Authors: Christopher Golden,Thomas Randall
inter had come to Miyazu City,yet instead of the silence and darkness it so often promised, it had broughtKara Harper happiness and renewal. Most people making their way through theshop-lined streets of downtown Miyazu seemed trapped in a long, grim hangovernow that the holidays were over. The city had to return to business as usual. Intwo days, school would start again and Kara would have to do the same, but shewas looking forward to it.
A new year. After the nightmarescome to life that had plagued her first two terms at Monju-no-Chie school, sherelished the idea of a fresh start.
"Hey, lovebirds, wait up!" she called in English, hurrying to match stride with her father, Rob, and hisgirlfriend, Yuuka Aritomo.
Her dad and Miss Aritomo were bothteachers at Monju-no-Chie, a private school on the outskirts of Miyazu City,where he taught English and American Studies, and she taught art. Theirrelationship had taken Kara a lot of getting used to — her mother hadbeen dead only two years — but she had come to accept it. For a long timeshe had worried that her father would never be happy again, but it had stillbeen hard for her when he had fallen in love. Now, though, she knew that hislove for Yuuka didn't mean he had stopped loving, or missing, Kara's mother.
It helped that Kara had alsofallen for someone. After all that they had endured, it seemed so improbablethat she and her father would both be so happy at the same time, but she neverspoke about the unlikeliness of their good fortune because she did not want tojinx it. Kara had definitely had enough of curses to last her a lifetime.
"You're speaking English?" her father said, arching an eyebrow. "Do you want to look like a tourist?"
Kara grinned, switching toJapanese. "Dad, it isn't like they can't
Miss Aritomo chuckled softly. Karaliked it when she laughed. She was a very pretty woman, delicate and graceful,but being around Rob Harper had seemed to allow Yuuka Aritomo to exhale alittle. Japanese culture had so much to do with what was proper and correctthat, to Kara, most of the adults always seemed stiff and serious. But herfather and Miss Aritomo had given each other reasons to smile.
"I don't know how youtalked me into this," her father said.
"I didn't talk you intoanything," Kara insisted. "I need boots. It's winter, in case youhadn't noticed."
"It's not like we've hadmuch snow — "
"My feet are cold!"
"You have boots, Kara,"he said.
Kara rolled her eyes and lookedto Miss Aritomo for help.
"Her boots are old and uglyand barely fit her," the art teacher said.
"Exactly!" Kara said,linking arms with Miss Aritomo. "See, Dad, women understand this stuff."
He sighed. "All right,where's the shop again?"
Kara made a small, gleeful noiseand linked her other arm through her father's, hurrying the two adults alongthe street. "It's just up here!"
Miyazu City seemed to have ahundred different neighborhoods, from lovely parks to teeming businessdistricts, from upscale suburbs to moldering apartment complexes, and from busyroads lined with markets to gentrified shopping areas. Kara found them allinteresting in their own right, and nearly always took her camera with her whenshe went into the city. What she loved most of all was the way that ancientarches and temples and shrines could be found in the unlikeliest of places, andthe juxtaposition of the cityscape with the low mountains on one side, or theblue waters of Miyazu Bay on the other. Visually, it was a fascinating place tolive.
Now she marched her dad and MissAritomo along the sidewalk of a street lined with markets and noodle shops,passing a fabric store and a butcher's. The aroma of cooking noodles and fryingfoods wafted from stalls and open doors. She could still taste the squid she'dhad for lunch. They were fried in long strips that reminded her of churros, andthough they were nearly always chewy, she had come to like squid prepared thatway.
Men in uniform swept the streetand people rode in all directions on bicycles, the last snow having melted fromthe stone street days before, although the mountains were still capped withwhite. Telephone wires crisscrossed above them, poles and lamp posts onlyslightly more numerous than the vending machines that popped up on every block.
On the corner ahead, three pinetrees had been left standing around a small shrine. Kara steered her dad andMiss Aritomo to the right and onto a street that sloped gently down towardMiyazu Bay. From here, they could see Ama-no-Hashidate, the finger of whitesand and black pines that jutted across Miyazu Bay and was considered one ofthe three most beautiful sites in Japan. Kara had taken hundreds of photos ofthe bay and of Ama-no-Hashidate, and though she thought she had probably usedenough film on it, she still found the sight beautiful. It cheered her evenmore and she picked up the pace.
"Slow down, daughter,"her father said. "What's the rush?"
"It's not my fault you'reold."
"Okay, that's enoughteasing me around my girlfriend," he said.
Kara laughed. "Yuuka lovesyou anyway. Don't you, Yuuka?"
Miss Aritomo blushed slightly asthey hurried along, arm in arm. "I think I love him a little more when youtease him. I want to protect him from abuse."
Kara bumped her gently as theywalked. "No you don't."
"But I do!" the womanprotested.
"Maybe you should keep itup then, Kara," her father said.
They passed a music shop, asmall bookstore, and what seemed like a dozen clothing stores. Two feudingpizza restaurants stood on opposite sides of the street, facing one another. Karahad tried them both and thought the crappy little joint down the street fromher favorite noodle shop was much better, and much cheaper. Her two bestfriends, Sakura and Miho, had showed her the best places to buy clothes andhair accessories and music, but her boyfriend, Hachiro, could be counted on tobring her to the tastiest and most out of the way restaurants in Miyazu City.
"Kara," Miss Aritomosaid, "I've been meaning to remind you. School starts again in two days. Whenwe are around other teachers and students — even your friends — youcannot call me Yuuka. It isn't — "
"I know," Kara said."It isn't proper."
The temptation to tease MissAritomo about Japanese propriety, especially when it came to sleeping with herfather, was great, but she knew the woman would be absolutely mortified and didnot want to embarrass her like that. After the horrors they had endured at thebeginning of the fall, the death they had seen and the curse that had nowtouched them all, the rest of the fall term had passed so quietly as to allowthem a cautious optimism. And the holidays had been nothing short of joyful.
Only a tiny fraction of theJapanese population identified itself as Christian — most were Buddhistor Shinto — but Japan had long ago embraced Christmas. People ate aspecial cake on Christmas Eve, which was considered a night of romanticmiracles. Being with your significant other that night was a big deal, andHachiro had called her from home and spent an hour telling her how much hewished he could be with her to celebrate the night. It meant a lot to herbecause she knew it meant a lot to him.
She and her father had chosen tocelebrate as Japanese a Christmas as possible, exchanging small gifts with eachother and with Miss Aritomo, who had joined them for dinner both on ChristmasEve and Christmas Day. Kara had received a locally made Teddy bear and a smallemerald ring from her father, and Miss Aritomo had brought her flowers and ahand-knit scarf. Kara had bought Yuuka a small handbag with her own money, andher father had given her a necklace that Kara had helped pick out.
Yet, though Christmas displayswere often up just as early as they were in America, the New Year was a muchbigger deal in Japan. People started preparing for New Year's celebrations evenbefore Christmas, sending tons of New Year's cards called
totheir families, friends, and colleagues. Marking the passage of the old yearand recognizing the affection or support that others had given them, as well astheir hope for the relationship to continue in the new year, was a major partof the celebration. People spent the time leading up the end of the yearcleaning their homes and offices, inside and out. The faces of buildings — even temples — were cleaned, painted, or refreshed in some other way.
It had all sounded sweetlysentimental to Kara, right up until New Year's Eve, when she and her father hadgone out for a dinner of
soba noodles at a
shopand encountered an almost comical number of drunken people. Almost comical,because it stopped being funny when she saw a man walk into a lamp post,bloodying his nose and lip. It turned out that New Year's Eve in Japan wassoaked in even more alcohol than the holiday was back home in Massachusetts,and that was saying something.
Still, they had enjoyed it. MissAritomo had gone to her uncle's for dinner, but returned to watch the variouscelebrations on television at their house and ring in the new year with a toastat midnight, stepping outside to listen to the bells tolling from the city'sBuddhist temples. There were other traditions, of course. Many people would beat the shrines, offering prayers and hoping to receive a promising fortunescroll from one of the maidens in white kimonos who looked after the shrinesthat night. But Kara and her father and Miss Aritomo had opted to stay at home.Yuuka had spent the night for the first time, and had made them
,the traditional New Year's soup, the next day.
They felt like a family.
Kara tried not to think of itthat way — she still struggled with the idea that she was somehowbetraying her mother — but sometimes she couldn't help it. She liked thather father was happy. He deserved it. She thought they both did.
Now, as she made her way towardthe shop where she had seen the perfect boots for winter, arm-in-arm with herdad and Yuuka, several older people looked at them oddly. They did make aninteresting trio. Miss Aritomo usually tried to hold on to her very Japanesepropriety when out in public with them, but at the moment, she apparentlycouldn't keep the grin off of her face.
"Here we are," Karasaid, guiding them into the shop.
"How much are these boots,anyway?" her father finally thought to ask.
Kara gave him an innocent look."Dad, they're lined and waterproof. Can you put a price tag on keepingyour loving daughter's feet warm and dry?"
He gave a good-natured sigh."That much, huh?"
Inside the shop, where severalcustomers were lined up at the register and others milled about, trying onwinter coats and boots, Kara stopped and batted her lashes at him.
"Not that much, but.."
"There's this jacket you'regoing to love just as much as I do. White and gold and puffy — "
Her father turned to MissAritomo and hung his head. "Save me."
The art teacher laughed and noddedto Kara. "Go on. Show us these boots."
Kara gave a little squee anddarted through the racks, leaving the adults to weave a path behind her. Shereally did need boots and a new jacket, and had known that her father would buythem for her, but she always enjoyed tormenting him just a little bit. Theyteased with love, never with malice.
Fathers and daughters
,her mother had often sighed.
They'll indulge each other forever.
Kara thought maybe her mom hadbeen right.
After persuading her father thatthe white coat with the fake fur around the hood was an absolute necessity — with a little help from Miss Aritomo — Kara waited in line with him topay. Someone had apparently gone on a break and left an old woman with acranky, pinched face as the only clerk. Kara dared not complain about the wait.Instead, she leaned her head on her father's shoulder.
"It's okay," he said."I don't want my little girl's toes freezing off."
"Yuck. Me either."
"So, everyone's due backtomorrow, right?" he asked.
Kara smiled. By 'everyone,' hemeant her two best friends, Miho and Sakura, and Hachiro, but he tried not topry too much into her feelings for her boyfriend. She didn't mind talking aboutHachiro with her father, actually, but he seemed very wary about seeming toocurious, which was probably for the best. As long as she was happy and Hachirowas treating her well, he didn't need to know any more than that.
Despite what her mother hadalways said, boyfriends were the one area where fathers didn't always indulgetheir daughters.
". . that's terrible,"Miss Aritomo said. "How did she die?"
Kara and her father both turnedto see the teacher talking to a short, fiftyish man whose glasses were too bigfor his face. His expression was grim.
"She became lost on themountain during the first snowstorm we had last month," the man said,shaking his head slowly, mouth set in a thin line. "They searched for herafter the storm, but two days passed before they found her. She had frozen."
Kara flinched at the word."God," she whispered, in English.
Miss Aritomo expressed hersorrow at the news and the man with the big glasses — who Kara nowrealized was an employee here, but also someone the teacher knew — noddedagain. Or perhaps they were small bows, accepting her condolences.
The conversation went on, butKara had had enough.
"I'm going to look atgloves," she said, forcing a smile.
"You already have gloves,"her father said.
"I didn't say 'buy.' I'mjust looking," she replied, and then she was off, heading over to acircular display upon which hung what seemed hundreds of pairs of gloves.
Things had been going so well. Theywere happy. Kara had had enough of death and ugliness and did not even want tohear about any more of it.
As she searched for a pair ofgloves that would match her new jacket, not really intending to ask her fatherto buy them, but curious, she heard soft voices whispering behind her, and thenone of them spoke up.
.Happy New Year."
Mai Genji had seemed to be hernemesis for a while. She had inherited the position of Queen of the SoccerBitches when the reigning queen, a girl named Ume, had been expelled during thespring term. Ume had told Mai about the impossible, awful things that hadhappened in April of last year — about the curse that the demonKyuketsuki had put on Kara and Sakura and Miho — and for a time Mai hadblamed Kara for Ume's expulsion and for the horrible things that had followedit, during the autumn term.