Bonus CURSED OBJECTS Material: The Red Room

We removed this cursed object from Cursed Objects (outnow!) primarily for space reasons, but also for tone. It’s a vicious story, more true crime than paranormal, and that true crime involves minors. The creepy-casual vibe of the book really screeched to a halt at this entry. That said, it’s an effective story, and one I liked because it was part of one of my themes that cursed objects didn’t have to be physical anymore. Not in the Digital Age. An object made of code is as cursable as an object made of wood. More interesting, it made the every-second-of-our-lives act of being on a computer…terrifying.

Pop-up ads on our device screens already feel like the effects of a horrible curse. These unwanted modals slow down our phones and computers and block the information we’re looking for with information we could care less about. Often they are advertisements, and they have been the bane of the online experience for a very long time.

But what if a pop-up itself could be a cursed object? The Japanese think that it can. They have an urban legend about one. It’s called the Red Room. And it’s an urban legend with a disturbing real-life twist.

Now, this Red Room is not to be confused with another type of internet urban legend also known as the Red Room. That type of Red Room is a live streaming site that broadcasts a person being tortured. We’re on the edges of the Dark Web here with this topic, people. Fly casual.

The Japanese Red Room—the digital cursed object—appears when you’re looking for it or for some other type of forbidden content or if you have merely spent too much time online. At some point, a red pop-up opens on your screen. It either shows the red-filtered image of a door or it spells out a question in black text on a red background: “Do you like the Red Room?” Per ADA compliance, a child voiceovers the question at the same time. You can’t close the window. No ad blocker can stop it. The Red Room just stays on the screen, forcing you to watch to its terrifying conclusion. Even unplugging the computer doesn’t alleviate the curse. That just turns off your computer. You might as well keep watching the red window.

The pop-up becomes a website, red with black text that matches the pop-up. That text is a long list of names. Scrolling to the end of the list, you’ll find your name on it. By the next morning you’ll be dead, your blood painting the walls of your room. That’s the real meaning of “Red Room.” Cause of death in these cases is often deemed a suicide. Unlike most cursed objects, which you can destroy or give away or treat to some kind of cleansing ritual, there’s no way to avoid the curse being carried out once that red pop-up window appears on your screen.

In the lore, the victims of this curse are anonymous, shoving the story firmly into urban legend territory. Until the Sasebo Slashing.

On June 1, 2004, in the city of Sasebo in the Nagasaki Prefecture of Japan, an eleven-year-old-girl murdered her twelve-year-old classmate in an empty classroom during lunchtime at Okubo Elementary School. She sliced the girl’s throat and arms with a utility knife, and then showed up for her next class covered in blood.

The victim’s name was Satomi Mitarai. The killer’s name was withheld by the police per Japanese law. The internet nicknamed the child killer Nevada-tan because of a photo found of her online showing her wearing a University of Nevada, Reno, sweatshirt. Nevada-tan admitted to the murder and said that it was because of a fight she had with the girl online. The disturbed child was committed to a facility for four years.

However, the story goes that during the investigation, one of two things happened involving the Red Room. Either Nevada-tan mentioned her infatuation with the Red Room or authorities found a link on her computer to it.

Now, this Red Room wasn’t the pop-up or the website itself. It was a creepy eight-minute Adobe Flash animation that told the story of a boy who stumbled across the Red Room on his computer at home after discussing it with a classmate. The boy frantically tries to exit it, cutting off the question before it finishes, but fails to do so. The boy sees his name on the list, and he’s found dead the next day. The animation ends with a clever set of error messages and a Red Room pop-up that looks like it’s on the user’s screen and not part of the animation.

Some believe that the animation is the original source of the legend, but its creator is unknown. It was hosted anonymously on a Geocities site. The Red Room is still downloadable today if you dig around enough in Places You Should Not Be and have a Flash player installed. There’s also a version on YouTube.

Strangely, this isn’t the only schoolgirl killing in Sasebo. On July 4, 2014, a fifteen-year-old girl invited a classmate named Aiwa Matsuo to her apartment. The girl, whose name was also withheld, beat Matsuo with a blunt instrument and then strangled her, afterward cutting off one of her hands and decapitating her in an attempt to “dissect” her. She then brazenly posted photos of the crime to a Japanese message board called 2channel (the same message board that a decade earlier turned Nevada-tan into a meme). After the crime, her father apologized to the parents of the victim and killed himself. No link to the Red Room is mentioned in the case, other than the strange similarities of both crimes.

If a vase made of metal or a chair of wood can be cursed, it seems reasonable that a set of programming code can be, too. Even more so, as we already know that nefarious programmers can create code to do a wide range of malicious things to a person’s computer and life, even without being cursed.

Worse, while you can avoid most cursed objects—they’re in museums or lost to history or in far-away locations— it’s impossible to avoid the Internet.

Want to read more bonus material from Cursed Objects? Try Cursed Words. Or go right to the source and buy Cursed Objects: Strange But True Stories of the World’s Most Infamous Items on Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.