Returning to the base after Sayuri rushed to Hideaki and held him against her, murmuring questions and reassurances for them both, Mai made her way over to the chair beside Yasu. Today had been exhausting. No matter how hard she tried to keep her eyes open to wait for the others, she couldn't avoid the heavy feeling of sleep calling.
Waking in her astral plane, Mai couldn't help but feel alone. While she’d had a few dreams since finding Gene’s body, none of them had seen the medium return as her spirit guide. With a shake of her head, she focused on what was in front of her.
The house was different. Different colour, different build. She could make out the mountain in the distance, it’s angle made it clear this was the same land the Arakaki’s home was built on. The nearby trees were also the same, though some were just saplings.
She moved closer to the house and noticed a path to the gardens in the back. Mai knew she needed to take that path. As she walked around the house, she could see that the gardens were cared for; each garden bed free of weeds and the plants full bodied. Turning the corner into the larger garden space, Mai saw a figure digging deep in the soil behind the fruit trees. A shiver spread through her body.
On the ground beside the hole was a boy. Mai’s hands flew to her mouth. As she watched, the figure, she now saw it was a man, climbed out of the hole before pushing the body of the boy into it. Once occupied, the man started to fill the grave.
The scene shifted. Mai was standing in a dark room. As her sight adjusted to the dim moonlight from the window, she could see another boy. This one was curled in the corner of the room, trying to be as small as possible. From the little amount of light, Mai could see bruises on his arms and bloodstains on his clothes . Just as she took a step towards the boy, she could hear loud footsteps coming down the hall. Impossibly, the boy curled even smaller. Somehow, Mai could hear his whispers.
“Please. No. Leave me alone. Let me go. Please, no.”
Mai turned as the door unlocked and opened. The first thing Mai noticed about this man was his eyes. They were an eerie yellow.
The man entered the room. Humming, he turned on a lamp on the wall. In the brighter light, Mai could make out more details of the man’s face. Committing as much to memory as she could, Mai followed his casual movements through the room. When he sat in a chair within arms length of the boy, she couldn't help but cry out.
The boy looked even worse in this light. He was so thin, his clothes were hanging off him. The bruises varied from deep purples and greens to sickly looking yellows. Mai was concerned about the amount of blood on the boy’s clothing. It ranged from dried dark patches to brighter red smears. How was the boy still alive? He needed help!
Forcing down her shock, Mai could hear the man talking to the boy. “Today wasn’t too bad.” He leaned back on the two fair chair legs. “The prices at the market have dropped, so I was able to find some nice things to eat.” He dropped the chair down to all four legs. The boy flinched at the sound. “Have you been a good boy today?”
At the question the boy moaned, his muscles tensing in fear. “Come over here. Sit with me and tell me how good you’ve been.”
“Please.” The boy turned his head and begged. “Please, let me go home.” He sobbed. “I want my kaa-san.”
As soon as the words had left the boy’s mouth, any kindness the man presented was gone. With a roar the man leapt to his feet. Kicking at the boy, the man started to yell. “What have I told you! She’s gone! She’s never coming back! You should be thankful for what I give you! Why are you being such a bad boy?!”
The man kicked the boy into the wall before reaching to pull him up. When he raised his fists to strike the boy, Mai turned away. She couldn’t watch this anymore. A sob tore from her throat.
She could feel the tug signaling her return to her body, relieved she heard the man say: “You’ll be one for the garden, won’t you?”
Mai woke with tears in her eyes. Choking on her breath she fought the bile rising in her throat. Ignoring the alarmed voices around her, Mai pushed herself out of the chair and raced out of the base to the bathroom. Ayako followed her there. After Mai dropped to her knees by the toilet, the woman pulled back her short hair and rubbed her back. Once Mai finished throwing up, she turned into the Priestess’ embrace and sobbed.
When Mai and Ayako returned to base, there was a sudden hush. Mai felt like she could break with a wrong movement. While she didn’t want this solemn attention, she appreciated the care her family had for her. Taking some deep breaths, Mai moved to sit in a different chair than earlier before putting her head in her hands. She needed a moment to centre herself, and being in the exact space where she woke up wasn’t going to help.
She soon heard the clink of a teacup on the table in front of her. Lifting her head, Mai saw Naru’s hand retract from the cup. He waited with a concerned look in his eyes until she grasped the cup and took a sip. Tea after horrible dreams is becoming a habit. He then moved back to his chosen chair, telling Yasuhara to share what he had found.
With a solemn nod, Yasu spoke. “I focused my research on missing children in the area. There wasn’t much to find, an occasional runaway, but nothing that stood out about missing kids. So I focused on the history of the area and the people here.” He spun his laptop around and showed the group a collection of photos. “These are photos of people who had a history of strange or violent behaviour. Especially around children.”
Mai barely paid attention after seeing the photos. That was him. Second row, third from the left. That was the man from her dream.
Seeing the look on her face, Yasu stopped talking. “Mai-chan.” Mai’s eyes snapped to Yasu’s. “Who do you recognise?”
Taking a breath, Mai pointed out the photo of the man from her dream.
“Nagai Kenta,” Yasu identified. “He was detained after an incident with a neighbourhood youth and eventually found himself in a psychiatric hospital for delusions and violent behaviour.”
Naru frowned. “Is that all?”
Yasu raised an eyebrow. “I can do some more digging. I haven't got information about everyone on the list yet. I can focus on him now.”
Naru nodded before turning to Mai. “You dreamt?” She nodded. “Tell us what happened.”
Slowly, Mai explained her dream. The horror she felt was still fresh in her mind, and she saw it reflected on the faces of the team around her. By the time she finished, she was glad for the cup of tea, even if it was now tepid. She was thankful just to hold something.
Those who went on the spiritual walkthrough had nothing to report. There was some mild lingering fear in the garden but nothing that screamed spiritual presence to them. So roughly an hour later, when Yasu felt prepared enough to share his research, the team was eager to move forward.
“Alright: Nagai Kenta. I did some digging, and found that Nagai-san was a victim of childhood abuse. His father was incarcerated for the murder of his mother, who was found buried in their garden. Nagai-san was taken in by elderly relatives and moved to this property with them. He had a reputation for being different, but was deemed harmless. Nagai-san was in his mid thirties when he was detained.” He gave a significant look to the group over his glasses.
“According to hospital records Nagai-san was reported as being submissive around adults. Especially men. He would try to avoid all adult contact and his delusions often centred around young boys. He would spend his time in his room just talking. When asked who he was talking to he would give a name, but not one anyone recognised. Occasionally, the ‘conversations’ would result in a violent rage. After six months in the hospital he was found hanging by a bedsheet. It led to several reforms on hospital safety procedures for psychiatric patients.”
Mai felt a chill run through her hearing about Nagai-san’s life. She felt pity for him. To have lived through the torment he had, only to pass that torment onto others... “During Nagai-san’s time at the hospital, this property was bought and the original structure torn down. New houses have been built on the land, but nothing like this has occurred in any of the new builds or with the previous owners.”
That struck Mai as odd. Apparently Bou-san agreed. “Why? What’s so special about the Arakaki family that this would start up?”
Yasu turned to his notes, “The reason for that, I believe, is that none of the previous owners had a young boy in the family. One owner was a middle-aged couple with teenage children; another had young children, but girls. No one fit the criteria for the spirit to gain interest in the proceedings of the house.”
“Which means Hideaki-kun is the trigger and the one most at risk,” Ayako said. “I can make some charms for him that will help keep away negative spirits until we figure out how to get rid of this one.”
Naru nodded. Moving over to Lin he said: “We need to deal with this quickly.”
Lin agreed, “While Hara-san might be able to commune with Nagai-san, I don’t think jourei will be possible for this case. We would have to wait for her to arrive before moving forward.”
“We will need to prepare for jorei. I do not want to take any chances.” Naru said.
Mai frowned at hearing this. Jourei, or the peaceful moving on of a spirit, was always her prefered type of exorcism. Nagai-san had already gone through so much trauma. Would destroying his spirit through jorei really be better?
Bou-san let out a groan and rubbed his stomach. “There was a soba noodle shop we spotted on the way up. I’ll get some for dinner. Any requests?”
After collecting orders, Mai, Bou-san, and Yasu walked out of base. Bou-san to fetch dinner and since Yasu couldn’t decide what he wanted he was making the trip too. Mai was heading to the kitchen for tea. After waving off Bou-san and Yasu from the door, Mai entered the kitchen to find Sayuri bent over the sink washing dishes.
The woman startled. “Oh! Taniyama-san. Is everything ok? Can I get you anything?” Despite her attempts to hide them, Mai could see her red-rimmed eyes.
“Everything is okay, Arakaki-san. I’m just needing to make tea. Are you ok?” Sayuri seemed to brace herself against the sink. Mai persisted. “I can understand how scary these situations can be. Is Hideaki-kun doing ok?”
Sayuri gave a watery chuckle. “He’s doing better than I am. I had no idea this was happening until that photo! How do you handle this?” She looked away as more tears filled her eyes.
“That’s why we do what we do, Arakaki-san.” Mai comforted. “To stop things like this from getting worse than they already are. No one can control how these things start, but we aim to stop them from continuing.”
“Thank you.” Sayuri wiped her eyes. Giving herself a shake, she straightened. “I know Hideaki-kun showed you earlier where everything is. Please, feel free to ask if you need any help.”
As the women continued on their tasks, Mai was distracted by a forbidding feeling. Where was Hideaki-kun? Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. She had to find Hideaki.
The sound of something smashing came from an upstairs room. Mai and Sayuri both faced the noise shock. Mai could see horror and fear develop on Sayuri’s face before the woman ran out the door screaming for Hideaki.
Mai was only a few steps behind.