It's been a while, but here's a new bit of writing for Wednesday Briefs. It's an original fiction stand alone, based on something I've been interested in recently and which I will probably get side-eyed at for writing about since I haven't studied it that intensely, and my take on the original story is fractured in places, but enjoy anyway, I guess!
Yuki-omba. The woman of snow wakes with the sun. I kinda fucked around a bit with tengu mythology, but whatevs. Prompt used: yokai.
As the sun rose and created a glaze of sharp, cold light across the ice-covered hills of the countryside, so Yuki-omba rose with the sun and prepared for the day ahead. For the thousandth time, she washed her face in the stream, weaved a new kimono out of the snow for her to wear—as stark white and crisp as the snow bank it was born from—and brushed a flower across her lips until the crushed petals turned them blue.
She climbed over the low-lying hills that covered the countryside, gliding over the crust of ice and frost as if her feet did not touch the ground at all. No arctic wind, no blast of chill could slow her descent through the rolling expanse of trees, all bare limbs and sparkling with frozen ornaments from the previous night.
The humans in the nearby village called her Yuki-onna, whispered her name with a mixture of reverence and fear, but she did not feel like a young woman anymore, not after one thousand years of winter. All she knew, from the moment she first opened her eyes and felt the ground with her hands and fell into the fresh snow with her newly born body, was the forever season of winter. In her head, she was Yuki-omba now—the grandmother of the snow.
Eventually, the hills gave way to a long, winding path she knew ran through several villages of middling proportions before connecting to a much larger town, where the women wore kimonos with flower prints and the men still thought she was the most beautiful creature they’d ever seen.
Yuki-omba used to love being adored by the handsome young men and the mature older men who lived in these towns, especially when they gave her gifts and kept her secrets. Now, when she looks at them, all she can see are the faces of their fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and the stretching out of their ancestral scroll across the last hundreds of years that never seems to stop. All she can see is their dead.
"Are you human or yokai?" one man asked her long ago, before there were feudal lords and laws to worry over. He traced his finger across her skin; under the stars, it looked as if he were drawing a line across moonlight itself.
"Is it so wrong," she whispered, "to want to be human?"
A hundred or so years later, she would wear her first handwoven kimono, but at that moment she was as clothed as the sky itself, and she held her unchanged body against his mortal form under the celestial figures, until night changed to morning. She disappeared from the man, then sleeping forever in the snow with a lasting flush of passion on his cheeks, before the sun hit the horizon.
Now, the hem of her kimono skirted the places on the path where bare dirt peeked out amid hard-packed snow on a heavily traveled road, the imprints of horse hooves and cart wheels evident in the tracks left behind. A long time ago, the people had given her a litter in which to ride. It had been carried by a quartet of subservient kappa folk, the palanquin itself made of a black lacquered wood so rich and deep it hypnotized the humans into following it with their eyes until it was no more than a speck of black in the distance, and then gone. But the palanquin, the kappa, the power—they were all gone now. Everything, she thought, was gone.
Yuki-omba, once Yuki-onna, looked ahead. Although she had lost sense of the passing of time on a minute level, she felt as though she’d been walking for quite some time. She could smell the burning fires of breakfasts being cooked, could hear the cry of animals as their owners corralled them into their rightful places. Yes, she was close to a village full of industrious humans. The air became rich with crackling wood and animal fat as she drew closer.
She knew there was warmth in that place. She also knew she could never feel it. With one hand, she fashioned a cloak from the nearby snow and drew it up over her shoulders until the unnatural hood hung over head, casting part of her face in shadow, leaving the rest just a tantalizing part of a greater mystery.
The sound of wings flapping drew Yuki-omba's attention to the trees. A pair of crow tengu were perched on a thick branch, looking down their long red noses at her.
"Caw! Caw!" They mimicked the sound of the birds that had once lived there, before the tengu moved in and made their masks red with their blood. Now their cries were a cruel imitation of what was.
"Fools." Yuki-omba's voice was deep and low, but had as much edge as a freshly sharpened shaving razor. "Pretending to be what you cannot."
One tengu hid his face behind his feathered fan and laughed. The other tengu joined in, and together they sounded like creaking floorboards ready to snap.
Her face set tight, Yuki-omba passed by the tengu tree. The wind whistled softly in her wake. She would go to the humans yet again, and look again for the gleam of summer that would end her eternal winter.
As if deciding her luck for the day, it began to snow.
Here are the Wednesday Brief bloggers who are flashing this week: