Bursts of noise come from upstairs—the sound of television tuned to nothing, shouting its emptiness at the world.
The room is seething with motes of white and black.
They are hungry and they live in abandoned houses where someone has left a television on and they cling to human flesh like leeches. They are hungry. But they do not eat today.
Today Mei screams.
The sound of her scream cuts across the noise. It drives the static sprites before it. It maddens and hurts them. They swirl back into the television set, bits of puffy white and black jockeying for place, until the last of them squeezes in at last and in darkness and silence a white ring shines forth.
“That’s very good, Mei,” her father says.
Mei giggles happily.
Mei’s father is a forensic archaeologist. He investigates mysterious and horrible deaths with the invaluable assistance of his two adorable daughters, Satsuki and Mei.
The three of them have moved to a fabulous new house that their father knew about because its previous owner died in a horrible mysterious way. It was an incredible bargain.
But it’s haunted by the evils of modern entertainment.
Mei goes down to the booze cellar one day to play and she sees this guy. This strange guy. This strange little spirit-rabbit guy walking on the shelf above the port.
This guy above the port is the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
Mei follows him.
He meets up with another, larger guy, in a more modern dead channel blue.
They notice her following. They’re a bit perturbed. They run.
They lead her out of the house and through the woods and to an abandoned well. They run out along its wooden lid. She follows. The lid cracks. Mei falls.
Down and down she tumbles, like Alice, and lands on the stomach of a beautiful drowned lady.
“Unh,” the lady grunts.
Then the lady tries to go back to sleep.
It’s not very easy to get to sleep when you’re at the bottom of a well. It might sound cool and soothing but in practice your hair is always getting algae on it and the rocks dig into the hollow of your back and you find yourself thinking that really it would be nice if somebody would pull you out of the well. Also sometimes you are an inhuman creature who had never previously slept since the day you were born.
So when the lady had finally gotten to sleep and then Mei fell on her her first instinct was something on the order of, “Just another few minutes, Mom.”
But Mei is prodding her.
“Hi, lady,” Mei says.
Finally the lady opens her eyes. She mumbles something in Japanese and tries to afflict Mei with terrible visions.
“Sa-ma-ra?” Mei says.
She beams happily.
“Your name is Samara!”
Satsuki and her father look for Mei. They find her laying in front of the television set and twitching.
“You must have had an epileptic seizure,” her father says.
But Mei shakes her head.
“I was with a magical decaying girl at the bottom of a well!”
“Hmm,” her father says, thinking. “That might have been Samara. She is the keeper of the Juzou Mori.”
“Ohhhh,” say Mei and Satsuki.
They run around saying, “Samara! Samara!”
“Hmm, we should really get phone service,” their father says.
One night when their father is out investigating a hideous vivisection-initiated murder in the outskirts of town Satsuki gets an idea.
“Father didn’t bring a body bag today,” she says. “What if he needs to bring the corpse back with him? We should go meet him at the bus stop!”
“Bus stop!” Mei says, delighted.
They go to wait at the bus stop. Mei falls asleep on the way. She begins moaning and twitching.
“I bet Samara’s afflicting you with emanations,” Satsuki says.
She sighs fondly.
Mei is always getting afflicted with psychic emanations. Satsuki, who is older, is more often kidnapped by deranged lunatics.
Satsuki picks Mei up and carries her to the bus stop. To her delight Samara is standing there as if waiting for a bus.
Satsuki looks at Samara.
Samara looks at Satsuki.
“It must be hard to be dead and all alone in the forest,” Satsuki says. Then she chews on her lip. It’s hard to say what she is going to say next. “Would you like a body bag?”
Samara looks at her.
Satsuki closes her eyes and bows and holds out the body bag, blushing.
Then Samara takes the body bag. She steps into it. She zips it up. She beams delightedly, one must suppose. After a moment, the bag unzips a little and a pale hand emerges to offer Satsuki a videotape.
“Oh! Do you want me to take it?” Satsuki asks.
Samara just holds out the videotape.
“Thank you!” Satsuki says.
She takes the videotape. She looks at it.
“Um, it’s Rated R for extremely disturbing scenes and a curse,” she says.
Samara zips up her body bag. She doesn’t say anything.
After a bit a bus-like horror shows up. It has the face of a cat and its eyes burn static. Its upholstery is flesh and fur. It has no driver. Samara hops awkwardly on board.
“Ohhh,” Satsuki says.
Samara does not look back but she speaks. “When you record data onto a bus, it develops cat-like features. This lasts for seven days.”
The bus doors close. Grinning horribly, the creature leaps away.
“Wait!” Satsuki calls suddenly. “Wait! How do you record data onto a bus?”
But the creature is gone.
That night, when she tells the story to their father, he nods wisely.
“If she died in terrible agony,” she says, “then little things like recording data onto busses is not surprising.”
“I want to die in terrible agony!” Satsuki says.
Her father laughs.
He shakes his head.
Satsuki looks pleadingly at him. Mei bounces around, saying, “Die! Die!”
“Well,” their father says, kindly, “Let’s just watch the tape.”
They watch the tape. It shows them a house filled with terrible soot creatures, lumbering beasts with leaves on their heads, barbaric ritual dances, and a woman gasping for life in a hospital far from home.
There is a pause.
Then the video resolves into the image of a ring
“Hmm, we should really get phone service,” their father says again.
A shadowy figure picks up the phone.
A voice says, “Seven—”
But their father turns the television off.
He’s just noticed!
The girls are fast asleep.
“So young,” he says. “I guess you have to be an old-timer to be scared by all these dead people.”
He carries them off to bed.
One morning Mei has a terrible psychic intuition.
“It’s mother,” she says.
“Mother’s dead,” Satsuki says.
“Not any more!” Mei protests.
“Let her rest in peace,” Satsuki says. “She probably hasn’t forgotten the last time!”
But Mei starts crying.
“Mei—” Satsuki says.
“No!” Mei shouts.
She bursts onto her feet, tears streaming down her face, and charges out of the room, slamming the thin screen door behind her.
“Mei?” Satsuki says.
Satsuki goes to the door. She opens it. She looks outside.
Satsuki’s face pales. Mei has vanished.
“What do I do?” Satsuki says. “What do I do?”
She runs around in a circle.
Then she stops. She calms herself.
“She’s probably just in a spirit world,” Satsuki says. “Halfway between life and death. Oh, father should be here!”
She clenches her fists.
She is only a little assistant. She is not good at solving hideous mysteries on her own. But her father is at work investigating a mysterious death and her mother is hopefully still buried in the steel-chained coffin so she is on her own.
“The tape,” she says.
She goes to the television room. She turns on the television. She flips past Mr. Headroom and Mr. Krueger. She finds a blank channel and puts in the video.
It shows a game show. Teenagers with meat strapped to their heads are sticking their heads through holes into a cage with a gila monster in it.
“No, no, no!” Satsuki says. She hits the television. “Mei you shouldn’t have taped over the cursed tape!”
The gila monster approaches one of the teenagers, who screams and ducks.
Then in the distance Satsuki sees Samara.
“Oh, thank God,” she says.
“This is unexpected,” the game show host is saying. “Not just a gila monster, but also some kind of unliving . . .”
Samara gives him a chilling glance and he stops.
“Somebody call a forensic archaeologist!” a contestant shrieks. The gila monster lunges. But we do not see the ending.
Samara obscures it as she crawls from the screen.
Samara stares at Satsuki.
“Samara, Samara,” Satsuki says. “Mei’s gone! Mei’s gone into some kind of terrible netherworld between light and darkness!”
Samara looks at her still.
Then slowly Samara’s mouth widens into a hellish grin.
Samara gestures towards the door. The sky goes dark and fills with twisting clouds and lightning flares. The wind blows deep and cold.
Yielding a horrible howl unto the world, a seven-day bus creature lands before the door.
Satsuki looks back at Samara.
“Do you want me to get in? Do you want me to get in, Samara?”
Then, because Samara gives no indication, Satsuki scrambles into the cat-like bus and seats herself amongst its bulging clumps of fur.
The door slams shut and fades away.
Through realms of darkness and horror the bus flies, its mouth fixed in a bared-teeth smile. Its eyes cast forth static unto the mist.
Then Satsuki sees her—Mei—suspended amongst the permeable and nebulous tendrils of the netherworld, eyes blank and purple fires burning in her open mouth.
Before this majestic and infernal vision the bus goes still.
Its headlights shine upon the younger girl.
Its engine stops.
Its door manifests and opens again.
“I have lived for seven days,” it says.
And as Satsuki steps from the bus she can see the material form returning to it; and it plunges from the world of horror into the world of things; and she closes her eyes tightly against a strange butterfly of grief that flies within her chest.
Mists surround her now.
She can hear the songs of the tormented dead, calling to her, bidding her to join them in their suffering.
But she opens her eyes, and she says, “Mei.”
And Mei wakes.
“You can’t be with Mom yet,” Satsuki says.
And she takes Mei into her arms, and pulls away into the living world.
Terror fades to light.
That’s the last time either of them see Samara or watch her magical tape. But Samara watches over them always.
Seven days before you die, they say, she makes a bus for you.
She makes a bus for you, so that you will not go unaccompanied into the dark.
Against the warm fur of a cat you shall ride to whatever is your destination; and where that is not even a forensic archaeologist may know.