by Kirby Ray
Taketori no Okina tells his story in a new take on this old, Japanese folk tale.
Taketori no Okina glanced up from the stalk of bamboo he was sawing in half and looked to his daughter, Kaguya. The little girl sat on the side of their humble house, kicking her feet back and forth as she gazed up into the cloudless sky. Her father shook his head and answered, "Sure you aren't tired of that story yet? I must have told it to you a thousand times, and then a few more after that."
The response he got was a mere shrug of the shoulders, which prompted the old man to shake his head and sigh. The bamboo cutter had told his little princess the same story every night and every other day, yet that still was not enough for her. Kaguya constantly looked to the heavens as if she would spot the spacemen and their ship, but in her five years of living, she had never seen a flying saucer save for the time her parents had gotten into a fight. Until she did, she would have to be sated with her father's story.
After finishing the task at hand, Taketori set his saw down and hobbled over to where his daughter sat. He took his place beside her, plucked a stalk of grass by his feet, and nibbled on the end as he basked in the sun. It was a hot day out, just as it had been all those years ago, and his work took a lot more out of him than it used to. When the old man caught his breath, he patted Kaguya on the head and pointed in the direction of the thick bamboo forest.
"It was just a few years ago..."
I was working in the forest, same as usual, when I heard a terrific crash that made the very earth shake. After I got my footing again, I crept through woods as quietly as I could; I had to know what could have made such a noise. It could not have been lightning, for there was hardly a cloud in the sky, and the tremor was not strong enough to be an earthquake. The closer I got to the source, the more I could smell melting metal and see smoke rising into the sky. When I finally got to the site, I could not believe my eyes.
There before me was a strange sort of ship: it was as tall as the walls of our house, colored with brilliant gold and silver, and shaped like a saucer. As I snuck up to it, my blade in hand, a door on the side burst open, and out of the craft came a strange man. He was covered in bizarre armor from head to toe, and a cracked, mirrored mask shielded his face. In his hands was a tube no taller than a lily and just a hair thinner than a stalk of bamboo, and even as far back as I was, I could see something was inside.
When he stepped out of the door, the man stumbled and fell to the ground, but he managed to keep the tube from being crushed under him. Though I tried to stay hidden, he looked up, spied me in the bamboo, and held out a hand to me. He spoke to me then, and though it was ugly and unrefined, I could tell it was Japanese.
"Help me," he gurgled as though his throat were crushed.
Slowly, I walked out to him and knelt down at his side. From there, I could see that he had been badly wounded: blood trickled out from the mask, his ribs, and his leg; I was amazed he was still alive at all. As I sat beside him, he forced the tube into my arms and pushed me away with what little strength he had left in his body.
"Keep princess safe," he croaked. "They come for her...keep safe."
When he said princess, he pointed at the tube in my hands, and that was when I realized what I was holding--a baby. An infant girl was inside the container, sleeping peacefully despite all the noise and chaos from the crash. I was so shocked that I almost dropped her, but I held her carefully and cradled her as best I could.
"Who is coming?" I asked the man, who pointed up to the sky in response.
"Them," he answered.
High up in the sky was a speck of light--a speck that grew brighter with every passing breath. I realized then that it was another ship approaching, and if it was the same people that attacked this man, I was in great danger. Clutching the baby to my chest, I ran back into the forest as fast as I could until I reached my cart and tools. As I ran, I could feel heat at my back, and I knew that this other saucer had to be getting closer with every step I took. When I reached my cart, I heard a harsh roar and felt the ground shake once more, but not so violent as before.
While I rested, I glanced back to the crash and thought about what would happen to the strange man; no doubt his hunters would kill him like a wounded deer. A terrible thought struck me: if they chased him from space to get the baby, they would surely do the same to me. I looked to the child and realized that neither of us would be safe, so I steeled my nerves and turned to go back into the forest. Before I left, I hid the babe inside the stump of a bamboo tree and tied another piece on top to cover her. With blade in one hand, saw in the other, and knife in my belt, I then crept back through the woods to where the spacemen were.
In the clearing was another saucer, larger than the other and made from a dark metal, and then armored men around it matched it perfectly. They looked like they were made from solid shadows, had blood-red mirrors covering their faces, and each had a strange tool in their hands. As I spied on them, I counted four by the ship and one who spoke to the first man. Though I could not hear everything, I could tell that they were talking about the baby, and the things the shadow man said are things a child should not hear.
That was when I made my move. When one moved close enough, I lunged out from the woods and stabbed my knife in a gap in his armored neck. Before he could slump to his knees, I caught him and gently lowered him to the ground before moving onto the next. Again and again I did this, and the spacemen were none the wiser; I was as much a shadow to them as they were to me. After I had slain all the guards, I stalked towards the last of them--the one that cursed the wounded man for making him run all through the heavens.
Just before I was close enough to grab him, one of the trees that had been broken by the ships finally snapped free and hit the ground with a loud thud. The shadow snapped up, spun around, and pointed the strange tool at me. Suddenly, it let out a loud crack and released a bolt of terrible light at me at an awesome speed; I could do nothing but let it take my leg. There are not words to describe the agony when I realized that my left leg had been blown off and left me with a stump at the knee. I tried to scream, but I could not make any words and no sound would come to me; all I could do was grasp at what was no longer there.
The shadow man marched up to me then and kicked me in the chest, but that was nothing compared to the searing pain where my leg should have been. He barked something at me, though in all my agony, I could not hear a single word he said, and it was not until he knocked me to the ground that I focused more. What I could understand was that he wanted the baby and demanded to know where she was, or else I would feel even more pain. Let me tell you, Kaguya, I very nearly told him, were it not for the spaceman.
While the shadow was not looking, the first man crawled to where a similar tool lay and shot another bolt at the dark fiend. The menace was struck in the back and toppled like a tree, and, fueled by my pain, I lashed out at him. The instant he hit the ground, I grabbed my blade and hacked at his neck once, twice, three times, until I was sure that his head and body no longer met. As I fell onto my back, I looked to my ally and saw that he no longer moved; that blast was his last act in this world.
"After that, I buried all the spacemen, took their ships apart, and melted everything down into scrap metal," Taketori finished his story. He glanced down to Kaguya and asked her, "And you already know what happened to the baby, don't you?"
The child nodded and replied, "When you went to get her, you saw the bamboo tree glowing like the sun, then you took her into town and left her at the doorstep of a lonely merchant."
Her elderly father grinned slyly and patted his daughter on the head. "That's right, my little princess. Now, be a dear and help your old man; I must have this load ready to take to town tomorrow."
As his daughter walked over and picked up the saw, Taketori glanced up at the midday sky and kicked his metal leg against the side of the house. No other spacemen had come in all these years, but he kept watching all the same. The mirrored man never said how long he needed to protect Kaguya, and until someone told him otherwise, he would protect her with every fiber of his being...
(Word Count: 1722)