Karamatsu’s feet halted when the whispered curse reached his ears, bags of groceries by his side as he faced his older sibling.
“Is something ailing you, brother?” He asked, noting the look of pain on his face.
“Nope! I’m just a bit tired doing all this work. Let’s keep going, yeah?” The eldest said with a smile, secretly hoping that he would believe him.
“Right! We mustn’t keep our parents and brethren waiting!”
While continuing their walk home, he thought he saw bags starting to form underneath his eyes. He didn’t say or mention anything about it the rest of the way.
Dinner was as usual in the Matsuno household. All of them sitting at the table, enjoying each other’s company, chatting about their day while enjoying the dinner their mom had made: warm rice omelets with some broccoli and chicken on the side.
“Hey Osomatsu, can you pass me the ketchup?” Choromatsu asked.
As he was reaching for the bottle, he noticed something over at the corner and froze. Worried glances were exchanged between the rest of the family before Jyushimatsu picked up his plate and glass, moved over to the empty spot, and handed the ketchup to him.
“Here you go, niisan.”
The eldest looked at the bottle in confusion before a glimmer of remembrance shone in his eyes.
“Thanks, Jyushi. Here you go, Choromatsu.”
The third eldest thanked him. The rest of the dinner was silent after that.
“Are you alright, niisan?” Todomatsu asked. “You look pale.”
“I’m okay. Just...thought I saw something, but it could be nothing but my mind messing with me.”
“Well, son, if you’re starting to see things, then maybe it’s about time you go to bed early tonight.” Matsuzo offered.
“Your father's right. A good night’s sleep would rest your mind.” Matsuzo added.
“You know what? That sounds very good right now. Thanks for the food, mom. And thanks for the advice, dad.” He said with a smile.
“You’re welcome.” They replied.
And with a simple “good night”, he went upstairs.
He couldn’t sleep.
Everytime he tried to close his eyes, his mind kept on repeating the same things.
The pained expression he saw on his face when he turned around, the twitch in his smile, the way his eyes looked earlier before Jyushimatsu brought him back to reality and after…
It almost felt like it was trying to tell him something. Something important. The feeling deep in his chest didn’t help either.
What was going on with him?
Since when there was someone downstairs? He didn’t see anyone else with them when they cleaned up...
He glanced left and right from where he was lying down, counting off everyone in his mind.
One, two, three...four….five...
One was missing.
Trying his best not to wake anyone else, he crept out of the futon and descended to the lower floor. He followed the sound of footsteps until he reached the front of the house. The door was left cracked open, spilling a faint chill all over the area.
He grabbed two pairs of shoes and jackets from the closet nearby and stepped out, slowly closing the door behind him.
Wandering underneath the pale glow of the moon, he searched everywhere for him, but he couldn’t find hide nor hair of the eldest.
That is, until he saw him sitting at the bench in the park.
“Aniki! I have been looking all over for you! Here, take this coat and shoes I’ve grabbed from the house-“
Just when he was about to give them to him, he felt a rough push.
When he came to, he found himself wearing his signature blue hoodie and jeans, lying on a pure white void.
“Get the hell away from me!”
He looked up to see Osomatsu standing in front of him, his eyes burning in a rage unlike any he had ever seen.
“I..I don’t understand...Why are you acting like this? I just wanted to-“
“What? Help? The only way you can help is to leave me alone.”
He began to walk away. But something stopped him.
Someone stopped him.
“Let go of me, Kara.”
“No. Not until you explain what the hell is up with you-“
“I’M TRYING TO PROTECT YOU AND OUR FAMILY!”
“What? Protect us?” He repeated. “From what?”
Chills went down Karamatsu’s spine as a miasma of terror came over the eldest, dying the whiteness around the two into grey. He then let out a dark chuckle that escalated, faltered, and receded into a broken, pained sob.
When he turned his head towards him, he began to relax once his eyes met with the same earthy shade.
Only for his heart to take a nosedive once he noticed the other side. Ink black smoke covered the right side of his face and a horn protruding from his head.
But the worst of it was his eye. A crimson red iris surrounded by black sclera, its sharp pupil staring back into his own.
“What do you think?”
But before he could say anything back, he woke up in an empty futon.
What was that?
Something wasn’t right.
He wasn't sure of what exactly, but he knew that whatever it is, it had to do with his older brother. The dream, or should he say nightmare, made sure to tell him that.
The only question he had now is whether or not to believe it.
He blinked, finding everyone sitting around at the table, including himself. Since when did he get downstairs?
“Are you feeling alright, Karamatsu?” Osomatsu asked, his voice soft with worry, but his eyes looked sharper.
“Oi, stop looking at me like that. Is there something wrong with me or is your head really that empty?”
“Osomatsu!” Choromatsu shouted, his voice sharp.
“What? It’s true, isn’t it?” He replied back, smiling. “After all, kara does mean empty, right?”
Before anyone could say anything else, he fell onto the ground by a punch to the face.
“You better shut your mouth, Bakamatsu..” Ichimatsu growled, holding onto his red hood.
“Or what? You gonna punch me? Do it. I dare you.”
He clenched his teeth and reeled back his fist only to get grabbed from behind, separating him from the eldest.
“Jyushi, what are you..?”
“Don’t do it, niisan! It isn’t him!”
“Hah?! What do you me-”
Osomatsu froze when he felt the second grab the back of his hood.
“You…! Let go of me! I’ll make you wish you weren’t born-”
“Shut up. You’re coming with me.”
The others watched as Karamatsu opened the shoji and closed it shut, leaving them behind.
He let out a grunt of pain as he was pushed to the wall of an alleyway.
“What was that for? I can’t believe you would do this, Kara! To your own brother! What will the others think-”
“Stop using his voice.”
“Huh? What are you talking about-”
“You heard me.”
His face went white.
“...Fine. Can we go now?”
“Drop the disguise.”
The eldest closed his eyes and sighed, revealing his true self. Smoky body and all.
“What are you and what are you doing in my brother’s body?”
“Can’t you tell with the horns? I’m a demon. As for why I chose him as my vessel, I just jumped at the first one I could find. He isn’t perfect, but he is proving to be rather useful…Maybe I should keep him."
“Oh? And why not?”
“Because I won’t let you.”
“And how, pray tell, would you be able to? You’re just a human. Unless...you want to make a deal. Hear me out. If I turn you into one of us, then I’ll let him go and possess someone else. How about it?”
“....You promise that he’ll be free of you?”
“....Alright. I’ll do it.”
As soon as he said it, a toothy grin grew on its face, watching him clutching his hoodie in pain.
The mist began to unravel from his body, releasing the pale man underneath it.
A wisp-like figure appeared behind the second as he caught his brother and placed him gently on the ground.
“I gotta say, it’s been a pleasure doing business with you, Karamatsu. You are by far the most interesting mortal I have ever met. I'll be seeing you on the other side."
With a wave of its hand, it began to leave.
But before it could, a sharp feeling pierced its head.
"No. It...It can’t be-”
It whipped its head back to see a light heading towards it and screamed.