With a faint breathing of the wind I feel myself rise from the ash covered darkness of the old world. I am the tired and aching muscles that hurt far too much to stretch. I am the bitter chills that tickle the spines of the old. I am the exhausted eyelids of the young, longing for sleep, yet too afraid to close and accept the twilight. I am the hemophiliac's reminder of blood and a victim's undying memory. I am a Shinma and nothing more.
A Shinma? Yes. A Shinma. Not a demon and not a god. I cannot be defined in any mortal word. I breathe in panic, exhale alarm. Horror is my food and fear is my tea. I am not malicious and I am not bad. There is no deranged pleasure that I derive from the pain I inflict from my feeding. I receive sustenance and nothing more.
I know not from where my insatiable hunger flows. I know only of its inevitability -- its ever growing and all consuming presence. It does not let me rest; nor does any of my voracious feeding take away its edge. It taunts me, urging me to find another and another and another. It matters not whether I need the energy and the strength from my prey; it demands and I must deliver. It is all I have ever known.
Now, the hunger is once again upon me; I must answer its call. Weakened from my fasting, I hurried down the darkening alleyways and forsaken buildings, floating silently and swiftly on the east side of town. It is among the shady and the desolate, the dingy cardboard shelters and dirty streets that I find my best prey. In the sordid and abandoned city of the night, there is much to fear; I simply have to wait.
There. My fortune has taken the form of a young boy, half covered in a dark layer of dirt and grime. A dreary baseball cap laid backwards on his head, hiding the dirty mat of hair within its sweaty confines. He wore little more than soiled rags, torn and shredded through years of surviving on the streets, eating garbage, sleeping beneath paper much too thin to offer warmth, and having rats his only company besides the darkness and the rain. He huddled deep in a shadowy corner, shivering as he reached out to the dusty ground where a half-eaten hot dog laid. A small rat squealed out in alarm, escaping the boy's shooing hand by dodging into a deep hole in the wall. With painful slowness, the boy gently dusted off the discarded hot dog and proceeded to bite into the cleaner end. His lips moved mechanically, as though he were only a robot designed to chew and nothing else.
Behind his dull eyes there is nothing. There is no movement or thought. No sparkle comes from his face and I know. I know that, like me, there is nothing for him but hunger, a daily battle that is rarely won. I crouched down beside him undetected and looked down into his dying face.
Dear boy, I almost said. How ironic that such two different beings can share such a fundamental flaw: the inability to live. You are not alive and neither am I. We are simply ghosts, apparitions that at some base level in their brains, people know exist but pretend to not see. We live in the cold and the dark, surviving only on what they throw away. They tossed you out like a ragged, broken doll just as easily as they did that dusty hot dog you feed on now. How ironic. How ironic.
I watched the boy eat silently. There was a mysterious tingling in my body, almost like something was nudging me in the back of my mind. Feed. Feed.
Not yet. Let him finish his last meal. I will go on. There will always be more, but he will never have another chance to feed. Let him be full and satisfied for once. Let him have the one thing I have always wanted but will never have. Let him…let him…
But the hunger was upon me and I could not withstand its fury. I entered his body and took control. At once his body stiffened as his head jerked to attention. His fingers lost their dexterity and the last bite of hot dog slipped from his fingers. He is mine now.
"Show me your fears," I said. "What terrifies you? What are you afraid of?"
A barrage of images pours forth. I selected one and his eyes went wide. He flopped against the wall like a fish out of water, and then he doubled over and clutched his stomach for there was nothing there. He cried out and stared at his hand as it became enveloped in a red dancing flame. The flame lolled upon his arm and licked the skin with a sharp tongue. The skin boiled, became charcoal, and peeled away with the smoke. He threw his head up towards heaven to scream, but there was no sound for the flames have twirled up his body to wrap around his face. To the world he was a lone child, fighting through a nightmare in a corner, but inside there was torment and terror beyond all measure. I fed.
I fed and drank up every ounce of horror that dripped from his sweating brow. The power filled my body with a warmth that was unmatched by even the flames that the boy imagined himself in. I closed my eyes and felt my strength grow, returning to my normal level and beyond. It coursed through my body, filling the void left from days of unwelcomed fasting.
With one last twist of his mind, I wrenched all that he is, was, and would become. The eyes became blank, emptied out as the dim flame was extinguished. I let go and his body fell to the floor with a sickening sound, his eyes white and unnatural. I looked down upon his harden and shriveled body, and I felt the strength that was once his stir within me.
"Sleep," I tell the hollow husk. "Dream and be hungry no more."
With those words said, I drifted to the gaping hole in the wall and looked out at the darkened city, illuminated by hopes as artificial as the light in the office windows. As I left I could hear the soft padding of tiny clawed feet cautiously treading across a room. There were a few tentative sniffs and then a sound like a dozen autumn leaves whisked upon the ground by a lusty wind as the rat raced back to its hole, dragging a small piece of a hot dog.