The first time is always the hardest. Everything after that is easy.
I am aware of what I am – the stories had been told to me from the time I was a child, when countless lost souls, through their own choice or otherwise, would come to her. The cursed and possessed would seek her out, and in watching my mother take the spirits away from them, I would in turn absorb the stories that had been told from generation to generation.
Like mine. Sadly, there aren't many people in the mainstream world of Japan who know of the phrase Ju-On; say the words to any random passer-by, and the result will likely be complete and total apathy. To someone who knows, it has a very definite effect. Scared heads turning away, hushed tones. When I stayed behind, it didn't take long to figure it out. I was Ju-On.
But in the past three years, I have become something much worse…
And it all started with the police officers and Jill.
It had broken my heart when Jill told me that she didn't want me around; I had expected the moment to be symbiotic, that the two of us could join together, that I could make her more powerful than she dreamed. I thought she would see my actions and see a kindred spirit; instead, she was horrified.
Regrettably, I had to kill her. I liked Jill a great deal. Not only for her fearlessness (with the exception of her end), but for the effect she had on the city of Chicago.
What effect would that be?
Simple – the fear. The fear is the fuel.
The fear that Jill instilled in the city made me more powerful than I ever imagined. No longer bound to a single location, no longer bound to some sort of hackneyed rule that hopeless gawkers had to enter a residence in order for me to teach them a valuable lesson, no longer limited in the ways that I could go about seeing my favorite thing – the whites of my victims' eyes, the look of relief, knowing that the agony I was putting them through was about to be over.
Jill Robbie could relate.
I am now more than urban legend – I am a virus, spreading throughout two continents like some sort of modern day Bubonic plague. I can now see everything that has ever gone on inside of every one of my victims' minds. As such, I know who they know.
And everyone that person has ever been in contact with is fair game.
I jump from place to place, from person to person, with surgical precision and lightning speed. At first, I started counting the number. Now I don't even bother.
I let the news reports do the counting for me.
I learned another thing from Jill – the power of presentation. I spent much time and thought considering who I should be, what I was about. Jill loved looking like a common street thug. I searched for something more suitable. The Onryo – the vengeful ghost – is a story, like Ju-On, passed down from Japan's healers from generation to generation. In almost all the stories of Onryos, the ghosts in their human form were proper Japanese housewives, draped in long, ornate, decorative Kimonos. Instead of the blood-stained clothes of my death, their garments became mine. I don't want to be viewed as a victim of any kind. Not anymore. I am not a victim – I am a punisher. I am Onryo.
And while some of my adventures before may have been a little messy, I must admit feeling sympathy for the souls whose work it is to clean up after my lessons now. First Japan, now America...
"Turn that thing down!" Jessica yelled, slightly annoyed that her co-workers seemed to be more transfixed on the gruesome information coming from soulless news anchor #5,988 than the matter at hand.
"Sorry," said Chris, fumbling for the remote with a free hand and pressing a button a few times. The tan-skinned anchorwoman on the tube, in turn, became less overbearing and scary.
Jessica looked upward at Chris, an older doctor, in his mid-'50s with a wife and kids. Round face, moustache, overweight, decent candidate for cardiac infarction. It disturbed Jessica on some level that, in the state that Japan currently found itself in, with dead bodies turning up left and right for no apparent reason, she immediately sized everyone up based on health risks.
Fighting her better instincts, she again turned away from the mutilated body of their present assignment to scan the news feed. The anchor continued to drone on, but Jessica didn't need to hear her.
The inset at the bottom of the screen told the whole story.
So today's the day, huh? Momentous occasion, I know.
Apparently, the death toll from the epidemic – which the governments of the world either wouldn't or couldn't divulge the details of (or they just don't know) – had reached an astronomical number in Tokyo. So astronomical that the number couldn't even be released.
Jessica knew only what the news would let the public know about Japan's situation. For reasons that nobody quite understood, manngled, slashed, sliced, and ripped bodies, mostly concentrated in Tokyo, had begun cropping up at a fevered pace over the previous few months The virus, paranoia, or network of very sophisticated and psychotic killers had started slow, and worked their way up to a frenzy. The reports scared Jessica - no matter the explanation, it spelled trouble.
I see the dead when I wake up, and I see the dead when I sleep…
Jessica's mind raced back to the present. The girl's heart had begun beating. Her name was Allen Rossum – early '20s, wannabe writer, did freelance work for the local papers. He had been delivered to Jessica a short while ago saying that her several witnesses had seen him convulse, stand up, and get ripped apart by some unseen force in the middle of a crowded restaurant. The scientific, clinical side of Jessica told her that this was impossible. But the result was there - a gaping, deep, still bleeding wound in his chest.
In the effort to revive him from death, they had quickly stripped away his clothes, began the process of patching up the wound, and applied the shock paddles.
The last one had worked, at least temporarily. The monitor began recording a steady, low beep.
And Allen Rossum's eyes bolted open.
Jessica stepped back, allowing her co-workers to begin the procedure of stabilizing him. Their group had been working together now for almost a year – including Chris, they had some very talented and very dedicated doctors in the Saint Luke critical surgery unit, and as the young one on the totem pole, Jessica was still amazed that they seemingly knew the exact thing to do at a moment's notice in every situation.
Then Jessica's heart leapt up into her throat when she saw it. Saw her, standing at the back of the room, behind the small circle of doctors hovering around the near-dead body of Allen Rossum…
She was obviously Japanese. The proper white kimono, large pastel moon and clouds painted on the right side, ornate red decoration on the left, swirling black hair.
It took her a few seconds to recover from the image and register the boy standing next to her – wearing only shorts, holding the woman's hand.
It was the look on their faces that terrified Jessica to her very soul.
Bad intent…we don't like you…we want you to die…
And just like that, they were both gone, disappearing into thin air.
"He was my best friend," said the woman on the other side of the table from Jessica.
The clinic, as it usually was, was packed to the rafters – not with people seeking remedies for common colds and flu shots, as they had been a few years ago, but people thinking that they had caught it – even they had no clue what it was.
Jessica had been told that Allen Rossum had a visitor – but as Allen Rossum had passed away after looking so promising when they had brought him back via shock paddles, the task fell to Jessica to inform this information seeker that Mr. Rossum had ceased to exist.
The woman began crying. She had given her name – Shawn McCurdy. She was a pretty girl, with long blonde hair and a lithe figure, wearing tight-fitting blue jeans and a tank top on the hot July day. Jessica's own clothes clung to her like a second skin, a problem magnified by the intense heat of the crowded hospital she spent almost half of her life in.
Jessica had been surprised that the hospital authority had even seen fit to arrange this meeting, but it was happening. Strangely, she found herself liking Shawn. She had already found out where she worked – a drug treatment center. Just like herself, Shawn preferred to use helping others as her livelihood.
"How did you know Allen?" Jessica asked.
The tears, while they weren't gushing out of her like they had been minutes earlier after hearing the truth, were still welling up in Shawn's eyes as she began to speak. "He did a story a few years ago on our treatment center," she said. "Actually got it published in the Tribune. Quite an accomplishment these days. I asked him why he pushed so hard for it when there's a lot more sexy news these days, and he said it's because he admired what we did there. We went out a few times – not romantically, just as friends, and he got to be somebody that I really looked forward to seeing."
Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God…
The words coming out of her mouth made the name crop up in her mind.
"What's wrong?" Shawn asked. "Sorry if I'm disturbing you."
"No, you're not. It's just…that hits really close to home with me. I know that's not something you're used to hearing from a doctor."
"Believe it or not, I'd love to hear it."
"I don't think you would."
"I'm a therapist, Dr. Harper, it's what we do."
Jessica shifted in her seat, a little nervous, feeling vulnerable – but something about Shawn put her at ease.
"It was – it was this guy that I used to work with."
"What was his name?"
"His name doesn't matter. He was…he was kind of the same way to me as Allen was to you. Best friends. Only I wanted him to be more than that."
"What happened to him?"
"He died. We had a big fight one day, and then he turned up dead."
And the way he died…he went there.
After identifying his body, Jessica herself had gone to the apartment building that had fascinated Brian so much. She had only looked at it from across the street. Something about it seemed to call out to her, to beckon her to come inside, to see the mysteries of the other side of life close hand.
But then something always pushed her back. An inner voice.
A voice that she was not entirely sure wasn't the voice of Brian Mills.
"I don't know. Nobody knows. For all intents and purposes, nobody ever will know. It happened almost three years ago."
"I'm sorry, Jessica. You know, we have a lot in common. Maybe we can get coffee sometime?"
Jessica laughed a little to herself, shocked that she had indulged so much with a relative stranger, and even more shocked that the stranger had put her so much at ease. "Yeah," she answered. "I'd like that."
After days like today, Jessica Harper's bed felt like nothing short of paradise.
Her head had just hit the pillow, and her eyelids had just closed. But while she had gained a new friend today, her mind kept returning to what had transpired in the operating room.
A Japanese woman and her son…
It's them. It's the murdered victims – the ones Brian wouldn't shut up about on the day he died.
He went looking for them – and they killed him…
And now they're coming for me.
Despite Jessica's exhaustion, it took her three hours of tossing, shifting positions, and attempting to think about anything but what may or may not have been a hallucination to achieve sleep.
Jessica had awoken with a start, obviously startled out of sleep by a noise. Something loud, and near, had obviously just occurred, the telltale echo of a sound still apparent in her ears.
She sprang up in bed, quickly looking around her bedroom. There seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary. Her TV, which overlooked the room from the opposite side of her bed, was off, the moon and stars gave the room its only light from a sliding glass door to her left, and the door leading to the hallway was closed.
Still, she was uneasy, sitting up, looking around…
Someone was here.
Then she heard it.
CCCCCCC RRRRRRR OOOOOOO AAAAAAA KKKKK…
"What the hell…" she muttered under her breath, her eyes going wide, her heart rate quickening, her head now darting from side to side.
A flash blinded her eyes. She found herself unable to make anything out with the exception of the color white for a few moments. Shaking her head to remove the cobwebs, the world gradually came back to Jessica…
And there she was.
The same woman she had seen earlier in the day, standing directly in front of her, at the foot of the bed.
Jessica began to scream.
And the woman began to advance on her, walking toward her with a stilted, uneven gait…
I see everything now.
I know everything now.
I know that the woman last night – the one in her house, the one who had operated on the newspaper man who had been looking someplace he shouldn't have been looking – had just recently met this girl.
I know that they were planning on meeting up for some future fellowshipping.
This was a sentimental thought that would never come to fruition. When people cross my path, the rules they have established for themselves, in their own humdrum, relatively innocent lives, cease to exist.
I dictate the rules for them.
I know that Shawn McCurdy legitimately has close to 500 people that she can call "friends." I know that she is a favorite of the people that she works with, and that she works for, as well.
It's funny how things have a habit of coming full circle, isn't it, Shawn? Jill Robbie had been about to murder her, and I had saved her. Inadvertently. While countless others were powerless before me, Shawn McCurdy owed her life to me.
I see her now. I have been following her since the meeting yesterday, when she had the misfortune of making herself known to me, through no crime other than also making herself known to Jessica Harper.
She is working in a rehabilitation center, and I am more than familiar with what is transpiring now. Group therapy. A veritable smorgasboard of victims are laid out in front of me. Each of them knows Shawn McCurdy on a very personal basis, and even though I have been able to kill Shawn for well over an hour now, I listen to the stories. They amuse me. Drug addicts – they are all the same. They are miserable, soulless creatures who don't appreciate life.
But they will appreciate it. They will appreciate it as I come to visit each and every one of them, just like I visited Jessica Harper last night.
After all, I am a virus. It has bee fun spending the past three years in Japan. Now the virus needs a change of scenery - it's time to unleash scorched earth on America.
In the moments before people die, they are unquestionably honest. Jessica had suddenly appreciated every moment she ever spent with Brian Mills, who, in an ironic turn of events, had been the slob who showed up in my apartment building years ago, wanting to die, convinced that he was in love.
I look deeper into Shawn's mind as she listens to the stories. She is completely unaware of my presence, but I am lurking right over her shoulder as she sits in front of them, the center of the circle. I listen for any sort of condescension, a feeling of superiority. A feeling – something that can make me feel happy about what I about to do to her.
There isn't any. She is genuinely interested. She is concerned with their well-being, their trek back to civilized living, of appreciating life.
The thoughts surprise me. I have never been inside the mind of someone like her before. I am used to hearing negativity. When you boil it right down, the vast majority of the internal monologue of any human being is negativity – who they hate, what they hate (both about themselves and each other), why they hate.
Shawn McCurdy is positivity.
I will regret killing her…
I watch further as she pushes an errant strand of her hair behind an ear, considering the story of one of her patients. The thought emanating from her cerebral cortex is a strange one – "I can relate."
I dig deeper into her own mind.
Shawn McCurdy didn't used to be the picture of positivity and innocence she is today. She has faced much hardship in her life, both deserved and undeserved.
But yet here she is, rising above it all. As of yet, she is unaware that the friend she made yesterday is dead. When she finds out, she may not be so willing to look at the best in people, to seek out the dregs of society in some futile attempt to reform and make better…
I lost count a long time ago, but I am well aware that it is a staggering number. My houses – the places in Tokyo and Chicago that I refer to as home – now serve as a sort of base, a source of my power in addition to the fear that now hovers over these cities like a cloud of radiation. Toshio is my constant and my conduit. We never sleep, never rest, and never waver. We make as many visits as we can every day.
I know that one day, the world will be empty. We will have accomplished our mission.
Everyone must pay – including Shawn McCurdy, who wishes only to help others in a way that she wishes somebody would have helped her years before I inadvertently did.
Again, I will regret killing her.
But perhaps I don't have to.
I can let this one live.