Japanese tale #18 – The fox witch

fow-witch

Once upon a time, in a quiet neighborhood of old Edo, was a prosperous merchant family who had made fortune selling luscious silks.

They lived in a pretty wooden house, with a welcoming front where all kinds of clients came picking their next kimono. The back and upstairs rooms were comfortable, and all lined with tasteful sliding doors and fresh tatami mats.

Only one thing worried them: despite their fortune, their only son, Takahiro, was still single. He was a picky young man, always finding flaws in every girls his parents proposed:

– This one is too thin, this one stupid, this one a bore. Oh mother, the perfect woman exists I know it! I just have to be patient!

The merchant and his wife loved their son very much and did not have the heart to chastise him. Soon, the word spread that the young master, who had only known wealth, was just a dull and ungrateful boy.

One day thought, as Takahiro was tending the shop, the bell rang. And a vision straight from heaven took his breath away.

Amidst rolls of shiny silks and brocades, stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Smooth black hair enhanced a pearly white skin and mysterious eyes. With a voice soft as velvet, the young lady whispered:

– My name is Kotama. And you must be the master’s son right? Will you help me choose my next kimono?

And when the apparition smiled, Takahiro knew he was lost.

In the next weeks, Kotama often visited the shop again. And every time, an entranced Takahiro was seen along her, tending to her every whims and needs.

– She is the most incredible being I’ve met! Graceful and oh so wise! She is the one I was dreaming of! Father, let me marry her!

His parents were far less eager to have a mere stranger join their family:

– Takahiro, she is an amazing person for sure, well bred and rich. But we know nothing about her, don’t you think things are going too fast?

Takahiro sulked and asked again and again, always more and more forceful:

– You both know I will never be happy without her!

Finally, his parents, only wishing his best, agreed.

The wedding happened in blur, a lavish celebration which had the whole neighborhood gossiping for days. Yet strangely, Takahiro and his parents kept little memory of the ceremony or even the bride’s family and guests.

Kotama moved in to lived with her new husband. She was the sweetest daughter in law, taking great care of her new Father and Mother, working everyday at the family shop. Lured by her smiles and lovely words, customers had never been so many and business was thriving.

Yet, despite the couple obvious happiness, Takahiro’s parents were growing more and more nervous in the young lady’s presence. Light on her feet, she had a tendency to startle them. More often than once, they had been surprised to find her in a room they thought empty, seated as if she had been there all along.

One late autumn day, Takahiro did not join the family for breakfast. Nor did he came the day after. Worried, his mother called the doctor in.

– Nothing but a bad cold I fear.

The learned man kept eyeing Kotama, standing beside her bedridden husband like a compassionate Botatsu.

– Just let him rest, I am sure that, with such diligent helpers as his mother and his wife, he’ll be up in no time!

But every morning, Takahiro appeared always a bit more tired and hollowed. Soon, his caved cheeks and greyish face clashed with Kotama’s lively complexion and insolent health.

– I tell you something is wrong with that girl.

Takahiro’s Mother could not bear to look at her anymore. Her husband sighed:

– She always worries about our son well being all day. I know she’s sometimes.. strange. But ain’t you simply jealous of her?

The atmosphere in the merchants’ house grew heavier as winter settled in. Takahiro was now so weak he barely moved from his bed and Kotama spent all her days faithfully at his side.

Takahiro’s mother was restless.

– That girl! That filthy thing has done something to my son!

And one evening, while Kotama was bathing Takahiro, she decided to hide in the wide cupboard of their room. Holding her breath, she peeked through the sliding doors.

At first nothing unusual happened. Kotama gently settled her weak husband on his futon, tucking the comforter neatly to keep him warm. Then, she bent to kiss him.

Takahiro’s mother stifled a cry.

A blueish smoke was rising from the man’s mouth. As Kotama breathed in, her cheeks grew pink and her lips bright red.

– Don’t touch my son you monster!

Takahiro’s mother had opened the cupboard, throwing herself at Takahiro’s side in a flash.

Kotama simply stood up, unmoved. She tilted her head giving the older woman a wistful look:

– Too bad. Your son was an idiot sure, but you and your husband…  I kinda liked you.

And when Kotama smiled this time, gone was the pretty girl. Eyes cold, fangs and claws glimmering in the candlelight, she pounced on her poor prey.

The morning after, worried to the see the shop still and silent, neighbors entered the house.

They paled.

Blood was splattered everywhere, servants and masters alike butchered. Gone were the jewels and the most precious silk rolls. And, on the slippery wooden floors, eerily well imprinted, all could see bloody fox tracks.


Notes:

This tale is the last of my October special “Kitsune” serie – and the perfect creepy story just in time for Halloween 😉

Japan has many tales depicting kitsune enchantresses. The most famous of all is Tamamo-no-Mae, a vicious nine tails kitsune. This old youkai used her powers to cause the Emperor to fall extremely ill (much like Kotama with Takahiro) and had before that cause many disasters all around Asia.

Kitsune witches (megitsune) all share the same shape-shifting abilities, often turning into eerily beautiful young women, much wiser than their age. Like all fox youkai, they are master illusionists able to bend reality.

If some of them only seek human companions, bearing them children and living quiet housewives lives, others are much darker. True “femme fatale” vixens, they use their powers to lure men. At best, they rob (kitsune love luxury) and leave their victims in creepy places such as cemeteries. At worst, oblivious men see their life force stolen (it helps the kitsune to stay young)… or are brutally murdered.

[pictures sources:  1 / 2 / 3]

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