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.
Sang-hee Kwon was prepared to sell her soul to hell. She stood just beside the bottomless well in the middle of the Shizuka Grove, her single won sitting on top of her thumb. She flipped the coin into the hole in the ground, fully expecting the story of the Shizuka spirit to manifest.
It vanished. She listened, and listened and listed. A tiny splash far below reached her ears, and she lifted her hand to her lips, biting hard enough to draw blood. With this single bead held over the mouth of the well, it fell into the darkness.
"Spirit of Shizuka!" she called in her native Korean tongue, "Come up here!"
The surrounding night air suddenly became eerily still, and very faintly, she could hear disembodied voices whispering around her ears. But when she went to look with her black eyes, she saw nothing.
Glancing back at the well, she saw the apparition of a brightly shining man clad in impressive fantasy-like black armor, and flowing robes. His hair was long and white, and floated about him as though he were underwater. It was blood spattered. And his ice blue eyes saw nothing in front of them.
It was just like in the book. The spirit of Shizuka was real, as had been published. And he was every bit as beautiful as Mimi Taizuka had written. She thought about just staring at him for the rest of the night. That wasn't impossible. He was that endearing to behold.
"A won for the life of one soul, this I am to understand?" he said hollowly, like the wind through an old shack. What shocked her was that he spoke elegantly in pure Korean with the right pronunciation and even the right regional dialect. But in the Taizuka book, she had testified that the spirit had spoke in plain English.
"My name is Sang-hee Kwon," she replied, not even the slightest hint of fear in her voice. "And I am to be married soon."
He said nothing to this. So she detailed further.
"My family is extremely traditional, and they have selected a husband for me to marry. I have never met this man, and yet, they insist on it. I do not believe in their ways, but I know that my father would disown me if I refused."
"You have considered leaving?"
"My family is poor. They believe this marriage will bring them much money into the household, but I value love more than I value won."
"But you do not even value your soul as to throw it away for something so trivial?"
She reached up and let down her long dark hair from the bun she'd had it in.
"I live for now. And tomorrow, I am to meet this man in the city of Tokyo. I am certain what kind of man he is. I am told he is in the banking industry, and I also hear rumor that his money practices are less than noble."
"Seeds of discord sown by your elder sister."
Sang-hee's dark eyes widened. "Are you telling me that my sister . . . is jealous? I know that she was never content with marrying a farmer, but to say such things . . ."
"A word of caution I leave with you," the spirit began. "When I have dragged the soul to hell you speak of, I--"
"I know," she interrupted. "I came here knowing exactly what the risks were. You don't have to explain to me, Annijo."
"Then you have heard of me from Taizuka Mimi's memoirs of her life?"
Sang-hee nodded fervently. "Yes! That was how I was able to find you. Even though I am from Korea, my family sent me overseas to marry this man that comes from a branch of our family that broke away from us seventy-six years ago. And I must confess I don't want to marry! I want to be an independent woman, like the ones I see in the city, who need no man to support themselves."
"You fear to leave your family because to do so would leave you with nothing."
She must have looked so pathetic to him. She could just see it now. She was only slightly taller than five feet high at the age of twenty, and though she wore a simple outfit, she knew it was shabby compared to the spirit's garb. She really must've looked poor. And her story would have made a bad soap opera look good. She had nothing, and that was why she wasn't afraid to offer up her soul just to save the life she had.
"Your reasoning is clouded by feelings," Annijo stated blandly. "If I were to indeed drag his soul to hell, would your family not just choose another suitor?"
"No. It is considered unlucky to my family if the man that is to marry a bride dies before the wedding. They will consider it an omen. Perhaps they will give up on the idea."
"Very well. It is your soul you leave to chance."
Sang-hee Kwon stated quite clearly with an apparent resolve, "His name is Jun Gin."
The spirit fell silent. He floated there and floated in midair. Normally, she would have been nervous with his muteness, but as she had read in the published book, Mimi Taizuka had stated the spirit had done the same when she first met him. Even now, the Korean woman was wondering what was going on behind those frozen blue eyes.
At last, he broke the silence, declaring, "Jun Gin. A hesitant. A rebel. A qualm. His life is paid for. He will die tomorrow at 10:45 p.m. and I will drag his soul to hell."
It was Friday, and Sang-hee was sitting outside of a nice cafe on the streets of Tokyo, watching the people and cars go by. This place was the spot that she was to meet her future groom, but underlying all of that, she couldn't stop thinking that this man she despised was going to die in thirty minutes, and then she would be free from it all.
The truth was that she had arrived early by an hour, wanting to spend some time alone by herself. She had brought Taizuka's book, titled Shizuka Silent, for the sake of rereading. She just couldn't get the spirit called Annijo out of her mind. It was a pretty name for a pretty man, but she couldn't help but to ponder his background. How long had he haunted that well? Why did he haunt the well?
These questions had been asked by Taizuka herself, and her reasons were multiple. The spirit of Shizuka hadn't reappeared to her yet, and she thought this to be because she had already sold her soul to him, and she would see him again when she died.
Sang-hee herself thought it to be a rather happy, yet sad reunion. Seeing him anytime was a delight, and a mystery. He belonged to a realm people couldn't explain, and Kwon appreciated that. Her family was heavy into Shamanism, and believed in all kinds of spirits inhabiting rocks, trees, water all around them. But Annijo was something altogether different.
He was a reaper of sorts. Taizuka called him a Shinigami, the Japanese translation for a reaper. But it made no sense that he made a deep dark hole his confines. Perhaps she should ask him whenever she saw him again about his background. He was a spirit of few words, so she doubted she would obtain much, but at least it was worth a try. He seemed more than willing to prevent her from selling her soul, but in the end, Sang-hee made the choice herself.
"I'm sorry, but may I sit here?"
She jerked out of her thoughts, noticing a young man dressed in plain average clothes beside her table, slightly out of breath for some reason.
"Y-yes?" she responded in English.
He plopped down in the only other chair at that table and sighed in relief.
"I'm really sorry to be so rude, but today has just not been my day. I was late for work, and then I left my wallet in the taxi I took, and I've been trying to chase it down, but I think it's safe to say that's a lost cause."
Sang-hee half smiled politely at him, taking note of his disheveled black hair and his dark brown eyes. He was thin, but slightly athletic in build. His face was sweaty, but chasing down a taxi in Tokyo probably would work up a sweat. She couldn't help but feel sorry for him.
"So--I'll just catch my breath and be on my way," he said in between breaths.
"It's alright. I'm not going to chase you off. I was just thinking, that's all."
"Well, I appreciate that," he laughed weakly. "You sure I didn't bother you? Were you reading?"
She glanced down at her book and shrugged her shoulders. "I have read it all already. I just brought it to read again in case I was bored."
"Really? Is it any good?"
She nodded. "Yes, I like it very much. This lady right here in Tokyo published it. She says there is this place just outside of the city called the Shizuka Grove."
"Hmm. Never heard of it. Is it a park?"
"No, it's actually an abandoned piece of land. No one really owns it. I read that it's maintained by a family that lives in close proximity."
"Oh. I see. What's so special about it?" he inquired.
"There's supposed to be a ghost that lives in a well."
His eyebrows lifted. "A ghost? Really? Have you seen it?"
"Would you believe me if I did?"
"Sure. Why not? You don't seem like the kind of person who'd lie to me. If you say you've seen a spirit, then there's probably a spirit there."
She smiled at her company, her interest piquing. "So how long have you lived here in the city? Is it always this chaotic?"
He laughed. "Yeah, pretty much. You should try crossing the street. So. You're new here, huh? Just moving into the neighborhood?"
"Something like that."
"Oh! They have this awesome restaurant two streets over where they serve the best kind of calamari! You should try it! It's called Hakumatzi Sea Fry!"
Sang-hee smiled at him. "Maybe I will try that. You eat there often?"
"I try not to. It'll put weight on you."
She laughed at her strange, yet nicely acquainted friend. She had been astonished a mere stranger could just walk up and start a conversation like this with her. She was usually a very shy woman and very restrained. But now she was starting to feel like a normal, everyday type girl. It was really nice to be able to laugh like that.
She found herself engrossed in conversation with the man, who eventually caught his breath, but never left. Sang-hee discovered that his interests consisted of bowling, volunteering in his spare time, collecting insects, and visiting other places. His favorite foods were noodles and ice cream. He listened to rock, pop and country music.
She was so fascinated with his personality that she ended up revealing her own interests to him, wishing with every passing minute that she could have been engaged to this man instead of Jun Gin.
"So . . . I'm not keeping you from your schedule, am I?" her visitor mused.
"No, no! I'm actually supposed to be meeting someone here. What time do you have?"
He glanced at his wristwatch and replied, "It's 10:44 a.m."
Sang-hee was puzzled and perturbed both. Her future husband was late, that was why she was puzzled. But he was also going to die in less than a minute from now.
"Waiting for your husband, eh?" the man chuckled. "I hope he doesn't take offense to a single guy talking with his wife. But coincidentally, I'm waiting on somebody too. They should have been here fifteen minutes ago, but I got so caught up with talking to you that it doesn't matter."
"He's--not my husband . . . yet."
"Hmm? Oh! Are you still dating?"
"No. My family has sent me to Japan to marry a man I've never even met. I was supposed to meet him here, but he hasn't shown up yet."
His eyes widened. "What? You mean . . . you're her?! You're Sang-hee Kwon?!"
She gasped. "You mean . . . you're Jun Gin?!"
A jolt of horror came over her as a great whoosh of wind blew through the trees lining the street, and a chorus of whispers filled her ears. Sang-hee jumped up from the table so fast that it skidded a few inches. Alarmed, her acquaintance got to his feet, curious as to why she had such a look on her face.
Sang-hee cried out in horror, whirling around to see the spirit of Shizuka floating behind her, wielding a giant scythe made of black skulls, the blade ringing a dirge of death in their presence. The city around them was caught up in a total blackness, and she felt like they were being transported to another realm.
Jun Gin cried out, clutching ahold of her as the spirit before them addressed the two. Jun Gin pulled Sang-hee Kwon behind him and stared down the bloodstained creature, knowing full well he was out of his league.
"You stand before me accused of nothing, except that you are to wed this woman."
"Wh--what?" Jun stammered. "What's going on? Where are we? What are you?!"
"I am the spirit of Shizuka, Annijo."
"Shizuka?!" Jun shot a look over his shoulder at Sang-hee. "Like that one you were telling me about earlier? This is that spirit?!"
"I have come to collect your soul. Are you prepared to die?"
"Stop!" Sang-hee cried, stepping in front of Jun. "Don't hurt him!"
"A won for the life of a soul, to that I was paid."
"What?!" Jun gaped. "A won for--what's going on here?!"
"It's all my fault," Sang-hee turned towards him, her dark head lowered in shame. "I didn't want to marry a stranger. I heard things about you and judged you for them. So I went to this spirit and asked him to--kill you."
Jun's expression was torn. "You wanted to kill me? What did I ever do to you, except meet you?!"
"I told you! I was stupid! I thought my life was over! I was desperate! I wanted out, and the spirit seemed like the best way to do it."
"You think I wanted to get married to some woman whom I never met before?" he demanded. "I thought my life was over too! I never would've guessed that you were supposed to be my wife!"
Sang-hee pivoted to face Annijo, who waited patiently by for her to speak.
"Take my life instead."
Jun's stared at her, and Annijo's normally blank face twitched, revealing a split second countenance of surprise.
"If you need to take a life, then take mine," she murmured. "I'm still in the same position I was in before. I have nothing. My soul isn't even mine anymore. So just take it and be done."
"Are you nullifying your contract with me?"
Her head jerked up. "What?"
"The life has not been taken. The contract is still pending. Do you wish to void my services?"
Sang-hee wasted no time in responding. "Yes! I don't want Jun Gin to die! Keep the won if you want, but don't take his soul!"
Annijo lifted his free hand and the single won that Sang-hee had tossed down the well appeared out of thin air in his pale hand. He flicked it down to her, and his great scythe vanished in a wisp of smoke.
"It is done. My services are no longer required."
Sang-hee gasped, for on Annijo's pearly face, there was something that she could've never imagined in place of the usually thin straight line. He was faintly smiling. It was so gorgeous that she wanted to cry at it.
He started to leave, the blackness shifting and morphing around them, partially revealing bits and pieces of Tokyo's skyscrapers and the surrounding area. But she stopped him.
"I said you could keep the won!"
He paused, gazing at her with his ice blue eyes. "That won is useless to me, Sang-hee Kwon. I cannot use currency that was not traded for a soul."
"Why--why not?" she asked.
"It is part of my bondage to Shizuka Grove. The only currency that I can use are the kind that were traded for life in order to restore myself. Many have come before my home and tossed many a coins to me in gratitude, but they do not realize that they are merely casting rocks."
"What? But then--what happens to all of it?" Sang-hee frowned, hoping that he would answer. Already, he was starting to fade into smoke, his shoulders and head remaining.
"I cannot use the coins, so they are given to the creatures of hell, for whom which I serve."
He was gone. The blackness disappeared, and life in Tokyo resumed as though nothing had taken place. Both Sang-hee and Jun were standing outside the cafe, stunned at what they had just witnessed and heard.
"I can't believe I saw a ghost," Jun choked at last. "Much less that you sent it after me to kill me!"
Sang-hee gathered up her book and abruptly started to walk away in disappointment. But Jun caught up with her a couple of strides and grabbed her shoulder.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going back home. There's nothing else for me here."
"You still don't want to marry?"
She was shocked at him. "What are you saying? Don't you understand? I nearly had you killed!"
"We'll skip that detail, okay?" Jun told her, making a funny face. "Let's focus on the part where you saved my life instead."
"I don't understand!" she said, upset to the point that she was hiding tears.
"We all do stupid stuff when we're desperate," Jun rolled his eyes. "Granted, I never hired a spirit assassin for my chores, but I can't tell you how many times I screwed up because I was scared or I hesitated. Now do you want to marry me, or not? You better think on it. I don't think there are many guys out there that are like me, so take your time."
Sang-hee threw her arms around her future husband and said happily, "Yes! I want to get married!"
"Alright!" he laughed, glancing down at his watch. "Well, it's 10:47 a.m. Would you like to meet my parents then? I'm pretty sure you'd like them. If they can put up with me, then I'm sure they can handle you."
Sang-hee couldn't have been more delighted. She was getting married.
Soon afterwards, Sang-hee Kwon and Jun Gin were wedded, and his parents were extremely pleased with his new wife. The bank company business became a national success, and when an unexpected economic downturn forced others to closed, the Gin bank was able to stay in business.
Sang-hee Kwon wrote a blog on the Internet about her version of events, joining the site that Taizuka had started in honor of the spirit of Shizuka. Investigations of Shizuka Grove are underway as to the history, and hopefully, a connection will be found between the land and the spirit that haunts the well there.