To me the pathway was barred by bushes and brambles. Once he pulled me through and I landed on a white bark tree.
"It's funny," he said. "When I went down this path, it was more welcoming."
But I knew what was wrong. Mark was taking me to a small shrine near the military base in Misawa, Japan. He and two of his friends had found it there one night when they were looking for a place to relax and drink sake.
Below the path was a small meditation pool. Bambo benches around the pool let one look deep into the pool and follow the small ripple of the water.
Yes, I knew what was wrong. This small altar and meditation area had been built to hold an avenging ghost, probably a woman. Mark, being male, would not have felt her revenge until or unless he had wounded her. But a female invading her garden would be hurt enough.
I placed my hand the white bark of the tree. Mark impatiently walked up the path. "I'll wait for you up here," he said.
I laid my cheek against the bark. "I promise," I said. "I won't hurt you."
I felt a resistance and then the path cleared.
"About time..." huffed Mark, then walked me the rest of the way to the altar.
"Who are those people?"
"Who?" He had not seen the old man in a kimono with his hand holding a very young japanese girl, who was also in a kimono.
"Just one thing," I said. Mark looked at me. He did not really like it when I became spooky. "We need to leave before twilight."
Mark had become more and more obsessed with the altar and garden. He had taken Sylvia to see if it was dangerous. But "twilight"?, he smiled. Sylvia had been spookier than usual. He had wondered what game she was playing by not being able to see the clear path. He had to pull her onto the path several times.
Each day he came to the pond and meditated. Some days he would bring friends and other days he would come alone.
And then, he decided that this was the day that he would stay past twilight. Oh yea, he had read the stories of how the Japanese ghosts were more malevolent than the American ghosts. But if you belonged to a sophisticated society, you did not believe in ghosts. Period.
"Syl, syl!!!" One of Mark's friends was white and shaking. He grabbed my arm. "Mark stayed there... we heard him screaming... we can't find him... "
Neither one of Mark's friends wanted to come with me. Finally, Terry climbed into my car after declaring that he would not leave the safety of my metal beast.
It was dark. The wind whipped around the car. I knew we were not wanted.
Once we arrived. I stepped out of the car. I could hear the wind moan and grind. It whistled around me like a dark beast. I walked to the pond and up the path.
"I won't hurt you," I said over and over under my breath. As I reached the path, I saw Mark in front of the altar. A young woman (older than the child I had seen before) had her arms wrapped around him. She was bent over his neck.
"Come to me" I called Mark. As he walked to me, she let him go. Her eyes turned red and I could see her long red tongue. When he reached me, I told him to get behind me.
The ghost floated up and up. Her gown floated around her. And then she fell towards us.
I yelled, "Stop." She hung in the air.
"Mine, mine, mine," I could hear, faintly.
We walked backwards, away from her.
"He is not yours." I said. "Go away. We are leaving. We will not come back."
She disappeared in the mist.
Dark. Cold. Blood. New Life.
"He is not yours, " she said.
Disappear. Deadly sleep.
As the car warmed up and Mark quit shivering, I asked him, "What happened?"
"I don't know," he said. "I don't remember."
"You are not going back," I said.