The Year of Bad Luck
May this year be the year that brings happiness like no other!
It was the same wish every year. But this was the year, she could feel it.
Opening her eyes, Kagome repeated the wish one last time, before she pulled the mitten-caps off her blue and white wool fingerless gloves and rubbed her chilled fingers together. The time had come. Gingerly, she reached out and picked up long octagonal box of Omikuji fortunes , and jostled it to and fro until a slender, numbered dowel slipped out of the bottom. Seven, she thought. My lucky number. Gently, she pushed the dowel back into the box, and turned to the cabinet of numbered drawers.
Every year, thousands made the annual New Year’s Hatsumoude pilgrimage to local shrines and temples, to pray, make offerings to the local gods, and to find out their fortunes. Kagome had been doing so since the days of her infancy – living on a shrine, such traditions were a very important part of her life. Over the years she had drawn such fortunes with all kinds of predictions and advice. Much like resolutions, set so eagerly at first, the words of the fortunes would fade from her memory within the span of days or weeks. This never stopped her from believing in them whole-heartedly while they remained in her consciousness, or from anticipating a new year’s fortune with a trembling sort of anticipation.
As gingerly as she had handled the box, she placed her fingers around the worn wooden knob of the drawer numbered “Seven”, and pulled out a sheet of printed paper, precisely folded to conceal the content. She shut the drawer quietly, and stepped aside to allow the next person to access the drawers. With slow, deliberate steps, she wound her way through the crowd of people gathered and waiting, to find the beginning of the path.
Kagome tugged her winter hat over her ears, and exhaled, a steamy puff in the frigid air around her. It was cold, the breeze was crisp, and it felt thoroughly of winter. The breeze carried on it the scent of snow – it had been flurrying on and off – and it nipped at her exposed skin. She loved the feeling. Winter was the sign that a new beginning was near. Today – New Year’s Eve– her new beginning was in her very hand.
Before she could bring herself to open the fortune, however she took one more fortifying breath and looked over at the placard posted on the gate beside her.
When you draw good fortune, you should not be careless and arrogant.
Even if bad fortune, have no fear. Try to be modest and gentle.
Whether in good or bad fortune, you should tenaciously do your best.
You can carve out your own fortune.
“Okay,” she uttered aloud, bracing herself. Slowly – ever so slowly – she opened the parchment. She looked past the paper into the air ahead of her until it was completely unfolded. “Okay,” she said again, before letting out a long breath. Then she looked down.
“Dai-kyou,” she read out on a gasp. The worst of the worst – A Great Curse! She rumpled the paper together and cast her eyes up into the heavens. It took her a moment to collect herself. She walked away from the gate and wormed her way through the temple-goers to seat herself at an empty bench opposite. The bench was cold against the backs of her legs, and she sniffled involuntarily before rubbing her hands against her thighs to help warm them.
Once more unfolding the fortune she sighed as she began to read. First came the waka poem which was meant to augment the meaning of the fortune:
The moon remains
its shining now unobscured
by leaves on the trees –
gone in a storm that has left
nothing of autumn behind. 
She reread the poem three times before letting herself re-read the phrase that had caught her eye when she had first opened her omikuji: Your fortune: A Great Curse. Then, she forged on.
願事 Your Wish: There will be many hardships.
待人 An Expected Visitor: He will not come.
失せ物 A Thing You Have Lost: You will not find it.
旅立ち Travel: Avoid travel.
商い Business: Do not be active in any transactions.
学問 Studies: You will have to work harder.
争事 Competition: You will lose.
恋愛 Love: Your love will not be returned.
病気 Illness: There will be great danger. Be pious.
縁談 Marriage Proposal: It will not come.
On yet another long outbreath, Kagome carefully folded the fortune in half longwise, three times until it formed a long strip. There was only one thing to do with a fortune like this. She would tie it to one of the pine trees on the grounds, the nearest of which looked like a giant snowball with the quantity of fortunes now fixed to its branches. She would have liked to tie it there for other reasons , but such – she huffed slightly – was her luck.
She stood, and tucked the fortune into her pocket to free her hands as she carefully covered her fingers once more. Again she rubbed them together, brought them to her lips and blew at them, trying to bring sensation back into the numbed appendages. Sighing again, she turned toward the nearest pine.
“Kagome!” Souta pushed his way out from the crowd of people to her left, cheeks pink, eyes glittering and voice slightly breathless. “There you are! I’ve been looking for you everywhere!”
“Souta!” She smiled warmly at her younger brother. “What’s up?”
“You have to come!” He said, and grabbed her by the hand, pulling her back through the throng toward the main house.
Whatever it was that he had distracted her for proved to be nothing of consequence, but so diverting that she completely forgot about the folded “Great Curse” fortune in her coat pocket, which she had been so determined to be rid of. By the time she remembered, it was the next morning.
And it was too late.
Her Year of Bad Luck had begun.
AN: There it is! The prologue is complete. Promise that this won’t be a footnote heavy fic, but for this first chapter there’s a little that needs explaining…
 Omikuji, roughly meaning Sacred Lottery, is a tradition in Japan for drawing fortunes (you can do this year round or on Hatsumoude, the first Shinto Shrine Visit of the new year). These contain a general blessing ranging from Great Blessing to Ending Small Blessing on the positive side, and Curse to Great Curse on the negative, followed by fortunes for specific aspects of a person’s life. Here's a youtube vid of someone drawing one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEly7BdOmEY
 This text was taken word-for-word from an English-language translation at the bottom of a real Omikuji from the Sensouji Temple. I thought the translation was so charming that I didn't bother fixing it up.
 This waka is an English translation of a 5-7-5-7-7 syllable poem by Tonna, which I am excerpting from the book Just Living: Poems and Prose by the Japanese Monk Tonna, by Steven D. Carter.
 In case of a good fortune, the bearer can either keep the paper for luck, or tie it on a pine tree or wires to see if it will increase the luck. For bad fortunes, people usually tie these up on a pine tree or wires, in hopes that the bad fortune will be attracted to the paper slip, rather than the person who drew the fortune. Here, Kagome is wishing she could tie up her slip in expectation of increased good fortune, but since she drew bad luck, she can only tie it up to try and avoid the bad fortune.