Yurei

Feudal Japan.

The Late 1700’s.

Shijo Minami-za Theatre, Kyoto

 

Chiyoko sat in the wings, and watched the night’s drama unfold on stage.

The kabuki players, garbed in colourful robes and faces painted white in the kumadori style, were retelling the story of “The Rock That Weeps at Night”. It was sad story, Chiyoko thought. The tragic tale a young woman murdered on a lonely road, who’s soul went on to inhabit a rock at the place she died. It is said that late at night, the rock weeps tears of blood.

The actors poured their own souls into every performance, and every night she sat and watched, entranced by the sights and sounds. Travelling groups sometimes stayed for a few weeks at a time, occasionally longer, but eventually they moved on and another group of actors came to take their place.

How she longed to be on stage herself.

Last year, a young actor named Hajime had arrived with a group. He had taught Chiyoko the different make-ups, and let her rehearse the lead female role with him in secret. In return, she had given him her heart.

Love was like rotten fruit, she thought. It looked just as sweet as ripe fruit, until you bit into it and discovered the corruption inside.

Perhaps she was a little young to be so cynical, but her affair with Hajime was her only experience of love, and it had ended badly. Her father had been furious when he had discovered their secret. He owned the theatre, and had immediately cancelled the rest of the group’s performances and demanded that they leave. Chiyoko had screamed and shouted, and finally begged him, to let them stay. She had told him that Hajime loved her too, and that they would be married, with or without his permission. Her father had beaten her that night, and locked her in her room for three days until the actors were long gone. She had spent those three days crying, refusing to eat the food that was brought to her, and swearing that she would never forgive her father for his cruelty. He had remained absent, until she had exhausted herself of all but the weakest of protestations.

As Chiyoko had lain on her bed on the third night, her eyes swollen from crying, and her throat hoarse from shouting for release, her father had visited her. He had looked at her with such kindness and compassion. He had stroked her hair and kissed her forehead, and when she tremulously asked him why he had broken her heart, he had simply replied that his daughter was too good for any actor. They came and went more often than the seasons did, he had told her. They were untrustworthy and deceitful, it was why they were so good at portraying other people when on stage. Their promises were empty and could not be trusted, and Hajime was no different; he may well have loved her but sooner or later he would have left.

So she had choked back her tears, and yielded to her father’s wisdom.

He was right, she had told him. The pain that she felt now was nothing compared to the pain she would have felt had Hajime married her, and then left one day on a whim. Especially if she was with child. She understood now that her father had only acted out of love, and she was young and foolish, and far to quick to let her heart rule her head.

Life had gone back to normal. Her father went back to running his theatre, and Chiyoko went back to helping him. She had little contact with the actors from then on, other than what politeness required.

She was the perfectly dutiful daughter in everyone’s eyes.

But in her heart, she was waiting.

Waiting for a group of actors to arrive, who might have one among their number that knew of Hajime’s whereabouts. Someone who could be trusted to relay this information to her and her alone, and who could be relied upon to take her with them in secret when they moved on.

Fate had finally graced her with good luck, as one of the actors in the current group had approached her a few days after their arrival. It seemed that Hajime had not forgotten her either, and had sent a letter professing his love and asking her to join him. Of course, this was not as simple as it sounded. Her father would notice the moment that she was gone, and he would waste no time in pursuing her and dragging her back home. What she really needed was a distraction, something that would consume his attention long enough for her to make good her escape and cover her tracks sufficiently. Unfortunately though, she could think of nothing.

And so she had hatched another plan.

Chiyoko was stirred from her reverie by the sounds of applause from the audience. The play had finished and the actors were taking their bows.

She smiled to herself, and put her own hands together in appreciation of the performance. It was a shame, she thought, that there was nobody to applaud for her performance. Nobody to see how hard she had to work every day to keep her feelings locked away inside, to hide her anger and her hatred for her father, and to treat him with respect and love. False though it was.

As the actors left the stage, Chiyoko lowered her eyes and tilted her head down whilst they passed her. She did not even lift her gaze as her co-conspirator passed by, it was too dangerous and they were far too close to executing their plan.

Her father breezed through briefly, voicing his congratulations on another fine performance. After all, it was talented actors that had made him a rich man, he said. But he did not stop to speak to her.

Chiyoko had no doubt of that. She also had no doubt that the reason he was such a rich man, was that the actors who came to his theatre did not get a fair share of the money they made for him.

It was this fact that had drawn her co-conspirator into the plot that she had hatched over the last few nights. The promise of money was always a tempting one, especially to a travelling actor who might not know where his next meal was coming from. The plot itself was fairly simple. The group were leaving tonight, as they had a special performance to give to the shogun in Edo. Their belongings were already loaded into carts, and they would change and remove their make-up when they reached Edo, as they intended to travel through the night. With full robes, head pieces and make-up on, it was almost impossible to discern the true features of the actor underneath the costume. And it was this fact that was the key element to Chiyoko’s plan.

She had already changed into a robe, and applied make-up when the performance had begun, and this was the reason that her father had not spoken to her as he passed through. She was now undiscernable from the crowd of other actors that were milling about backstage. The intention was, that she and her accomplice would separate from the group for just long enough to enter her father’s room at the theatre, where he would be counting the week’s takings. They would knock him unconscious and bind and gag him, then they would take the money and rejoin the group just in time to hop aboard the carts and leave. Nobody disturbed her father when he was doing his accounting, and by the time he was discovered it would be the next day and Chiyoko would be in Edo, where she would easily disappear into the crowds and procure herself transport to her real destination. Her father would be none the wiser as to who had committed the crime, other than that it was two actors.

This was the plan that she told her co-conspirator. The plan that he agreed to based on it’s simplicity and relative safety.

However, this was not the plan that she intended to put into place. Her plan had one subtle difference, a twist in the final act that must be kept secret, even from the other players.

When she reached the bottom of the stairs, that led up to her father’s room, the actor was waiting there as promised. She greeted him with a nod of her head, and he presented a short wooden club from inside one of his sleeves. She smiled and together they began to mount the stairs. At the top of the stairs Chiyoko took a key from inside her own sleeve and opened the door before them. The second that they were inside she quickly closed the door and locked it.

“What do you want?” her father asked sharply, as he looked up from his desk.

The two players approached him silently, splitting to head around either side of his desk.

“Who are you?” he demanded this time.

Before the other player could raise the club to deliver the blow, Chiyoko spoke.

“Hello father, it’s me.”

“Chiyoko?”

Her co-conspirator had frozen, his arm half raised, and was staring at her in confusion.

“Don’t worry father, I won’t take up too much of your time, as I know how precious it is.” She smiled, and in that act she saw recognition dawn on his face as her saw the girl beneath the make-up. “ I just wanted you to know that I’m leaving, tonight. It is none of your business where I am going, but I thought I would tell you anyway just so that you understand why this is happening.”

He looked angry now. “What is going on here?”

Bending down so that she could wrap her arms around him, she drew her father into an embrace.

“I’m leaving to be with Hajime, and you can’t stop me this time. Want to know why? Because you’ll be dead.”

With that she unfolded her arms to reveal a silver dagger in her right hand. She plunged the blade deep into the side of her father’s neck, and stepped back as spurt of blood erupted. Smiling down at him she took the knife by the handle and drew it around to the front of his neck in a semi-circle, opening his throat fully.

He didn’t even have time to make a sound as the life poured out of him.

“What have you done?!”

Chiyoko looked up from her handiwork to meet the gaze of her actor friend. “I’m sorry Akira, but if I had told you then you would never have agreed to help me. Now quickly, gather up as much money as you can and we must get to the carts. That part of the plan hasn’t changed.”

Akira stared in horror at the blood soaked corpse, slumped in the chair before him. “This is a wrongful death, a violent death. His spirit will not be at peace. He will be yurei.

“Good job that we are leaving then, as I certainly don’t want to be around when his spirit wakes up.”

“How can you be so calm?” Akira asked.

“My father loved his precious theatre more than anything else, I think that it is only fitting that he should remain here for in this life and beyond. Let his sprit wander the halls and haunt the stage, let him wail and moan and drive away his audiences, let his grand theatre fall into disrepair and ruin!.”

She glared at Akira, daring him to challenge her, but after a few moments he simply nodded and began to gather together what he could find.

Soon they would be on their way and she could leave this place behind her forever. She would find a Shinto shrine and perform cleansing rituals, so that her father’s spirit could not follow her from the afterlife. Not that she really believed that it could, after all, spirit’s being trapped in the place they died was common belief, but the concept of one being able to leave and seek revenge seemed absurd to her. They were bound to the place that they left this world and entered the next.

But still, it was better to be safe than sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The End

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