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Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011

HAVE YOUR SAY

Readers' tales: Beginnings, terrifying journeys and terrible ends

We asked readers to share their scariest experience or top spooky tale for a chance to win a Haunted Tokyo Tour or book of short stories. Here are the winning entries:

Bipolar

By Kelly Quinn

Predictability is the enemy of God. As randomness in daily life recedes, as harvests and paychecks arrive with scheduled regularity, so fear and the need for God recedes. But I know that God is real. He speaks to me. He knows my secrets.

News photo
Hag out of hell: A 19th-century sculpture of flesh-stripping Datsueba, ghoul of the Buddhist underworld, stands at Taisouji Temple in Shinjuku 2-chome, Tokyo. LILLY FIELDS PHOTO

What are you doing?

Nothing.

Another unfinished masterpiece, is it? You never finish anything. Loser!

Stop talking to me. I don't want to listen to you.

You have to listen to me. Even if you can't stand to hear the truth. What have you ever done? What have you ever finished? School?

No.

Work?

No.

Where are your friends?

I have friends.

Who? No one likes you. You are pathetic. When was the last time someone called you? Everyone hates you.

I have friends.

No you don't. You are a loser and everyone hates you. Remember when you bought the Skype number so your friends overseas could call you? How many called?

I don't remember.

Zero. No one called. No one cares about you. No one would care if you were dead.

I can't think about this now. I have to rest.

Rest!?! Rest from what? You don't work. You don't have friends. You never go out. Look at this place. It is a pit. Don't you ever clean? You are an animal. You are worse than a dog. A dog would not live in this mess. You are a rat.

I can't listen to you. The doctor says I shouldn't listen to you. I have to take my medicine.

Medicine. Baby needs his medicine. What a baby. A child. That is what you are. Nothing but a child. You can't do anything.

Shut up! I have to get my medicine. I have to get you out my head.

Look at yourself. Look in the mirror. That is the face of a loser. No wonder you have no friends. You are ugly. You smell.

Can't you be quiet?

There it is. Do you see it? That is what you need. You don't need medicine. You need the razor.

The razor?

Imagine it. Open a vein. Cut your wrist. Cut your neck.

No.

Splash the white tiles with red blood.

No.

Red and white. Red and white. Like a barber pole. Splash the blood like a barber pole.

No.

Sweeney Todd was a barber. Barbers used to cut people. They were surgeons.

Cut people?

Let the bad blood out. That is what barbers did. Let the bad blood out.

Let the bad blood out?

Cut! Cut! Feel the blade against your skin. Cut!

No.

Loser! You can feel the blood beneath the skin. Let the bad blood out.

No.

Push! You loser. Cut! You are pathetic. You stink! You smell! Cut!

Help me.

I am trying to help you. You have to let the bad blood out.

I don't want to.

You are so weak. You can't do anything. Just push a little more. Let the bad blood out.

Let the bad blood out.

Total Eclipse of the Heart

By S.C. Kurokawa

Just about two years ago here in Japan I had a terrifying experience. Heavy summer rain hit the windows. It was late, but I couldn't sleep. Spasms gripped my gut. I was pregnant with my first child.

Was he coming early? I paced the room. I danced to 80s music on YouTube. There was something in the news about an eclipse. I danced to "Total Eclipse of the Heart." Michael Jackson had just died. I danced to "Bad." I danced until I was too busy timing contractions, seeing them through. I had already prepared a bag to take to the hospital.

Fast-forward about eight hours. I was ushered into a curtained-off corner with a bed in the biggest hospital in the city, surrounded by women moaning, screaming, laboring.

Hours upon hours passed. Babies were being born; mine seemed stuck. Midwives hustled about, suggested positions, checked our baby's heartbeat. Gadung-godong-gadung-godung. Not good? I threw up. Was it midnight again already? What was wrong? My husband translated for me, for the midwives.

I was hustled onto a stretcher, wheeled down corridors, through doors. The hospital gown was too thin and too short. I was wheeled into a huge room, all bright and shiny and as cold as a meat locker.

They moved me, not unlike how hunters might move a deer carcass. I think a needle was positioned into my lower spine. My whole body shook. My teeth chattered until my jaw ached. My wrists and feet were secured. Somebody held my hand.

About six masked cloaked figures worked on me quickly, efficiently, chatting amiably, passing tools to one another, I suppose, though I couldn't see past the curtain between me and my lower body.

At last, a baby's cry. Or was it a cough? A murmur erupted from the team. My child, pink with eyes wide open, was brought to my head. I planted a kiss on his forehead. At once, he was whisked away. This is not at all what I had imagined.

The next day, when I could move in a wheelchair, I was allowed to see our baby. I could touch him, but not hold him. Tubes, wires, a plexiglass lid and a team of doctors separated us.

Days passed. Why couldn't I hold him? When could I? I didn't know either how or what to ask or demand. I still don't know why I couldn't just give birth, and hold our baby, but I am now the mother of a happy, healthy and extremely active 2-year-old.

Cursed on Yamate-dori, Yokohama

By Gregory Strong

If you are reading this now, poor stranger, then my worst fear is realized. And I beg you, nay, warn you: Read no further. Burn these notes while you can.

My nightmare began the evening that I set to pen and ink the story of Mr. Satou, a merchant of this port who has often taken out advertisements in my newspaper. Patting the ample belly beneath the folds of his kimono, he had told me of his good fortune in buying a house on Yamate-dori, a neighborhood where I can barely afford to rent these simple lodgings. And Satou had bought the house at an unbelievably low price. Then Satou's face blanched. He had seen a woman in a white kimono in a window of the house.

After Satou left, I realized that I had a ghost story on my hands. I remembered there had been a spectacular suicide associated with that house. The pregnant Japanese mistress of an American naval lieutenant had committed suicide after he had abandoned her. I imagined the headline about the house and this Madame Butterfly: "Haunting in Yokohama's Foreign Settlement."

I started writing. Just then, something flashed by my window. I shuddered with the premonition of a woman blind and speechless with malevolent rage.

A haggard-looking Satou returned the following evening. He begged for help. The priest at his Buddhist temple had covered his ears and shut the door before Satou could even ask him. Apparently, even hearing the story provoked the curse. I promised to contact my friend, Father DeBlaise at the Yamate Catholic church, about an exorcism. A hunted look in his eyes, Satou hurried off.

I decided to add these developments to my story. When I sat down, I noticed a long black hair on the page. Revolted, I plucked it off. The housekeeper, I thought.

Satou's house was on the route to the church, so I stopped there. His front door ajar, I stepped inside. To my horror, his body lay on the floor, his neck broken, his eyes bulging.

Then I saw her bending over him, her back toward me and her long black hair trailing to the floor. Her white kimono hung loosely upon shoulders whose even whiter skin shone with an evil light.

She tilted her head in my direction. I saw a new terror. For although she had a nose which snuffled the air, seeking me, her face had neither eyes nor mouth nor traces of where these should be, so she twisted her head one way, then another, like a hideous blind, burrowing worm.

With a scream, I fled. Glancing back, I saw that monster in the white kimono gliding down Yamate-dori looking for me. I ran home, and bolted the door to finish this account.

I pray that recording this curse ends it. Should that fail, dear luckless reader, then I am dead. Worse for you who ignored my warning, because you have read this, she is coming for you.

Good Luck Charm (O-mamori)

By Kai Virtue

Inside his desk he discovers a good luck charm.

"What's this?"

"Belongs to your predecessor," his colleague replies, handing it back. "Who'd want that old, tattered thing anyway?"

Worried about discarding it, he slips it into his jacket pocket. Maybe he is lucky? It isn't every day that a recruitment agency lands you a job at the latest behemoth to grace the skyline.

That evening he struggles to meet his deadline. Resting his head on the desk, he is about to nod off when he hears a squeaking sound, like an old shopping cart, coming from the darkened corridor across the room. Realising the time, he gathers his belongings and hurries out, worried that he may be locked inside. He looks down the vacant corridor and dismisses the sound as a late-night office cleaner.

The following night he finds himself alone again, catching up on paperwork. Remembering the cleaner, he glances at the corridor entrance but only hears the whispering of the ventilation churning up air beside his feet.

He wakes up startled. One hour has passed.

By the corridor entrance a shadow catches his eye.

"Is anyone there?" he calls out.

Squeak.

He jumps at the sound.

"How low is the air-con set?" he mutters, throwing on his jacket as he stands up to investigate.

At the corridor entrance he peers into the darkness and sees a figure disappear around the far corner.

"Hello?"

Two weeks later he is preparing for another long night in the office. Before his colleagues leave for drinks he mentions the cleaner to them.

"Stress? The guy before you was the same, always doing overtime. Stopped coming to work; people say he went missing."

"I heard he was murdered."

"Nonsense."

"That's what someone in sales told me. Who knows?"

"Either way, the cleaner only comes on the weekend."

A shiver rushes across him as he watches them disappear into the corridor.

"Damn this air-con," he says, returning to his work.

Ten minutes pass.

He squints his watery eyes and sets down his pen.

Squeak.

"Guys? That isn't funny!" he says, walking over to the corridor.

No one is there.

He runs down the corridor and turns the corner.

Silence.

"Guys?"

The chill nips at his arms and he realises he has forgotten his jacket.

Squeak.

Peering back around the corner he sees a figure hunched over a cleaning cart. He tries to call out but a fear grips him.

Squeak. Squeak.

The figure begins moving towards him.

Fleeing down the corridor, he finds a bathroom and hides inside a toilet stall.

Silence.

Five minutes pass.

"Just a prank," he tells himself, embarrassed.

He is about to leave when the bathroom door opens and the dim light of the corridor seeps in.

Squeak.

He stands back against the wall.

Squeak.

The wheels stop before his door and he realises the lock is turned to "vacant."

Before he can reach the door it swings open.

He screams.

No one is there, just the old charm on the floor.

Cemetery near Nogizaka Station

By Willy Yanto Wijaya

I have always tried to avoid places like cemeteries. I was astonished to learn that in Japan, many cemeteries are located in yards beside houses.

Perhaps by doing this, the living can feel closer to their late loved ones. But I could never imagine being the occupant of a house like that. Thus, when selecting an apāto, I always survey the area first to make sure there is no cemetery complex within a certain radius of my new dwelling. I don't want to be like a friend of mine whose neighbors are Resting In Peace.

One day, I got an invitation from my friend to visit a museum near Nogizaka Station in Tokyo. Since this place is quite far from my house, my friend suggested we go for a walk and do some sightseeing.

I said yes, and soon we found ourselves strolling along a road with lush greenery on one side.

"What's behind there? A park?" I asked.

"Well, perhaps it's a . . . cemetery. Let's see that map. Um, yeah, it's a cemetery, a very big one, the resting place of many famous people. Why don't we have a look?"

"Er, I think we'd better not."

"Come on! It's OK. It's a sunny afternoon, there's nothing to be scared of."

He kept pushing me. "You know, a lot of Japanese people even have picnics under the sakura blossoms in this park. Come on, be a brave girl!"

I slowly climbed the stone steps. Walking several meters inside, with tombstones surrounding us, I started to feel uneasy. I could sense some kind of strong energy or force interfering with the workings of my mind. My friend also looked like he was in a state of high alert, as if he was trying to stop himself slipping into a trance.

"Let's go back!" I shouted.

"Let's walk a little bit further inside," he insisted.

"No!" I rejected his crazy idea. He looked disappointed.

What my friend didn't know was that when I was a little girl, I once fell ill for several weeks. No doctor could work out what was wrong with me. I had a high fever, but then at other times went cold.

Before falling ill, I had whipped off the leaves of an old tree using a branch, and then peed under the tree. A village shaman then came to our house and told us that an old woman spirit dwelling in that tree was angry at what I'd done, and he told me to apologize to the spirit. I did, and several days later my condition began to improve.

Now I feel it was all very illogical, but those are the facts. Since falling ill that time, I've always felt as if my body is very weak when it comes to haunted things or places. That's why I refused to go going deeper into the cemetery. I only wish my friend knew . . .

YOUNG WINNERS:

The Beginning of Ends

By Rohan Jeetendra Khemlani

She found that her husband, Satoshi, was cheating on her. She collected proof of messages and phone calls from the same number on Satoshi's cellphone. She caught them red-handed, while they were having lunch at Toriton. Worried about her 2-year-old daughter, she took the decision to divorce him.

Satoshi failed to placate his wife, they divorced, and their daughter stayed with the mother. Later, he deeply regretted his misdeeds. After four years apart, he drove to her residence. He apologised for his actions and asked her to take him back.

She refused. His daughter did not remember him. The daughter obeyed her mother, who told her that Satoshi was a stranger.

He returned a failure. His condition worsened. He was dying from the inside every day, every moment. He was desperate for a glimpse of his daughter's face.

He knew he needed some sympathetic support. All of his friends had left him because of his affair with the other woman, his reputation was tarnished, and he got no respect from the people that knew him.

He decided the best thing to do was to consult his psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told him he was suffering from severe depression and needed to undergo psychotherapy.

As time passed, Satoshi stopped eating, could not sleep properly, became a drunkard and drowned himself in his own melancholy. One day, he did not wake up. He died malnourished, wracked with mental stress and with a huge amount of alcohol in his body.

Tradition says that if someone dies unnaturally, without having achieved their current wish, that person's soul tries to fulfill that wish, and haunts anybody who gets in its way, eventually killing them. This is what happened in Satoshi's case.

Satoshi's soul found her house, but the sacred Shinto mark on the door made it impossible for him to enter. One day, when she went out to go shopping, he spoke to her.

It seemed like a hallucination at first, but then she realised it was not. He told her that she had taken his daughter away from him and must repent. Satoshi entered her body, slammed her head into a pole, ran under a car, then climbed up a building — by walking on its walls — and jumped down. Nobody understood the mystery behind her strange suicidal act.

He saw his daughter at last. He forgot that he no longer could be seen and spoke to the girl. The daughter became frightened and ran out of the house, screaming, onto the main street. He floated after her, just in time to witness the truck claiming her life.

Satoshi curses himself ever since that day, and vows to kill every woman who does not let her husband meet their child. Thus his journey begins . . . of ends.

Popopo

By Anna Ishii

One sunny spring, a high school student traveled to his grandfather's home. As he sunbathed on the veranda, he heard an eerie voice.

"Popopo," it said.

Wondering what the voice was, he came across what he thought was a hat sitting on the hedge in the garden. The hat started moving along the top of the hedge, and when it came to the gap in the foliage, he saw that a woman in a white dress was actually wearing the hat.

The hedge was more than two meters high. She must be a tall woman, he thought.

Later, he told his grandparents about the experience. To his surprise, his grandfather became angry.

"Where did you see it? When did you see it? How tall was it?"

As he answered his grandfather's questions, he noticed that his grandmother was shaking. When he asked what was wrong, she told him the story of Hashaku-sama, a yōkai that sometimes appears in the village. Hashaku-sama looks like a tall woman, and her laugh sounds like "Popopo." If a human being is possessed by Hashaku-sama, he or she will be killed within a few days, and most of her victims are children or young men. It is said that Hashaku-sama came to the village with another traveler in the past, but no one is sure. The yōkai is trapped in the village and can never leave.

"Hold this for now", his grandmother said, giving him an amulet. He and his grandparents went into an upstairs room. The windows were all covered with newspaper, and an amulet was placed on each one. On all four sides of the room were piles of salt. In the center of the room was a small Buddha statue sitting on a wooden box.

"It will soon be night. Don't leave this room until tomorrow. We won't talk to you or call you. Stay here until 7 in the morning tomorrow. At 7, get out and go home. I will call your home," his grandfather said in a serious tone. "Don't let go of the amulet, and if something happens, pray to the statue."

He woke up at 1 in the morning. Suddenly, he heard his grandfather's voice.

"Are you OK? If you're scared then you can get out!" He edged closer to the door, but then remembered what his grandfather has said earlier.

The voice spoke again: "What are you doing? You can come out!"

His skin crawled as he noticed the salt in the corner of the room had turned black at the tip.

"Popopo, po, popo . . ."

The windows rattled. He became scared but somehow found himself falling asleep.

By the time he woke up it was past 7. He left the room, the house and the village behind. He was told never to return.

Ten years later, his grandmother told him that the Jizo that had kept Hashaku-sama trapped within the village had been broken by someone — someone somehow related to him. It must be a superstition, he said to himself, but he is still scared of the yōkai.

Forbidden

By Sang Soo Na

There once was a boy named Hiroshi, an ordinary middle school student who was totally reckless. Behind his school there was a mountain closed off, forbidden to enter, but nobody knew the reason why. Apart from that, this small Japanese village was almost unnaturally normal.

One day, Hiroshi was feeling extremely frustrated after a day at school. He became even more upset when his mom started nagging him about everything he did. They argued and he left home.

Hiroshi couldn't suppress his anger even after running away from home. As time passed, the sun began to set and it was getting dark.

"It's too late to go back," he thought. "If I go back right now, then mom won't feel sorry for me. Let's see who wins."

In the pitch-dark, Hiroshi started to get hungry and bored. Although he was hungry, he had no money. Although he was bored, he had nothing to do. Then he had an idea. "If I have an adventure on the forbidden mountain, at least I won't be bored," he said to himself, and headed toward the mountain.

When he arrived at the foot of the mountain, it was 2 o'clock in the morning. The wind gave him goosebumps. He turned a corner and saw warnings and ancient Japanese charms around the barricade that blocked the mountain path. "Keep Out."

"Anyway," he said, "I'm not afraid." Hiroshi climbed the fence and marched into the woods.

The further in he went, the drearier and freakier the atmosphere became.

"I'm not scared, I'm not scared," he mumbled as he began to get nervous.

At that moment, he heard laughter. It was a giggling sound from somewhere he couldn't see in the darkness. Hiroshi started to shiver.

"Sh-sh-sh . . ." Though Hiroshi couldn't say a word, his feet kept moving towards the sound.

"Sh-sh-sh . . ." The strange laughter got louder and louder. Then, he stopped.

He finally saw the thing. A long, gray object floated in front of him. It was a pale, human figure — a female ghost. She stopped giggling, and grinned; she began gliding toward Hiroshi.

Hiroshi panicked. He sprinted as fast as he could. He tripped but didn't stop. He heard her drifting sound gradually fade away. He broke out into a cold sweat as he ran.

He reached the foot of the mountain and then headed straight home. The door was unlocked, but everyone was sleeping. He regretted his foolish courage and got ready for bed.

At that moment, he heard a knock on the window. He stepped closer. He opened the window.

"Sh . . . sh . . . sh . . ."

The next morning, Hiroshi's bedroom window was found open. But there was no Hiroshi.

Congratulations to Kelly Quinn and S. C. Kurokawa, who win a Haunted Tokyo Tour (see www.hauntedtokyotours.com) for their submissions, and to Gregory Strong, Kai Virtue, Rohan Jeetendra Khemlani, Anna Ishii, Willy Yanto Wijaya and Sang Soo Na, who will each receive a copy of "Kaiki" volume 1, "Tales of Old Edo," or 2, "Country Delights" (see www.kurodahan.com). Send your comments and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp


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