You would love this place. A little piece of America in the middle of Kyoto. They serve tacos, but with lamb meat. I haven’t tried them. After seven months, I still struggle to even order a beer in Japanese. The walk here takes me past an apartment where a little, old woman is growing some type of flower. Honeysuckle, maybe. The smell reminds me of you, so much, that I can just smell it, and I am home…
Waylon’s gloved hand was suddenly forced forward, leaving a long, black mark across the page. Patrons jostling to get near the bar had bumped into one another causing a chain reaction that ended with Waylon’s ruined page. His first inclination was to tear the offending page from his journal, and start again.
Instead, Waylon closed his eyes, inhaled deeply, and then released the breath slowly. It was just an accident. No need to get angry. No one was attacking him. He was safe.
Though the idea of safety was laughable to Waylon Park. He closed his leather-bound journal and replaced the nondescript pen he had acquired from some hotel or another. He pulled his beer to his lips only to realize his glass was empty. There was no way of knowing how long it had been that way. The bartender was a familiar face, but he was busy dealing with the Saturday night crowd.
No one was looking at the thirty year old with dirty blond hair, scruff on his scarred face, and bags under his eyes. Everything about Waylon—his appearance, his plain clothes, his posture—were carefully planned to remain as invisible as possible. It took him considerable effort to blend in with the status quo and appear ‘normal.’
System check. All normal.
The restaurant had been one of Waylon’s favorite in Kyoto. It was a tiny place run by an ex-pat, and it sold food that almost reminded him of home in the States. The owner served up lamb tacos and burgers that managed to bend Japan and American in a way the tour guides praised—though Waylon had never tried either. He came for the atmosphere. This was his new normal—surrounded by strangers, jumping at shadows, and running from a faceless terror.
The building was small with tiny tables so close together they were nearly touching. A peaceful fountain bubbled away in one corner, and a television set showing a local sporting event babbled away behind the bar. The walls were covered with posters and artwork depicting different American cities. Overall, the small area, combined with the dim lighting and hum of background noise, made the place feel intimate. Since the riot, Waylon felt safer in small, tight places. Much safer than out in the open.
Waylon scanned the crowd that evening, looking for an unfamiliar face. Not that any of the faces were familiar, but the person he was meeting would surely be even less familiar. There was the usual group of university students studying in Kyoto, ordering Sakura beer by the pitcher. Then there were tourists, usually pointed there by tour groups when asking for something more Americanized. Even the most adventurous eaters sometimes grew weary of the vast array of Japanese cuisine. The ingredients were foreign to many visitors. Waylon recognized a few snippets of English coming from a nearby table, though the speakers had British accents.
Waylon glared at his watch. Eight o’clock. He hated waiting. It didn’t matter that he had nowhere else to be other than his dirty, one-bedroom apartment. Still, “between seven and midnight” was a shitty meeting time.
The trip to the rendezvous point had been a struggle. Walking through the city at night was always a risk considering the dark, the shadows, and the strange way noise echoed down alleys. How an unfamiliar road could suddenly transform into a haunted scene from his broken memories.
Three years. Waylon was counting. It had been three years since he had escaped. Three years since his trip through hell. Three years since he made the difficult decision to push send on a video that detailed the atrocious horrors that occurred in Mount Massive Asylum.
Murkoff Corporation had done everything in their power to silence him, including burning down his family’s house. The attacks fast-tracked Waylon and his family into the witness protection program. They were separated, for their own safety. It was better that way. If only it had not left him feeling so damn lonely.
Waylon had never wanted to feel that hopeless isolation ever again. Not after stalking through dark corridors. Not after running for his life from an army of disturbed patients, wanting to harm him, in a place where being killed was far from the worst case scenario.
He pulled out his phone and checked for messages. It took a moment for Waylon to remember the code to unlock the screen. All of his phones were outdated and cheap—burner phones he used for a short amount of time, before destroying all evidence he ever owned it. He only knew three numbers by heart: his wife, his contact at the Federal Investigation Bureau, and his psychiatrist.
There were no messages. Waylon had no choice but to continue waiting.
The owner of the restaurant, also the bartender, was a tall, broad man with light blond hair and a square face. He noticed Waylon’s empty glass and offered a refill after Waylon nodded in silent acknowledgment. Talking was not something he enjoyed. Moving around so often, he was afraid to meet anyone—afraid he would forget his name that week. Waylon had moved seven times in three years. Seven new names. Seven new addresses. Different languages. Different back stories. Changing jobs, switching apartment rooms, meeting new FBI contacts in every country. It was exhausting. Waylon was tired.
He rubbed his face, feeling the unshaven stubble on his chin. His hair was choppy and uneven, which was to be expected considering he had cut it himself. He attempted to keep it short and manageable, but it was obvious when he glanced up that his bangs fell crooked.
The beer arrived. Waylon waited until the bartender was not watching before pulling out a sanitary rag from his jacket pocket, and wiping the rim of the glass. Finally, he was able to drink away some of his nerves.
Waylon was always nervous. Murkoff was a very real threat. What had seemed like idle threats in the first months became an arson attempt after the court indictment. The international corporation still held a grudge against Waylon Park. He had returned to his apartment in Rabat only to find ruffians trashing the place. He escaped to the embassy before he was identified. He worked in the office of a world class hotel in Fiji until he found some new arrivals asking about a blond American man. He had been sad to leave Fiji, just as he was sad to be leaving Kyoto.
It was a nice city. The weather in the spring was gorgeous. He enjoyed the marriage of old and new present everywhere in the beautiful temples, modern architecture, and elaborate gardens. Waylon had ridden the shinkansen to see almost all of Japan during his months in the country. There was a time when he had believed Kyoto could become his new forever home.
But, no. It was the same story as many other locations he had lived. Waylon glanced to the right and noticed a group of students, several with visible tattoos. He remembered that the yakuza typically had tattoos. Were these people with the yakuza? Were they working for Murkoff? The evil corporation could have eyes anywhere. Waylon began to notice the same faces passing him in the street—the same neighbors greeting him in Japanese.
His psychiatrist assured him it was normal to recognize people and places—it was called putting down roots, establishing some routine, a chance for a new life. Still, paranoia reigned in Waylon’s damaged mind. He trusted his psychiatrist, but she was in Texas. She couldn’t know what he saw.
That night, the crowd seemed to glance his way too often. Some of the tourists, older Brits in tweed suits carrying umbrellas, seemed a little too interested in the man sitting alone at the bar. They were glancing at him, whispering to one another. Wait. Everyone was staring.
Tap tap tap tap tap. It came to Waylon’s attention that his leg was shaking so violently he was tapping his steel toed boot loudly against his walking cane. The noise was loud enough to disturb several patrons. Is that why they were staring? Waylon forced his feet flat to the ground to stop the compulsion. He rested his elbows on the bar, and dropped his head into his hands.
It was in his head. Just in his head. But after that, people actually were staring. He’d drawn attention to himself. He needed to leave. He dug into his pockets and dropped enough yen to cover the beers and a large tip. The FBI could afford to tip generously. He pulled up the zipper on his cheap windbreaker jacket and pulled the hood over his head before reaching for his cane. He nodded a thanks to the owner before walking toward the door, relying heavily on his walking stick.
He blamed it on the rain. The strange tightness—a feeling of discomfort, deep in his bones. It was accepted that people could feel changes in the weather in their joints, past injuries, or old bones. It was better to claim some weather sensitivity than admit that his physical disability was only in his own mind.
Psychosomatic. He had injured his leg, gravely, in the asylum at Mount Massive. He fought through infections and physical therapy to regain the use of his right ankle. He was given a clean bill of health from the doctors—yet anytime he found himself growing stressed, the injury manifested as fresh as the day he plummeted down that elevator shaft. His ankle throbbed, and putting any pressure on it would lead to his collapse. The cane became a necessary accessory. He never left the apartment without it.
Waylon carefully maneuvered through the tight location, careful not to bump into anyone and lose his balance. He stood in the doorway and glanced back one final time, trying to determine if any of these people were the agent he had been sent to meet. He had no idea who the person was, but the agent would be able to identify him. Waylon was awaiting his new passport, travel documents, and some allowance money in the new currency of wherever he was going. He had grown accustomed to not knowing where he would be moving until it was time to depart.
There was no one sitting alone that stood out. With a resigned sigh, Waylon pushed the door open. The smell of fresh rain hit his nose, though there was no rain falling at that time. He almost ran directly into a man wearing a long, black raincoat with the collar pulled up, and black sunglasses despite the late hour.
“Sumimasen,” muttered Waylon, trying to hobble out of the way using his cane, without tripping himself or the other man. To his surprise, the man let the door close and stared hard with his dark shades.
“What the fuck,” hissed Waylon, immediately ducking as though he were in the cross-hairs of an assassination attempt. He stumbled with his cane as he attempted to get out of the open and press himself against the aged brick facade of the restaurant. He was directly under a flickering external light, swarmed with moths. “Are you fucking new, or just a complete goddamn idiot? You don’t use that name. Fuck!”
Waylon had to bend over and rest his hands on his knees. His heart was beating so hard it threatened to escape the confines of his ribs. He forced himself to take deep breaths as he stared at the wet ground.
System report. Situation dangerously unstable. Implementing necessary protocols. Breathe. Just breathe.
“So, then, you are…”
“I will have you fucking fired,” said Waylon, tilting his head up to glare at the man. He was still standing completely at ease, the shades and jacket obscuring his expression. “There are protocols, and you are breaking all of them, asshole.”
It took a few more moments of breathing before Waylon could finally stand upright and adjust his posture. He gripped his cane and let out a long exhale. “Just give me the documents.”
“Is this your first hour on the fucking job, give me the goddamn…” Waylon’s brown eyes slowly went wide and threatened to roll back in his head. His brain immediately began computing.
If this person does not know about the documents, and he is unfamiliar with the FBI protocols, then this person is not with the FBI, and knows his real name. Most likely conclusion: Murkoff.
Waylon ran much faster than a man with a cane should be able to run—his own survival instinct, and panic, momentarily numbing the psychosomatic injury. He had made it a year without running into Murkoff, and they had finally found him.
Beautiful Kyoto, the city he had loved so much, the city with the flowers that reminded him so much of Lisa. The city had betrayed him. The sound of approaching footsteps was directly behind him, clacking on the wet pavement.
There were several blocks between the restaurant and his Kyoto home, filled with old shops, small apartments, and twisting alleys. Waylon had memorized them all. He always needed an escape route. He never knew when he might need one.
Waylon dipped through a small cut-through between two shops, tossing a plastic trashcan behind him to slow his pursuer. A quick dash down a small road, and he felt sure he had shaken his follower. Until he heard steady footsteps growing louder, echoing between the stone buildings.
Waylon took off again, hunching over as far as possible while still running. He ducked behind some parked cars, and then made a mad dash toward a lighted building on the corner. He knew there was a public restroom there with thick, metal doors and padlocks.
With his gloved hand on the handle, Waylon paused. Danger: Unsanitary conditions detected.
His brain came to a screeching halt at it reached an unsolvable solution, trapped in a never ending loop. The bathroom was the safest place to escape; the bathroom was a cesspool of germs and grime. Neither decision was optimal. Waylon ground his teeth together and growled in frustration.
Footsteps. Decide or die. Run, hide, survive. Waylon pushed open the door, ran inside, and locked it behind him.
The chase was over, but Waylon’s body was as tense as a readied bowstring. It was never good enough just to hide, they would always find you, they could always…
The bathroom smelled of bleach. The walls were streaked with grime that only a new layer of paint could cover. The drain in the sink was clogged, causing filthy water to pool in the white porcelain. And the toilet…Waylon squeezed his eyes shut and tried to shut off his brain.
This room was clean as far as public bathrooms went, but all Waylon’s brain could detect was dirt, grime, filth, blood, decomposing flesh…
Waylon was right back in a dilapidated hall, filled with dust and blood. Through the twisted slots in a rusty locker, Waylon saw all of the tables and old sewing machinery he had limped past. The mangled locker was his final chance. He flung himself inside and closed it quietly, praying his pursuer would not search for him long.
Most of his attackers had given up easily. There was too much prey running, wild and clumsy, through the asylum. It was not worth wasting time chasing one cunning target when easy prey was so plentiful. A large, dark shape loomed into view and obscured the light filtering into the locker.
NO, Waylon reminded himself. It was not real. He was not in Mount Massive’s Vocational Block—he was locked safely in a bathroom in Kyoto. The Murkoff associate could not have seen him enter.
Run, hide, survive. He only needed to keep calm and wait it out. Once he got back to his apartment, he could take a scalding hot shower, and call the embassy for an armed escort out of this country.
A loud pounding on the door made Waylon jump and his entire body seized.
“COME OUT OF THERE, WAYLON PARK,” screamed the man. More hysterical pounding followed. Waylon pushed his hands firmly down over his ears to drown out the sound. The man was screaming his name—the name he was never supposed to use—and beating on the door so hard it seemed to be denting the thick metal. But that was impossible. Just as impossible as…
“Darling…the smell of my love’s arbor…you cannot hide from me.”
Eddie Gluskin’s voice drifted under the door. The smell of blood and viscera came back like a wave, and it was all Waylon could smell. The floor of the bathroom felt tacky under his shoes, saturated with so much gore it would never wash clean.
“No,” whispered Waylon, his hands still over his ears as he leaned against the wall and slowly sank down until he was crouching on the ground. He felt sure the pounding continued, but he could not hear it. All he could hear was a strange singing and a rising static noise.
“When I was a boy…” Eddie’s singing voice haunted his thoughts. Waylon’s auditory hallucinations were always the worst. He could hear a dead man singing, humming, calling out to him using terms of endearment—and frightening misogynistic slurs. But it was not real. No matter how many times he imagined Eddie Gluskin or Frank Manera—they were dead. Burned away, along with the rest of Mount Massive.
“No no no no no no no,” Waylon changed his mantra, rocking back and forth on his heels with his hands over his ears, staring at the ground. It was not real. It was a delusion. He was trapped in a flashback. This was all part of his PTSD. He had experienced it many times before. Somewhere his brain remembered the way out of the predicament.
Waylon pulled his phone out with shaking hands, dropping it on the floor and struggling to pick the flat device off the ground with his clumsy, gloved hands. He cringed as he was forced to quickly pull one glove off with his teeth. Once he had the phone in his hands he quickly brought up the camera function and snapped a few quick shots of the macabre scene in front of him.
Dingy tiled floor and fluorescent lighting. He was in a bathroom. There were no sewing machines, no bodies. He did not need to panic. The photographs never lied. Waylon quickly replaced his phone in his pocket and slid his glove back on. He needed to breath, but, in his mind’s eye, the flies and death were too thick in the room. So thick they were coalescing into a visible black cloud, rising up from beneath the door.
Waylon stared at his delusion of flies, and watched with morbid curiosity as the flies began to take on a humanoid shape. The buzzing infiltrated his brain, vibrating his teeth. The flies took a seemingly solid form. As he studied the new apparition, images immediately began flashing behind his eyes, blinding him until all he could see were twisting black and white shapes. The memories were like a stabbing pain into his brain. The images from the Engine. They continued to blind him for several moments, and when they finally cleared…
Waylon stared up at the Walrider.