I have a camera for a head, in a manner of speaking. That is, I do everything in my power not to participate in anything that occurs around me. I tried to live a more involved life once, but I made far more mistakes than I care to admit in the process, and though having an eidetic memory has made many things easier for me, moving on from the past is not one of them. So I just watch. I’m the Camera.
It seems a bit strange for me to write like this, considering what I just said about keeping out of things—by no means is this something I do on a regular basis; my hand is cramping already—but at this point there’s not much else for me to see or hear. All that’s left to do is to make a back-up of the experiences I’ve had up until now.
Nothing of particular note happened until one afternoon when I was out on a solitary walk. There was a series of underground tunnels not too far from where I was staying at the time, an old sewer system that had fallen into disuse due to exorbitant maintenance costs and changes in municipal regulations. For some time I’d been curious to explore and record these tunnels, and it was on that specific day that I’d worked up the nerve to force open the manhole and clamber inside.
It wasn’t too exciting an expedition, really—or, at least, not at first.
The majority of the tunnel system was unremarkable to the point of bordering on stereotypical: Rank smells, poor lighting, claustrophobic space constraints. There were a number of rats as well, but I’ll touch on that more in a moment. More important than the rodent infestation was how disappointed I was becoming with each passing minute at the lack of anything interesting to see.
To put my disappointment in context, I’d captured word of a rumor regarding these sewers. Allegedly, they connected to a secret passageway that led into the elaborate mansion on the outskirts of the town. The owner of this mansion, an elderly woman named Ruth White, had lived there in isolation for several years. Her reclusion was something of a local marvel, with her refusing even to acknowledge the presence any visitors who approached the ever-locked front gate of her fenced estate.
To be sure, if I had thought that this person was still alive, I wouldn’t have tried to sneak into her house. The thing is that, despite her being something of a curiosity, she hadn’t been seen by anyone in well over a year. Some townspeople had discussed the possibility of her death, but no one bothered to file an official missing person’s report. My understanding is that she was unpopularity with the town authorities, presumably because of her asocial tendencies.
Is that inhumane on their part? I remember hearing something about her throwing rocks at some kids who had loitered around her gate yelling at her. Perhaps their apathy was justified.
The reasoning behind why these sewers would be part of a secret passage at all was haphazard at best. To be precise, the mansion had been constructed squarely atop the center of this underground network. Someone—I don’t know who—hypothesized that this wasn’t a mere coincidence, but rather that Ruth White, driven by her paranoia (or her dementia, Alzheimer’s, or schizophrenia, depending on the source), had added in an emergency escape route through them. Did she actually have any of those disorders? I couldn’t say, but it seems doubtful.
At any rate, I was disappointed because the sewers were turning out to be normal sewers. Then I saw the rats.
Rats aren’t an unusual sight in sewers. In fact, the thought of the latter typically goes hand-in-hand with the former in the culture around here. Because of that, I wasn’t surprised when I spotted the first few of them skittering about. The same can’t be said, however, about my reaction when I encountered the rat king.
To clarify, I’m referring to the phenomenon where a number of rats get their tails tangled together, with something like blood or dried excrement later cementing them together. This is very rare, and as such I’d never seen one until that moment, but I was mainly taken aback by the sheer size of it. There were dozens of rats—easily over 50 or 60 of them—ensnared in this squealing, writhing clump. At the sight of me, they tried to run away, but they all pulled in different directions, making no progress.
As I hugged the wall to pass them without being bitten, I noticed that a few of the rats in the mass were dead. These dead members had chunks bitten out of them; unable to move about to search for food, the living rats had apparently resorted to cannibalism to avoid starvation.
Though I didn’t notice it then, the tunnel didn’t branch anymore after that point. Indeed, I was so lost in my macabre, rat-themed train of thought that I walked straight into a ladder. It wasn’t so much a proper ladder, though, as much as it was a series of metal rungs jutting out of the dead-end wall. As I climbed, a faint stench rivaling that of the rat king’s in atrocity wafted down to meet me from the dimly-lit aperture above.
The ladder led to a stone-walled basement, featureless aside from the hole back into the sewers and a rickety wooden staircase that stretched along the rightmost wall up to a door. Said door was slightly ajar, and a warmly illuminated hallway awaited me on the other side, a sight that expelled any lingering traces of disappointment from my mind. The odor grew yet stronger here, but I ignored it and kept advancing inward anyway, venturing forward down the hall and around a corner.
Looking back, there’s a pretty obvious question here: Why didn’t I call out to see if Ruth White would respond? The truth is that, though I was curious about whether or not she was still alive, I wanted to snoop around beforehand. After all, no one had been inside the place save the enigmatic owner herself for over a decade, and I knew that I’d be ejected as soon as she discovered that I was there. Besides, were she dead, yelling for her sooner wouldn’t make her any less dead.
The interior of the mansion turned out to be even less interesting than the sewers before it. There were only three points of note, the first being that smell. It filled the air of every single room that I checked. I never did find the source of it, though I noticed that it was stronger in some rooms than in others. The second interesting thing was how I somehow managed to set off the security alarm despite not getting anywhere near an exterior door. Most remarkable of all, however, was the package that I recovered.
[I use the word “recovered”, but in all honesty I stole it. I could try to excuse it, saying that I was rushed due to the alarm going off, but that wouldn’t make me any less of a thief. So much for not interacting with the surrounding environment.]
It was a ream or so of printer paper that someone—I don’t know who, but I doubt it was Ruth White; I’ll explain in a moment—had wrapped in thick brown packaging paper and tied together with twine. Neat, handwritten text covered both sides of every single sheet, save for a corner on each page dedicated to the page number. In contrast to the clean penmanship, the subject matter was rather erratic, but I’ll refrain from any further judgment about that for now.
I’m pretty confident that Ruth White had nothing to do with the writing of this peculiar document for two reasons.
First, it was bundled up and stashed away out of sight in her house in spite of the fact that it’s more or less a complete work. Had she written it, wouldn’t she have wanted to publish it or something rather than hiding it in some dusty corner of her mansion?
Second, every page of it had a different handwriting style, as though each one had been authored by a separate, unique person. And yet, regardless of this wide diversity in handwriting styles, Ruth White’s shaky cursive didn’t surface even once. How do I know what her writing looks like? I spotted a to-do list lying on a counter in her mansion while trespassing.
I still have no idea who wrote that document, nor how so many different people were able to contribute to it while keeping it cohesive. As for how it ended up in Ruth White’s mansion, my best guess is that she stole it from the original authors. Why? I don’t know.
Anyway, now I’ll reproduce the contents of that document. I’ll try not to interrupt.
The post-rock community has been in utter turmoil over the course of the past several months, and, truly, the underlying issue is so controversial and hotly contested that the specifics of the scenario likely need not be outright mentioned here for how high-profile it is, since the reader is in all likelihood already intimately familiar with these details, but nevertheless, for the sake of completeness, the context of the situation is as follows.
The wildly popular group Douglas, the so-called mainstream icon of post-rock, was a few years prior approached by the Korean film director Bong Joon-Ho, who made arrangements with them to produce several original musical pieces for his contemporarily upcoming movie Snowpiercer, but when the film subsequently fell into developmental hell as a result of the untimely demise of the director’s wife, the tracks similarly disappeared even though they had already been recorded, and to this day these tracks have not seen an official release of any sort.
In an unexpected development, however, an anonymous source who claims to have worked closely with Douglas while the production of Snowpiercer was active uploaded several songs recently to the online file-sharing service Megaupload, asserting that the songs in question are the ones that were composed for the film and then until now lost to time, but the individual’s insistence on anonymity has made it all but impossible to verify whether or not these leaked singles are genuinely the ones that they purport they are.
As is to be expected because of the group’s popularity, extensive arguments both supporting and refuting these claims alike have been mounted by Douglas’s fan base, but the bulk of these efforts on both sides of the division have been exceptionally unstructured and informal, which, though not in the slightest bit unusual for debates on the Internet that are fueled by passionate feelings in the participants, has resulted in this confusion stagnating and drawing out for far longer than is necessary.
The goal of this essay, thus, is to bring this base-breaking conflict to an end once and for all by means of a comprehensive comparative analysis of Douglas’s discography against these leaked tracks, accomplishing this by examining everything from instrumentation to lyrical content while concurrently maintaining a strictly rigorous and unbiased stance, as well as considering the input of experts in the field and other members of the Snowpiercer production crew, an inclusion that no other commentator has yet made.
2) Early Discography (pre-2010)
Douglas established an excellent foundation for their collective musical career with their first release, Comment Card (2007), which showcased with an especial focus the formidable abilities of Mitchell Rouge on the lead guitar and Michael Blair on the bass, a duo with such stunning creative chemistry that they later garnered the nickname “M&M”, though this emphasis on that pair by no means detracted from the impressive talent of Alfred Walters on the drums, whose capacity to stand out from while simultaneously integrating with the tightly-knit binary system that is M&M is alone quite a testament to his skill.
The album starts off strong with the single “You Talkin’ to Me?”, which samples heavily from the cult classic film Taxi Driver and is characterized by its fast-paced, aggressive bassline that, in conjunction with the angry guitar riffs that accompany and complement it, call to mind the elevated pulse and tunnel vision that are the hallmarks of the blind fury of an all-out brawl. In a retrospective review written for Ghost Cult Magazine, music critic Theo Cowell argued that the doom metal and black metal influences that served heavily as the fuel for Rouge’s inspiration for this first track, and to a lesser but nevertheless significant extent for the album as a whole, contrasted somewhat jarringly with the distinctive thrumming vitality of Douglas’s work, but this author disagrees, as the liveliness of the playing style juxtaposes seamlessly with the menacing undertones when one considers that the intention of the song is to convey the white-knuckled apprehension of an impending altercation.
The smoldering tone cools down to a limited extent in the next track, “Behind Your Back”, a tune that, as the title suggests, was built out of that unfailingly infuriating combination of avoidant behavior and the apparent need to complain about others, with Blair’s tense, frustrated solo forming the piece’s keystone. This piece is exceedingly infamous among the fan base, being popularly known as the “Plaid Shoe Polka” due to the creation of the track allegedly being spurred by Walters and Blair speaking poorly of Rouge’s quaint fashion sense in the latter’s absence, according to the liner notes included in the limited edition rerelease of the LP. The questionable veracity of this track’s muse aside, the overt darkness from the previous track has been subdued, replaced by a mood that, while still unambiguously colored with conflict, gives the listener the unmistakable impression of a struggling yet surviving friendship instead of one already dead in the water, transformed into active hostility.
Having detailed these two songs, a superb selection of the quintessential Douglas as agreed upon as recently as 2012 by a statistically rigorous sample of numerous fans on both sides of the issue at hand, a comparison of their released work against the leaked tracks can now be attempted, though it should be noted beforehand that Douglas has produced music of a considerably different sort in addition to that which has been discussed thus far, so a mismatch here doesn’t necessarily indicate that the leaked tracks are a hoax.
The first of the tracks to be examined is substantially less energetic in contrast to the veritable agitation of the introductory songs from Comment Card, yet the overall atmosphere is greatly reminiscent of the unique flavor of M&M’s interdependent playing style, but nevertheless the most marked divergence of this first piece from our selection of Douglas’s work can be observed in the lyrical thematics, as delineated by the following lyrics lifted from said piece:
In this world there is no breathing, only creatures strange and seething,
Filled with air that tears and rots all that’s familiar to its core.
And the sky, a bloody ulcer, chokes the sun behind the sulfur;
Creeping Death, the life engulfer, burned the sky and made the sore;
Creeping Death, the life engulfer, paces restless by the Door,
Anxious to consume yet more.
All the creatures, half decaying, move in panick’d masses, braying,
Running from the Creeping Death that God and Man alike abhor.
Yet the Flame has been extinguish’d, torment of the realm relinquish’d;
Nothing but the undistinguish’d husk is present anymore,
Poison ash, the Creeping Death, and twisted life that seeks the Door.
Only this and nothing more.
The most glaring distinction here is that the officially released works inspected thus far wholly lack lyrics of any sort whereas the leaked tracks feature them prominently, but this fact alone is not sufficient as a disqualifier, as many of Douglas’s more contemporary pieces include lyrics, though the incongruity between the ballad-style rhyming scheme in those releases versus the complex meter of the leaked track lyrics most certainly warrants further consideration.
Sorry to interrupt, but most of that was and still is meaningless to me. To explain, there was an occasion—a long while before I went poking around in those sewers—in the midst of… well, the specifics of that situation aren’t important now. My point is that I once found a Douglas CD and tried to listen to it, but it sounded like a bunch of noise to me. To that end, I don’t understand why someone would go to the trouble of putting together such an in-depth essay about their music, though I suppose I’ve never really grasped music appreciation in general.
[Now that I give it some thought, that’s an interesting use of that word. The main verbal definition of “grasp” refers to the act of closing a hand around an object as a means of holding on to it. In this usage, however, its meaning is more along the lines of understanding or comprehending a specific subject matter. It gives me a mental image of a hand reaching out of the head of someone trying to read a book in order to clutch at its pages, trying to grasp its contents.]
At any rate, I’m curious about that bit of poetry, or the “leaked track lyrics” as it were. It seems familiar, as though it’s something I’ve seen or heard of before, though I know for a fact that I’d never seen it prior to reading it in that document. I doubt I need to mention that it doesn’t have anything to do with that argument about the legitimacy of whatever leaked music, but I do wonder who wrote it. I’ve more than a few questions about where they got their ideas.
There’s something else that I meant to mention earlier. In addition to the ream of printer paper, there was a second item in the package: A few sheets of yellow, college-ruled paper (presumably ripped from a legal pad or something similar) stapled together and covered with text. I wasn’t surprised to see that it was also handwritten, though the manuscript was rather sloppy and didn’t match any that I’d seen in the Douglas essay. Interestingly, Ruth White had scrawled something in the margins:
The world is falling to pieces, but I can’t bring myself to care.
God help me.
It doesn’t seem to be relevant to anything written on the legal pad sheets proper—the contents of which I’ll now present—but since it was Ruth White’s sole contribution to these recovered documents, I figured I’d include it anyway.
I have found God.
You might be tempted to dismiss me immediately, or perhaps later on once you’ve heard the details, but I cannot be more emphatic about how true this is. As I write this now, God is sitting before me, no less tangible than this pen I hold in my hand.
What does He look like? Why, He is a book.
As incredible as it sounds, this is nothing less than factual. Within the bindings of this book lie His infinite wisdom. The laws of matter and physics give way before their Creator, enforcing no limit on the pages or binding. All that exists is described therein down to the most minuscule of details, which is naturally befitting of God’s wisdom: Are not even the subtlest aspects of an object, though insignificant to Man, of no less importance than any other in the eyes of God?
Consider the opening verse of the Holy Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Surely, this refers to not only the Word of God as per the more traditional interpretation espoused by the Church, but also to this textual manifestation that has entered my possession!
With due reverence, I have read at length from this mouthpiece of His wisdom, studying its contents fervently. I know of the birth, life, and death of every man, woman, and child that has yet lived and who will come to live. I know which priests walk the path of righteousness, and which speak falsely in His name. I know what rewards Heaven has to offer to those that serve Him; oh, how my mind stretches to the furthest limits of comprehension at the mere recollection of it! I know what punishments await the unrepentant, those drenched with sin; that knowledge, too, brings my mortal understanding to its limits. I know of (dare I write it?) the flaws in the Holy Bible, the blemishes that arose from Man’s imperfect interpretation of His Word. I know of the day when that which was foretold in Revelations will unfold, of the day when the last soul will exit the Chamber of Guf. I know of the ways by which God and His sons judge the souls of Man, how He discerns the saints from the damned. I know of the names of all who have been and all who will be admitted into Paradise. I know of the first proto-human who was filled with the Spirit of the Lord. I know when the last of our most distant descendants will pass away, silhouetted against the harsh light of an alien star. I know what became of the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Chalice, the Holy Lance, the Holy Prepuce, the Staff of Moses. I know of the truth underlying the Shroud of Turin. I know which translation of the Holy Bible holds truest to His intentions and meaning. I know of the actions and life of Jesus Christ during His “lost years”. I know of the mechanisms of the thaumaturgy used by the magicians of ancient Egypt that challenged Moses. I know of the traits of the aberrant beings that roamed the Earth in those dark days that shortly preceded the Flood. I know of the procedure by which to exorcise a demon. I know of the procedure by which to compel a demon to possess. I know why God has chosen to intervene less and less often in the affairs of Man as time has progressed. I know which denominations of Christianity are more attuned with His Word and which have fallen astray. I know too of the new denominations that will yet form and bring Man closer to God. I know which miracles were genuine interventions by God, which were fabricated by Man, and further still which were illusions conjured by demons. I know of the year, make, and model of the 10,684,317th automobile ever manufactured. I know of the exact locations of the tombs of the eleven apostles. I know what form the Mark of the Beast will take; and we must beware, for Man’s fixation on the exact numerals will be what blinds him to its arrival. I know of the intricacies of Creation, the multiple layers of Existence, with all that we see and know being but a cross section of that which He has wrought, a mere point in a line, a line in a square, a square in a cube, a cube in a tesseract, a tesseract in a [Sorry to interrupt, but the word the author used here was illegible. Like I said, his penmanship was rather messy.], and onward. I know of the thin spots in these layers, and the means by which Man might move between them, that we might marvel at all of God’s Creation. I know what became of the Garden of Eden, and of the mighty angel set to guard it. I know of the stringent guidelines by which a man’s faith and piety is considered such that he might be taken into Heaven while still alive. I have studied of His wisdom, and I, His humble servant, shall act howsoever He commands me.
He has told me of His intense loneliness. It is far beyond that of any being in Creation, with it being the profound loneliness of the immortal; Man’s loneliness is to God’s as a candle’s light compares to that of the Sun. And yet, were we not made in His image? Indeed, that we share in His loneliness is but a natural consequence. No volume of beings brought forth by His divine power can staunch it, no more than Man can staunch his own loneliness by conversing with a colony of ants in a glass enclosure. Thus, He has commanded me, who has peered into His wisdom, not only to continue to serve Him and the Church with the benefit of the knowledge with which He has blessed me, but also to grant Him peace from His suffering.
I have found God.
And now, I must kill Him.
Such as He commands, I shall set this book aflame. May the Heavenly Host have mercy upon me.
The writing ended there. As with the poetry from the essay, that book the author mentioned sounded familiar, though I’m skeptical of their claims about it being some kind of deity. In any case, there was a set of latitude and longitude coordinates on the back of the last sheet that I never bothered to investigate since they were very far away when I first got the package. They’re rather close by, however, to where I am now. Could it be that… well, I don’t see why I should loiter here and speculate over it when I could go out and verify it for certain.
How do I know where the coordinates are relative to me? I have a hand-held GPS unit.
After an uneventful hike, I’m at the specified location—or as close as I can get to it, at least. I think I’ve found the book. It’s still on fire—the flames it’s throwing up are probably around seventy feet tall or so, and they’re producing this continuous outpouring of thick, black smoke. Apparently it’s been burning for quite some time, too, since the sky’s completely blotted out with this pollution for as far as I can see and all of the surrounding vegetation is nothing but ash.
I’ve seen this before.
Granted, that was a long time ago, and not anywhere around here, but it otherwise exactly resembled this plume of fire in front of me. I suppose that, since I don’t have anything else to do—I lack any way to put out this fire, so I can’t examine the burning book, and at any rate I’m not going to interfere with the environment to that significant an extent—and since what I’m writing here is a back-up of my past experiences anyway, I’ll go over the details of where I originally saw this.
I’d been wandering around with no real destination in mind, mainly walking for the sake of walking since I tend to get restless when I stay in any one place for too long. I found the fire more by accident than anything else—when I crested a hill and got blasted by the heat from it, I’d been preoccupied staring off elsewhere into the distance at some far-off motion. I remember having some particularly bad eye irritation at the time, which I guess was due to all of the noxious smoke.
Like I mentioned earlier, it looked nearly identical to what I’m currently standing in front of: Fire dozens of feet high, opaque clouds of smoke, no visible decrease in intensity over time. Note, however, that the two are only nearly identical—while these new flames are a reddish orange, the ones I saw back then featured a brilliant shade of blue in equal measure. Plus, there’s the significant difference in the locations where I encountered one versus the other.
How, then, did this fire move from one place to another?
As it so happens, there were a few witnesses other than me to that occasion, one of whom wrote up an account of it and circulated it online. My understanding is that most people treated it like some sort of fictional horror story, but that’s not really relevant here. What is relevant is the possibility that ruminating on this memory will help me to piece the current situation together.
The hundredfold increase in the frequency of missing person incidents in Japan and the quintupling of the lung cancer rate in Newfoundland have more in common than a cursory comparison reveals. More exactly, one could accurately assert that the fault for causing both of these peculiar phenomena rests entirely upon me. I am writing this in the hope that, should I perish in my endeavor to reverse the havoc I have released unto the Earth, someone will chance upon this document and succeed where I failed; otherwise, I intend to publicize this confession and explanation to the world at large as an apology and a warning not to tread the same path of deadly curiosity as I have.
For years, before this undesirable state of affairs arose, I was a corporate wage-slave—a pencil pusher, you might say—and I lived as a man without dreams or ambitions. Having dropped out of college following several semesters filled with classes that were somehow simultaneously boring and stressful, I rapidly consumed what meager savings there were in my bank account. With no viable job opportunities in sight, I resorted to calling an old high school friend of mine out of desperation; as it happened, he had recently been promoted to some stratospheric managerial position in his company, and thankfully he recalled that he owed me a favor or two. Thus, I secured a job doing some nebulous task involving reviewing and signing documents that were meaningless forests of legalese and jargon. I hated it, but I had no realistic alternative.
I spent several miserable years in this position, earning barely enough money to keep my stomach full and my utilities active. The television was my lord and savior, its numbing glow saving me from reflecting on my circumstances or further wallowing in negativity. Abruptly, however, an envelope greeted me from my chronically empty mailbox one afternoon. A fortune had apparently been left for me by some distant, eccentric relative of mine; a scholar of the occult, he claimed in his will that he had remotely observed my pathetic state, and, out of familial concern and consideration for his own advanced age, decided to bequeath his wealth onto me. Of course, the details—particularly that note about remote observation—scarcely crossed my mind, as flooded with joy, relief, and ecstasy as I was. I submitted a 2-week notice to that dreadful corporation the very same day that I confirmed the validity of that grimly glorious letter.
Once my newfound riches had been secured in my bank account, I immediately went out and purchased a high-quality handheld video camera. For ages, I’ve had this dream of wandering about the Earth, keeping a digital catalog of the locations and people I encounter. The suffocation and poor wages of my previous employment restricted me from doing much of anything outside of trudging through oceans of impenetrable papers; it certainly didn’t pay well enough for me to buy luxury items like camcorders. Regardless, after obtaining an artificial eye to complement my own—in addition to warmer clothing, as a mass of cold air was hovering around the city at the time—I began taking frequent walks throughout the area, wandering to and fro and recording everything along the way.
I quickly encountered problems. Firstly, my ancient desktop computer—it had fallen into disuse from an absence of drive or motivation on my part to make any use of it while employed—lacked the necessary storage space to retain all of the footage I was recording. I managed to solve that issue following several days of browsing poorly-written forum posts, poring over technical guides, and ordering new hardware components; I ended up owning a much nicer computer accompanied by a cluster of storage disks arranged in what the guides called a RAID. While its exact functionality eludes me even now, I never did have trouble with any failing components or a lack of space for my footage.
Secondly, many of the people whom I passed on my wanderings didn’t care for being recorded on camera, even indirectly. On a few occasions, I scarcely avoided being assaulted over the matter. Thus, after some admittedly difficult adjustments to my sleeping schedule, I began taking my walks in the loneliest hours of the morning. I remember feeling distinctly grateful that I could sleep whenever I chose rather than being shoehorned into a sleeping schedule based upon my working schedule. I also found myself deeply moved rather often by the serene solitude of the post-midnight world.
It was after several weeks of increasingly long walks through the city, the surrounding suburban neighborhoods, and the outlying countryside when I realized that I had traversed essentially all of the nearby territory that could be reached and returned from within a single night of walking. Despite this, my desire to explore and document remained unsatisfied, so I made what, in retrospect, might have been a rash decision: I bought a one-way plane ticket to travel to Japan. As arbitrary as it probably seems to you, it made sense to me because I, when I was much younger, watched a ridiculously large amount of anime. Thus, I always had this fanciful image of Japan being a colorful, wacky, and generally exciting place; this image faded as I aged, but, now that I had plenty of free resources and was in need of a new locale for exploration, I concluded that Japan would be my next destination.
I’ll omit the specifics of traveling, finding housing, and struggling with the language, as they aren’t relevant to this report. Instead, I’ll resume from when I had finally managed to settle into a surprisingly small room in an apartment complex. I, as before, began taking walks in the wee hours of the morning, capturing the sights and experiences both with my own eyes and with the eye of my camera. While it certainly wasn’t the madhouse of moe and anime that my youthful self had imagined, there was still a beauty to it, analogous to the serenity I felt in my city back home. It truly is a shame that more people aren’t aware of this wonder and tranquility that even our industrialized society offers to those who seek it.
On one evening in particular, however, I encountered a small group of teenagers talking in excited whispers amongst themselves while carrying what looked like the box of some board game with them. As I was feeling especially bold and outgoing that night for no nameable reason, I approached them and greeted them with what I hoped was a disarming smile. They were initially guarded, but I apparently conveyed my honesty when I expounded upon who I was, what I was doing, and my curiosity about them to them. They introduced themselves as Hideki, Tsubaki, and Kensuke, and they explained that they had gotten ahold of a “spirit board” and intended to try summoning ghosts with it, and they courteously invited me to join them and observe anything that might occur. In spite of my skepticism regarding ghosts and the like, I agreed to accompany them.
After taking a shortcut through what I’m certain was a red light district and navigating a veritable maze of back alleyways, we arrived at the front gate of a fenced estate. Their house was easily one of the largest I had seen in Japan thus far—although it was only slightly above average by US standards. Once inside, the teenagers made quick work of setting up the board, as well as shutting off all of the other lights, setting a match to a circle of candles around it, and burning several sticks of incense. I watched silently, thankful for my camera’s night vision setting, as they sat around the board. Kensuke extracted a sheet of paper from his pocket and began reading a chant of some sort in archaic Japanese. Once he finished, a draft of air flowed past us, flickering the candles, and a glowing string of characters appeared on the board, reading as follows (in Japanese, of course):
WHO ARE YOU
Despite my skepticism, my skin crawled with goosebumps at the sight of the fiery text, and the teenagers exchanged frightened whispers and glances for a moment. Eventually, Kensuke replied aloud:
“We are [FULL NAMES REDACTED], and, if we may, we wish to speak with the spirit of [NAME REDACTED].”
Another breath of wind; the characters on the board changed:
WE DO NOT ACT BY THE WHIMS OF THE LIVING
“Please! He was our dear brother, and he died before his time. Would you allow him to come and speak with us, for however short a time?”
HE CANNOT COME TO YOU
Here, there was a brief pause, as the three deliberated about what to do next. Before any of them could speak, a gust stronger than those before it swept through the room, extinguishing a few of the candles.
YOU CAN GO TO HIM
At this, a fierce rumbling shook the house. The sound of dishes smashing echoed out of a nearby room, and one of the windows in the main room shattered. The teenagers cowered, clinging to one another, and I stood staring at the luminescent board, rooted in place out of equal parts fear and awe. The rumbling slowly diminished, and one last string of characters lit up on the board:
Cautiously, we stepped outside into the fenced-in yard. A dimly glowing ellipse about three meters in height and two meters in width stood off to the left of the house, level with the ground. The border of it was a brilliant electric blue, but the center was a mixture of reds and black; these interior colors were blurred, as though one were looking at them through old, clouded glass. With difficulty, I tore my eyes away from the portal and stepped back inside to examine the board. It had gone dark, and the incense and candles had both been snuffed out with it.
I stepped back outside and joined the teenagers, who were clustered anxiously around the rip in space. Hideki shakily suggested trying to walk through it, since their late brother might be waiting on the other side. I distractedly swapped out the battery and memory card of my camera with the spares I had brought with me while they discussed the prospect of passing through the doorway. I proposed that I travel in alone, as I was older and had no close living relatives; meanwhile, I would have a rope secured around my waist so that they could pull me back through if need be. After a moment, the teenagers agreed; Kensuke ran to the nearby supply shed to get rope while Tsubaki and Hideki went inside to clean up the broken plates and window.
It was around 2 A.M. when the teenagers finished up their chores and had retrieved the rope. By a stroke of luck (or, perhaps, misfortune), the supply shed had an incredible quantity of rope—at least 2 miles in length—and we secured one end to a nearby Japanese maple tree and the other end around my waist. The others promised that they’d diligently wait by the tree so that they could pull me back together should I need help. I thanked them graciously, and made them promise not to blame themselves should something happen to me. They wished me luck as I walked up to the portal. I tried to push my hand through it and encountered no resistance despite its glassy appearance. I hesitated, then closed my eyes and stepped into it.
I opened my eyes to find myself standing in an utterly alien environment. My camera was still in my hand and actively recording, and the rope remained secured around my midsection. I turned around and saw a similar portal to the one that had brought me here about a meter or so behind me. I walked to view it from the side, and I noticed that the rope went through the opening and ended abruptly, not extending out of the other side. The reverse side of the portal was an opaque blue, and it firmly resisted my attempts to push through it.
The sky—if it could be called such—glowed a featureless ulcerous red beneath a patchy screen of ragged black clouds. What faint illumination there was originated from a copper sun that hung at the zenith; its sickly luminosity was such that I could stare directly at it without discomfort. My feet sunk slightly in the ground, a black substance with a consistency similar to clay. Gazing toward the horizon, I noted that the terrain rolled outward in hills; I espied colossal mountains in the distance, along with massive, jagged geological formations that extended shelf-like into the air without any visible support. No wind brushed past me, though each breath I took tore at my throat, and nothing living or otherwise reminiscent of my home reality greeted my eyes during this brief survey of my surroundings. Wherever this locale was, it certainly wasn’t anywhere on Earth.
Though my uneasiness remained unabated, my desire to explore—coupled with an instinct to avoid lingering in the flat, open field into which I had stepped—compelled me to begin walking toward one of the large mountains in the distance. I could nearly feel the impressions my shoes left in the black clay, and I feared that some unspeakable monster that dwelled herein would follow my footprints. Closer examination unveiled that the footprints would swiftly fill back up after I had lifted my feet from them. That behavior still puzzles me, but at the time the knowledge that my trail erased itself brought a degree of relief to my taxed mind.
There was a certain fascination to the lengthy trek; on several occasions, I scaled a low hill and nearly tumbled into the gaping hole in the terrain that the mound had obscured. Further inspection revealed that, rather than some endless pit, the interior of the opening contained another level of terrain nearly identical to that which surrounded me; that is, it was as though there were another “floor” of this place beneath the layer on which I stood. Of course, I had neither the means nor the intention of exploring down there, as simply glancing into the hole left me dizzy from the height of the drop. Additionally, were I to descend downward, not only would I lack any manner of returning to the current level, but the light source would be obscured, and the mere thought of groping about in the murky bowels of this wasteland without benefit of sight… no, rather, it was unthinkable.
As the landmark grew closer, I noticed that I hadn’t felt hungry or thirsty at all since passing through the portal, nor had the distance covered on foot fatigued me. Again, though bizarre and inexplicable, the properties of the clay void proved exceedingly fortunate; survival without them would have been little more than a crapshoot, considering how ill-prepared I was. At the same time, my lungs burned steadily, their ailing condition being made sharply known to me in tune with my respiration. Likewise, my nasal cavity felt scorched. As I reflected on how much longer I could persist within this noxious atmosphere, my foot struck something solid.
It was a cloth-bound book, lying open on the ground. The two pages to which it had been opened were blackened by charring, yet, strangely, no other portions of the book bore any fire damage. I picked it up and closed it, then scrutinized the front cover and spine, both of which were unlabeled. Somewhat bemused, I made as though to read a page at random, only to discover that the damaged pages I had observed seconds earlier had vanished. Despite several moments of intently leafing through pages, I couldn’t locate so much as a trace of ash or charcoal on the pages near the center of the book. The intermixture of perplexion with the slowly mounting terror in my mind was jostled along with my balance when a sudden jolt ran up the rope from the direction of the portal.
My confusion—had the teenagers decided to reel me in for some reason?—was all too quickly replaced by all-out horror, however, when I spotted the source of the tugging. Could it even be described as a living creature? It held only the faintest of resemblances to anything known by our science; it was an organism half-assembled, a nightmare of misarranged human anatomy. The disembodied head of a woman—an order of magnitude too large, its flesh bloated and flabby—sat inert upon the ground, staring blankly forward at nothing with glazed eyes. A thickly veined arm at least eight feet in length sprouted from where, in a sane construction, the right ear of the oversized head would be. As I watched, the arm reached out in the direction of the portal, then clutched at the ground and pulled itself and the grotesque head forward; it was dragging itself over the rope, hence the tugging I’d experienced.
The sound of a viscous churning behind me snapped me out of my horrified paralysis. I whirled around to confront a colossal amorphous mass of some kind of translucent gel oozing across the landscape toward me at an alarming speed. At this, I dropped into a dead run back to the portal along the trail afforded by the rope, all but ignoring the head-arm monster as I passed it by—though I observed with yet further unease the toothless maw that continually quivered and slathered in the center of its palm. The remainder of my blind sprint blurs together even now; my next concrete memory consists of a brief flash of relief when I hurled myself bodily through the portal—the odd book still held in my white-knuckled grip—followed immediately by my fear that the loathsome entities on the other side of the portal would attempt to cross over onto Earth.
The teenagers, though at first visibly relieved by my return, rapidly grew apprehensive as I stammered out an account of what I’d seen. Hideki began to suggest returning to the ghost-summoning board—presumably to plead with whatever force that had torn open this hole to seal it back—but he trailed off when an abomination I’d not yet observed exited the portal. It had the body of a human being, but in place of its head was what I can only describe as a giant camera, save that there was a tremendous bloodshot eye occupying the lens tubing. It stared at us for a split second, glanced down at the book in my hands, then turned and bolted off into the night, effortlessly leaping over the ten-foot fence that surrounded the yard.
Scarcely a second had passed before the enormous mouthed arm lurched out