RECOMMENDED FOR MATURE READERS
I stood in the shadows, back to a pillar, and listened. The Hellbound Dolls had assembled, just as they did most other nights by the restless water. This time, however, their tone was serious.
“Who the hell do you think you are?”
It was the heavy one with the English name; the one most ravaged by the poison hormone, the one whose frame could match the width of two others. The fact likely fed her fountain of rage.
Yamaguchi sighed, loud enough to be heard by all. “Don’t think I would take this from you,” he reasoned, “but there’s more to this than even I know. The last thing I want to do is lead you to danger.”
“What kind of danger?” Saito, the one they called Yumiko, pressed.
Silence. Shifting of gravel.
“I don’t know,” Yamaguchi hummed.
The large one marched and scoffed. “Does it matter? You know who we are. You know what every one of us would give up to have this chance.”
“So why are you trying to talk us out of it?”
Then, a mouse squeaked; Honda, or Akane as they called her. “There’s probably a lot of reasons not to, but… I would do anything to be a girl. You know, a real girl.”
“You are a real girl,” Saito lied.
“Even if it meant damnation?” Yamaguchi said. “We’re not talking about a deal with other gangs, police or yakuza. Overnight we’ve become subject to spirits and matters of the afterlife. Our mortal concerns…”
“Are just as important as they always were,” the large one continued.
“It was always life and death, Chiyoko. How many gangs have come after us because we live by our own rules?”
The leader sighed. “Too many to count.”
“I don’t know about you, Chiyoko, but every time I’m called ‘Shiro’ I feel hell at my feet. This life is already damnation. If I have a chance to experience the womanhood that calls to me, even if it’s in the defiance of Heaven, I’m going to take it.”
The smaller of the group laughed. “You’re such a badass, Ginny!”
Yamaguchi balled his fists until his knuckles cracked. “It’s easy to say these things when you haven’t seen monsters up close. There has to be a better way.”
I laughed. The time for hiding was over. From out of view I could hear the gang turn, tilting their heads and fuming. I rolled from the pillar and stepped into the light, strutting toward them with my satchel hanging over my shoulder.
“To think, Yamaguchi, that a group of lost children made you their leader,” I hummed. “You don’t understand their feelings at all. How could you? You don’t value what you have been given; not like they would.”
The gang were quick to fall in line. Despite their bickering the group of boys, ranging from pretty to gaudy in appearance, would always follow their boss. Loyalty would be their greatest virtue if it weren’t so misplaced.
“You again,” he huffed. “What do you want? Why are you fucking with me and my girls?”
“To make sure you heeded my warning,” I told him.
Yamaguchi brushed the strand of his wig to one side and released the blade of a flick-knife. There was no more need for pretense without teachers watching.
The others lingered and turned to their leader. Yumiko broke the silence; “who is this, Chiyoko?”
“A stalker,” he snarled. “Someone who doesn’t want us to make contracts with Grenier. I was going to wait to get some answers, but now that you’re here, whoever you are, I guess we can just cut them out of you.”
Like a pack they split, circling, creeping into my blind spots; they wouldn’t question why they were doing what they were doing, not so long as Yamaguchi gave the say-so.
I removed my glasses and placed them in their case.
“Do you think she respects you at all?” I asked of the group. “You reach for your true selves, but as soon as you’re given the chance she tries to talk you out of it.”
“Are you telling me I should have been encouraging,” Yamaguchi pressed, “after you threatened them?”
“Not if you care for their lives.”
The lock fell from my sleeve and into my hand, and into the other a key.
“That this path to womanhood will bring you death,” I told her. “Girls like yours, Yamaguchi Genkai, and girls like me… know that death is a small price to pay for our integrity of self. Every true woman knows that.”
Yamaguchi roared for them to “stay back!”
The key met the lock, and I turned. Incandescent vines wrapped around my body as I uttered the magic word, “transform!”
Skin tightened under the glow of my curse, as hair stained green whipped into shape. A black uniform fell over my body, and finished by placing daggers in my grip.
I laughed at the pretender. “There’s only one doll, Yamaguchi Genkai, and she is emerald.”
To be continued…