Just in time for Halloween - a cautionary tale from my anthology Sex Ray Specs.
“Why are we doing this again?”
The wry, slightly aggrieved tone of the teacher's voice left Shou struggling not to laugh. “Because you lost our bet, sensei,” he purred. “My prize is your company on this little adventure.”
Aoshi cracked his eyes open just enough to study the man next to him. “I already told you, I don't believe in ghosts. If you're just trying to get a rise out of me you'll be sorely disappointed.”
“Oh my, sensei. If that was what I wanted I would have been much more direct.” Shou's deep rumbling chuckle sent goosebumps skittering over the teacher's skin. “It's supposed to be the most haunted place in all of Japan. I just want to see why it has such a dark reputation.”
“Weak fools who wanted to be scared,” Aoshi declared. “People see what they want to see.”
“So the thought of dinner with the devil doesn't even give you pause?”
“Devil, schmevil, can't be any worse than some of the human octopuses I've dated.”
“Let's hope you're right.” Shou pulled off the road onto a twisting drive. Conversation ebbed as he turned his concentration to the narrow rutted track. Mushrooms of all shapes and sizes had taken root in the pitted surface, churning to a slippery ooze under the tires. The vehicle slipped and slid, scraping against the encroaching underbrush until it finally burst into a small clearing.
The house itself was ordinary enough, wood faded to a soft grey, the surprisingly intact shoji tightly shut. If he didn't know better, Shou would have assumed it to be carefully maintained by a loving owner.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Aoshi's question jolted him out of his daze. “It doesn't look haunted.”
Shou didn't reply, instead he busied himself gathering their supplies. He grasped the teacher's arm at the elbow and steered him up onto the engawa. “Last chance to back out.”
“As if I'd give you the satisfaction. Aoshi slid open the door and stepped inside, yanking his friend in behind him. “Looks harmless enough.”
Light filtered in through the yellowed paper on the shoji, giving the space a warm amber glow that was almost welcoming. The aged tatami creaked and rustled under their feet, each step kicking up a cloud of dust. The teacher shook out the blanket he was carrying, spreading it in the middle of the floor and pulling his companion down to sit. “This is as good a place as any. I'm starving.”
As unimpressive as the room looked, the tiny hairs on the back of Shou's neck prickled with danger. He rummaged in the picnic basket, pulling out three lacquered bento boxes, chopsticks, sake, and three tiny saucers.
“Three?” Aoshi asked. “Is someone joining us?”
“Can't have dinner with the devil and not feed him.” Shou poured sake into three saucers and lifted his in a toast. “To a most enlightening evening.”
“Kanpai.” The teacher took a sip, sighing as the warmth slid down his throat and started a glow in his belly. “That is nice. I just hope you didn't make these yourself. I've seen the glop you call food.”
“And risk insulting the prince of darkness? It's from that sushi place near your apartment, the one you always rave about.”
“Then let's eat.” Aoshi clapped his hands together. “Itadakimasu,” he murmured as he grabbed a pair of chopsticks.
“It's rather impolite to start without your host, don't you think?”
The surprisingly mellow voice grew closer. “It's been a long time since I've had guests, especially on this night.”
“What night?”Aoshi croaked. He kept his eyes stubbornly fixed on the tatami as bare feet and the hem of a man's kimono passed next to him.
“Why, All Hallow's Eve, of course. The night when restless spirits walk the earth. I tend to forget you don't celebrate it here.” The newcomer settled himself cross-legged, hands reaching for the waiting saucer of sake.
Shou idly noted the man now seated opposite him kicked up no dust as he moved. He clamped down hard on the nausea bubbling in his throat, lifting his eyes to the middle of the figure's chest. From the neck down he looked ordinary enough, a slight man in a simple dark kimono. A tiny part of his mind gleefully urged him to look up and disprove the myth once and for all, but his natural paranoia overrode it.
“Your companion is quite lovely. I can certainly see the attraction.” The deceptively simple statement triggered protective instincts Shou never imagined he possessed.
“Really? He doesn't smell like you.” The stranger inhaled deeply. “But he does smell sweet. Why don't you and I make a little trade. I'll let you go, and you leave him to keep me amused.”
“Never.” Shou leapt to his feet, pulling the teacher behind him. “Don't look. Just back out through the door.”
“You're being very rude.” Aoshi clamped his hand over his traitorous lips in an attempt to stop the words that flowed from his mouth, in his voice, but were certainly not his. “We intruded on his solitude,” he continued to mumble around the obstruction. “The least we can do is finish our meal.”
“That's an excellent idea.” The stranger reached to take the teacher's hand, but Shou pivoted, fingers digging into Aoshi's biceps before flinging him through the open door.
Cold seared through him, the outstretched hand now resting companionably on his shoulder. “It's amazing how often that works.”
“Wh-wh-what?” Shou stammered. The door shook as Aoshi pounded on it from outside, but the sound was curiously distant.
“I mean, think about it,” the stranger continued. “What would someone like me want with someone as nice as your friend. You on the other hand ...” Shou squeezed his eyes shut and prayed to all the deities he had never believed in, “ ...you have possibilities.”
* * *
The police dismissed it as a lover's quarrel. A perfunctory visit to the caved-in ruin of a house guaranteed they would not believe him. Shou slipped out of conversation, then memory.
Yet every year on October 31, Aoshi returned with dinner for three. “I've brought our dinner,” he'd announce. “Are you tired of him yet? He really can be an asshole, sometimes. But, if you're done with him, I'd love to have him back. We never finished our date.” With a respectful bow he'd lay out two bento and pour two saucers of sake, then retreat to the engawa to eat his portion under open sky.