Mezu took a sip of his green tea. It was bittersweet, just the way he liked it. It was good to come to the Tarantula House Café in Austin once in a while to get away from the madness and recharge. It was a nice place. The décor and furniture looked like it had been bought at a garage sale. There was a certain chaotic energy to it. Asides from the café itself, there was a bar, a ballroom, and even an arcade. He liked playing against the kids on the arcade cabinets and seeing their eyes go wide as they realised Mezu was better than them. He’d grown up in Akihabara Electric Town, so they really had no chance, especially with his favourite game Golden Sword.
The café was busy with yuppies chatting and laughing. A man on the ballroom stage was strumming a jazzy tune on his bass guitar. Mezu took a look at the cover of The Slasher Times: it was a photograph of himself and the other Blue Nasties standing over Pigskin’s body with the headline A NEW ERA? He wished they’d taken a more charitable photograph. Covered in blood with clenched fists wasn’t exactly the elegant yet deadly aesthetic a samurai like himself strived for. He looked like a thug. Nevertheless, the image would serve to keep the B-list and C-list slashers at bay.
A girl in a red hoodie walked past. The image of a headless Little Red Riding Hood flashed through Mezu’s mind. He didn’t know why, but her death bothered him. She wasn’t special. He had created plenty of orphans like her in his role as a samurai for the Udon Family. It was only logical that one would turn up for revenge eventually. Still, he had always prided himself on not killing children. Perhaps it was the fact that one had grown up, tried to take vengeance for their family, and died despite his having spared them when they were young.
Mezu shook his head. These were not suitable thoughts for a samurai. He was an attack dog. He had to be cold, like a wave.
Mezu sipped his tea and closed his eyes.
The chatting and music stopped.
He opened his eyes.
There were bloody corpses everywhere.
Three figures stood in the centre of the café. The one in the middle was wearing a red, ox-like helmet and a black kimono and was holding a red laser katana. The one on the left was a pale blue woman wearing a round-topped, tall rimmed hat, a paper talisman on her forehead, and a dark blue, uniform coat-like robe. The one on the right was a snow white woman with stringy black hair covering her face wearing a white kimono.
He knew these three: Gozu, Jiangshi, and Onryō. The other A-list slashers of the Udon Family.
Mezu’s eyes narrowed. ‘I liked this café.’
Gozu sheathed his laser katana, strolled over, and pulled up a chair. His voice was electronic. ‘I didn’t.’ He looked at Jiangshi and Onryō over his shoulder. ‘Feel free to have breakfast, girls. It’s on the house.’
Jiangshi and Onryō started feeding on the corpses.
Gozu chuckled. ‘You’ve never liked yokai, have you?’
‘They’re unnatural,’ said Mezu.
Gozu shrugged. ‘So’s air conditioning.’
‘What are you doing here, Gozu?’
Gozu took The Slasher Times and put his feet up on the table. ‘The boss saw what you did on the news. He’s happy you’re making progress towards getting the Dagger of Life and Death for him. He thought you could use a little backup.’
‘I don’t need backup.’
‘No?’ Gozu flicked through The Slasher Times. ‘Says here half of your slasher gang got wiped out by this Pigskin fellow. I’d say you could use all the help you could get.’
‘Not from you.’
‘Oh, don’t be like that…onii-chan.’
Mezu gritted his teeth.
He and Gozu were actually brothers.
During the nineteenth century, a samurai ancestor of theirs had fallen on hard times due to gambling debts and had been hired as an enforcer by the crime lord they owed money to. Miraculously, the two became blood brothers. Ever since then, the samurai line of Takenaka had served the Yakuza line of Udon. Gozu, however, had strayed from bushido. He used a high-tech katana, operated like a ninja, and even worked with yokai. He seemed to think nothing of the Takenaka code of honour and strived only for further power. Mezu had asked the Oyabun of the Udon Family if he could kill his brother to redeem the Takenaka name many times, but the Wakagashira, the Oyabun’s second-in-command—who he strongly suspected was the source of Gozu’s corruption—had always intervened on Gozu’s behalf. Now Mezu and Gozu existed in an uneasy peace.
Gozu took his feet off the table and leant forwards. ‘Listen, the boss is getting old. He needs the Dagger of Life and Death as soon as possible so he can become immortal. You don’t want him to die, do you?’
‘It is natural for an old man to die,’ said Mezu.
‘Again with this “natural” hang-up of yours. You’re honour bound to do what the boss says, you know.’
‘I am honour bound to serve the Oyabun, but not at the expense of my principles. Tell him that I will obtain the Dagger of Life and Death soon. Any “backup” would simply be an impediment.’
Gozu sighed. ‘Alright. I guess the girls and I will just stick around in Texas in case you get whacked. Come on, girls. Breakfast is over.’
Jiangshi and Onryō moved to his side.
Gozu stood up. ‘Oh, and Mezu, don’t do getting soft now, you hear? There was a disturbingly guilty look on your face when I came in just now. Remember that you’re an attack dog.’
Mezu scowled. ‘I don’t need counsel from you.’
Gozu chuckled. ‘Right, right, because I’m kegare or whatever. It’s just that if you did go soft…well…I’d have to kill you.’
Gozu, Jiangshi, and Onryō were gone.
He really had liked this café.
Jack strolled down to the Texas State Fair. He was feeling good. The stars were out, country music was playing, and his freshly-ironed grey suit felt soft against his skin. Looking around, he saw a rollercoaster, bumper cars, and a Ferris wheel. People everywhere were having fun. In its own small way, this place was magical.
Someone with a feminine Arabic accent spoke. ‘Excuse me, sir.’
He turned to find a veiled fortune teller in one of the stalls. ‘Do you want to have your fortune read?’
Jack shrugged. ‘Why not?’
What a rip.
He paid it anyway, nice Jewish boy that he was.
The fortune teller rubbed the crystal ball in front of her and smiled. ‘You will meet the love of your life tonight.’
‘Sure. I’m going to meet my fiancé.’
‘No, not your fiancé. Someone new.’
Jack frowned and tapped the crystal ball. ‘This thing must me on the fritz.’
He walked away and looked around until he found the cotton candy stall where Mezu, Sam, and Marilyn were waiting for him. Mezu was wearing a dark blue suit, Sam was wearing a frilly red dress, and Marilyn was wearing a little black dress which made his heart start racing.
Marilyn jogged over. ‘Hi, handsome!’ She kissed him on the cheek.
‘Hi, beautiful. Where’s Puck?’
Marilyn pointed behind him.
Puck was having Billy the Cameraman film her as she whacked the strength tester with a rubber mallet. She was wearing sunglasses and a big white fur coat.
Marilyn smiled. ‘Becoming the newest member of the Big Five has made her a taaad bit cocky.’
‘You think so?’ said Jack. ‘So why did you order us out here? I thought we were going after Fubsy the Clown next?’
‘Well, that’s the thing. No one knows where Fubsy the Clown or his partner Loco Lobo are. They themselves are actually hunting the illusive Devil’s Circus. America News Network is scouring Texas looking for them, so I figured we might as well pitch in. Plus, if we don’t find them, it’ll be a nice little vaycay for defeating Pigskin.’ She turned to Mezu and Sam. ‘Don’t ever say I don’t do anything for you, my lovelies.’
‘Oh no,’ said Mezu.
‘Oh yes!’ said Sam.
‘Oh god damn it!’ said Puck. She’d broken the strength test and was now in trouble with the staff.
Jack smiled and shrugged. ‘Okay. You’re the boss.’
The Texas State Fair turned out to be a blast. The monsters at the haunted house scared all the girls and made the Jack and Mezu look good, Sam won a giant teddy bear at the shooting gallery, Mezu got lost in the mirror maze, and Puck had a funny argument with the staff about being too short to ride the rollercoaster.
By midnight, Jack and Marilyn were riding the horses on the carousel.
‘Y’know,’ said Jack, ‘considering I’m marrying you, I don’t actually know that much about you, Marilyn.’
Marilyn rested her head on the pole impaling her horse. ‘I'm a Little Green Man from Mars.'
Jack nodded. 'Makes sense.'
Marilyn smiled. 'There’s not much to tell, really. Majored in Broadcast Journalism at the University of London, got a taste for the grisly covering the Falklands War, and sort of wandered into America News Network. You?’
‘Majored in Political Science at New York University, got…let’s say drafted afterwards, came back shellshocked, started slashing in New York City. and moved to Texas to calm myself down.’ He shrugged. ‘Didn’t work.’
Marilyn laughed. ‘Well, what woman doesn’t like a bad boy?’
Sam ran up with her giant teddy bear and started jogging alongside them. ‘The circus tent has opened! Oh, please can we go, Marilyn?! Please please please?!’
Marilyn rolled her eyes. ‘Alright. We haven’t been able to find any sign of Fubsy the Clown or Loco Lobo, so we might as well.’
‘Yaaay!’ Sam started salsa dancing with her giant teddy bear.
Jack looked ahead to the red and white-striped circus tent. The sign above the entrance read THE DEVIL’S CIRCUS.
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