Never write about the room.

I took a few days off after returning from my trip to Japan to allow myself to re-adjust to my local time zone and to allow the revelation of an actual spirit room to settle deeper in my mind. Perhaps I got carried away when I posted the details of that trip in my blog despite a warning from my Japanese host not to do so. I couldn’t help but laugh. I’m thousands of miles away from Japan now. What’s the worst that can happen?

I stood in front of the bathroom sink and applied the shaving cream in preparation for shaving. As I lifted my razor to begin removing my five o’clock shadow, I was startled to see a crack suddenly appear on the mirror. Then a second crack appeared below it and connected to the first. Then a third, and a fourth, a whole series of cracks appearing across the mirror that seemed to resemble characters of some sort.

Japanese characters.

A chill ran up my spine as I backed away from the mirror. I dashed to my bedroom to retrieve my phone so I could take a picture of the strange characters and send them to No, my Japanese host who had issued me the grim warning to keep the details of the spirit room a secret. I snapped a shot of the mirror and sent it to No and sat on my bed as I awaited his response.

A few minutes later, my phone beeped. A message from No.

You wrote about the room, didn’t you.

A feeling of guilt washed over me. After recollecting my composure, I was just about to compose a response when suddenly there was an explosion of shattering glass in the bathroom. The sudden noise made me jump to my feet and there I stood, not sure of what just happened. I slowly approached the bathroom and to my horror saw mirror fragments all over the floor. The mirror on the wall was obliterated.

Then my feelings of fear turned into feelings of horror.

That feeling I was no longer alone.

I sensed there was something, someone, hiding somewhere in the bathroom, maybe in the closet, maybe standing right behind me…

I spun around but there was nothing to see but the hallway leading to my bedroom.

Huh.

That feeling I was no longer alone seemed to dissipate and I began to feel better. When I turned to the bathroom to work on picking up the mirror fragments off the floor…

A screaming figure clad in a samurai warrior costume suddenly appeared in front of me, brandishing his sword while poised to strike.

“You want shave?” the warrior bellowed. “I give you REAL close shave!”

With a slice of his sword, my head fell freely to the floor and I could remember no more.

Now I’m in some dark realm, where my fellow spirits roam, listening for the incantation for them to appear from behind the wall of a spirit room somewhere.

Maybe someone will call for me to appear.

But first someone has to notice I’m gone.

Oh well.

At least this place has Internet access.

Visiting a Japanese spirit room.

I sat at a table at the famed Myōjōien Coffee shop in downtown Hatawaka, awaiting the arrival of my host. Tonight was to be the night I would visit a Japanese spirit room, a subject of much fascination and speculation in the Western world. Many Japanese citizens deny its existence, yet there exists evidence that suggests that it does exist and in numbers far greater than anyone cares to admit.

9pm came, and in walked No, the pseudonym of my Japanese host who agreed to take me to a house with a hidden spirit room. He looked around the coffee shop and silently recognized me by my wearing a sneaker on my left foot and a dress shoe on my right. He nodded at me and then, to avoid arousing suspicion, walked up to the counter and ordered himself a coffee to go. After he left, I waited 30 seconds before I got up and went outside to meet him in his car parked just outside the coffee shop. After the initial greetings, No covered my head with a paper bag so I couldn’t see where we were going. I agreed not to remove the bag until he said I could take it off. And then we were on our way.

After what felt like 20 minutes of feeling the car moving, we arrived at our destination. No parked the car and then helped me out before we walked up the driveway. After helping me up the few steps to the front door, he rang the doorbell before I heard the front door open. After a few whispered words, I was guided inside the house, down a hallway and into a small room. At last I could take the paper bag off.

The room appeared to be a traditional Japanese tatami room with a lone chair facing a plain wall. There were small candles in each of the four corners of the room that provided just enough light. Akiba, the house’s owner, closed the door to the room before sitting down in the chair before closing her eyes as if in meditation. No and I stood behind her to watch what was about to happen.

Akiba silently muttered what sounded like an incantation in Japanese whose symphony of consonants sounded pleasing to the ear. I turned to No for a translation but he stood silently.

Suddenly, a breeze from nowhere blew out two of the candles to render the room a little darker. The only two candles still lit were at opposite sides of the wall Akiba was facing. Oddly enough, she didn’t seem concerned or even startled.

No tapped my shoulder and pointed at the wall. Something was happening. A small bulge began to form before it grew larger, taking on the shape of a head that was pressing from behind the wall. I could see details begin to emerge, such as eyes, a nose and a mouth. Again, Akiba was silent as if to expect all this.

Then the face began to speak and Akiba responded, her voice heavy with emotion. I was startled but soon realized that I had just seen for myself the existence of a Japanese spirit room. I calmed down and watched the exchange continue for a half hour before the face disappeared back into the wall. I would later learn that the face was that of Kon, Akiba’s late husband who still visits her from time to time.

After leaving the house with the paper bag back on my head, I could hear No explain that spirit rooms are indeed commonplace in Japan, not only in homes but also in office buildings where spirits are consulted for help with business decisions. Art studios also use spirit rooms to inspire artists with their work, a chance for spirits of departed artists to seal their legacy by passing along ideas of art they never had a chance to begin.

By the time No was finished with his narrative, we were back at the coffee shop. He removed the paper bag from my head before leaving me with one last piece of advice.

“Don’t write about what you saw in your blog,” No said firmly but with a smile, “Not unless you want to see what happens to those who betray a secret that’s been around for centuries. Trust me, you don’t want to know.”

Late for work.

Bedtime.

One last thing to check before I fall asleep. Time to check that alarm clock. Make sure it was set for the right time.

3:45.

Perfect.

Better check it again.

3:45.

Good.

One more time.

3:45.

Cool.

I confirmed that my alarm light was on, meaning my alarm clock will in fact go off at 3:45 tomorrow morning so I can have enough time to get ready for work and actually clock in on time.

I’m all set.

Satisfied, I turned off the light, slid between the sheets and dozed off to sleep.

Then from the darkness, from out of nowhere, came a pair of green, demonic hands, reaching for my alarm clock. One finger pressed down on the alarm button while the other finger pressed the button to change the time my alarm was set to go off. Swiftly and silently the hands worked, without my knowledge or awareness of their presence right next to my bed. Then they stopped before returning to the dark corner of my bedroom.

When my alarm finally went off, I was startled to see that the time on the clock read 9:45. In a panic I jumped out of bed, threw on my clothes and ran out the door to commence my crazed commute in hopes that my boss wasn’t waiting for me.

Well, it turned out he was.

And he didn’t buy my story about the demonic hands.

 

A Halloween poltergeist?

The following is a true story that took place earlier this afternoon while at work.

I had just finished my afternoon break and began my walk from the break room to the parking lot where I collect shopping carts. Along the way I passed a Halloween display at the front of the store with various decorations and props for sale. Suddenly my eyes caught a glimpse of some wolf masks falling to the floor with no one nearby. There wasn’t even anyone at the Halloween display. Maybe someone was looking at the masks moments earlier and then restacked them unevenly for them to fall later. But how would that be possible? My mind was swimming with questions.

I picked up the masks and put them back on the shelf. Every so often I would pass by the Halloween display to see if the masks had fallen again. This time they stayed put. Perhaps the poltergeist knew I was watching…

The ghost story, part 4.

Ian and Dave gulped at the sight of the mound.

“You must now walk up to the mound and say the words ‘ugga mumma‘ three times,” the voice commanded, “Upon hearing these words, the Great Chief shall awaken and give you all his blessings.”

Ian and Dave stood motionless, unsure of their next move.

“Unless you prefer three arrows through the heart,” offered the voice. Then was heard the screaming war cries from three unseen men from somewhere in the woods.

“Well, I guess we gotta do what we gotta do,” Ian gulped and began walking towards the mound with Dave close behind.

With each step the mound became larger and the decorative spears and arrows clearer. Soon Ian and Dave were standing in front of the mound, shaken by the thought that there was someone buried underneath all that dirt.

Ian cleared his throat, then paused. “What do I say?” he asked.

Ugga mumma,” Dave whispered into Ian’s ear.

“Oh,” Ian replied before clearing his throat a second time in preparation for the incantation.

Ugga mumma,” he said.

Behind them was the sound of someone laughing. Ian and Dave spun around but saw nothing behind them.

“I can’t do this,” Ian whimpered as the laughing continued.

“Two more times,” reassured Dave, “and it’ll be all over.”

Ian closed his eyes.

Ugga mumma.

The laughing became louder as the wind began to blow harder.

“One more time,” Dave said.

“I can’t,” Ian muttered.

Do it!” Dave whispered fiercely.

Ugga mumma!

The laughing stopped as lightning lit the sky followed by thunder that shook the ground along with wind that roared through the woods. Suddenly the mound collapsed as a rotting corpse sat up from under the dirt and began reaching for Ian and Dave. Ian screamed and ran off, with Dave running right behind him.

Minutes later, Ian and Dave were back at their campsite. Ian frantically threw more wood into the campfire for more light while Dave hid in his rent. They were both terrified beyond measure, unsure of what happened and uncertain about what would happen next.

Then Ian heard laughter from the woods as someone was approaching the campsite.

“Oh, man, I really got you guys good!”

“Steve?” Ian asked.

“In person,” Steve announced as he returned to the campsite. Dave stuck his head out of his tent to see what was going on.

“Where have you been?” Ian asked.

“Why, I was busy scaring you guys, of course,” Steve beamed.

Ian paused. “You mean, the voices, the fog, the lightning, the thunder, that was you?

“All me,” Steve said.

“How’d you do that?”

Steve smiled and said, “Well, let’s just say I had a little help.”

“From who?”

As Steve stood silently with a smile on his face, there was one last flash of lightning followed by one last clap of thunder. After the commotion faded, he yawned and said, “Well, if you guys don’t mind, I’m going to go turn in. It’s been a long day.”

With that, Steve took his sleeping bag back inside his tent and fell asleep.

The End

The ghost story, part 3.

Steve opened his eyes and found himself lying on his sleeping bag next to the campfire rejuvenated by the newly added firewood. Then he saw Ian and Dave, seated by the fire and roasting marshmallows while engaged in a lively conversation.

“Oh, man, we got him good!” Ian laughed.

“I know,” Dave chuckled, “you should’ve seen the look on his face!”

Ian nearly doubled over with laughter. “With eyeballs bigger than bowling balls!”

“What’s up, guys?” Steve asked.

“Oh good, he’s awake,” Ian rushed over to Steve’s side. “You all right, dude?”

“What happened?” Steve sat up. “I thought there was someone out there in the woods.”

Ian laughed. “There’s no one out here but us.”

“We thought we’d have some fun with you with that ghost story,” Dave added. “So we decided to give you a good scare.”

“See, what I did was set up my wireless speaker behind the bushes and played the whistling sound from my iPod,” Ian explained as he held up the speaker and his iPod. “I pretended to go investigate and later let out a scream just to set the mood.”

“Then I pretended to also go investigate and joined Ian behind the bushes to dress up as our hero, Frank Barrow,” Dave chuckled as he held up a black outfit along with a mask of a badly burned face. “Oh, we also brought along a bicycle inner tube so we could burn to create that awful smell.”

“All just to scare you, dude!” Ian beamed.

“All just to scare me,” Steve repeated with his voice rising with anger, “God damn it, why did you DO that? You nearly gave me a heart attack!”

“Lighten up, man!” Dave said. “This is what campouts are all about! They’re supposed to be fun!”

“Fun,” Steve snapped, “at my expense!”

“I got it!” Ian exclaimed. “How about we let Steve return the favor?”

“What do you mean?” Dave asked.

“We’ll let Steve scare us, just like we scared him.”

Steve’s face suddenly lit up. “I like that idea.”

“Just go out there in the woods and do something scary.” Dave suggested.

By now Steve was on his feet. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Go for it, Steve!” Ian cheered. “Scare the shit out of us!”

“Yeah, really,” Dave laughed, “scare the shit out of us.”

Steve confidently strode into the woods until he disappeared in the darkness. Then there was silence. Ian and Dave both watched where Steve was last seen, nervously awaiting the big surprise.

“What do you think he’s up to?” Dave whispered.

“No idea,” Ian replied. “Maybe he’s-”

Ian was interrupted by a weak moaning sound coming from the woods. It was Steve, trying his luck at creating a fearful atmosphere but clearly not having much luck, judging from Ian and Dave’s laughter.

“Is that the best you can do, Steve?” Ian panted between fits of laughter.

Steve continued his weak moaning until he was interrupted by sudden a flash of lightning and a thunderous boom. Then the air turned cold as a thick fog rolled out of the woods. Ian and Dave had to move closer to the campfire for warmth.

Suddenly a sinister voice from nowhere cried, “What do you fools think you’re doing?”

Ian and Dave both stood dumbfounded. That wasn’t Steve’s voice.

“I believe I asked you a question,” said the voice. “and I believe I’m entitled to an answer.”

“Sorry,” Ian replied. “We’re just camping here.”

“But do you know where is ‘here’?” demanded the voice.

“No,” Ian muttered.

“This happens to be ancient Indian burial grounds, undisturbed for thousands of years, until you FOOLS decided to DESECRATE it with your CAMPING TRIP!”

“Sorry, we didn’t know,” Ian said.

“Aww, ignorance,” said the voice, “It has been many a man’s downfall, and it shall be yours too.”

Dave stood silently, trying to see the connection between Steve’s disappearance in the woods and the strange events now unfolding. How could Steve be doing all this? Where’s he at now? This is getting more confusing by the minute.

“You stand there silently like fools,” observed the voice, “Or would you prefer I summon the Great Warrior able to skewer your heart with his bow and arrow?”

Suddenly, off in the distance, Ian and Dave could hear a man’s scream that resembled an Indian war cry. They both shuddered.

“You shudder, yet you do not speak.” said the voice.

“Well, what do you want us to say?” Dave spoke up.

“Apologize to the Great Chief and he just might lift the curse that’s making you and your friend targets for his warriors.”

Ian and Dave stood silently, unsure of what to make of their situation.

“Dave,” Ian said in a low voice, “I don’t know how he’s doing it, but this is all Steve. This is his doing!”

“Really,” countered Dave. “So Steve can produce lightning and thunder at will? What about the fog? The cold air? The voices?”

“All Steve,” Ian insisted. Raising his voice, he yelled, “Game over, Steve! I know it’s you!”

Suddenly there was another flash of lightning followed by thunder.

“MORTAL FOOLS!” yelled the voice. “You doubt my words while I have the power to raise the Army of the Dead from the very ground on which you stand?”

“I don’t see how Steve’s doing this,” Dave sighed. “Since when was he able to control nature?”

Ian thought this revelation over before nodding in agreement. “You’re right. Maybe this is just a coincidence.”

“But where’s Steve?” Dave asked.

“Or would you two prefer two arrows through the heart?” boomed the voice. Then the distant war cries from two men resonated throughout the woods.

Terrified, Ian spoke up. “All right, Mr. Voice! You win. What do we do now?”

“I knew I could change your ways,” said the voice. “In order to win the Great Chief’s forgiveness, you must first visit his grave.”

“Where’s that?” Dave asked.

The clouds overhead parted ways to allow the moon to shine on a mound decorated with arrows and spears at the other side of the clearing where Ian and Dave stood.

“Right over there,” said the voice.

To be continued…

The ghost story, part 2.

“IAN!” Dave jumped to his feet.

No answer.

Steve was still seated, whimpering and trembling, too afraid to move. Then he saw Dave walk away from the soothing light of the campfire towards the surrounding darkness.

“Where are you going?” Steve asked.

“You stay right there,” Dave ordered. “I’ll be right back.”

“Please don’t leave me here by myself,” Steve whimpered. “I’m scared.”

But Dave wasn’t listening. He continued his cautious trek towards the bushes where Ian had disappeared moments ago.

“Ian?” Dave called out.

Steve watched as Dave’s figure became darker as he ventured further into the night. Then Dave made a turn behind the bushes and disappeared from view, leaving Steve sitting alone by the fading campfire.

“Dave?” Steve yelled. “Please come back.”

No answer. There was only silence that fueled Steve’s escalating fear.

“Dave?”

Still no answer. Steve was once again hyperventilating while trying to maintain his composure, a task that proved itself impossible. He felt foolish for having been dragged into going on this stupid campout. Why didn’t they just go camping in the back yard where nothing like this happens? Heck, the scariest thing that can happen is a raccoon running across the lawn.

Then Steve’s thoughts was interrupted by a shrill scream from behind the bushes. As Steve responded with a scream of his own, he could see a dark figure run from behind the bushes towards some trees near where he was sitting. He was petrified with fear, not sure of what to do next, provided he could do anything at all. Then he began to get an even more unsettling feeling far worse than all the fear he was feeling right now.

Someone was watching Steve from behind the trees.

Steve slowly turned his head to survey the trees behind him but saw nothing out of the ordinary. But he still had that same, uncomfortable feeling that he was being watched.

Then he heard a sinister whisper:

Going to chase them all down, one by one
Going to chase them all until the last one’s done

As Steve’s fear continued to intensify, his nose picked up a scent that increased that fear tenfold.

The smell of burned flesh.

Then Steve heard footsteps across the crunchy leaves as an unseen intruder approached from behind. He quickly closed his eyes and listened as the intruder walked around the campsite while the horrible smell got stronger. Then there was silence. Was the intruder gone? He waited for a minute, listening intently for any encouraging signs.

Going to chase them all down, one by one
Going to chase them all until the last one’s done

Apparently not.

Steve kept his eyes shut while trying not to make a sound and trying not to retch from the unpleasant scent now overpowering him. Then the footsteps across the leaves resumed, growing softer as the intruder returned to the woods. Steve kept his eyes closed for another minute just to be on the safe side, and the silence that followed indicated that he was alone once again.

Slowly Steve opened his eyes and saw nothing but the dimming campfire and the trees that surrounded him. He was in desperate need of something to soothe his shattered nerves, so he reached for Ian’s guitar. He positioned the instrument across his lap and played a few crudely formed chords. He didn’t know how to play the guitar in the first place but figured that bad music was better than no music at all.

Steve’s ears picked up a slight rustling noise from behind. He stopped playing and listened cautiously without bothering to look behind him. Could it just be the nighttime breeze or footsteps? He continued listening before concluding it was nothing and continued with his struggle to make pleasant music on the guitar.

So focused was Steve on the fretboard that he failed to notice that someone was standing right behind him. Only did the sickening smell finally get Steve’s attention, and he slowly turned around to face the intruder.

The intruder snarled, baring his teeth across his badly charred face.

Steve fainted.

To be continued…

The ghost story.

On a clear, dark night, deep in the middle of the woods, three friends sat around a small campfire, happy that their schedules were finally in alignment to make their camping trip possible. They had been driven to near insanity by their hectic lives and needed to escape to nature, even if it was for only one weekend.

“We got it made,” Ian proclaimed, as his two friends Steve and Dave nodded in agreement. “A peaceful night, a nice campfire and a bag of marshmallows each. But there’s something missing, though.” He feigned a face of deep thought. “I got it! How about a ghost story?”

“Oh no,” Steve gasped.

“What?” Ian shot back. “You can’t have a campout without a ghost story!”

“Agreed,” Dave nodded. “I’m all for it!”

Ian began his narrative in a soft but menacing tone.

“Remember that prison we drove by to get here? That reminded me of Frank Barrow, a cold-blooded killer who struck time and time again, committing his brutal crimes not far from where we’re sitting right now.”

Steve whimpered. Ian ignored him.

“Finally, years later, the law caught up with him and Barrow was arrested. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. After several years on Death Row, he was executed in the electric chair. But during the night, Barrow escaped.”

What?” Steve interrupted. “I thought you said he was executed!”

“He was,” Ian continued, “but he somehow survived his own execution. Off he ran into these woods, free to commit even more brutal murders. Six feet, four inches tall, two hundred thirty three pounds with his skin blackened and burned by the execution, still alive and still on the loose today.”

Ian paused for dramatic effect while subtly amused at the look of fear on Dave and Steve’s faces.

“By the way,” Ian asked, “do you know what reminded me of all this?”

Another dramatic pause as the tension rose even higher.

“I see him…”

Ian took his eyes off his terrified audience and looked in the distance behind Steve and Dave and quickly rose to his feet while pointing.

RIGHT OVER THERE!

Ian began screaming as Steve and Dave jumped up to look behind them as they too began screaming. The commotion continued for a few more minutes until Ian started laughing. Dave was shaking with fear while Steve was hyperventilating.

“How’s that for a ghost story?” Ian asked.

“Oh man,” Dave panted as he put his hand on his chest to feel his quickened pulse, “that was GREAT!”

“Glad to hear it,” Ian smiled. “How did you like it, Steve?”

“God damn it, you asshole!” Steve yelled. “Why did you DO that?”

Ian and Dave laughed as Ian reached for his guitar.

“Well, I think it’s time for some relaxing music to put us all at ease in anticipation of our looming slumber.”

Ian began to play a soothing melody that slowed down rapid heartbeats and cooled vicious tempers.

Suddenly there was a whistling sound coming from the bushes behind where the three friends were seated.

“What was that?” Dave asked.

“I don’t know,” Ian replied.

There was another whistling sound from behind the bushes. It became clear that the three friends were no longer alone.

Steve was trembling. “Can you go see what that is, PLEASE?”

“You guys stay here,” Ian rose to his feet. “I’ll be right back.”

Cautiously Ian began walking towards the bushes as Steve and Dave watched with fear.

“Hello?” Ian called out. “Anyone there?”

Steve was whimpering and Dave was terrified as they both watched Ian venture farther into the darkness away from the light of the campfire. Ian finally reached the bushes and disappeared as he stepped behind them for a look at their unseen and uninvited guest. Then there was silence.

“Yo, Ian!” Dave shouted. “What’s going on over there?”

There was no response except for more silence. Steve and Dave sat riveted to their chairs, too afraid to move while fearing for the safety of their friend.

Suddenly the silence was shattered by a piercing scream from behind the bushes.

“IAN!” Dave yelled.

To be continued…