Chinese Folktales

34. FOX FIRE

ONCE there was a peasant who was young and strong. Late one evening he was returning from the market. His path took him past a rich man’s estate in which there were many tall buildings. Suddenly he saw something bright floating into the air and glowing like a crystal pearl. He wondered what it was and climbed over the wall into the garden. There was no one to be seen. Only in the distance was there something rather like a dog gazing up at the moon. Whenever it exhaled its breath a fiery ball came out of its mouth and rose up to the moon. When it drew in its breath again the ball floated down until the beast caught it in its mouth again. Thus it went on ceaselessly. Just then the peasant realized that the beast was a fox Who was producing the elixir of life. He hid in the grass and waited for the fiery ball to come down again to roughly the height of his head. Then he swiftly stepped out and snatched it away. He swallowed it at once. He could feel the heat descending through his chest all the way to his stomach. When the fox saw what had happened he was angry, and glared at the peasant, but he feared his strength. He dared not attack him but went off furiously.

From that day onwards the young peasant was able to make himself invisible, to see ghosts and devils and to have contact with the other world. When people were sick and had lost consciousness he could call back their souls and when someone had committed a sin he could plead for him. In this way he made a great deal of money.

When he had reached his fiftieth year he withdrew from all these things and no longer practised his skills. One summer evening he was sitting in his courtyard enjoying the fresh cool air. He drank one cup of wine after another all by himself. By midnight he was totally drunk. He rested his palms on the ground and vomited. Suddenly he felt as if Someone had slapped his back. He vomited more violently and finally the ball of fire jerked out of his throat.

The fox picked it up and said: ‘For thirty years you enjoyed my treasure. From a poor peasant lad you have become a rich man. Now you have all you need. I want my treasure back.’

At this the man was completely sober. But the fox had gone.