bright red stains on their shirts, over the right side of their chests, and were followed by an old man dressed in hospital pajamas.
“What the fuck?” Honda-san asked.
The first bodyguard shot him twice in the chest, once in the head, and Honda-san dropped like a bag of rice. Yuki screamed and dove for Honda-san’s gun. She fired wildly at both the bodyguards and the old man. The bodyguards fired back, and Shino tackled Hiroaki to the floor, covering him with his body as bullets flew around the room. When they stopped, Shino rolled on to his side, between Hiroaki and whomever was left standing. Yuki was slumped on the floor, no longer among the living. The bodyguards all had new bullet holes in them, but didn’t seem bothered. They were more distracted by the most recent dead body.
“Noboru-chan,” the first bodyguard said, “you shot a woman.”
“I had to! She was going to make Shino-kun kill himself!”
“Takatoshi-chan?” Shino asked.
The first bodyguard grinned.
“Do you recognize me, Shino-kun?” Noboboru asked.
“Idiot,” Takatoshi said. “I already said your name.”
“How did you guys get here?” Hiroaki asked.
He came out from behind Shino, who was still holding onto the gun Honda-san gave him.
“We jumped into their dead bodies,” Takatoshi said. “Eiji-kun went first, then he killed the bodyguards.”
“You two have to leave,” Eiji said. “The police are going to be here. We made enough noise to wake up all of Roppongi.”
Noboru giggled, and they all stared at him. “Sorry,” he said.
“What are you laughing at?” Eiji asked.
Noboru grinned. “Hiroaki-kun has tits.”
Hiroaki crossed his arms across his chest. “They’re not for you to look at, you otaku asshole.”
“Don’t make fun of Hiroaki-kun,” Takatoshi said. “You think it’s easy being a woman?” He turned to Shino. “When he told us he was gay, we thought he was kidding. We figured if he was willing to lie about something like that to get back to see you, we would let him. Then we saw what you guys did in bed together.”
“You watched us?” Hiroaki asked.
“We’re dead,” Takatoshi said. “We’re bored.”
“Get reborn,” Hiroaki said. “Or I’ll have a near death experience and kick your asses.”
“I hope I’m reborn as pretty as you,” Takatoshi said.
“Stop it!” Eiji said. “Hiroaki-kun, get Shino-kun out of here before the police show up.”
“Wait,” Shino dug his feet in before Hiroaki could drag him out of the room. “What’s going to happen to you guys?”
“We go back to being dead,” Takatoshi said. “The police will get here, and think that Honda-san’s bodyguards turned on him. No one will think you guys had anything to do with it.“
“We know you’re sorry,” Eiji said. “Just be happy, OK? Look at it this way, we got to die young and handsome.”
“That’s it?” Shino said.
“That’s it,” Eiji said.
Shino knew they didn’t want him to say good-bye, so he left with Hiroaki. When they got outside, he heard police sirens in the distance.
“Thank you,” he told Hiroaki.
“For what?” Hiroaki asked.
“For coming back.”
“You’re welcome,” Hiroaki said. “Let’s go home.”
That night Shino stayed up, long after Hiroaki had gone to sleep. He sat in bed, waiting. Just in case his friends came to visit one last time.
Natalie L. Sin Bio: Natalie L. Sin is a horror writer living in the Midwest. Her stories have appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including “Necrotic Tissue”, “Shroud Magazine”, and “The New Bedlam Project”. When not writing, Sin enjoys strong coffee, Asian rock, learning a little more about Joey Boy.
© 2012 All rights reserved Natalie L. Sin.