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Otani Week Collection

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Water flooded his sinuses and invaded his lungs. Head above the flow, there was no time to inhale. His body collided with a rock, his back first, and then his hip.

Something caught his arm, a painful tug awarded him freedom.

“…all right?” a deep voice demanded.

Water escaped his insides for what seemed a lifetime and his stomach cramped with each jump of his diaphragm.

“Don’t lay on your back,” through the haze came a face.

Strong arms kept him above the dirt until his vision cleared. A torrent of fast-moving water raged beside him and sloshing about in its brown clutches was the hood of his imported Mini-Cooper.

“Look at me,” dark brown eyes and a stern brow appeared. “What do you remember?”

“Up here, taking pictures of abandoned towns, around Oguni,” he choked out the words through chattering teeth. “Rained all day, the road, the bridge, got flooded,”

“Steady now,” a coarse sarrow fur blanketed his shoulders, and a gentle hand lifted his chin. “Is that all you remember?”

The man possessed a rugged attractive face, with trim hair along his jawline and emotive eyes that were capped by unruly brows.

“Tried to drive through the rushing water,” he said, trembling.

“Can you stand?” his savior asked.

The larger man got under his arm and lifted him to his feet. Unable to traverse the steep bank, the man hoisted him over his shoulder and carried him into a thicket of trees.

A small fire burned within a circle of rocks.

“Look at me,” he knelt before him. “What do you remember?”

“My boss sent me here to shoot some abandoned towns,” Hyakunosuke frowned. “I know my name, and how I got here, I’m not concussed,”

Sadness masked the man’s face.

“I’m sorry,” said Hyakunosuke, hands thrust close to the flames. “I appreciate what you’re trying to ask, I’m fine, I’m not brain-damaged or anything,”

“Drink this,” the chipped bowl seemed small in his large hand.

“My head is pounding,” he said through his teeth.

“Hot water with some rice vinegar,” the steaming bowl touched his lips. “It’ll lessen the pain,”

The pungent solution worked quickly and the ache in his head cleared.

“Thank you, uh,”

“Tanigaki,” he said, kicking dirt onto the fire. “Genjiro,”

“Second son, huh?”

The man hesitated before asking, “What’s your name?”

“Ogata Hyakunosuke,” he replied.

“Are you a samurai’s son?”

“No,” he said. “It’s an old family name,”

“Genjiro was my grandfather’s name,”

“Thank you, Genjiro,” he said. “For saving me,”

“What recourse did I have, you’re mine after all,”

“Excuse me?” he pulled the cloak tight around him as the man pulled a large carry bag onto his back.

“We’ll reach the nearest house by nightfall,” said Tanigaki.

“There’s a town just across the river,” he argued, thumb aimed back.

“The bridge washed away,” Tanigaki faced him. “Taking you with it,”

“Shit,” he rolled his eyes, “You’re right, I’m sorry,”

They walked for some time, emerging from the narrow trees and to a wall of bedrock. Tanigaki led him along its path and into another stretch of trees. Here the forest bed wasn’t flat; it rose on an angle as they progressed.

“Do you live up here?” asked Hyakunosuke.

“I belong to this mountain,” the bulky bearskin jumped with each step he took. “Lived here all my life,”

“There were no Matagi left in the town I visited,” a chill came over Hyakunosuke as they ascended, and his teeth began to chatter. “Are you a Matagi, mister Tanigaki?”

The man turned and aimed a sullen expression at him.

“The nearest town is over this peak,” Tanigaki said. “The higher we go, the colder it gets. I’ll start a fire, and we’ll get your clothes dry,”

“How long will that take?”

“We overnight here,” said Tanigaki. “Or you freeze by morning,”

Silenced by the reality of his situation, Hyakunosuke stood aside as the Matagi set a circle of stones upon the ground. Uncomfortable with being helpless, he gathered sticks and leaves for kindling and before long, the Matagi’s fire blazed warm enough that removing his clothes wasn’t an insane hardship.

“You can wear this,” Tanigaki set something white and furry on the log beside him.

“A rabbit skin yukata?” he asked, unfolding it. “Where’d you get this?”

“I made it,” said Tanigaki.

“It fits me,” he grinned up at him. “I take you made it for a friend,”

Tanigaki lowered his gaze and gathering a smaller bag out of the bearskin sack, he left the warmth of the fire.

“Where are you going?” Hyakunosuke called.

“See that torii on the ridge?” Tanigaki pointed to the wooden shrine gate on the overlook. “I cannot pass through it until I bathe,”

“In that waterfall with the ice on it?”

“It’s required if I wish to pass onto the mountain,”

“Required by whom?”

“This mountain belongs to the Goddess,”

“Goddess my ass,” Hyakunosuke caught up to him. “I’m not sitting here by myself,”

“No wildlife will touch you,” the Matagi said over his shoulder.

“You don’t know that for sure,” he argued.

Ice caked the water’s edge.

A sizable hole formed near the bedrock, made by a thin vein of water that fell from somewhere above. Crouched on the pebbles where the hollow ice lay white, Hyakunosuke noticed his breath was too cold to make a cloud.

Tanigaki the Matagi, unfazed by the chill, sat upon the ground and pulled off his boots.

Hyakunosuke leaned close and whispered in the man’s ear.

“This water is freezing,”

“I’ll be fine,” Tanigaki grinned.

“How long have you lived in these mountains?”

“I was sired here,” he kicked off his pants. “You’ll see the house where my mother bore me tomorrow—what’s so funny?”

“My history teacher at university always employed antiquated terms into his everyday conversation,” his eyes roamed every sculpted inch of the Matagi’s chiseled physique.

“Antiquated,” Tanigaki pulled off his shirt. “That means old-fashioned,”

“I don’t think you’re backward,” he said, eyes set on the vintage white fundoshi. “I was shocked the motel offered WiFi. I just assumed I wouldn’t get a signal in these mountains.”

“WiFi?” Tanigaki untied the hip rigs of his fundoshi, freeing his manhood.

“The signal was strong, too,” Hyakunosuke looked away, envious that shrinkage in the cold affected only some men. “All the fiber must be underground. I didn’t see any cell towers on the drive up,”

Tanigaki shook his head in confusion, “Your world is strange,"”

“I’m going back to the fire,” Hyakunosuke hid his growing erection.

“Turn your clothes around on the sticks,” cake of soap and a rag in his hand, he crunched over the brittle ice toward the falling water.

The fire blazed higher than any he’d seen before. His pullover and pants had dried one side, yet his coat, socks, and shoes remained soaked through. He huddled close to the flames with the yukata pulled tight around him; its soft fur felt good against his skin.

Tanigaki returned fully clothed and oddly silent.

“This robe is nice,” he said, but the Matagi kept quiet. “Are you all right?”

“No,” said Tanigaki, avoiding the fire.

“If I insulted you-”

“—You didn’t bring insult,” he pulled four thick ropes from his bag.

“What are you doing, Genjiro?”

“We can’t sleep on the ground,” he looped a rope high around the thickest tree and secured it with a bowline knot. “It’s saturated, and it’s going to rain again,”

Hyakunosuke jumped up, “I can help,”

“There’s a rawhide boro in there,” he fixed another rope around the opposite tree.

Stuffed tight into the Matagi’s bag was a rolled-up rug that smelled faintly of vinegar. It was a patchwork of expertly tanned goatskins with all four of its rope-tassel corners stressed bare.

“You think we’ll need a blanket?” asked Hyakunosuke. “I can feel that fire over here,”

“That rawhide isn’t for covering up,” he laughed. “It’s my bed,”

“You’re stretching it out to be a hammock,”

“My grandmother made it for my parents,” he nodded, braiding one of its corner tufts to the rope around the tree. “My father was still building their house when she got caught with my brother,”

“Caught?”

“Pregnant,” he looked up from securing another corner. “Women still get pregnant, don’t they?”

“I’ve heard knocked-up, a belly-full, and in trouble,” said Hyakunosuke. “But never the word, caught,”

“It’s a different world on the mountain,” the Matagi didn’t bare his teeth when he smiled; his lips stayed set, and mirth shone in his eyes. “You have to force the rawhide to make it reach the ropes on your side,”

“Are you sure,” he pulled at it hard but couldn’t reach the tree.

“Here, I’ll stretch, you tie,”

“Do you have children?”

“Pull at those ropes and make sure they’re secured,”

“I don’t mean to pry,”

“You’re not prying,” he tested Hyakunosuke’s knots with a yank. “My life belongs to the Goddess of the Mountain, and she has enough children,”

“That’s some poetic shit, Matagi,”

He slapped the tensed hide, “Climb on and test it,”

“I’d rather not,” Hyakunosuke said. “You test it,”

Tanigaki shrugged before pulling his shirt from his shoulders and again stripping off his clothes.

Hyakunosuke quickly turned his attention to the fire.

“At first, I didn’t understand why you always look away,” his voice indicated his climb onto the hammock. “I know your mind, now, you don’t have to look away,”

“You know my mind?” Hyakunosuke turned to find the Matagi laying naked on his stomach, a thoughtful look upon his face and his upturned feet swaying like an amused dog’s tail.

“You’re a handsome man, you think I am too,”

Hyakunosuke cursed his situation; the sexiest thing he ever met comes on to him after he’s been battered and bruised from a near-death experience.

“I reek of creek water, Genjiro, and my mouth tastes like shit,”

“We don’t have to kiss,” he rolled over, exposing his hairy torso and so much more.

Seized by a strong and sudden longing, Hyakunosuke peeled off the yukata and climbed onto the hammock. It wasn’t déjà vu—nothing conversant rang true in these woods—but this muscular flesh trapped beneath him brought a warm familiarly.

The bristles on the Matagi’s chin smelled of spring water, and his silky foreskin tasted of soap. Every labored breath and whimper was a song he sang to.

Rain tapped the leafy trees above, dousing the exposed fire and ushering in the night.

Unable to see in the dark, his body remembered. The sweet noise of the Matagi’s climax brought about his own. Buried deep within his lover, Hyakunosuke’s spent erection went soft as sleep set upon him.

He woke in the morning to find the Matagi dressed.

“Do you remember?”

“Last night, yes,” Hyakunosuke pulled on his dry clothes. “I told you, my head is fine,”

Tanigaki gave a short nod and began walking back the way they came.

“Hey,” he hollered after him. “You said we needed to go over the mountain,”

“It didn’t rain much last night,” said Tanigaki. “The river should be low enough to cross,”

“It’ll take hours to get back there,” he ran into the trees after him.

“No, it won’t,” Tanigaki stopped. “We walked only an hour yesterday,”

“We walked all day,” he argued, moving ahead of him.

“Why can’t you remember?” Tanigaki growled.

Hyakunosuke turned to confront him and found him gone.

“Genjiro!”

He returned to where they’d camped but found nothing to indicate they’d been there.

“Tanigaki!” that bastard Matagi had abandoned him—after having sex with him. “You self-hating son of a bitch!”

Hyakunosuke walked hours down the slope, clearing the trees he finally found rocks that reminded him of the day before. The sound of rushing water brought hope. He raced through the forest unwilling to suspect that maybe that goddam Matagi was a fugitive unwilling to risk detection.

Out of the trees he discovered a calm river with an iron bridge stretched over a sluice. On the far shore were two lovely houses with cars parked upon stone driveways.

He sprinted toward the bridge but when he stepped upon the paved road, he couldn’t bring himself to cross it. Behind him the tarmac extended into the trees with a ‘No Outlet’ sign in the grass. A thousand feet past it sat two enormous stone bulkheads.

Beyond the bulkheads lay the remnants of the original bridge. This fork raged between the remnants of capstones reclaimed by nature. Across the violent chop lay the Matagi’s woods, and in the rocks along the bank was the rusted remains of a water-decayed vehicle.

Inside its wreckage was a cracked rib cage jostled by the current; the shirt he now wore in tatters around the bones.

Hyakunosuke stepped off the capstone and fell into the rapids, feet first. Water flooded his sinuses and invaded his lungs. Head above above the flow, there was no time to inhale. His body collided with a rock, his back first, and then his hip.

Something caught his arm, a painful tug awarded him freedom.

“…all right?” a deep voice demanded.

Water escaped his insides for what seemed a lifetime and his stomach cramped with each jump of his diaphragm. Strong arms kept him above the dirt until his vision cleared.

“Look at me,” dark brown eyes and a stern brow appeared. “What do you remember?”

“Taking pictures of abandoned towns around Oguni,” his teeth chattered. “Rained all day, the road on the bridge was flooded,”

“Steady now,” a sarrow fur blanket covered his shoulders, and a gentle hand lifted his chin. “Is that all you remember?”

“Tried to drive through the puddle in the road,”

“Can you stand?” the man didn’t wait for an answer, he picked Hyakunosuke up and carried him into a thicket of trees where a small fire burned within a circle of rocks.

“Look at me,” the man knelt beside him. “What do you remember?”

“My boss sent me here to shoot some abandoned towns,” he frowned. “I drove through a low water crossing. I’m not concussed I can think clearly!”

Sadness masked the man’s face and suddenly everything became clear as the man walked away from him.

“Don’t you leave me here again, you goddam Matagi!”

The man froze.

“I remember,” he stilled his chattering teeth. “Tell me what’s happening, Genjiro!”

“Tell me what you remember-”

“No!” he growled. “You tell me what’s happening!”

Tanigaki stood several moments with his back to Hyakunosuke.

“I was a young man when my sister got smallpox, days before her wedding. I came to the mountain and begged the Goddess to heal her. I offered my life for hers. My sister recovered, but when I came to hunt that first winter afterward, I couldn’t leave the mountain,”

Tanigaki faced him with tears in his eyes.

“She’s dying now, the Goddess of the Mountain. She didn’t want me to be alone. I saw you in the house where I was born. You walked through all the houses where my village was taking your strange pictures. You were so handsome, and I didn’t want to be alone anymore. I tried to follow you out, follow you anywhere, but-”

“Even a dying Goddess gets jealous,” said Hyakunosuke.

“No matter how many times,” Tanigaki closed his eyes and sobbed. “No matter how many times I pull you from her waters, you never remember me!”

“How long have I been dead, Genjiro?”

“It’s been five rainy seasons,” he replied, wiping his nose. “I’m so sorry,”

“Five years is nothing compared to how long you’ve been here,” he walked to Tanigaki and touched his cold brow. “You’re carrying me up that mountain, Matagi,”

Tanigaki’s eyes widened.

“I’m dead and I got nowhere else to go,” Hyakunosuke forced him to turn around and took the carry sack off his back and put it on his own. “There better a cabin up there with a real bed and running water,”

“I don’t have a cabin,” Tanigaki said, carrying him on his back.

“There’s plenty of new houses going in around here,” Hyakunosuke held on tight. “We’ll haunt a good one when I figure out how to cross that river,”

****