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.


Post a Comment

Thank you for your feedback!