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enduring silence (of a hundred demons passing)

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... afterwards, when everyone has gone at last, with their pitying, scornful, gloating looks and insinuating voices, leaving Yorimichi alone in the room, he sits up in his bed and looks through the open shoji into the manicured garden. He finds his eyes trying to track: every leaf and its shadow; the flutter of a butterfly's wings; the endlessly shifting colours of the sky and clouds; the grain of the paper screens and wood floors; and when he nearly blinds himself staring after an ant climbing into the grass out of his view... he breaks away, clambering out of bed, running out, far away from the accusing silent house into the wide open garden. He finds a sheltering nook beneath the trees by an old well and curls up in a defensive ball, squeezing his watering eyes shut and burying his face in his lap.

Paper rustles; insects hum; the trees and grass hiss with the wind in urgent conspiracy as a koto's rippling plaints drift to him from somewhere distant; a bird calls out, startlingly close. He covers his ears with his hands, shivering, and wishes them all away.

It is no use. It's all wrong. Before... he can't remember before, but it couldn't have been like this. Everything... it's all empty, a void of meaning and being. It's like being struck deaf and dumb and mute, like an ittan-momen has wrapped itself around his head and is smothering him slowly, like if he only tried hard enough, struggled through the suffocating layers, he could perhaps catch a glimmer, hear a murmur, remember something, sense anything... but he can't remember what he is supposed to see, what he is failing to hear, and no one will answer his cries. Yorimichi is only a child, and he has lost all the senses that mattered to him.

"What did I do wrong?" he begs the silence, and sees in memory the pitying looks of the grown-ups, the mockery of the other children who never saw the wondrous things he took for granted (so they tell him).

There is a little brook nearby, babbling softly and unintelligibly to itself, and if he lets himself relax, stops trying to make sense of the low murmur, perhaps he can imagine it is speaking to him. He draws a few deliberately slow, jagged breaths and scrubs roughly, pridefully at his face, opening his eyes and taking in his surroundings, and in the looming shadows of approaching twilight, perhaps he might imagine forms and shapes moving...

He sits, breathes, lets it all flow through him. The soft babble of water has an odd susurrating rattle to it, like someone is washing beans downstream, but he can't imagine how that might be significant. It's only water, sand, pebbles, nothing to see or hear. The sky is clear, with only wisps of cloud and the distant shreds of smoke from cooking fires in the city, twisting up illogically against the slight wind. Raijin and Fujin, the gods of thunder and wind (he remembers from his lessons if nothing else, though he has the blurry impression they had spoken to him, once) wouldn't be up there even if he still could see them.

He breathes, as the gloom builds, and wonders if someone is looking for him, is already watching him, and flashes back to a memory or dream, of his father carrying him and something looking down on him and speaking. Is someone watching him?

A short rustle... a rabbit perhaps, or field mouse, startled. He glances over, sees something move- It is only an old bamboo basket in the tall grass, rocking gently as though something had pushed it. The mouse or rabbit rustles away hurriedly.

He's tired. It's getting darker. He should probably pick himself up and go back. Someone would be worried by now; his father, if no one else. But he's tired.

Enough with the self-pity, he scolds himself and shakily rises to his feet, pulling himself up with the support of the rough trunk behind him. His clothes snag on what has to be a low branch, but when he looks he doesn't see any protruding boughs.

Yorimichi hesitates. One doesn't need to be able to see the supernatural to be in danger from it, and he is truly defenceless now in a way he has never felt, remembered or not. But a second tug frees him, and he quickly backs from the tree, thinking of things that might reside in trees and reach out to snatch lost children.

The air is turning chill, and he shivers a little as he looks around and tries to find his bearings in the dusk-transformed landscape. The trees here, the well there; the house should be that way. He starts to head back, determinedly ignoring the faint flickers of tempting lantern-like lights in the bushes around him. Then he comes up against the wall.

He doesn't remember seeing a wall like this when he came, and he's quite sure he's going the right way. But the wall! The only thing he could see for certain, and it was in his way. His eyes begin to sting and his breathing becomes wet. He feels trapped and cruelly wronged, and he can't remember how to go around a wall he is quite sure would never have been in his way before.

Then. There is a tug at his ankle. He swipes away the threatening tears with the back of his hand and looks down.

It's a toad, the largest Yorimichi has ever seen, looking up at him with wide, alien eyes. Just as he thinks he might have been mistaken, or the tug might have been a strange coincidence, the toad gives the fabric at his ankle another firm tug. And it speaks. "Hurry, child. Can you see me? Can you hear me? You can't stay here; they are all coming to see you, the child who had spoken to gods but sees them no more."

Yorimichi looks around and sees nothing out of the ordinary but the toad and the annoying wall. "You're talking... You are talking to me?"

The toad blinks. "You can hear me! Then hurry up and knock on the wall in front of me; we need to leave quickly."

He does as he is told, and watches in wonder as the wall dissolves into the night. Then he picks up the toad, and runs all the way home.