It happened back when I was ten years old and I had gone to my grandmother’s house in Nagano for the summer.


My grandmother lived in a village located in a valley far away from the station, and our family would visit her during our summer and winter vacations every year. Our relatives only gathered during these times, so I had a lot of fun playing with cousins I couldn’t normally meet.

However, I caught a terrible summer cold that year. While I had mild symptoms, it probably wasn’t the best idea to keep playing in the river until I was soaking wet. I ended up with a high fever for several days and couldn’t even get out of bed. It didn’t even go down when the festival held at the nearby shrine rolled around.

The shrine was at the end of a long, long set of stairs that led to the top of the mountain, the actual festival was held below. Festivals were what I looked forward to the most in the summer. The great mountain looking down on the venue where several bright-red, round paper lanterns were strung up. Everyone danced the Bon dance around the tall tower built for the occasion. I even saved up my allowance beforehand specially to spend on the plenty of stalls set up.

Despite declaring that I would absolutely go to the festival numerous times, everyone stopped me. I cried tears of frustration and gloom inside my blanket. In the end, one of my cousins returned from the festival and said, “Here, a souvenir. They were selling them at a stall.” He shyly held out a Super Sentai[1] mask. I looked at it, cried again, exhausted myself from crying, and ended up falling asleep.


I woke up again to the sound of drums. I quickly got up, and my body, which should have been unstable from the fever, felt completely refreshed. I thought that I could go out now that I was feeling better.

Still, something felt off. I looked at the clock and saw that it was past midnight. The house was pitch dark, and everyone should be asleep by now. There was no way the festival was still going on this late, yet I was certain that I heard the banging of drums. This sound was distinct to the large drums beaten on top of the tower during a Bon dance.

I thought the festival must still be going on, and I couldn’t stop myself. While still dressed in my pajamas, I snuck out of my grandma’s house. I had impulsively put on the mask that was on my pillow. My childish mind thought this was good enough for a disguise since I knew I would undoubtedly be scolded if I was found out for going outside this late at night.

I ran through the path at night, guided only by the sound of the drums. And when I arrived, lots of people were at the festival grounds. Both adults and children were present, dressed in yukata, kimono, and western clothes. Everyone was dancing a Bon dance around a 2-3-story tower. Just as I had thought, the festival wasn’t over.

While it, unfortunately, appeared that all the stalls had closed up, I would be satisfied if I could jump in and dance a little. I valiantly adjusted the mask over my face and stepped foot on the grounds.

But, something still felt off for some reason—every single one of the paper lanterns hanging over me was blue. Normally, the paper lanterns used during festivals were red, but I only saw an endless row of blue paper lanterns. They resembled ghost fireballs[2] floating in the night sky, and even the light they gave off was pale and cold. I had never seen such paper lanterns before.

Furthermore, I couldn’t hear anything else besides the drum sounds. Why was that? This was a Bon dance. The song for the dance should be playing on the speakers placed around the festival grounds. Yet, the speakers that night remained silent. The only sounds came from the pair of adults diligently continued to beat their drums on top of the tower. Bam, bam, bang.

No, there was something even stranger. I couldn’t hear a single voice…even though there were this many people.

When I took a closer look at the people, everyone present, from the adults to the children, were wearing Hyottoko[3] masks, Otafuku[4] masks, fox masks, and masks that looked like old men. Everyone swayed in beat with the banging drums as they silently circled the tower. I looked up at the tower and noticed that even the drummers were wearing masks. The night was silent, without even the sound of the wind, causing the drumming to reverberate all the way down to my core. Not a single ounce of what I was experiencing felt real—from the blue lanterns that resembled ghost fireballs to the masked people who danced silently around the tower. I felt like I was witnessing something unworldly.

Just as I absentmindedly wondered if I was dreaming, someone suddenly grabbed my shoulder. Startled, I turned around to see a man wearing a Hyottoko mask. He said in a low voice, “—What are you doing here?”

It took me by surprise. I remembered hearing this voice before; it was my grandfather’s voice. But, why was he here?

“Why did you come here? You mustn’t be here—. Stop, don’t take off your mask. Not under any circumstances, understood?”

I was about to take off my mask to get a better look but was stopped. My grandfather stooped as if to peer into my eyes through our masks and said, “Go home right now. And don’t let anyone see you—”

He suddenly stopped and turned to the line of dancers. Several people among the swaying dancers faced our direction. Otafuku masks, fox masks, and masks that looked like old ladies stared at my grandfather and me. They waved their arms and stepped in time with the beat as their necks bent at unnatural angles.

“It’s too late. They’ve noticed you,” my grandfather said.

What did he mean by that? In the first place, who exactly were these people dancing? I had so many things I wanted to ask, but I felt too scared to do so for some reason.

“…You must pay the price. Come.”

My grandfather forcefully grabbed my arm and took me to a corner of the festival grounds. I thought he would take me away from here, but it didn’t turn out that way.

The place he led me to was a stall. Only this one appeared to be open for business despite all the other stalls being closed. And silently standing inside the stall was a man wearing a black oni mask and a happi coat. The great mountain with the shrine towered behind the stall. As if overlooking everything, its imposing figure rose high in the night sky. I saw that the blue paper lanterns also decorated the steps up to the shrine, illuminating the path with spots of blue light all the way to the top. It felt like something inhuman was trying to invite me up there.

My grandfather said close to my ear, “Choose just one. We don’t need money.”

Displayed in the stall were sweets: candy apple, candy apricot[5], and caramel candy[6]. And there was only one of each.

My grandfather pointed to the candy apple and said, “Choose that and you will no longer walk.”

When I heard this, the red candy apple looked like a poisoned one now.

My grandfather pointed to the candy apricot and said, “Choose that and you’ll never speak.”

I didn’t understand. Would my throat be burned? Would I lose my tongue? Either one terrified me to the bone.

Finally, my grandfather pointed to the caramel candy and said, “Choose that and you’ll—”

What would happen? What terrible thing would it be this time?

As my body stiffened, my grandfather told me, “You’ll be [—].”


When I heard that word, I thought, “What the heck? This is the far better choice compared to the other two.”

I didn’t fully understand the meaning behind that word at that time. I knew it from some book I’ve read, but I didn’t really understand what becoming that entailed. That was why I chose the caramel candy without hesitation. I was told to eat it right there, so I obediently put it in my mouth. To this day, I still haven’t forgotten the sweetness that surrounded my tongue.



If I could return to that night…

If I was pressured with those options again, which would I have chosen?

No matter how many times I reflect on the past, I still have no answer. But, I was certain that the choice I made then wasn’t the right one.

[1] Super Sentai is the name of a Japanese media franchise about masked superheroes. Think of Power Rangers or Kamen Rider.
[2] Onibi are the manifestation of ghosts/people’s spirits in the form of fire. They are typically blue and give off no heat.
[3] Hyottoko is a Japanese male character usually depicted with two different sized eyes, a mouth pouting to one side, and a bandana around his head.
[4] Otafuku is a Japanese female character with round cheeks and a huge smile. She usually symbolizes good fortune.
[5] Anzu ame is made from fruit pickled in syrup and vinegar, coated, and skewered. The candy is usually kept in ice to keep the coating on it.
[6] Bekko ame is hard candy made from caramelized sugar.

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2 responses to “Prologue”

  1. iamconqueror999 Avatar

    Thank you so much for translating! Huge, huge fan of the drama adaptation! (They stuck very close to the novel in the beginning it seems.)


    1. AdCaelum Avatar

      I was a fan of the series since the manga first came out. I also enjoyed the drama adaptation, but I can say that the drama does deviate from the novel quite a bit past the prologue. But, I’m glad you’re enjoying the series.

      Liked by 1 person

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