Friday, May 27, 2016

Soyokaze Stories: Miko, My Miko


(There is music at the bottom of this post to play while reading if so inclined. :) )

Miko Takara started to fish another cigarette out of her purse, but thought better of it when her stomach growled.

She crossed her legs and looked at her watch again. The next tram was due in 30 or so minutes. She told herself that she was done after that. He had his chances - three now - and this was it. Making her wait in this old station - it was a crime. A travesty.


A man in a white blazer stood at the far end of the station. He leaned against the railing and puffed at the stub of a cigarette before flicking it onto the tracks. She hated people who didn't take responsibility for their own waste. She was sure that he was leering at her as well.

She looked away as the white blazer man moved towards her. This was the topper for the afternoon. She was fuming.




"The next tram doesn't come through for another 30 minutes. You might want to consider getting on this one. It seems like you've been waiting for a while." The white blazer man motioned to the tram behind Miko. She absently glanced back.

"Yes, I know. I'm waiting for someone." She managed a polite, dismissive smile.

"Ah..yes...yes...sorry to disturb you. I just wasn't sure if you were waiting for...." He waved his hand and laughed the rest away. His waving hand slipped into his blazer as smoothly as a snake and slipped back into view with a packet of cigarettes. His fingers popped against the case and a single cigarette popped out from the top of the packet. Miko was sure this was a practiced move set to win over the hearts of college girls. Ridiculous.  Yet, before she knew it, she was reaching for the proffered cigarette and nodding her thanks. She slipped it into her mouth and waited for him to light it.

"I'm very sorry for bothering you," he said as he lit the cigarette with his silver lighter. Was that a robot on the side of it? Miko held back a laugh. A grown man with a robot lighter.

"Not a problem." She nodded again and checked her watch. He seemed nice enough, but she didn't need company right now.

"Gundam." He smiled a wide, silly smile as he showed her the lighter. "My daughter bought it for me. I have a passion for Mobile Suits."

Miko chuckled. She was caught off guard by the man's honestly. "Who doesn't?" She smiled.

The man looked at the lighter and his mouth curved into a sweet smile. A smile created from fond memories and cherished moments. "She's a sweetheart. She'll be on the 3:30 along with your friend." He pocketed the lighter. "I'm treating her to a night in Soyokaze. Big spender, huh?" He chuckled. "When your friend gets here, you two might want to try Kogane no - the food is fantastic."

Miko nodded again, slightly embarrassed and wondering if he had heard her stomach from way over there. "We'll look for it. Thank you."

"Well, take care." He bent forward slightly and nodded his head. He meandered back to his spot at the railing and she watched as he lit another cigarette and checked his watch again.

Chimes twinkled brightly and a voice drifted over the small speaker above her head.

"The next tram from Kokubunji will arrive in 30 minutes."


••


"I'm so sorry! I missed the train. I couldn't get out of work. I'll get the next one?" The man's voice crackled through the phone like he was talking through paper.

Miko held the phone to her ear, but only half listened.

She stared off down the platform as the white blazer man hugged a lovely girl with a ponytail. He pulled her to his side as they made their way towards the path. He was much taller, but she could see the resemblance in their faces. As they passed, Miko smiled toward them as the girl chastised the white blazer man playfully for still smoking.  The man waved to Miko, but said nothing.

"Miko-san? Miko-san?" The voice again - buzzing in her ear like a mosquito. A fly.

"Don't bother coming." Miko's voice was sad and tired.

"Miko-san, I--"

Miko hung up and turned off her phone before slipping it back into her purse. She stared off towards Soyokaze Temple and took a deep breath. "Bastard." Her stomach growled again and she glanced around to see if anyone was in earshot.

Miko stood and made her way toward the path in search of food.  Maybe that Kogane no place the man spoke about.

She wished she asked what his name was.


  


Soyokaze Stories: Harbor


The gray haired man stared down towards the group below with disdain and indignation. How dare they?! It was pathetic - this mob behavior. He checked his watch. They had been at this for hours. He'd be damned if it was going to stop him from leaving the building again. Having to have lunch brought in was one thing, but being held hostage by protestors in his own building? That was outrageous.

"Did you need me to call someone, Sir?"

He turned to face his assistant - his face a blank as if he didn't know what she was saying.

"A car? Additional police officers? Namura is doing his best, but...there are so many of them now." She rubbed her arm. "It's disturbing."

He snapped himself back into awareness. "No, thank you, Miss Tanaka. I'll be fine."

"I'm worried. Perhaps setting a meeting to talk through the harbor planning would...." She was cut off by his stern and warning tone.

"Miss Tanaka. I will not be blackmailed or threatened into meeting with hostile workers and villagers. I have made my decision based on the facts and the finances that are involved, not sentimentality and fear. Agreed?" His brow furrowed when her face fell and she looked to the floor. "You don't agree?"

She raised her head. "May I sit?"

He nodded with a grunt, waited for her to sit, then took his chair. The sun blazed in through the open window behind him. He pressed a button on his desk and the window behind him grew darker - the LCD shade slipping into a smoky, opaque state.

"Thank you." She smiled, then said, "Sir, you know that I hold you in the highest regard. I've worked for and with you for many years now." She folded her hands in her lap and maintained eye contact. "But, I do not agree with the company's stance on the situation in Soyokaze." She kept her eyes trained on his.

Gorou Yamashita lifted his chin slightly, relaxed his brow and said, "Why? What did you find wrong in our choice, Miss Tanaka?"

Tanaka drew in a breath. "According the environmental studies presented, making the harbor area larger will not have lasting, adverse affects on the surrounding area. Due to land right issues, the only ones that would be allowed to fish in the area are members of the Soyokaze fishing community." She licked her dry lips. She wasn't prepared, but the documents were fresh in her mind. "And the major benefit to the people of Soyokaze and the people of Shizuka based on the increased product would be immense."

"And, what about the future, Miss Tanaka?" He wanted to stand, but remained seated. "A future where the people of Soyokaze are worse off due to land being overworked, seas being over-fished and and the charm that drives tourists there in the first place torn from them by greed? What then?"

"Do you honestly thing they would let that happen, Sir?" Her eyes remained locked on his. She paused for a moment, then continued when he remained silent. "These people like their village small. They are comfortable. The Mashita Family has worked for generations to ensure that this remains the case. So much work has gone into building their community and building the relationship between Soyokaze and Shizuka."

Yamashita nodded.

Tanaka continued. "Many people have tried to purchase land for the development of hotels and resorts in the area and they have refused time and time again. They simply want their say in their industry and...." She stopped herself.

"Go on." Yamashita leaned back in his chair and waited.

"They want us out of it, Sir."

He stared at her for a moment, then nodded.

---------------------------



The heat started to creep in around the edges of the morning at the harbor of Soyokaze. Work was put on hold as crowds pressed into the limited space. The smell of salt air and fish mixed with the blooming blossoms at the station. A cool breeze swept through the crowd from time to time like a blessing.

Cameras focused on Gorou Yamashita as the officers on the scene tried to calm the mixed crowd of sightseers, protestors and villagers. They were wild with energy - Yamashita's announcement still hanging in the air. The shouts and cheers were deafening.

Yamashita held up his hand and asked for another moment of quiet. The roar turned to a murmur.

"Thank you. Thank you." He nodded and motioned to the front row of chairs before him. "Yes, Ms. Namura?"

A woman in a blue dress stood and called out over the rumble of the crowd. "Thank you. What brought about this change, if I may ask? The people of Soyokaze have tried to get this passed for months and you and your company have done what you could to stop this harbor project from going through. Why the change of stance now, if I may ask?"

Yamashita nodded, acknowledging the question, then thought a moment. He glanced down to the podium, then back up to the crowd. "In life, we make many choices. We base these choices on many factors. Many past experiences. There are times where these past experiences get in the way of future plans. This was the case here." He tapped the podium. "Uminoikimono has spoken with additional resources after this most recent push for Soyokaze Harbor development and a new voice has helped us come to this decision. We appreciate the patience of the people of Soyokaze and the additional advice of the person in question." He nodded and held up his hand once more. "Thank you."

At that, Yamashita turned from the podium and made his way back to his chair amongst the roar of a happy crowd and the clicking and flashing of cameras.

Soyokaze Stories: Incorporeal Reflection

Soyokaze Stories: 
  Incorporeal Reflection

HALLOWEEN,  Shizuka Japan, 1989

The crisp, October air was alive with music and the smell of food as masked figures and cheerful onlookers mingled in the street.  Three girls wandered down the Shizuka street as the Halloween festival sizzled around them. Their Gothic Lolita styling blended traditional Japanese garments with their unique take on the modern vampire rounding out their costumes with small, cute trinkets.

Akiyama Akane steered the group through the crowd in an effort to make her way closer to some of the photographers in the area while her two friends followed close behind. Her Father’s whiskey was still coursing through them as the surrounded another unsuspecting soul with a camera. They loved posing and made a sport of it from time to time.

“Photo?” Akane smiled and let her fangs show. The older man nodded energetically and raised his camera. Akane motioned for Rin and Shigeko to fall into line and the did it in a well practiced manor. They loved these old etchi.




The man smiled and nodded again. “Another?”

Akane posed with Rin, but Shigeko moved away. She had had enough of this and was feeling the chill and the hunger in her stomach. She was tired and wanted to camp out somewhere and stop moving for a while.

“And again, Shigeko lives up to her name and wanders off to rest before she faints away.” Akane smiled her cruel smile. “Come. We’ll get your food. I don’t want you begging out of tonight altogether.”

Shigeko’s sister Rin pouted playfully. “Poor Shigeko.” She swooned. “Too much walking for Princess?”

Shigeko waved them off with her hand outstretched and nails lifting out towards them in a shoo now gesture they were all too familiar with. “You two should have been sisters. You’re both idiots.”

The girls laughed and pulled Shigeko up by her arm. “Come, Drama. Let’s go eat.”


~


Night fell and the festivals of Shizuka and Soyokaze continued to fill the air with song and laughter. Multicolored lights lit up the night as the three girls stepped from the tram in Soyokaze station. All three had had enough walking for a while, but they had a little farther to travel on foot. They were not at their final destination yet, but they could see it above them in the darkness.

Akane pulled her flask from the purse she carried and sipped. She passed it to Rin and watched as the girl finished what was left of the whiskey within it. “Hey, what about Shigeko, Rin-chan?!” She yanked the empty flask back.

“That’s fine, I don’t need more.” Shigeko stared up towards the hillside with a blank expression.

“Well, I suppose it’s better this way. She shows up back at home smelling of whiskey and she’ll never see 19!” Akane laughed. “You - you can just blame Shigeko for your breath, Rin. Let big sister -“

Shigeko cut her off. “Will your brother really let us up there? He’ll loose his job if he gets caught.”

Akana held out her hand in a fist. “And I’ll do worse if he DOESN’T let us up there!” She laughed and turned to stare up at the hillside with the other two girls.




Soyokaze Temple loomed above. Beams of light shown up from the ground and illuminated the wondrous structure while dark trees set shadows falling and remained dark around it. The three made their way towards Akane’s brothers guard station at the base of Soyokaze Temple Hill.

~




Hours passed and all three of the girls longed for the warmth the whiskey had provided. They had not planned on Soyokaze’s fog bringing the temperature down so low on their adventure. Rin slapped Akane in the arm and barked, “Enough of this. She’s not coming. I want to go home.”

“We have another 30 minutes before my brother leaves.”

“We can take the tram. I just want to go. This is stupid.”

Akane ignored Rin’s request and narrowed her eyes searching the darkness for Shigeko. “Where is she now?”

“Wandering around again.” Rin snarled bitterly, “I hope she falls to her death like that-“

“STOP!” Akane punched Rin’s arm and stared at her with wide and scared eyes. “What are you thinking?! Saying such things here. In front of her.” She shivered. “And to make fun of the way she died.” It was the first time Rin had ever seen Akane look scared. 

“It’s make believe, Akane. The only reason I’m here is to meet your brother.” Rin rubbed at her arm and whispered, “Crazy busu.”

Shigeko’s scream made them both jump and cling to each other.

They watched as she bolted through the bushes and around the back of the temple. She was barefoot and had her dress yanked to her thighs as she ran towards them - her face a mask of terror. She screamed again and pushed past the two girls. Her dress caught and she was tossed forward, landing in a heap in the wet grass before them. She shoved herself up and managed to scream, “RUN!” before starting to descend the steps back down to the parking area.

Akane and Rin made their way down the steps adding their screams to Shigeko’s. Akane held her hand out before her to block her view of the burial area to the left. Somehow, knowing it was still there behind her hand filled her with more fear and her screams became louder.

Rin shouted down to Shigeko as they ran. “What?! What was it?!” She tried to look back, but the steep stairs and flowing dress made it impossible to do without breaking her neck.

Shigeko said nothing as she yanked her dress higher and continued to run. The last few stairs were the only thing she could focus on. Something sprang from the darkness and grabbed her before she reached the parking lot.

~


HALLOWEEN,  Soyokaze, Japan 2014

Ueda Masao stared out over the harbor as he finished his meal. Waves beat against the seawall  and a fine mist added to the dampness of the fog. He absently popped another piece of fish into his mouth and watched the lights on the boats bob from side to side.

The man to his right licked his fingers and waved for the check. He sipped at his beer and said, “So, you two got married after she finished screaming up there?” The man chuckled and finished the beer. “I can’t imagine.” He glanced back towards the temple. “I would have liked to see that whole scene.” He chuckled. “Romantic, really. Right? Saving a girl you hardly knew from a ghost? Her samurai.”

Masao nodded. His eyes remained locked on the harbor. “I could feel her heart beating as I hugged her to me. Her screams - they made my eyes giggle in my skull - they were so damn loud.” He smiled. “When Akane and Rin smashed into us and we all fell into the lot, I thought my neck was broken for sure. All of them screaming and screaming.”

“And, you believed her?” Yamada dabbed his mouth with the napkin and stood to stretch his back. “This ghost story she told?”

Masao stood with his friend and tossed money onto the table. Yamada knew better than to try to convince Masao to let him pay for his share. Masao took a deep breath and let the salty air fill his lungs. “Not at first. No way. But, over the years it grew on me. All the nightmares. The books and research she was always doing.” He looked to Yamada and said, “She saw something up there. I’m not sure what, but it was something that scared her.”

“A ghost lady?”

Masao shrugged. “Her sister thinks I’m a fool for coming here of all places, but I feel like it’s the least I can do for her now that….” He let his words fall away. Yamada gripped his shoulder. Masao continued. “I wanted to do it sooner, but I needed a little more time.” He nodded.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go up there with you?” Yamada tried to lighten the mood. “You made me eat among all this fishing scrap and smell instead of over the hill in one of those lovely, warm good places, Mr. Cheap. I might as well go up there and ghost hunt with you.” He smiled.

Masao grinned. “This place is the best and you know it.” He chuckled and shook his head no. “No. No, I’ll go alone. I’ll see you back at the hotel.” Masao patted his friend on the arm and turned to go. “And I mean it.”

Yamada raised his hands and bowed his head - surrendering. He smiled and dropped his hands to his sides as he watched his friend make his journey.


~


Fog drifted around the buildings and through the trees and Masao made his way to the second set of stairs. He stopped to get a read on where he was. According to Rin and the photos he saw on the internet, the stairs were around to the left and the burial area was around to the right. He reached inside his coat and groped around for his cigarettes before remembering.

Never another cigarette. His heart sank for a moment as he remembered his wife in her hospital bed. Gone.

The fog chilled him from his gloom and he inhaled sharply before turning and walking around the building to the right. The small markers were lit by a light mounted on the roof of the second tier building.

Masao stood in the silence and stared around the area. Part of him wanted to call out, but he thought it silly. He glanced at his watch. He had another 45 minutes before he had to be back down to the guard station and off the premises.

“Hello?” He rolled his eyes. “Hello? I’m Ueda Masao. You scared my wife here once. She saw you.” He looked around, then back in the direction he came from. His nerves made him examine every shadow. He counted on the substantial financial offering given to the guard to prevent the young man from trying to scare him up here. Masao swore he’d toss him off the hill if he tried.

He made his way through the brush and back around the backside of the building, pausing briefly when he saw the huge pool of blackness he had to cross to get to the stairs. He pushed forward and fought the urge to walk all the way around the front of the building again just to be able to stay in the light.

It seemed to get colder in the center of the darkness, but he shook it off and continued on to the stairs. As he climbed up, he stared up to the top of the temple spire which was barely visible in the fog shrouded night sky.

“Amazing that you three ran down these stairs in those costumes, Shigeko.” He smiled and shook his head. He reached the top of the steep stairs and turned to stare back down at the burial area and building. He craned his head forward to peer into the blackness behind the building. He wanted to make more of the shapes and motion in it, but as the wind blew and fog chilled him, he knew better. Plants and wind was all.

Now, for the final task. Behind the Temple. His heart beat a little faster in his chest as he remembered Shigeko’s description of the thing she saw.

“She was beautiful and terrible. She was like…and angel. A vision. She shimmered like the fog and seemed to long to be with me, but made no move towards me. Like me, she was in traditional clothing - all white, black and red. She looked…wet. She….she didn’t have a face, Masao.”

A shiver ran down Masao’s back. He bit his bottom lip, then pushed forward again. He moved with caution. He remembered RIn telling him that there was a drop here somewhere. He had no intention of falling onto rails tonight. He scanned the darkness. Another chill almost sent him running for the stairs. His voice caught in his throat, he swallowed, then called out, “Hello? Hello, I am Ueda Masao and my wife - she saw you here years ago.”

“Would a ghost know years?”  Masao thought to himself.

“She’s…she’s gone now. She…” Masao swallowed hard again. “She passed away.” He coughed and wiped a tear that caught in the corner of his eye. “She died. Died a month and a half ago.”

Fog wiped around Masao and a cold wind made the trees sway around him and hiss softly.

“She saw you here. Right here.” He smiled. “You scared her so much that she….she ran all the way down the hillside.” A laugh escaped him - sharp and short - as he remembered back to the night. Shigeko slamming into him and him holding her tight even after Akane and Rin collided with them and sent them crashing to the ground. “She never stopped talking about you. Looking for signs of how she might help you.”

Masao lost his fears - letting them drift away with the fog. He slumped and sat on the wet grass and stared off towards the ocean. The darkness enveloped him and wrapped him in a sort of calm. He looked up at the temple, then back over his shoulder towards the village. He closed his eyes and thought about his beautiful wife. His beautiful life with her.

Masao opened his eyes and pushed himself up to his feet. He glanced at his watch and made note of the mere minutes he had left. A thought passed over him.

“If you are here somewhere, thank you. You introduced me to my wife and made us very, very happy.” He thought a moment. “I hope that brings you happiness.”

Masao turned and made his way to the stairs. As he descended the stone steps, he thought that he heard something move behind him. He didn’t turn to look, however. Whatever was there could stay there with the dark and the fog. He had to go. He decided that he’d head home in the morning to deal with his own ghosts. Get his son from Rin and take him on a trip somewhere. He still had a few days left of vacation.

As he approached the stairs, the wind kicked up leaves around his feet, swirling them and sending dust up around his knees. Something raced up behind him with a rush - he could feel it swoop up behind him. He spun around half tripping over his own feet. His heart beat hard in his chest as he caught himself.

The guard adjusted his wind blown hat and jacket and stared up at Masao from the parking area. “Hey, Mister! You ok up there? Time’s up, Sir.”

Masao stared back towards the top of the hill, his wide eyes darting back and forth scanning the dark. He turned and made his way down the stairs quickly trying not to run.

“Did you hear that?” Masao’s eyes begged for an answer from the guard.

“Hear what, Sir?” The guard frowned. “You were too far away from me to hear you if you said something. I’m sorry.”

“No not - I didn’t say something is was…” Masao pointed up the stairs, then withdrew the gesture and dropped his arm. “Never mind.” He smiled.

The guard returned his smile, then looked around at his feet and back up at Masao. “That story you told me. True?” He pointed at the ground at their feet. The spot where Masao caught Shigeko.

Masao nodded with a smile and slipped his hands into his pockets. “Thank you for letting me stroll around up there.” He turned and moved down through the parking area towards town.

The guard shouted after him. “Thanks for the story. Very nice, Sir.”  He touched the brim of his hat. “Goodnight, Sir.”

Masao half heard the guard’s words as he pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and made his way down the parking ramp and off down the stairs. He didn’t know what to think. He was numb from the experience. He was sure he heard it. A faint voice among the rush of wind - small and sweet like a reed.

It whispered, “Anata ga aishita.”    

“You loved.”









Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shadows

(( A true story ))

Bedtime is usually pretty much the same every night at our house. Dinner is followed by a little light playing where the girls get out their last burst of energy. Then, it's off to bath, pajamas and teeth brushing before we do a family book or three. My wife and I steal bits of time here and there to clean so we don't have so much to deal with post-bedtime. It's rather standard nightly.

Once the books are read, we split into two groups. My wife hangs out with our two year old in the living room while I head back to the girls room with my four year old for one more book. We figure that they can never get enough books and love making the time for them since they love them so much.

Lastly, after I read one book, I tell my daughter a Swan Boat Story. I've made up these Swam Boat Stories since my oldest was a toddler. Tales of the girls on a giant boat that has a swan head front to it with friends and anthropomorphized versions of their stuffed animals - going on adventures and learning from their experiences. It's going to be a sad day when she doesn't want to hear these stories anymore.

We usually chat as she falls asleep before her sister is dropped off by her mother. We talk through the day, dreams, or whatever is stuck in her mind at the moment. I make an effort to get her to be master of her dream life, telling her that her dreams are hers and that she can make them whatever she wants. I let her know that if she can make an effort to think of happier things as she falls asleep, she might have happier dreams once she's out. I hope that she might pick up some of this through repetition.

Last night, as we were chatting, she interrupted me.

"Daddy, did you know that one night I looked down and there was this big, black shape where you're standing? I thought it was Mommy, but it wasn't." 

I tried not to let my own, dark imagination run wild with that one, but the "creepy things kids say" posts came to mind at once. Keeping my "think happier thoughts" mantra in mind, I came back with, "Oh...hmph....it was probably me checking on your sister then." I rubbed her head and smiled.

She looked at me with serious eyes and said, "No, it wasn't you."

I smiled again and furrowed my brow. "Huh...that's odd." 

Thankfully, my wife entered the room at that point with our youngest and I started playing some bedtime music from their Spotify, bedtime playlist. They both fell asleep quickly and I exited.

That night, what my daughter said went through my head around 1am when one of them called out from a dream. I listed for the sound of pattering feet, but they must have drifted back to sleep. A few minutes later, one of them called out again and the quiet, "No, it wasn't you" went through my head again. I got up and moved off into their room to check on them. Of course, they were both sound asleep and safe. I covered them up and tried to fall back to sleep, but couldn't for a long while.

The familiar podcast game started as I tried to get my mind derailed enough to fall back to sleep. But, between the shifting and trying to get comfortable, what my daughter said continued to rattle around in my head. Glances around the room revealed the usual, creepy dark room shadows that are present every night.

"It's the same in that dark as it is in the light." That's what we tell our daughters. I got it from a Rod Serling quote I once read. "There is nothing in the dark that isn't there when the lights are on." 

Most of the time I believe it completely. However, there are times....when I wonder.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Soyokaze Stories: Incorporeal Reflection (from my NRAIL blog)

Soyokaze Stories: 
  Incorporeal Reflection

HALLOWEEN,  Shizuka Japan, 1989

The crisp, October air was alive with music and the smell of food as masked figures and cheerful onlookers mingled in the street.  Three girls wandered down the Shizuka street as the Halloween festival sizzled around them. Their Gothic Lolita styling blended traditional Japanese garments with their unique take on the modern vampire rounding out their costumes with small, cute trinkets.

Akiyama Akane steered the group through the crowd in an effort to make her way closer to some of the photographers in the area while her two friends followed close behind. Her Father’s whiskey was still coursing through them as the surrounded another unsuspecting soul with a camera. They loved posing and made a sport of it from time to time.

“Photo?” Akane smiled and let her fangs show. The older man nodded energetically and raised his camera. Akane motioned for Rin and Shigeko to fall into line and the did it in a well practiced manor. They loved these old etchi.




The man smiled and nodded again. “Another?”

Akane posed with Rin, but Shigeko moved away. She had had enough of this and was feeling the chill and the hunger in her stomach. She was tired and wanted to camp out somewhere and stop moving for a while.

“And again, Shigeko lives up to her name and wanders off to rest before she faints away.” Akane smiled her cruel smile. “Come. We’ll get your food. I don’t want you begging out of tonight altogether.”

Shigeko’s sister Rin pouted playfully. “Poor Shigeko.” She swooned. “Too much walking for Princess?”

Shigeko waved them off with her hand outstretched and nails lifting out towards them in a shoo now gesture they were all too familiar with. “You two should have been sisters. You’re both idiots.”

The girls laughed and pulled Shigeko up by her arm. “Come, Drama. Let’s go eat.”


~


Night fell and the festivals of Shizuka and Soyokaze continued to fill the air with song and laughter. Multicolored lights lit up the night as the three girls stepped from the tram in Soyokaze station. All three had had enough walking for a while, but they had a little farther to travel on foot. They were not at their final destination yet, but they could see it above them in the darkness.

Akane pulled her flask from the purse she carried and sipped. She passed it to Rin and watched as the girl finished what was left of the whiskey within it. “Hey, what about Shigeko, Rin-chan?!” She yanked the empty flask back.

“That’s fine, I don’t need more.” Shigeko stared up towards the hillside with a blank expression.

“Well, I suppose it’s better this way. She shows up back at home smelling of whiskey and she’ll never see 19!” Akane laughed. “You - you can just blame Shigeko for your breath, Rin. Let big sister -“

Shigeko cut her off. “Will your brother really let us up there? He’ll loose his job if he gets caught.”

Akana held out her hand in a fist. “And I’ll do worse if he DOESN’T let us up there!” She laughed and turned to stare up at the hillside with the other two girls.




Soyokaze Temple loomed above. Beams of light shown up from the ground and illuminated the wondrous structure while dark trees set shadows falling and remained dark around it. The three made their way towards Akane’s brothers guard station at the base of Soyokaze Temple Hill.

~




Hours passed and all three of the girls longed for the warmth the whiskey had provided. They had not planned on Soyokaze’s fog bringing the temperature down so low on their adventure. Rin slapped Akane in the arm and barked, “Enough of this. She’s not coming. I want to go home.”

“We have another 30 minutes before my brother leaves.”

“We can take the tram. I just want to go. This is stupid.”

Akane ignored Rin’s request and narrowed her eyes searching the darkness for Shigeko. “Where is she now?”

“Wandering around again.” Rin snarled bitterly, “I hope she falls to her death like that-“

“STOP!” Akane punched Rin’s arm and stared at her with wide and scared eyes. “What are you thinking?! Saying such things here. In front of her.” She shivered. “And to make fun of the way she died.” It was the first time Rin had ever seen Akane look scared. 

“It’s make believe, Akane. The only reason I’m here is to meet your brother.” Rin rubbed at her arm and whispered, “Crazy busu.”

Shigeko’s scream made them both jump and cling to each other.

They watched as she bolted through the bushes and around the back of the temple. She was barefoot and had her dress yanked to her thighs as she ran towards them - her face a mask of terror. She screamed again and pushed past the two girls. Her dress caught and she was tossed forward, landing in a heap in the wet grass before them. She shoved herself up and managed to scream, “RUN!” before starting to descend the steps back down to the parking area.

Akane and Rin made their way down the steps adding their screams to Shigeko’s. Akane held her hand out before her to block her view of the burial area to the left. Somehow, knowing it was still there behind her hand filled her with more fear and her screams became louder.

Rin shouted down to Shigeko as they ran. “What?! What was it?!” She tried to look back, but the steep stairs and flowing dress made it impossible to do without breaking her neck.

Shigeko said nothing as she yanked her dress higher and continued to run. The last few stairs were the only thing she could focus on. Something sprang from the darkness and grabbed her before she reached the parking lot.

~


HALLOWEEN,  Soyokaze, Japan 2014

Ueda Masao stared out over the harbor as he finished his meal. Waves beat against the seawall  and a fine mist added to the dampness of the fog. He absently popped another piece of fish into his mouth and watched the lights on the boats bob from side to side.

The man to his right licked his fingers and waved for the check. He sipped at his beer and said, “So, you two got married after she finished screaming up there?” The man chuckled and finished the beer. “I can’t imagine.” He glanced back towards the temple. “I would have liked to see that whole scene.” He chuckled. “Romantic, really. Right? Saving a girl you hardly knew from a ghost? Her samurai.”

Masao nodded. His eyes remained locked on the harbor. “I could feel her heart beating as I hugged her to me. Her screams - they made my eyes giggle in my skull - they were so damn loud.” He smiled. “When Akane and Rin smashed into us and we all fell into the lot, I thought my neck was broken for sure. All of them screaming and screaming.”

“And, you believed her?” Yamada dabbed his mouth with the napkin and stood to stretch his back. “This ghost story she told?”

Masao stood with his friend and tossed money onto the table. Yamada knew better than to try to convince Masao to let him pay for his share. Masao took a deep breath and let the salty air fill his lungs. “Not at first. No way. But, over the years it grew on me. All the nightmares. The books and research she was always doing.” He looked to Yamada and said, “She saw something up there. I’m not sure what, but it was something that scared her.”

“A ghost lady?”

Masao shrugged. “Her sister thinks I’m a fool for coming here of all places, but I feel like it’s the least I can do for her now that….” He let his words fall away. Yamada gripped his shoulder. Masao continued. “I wanted to do it sooner, but I needed a little more time.” He nodded.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go up there with you?” Yamada tried to lighten the mood. “You made me eat among all this fishing scrap and smell instead of over the hill in one of those lovely, warm good places, Mr. Cheap. I might as well go up there and ghost hunt with you.” He smiled.

Masao grinned. “This place is the best and you know it.” He chuckled and shook his head no. “No. No, I’ll go alone. I’ll see you back at the hotel.” Masao patted his friend on the arm and turned to go. “And I mean it.”

Yamada raised his hands and bowed his head - surrendering. He smiled and dropped his hands to his sides as he watched his friend make his journey.


~


Fog drifted around the buildings and through the trees and Masao made his way to the second set of stairs. He stopped to get a read on where he was. According to Rin and the photos he saw on the internet, the stairs were around to the left and the burial area was around to the right. He reached inside his coat and groped around for his cigarettes before remembering.

Never another cigarette. His heart sank for a moment as he remembered his wife in her hospital bed. Gone.

The fog chilled him from his gloom and he inhaled sharply before turning and walking around the building to the right. The small markers were lit by a light mounted on the roof of the second tier building.

Masao stood in the silence and stared around the area. Part of him wanted to call out, but he thought it silly. He glanced at his watch. He had another 45 minutes before he had to be back down to the guard station and off the premises.

“Hello?” He rolled his eyes. “Hello? I’m Ueda Masao. You scared my wife here once. She saw you.” He looked around, then back in the direction he came from. His nerves made him examine every shadow. He counted on the substantial financial offering given to the guard to prevent the young man from trying to scare him up here. Masao swore he’d toss him off the hill if he tried.

He made his way through the brush and back around the backside of the building, pausing briefly when he saw the huge pool of blackness he had to cross to get to the stairs. He pushed forward and fought the urge to walk all the way around the front of the building again just to be able to stay in the light.

It seemed to get colder in the center of the darkness, but he shook it off and continued on to the stairs. As he climbed up, he stared up to the top of the temple spire which was barely visible in the fog shrouded night sky.

“Amazing that you three ran down these stairs in those costumes, Shigeko.” He smiled and shook his head. He reached the top of the steep stairs and turned to stare back down at the burial area and building. He craned his head forward to peer into the blackness behind the building. He wanted to make more of the shapes and motion in it, but as the wind blew and fog chilled him, he knew better. Plants and wind was all.

Now, for the final task. Behind the Temple. His heart beat a little faster in his chest as he remembered Shigeko’s description of the thing she saw.

“She was beautiful and terrible. She was like…and angel. A vision. She shimmered like the fog and seemed to long to be with me, but made no move towards me. Like me, she was in traditional clothing - all white, black and red. She looked…wet. She….she didn’t have a face, Masao.”

A shiver ran down Masao’s back. He bit his bottom lip, then pushed forward again. He moved with caution. He remembered RIn telling him that there was a drop here somewhere. He had no intention of falling onto rails tonight. He scanned the darkness. Another chill almost sent him running for the stairs. His voice caught in his throat, he swallowed, then called out, “Hello? Hello, I am Ueda Masao and my wife - she saw you here years ago.”

“Would a ghost know years?”  Masao thought to himself.

“She’s…she’s gone now. She…” Masao swallowed hard again. “She passed away.” He coughed and wiped a tear that caught in the corner of his eye. “She died. Died a month and a half ago.”

Fog wiped around Masao and a cold wind made the trees sway around him and hiss softly.

“She saw you here. Right here.” He smiled. “You scared her so much that she….she ran all the way down the hillside.” A laugh escaped him - sharp and short - as he remembered back to the night. Shigeko slamming into him and him holding her tight even after Akane and Rin collided with them and sent them crashing to the ground. “She never stopped talking about you. Looking for signs of how she might help you.”

Masao lost his fears - letting them drift away with the fog. He slumped and sat on the wet grass and stared off towards the ocean. The darkness enveloped him and wrapped him in a sort of calm. He looked up at the temple, then back over his shoulder towards the village. He closed his eyes and thought about his beautiful wife. His beautiful life with her.

Masao opened his eyes and pushed himself up to his feet. He glanced at his watch and made note of the mere minutes he had left. A thought passed over him.

“If you are here somewhere, thank you. You introduced me to my wife and made us very, very happy.” He thought a moment. “I hope that brings you happiness.”

Masao turned and made his way to the stairs. As he descended the stone steps, he thought that he heard something move behind him. He didn’t turn to look, however. Whatever was there could stay there with the dark and the fog. He had to go. He decided that he’d head home in the morning to deal with his own ghosts. Get his son from Rin and take him on a trip somewhere. He still had a few days left of vacation.

As he approached the stairs, the wind kicked up leaves around his feet, swirling them and sending dust up around his knees. Something raced up behind him with a rush - he could feel it swoop up behind him. He spun around half tripping over his own feet. His heart beat hard in his chest as he caught himself.

The guard adjusted his wind blown hat and jacket and stared up at Masao from the parking area. “Hey, Mister! You ok up there? Time’s up, Sir.”

Masao stared back towards the top of the hill, his wide eyes darting back and forth scanning the dark. He turned and made his way down the stairs quickly trying not to run.

“Did you hear that?” Masao’s eyes begged for an answer from the guard.

“Hear what, Sir?” The guard frowned. “You were too far away from me to hear you if you said something. I’m sorry.”

“No not - I didn’t say something is was…” Masao pointed up the stairs, then withdrew the gesture and dropped his arm. “Never mind.” He smiled.

The guard returned his smile, then looked around at his feet and back up at Masao. “That story you told me. True?” He pointed at the ground at their feet. The spot where Masao caught Shigeko.

Masao nodded with a smile and slipped his hands into his pockets. “Thank you for letting me stroll around up there.” He turned and moved down through the parking area towards town.

The guard shouted after him. “Thanks for the story. Very nice, Sir.”  He touched the brim of his hat. “Goodnight, Sir.”

Masao half heard the guard’s words as he pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and made his way down the parking ramp and off down the stairs. He didn’t know what to think. He was numb from the experience. He was sure he heard it. A faint voice among the rush of wind - small and sweet like a reed.

It whispered, “Anata ga aishita.”    

“You loved.”








Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Jackson

-->

She sipped at her drink as the rain beat against the window. Streaks of light ran over the wall and she let herself get lost in them for a moment. Her life was turning into a massive cliché right before her very eyes – a woman alone, drunk and maudlin as rain falls from the dark sky.

She rolled her head to the side and made eye contact with her dog. She drained her glass and slid it onto the table before her.



The dog sat and stared blankly at her, still wet from the walk they had just returned from. Wet dog smell filled the room.

“You stink,” she growled flatly. The dog blinked and she grinned at it warmly. “Whose fault is that, right?” The dog said nothing. “Ok, Jackson, let’s go.” She pushed herself up and moved to the kitchen with the dog at her heels. She stretched and snatched the treats from the top of the fridge, pulled a few of the shriveled morsels from the clear tub, then replaced it and looked down that the quiet animal as he stared back at her – tail wagging.

“Delicious?” She smelled the tan sticks in her hand. Her eyes rolled. “All you.” She dropped them onto the kitchen tile and stepped over Jackson as he proceeded to devour the tasty treats his loving master had blessed him with. “At least I’m not a crazy cat lady,” she muttered as she returned to the sofa.

Her eyes rested on the bottle of wine. To refill or not to refill – that was the question. She sighed and decided to wait. The TV beckoned, but this was her “no TV night”.  She’d fight through the evening sans television stimuli.

The evening had fallen apart slowly and steadily. Plans to get a Christmas tree were put on hold yet again. Walking down to the lot in four blocks of rain to pick from the horrid selection, dropping her $50, then walking back dragging her spoils behind her was something she could wait on. Christmas had turned into a hollow Holiday for her anyway. No need to rush the inevitable depression and regret. It would come soon enough. And she had passed on an evening out with her friends yet again as well. Rain bar crawling wasn’t her idea fun.

Jackson returned. He licked as his lips as if to make the moments from the kitchen’s treat last a little longer.

“Oh, you liked that, huh?” She smiled a sad little smile. “Well, I’m glad you’re happy at least.”

“You really should make an effort to get out more.” Jackson said as he stared at her with his big, brown eyes. “I mean, it’s nice having you here with me, but I hate seeing you sitting around, drinking and being sad. You deserve more.”

“You’re sweet.” She leaned forward and scratched his head.

He squinted and let himself get lost in the delightful scrtich of her nails before licking her hand. Then he huffed and said, “No, really, staying in and going for walks and talking to me isn’t going to get you what you really want.” He moved around her legs and to the sofa, then tried to step up onto it.

“Hey! No no – not when you’re all wet! You know the rules.” She pointed to the carpet and Jackson pushed away and returned to his plush Wet Dog Zone. “Nice try.”

Jackson ignored the dismissal. “It’s true and you know it. You need to get out and find another man to lay with.”

“Gawd, don’t put it that way. It sounds awful when you put it that way.” She shivered. “Lay with. Jesus.”

“You know what I mean. Someone you can talk to besides me. Someone to take care of you like you take care of me.” He licked his paw absently.

“Toss dried pig onto the floor for me? Make me lay on a piece of shag carpet on the floor?” She laughed.

“You know what I mean.” Jackson’s voice seemed agitated.

“I’m just tired of looking.” She snatched her glass up from the coffee table.

“You’re looking in the wrong places and with the wrong people, if you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask you.” She smirked. “And, just because you had one bad experience with Jessica doesn’t make her a bad person. She’s fun to go to bars with.”

“She’s mean.” Jackson’s voice was bitter. He thought back to that time in Golden Gate Park and Jessica’s actions. He’d never forget. Never.  “Anyway, there must be other places to meet males.”

“Men.”

Jackson huffed.

She stood up and grabbed the TV remote from the top of the television and returned to the sofa. “I’ll meet someone.” The television buzzed into life and the images lit up the dark room. “I’ll meet some guy somewhere and we’ll be happy for a few months, then he’ll turn chicken and run for the hills and I’ll have to start all over again. Either that or I’ll freak out and bail on him. It’ll be great.” She clicked through channels, then stopped on The Food Network and refilled her glass.

Jackson stood up and padded over to her. He positioned himself down by her and rested his head on her foot.

The rain pattered against the windowpane softly, but the sound of the people talking about food on the television managed to drown out the peaceful sound of it.

“I like steak,” Jackson said to the TV image of the white haired woman cooking a giant porterhouse.

“Me, too,” his owner said back. “Me, too.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Night Crashed Down

The night seemed to crash down around the small truck once Roger passed the main gate and began the long assentation to the main house. The trees pushed in around the road on both sides and their leaves blocked out what little light the moon provided. He flicked the high beams into play and pressed on in the little Toyota. A shiver ran down his spine. He dreaded this run.


The trees stopped about a block away from the house. The area around the building was devoid of plant life save a few low shrubs and dead grass. Roger was sure that if the house was within the town limits, there would have been some sort of letter writing campaign to have the hulking things torn down. But, it wasn’t the house that gave him the chills. No, it was the house occupants that sent shivers up his spine when he delivered pizzas to them.


The Toyota slowed as it rounded the gravel road entry and pulled in front of the main door. Roger glared at the front door and sighed. “Tips,” he whispered as he tried to shake the chill. They had always been amazing tippers, the Shelltons. Never stingy, but always demanding, it was full service at all times. Roger had to deliver the pizzas like they were the special guests at some friggin’ White House dinner. Placed, arranged and checked. Every time. Roger was the only one who managed to get out of the Shellton home without being chastised or corrected because he remembered the routine and followed it after the first few deliveries to the Shellton residence. . He was the only one that managed to get the generous tips from the Shelltons as well.


Roger swung the door open and stepped out of the truck. He dropped his keys into his pocket and slammed the door. He started to walk around to the passenger side door and the lights around the outside of the run down, three-story burst into brightness as he rounded the back of the truck. Again, business as usual- they listened for the slam. He moved around to the passenger door all the while keeping one eye trained on the house. His eyes narrowed when he reached the door and had to look away. There was more than one occasion when one of the damned Shellton children appeared behind him without a sound made on the gravel roadway. It was more than a little unnerving.


Four pizza boxes in hand, Roger kicked the door shut and made his way up the stairs to the front porch. The door opened before his foot touched the welcome mat.


Correl? Coral? Roger tried to remember the oldest girl’s name. He smiled and went with, “Hi – Roger from Pizza Towne.”


“Roger.” She sighed the name and smiled a wide smile. Roger wasn’t sure why, but it seemed more sinister than friendly. “Thank you for driving all the way out here yet again. We just can’t seem to get enough of your delicious creations. Please, come in. The air is chilly. We don’t want to let it out.” She corrected herself. “The heat out.” She stepped back and held the door against her pale cheek.


Oh, come the on, man. It?! Roger tried to ignore the foolishness. It was merely another way these rich, wackos entertained themselves. Eccentric, rich and bored – a horrid combination.


Roger stepped inside and heard the door click shut behind him.


“Coral, remember?” She walked by him and her bare arm brushed his. A small shock ran up his arm and over his shoulder. “Oh…static,” she whispered.


Chills or not, Roger took the liberty of watching her sway as she made her way to through the entry way and towards the hall. She was curvy, dark haired and an impressive five foot nine or so. She never wore revealing outfits that showed much, but they always accentuated her womanly curves. If roger had not been scared of her, he would have asked her out long ago.


Roger followed as he had been instructed to do many times before and wondered which room they would have set up this time. Would it be the black and white tile kitchen was it’s many thousands of dollars worth of cooking equipment that seemed to remain unused? Or perhaps the grand dining room area with it’s wall of old, wavy floor to ceiling mirrors that he was sure had either seen many secrets or were hiding voyeuristic occupants.


When Coral moved up the stairs, Roger stopped short.


“Um, should I follow? Or, should I just—“


“Yes, please. We’ll take those upstairs, if you don’t mind. Grandmother isn’t feeling well.” She didn’t look back when she spoke, but continued to move slowly up the stairs.


Roger followed and stole a glance up at Coral from time to time. The stairs curved up and to the right toward the second floor. Roger got caught up in Coral’s hips a bit longer than he had planned. A booming voice jolted him from the hypnotic sway and a rush of heat flooded his face.


“The PIZZA man! Fan-fucking-tastic!”


Roger mustered a smile as he looked over toward the voice and raised the cardboard boxes up a few inches. “That’s me.”


The man at the top of the stairs was a brother or uncle, Roger thought. The man had close-cropped hair and dark eyebrows. He was built like a super hero. The genes in the family must have been fantastic. Roger thought the aforementioned grandmother looked like she was over one hundred years old if it was the same woman he saw during his last visit t the house.


He still wasn’t sure how many people lived in the old place. Sometimes there were two pizzas ordered and sometimes there were ten.


“I thought we were going to have to eat the damn dog. We waited to long to order. I told you, Coral. Friday nights are busy right, um…pizza man?”


“Roger.” Roger smiled awkwardly.


“You’re part owner, right?” Coral turned abruptly to face Roger and Roger stopped just short of bumping her.


“That’s right. Peter and I own Pizza Towne.”


“Niiiiice.” The man waved roger forward, then pointed towards a dark doorway. “In there, por favor.” Another creepy smile assaulted Roger. Maybe that ran in the family as well.


Coral didn’t move when Roger moved toward her. He whispered, “Pardon me,” and brushed past her.


“Sorry.” She giggled softly and Roger’s amorous feelings turned towards disdain.


“Kind Sir,” the man said as he bowed and raised his hand towards the dark room.


“Um…the light?”


The man glanced at the room.


Roger stared into the room’s blackness. The absence of light seemed like a black hole creation. The light from the hall was swallowed up by the room inches into it. Roger deemed it a trick of the lights position, but it still made him think twice before stumbling into it.


“Let me turn it on for you,” Coral said in a low tone. Roger jumped at her voice’s nearness. “We’re used to this old house.” She disappeared into the dark and the room sprang into brightness moments later. Roger thought he heard her whisper something. She reappeared and beamed. “There we go.”


Roger grinned to the tall man and moved into the room.


Coral whispered, “The funny thing is, people treat dark rooms they are scared of differently when the light’s are on…” She smiled, “…as if whatever they were scared of in the dark isn’t there when the room is filled with light. I find that humorous.”


“But, you’re dark like that, Coral sweet. Creepy little thing you.”


“Your one to talk, Stephen.” Coral smirked at the man in the hall and motioned for Roger to place the pizzas down on a small table in the corner.


Roger nodded and moved deeper into the room. It smelled of musk. Like a bad cologne. Roger followed the routine as always. Pizzas down, boxes moved off each other and spread out, contents checked against what was ordered and the receipt slipped off whatever box it was taped to and presented total side up. Roger had checked to make sure the register carbons were still easy to read before leaving the shop. He smiled.


“And, here you go.” Sweat beaded across his brow.


Coral stared into Roger’s eyes and the smile on her face lingered in a hovering, sort of faded way. A strand of her dark, silky hair fell over her eye. “Are you nervous, Roger?” Her voice was soft and coy.


“He seems a bit…jittery.” Stephen leaned against the door jam.


“Friday night madness at the shop. I’ve just been going and going tonight. I really have to hurry back and…before things pile up.” He felt his throat grow dry.


“I see,” Coral purred.


“FOR CHRIST SAKE, pay the man and let him go already. I’m hungry.”


Roger nearly jumped out of his skin. He had not noticed the older woman in the chair towards the back of the room. Her voice rattled as if her throat was full of phlegm. She coughed and fanned the back of her hand at the man Stephen. “This migraine is finally starting to calm down. Don’t get it going again.” She closed her eyes and rubbed at them.


Stephen laughed and strode over to Roger pulling his wallet from his back pocket. “What’s the damage, Roger-san?” He stared at the receipt, then flipped through the bills in his wallet. He yanked a few free and swapped the receipt for the bills. “Keep the change, Sport.”


Roger didn’t bother to count the money. He let his relief shine through in his smile. “Thanks. Well…goodnight.”


“Good eve, Sweet Roger. Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Coral let her face fall into a mask of sorrow. “We’ll remember you as we eat of your Pizza Towne. We’ll hold your memory within out heart….our souls….and our full bellies.” She smiled wide.


“Great.” Roger wanted to run.


The older woman sighed, “Jesus.” She stood and moved to the pizza table. “Thank you, Pizza Man. Goodnight.” It was dismissive, but Roger didn’t mind in the slightest.


Stephen saluted as Roger passed him, then joined the older woman at the pizza table.


Coral lead Roger down the stairs to the foyer and held the door open for him. Upstairs, the older woman called out in both English and some Slavic sounding language. “Pizza is here!” Footsteps thumped above as people moved from wherever they had been. Again, Roger had no concept of just how many people were up there.


“Goodnight, Roger.” Coral held his gaze with her dark eyes. They seemed to sparkle in the half-light of the foyer. Her full lips pulled back into a smile. This time it was a sweet smile. Delicate.


“Goodnight.” Something stirred in him and the chill slipped away and was slowly replaced by desire. Roger stepped into the warm summer air.


The door closed.


Roger turned and studied the door. He saw Coral staring back through the lacy curtains for a moment before turning and moving out of the foyer. She stopped at the hall and her hand slipped out to the side and rested on the wall switch. She didn’t flip it, however. Her head turned slightly.


Roger turned, jogged down the front steps and crunched across the gravel to the truck. He opened the door and climbed inside. He waited a moment, then pulled the truck door closed. The hollow slam filled Roger’s head with echoes for an instant.


The front lights darkened.

~~

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Paper Moon


“Yes, it's only a canvas sky
Hanging over a muslin tree
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me

Without your love

It's a honky-tonk parade
Without your love
It's a melody played in a penny arcade”

It's Only A Paper Moon





Rain beats against the window as music starts to fade away in the hallway. The last of the dancers make their way down the hall – eager to change and leave for the night even if it means a walk in the rain. Their muffled voices drift away on the other side of the door. The tiny room is dingy and smells of mold and something else. Something sour. The club singer paces in her dressing gown. She's done for the night. So done. Tears stream down her cheeks as her breasts dance under the willowy silk. Her raven hair and dark eyes catch the light from the small lamp from time to time and seem to sparkle and glisten.

“Are you serious this time or it this another ploy? I mean, I'm not going to stay if you're just putting me on again. I can't take it no more.”

A man stands in the corner of the room and stares out of the shadows. He looks over to the weeping woman and wishes he could tell her what she wants to hear. He wished he could tell her anything. He wished. His suit is filthy and wet with the night's rain. He stares out from the shadows and longs for her. So close. So far away.

“Ya big lug. Leading me around by the nose.” She wipes her tears away and her voice grows louder. He glares. If she keeps this up they'll barge in and find the two of them. Then what? Stuck in this closet of a room didn't leave a lot of options.

Her gown shimmers in the streetlight streaming through the filthy window an she looks radiant. Glowing. Her voice slips through the room like syrup and fills his ears with song even when she isn't singing.

The club was packed, but he's not sure it matters to the likes of the mob. Hell, they probably owned the joint. For all he knew, they owned her.

Somewhere down the hall dancers chatter in the glow of the club lights as it starts to close up for the night. Guy Lombardo proclaims that some dame is making him crazy. There's something funny about that, but he can't laugh about it now.

Her wailing takes him by surprise as she screams out, “Why'd ya go and leave me in th first place! You said you'd always take care of me! You promised, Tommy!”

He holds up his hands and waves his arms stiffly, then glances at the door. She needed to be quiet. Quiet as a mouse. He pressed back into the shadows as the door of her dressing room springs open and the door jam splinters inwards. Subtle these boys ain't. Two silhouettes of mountains fill the doorway.

“Well well well.” One of the mountains moves into the room and has a look around. They either don't see him or figure two to one is good odds in their favor. “You turned out to be quiet a little artist, Baby. Totally bent.”

“Says you!” She tries to hold her own and if she's scared she doesn't act it.

“Listen, Biscuit, I don't care what ya did or didn't do. Don't matter now any which way ya cut it.” He lets out a chuckle as the other mountain moves into the room and slowly closes the door behind him. He shoves a chair under the knob to keep the door closed then folds his arms over his massive chest.

“I don't care what you or your gun mob think. I don't have any desire to talk to you hoods. Scram!” Her voice cracks. A dead give away to the fear swelling in her, poor thing.

“Easy,” he whispers as he pulls the cannon from his pocket,”or you'll be taking the pistol route outta town.”

She shrieks and the man in the shadows is filled with rage. This man has gone too far. The man in the shadows pulls the alley apple from his pocket and grips it in his dirty hand. The brick feels rough to the touch, but somehow his hands feel rougher. He moves out of the shadows and the two men turn to face him. Bravado turns to horror as the light floods over the lurkers face and clothing.

Dirty, and stinking, the lurker growls low through sewn and blackened lips. Bits of herbs and tatters of poultices drip and slither from the sides of his mouth as another low, dull growling mumble rumbles into the space. His milky white eyes glare through the half light as he stomps deeper into the room. His kin is a deep gray and his eyes are ringed with dark circles. A zombie.

The hand cannon goes off, but it's an impulse trigger pull fired from the hip out of fear, not desire to kill. The shot goes wide and into the wall. The men stare on. Their eyes are filled with fear.

Shouts and calls fill the hallway outside as fists pound at the door and shrill voices ask if the club singer is alright.

The second man struggles to free his weapon from his coat. He doesn't have a chance. The alley apple crashes into the side of his head hard and he goes down for the count and hits the flooring like a sack of potatoes.

Her screams fill the room as he turns to face the final, now lone mountain of a gunman. “Look out, Tommy!”

The gun goes off again, but this time the deadly extension of the man's hand is leveled right at Tommy's chest. There's no quick witted comment. No gunman bravado. Just an explosion that opens a small hole in Tommy's chest and a larger one in his back. Another shot rips into his shoulder, but it doesn't matter. He stumbles back and slumps against the wall.

The gunman shivers as sweat pours over his face and hands. “Jesus.” A lamp crashes into his back and he winces. He reels around and catches the woman across her face with the back of his hand. She yelps out and stumbles back into her dressing table. Glass breaks and items burst into life and dance their way to the cheap carpet as she drops to the floor far less gracefully than she dances.

The gunman pants and looks from his would be assailant to the woman on the floor clutching at her cheek and sobbing. The hallway fills with chatter and calls. It won't be long now before the bulls show up. He'll have to take care of this and get out fast.

“Ok, Doll.” He levels the gun at her. “Where's the dough!” His hand shakes.

The stirring behind him makes him gasp. He turns and sees Tommy rise up from th floor. Rising for the second time this eve to take care of his girl.

Shots ring out and bullets fly as Tommy closes the distance between himself and the gunman. His ear explodes and blood flies. His arm rips open as another bullet rings true. His leg bursts at the thigh. All too late. All too weak to stop what's coursing through Tommy's body.

The gunman's scream is cut off as Tommy's dirty, rotting hands find his throat and squeeze. The gunman tries to hit Tommy with the gun, but it doesn't phase the living corpse at all. A grin pulls at the corners of his mouth and brackish liquid snakes down his chin.

The gunman sees the horror up close now. Sees the crude thread that holds the terrible lips shut. He smells the muck that drips from the corners. Sees the leaves and oily brown that glistens on the dead things lips. He's seen the look of death before, just not...moving.

He remembers, as his vision starts to go dark and the pain in his airway starts to give way to the limp darkness, where he's seen this man....this thing....before. Days earlier...at his funeral.



Time flies.

The questions she had to answer were moot. It was obvious to the goons when they saw the scene before them that this was more of the same. The mob cleaning house. She'd been roughed up and some tough guy had dispatched the two and made like a bird and flown out the window. They had her kick it apart for them, told her that they'd be watching her and that she should wise up before she ended up as dead, then they slipped away and out as the meat wagon took away the dead.

There was no question that she didn't do the deed herself. These two mountains were manhandled in a big way. A crushed skull on one and another with his neck looking like a few sausages crudely wrapped together and his head turned almost all the way around. No dame had that strength.

Not by herself anyway.

She sits and thinks it all over and stares out of the window of her little apartment. Thinks about the money – their money – and what she'd do with what's left over. She'd paid a pretty penny for that old lady to work her magic on Tommy. Money well spent. He did say that he'd always take care of her. He always said it. She was sure he didn't mind what she'd done to him. Water under the bridge now, anyway. None of that mattered now.

She takes a drag on her cigarette and turns up the radio. Something slow and easy drifts out into the dark room and tears fill her eyes as she tries to forget everything. She knows she'll never be able to, however. Those eyes. Tommy's milky white....sad eyes.

Something moves in the alley and her eyes narrow. Smoke swirls around her head as the cigarette falls from her fingers and on to the floor.

He stomps up to her window and lightly raps on it as the rain washes over everything.

“No. No...you can go away now!” She shakes her head as he knocks again – harder now. His terrible eyes stare at her blankly. “Go away, Tommy!” She backs up and her breathing grows more rapid. “You did good and now you gotta go.”

He gives her the once over, cocks his head to the side lowers his arm.

She stares at him and whispers, “Go on...beat it,” under her breath. She moves closer to the window. “Beat it! Get the hell away from me.”

She doesn't have time to avoid the glass that rains in on her as his arms crash through the windowpane. She falls back into the room and hits the floor hard. The wind leaves her body in a huff as Tommy crawls into the room. He drags himself up and in effortlessly.

Dazed, she scrambles to her knees and makes for the door. Glass punctures her knee and she screams as rolls onto her side. She looks back and pushes herself back with her hands- slithering towards the door on her backside.
“Go away, Tommy! You're scaring me! Leave me alone! Get the hell away from me!”

Tommy's groan sounds mournful. His arms reach out as he stomps over the broken glass.

She winces when she notices the massive shard of glass lodged in his guts. Entrails work their way out of the wound with each step. She gags and scrambles back and away from the horror before her. Her mind franticly grasps at the strange word the old voodoo lady had given her to release Tommy from the world again.

Tommy's face is sad and his brow is furrowed. He's filled with nothing but love for her. He'd do anything for her. Had done everything for her. He even had given his life for her. His love for her broke all boundaries.

Tommy looms over her and blood drips onto her bare feet. She knocks into the desk and sends the light crashing to the floor. The room goes dark.

The word hits her like a ton of bricks. “SATHRATHNI!”

Tommy feels his legs go weak again. Feels the life slip from him as his eyes go wide in the darkness. He drops. His body collides with hers.

She gasps. Air fills her lungs for the last time as the shard of glass wedged into Tommy's body pierces her flesh and brings the curtain down on her life. She wants to cry out, but withers away before she has the chance. Shock and terror stop her heart before her fatal wound can. The light leaves her lovely brown eyes.

He reaches up and touches her face, then he reaches for his lips and tears away the heavy thread. Gore, herbs and a small shell fall from his mouth. He whispers, “I love...”