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The yokai in tonight’s story is only described as a bakemono,” which isn’t helpful because that really just means monster. However, from its behavior we can make a decent guess as to what it might be. Care to wager?
If I had to bet, my money would be on this being a tengu. We’ve already seen several tengu stories this month, and aside from just being common yokai, they tend to go after foolish people who bite off more than they can chew, and especially those with an excess of pride. That definitely describes our story’s leading man. (Tengu also live deep in the mountains, which is where all this strangeness begins.)
Tragically, as is often the case in kaidan, the one who suffers most is not the man who started it all, but his family.
How A Wager Led to a Child’s Decapitation
In a certain mountain village in Kishū, five or six samurai were gathered one night and chatting, when they made a wager:
“If you go about two kilometers from the village, there is a shrine near the mountain ridge. There is a river in front of the shrine, and from time to time, corpses wash up along this river. Let’s make a bet that if anyone is willing to go tonight to that river and cut off the finger from a dead man, we will all give that person our swords.”
However, not one of them said they were willing to go.
Then, a greedy and cowardly man said, “I will go.”
He went back to his house and told his wife, “I made such-and-such a wager, but my heart trembles so much that I cannot go.”
Hearing this, his wife replied, “It’s already too late for you to go back and change the wager. I’ll go there, and cut off the dead man’s finger. You stay here and watch the house.” Then, she strapped her two-year-old child to her back, and went out to the shrine.
In front of the river there was a forest about 100 meters deep. She passed through that terribly eerie place and arrived in front of the shrine. She went down beneath the bridge and found the corpse of a woman. She took out her wakizashi and cut off two fingers, and tucked them into her pocket. When she went back to the forest to return home, a scratchy voice called out from above the forest:
“Watch your step!”
Terrified, she looked down and saw something wrapped in a small straw bundle. She picked it up, and it was quite heavy. Thinking that it was surely a gift from the gods and buddhas out of pity for her, she picked it up and went home.
The man was waiting impatiently for his wife to return. He was hiding under his blanket and shivering with fear, when a sound like twenty men stamping their feet came from the roof.
“Why aren’t you going to the place you wagered you would?”
The man was even more terrified, and he shrunk back and held his breath. Just then, his wife came home. At the sound of the front door opening smoothly, the man was sure that a bakemono had come inside. He screamed and fainted.
The wife called out, “It’s me! What’s the matter? What’s going on?”
The man came to his senses and he was overjoyed. The wife took out the fingers from her pocket and handed them to the man.
“By the way, something wonderful happened,” she said. And she opened the straw bundle, only to see that it contained the head of the child she was carrying on her back. She was terrified, and she screamed and cried, and she quickly unstrapped her child from her back to find that there was only a headless corpse. Seeing this, the wife grieved and lamented, but there was nothing that could be done.
But, because he was a greedy man, the husband took the fingers and received the swords from the people he wagered with.