Upside down

This happened about 20 years ago, when I was just an elementary school student and went to visit my grandma’s house in the countryside.

They used to raise silkworms at my grandma’s house, so while it was really old, it was also really big. My grandpa died before I was born, so at the time my mother’s young brother and his family lived with her in the big house. The house was full of old furniture, so us grandkids loved exploring inside.

There was a shrine nearby that was famous for horseback archery, and there was a legend that a tengu appeared there in the past as well. Apparently my mother saw lots of strange stuff there when she was a kid.

Some time around Obon, it was the middle of summer and I remember the heat. As usual, us kids all got together and ran around the house. I was the oldest, and my mother’s younger sister’s kid was one year younger. Her youngest sister also had two kids, who were three or four years younger than me. We all ate lunch together and then we played around the house for about two hours.

As the two youngest kids went for their afternoon nap, myself and my other cousin went to the storage room on the second floor. The room that used to house the silkworms in the past. We climbed up on the beams and over the old furniture like always. Sunlight filtered in through the window, giving the area a dim glow.

I saw two large cardboard boxes and wanted to jump down from the furniture onto them, so I leapt with all my might. I landed with a thud and sent dust flying everywhere. I got off the boxes, coughing, and noticed the impact of my landing had crushed the tops of the boxes in. I could see something inside.

‘What’s that?’ I wondered. Inside was a tengu mask and a fan, like a festival costume maybe? Something like that. Come to think of it, my uncle used to wear a costume like that to the local shrine’s festival. I was fascinated by all the old stuff in the box. Then my cousin said something that caught my attention.

“Hey, there’s a door here.”

A door? That’s odd. We’d searched our grandma’s house high and low while playing, but I didn’t remember a door being there. But there it was. Perhaps when I jumped on the cardboard boxes they moved, revealed the door hidden behind them. Filled to the brim with curiosity, I shoved the boxes out of the way and nervously opened the door.

It seemed to be an open space above the ceiling. There was nothing there. No, looking closer, I could see something on the wall on the other side. What was it? I wanted to know, so I decided to go in. My cousin came with me. The floor beneath us was strange, however. It wasn’t hard like the rest of the house, but felt like thin boards. Just in case, we proceeded slowly across the beams instead.

There wasn’t much space above our heads. The ceiling was so low that even I, an elementary school kid, had to stoop to walk. There were no windows, but light filtered in through the gaps so it was bright enough to see. We finally reached the other side, and I checked what the thing on the wall was. It was a single piece of paper. A charm. However, it was hung upside down. Even strange than that, though, was that it was stuck to the wall by a nail.

Thinking back on it now, I regret what I did next.

I was just a kid, so I wasn’t thinking. I pulled the nail out and grabbed the charm, looking at it this way and that. There was no doubt it had been there for quite some time. There was something written on it in kanji, but I couldn’t read it. Looking closer at the nail, I realised it was actually an arrow… Then…

Dosun! Dosu, dosu, dosu…

A large sound scared me. My cousin was also surprised. It sounded like an adult walking. Had someone come upstairs? But there was still something strange. Listening closer, the sound was coming from the floor we were standing on. I thought it might have been coming from downstairs, but that wasn’t it. It was clearly the sound of something walking… walking on the ceiling beneath us…

What the hell?

I’d seen stuff like that in anime and manga before. But that sound wasn’t fake, it was 100% real. My cousin was so scared he started crying. At any rate, I knew that if we didn’t get out of there, and soon, that nothing good would come of it. I grabbed my cousin’s hand and dragged him back across the beams towards the door.

I did my best not to make any sound. The footsteps seemed to be coming from all over the place. Like it was looking for something. Then, the arrow that was in my pocket fell out…

Bang.

‘Crap!’ I thought, and immediately it was followed by the sounds of scurrying footsteps. It was directly beneath us. Something was breathing and scratching at the floor with its… claws? I was at peak fear levels. My cousin was so scared his eyes were shut tight and he was nearly completely frozen. Then, I saw something on the floor.

A hole…

There was a roughly 3 cm wide hole in the floor. The thing on the other side was desperately trying to look through it. We were just 10 metres from the door. We might not make it… Or so I thought. I went to pick up the arrow and slowly approached the hole. My heart felt like it was about to burst out of my chest. Nervously, I looked down at the hole.

Our eyes met.

I screamed, grabbed the arrow and shoved it in the hole.

Bang!

It fell to the floor below. ‘Now’s our chance!’ I thought and grabbed my cousin’s hand again, running for the door as fast as I could. As soon as we were out, I slammed the door shut and hid it behind the cardboard boxes again. We stood there for a while, frozen in silence from fear. The light outside had turned to evening. It wasn’t long until our parents called out to us to come down for dinner.

I put my hand in my pocket as I went downstairs. Oddly, the charm wasn’t there. Seeing my cousin crying, my mother said, “Did you make him cry again? Play nicely.”

I could barely taste dinner. What was that thing? How was it so noisy but no-one else noticed it? After dinner my cousin’s family went back home. We lived far away so we stayed the night. I was so scared I couldn’t sleep.

The next morning, I asked my grandma about it. She said she didn’t know anything about such a room. Neither did my grandpa, she said. There was no way. I took her upstairs and moved the cardboard boxes, but there was no door. What the…? I tried to comprehend what was going on, but it was useless. Then my grandmother told me a story.

In the past, numerous people from that area were kidnapped by a tengu. Especially children. That’s why the shrine started to hold a festival. She told me I should go visit the shrine, so I went there with my parents. It appeared my mother believed my story, and she explained to me that charms were something we should be grateful for, and not something to be messed around with. She also told me that when she was a child she also ran into a tengu, but was lucky enough not to get taken away.

I met my cousin at another cousin’s wedding a few years back, but he’d completely forgotten about what happened that day.

As for what I saw in the hole in the floor that day… I still don’t know.

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