Carter punched his younger brother in the side hard. The younger boy cried out in pain and squealed. “Hey grasshopper, we are here” Carter said while grinning like a loon. Ken, blinked the tears out of his eyes and looked around to see the fields of wine stalks that made up the vineyards surrounding his grandfather’s ranch. Ken and his elder brother Carter were going with their eldest sister Sayu to stay at their grandparent’s place for a month. Neither of the boys wanted to go, but it was important to their grandparents and so it was important to their parents.
The ranch wasn’t the normal style you’d see in the Napa county area of Northern California. It was built more like a Shinto temple out of an old samurai film. Despite being part Japanese, the two boys were as alienated from their roots as it was possible to be. Their sister of course, was the one who had dragged them there. Sayu has no sense of humor and was ten years older than Carter and fifteen years older than Ken. Sayu had called them from her home in Seattle and told them to meet her there. It was quite a trek across California and it was made worse by the antagonistic air in the car. Ken and Carter were close but they tended to be as different as two brothers could be. Ken was athletic and tall for his age and had no patience for sitting still for any length of time. He had much more of his grandfather’s look about his with his glasses almost magnetically attracted to the top of his nose. Carter teased him saying he looked like a old man when that happened. Carter was much bigger than his brother but also was wider. He was more book smart and not as popular with other people as his affable younger brother. “Why are we here anyways, Car?” moaned Ken as he exited the vehicle. Carter grimaced as he saw the form of his elder sister coming down towards them at a brisk pace. Sayu was tall and elegant in her kimono, that she insisted on wearing when they were anywhere with family. Carter tried not to laugh as she almost tripped a few times. Sayu was trying too hard to impress her grandmother, no doubt to inherit the ranch.
The ranch was very profitable but was also a great source of pride to their grandfather’s side of the family. The only man Carter had ever feared was his grandfather. It was laughable to compare his son, Carter’s father, with his parent in terms of sheer grit. Grandfather was shorter than him and yet he was the most terrifying man who he had ever met. Grandfather never smiled and was as stone faced as any great stylla. Grandfather and Grandmother were extremely old school and insisted in being addressed as Grandfather and Grandmother. The ranch was their pride and joy and had been their special place for as long as Carter could remember.
Ken and Carter followed Sayu and sniggered as she fumbled with the keys and even almost tripped again on her kimono. Sayu glared at them and this just made both of the brothers grin like idiots as she looked like a cute chipmunk when she glared at people. Suddenly with a loud crack that startled all three, the door flew open. An elderly woman stood in the doorway with large horn rimmed glasses and a wizened old face. Grandmother quickly ushered them in. She didn’t speak at all and hadn’t ever since Grandfather passed away. Carter hated this place.
The whole inner house was like an ancient Buddhist sanctum and smelled strongly of incense that was so sweet it made him nauseous. Of course, he knew it wasn’t actually Buddhist. He had no idea what the statues were of and he was fairly certain he knew the different Eastern religions. He had studied them due to the insistance of his father. His dad was an awesome person and was as different from his parents as it was possible to be. He was outgoing and excitable. Around people he knew, nobody was as kind and conscientious as Carter’s dad. Of course, Carter’s mother had remarried and it was her family that they were visiting. Grandfather had seemed to like his father though. Carter tried not to breathe in too much incense and put his things away in the loft where he and his younger brother would be staying. Ken made a face as he looked up at the ceiling. “What the hell is that supposed to be Carter” the younger boy whispered in awe. Carter grimaced as he looked upwards at the ceiling. The ceiling was covered in swirling script in kanji. It was presented, not in the traditional Japanese right to left, but in swirling out. In the middle though, was a drawing of a young woman with black eyes and garbed in a white gown. She looked similar to Kayako from the Grudge. It looked as if those black eyes were staring into their souls.
Before either brother could say anything they heard their sister calling them. The two boys exchanged knowing looks and proceeded to join their sister. The courtyard in the center of the temple always made Carter feel queasy. The area smelled of jasmine and other sweet odors that turned his stomach. The incense was always heavy and the entire area was dominated by many candles and elaborate candelabras. Tall statuary of various ethereal creatures and many armed humanoid monstrosities stood in the corners of the courtyard. These stone behemoths were eerie sentinels and always made whoever entered the courtyard uneasy.
Sitting on a mat in the center of the courtyard was the young latina maid Eliza, who was the caretaker of the ranch while their grandmother was ill. Eliza was very beautiful and Carter and Ken were certain they would never meet anyone as beautiful. Despite the lack of noise she stood up immediately as the three sibling approached her. She turned towards them, her serene expression didn’t fit the tears streaming out of her eyes. She didn’t say a word and left quickly but not before handing a sheet of paper to Sayu. Before the three could say anything, she quickly ran out of the temple. The front door banged ominously as she left.
Sayu was frustrated and left quickly leaving the two brothers to look over the paper. The extremely tidy scrawl they quickly identified as belonging to their grandmother, was covering the small piece of paper. Carter made a face as he realized how difficult it would be to read. Knowing their grandmother, she would not accept any mistakes which meant they needed to be very careful.
The tight scrawl was even less neat than normal, and Carter tried not to laugh watching his sister struggle with it. She struggled for ten minutes and finally Carter couldn’t hold it in anymore. He burst out laughing loudly and his brother followed suit as Sayu gave them her best version of grandmother’s glare. “Fine, asshole maybe you can make sense of this shit” she snapped at him and immediately exited the shrine, but not before tripping twice and sending the two boys into more howls of mirth.
Carter wiped the tears from his face and finally picked up the piece of paper. The grin from his face actually got wider and Ken shook his elder brother eager to take a look. Carter then showed his brother it and tried not to laugh.
To my dearest grandchildren,
This is extremely important and you must not shirk your responsibility in the slightest. The candles must be lit every evening from dusk to dawn for the entire time you stay here. The aether is thin and you must prevent the (unintelligable scrawl) from ___- into our world. Our family has been granted this honor by (a word neither brother could pronounce or read) and we must be willing to do so. If these candles are not lit, there will be hell to pay. Be well young ones and may (another word neither brother knew or could pronounce/read)
Ken looked quizzically at his elder brother. Carter burst out laughing and when Ken didn’t join him he stopped. “C’mon Ken Ken you can’t seriously think this is for real” Carter chastised. Ken wasn’t sure why he was taking this so seriously but for some reason he felt cold and watched as soon as he was done reading. Old Japanese superstitions were old hat but for some reason in that moment he had been struck with such paralyzing fear that he couldn’t even put it into words. The fear had struck when he had read the unintelligable, unreadable words. The whole shrine now felt hostile and alien to him despite the fact that he had been here before and knew that the statues around him were of Buddhist origin. Why did he feel so anxious now?
To be continued