This happened to me over 20 years ago, but I’ll never forget it.
During the summer of 89, I went on a high school camp to a seaside school. We stayed two nights and three days in a special training dorm on the beach. The area was surrounded by pine trees that acted as a windbreak, and thanks to that we couldn’t hear anything from the nearby beach or national highway. It was the type of place that even adults would hesitate to go outside alone at night in.
There was, of course, a scary story to accompany the school, and some of the older students told us a mysterious train on a discontinued line passed by at night full of dead soldiers from the war. Now it was true the current in the beach was fast, and drowned bodies had washed up on the shore before, so the story gave us chills and helped set the mood.
One night, one of my friends proposed an idea. “I think there’s definitely something here, so let’s play Kokkuri-san and find out.” Of course, nobody wanted to do something like that considering the place we were in.
Kokkuri-san requires someone to hold a pencil with you. This friend said he was just going to ask the spirits how they’d died, and nothing else. He refused to give up on his idea, so finally I relented and agreed.
We wrote down all the letters of the alphabet on a piece of paper, and about 10 of our classmates watched over us as we began.
“Kokkuri-san, Kokkuri-san…” we began. Then the pencil moved. My friend asked question after question.
“Are you a boy or a girl?”
“How old are you?”
“How did you die?”
“M u r d e r.”
The pencil moved swiftly across the paper, so I thought my friend must have been doing it. I grew scared and asked him to stop, but he replied that he thought I was the one doing it. Everyone suddenly grew scared, and an unpleasant feeling fell over the room, so we agreed to stop.
“Can we stop now?”
We asked over and over, but the answer was always no. We couldn’t just stop the game, because that would end with us being cursed. My friend asked again.
“Why won’t you let us stop?”
“D i e.”
Well that was a problem. We couldn’t let that happen. My friend politely asked the spirit to leave once again, almost in tears. This time we got a different answer.
“Tear this paper into 8 and bury under a pine.”
We gave our thanks and ended communication. Yet our relief was only brief. My friend tore the paper into eight pieces, and then everyone present snuck outside, avoiding the eyes of the teachers. We buried the pieces underneath the closest pine tree to the right, and then put our hands together in prayer.
After that, everyone pledged an oath not to try anything like that out of curiosity again. Everyone worried about whether something else might happen that night, but the next day camp ended and the summer holidays began, so everyone quickly forgot about it. Not a single person spoke about what happened.
Six years passed after the events of that night. I went to work at the seaside school as a swimming instructor part time. Perhaps because I was there for work, the darkness that threatened to swallow people whole never frightened me. Of course, by that point I’d forgotten all about that game of Kokkuri-san as well.
On the night the final group arrived at the training dorm, I went around the dorms with another classmate from university who was also working part time to make sure all the lights were off. We found one girl crying underneath her bed by the window.
“What’s wrong?” we asked her.
“There’s a boy standing beneath that tree over there. I’m scared.”
My classmate looked outside. “There’s nobody there.” He smiled.
Somewhere in the back of my head memories flared to life. “Where is this boy?” I asked the girl.
She pointed outside… to the closest tree to the right. The one we buried the pieces of paper under.
Everything came rushing back. I didn’t need any further convincing.
“So that boy was real all along, huh?”