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Naoki slipped through the shadows, his bow in hand. His hunt had so far been unsuccessful and he knew if he didn’t find food soon his parents would go to bed hungry for the third night in a row. He cursed the daimyo for taking so much in taxes that the peasants could no longer afford to purchase food from the merchants in town. Snow covered the ground so there was no hope for anything from the garden. Even those few plants his mother grew inside were failing as the bitter cold seeped in through cracked windows and poorly maintained walls.
He heard a soft rustling and froze. He scanned the area, looking for the animal that had made the noise. He crept forward, arrow on the string but not yet drawn back. There was another sound and he stepped out into a clear area.
There, huddled on the snow covered ground, was a fox. He quickly put the arrow back in his quiver and hooked his bow over his shoulder. “Greetings, kitsune,” he said, bowing deeply. “Forgive me for disturbing you. I did not know these were your hunting grounds. I will take my search elsewhere.” He hurried away, a feeling of dread settling in his stomach. It was getting dark and he would have to return home shortly with no meat.
He started on the path back to his family’s farm. Halfway there he heard the call of a copper pheasant. He pulled his bow off his shoulder and set an arrow to the string. He moved softly through the snow. There, beneath a group of bushes, were three fat birds. He drew back the string and fired. The first fell to the ground. The other two flapped their wings but did not leave. He took them down as well. He collected them and his arrows and rushed home.
His parents greeted him with weary smiles. “What luck did you have this day, Naoki?” his father asked.
“Look,” Naoki said, setting the birds on the table.
“Such fine birds,” his mother said. “And look at those feathers. You will be able to take them into town and sell them to the merchants.” Her smile brightened. “Your luck has changed, my son.”
“It was the kitsune,” Naoki said. “It had to be.”
“You saw a kitsune?” his father asked. Naoki nodded. He told his parents of the encounter with the fox spirit. “A zenko granted you favor. You are blessed indeed.”
“Come, we will feast this night,” his mother said. “But first we must offer our thanks to the kitsune for giving us this gift.” The three of them heard the call of a fox. They hurried to the door and looked out.
Standing on the path to their house was the same fox Naoki had seen. As it stretched, five tails spread out. The three humans bowed to the kitsune. It bobbed its head before leaping off into the darkness.