The youkai adjusted her scarf. This winter was a little colder then normal. She was mostly resistant to the cold though, which was a good thing. Her home in the trees wasn't well insulated, and an open fire up there would be foolish.
She was a fairly weak youkai, not even rating an entry in Akyuu's minor works. The few people that bothered to call her anything at all called her Tokiko, and that was as close to a name as she'd gotten.
However, unlike most lesser youkai Tokiko was actually fairly smart. And she enjoyed reading. Fiction, nonfiction, and in any language. She especially liked works from the outside world, one of which she'd just acquired. It was short, mostly pictures, and covered some holiday she'd never heard of, but she was enjoying it none the less.
Tokiko jumped into the air in surprise. She quickly whirled around to find that accursed black white magician standing in front of her. Even worse the woman had somehow snatched the book out of her hand! "'How the Grinch Stole Christmas,' eh? I've always liked mysteries. I'll borrow this."
"Wait! That's mine! Give it back this instant!" Tokiko was already desperately firing off bullets at the magician, but since her foe was running away, her normal tactic of summoning bullets behind the foe didn't work.
Not that she could have beaten that magician normally.
"Give it baaaaaack!" Tokiko cried, but to no avail. The human was gone in an instant. The book lost to her, probably forever.
She sighed miserably and headed back home. So much for her reading time. And she'd just gotten to when the Whos of Whoville were waking up too...
She sighed again as she entered her tiny cold house. She supposed she should be thankful that her clothes didn't get ripped this time.
Flopping down on her bed she looked over at the stacks of books and scrolls she'd managed to keep her hands on, but they didn't seem to hold the same interest right now. She wanted to finish THAT book. To see what the villagers would do about their festival. And how the Grinch would react to it.
The youkai tossed and turned for about an hour before giving up and heading out again. The day that had started out so nice had turned miserable.
She flew by the shopkeeper's place, but there was no sign he'd opened the door today, much less that the magician had come by with the book. Not that she'd be able to afford it if the man did have the book now. Shaking her head in despair she flew on. Past the Mansion with its swarms of maids alternating between cleaning and snowball fights. Past the village and its bright lights, the children playing just as carefree as the fairies.
Tokiko looked down at the masses of people and sighed yet again. A stray youkai like her had more in common with the Grinch then with the masses of Whoville anyway she supposed. She had no family to get together with and give presents to. No house big enough for a tree, and certainly no fireplace for a stocking. Definitely no money for a feast, and no song for her to sing.
She shrugged and wandered on. Perhaps it was best if she didn't know about this Christmas. Hopefully the witch wouldn't get interested and spread it about either. She didn't need the villagers starting up some holiday and rubbing her face in it.
"Oi! What are you doing here? No suicides today! I get enough of that from the outside world."
Tokiko blinked and found herself looking at a rather large pair of breasts. Moving her gaze upward she saw they were attached to a rather lazy looking shinigami. "Eh? What do you mean about suicide? I'm not planning to kill myself! I don't want to die at all!" Tokiko yelled at the death god. She thought it best to make that point clear quickly.
Komachi sat down. "Well good. Suicides are a pain. I have enough problems with winter settling in." She looked up at the youkai. "Still you have to be kinda messed up to accidentally stumble here. What's on your mind?"
Tokiko considered just flying away. After all she had her pride as a youkai. But she was tired, and the air here seemed a little warmer then home. So she sat down and said, "I was just thinking about a book I had. I was almost done, but then that stupid black white witch stole it."
Komachi laughed and rolled her eyes. "Oh man. The boss is gonna chew that girl out so bad when she catches her again." Then she looked down at the small youkai again. "So what book was it? I've heard about a lot of good books while ferrying people over the river. Maybe I can tell you about it."
Tokiko considered for a moment. She hated spoilers, but then again she was almost done... "It was 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.'"
Komachi blinked a few times at that, then leaned back. "Christmas huh? Never expected to hear a youkai talking about that." She shook her head. "Well I suppose a couple of outsiders had to have come in knowing about it. Still I don't expect it to become a big thing. At least not like it is in the outside world."
Tokiko frowned. "It's a big thing in the outside world? Then how come I've never heard about it before now? I read all the outside world books I can."
"Well that's an easy one to answer," Komachi said. "They make a huge fuss in it in the outside world. One or two months of advertising, Christmas songs and specials. You're supposed to find the true meaning of life, reunite with all your family and hook up for a romantic evening with your girlfriend all at the same time. And it's all supposed to turn out wonderfully."
"It's even weirder out here." Komachi shook her head. "I mean, at least the Christians have the religious holiday to go with it. And better music too, though they don't play that on the radio for some reason. Most Japanese people just get the hyped version."
"And in the end it never turns out perfect. There's always a present you didn't want, or a relative who can't come, or the guy you're interested in asks out some other girl. Or worse, you've lost a friend, or your job. And the fact that everyone's telling you you're supposed to be having some big happy event with everyone just makes everything seem worse," Komachi stopped her rant with a weak grin. "Sorry. Maybe a death god isn't the best person to ask about this."
"I'm a youkai, I probably shouldn't be asking," Tokiko pointed out. She sat and thought about the the shinigami's words. "So it's all a commercial thing then?"
Komachi paused and stared into the sky. "Well... not all."
Tokiko watched as the death god fiddled with her scythe for a bit. "About a century back we got pulled in to work overtime in Europe. They'd decided to have a huge war over there. Big mess. Everyone was pulling double shifts."
Komachi continued staring into the distance as she went on. "Anyway, the area I got sent to help with, they'd just started the fighting. There were still dead on the battlefield."
"It was cold and miserable. They were sleeping in trenches, and stringing barbed wire to cause their enemies as much trouble as possible. And the only reason the ground wasn't entirely mud was because it was mostly frozen."
"Yet that evening, they just put down their guns. They went out of their trenches and walked over to their enemies to talk and trade rations. They even sang carols together."
The shinigami shook her head. "It was so strange. That people who were killing each other barely a week before were willing to put that all aside, just because it was 'Christmas.'"
Tokiko sat and thought about it. The whole situation didn't seem to make any sense. But she could sense no deception in the shinigami's words. And there was no reason for the death god to lie to her.
"Anyway I better be getting back to work. It may be Christmas but I only get O-bon off," Komachi said while standing.
Then she froze in place as another voice swept over her. "Indeed. And since you aren't on vacation, you should have brought back another soul by now!"
Tokiko looked up to see a more slender woman floating above the two. She looked rather cross. Tokiko carefully backed away from the death god. Best not to be blamed for that.
Komachi took off. "Well hope that was helpful. Remember not to kill yourself okay! Gotta go."
The woman sighed then turned to Tokiko. "And you little youkai, you should be more careful with your life. Much like that ice fairy you are too quick to battle, and you sometimes wander too far from your home. You should temper your pride with reason."
Tokiko was a little annoyed being compared to a fairy, but she wasn't willing to press the issue. Anyone who a shinigami called took orders from was not one to argue with. And she could see the wisdom in not fighting too much. She simply nodded.
Shikieiki slowly smiled at that. "Ah, it's nice to have someone listen to me immediately instead of throwing a tantrum." She paused for a moment. "I'm curious though. What were you discussing with Komachi? Normally she doesn't look that thoughtful."
Tokiko blinked. "Well I asked her something about 'Christmas,' and she told me a story about it."
Shikieiki looked intrigued at that. "Hm... Christmas eh?" Shikieiki seemed lost in thought. "The best and the worst of holidays."
Tokiko hesitated, but she didn't have anything better to do. "Why do you say that?"
"Hm..." The yama looked at Tokiko. "How well do you understand humans little youkai?"
Tokiko considered the matter. "I... don't know. I've read a lot about humans, but I've never really gotten to know them personally."
"Ah, then you should know how similar and how different those stories are from the truth," Shikieiki said. The yama thought for a moment.
"Understand, humans have holidays to remind them of all the things they take for granted, and to remind them of all the things they're supposed to search for in life. Love, peace, joy and hope. It is a good thing to search for them every day," Shikieiki sighed. "But, well, humans are quick to get caught up in the details and forget the goals."
"But that makes the search all the more important," Shikieiki looked down at the youkai. "Does that give you some idea?"
Tokiko frowned. "I guess? I can understand getting caught up in things. But I think there's still something missing."
Shikieiki nodded. "There always is. As a youkai you aren't one for religion, so that explanation would be a waste. Still, perhaps I can give you a hint. If you want to learn more, you should go that way," Shikieiki said, pointing vaguely to the east.
"Thanks," Tokiko said as she hopped into the air. She fluttered off into the air and began traveling.
After a little bit though she found herself at the base of youkai mountain. "Hrm... I don't really want to fly up there," she muttered.
"Oh, but that's where you're meant to go."
Tokiko glanced up at the mountain skeptically. "Really? I don't want to have to explain myself to all the tengu patrols. It seems like way more trouble then it's worth."
"Don't worry. I'm... the ghost of Christmas present. No one will see you."
"Weird name," Tokiko muttered before beginning her flight up the mountain. About halfway to the top she realized she had no reason to just trust the voice, but it seemed to be working, so the youkai continued on.
Finally they reached the lake and the Moriya shrine. Tokiko frowned again. "Didn't the yama say that Christmas was a Christian holiday? Why are we at a shrine?"
"Ah, well Christmas has spread a lot. Let me show you."
Tokiko unconsciously moved around to the side of the shrine and peaked into the main room. While the outside was unchanged, here inside things were different. A evergreen treetop was in the corner, decorated with lights and glass orbs.
And around the kotatsu were all the members of that strange family. Suwako was happily pealing a persimmon, while Sanae was carefully checking an egg timer. Kanako was staring at the little tree in the corner with a frown.
Finally when Sanae turned over the egg timer the larger goddess spoke. "Hrm, always seems wrong. I mean why are we giving faith to some other religion?"
"Eh, does that mean you don't want Sanae's special Christmas cake then Kanako?" Suwako asked with a wide grin. "More for me then!"
"Ah! That's not what I meant at all froggy!" Kanako reached over and pulled the other goddesses hat over her eyes. "I just think it should be a better holiday! Say, one dedicated to us."
Sanae reached out with practiced ease to separate the two goddesses. "Now now. No fighting. And I wouldn't want this holiday to be one of your holidays. After all, this is the one day I have my family all to myself."
Kanako pulled her priestess into a hug followed soon after by Suwako. Tokiko smiled slightly and moved away from the window. "Hm... That's sweet."
Then she sighed. "Still I can't help but feel this is more like a human thing. I don't have family. And I don't have close friends. Oh well. I guess I learned something."
"Hm... Maybe not close friends yet. But you have a friend."
Koishi smiled at the bird youkai and handed her a small package. "Here."
Tokiko blinked at the Satori with the half opened eye. "Eh? But I didn't get you anything."
"That's not true. You let me play with you. I've always wanted to be a helpful ghost once." Koishi waved. "Merry Christmas Tokiko. Maybe we'll see each other again."
Tokiko waved, then blinked as the girl vanished again. She wondered how Koishi had managed to hide her presence while carrying a conversation. Then she wondered how she knew the girls name.
And there was a moment of shock as she began to wonder how she was going to get down without Koishi's stealth around her.
Fortunately the tengu weren't that interested in keeping people in. So while she got a few odd looks from the wolf tengu, they mostly just shooed her down. It helped that she was an animal youkai.
So as night began to fall, she made it down the mountain, and finally got back to her tiny home.
She opened the door and entered in. First she checked her books, and happily found they were all still present. Then she flopped down on her makeshift futon and lit an oil lamp.
Finally she took a good look at the package. It was in simple brown paper, tied with a very nice red ribbon. She'd have to save that for later. From it's shape and heft she could already tell it was a book.
She carefully opened the present, setting the ribbon aside, and looked at the leather bound volume. On the front it simply said, "A Christmas Carol."
Tokiko smiled. Then she started as an object gently flew in through the window.
She quickly snatched the object from the air before it could fall. To her surprise it was the book that the magician had stolen! She jumped up to the window, but there was no sign of the black white witch.
Tokiko closed the window and looked down and the small book. There was a slip of paper stuck between the pages. Opening it up, she found it marking the spot she'd been out when the book had been stolen.
On the paper was written:
Thanks for letting me borrow this. Figured you'd want it back today, so I finished it quick. Have a good one.
Tokiko stared at the paper in shock for some time. Then she looked over the page, and began to read again.
She smiled as she reached the end. Perhaps a certain magician's heart had grown three sizes as well.
It wasn't much of a miracle. It wasn't even something so special that it couldn't have happened any other day. But perhaps the fact that it happened this day brought more meaning to it. Or perhaps it just made Tokiko more appreciative of it.
She put the book down carefully among all the others, then picked up the new book she'd gotten. As she did so she promised that next year she'd return the favor to her new friend.
Then she opened up the book and began to read.
"Marlow was dead; to begin with."