Walking with Demons – Ghosts

I’m not a good man. I’ve never been very good at pretending to be anything else either so it came a huge surprise to everyone when I met and eventually married Amaterasu. Being the director of a large, inner city company that specialised in corporate business areas it was important that I practiced my cut throat edge.

I was so good at it. I lashed out and patronised and frightened people until I had what I wanted from each and every one. My job was my life. Before too long though it became obvious that my dark nature was over spilling into other aspects of my life. Never before in my life had I been violent, until I suddenly had a wife and small child to come home too.

That nag, nag, nagging really got under my skin. The thought of opening the front door after a long day of bitching at people to be greeted with a  surly expression, a screaming child and a list of endless jobs that still needed completing was too much to bare.

I became distant. I barely ever went home, I worked late; I even began an affair with one of the temps in on the floor below mine. A sweet, quiet girl, no strings attached sex on tap and little peace from the never ending riot that went on at home.

It was all a little too perfect, everything was sweet for me, I felt as though I’d lost twenty years of stress, hard work and responsibilities. It all began to unravel when Amaterasu found out about the other woman.  She screamed and cried and created such a riot that I just had to leave the house. The bar across the street was more home now than that cold, wretched box that I’d paid a small fortune for.

I don’t mind telling you I was plastered by the time I stumbled back across the road at one am. A stomach full of Sake had done little to alleviate my terrible mood. I fumbled with the keys, wrenching them this way and that in the lock until, finally one of them clicked.

The door swung open to capture Amaterasu in it’s black painted frame. Her skinny arms were folded across her pointlessly small chest. I’d always secretly hoped she might get some work done after the birth of our son but she’d never seemed bothered about her appearance. She’d gotten fat, she’d gotten lazy and demanding, she was everything I hated all rolled up in one great huge ball of woman.

As she began to screech, I don’t even really remember what she was saying, the urge to reach out and silence her started to itch at the back of my mind.  In my head I could see my long fingers reaching around that soft flesh of her neck, the part that’s just above the collar bone. The squeezing felt so therapeutic, the release of so much anger and bitterness with a little shaking and pattering of feet and the endless screeching would stop. I’d be free.

I don’t know when I acted on my impulses; all I remember is takin the body to some remote place and hiding it as best I could.

For two years no one has really questioned Amarterasu’s disappearance. Her family was destitute, desolate and poor health was a constant problem, a fact they had gleefully hidden from me until after the marriage had taken place. She’d had minimal contact with them by her own choice so no one thought it odd when she didn’t call or visit. My parents asked on the few occasions they stopped by where she was, I made the relevant excuses; shopping, out seeing friends, on a course, the usual things you’d tell people after you’d murdered your spouse. She had no job, no bills, friends were few and far between and it was easy enough to fake a correspondence with them. It was all too easy to just cover it up.

The only person who did notice was my son. She had been the only contact the boy had had and he missed her presence almost immediately. Even when he watched me bundle her lifeless body into the boot of the car he looked for her everywhere. I feel for him, he is the only thing in my life that I truly love and to loose him would tear me apart.

Things ticked along as normal, days were the same, routines were established, I didn’t have a care in the world. The girl I’d been seeing became my new partner and before long she moved into the house I’d shared with Amaterasu.

I only started to notice the odd things that were happening around the house when my girlfriend pointed them out. The usual “supernatural” stuff would occur, vanishing keys, some banging noises in the night, someone walking over your grave. It was never anything that really bothered me and I chalked it up to an overactive imagination and the age of the house. Before long things gravitated to a point I could no longer ignore.

My partner pointed it out first. “Do you smell that?” She asked one afternoon about a month or so back. At first I didn’t notice anything but as I walked towards her I was hit with the stench of a perfume, sickly and strong.

“Jesus, what did you do? Shower in the stuff?” I asked, clamping a hand over my face.

“It’s not me! I’ve not put anything on today and even if I had, that’s not mine.” Her eyes had narrowed in suspicion.

Taking my hand away from my face apprehensively I sniffed the air cautiously. It was definitely perfume. It was familiar, like the calling of a memory that tugged on my mind; I couldn’t place it.

“You’ve not had someone else in here have you?” She asked me suspiciously, sniffing at my collar.

“No. I’m not stupid enough to bring another woman back here. I never brought you here when Amaterasu was still around, did I?” I saw the hurt flare up in her eyes at the mention of my wife. Her name, the perfume smell; they ground into my mind as the cogs began to whir. It was hers, the perfume; it was Amaterasu’s.

Turning away from the scene of confusion in the living room I stalked into the bathroom and clapped the door closed behind me, locking it with the hook. I dove into one of the little wicker boxes that still held the few beauty products my life had owned and fished out the one perfume bottle that lingered in a bottom corner. Spraying a little into the cap I took a lungful. It was the same stuff, without a shadow of a doubt. I was a little spooked, but I wouldn’t say I was scared, not then, not until a scream echoed through the house at a blood curdling pitched.

I came tearing out the bathroom, panting and still holding the perfume bottle in my hand. I promptly dropped it as I took in what greeted me. My girlfriend stood at the entrance to the kitchen, clutching the doorframe with both hands. Every picture of my wife, the ones I kept up for our son, to show to the relatives and friends who occasionally visited had moved. They sat on the coffee table, the shelves, even the floor closest to the kitchen. Amaterasu’s face stared out intent in every smile, each one now a sinister grin. The smell of her perfume began to waft back through the house as her many eyes stared intently at my girlfriend.

Walking with Demons – The Jolt

It had rained for three days; a relentless thundering that battered at his windows like a hundred howling demons trying to pluck him from this life. In those three days Takeo had made four attempts to leave the flat. The first, a panic fuelled need to escape.After the woman on the stairs had come to his door his tiny apartment no longer felt safe. Arming himself with the curtain rail he’d unhooked from the window, he unlocked the door with trepidation. He’d crept his way to the bottom of the stairs before he noticed the rain water pouring in through the front door. The lobby was flooded, water reaching up to the skirting boards around the walls and still rising. Taking a careful step forward he had plunged a foot into the freezing water, the current had felt strong against his unsteady limb. As he moved toward the front door it had become painfully obvious he wasn’t going anywhere. The water level was way above the top of the door; the flood squeezing up against the glass, forcing it’s way through the cracks in the frame in high pressured streams.

He had stood blankly for a while, gazing into the swirling murky water at his feet. He had no way out, no way to escape from her. Everyday she had come to his door, she twisted and turned the handle, she shuffled about in the corridor buthad yet to break through.

He was becoming cut off from the world. His flat grubby, food dwindling and all the while an ever increasing sensation of panic had balled itself up in his chest. For days he had sat in front of the television, flicking channels. Nothing had changed, not one programme or news report gave a hint to his predicament. The news reporter shuffled papers and gazed out at him with a vacant expression and a fake smile. Everyday was the same; Sunday 27th July on repeat again and again. Sometimes a little detail changed here and there, the presenter’s hair colour, the make of the laptop that sat on her desk, the time. Takeo had recorded everything, combing back through every episode of a cheesy drama, weather reports, chat shows, pausing at every little moment that had changed. He’d fall asleep only to wake the next day to find everything erased.

The sweet, balmy air of the mid summer came rushing in through the lofty curtains that did nothing to block out the sunlight streaming in masses through his window. Takeo’s eye opened just a crack to the blinding, deathly glow of the sun, making him wince. His mind swirled lazily across bridges of thought that took him far away from his heavy reality. It was the fifth day.

Not a sound had been heard from outside the flat in the longest age. No one from above or below seemed to be going about their business; the ever floating stream of life was his alone to contemplate. Throwing his covers from his bed with a groan he sat up and staggered into the bathroom, his body unwilling to comply. He tripped a couple of times over the rubbish that was building up on the floor. The orange juice carton he had finished on the second day rolled with a hollow sound across the floor, spilling its last drops upon the parched surface. He relieved himself in the yellowing toilet and stumbled back through the room to lean against the doorpost. Passing a hand over his bloodshot eyes he stopped dead as he heard a rustling, the rustling of bed sheets.

Peaking through his fingers, heart pounding like the drum of a jazz player he inspected his bed. The woman, that white, ethereal devil that he had been barring from his flat for almost a week was lying in his bed. Her naked skin shone with a milky hue in the half light of the morning. The blanket gathered around her petite waist, drawing across her silken hips and for just a moment Takeo lost himself in the beauty of her. She filled him up, occupied his mind, arrested his sense and stole the very breath from his lips.

A sudden moment of clarity hit him as her dark, cold eyes met his trembling gaze. She couldn’t be here, the door hadn’t been unlocked in days. Rubbing his eyes with a vigor and pressure that made them burn he opened his eyes wide; she had vanished. The sheets lay, thin and flat against the mattress. Creeping forwards he reached out a hand to gather a fist full of the fabric, tugging it back to feel the space, still warm from her perfect body.

Leaning heavily back against the wall Takeo pressed the button the top of his mobile phone for the hundreth time, to flood the screen with a bright white light. No messages, full signal, not a single person had tried to contact him. He’d made calls to his mother, his boss, his colleagues every single one of them answered, but only static, distant breathing or background sounds leaked into his ears from the harsh speaker.

A dark, grey hue had settled itself in the skin of his face; dark circles under his eyes screaming out for sleep. He walked, slowly and silently to the window, the thick pile of carpet muffling the sound of his heavy, tired footsteps. Pressing his head against the cold glass he felt his pupils expand and retract with the changing light. A soft creaking on the stairs outside the flat made his eyes flicker to the left, just catching a glimpse of shadows under the door.

The past few days had provided the same relentless torment; eyes at the peep hole, shadows on the floor, creaking and visions but now something all the more terrifying crept uninvited into the claustrophobic room.  A whispering, barely distinguishable burrowed it’s way into his ears and lodged itself deeply into his brain. As it increased in pitch and fervor Takeo pressed his hands to his ears but it did nothing to stifle the voice. It seemed inside of his, part of him and the rolling , pitching gabbling of a voice talking impossible fast was enough to make him scream out in fear and pain. Crouching down into a squat he listened to the voice and rattling door handle as it twisted violently in its frame.

“What are you?” He screamed out. Everything abruptly stopped and silence filled every corner of the room with a eerie and empty presence.

He steadied himself, placing his sweating palms on the cold floor. As he began to steady his ragged breathing the sound of someone calling his name came to him faintly from somewhere outside of the desolate flat. He clawed his way across the floor, frantically pulling himself back to the widow ledge where he hoisted himself up. The sun poured in, streaking his face with a warmth that bathedand calmed him. Closing his eyes he listened; his eyes flickered; he could see the blood moving around his eye lids. He heard it again, short, sharp, half formed but definitely his name. Peering out through the muggy window he scanned the street far below.

Sitting in the middle of the deserted road was an animal, a dog, brown with black strips and flash of startling white across the nose. It looked familiar, a distant memory flickered in his mind; something stirred. The animal gazed towards him, unfaltering; a giant grin on its face that seemed to fill with friendly recognition. He reached out a lethargic hand across the room to the front door, his feet carrying him with surprising certainty.

Pelting down the stairs he pitched over the last couple of steps and pulled open the front door. The dog still sat in the center of the street, motionless but it had turned to face him.

“Takeo!” It shouted in a half bark as he crept towards it.

“Kerī?” He whispered a little hoarse from days of silence. The dog stood, its huge tail swishing to and fro rigorously in the breeze. Takeo made to walk towards her, but a few cold drops of rain splattered onto the top of his head startling him enough to make him look up.  The freezing water trickled down his forehead in rivulets making him blink rapidly. A great rushing noise tumbled down from the sky along with a torrent of rain that lashed at his unprepared and upturned face. Turning away from the heavens he searched for Keri in the thick downpour that clouded his eyes; she had gone. Running out into the middle of the road Takeo turned in rapid circles, desperate and distraught.

Maybe he hadn’t dreamt it all. Maybe he was mad, hallucinating. In spite of himself a large stone of despair began to settle itself in his chest, drawing the very breath from his lungs and pushing all hope from his body until he was utterly deflated. Weeks of crippling loneliness and fear descended on him and poured into the racking sobs that shook his small frame. Crouching on the hard tarmac his anguish mingled with the rain, creating new currents across his face. The well of despair opened up within him, spilling its tar across his soul, crushing his chest with the weight of grief. Would there ever be a way out of this hell?

Tilting his head back as far as it would go, he allowed the tears to roll down his face. Fear chocked him as his eyes widened with horror as a face filled his vision. He opened his mouth in a silent scream as the woman, this terror towered over him, her ghoulish breath clawing at his face as she breathed down upon him. Scrambling backwards on his hands and rear he clawed at the pavement beneath him. She seemed to lean endlessly towards him, her face still as close as it had been before, impossibly close and demonically deadpan in the icy rain. As she began to growl gutterly in the back of her throat andTakeo thought that his life was surely forfeit her eyes flickered from his face to gaze at something behind him.

Wrenching his head round so hard that he pulled all the muscles in his neck and shoulders his gaze found Kerī. She stood a few feet from him, her legs planted wide apart in a stance that could only suggest that a fight was about to take place. Baring her teeth she lowered her head a little, the bright yellow of her fierce eyes just visible under the hood of her forehead. The woman stretched back, straightening herself but towering high over Takeo. Raising her arms above her head she stretched, like the willowy sillohuete of an arrow, the loose fabric of her clothes billowing around her as the wind came charging in from all directions. Takeo half scrambled, half rolled away to the left as the colour of the woman’s eyes began to mist over into a startling, pure white. From his new vantage point at the side of the street he watched, open mouthed and aghast as Kerībegan to bound with a new found vigor and strength towards the demon that had plagued his dreams.

In a sudden and swift motion the woman clapped her hands together. The sound that rang out echoed like a death toll across the empty street, shattering a few windows in the closest buildings. Takeo saw Kerī’s gaze switch rapidly from left to right as great waves of water rushed towards her. Swirling dizzyingly fast the white foam threw itself violently up into the air in a great whirlpool of powerand came crashing down upon the little dog with a thwack. The water screeched with rage as it wrapped itself around her small form in a death like vice. The demon slowly began to lower her arms, swaying a little from side to side, her whole body rocked in motion with the water that she controlled.

With a blast of light and power the water suddenly broke; a jet stream of hot liquid thrust its way upwards into the sky, hissing as it hit the cold pavement with a slap. Kerīstood atop the swirling mass of foam and bristled the fur on her back til it stood up on end, intimidating and sharp. Digging her claws into the mass of water she launched herself forward with an unprecedented speed. She weaved under and over the masses of liquid that charged and crashed around her, the demon beginning to sweat and shake under the strain of the fight.

The little dog pelted forwards, her fur rippling out behind her as she hit the demon in the chest with a fierce head butt that knocked her backwards with a stifled cry. Skidding slightly out to the left, the water slippery under her feet, Kerī  scrabbled at the ground finding her grip against the tarmac. In one swift motion she had leapt across the yawning expanse that separated the two foes and landed neatly but heavily on top of her victim. She growled deeply as the demon hissed and writhed beneath the weight of her body. Barking shrilly she pounced with snapping reflexes to grab the monster by the throat and pull the head from the body in one clean, smooth motion.

Takeo slumped to the floor, clinging to the lamppost that he had been propping himself against.Kerītrotted towards him, her usual grin plastered across her face, the demon’s head swinging from her mouth. Not a drop of blood had been spilled, the mouth of the creature still moved up and down, silently cursing his protector. Reaching out a hand he ruffled the soft fur on the top of the dog’s head as the world began to spin and shift, turning black before his eyes he hurtled through dream into reality.

 

xxx

 

“You are one of the worst Soul Hunters we’ve had in at least ten thousand years.” Maikeru said, exasperated as he helped Takeo sit up on the cold pavement.

“What happened? How did I get here?” He mumbled, bewildered, his mind still numb from the shift in reality.

“Well, let me see. You barreled in, summoning demons all over the mortal plane. Chaos ensued, gateways to hell opened, we had a minor judgment day. Blood and death and shit reigned for about twenty minutes before the Hell Hounds put an end to the party. We had to wipe the memories of half of Tokyo! Before we had time to blink you were spread eagled on the floor, drooling and senseless. I’ve never seen anyone direct their own Kitsune summon at themselves. Stupid.”

Takeo scratched at his head where a small scab was forming over a cut on his crown.

“Kitsune?”

“It’s a shape shifter, she can mould a reality around you, sculpt it in your mind until you immerse yourself in that vision. Mainly she presents herself as a fox but it will transform itself into some tempting form of a woman for the right victim.” Maikeru eyed Takeo suspiciously as he blushed under his black hair as the image of the naked woman flashed into his mind.

As his senses fully returned to him he sat up. Feeling a heavy, burdening weight on his back he twisted slightly to glimpse the hilt of a huge sword, sheathed in red leather, glimmering gently in the morning light. He remembered, their visit to The Blacksmith, the forging of the sword, the birth of Itano, the provider of light. He got to his feet, cracking a few joints as he went, he had his purpose, Itano’s creation went hand in hand with his own rebirth into the world of demons. He had had his first taste of hell, his first enchantment, his first summon. The sense of helplessness and fear still sat in his heart, spurring him on, kindling a spark of revenge.

Walking with Demons – Dreams and Nightmares

Takeo, Maikeru and Keri strolled down the streets of Tokyo, the yawning expanse of pavement abandoned to the early hours of the morning. Lights sparkled and flashed from the thousands of windows and glittering LCD displays attached to the many buildings.

“So.” Maikeru mused, his hands in his pockets. “Got any thoughts on your next soul?”

“I didn’t realise we were in a rush. I have got all eternity you know.”

“You might, but I have things to attend to.”

“Like what?” Takeo asked, dubious that the Shinigami could possibly have something to fill the afterlife with.

“Someone has to do the admin work for the Aramageddon. Judgment day doesn’t run itself.”

Not wanting to get sucked into another odd conversation about Maikeru’s role in the underworld Takeo closed his eyes to focus on summoning a demon.

“Do you even have a victim picked out?” Maikeru asked, a hint of skepticism in his voice.

“I’ll find one when I’ve got the demon. Just let me … ah, I think I’ve got one!”

 Takeo heard his summon pop into existence and before he could recover his strength and open his heavy eyes he heard Maikeru say “well, this is just stupid.”

“What?” Takeo mumbled, forcing his eyes to open a crack.. “Don’t tell me I summoned something totally useless.” White light flooded his tired eyes and he raised a heavy hand to rub at his face.

As some semblance of sense crept back into his addled mind he stretched out his hands that were lying by his side. Something soft and warm grazed across his palm, springy to the touch, he was on his back. Sitting up, startled he opened his eyes wide and looked about him.

“What … what the hell?” He whispered, confused. He gazed around the bedroom of his old flat, dazed. Putting out a hand he touched the solid wall to his left, feeling its cold pressure to his fingertips. Everything was the same, like nothing had ever happened. Shaking his head he couldn’t seem to shift the solid images of Maikeru and Keri from his mind.

Standing on shaky legs he made his way across the carpet, the thick pile working its way up between his toes. As he shuffled into the bathroom, tousling his own hair in confusion as he came to a halt in front of the wide, oval mirror and checked his reflection.  His once gaunt face was now pink and flush with the light of life. He only wore a pair of old boxers, the same ones he had on the night before his death. Had he really died?

“Maybe, I dreamed it.” He whispered, turning his face this way and that in the light. Everything seemed so real, touch, smell; running into the kitchen with anticipation he wrenched open the fridge. Grasping the first bottle that he came to he took deep, grasping gulps of orange juice, the substance leaking down his face to drip from his chin.

Taking himself into his living room he flopped onto the sofa and closed his eyes as a warm beam of sunshine hit his face. It must have all been some horrible trick of the mind, although it still felt real nothing could compare to this sensation, the hard sensation of reality.

His beeping phone brought him out of his stupor, reaching over with his right hand he picked it up from its usual spot on the coffee table. Pressing the little button on the top of the device the screen lit up in a white light. Unlocking the device he scrolled through his message inbox, nothing new showed. The last message, from his mother the day before still sat proudly at the top of the inbox. No new emails either, his social media sites all as dormant and dull as they had been the previous day. Scrunching up his face in confusion he shrugged. Flicking the touch screen back to the main menu he made a note of the date, Sunday 27th of July, the day before he died in his nightmare.

Tossing his phone to one side he sat up on the sofa. He couldn’t shake the dream, if that’s what it even was from his mind. It had seemed so, so real. Takeo rustled in his seat, he thought about calling his mother, if he heard someone’s voice he might be able to rationalise this new reality. Shaking his head slightly he stood up, how could he want to justify ‘this reality’? What other reality was there? One in which he was dead and hunted the souls of the population of Japan? He scoffed at himself out loud and made his way to the computer that sat in a corner of the room. Today, he thought to himself, he would take it easy and try to get his mind off the hyper real dream he’d had. Hell, today he wasn’t even going to dress himself.

Takeo spent the rest of that day in front of his computer. Distracting himself had proved easier than he could have hoped for when he had the internet at his disposal. Before too long darkness had filled the room save for the ethereal blue glow of the screen. Unable to bring himself to sleep, just in case his dreams returned to him he sat glued to the spot until his eyes could no longer take the strain. He finally drifted off at three am, still at the computer, his forehead typing endless h’s into the google search bar.

The new day dawned bright and rosy, stirring Takeo from his well-deserved slumber. He lifted his head from the keyboard, groaning as the keys popped from their grooves in his face. He wiped at the trail of drool that had snaked its way down his face and attempted to flatten his disheveled hair.

Glancing across the room his eyes focused on the clock on the window ledge, the bright green 10:00 shone across the room at him. That’s kind of late for a Monday he thought to himself slumping back in his desk chair. As his brain kicked in he started himself from his seat and leapt to his feet.

“Aw crap!” He yelled as it dawned on him he’d missed his nine am start at work. Throwing on any clothes he could lay his hands on, he grabbed his keys and threw himself out the front door.

Taking the stairs two at a time and he reached the bottom with a thump. Sunlight streamed through the glass entrance door to the building, pooling the corridor in a warm and inviting glow. Takeo moved rapidly towards it still muttering to himself and sniffing the clothes he’d retrieved from his floor. He put out his hand to close it around the steel door handle when something made him stop dead in his tracks. A small movement caught his eye, reflected in the shimmering glass of the door. He screwed up his eyes a little, trying to make out what it was. He stiffened as he made out the vague form of a person, someone behind him standing at the top of the stairs. A cold dread snaked its way across his body, he hadn’t heard any footsteps behind him; he knew the old floorboards creaked with the slightest bit of weight. Giving himself a little mental shake he turned around slowly, unwilling to relinquish his hold on the door handle. Whatever it was couldn’t be any worse than what he’d seen in his dreams the other night.

He leapt out of his skin as his eyes fell upon a woman staring at him, not at the top of the stairs as he’d first though but at the bottom, no less than two feet from him. She was tall, slim and imposing. Her white face seemed to almost shine it was so pure, her dark eyes seemed to sink into her head slightly and her black hair clung around her cheek bones in a short, jagged bob. Her thin frame sported a striped, long sleeved top that seemed to hang from her shoulders as though on a coat hanger and a tiny pair of jeans. She was bare foot and a few toes were painted in chipped red.

“Hello.” Takeo said a little uncertain. “I didn’t see you there. You made me jump.” He grinned at her but her face did not move. She remained silent and still as stone, tearing his nerves apart with her eyes.

“I’m late for work. I’m going to …” He petered out, her unblinking eyes disturbing him. As he went to push on the door, still unable to turn his face away she parted her lips to speak.

“You don’t want to go outside. It’s raining.” Takeo frowned and scoffed a little.

“If it is then it must have come from nowhere. It was bright sun …” He stopped in his tracks as he turned to gaze out of the door. Water streamed almost noiselessly across the clear panes. Outside he could see water beginning to pool in the street. Clouds filled the sky, they could almost burst with the pregnant swelling of water that fell upon the window.

Pushing his face up against the glass his breath caught in his throat, his mind unable to comprehend what he was seeing. Whipping around he caught the eye of his unmoving companion.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or not. I have to go to work.” He reasoned, the confusion lacing his voice.

“It’s Sunday.” She muttered in a half voice, her tone surprisingly deep and matter of fact.

“No, it’s definitely Monday. Monday the 28th. I checked yesterday.”

The woman said nothing, she simply blinked in the face of his rebuff. Unable to take the pressure of her stare Takeo took his phone from his pocket, his fingers stumbling over the power button.

“See” he began. The luminous screen displayed the date, Sunday 27th July, clear and definitive. Almost dropping his phone in disbelief he looked up with a questioning expression to the woman, she gave no response.

Shifting uncomfortably on his feet he stumbled over his words, “I – I should head back upstairs. Make a few phone calls. Call my – my mother.” Takeo couldn’t take the uncomfortable silence anymore and began to make his way up the stairs. He could feel the woman’s cold eyes following him, twisting in her head to peer at him as he stopped on the landing. He couldn’t help but gaze back over his shoulder and take another look at the figure that watched him with such an intensive gaze. She had moved noiselessly forward and now stood two steps up the stairs, still watching, still silent. Swallowing back a ball of dread Takeo hurried forward, not even trying to disguise his anxiety and launched himself into his flat.

It was still raining, the water suddenly splattering up against the glass with such ferocity it reminded Takeo of dozens of pounding hands, hands that were trying to force their way inside. Turning on the computer he threw himself into his seat, leaning over, his face close to the luminous surface. The moment it booted up his eyes flickered to the date and time displayed in the corner of the screen. 10:30 27th July. Hurriedly opening up the calendar Takeo searched for the day, Sunday. Pushing himself away from the computer with force he stood, confusion and disbelief pulsing in time with his quickened pulse.

“I must have read it wrong yesterday.” He muttered to himself, putting his head in his hands. Through his cold fingers his eyes fell upon the front door. A small shadow passed underneath the frame, feet scuffled across the hardwood floor. He silently thanked god for the automatic external lock that had been recently fixed. Taking tentative steps forward his hands fell from his face. His curiosity getting the better of him he crept up to the peep hole. Taking a few shaking breaths he looked down to see the shadows still visible under the door, spilling across his own feet, but unmoving. Time seemed to slow as a new sound reached his ears, he looked down slowly, a sense of fear building like a giant gnawing pit in his stomach. The door handle rattled a little as it slowly twisted and turned left and right. Placing both sweating hands on the wooden door frame he peered through the little glass hole and felt a bolt of cold dread spear him through the chest as another eye gazed intently back at him.

Walking With Demons – The First Soul

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.”

The Bathroom

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.”

Walking With Demons

Hajime ni

Takeo took his fingers from his ergonomic keyboard and stretched his arm high above his head. His spine popped and he sighed with the release of pressure as he tilted his head back to gaze at the ceiling. The florescent, office lights beat down their harsh yellow gaze across his tired eyes. One of them buzzed faintly in the background, the sound comforting and irritating him at the same time.

“The overtime getting to you too?” Fumio asked, his round, fat head popping around the side of the cubicle he inhabited.

“You could say that.” Takeo replied, running his hands across his grey face. His thin features stretched a little as he pulled on his skin with his fingertips. “We must be gluttons for punishment.”

“The promotion looks pretty tasty though, huh?”

“Not as tasty as another coffee sounds.”Takeo said getting up from the swivel chair that was breaking his back and heading towards the door.

“Bring me one back! Remember it’s two sugars this time!” Fumio called after him.

Takeo had a slight headache, the pounding in his temples just enough to make him forget himself. His chin length black hair was falling into his eyes and skewing his view of the stairs he began to make his way down. He had only gone down a few steps when he felt a different kind of light and a heat upon his closed eyes. Opening them a crack, his headache flaring, a blue light hit his eyes. With a new found interest he strained forward a little, releasing his hold on the hand rail. He gasped and felt a cold sensation flow down his spine as he gazed upon a bright, blue ball of flame. It floated in front of him, swaying slightly as if curious. It was only the size of a football but had no round edges, its outline constantly fluid and changing shape. Takeo went to take a step forward, mesmerised he stretched out his hand to feel the warmth that radiated from the flaming ball.

“I’d watch your step if I were you.” The ball suddenly said. It had many voices, male and female, old and young all at once, ringing in his ears.

Takeo cried out in fear and pitched forwards on his still outstretched leg. Tumbling down and down the long flight of stairs he felt the searing pain of broken bones and the loud crunch and splitting of his skull as it smashed into the last step. As darkness closed in on him like a dying light he saw the ball come floating down, lazily towards him. It tutted in it’s many voices and he heard it mutter:

“What a clutz.” Before the light finally went out.

The First Hell

It was Takeo’s hearing that returned to him first. A muffled sensation that began as a low rumble and raised in pitch and volume until every last scream, burst of flame and crack of the torture whip could be heard with a crystal clarity. He didn’t want to open his eyes, a deep fear had settled itself in his stomach, knotting up like a tight ball of anxiety. A sharp prod in the stomach forced him to take in his surroundings.

Under his sore and ruined body lay rubble and dust, the heat from the stone searing his flesh to burning point. Looking up a little and to the left he saw a large cliff like edge carved out of the harsh rock face. Upon that sat dozens of hot, sweating, screeching giants and spirits crammed shoulder to shoulder. The platform sat above the largest fire Takeo had ever seen. It burned with white and high flickering flames.

He quickly scrambled up into a sitting position, his eyes stretching and near popping with fear and astonishment. Glancing directly in front of him his eyes fell upon a set of pillars growing up and up into a huge, black stone arch. Upon the top of the arch sat two figures with the bodies of men but one had the head of an Ox, the other a Horse. Neither moved and an age seemed to pass; Takeo stood up and crept towards the arch, curiosity taking over.

“What do we have here Guzo?” The Ox headed statue said, its bulging stone eyes rolling downwards to gaze at the young man at his feet.

Takeo leapt back with a yelp, a few tears escaped him and rolled down his cheeks. They hissed as they hit the burning, dusty floor, evaporating into nothing in the blink of an eye. His wide eyes darting from one stone figure to the other as the both peered down at him with leering grins.

“Look Mezu it’s crying.” The horse headed figure remarked.

“I think we should get a closer look, my dear Guzo.” Takeo screamed a little as the two figures crawled, like spiders down their podiums. They never took their eyes from him; grins fixed on their inhumane faces. He took to his heels and fled, running across the short plain towards the blackness. Uncertainty was better than the creatures behind him.

“He thinks he can get away Mezu!”

“How very stupid of him Guzo. Which one of us shall fetch him?”

“I think you should do it Mezu, you’re the fastest.”

Not a moment after Takeo had heard the conversation behind him then he felt a huge stone arm wrap it’s self around his waist and close in tightly. The pressure was immense, it pushed all the air from him and he felt his ribs push uncomfortably against the edge of the colossal arm as it pulled him upwards. Takeo began to whimper a little, his tears dropping unceremoniously into the dusty ground, leaving a little trail behind him.

Mezu dropped him with a unceremonious thump onto the floor. Dust plumed around him and he coughed violently as he inhaled the toxic cloud. Scrambling to his feet he gazed up at the towering pair who bent over him with keen interest.

“What shall we do with this one then Guzo?” Mezu asked with a hint of amusement in his high pitched voice.

“We could send him to the Fourth Circle!” The Horse headed figure exclaimed with delight.

“We sent the last one to the Fourth Circle, don’t you remember?”

“No I don’t care to remember my dear Mezu. Besides, he has been awfully greedy, chasing all those promotions and all that money.” Guzo grinned down at Takeo, licking his lips a little and bent even closer to the trembling man.

“You ARE ridiculous Guzo! Why don’t we just eat this one, we haven’t tasted a man in so many years.”

“No, stop!” Takeo cried out before he could stop himself. He clamped a hand over his mouth; he could taste the dust on his fingertips.

“Ohh, it speaks!” The two demons said simultaneously, both bending nearly double to bring their faces close to his.

“Wh-what is this place?” Takeo stuttered, a little false courage filling him from some unknown fiber of his being. Both demons roared with laughter and a few rocks fell from the ceiling, crashing down just behind him as the wailing of the giants and spirits on the ledge grew more fierce and tortured.

“Why, this is hell. You’ve died little man.” The Ox headed beast said.

“It can’t be possible.” Takeo whispered, looking down at himself. He felt his chest with his fingertips, still as solid as ever, still covered in his thin white shirt and tie, his legs encased in grey, pin strip trousers; his heavy office shoes still upon his feet.

“That is just your mortal body. A vessel for the soul. Once we have chosen a ring for you, you will be removed from it. The process creates the most, pleasant screams.” Mezu’s grin widened and a great, long train of spittle dripped from his enormous, grey teeth.

“But!” Takeo began to exclaim.

“It said but, my dear!” Guzo said to Mezu, an air of irritation about his voice.

“Maybe it wants to keep it’s stinking, little body for a few moments longer.”

“We could torture him. That would give him another fifty years.” Mezu sat up a little, scratching the top of his head with his chubby, stone fingers. Takeo trembled, his eyes darting to all corners of the yawning expanse before him, searching for any means of escape.

“Although.” Mezu pondered aloud. “We could do with some more souls.”

“Ah!” Guzo exclaimed. “He could be the one!”

“He could indeed my dear. He’s so weak, just the right material for a Soul Reaper.” Mezu hunkered back down to Takeo’s level, cupping his arm around Takeo creating a impenetrable cavern of stone.

“We have a job for you, little man. If you succeed we will allow you to keep your human form. In-fact, we may even return you to the land of the living to blunder and pillage yourself to another early grave.”

Takeo, stood up, every atom of his being shaking.

“I’ll do anything. Anything. Please …” He trailed off, his voice shaking and tears dripping from dusty cheeks. Small, damp trails coursing down his face.

Before he had time to even breathe both creatures struck with lightning speed. Using the fingertips of their index finger of the right hand both touched his body. An electrifying bolt coursed through him. His head shot backwards and his spine arched in an almost inhumane way. A golden glow of light filled the cavern and the screams of the monsters behind him raised in pitch, the sound filling his ears to the point of pain. He could feel his feet leaving the ground, a force pulling his body upwards. It stretched him, pulled on every fiber of his being and it filled him with such agony he let out a scream of epic proportions. It shook the very walls of the hellish cave and ripped its way up his throat; burning his esophagus. After what felt like an eternity of burning hell Takeo felt himself falling, floating almost towards the ground where he slumped into a small, panting heap.

“Is it ready now?” Mezu asked, excitement evident in his voice.

“Not yet. He hasn’t got his companion.” Guzo reached over to the rock face and clawed a huge boulder from its endless depths. With deft fingers he rubbed away at the stone, shaping and molding it into something recognisable; a huge dog sat upon the dusty floor, gazing with blank eyes into the cave. Rubbing the tips of his fingers together a soft light poured from Guzo’s fingers. He touched the large dog, covering it with his hands and pouring the light of life into his creation.

Takeo lay, still dazed and fogged on the floor. His eyes barely had time to register the form of a huge, fluffy animal contrasting against the hard rocky dimensions of his captors before he finally passed out.

 

All artwork created by and acredited to Kelly Grant. (http://thekellyfish.deviantart.com/)