Today I’m going to tell you about something I’ve been suffering from for the last nine years. I hope the people who hear this story will come to understand my fear and regret, and I hope by sharing it that the shadows in my memories will become just a little brighter…

Nine years ago, I started work for an insurance company. Just after the start of my third year, I became a chief clerk and had four people working beneath me. Three of those, who I’ll call I-kun, T-kun and Y-san, I was on such good terms with that we went drinking together at least twice a week. The other person doesn’t have anything to do with this story, so I’ll leave them out.

One day, the four of us went to a bar for some food and drinks, and after we were done paying, we left to go home. Suddenly I-kun pulled out this worn-out old box, about the size of an apple, and showed it to us. It was a puzzle box, like those Rubik’s cubes that used to be popular. Once all the colours lined up, then it would open. According to I-kun, he got it from his father, who had it for a long time before that. Apparently it was made before the Second World War.

“My father could never open it, but when he gave it to me he said that he picked it up from the remains of a fire after the war,” I-kun said.

Over two generations, no-one had been able to open the box. The moment I saw it, a chill ran down my spine. Was I unknowingly able to sense the supernatural? I was, on occasion, able to see people whose upper and lower bodies were out of balance, or small animals that were missing or had no legs at all. I watched T-kun and Y-san take turns turning the box and pulling on it, and for some reason I grew fearful. I think I was perhaps scared that they would open it, but in the end, no-one was able to get it open that day. It only took the taxi five minutes to arrive after we left the bar, so of course that wasn’t long enough to open the puzzle box. After that, everyone safely returned home.

The next day, I-kun brought the box to work. T-kun and Y-san were fascinated by it, and when I was sitting at my desk during lunch doing some work, Y-san dragged T-kun over with the box. I knew they weren’t going to like what I had to say and prepared myself for the inevitable. Then I warned them.

“I don’t think you should open that box,” I said.

“My brother said the same thing,” Y-san said with a suspicious look on his face, but then he changed his tune and said boastfully, “But I’m gonna open it soon. Just you wait and see.”

I went back to my work, and that was the last we spoke during lunch.

After work the next day, the four of us decided to go see the cherry blossoms. We went to the park near work and had Japanese-style soup from Y-san’s mother while looking at the flowers. Then T-kun said, “The view is beautiful here, why don’t we finish up with a photo of the four of us?” and pulled out an instant camera. We stood in front of a rather large tree and took the photo. It sure was an amazing photo. But there was something strange about it. It was night, so there was no worry of excessive light, and it was an open space, so there was no worry of strange light from the flash.

“This type of thing happens sometimes,” T-kun said and we took another photo together. But the same thing happened again.

“Maybe too much light is entering because it’s a wide shot,” T-kun said. “Let’s try taking photos one by one.”

I went first, followed by Y-san, I-kun and T-kun. My photo turned out fine. So did Y-san’s. But the problem was I-kun. Just like the first photos we took, the photo had a strong red tinge to it. We took another photo. This time all around him was a faint yellow, not red. Freaked out, I-kun asked T-kun to take one more photo.

“Something’s wrong!” T-kun said when it was done, and walked over to show us. I-kun’s face and hands were almost completely hidden behind countless yellow hands coming from all directions. His lower half was also dyed a vivid red. Seeing this, I-kun confessed to something he hadn’t yet told us.

“Today, when I was in the printing room after lunch, I was playing with the puzzle box while I was copying something and it opened. But inside was an old bag that said ‘For the Emperor, filled with honourable death!’ When I opened the bag, it was full of nails and hair clippings. It grossed me out so I threw them in the incinerator.”

We went to visit a temple with the photos and told them what happened.

“What you’ve done is terribly dangerous,” the monk said. “Even if we hold a service with this photo, it won’t calm the angry spirits. Bring me the wooden box. If we can hold a service with it, we may be able to save the spirits trapped inside it as well. Please, bring it to me at all costs.”

The monk urged us to go home that night, but it proved to be the last time we would ever see I-kun. The next morning we heard that I-kun was hit by a car on his way home. The impact tore him in half; the top half of his body got caught up in the flaming car’s tyre and burnt up with it, while his lower body was found 20 metres away. He died instantly. We received the box from his mother, and then took it to the monk at the temple.

“This box is hatred itself,” he said. “It’s no longer something for people to possess. It will be difficult to calm the spirits’ rage. I’d like to hold a service, but it’ll take time. Is that okay with you?”

The spirits had taken I-kun in less than half a day. To us, that was too long, and we had him teach us some prayers we could say ourselves.

Around December of that year, we started to forget the fear we once had. Then Y-san died in a house fire. Apparently the cause of the fire was a faulty heater. T-kun and I were the only ones left, and scared, we asked to be transferred to new branches. We thought that if we moved away from where everything took place, maybe the spirits would forget all about us. But, as much as I didn’t want to think about it, chances were high that the spirits had already attached themselves to us. T-kun and I reached a mutual understanding and went our separate ways. But we were naive, and it wasn’t until later that we were made to fully understand what was going on.

Nine years have passed since that time. Nine horrific years. Two years after T-kun transferred, he got married. After that, his wife gave birth to their first child, but six months later the child died of pneumonia. Their second and third children were miscarriages, and then his wife developed a brain tumour. She became comatose, gradually lost all strength in her body, and finally fell ill to a sickness that would eventually take her life. Then, during the autumn of the sixth year, she passed away.

T-kun must have suffered greatly, because in the spring of the following year he jumped from the roof of his company building and killed himself.

Two years have passed since then, bringing us to the present. I’ve been suffering more and more from severe heart palpitations these days. Not only that, but I’ve been seeing my three former colleagues in my dreams as well. I don’t know what’s waiting for me in the near future, but I hope these chronic heart palpitations are just a result of stress. I’m the only one left from the four of us, however, so I don’t think I have much more time left.

If you’ve come this far and listened to my whole story, I sure would appreciate if you could put your hands together and pray for me. Maybe that might help appease the spirits.

But maybe not.

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