Remember me? Whispered my surgeon slowly…
Junji Ito is both brilliant and disgusting. I’d had meant to write about this a while back but between my personal computer dying with a frightening knock sound and long awaited exams (only delayed by a month) I had to put it off.
While my friends were faced with the horrors of parroting behaviorists who were convinced the mind didn’t really exist (you’d be inclined to agree after reading their mindless ideas) I was enjoying Ito’s work. I no longer have access to those chapters but I think simply recounting his stories should work well enough.
Ito writes short horror manga that’s unlike anything else out there. It’s not particularity scary and the body horror isn’t enough to make you turn away. Most people I’ve convinced to read him end up giving me a look of concern and get to repressing the stories from conscious memory.
Ito’s Japanese background might help, there’s an Asian sensibility that I’m never able to put my finger on. But what really makes his work click is that uncanny sense of familiarity. There’s something about his stories that seems to echo an almost conversational recollection of horrors, ghosts and monstrosities. Relatable cultural taboos, settings and moralistic implications that I could see coming from so many people I know. He writes horror simple, weird and relatable.
There’s one story that features a demon that seduces houses. Another has a time traveling bird demon that feeds lost mountaineers but then never decides to stop helping, visiting them everyday for a force-fed meal of human flesh. One has a fortune teller behead an unfaithful boyfriend with a single strand of hair. He won’t die till he lets his head drop of course, so she forces cockroaches down the gap to get him to let go. My favorite involves a man who develops a fetish for living- yes living- secretly inside peoples chairs.
The most wholesome I’ve seen him is a story where it turns out half the people in it are actually dead and one where a abused social worker comes back as a vengeful spirit and helps a neurotic young girl overcome her anxiety by killing her ex boyfriend.
If you’ve got the stomach and a little time for some weird, uncomfortable horror try starting with the Enigma of Agigara Fault- .
I awoke and remembered nothing. Not even who I was. Next to me I saw an old man, grinning.
He laughed and asked what my last wish was. I moved away afraid of his cruel and menacing smile; his teeth yellow and sharp. He explained that my second wish was to forget everything I knew about myself.
Unsure of what to do but afraid of missing my chance I made my last wish. I asked to know everything about myself.
His smile growing deeper he said “Funny. That’s exactly what your first wish was.”
The problem with the old watchman was that he was too hard to read. He left people no choice but to smile uneasily at his unchanging face. So all people the people at the housing colony knew of him was his love for radio soaps.
He’d walk up and down with it held against his ear until he made a swift escape at dawn. Like most watchmen he was a little more than a part of the background in most peoples minds. Unfortunately not everyone had forgotten the old watchman and he was compelled to train a new heir. The colony was on the outskirts of town where leopards were still seen and was build like a maze, so experience in navigating it was mandatory.
The new watchman was happy enough but could hardly take the boredom or the old watchman’s love for soaps. His uneasiness put them both on edge. To make matters worse monsoon brought with it many other problems. A few days in he was saw the old watchman walk through the rain.
He was about to follow when he heard someone throw rocks at the main gate. He saw nothing when he went to investigate. But he knew the loud clang he heard was deliberate. This place was too far away from town and too isolated to be of much interest to any miscreants. But his complaints were brushed aside.
The old man’s face showed no change as usual. He took a long look at the calendar. He turned his radio off and motioned for the young watchman to sit.The rolling of thunder and the rain only made the young man more agitated. He looked at the old watchman and told him he’d rather go out again. In all honesty it was the old watchman who made him uncomfortable.
The old watchman grunted and the storm thundered outside, as if in agreement. The young watchman sprang to his feet and seemed to be trying hard to think of something to shout about. The old man, noticing the panic that was overwhelming his companion, sighed. He began to narrate a story, for the first time showing for the first time the wight of his age and drawing up his wrinkled face.
His companion shifted in his chair very indiscreetly.
The old man began “When I was about your age there were a few houses nearby. The farms were gone but people didn’t want to leave their old houses. I didn’t know them but one of them always interested me. He never seemed to sleep. If he wanted to find me he’d throw stones at the gate till I turned up. He’s the one that got me interested in the radio soaps. Well one day he just stops turn up. I was more than a little annoyed. A few months later I hear a pebble that was thrown against the gate. I was still angry so didn’t bother going.”
The old watchman pulled out a beedi as slowly as he could and took his time lighting it. He continued “The next night I heard two rocks being thrown. The night after that three. It was only next week that I heard my friend had died after a long illness . The poor man must have spent all his energy trying to contact me.”
The old watchman waited for the next thunderclap and said “Yesterday I was certain I heard one stone being thrown. I have no doubts about what will happen after the next three stones tomorrow.”
The young watchman was not willing to find out what really happened after that, much to the disappointment of his would be employers and his drinking buddies who had been told the story a million times. But he did not count it as a total loss, after all this was where he had picked up a love for radio dramas.
Night shift at the ER. A man lies dead and the watchman walks fast. All the patients hold their fears close but he must watch his own step.
At the tea stall outside he is nervous and turns to a stranger. “He kept swearing he saw his father. Old fool. How do people believe such things? All day and night with these sick people. I should be seeing ghosts all the time.”
He finishes his beedi and says “What about you? You believe in ghosts?”
“I’m not that foolish” says the chaiwala and the watchman sees his companion has gone.
My mother always loved her job, even if she was only a housekeeper at the nursing home.
She would take my sister and I there to visit her co-workers or some of the old folk. She had an aunt who lived there too.
The nursing home was painted a drab and faded white. But it was always dark and shadowy despite the huge windows and buzzing lights everywhere.
Even though I was young I knew this was a place of death. The people were frail and sickly watching reruns all day long. Even the artful wall that bore the names of the deceased seemed foul despite the many attempts to make it a more pleasant monument.
None of this affected my mother who always remained upbeat and spoke about the many reasons why she loved working with the elderly. Maybe that’s why she always took us along with her. We were always there on the weekends and we would have to wait till she finished her lunch and took us to attend mass.
We’d mill about and explore while she ate, ignoring the strong stench of urine that haunted the place. Once when I was six I wandered off while my sister stayed with my mother.
I heard a women shout “I’m in pain” over and over. There was something familiar about the voice. When I asked my mother about it she said the woman would do that every day and we should just ignore it. Later she explained stroke or dementia patients have verbal preservation, or the repetition of certain words or phrases due to the condition.
When I grew up I started work at the nursing home’s sister institution. I didn’t want to come back home to be honest but I didn’t have many options. I was also curious about my aunt. I couldn’t remember a thing about her except that she had dementia.
Family friends would always talk about her as a forceful and determined woman who had a habit of bearing grudges. She grew quite bitter after a car crash severly injured her arms and she was confined to her bed.
I though my conservative relatives weren’t giving a free thinker her due and was curious to learn more about her. Strangely ever since I moved back I would have bizzare dreams of me at her bedside, playing the crule games only children who don’t quite know what pain is yet can. My sister cries in the background while my aunt struggles to say something.
The two facilities were connected so that staff could get around easily. I’d often make trips to the other facilities kitchen. It just so happens that this was the faculty where the shouting lady lived but I didn’t remember at the time.
I though I heard a distant “I’m in pain” echo a few times. I looked around a few times to see where it came from, but all I saw were empty rooms and made beds.
I stopped a nurse and told her I thought I heard something.
“You did”she replied. “Every now and then the call light will go off and then you hear…”
“I’m in pain”
I realised that the voice sounded very familiar and the dream with my aunt flashed before my eyes. I shook it off and told myself to stop being silly.
Back at the other facility I was talking to a regular dementia patient I was working with. She still had moments of clarity and enjoyed stories, although she would always remain silent. I told her the story and wondered if it was a ghost.
“I wonder why it doesn’t just grab me” I said as I drew up my chair. I noticed my patient look straight into my eyes.
Without breaking her stare she said “That’s because the woman under your chair has no arms.”
The mirror house was from those movies they told you not to watch, where frightened victims leave clouded mirrors while a man with a knife follows.
I remember the night outside, thick with mist and the moon dropping low like a spider ready to snatch it’s prey. I hear their shouts trying to find me. Their flashlights reveal armies of fellow pursuers all bouncing off the corners, all on their own quests.
I put my hand against the mirror. Its deceitful icy cold gave way to warmth. Mine.
Time has taken a thousand moons hence, but the mirrors cradle my sleepwalking soul, my happy silhouette, ever elusive across the glassy cold.
I should have never looked. It was a face I had come to fear but he wouldn’t leave me alone. His arms reached for me and held me in place.
“What went on behind those eyes?” I wondered.
“You’ll never get away from me” my reflection said, as he let go and slipped back into the mirror.
All I could see were his feathers and antlers, so why should I have felt any fear?
His eyes like colored marbles, smaller than my palm he spoke in a strange cackling. I could hear his flutter and I swore I heard the night speak in its cold breeze. The brushing of leaves that I had forgotten since I left the old farm, since the world left the old farm followed the fireflies that buzzed around us.
The land broke and bent, on it’s bones lay roads. A serpent crushing what once was. In these forest lost stories of man eaters, demons and spirits once made their home. The forest floor was harsh. The land around me was dry and quiet while men would thunder and glow across the forest borders.
This was not home, the straggler would not like my habits. I felt guilt, deep down I longed for my land of light and fire.He led me far, onto the icy roads and head beams. So came my peace. I should have known. Why would the faeries lay in wait for man’s repentance?
Despite his failing mind, he knew the doctors were selling him the glow of cat eyes in the dark.
He knew. The green fluorescent flies had told him as they clinked Morse against the dying bulb. He pulled at his chain and smiled. The dog nearby wore a blank stare .
“Go away! When they’re through they’ll make a monkey out of you.”he shouted. The dog gritted his mirrored fangs and his orange eyes grow more incandescent.
He smiled wryly for the attendants to come in and sing like shattering glass over a glossy lake.