Ji moved slowly toward Samantha. He moved so quietly in the woods, with such stealth. He wasn’t even one of the hunters, yet he possessed the same grace and endurance as the other clansmen.
“Samantha, is everything … all right?” Ji asked.
Samantha stood frozen, looking at Ji and trying to figure out what he planned to do.
“Yes, I thought I heard something,” she said. “That’s when I saw the moonlight and decided to stay out a bit.
Ji glanced up at the moon. It wasn’t a full moon, but rather a half crescent. It did look brilliant amid the stars, though. In the forest, away from city lights, the heavens filled with sky with what thousands of bright twinkling dots.
“We have been doing a lot of walking,” Ji said. “It would reassure me if you knew where you were going, if you had a plan for finding these lost people.”
Samantha put her hands in her pockets and looked down at her feet, thinking. Despite her age, or perhaps because of her age, she had a bold streak in her.
“Well, it’s just that,” she said. “Are they really a lost people, Ji?”
Ji took a step back. Samantha’s words had caught him by surprise.
“I’ve told you all we know. They didn’t leave a lot behind. We have to rely on the stories and histories passed down by our fathers,” he said.
Samantha clenched her fists and looked Ji straight in the eye.
“Yes, but you descended from the leader who, let’s just say it honestly, who banished them from the clan,” Samantha said.
Ji scowled a bit. “We never banished them!” he said.
“Are you telling me you don’t know any more information than the common folk in your clan?” Samantha said.
“If you want the truth, they wanted another leader. They left on their own, following another leader. We didn’t kick them out. They left of their own will,” Ji said.
I knew it, Samantha thought. What he said confirmed Samantha’s suspicions about Ji’s relationship to the lost people. “Who was the other leader?” she asked. “Why did they choose to follow him?”
The moonlight expanded across the forest floor. Samantha’s vision heightened in the night, allowing her to see more, to feel more.
Ji said, “My fathers explained this group didn’t fit into the clan. They wanted to live without leadership and roles. They wanted to form a society no one had ever conceived. They posed a threat to the clan, Samantha. But before anyone could banish them, they left in the night.”
So are we searching for these people or hunting them? Samantha thought.
“The group has been separated from my people for a hundred years,” Ji said. “We always doubted that they found a way to live successfully on their own. To be honest, I was hoping we could locate their group and confirm our suspicions about their failure. This would help reinforce loyalty within our clan. The legend of the lost people has filled the stories and legends of many young idealists in our clan. Our society can’t survive with splits and divisions. We depend on each other, on everyone filling roles. You know how we work. When that early group left, our way of life nearly ended. If we can find the remains of this group, or even recover some lost records or find other relics of their society, we can dampen the revolts that flare up from time to time. When rebels think they have a better way of life and try to lead people toward it, we can point to the early leavers and their failure.”
Samantha carefully looked into Ji’s face, trying to determine whether he was telling the truth. It seemed an unlikely story to make up. Were the people still alive? If not, then what of the music?
“So you see,” Ji said. “Even if we walk around aimlessly for two weeks and return to camp empty handed, I still win. My people will assume the dissenters met their death long ago. My people will be more loyal to the clan than ever before.”
This was getting complicated, Samantha thought to herself. If she didn’t find the people, Ji could tell stories to his people about how this group perished in the wilderness. He might even say they had run across some old camps or other relics of the lost people, purposely mistaking any old wilderness structures as remnants of the people. He could embellish it all he wanted, and what could she do? This is why he was so willing to follow her aimlessly as she traipsed up and down forest trails.
But what would happen if they found the banished people? What then? Would Ji slaughter them? Would they even let themselves be found? Surely they would consider his approach in camp with hostility. Finding the lost people in a well-off state would be unacceptable to Ji. Samantha wasn’t sure what she would do if that happened.
Samantha said, “I doubt we’ll find them, Ji. After a couple of weeks of aimless wandering, you can return to your people and paint a bleak picture about their demise many years ago.”
Though Samantha said this, she felt inside that the group was alive. The music persuaded her to their existence. She could feel there was something pulling her. If only she could learn to understand the meaning so that she could know where to go. But if she did know where to go, should she lead Ji to them?
“Ji,” Samantha said. “Thank you for telling me this. I understand your situation a bit more. But there’s something I want to ask of you.”
“I need the cursed map. I think that’s the key that will unlock their location,” Samantha said.
Ji looked a little stunned, and then he started to laugh. “You want the cursed map? You’ll go insane, you know. Everyone who –”
“I know,” Samantha said. “Just give me the map.”
Ji popped off the top of his walking stick and pulled out the ancient music scroll, the curse. He looked at Samantha for a long time, tilting his head in several angles as he weighed her intentions. Then he sighed, shrugged his shoulders, and gave her the map.
Ji returned to his tent, shaking his head a bit. Samantha returned to her tent as well. Inside, Grandpa and Harr were asleep. Grandpa’s loud snoring had subsided, and she could only hear his deep breathing. Beyond this breathing, all was quiet. Samantha held the cursed map in her hands, still rolled up.
Perhaps the curse was something Ji made up to trick the people, she wondered. Could she really trust him? Would she go insane? On the other hand, what a strange thing it would be to make that up. It was so peculiar, how could it be an invention?
Samantha started to unroll the map a little. The others went insane, she thought, because a type of music, perhaps a rhythm or beat, got in their heads and echoed around again and again without ceasing. How exactly was that possible, anyway?
The idea that music could have an untapped power, a special force that interacted with the mind, fascinated her. She had always known music to be powerful. In church she had learned about King David and his psalms. Such a powerful king loved to sing. Was the song merely a hobby, an outlet to amuse him? Or did it actually give him his power? Was it the source of his righteous domain? And what about the angels in heaven who sang praise. Was this mere coincidence, a method no different from prayer? Or was there a kind of power in song. And not just a power that you felt by yourself, but a power that you could exert on others to control their emotions too. She knew how moved she could be listening to piano, such as Chopin’s Nocturnes. They could make her in a dreamy state, full of emotion.
Music could certain push or pull on her emotions. But suppose she could do more than simply ride an emotional roller coaster, she wondered. Suppose she could harness music as a type of gateway, something that would allow her cross over into another state entirely.
She began to chant the rhythm of the forest song. She kept the rhythm strong and regular, her eyes closed. She moved from the rhythm to a repeating melody, focusing all her attention on the music. She put out all words from her mind. Instead of thoughts, she let a blank space fill the cavity of her mind.
After about five minutes, the rhythm began to propel on its own, without effort from her. It was like a string that moved about with its own motion inside her mind, maneuvering about independent of her will. The rhythm pounded faster and more furiously, and Samantha could almost step back and observe it, like a child observing a kite that is flying in the wind, letting itself be blown about this way and that while the child watches it from below.
The rhythm raced around Samantha’s mind and filled her emotions with confidence. It made her feel invincible. Her heart was pounding, keeping a certain pace with the rhythm of the forest song. Her eyes were still closed. Though she still remained in the tent, she didn’t feel that her body was there. She felt like she was outside the tent, suspended above the air overlooking the forest. She felt a kind of surging power inside.
She took the cursed map in hand, unraveled the rest of it, felt the paper with her hands a bit. Then she sat up, opened her eyes, and look at the notations.