Spooky Stories and Farewells

Hello everyone, your outgoing Webmaster Loïc here. As I prepare to make my return to my homeland of maple syrup and snow, I wanted to give you all one last post before I pass my GAJET hat on the next iteration of the committee. This year has been an incredible one, and it’s been really amazing to watch our little community come together and innovate on what a year in Gunma can be when faced with the massive complication of a global pandemic. Halloween, Gunma Quaranteam Games, the Simulhikes, Christmas, I had a blast doing them all with you. This year’s also been a wild one, and though I’ve only been your Webmaster for a few months, I want to leave you all with something that’s honestly quite emblematic of the trials and hurdles of this year. The following is a short horror story I wrote in University, set in Oyasu Ravine in Akita prefecture before I’d ever set foot in Japan. When Marissa put out the call last year for submissions for the Halloween newsletter, I decided to touch it up with my now abundance of free time and newly acquired real experience in the country and submit it. However, due to an unfortunate series of events that particular letter never ended up going out. Then when Kei took over we discussed putting it up as it’s own post, but the hecticness of the website overhaul meant it was once again lost to the whims of busy work schedules. So, after a yearlong journey and in my final days of GAJET, here it is. Working with everyone and building the Gunma ALT community this year has been absolutely fantastic, thank you so much for everything, and please stay in touch and come visit Canada! Oh, and given that this is a spooky horror story written for halloween, if you’re the sort that would enjoy some content warnings, you’ll find them at the bottom of this post. Now, without further adue, I give you: A Fugitive.

A Fugitive

This is the voicemail of (1-8-3, 4-7, 5-5-7-9.) You have (10) new voice messages. To play your messages, press (1). To manage inbox, press—

First message, sent on (August 13, 2015) at (22:30) from (1-8-3, 4-7, 4-9-2-2.)

<Hi Ria, it’s Ken. This went straight to voicemail. It’s… it’s fine, I think. You know the plan, I know the plan, it’s all fine, it’s just that I’ll… be a little later than we talked about. My mom had another… fit today and, well, she slashed the tires on the car. It’s ok, I’m fine, everyone’s fine and you know it’s pretty nice out actually, all things considered. I did it by the way. I finally ran away. I’m actually calling you from the graveyard just outside of town. I’ve already been walking a little and… wow, I really wish you were here. I’m sitting next to a big gravestone and the view is amazing from up here. The valley stretches out for kilometers below, the village looks so tiny compared to the vastness of the forest, especially at night, like all those little lights are drowning in the trees. I’d say they look like stars but… the sky…  There’s these huge thick clouds coming in from the horizon, I can feel the humidity washing in already but right above me there’s this little patch of open sky and it’s so clear. I can see every single star, it’s breathtaking. The moon’s already been gobbled up by whatever’s coming but it’s still shining through the cover just a little; it looks so mysterious. [brief silence, a sigh] It’s such a relief to be out of that house… for good, this time. The air is so fresh air up here, away from all of the crap, it’s like breathing for the first time. Anyways, I’m going to be a little late getting to you tonight. Mom found out about Dad and Yuna and… well… no car. Everything’s still the same, I’ll meet you at the Hot Springs like we planned, I’ll just be walking. I’m going to take Oyasu Ravine. I’d use the road but a kid walking around in the middle of the night by himself looks awfully suspicious, I don’t want to risk the police picking me up. You don’t need to worry about me, the tourists visit it all the time, I’ll be fine. Call me back as soon as you hear this, I’ll see you in an hour okay? Bye!>

End of message. To replay this message, press (1). To play the next message, press (2.) To delete this—

Next message, sent on (August 13, 2015) at (22:51.)

<Hey, it’s me again. I went straight to voicemail again… I’m guessing your phone died or something? Worst possible night for that, huh? That or maybe… you’re still mad about the other day. I wouldn’t blame you… [a sigh] Oh well, it might honestly be better like this, what with Obon being around the corner. The hot springs must be packed tonight. You’ll probably be re–ly busy until I get there, ‘no need to worry about me. The clouds are moving in pretty fast, they’ve almost caught up with me and it looks like it’s going to rain soon, so I might take a while to get to you. [laughs] You’re going to get so worried. If I’m being honest, I’m getting a little nervous too, the stars have all gotten swallowed up by the storm and it’s getting really dark. I’ll be the first to admit it’s spooky down here at night, there’s this re–ly thin fog from the river that makes everything look soft and murky, not to mention all the moisture seeping right into my clothes. I’m on speaker by the way. I’m using my phone as a flashlight and that’s kind of hard to do with it pressed to my face. Sorry about that, but it’s also your fault for not picking up. I don’t know why yet, but it is! [a small laugh] I’ll have more light when I get near Takinohara, but for now, darkness. It’s fine, we’ve walked the ravine together enough that I’m eighty perce– sure I know where I’m going.

[The sound of walking and slow, steady breaths, a gust of wind rustles through trees and leaf litter]

I hate this part of the ravine. Everything looks like every—ng else, the trees, the shrubs, the rocks. It’s not like there aren’t different kinds of trees, sure, but it’s as if the same set of woods is repeating over and over again. It looks like Silent Hill out here [nervous laugh.] I don’t even have the river anymore. The path awkwardly zigzags away from it and around the mountain for the first leg so until I’m about halfway to you I won’t even have a landmark. It all smells the same too. I know that sounds weird but once you’re away from the river everything just smells like pine needles and mist. At least there’s still the occasional sign to remind me I’m on a tourist trail and not lost in the woods. I miss the sound of water though; any sound is better than the wind. It’s loud here, you can probably hear it if I shut up.

[faintly, the wind howls]

See what I mean? It’s bad, like someone’s getting stabbed out here. [long pause] maybe that was the wrong choice of words.>

End of message. To replay this message, press (1). To play the next message, press—

Next message, sent on (August 13, 2015) at (23:02.) Same caller.

<That was definitely the wrong choice of words. You talk about ghosts and murder and that stuff and suddenly you start seeing shapes in the trees and people on the horizon. Crap I’m paranoid. [nervous laugh] Honestly, I feel like Kuchisake-onna is going to pop out and attack me. [pause, a laugh ending in a sigh] Geez, that brings me back. Do you remember that story? I think I told it to you in… what was it, second year of junior high? You probably don’t even re–mber. She’s this ghost story people tell on forums; apparently if you’re walking around Nagasaki prefecture you mi–t run into her. She’s this ghost who got her face messed up by her husband. Think your scar—the hare lip—think that but… gruesome. Anyways, it’s gross, so she wears this creepy mask to cover it and if she finds you, she’ll ask you if you think she’s pretty. If you don’t say yes, she just stabs you on the spot with a pair of scissors she carries around. If you do, thou–, she takes it off and asks you again, scars and all. Say no this time and she disappears, only to follow you home and kill you in your sleep. If you say yes again, she gives you a face to match. Fun, huh? [pause] Oh man, I remember when I first told you that one you didn’t sleep all night. No, no you have to remember, you became obsessed with that ghost, wanted to know everything about it. You even cosplayed as her for Halloween… and one time when it wasn’t Halloween. That wasn’t funny by the way, tapping on my window in the middle of the night wearing the damn thing. [sigh] You’re a weird kid, you know that? But hey, that’s scary stories, you always have to know more. [chuckles, then a long pause] I really need to shut up, I’m only making things worse for myself. People say messed up stuff on the internet. But, I mean, that’s Nagasaki, not here. Maybe they all just have radiation on the brain. N—ing is going to get me here. [another pause] Thank God, I think I see the fork that leads back to the river. I’ll call you when I reach Takinohara. It’s getting a bit annoying to talk and use the flashlight. Plus, I think I felt a raindrop. See you soon.>

End of message. To replay this message, press one. To—

Next Message, sent on (August 13, 2015) at (23:09.)

<It’s raining. I made it, by the way—to Takinohara, not the Hot Springs. At least I can see a little better, there’s light coming from the village through the sheets of rain, so I can see a little better. It’s coming down hard, I’m really glad I found this little shrine to stand under. It’s not very big, mind you, so I’m getting nice and cozy with this terracotta statue… figurine… thing they keep here. I think it’s called a kami? Is it bad that I’m this out of touch with my own culture? I don’t even know if what I’m doing is okay. I’m not sure what the deal is with the local gods and spirits. I guess that’s another of my parent’s myriad failures, they never gave me their faith. Guess they spent too much time worrying about each other. Damn, that seems to be the moral to every story with my parents. I know Mom’s illness isn’t her fault, but it still stings when they’re too busy or tired or angry to remember I exist. They’re not trash. I mean, I turned out ok, despite them.  I don’t get why Mom doesn’t like you, though. I mean who does she think she is judging you? If there’s something wrong about anybody it’s with her, I don’t understand why she feels like she has to drag you down too. Honestly, I’m glad I have someone who cares as much as you do. You’ve always been there for me… I appreciate that. You’re one of those friends that’ll drop anything if I need you and I think that’s amazing. I would have lost my mind otherwise. I mean, the—huh?

[pause, the sound of pouring rain]

Sorry, I thought I felt something. [The rain continues, a sigh] I forget how pretty these places can be, especially at night. There’s just something romantic about it, despite the isolation. It almost makes me forget I’m on the run, that any one of those lights from that little town might be exposing me if it wasn’t for the rain. It’s wet out here. Even if I’m not getting rained on, the humidity is soaking me straight to the bone. I can barely breathe. Luckily I have Mr. Kami here to cuddle with, like a little stone plush. [a laugh] I feel like one of the girls in My Neighbour Totoro, when they’re standing at the bus stop together. [sigh] I love that scene; bus stops always make me think of freedom, like all you need is a metal sign and a bench and you can go anywhere. I wish I’d just bought a bus ticket ages ago and gone far away, instead of wasting away in some hick-town in the mountains. But hey, if I did I’d never have met you, and tonight you get to be my bus, to take me far, far away. Huh? I think the roof is leaking, I felt a drop on my head. [pause] There it is again. Alright, I’m just going to find a better place to sit an—

[A bumping, then a gasp, and finally a shattering noise]

Oh crap… Uh… ok I think I can… damnit damnit da–>

End of message. To replay this message, press (1.) To play the next message, press (2.) To–

Next message, sent on (August 13, 2015) at (23:25.)

<Crap… crap… What if I…? Oh hey it stopped ringing. Yeah I think the machine cut the call, sorry.

[Pause, sounds of clicking ceramic,]

Alright… maybe I can put that there. [A groan. More rustling] So… uh… how long do you think before someone comes by here? A day? Three days? Morning? I hope I didn’t leave too many fingerprints on this thing. Not that Mom and Dad would bother with the cops. Even if they did, why would they think to look here? Oh right, you’re probably confused. I was moving to get away from the rain and I… uh… knocked Mr. Kami over. Nothing major, just a little statue. I mean, who even maintains these things anyways? Do people just come and do it when it needs doing? Is there a priest that does it? It doesn’t look that expensive, so… I mean, it shouldn’t be a problem to replace; I just… feel bad about it. I even tried putting it back together but it… didn’t work out. It’s in too many pieces. The thing fell face first and the head exploded… Maybe I should leave a note. If only I had paper… On the other hand, maybe it’s a good thing I don’t. What would I write? “Sorry I trashed your shrine?” “Ken went this way, officer?” Yeah, no note seems best. I’m going to give fixing it another try, give myself something to do until the rain lets up. I’ll call you back, ‘kay?>

End of Message. To replay this message—

Next message, sent on (August 13, 2015) at (23:59.)

<The rain’s finally stopped. I m–n, I’ve been walking for a half hour now and the rain only just let up. This section of the ravine had towns nearby until now, so I had enough light to afford having my phone tucked under my shirt and keep it from getting wet. I’m really glad it didn’t get soaked. My phone, I mean. I’m dripping wet, it’s a miracle I managed to keep anything dry really. I wouldn’t have had to if I didn’t book it from the shrine like an idiot. I don’t know… I started getting these weird vibes after I hung up? like I needed to leave before… something happened, you know? Like someone wanted me out. Call me crazy but it felt like my house did… hostile. [long pause, faint breathing] I just passed Toriya so now it’s nothing but woods until the Hot Springs. On the up side that’s less of a chance of getting caught. On the downside… I can see the last of the streetlights getting swallowed up by the darkness of the forest, like the more distant parts of the ravine was some sort of pit. The trees are almost framing the emptiness, it kind of looks like a gate to hell. Yeah, I know how dramatic I’m being but it really does… its spooky. If you can’t already tell, I’ve stopped walking because I’m a stupid coward. It’s a ravine, people walk this trail all the time. Nothing is going to happen. [pause] I’m going to set my phone to flashlight now, so prepare for crappy speaker audio.

[increase in background noise]

There we go.  Ac–ally, now that I think about it, this part of the ravine looks familiar. Maybe it’s the section I’m thin—g of or maybe it’s the woods repeating again but it reminds me of the time my family came here. This was before elementary, back w–n we lived in Yuzawa, before Mom… lost it. Dad took us to see Mt. Kurikoma and I think we stop–d here to see the ravine while Mom went to buy cigarettes. Dad and I walked aro–d near the river and skipped rocks.

[background noise grows, the sound of rustling plants and wind is heard prominently.]

 I wish it could have always been like that. Just… a family. Mom wasn’t even that bad at first, she just got mood swings every so often. We thou–t it was just stress but… she kept g–ting worse. Then one night… well… yeah.

[long pause, intense wind.]>

End of Message—

Next message, sent on (August 14, 2015) at (00:07.)

<Hey again. It’s me. I… It’s really nice, calling you like this. I don’t care if you aren’t p—ing up anymore it’s just nice to have somebody to talk to. The ravine just goes on and on forever and I feel like one of those kids that –nders into the woods and never comes out. I don’t even know how long I’ve been walk— anymore. The trail’s overgrown and it looks like nobody’s been out here in ages. [slight rustling] WHAT THE—

[trees shift and move, flapping wings, wind. A laugh]

Geez…. I need to get a grip. Was I al–ys this much of a wimp? Maybe I’m asking the wrong person. It’s your fault I’m like this, I mean what kind of friend follows people home just to give them a scare? It’s not funny! [pause] Okay maybe it’s a little funny, but you should really find someone else to be the butt of your jokes. No wonder my Mom hates you. To be fair, she kind of hates everyone. [sigh] Why does everything always come back to her. This place is so cr–py… Screw it. I think I owe you that story after copping out on you last call huh? Look, it’s just not a fun memory to revisit, okay? I’m not even sure if you rem–ber it. There was a day back in elementary school, I was tired and the teachers kept doting over me and the principle called me to the office? I’m real– sorry I didn’t tell you then… haven’t told you since, it’s just… hard, you know? I feel like such an idiot, doing this over voicemail but to be honest… it’s a bit easier, like I’m not really telling anybody. You won’t know either, not until you hear this message.

[long pause, a faint breath audible through the wind]

Listen, I’m going to hang up and call you back, would— want the machine interrupting us halfway through.>

End of Mess—

Next message, sent on (August 14, 2015) at (00:13.)

<Alright, long story short, my parents got arrested and I had to sleep at Minase precinct. The night it happened… they had this huge fight. It was bigger than normal, way bigger… some really nasty things were said. I ended up lying awake all night, just playing what happened over and over again in my head. I don’t think I ever fell asleep… anyways, at one point way in the night I heard footsteps downstairs. It was way past bedtime, far enough that it was odd for anyone to be awake… so I crept down the stairs to check it out. My Dad was passed out on the couch, the TV was still on, and my Mother… Mom was walking towards him. It was so slow and deliberate, like she was sleepwalking… She had this strange look in her eye, like she wasn’t all there, and she was holding a knife. I just watched there stunned, like this was all some strange dream, as she stood over my sleeping dad… I screamed when she began to swing the knife, and hid under a table. I was ten, it seemed like a good idea at the time. That woke Dad up and he saw her and I don’t know if it was fear or anger or something else but he lost it. I guess anyone would if they saw that. He jumped up and tried to wrestle the knife out of her hand. She fou–t like a demon, though. The way she was yelling and gnashing at him, she’d turned into a rabid animal. They both ended up getting cut, but my Father eventually got the knife off her. He hit her… a few times. ‘Why?’ I don’t know. Maybe it just felt good, or maybe he had to make sure she was harmless. The police showed up not too long after. They were already trying to cover up what hap–ned. If there’s one thing my parents are good at it’s making sure they look normal. They did a good job too; even cleaning up the blood… but they couldn’t hide their cuts. The police took them in and off to the station we went. I slept on a blow-up mattress in the chief’s office because they couldn’t reach my grandparents… Huh? Do you hear that?

[pause, absolute stillness except for the howling wind]

Sorry I… thought I heard something… like someone… breathing. Nevermind. [pause.] They didn’t get charged, if you’re curious. Both of them kept quiet after that… we all did. Who cares about a couple’s dispute in the middle of the countryside anyways? Even if it did come to blows. Not those cops, that’s for sure. Dad did end up taking her to a shrink, though. It helped… for a while. [sigh]You kn– how people can get about ta—ng their pills. One day they’re fin- and you think thi–s are finally getting better, the next you find out they were so confident they didn’t t–e them that morni–. By the afternoon your tires are slashed and the cycle starts all over again. It—painf—- what the—– was—–that—-.>

End of Message. To replay this message, press—

Next message, sent on (August 14, 2015) at (00:29.)

<Huh… huh… hu… holy… crap… huh… huh… [laughing.] You’re never going to let me hear the end of this. I… huh… I don’t think you h–rd all… of my last call, the woods got… really… thick and I think I lost my [loud coughing] signal. I… I need to work out more. After you cut out my paranoid brain started screaming that I was in danger. There were animals rustling in the bushes and shadows flickering with the wind and when I saw the shape of person in the trees I freaked out and ran the hell out of there. It was definitely a stump or some rocks but when it’s dark out and you’re scared eno–h, you start seeing faces everywhere. I’d hate to see how I’d react if something was actually following me… [meek laugh] In the dark it looked like a girl just staring past me and, you know, that tends to freak people out. This was a mistake but at this point, I don’t even care anymore, I just want to make it there. I shouldn’t be much further away now, but I think I’ll stay on the line until then. It wasn’t until I got cut off that I realized how… soothing talking to you is. Even if I’m just talk–g into the void, knowing you’ll hear this eventually makes me feel a bit better.

[pause, a sigh]

 I’m so ready to get to your place, to be warm and with other people. The woods are so oppressive at night. It’s a beautiful ravine, don’t get me wrong, but I’d really like to be indoors right now. I can’t wait to see you. You were always the one to make the hike to my house, even when I didn’t know I needed you. Now it’s my turn, and then you can drive me the hell out of here. Well, I mean, you usually showed up unannounced, and we had a plan tonight. Emphasis on “had”. I’m improvising, okay? Oh. by the way I wanted to say a huge thanks for still agreeing to all of this, despite the other day. I know you didn’t take what I said very well and I really appreciate that you’ll still be my ride despite it all. I’m sorry that it upset you… but I really do have to disappear, despite how much it hurts. We can’t have any contact once I’m out of the prefecture or the police or child services or whoever might find me and drag me back. I can’t go back… and despite all of that the fact that you’re still willing to be my ticket to freedom is incredible. But this isn’t really goodbye right? Maybe I can call you from a burner phone every once in a while or something… do they still even make those? Or is that just in movies… and hey! You’ll still have all of these messages to remember me by, right?

[coughing, the sound of wind]

Do you think we could use the Springs before we drive off? I could really use a hot bath right now. It’s freezing out here. It should be a million degrees out but I’m shivering…>

End of Message. To replay this mes–

Next message, sent on (August 14, 2015) at (00:42.)

<Hey guess what? I see lights, I think it’s the building! I made it! YES! [laughter] I’m standing on a ridge a few meters above the river. The trees are parting a little and giving me a good view of the Springs. I can see shapes moving through the windows… Wow, it really is busy isn’t it? If you’d just pick up your damn phone you’d probably be able to see me. From the front desk, look up and to the left, the rocky ridge between the trees? That’s where I was when I left you this message. I’ll see if I can’t find my way do—huh? [pause] Someone’s calling and… yes! “Ria Kutsuki!” Finally picking up hey? I’ll just switch over to call and–>

End of Message–

Next message, sent on (August 14, 2015) at (00:29.)

<[faint static] Damnit… voicemail again I guess. Well it was n–e to hear a human voice… if only for a little. I hope you don’t mind if I leave a few more mes–ges I… I really don’t wa– to be alone again. [long pause ] Ugh, I still can’t believe there was a cop at the hot springs. This is such bul—–. You’re sure you saw him ri–t? I guess a guy in a police uniform is hard to miss… and the damage is already done isn’t it? We changed the route and it’d be stupid to go back now. Unbelievable… the one night my folks care en–gh that I’m gone and it ha- to be this -ne. I’m on my way to you now, taking your route. I’m doing this for you alri–t? I really don’t want to be off-roading again but if you say the fastest way to the highway is over the mountain then… [long pause] up I go, I guess. [Shuffling plants and leaves] I hate bushwhacking.>

End of mess-

Next message, sent on (August 14, 2015) at (00:54.)

<[Tremendous wind blowing through stiff foliage, distortions of static]Ria I really don’t kn– where I am. These woods are m–sed up. Every tr– looks the same as every other f—–ng tree. there isn’t even a trail—I know th—s the point b->

<–Please pick up, I seriously need directions. It’s j—t plants and darkn— and.. [panting, wheezing] The tr— here are so thick and the darkness seems to be swal—-ng up whatever pathetic light my phone can give off. [sniffles] It’s your fault for talking me into this! It was supposed to be so sim—>

<–What was that? [long pause] Do you hear that?…

[silence, faint rustling amid static.]

There it is again. It sounds like… I think there’s somone el– here… Please pi—– up ple— pick up please —–>

<Maybe I’m… maybe I’m just imagining things you know it’s been a long night and I’m tired and really turned around and—Maybe I sh—-d have just taken the cop af— all… at least I wouldn’t be so———- but I can’t go back now. [a small laugh.] I don’t even kn– how. Guess the only way is up… I mi–t even be able to see the hi–way from the peak. I ju– need to stay quiet.

[a long period of quiet, slow rustling amid wind.]>

End–

Next message, sent on (August 14, 2015) at (01:02.)

Ok… [pause, rustling] I think I can almost see the peak. It should be j— after this plateau. . I’m going up a slope a– Where—- hell is this? The trees, the leaves… fall shouldn’t start for a few more weeks but everything—– is ashy and… dead.

[sudden stop, a faint voice]

I think I hear- I definitely heard someone… just over the ridge. They… they called my name. Ria please I really need you to pick up, please pick up. [the voice calls out again.] I think they know I’m here. I-I’m going to take a peek over the plateau, maybe it’s just a park ranger and this is all…[pause] Definitely not!There’s someone there it’s not… [shaken breaths] There’s a clearing up ahead and at the end… there’s… it’s a shrine– a mountain shrine, just like the one before… it looks abandoned. The roof is in shambles; the wood is rotting. It looks like it hasn’t been used in decades and… the person in front of it, It’s… a girl in old clothes. [dead silence] She’s just standing there with her hand in her hair, staring into the night–. Wait I think I here another voice. [wind, and a faint, male voice.] That’s… that’s me talking. I think there’s something in her hand…? A phone? Oh my God, Ria! Is that you? What the hell are you doing up here I was so sc—-, don’t ever send me on a goose chase like this again. I thought I was being stalked by a ghost or something. Let’s go back to the Hot Springs, please… I doubt we’ll be able to get to the highway, let’s just go back. I’ll take the cop, running away was a terrible idea. I just want to be out of these woods… What do you mean we’re not leaving?… I know I said I wanted to disappear but– Please let’s just get out of here. I don’t care abou— Pretty? Yes I think you’re pretty, why do… Y-You know what? On second thought you stay here, I’ll find my way back myself… No it’s ok, I’m not… Scissors? Why are you h—ding– Come on, this isn’t funny… If you’re trying to scare me it’s working. You got me, hahaha. Now seriously, can we st— No, no get off—Get away from me! Please, please Ria don’t—

[A wet, guttural groan, a heavy weight falling onto dirt. Laboured breathing, soon drowned by the howling of the wind.]

End of messages. To replay the previous message, press (1.) To mark messages as unread, press (2). To delete these messages, press (3.) To start from the beginning, press (4.) To ex—

First message, sent on (August 13, 2015) at (22:30) From (1-8-3, 4-7, 4-9-2-2.)

<Hi Ria, it’s Ken–>

Content Warnings: Isolation, Family Dysfunction, Mental Illness, Being Lost, Ghosts, Murder