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, “Mujina.”
So this slope right here is called Kii-no-kuni-zaka, which means “The Slope of the Province of Kii.” Nobody knows why anybody calls it that, but everybody calls it that so everybody calls it that. On one side of the slope, there’s this old deep moat, with high green walls rising up to some garden, and on the other side is the Imperial Palace.
The neighborhood was pretty lonely growing up. I’d come here to get away from people and have a smoke. People dodge this neighborhood once the sun goes down, even if it meant being late for appointments or dates, depending on how important the appointment was, or the date.
It’s all because of the fucking raccoon dogs.
The last guy who saw a raccoon dog here was a batshit old takoyaki salesman from Kyobashi. He died about 13 years ago, but I remember the story from when I was kid, and that story was about 17 years old when he told it to me. So I never paid any mind to prowling raccoon dog stories, and the only time I’m late for a date is if the girl’s real pretty. If you keep them waiting it takes their edge off. They wonder if you got someone prettier on the other side of the castle.
Anyway, the old man. His story went like this:
He was hurrying up the Slope of Kii when he saw a woman over there, by the moat. She was alone and crying, crying like crazy. The old guy would tell it and shiver himself and make this awful face like he’d just swallowed a bug. I hated that story cuz he’d always keep the face too long, like one beat too long? It was awkward and I’d already heard the story a million times. Anyway, lady’s crying, right?
So the old guy, he thinks she’s gonna off herself, jump in the moat. So he goes up to her and asks if she’s alright, and turns out she’s a real knockout, right? She’s got these tiny shoulders and she looks like she’s got hollow bones, from the way this guy described her. Like she was hardly a girl at all, just this wisp of air, so pretty he couldn’t even focus his eyes on her.
“Hey! Beautiful girl,” he says. “Don’t cry, what’s wrong, what’s up? What can I do for you?” He’s talking while he walks up to her. He was a nice guy, I mean, I believe this part of the story, cuz he gave me some octopus balls for free one time after I’d mentioned I’d lost my coins, and I totally forgot about it, and he never even asked me for the money back. I finally remembered and gave it to him and he just said he didn’t want to embarrass me, you know? He was cool guy.
Point is, lady’s crying. He’s trying to see what he can do to console her. She’s got her hands over her face though, and she’s crying so loud she can’t hear the guy. Finally he gets right up to her, and puts his hand on her shoulder, and he’s all, “What can I do for you? Just stop crying, let me help you out, do you need some tea?”
She starts telling this long story about her mom and dad and a boyfriend and she’s supposed to marry some rich guy but she loves this poor guy and whatever whatever, right? So she ran here and saw the boyfriend but he was different, she says, and she’s talking the whole time but she’s got her hands on her face and then she just stops. She just stops talking all of a sudden.
His hand’s on her shoulder and he leans in to her face, you know, trying to get her to just look at him, so he can tell he’s getting through to her. So she spins around and drops her hands.
Here’s the thing. She’s got no fuckin’ eyes. Not just eyes, but no nose, no mouth, no nothing. She’s got no fucking face, OK? So he’s like whoooa, he screams – he’d tell this story and flail his arm around, but you know, I don’t want to ash in your eyes or anything – he books it out of there, up the slope of Kii, for like 15 minutes he must of run. He says it was an hour but I’ve jogged here there’s no way you can run for an hour without getting anywhere, unless he was running with a takoyaki cart, and even then I think he’d hit the other side in 20 minutes.
But the whole road is black, pitch black. The lights are out the whole time. This is before the streetlamps, remember, but now even the moon is like black, so he can’t see a god damned thing. He doesn’t look back until finally there’s a lantern, like a speck in the distance. He thinks it’s a firefly but he runs towards it and yeah, it’s a lantern.
So the lantern is this guy, this soba noodle guy’s yatai stand, he’s transporting his stand home from the city for the night. Now the old man is happy just to see anybody, especially this food-stand comrade, so he just crumbles, exhausted, to the ground in front of this soba stand, trying to catch his breath.
Soba guy’s all like, “What, what? What’s the problem? You hurt? Somebody after you?” and the old man is catching his breath.
“Nah, nah, I’m fine,” he says.
“Just scared, huh?” says the soba guy, but he’s like, a jerk about it for some reason. Like he’s mocking the old guy for being scared. The old guy catches his breath, tells the soba guy about the woman by the moat.
“I can’t even describe her face,” he says. And then the soba guy says, “Did it look like THIS?” and he strokes his face and suddenly his face is like an egg, he’s got a fucking egg-face right, and then the light went out and