April 21, 2019

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Throwing Stars -

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Everything is a Weapon- Part One of Three -

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Vanishing into Mist -

Friday, May 11, 2018

Escaping a Sealed Choke -

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Ninja Invisibility -

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ninja Media

Of Grace & Hell- A Shinobi Girl

 

kyoto

The life of a kunoichi- female ninja- is the subject of Michel Farivar, M.D.’s upcoming novel Of Grace and Hell.  Here is the first chapter excerpted to whet your appetite.

*****

It was late fall 1937 at a retreat sequestered above a distant harbor outside the Japanese city of Edo. Dusk’s chilly darkness moved in behind the branches and over the mossy boulders as the Night itself reached to breathe a subtle gelid breeze that sends chills through the body. Young and old alike went into hiding beneath heavy bedcovers aching as their bodies slowly warmed.  Within the walls of the retreat persisted the familiar and homely smell of moldy cotton; in the distance, mountains were trimmed with a gold orange glow nearly identical to that which hovered above the dying logs in the red tiled fireplace. The mountains were heavily forested, being that they were a preserved ancestral homeland. The last leaves on otherwise bare branches seemed to eagerly absorb the last anemic rays of the sun as the night closed in on the forest with its musty smell of rotting wet leaves, moss and a hint of pungent autumn flowers.

These natural fragrances, enhanced by the intermittent rain, were gently reflected in the subtle wisps rising from the warm cup of Pu-er tea beneath his nose. It was a gift from his doctor’s family, an aged and fermented black tea from China. At this time of year he preferred it to the Japanese green tea, also suited to autumn when blended with cooked rice, the hearty ancient way it was made.

The tea soothed him; the mysterious complex and slightly bitter taste, played on his emotions, bringing back memories of playing under the covers with his favorite Chinese servant in “Manchukuo” as Manchuria was known since its occupation. Only there, there were other smells too. Not of forests, but coal burning stoves, mothballs and a hint of distant dust storms.

“Strange” he thought, “In China, this tea reminded me of these autumn forests in Japan; here it reminds me of China.”

In his private moments, the Colonel was prone to what he considered silly childish reveries. These escapes revitalized him by letting his inner adolescent nature out to play. He mused that this was really his true “human” nature, and that the pompous, arrogant military men he fraternized with in “real” life were actually spoiled adolescents. “Everything is upside down in the world now,” he thought. “Japan dominating a nation like China”.

He remembered how it was frowned upon to get close to the Chinese. To him it was inevitable. He had no inner tension acknowledging that the Chinese culture, being so old and filled with insane contradictions, was a dominant influence on nearly everything Japanese.  Both could only be understood if you immersed yourself in them, and it was after having done so that his own inner contradictions left him. He realized the absurdity of Japan’s desire to rule China or to forge a destiny apart. Like trying to be a child with no biological parent or ancestor―a myth.

“Everything comes from something.”

He felt however, that after some time, Japan’s only hope of dominating any part of China was to quietly exploit her through her own people, paying homage and respect to her ways. Like other foreign rulers who invaded China in the past, ruling China would make them Chinese. They could not impose their original culture on China and make it last. Japan’s great military traditions were honed fighting among themselves, and to some extent against the Koreans and Russians, both militarily inferior. Though the Chinese seemed weak now, he knew they would never forgive or forget what the Japanese were doing.

He felt a deep aching in his soul, to which he attributed the dull and persistent cramping pains in his abdomen. He suspected that he might be dying. As his doctor well knew, cancers ran in his family. In his sixties now, he understood that he was likely to succumb, as did so many of his close relatives in their sixth decade.

Occasionally he vomited, doing so discretely, washing out his mouth with tea afterward. There were times when he felt weak and depressed as well, no longer having the motivation to argue with Marxists and Fascists at the meetings of the Showa Kenkyukai. The few times when they met with military men like himself it was for them to get a sense of where Japans actual capabilities lay in the regions occupied. The Kwantung army was beginning to look unstoppable.

With a bit of a start he was jarred from his reveries, by Ryoko. A fresh faced delightful girl. Playful and imaginative, she seemed almost like an incarnation of a soul brought back to guide him on his journey. Perhaps she was here to see him off, down the river, standing on the bank, his soul a funerary lantern.

She seemed to sense his thoughts and could do for him what he wanted without his having to speak. He wished deeply that he had known her as a younger man, knowing now that any interest she might show in response to him was more likely due to his position, wealth, age and intellect, rather than the intense passion of a young person’s irrational infatuation.

Ryoko closed the screen doors to the porch, making a cute joke about the gathering noisy flock of crows moving in the roost, as being spectators to the preparation of their next meal in the oven—him, in other words.

She stoked the fire, poured more water in the kettle and paused, then asked, “Would you like to finish reading the newspaper?”

“No”, he said, “it would remind me of who I am and where I live”.

“I don’t understand” she said, looking at him pensively.  “I am not a proud man like my peers, I am a child, like you. Naïve and wanting to live my dreams, but obligated to move with the currents of time and this life”

“How do you know this is what I am like?” she asked, leering in jest, never missing an opportunity for humor.

“To a man in prison, a mouse is his friend, do you understand this?” he said more seriously.

“Do I smell like a mouse?” she said, now wide eyed, holding her kimono sleeve to her nose and wrinkling it as though it was rank.

“Let me smell you and we’ll see,” chuckled the Colonel.

“Never. Uncle would kill us both.”

“Yes, that toothless old sage-doctor. I’ve contemplated placing him in my garden, like a mossy stone. Do you think he’s killing me or healing me?”

“Surely both”, she said.

He almost blurted out “I love you,” then silently admonished himself for being an old fool. When he was seventeen he could make sense of these attractions, but at this age, he wondered why his libido did not age like the rest of him did.

“I want to go for a walk,” he said.

“Then your wife will kill me. Shall I tell her what else you’d like to do? Perhaps try to eat something?”

He bit his lip again. “I’m not hungry, but I’ll eat to please you women”

After a small meal, he got slowly up to go to the bathroom, when he squatted to relieve himself, everything around him span like the inebriated feeling a child gets from whirling around on the spot, only far more vicious and jarring. He fell forward, feeling the dull numbing percussion of cold stone on his face. He could even feel the moist grains of sand and slippery moss on his now abraded cheek.

Then came the headache. Deep and intense, feeling like his eyeballs were being pushed out; his neck became rigid and painful, and he felt shooting pains down his spine and tingling in the fingers and toes. He could hear his own rapid and shallow breaths as a painful nausea clutched his throat in an icy grip.

Coming to slowly, he realized that he had been brought back into the house, cleaned with warm towels and was lying in bed quietly hyperventilating. He saw in the nearby mirror that there was a developing bruise and a bloody scrape on his cheek, nose and forehead. His mouth carried the familiar taste and smell of blood, and there was a small but painful bite on his tongue.

The doctor arrived late, old but not really toothless. He shined a light on his pupils, which strangely hurt, and made him wince.

“Not getting any better.” Pinching the fingertips, the doctor gently muttered, “Anemia is worse.”

The Colonel’s wife Marika had gathered in the room with her sister and her sister’s bespectacled husband and they looked at the doctor expectantly.

“He’s been this way for two months now. He’s a shadow,” Marika said, as she glanced jealously at Ryoko.

Ryoko’s youthful complexion repeatedly reminded Marika of how young she had been when the Colonel, but a soldier, from a good family and full of prospects took an interest in her. Then she thought of the recent long cold nights in Manchukuo, and all those young Chinese servant girls she had agreed to hire around their home. “Men are real savages behind all their high talk” she thought.

The old doctor took a long moment to contemplate the young servant, Ryoko, noting a lack of movements to her hands and torso that normally would have indicated a stiff apprehension and anxiety. How she just seemed to fade into the background, like the flower print pattern on the shoji behind her. He related the feeling to the first time he encountered a scops owl nestled in the crook of a tree, blending with the bark of the tree trunk.

He reached into his bag and pulled out two bottles of medicine, and wrote some instructions on their use while everyone waited quietly.

“Can she read?” he asked, gesturing with his nose at the girl.    Marika nodded.

“I recommend a raw egg and milk twice a day after meals, and some oily fish before,” said the doctor.  “If he feels sick, make him throw up, otherwise the proteins will give him strength.”

The family and the girl nodded with a gentle bow of acknowledgment.

*****

It was after 10pm when the doctor made his way down the narrow streets, riding his bicycle from the neighborhood of stately homes, where he had just seen the Colonel.  He peddled on to the worker’s district where his tiny ancient dwelling was located, along with his favorite nearby haunts. He parked his bicycle at his home-clinic, entered the building through the front, then without a break in pace turned on one light, extinguished another and made his way out the back.

In the alley, the light was dim; the cobblestones were wet with a light drizzle. Everyone from the lowlife Yakuza hustlers to the ancient grandmothers paid respect to “uncle”. All had needed him at some point and he was always able to help somehow. People often asked how he had become so diverse in his knowledge and he would joke about learning from Yamabushi Tengu, “I became inspired like those crazy old bujutsu masters”, and that he had served as an inexperienced but essential surgeon in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904-5.  He never mentioned how that true story had left him traumatized and in his heart hating the so-called elite politicians, rich intellectuals and military posers. “Life is my school!” he liked to say.

He soon entered a nearby barbershop, though he really had no hair to speak of. In the back was the office of a Yakuza pimp.

“Goro-san!” uttered he doctor, “how’s your ginseng?” referring to the man’s penis.

Goro, a thick-necked, wide and stocky man with a mustache, chuckled, “fresh!”

“Our fish is in the net and is gasping.  Do you wish it cooked, or will you have it suffocate slowly?”

Goro said “cooked” then added, “The fishery wants their product out of the water and served to their masters, along with all the others.” Then he confessed, “I really don’t understand what they are doing, but the money always helps.”

“You should listen to what comes on the wind and what the birds say,” said the doctor.  “They have no motive to lie!”

“Did you learn that at the yamabushi academy? Or are you drinking rubbing alcohol again? When a bird can talk I will surely listen,” said Goro, rubbing his muscles and yawning.

“Rubbing alcohol cleans everything, even your dirty soul Goro-san.”

With that, the old doctor left grinning, off to his favorite bar in the port district.

In two days a pigeon would land on Goro’s windowsill.  Goro’s dusty grey and overweight Persian cat that slept on a pile of old newspapers on the corner of his desk never even took notice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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