The Tale of the Nine-Tailed Fox

The Shuten Doji looked down on the man who had traveled into her warm tavern seeing that he was drenched with the rains that had been steadily falling all evening. She felt a pang of sympathy for him as the traveler sat down in an empty seat next to another man who had looked exactly the same as when he had first come in. They were the only two guests at the tavern. Considering the two lonely men, she decided it was time to get the two acquainted, and so she split her spirit in two and dived into their souls.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Leaving wet streak on the floor as he sauntered over to the wooden seat at the bar, the drenched traveler nodded at the man who was already seated, recognizing a fellow wanderer, who in turn stuck out his hand with a smile on his face.

“I’m Chika and miserable,” said the already seated and nearly dry man. “And you are?”

The still soaked man chuckled at the unusual name and unexpected greeting but stuck out his hand to shake the one offered to him. “My name is Hachiro,” he replied. “Shall we be miserable together?”

“Oh, that reminds me of a story!” Chika was evidently a man with a lot on his mind.

Halfway joking, Hachiro exclaimed, “Oh no, the Shuten Doji didn’t possess you now, did she?”

“Nooooo… I just figured it’s best if I talk to you about my troubles before I leave the camp tomorrow to get rid of some war criminals.”

“War criminals?” From half-jest, Hachiro’s tone dropped a notch, as he now showed a mixture of curiosity and anxiety.

“Yea, apparently the last platoon of samurais that passed over Mt. Fuji…”

As Chika paused, more lost in thought than for dramatic effect, Hachiro’s sense of suspense grew as he found himself becoming more and more interested in hearing where this bizarre tale was going.

“Disappeared!” It was more a suggestion than a question as Hachiro felt the urge to end Chika’s sudden silence.

Chika punched his shoulder, “Oh yea, like that’s really what happened. They’re probably just Ronins now.” He was now seeming to be mocking his own earlier gossipy approach to the story.

Hachiro shook his head as he pulled out a wet scroll, finally revealing the true purpose for his having selected the seat next to Chika in the otherwise completely empty tavern. His previously playful tone levelled off as he grew serious. “No, here — let me tell you the story one of our spies came back with.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

I walked for days around this mountain as the directions I had been given were wrong and I was on the exact opposite side of the mountain from where I should have been. As I approached the village, the first sign of human settlement I had seen since I began to search this mountain, there were no guards standing at the entrance as I looked at the mess in front of me. This was not what I would have chosen for myself if I was commander of my own missions.

It was a fairly simple village. The domestic animals, mostly dogs and cats, but also no small number of chickens and a few goats, seemed to be crawling the dirt roads like cockroaches. With their heads down, I could not tell if they even sensed the arrival of a stranger. The villagers likewise were oblivious as my disguise allowed me to walk through their habitat unseen. Naturally, I looked for the sign to the inn.

As I trudged through the mud accumulated from the heavy rain, I heard snippets of some conversation and strained my ears towards the direction of the voices. Turning into an alleyway that separated two rows of houses, I cocked my head toward the speakers and picked up my first clear dialogue. They were two peasant men, looking to be in their middle years, although their poverty and malnourishment may have made them seem older then they truly were. I would have paid them as little attention as they had paid to me, were it not for the subject of their discussion.

“I wonder when we’ll be able to hunt again. The samurais haven’t come back and I’ve already went through all the meat we got the last time they were here.”

“Well, we have six feedings left with four more months left in the year. I’m sure the next villager will come along and allow us to take care of the fox. I mean, the samurais have got to come back at some point, right?”

“The Elder said that the samurais wouldn’t be coming back for at least a few weeks so we would need to talk to him then.”

“Alright, I’m going home for the day. We won’t be able to harvest anything in this rain.”

I moved away from the wall I had stretched myself along, and began to roam the village searching for more people and more clues to my search. The villagers were mostly alone or in pairs when I happened upon them. When they talked, the subject of their conversations was always the same. Everything I had heard corroborated the reports I was given when I set out upon this quest, that none of the samurais had made it to the outpost on the other side of the mountain but that the villagers expected them to come back. There was no hint of the villagers having been involved in anything to do with the affairs of the missing samurai, but there was a pervading sense that they expected someone to go missing, too, as they all feared an impending abduction.

As I approached the yatai that was parked outside of the entrance of the tavern I was delighted to see a larger group of villagers talking over their bowls of ramen. I ordered a bowl myself and shoveled over some seiso genbo coins as payment. Sitting at the table across from a group of women who were seated with their children, I lowered my straw hat to cover my face as I attempted to listen to their gossip. The first thing I heard was from the youngest of the adult women.

“Listen, I don’t care how the village does its hunting but we need to report this to the Shogunate. Our children need more meat than what we can give them with the oxen. What happens if the oxen get sick and die? We just live off the meat we only get nine times a year?”

Her older companion replied, “I know what you’re saying Ai-san but we can’t just approach the emperor with a myth. He would laugh at us. We would be shamed.”

I pulled out some scrolled parchment and began writing as they continued to talk.

Report

Villagers are not responsible for disappearances.

Villagers are aware of them but are afraid of being discredited.

Villagers blame folklore for the troubles.

Most likely Ronin but further investigation is required.

The younger woman replied, “Yes Airi-san but we know where she lives. They’ll at least send a party if we pay for it and warn them that she takes one soul at a time to fill up her tails. Her house is at the top of the mountain.”

Her companion scoffed mildly, “We only know that from our ancestors and only those that survived. It has probably moved from the mountain top since then.”

Villagers know general location of suspects. Suspects take nine victims a year. This report will be residing with the yatai keeper until I come back.

I walked up to the yatai keeper and before he could ask me if I wanted more ramen, I showed him the wax seal of the Shogunate that I had affixed to the report.

“Hide this until I come back,” I spoke in a low tone, making sure that the women could not hear me. “If I am not back within three days, send this report and my journal on to the Shogunate.”

“Yes sir.” The yatai keeper bowed his head slightly but perceptibly.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“What happened then?” Chika’s real curiosity had replaced the playful curiosity previously affected by Hachiro.

“Well, we received his journal along with the report a few days ago. We have been ordered to investigate the situation inside the village because the report is not believable.”

Chika looked down into his cup of saké and swirled the liquid with his finger.

“What will happen to the villagers?” now he was concerned.

Hachiro shook his head. “Either way, we’ve been given the execution order.” Chuckling to himself, he continued, “I think I know what war criminals you’re talking about now. He did a similar job in the harbor of the Akita. He seems to draw mythical creatures near him, only he came back alive for this one.”

Chika looked at him in curiosity, “What mythical creature?”

“The Invisible English man.”

“There is something in this journal about that mission.” Chika said as he pulled out a small book bound in leather. He dropped it in front of himself on the table and flipped through the cloth pages.

“Here it is.”

Have your say