Red Woman

It’s #1lineWed again, and that means time to riffle through my word-stash! Today’s “Context is Key” entry in the Secret Files comes from Rakushinpu, another WIP I’ve not shared from previously. It takes place slightly before  and during Japan’s Heian era, and explores some of the mythology of the Jorogumo, or Rakushinpu.

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The woman – is she, can she possibly be a woman? –  draws Miho’s eyes. The red-painted smile drifts on her face like coiling smoke. She walks under a red umbrella, and her hips sway back and forth with her steps.

Her robes are the robes of a lady, but she is alone – no guards, no outriders, no chaperon, no escort. Her face is hidden behind a red fan, but her eyes are black and gleaming above it. Miho stares at her; why is she familiar?

No woman like that has ever been inside her father’s house.

A little at a time she follows the woman through the market. Past the stalls of food vendors and their sweet-spicy smells, past shops selling paper and silk and ink and furnishings and combs and jewelry, past men and women going about the business of their lives.

Her eyes are focused on the flash of red that moves ever in front of her, the swinging black hair like a cut out section of starless night, drinking light.

Miho traces lines of gold embroidery with her eyes, then stumbles a little. She has seen a flash of pale skin. A bare foot, visible for a sneak of a moment, one shining instance that Miho was lucky enough to catch.

So improbable. Her attention lingers on it long after it has passed. Her gaze is fixed to the hem of the woman’s robe now, waiting, hoping – so pale, that skin! Milk and moonlight. Like Miho’s own skin, but more gleaming.

She is so distracted by it that she doesn’t notice the trap in front of her until it is too late. Until she is in it.

The woman turns down a darker way, and Miho waits a moment and then slips around the same corner.

A dead end, and two chips of onyx that confront her, eyes so dark she can’t discern their pupil. Miho draws in a sharp breath and turns to run, but a sharp, hard grip has her by the shoulder in the next moment.

“Don’t run, little girl. I meant for you to follow me, though I wasn’t sure it would be so easy. Do you know me, pretty one?”

Miho stares at her, stunned. No one has ever, ever called her ‘pretty one’. The fan lowers before the face, and it is a beautiful face – the most beautiful face Miho has ever seen, as she’d known it would be.

“I – you wanted me to follow you?”

The woman smiles, though her mouth does not move. The crinkles at the corners of her eyes give her away. The eyes themselves drink Miho in, drink her whole awareness with the penetrating nature of their stare.

“Yes. I needed to thank you. But you haven’t answered my other question. Do you know me?”

Miho stares at her, the slender fingers wrapped around the black lacquered pole of her Chinese umbrella, the red shade across the pale skin of her cheeks and the darkness of those eyes. Always, always the eyes.

“I know – your eyes.”

And then she averts her gaze and twists her fingers together, suddenly ashamed that she should be dressed below her station, with leaves in her hair and the dust of the market on her face – and I’m ugly I’m so ugly it’s not fair, she’s so beautiful

“But I called you pretty one, didn’t I?”

Miho starts backward away from the fingers that are reaching out for her cheek and finds her back pressed against the wall of the alley.

“I – you – I didn’t meant to say that out loud, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry -”

“Hush, flower, glowfly, beautiful darling – is that enough to reassure you? Pretty one, I said, and I did mean it…and you…you spoke only to yourself, only in your mind – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t hear you.”

Miho stares.

“You know who I am now, don’t you?”

The utsukushii woman has a voice like honey and plum syrup, thick and rich and too, too sweet. Miho feels that voice sticky on her skin and poured into her ears and drowns in it. Red woman – red woman, utsukushii woman, too sweet woman luring her closer, always closer, speaking like the spider to the fly.

“The spider.”

Yes.

 

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