RECOMMENDED FOR MATURE READERS
It seemed reasonable to assume the other dolls had left for their homes, but they hadn’t. When I returned they were staring into a drum, nursing cigarettes, and studying the dance of flames over a half-filled bottle of whiskey. It had likely gone around the group for several rounds.
Akane was first to lift her head. “Chiyoko.” She and Yumiko were on their feet while Ginny stayed married to the fire.
The strands of silver had faded into black, and I’d replaced them with a blonde wig. Every muscle dragged as I rejoined the group, huddled in a jacket that had been shredded. Was this the cost of becoming the Platinum Doll?
“What happened to you?” Yumiko pressed. “It’s been all over the newswire! You… you changed; we saw you change, and then you flew out to kill a monster. How is that possible?”
Ginny took a swig of the bottle but didn’t look up, so I hummed to the pair in front of me.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” I said, to one more than I did the others. “This is as new to me as it is to you. When the time was right I was going to share it with you, but I got the call before I had the chance.”
“Call?” Akane wondered aloud, “what call?”
“Can’t you tell?” Ginny laughed. “Chiyoko has been infused with demon magic. She can sense evil when it appears, and so she transforms like Sailor Moon or some bullshit. It’s funny; I didn’t think there was such a thing as superheroes.”
I paused and considered the girl; her eyes were lazy and she was swaying. Maybe the bottle wasn’t for sharing.
“You’ve got no reason to be angry.”
Ginny threw the bottle, stormed to her feet, and cursed in English and Japanese. “Don’t I? I’ve got every reason in the world to be angry, you bitch! You made your deal with the Devil, and then you left the rest of us behind!”
She swung a fist, but the blow was lazy enough to catch. Next I twisted her in a sleeper hold and fought to keep her in line.
“You don’t know anything,” I hissed. “Calm down. Now.”
It took her a moment, but the strength sapped from her arms and she flopped onto the sofa by the fire. She was laughing again, delirious from the booze; or at least that was my hope.
I turned to Akane and Yumiko who were frozen like statues.
Ginny lifted herself to her feet, slowly. “There’s just one thing I want to know, Chiyoko,” she asked in English; “are you as much a magical girl below your skirt as you are above it?”
The blood in my veins ran with ice. Words fled from my tongue, as none of them were worthy to face her.
Suddenly Akane stepped forward. “What makes you think that’s any of your business?” she roared. Her English wasn’t very good, but it seemed she knew enough to understand. “You don’t get to ask Chiyoko about that! Not when it causes so much pain!”
Ginny switched back to Japanese. “You mean it’s not painful for you, or for Yumiko? It’s very painful to me. Our leader became a woman without us. She betrayed us! She left us stranded like this!”
From the sidelines Yumiko trembled. “It’s natural to be jealous,” she gasped, “but you shouldn’t hate her. You’d have done the same if the Devil had come to you.”
“It wasn’t the Devil,” I told them.
Grinny grunted. “Then who?”
A voice echoed from the collective subconscious; “Me.”
Darkness shifted along the gravel like sand in the wind and collected into a heap by the fire. Soon its eyes opened to reveal the face of the wolf, Grenier, though I wasn’t the only one to see him; Yumiko, Akane and Ginny stared with eyes wide at the animal come from nothingness.
Yumiko inched away and reeled. “Did that wolf just talk?”
“Indeed,” he confirmed in psychic reverberation. “My name is Grenier. I am a wolf spirit given flesh, and I am emissary to the keeper of the underworld, King Yenma. It was I who made the contract with your comrade and not, as you insist, the Devil.”
My eyes landed on Ginny. Of all of us she was the most stirred, but not by fear. Her fists balled and her teeth ground together, and behind that was a dam to hold boiling tears.
“Why her?” she growled. “Why Chiyoko?”
“Because of her desperation,” the wolf explained. “How cruel a fate for a woman’s spirit to be reincarnated in the form of man; what price might one pay to reclaim what many have by birth? What duty might one carry out to make up for the punishment of past lives?”
Akane stared at her hands, then clutched them to her chest. “Are you saying that the way we are… that we are male… because we were cursed to be this way?”
“One can only speculate,” Grenier continued, “but if the gods call it justice then it is not for we to argue.”
I stepped to the wolf and stared him down. “Why are you saying this? Have you come to torture us? Because if you-”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Ginny shot. “Why her? What makes Chiyoko so special that you would offer a deal to her and not any of us? We’re just as deserving.”
Grenier licked his lips and padded around me. “The Platinum Doll is not special. The contract I have made with her is not unique. Like her you will all have the opportunity; collect one thousand evil souls and you will be imbued the womanhood that was once denied. On this you have my oath as an agent of King Yenma.”
I watched my friend as her expression turned soft, no doubt as mine had. She turned to me and asked, “is it true? Can we also be magical girls?”
The wolf captured my gaze; even from a low vantage he could bore down on me, challenging me, warning me to keep clear of his machinations. The contract I’d made with him was made during a moment of weakness; I hadn’t the time to wonder if it was too good to be true.
“Yeah,” I told Ginny, and nodded to the other two.
“All of us?” Akane gasped.
“We can all be Platinum Dolls?” Yumiko cheered.
“Of a fashion,” the wolf said. “Having seen what your leader is capable of and knowing her duties, will each of you take on the same burden?”
Something turned in my chest. Was this something the Hellbound Dolls needed protection from? Yet to look at Ginny, to see how hungry she was, I couldn’t stop them. Perhaps this was the way it was to be, for better or for worse.
To be continued…