I’m good friends with one of my colleagues and we often go places together, but whenever I ask him to go to the beach he always stubbornly refuses. I asked him why, but he didn’t seem to want to talk about it, so I got him drunk instead and asked him about it then. This is what he told me. He was drunk at the time so it didn’t all make perfect sense, but I’ve done my best to put it all together.
* * *
When I was a student, I went on a trip with one of my friends. It must have been after our final tests, so right in the middle of winter. It wasn’t really a trip so much as me, my friend and his dog riding around aimlessly in his van.
I dunno what day it was, but we were approaching a dying village near a beach, and the sun was setting. It was a small hamlet, barely holding on between the mountains and the beach.
We were about to run out of gas, so we drove along the lone straight road looking for a gas station. We found one, but it was already closed for the day. We got out of the van and decided to check around the back. A bamboo draining basket was hanging from the eave of the door. I pushed past it, thinking how annoying it must be there, and rang the bell for assistance.
“Excuse me! We need gas!”
It felt like somebody was there, but there was no response.
“Are they ignoring us?”
“They better not be. I’ll ring it again.”
I pressed the button over and over, and finally the shadow of someone appeared behind the glass.
“Who are you?”
“We need gas…”
“We’re closed today.”
Before I was even done talking he cut me off in an irritated tone.
“No, but, could you just…”
“No. We’re not opening today.”
There was nothing we could do. We returned to the van.
“This is why I hate the countryside.”
“Oh well, what can we do? Let’s just sleep here for the night. We’ll just get gas when he opens up in the morning.”
We looked for somewhere to park the van around the village. We soon noticed that it wasn’t just the gas station that was closed; all the shops were, and even the front gates to all the houses were closed. Looking closer, all the buildings had baskets and sieves hanging from their eaves.
“Maybe it’s a festival?”
“It’s a bit quiet for that, don’t you think?”
“Yeah. Man, this wind is strong. Ah, maybe we can park over there.”
There was a wide open stone base at the bottom of a hillside shrine facing the water. It was a small parking lot, but a hedge surrounding it would probably keep the worst of the wind out.
We parked the car in the shadow of the shrine gate. Outside was already dark and we had nothing else to do, so we bundled up and chatting in the front seat until we fell asleep.
The dog’s barking woke us up. The area stank of something raw and bloody. The dog was baring its fangs towards the sea, snarling. He was usually a quiet dog, and no amount of trying to calm him down worked. My friend got up and looked out into the darkness.
Under the moonlight, the sea looked different to before. It was eerily calm but for something crawling near the concrete eyesore of a wharf.
“What the hell is that?” my friend’s voice cracked as he whispered.
It looked like a fat pipe or log crawling out of the ocean at first. It was like a snake wriggling onto land, but strangely it made no sound. It might be better to say that it looked like it was made of black smoke, and we couldn’t tell whether it even had a real body underneath it.
Instead, the thing just moaned. The raw, bloody smell from before grew stronger, enough that I felt like throwing up.
The front half of the thing crossed over the road leading along the beach and made its way towards the houses, while the rest of it disappeared back into the ocean. It attempted to peer into the houses from beneath the eaves, and although we couldn’t see it very clearly, it appeared to have some kind of face.
We’re not cowards, but that thing out there brought up just one word in my mind: sinister. That thing was sinister. Just one glance at it left us frozen and unable to move. It was like it had a tight grip on our very hearts.
It appeared to be looking very intently at the sieve hanging from the eaves, and then finally it slowly started shuffling towards the next house.
“Oi, let’s get out of here.”
My friend’s trembling voice finally brought me back. I managed to lift my hand towards the key and turn it and the engine roared in the silence. The thing turned slowly to look at us.
‘Shit!’ I thought. I didn’t know why, but I somehow knew that I shouldn’t look into its eyes. I stared straight ahead, slammed my foot down on the accelerator, and pulled out of the parking lot. The dog in the back started to whimper like it was having an asthma attack and then fell over.
“Taro!” my friend screamed. He turned back and suddenly his breath caught in his throat.
“Idiot! Don’t look back!”
I grabbed his shoulder and did my best to force him back to the front. His face spasmed and his eyes were unfocused. It’s a little embarrassing, but I was so scared that I could do nothing but cry and keep pushing down on the accelerator.
We continued down the road until we ran out of gas and then waited for morning to come. We didn’t get a wink of sleep, but my friend was barely conscious. He was admitted to a nearby hospital and spent close to a week passed out with a fever. Even after he got better, even just broaching the subject would cause him to revert back to the same state again, so I never asked him what exactly he saw that night when he turned around. We haven’t really seen each other since graduation anyway.
As for his dog, he was crazed and tried to bite anybody and everybody. He was constantly foaming at the mouth and falling over, so sadly they had to put him down.
In the end, I still don’t know what that thing was, nor do I want to know. At any rate, that’s why I don’t ever want to go near the ocean again.
* * *
That’s the story my colleague told me. It made me think of that story by Yanagita Kunio, how in folklore sieves and bamboo baskets were used to ward against evil, and the story about refraining from looking at the sea. I don’t have it on hand right now though, so I can’t compare the stories directly.