Friday, October 14, 2011

Favorite Ghost Stories- Mike C. of The Skull and Pumpkin


Making Hallowe'en is such thirsty work, isn't it? Let's all head down to the pub and see what Mike is serving up at The Skull and Pumpkin, shall we?
When I was around 8 years old, I had two good friends living right across the street. They were two fun and pretty girls, Joanna and Denise, and their very kind but busy parents had hired a nanny named Mai, a crushingly beautiful young Japanese girl who made the best crepes, the best fried rice and told the best ghost stories I'd ever heard in my young life. Of an afternoon, especially in the summer, we'd close the curtains, turn out all the lights, and gather in the hallway with a single candle between us, and Mai would whisper her tales in her charming broken English.
The one I remember most was called 'Mujina', and Mai said it was very famous in Japan. The way she told it absolutely terrified me, not in panic but in a subtle, unsettling kind of terror I hadn't felt before. 
I cannot recall her exact words after these 35+ years, but I found the original English text as it was first told from Japan to the rest of the world by Lafcadio Hearn in his book Kwaidan. It still frightens me, and as I read it, I can easily hear Mai's voice, whispering...
 MUJINA, from Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn
  On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka, which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens; and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace.
  Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas [rickshaws], this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset. All because of a Mujina who used to walk there.
  The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:
  One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family.
  "O-jochu [young girl]," he exclaimed, approaching her, "O-jochu, do not cry like that!…Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be glad to help you." (He really meant what he said; for he was a very kind man.)
  But she continued to weep, hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves.
  "O-jochu," he said again, as gently as he could, "please, please listen to me!… This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you! — only tell me how I may be of some help to you!"
  Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve.
  He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded: "O-jochu! O-jochu! O-jochu!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochu! O-jochu!"
  Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand; — and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,— and he screamed and ran away.
  Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it.
  It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, "Ah! — aa!! — aa!!!"…
  "Kore! kore! [Here, here]" roughly exclaimed the soba-man. "Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?"
  "No, nobody hurt me," panted the other, "only… ah!"
  "Only scared you?" queried the peddler, unsympathetically. "Robbers?"
  "Not robbers, not robbers," gasped the terrified man… "I saw… I saw a woman — by the moat; and she showed me… Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!"
  "Ha! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?" cried the soba-man, stroking his own face... which therewith became like unto an Egg—
 --- and, simultaneously, the light went out.

 Man! That sobe seller's wry, sardonic scare, his knowing entrapment of the victim, has always impressed me. I try to frighten in my haunts the way he did -- subtle, quiet, then a quick wink of recognition and a dousing of the lights, and they screeeeaaammm all night long. 
Thank you Lafcadio, and thank you very kindly, Mai. I wonder where you are now, and if you still make the best crepes and tell the greatest ghost stories to your kids' kids.
Happy Hallowe'en, all.

2 comments:

  1. that was a good one! out of the ordinary and really quite creepy and macabre.

    ReplyDelete

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