Shrine, sacred tree, kitsune

About 10 years ago I lived in a place that was so countryside we were surrounded by nothing but mountains.

Near the top of the mountain we had a small rice field. We weren’t farmers or anything, it was just a tiny field that made enough to feed ourselves.

It was located in a basin, however when you entered the side road it lead to the middle of the forest and also a mountain trail (or perhaps an animal trail).

Of course there were no convenience stores and as for playgrounds there was only the temple grounds and forest? woods? near the shrine.

At the time I believed in ghosts and other such unscientific things but I’d never once seen or felt any. I had zero ghost sense, so to speak.

There was a graveyard not even a hundred metres from our house. When I was younger my little brothers and I used to play there like it was a playground, playing hide and seek and so on. I thought the people there had already passed on to heaven so it’s not like they would appear or anything.

So, we often went to play at the shrine as well. While my brothers and I were returning from elementary school one day we went to play in the forest nearby and that’s when it happened.

There was an animal trail we followed that you could barely even call a path. There were a lot of sacred trees however so we used those as landmarks as we walked.

Myself and my two younger brothers played tag and hide and seek, and when it was my turn to be oni for hide and seek I slowly counted to 10. As I did all the sounds I’d heard up until then, the wind through the leaves, the cries of birds and voices of insects all suddenly stopped, just like that.

‘Something’s strange,’ I thought and called out my brothers’ names so I could find them.

It was hide and seek so even if I called out their names it’s not like they would answer. With the strange silence I became more and more worried.

I went and searched all the places my brothers would usually hide and despite the fact I could usually find them easily they were nowhere to be found. Up until that point there had never been a time where any of us hadn’t found each other.

At last I gave up and yelled, “I don’t know where you are! Give me a hint!”

Whenever we couldn’t find each other we would clap to give a hint as to our general whereabouts. It was kind of a sign amongst us siblings. However there was still no response.

I thought my little brothers were having some fun at my expense and it was already evening so I yelled out, “If you don’t come out now I’m going home!”

My brothers were very close to me so it was unthinkable that they would let me go home without them. I thought it might get them to come out but again there was nothing but silence.

Did the two of them go back home without me perhaps?

Under normal circumstances they would never go home without me, but in the strange silence where I couldn’t hear anything but the sounds I made myself I became worried and started to think they might have. Well then I’ll just go home too, I thought, and started walking back.

I soon became aware however that something wasn’t right. I mentioned there were sacred trees that we used as landmarks, right? No matter how much I walked the same sacred trees kept appearing in front of me.

‘Am I walking in circles?!’ I thought. I picked up a rock and started marking all the trees that weren’t sacred as I walked but once again I kept seeing the same trees… moreover the marks I carved into the trees had disappeared.

Quite a bit of time had passed and it wouldn’t be strange for it to be dark but dusk seemed to go on forever.

I got scared. Thinking it would be safe near the sacred trees I spent a fairly long time just standing and sitting at the base of them.

I still couldn’t hear any noise other than that I made myself and there wasn’t a single bug to be found. Not even a single ant.

I was so scared I started crying when something suddenly dropped on the opposite side of the sacred tree I was sitting under. I was so surprised at this sudden sound that wasn’t myself, I remember making a small choking sound.

The sacred tree was so big that it would take three adults spreading their arms around it to reach each other, so even as I turned around I couldn’t see anything.

I nervously moved around to the other side of the tree. A yellowish, whitish, cream-coloured? kitsune was there, staring right at me.

I’ve seen plenty of wild foxes before, but this kitsune was a little larger than most.

I was still only little myself, so I was afraid of meeting wild animals in the forest with fangs. While looking it in the eyes I slowly backed away.

We lived in an area where bears often appeared so both from home and school I’d been taught to look the animal in the eyes as you put some distance between yourself and it. You couldn’t show it your back as you ran away. Even though I was only a young kid at the time I think I did really well, well enough that if I could I would praise my younger self on a job well done.

However the kitsune never showed any signs that it would attack. It began walking around the sacred tree with light feet.

I didn’t know what was happening so I just watched it, and after it circled a few more times it stopped and began walking down the animal path I’d followed.

Relieved, the kitsune walked until a certain distance away and then stopped to look back at me. Its tail wagged slowly as it looked at me.

It was exactly the same thing my pet dog would do when it wanted me to follow so I drew closer to it.

As I got closer it began walking again, and as it did it would look back at me.

It was as though it was telling me to follow it. Even though I had lost my bearings as I followed the kitsune we once again closed in on the sacred trees and everything around me suddenly got dark.

I was surprised but then I noticed we were on the shrine grounds and was relieved. At the same time my brothers had apparently gone to let our mother know I was missing when I heard, “OO-kun!! (my name)” and she hugged me. I knew she’d been searching for me and she was so scared she refused to let me go so I cried like a baby.

The kitsune I’d followed suddenly disappeared without me even noticing.

The next morning I heard from the shrine priest’s son (my friend) that five foxes were found dead with their necks ripped open around one of the sacred trees.

I wondered if perhaps I’d been bewitched by those five foxes and that kitsune had saved me from them.

Just last week I returned home for spring holidays and in the woods near our house I saw a kitsune that looked exactly like the one from that time. I remembered what happened and felt like I needed to tell someone about it.

At the time I only intended to tell my mother about it but I wasn’t very good at expressing myself so she didn’t really understand me.

However the events remain clear in my memory so I thought I’d take the chance to write them down now. I wanted to leave behind what happened to me somewhere for my own satisfaction.

Sorry for using up quite a bit of space. To everyone who read my story, thank you very much.

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