“Why are you obsessing over him?” Arouna asked with a wide grin as he leaned over the bar. Rita fiddled with the vibrant pink straw that stood lazily in her drink. She had been mulling over the same question for weeks.
“I think its because I fell in love with him. There really is no other explanation. What else could keep him stuck in my head?” replied Rita. She had been dreaming about Grant since the day he left. The horror of the murder he committed had faded as she began to understand his condition. Now, she just wanted to get him the help he needed before he sunk deeper into self-destruction.
“Where I come from, a lot of people believe in evil spirits. They cower in fear at night, worried that the Suangi will come and take their blood. To me, it is like one of those old stories came true. Grant was a good man, and suddenly, it was as though he became a monster. It was that damn mask.”
“I think it is more than that. I saw what was under his mask, and he really did become a monster.”
“It is like a disease, and it is consuming him.” concluded Arouna, striking a pensive posture. “That is why you are obsessed with him. You want to help heal him. But I wonder if the authorities would see it the same way.”
“Sometimes, I wonder if anyone can see him the same way.” Rita took a sip of her drink, her thoughts wandering to the scene Adam showed her. She wondered who the man by the sea side was, and hoped that he could help Grant. In her heart, she knew that there was nothing she could do.
I found myself thinking about Grant and Kyoko, and I felt slightly guilty about leaving them alone. Could I forgive myself if she hurt Grant? Then again, could anything hurt him? He was a big boy, and he could take care of himself, and I was certain of that. Walking through the cool summer night, I surveyed the old motel. The neon sign buzzed quietly; it seemed to be the only element of the place that hadn’t fallen into disrepair. The paint on the walls looked terrible, as though they had psoriasis. In the shadows, the dumpsters were overflowing. When I spotted a raccoon, habit forced me to sing a song.
“Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa, kaze mo nai no ni, bura bura bura.” I smiled at myself; I knew that the raccoon was not a tanuki; hell, it wasn’t even the right species, but part of me wished he would have started singing along. I could have used someone I could trust. Then, I found myself wondering how an American tanuki would understand a Japanese song.
“What was that you were singing?” asked a meek looking woman wearing a powder blue windbreaker, her hair pulled into a messy bun.
“Just a song that I remember from when I was growing up.” I responded, trying to get a feel for who she was. A second inquisitive stranger was two inquisitive strangers too many.
“What does it mean?” she asked, making me nervous. I felt very naked without Grant to end any hostility.
“It is just a silly song.” I said, breaking off the conversation as quickly as I could. “I need to go. It was nice talking to you. Sorry I can’t talk any longer.” She smiled pleasantly at me as I walked away. My stride was even and calm, despite my heart’s furious pounding. I headed back to the motel room and let myself in. Kyoko and Grant were sitting on the beds, talking and smiling, distracted briefly by my entrance.
“I was just asking Grant how you learned to change yourself. Both he and I would like to learn. It would make things much easier, especially if we keep traveling together.” I glared at Kyoko’s wide, grotesque smile. If I could have understood what her eyes were trying to tell me, I might have been inclined to trust her. However, I was too distrustful.
“I can’t teach you.” I said at last. “I don’t have the patience for it, nor do we have the time.”
“Why the rush?” asked Kyoko, still with that smile.
“Because I can’t help but think that someone is following us.”
“I can taste her lips now.” said Adam, his hands gripping the steering wheel of the golden colored Volkswagen Vanagon. It was old and an eyesore, but it had enough room for all his intended passengers.
“Do you really think she’s still alive?” asked Carol, fidgeting with her lap belt as her neck began elongating. She smiled with satisfaction as her muscles stretched.
“Yes. It would take a lot more to kill her than a sea of glass. Soon, she will be free of her prison.” Adam pushed the accelerator down harder, urging the bus along the highway.
“And where will I be?” The question flew from Carol’s mouth, and her eyes widened as she wished she could lash her tongue out and pull the words back. Adam focused on the road, seemingly ignorant of Carol’s question. The van drifted along the road in relative silence. Carol wanted to ask the question again, but she was too terrified. She had been like a wife to Adam while they were in the world of mortals, but once they returned to the other world, all those years would mean nothing. In the back of the van, a cage rattled. One of the tsukumogami, a one-eyed umbrella with arms and a leg, was stirring.
Carol looked at the pitiful creature and empathized with it. Adam regarded the tsukumogami as tools. She began to wonder if he viewed her the same way. She rested her head on her lap and began combing her hair with her fingers.
“Soon, the red oni will be with us, and soon he’ll get us back home.” muttered Adam, as though it was a prayer. Carol eyed the mask that was crumpled in his coat pocket and let her thoughts wander.