Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Every now and then I get the urge to dash off a quick flash fiction story (1000 words or less). Here's one of my favorites.


The Fox Thief

Nanami twisted her black hair into a thick bun and Mai’s gnarled fingers secured the coil with a jeweled hair stick.

“You must move like the cherry blossom as it falls, light and floating,” Mai said. All three of her fox tails twitched.

Nanami ignored her mother’s quiet agitation and reached for the lacquered pot on the table in front of her. She dipped a finger inside and swept the crimson color across her lips before adding a single spot to each cheek. Her skin was already pale as the rice paper covering the windows of their home.

“You must not linger, a single kiss and no more.”

“I will be swift as the fox, silent as the spirit, gone with the whisper of the night breeze,” Nanami repeated again.

Mai turned away but Nanami caught the glint of tears in her mother’s eyes.

“I will make you proud, Mai-san. My lantern will burn bright as the north star when I return.”

“I do not doubt you, daughter-of-my-heart. It is only that the world is so very different.”

Nanami smiled and tweaked the curve of her mother’s ear where the furred skin disappeared into the sweep of her long silver hair. Her mother was beautiful in all forms, fox or human, but Nanami loved her best in this half-state. One day, many seasons from now, Nanami would be able to maintain a half-state as well.

Outside a firecracker popped in the distance and Mai’s ear twitched away from Nanami.

“I will honor our people and bring no shame to our house,” Nanami said. “It is only a night festival and a very small one.”
“The world is so different,” Mai repeated.

Nanami rested a hand on her mother’s arm before moving to the woven mat that served as their main door. The hut, like so many things, was only temporary, easily broken down and moved from place to place as the Fox People traveled. They needed little and carried less.

A reed staff rested just outside with an empty paper lantern hanging from its end. Nanami plucked the hollow wood free of the ground, setting the lantern swinging, and headed for Kumayaga city.


The rural landscape gave way quickly to squat concrete homes and the belching metal cars that clogged every available roadway. Nanami wrinkled her nose at the noxious city smells and the way everything was crowded so close together. Closer in, other people traveled the night streets as well, a steady crowd that swelled as they neared the city center. A thousand tiny lights like captured stars burned in the streets, bobbing in the lanterns hung outside each business and home. Nanami was jostled by little old women in traditional dress with their hair stiff and hard as rock. Teenagers in jeans and t-shirts elbowed past men in business suits and foreign tourists with their wide, round eyes. Everywhere Nanami looked was an unending sea of people.

She clutched her reed staff more tightly and tucked her elbows close against her body, flitting between the people and searching their faces.

Another firecracker burst overhead and the woman beside Nanami leapt to the right, knocking into her. Nanami stumbled, falling backward. Strong hands caught her waist and held her up.

“Careful, it would be easy to be crushed in this crowd.”

Nanami twisted around, looking up at the man who had caught her. “Thank y-“ Her voice faltered as she met his eyes.

Not a man. He was young, a little older than her own years perhaps. And his eyes were the lightest brown she had ever seen. Wide, beautiful. Watching her.

“Hello,” the boy said with a bemused smile. He let go of her waist and she shoved the reed staff hard against the roadway, using it to hold her weight.

“I’m Tabi.” His eye brows quirked and he dipped his head to the side, waiting for her to return his greeting.

Nanami flushed. “Thank you for your assistance.”

The boy laughed. “I have rescued you from certain death, your formality seems out of place.”

The crowd surged, pressing them closer and Nanami gasped, reaching out to grip his arm. All around them the people jostled and moved. It was so loud with the pop and whirr of firecrackers, the roar of a thousand voices, the distant beeps from car horns on the outskirts of town.

She tipped her head back and stared at the boy, at his lips.

It was easy to reach up and kiss him. Her lips brushed his, drinking in his startled breath, his warmth, the tiny piece of his soul that passed from his mouth to hers.

An elbow jabbed into Nanami’s back and someone bumped into her side, breaking them apart. An old man, face wrinkled as a head of cabbage, grumbled under his breath and pushed past the two of them. More people followed and with each one she fell back another step. Farther from the boy.

“Wait,” he called standing on tiptoe, straining against the crowd to reach her. It was impossible and for each step he took she was pulled back three. “What’s your name?” he shouted.

“My name is Nanami,” she whispered, too low for him to hear. “I am the last of the Fox People.”
She touched a finger to her lips, trying to trace the kiss. Her first. In the lantern attached to her staff a tiny spark glinted, painting the rice paper with soft, gold light.

For just a moment, she regretted the small theft. She wanted to plunge back through these people and reach the boy. She wanted to kiss him again but without stealing even the tiniest part of his life, his years. She wanted to kiss him because he had beautiful eyes, the sky was lit with fireworks and she was a girl caught up in the magic of her first kiss.

Nanami’s throat was tight as she let the crowd carry her away.

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