Twilight advanced quickly as darkness took hold, the distant lights of the village the only sign of company further down the shore. Staring through her own grey reflection upon the tall window, crimson eyes glared out into the inky nothing beyond the glass. She knew the great room overlooked the slope of the yard and the wharf buried under last nights fresh snow but the sickle moon had passed behind a cloud and there was nothing for her to separate in the gloom.
Silence reigned over the dim lake house.
Patiently its occupant stood, as still as a faded mannequin by the multi-story windows which dominated the living space. A small, lily-white hand rested upon the back of the leather armchair in front of her, a thumb brushing across the stitching as a tiny muscle in her wrist flinched under the skin.
Even that minute movement halted when the sound came again; a guttural, strained howl which echoed through the trees, bouncing off the ice on the lake and escaping into the frigid air.
The first time she had heard it, the young woman had been sitting on the sofa, reading by a single end-table lamp. But as the chilling noise shattered the cold night she had jerked to her feet with a gasp, whirling to turn off the light immediately and plunge the house into shadow.
The fox inside her mind was pacing, the plume of its tail low and tight against its body as wary instincts were set on edge. Not even in the depths of the Aokigahara, where the most horrifying of yurei were said to lurk, had the newcomer ever heard a creature such as that...
Shinju waited for several minutes staring unseeing into the night until it came a third time and now her spine stiffened.
It was louder, the direction had shifted and it was getting closer.
Releasing the breath she had been holding as she moved, the argent-haired vulpine whirled away from the windows, her pennant flaying in the dark as she lunged for the door to the deck...
As the hem of her robe brushed against the dry shrub, making the fabric hiss, she regretted not shedding the garment before her hurried exit from the house.
The kimono was double-layered satin, cream in color and embroided with gossamer, white stitching which embossed a faint sakura pattern over the cloth. It had been an indulgence some months ago, reminding her of a yukata which had belonged to her mother displayed in her father's room; now she was ready to hang it on the nearest branch and leave it out there for the crime of making her tense at nothing for the fifth time...
The white figure strode quickly and lightly across the frozen earth, her bare feet having long since turned a shade of indigo under the alabaster skin which was creeping up her ankle. She hardly felt it though, poising at the start of her next step to lift her face to a passing cool night zephyr and breathe deeply. The weather dampened the scents outside and the absence of them made her scalp prickle.
The ghastly sounds had fallen silent and had not come again since she had changed direction from the lake side to head up the slope towards the boundary line alongside the road. Here there were large piles of peeling tree trunks stacked, the earth scraped down to the soil where the machines had cleared the corridor for the fence. She had been using it for firewood and now as she passed the stump that had served as her anvil that morning her little hand snapped around the handle of the axe embedded there. The wood gave a squeak as the metal was yanked loose, air moaning around it as she swung it once, testing the balance of her grip.
Her hand traced the wide band of her obi belted tight around her waist and tucked the sagging neckline of her robe tight to her breast again to soothe the prickling bumps spreading across her skin there. She smoothed her hair around her face as strands brushed her lashes and caught in the mascara there. It was the only accent marking her stark contrasting silhouette in the night as her ghostly countenance moved silently through the treeline...