The flight had been as long as it had been boring. U.S. Airways flight number 31 had a small section for first class, but that wasn’t the portion that they had been sitting in, not at all. They were in coach, as per usual, given that the price of an international ticket to Japan rose once again. At least they were given complimentary peanuts, although one had to wonder how complimentary it was given that the packets- which only held 5 or so peanuts- were nearly impossible to open, even when you used your teeth.
It took another fifteen minutes after the plane landed to properly taxi and dock with the terminal at Mt. Fuji Shizouka airport and another ten minutes for them to go through customs as well. After that it was only a matter of getting their bags and heading out to the rent-a-car kiosk.
There were two of them, one young man and a young woman, roughly the same age. Rosh and Terry had saved up as much as possible for a vacation in Japan, given that they needed a break from their college classes on photography and journalism. Rosh had insisted they bring their cameras for stock material when they returned and Terry agreed. What she didn’t agree with, however, was from the places to take pictures from across the nearby city and the forest at the base of Mt. Fuji, rather known as Aokigahara.
“We can settle for pictures of the Tokyo nightlife, Rosh. We don’t need to go to Mt. Fuji.” Terry pointedly objected, picking her suitcase from the circling conveyor belt.
“Oh come on, you know that Prof. Matts is a sucker for nature images.” Rosh debated as he shifted his suitcase from hand to hand. “It’s an easy A-plus.”
Terry frowned at him. “Rosh, I know what you’re talking about, but you read those articles about it. You know why they call it the ‘forest of suicides’.
Rosh chuckled. “Oh, so you’re planning to do something?”
Terry scowled. “Rosh, you know what I mean.”
Rosh set his suitcase down and put his arm around his girlfriend’s shoulders. “Terry, you know they’re just stories. It’s a cultural phenomenon, not a literal cursed place. We go, stay on the paths, snap a few pictures, and we go. Easy-peasy.”
Terry sighed. “I still don’t like it.” And then she looked up at him. “Promise we won’t stay for longer than we have to?”
Rosh nodded. “In and out and back for sushi.”
Terry couldn’t help but smile at Rosh poking fun at her love of good sushi. “Ok, ok, you win. Can we find a hotel room though first? These suitcases are getting heavy.”
Rosh chuckled and gently took Terrys suitcase from her hand as well as picked up his own. “See if you can find us a ride. I’ll get the bags.”
Terry leaned up and planted a kiss on her boyfriends cheek before scampering away through the busy airport while Rosh plucked the hard case that contained their cameras from the conveyor belt and slipped Terry’s bag over his shoulders, pink strap obscuring a band of his red T-shirt. He looked to see Terry waving him over and he made his way to her, seeing her holding a pair of train tickets with something akin to a triumphant smile to her face.
It wasn’t long before they were enjoying a semi-relaxing, cramped, stuffy train ride on one of Japans famous shinkansen trains. Rosh was stuck sitting with the bags on his lap, making sure that no-one stepped on them but Terry had the pleasure of watching the landscape zip by at high speeds, better than what she had seen while on the highways back home. Tokyo had purportedly been several hours from the airport, but within thirty minutes she was able to see the faint outline of the buildings against the solid blue hue of the sky.
Rosh looked at her and smiled. “Having fun so far?”
Terry nodded. “I wish I had my camera out. It’s so amazing.
Rosh chuckled. “If you want to risk it, go ahead. It’s the box on top.”
Terry shook her head. “I don’t want someone to nudge me and break it.”
Rosh gave a dry nod and went back to trying to keep the stack of cases from toppling over like the leaning tower of Pisa. Another ten minutes and the duo were out and about in the bustling streets of Tokyo. Terry enjoying the sights and the signs while Rosh was imagining that his spine was going to shatter like glass while returning polite smiles to a group of passing schoolgirls. Terry didn’t notice, thankfully, given that she wasn’t exactly the least jealous of girls, at least when it came to her boyfriend.
“Too bad I don’t know how to speak native.” Rosh said aloud as Terry, putting her Japanese language minor to good use, asked for directions for the nearest hotel.
“It’s not hard.” Terry replied. “All you need is a brain and an ear that isn’t tin.”
Rosh frowned, “I don’t have a tin ear.”
“You listen to country music.” Terry playfully replied. “You have a tin ear.”
“No I don-… I have a brain!”
“Sure you do, Scarecrow.” Terry laughed as Rosh nudged her in retaliation.
Terry smiled at him before leading Rosh through the streets of the city to the closest hotel she could find. It was relatively close to the train station, which meant that they could easily visit the surrounding countryside. Terry was anxious to snap a few pictures but waited with barely emulated patience as Rosh managed to set their suitcases and the camera case down on the single bed that dominated the hotel room. Terry quickly fished her professional-grade camera out of the case, swapped out the lens filter and headed for the window as Rosh visited the bathroom.
“This is so cool!” He heard Terry exclaim from the other room as he took care of business. “Too bad we don’t have a balcony.”
“We still have time to look around, Terry.” Rosh called out from the bathroom.
“Are you sure?” Terry called back. “It seems pretty late!”
“Did you make sure your watch is set for Japan’s time zone?”
A slight pause.
“Well?” he called again.
“Never mind!” she called back, obviously having forgotten.
Rosh glanced at his own watch and zipped his fly, gave his hands a quick wash before heading out and picked up his own camera. It was digital, as opposed to Terrys which needed film. When he bought it, it had been top of the line with 40 mega-pixels and optical zoom rather than digital zoom. It took him a good chunk of his life savings but it was a smart purchase to be honest.
“Come on! Let’s go exploring!” Terry was jumping up and down excitedly, obviously having fun with her own form of photography. “Please-please-please?”
Rosh agreed and slipped the camera strap around his neck before heading for the door. Terry beat him to it and was already outside just as he reached the door. She waited for him to lock it before racing him outside. Rosh took his time, knowing that they had plenty of time to look around the city. What he really wanted to do was get to Mt. Fuji as quickly as possible. He had a devil of an idea for a portfolio that he was going to call “The Faces of Death”, and the forest of suicides would be the headstone of that particular feat.
Terry was more interested in nature and cityscape rather than some gothic journalism attempt that was already late for Halloween. Of course, knowing Rosh, he wasn’t going to stop with his idea since it was practically his sole focus. Once he thought of something that he thought was brilliant, he never stopped until he either finished or was forced to halt progress.
Terry took a few pictures of pedestrians, cars and even the buildings around them while Rosh snapped a few of seemingly mundane objects and sites that had an aura of… something about them. Objects and pictures that had an unmistakable allure to them. Terry noticed and snapped a picture on occasion but the allure had been lost, stolen by Rosh.
The time had shifted to mid-afternoon and Rosh suggested a train ride. Terry immediately knew what he was after and, although more often she would have disagreed. This time, however, she agreed since it seemed like a good idea this time around. She DID need a few nature images after all, and Aokigahara was the closest forest nearby after all.
“Rosh, promise not to do anything weird?” Terry asked as she stood with him in the train station, winding her camera for the next shot.
“What do you think I’m going to do?” Rosh looked at her, eyebrow arched.
“Well, I don’t want you wandering off to look for a skeleton or something.” Terry frowned at him. “You know how you get when you think something would be ‘cool’.”
“I won’t, I promise.” Rosh replied, looking her straight in the eye.
“Rosh, I’m serious. No wandering off.”
“I won’t, I swear!” Rosh frowned at her.
Terry smiled and nuzzled his arm with the top of her head, almost like a cat would do. “Good boy.” She giggled when she saw his reaction.
The train arrived five minutes later and both of them were thankful that this train was more devoid of passengers, at least by Japans standards. Terry found a seat but Rosh had to remain standing, holding onto one of the safety rails as the train zoomed along the tracks. It wasn’t until half past three that they finally got to their stop and spent the next half hour in a taxi- or what passed for one- to get to the forest on the northwestern base of Mt. Fuji.
The first thing that Terry noticed was the sheer amount of signs, both in English and the native language, that seemed to be centered around suicide prevention. This was only one of the reasons why she didn’t want to come here, given that she had her own bout with severe depression a few years ago and almost did something outstandingly stupid, right before she met Rosh. She tried not to pay attention, but that was slightly difficult when Rosh took several images of several of the signs.
“I don’t want to spend too long here, ok?” Terry said softly, hugging herself, feeling slightly cold even though the sun was shining brightly at a balmy temperature.
“Just long enough, I promise.” Rosh kissed her cheek before heading for the metal gate that marked the entrance of the forest.
Terry felt something pull at her, trying to lead her away but she moved to follow Rosh through the gate, the back of her neck feeling strangely warm and numb for some reason. Rosh was already snapping more pictures with his camera, chuckling to himself at the sheer size of some trees, the emotional values of the signs, even the melancholy atmosphere in the air. She tried to take her own pictures, of the small building that made up the welcome center, a bench and trash bin, even a light but she still felt ill at ease.
She told Rosh to wait for a moment and headed to the welcome center. There was a middle-aged man inside, apparently organizing pamphlets on a stand but he stopped to look at her, bidding a kind “hello” to her. She replied in kind before asking if he had any pamphlets about the history of the forest.
He directed her to a few that either touched base on the history of the forest or the history of the park itself when it became a “popular” spot in Japan. Terry took one of each before asking when the park closed. While she was busy with that, Rosh was content to busy himself with more photography, taking a picture of the forest itself at the edge of the marked path.
When Terry came back out she found no sign of Rosh. It was as if he had vanished into the forest itself, but she knew better. He snuck off to go into the forest in search of a skeleton, exactly the sort of thing he promised NOT to do! Terry groaned to herself and searched for a point in the pink strip of hazard tape that had been broken, knowing that Rosh wasn’t really the one to be “smart” to cover his tracks in this sort of thing.
It wasn’t long before she found the breech and stepped through, finding what seemed to be a path for her to follow. She was fuming at this point, letting her camera rest on the neck strap as she stepped over mammoth-sized roots, around colossal tree trunks and through mossy grass and dirt. She called his name out several times, hearing her voice be swallowed up in the thick forest air.
She couldn’t help but wonder if she was going the wrong way but a strip of tattered cloth resting on a root. That was all she needed to know that she was headed in the right direction, although had she been thinking clearly she would have taken the time to wonder if Rosh was hurt. Of course, she was too preoccupied with the face that Rosh had wandered off in the first place.
“Rosh! Dammit Rosh! Rosh!” she cried out several times, wondering just where the hell her boyfriend went. “ROSH!”
There was no response, save for the silent whisper of the breeze through the trees.
“RO-” she began to cry out again when the dirt under her foot gave way and she fell forwards. She landed hard, her head hitting something relatively hard but not hard enough to bash her brains out. She blinked several times to clear the stars that were flying across her eyes.
She immediately wished they were still floating when they cleared. She found herself resting over a bleached-white skeleton in old, tattered clothes that couldn’t have been more than two years old. Hollow eye sockets stared into her fearful green eyes and she did what any girl would do in her position.
She was still shaking as Rosh hugged her tightly, rocking her ever so slightly. He cooed in her ear, trying to help her calm down but she had just cowgirl-ed a suicide skeleton and screamed herself hoarse. It was enough for Rosh- who had walked around the back of the welcome center- as well as the forest attendant himself to come running like she was being murdered.
It seemed like fate that she herself found a skeleton after the annual search had been performed. That was enough for Rosh to say that the day was over and for them to go home. He didn’t even bother to try and photograph the remains, focusing solely on Terrys wellbeing.
She seemed to recover somewhat as they got back to the hotel room. She mentioned being hungry and Rosh grabbed a small bento box of sushi for her while grabbing a more “western” meal for himself, complete with drinks as well. She was content to eat in silence while he pulled the memory card from his camera and plugged it into his laptop. He sat cross-legged on the ground, laptop balancing on his lap and opened one of the photos with an editing program.
The first image was one of one of the suicide prevention signs that littered the parking lot and walkways of the forest. He tried a few digital filter settings and even tried to alter the brightness and contrast settings before moving onto the next image without saving his changes.
The next image was one of a particularly foreboding tree that stood right behind a park bench and trash receptacle. Another few experiments with the shading, lighting and this time he tried a color overlay, adding a hue of blue to the image. Again, the image wasn’t saved and he moved onto the third image.
It was one of Terry looking at one of the signs, arms crossed under her breasts, auburn hair glimmering in the broken sunlight of the trees and foliage. It would have been an amazing image alone without modification, but there was something that did not make a lick of sense to him. In the image, to the side of Terry, there was another figure, dressed in white.
Rosh blinked and closed out the image before reopening it, simply believing it to be a digital error. “Ok, what the hell?” Rosh asked aloud when he saw the same image with the same unknown person. “Seriously, what is this, the Grudge?”
It was a bad joke, considering that bad movie came out of Japan, but when he took the photo Terry was standing there alone. Rosh set the photo aside in a new folder on his computer that he didn’t bother naming and pulled up a fourth. This one was of Terry taking a photograph of her own and yet again there was that same white figure standing behind her, stringy black hair obscuring their face. It was like someone was cosplaying that grudge girl.
“Seriously.” Rosh muttered to himself. “What the fuck?”
It didn’t stop there. In every one of the photos that had Terry in it that same freak was in them as well, not gesturing, not doing anything but standing there like a drowned corpse. Rosh looked up at Terry, who was reading a manga book before looking back at his computer. He eventually closed out the editing program and set his computer aside, thinking that his camera was the cause.
Of course, it didn’t explain why grudge girl was always in a different position in the pictures, not posing per se but actually moving around terry in comparison. In one image she was on Terrys left and in another she was behind her. Not a single bit of sense.
He didn’t tell her though, since it was just a camera glitch and she had been through enough that day anyway. He simply gave her a kiss on the cheek after she finished her sushi and set out to eat his own dinner while she was snuggled against his side, still reading her book.
It wasn’t until they went to bed that the real weirdness began. Rosh dreamed that he was still in the hotel room, Terry laying with her head on his arm like usually did when they slept together with one big thing to consider. There was a young man with a jacket and ball-cap sitting at the edge of their bed. He was facing away from them with what looked to be a bottle of liquor in his hand.
Rosh was the first to react, sitting up to exclaim and forcibly remove this person from their room but his body refused to react. He was numb beyond all sense of the word, no feeling in any portion of his limbs. The only thing he was able to do was move his eyes as the young man stood up, setting the bottle aside and turning to look at them both. Rosh was horrified to find that the young man had no face, only a grinning skull was under his hat.
Things only went downhill from there as the young man with the skeleton face walked over to Terry’s side of the bed and picked her up from the mattress, carrying her towards the window of the room. Rosh struggled to regain control of his body as Terry was carried towards the window. Rosh was struck dumb when she and her captor simply passed through the wall like they were made of nothing.
It wasn’t until a few minutes after they disappeared that Rosh was able to move once more. The first thing he did was rush for the window and look out for any sign of his girlfriend before realizing that this was just a dream. He slapped himself to try and wake up from this nightmare but was stopped short when he felt the full brunt of the pain. He blinked and tried to wake himself up once more, this time by pinching himself and twisting hard. Suffice it to say the pain alone made himself stop quickly.
He was beginning to think that he was awake, especially when he tripped over the bottle that the ethereal intruder had left, bashing his toe in with a prompt curse. He searched high and low for her before feeling like he was being pulled towards something. It took him a while to realize that, in his minds eye, he was being subject to the sight of Herculean trees, thick mountain air… it was the forest he and Terry had visited.
Without taking the time to wonder about the implications, or more towards the point of “why”, Rosh threw his clothes on, grabbed his camera and a flashlight from his suitcase- as well as some batteries- before running out of the hotel room towards the train station.
There was already a train waiting for him, completely barren except for him and the train conductor. Rosh tried to keep from panicking, from thinking that he was going to be too late to find terry, even though a sane man would have questioned if Terry would have even been in the forest at all and not locked in some room back in the hotel. He couldn’t explain it to himself, let alone anyone else, but he was convinced that Terry was in the forest. He didn’t know how he knew, but he knew it without a doubt.
The train dropped him off and he walked the rest of the way, the five minute trip now taking all of fifteen minutes with him alternating between jogging and walking when he was exhausted. it didn’t take him long to reach the gates that he and Terry had first passed through earlier, but now they were locked, latched with a chain and padlock to boot. Rosh wasn’t going to be dissuaded in the least, instead pocketing his light and pulling himself over the gate, wincing as it shook and rattled under his weight.
He dropped to the other side and felt a sharp pain shoot up his leg when he didn’t bend it properly. He swore and tried to walk it off, even though the pain refused to subside easily. He had to walk with a limp for a bit, moving towards the welcome center, shining his light towards the ground and around to the trees, searching for any hint of Terry.
The welcome center was unlocked with the door wide open, which seemed like a major oddity but Rosh went in, calling out if anyone was present. There was no response, of course, to which Rosh walked into the office that the guide had run out of when Terry had screamed her head off. He wasn’t there, of course, and there was nothing to speak of but a few batteries- wrong size for his flashlight, of course- and the stacks of pamphlets that were in unreadable chicken-scratch.
He turned around and whatever train of thought he might have had derailed at that point. He left the door to the office open, and yet somehow it shut behind him without a sound or without him otherwise knowing. He felt like scratching his head in confusion before moving to open it. Without warning, he became obscenely cold to the point that he started to shiver uncontrollably. It wasn’t until he moved away from the door that he began to regain some sense of warmth although it took an easy five minutes for that to happen.
There was nothing in front of the door, no malfunctioning heating or cooling vent, nothing. Yet he could see that the door latch was still locked. That’s when he had an idea. Setting the flashlight aside on the desk to his left, he picked up and turned on his camera, peering through the visual panel and that was when he felt like he was going to have to change his pants.
In front of the door was that same woman in white that he had seen stalking Terry in the photos on his laptop. She was facing away from him, in that same pose as before. He looked up over his camera and saw only the door but through the lens of his camera he saw her.
That’s when his finger moved for the “capture” button and suddenly the flash erupted, almost blinding Rosh. Immediately an ear-piercing, banshee scream slashed through the air and Rosh grabbed at his ears, trying to tune out the wailing right before the windows that the glass in the door shattered both inwards- pelting him with glass shards- and outwards like an explosion. All at once the shriek stopped and silence rushed to fill the void.
Rosh blinked and took his hands away from his ears, unsure if he was dead or not. He looked down at himself and checked every part of his body that he could easily reach and was eventually content that, apart from a few minor and a few nasty cuts on his body, he was mostly ok. He looked back up at the door and checked through the eye of his camera before stepping out through where the glass pane on the door had been, moving only when he was sure that whatever that woman was had gone.
He looked around outside with his camera as well, looking out towards the gate he had clambered over. The gate was still closed, but for some damn reason it had all of these paper tags on it, each one covered in more Japanese chicken scratch that he couldn’t read. After feeling like he had just walked into a meat locker with that one chick, he wasn’t about to go anywhere near the gate. For all he knew he would end up feeling like a used matchstick.
“Terry!” He called out, cupping his hands over his mouth like a loudspeaker. “TERRY!”
There was no response, of course. Rosh, having no other recourse, pulled his light from his pocket and went searching around for the section of pathway that allowed Terry to break into the forest in the first place, the same one he used to find her. He was grabbing at straws now, hoping she would be in the same place as that skeleton. Climbing through the forest without a pathway had been hazardous even in dead daylight. Now it was ridiculously close to impossible as Rosh found out, forced to hold his light in his mouth while crawling over tree roots and slipping over mossy rocks.
Any semblance of landmarks was lost in the night as Rosh blindly felt around for purchase, half expecting something to grab him from above or for him to come face to face with a skeleton of some kind. Of course, when he thought he was in the right place and if anything he was going to find a skeleton, he was proven wrong once again. The same crevice, the same tree, the same everything according to memory and there was no sign of Terry or skull-face.
“God dammit.” Rosh muttered to himself, not bothering to scream it out in frustration. “Where the hell are you, Terry?”
He managed to drag himself out of the forest- nearly breaking his camera and his neck in the process- back onto the path. He tripped over the low rope railing and managed to twist to the side to avoid landing flat on his camera but instead mashed his arm against the ground, his flashlight slipping from his sweat-slicked fingers and clattering off someplace.
“Shit!” He swore out loud as he fumbled around, trying to feel for his light. Eventually he had to resort to using the flash on his camera to look around, glancing at the resulting image and from memory to find it.
It wasn’t hard to find the silver-colored cylinder on the ground when it contrasted the ground as sharply as it did. The light refused to work and for a moment Rosh feared that the light itself was broken. He tried clicking the on/ off button a few times before slapping the bulb assembly against the palm of his hand. The light pulsed occasionally but refused to stay on. He gave it one last slap and it flashed to life this time. Unfortunately, it projected a circle of light right onto the face of that white-wearing emo girl.
This time, however, her hair wasn’t in her face and Rosh would given the world for it to be so. He took one look and instantly it was burned into his memory forever. The mottled, pallid skin, the black ichor oozing from her eyes and mouth, the red hellfire from behind her pupils. Rosh literally jumped into the air and backpedaled as she grabbed for him, her fingertips ripped and shredded to reveal the tips of the bones in her fingers.
Rosh tripped and landed hard on his ass, the camera jerking against the strap around his neck. She let out a low hiss that began to grow in pitch and magnitude until it was verging on that same banshee-like wail. Rosh grabbed at his ears but one of his hands slipped and hit the top of his camera, mashing the “capture” button. A brilliant light- far brighter than what the flash bulb should have been capable of- tore through the darkness and illuminated the demon before him.
What should have been a victory for him became another shock. The second that the burst of light hit Ms. Emo she lit up like a gasoline-soaked Christmas tree. Quite literally, she burst into flames and started to flail around like anyone else in her position, the wail verging on ultrasonic now, bright red flames licking at the cool air like tongues from Kyubi-no-Kitsune itself.
The woman- if that was what she could be called- stumbled off, still alight and Rosh looked on in horror as her immolated form passed from behind trees, moving at a speed greater than anyone else could without tripping over the landscape- before the sunset glow disappeared into the darkness. Rosh, with his heart hammering against his ribs like a heavy metal drummer, slowly took his hands away from his ears and finally released the breath he had been holding for so long.
“Jesus…” He panted, still sitting on his ass. He swallowed- tasting what may as well have been a mixture of plastic and copper- and pulled himself to his feet, clutching his camera in a white-knuckled grip, looking around uneasily.
This place… Rosh knew it was a mistake to come here in the first place and now here he was, looking for his girlfriend and needing a change of underpants- may as well change his pants out as well for Christ’s sake. Rosh let out another shaky breath and took a tentative step forwards, avoiding the black footprints that whatever that thing had been had left in her fiery wake.
He reluctantly let his camera hang against his chest as he held his light ahead, almost like a talisman. It was still working- thank god- but as much as he would have wanted to, it was next to impossible for him to coordinate holding his camera and light in each hand. The camera itself was heavy, not to mention the professional-grade lens assembly he had bought for it as well. You either held it with both hands or you had a handful of super-expensive glass dust.
Rosh opened his mouth to call out for Terry but immediately shut it. As much as he wanted to find her, he didn’t want for something else- possibly worse- to find him and try to tear him a new one. Dealing with one hot-headed bitch was enough for him anyway. Moving slowly, trying to maintain some semblance of stealth, he moved forwards.
As he moved down the pathway, he couldn’t help but notice that this whole thing seemed like a bad story. The only missing cliché was Slenderman coming up from behind with his back-tentacles. As soon as that thought was formed Rosh immediately turned around, a chill rolling down the back of his neck. He had to stop freaking himself out, especially when the forest natives were doing that without trying.
Some distance from the front gate and welcome center, easily in sight during broad daylight, Rosh happened across a series of giant red arches. The name escaped him but he did read enough Wikipedia articles to know that they supposedly kept out evil spirits… or something.
Rosh glanced over his shoulder once more, the feeling of ice still on his neck before pressing on. He counted five of those giant red arches that he passed underneath before passing back into the forest. Too bad Japan didn’t turn this place into a giant haunted house, seriously, they’d make millions in a day. Then again, they’d probably kill their customers by scaring them to death.
The snapping of a branch to his left ripped his attention from his own thoughts to the real-life nightmare he was stuck in. He shined his light into the darkness and revealed just enough to see the rope-fence of the path as well as the bark of a tree just beyond. He swallowed the stone in the back of his throat and kept walking, unsure if he was smart in pressing on, or even if Terry was going to be around in this hellhole.
He got his answer after a short while, finding that the path split into three branching trails. He was never good at guessing games- something that Terry used to her advantage- so he used a childhood habit of his.
“Eenie-meanie-miney… not that way.” He said before he heard an ominous sound towards the right-hand trail, choosing to go left instead.
Of course, it was proven- if there was any doubt before- that he was horrible at guessing games. He didn’t manage to get more than five steps when he saw an innocuous blue ball of fire float through the air. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw it, freezing like prey would freeze in the presence of a predator. The blue spheroid of pseudo-plasma seemed to stop and hover for a moment before bobbing in his direction. Rosh swore under his breath and backed up before turning and running when the ball of fire split into five separate parts.
People who played videogames had a word for this. A “Nope” moment and that had to be the best thing to describe this whole situation. He barreled down the right hand pathway before making it back to the fork in the road. He skidded to a halt and took off running down the center pathway when he found another cluster- four, if you had to count- of floating fireballs. He wasn’t in the mood to be torched in any way.
At least the law of averages was on his side. Two out of three choices, two out of three chance of being right, at least he could say that two was his lucky number now. He found another one of those red arches and better yet he saw Terry laying underneath it. Rosh broke out into a dead run and rushed to her side, trying to rouse her from her slumber.
“Terry!” he hissed, tenderly slapping her cheek. “Terry, get the hell up!”
Her eyes fluttered for a second before snapping open. She jerked upright straight against his chest and he reactively put his arm around her. “Hey! Terry, are you alright?!”
She whimpered and clung against him. “I-I-I-I don’t w-w-want t-to s-stay…” she stammered, obviously scared beyond any sense of the word.
Rosh gently pulled her to her feet and kept his hand on hers as he led her back, only now realizing that those fireballs may still have been floating around. It seemed that they decided to go off and do whatever it was floating fireballs did for fun. Maybe burn the smurfs out of their homes or roast marshmallows on one another. Terry whimpered and Rosh nearly jumped out of his skin before catching himself.
They both heard something as they neared the series of holy arches. Terry turned and gasped right before Rosh turned himself around. His jaw dropped at the sight before he found the brilliant idea to run like hell. Terry let out a sharp yelp as she was jerked along.
Behind them was a crawling mass of inky blackness that was only discernable from the aura of sickly violet. Of course, it could have been that they both saw the seemingly floating, flowing mismash of human faces that looked like Frankenstein revisited with a dash of SAW with a peppering of Hostel. Case in point, it was beyond descriptive words.
Terry tripped and her hand was pulled from his. He skidded to a halt and turned to get her but he was too late. The amoebic mass of curling, vaporous nightmares overcame her and she screamed her last scream. Rosh gaped at the sight but eventually he was forced to run for his own life as the rolling mass moved for him. He turned and didn’t look back, running as fast as he could, past the point that he thought his lungs would burst.
He managed to get to the gate and tried to pull it open. It refused to yield for him and he pulled again, his chest aching. “Open god-dammit!” he yelled as he pulled and twisted against the metal gates.
It wasn’t until he noticed the padlock once again that he remembered. The gates were locked and he had to climb over to get in. He risked a glance over his shoulder, saw nothing for the time being and struggled to pull himself up. He strained against gravity before landing hard on his back, his camera flying up over his head and shattering against the ground. He groaned and sat up before realizing how much trouble he was in now.
He heard something squish and instantly his insides clenched as he felt a familiar numbness on the back of his neck. He turned his head slowly, fearfully towards the origin of the sound and found himself looking at Terry. Instantly he was on his feet, slightly distrustful but his love for her won out over caution.
“Terry, get over here!” he yelled at her and she calmly obliged. “Come on, give me your foot.”
She didn’t lift her foot up to accept the lift-up but instead wrapped her arms around his neck. “It’s all going to be ok, Rosh.” She whispered as she drew him close.
“Terry, are you insane!? We have to get out of here!” he said hastily, trying to pull away but she held him close with an unnatural strength.
“Shh.” She cooed. “Everything will be fine.”
Rosh tried to pull away once again but gave some pause when he noticed a blue orb of fire rise up from behind her back, as well as that nightmare ooze start to crawl over his skin.
Raka Takamura sighed to himself as he stepped over a large root of one of the great trees of Aokigahara. This was the annual search of the forest, looking for the bodies of those who had taken their lives. Raka put his hand against the trunk of another tree for support as he stepped up, wondering if his fellow volunteers had found anything yet. Part of him wanted to go back to the welcome center where he was supposed to be working, and yet the other half urged him to continue.
His thoughts wandered to the couple he had met several months ago, the kind, redhead girl and her protective boyfriend. They seemed to be very courteous to everyone, as well as one another. It was refreshing to see, compared to some couples that had visited Aokigahara in the past.
Raka sighed quietly as he stepped down from a rock. He looked up and found what could only be described to be a small clearing in the sea of trees. In the center of the clearing there was a Shinto-esque shrine with a pair of skeletons nestled under it. Raka sighed and made his way over.
There was nothing scary about the sight. A skeleton was not scary to him. It was saddening, yes, to know that one- or in this case, two- had passed in some way, but it was not scary at all. The larger of the two was on its backside, still in tattered clothes while the smaller was nestled against the first’s side, almost as if it was snuggling. They both looked to be several years old, but that was quite impossible.
Even though the Sea of Trees was vast, it was easy to remember where you tread if you paid attention. He himself had walked this way on the annual searches several times and never had he noticed this shrine. He kneeled down, gloved hand touching the ground near the male skeleton. He glanced up and noticed something quite odd. More of a curiosity than an anomaly.
Wrapped around the lowest post of the shrine, hanging by a faded strap, was a broken, once expensive camera.