A Masked Soul's Wish

This is the second of my postings for Magaly Guererro's All Hallows Grim 2013. 

 For all my little kits, both the ones I bore and the ones I didn't
And for Mike, who loved tails and tricks

"...He is a prankster, that one, cousin to Old Man Coyote. 
He wears a hundred faces and knows a thousand tricks"
Sarah knew a measure of relief. "So I shouldn't take him too seriously?"
"That is more difficult to say. He is like a still pool in that he reflects your heart."

- from Moonheart, by Charles deLint 

A Masked Soul's Wish

“Tell me a story!” Anna asked. “Tell me a fairy tale!”

Yuuki considered Anna for a moment.  The baby roundness of her face was steadily giving way to the features of a young woman.

“Aren’t you a bit old for bedtime stories?

“No,” Anna said. “Besides, I asked for a fairy tale. Everyone knows that real fairy tales are too dark for little kids anyway.”

Yuuki laughed. “True. Very well then…

Once, a very long time ago in a land far away, there was a proud samurai, a veteran of several battles and honored by all his peers for his nobility and valor.

If it were noted that he had survived some skirmishes while some of his closest allies fell, people would speak of his cleverness and cool head for battle. If some observed that he was very fortunate that a nice portion of some of the wealth of his fallen allies found its way into his hands, people would speak of how he also took in the families of some of his comrades, even going so far as to marry one of the young widows to ensure she would be looked after. If there were whispers of dark circles under his new wife’s eyes or bruises on her arm, well those would be countered with declarations of how fortunate she was to be the wife of such a distinguished man and that the costly silks he kept her clothed in covered most of the unsightly marks. And if busybodies, who had nothing better to do with their time, spoke of how odd it was that he never seemed to keep the same servants for very long and that a good many of them seemed to have vanished from the earth once they left his employ, they were told that it may be better for their health if they found other things to occupy their time.

Well, a reputation like the samurai had does attract some base attention, and eventually it attracted the notice of the most infamous of yokai, kitsune. Now I have seen the word yokai translated in your language as demon, but personally I am not sure that is entirely accurate. I think a better description might be found in the old storybooks you love so much Anna. Yokai are fairly close to the idea of fairy creatures. Not the insipidly sweet sort that flit about, only speaking in tinkling voices, but the sort that creep about the darkest corners of the woods with voices filled with either honey or brambles depending on their whim.

In any case, a skulk of kits began to frequent the samurai’s estate, first drawn to it by the curious piles of bones and meat sometimes tossed just beyond its borders. Later, it became a game for them to go into the estate itself and boldly steal some of the samurai’s belongings. The samurai eventually noticed and began to observe the creatures, finding out where their den lay. One day, he hid behind a nearby cluster of rocks. When the kits ran off to find some mischief, he left his hiding place and laid out some traps for the little beasts. He had just finished setting up the last one when his attention was caught by a faint shining inside the den. Using a nearby fallen branch he managed to nudge and roll a pretty jewel to where he could just reach it. The samurai admired it for several moments when suddenly he heard a loud noise behind him. A very small kit had stumbled into one of his snares. Pleased that he was successful so soon, the samurai started preparing a fire to burn the creature in.

Terrified, the kit called out “Oniisan!” and at once a slightly older kitsune appeared, caught partway between human and its true fox form, with its mask obscuring its features. The samurai smiled even more broadly, now quite pleased with his good fortune, and addressed the kitsune.

“It seems I have two things that are of great interest to you,” he said holding up the glowing jewel with one hand and indicating the kit with the other.

“Please,” the kitsune said, “let my little brother go.”

“Oh, you ask for that before your hoshi no tama? Your little brother’s life over the gem holding your soul?  That is quite noble for a yokai! It is always heartwarming to see those who value family above themselves. I am a reasonable man; I will give you both back in exchange for 3 promises. One promise for your brother, one promise for your hoshi no tama and one for all the items your brothers and sisters have stolen from me. Is that a deal?

The kitsune nodded.

The samurai’s smile grew as large as an oni’s. “Firstly, I ask for you to follow my orders and be my protector. A man does not attain the level of prestige that I have without leaving a few people unhappy. I want you to protect me from assassination attempts or other such harm.”

“I will serve you and protect you so no enemy’s blade or fist harms you.”

“Second, I want you to always tell me the truth.”

“I will not lie to you.”

“Thirdly, you will serve not only me, but my family, for a hundred generations.”

The kitsune hesitated a moment but when the samurai moved to throw the little kit into the fire, the kitsune agreed to all the terms.

“Wonderful!” the samurai exclaimed. “The timing for this could not be more auspicious. My daimyo will be visiting in a few weeks and I need to have everything in readiness to meet him. I want you to prepare a feast, something magnificent to raise me in my daimyo’s esteem.”

The kitsune look startled. “Sir, I am honored by your estimation of my abilities, but I cannot conjure all of a feast from nothing. The best I can do is create an illusion of a feast which will leave your daimyo and his company famished.”

“Then what good are you?” the samurai fumed.

“Please sir, I can still be of help. I have some familiarity with your daimyo’s tastes. Perhaps I can see what the abilities of your servants are so I can suggest how to improve upon them where necessary.”

The samurai grumbled, but agreed this was a good idea.

First the kitsune sampled the meals prepared by the samurai’s cooks.

“Not bad,” the kitsune said, sipping on a delicate broth.

“But is it good enough for my daimyo?” the samurai asked.

“Well, it will do…”

“That isn’t good enough. I want the best!”

“If it is the best you want,” the kitsune said, “I do know of an exceedingly talented cook whose meals will be sure to please your daimyo greatly.”

“Where can I find this cook?”

“Ah sir, that is the advantage of having a kitsune as a servant. You do not need to go looking for this cook, I can use my skills to enchant him and bring him here to you this very evening!”

“Wonderful!” The samurai declared.

“Very well sir. Now that we have the food taken care of, what of the entertainment? Surely a feast of this caliber needs some talented musicians to add another level of refinement.”

“Why yes, of course! We can hire some musicians from the neighboring village.”

“Well,” the kitsune said hesitantly. “Are you sure they are the proper caliber of musicians to perform for your daimyo’s retinue?”

The samurai was not sure. “Should I have them play for you to see if they will be suitable?”

“There’s no need for that,” the kitsune replied. “I also know of a group of musicians complete with a singer whose skills will impress your daimyo. I can bring them here in much the same way as I can bring the cook if you wish.”

“That is an excellent idea!”

That night the kitsune brought the samurai all the people he had promised. The samurai sampled the cook’s food and listened to the musicians’ and singer’s performance to make sure he was satisfied. As the kitsune had said, all of them were exceptional. Still the samurai pushed them hard to practice their skills until the appointed day, to make sure that their best efforts would be given. He dealt with these new additions in much the same manner as he had always run his household and if they were a few bruises richer, at least their skill sets had improved during the time spent under the samurai’s supervision.

The daimyo and his retinue arrived at the appointed day, with the samurai’s household more lavishly decorated than anyone had ever seen before, thanks to the kitsune’s skill with illusion. The daimyo however was distracted, and in a somewhat sour mood, responding only as much as courtesy demanded and hardly commenting on the loveliness of the samurai’s estate at all. The samurai was not too concerned by it, certain that the feast he had planned would raise not only his daimyo’s spirits, but his own rank in the daimyo’s eyes.

 At the feast that evening, the samurai watched his lord to see if the meal agreed with him. From the very first bite the daimyo smiled. The daimyo’s retinue noticed the change in their lord and began praising the samurai for the exquisite meal.

One took a moment to whisper to him, “This is wonderful! I have not seen him happy since his favorite servants disappeared.”

The complimentary chatter in hall ceased abruptly when the musicians filed in. The daimyo’s eyes fell on the lovely young singer.

“What is the meaning of this?” he roared.

One of the daimyo’s men shouted, “What is our Lord’s favorite concubine doing here?”

A terrible commotion followed right after, wherein tables were upset, the singer fainted, the cook was dragged out of the kitchen and the samurai was seized by the daimyo’s retainers and ordered to commit seppuku at dawn the next day for the insult of kidnapping and mistreating the daimyo’s favorite servants.

The kitsune visited the samurai that night.

“You!” The samurai shouted. “You lied to me. You said you would protect me!”

“I never lied about anything. I knew all those servants would be pleasing to the daimyo precisely because they were his favorites. Also I have kept my word about no outside harm coming to you. No one has actually struck you. You are merely being held until you commit seppuku tomorrow and even that is harm you will be inflicting upon yourself. No enemy is responsible. In fact all of this has come to pass because of your own greed and pride. How am I to protect you from yourself?

But I am not without sympathy. Even now I can help you. If you wish me to unlock this cell and let you escape I can.”

As the samurai rose to head towards the door, the kitsune spoke again. “However, your daimyo still is staying at your estate and has your entire household at his disposal. I wonder - what will he do if he finds you gone? Will he ask another member of your household, your son for instance, to take your place in committing seppuku to restore your family’s honor?”

The samurai glared at the kitsune, knowing full well that would be the daimyo’s course of action if he escaped. “That is no choice then!” He sat down again.

The kitsune turned, leaving the holding cell and said, “It is always heartwarming to see those who value family above themselves.”

At dawn, the kitsune’s whole family turned out to witness the samurai’s seppuku ritual. The kitsune had one last promise to keep before passing over to serve the samurai’s son. When the kaishakunin, the second in the seppuku ritual, went to cut the samurai’s head, he found that he could not, no matter how hard he tried, so the samurai died slowly of the cut he made himself in his own belly.”

Anna shuddered delightedly at the conclusion of the story. “And what of the samurai’s son? What was he like?”

Yuuki replied, “He was not the man his father was, but he could not be called pleasant to interact with either.”

“What of the third generation? The fourth? The fifth?”

“Much the same. Arrogant, rude, but not quite reaching the lofty standards set by their ancestor.”

“And the hundredth generation?” Anna asked, her eyes wide.

Yuuki smiled tucking the sheets around the girl, “Ah that one! She is as noisy as any kit, chattering when she should be sleeping. She is a hard worker and has a far kinder heart than her ancestors. But her guardian will nip her toes if she doesn’t go to sleep soon!”

Anna yawned. “Liar,” she said. “And it’s my choice to stay up late listening to stories. You can’t save me from myself.”

Yuuki laughed, gave Anna a quick kiss on her forehead and with a flick of red tail, slipped quietly out the window.

Song Choice: Tricksters and Fools by Lynx

Here's a little agit for the never believer

This post is the first of 2 postings for Magaly Guerrero's All Hallow's Grim 2013 blog party

My mother in law told me when I got married that I didn't get one guy; I got a slew of them. You see for most of his life my husband had a tight knit group of friends. They were around so much that I started referring to our first apartment as a home for wayward boys. I suppose I could have gotten sick of them all, but the thing was I liked my husband's buddies and as time went on his long time friends became my friends as well.

The one that he had the longest was Mike. The became friends when they were around 8, when they snuck out of a Yom Kippur service geared for little kids to find a big box of Hershey's chocolate bars and proceed to eat them. Yes, this is a big no-no on Yom Kippur - but then again, there was Mike...

"Then again, there was Mike..." was a phrase that made it into lots of funny stories. There was the time Mike needed a middle of the night pick up at a Dunkin Donuts off of a highway because his car broke down. He was still wearing medieval garb from the wedding he attended when he looked at my husband and said, "They sure do get a lot of weirdos here at this time of night." There was the time he got a bit tipsy during his bachelor party and volunteered to see if the fluid dripping out his car was anti-freeze by tasting it (Mike never did have much luck with cars). There was the time we (OK me) got tipsy on Strongbow at my 30th birthday party (hard apple cider is awesome BTW).

Then there was that time Mike tried to get his friend to ask out this curly headed girl he crushed on. His friend was still too shy, so Mike went right to the girl and told him about his friend's feelings. Even when Mike told me, I was still a bit nervous, but I approached his friend and we've been together over 20 years now. My mother in law also told me never to tell that story to my father in law, as he still hasn't quite gotten over the fact that the kid who got his son to eat half a carton of chocolates on Yom Kippur was the same one who got his son to date and marry a shiksa.

Someone at work asked my husband to describe Mike in one word. "Brave," is what he said. Although, goofball is what first came to my mind, after talking about it with my husband, brave was indeed a good word. Mike was always up to try something new, no matter how weird or how likely it was he might stink at it. It cracks me up that the guy who could be counted upon to spill whatever he was having on that little rug in my first apartment at one point did ballroom dancing and was a skilled juggler. He had a lot of hobbies; Mike could never stand to be bored too long. He was a voracious reader with a keen mind. My gods, how that man could drive people crazy in an argument - he loved a lively debate. Those made him laugh. I'll never forget his laugh or how I felt the day I found out Lou Gherig's Disease (ALS) would eventually take that laugh and his life away. Brave. Yes, those last horrible years, he was very brave.

I've cried a lot since the funeral. I've been angry too. (Why didn't I make more time to visit the man my husband and I loved like a brother more often at his nursing home? Why didn't I make more time when he was still well? Oh our families vacationed together every summer and the guys got together regularly for old school table top gaming, but there should have been more time.) I've listened to a lot of sad songs too, not bothering to hold back the additional tears. But then I remember Mike, who wanted those present at his funeral to hear these words from him when he was near the end of his illness "Don't worry. I laughed a lot." He would roll his eyes at sad songs and sobriety. I think of all the moments that occurred during the funeral - among his favorites would have been the giggle loop my husband and another close friend of ours got into during the moment of silence. That friend lamented "What does it say about me that one of the most hilarious moments of my life happened at my best friend's funeral? And knowing Michael would have approved?"

I think it says that his and all of our lives were much better, and much more fun, for having known Mike.

So now that I'm at the song portion of my post, I know that sad songs are just not going to cut it. These next two came up on the radio for me this last week and they made me think of who Mike was while he was here on earth. The first one is a homage to another funny man, Andy Kaufman - REM's Man on the Moon. Bits of the lyrics make me think of card and board games we played when were young and had all the time in the world. They also make me think of Mike's wit and skeptical side.

The second is Steve Miller Band's The Joker, because well, that's what he was in our group.

And, as my husband pointed out, Mike would have gotten a kick out of this one...

Safe travels Mike. See you on the flip side.

Dipping in a toe

This post is part of the Insecure Writers' Support Group

So it's been a bit since I've blogged. I've been mourning the impending loss of a friend (he's still hanging on despite heavy doses of morphine). My whole family was shell shocked for the first few days after we found out. After that wore off, I've been in a cleaning frenzy the likes of which have never been seen since I was pregnant with my last one. I would love to say the house looks great now, but it's in that in-between stage of organization, where it almost looks worse than it started in some places. But so many old toys, clothes, and household items have been given away that I'm feeling good about things (well, the state of things in my house anyway).

I would love to say that I wrote in between cleaning, but frankly I was mostly up to sucking my thumb and watching old episodes of favorite TV shows. I've only just now been slowly coming out of it - recognizing that there are things I love to do besides cleaning (hell - I'm not all that crazy about it to begin with!). And I realized my friend Magaly Guerrero over at Pagan Culture is holding her annual Halloween blog party All Hallow's Grim. I had wanted to do it last year, but didn't have a story idea. This year, I toyed with the idea of posting one of my favorite stories I've written called, Poker Night, which is pretty much a poker game between several fae sorts of creatures. But then I talked to Magaly and thought that what I needed was to take the back story of one of those characters and write about that in a way that fits the "So Good, So Dark" theme. My mind came up with several ideas. I still have yet to nail something down, and I can't promise it will be my best writing ever, but I think I can do this. Well, I'm committing to do this so I'd better have something!

I know it will start off with "Tell me a story", and then the story teller, a kitsune, will take it from there.

The video I'm going with for this post has been making me laugh these last couple of weeks. When I felt down, I'd look this stupid thing up on you tube and dance while I dusted. Considering that my story will center around a kitsune, I thought I'd go with it.