Shadows Die on Moonless Nights

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The cherry blossoms were in full bloom and there was colour all around. I could hear the faint koto strains of an ancient spring song filtering through my consciousness, taking me back to the ill-fated visit to the jungles of Iriomote-jima where I had gone camping with Haruki. I shuddered as I tried not to remember what happened to him that spring, thirty years ago.

Life flowed all around me like a river in spate as I tried my best not to be swept away by the flood of memories that threatened to overcome my very existence. I headed for the bench underneath the cherry tree and decided to catch my breath and recover my bearings. There were other joggers in the park; spring time brought them out in hordes. A couple of young girls jogged past my bench without a second glance as I looked on after them. It felt good to be alive, to have emerged unscathed.

I was startled by a loud chirping sound and looked up to see a pair of Eurasian kestrels. They appeared to be saying something; I sensed an urgency, a slightly discordant note in their song.

There were cyclists, jugglers and roller-skaters in the park, an ever changing tableau of springtime festivities and yet my sense of foreboding grew, it had formed at the pit of my stomach and was rising and growing.

I decided to resume walking. I got up with the help of my cherry wood walking stick, my fist closing over the screw top dragonhead that served as its handle, seeking reassurance. I slowly made my way around the curved path, gazing at the fountain and the little kids trying to float their toy boats in the little pool surrounding the fountain. One of them appeared to be having some trouble trying to keep his little kayak afloat, it kept flipping over and floating face down. I decided to help him. I walked up to him and lowered myself down on my arthritic knees with great effort, smiling at the boy as I took his little kayak from his tiny hands. I flipped it over to shake out the water inside when a little parchment scroll fell out. I asked the boy what it was but he merely shrugged. So I wiped it dry and opened it up to see what it said.

The words were sharply etched and clear, “Remember the Shadows on Moonless Nights”. I looked up again; the boy was nowhere to be found. I stared at the toy kayak in my hand, it was covered in blood.

I looked all around me, nothing had changed, the cherry blossoms were still swaying gently in the wind, the young joggers were back, about to commence their second lap around the park. The Sakura-Sakura song still filled my ears, its notes closer together, frenetic, as I looked around in a panic, looking for other signs of impending doom. There were none. It was time to head home.

As I walked home, I couldn’t stop myself from reliving the moment from thirty years ago, when Haruki and I had gone camping. We had marched in step to the Sakura song, lugging a kayak across our shoulders. We were young and fearless then, Haruki more so than me; adventurous and always willing to push things to the limit. He wanted to plod through the mangroves behind the lagoon and then follow the river up to the base of the falls in the kayak we had been lugging all day. It was his idea to pitch our tents by the Urauchi-gawa River, in the heart of the dense jungle.

At nightfall the wind was still and nothing stirred that moonless night. There was a chill in the air despite the early onset of spring, so we lit ourselves a fire. It was rather eerie for me and I wanted to turn in early. The yamaneko had been known to jump out at unsuspecting travelers. I told Haruki I wanted to get inside the tent and secure the flap. He looked at me with condescension and dared me to stay up with him. I did. He told me I needed to learn to live a little and to take chances. He told me life would pass me by if I didn’t shrug off the comforting mantle of my secure existence, if I didn’t feed the person within: the shadow that sought resolution. I listened, mesmerized. Haruki’s voice had the power to bend anyone to his will.

During the course of our conversation by the fire a strange lightheadedness descended upon me. I stared at the dancing flames lighting Haruki’s face from below, the flames dancing in his eyes, giving him a surreal and other-worldly appearance. And then, as I continued to stare I thought I saw a second Haruki sliding out of the one I knew to be my friend. I thought my tired eyes were playing tricks on me; I really needed to get some sleep. We had another long and tiring trek ahead of us the next day.

I interrupted Haruki to tell him I was ready to turn in as I started to get up but I didn’t get too far. Haruki’s clone was by my side in an instant, pressing down on my shoulders as he looked into my eyes. Those eyes were black as the night, their menace intensely terrifying. I summoned up all my strength and managed to get up. He followed. I ran toward our kayak. He was gaining on me. Somehow I found the strength to pull out one of the wrought iron tent pegs and as he closed in on me I stabbed him with it. He fell onto the kayak, lifeless. I blacked out then.

It must have been noon when I came to, the sun was beating down as I squinted up through a throbbing head. I was on my back staring up at the branches of several trees, their branches meeting. I spotted a pair of Eurasian kestrels chirping in that strange way, declaring spring. I heaved myself up on an elbow. There was a collapsed tent on my right, a charred pile of twigs on my left and a dead Haruki, stabbed through his heart, lying sprawled across the kayak. I walked up to his dead body. There was a yellowed scroll of parchment next to him, it simply said, “Shadows Die on Moonless Nights”.

I stumbled upon a rock; I had walked into an isolated section of the park as I reminisced. There wasn’t a soul around. The branches above were still filtering the remaining light of the evening sun as I watched my lengthening shadow. I wasn’t too far from my apartment; another thirty minutes would see me there. I quickened my steps hoping to be safely inside by nightfall. I got there just in time, the doorman held the door open as I entered and headed for the elevator down the hall. Then I heard it: the sound of determined footsteps filling in the gaps between my own. I turned around to see the doorman holding the door open for others while his shadow focused its menacing black eyes on me and my fist tightened over the screw top dragon head of my cherry wood walking stick…

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