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The ruins of Hara Castle are little more than empty fields now, overgrown tracts of land dotted with the occasional broken section of a stone wall or crumbled tower. In an area of the Nagasaki countryside in which every piece of extra space is used for farming, even the acres surrounding the castle are avoided. This ground is too soaked with blood and history to produce anything living.

Many people stay away. Humans are a superstitious lot. Hara Castle is, supposedly, one of the most haunted places in Japan.

An estimated 37,000 people were slaughtered at Hara Castle, many of them newly converted Christians, a product of Nagasaki’s interaction with Europe. Ronin, women, old farmers, children - nobody received preferential treatment. The Shimabara Rebellion, as it was called, was led by one Amakusa Shiro and in its initial days was seen as an uprising against unfair taxation. Soon, a theological element took hold, and the Christian Amakusa and his supporters saw the revolt as means of religious liberation.

Thousands sought refuge in the castle. Shut inside of it for three months, they endured pitiful conditions while shogunate soldiers hacked away at their numbers and Dutch cannons bombarded the ramparts. Despite a handful of scattered small victories, nearly all of them were to die within the walls of the castle.

Imagine them with me: sandals leaving spectral imprints in the soft Kyushu mud, wandering the countryside for an eternity, they have only one question on their minds: why didn’t God deliver? Despite their ghostly state, local stories frequently feature them armed with swords or pitchforks, unable even in death to lay down their weapons. These are souls who are waiting for the next wave of a battle that will never be revived.

Smoking a cigarette with a shop owner across the street from the entrance, I am told, “Don’t go there.”

“Why?” I ask, anticipating a story.

“The ghosts are real.”

In detail I am told a story of a traveler who moves with both the speed of a snail and the swiftness of a bird; he is dressed in the rags of a peasant and slumps forward as he trudges, the bearer of some invisible burden. “He’s carrying something?” I ask. The reply is simple and offered without the slightest bit of irony: Death is heavy. The shop owner relates an instance in which he passes this man (the same man, I am assured) multiple times on his way home, each time overtaking him on the highway at intervals of several miles. “You were driving in a car,” I challenge. “It was dark. People walk these roads constantly. It could have been more than one man.”

He doesn't even reply. He sort of snorts, accidentally blowing smoke through his nostrils, and then half-grins through yellow teeth. Shaking his head, he goes back inside his shop, shutting the door behind him.

For The Night's Plutonian Shore: The 2007 Halloween Horrorquest.

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