Don was the kind of boy that liked to set fires. He was walking deep in the woods when he came across something which must have been an astonishing fire. It was the burned out form of a car, turned black as grease from extraordinary heat. He looked up the cliff and guessed that the car must have plummeted down from the highway. He saw the bent, broken, and burned trees that marked the vehicle’s descent. Peering inside, he hoped that he would see a body or something cool like that. Instead, there was just the burned interior of a sedan. He kicked open the trunk and found nothing but ashes. Ashes, and a mask.
“What do you have there, boy?” asked the deep voice of a man dressed in a well tailored black suit. Adam adjusted the flamboyant purple paisley cravat around his neck as he studied Don, who tried fruitlessly to hide the mask behind his back. Don lied poorly, his ears turning a deep red as he told Adam that he had nothing. Don’s eyes followed Adam’s hand as it slid to a patent leather holster that draped across his hip. Adam rested his hand threateningly on an antique pearl handled revolver. “Do you know what I love?” he asked.
Don tried to answer, thinking that an answer would save him. He hoped that guessing correctly would keep the expensive looking gun holstered. “Guns?” answered Don hopefully.
“No, but I am fond of them. What I love is the tongue of a liar. A liar’s tongue is sweeter than the tongue of someone that always tells the truth. It is a strange sweet, yet savory flavor.”
“Here! It’s a mask! Don’t hurt me mister, please! Don’t eat my tongue!” screamed Don as he tossed the unburned mask at Adam’s feet. Still screaming and pleading, Don ran away. Adam chuckled, considering shooting the unfortunate youth.
“You’re just going to let him go? That’s surprisingly beneficent of you.” said Carol, who was hidden from sight behind a tree.
“I’m not heartless. I don’t kill every human that crosses my path.” responded Adam. “Besides, a well told tale will make me just as powerful as eating him alive.”
“This is a side of you I have never seen.” responded Carol. She looked at the mask on the ground. “Hm. It doesn’t seem magical. I guess this just pushed him to realize his destiny sooner.” Adam studied the mask, then crumpled it into his pocket. As he and Carol walked away, a howl of pain echoed through the woods. Far away, Don found that bear traps can trap more than just bears.
“So, what’s your name?” asked Kappa, wishing he had a more poignant inquiry.
“I’m Kyoko.” replied the woman, still standing in the doorway.
“Are you from Japan?” asked Grant.
“I’m from Des Moines, but my parents came from Hokkaido.” replied Kyoko, feeling as though she was being grilled without any pressure. She was waiting for one of them to ask ‘who sent you?’, but they only seemed interested in getting to know her better. She always thought that there were two kinds of men: those that would underestimate her, and those that would want to get close to her. She concluded that Grant and Kappa were the kind that wanted to get closer to her.
“How did you become yokai?” the question flew from Kappa’s mouth and caught Kyoko in the gut. For a moment, she forgot that she was talking to other yokai, and the question caught her off guard. It was like asking a woman what she looked like naked. It wasn’t something you ask, it was something that you’d find out as nature intended. Flushed, Kyoko struggled to answer.
“You still haven’t answered me.” said Grant to Kappa, “I asked you the same thing before this trip. Why don’t you tell your story, then Kyoko can tell hers.” Kappa looked disgusted as he shook his head.
“You really aren’t being helpful, Grant.” retaliated Kappa, “She’s the one we can’t trust.”
“I understand if you don’t trust me. My sudden appearance must seem suspicious. I think that if we each shared our story that some of the mistrust will disappear. I will start; my story is brief, really. I wasn’t one of the pretty girls, and I wasn’t one of the slutty girls. I just existed; I warranted very little attention from the teachers. I was an adequate student and I stayed out of trouble. One day, a couple of boys were harassing me.” A smile formed inside of Kyoko’s heart. She looked at Kappa and Grant and was amazed at their rapt attention as she recounted the story she made up long ago. There were kernels of truth hidden in the story she was telling, but there were also lies which Kyoko was starting to believe from having told them so often.
“They wanted to have their way with me, and I refused. The little fat one pulled a knife on me and threatened to cut me if I didn’t do what he said.” Kyoko felt tears welling up in her eyes on cue.
“You don’t have to continue. I think we understand.” said Grant, moved by the artificial display of emotions. Kappa sat in stolid silence. He wanted to be moved by her story, but he couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong. She is far too forth coming with this story and those tears. He considered her facial expressions, distorted by her slit mouth. He couldn’t tell if she was smiling or frowning, nor could he read any emotion in her eyes. Maybe she has distanced herself so much from the assault that she no longer has emotions about it. Is that even possible? Kappa found himself willing to trust Kyoko, at least a little.
“My story is hard for me to tell,” started Grant, “because I’ve only just begun to understand it. It is a puzzle inside of my head, and every time I come near completing it, someone throws more pieces in front of me. I know that I become destructive when the mood takes me. Sometimes it is anger, other times it is when I feel ashamed. I think I started down this path when I wasn’t able to show my fiancée my emotions. We had been together for years, and all of those years, I hid so much from her. I couldn’t bear telling her how I felt. I pushed all of the emotions away, until the day that I started wearing that damned mask. I made the lock, and the mask was the key. It started a transformation that is still happening.”
“Are you hoping to stop it?” asked Kyoko.
“I’m just following where I’m being led. I’ve felt myself being pulled North. I think there is something I need.”
“It is your club.” said Kyoko. Kappa looked like he had been slapped in the face; he hadn’t even thought that Grant was looking for his club. Every Oni had one; a thick club whose head was coated in metal and adorned with spikes. He found himself remembering the Oni that guarded the way into the Other World, the world of spirits. His club was taller than a man and thicker than a cow.
“The club will make you stronger. It is a natural extension of your spirit. They say that an oni with his club is indestructible. I’ve never seen anyone mad enough to test that folklore.” said Kappa, trying to redeem himself. “I never considered it before, but it makes sense.” Grant listened to Kappa, and felt some comfort knowing that there was a reason he was traveling aside from being a fugitive. An unpleasant thought flashed through his mind. If the club truly makes me indestructible, what will happen when the cops find me?“I guess that means it’s my turn.” said Kappa woefully.