After high school I went to university for two years, but various circumstances forced me to quit. I started hanging out with a fortune teller I knew shortly thereafter. The days passed in a haze, and before I knew it several years had passed.
Then, he returned.
He didn’t care at all about my concerns or worries. He just rocked up, smiling like nothing had changed, and said he’d be staying for a while again.
“Well, what do you want me to say? So many things happened, I can’t even begin to put them all into words.”
“I made you feel sad, huh? My bad.”
“No, look, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, I suppose I should say, welcome home?”
“Yeah. I’m back.”
It was a very quick and simple reunion. So he hadn’t died after disappearing, then. It turned out that he was just taking a holiday. Of course he was. And just like that, we started hanging out again.
Then, a few days later he approached me.
“Hey, let’s go to Kochi.”
“What’s this, all of a sudden?”
He was always like this, doing things on the spur of the moment.
“What? You’re the one who said it.”
Now that he mentioned it.
Apparently his father’s colleague was being bothered by some paranormal phenomena. Both his father and this colleague lived in Kochi Prefecture.
“Wait, we’re really going?”
“As soon as you get permission. You can take some days off, right?”
“Uh, yeah, probably…”
Kochi wasn’t terribly far away, I could probably get away with two or three days off, I thought absentmindedly.
“But anyway, it’s my father’s colleague, not mine, so I dunno how this is gonna turn out.
“It’ll be fine. If they really are in trouble, then they’ll ask for help. If they’re not, then it doesn’t matter.”
He smiled. Dammit. It had been a while since things played out like this. But, that night I received permission for a few days off, and I found myself even looking forward to it.
“Why do I have to be the driver?”
“You have a license, don’t you?”
I did have a license, yes, but I usually rode a bike. I was a little worried about driving a car, but he didn’t seem to care. We borrowed my father’s van and set off for Kochi.
About 30 minutes after we set off my friend fell asleep, so we entered Kochi in silence. He ended up sleeping the entire way to our destination.
“Hey, we’re here.”
“…huh? Oh, we’re here. Wow, we really out way out in the countryside, huh?”
“It’s not that different to where we live, you know.”
So, the details of the paranormal phenomena in question:
It was his father’s colleague, I’ll call him O-san.
O-san was married, and the house in question was his wife’s family home.
He had until recently lived in Kansai, but thanks to a work transfer needed to move.
O-san’s parents were both dead, while his wife’s parents were both senile.
Although the parent’s house was kind of far from his workplace, it was a good opportunity so they moved in with them.
“He had a nightmare?” I asked.
“Yeah, he started having bad dreams.”
“So, what are the details?”
“In the dream he’s locked away in a small space. It feels incredibly real, this feeling of confinement. He said it’s like a lucid dream, he can even move around freely under his own will. But, the strange thing is, he can’t stand or walk. He can only crawl around like a caterpillar…”
My friend smiled. Ah, it’s been a while since I saw that smile. He looked to be having the time of his life while my smile barely reached my lips.
“Other than O-san, apparently one of his colleagues who spent the night had the same dream as well.”
“Alright. I wonder what we’ll see?”
It was a huge, countryside house. There was nothing strange about it from the outside.
“That’s a window, right?”
There was a window open that clearly wasn’t on the first floor. It wasn’t a glass window, it was latticed.
“You finally noticed, huh? It’s probably the attic.”
“Ah, okay. Maybe it’s for storage or something.”
“Hey, is that their child up there? Looking this way.”
It looked like a girl looking down from the window. Was she playing in the attic?
“It doesn’t matter, come on. I think I know what we’re dealing with already.”
“Okay. Um, there’s no doorbell. Hell-o! Is anyone home?!”
I called out in a rather loud voice, and a short while later the sliding door opened.
“Can I help you…?”
“Uh, yes. You see…”
“Ah, I see. You’re the son. And you are…?”
“Me? I’m here to help.”
“It’s nice to meet you. Are you O-san, by any chance?”
My friend smiled. Every time I saw him I was reminded of just how smooth he was with other people.
“Yes, that’s me. My family’s out at the moment, so if there’s anything in particular that you’d like to see, don’t hesitate to let me know.”
He led us in to the back, and slowly the wheels in my head began to spin. Hang on, what did he say? Did he just say his family was out…?
“So, can you show us the attic?” my friend asked suddenly, as though he was reading my mind.
“The attic? Sure, but I’ve never even been up there myself. I think they used it for storage, but there’s nothing there now…”
“So, what you’re saying is that you don’t know the state of the attic right now?”
“Yes, I suppose I am. Is that important?”
If his entire family was out, who was the girl I saw in the attic?
“I think it’s very important. Anyway, if you could lead the way.”
Puzzled, O-san showed us to the attic entrance. In the back of the house there was a narrow staircase, and at the top was the entrance.
“What would you like to do? Will you come in with us?” My friend smiled, but O-san just shivered and politely refused. This was it, I knew it. The cause of the problem was up there. My friend turned back to look at me. I nodded.
He opened the door and a humid breeze blew over us. In the summer heat, just below the attic door was awfully hot.
“Yeah, I thought so,” my friend muttered as he went inside. I followed him, leaving O-san behind us with a worried look on his face.
“Hey, you like manga, right?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess.”
“You read Tezuka Osamu’s ‘Ayako,’ right?”
“…ah, yeah. You mean…”
The attic was piled high with dust. It triggered my sensitive nose, but at the time that wasn’t very important. The first thing I saw as I entered was the lattice. Although it was made of wood, you could tell at a glance how sturdy it was. A single corner of the room was sectioned off, and it wasn’t made of wooden floor boards but tatami, like it had been made comfortable for someone to spend time there.
That’s right, to spend time there.
It seemed highly likely that at least one member of the family was spending time behind that lattice. It was an old house with a long history, but I never thought I’d see such a thing before me.
It was a room for confining lunatics.
“Look at the window. That’s the window you saw the girl from, right?”
It was, but something was strange. The window was so high that not even I, at 180 cm, could see out through it. It had to be over 2 metres high.
“She had to have been flying to look out the window. There’s nothing around here she could have stood on.”
“Having spent all those years behind these bars, I’d be surprised if she could even walk.”
Ah… so, that’s why he couldn’t walk in the dream. My friend went over and looked at the door attached to the lattice.
“Just like I thought. Look.”
There was a rusty padlock keeping the door locked. Despite how rusty it was, it hadn’t decayed. It still looked sturdy as ever.
“She just wanted out, hey?”
“I think so… the wood has started to rot, and the lock is getting rusty. Look, you just need to put in a little elbow grease.”
I changed positions with him and pulled on the padlock with all my might. It ripped off.
“Now the door will open.”
“Yeah. Our job here is done.”
“So, we’re done then?”
My friend kicked all my plans to go sightseeing out the window. Even though we’d saved the girl, dark clouds settled over my heart.
“That should be the end of the bad dreams, but I wonder what’ll happen now?”
“What do you mean? We finished…”
“Why do you think he was the only one having the nightmares?”
Why was O-san the only one having them?
“Uh… because this wasn’t his house?”
“That’s right. Now, having understood that, there’s just one more thing.”
He smiled. It was that dark smile he always had. Ah, of course. How silly of me to forget. He would never just do something to help out others. He was the type of guy that would put others or even his own life on the line if he thought something interesting might come out of it.
There was something else, and it had to do with the family who owned the house.
“…you don’t know?”
As frustrating as it was, I could only nod my head in agreement. I put my hands together in a prayer in the direction of the room. That girl had no doubt died in there, and now, still… Even without knowing the reason why, it was terribly sad.
Perhaps because we had suddenly moved, mice started running around at our feet. We decided to leave.
“Um, what’s wrong?”
I smiled at O-san, who was waiting for us at the foot of the stairs.
“It’s okay now. But, you should go up there every once in a while to give it a thorough cleaning.”
“Anyway, for now just wait and see. If anything else happens, let us know immediately.”
O-san looked at us with a strange look on his face, but I didn’t think he had the courage to go into the attic alone. He probably knew something dangerous was up there and didn’t want to involve himself directly. We shook his hand, said our goodbyes and returned to the car.
“You know, here in Kochi, or all of Shikoku, really, there are no foxes. Perhaps because of that, the old fox religion changed into something different.”
Ah. That’s right. There was something else that was especially famous in Kochi and even Tokushima.
“The dog spirit…!”
“That’s right. When it comes to family lines in Kochi that’s the first thing to keep in mind. Especially that last name. It’s not terribly rare in Kochi, but it is in other places. There’s no mistaking it. That family is haunted by a dog spirit.
“But, I thought all those families would have died out by now?”
“You don’t know anything, do you? The dog spirit is different to the fox, it’s not something that will protect you if you pray to it. It’s a curse, passed down to all of your descendants.”
My friend laughed. He was probably happy to see my surprised face after so long.
“You saw a girl in that attic. Of course, I saw her as well. But that girl was a sacrifice. It was closed up in there with her, you didn’t see it?!”
“The small animal, like a mouse or weasel. There was at least two of them.”
The small animal that ran by my feet. There was no way…
“Well, even if that’s true, why did O-san have the dreams? Did she just want him to know she was up there?”
“I don’t think that. That girl knew her role in all of this. I think she wasn’t trying to ask him for help, but was sending a warning. ‘Get out of here.’”
I felt something hard in my pocket. I realised I’d brought the padlock with me. Unlike foxes, the dog spirit was passed on as a curse. Why? I really wanted to know. Was it because of bad treatment by owners?
“Should I go and say something?”
“I dunno. Dog spirits can also bring about good fortune. You saw O-san’s face, didn’t you? Was that the face of someone who had lost?”
Now that he mentioned it… Maybe it was just my imagination, but over the generations that family had prospered thanks to the dog spirit, but at some point it had changed into a curse. They sacrificed a girl to keep it locked up, and while they had escaped the curse, at the same time they had also lost its power.
Then, supposing someone in the family was hoping for a revival of fortunes… like perhaps O-san’s wife, or her parents… O-san made a fine victim, didn’t he?
By using us, two people entirely unconnected to the family line, to free the dog spirit, they could then be freed from its curse?
No, it was incomprehensible. I couldn’t believe it. I shook my head furiously.
“Hey, look ahead when you’re driving! I dunno what you’re thinking about, but I’m just hypothesising here. Don’t worry about it, we did the right thing.”
But that expression was not one of a knight in shining armour. He said he’d come and visit me again. I said nothing.
That night, the little girl appeared in my dreams. She looked terribly sad, but I don’t know whether it was actually a message from her, or just my fears manifesting themselves.
Not too long after, O-san transferred, and I don’t know how to get in contact with him anymore.