Genki crouched in the alley, hand on the hilt of the knife. He hear the laughter of the men two floors above accompanied by the polite titter from the prostitutes as they pretended to find the boorishness of the drunks amusing. He was nervous and the wait behind the empty night soil bin did little to assuage his anxiety over what he was there to do. Moths flittered to and fro outside the paper window screens, trying in vain to reach the illusion of daylight inside. Genki considered their silent wingbeats as he crouched in wait, ignoring the complaints from his cramped legs for the time being. He sympathized with the misguided insects. Their aimless fluttering through the night sky in search of something they would never find reminded him a bit too much of his life of late.
A burst of laughter reached his ears again and this time Genki heard the sliding of the doors above his head. He uncurled himself painstakingly from his crouch, carefully massaging and stretching the muscles of his protesting legs. The light from above grew dimmer, informing Genki that a lantern had been extinguished. It wouldn’t be much longer, now. The moths drifted away in disappointed, lazy groups to a new window to continue their hopeless quest for the sun. Genki smiled at this, he was not the only one who would have something in common with the moths this night, if all went to plan. Stairs creaked and he resumed his crouch, one hand splayed on the dirt of the alley, the other on the knife tucked into his belt at the small of his back. Shrinking back into the shadow of the bin, he waited. Footsteps in the mouth of the alley reached his ears. He slid the knife slowly from its sheath, pressing the flat of the blade against the inside of his wrist. The steps grew louder, though they were somewhat clumsy and erratic.
Good, Genki thought. He’s drunk. This will make things easier. The steps grew closer and Genki hesitated even to breath, lest he alert the target to his presence. The man passed in front of the hiding spot, so close that Genki could make out the pattern on the drunken man’s loose fitting kimono. When the man was some ten feet from the hiding spot, Genki silently slipped out into the alley. His target was older, his clothes rumpled. He was beginning to run towards fat, though the shade of the powerful young man he had once been clung to him, intermingled with the stink of alcohol and the cloying sweetness of the prostitutes’ perfume. Black hair shot through with gray clung in close-cropped rows to his head. The man carried no visible weapon, though with the way he was weaving and shuffling, Genki was confident the drunk wouldn’t be fast enough on the draw even if he was armed.
Knife poised, Genki crept down the alley behind the older man. He suddenly stopped, and Genki froze about three feet behind the old drunk. Sensing something was off, Genki tensed. He was just outside of safe striking distance.
“Boy, have you ever killed someone before?”
The voice was raspy, each word an effort for the man to force passed his lips. He did not turn, but he did not continue walking, either. He merely stood there in the alley, back to Genki, shoulders rising and falling with each breath. Genki didn’t answer. His mind whirred, calculating alternative plans and possibilities.
“I didn’t think so. Real killers don’t generally squat in alleys, waiting for old drunks to come shuffling through…”
Genki tensed and sprang towards the man, his steps sending up small puffs of dust in his wake. The old man pivoted, moving with an agility that incongruent with his intoxicated state. Genki stopped himself short as a wet, tearing sound reached his ears. A rip, looking for all the world like a tear in fabric, began to appear on the man’s face. It started at the left corner of his mouth, dragging it down into a deep, unnatural frown. It crept down his chin and onto his neck, punctuated by a sound reminiscent of rending silk. Genki took a panicked step backward. It was then that he saw the fingers, bony, black and leathery with jagged grey nails like broken teeth pulling at the edges of the tear in the older man’s flesh. Recoiling in horror, Genki backed further down the alley, willing himself to turn and run before whatever was pulling itself from the drunk’s body could create a hole big enough from which it could escape. But he was frozen, watching in terrified disgust as those inky, knobby fingers clung and pulled. It took Genki a few breaths to realize that there were far too many fingers for just two hands, and it was this realization that finally impelled him to turn and run.
He had taken only two steps when he felt the hand close around his ankle and then the ground was rushing to meet him. The knife thudded into the dirt, but Genki did not notice. He rolled over, trying to free himself from whatever this thing was that held him. This thing that was not a man. The drunk stood over him, regarding Genki with cold, unfocused eyes. Gone was the tear in his flesh. Gone were the grasping and ripping fingers. Genki’s chest heaved in panic. The man bent and picked up the fallen knife, examining it in the dim light of the solitary lantern still lit in a room above.
Genki attempted to scoot backwards, but a heavy sandaled foot was placed on his chest. It crushed the air from his lungs in one rushing gasp.
“This is a good knife. But if you’re going to kill a man with a knife, best to know what kind of man he is. Or if he is truly a man at all...It’s a hard lesson to learn at so young an age, but this world is an indifferent place.”
The knife bit deep into Genki’s chest, so quick that for just a second, he felt nothing. Then a searing bolt of white hot pain caused his vision to darken at the edges. The man took his foot from Genki’s chest, and turned away, resuming his slow shuffle down the alley. Genki’s fingers found the hilt of the knife, but they were already too weak to do more than flutter uselessly against the grip. As the darkness began to seep further into his field of vision, he managed to focus on the one lantern still glowing from the eaves of the brothel. Moths flitted around int in their drunken, silent way, seeking something within the glow that they would never reach. The glow of the lantern drew Genki in, even as the blackness overwhelmed him. The moths were the only witnesses to his death, their whispering wings buffeted by the departure of his soul.