Chapter 1 – The Vampire Cannot Stay Out Until Morning
No matter how lively a shopping district is, there will always come a moment when the excitement of the night dies down, almost as if someone cast a magic spell. Irrespective of the seasons, the time at which the world would be released from the magic of the night was 4:30 AM. At least, that’s what Toraki Yura thought.
During summer, that was simply the time at which the eastern sky would begin to brighten. Even in winter, when sunrise would come late, the first train on the Yamanote Line would start running at that time.
It was a time when adults looking to replenish their energy for their next day’s work were ensconced in their favorite bars, and the desolate town was awash in neon light. The sound of the railway echoing down the streets from far away was truly Heaven’s clarion call to drive away the vestiges of the previous day and usher in the coming of a new world.
Toraki had a rule about returning to his home by that time, no matter what, and that rule had always remained unbroken.
That is, until today.
“Hey, Tora-chan, whatever happens, you can’t become like me, okay? Just what have I been working so hard for all this time… Honestly, it makes me wanna cry.”
“Muraoka-san, this is already the fifth time you’ve said that today.”
“It’s fine, isn’t it? So what if it’s the sixth time or seventh time, let me get it off my chest… Uuuuu… Tora-chan, if you get a girlfriend, you need to take care of her properly, okay? …..I …… I’ve……!”
Only on this particular day, obligation and empathy had overridden the magic.
Toraki rubbed the back of the middle-aged man who was opening another two bottles of cheap shochu while rambling drunkenly at the counter of a bar that was open around the clock. It was already the tenth time he had done this since they had entered this establishment “last night.”
Three years. Graveyard shift only. That was the total time Toraki had worked at the convenience store managed by Muraoka, the Front Mart store at Ikebukuro East, fifth district.
Toraki was limited to working only on the late-night shifts at his part-time job. For reasons that could not be explained to other people, he could not, under any circumstances, work during the day. Muraoka had not pried into the reasons why Toraki could only work during a limited time and instead continued to employ him while treating him as a fellow adult.
It went without saying that a person who could regularly work late at night would be treasured by any manager of a convenience store. That said, Toraki did not have many acquaintances who were willing to interact with him without looking too deeply into his circumstances. For that reason, Toraki honestly regretted the fact that he could do nothing more than sit and listen while his benefactor was faced with the predicament of his lifetime.
And so, he had ended up losing track of time.
“It’ll be alright. It was all just a misunderstanding. Your wife will surely understand.”
Three days ago, Muraoka’s wife had run out on him.
Even under ordinary circumstances, Muraoka’s job as the owner of a convenience store franchise would be considered a grueling enterprise with no vacations. On top of that, his workaholic nature had caused him to skip out on his sixteen-year-old daughter’s important piano competition, which was apparently the final straw that had resulted in his wife slapping him with a divorce letter.
Considering the fact that this drinking party of regrets was being held a whole three days after his wife had left him, it could be seen that she had good reason to complain about how little attention he paid to his family.
“Ever since my wife left, my daughter won’t even look me in the eye… I mean, she was always like that, but still……!”
Toraki had seen Muraoka’s daughter on multiple occasions, but from what he said just now, it sounded like his wife hadn’t taken their daughter with her when she left. Toraki silently questioned that decision as he surreptitiously glanced at his wristwatch. The two hands informed him that it was already twenty minutes past the time when the magic would be dispelled.
“It’ll be fine! As long as you don’t forget that feeling, I’m sure your wife and daughter will understand! I’ll help out as much as I can too, although it can only be at night! Excuse me! Can you please bring us the cheque!?”
Judging by his previous research and his current location, the current time was already his limit.
“Muraoka-san! You’re always looking out for me, so I’ll pick up the tab for today!”
“No way….. I’m the owner, and I’m older than you…. You can’t do that….”
Toraki had never worked during the day, even if there was no other shift available that would allow him to leave early in the morning, or if he had been asked to come in as a replacement for someone who had to take a sudden leave of absence from work.
That was all the more reason why the debt he owed to Muraoka kept him confined to the bar during his time of distress. By the time Toraki left the shop and parted ways with Muraoka, the eastern sky had already started to brighten.
“According to the forecast, there’s still twenty minutes until sunrise… I can still barely make it if I run….”
That was a difficult choice for someone whose body was already feeling the effects of a long shift at work followed by a drinking session, but Toraki prepared to put all his energy into one final rally. He sucked in a deep breath and took his first step forward…
“What are you doing!? Stop! Let me go!”
“Stop making a scene and come here!”
“No, don’t touch me! Stop……”
…And came to a stop after taking only three steps.
He took a quick look around at his surroundings, but he only saw the usual scene of a cold morning in Ikebukuro. Nothing seemed to be out of place.
However, Toraki understood what was happening.
A young woman was being assaulted by someone, somewhere in this neighborhood.
There was definitely a single voice that existed among the multitude of voices that were headed towards Ikebukuro Station intent on catching the first train home.
Three minutes to reach the scene, one minute to call the police, and then run straight for home.
Turning away from the path that lead towards his house, Toraki accurately determined the direction from which the screams had come and ran straight for it.
“Which idiot started this stupid crap so early in the morning?”