He sat on the soft snow in front of a large cave mouth. He looked curiously up towards the peak of the mountain. His eyes grew wide as he saw a figure gazing down at him.
They always took sacrifices up to the top of the mountain once a month. These sacrifices weren't the village's fair maidens or most precious people No, they were pleasing the mountain spirit by giving him the best of their crops.
It was the beginning of December for the little village of Sayu in the northern reaches of Japan. This was little Shiro's first time going up to help the other farmers with the sacrifice. He was only a farmer boy, but he was old enough now where he needed to learn the ritual.
The trek up the mountain was difficult. They were carrying loads of crops on top of sleds. Little Shiro was excited to ride the sleds down the mountain most of all. He was excited to see the mountain spirit for the first time. He wondered what he looked like. Little Shiro assumed that the mountain spirit must be pretty old because his village had been doing the ritual for hundreds and hundreds of years.
Snow was silently falling and little Shiro was wondering if they were ever going to make it to the top. But his legs were getting tired and his arms hurt from pulling the sled of crops. He looked up and around down the mountain. He could see his village set in a circle at the bottom of the valley. Little Shiro glanced back up at the older farmers. They were really far ahead. Little Shiro climbed faster trying to catch up.
"Shiro!" His oto-san called. His father.
He called back instantly, "I'm coming!"
Panting, little Shiro made it to the top. He sat on the soft snow in front of a large cave mouth. He looked curiously up towards the peak of the mountain. His eyes grew wide as he saw a figure gazing down at him. He didn't look any older than Shiro, yet he was dressed in really fancy clothes only the richest or the spirits supposedly wore. Big teal orbs blinked questioningly down at little Shiro and all Shiro could do back was the same.
Then the boy disappeared. Little Shiro stood looking around for him. He stepped back, only to find the snow piled up on a ledge. And little Shiro tumbled backward. The sled of crops came after him.
He could hear his father and the other farmers call out for him. Little Shiro hadn't fallen far and landed in a huge pile of the soft snow.
"I'm all right!" He yelled back to the others. The sled stuck straight out only a few feet from him.
Then he looked at the food. Fruits and vegetables, and various grains and spices were all bruised or tossed everywhere. Little Shiro tensed. This wasn't good. Would the mountain spirit be angry with him? Would he punish the village? What would happen to all the farmers? Would the mountain spirit demand more food, more than their little village could give?
Little Shiro could hear the other farmers conversing with each other. They had noticed that the food he carried was all tossed about. What would the mountain spirit do?
"What's your name?"
Little Shiro snapped his head in the direction of the voice. He saw the strange boy from before.
"Shiro…" he started.
The boy poked at a large apple, "My name's Hotaka. I'm the mountain spirit. You're here for the ritual, right?"
Little Shiro could only nod. There was silence as they stared at each other. Then Hotaka smiled, "Let's be friends!"
"What?" Little Shiro thought he was dreaming.
Hotaka stood and walked towards the sled and picked it out of the snow, "Let's be friends. The original mountain spirit left this place to me, but it's all lonely up here."
"But the food!" Little Shiro blurted out.
"Shiro!" Little Shiro heard his oto-san again, "Be respectful!"
His eyes went wide and he turned over on his knees and bowed, "I'm sorry, mountain spirit."
Hotaka set the sled down facing down the hill. He helped little Shiro up onto his feet, "Don't worry about it. Let's go sledding!"
Little Shiro was shoved onto the sled and Hotaka jumped on after him. The force sent them flying down the mountain. They swerved around trees and rocks. They narrowly missed wild animals and went over little cliffs. Hotaka was laughing gleefully the whole time. They flew past a frozen stream and suddenly they were out of the forest that covered the mountain. And they kept going right to the edge of the village. They crashed into a pile of manure right behind the dumpster.
Little Shiro spit manure from his mouth and whipped his face off. He glanced at Hotaka. He was smiling. And he had a snowball in his hand. Little Shiro was met then with a face full of snow and Hotaka's laughter. Little Shiro flung snow mixed with manure right back. And that's when he knew that his village was going to be all right.