This Cortel Moil - Halloween Exchange 2022

Nov 5, 2022, 9:13:53 PM

"You see, there's a door," Edison began with a hiccup and a slammed down her sake shot glass. In her other hand, she pointed her chopsticks lazily at Larry and then swooped over to make sure Stephanie was also caught in her rude gesture. "It goes places. That's what the guy told me."

"D, doors…" Larry seemed dubious but smiled anyway. "Tend too… do that?"

Well, this kind of deep seated metaphysical discussion was something Larry was used too by now. She was on her second bottle of sake for the day. Japan wasn't a normal destination for the trio, but since they were here, it did mean they needed to experience all the finery the country had to offer, and according to Edison (and most countrymen) that meant sake. Warm. Cold. Different varietals. If there was one thing to drunkenly stumble away from this country with it was the literal intoxicating effect of the country's ability to ferment wine from granules of rice. Sweet, light, simple in its execution, but complex to the palette.

One might have thought they would have come during April to experience all the joys of being intoxicated in Japan during Hanami (the cherry blossom viewing season), but no, 'twas All Hallow's Eve. And 'twas over this bottle of sake (and not the cheap stuff, mind you) that Edison presented her adventurous idea.

"We're going to go trick or treating and find this door!" She hiccuped again and eyed a lone takoyaki ball sitting on a plate before her. She decided he needed to join his other friends in the pit of her stomach.

"We don't have costumes," Stephanie was quick to point out.

Larry nodded.

"I know a place!" Edison slurred getting up from the table ready to partake in this new adventure. But see, what she meant was, Google knew a place, and she knew how to use Google translate to turn "costume shop" into it's Japanese form and search it in, and sure enough there were a few places! Nearby even! And she had already searched it before pouring half of the izakaya's liquor down her throat. Most of her plan was formulated before she completely unmoored her personal understanding of reality with sweet rice wine (and a few Asahi beers).

Larry managed to nab her before she gleefully exited the tiny side-street bar and managed to cough up the yen needed to pay for their indulgences. With that out of the way they were firmly on their way.

Several stops later along the Yamanote line, the trio found themselves in the heart of Harajuku squeezing through a throng of Halloween revelers and salary men and women returning home after a long day's work. What Edison explained deftly in her mind, but rather slurred was that Harajuku was the fashion capital of Tokyo, or Asia, or the world (it was unclear to Larry and Stephanie which) and it was possible to find anything there — anything clothing related. Vintage American clothing. Hand me downs. Gothic Lolita dresses. Retro Japanese styles like Gyaru. Kawaii styles. Even school uniforms for non-students.

But especially a… "Costume shop!" Edison gestured at a brightly lit store adorned with spoopy decor and happy anime witch girls and demon doggos.

…And while they were costume shopping, let's rewind to earlier in the day. They had spent that morning walking through Tokyo and did the, what Edison felt were, typical boring touristy things: The Imperial Palace, Sensouji, Tokyo Sky Tree (not that they bothered to go up since it was crowded), and it certainly wasn't all Tokyo had to offer, but by now she had wanted two things: food and to see something hidden, out of the way, not found in the tourist guide books. Why be led by your nose when you could lead yourself?

Their journey to the costume shop that night began with a casual trip to Mister Donut. Having purchased a dozen of the confections, the trio realized that they couldn't eat all of them and while in a park munching away, Edison thought to share one with a lone man sitting by himself staring very intently at the sky. He seemed like he could use one and so she proffered him a chocolate-covered mochi ring.

"Thank you," he said, speaking English to her.

"Oh! You speak English?" Edison asked.

"A little."

"Say, do you mind me asking what you're looking at?" Edison asked. She glanced towards the patch of sky the man was looking at, but all she saw were birds and puffy white clouds.

"There's a building there," the man said between bites. "It changes height everyday. Today there are twenty-six floors."

Edison squinted her eyes, but saw nothing out of the usual. There was a building but it was a solid five floors high. "Uhh…"

"You must think I'm crazy."

She totally did.

But, she didn't want to come out and say that, especially because she just gave the man a donut. She could have walked back to Larry and Stephanie and forgotten the whole thing, but, maybe it was because she was traveling, or that he spoke English, or that she was looking for something different, or some mixture of the three that made her ask, "Say, you wouldn't know of anything interesting to see in the city? Something that I could see…"

The man stopped mid-bite and stared at the remains of his donut. It just so happened Edison had a second one to proffer, and the man had a sweet tooth for such confections. "Well, if you're looking for something strange…"

And Edison was! But that was six sober hours ago and the trio just completed their costume shopping trip and left the shop dressed for the evening.

Stephanie sparkled as she stepped out onto the street dressed in a peach colored bunny suit. She couldn't pass it up after seeing the life-sized cut out of a young woman, Catherine, with startling green eyes and an equal endowment of curves modeling the very same barely-there costume. The leotard was high cut and gave her a constant wedgie, but the bowtie was cute and with a little help from some double-sided tape and spray adhesive it mostly covered everything and remained that way as long as she didn't do anything beyond standing still.

Not to be outdone, Edison picked a purple succubus design in the same vein, and on her way out of the shop she adjusted the goat horns strapped to her head. She was equally charmed by another full-sized cut out of Catherine dressed in the same attire beckoning her to join her, and join her, lured in by Catherine's emerald eyes, Edison did.

Larry was much more… risk adverse in his selection. The ladies offered him interesting choices: assless chaps with bondage gear, or glossy armor with giant shoulder pads and foam swords, or just a strange mish-mash of clothing with frills and drapes. All of these came from an aisle called "Final Fantasy" and he was certain if he wore any of that, it might very well be his last. Another costume would have required him to wear yellow tights and shave his head bald (for the authentic look). He managed to grab a cap amidst all of this hub-bub and dawned it. The back of the cap disappeared in to a dark haired wig, but whatever, it looked fine until someone in the shop shouted "ora ora ora" on repeat, and he decided maybe a pastel blue vampire outfit may have been cowardly, but sensible with a touch of adventure.

As they made their way through the city collecting candy, selfies, and merriment, they traveled from Harajuku to Shibuya, and made their way round (via subway) to Roppongi. Beyond the ex-pats, hostess bars, and multitude of young men trying to ply them into their host clubs (even in her drunken stupor, Edison could still drink them under the table), did they find what they were looking for.

In a darkened alley at the end of the street.

Leaving the alley were two people, a young woman dressed as a purple witch and a young man dressed from the 1920s. They were silent as they passed Edison and her companions. The girl hid her treat container from their prying eyes, a tad embarrassed. The young man was shellshocked holding a bag of what looked like popcorn. Edison couldn't smell the popcorn. A kernel fell and made a hollow clattering noise on the ground. She squinted her eyes and wondered why it looked so tooth-shaped.

Undeterred the three ventured deeper into the alley.

"Are you sure it's back here?" Larry said.

A cat's large yellow eyes followed them as they made their way around the corner into a narrow street.

At the very end of the passage was what Edison sought. An unmarked door. On the door was a nameplate with Kanji characters. She wondered what those characters meant — maybe it was a warning not to knock on this very door at the end of a darkened alleyway. Although it looked more like a posh nameplate that might announce a doctor's office or a corporate business suite than spell out something that was inherently dangerous. She may not have known what it said, but I'll just tell you… it only read "Takahashi Natsumi", a nameplate of the very person who resided beyond the door.

They had come all this way.

And there was only one thing left to do.

Edison rapped her knuckles on the door.

Knock. Knock.

The door opened revealing a warm yellow light from beyond. A lone figure filled the doorway. She had puffy chestnut brown hair with curls that bounced ever so slightly when she moved. She wore a dark gray, bell-shaped dress with lace ruffles and a tall witch's hat. Edison had seen other girls dressed in a similar style when they were walking through Harajuku.

The woman stared at the three of them, her lip twisted at one end as she evaluated the trio.

"T, trick or treat!" Stephanie said.

Soon the three of them were singing the same words until finally they spoke it in unison. "Trick or treat!" They held their bags out. Like, what else were you supposed to do when you arrived at a strange door in a back alley and an even stranger person opened said door and glared at you for your unannounced visit?

Larry looked at Edison.

Stephanie tried to play it cool.

Edison was definitely drunk and leaning against Larry for support.

"Oh yah?" The woman on the other side of the door, (as we know her) Takahashi Natsumi, narrowed her eyes and evaluated them. She nodded looking at Edison and then Stephanie. She glanced last at Larry and scrutinized him a bit more. "Let's see a trick, and if I don't like it you get the teeth."

"Natsumi, don't be so… Ooo… ara ara" A second voice, a second woman joined Natsumi at the door. She had blond hair, deep green eyes, and a much more amiable countenance. Unlike Natsumi's Gothic witch, she was dressed as dressed as a sexy black cat.

Stephanie gasped. She had seen the costume at the store, and also the blond woman. "You're the—!"

Catherine smiled. "Yes, I am." She tilted her head to the side, the bells around her collar jingling. She let her eyes linger over Stephanie, Larry, and finally Edison. "Ohh, she's even got handlebars. We should let them in, Natsumi, it's getting a little cold and they might want to… warm up." She flashed them a smile.

Natsumi grumbled.

Before any tricks could be done or arguments could be had, a small figure tottered out of the shadows and brushed by Stephanie's thigh. She glanced over and nearly leapt into Larry's open arms. The smol child-like figure was not something she had ever seen before, but Natsumi and Catherine regarded him just the same.

"Oh and who's this?" Catherine asked.

The child-like figure was all bone. All skeleton with a large skull. It flapped its jaw in an attempt to speak and reached a bony hand out with a small pile of teeth.

Natsumi crouched down and collected the teeth. Wordlessly, as if this were an everyday occurrence (which it probably was for Natsumi) she pulled a small lantern from the side of the door and handed it to the skeletal child. Using a thick candle with a green flame, she lit the lantern.

"Go down there and to the right," Natsumi commanded. She stabbed the air in the direction that she deemed "right."

The skeleton studied her outstretched arm and nodded his head. Edison thought it might fall off its tiny shoulders. The being tottered along the dark alleyway in the direction Natsumi pointed and veered left.

"No! The other right!" Natsumi shouted.

The skeleton turned around and stared at Natsumi.

"That way!" She pointed, to the right.

The skeleton turned about and walked in that direction.

"Don't get lost, dummy," Natsumi mumbled. She shifted her gaze back to the trio. She planted her hands on her hips. "Well, show me what you got!"

"Don't be nasty!" Catherine slapped Natsumi on the shoulder. "We don't get a lot of, um, trick or treaters like you. Let me get you some actual treats." She disappeared from the doorway.

"Was that… where did he go?" Larry managed to ask.

"The Shore."

"There's a beach here?"

"No, it's… complicated." Seeing the three sets of eyes on her, Natsumi felt compelled to explain with less vague detail. "You know where the universe ends, right? There's like a beach there, and you can take a boat to the other side. This lady has a skiff and she ferries the dead, but it's not like a boat-boat, it's more like a concept of a boat. Uuh…" Tongue-tied, Natsumi sneered more at herself than them. "You know what I'm talkin' about?"

"You mean the afterlife?" Larry gulped. "Are you like, death?"

"I'm just helping out for the night."

"And the teeth?" Stephanie asked.

Natsumi shrugged. "That's what they pay me."

"Where do they get 'em?" Larry asked absently.

"I don't really ask. Judging from how big they are probably from kids who lost 'em. Or maybe they are those kids."

"Hey," Edison said at last. She pointed into the empty doorway. The skeleton child, the teeth, Catherine, seeing all of that sobered her up quick, and she took notice of the inside of the room. "Are those skyscrapers back there?"

Natsumi nodded her head.

"Oh that's a nice view," Larry said.

"We're on the street though," Edison said.

It took Larry a moment to wrap his head around what she meant, and when he understood it boggled his mind. The view inside of the apartment was of skyscrapers from up high, but Edison was right, they were still on the ground. "What the—" He stepped forward.

Catherine returned and filled the doorway. "I've got some cookies—" she nearly kissed Larry. Surprised he leapt back and Catherine smiled. "— and some traditional Japanese sweets." She handed them out to the three and gave Stephanie and Edison a little extra. "Thanks for coming by. Oh when you leave, make sure you go to the left."

"Right, because the other way goes to the shore," Larry reiterated.

"Left, go left," Natsumi said. "If you end up on the shore I don't know what'll happen to you. Oh, but hey—" Natsumi disappeared inside the apartment and she pulled out a fistful of teeth and dropped it in Larry's bucket over top the candy. "Just in case you run into anything…" Natsumi narrowed her eyes. "…suspicious down there give 'em the teeth." She spat the word.

Larry nodded.

"Have a good night," Catherine said.

Natsumi eyed the three of them with suspicion as she closed the door on them and like that they were standing out in a dark alleyway. Behind them a cat hissed and a trash can fell over. There were footsteps. Many footsteps approaching them. Clacking and rattling like the sound of rickety bones jangling in a discordant symphony of horror.

The three were quick to leave making their way down the alleyway and took the left. Edison glanced behind her to look down the other path. It was dark, the darkest dark she had ever seen, and within that void, she saw glittering green embers of light that flickered and fizzled away.

Before they knew it they were back on the street with the Halloween revelers. The three of them walked lost in thought at the strange encounter they had. They passed by the two trick-or-treaters whom they saw emerge from the alleyway earlier.

"Hey, why'd you say teeth?" Larry heard the girl say to the boy.

He gripped his bucket tight and glanced down at the scattering of teeth littered among the candy.

Last Year's comic

You can view last year's exchange here... if you dare.

Also, check out Charlie Wise's comic Groovy, Kinda right here!

Also, I don't think my rendition of his characters are a reflection of who they are in his comic, so, you know... enjoy it as a thing.