benzaiten, cat, christmas, crepe, disney, Disney Sea, enlightenment, games, good luck, hide and seek, Japan, kamakura, kannon, kannon coffee, kawagoe, moon, oden, onigokko, penguin, saitama, work
Prelude from an Intermission
“A cure for false senses of fatalism. A conical, golden homage via Fibonacci’s sequence’s marriage to Indra’s net. Like a lotus blooming in a muddy pond, the first buds of spring bursting through winter’s last snow: a fresh mint sprig rising from whip cream captivity. Accompanying the mint and completing the ikebana, a fresh raspberry. Then it comes into view, the golden form and structure holding it all together. The form is surprisingly thick and soft. What is the sound of one hand clapping? Answer: crepe souffles. This wrap approximates that break from duality as good as any. In between the crepe folds, a cushion of cream, then a layer of matcha lined along the spiral fold. You’re pulled into a vortex of intertextuality. Derrida’s hauntology became the central focus of a book chapter we studied while investigating the presence and importance of ghosts in post “3.11” nuclear catastrophe literature in Japan. Then, POW!!! A block of tiramisu. The shape of a sugar cube, the crunch and give of chicharron, the flavor of tiramisu. These flavors and these textures…a sneaky uppercut delivered by a fatty cherub. You didn’t see it coming, but it was right there beneath your nose in front of you this whole time. Then another layer of dense, freshly whipped sweet cream (not the aerosol version). Delicate and dreamy, you’d be tempted to bathe in it. If you rearrange the letters in Kannon Coffee you get, “Instant K.O.” Another galaxy of matcha glitter rings around the fluffy void and suddenly SMACK! CRACKLE! CRUNCH! A cereal asteroid belt crosses the cream flowing between the folds of this ‘approximately-crepe-souffles.’ It’s a rocky ride, but you keep crunching and smacking. The asteroids somehow stay nestled into the conical confines of the crepe wrap. To think that all this Fibonacci mayhem and ultra-culinary-violence is contained by a paper wrapper, like a shrapnel bomb of fragile sweets wrapped in Christmas present paper. The clock is ticking, and the time between now and your imminent enlightandsweetwhipment diminishing like sand sauntering into a black hole.
It happened in a flash,…it’s bright…mabushii!…you lift an arm to protect your eyes but it’s no use. Kannon has redeemed your soul through their ultrapatisserieviolence con passione. The last bites await you, a tiramisu reminiscent of the texture of fudge, matcha which grasps and clutches before giving, and a final pillow so fresh and so creamy. All, all tucked neatly into a crepe. It’s unclear where it ends. You are left with no choice but to ride out the spiral. Nebula on the left – Orion on the right…And, all at once, your feet are stepping forward…you’re already a block away from Kannon Coffee…You must have blacked out, unconscious for the past minute and a half. What a fearsome breach into paradise. What awesome power. Enlightenment is not all pink roses piped on cupcakes; it seems.”
Luna glared tin. A neon light flickered. The tubes imprinted “Cabaret” deep into the darkness. Pink sat heavy in her sockets. She moved on. Empty alley ways about as wide as a modern minivan bent inwards on each other. Box shaped houses stacked on box shaped bars, taverns, cabarets, camera shops, “Snack” bars, Dagashi snack shops, ramen stands, Showa era diners, government offices, and post offices. Boxes on boxes all the way up to the side lit sky. Sky stackers. If it weren’t for these miraculous feats of human ingenuity, the heavens might fall and crush us. Black mold, rust, and water marks unified the boxish cacophony.
In a flicker, metal crashed on rooftop several blocks over. Mercury disappeared beneath a trash can and clutched onto the space between the bottom of the trash bin and the moist concrete beneath her.
Her nose at attention. Post-crash, a quick scatter of silence, and then muffled hums and dins returned from inside the cabaret and jazz boxes. Sil very much preferred silence. Footsteps hid easy in between the beats and cymbal strikes. There’s very little more dangerous than white noise. It silences minutiae. It stifles attention. Its curtain makes light the heaviest footsteps.
Breeze stopped tickling her whiskers. Oni was close. Close enough to block the wind. Not hard to imagine, given that it stood 9 meters tall.
A bar door opened. The ground beneath the Lune appeared to bend.
With the breeze blocked, the jazz unhinged, and the view obscured from beneath the trash bin, Luna had little to work with. The stillness of the air – though – meant that the Oni was practically on top of her, standing still where the ground bent in like a trampoline.
Then it hit her. Agarwood. Sandalwood. It wasn’t carried on the breeze. It was falling from the creature next to her. The ground in front of the trash strained more beneath the beast. The trash can itself began to slip downwards, and Feloon’s heart inflated.
The ground snapped back and wobbled. A rush of air pulled scents upwards from all directions. The lid of the trash bin flew off leaving a trail of debris. In the wake of the violence, the breeze returned. The smell of temple incense vanished. The ground reclaimed itself. The demon was gone.
“Adults, 400 yen. Children, 200 yen,” read the sign.
Huck and Gin approached the gate. Curiosity hung on the gatekeeper’s face, and filled every wrinkle radiating outwards from her smile. “One adult?” she asked.
“One adult,” Huck lifted Gin up. “What’s the entrance fee for penguins?”
Without pause, she replied, “Penguins enter free.”
“You hear that, Gin?” Huck asked. Gin, of course, played stuffed. No need to draw problematic attention here.
“Funny little creature you got there.” The gatekeeper said. Then she turned to her younger colleague who collected tickets. “What a cute children’s toy!” Gin grimaced.
Huck paid up, and they walked out into the opening gardens at Hasedera in Kamakura. No matter how many times Huck came here, it was always beautiful enough to restore a few layers of hope, and dispel a few modern curses: apathy, malaise, over-fullness. The gardens opened up slowly. Among the attractions, legions of selfie taking tourists. Few greater places to people watch, than well preserved historical temple complexes. Nevertheless, behind the glare and flare, their faces do light up with sincere happiness which they’ll pass on to others.
Huck’s internal monologue broke. Splashes, sips, and gulps broke humanity’s spell over him. Those sounds only meant one thing. And it was bad.
“Gin! Get away from the pond!” Huck yelled. The lower echelons of group-selfie tourists suddenly broke rank and stood stupefied by Huck’s holler. What they saw next only added to their confusion. Gin’s beak moved like a motor at the mouth of the pond, drinking up whatever mossy essence he could. He knew he had to be quick, with Huck on his tail. Huck reached for Gin, who was bent over a wooden bridge above the Koi fish pond, and grabbed onto Gin’s tail.
“Gin! This is not the time!” Huck said through clenched teeth. With full force, he lifted the chubby penguin backwards out of the pond. Gin gasped for air.
“Well when is the time? We’ve been in transit for over two hours and I haven’t had anything to drink since we left.” Gin brushed moss off of his torso and shook moisture off his head sending an echo of vibrations down through layers of chub. “It’s hot – I’m tired – here’s water – why not drink?”
Huck picked up Gin and held him like a football at his elbow. “Why not? Two reasons: One, if other tourists realize you’re a real penguin – we’re French toast. Two, have you seen the size of those Koi fish?”
Gin looked hungrily over Huck’s arm. “Yeah, looks like quite the feast.”
“Yep, and that’s precisely what they’re thinking when they see you. C’mon. Up we go. You can drink at the ponds up ahead where massive carp aren’t sharking around; but only if you can do it on the sly.”
“Let me tell you about the worst date I’ve spent in my life. We spent nearly 10 hours together in near silence. When I tried to make small talk, the only responses I got were defensive, rude, and judgmental. They also cut off any intention of continuing the conversation. It was immediately obvious that something was off when I met up with her at the train station before getting on the bus. Nevertheless, I thought it would be best to feel things out and not make any assumptions or jump to rash conclusions without talking things out. Then we got on the bus. I put my hand out for her to grab. She swiftly touched my hand only to pull hers back saying, “your hand is freezing!” That was the only thing she said to me on the entire forty-five minute bus ride to Disney. Her hands folded in her lap. Mine folded in my lap. Both of us already understanding that we were no longer a couple, and that this was going to be a very long day. I tried to make the best of it. She did not.
Apparently, she thought that my character was too, “take it easy.” After the day in public ended and we finally had the chance to talk in moderate privacy, I asked her if something had happened to explain the feel and mood that oppressed the day. She brought up our previous date, the one a month earlier, two weeks before her national certification exam test for architects. Her first objection was that she was under the impression that I “hadn’t even googled” the architecture certification test she was preparing for. I suppose, instead of asking her many questions about her work and about her journey preparing for this test, I should have just looked it up on google instead. Apparently, I shouldn’t have asked about it when we spent time together. Rather, the fact that I asked her many times in person about the test which seemed so important to her was evidence that I hadn’t googled the topic.
The second objection: I asked her if she would set aside a little time to take a breather leading up to the exam, or perhaps set aside an evening to spend with one of her friends. This was the nail in the coffin, the straw that broke the camel’s back, the pinch of salt the blew the sommelier’s palette. To her, this meant that I didn’t understand the severity of the situation. It was precisely that moment, apparently, that she decided she no longer wanted to date me. Since we didn’t see each other for a month after that moment, she might’ve carried that sentiment inside until we met up on Christmas Eve to go to Disney Land. Who knows how such a feeling could have evolved over those five weeks.
I can see things from her side. I only wish she had communicated those sentiments earlier, much earlier, instead of agreeing to spend a whole day with me at Disney Sea a month later. The benefit of not drawing conclusions and assumptions based on conversations within one’s own head is that the poisons we are capable of conjuring don’t colonize our own psyches. The outcome – us breaking up – would probably not have changed. To be frank, we had gotten to know each other well enough to know that we simply weren’t the best match. I knew it, she knew it. It was brief, but we tried; and that’s ok. That is precisely why neither of us deserved to spend such a miserable day together at one of the most magical places on earth: Tokyo Disney Sea. They fact that I was still impressed with the theme park despite the company I kept is a surprising testament to the quality of Disney Sea. I’d like to go back with partners who project less of their own dark and twisted fantasies onto the miraculous canvas about us. As Mickey Mouse said during the final show-stopper event, “To think that imagination could be this powerful!” Agreed, Mickey. Agreed. I’ve certainly been the one inventing and imagining and conjuring and festering inside without actually talking to the person directly about it. It’s not pretty, that side of imagination, and the real-world outcomes are even less pleasing. Hopefully we both find a way to gain from this experience as we go our separate ways…”
The great felune made swift scurries from the corner of one alley end to another. Around each corner another “Snack Bar,” another ramen shop, and other futuristic expectations explored through the steam punky means available only to the late 1950’s. With a fine breeze, she could finally make paws and whiskers out of her surroundings. Chicken, Pork, ginger, garlic, and green onion held fast onto everything. The dusty incense left a faint trail despite the heavy hog presence. She hoped that the funk would help disguise her own scent, and keep the Oni guessing.
No matter which trail she wove, or which traces she followed, this cramped neighborhood continued extending in all directions. In each alleyway, the same things: bars, cabarets, ramen shops, retail shops, snack shops, and pubs. More than anything, though, ramen shops. Mercury had never had ramen, but the smell of it everywhere started to work magic on her appetite and she craved food. Was this part of the Oni’s intent? Lure her out with food, only to catch her when she’s preying about? It was too dangerous to hunt out in the open, she’d only be exposed. She couldn’t lose this game. She tensed up. Luna glare held onto the ground below her as if the sky would swallow her whole up. Then, the answer came to her on the breeze. The Oni certainly left trails of sandalwood and agarwood, but what if all of those traces weren’t just left by the Oni. If this was Japan of a future passed, there should be a temple or two around even in this dingy night-life neighborhood.
Luna glared. The Oni was only an “oni” as per the rules of the game at hand, and she was only prey as far as the tenets of the game at play. It betrayed both of their natures.
Luna considered her options. At this time of night, she couldn’t risk running silver about the neon lit streets. The Oni would catch her glow from afar in an instant. Perhaps that was the Oni’s intention – bring her to a setting which disadvantaged her nature. Oni must have forgotten that the moon also has a dark side.
Our filoon lunaired. Nothing left a shadow as it ran along the edges, corners, and alleyways in search of temples.
Huck and Gin arrived at the top of the temple complex. Outside the main hall for Kannon, a wide cauldron, filled with ash, had sticks of lit incense sticking straight up. The smoke from each stick of incense gathered and bundled into a mass beneath the roof over the cauldron. As the cloud outgrew its nest, trails of smoke slipped over the edges and up towards the heavens. The scent of agarwood and sandalwood filled Huck and Gin’s noses.
The two of them passed the incense and approached the main Kannon hall. The darkness inside the hall was only emphasized by the clarity of the early winter sky outside. Once inside the entrance, their eyes took a moment to adjust.
“Remind me, what should I know about Kannon’s?” Gin asked.
“Well, they’re the kind of person that could reach the peak of a mountain all by themselves, but they decide to help others reach the peak instead. Kannon in Japan are typically feminine or androgynous bodhisattvas. Some call them “goddesses of mercy,” and they’re quite popular. In a land populated with male deity statues, it’s nice to see Kannon around. That’s pretty much all I know, that and that there are a wide variety of Kannon’s out there to learn about.”
The two of them approached the imposing golden statue. About its feet, typical Buddhist temple sights: a chair for reading sutras, a drum for rituals, two massive golden lotus plants – one on each side of the Kannon, candles. The statue seemed to glow in the darkness as their eyes adjusted.
As each of them made eye contact with the Kannon, their mouths dropped wide open. In awe, each of them exclaimed:
“A mustached Kannon?” Huck said.
“Eleven heads?” Gin said
“A penguin?” Kannon said. This may be the first time ever in which Hasedera Kannon’s mouth opened up.
“Really? I’ve never seen such a mustache on a Kannon” Huck continued in disbelief.
“And who are you to judge? Why wouldn’t I have a mustache?” Kannon said.
“A mustache?” Gin exclaimed. “No, let’s see here, you’ve got 1, 2, 3…” Gin began counting.
“It’s not bad, I just didn’t expect you to have facial hair,” Huck said.
“Not my problem then, is it? Don’t type cast based on previous experiences. Simple as that,” the Kannon crossed their six arms.
“11 mustaches, 22 if you count the fact that each mustache is stylistically split in half, 33 if you count the little soul patch that goes with each mustache. Thir-ty-three.” Gin’s eyes opened wide. “Huck, do you think I could grow a mustache like that?”
“No, you’re an Adelie penguin. Adelies don’t have –”
“Hey, did I not just say, ‘Don’t type cast’?” the Kannon laughed. “In all the years this statue has been here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a penguin come to the hall. I’m honored.”
Gin bowed, one arm tucked beneath and one arm in the air. “It’s my pleasure to bestow greatness upon you.”
Luna glare peeked her head out of Huck’s backpack. “What’s so special about penguins?”
The Kannon’s eyes grew wide, “A kitten just addressed me?”
“Hey, now who’s type casting?” Huck said.
“Kittens come in here at night all the time. They just never talk to me. They talk to just about everyone else. They come in and talk to the monks, the people who clean up the temple grounds, and the staff. Now and again they chat with the tourists. They just never talk to me.”
“Maybe it’s the mustaches,” Gin said.
“It’s not the mustaches,” Luna said.
“This might be the best visit I’ve had in ages. How about we celebrate this visit? I want to be able remember this rare occasion once you’re gone.”
“Hey, we’ve only just arrived,” Huck said.
“Exactly,” said Kannon. “Most people just arrive, stare blankly at my face, and then move on through the temple grounds. I don’t usually have much time with my guests.”
“Don’t the animals talk to you?” Luna asked.
“Sure. Just about everyone still talks to me – except humans and cats,” the Kannon sat down. “I think it’s just one of those ages. I try not to take it personally.”
Silence overtook the group. No one knew how to respond. The growing silence only made it harder to find something to say. The statue’s glow was truly something to behold. Even sitting down, it still towered several meters over the three visitors. Luna slipped out of Huck’s backpack and scurried around the floor. The cool ground felt refreshing after napping against Huck’s warm back. Luna took in the beauty of the hall, and the iconography of the Kannon. She spoke first.
“Well, what would you like to do to mark this special occasion?”
The Kannon’s face went blank. When visitors do spend time in the hall, the Kannon focuses intently on attending to relieving their suffering and answering their wishes. For ages, day after day the Kannon listened to peoples’ desires and hopes. Now, someone at long last was lending Kannon an ear.
The Kannon stood back up and re-assumed its elegant pose.
Luna’s ears twitched.
“What do I want…” the Kannon closed their eyes. Years of standing in place, waiting for visitors to come…
A sly grin came across the giant’s face.
“Onigokko,” whispered the Kannon.
“Huh?” Gin looked around for an explanation but received none.
Luna’s face overcome with fear, and Huck’s overcome with nervous excitement.
“Onigokko?” Huck asked the Kannon. “Here, on the temple grounds?”
“So says the group who drank water from our ponds!” The Kannon laughed. “No, I’ll set the stage. Each of you will play against me in a different place and at a different time. The game doesn’t end until I’ve found each one of you.”
“Isn’t there a way for us to win?” Gin asked.
“Not even if we catch you by your tail?” Luna asked.
“Don’t have a tail.”
“How about your mustaches?” Gin asked.
“…sure, why not.”
“Gin! His mustaches? Are you crazy? Why don’t we just go nuts and change it to their eyelashes then, huh?” Huck didn’t know how to convey to Gin that they were dealing with a divine being of immense power, not just your average neighborhood pal.
“No, I like the penguin’s idea. If you can somehow grasp my mustache without me noticing, then you all deserve to win. I’ll probably find you first, anyway. Shall we begin?”
“Sure, we might as well get started,” Huck said, but there was no one there to respond. There was no Kannon, no hall, no Gin, and no Feloona Glaire. Instead, Huck found himself standing on a hill in a park with a clear view of sprawling cities and webs of railways leading up to the silhouette of Mount Fuji far in the distance against a rose-colored sun in set. Opposing the sun stood innumerable glossy apartment complexes. Each reflected the colors of the sunset back at the hazy horizon. Bridges tethered the buildings together 5, 10, and 15 floors up. Below them, massive mall complexes shrouded in blankets of green gardens and unnaturally abundant foliage. Hidden beneath the forced foliage, unnatural illumination.
If Huck wanted to succeed in hiding from the Kannon, standing out here in the open sun wasn’t his best bet. Entering the materialist madness of FutakoTamagawa was… Still, this was not the Futakotamagawa that he knew. Everything that Huck disliked about Japan used to be summed up with a bow by this station-mall-living complex. It was the perfect expression of capitalism unhinged. By the looks of it now, it evolved into an even more imposing beast. Whenever now was.
“Den of Odin.” Gin took in a whiff of air. Spices. Butter. Chocolate. Popcorn. Flavored popcorn. Nothing of oden. Definitely nothing of ‘Odin’s Oden’ in Hachioji. The popcorn didn’t smell bad, though. It actually smelled pretty good. Gin followed his beak. Above the “Den of Odin” sign, a massive robotic statue of Odin singing about his various flavored popcorns. Smiling teenagers worked the stand. They handily took on wave after wave of cravenous guests. Gin could only imagine how the smell of those popcorn flavors would get eternally stained into the employees work clothes.
He turned around. A veritable Vesuvius fumed against the azure above.
A volcano? Where’ve I gone to? Gin thought. Looking around, he saw all matter of impossibles collaged together: a fairy tale version of an old Italian city, a fairy tale version of an Arabian palace, a fairy tale version of Mayan ruins in Mexico, a fairy tale version of “2,000 leagues beneath sea” at sea level, a western European castle sitting between the Volcano and a broad spread lake which turns into a New York City harbor circa the early 1900’s. A giant dog and a giant mouse smiled wide as they posed for photos with families. Exuberant song and dance across the lake somehow lifted the energy here, now. Wherever that was.
Kannon could not believe what laid before their eyes. Bundles of incense in numbers they’ve never seen. The sustaining scent of sandalwood and agarwood was so heavy that Kannon could no longer sense the heavy ramen smell that previously oppressed everything else. The Kannon’s stomach growled. Kannon wanted to continue the game, but they couldn’t let such an opportunity pass. In all their ages, never before had they seen such a feast laid out before them. Given the circumstances, when would that happen again?
Kannon took a seat in the courtyard of what appeared to be an ordinary neighborhood temple, in this unrealized future of the past to which they called upon for this game of hide and seek. Kannon bathed in the aromas. Years of standing tall, shouldering other’s suffering…
Kannon felt warm, as tension relaxed. The denseness of the incense obscured their vision. The extremes of the temple structure’s roof and gates stuck out, but the courtyard entrance was even swallowed up. That was good. A little privacy was just what the Kannon needed. How long had it been? Standing there for all to see?
Kannon’s shoulders felt warm. Some sort of peace seemed to vibrate from inside out. Waves of relaxation came over Kannon.
“I didn’t even know I wanted this,” Kannon thought, stroking their mustaches. “But now that I have it…”
Kannon’s eyes suddenly opened wide. They listened deeply to the peace reverberating throughout their body. Kannon looked at their own hands, folded beneath them in their lap and on their knees.
Luna glare purred devilishly. Wrapped around Kannon’s shoulders, she continued stroking Kannon’s mustaches.
Kannon looked at the incredible amount of incense being offered up in the courtyard. They took in a deep breath, enjoying the relaxing warmth offered by the felune. Kannon closed their eyes and smiled, “Thanks.”
“What do you mean? You just lost, didn’t you?” Luna lightly scratched Kannon’s cheek with a gnarly side tooth.
“Of course. Can I not still be thankful?” Kannon closed their eyes. “Filoonaire, I know the conditions for ending our game have been cleared…but, can I have just two more minutes before pulling everyone back to Hasedera?”
There was no response. Just a deep purr on Kannon’s shoulders. Getting all this incense gathered from the various temples in this otherworldly neighborhood was no small feat, and to accomplish it without being found by Kannon was a true feat.
The Kannon didn’t bother waking the mercurial. They both deserved just a little bit more of a rest. Besides, Kannon was still chasing both Huck and Gin far, far away. If they found out that the group had won already, Kannon wouldn’t get to fully enjoy their game of Onigokko. A little more fun wouldn’t hurt, would it? At least enough to be unforgettable was all Kannon was asking for.
A peculiar silence reigned over Odin’s Oden. Huck, Luna, and Gin were mid-feast, and third beer. Finn, reading in the corner, as per usual. Odin, attending to the guests, as per usual. Manny, not to be seen. Without the white noise, Odin’s Oden took on a mildly sacred tone. The murmur of simmering oden foods, the din of dishes and glasses. Perhaps this was the oden den’s true face, as it was before the monologuing maniac arrived. Odin didn’t seem in any worse or better mood, though; judging by Odin alone, it was as if nothing was different at all.
Luna pulled some squid off a skewer. “So, in the end, how was your holiday hell-land in Futako tamagawa?”
Huck rested his beer glass on the table and stared at its emptiness. “It was pretty rough, to be honest. As I hid among the ritzy department stores, I could see Kannon searching for me…looking behind plants, asking customers if they had seen me, …I even watched them take a break to eat some freshly made taiyaki…”
“Bet they won’t get a chance to do that for a while,” Gin said.
“Exactly. And they probably won’t get a chance to play hide-and-seek like this for…who knows how long. When I saw how happy they were eating taiyaki, I decided to milk as much as possible out of the experience.”
“What, you guys go shopping together?” Luna asked.
“Shopping? Can you imagine me, enjoying shopping at Futakotamagawa?”
“Nope.” Gin answered.
“I just did my best to keep an eye on Kannon while staying safely out of sight. It was harder than I thought. They’re a curious beast.”
“Bodhisattva.” Gin said.
“Sorry, curious bodhisattva. Odin, could we get another round?” Huck asked.
“あいよ,” Odin grabbed the guests’ empty glasses, rinsed them out, and poured a new set of draft.
“But, after a while, I just couldn’t stomach the department store any longer, so I just walked right up to Kannon, tapped them on the shoulder and asked if we could go home.”
“What, it just ended like that?” Gin asked.
“Was he just waiting for you to come find him?” Luna asked.
Odin placed a new draft in front of each guest.
“Cheers, folks” Luna raised her glass.
“Cheers” Huck and Gin joined in.
Huck continued, “I think so. It seems that, somehow, by time I caught sight of Kannon eating taiyaki, you had already caught his mustache, Filoone. To be honest, I think they knew where I was hiding, and they knew that I wanted them to enjoy their time outside of that dark temple hall. Even so, I think that Kannon had pretty much gotten their fill and was just as ready to leave the cavern of crooked-capitalist-chimeras as I was by the end. How about you Gin? How’d Disney sea end up?”
“It was a little overwhelming. Animals of sizes and proportions I’ve never seen were terrorizing the area. Tourists were sequestered in small dark rooms and subjected to computerized musical propaganda. Other tourists were locked in a small chamber where they were roasted by a sea turtle with incredibly caustic humor. Some tourists were even strapped into a some sort of motion sickness torture device…one of which railed right into the center of the volcano…I don’t think I’ll ever forget their screams…it was horrible!…that’s when I tried to find Kannon. I rushed around like Alice with her head cut off looking for them. At some point, I think it was in the Arabian palace area, I caught a glimpse of Kannon. Kannon’s shoulders were a bit broader, and their skin a bit bluer…but when I saw that mustache I was sure it was Kannon, so I raced over to them, leaped up, and grabbed onto their mustache like all hell.”
Huck, Luna, and Odin exchanged worried glances. Finn turned a page in their book.
“Kannon, or – who I thought was Kannon -, screamed and thrashed about, making threats to turn me into a monkey or something, and then I took a deep look at the man’s face…let’s just say that I got the wrong man. The mustachioed blue man chased me right out of the palace. And that’s when I saw Kannon.”
“Good thing you found him, don’t think you’d be much a match for a genie,” Luna interjected.
“A what?” Gin asked.
“A genie.” Odin answered.
“Oh, well, the Jeany seemed to give up the chase once he chased me across the bridge into the next area. But anyway, so then I saw the real Kannon, right? I started waving my arms and jumping up and down, shouting out to him.”
“Hard to imagine you jumping, honestly,” Huck said between swigs.
“And I caught his attention!” Gin kept up his story, ignoring Huck entirely. “It was so peculiar. The Kannon just looked so happy. I imagine my face was one of total dread. Anyway, we started walking towards each other.”
“Well, I’m glad you two were reunited. Sounds like a hellish place.” Luna said.
“Tell me about it,” Huck said quietly, and took a swig.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. I was about 10 feet away from Kannon when someone grabbed my neck from behind. They yanked me upwards and ran off towards the Mayan Jungle. I wiggled around, trying to loosen their grip, but –”
“Who was it?” Huck asked.
“A schoolgirl. Nine, maybe ten years old.” Gin answered.
“Oof. No way she was gonna let go of you, huh?” Luna pierced a new cut of simmered konyakku and placed it in her bowl of assorted oden goods.
“It was heartwarming, though, watching Kannon chase after us throughout the various worlds. If I had known that the best way to hide from Kannon would be in the clutches of a little girl, I would have signed up sooner.”
“How did the penguin-napping end?” Huck asked.
“Eventually, the girl found her parents, and told them about her new “toy”…which, by the way, I’m still a little bitter about…but anyway, she explained how she found this cute “stuffed animal” outside of the Jenny’s castle. By the time her parents figured out that she’d stolen me from somewhere, Kannon was able to catch up and explain that I was ‘his toy’ …which, by the way, I still object to…but anyway, Kannon was somehow able to smooth things over and the girl, albeit reluctantly, handed me over to Kannon. So, effectively, Kannon won. But, that little girl really gave Kannon a run for their money!”
Odin poured himself a glass of warm amazake and held it softly between his palms. He looked down into the thick and cloudy brew. “Sounds like you had quite the day in Kamakura.”
“Well, after Hasedera we didn’t have much time to do anything else really.” Huck said.
Luna cleaned her whiskers. “But, it was worth it, wasn’t it?”
“It was. I hope our celebration of the occasion will last long in Kannon’s memory,” Huck said.
“Don’t look so long,” Odin said. “It’s not like you won’t see Kannon again. Afterall, you’ll be in Saitama soon, right?”
“Huh?” Gin asked.
“Last time you all came in here, that was the good news? Right? You found a steadier job in Saitama?” Odin asked.
“Yep, when we move back to Japan in March, we’ll be moving to Saitama – most likely.”
“If that’s the case, I hear there are a few Kannon hanging around Kawagoe. You should stop by them and say hello,” Odin said. “There’s the Shusse Kannon, the Cute Kannon…”
“…the cute Kannon?…” Gin asked.
“I kid you not.” Odin smiled.
“That’s good news – we’ll be working near Kawagoe – way out there in the boonies of Saitama.” Huck looked up at the menu above the bar.
“Boonies? It may be far from here, but Kawagoe is still a bigger city than where you’re from. It’s even more of a city than your college town.” Luna said.
“Fried rice and dumplings, please,” Huck ordered from Odin and then turned to Luna, “True, but when you compare it to the next biggest metropolis nearby…”
“What, Tokyo?” Gin said. “Come one, that’s not fair. The Kanto metropolis makes even New York look like a mid-western state’s capitol city.”
“Exactly. And that’s why it makes a little city center like Kawagoe look that much smaller,” Huck said. “But – don’t get me wrong – I’m looking forward to it. I’ve wanted this job for a while now.”
“Tokyo, Yokohama, now Saitama…we’re making our rounds in Kanto, aren’t we?” Gin said.
Luna glared at Gin, “What are you talking about? This is your first time in Japan.”
“I’ve seen my fair share of the area,” Gin said. “I’m excited to see what Saitama offers.”
Finn turned another page in their book.
Huck took advantage of the silence. “I guess this is as good a time as any…Speaking of news, I’ve got some bad news.”
“What, you and your girlfriend broke up?” Odin asked as he placed a warm plate of fried rice and a platter of dumplings down on the bar.
“No, that’s probably for the best. Good news, I think. The bad news is that I finally went to the doctor recently to get a check up about the pain in my stomach.” Huck took a swig of beer and devoured a dumpling.
Without Manny around, there was nothing to hide the loud smacking and juicy chewing from Huck’s mouth. Finn’s eyes looked up from his book.
Odin kept his eyes down as he cleaned his wok.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like a chronic disease or fatal condition or anything.” Huck continued. “But it’s pretty bad.”
Luna jumped into Huck’s lap and curled into a ball. Gin stood tall on his bar stool and put an arm on Huck’s shoulder. “What is it?”
“I’ve apparently got a book inside me.”
Gin, Luna, and Odin exchanged silent looks. Finn stared at the words in his book, not reading a thing.
Huck continued. “It came up on the X-ray. It’s been sitting there, growing instead of digesting in my system for …who knows how long now… The doctor thinks that it’s been in there for a few years now. It’s not even good, it’s pretty bad. He says it’s crass, poorly organized, and aimless.”
Finn snapped their book shut. “Odin, whisky please. 5, straight.”
Odin, still cleaning up the kitchen, looked up and nodded to Finn.
Luna started pawing at Huck’s middle-aged midsection. “So, you’ve got a bad book inside you. Big whoop. If you talk around, I think you’ll find that a lot of people walk around with shitty books inside them.”
“No, that’s the thing, …if we just leave it in there, it’ll only get worse. He says that I’ve got to act fast if I don’t want it to become something terrible. I don’t want to grow old with a terrible book festering inside me.”
Gin sat back down on the bar stool and folded their arms on the bar. “Isn’t there some kind of way to just purge the bad book out of your system?”
“The healthiest was is to just write it out, he says. It’s already gone beyond the stage where a solid hurl, vomit, or wretch would do the trick.”
Odin pulled five whisky glasses down from the rack above. “Well, here’s to growing pains. Drink up everyone. Drink’s on Finn.”
The doors slid open and a gust of mid-winter air rushed in. Finn buttoned up his jacket.
The sound of hard heels hit the den’s wooden floor.
Luna leaped from Huck’s lap and back onto her stool.
The sliding doors closed with a silent tuck.
Odin, “Gin, have you met Benzaiten?”
“We made brief acquaintance in Kamakura,” Benzaiten said. Gin blushed.
“Good to see you, Ben.” Huck said.
Odin looked to Finn, “Finn, can we make it six?”
Finn nodded, “Of course. Pull down another glass.”
“What’s the occasion?” Benzaiten asked.
“Good luck,” Luna said.
Benzaiten grinned and took a seat at the end of the bar next to Gin.