Dream Walker Novels
We meandered around Chinatown for the rest of the day, wandering from shop to shop. A few times, when I could slip away for a moment, I tried to talk to the umbrella, but it remained silent. By the end of the day, I was beginning to think I had been duped out of twenty-five bucks.
Later that night we were back in our RV, not far from where the famous Candlestick Park stadium used to stand. I’d seen pictures of the stadium before and it was probably once a really great place, but now it was just a massive pile of earth and debris. Kind of sad, to tell you the truth.
The stadium was torn down to be replaced by a huge mall or shopping center or something. The owners of the football and baseball teams that used to play there had some disagreements with the city over some contract or other, and they had all decided to call it quits. In the end, it was demolished and reduced to a massive pile of rubble surrounded by chain-link fencing.
My parents were sitting and relaxing from the day and Julie was taking a shower when I decided to try to talk to the umbrella again. Muttering to my parents that I was going to go for a walk, I pulled my pink souvenir out of its plastic bag.
“In case it rains,” I explained as I headed to the door.
My parents exchanged glances that spoke louder than words.
Once outside, I walked through the RV Park toward the road, with the umbrella balanced on one shoulder as if I always went out for a stroll at dusk carrying my mom’s parasol.
The trick is, never let them see you sweat, the type two voice whispered in my head. Walk like a man with a purpose, even if you look like you left the rest of your girl’s clothes behind.
I ignored the voice and kept walking. I was on a dirt path that led along the edge of the bay. The sun was just setting, and it felt peaceful to be in a place like this after having spent the day pressed among people and buildings. Who would have thought there was anywhere this close to San Francisco where you could be alone?
“Ok, umbrella,” I said loudly. “Talk. What did you mean when you said there was a death mark on my sister?”
Shh. Good grief, kid. What, you want to attract some serious spiritual heavyweights? The umbrella spoke in hushed tones. It sounded nervous.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, a little softer.
Look around you. Do you know where you are?
“Yeah. I’m standing by the bay. In the middle of this field, talking to an umbrella.”
And what is behind you? Only the remains of a religious temple. That place held seventy thousand worshippers every Sunday!
“You mean Candlestick Park? That wasn’t a temple. It was a football stadium for the San Francisco 49ers.”
People gathered there to scream and chant, focusing their spiritual energy and emotions for a solid three hours a week for forty years. That creates a spiritual magnet to all kinds of the unseen. This place is crawling with serious reiki.
Reiki. Chi. Mana. It’s all spiritual energy, kid, and this place is buzzing with it.
“Ok, ok, fine. Look, I just want to know what you meant earlier when you said Julie has a death mark on her. What’s a death mark?”
The umbrella was silent.
Was that your parents in the traveling house wagon?
“It’s called a recreational vehicle—RV. And yes, those were my parents.”
What’s your Mother’s name?
“Ok, look. I’m here talking to an umbrella in the middle of a field in San Francisco. This is already weird enough. Why do you want to know my mom’s name?”
You want me to help you, right?
What is her name?
Her full name?
“Akiyo Masamune Skylander. Why?”
The umbrella was silent again for a few seconds. When it finally spoke, its voice was somehow different, almost respectful.
Now I understand, Luke Skylander. No wonder you’re a susurruser, with a direct descendant of Masamune-san being your mother. I will help you with your sister. To begin with, please call me Chan, not umbrella.
“What’s wrong with umbrella?”
Do I call you mortal-human? Chan was back to being sarcastic. Well, that didn’t last long.
“You call me kid.”
Better than mortal-human. I am much more than an umbrella. Call me Chan.
“Ok fine. Chan, what is a death mark?” As the sun dipped below the horizon and the sky turned red and orange, I thought about heading back to the RV before it got dark.
You really don’t have a clue? Man, what a rookie. Look, a death mark is left on a person by a shinigami when that person is nearing their time to die. Lots of people die these days, and the shinigami are pretty overworked.
“Wait. What’s a shinny gummy?”
Chan let out a noise that sounded like an exasperated sigh. Shinigami. They are death guides. They used to wait next to a mortal-human until they died, in order to invite them to their ultimate destiny, but that wastes too much time. Too many people dying for them to stand around waiting for someone to kick it. So instead, they place a shi-māku, or a death mark, on the person. That will alert the shinigami when the person is near death so that they can come quickly to perform their obligation.
“And you say there is one of these death marks on my sister?”
“How long till she dies?”
It could be hours, it could be weeks. The shinigami are not very accurate.
“Ok, so how do we get it off her?”
You must intervene.
“I don’t get it.”
Intervene. Act. Prevent what is expected to happen. Right now, if you do nothing, she will certainly die. If you do something, maybe she will live, maybe she will still die. But her odds of living increase slightly.
I looked around me as the sky continued to darken, and sighed. This was it. I was finally losing it. Here I was, standing by myself on the edge of the bay, talking to a frilly pink umbrella about the imminent death of my little sister.
“I must be going crazy,” I whispered to myself.
You are not crazy. You are a susurruser.
“A what? What does that mean? What is a susurruser?”
It means you hear the whisperings and rustlings of the unseen. You can hear spirit voices.
“Like you? So what are you, some kind of possessed umbrella?”
I am a kasa-obake, thank you very much.
“And what is that?”
There was a brief pause as if Chan was trying to translate his answer into something that made sense.
The closest words you have in English are ‘Umbrella Monster.’
“Bwa ha ha!” I erupted in laughter, unable to contain myself.
Why are you laughing?
“Umbrella monster? Have you seen yourself?”
I’m in disguise.
I couldn’t help laughing some more. “Monster” was so far off from this pink paper souvenir it struck me as incredibly funny. When I finally could control myself, I shook my head and then looked back at Chan.
Quiet, mortal-human. You’ll attract a yōkai.
“Chan, there is nothing scary about a frilly pink umbrella!”
Luke Skylander, be silent!
His use of my full name surprised me. “Ok, ok. What’s the—”
Too late. Prepare yourself.
“What are you talking about?”
Suddenly, there was a strong smell of fish and I heard a splashing come from the now dark waters of the bay. Involuntarily, I took a step back and held Chan out in front of me in defense. A dark figure, like a liquid shadow, emerged from the water to stand a few feet off the shore. It was no bigger than a young child and didn’t seem too threatening. Whatever it was, it took a few steps toward me.
Tasty? the creature asked. My heart raced. It sounded like a type three voice, but I could see it.
“What in the world is that?”
It’s a kappa, Chan said cautiously. Luckily, it looks like it’s alone.
“What’s a kappa?”
A water demon. As long as there aren’t more of them we should be fine.
“How do you know it’s a kappa?”
I know all of the unseen.
The thing took another step. Tasty? Its voice was slightly warbled, like it was coming from under water.
“What should I do?” I took another step back.
Without warning, Chan opened up like a shield in front of me. As the umbrella opened, it became transparent. I could see the bay through it, as clear as at midday. The creature in front of me was suddenly revealed through the paper of the umbrella. It reminded me of an oversized otter. As it stepped ever nearer, its webbed hands became visible. There were long claws on the ends of its fingers, and it had a wide mouth like a frog. It was covered in slick shiny shells, like a turtle, only they were flexible like fish scales. At that point it grinned at me, and I could see some pretty nasty pointed teeth.
Tasty? It asked again, then made a gulping sound and spit what could only be described as a bright green ball of mucus out of its mouth at us.
There was a flash of light as the mucus ball hit Chan and burned off.
Ouch! Chan said in surprise.
Through the umbrella I could see the bay behind the creature begin to boil with energy as several more of the things rose up from the dark waters.
Do you have anything to fight with? Chan asked.
I took two more steps back. “I have a pink frilly umbrella.”
Until you’ve been trained, that won’t do you much good. Run!
I didn’t need any encouragement. Closing Chan, I turned and sprinted back down the path. For a few minutes, I could hear the sounds of flippers on the ground behind me, but they didn’t seem to be very fast on land and I soon left them behind.
“What in the world were those things?” I panted as I raced away from the bay and back toward the paved streets ahead.
I told you. Kappas. Water yōkai. You would call them water spirits.
“They sounded like type three voices to me, but I could see them.”
I don’t know what a type three voice is, but the reason you could see them is because you were holding me. Whenever you are holding me and I allow it, you will be able to see the spirits that you normally can only hear. It is unusual to see kappas act with so much aggression. They are predators, but very rarely would they attack a full-grown man. Chan’s voice was growing calmer.
“I still can’t believe they were real. I mean, they were like little possessed turtle otters.”
We reached the paved road that led to the RV Park, and I slowed to a walk.
There is much that you do not know about the world of spirits. Kappas are not evil, exactly, but they are not good either. They are predators and only a danger if you are their prey.
“Whatever they are, they sure looked evil to me. Should we warn Mom and Dad?”
No. They will not stray far from the bay. They have small reservoirs of water on their heads that allow them to walk on land briefly. But if those reservoirs are emptied, then they will dry up and die. You should be safe now.
The glow of the RV Park showed in front of me and I walked quickly to the open gate.
“Ok, so, what do we do about the death mark?”
Chan didn’t answer. He had grown silent. As I turned into the main driveway, I got that feeling like something was watching me. Glancing back over my shoulder, I could see the dark outline of the remains of the old stadium. An ominous feeling crept up on my heart. I suddenly felt a strong urge to get back to the safety of the RV.