In the fall of 1989, in the quiet Swedish town of Hälsingfors by the Tiveden forest, children began to disappear.
Within five weeks, eight children, three to six years old, went missing while playing outdoors at night. After futile investigations within the town, the police organized search parties into the forest. Clothing and toys were found among the underbrush, which were followed as far into the woods as the dense growth allowed. But none of the children was ever found, nor ever any evidence of violence or struggle.
As the weeks passed, the well-educated community began to recall, in private whispers lest they be ridiculed, the near-forgotten local folklore of the nattväsen, the night creatures of Tiveden, the mythical forest of the gods. Grandmothers in the old days would tell stories of the animal-entities of the forest to curb curious children from venturing close to the woods. These stories never described the creatures, but spoke of them emerging at nightfall, only appearing to children younger than seven in the form of imaginary friends, to play with them, then lead them back into their forest.
The eight children of 1989 were never found, but no more went missing as the community hastily tightened security. In a few years, the incident had all but faded from collective memory.
Twenty-eight years later, the Swedish psychedelic ambient electronic music duo Carbon Based Lifeforms, who had lost a playmate to the forest spirits as children, composed a new track for their European concert tour, called Nattväsen.
The lyrics contained an audio recording of the Hälsingfors Chief Inspector’s town hall report following a failed search party, and of an elderly lady in a local mental asylum who claimed to be the only child ever taken and returned by the night creatures.
The unfamiliar narrative in an otherwise instrumental music format drew scant attention among the concert crowds.
But one night, in a small EDM den in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn club district, a Japanese anthropology exchange student by the name of Eri Takaki, who had grown up next to the Aokigahara suicide forest (Vice documentary), found herself quite unable to ignore the lyrics. As the band kept playing, first disbelief, then years of near-extinguished trauma broke forth and rose steadily upward through her chest, until she had to scramble her way through the crowd to the parking lot to be able to breathe again.
A year later, during my third semester as a journalism major, Eri’s little blue notebook came into my hands in a backpackers’ hostel in Prague, the last place where she had been seen before going missing herself.
The following pages contain an account of my personal journey into this mystery, of how I flew too close to the sun in my three years of travel and investigation to unravel a global enigma, and came back from the edge of human reason and the natural laws that allegedly hold this world together.