Friday, January 27, 2017

A Short Story: Fate and Starlight

Trust me when I say I did not believe her. Trust me when I say—she says one thing and does another. The woman was an enigma of lies. A child of fate and starlight who shrugged off her destiny in favor of parting her legs and selling her soul to those with dark intentions. Momoka was a woman who believed women could have love, happiness, and then some. In this male dominated world, her beliefs were simply cast offs of a different age. An age long past, where women could lead and men would bow down in blood drenched soil.

We are united now. Women are no longer needed in leadership positions, we are born now to follow. And I believe this realization took Momoka's breath far before she scattered her own lifeblood upon the floorboards. Trust me when I say that none of us expected this.

Trust me when I say, I am sorry. But she will not be missed. For who could love a liar?

Hours before, during the evening of a day that feels like yesteryear, Momoka gathered the five of us in her quarters.

I remember her face so clearly because her corpse is an exact copy; she seemed drained. Papery skin was yellowed like old parchment, weathered around her red lips. Creases and lines bunched up like so many rivers on an old map. She could not kneel like the rest of us, and so she simply sat cross-legged. Hands on either knees, head bowed beneath the weight of her own hair.

She smiled at each of us in turn though would meet none of our eyes. I remember one of the girls snickering. Rocking back and forth on her knees, she stared into Momoka's tired eyes and giggled.

Getting old?” she said, in reference to Momoka's inability to kneel.

Momoka took the insult with care. Clasping her hands to her chest, she sighed, “Too old for this world.”

And the giggler chuckled loudly. Turning, she spewed her happiness upon the rest of us.

As a child, I was taught not to laugh at the misfortune of others. But as laughter rolled around the cozy room, I found myself giggling as well.

Momoka did not so much as flinch.

Poor old woman, I thought as she took a lock of wild hair and forced it behind her wilted ear. Old woman, I laugh at the title now because she was not old at the time—not in the typical sense of the word. Though older than all five of us, she was only in her late twenties when she decided that the world was not enough for her.

But she would tell us this point blank. As bluntly and as fully as she could. But not before the laughter died and a feeling of unease took over, the slow silence a thick blanket that choked.

Momoka held out her arms, the sleeves of her robe trailing upon the tatami matting, “I am taking my life tonight.”

My eyebrows furrowed, confusion twisting all of the girls faces.

They were quick to challenge her—we, were quick.

And what do you expect us to do, Momo?” asked the strongest of us, crossing her arms as she did so, “Do you want us to talk you out of it?”

Momoka shook her head, “No...” she breathed, “I just wanted to say good-bye.”

The first speaker snorted her disdain, “Right. Here I go Momo!” gently, crawling onto her hands and knees, she clasped her hands before herself in a pleading gesture, “Please don't go, Momo! The bordello will not be the same without you!” and she wreathed on the ground, earning a few chuckles from the others.

That is when the room gained strength, the girls beginning to believe that this was all for attention. For, with Momoka, it often was. Three times she has threatened to take her own life; first with a fistful of nameless herbs, second with a sword she could not find, and third—like this. In a nameless, nondescript, way with a calm and cold demeanor.

Let me say, it is hard to listen to the whistling bird when it screams its songs in the dead of night. Constantly, constantly, it sings and swells its breast when the moon is high. Yet, in the morning it is silent. As deathly quiet as a winter morning.

Momoka was all this, and more.

How do you plan to do it?” One girl asked.

Does Akane endorse this? We won't be blamed for it—will we?”

What will you use this time, Momo?” asked another, this one closer to me, “Will you use a letter opener? Oh—you know Akane doesn't let us have sharp things...”

I grimaced as if being pelted by these asinine questions—all that was left to ask now was--

When will you do it?” I found myself asking, “At what time? Do it late in the morning.” I said, chuckles rising all about me, “So that when Akane finds your body, we won't lose sleep.”

And the chuckles erupted into a roar of laughter, the girls closest to me touching my shoulder or thighs in recognition of a job well done.

Ah, I basked in the glory. If only to wallow in the lies and misfortune of another. Momoka stooped in her cross-legged position, eyes reddening. Face turning the color of burnt coal.

There was no—this is serious this time—nor any sort of counter against our harsh questions. Though she did not answer the hanging questions, we did not ask her to. For, we truly believed this was another gimmick to get eyes on her. We believed Momoka could not do it—she loved herself too much. She stewed in the bottomless pot of her lineage. Telling us over and over how she is better than us baseless prostitutes.

And a memory forces me to speak up once more. A memory of her.

As lattice-girls, we sit behind a crisscrossed face of wood during the height of the day. This is done to call paying customers to our bordello for a chance to take one of us. For a chance to buy and sell and trade in human flesh.

Momoka was the original lattice-girl. When a new girl arrived, Momo's was the first face she'd often see. Being the most senior of us all, Momo would take to showing the new girl around and laying down the ground rules we all had to follow.

I remember being new and terrified. Crying behind the lattice cage as faces peered in at me, their expressions blurred. The constant noise of Yoshiwara muffled by my cries. No crying—a rule I was told on day one. It was the first rule I broke and the first thing I was ever punished for.

I am more than the wood of this latticed cage.” I remember Momo hissing, eyes glaring through the wood bars of our waiting room. The heat in our cage was stifling and her agitation showed in her words, I am more than they could ever be.”

On that wood floor, I am wincing because she has dug her nails into my arm. Her talons cut deep—as deep as any knife. The nails draw blood and she backs away, stricken at what she has done to mark me.

And now, in the present, I touch the marks she so lovingly left me. Marks which quickly became infected and stole my right arm from me months ago. Perhaps years. There is a ghost there now. A phantom limb which I can touch and see and feel. Pain throbs from fingers which aren't there, and I close them—reminding myself. Reminding myself of who took my right arm from me.

Because of her, I tell myself, I am crippled.

And I realize, that I hope she does it. I realize, in that present moment surrounded by my fellow bordello sisters, that I want Momoka to pass on and leave this world—my world—behind.

I meet her eyes in that moment. I say: “I will help you.”

Silence. She blinks three times, wiping away tears with her eyelids. It is as if the entire room is holding its breath.

And she responds: “No you will not.”

It feels as if a heavy stone has been lifted from my chest when she says this. But I did not believe she would actually do it. None of us did.

But, nevertheless, my admonition quieted the room.

And then, other girls began to join in. From the junior to the most senior of us.

I will help you.” came a voice from behind me.

The strongest of us puffed out her chest, “I will help you.”

I will help you, Momo.” came another.

And it went on like this. All five of us pledging our allegiance to Momoka. Willing to help her pass on into the next life.

Of course, we believed this was an elaborate hoax.

But Momoka did not. Reserved as she was in this moment, she stood and bowed and turned her back to us. We stood as well, gathering to leave. Eyes fell upon me, grins meeting them as the girls nodded at me. One by one, the girls left Momoka's room. Roving down the dark hallway beyond in a gathering of high-pitched voices and giggles.

No one will miss you, you know.” I say before I leave.

I hear her shake. I hear her tremble and cry. ...

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Friday, January 20, 2017

Winterskin's Blog Tour Continues at The Pursuit of Bookiness

Click here to check out my author interview at the Pursuit of Bookiness!

Here is a snippet:

1. What is the first book that made you cry?
“Little Eye” by Andrez Sapkowski is the only story to ever make me cry, a short story about unrequited love. The ending of the story is what truly got me, because what is sadder than not only not having your love unreturned but dying of smallpox with a broken heart? Maybe my heart is just moved by strange things, but that short story brought me to the brink of tears.

2. Does writing energise or exhaust you?
I’d say it is a combination of both. Writing energises me when I am writing the first and second acts of a novel, but getting from act 2 to act 3 tends to exhaust me. Writing the climax of a novel is exhilarating, but getting to the climax can be very trying sometimes.

Click here to read the rest!

Happy reading!

A Short Story: Flowers in a Riot of Color

I could never understand the reason for thin walls and paper screens. Through them, I could see everything; the shadow of a young apprentice as she bows respectfully. Head lowered, fingertips barely touching the tatami mat as she stretches them forward. Him, standing over. Towering. Overbearing. Only a side profile, but I see all. He parts his robe. He barks and I go deaf. For a moment, I wish I were blind and turn away. Rushing up the corridor in a rustle of skirts and silk.

These things happen nightly, but I can never get used to them. And still, I wonder, what is the reason for thin walls and paper screens if I can see everything? A shadow play in a well-traveled hallway—must everyone see this? Eye this? Watch as my maiko is deflowered and made anew?
I do not bring my questions to Auntie, the house mother, for her lips are always full. Instead, I go to the second oldest among us.

“You cannot stop a deflowering.” she laughs at me with tobacco breath, “Who do you think you are, Mei? Old enough to mother half of these girls, yet not mature enough to understand the dissonance between lust and love. a pale bowl stews near her, filled to the brim with putrid brown backwash. In front of me, she spits.

“Simply because you were disfigured during your deflowering, does not mean that your apprentice will face the same fate.”

My cheek throbs and I touch the grotesque mark there.
“She is meek, unlike you back then.” she leans forward, the bitter smell of tobacco distinctly on her breath, “Whatever you have done to break her, little one, you have done well.”

Hand firmly on her flat chest, I push Sayaka out of my space, “Why did Auntie put her there?” I ask, “Of all places?”

Sayaka shrugs, leaning back upon her cushion, “Your maiko is an extension of you, Mei. To put it plainly, she wants the world to see.”

And that is when I hear the scream. The screech of a flute. Of an animal. Of a cat hiking up its hindquarters and being stung by the fiercest of wasps. Sayaka drops her pipe and swings me a glance before she barrels out of the room. I am on her heels. The entire house has woken up. Maikos are poking their heads from their rooms. Young women are connecting their ears to paper screens as if they cannot hear through the thin walls and I am tripping over my own two feet.

I am clumsy. I am frightened. I am frustrated that the voice of that little flute is familiar.

I will not say that I have not hit her before. I will not say that I have not slapped her out of frustration, out of jealously, and sometimes out of delight. I have heard my maiko scream for mercy, and this was one such scream. And because I have not caused it, I am enraged.

We make it to her room just as her patron is exiting. He is hobbling, a middle aged man with more hair than skin. Fat blotches disfigure him, angry red pustules that sit like dormant volcanoes on his tan skin. He has forgotten his cane. Sayaka turns on her heel, eyes me angrily, bows and snatches a long wooden stick from near the sliding screen. Passing it to the patron with her chin tucked to her chest, he snatches it. Eyes us warily, and hobbles away towards Auntie's room.

Only now am I realizing that he was hobbling out. Running. Running as quickly as his disfigurement would allow him. He would not be back to pay.

I am the first inside to see my girl. Sayaka tumbles in behind me, panting. Her heart trembles and I swear it rumbles through the tatami mats at my feet as I stand. Glide over to the girl. Watch her naked chest rise and fall and realize that I have done something terribly wrong.

I turn to Sayaka, “Get Auntie.” When she looks at me with wild eyes, I hiss: “Now.”

It is a strange custom, though some men do it. When they know a child is innocent, untouched, and timid, they will attempt things with her that they would never attempt with a prostitute or a well paid courtesan. They will do things strictly against our rules and tell the girl she must keep his secret. A man who takes the virginity of a maiko may never see her again in many circumstances and sometimes the maiko does not know this. He will promise her money. Freedom from this life. But first—you must keep my secret.

I crawl to the girl. She is prostrate. Breathing barely. The sound that whistles through her is hollow and cold. Dense and compact and not of this world. It whistles, it moans. It sucks and suckles and smacks within her chest before it is gone. All gone. And I wonder where it is gone until I crawl closer and freeze. Become completely still.

Her arms are at her sides. Her face is up, eyes closed. Unseeing. I touch her skin and she is stark, clammy. The skin of a fish, the scales plucked off. Beaten from her. Taken as she bites her tongue silently against the pain.

“Dear girl...” I whisper, though it is more of a curse. I blame her. I blame her for her stupidity.

“Dear girl.” I say once more, stooping over her.

Her lips move. I fear she cannot hear me.

“Stupid thing.”

I turn.

Auntie is here. She smells of opium and sake and lust. She is a stick thin thing, her right arm being the strongest part of her old and creaking body. She uses that arm to catch hold of things, like the wall to her right as she pulls herself in. Like the sleeve of her kimono as she rolls it up and kneels beside me. She brings a hand to the girl's head.

“Where is he?”

“He left.” Sayaka says behind me, “He...left.”

There are bodies pouring in the hallway. Other maikos. Geisha. I want them to leave, but cannot bring myself to yell.

“Stupid thing.” Auntie repeats, her voice hoarse. Her eyes bitter, “You will pay back every cent. Every bit of silver she was ever worth—you will pay it back, Mei.” She looks at the girl.

Boiled skin slips from the bone once it is taken from the pot. Beaten skin grows old as bruises blossom and the pain endured is seen by all. A hole sits in this young woman's stomach, precisely cut. Precisely measured and carved about. Red stains linger. Blood spewed at some point, but it has been cleaned. When she breathes, it opens. When she exhales, it closes. The wound puckers, sucks, and smacks. Then, it is silent. Wheezing air like a dying flute. Bruises bloom around the incision. Purple, pink, and red. They are like flowers, I think, in a riot.

Pain explodes in the back of my skull, at the knot between my neck and spine. But I sit straight.

“It was a mistake to give you something to care for.”

Auntie's words. My thoughts—it was a mistake. I did not want her. I never wanted an apprentice.
As I look back on it now, perhaps I was elated. My body shook, my arms and fingers trembled as I looked down—not in pain, but in amusement. Solemn bereavement. She is dead. No longer will my clients look to her—the younger me. The innocent me. The beautiful girl tens of years younger than me—the mature geisha. The woman well past her prime and trying to act as if she is something. Trying to act as if she is worth more than what the patrons throw.

The girl is gone and now I may be the center of attention! I smiled—yes, I smiled at the defeat of this poor and lonely child! I did not warn her of what could come of her deflowering and because of that she has suffered defeat!

All at once, I notice that there is an audience at my back. Auntie looks on, solemn. Lips pressed into a firm line.

Beneath us, the girl still breathes. Her wound sucking and pulling.

I look to Auntie for instruction. What would happen next? A meiko has never died because of the sadistic wants of a patron. What now? Would we hunt the man down? Beg the men of the Floating World to do something about this?

It had never crossed my mind that we would simply wait.

“She will not last till morning.” Auntia tells me, pushing her way to standing, “Stay with her.”

My mouth drops, “Auntie?”

She shoots me a look that immediately silences me.

“Off to bed!” Sayaka screeches at the younger women, “Go on—off!”

And as the shoji screen behind me slides to a close, I am alone. Alone with the sucking and puckering. Alone with this dying child whose only issue was that she was entirely too pretty. That she dwarfed me in the limelight and therefore I had to be rid of her.

I realize now that I did not need a man to do it—cut her. Beat her within an inch of her life. I realize now, that if she had become a geisha after this deflowering, I would have done it myself. But my cuts would have not been so merciful. I would have let her live, disfigured and unwanted as I am now.

Again, I touch my face.

I want this to be over with.

I think on this now and I do not want to remember what I did next. At the time, it felt right. It seemed to me that it was the correct thing to do...if only to make the time pass more swiftly.

I untied my obi. Let it fall to the tatami mat. I shrugged off my kimono, watched her face twitch. Her eyes attempting to open as the side of her lip flitted up and down. Up and down. Her body rocks. It quiets. Now, I am in nothing but my linen shift.
I crawl closer. I lay next to her, just as my danna did to me during my deflowering ceremony. I prop my head up onto my elbow and look upon her kindly. My eyes trace the small mounds of her breasts, the sharp slope of her rib cage to her abdomen. I ignore the hole cut into her, and my eyes rove down her legs. Her toes.

My fingers trace the sharp curve of her cheekbones, “I wish I had your beauty.” I tell her, “I wish I had your youth.”

And that is all I can say before I take her into my mouth.

That is all I can say....

Friday, January 13, 2017

The World of Winterskin: The Southern Reaches

This is a harsh landscape they tread.

With pitchforks and hoes, they cultivate packed ground frozen from years of unyielding winters. It seems useless, hacking away at bitter dirt mixed with ice and inlaid with stone. Sweat breaks on their brows for naught, sweat won't make the land grow anything. Sweat only freezes. Salt only kills. The farmer curses, fixing his skullcap, dropping his pick. Swallowed by men at work, he gazes around the field. Looks to the darkened forest beyond with a furtive glance. Today, they wonder when the first creature will fall upon them. Will it be a wraith this time? A shade wrapped in inky night intent on swallowing their souls? Or will it be something uglier? Something that has stolen the skin of a comrade who has fallen the day before, perhaps? Will it be apparition, or man?

In the fields, there is a watchman. A single armored man where there should be four. Should be, but the village cannot spare anymore farmers, nor anymore boys. With his eyes glued to the encroaching shade at the farmers backs, he recounts the ways monsters take and never give. He recounts his time in the north—the summer, the food, the women. He recounts the worlds of a pompous man; a man rich and enthralled by the golden hand of fortune, “Humans are the only monsters worthy of fear.” With a hand on the hilt of his ax and the other on his chin, he wonders if an ax can cut through a ghost. He wonders, if the sagging skin of a blighter breaks, will the blood burn through his skin or kill him outright? And now the watchman spits, cursing the rich man and cursing the well-endowed north.

Human monsters existed, but those could be taken down by ax or blade. By words or conscience. True monsters were another thing entirely. The north knew nothing of fear.

In the townships, women tie themselves to tiny, starving, villages. Here, the sky is gray. Here, the clouds charge through the wide panorama of sky, promising snow. Rain, sleet, hail. The seasons are never kind to southern folk. Winter is an imposing presence, like the shadow of a husband, leather switch dangling. Eyes feverish as they press upon the back of a heaving wife. The village matriarch looks up, sitting upon the roof of her one room hovel. With deep brown eyes—the only color in this town—she sees flashes of white. Flashes of snow. And as the thatch roof beneath her bites into her bony bottom, she looks towards the ground and spits.

Her daughter, a woodcutter with massive shoulders and a missing nostril, shudders at the saliva smattering into the frozen ground. With the heavy head of her ax weighing down her shoulder, she can't stop and look up. Trudging around the telltale spot of her mother's daily curses, she keeps her eyes straight forward. A gaggle of girls mirroring her—woodcutters all—follow as she makes her way out of the village and into the encroaching treeline. They pass the group of farmers hacking and picking at a land that won't give back. They nod to the watchman and for them he says a prayer. For this is a harsh landscape they tread, harsher still in the black forest beyond.

For me, worldbuilding goes perfectly with ambience music. What do you like to listen to when worldbuilding, character building, or writing in general? I'd love to know!

Winterskin debuts Febuary 9th! Join my newsletter to know exactly when it hits Amazon.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Short Story: Snow in Ezo

Snow shoes were a common occurrence. Tied around tabi socks, stuck to the bottoms of sandals and snow boots, the three children raced from the warm confines of their family home and struck out into the snow.

Their father often felt uncertain about letting the children race out on their own. Though they loved the snow and took to it like a fox takes to living in the village debris piles, he felt uncertain. As if it were unwise to allow his children to somehow stumble upon the very realization he did at their age. Sixteen, seventeen, and sixteen again.

Why, he was sixteen when he met their mother. Fifty when she disappeared into the embrace of an icicle laced snowstorm.

Would he ever see her again?

Perhaps the young ones would find her.

He sighed, tightened the cloak wrapped around his flaxen blue kimono, and shuffled back inside. 

Alone, save for the silence of the powder snow outside. Snow can not keep a man company, but company should not be forced to act as such. Children will be children, and boys will especially be boys. Being their father did not keep them inside any longer than threatening them with a switch did. If the children wanted to do something badly enough, they'd do it. And, eventually, he'd be brought to help them.

He shuffled on inside. Hung his cloak from a nearby hanger and slipped off his sandals near the sliding paper door at his back. The bumpy texture of the tatami mats at his feet warmed his frozen skin as he walked, gliding across the main floor of his home to drift along a hallway towards the foyer at the very back.

He heard wind. No—truly, was that wind? Had his boys come back already—but used the back entrance as a meeting point?

No—they wouldn't do that. And if they did, they'd have tracked snow everywhere. No...

Ryou fiddled with the sash at his waist. Wondered if he should grab a weapon of some sort, but decided against it. Sometimes the swans liked to waddle in—but never before had they opened a door to his home before. Swans weren't smart beasts—but humans...


He shook his head. Crept down the hallway to the foyer and stood with wide eyes.

The back door, it

He reached to shut it and stood still.

A pond sat behind his home, a failed hot spring that only warmed somewhat. Swans loved to congregate here in the winter chill. Steam wafted from the face of the little blue pond. Swans swam about, preening. Dipping their heads beneath the lukewarm water for a taste of fish or pond algae.
Now, Ryou was not alone—if he so chose to visit his swans.

The wind gurgled like a happy child. Lifted powdered snow from the fields and dusted it over the swans heads.

Ryou laughed at their honking. Decided he didn't need a cloak or shoes—the pond itself was warm enough to sate him. And so he dove into the snow, crashing around like a drowning swimmer, before he finally met the pond at its warm edge.

There, he sat. Watched.

The swans knew him by smell and face. They swam over slowly, cautious yet demanding. They expected food.

Digging into the pockets of his kimono, he found left over rice pellets from lunch. Little bits he forgot to boil and stir for the boys. With an open hand, wrinkled and creased like an old paper map, he fed the beautiful birds. Relishing in the pearly tint of their feathers. White as snow. Bright as ice. One nipped his palm and he allowed it. Swans were stupid birds, about as smart as a rock.

Winter chill crept beneath his kimono and he shivered, though the heat of the pond fought against it. Asking him to stay.

And so he did.

His boys wouldn't be back for sometime. He might as well have a little peace and quiet of his own, sitting amongst the swans. Watching them bask and care for themselves. Honking and gliding across the warm pond, he watched two bump into each other. Brother and brother? Father and son? It made no matter to the dull birds. They honked and hissed at each other. Selfish creatures. Only thinking of themselves.

A gentle crunch reverberating through the snow caught him cold. He turned around from where he sat.

“Are you the master of this house?” asked a voice as soft as feather down.

Skin like marble caught his eye. Black hair straight as satin.

The young woman wore only a light blue kimono with depictions of the great purple and blue god mountains tracing up and around her waist. Up and round her right shoulder. Long sleeves flowed gracefully down as she clasped her hands together against the chill.

She acknowledged him with cheery eyes. A soft smile.

He scrambled to stand—rather, attempted. He was old. Oftentimes, in the winter, his limbs reminded him of this.

Still, he stood. Bowed for the lady without a coat, “Yes, ma'am, I am.”

“I would like to trade.” the woman replied, returning his bow gracefully, “I have run out of sugar for a dish I am making and I would like to give you rice in return for whatever sugar you may have.”

Rice? Sugar was worth infinitely more than rice.

How much did he have? About a quart? His boys did not have much of a sweet tooth.

He shook his head at her offer. He did not need the rice, “To a beautiful woman such as you—take all of my sugar. Free of charge.”

“How kind of you.” she smiled, “Will you invite me inside?”

A strange question. Ryou did not like strangers prowling around inside his home. They'd judge him for his sparse decorations.

“Of course.” he said, despite his misgivings, “Please, follow me.”

Chugging through the snow, he slid open the door and almost tripped over the threshold as he wandered inside. She followed him timidly, keeping her head down and peering around the corner of the home before following him inside.

Calmly, he shut the door behind her and made his way into the kitchen.

“Ryou-chan?” her voice took on a breathy sound like a wailing wind. She murmured his first name without invitation.

How did she even know his first name? He didn't know her!

He stopped in his tracks, standing halfway down the hallway. Perhaps she wasn't from Ezo? Perhaps she was from the mainland across the strait. He had heard they did things differently there. That would explain why she wandered around as a woman alone without snow shoes or a coat.

“Ryou-chan?” she called again.

“Please, call me Yamada.”

She inclined her head, “You are the farmer, Ryou?”

“Yamada.” he snapped, “Please, call me Yamada.”

She smiled slowly, sweetly, softly. All feelings mixed in one—harmony, perhaps? Her lips reminded him of plum blossoms. Cherries.

Like a snake, she licked them, “You are a kind man, farmer.”

“Thank you.” was all he could muster. That smile brought shivers creeping up his spine, “I will retrieve the sugar now.”

Demurely, she nodded. Found a cushion near the foyer's alcove and kneeled upon it like a doll.
Rummaging through the kitchen, he found the bagged sugar forced into a corner beneath the counter top. He opened the bag and cursed. His youngest son's fingers had been in it. So much for his sons not having a sweet tooth. Still, he'd give the quart of sugar to the young, strange, lady. But, first, he'd pour a little bit off of the top to save her from her son's saliva.

Pulling the bag out, he moved to open the front door.

“Yamada-san, what are you doing?”

He sighed, “Readying the sugar for you, my lady.”

She reached for it with both hands, “This will do. I thank you--,”

He yanked it from her grasp, “I'm pouring a little off of the top--,”

“There is no need--,”

“My son's hands have been in it!”

She flashed her teeth before pulling back, “It is of no matter to me, dear Yamada-san.”

“It is not right to give product that has been tampered with. Allow me to pour a bit of the sugar into the snow and give you the rest.”

“What a kind man you are, farmer.”

He had no words to say—yet staying silent would be rude. What a strange woman.

“T-thank you.”

Her hands slid from his. They were cold. Ice cold.

He looked into her eyes.

Blazing violet looked back at him.

Again, she smiled.

Should he think nothing of it?

Sliding open the shoji, he poured a bit of the sugar into the snow—just as he had promised. Then, closed the screen back and handed what was left to her.

She took it with an innocent bow, hands outstretched as she kept the sugar bag away from her torso, “Many thanks, Yamada-san.”

“You are welcome, miss...?”

She blinked, “Oh, my name is not important.”

Ryou scratched his head, “ would be my honor to escort you home my lady--”

“And leave your home alone? Nonsense!” she giggled, shaking her head, “I came here on my own, and I shall leave on my own. Again, thank you, Yamada-san.”

He bit back his words and simply nodded in agreement. Truth be told, she could probably navigate through this snow drift better than he. Opening the shoji screen, he allowed her to leave alone. For what it was worth, he liked her. Though she was strange and disrespectful, something about her pulled at his heartstrings—though he would never let the emotion show on his face. Perhaps, she was the daughter he never had or she was a glimpse of the woman he had once loved?


She jumped into the thigh high snow drift and started westward for home, the chilling winds of winter lifting up her flowing raven hair. White powder flew as mist, eventually obscuring the mountains sewn into her delicate kimono as she glided through the snowy mist. Everything disappearing as he watched. Even her hair.

He closed the shoji screen and began preparing dinner without a care. Within hours, his boys returned. Huffing and panting, faces pink with exertion as they slapped off their snow shoes, soaked tabi socks, and boots.

“Father—father! We saw a yuki onna!”

With a fire brewing beneath his cauldron of boiling water, Ryou laughed heartily, “Really? A yuki onna?”

“Made completely out of ice and snow!”

His eldest came to him, face serious. Eyebrows furrowed, “Father, she knew our names.”
Ryou smiled softly, “Is that not the way of yokai?”

“Not this one. Father, it knew specific facts about us. It knew how Ji wet his futon three weeks ago. It knew that Ran has an orange and white kitsune mask hanging above his futon--,”

Ryou threw him a look, “What did she look like?”

“Black hair. Skin like a statue. A pink smile that can be seen through a snow drift.”
His youngest, Ji, ran up to him, “She gave us cookies!” a star shaped pastry waved in his hand, half way eaten.

Ryou took a look at it, “A yuki onna gave that to you?”

His oldest glared, “I told you not to eat that!”

“She's nice—she looked like mommy!”

“Our mother was not a Yokai!” his eldest hissed.

The sharp tone sent his youngest away, bawling.

His eldest turned to him, “Our mother was not a yokairight, father?”

Was he truly questioning this?


Maybe it was time that Ryou told his children the truth. At the very least, his eldest deserved to know why they loved the snow so much and could endure it for longer periods of time than other people in their village.

But their mother disappeared during a blizzard. His wife left him to return to the snow.

His eldest took his silence as anger. Sighing, he apologized and walked the two youngest away. Sliding shoji panels clamped shut. He listened to the boys change out of their damp kimonos. He listened to them speak of the kind yuki onna that gave them cookies.

Ryou sighed. Tears in his eyes.

A tentative knock came from his door. Ryou wiped away his tears.

He moved to the screen and opened it.

Scanning the plains, he saw nothing but snow. Looked down and saw cookies arranged on a plate. Star shaped, just like the one his youngest held.

A small note sat off to the side. Brush strokes were neat. The paint dry.

“With love.” he read.

With love.

He looked around once more. Searching for her. For the love of his life, his yuki onna, that left the snow for him. Gave him children. Gave him a home. And then drifted back into the white. 

Taking the plate, he closed the screen slowly. Softly.

With a smile on his face, he sobbed.