The First Soul
Takeo groaned loudly as reality slowly filtered back to him. His face peeled off the cold, tiled floor of a bathroom; whitewash walls rebounded the light from the yellowing glow of the fluorescents. Using a great deal of his remaining strength he rolled himself over onto his back, coughing and spluttering with the tight sensation that coursed through his chest. Not a sound could be heard in the square, flat room; he passed a hand over his face, his eyes burned and his tongue felt like sandpaper in his mouth.
Before he had time to process any of the events that had just come to pass a large and imposing shape came bounding into his blurry line of sight. Rubbing his eyes vigorously he began to make out the shape of a large, friendly looking dog. Most of its heavy, thick fur was a deep brown, streaked with zig zagging black; bright white stripes flared across its nose and surrounded its endless, black eyes. For a moment fear closed in around Takeo’s heart, it was quickly dispelled as the shaggy animal leaned over to give his face a wash with its rough tongue.
Moaning a little and pushing the creature away Takeo stood. Grasping the edge of something that felt solid he pulled himself into an upright position. Everything hurt, his ribs, his legs, the muscles in his arms. He twisted his head from left to right and heard the bones crunch loudly. His grip tightened on the appliance he was holding onto. Looking down and opening his eyes he started a little when he realised what he had been holding onto was a startlingly white bathroom sink.
Takeo whispered “what the hell is this?” running his hands around the edge of the porcelain to make sure that it was real.
Looking up he jumped a little as he saw a face gazing intensely back at him. He lifted his fingers to touch the mirror that reflected his own, gaunt expression. His black, still eyes seemed to shrink back into his face, surrounded by faint black circles that highlighted his prominent bone structure. The spindly fingers of his hands weaved back into arms encased in unfamiliar clothes. Instead of the grey, striped suit he had been wearing he now stood clothed in a thin black, V-necked jumper, with a long red hood. His free hand ran across his thin legs, feeling the thick material of the dark blue jeans he now wore, his knees prominent through the fabric. Reaching up he pushed his shoulder length black hair away from his eyes. The choppy side fringe had covered a catalogue of bruises that he’d probably received as he hit his head on the floor.
He let out a yelp as something fluffy brushed against his leg. Looking down he set his eyes on the large dog he’d forgotten about. It grinned up at him and wagged its huge tail; it looked almost human. Stretching out his hand he touched his fingertips gingerly to the animal’s cold, wet nose. The dog huffed a huge happy sigh and licked his hand with her rough tongue. Hunkering down to eye level Takeo ruffled the fur around the creature’s neck.
“You’re not going to eat me right?” He asked, sighing a little to relieve some of the tension in his body.
The creature grinned wider, its eyes almost closed in an elated expression. “Eat!” it suddenly cried.
Takeo leapt back, falling onto his back; legs slightly in the air. The whitewashed ceiling of the bathroom filled with the large dog’s face as she leaned over him, beaming down on with that now unnerving smile.
“Eat!” It said again licking his face.
Takeo pushed it off and scrambled to his feet. His heart pounded in his chest as he attempted to process what had just happened.
“She doesn’t bite you know.” A deep, rolling voice pitched in.
Whipping round Takeo faced the line of sinks just to his left. Sitting atop the middle of the unit sat a tall, thin figure. The man was crossed legged, his shiny black shoes partially hidden by long, grey suit trousers. His shirt was an off white and partially untucked at the waist; his suit jacket hung open and fitted badly at the shoulders. Takeo stared into his dead, white face with horror. The large eyes white and bloodshot had sunk back in his head, the cheek bones jutting out underneath them. The skin upon his head looked so thin and delicate that it could not possible hold the brown, waist length hair that tumbled from his scalp.
In his hands he held a huge brown clip board, the back of which looked like a rough skin of some sort that Takeo did not want to look at too closely.
“Who are you?” He whispered, his voice trembling with trepidation.
“My name is Maikeru and I am the Shinigami.”
“The god of death.” Takeo wondered aloud.
The spirit sighed, “well, aren’t you the educated one.”
A moment of silence fell upon the strange little group as Takeo took in this new set of circumstances. Everything had happened so fast it were as though his mind was lagging miles behind. Unable to scramble together a more intelligent question he simply spluttered,
“What are you doing here?”
“I have been sent by the guardians of the underworld to see that you fulfill your duties and provide what was promised to them.”
Takeo looked confused, a small frown worked its way slowly across his forehead. Maikeru sighed and gave him a withering look.
“You have been charged with the task of gleaning one hundred souls. You may utilise whichever demons you see fit to collect your goods. After you have sent one hundred souls to Muzo and Gauzo they will gift you with the return of your life. The creature at your side is named Kerī, she is a Yama-Biko; whatever you say she will echo. She is here to protect you in your work here on earth.”
Takeo looked down as the creature nuzzled its nose into the palm of his hand. She smiled up at him, an almost human smile that reached into her eyes. Kindness and loyalty radiated from the animal and Takeo could not help but feel comforted.
Relaxing a little he turned his gaze back to Maikeru who was sat crossed legged, bobbing his left foot up and down and looking more than a little bored.
“Are you planning on summoning a demon anytime soon?”
“I don’t know how! It’s not like I was given a manual for this you know.”
Maikeru shuffled a little on his uncomfortable spot on the counter top. “To summon a spirit or demon you must command them with your soul. Generate a feeling, an impression of the demon you want to call and they will appear.”
A sudden clang rang out as something plastic and heavy clattered to the floor of the bathroom. Everyone jumped and Kerī began to growl softly.
“Shit.” A trembling, male voice echoed around the now silent bathroom. “Erm, hello out there. I could hear you talking to yourself and I thought that, you know, erm, you could do with some ‘space’. I hope you don’t mind … who, who are you talking to out there?”
Takeo turned to Maikeru, lines of confusion burrowing into his forehead.
“He can’t see or hear me, or Kerī for that matter.” He said nonchalantly.
“Oh great.” Takeo hissed under his breath. “So not only have I been sent back to Earth without a soul and with this bargain thing hanging over my head but I have to look crazy as well?”
Maikeru shrugged in response. “You should really get working on that first soul you know. I don’t have all day to hang about here with you.”
“Kill him, right here and now?” Takeo asked, a sudden feeling of dread pouring over his spine.
“What?!” The voice from the cubical squeaked.
“Preferably.” Maikeru, fiddled with the long pen in his hand, spinning it around his fingertips. “I have a meeting with the Devil in the next hour.”
Looking down Takeo saw Kerī grinning at him with a knowing smile; Maikeru huffed a little and tapped his shoe on the sideboard. The man in the last cubicle began rummaging around, scrabbling for something across the floor. Takeo could see an old Nokia phone just peeking out from under the door.
“Now or never Takeo” Maikeru trawled, tapping his foot even faster than before.
“Alright, alright!” Takeo pressed his fingers into his eyes and thought hard. He willed and wished and demanded that something dragged itself into reality. His forehead furrowed with the pressure as he allowed the feeling to consume him. Seconds later a low buzzing filled the air and through his closed eyes he could see the lights begin to flicker. With a rushing roar something cracked into the earthly dimension in which he was standing. He sensed an awe inspiring presence fill the room and he cracked his eyes open to see what he had summoned.
A tall man swathed entirely in a bright red cape, loomed above him. The head of the creature touched the ceiling and the hood of his cape hung so low that his face could not be seen. In his cold, white hands he held two rolls of what looked like toilet paper; one red and one blue.
“Ohh, an Aka Manto. Nice.” Maikeru muttered under his breath. The pen in his hand moved silently across the clipboard that he held but he never took his blank eyes from the center of the room. Kerī bounded up to the stranger and licked the full length of his hand in one swift, sloppy movement. The Aka Manto bent over to examine the strange creature which beamed up at him with an expression of pleasure and satisfaction.
“Which one of you summoned me to this second hell?” It demanded in a rasping, low voice. No one said a word but the thumping of Kerī’s tail could be heard echoing across the tiles. Maikeru and Takeo pointed at each other in unison; the Shinigami gave the young man a withering and dangerous look.
“I, I did.” Takeo mumbled, wondering just what would happen to him if he tried to run when no one was looking.
“What is going on?!” The young man in the cubicle cried. “I’m coming out! Please don’t hurt me. I knew I should have brought that pepper spray with me.”
The Aka Manto swept across the floor to the last cubicle and peered over the top with interest. His red hood grazed the top of the toilet door as he bent as low as he could. Reaching up and over the door the demon held out the two types of toilet roll to the young man; Takeo could hear whimpering softly to himself.
“Red or blue paper. Chose your answer wisely mortal, or fate shall not be kind to you.”
“I, I, what …” The man stammered, unable to formulate a response.
“Choose human!” The Aka Manto bellowed.
The man spluttered a little before answering. “Oh, oh god, erm, red. Red!”
“Oh, bad choice.” Maikeru muttered, flinching a little with the thought of what was to come.
Takeo covered his ears as the Aka Manto let loose a bellowing roar that bounced off every surface. Creeping up the toilet door with a lightening speed his legs and arms protruded in a devilish way. His arms and legs stuck out at all angles and he climbed like a spider with jutting, sporadic motions to poise atop the door and sway there, awaiting the proper moment. The man did not make a sound, maybe he had passed out in fear, perhaps he was too struck dumb with terror but the scream that he emitted when the demon swooped down to rip his spine from his body was one that would stay with Takeo for the remainder of his life. Blood sprayed across the walls as the demon whipped the spine around his body as though it were a piece of silken fabric caught in a breeze.
“Not bad.” Maikeru said, wiping the spray of blood from his face with the back of his hand. “Welcome to the game of the Soul Hunters, Takeo.”