Genre: Historical Fantasy
Liu Jie raced into the orchard after his son.
The moon’s bony face lit his path. He slipped on fallen peaches and the smell of sour wine enveloped him.
Autumn leaves chattered like a shallow stream. Like the river that brings the dead to hell. Did his ghosts crowd him now?
“Quick, Papa! Someone's lying on the ground!” Shan gestured ahead.
Jie’s robes slapped against his legs. Hurry, hurry!
Each cold breath was visible before he reached the garden. At last, Jie slid to his knees among the turnips.
Moonlight dappled the hollow cheeks of an emaciated teenage boy. Jie put his ear to the boy’s chest. It rose.
Unsure air squeaked from the child’s blue lips.
“He’s alive. Beg the innkeeper for hot water, Shan. I’ll follow. Run!”
Shan sprinted away.
Liu Jie cradled the child and memories burst in upon him.
Twelve years ago he’d heard the river of the dead. Now, he looked at the bony child in his arms, but didn't see him.
Jie saw Jiao and Jun – his sons. Their eyes were open and clear in the moonlight. Clear and accusing.
“Why did you fail us, Papa?”
He sobbed. They had not asked him that in a long time. He thought they’d forgiven him. Maybe they had, but he couldn’t.
He wished saving this child would alter the memories. But Jie’s life was a ladder of wishes. Twelve years ago he’d failed, so now he bore a stranger’s child in his arms and ran.