The Bronze Devil

Chapter 5

The Luminous Watch

Ryunosuke Tezuka, Shoichi Tezuka’s father, surely harbored his own share of such concerns.

Tezuka-san was drafted into the army when he was in his thirties and spent the next grueling five years in combat. Returning home after the war, he was relieved to find that his house in Minato Ward had survived the firebombing raids. A long illness, however, had left his wife in a pitiful condition. Perhaps relieved at finally seeing his face after so long, she departed this world a few days later.

In a cruel but blessed contrast, in his five-year absence, Shoichi and his younger sister Yukiko, had grown up healthy and strong, now much bigger than Tezuka-san might have allowed himself to imagine. Shoichi turned thirteen that year, Yukiko eight.

Ryunosuke Tezuka had been quite wealthy before the war began. The war depleted most of his assets, leaving the family with only their large manse. The three of them, along with a houseboy and a maid, were later joined by six members of a family whose home was destroyed during the war. Even so, the big house felt hollow and empty.

These circumstances notwithstanding, Tezuka-san held tightly to a treasured item he swore he would never part with.

The large pocket watch was reportedly once the prized possession of the king of a small European country. Notable not only for the finely engineered movement, the exquisitely engraved platinum watch, its case inlaid with diamonds and other gemstones, was a work of art in its own right. Because of the way the jewels sparkled like a rainbow in the dark, it came to be called the Royal Luminous Watch.

Reading about the “Bronze Devil” in the newspaper aroused in Tezuka-san a great deal of anxiety. The existence of the Luminous Watch was hardly a secret, stories about it having graced the society pages in the local dailies and periodicals. He could not imagine that this malevolent monster remained unaware of it.

Shoichi shared his father’s concerns, so much so that he felt it necessary to raise the subject himself.

“Dad, is the Luminous Watch going to be okay?”

“So you’re worried about that bronze robot too?” His father answered him at once, his face creased with worry. “We’ll be okay. No matter how many of these monsters there are, they won’t lay a finger on the watch. It’s inside a safe in the steel-reinforced concrete storehouse. Even if they managed to break into the storehouse, the safe is impervious. Breaking into that concrete storehouse is hardly something that could be done on the sly.”

Though Tezuka-san’s words brimmed with confidence, Shoichi couldn’t imagine that his father’s thoughts were entirely free of the fretful anxiety.

He pressed, “Are you sure everything’s okay? This is no ordinary thief. Every time somebody chases it, it vanishes into thin air! Like a ghost that can squeeze through the smallest gap.”

“Does such a creature really exist? If you’re that worried about it, I suppose posting guards outside the storehouse wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

In fact, for the past several days, Tezuka-san had seriously considered employing a security service. And then an alarming incident occurred that very evening that brought into stark relief the very concerns he and Shoichi had been discussing.

Shoichi had gone out to the yard to admire the crimson clouds illuminated by the setting sun. After that, he decided to check out the dusky grove of trees at the back of the property. He couldn’t say afterward exactly why he did so, only that he was struck by a vague sense of foreboding.

The back yard of the Tezuka house was about an acre in size, with landscaped hills, a pond, and a grove of trees along the property line. The grove hadn’t been pruned or maintained during the war. The ground was thick with fallen leaves that rustled ominously underfoot.

As if drawn by a magnetic presence, Shoichi walked into the cool and shaded grove. Five or six steps through the dense line of trees—each one wider in circumference than he could reach his arms around—it was already too dark to see half a dozen feet in front of him. He couldn’t help feeling as if he’d wandered aimlessly into a big forest.

His ears picked up a strange sound, something other than the dry leaves crunching beneath his shoes. It was like seashells scraping together, or like the trill of insects, but those didn’t occur at this time of year. More like a human being grating his teeth.

No sooner did that thought cross his mind but Shoichi caught his breath and came to a halt. He stopped walking. The sound went on. And grew louder.

Ah, that infamous grinding sound. Shoichi hadn’t heard it himself before. He’d read articles in the newspaper that described it. Didn’t the machinery of the Bronze Devil make such a grating, grinding sound?

Indeed it did. The Bronze Devil must be hiding in the shadows of the trees! Despite his initial impulse to holler and run, a sense of icy dread froze his muscles and vocal cords.

A few steps ahead of him, hidden beneath the veil of the dusky twilight, something was shifting about. As much as he did not want to, his eyes remained rooted on the spot. He could not help but see what was lurking there.

It appeared from behind a big tree. In the darkness, Shoichi couldn’t make out the details at first, but there was the bronze face and the bronze body. It was not wearing any clothes. Here was the monster in all its metallic glory.

Its eyes gaped wide open like caverns in the side of a cliff. From the back of those two holes glimmered two dots of light. The pupils of a demon. The crescent-shaped mouth formed a black crevice.

A perfect match for the descriptions in the newspapers except many times more terrifying.

With a stiff and mechanical gait, the monster lumbered toward Shoichi, the whirring sound from the meshing of gears growing louder with each step. Shoichi looked on without moving a muscle. Not because of any great courage. He just kept staring at his opponent, overcome by the feeling that arose in a person on the verge of losing consciousness.

The monster held out its right hand. Clasped between the hinged bronze fingers was a sheet of paper. Striking a pose both awkward and menacing, he thrust it toward Shoichi, as if to hand it to him.

Shoichi had neither the courage nor the inclination to take it. He just stood there motionless like a petrified tree. The monster took another step toward him and bent at the waist. Almost about to completely cover Shoichi’s head, the monster issued a piercing noise from its crescent-shaped mouth. Resembling metal scraping against metal, it was louder and different from the sound of gears.

There was meaning in the creaking reverberations, like words emerging from the static of a half-working radio.

“Tomorrow night—”

Maybe he was only hearing things but Shoichi was certain that was what the monster said.

“The Luminous Watch—”

Those five words comprised the essence of what Shoichi grasped from the rasping noise. As he mulled them over in his head, the monster straightened, turned, and clunkily marched off like the machine it was, slowly disappearing into the falling gloom. The sheet of paper fluttered to the ground behind it, as if it expected Shoichi to pick it up.

Those five words comprised the essence of what Shoichi grasped from the rasping noise. As he turned them over in his head, the monster straightened, turned and marched off in its mechanical gait, slowly disappearing into the falling gloom. The sheet of paper fluttered to the ground behind it, as if it expected Shoichi to pick it up.

Even after the monster disappeared from view, Shoichi stood there in a daze for several minutes until he could finally gain control of his limbs again. Then he plucked up the paper and bolted back to the house.

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