(A Japanese Tale)
From the time Kei was a small boy, he had heard stories of the tengu. The creatures inhabited the mountain forests not far from Kyoto, where he lived. Kei had never seen a tengu, but he knew they were disruptive creatures with red faces and long, beaklike noses. They had wings and carried fans called ha-uchiwa, which they sometimes used to stir up wild winds. They said the tengu could possess people, too, and most of the boys feared them.
But as Kei grew older, he grew more mischievous, and instead of being afraid, he grew more curious of the tengu. One day he heard a story he could not forget about a famous tengu, the ghost of an emperor, who owned a magical cape that could make him invisible. Kei began to long for that cape, and he thought constantly about how he might steal it away.
After many months, he came up with what he knew was a brilliant plan. So one beautiful spring day, Kei hiked up into the mountains in search of the tengu and the hiding cape. When he reached the top of the mountain, he saw a group of tengu not far away. He immediately took a bamboo rod and held it to his eyes. He began to ooh and ah.
“I see everything,” Kei cried. “I can see all the villages and cities near and far through this rod!”
Naturally, the tengu heard him. For a long time, they stared at the boy who was staring through the bamboo rod.
At last the tengu with the hiding cape stepped forward and called out, “Let me see!” His voice was ferocious, and his eyes gleamed, but Kei wasn’t afraid. He was too busy planning his life with that magical cape.
Kei looked at the tengu and said, “I’ll let you look through my magical bamboo, but what will you give me in return?”
The tengu said, “I’ll let you wear my hiding cape,” and he lifted it up in the air. “No one will see you.”
“That dirty thing?” Kei said, though secretly he was pleased. “That couldn’t possibly make me invisible.”
“It will!” the tengu insisted.
Kei shrugged and handed the bamboo to the tengu, and the tengu handed him the cape.
The tengu looked through the end of the bamboo, but saw nothing. He looked harder, still nothing. He was embarrassed. Perhaps he was doing something wrong. But no matter how he tried, he saw nothing.
Finally, he turned around to ask Kei how to work the bamboo.
But Kei was long gone. He’d put the cape on the moment he got it, and, becoming invisible, he ran back down the mountain.
When he reached the city, Kei ran directly to the bakeshop. When he walked in, no one saw him. He began to eat sweet after sweet, and no one noticed a thing! At last he was so full, he could barely move. Happy with his full belly and his magical cape, he went home and fell fast asleep.
When he woke the next morning, he was still grinning, thinking of all the tricks he could play dressed in his cape. He reached to put it on, but it was gone. He ran into the kitchen looking for his mother.
“Mother?” Kei wailed. “Did you see the cape I was wearing last night? I can’t find it!”
“Oh, that thing?” his mother said, waving away his concern. “It was so old and ratty, I burned it.”
“What are you talking about?” Kei cried, running to the fire. There he found the last remnants of his cape turning to ash. He nearly wept, but then he had an idea. He quickly spread the ashes all over his body. Just as he had thought, those ashes made him invisible!
His mother, busily cooking, hadn’t noticed.
He quickly ran to the city, toward the governor’s mansion. He had heard there would be a great party that day. Sure enough, there was a feast. He set to work eating all he could.
Of course, no one could see him, but after a while people began noticing the food that was disappearing from trays and cups floating in the air.
“It’s a ghost,” they whispered in a panic. “There’s a ghost here.”
Just as the guests were about to make their escape, a nose appeared in the air.
“Look!” one of the women cried. As people turned to see what was going on, two eyes appeared, and then a foot. Kei was so busy eating that he didn’t even notice the ashes were falling from his body.
The governor called his guards. When they saw what was happening, they poured a pitcher of water over the figure.
And there stood Kei, exposed for all to see, looking like a fool with his mouth stuffed with food. He raced outside and ran all the way home.
That day he learned a humiliating lesson: Never tangle with a tengu.