Day 1 The Enso by Linda A. Gould (The introduction to a longer short story)
Japan, 1073 A.D. The man set down his brush to admire the knife and the blood-red circle he had just drawn on its handle. He had lost count how many times he had used the knife, but he remembered the first time with such clarity he could still see the shock in the stranger’s eyes as it slipped between two ribs and straight into the man’s heart. As the victim drew his last breaths, the man had carefully dipped a small calligraphy brush into the gushing blood and, using one full breath, had drawn a circle on the stone handle of the knife. That circle, his first enso, was ragged and unfinished, a mirror to the thrilling chaos that raged through him during his first kill. Later, he calmly etched the circle deeper into the stone handle and pressed more of his victim’s blood into the depressions he made. For 30 years, the man added fresh blood from each of his victims to the enso. The circle had grown potent and as black as death itself. The man’s life was nearing an end, but he had no intention of dying. He pulled a small book from his kimono sleeve. He’d found it so many years ago on a traveller who’d passed out drunk at his father’s inn. As he tore pages from the book and tossed them into the fire, he absentmindedly massaged the side of his head where his father had hit him when he handed over the book along with the coins he’d stolen. “Only you could be so stupid as to take a worthless book,” his father had scolded. But he knew his father was wrong. The book had called to him, and when he touched it, power surged through him, power so forceful, he had gotten an erection. That night, he ran his fingers across the pages, and though he couldn’t read, voices whispered the book’s secrets to him. Over the years, the voices had taught him what he needed to become immortal. Today, one by one, the man had pierced the heart of each of his fellow monks. The book had taught him that dying breaths held wispy blue slivers of the soul and how to catch them before they could coalesce into a flame that protected the soul en route to the Afterworld. So, as the dying monks exhaled, the man devoured the wispy slivers emanating from their breath. He savored the desperation and agony of each monk’s life force as his own subsumed theirs before adding their blood to the enso. He peered at a butterfly under a glass dome. “You thought you could escape, didn’t you? You thought I didn’t know about soul transmigration, right?” He tore out the last pages from the book and tossed them into the fire, then held up the book’s spine for the butterfly to see. “This is why your feeble attempt to escape failed. This book taught me more than you ever did. And now look at you, the zen master trapped by his student.” Entering monkhood had been a stroke of genius. No one questioned his late nights of study, and he could explain his disappearances into the woods as meditative training. His fellow monks had no idea of the number of bodies he’d buried in these woods. And no one but him would ever know the truth or have access to the book’s secrets. He tossed the book’s binding into the deepest part of the fire then pushed a few partially-burned bones over it. He hadn’t realized how slowly bodies burn. It didn’t matter. By the time someone discovered the massacre, the foxes he had seen creeping within the forest shadows would have taken care of anything that didn’t burn. They would take care of his own body, too. He lifted the glass and snatched the butterfly. One wing off, the second wing off. The small body squirmed as he carried it into the forest where he kneeled at the base of a gnarled tree, a portal that linked this world with the Afterworld. He dug the knife tip into the tree, opening a slit that released malignant energy, dark and thick like sap. He pushed the poisoned knife tip gently into the butterfly’s small black body. The blue wisp that emerged cast a strong glow against the black night; this soul was ancient and powerful. The man sucked up each wisp and felt the multitudes of his master’s lives fill him with power. He closed his eyes and summoned his own soul, which tasted rancid after his feast on monk souls. Slowly and purposefully, he drew an enso in his mind’s eye as he exhaled his own soul as a glorious blue flame that shimmered against the backdrop of the dense, dark forest. The man willed the flame into the dark energy that leaked from the tree. It flashed within the black ooze, grew dim, then disappeared, emerging moments later as a black butterfly with a human, fiendish face. The man held out the knife and the butterfly dove into the enso. He plunged the knife into his abdomen, splattering blood onto the handle before dropping to the ground. His own fiendish face, tucked into a shadowy section of the enso, was the last thing he saw.
A small town outside of Tokyo,2018 Yasu’s stomach launched a stream of half-digested fish mixed with whiskey onto the sidewalk. He rested against a bench, mesmerized by the steam wafting from his vomit, and waited for the heaving to stop before sitting down. He rested his elbows on his thighs, his head in his hands, and wished for a bottle of water to wash away the sour taste in his mouth. That new waitress knew exactly what she was doing when she flirted with him and plied him with drinks. Yasu sighed. He’d known what she was doing, too, though, and had secretly enjoyed the flashes of cleavage when she set his drinks down and the casual taps on his shoulder. It had been years since his wife had treated him like more than a human wallet, and, after the day he’d had, a little human touch felt good. He even caught glimpses of her panties when she bent over to deliver drinks to the other men at the bar. He wasn’t the only man in the bar who noticed, but he could’t bring himself to pat her bottom like some of the others did. He would wait until he got home to imagine the softness under those panties. Staying for those extra drinks meant he had no cash and had to walk home. He could call his wife to pick him up, but she would spend the entire car ride complaining about being dragged out in the cold, his alcohol breath, and the stench of cigarette smoke on his clothes. He just couldn’t bear that right now. A young man strrode past him and slipped in Yasu’s vomit, releasing a whiff of bile and whisky. “Ugh! Disgusting drunk,” he muttered, wiping his shoe off as best he could. “This’ll be you in a few years!” Yasu called back, angry that the man had walked past him instead of offering to help. The neighborhood was full of strangers since those damn developers bought up all the land and planted houses where rice and soybeans used to thrive. He heaved himself to standing and waited for the dizziness to settle. He walked a few yards, then stopped at a set of stairs leading onto a narrow forest path that connected the main road to his neighborhood. He hadn’t considered the shortcut. The forest path would cut his walk in half, but…he looked around…where was DetectiveNakamura? She usually patrolled this street to prevent people from entering. It would be so much easier to take this path, but just thinking about the forest made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. No matter how bright the day, light struggled to penetrate the canopy. Weird shadows slithered along the path, and an air of gloom and unease hung so heavy there, people usually spoke in hushed tones and rushed to get to the end. But mostly, Yasu avoided the forest because of the terrible memories it brought back. Two of his best friends, who had always appeared light-hearted and joyful, had committed suicide there. And rumor had it, that there had been others since. Yasu vomited again, this time into the grass. He just wanted to get home. He’d get through the forest as fast as he could. He glanced around to make sure Detective Nakamura hadn’t appeared, then stumbled up the three stairs and staggered into the forest. Mist crept among the trees and settled on the path behind him.
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Day 2 5 Hours Past & Meowing Unheard by B. A. Mullin
5 Hours Past Something about the ghost girl in the corner: Not scary like the others. The faceless woman walking in circles. Blood from her earholes. A yelling man. “Marbles.” Decayed fingertips reach. A shadow, howling horridly. Yet, she just cries—hunched over—arms to knees. Nostalgia of my daughter. I would offer her a blanket. I’d fall past the poor dear. Because, well, ghosts. I know. She needs a hug. We can pretend. Should cheer her up. Oh, she’s saying something. It took a lot of effort, but I’m able make out the little girl’s words: “Daddy, why’d you have to die?”
*** Meowing Unheard Dear Ghost Cat: Your aged tactics don’t scare me. Stop leaping out of corners. Stop curling your fangs; …followed by your hysterical hiss. I can’t hear you. You’re dead. Your weak attempts to get me to leave my house are silly. If you want attention, Try purring? … Rather than ghostly claws. Try the good ghost kitty act.
P.S. Knock this lame haunting stuff off. It isn’t cute. ~Frustrated Living Tenant
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Day 3 The Bright Things by Joshua St. Clair
There are whispers in the hawthorns again. Father says don’t listen, but I hear something Splashing in the spring again. Some say the glen Is cursed, but I can hear the Bright Things singing.
Last September, I saw gossamer wings Whirl and then vanish as they voiced my name. I feared I would never hear the Bright Things Whisper to me in the hawthorns again.
I passed the winter dreaming of them in vain. No voice nor wing swirled in the snow, singing. Now the Hawthorn fruit is full again. Father says don’t pick them. Still I hear something
As I approach. The Bright Things are singing A song I know—singing my name again. Twilight prism rainbows— the Bright Things Are splashing in the spring again. The glen
Echoes with voices and wings and, then, I am among them. My father’s warning-- unheeded—oh—I will regret it again. I’ll curse when I first heard the Bright Things singing.
The Bright Things turned Dark, suddenly wringing Flesh from bone. Soul ripped from body and drained. Now I am a thing of voice and wing, Imprisoned forever in this cursed glen, Whispering in the hawthorns.
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Day 4 Kamata Matahachi by Linda A. Gould
You! Don't think I will forget your treachery. Or forgive you. My wife died behind me hours ago. Her moans and whimpers grew weaker, fainter as her spirit light grew stronger and brighter. And then...silence. There were no goodbyes. Our mouths were parched, our energy devoted to keeping our hearts beating and our breath gasping for just a few more moments of life. My spirit light calls. I feel the drag of my soul striving to reach the blue glow, but my will is yet strong. YOU decided that the chance discovery of you and the princess was a death sentence for two innocent souls who merely wanted to finish their work early so they could visit an old friend. YOU determined that the lives of two servants are less valuable than your secret. YOU dragged us to this forsaken part of the forest to die alone, cold, and in agony. And YOU planned that our bodies will be devoured before they can be found. We will never have the funeral rites said for us. YOU chose that we will be doomed to forever haunt this place. But I vow that YOU will sleep no more, that I will be in every dream to share my agony. I vow that YOU will never again see the princess or any woman without also seeing my body hanging above your bed, just as it hangs here now. I vow that YOU will hear the whisper of our souls in the halls of your palace, and that there will be no comfort for you in your own home. I vow that YOU will regret the moment you decided our deaths were required so that you could woo a princess. My wife is gone. Oh, but I am still here. Life does not go willingly. Nor does hatred. Nor does revenge. Oh, how I now hate you. Oh, I will have my revenge.
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Day 5 The Betrothed by Steve Carr
Clarice crawled out of the water and onto the wet, gray beach and collapsed as the turbulent waves washed over her. With the left side of her face against the sand, she took in small gasps of air as each wave receded. Digging her fingers into the sand, she slowly pulled herself further onto the beach until she was free of the water. She rolled over onto her back and stared up at the streaks of blood red, deep purple and dark blue that was fanned out across the sky. Shivering, she tugged at the silk gown that clung to her body. She drifted in and out of consciousness, not becoming fully awake until she found herself staring at a star-splattered sky and recognized the demon star, Algol, that waxed and waned among the stars in the constellation, Cassiopeia. She slowly sat up and stared at the black ocean that lay calm and quiet, sending only tufts of sudsy foam onto the beach. Using her fingertips, she combed her long brown hair back from her face and brushed the sand from her cheek. She ran her tongue around her parched lips and then spat out the salt that coated her tongue. The cry of a seagull circling above her made her look up, and then turn as it floated upward. She faced a steep, craggy stone cliff that walled off the beach on three sides. At the top, light from several windows shone from a large, stone house. She quickly stood up, shook her head to clear her dizziness, and yelled “help” as loud as she could. Then she was struck in the head from behind. She collapsed, unconscious, onto the sand. # A warm, salty breeze blew in through a large opened window. The heavy dark green drapes that hung on both sides of the window fluttered almost imperceptibly. Sunlight streamed into the room, bathing the canopied bed in white light. Clarice awoke with a start and sat up. The nightgown she was wearing was new and rose colored. The room was sparsely furnished, with the bed, a vanity dresser with a large round mirror and an embroidered, padded stool. The walls were bare and burgundy. She pushed aside the pale green comforter and dark green linen sheet that covered her and climbed out of bed. She ran to the window and looked out. The ocean sparkled under a lemon yellow sun. When the door to the room opened, she spun around. “I see you've awoken,” the old hag standing in the doorway, said. Beneath the hag’s thick white hair that stuck straight out from her head, was a face as wrinkled as a topographic map. Her irises were as white as the sclera of her eyes. “Who are you?” Clarice said. “I'm Tribell,” she said. “The master of the house has asked me to see that you're comfortable.” “Who is he?” “You'll be meeting him in due time,” Tribell said. “Your bath is being drawn and clothes befitting a beautiful young woman such as yourself have been found and laid out for you in the dressing chamber.” “How did I get here?” Clarice said. “The last I remember I was down on the beach and I was hit from behind.” She put her hand on the back of her head. “Strange, there's no bump or sign of injury.” “You must have dreamt that,” Tribell said. “You were pounding on the front door and when the master opened it, you fainted in his arms.” “But I came here from the sea,” she said. “Nonsense,” Tribell said. “No one can get to the manor from the sea. Your memory has been affected somehow.” Clarice ran her fingertip over her lips. “I have no memory other than crawling out of the ocean.” “It rained most violently last night,” Tribell said. “That was the water you crawled out of.” Clarice sat on the stool in front of the vanity dresser. She stared at her reflection in the mirror. The eyes that stared back at her were filled with dismay. # The hallway she walked down was lined on both sides with large wooden doors locked with chains. Thumping on the doors from the other side echoed through the hall. She stopped and put her ear to a door, and hearing nothing but the tapping, she walked on. The hall was dimly lit by pale moonlight that filtered through a stained glass window. The blue and yellow in the glass was faintly cast on the floor and walls. The design of the window was that of a raft on a violent sea crowded with men and women in various contortions of great distress. Clarice's long pale rose silk dress dragged on the bare wood floor making a swishing sound that reverberated through the hallway. She stopped at the top of a winding staircase. “You were told to stay in your bedroom,” Tribell said, suddenly appearing on the stairs a few steps down. Clarice recoiled. “How did you just appear like that?” Tribell cackled, displaying a mouth filled with blackened, broken teeth. “Are you daft? I've been standing here all along. You're not to wander the manor alone.” “Why?” Clarice said. “Am I being held prisoner?” “Of course not, my dear,” a male voice behind her said. Clarice turned around. A tall man in a black jacket, silver waistcoat and a white ruffled shirt was standing a few feet behind her. His face was gaunt and pale. He had piercing gray eyes. His silver hair was parted down the middle. “The stairs in this manor can be treacherous,” he said. “You're a very attractive young woman and we wouldn't want you to have a very unfortunate fall down them.” Clarice looked down the stairs. Tribell was gone. “The stairs look no different than any other stairs,” she said. “What is it they say about looks being deceiving?” he said. “Has Tribell informed you that you will be dining with me this evening?” “Who are you?” “My apologies,” he said. “I forgot my manners. I'm Thomas Lacket, the owner of this manor. And you are?” “Clarice . . .” She rubbed her temples. “My last name has escaped me for the moment.” “No doubt caused by being out in that storm last night,” he said. “I need to get back to where I came from.” “Where is that?” Clarice rubbed her forehead as if to pull the memory from her brain. “I don't recall that either.” She glanced down the hallway. “Why are those doors chained?” "It doesn't concern you,” he said with a hint of irritation. “Rest until Tribell comes for you.” He then waved his hand in front of her face. Instantly she found herself back in her room and lying on the bed. She closed her eyes, certain she was having a nightmare, and fell into a deep sleep. # Clarice awoke with a start. The sounds of the waves crashing onto the beach drew her attention to the window. For a very brief moment she thought she saw an apparition of a man outside in the dark looking in at her, and then it vanished. Startled, she quickly sat up and looked around the room. The candles in the sconces had been lit. The flames flickered as the moist, cool breeze came in through the open window. She got off of the bed and went to the vanity dresser and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She put her fingers to her cheeks, concerned with their paleness. When pinching them brought no color, she opened a drawer and searched among the folded lace handkerchiefs and hair ribbons for a pin or needle. After at last finding a needle under a white glove she took it out and jabbed the tip of her left index finger. When no blood bubbled out she jabbed her middle finger. She poked each of her fingers and the skin on her forearm. “No blood,” she said, distraught. “How can that be?” “Perhaps you're anemic.” Clarice spun around. Tribell was standing in the shadows in a corner of the room, her arms crossed. “How did you get in here?” Clarice said, flinging the needle onto the dresser. “I've been here,” she said. “You must comb your hair and smooth the wrinkles in your dress. It's time to join the master for supper.” # “Why are there no portraits of your family in this house?” Clarice said looking around the dining room. Every wall was bare except for several brass sconces. “My family took their faces with them to their graves,” he said with a wry chuckle. When a male servant in formal attire entered the room carrying a tray of food, Clarice turned in her chair and put her hand to her mouth and fought back the urge to scream. Half of his young face was a mass of burnt, scarred flesh. One eye was missing from a darkened socket. He went first to her end of the table and lifted the lid on a bowl and ladled steaming hot soup into Clarice's bowl, put a dish with rolls beside the bowl, and then went to the other end of the table and did the same for Thomas. After he left the room, Clarice said, “What happened to him?” “It is a shame, isn't it?” he said. “Robert was such a pretty youth. He stole from the wine cellar once too often and had to be taught a lesson.” Clarice pushed her chair back from the table and stood up. “What kind of monster are you?” “The very best kind,” he said with a malevolent grin. He waved his hand. “Now sit down and eat your soup.” Clarice was hurled back into the chair as it slid back to the table. She picked up a butter knife and prepared to throw it at him when Tribell suddenly appeared and grabbed her wrist. “Mind your manners,” Tribell said, twisting Clarice's wrist until she dropped the knife. “I like your pluck,” Thomas said as he picked up a roll and broke it in two, “but if you try anything like that again I'll have to alter your lovely features.” # Clarice awoke in the middle of the night. The room was cold. Light from a crescent moon shone in through the closed window. The candles had melted down to stubs and their wicks had no flame. She looked around the room, and then said, “Tribell?” When the old woman didn't respond, Clarice threw back the covers and got out of bed. Although the stone floor was cold, she left the slippers that had been placed at the bedside, and tip-toed to the door. It creaked slightly as she opened it. She walked into the hallway hugging her nightgown close to her body. Two candles were burning, their flickering flames casting dancing shadows on the walls. At the first door she stopped and tapped on it. Almost immediately, frenzied knocking came from the other side. “Who are you?” Clarice said in a hushed tone with her mouth to the door. “Help me,” a female's voice said. Clarice took the chain in her hands and examined how it had been looped and knotted around the door's handle. It took several minutes but after figuring it out, she removed the chain from the door and laid it on the floor. Then she opened the door. The mixed smells of decaying flesh and rancid meat flooded her senses. She put her hand over her nose and stared into the complete darkness. “I'm here to help you,” she said. A female in a tattered wedding dress rushed out of the darkness knocking Clarice backwards and against the opposite wall. The female stepped into the hallway, and like a wild animal sniffed the air and growled. Her hair was white and hung tangled to her waist. Her pale blue skin hung from her face in jagged strips displaying gray muscles and bones underneath. She stared at Clarice, her eyes filled with madness. “Send me to hell,” she screeched. Thomas and Tribell appeared at the top of the stairs. “As you wish,” Thomas said as he raised a gun and aimed it at her. The female turned and rushed toward him, her hands shaped into claws. He fired the gun. The bullet struck her in the chest. She exploded in a cloud of dust. Her dress fell to the floor forming a puddle of rotting cloth. “See what you've made me do?” he said to Clarice. He turned to Tribell. “That's what happens when we get too involved with torturing Robert.” Clarice fainted. # The ship she was on, the Indulgent, was tossed on turbulent waves. Its masts creaked as the ship rocked back and forth. Waves crashed over the bow and onto the deck walkway outside the cabins. Heavy rain slashed sideways, instantly drenching Clarice as she stepped out onto the deck. She was flung to the railing where she clung on as the ship leaned almost horizontal with the water. When the boat was righted, she wrapped her arms around a column, kicked off her shoes, and laughed with glee as the waves drenched her. Edward came out the door, stepped onto the deck, and immediately grasped onto a rope attached to the wall as the boat rocked violently on a large wave. “Clarice, you fool, come back inside before you're drowned. We can talk things over.” “There's nothing to talk over, Edward,” she said. “I'm glad its finally out in the open, our marriage is over. I'm in love with someone else.” “You don't mean that,” he said. Clarice stood back from the column and removed her diamond wedding ring. “This is what I think of our marriage,” she said as she raised her hand to toss the ring into the sea. Suddenly the ship lurched to the port side. Clarice dropped the ring. She watched it slide off the deck and into the water just before she lost her footing and went over the railing. # “That suits you just fine,” Tribell said, standing beside Clarice's bed. Suddenly aware of a voice, Clarice opened her eyes. “I remember now,” she said. “I know who I was and what happened to me.” “You may have been better off not remembering that,” Tribell said. “I have to remember, to figure it out. I can't swim, you see, and I was tossed into the ocean. I knew I was drowning. The saltwater filled my lungs.” She clutched her throat. “I sank to the bottom. I know I did.” Tribell said, “There's no time for all that now anyway. Your betrothed, the lord of this manor, is waiting.” Clarice sat up and stared in horror at the tattered wedding dress that she had been dressed in. “My betrothed?” she said. “I've promised myself to someone else, and besides, I'm already married.” Tribell clucked her tongue. “So, that was it then. None of you come to this manor without having committed some kind of folly.” “None of who?” Clarice said. “The young women married to Thomas who are kept in the locked rooms, just as you will be.” Shrieking, Clarice jumped from the bed and began tearing the dress from her body. The door flung open and Thomas stepped into the room. “What's the meaning of this?” he said. Clarice flung herself at him. “I can't marry you and be kept in a locked room. I'd die.” Thomas straightened his tie and said, “I thought you knew. You've been dead ever since you first crawled out of the water and I carried you here.”
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Day 6 The Dumb Supper by Sai Chi
It was a quarter to midnight when the house woke up. A shiver passed through the old floorboards like a good stretch, jostling the furniture and upsetting a fine layer of dust. Oblivious, two girls stood holding hands in the darkness of the upstairs hallway. Martha, whose dark curls were a tangle of brambles encircling her round face, squeezed the hand of her sister. The first signal. In response, Ginger, whose eyes were the color of rotten cherries, put a finger to her lips. The second signal. Neither would speak a word until the game was over. Still holding hands, the girls descended the stairs backward. The space was so narrow that their shoulders grazed the walls, causing the house to groan. The drag of their cotton sleeves against the plaster tickled. Martha kept shaking her head as if resisting the urge to look where she was going, but Ginger set a brisk pace. Only her tight grip on the banister betrayed any fear she might have of falling. There was a muffled thump when the girls landed on the living room carpet, having jumped the final step. A pulse like the sparking of a live wire passed through the house on impact. Martha gasped at the shock, earning a glare from Ginger. After a moment they carried on, making their way into the kitchen. The house let the hinges creaked loudly when they came through the door, prompting Ginger to clench her fist. Down in the basement, the furnace clanged out a short burst of laughter. The kitchen table had already been set for three. Each plate was turned upside-down with a cup placed on its left. Even the chairs were backward. Martha had to straddle her seat in order to access the table while Ginger lit a single white candle. Beside the teacup full of salt in which the candle burned was a knife, its silver blade glinting in the warm glow of the flame. Three days earlier, while the house still slept, Ginger had strode into the kitchen carrying that knife.
“They won’t stop teasing me,” she had said. “Who won’t?” said Martha, eyeing the knife. There was mud on the bone handle and mud on the hem of Ginger’s jeans. “Everyone. Literally, everyone.” “I doubt that,” said Martha, as she poured herself a bowl of cereal. “Where did you go this morning?” “It’s true,” said Ginger, ignoring the question. “They won’t stop teasing me about Ryan because I asked him to partner with me on our new science project.” Here she affected a nasal tone of voice. “Ooh, Ginger wants to work with Ryan. Ginger must love Ryan. Ginger’s going to marry Ryan!” Martha poured some milk on her cereal. “Well, don’t offer your sympathy all at once. This is an outrage!” “Is it? They’ll forget all about it in a few days, won’t they?” “That’s not the point. I can’t stand people making such terrible assumptions about me.” “Ryan must be dreadful if you’re acting like this. Why’d you ask him to partner with you anyway?” “Ryan is fine,” said Ginger, her face turning pink. “But everyone knows that marrying someone from your hometown is a sure way to get stuck there. When I grow up, I’m going to go off and have adventures.” “Oh,” said Martha flatly. “You can come with me, of course.” “Thanks, but I doubt you’ll want to bring me along, seeing as you couldn’t be bothered to wake me up before you ran off into the woods this morning.” Ginger had the good grace to look chagrined for a moment. “Fair point,” she said, nodding. “It won’t happen again.” Martha shrugged. She sat down at the table with her cereal and Ginger took the chair beside her. “Look, I found this in the woods,” said Ginger, setting the knife down beside Martha’s bowl. “It’s exactly what we need for the game.” “Yeah, about that. I’ve been thinking. Are you sure it’s a good—” “Of course I’m sure. And you can’t back out on me now! I ran into Carli and her little brother Ethan on my way back from the woods. Even they asked me whether Ryan and I are dating. This thing is following me from school practically into my own backyard.” “And how is this game of yours going to help?” “It’s not my game. I didn’t make it up, you know. And I’ve told you, in the old days girls used to play it so they could learn the identities of their future husbands.” “How?” “By calling on the shade of their spirits or something like that.” “So, what? We play the game and when Ryan’s spirit or whatever doesn’t show up then you can tell everyone that it proves you aren’t going to marry him? That’s kind of ridiculous, Ginge.” “If it’s ridiculous then there’s no reason not to play, right?” said Ginger, grinning. “That’s not—” But Ginger had walked away, knife in hand, leaving Martha alone in the kitchen. She rinsed out her bowl in the sink only to find that the faucet continued to release a fine stream of water after she turned off the tap. Though Martha couldn’t have known it, this was the first sign that the house’s slumber wasn’t as deep as it once was. A little excitement would wake it right up.
Now the clock on the stove read seven minutes to midnight and the house was alert, even anticipatory. The sisters were eating cake, Martha casting furtive glances at Ginger in between bites. Ginger’s attention was on the clock. She held a spoonful of frosting in front of her for a full minute before putting it in her mouth. Six minutes to midnight. The house leaned in closer to the table. Four minutes. Three. At 11:59 Ginger set down her spoon. Martha copied her. A cold wind rushed through the room, rattling the plates and extinguishing the candle. The house shivered. A fine frost was spreading rapidly across the floor. The girls pulled their bare feet up onto their chairs to escape the chill. Martha’s cry came out accompanied by a puff of fog as, despite the will of the house, the front door banged open. Ginger lunged forward, cupping a hand over Martha’s mouth to prevent her from making further noise. Martha tried to push her off, causing them both to tumble to the floor. The frost had hardened into a layer of ice that crunched beneath them. Ginger released Martha, her attention diverted. Darkness clung to the man-shaped thing in the doorway like a second skin. Rather than filling the space as he walked into the room, the man seemed to suck space into him, leaving a void in his wake. Where the man stood, the house could not feel itself, as though that part of it had vanished. Neither girl tried to stop the man as he took a seat at the table. Instead, Ginger climbed back into her seat beside him. The man reached for her hand. His fingers were elongated, stretching out so that they brushed Ginger’s wrist. “No, stop!” said Martha, getting to her feet. The man pulled away from Ginger, seizing the knife on the table at the same time the wind kicked back up. This time instead of blowing into the room, the air was sucked out of it. The candle reignited with a hiss. Thunder rumbled in the distance. When the man disappeared, he took the knife with him. With a huff that sent a puff of coal-black smoke out the empty chimney, the house slumped back into its proper place.
It would be twenty years before that knife reappeared. Twenty years during which the house grew accustomed to its emptiness. When Ginger and her new husband first arrived, the house had thrown a fit. Doors slammed shut, leaks sprang up in inexplicable places. But the house needn’t have bothered. The newlyweds were never going to be there long. A few words, an incomplete reminiscence over dinner, was all it took. “When I was twelve years old my sister and I held a dumb supper at this very table…” “It was you.” “What?” “You’re the one who trapped me in this wretched body. ” “No, that isn’t how it’s supposed to work—” The man pulled a bone-handled knife from his jacket’s inner pocket. Ginger scrambled away from the table. “—where did you get that?”
Under normal circumstances, the house would have resented the arrival of a visitor early the next morning. On this day, however, the house swung open the front door for Martha as she made her way up the porch steps. Anything to help her get inside. The sooner someone removed Ginger’s body from the kitchen, the sooner the house would be left in peace.
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Day 7 Teke-Teke by Jennifer Forte
What a strange prize, thought Aimi. Nothing like the round-eyed, puffy kitten faces on the chart stuck to the capsule machine. She shifted the bag up on her arm so she could lift the silver coin for examination.. On one side 100 was printed, as usual. However, instead of Sakura blossoms, the other side of the coin showed the face of a young woman. “Aimi!” yelled one of the baristas, distracting her. “Yes,” said Aimi, approaching the counter. “I’m sorry, ma’am, your drink is ready but you still haven’t paid. It’ll be three hundred and ninety five yen, please.” Aimi passed a couple of coins over to the barista, including the one from the capsule machine. If the girl noticed something unusual about the coin, she didn’t say anything as she passed Aimi an iced coffee so milky it was almost white. When Aimi took a sip from the bright purple straw she found herself sucking in air. Confused, she looked down at the cup. It wasn’t as cold as a cup full of ice should be nor as heavy. Scraps of paper filled the inside, each covered in bubbly pink script. Some words were underlined in red. Aimi discarded the lid so that she could pull out one of the scraps of paper. Reiko-san is a whore. She’s been with all the boys in our year. Aimi slammed the cup on the counter. “Is this supposed to be some sort of joke?” she demanded, waving the scrap of paper in the general direction of the nearest barista. “Where did you get this from?” “Ma’am.” One of the braver baristas came forward while the others backed away. “What are you talking about?” “This-” Aimi looked at the cup, the paper pile gone and the cup half-filled with milky coffee, the rest of it splattered over Aimi’s hand and the counter. She set the cup down. “Nothing. I’m sorry.” Aimi bowed, lower than she should have, and left.
I was just a kid, thought Aimi as she descended the stairs to the train platform. And the other kids wrote things that were much worse. This is what Aimi told herself when, despite her best effort to forget, thoughts of Reiko-san crept up on her. Poor Reiko-san who always braided her hair with yellow ribbons. When Aimi boarded the train the carriage she selected was empty. She took a seat as the doors slid shut with a soft thump. What happened to Reiko-san was an accident. At least, that was the official story. Aimi wasn’t there when it happened. She’d heard about it afterwards. Had avoided taking the train for months. Even now there was one line that she would never take. “I’m sorry,” whispered a voice in Aimi’s ear. “Is there any way you could hold my drink for a minute while I adjust my things?” Aimi jumped. She glanced at the train doors but they were still shut. The girl must have come from another carriage without her noticing. Yes, that would be it. Aimi took a deep breath in through her nose before fixing a polite smile on her face. “Of course,” she said, reaching for the cup as she turned to look at her travel companion. The girl was dressed in a school uniform, a wrinkled white collar peeking out from beneath her beige cardigan. She was kneeling on the floor, head bent as she seemed to be rummaging under the seat for something. Aimi looked away, her attention turning to the drink in her hand. Instead of coffee the plastic cup was filled with papers. Once again, Aimi recognized the bubbly writing. She dropped the cup as she stood up, clutching her plastic shopping bag to her chest. “I want to ask you a question.” said the girl. “What is it?” said Aimi nervously, taking several careful steps down the aisle. She could hear the girl shifting around on the floor behind her. “Do you know where my legs are?” Aimi swallowed hard. “Meishin Expressway.” “No one ever knows,” said the girl suspiciously. “How do you know?” Aimi started to turn around, the bag still clutched to her chest. “I—” “Aren’t you tired of carrying that?” The girl pointed at the bag. “It must be getting heavy.” The bag was heavy. Much heavier than it was when Aimi boarded the train. Her arms shook with the effort of holding it. “Why don’t you give it to me?” said the girl. Aimi turned the rest of the way so that she was facing the girl. The girl whose braid was tied off with a yellow ribbon . Aimi dropped the bag. The plastic ripped and Aimi could see what was now inside. A pair of sneakers still on a pair of feet, the ankles leading to the calves and disappearing into the bottom of the bag. “Thank you,” said the girl, raising her scythe.