Sunday, 16 November 2014

Shiina The Fox and The Shooting Star.

 A short story

Shiina was a fox like any other. And like most of them, she possessed magic and she could also change her shape according to her wish. Yet there was one thing in which she was different from her brethren: Shiina liked people and therefore chose to dwell among them, and she has been living so since many years ago. After she’d decided to forsake the green shadows of her birth forest, she went to live between the deep shadows of the city skyscrapers. She lived in an old little house that stood squeezed between two huge concrete blocks of flats and offices. As for her human form, she chose the likeness of a young woman. When she left her native land, first she tried to look like a young man; that she did not fancy for long, because things were expected from her she didn’t want to do, like fighting other young men. Then she looked like an old woman, but that meant her limbs were ought to be weak and her sight poor and her teeth made from plastic and she did not like that either. Finally she changed to a young woman of a homely face and a rather stocky body, who, while taking a walk or bringing home groceries from the nearby store, would stir about as much commotion as a golden autumn leaf floating in the air. In contrary to her short limbs she posessed long deft fingers, a smiling round face with a pointed chin, red cheeks, slightly slanted eyes of the colour of honey and merry eyebrows. The only vanity she allowed herself was a shoulder long mane of auburn red hair, which she liked to describe as spun golden illuminated by the red rays of the setting sun, although a poet or an artist could maybe label them as titian. Others simply called them ginger. In short, her appearance was in no way beautiful, but at least it was interesting.

Shiina was walking home on one fine winter afternoon with two bags full of foodstuff. She let out little puffs of warm breath and enjoyed how they turned to white clouds in the crisp air. Although it was not too late, the sun was already about to set behind the high buildings and to let the cold world get yet colder. Shiina arrived to her house still smiling and humming a foreign note under her nose. She unlocked the door and walked in. She put down the bags on the kitchen table, emptied them and picked up several items: two cans of conserved sardines, white bread and pack of short bread, a pack of semolina, milk, black tea and hard candy. She scrutinized the small batch of foodstuff and then added an orange. She scowled at the orange, took it away and replaced it with an apple. She put the stuff in one of the brown paper bags and, taking it from the table, casually tossed the orange back into it. Then she left her house. She walked less than a minute before she arrived to a run-down five storied building. She stuck out a pointy tongue on the ugly graffiti sitting on the wall next to the entrance, opened the door and walked in. She quickly ran up two stories and standing in front of the ram-shackled door she knocked once, then thrice, and then twice again.

After her visit Shiina returned home. First she had dinner and then went out again. She headed to the nearby park, a large patch of green grass and trees in the middle of the city. Despite her love for civilisation she missed the wilderness, and the big park could at least partly solace her craving. That was one of the reasons she chose the nearby little house to live in. The park was almost empty; there were few people there at this hour. Most of the folks deemed the park to be rather unsafe after dark and Shiina did her best to avoid those, who did not. A part of them were junkies seeking a quiet refugee for their business and the rest of them, whom Shiina really tried to avoid, were people walking their dogs. As a fox, Shiina wasn’t able to overcome her dislike of domestic canines, her natural enemies. Besides, they were able to see her true form and always made a racket with their belling and howling when she was nearby. What more, in the park people often let their beats roam freely, unlike on the streets, when they were kept on latch and couldn’t chase the fox even if they tried to.

Shiina ducked under the canopy of trees and stopped after walking a bit further. She took in the night air; there was no scent of a dog nearby. Her eyes flashed red and she started to change form, until instead of a girl there stood a smart red fox with two billowing tails. She jumped joyfully into the air and fell on all four, leaving two pairs of deep imprints in the snow, and started to run. She chased a squirrel until it sought rescue on a tree, jumped among the criss-crossed shadows painted on the white ground by moonlight sifting through the leafless boughs and chased her tails for a while. She stopped on a small hill in the middle of the city forest and turned her head up to the skies. There were no clouds tonight. It was very cold, but Shiina didn’t care, for it meant that she could see the stars. Not many, mind you. Nowadays their light was mostly driven out by the merciless glow of the city. But the fox had better eyes than other people and therefore she could see at least some of the brightest ones.

Suddenly the skies lit up. A star fell, and it fell just into the park where Shiina was. The fox pricked her ears, jumped in the air and ran towards it. Because of the excitement she was reckless and didn’t realize that the unusual event would stir interest in others too. So it happened that she crossed the path of a pair of dashing greyhounds and a beagle. In the moment they caught the whiff of her scent they forgot the shooting star and started to chase the fox instead. Shiina tried to escape them quickly. However, because of the park being a park and not a true forest she soon found herself driven into a kind of wooden enclosure, a playground with a climbing wall. Because she was stressed out she never thought of changing to her human form, and the wall was too high to jump through even for a magical fox like Shiina. She was trapped. She barred her teeth and raised her hackles and bushed her two tails, but it didn’t help. The beasts were closing the gap, never ceasing their deafening barks. The fox was sure her end has finally come, when something happened. A flash of light, a vibration in the air and a slim figure dashed between the aroused fox and the rampant dogs. The switch in their mood was amazing. All at once their barking changed to whining and they ran away with their tails stuck between their legs. After this the mysterious person left out a sigh and collapsed exhausted to the foxes’ legs. The light died.


Shiina sat next to the bed with a worried look on her face. Despite her exhaustion after her misadventure she didn’t go to rest, as her bed was occupied by a sleeping young woman. It was the person who saved her and then lost consciousness. She had an oblong, pale face, distant like the cold light of a star, and it was framed by long, pale blond hair. Even her lips and her eyelashes were pale; so were her hands, as if someone bleached the entire colour out of her appearance. Still, Shiina thought that she was beautiful, just like a star. She touched her hand; it was cold. Then the woman opened her eyes, and they too were a pale shade of blue. She looked at Shiina and smiled. “You are all right, little fox,” she whispered.

“Yes, I am, thank you,” said Shiina. “You saved me from those dogs. I panicked and I am really sorry for causing you an accident.”

The woman sat up slowly and looked around her. “Where am I?”

“I took you home with me,” said Shiina. “You were exhausted from your long journey, and then you scared away the beasts. It is not easy, to fall on the earth from the sky.”

“No, it is not,” agreed the Star.

“Why did you fall?” asked Shiina and put a steaming cup of tea into the woman’s cold hands.

The Star cautiously sipped from the fragrant liquid and closed her eyes. “I don’t remember,” she said. “I think I saw something from up there and I wanted to take a closer look, and I thought to myself ‘I must go, I have to meet that person’... but then I forgot.”

Shiina smiled: “Well, then we have to find out. I’ll help you,” she said. “But first things first, you have to sleep well tonight, and I need to rest as well. What is your name? How shall I call you?”

The Star looked sad. “I don’t have a name. You can call me as you wish.”

“If it’s so, then I shall call you Asteri. Do you like it?”

Asteri laughed and clapped her hands. “I like it very much! Thank you!”

“Good night and sleep well, Asteri,” said Shiina and stood up.


Come next day, Asteri felt stronger and wished to get up. After leaving the bed she told Shiina she would like to go outside with her. The fox was by no means against it, but it left them with a practical problem: Asteri wore only a very thin, billowing kind of dress and was barefooted. “And it is winter outside,” explained Shiina. “Of course I know you do not feel cold - neither do I, but in this world one has to keep up appearances lest you be frowned upon, or worse, questions are bound to come. And that means trouble.”

And exactly therein lay their problem. Shiina owned several winter pieces and boots, but she was much shorter and way chubbier than the lanky Star. The clothing wouldn’t fit her, as wouldn’t the shoes. Finally they settled on an old, washed out coat that was originally too long for Shiina, but which was oversized for Asteri except the sleeves, which were too short. Yet it had to work for now. As for the shoes, Shiina found a truly clever solution: she cut off the front part of her old rain boots. Worn over a pair of dark socks their weird condition wasn’t obvious at first glance and like mentioned, Asteri wouldn’t be bothered by cold or wetness. Equipped like this their first trip led to the nearby clothing store where they bought a pair of winter boots and a right sized and right shaped coat, a shawl and a cap. Asteri was overjoyed about these presents, just like she was about the life around her. When they walked on the streets, she constantly looked around her and commented on what she saw: “Look Shiina, the lights in the windows, they look just like stars on the sky. Ah, there are children, they speak one through another, say how can they understand each other? And oh, look, so many cars. I don’t like cars, Shiina. Change sides with me, please?” And so on she went, and Shiina was smiling. They tried to avoid as many dogs as possible, because they went mad when they passed them. The small ones Shiina didn’t mind and Asteri just laughed at their helpless furry. But the bigger ones could make trouble, being heavy enough to pull their masters after them, if they set their mind to follow their instincts.

So far all went long and the two of them chatted about all unimportant matters of the world, when the Star suddenly became silent. “What’s wrong?” asked the fox. “I was thinking about the stars,” Asteri answered slowly. “It’s so cold up there. Really, really cold,” she said and stole a glance at Shiina. “It’s dead there, silent...unlike here. Here it’s full of life and buzzing, full of movement. It smells here awfully, it’s very noisy, the streets are dirty and ugly and there are lots of dogs, but it is life in here. The city is alive; the people in the city are alive.”

“Yes,” agreed the fox. “They are alive, against all odds and chances. Follow me; I want to introduce you to someone who is still alive as well.”

First they went to a grocery shop and bought some sardines and pears and a tinned soup with mushroom flavour. Then they went to a smoking shop and bought some pipe tobacco. After that they went down the street, turned left, then right and stopped in front of the shabby block of flats with the unseemly graffiti.

“Mr. and Mrs. Aitch live here,” announced Shiina, “and we’re going to visit them now.” They went inside. “Mr. Aitch is an old grumpy man. Don’t take it bad when he calls you names, he hates everyone. Especially the young ones,” explained Shiina while they climbed the stairs. “But I am not young,” laughed Asteri. “I am older than he is, I’m older than you, I’m even older than this city.” “I know,” agreed Shiina, “but you look young. From his point of view you are young and therefore on the wrong side of life,” she said and knocked on the door.

First came a sound of violent coughing, then they heard a scruff voice calling profanities and finally, a click of the lock. The door opened a crack and stopped. I was still fastened by the safety latch.

“Who is it?”, asked a man, of whom only an unkempt bushy eyebrows and one small and dark, yet lively eye peeked from the gap.

“It’s I, Shiina the Fox,” said Shiina.

“I don’t like foxes, you little vixen,” was the gruff answer and the door shut with a bang. Yet it was immediately followed by the sound of the latch being unfastened and the door opened again. Shiina walked in, followed by the Star. “Hello, Mr. Aitch. How is Mrs. Aitch today? This is Asteri, a friend of mine who came for a visit from a foreign land,” she introduced the Star to the scowling old man. The pale woman now became the object of the man’s frown and she returned his stare in a calm way, observing him in turn. She could see that the old man used to be tall but was now bent, with a potty belly and thin arms and a white scruffy beard which had seen better times. He smelled like fresh tobacco and candy and other, less savoury things.

“Hello, Mr. Aitch,” said Asteri and smiled at him and it took him by surprise. For a short moment it looked like he would smile back, but that moment passed and he turned away angrily with a mumbled but audible “Bloody foreigners.”

Asteri went into the living room and Shiina followed Mr. Aitch into the kitchen where she unpacked her shopping.

The old man scowled suspiciously at the fruit. “What’s this?”

“Pears for Mr. Aitch. She cannot eat only sardines and semolina. Besides, she likes fruits.”

“How’d you know she does? I won’t pay fo’ them.”

“Mr. Aitch, you know I always bring some fruit and I never ask you to pay for them. And every old lady likes fruit, whether she says so or not.” Shiina went to the cupboard and from the top drawer she pulled out an old, but sharp knife and peeled the pear. After she finished, she cut it into little pieces, arranged them on a plate and together with a fork and a grumbling Mr. Aitch took them into the living room. There on the opposite side sat an old lady who was all wrinkled up and who blindly stared out of the window. Asteri was seated at her feet; she held her hand and talked to her in a genteel voice. The lady never answered, just kept on staring on the world outside. Shiina walked to them, sat on a chair and started to feed Mrs. Aitch, who obediently opened her mouth when the moist piece touched her lips, and chewed it mechanically.

Asteri turned into the room. “She asks me to tell you she loves you still,” she addressed Mr. Aitch, who, upon hearing it, snorted: “Bollocks. She ain’t no speaking nothing since she got the stroke,” and went to the balcony to light his pipe.
 “Oh but she speaks, only no one really listens to her.” Asteri gently touched Mrs. Aitches’ cheek. “She also tells me she is worried about you and that you should not smoke so much, Mr. Aitch. It is not good for your health.”

“Bah, poppycock!” exclaimed Mr. Aitch into the air without even turning his head. Because if he did, they would notice his eyes got misty. And of course, he wouldn’t want them to see that. Still, he never put out the pipe.

After a while they went away, leaving Mr. Aitch standing on the balcony and looking at the city. However, when they reached the street and Shiina looked up, he was gone.


Next day after tea they went out again. Dark was falling and the air was crisp and a bit humid. Asteri wished to go to the park to find the place where she fell. Maybe she could remember the reason of her coming here, she said. They walked for quite a bit until they found the right spot and they were disappointed for it was nothing there. Neither trace of the impact, nor memory found. The only thing they managed to do, unfortunately, was to advertise their presence to the dogs. Just like Shiina and Asteri, they thought it wouldn’t be bad to return to the grounds where they found such an exciting prey last time. When Shiina heard their barks, she swore. “Darn, I never thought they’d notice us so quickly.” Asteri clutched her arm. “I am afraid, Shiina. They are furious. How did they know we were here? The park is so big!” ”They have my scent. They know now that there is a fox in the area and even my human form cannot fool their noses.” “I’ll stop them again,” said Asteri and braced her feet in the snow. “Don’t you dare,” rebuked her Shiina, “you lost consciousness last time. It wouldn’t do any good if it happened again.” “What shall we do then?”

”Run!” said Shiina. She took Asteri’s hand and they both dashed ahead. After a while she noticed that the Star had difficulties to keep up and was panting too much, and it was bad luck because the dogs were catching up with them. Never stopping or even slowing down she pulled Asteri’s hand forward in order to get her in front of her. The Star stumbled forward with a cry, but ere she could fall Shiina picked her up in her arms as if she weighed nothing. “Hold on tightly,” said the fox and started to lengthen her steps and finally leaped into the air. They were flying. Asteri clapped her hands which she had locked around Shiina’s neck and laughed with delight and relief. The dogs were getting mad beneath them, as they were really furious about their inability to follow their prey into the air.

“Why didn’t you escape in the same way the other night?” asked Asteri. “I don’t know, it never occurred to me,” said the fox. “They took me unawares. I admit I panicked.” 
Asteri shook her head and stroked Shiina’s cheek. “You are a young fox, indeed,” she whispered, and the said cheek flushed red.

They landed on the roof of a rundown building, which once seemed to be a part of an industrial complex. Some of the edifices were still in use, as showed the smoke rising opposite them. 
Shiina looked up to the sky. The thin chimney of the building belched out thick wreaths of white smoke that expanded as they rose toward the dark sky. At some point the torrent split into two thinner wisps and just over the fork, in the gap there hung the full moon and he looked smug, as if he was responsible for the sudden parting of the smoke. Asteri followed her gaze. “He looks so small, so dark from up there,” she said. “But from down here it seems as if he held his own life, his own light. As if he himself was luminous and brought people hope, despite of being only a speck of dust in the way of our own starlight.”

Shiina nodded to consent but said nothing. She only grasped Asteri’s hand and squeezed it tightly. Asteri whispered: “And he cheats on our light, you know. He is dark and dead, yet he helps himself on sunlight and pretends it’s he who is emitting it. But he does not. He is cold, and the only thing he does is blending out our own light. He really looks different from down here. And now I can’t hate him anymore, on the contrary, I pity him. The only thing he can do is cheat his way into this world.”

After a silent while she added: “And maybe his cheating isn’t a totally bad thing, you know. As long as the other party doesn’t know he is cheating, he can still bring hope, and the hope is not false like he himself, no, it’s genuine.”

Shiina thought about her words before she replied: “Mrs. Aitch was a well-known opera singer when she was young. But after she married, her husband was jealous of her admirers and didn’t treat her very nicely. She decided to give up her career and stay home and she even forgave him everything. Because he was such an inspiration for others, she said. Mr. Aitch was a famous literary critic, so she said. They met in the theatre and fell in love. He also wrote other things, in newspapers and magazines, he had a column and answered questions from aspiring writers. What to avoid, how to write to become a good and famous author. He answered any question and he also answered letters asking for advice which were delivered to his home. He was not a gentle person, not to her anyway, he often lost his temper and he had a heavy hand and a sharp tongue, but others admired him. He brought them hope, that there was future and spotlights reserved for them, if they only kept to his counsel. He was like the moon: he didn’t write a single fictional work, he only criticised literary and dramatic works of other people, he was not a creator and yet, he helped to create other things. And people thought he was a great person and they didn’t care about Mrs. Aitch, they forgot her completely. But she didn’t complain; and now he is taking care of her. He is doing his best. It isn’t much, but it is as much as she’ll ever get in return for her succumbing.”

“I knew Mrs. Aitch when she still sang on stage,” continued the fox. “She forgot me since, but we met a few times and she spoke about her decision. That she would retire because of her husband. I saw the faded bruises under her make-up but it was not my place to say anything. She admired him just like the others. Then I travelled and when I returned to this city, I searched for her, and for her husband. And when I found her, she was decrepit and matt and her husband was cold and feeble.”

“Unlike you, Asteri. You are shining right now,” Shiina said finally. And really, the Star was glowing and it looked like there was a halo around her hair. She thought Asteri looked really beautiful. The Star rested her head on the foxes’ shoulders. That night Shiina didn’t have to sleep on the floor. Snuggled up in bed, she rested her head on the Star’s pale breasts. Asteri stroke her red mane and said: “I remembered why I came here. I came because I saw a little fox that I wanted to meet. I came here because of you.“ Shiina smiled and closed her eyes.


A week flew by, and if you asked Shiina, it went far too fast. She wished days would have more hours, but even her magic couldn’t change the earth’s laws. Moreover, as time passed Shiina noticed that Asteri got sadder and less radiant. On the sixth day, she spoke to Shiina words which the fox had been dreading to hear since the night on the roof. 
“Tomorrow I am going to have to return to the skies. I have been here for too long and my light is dying.” 
“Let me go with you,” said Shiina and clutched her hand, but the Star shook her head. 
“You cannot come, my dear. You still have things to do here. You still have your purpose.” Then Shiina saw the Star was right and she hung her head and shed bitter tears and when Asteri saw that, she gently touched her cheek and kissed her brow and said: “One day, I’ll come back to you, I promise. So wait for me.“
“I will“ said the Fox.
The Star left on the seventh day, after twilight turned the city to a mirror image of the stars above. Shiina and Asteri climbed on the roof of the building where they had watched the moon before. In the middle of the roof Asteri stopped, turned and bent down to kiss Shiina and while she was kissing her, she slowly turned into thin air. The warmth of her lips lingered for a while on the foxes’ mouth although the Star was there no more. She looked up and thought she could see a small patch of light travelling very fast upwards, until it was too far away even for her sharp sight.

Shiina stayed all night up there and watched the skies. Only when dawn came and the sun extinguished the pale light of the stars she left the roof. She took a shower, changed into fresh clothes and went into the city to do her chores. In the afternoon she bought some canned sardines, tobacco and oranges and went to the shabby block of flats never stopping to make face on the graffiti. When she knocked, the door opened up a crack and from the gap a small, petulant eye glared at her angrily. “Who’s this,” came a grumpy voice.

“It’s I,” she answered. “Shiina the Fox.”


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