Sakura Time

FrightMareOriginally published in February 2016 in Fright Mare: Women Write Horror edited by Billie Sue Mosiman and published on CreateSpace:

Sakura Time

by Loren Rhoads

The uncommonly polite email surprised Alondra. She smiled at Hiroshi Hiroshige’s name. He wrote, “Dear Miss DeCourval, I hope you remember me. It has been too long since we met at the Moon Viewing Party in Ueno Park. I know you are a collector of books.” Not exactly true, but Alondra could see how he’d concluded that. “Perhaps you can help another type of collector: a doll collector. I don’t where else to turn.”

Hiroshige was a Columbia-trained journalist who wrote for the Tokyo bureau of the New York Times. She remembered him as matinee idol handsome, dressed in a pinstriped western suit and pointy cowboy boots. She didn’t know him well enough to guess which part of the costume, if either, was an affectation. She did know that his writing, when it appeared in the newspaper, was spare and to the point.

Intrigued, Alondra responded immediately. “I remember you, Hiroshige-san. You were kind when I visited Tokyo. I’m sorry we never caught up after the Moon Viewing Party. How I can help?”

Next time she opened her computer, he’d sent his airline miles and asked how soon she could arrive at Narita. He would meet her in the lounge past Customs.

Alondra booked the ticket, sent him the itinerary, and researched the weather in Japan in April. With luck, she would catch the tail end of cherry blossom season. Sakura time.

*

She’d forgotten how brutal the jet lag to Japan could be, so she was relieved when Hiroshige merely took her to a quiet hotel and wished her a good night’s sleep.

In the morning, he phoned Alondra to offer of breakfast. The dark, low-ceilinged coffee shop he chose seemed too full of tables. Alondra bumped into several like a clumsy gaijin. Hiroshige pretended not to notice. He read her the katakana on the menu, a litany of western-style pastries. She ordered toast, never expecting the warm, soft pillow of white bread that came with a pot of strawberry jam.

“What do you know about dolls in Japanese culture?” Hiroshige asked.

“Not enough.” She’d done a little research before she got on the plane in San Francisco.

“Dolls can’t be thrown into the trash. Japanese believe you can’t throw away anything that has eyes or a mouth. In fact, it’s believed that dolls are like mirrors. They take on parts of their owners’ souls. In Tokyo, the Kiyomizu Kannondo shrine collects dolls to give them a Buddhist cremation.”

Alondra wondered where this was going. Hiroshige hadn’t struck her as the sort to play with dolls.

He doctored his coffee with a carafe of sugar syrup. “The problem is my brother’s. His American wife was a doll collector. Art dolls, mostly. Some of them are very disturbing. When Michelle died, Koichi was left with all of these dolls to dispose of. It’s been difficult for him, because he believes each of the dolls has a little piece of his wife’s soul.”

“How can I help?” Alondra repeated.

“I would like to take you to my brother’s apartment,” Hiroshige said. “He’ll be at work. You can meet the dolls.”

Alondra sipped her tea. “I’m not sure what you’d like me to do, Hiroshige-san. Grief is a terrible strain on a person. Perhaps your brother just needs time…”

Unwillingly, Hiroshige said, “I need to know if there is something to his belief, if there is something of his wife left behind. Or if my brother has gone mad.”

“I’m ready.”

Hiroshige led her through a maze of streets to the subway. As she remembered, few streets in Tokyo ran straight, as if the city’s designers had been consciously trying to misdirect something.

In an apartment building of bland, white cement, Hiroshige led her to a tiny elevator, then out into a bare hallway with faux-wood paneling and a linoleum floor.

His brother’s cramped apartment consisted of a kitchenette off the living room, one bedroom, a split bath. Dolls thronged the apartment. They sat on every surface, including the sofa and bookshelves. They slumped atop the kitchen table. They hung suspended from the light fixtures. Everywhere she looked, eyes met her gaze.

There were folk dolls from many countries, but a majority of the dolls were Japanese. A tansu chest stood against one wall, its surfaces lined with Hinamatsuri dolls, representing the Emperor, Empress, and members of their court. A roly-poly Daruma doll hulked beside the computer monitor, its right eye still sightless and white, signifying that the wish made by its owner had not been granted. Beside the TV clustered a virtual forest of Kokeshi dolls. They all had columnar bodies without arms or legs. Similar straight black caps represented their hair. Those dolls represented the sum of Alondra’s knowledge about Japanese folk dolls.

Her gaze caught on a china doll seated in a little wicker peacock chair. Her skin looked white as bleached bone. Straight white hair fell to her waist in a silken veil. Her oversized eyes shone, reflective silver. Something about them looked unfocused, almost drugged. Her slightly parted mauve lips revealed needle-sharp feline teeth.

“Her name is Miriku,” Hiroshige offered. “It means Milk.”

“Do you know anything about her?”

“She was made by a Japanese doll-maker twenty years ago or so. She’s solid; at least, her torso is. She’s like a brick when you pick her up.” He lifted the doll from her throne. Her jointed limbs swung in a way that made Alondra queasy, their movement altogether too corpselike. When Alondra didn’t reach out to take the doll, Hiroshige gently put her back.

“Could I have a moment alone?” Alondra asked. “I won’t touch anything. I just want to see what I can hear.”

Hiroshige moved toward the door. “I’ll be right outside. Ten minutes?”

“Five will be long enough. Thank you.”

Alondra settled down on the ivory carpet in the living room, as far from the dolls as she could get. She heard the outer door click behind Hiroshige.

She drew a deep breath, held it a beat, then blew out hard in a steady stream. In the silence between that breath and the next, she listened. The room filled with little electronic noises: the hum of the refrigerator, the whir of the computer’s fan, the whine of a digital clock.

She took another breath and repeated the process. This time she heard something like whispering, snatches of sentences, short melodic phrases, humming, sighing. After another breath, she recognized dozens of tiny voices, speaking at once in a gabble of languages. She understood a word of Japanese here and there, but also heard French and German and a chorus of voices in English.

Either the doll collector had been a polyglot or, Alondra suspected, the dolls conversed in their native languages: mirroring not their owner’s soul but their creators’.

She kept her eyes closed, trying to sort out the babble. Perhaps this was what Hiroshige’s brother heard. The cacophony could drive anyone mad.

The voices fell silent. Quite clearly, Alondra heard a child beg, “Save me.”

A chill wrapped Alondra’s neck. The shiver that followed threw her out of her trance. She strained to hear over the rush of blood in her ears, but the voice was gone.

Rubbing her arms, she stood, wanting as little contact with this room as possible.

Hiroshige came in a moment later. Alondra asked, “Did your brother ever have a child?”

Hiroshige shook his head sadly. “No.”

“There’s something here. A child’s voice. She wants my help, but I couldn’t hear any more than that.”

“So my brother isn’t crazy.”

Alondra offered a hopeful smile. “I’d like to meet him, to have him tell me about the dolls. Maybe he will realize he could part with them if they’re going to a good home.”

“You don’t actually want to buy any of them, do you?” Hiroshige asked.

“No. But if I put the thought into his head, maybe it will help.”

She still felt chilled. “I know we just had breakfast, but is there somewhere nearby I could get a bowl of soup? I need to warm up inside.”

“Of course.” He gestured toward the door. She stepped down into the entryway and slipped her shoes back on before escaping into the hallway.

*

Outside a restaurant scarcely larger than a closet, Hiroshige showed her a lighted board with picture after picture of bowls of noodles. She pushed a button, took the ticket spat out by the machine, and huddled on a stool at the counter until a large, steaming bowl arrived in front of her. Then, using her chopsticks, she shoveled the noodles into her mouth.

To block out the memory of the child begging for her life, Alondra asked, “Do you know anything about the doll-makers?”

“Not much. Michelle, my sister-in-law, was the expert. She knew the provenance of each doll.”

“How did she die?”

“Uterine cancer. It was sudden. Virulent. It had metastasized to her brain before they discovered it.”

Alondra didn’t remember seeing any photographs in the apartment, only the mobs of surrogate children.

*

They returned to the apartment at noon, when Koichi Hiroshige came home on his lunch hour. Alondra saw the resemblance between Hiroshi and his older brother, who had also been handsome, before grief wore him down. He brightened when Alondra asked about selling the dolls. It was clear he had considered doing just that, but didn’t know how to begin.

She asked to see the rarest of the modern dolls. He showed her the only Katan doll in his wife’s collection, a doll so unique that she lived alone in a vitrine like a specimen in the zoo.

It had hard to listen to the words Koichi said, follow along with Hiroshi’s translation, and keep up her end of the conversation, all the while listening for the little girl’s voice. Finally Alondra said, “I don’t see what I’m looking for here. Do you have anything more precious?”

“There is one,” he said in heavily inflected English. “Sumimasen.” He dipped into a bow and retreated to the bedroom. He returned, carrying a footlocker that he set on the sofa.

Nestled inside a shroud of bubble wrap lay the most exquisite china doll Alondra had ever seen. A floppy organza bow tied her silken black hair back from her face. Over her closed eyes, her lashes looked very human. Her full pink lips parted as if in childish sleep.

The collector’s husband pointed out that the doll’s dainty nails extended past her fingertips. Lines crossed the palms of her hands. The doll-maker had inscribed his signature at the base of her skull.

Koichi undressed the doll, stripping off its white lace gown and translucent bloomers. Her pubescent breasts were tipped with pointed raspberry-colored nipples. Alondra noticed that the doll’s buttocks and the sharp curves of her shoulder blades—where they protruded beyond her sunken spine—were rouged. It looked as if she’d been lying on her back, as if her blood had started to pool.

The doll was shockingly anatomical. A blush crept up Alondra’s face.

Yes, the child’s voice said. You’ve found me. Now save me.

Alondra forced herself past her discomfort and looked at Koichi Hiroshige. An alien expression crawled across his face, lustful and cruel.

“How much?” Alondra asked.

Koichi flinched. He stared at Alondra, stricken. Lust drained from his face to be replaced by horror, then shame.

Gomennasai. I cannot sell her,” Koichi said in Japanese. Alondra understood that much. Before she could respond, he shoved the doll back into the footlocker and hustled it into the bedroom.

Koichi said something from the other room. Alondra understood some of it, but Hiroshi translated anyway. “He’s not feeling well. He apologizes.”

“Thank him for showing me the dolls.” Alondra moved toward the entry, all too ready to escape the gazes of so many inanimate eyes.

Hiroshi went to check on his brother. Alondra slipped on her shoes and let herself out into the hall.

The doll’s voice echoed in her head. Save me. Save me. The tone wasn’t as innocent as Alondra had first thought. The intensity of its demand frightened her. She was fairly certain that Hiroshi’s brother was the one in need of rescue.

Neither brother came out to check on her. Alondra decided to look up the Kiyomizu Kannondo, to see if she could find the doll-immolating monks. Perhaps they could assist her in freeing the Hiroshiges from the dead woman’s dolls.

*

When she got off the subway, Alondra found herself on the edge of Ueno Park, where she’d met Hiroshi Hiroshige by accident last September. The park was much less creepy in the daylight, so she wandered its paths, enjoying the cherry blossom petals as they flickered down from the trees.

Alondra understood that the Japanese considered female beauty to be like a cherry blossom: fragile, ephemeral. Though it was early afternoon, the park was filled with people who had left behind their cramped offices and tiny apartments to glory in the momentary beauty of spring.

On a low rise, she saw an old-fashioned building painted vermillion. She climbed the stone steps to it, slipped out of her shoes, and followed the worn wooden stairs into the temple.

She found it jammed with dolls. Some were still shrouded in cellophane. Others stared out of bright pink cardboard boxes. The vast majority of the dolls were Japanese in features and straight black hair. Some wore kimono and geta. Others were dressed as brides or fashion models.

After she’d thrown some coins into the box and bowed before the golden Buddha behind the altar, a shaven-headed monk said to her in English, “We collect dolls. They are offering to Kannon to ask for children. To bless children. Or to thank for children.”

“What do you do with them?” Alondra asked.

“In autumn, we burn them. Very beautiful ceremony.”

Autumn seemed a long time away. Alondra didn’t believe Koichi Hiroshige would survive until then. “If someone brought you a doll now,” she asked the monk, “an evil doll, what would you do?”

He smiled at her, apparently amused that a gaijin would find any doll evil. “We pray over all dolls,” he said simply.

Alondra wondered if that would be enough.

An older man approached them. His shoulders were stooped inside his burgundy robe. His voice was harsh and Alondra couldn’t understand his Japanese.

“The abbot invites you for tea,” the younger monk translated.

“I would be honored,” Alondra answered in Japanese. The abbot nodded sharply and led her to a door at the side of the shrine that opened into cramped living quarters. The younger monk dutifully began to make tea on a single-burner stove.

The abbot barked something. Alondra watched his face, marveling at its peacefulness even as his voice growled and snapped. Apparently that was just the way he spoke, not the way he felt.

“The abbot says you are a creature of power,” the young monk translated. “Why do you come here?”

She told them about the doll collector and the dolls, especially about the final doll. She shivered once more as she described it undressed.

“Did it speak?” the younger monk translated.

“It asked me to save it.”

“From what? Did the owner want to harm it?”

“The owner is dead,” Alondra said.

“No, the owner is the person who owns it now.”

“No,” Alondra disagreed. “The owner is whoever filled her with such hatred.”

The young monk placed cups before Alondra and the abbot, plain gray pottery cups glazed with a silvery sheen. He set the cast-iron pot within easy reach and served a dish of wasabi peas. Alondra was amused by the juxtaposition.

“Did the doll’s owner ask for your help?”

“No,” Alondra had to admit. “His brother is worried about him.”

“Why did he turn to a foreigner?”

“I don’t know.” She suspected that Hiroshi Hiroshige was afraid of being judged within Japanese norms. Perhaps he felt he had to protect his career at the New York Times by denying his paranormal suspicions. Whatever the case, Hiroshi had not volunteered any reason that he’d asked Alondra to come. She wondered over it now, since the doll shrine was easily accessible in Tokyo. Surely Hiroshi—and, for that matter, Koichi—knew about it.

“Do you understand karma?” the abbot asked her in grating but understandable English.

Alondra nodded.

He switched back to Japanese and she had to wait for his words to be translated. “Perhaps it is the brother’s karma to bear the burden of this doll. What makes you believe she is evil?”

Alondra struggled to pick apart her feelings. Something about the doll’s anatomy—that she was child-sized, but that her genitals had been sculpted in such excruciatingly realistic detail—upset Alondra on a level deeper than coherent thought. She wasn’t squeamish about her own or other female bodies. The unnecessary realism triggered memories of the abuse she’d suffered as a girl. It touched on her understanding, however buried, that she’d used her own anatomy and its power over her brother to protect herself from worse things. She sensed the doll was doing exactly the same thing with Hiroshi’s brother. And she believed the brothers knew it, too.

Alondra sipped the tea to buy herself time to think. What was she going to do? Hiroshi was an acquaintance, someone she thought handsome enough to fancy, but really, beyond the cost of a plane ticket, she owed him nothing. Maybe she ought to do what the monk suggested and leave well enough alone.

Except that she had been asked for her help and that, to Alondra, was as good as a contract. She had been vaguely considering stealing the doll, if Koichi could not be persuaded to sell it, but now she understood she could not bring it to the shrine and expect the monks to solve her problem.

“You are right,” she said at last. “If the doll is evil, that is unfortunate. If she caused the death of her owner and is killing the owner’s husband, that is just bad luck.”

The abbot nodded, but the younger monk frowned behind his master’s shoulder.

Alondra continued. “I am sorry to have meddled in a Japanese matter,” she said. “May I encourage my friend to bring you the doll after his brother dies?”

The abbot’s nod was sharp.

Alondra finished her tea and stood to go. “You have been kind to talk to me. Thank you for your hospitality.”

“I’ll show you out,” the younger monk said.

He walked Alondra back out to the front of the temple. When he turned to go, she asked, “Have you heard of dolls like this before? Anatomically correct dolls?”

“Yes.” His hands were behind his back, but she could see them fidgeting.

“Do you know the name of the doll-maker?”

“It was a scandal,” he said, “perhaps ten years ago. The doll-maker molested schoolgirls. He hung himself in prison. The dolls are very expensive now.”

*

Eventually Alondra realized that she’d gotten herself completely turned around. It wasn’t difficult to do in Tokyo. Most of the stations had signs in kanji and English, but the subway map on the train car was labeled only in kanji. And while her spoken Japanese was good enough to ask directions, she couldn’t read very much.

It had grown dark when she finally found her way back to her hotel. Hiroshi had left a message on her hotel room’s phone. “I’m staying with my brother tonight,” he said. “Things are very bad. Call me.”

She scrambled to write down the number. When she returned the call, the phone rang three times. “Help,” a voice said. Then the line disconnected.

Alondra stared at the receiver. She wasn’t sure if she’d heard Hiroshi’s voice, or the voice of the doll. Whether a plea or a demand, the word had been in English.

She took a moment to brush her long red hair and re-braid it, to splash cold water on her face. She stocked her messenger bag with her incenses and candles, matches, and took the pad of paper and pen from the nightstand.

The night had grown cold while she’d been in her room. She made her way back to the subway with confidence, located the right platform and awaited the train. Getting off at the other end would be problematic, though. She remembered the station. She thought she remembered the correct exit. Once she got into the maze of Tokyo’s streets, though, she’d have to trust her memory for landmarks. She had no idea the name or number of Koichi Hiroshige’s apartment building.

She tried not to think ahead, dreading what she might find.

*

Hiroshi Hiroshige sat in the hallway, eyes red from crying, his back against the wall opposite his brother’s apartment. He stood to open the door for her, a bottle of sake clenched in his free hand. “In the bedroom.”

Alondra stepped out of her shoes in the entryway and fumbled her way to where she remembered the light switch to be. It didn’t work. She took a white candle from her bag and lit it.

In the bedroom, Koichi’s body hung from the closet rod. His feet dragged on the floor. Alondra stared at the noose around his neck. It appeared to be a hank of long black hair. Maybe a wig?

Across the dirty sheet lay shards of the anatomical doll. Black hair splayed across a buckwheat pillow with a rip in its cover. A small pile of grain spilled out. The doll’s undamaged limbs sprawled, unstrung from its shattered torso. One leg turned backward, toe inward. An arm was missing.

Alondra shuddered with a deep childhood horror of the violence done the child-sized doll. She turned away to see Hiroshi lurking in the doorway, out of sight of the corpse. “Have you called the police?” she asked.

“The phone stopped working after I called you.”

So it hadn’t been his voice when she’d called. Alondra pulled things from her bag: sea salt, cedarwood chips, matches. She handed the pad of paper to Hiroshi and said, “Write your brother’s name and his wife’s maiden name for me.”

While he did so, she set up the incense burner and got the charcoal smoldering, then poured a ring of salt around Koichi’s feet. One of his toes poked through a sagging black sock.

“You should go for the police,” Alondra said. “I’ll be okay.”

Hiroshi hit the sake bottle hard, set it carefully on the dresser, and ran his fingers through his hair to slick it back on his way to put on his shoes.

Alondra added cedarwood to the incense burner and tipped her face forward over the smoke. Then she encircled the futon with salt, careful that the ring remained unbroken.

The room filled with whispers, a roaring wave of sound like the susurrus of the sea. Alondra ignored it, lighting a few more candles, which she placed with the help of a compass. Shadows grew in the corners of the room, blacker than the Tokyo night. The cedar burned with a clean scent that cleared the space inside her circle. She rubbed her clammy hands against her jeans and knelt on the futon to pick up a fragment of the doll’s porcelain face.

The doll’s alert deep brown pupil rolled toward her.

“Can you speak?” Alondra asked. “Can you speak to me in English?”

From behind her back, the doll’s voice demanded, “How can you help us?” Her voice braided together several voices, speaking in unison. “The death of our flesh did not free us. The destruction of this doll did not free us. Our tormentors are dead and we are trapped.”

The shadows outside the circle dove at Alondra. Sheet lightning flared as they smashed into the boundary of her circle of salt. The electricity resolved itself into a single kanji, but Alondra could not read it. It burned out before she could copy it for Hiroshi.

“Do you have a name?”

“He called us Sakura.” The words stumbled over their own echoes.

Alondra wasn’t sure if ‘he’ was the doll-maker or Koichi Hiroshige. She collected up shards of porcelain, puzzling the pieces of the face into a shattered mask.

“Sakura-chan,” Alondra asked gently, “who are you here to punish?”

The voices moaned, unable to find a target for their hatred.

“Your owner is dead.” Alondra smoothed a lock of black hair back from a fragment of forehead. “Do you carry a reflection of her soul?”

“Yes,” a woman said clearly. Alondra copied Michelle Hiroshige’s name on a scrap of paper, touched it to a candle flame, and held it until the fire menaced her fingers. Then she tossed the ember into the air and said, “You are released.”

Shadows raced around the room, knocking Hiroshi’s bottle of sake from the dresser.

“Hiroshige Koichi is dead,” Alondra said as she fit half of the rose petal lips into place. “Do you carry a reflection of his soul?”

“Can’t you see what he’s done to us?” the shadows howled.

“Yes,” Alondra hissed, cutting them off. “I see that he’s paid for it.”

In the closet, the corpse’s eyes opened, fixing her in a fish-eyed stare. Its tongue thrust out lasciviously. Its feet struggled to find purchase, but it couldn’t pull itself free from the noose around its neck.

Despite the hammering of her heart, Alondra copied the kanji for Koichi Hiroshige’s name, then set the second scrap of paper afire. The corpse grabbed for her silently, its toes scrabbling on the closet floor. Watching to make sure it came no closer, Alondra blew on the note to make it burn a little faster. The heat kissed her fingers before she tossed the ember upward. “You are released.”

The corpse slumped abruptly. The clothing rod protested its weight.

The remaining shadows snarled and snapped, unable to get to Alondra inside the circle. She crawled over the futon, collecting the last few shards of the doll’s head. She turned each one over, tilted it toward the candle flames, searching for the doll-maker’s signature. Finally, she found a piece of scalp, a lock of hair still attached, scratched with a pair of kanji.

“Your creator is dead,” Alondra said, holding the signed piece of porcelain in her palm. “Do you carry a reflection of his soul?”

The maelstrom fell silent. A single voice spoke, a man’s voice. He sounded older than she expected. She didn’t have enough Japanese to understand him, but his honeyed wheedling spread gooseflesh up her torso. She recalled how her brother spoke to her, the courtly compliments that told her how special, how beautiful, how crucial she was. Once more, she was a frightened girl, well aware how quickly the sweet words dissolved into violence when she didn’t do exactly as commanded.

She picked up the doll’s unbroken leg and hammered it down on the porcelain shard in her hand. Sharp splinters sliced into her palm.

Shadows swarmed through the room. Clothing was shredded, toiletries smashed from the dresser, photographs torn into confetti. It took the wanton destruction for Alondra to recognize there were no other dolls in this room.

She continued to smash the fragment of porcelain in her palm until it was reduced to dust. Every time the hammer fell, she felt as if she stabbed the memory of her brother and what he’d done to her. Finally, she blew across the porcelain dust, dispersing shimmering powder into the air. “You are released.”

Silence answered her. Alondra asked, “Sakura-chan, are you safe?”

“We are alone now.”

Alondra felt her heart thump once, heavy in her chest. So the doll’s spirit reflected lots of girls, instead of one single Japanese beauty. Saddened, she said, “Tell me the names you were born with.”

“We no longer remember. We have only the name our creator gave us.”

Alondra wondered how many schoolgirls’ souls had been pulled apart to inspire the doll-maker’s art. Did the spirits inhabit all of his dolls throughout Japan, or had Sakura been a special repository?

Alondra doubted she would ever find out. That was a job for the monks of the Kiyomizu Kannondo shrine, who could give Sakura-chan a fitting cremation.

Alondra poured the buckwheat from the torn pillow, then slipped the pieces of broken doll into the pillowcase, breaking them to fit when necessary. She was still sorting through the bedding, locating the last bits of porcelain when Hiroshi Hiroshige returned with two policemen and the young monk from the Kiyomizu Kannondo shrine.

One of the policemen reached for the bedroom light switch. The overhead light came on, flooding the trashed bedroom with yellow warmth. The last of the shadows fled.

Alondra blew out the candles. She rose stiffly from the floor and stepped over the ring of salt. Something touched her cheek, as gentle as the falling petal of a cherry blossom.

With a little bow, she presented the monk with the pillowcase full of broken doll. “She was called Sakura-chan,” Alondra said softly. “I hope you can help her find peace.”

“And my brother?” Hiroshi asked.

“I released him. When the police are finished, you can bury his ashes in your family grave without worry.” More gently, she asked, “When did he hang himself?”

“I came out to the kitchen to fix us some dinner. I wasn’t more than fifteen minutes… Once he’d broken the doll, he was inconsolable.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t save him.”

Hiroshi shook his head. “I think, by the time I called you, it was too late. Tonight I knew I shouldn’t let him out of my sight, but I kept seeing shadows… I thought it was hunger.”

She looked away from Hiroshi’s grief to see the eyes of every doll in the living room measuring her.

“It was hunger,” Alondra answered. “It just wasn’t yours.”

-end-