The Flowers Are Ugly
Yuki froze as she saw the end of the path just ahead: the single green bush in the pink cherry forest, the one that her mother had always told her never to enter.
“What are we doing, mommy? Won’t we turn around?”
“Not today. You are ready now, Yuki. Let me show you.”
Their two hands squeezed together tightly as Yuki was led through the bush by her mother, entering a place she had never seen before: it was dark, and not like the purple sky of the night, but true, unfiltered darkness- lit only by small green fungi that the child found herself immediately infatuated with. She bent down to pick them, but her mother stopped her:
“Do not touch their belongings, Yuki. It is like poison to meddle in that which lies only with these creatures. One must be careful not to let herself be lost inside the Tainai caves.”
Her daughter pulled away from the light, Yumiko clapped her hands four times in a rhythmless pattern, and they arose: the Maitake.
Little men the color of dry wood revealed themselves from the darkness and ground alike, their bodies comprised of nothing but unkempt, blooming fungal mass. The walking mushrooms waddled over to their master, all but a single one bowing to their mother.
“Lady Sengen…” they chanted mindlessly. “Lady Sengen…”
“The Maitake are bringers of happiness. I have cultured them from this world just for your sake, Yuki.”
In the commotion, Yuki’s eyes drifted to the one rouge Maitake. The child scribbled on the hardly-visible cave wall, a loose and amateur hand messily inscribing the image of a crown using a sharp rock. To the tall eyes of Yumiko, the small one was invisible at this moment. Were Yuki to look away, her mother would never notice this irregularity. But her eyes wouldn’t listen to her. She watched as he painted the unmistakable image of what must have been a grand god or emperor- his was an imposing image, a hero clad in a thick armor of canker, but with a stoic face underneath just as human as she or her mother.
“The bond between woman and a Maitake is utterly sacred- more so than Samara Tsubaki or the sky above it. More so than this island itself. In two year’s time, Yuki, my beloved, you will make such a bond- as one of these chosen Maitake will become your loyal groom.”
She smiled, all these years’ work at last coming to its conclusion… until her one daughter’s silence alerted her.
Yumiko’s hand tightened as her vision was directed towards the young artisan Maitake.
The mother left her child to approach the anomaly. With no parent to hold onto, the girl found herself shivering. But as all the Maitake turned to face her, she felt the slightest bit comfortable- a feeling that, up until this point- Yuki could not say she had experienced in all her years.
It lasted only a few seconds, when she heard the squeal of a pig baby plucked from its mother.
With each second that Yumiko held the Maitake by the throat, he made this terrible noise louder and louder until her own voice silenced him:
“Why do you inscribe the image of a god other than your own?”
And he gasped in reply:
“It is… the true god… the coming king… the seven-flower….”
“You are no longer my child. Speak again, and it will be your final word, you cursed mildew.”
“He will arrive… Lord Matsutake…”
Strangling the infant creature, Yumiko’s gaze shifted back to her daughter.
“Yuki.” She said sweetly. “This plant is not a Maitake. It will not be your groom.”
Yumiko opened her mouth to breathe one of her special breaths: an act Yuki had scarcely seen in her life, only on the few mornings when she would awake early after failure to soundly sleep- when she would wander to find her mother performing much the same motion to repaint their houses. Her lips parted, and the discarded leaves of cherry blossoms, drawn from just outside the cave, soon arrived. Entering her mouth, turning to pink mist just as they did- she was emboldened with a holy privilege.
The goddess raised her hand, and from it grew an orb of water. Her grip on the boy weakened, the other Maitake still bowing as they ignored this torment. Yuki was the only audience as the orb suddenly steamed, growing to a blazing boil, and Yumiko slowly raised it just above the boy’s head.
“Goodbye, ugly one. Your words will not be remembered.”
Yuki thought she heard him try to say something before his head was submerged in crackling-hot water, steam frying off his shaking corpse as his consciousness turned to sheer madness moments before his excruciating demise, his legs kicking every which way until they abruptly didn’t anymore. By the look on Yumiko’s face, Yuki could tell- she didn’t mean for the death to be such a quick one.
As the two exited the Tainai caves, Yumiko turned to Yuki, and said this:
“Remember not the upsetting ramblings of that unfortunate creature. Remember instead the jubilant feeling he must have felt, when his diseased mind was freed from this world.”
Yuki nodded to her mother, in this one moment agreeing with her sentiment.