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It had been roughly a year. That’s how much time had passed since Jessica died. She was and still remains the love of my life. I thought that time would heal my wounds, but instead it threw salt into them with each passing moment I was forced to spend without her. I could bear the pain no longer and had to make an abrupt and permanent change. I needed to run far, far away. I needed to run back to where it all began; and so I did.
We met in Assabu, Japan three years beforehand. I remember the day clearly – half due to my broken leg, and half due to meeting Jessica. My intention was to climb to the top of Mt. Otobe. Now, I know what you’re thinking – why not Everest? Well, I prefer simpler adventure. That, and my father always spoke highly of this particular mountain, having lived in this area during his youth. He painted quite the picture, one that I longed to be a part of. It could have happened too, had I not slipped at the base of the mountain, effectively breaking my left leg.
Luckily, I had two locals with me at the time. They were there to guide me through the rough terrain. Unfortunately they could not prevent sheer idiocy. One stayed with me while the other went off for help. It would be a few hours before that help would arrive as we weren’t exactly close to civilization.
Eventually, help did arrive, in the form of a beautiful woman. She was slender, her hair was blonde, and she was American, much like myself. She came running to my aid and asked me in perfect English what had happened. I did not speak. It sounds cliche, and perhaps I was in shock from the excruciating pain, but I was captivated by her. Her presence itself was enough to make me forget about my leg and my failed endeavor. Even so, Having been in that amount of pain, lying at the base of the mountain for nearly three hours, I passed out shortly after she asked the question.
I woke up the next day in a hospital bed in Sapporo – a long ways away from Mt. Otobe. My leg felt better and had a rather large cast on it. I looked around the room to get my bearings, and to my surprise, sitting just to my left, was the woman whom had come to rescue me. Had she waited with me the entire time? Why? My inner dialogue was soon cut off by her beautiful voice.
“You’re awake! Marvelous!”
She seemed to be excited upon my awakening. I was excited too, but for different reasons. Her presence was very alleviating.
“Yes… yes… did you wait with me this whole time?”
I was curious to know how long she had been there.
“Guilty as charged. I wanted to make sure you were okay. I’m a bit of a worry-wart.”
“Well, thank you. I’m glad you stayed.”
We ended up talking for hours. We laughed about my untimely decent at the base of the mountain, we talked about our families, our homes, and even our love lives. We talked about everything. As it turns out, she did live in the United States, just one state away from me. She was there working in Assabu to treat the locals that could not venture to nearby hospitals. She actually left medical school to pursue this instead. Her kindness astounded me. There I was trying to conquer a mountain for my own personal benefit while she was there to actually make a difference and help others. I was a fool in her shadow, but she still fell for me, just as I did for her.
Despite her worldly ambitions, we both moved back to America and settled down. Love is the one thing powerful enough to make you forget the important things in life. It can also make you forget the importance of life itself, as well as its fleeting nature. After years of walking to her job at the local hospital, safely, danger finally caught up to her. She was struck by a bus that was speeding down our street. She died on impact.
I told her time and time again that I would buy her a car, but she refused. She enjoyed her strolls through our quaint, but bustling town too much. Walking to work gave her pleasure. This last walk took it all away. Not just from her, but from me. I now hate our home. I hate our town. I also hate public transportation. It was time for a change. I decided just days after her funeral to move to Assabu, Japan where we first met.
The transition was rather easy at first. My mind was focused on the move and I actually felt like I was doing something good; something that was much needed and would benefit my well-being. I was even welcomed with open arms by the locals. Newcomers were a hot commodity around those parts, and a cause for celebration. As such, I was able to meet almost everyone in my small village-like community at once, right at my door-step. It was nice.
Soon after greeting the locals, my joy was replaced with a feeling of dread. I sat in my small cottage, alone, and unwillingly allowed the death of my wife to pierce my very soul. It was almost unbearable, but not unexpected. I knew that I would have to mourn her death sooner or later, and I knew that I should. My first day in my new home was as good a time as any.
The months passed and the seasons changed. My time in Assabu was becoming a relatively easy routine to become accustomed to. Things were a little bit better, but it still wasn’t the same without Jessica. I knew that it never would be. I pressed on, knowing that this was as good as it would probably get for me. On a nightly stroll home from the local pub, however, my thoughts on the matter radically changed.
I followed the glow of the lamp posts as I made my way back home from the bar. I counted each one as I went. It wasn’t an obsessive compulsive condition or anything, it was just something that I started doing that helped me pass the time. It also allowed me to keep track of the distance between the pub and my house. There were exactly thirty-seven lamp posts along the path home, spread roughly twenty feet apart from each other. By the time I reached the eighteenth post, I knew that I would be about halfway home. On the night in question, however, I didn’t even make it that far. I reached the eleventh post and saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Something that I could not comprehend.
There, twenty feet away from me near the twelfth lamp post, was a shadowy figure. It was undoubtedly a woman, but I couldn’t quite make out her features. I stopped walking due to the odd nature of the encounter. Never in the months that I lived in Assabu had I ever seen a single person on my many walks home. Nobody else traversed the roads at night. There was never a single soul out this late other than myself. I was baffled.
While privately contemplating, the woman stepped closer into the light. This is when my jaw dropped. The woman was none other than my wife, Jessica. But how? It was impossible. I watched her casket as it was lowered into the earth. But there she was in all of her former beauty, staring at me from down the path. It was so surreal – I can’t quite explain to you how I felt, but I’m sure if you’ve ever lost a significant other, you might be able to imagine the heavy knot I had in my chest. I didn’t even get a chance to react properly before she spoke.
I didn’t understand what was happening, so naturally I wanted answers.
“Jessica! How is this possible? You aren’t alive. This can’t be real.”
She voiced the same plea, unmoved by my curiosity.
“Come…I need you.”
Again she reached out to me, seemingly in need of my company. I didn’t know what to say or do, so I just stood there in an awestruck and confused manner. While staring at her in utter disbelief, she vanished before my very eyes. What the hell? Was I seeing things? Dumbfounded, and unwilling to walk any further in the direction where she had been, I ran back to the pub. I needed to talk to someone.
Upon arriving at the pub’s entrance, I swiftly stumbled through the doorway in a hurried and fearful fashion. My friends were still there and took notice to my arrival. I sat back down with them and immediately opened up about my wife’s death – something I had never told anyone about. None of them interrupted me while I spoke. I then continued by telling them about what happened during my walk home. I expected at least one of them to crack a joke about how drunk I must have been, but they all remained silent. I too became quiet, waiting for a reaction. They all looked at each other very seriously before offering me some surprising insight.
“It sounds like you ran into a Kitsune.”
A what? I hadn’t a clue as to what they were talking about.
“What is a Kitsune?”
I looked to my bar buddies for answers as they seemed to know a lot more than I did on the subject. I listened intently while they explained. Apparently ‘Kitsune’ is a term found in Japanese folklore. It is used to describe a fox spirit that can shape-shift, fooling its victims into thinking it is human. One of my friends at the bar said that they fed on human blood, much like vampires. Another one of my friends said fox spirits had the ability to bend time and space at will. The bartender chimed in and said that a Kitsune can possess its victims as well as breathe fire, like a dragon. Their opinions were mixed, but they all agreed on one thing – all Kitsune have tails. They cannot hide them, even after shape-shifting. This is how I could identify it, if it ever crossed paths with me again.
I spent a little more time at the pub talking about the Kitsune before taking off. I didn’t exactly know what to believe upon departing. I never gave much credence to the supernatural, but it seemed that it was the only answer. The thing that I saw was either the ghost of my wife, or a fox spirit trying to lure me into a devious trap of some sort. After arriving home from a less eventful walk, I decided to do a little research.
I stayed up all night on my computer in the hopes of solving the mystery. I found that Kitsune often take on the form of a beautiful woman to lure its victims off into the night. This lined up with my encounter. I, however, found nothing about it taking on the form of a deceased loved one. This made me think that it might have been Jessica’s ghost. There was of course a third possibility. Maybe, internally, I was not coping with her death as well as I thought I was. Maybe I was slowly going insane and just seeing what I wanted to see. Something that was not there. I found myself on the fence, unable to lean towards any of the possibilities I’d come up with. No matter which one it might have been, forgetting it ever happened seemed to be in my best interest.
Days, weeks, months, and even years passed since the night I saw Jessica standing in the road. My friends didn’t ask about it again, and I didn’t bother bringing it up in conversation. I wanted to forget, and so I did. I continued to walk the streets at night, but never saw her. Sometimes I would think about what happened, but just as a passing thought – nothing more. Obsessing over it would be easy to do in my grieving condition, so I let my mind stray far away from the subject. I had almost destroyed the memory completely, until one night when it came creeping back up to the surface.
On my way back home from another night out at the pub, I counted the lamp posts, like I always did. After reaching the eleventh one, I saw her again. It was merely a silhouette at first, but I knew it was her. She was standing where she had been when I first saw her, years before. She terrified me just the same. But why? Why wait so long to come back? I was convinced that I was not going crazy at this point. Such a lapse in incidents wasn’t logical. She had to be a ghost or a Kitsune. Before I could think further on the matter, she stepped into the light and spoke.
I stood still and remained silent, feeling safe at a distance.
“I need you. You have to follow me.”
She began moving in my direction. I no longer felt safe. Perhaps it was my overwhelming curiosity, or maybe I was in shock, but I could not move even an inch to help myself. During her elegant stride, she continued to speak.
“Isn’t this what you want? Don’t I make you happy?”
I remained unfazed by her words, but somehow captivated by her beauty.
“We can be together again.”
She took her final step in my direction, landing herself smack-dab in front of me. I could now see every one of her features. She wore the same dress that she was buried in. This sent a chill up my spine. I brushed it off and kept observing. Her face harbored a smile – not an eerie grin of sorts, but a pleasant smile. It was one that I had seen her give many times before. Maybe this was my Jessica.
I looked her up and down multiple times. Everything looked right. The skin, the hair, the birth marks – everything. Even a shape-shifter could not imitate such fine details. She opened her mouth and spoke again.
She turned around and began walking forward. I looked down towards her posterior and noticed something that confirmed my suspicions. There was no tail! If I was not convinced before, I was now. This was my Jessica after all. I couldn’t believe it, but I forced myself to anyway. She was here – or at least her ghost was, and we could finally be together again. I didn’t care where she was bringing me, as long as she would stay. I was delighted to no end.
I followed Jessica in an elated, yet befuddled march. She started walking the way that I would normally go to get home. After a while, though, she took a turn. This eventually lead us to the nearby forest. I had never ventured that far, even when walking off the beaten path. Even so, I did not care. My wife was with me once again and that is all that mattered.
At the edge of the woods, Jessica stopped. While facing the forest, she spoke to me.
“Will you come with me?”
I would follow her to the ends of the earth, so there was no need for such a question to be asked.
“Of course, Jessica. I will follow you anywhere. I love you.”
She stood completely still for a few moments before responding.
“Good. Then we can begin.”
She went to take her first step into the forest when I noticed something pop out of the back of her dress. I didn’t know what it was at first, but as I continued to stare at it, I realized that it was furry. I then realized that it was a tail. A god damned tail. This was not my Jessica. This was a Kitsune. I began backing up away from it, unsure of how to proceed.
“Where are you going? You said you’d come with me. You said you loved me.”
The Kitsune took a step back away from the forest and turned around. I became frightened of her once again. Still, I stood my ground.
“I’m not going anywhere. You are not my wife.”
I was firm in my statement, but I lacked the courage to back it up.
“You will regret this.”
The Kitsune was now aware of the revelation I’d had. I watched in horror as its head morphed from that of my beautiful Jessica, into that of a fox. The transformation was grotesque and extremely unsettling to watch. The end result was a very over-sized fox head on top of what still appeared to be my wife’s body. I knew not how to react.
I probably should have run, but I continued to watch as the malicious spirit attempted to devour me, for lack of a better term. It opened its mouth wider than you could possibly imagine, revealing a plethora of sharp teeth, as well as some protruding, tentacle-like extremities. On top of this, an aura of swirling, black energy now surrounded its body. This is when I felt the suction.
I could feel myself being pulled towards the Kitsune. It started off slow, but quickly became stronger. I attempted at the very least to stay still, but it was no simple task. Everything I could see in my field of vision was being pulled forward. The grass, rocks, and dirt were all being ripped away by this monstrous gust of wind. Some trees even toppled over because of it. It was like a storm, the likes of which I had never seen or felt before. I knew that I would be the next one to be swept away by it, if I didn’t act fast.
I managed to turn myself around and begin fighting back. I fell to the ground and dug my nails into the earth. I crawled against the wind, hoping that I still had a chance to get away. It became increasingly difficult to do this, but somehow I was able to keep going. Eventually, I felt the tension break. It was like coming up to the surface quickly after being underwater. I had made it out of the fox’s grasp. I was free.
I ran and ran, hoping the spirit would not follow. I eventually made it home. I trudged inside, panting, and locked the door behind me. I drew my blinds, locked the windows, and shut myself in my bedroom. I hid there for a few hours before finally falling asleep. I didn’t recall lying down, but I remembered exhaustion beginning to outweigh my fear. Passing out was inevitable.
During my impromptu nap, I dreamt. In my dream, I saw Jessica. We were in Paris, it seemed, as I could see the Eifel tower off in the distance. She had always wanted to go there, but our time together was cut short before we had the chance to. At least in my dreams we could still travel the world.
She looked so happy. I knew it was a dream, but I still felt like she was actually there with me. We walked down the streets of Paris together, holding hands as we went. We exchanged no words. In fact, there was no sound in my dream at all. I noticed the lack of sound, but it in no way took away from the experience. Occasionally Jessica would look over at me with that beautiful smile of hers, happy to have a dream of hers realized. I was happy too. Unfortunately, happiness is a temporary emotion.
As my dream continued, Jessica noticed a vendor cart on the side of the road. It was being run by an older gentleman. He motioned for us to come over. Jessica looked at me in excitement and pulled me towards the cart. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the vendor was selling canaries that were being housed in small cages. I found this to be odd, but it was my dream, so who was I to judge?
Out of nowhere, a fox jumped up onto the cart and knocked over one of the cages. It fell to the ground and became open in the process. The fox then grabbed the canary in its mouth and ran off. Jessica was devastated. The look in her eye when this happened was a mixture of indescribable sadness and shock. Even though it was only a dream, I felt the need to do something.
I ran after the fox as quickly as I could. Somehow it managed to stay ahead of me. I kept running until eventually we reached the base of the Eifel Tower. This is where the fox stopped. Just as it did, my dream became unmuted. I heard all of the sounds of the bustling city at once. As such, I looked around at the world that my mind had created. It was breathtaking.
I turned back to the fox, but it was gone. In its place was Jessica. She stared at me with a very troubled expression. For the first time in my dream, she spoke.
Immediately after she said this, a bus came from her left and struck her at a very high speed. It was just like her death in real life. I was stunned. Just as a great sense of unease set in, I woke up.
Just barely coming to my senses, I realized that there was a very loud banging noise coming from my bedroom door. It seemed that I was not alone. The thunderous sound continued for a few more seconds before stopping. I heard Jessica’s voice when it did.
“Let me in. We will be happy again.”
With one more loud bang, the door flew open, revealing that fox-headed monstrosity behind it. It charged towards me with alarming speed and grabbed me by the neck. It held me up against the headboard of my bed, and opened its mouth. I could feel it pulling me in again. I could feel its energy. Worst of all, all I could think about was the look in Jessica’s eyes right before the bus hit her. That would probably be my last, fleeting thought before dying.
I awoke in a cold sweat, moments before becoming a goner. I had still been dreaming. Thankful, but still in a mental frenzy, I jumped up and opened my bedroom door. There was nothing behind it. I looked around my room, under my bed, and in my closet. I found nothing. The Kitsune did not follow me home, it seemed. I sighed in relief. The monster was gone, but repercussions of my dream were still affecting me. I fell to my knees in dismay. It might sound a bit weird, but I think I may have fully come to terms with my wife’s death, that night.
And so, here I am, almost a year later. Despite what has happened, I still call my quaint village in Assabu, Japan home. There’s just something about it that makes me stay. It could be because it is where I met my wife, or perhaps it is the overlooking mountain that my dad used to talk about when I was younger. Either way, I won’t be leaving anytime soon. As for the Kitsune, I have not seen it since our last meeting. I haven’t even discussed my experience with my buddies at the pub. I think it is best to simply forget and come to peace with the ordeal. I do, however, wonder if I will see the spirit again on one of my late night strolls. I suppose the only thing I can do is hope that I will not. Who knows – maybe it has already moved on to its next unsuspecting victim.
One thought does cross my mind from time to time. What if the fox spirit was my Jessica all along? What if, upon dying, she somehow became a Kitsune? It sounds absurd, I know, but it’s as good an explanation as any. Maybe I should have followed her into the woods that night. Maybe I could have been happy with her, despite what she had become. Maybe we actually could have been together again, after all of the years that we’d been apart.
Perhaps… perhaps we still can.
Credit: Christopher Maxim
(Click HERE to check out Christopher Maxim’s book, How To Exit Your Body and Other Strange Tales)
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