I read in the Japan Times that this year’s popular ghost story theme was Taxi Ghost Stories.
I didn’t think there was anything very scarey about the typical scenario where a cabbie picks up a beautiful woman who disappears upon arriving at a spooky location. A friend challenged me to write a more frightening version. Not one to ignore a dare, I composed this little tale or taxi terror to cool you on these horrifically hot humid, nights.
Yamada drove around the block for the fifth and last time. It was hot as hell and Ginza was dead. The few drunks who did stumble out of the bars, fell down the subway stairs for the last train to the burbs.
“Hopeless,” he thought. “No fares to be had here.”
He made a U-turn, and without thinking, found himself driving straight for Akasaka.
Akasaka; how he dreaded cruising that eerie borough with its narrow streets, dingy bars, vomiting passengers. He’d avoided the place like the plague ever since that horrible night so many years ago. But tonight, an invisible power was pulling him back.
“There’s something waiting for me back there, maybe a passenger, maybe a nightmare, maybe both. Whatever, I’ve got to go back and find out.”
Within only a few minutes, his aging Toyota delivered him back to his old haunt. He was determined to stay in the bright lights on Sotoboridori, the wide avenue at the edge of the unholy labyrinth.
“Maybe my luck has changed,” he thought when he saw the short line of taxis in front of the station.
He pulled into line and shut down the engine. The car was like an oven.
“If it gets any hotter in here, I’ll burst into flames!”
He rolled down all the windows, front and back, but couldn’t get rid of the murderous heat. He stepped out of the cab and into the steamy mist that hung over the town like a damp death shroud. He lit up a Short Hope and dragged himself through the heavy air to the cab parked in front of his.
“Slow night, eh? Been waiting long?”
he asked the driver, hoping for a promising report.
The driver didn’t say a word; he just sat there like a stone, staring right through Yamada as if he wasn’t even there.
“To hell with him and this damn street! If I hang around here I’ll become a zombie too!” He jumped back into his cab, started the engine and pulled away from the row of taxi tombstones. Two hundred meters down the avenue, he impulsively swung a hard right, throwing himself right into that river of sake, sirens and sin, Akasakadori. The lights seemed much brighter than he remembered, but the stench was the same. He held his breath as he drove up the hill, till he spotted the ominous red light of the Go-chome koban.
“Looks like that same fat cop’s on duty tonight. Couldn’t be; he should be retired or dead by now.”
He turned left, away from the koban, then right, into a narrow uphill lane, nearly crashing into the Torii of a small shrine.
That’s when he saw her. She was standing there, a seductive apparition caught in the dim halo of his headlamps. She was draped in a summer kimono, light blue, maybe gray. A cloth bag hung from her left hand and with her right she held out a closed fan…or was it a sheathed dagger?
His foot felt for the accelerator only to find the brakes. All at once his world stopped; his taxi, his breath, his heart. Only his left hand moved involuntarily, pulling the lever that opens the passenger door. By the time he regained his senses, it was too late; she was sitting behind him and the door shut behind her.
He peered into the rear view mirror, but could see only a vague silhouette in the dark. The silence was broken by a frail, muffled female voice. “Minami Aoyama, San-chome,” the voice droned.
Yamada broke into a cold sweat. “This can’t be. Not her! Not Minami Aoyama! Not again!”
The back streets on Akasaka hill were blacked out. Street lamps were out, shop and apartment windows shuttered. Yamada’s dim headlamps cut a narrow path through the dark. He followed on auto-pilot.
He prayed he’d make it out to the lights of Roppongidori before he was swallowed by the ungodly darkness that lurked in the seat behind him. Yamada slammed the gears into second and raced towards the lights of Roppongidori.
He had one thought in mind, “I’ve got to get her out of my cab, or I’ll burn in eternity.”
Then the horror struck him, “The only way to get rid of her is to take her to her final destination. Then she can return to the dead. And me to the living.”
He came to a stop at the first red light on Roppongidori. Street lamps bathed his taxi in brilliant florescent light.
“It’s now or never!” he muttered as he closed his eyes, turned his face up to the mirror, and forced them open.
“Oh my God! No! It’s impossible! Raven black hair, translucent porcelain skin, blood red lips. It is her!”
And now he was her prisoner.
Yamada turned on the radio. The whining strains of Yukiguni came over the airwaves. He turned it up full blast.
“Maybe the music will drive her spirit out of my car.”
He dared to glance in the mirror again and saw her shadowy figure drop down right behind his seat. He raced for Aoyama like a mad man. No crash of speeding vehicles could be worse than the awesome presence lurking just behind his seat.
“Minami Aoyama, San-chome, here we come. The devil be damned!”
EARLY SUNDAY MORNING
Two detectives flashed their badges as they walked into the koban at Akasaka Go-chome. They addressed the young, overweight officer at the counter.
“You busy? We have a few questions.”
Hattori stashed the pack of chips behind the log book and jumped to attention.
“No. Uh, I mean yes, sir. Officer Hattori at your service.”
“Hattori, did you receive any emergency calls last night?”
“No, sir. Just the usual. A couple of drunken salarymen and a lost gaijin looking for the New Otani. It’s all here in my report.”
“Forget the report! A dismembered body was found in Aoyama Cemetery early this morning. The only lead we have is an anonymous 110 call.”
“110? Aoyama? What’s that got to do with me, sir? This is Akasaka.”
“I know that, you idiot! The caller said something about Akasaka Go-chome koban.”
“What about Akasaka Go-chome koban? Sir?”
“We don’t know. That’s what we want to ask you. There’s loud music in the background and the voice is too low. All we could hear was this koban, something about a taxi… and a name.”
“No, damn it. The name was Yamada. Kenichi Yamada. Ever hear of him?”
“A taxi? Kenichi Yamada? Yes. Pardon me, sir, but my father used to be at this koban, uh, twenty some years ago.”
“We’re talking about murder! No time for family stories. Get to the point, Hattori.”
“Well, sir, the point is, my father told me the most bizarre incident he’d ever seen was a grotesque murder.”
“A hostess was picked up near here and taken to Aoyama Cemetery where she was murdered and chopped to pieces.”
“That cemetery’s a popular spot for murder.”
“Yes, sir. Very popular. But you see, the weird thing is, the killer was identified as a taxi driver named Kenichi Yamada.”
“Really? Well a convicted murderer should be easy enough to find.”
“No, sir, I don’t think so.”
“What do you mean, you don’t think so?”
“Later the same night, my father was called to an accident in front of the shrine just around the corner from here.
“So, what’s the accident got to do with the murder?”
“A taxi had crashed into the Torii. When Dad got there, the car was on fire.”
“That’s right. And Yamada was locked inside, pounding on the window, screaming.
“So, it was your father who arrested him!”
“No, sir. Before Dad could break the door open, Yamada’s body burst into flames.”
YOSH IKUZO – Yukiguni (Snow Country)