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The Gate of Sorrows

Miyuki Miyabe

  The Gate of Sorrows


  by MIYABE Miyuki

  Copyright © 2015 MIYABE Miyuki

  All rights reserved.

  Originally published in Japan by Mainichi Shimbun Publishing Inc., Tokyo.

  English translation rights arranged with RACCOON AGENCY INC., Japan through THE SAKAI AGENCY.

  Cover Illustration by Dan May

  Interior Design by Sam Elzway

  No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the copyright holders.


  Published by VIZ Media, LLC

  P.O. Box 77010

  San Francisco, CA 94107

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Miyabe, Miyuki, 1960– author. | Hubbert, Jim, translator.

  Title: The gate of sorrows / Miyuki Miyabe ; translated by Jim Hubbert.

  Other titles: Hikan no mon. English

  Description: San Francisco : Haikasoru, 2016. | “Originally published in Japan by Mainichi Shimbun Publishing Inc., Tokyo” — Verso title page.

  Identifiers: LCCN 2016021706 | ISBN 9781421586526 (hardback)

  Subjects: LCSH: College students—Fiction. | Serial murder investigation—Fiction. | Monsters—Fiction. | Tokyo (Japan)—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Fantasy / General. | FICTION / Fantasy / Contemporary. | GSAFD: Fantasy fiction. | Mystery fiction.

  Classification: LCC PL856.l856 H5513 2016 | DDC 895.63/5

  LC record available at

  Haikasoru eBook edition

  ISBN: 978-1-4215-9206-0

  Also by

  Miyuki Miyabe

  from VIZ Media/Haikasoru

  Brave Story

  The Book of Heroes

  ICO: Castle in the Mist


  BOOK I: Grains of Sand in the Desert

  BOOK II: Grim Reaper

  BOOK III: The Circle and the Warrior

  BOOK IV: The Hunt

  BOOK V: The Gate of Sorrows


  Grains of Sand in the Desert


  The rain drummed against the window—a winter storm. The clouds hung heavy and low in the sky. Wind moaned between the buildings.

  The drumming had a rhythm like anxious knocking, millions of tiny fists pummeling the windowpane that sagged in its weathered wooden frame, the putty crumbling with age. The little girl rested her elbows on the sill with her chin in her hands. Her forehead and the bridge of her nose almost touched the glass. The wind blowing through the gaps in the frame puffed her ragged bangs upward.

  The apartment was a single room, just six tatami mats. The girl’s mother was sleeping on the floor behind her, back to the window under a thin blanket. With each big gust, the old two-story wood-frame apartment, built twenty years before her mother was born, trembled to its foundations.

  The room was freezing. The girl wore her mother’s coat over her head. Less than an hour earlier, when her mother had gotten up to go to the toilet, she had wrapped it around her daughter like that. The fabric was ripped and worn, but the thick wool was heavy. The girl was buried in the coat. Only her face peeked out.

  It had been two days since the little girl’s fifth birthday. That was the day they turned the electricity off. Seeing her desperate situation, the man from the power company had gone easy on the mother for as long as he could, but he’d finally been forced to give up.

  “You’re ten months behind, you know. I’ve got no choice but to shut the power off. If you can get a month’s payment together somehow, I’ll switch it back on right away.”

  The man had given her mother lots of advice. Get some help from the city. I bet the landlord would be willing to introduce you to the Welfare Bureau. Anyway, you can’t go on like this. You don’t look well and your little girl needs looking after.

  Yes, thank you, her mother had said. I’ll do that. Thanks for your concern. I’m sure I can put together enough to pay for a month at least. Yes, I’ll ask a friend for help. I can pay at the local office, then?

  Call me, the man had said. I’ll come right away. Does your phone work? Do you have money for a pay phone?

  Oh yes, money for the phone. I haven’t had a mobile for ages, but I’ll call you from a pay phone.

  But after the man was gone, her mother had gone to bed and stayed there. She wasn’t well, just as the man had said. Indeed, she was far sicker than he could have guessed. She crawled more than walked the distance between her bed and the toilet.

  The little girl wanted to cling to her mother because Mama was warm with fever. But her mother pushed her away. Don’t be mad at me. I just don’t want you to catch my cold. Be a good girl. I’ll be fine soon. I just need some rest.

  She stayed in bed after that. She was always warm. She was almost hot. But when the girl touched her mother, she could feel her shivering. When the coughing fits came, her mother’s wasted body twisted in a strange way.

  The girl wondered what time it was. Outside is black, so it must be nighttime, she thought. The only light in the room came from the little battery-powered alarm clock, but the girl wasn’t good at reading its hands yet.

  The wind blasted the building again, shaking it from top to bottom.

  The girl tried more than once to turn on the television, but none of the switches worked. She didn’t understand that without electricity, she couldn’t watch TV.

  Mother and child had faced many problems. This was not the first time they’d had to make do without power. Still, the little girl was too young to understand the nature of the problems her mother had faced and overcome, or their causes.

  Yet she still had an uneasy feeling that at long last, a problem had come that they might not be able to fix.

  At least it’s cold. The food in the fridge won’t spoil. That’s what her mother had said after the electricity man had gone away.

  Eat something if you get hungry, Mana-chan. There’s some of that bear bread you like.

  The bear bread had been eaten up a long time ago. The food in the refrigerator didn’t spoil, not because it was cold but because there wasn’t any. The refrigerator was empty.

  The little girl was faint with hunger. She was cold. Her mother, wracked with fever and nodding off into dreams between fits of coughing, didn’t feel the cold and emptiness the way her daughter did.

  The rain battered the windowpanes. Millions of tiny fists beat insistently on the glass. Come out, come out, come out. You have to get out of there. Mama is sick. You have to tell someone. Mama is sick and you’re cold and hungry. You have to tell someone!

  The little girl didn’t know the right way to say the thoughts in her head. Her mother had had to struggle hard to make ends meet, and her daughter had never been to nursery school or kindergarten.

  A big, cold spoon had come down from the sky and scooped the little girl and her mother up off the big cake called Society. The spoon just floated in the air. It didn’t take them anywhere, and it wouldn’t put them down.

  The girl exhaled on the windowpane. Her stomach was empty but her breath still came out. The little cloud on the window bloomed and went away. Sheets of silver rain sluiced from the bloated clouds.

  The little girl liked the apartment because she could see the forest of tall buildings in the distance with their windows upon windows that lit up every night, just like Christmas trees.

  Her mother had told her about the buildings when they moved in. Those buildings are all about forty stories high. Th
ey’re very, very tall. The elevators are very fast, otherwise it would take forever to get to the top.

  The forest of buildings wasn’t so far from this neighborhood of old apartment houses and narrow streets. A grown-up could walk there and back again. The little girl saw lots of people walking toward the buildings every morning.

  There were lots of other buildings between the skyscrapers and the apartment. The whole city was packed with buildings. Some were like the Christmas trees but looked smaller from so far away. Others were wide and gray. Some had steep red roofs and others had gray roofs with stuff sticking out. Most of them had colorful signs that lit up at night. Some of the signs were small and some were big. Some of them were pretty, but others looked old and dirty.

  There were different colors and shapes and sizes, but the most important thing to the little girl was whether or not a building had lights at night. The little girl loved the lights in the neighborhood. The lights from the buildings were all different colors. They were like so many Christmas trees. Every night was Christmas.

  But the girl was afraid of one building, the only one that never had any lights, ever. It was right in front of her, out the window. She could see it in the rain-smoked light from the other buildings. Hulking, dark, alone.

  Mama had taught her how to count. One, two, curl your fingers. Or stick them out and count out loud. Counting that way, the scary building was a little more than three traffic lights from the apartment. The girl wanted to count the buildings between, but she ran out of fingers and didn’t know what to do next. So she counted the traffic lights.

  The building was peculiar. Mama had told her it was for business, but it had a different shape from the forest ones, and it was different from the nearer ones that seemed to be made of glass.

  To the little girl, the building looked just like the can of cookies one of Mama’s customers had given her a long time ago. There was a picture of Mickey Mouse on the outside, and cookies that tasted like cocoa nestled beneath the lid.

  This shape is called a cylinder. They don’t always have cookies. They hold all kinds of things. Tea, or candy.

  The little girl could see the round building whenever she looked out the window, like a dark pillar between her and the sparkling buildings in the distance.

  One, two, three. She had counted the number of stories on her fingers, with Mama’s help. The building had four stories.

  It looks like no one is using it. Mama had told her no one was living there, probably.

  The building was empty. That’s why the lights didn’t go on. No one was going in and out. The little girl had never seen anyone open or close the windows in the daytime.

  The roof of the building was a little bit funny. There was no railing. Instead, it was surrounded by a notched wall. There was a gap in the wall, at the left edge of the roof. There was something in the gap.

  At first she thought it was a somebody. That was the afternoon of the day they had moved to this apartment, before she found out the building was dark at night. Mama! Mama! Look, somebody is sitting up there!

  At first her mother was surprised too. She scrunched her eyes up and tilted her head this way and that.

  That’s not a person. It’s some kind of statue, Mana. It must be a roof decoration.

  A statue. A decoration.

  Like the ones in the park, remember? That one’s a little funny though, isn’t it?

  It was funny. The little girl had never seen anything like it. She had said somebody was sitting up there because that’s just how it looked. But it wasn’t a somebody. It couldn’t be, because it had wings.

  What was it, this something squatting on huge legs, hunched over, brooding on the roof of that black pillar?

  In the girl’s eyes, that something was a monster out of the darkness, like in movies on TV or a picture in a book, a monster that spread its wings and rose into the air, slashing people with hooked claws. She wanted to take a closer look, even climb up to that roof. But maybe it would move if she got too close. It was a monster, after all.

  The girl looked at the monster every day. She wanted to be sure it hadn’t moved, that it wasn’t getting closer, that monster brooding in the center of the view she loved to look at from the window.

  The girl looked out the window, wrapped in her mother’s coat. The only trace of warmth in the freezing room was the fog of her breath. The monster was there now, in the winter storm and silver rain. Sometimes it disappeared in the sheeting downpour. Whenever that happened, the girl squinted to make sure it was still there.

  The monster is there. It’s just a statue. It’s not scary or anything.

  On the floor behind the little girl, her mother—the only person in the world she could rely on, and who herself was desperately in need of someone to rely on—was dying of pneumonia. Her five-year-old mind did not understand that death was near. She was too young to understand what death was.

  But instinctively, as a living creature, she knew death was close. It was coming for her mother, coming to take away her single mother, worn out by years of toil and hard luck, to leave her only child—who had only ever heard her name spoken by her mother—alone in the darkness of this tiny room.

  Death was coming. She could feel it. She wanted to snuggle up to Mama, but it was forbidden. All she could do was look out the window. But she could be a sentinel. She could watch to see how close death was. The monster would show her. If it moved, if it spread its wings, if it kicked off into the sky from that gap-toothed rampart, she would know.

  Maybe she had been wrong to stare at it every day. Maybe looking at it so much made it notice her and Mama.

  Her mother was wracked by another violent coughing fit. Then her throat made a different sound. It was like the wind blowing through the gap in the window frame. A creaking hiss.

  The rain poured down the glass. Everything was blurred. The girl wiped the glass with a little hand. The freezing window raised goose bumps on her arms.

  The monster would come. It would start to move. What would be scarier, to watch or turn away? She would hide in Mama’s bed, put her back close against her mother’s back.

  Mama, the monster is coming!

  In vain, her mother gasped for air.

  That was when she saw it.

  An enormous darkness descended onto the roof of the black pillar. It seemed to drop from the sky and alight by the hulking statue.

  Yes, it moved. It didn’t just appear, like pushing a switch. It didn’t come out of the shadows. It came down from the sky.

  It came from the sky!

  Out of the swollen clouds, beyond the sheets of silver rain.

  This new darkness was bigger than the squatting monster. The inky silhouette was shaped like a person. Its hair was long. Its arms and legs were long too.

  And like the monster, it had wings.


  Kotaro Mishima bit back a yawn and yanked his bike out of its spot in front of the house. He was about to jump on when he heard a shrill voice behind him.

  “Ko-chan, we need to talk!”

  She came running toward him, her thick wooden clogs clattering. Her voice wasn’t the only thing that was dynamic about her. Her hair was bleached blond. She was wearing a crimson apron, a flower-pattern sweater, and striped pants. Pure Aunt Hanako.

  “Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning, aren’t you, Auntie?”

  Hanako raised a precisely drawn reddish eyebrow. “At my age, it’s the only time I can be.” This was ironic, because Hanako had likely never thought of herself as old for a single moment.

  “The morning’s half-gone anyway. But I bet you’re running late.”

  “I don’t have class till after noon.”

  “And you call that a school!”

  “Hey, it’s a good school,” Kotaro said. “When Mika starts going to college you’ll understand, Aunti

  “You know, I wanted to talk to you about Mika. Mind you, it’s very hush-hush.”

  Kotaro sighed inwardly. Hush-hush? Aunt Hanako was so loud the whole neighborhood could hear her.

  Then again, it was already five past ten. Mika had left for school hours ago. She was a freshman in middle school. Had Hanako not cornered him, Kotaro would’ve been burning rubber for the station now. Jump on the express, change at Tokyo Station, get off at Ochanomizu. The whole trip took under an hour.

  Kotaro’s neighborhood was a picture-perfect housing development in the Tokyo suburbs—constructed as a unit, neat as a pin, pretty in a mathematical way, with multicolored sidewalks lined with streetlamps on either side of roads just big enough for two cars to pass, lined with tract houses that were only saved from being utterly identical because of the little vanity options the owners had chosen. Someone looking first at the developer’s plans, then the real estate company brochures, and later the finished houses with people in them, would hardly have seen a difference.

  But things were different, under the façade. The development was just as neat, orderly, and pretty as its designers intended, in a physical sense. When you added people to the mix, things instantly get chaotic. Kotaro’s neighbor Hanako Sonoi was the embodiment of that chaos.

  Not that she noticed. Aunt Hanako lived in her own dimension of time. Among other things, this meant that hanging out with her posed grave dangers to Kotaro’s schedule. Normally he would’ve begged off, but at the mention of Mika he hesitated. He put the kickstand down.

  Mika Sonoi was Hanako’s granddaughter. She went to the same middle school as Kotaro’s sister, Kazumi, and was a year her junior. Both girls belonged to the soft tennis club. Kazumi was the one who had originally invited Mika to join.

  The girls had known each other since kindergarten and were as close as sisters. Kotaro regarded Mika almost as his little sister.

  “What’s up with Mika?”

  “You’re a computer wiz, right, Kotaro?”

  Aunt Hanako liked to talk, and like most people who enjoy the sound of their own voice, she didn’t get right to the point. Problem was, if you got impatient and tried to cut to the chase, it only made things worse. Kotaro had known the Sonois since before both families had moved to this cookie-cutter housing development. They went way back. Kotaro was an expert at dealing with Aunt Hanako.