She should have felt sad. Yet she didn’t. Instead, Taryn felt as though some of the weight that kept her down had been lifted.
But not all of it.
Was it because of the dream she had? Of the memory she had been trying to ignore for three months? Normally, she’d just wake up in the middle. When the gun fired. So then, what was the difference to then and now?
Her exhaustion? No, that didn’t feel right. She had been exhausted many times throughout this trip. Her adrenaline more then enough to keep her going.
Was it the drink?
That felt far more plausible then the first. Still, for her to sleep though it, she wasn’t sure what to think. To recall all of that. To relive it in a dream.
She looked at her hands, and for the briefest of moments, she saw those hands covered in blood before looking as they were once more. She then fell back on to the bed, her left arm covering her eyes as she let out a sigh.
One eye looking up at the ceiling. Only to then sit up again when feeling something along her forehead. Pushing back her bangs she felt the end of what seemed like a large band aid before it came off with ease and stared at it.
“What in the world?” she said before poking the rather soft and squishy center of it. Her head then snapped up as a frown formed her face before she rushed over to her phone checking the time to see how long she had been asleep.
It was almost one in the afternoon.
“Holy shit…” she muttered as she ran a hand through her hair, pushing her bangs away from her forehead for a moment. no wonder she felt rested. When was the last time she even slept like that? She couldn’t even recall. She then saw a note that wasn’t there before. Which had a distinct drawing of a sleeping cat in the corner of the paper.
Picking up the note that read:
Hey Sleeping Beauty! Hope that when you read this it’s not the middle of the night, I and the others are down in the village. So, when you wake up (if you wake up before I get back) get the lead out and come down here already!
And eat before you do. The staff in the mansion should be able to get you something since you were out cold when they brought us breakfast. They should get you some if you ask. Or lunch or whatever it is they’ll give you when you get up. Hope you slept well.
Oh, and before I forget, I snatched your camera. Mine is charging, dead batteries and all that. I know you won’t mind, but I’ll be sure to take some interesting photos and videos that’ll rival yours.
See you in a bit!
Taryn gave a slight smile at the lengthy note that her friend left. Rachael always had the decency to leave something to let her know. But with that in mind Taryn placed her hand along her stomach as the need to eat slowly began to take over her mind.
Getting up Taryn first went to leave her room, to wash her face, and to hopefully, find someone who would be willing to guide her to a place to eat.
Though after heading down to discreetly wash her face she was stopped by a familiar woman. “Lowell-san!” Taryn stopped in her tracks to look back to see Mei Kurosawa quickly heading in Taryn’s direction.
“Kurosawa-san” Taryn then frowned when seeing the woman’s look of concern and asked in English. “Is something wrong?”
“How are you feeling?”
Taryn couldn’t help but feel confused by this. “I’m fine? Why?”
She let out a relieved breath. “Well, before Yoko and I came to clean the room you and your friend are staying in. You were still sleeping, and we intended to leave you be, but it looked as though your breath was laboring slightly. I had the chance to read your file and though it wasn’t your asthma, your body temperature was rather high, and you had accumulated a fever. We placed an ice pack on your forehead, it seemed to help. I was actually coming to check on you now.”
“I see,” So that’s what that was, we don’t really have those in the west. At least not that I’ve seen. “Thank you, I feel much better then before and I’m sorry for worrying the two of you.”
“Oh no it’s no problem!” she said as she held up her hands in defense. “Yoko-san said I might have jumped the gun. At least at first. But after I told her what happened, she seemed to change her mind that me helping was probably far more beneficial.”
What made her change her mind then? Taryn thought but didn’t openly question it. “Well since I woke up, I’m actually pretty hungry. Do you know where I can get something to eat?”
Mei clapped her hands together. “Yes, you must be starving! Don’t worry, I or someone else will bring up food to your room so there’s no need to worry.”
“Thank you.” Taryn said with a slight bow of thanks. Then returned to her room to dress, as she had just finished there was a knock at the door. When Taryn opened it however, there was no one there but a tray of food. Taryn frowned slightly as this but took the food into her room and as she sat down to begin to eat, she stopped short when she picked up the bowl of rice and saw a note hidden underneath.
Her frown returned as she picked up the note and looked inside to see that something was written in Japanese.
Go to the Shrine to see the truth without being seen.
That was all that it said, her curiosity mounting, as well as a sudden sense of unease. She stared at the note, forgetting about her food for a moment. Her feelings of this place made it hard to deter what was going on. But perhaps if she were to do as instructed by whoever left this, she might be able to ascertain as to why that was the case.
With that thought in mind she began to eat, when she had finished and about to leave her cellphone rang from the back pocket of her capri’s. Hearing the sudden ring tone nearly caused her heart to leap into her throat.
It was the middle of the afternoon, and it made her wonder who would be calling her. But when she saw the caller ID she didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Oh, thank god you answered. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for the past three hours.” Her mother said as she let out a tried breath.
“I said before leaving Tokyo that this village has poor reception.” She said as a worried frown creased her brow. “But why have you been trying to call me for the past three hours? Is something wrong?”
“Wrong? No not with us. I’m calling because I thought something might be wrong with you dear.”
That just made her even more confused. “With me? Why?”
“I got a call from Rachael’s family, mainly her mother Nadene. She told me that she spoke with Rachael and said that something was wrong with you. Is something wrong?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m not sick. I don’t even know why Rachael’s Mom would make that claim, I know her mother tends to take things a bit out of context. But if anything, there was one thing that did happen.”
There was a faint tone of worry in her mother’s voice. “What’s that?”
“I… slept.” Taryn said to her, as she went and sat in a chair to look out a nearby window. “I had a bit of a fever apparently, but it’s gone now.”
“You slept,” her mother repeated. “For how long?”
“Till one in the afternoon. I was given something to help me sleep.” She hesitated. “And… I remembered. I remembered all of it,” she let out a shaky breath. “Of Roy’s death.”
“Oh sweetie. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not much too talk about since it was the exact same when I first gave my statement. I felt like no one believed me then even when I spoke it on the stand. No one listened, no one seemed to care.”
“Taryn that’s not true.” She said in a firm voice. “You know very well, that your father and I believe every word of what happened as well as Isaac. Your word was crucial.”
“I’m a civilian Mom.”
“Doesn’t matter if you are or aren’t. The fact that the press, and everyone else against you say what they think happened only have their own agendas. And speaking of that, we’ve actually been talking some people about it.”
Taryn frowned again as she slowly shifted in her seat. “I thought you and Dad couldn’t get involved. For being connected to both parties?”
“Yes, but these people owed me some favors, so they looked into it.”
“So, what does it mean?”
“It means, that the previous judge has stepped down and a new one is in place that also means that this ne judge with preside over the evidence and look at everything with no biases in place like the previous one seemed to have. That also means that you’ll be needed on the stand again. As will the boy since he hadn’t been allowed too previously due to his unsteady mind. Even though it was clear the kid is of sound mind and reason.”
Her body tensed slightly. “Do you need me to come back right away?”
“No, no it’s okay relax. I can hear the tension in your voice. You won’t be needed back on the stand for at least two to three more weeks since those now involved in the case are going back to look at everything from scratch in fear of anything being tampered with besides spoken and written testimonies. You’ll be back home by the time any of that happens.”
Taryn let out a sigh, releasing the tension from her whole body. “Okay...”
Her mother then changed the topic. “I see the items you sent from Japan seem to be coming over rather quickly. Including the swords.”
Of course, she knows. “Please don’t be mad.”
Her mother laughed. “Why would I be mad? If anything, it gives your father bragging rights, of course he can’t do it all the time. I also saw that there were two other things that you’ve mailed. Am I allowed to snoop when they arrive?”
“No!” Taryn shot up from her chair. “You can’t Mom, you’re… you’re not allowed.” She didn’t want her mother to see the gift that she had planned to give for her birthday. Even though Taryn knew that jumping at it like that made it worse, she still firmly intended to not let her Mom see it. She’d ask her Dad to hide it if necessary.
“You suuuuure?” her mother said in a playful tone.
“Mom…” She looked at her phone flatly before answering in the same flat tone. “Yes, I am. You can’t look. No matter how much you may want too, you’re not allowed.” When she heard her mother laugh again, Taryn knew it was one of her mother’s ways in removing some of the tension, Taryn asked. “How’s Dad?”
“He’s well. Bemoaning about dealing with our current idiot of a mayor. So that’s nothing new. What’s the mansion like?”
“Big, like really big. I got lost yesterday but was able to find my way back thanks to someone’s help.”
“Really? Just how big is this place?”
“No idea. But I can tell you it’s like a maze. It’s… kind of weird.”
“In a good way?”
“Maybe?” Taryn said in an unsure tone. “There’s a lot of history to this place, a lot of old history. I felt it before we arrived so that tells you a bit. I mean it’s not the first time I’ve felt something like it, but to this magnitude it’s certainly something strange.”
Concern came back into her mother’s voice. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, you know how this goes Mom.”
“That doesn’t mean I can’t worry. Even if I can’t understand all of what’s happening, I know that it can affect you if you’re not careful. Same with the other thing you have.”
Taryn was quiet, not bothering to confirm of deny what the other thing was. “It’s pretty late over there isn’t it?” she asked changing the topic once more. “You should probably get some sleep. Sorry to have worried you.”
“Sweetheart, you don’t have to apologise, it’s my job to be worried about you.”
Taryn knew that, but still couldn’t help but feel bad about worrying her parents. Even more so with the distance between them. “I love you Mom.”
“I love you too sweetie, have fun out there. Stay safe okay?”
“As much as I’m able, give my love to Dad too. I’ll try calling when the reception is better, though we might have better luck with texting.”
“You know I hate texting,” her mother grumbled. “But I’ll try, and if not, I’ll just get your father to do it.”
Taryn laughed. “I know, like always. Goodnight Mom.” After hanging up she slouched in the chair for a moment and let out a breath. Even though she had spoken to her mother not that long ago it was still good to hear from her after what happened.
She then looked to the note that she still grasped in her hand. The words of what was written nagging at her constantly. With that thought in mind, Taryn got up, and headed down into the village.
* * *
It was late in the afternoon by the time Taryn reached the center of the village, walking past several villagers busy preparing for the festival that would be in a few more days as she did so. Or even less then that, Taryn wasn’t completely sure. But she knew that she would know more at some point.
Tell tale signs of the festival were already in view with banners and stalls being built. Causing her to pause and watch as some of the builders do their work. Her eyes then drifted down to see several brown eyes look up at her curiously. Three children in total, one girl and two boys, she offered them a smile when one child, a boy, pointed at her and said in Japanese.
“Ghost Lady! You’re a Ghost Lady!”
“Are you saying that because I have pale skin?” she asked the boy in Japanese, she wasn’t in the mansion, so she figured it was safe to speak it now. Then going and squatting down to his level so they would be eye to eye, he seemed a little uneasy at her doing so. She held up her arm to him. “Here, see if your hand goes through.”
The boy frowned. Before making a karate chop and bringing it down on her arm. It wasn’t hard enough to hurt but it left a bit of a red mark on her skin. The problem of being so pale, her skin reacted almost instantly to anything.
“See? I’m alive.”
“It doesn’t hurt?” a girl asked next and Taryn shook her head.
“No, my skin has always been like this.”
“Well your eyes look weird!” the other boy proclaimed, pointing at her almost accusingly as the first now seemed to just poke the spot he hit.
“Oh? Why are they weird?” she asked him.
“They aren’t normal eyes!” he stated as if it were fact. “They only have eyes like that in Anime!”
Have the kids here never seen a foreigner before? she thought. It was possible, since from what she could gather the only other tourists that this village had in the past few years were other Japanese people or of Asian decent. And the few who weren’t came at times where a festival wasn’t taking place. “Oh really? Well, it’s normal for me. In fact, all over the world there are people that have different coloured eyes. Like green, grey, or even purple.”
She thought about mentioning Toya but chose against it.
“In fact, I know several people who have different colored eyes. The same goes with my family, my parents, uncle and my brother. It runs in the family.”
“Then are you related to a demon?” this brought Taryn to pause to look at the first boy who now seemed contented in playing with her left hand, mainly her fingers for some reason. “My grandpa says that people with different coloured eyes are really demons in disguise.”
“Do you think I’m a demon?” she asked the boy. “Do I look scary?”
The boy shook his head. “No, there was a girl with grey eyes and glasses, she even had red hair. She drew us before heading towards the shrine.”
So Rachael’s interacted with these kids. “Well if it makes you feel better, I’m not a demon. I’m human, completely human. And that girl you mentioned is a good friend of mine.” Her gaze then shifted to seeing a few of the adults looking at her, but not interfering. “Now then,” she said as she stood. “You said she went to the shrine, right? I think I should head there, maybe I’ll see you around. But no more calling people names okay?”
The kids waved and ran off as Taryn continued walking past some of the villagers who eyed her. She should have brought her sunglasses, then she could at least hide her eyes.
She stopped at the foot of the stone stairs that led to the shrine. “Ghost Lady huh?” she said to herself. “Well they’re right on that point.” Her eyes then looked to the top of the stairs, at the Torii Gate in question. And with her hands in her pockets she began heading up, with each step she took she could feel something. A slight sense of unease.
It was a common feeling she got whenever she wound up at a graveyard. It was a feeling she disliked so much that she would avoid going unless truly necessary. Something that Robert commented on whenever it was brought up. But for a completely different reason.
Reaching the top, she found herself looking down the paved stone path to the shrine’s front. This place was indeed old given the structure of the building. It looked to be meticulously maintained. Her gaze then shifted to the right, towards the feeling drew her, towards the graves. There were many here, and yet something was wrong.
One, Rachael was no where to be seen. The other, was that when Taryn looked at the graves it didn’t make her feel sick. Not like before. Not like with the gardens near the back of the mansion.
Something’s wrong. Taryn thought as she walked closer to the graves. Why does this place not bother me? Yet the one part of the gardens on the mansion’s grounds do?
She went back to the stairs and could just barely see the mansion from the trees that seemed to conceal it. As much as she wished to explore the area she was in, or the village for there looked to be many paths to take. Her mind became a little too preoccupied in the feeling she had, along with the strange note that was left.
She looked back to the shrine, noting that there was another pathway that seemed to go into the bamboo forest causing her to glare at it but it was directed towards herself.
Stop it, don’t be tempted. You can come back here later when you find Rachael. She thought as she pulled out her cellphone, noting that she had no bars making it effectively useless in this situation. Meaning that she had no other choice but to go back.
Taryn had taken a single step down the stone stairs when she suddenly came to a halt. Quickly she turned back, looking at both the shrine and then the graveyard.
Someone watching me? Yet no one was there.
Her eyes narrowed as she slowly turned around, and discreetly took out the compact mirror from her pocket but before she had the chance to open the mirror Sato called out causing her head to look down the stone stairs to where he stood waving at her.
“Lowell-san!” Sato called out to her, as he spoke in English. “I don’t mean to bother you, but you’re needed back at the mansion.”
Taryn frowned before asking in English. “Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing is wrong, merely that dinner will be arranged soon. I heard you were not feeling well earlier this morning, but you look well enough to eat something. Come on.” He then walked down the main path back towards the mansion. Taryn glanced back to the shrine before Sato called out once more. “Lowell-san, you don’t want to miss out on dinner, do you?”
“I’m coming.” She called back to Sato before heading down the steps, having no choice but to follow the surprisingly pushy man.
When she reached the mansion, it had become early evening. Sato reminded her that tonight, and for the remainder of their trip, they would be having dinner in the main hall with the head of the mansion. And when she arrived in the main dining hall, the other three were already waiting. Stephanie and Robert at one end of the room, while Rachael was on the other side.
“Hey,” Taryn said to Rachael as she sat down next to her, the tables that were there to serve food were low as they sat down on pillows on the ground. “I tried finding you when I got up. I heard you were at the shrine but by the time I got there you weren’t.”
“Yeah, I was taking another path back to the mansion, we must have just missed each other.” Her gaze then looked directly at Taryn’s face, then scanned her body before saying. “You look… better.”
“I feel better. Well, only a bit. There are some things I’m not sure about, a lot of things still feel muddled in my head.” And it was the truth, at least for the most part.
“That’s normal though isn’t it?”
Taryn shrugged. “I haven’t the faintest idea.” And what was more, she didn’t know how it would last. In having that dream, she had no choice but to accept the reality of it, before it was with a brutal honesty that pushed people away, even though internally she couldn’t accept it. Even though in the back of her head Taryn knew that there was something she had never openly said about the indecent. No, she had once, but no one listened. Even though so many people knew, she doubted she ever could say it aloud again.
“So, did you enjoy exploring the village?” Stephanie asked Taryn.
“I didn’t get to explore much,” Taryn said truthfully. “I know during our time here I’ll probably be able to explore most of it. Just as long as I don’t offend anyone.”
Robert laughed. “As if you’d actually do that, we know how nosey you are when it comes to looking at things in games or what you’ve explored in real life.”
Taryn narrowed her eyes at him. Was he trying to insult her? “One: that’s strictly in a video game not real life. Two: I would never violate someone’s rights, at least not intently because it hurts all parties involved. Three: the places I’ve explored are abandoned buildings where no one’s rights are violated and Four: I didn’t expect you to even still watch what I post online since you unfollowed me when we ended our relationship.”
His face flushed with a bit of red as he fell quiet, while Stephanie on the other hand looked completely interested. “Wait, you explore abandoned places?”
“When she’s not recording for a Let’s Play or writing like a madwoman.” Rachael added before being nudge by Taryn who was also smiling. “What, it’s true.”
“Yeah, during the last game I played I told everyone who watched that I would be off for about a month, since I’d be traveling. And when I get back, I would be making a compilation video of the whole thing and talk about what happened and such. As for the abandoned videos, it’s only every now and again.”
“But people enjoy it though.” Rachael stated before looking to Stephanie. “We’ve even had some people commenting on our webcomic about it. Asking if the places that she goes too are what we use for some of the backdrops for certain stories.”
“Do you?” Stephanie asked.
“Sometimes,” Taryn said. “Not all the time since it wouldn’t work for the story in question. But I find it fun reading the comments, seeing them speculate where it might have taken place, I’ve met some others who do their own videos of abandoned places. They’ve even read the comic too.”
“That’s so cool,” Stephanie said then added. “This might be a bit too soon to ask, but do you think I could join you on one of your excursions?”
“Sure, both you and Robert can join.” Robert’s gaze snapped back to her, with a questioning expression on his face but before he had the chance to say anything to her in response, another person spoke. From right behind her.
“Well now, you all seem to be getting along. That’s good to see.” Taryn turned to see Toya standing behind her, when did he get here without anyone noticing? He smiled at her. “Hello again Lowell-san, wonderful to see you again. I hoped you are feeling well?”
Seeing him here meant one clear thing to Taryn, the man that she had an encounter with, who helped her last night was the owner of the mansion.