Chapter 3: visitors

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

Reads: 52
Comments: 1

Her last thought when she had laid down, ‘there will still be time to prepare dinner’, returned as she opened her eyes, stirred from a deep sleep by the sound of voices outside the walls of her tiny room. One, soft-spoken, she immediately recognized as her Aunt Ryoko. There was a man’s voice as well, gentle and calm, and the sound of children. Rising quickly, she hurried to the bedroom window. The sunlight filtered in through the clean white rice paper of the shutter frame, accompanied by the sounds of her relatives talking.

“Has it been a year…?” she heard her aunt say. It was more a statement than a question, as if she were thinking aloud.

“It has,” her uncle, Junichi replied.

“The house looks the same,” Ryoko reminisced. “As if someone were taking care of it. There are no leaves on the porch or steps…everything is just as we left it.”

“Perhaps someone from the village,” said Junichi, “a kindness from someone who remembered your sister-in-law.”

“Not likely,” Ryoko reasoned. “Always keeping to herself, she didn’t mix well with the townspeople. She preferred the privacy of life in the forest.”

“It is beautiful here,” Junichi declared. “And the village…Tsukimi. It means ‘Moon Viewing’ doesn’t it?”

“The village? Yes, it does,” she replied. “There are times of the year when the full moon is grand…gigantic, appearing larger than anywhere else within a hundred miles of this mountain. It draws many visitors, especially at ‘Matsuri’ (Festival). The best view is from this mountain.”

While they talked, she had been unsuccessfully trying to open the window. She wanted to see and speak to them but could not undo the latch. Neither clasp would release, regardless of her effort, as if she lacked the necessary strength. ‘Perhaps because I’ve just awakened’, she thought. But that was rather odd, and had never happened before. She wanted to tell them that it was she who kept the house tidy and clean, inside and out. It was her responsibility since her mother passed away.

It seemed as if something was trying to prevent her from speaking to them…as if the time wasn’t right. Turning from the window, she hurried through the house to the front room. Just before she reached the alcove entryway the door abruptly opened, giving her reason to pause. It was Ryoko, hesitating a moment, standing still and silent on the porch. Her eyes forward, she seemed to be staring right through her niece. Momentarily she stepped inside. Standing just beyond the archway her sad eyes scanned the room. Oddly enough she gave no greeting, completely ignoring her brother’s distraught daughter.

“Auntie!” Exclaimed the confused girl.

Nothing… Ryoko placed her bags on the floor without a word before turning to leave. On the porch she sat to put on her sandals, then stood up, calling to her husband as she brushed dust from her clothing. “Gather the children,” she said. “Before we unpack we should go to the tree.”

She followed her aunt outside and a moment later saw her uncle coming from the garden on the east side of the house, her niece and nephew in tow, with Calla flowers in their little hands.

Forgetting her shoes once again, she hurried after her aunt, then paused to call out… “Auntie! Uncle!” She spoke loudly this time, but was ignored. None of them looked her direction. A cold breeze sprung up suddenly, causing her aunt to shudder.

“We should hurry,” said Ryoko. “It’s getting colder. Outside of the obvious natural beauty I honestly have no idea why my brother chose to live on this isolated mountain.”

The girl remained standing quietly where she had stopped, perplexed, watching her kin trek toward the deep woods. ‘Curious,’ she pondered. ‘They simply ignored me…rudely acting as though I wasn’t here. Is Auntie upset with me for some reason?’ The thought puzzled her more than all the odd sensations she experienced since becoming aware of herself standing on the driftwood earlier this morning…or was it yesterday?

Abruptly finding herself dormant and lost in thought she snapped out of it and reanimated, chasing after Ryoko and her little family. She followed them along what her father called their secret path: a path through the dense forest that led to a small clearing and the large tree beneath which he had proposed to her mother. The ancient tree, hundreds of years old, was actually two trees that had grown together, intertwined as one. It was immense, and no one really knew how long it had been in the forest. For her it was special for many reasons; it was beneath that twin-tree that her parents shared their first embrace, where their wedding was held, their vows made, and where her mother was buried.

Presently, as she followed Ryoko, getting ever closer to that great tree, she began to feel an intense sensation of cold; a supreme cold that chilled her to her marrow. The closer she approached, the colder and more uncomfortable she became. It was the first real physical discomfort she had realized for…how long was it? She couldn’t recall. There was something else. Not a physical sensation, but an extremely uncomfortable uneasiness of the mind and spirit. Within seconds she was overwhelmed and gripped by a mixture of intense, unsettling feelings of sorrow and gloom. It was almost suffocating. Unaware of her surroundings, she suddenly realized she was within sight of the tree. The coldness had intensified almost beyond her ability to withstand it. She paused then, watching as her relatives began kneeling and bowing, three times in succession.

She remained motionless where she was, that short distance away, observing  as her cousins placed the flowers at her mother’s grave. ‘They’re paying their respects to mother’, she thought. Her aunt was crying, her uncle standing beside her, holding the children’s hands. “She was so young…” sobbed her aunt, her voice trailing off.

Her husband, Junichi, nodded his head. “She was your sister-in-law…” he began.

 “No,” his wife interrupted. “I can accept her death, even though she was young with a new family. She passed away naturally, because of illness. It was Heaven’s design.”

Seeing her aunt react in sorrow touched her heart and brought tears to her eyes. In spite of the cold she found herself stepping forward, approaching as Ryoko wept, and stopping just behind reached out a hand to comfort her.  As she placed her hand gently on her aunt’s trembling shoulder Ryoko spoke. “Not Aoi,” she said tearfully. “It’s Asako I’m thinking of. My sister-in-law died young but lived a good life. She found and wed her first love and gave birth to a sweet little girl; a beautiful, blue-eyed girl. Toshima said her eyes were the color of Heaven, so she must be ‘Tenshi’ (an angel). She came into this world like May sunshine, spreading warmth and love. Her life was just beginning when she lost her mother, and then to die in such a tragic way. Fleeing from those criminals…falling from the mountain.”

As her hand passed through her aunt’s shoulder, and upon hearing her name, ‘Asako’, spoken, an explosion of memories suddenly and violently assailed her confused and shocked mind. Like gale-driven storm waves fiercely crashing against the shoreline, pictures, images and emotions flooded her consciousness unabated. She saw herself back at the house at the close of a long day, preparing dinner for her widowed father. Three men forced their way inside. She struggled with a dark-bearded beast of a man. The others laughed as she kicked and fought…her dress was torn, she used her nails, scrapping them across his eyes while his arms were busy crushing her ribs and squeezing the breath from her. She escaped his grip then as he tore a locket from around her neck. The others tried to grab her and furniture crashed to the floor in the melee but somehow she made it to the door, bursting free and running headlong into the sheltering darkness. Through that blackness, running in terror with the three outlaws close behind she remembered reaching the cliff edge, choosing to jump rather than let them have her…hoping to land in the pool below and screaming in terror as she fell. That soul-piercing scream was audible to her even now. Lost amid her frightened thoughts and the helplessness, confusion and terror she had felt at that moment…She found herself screaming once again, not just in terror or sudden shock and awareness, but in rage…in supreme anger and malice; a malevolent hatred for those killers. At that moment she somehow knew they killed her father before finding the house…and her.

Now she knew her father’s bones were here, buried beneath the rocks and ground alongside the ashes of her mother and herself. And at last she knew her name; Asako. Her mother named her; “It means Heavenly Beauty Child,” her father had told her.

As Asako’s transparent hand passed through her aunt’s shoulder, Ryoko shuddered anew, gasping when hearing the girl’s terrified scream; not with her ears, but with her soul. At that moment Junichi placed an arm around her in comfort. “What was that?’” she queried. “That scream…?”

Junichi looked puzzled… “What scream?”

“That mournful wail,” she replied, a hint of urgency in her voice.

“I heard nothing, other than the sound of the wind and the birds in the trees,” he said. “You’re upset. It’s just your imagination.”

Ryoko trembled. “Let’s go to the house,” she stammered. “I want to lie down.”

Turning to leave, they were still unaware of Asako’s presence. Ryoko took a couple of steps, passing trough her niece as if she were made of non-substantial mist. The frightened, forlorn girl turned about abruptly, staring wide-eyed at her aunt’s back, and like a doomed lost soul watched as if from a distance as the tiny group returned along the narrow path through the trees. As she watched she became aware of the wind. Not just blowing, furling her dress or wafting her hair, but blowing through her, and at that moment all the curious and puzzling things she experienced lately suddenly made sense. It seemed as if she found herself standing at the foot of the falls just this morning, but it had been one year since she died.

‘She died’... Those words reverberated through her weary consciousness, resounding like echoes in an underground cavern. That’s what her aunt and uncle were speaking about back at the house. They had come to remember her and her father on the anniversary of their deaths. She suddenly felt completely and dismally alone, as if abandoned by Heaven.  The reality of it all left her bewildered, but there was one steady thought that remained; it was today, one year ago; the thought began to drift aimlessly in her mind sea of confusion; today was her memorial day. 

Submitted: August 22, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


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Some excellent descriptions of the realizations both on the girl's and the aunt's parts.

Wed, September 4th, 2019 8:09pm

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