Nightmares on the Road to Motakke

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Six

The two travelers passed uneventfully through the forest. As the sun fell behind the mountain, throwing the forest into an early dusk, the path grew more and more difficult to see. Raizo brought out a small travel lantern from his pack. Its dim light allowed them to see little else but the path a few feet in front of them. They proceeded cautiously, wary of a misstep.

Finally, the path beneath their feet changed from dirt to hard flagstones. From the darkness emerged the facade of a stone arch carved into the side of the mountain. This arch was similar to the one at the bottom of the mountain, except for the intricate, angular patterns etched along its posts and mantle. The patterns felt familiar to Leela as they passed through the arch and in to the chamber within.

The room they entered was simple and circular. The wall of the round chamber was lined with concentric shelves, like steps, on which rested hundreds of unlit candles. A low table was placed in the center of the room on which a larger candle sat. Raizo used his lantern to light a few of the candles on the wall before both sat down cross-legged at the table. Raizo lit the large candle and they waited.

A half-hour passed in silence until they heard motion behind them. Through the archway walked the wolf. Raizo made to stand up, but Leela grabbed his shoulder, urging him to sit still. The wolf walked around to the other side of the small table and sat down across from Leela and Raizo. Leela noticed the knife wound was gone.

A deep, cool voice that seemed to fill the room emanated from the wolf. “You have traveled far to see me.”

Leela recognized the angular patterns on its fur. “You are Motakke? Great Spirit, we are here to—”

“I know why you are here, Leela,” said the wolf. “As Raizo once told you, I know the hearts of all who enter my realm.”

Leela hung her head. “I’m…sorry I stabbed you.”

“I required a blood toll. You were defending your companion. There is honor in that.”

Raizo spoke up. “Great Motakke, you know why we are here, and you have allowed us to enter your temple. Does this mean—”

“Yes. I will let you speak to the dead. But I give you a warning: the living are not meant to speak to the dead. You may not find what you expect.”

“Please,” said Leela, “We’ve come so far.”

“Very well. But I have given you my warning.” The wolf looked to both travelers. “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” they answered.

The chamber transformed. The wolf and Raizo were gone. Leela was now sitting by the edge of a familiar cliff. The afternoon sun warmed her face and a gentle breeze played with her dark hair. She could hear the shallow river in the ravine below. She stood up, turned around, and gasped.

“Sanjay!”

Standing there was the small figure of a boy about eight years old. He seemed out of place in his surroundings. Though the sun was shining, he cast no shadow and his entire body was dark and gray as if lit by dusklight.

“Sanjay! It’s me, Leela!”

The boy made no sound or movement. Though his darkened features were hard to discern, Leela sensed an expression of cold contempt.

“Sanjay, please! I need to speak to you! I’ve come so far!”

The boy said nothing.

Leela stepped forward. “Please, Sanjay, I came to say I’m sorry for what I did. I was young and cruel. Please, I need you to forgive me.” Leela reached out to put her hand on the boy’s shoulder. But suddenly the boy’s face twisted with inhuman rage. The sky turned red. An unseen force shoved Leela away with such power that it lifted her off her feet for a brief moment. She landed, stumbling backwards trying to regain her balance, and tumbled over the cliff. The bottom of her stomach fell away as she plummeted towards the water below. Her screams were cut short when her head hit the rocky riverbed. In a single instant searing pain shot through her body, her neck snapped, then she felt nothing.

Leela awoke screaming, flailing. It was several seconds before she realized she was back in the circular chamber. The wolf was sitting where it had been before. Raizo was face down on the floor, weeping.

Leela shot up to her feet. “Motakke! Send me back!”

“No.”

“Please! I need to speak to him—to make him understand!”

“He does not wish to see you.”

Leela fell to her knees. “Please…I just…I need peace.”

“I cannot force Sanjay to accept you.”

Leela wept quietly. “Please…”

Motakke spoke gently. “There is nothing more I can do for you. But…” He leaned in and Leela could see herself in the wolf’s massive eyes. “This life is not your only chance.” Before Leela could respond, the wolf leaned back and faced Raizo, still weeping on the floor. “What about you, Raizo? Do you have any more to request of me?”

Raizo sat up. Leela saw his face was streaked by tears, but he was smiling.

“Yes!” he said. “I mean no, Great Motakke! No more requests. Yasuko—she forgave me!”

Motakke nodded and stood up. “Then there is nothing more for either of you here. When morning comes, you will leave this mountain. You will not see me again.” The wolf turned and disappeared through the arch.

Raizo wiped his tears with the sleeve of his good arm. After a minute he looked to Leela. “So…what did Sanjay say?”

Leela shook her head. “Nothing. He rejected me.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“I’m…not sure how I feel. Motakke said this life is not my only chance. What did he mean?”

Raizo tugged at his mustache. “Maybe he means you’ll see Sanjay again in the next life.”

“Maybe. But that’s a little ways away.”

Raizo smiled. “Maybe for you.” Raizo stood up and held out his uninjured hand. “But while you’re waiting, want to help me out around the farm?”

Leela smiled and took Raizo’s hand. “Sure, sure.”

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