Taketoki Washizu had been Captain of the freighter Tsukimi for almost a year. It had been a year to the day when the Tsukimi’s former master Noriyasu Odagura had perished at sea, swept from the desk of this very ship during a storm. The official board of inquiry determined his death to be a tragic accident, yet every last member of the crew suspected murder.
By rights, the Tsukimi should have been Washizu’s in the first place, or so said his wife Asaji. Ever ambitious for her husband, she kept harping on Taketoki how he had been cheated, that Nippon Supply, the company that owned the Tsukimi, should have promoted Taketoki instead of Noriyasu. She was almost fanatical that Noriyasu had used his family connections and influence with Nippon’s upper management to unjustly gain command of the freighter.
For the longest time, Taketoki didn’t want to believe it. He and Noriyasu had been friends since childhood and he was happy to be Noriyasu’s First Mate.
But Asaji kept after him, hounding him, saying she had a cousin in the CEO’s office, how she’d seen memos about Noriyasu and Taketoki, that even though Taketoki had more experience, Noriyasu was favored.
It hurt him to think that his friend of so many years had gone behind his back to betray him. It hurt him that his wife constantly nagged him, that his salary wasn’t high enough, that he deserved the prestige of being Captain and she deserved her due as a Captain’s wife.
Taketoki started the rumors slowly and quietly aboard ship. He didn’t want to seem obvious, but over a period of months, he managed to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of most of the Tsukimi’s company, that Odagura was not fit to be Captain. The crew obeyed his orders, but the spirit of loyalty had been lost thanks to Taketoki, thanks to Asaji’s manipulation of her husband and the lies she told him.
The typhoon had changed course suddenly, sweeping toward the Tsukimi which was 200 miles northeast of Taiwan in the East China Sea. The waters were rough but Captain Odagura thought the Tsukimi could weather the storm. He was right, but he was also wrong about his own survival.
Taketoki lured him on deck under a pretense, something wrong with one of the cargo hatches. The men had been deployed elsewhere on the ship by the First Mate. There would be no witnesses.
A driving rain beat on both men, but a sudden flash of lightning revealed an expression of cruel hatred on Taketoki’s face to Noriyasu just as the First Mate shoved the Captain onto and then over the railing. Noriyasu Odagura was lost to the waves and the darkness a full fifteen minutes before Taketoki called “man overboard.”
Noriyasu’s body was never recovered.
The crew suspected. Of course they suspected, but perhaps the Captain deserved his fate, having cheated the First Mate out of his rightful due.
Washizu was quickly promoted to Captain and justice was served. That is what Taketoki thought, but in fact, he had committed a great injustice, one that would not be left unavenged.
It was one year to the day that Noriyasu Odagura had been lost. Now the freighter that was once his sailed 200 miles southeast of Hong Kong toward Manila. Captain Washizu was walking the corridors near the crew quarters. It was his habit to tour the Tsukimi prior to retiring for the evening. An unusual sound was loudly blaring from one of the cabins.
It was music in English. What the Americans called “rock and roll”.
“She was a day tripper
One way ticket, yeah
It took me so long to find out
And I found out
Ah, ah, ah, ah…”
Washizu threw the hatch open to find six young men smoking and huddled around a small record player.
“What is that shit?”
One of the men, presumably the record’s owner, quickly stopped the turntable and all six stood up.
“It’s…uh…the Beatles, Captain.”
Seeing how frightened they were, Taketoki let his anger bleed away. “Well, turn it down. Some of your mates are trying to sleep.”
“Yes sir. Yes sir.”
They all bowed incessantly and the Captain issued a single stately bow in return, and then closed the hatch after him when he left.
“Kids,” he muttered, half smiling, remembering his own youthful interests.
He finally reached his cabin and opened the hatch. It had been a long day. They’d reach Manila by midday tomorrow to deliver their cargo of cereal and soy flour. The Captain quickly undressed and collapsed on his bunk. It had been Noriyasu’s bunk once. It had been Noriyasu’s cabin. It bothered him at first, taking over his friend’s place, even after being convinced of his betrayal, and especially after what Taketoki had done.
Those feelings had faded many months ago, but on this night, this fateful night one year ago…
The cabin was dark but a faint light woke Taketoki. It was dim and indistinct at first. The room grew cold, unnaturally cold. Had something happened to the power?
Washizu was instantly awake and sitting up at the sound of his name.
“Who’s there? Where are you?”
The cabin hatch was locked. No one could have gotten inside. He should be totally alone.
“You’ve forgotten me, and after all we once meant to each other.”
Even though the words sounded as if they had come from the far side of a long tunnel, Taketoki recognized the voice.
“Noriyasu? Noriyasu, is that you? It’s impossible. You’re…”
“Dead. Yes I am dead, old friend. You should know. You murdered me.”
It was Noriyasu, but a horrible and twisted apparition of him.
It was Noriyasu, but his clothes were white rags, his once impeccably cropped black hair now long and disheveled. His hands dangled limply from his wrists. The Yūrei extended one bony arm toward Taketoki.
“I am Onryō and Funayūrei thanks to you, a vengeful spirit bound to the sea.”
Noriyasu’s pale skin took on a slight greenish tinge with the hint of scales.
“I can’t rest until the wrong done to me is made right. I know you turned against me, you turned the crew away from me. Now you all live under a curse, and you will die under it.”
The spirit approached Taketoki. He could feel the dampness in the air, see seaweed writhing like serpents within his rags, smell rotting flesh like spoiled fish left in the sun. The seaweed turned to maggots, they crawled out of the Yūrei’s ears, eyes, and mouth, vomiting all over Taketoki.
“No! Mercy, no!”
Taketoki woke up in a cold sweat screaming. He was alone. His cabin was dark. It was a dream. There was no Yūrei, just a guilt induced nightmare.
Then there was a violent lurch. “The ship. We’ve hit something.”
Minutes later, the hastily dressed Captain was on deck. His First Mate Yoshiteru Miki reported to him.
“The reef wasn’t on any of the charts, Captain. The hull is buckling. We can’t get to the lifeboats.”
“Captain, we’re receiving an answer to our distress call.” The new radio man, Toshiro, was listening. “An American Navy ship.” He listened again. “The USS Oriskany, an aircraft carrier. They’re answering our distress call.”
“An American warship. Vietnam,” the Captain thought. The aggression of Japan’s ally worked in their favor for once. Then a new sound. Washizu looked skyward. “Helicopters.”
On Wednesday, September 7, 1966, forty-four men, the Captain, officers, and crew of the freighter Tsukimi were rescued by US Navy helicopters as rough seas, an aftermath of Typhoon Olivia, broke up their vessel on an uncharted reef some 200 miles southeast of Hong Kong.
Captain Washizu looked down at the sinking wreckage as the helicopter rose into the early morning sky. Noriyasu had gotten his revenge. Now they were both denied the Tsukimi. At least no one had died. Not this time. Not like last year.
He was told that the Oriskany would rendezvous with a British frigate three days hence, and from there, they would be returned to Japan. The ship was a total loss but it would probably be classified as misadventure by the insurance company. Surely, he would get a new freighter in good order.
A day later aboard the USS Oriskany, emergency Klaxons sounded awaking the frightened complement of the late Tsukimi. Washizu opened the hatch to the cabin he was sharing with three of his officers. The rest of the crew had quarters on this deck.
The noise was deafening. The smoke made it impossible to see. His eyes were burning. It was an inferno. He couldn’t see a way out for his men up or down the corridor.
“You cannot escape your fate, Taketoki.”
Out of the smoke and flames the Yūrei formed.
“Noriyasu.” A coughing fit made it difficult for Taketoki to speak. When he recovered, “Noriyasu, spare the men. Take me if you need vengeance, but only I am guilty.”
“No, Taketoki. You are all guilty of betrayal and disloyalty. The crew suspected, they could have gone to the board of inquiry, told them what they knew. You are all guilty men and now, you are all like me…dead.”
Forty-four men died in the next fifteen minutes aboard the USS aircraft carrier. Of the officers and crew of the Oriskany, not one sailor was lost, but every single man who had served under Captain Taketoki Washizu, and the Captain himself, perished.
The widow Asaji Washizu received a pension and died alone and in obscurity, her ambitions for her husband and herself dying with her.
Today, just for the heck of it, I looked up the year 1966 on Wikipedia. Since it’s September, I decided to drill down into this month for 1966 and found the following:
A Japanese freighter, the August Moon broke apart after striking a reef about 200 miles southeast of Hong Kong, after encountering heavy seas caused by Typhoon Elsie. However, all 44 crewmen were saved by helicopters dispatched from the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany, and taken to safety to the British frigate HMS Loch Fada. Ironically, 44 crewmen of the Oriskany would be killed the following month in an onboard fire.
This actually implies that although the 44 crewmen of the August Moon survived after being rescued by the Oriskany and then transferred to the Loch Fada, 44 US Sailors died in a fire on board the aircraft carrier a month later.
However, I thought this would make a great ghost story if I tweaked just a few details.
First of all, I needed to look up the fire aboard the Oriskany. I’ve already posted links in the body of the story about the Japanese concept of a ghost or Yūrei including its sub-forms.
I renamed the freighter “August Moon” as Tsukimi which means “moon viewing” and refers to Japanese festivals held in the Fall.
Oh, since this happened in 1966, I threw in references to the Beatles and the Vietnam war.
I thought something like Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” might serve as a suitable motive based on its themes of ambition, betrayal, and murder. Fortunately for me, Director Akira Kurosawa created his own version of “MacBeth” in his 1957 film Throne of Blood which I first saw in a foreign film class decades ago. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see I took a few of my character names from that film.
I hope you enjoyed my ghost story. I’ve had a good time writing it.
2 thoughts on “Yūrei”
Great story telling, I liked what you did here.
Thanks, Michael. I was going for a classic ghost story with a Shakespearean twist (Japanese version).