* shiraifu, written for countervalue re: help_japan
* I TOLD YOU ABOUT THE POND BRO
* shiraishi is -mostly- referred to by his first name for the first 1/3 of the story and that probably doesn't irk you as much it does me but it does and therefore constitutes a warning :x
rating is safe, wordcount 4195
on milder currents
When he was five years old and allowed outside by himself for the first time, Kuranosuke's mother only gave him one warning, and it was not to play near the pond at the end of the street.
The pond was a small pocket on the surface of the neighborhood, roughly one-point-six kilometers away from his front door and the holes in the knees of his jeans. It smelled like chalk and blues music, and sometimes like the powdery makeup that the lady who worked at the free library wore. It was for this reason that his mother was convinced there was something ominous emanating from the waters. His mother had always been a bit perplexing like that, in the same way she put on leather pants and shimmied around the kitchen to Europop when she thought Kuranosuke was asleep. She was perplexing enough that she never gave any reasonable consequence for staying away from the pond, either, only telling her son that the water was dirty and that the delinquents from the high school took turns urinating on the banks.
"You'll get sick from touching the water. And since you don't know how to swim, when you drown and die you'll smell like pee. Do you want to go to heaven smelling like pee? I didn't think so," she said, running a rough comb through Kuranosuke's brown hair and then winding a woolly scarf around his neck. Her hands smelled like bouillon cubes. "And come home early, won't you? I'm cooking hayashi rice."
"I bet you can't smell anything when you're dead," he said.
"Yeah, well," his mom said, and she didn't try to look him in the eyes. "There are other dangerous things. Like a kappa, for example."
"What's that, a kappa?"
The soup was boiling. It was still early April. The pond might be frozen solid, but there will continue to be tiny cracks on the surface for oxygen molecules to nibble through, chalk smells and blues music removed from the equation. His mother took one of his hands and squeezed two of his fingers together to form little pincer-fingers. "A kappa is a cranky beast who lives in ponds at the end of the street"-pinch, pinch-"oh and it has a rather sharp set of teeth that can easily crunch up the bones of children. There's a mean old kappa who lives down in that pond, zipper your jacket properly, Kuranosuke, and the mean old kappa will eat any handsome little boy who plays too near its home hold on there, tie your shoelaces properly! I hear it's very fond of cucumbers, but we only have one more left in the fridge and I wanted to use it for dinner, so you'll have no way of protecting yourself. Don't wipe your nose with your hand! There, use your handkerchief. Anyway, you need to listen to your mother and stay away from the pond. Because the kappa is a bad thing. A bad thing, the kappa is."
Kuranosuke wiped his nose with the handkerchief. It had little embroidered orchids along one of the sides and he made double-sure that his snot didn't drip onto them.
His mother rambled on. She was terribly unconvincing. There was an old road that wound into the city next to the pond and the water was muddy nine times out of ten, but Shiraishi had seen it from the window of his dad's car on the way to tennis lessons and there was always someone there, making ripples in the water with their fingertips. Nothing dangerous or suspicious, no delinquents out to maliciously urinate. No kappas, either. Although he wasn't exactly sure he knew what a kappa looked like anyway.
The guy in the pond, on the other hand, was a downright gentleman. He had high hopes in his early days while he sat under the veranda of a nameless fief lord, high hopes of drawing pictures of clouds and raindrops and birds canoodling in the trees, and then perhaps selling his art collection to someone in Paris. Imagine the opportunities! There had never been a wider market for mythical Japanese creatures before now, especially since the decade of extermination following that group of samurai bounty hunters. For the gentleman in the pond it was a risky business venture, barely a miracle slipping into a dream while riding in on inconceivable thought. Sometimes he stared at the rainclouds from his cave in the middle of the pond, pictured a starry sky and impressionism and becoming hopelessly obsessed with the meaning of life.
He'd always thought he'd been a special sort of guy.
There had been four months of spring that year, two of which involved birds in the sky that sang funny French tunes to the docile clouds and tiny breaths of intelligence among the different pollens and time machines. There had been several short showers in March, but the weather was fair and full of land turtles who ruled the world.
As such, on his first solitary venture into the Great Unknown, there was no reason for Kuranosuke not to play near the pond at the end of the street.
He'd finished all of his homework early and climbed out onto the roof to observe the geography of the neighborhood. He spent his first hour with a green crayon and yellow construction paper, drawing what he could see with his eyes and writing down what he couldn't with his imagination. There was a dragon's lair on the south street where an old man sat on the corner to smoke his pipe. The pretty onee-san who baked him raisin crisps on Thursdays lived in a castle fit for a princess. Chitose's house was on the other side of the pond and Shiraishi made a note of that, too. Chitose's house could be like a distant fief or something.
Then it was getting close to dinner time but he went out anyway, wearing his blue raincoat and the woolly scarf that his mother had wrapped around his neck. The sky was dripping by the time he stepped off his bike at the end of the street, but the pond looked no different than when he'd first seen it from the car window. The banks were almost too still, in fact, and a swatch of dead insects and flower flakes was beginning to gather on the surface. It reminded him of a glass of juice that had sat too long on the windowsill.
He noticed something shiny in the grass. It looked like a roll of film negatives, the kind that his mother used to take action photos during his last tennis competition. He took off his shoes and socks and stepped into the reeds, felt the rustle and the movement of air beneath his bare toes, sat down near the water, tilted his head towards the sky, and that was when the surface of dust broke.
It was his first encounter with the kappa.
"You're an interesting fellow, I must admit," said the kappa. Its demeanor reminded Kuranosuke of a girl's, but then again there was something thrilling about its face, almost reptilian in its beauty. It had webbed hands and long fingernails and they were all a slightly off-lime color. "You aren't afraid of this pond at all, are you?"
"What do you mean?"
"All the other kids listen to their mothers and not a single one of them comes here," the green creature said cheerfully, "And too right they are! You must know what I am, right? If you did, you wouldn't have come here either."
"You're lying," Shiraishi said, "I've seen other people come here. Sometimes they even touch the water and make ripples. I've seen lots of people. And of course I know what you are. I just don't believe it."
"I'm a kappa," the kappa said anyway. Then it licked its fingers. "And I'm very friendly, actually. One hundred percent friendly, that's me."
"Oh," said Shiraishi.
The kappa licked its fingers again. "Say, why aren't you all surprised anyway? I'm all scaly and green and my head is full of pond water. Don't I look scary to you? The last time I appeared before a human kid, she ran home crying without finishing her daisy chain."
He shrugged. Seeing the green head pop out from the water had been the least of his worries. It was just a bit off-putting, and that was all. He had expected to pick up a few pieces of grass and try to make them whistle, and maybe then take a few of the reeds home as tokens of the visit. He had expected to telephone Chitose later and brag about how he'd journeyed to the pond by himself. But then again, he had also expected pennies to drop out of the sky and break some car windows, and none of this stuff ever happens or not-happens, just like seeing a kappa emerging from the pond.
He didn't say of this to the kappa. "You don't really seem like a scary kind of guy," he shrugged again, and he felt kind of lame saying it.
The kappa didn't speak for a while. It appeared to be in deep concentration. "Just now," it finally said. "You referred to me as a 'guy', didn't you?"
"I guess I did," said Kuranosuke.
"You don't have to call me a boy or a girl."
"But that's not very polite, is it? Do kappas come in boys and girls, too?"
"Nobody has asked me that in two hundred years," the kappa said. He tapped a scaly finger against his chin. "You're pretty cool, ne. But I'll answer your question! Yes, we do come in boys and girls. Like you said, I am a guy. I would show you, but I don't think you're old enough in human years to be allowed to see that kind of thing yet." He licked his fingers again. "How old are you anyway?"
"I turn six on Saturday."
The kappa laughed, or made a sound that was similar to a laugh. "I'm six, too!"
"Six centuries, that is."
"...That's too different!"
"Hey, I was one of the first kappas ever, you know. I'm a pretty special guy."
The kappa called himself Fuji, and he was an artist. He was different from the other kappas, you see, because he wasn't all that talented in medicine and bandaging broken bones. In fact, he had stopped trying to peek under women's skirts twenty years ago. He was, however, a big fan of pink chalk and Blues Boy King. He liked to analyze the movements of rain clouds in his spare time and during the winters he migrated to a small grassy den near the second highway underpass. He had aspired to become a painter or a sculptor in his infancy, make his art sell like Michelangelo or perhaps Tezuka Osamu. He certainly fulfilled the historical credentials. During World War II, he had an affair with the director of an art institute, a tengu who had assimilated into society by playing a mean game of tennis and quoting Voltaire. For the last fiteen years, he would spend two weeks in October as an instructor at a school for young mythical creatures, where he once taught a nine-tailed demon fox how to write in calligraphy and perform ninjutsu, and several youkai the basics of black and white photography. He kept a photographic enlarger in his den, and on better days he dreamed of being tamed.
Shiraishi visited him whenever he could, because there was an air about the kappa that rang bright and slightly too sweet, despite the tall tales and rolls of film negatives that infested the reeds. He had lost his scarf somewhere along the way between visits and talking and singing the blues, and his mother scolded him for it but he thought of how much fun it was to talk to Fuji and then it was kind of all right.
"So what else do you do, besides chalk and blues?"
"I think about the future."
"What's so nice about the future?"
"It's not the past. It could be pleasant or ugly or anything, but I wouldn't know. And I might get published in the future!"
"That's kind of interesting. I think my teacher last year called it foresight."
"Yeah, foresight. I have a lot of foresight! Foresight, huh. What was that about your teacher? How old are you now, anyway?"
"Oh hey, you told me that you'd get to have art classes in grade five! How are those coming along?"
"I drew a picture of you on the first day! I used forest green, I hope it doesn't offend you. Yamaguchi-sensei told me that it reminded her of her delinquent days. I asked the principal if I could drop the class after that, because I wanted to take an extra algebra."
"Why'd you do that? It sounded like fun. Although you probably shouldn't have drawn me. Kappas always look ugly on paper."
"I prefer my natural reptilian beauty. But going back, why did you stop going to art class?"
It was getting dark and he could see the first streetlight blink on in the street. His mother was probably making hayashi rice again. Kuranosuke opened his mouth, and stopped. Opened his mouth again and felt his cheeks burn. "I-I want you to teach me," he said finally.
"Me?" Fuji sat back down in the water with a splash. "You want me to teach you? That's a stupid idea."
"No!" He said immediately. "I mean, I...well. I started drawing you and then I thought of you and how you're always so frustrated about getting published and I've never actually seen you draw, so I-"
"...You want to see me draw," Fuji said quietly. "Are you really that interested in me?"
"I am," Shiraishi said earnestly, "I really am."
Fuji licked his fingers. He hadn't done it for quite a while. "Give it five years. If I'm still here after five years, I'll teach you a thing or two."
That year, Shiraishi had dreams while he was in algebra class. He dreamed about walking a thousand miles in one night, and touching the mouth of the world. He dreamed about meeting Aretha Franklin and shaking her hand and traveling to Rome on a bicycle without wheels. He dreamed about the kappa, too, while Chitose tried to teach him how to stuff thirteen grapes into his mouth. He played a lot of tennis and one time, when there were butterflies in the dusk, he was sure he saw a woman who stood next to the street courts. She was watching him, and there was a battered paperback copy of Candidein her hands.
"Why don't you try drawing me?" He asked Fuji, another time, not really expecting an answer. He handed Fuji a cucumber and the kappa accepted it with a tiny nod, making sure not to spill the water on his head. "Just for practice."
"Oh, I could never draw humans," said Fuji, and he bit into the cucumber. It was still fresh and it smelled like the farm. "They're all the same, to me. Although Shiraishi was a little different. Something about a fellow with silver hair just seems different, you know?"
"Oh yeah well I bet he bleached his hair or something," Kuranosuke muttered.
"Oh, nothing. Don't I seem a little different to you, in comparison to other humans?"
"Hm." Fuji remained pensive for two seconds. "I guess. In the respect that you were never really scared of me. Maybe you just have different tastes."
"Just try drawing me," said Shiraishi, and he produced a box of pastel chalks and two pieces of yellow construction paper.
If he had any eyebrows, Fuji's would have been raised. "Oh, alright," he said after a while, and with his long green fingernails he plucked a piglet pink chalk from the lip of the box.
At that moment, something in the air buzzed and for a moment the image of Fuji in the pond seemed to flicker, like a ticker tape breathing a sigh on old film. Kuranosuke blinked, and then it was gone and Fuji was still there, the piglet pink chalk in his fingers. He sketched, his head slightly sideways, unaware of the jilted atmosphere. The stars twinkled behind the rain clouds.
(Give it five years, and the pond begins to lose its magic.)
"Hey hey hey Kura-chan, let's go to karaoke!"
"Whaaaat. Why not?"
"Bro you are no fun at all."
"I guess I'm not, huh."
"Are you just going to go hang out next to that old pond again? You know I used to think you were the shit because you got to go there all by yourself and mom wouldn't let me near it, but now it's just getting old. Like seriously what's even the point?"
"I like it there. It's quiet. And I don't have to deal with you."
"Aw, come on! That's just mean! You hurt my feelings."
"You have feelings?"
"You know what I am over your petty insults. Karaoke or not? I hear Miyoshi's going. Although her and Akito have been going pretty steady. Still, she's going. Gonna be a party. Parteeeeeee."
"I'll be fine by myself, Chitose. Gonna hit some balls."
(In another light, he thought he might have agreed. But then again he really, really wanted Fuji to teach him how to shade.)
"Oh, yes, that's right," Fuji said brightly, "I never asked for your name, did I? All these years, and I never asked for your name. Where are my manners, honestly?"
"It's Shiraishi," said Shiraishi.
"Why, you're Shiraishi's son. I knew it!"
"Knew what? Does it make a difference whose son I am?"
"Your hair is the same as his, except his was that weird silver color. See, I knew a Shiraishi once," said Fuji. He took a bite out of his cucumber. "We used to be very good friends back in the seventeenth century. He and I, you know, we go way back. Good looking guy, am I right? Wore this weird iron plate on his left hand and covered it up with a sleeve all the time like he was a shinobi or something."
Shiraishi said nothing.
"But then again, that was centuries ago. Knowing your short human lifespans, I don't think it's quite possible for him to have been your father," said Fuji, and he took another bite. The cucumber broke into easy pieces under his sharp teeth. "Oh, I know! You guys must be distantly related. Separated by generations, and such. Oh my, to think, when I first saw you from under that lily pad I was going to disembowel you from your chest cavity and suck your eyeballs out from your skull. I couldn't possibly do that to an heir of the Shiraishi Clan."
Shiraishi ignored the unpleasant images and looked at his fingers, instead. "I see. So was he a good guy, the Shiraishi-san from another time?"
"Yeah, of course he was, I mean I wouldn't have even remembered him if he wasn't..." Fuji stopped mid-crunch. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"Do you expect anyone to really believe this story?"
The kappa sighed. Or did whatever was closest to a sigh that a kappa could manage.
"You're being very obstinate, you know? it didn't use to be so difficult to convince you of certain things. I know I don't possess the same alluring qualities as Oguri Shun, but I'm a real kappa! The one and original."
They moved away that summer.
In a brazen moment of glorious irrational thought, his mother decided to pursue her dream of becoming a model for a European fashion magazine, once and for all. She booked a one-way flight and packed her bags for Paris, left in the middle of the night and explained the situation with a note taped to the kitchen stove. Within two days, Shiraishi's father quickly found out that he couldn't clean such a large house without quitting his day job, and so they moved into an apartment closer to the city. It was ten blocks away from Shitenhouji Temple and Shiraishi could visit the mall any time he wanted and practice tennis late into the nights.
"Ne, Fujiko, are you still stuck in that old pond? But it's so boring there, nya."
"I quite like the peace. The air here is also very nice."
"Bee-ess! Iheard from Inui that you found some pretty kansai kid to mess with. And here I thought you were done meddling around with humanity. It's been like, what, four-hundred years now? Seriously you need a new hobby."
"Gosh, has it really been that long?"
"My offer's still open, Fujiko. You know you can join my youkai yakuza anytime you want!"
"I'm fine here, really. It gets a little stale and I'm thinking of moving ponds, but I probably won't go far."
"And what's holding you back?"
"Come on, Fujiko-chan, you can tell me!"
"...I was going to give it back to him."
"I took his scarf that time and I never gave it back to him. I thought it was awfully warm at the time to be wearing a scarf and I hid it in my cave and he never noticed, and I even drew a picture of him as an apology. I thought I was done with being nefarious but I wasn't and I felt terrible for it. I was going to give it back to him with the picture to tell him how sorry I am."
"What, you mean the kid? So? Give it to him then! I bet he'd be trippin' up the stairs. Who doesn't want a picture from the famous Fuji Syuusuke?"
"...Oh man, it's not the kid is it?"
"Don't tell me it's that Shiraishi guy! Are you still not over him yet, because it's been fucking ages and I mean fucking ages. He's really lame. He's lamer than me, even. Actually I'm not that lame. But still you know he's really lame."
"Shiraishi has been gone for years, Eiji."
"That's what I just said, isn't it? He's been gone for centuries and centuries so you should have forgotten him already."
"You're right, I should have."
"Ne, Fujiko, come back to Shinjuku already!"
"...I guess it's time to go home, isn't it?"
It was three years into junior high when Shiraishi remembered the pond again. He went back to it during summer break, biked forty kilometres from his new home near the city and checked the map three times by the road. The dirt was cracked and dry and dusty when he arrived, and the pond had about two inches of water left to it.
"Fuji?" he asked, and it was thin air all around.
"Fuji-san!" he tried again.
"It's Shiraishi! Heir of the Shiraishi Clan. Remember me?"
(Remember me? We used to talk and I brought you cucumbers that my mother wanted to use for her curry dish and you told me all about your art lessons and aspiring to become like Michelangelo or perhaps Tezuka Osamu. You certainly fulfilled the historical credentials. You were always on the brink of a new discovery and you sang Blues Boy King to me that one time and you used a piglet pink chalk to draw pictures, remember me?)
But perhaps his imagination had finally run dry.
The boy on the other side of the tennis court seems familiar, in some way. His demeanor reminds Shiraishi of a teenage girl's, but then again there's something thrilling about his face, almost reptilian in its beauty. He has thin fingers and slender wrists and the way he grips his racket could have easily been the same way he wields a paintbrush or a stick of chalk.
He looks like an artist.
The match begins, and the sun is too bright and the stadium is too full and it feels like he's shining but he's probably just dehydrated. His team is gloating and he can see their shouts and hear their smiles. Fudomine's on the other side, and they all look expectant as well. Fuji, that's his name, he's bouncing the ball against the line with his eyes closed and it's kind of pissing Shiraishi off but his heart is beating really hard so it probably doesn't matter. The court is clay and it feels spongy underneath his trainers. He is suddenly reminded of the banks of the pond, rolls of film negatives and puffs of air between his bare toes.
And while he's rallying and volleying and smashing and feeling the wind whistle in his ears, Shiraishi swears he could have heard the same whisper ten years ago, one-point-six kilometers away from the front door and the holes in the knees of his jeans.
"Shiraishi-kun, is that right? I'll tell you now. I'm a pretty special guy."
- um I CAN EXPLAIN so i was playing nokemon and while i was surfing toward the nokemon league this tentacruel with green jewelthings on its head popped out at me and i was hella juiced, and yeah then this fic happened...
- this is actually number four out of ten in a series of oneshots; you can check out the rest underneath the title 'forward slash, exclamation point, backward slash'
anyway uhhh tl;dr thanks for reading! leave some feedback? :)