Adapted from 阿弥殻断層の怪 (Amigara Dansō no Kai) by Junji Ito
One — The Earthquake
There was a lull in big-ticket news stories that summer, so when the quake hit, the media blitz that ensued seemed a bit excessive at first. It was true that several rural villages and towns, of the few that even remained anymore, were hit with mild setbacks, but no damage had struck the City, where most of the country now called home. Aside from a few crumbling edifices and some broken bones (no reported deaths or missing persons), there wasn’t much else to cover. A destroyed shrine took the top slot for two full news cycles, covered in every angle imaginable—human interest, religious connotations, repair costs, local reactions, the works. At first it seemed that the Amigara Earthquake, named after the mountain that had acted as its epicenter, was simply a natural disaster that underperformed the reputation the media deemed worthy to fabricate around it.
But the news outlets eventually latched themselves onto a potential goldmine of a story—a nerve was struck, the incubus of this whole, strange tale, and the beginning of my involvement in the matter. After the story in question aired, the rest fell into place with ease, as if the pointless rabble, the dry, pastoral filler wasting away the summer, purposefully underperformed the colossal main event that lay waiting in the wings.
I was cramming in a meal between classes, my last two of the term, when the broadcast brass played from the pod on the wall. “Good evening, New Japan. The time is 16:00. We will now present the evening news. Breaking development from the Amigara story…” Great, more of this nonsense. How many ways could they spin this thing? I was halfway across the room to switch the pod to a new channel when my mind processed what they were actually saying. “…natural phenomenon? It seems the shifted fault unveiled a strange pattern. It was first discovered by a passing medical aircraft flying in supplies to nearby villages. The NJB News team has acquired the first known documented footage of the phenomenon, live now from the mountainside. A warning—the following images may be unsettling. Viewer discretion is highly advised.”
The drive home is a rabies shot, agitated, you twitch from state line to county line to places in between, the coordinates slipstream daydreams — You remember the road numbers: 145th, 194th impossibly lengthy, made of pulverized bonemeal and crunch coat, those steel-cut graveled byways
You remember the inhabitants rendered from bacon fat and ham hock tourniquets and night shift salt licks Or those pubertied boys and their percussion kits behind the old band shell, blasting canonfire flams back there on Thursday nights, before the sweating, stinking performance
of pops classics, patriotica, the flags swatting the air, or was that the yellowed sheet music, free from clothespin bondage?
I dreamt in arpeggios the night of the blood moon. The world became an overfull glass of red wine under its infrared glare. Plants in my windows, muted to grey, alien tentacles tickling the panes in the inverted light, shivered, their roots tightening in suspense of the claret nightmare the blood moon bore.
A paragraph away, I found myself stretched to fit the countryside, pores sprouting newborn life, eyes, large as the craters of the clotted moon, pools of gelatin, ecosystems revolving around demonic nuclei. Ropes of eternity clasped around me like lover’s hands, burning bonds into my skin until there was no telling lariat from dermis.
My molten heart cried out in anguish, Please, let there be more! as tectonic plates slid together to applause the soliloquy. The earth seized, tides defied gravity, stretching up toward the heavens in a twisted braid. My pillow became damp, then the sheets, the liquid crimson, warm sex. Onward, onward into the hematic night, entire universes nestled into my teardrops.
Come morning, come night, the music of the dreamworld tinged with bittersweet recollection, I woke, scarred by the wound of time, by the blood moon unhung, inside me.
It would be a lie to say that I didn’t know the dead man, but it would be the truth to say I can no longer remember his name. Too many nights filled with foreign smoke and strong drink. Too many days scratched away listlessly. But I know it’s still down inside me somewhere, being chewed up and digested again and again.
It’s been buried so many times, on the tip of my tongue in the pitch of nightfall, but never fully exposed. Maybe it will surface one day, as these things often do, when least expected.
I have wondered why I forgot the name. Before his death he was someone I saw a lot—you couldn’t say I knew him, but he was definitely a constant. We worked at the market for a couple months anyway. A friend of mine said it best over drinks, as we sat next to a shelf of nameless corporate nobodies at some long-forgotten bar in the legal district: it’s easier to forget a face that wants forgotten, he said. That was at least five years ago—my dog didn’t get hit by the bus yet, we had a president worth having, I had more hair. My god. What is five years but an endless and terrifying chasm that has the potential so suck away your very lifeblood?
Both he and the dead man now share a common denominator: both absent from my life.
The butterflies flitted throughout the conservatory like fleeting glimpses of perfection and fragility. Each time one of the tourists tried to hone their sights to just one, it leapt in a current of warm air and avoided the confrontation. The tourists drank the beautiful sights of the garden, heard the slapping of water over eroding stones, smelled the sugary-thick air and tried vigorously to capture one of these ever-flapping butterflies on film, to save in their photo albums (stored in the attic).
A small boy walked in the garden too, feeling differing feelings, seeing the same things. His hands, moist, clutched a camera like the crumbling edifice of a building. He attempted to capture, behind the flapping wings, a tangible truth, an unconventional beauty. A pedestal stood rusting in a corner of the conservatory. Resting on it, a neat array of orange slices provided the butterflies with a treat if they desired. That day, the boy noted, the oranges seemed unappealing to all but one—all of the butterflies found better food, the pedestals basked in sunlight, and all of the tourists followed. Sitting atop the oranges, a butterfly with half a wing seemed to call its attention to the boy and nobody else. Sweat clung to his face, and small particles dripped like warm rain to the floor as he pressed his finger to the camera—he hovered above the scene like aircraft. The butterfly fluttered its wing in alarm, trying to move, but couldn’t. So there it stayed, trapped in saccharine nectar, burnt into an image of light.
As the door clicks shut, I am spitting the chewed remains of a stick of gum from my mouth onto the grass, an attempt to purge all my emotions in the mangled wad. There is a body still breathing heavily behind the door, in the dense and stagnant air of the apartment. The body still damp with sweat—I can see it, feel it, even now, as I walk to my car.
I counted the numbers on the doors all the way to forty while savoring the taste of fresh peppermint gum. This was all too new. Breathe. A line of four dark windows stood between apartment forty and forty-four. As I walked past two of the black windows, I heard the door click open ahead of me, as if whoever was there was waiting, watching through the thin curtains. The screen bobbled for a moment, indecisive. I walked past, acted casual. It opened wider and I reached for the knob. A dark hand pulled the storm door open and I stepped over the threshold like it was supposed to happen naturally.