The Girl Who Followed Yume-Zen

There was once a poor orphan named Yuuki who had only experienced hardship and pain in her life. She had grown quite despondent with things as they were, and yearned to be happy. There was a blind woman who lived next door to Yuuki’s orphanage, who saw her sad face, and told her about a wonderful place called Yume-Zen.

Yume-Zen, she said, is a beautiful mystical forest with cherry blossom trees, and green grass that leads to a blue waterfall. The waterfall starts all the way in the clouds and cascades down into the deep ocean. In Yume-Zen, there are no hardships; only unconditional love and lasting happiness. There is only abundance in Yume-Zen. Inhabitants receive a never-ending supply of food and water. Everyone is equal, with the same access to all the desired luxuries. There is no such thing as work in Yume-Zen either, all that is expected is to believe you are remarkable without conditions, and to ask for what you desire so that you can receive abundance. This sacred place, where all dreams come true, is the only place where you will find wisdom, true love, and lasting happiness.

After hearing this, Yuuki decided that she would find Yume-Zen so she could finally be happy. Yet, very few people knew how to get Yume-Zen; there was not a map, nor were there specific directions she could follow. Travelers that reached the place rarely returned, and those that did could not recall the exact route—the journey was too arduous to remember every part. Long ago, the blind woman had gotten close to Yume-Zen, and then she fell ill, lost her eyesight, and had to conclude the journey. She could only remember the location where she began the journey to Yume-Zen. Before Yuuki left, the old woman said:

“If you stop or get lost while on this journey, try your best to get back on track. Whatever you do, do not ever forget that the point of this journey is to reach Yume-Zen.”

Yuuki then set out on her journey across a long bridge. After a full day and full night walking across the unsteady bridge, she was sore and tired. When she made it to the end of the bridge, she came to a shady green forest. She took a few steps into this forest before collapsing from exhaustion, and fell into a deep sleep that lasted for days. When she woke up, she felt renewed and energized, but hungry and thirsty. She trekked through the forest, searching for food and water, before she came to a wide lake. She ran to the lake, got on her knees, and dipped her head in the water, filling her throat with as much water as she could to quench her thirst.

A woman wearing a tiger-skin dress and armed with a hunter’s bow under her arm, rushed over to Yuuki. “You can’t drink that water,” she said. “It’s not clean!”

Yuuki stopped drinking. “I’m dehydrated. Please! Where can I find clean water to drink in this forest?”

Seeing that Yuuki was very thirsty, the Tiger Skin woman took her deep into the forest, to a well that was full of clean water. Yuuki drank from this well until she was not thirsty anymore; she was now only hungry. The woman told Yuuki that if she helped kill a forest boar she could eat as much as she wanted for dinner. Yuuki was starving and saw no other choice, so she agreed. The woman gave her a hunter’s bow and they searched the forest for boar. When they finally came across one large boar, they used their bows, killed it, and dragged the dead animal to the Tiger Skin woman’s home, where they cooked it. That night Yuuki ate as much boar as she could, and when she finished eating, she felt full and satisfied.

The Tiger Skin woman told Yuuki to stay with her. “I am lonely here. I’ve been hoping for someone like you to pass through my forest, and I’d like you to stay longer than a day. If you stay, you will have an endless supply of fresh water and food—as long as you agree to help me hunt.”

Yuuki was only ever used to receiving scraps as an orphan; she had never had the privilege to eat or drink as much as she wanted. She wanted to eat and drink to her heart’s desire, and so she decided to stay. In time, she grew accustomed to hunting boar, drinking from the well, and her friendship with the Tiger Skin woman. She was happy in her new home.

When two years passed, there were few boar left in the large forest, and the well water was now impure. Yuuki and the Tiger Skin woman had to eat small rations of boar meat each day to ensure that they did not run out of food. They drank a small amount of water each day too, because they feared that drinking too much of the impure water would make them sick. Yuuki wanted to eat and drink the way she used to, and she wanted to be happy again. She could not be happy in these new circumstances. She then remembered that there was a place with a never-ending supply of food and water—the mystical Yume-Zen.

She asked the Tiger Skin woman how to get to Yume-Zen from the forest. Though the Tiger Skin woman heard stories of Yume-Zen, she said did not believe that the place truly existed. She would never dare find the place, but she did recall the direction others traveled through the forest when they were seeking Yume-Zen.

“Long ago, there was a group of travelers that came through my forest to get to Yume-Zen. They went northwest, which leads to a busy importer village. I don’t know what direction they went once they arrived to the village, so you will have to ask one the villagers for help if you want to go to Yume-Zen from there.”

Yuuki bid farewell to the Tiger Skin woman, then headed northwest out of the forest. After a few days traveling through the shady forest, she came to a bustling village with peddlers, merchants, and bakers. She stopped at the first stand, which belonged to a robust man that sold pork.

“I have not heard of Yume-Zen. I’m sure there are elders here that can tell you how to get there, but they will charge several coins for directions. You are a beautiful young woman, so I know I will attract customers to my stand if you help me sell pork. If you agree to help me, I will let you stay in a warm bed with food, and water, and clean clothes for only a small amount of money, and I will give you part of what I earn so that you have the money to pay for directions.”

Since she did not have any money to give the elders for directions, she had no choice but to help the pork peddler sell his pork. Just as the peddler predicted, men were eager to purchase pork from him because of Yuuki’s beauty. The peddler made more money that day, than he had in weeks! He was a fair man, so he split the money with her 50/50. Yuuki was used to just receiving pennies for work as a poor orphan; she had never received such a large amount of money. She gave a portion to the peddler to stay at his home for the night. She had always desired jewels, and now with money to spare, she could not resist. She used the rest of her earnings to buy a gold necklace with an emerald stone at the center. She put the necklace on right away and she was very happy.

The peddler saw that she was very happy with her new necklace and asked her to stay an extra day. Yuuki had already spent all her money on the necklace, so she could no longer pay for directions to Yume-Zen. Since she had no other choice, she agreed to stay another day and help the peddler sell his pork. Like the day before, they made a lot of money. With extra money, she could not resist buying an exquisite piece of cloth so she could make a dress. But the next day, because she spent all of her money buying the cloth, she did not have any left to pay for directions to Yume-Zen. She stayed another day, and, like the last two days, they made a lot of money—and she used the rest of the money to get what she desired. The following day, she had no money to pay for directions. So, she stayed another day, then another week, then a month, and that month transformed into several months, and soon a year passed and she was still selling pork with the peddler. During this time, with the peddler, she bought the things she had always wanted. She greatly enjoyed her lavish lifestyle with the peddler; she saw him as a father, and he treated her like a daughter. She was very happy.

One morning, after selling a lot of pork, Yuuki felt very sick and needed to go home earlier than usual. When she left, upon seeing that the lone pork peddler had made a lot of coins that morning, a group of greedy beggars attempted to rob him. When the peddler refused to give them his earnings, they stabbed him to death. Left alone again in the world, without her father, Yuuki was filled with grief, and had little purpose in life. She spent weeks laying in her cot, consumed with so much fear and despair that she could not seem to leave the peddlers home. Eventually she ran out of the spoiled pork supply and the old wheat she’d been eating to survive, and had no more earnings to pay for the peddler’s home. She had no choice but to leave the home to find work. She went to the village where she once sold pork, and begged the other merchants for a job.

These merchants were too greedy to split things with her 50/50 the way her pork peddler did, none were as kind to her as the pork peddler was, and despite her success with the peddler, the merchants did not believe that women should work beside men. They all refused to give her a job. This forced her to pawn all of the luxuries she had purchased over the year, so that she could have money. Without her luxuries, the peddler, and no work, Yuuki felt very unhappy. She wished that she didn’t need work or money to survive in the world, and she wanted her luxuries back.

Then, she remembered that if she made it to Yume-Zen she could have everything she desired, and she would never have to work or give away luxuries. She took the remainder of the money that she had earned pawning her items, and found an elder that agreed to give her directions.

“I can only tell you how to get to the forest that will take you on the path to Yume-Zen. The forest is the farthest I traveled when I was young lad with hopes of making it to Yume-Zen. I was called to fight in the war shortly after I arrived to the forest territory, and after the war, I never bothered to go back. I’m afraid I do not know the rest of the way.”

“I would greatly appreciate your help to get the forest, if that is all you know.” Yuuki said holding out her coins. “I will give you all the coins that I have left.”

“You need to travel west until you get to the mountains,” he told her. “Once you get to the mountains, you must take the north route all the way out. This will take you to a forest. If you can make it to the forest, you should be able to get to Yume-Zen. In the time since I traveled to the forest myself, I don’t know anyone that has made it as far as the mountains, because of the mountain men. We are still in war with them, any man brave enough to go into mountain territory on their own is likely to be killed or held hostage. Be very careful.”

Yuuki was scared, but she could no longer stay in the village without money. She had no choice but to go through the mountains to get to Yume-Zen. She followed the elder’s instructions and traveled west until she reached the mountain territory, then she hiked up the path into the cold mountains. She had not been walking very long when she became so cold her body trembled and her feet and hands grew numb. She feared that she would not survive the journey if she did not eventually find warmth. Though she found the will to keep moving, as soon as she smelled a fire, she veered off her route to Yume-Zen, to get to the fire. When she was close to the fire, she saw a tall mountain man, dressed in heavy gray animal-fur, cooking bear meat. She was scared and tiptoed away, but it was too late. The mountain man heard her footsteps.

He called out: “Your kind has already been warned about coming into our territory. Yet your kind still comes! Tell me why I shouldn’t harm you?”

“Please do not hurt me,” Yuuki said. “I only came through this territory because I need to get to a place, and the only way to get this place is through these mountains. I mean you no harm, and if you spare my life, and allow me to continue my journey, I will never mention my encounter with you or that you let me live.”

The mountain man did not expect Yuuki’s soft feminine voice. He turned around and walked over to her. Once he got close, there were only a few inches of space separating their bodies from touching. Yuuki closed her eyes, and waited many moments, believing he was going to kill her. When enough time passed and he still had not, Yuuki grew afraid of what he would do instead. But the tall mountain man gazed at her for many moments, before he covered her icy, trembling fingers with his large warm hand.

“Tell me the place you need to get to, and I will find a way to take you.”
She opened her eyes, and looked up at him. His gentleness, and the warmth in his touch, soothed her. He led her to his fire, to stop her shivering and then, he wrapped her in a thick fur blanket. He offered her the cooked meat and though they ate in silence, she felt comfortable. After they ate, he wrapped his arms around her and laid her down on his heavy chest. Yuuki felt an unfamiliar surge of emotions shoot up from her wobbly legs into the core of her stomach. They looked into each other’s eyes for a long time, before the mountain man leaned forward and kissed her so deeply that they were both breathless afterwards. That night, she fell asleep still in his embrace.

The next morning the mountain man carried her on his back, and they traveled north until they reached the end of the mountain territory. There, Yuuki saw the entrance to a wooded forest. The mountain man put her down.

“I cannot enter the forest with you, because it is no longer my territory. If you go inside and travel east, that should take you to the end of the forest, to a group of old women. They should be able to tell you how to get to Yume-Zen. When the war is over, I will leave these mountains and I will look for Yume-Zen to find you.”

Yuuki wanted to continue the journey to Yume-Zen, but she could not leave the mountain man. She had never been loved or felt such strong feelings for anyone before, but being around this mountain man filled her lonely heart with warmth. She feared her heart would ache and that she’d be filled with wonder if she left for Yume-Zen when her soul felt drawn to him.

The mountain man’s heart filled with light, when she told him she was staying. He took her back into the mountains with him, where they could be together. With each day their feelings simmered warmer, until the day their emotions boiled over, with a soaring hot rush that completely overtook them. Their souls merged and they became one; they glided together in their own world—without ever touching the ground, and nothing outside of what they shared, mattered.

They were married in a beautiful ceremony, in the mountains, amongst his people, and Yuuki felt freedom and true happiness in marriage. They loved each other through icy winters, blossoming springs and through dangerous mountain battles, fiery summertime, and breezy autumns. The love she felt was so strong that her heart ached at the mere thought of a life where he did not exist.

One day, during a mountain battle, the humans slaughtered her husband and his entire family. They spared her life because of her humanity, yet she wished they had killed her too. Yuuki felt deep pain that was so dark, all she could do was scream. And when she lost her voice, there was nothing left in her.
In this despair, she lost track of time. It was only when she felt weak and sick and could barely walk that she thought she heard a voice relentlessly shouting for her to leave the mountains. She was sure she was going crazy, and in spite of the darkness that enveloped her soul, she found a shimmer of light within urging her to have hope. She yearned to be happy and to feel love’s warmth once again. It was then that she remembered Yume-Zen, a place where she could experience love, but unlike the love she shared with her mountain man, the love there would not cause her pain. She knew she needed to get to Yume-Zen to find love again, and so she left the mountains.

She remembered, from years before, the directions her husband told her, so she went inside the forest and traveled east. Yet she was still very sick, and her legs were wobbly, so halfway through the forest she had to stop walking to lean on a nearby tree to keep herself from getting worse. When the feeling passed, she found the will to continue. She made it the end of the forest before she fainted and fell.

Yuuki woke up on a warm cot in a small, tiny brick room. There was an old woman in a rocking chair in the corner of the room.

“I’ve been waiting for you to wake. I’ve made you some special tea and there is a bowl of soup and crackers,” the woman said.

She thanked the old woman, and when she finished her food, she asked the woman to help her get to Yume-Zen.

“You are in no condition to travel to Yume-Zen, not when you have a little one in your belly,” the woman said.

Yuuki had been in denial that there was a baby growing inside of her since the mountain man’s death. Yet, she was now forced to look at herself; and so she did. She gazed down at her belly and saw how round it was. And she knew then, that it was through the will of the baby inside of her that she had the strength to leave the mountains to come here. The baby was the shimmer of lightness that was left of her. When she patted her belly, she felt a stirring, and her heart grew warm. She decided to wait until the baby was born before she went to Yume-Zen.

The old woman, and the three other women that lived in the forest with her, agreed to help Yuuki; they restored her broken heart, which gave her the strength she needed. When she gave birth to her beautiful baby boy and held him for the first time, her heart felt joy again. She gazed into her baby’s eyes, and she told him that she would give him every ounce of love that was in her and provide him with as much as he wanted, so that he would always be happy. Her son cooed in response, and Yuuki felt bliss.

The old women helped her with the baby until he grew into a boy. By then, all four women had passed away. Though she was now alone, she did not feel lonely raising him by herself. Taking care of her son had filled the empty spaces within her soul, the ones that had plagued her for so long. She felt fulfilled as a mother and formed an unwavering bond with her son that remained intact, even when he grew into a man and left her to find a wife.

Once he left, she was completely alone. Yet, since she was older, now with wisdom about life, she felt at peace in this loneliness and enjoyed being in the forest for many years, with only herself and nature as companions, and her memories of all the variations of love she experienced–to sustain her. She thought about leaving the forest, but knew that her son would return one day, and she wanted to make sure that she was there when he did, and so she stayed.

In time, her son returned from his long departure, and he brought with him a young wife that was pregnant with twins. Yuuki was elderly now, and she was grateful that she was still alive, so that she could help her son and his wife with parenthood, the same way the four old women once helped her. When the twin girls came, Yuuki enjoyed every moment that she spent being their grandmother. She felt unconditionally loved by her son, his wife, and her granddaughters and cherished the many years they all spent together in the forest.

When Yuuki was dying, she thought about the life she lived, and in those moments, she remembered Yume-Zen. She knew that wonderful things existed in Yume-Zen, and though she knew that it was too late for her to go to Yume-Zen, she wanted to imagine the place one last time. And so, she imagined herself reaching the end of the journey–that she started so long ago–and pictured all the things she would’ve seen and how she would have felt once she stepped into the mystical forest for the first time.

As she thought of Yume-Zen, Yuuki felt peace, love, and joy, and this caused her to smile one last time, before she slipped away.

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