“Senior, what are ascetics?”
“You know, those guys who wear a black, small hat on their head and carry a cane, and dress like tengu… they’re called yamabushi.”
“Oh, if you mean yamabushi, I know them.”
He nodded happily as if he understood.
“So their ancestors were trying to gain psychic powers. It sounds like something out of a movie or manga.”
“Ha, you’re not wrong.”
I couldn’t help but laugh at Iwaro’s observation. I thought the same thing.
However, it’s not uncommon for strange old customs to remain in remote villages. I know of several villages that still continue such customs as a festival.
“So, in other words, it was a village full of psychics!”
He leaned in excitedly, spraying saliva.
His face is quite intimidating up close.
“As if that would happen. That’s the world of manga.”
He looked visibly disappointed when I denied it.
“…Anyway, there’s an interesting story that matches what we were talking about. Do you know Toru King, the magician who was making a fuss on TV about twenty years ago?”
“Why are you suddenly bringing that up? Of course, I know him. I loved him. I remember watching his live broadcast of the Great Escape Magic with my face glued to the screen!”
Iwaro spoke excitedly, flaring his nostrils.
At the time, he was a celebrity with a TV show that had a viewer rating of over 30%. He was famous enough to be called a “superstar.” He was memorable for wearing a mask over his eyes.
Especially popular with children, it was only natural that he knew about him.
“But what does that have to do with what we were talking about earlier… Wait, could it be?”
“Did you notice it from the flow of the conversation?”
The feigned expression on their face changed into a serious one.
“That guy is apparently from that village.”
“Wait, wait a minute. If that’s the case, then what Tooru King was doing wasn’t magic, but real psychic abilities! Is that what you’re saying?”
It’s his own prerogative to speak passionately with shining eyes and interpret things that way.
“Don’t be an idiot. Actually, there is no such thing as supernatural powers or the six Divine senses. It’s just a trick that has been passed down for generations to deceive believers. And they used that technique to become famous.”
In fact, suspicious religions use elements of psychology and magic to deceive their followers.
The reason why they know this is because they once infiltrated a cult to save the mother of a client who had fallen into a new religion.
After a while, I arrived at a village at the foot of the mountain.
I parked by the side of a poorly maintained one-lane road, turned off the engine, and stepped out of the car. Taking a deep breath, I looked around.
“Phew, it’s calming.”
In the natural mountainous area, a river flowed, and several houses were located along its path. The sound of the flowing water was soothing to the ears, and the scent of the vegetation tickled my nose, soothing my mind.
At first glance, it was a peaceful scenery, but on closer inspection, there were many vacant houses. More so than houses with traces of people living in them.
It must have flourished to some extent in the past. That’s why the vacant houses stood out.
“What a soothing view.” Iwaro said
He stretched my huge body, which had shrunk in the cramped car.
“Such a place would be suitable for murder cases or ghost stories.”
“Senior, please don’t say something unpleasant like that…”
Although I had just expressed my honest opinion, I was glared at by Iwaro.
“So, what are we going to do now?”
“The closest village to that village is here. I want to gather information, but it seems like it will be difficult to find the residents.”
I had observed while driving, but I hadn’t encountered anyone so far. Whether they were holed up in their homes or away from their farms or work, it was lonely without any signs of life.
“At convenience stores and supermarkets, for example, you can hear about it,” he said.
“Neither of them are here. There used to be a store here,” I said, pointing behind me with my thumb.
Iwaro was drawn to it and took a deep breath as he looked over.
“It’s completely closed,” he said.
I had checked earlier, and there was a former store with shutters down behind us. It’s not uncommon for depopulating villages like this.
“Maybe at the town hall or post office a little further away…oh, wait, I see a villager,” I said.
As I looked around, I saw someone working in a field along the river. He was in his forties or fifties, with white hair mixed in. He wore a towel around his neck and a tracksuit top and bottom. He was slender, but his well-proportioned physique showed that he was used to doing farm work.
“Iwaro, let’s talk to him,” I said.
“Same as always,” Iwaro replied.
Since he had helped me out many times before, it was easy not to give a detailed explanation.
I took out a notebook and pen from my suit’s breast pocket and walked towards the villager with a smile on my face.
“Hello there!” I said. “Oh, hello. You’re a new face around here,” the villager replied with a friendly smile. It seemed like he was an easy-going person.
“The thing is, I’m actually here for this kind of thing.”
I take out the business card that was tucked in my planner and hand it over.
“Um, you’re a reporter from a magazine company, right? It’s unusual to see someone like you in this remote area.”
I use my favorite dummy business card from among several others, including those from newspapers, TV stations, archaeologists, folklorists, etc.
“Yes, that’s right. Actually, I’m in charge of a special feature article called ‘Where Are They Now?’ about nostalgic celebrities. We received information that the family of a magician named Toru King, who was popular in the past, has a home near here.”
“Oh, I remember that name. I haven’t seen him on TV in a long time though…”
Wiping sweat from his forehead with a towel, he looks up at the sky and murmurs nostalgically.
“Do you know anything about Tooru King?”
“I don’t know about him, but like you said, he’s from a village near here… It takes more than thirty minutes by car, though. He’s from the Nanakagami family village.”
“Oh, I see! That’s great!”
He raises his voice happily and makes a gesture as if he’s writing something in his planner, although he’s not actually writing anything.
“But, there’s no one there now. About seven or eight years ago, the village was destroyed in a fire…”
He lowers his gaze and turns his body towards the direction of his right hand, clasping his hands together and praying.
That’s where the burned-down village was.
“I’ve heard about that. Could you tell me anything about the village, no matter how small?”
“Well, there’s not much to tell that would interest a reporter… Oh, that’s right. The people from that village had strange powers or so the old ladies used to say. They could predict the weather just by looking at the sky, they were faster than any wild animal in the mountains, they could read people’s minds. And something else… oh yes, they could see the future or something like that. Well, it’s hard to believe though.” The villager laughed as he said
“Hahaha. That’s an interesting story! Please tell us more.”
“The media would love this kind of thing,” I added.
Although I laughed and smiled politely, my back was covered in cold sweat.
“Oh, I have an idea. Why don’t you ask my grandfather? He was once the mayor, so he might know more about the subject,” said the villager.
It was an unexpected offer.
“In that case… can you go to the community center tomorrow morning? I’ll make sure my grandfather is there,” the villager added.