Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #14: Life's Dream
Excerpts from the journal of Pandora & Karl, part 9
By Bernard Doove © 2007
Pandora turned the pages of the journal until she came to the next highlight in their lives that Karl had recorded.
1 May 2370
[Karl] Springstep continues to express hir disappointment that Joseph has chosen not to be altered so as to give hir more godchildren. Apparently he and Kalika are happy to be child-free for now, and perhaps that’s for the best while they continue to work hard to expand our business. Next visit I intend to seriously discuss this with them. I don’t want them to neglect themselves just for the sake of selling more furniture.
Springstep and hir family visit more often nowadays. Shi claims that hir youngest daughter, Willowind, keeps dragging hir back, but I think that the very hard-working chakat is just looking for an excuse to relax in a friendly comfortable family environment. Shi has an even better excuse now though – Willowind asked to join the Foxtaur Baseball Junior League team, and today the Council of Elders gave their permission. Pending their approval, I agreed to coach Willowind along with Varen, and also Acacia’s son, Tankar.
To Pandora it seemed that it had almost become a tradition for Karl’s offspring to play baseball. They all loved it even though their skill levels varied. It also gave Karl the opportunity to spend more time with Tankar, his first son by Obligation. Many other vixens who had had children by him had allowed Karl to participate in their upbringing, but Tankar was as close to him as any of the sons that Pandora had borne for him. Tankar always called his sire ‘Dad’, never ‘Karl’ like many other Obligation kits did. The addition of Willowind was to be a major turning point however, although none had an inkling of it at that time.
Pandora turned the pages until the next big event and smiled.
5 June 2370
[Karl] Today Xander graduated with distinction as a professional Hunter-Ranger. He had encountered stiff resistance from the more stubbornly traditional foxtaur vixens, but that had only served to make him more determined. He not only impressed his teacher, Jacinta, but also his mother despite her misgivings. I’m so proud of our son!
Pandora had to smile. Karl had done so much to ensure that Xander got the best teaching possible, but he gave all the credit to his son. And despite her worries, she had nevertheless been very proud of him that day also, even if she had not been as effusive as her lifemate.
She turned another few pages to another entry regarding Xander.
25 April 2371
[Karl] Xander and one of his hunting partners, Liska, presented a proposal for the construction of early-warning fire-watch towers to the clan elders. In light of the near disaster a couple of decades ago and smaller fires since, the Council of Elders is very seriously considering it.
Pandora nodded in recollection. That had been the first of many innovations for their young community that Xander had had a hand in instigating. The Elders started getting used to him popping up at the community meetings with some new proposal on a monthly basis. It was no wonder that he worked up through the ranks of the Hunters so quickly, nor a huge surprise when he was elected Chief Hunter-Ranger years later. That had certainly turned a few heads!
Pandora skipped ahead until another series of events caught her eye. This one was an especially happy one for Karl.
17 May 2371
[Karl] Varen started doing after-school odd jobs at the workshop today, much as Sylvia did years ago. I wonder if one of my sons is finally going to be interested in my craft as a career?
18 June 2371
[Karl] I have a new apprentice! Varen asked me today if he could start learning the trade since completing the school year with high marks. I was thrilled to be able to accept him. It also partially alleviates my concerns because the continued growth of the business is making everyone busier than ever. Varen already shows much promise, so that might take a bit of the load off the rest.
Pandora always knew that Karl had been a little disappointed that neither Jakkar nor Xander had been interested in carpentry as a career. He was almost excessively proud of their daughter’s mastery of the craft, but there was always a lingering hope that at least one son would also follow in his sire’s footsteps.
19 June 2371
[Karl] Did I say I had a new apprentice? I meant that I have two! Willowind has asked for an apprenticeship also. Shi has always liked to hang around the workshop with Varen, but it never occurred to me that shi might have the same interest in the craft also. We discussed it with hir parents who revealed that they had suspected that their cub’s interests might lie in the foxtaur village rather than the more sophisticated technological society outside. They approved on the condition that shi stay at our den which was hardly a problem as Springstep and hir mate and cubs are very much a part of our family nowadays.
Pandora had to admit that even she hadn’t seen that one coming, but she did guess at part of Willowind’s motivations. However, lots of other events would occur before that would come to light.
8 April 2372
[Karl] Xander’s success inevitably made him a greater target for the attentions of vixens looking for a denmate. I saw early on that the ones with the best chance of success were his three hunt partners. The vixens had been teamed up ever since they had qualified as hunter-rangers and had cooperated in getting Xander as a hunt partner, but after that they vied amicably for his favour. Today he finally announced his intentions – he would denmate with all three! Thankfully he will be moving in with them rather than adding to the crowding in our cosy little den.
It was the measure of Xander’s success and popularity that all three vixens were thrilled with the decision. He almost regretted it though after enduring the huge affair that they made of their mating ceremony. Nevertheless, the denmating has proven to be a big success and all four have been very happy together. The vixens gave support to Xander’s efforts to introduce changes and improvements, and were probably a large factor in getting the broader community to support them. Pandora believed that their son’s choice had been very shrewdly thought out, and was even more proud of him for that.
28 October 2372
[Karl] Kalika and Joseph have arrived for their vacation. It had taken us a long time to persuade them to take a break. Their hard work and diligence had doubled our sales though. Thanks heavens that I finally got those two new apprentices or else we’d be either working ourselves to death or we’d be hopelessly backlogged. The newest one, Hannaz, seems especially adept. However, Misha seems to have quite a talent for fine finishing, so I think that we have a nice balance of abilities there. The new workshop is nearly ready and Jake has sourced me some good quality inexpensive equipment for it. Soon we will be able to meet demand again, but I plan to keep Kalika and her mate here as long as possible. Not only do they need to relax for their first real vacation since their mating, but I also need a bit of a chance to catch up with our orders! It’ll be good to be able to catch up with the news. Those workaholics just don’t call home often enough.
Pandora mused that Isabel had been an utter fool. She could have had all this – wealth, family, and the best lover in the world – but she had thrown it all away through sheer greed. Her loss had been Pandora’s gain though, so in a strange way she was grateful for Isabel’s actions.
Of course Pandora’s life hadn’t been the only one that was profoundly affected.
28 February 2373
[Karl] I should be used to this by now, but every time that I think that everything weird that could possibly happen has done so, life throws me another curve. And yet I confess that I should have seen it coming. Xander started his second term of Obligation today. After Jakkar had failed to produce more than a slightly greater ratio of males to females as a result of his stints at Obligation, unusual interest in our sons had abated (unlike for myself), so Xander’s Obligation wasn’t taken up by too many vixens wanting to get pregnant. Kalika and Joseph also arrived for a visit, which was unusual because it wasn’t so long since their last one. I attributed it to wanting to be here for Xander’s birthday since they had been very close as kits, but I soon found out that Kalika had ulterior motives. When she failed to turn up for dinner, Joseph broke the news to me. She had been pining for a kit lately, and because Joseph could not give it to her, she turned to the only foxtaur tod who she had ever loved – her brother. Tonight Xander will be doing his best to impregnate his sister. The Obligation can be held any time within a month of the tod’s birthday, but apparently Kalika had already arranged this with Xander well ahead of time, and knew she would be on heat at this particular moment. Joseph had already approved and apparently they’d already told Pandora what she intended, leaving me to last to be presented with a fait accompli. I will never get used to that, but I hope our daughter will be happy with her decision, and I will get a fine grandchild from their union.
Pandora could still recall the expression on his face when the news was broken to him. Despite her current mood, a giggle escaped her. His calm entry in their journal belied his actual state of mind, but their children were fully grown adults and capable of making their own decisions, so there was nothing that he could have done about it anyway. However, Peony, the darling vixen kit that had resulted from their union, had been doted on unabashedly by her grandfather. Peony was the only kit that Kalika ever bore, but apparently she had been enough to satisfy Kalika’s maternal yearnings. Joseph was a loving and conscientious step-father, and Peony had never thought less of him than as her dad.
Pandora found another fond memory…
9 December 2373
[Karl] I give up! I admit it – I’m dumb. I can’t see what’s happening right under my nose. Tonight during one of Springstep and Silverbrook’s visits to see us both and their cub, Varen stood up at the dinner table to make an announcement. He then floored me by saying, "I am delighted to say that Willowind and I have agreed to become denmates!" I always knew that they had been close friends since they were toddlers, so I had put their constant companionship down to just that and never saw what was growing between them. Like I said, I’m dumb. Springstep though was absolutely ecstatic. Shi grabbed me and gave me a full-on kiss in hir enthusiasm. Chakats get so overexcited sometimes. I swear that if I’d asked hir to have sex with me then to celebrate, shi would have been happy to. That’s just the way they are. Not that I didn’t enjoy that kiss even though shi did it right in front of Pandora. After I got over the surprise of both the announcement and the kiss, I joined in congratulating the two and formally welcomed my new daughter-in-law into the madhouse that is our home.
Pandora had realised that there was a growing romantic relationship going on between Varen and Willowind. Even though she wondered if the chakat’s herm nature was going to cause any problems, she nevertheless had accepted her son’s choice and had no objections. Their family was built on cross-species relationships after all. However, there was one relationship that Karl remained blissfully unaware of. It was no accident that Springstep had given him such an intimate and affectionate celebratory kiss. Karl embodied all the qualities that chakats find endearing, and combined with the close relationships between the chakat family and theirs, Springstep’s affection for Karl had grown into love. The only thing that had stopped hir from expressing that love for him was respect for Pandora’s relationship with Karl. The vixen and the chakat had discussed the matter privately and had decided that so long as Karl didn’t make an approach to Springstep, then shi would not pursue a relationship with him. However, if he ever did, then he was fair game. Pandora had to admit that she liked the idea of having the chakat as a co-mate, but she liked being Karl’s one special denmate even more. Right up to this day, Karl remained unaware of Springstep’s deepest feelings, but shi still managed to steal a few precious moments such as that kiss or snuggling up to him when shi stayed overnight. And yes, shi would not only have said yes to sex, but also asked how many times and would he like a cub or two? Shi was that serious. Still is.
There was still one more surprise coming to Karl, and Pandora turned to the next entry.
10 December 2373
[Karl] I had been wondering how Varen was going to cope with a herm’s sexual needs. I learned last night. What a way to find out that your son is bisexual!
Karl had gotten quite used to love-making in the communal bedroom, but that sure managed to surprise him. Obviously it wasn’t Varen’s first time, but he and Willowind had never done it before in the presence of any of the family. Pandora herself had been unsure how to feel about it. While vulpamours were common, they were almost invariably vixens, so she hadn’t been really prepared to deal with her son’s sexual leanings. However, he was obviously happy so she decided to be happy for him too. Karl had already chalked it up to yet another strange twist in his life and actually dealt with the situation better than Pandora had. She wondered that day what it would take to really shock him anymore.
Still, as different as their relationship was, in some things Varen and Willowind were just the same as the rest of the family…
16 April 2376
[Karl] Varen and Willowind had celebrated their graduation to Journeyman status by getting hir pregnant at hir next heat. Today, exactly 312 days after that event, shi has given birth right on schedule. The cub is a chakat of course because crossbreeding between foxtaurs and chakats always results in a chakat child, but the orange fur with white hair is definitely inherited from hir father. The white spots would be odd for a foxtaur though! The birthing was similar to the foxtaur style except with a lot more witnesses. So many nude chakat relatives had wanted to watch! After some lively debate, they have settled on a name – Snowfire. I never thought that I would have a chakat grandchild. This ought to be interesting.
Snowfire was a darling child and Pandora realised that shi could have easily been spoiled. Some attention was taken off hir by the birth of hir sister, Morningmist, a year later. The chakat habit of having two cubs close together seemed like a good idea, but it did add to the demands of childcare. Pandora’s mother helped as much as she could, but with all the other adults having full-time work, she’d insisted that they hire a nanny. Thus the vixen, Melody, became a regular visitor. That led to another event…
31 October 2376
[Karl] Melody’s interest in Jakkar was pretty obvious for a while, even to a dunce like me. Today at the Festival, she proposed to him and he accepted her as his second denmate. I think that I am going to have to ask the stonemasons to speed up the construction of the extension to our den before we burst apart at the seams!
Pandora had been a little wistful over the need to expand. On one hand the growing family necessitated it, but on the other hand their cosy little den lost a bit of its charm. The finished extension was as tasteful and environmentally harmonious as foxtaur dwellings always were, but it just wasn’t the same anymore. As for Melody, she was the child of one of the other farmers in the valley. That meant that the joining of the two families meant some consolidation of some farmland too. Extra farmland was also needed as the village grew. Pandora leafed forward to a related event.
22 April 2379
[Karl] When I first came to Crystal Creek Village, the community was only into its second generation and was quite small still. The years since have seen considerable growth in population, our horde playing no small part in that. Foxtaurs have to play a balancing game though. Their territories are also nature preserves, and the land available for farming, grazing and public buildings was always limited, and the amount of hunting that could be done had a maximum before it impacted negatively on the prey animals and the wildlife that depended on them. So inevitably a village would reach critical point and it would be time to send part of its population to a new territory to start a new village. Crystal Creek is one of the smaller territories, and today the Elders put the matter to the community who voted in favour of doing precisely that. Due to Territorial Attachment Syndrome though, many adults are incapable of making such a move, so the new community consisted largely of youth. The time has come for many of the community’s children to make a decision about their future.
Pandora had known that that event would be coming eventually, but it was still hard on her when several of their grandchildren decided to be part of the new community. The pull of family was very strong in foxtaurs, but the adaptability of youth enabled them to cope well. Pandora had been sad to see them leave, but proud of what they were setting out to achieve. Misty Mountain Village turned out to be a beautiful new foxtaur community, and Pandora visited as often as she could.
She moved on to a happier memory.
2 August 2381
[Karl] Pandora and I have just returned from a 4-day hike that we took to celebrate the fifty years that we have been together. We retraced our routes as best as we could, but while finding the river gorge was easy, finding the site of the old rope bridge had been nearly impossible. All traces of the rope had long since decayed, and forest fires had burnt the wooden posts that supported it. Eventually we discovered one scorched stump just as we were about to give up. Then we reconstructed our meeting and journey to Crystal Creek. Although we missed our family a little, it was very pleasant to spend a few days alone, just the two of us.
Pandora grinned in memory of the occasion. Karl had left so much out of the journal entry. They were both terrible actors and they had kept cracking themselves up while re-enacting the meeting. They tried many times to do it right and failed, but they had no end of pleasure trying. That had been some of the most playful and refreshing lovemaking that they had done in a while. Karl had almost been as energetic at 77 as he had been at 27. She was seven years younger and still barely able to keep up with him!
Thinking of their age reminded Pandora of an earlier event, so she turned back the pages until she found it.
20 May 2379
[Karl] Today I was both surprised and honoured deeply. The death of Elder Parn had left a vacancy on the Council of Elders. The community had been invited to submit nominations for the post. This was done privately, so it came as a shock to me at the community meeting today when one of the nominees announced was myself! There were the usual couple of lifelong objectors to me being involved in any way, but they were ignored as they had been for decades. The Elders reminded everybody that as I had been promised when I was made an honorary foxtaur, I had all the privileges as well as the responsibilities of one, and I had certainly earned my nomination. Then came the voting. When the counting of ballots was complete, there was a grin on the face of the Head Elder as she announced the result – I had won! While it hadn’t been a landslide, I had received significantly higher number of votes than either of the other candidates. I had no idea when I got up this morning that by the evening I would be one of the leaders of the community. I’m still choked up with emotion over it.
Pandora had never been certain which people had nominated Karl for the position on the council, but she did know why. Karl had always been humble about his achievements but they were many, and he was a very popular person. There was one other factor that had swayed many of the more far-sighted ones though. Karl had often been tripped up by the very different way of thinking and doing things by foxtaurs, but the reverse was also true. His strength was that he could look at things from a different perspective and often his role in the Council of Elders was to inject fresh ideas and keep the others out of a rut. This he ended up doing very well, eventually devoting more time to the community when he finally semi-retired from the furniture business.
25 November 2388
[Karl] At the end of work today, I asked everybody at the workshop to down tools a little early so that I could make an announcement. At the age of 85, I have decided to slow down a bit and go into retirement. I want to devote more time to my work as a village Elder, but mostly I want to spend more time with Pandora who will also be cutting down on her work on the farm. I told all that I would still be coming in occasionally but I was handing over ownership of the business to Sylvia. She promptly refused it and told me, "I’ll take ownership the day after you die, and that will be more than soon enough for me. However everybody knows who the boss is now!" I have tried hard not to show favouritism amongst my children, but Sylvia has been the perfect daughter and I could not have asked for better. I’m sure that she will lead the business to great things in the future.
It had been good to slow down and do more with Karl. Besides, they had both been feeling the effects of age. Progeria treatments that he had as a young man had ensured that Karl would have a long and vital life, but he had reached the stage where further treatments would be needed to extend his life well into the hundreds. He never did bother, choosing instead to let his life run its course as the clan foxtaurs did. Back when menopause had been setting in, Pandora had offered him one last chance at another child, but he had said that he was content with those that they’d already had. Besides it would have been unfair to the child not to give him or her the best years of their lives. Foxtaurs who lived in the cities and took advantage of all the modern medicine could reasonably expect to live for over a century, but the majority of the foxtaurs who lived in communities like Crystal Creek had lesser lifetime expectations varying between roughly 80 and 100. Pandora was seven years younger than Karl, but potentially closer to passing on than her mate. She wanted them both to take better care of themselves so as to maximise their time together.
However, time marched on inexorably. Pandora finished her reminiscences about the past and turned to the latest entry in their journal.
21 September 2399
[Pandora] I was tending my herb garden when Varen came racing at top speed up from the workshop. He yelled to me as soon as he was within sight, "Mom, come quick! Dad’s collapsed!" I raced back down to the workshop where Karl had gone to do a bit of ‘pottering around’. I found the doctor had already moved him to his clinic and the workshop was abandoned except for a couple of apprentices not related to us. Everyone else had crowded the clinic but made way for me. A medical assistant stopped me and informed me that Karl had had a heart attack and that they were busy working on him. It was an excruciatingly long wait before the doctor came out to let me know that my lifemate was still alive. He was weak but stable, so he could let me in to see him. It was shocking to see my mate in such a condition, but he still managed to smile at me and apologise for causing me distress. The doctor told us that he had done everything that could be done here for Karl; anything more would have to be done at a major hospital. Karl looked to me for an answer, but he knew that we had promised each other not to go that route. Instead I arranged to have Karl moved back to the den where we set up a proper bed for him in the spare room. A medical assistant was sent there to watch over him and give medication if necessary, but otherwise there would be no major medical intervention. He has been asleep ever since, but that hasn’t stopped every one of our kin from coming to visit him. Our grandchildren from other villages have been arriving too with their children. Most of them though were beaten by Springstep. The chakat had arrived in hir aircar soon after we had shifted Karl to the den and shi promptly used hir degree in medicine to replace the medical assistant. Shi has been by his side ever since, helping me keep vigil.
A large teardrop splashed on the page and Pandora had to wipe away more. She looked up at Springstep lying on the other side of the bed. The chakat shook hir head.
"I don’t think that he’s getting any stronger," shi said.
Pandora didn’t need to be an empath to tell that Springstep’s heart was aching. Shi had never stopped loving Karl, but shi also had never gotten the opportunity to tell him that. Chakats lived to about 150 years – how much more heartbreak must they go through as they outlived their non-chakat loved ones?
Varen and Willowind came into the room bearing hot drinks for their respective parent. All Karl’s children had been finding an excuse to drop in and find out how he was doing. They were all mature adults of course, but they still revered their sire. Pandora and Springstep accepted the drinks gratefully. They all watched Karl in silence for a while before Varen and Willowind left to rejoin the others.
Karl regained consciousness shortly after dawn. He discovered Pandora’s head cradled against his shoulder, asleep. It was comfortingly familiar. Finding Springstep’s head pillowed on the bed next to him was a bit of a surprise, but not an unpleasant one. He turned his head to kiss Pandora’s nosepad, then stroked Springstep’s long flowing mane. "Good morning, ladies," he said, barely managing a whisper. Just those small actions tired him, but they were enough to wake the two.
"Take it easy, dear," Springstep advised him.
"Karl! How are you?" exclaimed Pandora.
"Not good, love," Karl answered his lifemate.
We’ll get the doctor back over," Pandora replied.
"I’m not going anywhere, hon."
Pandora used the comm to arouse the doctor who arrived in creditably short time.
"Pardon us, ladies," he said. "I need a few moments of privacy with my patient. That means you too, Doctor Springstep," he added firmly.
Pandora and Springstep reluctantly left the room. The few minutes before the doctor came out and let them go back in seemed like an eternity despite the distraction of the other family members demanding to be updated.
"Tell us that the doctor had good news," Pandora demanded.
" 'Fraid not, darling," Karl said weakly. "I’m dying and the doctor can do little more now than give me some pain-killers. He gives me no more than two days."
Pandora burst into tears and wept on Karl’s chest while Springstep stood around helplessly feeling miserable. When Pandora finally stopped crying, Karl’s eyes were closed and she thought that he had died then. Then she saw that his chest was still rising and falling and realised that he was probably just very tired.
Karl opened his eyes again. "Come closer, darling," he whispered.
Pandora leaned in close and Karl said, "I will adore you forever, my soulmate." He bent forward enough to kiss her and she put up her hand to support his head while she savoured what could be their last kiss. They had to break when Karl started coughing. As he settled down again, Pandora caught Springstep’s eye and inclined her head towards Karl.
"Last chance," was all she said to the chakat.
Springstep nodded gratefully, then leaned up close to Karl as Pandora had done. "I love you too, Karl Whitepaw, from the bottom of my heart," shi said fervently. Then shi kissed him too with as much passion as Pandora had done.
Karl was only momentarily surprised, but he cooperated and enjoyed the kiss for as long as he could before once again being reduced to coughing. They waited for him to recover and eventually he said, "I think I knew… in the back of my mind… how you really felt… about me. I love you too… you silly chakat."
It was Springstep’s turn to cry uncontrollably. While shi did, Karl asked Pandora to send in the children while he comforted the chakat. All five squeezed into the small room with alacrity. Karl gathered his strength to talk to them.
"No person on Earth… can claim to have better…children than I was blessed with. Jakkar, my first son… you were the beginning of the miracles… that Springstep enabled. You completed my and Pandora’s lives… and that made you so special to us. Please scatter my ashes on your tomato plants. They were the first things that you ever grew by yourself. You made me proud, son."
I’ll do that, Dad," Jakkar replied gravely.
Karl seemed to be drawing strength from his family and his voice got firmer as he turned to Sylvia and said, "Sylvia, my first true daughter… we have been as close as a father and daughter could be and more. You learned everything that I knew and exceeded me. You will bring greatness to the house of Whitepaw. I wish that I could be there to see it."
Sylvia grew all choked up at his words and could only reply by squeezing his hand and nodding.
Karl turned to his second son. "Xander, you have a strength of will that drove you to succeed where others may have given up. I admire that most in you. This family and the entire village would be poorer without you. I am very proud of you too."
"Thanks, Dad," Xander said with tears in his eyes.
"Kalika – you’re a workaholic. You’ve already done enough to make Whitepaw Creations famous. Slow down and enjoy your life with Joseph. Take it from me, it’s the best time of your life. I love you, hon."
"Same here, Dad. You were my inspiration," Kalika responded.
Finally it was Varen’s turn. "My third son. Varen, you brought two families together when you mated with Willowind. You gave me many surprises, but I was delighted that you followed in my footsteps and chose my profession. But do you realise just how many people waiting out there in the den that you were responsible for? Without you, I might never have had to do Obligation!" Karl tried to grin. "Thank you for making my life interesting."
"You’re welcome, Dad." Varen said sincerely.
Karl sighed then asked for some water. After a few minutes rest, he continued. "Goodbye my children. I am sorry that I have to leave you. Could you please let the others in while I have the strength to say my farewells to them too?"
"Are you sure, Karl?" Pandora asked. "The stress of trying to see so many people can’t be good for you in this condition."
"I want to see them all, Pandora. This is my last chance," Karl insisted.
And so a steady stream of people walked into the room to spend a few precious last moments with their beloved patriarch. Grandchildren, children by Obligation, great grandchildren, even a few great great grandchildren and lots of family friends. Foxtaurs mostly, but lots of chakats, several coyote morphs and lots of other species all trooped through the door. At last the final person left Pandora alone with Karl. He smiled in satisfaction at Pandora, then utter exhaustion claimed him and he shut his eyes to sleep, leaving the vixen to resume her vigil.
Hours later, the lowering sun shone through the window to warm Karl’s face. His eyes opened and he looked at Pandora and said, "Let’s go watch the sunset from Lookout Bluff, darling." Then the light left his eyes and he breathed his last.
The rest of the family knew that their patriarch had passed on by the howls of inconsolable grief coming from the room.
23 September 2399
[Pandora] Karl was cremated today in accordance with foxtaur tradition. Springstep left straight after the funeral. Shi not only left to seek the solace of hir own family but also because hir empathic senses were being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sorrow being emitted by almost everyone in the village. After scattering Karl’s ashes amongst the tomato plants, I returned to our den. I have felt numb ever since. I did not know what to do with myself until Jakkar placed our journal in front of me. The book has a lot of blank pages left with which I had hoped to fill with many more happy memories. Instead I have to bring this journal to a close. When the doctor told Karl that he had two days or less to live, Karl only thought about saying goodbye to his extended family, even at the expense of perhaps another day of life. Now he is gone and a large piece of myself is missing. My children and grandchildren don’t need me. I am at a loss to know what to do.
I think that I will go watch the sunset as Karl suggested.
Pandora put the journal back on the shelf and pulled on a warm blouse as the evenings were growing chilly. When Jakkar asked her where she was going, she said, "I’m headed over to Sylvia’s den. Don’t wait up for me, dear."
However, on the path to Sylvia’s place, she turned off onto the track that led to Lookout Bluff where she and Karl had declared themselves denmates so long ago. She wanted to go there alone though, so she had lied to her son. The steep path was harder on her aged body than she thought that it would be, but she still got up there in time to enjoy the view and watch a spectacular sunset. So much had changed since their mating day. The quaint little village had grown up into a small town, although the foxtaur practice of blending dens with the environment made it far from obvious to the inexperienced eye. Pandora settled down next to a large boulder that was reradiating heat that it had absorbed during the day, staving off the chill. She picked out dens of various grandchildren, land that had been developed by them, the original workshop and so much more.
"So much of this community was built because of you, Karl," she said.
"I seem to remember that you and the kits were involved too," Karl replied.
"But you were the catalyst, my love. Without you, this would have been just another foxtaur village," Pandora rebutted.
"And without you, I would have been just another burned-out human. We built this all together, darling, but now our job is done and it’s time to move on." He held out his hand to her. "Let’s go see what else there is to see in this beautiful world."
Pandora took Karl’s hand and got up smoothly and easily. "As long as it’s with you, my love, I will go anywhere."
Karl put his arm around her waist and they started walking towards the sun as the last of it dipped below the horizon. "Together forever, my soul mate," he reassured her.
"Forever," she repeated in satisfaction, laying her head blissfully against his arm.
24 September 2399
[Jakkar] When mother did not come home last night, we assumed that she had stayed with Sylvia that evening. That misconception was shattered when Sylvia came around first thing in the morning to see how mother was coping. Panic ensued while we tried to figure out where she could be. It was Kalika who suggested that we look in this journal that she had been writing in just before she left. Normally a journal is considered inviolate, but we nevertheless read the last entry in desperation. "Go watch the sunset"? It didn’t say where, but we all guessed that it would be at Lookout Bluff. We raced up there as fast as we could, arriving panting very hard. We are hardly youngsters anymore either. We quickly spotted mom leaning against a boulder, apparently watching the village spring to life as the sunlight peeked into the valley. She did not heed our calls though, and when we got close we could see that although her eyes were open, they were not seeing and no breath fogged from her muzzle. One touch proved that she was as cold as the stone that supported her. However, she had this very happy smile on her face. I can only surmise that she has rejoined with dad, never to be parted again.
We managed to carry our mother’s lifeless remains down to the village where we gave her a proper funeral. The village was saddened by the loss of another so soon. Most turned up at the funeral because they had not been given the opportunity to say farewell to her as they’d had with dad. I scattered her ashes with his.
As the eldest child, I was given the task of finishing this journal. We have to settle our parents’ affairs too. I now own the farm but the den I share with my brothers. Sylvia owns the furniture business but plans to give shares to Varen, Willowind, Kalika and Joseph. We would trade it all to have our parents back. However, we do have one of the greatest legacies ever left to a family, and the Whitepaw Clan and the Crystal Creek community will not soon forget the human who would be a foxtaur and the vixen who loved him above all else.
End of Journal
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