by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Collie and her father, Hunter, sat on a log in the light of a dawning West Virginia morning. Behind them, Foxrun Mountain reached into the sky, its wooded slopes punctured by rugged outcroppings of limestone. Before full sunrise, Hunter and his eleven-year-old daughter had carried buckets of water up from where a nearby spring bubbled out of the ground and filled a large, rough stone trough until it overflowed.
Hunter had a reputation of being a man of few words and Collie knew not to ask any questions until her father stood ready to speak. However, undone chores waited back at their log cabin home along with late peas ready to be picked and canned, so Collie’s unspoken puzzlement at this strange activity of filling this old trough with water grew by the moment.
Now with the job completed, Collie and her father sat quietly surrounded by an awakening forest. Hunter spat a stream of tobacco juice at a sprig of wintergreen, casually gazing at the rising orb of the sun as it made its way to full morning.
“When I turned eleven,” Hunter said, breaking the silence, ”my father brought me up here. Ever since then, the second day of every June, I’ve been here and now I’m ready to turn the job over to you.”
Collie stared at her father, the two sentences being the longest oratory she had ever heard her father speak.
“We’ve owned Foxrun Mountain ever since your sixth great-grandfather went and cleared some land for a corn patch. That year he saw ‘em and they’ve been seen every year since for nigh on eight generations. He didn’t know what they were or why they did what they did, but he carved out this trough for ‘em out of the biggest boulder he could find and ever since then, the oldest child in our family has gotten the farm and the job.”
His father gazed at the sun. “Any time now,” he said. A pause. “Yup. Right on time.”
Collie’s father had nodded down the hillside and Collie stared at the figures that suddenly appeared running up the slope. She blinked her eyes and rubbed them. About fifty or more people ran toward them, but their clothes seemed strange and their heads misshapen. As they drew nearer, Collie gasped as her father grabbed her shoulder. He whispered encouragement to be still.
The fox people came on, foxes running on human-shaped legs with human-shaped bodies, but covered in thick red fur, their bushy crimson and white tails streaming behind them. They raced toward them in a wave and as they drew nearer, Collie could see the intelligence plainly visible in their eyes. Red tongues lolled from open muzzles and as they drew near, they threw themselves down by the trough and lapped up water like dogs.
Collie stared in wonder at the milling crowd. Up to ten could drink at a time and while they drank, Hunter carefully refilled the trough from the buckets.
With an approving nod from her father, Collie picked up another sloshing bucket and carefully poured the water into the trough. Close to the creatures, Collie could feel the joy pouring off of them like a palpable musk, the excitement of just being alive, life and energy surging through their bodies.
Those who sated their thirst made room for those yet to drink, their deep, dark eyes scouting out the mountain ahead. Within minutes, the pack had drunk its fill and at some signal unseen by Collie, the fox people leaped away up the mountainside to disappear among the trees and boulders.
Collie stared in wonder. “Dad,” she finally managed to say. “Why?”
His father collected the buckets. “Can’t say. It’s just what they do, run up the mountain. I wonder if it’s sorta like them Olympics we do. Just be glad you get to see ‘em every year and be happy you play a part.’ He turned to look at his daughter, “Next year it’s your job though I’ll help you out gladly. Just remember that someday when your own child is ready for the job, he’ll be in charge. It’s our good mountain water they need.”
Collie stared up the mountain hoping to see a glimpse of carmine among the green. She remembered the joy she felt pouring from them and Collie made a quiet vow that someday she just might join the pack in its race up the mountain and see where the finish line stood.
(Graphic courtesy of pixabay.com and released under a Creative Commons license)