Chapter 7: wizard

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

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

Reads: 56
Comments: 1

“You seek to unravel the mystery of the haunted toll bridge.”

The matter-of-fact-statement statement caught Sung Ji by surprise. He had just met the Chinese mystic and had only given his name when introducing himself. He said nothing more, yet Kwai somehow knew why he had come.

“How did you know that?” asked the Korean.

Kwai, who had been watching the steam languidly rise from his teacup slowly raised his head and eyed Sung Ji intently. After a brief pause he asked… “What? Is it a secret? If you don’t want others to know these things then don’t take ocean voyages and don’t go on ghost hunts. Just stay home.”

Once again the samurai was surprised by Kwai’s unexpected response, especially since he had revealed nothing about his journey, from where he had come or why.

“I just wondered,” Sung Ji began, “how you knew…”

Before he could finish speaking, Kwai interrupted; “Is this an interview?” he asked sarcastically. “Have you come to seek my help or pry into my affairs? Perhaps you simply want to become an apprentice?”

“I hoped you could help,” replied Ahn, as he lowered his eyes, bowing his head respectfully. He wasn’t certain, but imagined just for an instant he saw Kwai smile. ‘Perhaps’, reasoned Sung Ji, ‘he’s playing some kind of magician’s mind game’.  The shaman reminded him of his first Martial Art Teacher. He too, often spoke in riddles.

Momentarily Kwai drank from his cup and after savoring the taste, returned to the matter of the haunting…  “The body, bound by natural laws, expires, but the soul certainly endures. Evil in life, evil in death,” he added, “but this one, although she has a huge grievance, is not evil. There are those who, after death, find they’ve left too much unresolved and cannot move on.”

Sung Ji wondered aloud… “Then where are they if no longer here?”

“They?” said Kwai, “Presently, allow me to focus on this one single spirit.”

The samurai bowed his head submissively.

Kwai cleared his throat, paused a moment to empathize his indignation and then continued… “She dwells in an empty space between this world and the next. The distance between the spirit world and this one is non-existent, yet very great. She is lost, perhaps afraid. She is lonely, sad, confused, angry and spiteful…but she is not evil. It isn’t her nature, but perhaps in her confusion she is close to despair, close to stepping outside the boundaries of reason or sanity. At the moment she can do little more than drift in this world, but her spiritual powers will develop in time. When, I can’t be certain. But this I do know; a vengeful, ireful or insane spirit is one to be feared. That type of ghost is unpredictable, lethal and dangerous. She isn’t like that, at least not presently.”

Sung Ji listened in silence while scanning the room as he sat on the floor at the polished, cherry wood table, a steaming cup of ginseng and herbal tea in front of him. The room resembled those of most Chinese physicians or herbalists; it was quaint, and decorated with charts depicting the nervous system, muscular system and human skeletal structure. Acupuncture needles and glass bulbs were on a shelf to his left. Wooden cabinets with multiple small drawers lined the walls, filled no doubt with various herbs, healing plants and other medicines. Kwai appeared to be a sensible, educated man, but not an ordinary one. There was rather something extraordinary about him, something Sung Ji sensed but could not explain.

“I can’t concede to superstition,” said the samurai. “Ghosts and spirits…do such things exist? To my knowledge I’ve never seen a ghost or demon.”

Kwai stoked his long, thin white beard, as if in silent contemplation before he spoke; “And how would you know that? Do you think they wear banners or signs? One cannot see the wind, yet it moves the limbs and stirs the leaves of the trees. We feel it, hear it, though it is invisible, and can see its effects. We can’t see the air, yet breathe it unceasingly, for without it we can’t exist. We can’t see the Creator, yet we see the result of His handiwork all around us.”

“Rumor has it,’ said the Sung Ji, “that this specter is responsible for many deaths. Travelers are afraid to use Chiang’s toll bridge after dusk, as they say she haunts that place.”

“She is connected to that bridge”, said Kwai. “How or why I don’t know. She seems attracted to it by a powerful, overwhelming anxiety. Her sorrow is intense and I feel she is seeking retribution…or deliverance. Wherever it is she dwells, she has no conception of ‘time’; she simply sleeps. If she reveals herself it is because ‘awareness’ awakens her. An awareness of something amiss; a disturbance in the balance or harmony of this temporal plane. Regarding those who perished after having seen her, look closelyinto it. None were killed directly by that phantom. They brought about their own destruction through guilt or fear. It was due to a guilty conscience or karma. It was their Fate, earned by their evil deeds and actions. Each soul is rewarded or punished according to their merits. Heaven repays good with  good and evil with evil. It is the unwritten law of karma. Having lived in this world until now, doing what you do, I am amazed you didn’t know that.”

“I knew it,” declared Sung Ji, “but like many others I need to be reminded from time to time.”

 Kwai smiled knowingly, paused for a sip of tea, and then continued. Sung Ji patiently listened to every detail of the wizard’s discourse. He spoke as plainly about mystical things as ordinary people would speak of the weather. But Kwai was not ordinary. Something about the diminutive healer told the samurai he was sincere and his judgment could be trusted. Although they just met, he felt as if he had known him a lifetime. There was something otherworldly about him, and he had an aura that could not be seen, but sensed.

Sung Ji’s introspection did not go unnoticed; “You seem to be a thinking man.” Said Kwai. “Above all else, what do you seek?”

“Clarity,” replied the Korean.

“That requires a refining of the senses,” said Kwai. “As for me, I’ve learned to sense the turning of the earth, the gathering of clouds, the rise and fall of the waves, the coming and going of the tides and the breeze when it is no more than a whisper.” Noting Sung Ji’s reaction, the wizard smiled. “That is what others will say if asked about old Kwai. While I possess skills ordinary men and women do not, I am no magician. What talents I have I use to help others. Because I’ve decided to help you now there is something of importance I’m compelled to say. Your karma is somehow connected to that of this troubled sprite. How or why I can’t say. Perhaps it was Heaven’s plan that you two should meet, but evil intervened. What I can say for certain is that you are the solution to her problem, and the door to freedom that you seek can only be opened by her.”

Sung Ji was confused. He wondered how his Destiny could be connected to a lost soul in China. Was the doorway Kwai spoke of a passageway to the afterlife, where once a mortal entered they would be free of the cares and woes of this world? If that were so, if his end came because of this lost spirit, then so be it. He had no fear of death; it was the price one paid for having lived and as a warrior was something he accepted long ago. But spirits…that was the ‘Unknown’, of which most mortals had a healthy fear. Momentarily lost in reflection, he unconsciously gave voice to his thoughts; “…spirits…the supernatural…” his words trailed off just before he became aware of Kwai staring at him inquisitively.

“This thing called Fate,” said Sung Ji, “there are times when I wonder if it indeed exists. If there truly is such a thing.”

“Times you say,” echoed Kwai. “What times?”

“Moments of weariness…or weakness. Moments of doubt, I suppose.”

“That’s natural,” Kwai assured. “There are times when I wonder, because of my distinctive talents, whether I’m blessed by Heaven, or cursed. Wondering is a waste of time and energy. As for Fate; those things which may or may not be preordained…by employing wisdom, self-restraint and proper action, an individual may change the outcome of what has been set into motion, and alter or direct their Destiny.”

The samurai carefully reflected on the shaman’s words. Kwai studied him a moment, then continued. “You carry a heavy burden. Though you may hide it well from others you cannot hide it from yourself, nor from me. Your expertise is the sword and combat, but one cannot solve spiritual matters with weapons of war. There is however, a man whose path you will cross… your martial skills will be required and tested at that time. Before your task is completed you will learn to embrace the ‘stillness of the storm’. Only then will your Fate be revealed. Be content for now to know that your destiny and hers are intertwined.”

Many in the Jade Teahouse gasped when the stranger said those words. The town of Tsukimi was like most others populated by superstitious individuals who blamed every calamity on bad luck or the actions of others, as if they themselves had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Suddenly a woman stammered… “I recall that samurai, Ahn Sung Ji. He was here not long ago…two or three years past it was.”

“I’ve already said that,” voiced an impatient man in the crowded room. “He was chasing those three criminals; Miyamoto and his cohorts.”

“There were strange happenings after that,” said another. “The woodsman and his daughter…”

“The sakura (cherry) blossoms were blood red that year, falling like crimson teardrops just three days after they died,” interrupted an inebriated farmer. “That never happened before or since. I saw her face once, in that tree when tending the gravesite.”

“The girl was seen often after her death,” stammered an elderly woman. “Even in the light of day, she was seen by the stream, and in the forest, walking as if in a daze. Now people here avoid the mountain and those woods, even when it is time for moon viewing.”

“I saw her face in that tree…” yelled the drunken farmer, louder this time.

“That’s enough!” bellowed the landlord, who could easily yell louder than anyone else, no doubt coming from years of experience operating a teahouse and pub. “Don’t speak of it!” he commanded. “Don’t tempt Fate. We took an oath. All of us agreed never to speak of it again.”

“Hai,” said a woman. “Things have been quiet for almost a year now. Don’t talk of the past. It may bring us worse luck.”

Jubai had been quietly sitting, brooding over his sake while the others were talking among themselves. “Mindless monkeys…” he snorted in contempt.

Finally the landlord insisted. “Let the man finish his story.”

The stranger in the corner was quiet while those assembled gossiped, sipping his drink and ignoring what he considered empty-headed prattle. ‘One dog barks’, he thought to himself, ‘and all others bark with him’. He toyed with the thought of letting Jubai continue the tale; a perfect scenario of the blind leading the blind. Once they were quiet, however, he continued his narrative…

“Having listened intently to Kwai’s revelations the samurai asked if he had any advice… “Only this,” said Kwai. “Remember that in life all conditions are temporary. Fearlessly follow your heart. Be it sun, shadow or storm, face life boldly. A moment of hesitation or doubt can tip the scales. Success or failure depends on the strength of your mind or spirit. I believe your countrymen have a proverb; ‘Jung shin cha-re-yo’ (Wake up)! Be alert and stay focused.”

Sung Ji was surprised to hear a Chinese man speak Korean words fluently. He wondered where he had learned that old phrase, but didn’t ask. ‘Truly’, he thought again, ‘Kwai was no ordinary man’.

Later, as the samurai bid farewell, not far away, beneath a rising moon a lone horseman slowly approached the sealed city gates. From his posture he appeared weary, perhaps from ridding a long distance. The horse upon which he rode held its head low, as if fatigued, and moved with an unsteady gait. The night winds, while strong enough to move leaves and dried bits of grass along the ground, did little to dispel the evening mists that methodically crept in at twilight. One of the two guards at the gate hailed the rider to halt as he came closer. Few came to the city after dark, so the guardsmen were wary, spears in hand and ready for the slightest hint of trouble. One of them approached him cautiously, keeping what he considered a safe distance between himself and the rider. After speaking to him briefly, he signaled his companion to open the smaller latch-door in one of the massive twin gates. “You can enter,” he said to the horseman. As the animal moved forward the guard, noticing blood on its right rear flank, spoke… “Wait! Your steed appears injured.”

The rider pulled back on the reins, then raised his right arm, the hand of which held a short leather crop. “He is stubborn at times,” said the man. “At the toll bridge earlier he refused to cross. I had to persuade him.”

The guard was somber. Like many others who lived in the region, he had heard tales of the haunted bridge. He considered asking the horseman if he had seen anything strange there, but then realized he didn’t really want to know. ‘Let sleeping dogs lie…’ he reasoned. Too, some innate sense told him the rider was one accustomed to having his own way, and perhaps if confronted may be difficult handle.

“Go on with you then,” said the guard. “But be aware. Ours is a city of law. Tread lightly while here.”

The rider, in morbid silence, prompted the horse to move forward. The guards watched as he was slowly swallowed by the blackness of the tunnel beyond the gate.

“He’s an odd one,” said the man who had unlatched the door.

“Yes,” agreed the other with an air of uneasiness. “He gives me an uncomfortable feeling. Perhaps we shouldn’t have let him enter.”

Both men flinched when the heavy door slammed shut, startled by the abrupt sound shattering the gloom of the fog-laden night. Finally one of them spoke; “I could use some rice wine…”

The other faced his comrade eye-to-eye. A moment of silence passed between them. Suddenly they burst into laughter. The tension in the air faded as the pair returned to the business of watching the road leading to the city. Overhead dark, ominous windswept clouds began to blot out the moon’s meager light, as if heralding impending doom. The guards looked at the sky, then one another, momentarily breaking out anew in laughter.

The horseman, meanwhile, made his way through the dimly lit streets and shadow-haunted alleyways, pausing the moment he found what he was looking for. Stopping the horse before a building he eyed the sign above the door. The twin dragons pictured were not a problem, but he couldn’t read the Chinese characters. Still, he was certain it was a place where he could quench his thirst. Anyone else would have first found a stable for the lame horse, but Miyamoto had no concern for the animal. After all, he laughed inwardly as the thought occurred to him, he had stolen the beast from an official in the last city in which he had worn out his welcome. 

Submitted: August 22, 2019

© Copyright 2020 C Wm Bird. All rights reserved.


  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:




An exceptional chapter. You have clearly put a lot of thought in to this. I loved the haunting atmosphere, keeping the villagers wary.

Sun, September 8th, 2019 7:38pm

Other Content by C Wm Bird

Book / Fantasy

Book / Fantasy

Book / Science Fiction