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Fox Tales Chap 4 Revised

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Chapter 4 Returnings


“Why, Yashuo?” she asked.  “You knew he was under my father’s protection.”

The young kitsune lay on the ground, wounded in ways that only magical creatures could be injured.  His breathing was labored, his clothing, the bright silk of his hakama and hitoe was stained with dirt and mud and ripped.  His head rested in her lap, half transformed between fox and human, shifting as the waves of Shinkiro rolled over it, dark magic fighting light as he sought to heal and escape a death by exorcist’s magic.  One moment, his ears were fully human, another they slowly migrated and transformed into those of a black fox.  His face lengthened  and shortened from fox snout to human face and back again, the nasty gash he had on his forehead growing smaller with each tranformation.  He groaned.

“For three weeks the man was missing.  His family was frantic.  For three weeks, they prayed and fasted and cried and called on the kami and my father and brought in priests.  And what did we discover?  You and your group of pranksters had him hidden in the storehouse crawl space there on his own property.”


Her beautiful face was dark with anger, and her eyes flashed towards red. “And now look at you, Yashuo!  You’re hurt so bad you can’t walk.  Dai and Akaitaro are dead, the Mountain sages are running around telling everybody about the evil Kitsune who can’t be trusted to honor their oaths, scaring all the villagers near and far,  and Benzaiten-sama herself jumped into it to flush you out with that crazy sage.  You are lucky she is merciful.  If someone else had answered their petition, say Bishamonten-sama, Kami of war, you all would be dead.”

“Stop, Nyoko,” he pleaded.  His eyes searched her face, looking for something, something besides her anger.

She sighed, glancing down on him with a sad longing, then lifted her face to stare into the distance.  “My father has named all of you who survived outlaws, and stripped you from the clan. This has been clearly and publically announced.  He has made it clear that if any Kitsune comes near the area not bearing his mon, that Kitsune is free to be attacked.  If he saw me here with you now, he would have your head on a pike, and I have no idea about what he would do to me.”

Yashuo lifted a hand, burned and scarred, the skin transformed at places into black fox flesh, and lightly touched her face.  Her eyes glistened with tears, and a small trickle had worked its way down her cheek.  He touched the tears, lifted his hand and looked at the moisture on his fingertips.

“He was just a stupid merchant.  All our dreams...” she said.

“It was Terume’s fault.  She organized it.  She heard him talking about wanting a woman because his wife was gone,” he said.  “She was the first to die.”

“So you and her and your friends enchanted him, and pulled him in the crawl space so to teach him a lesson.  You knew he was my family’s silk merchant, even if the others didn’t..” She covered her face with both of her hands.  “He is a stupid, vain man.”

“Koibito, I am sorry.” Yashuo tried to sit up, but fell back down.
“They are sending me away,” she said.  “Father is marrying me to Akaisawa Yoshikata.  I have lost...everything I hoped for.”

“No...” he whispered.

“Everything but your life.  Live, Yashuo. I have friends near Odawara.  They will take you in if I ask.  As soon as you’re well enough, you need to leave. Go there.  Don’t do anything foolish.  I don’t know how long I can keep this place safe.”

She reached down, caressed his cheek. “I’ll be back when I can.  Be careful.  Don’t leave me with nothing.”

Gently, she removed his head from her lap, stood up, and walked into the night.

Excerpted from The Last Feast by Sachio Hayashi writing as Michael Mitsuo


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



On the patio of a small Seattle coffee house, a young-looking man approached the small round table.  A woman sat there, obviously oriental yet sporting short, bleached hair.  She wore a pale blue gauzy dress, looking very summery.  The weather, though, here on the patio, wasn’t as warm as her clothes asked for.  She smiled as he neared.

“It’s good to be out of the noise,” he said in Japanese as he slid into the seat next to her.   He too, was Asian, with dark hair and dark eyes.  He, though, was dressed more for the cool day, with a grey sports coat over her dark red polo shirt.  His jeans, though, were faded and starting to wear through one of the knees.  “I should have realized we’d run into the lunch crowd.”

“We did, didn’t we,” she said, as she accepted  the paper cup from his hand.  

“Chai latte with nutmeg sprinkles, right?” he said.  He took the seat next to hers, not across the table.

“You remembered!  I’m impressed!” she said.

“Of course,” he said, sipping his coffee.  “It hasn’t been that long.”

“Let’s see.  That was when you and Masuke found out that Tanuki was terrorizing an apartment complex in Redbluff.  What was that, three years ago?” she said.

“Hmm.  More like five.  What ya been able to find out?”

She looked at the laptop open in front of hers, pressed the spacebar. “It’s been really hard trailing him.  We think he’s been going in erratic circles for awhile, slowly working his way to Idaho.  We have a pretty good confirmation of him showing up in San Francisco, Phoenix, Salt Lake City in the last three or four years.”

“So you’re sure its him?” she asked.

“As much as we can.  Masuke and Sukeo have headed to Boise.  Somebody’s got to keep an eye out on Sachio.  I called him yesterday to let him know they were coming.  I didn’t mention about our traveler here.”

“Well, are you going to tell him why?” she asked, sipping her latte..  She wished she had brought a sweater.  

“Should we?   I was thinking about going out there myself.  Do you think he’d appreciate a visit?  It’s been a long time since we saw him last, Ayame.” he replied.  “Have you seen him since he left California?”

She shook her head.  “Nope.  He went on that trip back to Japan, and came straight here afterwards.  That’s the last time I saw him.  Forty years ago maybe?  Not long after the war.”  She stirred her latte with a coffee stick.  “When I ran across his books I was really surprised. Never expected him to recreate himself as a writer of  fantasy stories.”

“Something ironic there.  The creature out of fantasy becoming the storyteller of fantasy, by talking about the defining disaster of his youth.  I wonder what your mother would have thought.”

“She’d have laughed, then made an offering to Inari for him to make the best seller list.” Ayame grinned, then grew quiet, looking out over the distance, watching the traffic in fron to the coffee shop.  She sighed.

“You’re probably right.” he said, trying to bring Ayame back into the here and now.  “But still, I think Sachio’d like to be warned about who was coming to visit.  And I’d rather do it in person.  Wanna come along?”

“Why Ichisuke!  That sounds like a come-on line!” she said, smiling at him.  She closed her computer.

“Yeah, you’re right, it does.  I want you to come with me.”  He finished his coffee, and crumpled his cup.

“ I guess when we leave, I’ll check to see how quickly we can get tickets to Boise.”  She slipped her computer into a black case.

He reached in his jacket pocket and took out a folder.  “Already done.”

“You were mighty sure of yourself,” she said., standing up.

“Hopeful, actually.  We leave on Sunday.  Is that ok?”
=====================================================================

Saturday afternoon, and the story teller’s corner at the library was filling up when he wandered into the room.  He was dressed like a fifteenth century Samurai noble, in red and blacksilk hakama and hitoe, sporting   a jaunty eboshi cap on his head.  Walking silently in deerskin tabi, he went up  to the story teller’s seat, and pushed back the chair, laying out a mat instead. Kneeling down, he looked at the assembled faces, children and a few parents, waiting eagerly.

Taking his fan in his hand he opened it up, and used it to gesture with as he spoke. “Greetings, my fine friends!  I come far away from ancient Kamakura to visit you.” he said.  “I hear you like stories. Did you come to hear a story?”

A chorus of yesses followed.  He looked up at the librarian who was the official master of ceremonies for this event, and she nodded at him.

“Oh, we’re so glad you could come today.  Mr. Hayashi has come to tell you a story of ancient Japan.   Today’s story is called The Fox and his Ball.  Foxes in Japan are magic creatures, able to change shapes and control people and know the future before things happen.  Sometimes they play tricks on people, too.  But other times they help.  Today’s story is about a helpful fox. I’ll hope you will enjoy it.”

The storyteller bowed to the librarian, who attempted a bow back, and then he turned his attention back to the gathered children who were here to hear his story.

“Once long ago, in the woods of the Musashino Plain, where many foxes lived, and not a lot of people, there was a village, Akimura, where someone had gotten sick.  The healer was called to see why the person was ill.  Now this healer knew lots of magic, and since she couldn’t find anything wrong with the person, she thought someone had cast a magic spell on the sick girl.  She took three hairs from the girls head, and three hairs from her head and tied them into a knot.”

He grabbed something out of the air, and opened his hands, and the children gathered around saw a small ring of hair lying on his hand.

“She sprinkled a magic powder on the hair, and suddenly there was a huge puff of smoke, like a giant cloud of incense, smelling strangely of rose petals and ginger.”

He waved his hand over the ring as he spoke the words, and suddenly, there was a flash of light and a spray of silver and gold confetti, and a smell much like gingerbread filled the room.  The children ooohed and ahhed.

“Right after that, the air grew strangely cold and, the healer dropped to all fours, and began yipping like a fox.”  He began to make some yips that started playful, then sad, and then turned into words.  “I’m sorry,” he said in the fox’s voice.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to make anybody sick.  I was just looking for some food.”  The voice became petulant, like a little girl’s. “You didn’t have to lock me in this body,” he said.  He reached into his jacket, and pulled out a beautiful thread ball.  It was designed with colors of gold and silver and blue and red, in an elaborate geometrical pattern.  He began to toss it up and down.  “Well at least I can play with my ball while you figure out what to do with me,” he said, and tossed it a few more times.

Returning to his normal voice, Sachio said, “ A crowd had gathered around the healer.  Suddenly, a young man grabbed the ball.” The storyteller snatched the ball out of mid air and clasped in firmly in his hand.  “And the fox started crying: ‘Give me back my ball!  Give me back my ball! It won’t do you any good, but it means everything to me.  Give it back!  A fox without his ball is without his soul!  Give it back to me!’”

He sniffled, looking woefully at the clenched hand.  “I’ll...I’ll be your enemy forever if you don’t give it back,” he roared.  

One of the children in the audience hiccupped, and a wave of nervous giggles went through the crowd.  

“But...but...if you let me have it back, I’ll stick by your side forever.  I’ll be like a protector god, to always be there when you have a problem!  All your life!”

He looked at the children assembled.  “Should he give it back?”  Although a couple of children said no, most of the watchers nodded their heads and yelled out their yesses.  He opened the hand that held the ball, then took it gently with his other hand and tossed it, catching it.

“Yes!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!” he said in the fox’s voice, throwing it and catching it once more.  “After that, the healer collapsed to the ground gently, and when she came to, she was herself again.  People searched her, but the ball was nowhere to be found....but a fox ran through the crowd, and out into the countryside on the edge of the village.  After that, the sick person woke up the next morning, totally well.

“The man who had given the ball back to the fox forgot about what the fox had told him about always being near by to protect him, but a month later, he was returning to his home in the small village after spending a day at the temple of Inari in Kyoto.  Now Inari is the patron of all foxes, as well as being a great helper of all people.  Everything was fine until he began the walk home.  For some reason, although he had taken the walk many times before, he got nervous.  Visions of awful things began to cross his mind, and he almost returned to Kyoto to spend the night there, when he hear the soft calling of a fox barking.”  He barked three times.

“Suddenly, the man remembered the promise the fox made to him.  ‘Kitsune, Kitsune,’ he said, they way they name foxes back in Japan.  ‘Is that you, Kitsune?’” He barked again, “‘O Kitsune, show yourself to me!’ he asked.

“The fox ran up in front of him, looked him straight into the eyes, and gave him a big wink.” Sachio said, winking exaggeratedly at his audience.  “‘You did keep your word!’ the young man shouted for joy.  ‘ O Kitsune, be with me as I walk home, because I think something bad is going to happen.’

“The fox walked in front of him, leading him down a strange way, off the main road.   After a bit, he found himself standing in a small clearing surrounded by bamboo.  He could hear voices.” Sachio put his hand to his ear.  “Why...why...why it was bandits!  A lot of them!  And they were talking about how they had been robbing everybody who came down the main road!  The fox had taken him around where he couldn’t be seen by them.

“Suddenly, the fox began to glow and grow, and change shape.  Most magic foxes can change shape with ease, and this fox was no different.  It grew as tall as a child....as tall as a man...taller than a man.”  He looked up as if looking at a giant.  “Suddenly, the fox was as tall as two men.  And it grew horns.”  He put his fists to his temples, thumbs sticking out.  “ Two big horns, like a bull.  He looked like an oni, an ogre!  He suddenly ran past the bamboo and into the area where the bandits were sitting, and streamed and bellowed like a real oni!  It was awful to hear, and men screamed and ran everywhere, leaving their treasure behind.

“After the last man had left, the fox returned to its fox shape, and walked back to get the young man.  The fox led him to where the bandits had stored their treasure, and he filled his travel bag with bright yellow gold., and then the fox led him safely home.

“Now being rich, the young man had a shrine to Inari built in the village, He and his village prospered mightily from the care of the fox and the watchful eye of Inari.  The fox visited him regularly, and rescued him many times over the years.  The young man grew old and respected and happy, and was very grateful he decided to give the fox its ball.”


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


Saturday afternoon found Lillian in the small but noisy sandwich shop, not far from the university.  Taking her Reuben and chips, she found a way to a corner seat where a window gave her a view of the Boise river and the greenbelt that surrounded it, edged with cottonwoods and willows.  As she settled down to eat her lunch, she opened her newspaper and took a sip of her soft drink.

A headline caught her eye:

“Woman Found Dead in Bench Apartment  

“Police are investigating the death of a woman found dead in her apartment yesterday morning,” the story read.  “Laura Russell, 34, was found dead by a neighbor early yesterday morning in her apartment off of Orchard Avenue in the Boise Bench area.   Sarah Ray, the apartment manager of the Benchview Apartments, went to  Russell’s apartment at approximate four am to investigate after another tenant complained of loud music.  Ray found the apartment empty and Russell unresponsive.  After calling 911, authorities transported her to Saint Luke’s hospital where she was declared dead on arrival.   An unnamed source reports that Russell was known to be involved with drug use, and police are investigating. A spokesman from the police department says foul play is not suspected at this time.”

The newspaper displayed a picture of the woman, evidently a mug shot from another bad situation she had been in.  The young woman was worn and looked older than her years.  Lillian studied the face carefully, dragged a finger carefully across the lines of the woman’s face. “Wow,” she said, then took a drink of her soft drink.  “She looks like she could be my sister.”

She slowly chewed on a potato chip and stared out of the window for several minutes, then looked down at the paper again.  Shaking her head, she folded the paper and turned to the comics page, and began eating her sandwich.


Across the room, two men ate lunch, from time to time looking Lillian’s way while she ate.  To the casual observer, they looked like two college age men, brown hair,  wearing jeans and tee-shirts.  One of them, wearing the blue and orange of the local university, looked  her carefully a few minutes before returning to his own sandwich.  His eyes looked carefully around the room, even while he ate.

His companion, wearing a plain gray teeshirt leaned back in his seat, stuck his hand in his bag of corn chips, then popped one in his mouth.“So why are we here again?”

“She’s Sachio’s secretary.  Look at her, man.  Why do you think we’re watching her?”

“Yeah, Sukeo, she sort of fits the model, although I don’t know about that hair.  You ever remember him grabbing a redhead before?”

“Don’t care.  The word was we should watch her.  So we watch her.”

Lillian lifted her head up and looked around the room.  For some reason, she felt she was being watched, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.  Slowly, she crumpled her sandwich wrapper and tossed it on her tray.  The room was almost full with the lunch crowd, and nobody in particular seemed to be actually looking at her, but she still felt like she should go.  She folded her newspaper under her arm, and picked up her tray.

Dropping off the tray, she met Sukeo’s eyes.  To her eyes, shielded by Shinkiro, they looked a warm, nondescript brown.  He smiled slightly at her as their eyes met, but for an instant, she had a vision of golden-tawny eyes and sharp fangs in that smile/ Giving her head a little shake, she gave him a small smile back, and left.

His companion biffed him lightly on the head.

“Hey, Masuke, why’d you do that for?” he said to his companion.


“You dunce, couldn’t you feel it?  She’s a sensitive.  I bet she got a glimpse of your real face.”

Sukeo sighed and crumpled his bag.  “That complicates things.  We better get going.”  He slid out of his seat.  “I wonder if she’s picked up on Sachio, yet?”

“I kind of doubt it,” said Masuke. “She wouldn’t have looked so surprised at seeing you.  Bet she never broke through yet.”

“You think we should nudge her?”  The two men headed for the door.  “It might be handy if she catches the wrong attention,” Sukeo said.

“Not our job,” Masuke replied, and stepped outside.
Chapter 4, revised. There have been substantial revisions
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