There’s a folk tale in Japanese legend known as the Hyakki Yagyō. Literally translated, that name meant “the Night Parade of One Hundred Demons”.
As names go, it’s very descriptive and on the nose.
Imagine just a normal night in feudal Japan.
You’re there with your homies, probably fellow peasantry. More likely than not, you farmed or tended to livestock, and weren’t born lucky enough to be among the samurai class. Speaking of, the local samurai were being drunk idiots, as they were want to do, and you just wanted to go back home and sleep it off before you came back to the rice farms the next morning. Your job’s really important, despite what the upper class thought, because not a lot of Japan’s surface area was actually viable for farming.
So you walked back home, and discovered that the roads were full of yōkai – Japan’s name for their many monsters and supernatural beings.
In Japan, the yōkai existed as parables, like fairy tales in the West.
Did you trip and fall and scrape your knee? It could be a yōkai. Are you having trouble navigating back home after a night drinking too much sake? A yōkai did it. Did you forget to clean the bathroom? Yeah, there’s a yōkai there now. Sorry. Your scrubbing bubbles will avail you not.
Of course, not all yōkai were monsters and not all monsters were yōkai. Which was to say, not every yōkai existed to steal your children, eat your money, or make you cry. That being said, even if you were to make friends with the nicer, more benign yōkai… you wouldn’t want them babysitting your children or helping you with your taxes. You certainly wouldn’t want to take an emotional support yōkai with you on an airplane.
To the superstitious people of feudal Japan, every single interaction you ever have in your life could be tied back to these beings. If you live your life in caution and appeasement, then you’ll live long.
Well, unless you crossed paths with an oni.
Or the Night Parade.
Then you’re in trouble.
Wall to wall yōkai, of every shape and size. Some weren’t all that dangerous. Benign, even. And others were so dangerous that merely being around them would be hazardous to one’s health.
It’s dark that night.
And if you weren’t careful, nobody would even hear you scream.
The streets were full on this night unlike any other.
For on this night, the ghouls came out. The specters drifted in the air. The ghosts were out to get you. So were the oni, the kitsune, and the tanuki. Also the akaname, but word of advice? Don’t look that thing up. Seriously. You might not look at your bathroom the same way again.
This was Halloween.
It was that time of the year when pumpkins began screaming indecipherably at the darkest of hours.
It was when everyone made a scene.
It was when little children, dressed in all manners of crazy outfits, trick or treated until all of the neighbors were “too scurred”. As kids knew, adults were always very scared when you poke holes in your bed sheet and put it over your head. Or just mad that you ruined a perfectly good sheet.
One of the two.
Seattle was known for several things, but especially the rain. The unceasing drizzle that defined more than half of the entire year in the city. Trick-or-treating was often done under the cover of umbrella and, unless you were a karakasa-obake, that wasn’t as spooky.
Every year, the Avalon household – that’s just Coral and Annabelle – took part in Halloween festivities. When they were still traveling together and didn’t stay home as much, this mainly amounted to attending whatever Halloween party was available at the time.
Yes, they did costumes. Still did, in fact.
If you had guessed that Coral Avalon was dressed up as a berry for Halloween, you would be correct.
You knew him as the Devil Fruit. The Benevolent God-King Emperor Sensei of the Scenic, yet Diabolical Nation of Fruitsylvania.
Baron von Blackberry.
Every time the children walked up to the house, he would go into a similar routine.
He would begin with maniacal laughter as he stood menacingly at the top of the stairs, his hands held out as though milking invisible cows. Dressed in his usual regalia, including his famous and definitely not sexual blackberry mask, the Devil Fruit addressed the trick-or-treaters in his usual fashion.
“BEHOLD, CHILDREN OF ALL AGES! I, the great and mighty and ABSOLUTELY perfect Baron von Blackberry have amassed a veritable dragon’s hoard of treats from the world over!”
Or the local Wal-Mart.
Behind him, a very pretty witch in a wide-brimmed hat strummed an acoustic guitar. Her black dress was highlighted by a series of silk scarves in different shades of purple wrapped around her arms, and her hair was a pale shade of pink that used to be more pastel.
For the most part, Annabelle Avalon was content to sit there and let her husband do what he did best – put on a stupid mask and pretend to be an idiot for a few hours. Well, okay, what Coral actually did best was wrestle professionally, but most children didn’t know that. They knew him as the daffy berry antagonist to Mega Job on a popular YouTube animated series.
“Trick or treat!” the latest batch of kids announced when they arrived. Under the cover of an umbrella held by an attentive parent dressed like a witch in her own right, these kids were all dressed looking like the Avengers. For whatever reason, though, the lead kid in front was the one dressed like Hawkeye.
“Ah, yes! Tricks or treats, indeed. Which would you prefer, hm?” Coral-as-Blackberry said, his arm flourishing as he spoke, “A trick! Yes! And what trick shall the great Baron von Blackberry perform for you?”
The children clearly expected more of a treat than a trick, and vocalized as such, much to the consternation of the witch parent carrying the umbrella.
“Yes, the trick shall be… double treats!” the Devil Fruit announced, stepping backwards and dipping both hands into the buckets of candy by his sides. “Come forth! AHAHAHAHA!”
Coral made a show of giving the treats to the kids, who were now much more ecstatic about his “trick”.
Once the last of the kids received their assortment of “fun size” candies, Coral placed his hands on his hips and said, “And remember, children! Brush your teeth after eating your treats!”
The child Avengers whooped and cheered in varying degrees of enthusiasm, and then they were on their way.
Annabelle stopped playing the guitar for a moment as Coral watched them go.
“How do you not blow your voice out doing that for hours on end?” she asked.
Coral started to answer, and then coughed.
He placed his hands on his knees, and let the coughing pass before he said, “Gonna need some tea and honey after this.”
Annabelle rolled her eyes, “Go make some. I’ll handle the kids.”
“And deprive them of the neighborhood’s only cartoon character?” Coral asked with a smile.
Annabelle smiled pleasantly at her husband, teeth showing, “The neighborhood’s only cartoon character should rest his voice so that he can do a big wrestle in Vegas in a couple of days without worrying about sounding like he’s aged thirty years.”
It looked a little odd when you couldn’t see his eyes through the Blackberry mask.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Coral said, “Are you going to be fine out here?”
Annabelle set her guitar down and stood at her full, witchy height of barely a head under his height, her hands on her hips.
“Sweetie, I was born ready to handle some unruly demons.”
You fled from the Night Parade.
It’s all you could do.
Ten men could do little but scream, bleed, and gurgle in the face of a single ill-tempered yōkai. What chance did a single person have against a hundred?
You’d have a better chance winning a fight against an actual mountain.
So, you fled.
The night had plenty of terrors, and so too did the Night Parade.
Those screams in the night weren’t just your own.
You were being pursued.
In the skies above, round objects covered in hair darted across the moonlit sky. At first, you’re not sure what they were, but then the moonlight shines just right. There’s human faces behind all that hair, heads disembodied.
As you’re being pursued, you find a lady in the night whom you think they could help, only to see her neck stretch like rubber and her head to come after you, teeth bared.
It’s all you could do.
Only a fool challenged the Night Parade.
Coral felt tired.
He could wrestle a full 60-minute match against pound-for-pound the best wrestler in Japan, no problem. He’d been running a marathon for charity every year since he permanently moved to Seattle. He once won a match so brutal that he almost died from blood loss following the conclusion of the match.
Yet entertaining a myriad of children for hours in full character drained him much worse than any of that.
Annabelle had gone to bed early, while Coral found himself on the couch. Not for anything he did, surely not, but because he was too tired to make his way to the bedroom, and too tired to sleep.
Such a state often left you with nothing but the ghosts in your head.
“How does it feel knowin’ that I did in a year what you still ain’t done in twenty?”
It was a familiar twang. A voice from the past. A bitter enemy whose name still haunted Coral to this very day. If Joe Fontaine were here, he’d recognize the voice as his “Uncle Jeff”. Even in his exhausted state, Coral knew better than to address the voice. Since it’s in his head. It wasn’t the real man.
Of course, that didn’t stop the voice from egging him on.
“You fancy yourself a king? Hah. You ain’t even capable of beatin’ some wet-behind-the-ears French greenhorn. Did he throw his diapers at you or somethin’?”
Coral picked up the remote to the TV and hit the mute button on it.
The TV wasn’t even on, yet the voice stopped.
For a while, there was nothing. Coral barely heard the sound of the rain hitting the roof of his house.
He looked around the dimly lit living room. The living room felt more ominous than it had in the past. Shadows danced from the only real source of light in the room, a set of novelty fake candles that adorned the shelves for the Halloween season.
The shadows seemed to dance more as the voice came back to his head.
“Hey, tell me something.”
Coral’s heart leapt up in his chest.
No, that was a different voice. A little more nasally. More West Coast. Coral wished he had the energy to throw himself out of a window instead of listening to the conjured spirit of Joe’s “Uncle Keith”. After all, all of the worst people in Coral’s life married into the Malone family.
“Does it still sting to know how much I took from you?”
Coral had half a mind to fly to Berkeley and show “Uncle Keith” what for, even if it was an apparition in his head. Instead, he picked up the remote and flung it into the nearby recliner. It hit with a thud, bounced up, and then landed on the floor.
Maybe Coral would have addressed that comment. Maybe he would’ve given that voice in his delirious, exhausted head the time of day.
But then, he was attacked.
His attacker went for his unprotected lap, and pain shot up as they struck him in the groin. He yelled, and flopped over so thoroughly that he fell to the floor.
Coral was fortunate, perhaps, that years of wrestling professionally had taught his body how to take a fall without hurting himself. His pain could be managed.
He stared at his attacker, who was now hiding underneath the dining room chairs as though they thought it could conceal them.
Coral muttered to himself, “Dammit, Mordred.”
That’s the name of one of the Avalon couple’s two cats. Specifically, Mordred was Coral’s barely tamed, plump, thirty pound Siamese cat.
Yes, he named him Mordred.
Yes, he was aware of the irony.
Yes, he was pretty sure Mordred might be the end of him.
Coral laid there for a while, too tired to even bother getting up.
He didn’t remember when he fell asleep.
Your lungs can’t get enough air.
Your adrenaline’s burning through your blood like an out-of-control wildfire.
You’re almost mad with panic as the yōkai of the night searched for you, amidst their brand of merrymaking.
But somehow, you’ve found yourself in a small cave, little more than a hole in the ground. You manage to cover the entrance and watch the Night Parade in relative safety.
There’s blood. And screams. It’s a festival of pain. Those less fortunate than yourself were gathered for the yōkai’s pleasure, and even death itself would’ve been a mercy for the things that were done to them.
The intoxicating odor of the oni’s sake drifted in the air. Too much of a whiff of that, and you’ll unthinkingly drunk. If it didn’t kill you. There’s a mesmerizing dance among some of the yōkai, as though compelling you to join them in the revelry. But you’d seen what happened to those that had, and you did all you could to resist the compulsion.
You’d never seen such madness.
But then, the Night Parade had another name.
One that the West knew all too well.
A few days ago, Franco Marchesi watched as Shawn Warstein flew into the air as though launched from a trebuchet, landing with a cacophonous thud onto the canvas.
And Ivan Stanislav picked up the easy three count from the Red Scare.
It was the media room in the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School, and Coral had decided to take in the last match that Ivan Stanislav had wrestled in PRIME. It had been the first time Coral had the chance to see the big Russian in person, even before he had film to study.
He had only one question after the conclusion of the match, “When was the last time you wrestled a man this massive?”
Coral didn’t have to think very long, “Elijah, in the TC-X.”
Franco didn’t need further elaboration. That match ended extremely poorly for him.
“So, you’re in trouble, then.”
“Yeah,” Coral admitted, rewinding the video. He watched Warstein go flying again. There was a satisfaction in this. Coral had nothing against Shawn, but he wondered how far he could’ve actually flown if Ivan was younger, when he was at his strongest. He paused the video at the apex of Warstein’s ascent. There, frozen on the screen, was a man about to land like an Eminem track in the 2020s: flat on his back.
“I remember Ivan being a terror a long time ago, well before I got started doing this. Less of a man, more of a force of nature. The man’s one of a kind. They don’t build them like Ivan any more, Franco.”
“Giving up so soon?” Franco asked.
Coral let out a short laugh, “Who said anything about giving up?”
He rewound the tape, replayed it, and Warstein went flying again. That could be him soon. Flying majestically in the air in the way that people with normal thighs didn’t.
It was Coral’s job to make sure it wasn’t.
He rewound a little further. Closer to the middle of the match.
“Okay, Franco. Here’s what I think, you tell me if I’m crazy or not.”
Franco replied almost instantaneously, “You’re crazy.”
“I hadn’t even said anything yet!”
The normally placid Franco gave him a rare smile, “Knee-jerk reaction, sorry.”
“Okay, so. What do you know about yōkai?” Coral asked.
“Next to nothing. Demons of some kind, I guess.”
“Annie’s folks like stories about yōkai, and love to tell me about them when we go across the Pacific to visit. Old wives’ tales, really, but kind of interesting. It’d be easy to call Ivan an oni. Big, thick, terribly strong, not to be trifled with. I think that would’ve been true twenty years ago. You know what I think he is now?” Coral asked.
“Next to nothing,” Franco deadpanned.
“He’s a nurikabe. It’s this big wall yōkai. It gets in the way of you as you’re trying to make your way down your path. No matter how you try to bypass it, that wall moves as you do. Impenetrable. No amount of force could displace it. You might as well turn around and go back the way you came, if it’ll let you,” Coral said. He paused, and then added, “But do you know what a nurikabe has that an oni doesn’t?”
Coral played the tape again. As Warstein tried – one might say valiantly – to fight off the huge Russian, Coral spoke.
“If you knock on the lower-left part of the nurikabe’s body, they go away. They don’t like it. Maybe that’s where they store their balls, I don’t know. But it’s the same with Ivan. Well, not the balls thing, but you get the idea,” Coral said. He paused the tape, and pointed at the frozen image of Stanislav on the screen, “So, Ivan’s carrying a lot of weight on 60-year-old knees, right?”
“So if I knock him in the knees, no matter how strong and tough he is, he’ll go down. Eventually.” Coral said.
Franco thought about it.
“Avy, you know this is not a simple weakness to exploit,” he said, eventually, “You are wrestling a T-90 main battle tank. It might be rusted with age, but it’s still dangerous when used well. And, honestly, Ivan’s size isn’t the issue here.”
“It’s that he’s a hero.”
Coral winced, “Oh.”
Coral knew what he was getting at.
Ivan Stanislav’s name was celebrated all across Russia. They used to hold pay-per-views in Moscow specifically to take advantage of his immense popularity in the country. Someone so celebrated as a hero was never so easily broken.
Coral knew it wasn’t going to be simple even before he outlined his plan, but that reminder made him even more concerned that he was going to have to go with the original plan.
The one he didn’t want to do.
“Then I guess the best way I beat Ivan is to tire him out,” Coral said, a tone of resignation in his voice because he knew that this was going to suck, “And then, when he’s exhausted himself, I’m going to crawl on top of him and beat him with whatever’s left of my body.”
“I’ll notify your next of kin.”
When you’re caught in the middle of the Night Parade, your best and only defense is to simply outlast it.
And when the morning comes and the Night Parade disappears, you’ll be able to crawl out of that hole you dug for yourself. You’ll be able to breathe the air without becoming intoxicated by it.
You’ll be able to go back home.
You’ll live to breathe another day.
After all, even the most powerful yōkai feared the dawn.
“So, how long are you going to lie there?” Annabelle asked. She crouched down by his head, and lightly slapped him in the face a few times. She sing-songed by his ear, “Rise and shine, sweetie~”
Coral’s eyes opened for a moment, and regarded his wife’s amused expression.
“Five more minutes.”
“No can do.” Annabelle said. “You don’t get up, and I’m pouring my coffee on your head where you lay. And I assure you, it’s still quite warm.”
He only noticed now that there was a weight on his chest. He looked up and at the small, light object perched on his chest. That was Annabelle’s beloved cat, Suisei. Evidently, she’d decided that he’d made a good pillow.
She stared at him with piercing yellow eyes. Yes, pitiful human, continue lying there. I shall judge you accordingly.
She looked down at him with some concern.
“Rough night?” she asked.
“Just Mordred trying to assassinate me,” Coral said, “That’s all.”
He didn’t want to talk about those voices he conjured up in exhausted delusion. She might think he’s crazy. Well, crazier than usual.
“Is that right?” Annabelle asked, “Well, get up. Don’t need you to catch a cold down there.”
Coral sat up, and Suisei departed to the safety of the couch.
He felt sore all over. Well, more than usual, as a professional wrestler spent their lives sore.
But it was a new dawn.
And he had a monster to defeat.