By Bernard Doove © 2008
Jazmyn stumbled over an unseen root as she fled through the night-cloaked forest, eerily lit by a nearly continuous lightning display. Thunder shook her entire body as she picked herself up from the sodden leaf litter and resumed running. The noise of the storm could not drown out the voice in her mind however – the last words her Companion had spoken to her in terror. “Run, Jazmyn! Don’t wait for me! Run as fast and as far as you can from here. Try to contact one of our friends and hide. I’ll try to meet up with you there, but you must get away while you can!”
Jazmyn tried to protest that she wouldn’t leave without him, but he had shoved her out the door and screamed, “RUN!” She ran, her tears concealed by the pouring rain. Even though she understood the need to destroy all evidence of their activities, she knew that he was taking a terrible risk in delaying his own departure. If he had not been so certain of imminent discovery, he would not have been so desperate to get his beloved Companion out of harm’s way.
She had not gotten more than a few hundred metres from their home when a flash of light that was a different colour and more persistent than the lightning came from behind her. She stopped to look back just as the sound arrived. To her horror, through a gap in the trees, she could see where her home had once been, but was now just a roiling cloud of smoke and debris lit by fire and lightning.
“NO!” she screamed, but as much as she hoped otherwise, she knew her Companion was almost certainly gone. She tore her eyes from the horrible sight and resumed her flight. She fell several more times, accumulating scratches and bruises. Soaked to the bone and feeling utterly miserable, she realised that she was now totally lost. Worse yet, the atmosphere felt intensely charged and was making her feel nauseous as she stumbled along animal paths through the underbrush, momentarily lit by the storm’s fierce electrical display. Unexpectedly, she broke out into the open just as a flash of light and a roar of noise came from her right. She turned to face it, only to be struck hard and painfully. She lost consciousness as she hit the ground.
Ken Morita loved these mountains. Every day he commuted to work in town, but his heart belonged in the forest. That was why he had bought an isolated cabin that was way off the beaten track. His four-wheel drive pickup coped easily with the rough dirt track that eventually reached his home, and Ken actually enjoyed the challenging drive. He also loved thunderstorms and liked to sit on his sheltered porch to watch them. He had to admit though that combining the drive with this fierce storm was a bit too much of a good thing, and the journey home this evening was a test of his concentration and skill. So when something suddenly appeared on the track in the beams of his headlamps, he had instantly slammed on the brakes. He still hit it, but the bull-bar prevented damage to the vehicle. He was far more concerned over what he had hit, or perhaps who, because in the brief glimpse that he had gotten, it had looked like someone running onto the road. He pulled up the hood of his jacket and got out of the car, and was almost instantly soaked by the driving rain. He found his victim immediately in front of the car, but underneath the beams of his headlamps so it was poorly lit. He was immediately confused. This was an animal, not a person, as was obvious from the fur covering its entire body, and yet the shape was all wrong. Those were biped legs, and that looked like hair on its head.
“What the hell?” was all he could think to say before lightning crashed into a tree mere metres from him, splitting off a large branch that fell onto the track. “Shit!” he yelled in fright, then considered the victim. He could see that it seemed to be breathing, so he couldn’t just leave it, but he wasn’t going to hang around to tend it in this storm. He made his decision, grabbed the creature, and hauled it into the back of the pickup. Unceremoniously dumping it on a tarpaulin, he dashed back into the cab, cursing all the water that was soaking his seat. He started off again for his home, alert for any other creature that might have an argument with his vehicle.
Ten minutes later, he pulled into the shelter of the carport that adjoined the side of his cabin. He got out and hauled the animal out of the pickup. It wasn’t terribly big, but its rain-sodden fur added to its weight, and he staggered up the porch under the load. He was forced to put it down so that he could unlock the door first. He considered leaving it out there on the porch – after all, it could turn out to be dangerous. He decided to take the risk however, and try to patch it up first. He had a pen out back that wasn’t being used where he could confine it safely later if necessary. His way was still only lit by the frequent lightning flashes, but his cabin was sparsely furnished and quite familiar. He dumped the creature on the rug in front of the fireplace, went back to the door to close it, and then found the light switch. Bright light filled the room and he went to have a good look at his patient. His eyes bulged in shock.
“Kitsune!” he gasped.
What he beheld was indeed a biped, but not a human. Instead it most greatly resembled a fox, with rich red fur and dark coloured ‘gloves’ and ‘socks’, plus a bushy tail. Yet no fox ever had such long red hair, human-like hands, and pert human-like breasts. The only thing that it matched in Ken’s Japanese heritage was the legendary kitsune, a fox spirit. And yet this was no myth that was lying injured on his living room rug. He was flustered for a moment before he pulled himself together. Mythical or not, she needed his help. A cursory inspection revealed no obvious trauma, and he hoped that his rough treatment hadn’t exacerbated any hidden injuries. He decided to leave her alone for the moment, but lit the fire to get the chill out of the air and help dry out her fur. He then left her to put on the kettle and prepare some food. Even if she wasn’t hungry or thirsty, Ken certainly was, and it wouldn’t hurt to have some ready for her also. The kitchenette was open to the living area, so he could keep an eye on her as he worked. He kept his preparations simple so that he could have something ready quickly if the kitsune wanted something to eat as soon as it woke.
Suddenly Ken was uncertain. Just because she looked like something from a legend didn’t mean that she was safe. In fact kitsune were notorious for being tricksters. Then again he could be completely wrong in his guess as to what she was and she might be some strange mutation. She wore no clothes whatsoever, so it wasn’t obvious that she was civilised at all. And here he was just waiting for an unfamiliar creature that he had injured to wake up in an unfamiliar place. He was starting to seriously reconsider putting her outside when she groaned and started to push herself upright. Ken hung back in fear – it was too late now to change his mind. Then the fox woman looked about and saw him. She shrank back in fear, then yipped in pain as she moved an injured limb.
The cry of pain dissolved Ken’s uncertainties. She was obviously more afraid of him than he had been of her, and it seemed that she was too injured to leap at him anyway. He picked up a plate of sandwiches and a mug of tea that he had just poured, and brought them over to the coffee table close to the kitsune. She watched him carefully, and then said, “Qua son vu? Quo ja locar?”
That settled one thing for Ken – she definitely was no animal. She was clearly asking questions, although he didn’t have a clue what she just said. It wasn’t Japanese as he had feared. His grandparents may have come from Japan, but he was American born and bred, and his knowledge of Japanese consisted of a handful of words. However, her speech clearly wasn’t English either, nor did it sound quite like any other that he had heard.
“I’m afraid that I don’t understand,” Ken said regretfully. The fox woman seemed equally confused by his words. ‘Great! We can’t even communicate,’ he thought. So he tried something more universal. He held out the plate of sandwiches and the tea. “Hungry?” he asked.
She eyed the offerings suspiciously, then decided that they’d be okay and took the mug of tea. Ken had been worried that she might not be able to cope with a mug properly with that long muzzle of hers, but she apparently had no trouble. Only then did he notice that her lower lip was modified so that it would seal on the mug and allow her to drink much like a human would. She sipped the tea and apparently judged that it was good and proceeded to drink the rest more enthusiastically. She drank over half of it before she paused to look up at Ken. She seemed to be sizing him up, and he was definitely trying to do the same.
Now that she was no longer an unconscious lump of fur, he could see details a lot more clearly. Her body shape was very much like a human’s except for the lower legs which were animal-like – digitigrade he thought was the correct term. And it was a very pleasantly shaped body in spite of the fur that covered it. Now that the fur had dried a bit, she looked less like a drowned dog and far more attractive. However, that face was anything but human. Although intelligence could be seen in those eyes, and emotions read on her face, she owed a lot more to a fox than a human. Yet she was definitely a person, although whether she was a legendary kitsune was becoming more doubtful.
Ken said, “I’m not a threat to you.” He suspected that she wouldn’t understand his words, but he hoped that she would understand his intentions. He pointed at the plate of sandwiches, then at her, and said, “For you.”
She nodded, understanding at least that much.
Ken went back to the kitchenette to fetch the other plate of sandwiches and mug of tea, then took them over to the nearby sofa and sat down. He proceeded to eat and drink, trying to give an air of relaxation despite the strange circumstances. The vixen started eating her sandwiches also, her appetite returning after her flight and accident. She finished about the same time as Ken did, and he took the plates and mugs away. He then considered what to do next as the vixen watched him alertly. Her nakedness disturbed him a little and he wondered if she normally ran around nude. Of course she had all that fur, but she wasn’t just an animal either. He went to the bathroom and came back with a bathrobe which he held out to her.
She considered it but shook her head after a moment. Pointing to the fire and then to her damp fur, she said, “Za feur deshydra mes palt.”
Ken presumed that she had said something to the effect that the fire was still drying her fur. She seemed oblivious to her nudity though, so perhaps that was normal for her, even if it made him uncomfortable. He left the robe over the back of a nearby chair in case she changed her mind.
At a bit of a loss at what to do next, he fell back on routine and turned on the TV. Reception was poor due to electrical interference from the thunderstorm, but it was good enough to watch the news. Perhaps there might be an article on this strange creature? There wasn’t anything though, just lots of articles on the effects of the massive tempest that was still raging. Ken noticed that the fox woman was paying keen attention to the TV. She might not understand the commentary, but she was certainly comprehending the images of flooding, felled trees, and fires lit by lightning. She seemed to be straining to fully understand their context.
After the news was finished, Ken was not in the mood for light entertainment, so he switched off the TV and switched his focus back to the fox woman. She had hardly moved from where he had laid her, but what little that she had made him realise that she was heavily favouring her right leg. He picked up a piece of kindling wood from next to the fireplace, then he pointed at that leg and pantomimed pain. He then asked, “Is your leg broken?” and snapped the wood in two as he emphasised the last word.
The vixen’s eyes lit with comprehension and she shook her head. “Nane coget broken,” she replied.
Ken was pleased that she had picked up on the meaning of the word, and relieved that her injury didn’t seem to be too serious. He’d broken a leg on a skiing trip which had proven that he had no talent for skiing, and the injury had driven him crazy until it had healed. That reminded him though – he still had the crutches from that time. He’d always meant to return them, but kept forgetting. They were outside in the storage shed however, and damned if he was going out in this weather for them now.
Ken didn’t want the vixen to have to keep sitting on the floor, so he dragged the sofa close to the fireplace, then held out his hand to offer assistance to her. She hesitated a moment before taking his hand and he pulled her upright, her weight mostly on her left foot. Ken could now see more clearly how big she was. He wasn’t tall, but she was a few inches shorter than him, around five feet tall not counting her ears. He helped her onto the sofa where she sank gratefully into the soft cushions.
Ken was pleased to have made her more comfortable, and to get her off the floor which seemed like treating her like an animal. She was a person – a strange one, but a person nevertheless. Then it occurred to him that if he was going to treat her as a person, there was one thing that he had neglected to do as yet. He put his hand on his chest and said, “Ken. My name is Ken.”
The vixen nodded and put her hand on her chest and said, “Jazmyn. Ja hight Jazmyn.”
“Jasmine? That’s a pretty name. Welcome to my home, Jasmine.”
Jazmyn nodded, responding to the tone rather than the incomprehensible words.
“Would you like more food or drink,” Ken asked, miming eating and drinking.
She hesitated, then pointed to her mug and said, “Tay plaisir.”
Ken hadn’t said the word ‘tea’ to her, yet she had just used a similar-sounding word. He wondered what language it was as he made them both another cup of tea. He handed the steaming mug to her and she smiled gratefully. It was a bit more toothy than he was used to, but it was a smile nonetheless and not a snarl. He grinned back. Damned if he wasn’t beginning to enjoy this unusual mystery.
Ken went back to the kitchenette to clean up, then headed for the desk in the corner where a computer sat. He turned it on, glad once again that he had underground power, phone and optical fibre installed. It had cost him an arm and a leg, making a seriously large dent in his considerably high wages, but he had yet to suffer a power failure or loss of communications due to local storm damage. Of course if the whole local district got blacked out, he still had an emergency generator. He liked the tranquillity of his retreat though, so he was glad that he didn’t still need to use it as he had when he’d first bought the place and started fixing it up.
With boot-up completed, Ken downloaded his email, then connected remotely to his office to copy over his work-in-progress to the home computer. Occasionally he would work from home, depending on what project he was working on at the time, but he mostly preferred to keep his professional and private lives separate. Copying his work was another form of backup for the vital data though, and he did so religiously. He hadn’t ever lost data to a disk crash or other disaster.
Ken suddenly realised that the vixen was watching him with keen interest, which led him to wonder how familiar she was with computers. Maybe it could shed some light upon her too. Several searches later, he had found several websites with anthropomorphic creatures of all kinds, and thousands of images, many of them pornographic, but none related to the real-life living one next to him. Some did intrigue him, but not enough to follow up for now. At least he knew where to start if he needed to approach someone about his problem without freaking them out.
Deciding to call it a night, Ken shut down the computer. Only then did he notice that the storm had passed and the rain had eased up. Glancing out the window, he decided that it would be a good time to grab the crutches. He picked up the flashlight that he kept by the door and dashed out into the light rain, key in hand to unlock the shed door. He found the crutches leaning against the wall behind a mattress for a bed that he wasn’t using yet, then quickly ran back to the cabin. He held them out for the vixen to see and her jaw dropped in that smile again. He helped her stand up and she tried them out, but found that they were too high. Ken quickly adjusted them and Jazmyn tried them again, nodding in satisfaction as she hobbled around the room. She paused outside the bathroom door.
“Ja deseero util za lavo,” Jazmyn said as she indicated the room.
Ken didn’t need a translation for that. Of course she would need to use the toilet. She obviously wasn’t going to pee in the woods! He indicated for her to go ahead and waited for her. After a short while, he heard the toilet flush and water run briefly in the sink. Some things were obviously the same no matter where she came from. When Jazmyn came out, she looked a lot more comfortable and Ken wondered how long the poor vixen had been needing to go but was unsure how to ask, or perhaps she was hesitant to do so. Well, if he was going to be stuck with this weird houseguest, he might as well try to make her feel at home.
As Jazmyn settled back down on the sofa, Ken dug out a pillow and blanket from a cupboard and placed them next to the sofa. “For you if you need them,” he said, pointing to them and to her. She nodded in understanding.
Ken then walked around the cabin, indicating various things. “Lights,” he said as he pointed to the main light switch. “Food.” He opened up the pantry door, then went to the fridge. “More food. Drink.” Another cupboard – “Plates. Mugs.” He came back to the sofa and patted it. “Sleep. Sleep and recover, Jasmine. Until then, you are welcome here,” he said in his most earnest voice.
Jazmyn smiled again and said, “Danka vu.”
That sounded awfully like ‘thank you’ to Ken, and he chose to believe it was so. He then smiled and said, “I’m going to bed now,” as he mimed putting his head on a pillow to sleep. “Good night!” He paused to throw some more wood on the fire before walking to the bedroom and closing the door behind him.
Jazmyn considered the man who had just welcomed her into his home. Although she had first thought that she had been caught by her pursuers, it had quickly became obvious that not only was he not her enemy, he didn’t even seem to know what she was. Anthro Companions were hardly uncommon, so it had puzzled her greatly. This turned into outright confusion when it turned out that the strange language that he was speaking was apparently the same as everyone’s on all the TV stations. Without the ability to communicate properly, she could not figure out exactly what her current circumstances were. However, she had to admit that of all the things that could have happened to her, this was far from the worst. Ken was friendly, concerned, and quite willing to put some effort into helping her. There was little that she could do while crippled by her injuries, so recovering here seemed to be the best option, especially as she didn’t want her whereabouts known. Tomorrow in daylight, she would reassess her situation, but right now she badly needed sleep.
Jazmyn put the pillow at the end of the sofa. She ignored the blanket, being comfortable without it, and her fur still needed to dry out some more. She hobbled over to the light switch and turned it off, leaving the room lit by the cheery firelight. She returned to the sofa and gingerly stretched out on it, making herself as comfortable as her injuries would let her. She watched the flames for a minute, feeling herself completely relax at last. Sleep swiftly followed.
Jazmyn was still asleep when Ken rose the next morning. He actually had come out and check to see if it all had been just a vivid dream, but the recumbent vixen was just as real as she had been the previous night. She looked quite cute in an animal sort of way, but she certainly wasn’t an animal. What to do with a person not of your own species though? He decided that he needed more time to sort this out, and he picked up the phone. He dialed a number and waited for a response.
“Rick? Ken here. Sorry to call so early but something has come up and I can’t get into the office today. I’ll work from home instead. … Yeah, I know I don’t usually like to work at home, but these are unusual circumstances. … No, private reasons. … Yeah, I already have my work backed up over here. … Not sure, but I will try to be in tomorrow. … No, I haven’t forgotten the meeting tomorrow. You can handle it alone if necessary. … OK, catch you later, Rick.”
Ken hung up and turned around to see the vixen looking at him intensely. He suddenly realised that she might have reason for not being found and might view his call as being suspicious. However, without a mutually understandable language, it was nearly impossible to explain, so he didn’t even bother trying. Instead he said, “Good morning, Jasmine. Breakfast?” as he walked into the kitchenette. He pulled out some food from the fridge and turned to the vixen, saying, “Eggs? Bacon?”
Jazmyn nodded. “Eggs amp bacon,” she repeated. “Danka vu.”
There was that ‘thank you’ sound again. Ken was pretty sure that was what she was saying. He smiled and said, “How many? One? Two? Three? Four?” He held up fingers as he said the numbers to make it clear what the words meant.
Jazmyn smiled. “Ja deseero three eggs, four bacon, plaisir.”
Ken grinned back. “That was clear enough. Three eggs and four slices of bacon coming up! Good to hear that you’ve got a healthy appetite.” He got busy cooking them, and started the toaster and kettle in the meantime. He buttered four slices of toast and put them on a tray along with a jar of jam. He added a plate with the eggs and bacon, utensils, and a mug of tea which he then carried over to Jazmyn. “Your breakfast is served, milady kitsune,” he said with a posh accent. ‘If you’re going to serve a meal to a myth, you might as well be formal about it,’ he thought.
Jazmyn looked a little surprised at the service, but accepted gracefully. She then proceeded to eat ravenously.
“Wow! You are hungry. Come to think of it, so am I.” Ken went back to cook some bacon and eggs for himself.
Jazmyn had finished everything of hers well before his was ready, so he took her tray and used it for his own meal. When he was finished, he cleaned up the plates, cutlery and cooking utensils.
Jazmyn waited patiently for him to finish, Ken really did not know what his next move should be. He felt a little uncomfortable with her looking at him expectantly, and she was still disconcertingly nude. He suddenly thought of some of the items of apparel that various ex-girlfriends had left behind, and he wondered if anything might fit Jazmyn. He held up a finger and said, “One moment”, and went into the bedroom. He found the box into which he’d thrown everything the women had left behind just in case they ever came back to claim them. Most items were unusable, but he found two tops that might do, and a pair of shorts that he thought stood a good chance. He smiled in memory of the former owner – Lisa – thick as a brick, but she had sure looked hot in those shorts!
He brought his finds out to the living room and held them out to Jazmyn. “Try these on,” he suggested.
Jazmyn eyed them doubtfully. She’d known humans like this before who insisted on dressing their Companions. While some didn’t mind, most felt uncomfortable in them. She had often wondered how those humans would feel about clothing if they had thick fur also. She sighed and held out her hand for them. If she was going to have to stay here until she healed enough to leave, she supposed she might as well try to conform with her host’s wishes. However, there was one thing that he had overlooked.
Jazmyn held up the shorts and pointed at her tail. Ken slapped himself on the forehead and said, “D’oh!” Taking back the shorts, he went to his desk and took out an Exacto knife from the drawer. With it, he carefully cut open the stitching of the seam at the back of the shorts until he was sure that there was enough room for the base of her tail. The brush of the tail was another problem though. Ken dug out his sewing kit from the cupboard. As a bachelor, he’d acquired the basics out of sheer need. He cut the waistband and then sewed on a strip of denim that he cut from a piece that he kept for patching purposes. He found a large button and sewed it onto the strip, then carefully made a hole in the waistband on the opposite side of the strip for the button to go through. He handed back the shorts to the vixen who looked impressed with his efforts.
Jazmyn carefully tried on the shorts first, being careful to not aggravate her injured leg. By good luck, they fitted her fairly well and she didn’t feel too uncomfortable in them. She rejected one of the tops as being too small, but the other was probably a size too big. Jazmyn preferred the loose fit though as it didn’t bind with her fur nor irritate her nipples. She then stood up supported by one crutch and let Ken view the result. He was surprised at how well they suited her and smiled in real pleasure.
“Much better!” he commented. Having achieved that, he then turned his mind to what to do next. Maybe show her around the place and see how she reacted?
Ken walked over to the door and opened it, allowing the morning sun to come streaming in. He beckoned to Jazmyn to follow, and he stepped outside to wait for her. Moments later, Jazmyn came out, making good time with the aid of her crutches. There she got her best look so far at where she had ended up. Carefully going down the steps from the porch, she moved about ten metres from the cabin and stopped to have a good look around. The cabin was surrounded by forest that looked exactly the same kind as that which abutted her home, so it looked comfortingly familiar. There was a dirt driveway that led to a slightly larger dirt road that passed by the cabin, making her think that it was fairly isolated out here. The cabin looked to be a couple of decades old at least, but there was a framework attached to it that indicated that Ken was adding a room. Then Ken beckoned her again to follow him along a path that led in the opposite direction from the road, and Jazmyn gamely followed.
One feature of the cabin that had quickly sealed the deal for Ken when he had been looking for a new home was located only about thirty metres behind the cabin. There the ground suddenly gave way to a steep drop-off that opened up a view which looked down the entire valley. Right now, the sun was behind them and viewing conditions were perfect for the breathtaking vista. “Welcome to Spirit Valley, Jasmine,” he said with a grin.
As Jazmyn approached and the trees cleared from view, she started to recognise features. There were the Twin Sentinels. Over there – Wildcat Pass. As she got closer she caught sight of Mackenzie Falls. All so wonderfully familiar! It just made the strangeness of the language problem and Ken’s unfamiliarity with her kind even more incomprehensible. She sped up to reach the edge so that she could look down on the township of Spirit Creek nestled in the valley… and she froze. An unbroken sea of treetops met her gaze. Unspoilt forest bespoke the absence of human development. No town had ever been there. This was impossible! It was her home of many years, and yet this was not the same place. Different landscape … different language … different world! Jazmyn sank to her knees with a sob, tears starting to stream from her eyes. She could not comprehend how, but this was not the world that she knew. That meant that even if by some miracle her Companion had survived the explosion that she had witnessed as she fled, there was now no chance whatsoever that she would ever find him again, nor meet her friends. She was lost, utterly lost! She keened her misery to the sky.
Ken had watched Jazmyn as she had approached, noting the look of recognition in her eyes with a sense of relief. If they could find out where she belonged, then he could find out where she belonged and get her home soon. Then abruptly her expression changed and he witnessed the flood of emotions cross her face. Something was terribly wrong. When she started her dreadful cry, all he could do was squat beside her and put an arm around the vixen in an attempt to comfort, and his heart went out to her.
“I’m sorry, Jasmine. I’ll try to put things right for you if I can, I swear. You’re welcome to stay with me until we do, if that’s your wish. Come on home with me now,” he urged.
Jazmyn hardly heard his words but sensed his intentions. She allowed herself to be helped to her feet, and they slowly made their way back to the cabin, his arms supporting her in lieu of the crutches that lay forgotten at the edge of the lookout that had brought such crushing disappointment. The closeness of the contact was all that reassured her that she had not been completely abandoned in this strange new world.
All characters and this story are copyright © 2008 Bernard Doove.
To be continued in episode 2.
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