The Fox


The Fox

Grateful Crane

Long long ago, there lived an old priest in an old temple on a hillside.
His every day life was simple, going about asking for alms from house to house, having funeral services when asked, and preaching sermons for the villagers.
He was scheduled to preach on the first day of every month.
One day on his way back from asking for alms, he spotted something lying by a pond near the narrow road.
He was curious to know what it was so he stopped to look at it.
It didn’t move.
He kept looking at it, wondering what it was.
Then he picked up a nearby stick to poke it with.
He walked a step or two towards the shape.
When he was near enough to poke it, he struck it instead with all his might.
It was a fox, which gave a yelp, jumped up, and ran deep into the thicket.

“Ha ha ha! Now I know it was a fox. Ha, ha, ha!”
he laughed out loud.
The fox had been taking a nap there, and might have suffered a serious injury.
But the priest still didn’t realize he’d done a thoughtless thing to the fox.
The next day, the first day of the month, the villagers were on their way to the temple to listen to the priest’s sermon.
As they approached a pond, they saw something reflecting on the surface of the water.
It was a fox, which stood up on its back legs with a leaf on its head.

“Look, the fox looks as if it is changing itself into something.”
A villager whispered to the others.
They hid themselves behind a tree near by and watched it anxiously.
The fox was gradually changing from its fur to priest’s outfit, its head finally became as bald as an egg—, and then it started to walk away.

“I can’t believe it.
What we’ve just seen over there.
Is it a fox, or the priest?”

“Maybe it’s going to the temple to bewitch us.”
“We need to let it have it in order not to bewitch us again.”
“We can catch and tie it with a rope and smoke it out until it changes into a fox again,”
all the villagers there said to each other.

When they got to the temple, the priest was already sitting there, waiting for them in the main room.
“Good evening, sir.
We saw a fox on our way here,”
one said, and he stared at the priest.

“Oh, is that so?
I also saw a fox yesterday,” t
he priest said calmly.

“Was it a big one, or a small one?
Do you know where it went?”
another villager asked.

“Well, it was this big, but I don’t know where it went.”
Soon all the villagers surrounded the priest.
Then they became aggressive, holding him down on the floor, and tying him with a rope quickly.
“What, what are you all doing?”
the priest said.

“Show us your tail, and your real ears, Sly Fox.”
They poked, hit and kicked him, and some even pulled his ears.
“Ouch! Don’t do that,”
the priest cried.
“You must be the fox we saw by the pond on our way.
It changed itself into the priest.
If you’re still keeping the priest’s shape, we’ll smoke you out until you change back into the real shape,”
the villagers said.

“I’m not a fox.
I am a priest,”
he screamed.

They dragged the priest to the grounds of the temple, where there was a pile of pine needles they’d already gathered.
As they had declared, they set fire to the pile.
Soon the priest started choking.
He coughed and coughed.
He didn’t know at first why they treated him as if he’d been a sinner.
But when he heard the word ‘the fox’ he thought that the fox might be paying him off.
“If so, all the villagers surrounding me may be foxes,”
he thought.
Then he lost consciousness.
In the meantime, villagers were watching the priest, waiting for him to change back into the fox.
Nothing happened.
They waited for some more minutes.
Then they started to worry that he might be the real priest.
“Look, he’s not moving any more.”
“He must be dying. What should we do?”
“Pour some water on him. Quick!”
they started working quickly to save the poor priest from dying.
“Oh, what a relief! He opens his eyes,”
one of the villagers said.
“Please forgive us for what we’ve done to you.
We saw a fox change its shape into something that looked exactly like you.
So we thought—”

“Oh, that’s all right.
It reminds me of the fox I hit yesterday.
I took your aggression as its revenge.
Will you offer some abrages, or fried tofu porches to the fox?
Put them on the place you saw the fox, and I think it will never bewitch us again,”
he said with a sooty face.

The end