Author: Kurahashi Yumiko (倉橋 由美子)
Japanese Title: 安達ケ原の鬼 (Adachigahara no oni)
Taken From: 大人のための残酷童話 (Otona no tame no zankoku dōwa, 1984)
Once upon a time, a monk who had set forth from the capital for spiritual training passed through the desolate Shirakawa barrier gateway to the far north of Japan. He found himself in a place called the Adachi Moor as the short autumn day was beginning to grow dark. The monk was weary after a day of ceaseless walking. He thought to beg lodging for the night if he could find even a poor farmer’s cottage, but he could see no thread of smoke rising into the sky above the field of abundant autumn grasses. Just as the monk, chilled in the midst of a gathering wind, felt himself beginning to despair, he suddenly saw the will-o’-the-wisp flicker of a mysterious light in the distance.
Could it be that the legend of the Kurozuka demon lair of the Adachi Moor in the northern reaches of Japan is no mere story . . . ?
Although the monk thought that the house was more than likely the lair of a demon, just like in the old songs, he was drawn by the light and hurried towards it. Before long the rotting shack stood before him.
Peeping through a hole in a shōji screen, the monk saw a solitary old woman squatting in the shadows thrown by a floor lamp. She was mumbling an evil-sounding spell deep in her throat as she wound thread. As the monk watched the lazy rotations of the spinning wheel, he felt a string of drowsiness wrap around the length of his body. The old woman turned in his direction, and the monk came to himself with a start. He found his voice and begged her to give him lodging for the night. The old woman was reluctant, protesting that she could provide him with neither a good meal nor bedding in her isolated house in the middle of a moor. When the monk persisted, claiming that he merely sought shelter from the rain and the dew, the old woman readily complied, as if she had been waiting for this earnest request. Happy to have stumbled upon such an obviously kind-hearted old granny, the monk accepted her offer of accommodation with an untroubled mind.
The old woman threw firewood into the back of a sunken fireplace and boiled some millet porridge for the monk. When dinner was finished, the monk recounted a few tales of his journey. The old woman nodded as she listened to his stories, turning her spinning wheel all the while.
Before long, the fire at the back of the sunken fireplace had grown thin and weak, and the piercing night wind blew into the shabby house. Seeing the monk rearrange his robes with trembling hands, the old woman stood up.
“If I had known that I would be receiving a guest, I would have put away more firewood. Could you kindly do me the favor of looking after the place while I step out to the nearby mountain to gather some?”
“What are you talking about?” protested the monk. “There’s no reason for you to go through such trouble so late at night. Please let me go instead.”
The old woman laughed. “What would a traveler know about where to find firewood out here? Besides, since I couldn’t provide you with a decent meal, please at least consider a roaring fire as a substitute for a proper dinner.” With these words, the old woman cheerfully prepared to set out.
The monk suddenly became uneasy. “Hasn’t it been said since ancient times that a demon dwells on the Adachi Moor?” he asked, bringing up a certain old song.
“I wonder,” the old woman replied. “But not even a demon would go outside on a night like this! Anyway, I have a favor to ask of you. Even if I take some time getting back, please don’t go into the back room. Please, could you do this one thing for me?”
After the old woman had departed into the wind, leaving behind her request, the monk began to wonder about the mysteriously gleeful mood in which she had set out. Why did she make such an odd request about the back room before she left? The fear that perhaps this was the lair of a demon after all reared its head. Maybe he was imagining things, but the monk began to hear various wailing voices intermingled with the sound of the wind. He shivered and covered his ears without thinking. It was as if the voices of a host of lost souls, crying mournfully in complaint, had been set free. Even worse, it sounded as if these voices were somehow emanating from the room that he was told he must not open. The monk, in an ecstasy of terror, found himself pulled uncannily closer to the forbidden room. He placed his hand on the door.
He swung the door open, and a nauseating stench poured out. Inside the room, things resembling human corpses were piled up almost to the ceiling. There were things stained red with blood, things tinged green with decay, things flowing with yellow pus. The corpses within this dead mountain of myriad colors seemed to be disintegrating as they moved their hands and feet while emitting terrible moans. One pushed itself out from the middle of the pile and rose to its feet. It bared the teeth of its rotting face and laughed.
“It’s a demon!” The monk dashed out of the old woman’s shack and ran for his life. The field of rich autumn grasses overflowed with an otherworldly luminescence. All around the monk the shining grass undulated like the back of a running beast. The multitude of carcasses rose and lurched out of the house. While emitting sounds that were neither laughter nor wails but could have been both, they all came together and pursued the monk as one body. The monk fled before them while chanting sutras in a voice filled with desperation. Suddenly he saw the shape of the old woman on top of a hill in the distance. She seemed to be shouting something in his direction while laughing maniacally. As the monk returned her screams, he felt an immense power take hold of him from behind. His legs were captured by a hideous tidal wave, which dragged him down into a bloody sea.
Nothing remained of the monk save a stain of black blood on the earth of the Adachi Moor.
Old women aren’t the only demons in the world.