Face

My freshman winter of university. I hadn’t even been there for a year and yet I’d travelled to various ghost spots with one of my seniors, an occult master. Of course, as it got colder, I tended to stay at home more. During the New Year holidays, however, the master came to visit me at my dorms. We didn’t have much to do, so we sat under the heated table and I played Gameboy while he watched TV.

“Huh?” he suddenly said, and I looked over. There was a diver on TV investigating the bottom of the ocean somewhere.

“That stone statue, it… Ah, it’s gone.”

Suddenly the screen changed to a different scene, but just for a second I’d seen it. The announcer said they’d found some Hellenic ruins in the sea near Egypt. A diver swam through the water with a camera, showing the ancient stone structures. There had been a stone statue lying beneath a crumble stone pillar. ‘Maybe it’s a god?’ I thought, and the expression on its face just looked to me like it was in pain, lying in the mud at the bottom of the ocean. But it didn’t feel like it had that expression at the start. There was a strange power to it. Then the program switched over to the news.

“Stuff like that happens sometimes,” the master said, a difficult expression on his face. “Have you heard of the anti-Buddhist movement that took place at the beginning of the Meiji Era?”

The master’s speciality was Buddhist art. There was a period as Japan entered the Meiji Period where Buddhism, which had been worshipped alongside Shintoism, underwent a difficult time. Many temples were destroyed, equipment and statues were burned, and Buddhist statues that existed in many Shinto shrines were destroyed.

“The oppression of Mikkyou was especially brutal.”

Kimpusen-ji Temple was destroyed, and those around it attacked, but then something strange apparently happened at one of them.

A monk was attacked by a group of Shinto priests, all of the Buddhist statues buried on the temple grounds, and then it was left abandoned.

When the oppression finally started to calm down, an adventurer who had heard that the Buddhist statues were buried decided to dig them up. But when he did, all of them had expressions of rage on their faces. Their expressions when buried had been peaceful, but now they looked like fearsome demons dug up from the pits of Hell. Fearing them, the man soon set them on fire.

These statues, made of wood, burned for six days, screaming in pain the whole time.

I was so drawn in by his story that I didn’t realise I was sitting on my legs, facing him as he spoke.

“Several years ago, I read an interview that a highly-respected Buddhist image maker did with some foreign media. The reporter asked how he was able to express such a deep archaic smile, and the man said, ‘They’re not carved. They’re really smiling.’ When I heard that, I went numb…”

It was rare for the master to praise someone. That was probably the first time I realised that lifeless statues could express emotions.

“Oh yeah, some time ago I tried out something funny with some hypnotism skills I’d learnt.”

I grew worried about what he was going to say.

“I whispered to an ordinary bust, ‘You’re a human who was turned into stone.’”

What on earth was he thinking? But in the end I was too scared to ask him what ended up happening.

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