(Themes of horror and gore) KENJI Suzuki had won the lottery. It was the springtime in Kyoto, once the capital of Japan. The discoloured yellowing moon stood full, at the highest point in the sky. It was the early hours of the morning. Kenji had been celebrating with friends moments earlier, he had been given a promotion at his job at a successful marketing firm located in the city. His eyes were filled with notes of money and his stomach was flooded with shochu when he erupted onto the concrete street outside of the bar. 

He was drunk. Far too drunk, his friends had stayed behind to enjoy a few more bottles of the possessive spirit. Sweet potato shochu was Kenji's favourite, but the rising tide levels of it within his stomach had caused an acidic reaction in his intestines. He made his stumble back to his home; a traditional, wooden marvel located in the heart of Kyoto. To his luck, his mother and father lived with his younger sister only a few roads away from his house. Family was almost as important to Kenji as it was to his money. 

Aged twenty-six, he was single but also a well-known bachelor. He was popular amongst the beautiful koi fish of women in Kyoto, who sought after his attentions. He was not shy of his recognition and used his flirtatious charm to reel in the affections of many of them. Although not one of them had managed to secure him, his heart was still on the line for the taking. Kenji felt no need to rush, there were plenty of fish in the pond and they all grazed on his crumbs.

Kyoto was a picturesque vision that Thursday night. The air was mild, and the odour of fried noodles and whiskey was discernible. The street lanterns casted light upon the route to his house. He was not the only one off-balance, the streets were filled with drunkards who had piled out of the surrounding bars, restaurants, and clubs. The sounds of the intoxicated people singing and laughing had made Kenji smile along with them. He stopped at a nearby vending machine displaying drinks and with sixty yen he purchased a can of carbonated water.

It was only when he took a corner road that he found himself solo. Kenji shoved a hand into his pockets and felt for his keys as he walked down the dimly lit alley.  Kenji didn't feel nervous as he staggered down the road, it was hard to find much threat in the city. He took gulps of the fizzy water and hummed to himself as he reached the end of the passage. The next road was lit better, it led to an opening of grass and trees. He looked up and admired the rows of cherry blossom trees that pirouetted along the edges of the street. The springtime was another favourite thing of Kenji's, the cherry blossoms were phenomenal trinkets that added to the attractiveness of Japan.

"Excuse me?" Kenji suddenly heard to the right of him. The feminine voice had stirred Kenji to jump back from startlement. He looked to his right, and he saw another arresting figure in his view. He felt his mouth dropping as he eyed her.

She was sat on a wooden bench underneath the Sakura tree. Her hair was a shining jet black, pin straight and cascaded down to her thighs. She carried a white silk fan which she had spread out over her face. She had cerulean eyes; the colour was like blue betta fish. Although most of her face was covered, Kenji was certain that a gem hid behind the folds of her sensu. She was dressed in an expensive looking, cobalt blue kimono robe, patterned with golden pelican birds.

An odd sight, Kenji thought, it was rare to see such beauty alone in the night.

"Excuse me?" She repeated. Kenji closed his mouth, had it stayed open any longer as he gawped at her he might have caught fruit flies.

"Yes?" He replied though almost reluctant to. "Are you lost?" He continued. He wasn't quite sure what she wanted of him.

"No, not really," she answered. Kenji tilted his head to the side and furrowed his brows.

"What do you need?" He asked and he made himself smile. 

The woman held on tighter to her fan and her eyes opened wider. Her nails looked well-kept and the skin on her hands soft like baked custard. She stared at Kenji until she opened her mouth behind the fan once again.

"Can you sit beside me?" She asked him, she gently tapped the fan onto her face. "I can't go home right now, you see," she continued. 

Kenji held his hand tighter in his pocket and took a sip from his canned water. The fresh air could do him some good, he thought, it might help to sober him up. He took a seat on the other side of the bench where she was sitting, like photosynthesis her body turned towards him. She sat there and began fanning her face in light movements.

"Why can't you go home?" Kenji asked her.

"Oh, do you really want to hear the truth?" She replied with a question.

Kenji took another sip of his water and nodded his head. "Well, yes, unless you prefer the silence," he said smartly.

Beneath her fan the woman became distant. Her watery blue eyes looked to be in another place, far away from their conversation.

"It's my husband, you see, he has a terrible temper," she began. Her eyes focused on Kenji once more.

"You're married?" Kenji questioned. The woman nodded her head and her eyes trailed off again. 

"I suppose so," she stated, "although he doesn't want me around for much longer." She had continued. Kenji tapped his heels against the floor and looked her over again. She seemed young and looked to be around his own age. He couldn't make much sense from her statement. The young woman tilted her head towards him and bashfully batted her eyelids at him. Her hair brushed past her shoulders.

"Do you think I'm beautiful?" She spoke. Kenji was taken aback by the question. It was obvious she was, dressed in her rich robe and with such unusual eyes. Even her voice was pleasing, like soft petals caressed against the ears and the face. Kenji felt himself smiling, his bravado and sweet talking were vibrating within him. 

"Yes, I think you are," he answered confidently.

"But you haven't really seen my whole face," she said and her words accompanied a faint giggle.

"You must be beautiful to be married, and with eyes like those I'm sure your husband has won the prize, " Kenji embarked his flattery. 

"But he doesn't want me anymore," she sighed, "he loves someone new; he tells me she's far better than I am." She explained. Kenji tutted and took a large gulp from his drink.

"What a silly man your husband is!" He exclaimed. 

"What a spiteful man too," she added. "He doesn't want another man to have me," she elucidated. 

"That's not his decision," Kenji voiced. 

"It was never my decision, I was a geisha, you see, my love was sold to the highest bidder," the woman stated sadly. She leaned her elbow onto her knee and cupped her face with her dainty hand. Still, she held her silk fan across her mouth.

"Five million yen my husband, Toshiro, paid to my okiya for my hand. I ceased to be a geisha; I became only his wife." She glumly told Kenji, she looked away into the distance and faint lines of worried wrinkles overtook her forehead.

"You're a geisha?" Kenji asked interestedly. "I've never met a geisha before," he said. The woman looked at him again and nodded her head.

"Yes, well, no, I'm not a geisha anymore because I married. My mother at my geisha house said that I was an incredible case. It's not often a man will pay to marry a geisha," she answered.

"What is your name?" He pried. His interests were piquing, Kenji was desperate to see her face beneath her fan.

"My name is Azumi," she told him. She looked to her left, at the verdant green grass beyond the bench. "Oh, that husband of mine," she mumbled quietly. She began bobbing her knee from her irritation and glumness and she moved her hand from her face, beginning to gently brush her fingers along her satin robe.

"Maybe he might change his mind," Kenji said, trying to lighten her mood. 

"His mouth is too filled with sweet red bean paste. He has too much hunger for the geisha." Azumi disagreed bitterly, "he tells me his new wife is one, she's younger than me, only eighteen. He would rather pay for her than give me half of his money from the divorce," she explained.

Kenji's eyes flashed at her. One of the reasons it had taken him so long to settle down was the thought of his money. He had worked too hard for his funds, the thought of someone to share it with wasn't appealing and the idea of divorcing one day so she might take half was even more unpleasant. Kenji simply nodded his head.

"That's terrible," he said and the only truth in his words came from the idea that a man could ever pay so much money to marry a woman. He felt the corners of his mouth obliging to smile, Kenji managed to keep it at bay.

"My husband is ferocious," she agreed, "he didn't even give me a chance to comprehend his announcement," Azumi told him. Kenji put his canned drink on the floor and rubbed his hands together.

"So, he kicked you out of the house?" He asked her, still trying to hide his multiple faced interiors. 

"Not quite, I ran away," she told him.

"Why did you run away?" Kenji continued questioning.

"Do you really think I'm beautiful?" Azumi asked him coldly. Kenji was dumbfounded by the sudden change in her tone and conversation. He held his hands together and then interlaced his fingers between each other. Finally he rested his balled up fists onto his knees.

"Yes, Azumi, I do think you are," although Kenji had felt some annoyance, he was being honest. Azumi began to move the fan slowly to the side of her face, though it was still covered.

"He came at me with a pair of scissors. My husband, he- cut my face." She miserably told him. "My face, my poor face, my beautiful face," she rumbled hysterically in a daze. Her eyes locked onto Kenji menacingly; Kenji believed for a moment that her anger was about to be targeted onto him. He moved his head back and looked at her uncertainly, slowly she was revealing her face to him.

Kenji held onto the edge of his seat as she moved her fan to show the side of her jaw and her cheeks. It was the deep wounds that Kenji noticed first. The start of the slit had begun from her ear. Kenji felt all the acid from the shochu before rising again in his stomach. Azumi continued moving the fan, then Kenji could see what were left of her lips. Her bottom lip drooped down to her chin and the top lip was jagged with cuts. Her mouth was so butchered that Kenji could see the bottom row of her decaying yellowed teeth. Kenji was not quite sure anymore that the woman sitting in front of him were alive and human. 

Kenji transitioned like a head of hair becoming grey. All the colour from his face had left him. The hairs on the back of his neck erected and he felt chilled bumps growing beneath his skin. He wanted to run from the gruesome and tragic sight, but he sat frozen, completely still from the shock.

Based on the legend of the Japanese Kuchisake Onna

"Do you still think I'm beautiful?" Azumi asked Kenji. Her lips wobbled as she spoke, she had lost some of her teeth. 

Kenji could not speak. He had begun trembling, and his eyes had begun to water. Surely this was not a woman, but a ghost.

"Just be honest! Is it really that bad or am I still beautiful?" The woman yelled. She closed her fan and flung her bare palms onto the bench in front of Kenji. Kenji had opened his mouth to speak but no words could be crafted. His eyes bulged towards her; he wanted nothing more than to look away, but he couldn't.

Azumi straightened her spine and reached with her right hand behind her. She clasped onto something she had placed on the bench. She exposed the object to Kenji, a pair of scissors for shearing sheep. The blades were rusting, and Azumi extended them towards his face. Kenji tried to move backwards to flee but he hit the side of the wooden bench with a thwomp instead. 

"Just tell me the truth," Azumi demanded threateningly. "Am I still beautiful?" She repeated her yelling. Her jaw was lurching up and down with every word, it looked to Kenji like it might fall off from her face at any moment. She was foaming from the mouth and driblets of her saliva plunged onto Kenji.

Kenji knew not what to do as he sat in the spirit lair. Surely, he was dreaming, this had to be hallucinatory, not a reality. He moved his quivering hand up towards his face to defend himself. 

"Yes! I still think you're beautiful!" He lied, thinking himself clever. He began to smile at the woman as though she were pleasing. He nodded his head and grinned at her. "You're more beautiful than all the geisha at the Jidai festivals," he continued.

"You're wrong!" She cried out, "how can I be beautiful with a face like this? You remind me of my husband and look at just how quickly the sweet words drip from your tongue like honey!" Azumi wailed through her sobbing. 

Quickly, she pushed the scissors out towards Kenji, and right through his heart the blades went. Kenji gasped, as blood oozed out from his gob. Azumi callously pulled the scissors out just as quickly as they entered. Kenji clung onto his chest as Azumi dropped her scissors and they clambered onto the bench.

Azumi let out a sigh, she choked on the tongue in her throat, and she shook her head at the scene before her. Kenji's blood had splattered onto the bench like falling flowers from the cherry blossom tree.

She shrugged her shoulders, then she picked up her fan in her bloodied hands and opened it wide. Azumi held her spare hand hard onto her forehead as she began fanning herself in panic. She stood up from the bench and patted down her kimono, leaving streaks of Kenji's gore on its blue satin.

Azumi traipsed away from him and the bench, leaving Kenji in his coffin under the Sakura tree.