The Price

Perhaps the spirit had always dwelt within their walls, resting in a dormant state. Perhaps it grew into being feeding off the emotions of the small family as their lives drew them toward the unthinkable. It was even harder to tell when the evil spirit chose its vessel. It could even be supposed that it planted the idea of a doll substitute into the father's mind. The father's heart was aching in sorrow and had begged daily for a way to help his daughter. He was a desperate man; he had already lost so much and he vowed to do anything if he could only save this one last treasure in his life.

Creating a doll that copied his dead daughter required a great deal of concentration. He had to call on the memories of his daughter to shape the doll's appearance. His loving attention to detail suggested more than just a craftsman's touch. It was the love of a father being poured out onto this doll. Such an emotion was very powerful but more was needed for the spirit to dwell within the creation.

It wasn't the father alone who offered this dwelling place for the spirit, nor was it only the young girl desperate for her sister to return. The two fed into the doll together. They had willed it to life with their combined feelings for the departed girl it was meant to replace. The father gave his heart to the doll; the daughter gave it her soul.

The doll granted the wishes of the two who had given it so much: it lived. It drew energy from the child and as a sign of thanks for all Akane poured into it, the spirit in turn poured some of itself back into her. The girl who had been trying to turn a doll into a person was now being transformed from a person into a doll.

Something had changed in the father's behavior. In the beginning he had found Akane's attachment to the doll encouraging, but now he looked on the relationship with unease and worry. He could sense that something was wrong and the spirit that had worked so hard to live now sensed that it faced destruction.

"Akane." The voice that croaked out was an illusion, a memory of what Azami's voice had once sounded like to further manipulate the lonely girl. "He is acting strangely."

"Papa… won't kill," the girl responded in a flat tone.

"Are you so sure? I sense that he's afraid, Akane. He's afraid of the bond you and I share. He may try to separate us."

"He won't," Akane insisted, some of her old strength returning. "Papa loves us. He promised… he promised there would be no more killing." The bond between father and daughter was strong but stronger still was the bond linking the spirit with the girl. She had given far too much of herself to resist its influence now.

"What if he broke his promise?" The doll trembled violently in expression of the spirit's fury. "What will you do? Will you let him send me back there?"

"No." The girl was trembling as well, but for a different reason. "I don't want you to go."

"Then make sure I can never be sent back." Tears streamed down the girl's cheeks but she didn't protest, not that she would have been able to.

The plan was set in motion. The perfect opening came when the father left them alone together in the house. With the mechanism destroyed there would be no way for the spirit to be taken back to darkness. Its presence was so close to consuming Akane completely. It would not be taken back now.

The only force it could not control was the father. He thought he could hide his true intentions but his own notes had betrayed him. Akane had discovered them. She did not shed tears. There wasn't enough human left in her being for her to express sadness. She knew without being told that there was only one solution.

Floorboards creaked loudly, pounding out the rhythm of his racing heart. Much slower creaks followed after him. The house seemed so large but they would make it close in around him. Their careful footsteps pursued him wherever he turned. Fear already thrilled his heart but if the ominous creak of the floorboards didn't consume his thoughts, he would have heard something else even more chilling: a child's voice repeating the same words, her voice begging him for an answer.

"Why… kill? Why… kill?"

He made it to the front of the house where the last piece waited for him. His focus was on retrieving the eyes and he gave no time to other thoughts. It was only when he saw himself trapped that he noticed the transformation of the room. The dolls he had spent so much love and care in making were now dangling from the ceiling, strung up by their necks. They swayed lifelessly as his movements disturbed them.

"Papa… You promised… not to kill." He took in a shuddering breath, glancing from the doll to his daughter and back again.

"Akane." He called out to his daughter, his voice trembling. Her small steps propelled her forward, her arms outstretched to reach him. She was muttering the same words again. "Akane," he tried again. "I know you're still in there. Please, you must fight this!" She continued moving forward one step at a time.

"You want to kill me," hissed out a new voice, strange and unnatural. "She knows you want to kill me. She won't let you send me back." Akane's voice continued on as if it were a broken record. The doll now started moving as well, closing in on the father from both sides. He did not try to run away this time. This time he attempted to use words to call back his daughter from the spirit's control.

"Akane, listen to me. That thing is not Azami! It's consuming you, and I can't let it take you away! Please, Akane, you must listen to me!" She didn't even pause but kept moving forward, kept mumbling the same words over and over. He seemed to realize at last what was happening, and trembled even worse. "No… no, please! She's my little girl! Please, don't do this!"

The doll stood right behind him. Its little hands shot out and grabbed him, squeezing into his flesh. He was bigger in size but the doll's strength had grown by feeding off of Akane. It squeezed tighter forcing him on his knees. His daughter drew closer still, mumbling those same words. He lifted his head to look the girl in the eye. Her eyes had lost all signs of life. She looked like a doll.

"Akane… my beautiful child. I'm so sorry. I should never have replaced Azami with that accursed doll. Can you ever forgive me?" Her small hands closed silently around his neck. Their eyes met but it didn't seem like she recognized him.

"Why… kill?" she muttered. The hands started to press against his neck. "Why… kill?"

"I understand now," he said in a whisper. "This is my punishment. I have committed a terrible sin, and now I must pay." Akane's persistent voice rode over his words as her small hands pressed tighter. "Azami… Akane. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry you were born to this. I love you, my precious little treasures." He said no more and waited as his daughter's hands closed tighter and tighter against him.

In the Ritual, the girl's hands had not been strong enough to take away her sister's life. The priests sensed this and moved to step in, but Azami refused to let anyone but her sister do this. Akane's hands were now pressed firmly over veins in her father's neck in an effort to cut off circulation. She was not strong enough to do it alone. The doll's hands joined hers. Her father kept his eyes on her until he could no longer remain conscious. His body slumped down onto the wooden floor.

"… Papa?" Akane closed and opened her eyes slowly. "Papa?" She turned her eyes on her father, who remained motionless at her feet. She brought her small trembling hands up to her eyes and stared at them, breathing heavily.

A piercing scream rang out through the house.

It was days later when the ceremony master entered the Kiryu house in search of the doll maker. The man had not been seen in days. His house was quiet except for the faint sound of boards creaking on the second floor. Kurosawa lingered long enough inside to see the father and daughter side by side in the eerie room of hanging dolls. He ordered for the bodies to be thrown into the X. He couldn't explain it to the other priests, but something told him this was the right thing to do.

The villagers avoided the house afterward. Inside, floorboards still creaked gently as if something of small weight was moving steadily around. Yet no living being dwelled inside.