News traveled fast in Shinogan. By the next day, our entire class was buzzing with talk of the new student. Everyone had heard something and there were bets going on what he’d be like.
He was black, he was white, Asian, Cuban…he had green hair, three noses, one eye; odds were flung all around the room with increasing speed as the clock ticked.
And just when Carmella the voodoo priestess was screaming at Vincent – the apprentice wizard who was also our bookie – for his lousy odds, ready to stick a pin right between his legs, the bell rang. There was a little hitch of stilled movement; then in one massive wave, we all rushed to our seats just as the classroom doors slid open with a loud clack. When our homeroom teacher came in, we were as quiet and diligent as plastic angels and just as genuine. Shuffling in, she gave us all a collective stink-eye that said she didn’t buy the silence, not for a minute. There wasn’t much you could pull over Kaede.
Kaede was older than petrified wood and twice as gnarled in looks. She had a way of staring at you through folds of sagging skin that made you feel like a lobster about to be broiled. She stood at her desk in the white robe and red hakama pants, the traditional outfit of a miko, and stared. She kept staring until I could feel the entire class break out into a collective cold sweat. I always suspected her eyesight had gone and the only way she could take attendance was to smell the stench of fear that seeped from our skin.
Kaede’s voice, only slightly croaked with age, easily dominated the silent room.
“Class, as you know, there will be a new student joining us today.” She paused and swept another look around. “There will be no interrogations, challenging, bullying or taunting of any kind. Any and all casualties are not the responsibility of the school. You have been duly warned.” She nodded at the door and the new student stepped in. The people in the front row leaned forward to get a closer look. They shouldn’t have bothered.
The gigantic dog’s head – a really familiar dog’s head – practically filled the doorway. A long pink tongue lolled out of a mouth filled with sharp teeth – a large mouth that could easily swallow a person whole. Sharp red eyes sparked with power and I could actually feel hot breath against the hairs on my neck. I could feel hot pressure from the seriously awesome power level was that eking out, and I was fairly sure this wasn’t even full-blast. This – was not what I was expecting.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Dominic breathed.
“Inugami.” Mitsuo said reverently. I nodded dumbly, it was the Inugami from that night. It had to be. I’d almost forgotten about him – it. But this time, I was finally going to see who the possessor was. I pictured someone resembling the wrestlers in World Wrestling Federation. Someone big and menacing, with tattoos on a bald head and maybe bug-eyes.
Instead, he was dressed all in black like he was in mourning. He had sharp Asian features on a face so narrow it was almost pinched, and his skin was so pale I could see blue veins tracing his hands. He was also thin. I’d go so far as to say skinny, like a stiff wind would snap him in two. This was the Inugami possessor?
“This is Wu,” Kaede introduced, ignoring the whispers. “And he will be your classmate for the future.”
Even under the scrutiny of dozens of eyes, Wu didn’t waver or look away. He stared almost blankly at a spot over our heads, seeming to drift off in his own mind. I watched Kaede write the kanji of his name on the board, pronouncing it clearly. 無. Wu. His name meant ‘nothing’.