Rin wanted to see her grandmother one more time. Many in her village tried to talk her out of the idea.
“You must not open the gate on the other side,” the village elder told her.
“Why?” Rin asked one day.
“You will let in the evil among the humans,” he said.
“Why is that?”
“I cannot tell you that. Just don’t open the gate.”
Usually, the village elder’s words would sink into the young girl’s head. That urge to see her grandmother again led her to sneak out in the middle of the night down to the abandoned temple outside of the village. She stood before the large wooden door. Spirits seemed to cry out to anyone who would listen from the other side. Rin stood trembling. Still, she wouldn’t turn away. The young girl reached out and touched the door. The cold surface made her draw back instantly. Still, she wouldn’t run away.
I have to see grandmother again.
Rin took in a deep breath as she walked up to the door again. This time, she ignored the whispers from the other side of the door. She steadied herself and opened the door. Cold gusts of wind blew past her before everything went quiet. Her eyes lit up as she smiled and looked through the open door.
“Grandma?” she asked. Rin walked forward with her hand out.
Because of that late night visit, the village began to suffer. First, all of the crops began to die. The farmers couldn’t figure out what happened. They had a healthy harvest all year long and the conditions were perfect this year. No matter how much they struggled to get the conditions back the way they had it, crops still kept dying faster than they were planting.
Soon, the animals were getting sick and dying. No amount of medicine could cure them. It got worse when the fish in the sea and rivers were dying. Not only that, the fishermen complained around a foul odor coming from the water.
“It smelled like rotting bodies,” a young fisherman complained to the village elder. Only when the children started to disappear days later was when he put two and two together. He hurried down to Rin’s hut. He pounded on her door.
“Open it up!” the village elder shouted. “I need to talk to you!” He panted as the door the opened.
“Yes?” Rin asked.
“What did you do?” he asked. At first, the girl gave him a puzzled look.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You opened it, didn’t you? Didn’t you?”
“The gate in the abandoned temple! You opened it and now the village is plagued with evil spirits!”
It took the girl-child to figure out what he was talking about. Her eyes widened like a frog’s. “I… did that?”
“Yes!” the elder cried. “You have to put them back before they kill us all!” It didn’t occur to how bad things had gotten until now. Her grandmother’s spirit had been keeping her alive and well-fed. She hadn’t left her hut to even know what was going on. It was the first time she had seen anyone else or been outside. A ghost-like patted her on the shoulder.
“It’s okay, darling,” her grandmother whispered in her ear. “You have to let me go.”
“But…” Rin said.
“Please. I can’t let you kill your village all because of me. Please, I had a good life in this world. You have to let me go.”
Rin lowered her head and closed her eyes. “What do I need to do, elder?”
“Follow me,” the old man said. The young girl followed him out of the hut.
The village elder led Rin to the abandoned temple. The girl had red paint painted her wrists, ankles, forehead, and neck. She clutched the white silk in her hands. The village elder walked up the stone steps.
“Do you know what to do?” he asked. Rin lowered her head.
“Yes,” she said.
“Are you sure you want to do this?”
The elder pressed his lips together. “And are you ready to do this?”
“Yes.” Rin moved to the center ground before the steps of the temple. The elder reached into his bag and tossed ashes into the air. He broke into a low humming chant. Rin closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She let her feet break into the ancient dance. Nobody had seen or done this for centuries.
“You cannot let yourself get distracted by the cries of the evil spirits,” the elder told her beforehand. “If you mess up the forbidden dance, your soul will be trapped in the Land of the Dead and the evil spirits will stay among the humans forever.”
“But how will I know how to perform the ritual?” Rin asked.
“You will feel it in your heart,” he said. Right now, the young girl found herself lost in the head rhythm in her head and the elder’s chanting. The evil spirits screamed as they were dragged back through the door. The more they wailed, the harder Rin danced. She could feel herself floating on air as she danced faster. The village elder took in breaths as he changed. One by one, the evil spirits disappeared into the door. Rin felt her body disappear into the sky as the ritual became intense. She didn’t dare open her eyes. The girl couldn’t bring herself to be distracted by her grandmother’s smiling face.
I am so sorry everyone. I only wanted to see my grandmother again. Rin vanished into the sky with a smile on her face.
By morning, everything returned to normal. The village was no longer in danger of starvation. However, Rin’s hut was empty. There was no grandmother and there was no Rin. It was the price that she had to pay to save her village from ruin. Maybe there could be a second chance? Maybe…
The village elder was out in the rice fields when he came across a crying baby in the shallow mud. He recognized the red marks on her wrists, ankles, forehead, and neck.
Heh, so came back after all, you foolish little girl, he thought. The village elder picked up the baby and carried her home with him.