The Parade dragged me outside the city borders into a large open space, away from the buildings, away from anyone who could know. But I recognized the place. This was the same place they’d found my parents’ bodies, my grandmother’s body. Maybe the youkai knew somehow, or maybe this was just a favored hunting ground for them. I could see the scene – I had been forced to look at it while Grandfather prattled about vengeance in my ear – and for the first time, I felt real grief. It was like their spirits were still here, watching and waiting for me. The youkai laughed at my tears, thinking it was from fear, even licked my cheeks and smacking their lips like it was fine wine. It didn’t matter, I wasn’t alone.
They set up a bonfire and sat around in a circle, thrusting me in the middle, my hands were tied with the long, cloying hair of the Kejourou, the strands thicker than iron and shaper than needles. Every twitch, I felt the burn of abraded skin.
“What game? What game shall we play with the boy?” They chortled.
“The Hyakumonogatari.” The old Tanuki suggested, swigging his wine gourd and patting his round belly.
The Hyakumonogatari, it was a ‘game’ that had been popular in Heian Kyoto. Gathered in a group, people would pass a candle around and each person holding a candle would have to tell a horror story. It was their version of campfire ghost stories, only this time, it wasn’t meant to just be scary.
“Yes, yes!” The demons cried. “He will bleed to his death, we will torture him all night, he will be in despair!”
“Who will start?”