Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Fox Girl

There was once a wealthy man who had a son but no daughter. So badly did he want a daughter that he spent much of his time praying at temples and consulting fortunetellers. Finally, his prayers were answered and a girl was born: she was the apple of her fathers’ eye and could do no wrong.

When she was fifteen years old, the girl went mushrooming on the mountainside and was so engaged in her task that she did not notice the gathering shadows of dusk. Meanwhile, at home, her parents were becoming anxious, and they formed a search-party to comb the hills. However, just as they reached the top of a ridge they spotted the girl through the gloom in the valley below. Her father was much relieved.

‘Where have you bee, my dear?’ asked her father ‘We were so worried for you; a wild beast could have killed you.’

‘Forgive me, Father,’ she replied. ‘I was so tired I fell asleep beneath a bush; when I awoke the sun was already going down.’

The incident was soon forgotten. But a few days later a strange thing happened: one of the master’s cows died in the night. Next night another died, then another. The bodies showed no sign of wound or illness. The master was so concerned he ordered the cowherd to keep watch all through the night to catch the culprit.

That night, the man hid behind some hay in the corner of the cowshed and waited patently. At midnight he was astonished to see the master’s daughter creep into the shed and approach a cow. Anxiously he watched her oil her hands and arms with sesame oil; then to his horror, she slipped her arm into the cow’s belly and pulled out its liver. And she ate it.

The poor cow rolled over and died.

In the morning the cowherd went to the master and recounted all he had seen.

The father, who loved his daughter with all his hear, shouted angrily at the man, ‘How dare you invent such wicked stories against my daughter. You will pay for these lies.’

And the man was dismissed.

Next night a second cowherd was set to guard the cows. He too hid behind some hay and witnessed the daughter’s odd conduct: she oiled her hands and arms, thrust one arm into the cow’s belly, pulled out the liver and ate it. And the cow rolled over and died.

Next morning he went to the master and told him the story.

The father still would not believe such tales of his beloved daughter. So the man was dismissed.

A third herdsman spent the night in the cowshed and reported all he had seen. He too was sacked.

Thus it continued: each night a cow died. Then, when no cows were left, the pigs began to die, and then the horses all of the same mysterious ailment. In the end, all the cowherds, swineherds, and stable boys were dismissed and no one from the village would work for the rich man. All that was left of the once-mighty herd of cattle was a solitary old horse.

Next night, the master sent his only son to solve the mystery. The young man concealed himself behind some hay and kept watch. In the middle of the night he heard footsteps and the barn door opened. It was his sister stealthily entering. In his relief, he was about to cry out to her. Yet something in her look stopped him: her eyes were sly and narrow, her thin lips cruelly curled, her face stony and stern.

He stared in disbelief as she greased her arms and thrust them into the horse’s belly, pulling out its liver. With blood dripping from her lips, she then chewed and swallowed the steaming meat.

He dared not breath until she had returned to the house.

At dawn he called his father into the barn and showed him the dead horse.

‘Father,’ he said grimly, ‘you will not like what you hear; but I must tell you the truth. It is my sister. She it is who came in the night and ate the horse’s liver.’

His father stared at him with hurt and anger in his eyes. He was silent for a moment, then shouted at his son, ‘you must be madly jealous of you sister to make up such tales. No doubt you fell asleep and had a nightmare. Get out of my sight, I don’t want you in my house.’

Not knowing where to go, the disconsolate son wandered off into the hills. After several months he came upon an old monk struggling across a mountain stream. Having helped the monk to safety, he was invited to stay the night at a nearby temple. And there he told the story of this sister. The old man nodded sadly.

‘Yes, I understand,’ he said. ‘That night, when your sister was in the hills, she must have been eaten by a fox who took her form, the very likeness of your sister. So it was really the fox who killed the animals.’

‘Then I must return at once,’ the lad exclaimed, ‘and warn my parents.’

‘I fear it is too late,’ said the old monk. ‘Morning is wiser than evening. Set out tomorrow.’

Next morning, the young man was given three small bottles: red, green, and blue.

‘Take this horse,’ said the monk, ‘and use the bottles as I have instructed.’

With that the boy thanked the monk and rode off down the mountain track. It was several days before he arrived home. Once there, he could hardly believe his eyes: the house and yard were overgrown with weeds. And there, in the middle of the yard, was his sister, sitting in the sun, catching lice and worms, and eating them.

‘My dear brother,’ she cried on seeing him. ‘Where have you been all these months? How I’ve missed you.’

She went to hug and kiss him, but he drew back in alarm.

‘Where are Father and Mother?’ he asked.

‘They lie in their graves,’ she replied, giving no explanation for their deaths.

Realizing that she had eaten them too, the young man knew he had to escape before she killed him as well but how? Suddenly he had an idea.

‘Dear Sister, I have come a long way and I’m very hungry,’ he said. ‘Could you prepare a meal?’

He thought he would escape while she was cooking. But the fox girl was cunning.

‘Assuredly, dear Brother. But I shall tie a rope to your leg and the other end to my waist.’

She left him in the yard while she went to prepare some food; every now and then she tugged on the rope to make sure he had not run away. After some time he managed to undo the knot, tie the rope to a gatepost and ride swiftly away on his horse. It was some time before the fox girl realized she had been tricked.

She rushed after him with the speed of a fox and it was not long before she was gaining on him. He glanced back and, to his horror, saw her rapidly catching him up, reaching out her hand to grasp his horse’s tail. Recalling the old monk’s instructions, he swiftly took the little red bottle from his pocket and threw it behind him.

The bottle instantly burst into a ball of red fire, blocking the fox girl’s path. Although the flames singed her hair and clothes, she raced round the fire and was soon overtaking her brother again. This time he threw down the green bottle and straightaway a dense green bush of brambles sprang up, barring her way. Although she was scratched and bleeding from the thorns, she fought her way through and began to catch up with the fleeing brother.

Just as she was about to grab the horse’s tail, however, he took out the blue bottle and desperately cast it behind him. This time it formed a mighty blue lake that soon engulfed the fox girl who splashed and thrashed in the water before sinking below the waves.

As the brother watched from the shore, he saw the dead body of the fox float to the surface of the lake. At last he had killed the fox who had taken his sister’s form.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Red Fox

One Summer day, Kajortoq, the red fox, left her brood of cubs in the den and went out in search of something to eat. On a vast plain she met Aklaq, the brown bear, and said: "Cousin, it has been a long time since I last saw you! What is the matter with you?"

"I am hungry," replied Aklaq.

"Me too. I really am," said Kajortoq. "Let’s hunt together. You go this way and I shall go that way."

"There is nothing this way but ptarmigan," complained Aklaq, "and they are afraid of me. Every time I get close to them they fly away."

"It is easy for me to catch them," remarked the fox. "But," she added, "I am afraid of men."

"I am not afraid of men," said Aklaq, "but I am unable to catch ptarmigan."

"In that case," declared Kajortoq, "wait for me here; I shall go and get you some ptarmigan. I shall not be long."

Aklaq waited and Kajortoq soon returned with a few ptarmigan. The brown bear was full of joy and thanked his companion again and again. He was very hungry and ate the ptarmigan at once. When he had finished he said, "You were very kind to bring me some ptarmigan. In return I shall now bring you a man. Wait for me here."

Kajortoq waited but the bear took a long time to return, and when he did arrive he had no man. Instead he staggered along; he was losing blood and behind him the ground was red. A man had shot an arrow at him and had wounded him in the side. The shaft of the arrow had broken and the point remained in the flesh.

Kajortoq sympathized: "Cousin, I feel sorry for you. Let me take care of you." Kajortoq built a stone fireplace, lit a fire, and heated some stones.

"Stretch out here," she told the bear. "Stretch your legs and even if I hurt you, do not move. If you stir, you will die because I shall not be ale to remove the arrow."

The bear stretched on the ground. The fox took a red hot stone from the fire and applied it to the wound pushing harder and harder on it. Aklaq moaned and howled with pain, but soon the howls stopped; he was dead.

Kajortoq stood on her hind legs and danced around the bear, laughing loudly: "I can brag to myself. No one could do this but I. I have enough to eat for a long time." The fox did not return to her lair but remained at this place for the duration of the summer, feeding herself on the meat of the bear.

When winter came she had run out of provisions. The bear had all been eaten; there was nothing left but the bones. She placed them in a pile and buried them under some boulders.

A while later she saw Amaroq, the wolf, coming toward her and went to meet him. "How are you, cousin?"

"Not too well," answered Amaroq, "I am very hungry."

"Have confidence in me," said Kajortoq. "I shall show you what you have to do to get some food. Do you see that river in front of us?" She pointed to a nearby river covered with a thin coating of ice. Here and there water could be seen through holes in the ice.

"Go over there," suggested Kajortoq. "Try to catch come trout. I am going to make you a fish hook. All you have to do is sit near the hole, tie the hook to your tail and let it sink to the bottom. Remain seated and do not move until the sun sets. At that time you will pull in your hook. There will be a trout caught on it. Believe me, that is how I caught mine."

The wolf sat beside the hole without moving. Meanwhile, the red fox set out along the shore saying that she was going to look for something to eat. Instead she hid behind a small hill to watch the wolf, but being careful that he not see her.

Amaroq stayed where he was for the entire day, confidently awaiting the results of his fishing. By the time the sun had reached the west he realized he had caught nothing. He growled in anger, "Kajortoq lied to me. I am going to run after her and eat her!"

He tried to get up but his tail was stuck to the ice. He pulled on it again and again until all of a sudden it came free; his tail had broken. Frothing with rage and bleeding profusely, the wolf searched the plain for traces of Kajortoq. The fox, however, had slipped away to hide in her hole.

The wolf soon discovered her den and cried, "Come out of your hole so that I can eat you!"

"What are you saying?" answered Kajortoq, sticking her head out of her den to look. As she did so she bent her head to one side and kept one of her eyes closed. "I have never seen you before. What do you want?"

"You deceived me today and I have lost my tail. Now I am going to eat you!"

"I know nothing about that," replied Kajortoq emerging from her hole. "Did you ask that red fox over there? It must be him. I heard someone pass my door a little while ago."

Impatiently, the wolf left Kajortoq to run after the other red fox. Kajortoq saw him go and kept watching until the wolf fell from his wound. By the next morning, having lost all of his blood, Amaroq was dead. Kajortoq stood up on her hind legs and started dancing in circles around him. "I can boast to myself. No one could do this but I."

She lived on the wolf all of that winter. When she had eaten all his flesh, she made a pile of the bones and went elsewhere in search of food.

One day she saw coming toward her a brown female bear who looked larger and more terrifying than any bear Kajortoq had ever seen.

The bear addressed the fox angrily. "Did you know my son? He left last spring to hunt but he did not come back. I have found his bones near this hill."

I know nothing about it," answered Kajortoq. "I did not see him. I shall follow you and you can show me where his bones are."

They left together. The fox recognized the place where she had killed Aklaq. Seeing that the female bear was crying Kajortoq pretended to be full of sorrow.

"Tears won’t help you," she told the mother bear. "I believe I know who killed your son. Wait here awhile for me."

Kajortoq climbed to the top of a hill. From this vantage point she looked in all directions and saw another brown bear. She returned in haste to the female bear and said, "The one who killed your son is over there. Go and attack him. He is big and strong but I shall help you."

While the bears fought Kajortoq jumped around pretending to help. In fact, she only spattered blood on her hair. At length the female bear killed the other bear. The turned to the fox and said gratefully, "You helped me, thank you. Take all this meat. I am tired and wounded and do not want any of it." The bear started homeward, but died of her wounds before she was out of sight.
Kajortoq once again danced for joy and was happy. The two bears would provide plenty of meat for a long time to come.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Fox and the Sheepskin Jacket

Once upon a time a fox living in Palestine lifted his head from the undergrowth where he had been hiding, and saw an eagle.

‘Hallo!’ cried the eagle as it swooped down close to the fox. ‘How you can bear to live all your life down there on the ground, I do not know. You really are a most un-enterprising creature.’

Then the eagle soared up into the blue sky again, and as the fox watched it he half wished that he could fly too.

In a few moments the eagle was swooping down again, saying, ‘Did you hear what I said?’

‘Yes I did,’ called the fox. ‘What does the world look like from so high?’

The eagle alighted beside him and replied, ‘Sometimes it is so far away this it is almost invisible.’

The fox laughed scornfully. ‘I don’t believe you,’ he said.

This annoyed the eagle who had always hated the fox for his cunning underhanded ways, and now he suddenly thought of a plan to get rid of him.

‘Jump on my back and I’ll take you up to see for yourself,’ he said.

The fox hesitated for a moment and then he climbed on to the strong back of the eagle, settled himself among the feathers and cried: ‘I’m ready! Up you go!’

The eagle soared upwards and the fox closed his eyes in alarm, for he had never travelled as fast as this on the ground, let alone in the air.

‘How big does the earth look now?’ asked the eagle presently.

The fox opened his eyes and gasped as he peered downwards. ‘It looks about as big as one of those straw baskets they make at Lydda,’ he said.

‘Aha!’ said the eagle. ‘But it won’t look as big as that in a minute.’ Up and up they went, and then the eagle asked again, ‘How big does the earth look now?’

‘It looks about as big as an onion,’ replied the fox, hoping that the eagle would soon begin flying down again.

But the eagle continued to soar upwards, while the fox clung to its feathers, feeling very alarmed and still scarcely daring to open his eyes.

‘How big does it look now?’ asked the eagle at last.

Peering down through half-closed eyes, the fox could see nothing at all. Even when he opened his eyes wide in surprise, he could still not see the earth, as it was so far away below them.

‘I can’t see anything at all!’ he said. ‘How far away do you think the earth is now?’

‘That I can’t tell,’ replied the eagle. ‘But I leave it to you to find out.’ So saying the eagle turned right over onto his back so that the fox was shaken off.

With a scream the fox began to fall down. Through the air he rushed, sometimes the right way up, sometimes the wrong, but all the time wondering what would happen to him when he hit the earth.

Suddenly he knew! He had landed on a ploughboy’s soft sheepskin coat, in the middle of a ploughed field, and because this had broken his fall, he was still alive.

Heaving a sigh of relief, the fox scrambled under the sheepskin jacket. Using this as a disguise in case anybody saw him and tried to kill him again, he ran swiftly into some woods to take cover.

But he was not safe here, for immediately he came face to face with a leopard. But instead of attacking the fox and eating him, the leopard was so surprised at the coat he was wearing that he asked, ‘Where did you get that warm coat, Fox? I’ve never seen you wearing one of those before.’

‘I’ve changed my way of living,’ replied the fox quickly. ‘No longer do I steal the farmers’s chickens, because I have become a furrier and have learned how to sew. Would you like me to make you a sheepskin jacket like mine?’

‘Yes I would,’ said the leopard, thinking what good camouflage it would be when he was stalking game for his dinner.

‘Very well,’ said the fox, ‘You’re a much better hunter than I am, so if you can bring me six sheep, I will make you a jacket with their coats, and will eat their meat for my payment.’

The unsuspecting leopard went off to steal the sheep from a near-by hillside, while the fox lay down and laughed to himself, feeling very pleased at his own cleverness.

When the leopard came back with the six dead sheep, the fox persuaded him to help him to carry them close to his den. Then, promising the leopard that the jacket would be ready next week, he sent him away.

Now the fox had a wife and six little cubs, and when they saw all the meat that the leopard had provided for them, they were delighted. Never had they had such a feast before! For days they all ate as much as they could and each night they slept deeply and rested well, for there was no need to go hunting now.

But the leopard was not so happy. He kept coming back to the fox’s den and shouting: ‘Isn’t my jacket ready yet?’

The fox put him off with various excuses, until all the meat had gone, and then he said, ‘You are a much bigger animal than I am, Leopard, so I’m afraid I shall need more than six sheepskins for your coat. Will you bring me three more sheep tomorrow? Then I think I can finish making it.’

The leopard was getting a little suspicious by now, but off he went and killed three more sheep, and brought them back to the fox.

Now the family could eat their fill again, and they all feasted happily until the meat had gone. But the fox was beginning to regret his behavior, as he knew the leopard would want to be revenged when he found out that there was to be no sheepskin jacket after all, for he had no idea how to sew.

He began to go hunting in a different part of the country, and always looked around carefully to make sure the leopard was nowhere near when he went in or out of his hole. When he did meet the leopard he made excuses about the jacket, saying that he had run out of thread, or just broken his needle; he even pretended that he was not the fox who had eaten the sheep, and since all foxes are very much alike, the leopard could not be sure which was which.

But at last the leopard knew that he had been tricked, and he decided that it was time to get even with the fox.

Hiding behind a boulder one night, he lay still, scarcely breathing, until he heard the sound of the fox returning from a hunting expedition. With a bound the leopard pounced on the fox, intending to kill him, but the fox was so quick in reaching his hole, that all the leopard managed to catch was the fox’s bushy tail.

‘All right! I’ve missed you this time,’ the leopard shouted. ‘But I shall know you from all the other foxes now, as you will be the only one without a tail.’

Then to make sure that the fox would suffer a few days’ starvation, the leopard took a hornets’ nest and put it on the ground beside the opening to the fox’s den. He knew that the humming sound the hornets made was very much like the noise of a leopard purring, and he hoped that the fox would stay inside, not daring to go hunting while he thought the leopard was waiting for him.

For almost a week, the fox family went hungry, until at last the fox began to get suspicious, for he wondered how the leopard could stay in one place for so long without going away to get food.

Creeping close to the opening, the fox peered cautiously outside, and discovered the hornets’ nest.

He was furious that he had been tricked so easily, but he dared not show himself to the leopard, as he would easily recognize him now that he had lost his tail.

However, he had to take some risks if he were going to put into practice the plan which he had been working out, while listening to the hornets’ humming.

So, waiting until darkness fell, the fox rushed hither and thither, calling at the homes of all his friends and relations.

‘Come with me! I have found you a splendid vineyard full of ripe grapes. Come and feast with me, while it is dark and the owner is asleep at home.’

Soon dozens of foxes were following behind him and he led them to a secluded vineyard some way from his den. ‘What a feast! What juicy grapes!’ all the foxes exclaimed as they began to eat them hungrily.

‘Wait a minute,’ commanded the fox. ‘We mustn’t all eat from the same vine. I will show you each your place, and then you can eat unhindered by anyone else, and we shall not have any quarrels.’

One by one, he led the foxes to a different vine, and said to each, ‘Now you must not mind if I tie your tail to your particular vine. This will show the others that the vine belongs to you, and it will prevent any greed fox from straying to his brother’s place and eating his grapes.’

All the foxes agreed quite readily, until eventually nothing could be heard but the steady munching of grapes.

Silently the fox left the vineyard and made his way to the owner’s house, where he banged on the door and woke up the whole household, crying: ‘Go to your vineyard! The foxes are robbing it! Take up your sticks and drive them away.’

The people in the house were soon awake, and ran shouting towards the vineyard, waving their heavy sticks.

The foxes heard them coming and tried to run away, but their tails were tied so tightly to the vines that the only way the could escape was by tugging so hard that they left their tails behind them.

After this every fox in the district had a short tail, and so the leopard never found out which was the fox who had tricked him. He was so annoyed that he went away to live in a different part of the country, and then the fox, his wife and his six little cubs were able to roam about freely, and to hunt wherever they liked.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Cat and the Mice

Once upon a time there was a cat who lived in a large farmhouse in which there was a great number of mice. For many years the cat found no difficulty in catching as many mice as she wanted to eat, and she lived a very peaceful and pleasant life. But as time passed on she found that she was growing old and infirm, and that it was becoming more and more difficult for her to catch the same number of mice as before; so after thinking very carefully what was the best thing to do, she one day called all the mice together, and after promising not to touch them, she addressed them as follows:

"Oh! mice," said she, "I have called you together in order to say something to you. The fact is that I have led a very wicked life, and now, in my old age, I repent of having caused you all so much inconvenience and annoyance. So I am going for the future to turn over a new leaf. It is my intention now to give myself up entirely to religious contemplation and no longer to molest you, so henceforth you are at liberty to run about as freely as you will without fear of me. All I ask of you is that twice every day you should all file past me in procession and each one make an obeisance as you pass me by, as a token of your gratitude to me for my kindness."

When the mice heard this they were greatly pleased, for they thought that now, at last, they would be free from all danger from their former enemy, the cat. So they very thankfully promised to fulfill the cat's conditions, and agreed that they would file past her and make a salaam twice every day.

So when evening came the cat took her seat on a cushion at one end of the room, and the mice all went by in single file, each one making a profound salaam as it passed.

Now the cunning old cat had arranged this little plan very carefully with an object of her own; for, as soon as the procession had all passed by with the exception of one little mouse, she suddenly seized the last mouse in her claws without anybody else noticing what had happened, and devoured it at her leisure. And so twice every day, she seized the last mouse of the series, and for a long time lived very comfortably without any trouble at all in catching her mice, and without any of the mice realizing what was happening.

Now it happened that amongst these mice there were two friends, whose names were Rambé and Ambé, who were very much attached to one another. Now these two were much cleverer and more cunning than most of the others, and after a few days they noticed that the number of mice in the house seemed to be decreasing very much, in spite of the fact that the cat had promised not to kill any more. So they laid their heads together and arranged a little plan for future processions. They agreed that Rambé was always to walk at the very front of the procession of the mice, and the Ambé was to bring up the rear, and that all the time the procession was passing, Rambé was to call to Ambé, and Ambé to answer Rambé at frequent intervals. So next evening, when the procession started as usual, Rambé marched along in front, and Ambé took up his position last of all.

As soon as Rambé had passed the cushion where the cat was seated and had made his salaam, he called out in a shrill voice, "Where are you, Brother Ambé?"

"Here I am, Brother Rambé," squeaked the other from the rear of the procession.

And so they went on calling out and answering one another until they had all filed past the cat, who had not dared to touch Ambé as long as his brother kept calling to him.

The cat was naturally very much annoyed at having to go hungry that evening, and felt very cross all night. But she thought it was only an accident which had brought the two friends, one in front and one in rear of the procession, and she hoped to make up for her enforced abstinence by finding a particularly fat mouse at the end of the procession next morning. What, then, was her amazement and disgust when she found that on the following morning the very same arrangement had been made, and that Rambé called to Ambé, and Ambé answered Rambé until all the mice had passed her by, and so, for the second time, she was foiled of her meal. However, she disguised her feelings of anger and decided to give the mice one more trial; so in the evening she took her seat as usual on the cushion and waited for the mice to appear.

Meanwhile, Rambé and Ambé had warned the other mice to be on the lookout, and to be ready to take flight the moment the cat showed any appearance of anger. At the appointed time the procession started as usual, and as soon as Rambé had passed the cat he squeaked out, "Where are you, Brother Ambé?"

"Here I am, Brother Rambé," came the shrill voice from the rear.

This was more than the cat could stand. She made a fierce leap right into the middle of the mice, who, however, were thoroughly prepared for her, and in an instant they scuttled off in every direction to their holes. And before the cat had time to catch a single one, the room was empty and not a sign of a mouse was to be seen anywhere.

After this the mice were very careful not to put any further trust in the treacherous cat, who soon after died of starvation owing to her being unable to procure any of her customary food. But Rambé and Ambé lived for many years, and were held in high honor and esteem by all the other mice in the community.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Zong Dingbo Catches a Ghost

Zong Dingbo, a young man in Nanyang, met a ghost one night while walking along the road. "Who is it?" he asked. "A ghost," answered the ghost. "Who are you?" "I am a ghost, too," Zong lied. "Where are you going?" the ghost asked. "I am going to Wanshi," Zong answered. "I am also going there," the ghost said. So they went a few li together. "It is very tiresome to walk like this," said the ghost. "Why do we not carry each other on our backs by turns?" "That is an excellent idea," Zong agreed. First the ghost carried Zong for & few li. "You are so heavy!" it said. "Are you really a ghost?" Zong said, "I died quite recently, so I am heavy." Then it was his turn to carry the ghost, which was almost weightless. They went on like this, each carrying the other several times. Zong said, "Since I have just died, I do not know what a ghost fears." "A ghost fears nothing but to be spat at," the ghost told him.

They came to a river. Zong asked the ghost to cross it first. He listened and found that the ghost made no noise at all. When he waded the river, he splashed and made a lot of noise. "Why did you make so much noise?" the ghost asked. "I have not yet learned to cross a river quietly, since I am a new ghost," Zong answered, adding, "Please bear with me about that."

They were approaching Wanshi when Zong put the ghost on his shoulder and held it fast with his hands. The ghost demanded in a loud voice to be let off, but Zong turned a deaf ear to it. He walked straight to the centre of the town. When he put the ghost down on the ground, it had turned itself into a goat. He sold it and spat at it for fear that it might change people said at the time, "Zong Dingbo earned fifteen hundred coins by selling a ghost."