Title: The shrine
Author: Walter J. Sheldon
Release date: November 19, 2023 [eBook #72175]
Original publication: New York, NY: King-Size Publications, Inc, 1956
Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net
By WALT SHELDON
Naito smiled. "You are still in the grip
of time, Mr. Blair. Spend some with us and
you will slip a little from its tyranny."
We have said on a number of occasions that there are a number of things and forces which dwell in the shadows of this Fantastic Universe of ours. And in the mountains.... Walt Sheldon tells the story of Edward Blair, reporter on the English-language TOKYO TRIBUNE, who, much, to his disgust, is sent to interview the monks at the Hataka shrine. After all, why waste time on these magic tricks? This is of course not Science Fiction. And is it Fantasy? Who of us can really say?
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Fantastic Universe December 1956.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
The American stopped to rest, to daub his brow, and he withdrew for a moment into the mottled shade beside the trail. Ahead the mountain rose and became blue with distance. A figure in a saffron robe moved down the trail, and toward him.
"A woman," said his lips without sound. His eyes clocked surprise.
He was Edward Blair. He worked for the English-language Tokyo Tribune. It was as good a paper as any to work for when your career had been interrupted twice by war. You could coast on the Tokyo Trib. You could let things not matter.
Now he watched the woman. She walked with a gliding motion; though her steps were tiny and downhill, her shoulders moved in an even line. They were small shoulders and, as she neared, he saw above them an oval face, a beautiful and simple face with golden skin and eyes of dark velvet. He stepped out of the shade and smiled as she came upon him.
She showed no surprise, and he was startled to hear her speak good English.
"You are Mr. Blair."
"Why, yes. Yes, I am."
"I am sent to meet you. I am sorry to be late."
"That's all right."
"I will show you the way to the shrine."
"Well, thanks. But they said in the village it was easy to find. Just follow the trail to the top of the mountain."
"But I will take you."
"A pleasure, believe me," said Ed Blair, and grinned.
And now they walked together, she effortlessly, like silk waved in air. He seemed to walk more easily, too. He no longer panted. The long grasses, the persimmon trees and the bamboo groves went by.
He carried a press camera and a bag full of bulbs, but they no longer seemed heavy.
"Nice of them to send you," he told the girl.
She laughed. There are tinkling strips of glass hung in a Japanese garden in summer for their cool sound. She laughed like this. "Naito-san has reason for sending me. He always has reason."
"He is Obo—the high priest, you say in English. He taught me English."
"And your name?"
"That can mean snow or flower," said Blair.
"You know Japanese writing?"
"No, but I heard it somewhere." He laughed. Then he mopped his brow again. "Hot, isn't it?"
"We must have a breeze," she said.
A breeze sprang up.
"Well! You certainly ordered that one!"
"Naito-san said to make you comfortable." She said this quite seriously.
They walked some more, and he forgot the coincidence. He watched the girl, admiring her effortless walk. Presently he said, "Well, I'm going to enjoy this visit, anyway."
"I didn't think I would at first. I thought it was all just another crazy idea of Murdock's. He's the managing editor. I told him he was crazy to send me out here to the mountains and waste three days getting a brightener for page two."
"I do not understand all of what you say."
"These magic tricks the monks do. What I mean is, they're interesting, but not big, important news. We call a story like this a feature. We don't usually take a lot of time or trouble with it."
"But they are not magic tricks. They are more."
"Well—all right. I understand how you feel."
He wondered what her place in the Hataka Shrine might be. Priestess perhaps. Except that you couldn't use western words for these things. The ideas were different. But she was beautiful—that was the same in any language!
They reached the shrine in some twenty minutes of climbing, and because of the breeze, and because his feet had suddenly become light, he was not exhausted. The shrine was in a flat place near the top of the mountain. It was not imposing: it had no huge tori, or entranceway, like a Shinto shrine, and there was little elaborate gilding or carving. Inside there was a kind of chancel with flowers, incense holders and hanging prayers and mottoes. There were low buildings off to one side, and the land about them was a carefully made garden, cool and withdrawn, and both men and women in robes of gray or saffron or blue walked about this garden quietly.
Then an old man, bald and with skin like saddle leather came forward. He was old, but his eyes were more; they were ageless, like black sky on a cloudless night. He wore silk. He smiled, but with restraint, then offered his hand, western style. "Welcome, Mr. Blair. I am Naito. We are glad to have you here."
"Thank you. How do you do."
"You'll want a hot bath, I think ... and then a little rest. After that we can eat together, and talk."
"Well—thanks—but actually I'd like to get the story, then go on back to the village again. The last train leaves about six."
"But you must stay longer. Surely."
"No, I really ought to get back to the office. Took me a day and a half to get here, after all."
Naito smiled and shook his head. "You are still in the grip of time, Mr. Blair. Spend some with us and you will slip a little from its tyranny."
"You're very kind, Mr. Naito. But—well, you have your world and I have mine. Time's important in mine. If you could just show me some of these tricks you do—"
"Ah, tricks! Tricks!" Naito still smiled, but Blair felt the anger radiate from him, like heat. "You want to see our tricks, then?"
"Well, that's what I came here for—"
"I told Mr. Murdock," said Naito, drawing his robe more closely about him, "to send a man who would understand. Someone who was not all western ... who had a little of the oriental viewpoint."
Blair laughed. "Murdock would think that about me. Because I show a little interest in things oriental—because I don't think a deep freeze or an eight cylinder juke box on wheels is the greatest thing in the world. Nevertheless, Mr. Naito, I come from a middle-class American background, and my viewpoint is still pretty western. Nor am I one of these odd intellectual types who seem to be ashamed of it."
"There is hope," said Naito. "I am glad you came."
Blair took folded copy paper and a pencil from his pocket. "But shall we get down to business now? First, let me get your full name, and where you come from, and all that. Then the exact name of your sect here, or whatever it is."
Naito seemed amused.
Yuki stood by with great poise. Blair glanced at her and thought yes, flower. When she stands she grows quietly, like a flower.
Then Naito gave the facts. He was Japanese, but had lived in Canada and the United States for some years. He held a doctor's degree from Waseda University in Tokyo, and he had taken post graduate courses in America. He had studied Buddhism in China, Tibet and India. He had drawn from many of the other sects, and founded his own, calling it Koto, using the character that meant "event" or "circumstance."
"Yes," said Blair politely. "Now what about these magic tricks of yours?"
Murdock had said there would be magic tricks. Friends of Murdock's, tourists, had come across the Hataka Shrine and had seen them. Murdock had sent Blair with his Speed Graphic to get the story. The Americans of the security forces, who supported the Tokyo Trib, liked these features very much. From them they became experts on Japan without the annoyance of going too far afield from their wellstocked clubs or comfortable billeting areas.
Naito, the high priest, sighed.
"I will do it the cheap way, then."
He took Blair to another corner of the garden. Yuki followed, gliding. Here water trickled from rocks into a small pool where black and orange carp swam. Naito watched the pool for a while, and presently the water stopped running. A moment later it began to seep upward toward the cleft in the rock.
"There," said Naito.
"What's this supposed to prove?" asked Blair.
"Water running uphill," said Naito. "Is that enough of a trick for you?"
"I don't get it."
"All right. Let's try something else." He moved off, swiftly, angrily, shucked the geta from his feet, entered one of the cottages, and a moment later returned. He held a child's rubber balloon. "It's round," he said, holding it up for Blair to see.
"Okay. A round balloon."
Naito blew it up. Instead of inflating to a round shape it extended itself into a long, banana like form. Then he blew it up again, and this time shapes like fingers came out of it at various points.
"Well?" said Blair.
"You still don't see, do you? Tell me, what do you want me to do."
"Oh, the water illusion, and the balloon thing are clever enough—I don't have any idea how you do it," said Blair, "but the tricks, well, they lack drama, if you see what I mean. No flash. I'd like a good visual trick. One I can really photograph."
Now Naito seemed to seethe inside. He breathed quickly, heavily as he talked. "What will you have?" he said. "What will you have, Mr. Blair? I can do the Hindu rope trick, I can fascinate snakes, and I can put Yuki in a box and saw her in half. Is that the kind of thing you might understand?"
"Well, it ought to be something sort of new," said Blair.
"New," repeated Naito. "Something new. Very well, then. But first you must understand. This time you must understand. We will have tea."
They sat upon grass mats in one of the cottages over cups of pale green tea. Yuki sat beside Blair, and her shoulder touched him now and then. When this happened he found it difficult to concentrate on what Naito was saying.
"Your western science," said Naito, "is only beginning to learn what we know. And from a totally different viewpoint. Your Dr. Norbert Wiener has beautifully clarified the essential fallacy of the Newtonian viewpoint, that nature acts and reacts according to rigid laws. He shows, instead, that it is highly probable nature will do this. Probable enough so that for everyday purposes one may depend on it. Do you follow me, Mr. Blair?"
"I'm afraid I'm not very much up on my science."
"Well, I'm trying to explain it in terms a westerner will understand. You saw a quantity of water run uphill. It was not an illusion, Mr. Blair. It is highly probable that water will not run uphill, but it is also possible that, under certain circumstances, it may. And as for the balloon—tell me, why does gas exert equal pressure in every direction?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
"But you must remember, surely. The molecules of a gas fly about in random directions. They exert force upon the walls of any container the gas happens to be in. Entropy—or the universal tendency toward disorder that Wiener speaks of—keeps an average of them exerting force in all directions. So the pressure remains equal in all directions, and we can measure it, and be certain, reasonably certain, that the next man who measures it will get the same result."
"I remember Boyle's law."
"Exactly. And Boyle's law, or Ohm's laws, or Newton's laws, or anyone else's laws are based on probability—nearly overwhelming probability. But what happens in the rare, almost unthinkable case where every factor does not act according to the most pragmatic law of all—the law of averages?"
"We're getting way up in the clouds now," said Blair.
"Please try to see it."
"Yes, please do." Yuki touched his arm.
"I blew up a round balloon," said Naito. "The gas should have exerted equal pressure in every direction. But something happened to the law of averages. Most of the molecules flew in one direction, and the balloon assumed a long shape. It was one chance in—in a number I cannot even express, it is so huge. Yet, it was still possible."
"Now, wait a minute, Dr. Naito," said Blair. "You're a very nice fellow and I don't really want to offend you, but honestly, I've been around, and a lot of people have tried to fool me with double-talk. Not as learned as yours, but the principle's the same. Now look, why don't you make some fine visual trick for me that I can photograph? Then I can get out of here."
"Oh, dear," said Naito.
"Now what's the trouble?"
"This isn't what I wanted at all. I hoped Murdock's reporter would be—well, sensitive. You see, the time has come to spread what we've learned, to find new supporters. I'd hoped to get a few this way."
"How about my trick?" asked Blair.
"Very well. Come into the garden again."
In the garden he spoke rapidly for a few moments to Yuki in Japanese. Then he turned to Blair. "Watch her. Have your camera ready."
Yuki, a few feet away from them, closed her eyes and at first began to turn slowly in one spot. Her step, to begin, was a slow pirouette, then gradually she began to revolve more rapidly. Presently she was turning so fast that Blair could scarcely believe it. He would not have believed before that the finest professional dancer could pirouette with this speed. He began to take pictures. He was so busy taking pictures that at first he did not notice the blurred shape that was Yuki, whirling, begin to disappear. Then this became apparent to him. He stared, open-mouthed, and Yuki vanished from sight.
"My gosh—that's terrific!" he said. "Where did she go?"
"She's still right there," said Naito.
Blair walked to the spot, felt nothing; he moved his hands about where the girl had been spinning. "She's not there," he said, returning. "That's a honey, though. You could make a nice living back in the states out of that one alone."
"Now, how do you bring her back?" asked Blair, and kept his camera ready.
"Presently, presently," said Naito. "I think she distracts you, and now, while you can't see her, you must try once more to understand. You must know why I do these tricks, as you call them."
"All right. Why? Or better yet—how?"
"You in the west would call it psychokinesis—mentally controlling matter. Your conventional table lifting of spiritualists is an example. So is the phenomenon of people who seem to be able to will dice to fall a certain way. And in your literature—well, Moses and the Red Sea is the first thing that comes to mind. Actually, your Dr. Rhine and some others have discovered some evidence that seems to support, to the western mind, the existence of psychokinesis. But you can never really understand it with western, scientific thinking methods. I cannot even explain it clearly in your terms."
Blair smiled a little. "I think you could explain it all logically enough, if you really wanted to. But, actually, I don't blame you for not wanting to give a trick like that away."
"This is no trick, and it is not what you understand as logical," said Naito, shaking his head stubbornly. "I know that you must have logic to understand; you crave the drug of logic. You want everything labeled, and explained in terms of cause and effect. You cannot conceive that cause and effect may be one—or indeed exist independently. And do you see what this way of thinking has led to?"
"What has it led to?" Blair tried to be patient.
"You have developed a huge, powerful monstrous science of cause and effect. You fly at vast speeds, you build huge edifices, you change the face of the earth with dams and canals, you will soon no doubt escape the gravity of the earth itself and reach outer space, and you are quite capable of making an explosion big enough to destroy the earth itself. It is awesome. You, indeed, are awed by the monster you've created. Now you begin to worship it. Now the scientific method becomes the only method for anything. Now you cannot understand, nor can you tolerate anything that does not show logic and exhibit a clear pattern of cause and effect."
"I think I'd better get along and catch that train, now," said Blair. "Would you mind producing the young lady again? I'd like to say good-bye to her."
"You haven't heard all of my story yet."
"I think I've heard enough."
Naito nodded at the spot where the girl had apparently disappeared. "Watch," he said. Presently a blur came into sight, and as its velocity decreased he saw that it was the girl, spinning now in the opposite direction. He took more pictures. It was not long before she stood there, no longer moving, and seemingly calm and not exhausted. She opened her eyes, saw Blair, and smiled.
"I still say it's a great trick," said Blair.
"It's only the beginning," said Naito. "We can do these few cheap tricks you've seen, but they're only exercises in control. We are still learning. Some day we—or more likely our descendants—will be able to control most of the entropy of the universe. By willing it, we will be able to halt the explosion of a star, change the orbit of the moon, reverse the tides. Then, more important, we can freeze a soldier's bullet in his rifle before he fires it, and we can keep any nuclear bomb ever from exploding. Then we can make order. Then we can properly control mankind itself, and give it the order it has sought so long. Now you know why I am here, and what I am trying to do."
"You're not really so different, then, are you?" said Blair.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Never mind. I have to leave now. It doesn't matter."
Naito looked at him with a dark, porcelain eye. "I sense in you an enemy, Mr. Blair."
"Yes," said Blair. "Perhaps you're right."
Naito looked about, glancing at some of the others strolling about the shrine. For a moment Blair thought the man would try to forcibly detain him. Blair stiffened himself and hardened his muscles; magic or no magic, the old bald fellow would have a scrap on his hands if he tried any kind of violence.
Naito then said abruptly, "But not a powerful enemy, Mr. Blair. You will make fun of us in your newspaper article, I suppose. But it won't really change anything. You may as well leave now, if you are so anxious to go. Yuki will take you down the mountain again."
"Thank you for your time and trouble," said Blair, stiffly, politely.
Again he was on the trail, descending, and the shrine and the mountain top were moving back into the blueness of the sky. The girl walked a little ahead. He watched her for a while, still admiring her, and presently he spoke.
"He knew what I meant," he said.
She turned her head slightly. "Naito-san?"
"Yes. Of course I don't believe any of his double-talk—but if I did, I would be his enemy. He saw that."
"Why would you be his enemy?"
"Because he is a tyrant."
"Naito-san? A tyrant? That is a bad ruler, is it not—a tyrant? Naito-san is not like this."
"But he is. Every tyrant that ever lived began with the hope of controlling mankind for its own good. For what he decided was its own good."
"I don't know," said Yuki. "I don't understand all you say."
"How long have you been with Naito?"
"Since I was a child. He took me when my parents died. He has been like a father. He says I must learn, always learn more. He says my life is important."
Blair moved forward suddenly. He took the girl's slim shoulder, and turned her toward him. He stood there, in the middle of the steep trail, with the tall grasses and embroidered shadows beside it, held her thus, and looked down into her young, golden face.
"He's decided what's good for you, too, hasn't he? He thinks he's God. In that way he's no different from some of our western thinkers he seems to despise so much. Yes, he is wise. But when will the wise learn that wisdom doesn't give them the right to run the universe?"
"I do not understand," said Yuki, her eyes dark and wide.
He took both her shoulders, thrilling to touch them, and he crushed her body gently to his, feeling all the live shape of it in his own body. He found her lips. She trembled and he knew then that she had not been kissed before.
Sometime later he walked away, leaving her still there on the trail. He knew, and felt she too must know, that they would never come together again. Now he would return to the Tokyo Tribune and take up the career of Edward Blair again, and in a day or two the story of the magic monks of Hataka Shrine would brighten page two, and his photos would cause some comment, but everyone would be sure there was some natural explanation for it, and in a short time it would all be forgotten.
Blair would not forget. He would never forget the girl's golden skin, nor the warmth of her parted lips, and she would not forget him either, no matter what Naito taught. For this was something that Naito could not understand, neither in terms of science nor his own queer magic art.
Once more Blair looked back, turning and seeing the girl for the last time. She raised her arm to him, then dropped it again.
After that he saw her as a motionless stroke of gold against the darkening mountain.