The Moonlit Corridor

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 15 (v.1) - Intervention

Submitted: August 23, 2019

Reads: 28

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Submitted: August 23, 2019

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The sun was setting as Miyamoto brought the horse on which he was riding to a stop at the front gate of the Moon Temple. Sung Ji had left long before the outlaw, who had directions from a shopkeeper in the city, managed to fumble his way there. Lacking formal education he was unable to memorize information adequately. Of course, he had taken several kicks to the head in the last forty-eight hours and was sleep deprived due to nightmares brought on by a guilty conscience. Either circumstance would have idled the mind of even the most educated of men. Be that as it may, the root cause of all his misfortunes was Miyamoto himself, who was an expert at blaming others for his grief, which explains clearly why he lived a lifetime of regret. If not others, he blamed his troubles on bad luck or Heaven itself, rather than accept the fact they were simply the consequences of his own actions. Considering all that happened in the last three days, any sensible man would have changed his wicked ways at best, or at he the very least leave the region altogether. But Miyamoto was not a sensible man. His main intention at the moment was the elimination of Ahn Sung Ji.

Presently, as Miyamoto approached the Torii (archway), beneath which all who entered the temple grounds must pass, he recalled what he had been taught when young. Those who passed under the torii were to leave the cares and woes of the secular world behind as they entered a place designed for spiritual development. The very act of doing so was symbolic of one seeking a spiritual cleansing. Unfortunately the concept was lost on Miyamoto, who had no intention of making changes in either attitude or behavior.

The gate beyond the Torii was secured, although simple enough to break through. Miyamoto decided to leave it untouched rather than leave a sign that might alert the samurai. His plan was to first get a layout of the main Temple, buildings and grounds, then to lie in wait for the Korean, hopefully catching him alone and unaware. He feared Sung Ji, but sensed something foreboding in Kwai, who had an aura that intimidated him. Thus he hoped to avoid any direct confrontation with the diminutive shaman.

 

Judging from tracks on the earth between the Torii and the gate, Miyamoto reasoned that one horseman had been there earlier; “The Left Hand of God’,” he sneered, “most likely riding that horse I lost at the bridge…”

Inside the walls, the disappointed assassin found few places to hide. There were some trees, a small grove of mature bamboo, the graveyard and smaller buildings. The area around the main building was too open. The graveyard seemed to be the best place to hide, but when he thought about it he realized it was actually the last place he wanted to be after dark. And yet, the idea of the samurai dying in a place of death caused the outlaw to chuckle. After much consideration he decided to choose a hiding place among the large rocks and trees outside the protective walls of the Moon Temple. He was certain he could find an adequate position from which he could view the front gate.

It would be dark soon and his latest stolen horse needed water. The well would provide that, and the fruit and nuts Miyamoto spied at the foot of the altar inside the main hall of the Temple would fill his own belly. He had no qualms about taking food meant for the ghosts of ancestors. As far as he was concerned, like many others of his kind, nothing was sacred.

Some distance away, at Kwai’s retreat, Sung Ji lowered his chopsticks in surrender.

Kwai smiled contentedly; ‘Did you like that?’ he teased.

“Dae (Yes),” said the samurai, smiling in turn.

“For one who claimed he wasn’t hungry you ate a lot,” said Kwai.

“I was just being polite. I didn’t want to insult the cook by eating only a little. Now,” Sung Ji said as he placed a hand on his stomach, “Na nin paebul liyo’ (I am full).”

They both laughed, then Kwai spoke seriously… “It’s not necessary for you to return to the Moon Temple tonight. Rest here. In the morning we can go together. That section of the portico that needs repair requires wooden planks that would be best carried on the wagon rather than be set on a pallet and dragged behind the blacksmith’s horse.”

“True,” said Sung Ji, “but there are things that could be done tonight. I can load the wagon before I leave and unload it when you arrive at the Moon Temple in the morning.”

“Your kindness is outweighed by your stubbornness,” said Kwai. “Very well. I won’t waste time bantering with a hard head. To be honest, I like your company. Isolation has its merits, but with it comes negative things, like loneliness.”

The samurai understood quite well. His path was similar to Kwai’s, and was one which he chose in spite of the side effects. He thought he knew what to expect and only afterward did he realize how much he didn’t know, and like so many others in the stream of ‘life’, he was carried along by the currents in spite of his initial plans. Destiny and Fate had intervened, and were things over which, for the most part, one had little or no control.

Later, after preparing the wagon and bidding Kwai a good evening he mounted his borrowed horse and set out for the Moon Temple. It was a nice night for a ride, with pleasant weather, but after traveling only two kilometers the horse arbitrarily stopped moving. Try as he may, he couldn’t urge the animal to take another step. Obviously agitated and frightened, the horse balked when prodded, neighing and snorting argumentatively. Sung Ji dismounted, and while stroking the horse in an attempt to calm him, turned to look in the direction of the trees at which the animal was staring apprehensively. The night wind stirred the leaves audibly, the sound reminding the samurai of sea waves gently meeting the sands of the beach. Momentarily the chirping of the crickets ceased, replaced by the subtle lilting sound of a flute, seemingly emanating from a distance. As he detected the smell of jasmine in the air, the flute gradually increased in volume, as if it were near, yet appeared to come from no one place in particular.

Sung Ji turned his attention once more to the trees. He squinted and strained his eyes to see more clearly and for just a moment imagined he saw a blue mist in the brush, within which was what appeared to be the shape of a woman. She was standing still in the shadows, just watching. The samurai blinked a couple of times, rubbed his eyes and then looked again. The girl was gone, without making a sound, and only the trees remained, save for an occasional firefly or two. The aroma of jasmine dissipated with the wind, whose whisper replaced the fading notes of the flute

“I’m certain I saw someone, or something…” he said to the horse. “You did too, didn’t you?”

Sung Ji sighed. A few moments passed, then he spoke again to the horse… “I must be tired, talking to you when you can’t possibly talk back. Anyway, since you refuse to go any further, perhaps the best thing to do is return to Kwai’s place. We can go to the Moon Temple in the light of day when there are no shadows to alarm you.” 

Having made that decision, the samurai climbed back onto the saddle and proceeded in the opposite direction, away from the secluded Temple. The horse offered no resistance, trotting along happily, as if it knew it was returning to the shaman’s home.

Meanwhile, in the large rocks adjacent to the Temple of the Moon, Miyamoto, having found a sufficient position from which he could view the main gate, was awaking from an uneasy sleep. Stirred by some intense sense of dread, he opened his bleary eyes only to discover the face of the phantom less than an inch from his nose, her red eyes burning into his. Then she spoke; “What is it?” she asked. “You look as though you’re staring at a dead girl.”

Before he could utter a sound her right hand sped forward astonishingly fast and gripped his throat.

Gasping a frightened scream, he suddenly sat bolt upright. It took a moment to realize he had been dreaming again. Shivering as if his spine was struck by an electric jolt, he first shook his sleepy head and then rose up to stretch his limbs. As he did so his ears picked up a rustling sound in the nearby bushes; ‘That wasn’t just the wind,’ he warned himself. Straining his eyes to see as he raised the sword he had been holding in his right hand defensively, he crept toward the brush from where the sound emanated. He was close just before abruptly jumping back in fright as a night owl sprang from the foliage in frenzied flight. Muttering curses, Miyamoto lowered the weapon and turned to go back to his resting spot. As he did he noticed a gently swirling, crimson vapor at his feet. Detecting movement he raised his doubtful eyes from the ground and was thoroughly shocked to find the specter standing, or floating, directly in front of him, her blood red eyes glaring maliciously.

Once again, he was paralyzed, unable to cry out or flee, and could only observe in terror as the red mist-shrouded phantom raised one slender arm. Her crimson eyes glowed and an evil grin appeared on her face as she displayed her tiny hand, the little finger raised. Miyamoto trembled internally as he watched the nail of that finger grow in length to more than seven inches, the grim sight reminding him of another recent nightmare. With a malevolent gleam in her eyes the specter stretched her hand outward and placed the tip of the elongated nail on the left side of the outlaw’s neck. Slowly dragging the nail across his throat, just above the point from which her locket hung, her evil grin morphed into a mischievous smile as the invisible path she inscribed on his skin slowly became an almost imperceptible thin red line, just before blood began to seep and then spray forth like a fine mist. He somehow managed to activate paralyzed vocal chords, issuing a guttural, frightened scream as the ghostly maiden grasped the hair on either side of his head and violently twisted…

Once more the sound of his own voice awakened him. Drenched in sweat, he scrambled to his feet, and placed both hands on his neck. It was wet, but not with blood… only the cold sweat that accompanied extreme fright. He was still trembling, and although preoccupied by troubled thoughts imagined for a moment he smelled the sickly sweet smell of jasmine.

“A dream within a dream…” he muttered to himself. “Am I cursed?” he screamed aloud, eyes raised and staring skyward. The only reply was the relentless sound of the wind in the trees. Standing there dejected and exhausted, the weary outlaw knew he would get little or no rest this night. Indeed, he feared sleep: it was no longer a refuge, because of the nightmares he knew awaited him there. Now he wished for time to pass quickly, for the samurai to appear so that he could stealthily slay him and be on his way, far away from this cursed place.

‘Time passes all too slowly’, he pondered, ‘in this cruel reality’. Ill resigned to his present Fate, he began to impatiently pace back and forth, sword in hand. ‘Perhaps’, he told himself, ‘if I pace long enough I can fall into a deep sleep where nightmares can’t touch me’. “I’ll sleep with one eye open,” he swore to the darkness around him, “then I dare those dreams to come…”


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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