Author: Antithesis PM
When Steve finds a baby fox on his doorstep, he doesn't realize he's gotten a little more than he bargained for. (involves kitsune)Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Supernatural - Words: 8,630 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 3 - Published: 12-29-04 - id: 1794237
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
For more info on Richard (the narrator) and Jason (the storyteller), read this story:
All characters and this story are © 2004 Evan Hildreth. These characters aren't real. If you think you're in here, you're wrong.
The class was, to say the least, bored. The teacher didn't have much planned; the class was smaller than most, so what was planned went by fairly quickly. They couldn't leave the room since all of the sophomores were in a life-or-death test that was pathetically--well, pathetic.
So I, being the genius that I am, suggested that Jason tell us a story. Yes, we made it into the same senior English class. He changed his schedule specifically so we could be together. At first I thought he was being a little over the top, but it was times like this that I really appreciated it.
So Jason took a stool, set it up at the front of the class, and, with the blessing of the teacher (who loved storytelling), started to tell a story that I'd heard before. That didn't mean I was tired of it; no, whenever he told me a story more than once, that meant he wanted me to write it down. So here it is in all its written glory.
Glancing to the left and to the right, Steve shifted his laptop bag and reached down to read the note. It was written with one of those really nice gel pens in an easily readable script, though it could hardly be called neat:
Please take care of me, this is for clothes.
Steve read the note twice, then turned it over. There was a fifty dollar Target GiftCard taped to the back. Curious, Steve lifted a corner of the blanket and started.
Nuzzled into the blanket's folds was a small, scarlet red fox sleeping peacefully. One of its large ears twitched slightly and it slowly shifted in place, beginning the slow process of waking up.
Steve dropped the blanket back into place. He hesitated, tempted to just walk into his apartment and forget about what he saw? No, that wasn't the problem. The problem was figuring out how to take care of it. He was an only child who had never had a pet. He didn't know the first thing about taking care of domestic animals, much less relatively exotic creatures like foxes.
While he was thinking, he fox poked its head out from beneath the blanket and looked Steve in the eyes with a look that seemed to say, "Are you my mommy?"
Steve groaned. He was always one to fall for the suckerpunch. "Sure I'll take care of you," he whispered, setting his laptop down and ruffling the fur on the fox's head. He put his laptop bag back on his shoulder, picked up the basket with his other hand, and, with much effort, opened the door.
He set the basket down on the floor of the kitchen and went to put his laptop in the computer room. His apartment was simple, with two bedrooms, a bathroom with a shower, and a living area with a kitchen on one end. His friends had questioned his need for two bedrooms when he lived alone, but he had two very good reasons. First, the extra room served as his "office" of sorts where he kept all his computers. Being an information technology person, he had his fair share of computers. Second, as the real estate agents always say, "location, location, location." Even with the horrible West Ashley traffic ("West Nasty" was what some of his co-workers called it), he was ten minutes from work.
The fox climbed out of its basket. Or at least it tried to. It managed to climb over the edge when it realized the basket was a little higher than it remembered...
Steve heard a small thump from the kitchen. He ran back into the kitchen to find the fox in a heap on the floor, its eyes closed and one paw on its muzzle. Steve laughed out loud and picked the fox up.
"What am I going to call you?" he said. The fox cocked its head, and Steve felt like it was trying to say, "I don't know."
"Well," he said, "looks like we'll have to find one. And I know just where to look." He carried the fox into his computer room and turned on one of the several computers lining the walls. A picture of a penguin followed by several lines of text showed up on the screen. Steve typed a quick command, and the screen blanked to a few lines of text; the top one simply said, "Google."
"So what do we look for?" Steve muttered. He typed in "baby names" and hit search. He clicked the most promising entry and found a page with two main links: "boy names" and "girl names."
Steve looked down at the fox. It looked back and seemed to roll its eyes.
"Sorry," Steve said as he shifted the fox in his hands. He put it down on the table next to the computer and muttered, "Okay, girl names."
The fox twitched her nose and wagged her tail patiently as Steve scrolled down the list of names. "Agnes? No. Cathy? Still too old. Ellen? Definitely no. Marge?" He looked at the fox. "Not unless you suddenly sprout blue hair," he said.
The fox gave the kind of devilish look they are known for, as if to say, "I can arrange that."
"I'm just kidding," Steve said quickly, just in case she got any ideas. He browsed the list in silence, trying to find just the right one. "How about... Meredith?"
The fox licked her muzzle and wagged her tail happily.
Steve smiled. "Well, that's settled. Now, let's head back to Google and find out what to feed you."
That's right, he had a pet now.
He turned around to see Meredith sitting on the floor, calmly looking up at him.
"Right," he muttered, "the website said to feed you twice a day and to make sure you have plenty of water, so--" He took one of his larger plastic cereal bowls out of its stack, filled it with tap water, and set it on the floor. "That okay?"
Steve was sure he was imagining it, but he thought he saw her smile cleverly, the kind of smile that says, "Aren't you forgetting something?"
He remembered. "If you need to-- um, go, just--how are you going to get outside?"
Her smile not fading, Meredith darted into the computer room. Steve set down his laptop and followed her. She was perched on top of an unused monitor looking expectantly at a window. Steve followed her gaze. There was a tree just outside the window. It wasn't very large, but it was clearly enough to hold her weight.
"Smart," Steve said, scratching her head. "I'll be back around 5:30." Meredith turned her head and licked Steve's palm affectionately as he turned to go.
Meredith kept looking out the window even after she heard Steve go. It was late September, and a cool breeze was starting to blow. It rustled the leaves on the trees and played with her fur. She took a small whiff of the air. There were all the smells she had expected from a place like this: the dirty smell from those large metal animals, several different types of trees (especially oak), the distinct smell of large numbers of humans, and territorial markings left by a great dane not two days ago.
But there was something else in that breeze that caught Meredith's attention. It was almost like a smell, but it wasn't one her nose recognized. It was an emotion, a feeling, a sense... The winds of change, she thought. But why here? Why in a human's den filled with metal and plastic and not the natural simplicity she had grown up with? Why one who had clearly set out on his own but had obviously not attracted a mate yet? Maybe, she realized, in order to join a world, she must learn to live in it.
Cautiously, she stepped out of the window onto the tree. She felt its weight shift, and she quickly darted down to the ground before she could lose her balance. Her feet on the ground, she took stock of her surroundings again. She could hear the loud metal animals the humans rode around in, but they seemed to be a fair distance away, no immediate danger. She had expected to hear the sound of the human kits running around, but there were none.
By now a small Scottish Terrier across the street had noticed her and was barking in her direction. It was a friendly bark: he wanted to meet her but he couldn't cross the line.
Meredith sniffed the air for danger once more, just for good measure, then she started running towards the dog. She stopped when she came to the street: here was something new. She hadn't seen many of these giant black rocks before, but whenever she did, she had seen one of the giant metal animals on it too. She twitched her ears, straining for any sign of the animals. There was a faint hum of one closer than the ones in the background, and it was getting louder.
She barked a greeting back to the dog across the street. He wagged his tail happily. But why wouldn't she come?
Meredith backed away from the street as she heard the car approaching. It was big and black, with a noisy muzzle. It sped by quickly, and both she and the dog could hear its pulsing rumblings as it went into the distance.
Meredith darted across the street before any more of the animals could show up. The terrier was obviously excited to see her. The two barked another greeting to each other and proceeded to sniff each other over, remembering each other's scent so that they could recognize each other easily.
The terrier made the first move. He nipped at her tail and ran to the far end of the lawn. Meredith cocked her head and followed him. Once she was a few feet away from him, he ran farther away and looked at her expectantly, tail wagging. She snorted and gave a foxish grin. So he wanted to play tag, then? She crouched and tensed herself using the hunting skills she had learned and looked straight into his eyes. The terrier, still wagging his tail, edged farther away from her.
Quick as a wink, she was off! He was startled at first by her quick speed, but he managed to overcome that obstacle by darting quickly in different directions and not giving her enough time to build up her speed. Eventually she caught up with him, and the game reversed.
Meredith ran over into the next yard and turned around. The terrier had stopped at what seemed to be an imaginary line in the ground, barking at her to come back. Meredith walked back slowly. She stopped at the line and sniffed the ground carefully. She could tell the faint hint of something metal, but nothing else out of the ordinary. She crossed the line, and the terrier yelped and ran to the other end of the lawn. Meredith groaned inwardly. He played dirty.
Meredith was so engrossed in her game that she didn't notice another metal animal pull off the black stone next to the lawn. When she heard the door squeak open she and the terrier both stopped and watched.
A tall female human in a pink shirt and blue jeans got out of the animal. She opened another door and pulled out a small human kit.
Meredith wagged her tail happily. She finally got to see one! The terrier was excited as well, as he ran up to the animal (as far as his imaginary line would let him) yelping and barking happily.
"Scott!" the little human slurred. The woman put the kit on the ground, and it stood tentatively and reached out a hand. The terrier waited patiently and let himself be petted. The kit then looked at Meredith and gasped. It pointed at her and said loudly, "Fox!"
"No," said the woman, "Scotty's not a--fox?" She turned around and saw Meredith for the first time. Meredith sat calmly in the yard, trying to look as non-threatening as she could.
It apparently wasn't enough for the woman. She rushed and grabbed her kit quickly, never taking her eyes off Meredith. She stared at her, fearful of some unspoken evil that seemed to be embodied in her. Meredith met her gaze, and for a brief moment, the woman was comforted. This fox wouldn't hurt her... unless it had rabies! The sudden realization renewed her fears. Her dog was fine; he had had his shots just two weeks ago. But she still didn't want that thing near her home.
Moving her free arm in a sweeping motion, she said forcefully, "Go. Go on, get out of here."
Meredith tried to make eye contact with the woman again, but this seemed to only make her more frantic and forceful with her request. Her ears drooping, her tail barely off the ground, Meredith slunk back across the street.
The woman watched Meredith closely. So it was going to Steve Mocker's house? That man was trouble, she knew it from the day he moved in. Anyone with that many computers had to be up to no good. Heaving a frustrated sigh, she closed up the car and carried her child inside. She was going to have to do something about that fox.
Meredith walked up to him and poked at his leg with her muzzle. Steve smiled and nudged his chair away from the table enough for her to jump onto her lap where she looked up at him expectantly.
"Today?" he said, answering her unspoken question. "Today was crazy. The main server that powers the website went down. Some software bug or something. Anyway, they pulled me, Henry, and Dukes out to fix it.
Meredith twitched her ear as if to say "What?"
"It's a computer. One of those big metal boxes in there?"
Those smell weird.
Steve laughed. "There's all sorts of electrical connections being made down there, and-- I don't know how it works, but somehow those connections let us do things like... let one person talk to another person on the other side of the world."
The fox made a raspy sound from her throat that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.
"Oh, laugh if you want to. Remind me to explain this to you sometime," Steve said as he got up to scavenge for something he could eat for dinner.
Halfway through microwaving his TV dinner, someone knocked on the door. Meredith darted to the door and sniffed. She knew that scent from... the mother across the street. Quickly she ran just out of sight. She didn't want that mean woman to see her.
Steve rolled his eyes and mouthed an insult as he went to open the door. He took a deep breath to collect himself before he finally opened the door.
"Hello, Mr. Mocker," the woman said. She was standing bolt upright and doing her best to maintain a business air, while one look at her face showed a very smug, superior attitude.
"Mrs. Taylor," Steve forced.
Mrs. Taylor forced an obvious smile. "Did you know there's a fox living here?" she said with an I'm-better-than-you-are undertone.
"Well, I'm sure you realize that these things carry rabies."
She took off. "Well, as I'm sure you are well aware I am trying to raise a child, and I can't do that if there are rabid animals running around the neighborhood. I'm trying to raise him in a constructive, supportive environment where he can be free to roam around, and if I can't let him go outside then that's infringing on his development. Not to mention my little Scotty is scared to death of the little devil, so either get that thing away from my house and my life or--"
"Mrs. Taylor," Steve interrupted, trying not to yell.
"Yes?" she said expectantly, ready to pounce on the next word he said.
Steve spoke slowly, measuring his words. "I was going to take her to get her shots in a couple of days after she got settled in. However, because you are so paranoid about this, I'll take her in tomorrow."
She pounced. "How dare you call me paranoid! I'm just trying to look out for the well-being of my family and you have to go and label me like I'm a hardened criminal, not to mention that you've already rudely interrupted me. Of course, I can see why you computer boys don't have any friends, what with you spending hours on end on your computers looking at--"
Steve held up his hand. "Do not finish that sentence."
Mrs. Taylor looked taken aback. "Well, I've never been spoken to so rudely in my life."
"Well I dare say it's about time!" Steve said, not bothering to check his words. "I work just as much as you do. Maybe even more, since I just got home from a very busy day at the office while you obviously have time to stay at home and pry into other people's business. Yes, I have a pet. The terms of my lease said that I can have pets, so I have a pet. She-- the it you referred to is a she-- is going to have her shots tomorrow. Now I suggest you go home; all this yelling can't be good for your son."
Mrs. Taylor took a brief second to gather her wits before she fired back. "Your mother must be very proud of such a--"
"Leave my mother out of this," Steve said quickly.
The woman smiled. "Why? Is it because you stashed her away in a nursing home? Or maybe you took part of the inheritance. Maybe..."
Meredith could feel the pain and hate radiating from Steve. Mrs. Taylor could tell he was reacting, so she continued her verbal assault. It was all Steve could do to keep from yelling. He tried to tune the noise out, but it kept hammering at his mind, building the explosive pressure inside. He was about to open his mouth to call the woman something obscene, but a new sound made it through his mental barrier.
Meredith barked loudly. A stern, commanding bark accompanied by a singular thought: close the door. Don't yell, don't even open your mouth, just close the door.
Steve forced himself back to reality in time to hear the woman say, "Are you even listening to me?"
Not trusting himself to say anything, he simply shook his head and closed the door before she had any time to react.
Steve leaned against the door and let himself slide down until he was sitting on the floor. Meredith trotted up to him and licked his hand. Steve gently scratched behind her ears and sighed.
"I don't understand that woman at all," he said softly. "I've never really understood anyone like her anyway." He looked down at the fox who had her eyes closed in contentment. "Why are people like this?" he asked.
Meredith opened her eyes, and for a split second Steve felt comforted. After all, not all humans were like that woman.
Meredith blinked, and the feeling was gone, almost as if it had never existed. Steve peered at her, wondering if he had just spaced out for a minute or if... there were other forces involved. Smiling, he ran his thumb over her muzzle. "There's certainly more to you than meets the eye," he muttered.
Steve shrugged. "She was lying in a sweetgrass basket with a note attached."
"And where was this?"
"On my doorstep."
The vet pondered this while preparing the rabies shot. "Do you know anything else of her origins?"
The vet nodded, but he had a concerned look on his face as he walked toward Meredith.
"It's okay," Steve explained, stroking her back, "this is just to keep you from going crazy."
Meredith gave him the same annoyed look.
Steve held up his hands. "Okay, I'll shut up."
The vet lifted his head. "And we're done."
Meredith hopped off the table. Steve turned to leave, but the vet stopped him.
"I'd advise you to be careful with her," he said seriously. "For all we know, she's a wild animal that may not adapt well to domestic life. I should take her now but, since you seem to be a responsible person, I'll just keep quiet about it for now. Just be aware of what she does, since I can't protect you from your neighbors."
Steve winced at the mention of neighbors. "Thank you," was all he willed himself to say.
The vet smiled. "Don't worry too much, though. And if she does become a problem, just give me a call and I'll find someplace to take her."
Steve smiled back. "I will."
He turned over a number of different scenarios in his head as he walked the sidewalk to the door. His heart pounding in his ears, he knocked soundly on the door three times.
In the eight-and-a-half seconds it took for the door to open, Steve had to fight the hardest not to turn and run. He was more than a little surprised, however, when he was greeted not by Mrs. Taylor but by a medium-sized man with a receding hairline.
"Can I help you?" he said.
"Yeah," Steve said awkwardly. "Um, is Mrs. Taylor in?"
The man shook his head. "I can give her a message, though."
"Yeah. I'm Steve, from across the street?" He motioned toward his apartment.
The man nodded and looked concerned. "Yes, my wife has mentioned you at least once."
"Well..." Steve struggled with the words. "Could you tell her I'm sorry about what I said last night? I-- said some stuff I shouldn't have and kinda lost my temper, so... just tell her I'm sorry."
The man, apparently Mr. Taylor, smiled gently. "I'll tell her. And Steve?"
Steve, already beginning to leave, turned around. "Yes?"
"I know my wife hasn't been very kind to you. I'm sure she's said her share of unkind things, and if I could apologize for her I would, but you know that wouldn't be a real apology."
Steve nodded. "Thanks for the thought."
Mr. Taylor smiled. "Take care now."
"You too." As Steve walked back, he caught a glance from Meredith who was sitting as still as a statue watching the dialogue take place. Steve cracked a smile as he opened his car to head back to work.
Meredith watched Steve leave. A small gust of wind followed, and she felt a new feeling inside of her; her Change was coming. Barking a quick farewell to the terrier, she darted across the street, up her tree, and through the window.
She stood perfectly still in the computer room except for her tail, which swung back and forth frantically. She closed her eyes and tried to find her power, buried deep inside her. Slowly, she could feel her legs getting longer, the fur on her head growing out, and...
She opened her eyes. She felt awkward sitting on all fours and, with a little deliberation, managed to sit up straight on her knees. She tried to stand up from there, but ended up falling--rather hard--onto her rear end.
With a yalp she reached back and rubbed her sore tail. She sighed inwardly and began to look at herself. She had changed, that was for sure, but she was stuck somewhere between fox and human. Her proportions were incredibly awkward: her arms and torso were correct, but her legs, though larger than they used to be, were still obviously too small to hold her new weight. Her paws were still just that--paws. She caught a glimpse of herself in one of the blank computer monitors. Her head was still fox-shaped, and her eyes still had the blank look of a wild animal.
The eyes are going to be the hardest, she thought to herself. She looked at the other computers in the room. She would have to learn how to use at least one of these, and fast. Time was running out.
Groaning inwardly, she closed her eyes and concentrated hard. This change came much more naturally, and within half a minute she was a normal fox once again.
A small breeze rustled the leaves on the tree outside. Meredith watched the branches move in their chaotic fashion, praying that her next transformation would be more successful.
Meredith squeezed her eyes shut and shook herself. Her fox-eyes weren't sharp enough to make out what was on the small screen, and Steve's mind was so focused on whatever he was doing that she couldn't deduce anything from it. She hopped up onto the desk next to him and made one last effort to read the screen. She could see it more clearly, yes, but it was covered with vague symbols and characters that meant absolutely nothing to her.
She hopped down and went back to her half-full food bowl. She didn't particularly care for the food in it, but it was much better than starving or eating that nasty-smelling junk Steve had pulled out of the white box. She chewed her food pensively. To use the white metal box meant deciphering the symbols she saw everywhere; they had called them "words" at one point, she was sure. She could try to learn that from Steve, but she would either have to pull the information from his mind or learn it through experience. She looked back towards the computer room and heard the keys tapping away.
Meredith sighed inwardly. She couldn't transform until she had proper coverings. In order to obtain them, she would have to use the metal box. In order to use the metal box, she needed to learn to read, among other things. She glanced at her paws; they were nothing like Steve's fingers. In order to learn to read, she needed to transform.
A knock at the door interrupted her thought process. She scampered over to the door and sniffed. The scent's owner clicked in her head and she growled. Granted, it wasn't a very threatening growl, but its intent was clearly broadcast: "What do you want?"
"Steve Mocker, open this door," came Mrs. Taylor's perpetually-unhappy voice.
Meredith accented her growl with a quick bark.
Mrs. Taylor continued to knock.
Meredith stopped her bark and scampered back to the computer room. Steve was till typing away, now with oversized headphones on. Meredith gave the hint of a foxy grin; the bad lady was all hers. For a second she considered playing a trick on her like her kind had been doing for ages, but then she thought better of it. It wasn't something her adoptive Master would be proud of.
She ran to the window and looked out onto the small front porch. The lady was still there, fuming. She was angry, that much any animal could tell. Meredith blinked slowly and looked deeper, trying to find out more.
The hate and anger went out in all directions, undirected. She was angry at the day and angry at the night. She was angry at people that drove too fast and people that drove too slow. She was angry at her husband and angry at herself. She was angry at--
Meredith's concentration was broken by Mrs. Taylor storming off the porch, down the stairs, and across the street to her own house. Meredith watched her go slowly. She would get to the bottom of her later; for now, she had other things to worry about.
She walked slowly back to the computer room to find Steve staring at the computer doing nothing, his headphones still on. "Why," he whispered.
Meredith couldn't see his eyes watering, but she could feel the sadness hanging over his head like a dark cloud.
"Good, you're up... sort of," she said.
Steve squinted. "You can talk?" he said.
"Do I sound like I'm talking?"
"Am I dreaming?"
Meredith nodded. "Now come on, I need your help."
Steve didn't bother to figure out why she would need his help, or even why she was talking for that matter. It was a dream; everything makes sense in dreams. He followed the fox into the computer room where she was sitting next to the monitor for his favorite computer.
"First," she said, sliding the gift card that was attached to her basket with her paw, "what's this?"
Steve picked it up. "It's a gift card. You take it to Target and you can buy something with it."
Meredith perked up. "Oh, like what?"
Steve shrugged. "CD players, iPods, video games, movies, candy, clothes--"
"Do they have girl clothes?"
Steve chuckled. "Of course they do."
Meredith stood up, her tail wagging furiously. "Where is Target?"
Steve furrowed his brow. "It's twenty minutes down the road, but we can't go now; it's the middle of the night and they're closed."
Meredith sank. "Oh," she said, dejected.
Steve read the card again, smiled, and scratched her head. "Hey, if you're really set on using this now, we can go online." He sat down in the chair and booted up the computer.
Meredith stared at the screen intently, shaking her tail impatiently.
Steve leaned over and said, "So, if this is a dream, does that mean you can use this yourself?"
Meredith shook her head. "Nope. My eyesight's horrible. I'm a fox, remember? I can't see detail very well. That screen you're looking at just looks like one big white blur to me."
Steve nodded in understanding. He said nothing as he went through the motions of pulling up the Target website except to mention that he was using a program called Firefox. Meredith was not amused.
Steve finally pulled up the catalog entry for a spaghetti-strap top. "This good?"
Meredith cocked her head. "Is it cute?"
Steve blushed at the question. "You're asking a twenty-something computer geek that spends his days in a dark office and his nights in a dark apartment if something's cute; you're very brave." He looked at the picture again. "Yeah, I guess so. Cuteness really depends on the person wearing it, though."
Meredith nodded. "So why don't you just pick something out that's cute?"
Steve shrugged. "Sure, why not. Do I need to pick out--um, underwear?"
Steve blushed heavily. "Well, um, it's kinda--who's this for, anyway?"
"You gonna dress up or something?"
"Nope. I'm gonna be a human!"
Steve looked at his fox. "Why am I not surprised?"
Meredith smiled. "Because it's a dream. It's impossible to be surprised, disoriented, or weirded out in a dream unless you're leaving it. Which reminds me, you better hurry up if you expect to get any decent sleep."
Steve raised an eyebrow as he got back to work. "Aren't I sleeping now?"
"Not really. Your mind is half-asleep but still slightly coherent. I need it that way if I'm going to ask you any questions."
"You need? Wait, are you giving me this dream?"
Steve blinked. "And I'm not weirded out. Hey, you're right."
Meredith hopped off the table and muttered, "Obviously."
"Hey, stick around," Steve called. "I need you to pick out colors!"
Meredith looked hard at him. "Steve," she said, slightly irritated, "I'm colorblind."
Steve closed his eyes and groaned. "I guess being in a dream doesn't protect me from being stupid." He picked out clothes in silence for a few more minutes, glancing at Meredith from time to time. Finally he leaned back and sighed with satisfaction.
"Done?" Meredith said.
Steve nodded. "Got you a cute little outfit, and since I had several dollars left over on the card, I had it rushed here. It'll be here on Friday."
Meredith appeared to be deep in thought for a few seconds before she perked up and said, "Great! Is that it?"
Steve nodded and got up. "So is it goodnight?"
Meredith cocked her head. "Aren't you going to shut off the computer?"
Steve shook his head. "See, this way, if the computer's on in the morning, then I know this really happened, but if it's not, then this really was just a dream."
For a split second something almost like panic could be seen in Meredith's eyes. It was soon gone, however, and she calmly said, "No, because you're not really going to remember this anyway. If you leave it on, you'll wake up in the morning and wonder why you didn't shut it off last night. Then you'll probably think someone tried to hack in and spend all morning looking for the records. Then you'll find out someone ordered a bunch of things from Target at 1:30 in the morning and be completely convinced that someone hacked your computer, while in the meantime you'll be late for work. Which wouldn't be good."
Steve blinked. "This not being confused thing is starting to get on my nerves." With a groan he shut down the computer and got back into bed.
The loud wail of an alarm pierced the silence. Steve reached for the snooze button but found something warm and furry instead. Groggily, he opened his eyes to see Meredith looking at him impatiently and poking him with her nose. He looked at the clock. It was time to get up already?
Meredith pondered that last thought for a second. Why was she going out of her way to help Steve? Why did she trust him like she did? Food certainly had nothing to do with it; it wasn't anything he could give her. The more she thought about it, he needed her more than she needed him. So why did she stay? She could survive on her own; she had for several years.
She watched Steve pull into the driveway and get out of his car.
It was because he was capable of Love. It was because he needed her that she stayed. In the wild, she wouldn't be needed. Here, not only was she needed, she was appreciated.
Mrs. Taylor pulled into her driveway, unceremoniously got out of the car, and stormed into the house.
Meredith licked her muzzle and ran across the street. She hopped up to one of the windows and peered inside. She could see the mean lady yelling at another human, apparently her mate. The other human was nodding and appeared very patient. Meredith smiled for his sake, then turned her attention on the mean lady.
She was angry at the day and angry at the night. She was angry at people that drove too fast and people that drove too slow. She was angry at her husband and angry at herself. She was angry at Steve because he was evil just like everyone else in the world and she didn't want any evil near her baby.
The kit! There was a lot of emotion tied around her kit. The fox probed deeper.
She had to protect her baby. Her baby deserved the best, and the world would try to take that from him. Just like they took it from her. Didn't Brian see that? All his worthless dreaming wouldn't get him anywhere. She didn't want what happened to her to happen to him. All she wanted--
A shriek pierced Meredith's concentration. The mean lady was pointing a finger straight at her while her mate was trying to calm her down. Quick as a wink Meredith darted back across the street, up the tree and through her window.
Three seconds after she did the phone in Steve's apartment rang. Steve picked up the receiver slowly. "Hello?" he muttered.
"Lock the doors and turn off the lights; my wife thinks she saw your fox on our property and she's on her way over."
Steve nodded. "Thanks, Mr. Taylor."
"This never happened."
"Morning, Sunshine," Steve said with a wide grin that Meredith returned with a wagging tail. "Careful if you go outside," he continued, "the weather man said that a cold front was coming through, so it's going to be pretty windy out there."
The fox rushed Steve, tail wagging furiously. Steve was able to give her a quick scratch before he went out the door. Meredith put on her devious grin and started to go towards the back. Before she could, however, the door opened again.
"This was on the doorstep," Steve said, setting a package on the ground. "Funny, though," he muttered, "don't really remember ordering anything from Target."
Meredith did her best to act as confused as Steve.
The cold front didn't begin to come through until late in the morning. By then, Meredith had grown tired of waiting and had gone outside to play with the Scotty dog. They were halfway through their seventh round of tag when the wind began to pick up.
Quick as she could she ran back inside the apartment. She could still feel a draft from the open window as she stood on the floor of the computer room. Her spirit was tied to the wind; if the Creator was her father, then the wind was her mother. And she needed help from both of them if she was to complete this.
Slowly, deliberately, she reached for the place in her mind where her power was. Reading emotions and giving people dreams were child's play compared to shapeshifting, and she needed all the power she had. After all, in the eyes of her kind, she was still a child. Finally, she felt ready and let her power loose...
She had wavy, dirty blond hair that hung in a chaotic fashion around her face and came down just past her shoulders. She was wearing a plain white t-shirt, blue-grey capri pants, and a light kaki bucket hat. Mrs. Taylor took special notice that the girl wasn't wearing any shoes.
"Can I help you?" she said testily.
The girl held out her hand. "Hi," she said, trying her best to be cheerful. "I'm Meredith; I'm living with Steve across the street."
Mrs. Taylor gave a purposefully weak fake smile. "Nice to meet you."
Meredith didn't return the smile. "This is what we need to talk about."
"I beg your pardon?"
Meredith sighed and looked towards the ground. "I don't think you realize how much you're hurting Steve like this."
Mrs. Taylor snarled. "Oh, I realize it. And I don't see any reason why I should stop, either. Now if you'll excuse me, you're trespassing."
She attempted to slam the door, but Meredith stuck her foot between the door and the frame. She winced at the pain but yelled after the retreating woman, "I know you're trying to protect your kit."
Mrs. Taylor opened the door further. "My what?"
Meredith gulped. "Y-your child..."
"And what would you know about raising a child? I'm sure you know plenty about making the--"
Meredith slapped her before she could finish the sentence. Mrs. Taylor stood there in shock for a minute, touching her face gently. Meredith took a deep breath and continued, much more calmly.
"I know what you're trying to protect your child from, and you have every right to do that. What you don't realize is that Steve is none of that." She thought for a second and seemed to find something in her train of thought amusing, since she chuckled slightly before continuing. "I'm not going to say he wouldn't hurt a fly because he most certainly would. But all this worry about him coming home drunk or cursing in front of your child or--" She looked Mrs. Taylor in the eyes. "I love him like a father. Nothing more. I'm just staying with him since my parents are... well, I don't really know."
Mrs. Taylor shifted her stance. "Well," she said, trying to find something else to say, "what about that fox of his?"
Meredith laughed out loud. "I don't think you need to worry about it," she said. "It's just friends with your dog, that's all."
"But what about rabies?"
Meredith winced. "Don't worry," she whispered, "it's gotten its shots."
Mrs. Taylor sighed. Suddenly, with a start she said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself. My name's Sarah."
Meredith shook her hand. "That's a very pretty name."
Sarah smiled. "Thank you."
A voice from the back of the house called, "Sarah, is everything all right?"
Sarah's face brightened. "Brian?" she called, "come here for a second."
Mr. Taylor showed up at the door. "Yes?" he asked. Sarah introduced him and Meredith to each other and explained that she was staying in Steve's apartment.
Brian nodded. "I see..." He looked Meredith up and down and seemed to concentrate on her hat. Finally he glanced at his watch and mentioned, "You'll need to head back if you plan on being inside before Steve gets home."
Meredith's eyes grew wide. "You're right," she said. "Thanks for listening; I'll see you around," she said, running back towards the house.
The Taylors simply waved back. "What was that about?" Sarah said once Meredith had gone inside.
Brian smiled. "That's Steve's fox."
Meredith got up and looked Steve in the eyes. "You don't recognize me?"
Steve looked hard at her. "It's not..." he muttered to himself.
Meredith smiled. "Maybe this will help," she said, taking off her hat. Poking out from her dirty blond hair were two fox-shaped ears, complete with scarlet fur.
"Meredith?" he said, barely audible.
Meredith ran up to Steve and hugged him. "I told you I was going to be a human, didn't I?"
Steve tried to put the pieces together. "But... that was a dream? You said it was a dream." He blinked. "And I'm not dreaming now because I am very confused."
Meredith sighed. "Let's see, where should I start from?"
Sarah shook her head. "You might have mentioned it once or twice, but what is it?"
Brian looked up at the ceiling. "It's an Eastern myth; not quite sure if it's Chinese, Japanese, or Indian, but it's from around there. The basic idea is foxes that can take human form. They can also create illusions, breathe fire, grow multiple tails... and other things that aren't very pleasant to talk about.
Brian sighed. "Possession, mind control; they're basically vampires of Eastern mythology. Except they're chiefly female." Seeing the look on his wife's face he continued. "But I don't think we have anything to worry about. This one seems to be quite friendly."
Meredith shrugged. "I'm not quite sure. Another kitsune picked me up one day and put me in the basket and said he'd take me somewhere where I'd be taken care of."
"How do you know it was a kitsune?"
"Well, he was in his fox-form, but he had five tails and he could speak with his mind. Normal foxes don't do that."
Steve pressed his lips. "Speak with his--you mean like telepathy?"
Meredith looked Steve directly in the eyes. I mean like this, Meredith's voice said in Steve's head.
"Can you read my mind?" Steve whispered.
Meredith made a face. "Kind of," she said. "It's mostly just abstract ideas and emotions."
Steve nodded slowly. "So, um... do I need to get you a bed or something?"
Meredith laughed. "No, I'll sleep in the cupboard. It's warm in there."
A car horn honked outside. Steve ran to the window and looked out. "Oh, me and some of the other guys from work are heading to Sticky Fingers. We just finished a deadline today and we're off celebrating. Do you... wanna come?"
"What's Sticky Fingers?"
Steve grinned. "It's a barbecue place downtown. It's really good. You--you are a carnivore, right?"
"Omnivore, thank you very much," she said. "But do I need shoes?"
Steve looked at her feet and muttered something under his breath. "We'll stop by a Wal-Mart or something and get you some flip-flops."
"Of course," Steve said as he and Meredith walked out the door. A blue SUV was waiting outside. Before Steve could get to it, however, Mrs. Taylor came out of her house and started running towards him.
"Quick, get in the car," Steve said to Meredith. Meredith simply held him in place.
"Give her a chance," she whispered
"I'm sorry," Sarah said.
"What?" Steve said.
"I know this isn't a good time," she said, "but I want you to know I know I've behaved badly toward you and I'm sorry."
Steve was shocked, to say the least, so all he could mutter was a simple, "Thank you" before Sarah began walking back to her house.
One of the passengers of the car rolled down his window. "Hey, Steve," he said, "I thought we agreed no dates!"
Steve looked at Meredith who was grinning broadly. "Guys," he said, "this is Meredith. She's... staying with me for a little while."
"So what happened after that?" I asked Jason as we went outside for lunch.
Jason shrugged. "You know, same old same old."
"Really," I said, not believing a word.
"Okay, okay. Steve ordered some home school materials, took a couple of weeks off, and they tore through elementary school. She's teaching herself middle school stuff now as we speak. Oh, and she learned how to make her ears look human."
I whistled. "She's that smart..."
"Smart nothing, she's a kitsune. My niece, to be exact. Every kitsune's born with certain abilities, and hers happens to be telepathy. So that in turn makes her an extremely quick learner."
"She's your niece?"
Jason nodded. "Her mother's my sister; her father... well, let's just say he was a lonely middle-aged white man who stopped at the wrong street corner. Didn't survive the night."
I nodded. We walked outside in silence until Jason was suddenly attacked by a girl with dirty blond hair, a white t-shirt, blue-grey capris, and pink flip-flops.
"Jason!" she yelled, locking him in a bear hug.
Jason managed to get an arm free and weakly attempted to hug her back. "What're you doing here, Meredith?"
She released Jason. "I'm shadowing. The principal lady said I might be able to come here to do high school."
"She'll be right at home," I whispered to Jason. Jason nodded in understanding.
"What's he mean?" Meredith asked Jason.
Jason's fox grin showed through. "Don't believe every statistic you hear, Meredith, but one out of every ten kids at this school either isn't human or knows someone who isn't."
Meredith's eyes widened. "Wow..."