Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
His room was quaint, containing quarters to sleep, a kitchenette and facilities. Simple, yet exceedingly modern, his room mirrored his personality near-perfectly; simple, open and inviting. It was the home of Tokiro Mitsuko. He sat on the foot of his bed and leaned back, remembering the events of the past several days.
Tokiro Mitsuko had never been a drawing man. The large pool of intelligence he controlled was overshadowed by his lack of dreams and ambition. He had never been fond of chasing after girls, never had many friends, and never said much. He was entirely neutral. His only goal was to live his life until its inexorable end. He had not attended a university, nor had he tried to gain any truly marketable skills. He lived quietly and simply, politely denying others from entering his sphere of influence. He even worked simply; a simple park staffer. The forest to which he was delegated, however, was anything but average; it was Aokigahara: The forest of suicides.
Lying at the base of Mount Fuji, the forest was exceedingly quiet, devoid of wildlife, and dotted by ice caves and caverns. The forest had strong ties to demons in Japanese Folklore. Every year, over one hundred troubled souls enter the forest, only to take their own lives. Each year, the park staff must enter the forest to clear the human remains, tally the dead, indentify which corpses they can and check for items that may be important to living parties related to the deceased, such as suicide notes. Tokiro Mitsuko has been employed with the park for twelve years. This year was no different; he arrived just after dawn at the edge of the forest. Exiting his vehicle, he attached the harness (many employees put on when entering the forest) to the front grill of his vehicle. Surrounded by so much death, in the quiet of the forest, it was only natural that the living would want a tether that they could count on to not lose touch with reality.
The forest was disconcerting, towering trees stood motionless, with nary the smallest of breezes to move them, and not the smallest of creatures to scurry around. Tokiro walked along, carefully picking his way over bushes and sticks, not at all concerned with the place he was in. He stopped at a particularly large tree in a clearing; he retrieved the pack from his back and unzipped it. From it, he drew a handwritten sign, asking poor souls to reconsider and seek help from those who loved them. He slowly and methodically hammered the sign into the ancient bark of the looming tree. He stepped back, satisfied. He breathed in deeply and the hair on his neck stood on end. He had always felt something akin to closeness in this place; death had been a near fixation of his. “The freedom”, he whispered aloud, “the absolution of soul passing from the body.” He never really had seen much point in living, but for whatever reason he couldn’t see the point of taking one’s own life, either.
Nearly an hour had passed, and the quadrant of the forest he was assigned to had reared next to nothing, much to his pleasure. Rounding a small embankment, Tokiro stopped to gaze upon the long dead corpse of a young woman. Her eyes had long since rotted away, but her corpse seemed unusually bloated. Next to her was a small wooden box, carefully, Tokiro knelt down and opened the box. Inside, he found a suicide note. Skimming through the note, he recounted this woman’s story: she had been in her final year of high school when she was raped by her step father and framed for being a harlot and a liar. Shunned by her family and pregnant with nowhere to turn, she wandered into the forest before stabbing herself to death. Tokiro noted that the story ended with an apology to her unborn baby girl, whom she had intended to name Arisu.
Tokiro slowly stood up, noting a small knife lodged in the woman’s abdomen. He looked around, reflecting on the horrendous actions that led this woman to the dark place that she was unable to recover from. Reciting a small Buddhist prayer, he noted her GPS location and vowed to give her earthly remains closure, as he did with all he the deceased he found. He stopped in mid stride away from the corpse. In his periphery, he saw indentions in the layer of topsoil off to his right. He wandered over to them slowly, observing them. They were small, human feet; they led away from the corpse. As far as Tokiro could tell, not a soul other than he had set foot here in months, and as timeless as the forest seemed, this should not be. He stooped over the trail led by the small footprints, noting they almost looked like those of a child.
It was at this point that Tokiro began to breathe heavily. He was scared, yes, but intrigued. He started down the trail, following the footprints. His tether had reached its limit, he had one hundred meters of rope at his disposal, but it was not enough, he slipped free of the harness and kept walking on. The great, gnarled trees had begun to gnaw at his psyche; he became increasingly paranoid and upset with his surroundings. He was too far into the forest for the tape and markings left by thrill seekers to be present, and he soon realized he was unsure where he was. Drawing closer to panic, the only logical plan in his mind was to find where the footprints led.
A break in the trees appeared ahead of him, and a craggy, icy cave opened up before him, beckoning him into its gaping maw. His radio buzzed loudly, sending him reeling with fear. He regained his composure enough to respond; it was Natsumi, the only woman whom he had close in his life. She informed him that he was late, and his GPS said he was nearly three kilometers out of his designated zone. He pressed down the button to reply, inhaled, and stopped. He could think of nothing to say, no words would come to his lips. He wanted to beg for help, to reach out and have contact with something over than the paranoia that had consumed him for hours, but only dead air fed through to Natsumi’s receiver. He looked deep into the darkness of the cave, feeling himself drawn in. He dropped the radio and his GPS system to the ground and continued into the cave. He was lucky that the cave was rather linear and easily traversable, though he still could not see how a child had made it here. Hours seemingly passed before the cavern led to a large central chamber. Tokiro was shocked by what he saw; Stalagmites protruded from the ground, with dozens of corpses skewered in various stages of decay. He fell to his knees and wretched, appalled. A faint notion pierced his mind, something slight and frail, a touch. He looked behind him to see a small girl grasping his ankle. Her hand was barely big enough to get a drip on his ankle, and slighter than brushing against a tree branch, but it held him in place with a grave chill.
A small voice permeated his mind. At first, he thought it to be his own, but behind the small veil he sensed a wave of negative energy. Instinctively, he bolted from the grasp of the small girl, and ran to the center of the gruesome sculpture. He could sense the tinge of a demonic presence now. Its dark tendril burrowed into his mind, melding his consciousness with darkness. “Let me tell you a story…” The voice hissed in his mind.
From outside the cavern, Natsumi picked up his fallen radio. She looked around, seeing no footprints but his and no signs of disturbance. Suddenly, a shriek assaulted her ears. Startled, she dropped the radio and sprinted towards the edge of the forest. She locked herself in her small car and panted heavily for several minutes before calling her manager in tears. When she arrived back at the park management building, she was hysterical and inconsolable; utterly terrified. She was sent home with the advice to breathe some fresh air in the city park.
Natsumi sat on a bench, waiting for the tram to come by so she could get to work. It had been three days since her experience in the forest, and three days since she had gotten any decent sleep. The weight of someone sitting down next to her was enough to rouse her from her funk. She looked over to see Tokiro Mitsuko sitting next to her, smiling. Before she could say a word he gently pressed a finger to her lips. “Let me tell you a story, Natsumi”, he said, smiling. He leaned back and told her of what he had seen in the cavern, ending his story with the feeling of a dark presence invading his mind. At the conclusion of his tale, he produced the small knife from the corpse of the suicide from under his coat. He thrust the dull, rusty blade into the bottom of her stomach, wrenching the blade upwards until he had cut her entire abdomen open, spilling the contents on the sidewalk. Gasping for air, Natsumi watched as her lifelong friend walked away, whistling; the last image she ever saw being his large, toothy smile.
Two days and two publicly disemboweled women later, Tokiro leaned forward from his position as someone he didn’t recognize entered the room. The man introduced himself as Detective Itou, and asked Tokiro to tell him why he had killed three young women. Tokiro briefly struggled against his straight jacket, and then leaned in close to the detective. “Let me tell you a story…” he whispered, smiling.
Credit To – Andy Young
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