He’s meowing in front of the house now. Or at least, I think it’s a he. I don’t know how to tell the difference between a male cat and a female cat just by looking at them. Brown on top, white on the bottom — isn’t that like a calico thing? Maybe he is male.
Oh! Oh, no! Poor thing! It just start to rain, and now it’s going to get all wet.
I have to hurry.
I slapped on my raincoat, shoved my rain boots over my feet, and flung my front door open. Phantom raindrops sprinkled my cheeks, and leaves tumbled across the street. Like a mother to her child, I scooped up the cat, cradled it in my arms, and walked back inside.
A lot of my coworkers, and even my closest friends, liked to joke that I was the reincarnation of Buddha. If I saw any sort of suffering, whether it was a homeless man or a bug crushed under a log, I would be overwhelmed with the desire to ease whatever suffering that may be. In some ways, though, it wasn’t a joke. All my life, I’ve always felt the need to help people and animals and all sorts of creatures. It just made sense.
Rescuing this poor little cat who was nothing but fur and bones from this storm made even more sense. Forget potential diseases I could get from this cat.
I slipped off my rain boots and placed the cat on the tatami floor. I paced the kitchen. He needs water, for sure. But he needs something in his belly, too. Fish? No. I don’t want to cook it in oil and upset his tummy. That’s what the Ishimotos warned me about.
What about chicken? Raw?
I took the bowl of water and chicken pieces and knelt next to the cat. He (she?) was still breathing, but slowly. Not quite asleep, but tired beyond belief. Possibly with hunger and thirst, the poor thing.
But soon after, perhaps that the mere smell of the water and chicken, the cat opened its eyes — a bewitching light-green — and rose. It hovered over both the bowls, then started to lick from the water.
I smiled. “Good. You’re not down for the count yet. You’ve still got some fight in you, don’t you, Ms. Neko?”
The cat paused. It turned and gave me an uncomfortably long stare.
I blinked. “Um… so you’re saying you’re Mr. Neko?”
The cat purred in reply, then continued eating.
“Oh, good. That solves that. Mr. Neko it is.”
His tail lifted straight in the air once it start chomping on the chicken. His purring rumbled outside like the oncoming thunder.
I chuckled. “Alright, then. If that’s going to be your dinner, I’ll use the rest of the chicken for mine.”
The doorbell rang.
My brow furrowed. Who could be out in a storm like this? “Coming!”
I put on my indoor slippers and opened the door.
A young man, dressed in a uniform from a high school I didn’t recognize, stood in the doorway, holding an umbrella.
“Hello, Ma’am,” he said. “I’m sorry to trouble you, but I’m looking for my cat. He’s brown and white with green eyes — a little on the thin side. I thought I saw him come down this road — ”
I gasped. “Mr. Neko! Yes. I brought him inside just. Please, please, you come inside as well.”
“Oh, no, I don’t want to intrude. I just want to get Aoshi — ”
“Nonsense! There’s a storm outside. Please. Come in and have some tea, and you can wait out the storm with me.”
As I removed his coat, the young man blushed and closed his umbrella. “Th-Thank you, Miss — ”
“Nishikawa. Ayuko Nishikawa. In fact, you came just in time. I was just about to make dinner. Do you like chicken katsu?”
I didn’t even hear his answer. My mind was already in the cooking mode, thinking of the ingredients I would need. In half an hour, the tea and katsu were ready and on separate plates for both of us.
The young man sat quietly on the tatami next to the coffee table, and Mr. Neko — I mean, Aoshi — curled in his lap, like he was simply meant to be there. He bowed and sat his plate on the coffee table. “Your kindness is most appreciated. Dare I say, Buddha-like.” He put his hands together. “Itadakimasu.”
“Itadakimasu.” I took the first bite of the katsu. Its warmth and crunch filled my insides. “Oh, how tasty.”
The young man nodded. “Yes. Delicious.”
“Also, it’s funny you say that I’m Buddha-like. A lot of my friends like to joke I’m Buddha’s reincarnation. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true.”
He took the tea from my hand. “Then, in that case…” He put down his chopsticks. “You won’t be surprised when I tell you that it is indeed true?”
I was about to laugh again, but the young man’s expression was as serious as the storm outside.
He put down his chopsticks. “Nishikawa-san, Aoshi and I will be upfront. We are what you could call demons. And what we require as demons is not the normal food of human beings, but just a portion of your heavenly soul. We have been feasting on many a soul, but just a portion of yours, as the reincarnation of Buddha, would satisfy us for another hundred thousands years. Just a sliver.” The young man took a satchel of leaves from out of his uniform and handed it to me. “We beg of you, Nishikawa-san. Place this in your tea, and we will be able to consume what we need without harming your body.”
Even though I took the satchel, I still hesitated placing the leaves in the cup. If what this man said was true, then they could hurt even more people.
I didn’t want that.
But still… who wants that? If there was something I could do, then I should do it.
I did as he said, pouring the leaves in to the tea, and drank.
My limbs went numb. I fell on my back, and my vision grew clouded.
But the one thing I could see clearly, before eternal darkness set upon me and my life, were the young man’s eyes glowing the same green glow as his cat.
And his lips making the same fanged grin.
Hey, there. Thanks for reading! This week’s flash fiction piece is inspired by sokushinbutsu, even though it doesn’t appear anywhere. Also inspired by the cat in the picture.
And as always, see you next post.