“Goblin foxes are peculiarly dreaded in Izumo for three evil habits attributed to them…
The third and worst is that of entering into people and taking diabolical possession of them
and tormenting them into madness. This affliction is called kitsune-tsuki.
“The favourite shape assumed by the goblin fox for the purpose of deluding mankind is that
of a beautiful woman… Innumerable are the stories told or written about the wiles of fox-women.
And a dangerous woman of that class whose art is to enslave men, and strip them of all they
possess, is popularly named by a word of deadly insult — kitsune.”
Lafcadio Hearn, folklorist
The reek of summer is all upon us and they think I am crazy. I know they do. No one has said it yet in so many words, but I can see it in the angle of their eyes when they ask me how I slept. They don’t believe that I haven’t slept. They don’t believe that in the night, a fox enters my body beneath my fingernails and takes over all my inclinations. They tell me I am doing better. That’s the one way they get it right. I am feeling wonderful these days. Lithe and ready and ripe.
It is impossible to sleep with the windows closed in this heat: the air is heavy watermelons dunting against the panes. The sheets become a tangle of sweat; they drag around my limbs like kelp. I am no longer allowed to lock my door, in case I am a danger to myself. That is how they put it: “a danger to yourself”. I want to tell them that the only thing I am a danger to is the flesh of other young women, draped across other tangled bedsheets. I’m a danger to shrines and belief. But they look at my frame, they see the curve of my jaw and the softness of my eyes, and they think that no creature like me could ever be a vent for mischief. Of course, I never would be, if I were asked to choose.
But the window is open, my bed is ready, and Kitsune likes to come in the night.
When she is inside me, it is all I can do to keep from howling before we gather our supple fox paws and lace up my cherrypicker boots and leap out onto the fire-escape. I swallow that howl; I don’t want to wake the others. We can’t. Later, when the ache of daylight pours in, I’ll want to explain to them again and again, beg to be caught. But in the latest of hours I feel different. I feel the fur between my legs, rippling. I hum with the throb of the night.
As a fox, I am besotted by gutters. I tread quickly and silently. I dart between cars. As a fox, I travel across the city while the tramps look at me and see a girl in a bustled skirt picking her way, while the people hoot and holler. They do not see the tail that is tucked up beneath me, just as I don’t see their histories and arguments and all the people they have loved and left behind.
We look at one another, seeing nothing, and we brush shoulders that crackle. Then we pass into purple.
I take the subway uptown, where the parks are broader. Or I find myself at the docks. I try to stay away from the corners that are soft and sweet but Kitsune is having none of it. She tugs at my ankles; my hips roll. I descend into darkness.
I feel of late things have changed. Something clouds her eyes whenever I try and talk of plans. She is obsessed with the foxes, and there is nothing I can do to penetrate her façade.”
Three more months until we marry, and all I want to do is have the woman. To feel her body against me in bed, curled like silver shavings of lathe, waiting to be filled. But we – she – has already decided this isn’t going to be the case. We must wait, she says, she laughs, her church bells ringing.
Still, I feel of late things have changed. Something clouds her eyes whenever I try and talk of plans. She is obsessed with the foxes, and there is nothing I can do to penetrate her façade. There is nothing I can say that will make her drop her stupidity and come away with me.
Her mother believes that she needs bed rest and pampering and, though it is not my decision to make, I want to scream in all their ears. They are fools. What can bed rest do, when it is in bed she gives her mind to flights of fancy? When it is sleep that gives her mind the space to roam? She is convinced she spends each night padding the streets. She thinks she is ready for the world. One of these days, I am going to rip off the silence that says I am fine with everything.
I quiet myself with other distractions: for a man of my stead and stature, there are always options in this city. There are always women who are willing to trade their skin for an evening in exchange for a simple and cold cash. It is easy. I pay them the agreed amount and they offer themselves to me. I take them. Their bodies are empty pockets that I am permitted to slip whichever possessions I desire inside. I do so, I finish, and everything is held off for a while.
But life has a way of filling you up and I must wait three more months for her and, for now, she is persuaded that she will not give herself to me. Every street corner, every transaction is another weight dropped into my own pockets. But what else can I do? Open the pocket. Slip something inside.
The doctor’s notes
The patient is suffering from clinical lycanthropy. She is under the mistaken apprehension that she has the ability to transform into a fox. The affliction meets the first two diagnostic criteria: delusion and hallucination. Her belief is that, at some point between the hours of 24:00 and 07:00, a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) enters her body at the base of the fingernails. Indeed, small lesions can be found in this area, suggesting the patient has begun to self-harm in order to more fully realise her condition.
However, we do not believe that the patient has yet succumbed to stages three and four: disorganised speech and grossly disorganised behaviour. As such, she has not yet attained the manifestation of full schizophrenia.
The recommended course of treatment is isolation, observation, and bed rest.
The night was soupy when I lay down on the bed, on top of the sheets. I was dripping. I turned my pillow, again and again, to the cooler side, yet within moments it was a hot stone against my cheek. The sheets became wet and tangled. If the window was open, just a crack, it was because in that room everything was so sodden and thick I could hardly bear it.
I didn’t mean to fall asleep.
We’ve all heard of the things that have been happening lately: the women who wake in the mornings, bruises on their hipbones, lips muted. Bedrooms in disarray. The curtains billowing, shaking with laughter like Buddha’s belly. They ask these girls what happened and the girls, so I hear, keep their lips sealed tight.
Or, if they open their mouths, it’s to giggle. They say these girls are always giggling, struck mute and mirthful by something that comes in the night. They tell us to be careful – that it would be foolish to let anything inside. They’re probably right.
Still, it was so warm, so soupy. If I closed my eyes, it was only because my eyelids were sweating. Of course, the problem with closing your eyes is that it’s the first step on the path to slumber. Of course, I fell asleep.
The narrator’s warning
The night is soupy and the girl leaves the window open, in the hopes of attracting the smallest breeze to ruffle her feathers and lift the fringe from her head. The sickly marzipan scent rising from her thighs floats out the window and saturates the alley. A smell of slickness and innocence and fairground afternoons. A smell that attracts the foxes.
Kitsune is padding down the alley and sees the open window. Kitsune tells herself it is a bad idea to interfere, but oh, that smell. She flicks her bushy tail through the still night.
Kitsune is full of the power of a dozen small trickeries. She flicks her tail at the world while plotting to break mirrors and pilfer underwear and cause mischief to your souls.
Beware the nights when Kitsune comes. If you are soft and penetrable, if you are drunk and swooning, if you have left yourself easy to access and are not afraid – be sure to close your windows tight.
I dream of shapeless forms, mutating back and forth in the darkness. The exhale of a mountain’s rage and the sneeze of the mouth of a river. Nothingness, rubbing up against my shins like a cat. A sound held tight in a golden horn, racketing back and forth inside, looking for a way to escape, like moths against windows, but walloping instead, like moths against windows. I arch my back on the bed and miaow and this is the moment that I am most prone and easy.
Kitsune, sensing this, takes the opportunity to crawl inside.
And then I am on a magic carpet, moving through the air of the night. The carpet moves softly and gently, like the belly of a snake. I sit cross-legged and full of wishes and the carpet moves through an indigo sky. All of the stars are fairy lights; all of the lights are winking. The night is young and ancient all at once.
I look down at the rooftops, which are covered in woven carpets of a thousand arabesque patterns. The carpets are worn, threadbare in places, but still as lush as all of the jungles I hallucinated in my peyote dreams. These carpets have been passed down through a thousand generations, incense and lore seeping in with every one. If you were to put these carpets through mangles, they would sigh and out would ooze the tales of their grandmother’s grandmothers, the whispers of their trees.
From here, I can see these carpets patchworking the roofs like farmers’ fields covering vast swathes of the landscape and I wonder – if I had the chance to plant my own crops, which would I choose?
I would grow beautiful vines, spattered with fat purple grapes. I would pick the grapes when the moon was full. I would stomp down on them with my toes and until their innards popped and gushed.
Then I would take the juice and brew things fit to intoxicate sailors, to make men and women lose their minds. A heady promise of fermentation and possession, like breath on the back of your neck.
I was slathered in sleep, dreaming of oysters. Running my fingers across the pearled innards, shucking. I heard the clatter from the windowsill and a dozen trinkets fell to the floor.”
The first thing I heard was the clatter. I was slathered in sleep, dreaming of oysters. Running my fingers across the pearled innards, shucking. I heard the clatter from the windowsill and a dozen trinkets fell to the floor. The snowglobe bounced. The girl was crouched with her hair billowing with the curtains. A smile playing across her lips, her cheekbones; a high arched grin. Her shirt twitched, as if something beneath it was alive.
“Hello,” said the girl. Her voice was soft, but something caught underneath, snagging and barbed. The air smelled of marzipan.
“Hi,” I said. That was all it took. She was upon me, feral and quick, and the sheets were round our legs, and we were falling.
I couldn’t help the giggles that bubbled like yeast beneath my lips.
I tried to talk to her today, but the woman will not listen. She turns from me; she hides her mouth with her hand. If I did not know better, I would say that she has been talking to someone. She asked me how I spent the previous evening, and I happened to look up in the midst of my story to meet her eye.
The look on her face. There was something in the look on her face. A twitch of the lip; a gleam in her eye like the broken fragments of oyster shells. I could swear the woman was trying not to laugh.
I stopped talking, of course. I clutched her upper arms in my fists. Are you listening to me, Eri? She swore she was. Patted her brow. Said it was the sleeplessness, of course, how to concentrate in the heat, the sleepiness?
If she keeps this up, I will do something. This is my promise. If she needs to be taught a trick about how to make the body relax, I will show her my solution. If need be, I will make her take it.
Today, when the doctor asked me, I let my mouth flutter open like butterfly wings and said, Marvellous. I said, A miracle. I let the idea fall that, just perhaps, I was wrong all along?
Maybe it was the heat.
The foolishness of a woman.
I said, I’m feeling much better. I smiled a smile of cocoons. Still, I didn’t talk too much. I didn’t want him to examine me too closely, for even a fool like the doctor could surely see the thicket of copper fur curling at the nape of my back? If he were to look. If he weren’t convinced my problems were of the moon, the tides, and the blood.
With nail-bitten fingers, I fluffed my petticoats. With downcast eyes, I leant forward on my chair and let my lashes flutter. I swallowed everything and opened my mouth to reveal an empty tongue. Pliant, submissive, easy. The smoothest part of the stream.
Hiro kept his hand on my shoulder the entire time, a captain at the prow of his ship, adjusting minutely.
Of course, he had no idea that the magnets had shifted, the compasses were confused, the direction we were heading in had irrevocably changed.
How could he?
It’s easy now, getting through the day. My hands are steady as I pour the tea, curtsey, and listen to the gentlemen with a sympathetic tilt of my chin. My chin can afford sympathy, for none of this is real. They are all so easily fooled.
My politeness is a steel lacquer I use to keep my insides tight, and they lap at it with their great slobbery tongues. Though I shudder inwardly at the drool on my hands, I know I can wash it off, flick it from my fingers, the moment the day is done.
And when the day is done, I rush to my room and peel off every layer and fling myself upon the sheets. I allow myself to sweat.
The window quivers in its frames and I close my eyes and wait.
Hello you. Oh you. Hello. Hello hot lace and downy marzipan thighs. Hello trouble. Lie back. Spread your ankles. Let me nip at your flesh with sharp pointed teeth. Don’t yelp. Yelp harder. Let me bury my snout in the wettest of your fur. Burrow my paws. You, who wriggles and barks amongst bedsheets. You, who tastes of bonfires and mangoes and hot dirt.
Show me your hands. Let’s see those fingernails. See here, where the flesh is soft? Let me in.
The mother’s cry
Oh lord, why have you done this to us? Where have you taken her? What spirits are latched to her soul?
When I came to her room this morning, curtains billowing and the bed bare, I knew at once I should have listened. It is too late to say sorry, and yet.
I am sorry, Eri. I’m sorry. Please come home, my child. Come back to me. Let us all, somehow, be forgiven.
Jane Flett is a philosopher, cellist, and seamstress of stories. She is one half of the riot grrl band Razor Cunts, and lives in Berlin.