Authors: Dave Ferraro
Tags: #urban fantasy, #ghosts, #japan, #mythology, #monsters, #teen fantasy, #oni, #teen horror, #japanese mythology, #monster hunters
Yumiko glanced over at Tanuki, who
padded over to her slowly. “What is it?”
Yumiko looked up and heard the sound
of the beads from the curtain being pushed aside. Shoving a strand
of hair out of her face, she walked toward the doorway just as a
young Japanese man appeared.
He was handsome, and blinked in at her
with wide eyes. “Madame Mori?”
She is out.”
He pursed his lips and nodded. “Who
Her apprentice, Yumiko
Sato. Can I help you?”
He looked her up and down, uncertainty
crossing his features, and perhaps disappointment. “You’ll have to
do, I suppose,” he said, stepping forward boldly.
And then Yumiko noted a green thread
that stretched out from behind him, disappearing into the wall. She
gave the man a second appraising look as she realized that he’d
been marked by a yokai.
The man bowed. “I need your
Yumiko had just poured tea for herself
and her guest when Madame Mori returned. She entered the
antechamber with a bow and allowed Yumiko to wait on her, as she
appraised her client.
I am Madame Mori,” Mori
announced as soon as Yumiko took a seat across from the young man.
“What can I do for you?”
The man seemed to be appraising Madame
Mori with as much scrutiny as she did him, but then he bowed his
head respectfully. “I’ve come seeking help. Protection.”
He is marked by a yokai,”
Yumiko told her.
The man looked up at her sharply, and
What is your name, young
man?” Mori asked.
Forgive me,” he bowed his
head again. “I am Shou Fujiwara.”
Well, Mr. Fujiwara, why
don’t you start from the beginning.”
Shou nodded. “It happened just an hour
ago. I was getting off of work, and walking along the streets
toward my house, as usual, when I noticed a woman
An hour ago?” Yumiko
interrupted, looking at the clock. It was presently two in the
He scowled. “I work at a host
Yumiko nodded politely as it clicked
for her. It had only occurred an hour ago, which meant that he
worked in the red light district somewhere. Being a handsome guy,
probably eighteen or nineteen, it made sense that he would be a
host, and working this late.
Host clubs were where women went to
literally buy attention from attractive men. A man of their
choosing would shower them with attention in the club, flirting
with them, filling their drinks, that sort of thing. The same sort
of thing existed for men, seeking the attention of women – hostess
clubs. Of course, an attractive man like Shou would be in his
element at a host club, where he was paid to have fun and flirt.
Sex with clients was strictly forbidden in the club, but Yumiko was
sure that many hosts and hostesses brought clients to the love
hotel after hours. It was just one little push from what they were
doing at the clubs, although it was considered rude for a client to
ask a host or hostess to see them outside of club hours.
So, you left the club as
usual?” Mori prodded.
Shou recollected himself and nodded.
“Yes. Like I said, I was walking along, minding my own business,
when I noticed a woman up ahead, in a white kimono. She had a fan
held up to her face. It’s been pretty hot, so I didn’t think much
Yumiko nodded, already knowing where
this was going.
So,” Shou continued,
licking his lips, “She stepped into my path and looked up through
her eyelashes at me, almost shyly, and asked ‘Do you find me
beautiful?’ To be polite, I answered ‘yes, of course,’ and went to
step around her, but she stepped into my path again. I was ready to
tell her off, that I’d had a long day and just wanted to get to
bed, but then she…she lowered her fan.” He swallowed hard. “Her
face was still bleeding from the cut. It ran from one ear to the
other. At first I thought it was makeup, that it couldn’t be real,
but…it was.” He looked away.
You weren’t a believer,”
No, I…I wasn’t. Not until
this happened. I’ve always been interested in yokai, but as myths
and legends, not as….reality. I just never considered that they
were actually out there.”
Most are non-believers
until they experience it for themselves,” Mori nodded. She waved to
Shou. “What happened next?”
Well, I’ve heard of the
Slit-Mouthed Woman before,” he told her. “As a kid, I was pretty
obsessed with yokai actually, and I always thought that she was one
of the creepiest.”
Madame Mori raised an eyebrow and he
looked away before continuing. “Anyway, she asked me ‘Do you still
find me beautiful?’ I knew from what I’d read that there was no
right answer. If I’d said no from the beginning, she would have
slit my mouth to match hers. If I said no or tried to run after
being asked the second time, she would do the same.”
So you bought yourself
some time,” Yumiko said, finishing for him. “You said yes again,
knowing full well that she would let you walk away, but would come
for you when you fell asleep tonight, and would cut you in
Shou nodded. “I’d heard of Madame
Mori, and as soon as I left the yokai behind, I came here for help.
You’re my only way out of this.”
Madame Mori considered him for a
moment as she sipped her tea. “Very well.” She glanced at Yumiko.
“He is definitely marked?”
Yumiko glanced at the green thread
that seemed to stick out from the center of his back, and followed
it up to the wall beside the sliding door, where it disappeared.
Mori tapped her cup with her pinkie,
as if thinking.
Yumiko took a moment to examine Shou,
who seemed calmer than someone who was marked for death should be.
He almost seemed…excited. Most people who came to Madame Mori were
pale, sweat breaking out over their forehead, or at the very least,
their hands trembled when they accepted their teacup. Shou was the
picture of calm, awaiting Mori’s reply to his entreaty patiently,
confidently. He knew that she wouldn’t turn him away, and he was
looking forward to seeing how it played out.
You are very clever, Mr.
Fujiwara,” Yumiko complimented him carefully. “Most people wouldn’t
have kept a cool head when confronted with such a grisly yokai,
even if they knew how to respond.”
I was just so…shocked to
see that she was real,” Shou said, his eyes lighting up. “She
Be careful, Mr. Fujiwara,”
Mori spoke up. “You’re stupid if you’re not afraid for your life
Shou ducked his head into a bow. “My
apologies, Madame Mori. I meant no disrespect.”
Mori’s eyes snapped to Yumiko’s. “I
think my apprentice can handle this.”
Shou stiffened and sat up straight.
“Your apprentice?” He glanced at Yumiko briefly. “You don’t think
This is a cut-and-dry
case,” Mori interrupted him. “You will stay in a room together in
the hotel and when you fall asleep, Miss Sato will take care of the
yokai before any harm comes to you.”
Shou pressed his lips together, and
seemed to be debating some retort, but instead, he wisely bowed his
head. “Thank you.”
Madame Mori nodded, then turned to
Yumiko with a discreet wink. “Please see to his safety, Miss Sato.
And collect payment when the job is done.”
Yes, sensei,” Yumiko
agreed, bowing as Mori stood.
Without another word, Madame Mori left
them, and Shou sat up straight, watching the door for a moment
before turning his head to regard Yumiko.
I hope you’re good at what
you do,” he told her. “I’m rather fond of my face.”
I’m sure that you are,”
Yumiko replied boldly, then stood. “And I’m the best there is at
what I do, Mr. Fujiwara. You have nothing to worry
He didn’t look very convinced, but
nodded and stood as well. “Okay. Show me the way.”
Yumiko led him out of Mori’s library
and through the sake bar, entering the love hotel for the second
time that evening. She had nearly protested when Madame Mori had
mentioned the love hotel, but there were few options. She certainly
wasn’t about to suggest that she go to Shou’s house. That seemed a
worse option than the love hotel. And she wasn’t about to allow him
into her own room either.
Yumiko stopped before the reception
desk, hesitating before tapping the bell. She glanced up at the
rooms, the available ones were illuminated, while those currently
in use were darkened. “Do you have a preference?”
Shou grinned, flashing perfect, white
teeth her way. “I always did fancy nurses.”
The door beside the counter opened
with a creak and Reina poked her head out, grinning. “I thought I
heard your voice. Twice in one night, huh?”
Yumiko scowled. “Just get me the key
to the nurse’s office.”
Reina looked Shou up and down with
interest. “Who’s your friend?”
Shou smiled brilliantly at her. “Shou
Fujiwara. And you would be?”
She’s single,” Yumiko
helped, wincing at the glare Reina sent her way.
single,” Reina amended. “You caught me at a good
Pleased to meet you, Miss
Arai,” Shou said politely. “You’ve probably handed me dozens of
keys here in the past, and I’ve never had the chance to behold your
beauty.” He bowed, and Yumiko was impressed with the smooth way he
turned Reina down, making it appear to be Reina’s decision by
suggesting that he was a player.
Reina nodded slowly. “Let me guess –
Reina sighed, then retrieved the key
for them, handing it to Yumiko. “Have fun, you two.” She narrowed
her eyes at Shou. “And Mr. Fujiwara, if you lay a finger on her,
you have me to deal with.”
Shou looked amused by the comment, but
bowed before turning to follow Yumiko up the hall.
As they waited for the elevator, Shou
looked back at the lobby. “Interesting setup you have here,” he
It works,” Yumiko mumbled.
She tilted her head, noting that Tanuki was trotting up the hall
after them. She raised an eyebrow at him.
Something about this guy
rubs me the wrong way,” Tanuki explained, entering the elevator
behind them. “He’s a slick one.”
Yumiko agreed that he was clever, but
she wasn’t sure that he had ill intentions. He just seemed to know
what he wanted. And he did not want Yumiko involved in this. He’d
wanted Mori. Why was that?
She decided on the direct approach.
“Why did you want Madame Mori to rid this yokai for
Shou shrugged. “It doesn’t matter to
me who does it.”
He’s lying,” Tanuki said,
You’re lying,” Yumiko
agreed. She crossed her arms as she took him in. “You wanted to
He glared at her. “So what if I
Yumiko blinked. “But, why?”
He snorted. “Are you kidding me? I
just found out that yokai exist. I’ve studied them my whole life,
and when I come to see the expert after this experience I have, I
come to find that she has an apprentice.” The elevator stopped on
the third floor and he quickly exited. “What makes you so
Yumiko was a little baffled as she
followed him into the hallway. “You’re jealous of me?”
Shou stopped in his tracks and turned
to look at her. “My father trained me with a sword. I’m good. When
he died, I lost everything. The only reason I’m at that stupid host
club is because it’s easy money. What I really want to do…” He
shook his head. “Yes, I want what you have. I want to be an
honorable man, not this...” He struggled to find a word, but threw
his arms up in the end. “Just…forget it. You wouldn’t
But the thing was, she sort of did.
And she kind of admired the passion that he’d just demonstrated.
However, he’d only discovered that yokai were real less than two
hours ago. It was a fresh discovery, exciting and enticing. Once
the novelty wore off, he would probably gladly go back to his host
club, and make plenty of money doing it. It probably wouldn’t be
much of a stretch for him to attract a cougar, and marry into a
Here we are,” Yumiko said,
gesturing toward a white door with a red plus symbol painted on
Shou took a deep breath and looked at
the door, then turned to Yumiko with a grin. “Are you ready for
this, little yokai hunter?”
Always,” Yumiko told him,
tossing him the key.
He unlocked the door and stepped
inside, Yumiko at his heels.
Tanuki whistled as he scampered in
between her legs, making for an open closet with nurse uniforms
hanging from a dowel. “Yumiko, you’ve got to put this on. You would
look simply ravishing in it.”