Time Cat: An American Feline in Edo

Tobias is just an average black cat. Well, almost black - he has a white sock on his left rear foot and a white patch under his nose. One day while exploring the yard of his Human, he comes across a curious glowing orb. He begins to investigate it and inadvertently activates it, creating a rip in the very fabric of reality. Much to his dismay, he is sucked into the rip and carried through time and space to an era much earlier than his own. Now he must track this orb across time and space in order to activate it and bring him back home. Don't forget my author page: tinyurl.com/anrisarynfb

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3. Hitoshi

          The morning sun was not usually a welcome sight for Hitoshi. Often times he would grumblr and roll back over in an effort to avoid leaving his warm bed a few moments more. But not today. Today Hitoshi was more than happy to wake up before the sun rose. Today was the first day of the new year.
           "So what? It's the first day of the beginning of the new year. Big deal." Anyone not from Japan may utter these words, but every mother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, and pretty much everyone else you can think of was not only excited for the new year, but they were also running around and getting busy for it. Watanabe Hitoshi and his family were no exception.
          The boy threw his blankets off the bed in a flurry and slipped into his bedroom shoes. He didn't waste time getting dressed; he was already ready, having slept in his robes.
           "Why is it every other day of the year I have to nearly physically drag you from bed," he heard his mother say from the kitchen, "but today you're up before the birds?" She was responding to the thumping he was making across the tatami, which could only mean he was awake. No one else was that loud.
           "It's only the new year once a year, okaa-san!" he said with a grin. She didn't reply, continuing to stir her pot full of stew.
          After a silence, only broken by Hitoshi scooping breakfast from the rice pot, she spoke.
"Otou-san said he could use some help chopping wood," she suggested. "We'll have to keep the stove burning all day to get ready for the festivities."
           "Hokay," Hitoshi replied, his mouth full of rice. His mother turned to him holding the ladle and frowned.
           "Chew your food, Hitoshi," she instructed.
          His protest was cut short by the sound of shuffling feet and a yawn. It seemed Chihiro was awake.
           "Chi-chan, will you help me with the mochi after Otou-san brings in more wood?" Watanabe Akiko said, looking at her daughter. She returned the ladle to the pot, making sure the stew was not burning.
          Chihiro's face lit up at the mention of her favorite food, and Hitoshi, predicting the coming noise, covered his ears. Akiko's expression changed on seeing her son's reaction from one of calmness to a near panic as her head turned to Chihiro.
          Chihiro's screech seemed to shake the walls. The neighbor's dog barked in alarm.
"What's wrong?" Watanabe Hideki gasped, opening the door in a rush. The blast of wind from the reaction caused Hitoshi to put up his hands in defense.
           "Otou-san!" Chihiro shrieked. "Mochi!"
          Hideki sighed, relaxing a little. "I thought something had happened."
           "Hideki-kun, please take your daughter and have her decorate something!" Akiko growled, trying to pay more attention to her stew.
          Hideki chuckled. "She's your daughter, too!"
           "Not when she screams like that!" Akiko protested, rolling her eyes.
          Chihiro blinked as if the sound that had just come out of her mouth was not her's. She looked genuinly stunned.
           "Chi-chan," Hitoshi said quietly, crossing his arms onto the table, "you might want to stop doing that."
           "Sorry, oni-chan," she said plainly. "I just really like mochi."

          The shrill sound of a strange alien screech caused all of Tobias' hairs to stand on end He glanced around trying to figure out the source.
          Finding nothing, he shrugged mentally, twitching his tail. He had wandered into the village on a whim after being chased from the marketplace.
          There were people everywhere, just as in the market, but these weren't shouting anything, a fact Tobias appreciated. He much preferred silence to the bustle of the city. Food Plop Lady had taken him there once, but he had spent the entire time hiding under the hotel bed. She dragged him out once to take him to see other people, but they had only wanted to pet him and make weird noises.
          This place was much different than any other place he had been to. The houses were small and seemed to be made out of bark, or something similar. The doors slid open - they didn't swing. People came out of them carrying many colorful things. One carried a tree that looked decidedly dead. Strips of cloth were hung from trees and baskets were placed on the tables. What was going on here?
          Another sound, though only a bit more familiar, reached his perked ears. He looked towards its source and found a smaller human swinging an axe at some wood to make it into smaller pieces. Something about the boy intrigued him. Tobias had always had a sort of sixth sense about people. Food Plop Lady had always said he was just a very good judge of character, but he didn't quite know what that meant.
          Approaching the boy, he raised his tail to indicate he meant no harm and mewed a soft hello. The boy looked up, catching the sound, but not knowing where it came from. His face lit up upon spotting Tobias, and set the axe down. He knelt next to the cat and extending a hand in greeting.
           "Where did you come from?" the boy asked.
Tobias understood every word. This fact shocked him so much, he took a step back. The boy frowned, wondering if he had scared the feline.
           "Are you ok, neko-san?" he asked, holding his hand out again.
Tobias blinked. Why could he understand the boy? Since when was this possible? He sat on the dusty ground, watching the boy for a moment. The human boy stood up with a smile and returned to his chopping. He watched the boy for a time, then stood and paced around the square a bit. He picked up the scent of a mouse and dissappeared into the woods.
          Hitoshi grinned, looking back at his task. There was lots of chopping to do, and little time to do it. As he worked, he thought about what he would wish for. A new set of robes? A bucket of dumplings?
          Every year, just as otou-san explained, everyone would ring the bell next to the tree in the square and write their wishes down on paper. The bell signified that all their sins of the previous year were forgiven. Hitoshi always wondered about this. He felt bad for all the bad things he did all year, so he hoped the bell really did take care of that.
          After he wrote his wish down, he would hang it on the tree. Sometimes the tree was alive, and sometimes it looked a little dead, but it didn't matter because there were nice decorations on it. If no one saw his wish, it was supposed to come true!
          Then there was the money! Oh, he was always so excited about this part. Otou-san would always give him a small red pouch of copper coins that he could spend on whatever he wanted. It was a special red pouch that he was only allowed to use once a year, and when all his copper was spent, he had to give it back. But while he had it, he was always so happy. He would often buy small treats in the marketplace or gifts for Chi-chan, depending if he was feeling generous.
          Having collected a good armful of wood now, he stacked it on his arms and carried it back inside. Chihiro was rushing about stoking the flames while Akiko pounded some rice on the table. She rolled out a few balls as Chihiro bounced around in glee.
           "Mochi! Mochi!" she chanted, doing a little spinning dance. "I love mochi! I love mochi!"
Akiko couldn't help but grin at her daughter's antics. She was always so excited when the new year came around. Hitoshi rolled his eyes as he placed the pile of wood next to the fire.
           "Calm down, Chi-chan," Akiko reminded her. "No mochi until after dinner, anyway." Chihiro mocked a sad expression, but set about wetting the rice-dough as her mother pounded on it. "We still have a lot of work to do before the feast!"
          A commotion arose from outside. A chant, which was rather familar, reminded Hitoshi of something else he enjoyed in the new year.
           "Is it time?" the people said, raising their voices to encourage the elder's ceremony. Every year the elders would ask if it was time to face the bakufu or not. When he was little, Hitoshi had asked all about the ceremony and what it meant. His father had explained that the bakufu, or the government, tried to make the people do what they wanted them to, and tried to control Choshu. 
"But we wouldn't have any of that," Hideki had explained to his son. "Choshu is a special place, and no one can make us do what they say!"
          So every year, the elders would ask the daimyo, the ruler of the Choshu region, if it was time to put a stop to the bakufu. The daimyo always had to think about if they were prepared or not, and soon they would be, Hideki thought.
          The group of elders approached Mori-san's house which sat at the top of a hill near the center of town. He was the daimyo of the whole of Choshu, and he was well respected, especially when he was to decide if it was time to get rid of the bakufu. The old men gathered in a semi-circle around his front door and said in unison "Has the time come to being the subjugation of the bakufu?"
          Mori Motonori rubbed his chin thoughtfully, his bright ceremonial robes flowing in the breeze. He wore a colorful hat in celebration of the new year. After a moment, he finally spoke, raising his voice above the crowd for all to hear. "It is still too early; the time has not yet come!"
While this would normally seem like bad news, a cheer erupted from the people of the village. This signaled the beginning of the festivities. 
          The tree was presented with a wave of cheers and food was carried out to the square where it was placed on crude tables. Though the people of Choshu were not rich, they always had enough food on the first day of the new year. There was kobumaki and kuromame and kurikinton, each carried out in colorful boxes. Hitoshi felt the excitement grow inside him as he helped Chihiro and Akiko carry out their boxes full of mochi. Hideki smiled, carrying the large pot of stew, still steaming from the fire.
          A small well in the center was collected from for those that didn't want sake or plum wine, which wasn't many. Most people preferred the buzz the wine gave them, especially on this day of celebration.
          The only one that wasn't so excited about all the commotion watched from high in a hinoki cypress tree just behind Hitoshi's house. The boy still interested him, but the commotion (and the fact that he could still understand all the humans) made him rather uncomfortable. He purred softly to calm himself, watching the colorful boxes and people mill about the town square. He debated going to meet the boy as he watched him carry things to the tables, but his ears flattened at a crash and a cry. He didn't check what it was, but he really didn't want to know.
          Well, the tree was getting rather uncomfortable, he reasoned. Still purring in anxiety, he slowly made his way down the trunk of the tree. He stayed close to the house, watching still from afar, but eventually he got up a little energy to confront the mass of noise and commotion. He hissed as a man, obviously not looking where he was going, stumbled about and nearly fell on him. His hair stood on end and the man yelped in surprise.
           "Get out of here, neko-san!" he bellowed. He was obviously already half drunk.
Skirting around the building to escape the drunken man, Tobias dashed about the square, dodging more feet and complaints. He mewed a request of help to the one human he recognized.
Hitoshi set the last box of mochi on the biggest table and looked around. Everything was set! All that was left was to make a wish for the new year. His attention was caught by a familiar sound. He looked down and grinned at the sight of the cat.
           "Hello, neko-san!" he said, crouching down. He reached out to pet him when a bright blue caught his attention. He hadn't noticed it before, but this cat had a necklace. "What is this?" he asked Tobias. The feline mewed a response, still confused why he could understand the boy, but of course Hitoshi would not understand. It was okay, though. He got the message.
Hitoshi turned the name tag over in his fingers. "Toh-bii-ahs?" he said, trying to pronounce the name on his collar. "What is that?"
          Tobias mewed in response.
           "Is that your name?" Hitoshi asked, looking at Tobias. He could have sworn the cat nodded at him, but he shook his head. There was no way the cat could understand him. "Where did you come from, Tobi-san?"
          Tobias simply purred and rubbed against Hitoshi's leg in an effort to say I like you. Please take me away from here. I need shelter for the night! 
          Hitoshi grinned and reached out to pick Tobias up. The cat didn't protest. He was used to it by now, and he liked this human.
           "I'm Hitoshi," the boy said, allowing Tobias to hop onto his shoulders. Tobias made himself comfortable, draping his legs aroun the boy's neck. Hitoshi smiled and went to meet his mother, who was still carrying a few more boxes.
          Hitoshi. Tobias turned the name around in his head. He had never heard any name like that before. He wondered how long he would have to stay here. He liked this place, but he longed for his soft bed and evening food plop.
           "What is that?" Akiko demanded, stopping mid-step.
           "This is Tobi-san," Hitoshi explained. "He's been following me all day."
"We don't need another mouth to feed!" she nearly bellowed, setting the box onto a table.
          As if on cue, Tobias leaped off of Hitoshi's shoulders and pounced on a fleeing mouse. Akiko blinked at the sudden reaction, and then frowned.
"Ask otou-san," she conceded. "I supposed we could use some help with the mice."
          Chihiro, who had been walking right behind Akiko, grinned at Hitoshi. "Do you think otou-san will let us keep him?" she asked gleefully.
           "If he keeps catching mice, I hope so!" Hitoshi hissed.
           "I know what to wish for now!" Chihiro whispered back.
          Smiling as Tobias dashed away to find more mice, the two siblings approached the tree to write down thier wishes for the new year. They each hung the papers and rang the little bell before rushing off to join the feast.
          While most of this had come about by chance, Tobias' actions were not. He had heard what the old woman had said, and acting on instict, dove at the mouse to prove he was worthy of housing. He carried his prize to the tree he had watched from earlier and ate slowly. Normally he didn't like the taste of mice, but today, and perhaps for more days to come, he would have to get used to it. At least until he found that shining orb.
          He wondered about the orb. Was this how he could understand the people now? He purred angrily to himself at his curiousity getting the better of him. If he hadn't chased that orb down, he wouldn't have to worry about this!
          But Hitoshi was a nice boy. It probably wouldn't be as bad as he thought. He crunched on the rodent's bones, picking a few out of his teeth with a claw.
          Well, if there was an adventure to be had, he was sure to find it, and well, it seemed there was one right here. If he could smile, he would have right about now as he leapt down from the tree. Just another day as the smartest cat on Philadelphia Avenue.

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