The third story for the Grotesque Portrait Award is bone jarring horror joint by Ash Warren. 

Yamauba // A horror short story by Ash Warren

The bodies in the back were starting to smell.

The Keeper opened the window a little as he drove to let in some fresh air.

‘It stinks in here.’ said Kenji, who tonight was having his first trip up into the Higashiyama hills behind Kyoto.

‘Well, it’s summer. They go off really fast.’

Kenji made a face and lit a cigarette.

‘So… what are they like?’

The Keeper looked straight ahead and smiled.


‘That’s it? Hungry?’


Kenji rode in silence for a while as the keeper gunned the small truck up the winding mountain road.

‘I heard they were just dumped up there by their families when they got too old, is that right?’

‘Yeah, that’s about the size of it.’

The boy stared out into the darkness.

‘Kinda no wonder then…’

The Keeper looked at him. New assistants were always the worst, and his Department kept sending the young ones on Employment Training.

‘Actually they can look pretty good when they want to.’ He said encouragingly.

‘Yeah, right…’ Kenji said rather less than enthusiastically.

They turned off the road and headed up a small winding driveway set in amongst the trees, which suddenly opened up on a wide open space where, lit up in the moonlight, they could see a large, European-style stone house sitting on the banks of a small stream. The house had clearly once been a windmill, but two of the four sails were torn, the canvass hanging in strips from the arms. The windows on the ground floor however, were brightly lit behind their neat lace curtains.

They got out of the truck and the front door of the house suddenly opened allowing a pool of light to fall on the ground. A beautiful young woman wearing a blood-red kimono with a white collar came tripping lightly down the front steps.

‘Why hello Keeper….’ She said, her voice deep and sultry and not at all like someone so young. ‘And who’s this young….man….’ She reached out and gently stroked Kenji’s cheek.

The boy jumped back like he’d been bitten.

‘Yummy…’ she purred.

The Keeper cleared his throat loudly.

‘So nice to see you, Lady Michiko. How have you been?’

The woman left the startled boy and moved to the doorway, where now two other lovely young women were standing, also dressed in bright kimono and wearing the white makeup and bright hairpieces of maiko.

The Keeper bowed deeply to them.

‘Lady Sachiko, Lady Kana.’ He knew they liked to use these titles and it wasn’t, in his long experience, a good idea to irritate them.

The two young women bowed and giggled behind their hands.

Lady Michiko joined the others at the doorway.

‘So sorry to have kept you waiting. Shall we?’ said the Keeper politely. He wanted to get this done as it was a long drive back.

The women moved inside and the Keeper pushed Kenji firmly around the back of the truck. They quickly took the three covered stretchers into the house one by one and laid them on the stone floor. The Keeper then bowed deeply to the women in farewell.

The women replied with a similar deep bow, but when they lifted their heads a transformation had taken place. Their beautiful faces were completely gone, and each had been replaced with a huge red open mouth filled with long razor sharp teeth.

He looked at his assistant, who was standing bug-eyed and white as a bowl of rice.

The Keeper backed quickly out the door, locked it behind him and left them to their meal. And to Kenji. An ear-splitting screaming erupted from behind the door which might have been his assistant but it was hard to tell, there was always a lot of noise.

He climbed back into the truck and drove off down the darkened road.

They were tidy eaters at least, the Yamauba. And the windmill still turned the large millstone which allowed them to grind up the bones which they could then just dump in the stream. Very neat.

‘Oh well,’ he said aloud. ‘It’s better than having them hunting……’

Yes, better not to have that, he thought. Bad for tourism.