The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn -- Chapters Three and Four

The excerpted chapters three and four of the The Ghost in the Tokaido Inn can be used to entice students into reading the book, or for post reading activities.
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Chapter 4: The Hour of the Rat

Seikei hurried back to the room where his father was sleeping. He took off his kimono and lay down on the other mat.
But he didn't fall asleep. The inn was still noisy. Only rice-paper screens separated one room from another, and Seikei could hear Lord Hakuseki's men talking loudly in other rooms along the corridor. They were drinking rice wine, and showed no concern for the slumbers of other guests.
Seikei heard his father snoring. All the noise did not disturb his sleep. Seikei knew that tomorrow would bring another long, uncomfortable trip in the kago. He sighed, and tried to shut the sound out of his ears.
Then loud shouts made him sit up and listen. He could hear very clearly, though the voice was farther down the hallway. It was Lord Hakuseki himself. He was scolding one of the inn's servants for not bringing the wine quickly enough. The sound of a blow was followed by a muffled cry. Then heavy footsteps and a loud thud. The servant had been thrown out on the wooden floor of the hallway. Much laughter followed from the other samurai.
Truly, as the girl Michiko had said, this daimyo did not have a noble spirit. I would not be that way if I were a samurai, Seikei thought. He reminded himself of the three qualities of a samurai—loyalty, right conduct, and bravery. Right conduct meant setting an example for others to follow. Lord Hakuseki, powerful though he was, did not know the difference between right and wrong.
The noise of the partying continued for some time. Gradually, it began to die down. Seikei heard the slow footsteps of a samurai going down the hall to the privy in the courtyard, and then returning. Finally, the inn became quiet.
Seikei tossed and turned, unable to get comfortable. He regretted telling the girl he liked ghost stories. Now he could not get the image of the jikininki out of his mind. The dim light from the corridor shone through the rice-paper walls of the room. The walls were decorated with a pattern of whorls and curlicues. Every time Seikei looked in their direction, he seemed to see large eyes staring at him.
Far off, a temple bell rang once, a hollow sound that meant the first hour after midnight had begun—the Hour of the Rat. Seikei closed his eyes, but he could hear the sounds of heavy breathing all around him. He knew it was only the occupants of the rooms on either side. But it sounded like a gang of jikininkis waiting to gobble him up as soon as he fell asleep.
Then his body tensed. He heard another sound. Something was sliding across the floor outside the doorway. Seikei's eyes popped open, and he saw the bamboo-screen door begin to slide open, very, very, slowly.
Seikei felt his hair stand on end. As he watched in horror, the door opened wide. Something was standing behind it—something larger than a man. The light in the hallway was too dim for Seikei to see anything more than a shadow. But he could see that it had a huge head, with horns sticking out of it.
Seikei sat up as quickly as if he had been a marionette on strings. He waved his arms wildly, and tried to say, "I'm not dead!" But his throat was paralyzed with fear, and only a squeak came out.
The shadow turned in his direction. Seikei saw its eyes flash in the light from the hallway. The creature's white face looked down on Seikei. It stared at him for a second and then raised one arm. Seikei saw a small object in its hand, red and glowing like a fiery eye. The ghostly form waved the red object toward him. To Seikei, it seemed like the spirit was trying to cast a spell on him.
The shadow moved backward, and the door slid closed again. Seikei felt as if he were made of stone. He could not move a muscle, but his heart was pounding so fast that he thought his chest would break open.
His ears were so keen now that he thought he could hear insects crawling in the corners of the room. As he listened, he heard a door sliding back. The ghost must be going into another room.
What should I do? Seikei asked himself. He must get up and raise an alarm. It would be his fault if the monster devoured some other sleeping person. Perhaps even the girl, Michiko. He clenched his fists, and thought of the first quality of a samurai—bravery. He must do it.
He forced himself to stand, but his legs were shaking and weak. Ignore weakness, he told himself. Move forward without thinking. He took a step toward the door. When he reached it, he had to remind himself again not to think of danger. Death had no meaning to the samurai, he told himself, for that is the fate of all and it does not matter if it comes today or tomorrow.
He slid the door open, and looked out in the corridor. At the far end, where the darkness was deepest, he saw the shadow moving. Seikei found again that fear silenced his voice. He was angry at himself, and stamped his foot.
As soon as he did this, the shadow began to sink into the floor. Seikei could hardly believe what he saw. Bit by bit, it shrank from sight until only its great horned head was visible. Then that disappeared as well. Nothing remained.
Seikei looked around. The corridor was empty and silent. All the doors were tightly closed. He walked to the place where the shadow had disappeared. There was a door beyond it, but he was sure it had not opened. Checking, he slid it aside and looked out. The rain had stopped and the moon shone brightly over the courtyard beyond. Nothing was there. Seikei went back to his own room and shut the door. He was calmer now, proud of himself for having been brave enough to follow the ghost. Perhaps when he stamped his foot, he had frightened it away.
He lay down on his mat again. The inn was peaceful. Once more he heard the sounds of snoring people. But they did not seem so fearful now. Something told him that the danger was gone. But what had it been? Why did it come to his door?
All night, he asked himself those questions. Finally, when the first twittering sparrows outside signaled the dawn, he fell asleep. But he did not rest for long.

Text copyright © 1999 by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Published by Philomel Books, a division of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers
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