Soothing Reds and Calming Blues
It was a dismal morning in the village. Had it been evening I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference. As per usual my childhood friends’ grandmother, Reiko Kashima, humbly watches the entranceway to our house. And before I forget to mention, my parents mysteriously disappeared when I was seven years old. Because of this I have been living with my best friends Akani and Konji for the past nine years. Around that same time Akani and Konji’s parents vanished too.
The local police attempted to investigate but no solid evidence was ever found. At the nearby shrine Hanshakou no Jinji two clothes were found, one red and one blue. Though unfortunately not much came of it. As a token of sorrow the investigator at the time gave the evidence to Akani and Konji. It was strange, at that moment in time, Konji was decisive: he wanted the blue cloth. Akani wasn’t much to argue so she took the remaining red cloth. As for myself, my heart was left barren, desperately in search for some sort of closure, but nothing. I kept telling myself for the longest time, “Nothing. Not a damn thing. No cloth, no comfort, no nothing.” Fortunately enough for me, I had at least been supported by those around me. It wasn’t easy, but the pains lessened every day, one by one.
After the disappearances Mrs. Kashima wasn’t her usual self. She was still as gentle as could be, but something was off, different almost. Days pass and she simply sits outside and gazes upon the desolate road that resides outside the wooden entranceway. The way she looks, it’s almost as if she’s desperately waiting for someone to appear, only for no one to show. But still she waits, endlessly, till the heavens bring anew.
For nine whole years I lived a life of questions, ambiguity, and lies. That all changed in a matter of seconds. “Breaking, breaking news, cold case, mysterious exodus of three adults,” were the only words that surged through my mind. In that moment we all froze, me, Akani, and even Konji. We just, we...we couldn’t move. No words, no thoughts, nor movements transpired in that moment. But so the words echoed on. “We bring to you from the Toshima Mura Times new information regarding the triple exodus of three adults nine years ago. From the Hanshakou no Jinji shrine here is our chief Tanaka Seto. ‘It it with deep sorrow that I must inform you of the brutal deaths of two village children. As of now the only clues we have are two cloths, red and blue, that were placed on the victims. With the following of these events it is with great dismay that I must close our beloved shrine.’ At this time we cannot connect the two cases but this is a promising lead. With the latest, this is the Toshima Mura Times.”
Konji wasn’t the least bit thrilled with the news reporter that fateful day. We tried to stop him but he just went on, “What bastards! To think they got the nerve to say there’s no connection. Red and blue clothes. Identical. Now tell me now, how the flip is there no connection?” Akani was frightened by her brother then, and really, I can’t blame her. He was scary, no question about it.
The next day Konji was just like he was nine, painful, years ago. The look in his eyes, the conceit, the fear, it was just like back then. All he said was, “We’re going to Hanshakou no Jinji, we’re going to the shrine.” Part of me wanted to go while the other was screaming not to. Akani, of course, wanted no part in such venture. But when Konji was in that state there was no stopping him. And so we went.
When we had left Mrs. Kashima just smiled and carried on with her usual activities. At the shrine it looked spooky. I had been there before with my parents once and it was beautiful and peaceful. Now, however, it just felt eerie and outright mystifying, like someone, something, was watching us. As we walked up the fifty-two steps a weird feeling hit me. I swear I had counted them with my parents that blissful day; “forty-six steps,” I remember telling my parents. I wasn’t sure what to say, what to feel, nor what to do so I kept it to myself and proceeded onwards.
The shrine looked as if to be normal inside. Everything seemed to be intact: no ripped doors, shattered windows, or torn tatami mats. With nothing out of the ordinary we decided to leave.
On our way out Akani seemed strange. Her face was red and she was jumping up and down: she needed to use the washroom, now, and badly. Luckily there was an old bathroom just outside the shrine. While Akani rushed inside me and Konji waited outside. Another strange event occurred then, but I couldn’t quite make it out. I thought I could hear this faint voice moaning “H—E—L—P.” It didn’t seem like anything so I forgot about it and chatted incessantly with Konji.
As we were talking it happened so quick— Eeeeeeeeeeek! — is what we heard screaming from the bathroom. I began to run as fast as I humanly could, but was stopped abruptly by Konji. He told me with discontent, “Don’t be stupid Shiro. This is not the time to be irrational. Just stand here and wait while I go and look.” At that moment, I listened, I mean it’s what I’ve been instinctively taught from childhood: “Shouganai ” (A Japanese phrase meaning, “It can’t be helped”).
Moments later it happened again— Aaaaaaaaaaah! — was the diminishing sound of a boy. It was then that I decided to go against Konji’s wishes. It was then that I walked into the haunted bathroom, or so I presumed...
Everything seemed normal. Just like the shrine everything at first glance was seemingly intact. Lined up against the far corner of the bathroom were four stalls. They were all closed and emitting a ghostly aura. I decided to open the first stall closest to the entrance. “Creeeek,” was all that I could hear. Inside was only a toilet, thankfully. As I opened the second and third stall they were both typical: a toilet and a roll of white toilet paper.
I nudged the final stall door open and it was just like the others, or so I thought. Empty, with no sight of Akani and Konji, I went inside for a closer look. —Just then...the door, it just slammed shut. I almost cried myself to death after hearing such a loud bang! It was then that I heard it, that voice from before. It was then that it asked me, “Would you like red paper or blue paper?” Memories of my past instantly rushed back into me. “Red paper. Blue paper. Choose,” were the only words that ran through my mind. I thought to myself, “Could this be where my parents vanished to?” I didn’t want to know or choose, I wanted my life to go back to normal, I wanted to live with my parents once again. Scared, I replied, “Neither. I don’t want your filthy trash.” Momentarily the malicious ghost responded, and said, “Very well...” Then, the once locked door opened, and I rushed, like the rising sun, home.
As I proceeded through the bamboo entranceway Mrs. Kashima was there still, unchanged from what seemed like an eternity. In desperate need of help and a hug I went to her. When she saw me she smiled so gracefully, like a poet delivering their prose. Something strange happened though when I touched her: she disappeared, just like everyone else in my life. At that moment I thought to myself, “Was she merely my imagination, a fixation of reality?” I didn’t know, but then I heard a voice again, but it was different. She, yes a she, said to me:
Departed I am.
Relict in despairingly joyous memories; Until the day I meet with thee.
“My whole life has been a lie,” was all I could bring myself to say.
With nothing else to do for support, I made my way back to the haunted stall. Everything felt strange, my movements, my feelings, they were all uncannily routine. Inside the stall resided a toilet with no toilet paper. I thought to myself, “Who has a toilet without toilet paper?” To say the least, I was confused and puzzled. Then, the voice occurred again and asked the same question, “Would you like red paper or blue paper?” This time I answered decisively. I wanted normal paper, I wanted white paper, I wanted to be normal. The malicious ghost didn’t appear happy with such a response. He responded, and said:
A fool you be for trying to deceive. Impregnable misfortunes shall be received; Until the day I reunite with thee.
In a flash the very floor beneath me crumbled, and...
120 Hours Later
Darkness is all that can be felt. I can see a winding path, a light vaguely seen in the far off distance. When I reach the light I see a ghost. I recognize the voice, it’s the ghost from the stall. The ghost appears of a young man that seems lost at heart. What I saw next was petrifying. There they were dead: Akani in a thousand red ribbons, and Konji, strangled blue. Beside them were fifty other bodies including their parents and mine. In total, fifty-two villagers present. My heart sank, everyone I ever loved, dead before my very own eyes.
In my melancholic state I looked at the young man in anguish. I asked him, “H—how, could you, how could you commit such vile sins?” He spoke, and said:
I am Aka Mantō.
I am sad and in pieces. Bring me thy love:
My maiden Reiko Kashima;
And with it a mend of all hearts.
And so, I left the light, and began to wonder the red sullen paths endlessly in search of cloudy blue skies.
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