This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Never touch, unless you want to be lost. No matter how real or close it seems remember you must never reach for it.
She was sitting out back staring into the garden pond that had been there since before her great grandparents. Now it was just Miyu alone with the Mitsu family home deep in the mountains. She stared deeper into the still spring watching the moon aimlessly drift through the clear water. It was the middle of the afternoon, sun high over the trees, and yet the perfect reflection of the full moon could be seen in the waters surface.
Ever since she was young Miyu’s parents had warned her about the spring that the Mitsu family was gifted with protecting. Just one touch could make a person vanish, but who could resist when the water showed you what you loved the most. Miyu had been named after what her mother saw in the garden spring, the moon, which the two of them shared. The only difference was her mother loved the waning moon while Miyu preferred the beautiful white glow from the full moon.
“Alright,” Miyu huffed.
Standing she dusted off her kimono, stretched her arms over head, and started up the stone path through the blooming flower garden towards the quiet old house. She still had laundry to take down and herbs to preserve for the winter.
As she took down the clean clothes and dried futon Miyu quietly sang to herself. It was taught to her by her grandmother before she died, and it was supposedly about a family member years before her grandmother was even born.
"Alone in the trees
among the quiet water
. . .
Never trust a lying puddle. . .”
Miyu’s words turned to a hum as she lifted the now full basket to take it back to the house. The heavy basket bumping her hip at the same slow drum-like beat of the song.
The sun was warm on her face and arms, the winds whipping at her tied back black hair, and the grass underfoot was almost soft as silk. Her home was beautiful, Miyu knew that, but the only thing that she looked forward to each day was staring into the spring.
"Never trust a lying puddle,” Miyu sang softly.
She had just reached the house when she heard a grunt come from the forest on the other side. It wasn’t the usual animal noise she heard on occasion, but that of a human. Intrigued, Miyu sat her laundry on the back porch and set off in search of the noise.
After ten minutes of blindly hunting the noise sounded again directing Miyu towards the South. Soon the person made another another noise, this time it held a word, “Dangit.” Miyu was sure that it was a man by the deep reverb of the voice, and she was getting closer. Pushing shrubbery and branches aside Miyu finally reached a mostly overgrown path along a steep hill.
“Hello?” she called out. Curiosity filling her.
“Hey! Down here,” a man replied.
Miyu followed the voice to a crumbled part of the path that lead to a ditch with a man sitting in it. Grabbing a hold of a sturdy branch Miyu leaned over the edge of the path so she could get a better look of the situation. It was a man with white hair dressed in pants and a shirt instead of a kimono. He appeared to have fallen from the path and couldn’t get out of the ditch.
“Um, are you alright?” Miyu asked.
“I twisted my ankle when I fell. Can you help me get out of here?” the man asked.
“What’s your name?” Miyu inquired. She was in no rush, the man wasn’t going anywhere.
“Ginko,” he said.
“What brings you to this mountain? No one comes here anymore,” she said.
“Work,” Ginko answered.
Miyu stared at the injured man for a thoughtful moment before nodding and hurried off to grab a rope from home. When she returned she tied one end to a nearby tree and tossed the other end down to the man named Ginko. After his slow crawl up the side of the hill with his bag on his back, Miyu helped him limp through the forest and to her house where she began gathering bandages and salves to wrap his wound.
Ginko had his pant leg rolled up and his swollen ankle propped up on a pillow in front of Miyu. Gingerly she probed the red and puffy flesh with her fingers gauging the man’s pain from the winces and moans that showed across his face.
“I don’t think it’s broken, which is good,” Miyu said. Moving to grab the salve to help the swelling she added, “But you’ve sprained it fairly bad, so you won’t be traveling anytime soon.”
“I hope you don’t mind if I ask to stay here until then?” Ginko questioned.
As she spread the salve around his ankle Miyu replied, “I would enjoy the company.”
“You live alone?” Ginko asked.
Wrapping his wound securely she simply nodded.
“That should do,” she concluded.
Testing his range of motion Ginko said, “Thanks. That medicine you put on seems to be stopping the pain.”
“Good, then it’s working,” Miyu said with a gentle smile.
After putting the spare bandages and medicine away Miyu went to the kitchen to prepare some tea for the man. When she returned the man was sitting on the back porch staring out at the mountain garden with a cigarette in hand. The smell of the smoke was unusual to Miyu, it was almost herbal and sweet instead of the bitter scent that came fro her grandfather’s and father’s pipes.
Taking a seat next to him she offered him a cup of tea and he took it. Ignoring the basket of laundry to her right she followed Ginko’s gaze to the stone path that lead to the center of the colorfully blooming garden.
“Now that we’ve become acquainted, may I ask your name?” Ginko inquired.
Lowering her cup she replied, “Miyu, I am Mitsu Miyu.”
He raised a brow at her, his one green eye staring at her with a mixture of curiosity and amusement. She couldn’t blame him, her name was strange.
“Reflective moon,” Miyu sighed a laugh. “My mother thought it was befitting of the next Mitsu family head,” she explained.
“How so?” Ginko asked.
“Have you ever heard of this mountain’s promise?” Miyu sat her tea aside and smoothed out the lap of her kimono.
“No I haven’t,” he answered.
“Don’t ever trust it, for it is only a lie,” she told him. Her voice dipped down turning coolly serious as her hands twisted together in her lap.
“So what is the mountain’s promise?” Ginko lowered his cigarette as he bent his right leg so he could rest his arm on his knee. As for his left leg it stayed straight with his ankle still cradled on the pillow Miyu gave him, while his green gaze focused on the crease between Miyu’s brows.
“It’s the Mitsu family’s duty yo guard,” she replied.
“So you alone guard the mountain’s promise from people who wander up here. That’s an awfully lonely job you have, Miyu,” Ginko said.
Shaking her head Miyu corrected him. Her hands tightened in her lap with the fear that she made the mistake of bringing the man to her home. “I don’t keep people from the promise, I must keep the promise from finding people. I protect humans,” she stated.
Ginko’s eye widened as he released a puff of the strange smelling smoke into the air.
“Do you think that I-,” Ginko began.
Shooting to her feet Miyu abruptly excused herself to finish her chores without giving Ginko a response. As she hurried in with her basket of laundry she added, “Please make yourself at home.”
Miyu kept herself busy with chores she normally pushed off to the last minute until it was time to start dinner. Making food for two wasn’t much more work than a single meal, but it had been years since she had anyone else to cook for. When the food was done Miyu was a polite host serving Ginko first then sitting down to her own meal. She left the back door open allowing the warm spring breeze in and the sweet scent of the flowers surrounding her home.
They ate mostly in silence watching the leaves and petals dance through the air as the golden orange glow of the setting sun fell over the mountain. Just as Miyu finished eating she caught sight of Ginko staring at her. At first she thought she had food on her face, but after wiping her mouth she saw him still staring. Chopsticks were unmoving and his face blank.
“What?” Miyu inquired, more than a little annoyed.
“You have a bud on your head,” he stated.
Gesturing to the top of his head Miyu reached up to pat her own and like he said a maroon bud fell into her lap. Carefully lifting the flower that hadn’t bloomed Miyu stared at it curiously.
“These flowers don’t grow around here,” Miyu commented. “The wind must have carried it from the bottom of the mountain. These are my favorite, they start as a deep maroon color, then when it blooms it lightens to a beautiful crisp red.” A small grin turned up her mouth at the memory of her father returning home from a trip with a large bouquet of the pretty flowers from the mountains base.
Miyu let the bud rock in her palm as another gentle breeze filled the room. At some point Ginko had gotten to his hands and knees and had moved next to Miyu when the bud flew away with the wind like it weighed nothing. They both watched the maroon dot disappear into the distance with the slowing breeze and the rustling foliage.
“That wasn’t a flower,” Ginko said breaking their silence.
Glancing over at him Miyu was startled to see him so close. “What do you mean? Of course it was a flower,” she muttered.
“No, that was a mushi. Harmless to humans, and helps spring blossoms bloom by opening their own petals,” Ginko explained.
Looking from Ginko to the open door that the bud was whisked out she lowered her hands back into her lap. She turned back to the white haired man who was now sitting next to her leaning back on his hands as their gazes met.
“I thought mushi were just stories the wanderers told as excuses for their troubles,” Miyu admitted.
“You’ve had other mushi masters pass through here?” Ginko inquired with great interest.
“Mushi masters? I wouldn’t know I heard the stories secondhand from my father. Back when my grandparents were still alive the occasional person would pass through, but after my father took over as head we stopped receiving visitors,” Miyu explained with a shrug of her shoulders.
Ginko nodded in understanding as he said, “That’s not surprising. There’s a ferry service that runs along the river that weaves around this mountain, it’s faster than traveling over it.”
“Then why trek through the mountain yourself?” she challenged.
“I wanted to see the mountain for myself,” Ginko shrugged.
Eyeing his ankle Miyu smirked saying, “And it apparently awarded your curiosity.”
“It sure did,” he chuckled lightly.
Giggling behind her hand Miyu couldn’t remember the last time she laughed with another person. Her mother perhaps, back before her father passed after a particularly bad winter.
As their laughing quieted Miyu lowered her hand and asked, “So are you a mushi master?”
“I am. I travel about helping people who have mushi troubles,” Ginko answered.
“Sounds fun. I’ve only ever seen this place. I haven’t even been to the base of the mountain,” she said.
“Is the mountain’s promise that important?” he questioned.
Turning away from him she said, “I honestly can’t say.”
Miyu didn’t wait for Ginko to respond as she smoothly got to her feet and began cleaning up form dinner. Ginko didn’t bother her as she cleaned, or as she returned with a fresh pot of tea that they shared as they watched the sun disappear over the mountain.
Two days passed with Ginko limping about Miyu’s home while she continued with her every day business along with changing his bandages and applying fresh salve. Though Ginko was a quiet sort busying himself with his own work, Miyu reduced her afternoon stares into the spring not wanting to make Ginko suspicious of the center of the garden, but also she wanted to speak to him as much as possible. He wasn’t going to stay forever, and Miyu didn’t know if she would ever ave another visitor.
“Sounds beautiful,” Miyu commented.
Ginko was telling tales of his journey, and Miyu was completely lost in them having abandoned her herd grinding.
“It was, and I knew my friend would pay handsomely for the coat so I had the painter make another,” Ginko smirked.
Miyu laughed. “You sold your friend a fake. That’s terrible,” she giggled.
“He’ll never know, besides it was a work of art so the price was fair,” he retorted.
Dropping her chin into her palm Miyu stared at him with bright amber eyes -a trait held by the Mitsu family- and a crooked smile of amusement. “You are quite the character Ginko. I’m surprised you’re not married with this mysterious personality of yours,” she said jokingly.
Ginko’s brows lifted from surprise. “My job and my ability to attract mushi keeps me moving. Not many people enjoy that sort of lifestyle,” he explained.
“Really? I think it sounds like fun. Seeing the country, meeting people, and learning about new things,” Miyu said thoughtfully.
“It is interesting,” Ginko nodded.
“Can I hear another story?” Miyu eagerly asked.
Pulling out a fresh cigarette Ginko gestured to her forgotten work that Miyu refused to look at. “Don’t you have to finish that?” he questioned.
“Yes, but I’d rather hear more of your adventures,” she admitted.
“Then how about we make a deal,” Ginko smirked. “I’ll tell you another story and you tell me more about the mountain’s promise,” he offered.
Miyu’s bright expression fell as she straightened her back. She should have expected Ginko’s inquiries, but she didn’t know how to answer. His stories were too entertaining to pass up, but her parents had repeatedly told her that outsiders could not know about the pond. Surely telling Ginko about it couldn’t hurt, as long as he never visited the garden Miyu could make the exception.
Adverting her gaze down to her work Miyu said, “I guess that would be fine. But you have to start.”
“Then it’s a deal,” Ginko happily said.
“Your story better be good,” Miyu added as she glanced towards the grinning man.
“I’m sure I have one that will amuse you,” he said proudly.
Miyu returned to her chores as Ginko dove into his tale of a fellow mushi master and her village. She teared up several times anxious for the woman that she was sure wasn’t going to make it to the end. Miyu could see that Ginko was watching her reactions with more amusement than he had earlier. Every time he got to an intense part he would use his cigarette or eating as an excuse to pause and draw out the moment leaving Miyu bouncing with anticipation. When his story finally concluded they were eating dinner and Miyu was wiping happy tears from her eyes with the sleeve of her komon.
“I’m glad she’s okay,” she said.
“The village is doing fine now,” Ginko nodded.
Smoothing back her black hair Miyu released a content sigh as she looked from her food to Ginko who was done eating and leaning back with a cigarette pinched between his smirking lips.
“You were right, that was an amazing story,” she grinned.
“So about the mountains promise,” Ginko slowly said.
Miyu’s body went tense for a moment, but she knew what she was going to tell him so with a long huff she relaxed and folded her hands in her lap.
When Miyu opened her mouth she began singing the song of her ancestors. It was simple enough that she was sure Ginko wouldn’t fully understand the meaning behind the words, yet it told plenty to fulfill their deal. Closing her eyes she began.
"Alone in the trees
among the quiet water
A lie dances across the surface
The man stared
Colored in disbelief
As the shadow came towards.
Beckoning for his hand
with the thrill of his beloved.
The man fell
losing the love he truly held.
Never touch a lying puddle,
lest you want to fade.
Stay you distance,
Remember the lie that takes
Claiming the weakly fallen.
Never trust a lying puddle,”
Miyu’s voice slowly faded with the last note and her eyes opened to see Ginko quietly watching her. His single green eye alight with a scholars curiosity and knowing. For a split second Miyu felt she shared too much, but as Ginko’s expression turned playful the girl’s nerves relaxed.
“That’s an interesting song, I’m assuming it’s been past through your family,” Ginko said.
Nodding Miyu replied, “It’s about how my family discovered the mountain’s promise.”
“You hum that tune quite a lot when you’re working,” he commented.
Embarrassed at being caught Miyu deeply blushed hiding her face in her cup of tea. After a quick sip she set the cup down and said, “Despite the sad message, it has a fun beat.”
“So the promise is a body of water, huh?” Ginko pondered.
Miyu simply nodded as she got to her feet and began cleaning up dinner. She had only eaten half too engrossed in Ginko’s story and nervous about her end of the deal to eat. Her stomach was doing small flips as she carried the dishes to the kitchen. Once she was done cleaning and brewing their evening tea she joined Ginko on the back porch like they did every night to watch the sun set.
As they sat Miyu closed her eyes enjoying the warm breeze and the conflicting sweet and bitter scents of the flowers and Ginko’s smoke. Her hair was down swaying about her shoulders, her breathing slow and even, the evening calming with the rustling trees and tweeting birds. Miyu could feel herself drifting with the wind, slowly further and further into the comforting abyss.
The girl slowly nodded off, her head dropping then quickly rising before drooping again. Ginko watched with a half smile until she slumped against his shoulder for support. Her ink black hair flew about his face like loose threads of a shirt, so Ginko snubbed out his mushi repelling cigarette so her hair wouldn’t catch fire. Not that he really needed them on the mountain, there was a lack of mushi which was odd. The phenomenon was what drew Ginko into the mountain, and his interest in its promise was what was keeping him there -that and his sprained ankle, but that was just a convenient excuse.
Ginko knew that Miyu would never out right tell him where the promise was, or why it was so important to keep it a secret unless he found it for himself. Though exploration was out of the question until he could walk properly, even then he was going to need a reason to stick around. Only if his condition to attract mushi wouldn’t act up and cause an imbalance on the mountain.
“G-Gin-ko-o,“Miyu mumbled in her sleep.
The white haired man stared down at her thinking she had awaken, but she just shifted closer to him. Miyu wasn’t that much younger than him, and she should have been more cautious of strange man temporarily staying with her. Turning back to the darkening sky Ginko’s ears and the back of his neck heated.
“What could you possibly be dreaming about,” he uttered under his breath.
When Miyu woke up she couldn’t recall what had aroused her. She figured it was the dream she was having even though she couldn’t remember it. After shaking off the haze of sleep she realized what she had done and repeatedly apologized for falling asleep on Ginko, who chuckled and brushed off her concerns.
Thoroughly embarrassed Miyu cleaned up their tea and scurried away to fetch fresh bandages for him. She splashed cold water on her face before returning to redress Ginko;s ankle after which she excused herself while Ginko limped to his guest room.
Miyu quietly snuck out to the garden needing to see the spring to calm her nerves. The familiar full moon drifted lazily along the water’s surface while the real moon was only a sliver overhead. The fake moon released a faint glow that painted Miyu’s light complexion even paler like the moon itself.
Sitting on the bamboo pad staring into the still water was calming. It soothed her racing heart and the knots in her core. The full moon the size of a child’s ball was like an old friend reassuring her everything was going to be fine, but at the same time teasing her with the worse possible fate. One fall forward into the small pool could erase her, taking her away her unease and embarrassment. It would be so easy, yet pathetic of her.
It was a common thought for Miyu, touching the spring water to grab the moon, but so many Mitsu family members had succumb to the temptation, the list counting more than fifty and Miyu wasn’t fond of adding herself to that list. Though on some nights when the loneliness grew too heavy and the silence of an empty house started to hurt her ears Miyu would ponder the choice with a heavy conscience. Staring fondly into the clear liquid wondering if it would be cool to the touch or if it would be warm because it never froze during the winter.
By the time Miyu tore her gaze away from the pond the moon over head was nearly out of sight, the orange-red glow of the rising sun peeking over the mountain on the opposite side.
“How long has it been since I stayed up all night?” she muttered to herself.
Stretching her limbs as she stood Miyu took a deep cleansing breath of morning air. Then the amber eyed young woman made her way to bed where she managed to get a few hours of sleep before getting up to make breakfast.
Another two days passed, Ginko shared stories with Miyu who tidied the house and preserved food for the winter. When she sat down for breaks Ginko would roll out his mushi scrolls and tell her about the ones displayed. Miyu asked many questions, wither about the mushi themselves or the people Ginko treated through his travels. She loved to hear about the different personalities, and the quirky behaviors of the seemingly invisible creatures that filled their world.
When they finished going through one scroll it was Ginko who had to remind Miyu that she still had work to do. After some groaning and bargaining for more stories Miyu would finally get to her feet and return to her chores with Ginko in tow. She had given him her grandfather’s old cane to help him shuffle about the house which allowed him to follow her while she worked so she could hear his tales. Though that was what Miyu had thought, yet Ginko followed her so he could see her reactions to every part of his stories. Miyu had the wildest array of responses that never went the way Ginko expected.
After telling her about the Ah and Un village story Ginko expected Miyu to ask about the young boy, but instead she paused her basket weaving to give him a sad expression. His brows pulled together in surprise as his green eye narrowed in on her jutteringbottom lip.
“I can’t imagine feeling so lost in a world of sound then missing it,” Miyu said. “That was a very strong mother to keep going even in all that pain,” she added with a sniffle.
Ginko took a long drag of his cigarette, lowering it as he released a cloud into the air. “She was, I could tell from the son she raised,” Ginko said.
A small grin brightened her face as she turned back to her work. Her tiny hands diligently weaving the reeds together with trained nimble fingers. The two of them were quiet for a moment with the only sound coming from the rustle of the reeds and the distant song of the forest birds. Then all of a sudden Miyu abruptly dropped the basket and covered her ears with her hands.
“What?” Ginko asked startled.
Lowering her hands Miyu said, “I was curious to know what my sound was.”
Relaxing back against the wall beam Ginko chuckled. “Oh, and what does it sound like?” he inquired.
Scooting across the floor until she knelt in front of Ginko Miyu lifted her hands and placed them over his ears. “It sounds like snow crumbling into spring,” she replied.
And it did. It was like the rumble of melting snow falling from trees and down the mountains’ face as spring warmed the Earth.
Ginko sat still as Miyu’s hands rested over his ears. Theirs faces closer than they had ever been, close enough for Miyu to see past the hair that covered his left eye -or what was once his left eye, but now was just an empty black socket. Her breath hitched when she thought she saw the shadows move in the dark hole, but the air didn’t return when she noticed Ginko staring back at her. It wasn’t in an angry or upset way, his face was a light shade of pink and his forest green right eye was wide with something Miyu wasn’t familiar with.
With a shaky laugh and trembling arms Miyu removed her palms from Ginko’s head. A faint flush covering her cheeks appeared as she inched away from the still staring man.
“I’m sorry that was awfully forward of me,” Miyu said.
Replacing his cigarette between his lips Ginko said, “You were right.”
“Huh?” Miyu gasped startled.
“It sounds like the end of winter,” he stated. “It’s a pleasant sound.”
A fresh round of blood colored her cheeks as she tried to hide the happy smile that tugged at her mouth. Her heart even skipped a beat at his comment making her even more self-conscience about Ginko next to her.
Biting her bottom lip Miyu went back to her weaving while the two of them sat in a silence that was neither awkward nor pleasant. It was just quiet.
They didn’t bring up the moment until the end of the following day when Miyu was wrapping the almost completely healed ankle. She was humming as she worked, but stopped when both of her ears were covered. Miyu’s hands froze on the bandages as she raised her gaze to see Ginko thoughtfully glancing back. His palms were gently pressed against her ears filling her head with a deep rumble like the sound of river rapids in the distance.
“This is my sound,” Ginko said.
Removing his hands Miyu smiled at him. Finishing with his ankle she said, “I like your sound, it’s strong like a river.”
Cleaning up the salve and used bandages Miyu got to her feet to dispose of them, but she was stopped by a hand at her elbow.
“How about another cup of tea and a story,” Ginko suggested.
With rosy cheeks and a happy smile Miyu replied, “I’d really like that.”
Releasing her arm Ginko moved to the back porch where he waited for her to return with the tea. When she arrived she sat the tea between them and took her usual spot to Ginko’s right. The night air cooler than it had been the last few night making Miyu thankful that she had gone with hot green tea instead of the cool barely tea she had been practicing for summer.
Once they were settled in Ginko began telling Miyu of the time her met a boy who could bring pictures to life. Miyu listened intently as Ginko recounted the half mushi grandmother, and the beautiful evergreen colored wine cup. She giggled at the sarcastic remarks the young girl had made at Ginko, and went wide eyed at the retelling of the flowing light wine and how it caused soft moss to grow overnight.
“So how much did you sell the wine cup for?” Miyu inquired with a smirk.
“Adashino paid a fair amount,” he said.
“Fair on who’s behalf,” Miyu teased.
“Fair enough,” Ginko smirked back.
Their laughter mixed together as they watched the stars twinkled in the indigo sky. The moon almost completely gone from view, the new moon only a day or so away. It was a gorgeous night. The only light illuminating the night was coming from the two candles inside the room, casting an orange glow over their backs and sending their shadows flickering into the night.
“Ginko?” she said softly.
“Hm?” he replied. Cigarette in hand, eye still on the sky.
“Where are you heading to once you’re healed and leave the mountain?” she asked.
“There’s a town in the next valley that’s supposedly having mushi trouble,” he answered.
“When do you think you’ll be setting out?” she muttered. Her hands twisting together in her lap while her stomach did nervous flips. She wasn’t ready to go back to her solitary life, not just yet.
Carefully rolling his bound ankle testing its mobility Ginko thought about his reply before saying, “The day after tomorrow probably.”
“It seems so soon,” Miyu sighed.
“A week is short,” Ginko said.
“We should get to bed. It’s getting late,” Miyu said standing.
Ginko nodded as he stood. Cigarette pinched between his lips, and his unearthly green eye following Miyu as she cleared away the teacups and entered the house. Her cheeks and neck still held a faint blush that seemed to darken as she scurried away leaving Ginko to slowly trail behind, cane in hand.
That night Miyu tried to go to sleep without having visited the spring, she had spent the entire day with Ginko swapping stories and just chatting. But as dawn approached and the heavy knowledge her return to isolation hung over her Miyu tossed and turned, too wound up to sleep. So as the early birds began chirping to signal the sun’s rising she crawled out of bed, folded up her futon, threw on a fresh komon, and made her way through the garden.
Once seated Miyu released a long sigh as she absentmindedly ran her fingers through her hair combing out the tangles that her fidgeting caused. The full moon was on the water’s surface floating, glowing and enticing Miyu to reach for it. To touch it and disappear with what she loved most. Vanish and never be alone again.
Miyu sat in the quiet morning air slowly relaxing her tense body, but that didn’t last. Out of the garden rustled something large and before Miyu could get to her feet to check on it out popped Ginko startling Miyu off the bamboo mat and into the bush behind her. When she stopped rolling backwards her hair was tangled in the plant’s limbs, kimono crooked, and heart slamming against her ribs. Ginko was the last thing she expected to show up.
“So this is where the promise is hidden,” Ginko commented.
Miyu tried to sit up but her hair was yanked by the bush causing a yelp to leave her and fall back into the green budding plants. Ginko stepped passed the pond and stopped next to Miyu who awkwardly looked up at him with her hair getting pulled. She quietly muttered “Ouch,” repeatedly under her breath.
“I was wondering when you were going to cave and come into the garden,” she said. A slightly amused expression on his pale face.
Narrowing her gaze Miyu grumbled, “You knew?”
“I had a feeling when you disappeared in the middle of the day,” he shrugged.
Whether it was the tugging of her hair or the fact that Ginko had used her to find the mountain’s promise that brought tears to her eyes Miyu couldn’t tell. Both hurt, but one left a sting that Miyu couldn’t shake.
Miyu looked away from Ginko as she tried to free her hair from the bush. The yanking and pulling causing more whimpers and hisses to leave the trapped girl’s mouth.
“Hey, let me do that,” Ginko said.
He reached over and stopped her hands that were pulling at her own hair. As Ginko began untangling the black locks from the shrubbery Miyu continued to stare off at the opposite end of the open area in the middle of the garden. His hands worked swiftly yet gently as he freed her from her embarrassing entrapment. Miyu, irked, annoyed and mildly depressed bit at her bottom lip as she blinked back the tears that prickled at the corners of her eyes.
“And done,” Ginko concluded. His voice calm and deep as normal like he wasn’t kneeling over a girl on the brink of exploding.
As Miyu sat up she protectively ran her hands over her hair like she was checking to make sure it was all still there -which it was except for the few strands that the bush refused to release. When she was satisfied with her find she corrected her kimono that was showing a little too much skin and got to her feet. Eyes still staring across the garden ignoring Ginko.
Ginko stepped over to the bamboo pad where he squatted to get a better angle of the water. “So what’s so special about this pool of water?” he asked.
“I need you to leave,” Miyu stated flatly.
He glanced over his shoulder at her with vague surprise written across his face. Miyu just looked ashen.
“Why is that?” Ginko inquired.
“Because you can’t be here,” she replied.
“Mitsu family rule, I assume,” he said.
Turning back to the spring Ginko lowered his cigarette focusing in on the liquid’s surface. Miyu’s body tensed up when she saw him reach to touch it.
“Don’t!” Her voice echoed through the forest.
Ginko froze. Startled he glanced back at her. “What?”
“Get away from it now,” she ordered. Tone dark, and amber eyes cold. “I need you to leave please. Take what supplies you need from the house, keep the cane, and go. I think it’s time I went back to being alone,” she spoke in a dead voice.
The white haired man stared at Miyu for what felt like years before shaking his head in defeat. With a grunt of effort Ginko stood and muttered, “Too bad. It’s an interesting mushi.”
Miyu had to bite her tongue to keep from losing her control. Ginko had opened a new world to her with his mushi stories, but even if the spring was caused by mushi or was a mushi itself Miyu had to guard it. One kind, caring stranger was not going to break generations of tradition that Miyu had had drilled into her. Ginko had to leave.
Swallowing her resolve Miyu watched the man leave the garden on a still tender ankle. She didn’t abandon the spring until she heard the front door of her home open. She had to force herself not to run to see Ginko take off down the almost completely overgrown path that lead out of the forest and down the mountain. He had kept the cane and didn’t look back as he left.
Part of Miyu wanted to call out some sort of farewell, something that sounded better than ” “I think it’s time I went back to being alone.“” Something that sounded like she enjoyed his company before she sent him away. But she couldn’t muster the courage to speak, too afraid that her resolve would crumble and she’d invite him back. Ginko was a naturally stubborn person she had learned through his tales, bot stopping until he was content with the outcome, so Miyu couldn’t have him come back. His interest in the mountain’s secret would only cause problems.
When he was finally out of sight Miyu made her way back to the spring as the sun broke free from the horizon painting the morning in an angry red. Miyu didn’t stare into the water like she usually did when she was upset instead she watched the clouds over head as her tears finally broke free.
“That’s responsibility isn’t fair,” she sniffled to herself.
Miyu sat there crying for most of the morning, her tears rolling down her cheeks along her jaw and off the end of her chin dripping into the pool. The drops seamlessly morphed with the water, not even creating ripples upon impact. Disappearing into the lie Miyu wished wasn’t hers.
Two months after Ginko’s departure Miyu had almost returned to her mundane routine; cleaning, herb grinding, gardening. The only thing that had changed was after Miyu’s long cry she had barely gone to see the pond. She had stopped sitting and staring into the water too frustrated with herself to just sit and do nothing. She kept herself busy to keep her mind from wandering back to the white haired, green eyes man. Just the thought of Ginko made Miyu’s heart race and her attitude to turn sour.
The heat of summer was starting to break through the comfortable weather of spring making the evenings humid and hot. Miyu tried to sleep through it, but her agitation and sticky skin was making it impossible. So tossing the light blanket aside, lighting the nearby candle Miyu trudged out of her house and into the garden. She paused at the edge of the bamboo mat, not wanting to get too close. The lure of the full moon was becoming increasingly difficult to fight.
Miyu’s amber eyes looked from the starry sky with the half moon down to the pool of liquid that promised the full beautiful moon in a blatant lie that was obviously too good to be real. But as Miyu’s gaze fell onto the spring for the first time in weeks her breath hitched and her stomach twisted.
“Where’s the moon?” Miyu sputtered.
The glowing white orb she had grown up seeing in the pool wasn’t there. The shock and confusion sent Miyu falling to her knees on the mat. Eyes wide, mouth hanging open and hands clenched in her lap Miyu gawked at the new image in the water.
It was Ginko. Smoking one of his brown cigarettes with his mouth quirked up into a knowing smirk. His white hair smoothly covering his missing left eye while the strangely green right eye stared up at Miyu like he could actually see her.
The stunned girl tried to speak to the fake Ginko, but she couldn’t find her voice. She sat there like a drowning fish as she locked gazes with the Ginko lie. After almost an hour realization sank in and Miyu clammed up. Her mouth pinched shut, eyes watering, hands limp at her sides. Miyu wasn’t quite sure how she felt, her body was numb, but her emotions seemed to be backed up. It was like a dam had been put up and she was just waiting for it to drop so she knew how to react.
“So this is what I love the most now,” Miyu whispered to herself. Shaking her head she corrected, “Who. I meant who.”
As if he could hear her the image of Ginko chuckled. There was no noise, just the parting of his lips and the closing of his eye as he shook from the laughter.
Miyu stared on. It was the perfect reflection of Ginko.
Then the dam broke. Miyu sobbed, yelled, punched the ground, and finally whimpered in defeat. Her heart hurt as it drummed in her chest like it was breaking. She felt happy to finally know why Ginko was always drifting into her head, but she also felt lost. He was gone and never coming back while Miyu was stuck on the mountain held by loyalty and responsibility to guard the spring that mocked her.
Lifting her right hand Miyu brushed her hair aside, but she didn’t return it to her side. Instead she reached out towards the spring where Ginko stared back at her. Her hand hovering several inches above the surface the urge to plunge her fingers into the liquid was like an aching hunger that just wouldn’t be satisfied.
The Ginko in the pond began reaching for the hand Miyu held out, but he was trapped in the pond. It was up to Miyu to close the distance.
“But I didn’t know him for that long,” she told herself. Trying to fight against what she knew was wrong, but the life she was living, the growing loneliness was becoming unbearable.
“No one will come up here,” she muttered. “The promise will be fine. . .”
Taking a deep breath Miyu began lowering her hand. All of her attention was on the relaxed expression on Ginko’s face as he watched her hand move.
Suddenly Miyu found herself being yanked backwards away from the pond and away from her freedom.
“No!” she cried out.
Scrambling to her hands and knees she fought to get to the spring where Ginko was waiting for her. Where they could start their own adventure together away from the mountains.
“Woah, what do you think you’re doing?”
Three things happened in the moment after Miyu’s unwanted savior spoke. First, Miyu stopped fighting, her body surrendering to the hands that pulled her back.
Second, her fear and resolve was completely gone. She suddenly felt relieved and childish at her own behavior.
And third, Miyu released a short breath that held the name of her savior.
Turning around in the arms that still held her Miyu frantically gazed up into the face that belonged to an exasperated, pale man. Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes as her fingers curled into his shirt front.
“What are you doing here?” Miyu sniffled.
“Better question: what were you about to do?” he shot back. Green eye glaring at her.
Miyu couldn’t answer, her shame too great. She only lowered her head.
“You were the one who said that that pond couldn’t be trusted,” he reminded her. “And here you are about to put your hand into it,” he rambled.
“I know,” she murmured.
“Why on Earth were you going to do that for?” Ginko questioned.
Swallowing the lump in her throat Miyu replied, “Because of you.”
“What?” He raised a brow.
Releasing his shirt Miyu shifted out of his lap and sat next to Ginko. Pulling her knees to her chest so she was scrunched up into a ball Miyu gestured to the spring. The moon overhead causing the liquid’s surface to gleam like an old coin.
“Go look into the pond,” she said.
Ginko glanced from the girl then at the spring and without saying anything he stood. Quietly he stepped over to the spring where he stared into the water for what felt like hours. As time ticked by Miyu became more and more curious to know what Ginko saw. Was it a place he loved to visit? His favorite food? Was it a person? Miyu wanted to know.
“Interesting,” he suddenly said. Squatting down to get a better look the mushi master waved the girl over without looking away from the pond.
Miyu silently joined his side, a little unnerved to see two separately moving Ginko’s.
“I see what you meant about a lying puddle. This shows you whatever you want and teases you with it until you surrender and touch the water,” he said.
Miyu shook her head. “No, it shows you the thing you love most,” she corrected.
“Hmm,” Ginko said deep in thought. “So what did you see that made you surrender?” He gazed over at Miyu with one wide green eye.
Miyu’s neck and cheeks burned with embarrassment as she twisted her fingers together. Biting at her bottom lip she muttered, “You.”
“Hm?” Ginko leaned over to hear her better.
Dropping her flushed face into her hands Miyu repeated, “You,” but louder.
She peeked up at Ginko when he didn’t say anything and what she saw made her giggle. The man’s head was turned away from her, but she could see the tips of his ears growing a cherry red. Ginko was mutely pleased.
After clearing his throat Ginko spun back to Miyu, green eye warm and inviting. “Good thing I showed up when I did,” he said.
Miyu tilted her head in confusion.
“This mushi takes those who touch it and drops them into the river of light, feeding off of the life they had left while they are lost in the kouki,” he explained.
“So this puddle is living off of my ancestors?” Miyu inquired.
“Yeah,” he nodded slowly.
Hugging her knees Miyu looked to the fake Ginko who was smiling at her. “Then wouldn’t it be fine I just joined them. Give this mushi one last meal,” she muttered.
“Why?” Ginko challenged.
“Because a mountain with no visitors has no use for a lonely guard. A promised lie sounds better than a lifetime of false hope, doesn’t it?” she explained.
“Then why don’t you just leave?” Ginko suggested.
“Family tradition,” Miyu sighed. Tightening her arms around her legs Miyu pressed her forehead to her knees and took a long shaky breath. “No one in the Mitsu family has died in decades, when they see the end coming they all cave and touch the spring. My grandparents went together, my father fell ill and left, then my mother rushed to the end from a broken heart. I don’t want to be alone anymore,” Miyu whimpered at the end.
She could feel the tears prickle to her eyes as she stayed curled up in her tight ball.
“Miyu,” Ginko said.
Lifting her head Miyu sniffled back her tears as she looked to see Ginko holding a paper packet of some silver powder. Miyu glanced from the packet to Ginko and back with anxious butterflies in her stomach.
“What are you-,” she began.
But her words trailed off as Ginko tipped the packet spilling the powder into the pond. Miyu’s amber eyes widened as she watched the particles react with the spring water. It rippled for the first time in Miyu’s life, twisting and spinning as the clear color turned a rich gold like the rays of the sun breaking through thick gray clouds. The water, no, the mushi receded draining the tiny spring until there was nothing but rocks and sand.
“I. . . It. . ” Miyu stammered.
She reached into the hole expecting to feel cool water on her fingertips, but all they touched was the dry sand at the bottom of the pond. It was as if there had never been any water there before.
“What did you do?” Miyu questioned still dazed. Her responsibility was gone, her way out had vanished.
“That powder caused the mushi to drag itself into the river of light,” Ginko explained.
The girl stared into the hole for another long minute before she gazed up at Ginko who wore a small pleased smile.
“Why?” she questioned. The tears returning to her eyes.
“No one should feel trapped,” he stated.
“You freed me,” she cried.
Miyu couldn’t control herself anymore, her emotions exploded out of her along with her tears. She fell onto Ginko’s shoulder crying her gratitude into the fabric until it was soaked and her eyes became bloodshot.
Why hadn’t Miyu thought of having a mushi master take care of the spring years ago? The family rules. Watch over the pool, keep others away, and don’t touch it until the end. Miyu was raised to do just that, never taught to do more than the Mitsu family duty.
Now she was cut free from the responsibility. What was she to do now?
Ginko had moved them inside when Miyu;s sobs had softened and her mind had focused in on the moment. They were sitting around a lit lantern drinking warm tea that Ginko had prepared while Miyu continued to hiccup and sniffle. As he prepared it Miyu noted that he remembered his way around her kitchen fairly well despite their time apart.
Gingerly sipping at her tea Miyu watched Ginko lite up a fresh cigarette. He was leaning against the middle beam in the wall, his old spot during his stay. As he released a puff of smoke into the air his gaze met Miyu’s.
“What?” he questioned.
Lowering her cup Miyu said, “What do I do now?”
“Well,” Ginko sighed. Leaving the cigarette in his mouth he replied, “You could either stay here and continue leaving like you always have, or you can leave the mountain.”
“I don’t know what I would do if I left. Where would I go?” she said.
“You could travel with me until you found your place,” he suggested.
Miyu’s crying stained face lit up. “Really? I wouldn’t be too much trouble?” she asked.
“I owe you,” he grinned at her.
Excited, Miyu sat down her tea and hurried off to pack. She spent most of the night riffling through her things trying to decide what to take with her. Before she knew it Miyu fell asleep atop of pile of her clothes, Ginko quietly stepped inside to blow out her candle on his way to the guest room. When morning hit Miyu was the first one up, made breakfast, and finished packing before Ginko woke up.
With her bag on her back Miyu stood next to the empty pond half expecting last night to be a dream. But there was the hole: dry, empty and a joke. So much time wasted on something so quickly dealt with. It was like a humiliating slap to the Mitsu family face.
As the sun rose higher and higher Ginko finally emerged from the house fed and ready to go. Though when he saw Miyu’s head peeking over the bushes he joined her in the center of the garden patiently waiting for her.
“Hey Ginko,” she inquired. Spinning on her heel she faced the white haired man with wide smoldering amber eyes.
“Yeah,” he puffed on his cigarette.
“What did you see in the mushi?” she asked.
In one quick movement Ginko’s brows shot up and he turned on his heel marching out of the garden. Startled by his reaction Miyu took off after him.
“Wait, what’s your answer?” she pressed.
“Don’t rush, or you’ll run out of stamina before we reach the base,” he redirected the conversation. Or he tried.
Miyu caught the pink in his cheeks as they walked through the forest. A knowing smirk pulled at her lips as she followed after him.
“I told you what I saw, now it’s your turn,” she whined.
“Maybe later,” Ginko said.
“Ginko,” Miyu pouted.
“Later,” he said.
Taking the lead down the nearly gone path Miyu smiled and giggled to herself. She could feel Ginko’s gaze on her which made her heart flutter.
Glancing over her shoulder at him she said, “You know you could have lied, but now I just have my hopes up.”
“I figured you were done with lies for a lifetime,” was his response.
Heart racing with excitement Miyu said, “Then I’m going to keep my hope.”
Grinning Ginko said, “Okay.”
There are promised lies, then there are hopeful truths. Neither are perfect, nor end the way you expect. But you will never know unless you reach out and touch them.
“I love you too, Ginko.”
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