Chapter Ten

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Tomohiro

The dream started in darkness, like so many of them did. There was no beach, no cloud of shadows chasing. For once I’d wanted to relive that nightmare, to ask my questions about Taira the Demon Son. Not that I would’ve been able to change anything for sure. I usually realized it was a dream too late to do anything useful but wake up.

A faint sense came over me that something wasn’t quite right. It was the fleeting thought that I was dreaming, but I couldn’t be sure. My mind felt sluggish, like it was too much effort to put together the pieces.

At first there was nothing but darkness, an isolation so intense that claustrophobia soon followed. A flicker of blue light lit the crumbling brick walls around me.

Then the whispers started.

God, the whispers. Like a whole bucket of ice cubes tossed down the back of my shirt. Sometimes they swelled into moans, deep and horrible cries of pain, always talking over each other in swells like waves.  And the footsteps that clicked like wolf claws on cement. Only they weren’t wolves, I knew. The beasts circled closer and closer, ready to gnaw my flesh off the bone. I shuddered. It was a labyrinth of brick, and I had no way to tell if the demons were really close or not. The fear was sharp, an intense pain I couldn’t ignore.

“You are marked,” said a woman’s voice, and I jumped back against the jagged mortar crumbling on the wall. “You are chosen.”

“Stay away from me,” I said to the darkness as I backed into the corner. But suddenly the hot breath of the woman was in my ear.

“There is only death,” she said, and I stumbled forward. Her plain white kimono was pale in the blue light. She fused into the shadows and vanished.

I heard snarling, scraping. One of the beasts, trying to dig under the wall. He slammed his body against the other side and bits of brick crumbled to the ground. I could see clouds of dust rising where his claws could almost reach under—sharp claws that would rip me to shreds.

“Help me,” I said, terror taking hold. “I don’t want to die.”

“You won’t die,” her voice laughed. “You will kill.”

I opened my mouth, but said nothing.

“Are you afraid of the inugami? You misunderstand. He’s gone mad with fear. He’s trying to get away from you.”

He was scrambling under the wall because he feared me. He didn’t realize I was waiting on the other side to—to what? Kill him?

“No. I’m just—I wouldn’t…” But suddenly I could remember something horrible. The taste of matted fur and bone, the stench of blood.

It’s not real. It can’t be real. I wouldn’t do that, not even to a demon like the inugami. It had to be a lie, a fake memory. I wasn’t a monster. This wasn’t me.

“You don’t know who you are, Tomohiro. We know.”

I shook my head, but the sound of my name chilled me to the core. I didn’t want her to know anything about me.

“You’re lost. You’ve forgotten.”

My hands squeezed into fists as beads of sweat broke out all over my skin. The sweat trickled down my forehead like blood.

“You’re wrong,” I said.

“We are never wrong.”

And then a second voice echoed in the labyrinth. “Yuu-chan?”

My body went cold. Oh god. Myu. She couldn’t be here. She couldn’t.

“Please,” I begged. “Leave her alone.”

“Yuu-chan? I’m scared!”

The scatter of wolf-beasts, footsteps everywhere.

And then another faint voice.

“Tomo-kun!”

“Shiori!” I cried. I raced into the labyrinth, twisting and turning in the dark paths, until suddenly I slammed into a wall in the dim blue light. My body pulsed with sharp pain as I stepped aside, squinting in the darkness. I staggered forward, my hands in front of me. Walls rose up in the shadows, and I crashed again and again as I raced blindly through the maze, my palms scraped raw and stinging.

“Myu!” I shrieked. “Shiori!” The sound of footsteps and claws echoed from everywhere, meaningless without reference. I didn’t know if I’d find the girls or the inugami around the next corner. My body shuddered with fear, with the anticipation of sharp teeth taking hold.

“You are not like those girls,” the woman’s voice said, and suddenly she was in front of me in her pale kimono.

A scream in the distance, muffled by snarls. Oh god.

“Myu!” I shrieked. I ran forward and grabbed the woman’s shoulders, shaking her violently, desperately. “Leave her alone!” I cried. “Please!”

The woman tilted her head, looking at me curiously.

“It is you who is the threat,” she said, and suddenly it wasn’t the woman I was holding at all but Myu, drenched in ink as thick as blood.

“Myu!” I cried, clutching her desperately to myself. Only she pushed away, flailing against my grip, splattering me with ink.

And then the worst sight in her eyes. The worst thing imaginable.

The truth.

Because there was nothing but fear in her eyes when she looked at me. Fear and disgust. To her, I was the same as the monsters. One of them.

“This is what you truly are,” said the woman’s voice, now behind me, and then there was nothing but darkness and the sound of rushing like a black waterfall, engulfing me, flooding my lungs with ink.

I wanted to drown. Let me drown.

And then I gasped for breath, and the ticking of the clock beside me filled the silence.

I waited for a moment, letting myself come back to what was real. My heart thumped against my ribs, my blood coursing in a panic through my limbs.

I couldn’t let it drown me, I knew. But sometimes it was easy to forget.

I knew I would never hurt Myu or Shiori willingly. But I knew the accidents that had come before. The warped, twisted talent I had in me. And I didn’t know what it was capable of.

I swallowed, the bitter taste of sleep lodged in my dry throat.

I knew what I had to do, to protect that horrible truth.

There was no place in my life for Myu. I had tricked myself into thinking it was love when deep down she feared me, maybe even despised me. If she didn’t yet, she would soon. Not answering her texts, spending time with another girl. Yeah, I was leading a second life—one she’d hate me for.

I felt the shame, the anger, the uselessness of it all.

I folded a corner of myself and tucked it neatly away.

The price of being marked.

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