The Yokai Seller

Some things don’t get into this world, no matter how hard they try. Two Goddesses spatting on the waterfront, wandering off with an uneasy, temporary truce that can never hold, stalking off together then splitting up, back to their turf, east and west, climbing the stairs of their $2000 a month rental places, and bemoaning the fact that the world has become far too dull and grey and dreary and the rules of engagement so strict in order not to tear the universal veil, that magick hardly was possible at all any longer. Hecate went to her evening job at Nike down on Union Square. Lilith went back to her scheming, protesting that none of it was fair. The Inugami having watched the entire event unfold, unfolding up his pentangle mat and Priest’s hat, wagging his tail, scratching an itch (he had no fleas, his keeper was fastidious and gentle), trotting back round to the bush behind which he had left his human clothes, shook his head a little left and right. His canine body started to shake and twist, his hind quarters jumping, something under his skin wobbling and forming, yet his eyes blankly accepting the seeming ailment, without panic or distress.

Finally, in one graceful movement, and a small puff of smoke that rose from the pentangle point on which he stood, and transformed back into a quiet, salt and pepper haired, tall and strongly supple middle aged Japanese man, with a faint scar running down his cheek, beneath his left eye, all the way to his chin, and then curled down slightly, hooking under his neck, where it terminated in an even fainter pearly tan dot.

No one paid any notice in San Francisco to the middle aged man pulling his clothes on, even if they did occasionally witness him quickly zipping up his pants and buttoning his shirt. No one ever saw him transforming, a thick and heavy pall of protection hung over him, placed there by his mistress, the Inugashi – dog keeper. The Dog Keeper was a Majo. A female witch of considerable power, who remained a perpetual 50 years old, despite her 480 year tenure on Earth.

Inugami are fine barometers of good and evil. If their keeper treats them well, they stay in dog form, and are a loyal member of the family, protecting the members of the clan from evil, and keeping watch on the house and all who enter it. If treated poorly, they turn on their keeper and possess them, turning them into a frothing, barking, insane shell of a human, in short, if hurt, they always bite back, yes Inugami might be mostly kind yokai, but they are still yokai – the spiritual supernatural beings that wander Japan. Some have corporeal bodies, some prefer to stay in spirit form. Some inhabit ‘curses’, strange little objects that house them for as long as they are able.

Mr. Kamewara was not quite as old as the Majo, who he pretended was his sister. He liked to joke she was his grandma, but that just made her slightly angry, rolling her eyes and pursing her lips. He was only a sprightly 221 years on earth. He had been family protector to and a loyal member of the Fujiwara samurai clan, following them into battle, spying on their enemies as they bathed, and passing messages from one daimyo to another with greater stealth than the finest ninja. The Fujiwara had always treated him kindly, and he was particularly fond of Hidesato, whose job it was to feed him and bring him water. The boy was mostly kind, and a little sensitive. He would sit with the Inugami and talk to him..”Hey boy, we are gonna mess those Minamoto up, boy! They are gonna rue the day they messed with the Fujiwara!”

He was always simply called ‘the inugami’, everyone knew their dog was yokai, he had no ability to change from his canine form, though was not above talking, doing the occasional spell and could handle a quill better than most of the villagers. They might know he was yokai, but he was treated very kindly, partly out of fear of repercussions, partly out of respect…and slightly out of affection. He was like a mascot, no more no less, and it suited him well.

Mr. Kamekami touched the scar on his face. He did not like to remember the sequence of events that led to him taking a human form in addition to his canine one. He did not care to look in mirrors and see Hidesato’s face staring back. He had hidden in the mountains, in the snows of Kamakura until the Majo found him naked and wandering, and had declared herself his keeper, and taken him home to her little house in Tokyo with the clean tatami mats and the radio that played enka all day long. That had been almost 79 years ago now. They had burned through a couple of identities since then, and had managed to eek out a comfortable existence in the grey and normal mundane world, as sellers of incense, temple goods and household decorations.

Of course on the side, the Majo-chan had her usual business of hexes and curse lifting. Those in the know went to her when ojichan passed over….just not all the way over, and caused a ruckus at supper, throwing the best sake cups against the wall in frustration, or when auntie Ryoko started barking like a dog and hissing like a snake at a family wedding, or when looking out into the back yard they saw a long necked rokurokubi winding her supple elongated cervical spine along the flowerbeds and peering into windows, blinking at the candlelight and snapping her sharp rows of little needlelike teeth. That troublesome mother in law might find her milk turning sour until she behaved with a little more decorum. The man who borrowed money would be biting on gravel instead of sembe until he came up with the goods. Just little tricks, little spells – the usual business of small town life. That same obaachan would go to her, complaining, “Majo Majo my milk goes sour, no matter how I chill it! My butter turns rancid. My sake turns to vinegar! I am cursed!” And the majo would take her coins and lift the curse she had been paid to put on her, at the same time gently counselling her to fix her troublesome ways. A combination of family therapist and witch, shop owner and protectress of wayward yokai, the Majo at least in the last hundred and fifty years had been mainly white light magick only. She remained mostly good.

Sometimes she posed as the Inugami’s grandmother, sometimes as his big sister. She had quit posing as his wife after the Inugami got ideas about his various marital rights, and took their cover story a little too seriously.

In 1987, after that bad incident in Setagaya that brought them to the attention of the community, and required them to leave, not being able to find a place to hide in Japan and live their normal life quietly as normal, they decided to take to the air, and strike out for new lands, finally deciding on America and San Francisco, rather than irritating the brujos of Brazil. It was a matter of territory and turf, and the Majo and her inugami little brother – because family was exactly what they were, by virtue of their similar plight and long term alliance – had no need of a fight, nor want of one. They wanted things to be as they always had been. San Francisco was mostly empty magickal territory, and there were not so many toes to step upon. It was almost perfect. Almost. It was not Japan. The sun rose in the wrong place, and their fellow inhabitants were not the kind of characters they were used to. Finding a small place within Nihonmachi, they set up shop: incense and household goods, decorations and air plants, tea cups and matcha whisks…..and yokai.

Though what the Majo and the Inugami sold was mostly incense, they quickly found they had a rather more taxing job: as a home for wayward and lost yokai. The influx of Japanese souls to San Francisco and their various goods, blessings and curses, also meant an influx of travelling yokai, who having left their usual home of Nihon, found themselves in a scary new world full of people who neither believed their existed, knew how to appease them, or had any use for them. Some of them were good, some were indifferent, a few were wholly evil. The Majo made it her business to find them, collect them, catalogue their past deeds and either exorcise them, or place them in attractive and suitable vessels, ready to be homed in the houses of San Franciscan residents.

Any Yokai who had done anything truly terrible in the last 150 years were fairly judged and removed from this realm, sent back for rapid reeducation in the houses of the Kami in the Hereafter realm. The rest sat and listened to various lessons on Confucian morality, and taught by the Inugami and the Majo how to be useful and wanted family members. The shelves rapidly stacked themselves full of Yokai, from rapscallion mischief-making racoons, to careful and studious fox spirits, from those that ate disease and corruption protecting the family from illness, to sweet little owls that watched over sleeping children and helped them study for their lessons in the daytime.

Of course the yokai preferred Japanese households who might understand where they preferred to live within the household and might occasionally offer them a glass of sake, or an affectionate pat on the head. Some struggled to accept they might go home with some gaijin with no manners or respect. However, being free to wander the earth with a safe homebase, and knowing they were not alone in this scary new world was enough for most of them. The kind of houses which took them home generally purchased some sweet sandalwood or fragrant aloe to burn, feeding them the cleanest best diet a yokai could hope for…at least most of them. Sake and disease, fish bones and toenail clippings: the yokai had some strange ideas of delicacies.

As the inugami walked in through the door to tell his mistress of the goings on outside by the water, he found her bent over a small wooden figure of a samurai monk, his kind painted face like a magi or an acolyte of buddha, his robes sparsely rendered. Shibui in a tiny package. The Majo was intently listening to the large and fearsome looking Shinchu, who was telling her how he had been chomping many delicious diseases and chewing on many corruptive forces that to him were food, but to the humans were sickness and death. “The demon, Majo, was THIS big. I chewed his thigh for lunch!” The rapidly growing yokai was a picture of service to humanity. His silkworm face was temporarily set in a picture of kindness. He was a holy terror to demons and disease, but to human beings he had decided to be a friend. “The suffering, Majo-samma, is unacceptable. I will eat them all!”

The inugami coughed, “Imotosan?” “Little sister?” (For she had started to look too young to actually pass as his big sister, her power had become so great). “Forgive me, but Chu chan is never going to fit in that tiny little monk figurine!” Before he could finish explaining how the giant elehant sized silk worm Kami could not fit into something the size of a little finger, the Shinchu started to be sucked into the wooden doll, nose first, his figure distorting as he squeezed into the figurine, compacting and squishing himself into the small piece of wood. As his eighth and final leg sucked into the piece of painted wood, the Majo smiled.

“Yes, brother of mine? You were saying?”

The figure tumbled over and started to roll. Takeshi Kamekami caught him before he fell onto the floor. “I’ll go put him on the shelf, though I don’t see anyone picking him up very quickly. How much do you want to sell him for?”

“Five bucks, Takeshi. Whoever gets to take Chu chan home has to be able to see his worth, and not be flashy or grabbing. He deserves a family that is able to see him for what he is. I need to find the right home for this one.” The inugami placed Chu-chan amongst a brigade of Tanuki racoons. “Ahhhh! No! Please! Not with the rapscallions!” Shouted Chu-chan. “Someone might notice you here, friend, I am sorry Chu-chan. Trust me. I am going to get you a home.”

And the Inugami turned around and turned off the lights, laughing at the furor on the shelves and leaving a small pile of clothes on the floor, as he trotted upstairs to go and sleep at the foot of his mistress’s bed.

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