The Sixth Tail - Part 1
Fennin. As one gifted - no, cursed - from birth to carry one of the tails of the fox spirit in his family, he always found his name a little on the nose for his liking. He supposed that his parents wanted to be a little more “creative” when naming him considering the relatively mundane names of his three older siblings. Because not only did he consider their names borefully mundane but they were not even mundane Chinese names. He suspected it wouldn’t bother him as it did if they had been from an ordinary Chinese immigrated family. It simply made it easier to fit in. But when Fennin considered their rich history, strong cultural ties, and practically noble status, he felt their names should reflect their proud heritage. But alas, he himself was stuck with a name distastefully indicative of his family’s plight.
His youngest was the exception as it was Fennin who suggested the name.
The sharp sound of Mr. Boren’s sturdy wooden pointer on the chalkboard stirred a multitude of students out of their mind-wandering. Fennin found the whole wooden pointer thing along with Mr. Boren’s notably strict, albeit fair, disposition so old-fashioned and stereotypical that he sometimes wondered if he hadn’t been conjured out of a movie or book.
“Miss Hoodun!” he called loudly from up front of the class. He sauntered past Fennin in the second row of desks over to Mary Hooduns two rows behind and held out his hand expectantly. With an embarrassed gaze to the floor, she handed him a small folded piece of paper. He unfolded the note, read its contents without the slightest change in his stern expression, and refolded it. Fennin was reminded of Mr. Boren’s reputation as the school’s undefeated poker player.
“Alright, Mary. You know the drill”. He folded his arms. “One chance. What country did Wraith mythology originate from?”
Mary’s eyes glanced nervously to the left at Fennins desk neighbor who was writing something in her notebook. Mr. Boren spoke without even turning to look.
“Katherine as compassionate as you unicorns are, I must ask you not to try and give our friend the answer. Again”. She quickly put the book back down, embarrassed. Maybe the rumours about him having literal eyes in the back of his head were true.
“I don’t know”
“And this is why we pay attention instead of passing notes. So. Detention after class? Or shall I just go ahead and put this note on the board?”
“Detention”, Mary said glumly.
Mr. Boren handed the folded note back to her. “Wise choice. And bring your pen pal with you” he said returning to the front of the classroom. “Now whe-”
The shrill ring of the school bell interrupted him and being the last bell of the school week, the students couldn’t pack up their bags fast enough as chairs scrapped on the wooden floor and chatter erupted. Except for two. “I guess we’ll wrap this up on Monday. Enjoy your weekend everyone”.
Fennin gave a relieved sigh he didn’t even know he was holding and he began packing his things away. It was the end of Friday at last. Fridays always tended to drag after a long week but this one felt like it was dragging a car instead of its heels. He suspected it was because he had been anticipating this weekend for a good while now. He began mentally going over the general plan for the weekend in his head.
His desk neighbor, Katherine Spring, observed him with a smile as she swung her bag over her shoulder. He was packing things away with some fervent that he rarely ever displayed.
“Excited for the weekend?”
“Hmm?” He said still lost in his thoughts. “Yes. I suppose”
“Well you seem excited. More than usual I mean” she said awkwardly stating her observation.
“Do I?” Suddenly he was back to moving in his usual unhurried, nonchalant, composed manner. “I guess I am a little bit” he responded swinging his bag over his shoulder too.
He paused. This was just a polite conversation. Telling her wouldn’t do any foreseeable harm. “My younger brother is coming to stay this weekend”
“Oh that’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you!” Fen shot her a questioning look. “W-well because...” Fen knew exactly why. “Well, I’m sure it’s been a while since you’ve seen them. Not many of us get visits after all” Her poor coverup wasn’t convincing anyone, but her concern was sweet, if not a little misplaced.
“It has been a while. That’s true” he admitted with a smile.
“So is he the youngest brother then?”
“Yes. Out of six.” Not that she asked.
“How old is he?”
“Aww, what’s he like?”
This small talk was quickly becoming annoying. “Bright. It was nice talking to you but I’ve got to go. There’s some stuff I have to do before he arrives tomorrow morning”
“Oh! Sorry. Well, I hope you guys have fun!”
“Zai jian Miss Spring”. He caught her beaming smile out of the corner of his eye as he left. Of course she would assume a family visit to be a good thing. Silly, sweet, naive unicorn.
10 am Saturday. That was the time and day they agreed on for his arrival. Assuming he cast the spell correctly. He glanced around the bedroom to check everything was in order. A stash of snacks and drinks. A good stack of DVDs he thought his brother might like. Games and cards. Plenty to entertain themselves for the day. His room was big enough to comfortably fit a sturdy wooden desk with three large draws on its right side, a set of shelves he kept his books on with a cheap 22" on top, a tall dresser with five draws and a bedside table next to his king-single bed.
Fen had been awake for a few hours already and staved off boredom while he waited with a good book he had read before. He was halfway through a page when he felt a familiar tingle underneath his skin for a moment before it disappeared. He smiled and jumped off his bed as an eager knock sounded on his bedroom door.
“I did it!” His brother was grinning ear to ear at his success. “It worked! I managed to teleport all the way here!“. Fennin smiled proudly at his lively little brother. They shared their mother’s gorgeous silky ink-black hair which he gave an affectionate ruffle before wrapping him in a tight hug.
“Told you you could”
“Yea but you never know” his brother shrugged stepping into his room and dumping his backpack next to the door. “You have to show me around later. This place looks huge!”
“Sure. Had breakfast by the way?”
“No. Mum was asleep and I didn’t want to bother Sol”
“What are you feeling?”
“Pancakes?” was his hopeful answer. Fennin couldn’t help but laugh. Jie had always liked pancakes. He was nothing if not consistent. And predictable.
“Pancakes it is then. I’ll just blow up the mattress and then we’ll go use the student kitchen”.
“Sweet!” Fen grabbed the air mattress and pump Jie had hastily stuffed into his bag, which left little room for much else to fit in there.
“By the way, I got us a bunch of DVDs. There are a few on the dresser. Go pick one out and we can watch one while we have breakfast”
3 am Sunday. His brother had been deep asleep for some hours now sprawled out on an air mattress and Fennin had collected what he needed. For another eight hours, he would remain blissfully unaware and in a peaceful sleep so deep a foghorn couldn’t wake him. So he had no concerns about him being woken up by a phone call. He took one more look at his brother and smiled sadly. He gazed around the room at all the signs of his brother’s visit. A movie on repeat on a small 22" tv and a few DVD cases in front of it. Two plates and two empty bowls that had a variety of snacks in them throughout the day along with a pair of empty glasses, bottles of cola, and pizza boxes. His brother’s portable game device behind his pillow and two console controllers nearby. A brochure of the school with a map had somehow ended up under his pillow too.
Fennin picked up his phone on his bedside table. It took him only a moment to go through his short list of contacts and find the number he was looking for and press ‘call’. A few short rings later and there was an answer. Truthfully he was surprised his number wasn’t blocked.
“Fennin?” Questioned the sleepy deep voice. “What the heck? What time is it? 3 am. Everything okay?”
“Y-yea I just. Um. I need you to come get something”
“To collect something? At this hour?”
He tried to answer but the words formed a lump in his throat and got stuck there. Did he expect it to be this tough? It’s not like he hasn’t done something like this before. He took a deep breath.
“Um. J-Jian. He’s...here. You need to come pick him up”. There was dead silence on the other end. Excruciating silence. He knew Sol was connecting very obvious dots.
“Jian is...with you master Fennin?”
He had to swallow another lump. “Yes”.
“But how did-? Did you...?” Sol didn’t need to finish that sentence.
“Yes”, he forced the word out.
“Your mother isn’t going to like this”
“I know. I’m sorry Sol. Jian is asleep and will be for another eight hours. Please come and get him. Before he wakes up”
“I understand. I’ll be there in a couple of hours”
Under normal circumstances, princess carrying your sleeping younger brother through school might be slightly embarrassing for your average adolescent. It certainly drew some looks from the few students up already on an early Sunday morning. But Fen had little care about other people’s opinions even in the best of times and they were very much the last of his concerns right now.
As he came down the main steps into the foyer he spotted the familiar black Mercedes Coupe and its driver that had taken him and his family to so many places as young children. It almost drew a grin out of Fennin. But the sight of his mother waiting there like an angry lioness with teeth and claws bared quickly squashed any warm feelings of nostalgia.
The doors opened and shut themselves behind him as he exited the building. He could practically see the heat rising off her from her fury. There was no attempt at hiding the utter rage and malcontent on her face as she looked down at him seething. She only looked away briefly to gesture to Sol who stepped forward to gingerly take Jian from Fennin’s arms and put him in the car. Before Fennin could even blink his mother struck him so hard and fast it knocked him off his feet. He got back up and she did it again. This time he felt a sharp sting and warm liquid on his cheek. As he wiped it with his sleeve, she leaned down and like a viper hissed “Stay down”. She glared at him for a moment before sighing. “For once I have nothing else to say to you. Words just aren’t enough. Not anymore”. She spat in his face and turned to leave as she hopped in the back of the car. She coddled Jian in her arms who was sleeping so peacefully as if without a single care in the world. Sol cast Fen a quick, sad sympathetic smile as the car engine roared to life and drove away.
Fennin had been aware of a few pairs of eyes watching from the floors above. The school will eat this gossip up like candy during Halloween. Good for them. Who cared. He stood up, brushed his clothes off, and calmly made his way back to his room as if nothing had happened. He shut the door behind him and stared at the ground while forcing a smile as he manifested his new total of six tails. He only had three more to go. A moment later the tails disappeared as quickly as his smile did. He glanced to his right at the small metal bin next to his desk. It was overflowing with scrunched-up pieces of refill paper with line after line scribbled out and his brother’s name at the top of each one. The pile burst into a small flame that vanished without a trace a moment later leaving only ash and the smell of smoke. His mother was right. There were no words.