It was supposed to be a day of honor.
Twenty-five years. Twenty-five long years of his life had been spent waiting for this moment - it was his time to take the lead. He had spent his entire life chasing a void, his every waking moment devoted to the pursuit of nothingness. There was no respite, no relief from the constant search for meaning in a world that seemed determined to deny him any purpose.
He gave up control - operating that puppet's legs. The miles he met seemed aimless, like a leaf caught in the wind, moving without direction, without purpose. Each step the surrender of self for the path of the greater powers.
Yet he endured.
Yuranosuke had walked the path - as it was the only path to become an omozukai. He had abandoned planting his seeds and found his friendships few. He had dedicated every moment to perfecting his craft, studying and straining and sometimes even struggling to survive. Every second he spent away from the strings was a step away from where he wanted to be, but even he had to make ends meet.
He had been fortunate enough to find a job that allowed him to live remotely. Even more fortunate, he was able to find a small apartment next door to the theater. Tucked away above a busy restaurant, the Ramen Symphony, he could always fill his belly with the smells of the rich broth as he practiced his puppetry.
“I will have my day,” he remembers hearing himself whisper, even as he winced at his wounds. The strain of those strands could sever one’s circulation, but sacrifice was his shepard - and the strings…
With them he spoke, but his words were whispers upon the wood. Though he was faceless and formless, he found his way through the world as a piece - a portion - of the puppet. A length of time and the leg became the arm, and it was an honor that he held in his hand.
But this wasn’t where he wanted to be.
The strain he once felt in his hip and thighs now shifted to his back and calves, but he would learn. He would adapt and overcome because that was the way and pain was just a part of the journey. A piece of the puppet - a pull of the string - and you follow the path.
The only path.
“I will have my day,” he remembers hearing himself whisper - those words echo in his mind. His vision blurs and he can feel his own saliva welling up in his throat. His form becomes a blur in the mirror as he tries to repeat that mantra, “I will have my-“
Yuranosuke rips the black hood from his head, doubling over before emptying his guts into the dressing room toilet. He could hear the shamisen players warming up and the other puppeteers had already made their way towards the stage. His eyes well up with shame.
“Am I ready?” his voice reverberates back at him from inside the rim. He can see his face reflecting back in the water, surrounded by his own filth. The path he had followed led him here, porcelain pressed against his chin.
It was supposed to be a day of honor.
“Let me see that dick!”
Honking laughter blares through the RV like a car siren in the night, freshly aroused by the gentle prompting of a baseball bat against the glass. The woman with cotton-candy pink pigtails pushes a handful of coins into the slot before slapping her hand against the now flashing red button.
“Play ball!” the digital voice says as the machine flashes to life. Lights flash and a series of graphics begin to play on the screen. Zoomed out on a park, three forms walk towards one another. Zoomed in, it pans across their faces - focused, firm, resolve. An action shot, hands throw in towards the middle - one, two, three - it stops on their hands as they move towards the middle. A spinner appears and the red button flashes once more, the machine's overly cheerful, robotic voice chanting along with the pulse, "Runner ni nattara essassa! Runner ni nattara essassa!”
“Dick! Dick! Dick!” the woman’s high pitched voice calls out. She lifts a skinny, tattooed fist towards the heavens before bringing it back down onto the switch, causing the spinner on the screen to begin rotating and another animation to begin.
Jaclyn Pierrot steps back from the machine, the lighting once again flashing brilliantly along with the graphic. The frame of the game is shaped like a baseball diamond with the label Yakyūken flashing along the top. Coming up either side of the two buttons - one red that lights up red, the other blue that quite possibly lights up blue - there are scantily clad cartoon men and women, each at some stage of removing an article of clothing adorning the rest of the diamond.
"Out! Safe! Yoyonoyoi” the clown-faced woman chants along with the machine. The fists in the center of the screen stop and a single string plays from the digital shamisen - the note allowed to reverberate an extended second before calling they both yell out - “Jankenpon!!!”
The hands are flipped and a loud buzzing noise is heard and all the lights drag down towards the center screen which now flashes red.
"Hebo noke Hebo noke. Okawari koi**", the machine says then a second screen appears, indicating to insert more coins. In disbelief, the golden eyes stare at the screen.
“Hey!” she objects. Her hand rapidly pushes the now blinking red button, followed by the blue one, which to no one’s surprise remains blue and still blinking.
"What the hell?" Jaclyn shouts as the machine stubbornly refuses to give her any more spins. She gives it a good shake, but despite the best efforts, it still doesn't budge though she does manage to flail herself about. Frustrated, she begins to take her anger out on the digital screen, kicking at it with a pair of black Timberland boots.
The man in charge - a wiry man with a wispy combo-over which covers barely a fraction of his head - flanked by his two henchmen, approaches her with a scowl on his face.
"What's the problem here?" he demands, his thin arms crossed over his chest.
Jaclyn glares at him."This machine took my money!”
The man scoffs. "Machine takes coins! You lose, you put in more coins, stupid."
"I already spent 700 yen!”
The two thugs turn to one another, sharing a confused look before shrugging. The larger of the two, a man with a slicked back ponytail and thick, unkempt eyebrows reaches out, landing a large hand on her slender shoulder. She looks down at it.
“That’s not a good idea,” she warns, causing the two to erupt with laughter. As suddenly as they begin, the laughter stops as a shadow looms over the large man. His attention turns from the small woman in front of him to a large hand that now lands on his own shoulder, mirroring his motion.
Turning, the thug finds him face-to-face with the massive form of Bugs towering over him. The large, thick bald man brings his other hand down like a hammer, driving his victim to the ground before Bugs turns to the second man. Though shocked, the still standing guard doesn’t miss a beat as he throws himself bodily into the bigger man, driving him backwards into one of the video poker machines set up in the small RV. The other patrons, seeing this explosion of flesh and - after a stiff right from the thug, possibly breaking Bugs nose - fluid.
The first man starts to rise to his feet, stumbling over only to find the imposing form of Buster suddenly standing in his way. He groans - lifting himself fully upright only to find the floor once more as a fist connects with his temple, eyes rolling to the back of his head. The owner, now seeing his men rapidly being overcome, rushes towards the drivers cab. Jaclyn, who has been watching the brutal beating with glee, turns just as the RV’s ignition roars to life.
“Hey, what about my money?” she says, starting off after him. Bugs, finally able to secure the arms of his opponent, picks him up, receiving a series of head butts to his already bloodied nose. As the vehicle begins to accelerate, in an explosion of metal and glass, Bugs drives his full weight into the man and the machine behind him. The sheer force of the motion causes the RV to tilt onto two wheels before the panicked driver pulls hard in the opposite direction. In his haste, he loses control of the vehicle, swerving wildly as he tries to escape.
Jaclyn - already moving towards the cabin - is unable to brace herself for impact as the RV smashes through the glass of the Ramen Symphony and is sent flying through the front windshield. She crashes into the middle of a table, the family who has been dining there scattering. They are joined by the rest of the patrons, who now flee as the RV, which has since come to a stop in the middle of the restaurant.
Sitting up, Jaclyn looks at the scene in front of her, head covered in steaming ramen noodles. She pulls a single strand free from her head, sucking up on it noisily as the restaurant begins to catch fire.
“Well…it’s no dick.”
Yuranosuke could hear the fire sirens in the distance, completely unaware of the accident that had caught his home aflame. He had to focus - this was his time - his moment. Splashing water across his face then rubbing his cool, moist hand along his neck, he looked into the mirror once more.
“I am ready,” he said resolutely. There were shouts in the halls, distant - not his concern. He picked the black hood up from the ground, wiping at it. Finally satisfied, he slid it down across his face, looking at himself once more. Reflecting back in the mirror he no longer saw Yuranosuke - he saw an omozukai.
“My time has come,”he whispered, reaching for the handle. It was hot to the touch, but he barely noticed through the gloves. Opening the door, his face dropped. The theater, not even a block from the ramen house, had become caught up in the flame. He could hear the sirens now, blaring, but he couldn’t move. Today was supposed to be his day. His eyes flicker behind the hood as he watches the flames take the stage.
It was supposed to be a day of honor.
*”Hope the batter gets to run"
**"Losers leave, and newcomers come"