"I thought you might sleep through it." The creature smiled.
Saki's voice was little more than a whisper. "Sleep through what?"
It leaned over. She stared into its will-o'-the-wisp eyes.
"The Night Parade, of course."
The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother's village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family's ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.
But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked...and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worthor say goodbye to the world of the living forever...
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.10(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
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The Night Parade
By Kathryn Tanquary
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Kathryn Tanquary
All rights reserved.
From the backseat, Saki sent another desperate message on her phone. The reception bars dipped lower, and her palms slicked with sweat as the Toyota turned around a bend. The green mountains rose outside the window, but Saki's eyes were fixed on the screen. The hum of the air conditioner muted her father's snores while her little brother played a video game. His button tapping had the same force as a small typhoon, each burst louder and more frantic than the last. Her mother halfheartedly hummed to a radio station that had been cutting out since the song began. The static drowned the buzz of Saki's phone when the reply came at last.
She opened the message with a swipe and skimmed Hana's text.
going 2 odaiba 2nite, ttyl (^o^)
Saki frowned at the screen. She hadn't waited almost an hour for reception to get a message like that. She flopped back against the seat with a glare that could have set fire to the trees outside. Back in Tokyo, her friends were out shopping, eating crepes, and talking to high school boys two years too old for them. But instead of the summer vacation she wanted, Saki was forced to spend a week at her grandmother's creaky house in the middle of nowhere.
Hana had only made it worse. Her so-called best friend had found a new punching bag in Kaori, another girl in their circle. Before the summer break, Kaori had been seen talking with a boy Hana liked. When the news got back to Hana, she had gone on the warpath. Of course, Hana acted normal while Kaori was around, but the messages she sent Saki and the other girls in private were anything but friendly.
Saki thought that Hana was being unfair to Kaori, who was on the student council and had to talk to everyone in class, but if Saki spoke up and tried to remind the other girls of this fact, she'd risk Hana being mad at her too. Saki just wanted the whole thing to be over. She didn't want to have to agree with Hana's tirades anymore or watch her trying to sabotage Kaori's student council projects. After thinking it over, Saki decided a boring message was better than the alternative.
She faked an enthusiastic response and punched the send key. Her reception bars flickered and died. Saki stiffened in her seat then launched herself toward the front seat.
"Mom, stop the car!"
The Toyota jerked as it took a curve in the road, half a meter away from a tumble down into the river below, but Saki's mother kept her hands firmly on the wheel. "Saki, sit down and stop shouting. Do you have your seat belt on?"
"What? What's the matter?" Her father yawned and rubbed his eyes behind his glasses, stirred awake by the raised voices.
Saki leaned around the seat and showed him the red error message. "My signal is gone! We have to go back!"
"It's probably just the elevation." Her mother turned off the radio, which had become more static than music. "Calm down and try sending it again at Grandma's house."
"But that's, like, an hour. Hana's leaving now. If I don't answer, she's going to think I'm snubbing her on purpose!"
Her mother checked the time. "We passed Tatebayashi forty minutes ago. We'll be there sooner than you think. Hana can wait for a while, can't she?"
"Uh, no. She can't. You don't know what she's like," said Saki. "Come on. It's really important."
"Listen to your mother." Her father angled the GPS mount. "And put your seat belt on."
Saki slouched down and crossed her arms. She did not put her seat belt on but pulled her knees up and rested her feet on the edge of the seat. Her family was useless, as always. She'd expected that, but what really hurt was realizing that her friends didn't seem to care she'd be gone. Not one of them had bothered to ask when she'd be back. They had all of their adventures in the city planned out, and none of those plans included sparing time to think of her.
The car lurched around a hairpin turn on the narrow road. Saki drew in a breath through her nose to keep her carsickness at bay. Small, ragged shops began to appear on the edge of the forest.
"There it is!" Her father's voice broke her concentration as he shifted forward in his seat. "That's the last gas station. It's the next right."
The next turn took them down a road only wide enough for one car at a time. If the tires veered too far on either side, they'd slide into the wet rows of a rice paddy or a muddy patch of garden. The houses were so far apart that the only other sights to interrupt the panorama were a smattering of persimmon trees and the aging community center. Their car passed it at a crawl, as if the family needed a better view of the water stains on the concrete.
"Look at how many people are getting ready for the festival." Her mother leaned over the steering wheel to peer at the villagers putting up plastic tarps and hauling grills for their food stalls. "Doesn't that seem like fun?"
Neither Saki nor her brother responded. There was no phone signal, no shopping mall, and absolutely nothing to get excited about out here in the middle of nowhere. Not since Grandpa had died anyway.
Grandma was her father's mother. Her father's father had died three years ago, and now Grandma lived alone in a tiny village along the Watarase River. Both Saki and her brother should have been enjoying a month without homework and sleeping until noon. But instead of vacation, they'd had to wake up with the sun and drive out to the countryside to celebrate the Obon Festival, three full days of boring ceremonies to remember ancestors she hadn't even met, awkward talks with old people, and snail-pace traffic all over the Kanto Plain.
Her mother's parents lived west of Tokyo and thankfully never did much for Obon, but her grandmother who lived in the country believed in tradition. It wasn't fair. None of her friend's parents had forced them to go anywhere to celebrate Obon. It was true that most of their families had been born and raised in Tokyo for generations, but that didn't mean it was fair. Saki made a tortured face out the window as familiar landmarks appeared along the road.
Fewer than a thousand people lived in the mountain village. There was one convenience store, two noodle shops, and no karaoke parlor. The junior high school had a grand total of forty-two students, and the high school students had to commute almost an hour to the town down through the valley. Saki couldn't imagine growing up in a place so dull. She watched a patch of sunflowers sway as the car continued east and the road shrank to little more than a dirt trail.
Grandma lived in a house halfway up the mountain, a fifteen-minute hike from the village. There was a deserted Shinto shrine up near the top, and Grandma's house overlooked the only Buddhist temple in the village. An old graveyard took up most of the temple grounds, where the ancestral gravesites of every family in the village rested.
When Grandpa was still alive, he had taken care of all the temple chores and even a few at the small, forgotten Shinto shrine. As a priest, he officiated ceremonies for births and deaths, always complaining that there were fewer of the former every year. He also kept the grounds, including the vast graveyard. Grandpa knew every corner of the temple and every crevice of the shrine on the mountain. He kept the paths swept, the buildings in good repair, and the offerings fresh and neat. After he died, another priest from a nearby village would come down once a week to tidy up, rake the leaves, and take care of official business, but it had never been the same.
From the window, the tall stone monuments of the graveyard poked out from behind the trees. Saki's mother pulled up to the side of the huge thatched-roof house. Her father opened his door, and a rush of sticky heat from outside spoiled the breezy chill of the air-conditioning. Her mother turned off the engine and pushed back from the wheel.
"Well, we're here. How's your phone?"
Saki didn't move from her slouch. She had checked the signal on the way up the road. "Why do we have to leave every year? Everyone else I know is still in Tokyo." Saki's last visit to the village was the first Obon they'd spent without Grandpa. Obon was supposed to be a time to celebrate the spirits of the dead, but spending the three days of the festival in a place so close to his memory only made the loss sharper and more painful.
"That's not true. And you didn't complain last year."
"Last year we weren't in the middle of nowhere!" said Saki. "At least your hometown has entered the modern era."
Her mother leaned over and pulled off her brother's headphones. "Jun, we're here. You both can help your father with the luggage."
"Mom, I don't want to do Grandma's laundry again," Jun said with a whine. "Why do we always have to do chores?"
"Grandma doesn't even have a computer," Saki joined in. "How am I supposed to keep up with everyone else?"
"I had to touch her underwear." Her brother emphasized the point with a stab of his finger.
"I can't even send messages to my friends!"
"Her underwear, Mom."
Their father rapped his knuckles against the back window. Saki and Jun both snapped their mouths shut.
Grandma appeared to greet them in a gray yukata with a pale-blue flower print, her smile wrinkling the sides of her face. On a vacation in Hawaii, Saki's parents had bought Grandma a souvenir T-shirt. But Saki had never seen her wear anything except a yukata or kimono outside the house. They were all old and had been worn so many times that the fabric was soft like velvet.
"Saki, Junnosuke, look how big you've gotten!" Grandma gave each of them a sesame candy and hurried them inside. "This weather is so hot. Even when the sun goes down, I feel like I'm going to melt. You should leave your things here and cool off for a while."
Saki and her brother exchanged looks behind their parent's backs.
Grandma's house had no air conditioner. It was more than a hundred years old, built before electricity. All of the wires and plugs stuck out from the walls like sagging veins. The house stood above ground level, lined with vaulted wooden walkways. The inner floors were covered in tatami mats, except the kitchen, which had been remodeled with hideous orange linoleum four decades earlier. The sliding doors were screened with shoji paper that was peeling at the corners, and the thatched roof gave off a musty smell. It probably hadn't been changed since before Grandpa died.
Saki and her brother dragged their bags to the little room near the back corner. At least they were together in their misery. Saki slid the door open with her foot, heaving a heavy sigh. Jun took off like a shot.
"I'm taking the futon by the fan!"
"Uh, no. I'm older, so I get to choose first."
"I'll play you for it." He turned and held out his fist for a round of janken. With a roll of her eyes, Saki did the same. She threw rock, but Jun had his hand stretched out for paper. With a crow of victory, he flung his duffel atop the nearest stack of bedding.
Saki ignored him and put her bag next to the pile by the outer wall. The sliding doors to the outside had been opened wide to let the room air out. Only a few steps from the house, the forest rose up all around them. The trees were so thick that it was hard to tell one from another. Saki thought she could make out a path winding toward the mountaintop, but when she blinked, she saw nothing but a cluster of trees. A summer breeze stirred against her cheek before she slid the door closed and followed the sound of Grandma's aging radio back for tea.CHAPTER 2
They drank cold barley tea as Grandma worked in the kitchen to finish dinner. She stuffed them with thick homemade miso, cold noodles, and chilled tofu with soy sauce. When Saki refused a second helping of eggplant, Grandma tried to sneak a little more into her bowl when Saki turned her head toward the open doors to the forest.
"You're so skinny," Grandma said. "You can eat as much as you want while you're here."
"Make sure to finish everything," Saki's mother warned her. "We're lighting the Welcome Fire as soon as everyone's done with dinner. I don't want you two leaving food to waste and then complaining later that you're hungry."
"Right away?" Saki stopped halfway through a sip of tea. "We just got here."
"It's the first day of Obon. If we don't light the fire today, when else would we do it?" Her mother raised an eyebrow, the silent answer to her own rhetorical question. "Besides, I heard someone complaining in the car about hating to be bored ..."
Saki bit her tongue and stabbed her chopsticks into the noodles.
"Saki, dear, can I ask you to do a little favor for me?" Grandma pressed her hands together around her tea cup and smiled.
Saki shifted her legs on the floor. So this was how their vacation would begin. "Um, sure ..."
"We'll need a branch for the Welcome Fire tonight. Your father and your brother are helping chop the wood for the pyre, so if you wouldn't mind ... There's a special group of sakaki trees in the grove around the shrine. One of those branches would make the perfect centerpiece for tonight." Her eyes turned soft. "Grandpa used to get sakaki branches from the shrine every year, but my knees just aren't up to climbing that steep path. Do you think you could help fetch one for the fire?"
The rest of the family was looking at her. She couldn't exactly refuse. "Uh, sure? I'll ... try to find a dry one."
"Oh, if you could, please get a fresh branch. We want to welcome the ancestors with something green and full of life. I'll give you my gardening scissors to take with you. You might have to stretch a little, but I'm sure you can do it. You've gotten so tall."
"Okay, Grandma. Whatever you say." Saki tried to return Grandma's smile, but there was an empty space in her heart. She recalled a vague memory from when Grandpa was still alive. She used to ride on his shoulder as he went up the path to cut a sakaki branch, her fingers swatting at the leaves overhead. Now that he was gone, she didn't see any good reason to trudge all the way up the path for a piece of wood. They would just burn it anyway.
When they were finished with dinner, Grandma cleared the dishes and Saki's father took her brother around the side of the house to the woodpile. His voice drifted into the twilight calm of the forest as he explained the basics of building the fire. Saki stood on the stairs outside the front door and craned her neck toward the mountain path up to the shrine. A piece of cool metal tapped the bare skin of her arm.
"These are the sharpest cutters I could find," her mother said. "Make sure you get back down before you lose the daylight."
Saki took the gardening shears with a grimace. "What if I get lost?"
"Follow the path. It might be a little overgrown, but it shouldn't be that hard. Grandpa used to take you up there all the time."
Shooting her mother a dark look, Saki shoved the scissors into her back pocket and jammed her feet into her sneakers. The path to the shrine jutted up through the trees, and she had to quell the urge to kick every rock she came across. The trail cut up the side of the mountain in a steep zigzag, turning this way and that in no particular pattern.
The path was overgrown with weeds and vegetation, just as her mother had predicted. Visitors only came to the shrine on New Year's Day to make a wish, and without a dedicated priest like Grandpa to clear the path, it had grown wild and unruly. None of the forest animals feared humans. More than once, she had to step over the snakes slithering home after a lazy afternoon sunning themselves on the weather-worn rocks.
Saki scowled as the dust on the path coated every clean bit of her new white sneakers. As she climbed, the haze of the heat and the rhythmic cries of cicadas drowned out every other thought. Even through her breaking sweat, her eyes drooped with fatigue and boredom.
Saki hopped over a little brook at a bend in the path and veered around a fallen trunk of bamboo. A fat frog jumped out onto the trail, and Saki snapped to a halt, her foot frozen in the air. With a low croak, the frog hopped away, unaware of how close it had come to getting trampled.
"Excuse you," she called after the creature. "Why don't you watch where you're going?"
She climbed closer and closer to the sinking sun, yet the path turned dark as the forest thickened. Only little patches of sunlight streamed through the shifting leaves, twisting and reappearing before her eyes. Her breath came quick and raspy, the cries of the cicadas dropped off to a dull murmur, and Saki brushed her fingers against the handle of the gardening scissors in her pocket just to make sure they were still there.
Excerpted from The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary. Copyright © 2016 Kathryn Tanquary. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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