I couldn't go out drinking on Halloween as I had work the next day, so I decided to walk as far as I could with kuroe in the direction away from Tokyo. We made some joke about going to Izu on a motorbike, like they did in the Edo era (watch Mayonaka no Yajisan Kitasan for that reference).
The route took us through backstreets with no pavement and small towns that have funeral parlors and warehouses advertising work for women aged between 20 and 24. We saw ramshackle houses with frying pans and brooms tied to the surrounding fence, while the trees in their garden are heavy with fruit and spiders. The usual shrines and pachinko parlors.
We walked until the buildings dropped in height to just a few storeys at most until the land flattened out into fields. We walked until uphead of us we could see the Koremasa Bridge which crosses the Tamagawa, famous for flooding and fatal mudslides during the wet season.
Twilight was upon us already, with just a smear of orange light on the horizon. Just before I took this photograph, I could hear the roar of cars and the rumble of a freight train as it crossed the bridge ahead of us. Somewhere quite near us and the hills with jagged faces, there were a pack of dogs baying.
Their howls didn't seem to come from the overgrown allotments on the banks of the river and the sound bounced from factory to factory until it seemed to come from a white brick building that squatted on a raised area of ground near the river bank. There must have been around ten dogs, probably more, and they sounded as if they wanted to be released from wherever it was that they were.
Another train rattled across the bridge and I realised it was getting colder and darker. And quieter. I looked back and saw no vehicles and no people.
"We should head back home," I told J.
He smiled. "Thinking about writing about this place?"
"Yeah. It would make a good horror story. Those dogs--" I waved my hand in the direction of the factories and the insane howling. "--are probably ghost dogs. Or something."
"You looked scared when you said that." He attempted an impression of me.
"No, I didn't!"
We walked back in the way we'd come. One of the factories had a large sign that read BOSS COFFEE in huge uppercase and I started to feel thirsty. Advertising to my subconscious, I guess. Since it's autumn, hot canned coffee is starting to become available in vending machines across the country. As we walked down what passed for the main street in Koremasa, we could see all the vending machines had shut down for the evening. The dogs were louder now, even though we were walking away from the river.
The street lights grew dimmer.
Out of the darkness, a man grabbed my hand. I froze because he wasn't attacking, but I tensed myself in case he did. I was reminded of the time I was grabbed by a woman in Kokubunji Station. She'd kept screaming at me and held onto my arm with a grip that was easy enough to break as long as I was okay with injuring someone who was obviously mentally ill. I mouthed 'help me' at passersby until someone got the stationmaster. It was like that -- it's very difficult to start a fight when sober. Consult Fight Club if you're unsure about this.
I looked at the man out of the corner of my eye. He had no face.
"Daddy forgot it got dark so soon around autumn." A child stood behind him, arms wrapped around her father's waist.
Her lack of emotion prompted me to respond likewise. I calmly twisted out of the man's grip and tried to will my heart to slow down. It was as if reality had abdicated from all responsibility in this situation and my own belief had done likewise.
"Is daddy going to be okay?" she asked. "I tried to get him home, but the doors had disappeared. Then his face disappeared too."
"How? When?" Too many questions. I couldn't swear in front of her, could I?
"It started when we heard the wolves."
"Wolves? Not dogs?"
She paused. "They're neither, really."
"We need to get to the train station. We saw one on our way in." J pulled me away and back towards our incoming route.
"The trains don't stop at Koremasa Station after dark. Which is fine, because no one gets off and no one's around to get on. They don't even open the doors, because they're no idea what they might be inviting."
"We'll do what we can. What's your name?" I asked the child, indicating she should follow us.
She stood still. "Kokai Juuko."
I took the time to have a better look at her father, since he had no way of knowing I was staring. It wouldn't be rude to meet his gaze if he didn't have one.
"I'm going to the park," she continued and reached out for my hand.
I jerked away before she made contact. "We're not coming. We're going to the station."
She put her hands on her hips and stuck out her tongue. "What did I tell you?" She sighed dramatically, as only an eight year-old can. "That's where THEY go. They're always trying to get out."
"We'll keep walking," said J as he turned away.
We walked in the opposite direction from the girl and her father until we reached the park where she was waiting for us. She stood in front of the clock, looking up at it.
Maybe an hour or two later, it was still twilight. The clock said that it had just gone four thirty, but that was the time we'd entered Koremasa.
Suddenly, the bell underneath started to chime and the wolves howled again, although I'd never noticed they had stopped. Their cries travelled to us over the treetops, sounding just slightly closer than when we'd stood on the bridge.
"What's going on here?" I demanded, the mask of calm finally about to crack.
Juuko turned around. I thought it was to talk to us, but she couldn't see the clock anymore. Her eyes had gone.
"No one knows. Isn't it enough that it does?"
"How long has it been going on?"
"Since I was eight."
Juuko looked eight now. I could see her acknowledging my recognition of this fact.
"Yes, that's right. Almost sixty year ago."
That was the last thing she said before her mouth caved in. I felt sick, but I swear I didn't scream or cry.
Now... Now the wolves are closer. I can hear them screeching, like barbed wire across a chalkboard. Juuko was right. They aren't wolves, but that doesn't mean I know what they are either. I've turned that question over and over in my mind and still don't know. Are they someone's method of revenge on this town? Is this place an opening to hell? I'm not sure it really matters, but if there was some clue in the answer that could help us.
I don't know.
I'm typing this into my mobile phone and hoping that the strange energies in this place will carry it to people who can help. I hope this reaches you, whoever you are, because I can no longer see...