Published by the good people at Scrutiny Journal who specialise in magical realism.
You can read my short story and lots of others here.
The Red Elk
It had never occurred to him that the red elk wasn’t real. For a year now, Sato had followed its trail through the thick forest around the mountain that people called the Sea of Trees and Sato called his playground. No matter how deep it led him in, it always returned him home. It was his older sister, Kiko, who first had the idea.
“Silly boy,” she said, “you don’t get elk around here, especially not red ones. It’s just the tanuki playing tricks on you.”
Sato knew all about the tanuki – his parents had told him and Kiko many stories about the shape-shifting raccoon dogs. They still did if asked, though they would begin by saying, “Aren’t you getting a little old for bedtime stories?” Yet they were no mere stories, they were true. Whenever his father, who ran the Sea of Trees Inn at the foot of the mountain, counted the mochi balls in the kitchen and came up short, he would curse the mischievous, furry spirits of the forest. (Meanwhile Sato and Kiko, hiding in one of their many dens among the trees, would giggle through mouthfuls of the sweet, gelatinous rice cake.)
“But why would they want to trick me?” Sato replied.
“Because. Why would they want to steal mochi balls?”
“They don’t. We do.”
“We’re not the only ones, of course. If we’d been behind the disappearance of every mochi ball in this house we’d each be as round as one by now.”
“But what kind of trick is it? To lead me through the forest, to lead me to those… people.”
“Maybe they just want to scare you.”
Sato tried to sound sceptical but it troubled him. He’d followed the red elk without question all this time but now he needed to know what it was, what it meant, and why it wanted him to find the people in the trees. It was the only way to save his home.