by Eric Shun (エリック旬)
“Something is wrong with me. Every time I try to sleep, all I see is him.”
Ogiwara closed his eyes, waiting for the throbbing in his head to subside. These past few months had been difficult for him. Day by day his body continued to fall apart; first the sleeplessness, then the fatigue, followed by lack of appetite and strange dreams whenever he did manage to sleep. Now he had a new ailment to add to the list: migraines.
He opened his eyes to look at the dark figure of his cousin across the dim living room. He didn’t need light to know that she wore a worried expression. She was a petite woman, so tiny that he could crush her in an instant if he wanted to, but she had helped him through so much. Ever since it happened, she was the only stable aspect of his topsy-turvy life. When he was looking for a new apartment to escape from the dreaded memories, she was the one who took him in, emotional issues and everything.
“I know.” Ogiwara reclined on the sofa, examining his hands in the faint light, the veins swarming through his hands, his crooked bony fingers…
On the other side of the room, his cousin sighed as she got up and went into the kitchen. He heard her lift her favorite porcelain teapot and pour more tea into her mug.
“I’m just saying that it’s about time you started picking up the pieces of your life. Of course you’ll always be grieving, but you have to start living. Otsutaro died six months ago—”
He shuddered at the mention of the name.
“—he’s gone. But Ogi, you’re still alive.”
She raised the mug to her lips, and he knew she had made her point.
“I know he’s dead! I know it’s been six months!” Ogiwara felt his voice grow louder. His fingers clenched on the arm of the sofa, his nails digging into the leather. “I’ve tried to forget about him! I’ve tried,” he trailed off, his voice weakening.
“Bullshit!” Now it was his cousin’s turn to yell. “I’m not asking you to forget about him, I’m asking you to start living again! These past few months you’ve been doing nothing but sitting in your room, staring at that damn box! Don’t think you can hide it from me, I know you keep Otsutaro’s things hidden in your closet. I know that you look through them every night. There was nothing you could do! He chose to commit suicide, so don’t you dare give me this crap about ‘trying to forget about him’. You don’t need to erase him from your memory, just stop acting like a zombie! You’ve stopped painting. You’ve stopped going out to the park. You’ve stopped all contact with people other than me. Sometimes I don’t even remember I have a cousin! I look at you and think, ‘Who is this person living in my house?'”
Ogiwara stood up, enraged. He threw the candles from the coffee table against the wall. He knocked over books, lamps, and vases, scattering the room with pieces of porcelain and broken glass.
“Just shut up! I didn’t ask you to solve my sleeping problems!” He tightened his hands into fists and punched the wall, breaking the plaster, the pain rippling through his nerves. He hit the wall again, and again and again. It wasn’t until he felt a pair of arms wrap around his body that his anger began to subside.
His cousin spoke in a shaky but determined voice. “I’m just trying to help you. It hurts to see you in pain like this. Please, let me help you.”
Tears stung his eyes. He unclenched his fists and let his now bloody hands fall to his side.
“The truth is,” he sobbed, “I don’t want to start over. I can’t live without him. Sometimes, I wish I was the one who died.”
Reiko sat at her kitchen table, considering the mess from the night before over a bowl of cold, unappetizing Wheaties. The five holes in her wall would have to be fixed, her lamp and vase would have to be replaced, and she would have to clean up the broken glass and porcelain. She stared at the tightly shut door at the end of the hallway. Inside that room was the monster for whom she had taken responsibility.
Of course, he wasn’t always a monster. When she was a kid, Ogi was her best friend, a constant element in her childhood. He was there when her schoolmates teased her for having so many freckles; he was there when the two of them graduated from high school; he was there when she had her first boyfriend and when she was dumped by that boyfriend; he was even there after she got into that terrible car accident, and it was he—not her mother, not her father, not even her three younger sisters—who visited her at the hospital every day without fail until she was well enough to be discharged.
In a way, Ogi was her best friend and the brother she never had.
She was there for him too: there when he discovered he preferred boys over girls; when he decided to seriously pursue the fine arts; there when he met Otsutaro at one of his art galleries; there when Ogi fell in love; there when he was told Otsutaro had committed suicide. And now she was here for Ogi—like he was for her—during the long, painful process of recovery.
Somewhere on the other side of the kitchen, the ancient grandfather clock chimed, warning her that if she didn’t hurry, she’d miss her train and consequently the plane she was scheduled to board. Wolfing down her wet cardboard-flavored breakfast, she quickly scribbled a note for Ogi, stuck it on his door, and made sure she had packed everything she needed for her Very Important Business Trip.
I hope he’ll be okay by himself, she thought as she grabbed her heels out from underneath her bed. He may be emotionally unstable, but surely he could take care of himself for a day and a half. She had left behind plenty of cereal, milk, and instant noodles. As an extra precaution, she’d packed away anything sharp or flammable, even disabling the stove, just in case Ogi decided to do something drastic.
“He’ll be okay,” she said out loud. Her voice lacked conviction, but she ignored that. She was running out of time.
By 7:15, Reiko was out the door.
Night had fallen by the time hunger pangs drove Ogiwara from his room. The note on his door reminded him of Reiko’s Very Important Business Trip. He couldn’t find the lamp in the living room, and remembered that he had broken it the night before. When he turned on the kitchen lights, the holes in the wall and the mess of shattered glass and tossed books made his stomach churn with guilt.
He’d made that mess. It was a wonder why his cousin hasn’t kicked him out of her house yet.
Ogiwara craved an egg, so he poured oil in a pan and waited for it to heat. It took him five minutes to realize the stove wasn’t working. Finally he gave up and decided to help himself to a piece of cake, but the knife drawer was empty. Even the knives usually sitting by the fruit basket were missing. In fact, the forks were gone as well!
He grew irritated. Either this house was infested with elves that liked to steal kitchen utensils or his cousin was being overly cautious. After a brief moment of swearing through his teeth, he reluctantly filled a noodle cup with water and put it in the microwave.
As he waited for his meager meal of noodles and monosodium glutamate, he thought he heard someone knock on the front door. The sound was so faint, he had to listen again just to be sure. Was his cousin back already? Just how long had he stayed in his room?
When he opened the door, he was greeted by a tiny girl wearing a traditional kimono. Her hair was darker than black acrylic paint and her eyes, as black as her hair, possessed no signs of life. In her hands she held a peony lantern.
“Yes? How can I help you?” He spoke slowly, pronouncing each word clearly, unsure if the little girl understood him.
She didn’t answer. Rather, she looked straight into his eyes and smiled, showing her very, very black teeth. Ogi was shocked and mildly disgusted. He remembered something from his high school history class about how the courtesans of the Japanese palace used to paint their teeth black, a sign of prominence in early times. But this was the twenty-first century, a time when many, if not all, people preferred their teeth to be pearly white.
The mysterious little girl stepped aside, making room for another person in the doorway. He hadn’t noticed at first, having been distracted by the creepy little girl, but now that this second person was stepping into the light…
It was a face that haunted his dreams and nightmares. There, standing before him, was Otsutaro, looking just as he did the day of his funeral. His skin was pale, his eyes slightly sunken, and he wore the suit he’d been buried in — but this Otsutaro was alive, smiling, and calling out his name.
“Ogi!” He smiled, and Ogi was thankful to note that Otsutaro’s teeth were nice and white.
“Otsu, how—why—” He broke off, speechless. Finally, he managed to pry out two words. “Come in.”
“The girl too?”
“Who is she?”
“Someone who’s helped me out a lot.”
“Then she can come too.”
Otsutaro and the creepy girl shuffled into the house and Ogi led them to the living room (“Ignore the mess, we’re in the middle of redecorating”), settling the two of them down on the couch.
“I’ve missed you so much.” He threw his arms over Otsutaro, holding him in a tight embrace. His mind was running in circles. He didn’t know what to think. Ogi was sure, so sure, that his lover had died six months prior. No, he wasn’t just sure, he knew that Otsutaro was dead. Ogi had seen the crime scene; he had seen them carry Otsutaro out in a body bag; he attended the funeral, watched as they lowered Otsutaro’s casket into the ground, then buried him. This was impossible. It couldn’t be happening.
But all his senses were telling him that it was happening. He could feel Otsutaro’s cool, soft skin touching his own. He could see Otsutaro’s familiar face smiling back at him,. He could hear Otsutaro’s voice. He could smell Otsutaro’s scent, even if it was laced with the earthy smell of soil. When Ogi led Otsutaro into a kiss, his lips rejoiced at the familiar act. He could taste the flesh that he had missed so much.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, a thought was forming, warning him of danger, but Ogi ignored it, pushing aside rationality because it wasn’t what he wanted to hear. Instead, he listened to his senses telling him Otsutaro was back. Whether this was magic or a miracle, he didn’t know, nor did he care to; all that mattered was Otsutaro sitting next to him, kissing him the way he used to. My senses wouldn’t lie to me, he told himself.
They couldn’t keep their hands off each other, frantically kissing and caressing and groping all the way to his bedroom. Ogi never noticed that the creepy little girl with the peony lantern followed them..
The next morning there was another knock on his door, this time so loud it beat into his ears. Ogi sat up in bed, disoriented and unsure of the time, or even where he was. Without waiting for an answer, his cousin burst into the room, sending in an intense ray of light to cut across the darkness.
“I thought you died or something! I called you a bunch of times last night to tell you I was coming home early, but you didn’t pick up. I’ve been shouting for you since I got back, but you didn’t answer.” Reiko finally paused long enough to take in the state of Ogiwara’s room and gasped in horror. There was dirt everywhere. “What happened in here?”
Ogi wasn’t too sure himself. He looked around and realized that his white walls were stained with muddy hand prints, and chunks of soil were scattered in the folds of his blankets. Even between the sheets, he could feel the dirt crusted on his naked body.
“I … don’t know,” he said weakly.
His cousin snorted, “It looks like you were trying to dig up a mountain. I don’t know where you were or how you got so dirty, but you’d better clean up. I’m taking you out for breakfast in half an hour.”
Ogi rolled out of bed with the intention of showering, but when his foot landed on something unfamiliar he panicked and flung himself back into the safety of his
bed.. There was a tiny pile of muddy condoms on the carpet.
He suddenly remembered the unexpected visit from the night before, seeing Otsutaro even though he had died six months ago, the way they’d made love in the dark, feeling the contours of each other’s bodies. Even his body (which was aching and sore) remembered, but Ogi still couldn’t account for the dirt. How had it gotten here? How did it get on him?
The water from the shower head rained on him, washing away all the grime covering his body. He watched with fascination as the filth melted, revealing his peachy skin. The dirty water pooled at his feet before swirling down the shower drain.
So many things about last night didn’t make sense. His encounter with Otsutaro was surely something of the supernatural. It certainly didn’t feel right as Ogi came into him. And what’s more, the entire time Otsutaro was there, so was the creepy little girl in the kimono, patiently holding her peony lantern. She was in his room, standing in the corner, watching as he and Otsutaro made love. Right before dawn, Otsutaro was in such a hurry to leave. No matter how many times Ogi begged him to stay, Otsutaro would smile sadly and repeat that he had to leave. Ogi didn’t let him leave until Otsutaro promised to return the following night.
His stomach was assaulted by a violent stab of pain and Ogi was reminded again of the power hunger had over his body. Ogi couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten. Quickly he got out of the shower and got ready.
When the two of them reached the restaurant, it was packed with the morning rush. Reiko and Ogi stood in line, side by side, waiting for a host to seat them. In front of them was a long line of people; behind them was another long line of people. Despite his protests, his cousin remained firm, unwilling to look for another restaurant.
“Besides,” she smirked, “there’s someone I want you to meet.”
By the time they were finally seated, it was no longer time for breakfast. Instead, the restaurant was embracing for their lunch rush. The host took Cynthia
and Ogi to a window side table and gave them their menus.
“Is Crow working today?” She asked the host, a bald man in his late thirties.
“Yeah, he is. The poor kid is working an eighteen hour shift today, I heard.”
“Can you send him over to serve our food?”
Ogi ignored his cousin, who was obviously enjoying her role as a matchmaker, and instead focused on consuming the basketful of bread offered as an appetizer. They placed their order and the host left. It was just the two of them, again. His cousin kept staring at him, watching as he ate the loaves of bread hungrily.
“What?” he asked between bites, “Do you want one?”
“No, no, go ahead.” She smiled. It was a sincere smile, but for some reason it really bothered Ogi. “You just seem so … different today. More alive, I guess?”
“Uh, thanks.” He buttered his bread and shoved it in his mouth.
Another waiter came with their tray full of food. It was a young man, a college student perhaps, with jet black hair and the most peculiar set of bright blue eyes.
“Reiko !” He smiled as he set her plate down.
“Hey Crow!” She smiled back, flashing her teeth (and once again, for some strange reason, Ogi felt relieved that they were white). “This is my cousin, Ogi. He’s a painter.”
“Was a painter.” Ogi interrupted.
“Ogi, as in the one who created the Dynamic series of paintings?” Crow’s face lit up, “I’ve always wanted to meet you! This is such a pleasure, I really love your artwork!”
Crow looked at his wrist watch. “Hey, if you guys aren’t busy, maybe we can go for a cup of coffee after you’re done eating? I’ll ask my manager for a break. After all, he’s making me work eighteen hours today, so he better give me a good, long break, y’know?”
“Sure!” His cousin grinned, her nails clacking against the table in excitement. “And then we can—”
Out of nowhere, Ogi felt something hit him on the side of the head. The brute force knocked him out of his seat. He stood up, staggering from the pain, and that’s when he noticed an man in a business suit, an old yet familiar face, come charging at him again with a bloody fist.
“You damn bastard!” The old man shouted.
The atmosphere in the restaurant quickly turned tense. Ogi blocked the old man’s subsequent punches, but the old man was clever and kicked Ogi in the stomach instead. When Ogi fell, the man jumped on top of him, pounding Ogi’s head with his fists until the distinct taste of blood flooded Ogi’s mouth. Women in the restaurant, his cousin included, screamed. Crow and the other waiters struggled to separate the two of them. When they had managed to finally pry the old man off of Ogi, the police arrived and were taking the old man away.
“You damn bastard!” The old man continued yelling, his crisp black business suit now rumpled, stained with red blushes of blood in some places. “First you ruined my son’s future, and now you’ve gone and stolen his remains from his grave! Of all the scum! You will pay for this, you bastard!”
Ogi held onto the chair for support as he tried to make his wobbly legs stand. Everyone who was surrounding him moved away, whispering in hushed voices.
His cousin looked worried. “Ogi, isn’t that…”
“Otsu’s father.” He finished.
“But what is he talking about? You didn’t … did you?”
Ogi wiped the blood away from his lips. “I don’t know what he’s talking about. I’ve never left the house.”
Reiko quickly apologized to Crow and the manager of the restaurant, took the food to go, then helped Ogi back home.
The interrogations that took place at the police department took away a good portion of the day. Ogi and his cousin repeated their stories over and over again, read statements, signed papers. It was an endless flood of work. By the time they were allowed to go, night had fallen again.
Ogi chewed the hot dog he bought from a street vendor without much interest. The bun was soggy from the juice dripping from the hot dog, and there was hardly any flavor despite the amount of relish and mustard he decorated on his meal. Reiko , on the other hand, ate her hot dog in five bites. She fished her hand into the brown paper bag and pulled out another.
“Of all the things to happen today. We’re lucky that the police offers were more convinced that the old man was crazy.”
The two of them walked side by side on the sidewalk.
“But … you really didn’t, did you?”
Ogi looked at her. He had started to say something, but thought better of it and stopped. Instead, he took another bite of his hot dog.
“I mean, there was a lot of dirt in your room. And you were covered in it to when I woke you up this morning.”
Her voice drifted off.
“You trust me, don’t you?” He asked, keeping careful to avoid her gaze.
“I do, but it’s just that lately you haven’t been yourself lately. I don’t know what to expect.”
“The truth is, I don’t remember what happened last night.” He lied. It wasn’t a complete lie, but it wasn’t the entire truth either. “I remember going out of my room to heat up some Cup of Noodles, and then the next thing I knew, you were knocking at my door and I was covered in dirt. But my shoes weren’t dirty, and my clothes were clean too. It’s unlikely that I would go outside stark naked, much less dig up a grave like that.”
“I guess you’re right.”
The two stopped as his cousin dug inside her purse for the house keys. Once inside, the two parted ways: Reiko to her room and Ogi stayed in the living room, staring at the couch.
He hadn’t told her about his visitors. He didn’t tell anyone about them. As far as he was concerned, they were mere delusions. It was quite possible. After all, he hadn’t been exactly taking care of himself or minding his health for the past six months. Ogi sat on the couch, his feet on the table. There was still that mess to clean up, but he didn’t exactly feel up to the task of cleaning.
Then, almost as though he were expecting it, there was a faint knock at the front door. He went over to the sink to flush his face with cold water, making sure that he was truly awake this time. There it was again, the distinct sound of knocking.
When he opened the door, he was greeted with the same familiar face. Otsutaro stood wearing the same suit Ogi had last seen him in. And again, by his side stood the creepy little girl with the peony lantern. Otsutaro was really standing in front of him, though his presence defied all the laws of nature.
Ogi invited the two of them inside and, without much thinking, led them into his room.
After emerging from a long steamy shower, Reiko felt a sudden chill come over her. It came without warning, shaking her very insides until even her heart
stopped beating for a few moments. She couldn’t pin down exactly what this feeling was, but it reminded her of when she attended Otsutaro’s funeral, the only funeral she ever remembered attending.
Just like then, the atmosphere in her house had suddenly turned cold, icy, despite the thermostat giving a nice reading of 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The lights in the bathroom flickered violently, and glass pane of the windows rattled. Reiko clutched on to her robe, holding it tightly around her to fend off the foreboding feeling. She walked to Ogi’s room, about to ask him if he noticed something strange, but as soon as she opened the door, she was greeted by a terrifying pale white face with jet black teeth and empty eyes staring back at her, smiling. It was a little girl, straight from the Japanese horror movies, with skin as white as porcelain doll and just as smooth.
“Ogi,” she shouted, “What’s going on?”
But he couldn’t hear her. She could see Ogi’s eyes, seemingly devoid of any life, as he lay naked on his bed with a shadowy figure crouching over him. The ghoulish figure wore what were the remains of a once beautifully tailored suit. The rags hung onto its body like loose skin; its bones were visible through the rips. There was an odd familiarity about the shadowy creature who was then digging into Ogi’s skin, right above his heart. With fingers like needles, it pushed deeper and deeper into Ogi’s chest, searching for something. Reiko
stared at it, unable to decide whether it was a death god come to take her cousin away or some malicious spirit.
It was then that she noted the smell, the deep stench of rotting flesh. It clung onto her nose, prying deep into her throat as her entire body buckled, the painfully acidic taste of vomit rising from her stomach. The smell of death was looming in the room. With a sudden burst of bravery, she pushed the little girl to the side, knocking her peony lantern out of her hands. In that moment, a cold gust of wind blew through the room, extinguishing the faint candle in the lantern. Both the girl and the ghoul haunting Ogi wailed as they crumbled to pieces, leaving nothing behind but piles of fresh earthy soil. Reiko stumbled toward Ogiwara, holding onto his ice cold hands as she shouted for him to wake up.
“Ogi, wake up! Wake up!”
The pupils returned to his eyes, the blush back onto his pale cheeks. He blinked a few times before sitting up, looking around, unsure of where he was.
“What in the world…”
“Please tell me you didn’t dig up that grave.”
“I told you, I didn’t.”
Reiko grabbed both of his shoulders and shook him hard, her voice cracking. “Don’t lie to me! If you didn’t, then explain why those two were here! Explain the dirt!”
“Those two who? What dirt–?” He stopped himself as he looked around him. Again, more dirt! And he couldn’t figure out how it came to be.
“Ogi, I want the truth.” Reiko found it difficult to breath. As much as she didn’t want to believe that her cousin had dug up the grave, there was so much evidence against him, it was impossible to believe otherwise. But still, deep in her heart, she wished she had imagined the entire thing; Reiko wished Otsutaro’s father was lying when he vehemently accused Ogi of digging up his son’s grave.
“I saw Otsu. He was here yesterday night and tonight. You might think I’m crazy for saying that—it’s damn impossible since Otsu’s dead—but I really did see him. There as this creepy little girl in a kimono with him too, holding a peony lantern.”
She looked at his eyes; he was telling her the truth and she knew he was, regardless of his ridiculous tale. Reiko didn’t want to believe it, but she knew she had to. She swallowed hard, “I saw the girl too.”
“I invited Otsu into the house, then into my room. The girl just followed.”
“Ogi, I have a really bad feeling about this. You’re not supposed to see dead people. That type of thing only happens to weird little kids in movies. It doesn’t happen in real life—”
“—but it did.”
“—but it did. I’m going to call my coworker and ask if she knows an exorcist or something. In the meanwhile, go grab a few cloves of garlic and nail it to the top of your bed.”
Ogiwara gave his cousin a curious look, almost wanting to burst out in a mad fit of laughter. But she looked at him sternly and he knew that she was completely serious.
The next morning, a bald old man in an orange tunic draped over his body sat in their living room. Reiko chuckled nervously as she pushed aside the broken shards of glass, porcelain, and pieces of plaster to the side.
“Sorry for the mess.”
“No need.” The old man sat down, looking straight at Reiko with his gopher-like eyes. “I heard a spirit has been bothering this residence of yours?”
“Yes, it is. It’s been coming over to our house for two nights now. Please, sir, get rid of it for us. I’m afraid of what will happen next if it keeps visiting.” She lead the old monk to Ogi’s room while Ogi stood in the hallway, watching with curiosity.
For a few moments, the old monk merely stepped into Ogi’s room and faced the opposite wall, right where the bed was. He did not move. He did not mutter a single word. He just looked, gazing across the open space with a thoughtful silence.
Ogi peered into the room, giving his cousin a skeptical look. The monk seemed to have fallen asleep standing up!
A few moments turned into a few minutes, and just as soon as Reiko was about to give up and usher the monk back into the living room for a cup of tea, the monk made a sudden jerk of his head, holding out his hands with the palms facing the wall.
“What is it, sir?”
“This spirit you speak of was simply a lonely spirit. But something attached itself onto this spirit, a demon perhaps, turning it from a benign spirit to a malicious one with vengeful intentions. This spirit has now possessed its former body and is out to claim what it believes to be its rightful possession. It’s out to get him.” The old monk pointed one firm finger toward Ogiwara.
The monk then turned to Ogiwara, walking toward him with a youthful stride. From his pockets he drew out three sheets of paper, each with a mantra written on it in ancient writing. “Take these, paste one on the entrance of your front door, one on the door of your cousin’s room, and one on the door to your room. The spirit will call out for you, crying, wailing, screeching. Whatever it is, you must not under any circumstances let it in. If you do, these mantras will be completely useless and if you sleep with the corpse one more time, you will meet your death. There are consequences for sleeping with the dead.”
As Reiko led the monk out the door and drove him back to his temple up in the rural hills, Ogiwara busied himself to attaching the mantras to their proper places. But not long after finished taping the last one to the door of his room, he heard the familiar faint knock. With a deep breath, he ignored it, deciding instead to distract himself by making a pot of coffee.
Even when he poured the roasted coffee beans into the grinder, he could hear the knocking. By the time he was grinding the beans, the loud whir of the machine couldn’t fully drown out the familiar voice that was now calling out to him.
“Ogi? Ogi, it’s me, Otsu. Let me in. I know you’re in there. Ogi!”
He poured in more beans into the grinder, then set the blender to its maximum speed, holding up the device so that the sounds of crushed beans would drown out the voice.
“Ogi! Ogi! Ogi! Ogi!”
The voice went from sweet and tender to a loud, piecing shrill. Ogiwara could hear the sound of nails ripping across the front door, claws shredding it to wood shavings. It was painful to hear Otsu’s voice so frustrated and angry. He closed his eyes, and for an instant, the same nightmare that haunted him for the past six months returned. The day of Otsutaro’s funeral; but this time the room was empty, just him and Otsutaro’s corpse. Looking onto his lover’s serene pale face, he almost felt relieved to see such a peaceful expression. Yet within moments the face contorted into pain, the eyes that were supposed to be dead opened up, the stitches from Otsutaro’s mouth unraveled and out came a chilling, haunting voice, “Why didn’t you join me?” It was the same voice that was now calling out to him.
“Ogi!” The Otsu out there howled, crying loudly as he pounded on the door, kicking and screeching.
Ogiwara ran into his room, shutting the door behind him as he dove under his covers to hide. Even in his room, he could still hear Otsu’s cry, as crisp as though Otsu was standing right next to him.
Again and again he told himself the Otsu out there was not the same one he loved. The Otsu banging at his front door was a spirit that was still stuck on earth, lonely. The spirit out there, regardless of how real it felt, was just a mass of rotted flesh, a corpse that had once been alive and breathing. Besides, he reasoned with himself, the real Otsu was gone.
But reasoning with himself didn’t relieve him of the intense desire to be with Otsu again, even if it was just Otsu’s pale shadow. Ogiwara reached above his door and ripped off the mantra given to him by the monk. He tore it to tiny pieces, discarding the shreds onto his floor. He wanted to be with Otsu, he wanted to talk to him, ask Otsu why he committed suicide and left him behind. He wanted to tell Otsu how the past few months were hell for him. He wanted to tell Otsu that they could have made it work, despite Otsu’s father being opposed to their relationship. But most of all, he wanted to hold his dear Otsu once more.
Ogiwara opened the door and for a brief moment was met with a most gruesome image of a shrunken skull with black eyes and teeth, just like the creepy little girl’s. Yet the moment those horrid black eyes saw Ogi, they magically transformed into Otsu’ familiar brown eyes. The skull regained its flesh, its black teeth whiting to perfection. The ghoulish corpse disappeared, and in his place was Otsutaro, looking at him just as though he never died.
“Otsu! I can’t live without you. Don’t you ever leave me again!”
Ogi and Otsu stumbled into Ogi’s room, the star-crossed lovers meeting for a brief retreat from reality. Their kisses were wet and sloppy, trailing from lip to jaw to neck. Ogi’s mind fluttered, touching Otsu’s chest, his thighs, his arms, making sure that it was real. He was so overcome with happiness. At last, he was with Otsu, at last! He knew that it was dangerous, what he was doing now, but for once he felt like himself again, back before Otsu committed suicide.
Their clothes came off in a flurry, shirts pulled over heads, legs slipping out of pants, then kicked to the side to make way for the fall into Ogi’s bed. Otsu’s fingers drummed along his shaft, touching him the way he used to. It reminded Ogi of the first time they met, how after they caught each other’s eye; they made the stealthy trip to the men’s room. And that was the first time that Otsu’s lips danced on Ogi’s skin. Ogi cried out as he felt Otsu’s lips curl around him, kissing him from tip, then down the length, and back up to the tip again. His hips moved rhythmically, thrusting into Otsu’s mouth as Otsu’s tongue caressed him over and over again. His hands grabbed Otsu’s waist, pulling him closer to his body as he came, sweat breaking from his pores. Then Otsu reached for Ogi’s waist, kissing the angular curve of Ogi’s rear, his fingers reaching for the entrance: first the forefinger, then the middle finger, then three fingers, all of them slipping in and out of Ogi’s body at a frantic pace.
Ogi’s entire body shuddered, the fingers were like keys, unlocking hidden senses that Ogi had buried within himself for so long. A slightly cool breeze brushed past him as Otsu’s fingers came out of his body. Ogi felt sore, his body unused to this after months and months of neglect. He felt Otsu’s tip pressing against his entrance, slowly sliding into his body at an agonizing crawl. Ogi bit his lip, waiting in anticipation for what came next.
Then, with one last push, Otsu had fully invaded his body, now controlling Ogi’s body from one location. When Otsu pried even deeper, Ogi cried out and he clenched his bed sheets, holding on for embrace. When Otsu pulled out slightly, Ogi’s buttocks tightened together. With a single touch, with a simple move, with a forceful thrust, Otsu had Ogi at his mercy, screaming out in pain or crying out in pleasure. Otsu fell into a steady pattern of thrusts, rocking Ogi back and forth, back and forth until Ogi could feel it, the moment he had been waiting for so long.
But it took Ogi by surprise. What had once been a warm sensation of being filled by Otsu’s essence was now a painful experience. Otsu shot out something cold, so cold that it burned, ice digging into his body. And what’s more, it was alive! Ogi felt a million tiny hands tugging at him from inside, clawing at him. The louder Ogi cried out, the more his body was consumed in pain. It felt like his body was being eaten alive, by tiny parasites that came out from Otsu.
Ogi begged Otsu to stop, but heard nothing in reply. As he turned around, twisting his body in the most uncomfortable position, he came face to face with a dead mangled face, shrunken like a skull, smiling at him with it’s teeth decayed to blackness. It laughed, shaking it’s entire body as it reached toward Ogi’s chest, itsclaws stabbing into the skin, past his tissues, through his muscles, and into his heart. Ogi screamed, threw his head back in pain, and soon there was quiet.
And a bright, blinding light came to take him away.
Reiko tried to rush home as soon as she could. The monk had offered to take the train, but Reiko felt obligated take him home. But his “home” was further than she imagined and soon, in addition to losing her way, she met several traffic accidents which only delayed her journey to the monk’s reclusive home hidden in the deep forest and back.
Finally, after hours of driving, she made it home. Reiko walked on the cobblestone path leading to her house, but as soon as she saw the house, she knew something had gone wrong.
The front door was hanging wide open, the mantra that had been attached to the beam of the roof was scorched black and unreadable. She hurried inside, afraid of what she would fine. The living room, the kitchen, and her room were just as she had left them, but her main concern was Ogi’s room at the end of the hallway.
Everything about the house was deathly still and just as quiet. Her hand rested on the door to Ogi’s room as she stopped for a brief moment to catch her breath. Reiko’s heartbeat quickened, her stomach tied into frantic knots, and though she knew the scene that lays just beyond the door was not what she wanted to see, she had to open it, she had to confirm that it was true.
Slowly, she twisted the knob and the door let out a low rumbling groan. The room was dark, however it also smelled of death, the foul stench of a corpse decaying mingled with the earthy smells of soil. Her hand crawled along the wall, reaching for the light switch, and before she could turn on the lights, she thought of running.
No, she mustn’t run. She had make sure.
On went the lights.
Reiko let out a loud gasp before averting her eyes and running out of the house. Outside she sobbed loudly, alternating between crying and vomiting. A neighbor had come to console her, but she could only point to the direction of the room.
Inside, Ogi lay in his room, his eyes closed and his lips curled in a smile, as though he were viewing a pleasant dream. He lay, half sunken into the arms of his lover’s corpse. On the floor, right next to the lovers, was a peony lantern, the dim trail of smoke rising from the extinguished candle.