Author's Note: I have always been fascinated by ghost stories. Always. While I was in Japan, I took some time to explore their supernatural beliefs and stories. Their yokai (monsters) were very different from what I was used to. But that's something for another post. I am not an expert on Japanese ghosts or storytelling techniques, but I felt inspired by what I read and experienced. So, I made my own imitation. This is an original ghost story written in what I am hoping is a Japanese ghost story style. I hope it will one day be part of my own 百物語怪談会.
Sixth grade was coming to a close. We had taken the tests, finished up most of our studies, and were set for our next great adventure. It was the first time our small class would be separated.
While there were many school events and celebrations to mark this momentous occasion in our lives, there was one we had devised for ourselves and were most anticipating. We had decided that each member of the class must perform a test of courage before graduation day. Keiko was in charge of selecting the test for each girl. Simple tasks, no doubt, but that’s girls for you. It was my job to come up with the tests for the boys.
I spent weeks agonizing over the perfect test for each boy. I researched their fears, their families, what kinds of things they had access to. Ryo’s older brother was terrifying – a Yankee with a motorcycle and a lot of porn hidden somewhere. Daiki had an absolutely gorgeous older sister. Tomo’s family ran a sushi restaurant that specialized in fugu. Stuff like that.
Now, there happened to be a kid in my class named Sano. He joined our class in fourth grade when his family moved from Hiroshima. Nobody liked Sano. He wore thick glasses. He was quiet. He wasn’t good at soccer, or drawing, or really anything. For two years he just sat in the back of the classroom.
I did know one thing about him, though. Sano was terrified of an old, abandoned building that he passed every day on his way to school. To be honest, I wasn’t too comfortable with the building myself. But I didn’t sprint past it every day like Sano. It stood alone in the middle of an overgrown lot. Ivy crept up and over both stories, covering all the doors and windows. In summer, it looked like a green bush in the shape of a house. In fall, the leaves turned bright red and it looked more like a demon’s house. It was probably a shop of some kind once, but no one had been there for many, many years it seemed.
This was Sano’s test. He had to break into the building, go up to the second floor, and shine his flashlight five times out the north facing window. Several of us would be waiting below to make sure he did it.
For the life of me, I will never know why Sano agreed to the challenge. His family was moving back to Hiroshima at the start of break. It wasn’t like he would see any of us again. Though we may have felt he had something to prove to us, he really didn’t. Still, he quietly accepted when I announced his test of courage during the break between math and history.
I couldn’t believe it. Even Ryo had fought me when I told him his test was to steal one of his brother’s dirty magazines and bring it to graduation. This was way more dangerous. I felt cheated. “Fine,” I said, “you will do it the night before graduation. At midnight!”
There was murmuring from Tomo, Daiki, and Haruki. These three had been appointed watchers since we all lived in the same cul-de-sac and it would be easy to sneak out of the house.
But still nothing from Sano. Just a silent nod. The bell rang, and Fujiwara Sensi strolled in before more could be said. Throughout history, I glanced back, but Sano was as blank as ever.
Over the next week, we tormented Sano with stories about what had happened in the abandoned house. The previous owner was murdered one night. It was haunted by ghosts from the nearby Buddhist temple. A hundred years ago an oni had been captured and entombed in the ground beneath the house, but the sealing talisman had been destroyed. Each story was more elaborate and terrifying than the last. Tomo and Haruki backed out midweek, but Sano said nothing.
Finally, the fated night arrived. I met Daiki in the alley behind our houses, and we hurried to the abandoned house. I was glad Daiki was there. I had never been out so late. The streets seemed different. I will admit, I was a little scared.
Sano was already there waiting for us. He stood in the street lights watching the house.
“We will wait right here,” I said. “Flash the light five times, or it doesn’t count.”
Sano nodded. He took a deep breath and stepped out of the light toward the house. Soon, he was lost in the darkness and overgrowth.
Daiki and I waited nervously.
“We should have gone to the door with him. How do we know he didn’t just scram and leave us standing here like a couple of idiots,” Daiki said. “My dad will kill me if we’re caught.”
“What did you have to make it so late?”
“Shh,” I hissed, “I think I heard something.”
We heard the screech and rattle of a sliding door. Light peeked through the dense ivy leaves on the ground floor.
“He must be inside,” I whispered.
A car started somewhere near us. We slunk to the edge of the streetlight, hiding ourselves in the shadows. The night was quiet again.
Slivers of light continued to dart through the green leaves as Sano progressed through the house.
“He’s almost there. We can go soon,” I whispered.
“Good. This place is creepy,” Daiki whispered back.
“That’s only stories we made up to scare him,” I said, trying to push my own fear back down. Honestly, I was ready to run at the next sound.
A burst of light shone from the north window right at us.
“He made it,” Daiki sighed.
A second, a third, a fourth flash.
We waited, without breathing, for the fifth. It didn’t come. Instead, we heard a muffled scream and a thud.
I took off toward home, Daiki close on my heels. We didn’t stop till we were behind our own houses.
“What do we do,” Daiki demanded in rasping pants. “We have to tell someone.”
“No,” I replied, “then we will get in trouble for breaking curfew. He was probably just trying to scare us.”
“Not a word. We’ll tell everyone Sano chickened out. Even if he contradicts us at graduation tomorrow, who will believe him? We tell no one. Swear it.”
Daiki took my pinky with his. We swore each other to secrecy.
Sano didn’t show up for graduation the next day. I walked by his house that afternoon, but his family was busy with the movers. I watched for half an hour, but I never saw Sano, and I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask about him.
Early the next morning, I saw his family drive away, but the car was too stuffed with belongings to see if Sano was in the back seat.
A few weeks later, Daiki and I were coming home late from a pickup soccer game. It was dark already. As we hurried past the abandoned house, a light flashed in the upstairs north facing window.
We stopped dead in our tracks.
Two, three, four, five.
We never walked by that house again.