The Tofu Hunters

      by Gene Twaronite

A long time ago, before food stores were invented, great herds of tofu thundered across the Earth. And great tofu hunters, dressed in tofu fur coats and horned hats, followed them to the ends of the Earth.
      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.
      But around campfires in China, it is said, you can sometimes hear a bearded old man in a battered horned hat speak reverently of the tofu. Close your eyes, he will tell you, and think of 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 big brown melancholy eyes.
      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 unknown, the fruit trees disappeared. And so did the great herds of tofus that fed upon them.
      Desperately, the tofus tried eating bark, brambles, beetle grubs, and whatever else they could find, but it was no use. For as long as they could remember, tofus had always eaten kumquats and kiwifruits, and that was that. Dreaming of their delicious fruits, one by one the tofus lay down and died, 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 foods OK, 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 been tracking these tofus all the way to China, and didn't know that both they and the tofus were the last of their kinds.
      "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 because he was the leader had extra-long tofu horns on his hat. "Do either of you remember how it's done?"
      "Gee," said Ming, scratching his head. "It’s been so long now that I can't 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," said Frank, "since it's hard to imagine a vegetable, much less a mineral, making tracks such as these." Frank was very wise.
      "Wait a minute, I've got it!" said Ming. "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," said Frank.
      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 next to some fresh tofu tracks, they waited for just the right moment. Sure enough, the three tofus soon lumbered by. They had grown big and strong from eating so much soybean. They were 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, instead of being frightened, 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 and shook, and turned themselves into three tofu-shaped cakes of soybean curd.
      The three hunters 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," said Ming. "Since there does seem to be plenty of this stuff the tofus were eating, 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 horrible 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’s fiction has been published by Avatar Review, Fast Forward Press, Highlights for Children, and The Write Room. He is also the author of the middle-grade novel The Family That Wasn’t. His absurd short story, “The Tofu Hunters,” is quite possibly the only vegetarian fable in existence.

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