Story27 Jan 2009 11:29 am

Rowan and Charlie tracked through the muddy wet road, Rowan often getting ahead of Charlie, as he only had a vague idea on how to hike, and his boots would get stuck more often in the mud than hers.  He was a city boy after all. Rowan, on the other hand, was slowly being hypnotized by the rolling hills, fresh air, and the thrum of life wild beneath her feet. In London, she would often find herself in a vacuous rut, when she couldn’t see the excitement of city life anymore, and only saw the dull, gray, rainy days, identical and  repeating one after another like train cars.

 

“Hold up, Rowan!”

 

“Belt up, ya tosser!” Rowan called back, but she stopped to let Charlie catch up anyway.

 

Rowan stared out at the Scotland lowlands, of which the recent restoration projects of the country’s natural flora and fauna were still underway. For reasons she understood, Rook felt at home there. For reasons she didn’t understand, he felt at home there despite its apparent creepiness. But that was a mystery she was determined to solve, and she would start with the Mystery of the Fork in the Road.

 

If Charlie could keep up.

 

Rowan looked up at Charlie when he finally reached her. Some days, she could read her roommate like a book. On others, his face was so blank and composed it would drive her crazy trying to figure out what he was thinking so she taught herself not to. They had to make other various adjustments rooming together. Charlie had to get over his compulsion to organize everything he saw, including her personal belongings, which was most apparent when she chose to store her books in large, leaning piles on the floor instead of the actual bookshelves. On those, she’d store obscure things like rocks, shells, pencils, or anything she happened to find in the street that was fascinating.

 

Rowan had to get used to his early bird tendencies and occasional promiscuity, which simmered down in the time they roomed together, but that might be partly because Rowan didn’t notice it, and made a point to be occupied elsewhere when she knew Charlie had a date. It was something about him she didn’t understand. She was only promiscuous if it counted for books. If it did, she was a shameless wanton.

 

Overall, it was a pleasant arrangement, and he really was her best-friend despite the differences in the beginning.

 

“How much of this land is Rook’s?” Charlie asked when they started walking together again.

 

“Can’t say. Maybe 150 hectares? That’s a bit over 300 acres to you yanks.”

 

“So half a square mile. Not bad.”

 

“Sure, he’s an emperor in his own right, in this fine kingdom,” Rowan said lightly.

 

They laughed for maybe a second before a flash of red caught Rowan’s eye and she turned to her right to look. A few meters up, a red fox was preparing to cross the road.

 

“Charlie, stop!” Rowan said, grabbing his arm before he could startle it.

 

The red fox climbed down into the road and started to trot across it. To Rowan’s delight, the vixen was followed by three little kits, trailing after their mother like ducks in a row.

 

“You don’t see something like this everyday in London,” Charlie muttered.

 

Rowan looked over at him. He turned, smiling crookedly at her, though it didn’t quite reach his eyes before he turned back.

 

“Look, Rowan!” he whispered.

 

The mother fox was already across the road, when a forth, smaller kit started crossing the road behind his siblings. For some reason, the little fox seemed to sense them, and instead of running he hunched up, covering his eyes with his paws.

 

“I can’t see you, you can’t see me?” Charlie said, bemused.

 

“Go on, little thing, your mama’s gettin’ away!” Rowan said, shooing it with one hand, then moving her fingers to imitate walking, as though the kit were a puppet she was trying to control.

 

“He can’t understand you, Rowan.”

 

“His mama can’t count, Charlie, he’s going to get lost if he doesn’t get a move on!” Panic seeped into her voice, much to her annoyance.

 

The little fox removed his paws from his eyes, but he didn’t move, frozen in place. Rowan looked into to kit’s dilated, caramel-colored eyes. She suddenly felt like she could feel the little one’s fear, primal and debilitating, unlike anything she had ever felt in the modern world.

 

In a brash move, she walked to her left and called out to the vixen. “Wait!”

 

Charlie stepped back out of her way, dumbfounded.

 

To their amazement, the vixen stopped and turned back towards them. They could hardly see the other three kits in the long grass. The only indication of them was the clashing movement of orange in the green grass around the mother’s legs.

 

“You forgot one!” Rowan called, pointing, as though the fox could understand her.

 

The vixen looked over at where Rowan was pointing. It was impossible for the red fox to see the kit from her perspective, but the vixen started moving back towards them anyway.

 

As though she understood Rowan.

 

Both of them watched as the mother fox moved cautiously back onto the road, moving carefully around Rowan and Charlie and up to her petrified kit. She sniffed him, then nudged him with her nose towards his siblings. Before she disappeared back into the long grass, she glanced back at the two astounded humans, specifically at Rowan.

 

“You’re welcome,” Rowan whispered.

 

The vixen left.

 

“Well,” Charlie said after a moment, “that was something… different.”

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