Summer is synonymous with ghosts and the supernatural in Japan. To celebrate the ghostly season, I’m hosting a competition to win a signed copy of Ghostly Tales of japan. To win, you will have to do a little work to show off your own ghostly imagination. Of all of the stories in Ghostly Tales of Japan, the story entitled “A House-Warming Gift” has raised more questions among readers than any other.
Set in the Meiji era, the tale tells of a writer who , in search of solitude to work on his new book, rents a remote house. On his first evening in his new home, he receives an unsettling visit from a woman claiming to be a neighbour who hands him a house-warming gift. In the tradition of classic kaidan, the story comes to an abrupt end. Neither the identity of the woman nor the nature of the gift is revealed.
To be in with a chance to win a signed copy of Ghostly Tales of Japan, you must pen an original ending to the story. There is no minimum or maximum length nor restrictions on genre. I will award the book to my favourite entry. If there are enough entries, I will compile and publish them as a free eBook. The closing date for entries is midnight on August 31st. The story follows below. Good luck!
A House-Warming Gift
The house stood upon an isolated road. Its only neighbor was a neglected cemetery overgrown with weeds and home to unwholesome clouds of insects. Most people would have been too superstitious to even visit such an inauspiciously situated house, let alone take up residence there. The writer had no such fears. The seclusion provided by the location, combined with the low rent, suited him perfectly. He hoped that the unusual atmosphere would provide him with some much-needed inspiration. His publisher had been hounding him to finish the manuscript of his latest novel, which in reality he had not even begun. There were too many distractions in the city for him to concentrate.
Even by the standards of the day, the rambling single-story structure was primitive. Water had to be hand-drawn from an old well in the garden and oil lamps provided the only illumination. Of the history of the house, the agent had only been able to relate that it had lain empty since the death of the aged owner some years before. A distant relative of the deceased, with whom he had only communicated by letter, had retained his services with instructions to have the house kept in good order and, if possible, rented out for a nominal fee. While grateful for the business, he confessed, discretely, that he was at something of a loss as to why the house was deemed worthy of an investment which the relative could not hope to recoup. It was, he concluded, in all probability a matter of sentimentality. His client had no doubt some special attachment to the house, perhaps having even grown up in it.
The original part of the building appeared to have been a very modest structure to which random additions had been made over the years. Although the writer thought that it would be intriguing to explore its many nooks and crannies, he was determined to begin work as soon as possible. He spent most of his first day in the house cleaning and organizing the two rooms he had selected to serve as his living quarters and his study; a task which took much longer than he had anticipated. The agent’s commission to keep the house in good order clearly had not extended to keeping the dust thickly coating every surface of the interior at bay.
Despite both rooms opening onto the garden, little light found its way into them, creating an aura of perpetual gloom. By mid-afternoon he found himself forced to light a lamp. The sun had already set when the writer finally finished the housekeeping tasks. Forgoing food, he immediately settled down to attempt some writing. Barely had he put pen to paper when he heard a voice at the front door call “Gomen kudasai!” He cursed under his breath at the unwelcome intrusion.
Opening the door, he found the lone figure of a woman patiently waiting. In the absence of street lighting, she was cloaked in shadows. The light cast by his lantern only illuminated the lower part of her body. Her zori and tabi appeared to be splattered with mud, but it was difficult to see clearly. Of her upper body and face he had only a vague impression.
The woman bowed and announced that she was his neighbor. The writer eyed her with suspicion. The agent had assured him that there was no one living within ten miles of the house. Ignoring his unfriendliness, the woman apologized for calling upon him at so late an hour. She had, she explained, just returned from an exceedingly long journey. She mouthed some vague pleasantries about hoping that he would be happy for as long as he lived in the house. The strange emphasis which she placed upon the words “as long as you live” unsettled him, as did the hollow rasp of her voice.
After an awkward silence, the woman held out a small box wrapped in a faded furoshiki. The writer drew in a sharp breath at the sight of her dirty, broken fingernails and the dry, dusty skin of her hands. The cuffs of her kimono were frayed and discolored.
“A house-warming gift,” she intoned, her voice barely a whisper.
He instinctively recoiled. In response, the woman began to slowly lean towards him, filling him with a chilling sense of dread. Taking care to neither look at her face nor make physical contact with her, he reluctantly reached out with trembling hands and took the box. She retreated back into the shadows. Using the excuse that the house was not yet ready to receive visitors, the writer hastily apologized for not being able to invite her inside.
She bowed. “Perhaps another time!”
A sense of relief washed over him as she turned and walked away with an oddly unbalanced gait.
He ensured that the door was securely locked before returning to his study with the unwelcome gift. Placing it carefully upon his desk, he eyed it with distaste. He could have sworn that he had felt something move inside the box as he carried it along the hallway. With a feeling of growing trepidation, he untied the furoshiki and slowly lifted the lid.