PART ONE: CUE
Yumi rushed ahead of the rest of the class and threw her arms out, spinning around in the grand arching hall of the glorious mausoleum.
“Awaken to me, spirits! Ancestors of the White Jade Clan, welcome to Kimurachi Temple.”
Master Hirasawa bellowed at the exuberant girl.
“Sasori, do not summoun any more ghosts, or you will be in detention for the rest of the month!”
My friend Yumi Sasori has kind of funny ideas about what’s funny, in case you haven’t met her before. She likes ghosts and horrible monsters, and I don’t mean as in “likes to read about them”. Any normal kid likes hearing ghost stories and stuff.
No, Yumi likes meeting ghosts and confronting monsters. She likes to help the good ones and stop the bad ones. Me, I just stick close to her and hope they won’t eat me.
I had hoped we wouldn’t meet any ghosts on this trip. Our classes had come out to observe the investment of a brand new shrine here in Kimurachi Temple.
The White Jade Clan must have had plenty of money. Their brand-new, not quite finished shrine complex seemed to go on forever. There were pagodas and galleries and fancy gardens and everything. Everything was formal and stiff and perfect, polished stone and elegantly-placed pools. Silent attendants stood at stiff attention everywhere, making sure nothing could possibly offend or disturb the ancestors in their rest. I imagined those ancestors must be pretty impressed.
But it wasn’t exactly a welcoming sort of place. Some shrines in our graveyard city are more like parks, packed full of people coming by to visit or just hang around. Not this place, though. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to come hang out here.
Except Yumi, of course.
Yumi jumped up and down in the midst of the great hall. The whole place was done up in beautiful white stone. I assume it was white jade, but I don’t know much about stone. It was sort of glowy, though, shimmering with multiple colours under all that shiny gleaming white.
The hall was lined with statues on both sides. Behind the statues I could see dark archways leading out into a maze of catacombs and there was a huge set of double doors at the far end, flung open to let in the morning sunshine.
The statues were mostly of tall, stern-looking old guys, but the second on the left caught my attention. It was of a kid, a soft-faced boy who looked younger than me. He looked kind of sad, and I crossed over to read the nameplate.
“Satozora Shinaka. Grand Master from…” I turned as Yumi rushed up to grab my arm, still giggling with excitement.
“Look, Yumi. This kid was only Grand Master for a couple of years. He was only eight years old when he died. Isn’t that sad?”
Yumi lost her dizziness for a moment and considered the nearby statues soberly.
“That is sad. Look, this one here must be his father, Shingon. He died just before Shinaka took over. And then on this side, that’s his uncle, Shinga, who took over after the kid died.”
The uncle had a stern glower, like he was unhappy with everything he saw. I checked his plate.
“He’s the last Grand Master, huh? After he died, that was it for the clan. I guess he had a lot of money saved up for this big shrine.”
“I’m so glad they’re all dead.”
Yumi clutched at my sleeve, breathless with excitement.
“Let’s talk to them.”
“All of them!”
“Uh, Yumi, is that really a goo–”
“Spirits of the White Jade!”
Master Hirasawa heard Yumi’s cry. She started pushing her way through the throng of kids towards us.
“Don’t you do that, Sasori! I have instructions not to–”
“Come forth! Come before us and be welcome, ancient ones. Show thy glory to we who love you. Come forth, every single one.”
“Every single one, Yumi? Is that a good idea?”
“You worry too much, Hoshi.”
“Sasori! What did I just say?”
Yumi stood with her hands outstretched, her pretty face expectantly alight, but nothing happened.
“Yumi, was that–”
I started to tug on her sleeve, but somebody tugged on my trouser leg and I had to look down.
It was a puppy.
The puppy saw me looking down at it and wriggled, its dark eyes glittering just like Yumi’s. I squatted down to pat it, and only just got my hand on its smooth black coat before it lunged at my face, attacking me with a ferocious tongue and licking me all over.
“Hey puppy. What are you doing here?”
Yumi saw the puppy and forgot all about the uncooperative White Jade spirits. She crouched down beside me with a sort of a squeal and the puppy threw itself at her, wriggling so happily it could barely stay on its feet. It spun around and around, trying to fawn over both of us simultaneously, tripping over its own feet.
“Wouldn’t you love to be a puppy? So happy and bouncy.”
We both giggled and got lost for a moment playing with the enthusiastic little guy. He jumped and twisted around in place.
“Sasori! When you and your friend are finished, will you please join the rest of the class?”
I jumped up at Master Hirasawa’s angry outburst, assembling myself as best I could. She stood right there, glaring at us, big arms folded over her chest. Yumi rose a little more slowly and as she unwound to her full height I could hear other kids around us sniggering. They were whispering to each other about Yumi Sasori, getting in trouble again for weird stuff.
Well, this time there we had a perfect excuse. I pointed down by my feet.
“Sorry Master Hirasawa, but we were trying to figure out who this puppy belongs to.”
Master Hirasawa pushed her spectacles up on her nose and glared at me.
“What puppy, young man?”
Yumi and I both looked down in astonishment. The puppy had vanished.
“Honest. There was a puppy.”
“A puppy. On the grounds of a brand-new shrine that has been closed until just this morning? I suppose one of the priests brought it along?”
“Well, I don’t know. But it was–”
“Enough foolishness! If you two shall insist on such jokes, you can remain here while the rest of us go and watch the final opening ceremonies for the shrine. Sit and be still!”
The teachers conferred, while Yumi and I sat down in front of Shinaka’s statue. I still felt sorry for that little kid, having to take over the whole clan when he was just six. On the other hand, maybe he’d been able to tell his teachers it was their turn to sit on the floor and say nothing. That didn’t sound so bad, actually.
Master Tainaka strode over to watch us while the rest of the group left the hall. Tainaka was a broad-shouldered woman with her hair pulled back in a tight bun on top of her head. She didn’t look very happy at being appointed our monitor and crossed her arms over her chest as she took up position across from us.
She scowled at us. Yumi scowled back.
“It’s not fair! I want to see the ritual. And there WAS a puppy.”
Master Tainaka just sniffed and looked away.
“I’ll prove it to you. We’ve got lots of witnesses, you know.”
I tugged at Yumi’s sleeve.
“Uh, Yumi, I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones who saw the puppy. Everyone else was looking outside.”
“Not them, Hoshi. The White Jade masters must have seen it.”
You might think a reasonable response to Yumi’s comment would be, “But they’re DEAD, Yumi,” but that would only prove you don’t know Yumi very well.
Tainaka looked back at us, her face a twisted-up angry glower.
“There are no witnesses here for you, Sasori.”
“You think I’m making this up? You think these dead are an illusion, like those false masters of the Grim Circle Clan?*”
Yumi smiled nastily and held her hands up before her.
“White Jade spirits! I call to thee! I am Yumi Sasori, with a thousand souls chained to my will, and I command every one of thee to come before me now or suffer! Come and witness, ancient souls, or I shall bind thee to eternal torment.”
Tainaka pushed towards us.
“That’s enough, Sasori! Don’t you–”
She stopped as a sudden rippling flow of black shadowy shadows erupted from the statue nearby, of Satozora Shinga, the last of the Grand Masters of the clan. This dark insubstantial form hovered over us all for a moment, flickering and wavering in mid-air.
“Uh, Yumi? Is that every one of them?”
“I was expecting a lot more, actually. Just like before, hey?”
Yumi raised her voice and called out to the hovering spectre.
“Grand Master Shinga of the White Jade! We have a question for you. Where did that puppy come from?”
Master Tainaka looked down from the ghost to glare at Yumi, no doubt to berate her for asking questions like that of an important spirit like Shinga, but before she could even speak, the dark billowing form reared up, and then shot downwards, rushing right into the teacher’s body.
Tainaka jerked, and spasmed, and then shook her head. The blank, empty look in her eyes made me very very afraid.
“Look at that, Hoshi. He possessed Master Tainaka. Amazing!”
Master Tainaka’s hand rose up, wobbly sort of, and pointed at us. Her mouth opened and she spoke in a rasping, guttural sort of bark.
“You shall not shame the White Jade! For what you have seen you must DIE!”
Yumi and I turned and bolted down one of those dark archways as Master Tainaka’s possessed, screaming body came charging after us.
*See “Yumi Sasori and the Case of the Ghost Who Wasn’t There: A Yumi Sasori Mystery”