Sign in the Mountains

I can’t tell you the exact details of the places I’m going to talk about now, but it’s a rather famous mountain in the northeast of Japan. Those who know the area should know what I’m talking about rather quickly. The story I’m about to tell you is about a road that only the locals use; a road that leads to a certain mountain road.

It was nearing the end of autumn while I was in high school. One of my childhood friends had already graduated, and he had a car so we often hung out. On this day he didn’t have any work, so he came to pick me up after school and suggested we go for a drive.

We only passed one car on the way through the mountains. There weren’t any streetlights, but there was a back way that would take us through to the town on the other side of the mountain much quicker than the normal way.

My friend’s Sedan was a little large for the road, however, and most of it was unpaved, so the speed he drove across it caused the car to wiggle side to side as we drove up the steep mountainside.
After climbing for about 30 minutes, the road turned to sleet. My friend didn’t have his snow tyres on yet, so the car slipped all over the place.

“We’re never going to get through this, let’s go back,” I said, but to the left of us was a steep cliff, meaning he’d have to reverse the whole way back. It would have been far too dangerous, so we had to keep going.

“There should be a space up ahead to let other cars pass, so if we can make it there we should be able to turn around,” my friend said. We couldn’t just wait up on the dark mountain alone without any phone service, so we kept on climbing, the car slipping the whole way.

As we climbed, the snow on the ground grew heavier, about 10 cm deep. All we could rely on was the car lights, and seeing bear tracks in the snow made me even more deathly afraid. It suddenly hit me that if we didn’t hurry up, we’d be in another sort of trouble, and fast.

A little further up, I saw an old wooden sign to the right of us. It was covered in snow, but as we passed it, I saw some letters written on it in red.

Sugisawa 2k

‘…Huh? There’s a village on this road?’ I thought. But I was so focused on us finding a place to turn around that I didn’t think much more of it. Then, finally, we arrived at an open area, but that was where the road ended. In front of us stood a rather large, old, tea-coloured shrine gate.

With no road going forward, all we could do was turn around, but I noticed some stairs behind the old shrine gate. The area around them was foggy, but at the top of the stairs I saw something swaying in the fog that looked human, but even whiter than the fog.

“Did you… see that?” I asked.

“…Oi, stop looking,” my friend said. It was coming down the stairs towards us.

We panicked and fell silent. We turned the car around and as we went back down the road, the snow and that sign I’d seen were gone, like they’d never been there at all.
My friend and I went back the next summer, and we were able to pass through without any problems. We weren’t able to find our way back to that shrine gate. Even now I wonder what would have happened if we got out of the car that time to check what was beyond the gate…

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