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Kwaidan: Stories or studies of strange things.
The omnyouji had among his clients a particularly wealthy merchant who had gained much hatred -- let us merely say his business practices were not the most honest. He thus called on the omnyouji often, requiring charms and protection, but one day one of his servants came to him in great haste, crying out that his master had been overcome by a demon. The omnyouji hastened to the merchant's side, and managed to drive out the demon, but the demon proved wilier than the omnyouji expected, and struck the merchant's son, a young child then, and the child fell down dead.
The merchant recovered his wits and offered the omnyouji a large sum of money for his son to be restored, but the omnyouji refused. "Your sins have come upon you," the omnyouji said. "The demon has taken its payment; your son's soul now resides in the land of the dead, and it is beyond my art to bring him back."
The merchant would not be deterred, and at last the omnyouji relented. "There is a way," he said, "I can open the path, but you yourself must bring your son back."
The merchant agreed. By his arts, the omnyouji opened the way as promised, and the merchant walked by the banks of the forgetting river, and he saw a great procession of souls, each one as white as paper, with no distinguishing mark upon them. For the first time he felt despair.
"How shall I know which one of them is my son?" he thought to himself. In that moment, he saw a scribe busily writing as each soul went by, and he hastened over.
"What are you doing?" the merchant asked.
"I am recording the futures of these souls," the scribe replied. "They have drawn their lots in life; they are now heading to the great wheel to be reincarnated."
The merchant looked at the scroll. This one would be a labourer, this one a cook, this one a secretary, this one a politician. He looked at all the souls again, blank and white, the faintest impression of young, small features.
"This one," the merchant declared, and seized the soul destined to be a great politician.
When he opened his eyes again, his son's body stirred, his eyelids fluttering. His mother flung herself beside the boy with a cry.
"Jintaro! Are you-- look at mother, are you alright? ..Jintaro?"
"I'm fine, mother," the boy murmured, and the merchant smiled. He turned to the omnyouji, waiting in the shadows. "You will be well rewarded," he promised.
This is not the end of the story -- be a little more patient, won't you? And pour me another glass of that brandy, my throat's dry. Now where was I...yes, the merchant.
When the merchant awoke again, he was confused. In the magic circle -- wasn't that his body? And his son, lying next to him again, eyes closed. Strangely, his wife was also lying next to the boy. A white shape moved closer, chanting -- the omnyouji, studying his body intently.
"What are you doing?" he demanded.
To his horror, his own body opened his eyes, and looked directly at him. "I'm sure you can imagine," his body said. "You should have waited till I passed the river of forgetfulness -- I died in my prime, and I am tired of waiting. I will use your connections and wealth for better things than you ever did."
"Jintaro!" his wife jerked awake with a cry. "I have found him! Quick, bring him back!"
The merchant stared. His son writhed suddenly, eyes flying open, then he wailed and flung himself in his mother's arms.
"You stupid bitch!" he howled. His wife did not hear him, and continued to clutch the boy to her chest, rocking him like an infant and weeping in relief.
The other soul in his body smiled grimly. "Perhaps you should not have been so quick to choose. I am after all, a very good politician, and negotiations are something of a specialty." He dusted off the lapels of his jacket.
"You traitor!" the merchant snarled, turning to the omnyouji, whose face was blank. "Why?"
"Because as soon as the divorce goes through, she will be marrying him." The other soul said, smiling. "An excellent arrangement all round, don't you think? She would have gladly sold her soul twice over for the boy, whom you could not even recognise when in the land of the dead. I will probably have to find a reporter and start pouring out my woes and how I have reformed after my wife left me."
"No!" the merchant howled.
"And you will take my place in that land, but I do not think you will be heading for the Great Wheel. Your sins are many, and I think we will not meet again, for a very long time, if ever."
The end. What? There isn't anything else to tell. Oh fine. Well, let me tell you this: When the merchant's wife went to the land of the dead, she saw that long procession of souls, the scribe with his records just as the merchant had seen, and she recognised the soul that was her son immediately. But if she had bothered to look at the book, she would have seen the names of every soul in there, as well as the things they liked or disliked, like their favourite colour or their favourite food, or the things they wanted for their birthdays. That was the kind of woman the merchant's wife was, and that was why the omnyouji married her.
And that, is most definitely the end of this story.