Where Readers & Writers Connect
“Jimmy? Jimmy!” His mother’s voice carried from the other end of the block. Tommy didn’t relish his brother’s fate. There would be hell to pay when his dad got home.
Tommy ascended the wooden stairs and stepped across the creaky floorboards. A few orange and red leaves from the maples in the front yard clustered in the corner of the top step.
“Go and ask Mr. Yamokama if you can look for Jimmy in his garden,” his mother had instructed.
“Can’t I just go in by the creek and look?”
“We don’t trespass. Now ask him.”
Mr. Yamokama bought the house five years ago when the last of the Miltons died. A stone and mortar wall–at least six feet high, taller than Tommy–enclosed the half-acre garden that extended from the back of the house to a stream that bordered a wooded park. A section of the wall along the stream had collapsed, its foundation washed out from years of flooding, granting access to the garden for anyone who didn’t mind getting their feet wet. The last Milton had allowed the garden to go wild, a magnet to the neighborhood kids.
No one knew much about Mr. Yamokama. He kept to himself. He would have been tagged a recluse, but everyday he was out puttering around his yard, trimming, weeding, planting, raking. A lawn service handled the mowing. Everything about Mr. Yamokama was neat and tidy, so none of the WASPs minded a little bit of Japan living in their midst.
Tommy pressed the doorbell. A Japanese man with a slight stoop and not much taller than Tommy, who was tall for a 6th grader, opened the door and peered at him through wire-framed, round spectacles. Bushy white eyebrows peeked over the top of each lens.
“Yes?” said the old man.
“My mother said to ask if I could look in your garden for my brother.”
Mr. Yamokama rubbed the front of his bald head then stepped past Tommy onto the porch. “Come.”
Tommy struggled to keep pace with the spry old man as they rounded the porch.
“What’s that?” said Tommy. On a wicker table sat a white, miniature house frame.
“Bone house. From mouse bones in owl pellets.”
Tommy peered closer at the house and all the tiny bones glued together. “Cool,” he said. “How long did it take you to make that?”
“Much time and patience. I bleached the bones in the sun to make them white, the color of death.”
“Oh.” Tommy looked up to find Mr. Yamokama staring at him. Maybe it was the talk of owls but the predatory intensity of Mr. Yamokama’s eyes unnerved him. As they crossed the porch, Tommy glanced back. Something about the house troubled him. All that death, all those little mice trapped inside Mr. Yamokama’s creation, and every little mouse the victim of an owl’s crushing talons and ripping beak.
They descended the steps at the back of the porch into the garden and followed a brick-paved walkway toward the creek. Near the house, Mr. Yamokama had pulled weeds, trimmed bushes, and planted flowers.
“Jimmy? Jimmy!” Tommy scanned the increasingly dense foliage.
Mr. Yamokama drew up before a stone bench. Tommy stopped himself just before crashing into him. The old man knelt beside a mulched sapling that had been snapped near the ground. The broken trunk lay beside it.
“My cherry tree.”
“Sorry,” said Tommy. “Someone break it?”
“No respect,” said Mr. Yamokama. “No respect. Your brother, he play in the creek?”
“He’s not supposed to get muddy.”
“Maybe kappa got him.”
“In Japan, kappa lives in streams. Sharp teeth inside its beak for grabbing. It preys on children. Drowns them. I once played hide and seek with another boy. I hid behind a kaya tree then I heard a splash. Never find the boy.”
“They say kappa builds house underwater from the bones.”
Mr. Yamokama nodded.
A chill tingled down Tommy’s spine.
“Tommy?” His mother’s voice carried across the garden from the street.
“Now she looks for you.” Mr. Yamokama’s lips parted in a toothy grin.
Tommy’s eyes stretched open. Mr. Yamokama’s pointed teeth gleamed, sharp like a kappa’s. For a moment Tommy stood frozen then he ran like a mouse who has seen an owl.