31st October, 1995. I’m 10 years old and my friends and I are out trick-or-treating in tacky store-bought Halloween costumes.
We’ve been down all the streets in our neighborhood and collected a decent amount of candies in our plastic pumpkin buckets. There’s just one house left, and trust me, it’s creepy at the best of times but on this night it has a particularly scary aura to it.
The house is set back a bit from the others along a short path that’s dark from all the trees hanging overhead. The only street lamp along the path hasn’t worked for years.
It’s one of the oldest houses in the area, and its sole occupant is one of the oldest too – this weird Japanese man who is rarely seen out. Some say he is an old samurai master; others tell stories of his adventures as a real-life ninja back in Japan – but whatever his background, nobody really knows why he lives here or what he does with his days.
Anyway, we’re a group of young boys all giddy from the excitement of Halloween and the candy we’ve already consumed, so of course we’re all daring each other to go up and knock on this guy’s door.
The daring goes on for a while, with nobody having the guts to step forward. We’re edging nearer to the house, and as we get to the foot of the path, all the others decide to gang up on me and push me out ahead.
They’ve left me with no choice. If I back down now I’ll never hear the end of it.
So I cautiously advance up the path, stumbling occasionally on all the loose paving stones. I can only see one light on in the house, on the top floor. I’m hoping this guy has gone to bed for the night and won’t bother to come down to answer the door.
I toy with the idea of just pretending to knock, but the door is in full sight of my friends who are hovering nervously at the other end of the path. On such a still night, they’ll be able to hear the sound, or rather the absence of it.
It takes what feels like forever to reach the door. I put my arm out to knock but just before I make contact, it creaks open. There are still no lights on downstairs, so I can hardly make out the man in the doorway. Has he been watching us this whole time?
I sheepishly hold out my bucket. “Trick or treat?” The words come out reluctantly, like I already know he’s going to slam the door in my face. I wonder if they celebrate Halloween in Japan.
To my surprise, he reaches for something inside and produces a handful of candy to throw in my bucket. It’s not anything that I recognize. Small red wrapped cubes with some Japanese characters on them.
He says nothing but gives me a strange, knowing smile and a nod. Without remembering to thank him, I turn and run back down the path to my friends.
I can tell from their faces I have won their respect. They stare at me, awed by the fact that I have come face to face with the mysterious old man.
They are keen to see what he gave me, so I reach into my bucket to grab some of the candies.
But instead of finding those little hard cubes among all my other plunder for the night, my hand sinks right down into a sea of something that’s starting to crawl all over me. Screaming, I jump back and throw my bucket to the ground, only to see a swarm of tiny spiders spilling out of it.
My friends are totally spooked, and scatter even faster than the spiders.
As I look back at the house, I’m sure I can see a figure at the illuminated window, and I know he’s smiling to himself.