Perfection (short fiction).
The downfall of a spirit fox as he gives away his soul.
1000 Day MFA: Week Nine.
Once there was a spirit fox who gave his soul away. There was no deal with the devil, no contract signed in blood. It all started with an innocent desire for perfection.
Within Inari was a powerful magic. He was a tengoku fox: a divine messenger. His gift, the ability to sense when another creature was in trouble, was a tremendous blessing but also a curse. Most days his gift served him well. The heaven fox would receive a tingle upon his neck as the vision of impending danger entered his mind. He would then set out to intervene as quickly as he was able. With his strength, agility, intelligence and ability to calm even the most ferocious beast, Inari was a loyal and valiant guardian but he wasn’t infallible. The day the kitsune was unable to reach the ledge was the start of his downfall.
The frightened bear cub had already started to slip. Inari arrived in time to see him scratching frantically upon the rocks.
“Be still”, Inari urged, for he could see that the tentative rock face was being worn away. With the cub too terrified to listen, Inari reached for him but he was too late. Gravity and loose stones tore the cub out of the tengoku’s grasp, sending him tumbling down, fatally falling onto the rocks below. The grieving mama bear had been so angry and distraught that Inari had used his ability as a spirit, disappearing, to escape from her wrath. The last thing the kitsune needed was a lecture. Inari was capable of tearing himself apart on his own.
Without meaning to, Inari let guilt and envy into his heart. Why wasn’t he as fast as a cheetah? As alert as a falcon? That twinge that told him the cub was in trouble had disturbed his sleep. If only he hadn’t decided to take that afternoon nap. If only he had woken up sooner, the cub would have lived.
Inari slunk back to his burrow, overcome with guilt and inadequacy. He avoided Keeley’s gaze, though she picked up on his dark mood anyway. Coming up to her mate,, she nuzzled up against his cheek.
“You know that you can talk to me about anything, right?”
Inari nodded, but still refused to open up his heart.
While he knew that she would willingly share his burdens, that wasn’t something that he ever wanted her to bear.
“I’ll be alright in a while”, he promised.
Thank you for being so patient with me, my love.
Inari told Keeley that he was going to sit by the water for a while to unwind. Keeley nodded and watched him go with a sigh. She nearly followed him, intending to do whatever it took to cheer Inari up and make everything okay again. Later, Keeley would have given anything to go back in time and pursue him. If only she had answered this silent cry for help, perhaps this whole mess could have been avoided.
You look like you are carrying the weight of the world upon your shoulders.
At first, Inari was not sure about who had spoken. He looked around the bank. Not finding anybody, he turned back to the brook.
Splash! All of a sudden, a stream of water leapt up and soaked the unsuspecting kitsune.
“Who’s there? Reveal yourself?” Inari barked, annoyed that he was dripping from ears to whiskers.
Who says that I am hiding? Is it really that hard to believe that I could be in plain sight. The kitsune are always talking to the strangest of creatures: the Mori to the trees and the Umi to the ocean. Why should I be ignored just because I am a brook?
“Gomen nasai. I am so sorry. I did not mean to offend you”.
Inari sighed, laying his head dejectedly onto the bank. He could not please anybody today.
I’m not offended, the brook insisted, for she really was quite bubbly in nature. Truly I am worried about you. Please, if there is anything that I can do to help, tell me.
Inari laughed in disbelief. While he lived for helping others, he could not recall the last time he had received an offer of help in return (with the exception of Keeley, of course).
I’m serious. I am more than I look. I could help you.
The brook started making ripples as a fantastic idea came to her.
Why don’t you try what the monks do? They always walk away from here singing with happiness. If you are after some peace of mind this could be just the thing!
Inari did not get it. Who were these monks and what on Earth was Brook proposing that they do?
Look up to the mountains.
For the first time, Inari examined them properly and saw the hidden temple. Brook explained that living inside of it were good men who would often come to pay her a visit and ask for her help.
Sometimes they just come and pray. Other times they bathe. They don’t just wash away their dirt either. They wash away their troubles, their sins, aspects of themselves that they would like to forget or wash clean. To feel the energy shift within them is incredible.
Inari stared up at the mountains again, transfixed.
“Are you really saying that it is possible to change, just by taking a bath?”
Absolutely, Brook attested for she had seen many successful changes in men. Without their troubles and demons weighing them down the monks transformed, lit up with a new found happiness and peace.
By now, Inari had heard enough to give it a try. He lowered himself down into the brook and focused upon his intention.
“ I need to do whatever it takes to be the best”, he reasoned, thinking about all of the times that he had fallen short in his life. It might have been okay to joke around and make mistakes when he was a cub but he was a seven tail now and past such things.
“ I wish for an unshakable resolve. I wish to bring happiness to others instead of myself. I reject my carelessness and immaturity. My focus from now on is for my gift and the ones I love”.
Inari wasn’t expecting for anything to happen, or to feel so different afterwards. When he felt a newfound confidence and determination within himself, he was amazed.
It worked! Brook chorused joyfully. What she did not understand was that the surge of happiness she was bathing in was only an echo. No longer tethered to his owner, Inari’s joy remained in the water. The carefree cub who had loved to play, tease his friends and have fun had been expelled from his soul completely. Inari returned to his burrow with a gaping hole within his heart.
Keeley was pleased to see Inari return, holding his head up high.
“I’m going to stop sulking and do my best, for you as well as Kazuki forest” he vowed.
“I’m so glad”, Keeley told him. She had never seen her mate so confident and she thought that it suited him. If only she had noticed then that his smile hadn’t reached his anxious eyes. If only she had said what she had really felt, instead of what he had wanted to hear.
Don’t worry so much, my love. You are enough.
Everything that Inari wished for came true. With his focus solely placed upon helping others, he became twice the guardian than he had ever been before. His talents improved with his dedicated training and the amount of souls he was able to assist in the forest improved dramatically. Even so, unshakable resolve did not make him infallible, or even likable.
“Are you trying to make us all look bad”, joked Kohei, the kaze fox. He had been watching Inari running laps and jumping over logs for the last couple of minutes.
The old Inari would have stopped. Kohei had only made the remark because they were family. Keely’s younger brother hoped to win a cheeky remark or at the very least a smile in return. Instead, Inari only spared him a brief, annoyed glance as he ran past.
“Start running, Kohei, or head back to your burrow. The last thing that I need is you gawking at me. You are putting me off”.
Kohei did not rise to the challenge. Instead, as Inari was coming past on his next lap, he summoned up his power. Seizing hold of the closest gust of wind, Kohei caused a cluster of leaves to obscure the tengoku’s view. At the same time, he moved the log backwards, just a fraction. Inari’s paws connected with the log, causing him to trip and tumble over into the dust.
Inari looked up at Kohei, stunned. It wasn’t like his brother to be cruel, or to be wearing such an annoyed expression. Inari’s focus was so single minded that he genuinely did not understand what he had done wrong.
“Kohei, just what are you playing… ?”
Kohei interrupted. The sooner this intervention happened, the better.
“Inari, this has to stop. I know that you believe that you have been helping this past month. Yes, you are making a difference but you have been hurting us too”.
Inari stared up at him, blankly. He did not see how.
“You don’t smile. You have been rushing around helping others and yet I have heard so many creatures tell me how you have been showing up cold and moody. Is it really so hard to be friendly every now and again? You don’t laugh at Keeley’s jokes anymore. She is really worried about you and you haven’t even noticed. Nobody is asking you to be a super guardian and we are certainly not asking you to be a cold hearted jerk. Swallow your pride and this superhero complex and come back to us. We miss you”.
“Miss me? I’m right here”, Inari insisted. Kohei, not convinced, shook his head.
“Trust me, Inari, this isn’t you. When you feel like coming to your senses come and find me. Right now, I want nothing to do with you”.
Frustrated Kohei stormed off. Inari stared after him, still perplexed.
“What was that supposed to mean? I haven’t changed that much, have I?”
Inari attempted to go back to his running, but the restlessness that now drove him kept torturing him. That afternoon, he returned to the brook and shed his second emotion: pride.
Newly humbled, Inari eyes were opened to his other failings. Fearful that he would continue to hurt his friends, Inari became obsessed with washing himself clean. Over the next week Inari rejected his vanity, cruelty and selfishness. Brook was eager to keep helping him, however on these last two occasion this discharge of energy left her feeling very strange.
Inari felt better than he could remember. Led by his kindness and determination, he now went out of his way to be friendly and helpful to everybody, as well as being the best guardian ever. Keeley was happy to be visible to her mate once again. Before he had been so wrapped up in his personal quest that he had barely taken the time to say good morning. Her relief was quickly overtaken by worry as she noticed he was trying much too hard. After a day where he had pushed himself to the limit, he had run all night to Rakuen forest, just to fetch her favourite snow lilies. After returning home a shattered fox, Keely could not help but weep when she saw him.
“What’s wrong, my love? What did I do wrong? How can I fix this?”
Keely did not really understand her tears herself. She knew that she should be grateful that he had gone to such efforts for her, but she hated seeing Inari on the brink of collapse. She looked into his amber eyes and recoiled at his terrified gaze. Was he really this upset about not being able to please her?
“Nothing is wrong”, she assured him. “I’m worried, that is all. Inari, this madness needs to stop. You are no longer yourself and I miss you”.
Inari dropped the lilies. What was it with being missed lately? In this moment he was his best self, wasn’t he?. For Keely to be unhappy with him meant that there was still something that needed to be fixed.
“What is it that you don’t like about me? Is it my eagerness or it is because I haven’t done enough? Have I somehow been insensitive? Whatever it is, just say the word and I can make it go away”.
“Go away? Go away where?”
As Keeley started to piece together what had happened, she started to sweat.
“All of these changes…you understand what is going on, don’t you? You know that there is something wrong and you don’t even care”.
Suddenly Keeley gasped.
“You did this to yourself, didn’t you?”
As she saw her mate smile and nod, Keeley screamed. Tapping into her powers, she threw a shower of earth in Inari’s eyes and ran. .
“Keeley? Where are you, my love? This is just a misunderstanding. Come out so that I can explain”.
Inari circled their burrow for the third time without any luck. One of the downsides of being the mate of a chikyu fox, besides getting dirt thrown at your face, was their ability to camouflage. Knowing very well that he could be searching all day, Inari called to the earth fox.
“All that I wanted to make a difference and to make you proud and happy. Is it really so wrong for me to change myself for the better? So many of us are ruled by our emotions. Why shouldn’t I break free of them since I am able?”
Thinking everything through, Inari believed that his logic was perfectly sound. Coming to this realisation, he was started to get annoyed.
“ Is it really so much to expect some gratitude, Keeley? Who runs after receiving flowers? Am I really that much of a hideous monster? You are no better than the ungrateful creatures I waste my time with day in and day out. Do you know that I was actually told to go away from a rescue yesterday? All I wanted to do was help out this family and I was shunned. Can you believe it? I have given up so much for this forest and nobody even cares. It would be so much simpler if I just started hating you all”.
Keeley could not bear another word. She revealed herself, leaping up from her grassy patch. “I care about you so much that my heart is bursting. We all care about you, so much. I spoke to the rabbits that scolded you. They told you to go away, nicely I might add, because they are worried that you are spreading yourself too thin. You have never been able to see how much you are loved and appreciated because you are too caught up in trying to be perfect. Nobody has ever asked you for perfection. Let go of your anger and insecurities and remember how much we love you”.
“Let go of my anger and insecurities”, Inari repeated. So that was the key in making Keely happy again.
“Yes, my love”.
Keely would not have responded so keenly had she realised her mate was going to take her request literally.
As Inari stepped off the bank, the brook shuddered. After a nervous pause she murmured: I think that you should stop coming here.
Inari, still on edge from his last outburst, glared at the brook.
“So you hate me as well then? I guess kindness is short lived, even from you”.
The brook insisted that this was not true. She tried to explained that the last time he visited she had not felt well at all.
If I had known how different a kitsune’s energy was to a human I never would have tried to help you. What we are doing here is dangerous. I can feel it in my waters. Inari, please, you have to…
Before Brook could say stop, Inari had already waded up to his chin. Closing his eyes, he commenced his next transformation.
Anger and insecurity. Up until now, expelling his emotions had been easy. This time, Inari was having trouble. Deeply set anger sprung forth, causing the water beneath him to bubble. Inari wrestled with his resentments, of how unfair it was that he had been given such an almighty power, and with every animal who did not appreciate that he had only tried his best on their behalf. The anxiety that had started his quest for perfection tortured him. Inari felt and suffered through these emotions completely until they were at last expelled.
Inari opened his eyes just as he felt the undertow.
“Well really. You didn’t have to throw a tantrum”.
The water in the brook was churning violently. Too crafty to became a victim to Brook’s rebellion, Inari fought against the current and leapt onto the bank.
“One day you will understand that this has all been for the best. I already feel so much lighter. Now that my head is clear there is no stopping me from becoming the guardian this forest deserves. This is perfect”.
No, no… the brook spluttered. She was being pulled in so many horrible direction that she could barely think.
No more, Inari. Promise me. This is bad. This is dangerous! That last time nearly pulled us apart. We mustn’t do this, ever again!
You cannot blame Brook for being fed up. You have changed so much that she must be exhausted. Stop torturing her and go about this properly. Go into the water one last time and picture yourself and everything that you wish to be. Cast aside everything else that you do not wish to keep. Perfection is within your grasp. Reach out and take it.
Inari whipped his head around but the bank was deserted.
Who cares?, called the mysterious voice. You think that it is a good idea, don’t you? Do it now, while the brook is still stunned. She may decide to throw you out if you give her a chance to regain her strength.
“Right”, Inari agreed, deeming this advice to be wise. The kitsune, prepared for the current, grabbed hold of a protruding tree root before lowering himself into the brook one last time. He closed his eyes and pictured himself flawless, compassionate, responsible, kind, brave and forgiving. Deeming everything else useless or a burden, he threw the rest of himself away.
As Inari awoke he whimpered. The pain within his chest was crippling. His nostrils flared as he breathed in the scent of wet fur. He assumed it was from his own drenched self until he felt droplets landing upon his cheeks and eyelids. Inari opened his eyes and saw something impossible.
“We’re the same”.
The seven tailed kitsune standing above him on the bank gave his twin a wolfish grin. Inari could see his own dimples; the same brown speckles amongst his russet fur.
The situation only became stranger when the kitsune laughed hysterically.
“Of all of the things that you could have said to me, you chose that? Unbelievable. We were the same. Take another look at me and then look at yourself. I am sure that you will find that we are as different as night and day”.
After touching the stranger’s paw to ensure he wasn’t a hallucination, Inari examined him closer. Having rid himself off all prejudice, jealousy and loathing, he was able to see beauty amongst the chaos. His eyes were alight with fire and mischief. As he smiled, amused by this examination, the kitsune absentmindedly brushed the leaves away from his fur. After this grooming was done, he arched his back proudly and then decided to show off to his audience.
“I bet you that I can grab that mouse in one jump”.
Without waiting for any opposition, Inari’s twin bolted toward the next tree and was as good as his word. Having landed himself some breakfast, he sat down to eat. Inari reluctantly gazed into the brook before joining him. While on the outside he remained handsome and strong, at a closer look it was clear that he had lost the spring in his step. His enthusiasm, joy, competitiveness, the unique, wild spark that he had once embodied, no longer resided in his own body. Inari looked upon his twin, struck by his beauty and overcome with longing. Without him, he was a ghost of his former self.
Inari sat by the kitsune and offered him his paw. .
“What would you like me to call you?”
The warm mischief behind his eyes, turned icy cold.
“Why would you want to know that, Hiru? We both know that you don’t want anything to do with me”.
Hiru. If Inari had still been able, he would have laughed.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Yoru”, Inari remarked. It was only logical to call him by the Japanese name for ‘night’, since he was ‘day’.
“I would like to get to know you better. I would like to fix this if you will let me”.
Yoru finished chomping on his mouse and then shook his head.
“I’m not interested”.
“Not interested?” Inari hadn’t considered that possibility. If Yoru felt this same displacement, if his heart ached the same as his with loss, why wouldn’t he want to make this right?
“I’m not interested. In fact, nothing would please me more than to have as much distance between us as possible”.
Choking. All of a sudden Inari found himself pinned. Yoru held him down upon the grass, with one paw tightly wrapped around his ‘brother’s’ throat. Inari tried to fight but since they were of equal strength it was of no use. As his vision started to fade, Inari thought that he was done for. Then Yoru started to cough in sympathy and turn blue.
Relief. Yoru surrendered and the two of them struggled to catch their breath.
“I had a feeling that would happen”, Yoru remarked at last. It seemed that they still shared a connection. Fated to live together, suffer together, die together there was nothing more to be done. Yoru shrugged, and then casually grinned.
“Oh well. I guess that means I have to settle with never seeing you again”.
Inari started to plead.
“I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am. I want you with me, Yoru. This world can only makes sense if we are together.
“I already gave you a chance”, Yoru shrieked, outraged by this false declaration of love. Trembling, and with his eyes brimming with tears, he stood as wounded and vulnerable as an abandoned child.
“When I asked you to picture yourself before in the brook…why didn’t you picture us? You could have put everything right but instead you wished me away with every fibre of your being. Was I truly that repulsive that you had to go to such lengths to be rid of me?”.
Yoru, unable to stomach this lie, took a step backwards.
“It’s my turn to reject you, now. Enjoy perfection, Hiru”.
Inari started to run, intending to hold Yoru down and reason with him, but he had already disappeared into thin air. Though he remained nowhere to be seen, Inari’s chest tightened as he felt Yoru getting further and further away.
“I must put this right”, he vowed, forcing himself back onto four paws. He started to make his way back to his burrow, hoping to enlist the help of Keeley and Kohei in tracking down his wayward soul. The pain and sorrow proved to be too much for his worn out body, and he collapsed onto the grass.
Pushing through his weariness, Yoru ran as far as he was able. He refused to collapse. If he was going to make his way in this world without Inari then he had to adapt and become stronger. At last, the full moon had risen and he could run no more. Rolling onto his back, Yoru looked up at the stars. He felt so tiny and alone in the universe. He had not asked for any of this. Not for his freedom, his abandonment, his temper that he could not control. The pain within his chest was a constant reminder that he was incomplete, and unwanted. Burdened with the very best of Inari’s frailties, his fear, worry, resentment and insecurity, Yoru finally allowed himself to fall apart, process Inari’s rejection and fret over what was to become of him next.
Image sourced from all-free-download.com
This story is the original work of Danielle Nolan, 2017.