Paul Lonardo is a freelance writer and author with numerous titles, both fiction and nonfiction books. He is a Horror Writers Association member.

He studied filmmaking/screenwriting at Columbia College in Hollywood. He earned an A.S. from Mount Ida College’s Mortuary Science School and worked as an embalmer. He also earned a B.A. in English from the University of Rhode Island.

Paul lives in Lincoln, Rhode Island with his family.


by Paul Lonardo

He was at it again.

I just increased the volume of the music playing through my earbuds, but I could still feel the rattling of the headboard against the wall of the dorm room as I looked over my trig notes in preparation for my final exam in the morning.

My college roommate had another girl in his room. They’d been in there since I got home earlier that night. While I hadn’t seen either of them, I certainly heard them. After having sex for what seemed like hours, they seemed to tire themselves out and took a break. I expected to see one, or both of them, come out for water or a snack, but they hadn’t.

Now it was late, and their midnight session showed no sign of slowing down, so I threw my books and notes into my backpack and headed across campus to the university library, which thankfully was open around the clock. There would be no one there at this hour, and I knew I would be able to study uninterrupted.

When I returned to the dorm room just after dawn, the door to Jairo’s room was closed. “Ethan, is that you out there?” Jairo called out from the other side.

Before I could respond, he emerged, wearing just a pair of boxers. His curly hair was matted down on one side of his head. His eyes were slits.

“Where is she? Otsuyu. Did you see her?” he asked as he looked urgently around the messy dorm as if it was possible to find anything alive among the heap of discarded clothes, scattered snack food wrappers, and empty paper cups. Jairo was largely responsible for the mess. His own room was even worse.

“How should I know? I don’t keep track of your girlfriends,” I told him.

He seemed to relax a little, but not entirely as he made his way over to kitchen and cleared a space to make himself a cup of coffee.

“Otsuyu?” I said, now curious. “She must be something special.”

“I love her,” he said casually, his back to me.

I thought he was kidding, but I was the only one who laughed. “Come on,” I said. “I don’t believe that. Not with all the girls you’ve hooked up with.”

He turned around suddenly and looked directly at me. His eyes were glazed and bloodshot. “I love her,” he repeated. “She’s incredible. I’ve never felt like this before.”

I was stunned. And confused. I had gotten used to him bringing home a different girl just about every night, so his suddenly proclamation of love came as a complete surprise.

“Come on, we’re exchange students. You can’t fall in love here in Japan.”

“I’m never leaving this island,” he said.

“What do you mean? You’re staying in Japan after the semester ends? You’re not going home?”

“There’s nothing for me at home.” He had a far off look in his eyes. I didn’t know what to say.

“She has a friend, Oyone, who she brings with her,” Jairo added, breaking the silence. “I think you’d really like her. Oyone loves peonies. Actually, they both do.”

I looked at him sidelong. “Her friend stays in the room with you two when you and Otsuyu are…together?”

Jairo nodded and took a sip of coffee. “Maybe tonight when they come by you can join us.”

I tried to read his expression. Did he want to set me up with the friend, or was he trying to arrange some sort of orgy? I couldn’t tell, so I just changed the subject. “It’s finals week. Don’t you think you should be studying?”

He worried me enough that I didn’t want to leave him alone, but I had to get to class. I had crammed all night for this exam, and I had just enough time to clean myself up, put on a fresh set of clothes, and maybe grab a bite to eat.

“Are you going to stay in this apartment for a while to study?” I repeated.

Jairo nodded. I took a shower, staying under the steaming water longer than I planned, and when I came out Jairo was gone. I assumed he had a class, too. I grabbed an overripe banana and a package of Pop Tarts before rushing out the door.

I was fully prepared for the test, and I thought I did well, at least well enough to maintain my B+ average, even with the exam counting for 50% of the total semester grade. But I couldn’t stop thinking about my roommate.

Jairo and I had earned scholarships to study abroad for a year in Japan through a program at Temple University. Now in the middle of Finals Week, it was almost over. Both of us appreciated the special opportunity we had been given, eagerly confronting the new cultural experiences and academic challenges that studying abroad provided, but I was looking forward to going home.

I couldn’t say the same for Jairo, however, and I blamed it on his huge loss during his trip back to the States for Winter Break. I could not imagine what he was going through.

Over the holiday break between semesters, I stayed in Japan while Jairo went home to spend Christmas with his family in New York. One night, he had been out with his long-time girlfriend when one of the tires on the car he was driving exploded, causing him to lose control of the vehicle and crash into a utility pole. He was unharmed, but his girlfriend was killed in the accident.

When Jairo returned to Japan, he was not the same person I had come to know. He had changed. Habitually friendly and outgoing, he had become quiet and moody, only leaving the dorm to attend class, which he began missing with increasing regularity over time. I worried that he was sinking into a deep depression he might not be able to escape from without serious help.

I was planning on talking to him about it until one afternoon a couple weeks earlier, he came home with a girl he met in class. He was smiling and he seemed happy, more like his old self. I thought that meeting someone new was just the thing he needed. But he started coming home with different girls, some from campus and others he’d pick up from local bars and clubs.

Otsuyu was the first girl he had seen more than once. She was also the only Japanese girl, as far I was aware.

When I got back, I must have been totally wiped because as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was dead to the world. I woke in near total darkness. The dim glow from my phone on the nightstand was the only light in the room. I picked it up. 8:05. I had been asleep for nearly ten hours.

A low thumping sound began as Jairo’s headboard knocked repeatedly against the wall directly adjacent to where I was lying on my bed. I got up and tiptoed to the door. It squeaked as pulled it open slowly.

The pounding of the headboard intensified as I approached Jairo’s bedroom. His door was about halfway open. A ghostly light escaped from inside, drifting into the narrow hallway around my feet like incandescent flakes of dust.

I paused at the threshold, knowing I should just keep walking, but my curiosity could not be abated. Jairo’s grunting deepened and the thumping of the bed against the wall diminished as I leaned forward and peeked inside.

At first, all I could see was Jairo, who was a big guy at over six feet. The initial glimpse I got of the diminutive figure beneath Jairo did not make sense to me at first.

The young woman did not appear to be naked. Where there should have been flesh was something that looked like gray sack cloth. As I stared longer, I came to ghoulish realization that what I was looking at appeared to be my roommate humping a decaying corpse.

Horrified, I looked away. I let out a loud gasp, quickly bringing a hand to my mouth to try to muffle the sound so I would not be heard by Jairo or his corpse lover.

I knew what I thought I saw wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real because it wasn’t possible.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some sort of bluish light emanating from the corner of Jairo’s room.

Sitting on a chair in a corner of the room wearing a water-blue silk kimono was a skeleton, even more divested of living tissue than the one on the bed beneath Jairo. It was looking directly at me with empty eye sockets. Patches of hair clung to the skull, and clutched in one bony hand was a lantern, which was adorned at the base by a bouquet of pink flowers.

I screamed in shock and fear. I heard Jairo grunt in surprise and I looked at him despite my terror.

I saw exposed muscle, stringy tendons, and the whitewashed surfaces of bone belonging to a cadaver writhing with life beneath Jairo, dragging its fleshless fingers down Jairo’s back, the jagged tips opening bloody welts in his skin.

I wanted to close my eyes, but I was in such a state of revulsion and horror that I could not look away. There was a gaping cavity in the area around her hips and pelvis, and I could see inside her anatomy and witness Jairo penetrating her. Her rotting entrails jiggled with each thrust of his considerable bulk.

All at once Jairo began to shudder, his climax imminent. As his body convulsed in a fit a fleeting ecstasy, his ejaculate filled the inside of what remained of her decomposing womb before splashing out on the bed.

After a moment, Jairo’s body slumped over atop the dead woman, who suddenly lifted her head and slowly turned in my direction. A few scraps of flesh clung to her face, but she had a full head of coarse black hair held up by pins of gold and tortoiseshell and coral. Her eyes were desiccated black orbs sunk deep in their sockets. The dead woman leered back at me. The lipless, rictus mouth seemed to be mocking me and the transient nature of life.

My heart pounded in an attempt to escape from my chest. I found it hard to breathe, and for a moment I thought I would faint. I closed my eyes, believing that they had betrayed me.

Finally, I couldn’t bear witness to an incubus any longer. I had to escape the nightmare hallucinations. I turned and raced to the front door and ran outside into the dark night.


In the campus library, I sat at a large table by myself and stared absently at the students passing by, trying not to imagine them without their skin and missing chunks of sinew, or getting peeks of the skeleton lurking beneath, but it was no use. When I closed my eyes, the image of Jairo having sex with a dead woman was now permanently burned into my brain. How was I supposed to deal with this abomination?

I didn’t see my Japanese friend Hansuke approach my table, and I jumped when he spoke my name.

He sat down next to me and tried to engage me in a conversation, but I wasn’t very responsive. I knew he could tell something was troubling me. He wanted to know what was wrong.

Before I could stop myself, I found myself vomiting words about the vile tableau I had witnessed in Jairo’s bedroom

Hansuke’s eyes went wide as soon when I spoke her name, and he interrupted me before I could tell him anything more. “You’ve got to get him away from her,” he implored, then proceeded to tell me about a popular Japanese folktale, known as The Peony Lantern.

The original story, which had numerous iterations, involved a widowed samurai who meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman who loves peonies. I listened with fascination and terror at the similarities between the myth and reality. Like Jairo, the samurai and his lover would meet at night, the woman accompanied by her handmaiden, until one night a friend of the samurai discovered that both women were skeletons. The tale ends with the samurai being found dead in a graveyard alongside a corpse.

“The succubus is a supernatural monster,” Hansuke explained. “It’s a Lillith demon who will steal your friend’s soul.”

“Jairo is a good friend. I can’t let that happen,” I said. “But I can’t bring myself to go back to the apartment to help him. I’m a coward. Maybe we should go to the police?”

“Police can’t fight a monster,” Hansuke said. “I have a better idea. Let’s go to the cemetery down the street.”

My mouth went dry at the mere suggestion. Cemeteries gave me the creeps. It was the last place I wanted to go, but I nodded and went along with him if it would help Jairo.

I remained silent on the short trek. The only thought I had was wondering what the Japanese cemetery would be like on moonless night. Though we walked at a leisurely pace, I was breathing heavy and my legs were tingling. I thought they might go numb before we arrived.

I found the lights and noise of the city comforting, but then we took a side street and both quickly faded. The traffic and the pedestrians abandoned us, and then the cemetery suddenly materialized out of the darkness beyond the reach of the streetlights.

Adjacent to the entrance was an abandoned two-story house. The wooden exterior was bleached of any color. The dark windows were like sightless eyes. It was the decomposed husk of a home that once thrived with a pulse and energy all its own. It looked like a tomb itself, and I couldn’t help thinking that it was inhabited by the dead. I tried to get that thought out of my head, but as we passed the property, I thought I saw a darker shadow in one of the upstairs windows. I turned away, shuddering as we approached the cemetery gate.

The instant I stepped into the graveyard it felt perceptibly colder, as if the temperature had dropped twenty degrees. My skin prickled from the chill. Being so far away from the street, and with no natural light, it was preternaturally dark. There was no sound at all besides the brush of our heels along cemetery’s dirt footpath. Hansuke, walking ahead of me, had not spoken since we veered off the main road in front of the dorm. His unusual silence was unsettling.

As I followed Hansuke through an older section of the cemetery, past rows of traditional pagoda-style markers made of five stone blocks, I noticed a colorfully adorned Hina Doll on the ground beside one memorial. I wondered if perhaps a child had been playing there recently and left it behind. But then I saw many others among neighboring shrines. There were a lot of animal dolls as well, cats, dogs, owls, and monkeys. Most appeared homemade, constructed of simple materials, like paper and straw. I never felt comfortable in Western cemeteries, but the presence of these Japanese figurines took my anxiety to a whole new level, and my breathing became ragged.

As I had slowed considerably to look at the congregation of dolls, Hansuke kept his pace and got ahead of me. When I looked up, he was nowhere in sight. The air in my lungs leapt from my throat in a single gasp.

Then I spotted Hansuke several grave markers over to my right. With a lump in my throat, I walked quickly to catch up with him in a newer section of the cemetery. He didn’t’ seem to notice we had been momentarily separated. He switched on his phone’s flashlight, occasionally taking a moment to direct the spray of light onto a columnar-shaped marker in order to read the inscription and name.

“It was not Otsuyu, or her handmaiden, Oyone, that you saw tonight,” Hansuke told me, expelling a ghostly mist as his moist breath condensed in the cold night air.

“What about the folktale you told me about?” I asked him. “She even has the same name as the woman Jairo is seeing.”

“Otsuyu’s spirit can attach itself to the souls of Japanese women who died suddenly or tragically,” Hansuke said.

“I don’t understand.”

“So that they won’t be lonely, the spirits of these dead women seek men who have suffered a recent trauma,” Hansuke explained. “Men who are so tortured with grief that they are most vulnerable to Otsuyu’s sway.”

He slowed down considerably now, shining the broad beam of light to read the name on every marker. The ground around some of the graves was freshly overturned. “The souls of the dead women possessed by Otsuyu’s spirit lure vulnerable men to the cemetery and then kill them.”

“What is it you’re searching for?” I finally asked.

“There was a car accident a couple weeks ago,” he told me. “Two Japanese girls, both freshman at the university, were killed in the crash.”

We had to skirt around a sprawling Sakura, its limbs laden with pink and white blossoms, and when we came around the other side, I saw him.

Under the low, drooping branches of the tree, it would have been difficult to distinguish Jairo’s dark skin if not for the glaring light from Hansuke’s phone reflecting off the alabaster bones of the skeletal remains around which my roommate’s naked body was entwined. He was dead.

I screamed in shock. Hansuke also seemed afraid. “We’re too late,” he gasped. “The Peony Lover has taken your roommate!”

I quickly spun on my heels and ran out of the cemetery as fast as I could, trying to shake the memory of this last image out of my head.