This story contains grotesque imagery and substantial gore. It is by all accounts a horror story. Do not read it if such things disturb you or if you are underage.
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It was night.
The wood in the roaring campfires crackled and popped, making some of the more edgy campers jump.
The dancing flames cast their light this way and that, illuminating the face of laughing and cowering students alike.
Shadows grew long and twisted, forming horrid shapes when mischievous boys bent their arms and bodies this way and that. Some girls burrowed their way under the arms of big strong guys, feeling safer with their arms around them.
"Hmmmpppfff!" Kaname sniffed. Such a bunch of scaredy cats. Far be it from her to act that way.
Looking over at Sousuke, she wondered what he would do if she did react in similar fashion, sneaking her way under his arms.
'Kaname, if you are cold, you should sit near the fire, not me.'
Yes. It would be something like that.
Or, something otaku….
'Kaname, what is the purpose of your increased proximity? Have you identified a threat? Are the mountains infiltrated by a terrorist organization?'
In a perfect world….
Someone threw another set of logs on the fire, causing sparks to burst forth in large rolling clouds, looking like a convention of fireflies. The glow of the bonfires painted faces eerily, making them look as if they were covered with blood.
Kaname shivered. She convinced herself it was only the chill night air. She already had two sweaters on.
Looking up the foreboding slope behind her, she saw creeping masses of fog settling in, the leading edges tentatively touching here and there as if the diaphanous form was alive.
Things were quiet.
There should be some noise in the night.
She noticed that the monkeys were gone, no longer darting in and out looking for handouts or stray scraps of food.
A dark shape shambled out of the nearest edge of the clearing, the noise of its passage highlighted by the snap of sticks and the rustle of dry leaves. The shadowy figure was tall, at least nine feet. Its fringes seemed to flap, flow, and retract.
The ghostly call echoed about the dark cabin area.
"Is... is... is that a bear?" One girl squeaked. "The guide said there are wild bears in these mountains."
"It's probably a Shikome bandit. A hobgoblin. They are said to be common in the mountains." The nearest boy wrapped his arms around her, adding a part of his blanket for good measure.
He whispered in her ear.
"They're bloodthirsty, and sadistic. Their eyes are bloodshot and piercing. Their teeth are sharp and jagged. That's why many people won't come up here without a heavy guard." He emphasized the key words.
The girl ducked further inside the blanket.
The boy smiled.
The setting was perfect. High in the hills. Dark. Creepy atmosphere. A touch of dampness in the air. The smell of rainy weather on the way. The only thing missing were flashes of lightning and huge booming drum beats of thunder.
"I... I... I've heard about those..." Another boy grabbed a girl by the arm and tried to lead her into a dark unoccupied cabin. The night was too dark for the young lady to see the look in his eyes.
The small huts offered a possible place of relief and safety. But, the old wooden structures also held an even greater darkness... a sense of possible claustrophobia... and only one way out.
One of the perpetrators, hiding behind the bole of a large tree, screeched, his voice changing over to a terrible gurgling sound.
"No. It's not a goblin. It's an Oni. Those black- hearted demons are hell- bent upon destruction and chaos. Warty. Slimy. Twisted horns upon their heads. They live to inflict pain on others, especially humans-the perfect playthings. HURRY!" The boy mentally applauded the fine acting being done by his unseen classmates.
"No. It can't be real. There's no such thing as demons and monsters." The girl's voice came out as little more than a whisper.
"That's what Mr. Yakimato thought..." the boy replied.
The Jindai groundskeeper he named was missing one arm.
"On..." The girl began to run fast on her own. She stumbled.
"They especially look for human females..." The boy was going for the kill. "They find them much more desirable than the horrendous females of their own race. We should have listened to that old woman at the bus stop. She said they roamed these hills at night."
The girl began to tremble uncontrollably.
The shadowy formed kicked over a large pile of logs. It grabbed one boy, who let out a blood-curdling scream. Even in the light of the full moon, none of his fellow students could see the smile on his face.
"Sousuke..." Kaname looked around frantically for her protector. Where was that big idiot? He should be making certain she was OK.
Not that she needed an help, of course.
Bam bam bam bam bam bam bam
The sound of gunfire.
A large blinding flash and the sound of detonation.
That told Kaname exactly where Sousuke was.
"Ahhhhhhh." One voice called, followed by another. "Ohhhhhhh." A third followed in rapid succession. "My balls..."
A large bag of weapons was dropped on the ground. The metallic clank could not be heard of the collective screams and shouts of the cowering crowd. A dark shadow passed by the fire, headed for the monstrous shape.
Thud thud thud smack whap wham thud
"Stop... stop... please stop."
The voices were human. And in considerable pain.
"You are not a monster. You are high school students. You are very fortunate I employed great restraint."
Kaname ran towards the sound of his voice.
"Sousuke Sagara! What have you done? Did you shoot another group of classmates?" Her halisen swung out quicker than an adder's tongue.
Sousuke went tumbling.
A crowd was gathering. Some wanted to scold the tricksters. Others wanted to thank Sousuke. The majority wanted to see what Kaname had in store for the young otaku.
"Kaname. That hurt!" Sousuke rubbed the back of his head.
"I hope so. I can't believe that you were shooting other students. You could have killed them. It was only a harmless gag!" Kaname grabbed Sousuke by his collar and threw him up against a tree.
"Negative. I suspected they were students. That is why I used rubber bullets and a concussion grenade. Had I suspected something supernatural, it would have been armor-piercing and white phosphorous."
"WHAT! " Kaname did not want Sousuke's tendencies to ruin the group trip. What Class Representative wants to explain to parents, school officials, or the authorities why any number of boys and girls are dead or maimed?
"I needed to act before I had official confirmation. I was not about to let you come under any threat, Chidori." Sousuke's voice was husky. His breath made large clouds in the frigid air.
"On... I see." Kaname's voice softened considerably. She frowned and scowled when a number of nearby girls laughed, giggled, and started to whisper. "Just make certain it does not happen again!"
"I will only act as the situation demands. Shouldn't you be directing your instructions towards those boys who instigated the trouble?" Sousuke asked.
"I think they learned their lesson." Ryo laughed, looking down at the squirming boys.
"Yes! I doubt they've heard a word anyone has said after that explosion." Shinji's eyes were still huge.
"Maybe someone should check to see if they're OK." Ren was as considerate as usual.
Eventually the crowd dispersed and headed back to the fires. They began setting up their cold weather sleeping gear near the source of warmth. The dark and dreary cabins that dotted the mountainside did not have fire places. Still, a number of adventuresome guys and gals would venture within them, looking for some form of visceral thrill and a better level of protection from possible rain or dew. Other couples would make use of the cabins for their own amorous purposes.
Large numbers of groups struggled with massive school-supplied tents. A gust of chill air coursed down the rocky crag, sending chills down the spines of the campers. The fires gyrated , wavered, and reached out, as if they were straining to escape their bounds.
"So, you probably weren't scared, were you Sousuke?" Kyouko asked, taking note of the various activities going on throughout the area. Sniffing, she caught the odor of campfires and cook-outs from further down the escarpment.
Wow! She wondered what they were feasting on.
"Negative. Why would one be afraid?" Sousuke went to work cleaning his pistol.
There was sound far off in the woods. It was a repetitive but subtle pattern.
Something was moving.
"It's dark. Isolated. We're far away from any help or place of safety." Shinji began to look around nervously, hearing his own words.
"Night is often dark." Sousuke said without looking up.
The sound grew fainter. It was headed down slope.
No one else seemed to notice it. Likely not a problem.
Kaname smacked her forehead.
"Shinji's right. Who knows what could be hiding out there, looking at us?" Maya looked at Ryo and Ren and shivered.
"Nothing." Sousuke took off a pair of thermal imaging goggles and placed them back in his bag.
The sound stopped completely.
It was too distant to give off a detectable heat signature. It was almost as if something were standing still, undecided.
"It's a big world, Sousuke. And these lands are largely unexplored. There could be creatures out here that your toys won't help you see." Mizuke began chewing on her fingernails after saying that.
"It is not a problem." Sousuke was obviously not concerned one whit.
The young soldier shut out all of the sounds directly surrounding him. He ignored the heavy breathing. He didn't pay any attention to the edge of fear in speakers' voices. The curse words and exclamations of anger coming from the tent builders meant nothing to him. The squeals and sounds of passion from cabins further up the way did not have him sweating. Laughter. Joke telling. Pranks. Food preparation and utensil cleaning. The voice of the raging fire. None of those registered.
The sound began again, first heading slightly towards their position.
"I hope it stays that way. There are, of course, the legends of the Yama-Uba, the Snow Women. Credible mountain climbers have claimed to see them. They had oxygen tanks, so it was not merely oxygen deprivation." Atsunobu yawned, sitting near Ren.
"Snow Women?" Shinji's face blanched.
"Yes," the Student President answered. "Spirits that inhabit high mountain areas. Evil demonic entities. They appear as hideous crones, dressed in ragged Kimonos, covered with a layer of ice and frost. They knock travelers off of steep trails and into the ravines below. They can then feast on their flesh at their leisure." He pushed his glasses up with one finger.
THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP
Despite mumbling relaxing words to herself, Kaname felt her heart jump in her chest.
"E-E-Eat..." Shinji's eyes grew large.
THUMP THUMP THUMP
"...But, they would rather fill their bloated bellies with living meat..."
"Eeek!" Mizuke grabbed ahold of Shinji's arm.
"Exactly..." The tale teller's glasses seemed to glow in the light of the bonfire.
A loud impact could be heard just below their position.
A huge rotten tree branch had finally found its way to the ground below.
Everyone but Sousuke and Atsunobu jumped. They were each getting a bit nervy. Each looked at the others, subconsciously feeling some need to check everyone else's mood.
THUMP THUMP THUMP
"They can smell human flesh from miles away, easily locating them in the vast mountain ranges. They will pursue their prey until the kill, or until the potential victim leaves the mountains."
"I...I...I knew you shouldn't have worn perfume into the mountains, Maya!" Ryo looked cross.
"They would likely only eat the slow, the infirmed, or the incautious" Sousuke added helpfully.
The sound off in the forest stopped again.
THUMP THUMP THUMP
"It is said that they are spell casters of considerable power, experts in potions, poisons, and concoctions of every conceivable type."
Kyouko dumped her tea into the fire.
"Poisons can also be incorporated into the ground one sits on." Sousuke added, counting the number of rounds in one clip.
The sound began again.
A group of monkeys was startled, giving off a chorus or barks and hoots. Something had spooked them enough to cause them to vocalize.
Maya, Ryo, Mizuke, and Kyouko stood up. They looked at one another uneasily.
THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP
"And, they will often act as merchants, selling wares that travelers need, setting a high price. If someone fails to make the purchase..."
Shinji gasped. "That woman. At the shop near the bus station. She offered me film at ridiculous prices..."
Mizuke moved to the side of the fire opposite Shinji.
"I saw her. She didn't have any frost," Atsunobu said, reassuring Shinji.
Shinji breathed a sigh of relief.
"I took note of her dentition. Her teeth were jagged and rotting. In addition, her nose was crooked. Her features were twisted and malformed." Sousuke was merely making an observation.
The mysterious sound was headed down slope again
Shinji came close to passing out.
THUMP THUMP THUMP
"But, we shouldn't worry. The old man in the stone hut said that no one around these parts has been lured to their deaths..."
Just about everyone sighed with relief.
"...for the last two weeks. I guess they might be overdue..."
You could have heard a pin drop.
A scream sounded from up above their position. The girls all huddled together. Shinji looked for a hole to crawl into. Sousuke looked calm and unrattled.
A laughing girl ran down the slope, carrying a boy's clothing. Shouting, the boy ran after, trying to stay out of the light. He was naked except for a pair of socks.
Everyone sat up, straightening their posture as if nothing had happened, pretending that they were not alarmed.
"Is that story true?" Ren asked calmly. There was a knowing twinkle in her eye.
Everyone threw twigs, pebbled, and food wrappers at the trouble maker.
"It is OK. You can stop being afraid now, Kaname." Sousuke said.
Kaname frowned. She reached for her paper fan. Maya laughed. She had snuck it away from her.
"Who says I was scared? It takes a lot to scare me, Sousuke Sagara! Hmmppff!"
A fearful howl split the night, drifting through the tall evergreens like a trail of smoke blown on a swirling wind.
The terrible scream followed not too long thereafter.
The sounds had come from further down the mountain slope, in another cluster of cabins and cleared campsites.
"Looks like boys will be boys. There must be a bunch of jokers down there too." Ryo seemed uncertain whether or not she believed her own supposition.
Sousuke stood up.
He took a submachine gun and a pistol out of his bag. "Here. Watch after the women." He gave the pistol to Atsunobu.
Slamming a fresh clip home, Sousuke took out a homing beacon and hammered it into the ground of the camp area. He began to walk away.
"Sousuke! What are you doing? This is no time for games..." Kaname sounded cross. There was a slight catch in her voice.
More screams and fearful noises crept their way up from below.
"I have seen too much death, Kaname. I have heard too many cries. Those were real."
The young soldier disappeared into the darkness.