Chapter Three is dedicated to everyone that reviewed, including anonymous readers: clalalala, L, and Troll. A special thanks to Hartanna, for all her efforts, and Flower of the Flame, for a very encouraging review.
Chapter Four is on the way, though I'm not sure how long it will take me to get it posted. Please be patient with me, ladies and gentlemen.
As many of you probably noticed, this fic is rated "M" for "Mature." Previous chapters did not live up to this rating, except for some curse words. Chapter Three features frequent swearing as well as one heavily scented-lemon scene. You've officially been warned.
And yes, this fic does contain a "Scooby-Doo" reference. A gold star for you if you notice.
Standard disclaimers apply.
Being reborn as an okiagari is very like waking from a beautiful, peaceful dream. I do not want to wake up; I would rather dream forever… I try to will myself to remain sleeping… Too late. I can feel myself waking. I try to cling to the dream, to remember it. However, the harder I try to hold on, to remember, the quicker my dream seems to slip through my proverbial fingers, forever eluding my grasp.
If a higher power does exist, then I have been forsaken. Damned to the fate of the okiagari, I know this before I even open my eyes.
I open my eyes and observe… An unfamiliar ceiling. As my vision adjusts, I notice that the patch of ceiling directly within my view is framed by the open canopy of an equally unfamiliar bed. Where am I?
I sit upright and glance around the dimly illuminated room.
A bedroom. The bedroom in question is rather spacious and lavishly decorated, with European-style furniture. Along the wall immediately to my left are several large windows, though this is less of an observation and more of an assumption. Each window is adorned with heavy drapery that would, I assume once again, effectively block out any and all sunlight.
European furniture… Drawn curtains… Fuck. I'm inside Kanemasa, aren't I?
To the best of my knowledge, I am unhurt. However, I am hungry… No, thirsty… So thirsty that my insides burn uncomfortably and my body feels irresistibly weak. Despite my trembling knees, I manage to slide out of the bed and stand, however unbalanced.
A slight breeze, most likely from the ventilation system, kisses my bare skin. Fantastic. I'm inside Kanemasa… AND I've been disrobed.
I should probably be more upset at the fact that I have recently joined the ranks of the undead than I feel at the present moment. However, I'm focusing on the three doors; my biggest priority is escaping from Kanemasa as soon as possible.
But first, I must find some clothes to wear.
Mustering all of my remaining physical strength, I stumble toward the only dresser in the bedroom and frantically begin my search by opening the drawers. Each drawer that I open is crammed, nigh unto bursting, with feminine clothing, each piece so fashionable as to appear utterly ridiculous. I curse silently. I know to whom the clothing belongs. Of course, I had to wake up in her bedroom. If there is a higher power, I haven't been merely forsaken; I have been transformed into some sort of cruel, cosmic joke.
Maybe one of the doors opens onto a closet. I test the door closest to me and it opens easily enough, revealing a luxurious washroom. So I try opening the door next to the washroom… Bingo.
The closet is packed with clothing so garish, only Shimizu would be caught wearing any of these outfits. As I wonder, anxiously, when she will return, I file through the closet until I stumble upon a cardboard box. The cardboard box seems so out of place in a closet such as this that I begin to hope that it contains that which I am searching for. As quickly as my tremulous fingers will allow, I pry the box open.
My clothes… A sigh of relief. Shimizu might be an idiot, but at least she considered the practicalities of my situation.
As quietly and as quickly as I can, I dress where I stand in the closet. I'm careful to produce as little noise as possible, lest anyone in the adjacent room hear me bumping around, assuming the adjacent room is occupied.
I'm so thirsty… No. Fight it, Natsuno.
After I've jammed my right foot into an athletic shoe, I vacate the closet and push myself toward the only, as of yet, unexplored door. With weak, shaking hands I attempt to turn the knob… Damn. Locked.
If I had the strength, I would consider kicking the door down. However, I console myself, doing so would produce an outrageous amount of noise and certainly attract some unwanted attention.
Wait… The windows!
Hastily, I push back one curtain…
And hear myself gasp at the intense, searing pain that threatens to burn my eyes until I'm rendered blind and scorch my pale skin. Reflexively, I grasp the curtain with one hand and shove it back into place.
Even once the sunlight has been extinguished, I still see stars. Unsteadily, I teeter backward, colliding with a small wooden table. I lose my balance…
The hard-wood floor is running, no speeding, toward my face… Too fast.
I wake to a new nightmare.
I'm lying upon the same high, western-style bed again, glaring at the patch of ceiling that is becoming far too familiar for my liking. As the seconds tick by, I become aware that I have been restrained. With a glance toward my right wrist, I confirm my suspicions; I've been shackled to Shimizu's bed.
And I'm still so damn thirsty… Actually, I think the burning sensation has grown worse. Now my thirst demands to be satiated, though I am still able to find the idea repulsive.
Speaking of things that are repulsive, I'm also aware, by the sound of light footsteps upon the wooden floor, that I am not alone in the room.
Shimizu. "Oh, you're finally awake."
I don't acknowledge her presence, either by word of mouth or by sight. Instead, my eyes remain fixed on the ceiling, in an attempt to avoid her… Somehow.
"Sorry about the handcuffs," I hear her say aloud. "I thought it would be best after your… little accident."
Little accident? Bullshit. Shimizu knows, just as well as I do, that I was trying to escape earlier. The handcuffs are a warning: a warning against future misbehavior.
Despite my lack of any response, she continues to ramble on as if everything is right with the world. (Though I suppose, in her eyes, everything IS right with the world. After all, she got her wish, didn't she?) "I'm so sorry I wasn't here when you woke up. I wanted to be, but I had some… chores to perform. Just because we live here doesn't mean we get a free ride." She has the nerve to chuckle at that last statement.
"Let me go," my voice is soft, yet firm.
"Please refrain from referring to me by my first name."
Thirsty… So damn thirsty.
More footsteps. Shimizu approaches the bed and offers me a glass of dark liquid. The wine glass itself is exquisite, very delicate, very ornate, and no doubt very expensive. But that which the glass contains disgusts me, though I desire the thick, crimson fluid more than anything else… Blood. I battle the overwhelming thirst that threatens to break my fragile psyche by asking myself… Who did she kill? Which undeserving, innocent life did she snuff out so that I might be filled? I have killed no one… And yet, if I allow myself to drink, that means that I will have accepted Shimizu's sacrifice. That villager's blood will be on my hands. I will have truly become the monster that I so feared. And if I allow myself to become that monster, how many more lives will be lost because of my weakness?
Though I refuse to look at her, I allow myself to imagine her face, her happy expression fading at my rejection. The thought provides me with a sudden thrill, a nearly tangible pleasure… Which I find shocking only seconds later. What have I become? While I was living, while Shimizu was living, I never enjoyed hurting her. I only hurt her because I had no other option. She focused on me, made me the subject of her selfish infatuation and persisted to hound me even after I ignored her. I had to ignore her. To do otherwise would have been to encourage her, I was all ready so tired of being pursued and stalked by her. But I was never cruel to her for cruelty's sake.
I turn my head toward her and look at her carefully. I've looked at her before, but not like this. No doubt she realizes this… Every emotion she experiences is visible, plain for the eye to see and written all over her face. Confusion. Anxiety. But mostly, pure joy.
Joy… A pang of sorrow attacks what is left of my heart. I feel sorry for her because she is no longer human, her cold, pale skin, her swollen, blood-stained lips, her enormous, empty eyes, are all reminders of just how inhuman she has become. But her slight smile reminds me of simpler days… When Shimizu was human. When Shimizu was human and just a silly girl with a silly crush and perhaps too much time on her lonely hands.
I try to remember, to conjure an image in my mind's eye, of what she looked like when she was truly alive. I nearly suffer a panic attack when the image doesn't appear immediately… Fearing that I've fallen so far from grace that even my living, human memories have been stolen from me. However, an image gradually appears… Shimizu standing near the bus-stop, wearing one of her garish outfits and carrying that ridiculous parasol.
Wait… That can't be right. If we were standing near the bus-stop, she would have been wearing her school uniform. Am I remembering two memories at the same time? Did I overlay the images because both are incomplete? What am I doing? Am I struggling to remember something so far gone that there are gaping holes where the color of her eyes and the blush of her cheeks should be?
My anxiety fades away as I realize… There is still a part of me that is very human, despite that I have transformed into something completely unnatural. Perhaps, even as I am now, I am more humane than I had ever been, even while I was alive before. Maybe that's why remembering a girl that is now long gone seems so important… And so painful.
I wonder what it was like for her as I stare into those eyes that remind me of the abyss. She was the first in Sotoba to turn, wasn't she? Did she wake up in a strange room with a scary stranger that insisted she cast off the remaining vestige of her humanity and drink? Did she refuse as I have refused? Did she fight? When did she break? When did she lose herself?
More importantly, was there even a shred of the real Shimizu still living inside the monster that stands before me? Is she scared because she can't control herself anymore? Is she horrified each time she kills? Where had the real Shimizu gone?
"Where did you get the blood?"
I can tell that she is surprised at my asking this particular question. Honestly, so am I. I didn't think that I actually wanted to know the answer.
Shimizu hesitates, averting her eyes and staring at the floor vacantly before she ventures to speak. "I stole it from the hospital."
With my left hand, I rub my face. I don't understand why, but I am not angry with her. My voice doesn't even sound the least bit angry as I say, "Don't lie to me, Megumi."
"N-not the O-ozaki Clinic," she nervously stammers. "The government hospital… They don't know me so… It was easy for me to get in."
She's still staring at the floor, as if the floor is that interesting. I don't buy the hospital story. The whole thing sounds as if it's been rehearsed, then poorly delivered.
"Megumi, who did you kill?"
Her entire demeanor changes as I ask that last question; she now reminds me of a dog cowering in a corner because it's shit on the carpet. Maybe that's what she has become… An animal.
"She… She was so old," Shimizu whispers. "She was old and her husband had died years ago… Long before the Kirishikis arrived in Sotoba. She was a widow… Maybe she had children… Maybe they left her… I don't know. But she was so alone and sad… She was going to die soon anyway. Please… Please try to understand. I just… I just didn't want for you to be hungry. It hurts. I didn't want you to hurt."
I didn't want you to hurt. She was an animal. Interesting to hear just how the animal justified killing.
However, one thing was crystal clear. If Megumi Shimizu was an animal, I was her master.
The door is still locked, but the handcuffs have been removed. Convincing Shimizu to remove the cuffs was easier than I thought it would be, even after I realized how easily I could manipulate her. All she wants is my attention and affection… And she is putty in my hands.
Though I despise her still, I need her. I must warn my parents, Akira, and his sister. Afterward, I can figure out a way to end my existence, permanently. However, before I can accomplish any of these tasks, I must find a way out of Kanemasa. Shimizu is crucial to my plan. I'm too weak in my present condition to escape the mansion alone. Besides, Shimizu Megumi possesses two things I don't: information and the key that unlocks the door to my prison.
She is lying beside me upon the bed, her face nestled against my neck. I toy with her hair absent-mindedly as I consider Tohru. I don't know where he is… I don't know if he's still alive. Even if I were to find him, he might not agree to go along with my master plan. Tohru, my closest friend, had become one of my few remaining risk factors.
I would have asked Shimizu if I could see Tohru earlier, if it wasn't so obvious that she loathes him. At the mention of his name she becomes highly agitated. Somehow, later, I'll find Tohru… I'll come back for him, I swear to myself. However, for now, I must appease and flatter my warden.
As I lie there, freely giving Shimizu the attention she so desperately craves, I pump her for the information that I need to help me flee from this living hell.
Sunako is almost like a queen, as far as I can tell. The little girl, the elder of us all… Well, her word is considered law among the Sotoba okiagari. Her "parents" are more like her children, or beloved pets.
The main problem, or my main problem, seems to be Tatsumi. He is Sunako's second-in-command; he does her dirty work and keeps all the okiagari in line. He will also attempt to control those like Shimizu by whatever means that are available to him. In short, as my warden says, "He's cruel."
He is also the key to the first phase of my plan.
"We should run away together."
Shimizu shifts her skull until she is looking directly at me. She is so easy to read; the expression on her face is an unequal mixture of ecstasy, excitement, hope, and utter terror. "But… Tatsumi…"
"Tatsumi is exactly why we should leave," I respond. Gently, I caress her cheek with the tips of my fingers. If she were a cat, she'd purr. As she leans closer, I reflect; I can play her if I just say the right words and do the right things.
"It was wrong of him to hurt you, Megumi. I don't want him to hurt you anymore."
A coy smile. Mentally, I pat myself on the back and muster my confidence.
"I know you think well of the Kirishikis," I continue, "but they're lazy and self-centered; they will allow him to keep running Kanemasa… Then Sotoba, when the day comes. As long as he's in control, he'll cause trouble for us; he'll force us to live as he sees fit."
The happy expression upon Shimizu's face fades away as she considers my words. Regardless of my agenda, I'm speaking the truth and she knows it.
She just needs a nudge…
"We don't have to live this way, baby. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life stuck in Sotoba? We could move to a proper city. Hell, we could travel the world."
At the endearment, "baby," she practically melts in my arms. The bit about living in a proper city and/or traveling… It's like I just handed her a winning lottery ticket. However, those abyss-like eyes are still haunted by uncertainty. "What are you afraid of?" I ask. The question is for show, I all ready know the answer.
"What if," she murmurs, "what if… They come looking for us?"
"Is that what you're worried about?" I chuckle. "If we leave just after sunset, we'll be out of Sotoba before sunrise, before they even figure out that we've disappeared. Besides, we're two low-ranking okiagari, do you really think Tatsumi is going to abandon his precious Sunako, just to chase after us?" I roll my eyes for emphasis.
For me to accomplish my agenda, Shimizu must leave Kanemasa and she must leave willingly. I'm so close to getting her to accept my plan…
I need to seal the deal, and I need to do it now. She's close enough to kiss…
I tilt my head upward while my right hand tilts her chin downward while drawing her closer. I'm acutely aware that, if her heart was still beating I would have caused it to careen wildly against her ribcage. Gently, I brush my parted lips against her quivering lips, before pressing my mouth firmly against her's.
My first kiss… Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that it would be with Shimuzu, much less in the situation that I found myself in now. The very idea is repulsive, yet… She tastes of blood. Blood… The blood I've grown to hate; the blood my body lusts for.
The overwhelming lust causes me to gently bite her lower lip, teasing her lips further apart. Once her mouth is open, my tongue slides inside, exploring… No, searching for another taste of that crimson nectar which I reluctantly crave.
Shimizu moans; her left hand skims the skin of my abdomen, traveling south toward my public region, before hesitating. I'm not thinking clearly… Maybe I'm not thinking at all… Or, maybe this was somehow part of the plan all along. I don't know anymore.
My lust for blood coupled with my lust for escape drives me with a strength I didn't believe my whithered husk of a corpse still possessed. My left hand glides over her exposed shoulder… Down, down, down… To her ample breasts. I fondle each in turn, then graze one contracting nipple softly with my thumb.
Startled, she pulls away and searches my eyes. I see confusion, a few small fears, but mostly... I see my own lust reflected in her eyes.
"I'm not leaving without you," I whisper.
"Okay," she replies, breathless.
I'm standing in the cellar of the mansion procuring shovels and instructing two new okiagari. New okiagari are generally useless, mostly good for patrolling the cemetery and keeping an eye out for "screaming coffins." I hand one of the men both shovels, then shout, "Now get lost," before turning my attention to Shimizu.
She looks nervous. Though, she always looks nervous after a good beating. The better the beating, the longer she continues to look nervous and, effectively, stay in her place.
Yuuki rounds the corner and eventually stops to stand beside her.
I hate that kid. He's dangerous and he makes me suspicious. The best thing to do with meddling kids… Cut off their heads and burn their bodies with the rest of the fucking garbage. But I can't. Sunako…
A sigh. "What do you want?" My voice is hard and irate.
"I-I fed N-Yuuki as you asked," Shimizu mumbles. "He wants to hunt now… I thought I'd clear that with you before we left Kanemasa."
"Very good, Shimizu." I walk past her and position myself in front of Yuuki, toe to toe. Unlike Shimizu, he isn't nervous at all. Maybe that's the reason I don't like him… He always appears so cool and self-possessed, very odd traits for a living human. And now that he's one of us, well… He hasn't changed much it seems, which just makes me all the more suspicious.
"Arm," I demand. He holds out his arm without so much as even flinching. "Roll up your sleeve, dumbass… I'm not your fucking mommy; I want to see some skin."
Obediently, silently, he does just so. I grab his arm roughly and proceed to inspect the veins beneath his translucent skin.
To my growing disappointment, his veins are plump and a nice shade of blue. No collapsing, no discoloration, which means that Shimizu wasn't lying when she said that she had fed him.
"Fine," I bark. "Shimizu-"
"Keep Dumbass in your sight at all times. Hear that, Dumbass? That means you don't wander away from your sweet, little girlfriend. Yeah?"
"Both of you will report to me as soon as you get back. No fucking in the woods, okay kiddies?"
A double, "Yes, sir."
"Oh, and Dumbass… You should know that your mommy left Sotoba. Your daddy is still in town, but I can fix that if you do anything stupid."
I watch as Shimizu and Yuuki quickly exit. I did just as Sunako asked… But I feel uneasy…
"That kid is bad news," I murmur to myself. "Dumbass."