I felt a bit weird as I entered the ramen shop. It must have been something in the coffee I left unattended for a while at the station.
“The usual I guess?” asked Takashi.
I was still feeling weird as I slurped my noodles. It felt like the wobbly motion I sensed, laying in bed after a heavy night of drinking.
Then slowly, the hallucinations began.
First, the noodles turned into writhing snakes. I tried my best to ignore it and focus on the flavor, but it was hard. I told myself I’d be fine, someone must have slipped something in my coffee.
The noodle snakes grew larger. And then, they started to talk to me.
“Hey, why so glum?”
“You don’t want to eat us?”
“We’re really tasty, you know.”
I tried my best to keep a straight face, but it was hard. The hallucinations were getting stronger.
I saw Takashi’s face start to warp and change. His features were melting like wax. I tried to look away, but it was like my eyes were glued to him.
He smiled at me, revealing a mouth full of sharp teeth. “Don’t worry, it’s just a little fun.”
I felt my stomach churn as I realized what was happening. I was under some sort of spell. Takashi had poisoned me, and now he was going to watch me suffer.
I tried to stand up, but my legs were like jelly. I tried to cry out, but no words would come.
The other customers started looking like ingredients. A tempura shrimp was looking out of the window. Some bok choy leaves were walking towards the toilet.
Then, the ramen shop door flung open.
I was expecting to see a gang of yakuza, come to exact revenge on Takashi. But instead, I saw a group of schoolgirls.
The leader of the group was a tall, imposing girl with long black hair. She looked like she could be in a yakuza movie. The other girls were shorter, and they all had different colored hair. They looked like they were in some sort of idol group.
“What the hell is going on here?” demanded the black-haired girl.
“I-I don’t know!” Takashi stammered.
The girl looked around the ramen shop, and her eyes settled on me. “You! What did he do to you?”
I tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out.
The girl turned to Takashi. “I’m going to give you to the count of three. One.”
Takashi was sweating now. “Please, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“I-I swear, I didn’t do anything!”
The girl raised her hand, and a ball of fire appeared in her palm. Takashi’s eyes widened in terror.
“No, please don’t!” he begged.
But the girl didn’t hesitate. She hurled the ball of fire at Takashi, and he was engulfed in flames.
I turned away, but I could still hear his screams.
The girl turned to me. “Can you stand?”
I nodded weakly.
The girl and her friends helped me to my feet.
“Let’s get you out of here,” she said.
I realized that these girls had just saved my life. But who were they? And how did they know Takashi was going to poison me?
The black-haired girl looked at me. “My name is Kurenai. I’m a student at the local high school. We were on our way to get something to eat when we saw Takashi putting something in your coffee.”
“Thank you,” I managed to say. “But why did you help me?”
“We couldn’t just stand by and watch someone be poisoned,” she said. “It’s not right.”
“But Takashi was going to kill me!” I said.
“We couldn’t let that happen,” she said. “No one deserves to die like that.”
I was starting to feel better now. The effects of the poison were wearing off, and I could think clearly again. The noodle snakes turned back to their normal self.
“But why did Takashi want to kill me?” I asked.
Kurenai looked at me. “I think you know the answer to that.”
I shook my head. “I don’t.”
“You know what Takashi did for a living,” she said. “And you know what happened to his boss.”
I felt a cold chill run down my spine. Takashi was a yakuza, and his boss had been killed in a gang war.
“I see,” I said. “Takashi was going to kill me because he thought I was going to rat him out to the police.”
“That’s right,” she said. “But you don’t have to worry about that anymore. You’re safe now.”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she said. “Just be more careful in the future. Not everyone is as nice as we are.”
I nodded and watched as she and her friends walked away.
I had a feeling that I would be seeing them again soon.