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.
Makura Sarutobi was dead. It was all over the high school. Some were shocked, some regrettably couldn't be surprised at the news. Sarutobi was usually a quiet student who studied by himself, very intrigued with Japanese history, as well as world history. It was not uncommon to find him sitting in a computer room, scanning over information regarding artifacts or the latest archeological find.
But that was all put to rest now, along with the high honor student, in the grave in which his casket was lowered. And all the Sarutobi family could do was stand by and mourn. Makura's parents were both respectable doctors, known by many, who had only two children: Makura and Ichizu.
Ichizu Sarutobi was only twelve, and watching his seventeen year old brother being laid to rest was traumatic for him just as it was for his parents. Ichizu heard his mother sob into his father's shoulder as they turned away, the light rain starting to come down harder. Ichizu couldn't tear himself away yet. After all, this was his fault.
Recently, the Sarutobi family had been coming along rather well in the world. Everyone had put on a happy face and was more than willing to embrace this life they'd earned--except Makura. At first, Ichizu hadn't noticed anything different about his brother until two months ago. And then it all spiraled down to this--his suicide.
Makura's grades had begun to drop, and he stayed shut up in his room, away from his family even. He didn't come for dinner, and a few times, Ichizu had thought he'd heard his older sibling sobbing behind the bedroom door. Then Makura's personality began to change. He was often irritable, or in despair. Up until two weeks ago, Ichizu's family had no idea why.
Until that fateful day when Ichizu had had no grade school that particular day due to some unexpected mechanical problems. So while Makura was out, Ichizu snuck into his room, hoping to find something that would explain his brother's abrupt change in behavior. With their parents gone to their jobs, Ichizu was free to snoop through Makura's things as long as he wanted. It was then that he happened upon a black journal with his older brother's name in it.
The journal was at least a year old according to the date. Upon flipping through it, Ichizu found out just exactly what was happening. As it would turn out, the school that Makura went to had an excessively outrageous math teacher. And by excessively outrageous, meaning that this teacher had no problem publicly picking on Makura because he was different.
One of the journal entries showed that six months ago, this math teacher openly mocked Makura in class because he didn't understand math like the rest of the students. Many remarks were unkind, to be polite. Sometimes the teacher confiscated things of Makua's that hadn't even been in use. It was just so hateful. Ichizu had no idea teachers were allowed to act like that. He was abusing his power and trying to bring Makura down.
Ichizu never said anything to Makura about it, but he did try to explain to his parents what was going on. However, they wouldn't listen to him, a twelve year old, speak about Makura's teachers in such a way. They were convinced it was something he overheard or had fabricated as a way to pin Makura's death on someone other than Makura. And at this point, seeing his parents like this, Ichizu didn't have the heart to show them the journal.
Ichizu's soft brown eyes were staring at the hole in the ground, the guilt rising in his chest. If only he had done something to stop it, then maybe Makura wouldn't have hung himself. Maybe everything could have been resolved somehow. But instead, he chose to either remain silent, or give up on the two people that didn't listen. And that teacher . . . he'd just do the same thing to someone else's big brother . . .
Grade school couldn't have nearly been as hard as what high school was, but Ichizu Sarutobi was numb to the world around him. It was just a blur now. By asking some friends at the funeral, Ichizu had learned the name of the math teacher, and judging by his questions, they understood that he understood.
"Makura's math teacher?" Takatsu, one of Makura's few friends, had said. "Yeah, the whole high school knows who that--guy, is. Korakasa Miramaza."
"He's such a jerk to everyone, but he really did the worst to Makura."
"Yeah, that's got to be really low. You know, the gym teacher's hard on everybody, but he didn't single somebody out like Miramaza did."
"I never did understand why Makura. I mean, he was a geek, no offense. You know, the teachers like to get onto the slackers and whatnot. But, Miramaza was hard on him."
Ichizu got a good look at the math teacher earlier today. He had came out to yell at the high school students talking with Ichizu about Makura.
"Hey! All of you! Why don't you get to class? What is the matter with kids these days?"
Takatsu jerked his thumb over his shoulder as an indication to Ichizu, Yeah, that's him. As Makura's friends headed towards the high school, Miramaza glanced over at the remaining grade school boy, as if to rebuke him also. That was when Ichizu gave him the iciest stare a twelve year old could muster, and he made a vow to get back at him.
He jerked out of his dark memory, his brown eyes alarmed at the sight of a little girl sitting across the lunch table from him. She giggled at his expression and reached across, ruffling his short black hair.
"What are you so deep in thought about?"
"Ayame?" Ichizu blinked, recognizing the girl he'd had a crush on since kindergarten. "What are you doing over here?"
"Well, you looked kind of lonely sitting over here all by yourself . . ."
"I was just thinking, that's all."
"Oh," she said, half rising from the bench. "Do you want me to leave?"
"No, no!" he said quickly, urging her to remain there. "Please, stay!"
Ayame seated herself down and opened up her lunch box, pulling out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with some applesauce and a little juice box. As she took a bite out of it, Ichizu couldn't help but stare. She just had a pretty face like that. She had big brown eyes that thought too kindly of the world, and her dark brown hair was kinked on either side of her head with barrettes, making her look even more angelic.
He jerked out of his daydream. "Y-yeah?"
"I'm really sorry about your brother."
He glanced away from her, sadness returning to his countenance. He said nothing.
Unsure if she should continue or not, Ayame put her sandwich down and stated, "I've heard some rotten things about that math teacher from my big sister."
Surprised at her comment, Ichizu redirected his focus back to her. "Yeah? I talked with Makura's friends at the funeral. And . . . I found a journal of his too."
Her brown eyes got bigger. "Really? What was in it?"
Ichizu shook his head. "Some stuff. But, why are you talking to me about this now?"
She hesitated. "Because . . . I heard my sister talking with some of her friends about . . ."
She finally admitted to him, "About a well."
Ichizu's eyebrows furrowed. "A well? What does that have to do with anything?"
"You mean Makura never told you any scary ghost stories before?"
Ichizu shifted uncomfortably, remembering all too well the time Makura had convinced him there was a monster tapping the floor underneath his bed, waiting for the right moment to snatch him from under the covers. It turned out to be a mouse pattering across the bedroom floor.
"So," Ayame stared, "you haven't heard about the Shizuka Grove then?"
Ichizu shook his head.
"The Shizuka Grove is an abandoned collection of trees just outside Tokyo that is said to house an abandoned well. And that well is inhabited by a spirit."
"Yes. I heard my sister say that if you take a yen, toss it into the well and prick your finger, the spirit rises up from the well and it will kill the person whose name you tell it to kill."
Ichizu was sure his face was pallid. His tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth. Was it true? Could this really be possible? Was there a way for Makura's soul to rest in peace?
"Where--where did you say this well was?"
Ayame bit her lower lip. "Shizuka Grove. I'm sure of it. That's a short taxi ride from here. But--you're not actually thinking about trying it, are you?"
"I'll see you tomorrow, Ayame." Ichizu stood up from the table and packed up his lunchbox, turning away from her.
Was it true? This phantom that lived in the middle of nowhere? It sounded like the perfect setting for a spirit to reside. He hoped so. Otherwise, all of this was for nothing.
Ichizu clutched the single yen in his coat pocket tightly, hoping that it wasn't just a stupid ghost story. But it had been Ayame's older sister who had mentioned it. Ayame's sister wasn't superstitious. There had to be something to the description.
"We're almost there, kid," the taxi driver called over his shoulder. "Uh, you sure you should be out here all by yourself?"
"I just need to visit a site for five minutes, then I'll go back home." Ichizu glanced out the window at the dark sky, frowning. He had lied to his parents before about little things, but this was a new one. He had convinced them he was going to sleep the night over at a friend's house. But if he showed back up early, he could tell them that he'd had to cancel and everything would right itself.
"Whoo," the cabbie commented as they pulled off the main road onto a dirt path heavily laden with trees. Against the night sky in which no stars were visible, they seemed to be towering giants with claws. "You know that no one's owned this place in almost two hundred years?"
"Two hundred?" Ichizu leaned forward, eager for information.
"Yep. And before that, it was government owned. This grove's been standing for at least seven hundred years, protected by ancient lords in Tokyo, back when there wasn't a Tokyo and it was called Edo instead. Some say that the Imperial Family visited this site on occasion."
"Wow, the Imperial Family?"
"Uh-huh. My grandpa owns a shrine close by here. Maybe you've heard of it? It's called the Hakura Shrine?"
"Um . . . no. But then again, I haven't been outside of Tokyo much."
"Well, stop by for a visit! Tell him Jinicho sent you. I'll bet he'll be happy to tell you all about this place. In fact, he's had his eye on this land since he was in his thirties. He's scrimping and saving to buy it for our family. Heaven knows why."
The taxi cab was starting to slow down despite the fact they were already going at a slow pace due to potholes and fallen branches.
"Well, we're about here!" the cabbie announced.
Ichizu peered out through the windshield from the backseat and saw in the brightness of the headlights a silhouette that revealed an old square well that stuck out of the ground in the darkness.
"Can you turn the lights out? I don't think he'll like them."
"Huh?" the cab driver blinked, watching the young boy clamber out into the night. "Turn the lights off? What, is he looking for a lost cat or something?"
Ichizu swallowed hard and started forward, even as the headlights on the car dimmed and faded out, casting the boy in darkness. A faint wind was blowing through the trees, an eerie shiver traveling up Ichizu's spine. But that did not stop him from pulling out the yen and the small pocket knife in his coat. He stopped at the mouth of the well and dared to look inside. It was mere darkness, nothing more.
Ichizu took a deep breath and threw the yen down inside the well. He listened and listened, wondering if he had missed the splash when he finally heard it. He gulped; it was a long way down. He held his hand out and sliced a little finger open. And then he waited. And waited.
"What is that kid doing?" the cabbie asked himself, watching from inside the taxi. "I'd better go get him and take him back home."
The man started to get out of the taxi, calling out to the boy, "Hey! Boy! I think you've spent enough time out here looking for your cat. We'd better get you back."
Ichizu heard him, but wasn't willing to leave just yet. He stood there, hoping that it wasn't all a story. It had to be true. It just had to be.
"Come on, boy! Your parents have to be worried!"
Ichizu whirled around, frustrated. He couldn't believe he had fallen for something like this. He wanted so badly to believe in a world unseen and it had only made him out to be a fool!
"Alright, hurry up!" the cabbie motioned. "That's right. I think you'd better try again--"
The cabbie's eyes got real big as a bright shining light illuminated his face and entire body. Ichizu saw the light on the cabbie and pivoted back towards the well, his little jaw dropping.
Manifesting before the two was the silhouette of a being, shining with a light like that of radiant white. It was hovering above the well, the long black robes and black fantasy-like armor adding an impressive air to it. The hair was floating about around the hips, solid white and spattered with blood. And the eyes were an ice blue that saw nothing in front of them.
"Holy--holy--" the cab driver choked. And all at once, he jumped back into the car and started the engine. The lights flashed on and the wheels squealed as the cab driver backed up and turned around, spraying mud on the little boy as he vanished down the dirt road.
Ichizu lowered his arms, trembling where he stood as the spirit floated towards him, the glow illuminating trees nearby.
"Wh--what do you want?!" Ichizu stammered.
The spirit rested before him, the blue eyes penetrating his brown ones. And to Ichizu's surprise, it spoke in a hollow voice like the wind.
"A yen for the life of one soul, this I am to understand?"
Ichizu swallowed a little of his fear and stuttered a reply, "Y-yes."
"A word of caution, I speak to you. I will kill one soul whose name springs from your lips. I will drag their soul to hell where they will spend an eternity of suffering according to their crimes. However, in exchange for taking this life, you who cast the yen will live only half your normal life. I will come at your death and escort you to hell where you must spend one hundred years for the soul you damned. After your one hundred years is over, you will be born into this world again for five hundred years in lives most miserable in order to atone for what you have done."
Ichizu's big brown eyes were the size of dinner plates. That detail had been left out. No one had told him that there would be repercussions.
"Are you not a little young to be cutting your life in half?"
Ichizu gasped at the direct question. Up until now, it had been like listening to a toy robot, but now, it seemed perhaps there might have been life to the spirit after all.
"But--!" Ichizu clenched his little fists together, speaking to the looming man. "But my older brother! My older brother's life was cut in half! All because of a teacher! He was picked on so much that he hung himself at school!!"
The spirit's blank expression remained unchanged.
"And my parents won't listen to me!" Ichizu lowered his head, momentarily forgetting his fear. He was remembering why he was here in the first place. "I even have a journal to prove it all, but no one wants to believe me! Or Makura! I wish I would've remembered to bring it, but I was so worried about this part that--"
"I can hear your brother's spirit in the wind," the man interrupted.
"Sarutobi Makura. That is his name. He must repeat the offense he committed until his soul is released from the vessel that houses his spirit. He speaks, and I hear him plead for your soul."
"What? My--my brother's talking to you, right now?!" Ichizu gasped, his attention locked onto the man before him.
"His last wishes are that you leave my side and return to your home."
"N-no!" Ichizu argued, taking a firm stand. "All those things that teacher did . . . who's going to stop him from doing it to someone else's big brother or sister? I may not know a lot or understand everything, but I do know that if I run away now, I'll live with this shame forever, because it's my fault I didn't say anything beforehand!"
The spirit stood there, unmoving. "The choice is yours."
"Miramaza! Miramaza Korakasa!!" Ichizu cried, determined not to change his mind.
The spirit closed his ice blue eyes and hovered there for the longest time. Ichizu wondered if the ghost had perhaps gone to sleep or if he was meditating on the name.
"Miramaza Korakasa," the spirit said at last, opening his eyes. "The liar. The schemer. The tormentor. His life is paid for. He will die tomorrow morning at 7:14 a.m. and I will drag his soul to hell."
And the apparition vanished in a wisp of smoke into the night air.
It was Tuesday morning, and Ichizu Sarutobi was weary from his long trek home. Since the taxi driver had bailed on him, Ichizu had been forced to walk home from the Shizuka Grove, the words of the spirit engraved on his mind far into the early morning hours. He couldn't believe half the things the spirit had told him, especially about his brother being able to talk to him. Did all spirits do that, or was that just a privilage for that spirit alone?
Ichizu slowed as he came close by the high school where his brother went to, staring wistfully at the tree where Makura usually sat and read his books. It just wasn't going to be the same without him around.
"Excuse me, young man?"
Ichizu glanced up at the one who had spoken a short distance away. It appeared to be a teacher arriving at the high school early. She was dressed in a yellow dress and flowery patterns of blue up and down along it. She had naturally red hair and wore glasses. In her arms was a stack of books for the lessons she taught. He could read quite clearly A Study of Japanese History along the spine of one.
"What are you doing here? You don't really go to school here, do you?" she inquired.
"N-no. But--my brother did."
"Well, who's your brother? Maybe I know him."
He hesitated. "Sarutobi Makura."
Her face paled, and suddenly the air between them thickened.
"Oh, I'm so sorry. You must be his little brother he told me about."
"Makura talked about me?" Ichizu stared.
"Of course he did! Well, I don't mean to brag, but I am happy to say that Makura told me lots of things I'm sure he didn't tell anyone else. You see, I'm Ms. Ryoshi, Makura's history teacher."
She glanced him up and down, shaking her head. "What happened to you, sweetheart? Why are you covered in mud?"
Ichizu had come up with an infallible story for that. "I was walking down the street and a truck drove by too fast and splashed me."
"Oh dear. Well, I've got an idea. Why don't you come with me to my class real quick and we'll clean you up? Anyway, I have something I need to give to you from Makura."
Puzzled, Ichizu followed Ms. Ryoshi into the building and stayed close to her so that she wouldn't round a corner and disappear on accident. The halls were pretty empty seeing as how it was too early for students to show up, but this didn't comfort Ichizu too much.
Ms. Ryoshi unlocked her room and allowed the by inside, placing her textbooks down on the desk. She went to the storage closet to fish for some paper towels while Ichizu glanced the room around. It was pretty normal for a history room with posters and whatnot all around. His eyes caught sight of the clock hanging on the far wall, which read 7:07 a.m.
With a chill, he remembered the spirit's prophecy and wondered where Miramaza was right now. Was he at home, preparing for another day for which he would no longer teach? Was he riding his car there even now?
"Here we are, dear," Mr. Ryoshi wiped the mud clean from Ichizu's face and did her best to clean his clothes off, but it had dried already.
"Make sure and get it all off when you go home, okay?"
He nodded, and she walked over to the first desk positioned right there in front of hers. She opened it up only to discover that it was empty.
"Hmm, that's strange. Maybe I forgot to give it to him?"
"What was it, Ms. Ryoshi?" Ichizu asked curiously.
"Oh, it was something I wanted to give to your brother before he left us. I thought it would make him happy. I noticed that he wasn't himself . . ."
Ichizu's throat went dry at the guilt that he felt for all of this. He needed a drink of water just to speak, so he asked the history teacher politely, "Is there a water fountain close by?"
"Oh!" She looked up from her desk, pointing outside. "Go down the hall and turn the corner. There should be one on the right."
"Thank you, Ms. Ryoshi."
Ichizu exited the room and followed her directions exactly, finding the fountain immediately. The hall was deserted save for another lone clock at the very end of the hall, ticking down the time to the start of school.
Ichizu bent over and took a couple sips to clear his throat when he heard a distant pair of shoes coming from an annexed hall. He saw a male silhouette coming down the hall in his direction, and stood up straight, alarmed at the familiar face.
The man came to a stop in front of Ichizu, glaring at him at though he were an insect. Make no mistake, that sour look. It was Makura's math teacher, Miramaza.
"What is a filthy little brat like you doing running up and down the halls at this time of day? I can't even come to the high school before hours without having some rat scamper across my path!"
Ichizu gritted his teeth. "You're Miramaza, the teacher that killed my brother!"
He scoffed. "Don't tell me you're related to that mutt Sarutobi? And for your information, I deserve a little more respect than that! Though, judging by your choice taste in . . . well, whatever you call that, I can tell now that you must belong to a family of dogs! Or pigs, in lieu."
Ichizu's fist was quivering at his side. Now he was receiving a sample of what Makura had to put up with every weekday of his life. And he was glad that Miramaza was going to get exactly what was coming to him.
All of the sudden, a chorus of whispers broke out in the hall. The sunlight slowly vanished from the windows down the other hall, darkening the atmosphere as though it were early night. The windows started to violently open and slam shut. Papers whirled around and around with unexplained gusts of wind.
"What's going on?!" Miramaza demanded, his dark eyes scrutinizing for any signs of a giveaway. He thought a prank was being played on him.
"The spirit!" Ichizu breathed.
"What?!" Miramaza spat.
The teacher and the boy both gaped at the image forming behind them in the middle of the long hall. It was a shining white man clad in black armor and robes, the blood in his hair making Miramaza shudder in his polished shoes. His ice blue eyes cut deep into the math teacher, as though he could see everything inside him.
"Who--who the hell are you?!" Miramaza shrieked, his eyes bugging. "What are you?!"
"I am Annijo, the spirit of Shizuka."
And before their very eyes, a giant scythe of black skulls and a blade that sang the song of death manifested in his hand.
"A ghost?! That's preposterous!" Miramaza cried, despite his shaking legs. "What do you want with me?!"
His ice blue eyes cut knowingly into Miramaza's fearful dark ones. "Liar. Schemer. Torturer. These charges are brought before you in the court of hell. How do you plead?"
"Say what?! Not guilty! I've done no such thing!"
"Have not?!" The spirit thundered, causing the glass to break in the windows. "Then I call upon the presiding judge of the court, Honor Mazal and a jury of twelve peers!"
The hall morphed into an ugly black mass, distorted and shocking. Twelve skeletons in long robes of black appeared standing off to the side, their sockets hollow and vacant. A looming figure standing behind Annijo of Shizuka remained as such, never revealing the identity. It spoke in a voice distinct from Annijo and crisply.
"Present your evidence, Spirit Slayer."
Annijo waved his hand and a wisp of smoke unveiled a mirror that showed dozens of images relating to instances between Makura and Miramaza. All of them showed the hateful, unforgiving side of the teacher that Ichizu knew so well.
"I cast Exhibit B for your disposal," the white haired spirit snapped his fingers and Ichizu realized that Makura's journal had just formed in front of their eyes. The spirit of Shizuka threw it over his shoulder and the black figure caught it, opening the pages.
"Hmm. I see. Present to the jury. And will that be all for evidence?"
"I could show more," the spirit said coldly, "but I believe these two items scream for themselves."
The journal was passed about through the jury of twelve skeletons, who then allowed Annijo to take it back, their skulls turning to stare at Miramaza with their empty black sockets.
"Does the defendant have anything to present in his defense?" the judge inquired with an amused tone, as though expecting a show.
"I--I was hard on him, yes!" Miramaza stammered, his mind on the border of sanity. "I--I wanted him to be better than he already was! You can't possibly expect results from pampering like what his history teacher did!"
"Objection," Annijo said icily, in a quiet tone. "Sequence three of the Instance of Sarutobi Makura obviously contradicts this. Let the court mark the statement of Miramaza Korakasa, 'You are utterly hopeless. An old dog can learn a trick or two, but not if they are dogs of Sarutobi.' This clearly indicates the defendant has no intention to constructively criticize, but a malicious intent to engage the deceased Sarutobi Makura in a game of mind play."
The veiled judge nodded in response. "Closing arguments?"
"You have to believe me!" Miramaza pleaded with the twelve robed skeletons. "I--I'll change! I can! I'll do anything you want!"
Annijo took over from there, talking over the babbling.
"The defendant cannot change the fact that he committed these crimes and hastened the death of said decedent. Punishment shall be as agreed upon with Sarutobi Ichizu, younger sibling to the decedent. If the court finds him guilty, I will drag his soul to hell and he will be rewarded with what seeds of scorn he sowed."
Miramaza's head jerked towards Ichizu, who had been standing off to the side unnoticed by any being until just now.
"You did this to me?!" he screamed in fury. "I'll kill you! I'll kill you!!"
Chains shot up from the ground and bound Miramaza before he could snatch Ichizu up. They seemed to be red hot, as though fresh out of a fire. Ichizu covered his ears at the sound of the shrieks that Miramaza made. But no one else seemed to hear them.
"Members of the jury," the judge said, "how do you find the defendant?"
The skeletons opened their mouths and said in a horrific voice unanimously, "Guilty."
Annijo's scythe flashed, and he drove it through Miramaza's body. Ichizu gasped at the sight of the spirit of the math teacher standing over his body before the court of hell. The jury of skeletons screeched and seized ahold of Miramaza's spirit, vanishing into thin air.
"Case adjourned." The judge's eye gleamed at the sight of the spirit of Shizuka whose back was to him. "Proceed with your duties, Spirit Slayer."
The morphed surroundings returned to a normal hallway. The slamming windows were still and the whispers were quieting. The wind died and the papers laid on the floor. There was no sign of Miramaza or his body anywhere before Ichizu. The spirit of Shizuka was gone. Ichizu was all alone in the middle of the hall.
On the clock at the end of the hall, the time read 7:14 a.m.
Ichizu Sarutobi did show the journal to his parents. They immediately sued the school for negligence and won their case, acquiring over 4 million yen ($50,000 US). Their story was aired on a Japanese new station as an inspirational story to all high schools around the world. The Sarutobi started a foundation in memory of Makura, and four years later, to his younger brother, Ichizu, who lost his life in a car accident deemed not his fault.
Miramaza Korakasa was last sighted arriving on the school premises by a video camera, but was never shown leaving. His body was never found and he is presumed dead.