The Speaking Futon

Translated from Nihon no Obake Banashi

Long ago, in the town of Totori, a shopkeeper opened a small inn.  The inn welcomed its first customer on a cold winter’s night.

 “Welcome my guest, and please spend the night comfortably.  Help yourself to our bedding and futons!”

 The proprietor thus led the guest to his room.

 The exhausted lodger fell quickly into the offered futon, and was soon asleep.  However, in the middle of the night he was awakened by someone’s voice.

 “Older brother…you must be cold.”

 “Little brother, you must be cold too…”

 The voice, little more than a whisper, was a child’s voice.

 “Huh.  There are no kids in this room…that must be coming from one of the neighboring rooms…”

 “But still…at this hour it is awfully rude for someone to be talking and keeping the other guests awake.”

 The lodger made a purposeful show of loudly clearing his throat.  The child’s voice stopped exactly at that time.

 With a sigh of satisfaction, the lodger once again began to settle into sleep.  But just as he was on the verge of sleep, the child’s voice was heard again, this time whispering directly into his ear.

 “Older brother…you must be cold.”

 “Little brother, you must be cold too…”

 It was a sad voice.  The lodger sprang from his futon and hurriedly lit the nearby paper lantern.

 There was no one in the room.  He check the adjoining room, and there was no one their either.  Leaving the paper lantern lit, the lodger lay down yet again.  And again he heard the voice, coming from the base of his pillow.

 “Older brother…you must be cold.”

 “Little brother, you must be cold too…”

 Again it was the sad child’s voice.

 A chill went down the lodger’s spine.  Yet he summoned up his courage and tried to pinpoint the source of his voice.  He could hear it coming from his futon.   The bed covering was speaking to him.

 The lodger fled terrified from the room. Waking the proprietor, he told him the whole story of the haunted futon.

 “What are you talking about?  My inn has only opened today.  And I certainly don’t have any haunted futons.  You must be very tired for your mind to be playing tricks on you.”

The proprietor would simply not believe the story.  And as for the lodger, he had already paid and there was nothing to be done about it.  The proprietor stuck out his belly and would not be budged.

 “Yah…this is a bad omen.  My first day of business and my first customer is like this…”

 However, the following day another lodger stayed in the same room, and had the same story to tell the proprietor about the haunted futon.

 “Now this is a strange thing indeed.  To have two customers report the same thing…I am going to have to look into this…”

 The proprietor was still unbelieving, but he went into the room and put his head next to the futon.  Sure enough, he could soon hear a child’s voice crying:

 Shocked as he was, the proprietor still investigated the mysterious voice and found that it was coming from only a single bed-cover futon used as a blanket.

 “So you are the offending futon?  Why do you say what you say?”

 The next day the proprietor went to the dealer in used clothing and bedding from whom he had purchased the futon.

 “Actually,  before I sold it to you I bought this futon from another used store…”

 And so the dealer in used goods told the proprietor of the inn where he had the futon.  The proprietor hurriedly went to that shop where he heard the story.

 Not so long ago, there a poverty-stricken family of four lived in the town of Totori.  Their father had died of illness, followed by their mother, leaving only the 6- and 4-year old brothers.  The brothers had no family or friends to look after them.  They sold all of their household goods for food, including their mother and father’s kimonos and their hibachi stove.  But because their house was poor, the items they could sell were soon gone, and they had nothing left but a single futon blanket.

 Before long, winter came and the snow fell.  The two brothers had nothing and stayed in a deserted house growing weaker and weaker. Wrapped together in the single futon blanket, they shivered in the cold.  At night they tried to sleep, but the bitter cold would keep them awake

 “Older brother…you must be cold.”

 The kind little brother tried to give the entire futon blanket to his older brother.

 “Little brother, you must be cold too…”

 But the older brother refused and covered his little brother with the futon instead.

 The two passed the night this way, attempting to give the entire futon to their freezing bother.  And that passed another night this way, and then another. How often could they perform this ritual?

 In time, the coldhearted landlord of the house came calling, and unable to pay the rent the brothers were thrown from the house.  The landlord even tore the futon blanket from them as payment for their debt.

 That night there was a terrible snow storm.

 Having not eaten for many days, the brothers succumbed to their hunger and the cold.  Under the stoop of a nearby house they were found dead, still clinging to each other.

 “The poor dears…the poor little dears…”

 Thinking this, the neighbors buried them in a small grave near the temple of Kannon the deity of mercy.

 The proprietor of the inn, hearing this story brought the futon blanket to the temple of Kannon where the two brothers were buried.  The Buddhist monk of the temple prayed for them and held a memorial service for them.

 From then, the futon was never heard to speak again.

This melancholy tale comes from Tottori , next to Shimane prefecture, and was included in the collection of legends known as “Inbaku Densetsu Shu.”  It was made famous by Koizumi Yakumo, also known as Lafcadio Hearn.

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