Kyoko stared at herself in the mirror. In the harsh white light of the bathroom, she studied her features. She was indeed beautiful, except for her mouth, which made her a terror to behold. With Grant and Kappa sleeping peacefully, she stroked the gentle curve of her cell phone, seeming to pet it like a tiny, grey, plastic cat. She thought about using it to call her employer and tell him that his prey slept soundly and were ready to be pounced upon. Yet, in the brief hours that she spoke to Grant, she found herself doubting her employer’s plan. Grant was gentle and kind; although he looked like an oni, he did not act like one. She doubted he could defeat Iwao, the blue oni who she only heard stories about. Tales of the terrible brute seemed more like myths. She could not believe that a creature could tear a river apart.
Her phone danced as it vibrated on the Formica counter. It would not relent, and she knew who was calling. She opened the tiny phone.
“Hello Adam.” she said in a whisper. “They are in the next room.” She wanted to lie; she felt a comfort with Grant that she had not felt in eons. Yet, Adam held the only key that could turn her human again.
“Are they asleep?” Adam asked, his voice deep. He was smiling; she could tell by his tone.
“Yes. Soundly.” she responded coldly. “Is this the only way? Can’t we simply tell Grant his importance?”
“No. Kappa does not trust me. We had some dealings in the past, and he never forgave me. He would tell the oni to crush me and our plans would be ruined. Just do as we planned and all will be well.” Adam’s call ended abruptly. Kyoko walked to the door of the motel room, leaving it unlocked. She slowly made her way back to her pink Vespa. She eyed the angular shape of the Vanagon and saw the long-necked Carol unloading a pair of small cages from the small bus.
“There you are. Is everything ready?” asked Adam, undoing the cravat and letting his head roll into his hands.
“Everything’s ready.” she responded, avoiding eye contact. She swiftly mounted her Vespa and slid her key into its ignition. She rushed to put on her helmet, securing the chin strap hastily.
“Are you sure everything is fine?” asked Adam, suspicious of Kyoko’s evasive demeanor. Without looking at him, Kyoko urged the Vespa on.
“It’s fine!” she said, her eyes watery.
“Let them out, Carol.” instructed Adam. Carol unlocked the cages cautiously. She released the living umbrella first, followed by a glowing lantern that spewed wisps of flam from a tear that formed its mouth. The umbrella hopped towards Adam, the wooden sandal on its one foot clattering against the asphalt. Adam’s headless body turned to regard the creatures.
“You will follow me. You will subdue the Kappa if it is necessary.” he ordered in a firm, authoritative voice. “Carol, stay here. If any humans come by, be certain that they don’t talk about what they see here tonight.” Carol nodded docilely, resigning herself to guard duty. Adam’s head bounced to the ground and then took flight, surrounded by an aura of shimmering green flame. Slowly, the glowing head glided slowly through the air towards the motel room. In the shadows, a homely woman wearing a blue wind breaker watched in astonishment.
The headless body charged through the open door, followed by the glowing head. The tsukumogami followed like obedient dogs. Carol saw movement out of the corner of her eye. Turning her head swiftly, she took notice of a furtive form in the shadows. Her neck elongated quickly, bringing her face to face with the woman. Startled, the woman tumbled to the ground, rocking on her back like a turtle.
“I should kill you, old woman.” said Carol, “but I won’t if you promise to close your eyes and walk away.”
“I w-w-w-ill.” stammered the woman, struggling to stand. Closing her eyes, she started to walk away. Reaching her hands out, the woman gingerly picked her way through the darkness. Carol wondered if she should kill the woman despite her cooperation. She knew that Adam would kill her, and that he would enjoy it. Carol’s neck started to retract when the woman disappeared into her room. The night was silent, disturbed only by the sound of an idling motor scooter. Is that nearby? wondered Carol as she started to elongate her neck again, trying to get a glance into the woman’s room.
Glass shattered as Adam’s head, blazing angrily, exploded out of a window.
“That bitch!” he raged. His body pursued lurched after his head. The tsukumogami struggled to keep up, like they were being pulled along by an invisible leash. “Get in the van, now!” yelled the fiery head. “Get onto the highway! They can’t get far!”
Carol nearly tripped over her feet as she ran to the van. Adam’s headless body all ready admitted itself in, holding a door open for the tsukumogami. Carol clumsily slid behind the driver’s wheel and stomped on the accelerator. Adam’s head flew high into the sky; peering down, he saw Kyoko’s light pink Vespa driving up a hill. It was moving slowly, encumbered by the combined weight of the hulking red oni and the svelte Kyoko.
Bellowing angrily, Adam’s fiery head soared through the night, trailing a river of green flame behind it. The pursuit blew through narrow streets. When Grant spotted the pursuer in the small, round rearview mirror, he rolled backwards off of the Vespa. Relieved of its burden, the tiny scooter nearly careened out of control. The head blazed towards Grant. Adam did not realize how much bigger the oni had grown; spitting forth a gout of soul drinking flame, Adam charged unabated.
Grant continued tumbling along the road. A champagne colored Toyota’s horn blared loudly, then made a sickening honk as Grant used the hood of the car as a springboard. Dodging the flame, Grant opened his arms. Unable to alter his flight path, Adam’s head collided with the airborne oni. Closing his arms around the head, Grant crashed, belly first to the pavement.
Kyoko motored up to Grant’s motionless body.
“Grant! Grant!” she shouted, shoving at his body. Grant rolled onto his back, Adam’s head held firmly in his hands. Grant smiled happily, while Adam’s broken jaw sagged open. His eyes met with Kyoko’s; Adam wished he could put a curse on her head, but unable to speak, he just stared at her intently.
“You might not be able to talk now, but once we get you back to your body, you’re going to show us how to become human again.” said Kyoko. Grant punctuated her sentence by squeezing the head tightly.