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Authors: Gregory Hughes

Summertime of the Dead

BOOK: Summertime of the Dead
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First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Quercus

55 Baker Street
7th Floor, South Block
London W1U 8EW

Copyright © Gregory Hughes 2012

The moral right of Gregory Hughes to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library

eBook ISBN 978 1 78087 997 0
Print ISBN 978 1 78087 552 1

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Gregory Hughes was born in Liverpool, the eighth child in a family of nine. Expelled from school, he spent several years in a home for wayward boys. He has travelled extensively around Japan and has a deep interest in its history and culture. His first novel,
Unhooking the Moon,
won the Booktrust Teenage Prize in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and the Branford Boase Award.

Also by Gregory Hughes


For Kodi Benjamin and India Roberts.
And for my dear old dad.

A special thanks to Anna Dingley for her knowledge of Japanese culture and the Kyumeikan dojo for their expertise in kendo. And to all the lovely people at Quercus for their help and support.


I woke on my fourteenth birthday feeling as brilliant as the sunshine that came through my window, but I never got up. I just lay there thinking about last night. I'd won my fiftieth kendo contest for my dojo and now I could apply for my sixth dan. My father would have been so proud. He was a champion himself, at one time, and he'd brought me to the dojo when I was only four years old. There's a photograph on my wall of that very day. Me holding a wooden sword and wearing a headband with the Rising Sun. Him dressed in his body armour and holding his headset. He looked so tall and distinguished.

My father didn't speak much. He was a quiet man. But he'd talk passionately about kendo for as long as you'd listen. And he knew all the stories of
the great samurai swordsmen, like Musashi, who killed his first man when he was no more than a boy. And Bokuden, who beheaded over two hundred of his opponents. And he knew much about the castles of our country and the generals who lay siege to them. In fact the next photograph is of me and my beautiful mother at Hemiji, the greatest castle ever built.

We went there when I was ten, the last vacation we'd ever take together. Dad died soon after. The truck he was driving slid off an icy road not far from Sapporo and he drowned in a lake. I've often imagined him struggling to climb through the cabin window. Then losing consciousness and floating in the water like a Japanese ghost. Grandmother often said he was a cold fish, but he wasn't. He was just a little quiet like I said.

My mother, who used to work as an air stewardess, now lives in Vancouver with her pilot boyfriend. She always sounds guilty in her letters, but she needn't be. I don't miss her so much and I'm glad she's happy. Anyway, I have the twins. They're in the next photograph over. Miko's on one side of me and Hiroshi, her brother, is on the other. I have my arms around them and our smiling
faces are pushed together. We're ten at the time but I've known them since I was six. And every time the kids from school see us they say, ‘Oh, look, it's the triplets.' Because we're always together and we always will be. Even now we're planning to get an apartment when we leave school.

I got up and put my bedroll and duvet in the built-in wardrobe and then I did a forward roll on the tatami floor. It's just something I do and I have the space. My bedroom's bigger than most people's living rooms.

‘Yukio, are you up?'

‘Yes, Grandmother.'

I sort of live with my grandmother. She has the ground floor of the house and I have the top. And I say sort of, because I only see her once a week, which is more than enough for both of us. I trotted downstairs and went into her room, which smelled of cat food and smoke. ‘Grandmother.'

She was in the back and so I switched on a lamp and looked at her photographs. They were of the Royal Family and not a descendant was missing. Grandmother worships the Royal Family, and I mean worships. You see, our emperors are said to be descended from the Shinto sun goddess, Amaterasu.
That's how they got their divine status. But when we surrendered to the Americans General MacArthur said they couldn't be divine any more. It must have been hard for Emperor Hirohito having to give up his divine status, and having to surrender. He did it for the good of his country, of course, and while Grandmother curses the day that he did, she still admires him. But her real hero is her husband, who died defending Iwo Jima with less than a dozen men. They'd run out of bullets and so they fixed bayonets and charged the Americans with empty rifles. They were cut to pieces, of course, but as Grandmother says, ‘It's better to die with honour than to live with shame.' Then I heard her come in behind me.

‘Morning, Grandmother.'

She sat with some dignity in her high-backed chair, like an empress taking a throne. And then putting a cigarette in a long thin holder she lit it. Grandmother likes to smoke. She smokes like a dragon and she drinks green tea by the ton. But I've never seen her eat, not so much as a rice cake.

‘I went out this morning and a Chinaman spat right in front of me! Why they spit so much I don't know. Their whole country must be as slippery as an ice-skating rink.'

Grandmother doesn't like the Chinese, or the Koreans. And she hates Americans. The only people she does like are well-dressed Japanese people. And even if you were well-dressed and Japanese, the chances are she still wouldn't like you.

‘And those peasants in the park should be beaten with sticks.'

I always found it funny that Grandmother thought Tokyo's homeless people were peasants. She kind of lives in the past.

‘And have you read the paper? Three politicians caught in a massage parlour with prostitutes. Their heads should be cut off.'

Grandmother's kind of bitter because she used to be rich, or her father did. And she was brought up like a princess with servants, and ponies, and people waiting on her hand and foot. But they lost everything after the war, or so she says. She owns this house, and a few more, and she's never short of money.

‘How is your sword training coming along?'

‘I was lucky enough to win last night's competition, Grandmother.'

‘Well,' she said begrudgingly, ‘you've never brought shame on the family. And you never will,'
she said in a threatening tone. ‘Now, what are you up to today?'

‘I'm going to hang out with the twins, Grandmother.'

She scoffed. ‘Why you associate with those children I don't know.'

‘We're the same age, Grandmother. I'm only a day older.'

‘But you are a man, Yukio, descended from a warrior clan! And they are just children!'

Grandmother could trace our ancestry back to the Takeda, a powerful samurai clan who reigned during the fourteenth century. She could even name names and quote dates. Grandmother might have been as ancient as a tomb, but her mind was as sharp as a machete. She pointed to some envelopes. ‘Money and cards from your mother. Take them and go.'

‘Thank you, Grandmother,' I bowed and left, and sprinted up the stairs to my room. I couldn't wait for the twins to come, and then I heard them outside.

‘Yukio, it's us.'

I went out on my balcony and looked down at their smiling faces. ‘Door's open,' I said.

I quickly looked at the cards and the cash and then I sat there pretending to read my manga.

I could hear the twins take off their shoes and shuffle upstairs. Then they came in smiling and knelt on the tatami floor in front of me. They were small, even for Japanese kids, and with me being tall I kind of towered over them. But they were good-looking kids, with bronze skin and almond eyes, and their hair was more brown than black. I joke around with them sometimes and call them cartoon kids, but they don't mind. There isn't a kid as happy as Hiroshi, and his sister Miko is as pretty as they come. And she's getting prettier every day. She took a present from her rucksack and bowing she put it in front of me.

‘Happy birthday, Yukio.'

I couldn't help but smile as I ripped the package apart, but I froze when I saw what it was. It was a pair of kendo gloves, which we call
, and they were the best money could buy. She must have spent all her babysitting money on them.

‘Do you like them?' she asked.

‘We didn't want your hands to get hurt,' said Hiroshi.

They didn't want my hands to get hurt. That killed me! ‘Yes, I like them.'

They could tell I was touched and so nothing more needed to be said.

‘Let's go swimming!' said Hiroshi.

‘OK,' I said, and put my stuff in my rucksack.

We stepped out into the brilliant sunshine and headed over to the Olympic Centre, just five minutes away. That's the great thing about where we live – everything's so close. We can walk to Shinjuku and Shibuya, and to Harajuku as well. And if we wanted to go to Ginza or Ueno we can take the train from Sangubashi station. And there's always things to do in Tokyo. The whole city's like a theme park. And if we had nothing better to do we just hung out in Yoyogi Park.

We walked behind each other, because the streets are so narrow, but then we made a dash for the crossing. But the beating gong sounded and the barrier came down and so we had to wait for the train. Miko put her hand on my shoulder. She's been doing that a lot lately. Then she looked up at me. ‘Congratulations on winning your competition.'

‘Who told you I won?'

‘You always win,' said Hiroshi.

I don't always win. But I've been winning a lot lately and people were starting to notice.

When the train passed the barrier raised and we walked across the tracks. Then running across the road we headed into the Olympic Centre.

‘I'll pay,' said Miko.

Me and Hiroshi hurried into the changing rooms and rushed to get changed. Then we ran out and dived into the empty pool. I swam submerged in the cool silent water with the sunbeams flickering above me. Reaching the other end I swam back. As I did I saw Miko's silhouette swimming above me. She could swim like a tuna and she never got tired. It was one of her many skills. But she couldn't swim as well as she could sing. Miko could sing like a superstar. Me and Hiroshi wanted her to enter one of the talent contests on the TV. But she wouldn't because she was shy.

BOOK: Summertime of the Dead
8.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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