This is the revised, reworked and retooled version of the first chapter for PAINTING WITH LIGHT AND SHADOW. It's part of Zack's introduction into the world. I hope you enjoy it. Please leave a comment below with your opinions and if you see any glaring mistakes, please email me.
Like Goo, this story has been my baby for a year and a half. (Well, technically Goo is older but whatever) I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 1 (Fire and a grave)
The sharp sound pulled Zack from the recesses of sleep.
What’s going on? He opened his eyes.
His Japanese girlfriend, Sena, stood beside their low-rising bed and loomed over him. A scowl tugged on her thin, red lips. In her left hand, she held a severed part of the suit jacket he still wore and a pair of scissors in her right.
A cold jolt of energy zipped down Zack’s spine, and he yelped. He scrambled to the other side of the queen-sized bed. His arm slipped over the edge, and his momentum flipped him backwards. Fa-thud! Head first, he crashed into the floor. Agony drew his shoulder blades together, and his vision faded black for a long moment. “Sena! What the fuck?” After rubbing his head, he clambered to his feet.
Sena’s beautiful brown eyes bored into him, and her neck twitched to the left. Her long, untied jet-black hair jumped onto her shoulder. A growl slipped past her bared, straight white teeth. With the smallest things hurling her into fits of rage, would she really make a good mother? “How many times do I have to tell you?” Her shrill voice ground the English language like coffee beans.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” He glanced down at the suit he wore. His favorite suit.
Along with several holes that decorated the jacket, entire sections of it were missing. His purple tie was nothing but a nub. His white shirt had no buttons. She had also cut his pants to ribbons. Ruined. The five-hundred thousand yen suit — a gift from his now deceased grandfather — reduced to toilet rags.
A torrent of blood collided with his brain, and he clenched his rising fists until his knuckles turned white. “How could you do this?” Boiling rage contorted his mouth into a snarl. “Why would you do this?”
She climbed atop the bed and strode towards him. The legs of her blue jeans swished against one another with each violent step, and her tight, pink T-shirt clung to her small breasts as her chest heaved.
Heat raced through his veins, and he squared his feet. Stop! Calm down and think about what you’re doing, Zack! He took a deep breath and forced his muscles to relax. Weather the storm. Don’t meet her in the gutter, or she’ll make you wait another year to have the daughter you want. “Fuck it! I don’t care.”
Sena took another step forward. She screamed. The high-pitched screech bit into his ears harder than his students writing on the blackboard with their mechanical pencils.
His teeth ground together, and he backed up to the sliding glass doors that led to the porch. “Shut up!” What set her off today?
The stomach-turning screech died out, and the scissors trembled in her grasp. From behind him, bits of sunlight shined through the drawn blinds. Time stretched, and no one moved until his left foot began tapping. Popping sounds rolled into the bedroom from the kitchen.
The delightful scent of curry floated on the air. Sweet. Fatty beef. Loads of pepper. Her homemade Japanese curry made his mouth water.
His brow wrinkled. “Are you cooking?”
“I was!” A feral growl rumbled up her throat, and despite being over eight inches shorter than him, her presence filled the room. “Before you fucked up again!”
What did I do? Zack sighed. “I don’t care what set you off!” He gestured to the holes and exposed flesh. “What you did to my favorite suit is unforgivable!” Zack, what part of calm down do you not understand? If —
Sena lunged forward and stabbed at him with the scissors.
Adrenaline filled his muscles. His gut clenched, and icy goose bumps climbed up his arms. He grabbed her by the wrist, stopping the scissors an inch from his chest. A sigh deflated his lungs, and he wrapped his free hand around her waist then hoisted her onto his shoulder with ease. I need to get out of here before this gets any worse.
While squirming in his arms, she squealed. Her unbound fist pounded against his back. “You’ll regret this!”
I already do. “You need to calm down.” Zack tossed her light ass out of the bedroom and slammed the door shut. With fumbling fingers, he locked it.
The door handle rattled. Thunk! The scissors stabbed through the thin, wooden door.
His eyes bulged. Seriously, what did I do?
Sena stomped away from the bedroom.
After taking a deep breath, Zack removed his ruined suit and put on a new one with pinstripes. Once he grabbed his favorite pink tie, wallet and cellphone, he unlocked the door. A long moment later, he opened it and peeked outside. “Sena?”
He stepped into the kitchen then looked around the corner into the living room part of the large, L-shaped combination room.
Sena stood in the center of the living room with a torch lighter in one hand and a pair of cooking chopsticks holding his precious sketchbook in the other. Something dripped from the sketchbook to the floor and carried the stink of a heater.
His breath caught. Thump! His heart slammed into his chest like one of the jackhammers pounding outside of his apartment, and icy spider legs crawled down his back.
That sketchbook contained his best work: a lifetime of final drafts that he had spent months and months perfecting. His students begged him for copies. There were even art collectors who wanted to buy some of his sketches.
“Sena. Please.” He held a shaking hand out towards her. “Think about what you’re doing.”
“I have.” She ignited the lighter.
Tears rimmed his eyes, and his blood went cold. Is she really the same woman I love? His chest ached. Had his heart stopped? “Don’t —”
“If I don’t teach you a lesson now, you’ll never learn.” She placed the flame against the sketchbook.
Everything blurred like looking into a muddy creek, and he dashed forward.
The fire engulfed the kerosene-soaked paper in an instant.
When she dropped the lighter, chopsticks and burning ashes onto the floor, he froze. His lower-lip quivered, and his knees weakened. His run turned into a stumble, and he bumped into the sitting coffee table. Spikes of pain lanced into his shin, and rage tinted his vision red. He cocked his fist back.
The image of a baby girl flashed through his mind, and his arm dropped to his side. He turned away from her and sniffled.
Smack! Sena slapped the side of his head.
He rubbed at the spot she had hit then glanced at her through the corner of his eye.
Sena raised her hand. “How many —”
Zack spun and pushed her away.
Her foot slipped on one of the floor pillows by the coffee table, and she crashed into the wall.
He rushed down the hallway and, after shuffling into his shoes, burst out the front door. I can’t believe she did that. That was … . His legs felt heavy. Each step dragged as if he were walking along a black-sanded beach. He trudged away from his first-floor apartment and into the gravel-filled parking lot.
Oppressive heat weighed down his shoulders, and each inhalation was like drinking a glass of water. The heavy sun reflected off the only three cars in the expansive parking lot. Unfiltered noise from the construction site pounded his thoughts into mush.
Zack stumbled up to one of the cars and rested a hand on the hood to balance himself. His tears pelted the hood, and he found himself sitting on a bench, drawing in his precious sketchbook just outside the University of Alabama language building.
Seven years younger, Sena approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. Her beautiful smile would have made angels weep. “Are you alone?”
“Yes?” Zack put his pencil down.
She stared at him. “Your hazel eyes are breathtaking.”
“It’s still hard to believe that everyone here doesn’t have brown eyes like in Japan, but with your soft-looking, blond hair and thick arms, I shouldn’t be surprised you’re not wearing color contacts.”
A lump caught in his throat. “Can … I buy you dinner tonight?”
“I’d like that.”
“How about —”
From behind, an apartment door clicked open, and it crashed into a wall. Bang!
Zack leaned over the hood of the car, huffing. Why did she become so prone to having these violent fits of rage after we moved to Japan?
“Get your lazy ass back here right now!” Sena’s voice boomed across the parking lot.
His joints turned to stone, and he swallowed. “No.” Was it because you never stood up to her? He pushed himself upright with shaking hands. Don’t run away from her for once, Zack. “I’ve —” Stop thinking and do it! “— had enough of you for one day.”
“You’ve had enough of me? Me?”
Pow! Something hit him between the shoulder blades. His knees buckled, but he caught himself before falling then glanced down.
A shiny black, high-heeled shoe.
“Sena —” Without turning, Zack ducked. Unfortunately, her fits of rage are too predictable at this point.
A second shoe whizzed overhead. Thung! The black high-heel struck the car beside him, leaving a dent.
He spun then glared at her. His jaw tightened. You can do this, Zack. “Stop throwing things at me!”
“Then stop leaving the toilet seat up!”
Jumbled sounds spurted from his mouth as her words replayed in his head. “You burned my sketchbook and cut up my favorite suit for that?” His voice echoed through the alley between the parking lot and the Love Hotel. His chest rose and fell in rapid succession. His fists opened and closed. “Every day!” Stop! You know this isn’t her fault. She needs help — “Every goddamn day, you get crazier and crazier!” Shut up, Zack!
Sena stormed forward in her purple house slippers and grabbed him by his tie. “I swear that if you ever do it again —”
He inhaled deeply and held his breath until fire burned through his lungs. The tension in his muscles relaxed.
Using her free hand, she grabbed him by his hair and jerked his head back.
A yelp burst from his mouth.
“— I will stab you with that black-steel knife you cherish so much and make you clean up the blood.” She dragged his head down to her level and stared into his eyes.
The snarl drawing her cheeks up wrinkled her forehead. She pulled at his hair again. “Are we clear?”
“That’s not the correct answer.” Sena tugged on his hair once again.
Zack set his jaw. Do. Not. Hit. Her. “Fine! I understand! Now let me go before I do something we both regret!”
Sena released his hair. “As long as you —”
“Short-tempered bitch.” Zack blinked. Did I just say that aloud? He stumbled backwards.
The intensity in Sena’s eyes snuffed out, replaced by tears.
Guilt stabbed Zack in the gut, and he edged forward. “I’m sor—”
Sena slumped to her knees and wept in her hands. She shook her head over and over again. “I-I can’t do this anymore.” Sobs punctuated her words. “This isn’t going to work.”
Zack’s heart stopped for certain this time, and his legs turned into stone blocks. Was he moving forward? “What —” His voice cracked. “— are you saying?” He knelt beside her and wrapped his arms around her.
She shoved him off her and looked up to meet his trembling eyes. “It’s over.”
Thump! His heart kicked him in the chest like a professional kickboxer, and he gasped. “You can’t —”
“I’m going to stay with —” Sena sniffled. “— my parents until you move out.” She turned away from him and stood. “Now get out of my sight, so I can get some of the things I need!”
Zack swallowed as everything around him melded together in a watery fog. Had it suddenly become winter? He shivered. “Sena —”
“Get out of here!” She ran to the apartment door and peered back at him. “I never want to see you again.” She scrambled inside and slammed the door behind her.
Will I never have a daughter to love and call my own? The parking lot lurched, and he found himself staring into the clouds with the warm concrete baking his skin. His mind went blank.
The world spun around Zack like his students on a merry-go-round. Nausea twisted his stomach, and the starlit sky materialized above him. Huh?
He glanced down at the raised, square platform of marble with seven obelisks atop it. How did I end up in this graveyard? Pissing on this — He stumbled backwards and reached out for the obelisk closest to him.
The rough marble surface with blurry kanji carved down it bit into his hands. Sweet incense climbed into his nose, and he gagged. Why did Japanese people burn that stuff?
His foot caught the incense tray and knocked it over as he pulled himself upright. He staggered then zipped up his pants. Have I been drinking?
“I do not know, foreigner,” a deep voice said in slurred Japanese. Was the speaker also drunk?
Ah. Zack looked around as his vision solidified.
Family graves spanned the graveyard going towards the station in one direction and his apartment in the other. Behind him, a five-story apartment building loomed over the graveyard while more graves littered the ground in front of him. The boat-shaped Love Hotel towards his apartment provided more light than the two lamp posts, and cicadas screamed in tune to the passing cars on the superhighway. Was he alone?
Zack climbed down from the marble platform and shuffled through the gravel. His head throbbed, and fire jabbed his throat. Guess I’m just imagining things.
“Like?” Shinji asked.
You. I mean, I’m not even speaking aloud.
“Because I can read your thoughts.”
No. You are just a voice my mind created to help me cope with … .
I don’t want to talk about it right now. Zack stepped onto the concrete walkway and trudged towards the overpass, one heavy step at a time. I wonder if Sena will be there when I get home.
“Who is Sena?”
My — Zack sniffled. His chest heaved. — ex.
“I see. And who are you?”
You’re a voice I created. You should know who I am.
“No, I am a ghost who has just decided to inhabit your body after you urinated on my grave.”
Zack started. That’s original. Haven’t had one of my voices claim that before.
“I! Am!” Shinji’s voice reverberated off the inside of Zack’s skull. “Not! A! Voice you made up!”
An inferno raced through Zack’s body. Were his eyes being cooked? He fell to his knees, gashing them on the overpass’s first step. Shut up!
Shinji harrumphed. “You do not have to be rude.”
A sigh spewed from Zack’s mouth, and he hobbled to his feet. My name’s Zack.
“Now we are making progress.”
Do you always speak in keigo?
“I do. Using polite language will go a long way in life. It is the only true way to speak to those you respect.”
And you respect me? Zack began climbing the overpass’s too steep steps.
“Well … it is sort of a habit at this point.”
Zack found himself laughing by the time he reached the top of the steps. You know, whoever decided it was a good idea to put one step where there should be two is an asshole.
I need to get some sleep. Zack hurried across and down the other side. His stomach protested, but he ignored it as he walked home.
Next: PAINTING chapter 2