The Moonlit Corridor

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

Chapter 4 (v.1) - the tree

Submitted: August 21, 2019

Reads: 24

Comments: 1

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Submitted: August 21, 2019

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Time passed slowly…or quickly. Asako wasn’t quite certain. She had lost all perception of time. It seemed only yesterday that she became aware on the rocks and driftwood at the foot of the falls. But wasn’t it just yesterday that her aunt’s family came to her father’s house? It wasn’t, she knew, but it seemed as if. It was then she became painfully aware of her death. Time now had little significance; it really didn’t matter, but the fact her relatives were in the house mattered. Because they were, Asako chose to avoid the house, to stay in the forest near the twin-tree beneath which her parents were buried. Her bones lay beneath the rocks there as well, which may explain why she felt extremely cold when in close proximity of the tree.

The cold was the only physical sensation she experienced of late. It was overwhelming, not actually ‘physical’; she ‘felt’ the cold all the way through her, to the depths of her being. She didn’t feel hunger, thirst, fatigue, or other things common to the living. But when near the tree she felt a chilling cold that intensified, numbing her senses the closer she approached. Perhaps because her remains were buried there. Perhaps spirits could not come close to their own resting places, or perhaps because she should be elsewhere and not still here. ‘It was a shame’, she thought, if that were the case. She loved the tree, the large curved and twisted limbs, the shade it provided in summer and the shelter from spring showers. Growing up in the forest she often went to the tree, climbing high as she dared, playing hide and seek games with her parents. It was their special place her father said often after her mother died: “See how the two have become one,” he said. “From the time they were seedlings, each was the other’s first love. Growing together, their roots entwined, always embracing, always supporting and protecting one another, each cannot survive without it’s opposite.”

The tree was something she clung to dearly. It was a connection to her former life, and more important to her than the house in which she was born and raised. Asako felt close to home when within sight of the tree, and sat nearby often, playing sad songs with her flute. She avoided the house while her relatives were there. Her aunt sensed her presence, which was not as much a problem as one might imagine. Asako disliked troubling others and would never harm her kin. But she knew Ryoko sensed the intense anger and rage that she felt against the men who killed her father: the same men who attacked her and drove her to her death. Ryokoa was ferful of tht rage, a without quite understanding just precisely what it was. She only knew it felt like an evil, tangible presence.

Anger and rage are intense emotions; dangerous, ugly and malevolent. Emotions that even animals can sense. They originate in the darkest corner of the mind, and can easily reach an intensity that cannot be controlled. Combined with righteous indignation and a thirst for vengeance they are even more powerful, oppressive, and threatening, and like twin-edged swords are capable of cutting those who wield them as well as those to whom they are directed.

Although as yet not aware of many things, Asako knew that of the three men who killed her father, only one still lived. The others were slain by the samurai hired to bring them to justice. Somehow she knew the leader’s name: Miyamoto. She ‘knew’ these things, but not how or why. Her powers of perception were limited but steadily growing. She didn’t know where he was, but felt she would in time. She knew her despair, anger and grudge… her desire to avenge her father was over-powering and beginning to frighten her. It was beyond unpredictable, causing her to feel as if she could lose sanity.

There must be more, she imagined, to this after-life existence. In life, her purpose was to serve her father, which she did naturally and dutifully without question. But now she felt as if there was no purpose to her existence. Perhaps her desire to find and punish Miyamoto kept her from moving on to wherever it is that those who have died go. She had not met others like herself, and often wondered where the spirits of her parents might be. She recalled a tale once told by her mother. She was only seven at the time, but it left a profound and lasting impression. It was about an imagined place, the ‘Gate’, where the spirits of those who left this world would go. There must be more, she imagined, to this after-life existence. In life, her purpose was to serve her father, which she did naturally and dutifully without question. But now she felt as if there was no purpose to her existence. Perhaps her desire to find and punish Miyamoto kept her from moving on to wherever it is that those who have died go. She had not met others like herself, and often wondered where the spirits of her parents might be. She recalled a tale once told by her mother. She was only seven at the time, but it left a profound and lasting impression. It was about an imagined place, the ‘Gate’, where the spirits of those who left this world would go. The gatekeeper offered each soul that approached three choices to decide upon before they could move on. First, if they were a victim of murder, they could choose revenge, which placed them under the law of retribution, allowing others to revenge against them and damning their soul to a second and final death from which there was no return. The second choice was towait for a chance to be reborn, at which time they would lose all memory of their previous life. The third, forgive all grievances, after which the guardian allowed them to pass through the Gate and enter whatever place it was that existed beyond. Those who couldn’t choose remained in the shadows nearby, in a state of limbo until they could decide upon one of the three options.

‘Obviously’, she reasoned, ‘it was a fable’, since she had remained earthbound, and unaware of her own death until one year passed.

At times her mind drifted back to childhood, to those happy, bygone days before her mother’s illness and death. She never saw her father cry before that. Because he had to care for her he had the strength to go on in spite of having lost his first love. She recalled he once said that wise lovers, considering the future, prepared for parting. “Meeting,” he said, “was in fact the beginning of separation.” But even so it was difficult for her to accept her mother’s death. Everything he did afterward was for Asako. She knew that, even as a child, and often consoled him... “Don’t worry, Daddy,” she said. “Mummy is gone, but I’ll take care of you until she returns.”

She was only eight then, and although she felt as if she were mature, she had no concept of death. She honestly believed her mother would return. When young, thoughts like that brought comfort, but now only fueled her sorrow. Her mind was like a river of turbulent, rushing thoughts cascading toward a malignant whirlpool of malicious, spiteful feelings that intensified her anguish, bringing her to a point of soulful suffering where she almost lost herself. Her confusion at times consumed her. Her parents taught her to always forgive, and while she could forgive those responsible for her death, it was difficult to forgive the death of her father.

She thought about the flute at that moment. When she played, she had an image of her mother in her mind; a pleasant one of her seated before a mirror at the end of the day, preparing for her husband to return from working. As the only woodsman in Tsukimi, he supplied the blacksmith, the villager’s cooking stoves and logs for heat in the cold winter months. “Your father works so hard for us,” she recalled her mother saying. “We should always look our best for him.”

Asako always thought her mother looked her best…like ‘tenshi’ (an angel) she imagined. Now, having had enough reflection, she raised the flute to her lips and began to play her mother’s favorite love song, the melodious notes carrying her far away from the agony and sense of loss that steadily consumed her. As she played, a crystal tear formed in one eye and ran down her cheek.

Meanwhile, in the house, Ryoko suddenly awoke. She was quietly sitting atop their palette when Junichi stirred beside her. Opening his eyes he spoke calmly. “What is it?”

“That music again, coming from the woods,” she answered. “It was Aoi Chan’s favorite. Can’t you hear it?”

Rising to a seated position he sighed, then strained his ears. “Nothing,” he replied. “I hear nothing but the crickets and the wind in the trees.”

“And the jasmine?” she asked.

He had to admit he could smell jasmine… “But the garden is close to the house.”

“The jasmine isn’t in bloom, have you forgotten that?” she said. “And even if it was, inside the house, with windows and doors closed, there would be no odor. It’s only when I hear that flute. The more I hear that melody the stronger the smell. It’s overpowering; a pleasant aroma that intensifies, becoming so sickly sweet I can’t tolerate it.” She was silent a moment, then asked… “Is Asako chan trying to tell me something?”

Junichi lay back down, speechless, resting his head on the neck support as he stared blankly at the ceiling.

“Kyoko saw her yesterday…” Ryoko said with a hint of finality.

“Saw her?” Asked Junichi. “Saw who?”

Ryoko sighed. “Asako.”

Rising again he looked at his wife with concern. “Asako chan is gone,” he said. “You know that. You saw her body a year ago, just before cremation. And Kyoko is a child, with a child’s imagination. She loved her cousin and misses her. She doesn’t understand what death is.”

Ryoko’s response was silence. It was her way, he knew. She wasn’t one to speak without first thinking, refrained from argument and never wasted words. She was practical, but couldn’t dismiss the fact that she heard the flute. The melody was one she knew her sister-in-law favored, and she knew her niece loved the jasmine Toshima had planted. Finally she spoke; “Kyoko chan was playing in the garden last evening at dusk. She heard Asako’s flute and followed the sound to the edge of the trees. She said she saw her cousin there, wearing a blue dress. She was watching the house. Kyoko said she looked very sad.”

“A five year-old child’s imagination…” Junichi intoned. He disliked repeating himself, but knew Ryoko was adamant. He tried to reason with her; “Asako was cremated in traditional white, not blue. And the flute was buried with her ashes. Once having died there is no coming back. There is no more pain or torment; they sleep. Once dead no one returns.”

Even as he said those words something deep inside his heart told him he really had no way of knowing whether or not ghosts existed. Like most children he grew up hearing tales of spirits of lost loves or family members returning from the grave to comfort loved ones or complete unfinished business, and there were stories of vengeful ghosts seeking retribution. But he had never seen one…as far as he knew.

Ryoko remained silent. It was a heavy silence that hung over them like a funeral pall and made Junichi a bit more than uncomfortable. He wanted to speak, to break through that deafening quiet, but couldn’t utter a word. Many thoughts raced unbidden through his tired mind, one of which he almost voiced, but his wife spoke first.

“She wasn’t ready,” she said in a hushed whisper.

“Na-ni (What)?” he said.

“She wasn’t ready,” Ryoko repeated. “She left this world too soon…too quickly…violently. She’s left her shadow behind…”

Her somber words trailed off, sending a shudder up his spine, chilling him to the bone. Grasping at thin air, his mind sped to find the right words. He tried to prod her back from what he feared was more than just a dark mood. She appeared to be agonizing over these things, descending into the darkness of despair. “You’re speaking of memories,” Junichi offered, “like love. It lingers and endures long after a loved one has gone.”

Her response was silence, her face expressionless. After what to him seemed an eternity she spoke. “I honestly wish it were no more than that.” Following another brief, dismal pause she said; “It’s much more than that…” Her ominous, trembling voice trailed off once again, as if she were in deep thought. Her sentence incomplete, silence followed. They both lapsed into wordless reflection by then, but soon the heavy pall was broken.

 “I want to leave here tomorrow,” she said with determination.

They planned to stay longer, to prepare the house and property for buyers. But there was no arguing with Ryoko once her mind was set. She was stubborn, often to a fault, and for the sake of harmony he conceded. There were times, he told himself, when dealing with her moods that it was best to yield. “Try to rest,” he said. “We’ll leave in the morning.”

Ryoko quietly laid back. As her husband closed his eyes to sleep, that welcomed refuge now seemed to escape him as well. As he lay there beside her, his wife’s words kept resounding in his weary mind… “She’s left her shadow behind…”

 

 

 


© Copyright 2019 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.

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