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.
Shizune Hakura was her name. Born and raised in Japan with an American father and a Japanese mother, Shizune considered herself most fortunate to have a loving family. Her mother was a divorce therapist, respected by her peers for her patience and understanding. Her father was a sergeant in the military, stationed in Japan almost seventeen years ago and had moved on several occasions around the island.
But now, they were moving for a different reason. Shizune’s paternal grandfather, Hojo, was getting fairly old and couldn’t run the family shrine by himself. He lived just outside Tokyo in the midst of a large forest that the Hakura family had long guarded for generations. It was considered an honor to watch over it, since the shrine had been standing almost as long as the trees around it.
And even though Shizune was glad to see her grandfather again, she still wished that she didn’t have to uproot her life when she’d already had to move several times for her father. It was beginning to frustrate her.
Shizune’s mother glanced back over the car seat to check on her daughter, who had a glum look on her face.
“Shizune, don’t be angry. Your grandfather hasn’t seen you in almost five years! Think of how happy he must be to hear that we’re coming to see him!”
“I know,” Shizune replied mutually, her violet eyes not making contact with her mother’s dark ones. “But I just wish I could for once settle down and keep the new friends I make.”
Her mother didn’t say anything to that. No doubt, she didn’t want to move any more than Shizune did. But her husband’s family had convinced her to go. Shizune’s father knew that he was asking a lot of his wife and daughter, and so, he had kept silent for the majority of the trip. He probably felt guilty that he was yanking everyone out of their lives for this.
Shizune glanced at her reflection in the window of the car and sighed. She was thin, built like a matchstick. Her hair was long and black like her mother’s, but she had the personality of her father. She could be strong if needed, and was quiet unless spoken to. She was not very tall, just a little over five feet, and wore simple clothes. Shizune never went out of her way to look nice. If people didn’t like the way she was plain, then who needed them? She wasn’t out to impress anyone.
They were almost there. It had been five years, but this seemed very familiar. These woods were from an old, fond memory. Shizune liked to walk around them and sometimes played with her cousin, Jinicho, before he grew up and started to drive taxi cabs. She hadn’t seen him in a while either.
Their small red car sauntered down the old dirt path that ran through the grove. Shizune noticed that another, almost deserted looking, trail led off the main path and into the woods far beyond. She remembered now. It was a dead end. There was nothing back there except an old well.
Her grandfather was a very superstitious character, and kept the old legends well versed in his mind. When Shizune was small, he often told her about a Shinigami that dwelled in the middle of the grove in the well, but that had never stopped her from playing around it. Jinicho never liked the well. He would shy away from it because he said it “was freakishly creepy.”
The vehicle wound around the dirt path until the grove cleared and they started up a hill where a large shrine could be seen ahead, the Myojin torii gates welcoming them as they passed under, pulling up to the home standing aside from the Hakura shrine.
Shizune was slow to get out, her father and mother eager to stretch their legs from the long ride. After all, they had to come from the most southern part of Japan, and it had been a trip. But when the girl finally came out of the car, she saw her grandfather coming towards them, but not from the house. He was coming from the shrine, hobbling along on his cane as fast as he was allowed.
“There you are!” he cried, waving at them as he came to greet the small family. “I was beginning to get worried about you!”
“Grandpa!” Shizune’s father exclaimed, giving him a hug. The elderly man slapped his son’s back affectionately, though it was a little difficult as tall as her father was. He also had that rugged look to him that made him seem intimidating to those who didn’t know him.
“Ah, Mitchell!” Hojo Hakura sighed. “It’s been so long! Ah, and Izuna! How are you, my child?”
Shizune’s mother gave Hojo a hug as well, putting on a smile for the old man. There was no denying that he was looking run down. This one man was trying to run a shrine all by himself, though he could have hired help. But his excuse was always that he could just ask Jinicho to do the chores, but no one was really sure how often Jinicho was around to ask.
“And where is my granddaughter?” Hojo glanced around, his tired eyes shining eagerly.
Shizune strode forward, also attempting to appear happier than she really was. “Here I am, Grandpa.”
She got a feeble squeeze out of him and realized just how weak he was. Then, she felt sorry for him and guilty about how she’d been acting. Her grandfather needed help, and all this time, she’d been worried about herself.
“Well!” Hojo motioned, stroking his white beard. “Let’s go inside for some tea, shall we? We’ve got a lot to catch up on!”
The afternoon turned out to be a pleasant one, and the evening was even better. Shizune told her grandfather about her life in the south, and he, in exchange, told some stories of his own to them. When her parents and grandfather started to talk about things and people she didn’t know about, Shizune took the time to go out to the car and unpack her things in the room that her grandfather offered her.
Shizune’s grandmother had died about five years ago, and that was why that was the last time Shizune had been around here. She understood that her father had taken the loss hard and probably stayed away from the shrine for as long as he did because he couldn’t imagine going back without seeing his mother. But now they were back, Shizune was a little relieved. Grandpa’s old stories about the spirits and their ancestors was a pleasant jolt for some long forgotten memories.
Shizune stared out the window of her room thoughtfully, reminiscing in the past. The hill that the house and shrine sat on looked down at the grove below and the wide expanse it covered. She sometimes thought of it as her own private park. Maybe while she was here, on the weekends, she could spend time exploring. A lot could have changed in five years.
She blinked. She had just now noticed a faint white light glowing in the middle of the trees far below, somewhere in the center of the grove. She frowned, squinting. No one should have been down there. It was private property, and while the Hakuras didn’t technically own the grove, they did their best to preserve it. Grandpa always said it was sacred ground. But who could be down there at this time of night, and in the middle of the grove?
Her bedroom door opened, and Shizune’s grandfather came inside with his cane, limping along.
“What’re you up to, Shizune? It’s a little late to be up, don’t you think?”
“Grandpa, there’s a light down there!” Shizune pointed out her window.
“A light where? In the grove?” Hojo quickly approached the window and peered down at the trees. “So there is! Look closely, Shizune. That’s the light of the dead. I suppose the Shinigami is hard at work.”
Shizune knew that Shinigami were supposed to be like reapers, and they came in many forms. But a Shinigami? In this day and age?
“Grandpa, what makes you think it is a Shinigami? What if it’s just some kids down there messing around in the woods?”
“When has fire ever given off white light?”
“That bright, my dear?”
“Spotlight?” Shizune sighed.
“That would be a beam of light, and it would be moving around. Do you not see that it is stationary? And it’s not a beam. It is more like it is diffuse and going in all directions, like the light emitted from a single source. That is the light of a Shinigami, mark my words. Look there! It’s even in the center of the grove, where the well sits! It seems it has been summoned again . . .”
Shizune’s violet eyes glanced at her grandfather, appalled. “You’re talking like this happens all the time! People actually come out here and loiter in the grove?”
“Not loiter, sweetheart. They often leave right away. I imagine seeing the Shinigami’s validity is shocking. Once in a while, I wake to the sounds of screaming.” He gave her a solid, stern look. “Shizune, I don’t ever want you to go around that well. You understand? There is a world that lingers there we aren’t meant to meddle in. Promise me you’ll never go there!”
“Grandpa, I’ve made this promise before! What makes you think you saying it again is going to affect me?”
Hojo Hakura seemed to relax after that. He patted her shoulder and nodded. “I can’t help it. I worry about you. I worry about your father and mother. Ever since Grandma passed away, all I do is worry the remainder of my life away.”
“Grandpa, you believe she’s still here, don’t you?” Shizune said, more of a way to comfort her grandfather than anything else.
He smiled at her. “Of course I do. I sense her presence every day I work at the shrine. She always did believe in the things we don’t see. That was part of the many reasons I married her. Your Grandma just had that mystery about her she never realized existed. She restored my faith in Shinto and I haven’t wavered since. Her passing isn’t going to change that. I know that’s what she would want.”
Shizune was glad to see the light back in the old man’s face. He looked somewhat younger somehow. Even as he headed back towards her bedroom door, he seemed to have a sort of skip to his hobble.
“I’ll see you in the morning, Shizune. Rest up. I’m going to put you to work tomorrow. And school! You’ll be starting school next week! I hope this move doesn’t affect your studying!”
“It won’t, Grandpa. Good night.”
Hojo left the room. And Shizune glanced back out the window, biting her lower lip. That light was still there.
That bothered her. She didn’t believe in Shinigami, and it irked her that people just strolled into the grove her grandfather tried so hard to maintain by himself. It wasn’t fair. All of Grandpa Hojo’s hard work--wasted.
Shizune stood up and walked over to her dresser, seizing ahold of a flashlight. Even though she had promised her grandpa that she wouldn’t go near the grove, she had been breaking that promise since she was little. A stroll in the middle of the night wasn’t going to be any skin off her nose.
“It is done,” the ghostly white apparition said to the gaping young man before him. “In three days time, 5:57 p.m., I will descend upon Terrance Flannigan and strip of him his soul, which I will drag to hell to spend an eternity burning into oblivion.”
The young man made a squeak as the whispers of death chorused around him. And with a terrified yelp, the man sprang away, running down the dirt path as fast as he could.
The spirit of Shizuka lifted his white head and stared up at the starry night sky, his ice blue eyes glowing brightly in the moonlight. His long robes and skull armor were intimidating, and the blood spatters in his hair spoke of lives both lived and unlived. The light blue garb that floated in the breeze seemed to emphasize his uniqueness in the world which he inhabited. Nothing about him fit in. He didn’t belong there.
The lost souls drawn to his allure whispered in the night air. They spoke to him of another entity lurking in the nearby bushes. His gaze shifted into the direction they indicated and he asked in a hollow voice,
“Is there another that would like the services of hell?”
There was no movement, but he knew there was someone there. No doubt it was another human uncertain about the realm of the spirit world. That was fine if there was no reply. The spirit didn’t want there to be another.
“If you are to disturb me after I have returned to my slumber, I will be very irritated. Come before me and present yourself or refuse my existence. My time here is short.”
At first, nothing replied to his statement. He assumed that the human in question was neglecting to damn a person, and he was relieved of this. However, before he could start to return to the well, he heard the rustling of leaves. He paused a moment to see who might dare approach a Shinigami in the dead of night, having seen and heard the warning. Whoever it was, they must be desperate.
The spirit’s blue pools widened as a lone figure stepped into the clearing, the flashlight dropping to the ground. It was a woman, illuminated solely from the spirit of Shizuka’s white light he radiated. She appeared just as stunned as he was at the sight of her. That hair . . . those eyes--!
“My--my God!” the woman whispered fearfully. “Grandpa was right! You’re--you’re a Shinigami!”
The spirit of Shizuka’s expression contorted into an ugly countenance of pure, animalistic rage. He let out a snarl that made her scream, and a giant scythe of black skulls manifested into his grip.
Shizune took a frightened step back, her heart racing in her chest.
“HOW DARE YOU COME HERE?!?! ” the spirit screamed, a black aura bursting around him, burning with a vengeance. “HOW DARE YOU SHOW YOUR FACE?!?! ”
Shizune pivoted and broke into a sprint, her adrenaline surging through her veins. The spirit of Shizuka shot after her, a forceful wind ripping up the ground and whatever would happen to be in his way. There was an awful look in his eyes; he was out for blood.
Shizune’s legs were pumping at full speed, the dark trees partially confusing her as she followed the abandoned path towards the main road, panic completely overtaking her. She couldn’t believe she was running for her life from a Shinigami. She couldn’t believe any of this was happening at all.
“You won’t escape me!!” the spirit bellowed, closing in on her. “Not this time! I am owed a life, and yours is mine to take!!”
Shizune shrieked, accidentally running off the path. She had left her flashlight back at the well, and she had no idea where she was going. She ran as fast as she’d ever ran, panting raggedly. She ducked under limbs, jumped over tree roots and winced from what slapped her or scratched her face. She could barely see, and that thing was right behind her, raising his scythe as the blade sang its otherworldly serenade.
Shizune ran right into a creek, screaming in surprise. She clawed her way to the other bank and broke into another run, drenched in cold water. The spirit was upon her. She glanced over her shoulder and saw that he was swinging his blade downward. Shizune lunged to the side as the blade lodged itself into a tree trunk, the spirit snarling in frustration as he wrenched the weapon in order to free it.
She got a good look at his livid face and saw how twisted with bloodlust it was. It would give her nightmares for years to come. Realizing this was her chance to get away, Shizune got to her feet and sprang into the woods. The spirit, enraged at this, summoned an inhumane strength and split the tree in two with his aura, like a massive lightning bolt.
He roared so loudly that it scared the predators of the forest.
Shizune was beside herself with tears, sobbing uncontrollably as she stumbled through the dark woods, lost. She was clueless as to which way was the right way to the shrine. She wanted to live, God, she wanted to live! Her chest was burning, and it hurt to breathe. On top of that, she was shivering from her fall into the creek.
She had to stop. She had to catch her breath. As she slowed and coughed, she heard a sound new to her ears in the distance. It was the sound of howling and growling.
The spirit of Shizuka was after her once more, this time, determined not to make the same mistake again. And he had sent scouts ahead of him. Hellhounds of his own, they did not have the hellfire red eyes, but the spirit’s ice blue ones. And they were large. Large and immortal.
Shizune forced herself to run. She had to. She had nothing to protect herself with. Her terror was unparalleled. Why hadn’t she listened to her grandfather? She was going to die. She was going to die here in the middle of the woods, and no one would ever know what had happened to her. And worse yet, who knew what the Shinigami was going to do to her soul? She had to get to the shrine! She had no idea why this thought kept whispering to her at the back of her head, but Shizune felt that if she could find the shrine, she would be safe. How? She didn’t know. She just knew she would be safe at the Hakura Shrine!
She threw the rest of her energy into the sprint to find the shrine. Behind her, the hellhounds were pursing, and they had her in their sights. Their jaws were agape, saliva flying as their heavy footprints thudded against the forest floor. They were rapidly gaining. They smelled her, and they wanted to tear her apart.
“You can’t run from my hellhounds!” the spirit cried, trailing behind the pack. “They’ll follow you to the ends of the earth! There is nowhere to run! You’re going to die, Shizuka! And I’m going to kill you!”
“Somebody help me!!” Shizune screamed as her body began to fail on her. “Somebody!! Anybody!!”
Suddenly, the collection of trees opened and she exploded into what she now recognized as the clearing at the foot of the hill. She lifted her head covered with leaves and foliage, her violet eyes finding the barely lit house where her grandfather resided. Shizune gasped and tore after it, invigorated by the sight of safety.
“Grandpa!!” she choked, starting up the dirt road that led to the Myojin torii gates which marked the Hakura Shrine territory. “Mom!! Dad!!”
The hellhounds that pursued her erupted from the tree line. Now it was a simple matter of racing. Who could reach the torii gates first? The hellhounds were like dark bullets. With every bound, their prey came closer and closer despite its feeble attempts to escape. And the spirit--he was hot on her trail as well. He was coming, and he wasn’t going to let her get away.
“There is none that can save you!!” the spirit screeched. “I am going to avenge my death! A death that you sentenced me to five hundred years ago!! So help me, you will be a rotting corpse by night’s end!!! ”
Shizune emitted a squeal that was essentially a cut off scream. She had been cut off because her foot had charged into a mole hill, and pain shot up her ankle as she hit the ground, rolling to a stop just a short distance from the torii gates. Shizune bawled as she checked her twisted ankle in the dimness of the light, the hellhounds bearing down upon her. The dogs sprang upon her, jowls opened wide, steak knife teeth flashing. Shizune shielded herself defensively, waiting for them to rip her to pieces.
Instead, she felt a sharp wind and a bright light blinded her. The attacking hellhounds squalled as a shape took form before them, two brilliant white wings sending feathers flying into the night air. A sword flashed, slicing the dogs into halves.
The spirit’s scythe clashed with that of the owner of the magnificent blade. The ice blue eyes met the emerald ones of a shining being cloaked in a light that made the Shinigami’s white light look poor. The man had a crop of vibrant red hair and golden armor like that of a knight.
“Michael!!” the spirit growled, teeth clenched. “Archangel Michael?!”
The new arrival parried the scythe, and the two creatures instantly began to fight viciously, the blades sparking like fireworks before the terrified frame of Shizune, who had no idea what was going on. All she knew was that she had to get to the torii gates. The torii gates! Even if she had to drag herself every step of the way!
She turned onto her belly and forced herself to stand, cringing at the weight she placed on her bad foot. She started to limp away, the sounds of weapons clashing with rings of intense combat. Both angel and Shinigami moved fluidly, as though they could read one another’s minds.
“Stand aside, Michael!!” the spirit ordered, his scythe quivering against the strength of the opposing sword. “This is my business! It has nothing to do with you!”
The angel physically said nothing, but the wording behind the eyes was incredible.
“The hell I will!” the spirit retorted, knocking the sword aside, driving his scythe at the armor that protected the archangel’s chest. “She took my life, and it’s only fair that I take hers! She’s going to hell with me, and there’s nothing you or God can do about it!!”
Michael said nothing, but stood there motionless with a glare on his face as the spirit of Shizuka Grove’s scythe dashed into a million gleaming pieces upon the unscathed gold armor. He gasped, obviously surprised. He had not expected such resilience from the armor alone. However, the archangel had no intention of letting him off that easy. The sword flashed, and the spirit leapt back, clutching his chest. There was a diagonal slash mark there, and the spirit spit blood--something that indicated serious injury in the spirit realm.
Shizune wasn’t watching. She was stumbling to the shrine gates. With only a few feet, it looked as though she were going to make it. When the Shinigami saw this, his ice blue eyes filled with an indescribable hatred for not only the woman that was going to get away, but also for the angel and the God that were helping her to flee.
“SO!” his voice shook with untold vehemence. “You are my enemies, then?! All of heaven . . . God Himself?! So be it! You are hypocrites! You who supposedly enforce justice would let my murderer live?! NEVER!!”
The spirit shot out a hand. And up from the ground in front of her, Shizune witnessed a humungous hellhound emerge like a shadow from the abyss. Necklaces of saliva hanging down, it opened its jaws and leapt upon her. Her eyes snapped shut. But a flash of light revealed that the archangel had intervened on her behalf once more, beheading the hellhound so that it vanished into the night air.
He never spoke a word to her, but his emerald eyes told her she needed to cross under the gates. She had no idea what was going on, but she sensed that was what she had to do at the least. And at last, Shizune drug herself under the torii gates, so unbelievably grateful that she was alive. She collapsed onto the ground and began to bawl.
“NO!” the spirit of Shizuka snapped, his grudge giving him the strength to charge at Shizune, even without his scythe. His arm shot out, as though to seize ahold of her, but a brilliant light hindered his progress. It was a barrier, as he had feared.
You can’t cross the shrine boundaries because malevolent manifestations that would disrupt the levels of balance in this place are rejected.
The spirit of Shizuka whirled upon the archangel, who stood by, his great wings half spread, as though either preparing for a departure or to defend himself against another attack.
“What was that, Michael?!” the spirit demanded. “I wasn’t listening! I have no ears for liars like you!”
Michael’s strong face grew bolder. He was making a statement without words or telepathic messages. And the spirit knew exactly what it said.
“Your words are meaningless!” the spirit of Shizuka said spitefully. “Your actions have spoken quite loudly! I do not care at all if you are indeed her guardian angel! Are you saying that protecting a murderer--a traitor--is more important than bringing that same person to justice! Look at me! Look at what I am because of her!! I am going to burn in hell for five thousand four hundred forty-one eternities because of her!!! ”
Shizune squealed at his thundering, her arms shielding her from all but his savage accusations. She didn’t know what was going on. What was happening? Was she dreaming? Was this all just a nightmare? Why couldn’t she wake up? Why?!
The spirit of Shizuka turned his blood spattered white head at her, his blue eyes searing, penetrating her terrified violet ones.
“Make no mistake!” he threatened. “I will not rest until you are dead! Even if I have to appeal to Lucifer himself! I’ll find a way to end you! I’ll find a way!! That’s a promise I’ll sell my soul to keep!!”
And with that, he vanished in a wisp of smoke, leaving a trembling Shizune alone with the shining silhouette of the archangel. He floated over to her and gently touched her hurt ankle. His presence made her dry her tears, his warmth comforting her freezing body. And his smile filled her with the strength to stand on her two feet, amazed that she was completely healed. She stared at him, speechless. She wanted to ask aloud if he was real. If any of this was real.
Michael never said a word to her. Instead, she received a voice inside her head that was every bit as strong and dominating as he appeared.
Go to the shrine. There, you will find a treasure that which the Shinigami prizes. Take this treasure to the well and summon up the Shinigami, whose name is Annijo. Offer it to him. Do as is commanded of you so that what was commanded of me is completed.
And without another attempt at communication, the man became so bright that she couldn’t look upon him, and he ascended into the sky as a wonderful diamond until he disappeared among the stars themselves.
Shizune was left there alone by herself, wondering if she was going to be able to make it through the rest of the night alive. Even though her ankle had healed, she was still soaking wet and covered in cuts and foliage from the grove. If her grandfather saw her, Shizune was going to be in hot water.
She started back up to the house, never so joyous to see the Hakura home as she was now. As far as she was concerned, this night of craziness was over.
There was no way she was ever going back to that well.