My seven tails dangled off the edge of the red torii, swishing back and forth, dancing to the warm summer breeze that flowed through the air. Inhaling deeply, I breathed in the sweet scent of the maple trees. I rubbed the deep blue magatama pendant I wore around my neck to pass the time as I awaited my next victim. My ears twitched at the footsteps coming up the path leading up the mountain.
I cocked my head, my long black and red hair tossing to the side, to peer down at four teenagers giggling as they held two lanterns to light the way. It was well past midnight, so these couples were out on a dare. The warm summer nights caused many teens to come up from the city for what they called a “romantic challenge” among the serene landscape. There were rumors of ghosts playing tricks on this mountain. I had never seen a ghost here, but I had seen my fair share of terrified humans.
This time it was two couples. Usually a larger group showed up, and they would take turns going up the mountain, seeing who would chicken out and come down first. It made no sense to me, but that didn’t matter—I enjoyed playing tricks on them either way.
The couples parted ways at the fork, and I followed the boy and girl on the right first. I noted their clothes as human teens were always wearing similar outfits these days. They both wore a blue blazer, but the girl was wearing a green-and-blue plaid skirt while the boy wore blue pants. Both had a green piece of fabric around their necks, but they tied them differently. Why did so many teens want to match clothes? One of the other kitsune had explained it was what they wore to school every day, but I didn’t believe him. Then again, I didn’t care for human culture anyway.
I hopped to the ground, landing silently on my geta, which took a lot of skill to do. Normally the wood hitting the concrete made a loud noise. It took me a few years to master, but it was useful, not only for scaring humans but to sneak past Ichika when she was looking for me. She didn’t care for my antics, and if it weren’t for the fact I was the last kitsune born in Japan, she would have kicked me out by now for quite a few different reasons.
These humans weren’t patrons though—they wanted me to terrify them.
I stayed in my natural form—half fox, half human—as it scared the teens the best. If I turned into a fox, they confused me with the other foxes that lived in the forest and would comment on how cute I was. Kids these days. And if I stayed as a human, they wouldn’t even care. But when I was half-and-half, they screamed and panicked as they realized the tales of old were true and that the monstrous kitsune exist. Then they would tell their friends, who would decide to go out on the dare days later. The cycle never ended, and I felt as if it were my duty to keep it going.
The girl hung on to the boy’s arm as if scared for dear life, but it was an act. Taking in a deep breath, I noted no scent of fear was coming off either of them. This couple must not have believed the stories their friends had told them about this place. They were playing the part in order to hold on to one another.
These two were in for an enormous surprise.
As silent as an autumn breeze, I followed, watching as the girl kept clinging to the boy’s arm, giggling, blind to what was going on around her.
“Don’t you think this place is spooky?” the girl asked. “I can’t believe Yuki-san was the one who came up with this dare.”
“Don’t worry—you have nothing to fear with me here. I’ve been to this shrine many times, and it’s not scary.”
The boy was full of himself. There were things to fear in these woods as I had lived here all my life. He lied or only visited in the daytime. During the day, the creatures of the shadows, us yokai, hid from humans. During the night, however, was a different story.
They used to dread us, and I wasn’t sure if the modern ignorance or past fear was better. Now humans expanded, not caring if they were in the yokais’ territory, but at least we weren’t being persecuted any longer.
I shook my head, pushing away those memories. Humans once hunted me, but now things had changed. I was the predator, and I could seek my revenge by scaring these kids.
“Besides,” the boy kept talking. “Yuki-san just suggested this so she could hold on tight to Shigure-kun.”
The girl laughed. “Well, I can’t say I blame her.”
“What? You want to hang on to Shigure-kun as well?”
“No, I meant so I could hang on to you.”
I rolled my eyes. The scent of teenage pheromones filled my nose, making me want to vomit. They were way too lovey-dovey for me. I wanted to add a little excitement in their lives and get them to see each other’s true selves.
Running around the torii and through the woods, I stood behind the red lacquered wood a few meters in front of them. As they stepped closer, I let my tails appear from behind the torii.
“What’s that?” the girl squeaked.
I moved my tails back and forth.
“I think it’s just a fox.” The boy shrugged. “They are active in these parts because of the Inari shrine.”
“Is it going to hurt us?”
“No. Foxes are harmless. We will scare it away.”
I grinned. Although he acted fine, I smelled the tangy fear coming off his body. It tasted as tantalizing as cold sake on a warm summer night.
I hid behind the torii and jumped up on top of it as the kids passed underneath me. They did not understand what horrors stood above them. Such naive creatures.
Leaping forward, torii after torii, I peered down to find the couple starting to calm down. Now for the next part of my plan.
Using my powers, I summoned a small kitsunebi to appear in the middle of the pathway.
“Ara ma!” the girl screamed. “What is that light?”
“It’s just a firefly.”
“During this time of year? That’s not possible. It looks like… It looks like a blue flame!”
“I… I don’t know.”
“Maybe we should turn back…”
The boy shook his head. “No. We are supposed to meet the others at the top of this mountain.”
“But we will lose! It’s just an illusion. We should keep going.”
That was my cue. I jumped down, igniting dozens of more little kitsunebi, giving a faint blue light around the couple and me. I smiled, exposing my fangs, and swayed my seven tails.
The boy and girl screamed, and I wasn’t sure which one had a higher pitch. They both spun around and started running, no longer arm in arm.
I, however, was much faster than them.
I ran around and stood in front of them, laughing. Screams and cries filled the once silent air as the couple tried to figure out what to do next. They turned to run up the mountain, but I ran in front of them again. This time I surrounded them with my blue kitsunebi so they had nowhere else to go.
They both stopped and fell to the cement, crying in each other’s arms. I raised my hand, creating a big kitsunebi. They shut their eyes as tight as possible.
I disappeared, jumped up on the torii, and watched.
It was a pleasant couple of moments until one of them opened an eye to see why I hadn’t killed them yet. Scared, they picked themselves up, looking for any sign of me. I gave none. Before anything else could happen, they ran down the mountain, tears still falling from their eyes and fear emanating from them like an aroma coming off a grill. I took a big whiff of it and licked my lips. This was the life.
Now to terrorize the other two.
“Tsuki Ketsueki!” I heard a voice call.
Kuso. I was in trouble now. I straightened my red kimono and black obi and turned to find Yamato standing under the torii I was on, her nine orange tails swishing every which way. Her auburn hair was pulled back in a bun. To most it appeared as if she dyed it, but it was her natural color. She folded her arms and pursed her lips into a tight line.
“Ichika-sama, what are you doing up?” I jumped to the ground as I gave her my most innocent smile.
“Don’t even try, Tsuki-san. You are in a lot of trouble. What did I tell you about messing with our parishioners?”
“But they aren’t parishioners—they are here on a dare.”
“I don’t care. This is sacred land, and we must keep everyone on it safe no matter why they are here. Over a century has passed and you still haven’t learned that.”
I bowed my head a little as my ears folded down. “I’m sorry, Ichika-sama. I wanted to give those kids a good story to tell their friends.”
She sighed as she flipped open her black fan, which was decorated with gold butterflies that matched her formal kimono. She waved it at herself as the summer nights were rather warm this year and because it was the way she dealt with her pent-up rage against me. She stared me straight in the eyes with her own blue eyes.
“I don’t know what to do with you, Tsuki-san. We took you in because Akikumo-sama was the one who brought you to us. But that was a long time ago, and you still don’t fit in. You are the last kitsune ever to be born. Why don’t you behave?”
I said nothing as memories of Akikumo came back to me, causing tears to form in my eyes. I grabbed the magatama and closed my eyes for a moment. It had been over a century since I last saw him. He disappeared without a trace, and I still hadn’t forgiven him for that.
“How about you go back to the shrine and get some sleep? Tomorrow I will have a lengthy conversation with Inari-sama. Then you and I will discuss what to do next.”
Bowing, I did as she ordered and wondered what I would do without this place. I had never been on my own. I traveled with Akikumo for hundreds of years until he brought me to this place. What would I do if I had to leave?