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March 2021 Contest Winner: A Fox Hunter's Name

That morning, another fox corpse appeared hanging from the gate.


Judah Fa shuddered as he pushed his electric motorbike through. He didn’t like the air around here. It felt too... thick. Sickly and sweet at the same time.


“I saw your doppelganger again today,” the old man who sat by the gate called.


“Oh, yeah?” Judah stopped his steps. “Where is he? I want to go teach him a lesson.”


“Oh, he was eating noodles down the street. You sound angry.” The old man spat on the

ground near his feet.


“Well, of course I am! That jerk stole my bike and tried to pass himself as me at my job! I

only just managed to get this back! I’m lucky I wasn’t fired at the rate he does things.”


“Heh.” The old man grinned. “The things doppelgangers will do. What was your name

again?”


“Fa Judah.”


“Fa You-da?” The old man shook his head. “It’s so hard to say...why must you go by this

Western name? Surely it isn’t the one your parents gave you.”


“For protection, of course.” Judah kept pushing his bike forwards. “Seeing a doppelganger is already bad enough luck. I don’t need anymore.”


“Oh, speaking of protection...” The old man pulled out something from his pocket and

handed it to him. “Here. An amulet. Keep it on you; there’s been more fox sightings lately.”


“Fox sightings?” Judah took the amulet in his hand and looked it over; it was made of

porcelain or china or some sort of cold stone material, and it was shaped like a dog. Foxes hated dogs, he knew.

The old man gestured at the gruesome sight hanging from the gate. “Keep it with you,” he

said. “I have a feeling you’ll need it.”


“Thank you.” Judah put the amulet into his pocket and continued pushing his motorbike

down the street.


This area of the city was quite strange. It mostly consisted of old architecture transformed into modern buildings. Seeing the old slanted roofs next to the neon signs seemed fitting, however. Small businesses thrived. Tourists loved to take photos for their social media during day trips. To enter into this section of town, you came in through the gate at one end. Outside there was a section of wilderness: tall reeds and forest and the like.


Judah Fa had come here a few years ago for university. He’d found a part-time job as an

express delivery worker. Sure, sometimes he turned in his homework late, but they paid him enough for him to eat.


Judah thought again of what would have happened if he had actually gotten fired because of his doppelganger, and was once again filled with rage that burst out when he saw him sitting outside at a table eating noodles.


“You!” he cried. “There you are, you jerk! What do you think you were doing, stealing my

bike?”


His doppelganger jumped up, almost spilling the noodles on himself. He truly looked like

Judah Fa; the same black hair, except long, and the same eyes, nose, face... He looked in every

aspect like Judah, except that he was wearing light blue traditional robes.


“Where do you think you’re going?” Judah ditched his bike against a pole and ran after him. “Come back and look what you’ve done to my bike! You’re going to be paying for the expenses, you know that, right? Hey, get back here!”


His doppelganger, somehow, had darted onto one of the low slanting roofs. He squatted

down to look at Judah.


“Sorry about that, man. I swear, I had good intentions.”


“Good intentions? I nearly got fired! You make a terrible delivery boy!”


“Aw, I thought I did good as you! Give me another chance, will you? I’ll do better tonight- ”


“No.” Judah shot him a glare. “Stay away from me, okay? And don’t touch my bike ever

again! By the way, your tail is showing.”


The doppelganger’s expression changed from disappointment to surprise, and he glanced down at his robes to see the fur peeking out from beneath them. “What the...?”


With another glance at Judah, he scurried off, much like a fox. Judah sighed and went back to retrieve his bike, and began pushing it towards the repair shop. Foxes...he remembered foxes. Foxes and forest and reeds...


It had been a long time ago, hadn’t it? When he was just a child. And there, beyond the

forest...


A sharp pain shot through Judah’s head, and he shook himself. He couldn’t really remember what happened next. There was only a gap there, and a feeling that he had inhaled too much mist.


He dropped his bike off at the repair shop. “You again?” the shop owner asked. “Just what

have you been doing? Chasing foxes? Look at what you’ve done to your tires! And the front

light...oh, my word.”


“I’ve been trying,” Judah sighed. “Sorry about all the work. I’ll take better care of it.”


“You’d better! It pains me to see such a fine bike in this condition.” While waiting for his bike to be repaired, Judah sat down with the old man near the front of the gate.


“You still have that amulet I gave you?” the old man asked.


Judah held it up for him to see. “Of course.”


“Aye, good, good.” The old man nodded. “It’s best to be prepared. You never know when

harm might befall you. You seem like the type of kid to be prepared.”


Judah mentally checked his pockets. “I’m always prepared when I can.”


Across the street was a seller with all sorts of wares, such as jade jewelry, charms, and fox masks. The fox masks were made of porcelain, some plain, some with colored stripes. The seller saw Judah staring and waved.


“You want to buy another one?”

“Another one?”


“Weren’t you the one who purchased a white mask the other day?”


“You must have mistaken me for someone else.” To the old man Judah added, under his

breath: “Must be my doppelganger again.”


“Oh, all right. Even so, would you like to buy a mask? They’ll do wonders for you!”


“I’m good, thanks!” Judah waved the amulet at him. “I’ve got this.”


They settled back into silence again. Judah could smell fresh food coming from down the street, and his stomach growled. He hadn’t eaten anything all day.


“You have a girlfriend, young man?” the old man asked.


“Eh?” Judah thought about it for a moment. “Not that I know of.”


“Kids these days...” the old man sighed. “You look like an eligible youth.”


Judah thought of that girl who sat two rows in front of him in class. Yang Lihua, was it? She

liked to wear a red ribbon in her hair. He’d seen her at the convenience store often when he was making his rounds. She was pretty, and nice, and he had planned to ask her out.


But now her seat was empty. And the convenience store windows were boarded up.


A man stopped by them to hang up a missing poster on the wall. “Have you seen him?” he

asked, though he clearly expected them to say “no”. “He’s the eighth one already in the past three months.”


“Eight people aren’t going to disappear off the face of the earth like that,” the old man said.


“Yes, but there have been sightings afterwards...” The man gave a sigh, and continued on

his way, the posters underneath his arm. “Do alert the authorities if you see any of them.”


The old man spat on the ground again. “I hope you find those people soon, kid,” he said. “This town just doesn’t feel the same anymore.”


“Yeah.” Judah gave a hard stare at the poster, trying to memorize the face of the boy that

was printed on it. “I hope so too.”


He had to work again that night. The moon was red above him as he made his rounds. He

could hear the bare branches of the trees creaking in the distance, their leaves long fallen. Some lonely instrument was playing across town, the neon lights barely illuminating his path as he walked.


The last package was for a tea house that was situated right across the street from the

convenience store where Yang Lihua had worked, still boarded up. He looked through, from force of habit, but as expected, there was no one there.


A bell above the door rang as he entered. The tea house was built in a traditional structure, with two or three floors. It was mostly empty at this time of night, save for a guest in a straw hat

reading a newspaper in the far corner.


“Package,” Judah said, going over to the counter. A girl stood behind it, pouring tea. She was dressed in red and white traditional robes, a red ribbon in her hair.


“Just a moment,” she said before turning. “Yes? A package?”


Judah’s breath caught in his throat. “Lihua...?”


For that was her, her face, her hair, her eyes, her smile. Though...


“Where do I sign?” she asked. “Let me go get a pen...”


“Oh, here is fine.” Judah cleared his throat and looked down. He noticed how long her nails

were as she handled the pen. As she handed the receipt back to him, they scraped his hand. “Thank you. Have a good night.”


“Won’t you stay for a bit?” She caught his sleeve as he turned. “How about a cup of tea? On

the house. You must be tired, running around at this hour.”


“Ah, sure.” Judah took the cup of tea that she offered him. As he brought it up to his lips, he watched her. He wanted to ask her, “Where have you been? What are you doing here? Don’t you work across the street?” And then maybe, “I missed you. I really wanted to talk to you.”


No, something was...off. The way that she glanced at him, the way her lips were a little too

red, how she brushed her hair behind her ear...Yang Lihua would never look at him in that way.

The girl who wore her face grinned at him. “Drink up,” she said. “Or do you want

something else?”


“Oh, I did,” Judah said, setting the cup down, even though he hadn’t let it touch his lips. “It’s good.”


“Really?” She tapped his cheek with those long nails. “I’m glad you think so.” Her eyes were dark, and when he looked into them, it was like staring into a campfire late at

night; mesmerizing, changing, flickering. Her breath was warm, and he could almost taste something sweet on her lips...


She really did look like Yang Lihua. She grinned, and moved away from him, undoing a red striped fox mask from her waist, and put it on him. “How do you like it?”


“This mask?” It was cool against his face. Through the holes he could still vaguely see her. And then, like a rush of mist, it all came back again, that night...


He had gotten lost. And as he wandered there through the reeds, a young woman in blue

robes had found him.


“Are you lost?”


Before Judah could reply, the girl in front of him took the mask back off, and it was all gone again like a breath of wind brushing through the trees.


He was still entranced by her eyes, how they moved with his, catching every single speck of light that reflected in his pupils. “Well?” she breathed.


“Well what?”


“Your name, dear.”


“Heh.” He gave a twitch of a smile. “It’s...”


She waited with bated breath, for the next words that would come out of his mouth.


“As if I would ever tell you, you fox!” And he stabbed her with a knife.


She let out an inhuman shriek, morphing back into the small fox that she was, blood staining her fur. Judah stood there, knife still in his shaking hand, breath gone.


“You - you dare steal Lihua’s face - and walk around like you’re - ”


He looked up as a tall young man also dressed in traditional red robes came out from behind the curtains. “Aye, what’s going here?” he asked. “Where’s - ”


Judah recognized him as one of the eight that had gone missing weeks ago. “I think that this is a question I should be asking you, no?”


At this point the man had seen the body of the fox lying on the floor. “Youngest Sister!

What has happened to you? What has he - ” And as he looked up at Judah, his eyes burned with anger.


“I wouldn’t have stabbed her if she hadn’t tried to steal my essence like that,” Judah said

hotly, cleaning the knife on his sleeve. “You foxes, you’re all alike...”


At the sound of this, the man’s fox ears popped out. “You’re that fox hunter! You’ve taken

down so many of our clan... I swear I’ll kill you!”


Just as he vaulted the counter to grab hold of Judah’s throat, more people appeared, from

upstairs and behind the curtain. “What’s going on?” one of them asked.


“The fox hunter is here, and he’s stabbed Youngest Sister! Tie him up, so that we may kill

him properly!"


Judah cursed as the fox spirits grabbed hold of his arms and tied a rope around him, several times. So he’d been found out... He cast a glance towards the guest sitting in the corner, but the person merely flipped a page of his newspaper.


“Luo Fei, calm yourself. All this commotion for what?” The foxes made way for an old woman, who was addressing the tall young man who had grabbed hold of Judah. Judah could see clearly her many tails which trailed behind her. Clearly an old and powerful fox spirit...


“This boy’s stabbed Youngest Sister, Grandmother,” the man who wore Luo Fei’s face said, bowing. “He was also the one to have taken Second Uncle and Third Brother, as well as many

others. We should not spare him.”


“Hmm...” The old woman approached him, and took his face in her right hand. Her nails

were long and sharp, and they hurt his skin. “They told me that you were a student and a delivery boy. Are you really a fox hunter?”


It seemed to Judah that the visitor in the corner twitched at this.


“Yes,” he said, staring right back at her. “I am.”


“Then you are experienced. No wonder you were not willing to give her your name.” The

old woman let him go and turned away, leaning on her staff. “There are not many monster hunters these days. Might I ask just why you have come out against us?”


“Your kind...you are malevolent spirits. You take others’ essences and faces for

yourselves...all those people who’ve disappeared in the past few months. What have you done with them? Where are they?”


“We are right here, of course,” said a boy, grinning from the side, his face that of the one on

the poster from this morning.

“Look, we’ve caught you already,” the tall young man whom they once called Luo Fei said. “And you’re not getting away. You might as well tell us your name and let us take you.”


“My name is Fa Judah,” Judah replied. “You’re not getting any more than that.”


“Your true name.” The man took a mask off his waist and pressed it onto Judah’s face. “Come on.”


In a breath like cold air pulling down from under the streets, that young woman in the blue

robes was there. “Are you lost?” she asked again.


“I am,” Judah replied.


“Come with me. I’ll take you home.”


He took her hand, which had excessively long nails.


As they wandered through the sea of reeds, the moonlight bright above them, she asked him, “What’s your name?”


“It’s...”


“That’s a beautiful name.” They arrived at a clearing, where a group of people dressed also in traditional blue and white robes sitting in a half circle, as if they were waiting for them.


“Come, who have you brought us tonight?” A small white fox hid behind someone’s robes, peering out at Judah. And as the whispering rose, Judah could feel everything being sucked away by the mist, and only black remained...


“I’ll never tell you my name,” Judah said. “I’ve learned my lesson once before. I know your

kind.”


The man they called Luo Fei gave a furious scoff and threw the mask to the floor, shattering it. “You wretched being...it is useless to resist! Come, give us your true name for our grandmother here! She only needs one more tail to complete her ascension into a Celestial Fox, and with your essence, all these years of waiting would be complete...”


“So you have come hunting foxes for revenge?” the old woman asked, still pacing the floor, her tails sweeping behind her. “Trying to find the ones who took you so long ago?”


“Those foxes...” Judah tried to remember the image that hazily rose in his mind, of the

blackness of night, of the reeds and the wind. “Those foxes were not malevolent like you. I’m proof of that. I met them and survived.”


“Well, you will not survive your second encounter. Come, do whatever it takes to make him

reveal his real name.” The old woman turned away. “Clean up the blood afterwards, will you?”


“Stop.”


A clear voice rang throughout the tea house, and the foxes looked up to see the lone visitor in the light blue robes standing there, his newspaper down, his hat off. It was Judah’s doppelganger, and for once, Judah was glad to see him.


The doppelganger strode over. “Even if you got his real name, you wouldn’t get a complete tail. He doesn’t have much essence left. You know why?” He thwacked the man called Luo Fei in the chest with a folding fan. “Because half of it belongs to me.”


The murmurs, the gasps, yet none of the foxes moved as the doppelganger stood in front of Judah, arms crossed. And Judah saw that small white fox looking out at him again...


“You agree, right?” The doppelganger looked down at Judah.


“Totally,” Judah replied.


“Aye, that settles it. Let’s talk later, shall we?” The doppelganger pulled out his sword, slicing through the ropes that bound him, and then pointing it at the crowd around them. “Come now, I’ve been long sick of your scent.”


The foxes pounced, and Judah quickly ducked behind his doppelganger, brandishing his

knife. “Got any dogs?”


“No, but I have something better! Just wait a moment!”


“I’m trusting you to get me out of here alive!”


The man called Luo Fei grabbed hold of Judah’s arm and twisted it. “Don’t think about leaving here,” he hissed. “Your essence may be useless, but - ”


Judah kicked him, hard, and stabbed him in the back. “I may have killed your family, but this is for Lihua and all the others you killed! And unlike me, their essences can never be returned to this world!”


“Foolish humans...” The fox coughed up blood before collapsing.


Right behind him came the fox wearing the guise of the boy from that morning, about to hit Judah in the throat with a spinning kick. Judah grabbed his leg and flung him off to the side, where he hit a wall, cracking it. There were too many foxes, blood and fur flying...


“Come on!” The doppelganger waved a hand at him as he ducked through the mass of foxes, trying to make his way to the front door. “This way!”


“I’m coming, I’m coming!” Judah followed closely, the foxes tearing at his heels.


“Smash the glass!” The doppelganger grabbed hold of the package which Judah had brought in earlier and held a lit match to it. “Three, two, one...”


Just as Judah managed to smash through the glass and burst onto the street, the

doppelganger hurled the burning package into the crowd of foxes, and the whole building caught fire, like a mislaid lantern in the night. Judah tried to catch his breath as he stared at it, brushing broken glass from himself. Where was...?


His doppelganger darted out, covered in smoke, coughing. “Ah...that was a close one. Foxes hate fire. Though I expect you knew that already.”


Judah could still hear the shrieks and smell the burning fox flesh coming from the building, and he gagged. “Let’s move away from here.”


That lonely instrument from earlier was still playing. The moon, however, was almost gone.


“You really are a fox hunter?” the doppelganger asked, wiping his brow.


“I am.”


“And you really aren’t out for revenge?”


Judah shook his head. “It was my fault for offering up my true name to you. Besides, you

were just a kid. It wasn’t your fault.”


“I see.” The doppelganger seemed pensive. “Y’know...this whole time I thought you were

out to get me. I guess that wasn’t the case. I thought you might remember.”


“What did you want my essence for, anyway?”


“Well, the way our tribe does things...we merely take a portion of people’s essences to

anchor ourselves into human form. Since we were both children, they decided to take you.”


Judah offered him a handkerchief. “It was a long time ago. I don’t remember much anyway.”


The doppelganger hesitated before taking it. “Friends?”


“Sure.”


The sun was slowly rising as they walked down the street, battered from the night. Judah coughed. “I may not be out for revenge, but you’re still gonna have to pay me back for what you did to my bike. What did you steal it for, anyway?”


“Oh, I knew that you were going to have to deliver a package there tonight and that they

were going to try and steal your essence, so I wanted to go for you. I didn’t realize you were the fox hunter here.”


“So in the meantime you replaced the package with explosives and rigged the whole building to set fire?”


“That...I did. Our families have been in conflict for a long time now.”


“I see.” And as Judah breathed the morning air, he finally felt free, free from those

memories that had haunted him by drifting in and out of being, those figments of thoughts mixed in with dreams and the mist...


“So what was your real name anyway?” the doppelganger asked.


"Oh..." Judah gave a half smile. "Only the same as yours."


Quintessence (LinYang), the winner of Writervana's March 2021 writing contest, is an urban fantasy writer. Website | Instagram | Webnovel

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