Updated: Feb 27
Over the past couple months I've been preparing final revisions for my first novel set to be published this spring. We're close now and I'm so excited I can't sit still. Since I was in primary school I've dreamed of becoming a published novelist. This will be a lifelong ambition completed, and believe me I'll be celebrating.
Many of you have been reading Atsuko from the Google Drive Folder to which I've been uploading my advance copy materials, and today I uploaded the second to last chapter of Book 1 of the Atsuko series - Chapter 7: Malignant. That means that in a few weeks, you'll be able to find the entire book available there for free.
That said, shortly thereafter I'll be featuring a brand new piece of cover art from an amazingly talented artist and good friend of mine, Ema Alsina (@emamakesart) of Ema Makes Art, on the upcoming Amazon novel itself. That means that you'll be able to buy paperback or ebook versions of Atsuko to read it your way. I hope that when Atsuko hits the presses that you'll consider buying a copy.
It's my sincere pleasure to make my content available for free through my site. Members will continue to be able view exclusive content like Atsuko on the Book Shelf in the Long Form section as long EB Words resides on the interwebs. But after the Amazon copy of Atsuko is live, access to the advance copy materials on Google Drive will be restricted to members. Sign-up is free, simple, and reverse-able; and you get a lot. Just saying... To entice you into Atsuko's web, I'm featuring an excerpt from the most recent chapter uploaded. You don't need to know too much at this point besides the fact that Atsuko is a 17-year old teen living in the small town at the far north of Japan. Oh, and she might be a vampire.
This scene includes brief descriptions of physical and sexual assault.
The Tanabu River lay ahead and over the riverbank. Shadows pointed off across the bridge to the north. The truck had crossed the river and the nearest stop would of course be…
The Plaza Hotel.
Atsuko felt a wave of nausea wash over her and she shivered. An ex of hers worked here and she would rather not deal with him if she could help it. Atsuko paused and considered her options. She needed to call her father, or an ambulance, or both. But she’d forgotten her mobile. She couldn’t leave the building to find another public phone. It was dangerous for her to go out into the sunlight.
Compared to that a few minutes with Shinji sounded less painful. Not a lot less painful, but a little.
Atsuko disembarked and quickly found the pathway towards the front.
The lobby looked exactly like he remembered it. Brown carpeting accented cheap marble knockoff tiling. Roller wheels and quiet conversations echoed off the walls. There were a few sad plants stashed in the corners.
The last time she’d been here she was having a fight with Shou. In school some girl had picked a fight with Atsuko saying that Shou owed her money for an abortion. At first Atsuko thought the girl was just making things up, but when Atsuko asked Shou about it after class, he admitted that he’d made a mistake one night at a bar some weeks back. His mistake’s name was Gigi, because of course it was.
Shou seemed remorseful, but Atsuko was furious she had to find out from her. Atsuko would come to wish she hadn’t, but in a rage she aimed to hurt Shou that night. She thought who Shou detested the most of her exes, and naturally Shinji was at the top of Shou’s list. Shinji was 19 and in college when he started dating 15-year-old Atsuko. Shou saw him as an opportunistic pervert he’d sooner fuck up than shake hands with. Atsuko knew it would add insult to injury to have a one-night stand with Shinji . So she did.
She caught a taxi straight to the hotel that night. To Shou’s extreme credit, he gave her a head start and drove to meet her. He still remembered that Atsuko needed to be driven home that night.
The truth was that Atsuko had planned on giving Shinji one quick fuck just to say she did. But he wasn’t satisfied, and pushed her to stay. She tried to explain he was just getting back at Shou. Shinji didn’t like hearing this and struck her. He apologized immediately, but she was in shock. He hugged her and she froze. He kissed her and she froze. He held her by the wrist and pulled her slowly back to bed. She didn’t resist.
She never said no.
After a sweaty and uncomfortable hour in a spare room, Shinji'd finished and she put on her clothes. When she reemerged from the hotel, she came out with a cut lip and a shiner. Atsuko wasn’t surprised to see Shou waiting for her, and she got in the passenger seat directly. Shou watched her as she got into his car seething. Atsuko summoned her best angry face and looked Shou in the eye.
“There.” She had said. He eyed her injuries and clenched his teeth before driving off. But Shou never asked her about the marks. They didn’t say anything else for the rest of the night… or week.
After that they were a mess. Atsuko had punished Shou for cheating, but at too great a cost. The hurt in Shou’s eyes for months after was deeper than she’d intended. Atsuko carried a lot of hurt onward from that night too, but she never spoke of it – half for pride, and half for shame.
Atsuko and Shou fought incessantly too. She’d criticize his pot habit. He’d shut himself in his room and smoke. She’d have another girl’s night with Yuri. He’d stand her up for a night out with the boys. She’d call him a child. He’d call her a bitch. She’d say he was the dog. One day the well-rehearsed script reached a tipping point.
“You whore. –Fuckin’ hussy like your mom. You knew she was seeing someone but never said anything because you keep each other’s slutty little secrets.
Atsuko burst into angry tears. She hated Shou for saying it, but it was true. Before Shou, and Shinji, and all those high school boys, her mother suddenly disconnected. Atsuko would rather have played around and put on makeup with her mom, but Azumi ceased to be present mentally and physically. She was working late at the office, or she was home staring at nothing.
One night, Atsuko heard her mother talking to someone at the end of the upstairs hall. Atsuko heard a voice answer her mother and it wasn’t Michi’s. It was low and soft like tires on wet gravel. She hurried up the stairs to see but when her eyes peaked the floor, there was nothing – only Azumi standing still by the window looking out.
Azumi said she was just talking to herself, but Atsuko had always been able to tell when her mother lied. Her heart was simply too large to lie well.
In Shou’s room Atsuko began shaking with rage. But Shou kept going.
“But you’re worse ‘cause you give it away to spite me. Even your Mom wasn’t that low. No wonder she off and rid herself of you. She died for shame.”
She hit him then. She scratched and kicked him in anger. But Atsuko stopped when she realized Shou wasn’t blocking her at all. Shou stood still, face red, and crying quietly. She spit at him and left. They didn’t speak for months. When they did, Atsuko made a point of having a new boyfriend.
Atsuko had had a lot of time to regret having come to the Plaza Hotel. She didn’t want to be here this time either.
As she approached the reception, she hoped fervently that Shinji was on break or maybe had found a new job. But when she rounded the tall potted fern, he was where he always was manning the reception. Atsuko’s stomach turned slightly. She took a few deep breaths and stepped into line.
After Shinji finished checking in a woman in a suit, he caught sight of her and smiled broadly. Atsuko pulled her lips wide and stepped to the counter.
“Atsuko! What a pleasant surprise. Have another fight with Shou?” Atsuko clenched her teeth.
“Nope, but good one. I just wanted to use your phone. It’s an emergency.”
“An emergency? What’s wrong?” Atsuko shook her head at Shinji dismissively.
“I just need to make a call for a ride.” Atsuko tried her best to look friendly and casual.
“Where are you going? We can call a cab.”
“I just need to make a call by myself. It’s personal.” Atsuko pushed her lips to one side of her face. He always said she looked cute like that. Shinji smiled and put the phone back down.
“Ok. For old time’s sake.” He stepped towards the staff room, opened the door and called into it. “Hey asshole. Mind watching the desk for me for few?” A voice groaned back at him.
“Not again, man. I haven’t finished eating.”
“It’ll just be a few.” Shinji answered. A tall, lanky man stuck his head out the door and turned to look at Atsuko. His eyes traced up and down Atsuko twice before he answered.
“A few minutes, huh?” The man’s expression was somewhere between amusement and annoyance. Atsuko flushed and briefly imagined shoving her pinky and index finger deep into "Asshole's" eye sockets.
“No, no. I can just use the phone here.” Atsuko waved her hands for emphasis and tried to look grateful. “I don’t need a room.”
“Nonsense.” Shinji answered her. “This line needs to stay open for call-ins. And besides, you said it was personal.” He smiled warmly at her. Once his replacement was in position Shinji gestured towards the first-floor rooms. Atsuko forced a smile and pulled back her hood before walking ahead of him.
“One-oh-nine.” Shinji directed her. She stood aside at the door while he pulled his master key out from his lanyard. He opened the door smoothly and Atsuko stepped in. Shinji stepped in behind her and shut the door.
“Please, I said it’s personal.” She pleaded.
“Hotel policy. I’m afraid you’re not a guest, so I can’t leave you alone. Liability reasons. If my manager finds out you were unsupervised, I’d get in so much trouble.” He smiled embarrassedly. Atsuko eyed him closely. Shinji was breathing a little heavily, and he was sweating. Her body tensed.
She just needed the phone. She moved towards it.
“It’s been a while, Atsuko.” He said simply.
“Atsuko…” He moved to the bed and sat beside her. Shinji casually reached over and hung up the phone. “I’m glad you came here. I really, really am. I wanted to say I’m sorry about… the last time.” She took a deep breath and answered.
“It’s ok, just…”
“No, it’s not ok. I hurt you, and I had no right to. I was hurt you used me like that, but still… That’s no excuse, I’m sorry.” His eyes were heavy and he was fidgeting with his hands.
“No, I had no right to involve you like that. I’m sorry.” Atsuko found herself apologizing.
“Hey, no. You don’t have to say that. We all do stupid things.” Shinji rubbed her shoulder. “So… no hard feelings?” She looked up at him and nodded her head. “Come here.” He opened his arms for a hug. She hesitated examining him. “What?” He looked wounded. She didn’t answer. He filled the silence. “I’m cool. I just haven’t seen you for a while, and I’m happy you came to me for some help. You know? Gave me a chance to say I’m sorry.” Atsuko nodded uncomfortably. He read her body language.
“What? You don’t trust me?” Shinji asked. She couldn’t find the answer. “I’m not the same. I’m NOT.” He stressed the word just a little too much and it made her jump.
“I’m not.” He said again more quietly. He lowered his arms. “I just wanted to clear things up between us.” He lowered his eyes to the floor. No one moved or said anything for what seemed like a long time before she sighed and wrapped an arm around him lightly.
“Thanks Shinji. I appreciate that.” He slowly raised his arms around her.
“It’s nothing." She indulged the hug for a polite amount of time before speaking.
“Shinji?” He was still holding her.
“Yeah?” He whispered.
“I need to call my dad.” She gave him the moment. Then she gave him another. She dropped her arms and waited for him to drop his. He didn’t. She listened to him. His breathing was heavy through his mouth. Holding her hands up awkwardly behind his back she called him. “Shinji?... He didn’t answer. “Shinji… let go.” But he gripped her closer. “Shinji. I told you…” She tried to push him away, but he held tight. “Stop it. Shinji.” She pushed his shoulders back and his eyes seemed to jolt back into awareness.
“I…” His eyes looked so sad to her. He reached for her wrist with his left hand. She saw urgency in his face. “I just want to show you something. I…” She was pulling her hand away, but he clung to it like a dog’s teeth around a bone. “I just want you to see…” With his right hand he slowly started to reach down under his uniformed shirt.
“Stop.” She called to him.
“Just, just, just…”
“Just look. Just see it.” He straightened his waist and lifted himself slightly so he could reach below his waistline. Her body moved automatically. He flew backwards and smacked the wall behind him. Her hand hurt and she looked down it to see dark drops clinging to her fingernails. Atsuko raised them to her face.
She smelled congee.
“Shinji?” She waited but he didn’t answer her. Atsuko inhaled sharply and brought her hand to her mouth. Shinji lay in a pile by the dresser completely unconscious. She blinked furiously trying to make sense of what she was seeing.
Atsuko felt her lip and found it wet. She licked it absent-mindedly and something pulsed within her.
“Life is death, death is life.” A voice echoed within her head.
She looked at her hand and realized the flavor was Shinji’s blood. A tiny bit clung to the tip of her tongue melting slightly as it pressed into the roof of her mouth. She gagged, but she realized she’d swallowed it.
She wiped her hand on the bed cover, but the sticky stuff clung to her. She wiped it faster. The covers pulled thin and stretched tight, but still her hand was dark.
Then Atsuko heard him. A dull wheeze from somewhere in his chest cavity. She moved over to Shinji gazing down. His face was sliced obscenely and it looked as if his nose was broken. His right arm cast wildly over his head, and he faced to his side. His eyes were closed but she could see his chest expanding and contracting. His other hand was holding something. It looked like a piece of paper. Heavily wrinkled but spread smooth she recognized it as a photo. She took it from him.
With small amounts of crust on her fingers Atsuko pinched the retro instaphoto between her thumb and her index finger. It was her. But under her thumb, Shinji was there too. The smiling childlike faces of their happy past laughed out at her. Her hair was longer then, but she seemed lighter in the photo – unconcerned and letting the camera in on a secret joke.
She turned it over. In permanent marker long lost of all its reflective sheen was Shinji's handwriting.
“Atsui-baby - Vday, 2017.”
She dropped it and looked back down at the boy. He seemed smaller. His features looked less sharp. His skin looked pale and the wounds on his face were deep. In one place she could see a speck of white peeking through from underneath.
Her breath left her, and she began walking slowly backwards. Stepping to the bathroom she turned on the tap and scrubbed her hands roughly until they were spotless. In the mirror she caught her eyes.
They were wrong.
Turning behind her, she moved towards the door and swung it open. Entering the hallway, she thought about closing the door behind her, but she could hear Shinji breathing in the room she’d just left. Atsuko left the door open and retraced her steps out into the lobby.
Shaking slightly, she made her way to the coat rack and pulled out a dark umbrella. She stood still facing the main entrance. After a moment she glanced around her and caught sight of a camera. Atsuko flipped her hood back up and pulled the glasses from her pocket to replace them over her eyes.
Atsuko turned and pushed herself out the door. She opened the umbrella outside to shield herself from the sun and walked hastily toward the alley. Safely behind the shadow of the Plaza Hotel, she increased her speed. Once she was sure no one could see her, she ran.
She couldn’t run fast enough.
The scene depicted above is a piece of fiction. But sexual violence is very real.
If it has affected you, know you're not alone.