Tengu Wrath by Tim Tang
Ahirunoshoyu by John Tang
Somewhere in the suburban area of Capri City, there lived a young scholar by the name of Ahiru Shojin. He lived in a townhouse shared between fifteen people who didn’t speak to each other. He had a deep fascination for Russian and American furnishing, how they embellished the hems of the wooden armoires with blooming processions of wild tulips and roses and grass, renderings down to the legs on all four corners, where he even dreamed of planting them one day on the roof. Because they were so heavy in design and material, his father his father had to ask, “Do you plan to live here your entire life?” To which he regretted today buying such heavy furniture and was thankful for owning European dining sets and complimentary seats—who truly understood the modern spirit of owning and disposing—for Ahiru realized today was a day of melancholy: Two days ago Ahiru was fired from Continental Banks for miscounting one-thousand gil. Like a scholar, the first thing he looked at was his finances, if they could compensate living in Capri City. Conclusion: He was unsure if he could survive after seven months, so yesterday he bought all the boxes he needed to move and has yet to tell his father that he needed help.
This afternoon he was in his room removing all the books on ninja mastery and the entire collection of the Miyazaki Pilgrimage, the forty-eight volume novel that told the pilgrimage of the mercenary Master Mori and his voyage across the Nibui Island. Ahiru boxed them up because every volume was understood internally; when touched a book, his mind instantly rose from the body and into the ancient times of the Nibui Island—in Mainland, Japan, it was the Sengoku period; in Europe, it was the Renaissance—when Mori escaped from flawed environment of the feudal hierarchy, rode on a industrial junk, to the Ryukyu Island but instead found himself on a sister island, Nibui Island, inhabited previously by the Polynesians, Malaysians, and the Spaniards. Ahiru thought he read them all and well, even until his vision was warped, as the doctors said about avid readers. He fit them in four boxes and set them aside in the living room next to TV. When the melancholy bruised his heart, he wondered on the ground: If I was poor, why not live like Mori, who once mastered the land.
Once he moved all the furniture to one side of the living room, emptied out all his books from the shelves, hid the pots, the pans, the porcelain bowls, glasses, into his car, Ahiru lied down on the carpeted floor of his bedroom for a second time, remembering when Master Mori saved an abandoned samurai from being beheaded: “One can be forgiven if I share his pain.” Mori disappeared with the swiftness of the wind, without alms or thanks. He didn’t reflect on the event; that was the goal of the reader, who could produce eight thousand meanings from a the unfolding of a hard bud. So he warned the reader: “My actions do not carry meaning that can reach the heavens, but stay with me in my spirit.” That night Master Mori set up a tent beside the river, knowing the stream would bring fishes the next morning.
The process was normal. Ahiru began to lose all his memory of dear friends and family members, like Mori did when he escaped Mainland, Japan, for they remained entrapped in a system they had no control over as lost souls. Master Mori saw their lack of self-possession the true enslavement of the empire. Every time Ahiru heard Master Mori’s voice, he felt closer to the Sengoku period.
This evening, before the sun set its violet clouds over the island, Ahiru pulled a box from under the bed for his long journey and took all the useful goods he needed for tonight: Shuriken stars, two daggers, an iron grappling hook, and a ninja sword with a golden hilt. There was one more thing he needed to arm himself from the world. Neatly folded into a triangle, Ahiru took out the black hooded ninja gear that smelt of peanut oil and was rough as canvas. Ahiru slipped into it quickly. The sleeves and the pants seem to be shorter than he could remember. But then again he remembered, the gear must be tight for stealth, so the wind or enemies wouldn’t catch him by hanging piece of cloth. He tied the uniform with a matching black belt around the waist. Lastly, he rolled the tabi socks and boots under the pant legs and secured them with black shoe strings. All he missed was the mask.
He left the townhouse, walking down the stone steps and the bush-strewn rails. On the last six steps, he leaped to the sidewalk and rolled on the ground because they were watching. He sensed Shogun clansman were watching his moves, so he sliced the bushes and threw the leaves in the air, casting a leafy smoke where he was fully cloaked.
He ran to the nearest forest, entering through a gate guarded by two stone shishi dog, where the air smelled of winter showers; that their presence was imminent. He remembered Mori’s sense of smell came from a peasant’s nose. While he was on the quest to find shelter, he was also on the quest to find a leader, political or gang-related, that would hire a mercenary. The winds were growing more agitated, scaring the fruit bats from the boughs, hushing the green-eyed locus into a silence. But first Ahiru would need shelter for the night. There was an abandon building where the carpenter foolishly left his things, one of them being a blue tarp, with the hems torn all around the sides. Ahiru stole it and folded it as a satchel for his equipment.
As the winds grew more agitated and as the darks clouds filled the sky, Ahiru knew he couldn’t find the inn tonight. So somewhere in the park he set up camp. He dug a little hole with the dagger to neatly fit the sheathed sword eight-inches deep. The sword held its balance. Then, Ahiru spread the tarp and sliced a hole in the center to slide over the sword’s hilt, tied it down with the rope from the grappling hook, and then added heavy rocks on three corners. When the rain poured, Ahiru was on knees listening to nature like Master Mori did in volume thirty-two, where Master Mori was entrapped in ice at the heart of Miyazaki Mountains by a woman, who kissed and in the procession left a poisonous mushroom, where she was able to find the hour to place Master Mori in ice. Although Master Mori’s body was paralyzed, his mind studied the fleshy threads in his fingers. He knew he needed the body to reach beyond the ice, so he paid attention to the moths that fluttered on the ice capsule. He mimicked its wing with his pinky finger. Now that the weakest of fingers was mastered, Master Mori applied the same concept for three years on the rest of the limbs until he gained control of his body. For Ahiru, he knew the rain was one night of many nights as an abandoned ninja.
What was being entrapped in ice compared to being entrapped in rain? Ahiru thought, I will study the pebbles.
Something was approaching. Ahiru opened his eyes and wondered what beast the Shogun sent to foil his journey. He held the dagger tied to his belt. The beast jumped on the roof. Ahiru focused his gaze where he heard the tarp crumbled. His movements were swift. It moved from the top right corner and now was crawling down the slope and climbed back to the top left. It squealed as it found the opening to the tent. The beast’s furry claw peeked from under the entrance of the tent. Ahiru found a better grip for the dagger, holding the dagger by the handle, with the blade against the forearm. Silence. When the beast appeared, Ahiru first saw the black-eyes of the beast that were about the size of a giant bee. Ahiru yelled with the power of forty men and struck the beast’s head—but he missed, soiling his arms. He knew the beast was around now the tent knowing it had been found. Ahiru lifted the tent over his head, unsheathed the sword from the ground and slashed the tarp to find the beast. He slashed the rope off his grapple hook, but the blade didn’t find flesh. The rain never ceased to stop raining for this tragic night.
“Stay away from me, clansman,” Ahiru said, “for I serve no one but Master Mori.”
The next morning, under the tarp, Ahiru woke up to a squirrel eating the berries that fell from the tree. The morning was hot in the white light which had poured through the leaves, shedding drops of twilight here and there, on the ground where the wet crabgrass smelled of mint. Ahiru heard footsteps approaching, crushing the hard brown leaves and chipping their hard shells.
“Are you a ninja?”
It was a young girl in a sun-yellow shirt and brown shorts, slippers, and had an unusual pair of golden goggles sitting on her forehead that Ahiru confused for fly eyes. For a woman she was tall. She had a finely shaped nose like the arrowhead of a stork’s beak; but the most peculiar thing about her was how well she spoke Japanese, how close it was to the dialect of Mainland, Japan. According to her fashion, she seemed to be from another part of the world, Norwegian. This reminded Ahiru what Mori wrote about westerners: One should beware of sharing property with them.
“I am student of Master Mori,” Ahiru said, “the master of the ninja arts.”
“I think that is just so cool,” she said, “how you people just get into character and all that jazz. So how do I join rank—oh, is that the term, like the military? And then where can I buy one of those cool outfits?” She stood akimbo and looked around the area. There were children climbing a tiny colorful hill with many holes, hanging freely, some even upside down with the hair long enough to weave the finest silk-tapestry.
“Orange Park is just beautiful.” She said and looked down. “Oh. Could I see your sword?”
“No.” Ahiru held it as if he were going to draw it.
“You people really love your characters, don’t you?”
“Master Mori says you must earn the right to wield the sword.” Ahiru said. “It takes years to understand full ownership of one. He also said woman were the perfect assassins because of their lightweight and flexibility. The late adept Chinese martial artist, Jun Li, Mori says, based his movements on the woman.”
Ahiru wiped the dirt off his clothes and saw over the walls a large blue tent looming. He heard people mused and cried over pearls, gems, clothes, and roasted fish and chestnuts.
“In the market place,” he said, “we can find your gear.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
Ahiru left the tarp (it had lost value, anyways) and brought the essentials—his sword, daggers, and shrunken stars—tucked neatly into his belt. The girl seemed to grow more energetic every time she followed closer behind. When she finally was able to walk strides beside Ahiru, she spoke up:
“So by the way my name is Stefanie Barnes,” she said. “What is your name?”
“My name is Ahirunoshoyu.”
“That’s a cool name,” she said. “Does it have some kind of meaning?”
Ahiru couldn’t get to it now because they arrived at the market place, where in the open field there was a giant tent squared around the dirt area, with tufts of grass and weeds and sleepy flowers growing under the table and at the foot of the tents. People carried things was Ahiru has never seen before. There were people who put up boxes with a cloth finer than their clothes, that appeared to be soft as wine, that held tawdry accessories made of gold, silver, clay and glass; there was a long rack that held clothes of the strangest design—one had lemon-green feathers, one had a neat tender fur like the skin of a boar, one was a pair of pants that was hard and blue; there was one booth that caught Ahiru’s attention in particular: It began with the brass looped around and around like the inside of an ear, with a triangular opening, hanging loosely on a rope next to the silver and brass bells.
“What are all these things?” Ahiru said. “Where did they all come from?”
“That, my friend, is music shop.” She said. “You’re looking at bugle, which people used in war—I don’t know if you guys use it here—have you ever watched cartoons and you hear,” she puckered her lips and gestured with her hand, producing high-pitched noise, “dudududun, Charge! That’s what it’s used for, man.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it.” He asked. “They use this for war? Won’t it give away your position?”
“I don’t know, man.” She said. “That’s how wars were back home, body versus body, head versus head. It’s not about strategy, man, especially when you have a gun and you can just shoot people.”
“Master Mori did say there were larger islands in the Pacific.” He said, “With new weapons that can overpower the sword. Be cautious.”
“Who is Master Mori?”
Ahiru saw the ninja gear lying on one of the tables, folded neatly in a triangle, resting on the matching pants and the black belt folded, with the pair of black tabi boots standing upright. Ahiru noticed three different points of attack, from the roof of the tent, to the left side behind the table, and from the west side of the cross-section, where the least amount of people flowing in and out. His yearning gaze was so apparent Stefanie asked, “Are we planning to steal those?”
“I am an abandoned ninja,” Ahiru said. “We have no gil to pay. Your first lesson is here. You will need to be swift as the wind and steal your clothes.”
“Are you serious, Ahiru?” She said and highlighted her outfit, making an effort to point at her red canvas shoes. “In these? I’m wearing sneakers.”
“As Master Mori reminded us,” Ahiru said, “adversity is the first step to developing discipline; and discipline is all there is to live for.”
“Then please teach me,” she bowed, “please show me, master. I will learn.”
Kneeling on one knee and using the table from the music shop for balance, Ahiru tapped the coolness of his head and recalled the best points of attack, hoping Master Mori heard his cry: Although I am merely a student to you, master, we need to teach the world your lessons, for you knew the world was enslaved and needed to be free from themselves. He took deep breathes through his nose, his chest rising slowly. Release. He was confident Master Mori approved.
Ahiru ran around the tent to attack from the west side, where he bent low against another table and saw the owner placing things on the table next to the ninja gear. The owner was a large man with the body of a turtle shell. He wore a white short and those hard blue pants. By the whiteness of his skin and the bulk of the facial growing under the chin, he was also Norwegian. He had beaded eyes and a small nose sweating—that drop hanging on a tip. Ahiru moved closer, step by step, against the length of the table—this one was full of pinwheels, soft animals and candy—until he was at the corner, where he could see the owner walk into the darkness of the tent. Soon as the owner disappeared into the back, Ahiru dashed to the ninja gear with the speed of a caribou stampede and swiped the hooded clothes and shoes, hid them under the arms, as he made a turn to the music-tent, where he saw Stefanie crouching low beside the table and looking around.
“I can’t believe you got it.” She said. “You are the master.”
“Master Mori’s lesson has taught stealth is more valuable than strength.”
Suddenly, someone grabbed Ahiru by the shoulders, lifted him, and let him hang by the arm. It was the owner. Stefanie jumped back, while Ahiru felt for the length of the dagger around the belt. The thumb released the dagger from its blade, when a young man said stop.
“Ahiru,” the young man said. “What are you doing? I’m sorry, sir. He’s a close friend of mine.”
“I caught him stealing.” The owner said and explained which booth he owned.
The young man said he’d pay, and he did in full amount with one more apology.
“What kind of trouble are you getting into now?” He said and turned to Stefanie, smiling. “Are you getting him into trouble?”
“Not me.” Stefanie said. “He’s the one playing ninja.”
“Who are you?” Ahiru asked.
“It’s me, Takashi Fiti.” He said. “We worked at the same bank.”
Ahiru was remembering a boy from a dream, with the same short nose and small chin, as if Ahiru lived another life before. This Takashi was a little different. He had a great bulge on his throat, with hair streaming down to his shoulders. He wore a white shirt and a blue apron and leather shoes that brimmed in the sun. His smooth face was soft as feathers, glowing from the sweat.
“Hi, my name is Stefanie Barnes.” Stefanie said. “I didn’t want to do anything illegal. I’m not trying to get sent to prison on foreign soil and get kicked off the island.”
From their conversation, Ahiru learned she was able to travel on foreign soil because she had something called a “Student Permit.” Ahiru thought it was the name of a ship. He wondered if Master Mori used the Student Permit to escape from Mainland, Japan and saw the fourteen faces of the Pacific. Ahiru heard them speak some more about how she was searching for culture and stumbled upon Ahiru sleeping in Orange Park.
“I thought today was some cos-play, parade, kind of thing.” Stefanie said. “I always wanted to be part of one.”
“Master Mori was preparing us for a journey.” Ahiru said. “Stealth is more valuable than strength. We needed the clothes.”
“Wait.” Takashi Fiti asked. “The womanizing ninja?”
“I debt to you now,” Ahiru continued. “I hope we meet again. Let’s go Stefanie.”
Stefanie wasn’t paying attention, looking at this egg that glowed blue, red and yellow, in her palm.
“I’m sorry, Ahiru.” She said. “This has been fun and all, but my dad is calling me. Maybe we can do this another time, dude.”
“You are weak, woman.”
“No, don’t take it that way.” Stefanie said. “This has been fun. Just keep doing your ninja-thing. I’m sure we’ll see each other again. It’s a small island. You know what I mean. What are you going to do now?”
“I am an abandoned ninja like Master Mori.” Ahiru said. “I need to find an inn where someone will hire me.”
“Good luck with that, man.” Stefanie said and looked at her egg one more time. “It’s already ten o’clock?”
“Can we talk, Ahiru?” Takashi said, but there was an incessant customer—an older woman with a head and bundle of black hair no larger than the bell she held in her hand, which she had rung happily with the flick of a finger.
With that said, Ahiru left Stefanie Barnes and Takashi in the hot wind, on his way to find an inn.
Walking down the street, beside the stone walls, plastic fences, giant signs of the beach that advertised “apartment complexes,” Ahiru knew none of these were inns where people looked for a mercenary ninjas. Ahiru was left in downtown of Capri City and headed towards the forest area. The clouds were muggy this afternoon. Ahiru realized he was alone now because his student was weak and undisciplined, submitted her soul to the body; he even wondered about the old parable, how women casted a spell over men and deterred them from their mission. Was Ahiru “seduced”? The story was unfolding before Ahiru in a dream. In the teahouse Master Mori kneeled at one of the fire pits, waiting for the woman server to bring a claypot of hot tea. When she came to his area, Mori saw her hands were white and soft as the Hananorosa sand as she gently lowered the pot onto the hot stones. Master Mori blushed like a hibiscus flower in the humid spring, growing pale around his face and arms and neck, learning that the warmth had navigated to a single area around the torso. The area seemed to be so sensitive, Master Mori observed, as the server slid her hand beside his legs and whispered in his ears that the teahouse was so loud, wasn’t it? Master Mori followed to the warmth in his torso and followed the woman to back of the room, where the lights were dimly lit and her obi was loose about the waist. When she turned around, Master Mori saw the dip in her chest was light as milk. “Have you been to Miyazaki Mountain yet,” she asked. To which Master Mori said: “Many times to see the Nibui Island in full bloom.” “Have you written many haikus there?” She asked. “I used the soul of the haiku,” he said. “But I don’t use the form. I use what words flows through me.” “So you’re also a philosopher,” she duly noted, “did you know philosophers are the loneliest people because they were always in constant confliction with the body? I believe we as men and women were meant to entertain each other until we reached the heavens. Are you one of them, one of those lonely people?” Her small lips pursed to the soft curve of her chin. Master Mori drew closer to the softness, feeling that his very own hands and shoulders were softening, mirroring the softness radiating from even the smallest part of her flesh, the hands. He wished he could begin there. But maybe all men wanted her hands, because suddenly, she found a new beginning for both of them: The mouth. It was there she pushed her tongue against Master Mori and left a poisonous mushroom in the throat. The dry mushroom was halfway in the throat, the stem grazed the roof of the mouth. Seconds later Master Mori fell into a deep sleep and woke up encased in ice on Miyazaki Mountain—he knew it was Miyazaki by the height and through opening of the cave that overlooked Del Oro Village and the Pacific.
“Was I seduced?” Ahiru wondered.
Ahiru found a wooden house that was lit from the inside, with lamps glowing beside window and through the sheer curtain. There was a women’s shadow that came and disappeared. As Ahiru was prepared to ask if this was a place of rest, the door opened and an old woman appeared in a loose-fitted kimono.
“Hello?” She said. “Are you a ninja?”
Because of her upward inflection, Ahiru couldn’t distinguish between a question and an answer. She had a soft, old face, with wrinkles on all corners of the eyelids. Hair was neatly tied in a bun with two chopsticks, but in the right slant of light there were dead-strands of hair sticking out here and there.
“Yes, I am a ninja. The student of Master Mori.” He said. “Do you know anyone looking for a mercenary for hire?”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” She said. “I don’t know anything about ninjas. But I know you have the face of an angel. What are you doing playing with ninjas, anyways?” She brushed Ahiru shoulders, drawing him closer to her. “I don’t mean to be rude. Please, come in, come in.”
Before Ahiru could ask if this was a house for mercenaries, an inn, Ahiru was inside the house. It was furnished in western delight. She owned iron lamps and the oak chairs and tables that already pervaded China and Mainland, Japan, underneath their eyes like fog off the coast, where men and women sat upright with their food. Ahiru heard that it healthier to eat in this position. She locked the door three times: The chain and two key-holes.
“Let me take your swords, ninja.” She said. “Maybe you might find your boss here. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re threatening, right?”
The old woman took Ahriu’s sword, dagger and Shuriken stars; she laid the sword upright against the wall by the door and assured him they would be there before he left. As for the Shuriken stars and the daggers, she took them in the back.
“Where are you going with my stars?”
“They will be at the table when you need them.” She invited him into the house. “Please have a seat on the sofa.”
This “sofa” was also strange. The wood was long with carvings of grapes on the curve and the arms, down to the legs, where the vines seem to end in the next procession of grapes. It was also soft to the touch as Ahiru sat down on the edge, unsure how to enjoy comfort. The old woman returned with a metal teapot and a cup. The steam of green tea rose from the snout, bitter and warm.
“Please have some tea.” She poured it into her cup.
Ahiru sipped the rim, tasted the warmth and bitterness and yet smelled a sweet scent. The old woman said she put rosemary and honey imported from America in the hot tea. Ahiru relaxed and felt his body grow limp. There was something wrong about this moment, he thought. For some strange reason he thought about the mongoose that could distinguish the length of a Habu snake from a bamboo cage. Master Mori said the mongoose was the smartest animal. What did you want me to see, Master Mori? Ahiru thought. The old woman left only to come back like a familiar.
“I heard humans are social creatures.” She said. “That we were never meant to be lonely.”
“Master Mori says self-possession is the ultimate goal in life.” Ahiru said. “And one can only achieve that through discipline.”
“Are you also philosopher?” She said. “Philosophers are the loneliest people because they’ve grown so out of touch with the body. I can’t even imagine being tied down and my body held against its will.”
“The ninja is fully aware of his body.” Ahiru said. “Every part of your body is at your disposal.”
“Then maybe I should be a ninja, too.” She laughed. “I’ll be right back.”
Ahiru was entering a dream state. The softness of the sofa was growing warmer, his neck was leaning to one side, his eyes couldn’t even focus on the little light glow in the glass case of the lamp. He was lying on his back, arms splayed apart, one leg on the sofa and one leg on the floor, thinking: Oh, this was how one enjoyed the sofa. Oh, Master Mori, I remembered you described such bliss when you sat on the hot mountain steps that over looked the eastern side known as modern day Capri City. The beauty of the city invaded your heart, and then you felt it in your bones, your soul. You began paying attention to the praying mantis humbly waiting for the spider. You began paying attention to the rocks that found its form in the soil. You once wrote: Mount Miyazaki, who am I that sat on your face. Will I ever leave you?
“Who is Master Mori?” The old woman returned. “Is he your teacher? I always hated my teachers. Such bad people. They only know a little bit more than the student.”
The old woman’s face seemed to be firmer than before. She had dark beaded eyes that glowed from the light. The pupil of her eyes grew. As she removed the chopsticks from her bun, Ahiru noticed the sword at entrance was missing, causing Ahiru to sit upright.
“What’s wrong?” The old woman said. “I thought you were ready to have me.”
“Where’s is blade, woman.”
“We don’t need that for our loneliness.”
Her nose grazed along Ahiru’s nose as she kissed him on the lips, the moistness push into his hard lips. She spoke a little more, her bitter breath causing Ahiru to twitch.
“I thought we could give ourselves to the body, philosopher.”
Ahiru saw the coil of rope behind her, so he pushed her off him. Ahiru got up, cursed the old woman and went for the door. It was locked as Ahiru kept on pulling it. He saw the old woman was coming from behind, walking in quiet small steps. Her face was down, shading her eyes. Her voice was soft, but Ahiru could hear it clearly in the silence.
“I hope you know, philosopher,” she said, “I poisoned you.”
Before Ahiru could become a mongoose in a bamboo cage, Ahiru ran up the stairs and went to the first room on the right, where the lights were glowing on the ceiling on golden candelabras. The walls were covered in yellow, red and black crosses. There was an orchid wilting by the sheer curtains, its head limping and hanging by a green tape. There was the scent of Chinese medicine permeating the room. The odor was strongest around the bed, as Ahiru ran to one of the corners to a full-body closet. He tried to pull it so he could hid behind it, but it was the dark wood was so heavy. He was, however, able to fit on the side and breathe comfortably.
“Philosopher,” she called. “You will fall asleep sooner or later. Don’t resist now.”
He noticed there was a printed signature that must’ve been the artist’s name on the top left corner: Augus-tah Rodan. On the edge of the cabinet there was a mixture of life and death. There was a baby without eye lids sitting upright, cooing to in the warmth. Below the baby there were malnourished men who were in the process of decaying as their fists clutched for life; their rib cages were sagging. They lacked the basic essentials to the body, like the abdominal and the nipples; they only had the contorted flesh and bones. Will that be me, Ahiru cried. Master Mori, please help me escape. Grant me reason and an opening to escape this hellish house. I hear her, Master Mori, her light steps climb the staircase, waiting for my body. I feel, Mater Mori, my body submit itself to the poison. I don’t think I can survive in ice like you. Master, do you hear me?
The old woman opened the door. She was nude in the flesh, her body flushed with warmth, her skin hanging off the bones. “That is my favorite armoire. Do you like it?”
Suddenly, a voice, a thought came to Ahiru: You must jump through the window.
Knowing it was the call of Master Mori, Ahiru yelled nonsense as he threw his body into the window, shattering it, with glass shards pricking his head, scalp and clothes. Ahiru fell two-stories high and landed on his the curve of his back on the hard dirt, rolling. He remembered Mori had a parable locked in the ice capsule: If you could survive a woman’s kiss, you could survive a burning building. Oh, how I wish I’d rather be in a burning building.
To Be Continued.