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What I like about convenience stores is that you can buy anything, anytime, and no one’s going to say a thing.

Correction — I liked.

Everything changed that morning. I’d just finished “work” — in quotes because it was just me trying to sell merchandise online unsuccessfully — and strode into the convenience store next to my apartment to get dinner.

To get instant noodles. There was a new flavor: Italiano. Wait, Italian instant noodles? The cup was green, white, and red. And the photo featured pieces of corn, oregano, French bread, etc. Would this product make Italian pasta chefs…

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“I’m going to buy a lot of groceries,” Sumire said. “I need you to come with me.”

I sprung from the sofa. True, I’d accompanied Sumire to the supermarket many times before. True, I was free today. True, I enjoyed this kind of modern food hunting with my wife.

But … “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

Sumire blinked at me, then winced with a gasp. She must’ve realized what I was talking about.

Three days ago, at her sister’s, she’d been dressing her two-year-old nephew, who’d just woken up. Who’d been nodding off too close to Sumire —…

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Trigger warning: suicide is depicted in this story.

I’m being haunted by a monster. She doesn’t want to kill me. Worse than that, she won’t let me die.

I first met her on a gray winter evening. Well, maybe not gray; I had no way of telling what the color of the sky was, the color of the horizon — because I was in my apartment.

More specifically, I was in my kitchenette, staring at the knife rack. Who would’ve thought cooking as a hobby — and for survival — would’ve come in handy now?

Obviously, I shouldn’t use the…

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I was driven by impulse. Curiosity. Maybe I was crazy. Maybe I cared more about the effect than the cause.

So I created an account on the freelance platform. Username: Mr. Rental. Role: Service provider. In the About Me section, I wrote that I was a thirty-two-year-old bachelor living in Shinjuku. No need to lie, since I wasn’t committing a crime. For my profile photo, I chose a headshot. Just me with my average small eyes, my average white skin, and average short hair. The photo didn’t have to be exciting or alluring; its only purpose was to let clients…

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Mio caught Sora’s hand right before he could slide it under her jeans.

“Too fast?” He unlatched his lips from hers and sat on the edge of the bed.

She joined his side, her head lowered enough to make her bangs hide her eyes. “That’s not the problem.”

“It’s an ‘unsafe’ day? Don’t worry, I have condoms in the drawer.”

“It’s not that.”

“It’s a ‘red’ day? Don’t worry, I don’t mind blood. We can just use a towel.”

“It’s not that.”

He blinked his narrow eyes at her. “So you don’t want to have sex?”

She leaned toward him…

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Manabu had been standing in front of this convenience store for almost half an hour. His feet shuffling. His heart rattling.

He wasn’t going to rob the cash register. Or hit on the clerk. Or buy condoms. This feat would be more daunting than any of those.

It was okay. Manabu was wearing sunglasses, a surgical mask, and a loose hoodie (with the hood up). It’d be hard to recognize him. Remember him. Even tell whether he was a man or a woman. …

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“You’re sleeping again?” Risa petted Neku, who was curled up in her cat bed like a donut, one caked with chocolate and caramel.

Neku had been sleeping a lot lately — more than the average cat, that is. Risa would wake up, and she’d be asleep. Risa would come back from work, and she’d be asleep. Risa would go to sleep, and she’d be asleep. Neku only rose to go to her food bowl and litter box. The veterinarian had said this was normal for an elderly cat. …

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The first item of The Pile was Masao’s electricity bill.

He was on his way out of his apartment when his eyes veered to the mail catcher. He tucked his hand inside, expecting something dreadful like a wrong delivery, a legal document, or —

The electricity bill. Right, it was about time to pay it — Masao could do that tomorrow. Or the day after. Tokyo Electric Power Company wouldn’t mind if he delayed a bit.

He tossed the electricity bill in the middle of the room and stepped out of the door.

Masao was looking for a pen in…

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Susumu’s first accident happened when he least expected it.

His day started hurriedly. He was late for work. So he washed his face and brushed his teeth without combing his hair. Then he put on his black suit and blue tie and sprinted out of his apartment without having breakfast.

As he trotted down the sidewalk, he thought about the day that lay ahead.

He’d have to organize spreadsheets just for the sake of organizing spreadsheets. Attend meetings that were about meetings. Work for the only purpose of keeping working.

That wouldn’t be the worst. Susumu would have to endure…

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When I stepped into the dining room, I was greeted by an unusual sight. It was subtle like a soy sauce stain on a black T-shirt.

Kaito had left some slices of onions from the gyudon. And the bottle of beer was half full (or half empty). I frowned. He’d never left a single grain of rice or a drop of drink before.

Perhaps Kaito had stomach problems? Perhaps he’d snacked at work? Perhaps he’d thought today’s food wasn’t good?

Perhaps I was overthinking this.

I gathered the plates and carried them to the kitchen.

The next evening, Kaito left…

Alexandro Chen

I write stories featuring romance, dark humor, and Japan. By the way, I’m writing a novel:

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