The Tofu Hunters: A Vegetarian Fable

439851_SMJPG_20120924162103689A long time ago, before food stores were invented, great herds of tofu once thundered across the earth. And great tofu hunters, dressed in tofu fur coats and horned hats, followed them to the ends of the earth, and even to New Jersey.

You won’t find tofus in any animal books, for they were shy and hated publicity. And they would never allow their bones and skins to be placed in museums. Tofus were funny that way.

But around camp fires in China, it is said, you can sometimes hear a bearded old man in battered horned hat speak reverently of the tofu. Close your eyes, he will tell you, and imagine an animal one meter tall, with the head and tail of a rabbit and the horns and body of a small buffalo. Then give it a tapir’s trunk, and soft golden fur down to its hooves. And a pair of the biggest, brownest, most melancholy eyes you ever did see.

Tofus always traveled in herds because they loved to laugh and tell each other jokes. They could easily be frightened, however, by strange and sudden noises. It is said you could stampede a whole herd with just a Boo!

They ate only kumquats and kiwifruits, which used to be found all over the earth. But then for reasons that still aren’t clear, the fruit trees suddenly disappeared almost everywhere. And so did the great herds of tofus that once fed upon them.

It would have been sad to watch the tofus, with their big brown melancholy eyes, chewing upon such things as bamboo shoots, broccoli, and beetle grubs simply because they couldn’t decide what else to eat. For as long as they could remember, tofus had always eaten kumquats and kiwifruits and that was that. Dreaming of their delicious fruits that could no longer be found at any price, the tofus one by one died away, till all that remained were three.

Though not much of a herd, the three tofus still went around calling themselves one, and who can blame them? At one time, there were herds of tofus so vast that the earth’s axis would tilt a little every time they passed. (Some people say this is what caused the Ice Ages.) But now the tiny herd couldn’t make anything tilt, even when they all ran together as fast as they could.

But they were a tough, stubborn bunch, these three. They knew that life doesn’t always give us kumquats and kiwifruits. To survive, they would have to find other things to eat.

So the little herd thundered (at least they thought they were thundering) around the world in search of new foods. They went to France where they tried Brie cheese and béarnaise sauce. They went to Mexico where they tried tacos and frijoles. They went to India and tried saffron rice and pakoras. They even went to a ball game and tried peanuts and hot dogs.

While the tofus found these things all right, they still didn’t taste anywhere near as good as their beloved fruits. So the hardy herd kept on thundering to one country after another, tasting all kinds of foods, until one day they came to China. And there they found a food that tasted better than anything they’d ever eaten. It was called soybean.

For a while, the tofus lived happily in China. There was plenty of wild soybean growing everywhere, more than enough for three hungry tofus. To them it was a slice of tofu heaven.

But then three hunters came to China. Their names were Ming, Bing, and Frank. They were tofu hunters who, like their ancestors, wore tofu fur coats and horned hats as they followed the great herds across the earth. For many months, they had tracked these tofus all the way to China, and didn’t know that both they and the tofus were the last of their kind.

“Why, these must be the biggest tofus that ever lived!” said Ming. “Just look at the size of those tracks!”

“Yes,” said Bing, his mouth watering, “Just think of all the steaks and tofu burgers they’ll make.”

“But first we’ll have to kill them,” said Frank, who had extra long tofu horns on his hat because he was the leader. “Do either of you remember how it’s done?”

“Gee,” said Ming, scratching his head, “we’ve been eating beetle grubs and bamboo shoots so long now that I can’t even remember what a tofu looks like.”

“Neither can I,” said Bing. “Can you give us a clue—is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?”

“I think it’s animal,” Frank said smartly, “since it’s hard to imagine a vegetable, much less a mineral, making tracks such as these.”

“Wait a minute, I’ve got it!” Ming said. “It’s right here on page 24 of the Tofu Hunter’s Handbook. It says that tofus are best hunted by frightening them to death.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Frank said. So the three hunters thought up the most horrible faces and noises they could make and set off to frighten the tofus. Hiding behind a big rock where they thought the tofus would pass by, they waited for just the right moment. And sure enough, the three tofus soon lumbered by. They had grown big and strong from eating so much soybean. They were almost turning into soybean, in fact. As they neared the rock, the hunters all jumped up at once and began to make faces and shout awful things.

But the three hunters looked so funny shouting and making faces that the tofus began to laugh. They laughed so hard that their big bodies quivered like custard and all their soft golden fur fell off. And they laughed and laughed until they shook and turned themselves into three tofu-shaped cakes of soybean curd.

The three hunters, who later became great comedians, feasted for many weeks on the tofu cakes. They were amazed at how good these tofus tasted, especially with a little soy sauce sprinkled on top. But when they finally realized that these were the very last tofus on earth, they became sad and wept bitterly over what they had done.

“I have an idea,” Ming said. “Since there does seem to be plenty of this stuff that the tofus eat, why don’t we try turning it into something that we can eat as well?” And so they took the soybean and made it into cakes shaped like little tofus, in memory of the great animals they once hunted.

Nowadays, people still hunt tofus, though mostly in food stores and without having to make funny faces or noises. The small cakes are usually square rather than tofu-shaped. But if you pick one up and put it to your ear, you might still hear the faint sound of great hooves that once thundered across the earth.                                                                                                                                     © Gene Twaronite 2012

Originally published in Read (Weekly Reader) 2003 and just one of the 21 wacky stories included in my upcoming book Dragon Daily News. Stories of Imagination for Children of All Ages. Coming soon to online bookstores everywhere.

The Man Who Stayed Inside: An Urban Fable


The old man lived all alone in a three-story house in the heart of a bustling city. Each day, he would put on his old gray hat and head outside for a walk. The city was full of good things to see and do. Skyscraper canyons and cobbled streets that time forgot. Little shops filled with trinkets and treasures. Parks with trees, flowers and birds, and of course, the zoo. And best of all, an outdoor cafe where he could sit and watch the cars and people flow by.

But lately every time the old man went outside, something bad would happen to him. One day, he was almost trampled to death by a herd of wild pedestrians on their way to work.

Another time, while walking in the park, he was mugged by a gang of punk squirrels with pink spiked hair, who took all he had—a bag of peanuts and a gold pocket watch.

Then one day, as the old man was sitting outside his favorite cafe, a sharp-dressed cat, wearing dark sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, strolled up and sat right down at his table and then slurped off all the whipped cream from his hot chocolate and, for no reason at all, tweaked him on the nose, which made the old man jump into the street, where he was nearly run over by a runaway shopping cart filled with 47 TV dinners and a sack of potatoes, which knocked his hat straight under a passing garbage truck, where it was made very flat … well, that did it! The old man decided, then and there, he would stay inside for good.

“And why go outside?” he said to himself, “when there’s plenty to do inside? I have a house three stories tall, with stairs that wind up and down and corner nooks where I can poke around. I can sit all day in my soft, comfy chair with all my books, computer, and color TV to look at. And whenever I’m hungry, I can just pick up the phone and have pizza delivered.”

For a while, the old man was as happy as could be in his safe inside world where nothing bad ever happened. But then one day it seemed that something was missing. “It’s too dark in here,” he said to himself. “I need more sunlight.”

So he called a carpenter to come out and put big picture windows on each side of the house. And that afternoon, as the sunlight streamed into every nook and corner, the old man sat and sunned himself, like a big happy lizard, in his soft comfy chair.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was missing inside again. “There aren’t any trees in here,” said the old man, who missed his walks in the park. “Every home should have a few trees.”

So the old man called the carpenter to come out and put two big skylights in the roof. And while he was at it, he also asked the carpenter to knock out the second and third floors so that sunlight could reach all the way down to the first floor.

Then the old man called the garden shop to deliver two dozen big trees, each exactly three stories high, two dozen big pots, and a ton of potting soil. There was a fig tree, an orange tree, and even a coconut tree, and a giant saguaro cactus for the sunniest part of the house. And that night, as he peeled an orange and sipped some coconut milk from his very own trees, the old man was happy indeed.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was missing inside again. “I miss seeing and hearing animals,” he said. “What this house needs are a few critters and twitters.”

So the old man called the pet shop and asked them to deliver three dozen animals, including a gecko for the ginkgo tree, two finches for the fig tree, three tree frogs for the palm tree, and even a koala for the eucalyptus tree. And of course, a couple of pigeons to roost in the rafters. And that night, the old man fell fast asleep to the sweet sounds of tree frogs trilling and pigeons cooing.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was missing inside again. “The trouble with staying inside all the time,” he said to the nearby gecko on the wall, “is that there’s no weather in here at all. What this place needs is a little wind, rain, and snow to blow sometimes.”

So the old man again called the carpenter to come out and remove the two big skylights in the roof and all the picture windows so that inside rain and snow could now fall, and the wind could rustle through the trees. And that night, he fell fast asleep as a cold north breeze whistled through the rafters and wet snowflakes fell on his nose.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was missing inside again. “I miss the hustle and bustle of the city,” he said as he sat holding an umbrella in his chair. “What this house needs is some traffic inside.”

The old man called city hall to ask if any new streets were planned. The city planner told him, yes, the city was going to build a new small street in the old man’s neighborhood. And much to the city planner’s surprise, the old man told him that they could build it right through the middle of his house.

So the city constructed a brand new street that went straight through a tunnel where the old man’s front door used to be, through the living room and into the kitchen (right over the linoleum) and out through a back door tunnel. And the next morning, the old man sat at his breakfast table and sipped his hot chocolate while watching the traffic whiz by.

But after a while, it seemed to the old man that something was still missing inside again. “But what could it be?” he said, as he scratched the bare spot on his head. “My house has everything that a house in the city should have, and then some.”

Suddenly, the old man knew just what was missing. Except for himself, there were no people inside. And just as a city without people is but an empty space that sprawls, a house without people is but a roof and four walls.

So the old man again called city hall to ask if a sidewalk could be built along the small street that now ran through his house.

The very next day, the city sent out a cement truck to pour a new sidewalk along both sides of the old man’s street. Why, he even got to write his initials into the wet cement, and no one complained a bit. And that night, the old man sat in his soft comfy chair in the living room, and instead of watching color TV, watched a stream of colorful people flow by, each on his or her way to this or that business in the city.

At last the old man was happy, for now he had everything he needed inside. Then one morning, as he sat at the breakfast table sipping his hot chocolate, a sharp-dressed cat, wearing dark sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, strolled down the sidewalk, through the front door tunnel, and up to the table. The old man jumped from his chair, but this time the cat didn’t try to slurp the old man’s hot chocolate or to tweak his nose. Instead, the cat gave him a brand new hat and held out his paw for a shake.

Then he and the old man walked, hand in paw, straight through the front door tunnel … back inside the city.                                                                                                                                                                 © Gene Twaronite 2012

Originally published in Read (Weekly Reader) 2003 and just one of the 21 wacky stories included in my book Dragon Daily News. Stories of Imagination for Children of All Ages. Available at Amazon