Short fantasy story: A Reprieve in Red

December 7, 2022

Image created by Troyena Azemi

Troyena Azemi’s tale of a girl finding solace from a fox in the wood

The moon was bright and full in its blanket of night. To Sammy, the distant image resembled a kitten’s bowl of milk, warm and inviting.

She paused in her step to admire it. In that breath she relaxed her aching arms, lowering the rickety lantern that swung with creaks in her tight fist. Her throat was sore from breathing heavily as she ran and a chill crept into her body, her cloak doing little to deter it.

In just a nightgown and worn red cloak with a stolen lantern to her name, Sammy didn’t feel safe. Not even after running for what felt like hours, after the sound of yelling had finally quietened to nothing. She’d escaped those four white walls that she woke up to every day, but the silence still felt dangerous, threatening. Deafening.

“You’re safe here, you know.”

Sammy’s head snapped behind her to the new voice. Her own green eyes met closed ones against russet-red fur, though in the dark blue of the shade, the small form gleamed with vibrancy despite it. Fox eyes slid open to reveal unnatural gold ember, the kind that was so bright and golden it was molten and reminded you of the blinding sun. Sammy should’ve stepped back in fear or flinched in surprise, but her tired mind was too exhausted and dazed to even register the true weirdness of the situation. She was glad of the company, frankly, no matter how feral or supernatural.

The fox tilted his head, eyes unblinking, mouth slightly agape

Sammy pulled down her hood from her pinkish-brown hair with her free hand, lantern still clutched in the other, swaying gently in the breeze, and frowned at the animal below her. It, or he, seemed somehow smaller than she remembered as a kid. She recalled when she first appeared in the meadow and was found by the Adler family, a vague memory of beasts in the shadows, protected by fire. At least that was what delirious young Sammy had imagined she saw.

Beasts? Protected by fire?

She brought her attention back to the one before her and the slightly open jaw not quite revealing the sharp canines under ember fur from where she stood. Not everything changes when you grow up, she thought.

“Do you remember? You were only a young pup, then.”

The fox tilted his head, eyes unblinking, mouth slightly agape. The fox misunderstood Sammy’s silence for nostalgia. In reality, all Sammy could recall was waking up with dirt and grime caking her body and being lifted by Dr.—no, Mr Adler, to his home. She had lifted her head with what little strength she had, glimpsing the orange figures at the edge of the trees, and promptly fell unconscious.

Now older, she felt mild annoyance towards her younger self’s lack of curiosity.

The fox sighed, and Sammy found small comfort in the almost human reaction, four paws and all

Realising she hadn’t yet answered the fox, Sammy pushed her walk down memory lane aside and sighed.

“I’m not…” she managed to croak, licking her dry lips self-consciously. “I’m not staying here long. Just. needed a break.”

“In the unfamiliar wood, in the middle of the night?”

Sammy didn’t reply, only pursed her lips. The fox finally closed his eyes for the first time since Sammy met him. After moments of patient wait for a response that wouldn’t come, the fox sighed, and Sammy found small comfort in the almost human reaction, four paws and all.

“You’re here for a reason. Spit it out, or you’ll choke.”

Here for a reason? Yes, she was, but which reason? Where to start? She felt so alone at home, surrounded by family she should know and love with all her flesh and blood but all they share is that very blood that boils under her skin when any of them come too close.

Mr Adler was kind enough to bring her in after finding her, and Mrs Adler was sweet enough to not mind whatever questions Sammy had about her mother. Clairy, their daughter, didn’t put up much of a fuss when asked to share her room with an unfamiliar cousin three years younger.

While words would never break her bones, Sammy felt a little piece of her frail heart break

But under all those words, she couldn’t ignore the things she saw. It was almost every day that Sammy was reminded not to go into the study during the day, or she’d disturb Mr Adler’s work. She found herself noticing more and more how every question Sammy asked was met with a sigh and a begrudged response. And that dinnertime was a more troubling affair now that Mrs Adler had another mouth to feed.

While words would never break her bones, Sammy felt a little piece of her frail heart break with every glare in her peripheral vision from Clairy’s narrowed hazel eyes.

She only wished that she didn’t notice how she’d disturbed this peaceful family’s routine in the little, important ways more times than she had fingers to count on.

But how does she explain this to a fox? How does she explain how awful she feels, how every day felt like trampling on perfectly nice flowers, how any attempt to help was met with an immediate “no”. They didn’t want Sammy there. She knew.

And she was so, so tired of trying to pretend she didn’t know.

Sammy finally felt the semblance of safety she was looking for

She backed up step by step until she met rough tree bark and slid down its oak trunk clumsily, slumped in exhaustion. The lantern clattered against the soft ground, muffled by the leaves and grass and flickered briefly.

Against this tree, under the shelter of its leaves and amongst its wildlife and creatures alike, Sammy finally felt the semblance of safety she was looking for, and let the lump in her throat free. It travelled over the rocks and grooves of her pent-up anxiety and combined tiredness from the day and barrelled out of her mouth with a heavy sob. The first of many.

And so, the fox flicked his tail and picked up his paws, stepping over crunchy leaves and stray pebbles in the grass and slipped into the crying girl’s lap, sneaking under her trembling arms as she tried to hide her tear-streaked face. He curled his tail around her waist and settled his head on her shoulder, shuffling to get comfortable. Sammy in return hugged the fox to her chest like a toy.

The night settled to silence, no more wind to disturb the trees. The meadow stilled to preserve this safe haven, this place to rest.

Just for now, it whispered, just for now stay here. Return in the morning.

The fox, hearing this, sighed into Sammy’s shoulder, knowing in that solemn moment that they would be here for a while.

And as he woke the next morning to a comfortable warmth and a gentle embrace, the fox found that he did not mind one bit, nestled together under the sun, breath rising and falling like the ebb and flow of the tides.

In partnership with Write by You, a social enterprise supporting young female writers to develop their creativity, confidence and writing skills.

Troyena is your average Londoner, but under all that averageness is a Kosovan feminist and aspiring creator. An ambitious artist and growing author, Troyena hopes to bridge the gap between fantasy and social issues and inspire change and creativity amongst generations. She believes education and compassion are underrated qualities that should be shared instead of stifled, and that procrastination is an enemy of all. Also, Hazelnut is the best Boba flavour.

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