Bang Bang

I live next to a shrine. My window faces the forest on the edge of the shrine grounds. Not many visitors pass through the forest on their way to the shrine, so it’s quiet and I wouldn’t call it a bad location.

But one night, I was reading a book while listening to music on my headphones when I heard a strange sound coming through them. I stopped the music and took the headphones off, and it seemed the strange noise was coming from outside the window, not the headphones themselves.

It was a strange sound.

Bang, bang, bang, bang.

There was a small gap between each sound, like knocking on a door. I’d heard something like it before, but I couldn’t place where.

The next morning, I was passing by the front of the shrine on my way to work when I saw the priest’s son cleaning beneath the shrine gate.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Good morning,” he replied. “Oh yeah, I wanted to ask, you were awake until late last night, weren’t you?”

“Eh? Huh?” He must have seen the light coming from my room, but we weren’t especially close, so I was at a lost for words.

“So then, you didn’t hear the sounds?” he continued.

“Sounds?”

I remembered the banging I’d heard the night before.

“Anyway, if you hear them, don’t pay them any attention, and don’t look, okay?”

“Don’t look at what?”

“Outside. At the shrine.” He smiled as he spoke. “That’s the hour of the ox, after all. The hour of curses.”

The hour of the ox. That was when people nailed straw dolls to trees near shrines to curse others. You write the name of someone you hate on a doll, put their hair in it, and then… I didn’t know the full details, so the priest’s son explained it to me. I stood there in shock and listened.

“And if someone sees them doing it, the curse will fail, so you might say they’re rather desperate.”

“Is… is that okay? Are they allowed to?”

He smiled bitterly. “It’s not okay, and we forbade it, collecting the dolls each morning, but they didn’t stop, so we just leave them now. Of course, if we happen to find them, we’ll give them a warning. The person last night ran though. But it really is dangerous, so you’d best not look. As soon as they realise someone’s seen them and they’ve failed, they’ll go after you instead.” He smiled, as though it was all one big joke.

I can’t say that I had trouble sleeping after learning all that, but every now and then I’d hear the sound of banging outside the window. It happened so often that, over time, I got used to it. Then one night, I was drowsy and dozing off in bed when I heard it.

Bang, bang, bang, bang… BANG.

The sound suddenly got louder, and I sat up straight in bed. Then everything fell quiet. I lay back down, trying to forget about it. Stuff like that happened every now and then, nothing to worry about.

Noises coming from the shrine woke me the next morning. When I opened the window, I locked eyes with a police officer. He gestured for me to close the window again. A section of the forest was covered with a blue tarp. Some locals were in a tizzy over something, but I couldn’t hear what they were saying.

The paper that evening had a report on the priest’s son. He’d been beaten to death. According to a local fish dealer, his skull had been crushed with a hammer.

For a while after that, I would hear the sound of banging outside before I got into bed.

Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, BANG.

Ever since then, I make sure to put earplugs in before I go to sleep.

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