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Yuki Onna

Categories: Case Histories

By David Farnell, (c) 1998

“You should not have remembered,” she says. She is changing. Yes. The desk is far away. I lunge for it anyway, training kicking in in spite of the shock. I get the gun out–heavy, so heavy. I turn to face her. She hasn’t moved. She has changed completely. But she hasn’t changed, not at all. She’s just like I remember her. She’s right. I shouldn’t have remembered. I raise the gun with both hands. What will I tell the children?

After the salutes, Lt. Henry Nakata looked over the men in the Captain’s office. The big one commanded attention. He was major, Airborne, hard as granite. Looked like he chewed rusty nails for extra iron. Blocky leather face, near-shaved buzz cut, neck like a bull, he must have been six-four and near two hundred in his skivvies. “Dalton,” his nametag said. He was looking at Henry with a scowl, sizing him up. Henry didn’t mind the scowl–it looked like it was the usual expression on this guy, nothing personal–but the way the man looked him up and down made him feel small. Henry got the feeling that the Major didn’t have much use for Japs, American or not.

He was a little more comfortable with the smaller guy. He was thin–Airborne–could’ve broken him with two fingers. Big ears, big nose, glasses. Uniform said he was a Captain Farnsworth. Reminded Henry of a young professor of Chinese back at Berkeley. He was smiling at Henry, a big grin, extending his hand, as Cap made the introductions.

“Nice to meet you, too, Captain Farnsworth. And you, Major Dalton.” Dalton didn’t offer his hand.

“Captain Lockley tells us you’re his right-hand man, lieutenant.” Farnsworth had a Harvard accent. Henry felt small again, in a different way. “You did some fine intel work during the war, too.”

“Thank you, sir.” Dalton still scowling at him. Henry wondered what was up. He had come to Cap’s office to talk about his family. The letter from his mother seemed heavy in his pocket.

“Lieutenant, I know you’re terribly busy here in Tokyo, interpreting, intel, liaison, all that, but we need you for a little jaunt up north.” Why was this Captain doing all the talking? It seemed like he was in charge, rather than the Major. Captain Lockley just looked on, a little uncomfortable. “Seems there’s a village in trouble, a freak snowstorm cut them off up in the mountains, and now some kind of bandits are raiding them. Of course the Japanese government can’t do anything–they’ve got enough trouble on their hands cleaning up around here, and the only armed troops are a few police, after all. So they’ve asked if we could look into it. We’ve only got a few assets up there now. Major Dalton’s men will take charge of looking into these bandits, while we provide food and medical aid to the villagers. We need you to interpret, of course. We don’t have anyone who speaks the lingo up there yet. Any questions?”

“Uh, yes sir. Where exactly are we going?”

Dalton spoke up finally. “Wakkanai, northern tip o’ Hokkaido. We got a base there, settin’ up a listening post in case the Reds try to come down from Sakhalin. We’ll fly in, move south into the mountains. Village is called Suchigumi, some damn thing like that.” He sounded Texan. Henry felt even smaller. Crystal City Relocation Camp carried few pleasant memories.

“I see. And the bandits, sir? Are they–?”

“Probably poor hungry bastards runnin’ from the fight, don’t know it’s over yet. But they might could be Commie commandos, stirrin’ up trouble.”

“Are we at war with Russia?” Henry knew there was tension, but he had no idea that it had gotten so bad so quickly. The war had only been over for a month.

“Of course not,” laughed Farnsworth. “But, you know, we still need to check it out.”

“We leave in an hour, boy. Get your kit together. We got cold-weather gear on the plane, and rations and such, too, so don’t bother about that. Bring your weapon. We’ll meet you in front of the building at fourteen-twenny. Got that? Good.” Dalton returned salutes from Henry and Captain Lockley and left, Farnsworth following a moment later.

Her mouth stretches back in a grimace, revealing blackened teeth. I remember those teeth, biting into Johnson’s head, that grimacing mouth, kissing Farnsworth. Oh, Farnsworth, god, I never called your father.

Wakkanai was cold, below freezing at night and it was only mid-September. Weird weather this year. The townspeople were talking about the bombs, the A-bombs, saying maybe they had something to do with it. But the people of Wakkanai seemed to like the U.S. Army very much. They could see Sakhalin Island across the water on clear days. They remembered the girls on the radio as the Soviets came: “This is the end, goodbye everyone, goodbye.” They heard, on the radio, Stalin’s demand that Japan be partitioned along the lines of Germany. Stalin wanted Hokkaido.

But it was behind the convoy now. They were on the road, four trucks loaded with food and medicine, other supplies, and a lot of Airborne troops and regulars. Plus one out-of-place, in-command captain, one intel interpreter, and one very pretty girl guide.

Henry was chatting up Setsuko, the girl guide, in the lead truck. She was from the village, Tsuchigumo-cho. Henry had interpreted for her and Farnsworth back in Wakkanai, as she’d explained about the freak blizzard, the phantom-like bandits, the disappearances. She’d snow-shoed to the nearest town and then hitched to Wakkanai to meet the troops. The radio had broken down in Tsuchigumo, and her father had let her go for help, knowing she could take care of herself.

Now that they could just talk together, Henry was finding her fascinating. She wasn’t like the girls in Tokyo at all. When she laughed, she belted it out, open-mouthed. No giggling behind the hand for her. Her hair was very long, very glossy black, framing her pale face and odd gray eyes.

“I’m part Ainu,” she said when he asked her about her eyes. “My grandfather has them, too.”

“Weren’t you scared, snowshoeing by yourself with those bandits around?”

“Oh, I was a little scared. I kept thinking of the stories my grandfather told me, about the Yuki Otoko.”

“Snow Men? What are you talking about? You mean, like the snow men children make?”

She laughed. “No, no. Yuki otoko are obake, kind of ghosts, or monsters. They kill people by taking their warmth. They live all around in these mountains. They can cause snowfall, and they kill very wicked or stupid people. The most wicked people can become a yuki otoko.” She was smiling at him, watching for his reaction.

He had to admit it was a little scary. “Do you believe in all that?”

Setsuko laughed. “I don’t know. I lived in Sapporo during the war, working in the factories and studying at college until it was closed down. I only came back to the mountains a couple of weeks ago. Six weeks ago, I would have said I didn’t believe. Now, I don’t know.”

She looked a little more serious at that.

My aim is unsteady. The gun wavers. Johnson and the flame-thrower. And that song. And the lights, the northern lights. Oh, I know their secret now. Joe, Joe, I would’ve told you if I could’ve remembered.

Night was falling, and the snow was starting up again. It was just Farnsworth, Henry, Setsuko, Dalton, and his hard boys. As they’d gotten up in the mountains, they’d found an avalanche had blocked the road. The regular troops were clearing the road to bring up the supplies, but Farnsworth had decided they should go on ahead on foot and scout out the village. Now they were in it, and there was no one there. The whole place was empty. Except for the snow. It was everywhere, even inside the buildings. It coated tables and half-eaten meals, drifted in kitchens, covered desks in the Town Office. The doors and windows of every building were open. Or broken down. It was as if everyone had left in a hurry. And those that didn’t want to go, got dragged out.

They set up in the Town Office. It was a low, concrete box, completely out of place among the traditional northern houses with their steeply pitched, ceramic-tiled roofs. Setsuko wanted to go out into the woods to search for her family and friends, but Dalton took charge and refused any more searching until dawn. He and his boys set out guards and threw down desks as barricades, covered up some of the windows with boards, and dragged in some oil-fueled heaters and a hibachi to cook over. They found some futons in the surrounding houses and settled in to rest.

Farnsworth wanted to discuss the situation with Setsuko more, so Henry did a lot of interpreting for over two hours. Setsuko became increasingly withdrawn, however; it was obvious how much she was worried about her family. Finally, Farnsworth let her go and went over to talk with Dalton. She walked over to an unsealed window and looked out on the snow, her arms crossed tightly across her chest. Henry joined her and, after hesitating a long moment, put his arm around her. The snow was falling very heavily.

“Which, uh, which house is yours?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “They’re gone.” After a long silence, she asked, “Is it true about Hiroshima? One bomb killed all those people at once?”

Henry nodded. He felt a little ashamed as he remembered his relief when he’d heard about the bombs and the surrender. “Nagasaki, too. And the firebombings in Tokyo.”

She shuddered. “To die by fire–so terrible. Tell me, Henry, how would you prefer to die?”

Henry blinked, a little shocked. He tried to make a joke out of it. “Well, I’d prefer not to, if possible.”

She turned to him, smiling strangely, looking closely into his eyes. “Very well, then. You won’t.” Her gray eyes were serious and hard, her face like alabaster. Henry felt a sudden fear of her. He almost spoke, but her expression abruptly softened and she melted into him, embracing him at last and burying her face in his coat. He held her tightly, protectively, wondering how badly the disappearance of her whole town had shaken her. She’s lost everything, he thought. He began to think about what he could give her.

 

Five ops, five since I got home and helped my parents rebuild after having everything stolen from them while they languished in that camp in Texas, since I swore I’d never go back to the military, since I’d gotten in with the CIA, since Joe brought me into it after P Division reformed. Five ops for Delta Green. I can’t forget a damn thing of any of them. Every monstrous detail is burned into my memory. But twenty years, twenty years it takes me to remember her. And now it’s me or her.

Farnsworth was cursing, fiddling with the radio, unable to get through to the outside world. Most of the men, except the guards outside, were dozing. Dalton was in the back, putting together some equipment they’d lugged up into the mountains. Henry was still holding Setsuko. She felt so cold. He wanted to warm her. Something was wrong.

It was her breath, her breath against his neck. It was cold. Then, he recalled that he had never seen her breath steam in the freezing air. His surface mind wanted to hold her tighter, warm her up, but some part deep down was suddenly full of revulsion, wanting to push her away and dive for his carbine. His arms seemed to be struggling to hold her tighter and release her at the same time.

That was when it started.

Outside, an M1 Garand shot off three rounds, rapid-fire. Then there was a scream, strangled, then nothing. It all happened in about two seconds. By that time the men were all up, grabbing their weapons without thought. Henry was already picking up his carbine, the strangeness of Setsuko’s breath forgotten, while Dalton rushed over to one of the windows and shouted out, “Watch! Report!”

No answer. The men were taking up position. Henry, who had never fought with these men before, tried to decide where to fit in. He felt no fear. He never felt fear until afterward, or if the fight was very long, with long pauses in the action, long enough for the fear to come. Right now he was only thinking of the best tactical position. He decided to hang back in the rear of the room, watching the others’ backs, keeping a wide view and picking off with his carbine the enemies that the closer men, perhaps suffering from combat tunnel-vision, might miss seeing.

The double explosion knocked him off-balance. He recovered and looked around wildly, at first stunned and unable to make sense of what he was seeing. The windows, including the ones that had been boarded over, had been blown in. His mind casually noted that it had sounded like American grenades. Some of the men at the front were surely injured, though the desks had probably protected them from much of the shrapnel. There was a fire off to the left. One of the oil stoves had probably ruptured. Someone was on fire there; a companion was beating him with a futon to put it out.

For a moment he wondered about Setsuko. Two simultaneous thoughts ran through his mind. One was, She can take care of herself. The other: Please let her die. He was slightly shocked at this second thought, but he didn’t have much time to be shocked.

Then he saw them. They were leaping through the smoke and snow, maybe only two or three seconds after the explosions. One of them got blown apart in concentrated gunfire from several M1s, just jerking in midair, body parts flying off, almost stopping in its flight. The other took a couple of hits, but landed and looked around. It was roughly human, human-sized certainly, and Henry’s mind tried to make it into a Russian soldier, but failed. It wasn’t Russian. It might have been Japanese, a Japanese mountain climber who’d gotten lost in the blizzard, frozen to death, then gotten up again to take on the U.S. Army. Its skin was blue and black, mottled, like bruises all over. Yes, there was some purple, some green and yellow, mixed in. The hair was long, falling out in patches, a scraggly beard giving the thing a Fu Manchu look. The blackness was concentrated around the joints and extremities, and around the eyes, the missing, frost-rotted nose, the hideous mouth, sneering, full of black teeth like an ancient geisha crone. Its swollen-joint hands were blackened, tipped in long, ragged talons, the nails thickened and lengthened and curved like a bear’s. It was completely nude; in the limited light, Henry couldn’t get a good look at its genitals, for which he was profoundly thankful. The worst thing, the thing that he couldn’t get out of his mind, was its feet, or rather lack of them. Its legs ended at the ankles, blackened like burnt matchsticks, the feet apparently broken off. The thing stood in the middle of the room, balancing on its ankles like a deer on hind legs, looking for a target.

It never got one. Everyone but Henry, even Farnsworth with his chattering Tommy gun, opened up on it. Thus it was only Henry who saw the other grenade come in, bouncing off one wall. He shouted, “Grenade!” and dove for the floor.

Her face, now, an Edo princess’, eyebrows shaved, painted again high on her forehead, mercury-white complexion, frozen, shining, gray eyes like knives into mine, hair like threads of midnight. The same. Just the same as when she bent over me, my ears bleeding from the grenade, yet I could hear her just fine, as she whispered unspeakable things, and told me how I could live forever with her, singing songs to I-sa-ku-wa O-kami-sama, who fools call Susanou, and believe to be the brother of the sun goddess. She told me the others would die, or become these hungry, broken things, but I could be greater. The shrine, the little shrine in the woods. She would meet me there, and there we would feast.

Henry was in the snow, face-down. His head hurt like hell. It was throbbing like a temple bell tolling back and forth. He pushed himself up and rolled over onto his side. He could only open one eye; the other was covered in something sticky, wet, and it didn’t want to open. He wiped his face and his hand came away red. Hit, he thought numbly. I’ve been hit.

He almost called out for a medic before he remembered that the war was over, that he was in the mountains of Hokkaido, and that he was going to buy it fighting a bunch of undead naked blue cannibals and there isn’t even a fucking war on Goddammit! Then he saw it moving.

The thing was on its back, flailing one arm to try to flip itself over, head twisted around to look Henry in the eye. Its eyes were gray. My grandfather has them, too. It was about fifteen feet away, lips peeled back in a ghastly smile, black teeth gnashing in uncontrollable desire for Henry’s flesh. Henry counted three black-ringed holes across its torso. He realized that he’d shot the thing, and he must have paralyzed it by cutting its spine.

How had he gotten out here? It came back in a rush: Setsuko, only not Setsuko, something inhuman, bending over him, offering him eternal life if he betrayed the others. The confusion of the fighting, Dalton using a flame-thrower and incendiary grenades to drive the attackers off. Farnsworth telling him hurriedly about these things up in Canada twenty years ago, just like the ones they were fighting now, saying he was OSS, special division. Henry telling him what Setsuko had said, about a shrine in the forest. They had set out to find the shrine, thinking maybe it was the key. Setsuko had disappeared in the fighting.

Outside, the snow had been glowing as if it were shining under a full moon on a clear night, yet it was falling thickly and the stars and moon were hidden by a thick mass of clouds. And they had heard the song, too, soon after stepping out of the Town Office and into a frozen hell.

The song came from all around, like a necrophilic soprano diva dying on stage of a heroin overdose, sad and triumphant, and with a hint of joyful obscenity that crawled into their bones and made their stomachs clench and their balls pull up between their legs. They hadn’t talked about the song. They’d all hoped it was just their imagination. But they could see the truth in each other’s faces, so they’d stopped looking at each other.

They hadn’t been able to see houses for a while, trees everywhere, so they must have made it out of the village when the next attack came. Henry remembered scoring a few hits with his carbine and realizing the light bullets weren’t doing much to the snow demons. Their bodies seemed very solid, like wood, or frozen flesh. But they were nonetheless very swift.

That was the last thing he remembered before waking up in the snow. Now, this thing was trying to get to him. He reached around for his carbine, finding his sidearm instead, laying on the snow near his hand. The slide was locked back, magazine empty. He had no idea when he might have dropped his carbine, but he figured the .45 rounds would do more damage to the creatures anyway.

The crippled thing finally succeeded in flipping itself over and began clawing toward him, making a gaspy almost-laugh of anticipation, coming amazingly fast for something with only one working limb. Henry felt himself wake up, fumbling for his spare magazine, finding it, dropping it in the snow, digging for it, finding it again with numb fingers. He paid no attention to the thing, trying to slam the magazine home, missing the well, slamming it in again and praying he hadn’t bent the lip, tugging back on the slide and feeding a round into the chamber just as the talons dug deeply into his left arm and he could smell its rotten breath. He bent his hand backwards to shove the gun right against its teeth as it was lunging for his face and the back-blast slapped his face with heat and burning powder and no little amount of frost-rotten flesh. He had closed his eyes against the blast, and when he opened them he saw the thing’s head was gone above the lower jaw, and he saw its tongue nestled between those black teeth give a nasty little quiver as the thing relaxed its grip and rolled over to lay next to him. Pain shot through his arm as it released him. He felt like a baboon had mauled him.

Henry staggered to his feet. It was a long way up. He fell twice on the way. He looked around and saw plenty of blood on the snow, wondering how much was his. He could see plenty of brass casings scattered about. The fight looked like it had been intense. He could hear some fighting, far away. It was hard to tell in this snow. Everything had a muffled quality. Or perhaps it was just his head wound, or maybe the fact that he’d just shot a gun off practically in his own face. Whatever. He shook his head to clear it and almost fell down again, nauseated and off-balance. After the world stopped spinning, he headed off in the direction of the fighting, cradling his wounded arm and holding his .45 loosely.

After a while he saw a soldier through the trees, struggling, staggering under the weight of one of the creatures on his back. It was Johnson, the big Missouri kid–his face was hidden in a mask of blood, but Henry could see the projector-end of the second flame-thrower in his hands. The thing was high on his back, claws dug into his shoulder and neck, footless blackened legs wrapped tightly around his waist, chewing on Johnson’s skull with those long, black, monkey-like teeth.

Henry started over, knowing he had to get much closer to have a chance of hitting the thing without risking hitting Johnson or the fuel canister. But Johnson took care of his own problems. He managed to twist the projector up, aiming it at his tormenter’s head, and triggered the flow of burning, sticky fuel right into the thing’s face. It was also right into his own face. But he kept the trigger pressed, spraying fire all over himself and the creature, engulfing them both in liquid flame, while the thing just kept right on chewing, both of them screaming and dancing in broken circles, now one big flaming creature together.

Henry turned and ran at that point, but the explosion still knocked him down as the fuel tank ruptured, the blast a kind of gentle shove that sent him into the snow again. He was content to lie there. The cold on his face was good. It felt good to his head.

I thought I was meeting her for the first time, ten years ago. Climbing up through the CIA, occasional fieldwork, a DG op now and then to tear my life apart, I met her at an Elvis concert in Waikiki. Yukiko. Looked just like Setsuko, only I didn’t remember what Setsuko looked like. I didn’t remember Setsuko, period. She understood without my telling her. She understood it all, the stuff I’d seen and done on the ops. We never talked about it; we never had to. Sometimes I thought that was strange, but it was so damn good, I just pushed it out of my head. She kept me sane. We had three kids together and she was the best thing that ever happened to me. Until I remembered who she was.

He’d seen plenty of death during the war. He’d volunteered so he could get out of the internment camp, and he remembered his mother’s words, “You show them who you are!” And he had. He’d had a hard time fitting in with Captain Lockley’s team at first. The Cap had been good to him, but the others hadn’t wanted a Jap on their team. But he’d been a good intel officer, a good interrogator, and a good fighter when he had to be. He’d handled himself fine and the others had accepted him.

He’d seen death in many forms, and he’d dealt it out a few times, he supposed, although he’d been lucky never to have been close enough to be sure. He knew how people could deny their own humanity within themselves, how they could look human but be little more than intelligent beasts. But he’d always assumed that there was something in there still human, still capable of salvation. Something that could come back, given the chance.

Now he knew it was possible to go all the way beyond the edge, so far it even changed your body. That which was human could be killed and offered up to something that sang maddeningly and promised eternity, and would make you over into a beast and tell you to eat all you could catch. And the song was singing to him.

He rolled over, exhausted, his head filled with an ocean of pain and nausea. He kept his eyes closed. He wanted to make a snow angel, like he’d seen in the movies with Tommy. He’d never experienced snow, on the ground, thick enough to do anything with, before. Seemed like a shame to waste the opportunity. But he couldn’t move his left arm. His angel would only have one wing.

The song was getting annoying. Sweet, cold, rotten song. It wouldn’t let him sleep. Sighing, he finally opened his eyes, looking up at the stars. Stars? The snow had stopped, and the clouds were gone. It was clear, crystal clear, Crystal City clear, he thought, giggling inside, remembering that big, Texas sky over the camp. He could see the Milky Way stretching over him, and the stars were holes poked in indigo-black velvet with the brightest, coldest light in the universe shining behind. Henry thought of the Bomb, the two bombs, one for Hiroshima to send a message, one for Nagasaki for the hell of it. It was funny: Hiroshima had had the biggest Protestant church in Asia. And Nagasaki had had the biggest Catholic one. Funny. Henry wondered if the people who’d looked up at the lone plane, who’d seen the little egg drop out and the parachute open, watched it float slowly down, following it with their eyes–he wondered if, when it had hatched, had they seen that bright, cold light, unmasked, so cold that it had burned them into shadows on the bricks? Or had it stolen away their eyes too quickly?

Flickering waves of color caught his notice as they danced across the sky in sheets. The Aurora Borealis, he thought. Neat. That’s really neat. He’d never seen it before. He watched it dance with childlike joy, all pain, all fear forgotten. But something nagging at his mind soured it, killed the joy as he tried to think what it was. And then he saw, heard. The song and the light were moving together, one. And in the pattern of the light’s dance, the song’s hideous melody, he could discern life, and intelligence, and a hungry, alien intent. And that was when he saw its face, and understood.

Henry’s mind almost went up into the sky then. He could feel it, trying to force its way out of his eyes and mouth, which had suddenly grown so huge. He tried to close them, because he could feel it, his mind, soul, whatever, trying to escape, barn door’s open, Henry, whatcha doin’, tryin’ to catch flies? It seemed long minutes before he could close them, and only just in time–no, too late, some little piece got out, something gone forever, and he’d never even know what it had been, what he’d lost, what small part of him would dance forever, exhausted and uncomprehending, with the lights above.

Another explosion. Again, he fell, this time on his hurt arm, and the pain shocked his head into a semblance of clarity. He’d been running. His throat hurt. He could taste blood in it. He’d screamed so hard he’d torn it somehow. He reluctantly forced his eyes open, blood and salt almost gluing them shut. He looked around.

He saw the fire, first. It was jumping out of the ruined roof of a half-shattered little shrine, fifty yards or so up the path. The sacred gate, the torii, had fallen. It looked to have been made of stone, instead of the usual wood. There was someone trapped under it. Two more explosions whoomped off inside the building, and two of the walls sagged outward, then the whole building just collapsed, except for one wall. Henry ducked his head as debris, wood and stone, came down around him. A ceramic roofing tile landed nearby. It was glazed the same gray as Sestuko’s eyes, and it had a symbol for wind on it.

He saw the body under the stones stuggling. He got up to help, but he slipped and fell down twice on the way up the slope. He saw it was Farnsworth, weakly trying to free himself. Henry winced at the big, squat stone on Farnsworth’s back. It looked like it had crushed him badly.

He dropped to his knees next to Farnsworth, who was muttering to himself. Henry said, “Captain. Hey, Captain.”

Farnsworth stopped talking and strained his neck to look up at Henry. His eyes widened with fear for a moment, then relaxed in recognition. “Henry?”

“Heh. That bad, huh?”

“Jesus, Lieutenant, what happened to you? You scared the hell out of me.” They regarded each other for a long moment, smiling a little. Henry noticed that the snow had stopped glowing unnaturally. He indicated the wreck of the shrine with his chin, ignoring the sharp pain it caused him.

“Captain, did we win?”

Farnsworth didn’t reply for almost a minute. Then he sighed, his breath rattling in his lungs. “Yeah, I guess so. There was something in there. Something bad. It had two of Dalton’s men, the only ones who made it this far. They were screaming, and Dalton, he maybe could’ve gotten out, but he stayed. He threw his flame-thrower on the floor and yanked out two incendiaries. I took off. Didn’t quite make it.” He laughed weakly. Blood was in his mouth, pouring down his chin.

Henry had been shoving at the stone with his good shoulder. “Captain, I, uh, I can’t move this.”

“It’s okay. I can’t feel it anymore anyway.” They were quiet for a while after that. Then Farnsworth spoke up. “Tell my father, Henry. He lives in New York. Tell him how I went down. Goddam military, they’ll say it was an accident or something, with the war over. You tell him. All of it. He’ll understand.”

Henry didn’t want to understand. “I’ll get a board or something. We’ve got to get that rock off you.”

“Yeah, okay,” Farnsworth mumbled, as Henry staggered up and off.

With a little searching, he found a sturdy, long board from the debris around the shrine. He dragged it back one-handed, thinking about the best way to try to lever the rock up. As he neared Farnsworth, he noticed light. The snow was glowing again in a circle around Farnsworth.

She was kneeling beside the OSS captain, bending over him. Setsuko, as he’d seen her last. She cradled Farnsworth’s head on her lap, his blood lividly staining her white winter kimono. But for that, she was immaculate. Her long, straight hair was the velvet black of the sky above, her face a hole, the cold light of the stars shining through. And she sang her song, and above, the god of winds danced.

He dropped the board and pawed at his belt, but found only an empty holster. He’d dropped his pistol somewhere long before. He could do nothing as she violently wrenched Farnsworth’s head around. Farnsworth screamed as she pulled his head to hers and she kissed him, deeply, hungrily, and, in a way, lovingly. Farnsworth struggled, then fell limp. When she dropped him like an empty bottle, his body was twisted, broken, and rigid, coated with frost.

She rose. Her arms were angled out from her body like a crane in a mating dance, her hands hidden within the huge sleeves. She approached him without seeming to move her feet, sliding over the snow to stand before him. As she drew near, his knees went out and he sat down hard. He could see nothing but her face, the hard, cruel mouth, the gray, predatory eyes. And he could make out the dancing lights behind it, and he wondered where she stopped, and the god above began.

But she smiled, just a little, to see him.

“You came,” she said, and he shivered violently at the frozen vacuum of her voice. “After all, you came.” She looked at him, her little Mona Lisa smile on her lips. He knew what would come next. He almost welcomed it. He closed his eyes.

But she surprised him. She touched his face, filling him with a deep cold and a sense of loss, but she did not kiss him. “Go,” she said. “Go and tell no one about me. Remember me only in your dreams.”

When he woke, it was day, and the trucks had arrived. The support troops found him and took him to a hospital. He was the only survivor. He was interrogated, and he told them everything he knew, but he said nothing about her. He could not remember her.

The gun wavers in my hands. I don’t know if I can pull the trigger. She tenses, preparing to leap. But her mouth relaxes into that same Mona Lisa smile. And there is sadness in her eyes.

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