Obake[oh-bah-kei] I. apparition II. spirit III. monsters that pose as animals and attack humanity
"Someone has to protect you from this heart eating lady."
"Do you remember what I told you about Obake, Daisuke?"
Obake? I thought to myself. I stared up at my grandfather who was patiently waiting for an answer. I tilted my head and racked my brain for an answer, but my mind still came up blank.
"Obake?" I questioned, wondering if it was a type of food.
He sighed and returned his attention to the bookshelf in front of him. Grandpa's study was amazing back then. It was full of numerous books and scriptures, some of them hundreds of years old. He scanned his fingers over the old volumes until he found what he was looking for. He pulled out a worn looking book and began to flip through the pages.
"Oh-bah-kei," he sounded out for me. "Are animal spirits, or monsters if you prefer to call them, that inhabit this world. We talked about this the other day, does it ring any bells Daisuke?"
Monsters, monsters. It seemed vaguely familiar. Like one of the long speeches he would give me while my attention was elsewhere, like watching TV.
Grandpa sighed. "Obake take the form of animals so they can blend in with the natural world."
"I remember now!" Actually I didn't, but I wanted to look smart in front of Grandpa.
He continued to flip through the pages until he landed on what he was looking for, and held it up for me too see. It appeared to be a picture book, except someone forgot to color the pictures. I stared at the image of a raccoon, or maybe it was a dog, I wasn't certain.
"There are many animals such as dogs, cats, rabbits, wolves, and snakes, which Obake use to disguise themselves. Pay attention to this raccoon Daisuke. This Obake disguises itself as a harmless raccoon so that it can blend in unnoticed. If an opportunity presents itself, this raccoon transforms into a monster and attacks or devours humans."
"Attacks humans?" My eyes scanned over the image of a giant raccoon assaulting an entire village. Miniature black and white people ran away in fear. "Wow, so this little raccoon, can turn into that giant monster?"
"Not just monsters Daisuke, there are Obake who can take the form of people as well."
He flipped to another page that illustrated a wolf turning into a man. It looked like a scene out of a horror movie.
"Really?" I questioned.
I suddenly wondered if the strange old woman down the street was secretly a raccoon. She certainly smelled like some sort of animal.
"How can you tell?"
"Such Obake usually disguise themselves as beautiful young women so they can trick men and steal their hearts."
He turned the page to show me a naked woman. Her hand was halfway through a man's chest. I didn't appreciate her figure at the time, but looking back on it now she was pretty hot, except for the bushy tail sticking out from her behind.
He tapped his finger on her picture. "And this is the fox, the most feared of them all. If you run into her, your chances of survival are slim."
I stared at the picture intensely and swore to myself that I would avoid all naked women from now on. I was grateful that Grandpa had decided to tell me about Obake. I never realized the world was such a dangerous place.
"Have you ever met an Obake Grandpa?"
Grandpa smiled and closed the book. "More times than I can count, but Grandpa scared them all away."
I pictured my grandfather hobbling along after a pack of wild animals, waving his cane around to fight them off. Grandpa was obviously more awesome than I ever expected.
"Wow that's great Grandpa, I want to scare away Obake too. Someone has to protect you from this heart eating lady."
He laughed. "I hope so. Maybe when you get bigger you can give this fox monster a run for its money."
He reached out and ruffled my hair. His hand lingered there for a moment before he pulled away.
From that point on I began to look at all animals differently. I even began to wonder if the cat next door was an evil Obake planning to kill me.
Of course I was sadly disappointed when no mystical Obake appeared before me, and the neighbor's dog (which I often spoke with) never spoke back. I even made myself a miniature paper sword, so that I could fend off the fox monster if it suddenly attacked. I would sit on the verandah for hours as though guarding off an Obake invasion.
Looking back on it now it was ridiculous that I believed my grandfather's bedtime stories. Although I doubt there are few children who wouldn't. Kids in Japan were often told that if they didn't do their chores, or eat their vegetables, terrible spirits would suddenly take over their house.
As a child my grandfather was my idol. He was one of those awesome guys you could brag to your friends about. We used to play catch together all afternoon, and he never refused a game of hide and seek. He was kind and patient, and I don't remember him ever raising his voice.
Unfortunately the Obake stories are the only ones that I can remember. I was only five when he adopted me and he passed away a year later. He was the one who gave me my name, Daisuke Matsumoto, which was also the name of his deceased son.
I know it sounds creepy. Everyone thinks he was trying to use me as a replacement for his dead child. Apparently his wife left soon afterward and his daughter went to college. I believe that he was just lonely and instead of getting a dog he decided to get himself a kid. Whatever his reasoning, it all worked out in the end. Even though I lost him soon afterward, I would have nothing if it weren't for him.
"Is your name really Daisuke Matsumoto?"
I was happily dreaming away until my pleasant sleep was destroyed by my alarm. I cracked my eyes open slightly to make sure it was daytime, and flinched at the sunlight which had infiltrated my bedroom. I attempted to muster up the energy to get out of bed, but I was dead to the world until my snooze alarm rang.
I rolled out of bed and fell on the floor with a bang. My eyes glanced at the photo of Grandpa and I (which I had beside my bed) and I suddenly remembered what I had dreamed about. My adopted grandfather. In my dreams I was five again, and he was telling me about Obake for the first time.
It was odd that I'd dreamed about Grandpa. There was once a time when I used to think about him everyday. Sometimes to the point where I would begin to cry, only to be consoled by my older sister who would often cry as well. After entering middle school my life had become so much busier with homework, friends, and high school entrance exams. So I hadn't stopped to dwell on the man who adopted me almost ten years ago.
Maybe appearing in my dreams was his way to make sure I didn't forget him. Maybe he was just wishing me luck on my first day of high school.
I looked up at my uniform which was hanging on the door of my closet. It was blue military style with my family name Matsumoto neatly stitched on the pocket. Sis ironed it yesterday, and made me swear I wouldn't get it dirty.
I've lived with my older sister since my grandfather died. Well technically she's not my real sister. She's Grandpa's only daughter, which makes her my adopted sister. She's about fifteen years older than me and already married. She quit college and raised me which is pretty cool, considering that we aren't related by blood. She's strict and likes to tell me what to do, but she can be nice sometimes too. If I was going to jump into a burning building to save anyone it would definitely be Sis, or her five-year-old daughter Hikaru.
I picked myself up and got dressed. With a yawn I made my way downstairs to eat breakfast.
My sister's husband Shuro was already sitting at the table. The best way to describe him would be as your typical Japanese salary man with glasses one inch thick. He's my current parental figure. Well, as much as he likes to think he is. He and my sister both met way back when they were in college, and they married a few years later. I like to think of him as being more like an older brother than a father. We often hang out and play video games together. Sometimes he can even beat me.
Shuro was sipping coffee while mulling over the morning paper. He likes to pretend that reading the news will make him well-informed, but I know he just likes reading the comics.
"Maybe I should change jobs," he said while glazing over the classifieds.
"Don't say that," said Sis as she dished out toast.
"But it's unlikely that I'll get a promotion. And with the economy being the way it is, it might be better to move on to something more stable."
"But your job is stable, you're not going to find anywhere else which is so flexible about your family life."
Brother always complains about how much he works, but it's less than what my friends fathers put in at their companies. At least Shuro was still around at breakfast. He even made it home in time for dinner most nights of the week. I had a friend in elementary school who hadn't seen his father for a month, even though they lived in the same house.
Apparently he works for a trading company. I once asked about it, only to be told an obscure French name, and it involved importing and exporting. Which didn't tell me much. But if you asked Sis, she would lecture you about how important the job was because it brought in the income to support us.
With a pair of glasses resting on her brim (which made her look just like her father) my niece Hikaru came running into the room, climbed up on a chair, and stole a piece of toast from Shuro's plate. She looked at me and smiled as she began nibbling along the edges.
Hikaru was about to start her second year of kindergarten, and spent the entire spring vacation bragging about Fumi, Yuka, or Nene, and the other one hundred members of her miniature posse that she has going on down the road.
Hikaru is really cool because it gives me the chance to feel what it's like to have a real younger sister. She's also awesome because she'll do almost anything I tell her. I can just sit on the couch, and tell her to fetch me the remote, a pillow, and some potato chips. It's like having your own little servant. One that also falls asleep on your lap afterwards.
Sis laid a small bowl of miso soup before me. "Are you ready for school Dai-chan?"
I cringed. Dai-chan was the ridiculous nickname which she liked to call me at highly inappropriate times. Like in front of my friends, or a girl I'm trying to impress at the mall. Chan was often added to the names of girls or children to make them sound cute. Not to fifteen year old high school students. I tried to convince her to stop, but Sis was relentless with her nicknames.
"How come Dai-chan get's to go to school, I want to go to school too?" whined Hikaru.
"That's because Dai-chan is a big boy," said Shuro. "He has to go to big boy school now. You go to little girl school next week."
I tried to prevent myself from choking on my soup. I would have to take drastic measures this year to make sure Sis never came into contact with my cool new high school friends. She almost ruined my reputation on the first day of middle school when she came to collect me from the school gate yelling "Dai-chan, Dai-chan!" For the world to hear.
I decided that it was best to make my escape now in case she offered to drive me. I stuffed the remaining toast into my mouth and downed the rest of my soup. "OK, I'm off."
* * *
I live in a small town surrounded by mountains in central Japan. Its far from the sea, so it's always boiling hot in summer and freezing cold in winter. It was still cold for April, so my breath came out in small puffs of smoke as soon as I left the house. I wish I had the intelligence to bring a scarf, but I was running late for school so I decided to endure. I began jogging to keep myself warm.
I picked my high school for one reason and one reason only. It was the closest one to my house. For the past year I worked my butt off studying for the entrance exam, all for those extra fifteen minutes of sleep. I had to admit that today was worth it, and I already felt refreshed and full of energy.
My school was a large three-story white building with a gravel area at the front. Some kids were playing baseball when I arrived. Its not a famous school, but it's still private and the tuition wasn't cheap.
I roamed the halls searching for my classroom, until one of the teachers took pity on me and accompanied me there. There were already over thirty students loitering around when I arrived. Some were talking in small groups and a few were playing on their cell phones. Others, also like me, were floating around like they didn't know what to do. Eventually the school bell rang and a male teacher entered who guided towards our assigned seating. I was seated three rows from the front, which wasn't bad because my eye site has been failing recently.
My home room teacher was a middle-aged man with short hair. His name was something beginning with Ya, like Yamada-sensei or something. I wasn't sure. It's hard to remember all the teachers names.
Ya-sensei (as I now like to call him) gave a short speech about the importance of high school, getting good grades, and all the other crap that teachers like to talk about. I found myself falling asleep during the middle. I rested my head against my elbow momentarily for a quick nap, only to find myself being nudged awake. I waved my hand to fend off their assault, but they refused to give up. I lifted my head to come face to face with the student on my right. A guy with a bowl cut and glasses.
"You're next," he hissed.
"Next for what?" I asked.
"The self introduction."
I looked around to see thirty-eight eyes all resting on me. Wait, thirty-nine if you included my new teacher. Ya-Sensei coughed. "Matsumoto, if you would be so kind as to introduce yourself to the class."
I'm not good at improvisation so I just said the first thing which came to mind. "My name is Daisuke Matsumoto.. I like sleeping."
There was a snicker. "Yeah, I think we noticed that already," whispered someone from behind me. I spun around to catch them in the act, but everyone conveniently had their mouths shut.
I proceeded to listen to the rest of the class introduce themselves, which wasn't that exciting. Sleep threatened to overtake me once more. I almost hit my head against the desk when my body began to pass out.
Looking back on it now I should have put more effort into my self introduction. It was the perfect opportunity to impress the female population of the class. I should have told them that I was good at sports, or that I have plenty of interesting hobbies (none of them too macho). Now I would forever be labeled as having an attitude problem. I mulled over it and realized I could still used this to my advantage. I could attempt to play the part of the rebel, or the mysterious boy with a tragic past.
Ya-sensei pulled me aside in break time to lecture me on the importance of getting enough sleep and paying attention in class. All I could notice was how strongly he smelled of cigarettes. His teeth were also yellow, and I felt tempted to lecture him back on the importance of dental hygiene.
I made the mistake of accidentally addressing him as Ya-sensei, to which I was sternly told his real name was Yoshida.
Finally my first lunch time at high school arrived, which meant one thing. I could finally bring my lunch to school. From kindergarten to the end of middle school I had been subjected to eating the school lunch which could range from tolerable to disgusting. I could remember sitting at my desk on the last day of middle school. I sat there speechless, staring at a pack of sandwiches which looked like they came from a convenience store. I hesitantly inspected them, unsure if I wanted to undo the plastic and unleash their horrors onto the world.
I shook my head and attempted to bury the horrible memories back into the depths of my mind where they belonged. No, things would be different now. I wouldn't be subjected to that terror ever again.
I reached from my bag and pulled out my plastic lunch box which had been neatly wrapped in a gray cloth. As I untied it I noticed that the box was pink, which should have been a warning of what was soon to come.
I carefully opened the lid. All my hopes and expectations were crushed when I saw what lay before me.
It was terrifying. All the rice balls had been carefully shaped to resemble Hello Kitty, complete with little whiskers that had been cut from seaweed. There were also little Hello Kitty flags poking up from my egg roll and salad. But the worst part was that Sis had written Dai-chan in tomato sauce across the whole thing. It would have been cute and all, if I were a five year old girl.
I didn't know what Sis was thinking. This was high school, not a bring your own lunch day at Hikaru's kindergarten. I reached for my chopsticks to mash it until it was unrecognizable, but I had already been exposed
"Wow Hello kitty, it's so cute!"
I looked up to see a girl standing before my desk. She was cute with short back hair which she'd fashioned into two pig tails. Her skirt was average length, and she had the right mix of cute, yet sensible, which might get past Sis. She wasn't the prettiest girl in the class, but I wasn't that fussy.
I reached for the cloth to quickly throw over my lunch and save my dignity, but I realized that my Hello Kitty lunch box was a potential chick magnet. I lent back on my chair and attempted to appear suave, despite my abomination of a lunch box being exposed for the world to see.
"Yeah you bet it is, some guys think Hello Kitty is too girly, but I," I paused to think of the right words. "Like to get in touch with my more feminine side."
"Oh I see," she leaned in closer for a better look. "Do you think that maybe I could have one of the little flags when you're finished with it?"
"Yeah, sure," I reached forward and ripped it out of my lunch and handed it to her.
"No problem. Any time."
She twirled the flag in her finger. "If you don't mind me asking, your name is Daisuke Matsumoto right?"
I was surprised she could remember my name after hearing everyone's self introduction. Maybe she'd heard my amazing reputation from middle school. Most of my friends had aimed for different schools, some even leaving the prefecture, but there were still a few of my old classmates roaming the halls. Surely the rumors had begun to spread already. I was a real chick magnet back then. During the course of three years I had a total of four girlfriends. One even threatened to jump out the classroom window after we broke up.
I couldn't believe my high school love life was beginning already. I thought I'd have to put some effort into this whole girl thing, but they were already lining up.
I put on the Daisuke Matsumoto charms and turned my face so it showed off my good side. "Yes it sure is, and what might your name be?"
"Shinya, Mana Shinya."
"Well Mana Shinya, do you mind if I just call you Mana?" It was common to call our classmates by their family name.
"I suppose," she replied. "Back in middle school everyone just called me Mana-chan."
"Mana-chan," I repeated. Then I went in for the kill "That's such a cute name, just like the girl it belongs to."
"Mana!" said a voice behind me. "You shouldn't waste your time on guys like that."
I turned to face my nemesis who had ruined my chances at love. He was seated behind me at the far right. He was pale, almost sickly so, with short hair and average build. What looked like a math textbook was laid out in front of him. He'd obviously been studying until he made the decision to ruin my life.
Mana looked nervous. "But, I thought it might be good to know some of our new classmates."
"I know what you're thinking," said nemesis (as I decided to call him) "We can talk about it later."
Mana-chan looked like she wanted to stay, like any sensible girl would (because I'm awesome) but she gave in and went back to her desk.
"Bye, it was nice to meet you, Daisuke Matsumoto."
"It was nice to meet you as well, Mana-chan."
During the course of the day I paid extra attention to my nemesis. Until lunch time he'd been just another blob in a sea of students. But now he was on my radar. I quickly discovered his name was Itsuki, and he was good at school, almost frightening so. Every time a teacher called on him, he would stand up, answer the question correctly, sit down, and stare at his textbook intensely like he was attempting to burn a hole in it.
Mana was also very cute during class time. She would often lose her place in the textbook, only to be reminded by the girl sitting behind her.
Sadly the rest of my day was lacking in girl action. Even friend action for that matter. There were a few classmates who looked like they might make good friend material, but I hadn't come to any final decisions on which group I should target. The last thing I wanted was to accidentally make friends with the uncool people and spend the remaining three years of high school regretting it.
"If you're the adopted son of Daisuke Matsumoto then you must know about the Obake"
It was the third day of school when Itsuki finally decided to approach me. We hadn't directly spoken since the first day, so I assumed he didn't have the guts to face me. I finished my lunch only to look up and find him hovering over my desk.
"Can I have a word with you?" he asked.
I turned around to say look at this guys, Itsuki wants a word with me, until I realised this wasn't middle school any more and my friends had all abandoned me to go to trade school instead.
I suppressed the feeling of being friendless, and rose to follow Itsuki as he walked out of the classroom. I wasn't surprised when he didn't start-up a colorful conversation, so I decided to ask what had been on my mind for the past few days.
"So what's going on with you and Mana-chan?"
"Mana-chan? That's a pretty friendly way to talk about someone you barely know."
"Maybe I don't know her well now, but I will."
"That's a stupid assumption."
"Hey, Mana-chan and I obviously have a connection."
"Dick," I muttered under my breath.
I was uncertain if he heard me, but he continued moving his mouth regardless."You should give up on Mana. There's another sixteen girls in the class who are probably stupid enough to fall for your playboy attitude."
"Yeah but," I tried to think of a witty response. "What's your problem anyway, is she your girlfriend or something?"
"No, we're just friends."
"Oh, but you like her right? But she won't go out with you because you're too much of an arse."
Itsuki stopped. "I don't usually beat up idiots because it's not always their fault, but for you I'm willing to make an exception."
"What's wrong, did I hit a sore spot?" I raised my fists and began jumping from side to side in case of any incoming assault. "Come on bring it."
Itsuki didn't seem concerned."We should probably go somewhere where no one will see, you wouldn't want to get in trouble with the teachers now would you?"
He had a point. Getting suspended in the first week probably wouldn't be the best start to my high school career.
I followed him outside to the back of the school. There was a small space between the school building and the fence, which was beyond the teacher's gaze. I was about to compliment him on his excellent choice of a battle ground, until we turned the corner and I realized the terrible mistake I'd made.
I must have walked into one of those high school dramas where the main character gets beaten up. In front of me stood another four students, all bigger than I was. They looked too tall to be in first year, so they must have been in either second or third.
There was a tall guy playing on his cell phone, a guy who appeared to be the biggest student I'd seen at school, and one more guy with curly hair who was anxiously kicking the dirt by his feet. There was even a girl with bleached blonde hair and bracelets, which I'm certain is against school policy. Her hands were crossed against her chest and I could already imagine her ripping out a crowbar and swinging it towards my head.
For the first time in my life, I felt the terror of knowing I was going to die. I froze.
"What's your problem, scared?" Itsuki hissed. He began shoving me towards them. I was too petrified to fight back.
"So this is the guy you were talking about?" said the big guy.
"More of less," said Itsuki. "I wouldn't give your hopes up."
Hopes? I thought. Did that mean I wasn't up to standard as a victim?
The guy playing on his cell phone finally stopped and slid it back into his pocket. He was a foot taller than I, and cast an imposing shadow.
"Oh hey, sorry, this is the first time we've met isn't it. I'm Taisei Shinya, I see you've already met Itsuki. This guy is Kiyori," he pointed to the large guy. "The guy with the curly hair is Souta, and this girl is Kurumi."
"Nice to meet you, I think."
Was it common for bullies to introduce themselves before they beat you up?
"Now, how should we go about this?" pondered Taisei.
I backed up slowly until my
heels hit the fence. His face didn't look aggressive. That just
made him scarier. Maybe he was planning the most effective way to
beat my face in. I could run, but I had a feeling they'd soon catch
"Your name is Daisuke Matsumoto right?" Said the big guy named Kiyori.
"Oh yeah, would it be alright if we took a look at your ID?" asked Taisei.
I hesitantly reached for my wallet while keeping one eye on them if they attempted to make a grab for it. I pulled out my school ID card and handed it to Taisei.
All five of them crowded around. The curly-haired guy called Souta didn't fit, so he had to jump up and down behind Kurumi's shoulder to get a better look.
"Wow you're right, his name really is Daisuke Matsumoto," said Kiyori.
"Its even written the same way and everything," said Souta.
It was almost comical to watch them all hovering over my school ID. There had to be something going on here. I knew I was a pretty cool guy, but last time I checked, I wasn't this famous.
"Hey guys, what's so interesting about that card?"
Taisei held it up to the light and turned it back and forth, as though checking for errors. "Sorry, here you go," he handed it back to me. "You wouldn't happen to be related to a different guy called Daisuke Matsumoto would you?"
"Yeah," I shrugged. Trying to think of the best way to explain the relationship between the other Daisuke and I. "I had an older brother with the same name."
I watched their draws dropped open. I wish I had a camera. Souta pounced, grabbed me by the shoulders, and began to shake me back and forth.
"Really! Are you serious? Was Daisuke Matsumoto really your brother?" His voice was higher than I expected and it almost hurt my ears.
"Shut up Souta," muttered Kiyori. "You're not making this up are you?"
I attempted to pry Souta's fingers from my shoulders. "Well actually more like my step brother, his father adopted me."
"I see, so you were adopted by Kousuke Matsumoto, that's pretty cool," said Taisei. "But also kind of creepy that you have the same name," he added.
"So he's not actually related," said Kurumi. "That's kind of disappointing."
"Didn't I say you were going to be disappointed," said Itsuki.
"But if you're the adopted son of Kousuke Matsumoto then you should know all about the Obake?" asked Taisei.
"Of course," I said. I thought back to all the tales of Obake that Grandpa told me as a child. It was odd that these people also knew about his Obake obsession. Maybe he was a well-known Obake expert or something.
"That's good," said Taisei. "So I guess we don't have to hide that we're exorcists from you."
Exorcists? This third year just claimed they were exorcists. I pictured all five of them dressed up as priests with a cross in one hand, and a bottle of holy water in the other. I'd seen a few movies about possessed people who called upon the help of exorcists to drive out the devil inside them, but such people didn't exist, right?
"So you deal with possessed people?" I asked sceptically. I had a feeling they were either making it up, or it was one of those role-playing clubs were people dress up and pretend to be fantasy characters.
"Sometimes, but we usually exterminate Obake."
"Oh so you exterminate Obake," I decided to play along. I once got into an argument with the class nerd who used to believe he was an alien. I didn't wish to repeat the experience. "That's nice."
"Yeah, pretty much. Hey do you want to see some pictures?"
"Hey Taisei, I'm not sure if you should do that," said Itsuki.
"Relax Itsuki. It's cool," he whipped out his phone and began sliding his finger around the screen. He found what he was looking for and handed it to me.
I expected to see them all dressed up in fake costumes, but the graphics were exceedingly good and almost lifelike. It appeared to be a giant raccoon, except it was the size of a person. Its teeth and claws were sharp, long, and dripping what looked like blood.
"Hey this is pretty good, that blood looks almost real."
"Of course its real. Man that guy got me good, I have this whole scar now and everything," he pulled up his sleeve to show me