One Last Shriek

by Umiyuri Katsuyama

Translated by Toshiya Kamei

This story originally appeared in The Fortnightly Review

Mind you, merfolks live in the mountains, too, not just the ocean. Of course, they need water to survive. Deep in the mountains, streams gush forth and never freeze in winter. That’s where merfolks live.

Toraibuchi was such a mountain stream. Though nobody had seen such creatures. The family who owned Toraibuchi enjoyed prosperity. Their mansion had an ostentatious gate like a temple’s. Chirping birds perched on the wide, sloping thatched roof. They kept several horses in the barn. Their daughters wore red kimonos, and played with expensive-looking embroidered balls.

When I was young, I worked for that family. That year, snow never accumulated even though the winter solstice neared. To make my rounds, I began hiking in the morning. Around noon, I reached a blue pool. I sat by the river and opened my lunchbox. I gobbled rice with pickled vegetables and salted fish. After I was done, I crouched down next to the stream to rinse my lunchbox. Then a pair of piercing dark eyes peered out of a deathly pale face. Oh, this must be a merfolk, I thought. Let me catch it. I spread my tenugui out and scooped the creature up. Once it was out of water, it let out a loud shriek. Startled, I fell on my butt and let go of the creature. It was as large as a human baby. It had a black and pink scaled body like a carp and a human face. Razor-sharp teeth filled its mouth. It gave me the creeps. The creature leaped up and bit my wrist. It hurt like hell. I threw it against the ground, stomped on it, and dropped it in the stream.

Look, the bastard left me with deep teeth marks. After all these years, they still throb when the weather turns cold. The following year, Japan entered the Pacific War. After the war, GHQ issued a directive on land reform, and the family lost their mountain. Who knows what happened to the stream?

© Copyright Umiyuri Katsuyama

Umiyuri Katsuyama is a Japanese writer of fantasy and horror. In 2011, she won the Japan Fantasy Novel Award with her novel Sazanami no kuni. Her latest novel, Chuushi, ayashii nabe to tabi wo suru, was published in 2018. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous horror anthologies in Japan.

Toshiya Kamei holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Arkansas. His translations have appeared in venues such as Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Strange Horizons.

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