This week, leading up to Halloween, I’m posting some modernized versions of the Japanese ghost stories documented by Lafcadio Hearn in a 1903 book of short stories, called Kwaidan. Today, “Diplomacy.”
The prisoner would be executed in the rock garden. He was dragged to the samurai and forced to kneel where the footpath ended. The soldiers tied his hands behind his back and brought concrete to pour over his body, so that only his head was exposed.
It was the punishment for his failure to bow to a passing samurai: His body would be embalmed, bowing, in a shell of concrete.
When the concrete had dried, the samurai approached and drew his sword.
“STOP!” cried the prisoner. “I was born stupid. It’s my fate to be stupid. But I’m begging for your mercy. You can’t kill me for my fate. You can’t kill me for my ignorance!”
“You’re even dumber,” said the samurai, “if you tell a samurai what he can’t do.”
The prisoner had no reply. “Go ahead, kill me,” he said, calmly. “But the Gods must honor the final wish of the unjustly executed.”
“Yes, it’s true” answered the samurai. “Your last wish will be met no matter what.”
“I wish to avenge my death from beyond the grave. I will resolve will all my heart before I die. And then I will come and render evil against you for the evil you have wrought upon me.”
“You can’t do anything,” said the samurai. “You’re a coward. Your will isn’t strong enough.”
The prisoner promised it was.
“Prove it, then,” said the samurai. “When I cut your head from your neck, give us a sign. Propel your head to that stone across this pond. And when you come to it, bite the stone. Then we’ll know if you have the strength to avenge your meaningless death.”
“Very well,” said the man. “Kill me, and watch for the sign of my vengeance!”
The samurai drew his sword over his head. In his last remaining breath, the man screamed, his face red with intensity, veins bulging from his neck: “I WILL BITE THE STONE. I WILL BITE THE STONE!”
The sword came down with a blinding glimmer from the setting sun, and the snapping of bone and the spurting of blood was a secondary horror to the sight of the prisoner’s head flying across the pond like a deflating balloon. It crashed into a stone and the prisoner’s teeth snapped into the rock.
“Holy shit,” a soldier said. “We are totally gonna get haunted.”
The samurai shrugged, handing his sword to a servant, who dipped it in water and wiped it with a piece of white paper. The ceremonial execution had finished.
“Go take his head off of that stone, the daimyo wouldn’t like that we killed this guy in his garden.”
As the soldiers were pulling the dead prisoner’s dismembered head out of the standing stone, they were chattering nervously. The samurai watched from across the way. The men came back with the prisoner’s head. The wind blew threw the bamboo and they jumped with fright. A crow ga-ga’d on a tree and the men all stared at, waiting to see if it would eviscerate them with a supernatural beak.
The samurai sighed. “You haven’t figured it out?”
“What’s that?” asked a soldier. “We know he just got killed promising to avenge his death from beyond the grave, and then his head propelled itself on a rocket of blood and ate a rock like an onigiri. What part haven’t we figured out?”
“A unjustly killed man’s spirit is entitled to his last resolution before his death,” said the samurai.
“Yep, figured out that part.”
“So,” the samurai asked, “what was his last resolution?”
“To come back from the dead.”
“No. His last resolution was to propel his head through the air and eat through a rock. His spirit won’t bother us. He got his last wish.”
The soldier thought about it for a second, then his face registered what had happened. He smiled and nodded.
“Damn, that’s why you’re the samurai and I’m the servant, am I right?”