"...the earliest dolls and puppets were made not for decoration or amusement, but for the sacred purpose of housing the divinity."
--Carmen Black, The Catalpa Bow
Shaman, Chapter 1
released 26th September, 2004
Sakon fell asleep, the last sight imprinted on his eyes that of Ukon's box. It would also be the first sight he would see upon waking.
He couldn't imagine a better life.
And so he fell down willingly into his dreams.
Watching Sakon, Kaoruko sometimes thought, was like watching a changeling. Oh, not that her nephew was one--he looked too much like his father, and he definitely had the Tachibana knack for puppet manipulation--but sometimes he felt like someone who didn't belong in this world. And Ukon, what was up with that?
In the beginning, she'd merely assigned Ukon's existence to play therapy, an imaginary best friend conjured up by a sensitive child who shouldn't have been the one to discover his father's suicide. But time had gone on and lasted too long and as Ukon had known things that Sakon couldn't have, she'd talked with her father and sister and in the end come to the conclusion that Ukon was either a serious schism of Sakon's mind, probably beyond the ability of psychologists to repair and she didn't want them to anyway--she liked Ukon--or that Ukon was in fact a haunted puppet and Sakon his medium.
A haunted puppet didn't seem so far out of the realm of possibility. Heck, her father had told her stories about such things when she was little.
From what Sakon had learned about Ukon's history, too, Ukon didn't have a figurative malevolent bone in his body. He'd lived and died protecting the girl he loved, and she'd been the one who built this puppet body for him. Kaoruko thought that she must have been quite a girl, someone she'd like to know.
With the difficulty finding a good man, and her eligible years just ticking away, Kaoruko had recently been getting awfully tempted to give lesbianism a try.
But, to return to her subject, Ukon's demands as a tama were incredibly mild. In fact, to her knowledge, he'd never made any. No requests for a shrine, no charges of neglect by his descendents--not that Rinsuke had had any. As far as spirits went, Ukon was about as low-maintainence as it got. Which was surprising, really, when you thought about all the stories you heard of the things angry ghosts did. She thought it might be because Sakon had grown up with Ukon, loving him and sharing everything with him. If she could have someone like her nephew give her half the companionship and friendship Sakon gave to Ukon--well, then she wouldn't be considering becoming a lesbian.
She sighed and thought she'd had too much to drink and it was probably time that she should head home. Pushing back from the bar, she grabbed her purse and headed for the door, leaving behind a half-finished Sex on the Beach.
Outside the snow was just beginning to fall as she shrugged into her coat. She huffed into the cold winter air, the moisture on her breath making a momentary cloud. Dragon's breath, she and her sister had called it as children. That was what Sakon had called it, too, when he was three. She wondered if he still called it that now.
She hit the pavement flat, skinning her leg painfully and knocking her chin so that her teeth hit one another hard.
"Ah, sorry--" someone apologized before she could even blink. A man. She was going to lay into him for recklessly running into people, injuring them, she was a police officer even, what the hell was he doing running around at this hour on slippery sidewa--
He was cute.
"I'm sorry," he said, kneeling down to help her sit up and oww, her leg was starting to sting, but he must be half-blooded because he had the greenest green eyes she'd ever seen. "I didn't see anyone there."
"Um," she said, but he'd seen the long scrape on her leg and stopped talking for a minute.
"I'm very sorry," he repeated, this time softly and sincerely. He extended a hand towards the injury. "May I?" he asked, looking up at her. She started, seeing both eyes now. One of them was fractured, milk-white with blindness, but the other was still looking at her, asking for permission.
"Um, sure," she said, having no clue whatsoever what he was asking about.
His eyes closed and he muttered syllables, meaningless to her, like a Buddhist chant, maybe, but it didn't sound like any she'd ever heard, and then light drew her attention.
His hand was glowing like a special effect.
And that light was washing away her wound. It didn't even hurt. She didn't even feel the cold.
Then the light faded and the scrape was gone. She looked back at his face. His eyes were open again, looking into hers. She felt like he could see her even through the blind one. "Is that better?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "Thank you."
"It was my fault," he deferred, helping her to stand. He was tall, she realized, and slight. He looked like a good wind might knock him over.
"I'm Tachibana Kaoruko," she introduced herself.
"Sumeragi Subaru," he finally replied.
They ended up at a little ramen stand because she insisted on treating him in return for inconveniencing him and he wanted to pay for her in return for knocking her over, and in the end Kaoruko teased him into the deal that they'd pay for each other. She would have said bullied him, but he seemed to have a spine of steel much like Sakon's hidden one, only closer to the surface.
"I'm an onmyouji," he explained.
"In Tokyo?" she asked, surprised.
He shrugged a little. "There are spirits here as well." His expression faded and his face turned away. "As well as other things."
There was a mixed reaction if she'd ever seen one. "Do you like Tokyo?" she asked.
He whipped around to stare at her.
"What?" she wanted to know.
He seemed to look inwards, and then relaxed. "It's nothing," he replied. "Just... I was asked that question a long time ago."
"What was your answer?"
Green and pearl eyes looked at her. "I don't know," he replied.
They both ate their noodles for a while before talking again. He'd ordered soba, but Kaoruko slurped up thick udon noodles instead. She liked their chewy texture and the way they felt, their fatness like worms going down her throat, a childish gross thought that pleased her inner tomboy even now.
"You're not surprised," he said, "about my being an onmyouji."
She finished a noodle before replying, "You're assuming I don't believe in spirits."
He gave her a sidelong glance that asked things without saying a word.
"My nephew's best friend is a haunted puppet," Kaoruko replied, resting her chin on one hand while the other played with her chopsticks at the side of the bowl. She looked up at the cloth roof of the ramen stand. "He's a weird kid, but he and Ukon have been together since Sakon was little, so they've grown up together, and he's not that much younger than me, so I guess I grew up with Ukon too." The proprietor, a young man with black hair slicked back beneath a headband, lifted noodles into a bowl for another couple in the booth, apparently friends of his. She looked back at Subaru to see him staring at her. "What?" she asked.
"Haunted puppets are very rare," he quietly said. "I was just surprised to hear someone like you talk about them, and so casually."
"Someone like me?" she asked, not yet sure if she should take offense.
He looked down at his bowl. "A modern young woman, bright and vivacious," he murmured, then stopped. He blinked, then laughed softly at himself. "I'm sorry. Forgive me. I just figured out whom you reminded me of."
"Who?" Kaoruko asked, curious.
"My elder twin sister," Subaru replied.On to Chapter 2 Tales From a Ramen Stall page Send comments to author