Neo slipped off his shoes and stepped into the building, his bare feet hitting the bamboo mat.
In front of him stood a calico cat, beckoning him inside with one hand, and with the other she held a large coin. When he approached the cat she stopped waving and looked up at him expectantly.
Neo fished a few yen from his pocket and knelt down, the cat smiled at him and closed her eyes.
The coin in her hand glowed, and in response so did the coins that Neo was holding; and when her coin ceased to shine all of the money Neo was holding disappeared.
With that Neo stood and bowed his head, the cat stepped inside, allowing him passage through the bath house.
Neo turned to pick up his shoes, and when he looked back another cat approached him, this one was pink and when he looked over to her she was already smiling from ear to ear.
The pink cat beckoned him to follow, and as he did so hearts began to sprout from the coin she was holding, drifting into the air and leaving a trail of hearts for him to follow.
The cat walked on her hind legs, weaving in between all the other spirits he passed with ease---as if she knew exactly where he would be at the exact time and because of this Neo found it difficult to keep up.
It was the older spirits that paid him the most attention as he walked down the hall, and the more he looked at him the brighter the green of his eyes got. He tried not to let it bother him.
At the end of the hall the pink cat was waiting for him in front of a door, once again beckoning him; but this time when he reached her she stopped waving and held out a key, still smiling.
Thank you he said, bowing.
The cat stepped aside, hearts circling around her head. Neo slid open the door, and was greeted by the fresh warm feeling of steam.
Neo closed the door behind him, trapping the steam inside the room.
He stripped down and put his clothes inside a locker, then when he was done he grabbed a bucket and filled it with warm water; dumping the water over his head several times to clean himself.
Once he was finished he grabbed a towel and placed it on his head; exiting the changing room and letting himself out into the onsen.
Outside a waterfall spilled into a large pool, and further away that pool spilled water into another, leaving tiers of different baths for miles on end.
Surrounding each pool was a different season, and so the plants that laid around them responded accordingly.
Where Neo stood it was winter, the trees were barren, the ground was covered in white powder. The air was crisp and cold with the winter which made getting into the bath even sweeter.
Across from him sat a heron, up to its chin in bath water, the heron gave him a lazy hello. Neo responded with a nod, and just as he did the door opened behind him, and out of it came a human.
Neo stared as the human walked closer to the bath, the human smiled at him---a dazzling smile...a familiar smile. Neo jumped out of the bath, steam chasing him as he approached the human.
“Hi,” said the human. his brown eyes sparkled---not with recognition like Neo would have hoped, but more with the kindness that had always come natural to him.
Without missing a beat Neo took hold of the humans hand, and led him straight back into the changing room.
“Woa easy there.” he said in his heavy Nepalese accent.
Neo shooshed him and motioned for him to pay attention. Neo took a deep deep breath and the human in front of him mimicked his actions. But after a moment he stopped, looking dumbfounded.
“I don’t understand.” he said, pouting.
Can you sign? Neo asked.
he nodded eagerly, and began to introduce himself---Neo smacked his hands.
Introductions later. Listen.
Looking deflated he nodded again.
When we go out there hold your breath and do not let go until I say.
But why? The human demanded, showing his same old same old pretty boy pout.
Just trust, Neo insisted, for the first time in a long time Neo met his companions eyes, and for a moment Neo’s heart skipped a beat and his reasoning clouded.
But luckily his partners intuition was strong and he agreed to do his best.
With a sigh of relief Neo led him out into the lobby, holding onto his hand the whole time. Sticking close to the wall Neo kept his head high, avoiding as much attention as possible.
It worked for the most part, he only got a few glances from the other spirits, but none of them seemed to notice the human that he held onto, careful, urgent.
Neo quickened the pace, knowing it was only a matter of time before---the human coughed, unable to hold his breath any longer.
“A human!” Came the shouts of many, but one bellowed louder than all the others. In a flash Neo placed himself between his partner and the crone that sped toward them, leaving fire in her path.
“A human,” she said in a hauntingly beautiful voice; she smiled when the human gave a nervous wave.
We were just leaving.
“Nonsense!” She said, clasping her hands together, “let the boy here at least try our spa.”
The woman frowned, a frown nearly as ugly as the sheeps.
Let us go.
“How about I strike you a deal, you give me your name, and I’ll let you leave.”
Neo signed his name, a deadpan look on his face; and with his other hand he held on tight to the humans, trying harder than ever not to let fear wash over him.
“What a lovely name, it’s mine now. Your new name is Neo.”
Neo bowed his head, and backed away from the woman as a fog spread through his mind.
Neo pushed on, the fog spreaded through his eyes, making the pink color flash to green and then back to pink over and over until he burst through the door where they finally stopped on pink.
What’s your name? Neo finally asked, already knowing the answer.
The human smiled and said “I’m Kamala!”