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The Cold Heart- Ninja Magic and the Kuji In- Part 3 of 10

Asian woman in limousine with window part of the way down


The Cold Heart- Ninja Magic and the Kuji In

Part 3 of 10

Cloud demons pushed through the night, their surging shadows suffocating the moon beneath a thick black blanket.   Somewhere down the mountain a tractor-trailer’s horn shotgun blasted the night.   Porch  boards swollen thick with humidity creaked in protest and slapped painfully against the cross braces with each step closer to the railing.  I wished again I’d brought a gun.

Violence courses through Southern nights as naturally as heat lightning flashes across bruised skies.  That night, in the aging cabin on the side of a kudzu strangled woods, I could feel it building up around us like pinpricks of static electricity.  The pale orange yellow glow of the old man’s oil lamp was too timid to venture past the edge of the porch into the steaming heat of the darkness beyond.  The terpene rich odor of pine pressed against lungs so that I could hardly breathe.

“It’s too quiet,” rasped the old man through the open window.

“Shut up,” I said.

He’d said too much.  Now I knew too much.  I never should have come.  Nearest town ten miles away.  All four tires on my truck cut.  No electricity.  No phones.  No cell zone.  I never should have come.

“What is this Kiss of the Kunoichi?”  I’d asked.

There is no true haunting save in the eyes of a dying man.  A dying man has little or nothing left to fear in this world.  But when I’d asked him about the Kiss of the Kunoichi, I saw his eyes glow with sudden furtive fever.  He shuddered despite the heat and then turned to stare vacantly into the soft lambency of the flame beside his bed.  His withered hand reached for the knob and twisted it to lower the wick.  It was the exact moment he did this that night outside his tin roofed cabin went quiet.  For a moment, his hand rested on the knob, too frightened to draw it back.  When he finally pulled it away, his entire slack-skinned arm was shaking.

At night, the woods outside of Heber Springs, Arkansas are always filled with noise.  Things seem to come alive when the hill people strike a match to their oil lamps and pull down the shades to ward off the approaching dark.  I’d spent some time in these hills interviewing people for stories over the years, and I knew that there was really one thing that brought about the sudden silence of the night voices— the presence of a predator in the woods.

“I made a mistake,” he whispered.  “twenty years later.  In Atlanta.  All the miserable fucking luck.  Car pulled up to a hotel I was walking by and the window rolled down.  And there she was.  Moment I saw her I should have turned and walked the other way.  But I couldn’t help looking at her.  Not my fault.  Million to one.  Same woman.  Older by then, but something about her.  So I kept looking.”

When I saw the tear spilling from the corner of his eye, I forgot for just a moment the sudden quiet.

“The kiss,” I prompted.  “What is it?”

Keeping your sources on point is what it’s all about.  The offer you important information.  They have second thoughts.  Their memory suddenly fades.  They get angry at you.  They get lost in the past.  It’s the first job of a good reporter— keep your sources on point.

“No,” he said.

He began pounding his fists up and down on the mattress.

“No, not a word more.  Not from me.  Get out.  Get out.  Get out.”

He beat them in a steady rhythm saying the words over and over: “Get out, get out.”

His chin was shaking and more tears spilled from the corner of his eyes.  His slack skin hung from his arms and wagged back and forth like sheets in a rough wind.

“Shut up,” I said.

“Get out, get out, get out…”

He kept going.

Then when I remembered the sudden silence and jerked my head to look out the window, he stopped as quick as if I’d slapped a hand over his mouth.

“What,” he asked in a sudden panic.

“Tell me,” I said, “or I’m leaving.  I’m going to leave my stuff right where it is and walk straight out to my car and drive off and leave this entire thing alone.”

I’d raised my voice halfway through, like I was shouting out to someone stalking through the woods, coming closer to us with every passing minutes.

“You can’t leave me here,” he said and reached out toward my arm but I pulled it back.

“Tell me,” I said.  “What is the Kiss of the Kunoichi?”

I saw his head fall forward in despair and I was about to get up and walk when I heard him say in voice low as a man whispering his sins in the confessional, “It’s too quiet out there.”

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