"That which does not kill us, will only prolong the suffering..." --Ghost Girl
The Adventures of Ghost Girl: The Manga
, by Kanako Miyamoto.
Copyright 2072, Toyko3000 Publishing Inc, Tokyo, Japan. All Rights Reserved

Tokyo, Japan. December 22nd, 2026

Happiness, as an emotion for most people, usually meant feelings of warmth, companionship, and acceptance. But for children, it could be defined as a feeling of being loved. Of being with someone who loved them unconditionally. This was where the true heart of a child lay. Innocence, before the cynicism of adulthood would ultimately take root and cause happiness to become that much more difficult to find. Only by becoming a parent, could an adult finally regain that feeling of joy. For parents, happiness could be defined by the smiles of their children.

Yumiko beamed up at her mother as they walked down the crowded sidewalk towards the train station. Christmas ornaments and wreaths of green plastic garlands changed the street from its ordinary somber colors to the warm green and red tones associated with the coming holidays. It was enough to inspire even the most cynical of people to be more pleasant to others. The recession that had plagued Japan for the last fifteen years was finally ending, and the holidays were almost an informal celebration. This celebration wasn't necessarily for everyone, but the times didn't seem so financially tight anymore.

To young lovers, Christmas in Japan was considered to be a time of romance and love. To those who had grown older, wiser, and more connected with their loved ones, Christmas was a holiday for their children. A time to bring smiles to the products of their love, bad economy be damned.

Ren Takajima looked down at her six-year-old daughter and returned the smile.

"What are you grinning about, chibi-chan?" Ren asked.

Yumiko was normally a reserved child, who, between her bouts of spontaneous excitement that all six-year-olds seemed to possess, would sit in quiet contemplation. Today Yumiko looked ready to launch like a rocket over the low hanging tinsel adorning the street.

"I'm excited!" Yumiko replied with a wide grin.

"And what are you excited about?" Ren returned, already knowing the answer.

Yumiko's grin grew wider, her soft, elfin-like face glowing. She was an adorable child, with dark brown hair and big brown eyes. Many of Ren's friends had warned her that little Yumiko would be '...quite the heartbreaker when she was older'. It made Ren tired wondering if it had anything to do with Yukio, Yumiko's late father.

"Because it's Christmas in three days, mama!" Yumiko said matter-of-factly.

Ren's smiled faltered slightly. It had been very tight for her that year, with Yukio being absent from the picture, and the move to their new apartment in one of Tokyo's smaller wards.

Things had changed dramatically in Japan since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Crime rates had gone up, the cost of living had increased, and the economic market had fallen. The ward Ren had moved them to wasn't really the best place to raise a daughter, considering how ugly the neighborhood was, but with her low income there hadn't been much of a choice. Their residence needed to be cheap and easily forgotten, in case they needed to run again.

For a year, it seemed that running with her small daughter was all that Ren could do. Running and hiding, like frightened mice. The one thing that Ren feared the most, however, was the day she would have to explain to Yumiko just what it was they were running from, and why.

The apartment itself was somewhat of a loft style with a single western style bathroom containing a showerstall and a toliet. The walls of the new apartment were thin enough to hear the snores of the old man who lived next door, and the moans and groans of the woman on their other side, who seemed to lead a rather promiscuous lifestyle. It made Ren feel somewhat depressed when she realized that both she and Yumiko were quite used to such living conditions.

Yumiko hadn't asked for much that Christmas, but Ren could see it in her daughter's eyes. The sight of a big, brown teddy bear in a store window several weeks before had lit up the child's face in a way that brought tears to Ren's eyes. But Yumiko hadn't said a word about it. It broke Ren's heart that the best she could afford for Yumiko was a teddy bear that would fit comfortably in the palm of the little girl's hand. Toys were a luxury that they simply could not afford. However, like most parents, Ren felt her daughter deserved the world, and she wanted to give it to her, especially since it was their first Christmas after Yukio had passed on.

My little girl... One day I'll make this all up to you. We'll never have to run again and we won't have to be afraid anymore. We can just be a family, like you deserve.

"How about some taiyaki for the train ride home?" Ren suggested. The woman's smile returned to its former proportions at the sudden gleam in Yumiko's warm brown eyes. The thought of the toasty, golden waffle stuffed with azuki bean paste filled the child with glee.

"Can we, mama?"

Ren gripped Yumiko's hand a little tighter.

"I wouldn't have offered if we couldn't, silly." Ren replied with a wink.

Neither of them noticed the shadows that seemed to follow them. There were five of them, and they gave off an aura of brutality that could only be associated with living on the wrong side of the law. The tallest and most brutal of them was their leader, a man named Shun Kurokawa. His hair was jet-black, and hung behind his neck in a shaggy, unkempt mane. At only twenty years of age, he had already been arrested more than a few times for assault, attempted rape, and armed robbery. What with the sorry state of the Japanese legal system, none of the charges would stick. So there he was. Back on the street. And daddy had picked a sweet one, oh yeah, daddy had picked a REAL sweet one. The money in their pockets was just the icing on the cake.

"Is that them, Shun?" one of the other men asked. His name was Tetsu Kurokawa. One could regard him as second-in-command of their little gang as well as Shun's younger brother. While not as tall as Shun, he was broad and muscular, and he shared a similar rap-sheet, having grown up with his brother in the empty streets that dotted the economic wasteland on the outlying wards of Tokyo Prefecture.

The other three, Toru Shiratori, Yasuhiro Kotoko, and Ryotaro Toyuchi, simply tended to fall in line behind the brothers, always following their lead. Truth be told, between the three of them, there was a combined education of a graduating elementary school student. Shun and Tetsu were considered the geniuses of the group, since they had at least made it through high school.

"Yeah, that's them." Shun answered, his teeth gleaming in a predatory grin. This was going to be so much fun. And getting paid for it. Oh yeah, this really WAS a sweet one, daddy.

"Hey baby... wassup?"

Ren could feel the sweat on her brow begin to drip down her face and into her collar as she hurried down the sidewalk, daughter in tow. Yumiko looked innocently up at her mother.

"Are they talking to us, mama?" the little girl asked. Ren gripped her hand tighter around Yumiko's. They were almost at their building. Almost at the safety of the apartment. It seemed that the dark terrors of the world always held the homestead to be inviolate, like pulling the covers over your head to hide from the bogey-man. They would be safe in the apartment. They had to be safe in the apartment. That was what Ren kept telling herself, in the hope that repetition would eventually make it fact.

"Just ignore them, Yumi-chan." Ren muttered. She could see the door to the building coming up. She hurriedly picked Yumiko up in her arms and slung the child on her hip as she dug out her keys.

"You need any help, mama-chan?" One of the shadows leered as they came closer. "We could hold that sweet thing for ya while you find your keys..." There was a nasty slurping sound, "Or maybe you want us to dig them out for ya..."

Ren slammed the door key home and rushed the two of them into the cramped building lobby, pushing the door shut behind them. She could hear hyena-like laughter outside the door and suddenly Ren's faith in the buildings front door lock dropped to an all time low. Clutching Yumiko in one arm and the shopping bags in the other, she ignored their mailbox and sprinted up the stairs to the third floor.

"Mama, what's wrong?" Yumiko asked, her face a mask of worry as she clutched Ren's neck. Mama always checked the mail when they came home.

"Nothing, sweetie," Ren breathed as she unlocked their apartment door, "nothing at all."

Ren let Yumiko slide down to the floor before dropping the shopping bags. Her heart was pounding. Those men. They couldn't POSSIBLY be from... Ren shook her head, then looked quickly around the small apartment. They had to move again. Now.

There was a light knock on the door. Ren turned to the peephole just in time to see a large man lift his heavy boot and draw it back.

The thin metal door bent down the middle as it burst into their apartment. Ren had a moment to scream before a steel pipe crashed down on her skull.

"Dude..." Tetsu knelt down and held a hand to the collapsed woman's throat. He glared up at his older brother. "I think she's fucking dead!"

Shun stuffed the bloody pipe into his front pants pocket. He turned to his brother with a wicked grin on his face as he gestured at the weapon, leaving blood stains on his pants from where he wiped his hands.

"Looks like my cock, huh?" Shun said with a giggle.

There was an weak moan from the collapsed woman, attracting the two brothers' attention. Shun crossed his arms and shifted his gaze back at his younger sibling, a wide grin on his face. "See? She ain't fucking dead."

Ren Takajima barely felt anything. Her eyes were filled with her own blood, blinding her, but she could make out the muffled voices of her attackers. She knew that death was coming soon, the dead weight of her body made it fairly obvious. Dimly, she could feel one of the strange men roughly kneading her breast through her blouse. Then her shirt was ripped open.

The other three gang members had followed Tetsu and Shun and were examining the apartment contents. Shun, however, was on a little hunt of his own. He began to prowl the small apartment as his brother went to work on the dying woman. The little girl was hiding. Shun loved it when they hid. It made him think of Hide 'n' Seek.

"Here, chickie chickie..." Shun purred as he moved, "Big daddy won't hurt you... Come out, come out wherever you are..."

Yumiko sat behind the couch, her knees were drawn up to her chest and she was shivering. She could hear guttural grunts coming from the direction of the front door, interspersed with periodic cackles.

"Come out, come out, little one..."

Yumiko could feel her heart racing. An ugly face suddenly appeared over the edge of the couch.

"There you are! Big daddy found you!"

Yumiko shrieked, then grabbed the electrical cord to the table lamp that sat next to the couch. With a frantic yank, she pulled the lamp off the table and jerked the plug from the wall. The two-pronged power cord snapped upward and caught Shun just below his left eye.

"Jesus Fucking Christ!" Shun yelled, slapping his hand to his face and falling backwards. In the confusion, Yumiko tried to scurry away, hoping to make it to the bedroom. The entire couch suddenly lurched backwards, pinning Yumiko painfully against the wall. She cried out.

Shun dragged Yumiko out from behind the couch, pinning her small wrists together in one big hand. He wasn't smiling anymore, and his upper cheek was bleeding.

"Now that wasn't very nice, little girl." Shun growled, his eyes narrowing.

Tears had begun to flow down the little girl's cheeks making them nice and wet. She looked terrified. Shun shook his head. The girl was in need of punishment. He gingerly touched his bleeding cheek and winced. That was going to leave a mark.

"Boys," Shun said, his eyes glinting wickedly as he addressed his compatriots, "let's have some fun with her until she breaks."

Yumiko squeezed her eyes shut, biting back a scream as Shun tore open the front of her school uniform.

His name was Lieutenant Kazuma Ishimaru of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Kazuma was exactly what his colleagues in the department considered to be the perfect representation of a hard-ass. He was thirty-eight years old and married with two beautiful daughters. The other cops would rib Kazuma, suggesting that he practiced being a hard-ass in preparation for when his girls brought their boyfriends home. Kazuma thought that notion was ridiculous. Ami was only ten, and Reiko was only twelve. Kazuma had plenty of time.

That night Kazuma had chosen to take a slightly different route home. The neighborhood may have been a shithole, but it provided a convenient shortcut whenever things got too mucked up on the expressway. Considering it was close to 4am, heavy traffic on the expressway wasn't the reason he chose to cut through this small Tokyo ward. It was more on a whim, if anything. Kazuma couldn't explain why he chose to take this shortcut. But he cruised slowly down the street, his finger tapping lightly on the steering wheel in time with the music on the radio.

Five men suddenly burst out of one of the low-end apartment buildings, cackling like demons. Kazuma slammed his brakes with a curse, skidding to a quick stop as the men cut in front of his car. They took off down the street, howling like wolves at the moon. Growling, Kazuma slammed the car into 'Park', and then quickly climbed out of the vehicle. He considered chasing down the hoodlums and explaining to them the risks of jumping out in front of oncoming cars, then decided against it. There was a dangerous element in that ward. It wasn't necessarily the healthiest place in the world for a lone police officer to identify himself in.

Kazuma glanced over at the apartment building door. It looked like it had been pried open. Flimsy. Why anyone would want to live in such a shithole was beyond Kazuma's comprehension. Even with his cop's salary, he could afford a small house further outside Tokyo. Kazuma looked up towards the top of the three-story edifice.

I really should be getting home.

With a sigh, Kazuma thumbed the button on the digital radio built into his vid-phone and reported his position to the MPD dispatcher. He was a cop, after all.

"Hey! Who are you?" a raspy voice called out as Kazuma entered the tiny entranceway.

Kazuma glanced at the top of the stairs to where a frazzled, elderly man stood in some stained pajamas. Then he flashed his ID.

"MPD. Did something happen?"

The old man's face flooded with relief. "Yeah... I think something happened to my neighbor."

"What happened?" Kazuma asked as he ascended the stairs.

"I don't know," the elderly man replied with a shrug, "there was a crash, and a bunch of noise five or six hours ago. I didn't think anything of it until I was woken up by sound of a stampede down the hallway," he looked up forlornly at Kazuma, "I looked out my door, and I saw my neighbor's door kicked in."

Kazuma raised an eyebrow at that. He hadn't heard of any apartment door in Japan that didn't open outwards. It kept the shoes from getting knocked around.

"Don't these doors open outwards?"

"Yeah they do," the old man answered, "which is why I thought it was weird."

They exited the stairwell on the third floor and Kazuma approached the vacant doorway. He glanced at the old man, a thought ocurring to him. "Why didn't you call the police?"

The old man shrugged again. "I don't have a phone. Besides, this type of shit is pretty normal around here."

Kazuma shook his head as he turned his attention back to the open doorway. "Stay there."

"Don't have to tell me twice," the old man muttered behind him. Kazuma pulled out his handgun and glanced into the apartment. The door had been completely ripped from its hinges and was bent down the middle. Clearly, when the place had been built, someone had skimped on the budget. Cheap doors made for worthless security. Kazuma slowly entered the apartment. There was a woman sprawled on her back next to the door, a large pool of blood haloed out from around her head where her head had been injured, and her clothes were mostly ripped off. A rape victim. Kazuma cursed silently to himself.

The body was cold but Kazuma checked the woman's pulse anyways. She was definitely dead. Shaking his head, Kazuma stood up and reached for his vid-phone. Time to call that tragedy in. Then something caught his eye.

Feet. Little, black-socked feet hung over the edge of the kitchen table. Putting his gun away, Kazuma approached the table. The sight he beheld made his gut roil.

Oh no. Oh god no. Monsters. Those fucking monsters.

Kazuma's stomach churned, threatening to boil up its contents like some wide-eyed rookie. On the table lay a little girl, no more than six years old. Her school uniform had been shredded and one of her arms was bent at an odd angle. Her face was cut up and bleeding, and her eyes had swollen shut. Blood and some yellowish mucus drooled from her half-open mouth. There were cuts and bite marks going up her legs, across her bare chest and stomach, and over her arms. The yellowish mucus-like material was all over her body. A small pool of blood puddled behind her head, and an even larger pool of crimson streaked with tinted red-yellow dripped over the edge of the table from between her legs.

There was a faint rasping noise. Kazuma put his finger on the girl's throat and felt a weak pulse. She was still alive. He pulled out his vid-phone, unmindful of the blood that he smeared onto his pants from her throat, when it finally clicked in his mind as to what that foreign yellow-white substance was. She was covered in their filth. For an instant, Kazuma could see the faces of his own daughters superimposed over the little girl's, and the urge to hunt down the five men from earlier suddenly consumed his mind.

Hunt them down and empty his gun into their corpses.

Yumiko could feel the motion of the vehicle she was in. From the sirens she heard, she guessed it was an ambulance. She tried to open her eyes, but they were swollen shut. She wanted to cry, but it hurt to cry. Somebody was holding her hand. Yumiko wanted to pull her hand back to herself and curl up into a ball, but she couldn't move.

There was a horrible taste in her mouth and she wanted to throw up, but it hurt to move her jaw. A brief memory of what had been stuffed into her mouth and down her throat suddenly flashed through her mind and sent a jolt through her small body. Her body hitched and her stomach would no longer be denied. She moaned, and she felt someone help her turn sideways as the vomit came pouring out of her mouth. It tasted of blood, and bile, and scary men. The convulsions of her stomach sent tearing pain down through the lower half of her body.

The scary man had called it an 'impromptu lesson in the birds and the bees'. Yumiko didn't know what 'impromptu' meant, but she did have an idea about the birds and the bees. She knew it was when a boy stuck his pee-pee inside a girl and peed, and somehow, babies were created. It seemed pretty disgusting when Yumiko first heard of it. Mama had assured her that it was something Yumiko didn't need to worry about until she was much older.

Those scary men did something to Yumiko. Something she didn't like. It hurt. It hurt so much. They had stuffed their things into her mouth and made her choke on their pee. It had hurt her jaw, especially when one of them had grabbed her chin and hissed at her to swallow. Yumiko had felt something break in her jaw, and she had wanted to cry out, but they hit her.

Then one of them took one of Mama's cooking knives and cut her just before she felt him stuff his thing into her DOWN THERE. It had felt like she was getting torn apart. Like they were punching her in the stomach from the inside. It hurt so bad. She struggled and tried to get away, but one of them grabbed her head and slammed it down on the kitchen table. The one that was inside of her suddenly grunted, and his grip tightened on her arm, breaking it. The pain didn't go away as each of them took a turn stuffing his thing into her. The laughter of the scary men had echoed in Yumiko's ears.

Yumiko whimpered. She felt a hand hold her own again, and somebody began to lightly stroke her blood-matted hair as she slipped into unconsciousness.

It was six-thirty in the morning. Kazuma stood in the hospital waiting room at St. Lukes sipping a cup of coffee and feeling a desperate need for a shave. A call home to Iriko had woken her up and left her shaken. The one thing that cop wives feared the most were phonecalls at odd hours when their husbands weren't home.

One of the doctors came out, consulting his datapad with rapt interest.

"Doctor," Kazuma said, intercepting the doctor's path.

The doctor looked up in mild surprise at his sudden obstruction. "Yes?"

"Have you guys examined the rape victim I came in with yet?"

The doctor looked at him quizzically, his eyes owlishly huge behind his high-index glasses.

"I'm sorry," the doctor said, a hint of confusion in his voice, "who are you again?"

Kazuma crushed his now empty coffee cup. His black eyes smoldered. Patience was a virtue, Kazuma reminded himself. He closed his eyes for a moment, breathing deep, before opening them again and displaying his badge inches from the doctor's face, just so the doctor wouldn't miss it.

"Lieutenant Kazuma Ishimaru, MPD. I came in with a little girl over an hour ago."

The doctor looked at his datapad again, his fingers dancing over the virtual interface.

"Oh yeah, her," The doctor murmured. He glanced back up at Kazuma again, "the results were inconclusive."

Kazuma stared at him wide-eyed.

"What do you mean, 'inconclusive'??" Kazuma demanded, resisting the urge to throttle the man, "She was covered in that shit!"

The doctor held up his hand in a disarming manner. "Please relax, lieutenant. It just means that there was no matching DNA on file."

Kazuma continued to glare at him. Almost every human being in the country of Japan had their DNA on file. It was more conclusive than using the old finger-printing system.

"How is that possible?"

The doctor pushed his glasses back up his nose before replying. "Occasionally, we come across unmatched DNA. It happens. The system isn't always perfect."

Kazuma closed his eyes again and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Doctor," he began, "what's your name again?"

"Ayami. Yasuhiro Ayami."

"Doctor Ayami, how many different samples did you harvest?"

Ayami consulted his datapad again. "About five."

Kazuma dropped his hand to his side and looked hard at the doctor.

"And you mean to tell me that there was no match for any of them?"

Ayami sighed. "Look, Lieutenant, it is a tragedy what happened to this girl, but from the hospital's standpoint, she has no living relatives, the semen samples are unmatchable, and we've already had to do major emergency surgery. If the MPD can't build a case, it won't pay for her treatment. Child Welfare has been notified, but it takes them three weeks to process before they begin to pick up the tab for medical care. This means that she is now a charity case. I've done all I can for you. Hell, the only thing we got to identify the girl herself, is her mother's residence records. Now if you'll excuse me..."

Ayami turned and began to walk from the waiting room.

"Wait," Kazuma called out, "what's her name then? Can you at least tell me that?"

Ayami stopped and consulted his datapad. "Takajima," he answered, "Yumiko Takajima. The residence record is all there is for her. Her DNA was unmatchable too." Ayami glanced over his shoulder at Kazuma, "Maybe you could figure THAT one out, lieutenant."

Kazuma just stared slack-jawed at the rapidly retreating doctor's back.

Kazuma sat in the large room next to the bed. Yumiko had been relegated to the charity ward of the hospital, which meant a bigger room with almost thirty or so roomates, all with their own beds. The hanging curtains for each bed didn't seem to provide enough privacy.

For two days, Kazuma had sat vigil over this girl. It broke his heart to leave each night, but he just came back the next day, as soon as he was off duty. The day before, Iriko had sat with him, and they had discussed what had been preying upon Kazuma's mind.

"You really want to adopt her?" Iriko asked, her voice reflecting her disbelief.

Kazuma nodded before replying. "I can't explain it, but after what she's been through, I hate the idea of her being stuck in the system." He hesitated for a moment, "I-I want to take care of her, Iriko. When I saw her, all I could think about was our girls."

Iriko reached over and wrapped her arm around her husband's head, pulling him to her shoulder.

"Big softy," she whispered in his ear, "it's this side of you that you never show anyone that makes me love you so much." She turned her head to gaze at the sleeping child.

The girl looked like she had been on the losing end of a prize fight. Her broken arm was in a stabilizer, her head was swathed in bandages, and her jaw was wired shut.

"If you really want a third daughter, then so do I." Iriko said firmly. She turned her head again and gave Kazuma a sly wink. "I hope you can handle having FOUR women in the house instead of just three."

Kazuma chuckled at the memory. He looked back over at the sleeping girl. "Yessir. There will a new home waiting for you whan you wake up... Yumi-chan."

He stood up and placed his Christmas present on the bed next to the girl. It was a large, brown teddy bear.

"Ami and Reiko wanted you to have this," Kazuma said with a small smile, "they'll be your new sisters and they can't wait to meet you. Merry Christmas, sweetheart."

Yumiko's swollen eyes fluttered open and looked at Kazuma. This must be the man she heard talking to her. There was something warm about his voice, something that made her feel safe. Secure. Kazuma knelt back down next to her.

"I wish you had woken up a little earlier, honey." he said gently. He lightly stroked her hair back from her face, then leaned over and placed a kiss on her forehead. "I'll see you tomorrow, Yumiko." He stood up and started to leave.

Yumiko's eyes followed Kazuma as he opened the door to the ward and slipped out, the door quietly closing behind him.

Wait, Please.
Don't leave.
I'm scared,
I'm so scared...