Images of Past and Future

Haru had arranged the items freely, individually, each to its place. In fact, the arrangement closely resembled the one in which Haru had found the items, in a room in his father's compound, the room in which he'd killed his father.


Instinct, rather than reason, had informed the decision. Perhaps if too much changed, the items would lose their psychic resonance. Whatever the reason, Haru had known to change as little as possible. He needed that psychic resonance. It was key to restoring the items to their rightful owners. And he needed to do that, he knew. When he'd entered his father's trophy room, he had nearly been undone by the pain he'd felt there, a pain not physical but psychic. It emanated from the very trophies his father had collected. He had known, even as he stood, panting over the headless body of his father, what his new task must be: return these objects, somehow, to their rightful owners so that he might cleanse at least part of what his father had done.
 

So he had taken the items, cringing inwardly at the number, and stored them in this room until he could examine each in turn. It had taken him time to begin that examination, time to master his fear of the pain he knew he would experience when he touched the items.
 

Haru had used that time to master his fear and accept the pain but also to research many murders committed during his father's thirty year career in the hopes that he might match at least some of the items with those victims and return them to the loved ones of the slain. Finally he had judged himself ready and had picked up the first of the items, a pair of bloodstained glasses.
 

Haru had found himself wholly unprepared for what happened. The pain had come as expected, sharp and undiminished by time. He had dealt with the pain, accepted it. What he had not expected and had not prepared for were the images which flashed through his mind, shattering his consciousness as a rock shatters a window. He had collapsed to the floor, his mind overwhelmed by fragments of thought not his own, images of things he could not possibly have seen. The glasses had, thankfully perhaps, slipped from his hand.
 

Haru's did not know how much time had passed as he lay there. Finally, though, he had wakened and left the room and its pain and images behind. He had walked the gardens of temple, listened to its birds, smelled its flowered, toiled for its simple beauty. More weeks had passed during which Haru sought to understand what had happened to him. Understanding came slowly but as inexorably as an avalanche. His mind, seeking balance for the lack of sight, had found paths to other perceptions. He had known about his hearing, so acute that he could sense not merely the existence of an object by sound but also its shape and location, even its path through the air. Standing in his father's trophy room, assailed by the pain emanating from the 'trophies', Haru had grasped dimly that his perceptions had passed beyond the physical. Finally, he had fully accepted that reality and with that acceptance had found himself ready once more to enter the room and grapple with his task.


When he had picked up the glasses, still on the floor where they'd fallen, the pain struck with the same sharpness, the images with the same confusion; Haru embraced both willingly. He saw a young, beautiful woman, a short bridge. He saw a small but well tended garden, a civil servant at work. He saw an argument with a man, cruelty etched in his face--his father. He saw the flash of a blade, heard the scream of a woman, and then felt only pain. Haru marveled at the images, the first he had ever seen. There were fuzzy, indistinct, as a sound heard through a silk screen. And yet they were wondrous.
 

Using these images it had been surprisingly easy to identify the victim of his father's blad. What had been harder was finding the man's family. The young woman, undoubtedly the widow, had left the city but had not returned to her home. In time, he'd found her living in the village from whence came her husband.
 

He had gone there and with the aid of a young boy and a barking dog, found her home and returned to her the broken, bloody glasses of her husband wrapped in a haiku of Haru's own writing. He had not been surprised to find her still in her mourning dress and hoped the return of the glasses would at last set her free.
He had returned to the temple then for he still had many thing to return, many spirits to help to their final rest. When he arrived, the monk was waiting for him.
 

"Did you find the woman?" As always, he spoke quietly, the gentle breeze of summer.
 

"Hai," Haru bowed low.
 

"Did she accept the item, and the gift?" The glasses, the haiku.
 

"Hai," Haru bowed again.
 

"And now you will find another, and then another?" A question, neither interested nor bored, neither condemning nor approving.
 

"Hai," another bow.
 

The monk gestured for Haru to join him at the table, the sweeping arm clearly 'visible' to Haru's ears. A sniff told Haru a meal had been laid: rice, oranges, chicken soup, tea. He suddenly realized he was ravenously hungry. They sat and ate in companionable silence for many minutes.
 

"Have you considered, my young friend," the voice came so unexpectedly that Haru nearly jumped, a lapse that would have earned a beating from his former master, "that the gifts you have been given were intended for more than this task, important and laudable though it is?"
 

Haru, who had indeed considered this, nodded, "I have." When Haru didn't continue, the monk did not prod him, understanding the value of silence in drawing forth speech. He was content to wait. Finally Haru continued, "I cannot know why I have been given the gifts I have. The gods do not lower themselves to speak to me, not in words. I must try to understand the signs I am given and act as my conscience dictates."
 

"Wisely said, Haru. Consider then, this sign." With no more warning than that the monk drew a sword and slashed at Haru. However, the warning was sufficient. The younger man threw himself backward into a roll and then kicked himself to a standing position, at his guard. The sharp edge of the blade passed less than an inch from his forehead. As the sword continued around the monk released it and it flew to stick, quivering, in a wooden beam. Haru, who had no idea what prompted the attack, opened his mouth to speak when he suddenly realized the sword the monk had used was his very own, the same blade Haru had used to kill his father, the same blade he'd discarded upon arriving at this place.
 

He closed his mouth.
 

"Consider, my young friend," the monk spoke calmly, popping an orange slice into his mouth. "The sword can kill--it can also protect. The sword can attack--it can also defend. The evil lies not in the weapon but in the hand. It can be just as evil to surrender the weapon as it can to wield it. Who is the more evil? He who takes the life or he who might have saved the life had he chosen to act?"
 

The monk rose, bowed low to Haru, and departed, leaving Haru alone with his thoughts and a quivering blade.

 

Jason Bennett July 2006