Shinkyo Bridge. Part Three. Horror Fiction
Lightning jagged across the sky like white fire. The door to the inn was suddenly yanked open, making the innkeeper and his wife jump in fright as they beheld the seemingly monstrous figure lit in silhouette framing the threshold. The middle aged couple sighed in relief. The figure resolved itself as it stepped inside, sliding the door shut behind him, abruptly cutting off the storm’s fury.
He was a tall man; young, with a square jaw and high pockmarked cheeks. His wide-shouldered martial bearing, paired swords, and topknot marked him out as a samurai. He stood, dripping wet, in the landing, surveying the empty common room with guarded curiosity.
“Innkeeper,” he said in a clear, deep voice. “Are you open for business?”
The short, heavyset older man ceased his close scrutiny of the samurai, giving a quick bow as he hurried forward to address his customer. “Of course, samurai-sama. Please sit and dry yourself while I get you some tea.” He gestured toward the empty tables surrounding a fire pit set into the center of the common room, bustling off behind a paper screen into the kitchen.
“Bring some food as well,” the samurai called after him. He unlaced his waraji sandals and tried to massage some life into his road-weary soles. Barefoot, he went to seat himself at one of the empty tables, sighing in pleasure as the heat from the fire hit his chilled skin.
The innkeeper returned in a moment, setting a steaming mug of tea before the sitting man, who took it gratefully in his pinched, blue hands. “Your food will be ready soon, samurai-sama,” he said with the automatic smile learned through years of plying his trade. “If you’ll be renting a room for the night I shall need to know your name for our registry.”
“I am Miyamoto Musashi,” the seated man said, not meeting the innkeeper's gaze as he looked around the empty room. “I would’ve expected more people in here on such a foul night as this.”
The innkeeper straightened, looking at Musashi queerly. “Tachibana receives many visitors and has many inns,” he said by way of explanation. “This is the last inn along the road. You must’ve passed all the others when you arrived. Not many are willing to stay out in weather like this long enough to reach my inn.”
Musashi furrowed his brow in confusion. He brightened a moment later. “If I had come from the mountains, then you would be right,” he said, raising a finger as he made his point. “But I came from the west.”
A loud crash of breaking crockery erupted from the kitchen, causing Musashi to start in alarm. The innkeeper continued to stare, appearing not to have heard. His wife rushed out to his side, throwing her arms around him tightly.
“Y-you mean,” the innkeeper stammered, his eyes wide, “y-you crossed ShinkyoBridge?”
“Hai.” Musashi nodded his assent.
“Impossible,” the innkeeper whispered to himself as he held his wife. Tears formed in his eyes, but he clenched his jaw and fought them. His wife buried her head in his chest, sobs wracking her body.
“What is the matter?” Musashi asked in bewilderment.
“ShinkyoBridge is home to a demon,” the innkeeper said, his voice quavering with the effort of holding back the sorrow that plagued him. “It kills anyone who attempts to cross on dark nights such as this.”
The woman turned her head away from her husband long enough to meet Musashi’s gaze, her tear-stained face stricken with grief. “The demon took our son,” she sniffled, “years ago.”
“If the demon was bound to the bridge then why not destroy it?” Musashi asked.
“We can’t,” the innkeeper said miserably. “The demon sustains it. It won’t burn, nor can it be cut down. It doesn’t even age with time and use.”
“I see,” said Musashi, not believing a word of it. They’re mad, he thought. Their son probably drowned when the spring melt caused the river to swell. Now they think the bridge is haunted.
He fished around in his sleeve for a moment. “Thank you for the tea,” he continued, putting a few coins on the table. “Now that I’ve warmed up I’ll be on my way.”
Musashi turned to go.
A high pitched wail filled the common room. The samurai spun around, his sword half drawn as he scanned the room for an enemy. Instead he saw the innkeeper’s wife, shrieking in stark eyed terror. Beside her, her husband’s face was white and bloodless.
“Samurai-sama,” the innkeeper gasped, pointing with a shaking hand, “your back.”
What Musashi’s questing fingers found made him pull up short, his mouth suddenly dry. Four long gashes, as though cut by razor sharp claws, raked down the length of his jacket clean through to the kimono beneath.
“Well,” he said, swallowing hard. “It seems I’ll be staying until I can get this mended.”
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