Alexander Gezeit
Monday, December 21
Cultural evaluation
Cultural Evaluation

During a brief lull between tracks from the bar’s speaker system my companion swung round to face me. ‘Sometimes I dread that I’m not about to wake up in an opium den with three months’ worth of beard and a missing ear,’ he said to me, his eyes pleading. ‘Sometimes I think that maybe this is all actually happening.’

‘Culture shock is a symptom of an inflexible mind. You should flex your mind, Tim, let it bend like a reed, not snap like a, uh…’ I searched my own mind for a suitably brittle substance: ‘…twig.’

‘I’m afraid your eloquent and insightful Eastern wisdom is of little comfort. I feel like human flotsam lost in a sea of madness. My only hope is that this whole experience has been a drug-induced fever dream.’ He gazed down into his tankard thoughtfully. ‘Whatever hellhole my one-eared body lies slumbering in will at least be comprehensibly terrible.’

‘Well, I think you’d wear the beard well,’ I said, taking a dismissive sip from my own glass. ‘Not sure about the ear though; you might want to invest in a hat. I think you’re overreacting to Japan a tad.’

‘Oh, really, well tell me then; what was the first thing we saw in Harajuku?’

‘A girl dressed as a unicorn.’

‘Yes, a girl dressed as a unicorn.” Tim replied with a mournful triumph. ‘She wasn’t advertising anything, she wasn’t running a marathon for charity, her only motivating factor was the pure unbridled joy of being dressed as a unicorn.’

‘Well, who are we to judge the strange desires that lurk in the hearts of men?’

‘And what about the temple at Nara?’ Tim grew more animated, punctuating his speech with gestures from his steadily emptying glass. ‘There I was, thinking: ‘Oh this will be nice and tranquil’ but then out of nowhere a herd of deer tried to sexually assault me!’

‘I think they were just after that food, man.’

‘You didn’t see the look in their eyes.’ He slowly swiveled round on his stool to gaze into the distance. ‘Plus there’s all these little things; beer in vending machines, communal bathing, ambulances that stop at traffic lights, bus drivers…’

‘I’m pretty sure we have bus drivers in England.’

‘Yes, but not like here. Here they have young and attractive women driving busses. Young attractive female bus drivers! How can you possibly come to terms with something so alien?’

‘I had a young attractive female dentist once.’

‘Really? God, what was that like?’

‘Just kinda awkward. You’re laid back in the chair and there’s this pretty girl rooting around in your mouth scraping plaque off your molars.’

‘That’s probably a fetish for someone.’ Tim snapped back round to face me, manoeuvring a full tankard in an artful swoop ‘This is all beside the point, you are distracting me from my cultural evaluation of Japan with tales of sexy dentistry. Now, take this fellow here.’ He gestured at the barman with his beer.

‘What, Sushi?’

‘Yes, ‘Sushi’.’ He mouthed the word with suspicion. ‘Who is named Sushi? Nobody. So why won’t he tell us his name? Because he needs to hide his identity, he obviously has some kind of malevolent plot against for us in mind. That, my friend, is deductive reasoning.’ He took a deep drink to celebrate his mastery of logic.

‘I think Sushi is his DJ name. Besides, you told him that your name was Guy Incognito.’

‘Well, I need some defence against whatever sinister purpose he might have.’

I looked down at the amber patterns of light cast by my tilted glass on the bar top. ‘Do you think us having been constantly drunk for the entire trip played much of a part in forming these cultural perceptions?’

‘Very little. It does, however, currently play a very large part in my bladder.’ He moved his stool back and stood. ‘Which I will now go and rectify.’ Tim walked to the bathroom leaving me alone in Sushi’s company to contemplate the music and savour my beer. A hand slapped down on my shoulder and I turned to see Tim’s grinning face.

‘I just remembered!’ He said with puppy dog enthusiasm. ‘I read at the hostel that there’s a giant robot baby that breathes fire near here! We must go!’ By the time I had drained the last of my beer and smiled a goodbye at the barman, Tim had a foot on the top step of the spiral staircase. He turned round still wearing the same keen grin. ‘God I love this place.’

2:54 pm  
Stolen Gods
Stolen Gods

The ramshackle temple loomed over the two children; it’s strange shape breaking the pattern of the stars in the purple sky above. Quetzal followed her twin brother along the overgrown path, moss brushing her bare feet.


‘Hmmm?’ He murmured, eyes on the trees edging the clearing for any signs of movement.

‘Was it this dark when you were with the other boys?’

‘I can’t remember.’ He answered, walking as he’d been taught to when hunting unfamiliar forest. ‘If you’d have done the same rituals as us you’d understand.’

‘I don’t want to do your silly boy things. I don’t see why you have to fast or breath that smoke that makes you see things which aren’t there’ she said with distaste ‘I don’t know what those things have to do with you becoming a man anyway.’

‘Well it’d certainly take more than fasting and smoke to make you a man.’ He grinned. He edged past a path of loose stones on the walkway, his sister copying his movements with a look of annoyance that was lost in the gloom ‘All I know is that it was what chief Teotl said we had to do’.

‘Well if you did everything Teotl said you wouldn’t have brought me to see the temple would you?’ She said pouting.

I regret ignoring his great wisdom more with each passing moment.’

‘And if people always did what Teotl said I’d have been dead and buried years ago.’

Tepec sighed ‘Twins are forbidden, you know that, but mother persuaded him that the village needed more girls for the harvest so you’re alive.’ He said repeating the same well-worn words he used each time the subject came up. ‘And to think if I’d been an only child I wouldn’t be in the middle of the jungle at the dead of night to satisfy your stupid girl curiosity.’

‘Hmmf, I wonder why nobody thought it would’ve been a good idea to sacrifice you?’

‘Because boys grow up to be courageous warriors, while girls…’ a bat flittered from a hollow in the wall by Tepec’s head. He jumped back with a high-pitched shriek.

They climbed the temples giant steps with only Quetzal’s laughter breaking the silence.

The darkness in the open air was nothing compared to the pitch black that greeted them once inside. Tepec lit a torch and the twins walked the along the slanted walls of the temples inner corridor. The unsteady orange light of the torch picked out features from the scenes carved on the wall. Stone skulls, snakes, and panthers stared out of the shadows. Quetzal swallowed and smoothed the thick folds of the shawl on her shoulders ‘I don’t recognize any of these Gods.’

‘That’s because they’re not our Gods.’ Tepec replied keeping his steady pace. ‘This place is called a Co-at-eo-calli. It’s where we kept captured Gods.’

Quetzal touched her hand to a protruding jade fang. ‘How on Earth do you capture a God?’

‘Well once we were a mighty tribe with a great army of warriors.’ Answered Tepec, his chest puffed out in pride. ‘When we’d conquered another tribe, we’d take their Gods from their temples and bring them back here.’


‘Because it pleased our Gods, and because it showed how mighty our tribe was, and because, because… Just because.’ Tepec answered tartly. ‘You ask too many questions, that’s why none of the boys in the village want to marry you.’

Quetzal snorted. ‘None of the boys in the village want to marry me because I’m smarter than all of them put together.’ She looked ahead. The fierce stone faces seemed animated by the wavering orange torchlight.

‘And you know the reason you’re too smart, it’s because you ask too many questions.’

Quetzal ignored him, her gaze passing back and forth between the crowded walls. ‘Is it a good idea to steal a God?’

Tepec stopped and turned to meet her eye. ‘ These are old Gods from the world that came before ours. When the sun of our world was born it’s light turned the old Gods to stone.’ He said his voice steady and certain. ‘There’s no reason to be scared of a stone is there?’

From the shadows above a great inhuman voice rasped ‘Boy, we may be ssstone, but we do not sssleep.’

2:49 pm  
Madeline Grey goes to a party
Madeline Grey goes to a party

Friday: 13:00

On the train ride down I’ve discovered that Mark was right: Susumu Yokota. He really is the best musical accompaniment to train travel. I find it leaves the mind focused but relaxed. Perfect for being carried along through flat colourless countryside on rails. I, as ever, bow to his superior knowledge. I should play it for Jamie when I get in, he might like it. Not that I can ever tell what music he’ll like. You would think that after all the unloved albums I’d given him as disastrous Christmas presents over the years I’d be able to gauge the stuff he’d be into. Alas, I keep on making the same mistakes, but I persevere and that has to count for something.

I’m noticing the people are getting uglier the further west I go. It’s a gradual thing, the crowds get a little less pretty at every passing station. Perfectly average looking people are starting to stand out like golden demi-gods amongst their fellows. Will the attractiveness levels begin to pick up again nearer my destination, or has my poor Jamie gone to an ugly university? I can see him rushing home from his class of sour faced beastmen to bask in the glow of my photograph. I am coming to save you Jamie! I’ll give you some small respite from these poor ugly people! Do not give into despair, my love!

Friday: 16:30

Christ Almighty the buildings here are uglier than the people. Still, at least Jamie has a big room in a proper house, not like the halls back home. Home? Do I really think of Uni as home now? No it’s only in relation to here. It’s not a completely unfamiliar landscape, Jamie has the Frankenstein poster from his room up. It’s comforting to see that big ol’ Frankenstein again, Jamie too of course. He’s missed me the poor lamb. But not enough to meet me on the platform apparently. The streets round the station were like a warren and he could have come to meet me if only to show some eagerness.
We met by some hideous public sculpture and went back to his place by the supermarket to get drinks for the party. At the aisle I went straight to the wine, and while reaching down something pink coloured with a multi-buy offer I noticed Jamie giving me one of his wide-eyed looks of faint concern.

‘No-one really drinks wine here,’ he said with what appeared to be sympathy. ‘I was mostly going to get beer and a bottle of tequila or something.’ Then adding ‘I mean, you should get some wine if you want some.’

I replied with a glance that clearly communicated that I did indeed want some wine and would indeed get some. The ugly cashier girl ID’d me which came as a bit of a shock. Jamie says it happens to everyone here. This is a strange and savage land.

We dragged everything up an ugly hill to his ugly house getting there just as one of his housemates was getting back with his own beer. Jamie opened the door and took what we were holding leaving the two of us stuck at that awkward pre-introduction stage. Uncertain of the unwritten rules for such a situation we had no idea if saying hello, introducing ourselves, or just making eye-contact would be considered a social faux-pas. If Jamie ever comes to halls, I’ll make him wear a name badge clearly identifying his purpose in the building and his relationship to me. It wasn’t until we’d put everything in the kitchen and were stood in the dingy living room that Jamie introduced me to the guy and a girl sat watching some day-time drivel on TV. The girl (with the unlikely name of Cassandra) had huge unfocused eyes that suggested she wasn’t completely with us. The guy (Chris) asked me what I did and I answered ‘Psychology’ with what I hoped was the most neutral intonation.

‘Wow, that’s really interesting,’ Cassandra managed in response with each syllable seeming to take great mental attention. ‘Do you find (pause) that (pause) you (pause) uh (pause) psychoanalyse everyone you (pause) meet?’

As I was assuring her that this wasn’t the case, I noticed that she hadn’t blinked once since we’d come in. Chris’ only response was a spontaneous gurgling laugh. On getting upstairs Jamie couldn’t understand my joy to find a lock on his door.

It’s nice to be here now writing my diary with Jamie and Frankenstein, just like old times. Jamie even put on one of those awful local punk bands we used to listen to in his car at a low enough volume that no one else would hear. Right now he’s telling me who’s coming to the party tonight with some excitement. I’ll get to meet David, Chris G, Jess, Chris M, New Chris, and Suzanne. My cup runneth over.

Saturday: 12:00

And now I’m homeward bound, almost recovered from last night’s bout of self-medication. Jamie is my only source for most of the evening’s events, recounting my activities with that same familiar doe-eyed concern. I remember quickly tiring of the old ‘Do you psychoanalyse everyone you meet?’ chestnut. I also remember that I started to reply that they had no need to fear my mighty and terrible brain powers, as their tiny minds held little to interest one such as I. Admittedly I don’t remember loudly proclaiming this while standing on a table, but Jamie informs me that this was the case.

‘You had quite an effect on Cassie,’ he told me in my hangover-enfeebled state.

‘Cassandra? Oh Christ, what did I do?’

‘You went up to her about twelve and demanded that she blink “if not for my sake, then for yours”.’

‘Christ, really, how did she take it?’

‘Oh, she thinks you’re great. She wouldn’t stop talking about you for the rest of the night.’

My fellow party-goers are mostly a blur of interchangeable people called Chris. All except ‘Jess’ who was a bit too attractive for comfort. I may have been clinging to Jamie more defensively than usual, but I didn’t challenge her to a duel or anything so I chalk up a point for self-restraint. I lacked the mental fibre to properly interrogate James about her on waking so I’ll have to do it over the phone. Everyone was calling him James. He’s totally not a James or at least he never was before. Will the new name be restricted to just this region or is that what he’s going by now? Time will tell I guess.

The train is chugging back to civilization quite happily and I have Mr. Susumu Yokota to keep me. I will have to prepare a report for Mark on my findings in the field. I’m sure he’ll be pleased that his suggestion was most suitable for the task.

2:43 pm  

The block of wood, crudely painted a red-orange colour, sat awkwardly in Daniel’s hand. He made his way down the corridor with a purposeful walk, the responsibility, denoted by the red-orange block of wood and the key dangling from it, heavy in the pit of his stomach. Arriving at his destination Daniel faced the door, drew a deep breath in through his nostrils, and turned the key.

Fumbling a hand along the rough brick of the wall he found a light switch and with a couple of half-metallic ‘plinks’ the cellar flooded with light. The boy descended the wooden stairs with unnecessary care and concern. Upon reaching the floor he exhaled and looked at the room. Daniel could make out the familiar shapes of toys and games he was used to in the daylight of the classroom, but here they possessed little of the personality that play brought them. A procession of teddies and stuffed animals dumbly stared into space with dead glass eyes. Myriad board games were stacked on shelves, bright cardboard colours lost under thick films of dust like forgotten museum exhibits.

‘Dust is mostly made of dead skin cells. Teddy bears are named after President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt,’ the boy reminded himself, taking comfort from the security reciting these facts brought him.

Daniel followed the path laid down on the simple map his teacher had scrawled on lined paper. One of the fluorescent lights that illuminated his trail flickered above casting sporadic bursts of darkness. The bulb played an unsettling tune with the same strange half-metallic notes over the boy’s head. Looking straight ahead, his neck rigid to avoid catching sight of the darkness pulsing behind the shelves, Daniel pushed forward. Repeating the two facts in his mind, and running a finger along the grain of orange-red block, he walked on into the more certain light a few paces ahead.

The school’s storage area seemed cavernous, appearing to spread out forever. None of the classrooms, playgrounds, or assembly halls betrayed any of the reassuring noise of human presence. Daniel imagined himself deep underground, nothing but solid grey rock for miles above the undercroft’s ceiling, alone in the cold unnatural light at the centre of the world. This fantasy strengthened Daniel’s resolve and he added some geological facts to his mental litany of knowledge. It was then that the lights went out.

Daniel was frozen solid. Shoulders hunched and legs locked crooked. It had been dark for less than a second before the lights returned with a solid unified ‘plink’. A glowing neon afterimage swam across his sight. Everything took on a menacing aspect in the undercrofts clinical light now. The shelves’ unhealthily pale metal, the grime grey floorboards, disturbed dust particles floating by the bulbs. Daniel realised that he could hear his own quick breaths and tried to compose himself.

Dust is mostly made of dead skin cells. Teddy bears are named after President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. The centre of the Earth is filled with lava. The facts repeating faster and faster in his head. Daniel’s pace was faster too. Still rigid and straight limbed but now with a stumbling restrained panic to his movements.

The lights began to flicker as one now. The effort of suppressing the terror rising in his chest kept his legs marching on. He was now completely fixated on the light. The uncertainty of it was maddening. There was no pattern to the flashes of light and darkness, no rhythm, nothing he could understand or make sense of. Daniel felt himself in the power of unknowable forces. Time had lost all meaning and the darkness seemed absolute.

The lights’ stutter grew faster, adding disorientation to Daniel’s fear of a complete darkness to come. The brief stabs of sight gave no comfort. The glimpses offered nothing familiar, just terrifying patches of shape and florescent light bleached texture. The flashes burned blinding afterimages across his eyes. He was running now, gasping for air in fitful sobs. He spluttered his list aloud the facts loosing all meaning followed by the words. His comforting litany became a pitiful chant of frantic human squeaks between panicked breaths. It occurred to Daniel that the blind terror had driven his original assignment from his head. He no longer had any idea why he had been sent down here, of what he was meant to do.

The seizure of flashes finally subsided and the boy was left alone in the dark. There were a few final ‘plinks’ from the cooling bulbs around him and he was left in thick silent darkness. The frantic energy he had felt coursing through his body left him. He slowed, stopped, and finally sat down on the floorboards. Daniel sat perfectly still, his legs covered in unseen dust.

2:35 pm  


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