I do not own InuYasha or any of the characters created by Rumiko Takahashi

Chapter 167

An enraged Amaya, red faced and narrow-eyed, glared at the confused yamabushi trampling her garden. He cowered behind the pickle tub lid that had become his shield.

"But the monster . . . " Morio said, frowning as if honestly surprised by her reaction. "I know I heard it. I didn't want it to get you."

This explanation did nothing to mollify the angry woman, and she raised her hoe again."Out of my garden!" Amaya used the end of her hoe to push Morio back and out of the cultivated area. Slowly he got the idea and began to retreat. "You know you're not supposed to be out here. What would Joben-sama say? You know where you're supposed to stay. I don't need protecting from your play-monsters."

Morio stepped backwards, bit by bit, a step for each prod of Amaya's hoe as he clung to the pickle tub lid. "But . . . but Amaya-sama, what if - " Whatever it was he was going to say got lost as his right foot got caught on a rock and twisted. With flailing arms and a shout, he stumbled backwards, and the lid went sailing. He landed hard on his butt, his ankle wedged at a bad angle.

Setsuko, Joben's oldest daughter came running out of the house. "Morio!" she yelled. "Did you take Obaasan's pickle lid again?"

"Morio-kun, what are we going to do with you?" Amaya said as the man-child began crying as he reached to free his foot from the rock. "Setsuko-chan, the lid's over there," she called, pointing to where it was resting on the ground. "I hope he didn't break it this time."

The girl nodded and began walking towards it.

Setsuko grabbed the lid. She shook it at Morio. "What did Chichi-ue tell you? The pickle lid is not a shield."

He unwedged his foot. "But I need one. I have to be protected." He tried wiggling his toes and yelped.

"I thought Joben-sama gave you an ofuda to keep the monsters at bay," Setsuko said.

Morio crossed his arms and pouted, sticking out his bottom lip. "It's not as good. I need better, or the monster will get us all."

The girl rolled her eyes. "I'm putting this back. I've had enough craziness this morning. I'm going back to take care of Obaasan. Maybe Ojiisan can lock the room with the pickle tub. I'm tired of this." Holding the lid close, she stormed back to the house.

"I can see why Tsuneo-sama is anxious to get him out of the household," Miroku said, looking at the cursed man thoughtfully as he and the headman drew closer.

"I hear that," Tameo said, scratching the back of his neck. "Too early in the day for this type of thing. That man's like a stone thrown at a wasp's nest."

Amaya, hearing him, swung around. "Oh, Houshi-sama, Tameo-sama," she said, bowing. "A wasp's nest? If so, I'm afraid this whole household is the home of angry wasps right now."

"That's why we're here," Tameo said. Standing near where Morio had trampled a plant, he bent down, righted the bent mustard, and patted the dirt around it. He stood up and dusted his hands off. "We'd like to find a way to put those angry wasps to bed."

"I wish you luck," Amaya said. Her face was still drawn, although some of her anger had passed. "We need it."

"Amaya-obasan, my foot hurts," Morio said, rubbing his right ankle. He looked up at her with totally guileless eyes, scrunched up a bit in discomfort. "Can you check it?"

Amaya let out a long, slow, exasperated sigh, dropping her hoe and covering her face with both her hands. She shook her head. "Or maybe it's worse than just wasps. Maybe we all died, and this is how King Emma is punishing us in hell. What did I do to deserve this?" She began walking towards Morio.

"You're still quite alive, Amaya-sama," Miroku said, walking closer, the rings of his staff jingling. "This is a good thing. No telling how long it might last if you actually were in hell."

"Then maybe I would rather be dead," the woman said. "At least it would be quiet." She knelt down next to the cursed man. "Let me see your foot."

Morio lifted his foot and put it in her lap. "It hurts here," he said pointing to a place on his ankle. She poked at it gently. He winced and pulled his leg back when she touched a tender spot.

"It hurts!" he said, pulling back his leg. "Don't do that!"

"But I have to, Morio-kun," she said. "Sometimes the things we need to do to get better hurt."

"Haha-ue always told me that," he said, still frowning. "I didn't want to believe her."

"It's true," Miroku said, looking down at the cursed yamabushi. "If you've sprained your ankle, it'll need to be wrapped. Or it'll hurt worse."

"I don't think anything's broken," Amaya said, looking at Morio, her look of irritation intensifying. "We better get you inside so we can take care of it."

For a moment, Morio ignored her, and looked up at Miroku. "You're a monk? A holy man?"

The monk nodded. "I am indeed a monk, Morio-kun."

Morio squinched his face to one side, thinking. "Haha-ue says monks are good at keeping the monsters away. Can you do that?" There was hope in his eyes as he waited for Miroku's answer.

Miroku squatted down next to him, the rings on his staff jingling as he moved. "That's my job, Morio-sama. I fight against the monsters that want to hurt people. Are you having trouble with something? A ghost or a youkai?"

Sighing, the cursed man dropped his head. "I...I don't know. Joben-sama thinks it's my imagination." He looked up and met Miroku's eyes. "But . . . but I can see it sometimes. Right out of the corner of my eyes. It's long and white. I think it wants to eat me." He searched the monk's face for signs of disbelief, and relaxed when he saw none.

"Have you been seeing this a long time?" the monk asked.

Morio nodded. "I...I think so." He covered his head with his hands. "I don't remember very good anymore. I get such bad headaches, and everything gets confused."

"Do you need some more medicine for your headache?" Amaya asked. Her face began to soften, and she brushed a lock of hair out of his face.

The confused man shook his head no. "I'm scared all the time now. There's so much I don't know. Why do I have a big man's body? Where's Haha-ue?" He began to rock back and forth.

"I'm afraid we don't know where your okaasan is, Morio-kun," Tameo said. "I don't know where to even start looking."

"Nobody wants me around and everybody yells at me." He moved his foot again and yelped once more. "And now I hurt myself and I can't run." His eyes began to tear up. "Nobody wants to play with me, and they keep trying to make me stay alone, and nobody knows where my home is, and the monster wants to eat me." His voice grew very soft as he listed his miseries.

Miroku, his eyes troubled, looked up at Tameo, who also was troubled by Morio's litany, and he rested his hand on Morio's shoulder. "We're going to help you, Morio-sama. I can help take care of the monster for you, I think."

"You can?" Morio asked, turning his head to look at the monk.

"I've fought some really bad monsters, and won. We won't let him get you." Miroku stood up.

"He has," Amaya said, nodding. "I've seen what Houshi-sama has done." She looked up at Miroku as she too stood. "He's been this way since he came back with Joben that day. So confused and so frightened. This is what has been getting him into trouble. I don't think any of us know what to do."

"It's a very difficult case," Miroku said, nodding.

Tameo knelt down next to Morio. "I'm sorry everything's so scary for you, boy," he said. "Maybe we can help."

"Nobody can help me," the yamabushi said, curling back up. "Maybe Houshi-sama. Maybe. But I bet the monster eats me anyway."

"What about this?" Tameo said. "What if we made a place for you to go where Houshi-sama uses his powers to keep the monsters away?" He looked up at Miroku, who raised an eyebrow at the headman's suggestion.

"Clever man," Miroku said, too soft for Morio to hear.

"Would...would I have to stay alone?" Morio asked, doubtful about what the headman was suggesting.

"No, not at all." Tameo patted Morio's shoulder. "What if I found a nice man and woman who would make sure you had enough to eat and keep the bad things away? And who wouldn't yell at you? You could think of them as your ojisan and obasan. Or even your foster parents."

"They wouldn't yell at me?" Morio asked, sitting up a little.

"No, they wouldn't. And there would be boys you could play with, too. You played with my grandson the other day. You liked that, didn't you?"

Morio nodded and wiped his nose. "That was good. Could he come play again?"

"Maybe. I'll talk to his parents about it." Tameo stood up. "I heard you two had a good time playing forts."

"You're sure these people will let me play?" Morio asked.

"Absolutely," the headman said, nodding. "And I'll come by every few days, and you can tell me if you don't like something."

"And I will, too," Miroku said. "And you can tell me if the monster is bothering you." He reached into his robes and pulled out a small string of prayer beads. "Let me give you these." He bent down and fastened them around Morio's wrist. "They'll make you invisible to the monsters."

Morio touched the beads, one by one. "They will?" he said, looking up at the monk, questioning, and a little doubtful.

Miroku gave him a solemn nod. "But if you try to attack the monster, the magic will stop working. If you see the monster, sit down, and touch the beads, and you can watch him. If you try to chase him, though, he'll realize it." The monk knelt down once again, and held the crazed man's hand. "I want you to tell me what you can if you see him. That way, I'll know more about how to chase him off." He gave Morio's hand a pat. "Can you do that?"

"I...I think so," the yamabushi said. "It'll really work."

"Oh yes," Miroku said, standing back up. "My beads and sutras always work."

Morio fingered the beads. "But what about Joben-sama?"

"What about him, Morio-kun?" Amaya said.

He looked at Tameo and Miroku and Amaya, one after the other. "I...I...I get even more scared when Joben-sama isn't around. He's the one who found me. I..."

Tameo patted Morio on the back. "Joben-sama can stay with you as much as you need him, Morio-kun. We want to make you feel better."

"But why?" he asked.

"Because," Tameo said, smiling. "Because I'm the headman. And because I remember being scared and lonely."

"You do?" Morio asked. "I didn't think grownups ever got scared."

"Oh," Miroku said, leaning on his staff. "You'd be surprised how often we do."

Morio shook his head, the way a child does when he hears adults say things that are hard to believe.

"Let's see if you can get up on that foot of yours, Morio," Amaya said, offering him a hand.

He stood up, gingerly, and winced as he took a step. "It hurts."

Amaya wrapped an arm around the man. "Lean on me, Morio. We'll get you inside and get your foot wrapped. You'll be all right."

"Tell Tsuneo we're here," Tameo said.

She nodded, and the yamabushi, leaning on her, let himself be led home.

"Now," Miroku said, turning to Tameo, "that was a surprising turn of events. Perhaps it's going to be easier to get Morio moved than I thought."

The old headman nodded. "Maybe I shouldn't have been too harsh in my thinking of Kazuo-no-kami. Sounds like he's on our side still after all."

The two men started walking up to the house.