Genre: Taisho Era AU. Drama, horror, romance (in future chapters).
Word Count: 3800~
Disclaimer: Don’t own them; apparently, old fart Jani does.
Summary: A heir to a cursed family. A manor in ruins. And lurking in the shadows, a guest that is not entirely human.
Notes: Beware, this is gonna be a slo------w burner. And an awfully long story too. Enjoy!! T_T
I’m awaken by your scream
Into this evening’s darkness, a monster luring you
The trip from Tokyo had been arduous. Traveling first in a tourist class coach packed with people and their bulky belongings, then taking a boat that arrived one day late to finally cross the island of Kyūshū in another old and uncomfortable train, this had been by far the worst journey of his life. Funny how in perspective, the walk on foot towards his final destination was proving to be worse. He had already walked for more than an hour under the unforgiving heat of midday sun, and even in spring, that was way more than his pale complexion could bear.
He had asked for directions after stepping off the train in Minamata town, the memories from his childhood not enough to be able to find the place without help. Three peasants had totally ignored him. Another had eyed him suspiciously, and the last one he dared approach had given him vague explanations, not without warning him to stay away from that building. After two hours on the exhausting mountain road he began wondering if that old man had just pulled a joke on him, but when the old Victorian house finally came into sight, he couldn’t help but feeling relieved, and why not, pleased with himself.
The western style hotel that once belonged to his grandparents had seen better days. He didn’t make use of the key, for the entrance to the hall, as well as most of the windows on the first floor, were shattered after years of abandon. He took a glimpse of the interior, and made a halt to dry the sticky sweat out of his neck with his already drenched handkerchief. The manor, once opulent and refined, was no more than a noble wreck nowadays. Not that he expected to find it in better shape, but definitely, traces of what once happened there were still visible, along with some other damage. Furniture such as silk upholstery armchairs or finely embroidered curtains had been torn apart, and marks of deep claws marred the carpeted floor and wooden walls. He ought to be cautious, wild animals might inhabit the dense forest that surrounded the house.
None of it mattered. He, Ninomiya Kazunari, felt like a kid with new shoes. He had decided to move there to rebuild the place along with his life, and right now none of the decay he saw could bring his determination down.
As night settled the clear sky gave way to nasty clouds, and with a strong wind lashing across the main floor, he was forced to find a room upstairs. The weak flame of an old oil lamp he had brought with him flicked as he looked for a suitable space, the tall ceiling transforming the dim light into phantasmal shadows. He finally chose the last room on the right of the corridor, a tiny and almost empty chamber that still had the wallpaper in proper conditions, along with a striking Art Nouveau style window that lead to a small balcony facing south. He would wake up with the sun and make the most of the daylight hours. After evaluating the current state of the building, he redesigned some of the sketches in his notebook and placed a reconstruction schedule, now and then having a bite from the plain onigiri balls he had packed for the trip.
Later on, it took him quite some time to get asleep. The house was a plethora on incessant noises, the loud whistling sound of the wind making them unrecognizable. He spent all night in a state of half wakefulness, somehow afraid of losing conscience in such conditions. He eventually managed to close his eyes and drift into slumber, only to be awoken by his own piercing scream short after. He often had nightmares, he was used to them after so many years, but this time the surreal menace had felt much more tangible, the nameless shadow that had ran after him in dreams still very present.
Panting heavily in an attempt to calm down, he remained unaware of how his shriek had awakened the other occupant of the house.
He would start the rehabilitation by taking care of the outskirts of the house. A pile of scrappy brushes covered most of the building facade, and he would have to remove weeds from the garden grass also. As soon as he was done eating the last crumbs of his bento, he took a walk to the village to buy some supplies. He purchased rice and some local pickles in the only shop he could find there, and asked the owner, an old and reserved man, if he knew where he could find a small cart. There would be much to carry in the next months, he also realized a bicycle could also be useful considering how far the house was from civilization.
He was knocking on the door of the Chiso family not much later, since they apparently owned a cart they didn’t use anymore. The owner, another gray haired man, reluctantly sold it to Kazunari for a not so reasonable price. When he was told about the young man’s plans, he asked:
“Are you a Noguchi?” The question was laced with hostility, and he knew why, but he guessed there was no point in denying the truth. He had come to bring back the honor of his kindred, to write a new future over the mistakes others had committed.
“Yes I am Noguchi Kazunari, pleased to meet you. It’s been around twenty years since I last visited Minamata, so I would please ask for your favor, since I’m a newcomer who knows nothing about this town.” No one could beat him when it came to politeness, his manners always impeccable when he wanted to. After all, his education had been anything but cheap.
“You better stay that way. There’s nothing good a foreigner could find in this place, least you, a Noguchi.”
He was speechless, and rather shaken by the reality those harsh words unveiled. Regardless of how pristine his intentions might be, he was not welcome there. That was to be expected, it didn’t hurt less though.
He was back with the half corroded cart by noon, the sun much more clement that day. He spent the rest of daylight hours removing the thick scrub with the aid of some gardening tools he found in a little hut near the house. He would plow a vegetable patch and plant some seeds in the following days, in an effort to be a little more self-sufficient.
After collecting some wood logs from the forest he built a fire in the sturdy iron stove located in the former kitchen area. The rice he had for dinner was tasteless but rewarding, he had given his best on his first day of work. He went to bed utterly fatigued, and this time, he fell asleep instantly.
It was almost dawn when the noises coming from downstairs woke him. It had be some big animal, judging by the ruckus it was causing. He should start fixing the door and windows as soon as possible.
Coming from the hall, he heard the reverberating bell ringing of a pendulum clock as his eyes closed again.
He woke up short after, when the sun was still rising. He walked to Minamata station and boarded the train to Kumamoto, the prefecture capital 90 kilometers away. Once there, he found an inexpensive second hand bicycle and ordered a transport company to come take away all the debris he should get rid of before contemplating any reform. He paid a visit to a construction company too, looking for a good deal on his project. He might seem scanty, but there was not much left from his inheritance, and it was mandatory that he finished repairing the hotel before he was left penniless.
On the road back home, he visited the family shop in Minamata. There was an old lady sitting in a corner this time. She was indeed old, perhaps the oldest he had ever met, and she idly stared into space, as if entranced by a scenery others couldn’t see. That or maybe she was blind, or demented, he wouldn’t dare say. The owner, her son presumably, soon emerged from inside the house to attend the new client. Kazunari was packing the few cans of food he had just bought when the woman addressed him quietly.
“Young man… are you by any chance the one living in the forest house?” He nodded lightly, still unsure if the woman could actually see his gesture.
“Beware of the Mujina.”
“Mother... leave the boy alone.”
“It feeds on tragedy, and as it happened with others before, it will eat you alive.”
“Mother!” He shouted when hearing the cryptic warning. “Don’t mind her rude manners, she seems keen on frightening all my customers with her ancient fables.” He spoke in a smoother tone, as if trying to correct his vented composure; then proceeded to greet him goodbye in an artificial bland fashion, his charming asperous nature gone. None of it calmed Kazunari, who wondered how the woman knew who he was in the first place.
He woke in the middle in the night, anguish covering his body in sweat. The same nightmare, the same specter chasing after him. He sighed in exasperation and turned to face the window, when an image made his skin crawl.
The light of the clear full moon outlined the silhouette perfectly. There was someone, something outside his window, unmistakably looking at him. It only lasted for a second and then it was gone, wondrously escaping from Kazunari’s scrutiny. Had that been part of his dream? An afterimage imprinted in his half asleep brain? Did he imagine it all? He really wished to believe so, but the vision of a sinister hand posed in the glass remained burned into his retinas.
Unable to tear his gaze from the window, he didn't manage to get asleep again.
He was visibly worn-out when morning arrived. He felt none of the terror once the sun was up, but the lack of sleep was taking its toll on his already weak body.
Even so, he was not willing to let that matter affect his plans, and he continued with his cleaning. All the junk littering the hall would be removed by the truck guys that were to come soon, so he piled what he could in the entrance. Things such as faded silken fabrics, fancy sofas and their torn cushions, peeling wallpaper, rusty chandeliers and broken mirrors, he wanted to get rid of them all and reshape this decadent hotel into a comfy place, somewhere where guests wouldn't feel awe-struck, but welcome.
As the clean-up progressed, he noticed the pendulum clock standing on the staircase corner. He suddenly remembered having heard its bell again that same morning... it never sounded during the day though. Neither by night. It only ringed one time a day, and wasn't that weird. Maybe he should ask a watchmaker to come fix it, or simply throw the relic away since it had a distinct western style which he was not interested in reproducing in the new hotel.
He had heard something else at dawn, and it really made him feel uneasy, because there was no way he could avoid it for much longer. Despite being the last thing he wished to do, he admitted to the necessity of going beyond the iron door in the kitchen and start cleaning that place too, that was none other than the basement where the former laundry and warehouse were located. But he suspected, he knew, something was there. He was convinced all the trashing he could hear at night came from the kitchen area, but what could be causing such fuss? He didn’t want to recall the vivid dreams, nor the old lady’s warning… he was terrified enough of entering that abyss.
He pulled the door open reluctantly, trying not to make any sound. The rusted hinges betrayed him though, a strident sound spreading down the dark stairs. He retreated abruptly, afraid something might come up and attack him. When nothing happened, he tried to chill down, repeating the same wise words like a mantra - There’s no monsters but us humans in this world. He had been educated to maintain a rational stand on these matters, and thus he shouldn't cower in fear of absurd superstitions.
He kindled the flame of the oil lamp and took determinate steps towards the cellar. Everything was pitch black in the narrow passage, and the walls, carved in stone, much older than the upper building’s. The corridor he found at the end of the stairs had several rooms on both sides, faint light sipping through the small and dirty windows in them. His steps got shorter, unsure, the invisible danger making his heartbeat accelerate. Something, anything, could be waiting for him behind one of the decrepit door frames. He tried to get past the first two rooms, but he couldn’t move. He wasn't even confident those were empty, for he couldn’t see a thing amongst the stark shadows.
Sudden rustling coming from the depths of the corridor drove him into full-blown-panic, his shaky backward steps making him stumble and fall to the ground. The lamp knocked against the stone floor and flared violently, and unable to grab it back he stormed out, trying to escape from the omnipresent darkness, the life consuming dread making his movements clumsy.
He slammed the solid door shut and ran outside the house, panting heavily. He tried to make use of reason again, to persuade his disturbed mind there was no Mujina down there, whatever it might be. But how could he be sure, when he lacked the courage to inspect those somber chambers?
Reluctant to be clouded by his fears any longer, he took his bicycle and rode towards the village. He needed, yearned for any kind of human contact after what he had just experienced.
There was no mysterious woman in the shop this time. Didn't need any more intimidating tales anyway. He asked the shopkeeper for candles and dried fish, yet the cunning man managed to sell him some fishing tools too, telling him about the extraordinary fish in Minamata bay. Kazunari tried not to make a bewildered face at that comment, because how could he encourage anyone to fish in those waters? He opted to keep his thoughts to himself, and before he stepped out the shop, the man explained:
“Don’t let my mother’s words make you troubled. She truly believes in those foolish legends, but see… in her days, our community had little knowledge apart from traditional lore.” He didn't bother respond to that. He wasn't sure what the man's motivations might be anymore.
Once at home, the collapsing house he already called home, he tried to catch some fish in the nearby river. It had been an obviously fruitless effort, but at least the peaceful flow of the crystalline stream helped him stay serene while reflecting over the fact that, perhaps, coming here had not been the best of decisions.
Afraid of what dwelt in the basement, he considered sleeping in a different place that night, even outdoors. But wouldn’t he be found just as easily? It was no use, he concluded, and blew the plain candles he bought earlier with resignation.
The atmosphere in the room changed gradually, becoming static, oppressive. Even under the wool blanket Kazunari felt indescribably cold, for he could sense something getting near to him, creating a frozen and inert pressure in the room. He was facing the window, and couldn't, wouldn’t turn away, because death seemed to be breathing in his nape, looming over him in impending doom. It was a matter of time before the lurking creature ended him.
Minutes, stretched as if they were endless years, went by in tense silence, yet nothing happened. Yet he was still not able to turn around and confirm his wildest suspicions. Into the cool night, he eventually fell asleep under the acute exhaustion caused by the paralyzing fear, unable to tell if all of it had just been product of his imagination.
Like in an endless loop, he spent the next day chastising himself for his stupid night frights, because seriously, when the sun was up there was no trace of any terrifying specter in the house.
Even so, he went to bed expecting the worse again. It was like the house were cursed by the obscurity of night. Short after closing his eyes, he got the same feeling again. Only this time he could also hear it.
Footsteps grew gradually closer.
He wanted to run away, but he couldn’t- Wait.
Footsteps… one at a time.
It was a human. Or walked on two legs at least. He perceived the sound of his breathing, hushed, even. Deep enough to be considered masculine. He actually was human, which made him feel tremendously relieved, but again... why would anyone want to watch him in such a creepy way?
Then he understood. The one haunting him in sleepless nights could perfectly belong in the list of those who sought vengeance. Had the string finally reached him? He should maybe feel grateful if that were the case, because at least, everything was going to end fucking right away.
To his dismay, the lurker didn't say a thing in the interminable lapse of time he stood there, nor did he move from the spot near the door. But since Kazunari was not brave enough to acknowledge him either, his anxiety only increased. It would have been comical if not for the gravity of the situation.
The unwanted visitor finally left, his steps quiet as before, but Kazunari did not catch sleep till dawn arrived, the sound of the goddamn clock briefly disturbing his half dozing state.
He woke up at noon, all energy to keep working gone.
Pedaling with no resolution at all, he reached Minamata bay. The ebb and flow of the tide was unceasing, and he mused over the concept of unstoppable cadence... undeniably, what goes around comes around. He pondered if he had unconsciously started this moronic adventure to close the circle, this way allowing fate to bring a righteous retaliation upon him.
Whatever it may come, he was not going to forfeit his dream. He would go on repairing the manor, lest he be annihilated along with it.
Once he was back, he ventured into the basement again, this time positive no mythical creature would attack him in the dark. There he found what could be called a bedding, dirty and tattered, on the floor of the first room on the left. Even in the dim light and agitated state of mind of the previous day, he would have seen him. So he deduced the man only spent the nights down there.
His heart clenched a bit when inspecting the room further. It was shady, full of dust and smelled of mold. Simply put, it was filthy. Such a miserable life, he couldn't understand why the guy had to live like a rat.
Why was he absent by day?... where was he in that very moment?
When bedtime arrived, he went into manic mode again. Once all empathy for the enigmatic man had vanished, he pondered if that would be the night, the time when the stranger would finally finish him. His brain was absolutely drained after days without any sufficient sleep and too many worries, so it was no surprise to him when he subdued to sheer terror once again, his mind bordering on madness.
The nocturnal visitor was back at his door.
After another infinite stretch of stiff silence, Kazunari briefly wondered what the man was doing, standing there like an idiot. Maybe he was just a feeble-minded that had escaped from somewhere. Or a boy that had been abandoned as a kid and didn’t even know how to speak. What if he was merely waiting for the right time to kill him? After all, he had come and stolen this hideout from him, and just like animals, uncivilized men used to be quite violent and unreasonable when it came to territory matters.
He knew it was dangerous, and that he would probably achieve nothing but hastening the fatal turn of events, but he couldn't be speculating forever. So in a nervous and rushed manner, he ventured:
“Who are you?” Soft words that didn't prevent the intruder from retreating as if he had just been burnt. Definitely not the reaction he had expected.
“Wait! Wait… don’t be afraid.” Shouldn’t he be the one shitting in his pants? The stranger stopped in his tracks and looked into the room again. Kazunari could only discern a short form on his threshold. “Where are you during the day?... What- what do you do?
“I run. I run far away… so that no human is near me.”
“That’s why you live here alone?”
His question was left unanswered, and Kazunari soon understood the man was not there anymore. He realized finally, the furtive guy must have been avoiding him since he came.
What had happened to him to be this afraid of people?
On the following days there was no shadow impeding his sleep, and he was afraid he might have scared his guest for good. Just when he had started to fancy the idea of living with some sort of roommate. On the fourth morning though, just before night was over, the damned clock interrupted his rest, and the noises that ensued comforted him. It was him, closing the iron door and probably disappearing till night came again.
He tried searching for him then, but the sneaky fellow was out of the house before he even reached the ground floor. His distrust was definitely deep-rooted, a wary behavior perhaps linked to some tragic past incident. Kazunari had never felt sorry for anyone, not like that, not when he had never been presented the chance to worry about any other but himself, loneliness always embracing him like a blanket of spines.
But maybe this time... maybe he could try and help the guy out, make one last effort to create some kind of connection and liberate himself from isolation.
Make use of altruism in hopes of finding something akin to happiness.