There are many wells in the world, some that have a mysterious background, others that are mysterious themselves. There are people that revere them because they are like portals to another realm, shrouded in darkness, and in some instances, even death. The land of Japan is one of those mysterious places that is engrossed with the world beyond the grave, with many wells littering the island from one end to the other.
However, there is only one well in all of Japan that emerges from the depths of legends onto the surface of the truth. A well that is thirsty for blood . . . and pennies.
Anita Wheatley was afraid. She jumped at every shadow, at every person that passed her by. She was constantly looking over her shoulder, quick to hide her brown pools underneath thick black sunglasses. Despite the fact that it was summer, she was wearing a heavy coat and carried a small black purse over her shoulder.
It was just a small trip to the grocery store, but even to walk outside of her apartment building sent her on the edge. She had every reason to be frightened. This entire nightmare had started one year ago, when her father had been murdered. He had been a police officer with many years under his belt in the service, devoted to protecting the civilians and his family. But one day, it all went wrong.
A mere bank robbery turned into a massacre. One single man had held up the city bank and made off with around $4 million in cash. Anita's father just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was shot down in the middle of the street. The robber was caught though, and the media was set ablaze. That was how Anita had found out her father was dead. They had posted his picture on the TV for all the world to view.
Because of the news, the trial was set up fast. Though the evidence was beyond reasonable doubt the robber, convicted felon Avery Gatelin, was responsible for the death, he got off on a technicality--scot free. And then that's when the threats started to come in. Anita was so terrified that she didn't know who to turn to. Both paternal and maternal grandparents were dead, and Anita's mother had died giving birth to her, so there was no immediate offer of help.
That's when a distant aunt called her out of the blue and volunteered to take her in. The only problem was that the aunt lived in Japan, halfway around the globe. But one more night of phone calls and broken windows was more than she could bear, so Anita packed what little she owned and left her life behind in Tennessee.
So now, here she was in the city of Tokyo, running down the street to pick up groceries for her aunt, who was out working at her job. However, Anita didn't like imposing upon her aunt and insisted she get her own apartment, agreeing to stay in the same building. But going out in public was terrifying, even though her aunt had told her a thousand times there was no way that Avery Gatelin was going to make good on those threats in Japan.
Anita swiftly entered the store and bought two bags of groceries so fast that her short brown hair didn't have time to wave through the summer breeze. She meant business when it came to hiding herself. Though she still used her true name, Anita would tell anyone she absolutely had to that she was from Kentucky, not Tennessee.
It had taken some time, but Anita had found a job of her own to help pay bills and tried to start a new life. She worked in a Japanese restaurant for modest pay, and was even back into college. But it took some getting used to the native language. So along with the law degree she pursued, Anita also took a Japanese language class to familiarize herself with the culture.
Anita passed by some shops on her way back to her apartment building, barely glancing at the sellers calling out the latest food fads and beckoning customers to come their way. She rushed directly up to Aunt Dee's room, dropped off her bag of groceries, then proceeded to her own.
Maybe this whole business about Gatelin was paranoid. After all, she wasn't even sure why Gatelin was threatening her in the first place. It wasn't like she was on any campaign to see him dead, though she felt he merited that and much more. But she'd said nothing to him and only saw him at the trial once. So why would he have been doing it? Maybe all this fuss was for nothing and this move to Japan was totally unnecessary. Maybe for once since this whole thing began, she could start to enjoy life again.
Anita turned the key in her lock and opened up the small door, stepping inside with her bag. Light was filtering in through the small room from the curtains, making the place a bit cheerier than normal. It was tight and cramped, with only a sofa, a chair or two, a TV and tiny kitchen for comfort. Her bed was in a small room off to the side with a closet and bathroom.
Anita approached the kitchen counter and set her key and groceries down, heading towards the fridge to pour herself something to drink. Her purse and glasses were thrown down on the corner of the table and her coat hung up on a rack by the door. Only when Anita Wheatley turned around did she finally see the small piece of paper on her counter.
Frowning, Anita strode forward and picked it up. She didn't remember leaving anything there when she left. Maybe Aunt Dee had dropped by and left her a note for one thing or another? However, when her eyes scanned the words, her heart leapt up into her throat and her pupils dilated until there was almost none to see.
In perfectly neat handwriting, scrawled out with black ink like that from a pen was the sentence: I found you.
Anita's already disheveled world was thrown into a new order of chaos. She couldn't think, breathe or move. She just stood there for what seemed like hours, staring at the handwriting, unwilling to believe the implications behind it. She didn't want to believe it, but there was no doubt. Who else could it have been? No one else knew.
Avery Gatelin was in Tokyo.
Morning in Tokyo used to mean a peaceful awakening--providing the noise was tolerated. But not this morning. Not for Anita. She had spent the entire night awake, restless and quivering in the closet, a kitchen knife in her hand. Somehow, Gatelin had gotten into her apartment without breaking anything. Her door had not been forced and she doubted he had scaled the building. He must've been asking people where to find her.
During the sleepless night, Anita had made up her mind to run. She was going to explain to her Aunt that Gatelin had found her and that she had to leave the country. She would take what little currency she had and go to the airport. Where she would go, she had no idea. But she couldn't stay here. It was too dangerous.
But what was she going to do about the future she had here? Things had been going so well too! She was only a few days away from getting her Bachelor's degree. Why should she have to screw that up all for the sake of one man, the murderer of her father, no less! It wasn't fair!
Anita closed her eyes and sighed heavily.
"No. I'm staying. He took my father away from me. I'm not going to let him take my career or my life!"
With this fiery declaration in her mind, it forced Anita to resume her daily schedule. She put on a white top and slacks, slinging her backpack around her body, the heavy load of books doing little to stop her determination. A short walk and a subway ride later, Anita was standing outside the giant Mizazuchi College that housed thousands of college students a year smart enough or rich enough to be a member of.
Even though the air was friendly, Anita couldn't help but feel like every tree, every bush was her enemy, aiding her would-be assassin. She figured that if Gatelin knew where she lived, he definitely knew where she worked and where she went to school at. Was he watching her now even as she stood there?
Shuddering at the thought, Anita entered the school for her first class. When she crossed the threshold of her room, many of the students were standing around, chatting with one another as the teacher hadn't made his appearance yet. Some of the girls Anita recognized right away as her foreign friends. They were huddled in a small group in the farthest corner of the class, talking excitedly with one another. All were dressed like her, in nice everyday clothes.
The girl with her back to Anita was the one talking at that moment, speaking raptly to the wide eyed collection who seemed to hang onto every word.
"--couldn't even believe it! It's true! What Akura said was true! I saw it with my own eyes!"
The others gasped.
Anita walked in on them, her brown eyes curious at to what they were so worked up over.
"So . . . what's going on, Mayumi?"
Mayumi, the girl that had been telling the story, flipped her long black hair and stated proudly, "I saw the spirit of the Shizuka Grove!"
"You saw . . . what?" Anita's eyebrows furrowed.
"She doesn't know, Mayumi!" Another friend, Takara, stated. "She's not from around here, remember? Somebody's gonna have to explain to her."
"I will!" Jane called, lifting her hand eagerly.
"No way! I'm the one telling the story!" Mayumi shot. She turned to Anita and started to speak with enthusiasm. "Okay. There's a collection of trees about fifty miles out of Tokyo in a secluded area called the Shizuka Grove, or the Silent Grove. It's cursed! "
"Cursed?" Anita scoffed.
"Don't give me that tone! Especially when I can verify it! Listen. Nobody lives there. It's totally isolated. In the center of the grove is an abandoned well, right? Well, the legend is that if you throw money into the well . . ."
Mayumi glanced at the other girls.
"What?" Anita rolled her eyes at them. "A genie pops out and grants me three wishes?"
"Even better!" Mayumi stated in a low voice, as though this was suddenly a huge secret. "They say that if you throw a yen--just one yen--into the well along with a single drop of blood, a spirit from the netherworld climbs out of the well to kill somebody."
"Well, you're a smart college student, aren't you?" Anita said sardonically. "So you went all the way out in the middle of nowhere, threw a penny into the well, pricked yourself and then high tailed it out of there because you thought you saw a ghost?"
"Not a penny, a yen!" Mayumi grumbled. "And I did see it! The spirit that lives in the well."
"You said it comes out to kill somebody. How come it didn't get you? What, you got seven days to live or something?"
"No, Anita! The spirit doesn't kill the person that throws the penny or yen into the well. That would be stupid!"
"Then what's the point?"
Mayumi's lips curled into a sinister smile. "You prick your finger and throw a penny into the well. When the spirit appears, you're supposed to say the name of the person you hate the most in the world, and the spirit kills them! "
Everybody was completely silent for a moment. And then Anita's laughter broke through the tense air.
"Are--are you all really that serious?! Come on, Mayumi! This has got to be one of the worst ghost stories I've ever heard!"
"It's not a story, Anita!" Takara said firmly. "It's real. I swear it! A month before you came here, there was a girl that didn't believe it, just like you. Her name was Anju, and she was always covered in bruises. Come to find out, her stepmother was doing awful things to her. We told her about the spirit of Shizuka, and she went there herself."
"Yeah." Jane murmured. "Anju took a yen to the well and tossed one in. Then she pricked her finger. And she said it rose from the well. You can guess who she wanted dead. But she said the spirit had one rule. You listening?"
Anita was listening alright. This story was sounding fishier and fishier.
"She said that if the spirit kills the intended person, then the one that asked for that death will lose half of his or her life and suffer one hundred years in hell before being reincarnated in this world in the most meager of lives."
Anita made a noise in her throat. "I can't believe--how old are you all again?"
"Anita, I saw it!" Mayumi protested. "It was all white and--and glowing! And it was just spattered with blood!"
"That's really funny, guys." Anita shook her brown had and turned away. "Now that story time is over, I'd like to get back to reality and finish getting my Bachelor's degree."
"I dare you."
Anita glanced over her shoulder at Mayumi, who appeared to be completely serious in all aspects. "Dare me to what?"
"Go to the Shizuka Grove. I dare you to take a yen or a penny, prick your finger and summon the spirit."
Anita was starting to get annoyed at them. "Okay, Mayumi! If everything you said is true, then tell me who it was you wanted it to kill!"
Mayumi's cheeks flushed. "I was--sort of scared. I ran away. I wasn't even going to give it anyone's name. I just wanted to know if it was there."
Anita sat down at her desk, flipping open one of her textbooks and opening it to the assignment the class had been given.
"For a smart girl, you do such stupid things."
The day was almost out, and the sun was setting on Tokyo. Anita Wheatley's homework was in her backpack and ready to go. She had a test to study for as finals were only two days away. She spent the entire ride on the subway cramming for it and even dared to walk about with it open and in front of her face.
However, when Anita reached her apartment building, she was startled to find police cars parked outside, their red and blue lights flashing. That was when the worst scenario she could think of popped into her mind and Anita started to run. There was no police tape up outside, so whatever it was, it must have happened inside the building.
Anita climbed the stairs to the ninth floor, out of breath. There, policemen were standing in the hallway outside what she knew to be Aunt Dee's apartment room. However, she could see her Aunt speaking with them, and she was quick to call to her.
Their heads jerked in her direction as she came to a stop before them, gasping for breath.
"Aunt Dee! What happened? Are you hurt?"
"No, no! I'm fine!" the older lady assured, giving her a strong hug. "It's you that we're worried about!"
"Me? I'm--I'm fine!"
"Miss Wheatley," one of the officers inquired in English, "I'm Officer Tachi and this is Officer Torijin. We have some questions for you."
"What's this all about?" Anita glanced back and forth between them as more officers slipped in and out of Aunt Dee's apartment behind them.
"Is it true Miss Wheatley that you are being stalked by a United States felon?"
"Y-yes," she said uneasily, a sick flop in her stomach for emphasis.
"Are you aware that this felon entered Japan about four months ago?"
Her face paled. It was true. Avery Gatelin was here. Before, she had been almost certain, but now, it was like being hit by a sledgehammer because someone else had confirmed it. Where was he? What had he done? Had he tried to break in on them and failed?
"N-no!" Anita answered their question at last. "What did he do?! Aunt Dee, did he hurt you?"
"Hurt me?" Aunt Dee blinked, her hazel eyes wide. It was clear she was shaken up. Dressed in her nurse smock, Anita guessed that Dee had only just arrived home as well. The hospital must've needed her to stay on late. For once, she was grateful for that. It just might have saved her life.
"Was he here when you came home, Aunt Dee?"
"No! I came home and the door was unlocked. And when I went inside--"
Without warning, Anita pushed past the officers and entered the apartment room despite their sharp tones. What greeted her eyes was an unbelievable sight. Dee's apartment had been ransacked. Vases were broken, plates smashed, furniture overturned, mirrors shattered . . . But what really shocked Anita was the writing all over the walls. It was in red, as if in blood, with all sorts of hateful messages scrawled in all sizes. One said I told you. Another one stated boldly, You can't escape me. And still yet, the biggest one declared, Two more days.
Her hand flew up to her mouth as the Japanese officers ushered her out of the room while the detectives working in the crime scene flashed their cameras and took notes of the threats.
"I think it best if you stayed in a hotel until you can find a permanent residence." Officer Tachi's black eyes surveyed them sympathetically. "We can arrange for something if you'd like?"
"No, we'll be fine." Dee smiled sadly.
"Aunt Dee?" Anita murmured.
"We'll take your advice and leave," Dee nodded, taking ahold of her niece's shoulders. "Come now, Anita. Let's go pack your things and we'll get going."
"What's all this ruckus up here?"
Everyone's attention turned down the hall as a figure in slate blue approached them, wearing a small cap, a bucket and mop in one hand. The officers drew their guns, but Dee scolded them.
"Calm down! It's just Brutus, the janitor! The worst you have to worry about being around him is his tall tales!"
"I asked what all the commotion was," Brutus the janitor inquired, never entirely looking them in the eye. "Were you hurt, ma'am?"
"No, Brutus. I'm fine," Dee replied, running her fingers through her graying hair. "But I'm afraid I can't get the sink fixed now. We'll see if we can't get the darn thing fixed next week, alright?"
"What happened? Someone break into your room, ma'am?"
"It looks to be that way, Brutus."
"Alright," Officer Torijin interrupted, "that's enough. You'd better get along now. You both should be safe on your way to your other apartment. We have officers everywhere. We'll even escort you to a hotel of your choice."
Anita was scared. She gave her aunt a glance that said it all. Her aunt was wearing a much better disguise of that same fear.
Despite the fact that both her and her aunt's room had been broken into without any forced entry, Anita couldn't help but to feel exhausted. Her nerves were frayed. And with the finals happening tomorrow, she couldn't focus on anything the teacher said. He would point something out and state specifically that it was on the test, but she would somehow find a way to miss it altogether and have to copy off someone else. Her friends were noticing her odd behavior.
Mayumi was the first to say something in between classes, catching Anita in the lounge as she laid on the couch, dark circles under her eyes.
"Okay, what is the deal with you today?" Mayumi inquired, Jane and Takara leaning over her shoulder in the background. "Did you go to the Shizuka Grove?!"
"No, I didn't go to the stupid grove!" Anita snapped.
"Whoa!" Mayumi and the girls flinched, surprised at her ferocious bark. "Is it that time of month already? Or is that pressure for the finals?"
"Whatever it is, it's lethal," Takara commented.
"What's your problem, Anita?" Jane grumbled. "We're just trying to help."
"My apartment was broken into!" Anita burst. "And so was my aunt's! The guy wrote all sorts of threats on my walls! I've been up all night worrying about it, and here I have finals to test for tomorrow, and I can't do it because I'm afraid of my own damn shadow!"
The girls' eyes all got really big.
"Your apartment was broken into?"
"And your aunt's too?"
"You have any idea who did it?"
"Yeah, I have an idea," Anita said gruffly, flipping over onto her stomach, wishing sorely she could go to bed and sleep eight hours straight.
"Go to the spirit!" Mayumi said resolutely. "It's real! And if your life's in danger, then what do you have to lose?"
"Mayumi, I told you I don't believe in that garbage!" Anita argued, her face buried in the couch pillow. "And anyway, even if it is all real, I don't want to go to hell for a hundred years!"
Mayumi sighed deeply. "But--"
"But nothing! Now go away and leave me alone!"
There was an uncomfortable pause in which the girls exchanged glances, then slowly began to file away one by one until only Mayumi was left.
"You know, it must be really cruddy to be you right now. I get it. But you don't have to be cruddy to us, you know."
And with that, Mayumi left. And Anita seized the pillow she had been buried in and screamed as loud as she could into the fluff.
With her heavy heart and a mount of stress, Anita rode the subway home, her books in her bag and out of sight. She felt like crying, but refused to. Crying wasn't going to protect them, nor was it going to help her ace the finals tomorrow. And neither was fear. She was just going to have to forget about Avery Gatelin and try to get past it.
Since they no longer stayed at their normal apartment building, Anita rode fifteen minutes more than usual and got off at a different stop close to the hotel they were staying at for the time being. Then she pushed her way through a throng of people and walked through traffic in order to reach the block where the hotel waited. Darkness had fallen and the temperature was dropping.
Anita pulled her light jacket close, hoping to go up to their room and sleep in a nice bed. She needed rest and a good breakfast for the finals. But the moment she saw the police cars outside the hotel, she knew good and well that she was to get no such pleasures.
She broke into a desperate run, so fast, she didn't even know her own legs were flying under her. It seemed the cars were centered in the street, and not in front of the building. There was yellow police tape everywhere, and the lights were flashing. It was like she knew what had happened before she ever saw it.
One of the policemen saw her running in his direction and immediately went to intercept her. She fought him to take a glance, anything that could give her a clue. There, in the middle of the street was a body lying face up. It appeared to be a woman wearing a blue smock, and a trickle of blood had dried in her graying hair.
"Aunt Dee!" Anita screamed, a raw sort of strength taking over her as she wrestled with the officer. "Aunt Dee! Aunt Dee!!"
"Stop it!" the officer shouted over her cries. "She's dead! She's dead and there's nothing you can do for her!"
"Let me see her! Let me see her!" Anita bawled, ripping at the uniform.
"It's no use!" he yelled. "Listen to me! It was a hit and run! She walked out in front of a car and it hit her. She was gone before paramedics could get here."
It was all she could say. She didn't want to believe Aunt Dee was gone. Only just yesterday was the old lady walking around, speaking, breathing . . . How could it have come to this? How could she have known that today was the last day she would walk the earth alive? It was all too cruel. First her mother, then her grandparents, then her father, now Aunt Dee. Everyone around her was dying. It was a curse.
The officer, believing her to be in some kind of state of paralysis, took this time to explain a bit more in detail.
"You must be the niece. You and your aunt were involved in that ransacking case we had yesterday, aren't you? I'm Officer Chigiri. We haven't met, but I did help take evidence from the scene of the crime last night. I'm very sorry for your loss."
All she could do was stand by mutely as the tears she'd strived so hard to hold back exploded forth in torrents.
Officer Chigiri continued in a kind tone, "I know this must be hard for you, but I think you deserve to know something about this hit and run. We don't believe it was an accident."
Anita sniffled, lifting her head. "It--it wasn't? But--but who w-would want to k-kill her? She--she was the sw--sweetest--"
"We . . . found this in close proximity to the body. I think it was to be intentionally found."
Officer Chigiri handed Anita a single piece of paper. She only needed one glance to understand everything that had taken place and why. The neat handwriting said only two words, One day.
Her blood was boiling. All she could think about was revenge and how she had been wronged. How everyone in her family had been wronged. Life had been impossible enough without her mother, without her grandparents, but without her father? Without the aunt that had taken in a complete stranger? It was unforgivable! She was going to make Avery Gatelin pay.
That's all she could think about. He didn't deserve punishment from humans. He was a monster, and monsters should be tried by monsters.
Aunt Dee's Toyota careened through the dirt path as Anita stamped her foot down on the gas, the engine roared with the sound of her own blood pumping through her ears. She was armed with only her purse and nothing else.
"Mayumi . . ." she said thickly, "you had better not have been telling me stories!"
She didn't stop to think about how illogical her actions were. Right about now, she was on the border of madness. Innocent people were dying all around her and the murderer was getting off free as a jaybird. Well, not this time. This time, he was going to answer for his actions, even if Anita had to pay with her own soul. She owed her life to Dee, to her mother and father. And they were going to get the justice they merited. No technicalities. No crooked lawyers. Just pure, simple, capital punishment.
The vehicle screeched as it flew around a sharp turn, the trees ever close, looming in the pitch black like witnesses to a scene of mayhem. Anita's very world was turning upside down, but she was going to make it right.
The headlights illuminated something there before her, and Anita laid on the brakes. The car squealed to a stop and the girl turned the key, shutting it completely off. She sat in the car, shivering, wondering if she was still sane. There before her was the dark silhouette of the well.
Anita took a deep breath and reached for her purse. She drew out a single penny and a pair of small scissors that she kept in case she needed to cut something. And then she stepped out into the darkness. The summer air was cool and refreshing, but being here in the Shizuka Grove was eerie. It felt as though everything was alive, but not of this realm. She could feel how ancient it was. This place was different.
Anita inched forward; the only thing keeping her from running was the face of her dead aunt that had attempted to give her a new start at life. The penny in her hand that had felt cold suddenly felt warm. She gulped in her throat and stopped before the square object jutting from the green grass. Her brown eyes peered over the edge inside, but all she could see was blackness.
She lifted the penny and took a deep breath. She had to be out of her mind to think there was a spirit that could wreak revenge upon some random person at the wish of another. That was it. She was nuts. Hopeless. This was a waste of time. Or at least, that's what her brain was telling her. Her gut was saying this was a whole different picture.
Anita's thumb quivered. She shut her eyes tightly and flipped the coin down into the well. She listened, and listened . . . and finally heard a small splash below. The girl then took her pair of small scissors and held her hand over the mouth of the well, slicing her finger open. The blood dripped . . . and then nothing.
Anita stood there, shaking. There was a stillness in the atmosphere she couldn't quite describe. It was like being in a vacuum. Breathing was next to impossible. She stood there and stood there, and at last, let out a sharp, staggered gasp.
"I knew it. It was just a stupid story. There is no spirit!"
Angrily, Anita whipped away. She couldn't believe how idiotic she had acted. Had she really believed that stupid story? Mayumi and the others must have been laughing at her by now! How gullible she was!
It was at this time that she noticed there was a glare of light on Dee's car, a light that shouldn't have been there. She squinted, trying to figure out where it was coming from. Only then did it occur to her that the source of light was coming from behind her.
Anita pivoted on the spot. All senses were lost. All realm of rationality had been blown to bits. What she had deemed fiction was not fiction at all. There, before her very two eyes, was a shining white being clothed in black robes and what appeared to be black fantasy-like armor. The hair was long and bright white, like freshly fallen snow, sullied with bright red spatters of blood. And the eyes . . . the eyes were ice blue and distant.
It was a man.
Anita's legs gave out from under her and she fell before the apparition in awe. Who would have guessed the legends were true? That mere school gossip yielded such a treasure? That's what he reminded her of. A tarnished pearl locked away in a box in some forgotten corner, waiting to be discovered again.
"What is it you wish of me?"
Anita's tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth. She couldn't talk. The spirit's voice was like the soft blow of the wind through the trees. It had a ring to it, but not a jovial one. It was the sound of utter despair.
Again, the spirit inquired, "What is it you wish of me?"
Anita somehow swallowed her muteness and spoke. "I need you to--to take revenge for me!"
His eyes saw nothing in front of them. They were hollow, empty.
"A penny for the soul of one creature. This I am to understand?"
"Y-yes," she said shakily.
"A word of caution," the spirit continued, as though talking to itself. "Because I am given one penny, I will take the life. But money does not cover the cost of souls. Once I have dragged a soul to hell with me, that soul can never be freed. It will suffer forever and ever in the deepest pits. In exchange for such scorn, the one that gave the penny must cut short his own life by half. His soul will be dragged to hell to suffer for one hundred years before reincarnation may resume. And then the penny holder will be born into an endless cycle of miserable lives for five hundred years. This is the price to pay for such spite."
Anita trembled on the ground before the blood stained spirit. "I--I don't care! I don't care what happens to me! That man took my father from me, and was let go! He took my aunt, and dammit, I won't let him get away with it! "
The spirit hovered just above the well, his long robes fluttering in the bare wind.
"Speak to me the name of the soul you wish to damn."
She hesitated, but why, she had no idea. A moment passed by, then another. Finally, she summoned up the courage to seal the exchange.
The spirit said nothing for a full minute. Anita wondered if he had heard her or if she had spoken incorrectly. Suddenly, his voice broke her train of thought, startling her.
"Avery Gatelin, the thief, the liar, the murderer, has been paid for. He will die tomorrow at seven thirty-seven p.m. and I will drag his soul to hell."
The spirit began to fade. Anita gasped, actually leaning forward, her arm outstretched.
"Wait! Tomorrow?! What if he kills me before then?!"
There was no reply. The spirit vanished into thin air with a gasp like that of a dying person breathing his last breath.
The test finals were today. And Anita hadn't studied for them. Instead, she had been up all night for the third time in a row. She couldn't stop thinking about what she'd done. She couldn't believe she'd hired a spirit to assassinate the very man that had killed her father and aunt. It was disturbing to think about, much less know it was probably going to happen.
It was in the middle of second class, and she couldn't keep her eyes open very well. The questions should have been simple. She'd known the answers to this stuff yesterday, so why couldn't she today?
She yawned as quietly as she could and tried to go back at it, answering every question the best she could, hoping for at least a B on her paper. But as she worked on, that seemed more and more out of her league. Twice, she nodded off and wasted precious time.
Her third and final class hit her the worst, as it was situated closer to four o' clock in the afternoon. By this time, she honestly didn't care whether or not she passed the exams.
Gatelin had threatened to kill her today. That was what the one day message stood for. But today was the day that the spirit was supposed to kill Gatelin--right at 7:37 p.m. But just how was that going to happen?
All sorts of scenarios had come to her mind all day long. As she sat there, thinking up all the gruesome possibilities, Mayumi and her other friends were keeping their distance from her. She guessed they were still sore at her from yesterday, but Anita had bigger things to worry about. Like her life. And her soul.
School let out and Anita was careful to walk in the crowd with other students until she absolutely could not help the fact that she had to walk alone to get to the subway. Several blocks from the subway, Anita noticed that she was being followed. Her heart pounding, she quickened her steps and tried not to glance over her shoulder. She didn't want whoever it was to know she knew they were back there.
She made her way down the underground steps and stood on the platform, waiting for the sub to make its regular stop. She could feel their eyes just watching her, and she was terrified. She glanced up at a nearby clock to see what time it was. 6:45. She still had less than an hour. And if Gatelin got her now . . . who knows what would become of her?
The train came down the track and slowed to a stop, the electric doors sliding open. Anita was the first to get on. She sat in the very back, counting on others to surround her so that she would be in plain sight of everyone in case he tried anything. The other passengers piled in and her eyes searched them as the doors closed and the sub took off into the dark tunnel.
She spied a male figure several feet down, standing in the walkway, staring in her direction. It creeped her out. She shifted in her seat and tried to avoid making eye contact. The lights flickered on the sub. Her brown head jerked upward. She heard footsteps and her attention was brought back to the man that was approaching her in a subway full of people.
The lights kept flickering, as though they were going to go out. She was frozen in her seat with terror. Was he really that insane that he would try to kill her here and now in front of everyone? But then again, he'd killed her father and aunt in plain sight and still managed to get away. Why did she expect any different treatment?
The lights went out, and there was a small commotion. Anita felt someone snatch her arm and she screamed. The grip jerked her out of her seat and slammed her into a nearby bench where she sat, whimpering. The lights suddenly came back on and Anita could see again. The sub was slowing down for its first stop.
Anita's brown eyes widened at the sight of the strange man.
"I--I know you! You're--you're the janitor, Brutus!"
He chuckled from under his slate blue cap. "Who else were you expecting?"
She chose not to reply to that.
"I'm sorry if I scared you," he apologized as several people left their car. The doors closed and the sub was off again. "I went out to eat for a little bit and I saw you, but I couldn't get to you fast enough."
"What did you need me for?" Anita said slowly.
"Well, I've only known your aunt for a short time, but she seemed like a real sweet lady. I'm real sorry about what happened to her."
The girl bit her lower lip. "She was a really sweet old lady. Harmless. I can't believe that creep Gatelin just--just ran over her like that! Like she was nothing! She deserved better than that!"
Brutus' broad frame shifted. "I know it's not my place, but--I'd like to come to the funeral. Pay my respects. She was always real nice to me, Ma'am Dee was."
"Of course you can come, Brutus. I'm sure she would've liked that."
The next stop came and went, and the rest of the passengers left. Brutus spoke up again.
"I don't mean to sound offensive or anything, but I was wondering where you might be considering laying Ma'am Dee to rest at?"
Anita felt slightly ashamed that he'd asked her. She'd been so consumed with getting revenge that she hadn't even attempted to find a will of Aunt Dee's last wishes. She didn't even know where to start.
"I---I'm not positive," Anita admitted. "Everything's been so crazy nowadays . . . I just don't know, Brutus."
He seemed to go deep into thought. And suddenly, he snapped his fingers. "I know! The Yanagi Cemetery! They ought to have something there for Ma'am Dee!"
She was taken aback. "You think so?"
"I know so! Got a couple of folks buried in those parts. Really nice and secluded up on a pretty hill with willow trees . . . Ma'am Dee would've liked it!" He cleared his throat. "But, of course, she's your aunt. You ought to be the one to decide."
Anita sat there, mute. "You know what? I'd like to see it for myself."
"Yes. Is it far from here?"
"No!" Brutus exclaimed. "We'll just ride the train here for about twenty more minutes and we should find ourselves close to it. It's a bit out of the way, but well worth the walk."
The rest of the ride was absolute quiet. They said nothing to one another, each registering their own thoughts about all the events that would have to come. Anita wasn't completely sure how strong the relationship was between Brutus and Dee, but there had to be some sort of depth to it for the mere janitor to want to contribute to her funeral.
The subway was closing in on their stop, and as soon as the doors opened, both Anita and Brutus stepped onto the platform and journeyed up onto the outskirts of Tokyo. As it would turn out, Yanagi Cemetery was actually twenty miles out of Tokyo, and they had to hail a cab in order to get there.
Anita wished she knew the time, so she asked the cabby if he had it.
"Sorry. My watch broke yesterday."
"I have one," Brutus announced, pulling up the long sleeves he wore, revealing a black wristwatch. "It's 7:25. You have to be back at a certain time?"
She shook her head. So it was almost time. Hadn't the spirit said that Avery Gatelin was going to die at 7:37 p.m.? Twelve minutes of his life left before it was dragged to hell. It was creepy knowing when someone was going to die. But why that time? Why couldn't he have killed Gatelin right then and there last night? Was there some sort of preparation involved?
The cab slowed down as they approached a tall, towering black gate, Japanese characters establishing they were in the right place. Anita couldn't help but to stare at the outside world. With sunset setting in, this cemetery looked even more forlorn than usual. There were willow and cherry trees standing here and there, some of them shading the graves under them.
"Right here alright?" the cabby inquired.
"Not quite." Brutus leaned forward and pointed between the seats at a small hill where a dirt road led up to a single willow tree all by itself. There seemed to be a headstone there, but why would he want to go up there where it was already occupied?
"Go up there."
The cab neared the tree and rolled to a stop at the top of the hill. Anita's brown eyes surveyed the spot, wondering if Dee would've wanted this spot out of all the others. It looked rather disconnected, but peaceful.
She squinted at the grave already there, unsure of what she was seeing. Yes, the headstone was there, but upon closer inspection, Anita Wheatley realized that the grave was fresh, and a large pile of dirt was sitting next to it. This was a brand new hole.
"Well," she sighed in dismay, "it looks like someone already chose this spot--"
Anita gasped, twisting around to see who had made that choking noise. Her heart leapt into her throat. It was the cab driver. His throat had been sliced from one ear to the other, and he had gagged from his own blood.
The girl sat frozen in complete shock as the gleaming machete reflected the eyes of the man underneath the janitor cap.
"Br--Brutus?!" Anita cried, unable to process what had just happened.
"That's the problem with people," he said with a chilly air. "They never last long, do they?"
"What?!" Anita choked. "What's going on?! What just happened? Why did you kill him?!"
"Why do you think, Anita?" Brutus grinned. He had completely morphed into something she didn't think she recognized. She'd seen murderers and psychopaths on TV before, but being there in person with one was bloodcurdling. "I can't have witnesses."
"Witnesses?!" Anita exclaimed, her hand already fumbling for the door handle. "Witnesses to what?!"
"Come on. Haven't you figured it out yet?"
Anita found the door handle and wrenched it open, falling out onto the ground. She clawed her way backwards as the janitor emerged from the cab, his bloody machete at hand.
"Come on, Anita. I would've thought a college student would've pieced it all together by now. Or could it be that you're just not that smart?"
"Who are you?! You're not Brutus! You can't be!"
The man made a scoffing noise, reaching up for his cap. "You really are oblivious! There never was a Brutus! He's a fake! Look at my face! Take a good long look!"
He threw the cap to the ground, and for the very first time, Anita saw every distinct feature about him. The hardened face, the evil green eyes . . . It was Gatelin.
"There we are!" he mocked. "Now that we're on the same page! I knew dying my hair black might throw off immediate suspicion, but I've got to tell you, I was so delighted how easy it was to pull the wool over everyone's eyes! And your aunt!"
He threw back his head and laughed maniacally. "Nothing personal. For a clueless windbag, she really wasn't that bad of a woman!"
A ripple of anger crossed Anita's face as she stared up at him, still pulling herself back from him. But with every wrench backwards, he took a step forwards, weapon at ready.
"Why are you doing this to me?!" Anita shouted at him. "What is it you want?!"
"I want to kill you."
"Because it isn't enough that Roger Wheatley died! That's not enough for me!" He bellowed, "I had never once been caught in my life before! I was one of the best thieves the world has ever seen! Until your damn father tried to be a hero! My reputation was lost! I became another robber among robbers! And for that, Roger Wheatley and his family must suffer!"
She screamed and tried to jerk her body back. But the ground underneath her hands had vanished. She fell into the earth, screaming in horror. She landed at the bottom of the grave, the air nearly knocked out of her. She weakly opened her eyes and stared up at the darkening sky.
This was a nightmare. It had to be. None of this could be real. But no matter how hard she pinched herself, she wasn't going to wake up.
Gatelin's silhouette appeared above, staring down at her menacingly.
"Well, I had intended to cut you up into pieces, but I suppose you deserve being buried alive too. That sounds fun. Maybe it won't be as entertaining as the other plans I had for you, but we'll work it out."
The dirt started to pile in. Anita tried to move, but the blow from the fall had paralyzed her. All she could do was watched helplessly as he slung dirt into the grave--her grave.
I'm going to die.
Tears were streaking down the sides of her face. She was going to die here and no one would know. And worst of all, her aunt and father would go unavenged.
Just then, a wind picked up through the trees. A whisper of voices descended upon the area. Anita could hear them all around her, like someone's lips were moving right next to her ears. She only caught bits and pieces, but they were saying things.
Avery Gatelin heard them as well. He dropped the shovel he'd left by the grave he'd dug himself and frowned, trying to discern what the whispers were.
Nothing directly answered him. If anything, the whispers grew in number, but maintained their soft presence. A glowing white light hit the tree by the grave, causing Gatelin to whirl around. His jaw dropped and his eyes bugged.
There was a man dressed in black armor and robes with long white hair stained with blood. He was wielding a wicked black scythe layered with skulls and a blade that seemed to ring with the song of death. He was glowing a bright light, floating in midair, his clothes waving about him as if in water.
"Wh--what the hell are you?!" Avery gasped, swiftly picking up his machete.
"Avery Gatelin," the spirit spoke in a ghostly breath, "Liar. Thief. Murderer. These charges are brought against you before the court of hell. How do you plead?"
"What?!" Gatelin demanded. "What do you mean, how do I plead? There's no court here! You're another friend of that brat, aren't you?! I'll shut you up for good!"
In her grave, Anita could hear everything being said, but she could see nothing. She was shocked to hear that the spirit had arrived, but relieved.
Maybe she had a fighting chance now.
Meanwhile, Gatelin swung his machete at the entity, burying it in the spirit's left shoulder.
"Ha! How do you like that, eh?!"
The spirit's icy blue eyes traveled to the machete as though it was an insect on his clothes. And with a single swat, he struck the blade off to the side, too far away for Gatelin to reach. The fugitive gaped at the creature before him.
The spirit's arm shot out and seized Gatelin by the throat, lifting him clean off the ground. And in a voice that rivaled the polar caps in coldness, he said,
He threw Gatelin's body into the air like a rag doll and swung his magnificent scythe. There was a flash and Gatelin's body landed on the ground in two pieces. The watch that he'd been wearing thudded to the ground, still attached to his wrist. It read in bright green numbers, 7:37 p.m.
Avery Gatelin opened his eyes and stared at the spirit, wondering if anything had happened at all.
"Your soul belongs to the court of hell," the spirit told Gatelin.
The bank robber looked down at his hands and discovered he could see right through them. He gave a scream of anguish, and a swirl of wind resembling skeletons swept at him, catching him up into the air. He and his terrified screams vanished into thin air.
Anita heard nothing. She stared up at the quiet night sky, shivering from the cool air.
The spirit gestured with his pale hand. Anita's body was jerked up as though several people had seized her limbs and thrown her out of the grave. She landed gently on the ground before the spirit, who hovered before her, his eyes glued to hers.
"A penny for a soul. It is done. The life which is now granted to you is cut in half. On your deathbed, I will come to collect your soul and take it to hell where you shall stay for one hundred years. Afterwards, you will spend five hundred years living and dying in this world to repent of your transgression."
Anita could hardly say two words. She couldn't believe what had truly transpired. It was over. Her father and aunt were avenged. And she was alive. She could stop running. No more hiding. She was free.
The girl rose to her feet before the spirit as he began to fade from existence. She thought him to be incredible, like a savior that had salvaged her life when all hope had been lost.
She wiped her eyes clean of dirt and tears, saying gratefully, "I will give you all the money I have in my bank account just to know your name."
"I'm afraid . . . I only accept change."
Anita fought to keep from laughing at his final last words as he disappeared into the night. The whispers that had been circling the cemetary the entire time grew louder and louder until a rattling gasp uttered one word for her to hear.
She blinked several times, not sure she had heard correctly. "A--nnijo? Is that--?"
Her brown pools widened in understandment. A smile came upon her lips. Even though she had given up her soul to be punished, the spirit of Shizuka Grove had granted her a chance at a new life. Even though it was only half a chance.
Anita Wheatley was true to her word. She took every dollar she had in the bank shortly after and had it all exchanged into pennies. She herself poured every cent into the well. The spirit of Shizuka did not appear to her, but a week later, she won every cent back and 92 million yen in the Japanese lottery, equal to that of about one million US dollars. Anita went on to get her Master's degree in law and practiced it avidly until her death at age 46.
No one knows what happened to the body of Avery Gatelin. It vanished on the night Anita Wheatley was attacked and has yet to be found to this day. However, it is said that on the anniversary of the night Wheatley was attacked, his screams of absolute fright can be heard, as if he were being tortured endless cycle upon endless cycle.