Chapter 1:

Hiromi Kobayakawa

For your Smile, My Sweet Little Girl


Oh, hello there. Pleased to make your acquaintance. My name is Hiromi Kobayakawa, but please, I insist you call me "Hiromi." Truth be told,  I'm nothing special. Just your humble 10-year old girl living a normal life near the Harajuku district of Tokyo, Japan. 

If you could see me right now, do know that I am greeting you with all the grace I could manage. I pinch up the hems of my skirt, stand on the ball of my right foot rotated behind my left, then I bend my knees and bow. I've been practicing my curtsy lately. It goes along well with the gothic lolita dress I consider to be a part of me.

Now with my introduction out of the way, where was I? Oh yes, I was up early and alone in my room, working hard to design myself a costume for Halloween. You see, there is an upcoming costume contest for kids up to the age of thirteen this Halloween night, and for once I decided to stop standing by on the sidelines and actually take part in the festivities myself. Considering the number of years I have left before I become illegible to enter, I suppose I should try to give myself at least one victory in this competition.

I've been working with all the effort I could exert for weeks in preparation for the big day, and I must come clean that while I've been taught the basics, I'm no master seamstress. I can still remember sweat trailing down my temple and how frequently my hands shook when I first tried to thread the eye of a needle. Naturally, my skill at sewing is nothing worth applauding either. The color of the thread I used was black, far too different from the material I'm using to make my costume, and my thread work looks like an amateur's attempt at doing stitches with all the uneven gaps between each strand of thread. 

At the very least, I got my measurements right.

Despite these flaws, I'm not discouraged at all. In fact, I'm actually more optimistic than ever. 

"The scariest costume that will leave others shivering in fear." 

That is the theme of this year's Halloween costume contest. Last year's theme was "The most well-made costume that will make others marvel at its craftwork." 

There, now you know why I didn't bother to enter last year.

At present, it's October 31st at around 7 am, meaning I only have until tonight to get my costume ready. No worries, I just have to finish up on this sleeve and I will be... 

...oh dear. 

It's only now that I've noticed I've run out of materials. This narration seems to have taken most of my attention, but it's nothing to fret about. I only need to go to my parents and ask for more. 

With a yearning in my heart to get the job done, I race out of my room then down the stairs with my hand sliding down the guardrail. The delicate pitter-patter of my bare feet on hollow wood was a peculiar way for me to announce my presence, and I knew my parents were always delighted to know whenever I was nearby.

I am their sweet little girl after all.

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Mommy and Daddy have always given me what I wanted. They've always given me the best of everything I needed such as my clothes, everything in my room, and even my education.

But before you start thinking of me as a spoiled child, I would like to clarify here and now that I never demanded any of this. In fact, I even tried to convince my parents several times that what they were giving me was too expensive and I would not have minded a cheaper alternative. 

Take my gothic lolita dress for example. I never asked mommy or daddy to buy it for me, but they told me they saw dim sparkles in my eyes as I stared for over a minute at how magnificent its violet and magenta color scheme was on display from outside its store. I found it to be a wonderful set of fabric and accessories that would compliment my lithe build and raven hair. An adorable tilted top hat not even half the size of my head; a lovely collar and a violet ascot embedded with an amethyst that painted it with an air of nobility; a frilly skirt decorated with violet roses that were so realistic, I still cannot believe they were actually faux; striped thigh-high socks and flat shoes that I felt made mesmerizing tapping noises with every step. 

Before I knew it and without a word spoken, my parents had spent ¥50,000 for the complete set. 

At first, I  was left aghast. Spending all that money must've been a blow to their budget because I never considered our family to be rich, but my parents insisted that the price did not matter. 

All they wanted was for me to be happy.

With a bright smile to express my thanks, Mommy and Daddy were showered with a divine light that eased them of their pain, or so I believe. They never showed me a face full of negativity.

That was when I learned that whenever I set my heart on something, Mommy and Daddy will do everything they can to make it happen.

This costume contest was no exception, and ever since the day I told them I wanted to try and win, they've been doing what they can to make sure I get my hands on the best materials to make the scariest costume our imaginations can manifest.

I am forever thankful for Mommy and Daddy's generous hearts and I know they are aware of my most heartfelt thanks and appreciation.

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Daddy was in the living room, sitting in his comfortable sofa chair with today's newspaper opened wide and masking his face. Ever since the day he first started helping me get materials for my costume, he almost never left his chair, as if he had glued himself to it. I run past him with a "good morning" before I left his space. He had already done what he could for me and I felt the same. He has my eternal thanks.

Stopping inside the kitchen, I find mommy, who was in the middle of preparing our breakfast. With a sharp knife clinking a set rhythm against a sturdy wooden board, she was doing an excellent job mincing stems of spring onions without accidentally cutting herself.

With a bowl of eggs and some rice getting freshly steamed nearby, I can tell today's breakfast will be tamago kake gohan. For those who are not familiar with this, it is a simple meal of cracking a raw egg over some steaming white rice in a small bowl. A little soy sauce here for some enhanced flavor and some spring onions there to give the dish a bit of flair. All in all, tamago kake gohan is a comfort dish that is easy to make and inexpensive, but despite the way I present myself, such a dish is enough for me.

But enough about that, I'm not in the mood to dine yet. 

My tiny footsteps coming from her left, I approach mommy at her side by the kitchen table and give her sleeve a few gentle tugs. Mommy puts down her knife in an instant and gazes down at me. My brown doe-eyes may have been adorable enough to make others go "aww", but the shape of my lips would not invoke such a reaction. Mommy knew I needed her help once more and she wanted as soon as possible to turn my frown upside-down.

Beaming a gentle smile, mommy rolls up her left sleeve after she gave me an affectionate pat on the head. Her right hand curling its fingers around a wooden grip, mommy raises her knife then brings it down.

The sound of fair flesh squishing was the next thing I heard, and a splash of mommy's blood landed on my face like curd. 

As the crimson liquid cascaded down my cheek, mommy was hard at work, stripping the flesh of her arm down to its peak. 

I heard the blade screech when it accidentally scrapped her bone. It must've been painful, but not once did mommy wince or groan. 

In fact, the smile on her face never faded away. She was doing this for me, which to her, was a worthy price to pay.

When Mommy was done, her left arm was left with muscle and bone. She collected and then handed her flesh to me while whistling a happy tone.

Taking the material she had given me, I thanked her with a smile. That was all mommy needed. She pulled back her sleeve to hide all the damage she did to herself and returned to preparing our breakfast.

Just so you know, it wasn't my idea for my parents to hack off parts of themselves for me to use as material for my costume. I simply told them that I wanted to make the scariest costume possible, and that was what they came up with. As gruesome as it was for mommy to skin her arm like that, not once did I grimace. Before you think of me as unaffected, let me clarify now that I did cover my face and peek between my fingers the first few times it happened.

With the last piece of missing material now procured, I gathered mommy's skinned flesh and rushed back to my room, where I got back to work. A little more time to stitch everything together and after an hour, my costume was completed.

So, what kind of a costume did I make for myself? What kind of monster would I make with human flesh? Truth be told, I didn't make a monster. Before I started, I concluded that a fear of a specific monster was far too subjective to pick so I decided to go with something more "unique". 

Since I technically have reference material, I resorted to creating an imitation of my gothic lolita dress - well, it's a poorly-made imitation to be exact. Not one side of the outfit was symmetrical with the other in terms of measurement and color, but at least the costume fits me just fine. 

Once again, I'm just an amateur when it comes to making a costume.

With several weeks of planning and labor now put to rest, I returned downstairs to enjoy my simple breakfast with my parents then spend the rest of the day the way I please.

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Now here's a quick lecture I would like to tell you about Halloween in Japan. We do celebrate the holiday, but we do not celebrate it like in the west.

First of all, the main appeal of Halloween for us, in general, is commercialism and costumes. In other words, Halloween is considered to be more of an affair for adults where anyone old enough to party does so in costume and in venues that peddle alcohol. 

Secondly, intruding on someone else's property, knocking on their door, and saying "trick or treat" is non-existent. It should be common knowledge for outsiders to assume that we, the people of Japan, love and respect our personal space, and invading that would be an inconvenience. I wholeheartedly agree. I would not feel comfortable either if someone with a disturbing appearance trespassed outside my front door to ask for some candy.

And speaking of candy, where should you go if you want to satisfy that sweet tooth of yours? One obvious answer would be to buy them yourself in any store that sells them. In this time of the year, you can expect some of what I would call "seasonal candy" as in they are limited to only being for sale around this time.

But if it's a "lifetime" you are after, and one that is free of charge at that, then I suppose winning the Halloween costume contest would have to be your best chance even though I believe that's not saying much. 

From what I know, the prize had always been a golden jack-o-lantern of considerable size. And the gold it was made of was by no means fake.  

Oh, and it's supposed to be filled to its limit with the most expensive and delicious candy Japan has to offer. There's that, too.

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The sky paints itself with the twilight colors of red, orange and purple. 6 pm sharp was my queue. 

I put on my costume the same way I would usually put on my dress with the thought of grinning and bearing it. 

Putting on a costume made entirely out of human flesh brought in sensations that made me think it was getting cold and clammy. I could still feel some fresh blood caressing my skin as I slipped on the costume and there was some minor itching that I had to tolerate from wearing materials that were not exactly meant to be worn as far as I know.

As I said before, despite the mediocre work I had done, my costume fits me just fine.

I went back downstairs and said goodbye to mommy and daddy as I passed them. Mommy, who was already hard at work preparing dinner, wished me luck while Daddy continued to relax in his sofa chair still with the newspaper hiding his face. Before stepping out the front door, I slip my feet into a pair of flat-heeled shoes that I left outside. Of course, that was also made to go along with my outfit.

I'm starting to believe I underestimated my own skill of craftsmanship. It's only my first time walking in these shoes and yet I feel no strain on my feet. It also deserves to be mentioned that the cool breeze brushing me felt more pleasant than usual.

It also seems like I've just gained a new accessory to go along with my costume. Not long after stepping outside, it seems the rancid smell of decaying flesh attracted flies and before long, a swarm followed me like a black cloud buzzing above my head.

Comfortable or not, five minutes was all it took for me to walk all the way to Yoyogi park, the place of venue for any sort of event and the Halloween festival was no exception. Unlike my house or the other houses near it, the park was littered with decorations that would scream of the occasion. The usual things to expect like cobwebs, tombstones, bony hands emerging from the ground were there, but the trees were probably the eeriest. I'm almost uncertain nobody could pass by the countless filthy dolls hanging from the branches without feeling chills crawling up their spines. Some of these dolls were missing body parts like their glass eyes or even a limb or two which added more into the fear factor.

There were stalls selling sweets like candy apples and photo spots complete with props and cardboard cutouts for those who want preserved memories. 

And then there were the people. Everywhere I look even if just a moment, someone is all dressed up and covered in make-up. I'm certain you would easily stand out if you weren't in costume. After laying my eye on those within my sight, I have to be honest that I think they looked more attractive than scary.

But enough about that, I have a contest to win. 

The contest will take place on a stage in the middle of the park, with registrations for entrants only lasting until 6:45, fifteen minutes before the contest began. Considering the age group, almost every entrant registered with the help of their parents. I was one of the few who handled the paperwork alone.

The rules were simple. Each entrant will be called on stage with the only other person being the contest's host, who was an attractive woman dressed in a modest witch outfit. There will be a question and answer portion. This was just for us to try to give the audience, who are also unofficially the judges, some extra appeal. After all the entrants have their chance to showcase their work of art, they will return to the stage once again and the audience will decide who wins.  

All in all, this contest isn't meant to be serious with all the loose holes in its rules and how subjective it would be for the audience to judge the contestants. Still, the winner's prize is something worth taking home. 

Just a quick thought. Since this year's theme is for the scariest costume, I wonder if we will be judged by how many people in the audience would flee or faint. 

After entering myself and getting an entry number (I was number 15 out of 20), some of the staff assist me backstage where I wait with the other entrants.

As I await my turn, I observe the costumes of every other person within my age group. Vampires, mummies, werewolves, and Frankenstein's monster. Those were rather ordinary to be honest, and if the audience had my mindset, I would only applaud them for having such well-made costumes. Unfortunately, that was last year's theme, so I would have stayed silent if any of them stepped forth on the stage this time.  

Looking again, there are also some entrants wearing unusual costumes like mine. Most of them give me a bit of worry. Most notably, the ones that caught my eye was a boy dressed up as a piece of broccoli and a girl with a blond wig dressed as a survey corps member from Attack on Titan, complete with some well-crafted vertical maneuvering gear. If I weren't competing against that girl, I would have advised her to enter dressed as an actual titan if she wanted to fare better, or perhaps she believed the weapons of her outfit made her look more fearsome? Going back to my titan suggestion, she could probably mimic a titan's behavior with pinpoint accuracy if she suffered from stage fright.

Speaking of stage fright, I myself am not so confident to think I could stand on stage in front of everyone without quaking in my boots. In dire preparation for the worst case scenario, I also crafted myself a mask to go along with my costume. I've been keeping it in my pocket and will only wear it once it is my turn to walk down the aisle. It's homemade so naturally, it didn't have the best of scents despite my best efforts to freshen it up.

Eventually, someone informs me that I am next. I put on my mask, which has holes for my eyes and nose, but the mouth was sewn partially shut. The stench of wearing it reminds me of the undead if that happened to be real, but I tolerate it with all the willpower I could muster. I just need to last about a full minute with it anyway, then maybe another after that.

I emerge from the curtain that separates the stage from the back and strut toward a short catwalk on the center edge of the stage. I was right to assume that stage fright's icy grip would stiffen my limbs and contort my face, but thanks to my mask, nobody saw how convulsing my expression was. In the end, I only need to do my best to make my movements as natural as possible.

It's a relief nobody in the audience seems to mind how shaky my movements are. Perhaps it was because they were more concerned with the appearance of my costume. They were cheering for me at first like everyone else when I first came into their view, but as I got closer, I could tell the cheers were dying. Seems their intuition is warning them that something may be afoot.

Now that the hard part was finished, the eccentric lady in the witch costume approached me and asked me all sorts of questions in a whimsical manner to try and lighten up the crowd. Nothing too difficult, all were very simple that I didn't have to rack my brain to come up with a good answer. Finally, she tells me that my costume looks quite realistic and asks me what was it made of.

Not willing to refuse a question asked by such a polite person, I gesture to the lady in the witch costume with a pulling hook of my finger. She lends me an ear and I whisper what my costume is made off down to the very last detail. Her eyes widen. Everything could have proceeded without any trouble if she didn't suddenly blurt out everything that I said.  And even though that already happened, she still could have kept the secret to herself if she wasn't holding the microphone so close to her mouth.

She just had to blurt out that majority of my costume was made from the skinned flesh of my parents.

How my head ornaments were made from some of their bones.

How the frills of my skirt were made from some of their intestines.

How the eyeball I wore like the amethyst on my ascot used to belong to my Mommy.

How my mask was actually the face of my Daddy.

For the next five minutes, I decided to get comfortable and sit on the edge of the stage. In immaculate silence and with my hands on my lap, I watch as all those attending the Halloween festival act like they have seen a real ghost. People screamed and scrambled in different directions and there were even those who got trampled in the frenzy. For some reason, the chaos led to the stalls getting caught on fire and I assume that there was some flammable chemicals or whatnot somewhere because explosions, one after another, occurred shortly thereafter. At least they were neither loud enough to rupture my eardrums nor close enough for me to be caught in the blast.

Before long, the once jubilant festival and to some extent the majority of Yoyogi park turned into a burning wasteland. I'm certain not everyone in the park died, but as far I know, I was the only one left, unscathed and unmoved from the same spot. 

It's strange. I couldn't comprehend exactly how I feel from watching the spectacle, but at the very least, it wasn't boring.

As for the trophy, well... the official results of this year's contest will remain unknown, but only one person can claim it now. The golden jack-o-lantern trophy meant for the winner stood a few feet away from me as my only companion on the stage.

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With nothing left to do after I already got what I came for, I take another five minutes to walk back to my home before the firefighters could arrive at the scene and question me. I did not cause the ruckus that led to the festival's destruction - that fault belongs to those overacting charlatans.

Stepping into my house after removing my shoes, I could only think of how a hot bath will cleanse me of the rancid stench I made myself wear and the mild irritation on my skin. I can see myself spending at least half an hour in the tub after lathering myself with the most pleasant fragrances in my possession.

After taking off my costume and before I give myself a bath, I press my foot onto a pedal and dump my costume into my trash can's open lid. Thank you for your hard work, but now you have outlived your use.

As for the trophy of candy that ended up in my hands? I had to sacrifice some weight so I could carry the trophy home. I could have chosen to eat all the candy before going home, but instead, I disposed all of them into one of the wild flames in the festival and gave myself a little time to watch all the confectionary turn into an unrecognizable state of mush.

I was never fond of chocolate or candy. All they do is hurt and ruin my teeth, and without them, I simply cannot smile. The trophy was what I set my eyes on, though now that I have it, it seems to have lost the luster that originally drew me to it. It's starting to feel like just another object that occupies space somewhere in my room.

Oh well, what can I say? I got what I wanted and I have my parents to thank for that. I am blessed to have parents like Mommy and Daddy. As their only child, I'm the one by default who takes all their love and affection. 

And they will do whatever it takes just to see me smile. ❤ 

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