黄泉から鬼影 -⁂- よみからおにかげ
It was raining when Cerys and Himeko got out of school that late October day. They walked together under their umbrellas, chatting about their day. When they got to Himeko’s streek, they paused at her community mailbox so that she could bring in her family’s mail, then stood under the awning by her from door to tap the excess water off their shoes and umbrellas. Inside, they left their shoes in the entryway before heading to the kitchen.
The rainshower developed into a storm as Himeko poured hot water into two mugs and set one in front of Cerys. They each selected a packet of green tea, and Himeko sorted through the mail. One of the items was an international package that looked like its journey across the Pacific had been rough. The edges were blacked, one corner dented as though it had gotten stuck in one of the sorting machines. Himeko also noted a few red dots and a then red smear on the back.
“Oh, it’s from Chie!” Himeko said with a smile. Cerys knew that Chie was one of her cousins, and they were the best of friends.
Chie liked to send things to Himeko from Japan from time to time, sometimes at her request after they’d chatted online, and sometimes as a surprise. In exchange, Himeko would sent her things only available in America. This package was a little bigger than a typical box that a cartridge-type video game came in.
“What do you think it is?” Cerys asked as she took a careful sip of her tea.
“I’m not sure,” Himeko replied as she turned the package around to find the easy-open pull tab. “This is one of her surprises.”
She opened the box and carefully pulled out its contents. There was a cartridge game wrapped in mylar and bubble wrap, and a hand-written note.
“Ah, she wrote it on a spooky style!” Himeko giggled as she picked up the paper. She and Cerys sometimes watched Japanese horror movies together, but they never took them too seriously.
Cerys glanced over at the note; she could see that it was written in Japanese. “What does she say?”
“She really got into it this time,” Himeko said as she read the note and translated it in her head. “She says that we should play the game right away, but not in the dark.”
“What happens if you play it in the dark?”
Himeko continued reading the letter. “Beware… beware the shadow demon,” she said. “And look, she even smeared red ink on it to make it look like blood.”
Cerys looked closer at the letter, and noticed that the characters near the end seemed to leak out shadows. “She sure made it look creepy. Are you sure that’s not real blood?”
Himeko giggled. “Chie is very creative. Remember the Tetris pieces she sent when she mailed me the latest version of the game?”
Cerys nodded and took another sip of tea. “So what is this game?”
Himeko carefully removed the bubble wrap from the cartridge and peeled open the mylar. She set aside the booklet and pulled out the game to read the title. It was written in Japanese characters that looked like they were carved in stone and ripping with blood. The face of an ancient oni peered out of the shadows.
“Yomi Kara Onikage,” Himeko said. “The Shadow Demon from Yomi.”
“Yomi, as in the land of the dead?” Cerys asked her.
“Well,” Cerys said, “sounds like it’s going to be really spooky!”
She took a close look at the shape of the cartridge. “So, Nintendo 64. Your system can play both Japanese and American cartridges, right?”
“You bet!” Himeko confirmed.
Once they’d had a snack and finished their tea, they headed upstairs to Himeko’s room. They decided to humor Chie’s instructions and not play it in complete darkness. Himeko put on a lamp and opened the curtains on her window. Lightning was flashing outside, and the rain was patterning pretty hard on the window.
She pressed the cartridge into her Nintendo 64 and pushed the switch. The screen went extra dark for a moment, then showed a staticky type of glitching for a moment. There was a moment of dark laughter, then an old Japanese-style mask appeared on the screen. As it took shape, the girls saw the visage of a demon– an oni. Like it was stepping out of the shadows, the body started to emerge, muscular and dark, then one hand, and finally the other, just like Cerys has seen in Himeko’s family’s old books.
Some Japanese text appeared on the screen, which looked just like the game’s label. Himeko read it off for her: The Shadow Demon from Yomi. The girls let the game sit on the main menu for a moment, knowing that it would eventually go into a sort of demo or story mode. Instead of doing what they were used to, there were a few more flashes of static and glitching, then more dark, demonic laughter. Lightning flashed outside, and in the same moment, lightning sparked from the demon’s claws to the text saying to press start. Himeko shivered, picked up the controller, and pressed start.
The game started off in a dark cavern, and Himeko translated the text as it rolled along the screen, explaining that one particular oni was making plans to get out of Yomi. The other demon was asking him what he planned to do when he got out, but the Shadow Demon would only laugh darkly.
Then the screen changed to a traditional Japanese Shinto shrine, where the shrine maiden was sitting before a fire, offering prayers. Then it showed her lighting lanterns all around the shrine’s grounds. Then the shrine Maiden headed down a narrow road, to an old cemetery that sprawled out behind the shrine. She was performing her typical duties when her sandal broke. She bent down to try to fix it and noticed that the headstone beside her was broken. When she got closer to it, she could hear a stone grinding against Stone, then several crows cawing from all over the cemetery.
She looked up, and as soon as her eyes left the headstone, a hand wrapped around her ankle.
That was when lightning flashed outside, and Himeko shrieked and dropped the controller. She and Cerys had a laugh at they way they’d both jumped.
“This game is really immersive,” Cerys noted. She glanced back at the game, where crows were flying in flurries around the shrine maiden, who had fallen to the ground. The game was waiting for her to do something.
Himeko picked up the controller and gave it to Cerys, wanting to give her a turn. They were used to taking turns, even with Japanese games were Himeko needed to translate. The icon on the corner of the screen was indicating that she needed to press A repeatedly, so that’s exactly what Cerys did.
The shrine maid managed to get her ankle free and started running down the path. The ground near the gnarled hand loosened and gave way, and a dark figure began to crawl out of the dirt. Three crows followed after the shrine maiden, urging her to keep running while the others tried to distract the oni.
The controls went back to the player, and Cerys had to keep the shrine maid moving. The controller rumbled as the growling demon batted at the crows until it could give chase. Cerys grimaced as she approached a fork in the road, and quickly chose to head up a lonely hill rather than the dark forest. The demon snarled at her as she crested the hill, and the game went to another cut-scene.
It was evening, and the shrine maiden had entered an Edo-period village, where everyone was enjoying a summer matsuri. The moon was high and full as the maiden walked through the village. The crows flitted between buildings as they watched over her. Eventually, the matsuri ended and the shrine maiden had to head back to her temple.
She was clearly nervous about the demon she’d fled earlier, but she left through the village gates nonetheless.She had gotten most of the way back to the cemetery when the oni smelled her from the shadows. Outside, the storm was getting stronger, but the girls kept playing.
When the shrine maiden passed the cemetery gate, Cerys had to do her best to help her avoid the shadowy areas, which proved difficult because of how the camera angles kept changing.
“This game doesn’t hold back,” Cerys told her friend as she got to the middle of the cemetery.
Lightning flashed outside, and as its thunder came rolling in, a shadow crept up behind the shrine maiden in the game. The oni was growling at her. Then the camera switched to a different character, one in a yukata and hakama, a bamboo kasa hat pulled down over his face. The figure was leaning against a ginkgo tree that had a large cluster of headstones near it, his back to the maiden. He turned his head slightly when he heard the growling oni.
The screen flickered when lightning struck again outside. There was a moment of static and glitched pixels, a flash of an oni mask filling the screen, and then back to the game. The figure had gotten to his feet, katana in hand. Cerys gave the controller back to Himeko so that she could walk the young man over to an encounter with the oni.
There were a few minutes of dialogue, which revealed that the young man was a ronin, and that so long as he had no master, he was determined to fight oni, bakemono, and other such malevolent entities. The oni has gotten hold of the shrine maiden, who had fainted out of sheer terror, and the ronin challenged the oni to a battle.
Himeko rushed through the buttons when the battle started, trying to get a feel for the controls even while the oni rushed at the ronin. The character had lost a large chunk of health by the time she had a good feel for it and managed to start dealing damage. There was more wind and lightning and thunder outside, but Cerys ignored it in favor of cheering on her friend.
They were so focused on the battle that they didn’t hear the footsteps coming up the stairs. They both jumped when one of Himeko’s older brothers burst through the door.
“Himeko, are you–” Mitsue stopped and stared at the television. “What– does that thing run on battery back-up or something?”
“Of course not,” she replied. “Why would you ask something like that?”
“Because the power is out,” Mitsue told her, his voice dead serious.
“Clearly it isn’t,” Himeko said as she tried to figure out which button would pause the battle. “If my television and light game are working but yours aren’t, it must have been just one of the breakers.”
“What light?” Mitsue asked, looking around the room. As though to demonstrate, he turned off his flashlight. The only glow left in the room was from the television. “The entire neighborhood lost power, Hime-chan.”
Himeko dropped the controller and rushed to the window. Mitsue was telling the truth: every house she could see was dark, and not a street light was light.
“Masaka…” she whispered in Japanese. She turned to Cerys, her eyes wide.
“How long were we playing in the dark like this?” she asked Himeko.
The television flashed between screens of static and glitched pixels. Himeko caught a glimpse of the oni staring straight at her, his claws reaching out.
Himeko grabbed her friend’s hand and dashed through the door of her room. “Iko! We have to get out of here!”
As the girls ran down the stairs and Mitsue turned to follow them, he heard deep, dark laughter coming from the room.