On a dark country road

This is a story my grandfather told me.
I’ll do my best to remember and write it down.

His name was Shinji, so I call him Shinjii. One day Shinjii told me a strange story.
Before he died several years ago, this was the only time he ever told me such a story.

When Shinjii was around six or seven years old, he had a two year older brother who died from sickness. At the time, his brother was so sick and didn’t have much time left, so my great grandfather, Shinjii’s father, said that he should spend his remaining time at home and cared for him there.
Until he got too sick, Shinjii played with his older brother in his room until, as his brother was getting close to passing, his father asked him to stop.

Then one night his brother died.
It was summer, and of course they had no air conditioning. Not wanting to damage the body, his father decided to take him to the nearest place to do the funeral rites.
Shinjii’s house was way out in the countryside, a place where there weren’t even any roads a car could pass through. So their father decided to piggy back him there, and because there was no light on the road Shinjii held a torch and they went together.

While shining the torch in front of them Shinjii walked alongside his father carrying his brother’s body.
On a quiet country road during the middle of the night they didn’t see any people, all they could hear were the sounds of bugs crying and their own feet.
The pair walked in silence. My grandfather said his father’s face looked extremely tired.

After they walked for a while they saw the figure of a person in front of them. It seemed like the person was walking in the same direction as them, but was moving slowly.
Without really thinking about it they were just going to catch up to this figure normally, but as Shinjii casually cast his torch over the person’s back his breath caught in his throat.
He’d seen that outfit somewhere before.
He quickly remembered where.
It was the same outfit that his brother was wearing on their father’s back right now.

His father noticed at the same time and whispered to him sharply “Shinji, don’t shine that!”
He quickly lowered the torch and shone it on their own feet.

Because the figure was walking slower than them, slowly the distance between them began to close.
Shinjii started to get scared and wanted to stop walking but whenever he did, the figure in front of them stopped walking too, he realised.
His father had probably realised the same thing.

Slowly they got closer to the figure. The person was just as tall as his brother.
Before long he saw the figure’s feet. He was bare foot.
Even though the road wasn’t paved there were no marks or injuries on his feet.
They got even closer.
He could see shorts. He knew those pants. They were green shorts. They had cuffs.
He also saw the shirt. It was a blue and white striped shirt. It was his brother’s favourite shirt.
He saw the back of his head…
At that moment his father grabbed and shoulder and said “Don’t look! Shinji! Don’t look!”
Shinjii was slightly curious about “that” but cast his eyes down.
His father was muttering something.
He couldn’t hear very well, but it sounded like a prayer.

They finally closed the distance, and Shinjii and his father walked side by side with “that.”
His father was praying by his side.
Shinjii kept repeating to himself not to look, but as soon as they stood side by side he realised that “that” was looking at him.
He said that the power behind his gaze felt amazingly strong.
Finally the two of them passed “that.”
But, Shinjii said, that was when it really got scary.
When they passed it, that is to say, “that” was now behind them, it happened.
They couldn’t hear footsteps but it was definitely behind them.
It was there right behind them.
He could feel it looking right at them.

My great grandfather said “Don’t look back, Shinji. Whatever you do, don’t look back.”
Shinjii couldn’t even look at his father beside him, let alone look back. The reason for that was what his father was carrying on his back.

The two of them kept on walking down that country road with something following behind them. He just looked straight ahead and prayed they’d reach a place full of people soon.
He didn’t know when the figure behind them might call out his name, or suddenly jump on him, so with his heart racing he kept on walking.

But in the end the figure didn’t call out his name or rush to attack him. The two of them arrived safely at their destination, delivered his brother’s body to the morgue, and returned home.

Shinjii said there was nothing on the road on their way home. When I asked if “that” was really his brother he acted like he didn’t know.
He only said this.
“Ever since then, I can’t get rid of the feeling that something’s following me.”
Shinjii said when that happens, he makes sure not to look back.