“The Tale of Rinji” by Janet Coleman Sides
Summary: A fairy tale for grownups…
High in the branches of a magnificent sakura tree, deep in a forest in ancient Japan, sleeps a beautiful kami – spirit – called Rinji. One day he has an unexpected visitor, a white-and-black fox, who wakes him and persuades him to go with him on a journey to solve the mystery of the ghost boy’s past. Along the way they are joined by a tanuki, a welcome cat, a tengu, a dragon and other magical creatures. Together they find more than one answer, and perhaps, for some, a second chance at love.
The land, no, the world is seething with spirits, felt and unfelt, seen and unseen… feeling and unfeeling, seeing and unseeing. Every petal that swirls in the wind was once part of a living flower, and scent is a memory more potent than any other.
That is as may be, but this story is about spirits… long and long ago.
FIRST: A FOX, AND A TREE
The forest was filled with darkness, and with secrets whispering in the leaves, hidden deep beyond the touch of the moon’s light.
The fox had walked for many, many nights to reach this very place, but no sooner did he glimpse it than suddenly he sat down, rump in the dust as he gazed up at the trees.
His eyes were dark, his paws were black, likewise the tips of his ears and the end of his brush tail, all black, as though dipped in ink. The rest of him was white, unluckiest white. The humans thought so, for their own reasons; and it was not the easiest color for a nocturnal animal to carry, either. The moon was not even full, but its oblique light found the fox’s fur and made it gleam.
He had come so far to get here, enduring many hardships, but oh, how he feared to go in. He whined a little, scratching his ear; he leaned down and gave one paw a cursory lick. The wind breathed in a thousand branches, sighing in impatience; but nothing else could happen until the fox could make himself get up and walk in among the trees that loomed up before him out of deepest darkness.
The fox stretched forward, head down like a man abjectly bowing. Then he got up, shook himself off, and trotted forward into the trees.
It was summer and the night’s breeze murmured in a million leaves, like ocean waves above and around him. The fox wondered whether these trees were all watching him. But none of them were the one he sought. He walked on, slow and solemn, tail dragging down.
He knew exactly where it would be; but finding it was a shock and he sat down again, staring.