Knee-deep in water, the boy stood facing the vanishing sun, relishing the last minutes of daylight. A cool evening breeze wafted in from behind him and soothed his back, which had been whipped by the heat of the long day. Flesh had begun to peel, and his body was a mixture of light and dark, giving the impression that the entirety of his tiny frame was a shrine to an oversized birthmark.

            Behind him, on the beach, the only other inhabitant of the island was making a fire. The large bear that the boy called Mako walked sturdily on his hind legs and presently he had just ignited the first meager flames of a fire. He growled in delight and the boy turned and smiled.

            "A fire!" He sloshed back towards the shore, moving in rhythm with the rolling waves. He left sloppy footprints in the sand as he joined Mako at their camp, plopping onto a sturdy log that he and the bear had dragged down earlier from the forest. The flames popped and sizzled in delight as Mako offered a fresh sacrifice of brittle twigs. 

            "Fire keeps the shadows away," Mako said in a deep voice that did not scare Chihiko, but made him feel safe and protected. He smiled.

            "No, not the fire. You Mako! No shadows would dare mess with you!"

            Mako grumbled disapprovingly, "No Chihiko. I cannot stop them. I am strong, but not against such blackness."

            The boy brought his knees up to his chin, wrapping his arms tightly around his two slender, hairless legs. He felt a chill run up through his body, an arctic jolt, and the cold mingled with the warmth of the fire, and his body felt confused. He turned his eyes from his great protector, Mako, to the fire, suddenly eyeing it with a newfound awe and respect.

            "You have to leave here soon Chihiko." The bear's words were unexpected, thoughts that had long dwelt inside his mind, but only now come to his tongue and out for the boy to hear.

            Hearing this caused the chill to overcome all other sensations and Chihiko felt himself tremble, "Leave! No,  I won't!"

            "But you must. The only hope of ever being free from this darkness lies somewhere far away… a long way away from this tiny island."

            Chihiko got to his feet and ran to Mako, falling abruptly to the ground. He dug his hands into the sand, and now on all fours he was facing Mako like one of his own kind.

            "No Mako!" He threw his arms around his companion and nestled his head into the thick, brown fur, braided with seaweed, sand, and leaves.

            "Tomorrow. A ship will be here, and you will go onboard."

            "And you too! You'll go, right?"

            "No." Mako shook the boy off and trotted to the edge of the brush, fierce eyes piercing the darkness. He sensed movement, but now all was still and he turned back, ears still perked with awareness.

            Alone, Chihiko sat on the ground. He seemed not to notice Mako making a patrol of the campsite for he was transfixed by the fire and his eyes blazed with its sinister reflection.

            "We will sleep now Chihiko." Mako said as he returned to the boy's side, "You must rise early."

            There was silence for some time save for the ocean lapping against the shore and the whispering palms. Mako had lain down and Chihiko sat with his back propped against him.

            "Why didn't you tell me this sooner?" The boy asked, eyes staring far off into the distance.

            "Shh. No questions now Chihiko. This is the only way to stop being scared. Do you understand?" Mako asked without stirring.

            "I… don't know. I'm scared."

            "I know."

            "But if it will make everything better."

            "It will. You're the only one who can kill the shadows Chihiko. Now sleep."

            A thousand questions in his head the boy thought he would never sleep, but soon his thoughts overwhelmed him and he drowned in them and darkness faded to pitch black.

            Chihiko awoke very suddenly and was instantly aware of the hot sun glaring down upon him and the sand that was caked to his body. He rose and brushed himself off and gazed off towards the horizon. The ocean was varying shades of blue and it wriggled bright yellow under the sun's firm stare. He wiped his eyes to throw off the last remnants of sleep before looking around for Mako. The bear was not at camp.

            "Mako!" Chihiko called, hands cupped to his mouth. When there was no response, his mind raced back to the night before and the ominous warnings he had been given. His stomach groaned with discomfort—a feeling of hunger mixed with fear.

            He turned back around to the sea hoping to find his friend out in the water hunting for fish, but only the waves stirred in their restless, unending dance. Chihiko's face fell into a frown and he kicked at the sand, showering it everywhere. He fell to the ground and crossed his arms and legs.

            "I'm not going anywhere, you here! I'm staying here with you, Mako. So you can stop hiding and hoping I'll leave. I don't care if the shadows stay around… as long as we're here together. Right? We can stay here forever. Or if they do come for us… we can fight together. But not alone. Never alone." Chihiko dug his feet into the soft beach, planting them there as if to assure that he would never leave the island.

            That's when he saw the ship rounding the cape. His eyes grew wide and he quickly scrambled to his feet, nearly tripping over himself in his haste. He ran to the shore, water splashing in his wake.

            "No! Go away!" He waved his hands, but in vain—the vessel was growing steadily closer. He scurried back up the bank and to the camp, "Mako! Please… please come out!"

            With a large phoenix carved to the front of it, the bright red ship should have seemed majestic, but for Chihiko it symbolized his greatest fear. He was at home on the island, away from everything. Just him and Mako—that's all he needed. But now… he looked back over his shoulder at the ship. It was moving uncannily fast and had nearly reached his shore, and then—it stopped. Chihiko took a deep breath and held it. For a moment all was still. Steam rose from the ship's towering stacks, but there was no sound to be heard. He let out a deep woosh of air and gasped for more.

            And then there was movement. The forms slid swiftly from the ship and down its side where they hovered inches from the water as they floated towards land. Eyes wide with sudden terror, Chihiko walked blindly backwards until he felt the hard trunk of a tree ram into his back. He felt the urge to run, but his legs were weak and useless, and he could only stand there, leaning against the tree for support. The shapes continued to file off the boat and the first of the group had arrived on his beach.

            Chihiko squinted at the mysterious figures. They were square, but of different sizes and colors and patterns. Fluffy. They were fluffy.

            "Don't come any closer!" Chihiko warned them, holding his hands directly out in front of him, brow creased and spattered with sweat. He tilted his head and examined the creatures again and they seemed to be analyzing him too. More and more of them swarmed onto the beach until the last of them hovered up to join the mass.

            "You," One of the things said.

            "Are," Another spoke.

            "To," One further towards the back shouted.

            "Come," A green striped one said in a song-song voice.

            "With," Chihiko turned his head to the latest speaker—a ratty old white thing smaller than most the others.

            "Us!" A large, purple one finished happily.

            Chihiko's mouth hung open slightly. He swallowed hard, "W-what are you?"

            The creatures turned to each other and mumbled. They had no faces save for a tiny opening that seemed to be a mouth and presently these tiny opening were moving very fast as every single one of them talked at once, though Chihiko could not discern a single word. Then, in unison, the creatures became silent. A fairly large, rectangular shaped one pushed through the crowd and came to the front, facing Chihiko from only a few feet away.

            "We are the Pillow People. I am Dozey, chief pillow of my tribe." He arched his soft form over into a comical looking bow and then stood straight again, "We have come to collect you."

            Chihiko bit his lip nervously. Just as Mako had said a ship had come and he was supposed to go—to leave. Surely these strange creatures were nothing to be afraid of, and that anxiety in him had subsided, but he still did not want to get onboard. No matter hoe friendly these Pillow People were, his place was with his friend.

            "You will drive away the shadows!" Dozey proclaimed in such a way that it startled Chihiko back into the moment and out of his thoughts, "You will kill them!"

            "Kill! Kill! Kill!" A chant rose up amongst the pillows and they began to jump up and down as one flowing unit. Their tiny mouths continued to yell and the sound only grew louder until it suddenly just died out as quick as it had started and they were somber and still once more.

            "I'm just a boy. I'm weak! My friend—Mako—he can help you, but not me."

            Dozey hopped closer to Chihiko so that they were nearly touching, "Stop telling yourself that. You'll just remain unhappy."

            "But I am happy!" Chihiko protested.

            "No. You won't be able to truly live until they're gone."

            "Kill, kill, kill," The pillows started again, but this time only in a hushed whisper.

            Chihiko turned back towards the woods. Mako was somewhere in there right now and if he left now he might never see his friend again. But as nice as the pillows seemed he knew they were not giving him a choice, and he felt even more sure of this as they began to draw closer, encircling him.

            Dozey began to back away and he merged with all the rest, his slightly higher top poking out just enough that Chihiko could keep from losing sight of him. On all sides he could feel the pillows soft bodies pushing into him, and before he knew it they had borne him up on top of them and were carrying him like a flying carpet might carry its magical sultan. He tried to crawl backwards off of them, but it was no use and he could only stare at his island as it moved away from him and out of his grasp.

            "Mako!" He let out one last, futile cry, but it was devoured by the wind.

            The pillows were hovering over the water now and Chihiko felt weightless. They were moving very fast, and the breeze whipped at his naked body, tossing his long, brown hair effortlessly around and allowing his eyes to open only as small slits. And while the island grew more distant, the ship became extremely big, revealing itself in its full glory to Chihiko for the first time. He felt overwhelmed by its grandeur and for a second time he could not breathe.

            "Wonderful isn't it?"

            Chihiko looked directly down. The voice had come from under his hand and when he snatched it away he saw he had been covering up one of the pillows mouths.

            "I'm sorry!" He exclaimed, crawling backwards.

            "Oww! Be careful!" Another one shouted and Chihiko spun back the other way sitting up on his knees and holding his arms out to his sides, afraid that if he moved again he would anger yet another one.

            "Oh don't get so upset Snorie! He doesn't know any better." The first pillow said to the other.

            "Oh mind your own damn business Drift!"

            "Well I don't think Dozey will take to kindly to the idea that his own pillows are abusing the boy." Drift said smugly.

            "I did not abuse him!" Said Snorie.

            "Verbally."

            Chihiko said nothing as the two argued, but he noticed that they were going higher. As they ascended, he was eye-to-eye with the statue on the front of the large phoenix. The head was uplifted as if the bird was bellowing to the heavens and its feathers were painted in varying shades of orange and red. Chihiko wanted to know why it was there, but before he could ask he felt himself jerked up and then down again. His foot knees landed on something hard.

            "Now you've done it! You went and dropped him!" Drift said irritably.

            "I put him down like I was supposed to." Snorie retaliated.

            "Forget it." Drift floated down to Chihiko and seemes to be examining him for any cuts or bruises, "Well luckily you look okay. Are you?"

            "I'm… fine" He stood up and dusted off his knees.

            "Fantastic!" Drift jumped up and hovered eye-level with Chihiko, "We're very excited to have you onboard you know?"

            He nodded weakly only to be polite. In reality he had no idea. Or maybe he did. And he was just. Scared.

            "Bloody water," Snorie grumbled, joining them, "I'm soaked."

            "Well you shouldn't fly so close to the water." Drift said.

            "Well if the boy hadn't been sitting right on me maybe that would have been possible!"

            Chihiko blushed, "I'm sorry. I can.. umn.. ring you out if you'd like."

            Snorie scooted away, "No, no. I won't be having myself treated like a measly washcloth. I have my dignity to keep." He spun around and trotted off and around the corner. Chihiko's eyes followed him and as they did he took in his first real glimpse of the ship from the inside. It was almost entirely red here too except for a hint of yellow or orange now and again and every bit of wood was ornately carved—little bird heads on the posts, swirled designs etched into the posts and stairs and even the floor. There was no detail that went unnoticed. And the most unusual things were the posts that flanked it on all four corners—tall, spiraling poles that stretched high above him so that he had to tilt his head straight up to see their ends.

            "This ship is amazing," Chihiko said, for the first time not thinking about the home he was leaving behind.

            "Isn't it though? It's our home."

            "You mean you live on here? Always?"

            "Yep. We rarely ever leave. Today was a special occasion though," Drift said, "Ah can you feel that!?"

            "What?"

            "Shh."

            Chihiko hushed and listened intently and it was then that he felt a low rumble beneath him, shaking the ship ever so slightly.

            "We're moving," Drift confirmed.

            Chihiko ran swiftly and suddenly to the railing and peered out across the endless blue at his island. The ship was gaining speed and beginning to move extraordinarily fast as he had seen when it had first come. His little portion of beach was nearly lost from sight all together, and they were rounding the island back around the cape.

            "We're going to the Stairway Mountains. That's where we're dropping you off."

            Chihiko turned to Drift, "Dropping me off? You mean you're not going with me all the way?" He asked, worried again.

            "We can't. But you must—kill, kill, kill!"

            Chihiko thought he saw something fierce and frightening in Drift as he said those words, but he could not tell for sure. The pillows had no faces after all. For now though he did not want to think about the future. He had gotten this far without breaking down, and if he let his mind move too quickly he might lose the grip he had on his sanity.

            He cast his eyes back out to the island. He had never seen it from afar like this—it was beautiful. The swaying palms, the pure white sand, the flourishing flowers that belonged to every spectrum of the rainbow—yellow, blue, purple, orange, red… red…red…

            There was red streaking the beach in a long, snaking trail. Chihiko's eyes followed it till it ended in a large, brown lump. Red. Red blood marring the perfect sand. The blood of Mako.

            "Noooooo!" Chihiko screamed, clutching at the rail, trying to throw himself overboard. Drift and several others pulled him back though and held him firmly.

            "Mako! Mako! No!" Large tears has welled up in his eyes and slid down his face one after the other. His hands gripped the rail with inhuman strength and the wood splintered and his own blood spilled out and dripped down the post and onto the floor, coloring it two shades of red.

            The pillows were gathering around him and chanting again—"Kill, kill, kill!" But it didn't matter anymore. Chihiko was going to kill the shadows for him and Mako. Now his friend was gone and he didn't care if right then and there ha had died too.

            Before he could let everything sink in the world went dark and he was in a room, alone on a bed. There was white stuffing all around him and bits of brown fur. And a dark figure standing in the corner.

            "You're unhappy. And you'll never be content until they're gone. Everyone is right Chihiko—embrace their words. 'kill…. Kill…. Kill…'"

            And as soon as the room had come it was gone and Chihiko was staring at a cloudless sky with tears still clinging to his eyes.