The Soap Bubble Prologue (pg 1-14)

Prologue

        The instant he ignored the red light and cut across the intersection, the sharp sound of a car honking made the air quiver. He flinched instinctively, and the handles of his motorcycle wavered.
        “Moron! Do you have a death wish?!”
        He heard a man shout angrily from somewhere in the pitch darkness. Izumi Shouto hastily regained his balance before sticking his tongue out and heading towards the darkness that lay on the other side of the intersection. Since he wasn’t familiar with this place, there was nothing for him to do for the time being but to continue riding on. The wind rang in his ears, and it felt as if the engine noise of the motorcycle that he was riding was chasing after Shouto himself.

        The neighbourhood that he had escaped into seemed like a mix of houses and fields; however, even though he could see light coming from the houses, its extent was no more than a smattering of porch lamps that he saw only once in a while. There weren’t even streetlights set up to light the night roads.
        He continued riding at full throttle through the dark roads, turning when the mood struck him. He rounded the plain below a slightly elevated hill. Rice fields spread out before him as he continued to ride for some time yet before he entered a residential area.
        When he rounded another corner, the headlight of the motorcycle lit a concrete wall directly ahead. Instinctively, he turned left, and having followed the wall, a darkness even darker than that of surrounding areas sucked him in. There were numerous trees. He figured it must be a park or a temple of some sort. This was where he allowed himself to release his foot off the pedal of the motorcycle he had stolen only hours before. Glancing from time to time at the back mirror, he turned around his body fully to check behind him. He was safe for the time being—there were no signs of someone having followed him.
        He rode the bike to an area under one of the trees before he turned off the engine. Even as he kicked up the stand, he was always watchful of his surroundings. He could only see some lights of houses off in the distance and the weak light emitted from the moon. Even if someone else were nearby, he wouldn’t have been able to tell. That being said, it could be said for the other way around— the darkness served to protect him. He threw aside the clunky helmet that belonged to God knows who, and reached for the woman’s shoulder bag that he had hooked on the handle. He began to walk in the darkness.
        It should be okay now.
        In the beginning, he had intended to walk at a leisurely, calm pace, but it hadn’t been long before his steps had quickened. He didn’t know why; his legs just seemed to move on their own. The sound of his breathing and the rustling of his clothes seemed excessively loud to his ears. Spurred by these sounds, he continued down the path.
        I fucked up this time.
        As his steps slowed down to a slow jog, he opened and closed his left hand, which was still enclosed in cotton work gloves. He then lifted his hand closer to his face. Even in the darkness, he could still make out the dark stain on his index finger as well as the area around it. Next, he took out the butterfly knife he had shoved into the pocket of his jacket. When he pulled out the sharp object, there was further proof of a blackish substance plastered to the metal.
        I knew it.
        He had slipped up. Until now, he had only lightly grazed them, since he only wanted one thing, and that was their bag; their money. That’s why as long as the victim was scared, he was satisfied. If they let out a little scream, then well, so be it. If he were to be honest, he found some satisfaction at hearing the scream of a woman as he sped away. Just hearing a “No!” or “Ah!” made him feel a soothing calmness spread in his body.
        But today wasn’t like other days. He wasn’t sure if it was because he was riding the bike too slow, or if he had misjudged the distance between them, but for an instant he had felt a strong thud as he had passed. He had heard the rip of clothing as the knife tore through it, along with the feel of the metal embedding deep into warm flesh.
        When he realized what had happened, he had hastily withdrawn the knife. He had felt a slight resistance. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he had heard the woman let out a moan.
        Before he fully registered the situation, he had grabbed the shoulder bag that the woman had been carrying, and with the knife still held in his fist, he had sped away; he hadn’t even let himself look behind him.
        I didn’t hear a scream… so what? Does that mean she keeled over right then and there? Is she dead?
        He was running out of breath from all the running. He had never liked running. Even back when he was a kid, he had always been slow. When it came to sports days at school, he was always a few numbers away from bottom place.
        He realized that the row of street lights that had caught his eye earlier were ones set up along the parapet of the bridge that ran above the river. The concrete wall that stretched along the left hand side was one that served as a river embankment.
        He edged close enough so that the light reached him, but far enough that any passing car wouldn’t see him. He took in deep gulps of air as he kept a careful watch as he opened up the bag impatiently. A train pass case. A cosmetic pouch. A cell phone. A notebook. An envelope. Some small pieces of paper. Candy. A handkerchief. And… a wallet. He didn’t hesitate to reach in for the wallet and took it out before throwing the bag and the rest of the contents into the river. He heard the faint splash of it landing in the water.
        Only then did he allow himself to slip off his gloves. He balled them up before chucking it as well right into the river. He’d done it enough times that it had become like second nature to him by now.
        He held the commonplace check-patterned wallet in his hands. There was 13,000 yen in bills along with about 1000 yen in change. He shoved the money into his jacket and threw everything else including the various cards into the river. This time, he didn’t hear an accompanying splash.
        When are these fuckers going to carry some REAL money?
        According to his watch, it was already well past one in the morning. The people of this town had already fallen deep into sleep; he didn’t even hear dogs barking. It was probably the case that right about now, police cars and an ambulance were rushing to the scene of the crime. With what had happened, he wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill bag snatcher anymore– he would be considered a random slasher. Or it could be the case that she hadn’t been discovered yet. If that were the case, then she could very well be dead right now, and that would make him a murderer. In an instant, everything had gone horribly wrong. He had really fucked it up.
        At any rate, there was no changing the fact that if he just stood there by himself like this that he would likely draw attention to himself. He shoved both his hands into his pockets and acted nonchalant as he sauntered his way across the bridge. At the halfway point, he noticed a sign that indicated that he was approaching the next prefecture. In other words, it meant that once he passed that point, he was able to move to the neighbouring prefecture.
        Well if it isn’t my lucky day.
        These were the times he thought lady luck was on his side; it had been this way since he was a kid. Someway, somehow, he had always managed to overcome obstacles.
        A cold breeze blew past him. The back of his neck felt cold. He tried to keep his neck buried in the collar of his jacket as much as he could as he walked towards the point that separated the two prefectures. It was only then that he allowed himself to look behind in the direction where he had come from. It hadn’t seemed like that long of a time had passed since he had run from what he had done, but since he couldn’t hear the sirens of any approaching police cars, and it was also the case that the reflection of the lights had yet to dye the night sky, it must be that he had come quite a ways away.
        –I guess she’s a goner.
        He had thrown her cell phone along with her other belongings into the river so there was no way for her to call an ambulance. And seeing as how it took place on the night road in the countryside where hardly anyone else was around, the chances of her being discovered were slim.
        He wondered how old she was. He only saw her from behind so he couldn’t be sure, but he guessed that she was probably in her late twenties, but no more than thirty. She really was an unlucky one. To think that the moan that she let out might just have been her last words….
        And besides, it was partly her fault for walking alone in the dead of the night in the middle of nowhere. He was surprised that a young woman would even consider walking alone on a darkly lit road. She was practically asking for something to happen, he told himself. At the very least, she could have been more careful by taking a taxi or riding a bicycle.
        He smoked a cigarette as he walked alongside the dark river. The smoke he exhaled was swept away by the chilly wind.
        –All this for a little over 10,000 yen, huh?
        It wasn’t worth it. He had gone through the trouble to buy brand new cotton work gloves, steal a bike and had spent his time singling out a victim. And if this thing turned into a murder, well then, the pay off didn’t equal the crime.
        If he knew that this was going to happen, he should have checked the contents of the wallet and abandoned the bike earlier. Then he could have found a few more victims and he could have made off with a decent amount. No…if he had gone at it on foot, he could have been tracked and it would have all been for nothing. His decision to keep riding hadn’t been a mistake. What was the mistake, when it came right down to it, was that he should have gone for a victim who had a little more money on them. In other words, not some random person walking on the street.
        –I guess convenience stores are my only option.
        For someone like him who wasn’t good at running, robbing a convenience store was no easy feat. Getting away was a hassle when you compared it to stealing from an individual. He had already experienced first hand just how hard it was. The payoff wasn’t bad, but it was less than he had expected. And there was also the fact that robbing one made him nervous, and the fact that he had to say the line “give me your money” in a convincing way.
        If he went into the convenience store in disguise, they would be able to tell what’s up right away, and he also had to prepare for what to do if the person at the register decided to resist. The biggest risk about it though was that more and more convenience stores have started setting up security cameras, and that alone increased the odds of him getting caught. In other words, it was just too risky.
        But if he nitpicked about the details, he would never be able to take the plunge. Well, he would just decide whether to go through with it or not once he used up this money. At the very least, robbing stores felt more like fair game than aiming for women walking alone on the street and snatching their purses from behind them. And if he robbed a convenience store in the countryside, it might just be that they wouldn’t be as cautious as their city counterparts.
        –It’s not like it makes a difference. I’ve killed someone now. There’s no topping that.
        He exhaled his last puff of smoke before throwing the cigarette that he had smoked until it reached the filter into the darkness. The small red light was picked up by the wind as it was carried down into the river waters.

TO BE CONTINUED…
[NEXT: Chapter 2 – 14 – 44]

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