Unconditionally (Short fiction)
A story about kitsune (Japanese fairy foxes), hidden talents, and the lengths we go to in order to protect the ones that we love.
1000 Day MFA: Week Two.
The storm hit the burrow, hard. Despite being hidden away underground, Yui felt as if he was in the middle of nature’s fury. He could feel the bitter breeze blowing upon his face, and when he placed one russet ear to the ground, he could hear the sound of the rain attacking them from all directions. The enthusiastic kitsune tapped his left paw in time to the raindrops, inhaled the scent of the damp earth and grinned. He felt at peace amongst the chaos.
“When is it going to stop?” Ami wept. Yui awoke from his daydream.
“It’s just a silly storm, Ames”, he reassured his twin.
“Seriously?” Ami squeaked. She started to educate Yui on all of the reasons why storms were horrible. They were excessively noisy. The rain made everything muddy. Having sopping wet fur was horrible as it made her sneeze and shiver. Most importantly, they were scary. Ami hated the thunder that caused the ground to shake, and the lightning that lit up the forest and caused the trees around them to fall.
“Storms”, she declared, “are the worst thing ever”.
After finishing her rant, Ami noticed that all three of Yui’s tails were twitching. This only ever happened when he was upset about something.
“Did I spook you too?” she asked guiltily.
Yui shook his head.
“Why would you say that? You are the one who hates storms, not me”.
Ami, not convinced that he was okay, brought up his twitching tails. Her brother insisted that he was just shivering from the cold.
“I’m going to sleep now”, Yui announced before the interrogation could continue. He suggested that she did the same and sleep through the worst of the storm.
“If only it was that easy”, Ami whimpered. She shook as the deafening sound of thunder echoed off the burrow’s walls. When the lightning struck a second later, she screamed. Yui, dangling one paw in the air, invited her to snuggle up to him just like when they were small. Ami accepted at once, curling up to her twin so that she could bury her ears in his fur.
Safe with her protector, Ami finally found some peace and managed to drift off to sleep. Though he was right next to her, Yui had never felt more alone.
Ami would never have left the burrow if it wasn’t for her rumbling stomach. While the rain had stopped at last, the sun was still hiding behind grey, ominous clouds.
“Ami, I’m ravenous”, Yui announced. “Breakfast should have been hours ago. I am going to find us some food. Come or stay, it’s up to you”.
“Don’t leave”, Ami begged. Her fear was interrupted by the cry of her empty belly. She summoned up her courage and agreed to go on the hunt.
The twins hoped to find some mice or some lizards to munch upon. Instead they found another family of fairy foxes, travelling south. The father and mother explained to Yui that they had taken shelter in a cave last night. Finally they were on their way home. Their three kits crowded around Ami.
“Show us your talent”, the girls begged. The eldest, Yuko, glared at her brother Matsu.
“Mattie doesn’t believe that you are an Ongaku fox, Ami. Show him, please”.
When Ami smiled and puffed out her chest, Yui smiled too. At last his confident, outgoing sister was here, all set to show off how clever she was.
“Name an animal, Mattie”, she dared him. Matsu screwed up his nose in thought and then said the hardest one he could think of: monkey. Without hesitation, Ami opened her mouth and out came the laugh of a monkey. The replication was spot on.
“Cool”, Matsu approved. The other siblings tested her talent to replicate sounds. Ami managed to pass every challenge, copying the sound of a bear, a babbling brook and a crow. Matsu then walked up to Yui and tapped. him with his paw.
“You’re a three tail too. You’re old enough for a talent so why don’t you have one yet?”
“Mattie”, his sisters scolded. Yui shrugged it off and told Matsu that he didn’t want to be talented. Maybe that was the reason why Inari had spared him from inheriting a gift. Ami shook her head.
“Everybody knows that the best talents take the longest to come out”, she boasted. She’d bet anything that Yui was going to be amazing, maybe a Mori, a Kawa or even a legendary Kazai.
Yui felt like he was being weighed down by wet sand. Did Ami truly believe that he was capable of such greatness? He could not imagine himself as a forest fox who whispered to plants, or an ocean fox, able to swim underwater all day and never get tired. The idea that he was a mythical fire fox was laughable. Yui was just Yui. He dreaded the day when Ami realised what a disappointment he truly was.
“Fire! Run away!”
The twins smelt the rabbit before they saw him. The stench of smoke clung to his fur, growing stronger as he approached. The kitsune family fled. Curious, Ami and Yui pursued the frantic animal.
“Where’s the fire? What happened?”
In between his running the rabbit explained that he has run all the way from the Eastern Kazuki border. From what he understood, a lightning bolt had set an old tree alight. The fire had been on the move ever since.
“Stupid storm”, Ami muttered.
“Is everybody safe?” Yui asked. He knew the answer when the terrified rabbit started to sob.
“It’s everywhere and it won’t stop!” The kitsune’s blood ran cold.
Yui suddenly paused in his tracks. Ami turned and saw him staring up at the overcast sky. The clouds, grey as they were, did not pose the immediate threat of rain.
“Run, Yui!”, she cried. There was no way of knowing how close the fire was and she did not intend to find out.
Yui remained in his daydream for a few more moments. Then he looked Ami in the eye.
“I’m sorry”, he apologised. “Stay safe”.
Without another word of explanation, Yui turned tail and went charging towards the blaze.
Ami chased him without hesitation. Whatever madness had come over her brother, she had to snap him out of it. Yui wasn’t making it easy. Running at full speed and into the greenery, he was making a deliberate attempt to lose her. Soon Ami had lost sight of him completely.
The sweat was dripping off Ami’s whiskers. She was close enough to hear the crackle as the fire shot through the dead leaves and grass. Surrounded by smoke and flame she continue to scream Yui’s name. As much as her instincts told her to flee, abandoning her twin was out of the question. When the sky lit up, just for a second, Ami shrieked. Wasn’t this day horrible enough without the lightning? Then she heard a cry, disturbingly close.
“Come on, already. Just focus. You can do this”.
The scream was unmistakably Yui’s. There was also no doubt as to where it was coming from.
“Damn it, Yui”, she cursed as she ran towards the lightning strike.
At first she thought that Yui had been hit. He was lying flat on his belly with his paws outstretched and was twitching, as if the electricity had somehow taken control of his body.
“I’m coming”, she called, darting to his rescue.
Yui put a stop to it at once.
“Don’t come near me”, he barked fiercely. Praying that Ami would listen, he turned his attention back to his task. Frantically he tapped both of his front paws onto the dust. He imagined the clouds swelling up with water and turning black above him. Yui ignored his twin’s screams as the sparks leapt off of his fur and intensified. At last his ears pricked, picking up on the rumbling vibration of the approaching thunder. He looked upwards at the blackened sky as the torrent of rain came pouring down.
Ami was curled in a quivering ball upon the muddied ground. Her eyes, fixed upon her twin, were filled with shock and terror.
“You’re… you’re a Sanda fox?!” she gasped. Yui tried meeting her gaze but couldn’t. He couldn’t bear being the reason why she was shaking and crying.
“My talent is storms”, he confessed. Then he broke down, letting out the tears he had been holding in since last night.
“The first time was just an accident. I was looking up at some storm clouds and a strange feeling came over me. My desire for it to rain was overpowering. I pictured a gathering storm in my head and then my instincts just took over. The next thing I knew, it was raining. When I came home and found you crying at the back of our burrow, I swore never to do it again. Back then, I would rather have lived a life without talent than frighten you”
“Yui”, Ami called, getting on all fours, ready to comfort him. Yui took two steps backwards.
“Don’t Ami”, he cautioned before he confessed what was bothering him the most. While he had refused to start another storm, he had tried several times to stop them. Not only had he been unsuccessful, his talent had started to betray him. Yui had started to crave the rain. He had felt the pull to use his powers and every time that he had refused the call he felt overwhelmingly depressed. On the beautiful occasions when it had bucketed down he practically bounced off of the walls with excitement and adrenalin. There had been times, like last night where his instincts took over, causing him to daydream, tap and spark during storms. As much as he loved his sister, Yui knew that he could not ignore this part of himself any longer. He could not help being a Sanda fox, even if it meant becoming what Ami feared the most.
“I’ll make this really easy for you, Ames”, he said, forcing a smile.
“I will leave Kazuki forest at once so that you never have to see me again. Think what you want about me. I forgive you”.
Not being able to bear his sister’s disappointment anymore, Yui ran.
Ami tentatively made her way down the muddy hill.
“Please be here”, she prayed. While Yui was a fox of his word, he was also a creature of habit. Without fail when he was upset, Yui would visit the lake, near the burrow they had grown up in as cubs. She relaxed when she spotted the quivering bundle of russet fur curled up next to the bank. Ami crept closer and then nuzzled up beside him.
“I knew that Inari had something wonderful planned for you. I ran past so many creatures thanking Him for the rain that stopped the fire. They should have been thanking you. You’re a hero, Yui”.
Afraid that Ami was forcing herself to be nice, Yui did not move or utter a sound. He thought it better to disappoint her now then to make her suffer for the rest of their lives.
Ami nudged him, desperate for a response. When he gave her nothing in return, she sighed.
The time had come for her last resort. The Ongaku fox stood up tall, casting her shadow over her despondent brother. It was bossy, big sister time.
“I am going to tell you what is going to happen, whether you are ready to listen or not. If you choose to run away, I will follow you. Every time there is a storm I will venture outside and practice being brave. I will never stop loving you and I will always be on your side. I forbid you to feel guilty for being who you are. You are also not allowed to doubt me. I never want you to change. I would never wish away something that makes you so happy”.
Yui lifted his head and desperately met his sister’s gaze. Ami read the question behind his amber eyes.
“Unconditionally”, she promised. At last, Yui smiled.
Free images sources from Pixabay
All writing is the original work of Danielle Nolan, 2017.