Aki:Autumn

ladyjanegray2106 (.edu)

Disclaimer: The characters Sumika, Kazama, Tomoe and Miyako are the intellectual property of Ikeda Takashi. The haiku 'michi mayou' is the intellectual property of Inahata Teiko. This story is not for profit and is not intended to infringe on their rights. This story is the intellectual property of the author and may not be distributed for profit in any form.

Chapter One

Disaster struck at 7am 14 July: Kazama gave her the news by phone. "Sumi-chan? They found my uncle alive! I mean, we thought he died in the earthquake, but they found him in a shelter. Granma wants us all to go up there. And I want to. We spent all night packing and we're just leaving now."

Sumika had a gift: discipline and focus, to unite mind, will and body. She threw on shorts, a tee, and ran like hell. Kazama and her brother were waiting, standing by a packed Subaru wagon. When Kazama saw her run up, she broke down, sobbing like a child. It was exactly like old times together, when Kazama would get hurt yet again by a crush on some cutie, role of 'that girl who made Kazama cry' now played by Sumika. So much for her vow to always protect Kazama.

She took Kazama in her arms, stroked her hair gently. They moved, together, swaying, and Kazama's tears tapered to a sniffle. Whispering, so softly that only Kazama could hear, Sumi told her "No-one wants to see the one she loves crying." Kazama was startled, blinked away the last of her tears, half-smiled.

"So long ago? You never said."

"Mmm."

"Sumi-chan is cute when she's shy. But …."

Kazama pulled down Sumi's head, leaned into her and kissed her. Gently at first, brushing lips, returning, lingering: then forceful.

What was supposed to happen next:

Sumi smiled at her, and they held hands, walked over to get crepes (strawberry for Kazama). Then they stopped in front of Sumi's place, and Sumi said 'take care.' Kazama, suddenly shy, blushed and said 'later, huh?' turned to go, then turned back. "Well, then." And she left. Both knew they'd share the next day and the next.

What did happen:

Kazama told her "I have to go now, Sumi-chan. I'll be back for Obon." Kazama brushed Sumi's lips with her fingers, got in the car, waved, and drove off.

Sumika walked home. Festival of the Dead — mid August or even later, maybe, up there — wherever Kazama was going. How was she supposed to wait almost two months, after that kiss? Also what did Kazama mean, stroking her lips? Was it like a promise? Maybe she was just being affectionate? Wait! When Kazama used to take her hand, walk holding hands, was she was being affectionate? Did Kazama love her back then too?

Discipline and focus, huh? She was gonna need it.

Noe helped; she said if Sumi ate only her own cooking, she'd learn to cook really fast. After a week where Sumi lost five pounds, Noe took pity and started laying out the ingredients, telling her what to do.

Her Dad helped out too: telling her to be strong and get over 'that girl', he had her cleaning, arranging the dojo for an 8am children's class, then more classes straight through to one. He even enrolled her in a kind of cultural cram school, in the traditional arts of Japan. More good luck, classes started with haiku. It could have been worse: say, kimono, as in trying to look elegant wearing. She started thinking in the 5-7-5 haiku pattern of syllables: Kazama would probably be good at it too; and they'd play renga together.

Evenings, after making dinner with Noe, after her bath, she took some quality time, lying on tatami, head on a pillow. You know that saying, 'All train lines go through Shinjuku'? So, just like the trains, right on time, she was thinking about Kazama. Even though it was about ten days into withdrawal, she still thought about those kisses. Actually she didn't remember the first; she was in shock: Kazama? wanted to give her, Sumika, a first kiss? It took Sumi two hours that day to even walk straight, and she still didn't believe it.

Since we're talking about kissing: like Kyori said, the path to perfection lies in practice. Thus, whenever they were alone . . . they practiced. Kazama took the lead; she was affectionate, she was fierce and demanding, she was gentle.

Voices downstairs: she heard Noe, then another voice, deep, commanding, then a third, annoying, shrill. Tomoe and Miyako. The exact last people she wanted to see. But their voices faded; they weren't coming upstairs to her room.

Which didn't stop her from glancing defensively over at her picture of Kazama: Miyako was fast with a marker pen. She played with the idea of using the North Pole Fist, wondered if it would stop the brat.

Also it wasn't just one picture: more like a 'picture wall.' One afternoon she'd come home to see a small forest of snapshots in classy rosewood frames: her and Kazama dancing at the bonfire, also their 'cutest couple' photo, a few of Kazama in a bikini and, of course, The Kiss, taken from multiple angles. Noe. She'd gone online (where do you even go to search for kiss photos?) and constructed a whole history of their romance. Included were some very creative and highly suggestive photoshopped efforts based on the bikini shots, which she really hoped weren't from Noe.

The wall-of-Kazama didn't sit very well with her father; he said, with sadness, 'Now you will never find a good husband,' which was probably true.

The suggestive photoshops, Sumi took down and hid in a small memento box Kazama had given her. Last April, during the cherry blossom festival, they'd walked through Inokashira park, holding hands. The breeze blew falling blossoms into their hair, and they emerged speckled in pink. Later, they had tea, stopped by a paper store near Kichijōji station. They found a cherry blossom print and they each bought one sheet, as a memento. Then Kazama, all sneaky, used hers to wrap a box, gave it to Sumi.

Distracted, she wiped away a tear, which was why she hadn't heard the footsteps, coming upstairs: right there in the doorway was

"Murasame-kun! Forgive me for bothering you. I . . . "

Tomoe held a small, flat, package, handed it to her. "It's small and unimportant, but I wanted you to have it.

"You have a lot to bear, right now. This will help you understand." Then she bowed deeply, rushed out. WTF?

The package was the size and weight of a thin light novel, elaborately wrapped in ginko-leaf patterned paper. Weird, but it looked like the ginko were metallic. Uhh . . . gold? Who has wrapping paper made with real gold?

Unwrap, save the paper: Noe would like it. It was just a book after all, titled ' Woman Same Sex Love Poetry.' How romantic.

Sumi laid back down, picked up the book, put it down. It was already hard enough; this was gonna help?

Picked it up again, opened a page at random: "I look at you and suddenly a subtle fire races under my skin."

Now arriving on track seven . . . right back to Kazama's kisses. So they'd practiced, and soon Sumi stopped being nervous, or worrying about what to do next, or, finally, thinking. Kazama knew: surprisingly direct, she'd lay Sumi down on her on her back; Sumi felt Kazama's weight on her, felt her determined kisses and, yup: a subtle fire raced through Sumi's body. So now she understood: her body belonged to Kazama, and Sumi needed her to return, to claim it.

She sighed deeply. She was gonna have to change underwear. Again.

Next morning, she'd just finished making the last dish for her breakfast tray, and was sitting down to enjoy it - remarkable she could enjoy it, but, it was the only food she would get. As we said, she'd just finished when Tomoe and Miyako walked in, wearing light jackets against the morning chill. Tomoe looked, sat down next to Sumi, said "Mmmm. That smells good."

"You haven't eaten?"

"Miyako had a MacMaki at the drive in. I had tea." She sounded virtuous.

"Here." Sumi pushed the tray over. "You can have mine." Probably she was feeling generous, for the book. Maybe.

"No, no: it's too much trouble," she said, formally. Then, looking at the tray again, "Let's share."

"Wouldn't that be like an indirect kiss?"

"I don't mind. In fact, I wouldn't mind a real" Tomoe stopped, turned her head and started to kiss her.

Sumi shouted " No way! Hachiiii!" threw herself back, kicked the tray, which spilled hot tea on Miyako's feet. Hachi's momentum carried her forward, and she landed on top of Sumi, on her breasts, smiling. The noise and scream of pain brought Noe, who smiled: "My, so lively. You girls are having fun."

It wound up with Noe making breakfast for all three. As they ate, Tomoe went right back to the subject at hand.

"I should apologize. Murasame-kun, the truth is I like and admire you."

"So this is your idea of a confession?"

Miyako, in fine form after the tea incident, interrupted with "Ha! No way. You haven't even done it with miss big titties yet."

"How do you know that? Stop reading my mind!"

"Please, you two. Yes, in a way it is a confession. I haven't been completely open with you. The truth is"

"That you're Hachisuki Tomoe, the granddaughter of Hachisuki Ichiro, the industrialist who owns about five percent of the country?" Sumi asked, innocently.

Tomoe was momentarily deflated. "So true, so true," was all she said. Then she brightened. "So that's why I'm here: I want you, Murasame-kun. To work for me, that is. You have brains and discipline and . . . you don't give up, even against impossible odds."

"Also you have the courage of a small mouse." Miyako.

"I'll start you near the top. You'll be working under me, of course. So, please consider this."

"No kissing!" This, directed at Miyako, who was making kissy-faces.

"A hard bargain, but, agreed. Now, I want something in return. Miyako and I are going on a cultural trip, following Bashō's route: 'the narrow road north.' Also to hot springs. But we'll take a car. Come with us; we can get to know each other better. It'll be like a Girl's Club outing. "

"I can't; I have to help my father run the dojo. And I have"

"We asked his permission last night. You can leave with us tomorrow morning."

"Because he said you're useless." Miyako finished happily.

Thinking it over later, while cleaning the dojo: the 'useless' part hurt, but, Sumi knew it was true. She lacked passion.

She was beginning to feel a tension, a distancing from her father. Murasame Tenkai seemed to only worry about the future of the dojo. But her real passion was Kazama, and that was the one thing he couldn't face; that was becoming clearer every day. She really was useless.

It wasn't that Sumi was against the trip itself; she did need a break from her family. It was just, why would she lock herself up for a couple of weeks with two nut-cases?

She already knew the answer: Kazama told her. Tomoe had outed her ultra top-secret Crush (Kazama never mentioned her own crush on Sumi). She thought her relationship was private: at first she was angry at the interference. Later she realized Tomoe had opened the path to Kazama's love. All paved in gold, beyond price.

She owed Tomoe, big.

When she woke next morning, Noe had breakfast waiting for her. It was so nice to have really good food that she didn't think to ask why. While she was eating, Noe snuck upstairs, came down again with a travel bag all packed.

As expected, Tomoe & Company were late; they pulled up in a very large Mercedes SUV. Packed full with only the gods could know what. Tomoe came out, took her bag, caught Sumi's eye. "It was a graduation present" she said as she wedged the bag in amongst the boxes. Noe brought out a sweater and a book for her, also three lunch boxes for the trip; Miyako got out to take them and Sumi saw. . . OK, was it really possible for boobs to grow that big that fast? Cuz Miyako had 'em.

Sumi looked at Tomoe, asked "Graduation present?" and Tomoe flashed her a smile.

It's really only 150km or so from Tokyo to Nikkō, their first stop on the road north. But, you have to get out of Tokyo, its surroundings, bed towns, industrial support. The first few hours were just electrical pylons, factories, apartment buildings crammed together. If they'd taken the express trains they'd have already been there. But no, Tomoe had to show off her driving. At least Tomoe and Miyako kept to themselves, in the front, trying to figure out the navigation system. In German, apparently. For herself, stretched out, lying in the back seat, she was beginning to appreciate the Mercedes. And the air conditioning. The rhythm of pylons, the motion of the car, made her sleepy. She read Noe's present: 'Footsteps on the Narrow Path,' which, it turned out, was a mix of travel guide, comments on Bashō, and a Buddhist take on the whole thing. It seemed there was a lot she didn't know about Noe. She was just reading about how Buddhism came to Japan when she dozed off.

She woke to a sense of things changing: passing Saitama, she started to see more fields, homes with gardens. Eventually the road became lined with trees, then with embankments. By the time they left the Tohoku Road north, turned on the 119 west, there were already heavy forests and the foothills of some serious mountains.

The sight of forest and mountains made her . . . queasy? She grew up near Nagano, and should feel right at home. But this, Bashō's journey, was at the cultural heart of the country. She knew people who took bus tours, stopping at every site Bashō mentioned, taking a photo with their group and then having a nice group dinner, with plenty of osake, every evening. Not her style.

The book said 'Narrow Path to the Interior' meant 'the hard path to enlightenment.' When Bashō left on the journey, he was already old, too old to be walking hundreds of miles in the sweltering July heat. He expected to die on the journey. But he also expected to be transformed, and to transform poetry, to something deeper, more spiritual.

Sumi was as Buddhist as the girl next door, but she'd never thought about anything in those kinds of terms. For so long her path was Kazama; now she'd won her, then immediately lost her. Can you get more Buddhist than that?

She really, really needed the journey to give her something. She was in fact running away, from a life where she went to university and married the man her father chose, had children, preferably sons. Of course, she 'had the courage of a small mouse.' Much as Miyako annoyed her, and that was a big much, the brat had a way of seeing into things.

Thus, the forest, the mountains: her home, but a not any kind of safe home: a home where everything would change. Her queasiness was fear.

Tomoe turned off the 119, took the 121 north again. That wasn't right, but the two of them seemed absorbed in the navigation system. Hmm . . . she had an idea. Pulling out a notebook and a pen, she jotted down a few lines . . .

"Hey! Give that back!" Before the ink was dry, Miyako had grabbed it. "Brat!"

"Oooh, look Tomoe! It's a love poem. Wanna hear it?"

"That's private." It wasn't easy to fight, with Miyako in the front seat and her in the back, but, as one says, 'they did their best.' Only the seat belts kept them from getting really serious. When it became clear no-one was winning, Tomoe ordered, "Miyako, give it back. Murasame-kun: I would be honored if you would share the poem with us."

"It's nothing. Not worth hearing. Nothing to waste breath on."

"You came on this trip to show us who you are. No more hiding." Tomoe was gonna make a formidable boss. Sigh:

becoming lost. well!

it's the essence of journeys

look! a red flower

They were quiet, long enough for Sumi to regret saying anything, when Tomoe cleared her throat.

"Interesting. The word for path in 'losing your path' reminds me of Bashō's 'narrow path.' The 'losing' is interesting too; does it mean getting lost, or does it mean 'lost' as in not knowing the correct path? And yet, even with your uncertainty, your fears, you find beauty. Really quite nice, Sumika-san.

"But this is a Bashō trip! You know what that means?"

Sumi didn't, but Miyake jumped in: "Renga! Linked verse! Mine!" She thought for about a second, came up with the 7-7 linking verse,

back seat, a freaking giant

look: bemoaning her lost love

"Me next. Wait." It took Tomoe a bit longer. Hopefully because she was thinking about her driving too.

Sumi's cute girlfriend

left her for the north mountains

can Sumi find love?

"You guys are unexpectedly fast at this."

"As expected, you're slow." Miyako's contribution.

It wasn't fair: she and Kazama were supposed to be the ones who played renga. How was it Tomoe and Miyako had so much time, together? But she and Kazama had only a moment?

"By the way? Losing your path? For the record, the way to the Tokugawa shrine at Nikkō is on the 119. You're lost."

Miyako just smiled: "Slow."

"Hey, look at this: my guidebook says that when Bashō visited, he met a guy who was 'unwise and undiscriminating.' Sound like anyone we know?"

Another hour, and Tomoe pulled the car into the Kamiyama Onsen Ryokan.

Onsen Ryokan meant a traditional Japanese inn with hot spring. Hot spring meant a communal bathing pool. Bathing pool meant Miyako would show off her big, new boobs. As expected: Sumi was slow.

Tomoe checked them in, and Sumi noticed her count out ten ten-thousand yen notes. Uh.

"Tomoe-san: I can't afford 35,000 yen a night. Maybe I should just sleep in the car?"

"No, no: the Company is paying. Enjoy it; the place tomorrow will be very rough. Deep country, very Bashō. I think they said it was even built in Edo period. Umm . . . obviously Miyako will be bathing in the communal women's pool tonight. Will you join us? Like I said, no hiding."

So she was fleeing one family, to become just as deeply embedded in another. Also, instead of working off her debt to Tomoe, she was getting in deeper.

Continuing with the 'company' theme, Tomoe had arranged a suite: a large central area, with a table, charcoal brazier. To the east, individual sleeping areas, with storage closets, chests for clothing, and very large windows looking out on Nikkō-san, the volcanic mountain. The windows were open, to let in whatever breeze they could get.

Tomoe and Miyako immediately changed into ryokan uniform: summer weight yukata, the symbol of the vacationer. They left for a walk in the village; she made excuses: she needed quiet time, some time unobserved. Some time to think.

She'd never seen Tomoe in anything but school uniform or a simple black dress. In traditional Japanese clothing . . .

Kazama was cute, was beautiful, but Tome was stunning. So why wasn't she attracted?

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. . . it was the hotel manager; coming to ask if the room was acceptable, whether she needed anything, to explain that that electricity would be on until later that evening and as an honored guest she was welcome to use the air conditioning.

Apparently, being Hachisuki Tomoe, granddaughter of etc, etc, carried some weight.

And somehow the whole episode fit her: Tomoe would always be Hachisuki Tomoe, never just Tomoe. She began to understand, a little, the granite quality of Tomoe's beauty.

Just like the tour groups, they ate together; dinner was served one course at a time. On individual plates. The first course was set on a heavy clear plate. Tomoe muttered 'Baccarat." It was a green sour plum, topped with ice made to resemble raindrops. It should have been too sour to eat, but the ice was slightly sweet and together there was an interplay of mildly sour and mildly sweet. It was only a mouthful, followed by a small bowl of tomato soup, again in a transparent bowl so you could see the red on the bottom mingling with a topping of a pure white soy cream. The soup was like eating the essence of everything tomato, but with the acidity cut by the cream.

And so it went, through ten courses: tofu with sea eel, in miso; small fish grilled at the table. She looked accusingly a Tomoe, who blushed slightly. "No, I do not eat like this every night; the chef is trying to impress me. For the record, it's working: this is good."

Right. Sumi had only ever eaten plain home cooking: substantial, served family style. Noe was a good cook, she looked forward to her meals. This . . wasn't just food, it was art, it was food transformed. She bowed to her hostess, Tomoe, and said with complete sincerity, "Thank you for the feast."

Tomoe decided to skip the communal hot springs; the bath in the room was big enough for three. And again, like the tour groups, there was a bottle of osake, with three cups. They lounged. Miyako started them out, pouring a stiff drink for Sumi. She only sipped her drink, but poured for Miyako. This would be interesting: Miyako weighed in at less than 40% of her or Tomoe. After her third drink . . . it went like this:

Sumi: "I'm below the drinking age."

Tomoe "But I'm not. It's what we Japanese do: we bathe naked, drink together, learn about each other."

Miyako: "What's the matter? Afraid you'll say something revealing? About you and miss big boobs?

Sumi: "Big boobs? Isn't that you, Miyako-chan? Hmm, what's revealing? That you're a brat?"

Miyako: "You know, if you don't drink osake, you can't do the traditional marriage 'san san kudo'. Ushio won't like that. At least she knows what she wants."

Sumi: "You have remarkable insight for a drunk. Is sex all you think about?"

Surprisingly, Tomoe (whose drinking kept up with Miyako's) said "Yes." Was that a trace of sadness?

"What is it with you two? Can we talk about something else? How about you tell me how you met?" Trying to steer the conversation to safer waters, but Miyako continued on the express line:

"I pounced on her in the hallway. Grrr! We did it in the dining room."

"Too much information, Miyako."

"The way big titties looks at you . . . she wants it. Why are you waiting? I never did."

It got to her; she downed her whole drink in one gulp. "Can we get off my sex life?" Miyako giggled. Enough: Sumi got up, left for her own room.

So it turned out that osake wasn't such a good idea: it depressed her, leading down paths she wanted to avoid. For example, the one thing nobody wanted to say: if she worked for Tomoe, she could afford to disobey her father, have the money to live with Kazama. All she had to do was put up with this insanity. Like a game of i-go, where she was completely blocked. Just as her father could block her from dating Kazama.

They said Nikkō used to be named 'two disasters.' She had her two disasters, right there: her father and Tomoe.

She heard snoring from the other room; Miyako must be out like a light. She herself was restless, couldn't sleep.

A memory she'd hidden for fourteen years crept up on her, pounced. It was a freak accident. They were walking in the mountains; she was between them, each held one of her hands. Then her mom slipped on a muddy patch, and twisted, almost pulled her away. She let go, her dad grabbed her and her mother fell down the side of the mountain.

She cried, for a mother she never quite knew, for loves she never had.

The screen between rooms slid back; someone laid down next to her, strong arms took her, held her. Sumi wept, openly, in those arms. She also didn't resist when Tomoe kissed her. By then it was already too late.

They had a very late morning. One good had come of the evening: now no-one wanted to even see anyone else, much less talk to them. Though Miyako did leer at her, once, the ride was very quiet. Again, Tomoe consulted her navigation system and headed exactly the wrong direction. The next stop on the Bashō tour would be Sendai, on the west coast. Tomoe was heading northeast, into the mountains.

At least the scenery was spectacular. And after a few hours, she got it: Tomoe was avoiding the seacoast where the tsunami had hit. Even the train lines were still iffy, which was why the car. She really was slow.

Eventually, they hit real Bashō country: mountains with steep paths, plunging down to rice paddies, small towns. Farmers wearing pointy hats and blue hand-made clothing, looking just like they would have four centuries earlier. She had never seen this Japan. It was humbling.

Progress was slow, the road ascending, descending, twisting. At its height, the road showed them a river, a few hundred feet below. At the bottom, they passed gardens: beans, shiso, then a truly narrow road between two rice fields. It was late afternoon when Tomoe stopped, programmed something into the system. She drove looking at the navigation screen. It turned out she was looking for a tiny dirt road - again explaining the SUV. Another tortuous climb, though a stream ran alongside: a pretty sight, comforting sound. Finally they stopped in front of a large house - well, a group of small sheds and other outbuildings and a fairly large house, complete with traditional thatched roof. It did look like Tomoe's 'built around Edo period,' namely: old, worn and slightly falling down.

"This is your idea of a guest-house? There isn't even a sign." As they all got out, a small, old figure appeared at the door. They walked towards it - she couldn't believe -"Grandmother?"

Kazama's grandmother.

"Grandmother, is it? Hmmph. She's at the top of the mountain, Sumika. It's a ten minute walk. Go, child, before it gets dark. Ushio waits for you."

The sun was setting, the forest path quiet, intense and darkening. The trees crowded over her, thickly, and the damp created a heavy earthy smell. She passed a small fox-shrine, the statues throwing long, distorted shadows. The night was already cool.

Then she heard . . . a wailing. Foxes? No, wait: someone was singing. She walked slower, quietly; the sound grew and she could just make out the words:

Romance, with you; dreams, with you

She stopped, struck by a memory, she just now got it: her mother used to sing that. It was a children's lullaby, and was probably the earliest memory she had of her mother. Now it was seriously creepy: was her mother's ghost waiting, up there, for her?

She turned a corner and there was a red gate, leading up to a shrine and, sitting on the steps was Kazama. She had a view of mountains, rice fields and shadows thrown over the valley, but Kazama just sat, rocking herself, singing:

Love, with you; flowers, with you

Romance, with you; dreams, with you

The world is for us

The world is for us.

"Kazama!" In the forest, the shrine, it sounded too loud but she didn't respond. Sumi tried to take her hand, but it slipped away. She squatted in front of her, smiled, waved her hands, but Kazama just sang, lost in herself, rocking, until the sun set. When she got up, walked down the mountain, Sumi followed. Why wouldn't she say anything? Did she know?

Kazama stopped at the fox shrine, clapped her hands twice, bowed, said "Mountain spirit, please take care of me. Bring my love back to me." Sumi was too stunned to even cry.

When they got to the house it was almost dark: a flickering light from inside, orange glow in the near dark. More surprises: no car; in its place a small pile of boxes. Kazama went inside, humming happily to herself. Grandmother sat waiting outside, wrapped in a shawl.

"Pardon me ... but why . . . I mean, Kazama?"

"Been like that for a week."

"Uh . . . my friends?"

"Had family in Kesennuma. Going north, to see if any survived. Had to leave while it was still light, get down the mountain. Said they might be back before Obon. Might not. Left some gifts, supplies. Notice you didn't bring anything."

"What's going to happen to me? For a month?"

"Since you're here and she's useless, you can help, carry the packages in.

"Sumika: now we're stuck with each other. And your Uncle Tōru will be here in two days. I want Ushio back to normal."

"Kazama's uncle?"

Grandmother was weary, yet, she looked at Sumi sharply. "Child, you are either part of this family or you aren't. Which is it?"

Here it was, again: family. This time, it was odd, it was a feeling. Oh! like she wanted to cry. She was crying. Wiping a tear with her sleeve, she bowed deeply: "Please take care of me."

"Sit down, daughter. Your uncle will be here in two days. Before then, I need you to clean the house, to help in the garden, to chop firewood, to make repairs, to change the doors for summer. But the most important thing you must do: return Ushio to normal."

"Grandmother? What's wrong with her?"

She took her time in answering; when she did, she seemed much older. " When I was growing up we visited here: it was cool in the summer. Of course I played secretly with the local children. Just to scare me they told stories: ghosts and spirits. They told me not to wander off in the night, or a fox-spirit would get me, take my body.

"Well, I was from the city, after the war: scary was radiation and no food and men with horrible wounds. I didn't need foxes to scare me.

"So I didn't believe the tales and I wasn't scared. Now it's different. The moment Ushio got here, she walked to the top of the mountain, went there every morning like something was calling her. She'd pray at the fox-shrine, which I had better sense than to ever do.

"Sumika, child, Ushio's love: I don't know what happened. I'm a modern woman; I'd say she went mad from grief, when she lost you. I've seen it before, many times. But. But, you know? Well, maybe you wouldn't know the old ways. Mountains are the place, where our world and the world of the spirits meet. Did you see the Shinto shrine at the top? That's what I mean.

"When Kazama prayed, did the fox spirits hear her? Take her soul? Should we take Ushio to a doctor? Or summon a Shintō priest to do an exorcism?"

Grandma had just brought creepiness to a whole new level.

End of Chapter One

Chapter 2 will be posted on January 1 2012

becoming lost. well! michi mayou

it's the essence of journeys koto mo tabiji yo

look! a red flower kesho no hana

- Inahata Teiko