The Obake Cart

Translated from Nihon no Obake Banashi

Long ago, in the town of Kouka in the province of Oumi (modern day Shiga prefecture) ,when night did fall a mysterious cart was said to appear without fail. 

“Kiiii….kiiiii….”

The sound of the cart could be heard, although where it was coming from or where it was going to no one could say.

“That cart is an obake cart.  Anyone who lays eyes on it will feel the cart’s curse!”

Everyone said this, and when the night fell there was not a soul in the town who was not safely inside with their doors and windows sealed shut to the smallest crack.

In this town there was also a very steadfast and sensible proprietress.

“If this cart really exists, then there must be something especially terrible riding in it.  More likely its nothing more than a rumor spread on purpose to keep us indoors at night.  Either way, I would like to see for myself what the truth is!”

Even though she was thinking this, the proprietress was careful not to tell anyone in the town.  For it was said that if you spoke badly about the obake cart to anyone, or even spoke of it at all, then the cart was sure to come visiting in the night.

“No one speaks about the cart twice.  Anyone who speaks about it even once feels the cart’s curse!”

This the townsfolk would say, and even then at night they would shudder with their eyes held shut but their ears open for the sound of the obake cart.

The proprietress waited until everyone was sleeping and secretly crept from bed.  She silently padded her way to the door where she crept out of sight.  Through a knothole in the door she peered into the night.  Although all was quiet, after a time she began to discern the sound of a cart’s squeaking wheels.

The proprietress watched intently from her knothole.  Suddenly, justas the moon emerged from behind the clouds and shone in the sky, the street became as bright as noon

“Kiiii….kiiiii….”

The sound of the obake cart got louder and louder, coming closer.

What was it?  Was someone riding in the obake cart?  The proprietress held her body perfectly still and stopped her breath, staring with all her life into the light.

The cart came increasingly closer.   The body of the proprietress began to tremble uncontrollably.

“Ah!”

Without thinking, she let out a cry.

Somehow, a cart with only one wheel, with nothing pulling it at all came moving into her view.  Riding on top was a solitary beautiful young woman. 

Now the proprietress had been expecting some sort of terrible oni, not a beautiful young woman, and the proprietress’ gaze was held as if in a trance.  The obake cart stopped right in front of the home from where the proprietress was watching.   She tried to crouch even smaller to hide her body.

“Here.  It would have been better if you had been looking after your precious child than spying on me.  But now it is too late for you to do anything but mourn.”

The proprietress heard this in the young woman’s voice, and with that the single-wheeled cart sped away.

The proprietress released the breath she had been holding in with relief, and didn’t give any worries to what she had just heard.  Instead she crept back to her bed.   And what did she do there?  Why, she crawled into her futon where her baby should be sleeping, only to find that he was not there.

“Husband…husband…”

The proprietress woke up her husband and others of the house.   Everyone began to search for the baby but he was nowhere to be found.

“Ahhh!  I did something terrible!!!”

The curse of the obake cart had fallen not on the proprietress, but instead on her small baby who had been adducted.  But the proprietress would not give up her child so easily.

“This is wrong.  I was the one who looked on the obake cart!  Why should my innocent child pay the price for my misdeeds? It is too terrible. Put your curse on me and give me back my child!!!”

Crying this over and over again it became like a song of sadness for the proprietress.

And so, the following night the proprietress stood at the door of her hour and loudly sang this sad song.  Somehow this penetrated the cold heart of the mistress of the obake cart, and although she had planned only to take the child and be done with it, she found herself thinking.

“This is the home of a woman who truly loves her child.  I had not intended to give back the baby, but perhaps this once I can make an exception.”

The young woman of the obake cart heard the sad song of the proprietress once more, then listened again a third time.  Finally, the sadness was too much even for her and she returned the child. Silently, the obake cart sped away from the town.

“Thank you!!! Thank you!!!!!”

The proprietress fell to her knees on the dirt floor of her house, tears pouring from her face like rain yet never stopping the torrent of thanks that poured from her mouth.  Finally, carrying the baby she had so desperately searched for, she went back to her bed where they were both soon fast asleep.

From that night, the obake cart never came again.  Having revealed her true form to a human without punishment, it was said that she could no longer appear in the town of Kouka.

This legend has been handed down from the Edo period in Shiga prefecture, and the obake cart appears in images of the Night Parade of a Hundred Demons popular at the time.  It is of the style of legends concerning ghostly vehicles.

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