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.
Mimi Taizuka's family was in peril. Their family owned koi fish business was on the brink of collapse. And it was no freak accident. The once healthy fish were sickly and dying. And worse yet, the cause had been determined as the koi herpes virus, or KHV. Infected fish had sloughing of the skin and deteriorating gills and died suddenly.
The Taizuka had always provided their fish with a perfect filtration system and beneficial living environments. And they always had their fish checked through a laboratory. Now, out of the blue, every one of their prize koi was dropping dead with a virus the Taizuka's fought to keep out of their specially designed ponds.
As Mimi soon discovered, it had not been the new batch of koi they’d imported, because new additions were always isolated for at least a week and a half, and they had shown no signs of the illness. No, the cause of all of this did not even lie with an infected fish at all, but one man: Hidemari Bakyun.
Not surprisingly, Hidemari Bakyun was a business rival when it came to koi. He was also known to be a sleazeball and cheater to those who had come up short doing business with him. So last week when he’d shown up at the Taizuka fish farm, needless to say, everyone was suspicious.
His beady eyes and slicked hair screamed con man. Aside from koi, Hidemari was also into the hobby of smoking. So it wasn’t unusual to see one sticking out of his mouth as he strode forward and stated that he was there “on business.” That business was concluded shortly, when Mimi’s father asked him to leave.
Mimi had watched the man turn away from her, put out his cigarette, and then linger at the edge of one of the ponds. It wasn’t until later that she had found an empty vial along one of the paths. She had thought nothing of it at the time, and regrettably, threw it away. But after all of this had happened, she was able to piece it all together. Hidemari Bakyun had poured a solution containing the virus into one of the ponds to ruin their fall harvest. And it had worked.
With no proof, the Taizuka’s could do little to point the finger. And worst of all, this year wasn’t the first time the koi had been sabotaged. This year’s collection was supposed to have been the ones that were to save the business, but now, their last chance was ruined.
The toll on the family was hard. The Taizuka’s had had to cut their budget in order to keep up with their fish stock. Not to mention the mental anguish it caused her parents. Her mother was afraid to lose their beautiful home. Her father was afraid of losing his reputation. But their true love was for the koi fish, something that had actually brought them together to become Mimi’s parents.
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Mimi had asked in frustration to her father, his head bowed in defeat at his study desk.
He’d lifted his head to gaze at her from behind his glasses. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I don’t think Daddy’s going to get us out of this one.”
Mimi had heard the stories from high school. The stories of the Shizuka Grove. Up until now, she had dismissed them as senior ghost stories to scare the freshmen, and she’d put them to the back of her mind for three years. Now she herself was a senior in high school, and the tales of Shizuka Grove were still around.
Mimi Taizuka stood before the well in broad daylight, the sun shining between the few cirrus clouds blowing high across the sky like horse tail hairs. It was pleasant weather for fall, and the turning leaves accented her chestnut colored hair, two blue barrettes holding it back from her face. She was still in her blue and white school uniform, her backpack in hand.
She dropped it to the ground and gripped the single yen in her right palm, swallowing hard. Some students said the Shizuka spirit only came out at night, others said they’d seen it on completely sunny days like this. She knew what was at stake. Harumi from Ag class had told her friends that the spirit specifically stated damning a person to hell cut the caster’s life in half. And then they were taken to hell for one hundred years, then born into the world in horrible lives for five hundred years.
Though Harumi was adamant that she had not gone through with it, she still wore a strange look on her face whenever people asked her about it.
Mimi approached the well, glancing over her shoulder at her silver Toyota Prius, wondering if she should just get back in the car and leave. Is this how desperate she was? Had she been driven this far as to come all the way out here all for the sake of a ghost story? Her home was fifty miles from here. Gas wasn’t exactly cheap, and with the business going down the drain, Mimi was becoming more and more morbidly terrified that they would lose everything they had.
This, and this alone, kept her from moving away from the well. She took a deep breath and flipped the yen down into the dark well. She listened and listened for the coin to hit the water, counting the seconds. It was nine before she heard anything splash, and even then, she wasn’t sure if it was just her imagination.
Mimi bit her thumb and squeezed the drop of blood into the mouth of the bottomless well. Only then did she dare to hope there was indeed a spirit. She waited, and waited. A strange wind blew through the trees. She thought she heard voices in the breeze, but dismissed that as mind tricks.
“H-hello?” she called, her frame trembling. “Sp--spirit?”
She peered down into the dark, gulping. Her brown eyes squinted, and watched as a small, fragile looking wisp of smoke began to seep up from the well, as though a weak fire were below. Before her very eyes manifested a humanoid form, a bright light surrounding him that nearly rivaled the shining sun above them.
It was a man dressed in elegant black armor and black robes. His hair was long and white, spattered with blood as though he’d murdered someone lately. His face was pearly and thin, an ice blue eye peeking out at her from behind the strands of snow.
Her jaw dropped at the sight of him. The spirit of Shizuka was real. He was here.
“A yen for the soul of one creature, this I am to understand?”
He spoke like the hollow wind with almost no emotion. He seemed so very far away to her though he hovered there, his robes and hair floating as though in water.
“Y-yes,” Mimi forced herself to reply. “I--I know what will happen to me. My life will be cut in half and you’ll take me to hell for a hundred years.”
“And your soul will be reincarnated for five hundred years in an endless cycle of despair for what you have done.”
“But--if I don’t--” Mimi choked, refusing to the look spirit in the eye, “--then my home? My family? We’ll lose it all!”
“Is life really that precious to you?” the spirit inquired softly.
Her head jerked up. “What? What do you mean? Of course it is! I--I only get to live this life for so long.”
“Life is meaningless,” the spirit stated in a lukewarm tone. “Only in death do mortals realize how little it amounts to the eternal existence of a soul.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Mimi’s eyebrows furrowed.
“Speak the name of that you wish to damn.”
Mimi’s lip tightened, and her tone was cold. “Hidemari Bakyun.”
The spirit fell eerily silent, just staring at her for the longest time. Mimi’s mind was racing. Had she forgotten an important detail? Was there something she’d neglected to do? She didn’t know, but it was uncomfortable to stand there before this spirit while he gazed at her with such a lifeless expression . . .
“Um . . . ?”
“Hidemari Bakyun,” the spirit said at last in that same listless tone. “The liar. The swindler. The coveter. His soul has been paid for. One week from today, at 10:21 a.m., he will die and I will drag his soul to hell.”
“A week from today?!” Mimi gasped as he started to fade into the wind.
“So it shall be done.”
The spirit of Shizuka vanished.
The watery grave awaited him as it always did in the deepest recesses at the bottom of the well, next to the portal to hell. In the next instant, all was black, and then a world that no living being had laid eyes on emerged before his ice blue eyes.
He was suddenly standing in the middle of a fiery battlefield where burning skeletons scorched by the fire were battling one another ferociously, demonic creatures randomly attacking those that dwelled here, sparing none in their wake.
The spirit of Shizuka traveled amongst them towards the great castle in this wasteland, as though he saw nothing. A demon in the form of a towering black hound turned its burning red eyes at him and roared, saliva flying from its vice-like jaws. It thundered at him, snarling. He never once looked at it. Instead, it vanished in a spray of blood and fell, only to be devoured by others like it.
Before the castle was a giant curtain wall, but instead of gates to keep the battlefield occupants out, there was a decayed, rotting dragon wedged in between the walls. Its breath was putrid. Those close to it were consumed like being bathed in acid. But the spirit of Shizuka remained undaunted. He stood before the behemoth, and it turned its half eroded head at him, glaring.
With one snap, it swallowed the spirit of Shizuka whole, and all was black. Suddenly, he was standing upright on the bank within a dark cavern before a river. There was a small boat waiting for him there, and a crippled figure standing at the helm.
“Take me to Honor Mazal’s estate,” the spirit said blankly, boarding the ferry.
The ferryman said nothing, but the boat pushed away from the bank towards a bend ahead. The river below them was black, like oil. In its depths, there were shimmering remains of lost souls traveling forever in an endless river that rivaled the Nile in length.
The bend cast them in darkness, and then the cavern opened up to reveal another castle sitting on a high mount in the middle of the spirit infested river. The lights were an eerie blueish white.
The ferryman pulled the boat over to a bank and the spirit of Shizuka disembarked, not looking back once. The spirit approached a long stretch of stairs that wound up to the castle, quite aware of the low growls that lurked behind the rock-like formations all around him.
As the front of the castle grew close, he noticed an unusual bright, warm light that hell knew not of. It was in front of the Second Manor, and the spirit was certain there was another there without even having to inquire as to why. They were here.
The spirit of Shizuka drew closer to the front of the looming castle where the golden light was emanating. He had forgotten that it was time for the meeting again, but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t interested in what their dealings were. All he cared about was his own predicament.
The spirit of Shizuka passed by the intense light. As he did, it cast warmth into his cold form, but he ignored it, the figure in front of him being of more import.
“Ah . . .” the man before him smirked. “Why is it that no matter how many times you walk past me that I don’t get sick of seeing your face? Well? Anozazi Annijo?”
The man that was speaking directly to the spirit was a tall man with seemingly black hair, but closer inspection revealed it was actually a dark navy blue. He was dressed in fine robes with elegant pins and a wicked smile. It was like looking at a colorful viper.
The shining warm light before the two men shifted, and between the rays of gold, the form of a male human could be seen. His hair was long and golden, his clothes white and blameless. The wings on his back were untouched. And at his side was a priceless masterpiece of a bow. His blue pools had landed on Annijo, who did not return the stare.
“Eyes on me, Gabriel,” the navy haired man gestured. “It’s one thing to have your head in the clouds, but not now while we’re doing business.”
The angel’s face hardened at the sight of the navy haired man.
“Oh? Was that a hint of jealousy I heard?” the navy haired man taunted.
Quick as a flash, a golden arrow exploded into the ground before their feet, and the winged man was gone in a whirl of white feathers. The navy haired man tsked, shaking his head.
“Such tempers! Everyone thinks they’re so sweet, when in reality, they’re just as ruthless as demons!” He cast Annijo a sly countenance. “It’s sad from where I stand. They want your soul so badly, but they can’t have it. It belongs to me.”
“Honor Mazal,” Annijo muttered, as though he hadn’t heard a single word, “I will need my scythe.”
The navy haired man sighed. “Always concerned with business, aren’t you?”
“This coming from the same demon that rebuked an angel?”
Honor Mazal gave a great laugh. “We’re all hypocrites then, aren’t we? But why come all the way down here for something like that? You know as well as I do that the court of hell grants you your weapon at the moment the time for a case comes. Why so early?”
“I wish to travel the sea of time.”
“You know I don’t permit you to go back.”
“I want to go forward.”
Honor Mazal was startled at his request. “How unusual! Why would you want to leap forward?” A thin smile spread across his lips. “I see. I thought your cases had been getting to you. Yes, this recent string of teenagers and children must indeed be taking their toll on you.”
The spirit said nothing in reply to this.
“And rather than wait a few moments here in this place of eternity, you’d rather jump into next week and get it over with. Because that’s only that much longer you have to float around and have that enormous mass of guilt hang over that gorgeous blood spattered head of yours.”
“Am I permitted, or am I not?”
Honor Mazal chuckled. “Always so short with me! Well . . . let’s think for a moment. If I truly did let you leap forward, that’s one week’s worth of loss on your part, Spirit Slayer. Don’t forget you are bound here by a deal from your own mouth.”
“And I suppose that is why I am a man of few words.”
Honor Mazal threw his navy blue head back and gave a mirthful cackle.
“You are indeed exceptional! I don’t believe I’ve ever met a Spirit Slayer quite as comical as you!” His amused tone became a bit more serious. “I’ll let you jump time if that’s what you want. Just because I’m in a good mood. But remember, that is a whole week that you lose out on opportunities to regain your soul back.”
Annijo gave the demon lord a piercing stare, then turned away from him.
“Do you think me a fool, Honor Mazal? Do you think I can’t see how much you want my soul for your own petty amusements?”
“Ah! So you would like to ascend to heaven with the angels?”
This was clearly not the answer that Honor Mazal had been expecting. In fact, a rare look of shock crossed his face.
Annijo of Shizuka paused where he stood.
“I’ve been lurking at the entrance to hell for hundreds of years, looking down at all I see. I have nearly collected half of the currency equal to the amount of blood that was spilled from my body at the moment of my death. Once I have collected all that I need, my soul will be freed from you, but I will not become a pawn for heaven either. I have no interest in your internal uprising, nor God’s plans for the world. I have dragged many souls to hell, and one day, I will drag my own to the deepest pits where I will be destroyed.”
Honor Mazal closed his green eyes as Annijo began to fade into the distance from the Second Manor. That Spirit Slayer was the most intricately delicious subject he’d ever had the pleasure to meet. He was so complicated, so enigmatic. That and that alone made him worthy of the demon’s interest.
Mimi Taizuka was out of school for the holiday, but she was far from relieved. If anything, this whole situation had her perturbed. It was exactly one week to the day that she had visited the spirit at Shizuka Grove. And 10:21 a.m. was three minutes away.
She stared down at one of the many koi ponds out of her window, biting her lower lip. Somewhere in this world, at exactly the right time, Hidemari Bakyun was going to die, and their troubles would be over. It was all impending.
She spotted a red Porsche pulling up to the Taizuka family’s enormous house and gasped. For she recognized the driver of it and was alarmed.
Mimi bolted from her bedroom and raced down two staircases, much to the surprise of her mother, who was in the kitchen making cinnamon rolls.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?” her mother called.
“Uh, mail!” Mimi called over her shoulder, not wanting to upset her mother any more than she already was. If Hidemari was here himself, there was no way it was good news.
The girl flew out the door and raced down the middle of the stone paving to meet the man striding towards her, a paper and briefcase in either hand.
“What are you doing here?” Mimi demanded.
He snorted at her, coming to a stop. “What a brat! Don’t you have any manners whatsoever?”
“I don’t have manners for people that purposely ruin others’ businesses! And that was real low of you to kill our fish!”
He sneered. “I have no idea what you’re talking about!”
“You keep smirking, you creep!” Mimi pointed. “Because in a few seconds, your soul is going to hell where it belongs!”
“Oh, and I suppose you’re going to send me there, huh, kid?”
A grin of her own broke out across Mimi Taizuka’s face. “No, but he is!”
Hidemari heard the sound of the wind pick up, and whispers in the air around him. The warm air turned cold and the sun vanished behind a few thick clouds. He whirled around, and there before him was the spirit of Shizuka, in all of his grisly glory. This time, there was an elegant black scythe of skulls in his hand.
The con man’s jaw dropped, and he was rendered speechless.
“Liar. Swindler. Coveter. These charges are brought before you in the court of hell. How do you plead?”
“What?!” Hidemari choked. “Me? A swindler? A coveter? You must be joking! I’ve never done a bad thing in my life! What happened to those people were misfortunate, but my hand was certainly not involved!”
“Your tongue has indeed woven a web of deceit so tangled that a spider would be shamed to compare itself with your work!” The spirit of Shizuka rammed the butt of his scythe into the ground. “I beseech the court of hell to grant me a judge and a jury of twelve peers!”
The wind turned into a deafening howl, and the whispers changed into screams. Mimi covered her ears and closed her eyes, shuddering. She heard Hidemari shout, and then everything around her was silent.
Daring to open her eyes, Mimi found that she was in a place of darkness where morphed images of eyes and creeping, disgusting creatures assaulted her vision. The spirit of Shizuka was standing before her, and Hidemari was scrunched up of to the side, terrified of the misshapen world they were inside.
Before all of them was a man seated in a throne chair, leering at them with green, green eyes and long dark hair. Mimi glanced off to the side and saw what resembled a jury box with twelve skeletons dressed in long robes, their empty sockets glued onto the spirit.
“Honor Mazal presiding, and a jury of twelve is present,” the man in the throne chair stated. “Opening statements?”
The spirit of Shizuka wasted no time. He told them in a firm voice, “The defendant has pled not guilty to the charges brought against him. But I will prove beyond reasonable doubt that he is indeed guilty.”
Hidemari just squeaked, his mouth hanging wide open.
“I see the defendant is unable to make a statement,” Honor Mazal sighed. “Very well. Continue, Spirit Slayer. Present your evidence.”
The spirit of Shizuka waved his hand, and a wisp of smoke changed into what Mimi recognized as a mirror. But instead of reflecting anyone in its glass, instead, the mirror showed all the crimes that Hidemari had committed, from selling sick fish to novices to dumping the KHV into the Taizuka’s pond--as Mimi had suspected from the start. But still, seeing it for herself was shocking.
“I present the Mirror of Malignance as Exhibit A,” the spirit said hollowly.
“Noted,” Honor Mazal crossed one leg over the other. “Is there anything else of interest you’d like to add insult to injury?”
Mimi’s eyes widened. The judge was apparently convinced of Hidemari’s guilt. Even though the mirror had indeed shown the truth, what bothered her was that the judge seemed bored with this whole trial. It was like he didn’t even care what happened to anyone.
The spirit of Shizuka snapped his fingers and an empty vial appeared in his hand. “This vial is the same one used in the poisoning of the fish population the Taizuka family owns. A vial with the defendant’s fingerprints on it.”
Mimi choked. “How--how did you get that? I threw that away!”
No one answered her. They acted like she wasn’t even present. She wasn’t so sure that was a bad thing in light of the situation.
“I’d like to mark this as Exhibit B. Would the members of the jury kindly see for themselves?”
The vial floated into the bony hands of each skeleton, who looked at it as though they had eyes, then the vial vanished, no longer of use. The skeletons were gazing at Hidemari, almost as if accusing him.
“Alright then,” Honor Mazal shifted in his chair, his eyes on the spirit. “Closing arguments? You might want to speak up, Anozazi Annijo. This is your chance for famous last words.”
The spirit of Shizuka’s lips thinned. He turned an icy blue eye upon Hidemari and addressed the court.
“I’ve nothing left to say in the matter of this man. He is at the mercy of the court.”
Honor Mazal gave a laugh and shook his head. “Mercy? In the court of hell? Oh, Annijo! Your jokes never cease to amaze me!”
Mimi glanced back and forth between the spirit and the judge. They seemed to know each other well. And was that’s the Shizuka spirit’s name? Annijo?
“And would the defendant like to add anything to this pointless trial?” Honor Mazal mused, his green eyes locked on the spirit’s blue ones.
Hidemari was beyond speech. He could only make noises of shock.
“Since the defendant can’t even argue in his favor, I give him over to the jury. How do you find him?”
The skeleton’s answered in a deathly tone, “Guilty.”
Honor Mazal scoffed. “Well, that was shocking, wasn’t it? Who would have thought? Well, Spirit Slayer? He’s all yours.”
A flash of the scythe dismembered Hidemari’s body, and the ghost of the con man stood before the court. The members of the jury screeched and rushed him at once, carrying him off into the grotesque darkness.
“It is finished,” Annijo said, his back to Mimi. “Your life is cut in half. When you die, I will escort you to hell where your punishment for a hundred years will commence. And your reincarnation will hopefully redeem you of your sin.”
The weight of his words fell upon Mimi Taizuka, and she found herself somewhat grieved. Not for Hidemari, but for herself.
Honor Mazal rose from his throne and smirked. “Good work, Spirit Slayer. One more cent closer to your freedom.”
The spirit of Shizuka said nothing to him. And all at once, the atmosphere vanished. Mimi found herself standing in the middle of the walkway where she had been as though nothing had happened. But Hidemari Bakyun was nowhere to be found. His briefcase had busted open, the paper that he’d been carrying to close down the Taizuka business ripped in half.
On the ground was the expensive wristwatch he had worn. 10:21 a.m.
The Taizuka family’s fish ailment vanished in less than a week. Inexplicably, the koi adapted to the virus, and it was determined they were free of infection by lab tests two weeks later--just in time for the autumn harvest. The Taizuka sold more prize winning koi in that year than in the past ten years put together.
They moved into a mansion and expanded their koi farm into a powerhouse industry, which Mimi Taizuka inherited. Mimi never forgot the spirit of Shizuka, and published a book on the story of her life. Every year, she donated seven percent of her earnings to the well in Shizuka Grove until she died at the age of thirty-one.
Hidemari Bakyun disappeared, and his fish industry fell hard, collapsing on itself. The building was torn down and a restaurant was built in its place, ironically named The Koi Karp Kradle.
His disappearance was aired on several Japanese networks, and even made it on USA’s television series, Unsolved Mysteries.