My first glimpse of the world was of a wide open sky covered in white clouds, on a spring morning when the seams of winter’s cloak still lingered on the threshold between seasons. I squinted at the fuzzy shapes blending within themselves, dancing in and out of my sight. It was all new and confusing.
I sneezed and jumped, startled when a puff of white smoke lifted from my snout. Cocking my head, I blew air out of my nose again. Steam rose from my nostrils to disappear in the shadows of our shelter. I giggled.
I was born on the mountain where the first Inari shrine was built, in simpler times, when humans were scarce and Amaterasu-sama’s sixty-sixth descendant was crowned emperor among them. My mother’s den was a hollow in a gnarly cedar tree, a snug bowl cushioned with moss which I shared with my sisters.
The first smell I remember was the musky scent of Mother’s fur coat. Her tail was wrapped around my back. She sensed me moving and called for me, raising a leg and revealing her belly. I nuzzled her, instinctively searching for milk, and yipped in triumph when I found the source of my nourishment. Warm and sweet was the liquid filling my belly and I knew for the first time what it meant to be content.
The silence permeating the den, combined with the pleasure of a full belly and the warmth of my mother’s body summoned the alluring embrace of drowsiness, and I slept. I was tired and dazed by the weight of all I learned that first day. Exhausted from the wonder of being alive.
The second day of my life I spent exploring, while Mother was out hunting. My sisters–whose eyes had not yet opened– huddled from the cold, snuggled together in a tight knot. I would have stayed with them if not for the outside sounds demanding exploration.
I climbed out of the hollow in the tree and fell snout first into a puddle. The snow dripping from the branches had gathered in a hole in the ground, not too deep, but enough to drench my coat. I yelped and scurried out, splashing around and tripping over a round rock. The rock rolled and fell on one side at my feet. A creature the size of my paw poked its head out of a crevice in the upturned stone and waggled its fist at me.
“Careful where you’re stepping, you beansprout!” It mumbled and growled as it pushed the rock back to where it had been, grunting from the effort. “Annoying children, waking up the entire glen at the crack of dawn,” it muttered, wiping its forehead with its paw.
I noticed how different its paws were from mine, and how different its body. It stood on its hind legs and had no trace of fur whatsoever. I smelled it, my nose twitching, a sweet yummy tang in my nostrils.
“Well?” the creature asked, paws on its hips. “Aren’t you going to apologize?”
I flapped my ears and padded backwards, my tail between my legs.
“I…” was the first word I ever said. I did not know what an apology was.
My back hit something solid, but soft and warm, like Mother. The tiny creature bulged its eyes as it looked up, and up, and up. I turned my head to see what it was. It wasn’t Mother.
“Is my son bothering you, Biko-san?”
“Not at all, Inari-sama,” the thing squeaked, prostrating on the ground, face plastered in the snow.
“Son, apologize to our yōkai friend for ruining his sleep and messing up his home. You have been rude to him. You need to say, ‘I’m sorry, Biko-san.’”
He had called me son to let me know who he was, but I had known him the moment our eyes had met. My heart knew the word for who he was, my soul knew his imprint. Otousan. Father. No words were needed to be learned. I knew him as I knew I was alive. My heart thrummed, recognizing my sire.
He was magnificent, my father. I thought the wide open sky to be the most awe inspiring thing I had seen in my short life, but now, with him at my side I knew that I had been wrong. His aura took my breath away as it expanded almost like that of the great august goddess in the sky. It made the glen hold its breath. Even now, centuries later my father’s godly presence still strikes me speechless.
“Otousan,” I whispered.
“Apologize first, Kogitsune, then come and meet me properly.”
The yōkai had his face turned to me, but his features were blank and I could not discern his emotions. I would find out later that I was staring at a white mask with black slits and a spiraling circle painted in red where the mouth and nose should have been.
“I’m sorry, Biko-san,” I said, bowing my head.
“All is forgiven, little god.”
My father smiled and inclined his head at the yōkai. Then he turned and moved slowly away. “Follow me,” he said. I padded after him, splashing in the melting snow as I hurried and jumped, trying to keep up.
I couldn’t see any resemblance between us at all. He had nine bushy tails which swayed from side to side as he moved, whereas I had only one. His white coat gleamed, reflecting the light from above, whereas mine was reddish like a stain. And he was huge, a giant next to me, ten times larger than my mother.
We stopped on the shore of a lake, in a patch of white and purple flowers. He sat and I followed. We were close to the den, just on the other side of a line of cedars. The lake was a mirror that reflected our image. I lowered my head, looking at myself, taking in the snout, the ears, the small fangs. A spindly-legged skimmer ran across the surface in short bursts, ruining our reflection.
It was so quiet. It would always be like that around him. Behind me the glen breathed again, birds chirping, animals scurrying up and down the trees, and the drip-drip of the melting snow joining in a song. The stillness had now clasped the lake and the reeds surrounding it. Sound seemed to fade where my father stood, as if time slowed down, and the mountain bowed to him and kept silent in reverence.
I looked over my shoulder. Something magical happened where Father stepped. White irises bloomed under his paw prints, and he had left a trail of them from our den to the lake.
“Hajimemashite, Kogitsune.” It’s the first time we meet, Kogitsune. He looked down at me, his golden eyes shining with his divinity.
We said nothing more that day, but spent the moments contemplating the lake in a silence while our hearts spoke and got acquainted. We would spend many hours in mutual contemplation over the years.
When the ripples cleared and the lake returned to glass, I saw our resemblance. It was the eyes we shared, the golden eyes of divinity. The eyes of immortality. Little did I know how different I was from my sisters.