It was the cold snap in cherry-blossom season
that had Brenda's phone ringing off the desk.
Then there were all the reports of ghost women
and disappearing rice and other odd phenomena.
There had even been several cases of men who
were kidnapped and found as statues of ice,
but when the ice melted, they were fine.
"What do you think it could be?" Darrel asked
as he helped Brenda put the snow tires
back onto her hiking wheelchair.
Brenda deftly spun the tool in her fingers.
"I don't know," she said. "We've already
crossed off yeti and wendigo. I still think
that abominable snowman is ridiculous."
Darrel spread his hands. "We were
brainstorming. The whole point is
to come up with wild ideas and then
pick through to find the good ones."
So the two of them went hiking through
the cherry orchard that seemed to be
the center of the strange events.
The pretty pink-and-white blossoms
were sheathed in ice, and the pale drifts
under the trees were a mix of petals and snow.
"The orchardist will have a hard time staying
in business after this," Darrel observed.
"It's sad," Brenda said, brushing her fingertips
over dead flowers that would bear no fruit.
"Life is sad," said a voice that sounded
like the whisper of snowflakes on ice.
Brenda executed a perfect spin
and found herself facing a woman with
long black hair, white-gold skin, and blue lips.
"Who are you?" Darrel asked.
"I am Oyuki-san," she said.
"Someone prayed to me
out of season, and I was just
going to do a little frost-sketching,
but I was so lonely and there were
so many people here to see
the sakura season ..."
"You didn't want to leave,"
Brenda guessed. Her fingers
drummed on the arm of her wheelchair.
"I know what it's like to be lonely,
to be starving for company."
"Yes," said Oyuki-san,"
"perhaps you do."
"Have you thought about
getting a pet or something
to keep you company?"
Darrel asked thoughtfully.
"Where I live it is very cold,"
said Oyuki-san. "Most animals
would not survive there."
"Colder than Siberia?" Darrel said.
"Well ... no, I suppose not," said Oyuki-san.
"I know just the thing," Darrel said.
It took them some pulling of strings and
calling in of favors and more than a little cash,
but in the end they managed to procure
a domesticated silver fox from Russia.
The half-grown cub had bright blue eyes and
a warm gray coat liberally splashed with white.
It wriggled in Oyuki-san's hands, licked
the salty tears from her cheeks, and
wagged its tiny, white-tipped tail.
"How can I thank you enough?"
she whispered into the soft fur.
"Can you fix the orchard?"
Brenda asked. "The men
were okay after the ice melted,
but cherry blossoms are so delicate,
they won't fruit after a frost. That
would be hard on the owner."
Oyuki-san breathed upon the trees,
and the ice melted away, leaving
only the drifts of pink petals.
"In the summer," she said,
"there will come cherries."
* * *
Snow tires help wheelchairs travel over snow, sand, or mud.
Oyuki-san is a Japanese snow spirit.
Sakura means "cherry blossom" in Japanese, with a lot of cultural significance.
Loneliness is regret for being isolated. It is as deadly as smoking, obesity, and alcohol. Here are some ways of overcoming loneliness.
Russian foxes have been a fascinating experiment in domestication, but the program is at risk due to low funding. They come in various colors; Oyuki-san's fox is gray-and-white like these. One of the more interesting things this experiment has revealed is a cluster of genes associated with domestication such as the white-spotting gene and floppy ears. When you start selecting for a sweet temper, a whole bunch of other stuff just comes along for the ride.