Fox Spirit

by Nick Yee

They say the Fox Spirit is a thousand years old. The men do not speak her name because they are afraid she will seduce them in the guise of a beautiful maiden, and devour them slowly. The young women do not speak her name because they are afraid she will steal their loved ones. And so the old women are the ones who tell the children about the Fox Spirit.

There was once a girl who became so consumed by fear that even in her death her spirit lingered to feed upon the pain, the sorrow and jealousy of lovers. They say that her body of mist only takes form under a full moon, and on those nights, she takes on the guise of a beautiful maiden dressed in white gossamer. She stands silently on the edge of a river, weeping. She holds her sleeves close to her face so that those approaching cannot see her vixen face until she lunges at them with her claws. They say her eyes can mesmerize a man so that he stands helpless as her white gossamer dress is stained red. She feeds upon his fear. And then she finds his lover, and feeds upon her pain.

We asked the spirit-masters to purge her presence, but they say her spirit is too unsettled to be released. And we even went to the abandoned manor and burned it down, but we still hear a young girl's weeping when the full moon shines. And so the Fox Spirit lingers in the world all these hundreds of years. No one remembers her real name.

The only man who saw her face and lived to tell the tale was a young minstrel. His name was Tian-Yi. He had a warm, resonant voice that made you forget your troubles. He traveled across the mountains and rivers, learning the songs the peasants sang. He had no place he called home. Each song he knew was beautiful to him, and singing them set him free. As long as the sky hung over his head, he didn't mind wandering to the edge of the world.

But one day, he arrived at a city that grew prosperous from the silk trade. While sipping tea on a pavilion, he saw Xi-Xi. She was the daughter of a wealthy silk merchant. Her round face shone with a purity that glowed from within. They say she resembled her mother who had died when she was three.

Tian-Yi fell in love with her natural beauty, but he knew it was all in vain. Xi-Xi's father would never let her be married to a man who had no wealth or fame. He told himself that Xi-Xi's beauty deserved someone better than a wandering minstrel.

He continued to wander the lands, but would be drawn back to the silk city. He began to compare himself with the suitors who bore chests of silver and wore robes of golden silk. Every time he saw Xi-Xi, she became more beautiful. And every time he left the city, he felt less worthy. The peasants noticed a chord of sorrow in his voice when he sang, but the wandering minstrel would answer no questions. In their eyes, he was beautiful, but this was a beauty he could not see.

Then one night, under a full moon, Tian-Yi sang a song of sorrow to the river, hoping it would carry away his pain. As his song ends, a young maiden dressed in white gossamer approaches Tian-Yi. She covers her face with her sleeves seductively.

     "Tell me why is there so much sadness in your voice," she whispers.
     "Because there is a beauty that I am not worthy of."
     "I can give you what your heart desires," she says with a sudden glow in her eyes.
     "Give me your songs and I shall give you a chest that has endless silver."
     "My songs?"
     "Your songs of happiness and sorrow. I shall take them from your memory, and in return, I shall give you a chest of endless silver," she whispers with a smile in her eyes.
     "My songs …," he says, perplexed.
     "All the riches to make you worthy of her."
     Tian-Yi looks up into the full moon longingly.
     "Take my songs. Take my songs so that I may be worthy," he finally answers.

The maiden dissolved away into a thin mist, leaving behind a delicate wooden chest. And with the endless silver, Tian-Yi bought the finest silk robes the city had to offer. He bought the finest paintings, jewels and books. But on the way, he passed by many of Xi-Xi's suitors and heard their words for the first time. Their words had none of the fullness of the peasant's songs he once knew. Their words had no essence, and neither did they. And when he saw Xi-Xi passing by the pavilion, he finally understood that he was not in love with her.

And he realized that under the full moon, he had traded his own beauty for a chest of endless emptiness.