Translated from Nihon no Obake: Shitanaga Basan
“Kaw Kaw Kaw”
Crows flew through the skies forming black swarms, heading home to roost. They flew home on the autumn winds. Noisily, they gathered amidst the pampas grass.
A samurai also was also walking through the wide field, heading from the South to the North. The sun was slowly sinking beyond the horizon, and against the setting sun the samurai was a solitary black silhouette. The autumn season meant that the days were short, and night fell at a rapid pace. Soon, across the dark field only a single light was seen wavering.
The samurai pressed forward, parting the towering pampas grass and using the light to guide his way. At length, he came across an abandoned house, with slanting eaves and a broken door. From inside the wavering light could be seen.
“Knock Knock Knock”
The samurai rapped on the old door.
“Good evening…good evening”
“Yes? Who is it?”
A head poked out from inside the door, with a shock of unkempt white hair and a face as wrinkled as a pickled plum. It was an old women, shoulders bent with age.
“I am a weary traveler who has lost his way. Would you please permit me to stay here for the night?”
“Ho ho…so you want to stay tonight? To tell the truth, you are not the first lost traveler to find your way to my door tonight. If one person stays the night, what matters if it is two? My house is old and in ill-repair, but please come in and make yourself at home.”
Inside the samurai saw an old man dozing against a pole. When the samurai entered, the old man opened a single eye and offered him a greeting. With that done, he soon returned to his slumber. The square box wrapped in cloth and propping up his back while he slept marked the old man as a traveling medicine-merchant.
“Come here…come here…”
The old woman motioned the samurai to a place near the hearth. Inside there were baking sweet potatoes and chestnuts.
“I am afraid I have no rice to offer, but please take some of my humble fare.”
“Thank you. I am indebted to you for your kindness.”
The old woman also took a kettle from the hearth, and prepared a cup of tea for the samurai. With that done, she sat at her spinning wheel and returned to her own work.
The rhythmic sound of the spinning wheel filled the room, and while the samurai nibbled at the sweet potatoes he was suddenly overcome with a strange sleepiness. Although he struggled to stay awake, before too long his energy was exhausted.
He slumped over but fought to keep a single eye open, and with that he saw a long tongue stretch out and begin to lick the head of the medicine-merchant. That long tongue, looking like one of the lengths of yarn used in spinning, was stretched out from the mouth of the old woman.
Without thinking, the samurai gave a shout:
With that, the long tongue vanished in an instant.
The sound of the spinning wheel continued as if nothing had happened. The samurai, still overcome by tiredness, fell into a light doze. Again he struggled awake, and again he saw the tongue stretching out towards the medicine-merchant.
“Long-tongued Old Woman…Long-tongued Old Woman…do you plan to eat them all by yourself?”
This voice came from the window.
“Yes indeed! Why are you anyways>”
“I am the serving plate. If I give you a hand, can a have a bit of one of them for myself?”
With that the window was jammed open and a huge serving plate with a face came pushing through.
With that frightful vision the samurai’s weariness flew off of him.
“These…these are obake!”
Like lightning the samurai drew his katana from his sheath, raised it over his head and brought it slicing down on the monstrous serving dish.
But the dish was faster than the katana, and was back out the window while the samurai cut only air.
“Ha ha ha ha!”
The serving tray opened a wide mouth that stretched from ear to ear, and shook with the force of its laughter. The voice was as terrible as thunder.
With the serving tray’s voice still ringing, the long-tongued old woman gathered up the old medicine merchant under her left arm and leapt out the door into the night. As soon as she passed through the frame, the entire house vanished in an eye-blink and the samurai found himself standing alone outside, still in the wide field of pampas grass.
The samurai found shelter in a nearby pine tree where he tucked down near the roots and waited for morning.
The next day, in a grassy thicket full of wild chrysanthemum flowers a pure white object could be seen. Looking closer, it was seen to be a fresh human skull, and nearby lay the square-box of a medicine-merchant.
“Kaw Kaw Kaw”
The crows, crying their disturbing call, flew through the sky as they always did.