This story isn’t supernatural but it’s 100% true and probably the closest I’ve (knowingly) come to being in serious trouble.

After I graduated college I decided that the only thing for me to do would be to go to Japan and teach English. I would be a foreign woman living alone, but Japan has a reputation for being super safe, and indeed the first year or so I lived there all the normal precautions I was trained to take in the States just melted away. Little by little I started walking home at night alone, started taking shortcuts through dark, deserted streets, started wearing my headphones all the time and not paying attention to my surroundings because no one was really taking much notice of me anyway, except the occasional stare that comes from being a white woman in a suburb that had maybe ten Westerners in it altogether.

One warm summer night I decided that a walk to get some groceries would be nice. And not to my local grocery store, but the one that was three miles away via a backroads shortcut. Because exercise.

As I was walking back, laden with groceries, relaxed, headphones in, podcast on, I was noticing the sort of greenish cast of the streetlights against a wall I was walking next to. The lights were at my back, so my shadow was projected in front of me. Now I don’t know if this is something other people do, but in the States whenever I saw my shadow in front of me on the street at night I would always try to pay attention to whether there was another human-shaped shadow behind it, because that would mean someone was following me, maybe ready to attack.

Right then I was doing it mostly idly, though, because this was a sleepy residential neighborhood, absolutely no one out and about, so I felt paradoxically kind of safe.

And then I fucking saw it.

Another shadow behind mine, coming up fast.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” A young man sort of chirped at me in Japanese, practically skipping up beside me, eager, insistent, acting nothing like any other of the hundreds if not thousands of polite, reserved, even shy Japanese people I had interacted with up until then.

“Hey!” he said in Japanese. “Let’s play! Play with me!”

I had never gotten so much as a catcall in Japan, let alone a request for company from a strange man who had found and followed me in the dark. Panic flooded me as I realized this guy was maybe a little off, a little unpredictable. I had no idea what he would do.

Since it was late at night and the only available light was behind him I could not see his face. I could only tell that his hair was white, or maybe very pale blond, which is uncommon even in major cities in Japan. It had taken on a sort of washed-out greenish tint in the glow of the streetlights, and only added to the eeriness of his demeanor.

By now I was shaking, walking as fast as I could. My mind had gone blank. I couldn’t remember any of my Japanese, I couldn’t remember even what I was supposed to do, physically, to ward off any kind of attack. I didn’t think I could overpower him. I almost certainly couldn’t outrun him.

But then, like some sort of B movie, a Japanese lesson I had literally had just days ago about how to tell someone to leave you alone flashed through my mind.

“PLEASE GO AWAY” I said in Japanese, as firmly as I could with my voice quivering as much as it was. He said something I didn’t catch. I repeated “PLEASE GO AWAY, PLEASE GO AWAY” like some sort of reverse bloody Mary.

He stopped.

I walked on a bit then looked over my shoulder. He was still standing there, watching me. I kept going. I looked back again a few moments later just as I turned a corner.

And he was gone.

When I got back home two things occurred to me that I had not noticed or remembered in my panic. The first was a fairly recent murder of a UK-born English teacher in Chiba prefecture, just a two hour train ride from where I lived. She had been murdered by her student and her body disposed of in concrete in a bathtub on his balcony. As of that night, the murderer was still at large and it was believed he had somehow changed his appearance to elude authorities.

The second thing that occurred to me was that I had misremembered the Japanese lesson. I had switched around two sounds in the key word “go away”. What I was actually firmly telling my pursuer was “PLEASE GIVE ME A TOILET.” Anyway, it worked. I never saw him again.