This happened about 15 years ago, just after I started junior high school.
One day, I was going for a drive up the mountain with my parents. Two other cars were behind us: my grandmother’s family and my aunt’s family. Our destination: my aunt’s husband’s family home, which was hidden deep in the mountains. It was the middle of summer, just before the Obon holidays.
It was my second time visiting this village. I was a child the first time I went. The roads were unpaved and I remember the car rocking and shaking for quite some time over gravely roads to reach it.
“Huh, when did they pave the roads…?” I said. Already three hours had passed since we left the city. I was bored and yawned while watching the scenery pass by the window. We passed a car driving on the opposite side of the road. It was a self-defence force truck. ‘Hmm? What’s the army doing out here?’ I thought, but I soon forgot about it and started to wonder when we would arrive.
I looked at the clock and it said 4.30 in the afternoon. The day was already over, and shadows were falling over the mountain. I looked out the window and saw a plane in the distance. ‘Huh, there’s a plane that flies this deep in the mountains,’ I thought and watched it blankly. Shortly thereafter my father stopped the cat. We were in front of a sad looking diner. The two cars behind us also stopped.
“Let’s take a break,” he said.
Everyone went their own ways; to the toilets and vending machines and to get tea. The shopkeeper inside the store was a grumpy old man. Hungry, I grabbed some miso dengaku the size of my fist and wandered around outside while eating it. Again, another self-defence force truck passed. Were they training? I found it suspicious, but by the time I was done eating I had forgotten about it.
After a short break we set off towards the village again. There was about an hour left until we should have arrived. I just wanted to get there as soon as possible. It was taking so long that I was starting to get pissed off. I stared out the window and saw yet another plane flying by. Huh? Another one? I just saw one. How strange. No matter how you looked at it, seeing several planes this deep in the mountains was strange.
The clock said it was past 5 p.m. The mountain was turning red from the setting sun. ‘We’ve gotta be arriving soon,’ I thought, and the moment I did the car started to splutter and rock. ‘Huh? It’s not paved here?’ I called out to my father but there was no response. Strange. I called out to my mother in the passenger’s seat and again there was no response. The two of them were staring straight ahead in silence.
What the hell? Were they deaf?
I looked out the back of the car. The two cars that had been following us the entire way were gone. What the? Where were they? They were there just a minute ago! Something didn’t feel right. Then my father suddenly slammed on the brakes. I fell forward and the next moment went into shock.
Several people in old, tattered clothes were standing in front of the car. They were facing the side and standing stock-still. I got chills. There was no doubt about it; they weren’t ‘normal’ people. My parents didn’t even shake, they just continued looking ahead. I felt myself turning pale.
I don’t know how long passed, but they started to slowly walk in the direction of the mountain, and then they disappeared. The car started to move again. My parents remained silent. What the hell? Were the two of them possessed? I didn’t know what to do, so I just looked around restlessly.
Bang bang bang bang bang!
A helicopter roared directly overhead. It was a self-defence forces helicopter. Where the hell did it come from? There’s no way this can be good, and from the backseat I shook my father’s shoulder. Suddenly I heard something from the radio. It was turned off.
It was the Heart Sutra. I was so scared I couldn’t speak. I caught my father’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. They were bright red. His pupil was gone. I fell back and huddled in the back seat. ‘Help me! Somebody, help me!’ I screamed inside.
Something buzzed loudly in my ears and there was an explosion so loud that it was like the ground was opening up to eat us. The car stopped. Trembling, I nervously opened my eyes.
What… the hell…?
The mountain was on fire. Smoke rose everywhere I looked, trees were fallen over, and everything was in ruins. I’m nearsighted, but it was close enough that I could see everything clearly. Even more terrifying than that, though, was the countless hands reaching up towards the sky…
It was like a picture of Hell.
My mind went blank. I stared with my mouth hanging open. It was such a terrifying sight that I lost sense of myself. Then I heard it, as my consciousness was fading away…
“Zzzzt… zzztt… missing… JAL flight 123… beeeeeeep.”
“Hey, we’re here. Wake up.”
My father’s voice woke me up. My parents were taking the luggage out of the car. The other two cars were already there and taking their luggage out as well. I stared, dumbfounded, unable to comprehend what had just happened.
“Knock it off, sleepyhead. Hurry up and get out of the car.”
Did I dream it all? I got out of the car and when I glanced over at the radio, I froze. The frequency was tuned to 123… and the clock said 6:56. Oh yeah… today was August 12th…
We had arrived in Ueno Village. 25 years earlier, on August 12th, 1985, at 6:56 p.m., the Japan Airlines jumbo jet crashed at the foot of Mount Osutaka. My aunt’s husband’s family home doubled as a local sweets store at the time of the accident.
“I’m going to visit the memorial stone before it gets dark,” I said to my father.
“… Okay,” he replied. He apparently sensed something behind my words and came with me. We said a silent prayer before the stone and then my father turned to me.
“Whatever happens after this, you mustn’t enter that mountain. The damned gate to Hell is open. It’s huge. If you enter it, you won’t come back.”
I’ve never been back to that village since.