A cold, wet drip fell onto Emma’s face, followed by another cold, wet drop that subsequently rained down from the dank, cave ceiling. Water slid along the side of her nose and then proceeded to snake over her neck, causing Emma to stir and finally jump up in a startled fit. Her wild eyes searched the huge, gloomy cave as she searched her mind for an explanation of how she ended up in such an inhospitable place.
Emma felt more panicked about the fact that she couldn’t remember how she had ended up in the cave, rather than the fact that she was actually there, and not in another surreal dream that had left her head spinning. She scrambled up onto her feet and took a few deep breathes to try and squash the panic that was rising up through her body.
“Hellooooo?” Emma paused for a second and then shook her head impatiently as her thoughts rearranged themselves.
“Konichiwaaaaaa?!”.... Of course there was no answer but her own echo that bounced off of the stone walls. A sudden pang of intense pain surged from the centre of Emma’s head, outwards to her temples making her cry out loud. She put her hands up to her head and pressed down, trying to relieve the pressure as she shut her eyes tight. After a moment, the pain subsided and she looked up, only able to squint. A stream of light was pouring into the cave, stinging her eyes and making them water. Emma looked down at the ground and re-focused her vision until she could see clearly again.
She stared at the ground and noticed small paw prints in the dust. The prints looked like they belonged to a small mammal but Emma's imagination cooked up a vision of giant wolves roaming near by. She then looked down at her own feet to fixate on her muddy hiking boots, and then uttered quietly “I was walking…”
Emma searched her mind for where she had decided to hike that day, but felt confused and disorientated. She loved hiking and had been trying to explore as much as she could lately, as she only had one week left in Japan. Her teaching placement had come to an end, as had her relationship with Iwao. They usually hiked together in the remote Japanese countryside and explored hidden temples and whatever else they could find, but those days were over now.
She looked up at the stream of light and with a burst of urgency, she ran towards it, determined to find a way out. After running for only a few seconds, she could see that the light source was a small opening in the cave wall, leading to the outside world. She could see the ground more clearly now, and after hopping over scattered rocks and weaving around jutting stone walls, she had reached the cave entrance. She ducked down and peered outside to feel the cold wind hit her hard in the face. Emma had never felt so relieved as she slumped her body down onto the ground, and crawled out of the cave as fast as she could. She vigorously wriggled her hips through the small hole, wondering why the hell she decided to crawl through in the first place?!
She jumped up onto her feet and gazed at the rocky landscape in wonder. The wind was cold and harsh, and the sprawling hills looked baron. Emma looked around and saw that the only shelter from the merciless wind would be the woodland that lined the cave. She turned around and walked alongside the cave, disappearing into the trees. The only sound she could hear through the howling wind was the faint cry of crows in the distance. Emma walked on, hoping she would stumble upon a footpath but the forest seemed to be growing thicker, and darker. After another few moments of walking, Emma stopped and stood perfectly still to take in her surroundings. She couldn’t remember walking this way before and she still had no idea where she might be.
Emma groaned aloud in frustration, “Why can’t I remember?!”
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a child laughing behind her.
“Huh?”… Emma turned to look over her shoulder to see nothing but forest.
Her eyes suspiciously searched the forest but she couldn’t see anyone. Emma wasn’t sure if she was losing her mind, but she was sure she was losing her way, the further she trekked into the dense woodland. After looking around hopelessly, she stamped her foot in frustration again. “Aaargh! Which way?!?” she squealed desperately as tears filled her eyes. Another giggle came from behind her, causing Emma to freeze for a second before whipping her head around to see the same as before, nothing but trees.
She held her breathe and listened to the silence before whispering “Yokai…”
Another child’s laugh echoed on the wind causing Emma to take in a sharp breathe. She looked ahead of her and started to run through the trees, no longer thinking about getting lost but just away from the eery laughter. A particularly shrill giggle that echoed behind her made her panic and jump out of her skin, causing her to trip and fall head first onto the rocky ground. After a dizzy moment, Emma put her hands out to force her body back up but paused to focus on the strange little skulls staring at her from the forest floor. She lay there, captivated by the intricate little skulls until she realised they were the creepiest looking mushrooms she had ever seen.
“Don’t touch them!”
Emma gasped and looked up to see an odd, old lady walking towards her. She launched herself up and brushed off her clothes as she watched the old woman moving towards her in her tatty, ripped dress and dark-veiled face.
Emma meticulously watched the old woman and tried to see beyond the veil before she had reached her. The small, old woman stopped just in front of her and sniffed the air as she looked up.
“Gaijin desu ka?”
“Yes, I am a foreigner, Watashi wa Emma desu, anata wa?”
The old woman chuckled to herself and lifted her veil to reveal her milky white eyes and pupils. “I am Itako. You, too close…to my mushroom”
“Your mushrooms? Why are they yours?”
“I need them, to help me talk with yokai”. The old woman lifted her head and looked out beyond Emma, into the forest.
“What is it?…Is it…Yokai?” Emma stuttered out, frozen on the spot.
The old woman nodded slowly, and quietly replied “Ghost”.
Emma swallowed hard and quietly asked “A child?”
The old lady removed her gaze from beyond the trees and looked at Emma with a twisted face. “You can see, like me?”
“No…I could hear them”
“I cannot see you, but only them. They want you..to help them..”
“Take them out of the forest, to the temple”
“Temple? Where?” Emma suddenly realised that if there was a temple close by, she was nearly safe, away from the forest and its creepy inhabitants and near a road or other people.
“I can take them! Which way is the temple?”
The old lady smiled and pointed behind herself “Up…Go up”
Without saying another word, Emma ran past the old woman and scrambled up the hill until she came to the end of the forest. She could see a temple up ahead and ran towards it, jumping over a black cat that was in her way. When she had reached the temple, she saw that there were lots of cats, of all different sizes and colours dotted around the temple.
Some of the cats mewed, and some of the cats hissed at Emma as she tip-toed around looking for any signs of life, other than cats.
Tinkling wind chimes echoed on the wind and as Emma followed the sound, she found the entrance to the shrine. She walked over to the alter and noticed that the herds of cats had followed her inside and all seemed to be looking at something behind her, whilst they talked in distorted voices that sounded like an angry, gurgled hybrid language. Emma’s eyes widened as she remembered the old lady from the woods.
Emma didn’t want to turn around so without thinking, she just called out “We’re here!”…
At that moment, the cats started to back-up and moved their attention to the alter. Emma’s attention was drawn the same way as she watched a big, black shadow emerge from behind the alter, and creep around to face her. She gasped in horror as she saw that the shadow had pointed feline ears and not one, but two long, thrashing tails. Emma started to tremble as she slowly lifted her head to look up at the fierce feline beast, stood up tall on its long, hind legs and glaring at Emma with it's bulbous, yellow eyes that bore into her soul.
“I…I…I brought the children….Yokai” she stuttered.
The huge cat let out a monstrous laugh and in a deep, booming voice replied in perfect English, “They brought you!”
“Me! But…I have to go home, I have to leave!…” she manage to squeal out before her head started to spin and the sharp pain in her head returned, crushing in on her thoughts.
Emma collapsed onto the ground and was so overwhelmed by the pain, her body and mind soon fell numb and she sank away into a deep, dark sleep.
A cold, wet drip fell onto Emma’s face, followed by another cold, wet drop that subsequently rained down from the dank, cave ceiling. Water slid along the side of her nose and then proceeded to snake over her neck, causing Emma to stir and finally jump up in a startled fit. Her wild eyes searched the gloomy cave as she searched her mind for an explanation of how she ended up in such an inhospitable place.