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Chapter 4

I am a bit afraid.  There is a festival fast arriving.  It is said that for one week, the souls of the dead return from across the river.  They come back to the homes, welcomed by their family.  Together they feast and enjoy each other's company.  For the natives, this is a joyous event.

I find it a bit frightening.  As far as I know, I have no deceased relatives in this land.  Indeed, if my deceased relatives are seeking my company, how would they know to cross the river at this point, to enter this world?  Do they need to know the language of Nohin?  Do they need to know any language at all?  Or do they simply creep across, lonely, blindly from that vast other world of darkness.  Their presence already leaks into my consciousness.  As I write this I am sitting wrapped in shadow in an old house on surface of this planet.  Perhaps I am already surrounded by ghosts.  Yet, I don't know them, and they don't know me.  We are beginning to acquaint ourselves with each other- see! the dim electric lamp just flickered.

In my classes, as I teach the language of the Galactic Empire, there are noises.  A creak there, a knocking there.  Once there was a kind of crying in the garden, although we found nothing.  The students notice these things.  Many have lived on this planet for most of their lives and so they appreciate this sort of thing, contrary to those who live in antiseptic space capsules and would not recognize a ghost even if they met him face to face in the street.  I too I am listening, and watching.  But perhaps I am trying to avoid their beaconing.  I don't want to travel to their side.  If I were to do such a thing, I want to do it following a strong person- somebody who knows the way back.  I just checked the gas stove, no leak.  Yet, still there is a bead of shadow in my room, floating about.  I rub my eyebrows, an itch.  Why?

On my home planet, there is no specific day or night when the dead come to visit, I think.  Or perhaps this is just what I was taught in the government school.   Yet, always, they were there, in my parent's actions, in their hearts, in mine too.  Just by living, whether in space or on the surface, their lives animated our spirits.  By eating, I eat the dead and I live.  By breathing I breath the breaths of a thousand generations.  By washing and drinking we share one river, always flowing...

They say that on this one night the lanterns, lit at temples around this ancient city, are let loose on the rivers, sent back to the pure land.  Perhaps.  And I wont' see it.

I'm going to the Eastern Capital, a huge metropolis, the biggest in the Galaxy.  I will visit an old friend.  But I'm worried because of the spirits traveling the roads, to and from their homes.  Surely I may have to cross a river or two.  And on the bridge?  What about the man who rides next to me on that night bus?  What about the girl at the station?  And even more dangerous- what about the girl I am going to visit?  A friend holds the key to places into which others are not allowed, what if a spirit should also enter?

I could avoid the whole thing. I could stay in this ancient city guarded that night by the five great fires on the mountainsides.  I could watch and enjoy the festival as a foreigner would, alone, an observer.   I could sleep, clutching my assumptions, my answers and my ego.

Or I could go, face the dark road, the dark rivers, bridges... women... and hold my energy, my cool.  I won't come unarmed.  I'll have the beaded mirror Pat'a Tootsie gave me on Machiit.  I'll have a ward for the evil eye too.  And all this to what end?  To have my wits.  Wits, cool, energy.  Life is a long road and the mountains cast deep shadows.  Every journey requires careful choice of stepping stones, to cross the streams, to cross through the deep moss, to pass through the forests, the fields, the cities.  May each stepping stone be its own mountain, with its own spirit.  I'll meet it with my own, as an equal.each stepping stone be its own mountain, with its own spirit.  I'll meet it with my own, as an equal.