It was late in the afternoon by the time Gengo’s bus finally slowed to a halt in front of the building that housed World Children’s Land’s corporate headquarters. As he filed out behind a small group of fellow travelers, he felt the tension of the last few days begin to bubble up inside him once again.
The previous day had come and gone in a blur of drawings and worry. Not even his humorous scuffle with Tomoko had slowed the proverbial ticking of the clock. That’s the way deadlines worked: they arrived almost as fast as they’d been assigned, leaving you nervous and wondering how the time could’ve possibly passed so damn fast.
After a morning of final touch-ups and little rest, he now found himself mere minutes away from meeting his first professional deadline. He should’ve felt proud, accomplished, even relieved.
But he didn’t. In fact, he felt like hell.
His previous reservations about the oddness of World Children’s Land were now compounded by nerves regarding the quality of his work. Sure, he was proud of what he’d created. But pride in one’s work hardly ever equaled acceptance by the people paying for that work.
He’d spent the entirety of his transit to Shinjuku trying to collect his thoughts and control his nerves. He thought he’d done a pretty fine job of it, too, until the bus had begun to slow down.
Now, he stood in front of his destination, his drawings held safely in his trusty shoulder bag, staring up at the massive office building in both awe and dread.
Well, he thought to himself, there’s no turning back now. Time to do this.
He began to walk toward the building, his eyes still drawn to its high summit. It reminded him, in a way, of his first encounter with the Godzilla Tower at the construction site. In shape and impression, they couldn’t have been more different. But somehow, they seemed kindred spirits. Both massive, corporate constructions with calculated purpose and an artificiality that overrode their aesthetic appeal…
Gengo shook his head, bringing his eyes forward. He was thinking about the whole thing much too hard.
Before he knew it, he’d come to a halt in front of a large sign not too far from the building’s front doors. Leaning forward, Gengo ran his finger up the list of businesses on the sign until he found the one he was looking for.
“World Children’s Land Committee Office,” he spoke aloud. “Fifth floor…”
Gengo took a deep breath. Giving his shoulder bag a slight pat, he stepped forward and reached for the handle of the large glass door in front of him.
Before he could touch it, a blur of red suddenly entered his field of vision. Before he knew it, he was spinning backwards from the impact of whomever had tried to rush past him.
Gengo quickly regained his composure, and looked to see what had hit him. The first thing he saw was a small object – a circular tape, by the looks of it – rolling into the nearby wall. Almost immediately after that, he heard a high-pitched gasp coming from his other side. Turning to face the sound, he saw a young woman – thin, with long black hair and outfitted in a red dress and miniskirt – on her hands and knees. She was obviously in shock at having just crashed into him, and her eyes quickly darted up to meet his.
Before Gengo could react, she was on her feet again and running toward the road.
Without thinking, Gengo began moving after her. “Wait a minute! You dropped your tape!”
She turned her head back toward him, obviously reacting to his call. But she didn’t slow down, and was soon looking forward again.
“Your tape! It’s…”
But it was no use. The girl had rounded the corner of the building, and was now completely out of sight.
The entire incident had taken less than ten seconds from start to finish, but had felt like a five-minute ordeal. Gengo felt his tense body relax, and he turned toward the building again, his mind still attempting to catch up to the present.
What in the world was that all ab-
And then, a second impact.
For the second time in under half a minute, someone had run straight into Gengo. This time, the impact was almost enough to put him on the ground.
What the hell…?
Gengo fought to refocus his eyes. His composure regained, he finally realized who’d crashed into him.
It was Kubota.
This was Gengo’s first time seeing his new boss since the day he was hired. The calm and focused intensity of the Kubota he’d met that day was gone, replaced by a man who looked as if he were out for blood.
“What’re you doing here? Which way did she go?”
He’d almost spat the words. It was at this point that Gengo realized that Kubota wasn’t alone. Four other men – all dressed identically in the same style and color of clothing – had followed him out the doors. Each of them had a look on their face that matched their boss’.
“What… what do you mean?”
“The young girl! Which way?”
Gengo, still recovering from the shock of his second collision of the day, spoke without thinking.
“Why do you care where she went?”
This was not the answer Kubota had been looking for. Within seconds, the enraged man had grabbed Gengo by his collar and lifted the shocked artist’s face to meet his own.
“Which way did she go?!”
He had literally screamed the words in Gengo’s face. The moment chilled the young man to his very bones.
What the hell is going on here? These men aren’t just angry… they’re panicking. They’re afraid. Afraid of… that girl? What could she possibly have done to make them this terrified? I have to say something, or these guys are going to throttle me. What am I going to-
The decision was made before Gengo could give it a second thought. As Kubota continued to grip his collar, he lifted his trembling hand into the air and pointed away from the building. It was almost the exact opposite direction the girl had run.
Before Gengo knew it, he’d been released. Kubota and his men had disappeared into the distance, running as if their lives depended on it.
For the next few moments, time seemed to stand still. An uncomfortable silence seemed to descend on the bustling city. And in the middle of it all stood Gengo, his mind as frozen and silent as he perceived the world around him to be.
The young man was dumbfounded. He had no idea what he’d just been witness to, or what any of it had meant. All he knew was that, whatever the hell had just happened, he wasn’t supposed to have seen any of it.
Slowly, the sounds of the city returned, and Gengo could think clearly again. With the shock now fully worn off, confusion began to once again give way to discomfort. He felt as though fate had caused him to intrude on an affair that was none of his business. It was no longer deniable: something weird was going on. Something potentially dangerous.
Gengo shook his head once again.
No, I do not have time for this right now. None of what I just saw matters. Not now, anyway. I have art to deliver. I have a job to do…
With that, Gengo turned and tried, for the third time in under a minute, to enter the building.
But as he did, a glimmer of light caught his eye.
He looked down and saw the circular tape, still laying where the girl had dropped it.
In the midst of his confrontation with Kubota, he’d somehow forgotten all about the little object. Now, as he stooped over to pick it up, he began to wonder just what it was, and if it was at all significant to what had just happened.
Perhaps the girl had been nothing more than a thief. Maybe all he’d witnessed was a robbery gone awry. Maybe it all really was that simple…
Whatever the explanation, Gengo knew he couldn’t afford any more distractions. Looking down, he quickly stuffed the tape into a pouch in his shoulder bag. The mystery – and potential answers – would have to wait.
With that, he finally opened the door of the office building and stepped inside.
Chapter 5 Coming Soon