When I went to Japan during the summers, I always stayed with my cousin Otoya and his family. We didn’t really connect, but maybe that was because I didn’t speak much Japanese, and he didn’t speak much English. My mother hadn’t taught me much of the language aside from simple phrases, a few hiragana and a handful of kanji, and I wasn’t all that enthused to learn.
Last year, however, when my family and I headed over to Japan, Otoya surprised me by talking more than usual. Apparently, he had studied diligently to improve his English, which was better than me, because I was still struggling with Japanese. Anyway, when I was lugging my suitcase to the apartment, something on the wall opposite the door caught my attention. Someone had scrawled けものwith spray paint.
“… Kemono?” It was difficult to make out, but I was certain the hiragana characters spelled that.
Behind me, Otoya held open the door of the apartment. “Mark, hurry up!” Then he said, “What are you doing?”
“Uh, there’s some writing. I was trying to read it.”
“Probably the…I don’t know how to say…uh…neighborhood punks? We’ll talk to the manager and ask her to, um…get it cleaned.”
“Yeah, okay.” I continued inside.
It was strange that someone would write something like that of all things, because kemono was a word for a beast. But I didn’t dwell on it long; I had to get my stuff unpacked and put away.
A scratching sound woke me up in the middle of the night, but as I glanced around, I didn’t see anything unusual. Otoya was asleep on the other side of the room, and the roar of a car jetted by the window. I lay back down, pausing midway, and gawked as an invisible hand carved two distinct characters into the surface of the wall opposite me:
“Bakemono? What?” I jumped up and tripped on my way to Otoya’s futon. “Otoya, get up! There’s something wrong, your house is haunted or something! I don’t know, but—”
Otoya turned over on his side and ignored me. I glanced at the wall again, and felt my stomach drop to my feet. The words あなたのおしいれ, “your closet”, had appeared beside “bakemono.” In other words, there was “a bakemono in your closet”. A monster.
“Look!” I turned the light on and rushed back to Otoya’s futon.
By now he was sitting up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “What are you doing?” His gaze fell on the crude writing, and he said, “Did you…do that?”
“If you’re going to play a prank, at least do something better.” Otoya yawned as he stood up, switching between Japanese and English. He moved over to the closet. “Fine, fine, I’ll look inside, but you should stop doing childish things, Mark.”
I shook my head. My throat closed up and wouldn’t allow me to speak. Otoya slid the door open. He screamed, just before his body made a jerking motion that sent him staggering into the closet. Something dark with yellowed fangs briefly appeared on its threshold, before slamming the door shut. The image of an animalistic face burned deeply into my mind, as the roughened sound of nails scraping along the floor slowly quieted.
Seconds later, our parents frantically charged in from the hall.
“What’s wrong?” my dad asked.
Otoya’s mother followed up with, “Where’s Otoya?”
I pointed to the closet.
My uncle opened it, but Otoya wasn’t there. I tried to explain what had happened, but everything I said came out in a jumble of incoherent words. The police were called, and an investigation was done, but nobody turned up any leads. And nobody listened to what I told them; they were all convinced I had had a nightmare or hallucination, that Otoya had run away!
To this day, Otoya has yet to be found.
Image by Franck BLAIS