”Life’s a drag sometimes, y’know? So why not make it a little more fun?”
The candles sat on the center of each step, their pale light flickering against the surrounding gloom. Moonlight spilled through a pair of tall windows at the back of the landing washing the faces of those gathered in a pallid glow. Six sat in a rough circle, five were junior high students, four boys and one girl wearing their school uniform, and the sixth was a girl a few years older than the rest wearing a simple white kimono with spider lilies coloring one sleeve red. In the middle of the group one final candle sat, its uncertain light glittering in the camera’s lense. This candle, and only this, was theirs to blow out.
They had drawn lots earlier to decide their order, and the one who had pulled the longest stick was the youngest of the boys, so it was he who would have the honors of starting the stories for the evening. He leaned forward, hands resting on his knees as he stared down at the candle in the center of the circle, his expression serious for as much as he had been joking earlier about this little game. With a sharp breath and a nod the boy looked up and began his story.
“This happened to me when I was ten. I was home alone because my mother was at work and my father had gone out to buy some vegetables for dinner, and I had stayed behind to finish some reading for class. Well, he had only been gone a few minutes before I heard someone suddenly call my name from deeper in house, it was a woman’s voice but I was so engrossed with my reading, my parents said they would increase my allowance if I’d get a good marks on the test, that I didn’t notice. So, distracted, I responded to the voice.
It called my name again real quick after that y’know, and I could tell it was closer, like it had gone from the entrance hall to the staircase. I realized that something was wrong, so I got really quiet but it just kept calling my name, and every time it was getting closer to my room. I started panicking then, like, I didn’t know what to do and then the voice was in the room next to mine. I realized my second mistake then, the door to my room was open a crack, and I knew I needed to get up and close the door but I just couldn’t move my legs.
Then it just got real quiet, and I kept thinking that at any moment I’d see it through my door, but I was just sitting there until my parents got home. Nothing else happened after that really, but sometimes I hear it, y’know? Someone calling my name when I’m alone.”
The boy went quiet as he finished his story, and an excited murmur ripped through the little group. Excitement, disbelief, perhaps a little chill, but the chatter fell silent at the sound of a little creak from the bottom of the stairs. There sat the first candle, extinguished. The group looked at the girl in the kimono, and with a smile she nodded.
“Next?” She asked.
The second boy grinned as he was called, a pair of studs in her ear glittering in the low light as moved to catch each person’s eye, before drawing a breath and starting his story.
“This happened back when I was in elementary school, Denji knows the story too, so you can ask him if you don’t believe me. Now, back then I was in a group of kids who didn’t have any club activities after school, so we’d always gather to play games together before it was time to go home. This day, however, it was raining so instead of going outside we all decided to stay in the school building and play hide and seek. We were all hoping the rain would pass while we were playing, but we weren't so lucky with that, I ended up getting soaked later.
Anyway, once Denji started counting I hurried off to go hide in the materials reference room. It was this big room with a bunch of shelves you could hide behind so I thought it would be perfect. I turned off the lights once I got there, found a good shelf to crouch behind, and started waiting. Maybe, I don’t know, five minutes later I heard the door open and the sound of someone entering quietly. At first I thought it was Denji, so I tried to make myself as small as I could, but after a few moments of shuffling I just heard a girl’s voice asking me if she could hide here too from the shelves next to mine. I could kind of see her looking through the gap between books, and I thought it was Ai-chan, she never did well with scary things, so I said she could hide with me.
That seemed to make her really happy, so the two of us got to chatting. Nothing interesting really, just stuff like how scary the room was in the dark, or how we hoped that Denji wouldn’t find us. We were like that for maybe ten minutes, just chatting before suddenly the lights flashed on as Denji burst into the room. He had heard us talking from the hallway, so we hadn’t done a great job of being quiet, and Denji was about to give me a hard time for hiding with a girl when we both realized I was the only one in the room. Really freaked me out, I couldn’t sleep for a week.”
The boy finished his story with a casual laugh, one that lasted right up until the next step creaked and candle flickered out. The murmur was a little less excited after the story finished, but the boy seemed pleased with the reaction he got. The third boy cleared his throat, drawing the eyes of the circle to him. He smiled sheepishly, then spoke.
“I got into a really bad accident last year, and I ended up missing a lot of classes while I was in hospital, and there was this experience I had while I was there that I just can’t explain. So, I was stuck in bed most of the time I was there, and I had my room to myself so my folks brought me some games and movies and stuff while I rested but I also had a pretty clear view down the hallway. My room was sort of in the corner.
Anyway, there was this old man, I don’t know what he was there for, in this room a little down from mine. He had this routine he always seemed to keep to, meals at the same time, a little walk around the floor, and every evening around the same time he’d always call for the nurse. There was this little ‘bing’ noise that happened down at the nurse’s station, and a light would turn on outside the room so it was hard to miss.
I don’t know why he called the same time every night, maybe he was in pain or something, but he never missed a night. So, one day a week or two after I was admitted, it was around lunch time I think but a bunch of nurses and doctors came running to the old man’s room and it looked like there was a huge fuss then about half an hour later his family all appeared and well…
Anyway, the scary thing happened that night. Like, he always called for the nurse at the same time right? Well, that night he called for them. A nurse came to check, but she had this really worried expression on her face, and she caught my eye after she poked her head into the room. But that room was empty, I knew it was and it’s not like I saw anyone sneak inside to play a prank with the nurse call button.”
The boy shrugged to end his story, and heads turned to the stairs. A thin line of smoke drifted upwards from the third candle as if it had just been blown out. Things were quiet, before the junior high girl released a puff of air into the stillness and held up her stick.
“It's my turn then. This happened a year ago, more to my sister than to me. See, back then my younger sister would always arrive home before I did, so she’d always greet our mom. This day, however, no one responded for a few seconds before our mom called down the stairs that she was up in her bedroom. So, my sister really wanted to go see our mom so she hurried over to the stairs and started climbing them, already starting to tell our mom about her day, then when she was about halfway up my sister heard the front door open.
And she heard our mom’s voice calling her name.
So, she just stopped, like really confused, then the door to our mom’s bedroom just starts slowly creaking open, and my sister said she was so scared she just couldn’t move, even though she felt like she really needed to run. So, our mom pokes her head out of the bedroom, a terrified expression on her face and her eyes wide open and she said to my sister, ‘don’t go, I heard that too.’
I got home sometime after that, and I found the two of them huddled up in our mom’s bedroom. They both screamed when I opened the door. They said that they heard whatever was downstairs walking over to the staircase, then nothing after that. That was the only time though.”
Everyone listened for the creak as the girl finished her story, and it was there. Two more steps, as the rumor went, and… well that’s what they were all here for, wasn’t it? The gathered eyes turned to the last boy who had a story to tell. He checked over his shoulder to the stairs before he began to speak.
“I went to the same elementary school as Kenta, and I often played games with that group of kids but I only ever had one thing happen that I couldn't explain. It was twilight when the seven of us started playing statues, and it was my turn to be It. Everything seemed normal at first, the other kids lined up, and I called for them to ‘go’. They all rushed forward, and when I called ‘stop’ that’s when I realized something was wrong.
You see, there were seven of us playing, including me, right? But, in the gloom ahead of me I could make out seven figures. I kept counting, thinking that I had to be wrong. It took so long that someone yelled at me to stop stalling, so I told them to ‘go’ again, and they all got closer. I was panicking so much I didn’t even try to catch if anyone kept moving, I was so busy trying to make out everyone’s faces but I just couldn’t. I just wanted to know who the stranger was, it could have just been a kid from our school who decided to join, but I couldn’t think straight.
Then, one of the kids caught my arm. I almost screamed, but when I counted everyone there were only six of them. There was no way I just miscounted them, I kept checking over and over so there was no way. Maybe they ran off? I keep telling myself that’s what happened.”
There was a creak but no one needed to check. There was only one step left, which meant that there was only one story left. The girl in the kimono bowed her head. The girl in the kimono then began her story.
“They say there was a village deep in the mountains where a young girl named Hanako lived. Hanako, you see, was an orphan, her parents claimed by some disease that had swept through this village perhaps a year or so prior leaving her very much alone. The village’s headman took pity on the poor girl and took her in, making Hanako a handmaid for his own daughter Chiyo. The two girls were very agreeable, and you would be forgiven for mistaking them for sisters, though Chiyo was almost a decade older than Hanako.
One day a large two headed snake was spotted on the outskirts of town, villagers banded together to chase it off. All was well, until that evening when a fire suddenly broke out in the home of the villager who first saw the snake. By grace, the fire was extinguished and no one was harmed, but it left the villagers shaken. Then, the next morning, that snake returned and that day the blade of a plow broke clean against a rock. This continued, for weeks, for months, with the snake appearing and chaos following until the villagers were at a breaking point.
The villagers believed that the snake desired a wife, so a sacrifice must be made to appease the great serpent. The village headman violently opposed this, he said that they were all simply being paranoid, that they were allowing their fears to cloud their judgment. It was just a strange snake, and accidents happen all the time. This calmed the villagers down, but that night disaster struck, the headman grew very ill.
Talk of there needing to be a sacrifice began again almost immediately, and all eyes turned to the orphan girl, Hanako. She had no family, and with the headman away with fever Hanako only had Chiyo to speak in her defense. A pair of young men, perhaps still swayed by the headman’s impashioned words, announced that they would go to a nearby town to seek help in hopes it would calm the villagers who had their eyes on Hanako. Not long after they left, heavy rains fell, slowing their progress, and day by day Hanako could feel the walls closing in. Only, no matter how bad it seemed to be, Chiyo would always smile and say that everything would be fine as she comforted the crying girl.
Day by day, things seemed to grow more dire until the day came that the villagers had finished their preparations. That evening, however, something strange happened, Chiyo went missing. Her finest kimono was taken from her closet, her sandals too were missing from the door, but no one had seen her leave. There had been eyes on the house, of course, to stop Hanako should she try to escape. But, on her bed was the leaf of a mountain tree, and the skin of a snake. The villagers all muttered that the snake had taken his wife.
The next morning under clear skies the two young men returned with a medicine woman and a priestess. It took some time for everything to get settled, but soon the headman was on the mend and the priestess amonoshed the villagers for allowing their paranoia and fear to cause them to attempt something so horrible. Hanako attempted to ask the priestess about what had happened to Chiyo, but the priestess only smiled and told her not to worry.
Sometime after that the headman officially adopted Hanako as his own daughter, but Hanako had no desire to remain in that village any longer. She moved away to the recently founded city of Tokyo after her eighteenth birthday, where she lived for the rest of her life. Hanako told my mother this story when she gifted my mother a fine cypress comb that she had as a treasure from Chiyo, though at the end of her story she told my mother, over tears, that she never learned what happened to Chiyo.”
As she finished her story, the girl in the kimono removed a lacquered cypress comb from her hair, letting it fall loose as she held the comb out for the group to see. The final step creaked and the girl slid the comb into the band of her obi. The students all shifted in place with the feeling of another now being among them. Eyes fell to the final candle, save for those of the older girl who looked up. She brushed out the folds of her kimono before running her fingers through her long hair.
“Well then, shall we listen to the story of our guest?” The older girl asked. There was stillness in the group, as if each were waiting on the other to speak up first, but none were willing to lead. When no answer came, the older girl leaned in and blew out the final candle.
I have a theory, it’s pretty simple and it goes like this; the world is far stranger than we give it credit for. I don’t mean that in the ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ way, more that you should pay more attention to what it was you just saw out of the corner of your eye. Don’t you find it odd how your first inclination is to deny the existence of that flicker? Or how the world pressures you into believing that your experiences are little more than flights of fancy until you even begin to agree?
An enviable outcome of modernization and the shrinking of the world perhaps, and ending of the need for myth to explain the unknowns and an acceptance that there must be a grounded explanation for everything. Not wholly wrong, I suppose, but doesn’t it feel like something is missing?
Sorry, this isn’t why you are here, is it? Welcome, welcome to the Paranormal Investigation Club, here we aim to look into the various rumors that come to our attention and attempt to learn the truth behind those incidents. Some days it might be dropping by a local middle school to check out a certain somethingthat appears on the fourth floor staircase, or others it might be a club trip to check out a supposedly haunted inn out in Hokkaido, wherever it is that rumors gather it’s our job to discover the truth.
And if no one believes us, at least we’ll have some cool footage!
The Shinjuku Academy Paranormal Investigation Club is looking for members with technical know-how, a stomach for urban exploration, or any general curiosity in the paranormal. Meetings will be held during regular club hours in club room 432 and on the weekends as scheduling allows. Please hand applications to Akina Ogami of class 2C or to Miss Takahashi.
Name: (Last name, First)
Biography: (Some fun facts about yourself!)
Favorite Horror Flick: (If it’s a story that’s fine too!)
If no one is in, just slide your application under the door.