One Thousand and One Yokai Tales
“Anything, my wife.” His voice rumbled under my cheek.
Was his smile genuine? Did that brush of fingers over my bare shoulder hold any affection? Will he hate me by the end?
I pushed myself up and crawled away to the far end of the futon. My husband looked pained, his hand falling onto his chest, his fingers twitched. He did that whenever I pulled back. I tried not to shiver. Picking up the silk kimono that was discarded on the floor, I covered my shoulders and pretended that it was the cold I was fighting off not the want to be back in his arms.
“Promise me you will not answer the door in the morning. You will not let the Executioner in.”
He blinked in surprise. Had he forgotten all about the Executioner? “Yes, my love.”
I gripped the kimono tighter hiding my shaking hands. “This is a different story and no matter what I say tonight I need to know you will not let the Executioner in.”
“I’ve given you my word,” he snapped.
I nodded my head.
“Yuki...” his three tails flicked up and then settled on the futon beside him. He looked at me with complete desire.
I cringed at the name and resisted the impulse to go back into his arms. “Please, just listen.” I licked my lips. “A noble and old family with five daughters and no sons was visited by a stranger called Tomoe. He was polite and warm and in a very short time the family opened their home to him. Only then did he reveal his true identity as well as his intentions. Tomoe, a kitsune who once served the family’s ancestors was promised the daughters of the family as his brides. At first the parents laughed, believing that he was a yokai but not that he would actually demand a bride. Tomoe spoke briefly of the curse placed upon him by the ancient enemy of the family; upon completion of his service to the family he would be promised his choice of bride from the daughters however they would never live happily together for the bride will never remain faithful. Unable to not take a bride, the curse at all times compelling him, he continued to marry each daughter produced by the family, the first brides fulfilled the curse and didn’t honour their vows, Tomoe then decided he must execute the brides before they could be unfaithful.
“’We refuse,’ the mother told Tomoe. ‘This is no longer ancient Japan and our daughters will choose who they marry based on love.’
“The father tried to agree with his wife, but the curse on his family took away his ability of free will. ‘Of course you may have any of my daughters.’
“The mother was furious, but as she was not of the family by blood she was spared from the curse.
“The first daughter married Tomoe willingly... when dawn came the Executioner from the yokai world came to their bedchamber. Tomoe allowed him entry and ordered the death of his bride.
“He returned to the family and the second daughter, compelled by the curse, agreed to marry Tomoe.
“Yuki was the youngest daughter, the family favourite. At the marriage of their second daughter the parents sent their youngest away to live with friends in the city and study at the university, fearful of the curse their son-in-law was under. However this didn’t help her. When his marriages of the other four sisters failed he demanded Yuki to be returned and for their marriage to happen immediately.
“During her stay in the city, Yuki made an unusual friend in a girl named Kira. The two girls were so close Yuki confided in her the family’s problem with Tomoe.
“Kira came up with an idea, though she didn’t explain why she wanted to help her friend. All she said was ‘Stay here and live as Kira and I will go to be Tomoe’s bride as Yuki.’ Yuki agreed quickly before the curse could take her free-will.
“Kira returned to the family not Yuki.”
My husband’s jaw clenched, but he said nothing. Pain flashed in his eyes.
“Tomoe married Kira instead, thinking she was Yuki. The parents did not treat her any different, loving the girl who was sacrificing her life for their beloved daughter.
“That night in Tomoe’s bedchamber at the family’s house Kira cried as she waited for him to come to bed. Knowing the Executioner would be coming for her and not knowing anyway to stop her new husband Kira tried to soothe her aching soul by telling an old fairytale to herself.”
I blinked at my husband. “Stop what?”
“Stop telling the story as if it happened to someone else.” His jaw clenched, but I could see the desire in him to gather me in his arms, he was holding himself too rigid.
My heart wrenched. This fascinating creature I had married was hurting and I was doing it to him. Nodding my head I continued, telling my story this time. “I am Kira. I despaired that my death was coming and wanted some comfort before it happened. Part way through you interrupted me and demanded I start from the beginning.
“The story was of Amaterasu. When she was born the universe was glowing with lights everywhere. Her father told her to create peace in the land of the gods which she did with her great light and warmth. Sasanoo, her brother, destroyed that peace, greatly hurting his sister in the process she locked herself behind a boulder. As all of the light in the universe came from Amaterasu it became dark and the evil gods enjoyed this time creating chaos.
“People begged for her to come out of hiding, but she refused and there was no way for anyone to remove the boulder from the outside. The gods, desperate as they were, decided to trick Amaterasu by drawing her out with the sound they would create for having a party. It worked. So intrigued Amterasu opened the boulder and peered out. Suddenly the boulder was pushed all the way out of the road by the gods and light was returned to the universe.
“Before I had finished telling the tale dawn broke and the Executioner knocked at the door. I panicked and started to cry. ‘Be quiet,’ you snapped. ‘I want to hear the ending tonight.’ And with that you left the room, yelling at the Executioner to go back to the yokai world.
“The following night I finished the story and began another quickly so to repeat the actions of the morning. Again dawn came and you sent away the Executioner. I was safe for another night at least.
“During the day I would watch you, fascinated and amazed that the stories were true and you existed. You caught me watching as you were brushing your tails and called me over. I was so afraid you were going to yell, or worse, I didn’t move. Then you just smiled and asked how I was. It was so unexpected.
“Days later, you took me to the yokai world, to your home to live. Each dawn the Executioner would come and each time he was turned away so you could hear the ending of the story from the night before. Each night I was filled with fear. What if Tomoe didn’t like the story? What if he forced me to finish even though dawn had come? What if I lost track of time and finished without realising just as the executioner knocked on the door?
“As the days became weeks and months and years and each morning I successfully avoided the Executioner I noticed a change in the way you looked at me... It was softer, at times. Or with pure desire.” Shivering, I cast my eyes down and fell silent. That was the end of my story.
Tomoe stood. He did nothing but just stood there on top of the futon and staring into space.
I licked my lips. “You promised me.”
His eyes snapped into focus on me. “What?”
I tried not to recoil back from the force of that one word. “I said you promised that you wouldn’t let the Executioner in. That no matter what I said you wouldn’t kill me.”
He snarled in pain. “Why did you marry me?”
“Oh,” I knew that he would ask that question and dreaded the answer that I would have to give. “Well, it was my ancestors... they were Yuki’s ancestors’ enemies... the ones to place the curse... on you and them.” I swallowed hard.
His tails twitched.
“When Yuki told me,” I rushed on, the words tumbling out. “I knew that she would die and that all of her sisters would die also and then that would be end of her family because they didn’t have any brothers or cousins or any other relatives on her father’s side. I knew it was the fault of my family and I wanted to break it; to break the curse. So I took Yuki’s place instead, her parents knew who I was and took me in, treated me as if I was their own child and gave me away to you. None of us know why the curse was cast, if there was an incident...” my voice trailed off.
Tomoe sank down to his knees, looking like a little naughty child being forced to tell the truth. “A kitsune has the ability to possess another living creature. That’s what happened. I possessed a bride who was marrying into your ancestors’ family.”
He shrugged and pouted.
I bristled. “So you were being immature.” All of this death and heart ache just because he wanted to play with some mortals. I threw my hands into the air. “What gave you the right to mess with my ancestors?”
“What gave them the right to curse me?”
“Don’t you dare try to place the blame back on them!” I shoved him, hands pushing on his shoulders so he tumbled backwards, flipping over and his tails pointing straight up to the ceiling. I leapt to my feet. “I am a descendent of Amaterasu. I wanted to break the curse because I felt guilty and then I fell in love with you, you damn Yokai! So stop with this acting. I know the curse has been broken, has been for years and yet the Executioner comes every morning.”
Tomoe slowly got to his feet. “Wife, I love you but I will not tolerate this behaviour.”
“Well then I want a divorce.” I snapped back.
Before I could blink Tomoe gasped and turned into a fox. He backed himself into the corner of the room and glared at me.
I slapped my hands over my mouth. What had I just done? “Tomoe,” I dragged the hands down to my chest to grip my heart. “I didn’t mean it like that. I love you but I can’t be with someone who cannot love me for who I am. I have struggled so hard to be the good little wife and even accepted the fact the Executioner comes every morning... but I can’t do that anymore. Yes, I will get mad and yell but everyone does that because we’re alive. I am not a perfect and obeying wife and if you truly love me then you will accept that. Please Tomoe.”
Seconds of silence and inaction stretched into minutes... I could feel dawn approaching, had trained myself to anticipate the end of the night over the years. Come on Tomoe. Please say something.
He turned back into human form, his tails the only sign he was yokai. They lay flat on the floor behind him. Sitting back on the futon he finally spoke. “Kira... Ki... Ra... Kira.” He rolled my name around for some reason; testing out the sound and the feel of it in his mouth? It felt nice to hear him saying it even though I was afraid. What would happen next?
“Tell me another story wife... Kira.”
I nodded my head and sat at the end of the futon.
I frowned at him. “Excuse me?”
He patted the space beside him. “Please Kira.” He pleaded, looking at me with unaltered love.
I smiled, couldn’t help it. Instead, I propelled myself at him, crashing into his arms. He kissed me in return.