Mayuko’s Gameboy suddenly turned off. She rolled her eyes and let out a loud sigh: the stupid thing ran out of batteries, again. Mayuko shoved it inside her backpack and looked around.
Surprisingly enough, the wagon was completely empty, aside from herself. Usually, the train would be full of exhausted businessmen, annoying teenagers and girls like Mayuko. Girls going home after a tiring day at school, some reading books, others chatting with their best friends.
But this time, there was no one else but Mayuko at the wagon. The train was silent, and Mayuko could hear her own breath. Something felt… wrong. The air was eerily still.
She looked out the window, trying to shake the strange feeling off. Her eyes widen as she realized it was already dark outside. How much time had passed already? Mayuko was desperate. What would her mother think? Where was the train going?
Mayuko sat on the ground, tears filling rolling down her face. She was just thirteen years old, nothing like that had ever happened to her. She shut her eyes, expecting someone to come and help her…
And suddenly, the train stopped. Mayuko opened her eyes and looked around, and found she was surrounded by darkness. She was frozen in place, shaking and crying, thinking about what was she supposed to do next.
Slowly, she got up and looked out the window. The train stopped somewhere she’d never seen before. Trees surrounding everything she could see, except for a small path between two large rocks. Right behind the trees, Mayuko could see what appeared to be a small village.
Mayuko looked around and realized the train’s doors had opened. She thought about it, and decided that maybe someone in the village could help her get back home.
Mayuko left the train. She stopped in front of the dirt path, and inspected the two large rocks around it. They had something written on them.
The village’s name was covered by moss. The second rock said:
“…To utter the final word.
‘I’ll only say then, without saying.’
Moss was also covering part of the text. Mayuko frowned, confused. Was that an old poem or something? She didn’t know, and she didn’t really care. Without any more hesitation, she walked towards the village.
At the end of the dirt path, there it was: the seemingly old village, adorned with lanterns all around.
The first thing Mayuko noticed was that there was absolutely no one out on the streets. Was everyone inside their houses? Why?
Mayuko didn’t want to believe the place was abandoned. She insisted on calling for help. Carefully, she walked over to the first house she saw. As she got closer to the shoji (Japanese sliding door), a strong smell reached her nose. It came from inside the house. Mayuko ignored it and knocked softly on the shoji.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” asked Mayuko. She waited. Nothing. She knocked again. “Could anyone please help me? I’m lost…”
Mayuko waited eagerly for an answer, but no one came. Assuming no one was home, she moved on to the next house.
Once again, she knocked on the shoji and called out to the house’s owner, and once again, no one came.
“No… no way…” Mayuko muttered to herself, as she was finally convinced that the village was abandoned.
Just as she was about to lose all hope, Mayuko realized the Shoji was open all along. Not fully open, just a small gap.
Mayuko held her breath, as she slid the shoji open. The same smell from before came back. It was pitch-black inside the house; Mayuko had to adjust her eyes to the darkness. The floor and walls were soaked with… black paint? Whatever it was, it was definitely the source of the smell. Mayuko carefully touched it with her finger. It wasn’t paint. It was thick, warm, and sticky.
Mayuko cleaned her finger on the trim of her skirt and went back outside. Somehow, the sky seemed even darker than before.
And just then, she noticed something behind the trees: a torii (Japanese gate). It was almost unnoticeable at first sight, but the red paint gave it away. Slowly, she walked closer to it.
Behind it, there was an enormous staircase that seemed almost endless. But Mayuko’s curiosity got the best of her, so she made her way up.
As she expected, the stairs led to a shrine. But there was something different about it. It had an eerie atmosphere; Mayuko was suddenly filled with dread. There was something definitely wrong with it.
As Mayuko got closer, the feeling of dread grew stronger. With every step, Mayuko’s heart pounded faster and faster. She felt as if there was someone watching her.
Mayuko opened the shrine’s door; the same goddamn smell was now even worse. Mayuko suppressed the urge to puke. The walls and floor were completely covered with the black substance, not even one corner left out.
Right in the middle of the room was a jar. A plain porcelain jar, about the size of Mayuko’s arm.
For some reason, Mayuko felt out of herself, as if she had no control over her body. Her head was spinning; she could barely stand up. But she somehow managed to reach the jar and open its lid.
And, as if it was magic, she came back to her senses.
She backed away and stared at the jar, eyes widened. Nothing happened.
Absolutely nothing… until the jar started to shake and move around, as if it were alive. Mayuko couldn’t believe what was happening. She wanted to run, but her legs refused to cooperate.
She screamed when an arm came out of the jar – an unnaturally long arm, also covered with the black substance. Its hand had sharp claws, which scraped and scratched the ground like a knife. Then another arm appeared, followed by a head, its face hidden behind a dirty porcelain doll mask.
Mayuko then realized what she had done. That thing was a demon, she had no doubts about that. Someone had sealed the creature inside the jar after it destroyed the village, but now, it was finally free.
In the blink of an eye, the demon was completely out of the jar. It was impossibly tall, and its limbs were twisted and contorted in inhuman ways.
Mayuko stared at the creature, and the creature stared at her. Carefully, Mayuko tried to leave the shrine. She was almost outside… but the demon suddenly started to walk towards her. Mayuko screamed, turned around and ran.
Everything around her was a blur. She could hear the demon running right behind her, getting closer and closer.
While running down the staircase that led back to the village, Mayuko tripped and twisted her ankle. She screamed in pain as she fell down, crying out loud. Just then, she felt something grab her arm; the demon had caught up to her, and its sharp claws were slowly dragging themselves across Mayuko’s skin.
But she wasn’t giving up. Gathering all the courage she had left, Mayuko got up and kept on running, releasing herself from the demon’s hands.
The staircase felt endless, but eventually, Mayuko was back at the village. The demon, realizing his victim was about to escape, desperately tried to reach out for her, but Mayuko was faster. She ran through the dirt path, and was surprised to see the train was still there, as if it was waiting for her to come back.
Mayuko hoped on the train and looked out the window. The demon wasn’t anywhere to be seen. She sighed with relief, and cried for what seemed like hours, perhaps because of the throbbing pain in her right arm, or maybe out of disbelief for what had just happened.
And she heard a loud thud.
The demon was trying to enter the train, but the doors were way too small for him to pass through. Even though he wore a mask, Mayuko could almost see the anger in his expression, his body twitching with rage.
Mayuko bravely got to her feet and approached the demon. As soon as she got close, it made a futile attempt to grab her. Without thinking twice, Mayuko screamed and pushed the creature out of the train. Its body was thin, so it didn’t take long for the demon to fall to the ground.
As the demon was about to make one more attempt at grabbing Mayuko, the train lights suddenly turned back on, and the doors closed. As the locomotive began to move, Mayuko could still hear the creature banging desperately on the door, attempting to open it.
Mayuko fell down to the ground, exhausted. It was over, finally over. Her breath was unstable, her eyes still wide from the fear. She stayed there until the train’s door opened again, revealing a familiar station in front of her. She was home.
With her backpack in her hands, she left the train. As she walked through the streets, people looked at her and whispered to one another, wondering what had happened to her.
It took a while for Mayuko to come up with an excuse for her injuries. She just told her mother that a classmate beat her up at school, and she believed it. There’s no way Mayuko would tell her what really happened. She wouldn’t believe it anyway.
That night, Mayuko had trouble sleeping.
* * * * * *
A week later, Mayuko went to the doctor with her mother. They took a train to get to the clinic, and immediately Mayuko felt a chill down her spine. All of the memories from the previous week came flooding back, but she ignored them.
Mayuko looked out the window, admiring the landscapes the train passed by.
And suddenly, she started to recognize her surroundings.
She felt her heart drop. That was the place where the dirt path was supposed to be.
But there was no path to be found, only two broken-down rocks.
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