The fresh smell of rain still lingering in the cool springtime air. And I found myself inhaling deeply and holding my breath ever so gently before exhaling. Each step I took I found myself feeling lighter and more relaxed than I had been earlier. It was routine at this point. My father being disappointed in my decisions. If he had it his way, I would have been a devoted miko and serve the shrine but I couldn’t commit to a restricted life when I desired to be free. And what would my mother think if I threw away who I was to make my father happy? [Sigh] She was right. Life is a complicated mess and a tangled web of choices, lies, and truths. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
Finding my spot beneath a giant tree I took out my drawing pad. If only he could appreciate my art a little more and see that my passion was for this and not for the shrine. I flipped through the charcoal sketches of half-finished portraits until I found a blank page. I inhaled deeply and began to draw my frustration. The sound of the charcoal pencil against the paper was a rhythmic tune I found relaxing and intoxicating. Before I knew it I had drawn a picture of my father holding out a paper lantern with the kanji for ‘night’ on it. A soft smile crossed my face. I loved him so much, he was all I had left in this world and I hated to let him down. I ran my fingers over the page and started laughing “you’re such a stubborn old man.”
“Mio!” Mio-chan!” His voice boomed through the forest “where are you?”
“Yusuke?” I raised my head up to see the chubby boy running at me.
“I knew you would be here.” He panted “you got to come see this!”
“I don’t want to see another beetle.” Quickly I put my pad back in my shoulder bag “Not that I am not fascinated by your findings. You got to
remember I am your friend but I’m also a girl. And sometimes girls don’t really care about beetles.”
“What are you talking about?” Confusion spread across his chubby face as he furrowed his bushy black brows “and what do you mean you don’t like beetles?” He laughed and pushed his unruly black hair back “you’re the one who got me interested in insects in the first place little Ms. Hercules beetle.”
I laughed a bit “I did, didn’t I.”
“But you got to see this.” He reached for my hand “you won’t believe it.”
“Yusuke...I really don’t want to see any insects today.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about.” He rolled his eyes “this isn’t about bugs. We got new people in town.”
He smirked, “now you’re interested.”
“You won’t believe me even if I told you.” He took my hand “you have to see to believe. They’re moving into the old Sakamoto house.”
“Now I know you’re full of it.” I snapped “who would take that haunted house?”
“Like I said if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”
I crossed my arms “you’re a really bad liar Abe Yusuke.”
“I’m not lying!” He hissed grabbing at my arm “please?”
“Then who is taking the old Sakamoto haunted house.”
He sighed deeply “you’re not going to believe me but a foreign family. American I believe.”
“Now I know you’re full of shit.” I laughed “a new American family took the old Sakamoto haunted house.”
“Stop being a brat. Just see for yourself. And they are not here alone. It’s Mr. Ishii’s new family.”
I went quiet and looked at him.
“Now do you want to see them, or no?” Yusuke pulled my arm and we both began to run through the woods.
“Apparently Mr. Ishii decided to move back home with his new family.” Yusuke said through his shallow breaths as we ran “mom said he found this blonde bombshell in New York and wanted to whisk her away before she could get away.”
I laughed. Picture Mr. Ishii with anyone was comical. He was a tall, skinny man who always dressed like he was late. He had unmanageable hair that stuck up making it look like a thorny crown. But to top off his appearance was a pair of thick-rimmed glasses that made him look like a serial killer or something out of a horror story. “No way.”
“No seriously.” Yusuke laughed, he must have been picturing the same thing as me. “He’s even in the process of adopting her two kids. Twins.”
“A boy and a girl. Apparently, they are around our age as well. Mom said they look like movie stars but act like robots.”
“How does someone act like a robot?”
“I don’t know. You know my mom. She’s a little off in the head. She’s still convinced the shoguns are going to rise and imperial Japan will rise again.”
“True.” Yusuke did have to get his crazy from one of his parents. And he was not going to get it from his dad who was the principle at our school and the most down-to-earth person to ever come from this town. And why he married the town gossip and ‘crazy’ no one knows.
“See?” We emerged from the woods.
“You weren’t lying.”
“Told you.” He smiled and puffed out his chest like he had just won a first place medal.
A big moving truck was parked in front of an old traditional Japanese house. Two blonde haired kids sat out in the yard talking to one another while a group of movers emptied the truck
“Like movie stars right?”
“I was going to say identical,” I said rolling my eyes. Yusuke had this annoying habit of trying to finish my sentences but he never got it right. I’m convinced he did this to be annoying.
“Oh.” He blushed “And look.” He pointed to a tall, skinny Japanese man standing beside the truck with a smile on his face “Ishii-sensei.”
It was Mr. Ishii. And nothing about him had changed besides a clean hair cut which actually seemed to keep his crown of thorns in control. But everything was still the same even the serial killer glasses he wore. “And he married a bombshell? Are you sure he just didn’t kidnap foreigners and bring them to Japan. I mean they can’t run away from here. There are miles and miles of uncharted forest here. He kidnapped them.”
Yusuke busted out laughing “Oh my God he did!”
The two kids looked up at us with confused expressions. It must have been a sight to see two kids standing by the edge of the woods laughing while they stared at them. It was either a scene that would cause great confusion or fear. I mean we were standing by a forest at the edge of their house in the afternoon watching them – a perfect horror movie scene.
Mr. Ishii smiled as he began to wave to us “Shimizu Mio is that you?”
I blushed. Did he remember me? It had been about three years since I last seen him. It had always been a dream of his to move to the big city of New York in America and when had the chance to go, he took it. Mr. Ishii despite his looks was a brilliant history teacher. Every school from here to Osaka wanted him to work for them. He had an inhuman brain that retained an endless pool of knowledge about our planet. When I was in his class I used to daydream that I too had that intelligence and the things I would do if given that ability. Of course being three years older now I realize that one cannot take over the world like that.
“Come on over!” He motioned for us “and bring your friend with you.”
“He remembers you. But not me.” Yusuke crossed his arms “that’s a little rude.”
I laughed as we walked over to him “Good afternoon sensei.”
“You don’t have to call me sensei.” Ishii laughed “but it feels good to hear that.” He looked at Yusuke “Abe-kun?”
Yusuke blushed “thought you forgot me.”
His dark brown eyes scanned Yusuke up and down “looking more like your mom each time I see you.” And that was a jab at Yusuke’s weight gain over the past few years. “Glad to see you’re eating well.”
Yusuke turned bright red and looked at the ground “y-yeah.”
“And you.” He turned to me “Shimizu. You’ve gotten a lot taller.” He laughed and lowered his hand “I remember when you were this tall in my class and constantly asking about how someone could hypothetically use old battle methods to rule the world.”
Yusuke giggled and punched me playfully in the side “going to take over the world there Mio?”
“Shut up.” I barked at him.
Ishii laughed and rubbed both of our heads “it’s good to see you two. Still making good grades in school I hope.”
I nodded “can’t say the same for Yusuke though.”
“Not doing so good Mr. Abe?” Ishii faked a sigh “and here I had such high hopes for you.”
“So why are you back?” I asked trying to avoid Yusuke going on a huge rant about how the teachers are out to get him. “Didn’t you like New York?”
“Oh, loved it!” Ishii exclaimed happily “it took me a while to get the hand of English and deal with the crowds. But the crowds in New York are nothing compared to Tokyo.” He winked at me. He must have remembered how badly I wanted to move to Tokyo when I was younger. “But I missed it here and I wanted to come back.” Ishii took a deep breath “nothing beats fresh air. Oh! And I got engaged! But-” He looked around “the misses will be here later tomorrow. She wanted to finish shopping in Tokyo with her sister. But –“ He looked at the kids “I can introduce you to the kids. And maybe you two could show them around for me? Gets them out.”
“They speak Japanese Abe-kun.” Ishii smiled “took them two years to start to fully understand. Just don’t ask them to write kanji. They make Abe look like a genius.”
I laughed “that bad?”
“Hey!” Yusuke blushed bright red again “I’m not that bad!”
“Sure. Sure.” Ishii petted him on the head “Martin, Emily!” He shouted, “come here for a second.”
The two of them rose up and trotted over. I could see why Yusuke’s mom said robotic. They walked side beside each other, with the same strut wearing the same look upon their faces. Both of them stared at us both with those bright blue eyes that never seemed to blink. A shiver went down my spine. They looked so exotic and yet so terrifying at the same time. I remember watching this American horror film with these white-haired children that killed people with ESP and these two looked just like them.
“Shimizu and Abe let me introduce you to Emily and Martin.” He placed his hand on their shoulders “kids.”
Martin allowed a smile to sneak through “hi. I’m Martin.” He outreached a hand.
“Remember what I said,” Ishii said giving Martin a light pat on the back.
“Oh, yeah.” He bowed slightly and reached his hand back out again “nice to meet you.”
I shook his hand and smiled “nice to meet you. Your Japanese is really good.”
“I’ve studied a lot!” Martin flushed “It’s harder than English.”
“It’ll get easier.” I said as he shook hands with Yusuke “at least I believe. I’m not very good at English so I can’t say.”
“Nonsense.” Ishii laughed “she got great marks in English class!”
“She gets good grades on everything.”
“Because she studies Mr. Abe.”
Yusuke rolled his eyes “I study too.”
“And your accent.” I turned back to Martin “it’s so easy to understand you. I thought you would have a harsh accent.”
“In English, I have more of a country accent. I’m told.” Was Martin blushing? “So I guess it went away when I started learning Japanese.”
“A little.” Emily winked “still pick up that “yaw” and “yee-haw” vibe.”
“This is Ms. Emily.”
“The prettier twin.” Emily curtsied and bowed “nice to meet ya!”
Her head full of blond curls bounced as she moved and I felt myself getting a little jealous. So much volume in her hair, naturally. Unlike my straight black hair that I once tried to curl – that’s a memory I would like to forget. Getting a closer look at them, they didn’t look like twins. Martin was a few inches taller with short, straight blond hair that had a hint of strawberry color in it. While Emily was short and very well filled out – another reason to be jealous. With curly hair that looked more golden than a shade of blond. Emily also wore thin rimmed glasses while Martin did not but Martin did have a small scar running through his thin eyebrows. It was like looking at the same picture but painted from a different artist.
Martin rolled his eyes “I guess that makes me the handsome twin. Right?”
“I take that role too.” Emily laughed “a handsome pretty.” Emily defiantly had an American accent making it impossible to mistake her a local. She stressed letters and drew words out till it got almost breathy. It wasn’t hard to understand it but I found myself having to restate what she said in my mind.
“So.” Ishii turned to us “Shimizu and Abe would you be up for taking them around town?”
Yusuke nodded “gives us something to do.”
I jabbed him in the side “we would love to!”
Martin smiled at me “really?”
I replied with a smile.
“Just don’t keep them out. Too late.” Ishii stressed that part. Despite exploring the west, roots are deep and tangled in his soul.
“We’ll try. Might be back before sunset.” Emily said laughing “but don’t stay up.”
“Before sunset.” Yusuke instantly retorted “we will be back before the sun touches the tip of the mountain.”
Ishii nodded “and maybe try and stick to the main road” he looked at the woods “I know you two have been in those woods a million times. But they have not. And I would much rather them not get used to traveling through them.”
“We’ll be in it just for a moment.” I promised, “enough time to get to the main road.”
“It’s quicker.” Yusuke finished “it’ll take us fifteen minutes longer if we take the gravel road.”
I nodded in agreement but Ishii didn't seem to like the idea “It’s easy for people to get lost in there if they don’t know where they are. Just till you get to the main road?”
“Promise.” We said in unison.
Emily and Martin stared at Ishii with disbelief on their faces “you know we lived in the country.” Martin spoke with a little bit of pain behind his words “we grew up in the woods. We can find our way home. The woods in Japan can’t be that different. Unless the wind speaks old Japanese.”
Ishii smiled finally getting out of that weird trance “you’re right but these woods are different. There are miles and miles of forest surrounding the town. Didn’t you notice when we were driving here?”
They both nodded.
“And there are more miles than just that. Reaching up these mountains and beyond what we can see. And so much of this area is uncharted and dangerous.”
“We can protect ourselves.” Emily hissed “we dealt with mountain lions before.”
“Somethings are more dangerous.”
Emily rolled her eyes “whatever. Nothing is scarier than a mountain lion protecting her cubs.”
“Just till you reach the main road. And then take the gravel road when you bring them back.” Emily crossed her arms and puffed her cheeks as Ishii blatantly ignored her “they won’t be traveling in those woods without someone.”
“I don’t understand.” Martin whispered, “what’s up with that forest.”
“That's a long story.” I sighed “a stupidly long story.” I hated the Mr. Ishii still acted like every damn adult in this town. You would think if you had seen the world like he had a small town scary story would be the last thing he would believe in.
Martin looked even more confused and just nodded “I’ll take your word for it.”