I took the M5 Southbound past Bristol, to Junction 23 – and Glastonbury. I was due to meet Matt Mackenzie on top of the Tor at eleven o’clock, and it was best to get an early start as the roads are always shite. Why Glastonbury Tor? Well, Matt always did have a flair for the dramatic. That was his real name. Matt Mackenzie. The man who played Screaming Lord Smith, member of the T-Service.
As the cult TV buffs out there will remember, the BBC drama series The T-Service ran for three seasons between 1967 and 1969. It was a sci-fi horror comedy thriller about a super-team backed by the British Government, a group of eccentric characters saving the world from a different threat each week. It was pitched as the BBC’s answer to the colorful psychedelic spy shows that ITC were putting out, like The Avengers and The Prisoner, and a companion show to Doctor Who. The ‘T’ in the T-Service stood for Terror. The star of the show was Jason Zodiac, a flamboyant swinger with a command of occult magical arts and a knack for pulling dolly birds. The other regular characters all had their own back stories and super powers too: Screaming Lord Smith, Tangerine, Uncle Jack, Camera Obscura, token American liason the Someday Man, all led by the scientific genius Doctor Chess, and receiving their assignments from a shadowy government contact known only as The Minister.
Great names. They don’t make TV like that any more, eh?
One reason why The T-Service had gained such notoriety is that it had fallen victim to the BBC video-wiping purge in the early 1970s, and only a handful of episodes actually existed. The stories where The Beatles and Mick Jagger had appeared were still around, of course, but classic stories like The Unexpected Question, The Camelot Run, Death by Chocolate and Festival of the Damned were lost forever.
Or so we thought, until Matt Mackenzie contacted Fugue magazine, claiming to have unearthed an 8mm film copy of Festival of the Damned.
I got to the Tor just before eleven, parked the car, and trudged up the hill to the famous artificial mound, with its signature spiral path winding toward the beautiful stone tower on its crown. A cold February wind scythed across the fields, but I’d wrapped up warm in quilted jacket, scarf, sweater and gloves, so it wasn’t too bad.
When I got to the top of the hill Matt was standing by the stone tower waiting for me. I recognized him from his publicity shots; he’d put on weight and lost a bit more hair, but his face was still the craggy, lined, handsome face that had got him the part on the show. Screaming Lord Smith’s super-power was a jacket that emitted psychedelic blasts of colored light that confused, blinded or hypnotized the baddies. Which is pretty funny when you remember that the first T-Service series was filmed in black and white. Today, though, there was nothing psychedelic about him; he wore a long black wool coat that almost stretched down to his feet.
“Good morning, Mr. Smith,” I said. “Or can I call you Screaming Lord?”
He laughed. We shook hands. “Hello, Mr. Carter.”
“Call me Jamie.”
We stood on top of the Tor, buffeted by the wind but with the solid reassuring presence of the tower behind us, and we looked out across the rolling Wiltshire countryside. The stubby hedgerows, the scattered farm buildings, the roads carrying their ceaseless loads of traffic.
“I’d forgotten how far away the Tor is from the town,” Matt said.
“Yeah, it’s quite a way. Have you been back here since the filming?”
“I went to the Glastonbury Festival a couple of times in the Seventies. Saw Pink Floyd headlining one year and Thin Lizzy the next.”
“Me too. I saw Pink Floyd here,” I said, thinking there was not much I could remember about it. Most of it was the sheer paranoia of having my stash stolen or being arrested. Ah, youth.
Matt pointed across the fields. “We filmed Festival of the Damned down there. The director put down flat wooden supports for the cameras, because he wanted to recreate the effect of filming in studio. Several cameras filming the action at the same time, from different angles. Cameras and arc lights moving across the wooden planks on wheeled tripods. All the cameramen had headphones on so the director could speak to them.”
“That episode had quite a strong opening scene, I remember.”
“Yeah, that got quite a reaction. The first thing you saw was Agent Teapot being chased across those fields by the Morris Dancers from Hell.”
“All the spies from that department had tea-service code names. Agent Sugar, Agent Milk, all that stuff. Teapot sends off a message in Morse code before he’s murdered by the Fool with an exploding pig’s bladder on a stick.”
I remembered watching it with my own mum and dad on Saturday teatime when I was a kid. It was a scene pretty scary and graphic for the time, and most people agree it was an influence on the writers of the classic 1971 Doctor Who story The Daemons, where menacing Morris Dancers almost burned Jon Pertwee at the stake.
“I never looked at Morris Dancing the same way after that,” I said.
“Shame,” he said. “I was going to ask you to nip down there and join me for a dance.”
“I think I’d rather have a pint.”
We both laughed.
We carried on the interview at the King Arthur (Matt’s idea of a joke, considering all the legends surrounding this place), a nice comfortable pub on Benedict Street in Glastonbury town center. Matt opted for the ploughman’s lunch, but after being out in that wind, I needed something piping hot. I finally chose the steak and kidney pie in gravy with a non-alcoholic beer to wash it down.
“Here it is,” Matt said, taking a videocassette wrapped in a plastic Sainsbury’s bag out of his attaché case. “The long-lost episode.”
I took it from him and peered at it, all kinds of thoughts going through my head. Front covers of Fugue magazine. DVD releases. Behind-the-scenes specials.
It had been a long-standing mystery in TV circles why The T-Service had never had the classic status it deserved. The shows that existed had never been repeated on TV and never released on video or DVD, and were never shown abroad. One theory is that Mary Whitehouse, the head of the TV censorship group at the time, had angrily reacted to what she had called the ‘Satanist’ elements of the series. She had even claimed in an interview that Jason Zodiac had conducted a real Black Mass on-screen, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing that.
I talked it over with Matt, as well as the curious fact that all the cast of The T-Service had left the acting profession after the show was finally cancelled. The actor who played Uncle Jack died in the late Seventies and Someday Man passed away in the mid-Eighties. Yvonne Page, who played Tangerine, had set up a film company, and Matt McKenzie himself had gone into record production; in fact, not many people know he was the producer on The Blobs’ best-selling debut album, We Are The Blobs.
“But what you really want to know,” Matt said with a sly grin, “is where is Jason Zodiac.”
Now we were getting down to it.
In the T-Service series, Jason had basically played himself – a larger-than-life character with a mysterious past and dodgy reputation. I knew that he started off as a rock star, a lead singer with psychedelic rock band The Banana Sundial. The Jason Zodiac persona he adopted as the frontman of the band was the same character in the TV series – a bit like David Bowie assuming the mantle of Ziggy Stardust.
“There was never any argument that Jason was the star of the show,” Matt said, as he scooped up the last of the Branston pickle with a finger of Cheddar cheese. “He looked the part, and acted the part, both on stage and off. He knew everyone in ‘the scene’, as we used to call it. Jason told me once that after a heavy smoking session, he wandered around one morning looking for munchies, and he found himself on Primrose Hill. You know who he bumped into?”
I shook my head.
“Paul McCartney! He just met Paul completely by accident, and started up a conversation with him! They became good pals after that. Crazy, innit? Let me tell you something else. One day someone turned up on location and hung around when we were filming. At the lunch break he managed to wangle his way into the private area and sat down at the same table with me and Jason. Said he was a big fan of the Banana Sundial. Also said he owned a farm with a bit of land he wanted to turn over for public events, like open-air rock concerts, and he wondered if Jason was interested. His name was Michael Eavis.”
I stared back at him, my pint halfway to my lips. “The bloke who set up the Glastonbury Festival?”
“That’s right. The Banana Sundial were the first band to play the very first Glastonbury Festival – in September 1970.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well, it was more of a pre-gig party, before Stackridge went on. The point is, Jason had the face, the luck, the charm. And he really believed in that stuff, you know.”
“Occult stuff. He wasn’t a Satanist, or a Wiccan, and he didn’t have anything to do with Crowley’s Thelema religion as far as I knew, but he believed magic was real. I think talking about it was the only time he stopped joking and got serious.”
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Barack Obama. Shinzo Abe. David Cameron. Angela Merkel. Francois Hollande. Matteo Renzi. Justin Trudeau. The Council and Commission Presidents of the EU and special delegations from Sri Lanka and Vietnam. All of them will be in Japan this week to attend the 42nd G7 Summit at the Shima Kanko Hotel on Kashiko Island, Ise-Shima, Mie Prefecture, Japan. Mie is located in the southwestern part of the Honshu mainland, bordered by the Kii Mountains and the jagged coastline of the Shima peninsula that stretches into the Pacific. It’s famous for the the female ama pearl-divers and the headquarters of cultured pearl pioneer Kokichi Mikimoto, as well as a variety of seafood and the highly valued Matsusaka beef.
Without a doubt, however, when Mie is mentioned, most Japanese will think of Ise Jingu. Ise Jingu is not a shrine; it’s a complex of shrines the size of a town, and one of the three most significant sacred sites in the whole of the country, with the others being Izumo Taisho in Shimane prefecture and Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Many, however, would name Ise Jingu as the true spiritual heart of the Shinto religion, and many of its six million visitors a year are pilgrims.
The Ise Jingu complex consists of 120 shrines centered around the Geku (Outer Shrine) and Naiku (Inner Shrine). The Geku welcomes visitors with its market stalls, cafes, and restaurants, and once past the gates the shrines are set in the extensive grounds of Ise-Shima National Park, filled with ancient-growth Cryptomeria trees and scattered ‘power spots’ – piles of stones where you can place your hand on them and feel the power of the Kami emanating from within. The Naiku and Geku are six kilometers apart, separated by the residential town of Ise, and crossing the Uji Bridge takes you into the Naiku compound itself.
Once visitors wash their hands and mouths in the Temizusha, as is standard Shinto practice, they are free to offer prayers to individual Kami at the wealth of smaller shrines, to wander around the Imibiyaden which houses a constantly burning sacred flame, and to purchase talismans and amulets at the Kaguraden, before taking the path that leads to Kotaijingu – the heart of Ise Jingu itself. They are not allowed to enter the shrine itself; the most they can see is the roof of the building above a tall wooden fence. Photographs are not permitted on this path, and visitors are not even allowed to walk in the middle of the path; they must keep to the sides.
Why so many restrictions? Because Kotaijingu is dedicated to Amaterasu-no-Mikoto, the Sun-Goddess, the mythological progenitor of the Japanese Imperial Family.
The Ise Grand Shrine was dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami. Calling it a shrine was a pathetic understatement; it was as big as a city, with over a hundred and twenty interconnected shrines, and two main buildings – the Naika and the Geku – nestling at the green heart of the complex.
Soon we arrived at the Geku, the outer shrine, dedicated to Toyouke-no-Omikami, the god of agriculture. We had another six ri to go before reaching the inner shrine.
We passed along the pilgrim’s road, through the old entertainment district of Furuichi. The samurai ahead were clearing the jugglers, acrobats and conjurers out of the way, shouting at the peasants to hide their faces in the dirt as their lords and masters rode by.
After ten minutes the carriages bucked as we rode over the Uji bridge, crossing the Isuzu river. We turned to the right and began to follow the riverbank, passing wide landscaped gardens on our left.
from “Voice of the Mirror”, Book 2 of the Sword, Mirror, Jewel trilogy.
Until the end of World War Two, it was a matter of national belief that the Emperor was a flesh-and-blood descendant of Amaterasu herself. The Nihon Shiki (Chronicles of Ancient Japan) states that Ise Jingu was established in the year 4 BCE, founded by the divine princess Yamatohime-no-Mikoto as a permanent site of worship for Amaterasu. The Naiku complex was erected in the 7th century by the Emperor Tenmu.
The chief priest or priestess of the Ise Shrines must also be a member of the Japanese royal family. Today, there are two priestesses: the emperor’s sister, Atsuko Ikeda, and his daughter Sayako Kuroda.
Kotaijingu is also the home of a sacred object known as the Yata no Kagami – one of Japan’s Three Sacred Treasures, handed down to Jimmu, the First Emperor, as symbols of the Imperial line’s divine origins. The three regalia are the Kusanagi no Tsurugi (sacred sword) kept at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, the Yasakani no Magatama (sacred jewel) kept in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and the Yata no Kagami (sacred mirror), kept at Ise Jingu. This is what official records state, although the general public are not allowed to see the objects, and no photographs of them exist. The last time they were taken from their respective homes was at the enthroning of the current Heisei Emperor in 1993, but no TV cameras were allowed to film them.
Another mystery surrounding Ise Jingu is the strange ritual known as Shikinen Sengu. Once every twenty years, the building of Kotaijingu is dismantled, and rebuilt with new materials (but keeping the original architectural design) a short distance away from the previous site. A festival celebrates the construction of a new shrine and to transfer the Yata no Kagami, and other enshrined artifacts, from the old building to the new one. Residents of the town of Ise participate in a parade to carry the wood along with stones. Each person carries two and places them in sacred spots around the shrine. Shikinen means “fixed year”, and Sengu means “Shrine construction”; the last time this ritual took place was in 2013, so you’ll have to wait until 2033 for the next one.
This ritual is by no means unique in Japan; other shrines undergo reconstruction when necessary, and Izumo Taisha undergoes a Shikinen Sengu, every 60 years instead of 20. The Ise Jingu ritual is the most well-known, however, and one that resonates on many levels. On one level, it’s a way to maintain traditional artisan practices, and make sure skills and knowledge are handed down from one generation to the next. On another level, it reflects the transient nature of reality itself, and reminds us that so much of the modern world around us is not physical, but pure information. Where exactly is the money in your bank account or the tracks on your Itunes? Can you see them or touch them? If the main building of Ise Jingu is rebuilt and moved every 20 years, then does it really exist in the physical world at all, or is it simply reminding us that the real spiritual essence of Shinto exists only in the hearts and minds of the people?
Considering the G-7 summit, some other questions come to mind. It’s been well-publicized that Obama will make a historic visit to Hiroshima, but will a visit to Ise Jingu be on the delegates’ agenda?
Earlier this month, government sources confirmed that Abe plans to show his fellow world leaders around the shrine. This has been greeted by protests from certain quarters.
“If it is presented as one aspect of Japanese culture, as a study tour if you will, then it will be hard to make it into an issue,” said Susumu Shimazono, a professor in the graduate school of religious studies at Sophia University, quoted by the Japan Times on May 19th. “But when you introduce a specific religion as Japanese culture you run the risk of making an issue of Article 20 of the Constitution, which states, ‘The state is prohibited from granting privileges or political authority to a religion . . . I think one should be mindful to ensure that this doesn’t become an issue over freedom of religion.”
It’s a matter of public record that Abe is a member of the Shinto Seji Renmei, or the political wing of the Association of Shinto Shrines, and he is known to visit Ise Jingu every year after the New Year holiday. An itinerary including the shrine complex would give him another opportunity to air his conservative views to an audience of world leaders.
Even the G7 leaders really do visit the sacred site, it’s a safe bet that not even the likes of President Obama will be allowed to enter the abode of Amaterasu, or to set eyes on the Yata no Kagami. Ise Jingu will remain … a shrine of secrets.
There now follows an excerpt from “Voice of the Mirror”, Book 2 of the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy. For more information on this epic YA Urban Fantasy series, see the menu above!
A few minutes later a samurai came riding down the track, shouting commands to the riders at the back. “Ten minutes to go! On your toes, dogs!”
Lord Naito’s smile creased and then disappeared. “This will be a busy morning, my children. The time is drawing near. Do you have any premonitions, my Star-Tellers? Honorable artist, have you recalled any more of your childhood memories?”
I looked across at Hokusai. His face was deathly pale. “I knew about my life, once,” he said. “Now, I do not. All I have is my art, my faith in Nichiren, and … the works that he painted.”
“He?” Naito gave a malicious laugh. “Come now, do not speak of Sharaku like that.”
“My Lord,” Hideaki interrupted. “What comes after you have invaded the shrine? Your clockwork army – how long can they hold off the flesh and blood soldiers of the Shogunate? What do you intend to do with the Yata no Kagami, after you have carried it back to your home prefecture?”
Naito laughed again – deep, and authoritative. “Very good, my young samurai. You have the spirit of inquiry. I admire such courage in a boy whose life will be tragically cut short.”
Ignoring Hideaki’s silent rage, Naito gestured out towards the approaching shrine. “I do not intend to remove the Yata no Kagami, you see. Also, I have no escape plan because I will not be leaving Ise Shrine, not in the sense that you understand it. As Star-Tellers and loyal servants of the Shogun, you are familiar with the tale of Amaterasu and the mirror?”
Tomoe and I nodded without comment.
“There are aspects of that legend which the priests do not discuss,” he said quietly. “They are kept secret from the nation. Even the Star-Academy itself does not teach it. But you, if your powers are correct … perhaps you will divine the truth of what I am hinting at?”
I concentrated, letting the new information flow into me. “When Amaterasu looked into the mirror, she saw her reflection within it.”
“After she returned to the heavens,” continued Tomoe in a dream-filled voice, “she left part of herself … in the mirror.”
I bowed my head. Of course. Now I understood.
“When the mirror reflected Amaterasu,” said Naito, “it captured a small part of the goddess. I shall use that power to open a gateway.”
“What do the clockwork warriors have to do with it?” Shunsuke asked.
“You are familiar with the legend of the Eight Million Kamisama?” Tanaka spoke now, his voice as cool and charming as a predatory ghost. “With their assembled drums and pipes, they brought the mirror to life, and called the Sun Goddess out to glory. It is my contention that the drumming was a key in the form of sound. Waves of sound.”
“Waves,” said Hokusai with a gasp.
“Lord Naito has shown me the truth,” said Tanaka, “and the truth is that the Kamisama are even more powerful than the legends say. The story of Amaterasu is a coded instruction of how to operate the Yata no Kagami. The mirror can be activated through sound. A high note will cause glass to shatter, but a bass vibration will cause it to vibrate in sympathy. I shall use bass vibrations to set up a harmonic key, to shake the energy loose. The clockwork warriors are the key that will unlock the mirror.”
“And you have eight million of them?” said Hideaki with a sneer.
“We have enough,” said Tanaka, “enough to deliver the power of the Sun Goddess into our hands.”
“Are you aware of what you are saying? That power will burn you to ash, you foolish man,” said Tomoe in little more than a whisper.
“Not so.” Tanaka turned to Lord Naito. There was admiration in his eyes, but something more; naked greed. “Lord Naito has shown me the truth; the light of Amaterasu is a source of power. Power to make crops grow in the wasteland, or smite our enemies’ castles with fire. Power to build a new empire, an empire ruled by Naito – not the spineless Tokugawa runts.”
Hideaki uttered a snarl.
I sat back, lost in thought. I closed my eyes …
I could not see the future.
I could not see anything.
After riding in tense silence for some time, there was a distant shimmer to the right and a low hint of buildings rose like a mirage in the early morning mist.
There was bustle in the carriages behind us. “We have arrived,” muttered Shunsuke.
I smiled tightly. Lord Naito and Tanaka opened the shutters as the procession reached the outer gates.
A guard approached. “What is the purpose of your visit?”
“We are here to deliver timber for rebuilding the Naiku.”
“Present your papers and your seal.”
“We need no papers and no seal. Lord Naito is here, in person.”
The guard stood frozen for a second and then dropped to the ground in hurried obeisance.
Tomoe touched the sleeve of my kimono. “Lord Naito’s strangeness is growing, Reiko,” she whispered.
I had seen the same thing. I leant close to Hokusai. “Stay close to us and be on your guard. There may be sword fighting.”
He nodded, not looking at me.
The carriages clicked slowly over the hill and came to rest. The doors opened and samurai came running out with military precision.
It was a magnificent site. In the center stood the huge squat shrine, the sun glinting off the polished wood of its walls. The Naiku was constructed of cypress wood. Built on pillars set directly into the ground, the shrine measured eleven meters by five, and included a raised floor, verandahs all the way around, and a staircase leading to a single central doorway. The roof ridge was supported by two central columns – stylized forms of old storehouse building techniques that predated Buddhist architecture.
The common folk were not allowed this sight. Only the nobility was allowed this far; wooden fences screened off the Naiku, and common pilgrims were only allowed a glimpse of the tiled roofs of the central buildings.
The door opened, and a priest appeared, short and slender and wearing a kind expression. Given his delicate appearance, one could not help wondering how he possessed sufficient vitality to intone Buddhist sutras day and night, year in, year out.
“Good morning. It is certainly refreshing outside.” His voice was calm and serene.
Lord Naito strode up to the threshold and bowed deeply. “O learned one, I hesitate to make such an insensitive request, but it has fallen on me to assess the security of the treasure you guard.”
The priest’s voice was still tranquil, but I could sense the shadows, the cold and the cruel darkness, rushing upon the shrine to overwhelm it.
“That is most unfortunate.”
The priest’s expression turned sorrowful, as if he had been told that someone had fallen ill and was in need of medicine. “The shrine does not permit anyone, even the Shogun himself, to enter the inner sanctum.”
“In that case, it saddens me to have you killed.”
Lord Naito gestured, and one of his samurai rushed forward and cut the priest down where he stood.
My companions and I stood frozen with shock. Lord Naito would stop at nothing; he would slaughter an unarmed Shinto priest, and he would smile did so. We were dealing with a creature who had divorced himself from humanity entirely.
Lord Naito called, “Mirror Squad One. Prepare to advance.” They began to pull the carriages with the clockwork warriors into the inner sanctum.
The door swung open.
Immediately, I was assaulted by a storm of sensations, a flooding of Ki energy constantly warped and pulled into new configurations by the object in front of me. This explained the strangeness in the invisible lines of the land we had ridden through.
The object itself resembled a large, polished glass sphere, and the fact that it hung in the air without visible support came as no surprise. Storm clouds of moving, shifting shapes and patterns, in colors I could not describe, moved across its surface, indicating that something dark and brooding lay within.
It was a sight that only the Kamisama were meant to see. I felt sick, and my limbs trembled, as if I stood on the edge of a bottomless pit.
“Behold,” Lord Naito said, his voice echoing eerily. “The Yata no Kagami.”
from “Dark Lanterns”, by Zoe Drake.
“The Japanese are finished!” Takashi Hino yelled, stepping on the gas to speed us down the Yamanashi highway. He took one hand off the steering wheel and shook a fist at the pylons, the rice fields, the lonely farmhouses rolling by. “The way the population’s declining, a hundred years from now there’ll just be a few thousand oyaji rice farmers stuck in some crumbling radioactive wasteland wondering what happened to their Rising Sun. And good riddance.”
I’d got used to Hino’s rants over the last two weeks, and in my vulnerable position in the passenger seat, resigned myself to making toadying comments, trying to ignore the horseracing results blaring out of the car radio, and concentrating on the task ahead of me.
Takashi Hino was one of the lieutenants of the Shibuya Sumiyoshi-kai, not an Oyabun, but a fairly big player in the west Tokyo Yakuza. He’d made his mark coordinating dating scams and fake weddings for Thai prostitutes in his native Toyama prefecture. He’d moved onto bigger things after coming to Tokyo, like running a handful of backstreet loan companies, but he often talked about the Thai and Chinese girls he’d ‘broken in’. Never forget where you’re from, he’d say. I’d been working for Hino for the last two weeks collecting money from Soapland massage parlors – but today, I was out with Hino alone for the first time, for my ‘initiation’.
Hino slipped another Seven Stars cigarette from the packet, and I hurriedly moved to light it for him. “There it is,” he said, gesturing to the left. “Mount Fuji.”
I peered at the misty pyramid shape of dark blue and brown against the skyline. “It doesn’t look that big when you get up close,” I said.
Bam! Sparks exploded as the knuckles of his left hand connected with my right cheek. I turned my head, stared at his reddening face. Hold it together, I thought. Keep calm…
“Well then look at it properly, you son of a bitch,” he shouted, “Show some respect! That’s the most important site in the whole of Japan, that’s our spirit, our pride. You see the snow on the top? But not much on the sides, there, huh, where it’s all rocky and black? I saw something on the TV that said there’s gonna be another eruption soon. The snow’s melting quicker because the volcano’s warming up and sometime in the future it’s going to blow. Man, I can’t wait to see that! Fuji blows its top, and a great cloud of volcanic ash fills the sky and just dumps its load on Tokyo. That’ll teach ‘em. The Roppongi Hills megamall is gonna look like another Pompeii. A hundred years from now some archeologists are gonna dig through the ash and find the plaster cast of some office lady with her body curled around her Louis Vuitton bag to try to protect it, and they’ll find the bones of a little Chihuahua inside the bag with one of those stupid pink ribbons around the dog’s neck, and they’ll think, who the fuck were these people?”
Hold it together, I thought. Keep calm…
“So what about you, boy?” he asked, after he’d got bored with ranting. “They told me you want into the gang full-time. What’s special about you, Naoto?”
My story. I looked ahead at the road, recalling the details that the real Naoto Iwasaki had unwillingly given to me.
“Well, you know … thrown out of junior high school for pulling a knife on a teacher. Mum died when I was little, Dad was a taxi driver who hit the bottle. One night Dad came back from work, whacked some cash on the table and said, ‘I’m too tired for this. Here’s half of my savings, pack your bags and just get out.’ After that I hung out in Shibuya, sleeping in manga cafes, until I hooked up with some of your scoutmen who told me the score.”
“Yeah, yeah. I heard it all before. There’s plenty where you come from. Well don’t worry kid, just do what you’re told and you could make a lot of cash. And speaking of cash, here it is … our stop. The sea of trees.”
I followed his gesture and looked ahead through the windscreen, to the thick rolling cloud of green coming up on the left. Aokigahara Jukai.
About fifteen hundred years ago, Mount Fuji erupted, and over time a forest grew over the lava and other unknown matter that had emerged from beneath the earth. Thirty square kilometers of ancient woodland, called the ‘sea of trees’, because from half way up Mount Fuji it really does look like an ocean. Dense, dark, and forbidding.
Also the most notorious suicide spot of the entire country.
“Every year around autumn time, the cops do a sweep of parts of the forest,” Hino explained. “They find at least a hundred bodies. I saw this show on TV that said not all the people who die here are suicides. Some of them are hikers who get lost.”
“Who’d actually want to go hiking in a place like this?”
“You got me, kid. Anyway, the show brought on one of these rent-a-scientists who said there was something weird about the magnetic field around here. GPS devices don’t work. Compass needles don’t work. This guy actually said,” the gangster laughed at the wrong moment and began to cough on his own cigarette smoke, “that some University did an aerial survey, and they couldn’t even figure out the size of the place. They said the forest was a few meters bigger than it was five years ago.”
I turned my head away and smiled. “That’s just crazy,” I said.
We pulled over on the side of the road. With the engine and the radio off, the interior was suddenly plunged into mournful silence. We got out of the car. The tang of wood smoke hung upon the chill December air, behind us lay squares of rice paddies and distant farms beneath the cold sunshine, and ahead stood a dark tangle of trees that cast everything into shadow.
“It’s half an hour drive to the nearest town,” Hino said. “Well, you can’t really call it a town. Not much bigger than a village, and half of the buildings are empty and falling down. That’s the countryside for you, kid. These bastards can’t wait to get out and move to Tokyo.”
We wore the uniforms of the local volunteer fire service, and had fake passes stamped with the Fujigoko Fire Department insignia. We also had color-coded plastic tapes to attach to the trees, not only to provide us with a cover story, but also so we could find our way back.
A gloomy screen of oak, elm, paulownia and chinkapin stood ahead of us. Hino hesitated a little, but then shrugged, pulled out another Seven Stars that I lit for him, and then pushed me forward. We walked under the canopy of leaves onto the public hiking path, and out of the light of day.
“Boss, there’s an old riddle that goes if a tree falls in the middle of a forest, and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound,” I said.
Hino blew out smoke and gave me an angry look. “So?”
“So I was thinking, if a salaryman kills himself in these woods and there’s nobody around to hear him, does he really make a sound?”
“Does anybody give a shit?”
We came to a rope stretched across the trees, with a sign that said NO PUBLIC ENTRANCE BEYOND THIS POINT – IT IS EASY TO GET LOST.
There was an even bigger sign above it that said:
YOUR LIFE IS A PRECIOUS GIFT FROM YOUR PARENTS.
IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING SUICIDE, PLEASE TURN BACK.
DON’T KEEP IT TO YOURSELF: TALK TO SOMEONE.
Hino flicked his cigarette butt at the sign and laughed. We looked around; in the vague landscape of grey, brown and green, we were the only human figures. We climbed over the rope and started trekking, attaching the tape firmly to the trees as we went.
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Taken from ‘The Jason Zodiac Files’ Volume One, by Jamie Carter.
1: DAFT NEW TV BOSS TELLS KIDS: TRY OUT ACID!
The present day …
The main Fugue Magazine office was busy as ever, crowded with desks and shelves, partitions, bookcases, computers, plants, piles of paper, photocopiers, vinyl albums, CDs, DVDs, photographs and filing cabinets. I threaded my way through the maze, nodding and saying hello to my fellow hacks, who slapped me on the back and asked me how I was – after the nasty bout of food poisoning that put me in the hospital.
“Jamie,” Mimi said, looking up from her terminal.
“Mimi,” I said, sitting at my desk and squinting at the little yellow Post-Its decorating the side of the screen.
“They say our journalists are full of shit,” Mimi said in her hazy voice. “You’re the living proof, I suppose.”
“Your motherly concern is duly noted,” I said, logging onto the system.
“Your Deep Throat has been very busy, you know. He rang again this morning.”
I looked at the most recent Post-It. It said 10:00. That was about five minutes away.
Mimi got up and walked around her desk to stand in front of mine, a pair of reading glasses in her hands. “What’s all this about?”
“All what about?”
“These mysterious phone calls. I’m beginning to think you’re being headhunted by the other celebrity rags.”
I shrugged. “This contact seems to know where a lot of old Jason Zodiac material is. He may even know if Jason’s still alive. But he’s not giving it to me all at once, just in bits and pieces.”
“Hence the paper chase.” Mimi sniffed. “Did David tell you about the new commission?”
I sighed. “Yes, he did.”
“Then don’t waste too much time on this Jason mullarkey. It’s old news, a mystery with no solution. The millenium’s changed so fast that the Nineties are shrouded in mystery now. It’s piss easy, Jamie! All you have to do is to write for the target demographic.”
Peter looked up from his screen. “I’ve still got clothes from the Nineties.”
“You’ve still got clothes from the Eighties,” I shouted back at him, “especially your underwear.”
Mimi was about to say something else when the phone at my desk rang. An outside line. I picked up the receiver. The line was terrible; full of crackling static.
“Mr. Carter?” It was a male voice, sounding very cultured and refined.
“Yes. Is that Mr. King?” I felt incredibly self-conscious saying that. I hoped he wasn’t going to say yes, and you are my knight or some such bollocks.
“Yes. Listen, Mr. Carter, I have something new for you. I cannot speak long; go to the following location.”
“Go to …? Now, just a minute!”
“The A604. There is a telephone box just by the turn-off towards Clapham Wood. Be there at eight o’clock tonight. I shall call you.”
“Mr. King, that’s -”
“The A604. Telephone box. Clapham Wood,” the voice repeated. “I have names for you.”
The line went dead. I looked at the phone, and then over at Mimi’s grinning face. “More running around?”
“Yes,” I said grumpily, writing the information down on a memo and thrusting it into my shirt pocket.
Mimi winked. “Make sure you’re close to a toilet.”
2: COPS BACK OFF IN ACID HOUSE BATTLE!
June, 1988 …
Inside the warehouse, it’s mayhem. There are giant snow nets, camouflage nets and parachutes pinned to the ceiling and around the walls, rippling with trippy visuals from projectors somewhere. The walls are covered in florescent colored card and ultraviolet spray paint. The DJ’s behind a semi-circle of car tyres to keep the stage and turntable from being jostled by the dancers. Around the walls at floor level are cages and behind the bars are inflatable animals illuminated by the black light lamps – gorillas, dragons , Mickey Mouse.
I attempt to shout my feelings of joy to Mandy but with her usual flair for madness, she jumps onto a nearby window ledge. She proceeds to dance along the wall jumping and swinging from window sill to another. I can’t say it makes me feel very ecstatic, because my first rush has peaked and it’s time for another E, but at least it’s fascinating. A bouncer looms out of the smoke machine smog, but I shout at him “It’s only Mandy”, and he shrugs and lets her get on with it.
I’m throwing shapes in the air, no idea what I’m doing just knowing that it feels good, when a sampled vocodered voice rips through the warehouse, a voice modulated so low in the bass that it makes my whole body vibrate down to the bowels:
They say we are dead men …
They say we are dead men …
Then the beat cuts out all together and the computerized voice fills the air:
Everyone who has the mark shall live
Thousands of ravers put their hands in the air and this fucking mental howl from thousands of throats rocks the party.
Pete and Julie have disappeared into the crowd and for a while I dance by myself, feeling the beat surge through me and the sampled voices speak to me like messages from outer space, and I watch my hands make patterns in the smoke and the strobes and the laser light. My body feels so light, throwing my arms around, thinking of new and funky moves that the music gives to me.
The next time Mandy appears she runs up and snogs me and oh God she tastes like heaven, and she’s wearing a pair of bunny ears and shaking a pair of maraccas that she’s produced out of nowhere, dishing out her own musical insanity. Maraccas mixing in with Frankie Knuckles. A crowd gathers around us clapping and cheering. How sweet. She’s a nutter, that Mandy. She’s gorgeous.
I never realized life could be as good as this.
3: DON’T COME TO THE PARTY, SAY POLICE!
Picture courtesy of Boris Shenton
(from JASON ZODIAC AND THE T-SERVICE: THE CAMELOT RUN) – broadcast BBC TV March 1968.
SCENE 20 Cornwall – ext.
JASON and YVETTE are in his Lotus Elan, driving down a sleepy country lane. They slow down and stop.
YVETTE: According to that puzzle you solved, this should be the way to Cadbury Castle.
JASON: I’m afraid it isn’t.
YVETTE: I think we zigged when we should have zagged!
JASON: No, we’re not lost. We’ve been detoured by the Church With No Name … they must have swopped the signposts around.
YVETTE: The Church? Those meanies you were talking about?
JASON: Yes. Look … those trees, the branches are waving around but there’s no breeze.
YVETTE: That humming sound … it’s like a bell, ringing deep underground. What … (screams) Jason, the ground’s moving! Is it an earthquake?
JASON: No, it’s something much worse.
A voice echoes through the air, and they look around to see where it’s coming from.
VOICE: By my troth, ’tis indeed Master Zodiac. The cunning man. The dark man from the dark house, and charming as ever.
JASON: The landscape is talking! Very interesting.
VOICE: Yes, I am the landscape, Master Zodiac, and you are but an ant crawling upon the dirt. Tarry, and I shall appear in a form more pleasing to you.
In front of the car, a mound of earth appears, like a mole burrow. A head breaks through and a face appears – a haughty, sharp, bearded male face. The body slides into view as if he is standing on an elevator rising up out of the earth. He is wearing an English Civil War Cavalier’s military uniform; leather jerkin, short cape, sword at his side.
JASON: Yvette, let me introduce Lord Muck. He’s a 17th century sorcerer who accidentally fused himself with the countryside when an Enochian magic ritual went wrong.
(To Lord Muck) So you were expecting me.
LORD MUCK: I have formed an alliance with knaves of my own kidney. They said you would be upon this road. I understand that I am to provide a diversion, and to stop you approaching the treasure, whilst they are making sundry machinations of their own.
JASON: In other words, you’re working for the Church With No Name. You do realize that whatever they promised, they’ll betray you and try to eliminate you when you’re no longer useful?
LORD MUCK (smiling): There is more than one Church, Master Zodiac, and many doings are hidden from you. I did not confess who my ally was. But all things tend towards the same end, sir; the muck, the rot, the dung-heap – and there are few indeed who will care a nutshell for them when they have gone. I cry you mercy! You are a smoky persecutor of nature, sir, and I shall see the worms feed upon your brains.
LORD MUCK raises his hands, and roots and long-buried bones erupt from the soil. The trees bend, branches reaching out towards JASON’S car.
YVETTE: Oh my God!
LORD MUCK: Do not speak of God, dear lady … for your abode shall evermore be Hell!
TO BE CONTINUED …
CONFUSED YET? Check out ‘The Jason Zodiac Files’, in the menu above.
READ VOLUME ONE OF JAMIE CARTER’S BIOGRAPHY OF THE ELUSIVE JASON ZODIAC –
Some snippets from the House of Ideas! The “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” page has been updated, please see the menu above … brand new Second Editions of “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” and “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow Volume One” are on their way … Excalibur is looking for more Steampunk/Dieselpunk influenced artists to contribute to The Futurist Manifesto series 2, please contact John Paul Catton or Jacob Smith on email@example.com …
Watch out for more excerpts from the work of Zoe Drake and Jamie Carter … and there are rumors that a new writer will be joining the Excalibur publisher’s list! Who is it? Stay tuned and bookmark this site for more info!
The first thing Papa saw when he woke up in the morning was a picture of Paris. Mounted in a tarnished clip-frame, it hung on the wall, an aerial view of the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding avenues. Papa had cut it from a guidebook he’d found in a coin-laundry.
After waking, Papa carried out the routine familiar through years of habit. He took a swig of the water from the plastic bottle by his bedside. He carefully rolled up his sleeping-bag, and shoved it under the sawn-off coffee-table. He wistfully scanned the pictures of children in kimonos that he had tacked to the wall, close to the Eiffel tower. Then he put on his moldering sports shoes, and climbed out of his cardboard box to check the morning weather.
March was a treacherous time to be homeless. It held the promise of spring, but a deliciously warm day could sometimes be followed by the vicious cold of a winter that refuses to surrender. A cold that was, for many individuals Papa knew personally, potentially lethal. Leaving the gloom of the box interior, and standing alone in the quiet alley outside, Papa scanned the sky. It would be clear today, but cold.
The alley lay in a neglected corner of central Shibuya, Tokyo, sheltering under a pedestrian bridge and bordered by the parking lot of a warehouse. At one end of the alley stood the steps leading to a small park, shunned by all except the young, aggressive, Shibukaji kids who carried out nameless deals in its dark, graffiti-stained corners. At the other end lay the bustling streets that carried bright young people to the restaurants and department stores. None of them bothered or interrupted Papa and his compatriots, as they nestled underneath the bridge in their forlorn village of boxes.
Pulling his broom from behind the cardboard box, Papa stretched, hearing bones click like mah-jong tiles on a table, and began to methodically sweep the tunnel. The grit and discarded trash on the sidewalk could turn into an offensive dust when the wind picked up, getting into the eyes and the clothes of the villages population. The tunnel was not frequented by many; most were unaware of its existence, and the few salarymen who traversed it, seeking a short cut to the station, marched through with heads bowed, eyes fixed on the ground or on their own slim leather briefcases.
Papa constantly badgered the rest of the tunnel’s inmates to follow his example. In the morning, clear up and sort through any new garbage that had been placed in the surrounding area. Go to the station, and when the subway trains had pulled in and had disgorged their passengers, scan the racks for manga left behind. On a street near their tunnel, Papa and his compatriots would take turns throughout the day and evening, selling their finds for one hundred yen each. In the afternoon, he would take anyone who was well enough to the nearby temple or the charity centre, for hot food doled out by volunteers. Sometimes he would go alone to the back entrance of a nearby tonkatsu shop, where a sympathetic owner would give him bags of leftovers. He was a rare one, and an old acquaintance of Papa’s; most managers would now deliberately grind cigarette ash and broken cutlery in with the food scraps, to discourage the homeless. After leaving the discreet corner where they sold their manga, Papa and whoever he was with would carry their stock home, and in his box, Papa would read from his store of books by a flashlight he taped in place on the ceiling.
It was good to have a routine.
Papa would have no truck with the new breed of homeless, who would go up to ordinary people and pester them for money. Some of them, he had heard, approached gaijin to beg in broken English.
Unacceptable. Papa had his routine, he had his tunnel, and he had his pride. He had seen many others come, and seen many go; but he always asked them to co-operate with each other.
Arriving at the Shibuya Community Centre a little before twelve, Papa was shown a seat and given pork cutlets over rice, and a bowl of steaming miso soup. Papa savored his meal slowly, exchanging comments with those closest to him on the flimsy plastic table, watching from beneath the brim of his cap the nervous, fresh-faced volunteers in the kitchen.
On this afternoon, before he went on duty selling comics, he returned to his refuge and read some more – a novel he had read and admired many times, a great writer from the Meiji era. He sat in his Toshiba foldaway home, a threadbare rug over his knees, the flaps open to admit the dusty air. Every once in a while, Papa would shift position, when the grumbling from his back became too much.
Sometime before evening, as dusk began to bleed the life out of the sky, Papa’s concentration was broken. Furtive scrabbling came from the makeshift homestead next to Papa’s, and the old man felt it as well as heard it, the movements of his neighbor vibrating the cardboard wall behind Papa’s head. Moments later, he heard it: a low groan of discomfort. It was followed by others, that grew into a steady monotone of distress, a half-wailing that grated on the nerves.
Papa frowned. His neighbour, Yamashita-san, was a little deficient in the mental department, but he was mostly quiet. He wasn’t given to the horrible incoherent rambling that Papa had seen in some of his colleagues. Perhaps Yamashita-san was suffering from indigestion; very likely, considering the inedible trash he habitually shoveled into his mouth.
“Are you all right?” Papa called, a little halfheartedly. Then he realized; Yamashita-san was on the south side of Papa’s box. Behind him there was only the storage box that held the manga. Papa had no neighbor on the other side.
Confused, concerned and a little angered, Papa climbed out to investigate. Squeezed into the space between Papa’s box and the storage carton was a small hovel of cardboard and stiff paper. Papa could not remember seeing it before. Moreover, he could not think of who the tenant might be, and he prided himself on knowing all of the alley’s occupants by name or nickname.
He peered closely at the corporate labels half-washed away from the sides of the box. Either his eyesight was fading, or the Japanese characters were of a type unknown to him. He stood there wondering whether he should greet the new tenant. The moaning had stopped, and so had the movement. Presumably whoever was inside had fallen asleep. Shadows clinging to his stiff arms and legs, Papa climbed back into his box.
It was not long before Papa was disturbed by his neighbor again. He had fallen into a fitful doze, the book having fallen onto his chest. He awoke with a start, and a sudden feeling of alarm, as if were the first rumblings of an earthquake.
The moaning had returned, from a point that seemed to be a few centimeters behind Papa’s head. This time it was mixed with sobbing, and spates of occasional deep, sour cursing. “Are you all right?” Papa called, in resentment as well as concern. “Hello! What’s up?”
This time he received an answer. “I’ve had enough,” the voice said. It was a comment Papa had heard many times before. What shocked him now, though, was not the intensity of despair and scorn in the voice. What shocked him was that the voice belonged to a woman.
“I’ve had enough,” the voice repeated. It was an elderly voice; it could have been the voice of a grandmother. Papa had met several homeless women around Tokyo in the past few years, and the experience had always been deeply unsettling.
“I’ve lived for too long,” the quavering voice continued. “Why can’t I just die? Why can’t I just finish it?”
“That’s foolish talk!” Papa called in a stern voice. “There’s always something to be learned from your troubles. It doesn’t matter how bad things are. There’s always a reason for living, if you can just find it and hold onto it. ”
The moaning abated, and sank into a quiet, mournful, sniffing. After a while, the voice returned, calmer than before. “You’re Papa, aren’t you? They call you Papa. I know about you. I feel very encouraged to hear your voice.”
Papa chuckled, and nodded his head in acknowledgement. Even when homeless and destitute, he could still be charming.
“Yes, I’ve heard about you. The people of this tunnel respect you a lot, even if they don’t show it sometimes. You’ve helped them a lot. You’ve become quite a retainer for the homeless, haven’t you? That’s why I have been looking for you. That’s why I followed you here.”
Papa shrugged off the blanket and sat up. He was not going to keep his peace of mind tonight, he realized grimly. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been following you ever since that day in Corridor 4, Papa,” the voice replied.
READ THE REST OF THE STORY
AND 14 MORE SPINE-CHILLING TALES LIKE IT – HERE!
On Thursday March 10th, I went to the new site of the Tobacco and Salt Museum, to do some research for the forthcoming “Voice of the Jewel”, the explosive finale to the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” trilogy. Tokyo residents have noticed that the old Museum disappeared from its Shibuya address a couple of years ago … well, this is where it went! The special exhibition itself is on the subject of the shipping industry along the Sumida river in Japan’s Edo period (roughly 1600 to 1850). “Not exactly blockbuster entertainment!” you might say, and you might be right, but this is all to check some background reference and make the events in the novel as fact-based as possible.
Although I picked up some valuable information from the Museum, I can’t really recommend the exhibition, because it’s too small. Nevertheless, this was the perfect reason for a long walk through another neighborhood of Shitamchi (downtown) – the oldest part of Tokyo. The Tobacco and Salt Museum is in the shadow of the Sky Tree, the new tourist attraction designed to give Northeast Tokyo’s economy a shot in the arm.
If you set off in the opposite direction from the tourists, however, there are some wabi-sabi architectural treasures to be found.
The exhibition gave me the idea to walk in the direction of Asakusa and call in on Nick, the owner of Infinity Books, and look for any works on the Sumida river he might have on the shelves. During the course of the conversation he mentioned Good Day Books, another venerable English-language Tokyo bookshop, and its uncertain future … for more information go here. It would be a very sad thing to lose Good Day Books, and I do hope they find a new owner, but in today’s online-centered market place that’s going to be difficult.
Infinity Books can be found here.
I ended the walk standing on Azumabashi Bridge, watching the sun go down on the river.
My appointment in Shimo-Kitazawa was waiting .. but that’s another story!
Tetsuo Nozaki straightened himself, wiped his brow once more with his handkerchief, and then returned it to his back pocket. It wouldn’t be acceptable to be seen perspiring during the presentation, he knew. The sponsors might think it was an attack of nerves.
“Japan,” he commenced, “is a nation that – to put it bluntly – is asleep at the wheel.”
He pressed a key on the laptop, and a selection of images sprang into life on the wall-size monitor screen behind him. Images mainly taken from the Tokyo and Osaka subway systems. Businessmen and secretaries riding the trains in various states of unconsciousness. Heads lolling onto other people’s shoulders, or thrown back with open mouths exposing crooked and nicotine-stained teeth. Eyes screwed shut. Hands loosely gripping cell phones, newspapers, pornographic comics. An everyday jamboree of public sleepiness.
“A recent study by the National Hygiene Institute found that over forty-five percent of Japanese people manage less than six hours of sleep per night. One person in four suffers from sleep-deficiency syndrome. We live in a twenty-four seven society, with many shops and services open around the clock, brilliantly illuminated urban nights, and an Internet that never sleeps. Our business community says that it can’t be helped, that restructuring has forced office workers to work unusually long hours. But let’s not forget that sleep deprivation, throughout history, has been a form of torture – and this particular torture is costing Japan trillions of yen in terms of productivity.”
In the dimly lit meeting room, the sixteen members of the audience looked expectantly at Nozaki, sagely nodding their heads. He pressed another key on the laptop, and the image on the monitors changed. A schematic of the human brain, its complex, tightly furled chambers neatly color-coded.
“I’d like to explain more fully what happens to the brain in normal states of sleep. In waking life, the human brain functions in the Beta brainwave state during concentration, and the Alpha state when relaxed. In sleep, there are five recurring stages; stage one sleep is the transition period from wakefulness to unconsciousness. In stage two, the heart rate slows, body temperature decreases, and there are periods of muscle tension and relaxation. The body is preparing to enter deep sleep.”
A monitor screen at the top right corner began to display wave patterns, illustrating Nozaki’s words.
“What concerns us most are stages three, four and five. Stages three and four are known as slow-wave sleep. The brain here is in the Delta wave state, waves that are the slowest in frequency, cycling at around one to four hertz. Following this cycle from stages one to four, which usually lasts ninety minutes, is stage five – REM sleep, standing for Rapid Eye Movement. This is a period of intense cerebral activity, with the brain operating at the Theta frequency of four to eight hertz, accompanied by muscular paralysis. This, gentlemen, is when most dreaming takes place. At the end of a period of REM sleep, usually lasting ten minutes, stages one to five then repeat themselves throughout the night.”
The image of the brain clicked off, throwing Nozaki momentarily into darkness. The monitors lit up again showing graphics and charts regarding normal and abnormal sleep patterns.
“These findings here show what matters is not how many hours the individual sleeps during the night, but the quality of the sleep itself. Research has proven that a lack of REM sleep and slow-wave sleep leaves a person feeling tired and unwell. What concerns us is how to improve the quality of our sleep – and to that end, I would like to show you the current status of our project. Gentlemen, if you would like to follow me . . .”
At a sign from Nozaki, the secretary switched on the lights. The dozen august members of the audience got to their feet, talking quietly to themselves. Even in the summer heat, they were wearing formal dark suits and neckties, and they brushed out the creases from their pants self-consciously as they followed Nozaki to the exit.
Nozaki mopped his brow discreetly as he led the audience to the elevators. He was a large man for a Japanese, something that was particularly inconvenient in the summer, his gut pushing his necktie away from his freshly laundered white shirt. His oval face was a smooth mask of puppy fat beneath glossy black hair parted in the middle and teased up in what his wife said was the most fashionable style. He bowed respectfully as the sponsors filed one by one into the elevator, and then rode up with them to the eleventh level of Tsugaru University Hospital – the crucial area where the sponsors’ money was being spent.
“Gentlemen, would you mind touching the frame of the door as you walk through it? This is to discharge the static electricity from your clothing. Thank you, yes, like that, sir. Thank you.”
The double doors from the corridor opened onto the control room, a small working space where two PCs and a bank of video monitors stood upon the desk where Nozaki worked. From the large window facing them, the assembled audience looked down onto the Sleep Research Laboratory. The whole chamber was bathed in a soft bluish glow from the tinted lamps overhead. Hushed music flowed from hidden speakers – a muted piano and distant birdsong, ambient healing music from the hospital’s CD collection.
The floor beneath them was filled by over fifty beds, half of them occupied – although “bed” was by no means an adequate description. The top part of each ‘sleep research platform’ was covered by a semi-circular arch of dark plastic that shielded the faces of the sleepers. Circuitry glittered and lights winked on the outside of the arches. White-coated assistants slowly patrolled the aisles between the beds, checking readings on the arches and making notes on the clipboards they carried.
The white lab coats were Nozaki’s touch. Totally unnecessary, of course – the assistants were student volunteers who usually wore jeans and tee-shirts, but today, Nozaki had ordered something more scientific-looking from the hospital laundry.
“Gentlemen,” Nozaki announced, “Let me introduce the Kageyama Treatment.”
He led the sponsors down the steps from the monitor room to a nearby wheeled gurney, where an assistant was waiting. On the gurney was an instrument that looked like a miniature laptop computer connected to a futuristic pair of goggles and a net of fine plastic mesh.
“This is the instrument that we have developed with your kind support, and are currently testing on volunteers. The Sleep Modulator.”
He led them down the aisle between the sleeping volunteers, bodies covered with thin quilts. At the end of the chamber was a small presentation area holding a desk and another screen, a much smaller one, but again showing schematic maps of the brain.
“I’ve already demonstrated how a good night’s rest involving ample time for deep-wave and REM sleep is beneficial – in fact, essential for health. The new discoveries we’ve made in magnetic resonance imaging and other brain-scanning technologies mean that we can now step in and heal the damage that sleep disorders cause. The mesh cap attached to the Sleep Modulator is a net of over two hundred SQUID electrodes – Super-conducting Quantum Interference Devices. The innovative feature is that it uses pulsed electrical waves to accelerate stage one and stage two sleep. This means that the subjects who wear the cap will be spending more time in delta-wave and REM activity. These results are fed back to the lab’s monitors, so we can see in real-time which areas of the sleeping brain are being activated. After approximately two hours of sleep, the subject will wake up feeling fully refreshed, and the body physically rejuvenated.”
“Let me get this straight,” one of the suited men suddenly interjected. “You’re saying our tired business population won’t be sleeping more, but they’ll be dreaming more?”
“Essentially, yes. Taking a nap is an investment with the greatest return for the least amount of time and effort. A nap of sixty to ninety minutes, which will include both slow-wave sleep and REM sleep, is sufficient to make the subject awake feeling rejuvenated and with increased perceptual processing. In the future, with the Sleep Modulator, we hope to compress a full night’s worth of dreaming into a power nap of between twenty to thirty minutes.”
There was a general wave of murmured comments from the crowd. Nozaki permitted himself a smile. “I think now you can appreciate the device’s potential.”
The sponsors looked around the chamber, seeming suitably impressed. One of them held up a hand for attention. “Mr. Nozaki,” the fellow began, “have you changed the requirements for volunteers at all?”
“Yes, we have. We are recruiting people from all over Aomori prefecture, not just the University. We need to test both sexes, and all ages, all manner of occupations, people with both active and sedentary lifestyles. Our health checks, however, are now completely comprehensive and stringent, I can assure you.”
“I have a question.” This came from the Toshiba delegate. Nozaki had been expecting trouble from him all day; he had a sharp, weasely face and a reputation for asking improper questions. “It’s what all of us here are thinking, but nobody wants to say. What about the Yoshida case? Can you honestly tell us something like that won’t happen again?”
Nozaki cleared his throat, and began his prepared response. “Gentlemen, the death of Ayano Yoshida was truly regrettable, but the findings of the official inquiry were clear. The girl suffered from a heart condition, and should never have been allowed to enter the program here. We have since made our entry requirements much more stringent. And as you can see . . .” Nozaki gestured to the information displayed on the monitor screen mounted on a nearby bed, “our assistants constantly monitor brain, eye, muscle and heart activity. The subjects are also observed by video camera. When they wake up, we take saliva samples, to check the amounts of the hormone melatonin and the stress hormone cortisol.”
Nozaki took a deep breath, looking at the faces of the assembled sponsors.
“Gentlemen, the Kageyama Treatment is perfectly safe.”
At the central exit from the University Hospital grounds, Nozaki stood watching the sponsors leave, giving deep bows from the waist until the last chauffeured limousine had mounted the ramp and vanished from view.
Alone at last, he took the elevator back to the tenth floor and the small office set aside for his own use, and sank into a chair. At last that’s over, he thought, letting out a wide yawn. Success or failure, it was out of his hands now. He pulled his phone out of his briefcase and checked for mail; sure enough, his wife Aiko hadn’t forgotten. You must be tired, ran the text message. How do you think it went?
After sending a reply, Nozaki hurried to take his own turn in the Treatment. Entering the lab in hospital pajamas and nightgown, taking off the gown to stretch out on the bed. The assistants slipped the hairnet of dozens of ultra-sensitive electrodes over the crown of the head and smoothed it into place across the scalp, extra electrodes under the chin. The body sensors clipped to one earlobe and attached to his chest. The ozone smell of the machines above his head as the lamps began their slow, hypnotic rhythm of shifting colors and patterns. But this time he was on the receiving end.
Just a little nap, he thought, as he drank the mild sedative the assistant gave him. Just a little nap before driving home, refreshed. Driving home for the dinner Aiko was preparing.
And soon he dreamed once more.
The dream that had recurred for longer than Nozaki could consciously remember. He stood once more on the beach, bare feet on warm sand, the sky and sea around him shifting shades of grey and blue. Naked apart from his trunks, his body slim, strong, muscular.
Out at sea he noticed the splashing of foam. She was in trouble.
He dived into the waves. Strong, powerful strokes of his arms took him to where she struggled. He took hold of her, feeling her skin against his as he swam back towards the beach.
He put her down upon the sand. He looked down at her face, saltwater beaded upon it like pearls, her hair fanned out like seaweed in a current. He stood there for an eternity, not touching her, not daring to wake her, just watching.
Her face was incredibly beautiful. And overwhelmingly familiar.
Out on the horizon, lights flickered under the waves, like lightning in the depths of the sea.
ZOE DRAKE’S NOVEL “THE MISTS OF OSOREZAN” IS ON SALE HERE, IN BOTH EBOOK AND PAPERBACK.
1: DRUG RAVE-UP IN HANGAR!
Mandy comes into my life in the summer of 1988 – yes, that’s right, the so-called ‘Second Summer of Love’.
She walks into the back room of the Camden Falcon, just after bunch of no-hopers The Bad Cats had finished. She’s long-hipped and fluid in black top and jeans, green Celtic eyes, Asian cheekbones. We know each other vaguely because she’s been going out with a mate of mine, John. Well, I say mate; nobody liked him. They just pretended to. Me, I’d been through a rough patch too. I’d split up with Jenny and was on the rebound. I’d landed my dream job at the New Musical Express but it felt like it was going nowhere. I spent my time in the subs room cutting, pasting and checking, writing the occasional article or review, and interviewing bands that nobody else wanted to (losers like The Poster Loonies, The Water Addicts, Gay Karl and other twats you’ve never heard of). For the summer I’d been doing Single of the Week, but even that had lost its charm. The initial thrill of seeing a desk piled high with mailers was replaced by the frustration of realizing it will take ages to listen to them all, and most of them will be shit.
The NME I’d worked on that week was a microcosm of 1988: stale and lifeless and ready for a shake-up. A cover feature on Morrissey and his new album, “Suedehead”, and the death of the Smiths; interviews with The Fall, The Triffids and Billy Bragg. Amongst all the old stuff, and the full-page ads for golden turds such as Sting’s new single “An Englishman in New York”, was the only gleam of hope; Single of the Week – “Beat Dis” by Bomb the Bass. I don’t know it yet, but it’s the shape of things to come.
I watch Mandy as she drinks her lager. I watch the swing of her long hair, the shade of fresh chestnut. The air is hot and smells overwhelmingly of beer and tension. Across the pub, at the entrance, the legend FOSTERS glows in excited red neon, the pub punter faces reflected in the huge mirror, the red grinning faces laughing and shouting so hard the chat merges into one long incomprehensible barrage of pub noise.
The bell rings for time. “What are you doing after this?” I ask her.
“Going to the Edge,” she says.
“Is that some new club?”
“No, it’s the Edge, Jamie, Edge with a capital E,” she says. “Just like Ecstasy.”
2: THOUSANDS IN ACID HOUSE DRUG PARTIES!
JASON ZODIAC AND THE T-SERVICE:
“THE CAMELOT RUN”
by PETE KORNER
and MICHAEL SHENLEY
first broadcast – 13th March 1968.
running time – 44 mins 53 secs.
SCENE 7: Wintle Hall INT – DAY.
A large group of well-dressed men and women are standing inside a huge drawing room, drinking champagne from fluted glasses, chatting and laughing with each other in very high spirits.
They are surrounded by a giant indoor racetrack. Plates are whizzing around the room on top of miniature racing cars running along a long plastic Scalextric track shaped like a Moebius loop. The plates are carrying buffet food such as vol-au-vents and tiny triangular sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
JASON, TANGERINE and SCREAMING LORD SMITH enter the room. JASON wears mirrored ray-ban shades, a purple crushed velvet frock coat with matching bellbottom trousers, a lemon frilled shirt from John Stephen, and high-heeled Chelsea boots from Mr. Freedom (Kensington Church Street).
TANGERINE wears a black and white Mary Quant mini-dress, knee-high side-zippered white vinyl boots from Countdown, a floppy hat and long false eyelashes,
SMITH wears a navy blue suit, pink shirt and paisley cravat, all designed by Pierre Cardin.
DR. CHESS (VOICE-OVER): Jason, can you hear me?
JASON (discreetly touching the earpiece he is wearing behind his ear):
Loud and clear, boss.
DR. CHESS: I’m initiating a scan for any known operatives of the Church With No Name that may be in this room. Stand by.
The three take champagne glasses from a waiter dressed as a Grand Prix mechanic and sip their drinks.
Close-up on a dark-skinned man standing alone, wearing sunglasses.
DR. CHESS: The man you are looking at is Astor Karvik. He’s one of the Church’s top assassins, and he uses the code name of ‘Man-Snake’. The computer says his preferred weapon is darts of highly potent serpent venom.
SMITH: Sounds like he needs a good kick in the cobras.
Close-up on an attractive young lady, holding court with a group of male admirers. She wears a bright red dress that matches her lipstick, and smokes with a long cigarette holder.
DR. CHESS: That’s Valerie Felgate, in charge of Church transportation and smuggling activities. Her code name is ‘Fast Lady’.
JASON: Nice chassis.
TANGERINE: Down, tiger.
Close-up on a large man in glasses, wearing a tweed jacket with elbow patches, and a bow tie. He is scoffing a plate of cheese and pickle sandwiches.
DR. CHESS: That’s Dr. Terence Spooner, otherwise known as Anagram Sam. He’s the Church cryptography expert. We suspect him of breaking several MI5 and MI6 codes and selling the secrets to certain hostile powers.
ANAGRAM SAM (to passing waiter): Cheaper gammon, my good man.
WAITER: Pardon, sir?
ANAGRAM SAM: I said, more champagne, my good man.
WAITER (handing him a glass): Certainly, sir.
JASON: I’d love to know why The Minister thinks this treasure hunt needs the attention of the T-Service.
TANGERINE: I’d love to know what the treasure actually is.
SMITH: Just like a woman.
Sound of banging gong. A waiter takes the stage.
WAITER: Ladies and gentlemen, may I present…your host!
3: EVILS OF ECSTASY!
Turning off Oxford Street, Mandy tucks her hair into a wooly cap against the September chill, and I glance at her cheekbones reflected in the blank windows of shops selling things I would never afford. Earlier that year Nicky Holloway had opened Trip, a club night set in the Astoria on Tottenham Court Road. That’s where she was going and she had some Es to flog. I’ve never had them before, because twenty-five quid for a pill seems ridiculous when you can get an ounce of hash for a fiver if you know who to talk to. But then, that’s me, in my early thirties but already an old stoner.
Down an alleyway, we come up to some clubbing kid who’s hopping from one foot to another behind a group of people laughing and milling about on the pavement. “Is this the end of the queue?” I ask him.
“Dunno where the queue ends, mate, I didn’t bring me telescope,” he says, and laughs.
I beckon Mandy forward, following the crowd, and when we get to the crash barriers and security I use my NME press card to blag our way in. That’s what it’s for, innit? We push our way upstairs, through knots of clubbers in smiley T-shirts, bandanas, ripped jeans, straw hats, Timberlands with laces undone. The auditorium is split on two levels, with a large stage dominating the open ground floor and a large balcony area upstairs comprised of tables, chairs and a bar running the length of the wall. The air is thick with the scents of sweat, roasting meat, hashish, stale beer, incense.
To me, nightclubs have always been tragic places where Casual Kev dances in his pastel knit sweater, white socks and loafers, looking for a Madge to pull or a poof to beat up. But I’d been hearing all year about this thing Acid, like the House music out of Chicago but different, like the Disco out of the European islands but different. The NME party line had been to treat it as an academic curiosity but the sheer balls of something calling itself ‘acid’ in these ‘just say no’ Eighties should have tipped me off long before.
The club walls and ceilings are covered with camouflage nets and parachute silk, billowing in the gusts from the smoke machine, and the DJ is a silhouette framed against a laser show and a screen showing fractals and clips from old freaky kid’s shows like The Clangers and Magic Roundabout. I’m knocked out by the sheer strangeness of it (and also sneakily proud because I know what fractals are, I’d seen a BBC 2 programme on the Mandelbrot Set the month before).
“What’s this track?” I yelled to Mandy.
“Can You Feel It, by Mr. Fingers,” she says without hesitation.
She shouts something like ‘stop being a rock snob’ and gives me a hug. During the hug she palms me a small white pill and I neck it, washing it down with the water we’d bought from the bar. It tastes really bitter and I can’t help gurning for a few seconds. I’d wanted to buy a Carlsberg but she said you don’t need it, that’s the whole point.
We start dancing, and I gradually forget about my sense of London cool and exchange thumbs-ups and cheesy grins with the clubbers around us. Everyone’s drinking water, not beer. I stare at a clubber with blond dreadlocks flailing around his head. He’s so out of it, he’s forgotten where he is and who he’s with. Mandy tries to say something but the beat’s so loud she’s doing goldfish impressions, mouth opening and closing silently.
After about twenty minutes the fun starts. A tingling begins in my fingers and runs up my arms, filling me with a tense, really sexual energy. Beads of sweat break out on my hands and face, run down my chest. The buzz is new but it’s also like an old friend, an electric hum up and down my spine. The relentless glare of lasers amid the smoke covers the dance floor in a pulsing nimbus of come-on colors. I barely feel my boots on the sticky, grungy floor.
Suddenly, all things are possible.
I don’t know how, but the whole quality of the club – the light, the sound, the smells – everything has changed. Everything is sharper and brighter. I feel…woozy, yeah, woozy, it’s a great word and it suits me right now. My jawbone starts to shake and a sudden cramp shoots down my stomach. I bend over, I can’t help it.
“Have some water,” says Mandy. Somehow I’ve lost my own so she hands over her own bottle – it’s ten times better than beer – and then we start snogging.
Her lips, her skin, tastes and smells like the best thing ever. The entire upper balcony is shaking with the reverberations as clubbers chant Aceeed, Aceed, Aceeed! I stop dancing for a moment, and just take in the energy, the novelty, the love – yes, love is the word for it. For the first time in ages, I’ve dropped my cynical facade and I feel something like love for my fellow human beings.
Some young bloke in a bandana and Batman T-shirt comes up to me and holds out an unwrapped packet of cigarettes. “‘Scuse me, mate, can you help me open this packet of fags? I just can’t get it together, mate, I’m off me nut. You can have a smoke out of it.”
“Sure,” I say, and proceed to rip off the plastic, with the random bloke, Mandy, and me all laughing hysterically.
4: COPS BATTLE WITH ACID PARTY YOBS!
SCENE 7 – CONTINUED.
THE HOST, SIR NORMAN TRASK APPEARS. HE IS A DIGNIFIED MIDDLE-AGED MAN, WEARING A THREE-PIECE SUIT, A RACING DRIVER’S HELMET AND GOGGLES, AND HAS A CHECKERED FLAG DRAPED AROUND HIS SHOULDERS.
TRASK: Ladies and gentlemen…welcome! Welcome, to the annual Trask Car Rally and Treasure Hunt! I promise that this year’s treasure hunt will be the most exciting one ever! Exciting because…this year, the treasure itself is a mystery, and you will not know what it is, until you find it!
The room erupts in cheers.
TRASK: Why do we have the annual rally, my friends? Because the key image of the 20th Century is the human being driving an automobile. It sums up everything about this current era: speed, machinery, violence, desire, the shared experience of man and machine moving in harmony through a technological landscape. We spend a large part of our lives behind the wheel of a car; and everything you need in life can be found on the highway. The design of the automobile is one of unsurpassed beauty; this is the future, my friends, and it has fins on the side of it.
Polite applause. TRASK points to an upturned driver’s helmet placed on a wooden stand in the centre of the room.
TRASK: Each one of you will be paired up, and given a new partner. Please come up to the table, one by one, and draw your partner’s name out of the hat.
At the butler’s gesture, a man with a champagne glass walks to the helmet and draws out a paper. He unfolds it and reads the name.
MAN: Ingrid Declair.
A young woman waves at him from across the room. Polite applause.
DR. CHESS: You’re going to be split up. I don’t like the look of this.
JASON: Why so nervous, Doc? Haven’t you heard that swapping partners is the grooviest thing?
TANGERINE: You would say that, Jason.
The butler points at Jason. He takes a paper out of the helmet.
JASON: Yvette Van Ost.
A gorgeous leggy female in feather boa waves at him from the side.
TANGERINE: Watch it darling, or I shall rename my voodoo doll ‘Jason’.
TANGERINE walks up and selects a paper.
TANGERINE: Arthur Eden.
A young, handsome, distinguished man in a tuxedo waves at her.
TANGERINE: Now that’s more like it. Touche, I think,
SMITH: My turn. (Going to helmet) Jeremy Deacon.
A short, tubby man with glasses and buck teeth, wearing a stained anorak covered with car rally badges, waves at him.
SMITH: (grinning with gritted teeth) I shall kill you, Jason.
JASON: Luck of the drawer, Lord Smith.
TRASK: Let the treasure hunt begin!
Cheers and cries of ‘Tally ho!’ as everyone runs out of the room to their cars. Groovy Hammond organ music plays on the soundtrack.
5: RAVING MAD!
October 1988, and it’s time for my first real rave, my first illegal warehouse party in the middle of nowhere. All in the cause of investigative journalism, you understand.
I pick Mandy up in my car and like she said, she’s brought along a couple of mates, a girl called Julie who’s like a blond version of Mandy and her boyfriend, a stoner called Pete. Pete gives me a sly grin as he gets in the car, and I wonder what Mandy told him about me. He’s got a sharp face with thinning dark hair and designer stubble. His clothes are all in shades of grey and dark green, maybe expensive stuff, but none of your Casuals Man at C & A bullshit.
We drive around the North Circular and the M25, heading for somewhere south of the Leatherhead turn-off. We’re looking for the designated meeting point printed on the party flyer – a strategic strong point when organizing raves. The only other things on the flyer are a psychedelic sunburst, a cell phone number and the name of the party – ‘QUASAR’.
The meeting point turns out to be an Esso service station, and there must have been hundreds of cars and about two thousand clubbers who’ve already turned up, waiting to place the phone call to the number on the flyer at nine o’clock, dancing in the forecourt to a pirate station on their car radios and blasting out whistles and air horns. I recognize the track: Joey Beltram, Energy Flash. The bad news is that PC Plod has also arrived. Over the year the Old Bill’s got more and more rave-savvy, but the cops are keeping a low profile at the moment, black Mariahs and jam sandwiches and lemon curd sandwiches back at the turn-off, keeping an watchful and disapproving eye on the ravers and muttering KKKKKHHH into the walkie-talkies every two minutes.
Off our heads in England’s green, pleasant and highly policed land.
Mandy and Julie get out of the car and dance in miniskirts and fluffy bras, shouting out random song lyrics, throwing around Milky Ways that they’ve pilfered from somewhere.
“I can taste something,” Mandy screams.
“Chocolate?” I call.
“No,” she calls back. “I can taste the electricity.”
Inside my car, Pete produces a bag of Es and we sort out payment. I roll up a spliff and after Pete’s had a toke he says to me, “So…where do you think Acid House started, then?”
“Detroit, wasn’t it? No, hang on…Ibiza. No, Manchester.”
Pete shakes his head and gives me a knowing wink. “No, mate. It started a couple of years ago, in Northampton. It was an experiment. All Jason Zodiac’s idea.”
I laughed, blowing out a cloud of fragrant smoke. “Jason Zodiac? Jason’s a recluse. He’s in the John Lennon stage of his career, but with no sign of a Double Fantasy on the horizon yet.”
“Guess again. The New Acid Test, he calls it. The Eighties Acid Redemption. I seen it, man, I was standing on the Racecourse with a few mates when Jason did it. It’s real. The door of the sun, man. Jason’s gonna open the door of the sun.”
I pull on the spliff and try to make sense of what he’s telling me. “So why didn’t NME hear about this?”
“Because they did’t want you to know about it, man.”
I can’t think of a reply to that.
“I’m writing an article, man. Gonna tell the whole story.” He stares at me, eyes narrowed. “You reckon NME might be interested?”
I shrug. “I’ll do what I can, mate. Put in a word for you.”
He leans over and holds up a clenched fist and I sit there for a few seconds until I realize he expects me to touch fists with him. So I do.
A massive scream goes up from outside. “It’s on!” yells Mandy. “Start the car!”
The convoy hits the country roads, with ravers standing up in their open-top cars shouting Aceeeeeeeeed! and flashing blue lights somewhere behind us. I’m driving, following the BMWs in front, and Mandy’s giving directions and Pete’s stopped being mysterious and started snogging Julie.
About five miles from the Esso station, the convoy pulls off the main road and through an open pair of gates. I drive us through a labyrinth of dark hulks of buildings until we reach the loading bay, converted into the party’s entrance. Five police vans turn up at the same time. We park where everyone else is parking, start walking, and then the security guys by the door yell at us to get inside the warehouse as quick as we can. We don’t need to be told twice.
Light pours out of the windows, turning the warehouse into a fairy cathedral. Beats are pounding, making my sternum vibrate in sympathy.
Here be treasure. X marks the spot.