The store was sick under the fluorescent buzz. Dust caked with grease permeated the corners, and uneven spots spread across the linoleum. A pop song from childhood bled dry of bass fizzled from a speaker. Even for those such as ourselves this was slumming it, but the price could not be beat.
We splintered down the aisles like wolves through the forest, on the hunt for whatever passed as food. Before us was an array of convenience store chaos, with pocky and hard candy on the same shelves as breathing masks and toilet paper. The dolls and I poured over the more colorful items in search of expiry dates.
Ginny and Yumiko set to challenge their constitution against the contents of the fridge. A laminated sign claimed ‘every day delivered fresh’, though the faded letters lacked confidence. I continued to browse while they bickered over burgers, sushi, and the mystery item in one of the bento boxes. Despite the quality Ginny may well have eaten it, just so prove her fortitude.
I peered over the shelves toward the counter and the yankee boy cashier who’d been eyeing us from the moment we stepped inside. He was definitely the gang type given his scars, but that didn’t save him from shifts at the family store.
Akane skipped toward him like a pixie on platforms. Of us dolls she was the smallest and most feminine. Her body was yet to face the ravages of late adolescence, and she was determined to make the most of it. She jingled the bell shape of her lolita dress, and smiled like a TV idol. Even in the dimness of the store her eyes and lips sparkled.
Her lashes beat like the wings of butterflies. “Hi, cutie. What’s your name?”
The cashier sneered behind his would-be facial hair. “Get lost.”
Akane didn’t falter, and continued to smile like the midday sun. “That wasn’t very nice,” she said. “Don’t you think I’m cute? Maybe you’d like me if you got to know me better.”
“I know what you are,” he said. “You’re that gang of crossdressers.” The word dripped with venom.
We paused in the aisles and turned, slowly making our way to the front. There was blood in the air, though it had yet to be spilled. Yumiko, Ginny and I moved into position, forming blockades around the side counter and the exit.
“Don’t you want to kiss me?” Akane whispered. “I promise, I taste just like a real girl.”
The yankee scowled, and pushed her away. “I said get fucked, faggot!” He pressed back against the wall, with teeth bared like the feral thing he was. Wild eyes dashed between us, daring us to move. “I said I know who you are,” he roared. “You don’t know who you’re fucking with! I’ve got dangerous friends!”
I slapped the counter with black nails outstretched, and commanded silence with a single word. “Hey!” My voice betrayed my appearance, but it mattered little. The cashier was frozen in my gaze. On high heels I towered over him and cast a long shadow.
Akane stepped to one side. The other dolls stood poised. Fists tightened with our collective breath.
My hand drew back. My glare did not waver. “Pack of fifties,” I said. “Reds. I don’t care what brand.”
The words didn’t register at first, but when they did he faltered. He looked to Ginny, and he looked to Yumiko, whose expressions remained fixed. Like a boy armed with only his bravado reaching he drew the cigarettes from the shelf and placed them down.
“Eight hundred yen,” he said.
I took the packet and slid them into my coat pocket. “You can pay for them by way of apology.”
His teeth flashed. “Like hell!”
“A man needs to be delicate with a girl’s heart,” I said, “no matter her body type.”
The cashier leered, and sprung across the counter. In a snap the dolls converged, grabbed him by the belt and threw him unceremoniously to the ground. There he met our kicks; platforms, heels, and sharp tips collided with kidneys and ribs. No matter how he rolled there was no escape; he was surrounded, and overpowered.
It ended as quickly as it began, and left the would-be antagonist in a bundle of pain. Yumiko, Ginny and Akane stepped back so I could inspect their handiwork. His breathing was short, and he could not stand. Between us there was no sympathy to be found.
He spat blood on the tile from where he lay. “I know... who you are..."
“Of course you do, idiot,” I said. The point of my boot traced his chin. “We never tried to hide it. We’re the closest thing there is to a real devil; we’re the Hellbound Dolls, and you should know better than to fuck with us.”
A kick flew across his jaw, and he was done.
* * * *
The beast called Tokyo never slept, and millions of souls churned in its gut. In a city with as many corners there was always a place to hide and sometimes, with some effort, to belong.
We sat along a string of sofas and bathed under spinning lights. The other dolls clapped and cheered with Yumiko as she rocked the microphone, belting a ballad from a cartoon I didn’t follow. I smiled, content to hum along. There weren’t many places girls like us could find validation, especially those with such visible flaws.
Her limbs pulled to her body as she turned her attention to my corner. The song behind her faded against the image of a beach sunset on the monitors. Even in a faded denim jacket with badges screaming ‘fuck off’ she was like a schoolgirl, hungry for approval.
“Would you like to sing, Chiyoko?”
The other dolls chirped for me to stand, but I waved them off with a smile. Maybe they didn’t hate my voice, but their judgment wasn’t my own. “Next time,” I said, certain it would never come.
It was late when there came a knock on the door, and ‘Big Joe’ pressed into the room. The dolls flocked to him like hungry birds. They threw their arms around him, and kissed his cheek. Despite his age and experience such affection made him blush.
“It’s good to see you, grandpa,” Ginny said.
Joe frowned playfully. “Would you knock it off with the ‘grandpa’ shit? I’m only thirty-six. I have a brother your age.”
Akane bounced. “Does he date?”
The older man settled his gaze, and smirked. “You wouldn’t like him. He’s a little asshole. You deserve someone who’ll appreciate you, sweetie.”
Big Joe’s stature did not live up to his name, and were it not for the tattoos running down his arms and neck others might have thought less of him. He wore an easily smile and had an endless array of tropical shirts, though the missing fingers on his left hand told of a more serious side.
He sat opposite me on the sofa, and opened his backpack. From it he removed four boxes, four capsules, and a number of capped syringes. “It’s the usual deal. Twenty milligrams of the injectables once every two weeks at maximum,” he said. “Usual warnings apply. Blood clots, heart disease, breast cancer-”
“Imagine growing breasts and then being killed by them,” Akane said.
Yumiko furrowed, and scooped the medication into her purse. “I don’t know about you, but I think they’d be worth dying for.”
Joe picked up my capsule, and rattled it for attention. “As for these, take two a day. One in the morning, one at night.”
Ginny leaned forward and groaned. “Testosterone blockers taste like stale milk and sadness. Don’t you have anything a little more, I don’t know, palatable?”
“They’re necessary until we can afford surgery,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “All I need is a good knife, some clamps, and a bottle of vodka.”
The old man tightened in his seat and shook his head. “You don’t want to do that,” he said. “Trust me. I know a girl who did something like that, and… eh, let’s just say she’s not too happy with the result. Best you see a professional. If you’d like I know a crooked veterinarian who for the right price-”
“Thanks, Joe,” I said.
He raised his eyebrows in expectation. No matter how acquainted we were it was still a drug deal, and a serious business man had to be paid. The dolls threw their money onto the table, and counting the extra pitched in that Yumiko could not afford we came to the agreed amount.
Big Joe beamed as he stood and pocketed the cash. “A pleasure doing business with you girls, as always.” He lapped up the kudos from the other dolls, and started for the door.
Akane giggled as she stashed the medication. She alone would experience development denied the rest of us. For Ginny and Yumiko it was a life preserver drawing them from the path they’d already been set on. Without Big Joe every one of us would have been forced to wait until nature had done its worst.
I was all set to relax when he stopped. “I’d be careful if I were you,” Joe said. “Word is you’ve been in trouble tonight. Keep a lookout.”
The memory of the store clerk was as fresh as the blood on my tights, but I was not fazed. Neither the police or the members of his gang posed any real threat. The law would soon forget such a minor transgression, and another group could be dealt with.
* * * *
Even in a modern world where impossible things happened strangers continued to balk at masculine statures reshaped by femininity. Glares by the dozen became an oppressive veil through which we sliced until we could reach our next point of refuge. That they were so few and far between only served as testament against those steeped in the mundane.
My own skin was cold, and thick with experience, though the dolls behind remained fragile. It was especially so for Ginny whose frame was wide, stacked with extra layers, and thick in areas not customary to women by birthright. Fashion could only disguise her so much; one word was all it took to crack her shell, though it would not come from her fellow dolls.
The path to the nearest station followed a pavilion that was lit like day. Even at that hour human traffic had consistent flow, though most were on the journey toward home. It was the same for myself and the dolls whose lives of daily duty beckoned.
Yumiko pressed into my side, latched her arm onto mine, and offered a shy smile. “You could always stay at my place,” she said. Hers was a single bedroom apartment, paid for by family in the country.
“No, but thank you.” I patted her crown, and hummed. In spite of her desire I could only be a sister to her, and to all my dolls.
My notice was snatched away by laughter, and Ginny recoiling into her shoulders. Akane was shorter than her, even with platforms, but the elder doll sought shelter behind her all the same. Her heart became so heavy that it pulled her into hiding, and all for the sake of a pair of boys leaning against the nearby posts.
They were brazen in their mockery, and made no attempt to hide what they’d done. The boy on the left who still wore his school uniform held up his phone and poured over the snapshots. Both he and his friend laughed while passing ugly words between them.
“I think I caught a whale,” he said.
“You must be sick to find something like that attractive,” said the other.
Akane and Yumiko stayed behind to shield our sister. Perhaps they also knew better than to stand in the way as their queen marched on knife points. My eyes, sharpened with eyeliner like daggers, trained upon the delinquents and readied to strike.
In a voice too deep for a woman, but rich with authority, I spoke. “Give me the phone.”
Both of the boys looked up as though sat before a pantomime, and chuckled. “You can’t tell us what to do,” said the one on the right. He thought himself a challenge; he was mistaken.
I snatched the device from his hand, and before he could protest threw it to the ground. My boot pressed the screen into dust against the pavement, and twisted the insides into shrapnel. In the end they would be the only ones to glance the stolen pictures.
Their reaction was as predicted. “What the fuck! You bastard!”
The first went down with a single punch. He was spoiled, and never had to fight for anything in his life. His friend wasn’t much different, though made sure to guard his face. That opened him to a shattering knee, multiple blows to his gut, and an elbow cracking across his shoulders.
It was a short lived battle, broken by the whistles of police. I looked to my dolls, and released them to the wild. They went their way, while I leapt into the path of cars. The tall boots slowed me down, but in the confusion managed a healthy start.
Three blocks later, and I turned a corner to hide. Maybe I was stupid to attack someone in the open, but we were the Hellbound Dolls; our pride was at stake. Nobody humiliated us and walked away unscathed.
* * * *
I sat in an empty carriage on the last train home. Nobody was there to watch as the magic faded, as I wiped the makeup from my eyes and cheeks, and pulled loose the acrylics on my nails. Color vanished along with life’s meaning, right up to the point of removing my wig and being a girl no more. It was the death of Chiyoko, and one she endured every other day; and would continue to endure until at last my life was mine.
Though there were no other passengers, I was not alone. My phone chirped with activity. The Hellbound Dolls were in a frenzy, thanks in no small part to my actions. I ignored them until such time that my disguise was complete; there were but a handful of stops remaining before my own.
“Is everyone safe?” Yumiko asked.
Akane responded. “I’m okay.”
“Also safe,” Ginny said. “Chiyoko?”
I stared at the phone, and steadied my breath. Everything hurt down to the knuckles. The night had been chaos, and mine may well have been the greatest burden. The additional weight of boyhood added to the exhaustion.
“Everything’s fine,” I said.
Ginny typed up a storm. Dancing ellipses dragged the moments to her reply. “You shouldn’t have done that, Chiyoko. Who cares if a couple of shitty kids took some pictures? I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”
I leaned back into the seat. Knowing her stubborn nature there was no point arguing, not for lack of trying.
“Chiyoko was looking out for you same as she looks out for all of us,” Yumiko said.
“The Hellbound Dolls don’t put up with that shit,” said Akane. “We should have jumped in and helped her!”
I typed out a response. “Don’t do anything. We need to keep a low profile. Remember what Big Joe said. Ginny, I am not going to stand by while someone embarrasses you in that way. My actions are my own, and I act in the interest of the dolls. Now go home. We will convene again soon.”
That was the last of it; Queen Chiyoko’s word was final. It was never a role that was sought, but one found regardless. If nothing else I embraced it to protect those dear to me, my family of spirit, and not blood.
Just then my phone hummed with another message; this time from my father. “Come home immediately,” was his command.
The train rattled between stops, and swayed as it tore down the line. My journey could suddenly stretch toward the end of time, and I would have been satisfied.
* * * *
‘Home’ was as quaint as the word itself; a two level building following a slew of identical suburban structures, partially barricaded by a concrete row. There was a garden, wind chimes, and a tall, wooden gate with electronic lock and intercom. Compared to others it was firmly rooted in the middle class.
I stopped when I caught sight of a police car parked out front. Its presence was a mystery, and one that stirred discomfort. Instead of pressing through the gate I backed away from the streetlight, and hid in the shadows of another house.
It was some time before the door opened, and two uniformed officers stepped outside. My mother was there, and bowed to them as they meandered back to their vehicle. They exited the gate, climbed inside the car, and sat a while, conversing. Time drew along my nerves, until the engine started and they drove away.
My stomach turned as I approached the house. The porch lights waited patiently for my return. With every ounce of caution I turned the handle, and stepped inside. The trap was sprung, and my mother appeared in the hall.
“Where have you been?”
I said nothing, and slipped off my shoes by the entrance. The night was too far gone for lies, and my patience was already thin.
She slinked into my path like the dragon she often claimed to be. The claws she used to clutch family had loosened over time, but not so much that a visit from the police could escape explanation.
“Answer me,” she pressed.
I avoided her gaze. “I was at the library, then the arcade.”
She latched onto my arm to prevent my scaling the stairs. “Two police officers were asking for you. They mentioned a gang of… of perverts,” she said, though I could not be certain from whom the word originated. “What manner of people are you spending time with, son? Should I be concerned?”
My father sat down the hall at the dining area table. He stared ahead with his hands folded and an expression painted with great concern. As I knew him, he was waiting for his turn.
I pulled my arm free. “It’s late. I’ve got school tomorrow.” She didn’t follow as I climbed the stairs, and was quiet until I entered the bedroom. Perhaps I would have the opportunity to sleep; then we could have put this business behind us.
* * * *
Laying in bed between darkness and sleep my body released and began to drift. In those brief moments of awareness it was simple to pretend, and to regard the world as a bad dream while floating into nothingness. Chiyoko was joy, but in this place one could find peace.
I was pulled back by the sound of footsteps. They followed the hall to my bedroom door, where they stopped and knocked gently three times. When there came no reply their owner opened the door, and lingered in the entrance.
There was no doubting the presence of my father. In this house he was second only to god. His aura permeated the walls, even in the spaces he was not intended.
He spoke in barely a mutter. “I know you had nothing to do with those people. I told them that you are a good son, and that you have good grades. You would never do anything to cast aspersions on this family, ever.”
An unpleasant feeling pulled my stomach tight. I curled into a ball, but continued to feign sleep.
“I’m proud of you,” he said, releasing the sentiment with the weight world behind it. “I know that you have what it takes to do something profound. I know, and you know. If something were to jeopardize that I don’t know what I would do. If you were involved in something shameful…”
My prayers were answered in the creaking of the hinges. The long shadow cast upon the room scaled back until I was alone. Then it stopped, and my father spoke again.
“You carry your grandfather’s name. It’s important that you bring honour to it, and nothing else.”
I clutched the sheets and fixed my eyes closed. What care had I for a man I’d never met, save through a father’s expectation. The thought churned until sick, and no matter how hard I tried peace would continue to evade me that night. Perhaps I was destined for this torment; such was the fate of a Hellbound Doll.
* * * *
Unbeknownst to most this night was an auspicious night, and beyond the mortal melodrama of mere human beings the wolf caught a scent. Moving through the artificial walls he stalked the wind in search of a soul; one whose journey would meet his own.
On the outer edges of the city he tasted blood. It did not belong to his quarry, but they the quarry smited. Finally, he came upon a dark room where the scent was strongest, and came down on the one who called him.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.