Sean paused outside the wine bar. He took a deep breath, wiped the sweat of his palms against his jeans and walked inside.
His date was watching from a table near the back. Sean flashed a nervous smile and found his arm jerking upwards in a waving motion that could only be described as profoundly sexless. She didn’t return the smile, but acknowledged his entry with the briefest of head-bows.
He walked over, unsure of whether to hug or handshake. Her body language gave him no clue and so he merely loomed, a little too close perhaps, as he addressed her.
‘Hisayo Kobudai? Hi, I’m Sean – pleased to meet you.’
She didn’t particularly seem it. After holding his gaze momentarily, she turned her attention back to the table. He found the words ‘cool… awesome’ emanating from his mouth, and hating himself for it. ‘Shall we share a bottle?’
‘If you like.’
Her seeming indifference was such that by the time he’d made his way to the bar, Sean was actually glad to be away from her. The barman cheerfully asked if Sean was enjoying his evening, commended his selection, and opened the bottle. On presenting the two glasses, Sean noted the barman looked briefly between him and his date and registered the obvious decade-plus age gap. Sean donated the two pounds’ change to the tip jar for keeping his disdain down to a mere flicker.
He poured large measures in hope of bypassing the awkward stage. Sean pushed a glass over and asked why she’d asked him out – vainly hoping that his voice sounded cool and flirtatious.
‘Your profile requested a girl: eighteen-to-twenty five living around the Oxford area’ she recited.
‘Well, here you are…’
‘You also’ came the disinterested reply.
Sean raised his glass to make a toast that never came, before near-downing his drink in one.
To describe the resultant hour as conversation would be generous. Sean pushed politely to learn more about the girl, but she often gave single word answers, or parroted back phrases from messages he’d sent her previously. She remembered he was an Oxford United fan, but mixed her references when he brought it up – ‘Wayne Rooney’ she declared proudly, complete with an understated fist-clench.
Still, the alcohol served its disinhibiting purpose. As he calmed, Sean saw past the stilted conversation and found an attraction developing.
Animation made her oddly compelling; those static photographs he’d received never could not capture her enigmatic and contradictory nature. Her voice was soft and child-like, the poise rigid and withdrawn; yet when she moved she would snatch her drink and down the contents with assertive rapidity. The eyes rarely blinked, or indeed left his. The more he looked into them, the more he felt as if he was being examined by an intense intelligence.
They came quickly to the end of the bottle. Sean attempted to extend the date with the offer of a second.
‘No, thank you. Now I am not thirsty.’
He lingered, unsure of whether this was the end, and whether she felt anything for him.
‘It was a pleasure to meet you’ he eventually offered.
‘You also.’ Her voice fissured into a deep crackle – Hisayo blushed and cleared her throat.
‘Would you like… shall we do this again sometime? I mean, if drinking isn’t your thing we could get some food maybe, a film. I’m not picky really – I just…’ He dithered, suddenly overwhelmed by the despairing realisation that his confidence could not handle such a swift and arbitrary rejection.
‘I really want to see you again.’
The truthful baring of an English soul was extracted with the customary ease and comfort of man regurgitating razorblades.
‘You also’ she replied in the same blasé tone, but without hesitation.
His face broke out in a relieved smile as he stood and gathered his jacket. Hisayo was surprised by the implied departure and took to her feet.
‘Would you like me to walk you somewhere? A taxi perhaps or your house?’ She shook her head. ‘Then I suppose – until next time?’ Sean couldn’t prevent his hand pushing its way towards her, for a handshake of all farewells. Hisayo did not take it. Instead she pushed it aside and rushed at him, catching Sean off-balance. He crashed back into his seat and was shocked by the realisation that the girl was trying to kiss him. He relaxed into it and let her take control as she straddled his lap and kissed him with inexplicable furious desire.
Beer number four had ruined Mike’s concentration. He channel-hopped aimlessly, unable to conjure sufficient patience to endure the mid-week deluge of televised cookery.
The sound of their front door opening offered sweet relief from those utterly mundane outpourings. ‘You home mate?’ He shouted without turning his head, ‘how’d it go?’
He received no answer. Mike reclined, tilting his head towards their hallway and saw his housemate pressing a young Japanese girl against the door. They were kissing like teenagers at a disco – nine parts passion to one part technique. He couldn’t help but notice the nubbin of Sean’s erect penis poking the girl in the stomach.
Obligated instantly to look anywhere else in the world, Mike found himself making eye contact with the girl who had clearly just registered his presence. She had the audacity to look at Mike as if somehow, he was the intrusion in this scenario.
He lent forwards once more, breaking eye contact. As he finished his tin of beer Mike suppressed his distaste. Sean and Mike had been friends since college, Sean has always been hopeless with women; this unfortunate fact was constant source of genuine depression. In their early twenties Sean had developed a morose and self-destructive streak; complete with bitter drunken monologues about how women deserve to be mistreated by charismatic arseholes for failing to notice “nice guys” like him.
It was around then that Sean obsession with Asian women began; doubtless fuelled by stereotypes, second-rate movies, and dodgy manga comics. But he clung to the idea that while an English woman might reject him, or even mock his flabby torso, a Japanese girl would lavish him in respectful affection.
Perhaps though those ‘Asian friend finder’ sites that he trawls aren’t all that predatory; perhaps in this case, mutual desperation even constitutes something like parity.
Still, the time to be philosophical was later. In that moment Mike appreciated that he had taken for granted his housemate’s lack of sexual activity; in the years they’d cohabited, not once had the flat been filled with the sound of those particular exertions. Mike also realised that if they lived together for decades more, he would happily keep things that way. He switched the TV off, retrieved the last of his six pack from the fridge, shut his bedroom door, and put his headphones on.
Eventually Sean broke away from Hisayo long enough to suggest they take things to the bedroom. She consented with a slight nod and let him take her by the hand.
Sean opted for dim lighting.
Hisayo sat on the edge of the bed and let him push her slowly downwards as he kissed her face and neck.
‘Oh man’ he faltered, pulling himself up, to unbutton his shirt. ‘You wanna get topless?’
Hisayo pushed herself upright as Sean tugged her top over her head. He fumbled around ineffectively at her back before conceding defeat.
‘Can you… Sorry I know it’s not ideal but these bras – I mean, who you keeping out of there exactly?’
Hisayo nodded once more. Sean’s eyes flashing incredulously at the sight of her breasts. He fell on them, kissing greedily, as his hands wandered downwards to her skirt.
Eventually he stood over her, throbbing with anticipation.
‘Do you want me to use… protection?’ She said nothing, pushing her naked frame further up the bed and towards the pillows. Sean knew that he had a condom somewhere in his bedside cabinet – a little on the vintage side, but certainly purchased in the last year. A split might not even be such a bad thing – pregnancy could make a good thing permanent – before shaking the bad thought from his mind. He rummaged past the crisp packets and chocolate bar wrappers until he found it.
Fully ready he turned his attention back to Hisayo, kissing and caressing her legs, her stomach and neck until…
He received no response. Her head had flopped listlessly to one side. Sean took hold of it and gently pushed it to face upwards. She was unconscious – asleep perhaps? He repeated her name, the whisper gaining urgency with each repetition as he began to shake her. Still nothing.
He could see very slight movements in her chest. If he hovered above her mouth he could hear faint, but regular and unimpeded, breaths. He concluded probably the wine hit her hard, and she’d wake up shortly, probably unable to remember where she was or how she arrived. That in itself was problematic – waking up naked in his bed might lead to any number of accusations.
Still, he had not been this agitated in months. Sean pulled back. With his heart in his mouth he took hold of himself and stooped over the girl. Later he would reflect that the forty seconds that immediately followed were not his proudest in life; and that he was glad not to encounter Mike as he snuck out of the bedroom on his way to the bathroom to clean himself up.
Afterwards, he resolved to sleep on the sofa that night. He just needed to retrieve some things to make himself comfortable. However, he found his bedroom door locked.
‘Hisayo’ he hissed, rapping his knuckles sharply at the door. ‘You awake? It’s just me – open up.’ The door remained still, the room behind it silent. Sean pulled at the handle and spent ten minutes or so repeating the processes of knocking, pulling and whispering until the futility of his actions became indisputable.
Sober, annoyed, and cold, Sean took to the sofa in nothing but his dressing gown and drifted slowly off to the background chatter of the television.
Mike awoke around eight the next morning to a cacophony from the living room. He grudgingly exited his bed and trudged out to confront his day.
Sean was hammering on his bedroom door. He pulled his gown tightly around him as Mike entered; his eyes ushering a hangdog plea for no laughter and no judgement.
‘She’s locked the door.’
‘Shit… what happened?’
‘Last night, she just passed out. I left the bedroom for a minute to… Anyway when I came back, the door was locked. She won’t open it, she’s not replying. I slept on the sofa.’
‘What do we do?’
‘Don’t know. I’ve got to leave for work in about twenty minutes. My clothes are in there.’
‘Kick the door down.’
‘Seems a bit extreme.’
‘Your call pal. Though I just remembered, you left some clothes in the back passage on the drying rack – think I saw trousers and a shirt yesterday. Otherwise, I reckon we can take this door.’
Sean stood, paralysed by indecision. Mike started counting in his head, if his friend didn’t develop a backbone by the time he counted to ten, Mike would just go for it. He reached six before a voice called out from behind the door, it shouted so weakly that they had to ask her to repeat herself.
‘Don’t open the door Please. I am not feeling well. I rest today if it is OK, Sean?’
Mike already knew the answer.
‘I’m working from home today’ he offered in assurance. I can stay until she leaves or you come back. That way nothing gets nicked and the door stays locked.’
‘Yeah? Thanks mate – I’ll order you a pizza at lunch.’
‘No worries’ Mike called at his back as he retreated to the back passage. ‘Don’t worry about it. She probably just sobered up, saw your ugly mug and… well, you know that shame is a big deal in their culture right?’
Sean barely spoke to his colleagues and achieved next to nothing at work that day; instead he sent needy message after needy message back to Mike. By two he was reminded of his gratitude-induced promise of pizza and reluctantly sent the requested large Dominoes to the flat. By four he was convinced that the girl would not use his absence to flee. He couldn’t help but feel ecstatic at the thought that he might finally have a girlfriend, however strange the girl might be.
Mike hadn’t moved since that morning. Sean greeted him with a silent nod and pointed back to his bedroom with a slight shrug. Mike shook his head.
‘Not even to use the loo, get a drink? Nothing?’
‘No, mate, nothing – but the good news – it doesn’t smell like she’s gone in your room yet.’
‘You eat that pizza?’
‘There’s a few slices left’ Mike admitted.
‘Can I see if she wants them?’
‘Knock yourself out’ he replied, a mournful tinge creeping into his voice.
Sean poured a glass of water and put the leftovers on a plate. He took them to his bedroom and shouted through as he knocked.
‘Hisayo – you ok? I’ve brought food and water. I think you should have some. Hisayo? Can you hear me?’
‘I hear you. Please leave all by the door.’
Relieved to learn that the girl was alive at least, Sean placed his offerings outside and sat back on the sofa. A protracted silence hung between the two men.
‘This can’t be how we live now,’ Mike eventually declared. ‘I don’t know what her deal is and I don’t really care. If she’s ill she can take that shit someplace else.’
‘Yeah, you’re right.’
‘Take a minute, take an hour, whatever, but we’re nipping this in the bud. We kick her out, or if you still want your door in one piece you’re calling the police.’
‘There’s no need to get dramatic.’
‘But you agree – she’s gone. Tonight.’
‘Tonight. I promise.’
The click of the bedroom door shutting was quiet, but made both men jump like teenagers caught in some illicit activity. They spun towards Sean’s room expecting to see the girl sheepishly excusing herself. Instead they saw only that the food had been collected and taken inside.
‘The door was open’ Mike deduced, his voice dropping to a whisper. ‘Reckon she heard us then?’
‘She didn’t say fuck-all.’
‘Probably just embarrassed. She’ll probably eat the pizza, get dressed and go home.’
‘You think? Mate, she’s a bit weird, no offense.’
‘Weird English. Maybe Japanese normal. Shyness is like, a national trait.’
‘Didn’t seem all that shy when you guys came in last night.’
‘We were drunk. I guess repressed feelings burst out in those moments.’
They were interrupted by a message received on Sean’s phone. He saw it came from a newly-created Facebook account under a clear pseudonym and lacking in both profile picture and any personal details.
‘That her?’ Mike asked quietly.
‘What’s it say?’
Hello Sean. This is Hisayo. I am very sorry to not feel well and to use your bedroom all day. I like you a lot though. If you can forgive my illness I want only to be your girlfriend soon as I am well. Thank you for putting food for me. Please please do not make me leave or call police.
Your Hisayo. X
Sean was pleased with himself as he finished reading.
‘See? She’s just unwell.’
‘If you say so.’ Mike remained unconvinced, but aware he was arguing a lost cause.
‘What if this is just a scam for a few days free rent?’
‘Then I’ll do the washing up and bins for full a month. And you can take the piss for the rest of the year.’
‘One of us has to stay in though. I’m supposed to be out tonight.’
‘That’s fine – you did the day shift. Just let me get some dinner and you’re free.’
Mike nodded with the knowingly air of someone accepting a lie. Sean ignored the near-condescension and visited the local convenience shop for a ready meal and some beers. On his way home he saw further messages had come through from the account used by Hisayo. Opening them he saw three images of a topless Asian girl, all taken in isolation from the neck down. Once out of the street he inspected them more closely. His memory was hazy, but he was fairly sure she hadn’t sent photos of the body he saw last night.
Sean put his lasagne through the microwave and cracked open a beer.
‘Where you off tonight’ he shouted through to Mike as his friend tarted himself up.
‘Some new bar on Cowley Road – I hear they’re selling craft beers in not-quite-pint measures.’
‘Great. Only the other day I was thinking beer just isn’t expensive enough. What’s the occasion?’
‘Just a few friends. Plus, you remember that Kate – blonde girl, works at the OUP?’
‘The one whose leg you’ve been humping for years?’
‘That’s the one. Well, she’s going. Broke up with her boyfriend too recently.’
‘I see. So she might need a shoulder to cry on?’
‘Exactly mate.’ Mike lingered in the lounge, pointing back at Sean’s door as he dropped his voice. ‘You sure you’re good here?’
‘Course. She might just be waiting for you to leave. Who knows – we might pick things up where we left them.’
Mike shot back a wink and a smile as he left.
Sean finished his beer before he knocked again at the door.
‘Hisayo? Just to let you know my flatmate has gone, the living room is free, come out and chill if you like.’
He received no answer. Sighing he opened a second beer and a third soon afterwards. He wrote the invitation to her Facebook account and noticed that the message was read some twenty minutes later though no reply ever came.
He finished his six pack around eleven and found himself defaulting to Question Time. As usual the programme lulled him to sleep in alternating waves of mild outrage and boredom. His phone lit up with a message and Sean snatched it – pleased that no one saw how eager he’d been. Sadly it was just Mike informing him not to wait up. Sean sent an ‘OK’ emoji in reply and decided at least to grant himself Mike’s bed instead of the sofa tonight.
In the darkness, something moved.
Sean’s semi-aware mind sensed a presence in the room.
‘Mike?’ He called out groggily registering the adult-male sized shadow in the doorway.
‘Sorry mate, I borrowed your bed.’
Mike didn’t reply.
‘Don’t get pissy mate, I didn’t think you were coming back tonight. Here I’ll vacate.’
Sean reached for the bedroom lamp. The second his eyes were off it the shadow rushed him, seizing him with such force that he yelped out in pain. Sean pushed back as hard as he could from his sitting position, but the intruder had all the advantages of momentum. The man tried to force his hands over Sean’s mouth pressing down to suffocate him. Sean tried to force his attackers arms back from his face but they were far too strong.
Finding his body entering that instinctive, animalistic rage born of pure panic, Sean bit down hard on the man’s fingers – hard enough to draw blood. The man emitted a high-pitched shrieking noise and relented enough for Sean to seize at the long locks of hair he found hanging down his naked and oddly unctuous torso. He pulled on them hard, jerking his assailant’s head back enough that a swift kick to the stomach sent him crashing to the floor.
Sean rolled from the bed and onto the opposite side as the shadow took back to his feet.
‘The fuck are you? How did you get in?’
The man didn’t say anything, he simply pounced onto the bed to attack again. Sean met him – pushing back with all his strength and succeeded in repelling the man a second time, though he felt a wet, clawing slap gauge the side of his face.
Not wasting this respite, Sean fled back to the living room. He saw that his own bedroom door was open, the light within illuminating the communal area just enough that he was able to avoid crashing into the sofa.
‘Hisayo?’ He shouted.
He did not have time for a second call. His legs were tackled from behind. He found himself twisting in mid-air in confrontation. In the half-light the shadow was revealed and Sean yelled out in shock and fear.
The man was almost an exact reflection of Sean.
Some elements of the face were different – the eyes were black instead of green, the lips thinner and with better definition. He had long straggly black hair that passed his shoulders and seemed to be moulting to the point that patches of scalp were visible even in gloom. But the resemblance started in the shape and build of the face and body, and continued through to the same scruffy beard. As the man pulled himself onto a dominant position, Sean caught glimpses of half-formed breasts between the punches and clawing. In fact, all over the skin was strange: patches of ruddy complexion seemed almost to break through a pale surface, and all over it visibly glistened with dampness.
The assessment cost his defence crucial moments. The thing managed took full advantage, seizing Sean’s head and smashing it into the floor repeatedly. Sean found his strength diminish, his increasingly feeble arms becoming easy to swat aside with the thing’s free hand. He found consciousness deserting him as the creature dismounted and began to drag him back towards his bedroom.
‘Hisayo?’ He moaned softly, only half-asking as he was pulled inside.
Mike returned about ten the next morning. He sauntered in, and sat with a bag of McDonald’s breakfast and flicked on the TV.
The noise of someone else in the flat startled him until he remembered that Japanese girl. Sean’s bedroom door swung open, but it was his housemate who walked out.
‘Hey man – day off work?’
Sean nodded at him. Mike realised his friend had shaved his head entirely.
‘What’s this? Bald-y-locks and the three hairs?’ He asked with a mischievous grin that Sean did not return. Feeling a little uncomfortable Mike turned his attention back to his bap.
‘Jeez mate, course I was going to comment. I’m not saying it’s a bad look. In fact it suits you – you look good.’
‘You also’ Sean replied, his voice cracking into high notes.
‘Your girlfriend gone then?’
‘That why you’re off this morning? Mate you OK? The shave, is that over her too? Christ – you’re not going all Taxi Driver on us are you?’
Sean didn’t reply. He walked past Mike towards the flat door.
‘Off out?’ Mike called after him as he left.
Mike spent the rest of the day reflecting sadly on how fragile his friend was, to have taken the end of such a fleeting and meaningless relationship so poorly. When Sean failed to return that night he tried calling, but could not get through. He also found that his social media and email accounts had been deactivated.
Sean remained absent the next day. Mike entered his bedroom to find his phone had been left behind and that the room had been torn apart.
The subsequent police investigation showed that wherever he went, Sean took his passport, cards and ID documents with him. One thing that remained was a pool of putrid liquid in the centre of the room. By the time it was discovered it had soaked into the carpet, ruining it forever with a stench somewhere between acid and rotting fish.
Mike’s obvious confusion and concern ruled him out of the investigation.
Mike continued to live in the flat for a further month in case Sean returned. He never did, and no one ever saw or heard from Sean Fenway again.
Jake Kendall is a Creative Writing graduate of Cardiff University currently based in his hometown of Oxford. His stories explore the overlap between comedy and tragedy. He has had work included in Here Come’s Everyone’s Brutal Literature edition, and Burning House Press‘s Identity edition. Find him on Twitter at @jakendallox.