A Midsummer's Nightmare
-or-
JuOhCho no Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the Search for Spock-kun

It was the night of the lunar eclipse that it all happened.

Now I've been dead for six years. This year I would have celebrated my twenty-second birthday. So it's no surprise I've seen a lot of strange things in my time as a Shinigami. But that night took the cake. I still don't know how to explain it. It was as if we had wandered into someone's dream, like the laws of physics had been thrown into a food processor, set on liquify, and then chucked out the window. Like everything that had ever happened had been squeezed together into one ten-hour period, and things that just weren't supposed to happen, ever

The evening started out normal enough. Things had been pretty quiet at the office since the holiday rush, but lately we'd been working overtime on a couple of cases. Vacation accidents and the like. So to mark the end of it we decided we'd all go out and treat ourselves to dinner at this traditional restaurant by the river that everyone had been talking about. . . . After six years I thought nothing about these guys would surprise me anymore. I thought their tendency to embarrass themselves in public would grow on me to the point where I could automatically tune it out. I thought wrong. That year that song was released, that dance, the bane of my existence, that . . .

"'Kiyoshi no Zun-Doko Bushi'!"

Watari and Tsuzuki beamed as they stared at the karaoke list, mirror images of each other, their mouths open in big stupid grins, eyes wide and sparkling, etcetera. . . . This dragged on for several seconds during which time there was only the awkward sound of people dining.

"Your faces will get stuck that way," Tatsumi casually observed as he lifted his teacup to his lips.

"Dorks," added Hisoka, even more casually.

Beside him, Watari's and Tsuzuki's expressions returned to normal, however the excitement in the air remained palpable as ever. "I am so doing it," Watari said with serious determination.

"M-m—" Tsuzuki popped another shrimp ball into his mouth. "You totally should."

"After this number I think I'll go up." A middle-aged businesswoman was currently crooning some gushy theme from a romantic movie rather poorly.

"I think you should," Tsuzuki echoed.

"That is . . . unless you'd rather do the honors!"

"No, by all means! I sang it last time!"

The two now had their ultra-polite, 'after-you-no-after-you' smiles on. Tatsumi sighed.

As did Hisoka. "Will one of you just do it and get it over with!" he said.

He had certainly not expected the reaction his outburst produced. It was only after it was out that he realized how his tone could be mistaken for a jealous one. The other two turned to him with sympathetic faces. "Oh, we didn't mean to leave you out, Hisoka," Tsuzuki said, who was one step away from patting his partner on the head and mussing his hair a la some TV dad.

"Yeah," said Watari. "If you wanna sing it, I'd have no qualms with that. And here I thought you were too shy."

Panicking, Hisoka stammered, "It's not that, really—"

But his explanation was cut off as someone jumped on his back. That is, two someones. "Ooohhh, I want to see Hisoka-kun do the Zun-Doko dance!" said one.

"That would be so incredibly cute!" said the other.

He started. "Eh . . . Saya? . . . Yuma? What are you two doing here!"

All eyes shot to the end of the table, where Wakaba, armed with a disarmingly innocent smile, slowly raised a hand. "That would be my fault," she said. "I, uh . . . I thought the party could use some more girls, er, for Hajime-chan—"

Meanwhile Terazuma, who hadn't really been paying much attention to anything besides his food, smokes, and the woman on the karaoke stage, nearly jumped out of his skin. "What!"

"—And I felt kind of bad for them, all alone up there in Hokkaido and never getting invited to our parties."

"Yeah, there's a reason for that," Hisoka muttered under his breath. He usually didn't think this way about girls, but he made a mental note to kill Wakaba later.

Meanwhile, Saya and Yuma had never really stopped doing what they did best, which is gush over Hisoka and his cuteness. "Wouldn't he just look adorable doing the Zun-Doko?"

"Just like Hikawa Kiyoshi! Just like him!"

"What I wouldn't give to see him in that little striped leisure suit."

"That would be so hot!"

"And the hair's just perfect!"

It was useless to struggle, but at least it was actually another guy they were plotting to dress him up as this time. That could be seen as some improvement. Hisoka managed to shoot a pained, pleading look around the table. Unfortunately it seemed Tatsumi was ignoring the three of them and no one else seemed to notice.

Except Terazuma, that is, who, watching the pitiful display, squirmed in his seat, looking as though something had his balls in a vice. "Why don't you just leave him alone," he said. Thankyouthankyouthankyou, thought Hisoka. "Maybe he doesn't know the words."

Hisoka rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, you're around these guys as much as I am and you learn pretty quick." Damn. Now why hadn't he just said yeah, Terazuma's got it right? Probably because if he had someone would just try to teach him anyway. That was what usually happened. He took a deep breath. It was high time he told them the truth. "Look," he said, "I don't want to sing it 'cause I don't like it."

Watari and Tsuzuki pouted. "You don't like 'Kiyoshi no Zun-Doko Bushi'?"

"But . . . but it's the best song ever."

Jesus Christ, they were dense. "No, you geeks. I don't like enka!"

The table went silent. Even Terazuma's end. He hadn't really expected that.

UBIQUITOUS APPROPRIATELY INTERJECTED JAPANESE CULTURE NOTE. Enka: n. A style of kayokyoku, or Japanese folk music, the topics of which range from doomed love affairs and separation to nostalgia and famous bars, usually featuring a mix of traditional and modern instruments with stylized vocals, and a staple of singing competitions, karaoke bars and other events that inspire drunkenness. It arose like Gojira from the troubled sea of young working men and women of the postwar generation but lately had begun to fall out of popularity, even gained the descriptive adjective "square" — that is, until a young hero named Hikawa Kiyoshi appeared on the scene to rescue it.

Back in the restaurant, all eyes had turned to Hisoka. The only movement was the curl of smoke from Terazuma's cigarette and Tsuzuki greedily stuffing away shrimp balls. And now the chief said with incredible disbelief, speaking up for the first time since the beginning of the karaoke debate:

"You don't like enka?"

"Hey, I'm not the only one," Hisoka said in his own defense. However, if anyone was going to jump in and confirm that they were sure taking their sweet time. ". . . Am I?"

Tatsumi looked uncharacteristically hurt. "Why don't you like enka?"

"I just don't, okay?" said Hisoka, looking meekly around for some support. Was there a problem with that? It wasn't fair. He didn't see why they had to gang up on him just because he didn't like a genre of music that should have died a decade ago. "Because. . . . Because it's what old people listen to."

The chief nodded. "You do have a point there."

"Hey, speak for yourself," said Terazuma.

"But Kiyoshi's cool," said Watari. "All the kids your age like him."

"All the girls, anyway," added Tsuzuki around a full mouth, which made Hisoka painfully aware once again of how unnecessarily close his two admirers were sitting.

"Look," he said quickly, as he saw out of the corner of his eye the warbling businesswoman leave the stage, "I don't see why we need to discuss it. Wasn't Watari going to do his number or something?" He couldn't believe he was actually encouraging him.

With a quick glance over his shoulder at the stage, Watari shot up from his seat. "Hoo-wah! Now's my chance!" he exclaimed, draining his sake cup, slamming it on the table and raising a resolute fist; and one would have thought he could almost see rising suns and crashing waves behind him if they weren't in such an otherwise normal establishment.

"Good luck! Try your best!" chimed everyone except Hisoka.

"Of cour-r-rse!" said Watari, rolling his 'r' like a gangster.

"We're all supporting you!" said Tsuzuki.

"One-hundred percent!" said the chief.

"Here I go-o-o!" said Watari.

He made his way to the stage and made his selection, gripping the microphone with ecstatic determination. And when the bongos started, followed closely by the brass section in a jaunty melody, the whole restaurant turned to see who it was who had dared to take on such an awesome song. And when the refrain came and Watari sang "Zun . . . zun zu-un zun-dokah," and swung his hips and his free arm in the prescribed manner back and forth with the rhythm, the whole table did the exact same thing. Except Hisoka, naturally, who turned beat red and wanted to die.

While a lone guitar twanged against the cantering beat of the bongos, Watari sang an old-fashioned kind of song about a sweet flower scattered on the wind, and a girl in a red china dress who'll give you an extra piece or two of pork with your ramen. The table provided backup with a high "ba-baya," until the refrain came around again and they got to use their arms. Then it was a gasoline stand that he sang of against a backdrop of violins, and his voice was full of passion and good-humor, his rolled 'r's and vibrato were spot on, and the playful sway of his hips made all the old ladies in the establishment sit up and take notice. By the time the chorus came around a third time some of the other patrons had even joined in singing and dancing with their arms, captured by the catchy tune and the singer's magnetism. Tsuzuki and the chief were really getting into it, old-fashioned and completely tanked as they were, but even the reserved Tatsumi was looking unusually enthusiastic.

"Zun . . . zun zu-un zun-dokah," they all sang. "Zun . . . zun zu-un zun-dokah."

At last the orchestra geared up to send this number off with a bang, and it seemed to Hisoka that the whole restaurant reverberated to the beams as everyone joined in shouting one final, zealous, and drunken:

"Hey!"

In hindsight, maybe I should have said something. Like, Maybe this isn't a good idea, singing that song. I have a bad feeling about this. But at the time I was just thinking, Great, I'm going to spend the rest of eternity surrounded by old farts, and was cursing my perpetually teenage body that wouldn't allow me to purchase alcohol so I could get as smashed as the chief and pass out right then and there. I don't know if it was the eclipse or just some strange turn of events, but it was only after Watari's performance at the restaurant that things started to get really weird. You know how they say you can summon evil spirits by saying their name three times, and then they'll make bad things happen? Well, it was something like that. As though by singing that song and doing the Zun-Doko dance and everything — and making a communal effort of it — we somehow accidentally opened a door to an alternate reality. None of us quite realized it at the time, though. Unfortunately.

That's why I hate enka.


tbc