Chapter 2 Missing.
drifting over open fields
beneath the high wall,
caught on a spring breeze that yields
to the castle tall --
The guardians kept their watch.
Once the moonlight watched,
shining brightly in the night
above the high wall
as they gathered by torchlight
in the castle tall
drinking sake unaware.
Cold the wind that blew,
broken-hearted winter wind
over the high wall --
wild geese crying of the end
to the castle tall,
death singing in full moon light.
Shadow did not hide
sword work flashing in moonlight
behind the high wall--
red blood flowing at midnight
in the castle tall,
guardians died unknowing.
Ruins reaching up
forgotten now is the place
where stood the high wall
long forgotten is the face
of the castle tall--
a lost heap of broken dreams.
No breath of grieving
is spoken by the pine trees
where stood the high wall,
curse binds human memories
of the castle tall --
curse echoes through time to kill.
‘The Castle Tall,’ from Stories in Verse
Lillian Reynard walked into her bright and airy office, and put down the coffee up next to her computer. Her workspace was based on an L shaped desk. One half was given over to the computer; the other half held books and papers and binders. Beyond that was a view of the garden where she had just had lunch. She pushed the button on her monitor, wiggled her mouse and was about to sit down in her chair when her employer stuck his head in the door.
“Hold my calls for the next couple of hours, please. I’ll either be in my office or the garden,” he said.
She looked up from where she was bent over her keyboard. “Of course, Mr. Hayashi. Anybody I should let through?” she asked as she sat down in the black leather office chair in front of her computer. Swerving towards the door so she could meet his eyes, she watched him think about it for a moment.
“My agent,” he said, after a moment, “although I don’t expect her to call. Anybody else can wait. What are you working on now?”
“First draft of chapter four,” she replied.
“Good. I may have the changes to chapters one and two back to you tomorrow. Now I need to go think .”
He left and went down the hallway.
‘I wonder what that was all about?’ she thought as she reached for the blue spiral notebook that held the first draft of the chapter she was typing. It amused her to no end that her employer still insisted on doing all his first drafts in longhand, in cheap spiral notebooks, in purple ink, of all things. She opened it up to the page she left off, then settled it into the copy stand. His handwriting was neat and precise and easy to make out.
The storyteller looked at the gathered faces staring up at him. Swallowing a sip of sake, he leaned forward and began to speak:
“Long, long ago, on the side of a mountain far from the nearest village, there was a woodcutter called Visu. He was a big strong man, not afraid of the animals or monsters in the woods surrounding his hut, but he had few visitors to disturb the peace where he, his wife and children lived.
“But in his woodland fastness, he honored not the kami, nor chanted the sutras, nor remembered to burn incense to his ancestors. One day, an old priest came by. Visu, not a stingy man, greeted him warmly, but the priest, who saw no place to honor Kami or Buddha in his house, said to him: ‘Woodcutter-sama, I am afraid you never pray.’” “Sounds like a lot of people that I know,” she muttered.
Writing his stories longhand was not the only thing about Sachio Hayashi that she found different or unique. Most of it she chalked up to him being Asian or a writer or older, such as his absolute insistence that she not listen to her music player while he was in the room. Or his sensitivity to perfumes. His willingness to nickname her Sassayuri, but his reluctance to call her anything else but Ms. Reynard. She loved the little touches, like lunch in the garden when the weather was nice, or finding a little statuette of a lute playing goddess enshrined in the office one day, or the little horned monsters that guarded the entranceway into the house. Life had certainly become different since she’d passed them the first time.
Taking a sip of coffee she began to type.
“What type of priest was he?” asked the boy sitting by the storyteller’s side.
“What type? Jodo, I believe,” the old man said. “What do you think?” he asked the crowd. There was a titter of nervous laughter, and a few shrugs. He looked down at his questioner, tousled his hair. “Eh, you’re a strange one, Matsu. Anyway,” he continued, looking back over his audience, “Visu frowned at the priest.
“‘Pardon me, o noble Priest, but if you had a wife and many children to keep, you wouldn’t have time to pray, either. Instead of going around with your begging bowl, you’d be spending every minute working to feed them,’ the woodcutter said.”
“Sounds like my dad,” Lillian said.
I entered the room they call my office. When I first walk in, it looks like a room with a wooden desk, bookcases, telephone. Against one wall, there is a Shinto god-shelf; on the opposite, a Buddhist niche with the figure of Kwannon, Bodhisattva of mercy and Jizo, patron of those in hell.
Closing the door, I invoke the ofuda hanging on the door in its colorful wrapper creating a barrier to the outer world and lower the level of Shinkiro that surrounds this space. As I do, it’s true nature is slowly revealed as the masks of the mirage that humankind lives in is suppressed and stripped away.
I don’t think well surrounded by the veils of illusion. Odd thing for a Kitsune, master of deception and trickery to say, but it is true. When it is time to think, I need to know the full reality. The room becomes awash in an interplay of light and shadow, threads of silver and red and black, and every shade in between. It fills the room like a miasma
For a moment, I recall old Visu as I saw him that one time, and his shade, locked in my thoughts, grabs hold of the shadows, weaving itself into a form. He is lanky and balding, gifted with a face that has seen too much hunger and too many drunken moments, and felt too many children tugging at his sleeves. His clothes are worn, but carefully patched, faded indigo and beige linen, woven by his long-suffering wife, now dead many centuries. His face is grizzled, his eyes squinty.
“I remember you, Fox. You are the one who led me the wrong way.” His voice hisses at me.
I turn my head and wonder.
“You showed up as that bouzu, telling me I needed to pray. I remember the touch of your finger that wove the magic.”
I shake my head. “I did not do that.”
“Eh. Who told me about the wheel, then? About life after life, and how I needed to pray?”
“I told you to pray,” I replied. “I didn’t tell you to throw your family away.” I waved my hand. “Sleep. It is past your time to be an avenging ghost.”
“Who will avenge my wife then?” he cried even as he faded.
I sighed, feeling his wrath sweep over me, longing for justice.“The same one who will avenge me.”
‘“So what happened next,” asked the old woman sitting at the back of the room,’ Lillian typed.
“Do you think he popped the woodcutter on the head with his staff?” the storyteller asked. The boy sitting next to him shrugged.
“You’re right. He didn’t bop the woodcutter. Instead, the priest touched the woodcutter with a magic charm, a mystical ofuda. Suddenly, the woodcutter saw a vision. He saw what happened to the unfaithful, being reborn time after time as a toad, a mouse, a snail, over and over again. Visu’s knees grew weak, and his lip began to tremble at the awful images he was seeing.
“He grabbed the priest by his shoulders. ‘Tell me what to do!’ he shouted. ‘I don’t want to go through that!’ So the priest taught him how to pray the Namu Amida Butsu, and told him to go and pray through his days, and work to do the right things. Work and pray! And then he left the poor woodcutter, still trembling, alone and went on about his business.
“Yet weeks later, the woodcutter could only see the endless lives as a snake, a toad, a spider that lay ahead for him because of all of his sins. He worked less and less, and spent all of his time reciting Namu Amida Butsu. Soon his family ran out of food. There was no more wood to be sold, there was no more wood for his own fire pit. The weeds overtook his rice paddy. His wife, who had never before said a harsh word to him, grabbed his axe and said, ‘Husband you must work, or we and your children will all die!’
“This made Visu furious! He was so angry at his wife for interrupting his devotions that he grabbed the axe out of her hand, and said, “By the kami of the mountain, I want nothing more to do with you ever!” and he headed out to climb up the mountain. His wife, weeping watched him climb up the path, until he was swallowed up by a mist. She would have wept even more if she had known that was the last time she was going to see him again.”
“Well at least my dad would never have done that one,” Lillian said. Reaching for her coffee cup, she took a sip, then picked up the notebook to turn the page.
‘“Shame on him!” one of the children cried out,’ she read as she worked.
“Yes,” said the storyteller. “Visu had done evil things. He refused his work or to take up the work he was destined to do, and he called on the kami of the mountain to keep him from his family. This time, the kami heard his prayer. Sometimes, it pays to be careful for what one prays for.
“As the sound of his wife’s weeping faded from his ears, Visu heard a soft rustling sound in front of him, and immediately afterward saw a fox dart into a thicket. Most people that he knew thought seeing a fox was unlucky, but not old Visu. He thought it was the best of luck to see a fox, and, for a moment, forgetting his prayers, he gave chase, hoping to see it again. He was about to give up when he came to a clearing in the woods.”
“I knew there had to be a fox somewhere in the story,” Lillian said. “There always are in his stories.”
“He saw two ladies in the clearing, dressed in fine silks of many hues sitting in the shade playing go. The woodcutter was completely fascinated. He forgot everything - wife, wood, foxes, sins and prayers, and sat down and watched them. There was no sound except the soft click of pieces on the board and the sound of the wind in the trees.
“The ladies playing seemed to not even realize the woodcutter was there, because their attention was so fixed on their game. After what seemed like just a short time, he noticed one of the ladies make a bad move. ‘O no, most honorable lady,’ he said. ‘You don’t want that move.’ The ladies looked up at him in amazement and fear, then suddenly, they turned into foxes and ran away.
“Visu tried to get up to chase the foxes, but that his limbs were terribly stiff, like he had not moved them in a long time, and that his hair had grown very, very long, and that where he had been clean-shaven, he now had a beard that touched the ground. He grabbed for the axe by his side, and the handle fragmented like old rotten wood, and he was very frightened. Eventually he was able to hobble down the mountain, but when he reached the place where his hut was supposed to stand, there was nothing.
“He found an old, old woman nearby, and asked about the house, and found out no one had lived there for three hundred years. Overcome with grief, he wandered back into the mountain, became a hermit, and spent the last of his days praying for the souls of his lost family, and teaching people who would listen the importance of both work and prayer.”
The young woman sighed as she printed out her document. “Some lessons are just too hard,” she muttered. The bright sunlight in the garden didn’t seem warm enough to warm the chill in her heart.
The gray clad man walked through the woodlands, listening to the wind swaying through the Ponderosa pine and fir. This was his retreat, his sanctuary, away from the lands where he grew up, away from the cities to the south and to the west. Here, the Shinkiro was thin, hiding little more than the small spirits of the land who were busy doing their business. No great darkness loomed under the earth. Purified by rain and sun, snow and wind, this portion of the earth was at peace.
This is why he chose it as his sanctuary.
Choosing a spot where the sun warmed the earth, he sat and took out a pouch woven with powerful ofuda. For those with the right type of sight, the pouch, looking like red silk would glow with lines of color that formed into a great barrier of protection. It was designed to hold something powerful inside.
But because he was the guardian of the pouch, he merely unwound the twine that held it closed and poured its contents into his waiting hand – a single red stone, perfectly round. Holding the small stone in his hands, he could feel the energy from the stone cascade around him, gentle in its touch but fierce in its demand that he acknowledge it. It glowed with a bright red light noticable in the daylight. As it gathered strength, the light cascading off the stone pulsed, throbbing like a heartbeat.
As it pulsed, the light wrapped around him, touching the shadowed silver of his hair with red tint. The stone gave off a soft sound, almost a sigh. As the aura from the stone deepened and strengthened, he could feel soft breath against his ear, tickling him. He could smell an essence that spoke of running through the woods, of moonlight, of water falling in the spring runoff, of jasmine. He closed his eyes.
He felt a warm hand enclose his, intertwining soft, graceful women's fingers around his calloused fingers.
"Tama..." he whispered. He knew if he opened his eyes to look, he would see nothing, the spell would be shattered. Yet he could hear the rustling of silk as she moved closer, the warmth of her, the contour of her shape, She leaned against him.
"Guardian," she said, in a voice just above a whisper, like the sigh of the wind in the pines. "We have come a long way, Guardian.”
“This is true. It took me a long time to find him,” he said.
“Because you didn’t want to believe,” she replied. “But it was as I said, was it not?”
“Yes,” he whispered, feeling her chin leaning on his shoulders. He took a deep breath.
“Does he know you are nearby?” she asked.
"I have not sought him out yet. I have been waiting until they tell me now is the time," he replied.
“Call me back, then, when you are ready,” she whispered and released her touch on him.
He shuddered, feeling her aura begin to fade."Nyoko--" he said
"Prepare," she sighed.
The stone in his hand pulsed one last time, then she was gone.