A dark, omnipresent pool of water.
It was probably always there, hidden away somewhere. But when the time comes it silently rushes out, chilling every cell in your body. You drown in that cruel flood, gasping for breath. You cling to a vent near the ceiling, struggling, but the air you manage to breathe is dry and burns your throat. Water and thirst, cold and heat--these supposedly opposite elements combine to assault you.
The world is a huge space, but the space that will take you in--and it doesn't have to be very big--is nowhere to be found. You seek a voice, but what do you get? Silence. You look for silence, but guess what? All you hear over and over and over is the voice of this omen. And sometimes this prophetic voice pushes a secret switch hidden deep inside your brain.
Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, full to the banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That's it. That's my heart.
Before running away from home I wash my hands and face, trim my nails, swab out my ears, and brush my teeth. I take my time, making sure my whole body's well scrubbed. Being really clean is sometimes the most important thing there is. I gaze carefully at my face in the mirror. Genes I'd gotten from my father and mother--not that I have any recollection of what she looked like--created this face. I can do my best to not let any emotions show, keep my eyes from revealing anything, bulk up my muscles, but there's not much I can do about my looks. I'm stuck with my father's long, thick eyebrows and the deep lines between them. I could probably kill him if I wanted to--I'm sure strong enough--and I can erase my mother from my memory. But there's no way to erase the DNA they passed down to me. If I wanted to drive that away I'd have to get rid of me.
There's an omen contained in that. A mechanism buried inside of me.
A mechanism buried inside of you.
I switch off the light and leave the bathroom. A heavy, damp stillness lies over the house. The whispers of people who don't exist, the breath of the dead. I look around, standing stock-still, and take a deep breath. The clock shows three p.m., the two hands cold and distant. They're pretending to be noncommittal, but I know they're not on my side. It's nearly time for me to say good-bye. I pick up my backpack and slip it over my shoulders. I've carried it any number of times, but now it feels so much heavier.
Shikoku, I decide. That's where I'll go. There's no particular reason it has to be Shikoku, only that studying the map I got the feeling that's where I should head. The more I look at the map--actually every time I study it--the more I feel Shikoku tugging at me. It's far south of Tokyo, separated from the mainland by water, with a warm climate. I've never been there, have no friends or relatives there, so if somebody started looking for me--which I kind of doubt--Shikoku would be the last place they'd think of.
I pick up the ticket I'd reserved at the counter and climb aboard the night bus. This is the cheapest way to get to Takamatsu--just a shade over ninety bucks. Nobody pays me any attention, asks how old I am, or gives me a second look. The bus driver mechanically checks my ticket.
Only a third of the seats are taken. Most passengers are traveling alone, like me, and the bus is strangely silent. It's a long trip to Takamatsu, ten hours according to the schedule, and we'll be arriving early in the morning. But I don't mind. I've got plenty of time. The bus pulls out of the station at eight, and I push my seat back. No sooner do I settle down than my consciousness, like a battery that's lost its charge, starts to fade away, and I fall asleep.
Excerpted from Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami Copyright © 2005 by Haruki Murakami. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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