“It’s… It’s here!”
The nurse cried, cradling the newborn life in her arms with marvel. With a face round and red, the baby cried out too, in the face of all those new sensations.
“He’s beautiful...” She spoke once more, almost drowning out the cries of the little boy. Momentarily, a gentle smile spread across her face,
“May I… see him?” A strained woman, the mother, spoke up, her eyes filled with expectation.
“Of course Kanzaki-san…” The nurse promptly yet softly, reunited mother and son once again. “I’ll go fetch the father for you.” She said before disappearing out of the room.
The baby wouldn’t stop its waling, yet its mother looked at it with such joy, it almost made her heart leap out of her chest.
“Hello, little one…” She whispered softly, as the newborn started to settle into his mother’s warm embrace.
“Setsuko!” Then, in came a man. Hurriedly, he stepped inside, with visible drops of sweat forming in his brow. He removed a cap to reveal his side-parted black hair that was of the same color as his faint stubble.
“Ryoichi…” The woman smiled, and beckoned the father closer.
“That’s… he’s…” The man, Ryoichi, was lost for words. It wasn’t the first time this had happened for the two of them, but one probably will never get used to it.
“He’s calm.” The mother smiled gently, rocking the little boy in her arms. “Anata, what shall we name him?”
“You want me to…? But I—“
“Shh… Go on.”
After banishing the stress from his lungs with a sigh, the father looked closer, and furrowed his brows.
The woman chuckled affectionately, “Yes…” she whispered, “Welcome home, Eiji.”
A man walked through the rain, clutching his umbrella tightly, his head cast low. The brilliants lights of the city ahead gently played off the small pools of water forming in the slightly deserted part of the town he was venturing into. Soon, no more colors, no more light. The alley he was walking on was dark, and even less crowded. The rain was only getting stronger.
To the side of the alley, he found a door, and on top of it, laid a familiar sign, reading “Magnifica”
He walked up, and pushed in without hesitation. Almost mechanical, sluggish.
He put away his umbrella and slightly wet coat, and had a seat on a stool across the counter. The establishment was small, and old-fashioned, with wooden floors and furnishing, just as he preferred. He felt at peace there, but even that couldn’t ease his headaches that day.
“Oh, Ryoichi!” The bartender cried energetically. The few other men enjoying a drink greeted him as well. He was well known as a regular in that bar after all. With a nod as a means of greeting back, he ordered the strongest booze he could think of.
“What’s up man? How’s it going with the kid?” The bartender passed him a glass into which he had just poured his strongest whiskey.
Ryoichi sighed, and removed his cap. He was younger than his weird choice of middle-aged clothing made him appear. “We’re trying but… This can’t go on.”
“Hey man, look. I know things are tough financially and all, but you just gotta keep—“
“I know, I know… But I____.”
“____Can’t do this____.” Ryoichi rubbed his temples, almost ready to bolt out of the bar right then and there. The stress eating him from inside out was visible through every nook and cranny of his face.
There was a brief silence across the counter, as the bartender searched through his mind, for something decent to say back.
“Hah…” Then, the patron sitting besides Ryoichi sighed, as if sympathizing. With an old-fashioned, round hat and sunglasses, one could call him anything but inconspicuous. Yet, despite that, the two men had failed to notice his presence up until that point. It was like he wasn’t even there to begin with.
“May I have your order… sir?” The man behind the counter stuttered for a bit, before he could get his bearings back in order.
Ignoring the question completely, the suspicious individual shifted his gaze towards the troubled man beside him.
“I know a way to be rid of your problems…”
“Huh?” Ryoichi was taken aback, and with good reason.
“You need only…
Sell his soul to the Gods.”
There was a brief silence between the two men, that spoke volumes in and of its own.
“Sell his… What?! From which fantasy novel did you pop out from pal?” The bartender intervened, his tone indicating his aversion to such a horrible idea of a joke.
Yet Ryoichi was silent, as he stared down his glass of whiskey, and it in return, stared back.
“Supposing such a thing does exist will it really _______?”
The man nodded in response, without uttering a word.
The suspicious man sat up “So it’s settled?”
“I already told you. I don’t believe in all that. Yet ____”
“Heh…” The man chuckled to himself before slipping a bill on the counter. Soon, he had left the establishment, like he was never really there.
The bartender broke the silence quickly enough, “You don’t believe all that, do you?” He leaned on the counter, trying not to look as concerned as he really felt.
“See you around, Jiro.” Ryoichi soon followed, as he got up from the uncomfortable stool he had sat on countless times before.
“Hey, you haven’t even finished your drink—“
Yet his friend had gone out the door before he could even call him out. The bartender sighed, looking at the half-finished drink. There was no way he could have charged him for that anyway.
As the faint sound of rain grew stronger, Ryoichi opened his umbrella. His chest was somehow heavier than before. Like an unmovable rock had just been dropped on top of him.
He sighed yet again, and looked up at the darkness of the night sky. The Shina district of Tokyo felt strangely unfamiliar to him. Like he never even belonged there, even if he briefly felt like he did.
Maybe if he saw the face of his daughter, and his newborn son. Maybe if he held his wife, this feeling might just go away.
He longed for the day all this would be just, one bad memory.
With another exasperated sigh, he marched onwards.
Yet his feet wouldn’t move.
He raised his head, and cast his gaze upon a figure of a person. A figure painted black, against the fluorescent light of the streetlamp in its back.
With a glance, he could tell. That figure wasn’t ordinary. Its size was abnormal, and the blazing coals etched on its skull, staring fiercely back at him, were a testament to that.
As soon as it locked eyes with him, the unknown creature glared.
Ryoichi felt cold grip him. He felt weak. Powerless.
Just then, he had a weird, unfamiliar premonition. As if he owed something to that creature, and his debt was long overdue.
Something Ryoichi had promised, in exchange for something else.
The man’s knees felt as if they were weakening, and they soon gave up on him, as he fell to the ground with a splash amidst the rain. His eyes grew weary, and his vision unfocused.
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