Paper flowers. Paper flowers...Hanana sighed, reaching out to gently poke at one of the tissue-paper petals, flinching a bit at the sound of the paper crinkling. They were nice and all, very well crafted and wouldn't wilt but...it just wasn't the same. "Excuse me?" she called to a passing shop-keeper. "But do you happen to have any real flowers in?"
The woman shook her head, flashing the younger a condescending smile. "Sorry, dear," she said, the 'dear' being a mere placeholder instead of anything indicating affection or anything of the sort. "We won't have any real ones until summer. You can come back, then or if you're too impatient..." Though Hanana didn't voice her immediate thought--Summer's awfully late for flowers to be in bloom--her face clearly said it all, for the shop-keeper changed course suddenly. "It is a bit unusual to have them so late, perhaps, but it's just how it's done here. Now, if you need flowers for a party or a gift, then we have other kinds of flower further back--"
"No, thank you. I'm sorry to have bothered you," the rose-haired girl interrupted, inclining her head respectfully as she let herself out. She knew what other flowers would be back there: more paper, stiff fabric, or blocks of wood cut into crude flower-shapes and painted. All of which were nice enough, she supposed, but...
Well, she hadn't been able to see a real flower in months. And the move had been too sudden, and too busy and hectic, for her to have time to take something from her admittedly small garden with them.
She sighed again, a bit wistful. She should have known there wouldn't be anything...Her new home was near a forest, yes, but the town itself had hard dirt paths and cobblestones as opposed to grassy lawns and tiny gardens like her hometown. She'd expected that being near a forest would have at least allowed something to grow near the edge of town, where her house was, but there wasn't so much as a dandelion--which was odd, really. The forest itself might have something, but...
"Who saw him?"
"The baker's wife...."
She stopped in her walk, head turning towards the small group of villagers nearby. They were huddled together and speaking in that type of voice where you only pretend to want to keep things private, but really you hope someone hears you, because whatever you had to say was too interesting to keep to yourself. Normally she wouldn't have paid attention, thinking it was something like idle gossip, but their tones sounded serious.
"...doing out there?"
"...had to chase after that boy of theirs. Kid turned around and ran back when she yelled at him, but right before she turned around she saw..."
"...saw him as she was chasing her son, didn't she? She didn't have to--"
"No, thank goodness. Said she found a stray cat on her way back before she found her son, so ...didn't stick around to see if it'd go in there...just ran for it like her heels were on fire."
"Well, lucky for her, then...no one's had to...hate for that day to actually come."
What were they talking about? "Excuse me?" Hanana ventured, trying not to sound too nosy. "But what's happened?" If something or someone dangerous was around, she and her family would have to know.
One man looked up, eyebrows lifted. "You never heard of the demon?" he asked.
The pink-haired woman shook her head, curiosity piquing and eyebrows lowering. Demon?
"Ah, right...new folk," the man muttered. "'course you wouldn't know..." He should have known. He and his neighbors had been careful not to mention the horrible creature around the newcomers.
The girl and her family had arrived so suddenly, around the middle of autumn, when the air was getting colder. On top of that, they were apparently intending to move into the old, abandoned house at the edge of the town, near the forest. Those two facts had raised red flags with everyone in the village, and their first thoughts were that the demon had gotten some poor mortal servants and spies, and was surely planning to kill someone who spoke poorly of him. But after weeks passing and nothing out of the ordinary happening, most of the village had calmed down just a little bit.
Besides, if the demon had a spy, surely she wouldn't pretend to have not heard of him? If anything, a spy would play along and wait until afterwards to report back. It would be alright to tell her--warn her. Of course, there was nothing wrong with having a bit of fun with it...
Trying to hide his smile, the man gestured her to come closer, dropping his voice to a stage whisper that the new girl didn't appear to pick up on. "Long time ago," he began, "back when my great-grandfather was a young man, there was this awful winter. Worst anyone'd seen. It started with a snowstorm that raged for days, the strongest anyone had ever seen. Houses got buried up to the window-tops in snow, and you couldn't stay out for a minute without getting completely blue and numb. The storm eventually calmed down, but the awful cold lasted an entire month. At first, everyone thought it was just nature being strange--it's always unpredictable, yeah?"
Hanana nodded, eyes already wide.
"But it turned out, it wasn't anything to do with nature...for starters, whenever the wind howled, when the snow fell and suddenly flurried everywhere...if you listened carefully, you could hear someone screaming." The man paused for dramatic effect. "First they thought someone was lost out there, but they couldn't find anyone, and it kept happening for days, longer'n any normal person should have lasted. An' it never stopped, nor was it a scared, lost sound--whoever was making the noise was angry.
"But still, no one knew what it was...til right before Winter ended, and my great-grandfather saw someone move along the edge of the forest. He called out to them, thought they'd be cold. Told them to come into the village, find shelter. But the person turned to look at him, and there was this terrible, evil glow...wasn't natural. Then the creature started to move towards him--my great-grandfather ran for it, barely escaping with his life."
The villagers were starting to chuckle amongst themselves a bit. The man telling the story had been dropping his voice lower and lower as he went on, his poor victim leaning to listen better, hanging on his every word. "Don't bore her with the history lessons, tell her what he does NOW," snickered one woman.
"I'm gettin' there!" the man protested. "Anyway, they eventually learned what that thing was...it was a demon. He had come into the forest on the Northern Wind, and had apparently decided to make his home here. He tried to come after the villagers a few times, but mercifully they would always escape. And after a time, the villagers learned a little more about the creature...In addition to being cold and cruel, he didn't like to be seen. Anyone who sets eyes on him, even for an instant, must offer him a tribute, to tell him that they wouldn't tell anyone what they saw. Tribute's gotta be the first living creature they see after they lay eyes on him."
Hanana secretly thought that sounded rather silly...and couldn't help wonder how the villagers had even come to that conclusion. If no one had allowed him to come near, how could they possibly figure out such a thing? And still if they'd never been near him, how did they know what he was like? Still, she kept silent, unable to stop listening despite that little piece of doubt in the back of her mind.
"And he knows when you see him, see...and if you don't give him the tribute, know what he does?"
She shook her head, drawing n a breath.
The man's voice was so low that Hanana had to strain to hear him. "He comes after you...hunts you down...And then with a mere touch...he freezes you to death!" At that, the man clapped a hand on Hanana's shoulder.
She jumped back as if she'd been shocked, giving out a short, startled scream. Her face turned red as the group started laughing at her. That really wasn't funny!
"Ahhh, sorry, didn't mean to scare ya," laughed the man, clearly not meaning it. "But anyway, now ya know. If ya think ya see someone near the forest, don't call out to them, don't approach them, and if you see anything bright and blue--that's probably him. Then just run, and remember what I told you he wants."
"Y-Yeah..." Hanana mumbled, rubbing her arm where he'd touched her and trying to ignore the still-snickering villagers. "Thank you." She hurried off, face still hot.
Still, she couldn't help but wonder...some things just didn't make much sense to her. Why would a demon even appear in this place, and for that matter, weren't they malicious creatures? If there indeed was a demon in the forest, why would it just do nothing? Not even show itself properly? Even in fairy tales, evil spirits would appear to demand respect and fear, and wouldn't sit by and do relatively nothing. And again, how did anyone even know what he supposedly wanted if no one had been near enough to even speak to him?
As she neared the edge of town and took the small path that lead to her house, she glanced off towards the forest. There couldn't be anything there...it was just a story, surely. There were too many holes in the villager's story for it to be real.
Unseen by her, a snowflake fell to earth.