Day 8 The Haunted House by Matthew Olson Josiah Hendrickson turned the page in the novel he was reading, impressed that this newer author was so good at keeping him engaged. It seemed in his old age that not many authors could do that. *creak* Josiah looked up. The sound came from the north side of the house. Missy and Greg, his housemates, were looking at each other with wide eyes. They were on the couch while Josiah lounged on the egress window bench seat at the back of the room. “Was that a ghost?” Greg asked. Josiah rolled his eyes. “There is no such thing as ghosts,” he muttered under his breath. Missy shook her head. “I-I don’t think so. Maybe the house was just settling.” Josiah nodded, returning to his book. The recent moisture followed by the hot spell caused some wood to swell and then contract. This was the source of the noise. No need to get excited by it. He took a breath to steady himself. She took a breath. “Besides, just because our neighbors seem to think there are ghosts in their homes doesn’t mean we have one in ours.” Josiah had to give the woman props for not giving in to the town’s obsession with ghosts. “What are we going to do about this ghost?” Greg asked. Josiah decided to stay out of this conversation. He was always ignored anyway. “It isn’t a ghost. What can we do?” Missy asked. “Move?” Her tone was thick with sarcasm. “Hmm.” Greg scratched his chin. “Worth considering.” Missy’s mouth dropped open and she continued to look at her husband with wide eyes. Josiah arched an eyebrow and marked his place in his book. This was getting farther than usual. Greg was the levelheaded one of the young couple and stopped all talk of moving whenever it was suggested. As an old man, Josiah was stuck in his ways. He would stay in the house and live with the new tenants if Greg and Missy moved, but he liked them. He didn’t want them to leave. Though, he was getting ahead of himself, here. “Where can we move to?” Missy finally asked. Greg turned to his tablet. Josiah knew Greg wasn’t reading on it. Josiah looked over Greg’s shoulder and saw pictures of houses pop up. “Looks like the Lansing house is on the market,” Greg remarked. Missy cocked her head. “I wonder where old man Lansing went.” Josiah grunted and snarled. Lansing wasn’t near as old as Josiah was. Just because he didn’t work newfangled technology didn’t make him an old man. He felt like a twenty-year-old in a pale, translucent skinned body. “I think they put him in a home,” Greg replied with a touch of sadness in his voice. “Dementia, I think.” Josiah nodded at that. He hadn’t spoken with the neighbors in a while, but when he last had, old Sue Ellen was sure that she’d seen Henry Lansing in his birthday suit strolling by her house. At the time, Josiah thought that Sue Ellen was full of it, but now it made sense. From the corner of his eye, Josiah saw the light in the hallway flicker a few times. “What was that?” Greg asked breathily. “Uh,” Missy started. “A power fluctuation?” She was staring at the hallway. Josiah focused on his book. He’d meant to rerun the wiring to that light for years now but had never gotten around to it. “A power fluctuation caused by what?” Greg asked in a whisper. “The ghost?” Josiah and Missy sighed at the same time. “Maybe it’s bad wiring,” Missy said. “It’s an old house. That’s why we fell in love with it and bought it in the first place.” “It’s lost its appeal,” Greg said. Missy nodded. “What about not living in this town?” “Why?” Greg and Josiah asked at the same time. Josiah loved Stowe for being such a small town, even though it had grown over the years. He loved the natural beauty in and around town. He’d never move away. Missy shrugged. “Because there are ghosts reported all over town.” Josiah scoffed. Part of the tourism to this town were the ghost tours and the supposed haunted places. That kind of nonsense was one of the reasons Josiah didn’t like tourists. “Greg, make your wife see some damn sense.” Greg sighed. “I see your point, but where do you see us living?” “I see your point?” Josiah questioned. He blew out a breath. “Really, Greg?” Greg ignored him. “We could always move to be closer to my mother,” Missy commented. Greg grunted. “I’d hate living in Albany.” Missy smacked her lips. “I said closer to my mother. I know you’d hate living in a city. You seemed to like Lake George when we passed through it when we took the scenic route to Albany.” “Ooo,” Greg said with a bit of a head wobble. “Would we live in town or out on the lake?” Missy shrugged. “Either is fine with me.” Josiah deflated. Greg loved to fish and would go trout fishing around Stowe. Missy would go from time to time and Josiah even tagged along at times, too. Though, Greg was the only one passionate about it. Greg was now playing with something on his tablet. “It might be a little more expensive around there than here.” Missy scoffed. “As long as we don’t let on that this place is haunted, we should get a mint for this place.” Greg nodded. Josiah closed his eyes and moaned. They were looking more and more seriously at moving and leaving him. “Did you hear something?” Greg asked. Josiah snapped open his eyes. He was looking to the far end of the house again where the creak came from earlier. Missy was breathing heavily. “That wasn’t the house settling.” Josiah strained to hear. He wanted to say there was no such thing as ghosts, but something was off. His heart hammered away and was the only sound he could hear. “I don’t hear anything,” he finally whispered. Greg shook his head. “Whatever it was, I don’t hear it now.” Missy drew a shaky breath. A tear was even in one eye. “I hate feeling afraid of my own house.” Greg nodded. “Yeah, babe. I know. We’ll move as soon as possible.” Josiah had enough. He thew his book down on the bench, stood up, and walked across the room through the hall to the spare bedroom. He opened the door and the hinges squealed in complaint. He then slammed the door behind him before throwing himself down on the bed. “What the fuck?” Greg yelled. Josiah then heard Missy wail. It made Josiah feel bad about showing his anger like he did. Then again, he had every right in the world. They didn’t consider his feelings when deciding their move. Damn them anyway. Josiah sat up, rocking as he considered things. He felt a tear stride down his ancient, leather cheek. Why should he care so much about his housemates? It wasn’t like they were family. They just were the nicest of the housemates he’d had over the years. Josiah gulped. What did it say about him just storming out and throwing his little tantrum? He should tell them how he felt. Maybe he should just go back out there and talk with them. Maybe he should ask them to stay. He stood fighting down the last of his anger. The door squealed again as he opened it. He then walked to the living room. Greg and Missy hadn’t moved from the couch. They were watching him with wide eyes, tablets forgotten at their sides. Josiah blew out a breath. “I’m sorry guys.” He forced a smile to form on his face. “Your lives are your own and I recognize that. I’m sorry I got upset.” Neither said anything. They must not have thought his apology was sincere. Josiah gave a nod before starting again. “You two have been here for years now, and you’ve been the best housemates I’ve had in a long time. If you do move, I’ll miss you both.” Josiah pointed to Greg. “When you caught that thirty-one-inch trout, and barely got it to the bank before your line broke, you always attributed it flopping into the net as a lucky stroke, but I was the one on net duty. So, I helped you land that sucker. I always let you boast about it to your buddies as if I hadn’t helped because I value our relationship.” Josiah pointed to Missy. “You love throwing a good party, but you never get enough ice. I’ve got to run out for more ice every single time. You never thank me, and no thanks are needed, but you rely on me. I don’t think you realize it, but now you know.” Josiah held his hands out to encompass both of them. “You two are a great couple. You guys are so in synch with each other, but from time to time you forget to mark things down on your shared calendar in your tablet or phone doohickies. I’ve learned enough about your devices to mark those things down for you.” He held his hands up, palms toward them. “Again, no thanks are needed. “I love you.” Josiah sniffled. “I don’t want you to move. I want you to stay here. I want to continue living with you. You two love this area, or at least I thought you did.” Greg and Missy were still rooted in place. They did look a little pale, but more, they hadn’t moved. “Guys, it’s okay whatever you decide,” Josiah said. “But I want to be included in the discussion. Can you let me in on your decision?” Still, they didn’t move or react. What was wrong with them? Josiah huffed. “Greg, Missy, it’s me. You know you can trust me with your lives, right? This is a great place to raise children. I should know.” He glanced at the ceiling, thinking about when he built the house. “I raised my kids here.” Missy seemed to be quivering now and even crying. They both were just white and neither said a word. “Talk to me,” Josiah said. “I’m truly sorry about storming off like I did. What can I do to make it up to you two?” Greg shook his head, but neither said anything. This irritated Josiah. “What’s wrong? Why aren’t you talking?” Greg raised a shaky hand. “Gh-ghost,” he muttered. Josiah set his jaw and put his hands on his hips. “There are no such things as ghosts!” he exclaimed after a moment of watching Greg’s finger waver in the general direction of Josiah. creak Josiah’s hackles rose and his breath caught. The noise was coming from behind him. Was Greg warning Josiah of a ghost? An actual ghost was there? Josiah slowly turned toward the noise. He tried to remember how long it had been since he had built the old house. It was showing some signs of its age but was repaired and kept up pretty well. Still, there was nothing to indicate a ghost. Just the general settling of the old house. Breathing easier, he turned back to the young couple. “That isn’t a ghost. It’s just the house settling.” Greg shook his head but didn’t say anything. He slowly turned to Missy. She still sat there, shaking like a leaf. She didn’t say anything, either. Josiah furrowed his brow. These two were really scared. What was going on that they would be so scared? Josiah turned again and even stepped toward the hall to the spare bedroom. There was nothing there. He turned back to Greg and Missy. “You two haven’t experimented with some drug or something, have you?” He knew that they didn’t do stuff like that. It was one of the reasons he liked them. Greg shook his head. “L-look at yourself.” Josiah looked down. He had his Sunday’s finest on today. It was a little faded for wearing for the umpteenth day in a row but was otherwise fine. He then noted his bony, old hands. They were a bit dry, but not bad. No cuts on them currently, but the scars from his long life showed, including the few marks from when he built this house. Nothing abnormal. Then again, his skin was really pale. Greg and Missy were bloodless from terror, but he was even whiter. When had that happened? Josiah couldn’t remember, but it seemed like a long time since he had normal skin tone. He needed more sun! “What?” Josiah finally asked. “You’re a ghost,” Greg muttered. Josiah’s brow furrowed and his jaw dropped. He blinked several times. Greg had lost his damn mind! “There is no such thing as ghosts!” Josiah exclaimed. “I’ve lived here my whole life and have never seen a ghost in this damn town! I should know, I’m…” he had to think about his age. He glanced at the newfangled digital clock on the living room wall which showed the date including the year. He turned back to Greg. “I’m two hundred and seventy-four years old!” Josiah furrowed his brow. Had he really said two hundred and seventy-four? He glanced at the clock to do his age calculation again. He blinked over and over, trying to make sense of that number. He tried to remember. When was the last time he ate? Drank? Really did anything more than read or hang out with Greg and Missy? Without thinking, he said, “I died September third, 1812.” His breath escaped him. How come he didn’t remember dying before now? He looked at his clothes again. “This is what I was buried in.” Josiah sighed. He then sat down in the easy chair next to the couch. “I’m a ghost, aren’t I?” He buried his face in his hands. It also meant Sue Ellen and his other neighbors he usually talked to were also ghosts. Greg’s fish was caught due to Josiah moving the net, but Greg hadn’t seen him do it. Same with Missy’s ice and their calendars. Something had changed or was still changing. He just didn’t know what. Josiah coughed and then looked up at the couple still rooted in fear. “So, how do we move forward from here?” Instead of answering, they both looked up at the ceiling with a glint in their eyes. Josiah’s mouth dropped open as they both floated up into the air, leaving their bodies behind. For several hours, Josiah just watched the bodies wondering what the hell was happening around him. When their bodies were discovered, the coroner pronounced them as dying of massive coronaries. Josiah just kept his head down and waited for the next owners of the house. He’d try not to kill them.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 9 Homeward Bound by Leon Taylor
It was the usual Friday night torment. The Supertrain in the freezing rain was crammed. She whimpered and shoved her way into the car just before its doors closed. “We are departing Washington. Next stop, Manhattan.” She could barely reach the leather hand grip. She brushed back the long auburn hair in her brown eyes and skimmed her phone for news. The Yanks were up 3-2 in the World Series over the Dodgers, thanks to B-Rod’s homer in the ninth with bases loaded. An alleged witness of last night’s strangling in Georgetown claimed that the killer had worn a sky-blue baseball cap and, who knows, might have been an alien. A hike in the Metro transit tax was in the works. A Russian film, Life after Putin, won five Academies. She turned to her horoscope. “This may be the most important day in your life.” Sure it may. She was forty and still single. She slammed off her phone. After her long day of pow-wows with students and fire-breathing parents, she couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her asthmatic boyfriend tonight. Albert always scolded when she was late. Her leaden eyelids were closing when a dapper youth at the window of the next car gestured frantically to her. “We’re saving this seat for you.” “We?” “Meet my friends.” He pointed to four fat men dwarfing the seats around her own. Well, three fat men. The fourth friend, in the seat facing hers, wasn’t so bad. “What’s your name?” “Laura.” She didn’t ask for theirs; she’d never remember them all. They smiled upon her like doting uncles. Her petulance evaporated. “What do you do, Laura?” asked Fat Man #1. “Let me guess. A college professor.” She laughed. “Almost. A high school teacher of English.” “You could do the world a favor and teach the aliens.” She shuddered. “How would I tell them apart from real people? Aren’t they clones?” Fat Man #2 spread his hands apart. “You can’t believe the newspapers. Anyway, you would charm them into learning.” He whispered to his friend, who turned towards her and laughed uproariously. She simpered with relief. Obviously an alien joke, like the one making the rounds at the middle school. (How many aliens does it take to change a lightbulb? Two: One to change the bulb on Planet Z and one to beam the light to Earth through a wormhole.) She slipped into a pleasant drowsiness. The earnest man in the opposite seat studied her rosy face. He was blond, thirtysomething, in a perfectly pressed brown suit. Standard issue for Capitol Hill. “Excuse me,” he said in a silken tenor. “Are you married?” “What?” “My wife died last year. No children. It’s just me at home. I….” He shrugged. His forearms bulged with muscles. “I understand.” Rarely did she get a chance to comfort someone. He looked down nervously. “I travel a lot, so I don’t have much time. Forgive me. Will you marry me? Not tonight, of course. But come home with me for a few days, see how it feels. If you don’t like it, we’ll go our separate ways, no worries.” Really, the chutzpah. She looked away, thought of wheezing, complaining, expectorating Albert, and turned to the stranger again. “What’s your name?” “David.” “David.” A strong name. “All right, David. Just for a few days.” His friends cheered while David blushed. “Such a beautiful couple,” said a passing matron. Commuters in the front rows broke into excited conversation. She decided not to call Albert. “I live on the East Side,” David said. “You’ll love it. Lots of privacy. The maid cooks dinner.” The Supertrain slowed and hove to as it neared Pennsylvania Station, grimy and forbidding. His friends, whom Laura still could not tell apart, jammed the aisle so that David and Laura could exit first. “Have a great life, you two!” said Fat Man #1. His laughter echoed as the train shuffled away. David and Laura strolled hand-in-hand towards the taxi stand. “I want the Post,” he said. “Do you mind?” He dragged her playfully to a dark deserted corner of the platform. He bought the paper from a machine and grabbed her hand again. “You’re hurting me!” she said. “And this is not the way to the taxis. Where are you taking me?” “Home.” He released her hand and began caressing the back of her neck. A splash of color in his knapsack caught her eye: a sky-blue baseball cap, slightly stained.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 10 The Ueno Park Incident by Anne Hansell
Years ago, when I was a teenager, my parents took me to Tokyo, my Grandpa’s homeland. We visited several beautiful parks in that city; I remember one particular park. Its name was Ueno Park, and it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. I remember a lot of green trees lining wide stone stairways up to a giant red gate called a Torii. Through it, my parents and I walked to the Ueno zoological garden where we saw different animals in their natural habitats and visited various museums, such as Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and others. This area was once a part of an ancient temple. Today, it is a modern temple where people go to worship but I remembered a certain area where my parents and other relatives avoided taking me: it was part of the ancient shrine, a small wooden hut-like building with several wooden boards written in Japanese, and heavy ropes above its entrance, their long ends dangling down both lintels. Nearby stood a wooden table laden with dishes of packaged candy boxes and small bottles of sake arranged in the front of a large bowl with burning incense sticks. As we were walking past this shrine, I asked Father about why we couldn’t go there, he shook his head, dragging my arm hard. “This is the Shrine of Last Hope, the last resort for people with hopeless problems – and it isbelieved to be haunted. Only extremely desperate folks go there to pray for help.” I stared at the allegedly “haunted” place while we were going to the exit gate. I always thought ghosts weren’t real. That evening, when I saw Grand uncle Hiraku (my grandfather’s youngest brother) at a family party at a wealthy relative’s mansion outside Tokyo, I asked him about Ueno Park. He looked horrified and grabbed my arm. In English, he said, “Lizzy, please never say the name of Ueno Park around here, especially with your cousins.” Startled, I stared at him. “Why?” Uncle Hiraku thinned his lips and looked around before taking my arm and leading me to a different room. Inside, he motioned me to sit down on a chair before sitting down opposite me. He looked at me with concern. “Remember my occupation?” Puzzled, I said, “ You’re the homicide inspector for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.” “Yes. For the past few weeks, we have had a problem with Ueno Park.” “Problem?” Uncle Kiraku rubbed his temples with his hands. He looked at me, his face unhappy. “Some local teens got into the park after dark despite the locked gates. Then in the mornings, we found bodies, and those who survived went crazy, wailing about someone seeking them out and hurting them.” Puzzled, I asked, “Why do teens continue to go there?” “To see the ghosts in the park.” My eyebrows raised, I looked at him. “I already know about rumors regarding the ghosts but they’re not real. Correct?” Nodding, Uncle Kiraku said, “Yes. But we’re more concerned about there being more than one serial killer on the loose there.” I asked, “More than one serial killer!” “Yes. Evidence indicates there are at least two of them. That’s why I don’t want you and your cousins to go there after dark.” After Uncle Kiraku let me go, I went to a room where the teenagers in our family were playing video games on their tablets, texting with their smartphones, or watching movies on a huge smart screen on a wall. In Japan, middle school and high school systems require students to take English classes because of the country’s extensive dealings in the international business world. But one problem with this system is that it teaches more written grammar than spoken; many Japanese often seek opportunities to practice speaking in English. My parents told me that, in Japan, many companies offere higher salaries for employees who could both write and speak English very well. Considering this situation, many of my cousins asked me to help them practice speaking English in exchange for teaching me to speak in Japanese. Two of my cousins liked to hang out with me anywhere in the city: Cousin Hiroshi, a fifteen-year-old boy and Cousin Mai, a fourteen-year-old girl, were about my age at that time. I enjoyed tutoring them in English; in turn, they would laugh as they taught me to speak Japanese. When I entered the room, they turned their smartphones off, got up and came to me, curious. Cousin Hiroshi asked in Japanese, “Someone saw you go in with Uncle Kiraku for private talks. What’s up?” “Well, something about Ueno Park,” I replied, feeling uncomfortable. Everyone stopped whatever they were doing and turned to stare at me. “Ueno Park?” they asked in unison. Cousin Mai jumped up and down, excited. “Wow! I heard rumors about that place.” Someone asked, “You mean ghosts?” Cousin Mai told me, “Ueno Park is the most haunted spot in Tokyo. Once rumors had it that a taxi driver picked up a girl who turned out to be a ghost, and since then, no other taxi drivers will pick up anyone near that park after dark.” Delighted, Cousin Hiroshi grinned. “Why don’t we go there to see if we can find any ghosts now?” I protested, “But Uncle Kiraku said there are two serial killers who like to hurt teenagers like us!” Cousin Hiroshi put his hands on my shoulders. “Don’t worry – my sister and I will keep you safe – remember we’re both black belt judo?” I’d forgotten that so many Japanese kids take judo, kendo and other forms of martial arts as their physical education classes and extracurricular clubs in Japan. Back in America, I had never learned any kind of martial arts, to my shame. I cursed myself for having taken volleyball and tennis instead. He looked at me in eyes. “Are you okay with us going there?” I nodded. It would take about a half hour drive to the park, and an older cousin agreed to take us there in his Honda Accord. An hour later, I found myself standing beside Cousin Hiroshi and Cousin Mai in the front of the locked gate at the entrance to the park. It consisted of chain-linked panels, tied together by a long chain with a small padlock. I turned to Cousin Hiroshi. “How can we get in?” “Why don’t we climb over?” he shrugged. Good idea. Back home, I was very good at climbing ropes and trees. In no time, we moved over the gate. Under the full moon, we could see everything – trees and the stairways leading up to the torii. We went up, through the Torii, and faced a long gravel-covered path leading to the Shrine of Last Hope. Cousin Mai stopped us, her hand reaching across our bodies. Switching to English, she warned, “Be careful when we pass by that shrine. Rumors have it that ghosts like to gather at that place at night.” I looked askance at her. “Ghosts? How many are here in this place?” Cousin Hiroshi answered, “According to my research in local ghost legends, there may be about twenty – five. The most famous would be the ‘Old General’ from the samurai days, and he is said to travel through the park with his female companion.” “Who is Old General?” I asked. “Nobody knows who he really is, but legends claim that he came from the late 16th century, some years before the Sekigahara battle,” Cousin Mai said. “Who are you?” a voice startled us – we spun, frightened, to see an older teen age girl, dressed in a dark school uniform, stepping out from the shrine. But she didn’t look like a ghost – an actual blood and flesh human. Her long black hair fluttered, riding a gentle breeze. Cousin Hiroshi stammered, “H-hello, I’m Hiroshi. This is my sister, Mai, and the younger girl, my cousin, Elizabeth or ‘Lizzy.’” The girl frowned. “Why are we speaking in English?” Cousin Mai stepped forward, pulling me along. “Because Cousin Lizzy was born and grew up in America, so she feels comfortable with English.” The stranger beamed, her teeth bright white in the moonlight and offered her hand toward me. “Why, I always wanted to meet a real American for years. I’m Kiko.” Her English sounded very good despite a slight accent. I shook hands and bowed several times. “Pleased to meet you, Kiko.” Kiko took a close look at me. “You look familiar – what’s your clan’s name?” “Kawakami.” Startled, she asked, “Then, your cousins and you are members of the Kawakami clan?” When we nodded, she stared at Cousin Hiroshi. “You resembled someone I used to know years ago. Are you all related to Kawakami Akira, a samurai who died back in 1595?” We looked at each other, dumbfounded before Cousin Hiroshi composed himself and nodded. “Yes. He was our direct ancestor.” In the old days, the samurais used to be fanatical about keeping their family history records, and this made it possible for their descendants to know the names of their ancestors. Before Kiko said anything, two men – one old with white hair, the other his young companion with black hair, jumped out. They held long knives. Serial killers, I thought, the same people, about whom Uncle Hiraku warned me. Delighted, the old man exclaimed, “We got four teenagers for our fun!” My cousins, Kiko, and I gathered in a tight group, the two serial killers circled us, their knives pointing at us. They were grinning with delight. Someone once told me that judo experts needed something like a long stick or sand or something to deflect knife attacks; otherwise, they’d risk getting stabbed or cut badly in a real-life street fight. Cousin Hiroshi’s hand grabbed some gravel stones off the ground and threw it at the older killer before jumping, his leg extending to push the murderer’s knife – holding arm. But the murderer’s other arm blocked it. Cousin Hiroshi bounced off and landed back on his feet. Of course, I thought, many Japanese people had similar training in some forms of martial arts. The criminals could anticipate any movement. Cousin Mai did her brother’s trick against the young criminal and kicked his knife out, but he jumped and kicked her in stomach. She collapsed, her arms across her abdomen. I ran to seize his knife, but the guy ran to wrestle my arms. Pain burned in my forearms. While we continued to struggle, I overheard his older companion saying. “I like the oldest girl.” He rushed at Kiko, swinging his knife. Cousin Hiroshi yelled at Kiko in Japanese, but I didn’t need translation to know he was telling her to do something. To our amazement, Kiko laughed out loud like crazy. She jumped toward the knife-wielding man and stood before him. “I dare you to cut me!” Surprised, the old man blinked but recovered. “With delight!” He swung his knife at Kiko’s left shoulder, but it went down through her body as if going through empty air. Our eyes almost popped out of our head; our mouth open like fish. The younger criminal even stopped wrestling with me and stared, his face slack. Shocked, the old man pulled his knife back, checked it and looked at Kiko who was grinning at him. But the young man got up, pulling me up to his chest, and put his arm around my neck, his knife pointing at my face. “Nobody moves or I’ll hurt this sweet girl.” Kiko put her fists to her waist. “I’d not do that if I were you. There are twenty-five ghosts around here.” Looking right and left, the old man trembled, dropping his knife to the ground. Then he kneeled and clutched his chest. Heart attack, I thought, at the wrong time and in the wrong place. But the moment the young man glanced at what was happening, his knife hand lowered down a bit. Something unseen grabbed it, forced the hand to drop the knife to the ground and yanked the young man away from me. Amazed, we watched the invisible hands twisting the man’s arms over his back. Something cut two pieces off a long thick rope, hanging around the Shrine of Last Hope, they flew through air and tied themselves around the man’s arms and ankles. When done, he was turned around to lie on his back. His face trembled in terror, tears leaking out of his eyes. We all turned to look at Kiko. She smiled, spoke something in Japanese and made a come-to-me gesture. Puzzled, we all moved our eyes to see a glittering cloud. Out of it stepped a middle-aged man, dressed in a samurai armor with a huge helmet that had two elaborate metal horns, indicating his rank as a Shogun-era general. I noticed two swords strapped at his waist. Kiko sauntered forward, extending her hand, and the samurai general put his right-gloved hand on it. She turned to us. “This is General Jakku Hayashi from the late 16th century, and he just took the guy down.” I stepped forward and bowed. “Thank you very much for saving my life and pleased to meet you.” General Jakku Hayashi beamed and bowed back. “You’re welcome. Honored to meet you.” I was surprised to hear his English with an accent. I asked him, “How did you know English?” He looked wry. “I’ve lived here for centuries, and when the area became a park, I spent decades listening to American and English tourists’ talk. This way, I learned their language.” When he glanced at Cousin Hiroshi’s face, his expression became solemn. “You are a Kawakami, no doubt.” Confused, Cousin Hiroshi asked, “What do you mean?” “You resembled my oldest friend, the late Daimyo Akira Kawakami when he was about your age.” Something puzzled me; my memory flashed to something out of the Japanese history books I’d read during my spring vacation. Samurais were famous for their strong sense of honor, and they’d do anything to preserve their good names. I asked, “Why did you save our lives in the first place?” General Jakku Hayashi looked at me. “Good question. You see, back in 1595, Daimyo Kawakami and I were fighting together in a certain battle; someone tried to aim an arrow at my back, but your ancestor jumped to take it in his chest. While he was dying in my arms, I vowed to repay him by saving some of his descendants. After my death, I continued for centuries to seek any Kawakamis in distress.” Cousin Mai smiled. “Now you found us.” The general nodded. “Thanks to you all, I’m going home now.” Kiko strode to stand beside him, her schoolgirl uniform changing to a bright kimono. Her eyes focused on me. “Lizzy, you resembled the late Daimyo Kawakami’s youngest daughter, Fumiko, when she was your age. That was what drew me to your group the moment you all entered the sacred area near the shrine. Thank you. I’m going with my father.” The general asked Cousin Hiroshi, “Are you related to Inspector Hiraku Kawakmai?” When we all nodded, he smiled. “Good. My message for him: I, General Jakku Hayashi, have carried out my vow to the Kawakami clan, and I’m going home for good. Thank you and farewell.” The moment he finished his sentence, a sparkling cloud engulfed the two ghosts as they were bowing to us. We all bowed until the cloud dissipated into the night air. Cousin Mai sighed. “What about these two murderers?” I asked, “How about calling the emergency call number? We use 911 back in America.” Cousin Hiroshi took his smartphone out and started dialing. “Here, I’ll dial 119.” Forty-five minutes later, we found ourselves, standing on the sidewalk outside Ueno Park among police cars and ambulances with flashing lights. Uncle Hiraku just arrived in his own car and got out, anxious. When he saw us, he rushed to hug us all. Cousin Hiroshi spoke, “We saw two ghosts – a samurai general and his daughter at the park. He has a message for you.” Uncle Hiraku’s thick eyebrows moved up; his face looked skeptical. “Tell me.” When my cousin repeated the general’s message, Uncle Kiraku bowed his head before looking up at us. “Yes. According to our family legend, General Hayashi has been seeking to help his good friend’s descendants in trouble for centuries. I’m glad his soul has gone home. I better take you all home – your parents are very worried about you.” Two days later, aboard a plane bound for California, I was sitting and looking out my window. Below me was an endless sheet of blue ocean. My summer vacation, I thought, is over. Too bad I couldn’t live in Japan. But the most interesting experience I’ve ever had was my night visit to Ueno Park. Not many Japanese people were so lucky as to meet two real samurai people from 16th century Japan. Too bad, I couldn’t write about them in my back-to-school report.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 11 Wataru by Anna Ojnnaka I had only ever been to Tokyo while visiting Japan, so deviating from the bullet-train route to explore the more rural parts of the country was something of an adventure for me. The further out I travelled, the more nature took center stage. The sky was a wash of grey-blue and the trees were a dark yet vibrant green. When I finally alighted the train, I was surprised to find that the station was completely deserted. It was located on top of a bridge, and I could hear the energetic rush of water flowing beneath. Within the grass, insects chirped, and the wind gently rustled the leaves of trees. It was a place untouched by time. For a minute, I wondered if there was even a town beyond the station. I fished my itinerary out from my bag and took a closer look at the map. I was visiting a little resort town, but the inn where I would spend the night was located within the mountain itself. I was eager to see the town's tourist attractions. There was supposed to be a museum dedicated to supernatural beings known as youkai. I could still hear the rush of the river as I proceeded on my walk to the inn. It made me think about a particular youkai I had heard about--a monstrous amphibian known as the kappa. I didn't really believe in any of these creatures or phantasms, but something about being so deep within nature made their existence seem possible. There were surely places on earth where humanity rarely ventures, and who knew what lurked in such undisturbed places? I reached the signposted trail that would lead me to the inn and I instantly felt more at ease. It cut through the trees and would take me about twenty minutes to cover, according to the itinerary. The route was very scenic, so I took my time walking down the path. There was a zesty tang to the air which was quite refreshing. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. In that moment, something changed in the atmosphere, something indescribable. The fine hairs on my arms stood on end and my eyes flew open immediately. As far as I could see, nothing had changed, but I chose to trust my gut instinct and decided to make a run for it. Just as I was about to take off, however, the most dreadful noise stopped me in my tracks. I thought I must’ve imagined it at first, but then it came again, my worst nightmare. It was the sound of an infant crying. The sound came from within the trees, further into the woods. I didn’t want to abandon the safety of the trail, and I especially didn't want to investigate that noise, but how could I ignore the sound of a squealing child? It was impossible. I had to do the right thing. I set down my luggage, taking only my cellphone with me, and went in search of the crying babe. I ended up on an incline, right above a little stream. There was a small bundle set atop a large rock by the running water. I had found the baby. I was too far away to see the baby’s face clearly, but I could see its little arms moving about, reaching for the sky. Before I could move towards the poor thing, somebody grabbed me by the arm and yanked me back. I let out a scream and pushed off my assailant. To my surprise, it was a boy, no older than fourteen. I understood basic Japanese, but I still questioned what the boy said next, for it was a ludicrous suggestion. ‘That’s not a baby. Don't go near it.’ He then motioned behind me. ‘Look.’ I turned to look behind me, and to my astonishment and horror, the baby was no longer there. It was as if it had finished into thin air. I felt cold all of a sudden. It was the awful chill that seeped into one’s body when they experienced fear. I didn’t know what I had just witnessed; no explanation was satisfactory. I turned my attention back to the boy, who was now looking up at me with a smug grin on his face. I half expected him to say "I told you so". 'What was that?' I asked. 'Something bad. You should be more careful next time.' I could only nod my head in agreement. I was still trying to wrap my head around what had just occurred. The boy smiled at me again, politely this time. ‘You’re trying to get to the inn, aren't you?’ ‘How did you guess?' ‘That's all anyone comes here for. Come, I'll help you find your way back.' I took the boy up on his offer and followed him back to the trail, asking his name on the way. 'I'm Wataru.' 'Do you live near the inn, Wataru?' 'That's right. I know the lady who owns it too.' 'And what were you doing all alone in these woods.?’ He chuckled. ‘I know these woods. I’m careful.’ We got back to where I had left my luggage. Wataru took the suitcase and insisted that he pull it along for me. ‘Thank you.’ I said, genuinely surprised by his kind offer. We had an easy chat as we walked the remainder of the trail. I learned that Wataru had never been to Tokyo before. ‘What's it like in the city?' he asked. ‘It’s quite different from here.’ I said. No crying spirits, for one thing. We made it to the end of the trail and I could see the inn. It was very traditional in style, with paper screens and lanterns. It must've been decades old and I loved it already. ‘Thanks a lot, Wataru.’ I said as he passed me back my suitcase. He paused. ‘Would you mind doing me a small favor?’ ‘Of course.’ I said, eager to return his kindness. His face lit up. Opening his satchel, he pulled out a bunch of bright red flowers, which I recognized immediately as spider lilies. ‘Could you please give these to the lady who owns the inn?’ ‘Sure. That’s very sweet of you.’ I took the small bouquet but couldn’t help but ask, ‘Don’t you want to give them to her yourself? I'm sure that would make her even happier.' The boy shook his head but didn’t offer an explanation. He thanked me and then bid me farewell. 'Remember to be careful,' he said, his final warning. I smiled. ‘You too.’ He grinned at me one last time before heading on his way back up the path. I watched him until he was out of sight before I made my way to the inn. The lobby was neat and tranquil, a minimalist’s dream. I left my shoes by the entrance and slipped into the first pair of slippers I saw. A grey-haired woman greeted me. She introduced herself as Mrs. Yamada. I offered her the spider lilies and she smiled brightly, thanking me. ‘Oh, they’re not from me. One of the local boys told me to give them to you.’ I clarified. Her smile faltered. ‘A boy?’ 'Yes. He lives nearby. He said he knows you.' She looked at me quizzically. ‘There aren't any boys that live around here.' My pulse quickened. Had I imagined the boy as I had imagined the baby? Mrs Yamada then asked me for the boy's name. Her brows were furrowed in an expression of pain. ‘Wataru.’ I replied. Her body trembled. She looked as if she were about to collapse. ‘Mrs Yamada, are you okay?’ Her face had turned pale but she nodded her head and put on a smile. 'Yes, I'm fine. It's been a while since I've heard from Wataru.' I felt relieved that she knew who I was talking about. 'He's very sweet. I should've asked him where he got the spider lilies. I didn't think they were in bloom.' Mrs Yamada looked up at me with a knowing look in her dark brown eyes. 'They say that spider lilies grow abundantly in the fields of the afterlife.' I thought it was a strange thing for her to say, but then I noticed the tiny framed photograph on the front desk. It was an old, faded picture, but a significantly younger Mrs Yamada was clearly in the frame, along with who I assumed to be Mr Yamada. What I didn't expect to see was a boy standing in between the two. He was smiling from ear to ear, the same smile he had shown me just moments ago. It was Wataru. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask Mrs Yamada what had happened to Wataru, but I already knew the answer to that question: He had gone to where the spider lilies grow.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 12 Door-to-Door Love by Janis Butler Holm
I took my time getting downstairs. My walker has wheels, and I'm afraid of falling. But the man was still there when I reached the front door. "Good afternoon, ma'am. I'm Andy Love from the Love Foundation Ministries, and I'm wondering if I could have a few moments of your time." He was very well-mannered. "Of course," I said. "Won't you come in?" "Thank you so much." He seemed slightly surprised to be invited inside. I hobbled toward the living room with Mr. Love behind me. "I represent the Love Foundation Ministries, a spiritual fellowship that brings divine love to the hearts of millions. We sponsor As the World Burns and The Old and the Dutiful, dramatic daytime television on the Love network." "Oh, yes." I'd heard about these shows although I hadn't seen them. "Through these critically acclaimed programs, we teach millions of viewers the wages of sin and the glory of redemption." "Um--hmm," I said. "But these television dramas are expensive to produce, and so we rely on viewers like yourself to help us continue to spread our sacred message." "Wait right here, Mr. Love." I limped and rolled to the kitchen, where I put cookies on a plate and poured a glass of the milk I keep on hand to help me sleep. Then I returned to the living room. "Please, eat something. Your work must make you hungry." "Why, thank you!" Mr. Love seemed thrilled with this further hospitality. He bit into a cookie and gulped down some milk. "This is very kind of you." "My pleasure," I said. "Now, you were saying…." "We go from door to door, asking good people to help us spread the word. We ask for whatever folks feel comfortable giving." "Well," I said. "I don't have a lot, but I could write you a check." "Why, that would be wonderful!" Mr. Love looked truly pleased. "We're really very grateful for whatever you can do. It's believers like yourself who make our holy work possible." He raised his half-empty glass in a toast to believers and downed some more milk. I paused and then said, "I keep my checkbook in the basement. You never know whom to trust, so I hide it downstairs." Mr. Love took this little confession in stride. "Right," he nodded wisely. "Better safe than sorry." "Could I ask you to get it? It's in the cardboard box at the foot of the stairs." I motioned toward the basement door off the kitchen. "Why, certainly. I'd be happy to retrieve it." Mr. Love was positively glowing. We both got up and headed toward the door. I pulled it open and flipped the basement light switch. "Watch your step," I warned. Mr. Love groped the railing at the top of the stairs. Then his knees buckled. The narcotic in the milk had taken effect. I gave him a push, shut the door behind him, and turned the bolt in the lock. After he woke up, he yelled for two days. It's day five now, and things are pretty quiet. But I've been watching As the World Burns and enjoying the show. As for The Old and the Dutiful, I just couldn't get into it.
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 13 Sightseeing in Punta Arenas by Lily Marie West
One of the things you really should do when you're in Chile or Argentina is to visit a cemetery. This sounds like a strange recommendation, but the massive venerable tombstones are magnificently carved. It is as if the dead are competing for who has the most ornate grave. Moreover, it is fascinating to see from which countries everyone emigrated so long ago. Some twenty years ago I was travelling around Patagonia with an English friend. In the course of our journey, we spent a couple of nights in Punta Arenas, the southernmost town in Chile. There is not much to see in Punta Arenas; a British feminist remarked of the town in 1879 that she supposed there may possibly be drearier places, but she did not think it probable. Not much had changed it seemed. The friendly hotel manager advised us to visit the old lighthouse and the municipal cemetery. The lighthouse was closer to our hotel, so we went there first. My friend wanted to climb to the top while I opted to pass and decided instead to enjoy a leisurely beer in the empty dusty square next to it. After a short time, I thought I could hear someone bellowing incoherently. I looked up and made out my friend waving frantically from the railings at the top of the lighthouse. He indicated that he was locked in! I hadn't seen anyone leaving the lighthouse, so I went to look, but there was nobody there. The barman said he would help me find the man who had the key. This took over an hour, and when he arrived, the man said it was odd that my friend got locked in the lighthouse because only he had the key and he hadn't been there today. Later in the afternoon after a bite to eat, another beer and a short siesta, we decided to have a look at the municipal cemetery, which was located at the edge of the town. It was an enormous cemetery and it took us more than two hours to look round, marvelling at the sculptured details on the gravestones and the places the inhabitants left in order to come and live in the very bottom of the world. But dusk had set in and we felt it was time to leave and find somewhere to eat. So we set off for the gate, but when we got there, we were surprised to find it locked. Moreover, it was topped with layers of barbed wire, which would make climbing it very dangerous. An elevated stone wall, also crowned with barbed wire, surrounded the cemetery itself, so we realised we were trapped, but we had to laugh. The very idea of being locked in a cemetery just seemed so ridiculous! And I pointed out to my friend that this was the second place he had managed to get himself imprisoned in today. Was he cursed, I asked? There had to be another way out, so we set off to look for a door in the wall or maybe there was a caretaker's hut. We walked along a section of the wall to no avail, so we wondered whether the way out might not be on the other side. It was getting dark, but we were still joking as we traversed the cemetery. I'll sleep on this gravestone and you can have that one, I said to my friend. It was at that moment that we heard the sound of someone whistling. We ran to where the whistling was coming from, but when we got there, there was no one. Strange, we thought, and when we heard further whistling, we hurried in that direction. But once again there was no one there. When we heard whistling for the third time, we spontaneously whistled back. And then there was nothing but ear-piercing whistling emanating from everywhere! No longer able to see the funny side of things, we took to our heels. In the gloom and confusion, and within a rapidly descending mist, we lost one another in our desperation to escape the incessant clamour. The moon suddenly appeared through the dark clouds and I realised that I was now on my own. I shouted for my friend, but I doubted if he would be able to hear through the cacophony of whistling, so I kept walking, hoping to find my way back to the gate. Suddenly about fifty yards in front of me I could make out an elderly man, a young woman and a child. I yelled and ran after them to ask for help, but they abruptly turned a corner and when I got there, they had disappeared into the mist. That was when I heard an ear-piercing, stomach-curdling scream. I raced toward the origin of the scream, only to find my friend. His face was completely white and he couldn't stop shaking. He was pointing at a gravestone with a trembling finger, grabbed me and all he could say was "Look! Look! Look!" There was just enough light to read the writing on the gravestone. It said: Robert Arthur George Macdonald. That WAS my friend's exact name!!! We distanced ourselves from the frenzied whistling, but not from the mist, which followed us until we somehow stumbled on the gate again. There was nothing else to do, but to yell for help as loudly as we could, but everyone who heard us just bolted. Finally, I calmed down enough to come up with the Spanish for: "We are not ghosts, we are locked in the cemetery, please find the man with the key." Some thirty minutes later, a man arrived and unlocked the gate. "That's unusual", he said, "this gate is not normally locked." "Don't spend the night here", he cautioned us, "I've heard there are ghosts!" My friend and I didn't bother with any food; our appetite had vanished, but we did manage several glasses of brandy. Back at the hotel, I was explaining to the manager what had happened, wondering whether he would believe me. However, not only did he believe me, he had even heard of Robert Arthur George Macdonald. The manager's aged father entered the conversation. "Yes, I remember him. He was the lighthouse keeper when I was a boy! He, his wife and child all drowned in that terrible storm we had about fifty years ago." I suggested to my friend that we return to the cemetery in the morning to have another look at the name on the gravestone. My friend emphatically refused and in a quivering voice ordered another brandy. I can't say I blame him!
Click here to view contributor bio
Day 14 Under the Sea by Linda A. Gould
“I could barely keep my own head above water. I couldn’t save her.” A tear dropped onto the table from Laura’s bowed head. “You two were caught in a rip current ?” The island inspector asked as he wrote in his notebook. “That’s right.” "Then why didn’t you, a certified diver, a diver with hundreds of hours of experience, tell her to swim across the current. You survived, so you must have done that.” “No, I didn’t,” her voice cracked from the shame that coursed through her. All her training and diving experience had been useless when it counted, when she and Anna had run across the white sands and jumped into the crystalline water, only to find themselves immediately swept away from the others who were still on the beach carrying the picnic lunch. “You didn’t what?” The inspector leaned in close. He smelled of sun tan lotion, like everyone did on this island. “I didn’t swim across the current,” she said. The inspector raised an eyebrow. “You see, I panicked.” She felt the panic rising in her now, too. Her chest ached as if she was again trying to breathe while keeping her head above the water. “It all happened so fast. I didn’t understand what was happening. Then Anna started screaming. I couldn’t…I couldn’t think. I couldn’t stop to think what was happening.” “And yet you survived. You weren’t rescued, you swam to safety, and you’re telling me that you swam against a rip current?.” The inspector leaned back in his chair. He chewed on a fingernail. “That’s right. All I could think was to stay on top of the water and swim. Maybe if I’d had more time, I would have figured out it was a rip current, maybe my training would have kicked in and I would have known what to do. Maybe… ” Her voice trailed off at the possibility of a different outcome . She paused and took a deep breath. “I thought if my legs were hanging low in the water, then it would be easier for the current to carry me away. So I just stayed on top of the water and swam as hard as I could. And I told that to Anna. I told her to swim on her back. But…but…” The inspector handed her a glass of water. She dutifully took a sip. It was warm and tasted sour, whether from the crappy pipes on the island or the taste of her anxiety, she didn’t know. “But Anna wouldn’t listen. She just kept flailing in the water. And screaming.” "What was she screaming?” The room was dead silent but for the sound of her own heart beating against her chest, as if it was struggling to be released. Laura’s mouth moved. Her lips formed words. But no sound came out. The inspector asked again, gently this time. “What was she saying?” When Laura spoke, her voice was barely above a whisper. “She was saying…’Help me, Laura, Help me!’ Over… and over …and over.” Laura’s voice grew urgent, “But I was scared. I was struggling. It was all I could do to save myself!” Laura was pleading with the inspector to understand. “I had to tell her no.”
“Come on, Laura. You know the saying. When you fall of a horse, get back in the saddle.” Laura’s head rested on Matthew’s shoulder as he stroked her hair. He had been on the beach yesterday, but when she had asked if he had seen what happened to Anna, he told her he hadn’t even realized Anna was in the water. He had been running around on the beach looking for something he could toss to her to pull her to shore. “I know. It’s just that I’m not sure I’m ready to go diving, to submerge myself under water.” “That’s exactly why you have to do it now. It’s never going to get easier. If you don’t go diving now, you’ll never want to again.” She knew he was right, but the thought of being in the water again made it hard for her to breathe. She looked out over the hotel balcony railing at the horizon. Sunlight sparkled on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, which was normally pearlescent, but Laura saw only the black depths that lurked beneath the sparkles. “Come on. I’ll be with you,” Matthew said. “I know you’re afraid, but we’ll do it together. Okay? We’ll just do a quick dive. We’ll explore the reef at the base of the cliff. You’ve gone diving there often enough that you can relax.” She watched his wedding band as his hand stroked hers. She felt the gentle pull of his other hand running through her hair as he comforted her. Diving was their thing. It’s how they had first met, they were one of those couples that said their vows while diving, and every vacation had been spent diving at locations their parents considered exotic. She had to find a way to get rid of her anxiety. “Ok, babe,” she grabbed Matthew’s hand and held it tight. “Let’s do it.” The routine of prepping for the dive was a welcome comfort. It was only when she sat on the edge of the boat, ready to fall backwards into the water that panic set in. She breathed so deeply from the regulator that Matthew took it out of her mouth and helped her pace her breathing. When she hit the water, the rush of cold into her wet suit shocked her into breathing hard again, but the two of them bobbed in the waves for a few minutes until the water in her wetsuit warmed and her breathing was under control. Her eyes locked on his. They released air from their BCDs and slowly descended. A blue-striped grunt popped into her vision. More swam among the fingers of a giant anemone as a filefish darted here and there across coral branches that reached out like alien hands. Sea fans drifted with the current as if wielded by a Spanish woman on a hot, lazy day. Laura was immediately immersed in the undersea world that seemed so much calmer, so much more vivid than her own world. She felt at home in this world, and it calmed her. She squeezed Matthew’s hand. She was going to be allright. The couple swam along the coral cliff, sometimes stopping to play with the small fish that darted around them, other times simply swimming along the cliff edge and exploring the crevices where they knew eels and lobster could be found, and if they were lucky, where they would find a female octopus guarding her nest. So much life existed within just the small section of reef where they swam that Laura stopped to take it all in. She hung there, suspended over an enormous brain coral surrounded by a forest of yellow and purple sea rod, their branches reaching up toward her like supplicants to their goddess. A cacophony of color swam around her and within the sea rod branches. A rush of pure joy gushed through her. She was alive! She was part of this world and she was alive! Laura turned to find Matthew, who was no where to be seen. He must have not realized she had stopped. She could catch up to him, but which way had he gone? The reef had been on their right. She kicked to head off in that direction, but her flipper had gotten caught in some of the sea rod. She bent over to release it. Anna looked up at her from within the coral forest, her hair floating about her head like Medusa’s snakes. One hand held on to Laura’s flipper, the other reached out to her, just as it had yesterday when she was calling for help, but Laura had batted it aside, too afraid of being pulled under by the drowning woman. Anna’s lips moved, and Laura heard screeching—“Help me, Help me!”—through the pounding of her own heart against her skull. Laura kicked out, pushing the ghost away, but the kick crashed her into the coral wall, releasing a cloud of dead plant material and bits of broken coral into the water around her. The cloud of detritus blinded her to all but Anna’s bloated face and eyes that were somehow both dead and angry. The ghost hovered before Laura, her lips moving in that horrible mantra, “Help me, help me.” Laura twisted away. The branch of a stag horn coral dragged against her cheek, drawing blood, which soon colored the water around her pink. Anna opened her mouth, as if drawing in a breath of air. Instead, a single bubble emerged. Laura screamed at seeing Anna re-live that final act. Her regulator, released, drifted upwards and banged against the coral cliff. Laura panicked. Instead of reaching behind her to where the regulator hose attached to the oxygen tank, as she had practiced time and again for such a situation, she instead reached up to grab the regulator. Each time, Anna’s hair wrapped around Laura’s hand. Laura’s lungs were screaming. Anna’s face floated close to her own. The ghost’s voice seeped into Laura’s mind, at first low, then growing in strength as Laura’s own strength weakened. “Let me help you,” the ghost said. Laura opened her mouth as if to draw a breath. Instead, a single bubble emerged.