The Sands of Miyajima

By Caleb Morrison

 

The samurai (at least he assumed he was a samurai, considering he was wearing armor) stood in the wet sand overlooking the angry, expansive ocean, wondering what was next. He knew that of all of his facial expressions, his contemplative expression was one of his most endearing, and he now wore it with aplomb. If Kano Motonobu himself chose this moment to make him the subject of a work of art, it would have quickly become apparent to the trained eye of the artist that the samurai was thoroughly and completely average - average height, weight, and looks; nothing terribly remarkable about him at all, possibly aside from his serene expression and bold armor. In fact, if he hadn’t been wearing a full suit of armor, he would likely go completely unnoticed.

In this wet cold, the samurai found the weight of his armor comforting. He likened it to the inside of a comfortable cookpot, and he was the warming rice waiting to cook until he was soft enough for a family’s onigiri. Well, he did find the thought of being eaten somewhat disturbing, but otherwise he found the concept comforting. He turned his eyes away from a sky that was so overcast that it was nearly black, and turned his mind to the past seven hours. The past seven hours were little more than a collection of images, really. He had something wrong with his memory; it seemed to be collected into a random series of events. He didn’t seem to be experiencing life in as quite a linear fashion as people should, and now as he shuffled through the box in the upper left of his skull that held the records of the last seven hours, he found images of boats on the waves, blurring masses of men screaming in pain and fury, a dark-eyed woman in a purple kimono with sharp teeth, a radish, and three ghastly black horses. He put the collection back in its box, and returned to surveying the area.

Methodically, he looked over the area through all 360 degrees, including elevation, with a vague, distant uneasiness slowly seeping up through his mystified mind. There were no birds; no birds of any kind flew or dove along the coastline or in the water. For that matter, nothing save a giant torii gate surrounded by the angrily roiling waves tearing at the green glass surface of the water, which stretched into an unbroken horizon. To either hand, the sand stretched, unbroken and pale, into an unfathomable distance; it appeared to go straight to the edge of the world, with a rock formation breaking its placid, otherwise undisturbed surface. No undergrowth broke the plane of the straightness, no seaweed. But, behind him a tremendous temple stood majestically, yet menacingly, against the shore, stark and forbidding; it was as though some vaguely formed horror hid in its dark heart.

A flash of memory: a quick view through fog and rain of men with spears, clashing steel, tall banners of an unidentifiable master waving as though sentient... He shook his head, trying to clear it. There was no wind. How could there be no wind off the sea? Was the tide rising or falling? For that matter, where was the sun…? Then, the final high strangeness of the scene bore its way into his already confused brain. There was no sun! Oh, it was true, there was light and plenty of it; the hard marble grayness of the sky glowed almost as pale as the sand, but amidst its hellish unbrokenness, there was no bright sphere. Where the hell was he? And then he heard it: distant but primordial in its breadth, as though that sound had been vibrating through the vacuum of space since the first stirrings of the precursor to the thought of a beam of light's penetration of the great black which would become the land of the rising sun; that sound, like distant thunder, or like a louder version of the waves from that strange sea, or... The sound increased, from all directions save the wet sands beneath his feet. Another flash: the woman's eyes... What was their emotion? Fear, rage, hate, lust? The pupils dilated, glistening slightly with unshed tears... Were they concern? Were they tears of happiness?

The horrible sound grew closer, and he looked up to see a horrible black dot, expanding rapidly in size, plummeting downward towards him. He thought to run, but where could he run? His mind suspended; all thought ceased for a split second, all sense of identity or memory went blank, and then he was himself again. What had he been thinking? The sand: Oh, yes. How did he get here? His mind raced back again, and realization dawned on him. He realized he was dead, killed in a battle, and nothing but a shade, just like a character in one of the ghost stories his uncle used to tell him late at night. Anger, shame, and chagrin that he was nothing more than a pathetic cliché overwhelmed him – I’m the samurai ghost that shocks the listener when it is revealed he is actually dead. I’m THAT guy. He shook his head in disgust that his end would be so trite. He looked to the sky. Funny - that huge black funnel cloud seemed to be spinning like a twisting snake, didn't it? Funny how that black spiral was blocking out the sun? Wait a minute - there wasn't any sun. And, then, he felt its abyssal winds yanking at his helmet and an overwhelming terror at last seized him.