While lounging on a park bench in the middle of the afternoon, I idly watch on at the unending parade of normalcy that's taking place in front of me.
Salarymen on their way to business meetings, students on the way back from school, old people feeding the ducks down by the river... it's a constant stream of normal unassuming people living out their normal unassuming lives, just like any other day.
But even so, I can't help but wonder if some of these boring passers-by are in fact only pretending to be normal.
For example, maybe that salaryman is secretly embroiled in an interoffice affair with a married coworker.
Or those kids over there might in fact be horribly bullying one of their classmates at school.
And that old lady might just be using those ducks as stand-ins for her adult children who don't talk to her anymore.
I mean, it stands to reason that at least one of these folks out here is only putting up a façade. After all, "normal" isn't anywhere nearly as normal as people like to think.
...not that I really care, though. I'm just sitting here killing time unti-
Pulled from my idle thoughts by sudden movement out the corner of my eye, I quickly turn to see what just spooked me and find...
A girl who is in the process of sitting down next to me.
In all my months of frequenting this park, nobody's ever dared to even make eye contact with me, much less sit on the same bench as me.
What the hell.
Does she seriously not sense the aura of delinquency that I've worked so hard to cultivate in order to dissuade people from bothering me? Am I starting to lose my touch?
She doesn't even seem to notice me at all, instead focusing all her attention on rummaging through the school bag that's sitting on her lap.
My new neighbor suddenly perks up and glances my way, and in doing so gives me a full view of just who it is that I'm dealing with here.
Maybe two or three years younger than me, with an innocent-looking face that's more "cute" than "pretty." Light blue eyes framed in a pair of glasses. Frizzy dark purple hair that reaches down to the middle of her back.
...yeah, she's pretty much the portrait of "unassuming." Like, the kind of girl who you'd just naturally expect to end up as an afterschool library attendant.
Not that a dropout like me would know much about that, though.
"Oh, good afternoon!" she says, greeting me with a friendly smile.
"Uh, yeah," I mumble in response.
And with that awkward greeting out of the way, she goes back to searching through her bag and I go back to being lost in my thoughts.
My state of Zen is suddenly ended by a light impact of something hitting my forehead. By reflex, my hand snaps up to touch where I was just hit...
Grumbling to myself, I rub two wet fingers together.
So much for an afternoon of enjoying the fresh outside air. I might not live too far from here, but it's still enough of a distance that I'd probably still end up completely drenched even if I was to race home right now.
But it does look like it's starting to pick up, so I guess I ought to get go-
I'm not getting any wetter? But I can definitely still hear the rain coming down...
"Good thing I came prepared, huh," a voice laughs.
Turning towards its source, I find my bespectacled neighbor greeting me with the same friendly smile as before.
Only, now she's standing in front of me.
And shielding me with an umbrella?
It takes a few seconds for my words to come out.
"Uh, thanks?" I finally blurt out, unsure what else to do aside from giving an awkward smile of my own.
"Here," she presents her umbrella to me. "It looks like you need this more than I do."
Wait, what? Seriously?
"Th- that's alright," I stammer. "Not that I don't appreciate the gesture, but you'll end up getting wet instead."
"That won't be a problem," she replies, reaching behind her head with her free hand and flipping up a hood.
Oh. So she's got a jacket on over her uniform. I didn't even notice.
"So here you go," she says, holding it a little closer to me than before.
Unsure how else I should even react here, I obediently rise up from my seat and accept the umbrella that was so kindly offered to me.
It isn't until well after she's gone that I realize that this thing is decorated with a cutesy bunny pattern.
I've known all my life that people aren't necessarily what they appear to be at first glance. They might try to put on an outward appearance of normalcy, but deep down a lot of them are even worse than trash. And on my more pessimistic days, I've been convinced that this statement applies to the majority of the human race.
But then there are those rare days when some unassuming rando turns out to be inexplicably nice, which in turn actually gives me some hope for this rotten world that we're all stuck living in.
Today is one such day.
"Hopefully she'll be able to stay like that..." I sigh, a faint smile on my face.
Yeah, I fully admit to being in a pretty good mood.
Not just because of my encounter with Umbrella Girl or the fact that I was able to avoid getting drenched in the rain as a result, but also because said rainfall only lasted for about an hour before the skies cleared back up. Which in turn means that I'm able to make this late-night work excursion to the seedier part of town without having to worry about the weather.
As for why my work's taken me somewhere that is decidedly not age appropriate, well...
...I happen to be looking for a particular individual who generally frequents this particular neighborhood at this particular time of night.
To be more specific, he's a regular at a hole-in-the-wall bar that's not too far from where I am right now. So I kind of need to find him either before he goes in or after he comes out for the night.
You know, age requirements and all that.
"...talk about convenience..."
I swear, it's taking everything I've got to keep from laughing out loud at this sudden turn of events.
Like... right when I'm trying to work out what to do next, the guy who I'm looking for just up and saunters out of a convenience store maybe half a block away from where I'm standing?
Today must really be my day.
Keeping about a block of distance between us, I tail my target while making sure to stay well out of his line of sight. Judging from the direction he's walking, he seems to be heading to his usual bar...
...ooh, he just ducked into an alleyway. How considerate of him to make this easier for me.
Hurrying after him, I reach into my pocket and pull out one of the tools of my trade, a long piece of paper.
By slapping it on the wall once I turn the corner, I transform this already-secluded location into an endless labyrinth that's impossible to enter or exit for the next twenty minutes.
Given that this area's already pretty mazelike to begin with, it should take a little while before he realizes that something's up.
Moving on to phase two of my preparations, I reach into another pocket and bring out a small bell that's about the same size and shape as the ones you might find on a cat's collar.
Much like the paper that's securing my "work environment," this thing has a couple of handy functions.
First, ringing it once renders me totally invisible to any hidden cameras that might be lurking around for as long as I'm holding it.
Second, ringing it repeatedly extends this effect to my immediate surroundings for as long as I do so.
But instead of doing either of those, I hold it by the red-and-white cord that it's attached to, give it a little spin and toss it in the air.
As the bell makes its descent, I plant my feet firmly on the ground...
...draw my arm back...
...and once it reaches eye-level, I smash the poor thing to bits with a single punch.
In addition to being fun to do, destroying the bell activates its third effect- everything within this [infinite corridor] is now rendered invisible to cameras for the rest of its duration.
It should go without saying that such a precaution is especially vital in this age of constant surveillance.
And now that all my preparations are complete, it's time to get down to business.
With a single word and a burst of fire, Enki, the red Oni of flame, enters the stage.
[author] Hey all, this is just a little exercise to help me out of some Writer's Block issues I've been having.
Regarding the chapter naming scheme, just think of part A as the bit before the eyecatch and part B as the part following it.
Should you have anything to say about the story itself or suggestions regarding the formatting or anything else, please don't hesitate to comment. Though this entire story's been floating around in my head for more than five years now, any motivation I have to continue writing is pretty much entirely dependent on getting actual feedback.[/author]
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