Peddling down the street on her pink, white-walled bike she felt the cool morning breeze rush past her bare ears. Turning down a wide side street in the heart of the suburb she spotted what she was looking for, though of course she knew right where it was all along. Coasting to a stop she jumped off her seat and in one fluid motion tossed the bike into a large shrub on the side of the road, so eager she didn’t care part of the handle bars were still visible, peeking out from the waxy manicured leaves. Skipping to the middle of the road she stopped and glanced around. A heavy fog rested over the still sleepy houses, each two stories tall with three windows to spy on the gardener from. Everything was quiet, and she was alone. Crouching down she laced her fingers through the slimy manhole cover’s slits. Rusty and crusty from stagnation as it was, she gave a hefty pull. She felt her arm muscles tighten as the cool metal dug into her fingers. Digging in her heels she puffed out a breath and pulled again, the cover finally shifted an inch with a metallic clank. Breaking out in a grin, she hauled it to one side, creating a slit of an opening. Dropping on all fours, she pulled out a flashlight and flicked it on, the yellow light falling on an old steel ladder descending into darkness. A strong stench of algae and rotting things danced around her nose eagerly, long cut off from the world above. “Perfect,” she smiled. Clenching the flashlight between her teeth she weaseled her way into the hole, her feet groping until one foot, then the other, found purchase on the rungs of the ladder. A chill of anticipation ran up her spine as she took one more glance around before ducking her head low and disappearing down the hole, the dimming echoes of her footsteps falling on absent ears.
“Even a one inch worm has a half inch soul.”
– Japanese proverb
As Kenta fell back, head cracking against the pavement, he looked up. The sun’s white light blinded him. Dark figures loomed, laughing. A foot came down on his temple. He curled into a ball, doing his best to shield already bruised skin. The assault continued until the group of boys grew bored.
“Ey, what’s wrong?” One said, prodding Kenta with a stained shoe.
“He just can’t stand up for himself,” another commented.
“Least not now.” A round of laughter accompanied the words.
Kenta felt his face harden. “Dumbasses.” The boys stopped laughing. Slowly, tenderly, Kenta unfurled himself and rolled over onto his back. They were right. He couldn’t stand. Everything hurt too much.
“What did you say?” One more foot, one more dash of light. When Kenta opened his eyes he saw a worm, dead, an inch from his face. The same old scene—guts busted out through pink skin, sticky now from exposure.
A little time had passed, not much since the sun was still up, but the group of boys were gone. Kenta looked at the worm and sighed despite himself. It was likely stepped on during the attack, going unnoticed. “A half an inch of life my ass. What a shitty way to go.” Kenta thought. “A half an inch of pride is better.” Struggling, he made his way to his knees before standing with the aid of a dumpster. Holding his side, he limped to the street and turned a corner.