“It hurts, doesn’t it? That is no ordinary bear trap, as you might guess.” said Adam, whose words seemed to calm Don slightly. “That is what we call tsukumogami. On its one hundredth anniversary of its creation, an object may become invested with a spirit. They are the lowest of our kind, and I am a collector of them.”
“Can you get it off of me?” begged Don, his face contorted with agony.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t control the tsukumogami any more than you can control the sun. They are nearly animals, and I have never done well with animals.” Adam’s voice bore a thick coat of sarcasm. While he could never get a dog to fetch a stick, he could likely get a tsukumogami to write a novel while swimming the English Channel. Don couldn’t recognize the weakly veiled lie. His focus was entirely on the scraping sound that a sharp metal tooth was making against his shin bone.
Carol, wearing a form fitting shirt dress, stood far away. She usually delighted in the way Adam treated humans, but she never witnessed him torture someone for so long. For a moment, she wondered what it would have been like to be born human. Unlike many yokai, she was born as a yokai. She never knew what it was like to be a normal person, but thought that it would be terrible beyond imagining.
With a final snap, Don’s cries subsided. The tsukumogami seemed happy with its day’s work. Adam stroked it lovingly, pouring praise onto it like a gardener tending his plants. Carol thought that he seemed very kind and loving, and found herself hoping that there would still be room for her in Adam’s life after he returned to his wife.
Kappa sat on the bed, leaning back on the headboard. He looked at Grant and Kyoko and thought that they looked like fish waiting for a hook. He cleared his voice and let himself float backwards through his memories. He found himself remembering a day long ago, when he was a teenager.
“I was young and dumb, really,” he said to his audience. “I had deluded myself into thinking that I was one of the most handsome guys in school. Girls would ask me out on a date, and I thought it was because I was really something. They’d ask me to go to the movies, or shopping, or out to eat. I worked part time at a Chinese restaurant; the owner paid me under the table, allowing me to make the most of my minimal wage. I’d lavish gifts on almost any girl that liked me. I thought that I was young and successful. I had almost anything a young guy could want.
“Then, I started wondering why I never kissed any of the girls. All these dates, but never a kiss. I never even held hands. I found out the truth in the usual way; someone took pity on me and told me what had been happening, and what the girls called me behind my back. The friend who told me was a girl, Renee. She was bookish and quiet, but nice also. We had a few classes together, and talked a lot.
“’They call you free ride,’ she said, ‘because you take girls out and never try anything. It’s like a game to them. They want to see how much they can get out of you before you try anything.’ I was baffled about what she said. I didn’t want to believe it, so I just dismissed it as jealousy. However, it ate at me all day long and deep into the night. The next time I went on a date, I tried holding hands with the girl I was with and she shrank away. We broke up soon after. It started becoming a pattern, and eventually, I found that the truth I was told was indeed true.
“I wound up dating with Renee, and it was the greatest thing to ever happen to me. We dated through the rest of our first year in high school and spent the summer going on outings. I tried so hard to convince her to go to the beach. When we did,” Kappa paused, his eyes filling with tears. “When we did, we swam in the ocean. And…”
“What happened?” asked Kyoko, unwilling to let Kappa keep his secret. He had started this game, and she wanted to see its conclusion.
“A riptide pulled her out to sea. I tried to save her; I was a much stronger swimmer than she was. When she sank into the sea, I went under the water to find her. I must have swam too deep, because I started losing my breath. I don’t remember how the change happened, but I remember waking up on the beach early the next morning. I had a shell on my back and a bowl of water on my head.” Kappa let the sentence hang in the air, rolling off of the bed and onto his webbed feet. His brow furrowed with concentration, Kappa’s shape slowly changed to that of a man, fully clothed, wearing the same Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt he always wore.
“That’s my story, and that is my shame.” he said with weighty drama. He left the room, leaving Kyoko and Grant in a stupor. They sat, gape mouthed, until the door slammed shut and Kappa disappeared into the night.
“Do you think we should go after him?” asked Grant.
“He’ll be back soon enough. Probably just needs some space. Guys can be like that sometimes. You should know that.” answered Kyoko. “So, do you really think I’m beautiful?” she asked, smiling grotesquely. Grant returned her smile with his own tusk-framed grin.
“I do.” he said, meekly. Looking into Kyoko’s dark, almond shaped eyes, Grant felt a peaceful sensation well up inside him. He felt at home, which was not something he was accustomed to anymore. Kyoko extended a hand clad in soft white leather and wrapped her fingers around Grant’s massive ring finger, and noticed a deformed silver band.
“Why do you still wear that ring?” she asked.
“Because it represents a promise I made.”
“The promises a man makes die when the man dies. You are an oni now, Grant. You really should let go of your old life.”
“I all ready gave up too much.” said Grant with a voice like a thunderbolt shattering a tree. Kyoko reeled backwards, afraid of the rage that could overtake Grant at any moment. She stopped her retreat when she saw that Grant wasn’t lashing out at her. She decided that she needed to be less direct if she wanted to earn the red giant’s trust, and she needed that trust badly.