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Saving Face
Susumu, a young salaryman, has an eerie encounter in a strangely empty subway train. Now he's racing against time to restore what he's mislaid before it is lost forever.
Author(s): Rellawing | Editor(s): Trismegistus Shandy | 3 Warnings!
Content Keywords | Status: Completed | To Disqus!
MyReviews: 0
Susumu, a young salaryman, has an eerie encounter in a strangely empty subway train. Now he's racing against time to restore what he's mislaid before it is lost forever.

Chapter One : Part One: Effaced
Posted: 2018-10-22 07:35:58 | Updated: 2018-10-22 07:38:28
Words: 3310

I sit up in bed, rubbing my eyes and running the nail on my index finger along the crease of my eyeline to clear fluid and crusted material. Rubbing my fingers together, I flick and pinch them to clear them of the residue. I look around at my room with bleary eyes, blinking and yawning as I turn my glance to my bedside clock, noticing that the alarm hasn’t gone off. When I check to see the time, it is 05:40. I sigh softly and zone out for a time and then finally motivate myself to swing my feet out of bed onto the wooden floor of my apartment’s bedroom.

I stare blankly into space and close my eyes for a long moment, considering how I feel today. I can’t remember any dreams I may have had, but I feel as though my sleep hasn’t been especially restful. As I sigh softly and muse on how awful my life has become recently, I picture the face of a beautiful girl with stunning green eyes and lovely brown locks worn in a short style. It was a girl who had captured my heart from an early age. She has claimed it forever, and none others have interested me very much.

Oh, Reiko-chan… why did you have to die? If only you had given your heart to me, yours would have been protected forever. Why couldn’t you care for me the way I care for you? My eyes well up with tears and I grit my teeth angrily to fight them.

I jump fiercely to my feet, open my eyes, and turn them to the hallway towards the door out from my small, cramped apartment. I sigh and pad to the door, turning towards the door in the small hallway opening to my washroom closet. I open the door and step into it. I absentmindedly scratch an itch on my rear through the shorts I wear to bed. Without looking at myself in the mirror I already know that my eyes are redlined and bloodshot.

Ugly, insufficient. I was never good enough looking to catch the interest of Reiko-chan… She would never love me, but I hoped she might. She was just recently broken by the man she had given her heart to. A complete asshole who couldn’t appreciate what she could offer a man. I wanted to go to her side and embrace her, but she wouldn’t meet me.

My cheeks are lined oddly in places making my naturally high cheeks look extra pronounced. The shadows around my black to brown eyes make me look creepier than I would like. My hair is black, shaggy, cut short in a professional but not exceptionally stylish manner. My childhood friend Reiko-chan suggested I try makeup to improve my look, but I could never bend my neck and stoop to such methods to correct it. Unfortunately, with the job that I have, being a low paid salaryman, I can’t afford plastic surgery, but I’m not vain enough to really seriously entertain the idea of spending good money just to make myself look a little better.

I glare at myself in the mirror and tug down my shorts, letting them hit the floor. Throwing my tee shirt off, I sigh. I pick up my clothes and throw them out of the small washroom closet, closing the door. After starting the shower, I wait for the water to warm up and then jump into the bathtub to soak myself. Others might take time to take a leisurely bath, but I don’t have the time or the interest in baths. Inevitably, my mind turns to Reiko-chan as I start washing my hair and my body.

Oh, Reiko-chan… why did you have to throw yourself from the top of a building? It’s only thanks to your ID that the police was able to identify you. You had to choose the messiest and most terrifying way to die that I can think of. What must those last moments have been like? Seeing the ground rush towards you. Did it hurt? What could have driven you to such deep despair? That man wasn’t worth so much grief! You were such a strong and wonderful girl. It doesn’t make any sense. Why? Were you thrown from the roof? The tears flow from my eyes uncontrollably now that the running water in the shower can mask them.

“I’m not certain that I can face work today!” I scream aloud, sobbing.

/^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\

I stand in front of the wash closet mirror some time later, my eyes still red and bloodshot. I have taken too much time for grief. I won’t be able to pay my rent and eat properly if I keep fooling around. I’m a twenty-five year old salaryman, not a fool. I have no family, no friends to rely on. I must be strong. I must power on and keep going. Surrender is not an option, never! I castigate myself fiercely as I adjust my tie. I glare towards my reflection, wondering if that glare is a typical look for me. My heart is good and I’m kind, I’d never hurt anyone. I do my best to help the unfortunate people I run across as I am able. Even so, I have no friends. Maybe it’s the scowl, or just my face?

I sigh, grimace and step out of the wash closet and around the corner to my apartment proper. I walk to the corner of the room that is my kitchenette. I open my small cabinet and remove a slice of bread from a bag and pop it into my small toaster, pulling the lever down to get it started. I open the small refrigerator and remove an egg. I break the egg open and crack it open into a waiting frying pan. I start the single burner underneath it, ready my cooking chopsticks, and prod at it carefully as it heats and fries. I move it periodically, and after a time I flip it and grill the other side. When the toast pops up, I lift the pan, turning off the burner, and use the chopsticks to lever the egg onto the toast. I quickly enjoy my breakfast standing there. Afterwards, I walk to my bed and lift my working case.

I review the apartment, making certain that I’m forgetting nothing, and leave it, locking the door behind me. I head along the railed walkway to the stairs downstairs and from there along the street in the direction towards the closest train station. I take a deep breath, enjoying the morning air. I catch the eyes of strangers passing by and offer an attempted friendly smile. Typically people flinch away from me. I shake my head and continue along the narrow street leading from my apartment building and as I do, I see a group of children passing me on their way to their school. I suppress a desire to smile and wish them a good day, but it never goes well, and as typical they eye me suspiciously. I shrug and continue my way onwards.

I approach the train station after twenty minutes of walking, and walk quickly down the stairs to the station proper. It’s odd; for some reason there is no one else in sight. Normally it’s packed around this time, but for some reason there is no one, not even any officers are stationed that I can see at the moment. Why would that be? I frown at nothing in particular and make my way through the ticket taking stands, sliding my magnetic card over the reader as I go. As it opens the way, I pass through and head down the remaining stairs to the train boarding platform.

Why is the station so empty? Is today a holiday that I’m not thinking of? I laugh aloud when I realize that it’s Halloween today, October the thirty-first. I shake my head. What a creepy situation for such a day. That holiday is not a sufficient reason for this anomaly.

I trot along the platform and over to where I usually board the train to wait for the train’s arrival in order to board car number three. Is it obsessive compulsion? No, I just form habits and roll with it. I yawn again casting my gaze around in another attempt to spot another person on the platform, but perhaps because I wonder if I might see something else; I can’t help still feeling creeped out by the lack of any people. When the train pulls in, the usual jingles play as it comes to a stop and the doors slide open. I look inside car number three and see the it is empty as well. Even this car is empty? What of others? Goosebumps rise on my arms and legs as I board it, looking around anxiously again. The same recordings play, announcing the next stop. I sigh, take a seat by the door, and slip my phone from my pocket.

This situation is too much. Maybe I should just ride the train to the next stop and board the next back home, or maybe I’ll walk home from there. I don’t like what this oddity says about how my day will be.

“Hello! Is someone there?” I call out as the doors close and the train starts moving. I consider moving through the cars to see if I can find one that may contain people. It will make me feel so much better if I were to find that other cars are occupied. Even so, I sigh as I open my browser on my cell phone and find myself compulsively navigating to the article that was all that announced the death of Reiko-chan, only a week ago. I review the details, grateful not for the first time that the pictures taken at the scene of her grisly death are censored. Suddenly, the lights in the car flicker and go out. I look out the windows and note that the train is still underground.

“Auuuughhhhhhuuuuu!” I hear the sound of a voice and turn to look with relief and then shock when I see the bone white face in the darkness, somehow clearly visible though nothing else is. I study the face, noting two dark maws that seem to be full of shadows. It gazes towards me and its face has no features at all; its mouth hangs agape permanently. What is this? A Halloween prank? Even though it might be, I still feel a strong instinct to run away. I leap to my feet and dash through the darkness of the rocking car in the direction I know I’ll find a door leading to another car, and when I come close I throw myself blindly at it.

“Auuuughhhhhuuuuuiiiiii!” The creature utters strange noises behind me. I suddenly doubt my instinctive flight, and I shake my head, thinking myself foolish. A noh face yokai? It’s a classic costume choice. If someone wants to terrify me on Halloween, it is probably a wonderful choice, isn’t it? If it really is a noh face, why does it want me? Because I’m here and no one else is? I laugh and struggle to open the door to put distance between myself and the potential prankster. The door unfortunately refuses to budge as I struggle with it. As I do, I start to feel the panic resurge within me to the surface of my conflicted emotions.

It doesn’t move any closer than within reach, and continues to groan at me. “Auuuuughhhhhhllllliiiiiiiiiiiii!” Unable to flee, I turn again despite my fear and meet its eyes. It’s a prankster, not a noh face… it’s a fine joke on me. You aren’t supposed to look it into the eyes, but that might make them stop. This kind of terrorism is not uncommon on Halloween. I blink as it continues to obnoxiously groan at me, but faced now it suddenly rushes at me with its clawed fingers stretched wide to seize my head. I try to look away from its dreadful clutches and its empty gaze. “What are you doing, you sick bastard? Leave me alone! What do you have against me, you freak?”

It grimaces and moans annoyingly at me a last time. “Auuuuugghhhhhhlllllllliiiiiiiiiii!” My face starts burning like it’s on fire! I scream and throw myself to the floor, I know that my face can’t truly be aflame, even so I reactively flop and roll around, slapping my face and patting it frantically. Moments later, the interior of the train car light up again. I blink, blinded by the sudden return of the light, and as my vision recovers I sit up, disheveled. I peer around; everything looks subtly different. I rub my eyes and the sensations I receive from my fingers seems strange to me as well. When I consider how it feels, it’s as though I’m rubbing my forehead instead and my hands rubbing don’t block my vision. It’s a strange sensation, being able to see my hands as I rub my eyes. I think that I can feel all the usual muscles in my face; my eyelids, cheek muscles, lips, nose, ears, and eyebrows.

My stunned panicking is interrupted not long after when the train chimes that the it is momentarily approaching the next station. As it slows and stops, the doors slide open, and immediately people start filing into the car. I look at them, and I’ve never been so happy to see people as now. They see me and unlike the usual expressions of distaste, flat indifference, or simply being ignored, I see open loathing and terror in their expressions. I haven’t even tried to smile at them. I try to, but it doesn’t change anything. “Yokai!” a man screams and lifts his suitcase high above as he runs towards me with an aggressive expression.

I flinch and raise my hands to ward him off, and as I do, I gasp. “What are you doing? I’m not that unattractive! I know I don’t look my best today!” I stagger and gasp as the man’s suitcase strikes my head. I fall to my backside on the floor of the train car, clutching my head.

“Call the police!” he yells loudly, menacing me with his suitcase.

“What if it’s a costume?” a woman suggests, looking disgusted and worried.

“It’s too good! He has no face! It’s no mask! He’s a noh face! That hit didn’t budge it a bit, and see the red spot? It’s obvious, isn’t it? You know the rumors, everyone! It’ll victimize us!” he yells. I gasp and seize my suitcase as I scramble to my feet and dart to the nearest door, wobbling. The onlooking people who have boarded the train dash away as far as they are able as the man’s words sink in. A man leaps through the door back onto the platform ahead of me running in terror. He quickly sprints through the platform up the stairs. I run after him desperately; as I run, other people spot me and scream. Their yells echo all around me. Once in a while, I think I hear an amused laugh as though some assume it’s some prank, as I had.

I run past the groups of people and they stare as I make my way up the stairs and to the ticket taking stands. Some of them whisper the same words that someone has already uttered onboard the train. “Yokai.”

I sweat furiously as I bolt to slip through the ticket taking stands; a police officer stationed there moves towards me officiously. I look at him, feeling as though my mouth is gaping open, but I realize that I don’t have a mouth when I place my hand to it. I scream loudly and the people around me scream in turn. I vault over the ticketstands and dash onwards, but I hear pursuit behind me to my dismay. I push past the officer, flailing as I make for the stairs leading out.

“Stop and lie down!” the officer barks out behind me. I gasp, crying as I continue to run, pushing my way through the crowd, weaving through it. More people scream as I dash to the stairs and up them, taking them two and three at a time as I flee. A man watching as the police officer chases me through the crowd draws back to strike me, like some kind of hero of justice. I peripherally notice people with their phones out snapping pictures and taking video. I gasp and desperately sidestep the man’s attack, throwing myself to the side against the nearby rail along the stair; I wobble, nearly falling.

The man stumbles due to his inertia and falls forward. I reach out and snag his shirt, pulling him up to the rail. I bolt again past him, resuming vaulting my way the rest of the way onto the street. As I break into the morning sunlight, I cover my face with my hands. People passing by still stare at me strangely as I run, but I keep my hands up, covering my face the whole way. I hear pursuing feet for a long moment, but the sounds fade behind.

I gasp for breath, sweating from head to toes, soaking through my business suit. Oh, Kami! What have I done to deserve this punishment? Please forgive me! I’m a good man! Why does the world despise me? What am I now?

/^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\ /^(o.o)^\

I somehow manage to find my way back to my apartment in spurts and sprints along alleyways towards home. On the way, I turned my face away from any inquiring people I passed by, and if my hands slipped away from my face, I quickly covered it again with my hands. I pant and moan and cry before my wash closet mirror. My clothes are now plastered to my body with sweat.

“I’ll never leave my apartment ever again! I’m a shut-in going forward from today! Oh… but what about the rent? I have no other income! How can I work and live like this? Oh no!” I scream as I turn my no-eyes to behold my appearance. My face is more disgusting and terrifying than ever. My face is blank with no features as though it were a curved fleshy flat surface. I moan, falling to my knees before the sink, screaming and crying. Reiko-chan! I now understand it! I understand why you killed yourself! When life deals you an impossible hand, and there’s nothing else you can do, what is left for you in the world? Oh, Reiko-chan… I’ll follow you and meet you in another life! I wail and despair, pulling my hair.

My despair and crying is interrupted when my phone rings in my pocket. I let it ring four times before I remove it, my hand sweaty and yet cold. I look at the screen and see the identification of the caller; it stuns me. Reiko-chan? I gasp and swipe to quickly answer it.

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