This is a guest post by Marissa. Inspiration for this sketch came from this image.
“Strange is the madness of those into whom demon foxes enter.” –Lafcadio Hearn
Her mother had warned her many times not to go into the forest after dark and every day she returned to the house when the sun began to set. Lately she had hardly gone out at all though, even during the the day. Since her monthly bleeding started, her mother increased her load of chores to prepare her for wifehood.
Since she first learned to run, she always preferred to be outside. Indoors, she felt self-conscious. Her body looked awkward in the dresses her mother chose for her; her hard, lean angles smothered in ruffles and lace. She was too clumsy for women’s arts, causing disasters wherever she went. And she was too distracted for fine work that called for close attention and delicacy.
Without time to restore herself in the wilds behind the house, each night she was full of nervous energy and racing thoughts. In her moments of insomnia, she reached under the bed for the hidden boxes of small frogs and newts she kept as pets. She felt calmer running her fingers over their cool, wet skin and feeding them the small insects she caught as she went about her daily work.
She thought of how her mother had found a little toad once. Its nocturnal croaking gave it away before she could set it free. Her mother opened its box, reached in coolly, and threw it to the cat.
“Whoever heard of a wife who kept crawling, horrible things as pets? How will you ever be fit to marry? Daughter, your sweet face and brown curls won’t matter if you keep the devil’s hobbies.”
Her skin itched all over at just the thought of it. How weird her mother’s eyes looked. She resolved that tonight, no matter what punishment she got, she would sneak out of the house.
The wooden floor felt strangely warm under her bare feet. She closed her eyes and sent prayers into the old boards. If she concentrated hard enough, she imagined she could detect a faint buzzing in her toes, guiding her around the creaking planks. Somehow she made no sound crossing the endless passage and made it outside at last.
She felt better right away. Even though it was late fall and she wore only a thin shift, there was no chill in the air to discourage her. The night transformed the forest. The trees seemed stronger and taller silhouetted against the stars and she sensed the presence of new creatures, awake and watching her, but she was not afraid. It felt like a game she was playing with an old friend wearing an elaborate disguise.
A high-pitched cry rose in the distance, an inhuman mimic of a girl’s scream, and she decided to walk toward it and see where it would lead. As she went deeper into the woods, she saw a shimmering white glow that changed shapes as the wind blew through the leaves. Although she hadn’t been outside long, when she looked behind her she realized she couldn’t see the outline of the house anymore.
Still, she walked on and came to a pond she’d never seen before. The glow had only been the moon’s reflection seen from afar. At the water’s edge, a white fox awaited her. She knelt down before it and buried her fingers in its soft fur. The hairs changed to tiny needles under her fingernails.
When her mother tried to rouse her the next morning, she found only the shell of the girl’s body, covered in fine, pale hair.