Shinkyo Bridge. Part Five. Horror Fiction
“Please don’t kill me!” the man begged. He was down on his knees, kowtowing, his forehead pressed against the smooth-grained wooden boards below him. The fresh wood was awash in his sticky sweat. Despite the balmy evening air he trembled like a leaf.
A skeletal hand roughly grabbed the back of the man’s neck, hauling him clean off the ground. His face blanched and he lost control of his bodily functions at the sight of what held him in the air as easily as a mother cat might carry a kitten. The figure looming over him grinned cruelly, pulling necrotic lips back to reveal the fangs of a tiger. Eyes staring from the depths of an inhuman skull, a death’s head raised from the boiling hells of Jigoku, glowed with an infernal light. It savored the terror radiating from the helpless man.
“You must pay my toll,” the demon said, its moist, pestilent voice bubbling up as if from the torn throat of a week old corpse. “If not your life, then what else can you offer?”
The man didn’t respond. He could only hang there as wet warmth seeped down his legs. A syrupy, chittering, amorphous sludge flowed outward from the pit of his gut to coat him and swallow him whole, paralyzing his body and consuming his thoughts. Voices of random chaos giggled and whispered, telling him to give in to the soothing balm of madness and be free of the terror that crushed and compressed him as if he were buried beneath the combined weight of land and sea.
“What else?” the demon demanded, shaking him like a rag doll. Its gaping jaws carried the carrion odor of death and ripe rot, making the man gag and labor for breath, hyperventilating in a matter of moments.
“Take anything,” the man said, his sense of self preservation forcing him to respond. “Anything you want. Just please let me live.”
“It happens that I have need of a body such as yours,” the demon said, its hellish eyes growing brighter by the second. “From this moment I claim everything that is yours, but your life.”
The man tried to look away from the blinding light of the creature’s eyes, but found he could not move. His gaze was locked on those swirling eyes, like portals into another world; windows into the soul. The soul he saw looking back at him was a black, twisted thing; a horrific amalgam of unspeakable deeds compounded over an existence that was far too long to be measured in years.
His mind cried out in protest, his jaw and throat not even able to give voice to the scream welling up deep inside of him, so held within the creature’s sway was he. His consciousness began to fade as his thoughts, his being, his very soul were barged aside by some part of that ancient evil taking up residence in him, violating all that he was by the merest inkling of its presence. In his last moments before the darkest engulfed him, throwing him into an endless sea of terrible memories belonging to a being older than time itself, the man realized that there were far worse things than death.
The demon set the man’s shell down. It no longer trembled or cringed in fear, its docile expression staring off blankly into the distance.
“Can you hear me?” the ancient creature asked.
“Yes,” the man replied, his voice hollow and without inflection.
The demon reached out with one impossibly long arm to the bridge railing beside it. It dug serrated talons into the wood, gouging out a chip roughly the size of a man’s finger.
“You know where the samurai who arrived in Tachibana village dwells?” it asked.
The man nodded slowly, his head lolling slackly over his shoulders as if his neck were broken.
“Hide this within the samurai’s house,” the demon ordered, passing him the wooden chip. “Give him no cause for suspicion.”
The man nodded again, standing in the middle of the bridge complacently.
“Well?” the demon snapped. “Go now!”
The man-shell turned about and tottered off toward Tachibana village, his steps becoming more sure and natural the further he got from ShinkyoBridge. A moment later the vacant look on his face was gone, replaced by an alert, normal expression. As he rounded the corner into the village outskirts, he became just another part of the bustling crowd of men and women returning home from the day’s toil.
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