In this extract from Nicolás Obregón's twisty thriller, hero Hideo Akashi witnesses a grisly act on a Tokyo cable car, and has an unorthodox reaction.
The cable car pulled away, carrying one last load of tourists up into the warm dusk. It climbed higher and higher over the bay, the seaboard unfurling below. To the east, Hideo Akashi saw the grimy docks – microchips, fish and bleach were being loaded on to trucks, bound for the city. Japan’s cities were always hungry.
Akashi turned to his wife. Yumi’s eyes were closed, her lips hiding. He took her hand and squeezed gently.
‘I don’t like heights,’ she whispered.
‘I know. It’ll be over soon.’
Around them, elderly tourists cooed at the panorama. Honeymooners posed for photographs. The cable car attendant reeled off cheery facts about their altitude and the city below. Akashi kissed Yumi’s freckled shoulder and, as he did so, he saw the woman. She was sitting at the back of the cable car, alone and silent. Her filthy clothes were too heavy for this weather. She did not take in the view, nor did she snap any pictures. She just stared at the floor. A little girl stood near her, possibly her child, but there was nothing maternal about this woman. There was a listlessness about her gaunt face that unnerved and excited Akashi. Beneath her youthful exterior there was something he couldn’t look away from.
‘Hideo?’ Yumi whispered. ‘Yes?’
‘You’re hurting my hand.’ ‘Oh. Sorry.’
Akashi forced himself to look away from the woman and reached for his camera instead. He took a step back and framed his wife’s face. Yumi smiled, squinting in the setting sun.
He was about to take another but something stopped him. At the back of the cable car, something was happening, something was wrong.
He was about to take another but something stopped him. At the back of the cable car, something was happening, something was wrong. The attendant was pleading, his white gloves outstretched.
‘Madam, please. Step away from the door.’
The woman in the heavy clothes stood before the attendant.
There came a spluttering noise and now the woman held a knife aloft, her thin hand glistening with blood up to the wrist. At her feet, the attendant writhed, gurgling like a baby. Trembling, the woman pointed the knife at the crowd. Her eyes locked on to Akashi’s.
‘You stay away from me.’
The crowd lurched backwards in the car, clumping together in bovine fear. The woman wiped her bloody hand on her coat, painting red faces, forehand and back. With the butt of her knife she smashed the glass panel of the emergency stop button. Cables groaned, then squealed, until the car finally shuddered to a halt. To the west, the sun was setting, this day being swallowed for ever.
An automated message played over the PA system.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing minor technical difficulties. Please remain calm. Our engineers have been notified and you are perfectly safe in the cable car.
There was a shaky hush in the car. The attendant had fallen silent, his face now pale. The woman stepped over his body and stood before the doors. Closing her eyes, she gripped the lever and took a breath. Hideo Akashi’s instincts finally kicked in. Yumi reached for him but he was already gone, fighting through the torsos.
The woman pulled the lever, the doors jolted open and a deafening wind raged in. Akashi’s legs felt weak as he staggered towards her. There was too much saliva in his mouth, no space in his head for thoughts. The woman kicked off her shoes, threw off her jacket and said something Akashi couldn’t hear in the wind. He pushed the little girl out of the way and threw out a hand.
Then the woman was gone. A moment of silence.
No lifetimes flashing by, only silence.
Akashi reached out of the car and caught her by the wrist. He felt an overwhelming agony as her weight wrenched him to the floor. The pain arrived long before the realization. By one blood-soaked wrist, he held the woman over the abyss. Her hair cartwheeled in the wind. The void beneath them yawned, infinite and blue.
She lifted her head and blinked. Her mouth opened and fragile words fell out, the last droplets from a closing tap.
‘I see elephant clouds . . .’
Akashi bellowed but his muscles were ripping. Bile was rising in his throat. His arm was breaking. And then he saw it – the tattoo on her bloodied wrist. In deepest ink, a large, black sun.
He looked at it. It looked back at him. Hideo Akashi let go.
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