Shipwreck — part 7

Jiro thought that he was fortunate in one respect: no one had actually seen him leave the house and take the direction that he had. Perhaps the villagers assumed he would take either of the ways along the coast. It was a steep, exhausting path, and he saw signs that it was used for woodcutting and other kinds of foraging. If the woman had told him the truth about how they traveled to the nearest town, the road where “people disappeared” would not be in favor. He was tired, hungry, wet… When no immediate pursuit came, his pace slackened to a weary trudge.

Finally, he had to admit that there was no path at all and when he came to a tree with an unusual fungus growing on it — that he had already seen and passed once, hours ago — he realized that he had walked in a great, exhausting circle. He was too disheartened to go further. What use to drive himself now? He did not even know where he was going, except that it was into wilderness where people disappeared. And no wonder. He flopped down under a dripping pine, leaned against the trunk, and went from resting to sleeping in a matter of minutes, exhaustion a substitute for a dry bed, comfort, and soft quilt.

It was not an easy sleep, however. He ran from demonic villagers with red-coal eyes, who carried forked spears and who were right on his heels, and he stumbled. Somehow, though, he didn’t die and found himself elsewhere, looking at a white fox with red ears and beautiful green eyes.

It sat looking back at him, with its soft plume tail curled around its forepaws, looking very self-possessed, and lowered its head courteously in greeting.

Jiro did the same.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” said the fox. “My name is First Dancer.”