"It's going for the wagon," Hajime said. A gaijin was always "it."
Harry ducked around the ragpicker's teetering wagon and between the legs of the wagon's swaybacked horse, tipping a sack at the rice shop and pausing only long enough to whack Tetsu's shin. The twins weren't fast, but they understood commands, and Gen ordered them to block the doorway to a peep show called the Museum of Curiosities. Hajime threw his rod like a spear to catch Harry in the back. Harry stumbled and felt a hot, damp stab of blood.
"Submit, submit!" Tetsu hopped on one leg because the muslin had started unwrapping from his stomach from the effort of the chase.
"Got it!" Hajime tripped Harry, sending him rolling over the ground and through an open door into the dark yeasty interior of a bar. A workman drinking beer at the counter stood, measured his boot and kicked Harry back out.
The action had drawn the twins from the peep-show door, and Harry raced for it. The peep show itself was a gallery of muted lights, "mermaids" that were papier-mâché monsters stitched to fish and "exotic nudes" that were plaster statues. Harry backed up the stairs past the peep-show entrance, where constricted space meant he faced only one attacker at a time. The twins squeezed forward, falling over each other to reach Harry. Gen took their place, goggles over his eyes to show he meant business. Harry took a stiff jab in the stomach, another on his knee, gave a short chop on Gen's shoulder in return but knew that, step by step, he was losing ground, and the stairway ended on the second floor at a door with a sign that said NO ENTRANCE. THIS DOOR IS LOCKED AT ALL TIMES.
Blood ran down Harry's neck and inside his sweater. At school their one-armed military instructor, Sergeant Sato, gave all the boys bayonet practice with bamboo poles. He would march them onto the baseball diamond dressed in padded vests and wicker helmets to train them in thrust and parry. Gen excelled in attack. Since Harry, the only gaijin in school, was always chosen as a target, he had become adept at self-defense.
Hajime launched his spear again. Its tip raked the crown of Harry's head and bounced off the door. Gen broke Harry's pole with one stroke and, with another, hit Harry's shoulder so hard his arm went numb. Pressed against the door, Harry tried to defend himself with the halves of the pole, but the blows came faster, while Gen demanded over and over, "Submit! Submit!"
Magically, the door opened. Harry rolled backward over a pile of shoes and sandals and found himself on a reed mat looking up at a gaunt man in a black suit and French beret and a circle of women in short satin skirts and cardboard crowns. Cigarettes dangled from expressions of surprise. The air was thick with smoke, talcum, the fumes of mosquito coils and the heavily perfumed sweat of chorus girls.
The man carried an ivory cigarette holder in fingers painted red, blue and black. He tipped his chair to count Gen, Hajime, Tetsu and the Kaga twins gathered at the top of the stairs. "Hey, what are you trying to do, kill him? And five against one? What kind of fair fight is that?"
"We were just playing," Gen said.
"The poor boy is covered with blood." One of the women knelt to lift Harry's head and wiped his face with a wet cloth. He noticed that she had painted her eyebrows as perfect half-moons.
"He's not even Japanese," Hajime said over Gen's shoulder.
The woman reacted with such shock that Harry was afraid she would drop him like a spider. "Look at that, he's right."
"It's the missionary boy," another woman said. "He's always running through the street with this gang."
A man in a straw boater heaved into view. "Well" -- he laughed -- "it looks like the gang has turned on him."
"We were only playing," Harry said.
Copyright © 2002 by Titanic Productions
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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