Behind our part of the city lies a forest. One where the trees have stood for centuries and the animals will sit there and watch you, then dash away at the slightest noise. We call it Sherwood Forest after the story of Robin Hood. I think all the Robin Hood myths have gone to Charlie's head. My twelve-year-old brother will bolt out the back door into the woods wearing nothin' but his Robin Hood costume and a tattered, green cape.

Jay, my fifteen-year-old brother is tons more sensible. He'll bundle up warmly with his coon-tail cap on his head, and go chop wood for Father. Since I'm eight, I don't gotta worry 'bout work. I can sit in a snow-cave and pretend I'm a fox. In fact, that's how I met my best friend, Pepper. Here's how it happened.

True to her name, Pepper is a grey fox with pepper-looking speckles on her fur. She's almost tame, not like the other animals that'd disappear if you move. She loves strawberries, so I always bring some when I come outside. Together we roam Sherwood Forest, finding berries, nuts, herbs, and small sticks to sharpen and write with using berry juice. When we leave, Pepper follows me all the way home, and we go inside and drink Mama's chicken noodle soup. It's 'specially good in the wintertime, like it is now. Here's how we met.

Best I recollect, when I was four, I'd wandered away from home out into Sherwood Forest. I was lookin' for raspberries when I got snagged in a bramble patch. Them scratches hurt, and I started crying. That attracted the attention of a baby bear cub that in turn got snagged in the same patch. He started crying, which brung his mama over. Now, an angry mama bear is nothin' you wanna mess with, 'specially when you're four. Thinkin' I'd hurt her baby or something, she made a swipe at me with her big ol' paw. That knock me out of them brambles, and I landed right next to a lil' baby fox cub. The lil' thing's mama had gone and left her, and she was might-near starved to death.

Anyways, when she sees me, she maked a run for it so I latched onto her tail an' I tried to drag her home. Eventually Jay, who was eleven at the time, finds me lying there and brung me and the fox cub home. We fed that fox cub, and she becomes part of the family. By my eighth birthday, she was full grown.

Well, where was I? In the kitchen, munchin' on a chocolate cookie and drinkin' a glass of milk. Suddenly, Pepper appeared through the panes of glass that covered the back door. I opened the door and Pepper come boundin' into the kitchen, shakin' snow from her speckled coat. I tossed her a piece of bacon from the bowl on the counter. As she crunched up her treat, I readjusted the frayed, blue rope around her neck. I grabbed a strawberry from the bowl on the counter and fed it to her as I put on my snow boots. Together, we walked out the door into Sherwood Forest. Grabbing a good stick, we romped out into the trees. The stick was for pokin' into bushes so I could maybe scare up a rabbit or something for Pepper to chase.

Pepper got her rabbit. I shoved the stick into the holly bush near the stream. Half a second later, a bunny explode from the bush, making poisonous, crimson berries drop to the ground. Pepper's after it like a shot.

I wandered farther into the woods, and came across the perfect site to build a snow-fort. I rolled two great big huge snowballs together, and quick hollowed 'em out with a rock. I attached them with a chunk of snow, and crawled inside. Boy, oh boy, was it snowin' hard-like! I grabbed handfuls of snow to try to seal the entrance. Outside, the snow fell noisily, but the walls of the cave hushed all sound. Pepper appeared, carrying her rabbit, and crawled in next to me, panting.

I don't know how or when we fell asleep, but I opened my eyes to darkness. I think it stopped snowing, but I couldn't tell 'cause the fort was completely buried. I had no idea what time it was. I found a chink of light, and heard Pepper's anxious yips. She had dug a tunnel to get out of the snow cave! Good ol' Pepper! She had saved my life! I crawled through the tunnel. My arms and legs were numb, but if I didn't find any wintergreen berries, Father would be mad.

That's when I realized what Pepper was holding. She had found a clump of wintergreen! I petted her as we walked towards home. Suddenly, my tummy growled. I was starving; all I had eaten today was a cookie and a piece of Mama's bacon. I dared eat one berry. As I fed one to Pepper, we savored the delicious flavor. We brought the rest of the clump home to flavor our soup an' cornbread.