HALLOWEEN, Shizuka Japan, 1989
The crisp, October air was alive with music and the smell of food as masked figures and cheerful onlookers mingled in the street. Three girls wandered down the Shizuka street as the Halloween festival sizzled around them. Their Gothic Lolita styling blended traditional Japanese garments with their unique take on the modern vampire rounding out their costumes with small, cute trinkets.
Akiyama Akane steered the group through the crowd in an effort to make her way closer to some of the photographers in the area while her two friends followed close behind. Her Father’s whiskey was still coursing through them as the surrounded another unsuspecting soul with a camera. They loved posing and made a sport of it from time to time.
“Photo?” Akane smiled and let her fangs show. The older man nodded energetically and raised his camera. Akane motioned for Rin and Shigeko to fall into line and the did it in a well practiced manor. They loved these old etchi.
The man smiled and nodded again. “Another?”
Akane posed with Rin, but Shigeko moved away. She had had enough of this and was feeling the chill and the hunger in her stomach. She was tired and wanted to camp out somewhere and stop moving for a while.
“And again, Shigeko lives up to her name and wanders off to rest before she faints away.” Akane smiled her cruel smile. “Come. We’ll get your food. I don’t want you begging out of tonight altogether.”
Shigeko’s sister Rin pouted playfully. “Poor Shigeko.” She swooned. “Too much walking for Princess?”
Shigeko waved them off with her hand outstretched and nails lifting out towards them in a shoo now gesture they were all too familiar with. “You two should have been sisters. You’re both idiots.”
The girls laughed and pulled Shigeko up by her arm. “Come, Drama. Let’s go eat.”
Night fell and the festivals of Shizuka and Soyokaze continued to fill the air with song and laughter. Multicolored lights lit up the night as the three girls stepped from the tram in Soyokaze station. All three had had enough walking for a while, but they had a little farther to travel on foot. They were not at their final destination yet, but they could see it above them in the darkness.
Akane pulled her flask from the purse she carried and sipped. She passed it to Rin and watched as the girl finished what was left of the whiskey within it. “Hey, what about Shigeko, Rin-chan?!” She yanked the empty flask back.
“That’s fine, I don’t need more.” Shigeko stared up towards the hillside with a blank expression.
“Well, I suppose it’s better this way. She shows up back at home smelling of whiskey and she’ll never see 19!” Akane laughed. “You - you can just blame Shigeko for your breath, Rin. Let big sister -“
Shigeko cut her off. “Will your brother really let us up there? He’ll loose his job if he gets caught.”
Akana held out her hand in a fist. “And I’ll do worse if he DOESN’T let us up there!” She laughed and turned to stare up at the hillside with the other two girls.
Soyokaze Temple loomed above. Beams of light shown up from the ground and illuminated the wondrous structure while dark trees set shadows falling and remained dark around it. The three made their way towards Akane’s brothers guard station at the base of Soyokaze Temple Hill.
Hours passed and all three of the girls longed for the warmth the whiskey had provided. They had not planned on Soyokaze’s fog bringing the temperature down so low on their adventure. Rin slapped Akane in the arm and barked, “Enough of this. She’s not coming. I want to go home.”
“We have another 30 minutes before my brother leaves.”
“We can take the tram. I just want to go. This is stupid.”
Akane ignored Rin’s request and narrowed her eyes searching the darkness for Shigeko. “Where is she now?”
“Wandering around again.” Rin snarled bitterly, “I hope she falls to her death like that-“
“STOP!” Akane punched Rin’s arm and stared at her with wide and scared eyes. “What are you thinking?! Saying such things here. In front of her.” She shivered. “And to make fun of the way she died.” It was the first time Rin had ever seen Akane look scared.
“It’s make believe, Akane. The only reason I’m here is to meet your brother.” Rin rubbed at her arm and whispered, “Crazy busu.”
Shigeko’s scream made them both jump and cling to each other.
They watched as she bolted through the bushes and around the back of the temple. She was barefoot and had her dress yanked to her thighs as she ran towards them - her face a mask of terror. She screamed again and pushed past the two girls. Her dress caught and she was tossed forward, landing in a heap in the wet grass before them. She shoved herself up and managed to scream, “RUN!” before starting to descend the steps back down to the parking area.
Akane and Rin made their way down the steps adding their screams to Shigeko’s. Akane held her hand out before her to block her view of the burial area to the left. Somehow, knowing it was still there behind her hand filled her with more fear and her screams became louder.
Rin shouted down to Shigeko as they ran. “What?! What was it?!” She tried to look back, but the steep stairs and flowing dress made it impossible to do without breaking her neck.
Shigeko said nothing as she yanked her dress higher and continued to run. The last few stairs were the only thing she could focus on. Something sprang from the darkness and grabbed her before she reached the parking lot.
HALLOWEEN, Soyokaze, Japan 2014
Ueda Masao stared out over the harbor as he finished his meal. Waves beat against the seawall and a fine mist added to the dampness of the fog. He absently popped another piece of fish into his mouth and watched the lights on the boats bob from side to side.
The man to his right licked his fingers and waved for the check. He sipped at his beer and said, “So, you two got married after she finished screaming up there?” The man chuckled and finished the beer. “I can’t imagine.” He glanced back towards the temple. “I would have liked to see that whole scene.” He chuckled. “Romantic, really. Right? Saving a girl you hardly knew from a ghost? Her samurai.”
Masao nodded. His eyes remained locked on the harbor. “I could feel her heart beating as I hugged her to me. Her screams - they made my eyes giggle in my skull - they were so damn loud.” He smiled. “When Akane and Rin smashed into us and we all fell into the lot, I thought my neck was broken for sure. All of them screaming and screaming.”
“And, you believed her?” Yamada dabbed his mouth with the napkin and stood to stretch his back. “This ghost story she told?”
Masao stood with his friend and tossed money onto the table. Yamada knew better than to try to convince Masao to let him pay for his share. Masao took a deep breath and let the salty air fill his lungs. “Not at first. No way. But, over the years it grew on me. All the nightmares. The books and research she was always doing.” He looked to Yamada and said, “She saw something up there. I’m not sure what, but it was something that scared her.”
“A ghost lady?”
Masao shrugged. “Her sister thinks I’m a fool for coming here of all places, but I feel like it’s the least I can do for her now that….” He let his words fall away. Yamada gripped his shoulder. Masao continued. “I wanted to do it sooner, but I needed a little more time.” He nodded.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go up there with you?” Yamada tried to lighten the mood. “You made me eat among all this fishing scrap and smell instead of over the hill in one of those lovely, warm good places, Mr. Cheap. I might as well go up there and ghost hunt with you.” He smiled.
Masao grinned. “This place is the best and you know it.” He chuckled and shook his head no. “No. No, I’ll go alone. I’ll see you back at the hotel.” Masao patted his friend on the arm and turned to go. “And I mean it.”
Yamada raised his hands and bowed his head - surrendering. He smiled and dropped his hands to his sides as he watched his friend make his journey.
Fog drifted around the buildings and through the trees and Masao made his way to the second set of stairs. He stopped to get a read on where he was. According to Rin and the photos he saw on the internet, the stairs were around to the left and the burial area was around to the right. He reached inside his coat and groped around for his cigarettes before remembering.
Never another cigarette. His heart sank for a moment as he remembered his wife in her hospital bed. Gone.
The fog chilled him from his gloom and he inhaled sharply before turning and walking around the building to the right. The small markers were lit by a light mounted on the roof of the second tier building.
Masao stood in the silence and stared around the area. Part of him wanted to call out, but he thought it silly. He glanced at his watch. He had another 45 minutes before he had to be back down to the guard station and off the premises.
“Hello?” He rolled his eyes. “Hello? I’m Ueda Masao. You scared my wife here once. She saw you.” He looked around, then back in the direction he came from. His nerves made him examine every shadow. He counted on the substantial financial offering given to the guard to prevent the young man from trying to scare him up here. Masao swore he’d toss him off the hill if he tried.
He made his way through the brush and back around the backside of the building, pausing briefly when he saw the huge pool of blackness he had to cross to get to the stairs. He pushed forward and fought the urge to walk all the way around the front of the building again just to be able to stay in the light.
It seemed to get colder in the center of the darkness, but he shook it off and continued on to the stairs. As he climbed up, he stared up to the top of the temple spire which was barely visible in the fog shrouded night sky.
“Amazing that you three ran down these stairs in those costumes, Shigeko.” He smiled and shook his head. He reached the top of the steep stairs and turned to stare back down at the burial area and building. He craned his head forward to peer into the blackness behind the building. He wanted to make more of the shapes and motion in it, but as the wind blew and fog chilled him, he knew better. Plants and wind was all.
Now, for the final task. Behind the Temple. His heart beat a little faster in his chest as he remembered Shigeko’s description of the thing she saw.
“She was beautiful and terrible. She was like…and angel. A vision. She shimmered like the fog and seemed to long to be with me, but made no move towards me. Like me, she was in traditional clothing - all white, black and red. She looked…wet. She….she didn’t have a face, Masao.”
A shiver ran down Masao’s back. He bit his bottom lip, then pushed forward again. He moved with caution. He remembered RIn telling him that there was a drop here somewhere. He had no intention of falling onto rails tonight. He scanned the darkness. Another chill almost sent him running for the stairs. His voice caught in his throat, he swallowed, then called out, “Hello? Hello, I am Ueda Masao and my wife - she saw you here years ago.”
“Would a ghost know years?” Masao thought to himself.
“She’s…she’s gone now. She…” Masao swallowed hard again. “She passed away.” He coughed and wiped a tear that caught in the corner of his eye. “She died. Died a month and a half ago.”
Fog wiped around Masao and a cold wind made the trees sway around him and hiss softly.
“She saw you here. Right here.” He smiled. “You scared her so much that she….she ran all the way down the hillside.” A laugh escaped him - sharp and short - as he remembered back to the night. Shigeko slamming into him and him holding her tight even after Akane and Rin collided with them and sent them crashing to the ground. “She never stopped talking about you. Looking for signs of how she might help you.”
Masao lost his fears - letting them drift away with the fog. He slumped and sat on the wet grass and stared off towards the ocean. The darkness enveloped him and wrapped him in a sort of calm. He looked up at the temple, then back over his shoulder towards the village. He closed his eyes and thought about his beautiful wife. His beautiful life with her.
Masao opened his eyes and pushed himself up to his feet. He glanced at his watch and made note of the mere minutes he had left. A thought passed over him.
“If you are here somewhere, thank you. You introduced me to my wife and made us very, very happy.” He thought a moment. “I hope that brings you happiness.”
Masao turned and made his way to the stairs. As he descended the stone steps, he thought that he heard something move behind him. He didn’t turn to look, however. Whatever was there could stay there with the dark and the fog. He had to go. He decided that he’d head home in the morning to deal with his own ghosts. Get his son from Rin and take him on a trip somewhere. He still had a few days left of vacation.
As he approached the stairs, the wind kicked up leaves around his feet, swirling them and sending dust up around his knees. Something raced up behind him with a rush - he could feel it swoop up behind him. He spun around half tripping over his own feet. His heart beat hard in his chest as he caught himself.
The guard adjusted his wind blown hat and jacket and stared up at Masao from the parking area. “Hey, Mister! You ok up there? Time’s up, Sir.”
Masao stared back towards the top of the hill, his wide eyes darting back and forth scanning the dark. He turned and made his way down the stairs quickly trying not to run.
“Did you hear that?” Masao’s eyes begged for an answer from the guard.
“Hear what, Sir?” The guard frowned. “You were too far away from me to hear you if you said something. I’m sorry.”
“No not - I didn’t say something is was…” Masao pointed up the stairs, then withdrew the gesture and dropped his arm. “Never mind.” He smiled.
The guard returned his smile, then looked around at his feet and back up at Masao. “That story you told me. True?” He pointed at the ground at their feet. The spot where Masao caught Shigeko.
Masao nodded with a smile and slipped his hands into his pockets. “Thank you for letting me stroll around up there.” He turned and moved down through the parking area towards town.
The guard shouted after him. “Thanks for the story. Very nice, Sir.” He touched the brim of his hat. “Goodnight, Sir.”
Masao half heard the guard’s words as he pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and made his way down the parking ramp and off down the stairs. He didn’t know what to think. He was numb from the experience. He was sure he heard it. A faint voice among the rush of wind - small and sweet like a reed.
It whispered, “Anata ga aishita.”