The wind picked up and with it came the threat of rain. And while drops of precipitation had yet to fall, a sparse slick of moisture had formed on the sidewalk—releasing the slightly earthy smell that would kick up in full force as soon as the rain commenced. Chase couldn’t help but think of those sweet rainy days of his youth back in Nebraska. They were fond memories. Memories of those days of early spring when there was nothing to do but sit on the porch and inhale the scent of wet hay wafting in from the field. It seemed so long ago.
Many of the street signs had English in small print, but he didn’t recognize any of the street names. If only I could charge my damn phone, he thought. Unlike most people his age, Chase didn’t obsess over his smartphone. Even though it was the best means for finding his way around Japan and translating the language, he didn’t like all the distractions it brought about.
To him, technology was a tool to be utilized, not something to replace the beauty of the world around him; for the view through a tiny screen could hardly compare to what the images the human eye could convey to the mind. And if it wasn’t for the strong urging of Jessica—his ex-fiance who’d broken their engagement off the year prior—he would probably still be using an old-school Nokia that was able to double as a hammer, paperweight, or if needed, a weapon not unlike a brick. Of course, if he still had the ol’ brick, the battery wouldn’t be dead for another week damn near. Unlike this supposed “smartphone” which had a battery life of eight hours if he was lucky. It made Chase grind his teeth in irritation just thinking about it.
He thought about flagging down another person and asking for directions but decided against it. From online videos he’d watched about the culture, he knew a lot of Japanese didn’t like talking to strangers. And even though most locals were helpful thus far, Chase had sensed that every person he asked was suppressing a hot spring of annoyance bubbling right below the surface.
Walking down the busy street, Chase used the tall buildings in the distance as his North Star. He was sure he would find his hotel among them. And if not, he felt comforted in the knowledge that at the very least it would be a tourist-friendly area. Most, if not all, restaurants and businesses in the taller buildings of Tokyo generally employed people who could speak English well. This was doubly true for the higher end hotels in the area.
As he walked along, the sky continued to darken. It was a moonless night that enveloped the city in shadow—which was further magnified by the growing cloud cover. Even the bright street lights and radiant signs of the bars and storefronts did little to penetrate its all-encompassing hold. It was a Tokyo much unlike the neon fantasies of comic books and gritty noir films that Chase had grown so infatuated with over the years.
An unexpected surge of people flooded out from a nearby office and onto the sidewalk, disorienting Chase in the process. In the mad rush—which dissipated as quickly as it came about—he found himself all turned around. While being taller than almost everyone around allowed him to easily peer over the heads of the crowd, he was too focused on looking down to make sure he didn’t step on anyone’s feet. This was the first time in Chase’s life that he had worried about this.
Instead of looking over the crowd and continuing in the direction of the tall buildings, he’d fallen in line and went with the flow like a log drifting with the current of a swift river. When the crowd dispersed after zig-zagging through a few city blocks, Chase found himself facing a narrow alley full of literal hole-in-the-wall bars and noodle shops.
He’d actually planned on searching out one of these famed alleyways during his stay in Japan; they are popular spots among locals and most tourists are unaware of their existence. But with fatigue setting in and his feet and back hurting something fierce, all he wanted to do was go back to his hotel and relax for the rest of the evening. First, he needed to locate the tall buildings in the distance again so he could head back in the right direction. But with the heavy cloud cover blanketing the horizon in blackness, this would prove to be a difficult feat.
Caught off guard, Chase whirled around and accidentally stepped on the foot of a woman. She winced in pain.
“I’m so sorry,” he said with a sincere look of worry.
“Oh, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you,” the woman replied in perfect English. She had Japanese features but her skin was bronze and her hair had a red tinge to it. “You just seemed like you were looking around for something and I thought I might be able to help.” Gingerly, she shook her foot side-to-side with an exaggerated frown on her face. “If I can walk that is.” She gave him a knowing wink. “So, are you lost, cowboy?”
Chase let out a chuckle of relief. “You have no idea.” He stepped to the side of the entrance to the alley, allowing another surge of people to pass by. “My phone died and I forgot the charger at the hotel. I uh,” he let out another chuckle, “also forgot the hotel. Well, where it’s at, anyway.”
The woman smiled, flashing a row of perfectly straight teeth. Years of braces, Chase thought. Another sign that she probably wasn’t native to Japan. “What’s the name of the hotel?” She stepped a bit farther to the side as well. People were beginning to really pile into the alley and most of the bars and noodle shops were filling up fast.
Chase told her the name of the hotel and her eyes lit up at its mention. He wasn’t sure exactly what it meant but a cruel thought went through his head. Could she be an escort?
Of course, there wasn’t anything unusual about her appearance to corroborate this idea. She wore a tight blue skirt and high heels that accentuated her shapely legs, but so were countless other women who were leaving the office for the day. It’s not like Japan has as relaxed of a dress code as most offices back in the States. He remembered reading an article on the plane trip here about women in Tokyo fighting to change the rules which mandated that female office workers must wear high heels to work. A rule Chase knew would never fly back home.
“You’re in luck!” she blurted out loudly.
A few people walking past shot her looks of disapproval.
“The hotel is just on the other side of this alley.”
“Really?” For some reason this news made Chase feel uneasy. How did he not notice this alley when he’d left the hotel in the morning? In fact, he could’ve sworn the hotel was in a more open space away from any alleys.
Another cold gale blustered through the street and whipped his neat brown hair into a frenzy. This time, the wind carried with it a forceful downpour of rain. Even though everyone had been expecting rain for some time, the suddenness still caught many off-guard. Especially Chase, who not only was in an unfamiliar place but also lacked an umbrella and the knowledge to find a suitable spot to ride out the storm. Without any way to translate the language, he wasn’t sure what nearby place he could duck into. Not all shops and bars were welcoming of foreigners. But before he could think too much about it, the decision was made for him.
“Shit,” the woman said under her breath. “Follow me.”
She took Chase’s hand and led him down the alley, forcing their way through the crowd. Whether it was from innocence or desperation to get out of the rain, Chase followed without question. With an abrupt jerk, she changed direction and pulled him into the entrance of a random bar. On the way in his head met a low-hanging sign with a loud crack.
“Oooh, are you okay?”
The woman touched his forehead with the tips of her fingers. Maybe it was because he had been outside for so long, but her fingers felt like hot coals against his cool flesh. Instinctively, he pulled away. Black dots speckled his vision.
“I’m fine, thanks,” he said a bit too curtly as he caught her worried gaze.
The woman’s eyes were hazel with flecks of twinkling gold. Chase had never seen anybody with such beautiful eyes before. Such sharp, clear eyes. But as he spoke, not meaning to come off as rude as he did, there was a flash in those perfect orbs of hers. And even though it only lasted for a fraction of a second, Chase could swear he’d seen the eyes of a serpent. Eyes that held 1000 miles of darkness and 1000 more of pain. It was only a flash though. An instant in time so infinitesimal that he couldn’t even say it had happened at all.
A dull throbbing settled in his head and he realized the woman was still staring at him with a concerned look. He did his best to give her a reassuring smile, and in the next instant, she volleyed it with a smile of her own.
“Better find a place to sit while we still can.” She motioned toward a large group of people rushing through the rain in their direction.
Chase hesitated. “I can’t. I really gotta head back to my hotel.” Even though he meant it, his words were indecisive. He worried he had come across as coy.
The woman gave his hand a little squeeze. Her fingers no longer felt hot. Instead, they were soft and warm and sensual. They held an invitation to exotic pleasures he had yet to experience in his young life. In his subconscious, he knew he wouldn’t be able to escape.