Cheri and I have decided that we were going to do a writing prompt to stretch our writing muscles and to figure out what our writing styles are like by analyzing each other’s stories. We’ll be posting the pieces we have come up with for Sanjiv’s wonderful prompt: Write a light horror/romance with a socially-anxious monk.
We have added an area where we’d like for anyone who’s interested to post their links to participate. We will gladly leave feedback on each piece. Over the next two days Cheri and I will be critiquing each other’s pieces to analyze technique and style.
Mono no Aware
At the base of a tree — in a hole, he lowered himself into a little box where he would spend the rest of his mortal life — I felt the dirt under my fingernails as I dug them into my palm. I dug my love’s grave, the traitorous thought played through my mind. The fact that he would never be with me again bored into my soul, deeper than any meditation could ever touch.
We fell in a tumultuous love all at once. I was an apprentice monk as he came in, dirty and rebellious. His brown eyes met mine as I was to show him around. He took me that night in the prayer room. I loved him from the very first and he knew it. And he had once loved me.
I chose to stay and meditate in a circle of my brothers as we heard the bell that told us he was still in this world. Once a day, he would ring that bell and when it rang no more, we would know that he was successful.
Or was he.
Ding. My heart releases and beat its slow staccato beats as it struggled to push what oxygen was left through my veins. I take a small breath and start the cycle again as the sun sets on another day.
Ding. My stomach unclenches as an empty sack fills with air and I inhale deeply. My brothers start to dwindle. Days have passed, but he is still alive.
Ding. I refuse to move for fear that I would miss that moment when the bell rings.
My head begins to float and I feel the strong calcification of the water coating my skin and pulling my face into a rictus of what it used to be. Black dots appear and dance across my vision just as he used to. I take one last deep breath and resolve to breathe no more.
Ding. The bell rings one final time.
The Mill House
They say Kobo Daishi, the honorable monk Kukai, made the slow trek up the side of Mt. Koya and left the site holy. Sai is no Kukai, but the temple head thought the youngest acolytes would benefit from the pilgrimage through Shikoku. Every person — layman or not — starts and ends the journey at the top of Mt. Koya, where Kukai’s temple bells echo for hours.
If Sai had just taken the main routes up to the rail with the rest of the group, he would have been at the top by now, touring the great halls. If the crowds and noise hadn’t set his palms sweating and heart frantically racing, he wouldn’t have turned and declared he’d rather go up through the other path, up the back of the mountain, through the forests no one had traversed in decades. If he had just worked past the anxiety, prayer by prayer, then he would not have been lost in the dark, the only one around for miles to hear the high, keening cry that broke the air.
But these were wishes that would not be. And so Sai found the house in the clearing with the broken mill, and the sobbing woman lying prostrate on the rotting porch. Sai hates himself for hesitating, digging deep for compassion until he remembers that he is lost and he is cold and this woman is the only human around for miles and miles.
“A monk,” the woman whispers from Sai’s feet. Her hair falls over her face like cobwebs. “Help me,” she says. So Sai makes another bad decision: “I will,” he says.
The woman’s name is Rei. She is weak and not particularly beautiful, but she is also the first layperson Sai has interacted with so closely since entering the monastery a year ago. She might as well be a two-headed monster. Sai keeps himself busy, cleaning room after room in the small house, and digging up bitter greens and mushrooms to prepare meals for Rei.
“I can’t eat this,” the woman says. At Sai’s hurt look she slumps further against a wall, stained darkly no matter how Sai has tried to clean the wooden grain. The strange patterns stretch out on every floor and every room. “I need meat,” she says.
Sai nods. “I’m afraid I cannot help you in this,” he explains. He is on the path to monkhood and has sworn to uphold the sanctity of all life.
Rei looks up at him from the floor. The fire Sai has stoked flickers in the wind. The shadows on the wall stir and grow. “You said you would help me,” she says and her tone is sharp for just a second, growing hushed as the fire dies back down.
“You need to eat,” Sai says. He feeds her the greens by hand and picks each leaf up as she spits them out, unchewed.
He catches her in a corner the next morning, picking out trapped insects from spider’s webs and devouring the arachnids whole. When he tries to stop her she pushes him down and sits on his chest, pinning his shoulders with her knees. Leaning close, her face seems longer, chin unhinged. “You granted me your help, monk,” she says. Her breath smells of blowflies. She slumps against him and her face seems its own shape again. “I am weak. Hunt or you shall be my next meal.”
Sai does not know what drives him, the fear or the promise. He recites a litany of prayers as he enters the forest, as he nets the rabbit, as he breaks it tiny neck with his own hands.
The woman snatches the coney from the air as Sai prepares to drop it into the frying pan. She eats it raw and thanks Sai with blood and gristle between her teeth.
“This used to be the only route up the mountain,” Rei tells him one night, lying atop Sai full-bodied. It is how she likes best to converse, her head tucked beneath Sai’s chin so she can hear the pulse at his throat. “So many people would pass on their way to the temple. They would stop and say hello, stay the night…” Her voice is wistful but her fingers dig into Sai’s wrists like fangs. “When they stopped coming…” She sighs, chest pushing into Sai’s stomach. “Well, you are here now, little monk.”
Outside the temple bells miles above begin to toll.
How’d we do? Don’t forget to link your attempts below! All entries due before 2/18/15 before Midnight if you’d like for us to provide feedback!