*The Japanese believe that lovers are united by a red string. They call it “Akai Ito,” hence the title of this short story by Scott Ting-A-Kee. With its play on gender and sexuality, this mythic dreamy tale of love is the second in our series of prose fiction by aspiring writers.
In The Beginning
The clap of thunder echoed through the celestial palace. It was time for births and reincarnation. It was going to be typical and run of the mill but there were two souls who would be ruined by the gods even before their birth.
The guard ran down the hall searching desperately for Tsukuyomi. He found him playing his bamboo flute in the middle of the garden.
“Tsukuyomi! There is a problem. You have made a grave error,” the guard blurted out.
“Impossible! What did I do?” Tsukuyomi asked.
“Come with me to see the Celestial Emperor,” the guard responded.
He moved swiftly along the halls and pushed the doors into the Emperor’s throne room, visibly upset.
The Emperor looked up from the eternally unravelling scroll which he held in hand. He maintained his stoic expression and calmly asked,
“When Meng Po was unable to carry out her duties, did you and your wife, Amaterasu, assist in the guiding of souls into the river that lead to the reincarnation wheel?”
“Yes, we lead the souls as specified by Meng Po,” Tsukuyomi replied.
The Emperor nodded his head.
“There are three rivers from the underworld which lead to the reincarnation wheel. One for those to be reborn as humans, the second for those to become animals and the third for those to become youkai. There has been a mix up that can spell chaos, luckily not major havoc but it will lead to unfortunate ends for these two.”
“I don’t understand. What has happened?”
“Tsukuyomi, did Meng Po leave uswith some vials for the souls to drink?”
“Yes, it was to help the souls to forget their previous lives,” he replied.
The Emperor sat silently with knitted brows, rubbing his beard. Then, his eyes widened.
“Did Sosanoo follow the two of you into the underworld?” he asked.
“I do not know,” Tsukuyomi replied.
The Emperor’s face became red with fury and he waved his hand to signal to Tsukuyomi that he was dismissed.
Two days passed and Tsukuyomi and Amaterasu were summoned by the Emperor. When they entered the chambers, Meng Po was seated at the table. The couple sat and the goddess started to explain while the Emperor was silently observing with murderous intent in his eyes.
“Sosanoo has done his mischief, again. There were two souls who were lovers centuries ago, one a princess and the other a top general of the rival clan. They were caught eloping and were killed by the clan leaders. The general for his sins was supposed to be a youkai since his anger and hatred was so great and the princess, a human.”
“You said, “supposed,” so Sosanoo switched the lover’s paths?” Amaterasu asked.
“No. The princess did become a human but Sosanno tilted the wheel so that she would be a boy and not a girl.”
“What is so bad about that?” Tsukuyomi asked.
“Nothing, except for the fact that the general has been reincarnated as human too,” Meng Po retorted.
“What? Well, it isn’t a problem. All souls have their memories of previous lives erased, unless Sosanoo…,” Amaterasu stopped in mid thought.
Meng Po nodded.
“He has left their red thread perfectly in place. Their love is once again ill fated.”
“Why?” Tsukuyomi inquired.
“He changed the princess’ gender but not the general’s. They are both men,” Meng Po replied in a sad tone.
Tsukuyomi and Amaterasu were speechless.
“It gets worse. The general is still part youkai,” Meng Po continued.
“Oh no,” Amaterasu exclaimed as her hands flew to her mouth.
“Since we have a human and a human hybrid with some knowledge of their past love in another life, there is no telling what can happen,” Meng Po lamented bowing her head.
“We have to just watch to see how fate will work,” The Emperor stated gravely.
Lex plodded down the corridor - his bag full of books weighed him down. He barely managed to make it to the lecture hall in time but Amy would always be there first and she would save a seat for him. Lex scanned the room, looking for the fair-skinned Chinese spec with long dark hair, which always floated above the sea of coloured shirts and jerseys near the back of the room on the higher seats. She saw him looking for her and waved her hand. He recognized her immediately and hurried to the seat.
“Always so punctual,” she chimed as he sat down.
“Shut up,” he replied smiling.
“Who are you looking for?” she asked.
“No one. I’m not looking for anyone,” Lex replied in a subdued tone, simultaneously glancing down in his bag and shifting his eyes around the room. His eyes finally settled on a target. It was a toned, East Indian guy. He had started a semester late and for some reason Lex always became aware of when he was around. He always noticed him from the corner of his eye. Recently, he was becoming more aware of it and was having a bit of an existential crisis because of it.
Then, the dreams started. Not every night. Lex would awake in his dreams in a strange room from an ancient time and when looked into the mirror it would always be the same face looking back at him. A young, pretty Asian girl. There was one dream in which he dreamed he was wearing a beautiful gown, the same royals wore in the historical Chinese and Korean dramas he liked to watch. He was walking down a red aisle leading to a man he assumed to be the ruler and an ornament which he assumed was a crown was placed on his head. The crowd started to applause. When he awoke to the whiteness of the ceiling of his room, he was surprised by how real it had all felt.
“I must be gay,” Lex murmured to himself.
“What did you just say?” Amy asked.
“Nothing,” he responded and continued to prepare for class as the lecturer walked into the room.
Later that day, Lex passed him by the benches and he was chatting with someone who looked like Amy but when he stopped to look it was a guy. He turned and continued walking. That afternoon as he boarded the bus with Amy, he had to ask.
“Do you have a brother?”
“No,” she responded quickly, “Why?”
“Nothing, I just noticed someone on campus who looked like you.”
Amy just shrugged her shoulders.
Amy always got off of the bus first since she lived closer to the university campus. She jumped off the bus as usual and headed to the apartment building. She noticed that the door of her apartment was open so she just turned the knob.
“How many times do I have to tell you? Close the door when you come in Tsukuyomi,” Amy started as she walked into the apartment.
“Why? The apartment is almost empty and we have no human food. Nothing to steal,” the deep, masculine voice declared from the dining table, “and it’s Tanka not Tsukuyomi, right Amy?”
“Lex saw you today. He just asked me if I have a brother,” she continued.
“What did you say?”
“I denied it of course.”
“Anything strange happening with Lex?”
“No, how about Rajesh?”
“Nothing, I have absolutely no youkai vibes off of him and we spent most of the day together every day.”
“Meng Po, might want a status report so let’s ascend tonight.”
The next day, there was a tense atmosphere on campus. Lex noticed that everyone was more glued to their phones and laptops than usual. It wasn’t time for midterms so he was completely baffled. He saw a group of students who did the same liberal program he did and walked over to talk with them.
“Wham Pudigee,” Joey greeted him.
“You hear de news?” June asked.
“No, wuh happen?” Lex inquired.
“Somebody in dorms died last night. A girl. They want to do post mortem,” June replied.
“How she dead? Lex asked.
“Nobody ain’ know. She went to bed and next morning she was dead. No marks of violence or anything according to news update on social media,” June retorted.
“How duh?” Lex blurted out with knitted brows.
That was when she noticed him; the guy his eyes always seemed to follow. He was standing in the line behind them waiting to buy something from the little canteen in front of the lecture hall.
“Rajesh,” someone called and he turned around. Lex smiled to himself. He felt so happy since he knew his name now.
Later that night, Tanaka was pacing around the apartment waiting for Amy to return from her class. He jolted when he heard the key turning into the knob.
“You finally remembered to lock the door,” she stated dryly.
“I think he killed her,” Tanaka blurted out.
“What? Who?” Amy asked puzzled by the seemingly random declaration.
“Rajesh killed the girl,” he replied dazed.
“The one in the dorms. Whose cause of death is unconfirmed,” he replied still dazed.
“Did you see it happen?”
“No, he had a date with her that night. He kissed her after escorting her back to her dormitory. Later that night, he dreamt that he was in her room and he was weak and hungry so he kissed her and . . .,”
“He said it was as if he could feel the life force being drained from her and surging into her body, making him feel superhuman.”
Amy took her bag off and dropped it on the ground. She motioned to Tanaka that they had to ascend and instantly the duo disappeared in a flash of white light.
Lex tossed and turned. It was going to be another restless night. When he finally felt a dew of sleep on his eyelids, he awoke in the dreamscape to find himself in a nightmare. He was her again; the princess. Her hands were bloody and her face was caked with blood. Bodies of soldiers still skewered on their spears and swords and others had gaping, oozing holes revealing exposed muscles and bones. The ground was flooded by blood, it drank the crimson fluid slowly and begged for more. He looked up to see a tall, brawny enemy soldier walking towards him. The soldier stood above him and raised his sword high in the air above his head and brought it down.
Lex instinctively closed his eyes and waited for the sharp penetration of the sword into his body. He heard a thud and turned to see the sword beside him standing taut on the ground. The soldier kneeled down and lifted his chin gently so that their faces were levelled. He looked up and saw an Asian, blood-smeared face and then the face was Rajesh’s. Lex’s eyes widened and then he looked down to see that he was no longer the princess but himself. This was their first rendezvous in the land of dreams.
The next day Lex was passing one of the classrooms and Rajesh came running behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Lex turned around surprised and confused when he saw him. He grabbed Lex’s arm and pulled him into the male washroom with him. Rajesh checked the stalls to see if they were empty.
“Did you have that dream last night, too?” he asked Lex.
“Yeah,” Lex replied calmly.
I decided to start a journal or a diary or whatever you have to call it. Anyway, it all started innocent. We would just sit and chat in our dreams and then it got more…intimate. I would become a woman, not the Asian woman, I would just become a female version of myself. It was unsettling, disturbing, fascinating and wonder-inducing every time. In that dream world, I was Lexy not Lex.
Rajesh would be the same way he was in the real world but his body would feel cold like a corpse and his eyes changed. In reality, he did not have heterochromia but in the dream world his right eye was brown and the left one was hazel. Every night when I woke up in the dreamscape he would have his face over mine; my face reflected in those mesmerizing eyes that lovingly petrified me. His bewitching eyes would always captivate me. I became intoxicated by and addicted to him; his eyes, his kisses, his voice, his smell, his body warmth…his love-making.
In the real world, we have nothing to say to each other. Complete strangers but in the dreamscape we were lovers of folk songs, whose love seemed to transcend time, space, reality and even the spiritual. We never tried to understand it. We never spoke about the incredulousness of it all. We simply lived with it; loving each other in the impossibility of what seemed so perfect.
Last night, we made love under the silvering rays on the moon. On a beach. It looked like the seawall to me but in dreamscapes you can never be absolutely sure where and what you are. Afterwards, we washed ourselves in the sea. I sat between his legs with his arms around me looking up at the full moon. Suddenly, the silvering celestial ball turned sickly yellow. I asked him why it had changed. He looked at me with sad and confused eyes and kissed me. Then, he buried his face into my neck making it hot with the sensation of his breathing. Rajesh pulled me closer. His brown arms around my pink dress created a mesmerizing contrast under the dimmer, dancing rays of the yellowing mask of the moon.
“The moon probably playin’ masquerade and put on a mas’ like dem revellers,” I joked.
“Everything is like masquerade in this place, like Mash time, people disguise themselves to be free to either be who they are or who they hate to be or both,” Rajesh replied.
We sat in silence waiting to be awakened into the real world.
Three weeks passed and Lex was forced to apply for a leave of absence from university. It all started three days after the night when the moon turned yellow in the dreamscape. The vomiting and coughing got worse before the end of the week. His body was too weak and that was when he had to be admitted into the hospital. Since the onset of his illness, the dreams stopped. Three months passed and he was still in the hospital but his condition was improving.
“The doctor said that you are improving,” Amy started as she came into the room.
“That’s good. But they still have no idea what is wrong with me,” Lex stated bleakly.
An incubus is what happened, Amy thought to herself. She held Lex’s hand and gave it a little squeeze.
“Why do you always look at me like that? Lex asked.
“Like what?” she asked.
“Like a parent lamenting over her lost child hoping for them to find their way,” he replied flatly.
Amy held on to his hand and gave his hair a little ruffle with her other hand.
“You just need to take a break and relax,” she reassured Lex.
That night was when it happened - the final visit.
“What’s wrong?” Lex asked. He opened his eyes and was in his female body again on top of a table.
“Lexy, do you know where you are?” he replied.
“Looks like the psychology classroom.”
“Yeah, it was my major. But you knew that, right?
. I jumped off the desk and walked over to him. I pushed my face right up to his and kissed him wrapping my hands around his neck. He felt cold. His body and lips were icy cold. His lips were blue.
“What’s wrong?” Lex asked.
“You should stop,” Rajesh protested.
I smiled and kissed him more passionately than before and placed his hands under my jersey. He kissed me back with more passion. The flood gates of our lusty desires burst open, releasing the warm fluids vented up inside our heated bodies.
“Are you cold Lexy?” he asked.
“No. The floor is cold though.”
“You feel so warm,” he stated in a voice that indicated his thoughts were far away.
“You too. Why were you so cold before?” I asked in a concerned tone.
Silence was his response. I felt his breath on my neck and I passed my hand through his hair. He pulled me closer and kissed my neck. I kissed his neck and looked up at his face in the moonlight. It was the clearest view of his face that I ever had. He would be considered a Brahmin since his complexion was fair. His bewitching and unnatural eyes looked sad. His light pink lips were pursed with knitted brows signaling anxiety.
“You are so cute,” he said.
“Funny. You are better-looking than I am.”
He smiled a sad smile.
“Do you know about Eros and Psyche?”
“I hope you get a second chance like Psyche.”
“What? I’m confused.”
He kissed me and pulled me to his chest. I felt all of his body heat warming mine. The blood rushed to my face and ears as I listened to his heartbeat. The sweet melody of his heart was the most beautiful music that I had ever heard. The delicious enthrallment was soon a bitter taste since I thought of how much I wanted to hear the living music of his body when the sun was in the sky. Unfortunately, I could only hear it when my eyes were closed. He squeezed me tighter and I looked up to see his sorrowful eyes.
That was when he lifted my hands to show me the red glowing ring which was wrapped around our little fingers. Then, he wrapped his fingers around mine. We kissed.
Lex and Rajesh fell asleep holding hands on the classroom floor. When they awoke, they were dressed in red robes lying on a crystal floor. Lex was in his female form and Rajesh had his heterochromia and when they looked up there was Amy and Tanaka smiling at them. Amy offered her hand to Lex and Tanaka did same for Rajesh.
“Let’s go,” Amy said, as she and Tanaka shed their human disguises to reveal their deity forms as Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi.
Lex and Rajesh smiled at each other as they followed the gods, holding hands.
Scott Ting-A-Kee has a Bachelor’s of Arts in English Literature from the University of Guyana. He is the recipient of the Joyce Adler Prize for 'Best Graduating Student in Literature' from the University of Guyana, 2016. He has worked as a teacher and as an Assistant Examiner for CAPE Literatures in English. He is passionate about the interdisciplinary study of literature and comparisons between the literature of the East and West. His first novella, Red Hibiscus will be published in 2018 by Way Wive Wordz.