Sadako sat alone in the darkness, shivering. The only sound was the chattering of her teeth. She rubbed her arms to try to warm herself as her eyes adjusted to the dimness. There was just enough illumination for her to be able to see that on either side of her was a wall. The tops were obscured in fog and they extended parallel to each other behind her as far as she could see. In front of her was a vast plain of nothingness. She turned back into the alley behind her.
"I get it," she whispered softly to herself. She tucked the blood vial, still clutched in her hand into her sleeve and stood up. There was no point in staying where she was. She could see no escape. She began walking deeper in the alley, into the darkness. Her footsteps echoed in the stillness. She continued to walk until she couldn't see at all. With a hand on the wall to her right she walked on and on until finally a small light appeared in the distance.
A way out! She ran to it, eager to escape this empty void.
She ran into a small room with walls of paper and bamboo, illuminated by golden light. In the center of the room was a table, and kneeling at it, with her back to Sadako, was a woman. Her black hair was tied up and she wore a blue kimono decorated with lilies and butterflies. Sadako recognized the kimono- it was the one her mother had been wearing the night before she left. Sadako approached the woman slowly.
The woman did not turn, but merely patted the tatami next to her. Sadako knelt down next to her. The woman was drawing calligraphy with a long brush. Next to her paper beside the ink was a long knife.
"Black." Sadako read.
The woman nodded.
"Black is the color of the heart of the woman who left you."
Sadako gasped. "You're not my mother!"
The woman tilted her head and looked down at Sadako. "No. I'm not."
Sadako jerked away. "Ayumi!"
"What do you want?" demanded Sadako.
"Sadako-chan" Ayumi sang. "I want you."
Ayumi leaned towards Sadako. "I would never abandon you," she whispered.
Sadako stared in disbelief, too stunned and confused to say anything.
"I only require a small thing in return."
"In…in return?" Sadako stuttered.
"For my love," Ayumi replied. "Give me your flesh."
Sadako scrambled to stand, but Ayumi grabbed her arm and pulled her back down. "You can't love me if I don't exist!" Sadako shouted.
Ayumi stroked her cheek. "You can be reborn."
Sadako shook her head. "No, no, no. You're a murderer!"
"Think about it, Sadako-chan. Then we can both take care of the one we love." Ayumi pulled Sadako closer to her.
"The one we love…?"
"You do love him, don't you?"
Sadako's thoughts were becoming muddled, a haze clouding her brain. Who is she talking about? Sadako felt herself being pulled closer and closer to Ayumi. She couldn't fight back, she couldn't think…
Who did she love?
"Sadako?!" The sudden voice made Sadako jerk up. Ayumi jumped, startled but still clinging to Sadako's arm.
Sadako turned to see who had said her name.
Hideki stood in the door where Sadako had entered, staring down wide-eyed. "You…you've been with her?"
"No, no Hideki-kun this isn't what you think, she…"
"This is why you called me here! You're helping her!?"
Sadako winced at the hurt in his voice. "Called you here?"
Hideki nodded. "You called my name. You're both trying to kill me!"
"No! She's trying to kill me!" Sadako yanked her arm out of Ayumi's grasp. "I'm trying to help you! She thinks… she thinks you're-"
"Shut up," Ayumi snarled at Sadako. She picked up the knife from the table. As she stood the paper walls faded to black and collapsed. Sadako stared in dismay at the emptiness. It's just like where I started!
"If you're not going to be useful to me, you're only in my way." Ayumi raised the knife. "Now you will truly die."
She lunged for Sadako, who leapt out of the way; she wasn't quick enough, and the knife grazed her arm. She lost her balance and landed on her face in front of Hideki. He knelt down to help her up. She grabbed his shoulders.
"Hideki-kun, listen to me!" She pleaded. "Fujiwara Ayumi thinks she has to protect you, to avenge you, because you… you're just like the son she couldn't save!"
Sadako pulled out the blood vial. "It's the blood; her blood keeps her in this world."
"ENOUGH!" Ayumi screamed. She dived for Sadako again.
Hideki took the vial and pulled Sadako onto her feet. "Come on," he said, grabbing her arm. They ran, back into the dark alley. Sadako could hear Ayumi's cries fade away from behind them. As they emerged at the opposite end of the walls there was nothing.
Sadako sighed in relief, turning to look back into the alley behind her. "She didn't follow us, she-"
She screamed. Standing directly behind her was Ayumi, grinning down at her and twirling the knife in her hand. Sadako tried to back away. Ayumi grabbed her by the neck and pulled her close.
Sadako turned to face Hideki, Ayumi's arm tightly around her shoulders and the knife at her neck.
"Hideki-kun…" She breathed, shaking in fear.
"Say good-bye, my love" Ayumi laughed.
"SADAKO!" Hideki reached for Sadako, the vial in his hand forgotten. It fell to the ground and shattered.
Ayumi slouched forward into Sadako, moaning. Sadako felt something warm seeping into her clothes. Her hand dropped limply as her body collapsed, melting into the blood from the wounds which had killed her. Sadako jerked away.
"I failed to protect you…my child…I'm sorry…" The last of Ayumi's voice faded with her body. Sadako stared down at where Ayumi had been in shock. She took a breath and whispered, "She's gone."
"Yes," Hideki nodded, also staring, unable to move.
"She's gone. She's gone!" The shock faded and Sadako burst into tears. "She's gone, she's gone!"
She turned to Hideki and threw her arms around him. The unexpected force caused him to fall over backwards. He landed in grass and weeds with Sadako sobbing on top of him.
She picked her head up. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "We're back in the real world."
"Where are we?"
Sadako sat up and pushed aside the tall weeds, revealing a gravestone. In the moonlight she could read the name Fujiwara Ayumi. "The Fujiwara cemetery." She said softly. She stood up. Hideki followed suit. They stood in silence for a moment staring at the ground. Hideki moved forward hesitantly, and then embraced Sadako.
"Sadako…" he said. "I'm sorry about all this, I'm so…"
"Shhh," Sadako cut him off. "It's over now. It's time to move on."
Hideki smiled. Hand in hand, they started down the path out of the cemetery, away from Ayumi and towards home. As the wind rustled in the autumn leaves, Sadako thought she could hear the whisper of a familiar voice.