Excerpt from “A Bird of Ice”

His grandmother had a special garden on the grounds that surrounded the house where he was bought up. She tended herbs, a few flowers, and a cherry tree. A bench sat beneath the cherry tree, which would explode with fluffy white clouds of petals for two weeks in the spring. When he was young, he loved this garden, with its beautiful flowers and its small statue to Uzume, the kami of joy. The stone goddess laughed at him as he played at his grandmother’s feet. It was this inclination for dreamy idleness that marked him for the monastery, he supposed, rather than the more warlike route his elder brothers followed.
Ryuichi sat on this bench now, beneath the cherry tree. However, there were subtle differences in the vista that made him realize that this was not exactly his grandmother’s garden. For one thing, his childhood home was missing. Instead, this garden was an oasis in the midst of a forest of towering black pines. The small, chuckling goddess was missing as well. Through the trees, he noticed the sky was a nude pearl color that never occurred in nature. It was like a translucent shield of rice paper, through which muted tones of lavender and blue could be perceived.
“So, I am dreaming,” said Ryuichi aloud.
He felt, rather than saw the arrival of the expected guest. It was a whisper on water, or a stir of the wind, that suggested his appearance. The shimmering youth.
“So you are,” the youth said in a voice like a reed flute singing words instead of notes, “and yet, you are not.”
The youth was underneath the cherry tree, nearly as tall as it was. His skin was as golden as ripe pears. He was as finely muscled as any young samurai. His hair drifted in an unfelt breeze, invisible filaments, like the whiskers of carp.
When Ryuichi did not reply, the youth continued, “I met you in your world. I only thought it fair that you get see mine.”
“I see.”
“Are you frightened? Please, there is no reason to fear. You must have many questions.”
Ryuichi could not look at him directly. It was disturbing. His face, while human, had strange aspects of the both the bird and the snow monkey—in the expressions, in its narrowness. It seemed to move like ripples in a pond. And, the youth was nude. “Indeed, I do. I saved you the first time. Why did you come back?”
“Need you ask, my Ryuichi? When I first laid eyes on you, I fell in love. Your beauty was so bewitching that I lost my sense of balance and fell into the water. You deigned to save me, and I felt your warm hands on my body, and heard your beautiful voice. Surely, you noticed when I kissed you?”
“Is that what that was? I thought you were attacking me”
The yosei seemed not to hear that; he continued on in his callow way: “You stayed with many days. I craved your touch, I wanted to hold you, to hear your voice. So I had to return.”
Ryuichi glanced at him now. His willowy limbs were too long to be really human, he decided. He moved with a sprightly grace, like an epicene noble.
“You caused quite an upset at the temple.”
The youth stopped his pacing, and kneeling in front of Ryuichi, he contorted his impossibly long limbs until he was face level with him. “You are not mad with me, are you?”
Ryuichi found himself staring into gold eyes, with no whites or pupils. It was like looking into the sun.
“Not really.”
The youth leapt up. He clapped his hands happily, and danced around the cherry tree. Pale blossoms drifted down, embedding themselves on his hair. Ryuichi noticed that he was no longer so tall; he’d adjusted his proportions.
“I was really more annoyed.”
That stopped his frolicking.
“So, you are mad at me!” Ryuichi turned toward him, looking at his not-human face. There was just the slightest shifting of muscle, an undoing of flesh as it became fur or feathers. His translucent hair was both or neither. Ryuichi looked away. It was hypnotic. It made him sick.
He felt the yosei behind him. A swathe of shadow fell across his lap. But the shadow was insubstantial: a whisper in water…
Ryuichi looked up. Through his shifting face he saw the structure of bone, and the coursing of blood.
The yosei spoke after a silence: “I should have listened to my sister. ‘It never works out, between our kind and mortals,’ she warned me long ago. ‘Creatures of flesh and blood  are finite and have decay built in the very bones of their being: we can only bring pain and confusion to them.’ I did not listen to her; she had been a fox among foxkind for a long time. I thought her brains were addled by that experience…”

Published in So Fey: Queer Fairy Fiction (ed. Steve Berman) (Haworth Positronic Press) (2007)

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