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The Scum-Licking Akaname and the Cedar Chest
A Short Story by Amy Bexley
Editorial Note- Akaname is a Japanese Yokai that haunts bathrooms and bathhouses.
Knock, knock, knock, knock.
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Elaine. Elaine. Elaine. Elaine.
“Stop! I need to go to sleep! I don’t have time for this! I have work tomorrow!” I buried my head under my pillow.
This had been going on almost every night for a week, ever since I got this cedar chest from my older sister Evelyn.
She was twelve years older than me, and I barely knew her. I was the afterthought baby of the family. My parents had me shortly after a galivanting holiday in Europe, the same destination they’d chosen for their honeymoon. And – would you believe it? – they named me after some tour guide; it was their way of remembering the trip…like a souvenir, or a postcard.
Evelyn had not been mentally well since adolescence and was in and out of the psychiatric ward of the local hospital for severe depression. She joined a county program that helped her live independently and secure a job, something she had never experienced before.
The caseworkers missed the signs, though, and she committed suicide at the age of 39.
The program automatically cremated her body and placed it in the state common burial plot for that quarter, and my parents were distraught with the whole affair. The program had required her to make a will for her belongings prior to the incident, and in the will, she gave everything to me. I did not know why my sister did this. It’s not like she and I were close or anything. Whatever her reasons, that’s how I ended up with this old cedar chest filled with her clothing, a few pieces of jewelry and a bag of old makeup.
The person who dropped off the chest said Evelyn got it from a flea market and liked the engraved Asian letter pattern on the lid.
The thing was heavy, and I had the guy stuff it into the corner of my bedroom in my shared apartment. There it remained, eventually getting covered with piles of dirty clothes.
But then came the knocking, followed by my name being called out.
This always happened as I was falling asleep.
I believed it was my roommate, Paige, but it happened when she wasn't home, and I found no device in the chest that could have been the source of the voice.
I wondered if I was losing my mind. Did the stress of my sister’s suicide trigger something in me?
I called my mother about Evelyn.
“Mom, did Evelyn ever hear voices?”
“Elaine, why would you ask such a question? Are you hearing voices?”
“No. I’ve been thinking about Evelyn’s suicide and heard depressed people sometimes hear voices.”
“As far as Dad and I know, she heard no voices. The doctors always said a chemical imbalance caused her depression fits.”
“Thanks. That’s helpful.”
“Now, are you coming by next weekend for dinner?”
“Uh, next weekend? Maybe. I might have something work related.”
“Elaine, you’re working too much. You need to take a break.”
“Mom, things are not like they were when you and Dad were working. Everything costs more, and I have college debt to pay for.”
“Well, please try to visit for dinner next weekend.”
I hung up with Mom, went to my bedroom and sat on my bed with my legs crossed. I stared at the chest with its pile of unwashed clothes on top.
That was it. I didn’t care anymore that the chest was from my sister, or that maybe it was some old chest from the 19th century. I couldn’t take another sleepless night of this thing calling out my name.
Unlike Evelyn, I didn’t have depression as a teen. I know hearing sounds from a wooden chest can border into the realm of crazy, but I’m not crazy. Maybe stressed due to lack of sleep, but not crazy.
Do I believe that there’s stuff out there I don’t understand or can’t see? Of course. That’s what some of my college science courses taught me: that there’s so much we don’t know.
Am I a believer in the existence of ghosts? Maybe. Just because science hasn’t had time to prove them doesn’t mean they can’t exist. I learned enough tales and fables from my English class that there must be something there.
I stood up on my bed and pointed to the cedar box.
“That’s it. You got to go!”
I jumped off the bed and tossed the dirty laundry onto my bed. Then I opened the chest and emptied my sister’s stuff onto my bed.
That’s when I noticed a small metal coin wedged into the bottom of the lid. It was colored gold with a hole in the middle and Asian writing. I tried to pull it out from where it was wedged, but it was really stuck. I grabbed a nail file from my dresser and prodded the coin out, which flew across the room, hitting the wall before dropping somewhere onto the floor.
That’s when the groaning started, and this long red tongue flopped out from the chest. In surprise, I fell backwards, landing on the floor with my back against my bed.
The tongue was attached to a black-haired, toad-faced creature with two four-fingered, clawed hands. It was blood red in color with a faint mold smell to it.
What the hell is it? And was it trapped in the chest all this time? Did that thing call out to me and my sister from the chest? Was it responsible for driving my sister to suicide? Did that coin keep it in there? Shit, I think I should find that coin fast in case this thing eats humans. My mind raced between terror and curiosity.
The creature flopped out of the chest as the chest fell forward from its weight. It stood on its hind legs, sniffed with a toad-like nose, and quickly left the room waving its arms.
I got up and followed it, only to find the beast licking the scummy ceramic tiles of our shower. It seemed happy about it, and the tiles were getting clean at the same time.
I went back to my room to find the coin and returned to the bathroom. I held out the coin towards the animal, and it scampered past me back to my room.
The critter had closed itself off in the cedar chest as I stood in the doorway flipping the coin.
“Ah, so you don’t like this Asian coin. Good to know.”
Well, now I have a way to clean the bathroom without having to do the work myself. I always hated having to do this chore as part of my share of the rent. Sure, it’s gross to watch it use its tongue to clean the bathroom, and the thing is creepy looking. But it does a good job, so I can’t complain. I went about my business in the apartment as the critter eventually left the box and continued to clean the bathroom.
My roommate waved at me when she came home from work while I was on the sofa binge-watching Netflix on my iPad.
That’s when I heard a scream from the bathroom. I pulled out my earbuds, put them into my pocket, and tossed the iPad on the sofa as I bolted to the bathroom. As I got there, Paige was already backing out of the room, pointing into it.
“What the fuck is that thing?”
“Oh, that thing you’re pointing at. It came out of the cedar chest. It seems to enjoy licking the scum in the bathroom. I think bathroom scum is food for it.”
“But it’s using its long tongue to clean the toilet. How do we get it out of the bathroom?”
“Hold on, let me get the coin.”
“This thing is so gross. Hurry up and get it out of here.”
I bounced to my room and got the Asian coin from my dresser and returned to the bathroom. Entering the bathroom, I held out the coin saying, “Okay, back to the chest you go.”
The red beast scampered past me and Paige, nearly knocking her down, as it returned to the cedar chest.
I gave Paige the coin as I left the bathroom. “You’ll need this to keep it out if you need to use the bathroom.”
"This is ridiculous," Paige muttered, staring at the coin as she shut the door.
I returned and resumed my binge watching until Paige came and stood alongside the sofa.
“Let me start by giving you back the coin that you gave me. Second, we need to talk.”
“It’s about the toad-like beast, isn’t it?”
“I refuse to live with that thing licking the toilet bowl.”
“But it does a great job cleaning the bathroom.”
“I can't believe what you just said. There was a chip in the toilet's porcelain that wasn’t there before. The super is going to charge us for that. That thing is plain creepy, it smells, is a fucking nuisance, and it must go. Use that coin or whatever and get it out of the apartment.” Paige crossed her arms and stomped off to her room.
Paige was not only angry at the situation, but deep down, I knew she was right. The stupid red beast was gross. The thought of showering with a tongue-cleaned tub made me want to go to the community pool. And evidently, its cleaning behavior could do damage, which just makes things worse. That alone would cause us to have to pay another deposit. What I thought was some helpful critter was turning out to be an ordeal. All because I didn’t enjoy cleaning the bathroom. This is what I get for trying to get out of something the easy way. Mom always said those who take short cuts will end up suffering for their choice. Is that what this thing does? Makes people take the easy way out. Like my sister who took her life because she couldn’t take it anymore because of this thing calling to her at night?
I bit my lower lip in thought. Sealing the red beast up back in the box is the simple part. All I must do is put the coin back under the lid when it’s in the box. Getting rid of the chest is the harder part. It’s not like I can sell it, nor can I put it out as trash because someone would steal it off the street. I need to destroy it or hide it far away from people. This is going to take time for me to figure out, and meanwhile I’m going to have to put up with the damn thing calling to me at night. Maybe if I sleep on the sofa it can’t talk to me?
The next morning, Elaine felt someone shaking her. “Huh? What?”
“Elaine, why are you on the sofa?”
“Oh, I can’t sleep in my room. The critter talks to me all night.”
“Are you saying it’s still here? I need to use the bathroom to get ready for work. Do I need that stupid coin?”
“No. I think it’s sealed back in the chest now.”
“You’re still getting rid of it, right?”
“Yeah, as soon as I figure out what to do with the cedar chest.”
“Just toss it somewhere.”
“But then it could haunt someone else, and like my sister, they could kill themselves.”
“What? Are you saying this thing caused your sister’s suicide?”
“I believe so.”
“Elaine, that’s the most insane thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Maybe it is, but honestly, that’s what I think happened to her. She had a long history with depression and maybe hearing voices at night drove her over the edge.”
“Okay, you need to see someone if you are saying this thing caused your sister and you to hear voices.”
“Paige, are you saying I’m crazy? Besides, it was real, and you saw it the other night.”
Stroking her mullet, “Okay, maybe you’re not crazy. But I don’t know what mass hysteria is going on here. All I know is I need to get ready for work, and if that thing is trapped in the chest, take the day off from your work and just dump the chest somewhere. Toss it in the river for all I care.”
The river. That made the most sense. Why didn’t I think of that? All I had to do was fill the chest with some weights or rocks and dump it into the river. Then it couldn’t haunt anyone else until the wood rotted. But maybe it would be trapped in the river? Is that how this works? Maybe it is. At any rate, Siri says it can take five to ten years for the chest to rot, and I might not be in this city anymore. Thus, it is not my problem. Sounds so uncaring of me, but what else can I do? It’s not like I understand how all this weird Asian stuff works, anyway. Oh, that’s so racist of me to think like this, or is it? This critter stuff is making me so confused and mixed up. And it’s not like Siri has been helpful with this long tongue beast. Saying I'm COVID positive will get me four unpaid days off work, enough time to deal with the cedar chest.
During the next four days I slept on the sofa. All the while I bought used weights from Craigslist. I then visited the City’s River Park via Uber, where the water met a steep stone wall. In one big push, I heaved the chest over the guardrail, and then called for another Uber to take me home.
Paige and I resumed our lives. That was until a city police detective with two other officers came one night several weeks later.
I answered the door, as Paige was already asleep, and the detective asked, “Are you Ms. Elaine Gardner?”
“Yes, what’s this about?”
“Did you use an Uber a few nights ago to take a cedar chest to the Riverside Park?”
I struggled to find my words and eventually stammered out, "Uh... I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“Ms. Gardner, the Uber driver you used, had a dash cam pointing to the passenger seats that showed you as a passenger. And the driver noticed that the cedar chest he helped put into his car’s trunk was heavy, as if it had a person’s body in it. His testimony has led us to human remains dumped into the river in a cedar chest filled with gym weights. Are you sure you want to stick to your story of not knowing anything?”
“I think we have a misunderstanding here. There was no human body in it. Just the gym weights and that long tongued creature.”
“Ms. Gardner, I’m placing you under arrest for the murder of Eugene Walsh of Greenford.” The detective continued to tell me my rights as one officer placed me in handcuffs.
As I was being led away from my apartment, I muttered to myself, “Greenford? That’s where my sister lived. That damn beast is framing me for dumping it in the river. It must have killed someone there and stored the body in the chest. That’s the only explanation. But no one is going to believe me. And now it’s going to sit in an evidence room forever while I rot in jail for its crime.
It would be a week later that Paige would visit me after I got a hold of her from the city jail.
Paige used the phone as she looked through the plexiglass at me sitting in a purple jumpsuit saying, “I don’t know why I came here, there’s nothing I can do. Your case is all over social media right now. The super made me move out. I nearly lost my job because my work thought I was involved because the cops kept coming by to ask me questions.”
“I deeply regret my actions, Paige, and I'm sorry. Even my parents will not help me. Dad said they don’t have the money for bail since mom’s hip surgery, and all they could do was their Christian duty to see me in jail.”
“If you want me to post bail, you can forget it. We lost our deposit because the police tore up our old place looking for evidence and I had to use my savings for a new place.”
“No, I need you to testify about that red toad like creature we both saw that night.”
“Oh, hell no! I’m not taking a witness stand to say I saw some toilet licking toad. They’d lock me away for being insane.”
“What I am saying is the truth. That thing killed that dude and has framed me for what I did to it.”
“If you want to go the insanity route, that’s up to you and your lawyer. But you can leave me out of it.” Paige hung up the phone and left.
A guard took me back to my cell. I thought about the toad-faced critter in the cedar chest and how it must be laughing at me right now. Under my breath, I muttered the words "F-U toad. Just F-U.”
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