This happened when I was in junior high school. I was the assistant manager of the art club, and we were getting ready for the culture festival that was coming up in a few days.
The captain of the club was a childhood friend of mine, but his hands were full dealing with the other club members. As such, as the assistant manager, it was up to me to deal with the other committees, asking them where they would be placing exhibits and how many posters they’d be printing, and what floors they’d be on. Basically, I relayed all that information on to the captain.
Around this time of year, club activities and committee meetings meant that students were extremely busy, and so the school naturally was full of excitement. As things got livelier, students returned home later and later. No matter how serious we got about it, or how much the teachers tried to help, this was something that we junior high students had to do ourselves, so things rarely ever went according to plan.
One day, just a few days before the festival was to take place, it was already pitch black outside, but we couldn’t leave until all the exhibits were in place. It was long past home time, around 6 in the evening. Those from the sports clubs were starting to make their way home, but us art club members remained.
We were almost done with the exhibits, and it was dark outside, so the captain and I decided it was time to go home. We went about our usual routine; the captain checking all the windows were locked in the art room while I went to the staff room to let our head teacher know we were leaving, and could he please lock the art room door. He would check everything else. That was how it always went.
The lights in the hall leading to the staff room were dim, and the school seemed completely different to how it did during the day. But I wasn’t afraid, because my friend (who I’ll call A) from the kendo club was helping us out and joined me. Every single day, when he was done with kendo, he came running over to see us and help with various things.
When I was done talking to the teacher, all that was left was returning to the captain downstairs, and then home time… or it should have been, but when we got back, A spoke up.
“I think I left the printouts I need to show my parents in my desk…”
A’s desk was a mess, and everyone knew it. Whenever he got a printout, it would get shoved into his desk like trash, and by the time it showed its face again it was all crumpled and torn. It was always like this. Even so, for some reason A remembered the sheets this time, and looked at us like he really wanted to say something.
“…Go by yourself, we’ll wait for you down the front.”
“What? No way. And you saw T-ta upstairs before, right? He’s gonna say something if he sees me again, I know it!”
The “T-ta” A referred to with such disdain was one of the school teachers who wasn’t very well liked. He always got into arguments with students, made fun of them and never let up… That was the only way he ever dealt with anybody, so nobody liked him. Because that was because, for better or worse, he always judged people at first sight, and quickly grew upset about things.
Even when we went to alert the head teacher, he was always like that. He knew we were staying behind late because of the culture festival, but still he’d berate us. “Hey, what are you kids still doing it, it’s past home time. Did you get in trouble again? Is that why you’re here?” He’d act like he knew nothing about what was going on and just grin.
It was probably all just one big joke to him, but to us, when we were seriously going about our work, it was just a waste of time that we’d never get back. It might seem brash, but one time he kept both A and myself behind after cleaning time to listen to some story with no end, and because of that we were late back to class and got everyone in trouble. We especially disliked him.
“If you want to avoid him, you’ll probably have to take the stairs at the other end of the hall.”
Our school had a garden in the middle, and the halls and classrooms surrounded it. For that reason it wasn’t impossible to avoid the staff room, but it would mean taking the long way around, but A still seemed to want to take the hall.
“But the lights down there are still broken, aren’t they?”
“What? No way!” A’s voice echoed throughout the art room, and I clearly remember the captain rolling his eyes. Yeah, the school was creepy at night, and it wasn’t like I didn’t feel scared too, but in a childlike way, the school feeling so different at night was kind of exciting. A’s problems were his own, not mine. But, in the end, the captain gave in.
In the end, the three of us made our way down the dark hall, relying on the light from outside. A cowered between us in the middle.
“The school without any light is somewhat new and fresh, huh?”
He was so scared that he refused to go along, but now that people were with him, he was happy and joking around. It took all we had not to kick him to the ground. Pissed off at his laughter, we went to shove him but he dodged us. When we reached the end of the hall, we turned left, and our classroom was just a little further ahead. However, when we saw what was in front of it, all three of us stopped.
There was a large drum, and near it, a giant doll that could fit several people.
“Ah, that’s the thing those guys are gonna use for the culture festival…”
“The performance from those guys, you mean?”
The captain and I were childhood friends from the same elementary school, and A was from a school in the next district, which was how we became friends. But our junior high took students from three different elementary schools, and each of them had their own cultural music and dances. We learnt them from the elderly as kids, and each year, one school performed their dance at the culture festival. This year it wasn’t our or A’s turn, but the other school’s, and the stuff they used was placed in the hall before our classroom. They practised in the middle garden, so it must have been easier for them to just leave the stuff in the hall.
“What did you guys learn?” the captain asked A.
“Us? The flute. Although I didn’t really understand it that well,” he cheerfully answered. “How about you guys?”
“A kagura dance, I guess,” I said.
“Ours isn’t very interesting… Their performance this year is probably gonna be much bigger. I’m kinda looking forward to it.”
The three of us curiously looked at the drum and strange doll.
“Ah, the printout, the printout,” A suddenly remembered and then ran inside the classroom.
A low, deep sound echoed down the hall.
“Oi, A, don’t be an idiot and kick the drums,” the captain complained, but A turned to look at us, his face screwed up, like, “it wasn’t me.” By the time we realised he wasn’t lying, it happened again.
It sounded just like a drum being hit. It wasn’t a strong sound, but it was definitely a drum. It echoed down the hall again. This time, nobody was near the drum. A was closest to the classroom, and thus the drum, while the captain and I were next to the doll. None of us could have touched it.
A strange feeling washed over me. There was a pressure in one ear, like the sound of something far away, and at the same time a pain that was like a buzzing in my ears. It was the ear facing the drum.
“Nah, I mean, these types of things happen all the time, right? Nothing to be worried about!” A said quickly, mistaking my confusion about the sound in my ear for fear, no doubt. But as he was talking, he was interrupted by yet another sound.
Again the drum echoed. Once or twice, sure, but three times was more than a coincidence and a little difficult to believe. We bolted for the classroom.
We turned the lights on and the other two clutched their chests, but the distant sound in my ear still bothered me. I thought that maybe if I ignored it, it would go away, but the buzzing started to get worse, and I grew scared. Somewhere far away, it sounded like a bell ringing.
“Hurry up and get your printouts!”
“Y-Yeah, hang on. Shit, when was this homework from?”
When A tried to pull a sheet out of his messy desk, everything came tumbling out. There were school newsletters from god knows when, and other printouts all over the floor. Again the captain rolled his eyes, as though to say “gimme a break,” but then something outside caught his attention.
“Hey, do you hear something coming from the hall?” he asked me.
“Huh? Oh, no, I don’t hear anything…”
I couldn’t tell him about the ringing bell or the buzzing in my ears. Besides, A looked even more afraid than he did. I did my best not to focus on the sound in my ear.
“Ah, here it is! Got it!”
A found what he was looking for and frantically smoothed the crinkles out. He grabbed everything else on the floor and shoved it all back into his desk.
Finally, this time we can go home, I thought, but then A stopped before the door and wretched. Annoyed, the captain stared at him.
“What is it now?”
A looked fearfully down the hall.
“No, wait, don’t turn off the lights. You mean we gotta go past that drum again?”
“If not, then we have to go past T-ta and the staff room.”
There’s a saying that going somewhere is all well and good, but the return can be terrifying. This was exactly that. The drum had only echoed three times without anyone touching it, but to us junior high students, that was more than enough to terrifying us. But more than that, the buzzing in my ear had gotten so bad that it was like a nail being driven into my head, and I was drowning in unease.
Still, in the end, the drum won out over T-ta, and we made our way back down the same hall again. As before, A stood between us. The captain seemed to notice my unease and walked on the side of the drum, so I was the farthest from it. We hurried past it without incident, and as we neared the end of the hall, the three of us may have been a little careless.
I suddenly turned and looked to the left, at the dark window glass. I saw myself, then A, then the captain reflected in it.
But we weren’t alone.
A tall, white shadow stood in the dark hall. The lights outside suddenly started flickering all at once. Then…
The drum echoed again, larger than before. A was so surprised he jumped into the air, but perhaps luck was on his side. On the other hand, as the lights flickered on and off outside, the captain and I noticed the white figure closing the distance between us.
I think the captain was most scared of all. He saw the white shadow up close and froze on the spot. From a distance it seemed to be in the shape of a tall person, but up close it appeared to be white smoke. It moved strangely, like that of a person, and approached us, but then the drum echoed again, and when the light outside flickered, it was gone.
A looked in the direction of the drum, screaming, but having saw what we saw, the captain and I broke out into a cold sweat, and all we could do was tell him to shut up.
Thankfully, that hall was the farthest from the teacher’s room, so the teacher’s didn’t hear us, and after we shut A up, we managed to safely get outside.
The ringing in my ear had calmed by the time I reached home, and the next day all of us returned to school as normal.
The problem lay with the culture festival a few days later.
The drum and doll were used in a performance for the opening ceremony, and the three of us had front row seats. The moment they began, that ringing started in my ears again, and each time the student hit the drum, it was like being hit in the head with a blunt force weapon. I huddled over in pain. My friend next to me noticed and took me out into the hall to see a teacher.
The pain in my head slowly went away after a break, and after the performance was done, A and the captain exited with the large crowd of people. They both looked pale and sick. The captain said that the moment the performance again, he was seeing white smoke out the corner of his eyes. As the performance went on, it seemed to close in on him, but each time the drum was hit, it was as though it cleared his vision.
“It’s weird, but with each drum beat, the smoke disappeared,” he said.
As for A, he just remembered what happened that night and grew scared again. He grabbed his neighbours without thinking, accidentally worrying them, he laughed.
I have no idea what that white smoke was, nor what the ringing in my ear meant. We’re all grown up now, but whenever the three of us get together, we still talk about it. That strange experience we had at the culture festival.