Caged Wonderland

4:44 a.m.

Halo Eight: 4:44 a.m.:

The paranormal was split on the tadpoles. Some of them hate them and want them dead because they defy the natural order. Others want to see what they can do for their own sick amusement. Either way, the tadpoles can’t win in this game.

We are Watching You

The tadpoles got a little e-mail around 4:44 a.m. Most of them wouldn’t get this until sunrise.

Midori awoke to her phone buzzing. She didn’t stir until it hit the floor. The time tadpole grumbled as she felt around for her phone. It didn’t help that she had to try and sleep when she could hear every sound in the city at night. Who the hell would be texting her at this insane hour?

Midori became even more puzzled when she looked at the screen. The e-mail came from an address she didn’t recognize.

“What is this?” she asked. The tadpole went into her inbox. Most of the messages looked normal from her medical school and friends she hadn’t heard from in years. But there was that top one. The address was withheld, and it came at 4:44 a.m. The subject line read: Open Me! Midori’s stomach turned. She’s heard the urban legend of strange things happening around this time. She should be deleting this. She really should.

Against her better judgement, Midori opened the message. What she read made her blood run cold.

I know what you all are. You can’t hide from us. You are now the performs for our entertainment. Do not try to get out our demands. We will make you comply.

WE ARE WATCHING YOU!

Midori threw her phone across the room in shock.


DeathVine

Aoi was woken up by the light from a laptop screen.

“What the hell?” she mumbled to herself. The college student sat up and saw Satsu at her laptop again. Aoi groaned and threw back her head.

“Babe?” she asked. Satsu didn’t answer. Aoi crawled out of bed and walked over to her partner.

“Are you watching that creepy stuff again?” she complained. Satsu turned her head. She smiled with bags under her eyes.

“Oh, hey honey,” she said. Aoi looked at the screen and frowned.

“Again?” she asked. “This is starting to become a problem.” Satsu gave her a little pout.

“I’m still here,” she said. “You haven’t lost me.” Aoi trembled. Her girlfriend always said this when she asked questions about her Death Vine habits. Many times, Aoi wondered if she should speak up. Satsu tiled her head.

“Is there something wrong?” she asked. Her girlfriend was about to open her mouth when something the screen caught her eye.

“What is that?” she asked. Satsu looked at her laptop screen.

“Ah, there’s a new video posted,” she said. “Let’s see. ‘You Will Never Find Me’?” Satsu clicked on the thumbnail of a person holding up a sign saying, “You will never find me.”

The video started off along a dark highway. A person dressed in a grey hoodie, dark jeans, and white gloves walked down the road with their back to the camera. The sound came out as muffled. The footage cuts to a car in an abandoned field. The camera looks inside to see what appears to be body covered in a sheet. The gloved hand reached over to sheet and pulled it down to reveal the face. The body looked like an old man with his head leaned back with his mouth wide open. The footage jumped again.

“What is this?” Aoi asked.

“Shhh,” Satsu whispered. The women went back to the video. The footage went back to the road. It started raining right away. The sound still came off muzzled. The man turned, but his face was covered in a white mask and shades. It only lasted for a second. Suddenly, the footage became grainy with wavy lines. The next image jumped to what appeared to be a house. Everything was dark just like the rest of the video. This time, there was night vision. Another body had a white sheet over it. Only, the figure seemed to twitch underneath.

“Are you seeing this? Satsu asked. The person had a bat in their hand and smacked the body. One… Two… Three… Four… Five… Twelve.

The final image was of the person holding up a sign at the camera. “I killed them.” The person held up another sign.

“You will never find me,” it said. The video ended, waiting to be played again. Aoi and Satsu turned to each other. They quickly called the police. Upload time? 4:44 a.m.


The Photograph

Days ago, a member of the Yellow Scarves found a strange photo outside of a karaoke place. It was of a man holding a little girl in his arms. The man looked ordinary with his white t-shirt and jeans. The little girl, assumingly his daughter, wore a yellow dress with a matching knit hat. She held in her left arm a brown teddy bear. The child held up a V-sign. The young gangster asked around the city who the family was. Nobody had a clue.

“Where did you find that?” Masaomi asked.

“Just outside of the karaoke place, boss,” the boy said.

“Right…” the leader said with suspicion in his voice. The other boy wouldn’t stop his search for the little girl and the man in the picture.

However in the late hours of the night, the young gangster was woken up by the sound of a child laughing outside his window. He woke up and turned on his phone. The gangster noticed the shadow of a child against his wall. He walked over to the window and looked out. Kind of stupid because he lived on the top floor of his apartment. Either way, he couldn’t see anything outside. He heard the child giggling again behind him. The boy turned and saw that shadow passing over his wall again. It had to be coming from outside somehow. By the time the gangster made it outside, there was nobody outside.


The next night, the gangster boy sat up on his bed. This time, he had the picture in his hand. Was it the ghost of the girl in the photo that he saw? There would only be one way to see.

As expected, he heard that same child’s laughter in his room. The gangster boy looked up and saw the shadow of a child cast across the room. He leapt off of his bed and ran out of his room. The Yellow Scarf boy made it as far as the road about four blocks from his apartment before he was hit by a truck as was killed instantly. The time was 4:44 a.m.

When the police investigated the scene of the accident, they found the photograph in the young man’s hand. Only, the little girl was holding up three fingers this time.


Stranger at the Door

Arisa has taken to sleeping in Goro’s room at nights. Her son didn’t seem to be enjoying this at all.

“Why do you have to sleep in my room?” Goro complained tonight.

“I do this to keep you safe,” the nurse said. It didn’t help that she had to move the baby into the room as well. Goro folded his arms across his chest.

“I’m almost eleven years old!” he said. “I don’t need to sleep in your bed anymore.”

“Do not argue with me!” Arisa yelled. Her voice trembled as her body did. Goro stared at her with big eyes.

“O-Okay…” he muttered. The nurse pulled him into a big hug.

“I’m so sorry, baby!” she said. “I just can’t lose you. I can’t! I just can’t!” Goro gave her a strange look as he hugged her back.


All three of them slept in his room. Goro and Arisa slept in the same futon together. The nurse moved the baby’s crib into her son’s room. She held Goro like a teddy bear. Two years ago, Arisa had to kick him out of her bed.

“You’re told old to be sleeping in my bed now,” she said. “You are a big boy now. You can sleep on your own.” Now, here they were all asleep in his room. Couldn’t they at least sleep in her room? That one was bigger. Still, he understood why she did this. He just wished that she would cut back a bit. No point to worry about it. The little boy closed his eyes and went to sleep.


In the wee hours of the morning, Goro woke up. He heard what sounded like an old lady whispering to him.

Goro-kun. Goro-kun. Goro-kun. Goro-kun.

The little boy lifted his head. The room was still dark. But, the voice still persisted.

Goro-kun. Goro-kun. Goro-kun. Goro-kun.

As if in a trance, the boy pushed himself out of his mother’s grasp and crawled out of the futon. Goro walked out of the room with empty eyes. The voice lured him out into the living room. He stood in front of the door covered in charms.

Goro-kun, let us play. Open the door. Let me in!

Goro’s hand slowly inched towards the doorknob. The heavily breathing outside wasn’t enough to wake him out of his trance.

“Goro-kun, don’t!” Arisa cried behind. The little boy came to and turned to see his mother running towards him. The nurse grabbed him as fast as she could.

“Go away!” she yelled at the door. “I will not let you take my children! Go away, you monster!” The darkness became silent, but Arisa didn’t dare to move. Goro could feel her heart panting against his back. He wanted to speak but kept quiet thinking she would shush him. A few minutes, the nurse calmed down, but she wouldn’t let go of her son.

“This is why I sleep in your room,” Arisa said at last. “Until I can make them stop, your sister and I will sleep in the same room.”

“Can we least sleep in your room?” Goro asked.

“Yes,” his mother said. This all took place at 4:44 a.m.


E-Mails

The next morning just before her first class, Midori got another e-mail. Just like the last one, it arrived at 4:44 a.m. The address of the sender was deleted and there was no subject line. Again against her better judgement, she opened the e-mail. What she saw horrified her.

“What’s the matter, Amano-san?” a voice asked. Midori jerked her head upwards. A round face leaned in within inches of hers. The tadpole blinked at first.

“Oh, Tamako, it’s you,” she said. Her classmate tilted her head.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. “You look upset about something.” And just that, two other women turned their heads.

“Something the matter?” a woman with long black hair and glasses asked. Midori stared at her and a chubbier woman now walking over to her table.

“Shiori? Eriko?” she asked. The tadpole lowered her eyes.

“Actually, there is something wrong,” she said. Midori took out her phone and showed it to them. “I got this e-mail this morning and it creeps me out.” The girls crowded around for a look. The body just contained a video clip of a girl with short blonde hair and a long white dress walking on top of a stone wall near what looked to be a beach. The video contained no sound.

“What is it?” Eriko asked.

“It’s me,” Midori said, trembling. “This was taken when I was thirteen and on vacation with my parents.” Her friends stared at her.

“What about it?” Tamako asked.

“I don’t remember when this was taken,” Midori said. “I don’t know who took this.” She began trembling as she looked at the frozen image on the screen.

“I know when this was taken because my hair was dyed blonde throughout my teen years,” the tadpole said. “My parents and I were on vacation out to the beach at the time. It was one of those rare times that we could all go together. At the time, I was out exploring an older part of the beach.”

“And you do know who took the video?” Shiori asked. Midori shook her head.

“I don’t know why they would send me this video or shoot this for me,” she said. “The e-mail address was deleted too.” She flipped away from the video.

“What should I do?” Midori asked. Her friends looked just as pale as she did.

“Call the police,” Shiori said at last.

“Right,” the tadpole said.


Chiharu

It’s been getting worse. Sometimes, Chiharu will get up at insane hours of the night. She would just lie there awake with strange noises buzzing in her head.

She woke up around midnight this time. Chiharu could smell blood again. Her eyes trailed along the darkness. The doctor told her that it would get worse before it got better. She believed him on the worse part. Tatsuya warned her to stop taking the medication. Chiharu did… for a little while.

It felt like little ants were crawling all over her skin. More like under her skin. Chiharu’s body felt like there was a heavy crushing it to the bed. She took in heavy breaths.

I need water.

It felt like the whole room was swimming. Chiharu closed her eyes, but she could hear her blood rushing through her body. Speaking of which, the flashbacks came back. The steel bars of a cage formed shadows in her mind. She could hear violin music playing. And the humming. Oh that damn humming. That woman came into the room with a bucket of human organs and blood. Oddly enough, Chiharu found herself drooling as if about to be served Japanese on a plate. Her body wanted to leap forward and tear into that bloody goodness.

The thought made her want to vomit. Even more so, Chiharu began to think about the craving for blood. It didn’t help that the worst of it came around 4:44 a.m.


Visitor

Chikako found her phone blowing up with notifications from her security alarm in her door bell. The constant ringing lasted from one to five in the morning. The coroner couldn’t wrap her head around it.

“Texting a boyfriend?” one of the cops asked her at work.

“No,” she said. “Someone keeps buzzing me in insane hours in the morning.” The cop looked with her on her phone screen.

“Twenty-eight times in four hours?!” he asked.

“This was just last night,” Chikako said. “They’ve been by my apartment before.”

“Do you who it is?” the cop asked.

“No,” she said as she looked through the security log history. Her colleague looked at the times with her.

“I think so,” Chikako said. “I’ve never tried to use it before.” She looked up at her as she took the hint.

“I will try to see my visitor tonight,” she said.

“Call us if you have any problems,” the cop said.

“I will,” she said.


The next morning, Chikako checked the camera feed from her phone. The still shot threw her for a loop. A man stood outside of her door with a paper mask on his face. From the picture, he had on a white shirt and khaki shorts. The coroner tilted her head. Who was this man? Why was he ringing her bell this early in the morning? What did he want with her?

The time this picture was taken? 4:44 a.m.


Torn Family

Tsukamoto Shin sat in the darkness in front of his TV. He watched himself on his old public access show. Shin hated the man he saw on the screen. That man, his old self, was responsible for the deaths of his family.

He had it so good about four years ago. Shin loved his wife and child dearly. But, he had acted like a cocky asshole in the public eye. This would be his undoing. Shin replayed the events of that dreadful night.

His show was recording on July 15th, 2009. Shin kissed his wife goodbye for the last time. He made one more call to her before he went live on the air. After the show, he came home at 4:44 a.m.

“I’m home,” Shin mumbled. He didn’t think about how his words and pride would catch up to him. No, on his mind was falling asleep next to his beloved wife and seeing her beautiful face in the morning. When he made it back to his room, his endless nightmare began. Shin read the note stapled to the door addressed to him. He opened the door and the old him instantly died at the bloody crime scene.

Today, the sorrow is still there. But, a sense of revenge now accompanied it.


Uzuki

Mikado awoke to someone tapping on the window around 4:44 a.m. The tadpole opened one as he sensed who it was. Uzuki floated outside of the tadpole’s window. Confused, Mikado crawled out of his futon and crept over to the glass.

“Uzuki-san, what are you doing here?” he whispered after opening the window.

“I had to see you again,” she whispered.

“But why?” he asked. The wolf demon looked around as quickly as she could before leaning in.

“You and the others are in grave danger,” she whispered. Mikado opened his mouth, but Uzuki covered it just as fast.

“Don’t talk,” she whispered. “Just listen to me!” The wolf demon stared him right in eyes as he went still.

“Do not pay them any attention,” she said. “There are demons trying to kill you because you are a tadpole. Just listen to me. You can’t pay them any attention. If you do, they will become stronger. Find anyway to distract yourself from them. Do not let them in. Am I clear? Nod once if you do.” Mikado nodded once. Uzuki breathed out and lowered her hand.

“Good,” the wolf demon said. She crawled into the apartment. Mikado about jumped.

“You’re coming in?!” he asked in a loud whisper. Uzuki looked up at him as if it was normal for her to do so.

“I might as well. I came all this way, didn’t I?” she asked. “Don’t worry, I will be gone by sunrise. And I won’t do anything to you.” Mikado watched as walked over to a corner of his room and sit down.

“Okay then…” he muttered.


Pleading

Makoto sat in the darkness as he watched Evie sleep. He shut his eyes and could already predict what was coming next. 4:44 a.m., right on the dot.

I won’t do it, Michiko! Please leave me alone!

You have no choice. They have already opened five gates. Time is running out, Makoto. You have to help me.

I won’t do it! I can’t drag her into this!

There was a pause in his head. Then, she said the words that he dreaded. They already have pulled her into this game.

Makoto’s heart pounded. No…

She will realize it soon enough. I think that she already has.

You’re lying! You have to be!

I wish I was.

Makoto shivered as he pulled his knees to his chest. He tried so desperately to get away from this endless nightmare, but Michiko and Tandeki were pulling him back. This time, he felt that old anger taking over him again.

Tell what I need to do!


E-Mails II

Another e-mail was sent out at 4:44 a.m. This time, it was sent to Mikado’s inbox. Against his better judgement, he opened the message. This too was a video clip by a deleted e-mail address. There was no subject line. Against his better judgement, Mikado hit.

A group of people were dressed in black sat in a darkened room. They held wooden signs. The video was grainy with the sound muzzled. A voice spoke in Russian from the front of the room. Mikado narrowed his eyes.

“What the hell is this?” he asked. Then the video showed two large paintings of twin child, one a boy and the other a girl. The crowd shouted out numbers to each other the twins in Russian. Both of them were “sold” to the highest bid in the crowd. It didn’t take long for Mikado to put two and two together. It got worse when he sat Kohaku’s picture going up next.


Text Message

Meanwhile, Madoka got a text around 4:44 a.m. The number was unknown.

“Your grandma is lying to you,” it read, Normally, Madoka would’ve ignored such a text and delete it. But, something didn’t feel right. Around morning, she stared at her phone. Why would grandma be lying? Who sent her this text?

“Is something wrong, dear?” she heard behind her. Madoka turned around to see her grandma smiling from the doorway. Her granddaughter forced herself to smile.

“Nothing,” Madoka lied. “Good morning, grandma.”

“Good morning, honey,” the old lady said. Madoka shoved her phone into her jeans pocket and tried to ignore it. But, something in her mind wouldn’t let her.


Searching

A young man from Shinjuku finally made it to Ikebukuro. The city felt so quiet. Still, he didn’t let down his guard. She had to be here. They had known each other for too long. She couldn’t disappear from him if she tried. It was important that they stayed together especially from the vision that he saw.

He pulled out his phone and looked at the screen. 4:44 a.m.

“Heh,” he said to himself. The young man made his way further into the city.


Nightmares

Mikado still has nightmares. The scars from Chou Mori run deep. Lately, they have been getting worse.

It’s starting to come together into a clear picture. He could smell the bleach in the room. So many needles going into his body that he lost count. At one point, a mask was put over his mouth to put him to sleep for another surgery experiment. Only, this time he could see what they were doing from above. Kitano and Etsuko were talking, but he couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying. This had to be after the fifth experiment because the first four were needle injections. The site of Mikado’s beating heart in his open chest made the color drain from his face. His stomach turned as Etsuko sewed him back up after the experiment.

This was only one sample of nightmares that always reoccurred. Mikado felt like the room was closing in around him every time he woke up around 4:44 a.m.

This early morning would be no different. This time, he would have Masaomi and Anri by his side to help him get through this.


Mari’s Laptop

Mari shut down her laptop like she normally did last night. She hadn’t expected much to happen over the night. After everything was shut down, Mari went back to bed.

But around 4:44 a.m., her laptop turned back on. Yoemon-sensei looked around through the built-in webcam. But then, he vanished and a new message appeared on the screen.

Are you lost in this world like me?

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