His blue eyes dry themselves on this tapestry, staring at every corner, every line, every pale and painted leaf of the apple tree adorning it. It is the same tree embroidered on the Mokufu he’s dressed in. The thick fingers of gnarled branches climb out sporadically from the off-center bushes where the tree’s roots are set on the once-cream silk; he can see a shadow falling over it, like the casting of days in a sunward Mason’s niche.
A glint crawls toward him, across the floor; it is the lopsided hook of the panda’s outstretched claw, one of several it intends for his face, he imagines, as he grabs up the tapestry and touches it, hoping for some hidden scroll or catch in the weight of its disintegrating hems.
As he is staring at the tree, Jack does not hear the panda trundle forward into the room.
Jack turns around, pressing his vertebrae against the tapestry, clutching it in bloody fingers missing half their nails.
He feels the steam of hot breath on his face.
The tip of one claw is touched to his forehead, as though the creature is counting. Preparing.
He opens his eyes, his feet planted firmly on the rough fibers of the mildew-woven tatami that haphazard the floor of this space, the last of the rooms.
Then he opens his eyes again, as the crazed panda’s other claw rises like a crescent summer moon over his face. The paw blooms silver, the great palm a black, triumphant lotus decorated in squeezes of muscle.
A last clack of the positioned claw against Jack’s forehead beckons the sweat from his face.
Cold grips him by the lungs, like heavy air from a furnace.
The claw rises for a fourth time, and as his eyes follow the line of shiny keratin up, it…