My name is Jorge Joestar. The name was taken from my aristocratic grandfather but written the Spanish style. I asked why Mum didn’t spell it George like a proper English name, but she just smiled and said, “Well, you were born in the Canary Islands, and if I named you George, we couldn’t very well call you Jojo, could we?”
My father – he died in a shipwreck – was named Jonathan Joestar, and had gone his whole life by the nickname Jojo; he’d died so soon after their wedding that Mum, still deeply in love with him, had her heart set on my inheriting that nickname. Sadly, only Spaniards lived on La Palma, and nobody called me Jojo; Mum and Lisa Lisa called me ‘George’ and everyone pronounced my name the Spanish way: ‘Horhe’. Pointing this out to Mum just made her look sad, so I held my tongue. Frankly, what they called me was the least of my problems.
For as long as I could remember, I was tormented by Spanish-speaking jackanapes – this very day they’d rubbed dog shit on my face on the way home from school. They’d managed to get some up my nose and no matter how much I washed my face the stink remained. But they’d been trying to make me eat it, so I guess I got off easy. Like she always did, Lisa Lisa found us and saved me before they could force the shit all the way in. These pigs were born on the island and would die a useless death here; they had no conscience, no capacity for anything like abstract thought, and thus no notion of restraint.
“Bwa ha ha ha ha! You got saved by a girl again, Balsa Blanca (White Raft)! Your dick wouldn’t even work as an oar!” Lisa Lisa had knocked him down and kicked him a number of times, and his nose was still bleeding, but Antonio Torres was getting used to the beatings, and didn’t let them get in the way of a good jeer. This hit me where it hurt.
After the shipwreck, Mum spent several days adrift on the Pacific with me and Lisa Lisa, so Antonio and his gang had started calling me Balsa Blanca, but this insulted Mum and my dead Dad as well, so I always got mad and cried. Look, even I hated myself for it. I was such a damn cry baby. It was like I had just served them all dessert. The moment I
started crying they all killed themselves laughing, and Lisa Lisa had to drag me away.
“Come on, Jorge! You can’t cry like that! Now they’ve gone home happy!” Lisa Lisa was furious with me. I was in the river, trying to wash the smell off, and this wasn’t helping. The snot and tears made my cheeks sting, but Elizabeth Straits showed no mercy.
“Your face is filthy…washing isn’t helping! You’re so pathetic I don’t even want to be seen walking with you! If you’re so sad then go cry alone! I can’t bear watching!” She turned and left me there. This made me feel even more sorry for myself. What did I ever do to deserve this? Because I was the only English boy in class… I hate to bring race into this, but all of us were white!
We had an Asian kid in our class, but nobody ever made fun of him! Damn it! Why did they all pick on me!? Obviously, because I was a crybaby, not particularly smart, not particularly athletic, and not particularly funny.
The Asian kid was unflappable, quite good looking, got straight As, and word was he worked as a detective…in elementary school. Someone like that just isn’t going to get picked on. But knowing there was a reason why they came after me just made things worse, and now I was crying again… I was still crying when I got home, and Mum said Lisa Lisa had gone straight to her room and shut the door.
“She was crying, you know? Lisa Lisa is very worried about you, Jorge. Such a kind soul…” For a moment I thought she meant me – I supposed I was on the kind side, for a boy – then I realized she meant Lisa Lisa, and got very confused. There must be some mistake. Kind? How? Violent, and sure, she saved me from the bullies but afterwards she always yelled at me a lot, and after she got done yelling, she’d walk away and leave me on my own. What about that was ‘kind’? I was still fuming about that when we sat down to dinner, so Mum fixed me with a stern look.
“Jorge, we have something important to talk about tonight. Will you listen?”
There was a sadness to her smile that was very worrying, and I felt tears welling up reflexively.
“No!” I said.
“Don’t be so dumb, Jorge,” Lisa Lisa laughed.
“She hasn’t even said anything yet.” I turned to scowl at her for laughing, but she wasn’t smiling at all. She looked really tense, and that really made me scared. What was going on? “Listen, Jorge,” Mum said.
“Look at me.” I really didn’t want to, but I had no choice. This was clearly important. I had to face it.
“…what?” She spoke slowly.
“A long time ago it was decided that Lisa Lisa was to go stay with her adopted father, Straits, once she turns twelve. The three of us will celebrate Christmas together, and then Straits will come to pick her up at the start of the year. Lisa Lisa will go with him to his home in Italy.”
…what? This was genuinely so far beyond all the bad news I had been bracing myself for that I actually blacked out for a second. Lisa Lisa had been protecting me my entire life, since I was a baby. She’d step in if someone hit me, get back what they took, give me hers or split hers with me if I dropped something, comforted me when I was crying, praised me if I did something right. There was no way they could take Lisa Lisa away from me now! “But…but! But!” I said.
“If Lisa Lisa leaves, I don’t know what’ll happen to me!” Actually, I was pretty sure I did know what would happen to me – they’d kill me. For real. But Mum had no idea how bad things were for me. The tone she took was devoid of any comfort or reassurance.
“Jorge. You have to become strong enough, smart enough, and resilient enough
to survive after Lisa Lisa leaves. You have to live without her help, and you have six months to prove you can. I know she’s been a great help to you. Proving you can stand on your own two feet is the best thing you can do to repay her.” Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat? God, Mum was the best at…how could I put it? She had a way of saying things that were so right you couldn’t argue, couldn’t make excuses, and couldn’t disobey without feeling like you were a very bad boy. But I was in such a fix that I didn’t see how I could do the right thing! They nearly shoved dog shit in my mouth! Today! Just hours ago! Lisa Lisa was saving me from such dire straits on a daily basis! Mum had no idea! Mum had no idea she had no idea! In a state of panic I was about to cast aside all pretense of pride as a gentleman and use the dog shit as an example of just how bad this was when Lisa Lisa started crying.
“Jorge, you idiot! Can’t you think about anyone but yourself? I have to go live with my Dad, who I barely even remember! I’ll barely ever see you or Mama Erina again! I’m so scared and I’ll miss you and here you are just…to hell with you, Jorge!” She let the tears stream down her cheeks, making no effort to wipe them away, sobbing loudly. I stared, stunned. I’d never seen Lisa Lisa cry before. Mum stood up, walked around the table, and put her arms around Lisa Lisa.
“Aaaaugh, Eri…Mama Erina…wahh…hnk…waah! S-sorry, I’m sorry. Hnk. I can’t…I can’t stop crying! I didn’t want to cry, I swore I wouldn’t!”
“Go ahead, Lisa Lisa, cry as much as you need. It’s a very sad thing. It’s hard for me, as well. We’ve lived together your whole life, and it’s been such fun. We’ve been so happy. I’ve grown to love you like my own daughter. And I promise that will never change. Remember that always, Lisa Lisa. Know that I will always love you.”
“Aaaah Mama Erina! Thank you! For everything! I love you too! I love you! Remember me forever! Don’t forget about me!”
“Of course not! How could I forget you? You’re my pride
and joy! I should be thanking you! Jorge and I have both treasured your company.”
“Waaahh, I…I don’t want to go! I want to live here with you forever! I’m sorry, I know it’s selfish of me. But that’s how I feel!”
“And you shouldn’t be ashamed of that. Poor Lisa Lisa. Your life upturned by a promise grown ups made for you. But you have an important duty. This promise was made knowing the fate of all mankind depended on it. I’m sure someday you will come to understand, even if it’s hard to accept while you’re still so very young. But if you try, you’ll get through this.”
“Aaaaaaaaugh! Nooo! I don’t wannaaa!” With Mum’s arms still around her, Lisa Lisa began thrashing around like a toddler throwing a tantrum. I sat watching this, surprised, and more than a little nonplussed. Ah ha ha, wow, I thought. Lisa Lisa’s just a kid. I’d never noticed before. But of course she was. She was eleven. Technically, at the moment I was the same age as her. It had always felt like she was a grown up looking after me. But she was less than a year older. Last year, she’d been only ten years old all those times she saved me, and now that I was eleven, I should be able to protect last year’s version of me. Antonio and his friends had bullied me last year as well, but Antonio a year ago was much smaller than he was now, and not nearly as strong. But I was scared. Scared, but I could probably still take him. I was just scared. If I could just stop being scared, I could knock him down. The only way to stop being scared was to start being brave. I was a boy, and couldn’t keep relying on a girl my whole life.
“Okay, Lisa Lisa!” The panic was gone, and I sounded calm…or like I was trying to sound calm. My lips were still quivering, but I forced myself to keep talking
“I’ll be brave. Starting tomorrow, I’ll beat up Antonio myself. That might not actually happen, but I’ll think of something. I won’t need your help.” I smiled at her. Now it was her turn to gape at me. Even Mum looked surprised, and maybe a little
dismayed. Neither of them believed me. Why should they? But Lisa Lisa blinked her red eyes, and a smile spread across her wet cheeks.
“Thank you, Jorge. That was wonderful.” I suddenly realized just how pretty Lisa Lisa was. It was like her whole body was sparkling, and I felt me heart skip a beat.
“But don’t try too hard. I don’t want you getting hurt,” she added. Yep. Nobody believed in me. But I had to try. I spent all night trying to figure out how to avoid Antonio’s gang on the road to and from school, and trying to think of snappy comebacks – quite a step down from what I’d said at dinner, but all my plans were for naught. Antonio Torres was found dead in the morning. He’d been murdered.
Since I was trying not to meet Antonio’s gang on their way in from the harbor, and trying not to need Lisa Lisa’s protection, I had gone to school very early. Instead of leaving my satchel in the classroom, I hid in a storage room around back of the school, waited for everyone else to arrive, and slipped into class at the last possible second. This was pathetic, but that was the best I could manage that morning. But as I stealthily opened the door and made a dash for my seat at the back I became aware of a bizarre silence; these clowns were always yelling about something, why were they quiet today? Still hunched over, I looked up. Everyone was looking at me. I froze in my tracks. The looks they gave me were not the usual mix of pity and scorn reserved for the class outcast. Instead, I saw fear and anxiety, and above all…suspicion. For reasons even I wasn’t clear on, I immediately looked for Antonio Torres. He wasn’t there. But his bannermen were all glaring at me.
“Oi, Jorge,” His first mate, Julio, snarled.
“What are you skulking about for? Where have you been, you Limey bastard!?”
“Hunh? What are you talking about? I came to school like always.”
I couldn’t very well say I’d been hiding in the storage room.
“Liar!” Julio yelled.
“I went to your house this morning! I ran straight there! You were already gone at seven!”
“Hunh? Why’d you go to my house?” Was he planning on tormenting me there, too? Please, no! That would be the last straw. Surely that was against the rules! What Julio said next, I did not expect.
“I wanted to see if you know anything about Antonio’s death!” Antonio’s death!? What!? That piece of shit was dead!? “…what are you talking about?”
“Then why did you lie? You didn’t come to school like always?”
“I mean, I did come here a little early…”
“No, you didn’t! You went and murdered Antonio!”
“Eh? Wait, what? What are you talking about? Antonio was murdered?”
“Don’t play innocent!”
“No, no, I seriously have no idea what’s going on! What? How could I possibly kill Antonio?”
“Not alone!” Julio roared, his eyes gleaming with rage and fear.
“But if Lisa Lisa helped…”
“Lisa Lisa wouldn’t kill anyone!” I yelled back. This was the first time I’d ever raised my voice to Julio. It made him jump, and he hesitated a moment before answering.
“Then where was Lisa Lisa this morning? When I went to your house, Miss Violence was missing, too!” ???? Hunh? “Your Mom was having fits! Neither you nor that girl were in your rooms! You’re telling me that both of you just happened to disappear the morning Antonio was murdered? I don’t believe that for a second! You did something to him! I told your mother, if Antonio’s been killed, then you two must have done it!”
“What? You said that to my Mum!? You dick! You don’t
even have any proof!”
“Nobody but you and the girl that protects you would ever want to kill him!”
“What are you talking about? I couldn’t even begin to kill him. I don’t even have the balls to fight him! I was trying to avoid seeing him, so I came to school early and hid in the storage room until class started!” This admission was so pathetic and so like something I would do that everyone but Julio let out a relieved titter.
“Can you prove that!?” Julio demanded, despite having provided no evidence to back up his own accusations.
“I can,” Mr. Hernandez said, stepping in the door.
“I saw him from the teacher’s room. Saw him go in the storage room, and come out. Julio, don’t go accusing your classmates without reason. Judging from Jorge’s behavior, and what you two just said, it sounds like you kids have been bullying Jorge. You, Antonio, and the rest of you…all ganging up on him. You should be ashamed of yourselves, hear?” Julio turned red, grit his teeth, and stared at the ground. I was pleased he’d finally noticed, but he couldn’t have done it sooner? This was exactly why I’d never expected help from him. Julio wasn’t quite done yet, though.
“We still don’t know where Lisa Lisa is, do we?” With Mr. Hernandez watching, I was a little more confident. I allowed myself a theatrical sigh before answering.
“Listen to yourself. Lisa Lisa would never do something like this. She may be good at fighting, but she’s a girl! She could never kill Antonio.”
“Bullshit!” Julio howled.
“She’s no ordinary girl! You don’t know, cause she’s never hit you, but we all know! Her punches and kicks aren’t normal! It’s like electric running through you. It feels like your blood’s running the wrong direction. She’s got some weird power. She used her freaky power to kill Antonio! That’s why he died so weird! Cause of that freak!”
“Hunh?” He’d lost me entirely.
“Maybe you should calm down. Lisa Lisa doesn’t have any ‘power.’“
“She does, you just don’t know it. She kicked me once, and my entire left side wouldn’t stop trembling for hours. She punched Antonio the other day, and his legs started running on their own. He ran ten kilometers non-stop, all the way to the beach, right into the water, nearly drowned.”
“What!? That’s impossible!”
“Whatever. You don’t know. Useless talking to you. Point is, Lisa Lisa has some weird power. And you’d need some weird power to kill Antonio like that.”
“……..? What do you mean? How was Antonio killed?”
“You already know! Fine, be that way. You see…” Julio paused dramatically.
“Antonio…was crushed to death, leaving him flat as a sheet of paper. Right behind his house. No blood, no muscle, no bones, nothing left of him but a sheet of skin!”
What the hell? Was that really how Antonio Torres had died? If that was real, I definitely couldn’t see Lisa Lisa being capable of that, but…? While I was still stunned, the classroom door suddenly slammed open.
“I’ve been eavesdropping! And I hate to admit it, because it does so spoil an entrance, but it’s the truth! Everyone seemed so worked up I hesitated to enter, but not only did class never start, the discussion grew increasingly bizarre! Eventually it defeated even my patience.” The boy at the door had a long, thick tube of some sort held under his arm. It was none other than the lone Asian in the class, Tsukumojuku Kato. The most handsome, most intelligent, most bizarre boy in class – when he walked in everyone, including the teacher, paid attention. He had that air about him. Everyone watched as Tsukumojuku shut the door behind him, made his way to his desk, placed the cylindrical case on the
floor, and turned to face us.
“Hmm…I could have sworn I just solved the Antonio Torres case, so why do I get the sense it’s only just begun?” We all gasped.
“Solved it!?” Julio shrieked.
“What a load of crap! We found Antonio’s body, and the police had only just arrived when we left! That was less than an hour ago! You’re not a cop – how would you even know he was dead!? And here you are claiming to have solved the case!?”
“Because I did,” Tsukumojuku said.
“But how…!?” Julio said, at a loss for words.
“You know that. Because I’m a detective, Julio Gonzales. I happened to pass the Torres residence mere moments after you came bursting out of it – some would say fate brought me there,” he added, cryptically. Tsukumojuku turned to look at me.
“But it seems fate is leading me in a different direction.” As I stood my ground against his piercing stare, I wondered how he could speak in such a grown-up, mannered fashion. Was he really eleven? No – he hadn’t had a birthday yet, so he was only ten. Then it struck me. This was the first time I’d ever talked to him face to face.
“Um,” I said, my voice shaking.
“So…you solved the murder of Antonio Torres?” Was Lisa Lisa involved? “So I thought.” Past tense? “So…you didn’t?” Instead of answering, he asked, “Jorge, have you ever read a detective novel?”
“…? A detective novel? Um…I think we have some in the house, but…”
“It’s a genre of novels that began about sixty years ago, in 1841, when the American writer Edgar Allen Poe published a story called The Murders in the Rue Morgue. The salient points of the genre, obviously, are that the murder appears to be impossible, and is then solved by a genius detective.”
“Obviously? How would I know that? My mum said they weren’t for children to read. I don’t like scary books anyway. What’s your point?”
“But you understand the concept of a detective?”
“Like Sherlock Holmes?”
“Exactly. A fictional device, a role destined to always arrive at the truth in the end.”
“…okay? So what?”
“A detective surveys all evidence, understands the case in full, and at last arrives at a perfect solution.”
“Looked at the other way, when new evidence comes to light providing details previously unknown…that solution is no longer perfect. And an imperfect solution is not the truth.” What the hell was this Asian on about? Tsukumojuku stood up, and began moving around the classroom, closing the curtains.
“A new world lies before us!” he announced.
“Facts previously hidden from view! My solution was not complete! I was wrong! The case! Is not! Done!” With each of this last exclamations he swished a curtain closed. In the darkened classroom, with all eyes on him, he returned to his desk, and picked up the tube he’d brought with him.
“This is very sensitive to sunlight and dry air,” he explained, and pulled something out of it. He rolled it out on the desk. It was Antonio Torres…only flat. Holes where his eyes should be. Totally naked. Flat. Like paper. No blood, no muscle, no bones, nothing left of him but a sheet of skin! The very boy who’d said this let out a shriek of horror.
“What’s wrong with you!? Why would you bring a classmate’s corpse here!? The cops are gonna be pissed! Oh god! Oh god!”
Tsukumojuku didn’t bat an eye.
“Hmph. I asked permission to keep it as a souvenir, and they granted it as a reward for solving the case. No one will scold me for it.” The flat Antonio Torres spread out on the desk had his chin up and turned slightly to the side, his eyes partly opened. He had no eyeballs, but it made him look like he was staring into the distance, lost in thought. His hands were held up in front of him, like he was trying to cover his bare chest, or trying to push something something painful away. His hips were swiveled to one side as if trying to hide his little penis, and his knees and ankles and toes were all curled as well, like he was dancing. He’d been tormenting me on a daily basis for years, but this…this was beautiful.
“Are you…” I said.
“Are you sure…it’s not a painting?”
“That is the solution I arrived at, Jorge. Or should I say Jorge…Jorge Joestar?” “What are you talking about!? That’s his body! It’s fucking grooooossss!” Julio wailed. Tsukumojuku nodded.
“That, too, is correct…but it is not the whole truth.” A stir went through the room, but by this time we were all under Tsukumojuku’s spell.
“This is a work of art created by Antonio’s mother, Maria Torres. She made it by peeling off her son’s skin. The bones and blood and flesh were not removed; rather, the skin alone was peeled away, carefully placed together with adhesive, and hair shed over the past few months placed carefully on the head to complete the full body work of art. This Year’s Antonio, she called it.”
This was too much for all of us. I nearly forgot to breathe. His voice shaking, Julio asked, “But…if his skin was peeled off…wouldn’t Antonio die?”
“Normally, yes, if it was done all at once,” Tsukumojuku replied, not at all perturbed.
“So at first she would peel it away bit
by bit, treat it with oil, and sew the pieces together with very fine thread. But the result was rather patchwork, and the lines where it was sewn tended to bunch up, and it was obvious which pieces of skin had been harvested freshly; early versions weren’t what you’d call beautiful. Maria adapted her technique, and her son’s body adapted to survive it.”
“Uh…” Julio swallowed.
“You mean…there’s more than one?”
“Yes,” Tsukumojuku nodded.
“She’s been making one a year since Antonio was a baby, so including this year’s, there are twelve in all. The early ones are not well done, but starting with last year’s, they become rather remarkable. This year’s, in particular, is a bona fide masterpiece.”
“…………..!” With Julio at a loss for words, someone else mumbled, “So horrible…his own mom…how could she? It’s unnatural!”
“Her love for her son was hardly ‘natural’,” Tsukumojuku said.
“Since the invention of the photograph, Kodak cameras have become readily available. La Palma may not have a camera shop, but there’s one in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. But Maria wanted the skin. It was the texture she loved, I suppose. No photograph can preserve that. Before the police took her away, Maria ran her cheek against it, desperately trying to savor her last moments with her art.” I could hear several of my classmates throwing up, their vomit splattering on the floor. Yet those next to them failed to react in any way. I was staring closely at This Year’s Antonio, but I couldn’t see any sewing or patches at all. Where they on the inside? But I didn’t dare touch it to see…
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Tsukumojuku said, standing beside me.
“There’s only one seam in it, running down his back from his neck to his rear.” Hunh? “But…isn’t this a skin quilt?”
“Heh heh, a quilt? That’s one way of putting it. But that only applies to the early ones. Like I said, she improved her technique, and her son’s body adapted to it.”
“Every summer his mother would peel off his skin. Even if she was careful not to peel enough to kill him, stripping random pieces off would have been very painful. He needed some defense against this. All cells in the human body are replaced every seven years; but our skin is replaced once a month – and in Antonio Torres’ case, three days before June 16th – Maria’s customary skinning day – his skin cell production would speed up. All Maria needed to do was make a single incision along his back, and Antonio could slip out of his old skin. His new skin would be thin, but fully grown; he could shed his old skin like a snake. Then Maria would apply a thin coating of oil to the cast-off skin, inside and out, to prevent it drying out, and seal the rear incision with medical adhesive. That’s how This Year’s Antonio was made,” he said, like a waiter explaining a recipe.
“So the real Antonio Torres is still alive?” I asked. If this wasn’t a corpse, but a cast-off skin, then the rest of Antonio must be somewhere. And I would have to form a new strategy for avoiding Antonio. Tsukumojuku smiled awkwardly.
“I assumed he was…” He turned to face the classroom door.
“You may enter,” he said. ‘May’? Quite the haughty choice of words. I turned to look at the door as it opened. Antonio Torres was standing there, expressionless. His comrade Julio took a step forward to greet him, but…
“Wait! Stay back!” Tsukumojuku’s bark was so loud Julio jumped, and froze in his tracks. I was certainly on edge at being suddenly confronted by a not-so-dead Antonio, but at the same time…something seemed wrong. Antonio usually laughed raucously; talked down me, his
friends, and grown-ups, bossing everyone around; he was always on the move, never settling down, his eyes sending sharp glances in all directions. Now he just stood there in the door, vacantly, doing nothing. I’d never seen him so still. Normally, Antonio would have burst in the door, and he would never have waited outside, even if Tsukumojuku ordered him to. But here he was, standing silently, not moving at all. Even as I wondered, Tsukumojuku said, “You didn’t say a single word to me on the way to school, Antonio. I assumed you were in shock – your mother had just been arrested, after all. But I was wrong, wasn’t I? I thought you smelled a little ripe, but good manners prevented me saying anything…this, too, was a mistake. Were there, in fact, two versions of This Year’s Antonio?”
The thing standing there was not Antonio, alive. I knew that. Antonio would never act like this.
“Would the person inside kindly step out?” Tsukumojuku said. The rest of the class finally realized that the thing in front of us was someone else wearing Antonio’s cast off skin. Julio and his cronies all took a big step back.
“I have a very good sense of smell. Despite the stench of the skin, I can clearly smell the shampoo you’ve used,” Tsukumojuku said.
“I can’t name the brand…but it’s the same shampoo Jorge…Jorge Joestar uses.” …………..? ??? Hunh? “What……?” I stammered. ‘Antonio Torres’ sighed.
“There are things you’re better off not knowing, Detective,” a girl’s voice said. A voice I knew.
“I didn’t want to frighten the children,” she said. Antonio’s back split open, and Elizabeth Straits emerged from within. Aaaaaaaahhh! The whole class screamed. I couldn’t scream.
As she came out of Antonio’s skin, Lisa Lisa looked so beautiful. Even more beautiful than I’d thought the night before. Wow, Lisa Lisa really is amazing, I thought. A strange realization that left me weirdly calm. Tsukumojuku said nothing, but his eyes shone with keen interest, watching her closely. She tossed Antonio Torres aside, wearing nothing but a corset and her underwear; nearly naked, but not at all embarrassed. She seemed supremely comfortable – she was like the women in the theater or printed advertisements, just smaller, and not yet as curvy.
“Wh-what’s going on here? Everyone stay quiet, I’ll take care of this,” Mr. Hernandez said, and went out into the brightly lit hall. Lisa Lisa ignored him. She pulled her dress out of Antonio’s bag, and put it on.
“My name is Elizabeth Straits,” she said.
“I’m a student at this school, a year ahead of you. What I’m about to say is very important. The person who murdered Antonio Torres is hiding somewhere nearby. The police and militia are searching for him, but we will need all of your help. We won’t ask you to do anything difficult, or dangerous. Quite the opposite – for your own safety, follow these simple instructions to the letter. First, you will all be summoned into the yard, where they will explain exactly what I’m about to say. From there, you must go straight home. Don’t stop to play, and make sure you pick a route that will keep you in direct sunlight the entire way. You are not to stop anywhere. Don’t go in any shops, don’t go to your friend’s homes, don’t step in the shade of any trees, and avoid going near the coast at all costs. I say this because we know the killer will be hiding in the shadows during the day. To remain safe, it is important that you all remain in the sunlight, and go straight home. Whatever you see, and whoever invites you to join them, pay no attention. Just go home.” Lisa Lisa had her fist held out in front of her, her index finger raised. We listened in silence, but the meaning of her words
was lost on us. The heat of summer was finally dying down, and all of us wanted to play outside. I had to avoid the main play spots like the park or the beach for fear of bullies, but even so, I wanted to at least go to the library or the candy store. But Lisa Lisa raised another finger, oblivious to our discontent.
“Secondly, once you have reached your homes, without ever leaving the sunlight…lock all the doors and windows. Don’t step outside again. If anyone knocks, do not open the doors. Don’t even answer. Sit absolutely still, not making a sound, until they give up and go away. No matter how well you know them, no matter how rude you feel this is…today alone, you must do this. The police have given everyone these same instructions, so anyone knocking should know better. Today is a day when nobody except your family is allowed inside your homes. Today you must all play quietly at home.” Except if the doors and windows were all shut it would get unbearably hot…? And saying at home sounded very boring. Others in the class were starting to grumble, but Lisa Lisa ignored them.
“Third! Once the sun goes down, let no one in. Not even family. If everyone fails to get home before sundown, then gather in the center of the house with everyone who did come home, and hide. If the missing people or anyone else arrive, don’t speak to them. Don’t answer if they call. Stay hidden until morning. Once the sun has fully risen, sneak out of the house, and go to the police station, or finds some policemen or militiamen patrolling.” Lisa Lisa now had three fingers raised, and her orders were becoming so unreasonable the grumbling grew louder.
“Be quiet and listen,” Lisa Lisa snapped. Everyone shut up instantly.
“Fourth,” she said, raising her last finger.
“At some point this evening, you may hear a commotion from a house near yours. Loud voices, sounds of fighting, even screams. Don’t go and see what’s going on. If you hear strange sounds or voices, do exactly as I said before; hide in the center of the house with your family, and wait for morning. Don’t speak to anyone. Don’t make any sound.
Wait for sunrise.” ………! What was going to happen tonight? As the meaning of Lisa Lisa’s instructions settled in, panic spread. Some of the girls started to cry.
“Are you done?” Tsukumojuku asked. He’d been listening attentively this whole time.
“So…someone murdered Antonio Torres. This someone…is weak to sunlight, but once the sun has set, there is a strong chance they will attack others at random,” he said, summing up the facts. Now I was starting to get scared. Tonight was going to be really really scary. Lisa Lisa was super cool, but also super vague…and not exactly building my confidence.
“So what are you?” Tsukumojuku asked.
“Since This Year’s Antonio is here, the skin you wore must be Antonio Torres’ actual corpse.” Bleeggghh. I didn’t want to believe it. I looked down at the skin on the floor. Why would she do something so horrible? “You made it look as if Antonio Torres was still alive. Not for my benefit,” Tsukumojuku continued.
“You were trying to catch the killer’s attention, and confuse him.”
“Yes. And not just that…”
“You were also trying to lure him out of hiding.”
“Then it appears to be working. Your sunlight-hating killer is already here.” Lisa Lisa turned, following his gaze. The hallway had been drenched in sunlight a minute ago, but was now dark and gloomy. The curtains had been pulled. We could hear the sound of more curtains being pulled down the hall. As scared as I was, somehow I found myself opening the door, and looking out into the hall. The man closing all the curtains was Mr. Hernandez. Why would he…?
“Mr. Hernandez?” I called. He stopped in the sunlight, his hand on a curtain, and turned towards me. There were cracks running across his face; pieces of it were crumbling away. There was a big hole in his forehead. The girls behind me began to shriek.
“What’s going on!? No! No! No!” Shnk. He closed the curtain. As he moved into the sunlight to close the next, his face crumbled further. Not just his head, his entire body was crumbling away. This wasn’t ‘weak to sunlight’. The sun was killing him. Shnk. As we watched him close the curtains, Tsukumojuku spoke to Lisa Lisa.
“So Antonio Torres really did have his blood and flesh and bones sucked out…now what, exactly, could do that to him? I was working on the assumption that nobody could….but that simply means no human could. But that assumption was wrong, wasn’t it? We’re not dealing with a human.”
“Let me ask again. You’ve summoned this thing here…so what are you? What power do you have?” I turned to look at her. I didn’t know this Lisa Lisa. She looked right at me.
“Since I was a tiny baby, I’ve been able to breathe in a special way – just like my adopted father, and, Jorge…like your father.”
“What…?” I asked. I’d never heard of this before.
“As a baby, I found myself in a situation even more dangerous than this one. I think I chose to learn how to breathe like this to protect myself.”
“My breathing gives me power, Jorge. I promise I’ll protect you.” This made no sense, but she flashed a smile at me, and stepped past me into the hall. The last curtain had been drawn, and the hall was shrouded in darkness. Mr. Hernandez stood perfectly still, clutching the last
curtain. He was clearly no longer alive. His head was completely gone, his left arm had fallen off, his waist had crumbled and his guts fallen on the floor, and the rest of him was crumbling into dust. He was dead. And he’d been dead the whole time he was closing the curtains. I had no idea how this could be. But I knew Mr. Hernandez had been human when he was with us, and I knew he had been desperate to close those curtains, but closing the curtains had killed him…so he had been closing those curtains for someone else. Someone who hated sunlight. Who had killed Mr. Hernandez, and forced him to make a path. I’d never imagined anything like this possible, but I knew it was true.
“Jorge, take a few steps back, please,” Lisa Lisa said, staring into the darkness.
“If you get too close you’ll get shocked.” Oh? I took a step back, but Tsukumojuku stood his ground. When I glanced at him, he said, “Experience is everything.” I was scared. But I couldn’t tear my eyes off Lisa Lisa.
“He’s here,” she said, her eyes narrowing.
“Mm? Hmm?” Tsukumojuku said, peering into the depths of the hall.
“Did Antonio have an older brother?” No.
“What do you…?”
“There’s a young man who looks just like Antonio Torres… standing on the ceiling.” What? I wanted to see but I wasn’t going out there. I couldn’t move a muscle.
“Señorita,” a voice said, apparently addressing Lisa Lisa. The voice had a strange sweetness to it, that made me feel dizzy.
“Have you seen my son?” Son? “He’s all right looking, but such an awful brat. I didn’t like his guts so I ate him whole, but then I heard he went to school this morning. I know he can’t be alive, so this is quite odd.”
He…ate him? I looked down at the floor, where Antonio’s skin lay.
“You mean the little turd that picked on my brother?” Lisa Lisa said. Her voice was trembling! “Don’t worry. He’s dead.”
“Mm? Is he? Was I mistaken?”
“I think he’s better off dead. I mean, his mother’s a pervert who enjoyed peeling his skin off, and his father’s such a terrible father he ate his own son. Dying must have been a relief.”
“……..” The man fell silent, but I heard a sound: fushhuuuu like a long breath.
“Alejandro Torres, if you had been a better father, my precious Jorge Joestar might never have been tormented by your piece of shit son. You will pay the price for that.” Suddenly, I remembered the promise I’d made last night. The only way to stop being scared was to start being brave. I was a boy, and couldn’t keep relying on a girl my whole life. Yet here I was cowering behind Lisa Lisa’s back. Fshuuuuuuuu. That sound again. Inhaling through his nose. He spoke.
“You shouldn’t talk to grown ups like that, young lady.” Lisa Lisa snorted.
“First you go skulking around pretending to be Spanish, now you’re pretending to be a gentlemen? Stupid.” Her voice was still trembling. I was sure her whole body was shaking like a leaf. But she was facing him. Conquering her fear. All I was doing was trembling. Nothing else. I was letting her do everything.
“Shut that filthy little mouth! I’m going to empty out your guts next!” The man screamed. Thunk thunk thunk thunk thunk! Footsteps coming down the ceiling. Lisa Lisa took a quick, deep breath, and started running. No. It was my turn.
I ran after her.
“Ah, wait, don’t be stupid!” Tsukumojuku called after me, but I didn’t stop. I raced down the hall, chasing after Lisa Lisa. Her back looked so small, her shoulders so frail. I had to get in front of her. The young man on the ceiling definitely looked just like Antonio Torres, but there were long pointy teeth sticking out of his open mouth, threatening Lisa Lisa.
“I’m gonna eat ya! Eat ya right up, little girl! Wahahahaha!” Laughing wildly, his feet left the ceiling. He spun in mid-air, lunging towards Lisa Lisa.
“I am Jorge Joestar’s guardian! I fight to protect his beautiful blood line! Breathe, Lisa Lisa! Indigo Blue Overdrive!” Her voice started as a whisper, and ended as a shout, her fist swinging forwards…just as I passed her, and, empty-handed and without plan, yelled, “Hey! Don’t ever hit a girl!” and put myself between Lisa Lisa and that horrible man. My sudden appearance caught Lisa Lisa off guard. Our eyes met for a second, but her fist didn’t stop. Her lips parted to say something, and her fist hit the floor just as the man with fangs landed, and looked at me. A ripple ran across the floor, a circle filled with some complicated pattern. When it hit the sinister young man, it knocked him back, and he instantly crumbled, like sand or ash.
“Oooooh! Wow, Lisa Lisa!” I yelled
“You idiot!” she shrieked, still surprised. A second later my back hit the floor, and a shock ran from my head down to my toes like I’d just been struck by lightning. I passed out.
When I woke up, it was the next morning, and everything was over. Straits was standing by my bed, and explained that the remains of Antonio and Alejandro Torres had been cleaned up, that everyone had spent a terrifying night hiding in their homes while
Straits and his friends went around the island killing monsters like Alejandro, and that they were confident the island was safe and La Palma could return to normal as soon as the sun rose.
“And Lisa Lisa?” I asked.
“She was out all night working with us. She’s exhausted, and fast asleep.”
“…is she mad at me? I messed up again, and got in her way.”
“…Jorge, the Joestars have never hesitated to put themselves in danger, and you are no different. But you’re still very young. Not everything you attempt will succeed. Grow up to be a fine young man, true of heart, and strong in spirit.”
“…do I have a power like Lisa Lisa’s?”
“…do you want it?” Did I want it? I shuddered at the very thought.
“Antonio’s father had fangs. And was…too young. And he could walk on the ceiling. He said he ate Antonio.”
“You fight monsters like that, Straits?”
“We do. And we train hard so we can have the power we need to fight them.”
“…I’m scared. I never want to see anything like that again. If I ever did…I’m sure I couldn’t move a muscle. My legs would freeze, and he’d eat me alive. I don’t want that. I’m scared of that happening. I don’t want to go anywhere near anyone like that again. I don’t want power like Lisa Lisa’s.” As I said this, I felt so pathetic I started crying. At the time, the fear had left me, but it all came flooding back. A heavy sort of fear, that made it hard to breathe; I was panting through my sobs. I was mad at myself for crying in front of Straits, but at the same time I thought, look how pathetic I am, how can anyone ask me to fight? Lisa Lisa is much more brave, let her handle it. I was awful. And that just made me cry harder.
“But you did move, didn’t you?” Straits said, patting me on the back. I didn’t say anything. What I’d done was just dumb. I was embarrassed.
Straits and company decided to stay in La Palma until it was time to take Lisa Lisa with them to Italy. They said they’d started her training in earnest while chasing the monsters. I didn’t want to hear about it, so I didn’t ask. I couldn’t meet Lisa Lisa’s eye, and she spoke to me less and less, and the mood in the house got so grim I was almost looking forward to her leaving. While I was still at home recuperating, Tsukumojuku came to visit. When I asked how things were at school, I heard I was hardly the only one absent due to shock. Julio, on the other hand, had come every day, and largely taken over Antonio’s role. He’d made it sound like he had no plans to continue persecuting me, though.
“Elizabeth mentioned it in passing, but apparently the Torres family were actually English. I looked into it. Their real name was Hightower. Antonio was born Anthony, and Alejandro was actually Alexander. They simply changed their names to seem more Spanish. They’d been in the railroad business in England, gone bankrupt, and washed up here…and with that history in mind, he may have targeted you.”
“…………” I had no response to that. It was all over. The Torres family had come to the Canary Islands broken, and had met their fates. La Palma was a bright, happy place; I still found it hard to believe such darkness had lain hidden in the shadows, or that Alejandro had really walked on the ceiling, fangs bared.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Coming to visit.” Tsukumojuku made a face.
“Yeah, well…when it all went down, I couldn’t do anything.”
“Ha ha, so? I don’t care about that. I’ve never really had a friend. Nobody’s ever come over to play.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“But, truth is, I think I’ve treated you rather coldly.”
“? Hunh? You did? I never really noticed. Why? …because I’m English?” I braced myself, expecting to be told he just didn’t like me. But what he actually said made no sense.
“Because I was a detective.” ? “…was? I don’t really get it, but…aren’t you still?”
“Maybe. But I’m not longer sure. And you can’t call yourself a detective if you aren’t sure.”
“Heh heh, not a care in the world, have you, Jorge Joestar? But I don’t think you’ll be able to lay back and let things wash over you forever.
“The time is drawing near. Let us talk about ‘certainty’. I call myself a detective. And I am perform the role well. I have my failures, and make mistakes, but I remain calm. Why? Because I am certain that I am a detective, and will solve the case. That is why I never hesitated to call myself a detective. You understand? In my mind, the word ‘detective’ is an honor. One others use to describe you, not something you ordinarily use to describe yourself. Artists don’t normally call themselves masters, or geniuses. They don’t describe their own work as masterpieces. Describing yourself as a detective is normally just as comical.”
“…um, I guess so? But it didn’t strike me as strange when you called yourself a detective.”
“That’s what’s weird. Why do we feel like I won’t get it totally wrong? You, others, even me. The cases a detective gets mixed up in are always extremely complicated, and filled with surprises. The criminals always use elaborate tricks, and there’s always at least one last minute plot twist. It should be completely impossible to reach the truth without any mistakes. Maybe once, but every time?”
“Mm…but you said you do make mistakes.”
“Yes. But in the end, I always find the truth, and solve the case.”
“Isn’t that good?
“But isn’t it also weird?”
“Um…are you under a lot of pressure? You mean everyone expect you to succeed, and that’s getting you down?”
“Not once. I’ve never felt pressured. I always find the truth.”
“Hunh. So what’s the problem?”
“That’s my point! There is no problem, and that’s the problem! I’m just a ordinary boy. Guaranteed success should be completely impossible.”
“So even though you always succeed, you think it’s weird that you do?”
“Exactly,” Tsukumojuku said, very earnest.
“Human beings do not generally have such clearly defined roles.”
“Mm…so you think you lack modesty?”
“No. I think I have no need of modesty. I’m confident that lack of modesty will never be a problem for me.”
“…so everything always goes your way, and you know it will?”
“Yes! I think we’re getting somewhere,” Tsukumojuku said, watching me intently.
“My ‘certainty’ comes from that. I don’t believe the world was made for me; I know it was. I’m not talking about the small boost to confidence than comes when things are going well for you. I mean I was chosen by the god of this world. And I know that I was. That’s why I can call myself a detective without a trace of shame, and have that cause no problems at all.”
“…..uh…..well, you’ve been very lucky. But I don’t see that this is a bad thing.”
“We’re drifting away from the point again, so let me say this, Jorge Joestar. I’ve been playing the role of the detective all this time, and I know exactly how it feels. Something like this cannot
occur without the arbitrary will of a ‘god’. I have something watching over me, something like a god, yet not God.”
“? ………ah ha ha, people do say, ‘God is with us.’“
“Gods do not care about the individual. They don’t play favorites. Even if they do give someone a role to play, they would not manipulate matters to the point of disrupting the natural order. What I have has the power of a god, but one that works only for me.”
“Let me say exactly what I mean. Say that I’m Sherlock Holmes. Then I’m certain that I have something outside of this world serving as my Arthur Conan Doyle. I am as certain of this as I am certain that I am a detective. And I have a name for this thing guiding me from somewhere not of this world. I call it: Beyond.”
He was delusional, I thought. He was too smart, and too successful, and got carried away or genuinely sick in the head. Or his natural modesty had been repressed and twisted until he had to believe in this guardian. Tsukumojuku wasn’t done spouting nonsense
“But here I am speaking in the present tense, when really, this is all in the past. Like I said at the start, I no longer have the certainty required to call myself a detective. My Beyond has abandoned me. I’m still me, but my role in this world is no longer guaranteed by Beyond. Beyond has chosen a new protagonist for this world…for this story. You, Jorge Joestar. This is the last thing I’m certain of.”
Hunh? What in the…?
“And the only reason I need to be sure it’s you is that I’m jealous of you. I would never have imagined that it could be this
terrifying to have the reason for your existence snatched away. I’ve never had thoughts like these before. It really drives home just how much I took for granted my position, and the peace of mind it brought. Sure, I had my rough patches, and things happened that were sad, or painful. But as long as I fulfilled my role, I was satisfied. And a life filled with satisfaction is something to be grateful for. I know that much, even at eleven. And because I’m eleven, I’m a little jealous that you’ve stolen my position. I’m just a kid, after all.” I was pretty sure I wasn’t to blame for whatever he was accusing me of, but beyond that it made no sense.
“So does this mean I have to become Sherlock Holmes, and act like a detective instead of you?” I asked. He blinked at me.
“Ah! Ha! Ha! No, I doubt it. Your story already has monsters and mystic powers in it, so I doubt you’ll end up being a detective,” he chuckled.
“I think you’ll play the character of Jorge Joestar in a story called Jorge Joestar.” Sure.
“Normal, then. I planned on doing that anyway.” Tsukumojuku gave me a very serious look.
“That’ll never happen. With Beyond at your side, your adventure will be without compare. Let me give you one piece of advice: You should believe. Remember that. Believe in Beyond, and you will overcome your fate.” He made it sound prophetic, but I couldn’t take it seriously.
But I did become friends with Tsukumojuku. Pretty much by the end of that day we’d become best friends, like I’d always dreamed of having. We talked about everything. My stories were always pathetic, but the tales Tsukumojuku told of his adventures were highly entertaining. He was Japanese, and his name could be written in kanji. The kanji used were the numbers 9, 10, 9, 10, and 9. Even in Japan, nobody else had a name like that. He’d been born in Fukui Prefecture, in a small town called Nishi Akatsuki. When
he was three, his archaeologist father took him to Africa, and when he was five he came to the Canary Islands with his mother. When he was six he began working as a detective, not just in the Canary Islands, but on the Spanish mainland, too. He’d even been called away to Egypt to solve a mystery. The cases he’d solved were as bizarre as he’d promised, and after solving so many incredibly complicated cases I could see why he’d start to wonder if some kind of god was on his side. I never did go back to school. Instead, I spent all my time playing with Tsukumojuku. It was almost time for Lisa Lisa to leave, but I was so busy enjoying friendship I’d barely spoken to her in weeks. I’d expected to be sad, but it was starting to look like a tearless farewell. Straits and his mysterious companions came over for dinner, and ate and drank a lot. Mum cried, and Lisa Lisa seemed to be as emotionally uninvested as I was. She just told everyone, “I will follow my destiny,” and didn’t really try and talk to me at all. I wasn’t…happy to have to go, but I had a new friend, and Antonio Torres was no longer around to torment me, so I was no longer that worried about the future, and I figured Lisa Lisa was glad she didn’t have to protect me all the time now. I didn’t tell her that, though. What I did say was this. After the big, noisy dinner, after the others had taken their drinks to the cigar room or the terrace, I heard a voice call my name, and turned to see Lisa Lisa standing there, in her green dress.
“Hey,” I said, and then didn’t know what else to say. I knew there was a lot I should say, but none of it seemed right.
“Since I was a little girl, I’ve always wondered why I wasn’t a Joestar,” Lisa Lisa said.
“I wished I could have been. Then Mama Erina would be my Mum, and you’d be my little brother, and I’d be your big sister.”
“But as I grew older I started to think maybe it was better this way.”
“Why? Would I have made things harder for you if you were my sister?” She laughed. I hadn’t seen her smile in a long time.
“Don’t be stupid, Jorge. No. What do you think, Jorge? Would you want me to be your sister?”
“Eh? I can’t even imagine it. I don’t know what to think. You’ll always be Lisa Lisa to me.” This was true. The idea has certainly crossed my mind, but I just couldn’t imagine a world where she was really related to me. And it had never occurred to me to wonder if it was a good thing that she wasn’t.
“Good,” Lisa Lisa said, smiling.
“Well, if we were brother and sister, then we couldn’t get married.”
“I don’t really get love, or any of that stuff yet, but…I am glad that I could marry you.” Married? To Lisa Lisa? “I can’t imagine that,” I blurted out. That wasn’t something to admit to any girl, least of all Lisa Lisa.
“Heh heh, you’re so rude!” she said, laughing.
“I love you, Lisa Lisa,” I said, quickly. I had no idea why I said that.
“Me too, Jorge. I love you, too.” What were we talking about? We went to bed, and when we woke up in the morning and went to see her off she just waved at me, and I can’t remember if she said anything else. Mum and I went back to the house alone, and I went out to play with Tsukumojuku.
In the new year, Tsukumojuku and I both turned twelve.
Being with him, we often encountered mysteries, and just in the Canary Islands I got mixed up in no less than three serial killer cases.
“What the heck? I can still do this detective thing just fine,” Tsukumojuku said, scratching his head. But he was really, really smart, and I couldn’t even manage to be as useful as Watson. When we were thirteen, we solved fifteen locked room mysteries, and when we were fourteen, we captured two serial killers, and when we were fifteen, we discovered the fifteen locked room mysteries from two years before were actually the work of a single criminal and captured the real killer. By ‘we’ I mean mostly Tsukumojuku. I thought we would spend high school in the same way, but shortly after capturing the killer behind the fifteen locked room mysteries Tsukumojuku had to go back to Japan, and I cried a lot. I really didn’t know how I could go on alone.
“Ha ha ha, that’s where Beyond comes in,” he said, standing on the docks. I hadn’t heard that word in a while.”
“This isn’t funny,” I said, but I knew he never joked.
“I’m serious. Do you remember what I said the first time we talked? The thing I told you to remember?” Believe in Beyond, and you will overcome your fate. I did. But I wanted to focus on how unhappy I was to be saying good bye to my first and only friend, and didn’t want to talk about that crap at all. There was no point in talking crap about how I was the protagonist of my own life here. I just really didn’t want to say goodbye to this handsome detective, who’d solved so many mysteries with me at his side.
“I’ll come to Japan someday. I’ll come find you, even on the other side of the world. And we’ll solve more cases together!” Or he’d solve them, at any rate.
“I kinda get the feeling that won’t happen,” Tsukumojuku said, laughing. I couldn’t believe it. He had no tact at all.
“No, I’m coming!” I insisted.
“If Beyond wills it,” he said, gave me a Japanese dictionary, got on a ship, and sailed away.
Three days later the boat carrying Tsukumojuku vanished off the coast of Florida. Five days later news of this reached the Canary Islands. I prayed every night for two months, but when the army found the boat at the bottom of the sea I had to settle for feeling deeply betrayed. I cursed God, and cried. I don’t know what plan you had, but the price for stealing my friend was very, very high. He was my first and only friend. He was amazing. He should have been the main character!
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