Joseph Rubas

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by Joseph Rubas

Johnny Yun lit a cigarette and deeply inhaled, relishing the harsh smoke in his lungs. Money was tight these days, and packs of Marlboros were far more expensive in Japan than America. A two-pack-a-day kinda guy, Johnny had to limit himself to two a week.

Sighing, he got out of bed and stood for a long moment in the gloom. Outside, Tokyo sat huddled against the dirty gray sky, a futuristic metropolis misplaced in a 1940s noir film. Looking out over the vast city, he regretted moving to Japan. Back in California, he’d had a good job, a nice apartment, money, and a car. Here, he had dick. And, from what the few friends he had said, he spoke with an American accent, which was just the funniest thing going.

Johnny sighed again. No money, no food, the rent was due, and he had five dollars to his name.

Yen, he reminded himself, five yen.

He grinned bitterly. Yen. What a stupid word. Now that he was here, he realized he didn’t like anything Japanese: the fashion, the culture, the anime, especially the anime.

Why the hell did he come here? Did he really believe that because he was ethnically Asian, he would prosper here?

Apparently so.

Puffing on his smoke, he looked at the bedside clock and nodded. 9:15 in the morning. At ten he would call Hediro. Last night he said he knew how they could make some money, and, usually, Hedrio’s harebrained schemes paid off.

Johnny finished his cigarette, and stubbed it out in the ashtray on the nightstand. When he went to sit, he nearly fell down on the bed, his legs weak and shaky.

You drink too much, he told himself, but he already knew, and he really didn’t give a flying dick.

What else was he supposed to do with his free time? Sniff vending-machine panties and read tentacle porn?

He went to the bathroom and looked at himself in the mirror, disliking what he saw. His flesh was wan and drawn. He’d lost weight since the Big Move.

“Too much rice,” he said, and croaked laughter. He didn’t eat much of the stuff, but the quip was in keeping with his sour mood. Still chuckling, Johnny stripped out of his boxers and wife beater and climbed into the shower. Nothing felt as good as a hot shower in the morning.

Nearly a half hour later, he got out, toweled off, and put his shirt and underwear back on. It was 9:42. Fuck it. He’d call Hedrio now.

Lighting another cigarette, Johnny sat on the bed and dialed Hedrio’s number. Six rings later, Hedrio sleepily answered. In Japanese.

“English,” Johnny said, grinning, “do you speak it?”

Hedrio laughed. Like Johnny, he was a Japanese-American. Unlike Johnny, however, he liked Japan. Poor and down on his luck, but happy in the land of the Rising Sun.

“What’s goin’ on, man?” Hedrio asked, his accent comically thick.

“Not much, derp. Just lookin’ to make some money.”

“Oh, right, right. Give me time to get dressed and I’ll come over. We’re going to Mount Fuji.”

Johnny raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I’ll tell you later,” Hedrio said, and hung up.

Whatever, Johnny thought, and hung up the phone. If Hedrio wanted to waste 90 miles worth of gas (and tolls!), that was on him, just as long as they made some coin.

Shaking his head, Johnny got up and got dressed; jeans, a white T, and a leather jacket. In the kitchen, he made some toast and drowned with a cup of instant coffee. Another thing he hated about Japan was tea. The Japanese were crazy about their tea. Kinda like the British.

He shocked himself into laughing. If his grandmother could hear him now she’d probably bust out some judo or something. You are forgetting your roots! she had once said, when he was a kid back in Los Angeles. You are too American!

Yeah, grandma, he thought now, standing in the kitchen of his tiny apartment, drinking coffee and looking at his Spartan living room, because being Japanese in an inner city school is just tops! I get picked on enough without wearing your dumbass kimono to school.

Now, however, Johnny stopped. Had he forgotten his roots? Was he a self-loathing Asian?

Nah, he finally decided. He was just honest. I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em, and Japan sucks.

Checking his watch, Johnny saw that he’d killed over twenty minutes. Shit. If Hedrio was anything, it was quick.

Hurriedly, Johnny drained the rest of his coffee and sat the glass in the sink. After a fat piss, he was on his way down the stairs. In the lobby, Jenna Wong was taking her garbage out. Another American expedite, Jenna was probably the hottest Asian chick Johnny had seen since the Big Move, and he’d seen a lot of them.

“Morning, Jenna,” he said.

Jenna, at the double doors to the street, turned, startled, and smiled. “Hi, Johnny,” she said.
“How are you?”

“I’m good. Here, let me get that for you.” Ducking around her, Johnny opened the door.

“Thank you,” she said.

Johnny watched lustily as she went. He was just beginning to call up the courage to ask her out when Hedrio pulled up, loud rap music thumping from the speakers in the trunk. Sleek and lime green, his ride looked like something out of Fast and Furious.

Konnichiwa, Jenna!” Hedrio cried out the window. “Whatchu be doin’, girl?”

Johnny sighed. Though Hedrio was every bit as Japanese as he was, he went through life under the illusion that he was black. Jenna, embarrassed by Hedrio’s crap, gave a stiff and tentative wave, and hurried back into the building. “Bye, Johnny,” she said as she passed.

“Come on!” Hedrio screamed, “we got stuff to dooo!”

Why couldn’t he be two minutes late?

Shoving his hands into his pockets, Johnny hurried through the first drops of rain, and climbed into the car. It smelled like pot.

Konnichiwa!” Hedrio cried, snatching Johnny’s hand and trying some new handshake. One-hundred-twenty pounds soaking wet, dressed in leather, and wearing red-dyed hair in short, pointy spikes, Hedrio reminded Johnny of that loser in Malibu’s Most Wanted.

“Man, get the fuck off me,” Johnny said, shoving Hedrio away.

“You ready to hit the road?” Hedrio asked, gunning the engine. “We hit the road, dude!”

Before Johnny could reply, the car rocketed off, slicing through the rain like a bullet. “Slow down!” Johnny cried, “you’re gonna get us busted!”

Hedrio eased up on the gas. They were leaving Tokyo and entering the outlying suburbs before Johnny spoke again. “So, you mind telling me what the hell we’re doing?”

Hedrio looked at Johnny, a goofy grin on his face. “We’re going to Aokigahara.”


Hedrio nodded. Aokigahara, or, the Sea of Trees, if you were poetic, was a dense forest cast in perpetual shadow northwest of Fuji. The foliage was so thick that it was dark eve at high noon, but that wasn’t the worst thing about it. Aokigahara was also called “The Suicide Forest,” because every suicidal mothefucker in Japan decided to trudge their asses out there and kill themselves rather than just stay home and do it. In fact, it was so bad that despite the government’s almost daily sweeps of the forest, some bodies stayed out there for months, even years, hanging from twisted trees like stick figures in an Asian Blair Witch Project.

A lot of people said that the forest was popular with suicides because some guy wrote a book in which a couple people offed themselves there, but Aokigahara had always been associated with death. Some said it was cursed, or haunted, or some damn thing. Johnny didn’t know, nor did he care. He didn’t believe in that sort of shit.

But the place was creepy nonetheless.

“The fuck are we going out there for?” he asked.

“Man,” Hedrio said, “think about it. All these dead bodies, all with money in their pockets. I know a guy who went out there once and came home with two million yen.”

Johnny sighed. It was a good idea. There were suicides out there every day. Old bodies, new bodies, it didn’t matter. Still…fucking creepy.

And money wasn’t even guaranteed. They might find a shit ton of bodies, but who was to say any of them would have any cash in their pockets? There was a high chance of finding some, yeah, but it wasn’t a sure thing. This could all be a big waste of time.

Johnny said as much, but Hedrio merely laughed. “We’ll find some money. I know we will.”


The ride was long and dull. The rain picked up as they put Tokyo behind them, and became torrential as they passed through the countryside north of Fuji. Finally, sometime after one, they left the main highway and took a secondary road through increasingly forested highlands. At two, they arrived, pulling into a gravel lot surrounded by thick woods on three sides.

Hedrio killed the engine and lay back against the headrest. “You ready for money?”

“Always ready,” Johnny said, “but where the hell do we start? There’s…what…fifty miles of this shit?”

Hedrio shrugged. “We start over there,” he said, indicating a worn dirt path that led into the forest, “and go in. Most of the dead people will be off the beaten track.”

This was getting stupider by the minute. Whatever. “Come on.” Johnny got out of the car, and Hedrio followed.

“So, do we split up?” Johnny asked as they slowly walked up to the path. About fifteen feet in, it turned sharply out of sight. It was dark in there. They should have brought flashlights.

“Good idea,” Hedrio said, “let’s go.”

Deep into the forest they went. After a half a mile, Hedrio stopped. “I’ll go off here,” he said, pointing to a large, overgrown clearing, “and you stay on the path.”

“All right,” Johnny heaved, “whatever.”

Hedrio went to do one of his little handshakes, but Johnny stopped him dead in his tracks. “Just go on. I’ll see you later.”

Nodding, Hedrio turned his back on Johnny and carefully climbed down the embankment to the clearing. Johnny watched him for a long time before sighing and getting back underway. This was stupid.

For almost an hour, Johnny walked the path, looking for a good place to enter the bush and seeing none. He passed an odd sign that read: LIFE IS PRECIOUS: RECONSIDER YOUR ACTIONS! He really didn’t feel like trudging through weeds like Indiana Jones or something.

He should have stayed home. He…

…hit something with his left foot and went down, landing heavily on his hands and knees, his heart leaping into his throat.

The fuck!

Must have been a stone jutting out of the ground.

Muttering under his breath, Johnny staggered back to his feet and whipped around, intent on throwing the damn rock into the woods. What he saw, however, froze him in place.

It wasn’t a rock; it was a human skull, eyes wide and dark, bottom jaw missing.

“Jesus!” he said, disgust washing through him. He turned back the way he’d been going, and saw a body hanging from a tree up ahead, swaying back and forth in the nonexistent breeze.

It hadn’t been there a minute ago. Of that Johnny was certain.

Heart racing, Johnny looked right and left, his neck suddenly tingling. They were everywhere. There must have been two or three dozen, all hanging from tree limbs, all swinging back and forth, all gray and rotting, clothes torn and dirty.

Taking a deep breath, Johnny closed his eyes. There was no way this was happening. It had to be a hallucination.

One, two, three…

At five, he opened his eyes again.

The bodies were gone.

For a long moment, Johnny stood in the middle of the path, panting and looking about himself, left, right, front, back, as if he suspected them to reappear, which, to be honest, he did. Fuck this, he finally thought, and turned the way he had come. He’d go back to the car and wait for Hedrio. He could have his dead money.

Johnny made it fifty feet before he noticed that the forest had fallen unnervingly quiet. Up until then, there had been noise, crickets, a stream babbling in the distance, the soft rustle of the occasional breeze, but now…nothing, it was as silent as the surface of the moon.

Not only that…but the atmosphere had changed as well. It was more oppressive now, darker and heavier, crackling with unwholesomeness.

Johnny ran. He had to get the hell out of here.

He ran, and ran, and ran…

…but went nowhere. He passed the same tree, the same moss covered stone, the same overgrown sign (LIFE IS PRECIOUS: RECONSIDER YOUR ACTIONS!) four, five, six times.

Finally, getting a semblance of control over himself, Johnny stopped and sank down against the base of a tree. The light filtering through the treetops was getting weaker now; twilight seemed to seep up out of the ground, pooling, higher, higher, higher. A cold wind gusted suddenly through the forest, and in it were voices, thousands of voice babbling imperceptibly.

This was crazy. He was having some sort of breakdown or something. He was lost and he was slowly going mad, giving in to panic and paranoia. He had to get out of here, but he had to keep his wits about him.

Breathing slowly, Johnny closed his eyes and tried to get a reign on his galloping heart. What he needed to…

A twig snapped before him, startling him. His eyes flew open, and there, shambling through the thick underbrush on the other side of the path, were a dozen rag-clad phantoms, their faces in various states of decay and their arms outstretched like zombies from some old movie.

Johnny’s heart burst against his ribcage, knocking the breath from his lungs. He tried to stand, but his knees had turned to water.

“Hedrio!” he screamed, his frozen vocal cords suddenly unlocked. He squeezed his eyes closed and counted quickly to ten, missing nine and adding an extra eight. When he opened them again, the ghouls were closer.


He pushed himself forward, but, with whip-crack suddenness, something (a vine? a rope?) shot out of the tree’s gnarled trunk and wound itself around his neck, dragging him roughly him back and cutting off his air supply.

He tried to scream, but it came out as a futile gurgle. The ghouls shambled ever closer, reaching for him, their jaws working hungrily up and down.

The world began to dim.

Closer, closer, the smell of death thick on the air. The first ghoul in line, a tall, slender woman, grabbed Johnny’s shirt, pulling herself closer…

…and opened her mouth.


Hedrio Takanowa looked up from the body before him. He thought he’d head his name. In fact, he was certain he’d heard is name, as if shouted from a great distance. The forest was preternaturally quiet; you could hear an owl fart three miles away.

For the last fifteen minutes (Half hour? Hour?) all he’d heard were the frogs croaking from a nearby swamp, ribbit, ribbit, ribbit.

Hedrio looked about himself like a man coming out of a deep, dark sleep. Something was wrong. He didn’t feel quite right. His memory was fuzzy, and his thoughts were muddled.

He returned his attention to the body at his feet; tangled in the tall grass, it had once been a businessman by the looks of it. Most of the flesh had rotted from his skull, but he was clad in a shirt, trousers, and a tie. Hedrio opened the wallet hitherto forgotten in his hand, and removed the bills. He was too excited to count them, but he knew he had a lot. He hoped that Johnny was having the same luck as him.

Pocketing the bills, Hedrio turned around and started back to the path, twilight gather fluidly around him. Mechanically, with the thoughtlessness of a puppet controlled by a stand-up comic, Hedrio withdrew a razor-sharp knife from his pocket and looked at his wrists.

Doit doit doit, croaked the frogs.

Joseph Rubas is the author of over 150 short stories in the horror genre. His work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including The Story Teller, Horror Bound Online, Eschatology Journal, and others. He currently resides in Massachusetts with his fiancé, Brenda, who is also a writer.