Dreamed 1995/4/22 by Chris Wayan
Today I saw Hayao Miyazaki's film Pom Poko at the San Francisco Film Festival. It's a wonderfully bizarre tale about tanukis (were-raccoons who can pass, with effort, for human) who fight human developers bulldozing their woods. I know I'm missing half the jokes and references--song lyrics, Shinto, martial arts satire, animal folklore, and real Japanese history--like the fight against the Tokyo airport expansion, a milestone in Japanese environmentalism, which Miyazaki was part of, as a student.
Under the fantastic humor, it's a slow, quiet tragedy--the raccoons lose their woods, their freedom, and slowly their lives, to an enemy that doesn't even want to be an enemy, installs little crosswalks and signs and greenbelts--and still the tanukis die, or hide in the cracks, or live in little suburban flats: reduced to human.
It could happen to you.
Uh-oh. It has.
I'm sitting on the rug in my parents' living room, flipping through Playboy magazines and snipping out images I think are sexy, to scan and paint with. Lola, a co-worker at a job I quit years ago, walks in. She asks "How are you going to use them? I have a great program that can recognize boundaries of figures and pour in textures in perspective, like fox-fur or wood. You want a copy?" She looks dreamy for a second and adds "I have a wonderful wood." Fox-fur, huh? Hmmm... I never noticed before, but Lola has reddish hair and a foxy body. I don't just mean she's hot. I mean she has fox-blood. Not that I mind--I suspect I do too.
So I follow Lola the were-fox to her company in the Mission District, on Valencia Street near 26th. She owns or manages a shipping firm that runs its own freighters. It's a huge concrete warehouse, only half-built--expanding! Huge crisp logos color the walls, carts and dollies roll busily by. Lola may be a fox passing for human, but she's not hiding in the cracks!
Lola starts talking politics. "Society's great problem is that we've built these big concrete castles, but we depend on farms and ranches outside the castles for all our food. And you've heard about those horrible ghostlike parasites that can interfere with the life cycle of crops and cattle--just make them stop, even disappear. We know next to nothing about them. Our civilization may live by their sufferance--we just don't know. Terribly dangerous ignorance. I think a wave of these ghost entities is coming soon, and we're defenseless." Lola adds "If you want to understand how we got like this, read Andre Norton's book 'Imperial Lady.' It's set in ancient China as they faced an invasion." I happen to have read the book and I do see parallels. Its heroine is Silver Snow, a Han girl who gets married off to a Mongol chief beyond the Great Wall, to placate the barbarians. We're like the Han Dynasty, ignoring everything beyond our walls. We should be out investigating.
And trusting red-haired foxes. In the book, poor Silver Snow's only friend is her maid Willow, who everyone else mistrusts because her unnatural red hair marks her as a were-fox... which she is. Lola's discreetly confirming that she's one of us too--a shapeshifter.
And as I ponder this, Lola shifts. Not just her shape. Oh, no. Lola shifts everything.
Now modern San Francisco is simultaneously medieval Japan. Lola's still passing for human, but not a foxy librarian now--a Japanese man. In fact, Lola's my elder brother! Rora, as he now pronounces it, has just come into power as the lord of this Japanese castle, and of our Kitsune clan.
My brother Rora's always patronized me a bit--called me his "bright but hotheaded little brother." I argue for a crash research program on the parasite ghosts, "before I'm gone." You see, I'm going to die soon, or transform into another creature, and I know it. Despite all my brother Lord Lola's talk about the problem, I'm the one thinking seriously about long-term solutions. He knows human power and politics, but not magic or ecology.
"Sorry, little brother. We have to spend on defense, not science." No research program! Rora may have doomed us all.
Desperately I say "I'll duel you for it." But he laughs at me. "We both know you're sharp-eyed and the fastest blade in the country, but little brother, remember, you're epileptic. You get paralyzed in a crisis, the stress gives you fits. You just can't fight me." And he's right--anyway, I could never really hurt Lola.
The most I can get him to agree to is to experiment with something he likes anyway: bright colors. Old lore-books hint that ghost-parasites respond to color... but how? Lured, hurt, repelled? Any effect might help us.
A Han lady from Manchuria is visiting our castle, Lady Silver Snow. Is she interested in Rora? I can hardly complain, for I'm certainly attracted to her red-haired maid, Willow. Now she's a fox-woman if I ever met one. Though she can almost pass for human, Willow's as playful as any full-blood fox, and curious about human toys like stereos and cars. She's not intimidated a bit by technology, acts as if it's just a branch of magic. She's already learned to drive a small truck, though I'm not sure she actually owns it, or has bothered to get a license. Foxes and insurance just don't go in the same sentence... Silver Snow rides regally beside her in the U-Haul cab; driving trucks is beneath her dignity, of course, though the gleam in her eye betrays a longing to try.
When they leave, I wave sadly and watch Willow drive up the hill out of the Mission. The sea is just beyond, over this seaside bluff. As Willow reaches the top, she hears something and turns back to us, frozen and fascinated, looking the distractable fox she is...
And drives off the cliff!
But the truck goes on rising a moment at least, as if we're in a Roadrunner cartoon. It's a strange instant and I'll always see them there, poised and floating on ignorance. What'll happen when she turns back to find nothing under them? Can she keep that truck flying, let them down gently? She has shamanic power--but enough?
Now the scene changes. Night. The City. I'm down by the docks, by the the ferries to Alcatraz. Next to them is moored an old sailing vessel: the Balclutha, a ship from the Gold Rush. A tourist attraction by day, but locked and dark, this late at night. At first, anyway.
Then a glass horse gallops up the pier, impossibly silent, and leaps onto the ship, a leap no mortal horse could manage. Faint blue torches light. Another ghost horse rides up. I look closer. Yes, a horn on its brow. More glass ghosts gallop up and leap like foam onto the deck. A convocation of spirits, but not parasites. Ghost unicorns--the guardians of the City!
I hear voices like ghost cellos. "This council is in session. The question before us is simple: what to do about these parasitic beings? They're due so soon. So are our allies--but how can we plan, when we don't understand what we're fighting?"
And time is up. Under the Golden Gate, the ghost-ships are sailing in. The first to moor by the Balclutha is full of allies: kirin! Asian unicorns. They aren't supposed to mingle with our unicorns till they've dealt with the threat of the parasites. If they do, they'll inevitably mate with the locals and enlarge the unicorn population above carrying capacity. Only if the parasites are defeated and developers brought under control, will there be room (and grass) enough to expand.
But they've been celibate so long. They can't stand it. The captain of the incoming ghost ship feels it too--at last says "what the hell" and lets his crew leap the watergap to the Balclutha...
I watch from the pier as they leap and dance and flirt and mate, wishing I could just drop my human form and join them NOW.
But I still have work as a human, to make my city, and society, safe from developers. And other parasites.
NOTES THE NEXT MORNING
My housemate Sean has a foxy sister, Jeannine--lithe body, reddish-blonde hair. She comes to stay a couple of days in our house. I have a crush on her, but she has a boyfriend--she's here to meet him, in fact. "My boyfriend is coming through the Golden Gate on a historic sailing ship. He volunteered to help sail it down from Alaska." The ship anchors at the historical pier near the Maritime Museum--by the Balclutha!
I knew nothing of Jeannine's plans two weeks ago, when I dreamed an antique sailing ship would come through the Gate and anchor by the Balclutha, with a horny crew, eager to mate with the locals...
But my dreams knew.
And fox-spirits have a sense of humor.
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