Chapter 4 Returnings
Long ago, there was a farmer who was very pious, but poor. He ate no animal flesh at all, and avoided sake as well, but worked hard farming his small piece of land, and every day recited prayers to Benzaiten and to Kwannon.
One day while coming home to his small hut, he crossed a ravine he came upon a white vixen, being chased by two dogs. He saw the fox dart by him, and thinking of Benzaiten’s white foxes, and feeling pity, he drove the dogs off with a club.
“You’re safe now, Lady Fox,” he said, then continued walking home. Surprisingly, the fox followed him at a distance, as if to mark where he lived. After seeing his hut, she barked three times, then hopped into a thicket. The farmer thought no more about it.
Three days later, the farmer was sitting in front of his hut in the late afternoon, resting after a hard day’s work, when a beautiful young woman in white silk robes with such a sad look upon her walked up to him. He, thinking she must be a noble lady from the nearest Daimyo’s household, bowed low.
“Please, dear Farmer, don’t bow so low to me. You are the man who saved my life three days ago. I am here to thank you, and in return for saving my life, let me do something for you in return.”
“O beautiful one, I am not worth your time or effort. I am just a poor man. You are a magical being of such radiance. Please don’t think anything of it,” he said, not yet willing to stop his bowing.
“I know you are a poor man. Let me at least help you improve your lot in life. I would have no life if you had not saved mine,” she said.
“How would you do that?” he asked.
Tomorrow, return to the place you found me when the dogs attacked. Dress in your best robes, and you will see me as a fox. Follow where I lead, and good fortune will be yours.” She disappeared.
The man did as the fox asked. The next day, he went to where the two had met, and she was there, a white vixen who barked three times upon seeing him. She led him down from the mountainous area where they lived down back ways away from the main roads, until they reached a shrine of Inari. The fox barked three times, went inside, and when she returned, she was dressed in beautiful silk robes to match her beautiful young appearance, like a girl of fourteen.
“Now, kind father, you will take me now to the richest brothel in town and sell me to its master,”
the fox said.
The old farmer was aghast. “No, beautiful maiden, I could never do that, to turn you over to that sort of man!”
She laughed. “Don’t worry, Father. Your daughter Nyoko will turn back to a fox soon as you are gone, and your soul will be sinless. Those who would misuse young women will get their just desserts.”
Excerpt from the Adventures of Nyoko
The couple, looking young and vibrant, were sitting in a coffee house in Seattle. The woman had long, black hair, braided and coiled up, pinned with elaborate hair sticks. The man wore his hair short. He had on jeans and an expensive sportscoat over a teeshirt with a picture of a Samurai fighter. She was dressed in a black flowing dress.
She had a laptop computer open in front of her.
“So you’re sure its him?” she asked.
“Absolutely. Nobody but Sachio would write that particular story. And nobody but Akiyasu would be leaving that particular trail.”
“Well, are you going to tell him?” she asked, sitting in the coffee house. She really preferred Starbucks to this place.
“Should we? Do you think he’d appreciate a visit? It’s been a long time since we saw him last, Yuri.” 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?” She took a sip of coffee. “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 childhood. 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.”
“You’re probably right. But still, I think Sachio’d like to be warned what was happening.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I guess when we leave, I’ll call the airport and get tickets to Boise.”
He reached in his jacket pocket and took out a folder. “Already done.”
“You know me too well, Ichisuke. When do we leave?”
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 silk hakama and hitoe, with a jaunty eboshi cap on his head. He walked to the story teller’s seat, and pushed back the chair, laying out a mat instead. Kneeling down, he looked at the assembled faces, waiting eagerly.
“Greetings, my fine friends! I come far away from ancient Kamakura to visit you.” he said. “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 Mushino Plain, where many foxes lived, and not a lot of people, there was a village 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.
“Suddenly, 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.”
Lillian looked up from her newspaper, and looked around the sandwich shop. It felt like someone was watching her, but she could see no one that wasn’t busy eating their lunch. Those with the right senses for it would have felt a surge in Shinkiro. Taking another sip of her soda, and nibbling on a potato chip, she returned to her paper.
“Another woman found dead in Bench apartment,” the headline read. “Laura Russell, 34, was found dead by a neighbor yesterday in her apartment off of Orchard Avenue. An unnamed source reports that Russell was known to be involved with drug use, and police are investigating.”
Across the room, two men were watching Lillian eat. To the casual observer, they looked like two college age men, wearing jeans and tee-shirts. One of their shirts read: Cats are People, Too.
“Do you think she knows what type of person she is working for?” the cat shirt person asked as he ate a french fry.
“I doubt it,” his companion said. His had a Naruto teeshirt. “I bet she doesn’t even realize who she is yet.”
“You think we should nudge her?”
“You want Koku’s rat eating your ears when you sleep?”
His companion shuddered, and went back to his hamburger.