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A Letter

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Image by BRRT from Pixabay Illustrated by The Haunted Bar

I got a letter from a prison from someone I don’t know…

I work at a small publishing company. At the end of last year, my company received a letter specifically addressed to me. I didn’t recognize the name of the sender. But I opened it and read it.

It was a request for me to become a personal writing mentor and supervise his works.  I was puzzled. I had never gotten a request like this. I wasn’t a famous editor or anything like that.  But I figured maybe this aspiring writer came across my name in the publication data of some book and randomly decided to give it a shot.

I wrote a polite response saying that it would be difficult for me to be a mentor or supervise any work in progress, but I was willing to look at the final work if he could send it.

The next day, I got a phone call from a mailman.  He let me know that the person I addressed on the envelope did not exist at the location. I felt strange about the way he said it. So I asked “What do you mean?” He added that the designated address on the envelope was a prison in the north of Tokyo and the person I addressed did not exist there. A prison.

I had not paid special attention to the address because the original letter came with an extra envelope for a reply with a stamp attached and the return address and name already written on it. I naturally expected that it would be the same as the one on the original letter.

My letter was sent back to me shortly. I checked the senders’ address on the original envelope and compared it to the returned envelope. They were 2 different addresses. One was a house address, and the other was a prison. I could tell they were written by the same person from the handwriting, although by 2 different types of pens.

I googled this person’s name. The search results showed that it was a man who had been convicted for assault. He had served a sentence in the prison in the north of Tokyo, the same one as in the address. According to many articles, this man had completed his sentence and been out for a while.

My initial thought was that this was some kind of rude prank. Anger started to form inside me and I decided to send my reply to the other return address, the house address, of the original letter.

In 4 or 5 days, I got a reply. The envelope showed it was sent from the house address  that I had sent it to.  I opened the envelope and started reading the letter. The first sentence said,

I am  XXX(The man’s name)’s mother. My son hasn’t been home for 3 years. We filed a missing person’s report. If you know his whereabouts, could you please tell us?

I was confused. Based on my previous internet search, from the timing of the court’s final decision, his sentence and serving terms, this man should have left the prison around the summer of last year.  Even with amnesty, it wouldn’t be possible for him to be out 3 years ago.

How can his mother not know where he has been for the past 3 years, let alone that he had been convicted of a crime? It was on the internet news. It was on police records. Even if his family really knew nothing about his crime and imprisonment, they must have been informed by the police when they filed the missing person’s report.

Could this be 2 different people with the same name? Could there be some other reasons or circumstances beyond my knowledge? I was stuck between the 2 opposite feelings of wanting to know the truth and wanting to stay out of trouble. In the end, my curiosity gave in. I decided to call the phone number of the sender.

An older female voice answered the phone. I introduced myself and asked her my questions

  • Where was the last place his son stayed at before he vanished 3 years ago?
  • Was her son interested in writing?
  • Did her son serve the sentence for assault?
  • If so, when did he get out of prison?

I knew these were blunt questions for a total stranger like me to ask. But since it was her son that sent me a mysterious letter first, I grew an instant thick skin and went with it.  The mother’s responded in a hysterical tone.

XXX is a quiet, calm boy! He would never assault anyone! Since he was gone, I was waiting to hear from him. And finally, I thought one of his friends contacted me! But you’re accusing him of assault?! What is wrong with you!?

I apologized for my rude questions and explained to her how I got involved and why I had no choice but to ask her those questions. But the mother’s tone of voice kept getting more and more hysterical.

I patiently explained to her that I also want to know where he was, and how his first letter was delivered to me. After a while, the mother calmed down a little and started to explain.

I said he went missing 3 years ago.. But the more accurate way to say it is I noticed that he was missing 3 years ago. My son would lock himself up inside his room all day, every day for years. I delivered 3 meals in front of his room every day, and he would leave the empty plate outside after he finished.

That was pretty much all the contact we had. That’s how I knew he was still in there. There were times though that he wouldn’t eat the food. But it happened sometimes. He would skip meals for a few days and then start eating again.

So I didn’t think much of it at first. But 3 years ago, it continued longer than usual. Finally I opened the door and checked inside. And he was gone. I called all of his classmates from all his previous schools. Nobody knew anything.

“I honestly don’t know if he was into writing or not. But he was an intelligent child. I remember he did well in his writing class. He got good grades.

So I guess he could be interested in writing. I was never allowed to go inside of his room so, I can’t really tell you if he was writing anything though. ”

I asked her if she could check the handwriting on his letter and confirm if it was her son’s. She agreed. Since we both lived in Tokyo, I decided to visit her house on the weekend.

The next weekend, I was welcomed by the mother at the house. Contrary to the rather hysterical impression over the phone, she looked very ordinary in person. Just a regular  mother-next-door, probably in her late 40’s. She took me to the parlor room and we started talking.

I showed her the letters. She confirmed that it was the handwriting of her son. Then she looked at me and said in a firm tone that the man who sent the letter could not be her son. His character just didn’t match the crime at all. He wasn’t capable of committing violence.

According to her, her son was very kind-hearted in nature and hated violence. He was a very quiet kid and a bit socially awkward, which made him an outcast in school. But it didn’t mean he had no friends. He had several girlfriends throughout highschool.

Her son started locking himself up in the room after graduating high school. His age would have been late 20s now, which matches the age of the ex-convict, but I couldn’t mention that to her.

Then out of nowhere, the eyes of the mother suddenly wide opened and she started talking in the same hysterical manner as she did on the phone

You work in the media right? That means you have a better chance at finding my son’s whereabouts, right? Can’t you help me? Please? Can you help me see my son again? I want to see him again and apologize. Please?

I froze in the extreme confusion. Is this the same person that I was talking to just a minute before? I started feeling a little scared of this woman. I explained to her that I didn’t have any expertise for missing person investigation nor did my job give me a privilege to access the secret database locating people’s activities.

What I could do was not different from what anyone else could do. But I promised her if any news came up about her son, I’d let her know.

I got up and tried to leave. Just then, an idea crossed my mind and I asked the mother almost incessantly before I contemplated it in my head.

Can I ….see XXX’s room?

It was a stupid idea. I had even forgotten that this woman had just scared me with her attitude shift. But I was consumed by this strange sense of mission that I had to find the truth. I thought   that maybe I could find something that he wrote and compare it to the letter’s handwriting with my own eyes.

I thought that I might even find something that could lead me to the answer to this mystery. The mother’s face showed hesitation at first, but then she agreed.

Um…OK…Yes you can…But please don’t tell XXX that I let you in. No one was allowed in his room.

She walked me towards the second floor of the house. There were 3 rooms on the second floor. Every door was shut and the hallway was very dark. His room was the last room at the end of the hallway. The mother opened the door and showed me inside.

There was an old wooden drawer, and nothing else. No table, TV, not even a carpet. I was expecting the typical “Hikikomori” room with mountains of entertainment stuff inside, books, PCs, games, etc. I was so stunned I barely uttered the words “Is this really…XXX’s room?”

The mother muttered back “Um….no…um…here is

In the wall there was a built-in storage with a sliding door. She pointed at the build-in storage and reached out to the slide door to open it. The hair on my entire body had already stood up when she pointed the storage, but when I saw what’s inside the storage, my knees went soft and I almost screamed.

The storage space was filled with talisman that looked very unfamiliar. From the appearance of the talisman, I assumed they might be some stream of buddhism, or eastern cult, I really had no idea. Every aspect of walls inside the storage space were covered with numerous talisman.  My jaw had dropped and my body was cold from fear. I just stared at it without knowing what to say.

But even this storage was not his living space. The mother pointed at the ceiling of the storage and said

…..Behind this..this was his room

She took out the flashlight and pointed at the ceiling inside the storage. The whole ceiling was covered by talisman too. She pushed one of the ceiling plates and removed it. I noticed the talismans around the plate were teared, aligned with the shape of the plate. It must be the “entrance” to the room.

The mother said,  “Go ahead…” and motioned me to peek inside the ceiling.

 

I think I wanted to run away. I said I think because, at the time, the situation was way over my head and my head couldn’t process what was going on. I should have run away. But all I knew was I was the one who made the request to go check out his room. I felt compelled to do it.  I went inside the storage and stuck my head inside the open space in the ceiling. The mother was standing outside the storage.

There was a tiny window at the space above the ceiling. It was pretty dark, but I could still see things. I felt like something had moved behind my head. I turned my head and saw nothing. I brushed it off thinking that my fear was making me jumpy and sense things that didn’t exist. Though my body was shaking at this point.

Thinking back now, I really have no idea how I managed to make myself keep going. There was some kind of gravity that was guiding me to go all the way in. And I did. I lift my body up to take myself inside the ceiling space, or “his room”.

I looked around and noticed things scattered all over the floor. There were no furniture, just things. I remember seeing textbooks from elementary school, teddy bears, a couple of comic books, and a western girl doll. Despite my expectation, I didn’t find anything that had his handwriting on it.

Then out of nowhere, I felt sharp pain in my head and extremely nauseous. My thinking ability was still very much off and out of it, but I guess my body was full-on panicking. Somewhere  beyond my control, my body was telling me to get the hell out.

That’s when the flashing image of the mother screaming and attacking me from behind suddenly popped up in my head. I wasn’t even thinking about it but, I think it also was my body sending me warning signals as an image. I woke up and it suddenly hit me as a fact that something was very off about this room and the mother. My fear started flooding me and the warning alarm started ringing in my head louder and louder.

I knew that I couldn’t stay in this “room” any longer. I carefully made my way out of the ceiling, thanked the mother and tried to put the plate back in the ceiling. The plate slipped on my hand and I saw the other side of the plate. The upper side of the plate did not have any talisman on it.

But instead, it was covered by what looks like scratches by human hands. I felt puke coming up in my mouth. But the whole time I was there, I was feeling like I couldn’t let the mother sense that I noticed something, or that I was scared. I forced myself to swallow it and act like nothing was wrong.

I should head back. Thanks for seeing me today

I greeted her goodbye and left her house. I knew I should have mentioned to her again that I’d hit her up if anything came up about her son, to be polite, but I couldn’t bring myself to say it.

On my way back home, as my nerves started to calm down, I noticed more strange things about the house. When I first entered the house and was taken to the parlor room, the house was very dark and every single door on the 1st floor was closed except the door to the parlor room, as if they didn’t want me to see anything.

The parlor itself seemed oddly designed, like, they removed the wall between 2 rooms and made it into the parlor room. There was an accordion curtain in the middle of the room and I couldn’t see what was on the other half of the room.

I went home and drank myself to sleep that day. Nothing was solved and everything remained as a mystery. I might be able to find something in the house, but I don’t want to go back in there ever again. This happened last december. And I still get chills thinking about the house now.

The mother sent me a letter in January. There was no new year greeting or whatsoever, but her letter simply mentioned that she would like me to visit the house again and talk. She also wrote an episode of XXX in his last year of junior high.

He was bullied in school and he regained his positivity after talking to his relatives in the new years holiday. And thanks to that he could graduate and go to high school. She said January is her favorite month because of this episode.

I replied to her saying that I would be transferred to another city soon and that I wouldn’t be  able to be much of help from now on, which was a lie. And that was it.

If you were expecting a proper ending to this story with all the answers, well, so do I.  But this is real life and this is all to my story. I wanted to send a message that this could happen to anyone.

I regret giving her my name card when I visited, and because of that, I’ve been paranoid whenever I walk outside.

To anyone whose jobs involve getting your names out there, I want you to use my experience as a lesson to be very, very careful.

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End of Story

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