Friday, August 31, 2018

Soyokaze Stories: Yōkai

A short work of fiction based on stories within my N Scale layout. 


Yōkai (妖怪, ghost, phantom, strange apparition) are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits, and demons in Japanese folklore. The word yōkai is made up of the kanji for "bewitching; attractive; calamity"; and "spectre; apparition; mystery; suspicious".[1] They can also be called ayakashi (あやかし), mononoke (物の怪), or mamono (魔物). Yōkai range diversely from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them.


I had just wrapped up my stay in Kitakyushu. It was a lovely time when all was said and done. This was the usual for this trip. More pleasure than business usually, however this trip had more importance than usual. More discussions. More political play. That combined with the general crush of the population and my contact Suda's desperate need to make sure I felt taken care of - shuttling me off to Mojiko for lunches or dinners and planning meetings that involved many documents being read through,  flower tunnels, and manga museums was just exhausting.

"The curry?" Suda paused his somewhat frantic feasting to check in on me.

I wiped my mouth and smiled a wide smile. "Glorious, thank you. The fish is a lovely touch." I nodded my head. "I'll miss this food and my present company." I smiled again letting him know that I was pleased. Something I seemed to have to do hourly to avoid his nervous planning.

"Excellent. Excellent." He laughed and went back to his feasting. He held up a finger and dipped his head to someone behind me. A small, full figured woman appeared with her hair drawn back into an intricate braid. She avoided looking at me, keeping her head tilted towards Suda as he looked her up and down, then locked onto the small, domed platter she carried.

He whispered in Japanese, "This is the Yamazaki 18, correct? The 18?" 

The woman bowed her head and smiled. "Yes, Mr. Suda. The 18, as requested. We brought it up for you. We have the gift box and bag along with your note. I'll bring it out to you when you are finished." She smiled a polite smile and took a step back from the table as she lifted the dome. She still didn't look towards me.

As the dome lifted, I could see the bottle of Yamazaki 18 whiskey. I wasn't sure just how much Suda had spent on it, but I knew it wasn't cheap. I also knew I'd never inquire. I'd just do an internet search for it later out of curiousity.

Suda smiled to the woman and watched as she bowed and walked away. "I love a healthy woman. I should have married." He waved his hand at invisible thoughts that seemed to float before his eyes for a moment. "This is for you, my friend. A fine whiskey, though I was pushing for something even more elaborate for you." He chuckled. "As a lover of whiskey, I'm sure this will please."

"This really wasn't necessary, but I appreciate the gift. It's very kind of you. Very." I smiled and thought how unfair it was that Suda's view of our friendship was far more warm than mine. But, how do you tell a person this?  "Would you share a glass with me now? Can we?"

His face lit up - more of the thoughts of friendship, most likely. "I couldn't. No no..."

I waved him off with a laugh. "Don't be absurd. With everything you've done for us this trip, it must happen." I turned to look for the woman again, but she must have slipped into the kitchen. I turned back to Suda and he motioned again with his finger and again the woman appeared, but made no eye contact with me. She placed two glasses on the table and motioned to the bottle. Suda nodded and she opened the bottle with expert care - a small blade drawn over the wrapping to release the cork, then a perfect amount poured into each glass. At that, she disappeared again.

"Not sure she likes me," I muttered with a grin.

"Superstitions and wife tales. Think nothing of it." He frowned slightly. He raised his glass. "To friendships and good business," he said as he waited for me to join in.

"To friendships and good business. I'd say Kanpai, but I'd prefer to sip this rather than draining it." I grinned and sipped with Suda, still thinking about his 'superstitions' comment.

"I'm happy that you are taking time to visit Soyokaze before returning home, Mr. Kenton. As a man in our industry, you simply must visit the Soyokaze Harbor."

I gave a silent prayer that Suda wouldn't go over the wonders of Soyokaze yet again. I wasn't sure I could take a third round of audio touring of the area. I cut in before he could start. "Yes, thanks again for making the arrangements on such short notice."

"Think nothing of it." He took another sip, then looked serious for a moment. He glanced behind me, then narrowed his eyes. "Do be careful while you travel. Just...the usual precautions." He broke his frown and grinned. "Soyokaze and Shizuka are safe spots in general, but they have been facing some...political drama of late."

"Has this to do with your suspicion comment earlier?"  I motioned behind me with my head.

Suda's laugh was nervous and forced. He sipped. "Silly. Silly. When we were here the other day, obaasan said that you had a darkness around you." He sat up with a worried expression when he saw me raise my eyebrow at the statement and blurted out, "Not that YOU are the darkness. No no...it's not a reflection of you personally. It's as if...you were being..." He shook his head and muttered, "How to describe?" in Japanese before saying, "A worry or omen around you? Not quite right." The frustration was visible on his face.''

"Well, I'll be careful." I tried to reassure him with me smile. I refilled our glasses. "Let's chase the gloom away, shall we?"


_______________



The train trip was uneventful and a visual feast. Cityscapes gave way to countryside as my train rocketed along. I was immediately glad that I waited the extra day to take in the view in the light of day. Kiwamura station was called out along with mentions of Shizuka and Soyokaze. I watched as we swept around Shizuka and thought that I had made the wrong choice for seating arrangements until I got a glimpse of Soyokaze Temple. I smiled as I heard Suda's detailed tour of the area playing in my head.

A woman's voice shocked me. "Lovely."

I turned my head away from the window and found myself looking directly into the face of a woman leaning over to get a view of the temple through my window. Her hair hung down around her head giving her head the appearance that is was disembodied for a moment.

She smiled at me, and stood up as the train entered a tunnel. The dim lights of the train cast a blueish glow over everything. The woman waved and walked off down the center of the car awkwardly. I glanced down at my bag in the seat next to me and saw that there were two small, character charms on the handle. A small sash of red leather was tied to one of the latches.

I bolted up and snatched the bag up trying to spot the woman that looked out of my window. She was heading into the next car with a bag that looked just like the one I held minus the trimmings.

My first impulse was to shout after her, but, believing that would be bad form, I made my way into the passage and followed her instead. I begged people's pardon as I pushed past to try and catch up with the woman. I was greeted with a mixture of sympathy from some and disgust from others as I slowly caught up with the woman.

The train came to a stop and people slowly started filing off. I lost sight of the woman immediately. Stepping off the train, and moved towards a small set of stairs to get a higher view.

"Sir! Sir!"  My train woman was waving her arm and holding up my bag. I returned the wave and held her bag up before stepping off the stairs and walking toward her. "I'm so sorry! Please forgive me. You must think I'm an idiot." She bowed and presented me with my bag. "I was in a fog."

Her English excellent. I had heard that that may be a small stumbling block for the trip in this area. "Not a problem at all. You were swept up in the wonder of the temple." I smiled and handed her her bag. She was dressed like a business worker - a sharp, black suit and white blouse. She looked to be my age, but I was never good at judging a person's age.

"Please, let me make it up to you for the inconvenience. May I?" She grinned.

"Really, it's not a problem."

"You might be hungry after the trip, yes? Are you staying in Shizuka? I can have our bags sent on and take you to lunch?" Suda's warning of a darkness and caution drifted away into our toast of friendships as I looked into the dark pools of her eyes.  "I am Ito Aoi." She bowed, but in a rather informal way that I appreciated.

"Richard Kenton." I bowed in the fashion Suda said was appropriate for these sorts of meetings.

"Kenton-sama - a pleasure." She held her briefcase before her. "Shall we get our bags?"

The next few minutes were a bit of a blur. I had not remembered actually agreeing to lunch, nor do I remember accepting her kind offer to have our bags shuttled to the hotels for us, yet there I giving her all of my hotel information and watching as she made the arrangements with the man at the desk at Kiwamura station. The man seemed a bit taken aback by her manor. I couldn't hear what she was saying to him, but there almost seemed to be a bit of cringing that was going on. I began to wonder if she was known here. Some sort of business giant, perhaps?

When she turned back to me leaving the man at the desk, he seemed to fly into action - waving over two porters. After he said something to them, they glanced over toward Ito Aoi and sprang into action, taking up the bags and moving them away quickly.

"I'm not sure what you said to them, but they seem to be moving rather quickly." I chuckled.

Aoi laughed a small laugh, covering her mouth her her hand.





Lunch was fantastic. After we left the station, we strolled across the parking area and got onto a small tram after Aoi asked if I'd mind going the long way around through Shizuka and back out to Soyokaze. I said that would be preferable so I could get the lay of the land. The tram ran through the very edge of Shizuka. Aoi pointed out my hotel as we passed it along with some other points of interest in the immediate area.

The tram wrapped around and circled back on itself, then let us out in the heart of Soyokaze. It was a fun little "old style" town filled with wooden buildings and street vendors.

"It's not busy today or tomorrow, but the day after will be a mess here. If you plan on coming back, I suggest you do it later today or tomorrow," she said matter-of-factly. She led me in a circle around the vendors pointing things out from time to time, then excused herself and made a call.

Moments later, a black sedan arrived and the driver hurried out of the car and opened the door for us. "Company driver." She smiled. "I won't be able to make it up and over the Temple hill in these heels. Do you mind?" She didn't wait for an answer and stepped into the back.

I smiled at the driver, but he just stared at me blankly as I slipped in behind her.

The veneer of politeness seemed to be fading as Aoi and I spoke. She wasn't rude or gruff with me, but she was very straight forward and began to drop some of the politenesses that she had shown at the train station.

"What is it that you do, may I ask? Do you work in the area or are you just visiting as well?" The car swung around a curve and the driver had to come to a quick stop for a truck that was turning around. Aoi blurted out angry words in Mandarin which through me for a loop. The driver muttered what seemed to be an apology back to her in Chinese as he bowed his head repeatedly.




"So sorry about that. The dangers of having lunch directly in the harbor. But the food here is as fresh as it could be. I believe it's worth the dangers of trucks...and my driver." She smirked and I mustered a smile, but the worried look in the drivers eyes in the rearview put me a bit on edge.

It wasn't until later that I realized that she never answered my question about her job. All through lunch, she skillfully avoided details about it as well. It was always a shallow description of a boring business relations position or a glorified assistant. But her vague nature made me even more curious over time.

Aoi checked her phone several times during lunch and took several photos of us eating after we got to know each other better. She showed me the last photo she took - a happy set of new friends chatting over lunch. The hand she held up with the V finger formation completed things nicely. Sadly, her hand blocked her face for the most part.

"I can send it to you - what is your email address?" She entered the address quickly as I gave it to her and hit send. My phone chimed and she continued to write things in the phone as I checked mine. I slipped it back into my pocket as she grinned at rather sinister grin.

"You can tell all of your friend's back home that you picked up some girl for the weekend off the train." She chuckled and I got a rather off-putting feel from her. A sharpness. "I'm sure that will go over well." She finished her beer and popped the last bit of salmon into her mouth. Her phone chimed and she checked it again. "Excuse me."  She stood and stomped off a few feet.

I glanced around the small shack of an eatery and around at the busy harbor goings on around us. Trucks were loaded, areas were cleaned, and people rushed about with clock-like order. I craned my head around and ducked it down a bit to get a look at the train being loaded up on the hillside above the harbor. A fine operation.

When I looked around, Aoi was taking another photo of me with that same, slightly sinister smile.  She typed something in as she returned to the table. "Give us some privacy," she said - her voice forceful and slightly gruff. The three restaurant workers rushed away closing the door behind them. I frowned and pushed my chair back a bit.

"Everything ok, Aoi-san?"

She waved a hand at me and refilled her glass as my phone rang. I went to answer it, but she shook her head at me. "Just leave that. He'll call back." She grinned and drank the beer down quickly. She tapped her phone against the side of her head and said, "So many moving parts in business, Richard. So many arrangements. Right?"

I nodded. "Um...," I laughed nervously. "What's going on here?" I stood.

"Down, boy." She pointed to my chair. "Sit."

I narrowed my eyes, smiled, and made my way to the door. I spun around when I heard her heels snapping against the hardwood floor rapidly behind me. She was a blur of motion and had me spun back towards the door with my left arm up behind my back and something sharp against my right side.

Her phone rang and she let my arm go, but kept the sharp object up against the small of my back. The pressure made it clear that she didn't want me to move. I heard the polite woman from the train answer the phone.

"Suda-sama! How nice of you to return my email so promptly!" Her voice was high and had a sing-song feel to it. She giggled, then dropped into the gruff register again switching back to English. "I was just keeping your associate company while you worked things out." She pressed the object into my back with a bit more force. "He's a fantastic conversationalist."

I heard the voice on the other end of her phone. It sounded manic. Frantic.

"I need you to let me - "   She pressed the object further into my back and cut me off.

"Suda. You know what we're looking for, yes? An agreement would do wonders for your friend here. Text my friends the information now. You have 45 seconds."   She hung up and slipped the phone up and in front of my face. Her texts were up and I recognized Suda's number.  "If my friends do not get what they want from your friend Suda...." She pressed harder and a sharp pain went up my spine.

My face was pressed against the door. I didn't move. Every time I tried to breathe, pain rang through me. I stared into the phone and Aoi's breath warmed my ear.

"Tick....tock.....tick....." she whispered into my ear.  "I hope Suda knows that I'm serious."

Her phone chimed. The message on the screen read RECEIVED. Nothing more. I felt the pressure in my back fade away.

"Well, it looks like things will be ok for you after all." Aoi giggled and backed away. When I turned to face her, she showed me the object that was in my back. It was a spoon - it's pointed handle side up.

I made a move towards her and her hand swung up into view. She spun her hand around several times and a knife flashed into view.

"No no...I don't want to get my butterfly dirty, Richard." She waved me aside with the knife and I moved away from the door. She moved forward and opened the door. The driver entered the room and Aoi moved back to the table and took a sip of her beer before speaking.  "Take Richard back to his hotel."

"Yes."  The driver looked at me, motioned with his head, then left the room.

"That's it?" I scowled at her.

"Afraid so. No sex for you." She laughed. "Come now. You're fine. Free to explore our glorious city. Run along."

Furious, I stormed out of the room and past the waiting car. I had had enough. The harbor was still in full swing and I had no concerns for my safety anymore. The only thing on my mind was getting to a police station. I pulled my phone out and called Suma immediately. It picked up after one ring.

"SUMA! What the FUCK was -"

"Mr. Kenton. You're going to want to let this all go."

"Who are you? Where is Suma?!"

"Just drop it. You're fine. Enjoy your trip. Let it go." The phone went dead.



_______________



Three hours later, I was still in the small police station I found and still trying to get someone to do something. However, after seeing the woman on my phone, the police said that they really had nothing to go on. I gave them her name, but nothing came up in the computer when they looked it up. When I asked them to send someone to the harbor, the agreed reluctantly and asked me to step into a small waiting room.

A man showed up shortly after and spoke to the police. As he spoke, several officers glanced in my direction. They seemed agitated and concerned and I was wondering what the stranger was saying to them to get that sort of reaction.

He made his way over to me entered the room closing the door behind him.

"Mr. Kenton. Stanley Roth." He held out his hand and I shook it without thinking. "So sorry that you were involved in all of this fiasco."

"Are you from the embassy?"

"The embassy? No. I'm from K.A.B.  They sent me over right away when they heard. What happened from the officers here."

He was from my company? I was confused and it must have shown on my face.

"Perhaps we can continue this conversation...elsewhere?"

I nodded and grabbed my coat. He was silent until we go out of the building.

"We've checked on Suda. He's gone. Security was trying to run a trace on the company phone, but they found it in his home. We were looking at his involvement in several confusing financial dealings, but never thought that things would get to this point. We just thought it was a simple case of embezzlement. It turns out it goes a bit further than that. We're just glad you're safe."

He pointed to a small garage and motioned me inside. I followed him through the dim parking area and towards the elevator. Someone rushed up behind me and shoved me aside. Roth spun around, but the woman was on him savagely. His face was filled with shock and pain as she slipped the butterfly knife into his side. She hissed as she pulled it out and brought the the handle down hard on his cheek. He went down hard and she snaked her hand through his hair, lifted his head, and brought it down hard on the concrete flooring. He was out cold.

Aoi stood after wiping the blade off hastily. "Don't you ever learn, Kenton-sama?" She laughed and I started to run. She called after me. "Maybe you should ask for ID when someone says they are from your company - huh?!"

My hand gripped the door handle and I stopped.

Aoi spun her hand around in a circle again and the blade folded back into the handle of the knife. "You're like a little boy asked if he'd like to go see puppies. Blindly following all strangers." Her laugh was cruel.

"Who was he?" I opened the door, longing to be closer to freedom before she got closer.

She slipped her hands out of the rubber gloves she wore. "Not Stanley Roth. No friend of yours."

"And you are?"

"Part of the deal. The only collateral damage there was to be was your friend Suda. He was not a very good boy. Not like you." She grinned.

I exited the garage and stepped out onto the sidewalk. People rushed by as I made my way away from the door before turning around. I half expected her to stay inside. To disappear out some side door. But seconds later she appeared, closed her eyes, and smiled up at the sunshine before making her way towards me. She raised her hand and two officers pushed past me.

The shock of the day was making my legs weak. I put out a hand to steady myself and rested against a bike rack.

"You're with the police?"

At that, she laughed hard and pointed at me. "You are hilarious. You should go home and never leave there." She giggled. "The police."  She checked her phone and sighed. "Well, Richard, I'm done with you it seems. All these little loose ends are done." Sirens filled the air as an ambulance rounded the corner and the officers that went inside pushed the door open and started waving people away.

Aoi turned and started to walk away. "No more running off to see puppies. Enjoy the rest of your trip."

I followed after her. "Wait. What the fuck was this all about?!"  Several people scowled at me as they passed by.

"Money, Richard. Bad people and money."

"What now?!"

Aoi ran across the street dodging vehicles as she did. I made to follow her, but wasn't going to try and make it across a busy street.


___________


The woman across from me pushed her glasses up on her nose and checked the small recorder in front of her. She lifted the photo of Aoi up and studied it for a moment before dropping it back down onto the table.

"Well, you are a luck man, Mr. Kenton. Very lucky. This all seemed very well planned and well executed. Yamato Suda's body was found three blocks away from his home. He'd been tortured for several hours, evidently."

I winced.

"And, with everything that you've told me since you've been back, it seems like the very same could have happened to you. This Ito woman seemed to be on the same side as Mr. Yamato's attackers.

"Poor Suda." I shook my head.

"Yes." She pushed another paper at me to sign. "Last one. I don't think I'll need anything else from you. I won't be calling you in again." She smiled. "We're confident that you won't let this story out, but..." she tapped the paper. "Better to have it in writing, right?"

I scanned the document. Classic NDA form with some specific additions about the company and the trip. I was tired and done with the whole of it, so I signed it without much thought.

"Thank you so much for your cooperation." She started slipping the papers and photos back into her bag.

"So it was all money then?"

She smiled. "Yes. Mostly. Money."



I made my way put of the room after saying my goodbyes to the Security woman, Tate, and made my way out of the K.A.B. building. The air downtown was chilly and damp. I turned and walked down a block to the coffee shop I frequented. As I ordered, my phone buzzed. I stepped over to wait for my coffee and took the phone from my pocket.

There was a message.  The sender phone number was the same as mine.

HERE. THESE SHOULD KEEP YOU ENTERTAINED AND SAFE AT HOME, KENTON-SAMA.   Affectionately, Yōkai   (´・ω・`)

Attached were about six photos of puppies.

A smile crossed my face.  What an smartass.

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

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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.

~~