Yunho listened closely, enraptured by the tale the castle guide was telling as she guided them around a labyrinth of corridors. Behind him, Junsu peered out of windows, trying to see the palace grounds. They’d initially bemoaned the face that they would be stuck away from the other three, trapped for a night in an ancient castle after a long photo shoot. Surprisingly, they’d enjoyed the day, looking forward to a rare evening free.
The private tour ended at the old inn on the edge of the castle’s grounds, the guide bowing low in response to thankful bows from Yunho and Junsu. Waving her off with a cheerful goodbye, the leader smiled and bounded up the stairs of the wooden structure, chasing Junsu through the inn’s wide doors.
“It’s cold here, hyung,” Junsu said, shivering as they walked down a dark corridor to their room. “Why are we so far away from the main area?”
“You don’t listen,” Yunho fit the key into the iron key latch, turning it with a firm click. “She said that they’re refurbishing the other rooms. The ones back here were done first so they’re ready.”
“And we’re sharing?”
“Not a bed, dongsaeng. Just a room. You don’t want to make extra work for the staff when we don’t have to, yes?” Giving the younger man a fierce frown, he clapped Junsu on the shoulder and shoved him through the open door. “Come on. It’s only one night.”
“You snore.” Grumbling, Junsu dragged his suitcase in, catching its wheels on the uneven door sill. Tugging it free, he nearly stumbled over his own feet, trapped in place by an errant shoelace dangling from his sneaker. “I can hear you from down the hall at home.”
“That’s not snoring you hear.” Yunho grinned widely at Junsu’s shocked gasp. “What? Like you’ve never had sex before.”
“You’re a sad, sick human being, hyung.” He sighed, slinging his bag onto one of the two beds. Junsu stared at the clothes he brought, comparing the sizeable mound to the scant few things Yunho pulled out of his duffel. “We’re going to be here for two days and that’s all you packed?”
“How much did you think I’m going to need?” Yunho shook out a pair of his jeans, tossing them onto a chair. “The stylists brought what we’re wore at the shoot. Everything else is just stuff to wear while we’re here. We have some time off. Why would I pack a suit?”
“To look nice,” Junsu replied, unfolding a shirt and sliding it on a hanger. “I like looking nice. Some of us like to keep up our appearance.”
“You’re still mad because the stylist asked you when you were going to start shaving, aren’t you?” Grabbing a book the tour guide gave him, Yunho plopped on the bed, leaning against one of the pillows. “I’ll read to you while you unpack. That should take you a few hours, princess.”
“I’m not even going to respond to that.” Junsu sniffed, tilting his chin up in defiance of Yunho’s teasing laughter.
The room’s wide windows offered a view of the garden below, a carefully tended arrangement of bushes and river stones. Around the courtyard, windswept pines ran up the mountain side, a blanket of dark green and sage brown quilting the landscape. The scent of evergreen filled the air, the crackle of maple leaves catching on the wind. Junsu watched a burnished red cast off dance as it dropped from a tree, weaving around until it landed on the ground besides its already fallen brethren.
“It’s going to rain.” Junsu’s words were barely cold from his mouth when the sky cracked open, sheets of rain drawing a grey curtain over the courtyard. Darkness descended as quickly as the storm, throwing the room into shadow. “Wow, it’s thick. I can’t even see the castle anymore.”
“Close the window, Susu-ah. If it’s too cold.” Opening the book, Yunho made himself comfortable, looking for a tale to read to the other man.
“Are you being sarcastic?” He eyed the leader, unsure if the conciliatory tone he heard in the other man’s voice was sincere.
“No, I just don’t want you to get sick. Ah, here’s a nice one. It’s a story based on something that happened here in this castle. ” Scanning the page, Yunho was about to begin when the younger man joined him on the bed. Moving over, he waited for Junsu to stretch out, shifting sideways so the singer could rest against his chest. “Comfortable?”
“Almost,” Junsu nodded. He often dozed off listening to Yunho talk at home, the melodic drift of the older man’s voice lulling him. When the rains hit their Tokyo apartment, the king-sized bed in the hyungs’ room often was filled with the members’ sprawled languid bodies.
The heat of their bodies kept the chill of the storm from the bed, a tangled scent of vanilla and green tea. They were comfortable in their bodies, masculine forms honed tight from years of dancing. Junsu unbuttoned his shirt down to his chest, moving again until he lay against Yunho’s side.
“Okay,” Junsu murmured, sighing when Yunho’s hand brushed against his throat. “Much better now.”
“This is a story about a woman named Okiku. Her family was poor and she came here to this castle to become a maid for the samurai and his family. She was beautiful, nearly too beautiful for words and Tessan Aoyama, one of the daimyo’s samurai, wanted to seduce her. She refuses him…” Yunho turned the page, stopped by Junsu’s fingers on his wrist. “What?”
“Why did she refuse him?” The tenor asked. “Her family was poor. Was he married?”
“Are you going to let me tell the story?” Returning to the page, Yunho found his place. “We’ll find out.”
“Fine, but she’s not making good choices.” Junsu huffed.
“Aoyama is angry and he comes up with a plan. Hiding one of the family's ten rare plates, he then tricks her into believing that she has lost it. Overcome with worry, she returns to the cabinet and counts them, over and over but never do they add up to ten. Distraught, she begins again, only able to find nine. Waiting until Okiku is in a panic, he then says that he will tell the daimyo that she stole it unless she agrees to become his mistress. She pleads with him that her family would be dishonoured or worse, driven away from the daimyo’s protection but Aoyama is firm.”
“Although desperate, Okiku refuses to give in to him and his rage consumes him,” Yunho’s voice lowers to a whisper, sending shivers over Junsu’s face. “Aoyama grabs her and drags Okiku to the deep well at the edge of the castle’s grounds and throws her into its deep shaft, drowning herself in its dark, murky waters.”
“Uncaring of the tragedy he has caused, Aoyama’s attentions move to another woman and one night, while he is forcing his attentions on a different maiden, he hears Okiku’s sweet voice calling from the courtyard, an echoing refrain coming from the shaft of the well.
Ichi, ni, san, yon, go; the ghostly voice calls out and Aoyama’s hands turn cold on the warm flesh of the woman he’s dragged into his rooms. Throwing open the doors, he stares out into the courtyard but there is no one there. Only the drift of a voice on the wind.
Roku, shichi, hachi, kyuu, The woman’s voice counts out and when she reaches the number of the missing plate, her sweetness erupts into a terrible howling, a shrieking that brings blood to Aoyama’s ears and nose. Holding his face, he turns to scream at the woman on his bed, telling her to go out to the courtyard to make Okiku stop her crying but the maid says she hears nothing, only the sound of the rain on the river stone path.
Each following night, Aoyama is awakened by a soft counting and his bones stiffen when the woman nears juu, the final number in the set. He covers his head with pillows and covers, begging for the screaming to stop but it never does. Silence only comes when the sun rises over the pines and the well is warmed in the morning light. When Aoyama pleads with others to come listen to her screaming, they too hear nothing and dismiss the samurai’s stories, laughing that he has taken to drink.
One morning, his apprentice comes to wake him and the young boy finds Aoyama sitting in a corner of his room, his eyes blinded to the world around him. Okiku’s screams have finally taken his mind. She has exacted her revenge. No one will ever believe a word that he says and madness haunts him the rest of his days.”
The rain’s pounding beat breaks suddenly when a shrieking cry erupts from the courtyard. Startled, Yunho jumps, nearly toppling Junsu to the floor, Heart pounding, the leader pushes the younger man down and heads to the window, just as a pale form streaked across the river stones and alights on the edge of the well’s low walls.
“God,” Yunho shivered when another eerie cry breaks, clashing like lightning against the sound of the storm. Clasping a hand to his chest, he takes a step back, bumping into Junsu who had come up behind him. “What the hell?”
“It’s a peacock,” Laughing, Junsu pointed at the bird ruffling its tail against the push of the wind. “A white one. You’re scared of a bird. Our mighty Yunho was scared of a bird!”
Growling, Yunho grabbed at the younger man, chasing him back to the bed. Shrieking as loudly as the bird, Junsu ran, hitting the mattress and rolling over, his eyes crinkled tight as he giggled loudly. Yunho’s fingers found the ticklish spots on his ribs and his laughter turned to childish screams, his feet kicking at the air as the other man mercilessly rendered him helpless under skillful teasing.
“Aish, stop!” Junsu gasped, his eyes watering from his laughter. “I’m going to pee! Stop tickling. I’ll do anything. Promise!”
“Oh, you are so going to pay,” Yunho muttered, grabbing at Junsu’s waistband. “Give me a few seconds to get these off of you. Then we’ll see how loud you can scream.”
“Okay,” His chest hitched as he caught the hiccups and Junsu turned, grinning up at the older man. “But do you want me to count to nine or just start screaming? If a dead woman’s voice turns you on, it’s the least I can do for you. Or do you just want to be left alone with your bird?”
** This is a take on a tale called Bancho Sarayashiki. I’ve altered it a bit but for the most part, it’s about the same.