frozen jigoku

If Hideyoshi had to choose a single thing that shook his confidence in the Institute, it would be the hands of the Manchurian. The man’s eternal reaching unnerved him. He would sometimes study the man, meditating on his pose, hoping to understand whether those unfurling digits were symbols of fear or longing or supplication. The man’s remains would unfurl and recombine, clutching on nothingness, and Hideyoshi would watch and stare.

He had not known the man’s name. Hideyoshi could not see the point in finding it out now, not after what had been done. It was terrible, true, but the man’s suffering was short. Far worse, thought Hideyoshi, to be one of those left to survive and observe. To be one like he, endlessly returning to the scene. So in his mind Hideyoshi simply named the unfortunate man for his ethnicity and wished him all the best for the next life. He may be, Hideyoshi thought, in the next life already. He doubted it though. The Institute would need to be shut down first, its indefinable purpose finally met, the natural order of things restored. Then, when that ceaseless unravelling subsumed, then the Manchurian would get his final rest.

Not that anyone had ever asked, but Hideyoshi would be the first to admit that his understanding of metaphysics was far from detailed. He had grown up in Kyoto, in a traditional family with traditional values – or at least as traditional as one could be, in this day and age. His views on Heaven had been unchallenged as he had reached maturity. Like almost everyone he knew in the Institute, he considered such topics to be private and inheritably unshareable with colleagues.  Still, Hideyoshi had some degree of faith that entropy would come, one day, to this place.

The Institute took up the entirety of the building. It was the building. All windows had been blacked out years before, when the Nipponese had moved in. There was no natural light, and few electrical lamps. Circuits didn’t behave in the Hollow House, not how they were supposed to. It didn’t matter though. The House provided its own illumination. Unnatural and fey, yes, but illumination nonetheless.

The building smelled like ozone tonight. It did that sometimes. Sometimes the air would tingle, as if before an electrical storm. On other evenings, the whole Institute would sigh and corridors would lengthen and warp. On nights like those, Hideyoshi would walk the hallways with his hand always closely gripped on the handrails. He didn’t want to fall in. Not like the Manchurian, not that he’d fallen as such. At any rate, the shapes were quiet tonight. The buildings flickered in mid-air, as they always did. Soft whorls unlaced the edges of the structure, sending shimmering shards of stone and cement off into infinity.

A belief in Heaven brought with it, inevitably, an understanding that a Hell may go with it. The Institute’s official name was Division 403. It was known, variously, as Oni Division, the Imperial Garden, or the Hollow House. Hideyoshi called it, to himself, Frozen Jigoku. This building was a Hell that had become haunted, as far as Hideyoshi could tell, with the ghosts of past decisions. Even now, the groaning of those latticed iron walkways made him think of that night, and mentions of the General’s name.

When he had first started at the Institute, Hideyoshi would say his prayers just as his grandmother had taught him. Now, he said his curses. He would routinely curse himself three times – for being born, for joining the Army, and lastly for being on shift that night when the General came. He would also, some nights, curse the General, and even the Emperor for sending him here. On occasion, he would also curse the Manchurian for haunting him so. Every night, he would also curse the Scientist, without whom none of them would be here, circling this amber-locked shard of Hell.

The man’s hands, Hideyoshi thought, were the worst. The way that the blast had caught the Manchurian, they were at the very edge of Jigoku, right where reality intersected. Where the majority of the body had blistered away in a bright continual light, the fingers were outstretched, forever juddering in some hideous stop-motion movement. Hideyoshi could, if he wished, watch for an eternity and see those gloves and skin be peeled away and then reform once more. Like an apple, Hideyoshi thought. Like some apple being peeled in a spiral and then being pushed back together again.

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