~Catching a Cloud~
Loud music woke him. Metallic clashes, drums, flutes, gourds—all sorts of instruments, blasting not too far away.
He rubbed his eyes. Was the river glowing—? The river was glowing. He could see cities inside the depths of the river, as though he were hovering above in the sky and looking down. Strange. And that noise—a festival? When he glanced toward the source of the music, he saw many lanterns.
Lanterns. What was this familiar feeling?
“You. You’re new, aren’t you?” croaked a small voice. He looked around, but found no one. A sigh. “Below you!” Confused, he looked down, only to find a grasshopper.
What the hell?
“Welcome to the Netherworld,” continued the grasshopper, jumping around. “You must have done great things in your previous life to have ended up here.”
Great things? No. No he had not—he had done horrible things in his previous life. Even though he had been forgiven, even though he had been asked to forgive himself, he had never forgotten his guilt. Not when that person had never smiled again.
Yes, the fog in his mind was clearing.
Xuan Fengbo. That was his name. He had been judged before Yanluo, and had been somehow deemed worthy of the region midway between the heavens and earth instead of hell. Even though he hadn’t wanted to be sent here.
“So, newcomer, what are you waiting for?” chirped the grasshopper as it sprung around, motioning in the direction of the music. “The festival isn’t going to last forever!”
Fengbo lay back onto the grass, staring up at the sky. Countless stars glimmered, the scene not so different from the mortal realm. He closed his eyes and felt the wind against his skin, blocking out the sound from the noisy clamor that slowly neared him.
He didn’t like festivals. Not anymore.
“Do I have to go?” he asked, still closing his eyes.
“You sure you don’t want to go?” was what the grasshopper replied. “Festivals are the only occasions where you can find acquaintances that might be in this realm…Many souls gather in hopes of meeting their loved ones.”
Immediately, Fengbo’s eyes snapped open and jerked up, his heart—did he still have a heart?—beating faster. He then forced himself to lie back down. No, that person probably wouldn’t want to see him. After all the pain he had inflicted on that person…
Besides, that person hated crowds.
Yet, unable to resist the temptation, Fengbo got up. “Well, I suppose I can take a look…”
…Even if it was just wishful thinking…Even though he probably did not have the right to wish…
Wanted to see him. Wanted to see him again, so much.
Missed him, desperately. The thirst to see him again was killing Fengbo.
How long had it been? Ten years? Twenty? More. For Fengbo, it felt like an eternity.
As Fengbo headed toward the joyous festival, he saw many strange creatures playing instruments and performing for the crowds. Not animals, not human, but a hybrid of the two—beings that only belonged to the Yin Jian. Gold lanterns floated above without any physical support, illuminating the night with warmth and fervor. Countless stands filled the area, surrounded by even more people.
He pushed his way through the crowd, unaffected by the laughter and merriment. He had not really felt those emotions for a long time, even though he had occasionally felt shallow brushes of joy.
This search was in vain, most likely. Yet, he could not help but seek, his heart compelling him to move forward.
That person had to be here, he knew it.
Speeding his pace up, he headed to the riverside, where it was less crowded.
When he saw a figure sitting on a rock, he froze, feeling as though all the air had been knocked out of his lungs.
Then, he ran.
He ran, knowing who it was that sat there. His heart rattled his ribcage with anticipation, and his body warmed with hope.
How long had he waited for this? How much had they suffered for this?
He did not know, but he knew that he would never let go of that person again.
He was greeted with a smile he had sorely missed.
Yanluo [wang] (閻羅[王]): Better known as Yama, the Buddhist Ruler of Hell. Judges peoples deeds in their mortal lives to determine whether they should go to hell, the region between the heavens of the gods and earth, or reincarnate.
Yin Jian (陰間): World of the Dead (including hell, the region in between, and heaven). Since Chinese are polytheistic, they believe that the gods reside in the Heavens, so the region in between should be the “heaven” for human souls. However, another saying is that ancestors watch over from the heavens…and ancestors should be human souls…eck. I’m confused.