(click “read more” for artwork)
Kazuki was cooking instant ramen when Ryota arrived home.
“Really?” Ryota leaned against the doorframe of the kitchen, arms folded across his chest. “Tonkotsu from a packet? That’s very unlike you.”
Kazuki’s face was turned away from Ryota, but the tense line of his shoulders was altogether too telling.
“It’s been a long day. I felt lazy,” said Kazuki. He did not look up as he stirred the noodles lightly with his chopsticks.
For any other person, a lazy meal of instant ramen would normally involve simply boiling the noodles and chucking the contents of the accompanying seasoning packets into the water. Not for Kazuki.
There were mushrooms simmering in Kazuki’s saucepan. In another bowl, a soft-boiled egg was marinating in broth. Next to it was a plateful of neatly chopped spring onions and shredded nori. It was typical of Kazuki, really. Yet, in the four and a half years since they had moved in together, Ryota had never once seen Kazuki cook something from a packet if he could help it.
There was something wrong.
Omar had sighed the moment he unzipped the body bag and saw the young man’s pale, placid face. You became very inured to the realities of death and mortality very quickly in this job (or you did not keep this job for very long), but it always gave him a little twinge to lay a body on the slab that had been younger than him. Although, what was the line you heard from men in nasty mid-life crises? You got older, but the corpses stayed the same age. Something like that.
He thought things like that, but what he said into the recorder as he began the examination was, “Colin Stafford, white male, age twenty-seven, height sixty-nine inches, weight one hundred ninety-two pounds.” The name and the age had been retrieved from the driver licence that had been in the wallet that was now in a plastic bag in a locker waiting for whenever they found this poor kid’s next of kin. The driver’s license had also said he was 5’10, but Omar had proper measuring instruments. Sometimes bodies shifted a little in size immediately post-mortem, but Omar had seen enough to know that 5’9 was exactly the height where men put on a slightly taller pair of shoes and lied at the DMV. The shoes he’d taken off of the former Mr. Stafford’s feet and put into a locker had just enough of a heel to them.
“Police report indicates time of death at around 11:30 AM. Current time is 3:17 PM. Subject was found collapsed in a grocery store and was unable to be revived by paramedics. Concern that COD is infectious disease.” Everyone liked to get The Stand ideas in their heads every time a seemingly healthy young person keeled over, all thoughts that swine bird cat flu was coming to fell us all in the produce aisle. Omar had protective gear covering his face, as he always did, but he didn’t think he was dealing with patient zero, here. People died. Unexpectedly. Even young handsome ones.
story by ruffwriter
illustration by fightfair
by fightfair and Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子)
At all times of the day and in all seasons, a thick ring of fog embraces Yasukou Taisha, encircling the shrine grounds like a living sacred rope. In the early morning and on rainy days, the mists breathe out beyond the grounds, and even the little hokora shrines at the foot of the stone steps wear veils of dew.
The mountain is evergreen, though few of the plants themselves are. Drifts of spiraea blanket the feet of black pines. Plum and cherry–in full-bloom and heavy with fruit–stand behind trembling curtains of wisteria. Curiosity seekers hear of these wonders and arrive bursting with excitement, and leave feeling unsettled.
Sakaki Manabu paused to add one of the plums, heavy as a stone of similar size, to his basket. It would regrow by sunrise the next morning.
by Mai Takou (マ イー・タ コー)
illustrated by fightfair
It started like any other day. Yeah, started. And isn’t that how just about all of those cheesy, heard ’em once you heard ’em all stories begin? I would swear that this one is different, this one’s unique, that you’ve never heard anything like it before, but chances are that, if you’ve heard someone else’s story and they claim the same thing, it was just like mine. ‘Oh, no, I promise! It changed my life!’ Yeah, maybe it did, but so did learning to walk, talk, and a whole bunch of other things.
illustrated by fightfair
Xing arrives at Boston’s Logan International Airport with two suitcases and a carry-on, too little sleep, and five missed calls. The calls, in order: three from his mother, an unknown number, and one recently recorded from the university faculty member that has accepted Xing under his wing for the next four years. He wrestles his way out of the terminal and leans against the glass windows that span a panoramic view of Boston. He takes off his glasses and polishes them roughly with his shirt. It’s past midmorning (nearing midnight in Shanghai, his budding headache reminds him helpfully), and the sun hangs high in the late summer sky. The colors and view outside are not overwhelming yet; for all the glamour that America monopolizes in Chinese media, Xing is convinced that no other city in the world can rival Shanghai’s glittering skyline, so sharp and streamlined against a backdrop of endless sky and land. For four years he felt lost in its unforgiving streets and corners; now, he would give anything to turn around and fly back across the Pacific.