Memory in the Mind's Eye
. . .
A green eye opened with a start, facing upward towards the moon. The night air was cool on his sweat covered skin and he sat up from the grassy bed he'd made, wiping the moisture away with the back of his hand.
"Strange…" He mumbled to himself, spotting the glowing organisms he was all too familiar with floating around him. "So many mushi…I didn't think I was here that long." He blinked his green eye and stood, stretching out his slender limbs. Sleeping on the ground wasn't very comfortable, but he wasn't picky. He couldn't be with his profession; constantly moving and never staying in one place for too long.
Running a hand through his brilliant, white hair, he gathered his wooden box, slung it on his back, and began to move. He didn't want to sleep any longer. He didn't think he would even if he tried.
He began to walk, the stars above him seeming to act as his guide. He could see the reflected life stream and frowned, but didn't know why.
And odd dream had woken him up. He had been sitting with his back to the life stream as he always did when a force—it felt like hands on his shoulders—pulled him down into it. Light surrounded him and a vision of a woman appeared, her arms reaching out to him. He reached out to her, their green eyes meeting. Her white hair flowed around her as she called to him, but he didn't recognize the name on her lips.
And then he woke up. Pulling a cigar and lighter from his pocket, he lit it and put it to his mouth. After taking a drag and exhaling the smoke, he looked up at the sky again. The sun had risen and the air had grown hot and sticky. Crickets screeched loudly, warning every living thing with ears that the weather would not cool off anytime soon.
He never had dreams. He was always watching the life stream to be sure no one would look into its light. To be sucked into it concerned him and he wondered why such a thing would happen. And the woman he saw…she had the same hair and eyes he bore. She kept one eye closed as he did.
"Excuse me, would you have any food I could purchase?" He asked an elderly man holding a shovel. The man blinked and seemed to think a moment.
"The village is just beyond that hill. They will have vendors you can buy from."
"Thank you." He moved forward and reached the village. It was comfortable and small, and the people he passed smiled at him, despite the fact he was an obvious outsider. He walked to the first vendor he came upon, a young girl behind a fruit stand, and purchased a bag of edibles.
"S'cuse me, sir?" Her mousy voice caught his attention and he looked down at her. Her brown hair was tied back in a ponytail and she held her hands just below her chin. He bit into an apple and looked at her. "What is that thing floating around you?"
"Around me…" He mumbled while chewing, his eye spotting a neon orange strand that swirled above his head. He furrowed his brows. "You can see mushi."
"Yes. Mushi are like energy in purest form. Most people can't see them." He gave a small smile. "You have a rare ability like me." She watched the orange strand dance in the air when it just froze.
"Call me Ginko."
"What is it doing?" She asked. He kept his eye on it, a knot forming in his stomach.
"I'm not sure. I'm not familiar with this species."
The mushi suddenly began to fade and a terrible ache throbbed in his head. Ginko clutched his head, the bag of fruit dropping to the ground and scattering at his feet. "Damn it…what is this?" He gasped, falling to his knees and squeezing his eyes closed.
His hearing seemed to fade and his mind's eye drew a new image. He watched a small boy rise from a hill of fallen earth, looking over to a woman buried near him. She was unmoving and he began to cry. And then the boy left, limping into the forest as the rain drenched him to the bone.
"Ginko." Ginko's green eye opened and the girl from the fruit stand was above him. Her brown eyes were brimmed with tears and worry and he sucked in a deep breath. He automatically pulled a cigar from his pocket and put it between his lips. When it was lit, he took a drag and closed his eye. His head still hurt.
The girl had taken him to her home and tended to him. He had been unconscious the rest of the day, waking early afternoon the next. The girl sat next to him the entire time, fearing he would die.
"Thank you for the hospitality—"
"Kaiya." She finished for him, having realized she never introduced herself. He pulled himself into a sitting position, his cigar hanging from his mouth. "Ginko." She said. He merely nodded. "What happened?"
"The mushi…it's somehow affecting me. I've been careless." He admitted, looking at the ceiling, the orange mushi dancing in a figure-eight. He scowled at it and Kaiya watched it with him, pulling her moss colored kimono tighter around her.
"What do you do?" She asked him out of the blue. "Do you work with mushi?"
"I'm a mushi master."
"This mushi…I'm fairly certain I know what it is now. But before I can remove it from myself, I need your help." He told her, blinking casually. He watched her lip quiver and her eyes dart to the corner of the room.
"Ok." He took another drag from the cigar.
"What happened in the village today when I saw the mushi?" She thought back to the day before, folding her hands in her lap and looking at him.
"Well…you told me you weren't familiar with it and then you went really pale. You grabbed your head and fell down unconscious and your body started shaking really bad. I had some other vendors help me get you here and you started mumbling in your sleep."
Ginko started to feel dizzy and he laid back down, spotting the mushi. Its movement seemed to slow down. "The mushi. What happened to it when I fell?" He asked, his words slurring.
"It froze in midair and suddenly disappeared. And before you fell…your eye turned neon orange. Just like the mushi."
He didn't realize he had fallen asleep. Ginko saw the familiar glow of the stream behind him and let himself fall back into it. He watched the woman he saw before appear, only now she was nothing but a black figure without detail.
He could hear her calling to him, but couldn't understand the name she spouted. His eye closed and he tried to grab onto something, becoming disoriented. He tried to call back, but his throat closed and he gasped. Breath leaving him, he choked out, writhing for air as the woman continued to beckon to him. His eye cracked open in panic, and the black mass was inches from his face.
"This mushi is very obnoxious." Ginko spoke aloud as he sat up, waking himself from his vivid dreams. He looked to where Kaiya had been sitting and sighed when he realized she was no longer there.
"You're awake." He glanced behind him and his eye widened. Standing in the doorway was Kaiya, but she morphed into the woman with white hair. He looked away, dropping his head into his hand, the other propping him up. "Are you ok?" She knelt down beside him and put her hands on his shoulders.
"I'm beginning to hallucinate. But I'll be fine. We just have to get this taken care of." After a few minutes passed, Ginko pulled himself together and faced her. Thankfully, she had her face and he was glad the hallucination ended. "This mushi is called a kioku."
"It feeds on memories that we have stored away or forgotten, making the one infected remember everything again. When forgotten memories run out, it leaves the host. It's a weaker form of the Tokoyami, which feeds on all memories."
"Does it hurt people? Will it hurt you?" Kaiya asked, her worry returning full swing. He rubbed his forehead.
"For someone with painful memories locked away, yes. It can cause mental breakdowns and depression. As for me, the things I'm seeing are still fuzzy, but I would rather extract it before it gains any more strength." Ginko reached for his travel box and he winced at the sight of his trembling hand. He gritted his teeth in frustration. "It can also cause physical stress on the body due to stress on the brain." This isn't good. He thought, staring at the box and trying to focus. Kaiya stood and went to it, opening it up.
"Tell me what to do. I can help."
"In the fourth row, third drawer, there should be a small container of herbs. Place them in a bowl of cold water and let it sit for ten minutes. After that, open the second drawer in the fifth row and pull out an empty jar and needle."
"Ok." She did as he instructed her and he sat there, staring at his quivering hands. After the ten minutes had passed, she sat down in front of him with the bowl in one hand and the jar and needle in the other. He nodded at her.
"I'm going to drink the mixture in the bowl. Be sure I drink the entire thing. When I finish, the mushi will come out through my left ear. Hold the needle out to it and let it wrap around it. Once it has, put it in the jar and seal it shut. I might fall unconscious once you extract it. This can be painful."
"Really?" She frowned, looking unsure of herself. He gave a half-hearted chuckle.
"I've never actually dealt with a kioku. But I have read cases of other mushi masters coming into contact with them. It all depends on the person and how much the memories hurt them." He took a deep breath and steadied his hands as best he could before reaching for the bowl. "Ok. Let's get started."
Kaiya handed him the bowl and he tipped it up to his lips. The taste was bitter and the liquid hard to swallow, but he downed it with determination. Before he swallowed the last bit, his head began to throb again. He set the bowl down and felt the pain increase. He clutched at his head again, doing his best to suppress a yell. "It's coming!" He gasped out, feeling the mushi make its way to his ear canal.
Ginko screamed from the pain, never seeing Kaiya move forward to catch the organism. He crumbled to the floor moments later, out of breath and head aching. But the pain subsided and he calmed himself down, opening his eye to see the girl cradling his head in her lap.
He took one final deep breath and closed his eye with ease, a peaceful sleep claiming him.
. . .
"Won't you stay longer?" Kaiya asked him, holding her hands under her chin the same way she had when he first met her a few days before. He gave her a polite smile.
"I can't I tend to attract mushi and too many in one area isn't a good thing. I have to keep moving."
"You can come back anytime, though. Ok?" She told him, a big smile on her face. He nodded.
"We'll see. Be sure to watch out for the Kioku. This is the perfect environment for them. If you see something happened to someone that looks similar to what happened to me, send me a letter."
"Thank you for everything." He headed off once more, destination unknown. As he walked, he thought about the specimen he obtained and what it had made him remember. He had forgotten everything when it was extracted. He pulled out another cigar. "I guess I was meant to never remember."
A year after he left, he had heard that very village had lost a life due to depression. Kaiya had become infected with the kioku and the memories she remembered had ended her life.
. . .