Even now there are a lot of family homes that treasure the heated kotatsu table when winter rolls around. The blanket placed over the low table and portable brazier creates a barrier between in inside world and the outside. In these borders between worlds, its easy for the unknown to reside. And so, let me tell you a scary story about a kotatsu.
You often hear about how when someone sits under the table, alone, and their legs suddenly brush up against someone else’s. Or even worse, your legs start to feel itchy, so you look underneath the blanket and you lock eyes with a pale-faced ghost.
Perhaps you hear a voice, so you look around the room but nobody is there. You listen closer, and realise that you can hear the voices of several people, but they’re all coming from inside the kotatsu…
An even rarer story includes putting your legs underneath the table only to find that it’s not a portable brazier type, but has suddenly changed to the type with a heated hole in the ground. The hole is so deep that your feet can’t touch the bottom, and finding it strange, you stick your head under the blanket to see, only to realise that it was still the portable brazier type all along.
Today, I’d like to tell you one of these stories.
K-san was a university student. One day, during the winter of his second year, he went to a friend’s apartment to drink. There were three other friends there as well, so including K-san, four in total. The perfect number to sit around a kotatsu. They snacked and drank, chatting about this and that, and at some point the conversation turned to ghost stories. One person would tell a story, and then the next person would begin their own scary tale. Before they knew it, all four had told their own tale.
“I know! Let’s play hyaku monogatari!” someone suggested. It was said that if you told one hundred scary stories, a real ghost would appear. They were drunk and worked up, so they started telling their one hundred stories. Each of them would have to tell exactly 25 stories each.
They started enthusiastically, but by the third round, they were already running out of stories to tell. K-san had drunk too much and was starting to nod off, so he missed most of the stories his friends were telling. When he suddenly opened his eyes again, the room was pitch black and he realised he’d been drooling. Seemed he’d fallen asleep at the kotatsu. He thought everyone else would be asleep as well and was about to get up, but surprisingly, the game was still going. Looked like they’d turned the lights off to heighten the mood. The person sitting to his right was currently telling his story.
How many rounds had they finished by that point? K-san thought it would be rude to interrupt the story, so he sat and listened instead.
“…So then, I went to the convenience store where I usually get my smokes and they didn’t have any left. So I got a different brand, then grabbed a coffee and the new JUMP magazine and was on my way back home when I suddenly felt someone following me from behind. It was a residential area so there were a few streetlights, but it was late at night, so there was no signs of life anywhere. Each time I went forward, the presence followed me, and when I stopped, it stopped. But whenever I turned around, nothing was there. I got chills and ran towards my apartment, but then the thing behind me started running too. ‘I can’t do this anymore!’ I thought, so I ran up the stairs towards my apartment and quickly unlocked the door…”
At that very moment, as though in response to the story, the front door opened. K-san thought his heart was going to burst from his chest. Who on earth could be visiting them that late at night?
K-san stared at the door. Suddenly the lights turned on. He squinted in the harsh light and saw his three friends standing in the doorway.
“Ah, he’s awake, he’s awake.”
…No way. His three friends were supposed to be sitting around the table telling stories. He turned back to the kotatsu and the three figures seemed to disappear like smoke. He was more dumbfounded than scared. Like he’d just been witness to an illusion.
“We just went to the convenience store. We brought back some coffee!”
They entered the living room and handed K-san a coffee. His mind struggled to catch up with what was going on. One of them placed a JUMP magazine on the kotatsu. It was the same friend who had, apparently, just been telling the story about going to the convenience store.
“But man, it sure was scary.”
“Nah, it was just a misunderstanding.”
“I’m telling you it was real. Someone was following us.”
K-san didn’t know what they were getting worked up over, but as he listened, they seemed to be talking about something following them on the dark roads back from the convenience store.
K-san’s mouth felt sticky.
“Was your usual cigarette brand sold out, so you had to get a different one?” he asked his friend who had put the JUMP magazine down.
“Huh? How did you know?”
His friend placed the smokes down on the kotatsu. They really were a different brand to what he was used to seeing.
…What was going on? What were all these coincidences?
“Are you okay?” his friend who owned the apartment asked, worried about his odd behaviour. K-san told them exactly what had happened, and when he was done, everyone fell quiet. There was no way for any of them to brush it all off as mere coincidence. But still, nobody could come to a logical, rational answer, either.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have said that we’d play hyaku monogatari…”
“On that note, what story did we reach anyway?” As K-san asked that, the air in the room suddenly changed. The three of them opened their eyes wide and looked at K-san.
“…That story you just told makes it exactly 100.”
The next moment, something unbelievable happened. Something grabbed and pulled his legs beneath the kotatsu with incredible force. He had no time to resist, and K-san will sucked beneath the table.
…It was pitch black. Next thing he knew, he was lying in his own bed at home, no idea what was happening. Had he been teleported? Panicking, he grabbed his phone to send his friends a message about what had happened the day before. But none of them read his message. Annoyed, he got out of bed and slid under the kotatsu blanket.
It was then that he noticed something strange. K-san didn’t have a kotatsu at home. The strangeness hadn’t ended yet. A chill ran down his spine.
Yet after that, nothing terribly happened to him, nor did he fall ill. His friends didn’t remember much of what happened because they drank so much, so they apparently thought he had just gone home. According to them, K-san has probably just drunk too much and was misremembering what happened.
But the kotatsu was definitely something else. Until that day, he didn’t have one. No matter how drunk he was, there was no way he picked up a kotatsu on his way home. So where did it come from?
Even now, he still doesn’t know. Despite the fact it scared him, he didn’t threw it away, and apparently even now it’s still in his room.