Author: OsakaBomb PM
Renzu and her father enter a village with an unusually large amount of sick peopleRated: Fiction K - English - Supernatural - Words: 4,481 - Reviews: 1 - Published: 07-10-10 - Status: Complete - id: 2826892
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The straining creak of the cart's wheels fill my ears as my father struggles to keep it straight and steady on the narrow path. The next village lies beyond a mountain and to reach it requires travelers to make their way along this path resting on the mountain's side. A parasol is in my hands, shielding me from the rain falling around us. My father has one too, held up on his shoulder. I watch my father pulling the cart, his feet sinking into the dirt with each sluggish step.
"Are you okay?" I ask, the patter of the rain mildly obscuring my words. My father keeps his eyes on the road, but answers me, "Heh. I'm fine. Don't worry. Your father is a lot tougher than he looks! We'll be past this in no time at all." I twirl my parasol in my hands and look back towards the view from the mountain. The clouds are low and thin. A vast sea of trees is below me, the impact of the rainfall causing small, rippling waves on its surface. The cart rocks slightly, teetering as it rounds a corner of the path, and my hand grips the edge of it tightly. My father calls up to me, "Sorry, the path is getting a little slippery. We should be fine. Just hold on tight, okay?"
"Okay." I keep my hand rested on the edge of the cart, should it shake again. I gaze back out at the green sea. As I listen to the rain, I suddenly hear a faint rumble. Thunder, possibly, in some distant part of the rain. The faint rumble begins to grow louder and sounds as though it's coming closer. I turn, looking to the direction of the sound. Down the side of the mountain, a torrent of mud and rock is sliding down, towards the cart. I turn to my father, "Dad!"
He turns suddenly, looking up and then at me, "Renzu! Get off of the cart, now!" I run, climbing over the trunks and boxes, dropping my parasol behind me. I jump down from the cart, landing on my side on the ground. My father grabs my hand and runs with me. I look behind us as we run, and the mud and rock crashes into the cart. It shatters, boxes and splinters of wood flying all over. The rest of the cart is carried over the edge of the path and into the green sea. I sit with my father in the silence, his arms around me, my kimono stained with mud. A muffled crash erupts from the trees below.
I stand up first, looking at the spot where are cart used to be. Only a few scattered boxes are left. "Looks like we can salvage a few things at least," my father sighs, standing up. "It's a shame. It took me ages to build up that much stock."
I walk over and look inside one of the boxes. "Anything?" my father asks. I search through it, "It looks like…some fabrics"
I open up a smaller one next to it, "This one has medicine in it."
My father sighs again, "Well, at least those made it. Most people have use for those."
He walks over and closes the lid to the box of fabrics and picks it up, "Are you okay to carry the medicine, Renzu?"
"Yeah, I can." I pick up the box. It's light. I hoist it up to my waste and my father and I begin to walk. "Don't worry. You won't have to carry it far."
We round the curve in the path, which breaks off into a straight dirt road. The road is crowded with a mass of nettle trees, arching high over my head and covering the sky. The rain has already soaked my clothes a little, but I was shielded from the rain now. I look up to the canopy of nettle branches above me, listening to the rain. I still can't see it, but a few stray drops slip through the leaves. A raindrop falls and lands on my forehead and slowly creeps down my face, along the bridge of my nose and past my eye.
Looking back to the path ahead, I see the image of houses through the trees. We're close now. We round another turn in the path and we see two men standing on either side of it, both with their faces covered by cloths, tied around the back of their heads. I can see the village beyond them. One of them raises his hand to us, "Stop! Stop right there!" We stop in our tracks and the two men approach us.
"Turn back now. We can't allow anyone inside," the first man says.
My father fixes his grip on the trunk in his hands, "Please, we have to get to the village. A landslide just destroyed my cart. This is all we have left. You see, I'm a--"
"I'm sorry, but I can't," the first man interrupts. "We have too many sick people here as it is, the last thing we need is some outsiders, too. If you don't get sick, you might make those who are even worse."
The second man interjects the first, "Maybe we should let them through. Don't you see? He's a merchant. He might have something that can actually help us right now."
"That's right," my father says. "I am a merchant and I do have medicine. A lot was lost when my cart was destroyed, but I still have plenty left."
The first man looks to the second and furrows his brow. He is silent for a moment. He sighs, "Okay, I'll let you through. Talk to the head. He'll tell you about what's been happening."
My father bows, "Thank you." I bow silently too and follow my father into the village.
As we walk through the village, I see that there is almost no one outside. No one in their homes, either. It almost looks deserted. My father and I spot a man in the street talking with two other men; all three also have cloths tied over their faces, covering their noses and mouths. The man standing before the two has more cloths in his hand. My father and I approach him. "We don't have enough bed rolls for everyone in there. I won't tell you again, get the ones from your houses."
"But then won't we get sick too? I don't want my family getting this illness!" One of the men exclaims.
The other added, "I will do what I can, but I still have to keep my family safe!"
The man talking to them snaps, "So you're willing to let that many sick people sleep completely exposed? If it bothers you that much, you can wash them when we're done. But as of right now, you will live up to your promise to help and lend us the bed rolls. As many as you're willing to spare. Understood?"
Both men are silent, but they nod and run off back to their homes. My father approaches the man now, "Excuse me…can you tell me where I can find the head of the village?"
The man sighs and turns to us, "That's me. And who are you? You're not from the village, and we're trying to keep outsiders out at the moment."
My father nods, "Shigeru Kozue. This is my daughter, Renzu. I'm a merchant. I have some medicine with me. I was thinking that I could be of some service to you."
The man studies my father and I, looking at the trunks in our hands, "Hmm…very well. I'm Teijo. We do have a lot of sick people here right now. We don't entirely know the cause."
He motions for us to follow him and starts walking and we walk behind him, "But it's gotten to many people in our village. It causes hallucinations, as anyone who has it talks about hearing things and seeing things. Yet those of us unaffected by it don't have these same experiences. It seems they only experience these hallucinations at night, as well."
"Well, I'm not a doctor by any means," my father says, "but I do have some knowledge in treating symptoms of illnesses. I can take a look at the sick people here and see what I can do."
"Okay, but I'll have to ask you and your daughter to cover your faces. For the ones who are sick, as much as for yourselves."
He hands us two cloths from the batch he had in his hand. My father and I set down our trunks and quickly tie them on. My father asks, "Is there a place we can store these?" He taps the trunk in front of him with this hand.
"Of course. You can put them in the storage house outside my home for now."
My father picks up his trunk and I went to pick up mine but Teijo stops me, "Why don't you let me handle that for you? It must have been tough carrying it here by hand. Rest your arms. I'll handle it this time. There's also a spare kimono in the storage house. It was one of mine when I was younger. You can change into that. Call it a gift in exchange for your father's help. No sense in you keeping that muddy one on." Even with the mask on, I could tell he was smiling. I smile back and let him pick up the trunk. He turns to my father, "Is this one the medicine?"
My father nods. "I'll take this on ahead. Meet me at that house over there. My house is just up ahead a little ways. Go ahead and put your trunk in the storage house."
He points to a house on the far side of the village. From here, it looks lifeless, like nobody lives in it. "Okay," my father turns and walks to the head's home and I follow him. "Are you sure you'll be able to help?" I ask. "It sounds like they have a lot of sick people here."
"Honestly, Renzu, I have no idea. But I'll do what I can."
We arrive at Teijo's home and my father quickly puts the trunk in the storage house. I find the kimono he told me about, a dark gray one with a light gray sash and I change into it, putting my old one in the trunk of fabric my father just set down. Both of us run to the house he told us to meet him at. Teijo is waiting for us at the entrance, "Good. You're here. Come inside, I'll show you to them."
I step slowly into the house, making sure my mask is on tight. I look around. As I thought, it looks like no one lives in the house. It's completely empty. We enter the main room of the house and all across the floor are people in bed rolls. I know these are the sick people. All of them look pale and a little weak. Men, women, and children are all present here. I can see more people in bed rolls in the rooms beyond this one.
My father turns to Teijo, "What symptoms do they have?" He leads my father over to the trunk of medicine, which is already open, "Primarily? Nausea and fevers. Do you have anything for that?"
My father kneels down and looks through the trunk, "I should. I'm hoping it didn't get lost or damaged by the rain. Ah! Here, this should be it."
He takes out several small packets from the trunk, "This should primarily take care of the fever. I should start with those showing the strongest form of the symptoms. The children, too. Can you take me to them?"
Teijo nods and motions for my father to follow him. I stop my dad, "Is there anything I can do?"
He smiles, "Not much, I don't think. Just keep watch over the medicine, okay?"
I sit down by the box of medicine and my father moves to the other side of the room to start treating the people, giving them medicine from the small packets. Looking around the room, I spot a girl around my age in a bed roll near me. Her hair is long, down to her shoulders, and the color of a dull charcoal. Her kimono is dark blue. She smiles at me raises her hand in a still wave. I return the gesture and walk over to her. I kneel down next to the bed roll, "I'm Renzu."
She sits up slightly, "I'm Aiko. Are you an outsider?"
I nod, "Yes, I'm here with my father."
"I'm surprised they let you in. They haven't been letting any outsiders in."
"My father and I got in because he has medicine."
Her eyes light up, "Is he a doctor?"
I shake my head, "No. He's a merchant. He knows a bit about medicine, though."
Aiko lays back down, "I see. That's what it is. Well, I'm glad they let you in."
I take another look around the room of people.
"Is everyone in your village sick like this?"
Aiko shakes her head, "No, not everyone. A lot of us are, though. It's been like this for a few months."
"What's making everyone sick?"
Aiko's eyes widen. She looks over to me, "Something outside of the village. It lives up in the trees. They say they hear it first; an awful, bellowing sound. Those who saw it seem to be the ones who get sick. Some people cover their ears because they still hear it. It happens to them at night."
"…What is it?"
Aiko shifts uncomfortably in her bed roll, "I was out in the woods, picking flowers. I heard something rustle in a branch above me. I thought it was a bird. But I heard the sound…I covered my ears immediately, but it still came through. I looked around for what was making the sound. I couldn't tell where it was. It didn't sound like it came from any one tree. But I saw it. Hanging from the tree…"
"What did you see?"
Aiko shakes her head, "I can't say. I don't want to say. It looked at me…when it did, I was frozen. I couldn't move. It felt like…as long as its eyes were on me, I couldn't go anywhere. When I could finally move again, I ran back here as fast as I could. Then I got sick the next day, just like everyone else here."
She sits up.
"I want to ask a favor of you. I…had a doll with me. It was made by my mother. It's the only thing I have left of hers. I dropped it when I covered my ears. I didn't notice I did until I was back in the village. I wanted to go back and get it, but…I just couldn't go back out there."
She looks to me again, "It's a lot to ask, but…could you go find my doll for me?"
I look back to my father. He's still busy tending to the sick. I look back at Aiko,
"Okay. I will. Where will I find it?"
"There's a clearing near where you first enter the forest, if you leave from the east end of the village. It's an open circle, surrounded by trees. That's where I think I dropped it."
"Okay. I'll go right now."
"Thank you, Renzu. I'm sorry to ask for so much so soon."
"Don't worry. I'll come back with the doll."
I stand up and look back to my father. He's still busy with the sick. He won't notice me leave. I leave the house and run to the east end of the village. At the east end, I find a winding path, moving up into a cluttered field of nettle trees. I climb the steep path slowly, my legs fighting against the climb.
As soon as I enter the thicket of trees, it's already hard to see where I should go. I walk aimlessly through the trees, searching for any sign of this clearing Aiko mentioned to me. Moving deeper into the trees, it becomes more and more difficult to see the defined path. Bird calls sound loudly from the trees with no identifiable source. I quicken my pace, moving swiftly through the trees. Suddenly, an upturned root catches my foot and I fall forward. I lift myself up to keep moving.
Before me, through the trees, I see an open space. A wide circle, devoid of trees, bathed in sunlight. This must be what Aiko was telling me about. I stand up and move into the clearing. Even here, the nettle trees are tall, reaching high up to the sun. I move through the circle, searching the ground for the doll. There, in the center of the clearing, a small figure lies on its back. I rush over and stand above it. A small doll with short, black hair, a white face, smiling lips and a blue kimono lies there. Aiko's doll. I found it!
I pick it up, wiping some of the dirt off its face with my hands. I turn back to the side of the clearing I entered from. I have to hurry. If this is where Aiko saw what made her sick, then I don't want to stay here for very long either. I'm almost back into the forest. I hear something rustle in the trees. I look up and see nothing. A bird taking off? I squint to see if there's anything on the trees branches.
A sound unlike anything I've ever heard reaches down and burrows into my ears. A baleful howl, hollow and cold. The sound of it fills me with dread. I look around, searching for the source of the noise. Then, I see it. Dangling from a crooked branch in one of the nettle trees. The head of a horse. Its neck is curling into a tail that grips the branch tightly. Its mouth is dangling open, the dreadful sound pouring out of it, as well as a clear, faded pink liquid. It turns its head and looks at me. I don't think. I grip the doll and run, closing my eyes as soon as I feel its eyes on me. Somehow, even with my eyes closed, I could see my way through the trees.
I make it to the path back down to the village, only opening my eyes again when I no longer feel the thing's eyes on me. I run, back to the house where Aiko is. I stop at the entrance to catch my breath. I feel hot. My head is heating up. My stomach is churning. I fall to the ground, the doll still in my hands. Everything goes black.
When I awaken, I'm in a bed roll. I look around and I see other people in bed rolls, too. I must be in the house for the sick people. I look around for the doll, but it's nowhere to be found. Where did it go? I look for Aiko next. She's not in any of the bed rolls. I sit up and look outside. It's night. Everyone else is asleep. My head is still hot.
I see now. What I saw is what's been making everyone here sick. I decide to sleep. I might feel better in the morning. I lay down in the bed roll. I pull the blanket up to my shoulders and close my eyes. I feel at ease as I drift into sleep.
That sound again. The same howl. Where is it coming from? I sit up. I hear it still, coming from a different room. I lay back down, closing my eyes tightly. I ignore it, holding my hands tightly against my ears. Eventually, the sound fades and I fall asleep.
The next morning, the sun shining against the lids of my eyes is what wakes me. "Renzu! You're awake. I was getting worried." My father is sitting next to me. I sit up.
"I noticed you were gone. I went to search for you in the village, but didn't find you. That girl, Aiko, told me she sent you out to get her doll. We searched around the woods, but found nothing. I came back and someone said they found you lying outside the house. You were out for over a day. How are you feeling?"
"A little better."
He leans in and places his hand against my forehead, "Your fever is down. Another day, maybe. You should be fine after that. Strange, though. The people here aren't recovering as quickly as you."
My father tilts his head slightly, "Hm? For what?"
"For running off and getting myself sick."
He smiles and ruffles my hair, "Don't be. I think it's nice what you did for Aiko. She's been worried about you, too. But she was glad to have her doll back, too. In the mean time, get some rest. The more you do, the sooner you'll be well again."
"That man, Teijo, says he has some things to give us before we go. I'm going to go see him about those. Again, make sure you rest up, okay?"
He stands up and leaves, heading to Teijo's house. I lay down and slowly drift back into another deep sleep.
That night, the sound awakens me again. This time, it's closer. It's not in another room. It's in the same room. I remain laying down, but I look around the room. I don't see anything and the howling has stopped, but I faintly hear a sound. I hear a rustling. Something being dragged across the tatami. I keep looking around for the source of the noise.
There. Moving between the bed rolls. Moving through them like a snake, I see what I saw hanging from the nettle tree branch in the clearing. As it moves, in nudges against each bed roll. Sometimes it stops and glances at the person, and then keeps moving.
It keeps moving towards the back of the room where it stops at the bed roll of a young woman. It stands on its tail and looks down at her. Its mouth opens slowly, tiny drops of the pink liquid coming out and landing on the woman's face. Remaining still, it again makes that howling sound. I turn away from it, covering my ears. Even now, I can feel its gaze on me somehow. I shut my eyes tight and wait for it to stop. It repeats this task three more times before leaving, crawling out of the house's entrance and into the night.
I wake the next morning to the sound of coughing. I tilt my head and see three people coughing in their bed rolls, looking worse than ever. The same three that that thing stood over the night before. "You're awake."
I turn to the voice. This time, it's Aiko, holding her doll in her hands. But she looks different. She doesn't look sick. The color has returned to her face. I sit up, "Aiko. You're better now?"
She nods, "I am. I think many other people will be now, too. Thanks to you."
"Thanks to me?"
A look of surprise appears on Aiko's face, " I see. You don't remember."
"When you came back with my doll, after you were brought in after falling sick, you were in the bedroll next to me. You handed me the doll, and I asked you if you saw it. You said you did. I knew you were sick, but you didn't seem as bad as the rest of us. I asked you what happened. You told me about what you did when you saw it. I think that's how you don't get as sick from it."
"What was that?"
She smiles, "'When it looked at me, I closed my eyes.' That's what you told me."
"I closed my eyes…"
"That's right. How about you? How do you feel?" Her hand rests down on my forehead, "It seems like your fever is gone. You might actually be able to leave today."
"I suppose so…"
I look at Aiko. Tears are welling up in her eyes. Her arms suddenly wrap around me and she pulls me against her, holding tightly, "Thank you so much for getting my doll back. I'm sorry I made you go out there."
Aiko let's go of me and moves to my side. My father is standing in the doorway, "Feeling better?"
"I think it might be time for us to go, then."
I turn to Aiko, "Don't be sorry. I'm glad I was able to get your doll back."
I stand up from the bed roll, "You should tell the others to close their eyes, too."
I raise my hand to Aiko in a still wave, which she returns, and I join my father at the front entrance.
On his back is a large, wooden box with straps going over his shoulders.
"What is that?" I ask.
"You like it? The head gave it to us for supplying medicine. We won't have to carry those trunks around with us now. It's far from a new cart, but it keeps everything we have in one place, at least."
He adjusts it slightly, tugging on the straps, "So, shall we leave?"
I nod and we head out. Walking along the path leading out of the village, we pass through another large thicket of nettle trees. I gaze up into their branches for a brief moment, and quickly look back down. I look down at my feet, keeping the trees out of my line of sight, and I slowly bring my hands up and cover my ears. I don't raise my head or uncover my ears until we are away from the village and the abundant sea of nettle trees.