DragonLady of Avalon

Foxwood Hollow was lovely in springtime. Everything was green, from moss-covered rocks and tree trunks to the leaves growing on the sweeping branches on the foxwood trees. Fireflies bounced gracefully from leaf to leaf night or day, but were more spectacular at night when the foxfire was alight under the moon, which didn't drown out the yellow sparkles so much. The humid, foggy mists curled around the trees, and people walked through the woods, the mists gave the impression of materialization right out of the forest.

But most of the time, people didn't walk there. They said that Foxwood Hollow was haunted by ghosts, spirits, and worse. Stories came from as far back as anyone could remember about hikers being lead around in circles by disembodied lights or voices. Some said they heard the laughter of children as they wandered around aimlessly, lost and searching for their horse, car, or camp, depending on the date and circumstance of the story.

Japanese immigrants said that years ago, when Japan was beginning to modernize, some rouge kitsunes fled their native archipelago east back to their ancestral homelands, and took their cousins elsewhere, where the humans were unused to their antics, but were still playing with giant, noisy machines that broke easily for a lot of giggles.

Certainly around that time, the number of foxes increased in Foxwood Hollow, not to mention that a new species of flower, vaguely similar to the lotus, began growing in Foxwood Hollow with its silver and purple leaves. Eventually, the neighboring town, which shared the same name because it was named for the woods, called them Foxwoods, for lack of anything better.

Even when the world rolled into the modern era and any mysteries were soon debunked and explained with scientific reasoning, the people of the town Foxwood Hollow stayed away from the firefly-filled forests. It was a small town, one too tough to die, but to content and sleepy to grow, and every last person in it wanted to ignore the outside world. After all, them city folk can spend three weeks studying a place and'll never know it like those that grew up there.

As long as they had roots in the town, parents always told their kids not to go down to the woods and play by the river, because the foxes would get them. And as long as they grew up in that town, the kids would go down there once or twice and play with the kitsunes and see no harm in it, then the kitsunes' prankster nature would sometimes kick in, and human children aren't so much big on practical jokes being played while in the middle of nowhere as fox kits.

But the kitsunes, the K'alist'a, the lunar kitsune, never harmed anyone. All their tricks, their gameplaying, and their jokes earned them the title of scapegoat for when anything went slightly awry, but not once did they ever do anything destructive.

Well, maybe once.

It is said that the fox fire that grew in Foxwood Hollow burned so bright that summer evening that it really did catch fire and set the woods aflame, spreading as far as the good people of the town and perhaps many of the K'alist'a would let it. By the time the dawn came, much of Foxwood Hollow Forest was gone, replaced by a barren, scaly, gray scar on the Earth. Bits of Foxwood Hollow Town were gone or melted, the parts that lay just to the outskirts, intermixed the forest, but it wasn't much.

The authorities said someone must have been smoking on the unpaved, red-clay road that ran behind the forest, that evening, and tossed the cigarette outside the window of their pickup and were probably too drunk to notice or care that it hadn't gone out. Or maybe the sudden breath of fresh air reignited it as it lay smoldering in the dry summer leaves. Some of the city folk even went so far as to sneer that maybe the foxes, who were known to be guardians of their forest, didn't smell the smoke quick enough to put a foxwood leaf on it and snuff it out.

And what did the humans of Foxwood Hollow have to say?

It was the K'alist'a, getting up to there mischief again, but something went wrong and those darn foxes got their tails burnt instead of whatever they were playing with. They sighed and shook their heads, clucked their tongues and said "what a pity".

And it was a pity. Whether you believe in kitsunes or not, a lot of animals---real foxes included---lost their lives that night, and even more lost their homes. Some townspeople---young bucks, snapping at the bit to get out of that dead-end town and too dense to know how to really go about doing it---filed for compensation on lost or damaged property during the so- called "fox fire", but since the government hadn't been doing any controlled burning, there was nothing anyone could do about it. Those boys threatened to sue, but everyone knew there wasn't anything they or anyone else could do about it.

If you stop by Wally and Jerry's sometimes in the afternoon and sit in one of the rockers they got out front, you might find someone willin' to tell you what happened next.

Some local boys---good ol' boys in baseball caps and riding in the back of a red pickup with a few bottles of beer or whisky, each---found her, lying just past the ditch where the side of that dirt road dipped into the ground. No one could tell how long she'd been there or why. They could see that she was sooty and dirty, smelling strongly of smoke and hot pine sap, a bit burned, and probably suffering from smoke inhalation. But she was breathing when they found her.

The boys---five, total, two in the front seat, three in the back--- thought she was a some sort of animal, lying hurt in the woods, buried beneath long, tangled hair that faded from twilight purple to almost metallic silver, like the sky fades to the full moon some nights when it has a halo.

Naturally, they didn't know what kind of animal, but since several of 'em raised dogs, livestock, or grew up on actual farms or ranches, they wanted to get out and help. You can imagine how surprised they were when they saw her small, white fists clutching the dirt as she lay, face-down on the ground, her filmy purple robes tattered and muddy.

The girl was picked up and carried to the hospital, without question or wondering.