“Steven! Honey! It’s time to go!”
“Okay mom! Bye nice lady!”
A young boy was walking towards his mother, stuffing a small toy of a plastic samurai into his pocket while waving his other hand farewell at the oddly dressed woman standing beside the 25₵ capsule dispensers.
“Come along sweetie. Your dad’s probably waiting for us.” The mother of the child said as he arrived to her side. “Who were you waving at dear?”
“I’m waving at the nice lady. The one over there with the big tail.”
The mother looked quizzically towards the toy capsule dispensers, but saw no one there.
“Must be imaginary…” she muttered to herself.
Not wanting to seem rude, she smiled and made a small wave in the general direction her son was previously looking at.
The child waved once again.
“Thanks nice lady!” he announced, before reaching up and grabbing his mother’s hand.
The two began to walk away, probably to return home.
Her ears drooped as she let out a sigh, her hand dropping down to the side after waving goodbye to the overly excited child.
“Imaginary…” she grumbled, leaning her back against the wall whilst looking up into the air.
The roof was littered in glass windows, allowing for sunlight to enter the building… it was called a skylight if she remembered correctly. Such an interesting and useful idea…
Raising her tail in front of her, she extended her hands out to it and wrapped her arms around it, brushing her hand through the golden red hairs.
How did it end up like this?
She looked down, her eyes landing on the children’s play area that split the intersecting walkways that were lined with stores. Children were running and jumping to their hearts content as their parents or siblings kept a watchful eye over them.
All of them.
She let out another sigh as her mind wandered through her memories to remind her how she ended up in this structure that these people call a mall.
How long had it been?
Years? Centuries? A millennium?
It had been too long to count the days.
And in an instant the world had changed all around her.
She remembered the days long since passed, the days when she was still a young girl playing in the shrine with her sisters.
She missed her sisters…
Her mother was once a powerful nine-tailed goddess, worshipped by the people of the lands, both being respected and feared by many. The shrine built in dedication to her was the grandest of all. People would traverse mountains and oceans for a chance to pay their respects at such a place…
Ohh… how she missed her home…
Kimiko was the first daughter, and as such was the one to inherit the wondrous building once her mother crossed over to the realm of spirits, the origin of their kind. But she was special. As with all children of the gods, Kimiko had been blessed with a rare and coveted gift.
The gift of luck.
Once she had matured, she would be able to bless and bestow other with good fortune for their deeds, or curse them as consequence for their actions. It was gift sought after by many, even gods themselves. It truly was a sign that she was destined to become the next goddess…
Her memories no longer rested on the days of her youth, when she was with her sisters or the other spirits of the mountain, but to the days when she had finally taken the role of her mother. Goddess of the lands.
Although Kimiko had been diligent in her studies to become the next goddess, it was all still very new to her. The farmers praying for a good harvest, the mothers wishing for strong and healthy children, men and women hoping to find their true loves. There were even some who asked for her hand in marriage, both human and spirit alike.
It was all so overwhelming when she first began, but by the end of the year it finally seemed like she would be getting the hang of it. At least… until that happened.
Throughout all her life, she had never felt a force quite like the one that befell that mountain on that fateful night.
An earthquake that could be felt around the world.
It was horrifying.
As it began, her home, her shrine, the very mountain itself was shaken to its core. The building swayed and groaned as the trees and walls began to tip over onto the ground, scattering debris everywhere. The candles, the lanterns, the offerings, and pillars all shook, some cracking before even falling as the earth roared.
She was terrified.
Taking her vulpine form, she hid beneath a table, wrapping herself in a ball and crying for her mother as she waited for this nightmare to end.
And before her tears could even dry, it was over.
What had been only seconds had felt like an eternity.
And her home, was nothing but ruins.
She stayed there for the night, refusing to move out of the safety beneath the table, barely able to catch a moment’s rest surrounded by the debris.
The following morning, she crawled out from under her space, still retaining her form so as to fit through the small cracks and holes between the broken walls and pillars, making it to the outside to see the remains of her home.
How could this had happened?
Kimiko trudged throughout the perimeter of shrine, seeing if there was anything left that could still be salvaged, until the sound of footsteps could be heard in the direction of the steps.
The villagers, it was the villagers that were making their way up, and it wasn’t just a few but almost the entire village was coming up.
She watched from within the bushes, unable to confront them in such a state.
Standing before the ruins of her temple, they asked aloud why she had forsaken them. Why had they been abandoned at such a time? Why had she allowed this catastrophe to happen to them, her loyal followers?
She could not answer them.
She did not know how.
Slowly, one by one, the villagers began to return to their former homes, some throwing curses at her as they gathered the little they had left before departing.
That was the last she had seen of them… those who worshipped her… those who could see her.
Hours turned into days that then turned into years before spotting another human wandering into her realm. She remained in the shadows, watching them survey the lands, writing things down and continuing on his way. It would be several months once he had left until she would once again meet another of its kind.
They began to come in groups.
The first few to arrive were similar to the man that had arrived before them. They simply came to observe the surroundings, recording what they saw on their papers, and returning home.
Just as before, months passed before a new group arrived… one of beast tamers and barbarians.
These men, they came carrying odd tools, mounted on creatures that were neither alive nor dead. The only similarity that could be seen from the two was they had been made from cold unfeeling metal.
With a simple gesture from the men and women using them, they would roar into life and begin feasting upon the very trees that surrounded her home.
She had never seen such monsters as gluttonous as these beings. Day and night, they ate away at the spirits that dwelled within the bark, never stopping until the tree had fallen. The dormant spirit within would vanish along with its home once it was dragged away.
The brutes that had no regard for the ground they stood on stripped the lands of its greenery in a matter of weeks, a feat that would have taken months or even years to accomplish with the village she had once watched over.
Whilst the newcomers toiled away at the lands, some, in their curiosity, had decided to climb the steps on the mountain that led up to her shrine, wondering where it led to. They were left in awe when they arrived to the remains of the shrine; even in its torn down state, there was apparent evidence of its former grandeur that would still leave onlookers speechless.
It took several minutes for them to be able to move after taking in their surroundings, one saying it was a bad omen to intrude on the ruins and disturb any of the restless spirits that may still linger.
She watched them.
It had been so long since she had been so close to a human… much too long.
Their senses had dulled significantly, they couldn’t even see her standing right in front of them as they marveled at what remained of her home.
The men began to walk around the hallowed ground, taking note of how the design of certain structures had changed with the passage of time and had become overgrown with nature itself.
“This is good wood… it hasn’t rotted at all. We may need to tell the boys about this when they decide to make that mall here. They could probably reuse some of this old stuff.” One of them said aloud as they ran their hand across the fallen pillar.
Another was too busy stuffing his pockets with old relics to even hear what his coworker was saying. With this much gold, he’d be able make a small fortune.
She clicked her tongue watching the man act upon his greed. How dare he disrespect her as such. She may not be as powerful as before, but she was still a goddess, and this was still her shrine.
In a low whisper under her breath, Kimiko cursed him and the items he held to a life of misfortune. He would rue the day he decided to steal from her, and anyone who held those items would suffer the same fate as long as it was in their possession unless they were returned to her.
Shuffling back to the group, the three began to descend down the mountain to join their fellow humans.
“Hmph!” She scoffed.
To her surprise, one of them stopped in their tracks and turned around, as if though he had heard her. It was the one who had a fear of disturbing the dormant spirits of this land.
He looked over his shoulder back at the shrine, he could have sworn there was something behind them, but could not find what it was. His nerves were getting the better of him, or so he thought.
Just as he was about to catch up with the other two who had continued without him, he saw a tray near the entrance to the shrine. It was made of stone, part of the structure itself, and filled with rainwater, but inside he could make out what seemed to be rusted over coins.
Would he be as foolish as his companion? Kimiko watched the man as he stared into the long since unused tray.
He reached into his pocket.
Pulling out a single coin, he flicked it, and managed to land it into the tray with a splash.
Once again, she whispered whilst pointing a single finger towards the man as her blessing shot towards him.
“May your life be filled with happiness… unlike your friend.”
The man looked over his shoulder once more, he knew something was there this time.
He was not wrong.
Kimiko sat there, looking at the man who stared back at her. She yawned, revealing the row of teeth to the man before raising her paw to scratch her muzzle. Using a curse and a blessing in the same day in her current state was exhausting, she was forced to return to her more basic form. Although these men could not see her when she was more humanoid, it seemed that they could see her when she was a fox.
The two stayed like this for a few moments, staring back at each other.
“ARE YOU ALRIGHT!?”
The man turned around when he heard his coworker yell.
Looking down the steps, he could see that one of two men had tripped and fallen down the steps towards the bottom.
He rushed towards the bottom, stopping partway to look back up and see her looking down towards them.
Another yell from his coworker reminded him of the urgency of the situation and prompted him to continue down the steps.
It would be several weeks until she saw another human.
These men were similar, but different to the ones that came before them.
It was quite a marvel watching so many people working together. Just like the men from before, they came with lifeless beasts of metal and tools that would roar into life at their touch. But their goal was not to tear down the lands, rather it was to build.
They were carpenters of sorts. ‘Construction workers’ as they put it.
That was when the real changes began to occur…
The sound of a crying child brought her back to the present. The child was grabbing onto their elbow over a scrape they had gotten after being pushed by another and landing onto the floor. Their mother quickly appeared and picked them up, consoling them as they hurriedly searched their handbag for a bandage to place over the scrape.
It had been over thirty years since the village had been replaced with the new town that had formed, and it was soon followed by the construction of her new home… the mall, as they referred to it.
They used the remains of her former home to save on shipping materials over to the mountain and built this monument in its place.
Doing so had weakened her once more… even more so than the loss of her followers. Although it would not make her disappear from this world, it would leave her in such a sorry state that even a gust of wind would be able to knock her down.
She needed an offering…
And thus, this was how she became tied to this contraption.
The toy capsule vending machine.
Perhaps there was a higher being toying with her and her existence to have had her make this device her new shrine of sorts, but she had no other options at the time. Even reverting into her vulpine form would be more trouble than it was worth, especially after the incident with ‘Animal Control’.
She had seen how children would dump coins into these machines for a simple toy, hoping to acquire all of which that were advertised on the contraption. It was a system based on luck… how fitting.
The offerings were far less than she was used to, but considering the situation, she had no room to complain.
In her solitude, she missed the interactions she once had with men and spirits that would once visit her shrine, even if it were only to ask a favor from her. Now she was surrounded by people, but they could not see her… it was the same as being alone.
Occasionally, a child would be able to spot her, those whose senses were gifted at being able to spot her kind, and they would ask her to play with them. To everyone else, it seemed as if though they were talking to an imaginary friend. Even so, these children were rare, and their senses would dull with age. By the time they grew up, they would no longer be able to spot her.
Even the spirits that once roamed these lands no longer appeared, most likely returning back from whence they came.
Perhaps she should do the same.
How much had the other side changed in her absence? Was it as drastic as this world? Would she even be able to find her mother or her sisters? Could she even make the journey?
“You’ve been sighing quite a bit.”
Kimiko turned her head towards the voice.
It wasn’t possible, it couldn’t be. Surely it was merely coincidental… but was it?
Her eyes landed on a man, seated on the bench near capsule dispensers, looking directly at her.
She turned to face the other direction. Was he addressing someone on the other side and she was simply in between them? Yes, that was definitely it. Since he could not see her, he must be speaking to someone opposite of her and it simply appears as if though he was addressing her.
But where are they?
No one else was there. In fact, there was no one else near the two for some reason. How could this be? Was he on his portable contraption that everyone had nowadays? Or was it that blueberry teeth device that she had heard about?
Kimiko once again looked at the young man in plain confusion, unable to discern if these were indeed the case. He was still looking at her… this was strange.
“You know, my grandfather used to say that the best way to treat a case of the sighs is to have a nice little talk with somebody. He said that quite often… of course it seemed to have a bit of the opposite effect on my grandmother.” He said with a chuckle.
She did not laugh.
Was this real? Could he really see her? Her mind refused to accept this so easily.
Kimiko took a step away from wall to face the man, her eyes never leaving him for even a moment. Their eyes did not break contact for even a fraction of a second, much like she was staring at him, he was staring back at her, albeit with a smile.
“You’re more than welcome to take a seat with me. Of course, if you prefer to stand, you can do that as well, but you’ll have to forgive me for not standing as well. This old leg of mine isn’t what it used to be.” He said, switching hands with the cane he was holding and patting his right thigh with his hand.
She hadn’t bothered taking notice in the rest of the man, being too concentrated on the impossibility that he could even address her to see the state of his body.
It was missing.
She could not tell how much of it was gone, but at the very least from his knee downwards has been replaced with a metallic contraption that would allow him to walk.
This was not the first time she had seen something like this, a few people who passed through the stores could be seen with something similar to this.
“I’ve been getting the hang of it pretty quickly, but it is tiring so I do need to take a rest every now and then.”
He rubbed his thigh a bit before leaning back onto the bench.
How was he able to see her when no one else could? Sure, children could see her all the time, but no one ever cared about what a child could see, and they would eventually grow out of it, eventually losing that ability as time went on. But how had he been able to retain it? Was he naturally gifted?
“How? How can you see me?”
“How? With my eyes, of course.” He chuckled.
She grimaced at his response.
It seemed that he was one of the types of humans that no matter how old they became, they would always act like a child… maybe that was why.
She would entertain the notion.
Walking up besides the man, she lifted her tail and sat down beside the curious fellow. He simply smiled at her and nodded.
“You still haven’t answered me.”
“How are you able to see me when no one else can?”
“No one? Well- oh! Wait a second.” He said while raising a finger and reaching into his pocket.
He pulled out a small trinket from his pocket, no larger than his thumb, and quickly attached it onto one of his ears.
“That way it doesn’t seem like I’m completely crazy.”
Although he seemed to act like a child, it appeared that he was capable of thinking ahead and prepare himself for such a situation.
Truly an interesting fellow.
“Now, before I answer you, is it true that no one can see you?”
How hard is it to answer a simple question? This man was beginning to get on her nerves.
“That’s right, no one… save a few of children.” She said while looking towards the children in the play area in front them.
“Yes. Children. A few that are gifted can see me right away, but most… need a push.”
“What kind of push?”
She sighed. Why did he want to know so much?
“They need a token from the spirits. It’s like a pair of glasses to you humans, it allows them to see the world more clearly.”
“A token? Like this?”
She turned her head to watch him reach his hand towards his neck and pull a string up and out of his shirt. Sliding down at the end of the loop was a small trinket that had dulled with age. The patterns that were once on it had smoothen out, and the colors that had decorated had long since disappeared, but something about it… it was familiar.
“No… It can’t be.”
She held out her hand, bringing about a blue flame to dance upon her palm. As quickly as it appeared, it extinguished within the next few seconds, leaving behind a small plastic figurine, that of a nine-tailed fox.
It couldn’t be… could it?
Bringing it up to his, Kimiko compared the two.
It was too similar to simply be coincidence. The size, the shape, the fact he could even see her. Even if this was one of her rarest prizes, there was no denying it. This token came from her.
“I guess it has been a long time. But I got this a long time ago when I a kid.”
He spun the figure between his fingers as he reminisced on his younger years.
“I always had a thing for these cheap little 25 cent toys. Luckily, I was a good kid too, else my parents would’ve never given me all those quarters to get them. Heh. I remember when I got this. My mom had dragged me and my dad along because a perfume store she liked was having a closing sale or something, and rather than having both of us be bored out of our minds my dear old dad took me here to the play area to run around in. So here I was, romping around and tiring myself out when I spot something just outside of the play space. I see one of these capsule machines, all lined up against the wall. I swear I was addicted to these things. Without a second thought, I ran up to my dad and asked him for as many quarters as I could get. He probably knew this was going to happen, it’s that or maybe he didn’t, but pulled out the loose change in his pocket to show me a bunch of nickels and dimes. He only had one quarter. Hehe. You can guess which machine I used it on.”
“You were wearing a red shirt that day.”
“Now you remember me?”
Indeed. She could.
Not many were fortunate enough to win such a valued prize as the one he wore around his neck, she made sure of it. It was reserved for those whose luck beat all odds, one who truly deserved a blessing from the goddess of luck herself.
The toy was imbued with the most powerful charm she could muster, one that not only bestowed good fortune to the holder but even those around them. In her time here, there had only been three children who had earned such an item.
“Yes, you were practically shaking in excitement trying to decide which machine to use it on.”
“Haha, I told you. I was an addict.” He laughed reminiscently. “And that was when I saw you.”
His thumb began to rub against the toy as his mind continued through the memory.
“I was damn near shocked when I saw you. Almost fell back. Luckily, I didn’t.” he chuckled, “You told me that I had gotten a really special prize and if I took care of it, good things would happen. So, I pinky promised you that I would.”
Kimiko giggled, remembering the scene.
“Why are you laughing? That was very serious commitment six-year old me was getting into.” He responded smiling.
“Things… were different since then.”
He placed the trinket back under his shirt before continuing.
“Soon afterwards, my dad was offered a great job at a new city, my mom was promoted and could work from home, everything was changing but for the better. Life… was good.”
He smiled absentmindedly thinking back on his youth.
“Everything always seemed to turn out for the best since then. I got good grades in school, even when I probably shouldn’t have; if something didn’t turn out the way I wanted, then something better would turn up soon after. No matter what happened, good things were always happening.”
He took in a deep breath and began to rub his leg.
“And then… this happened.” He sighed.
‘No… it couldn’t be like then…’ Kimiko thought as her expression soured.
“I had just gotten back from work, getting ready to take it easy the rest of the day when my parents called. They were asking me how I was and when I was going to visit them again even though I had just seen them a few days beforehand. You know how parents are. In the middle of the conversation, I hear something, I thought it was a truck at first, but it grew. Next thing I knew, I lost my balance.
I fell down to the floor, wondering what in the world was happening, and then I realized it. It was an earthquake.
Right when I was getting back up, something hit me and I was out.”
It was just like back then… at least it was to Kimiko.
“When I woke up, I was in the hospital. Least to say, I wanted to know what in the world was happening… and then I noticed something was missing…” He sighed once more, “I think I fainted because I don’t remember much after that.” He chuckled.
“The next time I woke up, there was a nurse, a big guy there, checking up on me because someone said they could’ve sworn they saw me move. I had apparently been in a coma for two weeks, and had been recovering from the recent catastrophe. The earthquake. And it was big one at that.
Eventually the doc came in to explain everything that happened. Sometime during the earthquake, something hit me on the head, hard, and knocked me out on the spot. Gave me a concussion that led to the coma. Of course, that wasn’t the biggest question I had, and she knew it. Sometime during my lapse of consciousness, something else landed on me, probably my bookcase… followed by a chunk of the ceiling. Crushed my leg, destroyed my knee, as well as basically tearing my foot off. It wasn’t until maybe an hour or so later that someone found me in the debris and got me to the medics. Least to say, they didn’t find my foot, and by the time I got to the hospital, they were more concerned with saving my life than going back to look for the rest of my leg.
She said I was really lucky, if the bookcase hadn’t fallen on me, I would’ve probably bled to death before they got to me.”
Kimiko furrowed her brows in bewilderment.
How would it have been any different. More so, how did they even know it was a bookcase?
“Yeah, that was the same face I did when the doc told me that.
She said that they found something lodged in my leg, something that stuck out compared to the rest.”
He tapped his chest, specifically at an item just under his shirt.
No… no… it couldn’t be.
“Yep. Apparently, this little thing had managed to get itself stuck in me, press against a few important veins or arteries, not really sure which, but it helped keep me from losing just enough blood to make it there. They were pretty surprised in all honesty, and kept it on my nightstand after cleaning it off as a good luck charm to ensure a speedy recovery. Heh. Never really thought doctors to be the superstitious type, but they’ll surprise you sometimes.
I stayed there for about another week or so, just to make sure I was good. During my stay, I kept dreaming of an old memory of mine, one that hadn’t crossed my mind in years… the day I won this little toy. After I left, I told myself that once I was able to walk that I’d come back here, just to see if what I remembered was true or not. Whether you really existed, or if it was just the overactive imagination of a little kid.”
Without her noticing, the man slid his hand just over hers before looking at her in the eyes.
“I came here to say one thing.
Thank you for saving my life.”
How long had it been?
Just how long?
Tears were rolling down her cheeks as a lump formed in her throat.
She couldn’t hold back her smile.
Nor her tears.
Kimiko placed her other hand atop of his while staring back at him.