TW Creatives: “K Troop” — A Short Story by Kyoto-based Author, Kevin Ramsden

One hot, steamy afternoon in the rainy season, three male members of the same North Kyoto family mull over past misdemeanors, and find that separating legend from myth is never really that easy.

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Tokyo Weekender’s series TW Creatives feature various works by Japan-based writers, photographers, videographers, illustrators and other creatives in a bid to provide one additional platform for them to exhibit their talent. The works submitted here belong entirely to the creators — Tokyo Weekender only takes pride in being one of their most passionate supporters!

For our latest entry, we present a short fiction work of Kyoto-based author and professor Kevin Ramsden. 


K Troop

Together they sit, side by side, high up on a sturdy bough, proud father and adoring son. The looming presence of Mount Hiei at their backs, and the man-made structures of Yase Hieizanguchi, scattered amid the dense foliage, spread out far below. In harmonious silence, they scan the scene with a keen eye, taking in movement both human and animal, searching for others like themselves, family, friends and possible foes. Ears pricked and alert to the sounds of their neighborhood, the shrieks, the calls and the rude interruptions of the motor vehicles and the noisy, chattering, two-legged intruders. And at the heart, the Takano River, swollen by seasonal rains, gushing and bounding over age-smoothed rocks and crumbling concrete, as it gallivants its way past the Eiden railway station before continuing southward to team up with the Kamo River, then on to Kyoto City.

The father leans over to tap his son gently on the arm, before pointing a furry finger in the general direction of the station building some distance away.

“That’s the one, son,” he states emphatically with a nod of the head, “The big one under the tree.”

The son leans forward, stretching his neck as if a few more inches will make all the difference at that distance.

“You mean the white one, dad” he questions, eyes lighting up.

“The very one” his father says, laying a weighty arm to rest on the smaller monkey’s shoulders. “Now do you believe me?”

“I don’t know pops, are you sure it happened EXACTLY the way you told me. I’ve never been that close to the station, and it looks pretty dangerous down there. Lots of smoothies and dogs and stuff.”

“Oh, it happened alright, son. It definitely happened. But don’t take my word for it, ask your Uncle Koji”

And with that he opens his mouth and issues a series of loud grunts, ending with an ear-piercing shriek. Not long after, the bough begins to bounce alarmingly as the considerable weight of a fully-grown male macaque lands on it, causing the father and son to shuffle quickly down its length to afford the new arrival a little squatting room. Parting the curtain of leaves covering the trunk end of the branch with his enormous paws, Koji makes his entrance with all the swagger and confidence of a true alpha male. Slamming his rump down on the rough bark, he turns to face the other two, drawing his lips back over his teeth to expose the gums while hissing out a greeting.

“What’s happening Masa, little Masa” he drawls, peering down towards the station and bridge area “any action in the town”?

“Nah, pretty quiet today, my brother” Masa replies, “Rain’s kept most of the smoothies away. That and the possibility of running into your ugly mug!”

The brothers whoop and jiggle their shoulders in unison at the playful jibe, with little Masa joining in, though he isn’t really sure why. He’s still too young to get most of the jokes the older guys make.

“So, this little simian has something to ask you, Koji” says Masa, tilting his head in the direction of his son, “Wants to know whether the big white box story is for real, or just a north Kyoto mountain myth. Wanna fill him in?”

Koji rests back on his haunches, sucking in a little air.

“Yeah, this one does come around from time to time, doesn’t it, M” he chuckles. “These young uns just can’t get their heads around some of the crazy stuff the old K Troop got up to back in the day.”

“What’s the K Troop”, little Masa pipes up, hopping up and down next to his dad “Were you guys in a gang or something.”

“Something like that, junior” Koji says, “Me and your dad here and a few other tasty young monkeys pretty much ran this valley and way beyond for a few years. We were the Kings of Kamitakano, the top crew, legends. From here up to Ohara and down past the silver temple, we pretty much ruled the roost. No one messed with the K Troop. Christ, we even took it to the Shiga side sometimes, right Masa?”

Masa nods his head in agreement, “True that” he murmured, “Met your mum in Shiga actually, son” he laughs, ruffling the fur on the top of his boy’s head. 

Koji continues, “Raiding the smoothies’ vegetable patches, sometimes in broad daylight; them throwing rocks at us; us screaming at ‘em, ready to take ‘em on. Ah, those were the days, Masa. Remember the night we stripped that persimmon tree clean?”  

Masa replies with a wink, “left skins and pulp all over the place. Terrible mess. Didn’t even like persimmons, but it was a great laugh.” 

“It was that” cackles Koji. “Almost as much fun as scaring schoolkids on their way home. Oh my gawd, they did make a noise when you leapt out on them. Shrieking and screaming, wetting their pants and everything.”

Masa is bent double with laughter now, the memories flooding back. “D’ya remember that jogger we chased across the rice field near the Imperial villa, Koji? He was a huge bloke wasn’t he. Me, you and a couple of the Ohara boys were in on that one. He was crying like a baby when we showed him the teeth. One of those Ohara fellas, Nutty Naoki, was something of a smoothie biter too as I recall, so the big guy did have a right to shit himself, truth be told.”

“Bloody hell, Nutty Naoki. That’s a blast from the past, alright. Didn’t he get taken out by a hunter a couple of years back?” Koji questions.

“Yeah, come to think of it I think he did” Masa agrees, “Somewhere up past Iwakura, wasn’t it? Jeez, that guy knew how to find trouble. He got into it with a bear once as well, so it goes. I never felt a hundred percent happy in his company, to be honest. Gave macaques a bad name, really” 

All three fall into silent contemplation, processing that information. Their world could be a perilous one if you trod the wrong path, and such problems were rarely aired.

“Anyway” Koji speaks up, attempting to lighten the mood “The big white box story. So, let’s see. If by myth you mean an audacious attempt to procure a metal thing gratis from a smoothie big white box, then I humbly plead guilty. It most definitely occurred, and on my life, it was me and yer dad that done it!” he exclaimed.

“Wow! Really?!” little Masa squeaked excitedly. “I want to hear the whole story, Uncle Koji. Tell me, tell me!”

“OK laddie, keep yer fur on” Koji chuckles, “I’ve gotta try and remember the details.”

Masa rolls his eyes and sighs, “Come off it Koji, you’ve been spinning this yarn for as long as I can remember. You know it off by heart, and then some.”

“Fair play” tuts Koji, “I’ll only do the short version, then.”

And he was off and running.

“Well, it was a seriously hot and humid summer’s day, I do know that much. Your dad and I had spent most of the afternoon with the rest of the crew looking for berries, and we were pretty knackered. Your grandmother would always give us a really hard time if we didn’t pull in a fair amount, and your gran was one tough lady monkey, I can tell ya! I’ve still got a few bite marks to prove it. She could also dish it out with a branch when she had to, and that hurt like hell. She never battered your pops though. Oh no, her darling Masa was her favorite by a long chalk. He was the youngest, see. She let him ride around on her back way longer than she did the rest of us, too. Probably why he’s such a lazy bugger now” he adds, casting Masa a rueful glance. Masa simply ignores him, and Koji continues.

“Anyway, after we came down from up the mountain, and couldn’t be bothered to pick any more, we slipped into the river further downstream for a little cooling off. Well out the way of the smoothies and their young splashing about in the pools near the bridge. As we’re chillin’ there, all spread out, this little round metal thing comes floating by, bobbing up and down in the water. Quick as a flash, your dad is on it, and grabs it real tight to his chest, like it’s something really precious. Once we get out and move up the bank, your old man starts fiddling with this thing, sticking his finger in the hole on the top, sniffing the insides and all that. Pretty soon, I get fed up with him hogging this new toy, so I grab it off him. He’s none too happy about it, but I’m twice his size, so no real argument there. And I’m thinking, I’ve seen the smoothies with these things loads of times, and they all seem to either pour what’s in it into something else, or they drink straight from the hole. Well, I had nothing to pour it into, so I had to go for the direct from the hole option. Anyway, there was a fair bit in there left to drink, so I tipped it down my throat pretty fast, and BOOM! It was not like any water I had ever tasted before, I can tell you that. It was bloody lovely is what it was! Sweet and sticky and bubbly. Magic water. But then it all gets a bit mental, because suddenly the stuff I’ve thrown down my neck suddenly starts streaming out my nose. And I’m coughing and spluttering. Can you believe it? But as weird as that was, it still tasted good. Insane. OK. Now I’m smitten. And I decide that I’ve gotta get me more of this stuff. But how? Don’t get me wrong, I am nothing if not observant, and I have seen the smoothies remove these things from the big white boxes near the station, but I have no idea how I can do the same. And then it hits me like falling out a tree. Let the smoothies do the work! And I came up with the perfect plan. A perfect plan that would require at least a two-monkey team to pull it off. Of course, I could have got the whole K Troop involved in this little caper, but, nah, I figured this would be something we could keep in the family and under the radar. So, the next afternoon, with your dad here tagging along and fully briefed, we set off down to the station and the big white box to introduce operation “growl, grab and go” to the world”.

“Growl, grab and go?” the young Masa says with a puzzled look.

“Yeah, the old growl, grab and go” the elder Masa smirks, “Koji’s brainchild”.

“Can I finish?” a clearly irritated Koji breathes.

“Sorry, bro” big Masa says “Pray continue”

Koji gives him a stern sideways look and presses on,

“Anyway, we make our way down through the trees to the enormous one right over the big white box and time it just as the sun’s going to sleep. Not that many smoothies around at that time, but some couples wandering about near the station. Also, the big white box has got its own little moon that comes out when the sun goes down, and this seems to pull in the smoothies, too. What we need is the right smoothie at exactly the right time to be sure the plan will work. And we got lucky right away. This little male rocks up with his little female friend and heads straight for the box. They start talking and pointing at the pictures on the front of the thing for a bit, and then the male sticks his hand in his pocket and comes out with some of those round, shiny things that make a tinkling noise. We are on! I signal to your dad and we both skip down the branches as quiet as possible until we are right above them. Then it’s action stations. The male feeds the big white box with the shiny things and presses his finger to the front. The box makes a funny noise, a bit like a young boar with a sore tooth, and then a thunk as the round metal thing drops down. As soon as I hear that thunk, I am out of the tree and straight at the smoothies, teeth out, shrieking like a banshee, waving my arms about, the whole war dance act. As expected, they freak out completely and start to leg it. The female is screaming so loud I think she’s dying, and funnily enough so is the male. Smoothies are weird creatures, sure enough. Anyway, cue Masa and the grab and go. In he dives, and to his credit, with only a few fumbles, he has that metal thing out of the box and is off like a startled deer. I’m right behind him now, as some of the other smoothies around start shouting and yelling and basically losing their minds. Blimey, you’d have thought we’d stolen their young to eat the way they were carrying on. And that, my young simian friend, was how it went down.”

Koji stands and stretches himself out to his full height on completion of the story, and with a little backward wave proceeds to amble away back down the bough from whence he came.

Little Masa watches him go with a perplexed expression on his features, and turns to his father ready with a question. Before he can speak, his pops jumps in,

“I know, I know, he didn’t finish the story, right?”

Little Masa nods and asks “Why?”

Masa senior takes a deep breath and starts to explain,

“Because as far as he’s concerned there is no end. It’s always been unfinished business for Uncle Koji, you see. He never got to taste the magic water again.”

“But why dad. You got the metal thing from the big white box, didn’t you?” Little Masa says, “the plan worked, right?”

“Oh yeah, the plan worked great, and we got that metal thing down to the river and got ready to party” Masa says with a sigh, “But there was one big problem.”

“What dad? What?” the little monkey blurts out.

“That metal thing had no hole, son. Not on the top and not on the bottom. There was no way we could get the magic water out. And we tried. We really tried. In the end we had to give up. Your Uncle Koji was gutted, I can tell you. He’d been talking up his big plan to the other K Troopers all day, and how he was going to come back with some magic water for everyone. And he had nothing. He felt like a fool. He picked up that metal thing and threw it as hard as he could into the river. I’ve never seen him so down. And that was the last day the K Troop really went roaming, too. Koji was our leader, and his heart just wasn’t in it after that.

The two monkeys fell into a comfortable silence once more, staring down together at the big white box. Thoughts of what might have been in the mind of one. Thoughts of reenacting a legendary plan in the other.


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