Ten People, Ten colors (Japanese: Juunin Toiro)
Vixen dug her first den above Rice Plains Town, where she birthed and suckled four vigorous kits. Her coat coarsened. It hugged her ribs. Fox brought kills but never satisfied her appetite. She begged him to hunt, herself. "I'm tired of being hungry. Being isolated."
He said, "Cats in town are plentiful, but avoid going near Blood Reeking Pack. Ignore any scraps left out—and the rats." First Wife had bled to death from a poisoned rat.
In town, chasing cats fatigued Vixen, intensifying her hunger. Outside the house of Kureijii kyattoredi, the crazy cat lady, the scent of bone-broth rice lured Vixen to a yard absent of dogs, inciting a brazen self-confidence in her. Had she been honest to Fox about digging under the fence to get to the rice, he would have smelled the trap, known to abandon their den. Instead, she returned for the irresistible treat three evenings in a row.
On an afternoon, traces of mortal fear plaited the air above the den like strips of tattered silk. Fox yipped the alarm, and the rhythmic chaos of bellowing hounds stilled Vixen. The kits dropped their squirrel's tail tussle. Below them, a tomesode-clad fox streaked across the valley, Blood Reeking Pack giving chase, and armed men astride horses following.
The kits looked to Vixen. "Kitsune," she whispered.
A scream, a flutter of birds startled from high branches—the chase executed.
On the morning Blood Reeking Pack came for them, Fox grabbed the nearest kit and disappeared into the Greedily Grown Thicket. Vixen scooped up Runt, her favorite. They hid the two and sprinted back—but fangs had shredded even the squirrel-tail toys.
Stunned, they returned to the hidden kits, but crows had found them, carrying them off, bragging of their feat in sharp, sharp cries. Vixen's coat turned a mourning, translucent white.
Spring. Fox dug a fresh den for Vixen in Leafy Tree Copse overlooking the lazy smokes of Ten Chimneys. She did not want to enter the den, but the time came when the writhing in her belly compelled her to crawl underground. Six kits.
The black-clad Burakumin of Ten Chimneys tended flowers, vegetables, and orchards. Their dogs—hardly bigger than cats—tore rats apart yet feared the hawks. And Fox approved of the fried tofu the kind Burakumin left out. "Ten people, ten colors," he tutored the kits. "Two communes, two colors. Here, we are at peace. Respected."
Vixen looked away. Two litters, two colors, she thought. Two litters, two hearts. Her heart, empty as a robbed den, pullulated despair.
lives and works in a small medieval town on the Swiss side of the Rhine River. She has fiction published or forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, upstreet thirteen, Collateral, JMWW, Lammergeier
and Orca Lit