Toshi was wagging his tail and licking Grandma Kiyo's hand when Shiro reached the bottom of the hill. Relieved, the shaking boy sank to his knees. He snaked his arms around his dog's neck, burying his face deep into the red sesame fur to hide the tears welling down his face. Shudders quaked through the boy as he hiccuped out apologies to Toshi for not saving him. "Gomen-nasai! Gomen...Gooo..men..." Shiro's grip on his pet tightened as he rocked back and forth, speaking plaintive murmurs and gasps into the animal's shoulder.
Grandma Kiyo laid her hand against her grandson's back, patting softly and rubbing soothing circles to ease the boy. Shiro continued his sniffled apologies. Calmly, she waited. His gasps eased and the shudders racking his little body subsided.
As the shadows from the house extended across the yard, the young boy finally released his grip and stood. Running the back of his arm across his face he winced, the painful scrapes on his hands reminding him of his fall earlier. Staring at the ground, he asked his grandmother, "What were they?"
"Shiro-chan, let me see your face." Kiyo demanded, ignoring his question.
"What were they Grandma?" he demanded, looking up to her eyes.
His grandmother's lips tightened as she stared down. A grim expression moved across her face, making Shiro step back in surprise. Was she mad at him? A blink later and it was gone, her comforting countenance returned.
With a smile she softly answered, "You forgot all of my stories?" Her head tilted in commiseration when his eyes scrunched closed and his head shook vigorously. With a huff, she looked to the sky. "It's getting late. Take Toshi inside first." Grandma Kiyo tucked the salt bag under her belt as they started up the hill. "Rub some of your mother's yarrow on your hands before coming back out." Shiro's mouth was opening to protest when she cut him off with a pointed finger. Firmly she told him, "Dog. Yarrow. Back outside. Do NOT stay in the house until you and I've talked."
Confused, he nodded slowly. When his grandmother had that tone, even his mother did what she was told. Shiro held the door for Toshi, watched Grandma Kiyo take a lantern from the deck, then rushed inside the house.
The cool balm eased the stinging on his hands and knees. Wishing that he didn't have to go back into the yard, Shiro reluctantly left the deck. Slowly, eyeing the ground for arms, he made his way back to his tree house. Standing underneath was his grandmother, holding the lit lantern. Her back was to him as she gave his swing, moving from the breeze, her full attention.
Grandma Kiyo turned to him as he approached. Finger over her lips, she lowered the lantern and whispered, "Stay quiet. Don't yell. Don't run. You'll scare them."
Before Shiro could ask who, she grabbed his hand and raised the lantern.
The amber light cast a soft glow on his swing. Shocked, Shiro's grip tightened in his grandmother's hand. The swing hadn't been moving because of a breeze! There were strangers in the yard! On the seat was a little girl, her dress swaying with the movement. From behind another girl was giggling as she pushed the seated one higher and higher. Neither of them gave the boy or Kiyo any notice.
Shiro had had enough! The stress of the day had worn him thin and now these girls had stolen into his yard and were using his swing without asking! Angrily he yelled, "Hey!" Shaking off his grandmother's hand he stepped forward, into the light to tell the girls how rude they were.
Grandma Kiyo's gasps didn't register. The change to the color of the lantern's glow didn't filter. All Shiro saw was violet pools in place of their eyes and all he heard was was a terrible roar in his ears when they opened their mouths.
All he felt was a cold nothing close in on him.
Other Shiro StoriesThe Crimson Brand
art and flair courtesy of @PegasusPhysics