Authors: Amanda Sun
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Paranormal, #Mythologie, #Young Adult
Paper Gods Novella
Meet two teens whose worlds are about to
change forever in this paranormal Young Adult novella, a prequel to
author Amanda Sun...
Katie Greene’s worst nightmare comes true when her mother
dies, and she’s devastated to learn that she will have to leave the only home
she’s ever known. Desperate to find where she belongs, she must decide if she
has what it takes to start a new life across the ocean.
For Yuu Tomohiro, every day is a nightmare. He struggles to
control his strange ability, and keeps everyone at a distance so they won’t get
hurt—even his girlfriend, Myu. At night, a shadow haunts his dreams, and a
mysterious woman torments him with omens of death and destruction. But these
haunting premonitions are only the beginning...
Don’t miss the moment when Katie’s and
Tomohiro’s worlds collide in
book one of The Paper Gods series from
Taira stumbled in the sand, only for a moment, but it was long enough for the shadow to reach him. It uncurled a smoky finger that scraped along the side of his ankle. He yelled out and pushed himself off the sand with his hands, the sharp grains sticking to his palms as he staggered along the shore. The wooden geta sandal fell from his foot and the shadows swirled around it, parting on either side in ashen waves before they engulfed it with the dull glimmer of oil.
His body wasn’t so young anymore—he struggled with each step, heaving breath into his burning lungs. The whispers of the shadows moaned in his ears, sweeping across his thoughts like they were coming from inside his own head.
How do you run from yourself?
But he kept running, imprints of a single footprint lapped by the tide, the raised geta on his other foot carving deep lines into the sand. Half nobleman, half monster, scrambling to the only place he might be safe. And even then, there was no guarantee.
He couldn’t give up.
The arch rose in front of him as he neared, the bright orange of it dulled by the oncoming twilight. Two large urns placed on either side of the Torii smoked with sour incense and thin, waxy candles. They seemed so far away. Too far.
The voices rose in awkward discord. “Taira no Kiyomori,” they breathed, each syllable a separate voice.
He didn’t dare look back. The shadow’s breath was on him; he could feel it searing the nape of his neck.
He stumbled toward the Torii. The tide lapped in to shore, washing only knee-deep against the base of the orange gateway. It towered above him, the huge Shinto entrance to Itsukushima Shrine. He’d gone through this doorway before, but not on foot. How beautiful the imperial ships had looked as they sailed through the Torii at full tide, how colorful as they approached the shrine flooding with the sounds of
dancing. But not now. Now it was stark, the white salt spray of the ocean peeling away the pale orange paint on the shrine’s walkways. Taira splashed through the surf alone, forgotten, toward the barnacle-encrusted legs of the gate.
If this didn’t work, he was dead.
He might be dead anyway. The ink had soaked too deep beneath the surface of his life. He was drowning—what’s a last gasp of air to one already lost to the angry waves?
, he thought.
A shadow ensnared his lone sandal and he fell forward to a mouthful of sand. Another inky swirl tugged on his ankle. He kicked them back as he dragged himself through the gate. The shadows smashed against the Torii like a dark tide, all of them trying to enter at once, jamming the space between the legs of the gate like storm clouds, the darkness stretching to the huge orange beam laid across the top.
Taira coughed and sputtered as he kicked the shadows off his feet, watching as they struggled to enter the shrine. But they couldn’t. It was forbidden, just as he’d hoped. Golden light flashed like lightning across the shadows’ surface as they tried to break through the sacred barrier. They moaned and shrieked, denied their victim.
Taira breathed heavily, watching, the sand sharp against his palms.
“So,” said a woman’s gentle voice, and Taira leapt upright. “You have run from yourself.”
She wore a beautiful kimono of pure gold, embroidered with threads of silver. A red obi was tightly wound around her waist, and her slender hands rested upon the back of a heavy brass mirror as big as a shield.
“You know you cannot fight,” she said.
“It is what it means to be one of us,” she said. “You must bear the marks.”
“Help me,” he said, falling to his knees before her. The returning tide soaked into his
skirt, logging the fabric with heavy salt water.
“There is no help for you,” she said. “There is no escape. There is only death.”
And she turned the mirror in her hands, the bottom of it grinding in the sand as she twisted it to reveal the reflective glass.
Taira looked into it, but he didn’t see his reflection.
He saw me.
It rained all of August, but the day of the funeral was
so bright and sunny that my family struggled to mourn. They waved their programs
back and forth, pulling at the necks of their tight dresses and their choking
black neckties as the sweat poured down. Black was the worst possible choice on
a record-breaking day like this. Mom had always hated black, and I felt like the
heat was her way of having the last word.
At least I knew what she’d want. I wore red.
It was strange watching our living room fill up with
mourners—strange and horrifying. It didn’t feel like
space anymore, Mom and me, but like a moving picture of a place
I’d once known. I hadn’t been back in the house until two days ago, and then
only to pluck the red dress from my closet. I’d been staying with Mom’s friend
Linda, not because I couldn’t fend for myself at sixteen, but because she
worried the silence of the empty house would be too much to bear.
She wasn’t wrong. The only way I’d found to survive was to numb
myself to the loss, the icy cold sting of it freezing my heart until the reality
of her death was merely something disorienting, something I couldn’t really
Mom couldn’t be gone. That wasn’t something that could even
happen to me. She had been totally fine before I’d found her that morning. I’d
even poured myself a bowl of cereal, thinking she was just sleeping in late.
I knew that wasn’t like her, but it’s not like you expect
people to die. You somehow think they won’t, that life will just carry on the
way it is now. You get too comfortable.
And then life shatters, and you pull the shards around yourself
so you can pretend it’s all fine.
As much as the quiet of the house had creeped me out, seeing
the living room full of people was somehow worse. Watching half strangers grind
their sweaty bodies into the fabric of our cushions, sipping punch on the good
couch where Mom never allowed food—it was like I was a ghost, like the house had
somehow shifted into a new future where I didn’t belong.
If I couldn’t stay here, then thank god I was going back to
Canada with Nan. My own space wasn’t comfortable anymore. I was a stranger to
“Cocktail weenie?” came a loud voice and I looked up. I’d been
huddled in the corner by the stairs, but I guess with my red dress I still stuck
“Aunt Diane,” I said. She was the only other burst of color in
the room, wearing a black dress covered in purple flowers and a too-dark purple
lipstick to match.
“Have one,” Diane said, wiggling the silver tray at me. She had
a forced smile on her face, but even then she looked way too cheerful. “You look
like you could use a bit of a pick-me-up.” I didn’t think we’d even owned a tray
like that. Mom would have thought it tacky and cliché.
“A pick-me-up?” I said, staring at her. “My mom is dead, and
you think a cocktail weenie is going to help?” It was snarky, and I knew better,
but the room full of strangers was stifling. I was starting to feel
claustrophobic, when there’d always been enough room in the house for Mom and
me. It was like all my relatives had brought little pickaxes to chisel away at
the barrier I’d built around myself so I didn’t have to face the truth. Couldn’t
they just leave already?
“Trust me,” Diane said, thrusting the tray closer. “I’ve lost
my sister, and the last way I want to remember her is cramped in a room with
sweat and bad breath and a bunch of people she wouldn’t have wanted here anyway.
You and I need some calories to get through this.” I looked into the sea of
black as the mourners trampled around our living room and spilled into the
kitchen. There was no space for memories; there was no space to breathe.
I reached a shaky hand toward the tray and loaded a couple
different snacks onto a napkin. “Thanks.”
“Okay,” she said, and then she was gone, shoving the tray into
the face of one of Mom’s coworkers.
I didn’t know Aunt Diane very well. She’d moved to Japan to
teach English when I was eight, and before that, she’d moved around the States
teaching in a bunch of small schools. She had a nomadic streak, restless the way
Mom was, but unlike her, Diane longed to see other countries. Mom liked to stay
where things were predictable and safe. I wondered now if she would have
regretted that choice. If she’d known she’d die so young, would she have lived
The anxiety trickled through me. When would death come for me?
Would I suddenly stop existing in the night, leaving a trail of restless
mourners to share memories over puff pastries and room-temperature punch? The
minister had talked about Mom’s legacy to us, her compassion and giving—she was
always volunteering for things, helping people out in the community, although
she often turned around and made human interest stories out of the experiences
for her newspaper gigs. What was my legacy? Would my life matter?
Did I matter anymore, now that Mom was gone?
Deep thoughts for a sweaty living room but the panic rose in me
Mom is gone.
I felt like I would break into a million
shards, all pinpricks and a blood-red dress and pain, clouds looming over me,
raining only on me in the whole room.
“There’s my Katie.” Suddenly Nan was towering over me, which
she could only do if I was curled in the corner the way I was. It felt as if
reality swirled on either side of her, the cracks holding together like
fragmented glass as I stared at her hopefully, like she could fix it
“Nan,” I said, getting to my feet and then towering over
“You’re like a bright red rose in a garden of wilting flowers,”
she said, rubbing the fabric of my dress between her fingers as I hugged her.
“Don’t you look pretty in that dress?”
“Mom never liked black,” I said, and Nan grinned.
“I know,” she whispered, and pulled back the neck of her dress
to show the bright magenta camisole underneath. I smiled, though I felt like
crying. “You and me, we’re a couple of troublemakers.” She gave me a sly
“Yeah,” I said. “We’re rebels.” I relaxed a bit as Nan held my
hands in hers. She understood. She knew what I was feeling. And I was so glad to
have her here, because I knew enough to know I was breaking.
Leaving Albany would suck. I’d managed to get into the Advanced
English class I’d wanted at school, and there’d been a waitlist a mile long for
that time slot. And leaving my friends and my home—leaving my life with
But at least I had a few friends I knew from summer vacations
in Canada. And being with Nan and Gramps was familiar and comfortable. Their
house was small, an old converted log cabin that they’d built on to, but I was
sure they’d find room for me somehow. Maybe the attic that Nan always talked
about fixing up when Gramps was better.
“I better go say hello to Linda,” she said. “Thank her for
pulling things together, you know.” Linda had done most of the organizing for
the funeral because Nan had her hands full with Gramps’ health.
“Okay,” I said. “Where’s Gramps? I want to say hi.” I hadn’t
noticed him at the funeral, but then again, I’d spent most of the service
staring at my lap, pretending it wasn’t happening.
Nan didn’t let go of my hands. Then she squeezed them, her
mouth a thin line.
“He couldn’t come, Katie.”
“But” I scanned the room for his smile, the curve of his back
as he stumbled along with effort, but of course Nan wouldn’t lie about it. “How
are we going to drive to Deep River?”
“Let’s talk after, okay? It’s been a long day for you.”
I wanted to ask how they were planning on getting all my stuff
back to their house if Gramps wasn’t here. Had someone else driven Nan to pick
me up? Were we going to fly? I opened my mouth to ask, but the serious look in
her eyes silenced me.
“Okay,” I said. “After.” Nan squeezed my hands one more time
before she dropped them. She walked into the kitchen calling Linda’s name, and I
was left to wonder just how sick Gramps was. I thought the last round of chemo
had finished a while ago, but if he didn’t come with Nan, it couldn’t be good
news. At least I’d be able to help Nan take care of him when I moved up. How
much time did he have? I thought he’d be in remission by now.
The thought was too much to handle in the middle of Mom’s
funeral. Death surrounding me, pressing in from every angle. I felt the tears
welling up in my eyes as I rubbed the rough fabric of my dress between my
fingers. I was drowning, the room starting to spin. I leaned against the
banister for support.
“Katie,” called someone, and I looked up. My mom’s coworker
from the newspaper, with a wine glass in her hand and a deeply concerned look on
“Hi,” I managed, but my heart was pounding in my ears.
“You poor sweetie,” she whined, and suddenly the spindles of
the staircase felt too solid against my back, like the bars of a cage. “How are
My mom is gone
Nan’s acting weird
my house is
full of people who suddenly care about us and my whole life is
How do you think I’m doing?
“Um, I’m okay.”
“It will take time,” she said, swirling the punch around the
wine glass. “But time heals all wounds, you know. She’s in a better place now,
your mom. I know she’s looking down on you and smiling.”
I wanted her to butt out. How did she know what I was feeling?
It’s not like I didn’t hope it was all true, that Mom was in heaven and happy
and all that. But I didn’t need this clueless woman reassuring me. She didn’t
know anything. She barely even knew me.
I had to get out of there before I lost it. I didn’t want to
cry in front of all these people. I didn’t want them to swarm me with their
“Thanks for coming,” I said quietly and squeezed myself past
her outstretched arm as it swirled the punch round and round. I walked along the
wall to the foot of the stairs and bolted up them.
I shut my door behind me, sliding down to the floor. The air
was familiar here, cooler than the living room. My eyes glazed over as I stared
at my bookshelf, running my eyes over the colored spines and letting my mind go
I was nothing now. I didn’t have to be angry, or sad, or
confused. I could fade away, barely here at all.
It lasted about five minutes before I burst into tears.
I forced them back, unwilling to accept the truth. When my
heart had calmed down and I could hear the birds chirping outside instead of the
pulse in my ears, I mulled over why Gramps hadn’t come. He loved Mom, his eyes
always shining when we visited. There’s no way he would’ve missed the funeral
unless he was really sick.
One of the books on the bookshelf stuck out farther than the
others, and my eyes kept drifting back to its odd shape. I rocked forward onto
my knees and reached for it. The novels on either side of it toppled over with a
thud as I pulled it out. No wonder it stood out beside them—it was the thick
travel guide Diane had sent from Japan for my twelfth birthday, hoping she could
convince me to visit. She’d just about given up on Mom, but at twelve I could
fly without an adult.
“No way, José,” Mom had said when I’d asked.
“Why?” I’d whined.
“Send my baby girl to the other side of the world? You’re
“Just for a week, Mom!”
“And then? What if you want to live there forever? What if you
never come back?”
“Like that would happen.”
“Diane never came back, honey. Why do you think you would?”
It was such a strange thing to say, I remembered thinking. Who
wouldn’t come home from a vacation? But Mom’s eyes had filled with tears.
“We need to stick together, Katie. You’re everything to
She was afraid. Dad had left her, and she was terrified I’d
leave her, too.
“Okay, Mom. I’ll stay with you. Promise.”
I flipped the pages mindlessly, past glossy photos of cherry
blossoms, Buddhist temples, markets filled with rows of gleaming fish.
When my tears fell, they wrinkled the pages until I couldn’t
even read the words.
I’d kept my promise. I’d stayed.
And after all her worrying, it was Mom who’d left me.