The wind began to blow gently, causing the windows of the sitting room to rattle as if in pain. The air is dry, Narazaki thought. If I lit a fire, I wonder if it would all burn. The pillars, the ceiling, everything holding this mansion together.
“Yeah, we should start from the beginning,” Mineno said.
“It’s pretty complicated . . . You were very serious when you showed us this picture. So we should be serious, too, and explain everything thoroughly.”
All sorts of people would gather to hear Matsuo-san speak on the second Saturday of every month. Some people were drawn to his personality, but others saw something sacred in him. Most of those people had been involved with some other religion but had lost hope in their various faiths. There were also suffering youths. People who had been failed by their friends, or lovers, or the companies they worked for, or maybe even another religion. There weren’t many, but a few came to study—study how to start their own religion. To use Matsuo’s talks as references for their own sermons. Anyone who had been attending the talks for a long time could spot those types immediately. They were always focused on results, and they had voices that cut right through you. They left unpleasant impressions.
There was one man who appeared to be in his fifties who called himself Sawatari, but that may not have been his real name. Five years ago, there was an incident at one of Matsuo’s regular Saturday talks. The talks were the most popular they’d ever been. About two hundred people were gathered in the garden. In the middle of speaking, Matsuo suddenly collapsed. Later we learned he’d had a stroke. The moment he fell over, Mineno and the other long-time attendees panicked and rushed to the stage. But from the audience a voice declared that Matsuo had been possessed by god. I’ve seen this before, the voice said. A god has descended upon him.
Everyone grew frantic. The person who said they’d “seen this before” revealed they meant they’d seen it at a service at another church. Others who were new to the talks misunderstood, and assumed the person meant Matsuo had collapsed before. When some people tried to help Matsu, others shouted, “Don’t get in the way!” and, “If you interrupt he may die.” Some attendees thought the collapse was part of a staged act, that this was proof that we were some shady cult, and they were shouting out of anger and disillusionment. There was total chaos.
“It was something of a blind spot we had,” Mineno said quietly. She seemed scared. “Since we didn’t get too involved with the participants and simply gathered instead, no one really knew anyone else . . . If we’d had officers to manage the group, it probably would have been easier to handle the situation. And at the time, Matsuo-san’s wife, Yo-chan-san, was out . . .”
Those who tried to rush to Matsuo were stopped by force. Folding chairs collapsed and confusion spread. Thanks to Yoshida, who called an ambulance, medics soon arrived, but some of the audience members tried to stop them from coming in. Fights broke out. The paramedics must have been confused. There was screaming and weeping. But gradually attitudes changed as people realized the old man really had collapsed. Eventually, they managed to get Matsuo on a stretcher.
Matsuo’s life was saved, but he could no longer move his left arm. If he had made it to the hospital a little sooner, they might have been able to prevent that. But Matsuo didn’t blame anyone. No one had done anything wrong. Those who‘d mistaken what was happening for a spiritual phenomenon— those people who had experienced so much unhappiness and hoped to be saved—they only wished it could be the truth. They saw things the way they did because of their pure desire to be saved by something great. One could even say that Matsuo’s paralyzed left arm was born out of their suffering. “This isn’t enough,” Matsuo later said. “One left arm can’t take on all their suffering. Not that I have the right to do that, anyway.”
Since that incident five years ago, the talks had changed. Many people were disappointed that Matsuo was not holy, and others put distance between themselves and the group after experiencing that strange disturbance.
While Matsuo was in the hospital, people still assembled every second Saturday, hung around for a while even though there were no lectures. That’s when Sawatari showed up. He’d watched the uproar when Matsuo collapsed, unmoved. He saw that those frantic people who believed Matsuo had actually been possessed would be easy to manipulate. Yoshida watched from afar as Sawatari made his way among the gathered crowd, talking to people. In less than a half hour, he had collected a group of people who were crying in front of him. That day, Sawatari took about fifty participants with him and vanished. Many of the people who followed him were highly educated. Later they would realize they still had more to learn about him.
“Matsuo-san was scammed,” Mineno said quietly.
“Someone asked him to donate part of the land he owned for a charity hospital, and without thinking much about it, he handed it over. But that land was never used for a hospital.
Before he knew it, it was sold and resold, and was eventually used to build a highway. But that’s not all. We don’t know the details, but the contract he’d signed had a stipulation sneaked in that required him to give up more and more, and he suffered a pretty big loss. The scam was carried out by a sham investment firm Sawatari was involved with. Matsuo-san doesn’t like to talk about it—really, none of us know anything about Matsuo-san’s life before he showed up at the mansion—but it seems Matsuo-san and Sawatari have a long history together. Anyway, Sawatari took a chunk of Matsuo-san’s property and a bunch of the people who used to come here and vanished. And . . .” Mineno suddenly went quiet.
Yoshida finished the story. “That woman you’re looking for, she was involved with that investment firm. She’s one of the people who scammed Matsuo-san. She vanished with Sawatari— or maybe it’s more accurate to say they returned to their own cult.”
“Their own cult?” Narazaki repeated.It seems the Bureau just calls them X, since they have no name. It’s a pretty frightening name.
“Yes. She’s not here. They’re part of a nameless cult. They came to the attention of the Public Security Bureau once, and after that they went underground. It seems the Bureau just calls them X, since they have no name. It’s a pretty frightening name. Maybe there’s some other reason they use it, but I’m not sure. The woman you’re searching for, and we’re searching for, is there.”
This dark room. How much longer will I be here? One week? One month? This tiny room. Walls all around me. My head hurts. No, maybe it doesn’t. I saw it a second ago—ah, a door. There’s a door. Mom? If I just close the door, it’ll be okay? It’s not okay. Not at all. It’s not okay because there’s a hole in that door. Because I used the drill from the woodshop to make a little hole.
I don’t feel hungry any more. There’s no strength left in my body. When was the last time I ate something? When was the last time I drank something? A sound. I heard a sound. There’s a warmth rising up from deep within my body. It’s a happy warmth. A sound. I heard a sound. Just now, I heard someone knocking. But from where? From the other side of these walls? That sound, it’s telling me I haven’t been forgotten. Knocking. They remember me. Thank you! Thank you so much! Even though it hurts so much, even though there’s nothing left for me to throw up, I feel myself far more clearly than when I was working at that company. What should I say? If I just close the door it’ll be okay? Do you think so, Mom? Myself, much clearer—I exist. That should be obvious. But it’s not. Now I know I exist. Now I am here, full of pain. No, I exist in this space as pain. I’ve become pain, and am here, in this world. Now I am here, full of pain. No, I exist in this space as pain. I’ve become pain, and am here, in this world. My arms and legs. My organs, my genitals, my body can’t move anymore, but my mind feels like it’s boiling over. A flood of consciousness. I’m so aware, I want to vomit . . . Where is that woman? Or was that just a dream? If I just close the door, it’ll be okay? Do you really think so, Mom? The second floor of that run-down hostess club. The scary second floor, where the windows rattled on windy days. I knew I shouldn’t do it. I knew I shouldn’t look. But even though I was just in elementary school, I couldn’t help it. I wanted to see. I wanted to watch and play with myself. You, taking that strange man in so beautifully with your sturdy hips. You, taking him in so beautifully, and liking it. If I just close the door, it’ll be okay? I was jealous of those men. If I paid twenty thousand yen, could I do that to you? Should I say more? I wasn’t just jealous of those men holding you. I can’t stop the words from pouring out. I don’t feel like I need to stop them. I was jealous of you, too! Those men, those men filled with lust, they didn’t care about me in the next room. They didn’t care about me. They just wanted you. Those men, with those strong bodies, their violent passions, you took them in with your sturdy hips. You’re amazing, Mom. You could just keep taking everything those big men had. All of it, all of it, with a face that looked so, so, so happy it made me burn. I wanted to be like you. I wanted to be wanted like that. No one would ignore me. They’d want me too much. And then, and then after. And then I began to empathize with girls when I had sex. I didn’t worry just about my pleasure. I imagined the woman’s pleasure, pleasure that would burn her up . . . That’s why I can drive women wild. So intense, so intense. Ahh! I thought I was good. I thought I was a coward. But just that part of me—just that part was strong enough to ruin my life. What is this music? Oh, I know. I know this song. I’ve heard it so many times in this room. It’s Bach. Bach. “I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” But why? Why this song with those images? Men gathering around my mother and this song? There’s no way. Could Jesus Christ have been there? When I got on all fours and brought my eye up to the hole and watched you in the throes of pleasure, I felt like I was being called by something. I was being led by something. Could that have been Jesus Christ? Was he there? Was he there somewhere? No, was he the place itself? Savior? No. Not savior. Not savior, fear. It was fear. Why did Jesus Christ show me fear? Because it’s my true being? Is that my true being? Did Jesus Christ show me my true being? Why? To lead me somewhere? To what sort of abyss? Why? Why would he be so cruel?
Knocking. Thank you. I haven’t been forgotten. But my vision is getting cloudy. The door? If I just close the door, it’ll be okay? My true self. My vision . . . I feel like I’m going to vomit. Nothing comes out. My throat spasms a little. I can’t tell if it hurts, or if it feels good . . . What? The door? The door is opening?
Light streamed in from the other side of the door. Collapsed on the floor, the skinny man looked up toward that light. It wasn’t strong, but he had been in the darkness so long it was bright to him. Is that light? the skinny man wondered. Ah, there are people. There are people.
“Are you all right? Congratulations! You did well. You did very well.”
The long-haired believer helped the skinny man up and led him from the small room. There was light everywhere. The long-haired believer was crying. The skinny man felt his body grow warmer. For me? Are they crying for me?
“Ohhh . . .”
“Don’t worry. You don’t have to speak. Congratulations.
The leader will meet you.”
The leader? Really? The skinny man’s body began to tremble. For me? Oh, there are so many people. They are all smiling at me. Some are crying for me. For me? Thank you. You were the ones who knocked for me, right? You were the ones who kept knocking for me, to let me know I hadn’t been forgotten, right? A warmth spread through the skinny man’s body. Have I ever felt this much, this much joy?
The skinny man was led by the long-haired believer up the stairs. To the twenty-first floor. The twenty-first floor, where only the chosen can enter. I get to go to the twenty first floor! Me . . . At the edge of his blurred vision, he saw a door. Their steps rang out on the hard stone tile covering the expansive floor. His consciousness faded, but all the sounds resonated through his body. There was a massive door. All he could see was that tremendous door.
The long-haired believer spoke again. “I cannot go any farther. Congratulations. The leader will meet with you shortly. You must be so moved. You must be so happy.” The door opened. It was dark inside. The leader was sitting in a chair. He could tell from just one look—that was the leader. I came here to meet you. I came here to meet you. To meet you. To meet you. I was born to meet you.
“You have overcome. You are wonderful.”
The leader’s voice was low but strong. The skinny man collapsed in tears.
“Your life of suffering, your unrewarded life will end today.”
“. . . Yes.” The skinny man stared up at the man speaking, tears streaming down his face.
“No one will hurt you here.”
“. . . Yes.”
“There are no idiots here, no one who will fail to recognize your strength.”
“. . . Yes.”
“There is no one here who will interfere with your life.”
“. . . Yes.”
“You are my disciple. My irreplaceable disciple. To us, to me, you are an irreplaceable friend.”
The skinny man continued to cry, unable to stand. “Your life is here. All your reasons for living are here. I plan to change this world. I want your help.”
The skinny man rose to his knees, and joined his hands together as if praying to the leader. His tears would not stop flowing. They were so violent and warm he didn’t know what to do.
“Leader.” What in this life has meaning? My comforts, dreams, pride? “I give you my life, leader.” I give it all to you. “I am yours.”
“Since they have no name, we have nothing else to call them,” Yoshida said under his breath. “Cult X.”
Excerpted from Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura, used with the permission of the publisher, Soho Press. Copyright © 2018 by Fuminori Nakamura.