It’s Week 4 of Horror Matsuri, and this is Therese Choon’s second publication in the series! Check out her poem ‘Qingming; Clarity’ if you haven’t already.
Today, enjoy a very creepy yōkai story 🙂
Yokohama comes alive at nine PM, thriving on flickering neon signs and the faint buzz from low-lying electric wires. Heavy rain mixes with thick smog, casting a dark shadow over everything but the high-rise buildings. Among those who haven’t yet scrambled for shelter are those engaged in dirty dealings and back-alley secrets, like illegal goods at the port.
One of those nights, you surmise.
It certainly hasn’t changed much from the time red paper lanterns and low wooden houses had dominated the cityscape. The subdued whispers on the streets have not evolved with time.
You decide to explore, nonetheless— nothing like the hustle and bustle of the Underworld to get your spirits up as you while away the last three hours before you’re due to return home. There’s always something about midnight that makes you cringe; maybe those childish Western folktales have changed the way you think before you realized it.
Assimilation— truly, a laughable thought.
Something speeds across, narrowly missing you by a hair’s breadth. You do not mind how it splashed mud at your old skirt and doll shoes— nothing that can’t be fixed by a good soak later.
It makes you less impressed with what this place has become.
She calls out to you from a back alley, her presence concealed by the very darkness of the city’s secrets itself. You are intrigued at once at the odd combination of the black windbreaker over the faded gray dress, with matching trainers that are ripped at the soles. The only thing that stands out is her white cloth mask, bright as the restaurant sign you just passed.
Her voice is that of a low cackle, like the wicked witches you still refuse to acknowledge for their foreign-ness. “Hello, there.”
You let your eyes smile back in reply; this should prove an interesting distraction.
She hobbles over to your side, a barely-perceptible limp on her left. It’s very insignificant, like the rest of this garbage of an urban setting, but you’ve always been the perceptive one— it’s what everyone likes about you.
You look down at her, eyes still crinkled in amusement. Falsehoods, everywhere. “What can I do for you?”
She tugs at your sleeve, then looks up. There is a familiar coldness in her gaze that you know is in yours, as well. “Nothing much, just a few moments of your time.”
A few counts of silence— it’s getting late. She bides her moments, nonetheless, then:
“Am I pretty?”
Her devilish smile is all but visible through her mask— ah, so this is what it’s about.
Give a neutral reply; you know the algorithm well.
“You look fine.”
A sentiment you wish you meant every time— being told you look average on a daily basis does deal a horrible blow to your ego as time passes. At least everyone’s polite about it, unlike the few who tell you falsehoods to your face every few months. You make sure you never meet those people again, so you’re doing well.
She’s unsatisfied with your answer, however.
Her tight grip, cold as ice, doesn’t faze you at all. You’ve known worse.
The white mask is pulled down, revealing lips red as blood, extending through her cheeks to the base of her ears. Her grin is downright gleeful— wickedly sadistic, even. “How about now?”
Laughably absurd. It looks terrible on her.
You don’t have much time left.
You pull your own mask down, too.
Her cold eyes turn frozen in dread at once, and the color drains from her face until she’s white as a sheet. It makes her ugly scars look even worse.
Scars which become you very well, and turn people’s heads in attention.
You’ve always had a beautiful smile. It’s another thing everyone likes about you.
The ice-cold grip is no more, and so are your crinkled eyes. Good.
That’s what she gets for pretending.
You make sure to never meet this one again, too, with a flick of your wrist, favorite blade quick on her jugular. It’s a skill you’ve picked up from this disgusting place your home has become, heavily influenced by the Western devils who transformed it into an ugly dystopia not unlike theirs.
A cackle, too, high and refined and piercing through the sounds of live wires and heavy rain. The neon port city you’ve made your home for many years adapts with the times, and so do you, who thrive on fearful whispers and dark stories and the deep recesses of the human mind.
It’s almost midnight; time to go home.
You let yourself disappear without a trace, satisfied.
Therese Choon is a physician from the Philippines. She mainly pens fan fiction in her spare time, but has also dabbled in some original pieces. Her story, “Heterochromia”, is included in Insignia Stories’ SEA Fantasy Drabbles anthology. She can be found on Twitter as choonxie.
Tomorrow we’ll have a blog tour post! I’m looking forward to reading C.M. Shigeta’s short gothic Japanese story, ‘Winter’s Heart’.
*Featured image from Deposit Photos