Christmas Beyond the Known

She discovered him on the train like someone would a lost child. He stood quietly, holding the metal hand rail—his smile tired and gaze far beyond the carriage’s glass windows. At first, Mako thought of him as another attractive foreigner she could admire from a distance. His reflection more than enough to occupy her mind during the crush of rush-hour.

From the cut of his jacket and the way he let it hang, dishevelled and indifferently, she assumed he was an English instructor for a private language college. Possibly gone in a year. A fancy lad who worked a single Christmas, this one, and then went back to his yearly holiday in a country she’d only seen in movies. Still, Mako liked his diamond face and thin lips. Even his unpicked eyebrows she could have lived with for six months as they found their relationship equilibrium. Except that wasn’t her anymore. She’d given up on trysts with red-eye lovers. She had a career now, and her last boyfriend had wanted marriage despite hating everyone in Japan except her.

“The next station is Nakano,” the pre-recorded female voice advised from the train’s speakers. Mako could never tell if they’d hired a real Japanese woman who spoke good English to do the recording, or had an English speaker attempt a poor Japanese accent.

People piled out, pushing and shoving her in every direction when the carriage door’s opened. Not the man though, he didn’t flinch. His eyes stayed unfocussed, drifting with the swaying of the train and the ebb and flow of the boarding passengers.

Mako edged closer, slipping into the middle section of the car and three people away from him. It looked like he’d cut himself shaving that morning; there was a red bump on his chin. The top of his lip had flecks of hair he hadn’t caught though, like the way her first boyfriend at university had had. From the way he moved, he’d been riding the Chuo line for a while. Unlike most foreigners, he didn’t trip and fall over himself when the driver braked unexpectedly; rather, he continued to look at something in the distance Mako couldn’t see.

Kichijoji came and went, as did Tachikawa. He didn’t move. Even when the seat in front of him was free, he continued to stand. His ocean-coloured eyes kept her glancing at his reflection in the glass glass despite several stares from the bald man sitting opposite of where she was standing. There was something…transfixing about them. Something old.

When all the other foreigners got off at Hachioji, the man stayed—the outline of a tattoo showing under his long left sleeve. Mako couldn’t tell what it represented, but she knew the black lines all too well, after all, she had three.

“Shuuten,” the recorded voice stated. “Takao.”

Even though the remaining passengers prepared to leave, the man did nothing.

“Excuse me,” Mako said to him, curious about what his response would be to her English. “This is the final station.”

<I know,> he replied in Japanese.

<Did you fall asleep before your stop?>

<No.> He grabbed the last bag on the metal railing above the seats. <I always come to Takao at Christmas.>

She followed him off the train, his pace slow, measured. <Are you sure you don’t need any help?>

At first he paused, his back going stiff. Then he replied, <Ever killed a santa before?>

<No,> Mako replied, trying not to laugh.

<Then no, I don’t need your help. Not unless he wants to eat your heart more than mine.>

The man continued, his paces still methodical and controlled.

<What’s your name?> she shouted as he got near the automatic ticket gates.

<Call me Hellsing.> And with that, he walked through the rectangular boxes and disappeared. Forever, she hoped.

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