It's for You
Mark Lee Pearson

(First appeared in Twisted Tongue Issue 13)

"Hey! You there!"

When I heard the voice calling to me from the top of the hill, I was riding pillion on the back of Junji's bicycle. I didn't look up as we approached. I'd been in the village less than six months and he was just another one of the many men who called after me down the street. I'd gotten used to it.

As we passed the telephone box on the hill, I caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye. He was a tall dark faced man in military uniform, standing at the old telephone box, holding the door open with one hand and the receiver in the other, stretched out to us. I didn't look at him directly, but I wondered what a military man was doing this far out in the country, at a phone box which hasn't been used in years.

"Hey! You there!"

I looked back and saw the man had left the telephone box and was now running down the hill towards us. My heart jumped into my throat and I gripped Junji tighter. Junji turned his head back to see our pursuer.

"Oh my god!" he said. He began to pedal faster down the hill towards the bridge. His hair blew back in my face and I felt invincible to be riding pillion with the coolest guy in third grade. Pretty soon we left the man at the telephone box far behind.

Junji had eyes the shape of almonds and skin the shade of walnuts. If it wasn't for his spicy aftershave, I could imagine he smelled of pecan or pistachio. But I'd never met Junji when he wasn't wearing aftershave and he'd never met me without my make up on. This was our first date.

On the west side of the bridge we doubled back along the river towards Kuniyuki's Shaved Ice Stand. The late afternoon heat was cooking the tarmac and I remembered how we fried eggs on the rocks to eat with the salmon our teachers had caught in nets when we were in elementary third grade.

"Strawberry Shortcake!" I called out.

"Sweet beans and black honey!" Junji replied. We laughed. Kuniyuki's Shaved Ice Stand was in view now. Less than five minutes up the riverside and we'd be sipping our flavored ice together.

"Hey! You there!"

The voice came again from behind us. I turned to see the military man from the telephone box still running after us. He was certainly persistent. He'd made it to the bottom of the hill and was about to cross the bridge. His right hand stretched out to us and in it he was holding the telephone with the broken chord trailing behind him.

"Junji, that man is still following us!"

"What? You're kidding me."

"You'd better stop to see what he wants."

"No way!"

At that moment Junji's legs stepped up the pace and I understood why he'd been called Fly by the school baseball team. I held on tight to his waist, but it didn't stop me from feeling as if I was going to fall off the back of that bicycle any moment."

"Slow down, Junji!"

"No way, Rica. No way!"


"Shut up or you'll get us killed!"

Maybe I'd led a sheltered life up to that moment in time. Living in a village with less than five hundred inhabitants, all of which are either rice farmers, their imported Filipino wives, or their mixed race offspring—me included—I wasn't used to hearing anything worse than shut up or I'll belt you. I'd never heard anyone talk about killing like that in my life. I'd never heard the sort of fear I'd heard in Junji's voice, ever. Needless to say, I shut up.

Junji pedaled madly towards Kuniyuki's Shaved Ice Stall. We were on a slight incline and Junji had lifted his behind off the saddle to pedal harder. The bicycle was swaying from side to side, which made hanging on to him difficult. I held onto the rack and stretched my legs away from the whizzing gear cogs.

I stole a quick glance behind. The telephone box man was gaining ground and was now less than thirty meters behind us. The sun was almost hidden by the mountains now, so I couldn't really make out more than his shadowy outline, but as he closed on us the strangest thing was that he appeared to be dressed not in the modern Japanese Self Defense Force Uniform, but the old Imperial Uniform.

The observation chilled me to the bone. It brought back moments from my childhood in the Philippines; the pictures in history textbooks that I'd rather not have seen. In my disturbance I dropped my pouch out of my bag and I watched it hit the tarmac and scatter my make up across the road and down the hill behind us.

"Junji! Stop!"

"No way!"

"My make up! My compact…I dropped."

"Are you trying to get us killed?"

"Junji! You're frightening me! Stop! I want to get off, now!"

Junji didn't stop. He accelerated faster up the hill and the sign at Kuniyuki's Ice Stall came into view. I looked back; the telephone man was still gaining. He was now less than twenty meters behind us.

Then he stopped, suddenly. He bent double, still holding the receiver, but with his free hand on his knee looking at the ground, exhausted.

The bicycle skidded to a halt at Kuniyuki's Shaved Ice Stall. Junji and I looked down the hill to see the tired old soldier bent double, worn out from running.

"Ha! We beat him! Let's get that shaved ice," said Junji. We dismounted, and headed into the stall. I took one last look back down the road, but the man had already disappeared into the evening.

Junji ordered red beans and black honey with his shaved ice, I went for condensed milk. He sat across from me, sipping it from a long silver spoon and playing with his beautiful fringe.

"You've never heard of the Telephone Man? How long have you lived 'round here?"

"Not so long."

"Isn't your dad the Oshiya Landowner?"

"He's not my dad."

"But she's your mum, right? The Filipino lady."


"Oh. Right."

"Tell me about the Telephone Man," I said.

Junji's almond shaped eyes widened and he drew his face closer to mine. "He was a war veteran that couldn't go home."

"You mean he couldn't find his way?"

"No! He was forbidden."

"If he fought for his country, why on earth could he not go home? Oshiya’s father has a letter from the emperor, medals—"

"Don't look so surprised. You must know it was quite common. In 1945, when the Imperial Soldiers returned from the war in Asia they discovered they were sought by the allied forces. General MacArthur wanted to put them on trial for war crimes committed on the continent. There was the possibility that they would be executed. So many soldiers who made it back to Japan were stuck in a kind of limbo, with nowhere to go. The Telephone Man is one of those."

"But the war was over more than sixty years ago. That man looked—"


"Are you telling me--?"

Junji turned to look at his reflection in the glass window. "He died not long after he made it back here to Yamagata."

"Then he's a—"

Junji looked me square in the eye and said, "Yes. He's a ghost."

All that was left of my shaved ice was a pool of water mixed with condensed milk. Junji hadn't touched his either. Kuniyuki came across to wipe the table.

"Hey Junji, you lose the game?"

"What? We never lose!"

"You look so serious, what's up?"

"We saw the Telephone Man."

Kuniyuki's eye widened. "What happened?"

"He chased us from the old booth on the hill across the river."

"You had a lucky escape. You know what he does if he gets hold of you?"

I looked up at Kuniyuki. "No what?"
Kuniyuki knelt on the tatami, placed his dishcloth on the table and took a sip from Junji's water.

"Let me tell you what happened to me, almost three years ago to this day, on a night in August very similar to this. And it is because of this story that I never go near the telephone on the hill.

"I was out walking John, here."

I looked down and noticed for the first time a tiny Shiba Dog sat by Kuniyuki's side.

"John and I were walking south along the river and old Saito-san from the cherry orchards was jogging North. We met at the foot of the hill, where that old telephone box is. We stopped to chat. Saito-san was out of breath and glad of the rest. He told me he was trying to lose weight. His wife had put him on a fitness drive. Suddenly there was a voice out of the darkness and a stranger was walking down the hill from the telephone box. He shouted out to us.

"Hey! You there!"

At that moment, John scuttled off into the bushes after a hare and I went after him, leaving Saito-san to deal with the stranger. I chased John into the undergrowth and retrieved him at the riverside. There was no sign of the hare. I picked John up in my arms and pushed my way back through the nettles when something made me stop. Back on the road was an unusual light surrounding Saito-san and the stranger. I crept forward and through the low branches saw the stranger was dressed in military uniform. He was speaking in an archaic accent and holding something out to Saito-san.

"A telephone?" I said.

Kuniyuki nodded, gravely.

Junji shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

"What happened next?" I said.

"The stranger handed Saito-san his phone and said 'It's for you'."
I thought something extremely odd about Saito-san receiving a call at night from a stranger dressed as a soldier. I felt the simultaneous urge to stop him and to keep quiet.

"What did you do?"

"Of course, I kept quiet and I'm grateful I did. For when Saito-san took that receiver to answer it, the voice on the line came across loud enough for the entire universe to hear."

"What did it say?"

"I cannot put it into words, but I can assure you it was the words of the reaper. Death was on the line."

At this juncture, I half expected them both to start laughing and call me the fool for believing the story, but Junji stood up and squared to Kuniyuki. "Man, that's enough. Don't scare her like that."

I looked at Junji. "You knew about this?"

"Yeah. I thought they were just stories. I never thought—" The words he wanted to say hung in the air between us.

When we left, Kuniyuki and John came out to see us off. "Take care," he said.

"Don't worry," said Junji. "I won't be crossing that river again for a long time." He mounted the saddle and I hopped on the back and we set off down the hill. I looked back and Kuniyuki smiled. I waved back at him.

We freewheeled down the hill, with a light wind cooling us. The sun had completely gone now and the only light came from the stars in the sky and the streetlamps.

"It's time I was getting home Junji," I said.

"Sure," said Junji. "Hey, let's go out again sometime."
I held him tight around the waist and remembered how he tried to protect me from the truth in Kuniyuki's. "Sure," I said.

Suddenly, Junji jammed on his brakes. The bike came to a halt. "Hey, Rica. Wasn't it around here that you dropped your pouch?"

"We'll never find it in the dark."

"Look! There's your lipstick!" he said. We jumped off the bicycle and started picking up my things off the side of the road.

"Look!" said Junji, pointing into the grass verge. "What's that?"

A strange light was reflecting from the long grass.

"There it is!" he called out, his hand diving into the long grass. Something weird was happening. I could have sworn the compact had dropped on the tarmac, but here was Junji retrieving it from the grass.

"I don't like this, Junji," I said. "Leave it. Let's go."

"Got it!" He held the compact up in his hand and opened it to look in the mirror.

A sudden silence gripped the world around us. I watched from an ever increasing distance as a hand, clutching a telephone receiver reached out from the tiny mirror and called to Junji in a spine chilling Deathlike voice.

"It's for you!"