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Automated Apartment Lights

By M. Ink 

“…if it wasn’t for my unsavoury youth, I wouldn’t have ended up this dejected—I wouldn’t have been this rotting piece of filth you see before you. If only—if only I had been more human, been more talkative—maybe more like the others around me—maybe if that were the case, I wouldn’t be sitting in this oppressive room, all by myself, wearing an unwashed shirt, unwashed shorts, and dishevelled hair. If it wasn’t for… for t—” 

By this point, the poor man’s writing had devolved to the level of incomprehensible scribbles. flicked through the journal’s pages once more, in the hopes of finding more entertainment—but other than empty gaps and questionable stains, there was none to be had. ‘Maybe I’ll re-read some of the passages here, they seemed interesting en-‘ 

Hey, the hell are you doing? Get over here! 

Interrupted and frustrated, I tucked the journal into my jacket’s inner pocket. Whilst making my way towards Takeshi and Bobo—my two co-workers—I found myself thinking imbecilic thoughts, like how I would have passed out by now if it weren’t for my mask—for oh, how this oppressive little room stank!  

Though this cleaning job of mine was one that called for human sympathy—which it usually did for me—this particular case, for some reason or another, aroused in me less a sense of pity, but more so an acute hatred for the now deceased inhabitant of this roomwhat with the wads of tissues strewn around the room, the anime posters tacked on the wall, and the disturbed piles of empty cup noodles and coke cans. It was of no help that his already bloated figure had bloated even further—indeed, the corpse before us was left undiscovered for two months. 

Whilst wrapping the corpse in plastic, with gloves in hand, I took momentary glances at the area surrounding it. The floorboards were beyond saving—the body had quite literally melted onto them, with the addition of those rice-sized maggots. I then turned my attention to the neatly organised bottles near the body. All but a few were filled to the brim with urine.  

I imagined his deplorable state of affairs from when he was still alive—shuffling through the rubbish underfoot, defecating in impromptu containers, all the while with curtains drawn, his grotesque figure outlined only by the sliver of light that made it through. 

As we carried his wrapped carcass into the elevator, Takeshi asked me: 

“Hey Jean, how many people do you think you could feed with this guy?” 

Eyeing the completely black flesh of our poor subject, I replied with a firm answer of ‘two families—it was enough to incite laughter from the both of us, but the middle-aged gentleman, Bobo, was unamused. 

Leaving Bobo and Takeshi to speak with the officers on the ground floor, I trotted my way back up to the room via the outer stairs. Slowly ascending this apartment building, I gazed at the rest of the complex—the utter stillness of the area was magnified by the absolute blue dullness of the sky. The men and women of this country should be arriving home about now, but the lights in the various windows were simply too still—as if operated not by humans, but an automated switch system for God knows what reason. 

Reaching room 204, I entered the darkness once again, disgusted still by the mess that lay about. I stepped through the room, kicking varying bits of rubbish aside—though, once few flies flung themselves onto the glass of my mask, I immediately stopped doing that.  

In the corner of the room, I noticed the flickering of a computer monitor. As it was situated on a single desk, I eyed the other various memorabilia on it—a keyboard stained by various liquids of an ungodly origin, an ashtray filled with—you could say, ashand, most curiously, a broken picture frame. Displayed on the screen was what seemed to me an unfinished blog post. I scrolled through the contents in a surprisingly nonchalant mannerand after a few moments of skimming, I realised that this man had attempted to chronicle the bitterness that was his life before starving to death—though my exploration was cut short by a nosy voice somewhere behind me: 

Hasn’t your mother ever told you not to snoop around?” 

Behind me was a sliding glass door leading to a small balcony—and perched on that balcony was a black cat. 

“Mind your own business, little cat.” 

“And you should mind yours, too.” 

Annoyed at this intrusion, I resumed m‘snooping’ through the man’s blog post. 

“…I was well-liked in my first year, I promise you—back then, I was considered well adjusted. I could talk with people like normal people could, I could walk around, dress appropriately, manage my studies and part-time work all perfectly—I was balanced throughout. Most importantly, I had a close group of friends to myself! I remember we would meet up every week, somewhere in a grassy place on campus, and we would discuss, banter, and have all sorts of adventures. This was all a joyous affair to me, which made me wonder even more how in the world I managed to lose every single one of them—it must have been a slow process, I’m sure of that—however, wasn’t it too cruel? I was dirty inside from the very start—this was something I knew even in my formative years—but even then, doesn’t a beast like me have a right to some form of happiness? Why was I abandoned? Why toss me aside just because of my desires—true, that it was a slip up that warrants nothing else but cruel spite—but even then, isn’t it still cruel spite? Why can’t I have mercy? Miya—I would never forget her name for as long as I lived—I loved her, I truly did—so why am I being disdained for acting on it?… 

The cat behind me seemed to prance slightly“Ah—Miya—that’s a familiar name, isn’t it? 

As frustrating as this cat was, it was an undeniable observation—I hastily picked up the broken frame (making sure not to touch the stained parts) to scrutinise the image beyond the cracks. 

There stood a girl in a summer dress, her jet black hair reaching the bottom of her chin, with flatly cut bangs across her forehead. In unprecedented delirium, I reached for my phone, navigating through my contacts. 

“Are you really sure about that?” wondered the cat. “Why would you do that?” 

In my agitation, I nearly tapped on the contact labelled ‘Marley’s Maids’it’s true that their services were always splendid, but that’s beside the point: it was Miya that I was looking for right now. 

“Let me do as I damn well please, Mr. Cat.” 

And so, in that dingy excuse for a roomI arranged an appointment with a particular ‘Miya Minami’. 

 

* 

I wonder why you’ve called me out here, Jean—is it just to have a little fun and play catch up with one another, or, like, is it something super serious? I’m looking at your expression right nowbut, like, I have no idea what you’re thinking right now!” 

It was Saturday, and the rest of the shopping centre beyond the café’s doors was a bustling river of youth and excited business. The little establishment we situated ourselves in was a spot of still water from the rushing torrent just a few meters away. Sitting opposite the little round table was the mythical woman herself—a stylish person (inferred from what I presume to be a carefully selected combination of clothes and careful attention to her delicate make upPlease bear with me—I’m unfamiliar with these types of things). I thought back to her image in the frame—she hadn’t changed at all. 

…I’m just playing catch-up, don’t worry about it!” 

The appointment started with the usual idle chatterwhat have you been up to, Jean? Oh, just the usual business. I was promoted to chief programmer a month ago actually, you know? Wow, that’s great! I wonder though, do you still do that dreadful body cleanup job of yours on the side? Why on earth would you…’ and so on and so forth. It was only until our conversation came to the topic of our college years that I refocused my attention. 

“So, Miya—do you remember a guy named Yamada within our circle? 

“A Yamada? Hmm…” 

After an unbearably long silence, Miya made her reply with a slight wince in her voice. “Ah… that Yamada.” 

“Yeah, yeah, Yamada—do you remember what happened to the guy? He kind of just stopped coming to classes, didn’t he?” 

“I guess he did… You know, it was probably because of that one incident.” 

For context’s sake, let me clarify—this Yamada man, at least from what I remember, was not a very dashing young lad—rather, if we were to conjure up a diagram measuring ‘dashing’ to ‘repulsive’, he would lay somewhat skewed to the ‘repulsive’ end of the spectrum. While there was nothing particularly flawed about him, his certain mannerisms occasionally made him the type with whom one would feel uncomfortable sitting next to in a lecture theatre (such behaviours would include: eating loudly during a lecture, stuttering one too many times, the neutral pouting of his face, talking to himself, leaving buttons undone occasionally, his slightly thinning hair, terrible fashion sense, occasional pretentiousness, oversharing his personal life etc). 

“Yeah, I remember—it was probably at Betty’s party.” Miya began swirling her fingers around the edge of her mug—on her face was an expression of a clearly intelligent woman feigning the innocence of a child. “He got drunk, you know—I remember, I was heading to the bathroom, and he approached me. He was all giddy too, and then all of a sudden, he proclaimed his undying love for me, and then he said stuff about how women have it easy, and that I should totally go out with him since he was a gentleman or something, and then how he’s had enough of being ignored by everyone. It’s an ironic mix of phrases, don’t you think? And out loud in the middle of a party too—everyone there heard it!” 

Her light giggling took me by morbid surprise—her squinted eyes at this point seemed to gradually grow darker. I took a sip of my coffee, though my hands were shaking, and adopted a curious expression. “I imagine that would’ve been really embarrassing. Don’t you feel bad for him—even when he stopped coming to classes, no one seemed to call on him?” 

“I mean, I feel bad for him, of course—he was already kind of awkward from the start – like, he never really hung out with us too much – but after that, it was like everyone ghosted him, you know? Like it was embarrassing to know him. You did it too, Jean—don’t you remember? We were on our way home once, on the train, and he was sitting on the other side of the carriage—and, like, he kind of just kept staring at us. Do you remember that? Ha ha.” 

The noise around us seemed to quieten down. At this point of the conversation, I was unnerved by the feeling that Miya had ceased listening to me, “Hey, hey, settle down for a moment, it’s not good to talk badly of people like th-“ 

Though, to be fair, he was a pretty lame guy, don’t you think? I mean, I know he liked those cartoons and stuff—and I think they can be kind of cool too—but to like it the way he did? You remember all those weird stickers he put on his laptop, the ones with the girls dressed up in bunny suits and stuff? That’s kind of awkward, don’t you think? Hha, I wonder what he’s doing right now—maybe he’s just sitting in his room masturbating to anime, you know—wouldn’t that be funny?” 

By the time I came to, I noticed all around us an eerie silence. Concerning the other customers in the café, they had stopped whatever business they were attending, choosing instead to stare directly at me. Even the bustling river outside came to a sudden halt, with that crowd, too, directing their attention towards yours trulyI looked back to Miya for reassurance, but all I found before me was an uncanny replica—her mouth was flapping open and closed, as if her entire being had been set to fast forward. 

Behind her, under the protruding board of the counter table, a long, prolonged, almost breathy groan could be heard. Leaning my head around to see, I found Yamada’s blackened corpse, slumped against the wooden wall—his eyes were empty, and he was pointing at me, his repulsive mouth open and rotting, all the while letting out that absurdunholy sound. To complete that image, the black cat was sitting near his feet, licking his fur. 

I looked again at the dollMiyabefore meit was still talking to me, albeit without the sound. It was definitely beautiful—the dollmaker replicated her looks perfectly, and her face was admittedly still very kissable. However, her dark eyes evoked within me the most primal sense of dread. For the smallest moment, my mind was taken back to the lights in the apartment complex. 

By the time I had truly resurfaced, Miya informed me that she had some urgent business to attend to, after realising that she had spent fifteen minutes too long with me. 

“It was fun, Jean—let’s meet up again soon!” Or so she said. 

When she left, I was capable only of sitting there in a complete daze—I spent the remainder of the afternoon looking at my unfinished coffee, in the hopes of seeing a clear picture. 

 

* 

At this ungodly hour, I found myself returning to room 204. Entering, I carried out the usual routine—put my jacket on the coat hanger, my phone and notebook by my desk, tiptoed around the mess of cup noodles, strewn clothes, and various items. Preparing myself a mug of warm milk, I sat down on the bed, thinking of the day that transpired. In the corner, my computer’s monitor remained lit in this nigh impenetrable darkness—ah, I’d forgotten to turn it off before leaving. The room walit in blueI gazed at a poster of some anime named ‘Fate Zero’—that show had an interesting story. 

“I would have to agree with you, Jean—however, there were probably better ways to carry out the themes it tried to cover.” 

Perched on that balcony again was the black cat from earlier—its silhouette against the singular ceiling light beaming on to the balcony floor made for a sickly, sterilised image. 

“You’re right about that. As much as I loved how the anime covered the motives of the protagonist’s enemies, I felt that they didn’t have as much of a presence as they could have. That ending, too—it was understandable, and I admired the sick imagery of the world nearly ending—however, I felt it was inconclusive regarding the protagonist’s supposedly naïve ideals. Though, I could just be really dumb, and maybe I’m a pseud for pretending that I understand what the director was trying to do there. 

At the end of my rant, the telephone rang, and of course, I went to answer it. 

“Hello?” 

“Hi, is this Jean Ozaki’s residence?” 

“Yes, it is—is there something you need?” 

Ah, I just wanted to remind you that some payments for your accommodation are slightly overdue.” 

“Oh, that, yes—well, ah… I’ll pay them very soon, I have the money.” 

“Okay, just making sure—don’t feel too threatened, we do checks like this on various residents at random—it’s a sort of new thing the owner is trying. Well, good night then!” 

The phone began to make that incessant beeping noise, and I placed it onto the receiver to save myself from that pain. For a moment, I wondered about the girl on the other side of that line—did she have a pretty face? What kind of hairstyle did she have? Is she into books? Maybe I should meet up with her. I turned back to the cat at the balcony—however, it seemed that he had already jumped off somewhere else. On the floor of the balcony was some broken glass I had neglected to tidy for some time now. I approached the sliding door to glance at them, only to find reflected in those shards something detestable and unworldly—to that, I turned away and made my way to sleep.  

Art by Phillipa Bell.

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