As the monk rang six notes on the gong in the garden, six holy figures single-filed into the room, their long hair and silken robes of many hues flowing together as they moved. The only sounds aside from the now-fading sixth note of the gong were the stream tinkling outside of the window and the rustling sighs of their silk.
A long bamboo table with heavy dark chairs filled most of the space. Each took a seat in no particular order. Before them were six cups and a teapot. A slithering sound from the eastern corner of the room as the bamboo door slid open announced a servant, dressed all in white, carrying a clear glass container of steaming water and a small pouch with indeterminate contents. Following the servant was an androgynous individual carrying a Guqin, which they placed on a low table in the western corner and soon began to play.
Without a word, the servant opened the pouch of contents into the teapot, then poured the steaming water over. Each of the six figures at the table sat, eyes closed, as if in meditation, praying, or both. After ten minutes of steeping, the servant poured the tea into each of the six cups and placed one cup in front of each holy person. From the servant’s robes a small silver bell was pulled out then tinged an awakening and a commencement; the servant left.
Each figure’s eyes opened and looked around at the other. The one who looked oldest of them all said, “the fate of the world rests in our hands.” Six heads, including the speaker’s, nodded. Each of them reached for their cup and sipped, sipped, sipped, until nothing but the dregs were left in the cups. Within minutes each head was drooped into unconsciousness.
The Guqin player continued playing as the holy people traversed the dream world, seeking favor with the Mysterious Mother. They were looking for guidance. They were looking for salvation. They traveled together in the nether world, their robes always touching, their eyes illuminating to see along the uneven path as they rose higher and higher on Shen Mountain.
At last they saw her, a bright globe circling the mountaintop. She smiled down on them and warmed them to the marrow of their bones. “I know why you’re here. I cannot give you the answer you seek. You shall return from the mountains with a message from me. You will not leave this earth, but you will enrich the soil with your remains. You will give back the gifts you have been given and the flowers will sing your praises.”
The holy figures looked among themselves, thanked the Mysterious Mother for her grace, then headed back down the mountain.
The room was lit by candles when they woke. The Guqin player was gone. The chill night mist from the creek rose up and into the window. They rose as one and single-filed out and through the gardens and into the dark, headed for their individual straw pallets in the monastery to sleep until morning.
They would find a way to tell the world that their time on the planet as they knew it was over.
Sadje is the host of What do you see?