The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 17 (v.1) - ghostly tears

Submitted: August 23, 2019

Reads: 19

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Submitted: August 23, 2019

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A battle-weary Sung Ji placed an unsteady hand on the huge iron knob that turned and released the latch securing the heavy cedar inner door of the Moon Temple. Ancient hinges creaked anew, loudly, as he gingerly pulled the intricately carved wooden structure outward. Stepping through the entrance and into the shelter of the dark corridor beyond, he breathed a sigh of exhaustion. Outside the wind gently stirred the slender, rain-soaked leaves of the bamboo, simultaneously shaking off beads of water and creating an intermittent rustling, as if nature was whispering in contrast to the solitary silence that reigned in the great hallway. Without warning, like the sudden slamming of a heavy door, the dormant darkness inside the corridor appeared to come alive as the air in the musty passageway instantly turned cold. He wasn’t certain if that was the first indication something was awry, or if it was the sudden physic impression that he was no longer alone. He sensed a presence in the blackness, moments before the moonlight lazily filtering through the rice paper of the windows that lined the outer wall illuminated an iridescent, swirling vapor a short distance from where he stood.  Oblivious to what was happening inside the dreary corridor, amidst the bamboo, the forlorn wind abruptly moaned, resounding like the mournful doomed cry of a lost soul.

An icy chill ran up his spine. “The specter in blue…” mused the samurai in a hushed whisper, as he recalled the words of the toll man at the haunted bridge; “All who saw her delicate, transparent form died within three days time…”

His left hand instinctively reached for his sword, before he recalled that it was still lying beside the palette where he had left it earlier before sleeping. It was just as well, he reasoned, since a sword would be useless against a phantom. He forgot his pain and weariness while he watched with tensed fascination as the gossamer mist, spiraling slowly, assumed the supple shape of a young maiden, whose spectral light illuminated the interior almost as brightly as day. He was transfixed by her beauty, and docile, innocent face; like an earthbound angel, he imagined. There was something else. The ghostly image stirred a painful remembrance deep within his subconscious. His thoughts drifted back in time, after his previous encounter with Miyamoto, who had escaped his sword in a sudden downpour almost three years ago. It was in Tsukimi; he had returned to the village that night in the pouring rain, bringing news of Toshima’s death. The following day he heard of the discovery of the woodsman’s daughter at the base of the cliff. Before cremation, he saw her angelic face and eyes of innocence that had barely begun to view the world into which she was born. Those deep blue eyes were perhaps her most outstanding feature. That, and her childlike, innocent face was something he promised himself he would never forget. He vowed then to find Miyamoto and either bring him to Justice or bring justice to him. Now as he gazed at her sad eyes and melancholy expression, he was overwhelmed by the heavy pall of tragedy that permeated the gloom of the hallway. As the sweet scent of jasmine slowly filled the air he noticed something different in the girl’s appearance; she was clothed in white… ‘not blue’, he thought. “Are you the same somber girl?” he wondered aloud. “The one on the bridge?”

Recalling the heartbreaking moment he viewed her body in Tsukimi, he was now certain of the specter’s identity; “Asako…” he whispered.

As if in reply, the subtle hint of a smile brightened her face. She slowly raised an arm, and with one petite finger moving as if in a dream she began to invisibly inscribe the Japanese character for ‘recognition’ in the air.

His attention was averted once more to her face as she lowered her gaze to his wounds, then to the locket he haphazardly held in his broken hand. In spite of the mist and distance between them, he perceived tears forming in her eyes. Although speechless, Sung Ji found himself wondering if a ghost could truly shed tears.

Her smile broadened and she nodded, as if having perceived his thoughts. An air of sublime Peace began to displace the oppressive sadness and despair he sensed just moments before. It was as if the untimely demise of Miyamoto brought closure for Asako. The samurai had no way of knowingshe found little solace in the outlaw’s death. Neither she nor Sung Ji sought revenge, but rather retribution and Justice in a world where there was very little of either.

In spite of facing the specter, the samurai remained calm, as if overcome by a quiet acceptance of the inevitable. Just minutes ago he expected to meet his fate at the hand of the treacherous Miyamoto. Now he reasoned, it was three days ago that he saw the girl on the bridge. If what the toll man said was fact, then perhaps Asako had come for him this night. Unable to move, he stood in silence, watching the girl as she closed her eyes, as if in contemplation.

The peace he felt in the air gradually embraced him, wrapping his tired, wounded body in a soothing invisible blanket, removing pain from battered muscles and wounds. The bones of his broken hand no longer ached. The stab wound in his right side was closing, the bleeding stopping there and atthe slashes on his forehead, legs and right arm. As he watched Asako, her eyes still closed and her sweet smile calming his restless spirit, he realized the comfort and healing was coming from her. At that moment, rather than bringing retribution to the deserving she was bringing healing to an injured warrior; an otherworldly, medicinal balm that restored him to the healthy physical condition he was in before the confrontation with Miyamoto.  Asako chan died before she could bring new life into the world but Heaven empowered her with the ability to heal the samurai’s wounds. He was revitalized, but still he carried a heavy spiritual burden; he still blamed himself for the deaths of Toshima and his daughter.

The moment that idea entered his mind, Asako was no longer in the center of the corridor, but quicker than the speed of thought was suddenly beside him. Startled, his back went rigid for an instant. Her face just inches from his, her head tilted back and her eyes looking up into his, she smiled as she reached out a hand to touch his face. As he looked into her blue eyes, the one distinguishing feature those who knew her in life marveled at, he was surprised he could feel her soft, gentle touch. At that moment she wasn’t transparent; a ghostly skill she somehow managed to learn, he imagined. He realized the touch of her hand was her way saying she didn’t blame him, had no regret and no animosity toward Miyamoto. She had forgiven him. The samurai somehow understood she wanted him to know these things, and that by forgiving others, and ourselves, we are truly forgiven. That single lesson left more of an impression on his heart than any other significant lesson he experienced. Once he was aware of that, Asako was suddenly standing a short distance away once more, in the place she first materialized.

Abruptly his attention was diverted to a spot behind Asako, closer to the end of the corridor. An intense, almost blinding white light slowly sprang from the darkness. Shielding his eyes with one hand Sung Ji could just make out the silhouettes of two figures within the brightness. As he watched, mesmerized, Asako chan turned to face the light. The atmosphere seemed electrified with elation as one of the figures stepped forward with raised and opened arms; a beautiful woman whose smile and facial features matched those of Asako. ‘The face of the woman in the locket,’ he thought. ‘Asako’s mother’. As the girl raced toward and embraced the woman, the second figure emerged from the light. Sung Ji recognized Toshima immediately. The parents had come, he reasoned, to lead their daughter to the place for which she was destined. A place of rest and sublime Peace she evidently dared not, or could not enter while even one of the murderers remained among the living.

Asako turned to face Sung Ji, a sparkle in her eyes in spite of the tears on her cheeks.  He was pleased and it warmed his soul to see her smiling. The girl’s mother turned her eyes toward him then and nodded her head in gratitude. Toshima bowed, as if in gratitude and appreciation for his efforts to set things right. After the samurai returned the bow, the trio turned toward the light and stepping into it disappeared along with that brilliance from beyond. As the light faded he was once again alone in the darkness of the corridor. The sweet scent of jasmine, like the warmth that followed Asako’s appearance, lingered in the air. “Asako; Heavenly Beauty Child,” thought Ahn Sung Ji aloud, “she was aptly named.”

He stood in the darkness for a few minutes, lost in thought and trying to make sense of the events of the past few days. Eventually he sighed, took a deep breath and turned toward the door. Before taking a step, he detected a furtive movement in the shadows to his left... “She was beautiful. ‘E-buu-ta’ your people say.”

“Kwai!” Exclaimed Sung Ji. “What brings you here?”

Kwai eyed him with an impatience expression… “That’s the second time you asked that question. Do you recall my reply?”

“You said you were temporary caretaker of this place.”

“Precisely. So why shouldn’t I be here? At any rate, I was compelled. Some sixth sense brought me here tonight.”

“I won’t ask what that means,” said Sung Ji. “Your explanation would no doubt confuse me more than that statement.”

Kwai smiled.

“You mentioned she was beautiful. You saw her?"

“Yes,” said the shaman. “Not just now, but long ago. The first night I visited the toll bridge.”

“You never told me…and you still lived after three days, unlike the others…”

“Back then I knew I could do nothing,” Kwai admitted. “And it was she who needed help, not Chiang Vu Tien. He has more wealth than any one man should have. But that girl, she was helpless, even though she was spirit. She was a novice ghost; a young tortured soul. I could do nothing for her. Until tonight, I had no idea she was the girl from Japan, whose death you blamed yourself for. You were the link…the key. Everything that has happened was necessary for her to be free.”

“Dae,” affirmed Sung Ji.

“Regarding the curse,” Kwai continued. “She killed no one. A guilty conscience needs no accuser. Those who perished after seeing her met their doom out of guilt, fear or karma. In each case it was a coincidence it occurred within three days of having seen the phantom.”

Kwai paused, as if contemplating something important, then asked…”Did you know the man who attacked you tonight?”

“Only by reputation,” replied the samurai. “I don’t know why he was here. I was tracking him three years ago in Japan. He and two of his men were responsible for the deaths of Asako and her father.”

 “I sense that he was incorrigible, and like a man who rides a tiger,” philosophized Kwai, “the life of evil he chose finally consumed him. Heaven allowed…Heaven ordained.” 

Sung Ji smiled. Kwai seemed to have a poetic phrase to fit every situation.

“For one who just fought a life and death battle,” said Kwai, “you have no wounds and show no sign of fatigue.”

 “Asako’s magic…” offered Sung Ji.

“I believe you’ve solved the riddle of the haunted bridge,” determined the shaman. “Now you should free yourself from your guilt. Obviously she doesn’t blame you.”

The samurai nodded, as Kwai moved toward him, his eyes on Asako’s locket.

“A gift?” he inquired.

“No,” he replied. “It belongs to the girl’s. I will return it.”

“Good,” said Kwai. “Visit her resting place. Return the locket to its owner, but your responsibility to her will not end there.”

“Dea,” Sung Ji responded. “I must never forget her.”

“Precisely,” confirmed Kwai.

Sung Ji nodded, then began to speak “I was wondering…”

“You wondered why I helped you and not any of the others hired by Chiang Tien.”

“Dea,” said the Korean.

“The moment I saw you I knew we were predestined, and my destiny to assist you. It was the only way I could help that unfortunate girl find peace. Once Heaven decides this or that, no one can change what is ordained. When mortals attempt to alter what is predestined they only hasten its fulfillment.”

The samurai was contemplative.

Sung Ji hesitated before speaking… “Then it’s over…”

“Over…?” repeated Kwai. “On the contrary, it is just beginning.”

He considered asking the shaman what he meant by that, but decided he really didn’t want to know. However, he did ask… “How is it that you know supernatural things?”

Kwai smiled before he replied; “How is it that you do not?”

 

Presently, in the Jade Teahouse, having carried the story to that point, the stranger in the shadows paused to drink from his cup, then finished the tale… “The task completed, Sung Ji collected his pay, bid farewell to Kwai, and returned to Japan.”

All was quiet, until Jubai worked up the nerve to ask… “Is that it? Is that how the story ends?”

A heavier silence settled over the room, giving Jubai pause to wonder if it would have been within his interest to remain silent. The stranger ignored the question, raised his cup and finished what remained of his tea. He stared at the empty cup after placing it on the table, then repeated Jubai’s words … “Is that how the story ends? There is no end.”

That being said, he lapsed into silence. The patrons of the Jade Teahouse, having hung onto every word of the ghostly tale, were as silent as the stranger had become. No one spoke as he remained seated quietly in the shadows. Momentarily rising from his chair, he stepped from the dark corner into the light, garnering an audible gasp from many of those assembled. Even the landlord was taken aback as Jubai looked at the dark-cloaked man, then this way and that at the startled faces in the room. The stranger approached the bar and stretched out his hand to drop coins into Toshiro’s palm. His hand trembled as he accepted the payment, then looking briefly at the coins he handed them back… “There is no charge for you, sir.”

The stranger accepted the money, bowed in gratitude, and turned to leave.  Not a word was said as he walked toward the door. Once he was gone, the landlord’s daughter Mariko, noticing Jubai’s puzzled expression, informed him… “That was the ‘Left Hand of God’. Ahn Sung Ji. The man whose story you began tonight.”

Jubai slowly nodded as the Jade Teahouse patrons broke their silence and began chattering nervously to one another. For them, the samurai’s tale explained why the otherworldly incidents in the forest had ceased. Now the inhabitants of Tsukimi and Jubai the Dreamer had a tale of wonder to talk about for many years to come.


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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