Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Peony Lantern: The Finale

The old man had to get Ogwara out of this house and into the sunlight. He turned to look behind him to see that the house had returned to it’s proper self. Perhaps the demon ghost can only work its illusions at night? He thought. Slowly he got to his feet and circled the futon. Taking care to stay as far away from the vile luxurious bed as the room would allow. He looked quickly over to her handmaiden sitting between him and the shoji screen wall. She too sat still and rotting just as her mistress did. If I can break through this wall it would allow even more sunlight to enter the room. That should keep these demons still until I can get Ogwara from the house. Perhaps I can make a hole large enough to get both of us out of the room. From this direction it should be possible to cross the garden and take the samurai to my home.
The old man began to push against the rice paper walls, at first breaking each individual square of paper. With each hole he made in the paper, the morning sun would pour into the room. Then he set about kicking through the thin wooden lattice that held the paper in place, until he had made a space large enough for him and the samurai. He then turned to the bed. With his bare feet he kicked at the bones of the woman. Knocking then further away with each kick from Ogwara. The old man almost panicked as her hair caught between his toes. Or when he saw that his foot was becoming more wet and sticky from some unseen goo, as he kicked his master free of her embrace.
Finally when her bones lay in a beam of sunlight across the room, the old man bent down to Ogwara’s ear and said, ”Master it is I your friend and humble servant, you must leave with me now or you will die. I am going to try to lift you, but you must help me if you can. You remember how old your friend is so please help me lift you Ogwara-san.”
Ogwara said in the quietest of whispers, “Where is she? My moonlight love. Has she gone to make one of her wonderful meals? You know my friend, I could stay here forever eating with her, and making love. Did I tell you she sings to me as well? Such beautiful songs.
The old man tried to lift the samurai who was emaciated, had certainly not eaten any wonderful meals in a long time. He did not want to imagine what those meals might have been if not an illusion. All he knew for certain he was that the Ogwara was close to starving to death yet he did not have the strength to move him with out the samurai’s help.
The old man whispered in his ear,” Ogwara-san, Your love has gone to the market to buy food for your next meal. My wife would like you to come to our home so that you might pick out the fabric for a new kimono my wife would like to make your lady. Would you not like to give her a present after all she has given you? You do not want to appear to be a selfish lover, and you have always said what a fine seamstress my wife is. Think of how pleased she would be after receiving such a beautiful gift?”
The samurai nodded and leered “yesss, so grateful,” he said slowly, as if they were sharing a dirty joke. This man is not my master. I must get him free of this house if I am to save him at all, the old man thought.
“Come let us go now Ogwara-san, one, two, three. Up.” The old man took most of the weight, but with a little help from the samurai he managed to steer him along. Luckily Ogwara did not see the bones of his love in a heap in the corner. He did not seem to notice that they were leaving by a new hole in his shoji screen wall either. The old man did not think Ogwara knew where he was at all, until he turned to the handmaiden in the corner. “Now you wait here my little Kimiko, and perhaps I will bring you back a present too. Ogwara then smiled and blew a kiss to the skeletal girl. The old man now rushed toward to hole and sunlight. He looked over his shoulder at the handmaiden one last time before pushing his master through the opening. The handmaid slowly turned her head, and bowed.
The old man got the samurai halfway across the garden when he collapsed. His wife saw them from her window and came running to help him. Together they brought Ogwara into their home. First they spoon-fed him some broth and they bathed him, and then wrapped him in a deep blue kimono. They then tried feeding him some plain rice. When they where certain he had received some nourishment they let him sleep. The old man headed to the Buddhist temple to ask them advice on how to save Ogwara. His wife sat by the samurai’s side quietly saying prayers.

When the old man returned an hour later he brought with him a white linen bag and a jug of sake. He called his wife to join him in the next room while Ogwara slept. He opened the bag and shook out dozens of rectangular pieces of paper each wrapped with fine red twine. On each of these was a prayer of protection.
“Wife, we must place these Ofuda in every room of our house and at every door way and window.” Then, he reached into a larger pack for a roll of bundled rice paper. “ With this we must write the prayer to the Buddha, repeated over and over again. With this we must cover every crack and hole in the wall of our home. Everywhere light can come in to the house must be covered. Do you understand?”
“Yes, husband. How can we accomplish such a thing in one day? And how do you know that she will know to come here?”
“ First wife we have two days. Today we keep him drunk and feed him when we can. This should keep him sleeping, but his thoughts confused. It will make him harder for her to find him, said the old man holding up the jug of sake. ”The priests say that this is a desperate and lonely spirit. She will not give up easily.”
“How do you know she will not wait for him at his own house?”
“Because I am going to burn the unclean thing down”

The Priests had been right. When the old man looked back into the hole he had made in Ogwara’s wall, the bones were gone. They said that they would most likely return to their own graves without a companion here. But he could tell that the ghosts did linger here in their own way. There was that smell in the air, fainter, but still present of flowers that had stayed indoors too long. Yes, forgotten flowers rotting in stale water. The old man took one last look at the fine house he had helped to build. He then set a fire at each corner of the house waited to make sure that it would catch. He then walked home. There was much work to be done yet.

On the evening of the second day their house was finished. The couple had done as the priests instructed sealing the small house in the Buddha's prayer. The words, I trust in the light of the Buddha, repeated again and again around each wall and window. From every corner hung the Ofuda caring it’s spell of protection. The old man and his wife were exhausted. Ogwara had remained drunk, but was happy to eat more as the hours passed. Today they gave him tea instead of wine, so that they might explain what had happened and what he must now do.
Ogwara sat before them mortified that he had behaved so badly and that he had been so easily seduced. “I do not deserve to have such good friends as you.” Ogwara said. “I have been foolish and weak.”
“No Ogwara-san, You were not in your right mind, you were a victim of this demon ghost. Now is what is important. You must show your strength and be ready to turn her away one last time.” The old man looked into Ogwara’s eyes and in them for the first time he saw fear. “ Now listen to me, she may, if she truly wants you for her companion come tonight, with her maid. She cannot come in, but you Ogwara-san must not go out either. If you slide open any of our humble screens she can guide you out and you will be lost. However if you defy her tonight she will never return. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, I do.” The samurai steadied himself. “After all she was once just a woman. Now that she can travel at will between two worlds does not make her the master of me. It is a trick that I now know how to foil.”
“ Would you like my wife and I to stay up with you? We would be happy to keep you company.”
“ No friend, I must face her alone if I am to know that it is I that have defeated her and not the courage of my companions.”
Ogwara sat sipping tea in the darkened room and staring at the shoji screen door. As he waited he thought about his life. He thought about all that he had accomplished, his lovely wife, his friends and his country and his place in it. He had lived just as he should have, was rewarded with wealth and rank, and a beautiful bride. But now what did he have? Only his honor. He would be strong tonight. He would start a new life tonight. He would have new adventures, after he had defeated this ghost.
It was then that Ogwara thought he heard singing. It sounded as though it was coming from the direction of his home. The samurai froze. Had he really herd it? It was quite now. Then the samurai saw a soft glow shining through the rice paper. It was still small and at some distance, but it rocked gently back and forth as it came closer. Then the singing began again and it was just out side his door. The silhouette of the lady’s outline was clear. She knelt just outside his door and continued her song. The lantern grew closer and its glow warmed the light in the samurai’s room. Ogwara knelt on his side of the shojiscreen door and listened until her song ended. He saw the outline of her hand as she placed it on the rice paper screen. He placed his against hers with only the paper between them. He felt the warmth of her hand. It’s pressure against his. He took a deep breath. And he opened the door.
In the morning the old man and his wife went to the cemetery to look for the lady’s grave. They found a very old abandoned shrine of a fine lady’s. Half buried in the earth was the samurai's deep blue kimono.

From Wikipedia: Botan Dōrō (牡丹燈籠) is a Japanese ghost story that is both romantic and horrific; it involves sex with the dead and the consequences of loving a ghost.
It is sometimes known as Kaidan Botan Dōrō, based on the kabuki version of the story. Most commonly translated as Tales of the Peony Lantern, it is one of the most famous kaidan in Japan.


Ana said...

LOVED IT!!!!! How incredibly creepy and lovely! I loved the smell of rotting flowers (how appropriate) and that in the end, the hero is far from strong... but something so romantic about giving into this desire. Thank you so much for writing this! What fun!

Rerun said...

I loved it also. I was very frightened and enjoyed your ending. I also thank you for writing it. Reading it made being stuck on a slow train ride much more enjoyable.

Eva said...

At the risk of copying what was said before: I loved it too! Fantastic story! I'm going to look into this kindof stories and see if I can find some more... unless you will be writing some more yourself!...

Beverly Hamilton Wenham said...

No, Please go at it! I would love to see what you do with it's type of story. I was a little worried that I might have scared people off. Was I too icky, I wondered? It was awfully long too. Maybe a short Romance Novel next???

Eva said...

Seriously, it wasn't too long or too icky at all. When a story is so well written, it can actually become too short! You've got a great style of writing as it's straight to the point and you don't overdo metaphors, like I usually do. Fantastic story! Thank you for introducing me to the genre and for sharing this story!