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Fox Tales Chap 2 Revised

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Chapter 2   Missing.


It was late in the afternoon.  The rain outside came down in a steady fall.  Two children played with balls and toys while the nursemaid did her needlework.  Outside of the room they could hear feet going back and forth, preparing for the feast which would take place later on that evening.  But for the children cooped up in the room to keep them out of the way and safe, the day had become tedious.  Suddenly, the boy tugged on his sister’s hair, which got their nursemaid’s attention.

“Yukiko!  Leave Gin-chan alone!” she said, swooping up and cuddling the young girl.  “There, there, it’s alright little flower.  I won’t let him trouble you any more.”

“But I’m bored, Sasayuri-sama,” the boy said, his dark eyes shining in definance. “It’s been raining all day and she took my top!”

“If you cannot play nicely, Yukiko-chan, you will have to take a nap.  You know that tonight is the wedding of your aunt Nyoko.  Your uncle Sachio will be here as well, and if you want to be able to attend, you must behave yourself today.”

He idly twirled his top, pouting, then sighed.  “Would you tell us a story, then?” he asked.

“Story!” said his sister.

The nursemaid look longingly at her sewing, then sighed.  “Alright.  I’ll tell a story, but after that you must let me get back to my needlework.”

The boy nodded his agreement.

“And no more making your sister cry.”

“I promise, Sasayuri-sama,” he said.


"All right then.  A long, long time ago, a Kitsune met a Tanuki."

"A Kitsune like me?" Yukiko asked.

Sasayuri nodded.  “But older, like your aunt Nyoko.”  Gin slipped out of the nursemaid’s lap.

"'Hey, Tanuki!' the fox said. 'I know you and I are the best two in all the world for transforming into other people and things. But who of us is better at it?'" Sasayuki continued. "'Why, that's easy,' said the Tanuki. 'It's me, of course!'

"'O yeah?' the fox said. 'Prove it!' So they decided to have a contest.

"The Kitsune knew that the Tanuki had an interesting habit. Whenever he would see an image of Jizo-sama, the Bodhisattva who especially watches over children and travelers, he would get hungry. So the Kitsune, running to a place where he knew the Tanuki would be passing, went and turned himself into a statue of Jizo. When the Tanuki passed by, he saw the image, and said, 'Hmmm...I'm hungry. Time to eat.'

"The Tanuki sat down, took out some rice balls. He offered one to Jizo-sama and bowed his head. When he looked up, the rice ball was gone. He got confused, wondering if he had even put it there. So he put out another one, bowed his head, prayed 'Namu Amida Butsu,' and raised his head right away. The rice ball was also gone! He put out a third rice ball, but this time, he lifted his head before the prayer was through.

"What he saw was this: the statue of Jizo-sama was standing there with a half-eaten rice ball in its hand. The Tanuki yelled 'Hey!' and grabbed the arm. Suddenly, the statue turned back into the Kitsune's usual form. The fox smiled up at the Tanuki and said, 'Now it's your turn.'”

Yukiko snickered.

"The Tanuki was unhappy about how the Kitsune tricked him, and so he thought a moment. 'About noon tomorrow, I'm going to change into the lord from the castle and come by this road. Be sure to be here and watch.'

"The Kitsune was there waiting the next day, waiting to see. Finally the procession reached his hiding place. First, there came the sweepers yelling 'Down! Everybody down!' Next came a long line of samurai, and then finally, the palanquin in which the lord was riding. It was all very impressive and majestic. The fox was amazed at his friend's skill, and ran over to the lord's basket.

"'Tanuki-sama! Tanuki-sama!' he called, 'You have beaten me. This is amazing.' But this was not a transformation by the Tanuki at all; it was the real thing. One of the samurai carrying a staff came over to the Kitsune. The Kitsune was beaten indeed, and severely."

"Hey, the Tanuki cheated!" said Yukiko.

"And the Kitsune made a joke out of holy things." said Sasayuri.  “Perhaps you should think about why Inari-Sama would allow this to happen to one of her foxes. Perhaps Jizo was being compassionate, letting the Kitsune learn a lesson that would teach him something he needed to learn?”

“Maybe,” Yukiko said.  He looked at his sister who had fallen asleep.

Excerpted from the Tale of the Last Feast by Sachio Hayashi writing as Michael Mitsuo

======================================================

Lillian Reynard walked into her bright and airy office and put down the oversized coffee mug   next to her computer. Her workspace was based on an L shaped desk.  One half was given over to the computer; the other half held books and papers and binders.  Beyond that was a view of the garden where she had just had lunch.  She pushed the button on her monitor, wiggled her mouse and was about to sit down in her chair when her employer stuck his head in the door.

“Hold my calls for the next couple of hours, please.    I’ll either be in my office or the garden,” he said.  

She looked up from where she was bent over her keyboard. “Of course, Mr. Hayashi.  Anybody I should let through?” she asked as she sat down in the black leather office chair in front of her computer. Swerving towards the door so she could meet his eyes, she watched him think about it for a moment.

“My agent,” he said, after a moment, “although I don’t expect her to call.  Anybody else can wait.  What are you working on now?”

“First draft of chapter four,” she replied.  

“Good.  I may have the changes to chapters one and two back to you tomorrow.  Now I need to go think .”

He left and went down the hallway.

‘I wonder what that was all about?’ she thought as she reached for the blue spiral notebook that held the first draft of the chapter she was typing.   It amused her to no end that her employer still insisted on doing all his first drafts in longhand, in cheap spiral notebooks, in purple ink, of all things.  She opened it up to the page she left off, then settled it into the copy stand.   His handwriting was neat and precise and easy to make out.

The storyteller looked at the gathered faces staring up at him.  Swallowing a sip of sake, he leaned forward and began to speak:

“Long, long ago, on the side of a mountain far from the nearest village, there was a woodcutter called Visu. He was a big strong man, not afraid of the animals or monsters in the woods surrounding his hut, but he had few visitors to disturb the peace where he, his wife and children lived.

“But in his woodland fastness, he honored not the kami, nor chanted the sutras, nor remembered to burn incense to his ancestors.    One day,  an old priest came by.  Visu, not a stingy man, greeted him warmly, but the priest, who saw no place to honor Kami or Buddha in his house, said to him: ‘Woodcutter-sama, I am afraid you never pray.’”

“Sounds like a lot of people that I know,” she muttered.  

Writing his stories longhand was not the only thing about Sachio Hayashi that she found different or unique. Most of it she chalked up to his being Asian, perhaps,  or that he was a writer or that he was older, such as his absolute insistence that she not listen to her music player while he was in the room.  He had a strong sensitivity to perfumes. Although he had a willingness to nickname her Sassayuri, outside of that, he was unusually formal, reluctant to call her anything else but Ms. Reynard, and expected to be addressed as Mr. Hayashi.  He did many little touches she loved, like insisting on their having lunch in the garden when the weather was nice, or placing a little statuette of a lute playing goddess in the office, because she was the one who was patron of writers. One day, she walked up to the house to find  little horned monsters guarding the entranceway to the house.  “Those are good Oni,” he said, and let it drop at that.  But she found it amusing, like he was surrounding her with protections.  Life had certainly developed a different flavor since she had started working for him.

Taking a sip of coffee she began to type.

“What type of priest was he?” asked the boy sitting by the storyteller’s side.
“What type?  Buddhist, I believe.  Maybe one of those strange mountain priests with all the magic powers,” the old man said.  “What do you think?” he asked the crowd.  There was a titter of nervous laughter, and a few shrugs.  He looked down at his questioner, tousled his hair.  “Eh, you’re a strange one, Matsuo.  Anyway,” he continued, looking back over his audience, “Visu frowned at the priest.

“‘Pardon me, o noble priest, but if you had a wife and many children to keep, you wouldn’t have time to pray, either.  Instead of going around with your begging bowl, you’d be spending every minute working to feed them,’ the woodcutter said.”

“Sounds like my dad,” Lillian said.

===========================================================

I enter the room they call my office. I think of it as my sanctuary, where I can be who I am, away from prying eyes and the need to wear masks. When I first walk in, one sees a wooden desk, bookcase, telephone.  Against one wall, there is a Shinto god-shelf; on the opposite, a Buddhist niche with the figure of Kwannon, Bodhisattva of mercy and  Jizo, patron of those in hell. I keep them here because I need to be reminded. Too many souls I cared about had entered that dark place.  I hope Jizo has been able to help them on their journey.

Closing the door, I invoke the ofuda, a Buddhist charm made for me long ago that hangs on the door in its colorful wrapper.  When activated, it creates a barrier to the outer world, so that no one disturbs me. Then I  lower the level of Shinkiro that surrounds this space.  As I do, the room’s  true nature is slowly revealed as the cover of the mirage that humankind lives in and moves through is suppressed and stripped away.

I don’t think well surrounded by the veils of illusion.  That might sound like an odd thing for a Kitsune, master of deception and trickery to say, but it is true.  When it is time to think, I need to know the full reality, the ebb and flow of power, the creatures that walk unnoticed by human kind, the games the magical realms play.  I watch the change sweep over my office. The room becomes awash in an interplay of light and shadow, threads of silver and red and black, and every shade in between.  It fills the room like a fog, drifting over everything.  I move over to the Buddhist niche, and light incense.  Kwannon’s image blinks at me as I bow, and looks at me with deep compassion.  “Choose your path wisely,” she whispers.  I gassho again.  She reverts to being merely a small statue.

I return to my desk.  Sitting down I pick up the pen and look at the words in my notebook.  For a moment,  I recall old Visu as I saw him that  time, and his shade, locked in my thoughts, grabs hold of the shadows, weaving itself into a form.  I am not sure if it is his true ghost or my memory of who he was, but I doubt if it matters.  He is lanky and balding, gifted with a face that has seen too much hunger and too many drunken moments, grizzled and worn and sunburned, a face that knows worry and has  felt too many children tugging at his sleeves.  His clothes are worn, but carefully patched, faded indigo and beige linen.  No doubt the originals were woven by his long-suffering wife, now dead many centuries as she sat in their cramped hut and tried to make do.  His eyes are squinty as he looks down on me.
“I remember you, Fox.  You are the one who led me the wrong way.”  His voice hisses at me, rough and filled with pain.

I turn my head and wonder at what the magic has brought up, watching the ghost circle around me, taking a seat at the edge of my desk.

“You showed up as that mountain priest, like a holy Yamabushi, telling me I needed to pray and honor the Kami and the Buddha.  I wish I had known you were a fox then.  I still remember the touch of your finger that wove the magic that ruined my life.”

I shake my head.  “I did not do that.”

“Eh.  Who told me about the wheel of karma, then?  About life after life, and how I needed to pray?”  His face grows contorted and angry.

“I told you to pray,” I reply, becoming irritated with his blaming.  “That was the message Kwannon of the Thousand Hands gave me for you.  In her compassion, she offered you mercy..  I didn’t tell you to stop working.  I didn’t tell you to throw your family away.”  I wave  my hand.  “Sleep.  It is long past your time to be an avenging ghost.  Now you are a fable.”

“Who will avenge my wife then?” he cries out, a long mournful sound,  even as he fades.

I sigh, feeling his wrath and my guilt  sweep over me, the cosmic need and longing for justice.“The same one who will avenge my sister,” I say, praying that it is true.

=====================================================================
‘“So what happened next,” asked the old woman sitting at the back of the room,’ Lillian typed.

“Do you think he popped the woodcutter on the head with his staff?” the storyteller asked.  The boy sitting next to him shrugged.

“You’re right.  He didn’t bop the woodcutter.  Instead, the priest touched the woodcutter with a magic charm, a mystical ofuda.  Suddenly, the woodcutter saw a vision.  He saw what happened to the unfaithful, being reborn time after time as a toad, a mouse, a snail, over and over again.  Visu’s knees grew weak, and his lip began to tremble at the awful images he was seeing.

“He grabbed the priest by his shoulders. ‘Tell me what to do!’ he shouted.  ‘I don’t want to go through that!’  So the priest taught him how to pray the Namu Amida Butsu, and told him to go and pray through his days, and work to do the right things.  Work and pray!  And then he left the poor woodcutter, still trembling, alone and went on about his business.

“Yet weeks later, the woodcutter could only see the endless lives as a snake, a toad, a spider that lay ahead for him because of all of his sins.  He worked less and less, and spent all of his time reciting Namu Amida Butsu.  Soon his family ran out of food.  There was no more wood to be sold, there was no more wood for his own fire pit.  The weeds overtook his rice paddy.  His wife, who had never before said a harsh word to him, no matter how bad times had gotten, grabbed his axe and said, ‘Husband, you must work, or we and your children will all die!’

“This made Visu furious!  He was so angry at his wife for interrupting his devotions that he grabbed the axe out of her hand, and said, “By the Kami of the mountain, I want nothing more to do with you ever!” and he headed out to climb up the mountain. His wife, weeping watched him climb up the path, until he was swallowed up by a mist.  She would have wept even more if she had known that was the last time she was going to see him again.”

“Well at least my dad would never have done that one,” Lillian said.  Reaching for her coffee cup, she took a sip, then picked up the notebook to turn the page.

‘“Shame on him!” one of the children cried out,’ she read as she worked.

“Yes,” said the storyteller.  “Visu had done evil things.  He refused  to take up the work he was destined to do, and he called on the Kami of the mountain to keep him from his family.  This time, the Kami heard his prayer, and, for whatever reason, decided to grant it.  Sometimes, it pays to be careful for what one prays for.

“As the sound of his wife’s weeping faded from his ears, Visu heard a soft rustling sound in front of him, and immediately afterward saw a fox dart into a thicket.  Most people that he knew thought seeing a fox was unlucky, but not old Visu.   He thought it was the best of luck to see a fox, and, for a moment,  forgetting his prayers, he gave chase, hoping to see it again. He was about to give up when he came to a clearing in the woods.”

“I knew there had to be a fox somewhere in the story,” Lillian said.  “There always are in his stories.”

“He saw two ladies in the clearing, dressed in fine silks of many hues sitting in the shade playing go. The woodcutter was completely fascinated.  He forgot everything - wife, wood, foxes, sins and prayers, and sat down and watched them. There was no sound except the soft click of pieces on the board and the sound of the wind in the trees.


“The ladies playing seemed to not even realize the woodcutter was there, because their attention was so fixed on their game.  After what seemed like just a short time, he noticed one of the ladies make a bad move.  ‘O no, most honorable lady,’ he said.  ‘You don’t want that move.’  The ladies looked up at him in amazement and fear, then suddenly, they turned into foxes and ran away.


“Visu tried to get up to chase the foxes.  But something odd had happened.  His arms and legs  were terribly stiff, like he had not moved at all in a long time, and  his hair had grown very, very long, falling well past his shoulders and down his back. Oddest of all was that he had been clean-shaven when he sat down to watch, but he now had a  beard that touched the ground.  He grabbed for the axe by his side, and the handle fragmented like old rotten wood.    Suddenly, he was very frightened.  After much effort, he was finally able to stand.  Finding a stick to lean on, eventually he was able to hobble down the mountain, but when he reached the place where his hut was supposed to stand, there was nothing but an empty clearing.

“He found an old, old woman nearby, and asked about the house, and found out no one had lived there for three hundred years.  Overcome with grief, he wandered back into the mountain, became a hermit, and spent the last of his days praying for the souls of his lost family, and teaching people who would listen the importance of both work and prayer.”


The young woman sighed as she printed out her document.  “Some lessons are just too hard,” she muttered.  The bright sunlight in the garden didn’t seem warm enough to warm the chill in her heart.



====================================================================

The man, dressed in simple gray clothes, cargo pants and shirt, walked through the woodlands high above the blue waters of the reservoir below.  He wandered up the sharp incline along a deer track, too steep for true humans to traverse,  listening as he moved to the wind swaying through the Ponderosa pine and aspen as he went.   Overhead, he heard an eagle call, and looked up to see it gyre.


He had been many places since he agreed to this undertaking.  But of all the places he had meandered the long years since he had been given this duty, this had become one of his favorite locations.  Today, this was his retreat, his sanctuary, reminding him in a way of the lands where he grew up.  The silence set him free, the lack of pressure of other souls, dark auras brushing against his was a balm. Here he could rest away from the cities to the south and to the west.    Here, in some ways,  the Shinkiro was thin, hiding little more than the small spirits of the land who were busy doing their business.  There were too few people here in the mountains to attract the more voracious ghosts and youkai and fae, and few humans to weave their own blackness.  No great darkness loomed under the earth.  Purified by rain and sun, snow and wind, this portion of the earth was at peace.

Choosing a spot where the sun warmed the earth, a broad stoneface, grey and pink and black spotted, large enough to sit comfortably on, he knelt down and took out a pouch woven with powerful symbols.  It looked like a small bag of red silk with golden red tassels, but For those with the right type of sight, the pouch,  would glow with lines of color that formed into a great barrier of protection.  It was designed to hold something powerful inside, and keep it safe from outer attacks.

But because he was the guardian of the pouch, he merely unwound the gold cords that held it closed and poured its contents into his waiting hand – a single stone, perfectly round, red with streaks of black.  At first, its surface quiet, holding the small stone in his bare hands ignited something. He could feel the energy from the stone cascade around him, gentle in its touch but fierce in its demand that he acknowledge it.  As it awakened in power, it glowed with a bright red light noticeable even in the daylight, and as it gathered strength, the light cascading off the stone pulsed, throbbing like a heartbeat.

In time with its pulsing,  the light reached out to wrap around him, touching the shadowed silver of his hair with red tint. The stone gave off a soft sound, almost a sigh. As the aura from the stone deepened and strengthened, he could feel soft breath against his ear, tickling him.  The affect was more than touch.  He could smell an essence that spoke of running through the woods, of moonlight, of water falling in the spring runoff, of jasmine. He closed his eyes.

He felt a warm hand enclose his, intertwining soft, graceful women's fingers around his calloused fingers.

"Tama..." he whispered. He had no other word for the presence.  Tama.  It could mean bead, sometimes ball.  It also meant soul.   She was Tama, both the spirit and object he guarded, his constant companion for century upon century.   He knew if he opened his eyes to look, he would see nothing, the spell would be shattered, and all he would see would be a glowing ball. Yet he could hear the rustling of silk as she moved closer, the warmth of her, the contour of her shape.  This was part of his burden – some would say a curse. She leaned against him.

"Guardian," she said, in a voice just above a whisper, like the sigh of the wind in the pines. "We have come a long way, Guardian.”

“This is true.  It took me a long time to find his trail, to find who he was seeking,” he said.

“Because you didn’t want to believe,” she replied. “But it was as I said, was it not?”

“Yes,” he whispered, feeling her chin leaning on his shoulders.  He took a deep breath.  “She was well hidden.  But the brother – “

“Does he know you are nearby?” she asked.

"I have not sought him out yet.  I have been waiting until the Kami tell me now is the time," he replied.

“It will not be long,” she said, brushing her lips along his cheekbone..

He shivered. “I am sure you are right.  You have always been right.”

“Call me back, then, when you are ready,” she whispered and released her touch on him.

He shuddered, feeling her aura begin to fade."But about Nyoko--" he said

"Prepare," she sighed.

The stone in his hand pulsed one last time, then she was gone.
Revised chapter 2 of Fox Tales. There are substantial revisions to this story.
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