Three men come, a priest, his attendant and their servant. Beneath the sycamores, they don their traveling robes. Their linen stoles brush the undergrowth, their sleeves droop, heavy with dew. Senior priest Yukei is on pilgrimage through the province, part of the ascetic training of the yamabushi define.
They leave behind their sacred mountain, setting off over mountains and down the coast. Soaked with salt they weave their way along the shore, a long string of days, reaching at last the bleak moors of Adachi.
But it’s grown dark, and there is no hamlet in the area, only the light of a distant fire. They approach the small hut and ask the old woman there for lodging for the night.
“No,” she says. “Here, across this field so far from any village, the wind blows violently through the pines. The moonlight comes leaking through into my chamber. How can I let you pass the night?”
The priest smiles. “We are travelers accustomed to sleeping with only grass for a pillow,” he says.
The old woman’s heart opens to sympathy. “Yes,” she says. “If that is your wish, please pass the night.”
But inside the hut they see something unfamiliar. What is it?
“It’s a spinning wheel,” she says. A never-ending, lowly task. Let me spin pure linen thread, turning it round and round. How I long to spin the past into the present!” She twines even at night, a life of such misery.
Save yourself aspire to Buddhahood. We are but earth and water, fire and wind, nothing more. We assemble together very briefly, going ‘round the cycle of Birth and Death, forever revolving through Five Realms Six Realms of existence, and all this is but the doing of the illusory mind. Our life is a fast-vanishing dream, now here, now gone. Face your old age. Nobody can regain their lost youth.
The old woman sings and she weaves. She sings of a nobleman, his hat hung with blue and white string, and of festival coaches covered with colored strings. She sings too of the pampas grass of autumn, waving at the moon with tufts as long as thread. Life, too, is long, so cruelly long.
“Tonight is so very cold,” the old woman says. “I will climb the mountain, cut some wood for a fire to warm you.” She hesitates. “While I’m gone,” she says. “Do not look into that chamber.” The priest agrees, giving his word. Once she’s gone, however, the servant makes a confession: ever since he was young, he has had an overwhelming desire to not do whatever he’s told. The priest had given his word, but he, the servant, had not.
Soon the priest and his attendant are asleep, but the servant, restless and curious, sneaks a peak into the chamber, then falls over backward in shocked surprise. Dead bodies, bones and decaying flesh, piled up to the rafters. A mess of arms and legs, all shining with an unnatural light. Pus and blood flow in streams, bodies bloated with stinking filth, flesh and fat all inflamed and rotting. Human corpses in countless number are piled up as high as the rafters.
There is a poem: In the Black Mound upon Adachi Moor, a demon lives in hiding.
The sound of approaching footsteps. An iron wand raised high to strike with mighty force. A fierce wind sweeps down the mountain and across the field as thunder and lightning fill heaven and earth. Priest and attendant chant mystic mantric prayers, rasping together their rosaries, invoking the five deities, powerful protectors of Buddhist Law. From east, south, west and north they come, in their center Fudo, their leader, a sword in his right hand, a rope in his left. The fiendish ogress drops her wand. Faltering, eyes dazed, she cowers. Then, her secret hiding place exposed, she staggers out onto Adachi Moor, and her fiendish shouts mingle with the sound of the stormy night as her form fades from sight.