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Stolen Soul [盗まれた魂]

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Hyakunosuke’s neck was stiff from being tilted.

“I don’t know who tended to this wound, but they did a fine job maintaining the damage,” said the old man. “Enucleation’s often come with severe periorbital scarring without the proper aftercare,”

“My nurse was diligent,”

The old man brought up a cotton swab on a stick.

“Can you feel this?”

“Feel what?”

“The nerves are dead,” the old man sighed as he flipped open the small wood box beside the exam chair. “Just as I suspected,” 

Set neatly into each of the boxes square compartments were glassy white half-moon shields, each with a realistic iris and pupil painted on it.

“Your nerve endings are dead, that means a perfect fit isn’t required,” the old man aimed his head at the box. “These are all German glass, their prices set. I don’t negotiate, and I don’t accept installments,”

The arrogant silver-hair was the only ocularist this far north; no doubt, Tsurumi would seek out men like him in his quest to locate Hyakunosuke.

“I’ll return with the funds,” he said, pulling the rabbit-fur eye patch down from his forehead. “But I’d prefer something that didn’t look like an eye,”

The old man nodded, “You want milky glass or coal black?”

“Black suits me,” Hyakunosuke replied.

Back on the streets, a tempest ushered in a cloud burst.

Keen to protect their fancy hats, many men in western sack suits snatched up what remained of the morning shinbun. After the rain faded, they tossed aside their makeshift visors, littering the street with runaway newsprint.

Loose pages rushed through the narrow alleys before being sucked to the rooftops. One stubborn sheet attached itself to Hyakunosuke’s leg, and upon it was a photo of the Kourakukan, an unfinished theater located in the center of town.

The early arrival of its kabuki actors was big news in a grubby mining town like Kosaka. Beneath it, however, ran a follow-up story that caught his attention.

 

Nameless Man Remains Unclaimed
Kosaka Shinbun – 1909 AUG 23

 

After tumbling from the deck of a kitamaebune on March 14, the Man with No Name woke on the morning of August 5, mere months after undergoing brain surgery at Kosaka Mine Hospital.

 

Tanigaki Genjirou was still alive!

 

The Japanese man wore the clothes of an Ainu but carried no identification. Local doctors tending to his injuries discovered a fragmented bullet in his skull and notified the Imperial Army offices in Akita.
On May 9, esteemed neurosurgeon Rickman Godlee, visiting nearby Akita as a guest of Lord Kobuta, operated on the unknown man before a packed house of surgeons hailing from all over Japan. The esteemed Godly removed the foreig-

 

-The only thing tying Hyakunosuke to his brother’s execution was that casing. Would a western doctor, or any of those fancy Tokyo surgeons, even know an Arisaka round from a Russian seven-five?

 

Representatives of the 8th Division visited the man but were unable to match his face to any of their identification records. Upon waking with no memory of his name or how he came to be in Kosaka, administrators allowed families with sons listed as missing to visit.
To date, no one has claimed the Man with No Name.

 

The 8th Division in Akita wouldn’t have any record of him; Tsurumi migrated his loyalists’ files to Hokkaido under the guise of discharging them as former tondenhei.

 

Kosaka Mine Hospital began vetting all visitors due to the peak physical condition of the Man with No Name making him a target for false claims. Photos are being withheld at this time to screen out...

 

That mining company likely made haste sending scouts to collect the Matagi, the local Yakuza too. A functional idiot with a healthy back and no memory of where he came from was the perfect mark.

Tanigaki didn’t know his name, or anything about his life before they dug out that casing. Damn. Leaving Kosaka was still a top priority, but this situation with the Matagi was just too perfect to ignore.

Paper in hand, Hyakunosuke jogged back to the machiya, where his upstairs room sat under the watchful eye of a salty shopkeeper’s widow.

Stranded in Kosaka almost five months, petty theft enabled him to eat, but he despised wearing the same miner’s rags every day under a dull haori.

The only alternative was his uniform, and he hated the thought of wearing it.

Jacket and trousers still clung to the pegs where he’d left them in May. Both pieces smelled strongly of smoke, fitting since he planned to burn them someday.

It took fifteen minutes to cross town in his old army boots.

Like most things in Kosaka, the hospital was a work-in-progress. Craftsmen mulled about looking more haggard than the patients in the waiting area.

Inside, a young attendant staffed the reception desk.

“Can I help you, sir?” his button-down vest was white like his trousers.

Hyakunosuke removed his cap.

 “I’m here about the Man with No Name,”

 The attendant’s eyes fell to his shoulder patch, “Sergeant Tsukishima, we weren’t expecting you until October,”

 “There’s no war on Hokkaido, Sir,” he passed a hand over his hair, careful not to drag his eye-patch. “We can afford to be overly punctual.”

 “Forgive my ignorance, I’m unfamiliar with the rank and file,” the attendant came around the desk, his pressed black shirt the same color as his fine leather shoes. “You are Sergeant Tsukishima, yes?”

 “No, sir,” he said. “I’m Superior Private Ogata,”

 Caught off guard, the attendant gave a short bow.

 “I’ll retrieve Doctor Yamada,”

 Once alone, Hyakunosuke ascended the stairs and found no sign of the Matagi behind any of the curtained doorways.

 Back on the first floor, the intake area contained only a coughing miner who sat apart from a couple of women with congested children.

 Through the panel-doors came a distinct chuckle, and he followed it to a grassy court where a phalanx of bleached sheets whipped in the breeze.

 The maze of linen led to a stretch of sand. Soap bubbles floated on the air as children in hospice robes romped around swatting at them, their heads shorn, and some still bearing surgical scars.

 In the center of them with his legs folded sat the Matagi. A little girl fidgeted on his lap as he blew suds from a straw. She giggled as the boys clapped the ones in reach, popping them.

 Far from slumped over and babbling, the Matagi sported a head of dark cropped hair and a clean-shaven jaw. The girl stood suddenly and bent over to whisper in his ear.

 “Hiro,” said the Matagi to one of the boys. “Let Yuki have a turn bursting the clouds,”

 Defiant, the boy shook his head.

 “Hiro,” he said gently. “What’s the third rule?”

 The boy sighed, “We take turns,”

“Come here,” he said, arms open wide.

 The frowning boy fled and when the Matagi stood to follow his eyes set upon Hyakunosuke.

 “I know you!”

 Hyakunosuke retreated as the Matagi approached.

 Suddenly, the attendant was behind him, and over the grass came an elderly man, his white lab coat kicking up in the breeze.

“Doctor Yamada!” Tanigaki exclaimed. “I know this man, his name’s Ogata. Hyakunosuke Ogata!”

 “Forgive my not coming sooner, Superior Private,” the doctor bowed.

“It’s fine, sir,” heart racing, Hyakunosuke felt the cold sweat trickling behind his ear.

“Ogata!” childlike eyes regarded him with joy. “I know you,”

 “This man is from the 27th Regiment,” said the attendant.

 Hyakunosuke cleared his throat, “May we speak privately, Doctor?”

“Wait, Ogata, right?” Tanigaki grabbed his shoulder. “Do you know who I am?”

 Hyakunosuke gently removed the Matagi’s hand before flashing his best smile, “Of course, I know you, you’re my brother, Yuusaku,”

 Tanigaki brought his hands together as if at a shrine.

 “My name is Yuusaku,” he turned to the nurses that had gathered and whisked the largest off her feet, “I have a name! It’s Yuusaku!”

 They fawned over the towering Matagi as Hyakunosuke followed Yamada up the stairs.

 The office was bright, its lone window lacking a curtain. Beneath the desk dust formed where a broom never crossed.

 “I searched Hokkaido for him, Doctor. I didn’t expect to find him here,” free of his uniform jacket, he turned out the collar. “My paperwork is on file at the Division’s barracks,”

 “It’s fine, Superior Private Ogata,” Yamada said after glancing the name. “We only started demanding identification after unsavory types began to appear with claims that your brother worked for them, or owed them money,”

 Jacket back on, he leaned against the door.

 “Yuusaku was our flag bearer at 203 Hill,”

 “I knew he was something special,” Yamada smiled wide. “A flagbearer makes perfect sense given his nature,”

 “His nature?” asked Hyakunosuke.

 “He’s like a docile bear,” Yamada grinned.

 “Yuusaku was discharged after he was shot, but he left the triage ship and failed to return home,” Hyakunosuke watched as Yamada pulled out a familiar large metal box. “He wrote home to his mother that he wanted to travel Hokkaido to get his bearings,”

 Yamada raised its flip-top lid, “His mother?”

 “We’ve got the same father, Doctor Yamada,” Hyakunosuke explained. “Our mothers are different,”

 “That’s common these days,” Yamada said. “What’s the family name?”

 He hesitated, “It’s Hanazawa,”

 “In this day and age, a man having another family is nothing to be ashamed of Superior Private Ogata,” Yamada’s fingers sped over scalloped file tips. “Here he is, Hanazawa Yuusaku, Second Lieutenant,” the doctor stared up at him, confused. “He’s listed here as deceased and processed to his family-”

 “—Yuusaku’s mother turned that soldier’s body over to his family,” he feigned embarrassment. “They sent her the wrong boy, then she got his letter. She knew he was alive, but, please understand, Sir, he’s not a deserter-”

 “—Mister Ogata,” Yamada softened. “I treated my share of men damaged by Manchuria. Your brother was young, likely felt dejected and lost, but he was obviously on his way home.”

 Hyakunosuke forced a smile, “When the letters stopped coming in Spring, his mother reached out to me. I went to Hokkaido, and I was about to give up if I didn’t find him working the mines here,”

 “Is your father with you?” Yamada asked.

 Hyakunosuke lowered his gaze to hide his grin.

“Our father committed seppuku after Manchuria,”

 “May I ask why?” Yamada said.

 “Lieutenant General Hanazawa felt that his victory at Port Arthur cost too many lives,” he explained. “He didn’t have the will to continue after believing Yuusaku was one of those lives,”

 “Yuusaku isn’t aware of this, is he?” Yamada shook his head. “Forgive me, it’s none of my business,”

 “Can you tell me what exactly happened to him?” Hyakunosuke sat in a chair beside the desk. “How did he end up here?”

 “He fell from a ship that sailed out of Hakodate,” Yamada said. “He was brought here with a cracked skull and caught the interest of a brilliant neurosurgeon from the west.”

 “His mother was told about a fragment in his head?”

 “Removed and discarded,” Yamada boasted. “The swelling subsided quickly, and the cranium healed,” his smile faded; “Unfortunately, Yuusaku woke with no memory of how he came to fall from that ship,”

 “No memory at all?”

 Yamada sighed, “He didn’t even know his name,”

 “I don’t understand, Doctor, he can walk and talk,”

 “There’s no such thing as complete retrograde amnesia, Superior Private Ogata,” Yamada sat and removed his glasses. “His procedural memory is intact, and his episodic and declarative memory may return in time,”

 “He’ll remember exactly who he is?”

 “I can’t say that for certain,” Yamada cautioned. “Your brother went through a traumatic brain injury on top of excision to the hippocampus. Full autobiographical memory, as we call it, may never return,”

 “I’ll explain that to his mother,” he said, displaying disappointment, though inside he was laughing like a child.

 “Make sure she knows to be patient with him,” Yamada added. “Bombarding him with stories from the past won’t bring back what’s no longer there. The best she can hope for is spontaneous recovery, but that would be what the westerners call, a miracle,”

He stood, “Thank you for everything that you’ve done,”

“Your brother’s a survivor,” Yamada did the same and bowed.

 “He’s certainly that,” he said, tipping to the man.

“Men like Hanazawa Yuusaku,” Yamada added. “They deserve a chance to be happy,”

 Hyakunosuke imagined cutting the man’s throat.

 

*

Tanigaki’s room was outside the children’s wing and found by following the high-pitched giggles of the nurses.

All were crowded in his room, some old enough to be his mother. The younger ones were in tears at the prospect of losing their docile bear.

“Big brother,” said the Matagi. “Are you taking me home?”

“That’s presumptuous, Yuusaku,” he snapped, but then every woman in the room regarded him coldly. “I thought we’d travel a bit before returning to Tokyo,”

“I’m from Tokyo?” the Matagi asked, eyes wide.

One of the women shook her head, “I would’ve sworn he was from Tohoku!”

“You just want to take him home with you,” said another, sparking laughter.

Hyakunosuke tapped the steerage trunk with his boot.

“It’s my life in a box,” the Matagi’s stupid grin faded when his comment failed to amuse. “The local police found it on the ship and assumed it was mine. The crew picked it clean, it was empty when I got it,”

Folded jinbei were stacked high beneath three hangers that held a kosode and two yukatas.

“It’s not empty now, is it, Yuusaku?”

“I’m not used to having a name,” the Matagi blurted.

“You’ll have to get used to it, won’t you?”

Tanigaki politely addressed the women, “You’ve all been so good to me, I’ll never forget any of you,” when one started sobbing, he hugged her tight; the others wrapped their arms around them.

“I must be alone with my brother now,” he ushered them out and kissed some of the older ones. Upon returning, he hurriedly dabbed his eyes with his sleeve.

“It’s okay to cry, Yuusaku,”

“May I, um,” the Matagi paused a moment. “I want to hug you, brother, but I have this feeling you don’t like to be touched,”

“I don’t,” he said and opened his arms. “But it’s always been different with you, Yuusaku,”

Stiff limbs slipped beneath his arms and lifted him from the ground.

“I know you,” the Matagi’s breath tickled his ear. “You love monkfish, men, and shooting things,”

He pushed free, and Tanigaki backed away, unsure.

“I’m sorry, brother,”

He eyed the trunk, “Where’d all these clothes come from?”

“Families came to see me when after the paper said I was in the army,” Tanigaki touched the back of his head. “They came to see if I was their son. I felt terrible when they saw me, and I wasn’t theirs,”

Hyakunosuke pulled open the trunk’s third drawer and fondled the rolled-up Tabi socks that sat atop dozens of clean fundoshi.

“The mothers cried, then I’d cry,” he added. “They always came back to say goodbye before leaving Kosaka, and they always brought little gifts from town,”

“I’ve nothing to give you, Yuusaku,”

Tanigaki reached for his hand, “You gave me a name, brother,” but recoiled upon seeing Hyakunosuke’s disapproval.

“You’ve been around these women too long,” he scolded. “Men have boundaries, Yuusaku,”

“I know that,” Tanigaki’s eyes turned cold, a brief reminder of the man he once knew. “My emotions are getting the better of me right now,”

“Wear something light,” he said. “It’s warm today.”

“Is it still raining?” Tanigaki pulled an umbrella out from under his bed. “Doctor Yamada’s wife bought me this when I first started walking,”

“Keep it folded,” he replied. “The wind will rip it to shreds,”

**

Did the Matagi appreciate the effect he had on women?

Five minutes into their return to the machiya and his landlady had already volunteered her name; Hyakunosuke lived there over four months, and not once did she ever share it with him.

The former Iko Minagawa latched onto the Matagi after he obligated them to share tea, and while he rambled on to her about finding his big brother, Hyakunosuke imagined grabbing the boney bitch by her throat and choking her to the death.

After making their escape, the widow caught them on the stairs with a small cask of sake in her grasp.

“Y’saku-kun!” she shoved the bottle at him. “You take this as a welcome,”

“We’re not staying, Misses Minagawa,” he pouted. “My brother spent the last of his cash on my medication, he says we got to move because he can’t pay the rent this week-”

“—You can pay next week,” she narrowed her eyes at Hyakunosuke but bared her blue stained teeth in a smile to the Matagi.

“Thanks, Misses Minagawa!” he got his arms around her and spun her about the step as she howled like a child. “If there’s anything you need from me, anything at all, I’m at your disposal,”

Some muscle was needed to clean that unused shop space on the first floor. Once, she’d gruffly asked him if he was interested in reducing his rent—naturally, he declined.

Inside Hyakunosuke’s little room, Tanigaki pulled the samue from his broad shoulders and hung it neatly on the peg. It was evident from his physique that while in the hospital, he’d kept up with the daily physicals learned on active duty.

“Can I open a window?” the pants he wore clung tight to his thick thighs and formed a second skin around the globes of his ass.

Hyakunosuke shrugged, “It doesn’t stay up,”

“It just needs a little help,” the Matagi’s eyes wandered the room until they found the dagger beside the rolled-up futon. Lifting the window, he stabbed the knife into the pane and let the top frame down slowly upon the hilt. “See, this works just fine,” 

A rush of cold night air entered and flipped the cover flap on Hyakunosuke’s journal. Detailed inside its leather-bound pages was his quest for the gold, along with his thoughts on all those encountered along the way—including the Matagi.

Quickly he collected it from the floor and stowed it behind the curtain of the closet.

“This is freezing,” Tanigaki cradled the sake bottle in his large hands. “She must’ve kept it on ice,”

“Be careful, Yuusaku,” Hyakunosuke took it from him, the chill tickling his fingers. “You’re not a drinker,”

“I’ve no idea what it tastes like,” the Matagi griped.

Hyakunosuke removed the hollow cap and poured some into it. Ice-cold sake was an indulgence he hadn’t experienced in a long time, and after knocking back a few, he found Tanigaki staring at him.

“I want a turn, brother,” he said, bushy brows furrowed.

“I don’t know, Yuusaku, sake isn’t good for your head,”

He snatched it from him and took a swig from the bottle.

“I like it,” he grimaced, before knocking back another.

“That’s something new,” Hyakunosuke took the bottle. “You were never a drinker, Yuusaku,”

“Doctor Yamada said I’d experience things differently,” he walked to the gable-trunk and undid its buckles. “I don’t remember sake, but I dream of beer all the time,”

“You acquired a taste for beer in Hokkaido,” Hyakunosuke sipped more of the sake. “You wrote to your mother about it, recounting your travels,”

My mother?” he stepped from his pants and folded them neatly over his arm. “You mean our mother,”

Hyakunosuke turned away, unwilling to gawk at him in his fundoshi. “Our father didn’t stay with my mother,” he mumbled, “He married yours,”

“Sounds like a cad,” said the Matagi, pulling on his yukata.

“He was good to you and your mother,”

“Why do I get angry at the word father,” he asked, his lips turned down. “I didn’t get on very well with him, did I?”

“He wasn’t a kind man to others,”

“Do you have a picture of him?” he took the bottle offered. “I can’t remember his face,”

“Can we discuss him another time?” Hyakunosuke didn’t want his first pleasant night in months ruined by talk of his father.  

“I don’t think we’re supposed to drink it like this, brother,” he knocked back a few more gulps with a grimace.

Hyakunosuke smiled and snatched the bottle from him.

“Sake is meant to be savored in delicate quantities,”

“Tsurumi!” laughed the Matagi.

“You remember our commanding officer?”

“I remember he liked to hear himself talk,” he sat on the window seat, his thick legs together as he locked his ankles. “I remember his face making me sick, but I cannot remember his face,”

Hyakunosuke knocked back a gulp of sake when the night air parted the Matagi’s yukata.

How many times in the barracks wash house had he clandestinely stared at the man’s shapely chest? The hairs upon it were darker than ever, and all he desired was to scratch his way into them.

“You can see the mountains from here,” said the Matagi softly, before coming to life and waving at someone outside. “Hello!”

“You’re a new face,” that local drawl came from the knife merchant, a corpulent fool with long oily hair and a double chin that trembled when he spoke. “What’s your name, handsome?”

“It’s a secret,” the Matagi laughed. “You should get that steel inside before it rains,”

Hyakunosuke pushed the drape aside, causing the merchant to quickly amble into the nearest alley.

“What did you do to him, big brother?”

“Bought a knife from him when I first got here,” he replied, handing over the bottle. “The hilt came off while I was practicing stabs on a bag of barley. I wanted a refund. He refused. I insisted,”

“You threatened him?”

“I might’ve snarled a bit,” he bragged, taking off his jacket.

Tanigaki chuckled, “Does that harpy downstairs have a common tub in this place?”

“I thought you liked the widow?”

“She’s our landlord,” he said. “I got to like her to her face,”

“She’ll put you to work, Yuusaku,” he turned with a smile and found Tanigaki with his head against the window frame, eyes closed to the night.

“Thank you for saving me, brother,” said the Matagi. “If I had to spend another month in that hospital with those kids and those women, I was going to open a vein,”

Tanigaki was as striking now as he was his first day in Asahikawa. Not one to smile, the tall and thickly built Akita native always exhibiting a quiet detachment that stirred something within Hyakunosuke.

“Pass the bottle,” he added, raising an open hand.

Hyakunosuke gave it to him and then pulled off his shirt. Tanigaki gave his body the once over before glancing down at his own chest.

“I’m naturally sparse, we’re not all like you, Matagi,”

He pulled the bottle from his lips, “What’s a matagi?”

“There’s no soaking tub here, but there’s a shared well,”

“There must be a free sentō nearby,” he sighed. “For the miners?”

Hyakunosuke never considered taking advantage of the mining company facilities just two blocks east.

“There’s a storm coming,” he said, his attention out the window. “I wish it were daytime, we could see the sky turn an angry blue. I like that, it brings out the green in the trees,”

Hyakunosuke took the bottle, “What trees?”

“There’s a tree at the hospital,” he said, tipsy.

Hyakunosuke turned away and pulled the tincture of morphine from his pocket that Yamada sold him to help with Tanigaki’s migraines. After tapping a healthy dose into the lid, he filled it to the brim with sake.

“Let’s drink to your return, Yuusaku,”

Tanigaki took the cap, brought it to his lips, and emptied it.

“Ugh! It’s getting warm, or turning,”

“Probably has too much of our swill in it,” he unrolled the futon and watched the Matagi’s head dip. “You should lay down, Yuusaku,”

“Yeah, I sh-” wavering on his feet, he folded onto the floor.

“I told you, you weren’t a drinker, Yuusaku,” Hyakunosuke dragged him by the leg from the window, and then rolled him onto the futon.

“Something’s wrong, broth-”  he tried to sit up, but Hyakunosuke used his foot to push him down.

“Get some sleep, Matagi,” Hyakunosuke said with a smile, then yanked the knife from the frame and let the window slam shut.

Out of his trousers, he peeled off his fundoshi and gaped at the Matagi’s riven yukata. He sat on the drugged man’s thick thighs and admired the bristly chest between his knees.

After several moments of watching it rise and fall, the cloying aroma of decay surrounded him.

How dare you…

He tipped his head back and turned to his rotting brother.

“Tanigaki took care of me, Yuusaku,” he leered, slapping his erection against the mound in the Matagi’s fundoshi.

You’re a vile man…

“Just like our father,” he yanked aside the fabric, exposing that thick manhood, soft under the spell of morphine.

What goes around comes around, brother.

“Are you watching, Yuusaku?” he joined the pliable flesh to his own and stroked them as one. “I’ve been dreaming of this thing for so long,”

Ghostly boots flanked the Matagi’s head as Hyakunosuke rocked his hips. The warm flesh in his hands felt so good.

He tore the patch from his eye, “Watch me, Yuusaku,”

You’re a vile man, brother.

“Watch me!” he hissed through his teeth as pressure built in his groin.

The boots vanished, along with the stink of death.

Made bold by anger and sake, Hyakunosuke released his erection and pressed his chest against Tanigaki’s; that coarseness felt good against his smooth skin.

“I’ve been so alone,” he whined, milling his hard-on into the sleeping man’s corded belly. “You feel so good, Matagi,”

Hyakunosuke tasted the man’s pulse between his lips, and without warning, the stress he’d endured these many months erupted between them. Afterward, he became engulfed in a calm he hadn’t felt in years.

After several moments he forced himself up to wipe Tanigaki down and then washed his own spent flesh in the drinking water bucket.

Back on the futon, he turned his back to the Matagi, but couldn’t relax. When a strong arm draped over him, he twisted beneath it and confronted the sleeping fool.

“Let go of me,”

“Brother,” said the Matagi, curling his arm tight.

Hyakunosuke pressed his face into the hair and closed his eye.