It was the best day Ichiro had since arriving in The Capital a few months ago. Now it was late summer and the nights hadn't cooled off yet. So there were still plenty of mice to eat in the granary he and his sister Gin currently lived in. The harvest hadn't come in yet, so they wouldn't have to move for another week or so. But the best thing about today was that he had gotten paid to act in a play.
Before auditioning for the acting troupe that morning, he told the kami to make him look a little bit taller, older, and stronger. His ruse worked and he’d been cast. The troupe and practiced all day on an old, familiar story then performed that evening. The innkeeper had paid them right away, and told them to come back tomorrow.
The White Crane Inn was on the other side of town from the granary. Lanterns hung periodically along the more populated streets of The Capital. Four blocks west of Red Bird Avenue, which divided The Capital into the east and west sides, the streets plunged into near darkness as the lanterns grew more sporadic. The only humans this far west were were the poorest of the poor or brigands. Ichiro asked the kami to hide him so thieves wouldn’t rob him.
Past the poor human neighborhoods, he entered Kitsune Town and felt a pang of longing. One day soon he and his sister would have to money to live there. The humans didn’t know their neighbors were Kitsune, they just thought them even poorer because no lanterns burned in Kitsune Town. A few Kitsune enjoyed the night air. They exchanged pleasantries, but Ichiro wanted to get home to Gin.
Ichiro smelled cherry blossoms before he entered the granary. Why was Gin still awake? Had she stayed up just for him? That was unusual but not as surprising as her new kimono.
"Big brother! Welcome home." She ran to the door and hugged him. The few cherry blossoms floating in the air disappeared, but the lovely smell remained. "I've got such exciting news, the end to all of our money problems."
Ichiro looked around their home. Once the nights warmed up in the spring, they had made small holes in the granary to let in light. Tonight there was a full moon and the skies were clear, so he could clearly see that there was one pile of empty rice bags where there were two this morning.
Gin bounced away and picked up a folded bundle of cloth. She ran back to her brother and handed it to him. "I got you one too! This is wonderful, now you can be the fashionable young man you've always wanted to be."
"Gin, what did you do?" Ichiro's buoyant mood was deflating. His sister often did things without thinking, but this time she had gone too far.
"Well big brother, I thought about what you said this morning. You told the kami to make you extremely good-looking and strong to try out for that play. That got me thinking. I realized we had all these empty bags that could be filled with rice. Or at least humans think they were filled with rice."
Ichiro saw the same expression she often had: she wanted approval. Two emotions warred within him. Pride of her illusion and sinking fear. Kitsune were not well liked in the capital. They’d passed a hanging on their way into The Capital. When Ichiro asked what was going on, the reply was, “Kitsune.” Gin hadn’t reacted to the dead man, but she’d been silent since their entire village had died. Ichiro quickly lead her away from the gruesome sight and into The Capital. He still remembered the cold and how their sandals crunched on the snow.
Ichiro sank to the floor.
"Big brother, aren't you proud of me? Now you are well dressed, not kami-dressed. I also got us a lamp. And some dried meat. We can let the mice get fat for a few days. Once I sell all those bags of rice," she pointed to the single pile of bags. "We’ll have money to survive through the winter. I don’t want to see your coat thin. That would be worse than my own thin coat. We’ll move to that place you always talk about.” Gin meant Kitsune Town. When they were hungry, Ichiro cheered them both up by talking about the future when they’d live with other Kitsune. She was slowly warming up to the idea. Once when things seemed hopeless, he told the kami to show his memories of their family. Gin cried and cried afterwords and hadn’t spoken for the next day.
"Oh Gin, what have you done? You've killed us both." Ichiro rested his face on his hands. He imagined guards busting into the granary and dragging them away.
"Ichiro, no one knew who I was. I looked like that meat girl you're always staring at." She giggled.
"Show me, little sister.” That was just what he didn’t need on his conscience. That girl sold dried meat and always smiled at him. He never stole from her, no matter how hungry they got.
Gin talked to the kami for a while in her wandering way. When she was done, he breathed a sigh of relief. Gin looked nothing like the meat seller. She stood before him looking almost like their mother with long hair and clean clothes.
"How I look? I looked just like her, don't I," Gin said proudly.
"Yes Gin, you look just like her. You are getting skilled with the kami." Ichiro told a white lie. Gin couldn’t make her wishes clear to the kami because she wasn’t done mourning yet. When Gin walked away from him, the illusion vanished. She returned with four large pieces of dried meat.
"Little sister, if you sell all of these bags full of…whatever it is you put in them, the humans will know. There's probably going to be guards at the market looking for you selling rice again. It's dangerous. They execute Kitsune here." He looked her in the eye.
Gin was undaunted. "They won't know it's me. I'll look like someone else tomorrow."
Ichiro was getting frustrated. "Little sister, that's how they will know that you're a Kitsune. You show up with fake bags of rice two days in a row and look different." If they would even look like bags of rice when they leave her sight. She got lucky today, Ichiro thought.
Gin burst out laughing. "Oh big brother, you worry about everything. The only problem I see is that we have to share a bed tonight." She pointed at the pile of empty rice sacks. “The kami really listened to me today.”
"What about all the humans who thought they were buying rice, and now have nothing to feed their children?"
"They are all rich! All humans at the market have houses instead of a dirty granary." Gin settled down on all fours on top of her kimono and the pile of sacks. She was a furry kitsune again; in her mind the conversation was over. She rolled around on her new kimono before curling up to sleep.
Ichiro sighed. He sat down beside his sister. While he ate the delicious meat, he tried to talk some sense into her, or at least distract her.
"Little sister, I earned enough money that you can visit the bathhouse in Kitsune Town tomorrow. You’ll look so nice your new kimono after a bath. Then you can come watch me at the tavern."
Gin raised her head and nodded. Then she curled back up. Maybe she’s finally ready to meet new Kitsune, Ichiro thought as he drifted off to sleep.
Pic By Keven Law - originally posted to Flickr as Whispering I love you...:O)), CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4730047