|Purveyors of Fine Fantasy and Science Fiction . . . and More!|
E-mail us at information at callihoo.com
A Portion for Foxes (sample)
Originally printed in Writers of the Future, Vol. XI, Bridge Publications, June 1995.
Tadashi Matsutani left the lights of Kamioka station and followed his shadow down a narrow street between steel-shuttered shopfronts. He nodded at the tiny Inari shrine as he approached, then stopped as movement caught his attention. A fox, dappled with moonlight and shadow, pawed at fallen leaves before the shrine.
Tadashi stared. Foxes belonged back on his parents' farm, not in a Yokohama suburb. The fox froze, one paw upraised, head cocked to look at him.
Reality intruded with the distant whine of a mag-lev bullet train and the fox darted behind the shrine. Tadashi rubbed the smooth granite head of one of the two stone foxes flanking the torii gate of the shrine. "Must be your little sister, ne?"
Shoehorned between a stationer and an alley shared with a vegetable shop, the shrine bore an air of shabby abandonment. Litter cluttered the steps, gingko and maple leaves filled the narrow forecourt. Tadashi's arm brushed the sketchpad in his jacket pocket. Just a quick sketch or two.…
Twenty minutes later he switched the sketchpad off and glanced back along the dark rows of shops, toward Kamioka station. Mother would be waiting with dinner and, at twenty-nine, he didn't need scolding.
"Tadaima!" he said, opening the door of the tiny apartment he shared with Mother. I'm back. Rich odors of miso and rice-bran pickles wafted out to greet him.
"Okaeri nasai!" Mother answered. Welcome home.
He slipped out of his shoes and stepped up into the kitchen. "I saw a fox at the Inari shrine by the station."
Haruko Matsutani's thin face took on an air of disapproval. "A fox? Here? You've been working too late again. I'm surprised you didn't see a tengu too; some long-nosed forest goblin teaching fencing to young Yoshitsune."
"This was real. Look, I made sketches." He pulled the well-used sketchpad from his pocket and thumbed it on, but she was already carrying food out of the kitchen.
He followed her into the smaller of the apartment's two tatami-floored rooms. The little folding table was set for two, bright zabuton cushion at each end. Mother knelt stiffly and he sat cross-legged. He set the sketchpad where she could reach it.
"You should hope it wasn't a fox," said Haruko, glancing at his sketches. "Foxes are tricky and dangerous. Get too close and you'll end up chasing foxfire in the fog."
"Mother, no one believes that nonsense anymore." He politely slurped his miso soup, piled stir-fried vegetables on his rice, and began to eat.
"You should have more respect for tradition, like Papa did. He worked all his life to build up the farm for you, until those rice imports collapsed the market. But you! All you wanted to do was go to that university and become an engineer. You should have been a farmer. Look at us. The city's no place for an old woman. You should marry a country girl and settle down on a farm."
Tadashi stopped listening. He was tired; it was easy to concentrate on chasing the last rice grains with chopsticks and let Haruko's words wash over him. A farmer couldn't survive on a few acres anymore. The farm was gone. The collapse had come too soon for his engineer's income to supplement its meager earnings.
The last of his dinner gone, he focused again.
"…and now you waste your life on that foolish dream machine you're designing."
He was stung into answering. "It's not foolish, Mother, and not a 'dream machine.' It's like using glasses—but these bring back the country as it was before the zaibatsus bought it all up. You still deal with reality; it just modifies images and sounds."
She sniffed. "A dream machine. They should let people move back to the country."
"Mother, it's the best I can offer. We could go to the country for vacation, but you say no every time I suggest it."
"It's not the same, Tadashi. I don't want to visit. I want to live there. I want our farm back." She paused, spoke more softly, to herself: "Oh, Papa. I miss you.…"
Tadashi stacked his dishes, and set the sketchpad into its cradle to print out. He felt so tired.
Tadashi stumbled down the street from the train station. The late-night air was clean and bracing from recent rain, but he yawned anyway. He never meant to work so late on the Virtual Reality Overlay, but he had to complete it.
He still hoped it would help Mother accept the modern world. If she could walk down a street and see trees instead of power poles—hedges, bamboo groves, and farmhouses instead of shops and office buildings—it might make city living easier for her. Perhaps she'd finally accept his work.
If only the sensor interfaces would stabilize. He did not want to rely on gloves and body suits. The VRO had to actively interface with reality and be as easy to use as a Watch-Man. The ultrasonics still misread body motion too often. Maybe if.…
A whimper caught his attention. He peered down the rain-shiny street to see the fox, pitifully gaunt, poised like one of the stone statues in front of the Inari shrine. How did a fox survive here in the city? On impulse he backtracked, bought some yakitori chicken kabobs from a street vendor near the station, and took them back to the shrine. He didn't see the fox, but he felt it watching him strip the chicken off the bamboo skewers onto a piece of paper on the shrine steps.
After that he started buying yakitori to leave at the shrine. Often the fox waited for him in the gloom of the alley or the shadows of the gingko tree.
He told himself he did it for luck—not wanting to admit that this wild animal, out of its element in the city, reminded him uncomfortably of Mother.
Moonlight bathed the gate of the Inari shrine and softened its stone foxes into living guardians that watched Tadashi alertly. As he stooped to put the food on the step before the shrine, he heard a scrape behind him. He straightened, spun—then felt foolish. A woman stood there, long hair straying loose and wild about her shoulders, moonlight turning her eyes to fire. He managed a laugh, was annoyed when it sounded shaky. "You startled me," he said and knew it sounded like an accusation.
"I'm sorry." Her quiet voice sent a thrill up his spine. It was low, musical with a touch of laughter. "I've seen you feeding the fox. Not many would, you know. So I thought I'd say hello." She bowed, stepped closer. Her pale-grey skirt and jacket shimmered in the moonlight as she raised a slim hand to brush one of the guardians. "I like foxes."
"Have you s-seen it tonight?"
"No, but I'm sure she's all right."
Her voice warmed and dizzied him. He had to see her under lights; to know she was real. "Would you like something to drink? There's a coffee shop by the station that's open late."
"I'd be delighted. I'm Kuzue Arano."
Cover design by Danica B. West, all rights reserved. Composited and photomanipulated from: fox by Koroosh Badie, http://www.flickr.com/photos/50823081@N08/5552418099/; Inari shrine kanji by Paul Young, http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertpaulyoung/150294307/; stone Inari fox at shrine http://www.flickr.com/photos/saname777/3689664415/ All photos used under Creative Commons license.
To read the rest of the story:
Purchase from Amazon.com:
Other stories by Brook West from Callihoo Publishing:
The Peachwood Flute (collaboration with Julia West)
Weeds (collaboration with Julia West)
|Banner by Danica B. West
This page created 5 September 2011
Last update 21 March 2014