Laura’s Story – Chapter One

 

Once upon a time, a man called Daire and a woman called Lisa fell in love and got married. As people often do. Among their countless young ambitions, they had dreams of children and the joys they would bring to their quiet home. Their first born was a boy, scrawny and hideous—people would gasp when they looked upon him. He had twilight-blue eyes and midnight hair. They called this child Rick and they were happier than they had ever been before, despite Rick’s monstrous looks.

Two years later, Rick wasn’t quite so unappealing—although he had remained as scrawny as ever. Because he was not so bad, and showed signs of improvement, the couple decided to have another child. This time, they agreed, they would have a girl. Ten months later, Laura was born. She had deer-brown hair and her eyes were grey without even a hint of blue. Laura was as bonny as her brother had been ugly, and as soon as she laid eyes on her, Lisa had declared that her daughter was to be called Laura, although she couldn’t say why. Days later, her husband held the book of baby names in his hands.

“Laura means victory, honour and fame,” he said, smiling.

“Perhaps she’s destined for great things,” Lisa offered as she held Laura’s face to her ear. She liked to feel the soft breaths from Laura’s mouth—it reminded her that her lungs were moving entirely on their own; every breath confirmation of the life she’d made. Every breath made the world a little less real and a little closer to perfection.

“Yea. Perhaps,” Daire said, his voice interrupting the moment, “there’s something special about her, isn’t there?”

“Maybe this is just what little girls are like?” Lisa suggested, but really she agreed with her husband: Laura was special, an exceptional child, and she was certainly destined for greatness.

***

The house was a noisy place, filled with the busy din of busy feet and many mouths telling many tales. Over dinner, Daire would tell Lisa about work and his incompetent colleagues; about their bumbling mistakes and tedious attempts at telling jokes. Lisa would catch him up on the things he’d missed: the funny things Laura and Rick had done or said while he had been at work. Once, when Lisa thought the children were out of earshot, she told Daire about a dream she’d had. In her dream he had left her for his secretary.

“Even though it was a dream, I understood how much of a cliché it was and I was as annoyed by your unoriginality as much as by your betrayal!”

Daire had laughed at the time, dismissing the dream as nonsense, but he was really rather alarmed, as he knew that part of him wanted to be with his secretary. This part of him asked questions about his life—trying to rip little tears in the happy, inexorable matrix of dependency and connections he had made with Lisa. In another life he might have left her and the children. In another life he might have abandoned everything he loved. But in this life, he took Lisa’s dream for a warning. In this life, he stayed.

 

Chapter Four

 

As Laura grew, the family grew no less happy—they finger-painted and made jigsaws, they danced to the Beatles and Van Morrison and held silly walk competitions. They were utterly happy. So happy that Lisa forgot about her dream, and Daire forgot about what might have been. They were only concerned with what was.

When Laura was five, they visited her uncle’s farm in Ballymena. Uncle Eamonn was a huge man with a booming laugh and a happy face, which was almost always pink from the winter’s wind or the summer’s sun. Laura loved to listen to his jaunty, country accent as it bounced across syllables and lilted from sentence to sentence.

“Daddy? Why don’t you sound like Uncle Eamy?” she asked.

“’Cause he thought he sounded a little silly when he got to university and everyone sounded different.” chimed Eamonn, laughing. Always laughing. “But he soon realised that we all laughed at him more for sounding like he was from Belfast than his university mates ever did for sounding like he was from here!”

They chuckled and Daire looked a little red-faced. Eamonn ignored his little brother and served ice cream to the children. Rick and Laura stirred it up in the bowl to make soup, and their cousins, Siobhan and Sadhbh, scoffed at their childishness. After this, the children played outside. Laura and Rick, city kids, were enchanted by the green fields and rolling hills. They picked and ate blackberries, chased sheep and eventually, with the naïve curiosity of children, began testing the electric wire Uncle Eamonn used to keep the cows from pushing against the fence and escaping. They threw grass and sticks at it before Rick worked up the courage to touch it. He screamed a bit, then let go and laughed.

“I’m telling Mummy and Daddy,” declared Sadhbh suddenly. “I told you not to touch it. Daddy tells us not to touch it. We’ll get in trouble, you know.”

Rick followed his cousins back to the house, trying to convince Sadhbh not to tell. Laura let them go, glad to be alone. She had been waiting all day for a chance to look at the well, even though she knew they weren’t supposed to.

The well was up on Sheep Hill, its mouth sticking up out of the hilltop, and when Laura looked up at it she imagined its stomach, resting deep in the earth. For a moment she just looked, and she wondering why Sheep Hill was called Sheep Hill when there weren’t any sheep there. Just the well. She didn’t wonder for long—Laura was a girl of action. She’d pilfered Eamonn’s rope from the shed and it felt heavy and reassuringly well-made as she lugged it up towards the well.

When she got to the top of Sheep Hill, she allowed herself a furtive glance below: she could see the woods and the farm. No one was around, but she still felt exposed. She’d been thinking about the forbidden well since her last visit. She didn’t just want to see it. She wanted to see what was at its bottom.

She peered over the well wall and was met with impenetrable darkness. The stones of the wall were deep grey and very old.

“Hello,” she said quietly. “Hello!” she said much louder.

A voice seemed to be carried on the updraft of wind from the well:

“Don’t come down here, child. It’s much too dangerous.” The voice was soft and light—like powdered noise. Laura looked around, in case the voice had come from somewhere else.

“I’m down here.” The voice did not sound human and Laura knew, as children always do, that whomever the voice belonged to was magic in some way. She peered into the well and saw a small blue light at the bottom glowing like those little fish deep in the ocean that Laura and Rick had seen on the telly.

“Are you okay?” she called down to the blue light.

“Yes. I’m quite fine, thank you,” the blue light called back. Laura was sure she was a witch, for it was a female voice; Laura could tell that even though it sounded so strange.

“Why are you down there?” She asked.

“I fell years ago, and I have not been able to escape. This is a cursed well.” Laura accepted this fact immediately. Of course it was a cursed well. Of course she’d always known that the well was cursed.

“Well I’ll come and rescue you,” Laura said. “If I throw down this rope, will you be able to climb up it?”

“I’m afraid not,” the voice said, “for the curse must be broken before I can be released.”

“How do you break the curse?” Laura said.

“With a hug,” the voice said simply. Laura was disappointed.

“With a hug? Is that all?”
          “No,” said the voice. “The hug must be meant.”

“Well,” Laura said tentatively, “I’d like to try that—if you don’t mind?”

“No child. It’s much too dangerous!” The voice said, louder this time. It was so loud that the grass and the ancient stones of the well rattled and rumbled with her words. The voice felt so close it was a little frightening, but Laura tried not to think about her fear, for she was almost certain that the creature behind the voice could hear her thoughts—and she did not want to offend her.

“I’ll be down soon. Is the water deep?”

“No. There is no water. Don’t come down. Don’t risk your life for me, child.”

“I was going to go down the well anyway,” Laura said as she tied the rope to a tree with the special knot Rick had taught her. She dropped the rest of the rope down the well.

“Has the rope reached the bottom?”

“Please child. You’re going to hurt yourself, or worse.”

“It’s fine,” Laura insisted as she straddled the circumference of the well. “Here I come.”

Laura had seen people climb ropes before. She’d even done it once herself in the park near her house—only the rope in the park was about a metre high at most, and here she couldn’t even see the bottom of the deep well. She knew that it was important not to go too fast, so she eased herself down a little bit at a time. A few metres down she realised that she was in trouble: her little arms weren’t up to the task at all; her grip was beginning to fail her and she didn’t have anything close to the strength required to pull herself up again. She held on as though her life depended on it—which it did—and the blood began to rush loudly in her head. She began to cry. She could hear the voice below saying something comforting, but she couldn’t focus on it. An eternity passed. Then she heard clattering from above.

Someone has found my rope, Laura thought, with relief.

“Hey Laura!” Rick shouted down at her. His voice reverberated, becoming omnipresent in the dark privacy of the well. “You’re gonna kill yourself! Are you okay? Can you climb back up?”

“No.” Laura shouted. “I’m stuck. Get Mummy.”

“Right,” Rick shouted. She could hear the fear in his magnified, echoing voice. “Just hold on.” He didn’t say anything else, and she knew he’d gone. Siobhan and Sadhbh called down to her, but she could not hear them. Her hands hurt so much she was sure they would break off.

Then the voice came from below, “Hold on child. Whatever you do, do not…”

But Laura let go. For a second, suspended in the air, she had time to wish that there had been water in the well. Then she broke against the ancient ground. Death came instantly.

High above her broken body, Laura’s cousins screamed and cried. Deep in the well. In the quiet, dead darkness, Laura’s spirit flowed from her body and she found herself observing the world through ghostly eyes. She was not scared. This was exactly how she’d imagined being dead would feel—like everything was dull and hazy. Her cousins’ screams reached her as though travelling through water, and when she looked up the sky was no longer blue but milky; all colour was gone from the world. Before she could enjoy the dreamy, treacle world of the dead, a screech pierced the filmy air. Laura knew with a calm certainty that whatever it was that had screamed was coming for her.

Knowing that she didn’t have long, Laura called out to the voice, to the blue light. Her words more from her mind than from her mouth.

“I’m here, child,” said the voice. “I’m right here.”

Laura turned around and saw her: she was a beautiful fox, a vixen, bright and vital, but she was also an old woman, haggard and ancient. She was both of these things without contradiction. And she glowed with a blue light that radiated from her heart.

“You’re beautiful,” Laura said.

“As are you, dear.”

“I’m Laura,” she said, putting out her hand. She immediately felt silly. Who had heard of ghosts shaking hands?

“I know who you are. I know a lot about you.”

“What? How?”

“Why is the more apt question,” said the vixen. “I know you because you are the one we’ve been waiting for. You are foxkin. There are many stories about you and all you will do for us. I have waited and watched and bided my time. All of my children have looked for your coming. And now you are here, although I would have preferred if you’d made it to me alive.”

“But I’m just a little girl,” said Laura.

“You are a little girl. But why should that stop you from being great?”

“I suppose,” agreed Laura. “Who are you?”

“I am The Cadmean Vixen. The queen of the foxes. I was once great, as were all my kind. We inhabited almost every land on almost every ocean. But I got older and men got meaner. I can never be caught. It’s my gift. But my subjects do not share my powers.”

The terrible scream came again from above.

“Make haste. The banshee is coming.”

“A banshee?” asked Laura. “But are they not just women who cry when someone dies?”

“They are that, but they are more. They are the collectors of souls. And they take a little too much pleasure in it for my liking.”

Laura was already distracted by another thought. There was far too much to think about to be scared of the banshee…

The scream came again, and it was much louder and closer this time. There was perhaps even laughter somewhere in its terrible timbre. Laura pushed the fear away and finished her thought:

“But if you can’t be caught,” she began, “then why are you stuck down here?”

“My incarceration is of my own doing. I fancied the well was a good place to hibernate one winter. But when I woke, I discovered that much of my power had left me. Many of my children had died while I slept. Murdered. And in losing them, enough of me and my power was also lost. I was no longer strong enough to climb this well, so it has been my prison ever since.”

Another scream filled the air.

“But I thought you said the well was cursed?”

“It is, child, but the curse is my doing, my grief has taken hold of this place, and it has taken hold of me. I thought that a hug might be enough to bring me out of it.”

Just then, the banshee screamed from the top of the well. The wretched sound stripped the air of its filmy light and poured inky darkness into the space between them. She began to crawl down the well as though up was down—perhaps, for her, it was. Her eyes were fire itself and her skin was acid yellow—even in this colourless filter of death. Her fetid screech sounded almost joyful and it horrified Laura, but she had nowhere to go, nowhere to run.

“What can I do?” Laura asked.

“What you were always meant to do. That and nothing else. Come here child; I have a gift.”

Laura moved in to hug the vixen and the vixen’s arms enveloped her tiny soul. In the very centre of Laura there was her beginning. From it, everything she was vibrated out, all different frequencies, colours, smells and sensations. This beginning touched the vixen’s own and they became one for a moment. Laura felt the love the vixen had for all of her children. She felt the utter sadness and despair that consumed her over the deaths of every single one that had moved on. They were violent, painful, terrified deaths. She felt all of these feelings and more, and they both cried about everything that made them sad. As their tears fell, the blue light swelled, lifting them into the air.  The entire well seemed to drown in that light as it surged up, filling Laura’s eyes until she could no longer see anything at all. They hugged each other tightly, and Laura meant it.

Laura awoke in her body. She was alive, and she knew immediately that it had been an exchange. The Cadmean Vixen had died in her place.

“You didn’t have to do that,” she said, sobbing. She sat up and looked at the old woman who was also a fox who was also, now, a ghost.

“I know, child. But I am too old and you are too young. At least I was able to save one of my children.”

“But I’m not your child.”

The vixen smiled. “But you are.”

“You’re not glowing anymore,” said Laura.

“No. My blue light, my foxgrace, was the last of my magic, and I gave it to you. Perhaps you can put it to better use than I ever could.”

“But what does it do?” Laura asked. The vixen could not reply, for the Banshee had come. She did not scream anymore; she simply sobbed. She helped the vixen to her feet and held her in her arms as though she was weightless—which she was. Then they fell upwards, towards the sky, falling into the unknowable clouds. The vixen smiled to Laura before she was out of sight.

Stunned. Laura sat at the bottom of the well in silence as her father climbed down the rope to get her. They all fussed around her and kissed her and her mother told her she was grounded for a year.

On the trip home in the car that night, Laura fell into a dreamful sleep. She dreamt of a world without magic where she had fallen down the well and broken her leg. She dreamt that there was no vixen, no blue light, no banshee. She dreamt that life had no magic in it. She woke up crying and when her mother asked her what was wrong she could not put it into words. She was relieved that her dream was not real and that magic was.

 

A week has passed, and Laura’s condition is getting worse. Today I showed her what I had written so far. She laughed as she read through her life; the one I had imagined for her.

 

Chapter Five

 

Several therapists and her parents had displayed such overwhelming scepticism that it was only a matter of time before Laura started to doubt what she’d seen with her own two eyes. By the time Laura was ten she remembered the entire event in the well as though it had been an incredibly vivid dream; she had even embellished a few of the finer details: where the vixen’s light had been blue, she imagined it red; almost as red as her fur. Where the banshee had been screaming, Laura saw her laughing, not terrifying or terrified, but benign and slightly funny. Gradually she forgot about the vixen, but the foxgrace still lay within her, dormant.

Years later, Laura was grown and her mother got sick. Cancer. It was an impossibly hard time for them, but it pulled the family together into something even more solid and intimate. Laura and Rick were frightened by recurring dreams during this horrible episode of their lives. They dreamed of a life without either of their parents. Neither of them knew of the nightmare they shared.

In real life, Lisa pulled through her cancer and Laura and Rick’s dreams petered out in time. Their mother was alive, and all was right in the world.

 

Chapter Ten

 

When Laura finished school she moved to Glasgow to study philosophy. The first day of the semester fell on her birthday. She took this as a good omen. She believed in signs and in Fate with a capital F.

This was something that had always irritated Rick. He teased her about her tarot cards and tea leaf readings, her spirit animals and Wiccan spells. He felt that knowledge and empirical facts were to be valued above everything else. But Laura was sweet and she humoured him when he ranted at her.

Laura enjoyed university. She studied hard and played harder. She saw boys, but her relationships were fleeting and unremarkable. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was destined for something else. Something bigger. So each time a boy would come along with candied words and tender kisses, she’d enjoy the attention but she would never allow them to get really deep with her. She just knew they weren’t the one. And she was sure there was ‘The One’ out there for her. The definite article.

Laura met Steven in her second year; she had no idea that he was for her. He was friends with her best friend, Jemma. He was Glaswegian, not one of the assorted mess of English, Irish and international students that matriculated at Glasgow. He’d tried to flirt with her and she made fun of his accent. She liked that he was an electrician; everyone she knew was an arts student. She didn’t like that he smoked. She could smell it on his breath. It would be another year until they’d kiss for the first time.

That same year, she moved to the west end of Glasgow. Her flat looked over a cricket pitch, and she enjoyed watching the matches from her window. In the night time she sometimes watched the cricket pitch for foxes. She’d hear their guttural honks in the night. They sound nothing at all like dogs, she’d think sometimes, nothing like dogs at all.

One exceptionally cold evening in January, Laura was writing an essay when she heard the familiar foxy screeches out in the night’s freezing fog and bitter wind. The noises were as familiar to her as the ticking of a clock, and she ignored them sometimes, but she felt a tenderness for them. She liked nothing more than to fox watch from her window.

Suddenly, a car skidded outside in the snow, followed by a mighty screech so much louder than any fox she had heard before. It made Laura jump at her desk.

“Fuck!” she shouted and she rushed to the window to look for the fox. She could not see through the fog, which seemed to amplify the sound as much as it obscured her sight.

Before she knew what she was doing she was running down the stairs and out into the white night. She felt dizzy and sick and confused as she tried to penetrate the clouds around her. The squawking screams were deafening, and they seemed to come at her from all sides. When she got to the road she finally found what she was searching for: a small, slender fox was standing in the middle of the road, its head held high, screaming. Then it moved and Laura’s stomach lurched as she realised what was wrong. There, beneath the fox, was a cub barely bigger than a rabbit. It was still even as the fox nudged it with her nose. Laura could not understand the immediate fear and sadness that she felt. This feeling was unlike anything she’d experienced. She felt a twisting, tightening in her guts, right in the middle of her, and she thought that she might scream just as the fox had done.

Distracted, she didn’t notice the fox as it began to snarl at her, its tail low, its pupils so wide that its eyes were orbs of jet focussed on her, watching her every move. Laura, no longer aware of her actions, ran to the fox cub. The fox, all seething rage, sprung at her, biting deep into the flesh of her right arm. The pain was distant—barely felt—more of an ache. Perhaps the cold had numbed her skin. Perhaps she was in shock and could not process the pain. Perhaps it was something else altogether.

By contrast, the fox felt much in the moment she tasted Laura’s blood. She tasted something special, something familiar but almost forgotten… She became calm and subdued and watched as Laura stroked the cub’s soft fur: so cold already? Carefully, she lifted the little cub up to her ear and listened for its breath as her mother had once done with her when she was a babe. Nothing. It was dead.

Something soft and fragile broke in her chest and she began to cry. The forgotten foxgrace within her burst out like a warm liquid filling her stomach and spreading out through her lungs and heart, through her arms and her legs to the tips of her fingers and toes. The vixen watched as Laura began to glimmer with warm blue light. Weak at first, but building—the snow and fog around her became saturated with the ghostly glow and the light built to such a raucous crescendo that the entire street was bathed in it. The light began to fade, but it did not simply disappear; it seemed to draw into Laura as water to a dry sponge, flicking backwards as though pulled by some irresistible force. When the last of the light had retreated back inside her, all was dark and cold again, and the fox cub was alive.

In that moment of calm, Laura remembered everything about The Cadmean Vixen and that day in the well. She remembered dying and how it felt to be dead. She remembered the banshee’s cries and the vixen’s kind sacrifice. She remembered the foxgrace she had given to her but not had time to explain. In that moment of calm, Laura knew that she had been given the power to heal foxes, and that her wonderful ability to feel so much was what had unlocked this power.

She looked at the vixen, who was licking her cub’s face and whimpering joyfully. She saw that as well as being a vixen she was a woman with thick orange hair and skin as pale as the snow around her. She was both a woman and a fox at the same time, without contradiction.

 

Laura cried today, and told me she was not tired of life at all. She said that dying people were supposed to be tired and old and accepting, but she couldn’t be— she wasn’t tired at all. I hate how powerless I am, how powerless anyone in this life is when faced with death. I’m yearning more and more for the story I’ve written for her. I am escaping into its pages more often and more completely every day.

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

Laura met Steven for a second time in her third year of university. They were at Jemma’s house party and Laura had left the room because it was too smoky. She thought she was alone in the hall…

“Hi,” Steven said from the little armchair. She remembered him immediately. He was the electrician.

“It’s too smoky in there,” she said, pointing behind her. She felt silly and childish for saying it.

“Aye, I know,” he agreed.

“But I thought you smoked?” she asked.

“You remember me?”

“Yes. You’re Steven, the electrician. Why do you care if it’s smoky?”

Steven lifted the left sleeve of his t-shirt to reveal a nicotine patch. “Three weeks and going strong.”

“Well that’s good.” Laura thought it was a sign. She knew it was.

“Aye, we’ll see how it goes,” he agreed, “but comin’ to a party with that lot makes it harder.”

Laura thought about asking him to leave the party with her. She liked his candid manner and his deep, brown eyes. But she felt nervous because she knew that he was special. Laura had stood next to banshees and brought foxes back from the dead, but she was too scared to ask Steven out. She felt ridiculous.

“Would you like to go for a pint instead,” Steven asked, suddenly, without the perfunctory awkward preamble. And just like that, everything was easy.

They went for a pint in the pub around the corner. No one even noticed they’d gone. They shouted in each other’s ears about nothing in particular, groping for some common ground. Steven did most of the talking, and Laura’s mind wandered off, as it often did, and she imagined his reaction if she were to tell him about her gift. No matter how she phrased it in her head the whole thing sounded utterly insane. She realised that he’d been talking and that she had no idea what he’d been saying.

“…and then me and Soupy just covered the whole thing with some bricks and plastered the bastard up. It’s probably still there!”

She didn’t know what ‘it’ was, but she knew he was trying to be funny, so she laughed and Steven looked rather proud of himself.

 

Steven kissed Laura good night outside her door that night and she felt nervous and excited in equal measure. After he kissed her, he added another smaller, sweeter kiss. The kiss seemed to say: this isn’t just a snog. It’s a kiss. She closed the door and reminisced—already going back and reliving his soft lips.

“Who was that?” Bridie asked, padding past her and into the kitchen. Her orange hair reached the small of her back, her tail brushed the ground as she walked. She poured herself a glass of water.

“Just a guy,” Laura said.

“Just a guy? Is he a guy guy, or is he a fox guy?”

“Just a guy. I don’t date foxes.”

“Well that’s not what Balgair says…” said Bridie and she laughed. Laura’s cheeks reddened. Bridie had lived with Laura ever since she had saved her son, Aodh, on that cold night in January. That night had been an awakening for Laura. Soon, all of the Glasgow foxes had heard Bridie’s story and they travelled far to meet Laura. They drank mead with her and taught her the old dances. They brought Laura their sick and dying—and sometimes their dead—and they told her their tales. Foxes are wonderful storytellers and their stories were often laced with such melancholy sadness that Laura couldn’t help but cry. She felt their pain, their suffering, and that little mechanism in her chest would break and she cried for them. When she cried the blue light would surge out of her like a beautiful wave and they would be healed. The foxes loved Laura and she loved them.

“So who is this guy?” Bridie asked.

“He’s called Steven. He’s an electrician,” Laura said.

“Ohh, very fancy,” Bridie said. Laura was a little sick of the sarcasm of foxes.

“He’s lovely,” Laura snapped.

“I didn’t say he wasn’t. I’m sure he is…”

“He is!”

“Okay,” Bridie smirked and skulked into the living room.

The foxes aren’t going to accept Steven, Laura thought with a nervous pain in her heart. But she knew he was worth the effort. She knew that it was silly, and far too soon, and like something from a fairytale, but she couldn’t help it. She just knew.

 

Chapter Fifteen

The wedding was beautiful. They had a ceremony for the humans. Laura and Steven’s parents, family and friends came. Then, in the night, when everyone else was asleep, Laura and Steven made their vows in front of the foxes. The moon was full and very bright, and the air was thick with the cut grass and barbequed scents of summer. There was little secrecy in the moon’s old chalk light, so if anyone had looked out at the little family of willow trees in the field they’d have seen two humans, hand-in-hand, surrounded by hundreds of slender, shadowy foxes, all sitting silently, politely, as though they were watching them.

 

Chapter Sixteen

In the blur of years that followed, Laura and Steven were happy. On their fourth anniversary Steven had a nightmare in which he cheated on Laura with Jemma. The dream seemed so real that he felt sick when he recalled it. He told Laura about it, worried that even though it had been a dream, it was still a kind of betrayal. Laura laughed and reassured him it wasn’t and they never talked about it again.

They called their first child Reid because he had red hair, and the foxes joked that he was one of theirs. Steven usually told them to ‘Fuck off!’ and the foxes usually rolled around on the ground laughing. Foxes could be absolute bastards.

Reid could always see the foxes as they really were—both animals and people. He played with cubs, pulling their tails and running his hands through their soft fur. They never bit him—even when he pulled their tails so hard that it hurt them.

A year later, Laura gave birth to twin girls, Bonnie and Sorcha, and their little family was no longer so little.

 

Yesterday, Laura asked Steven and me to read her story to her. A few hours before she died she was delirious with medication and she laughed and spoke about how she had been running in the woods with her foxes.

 

Chapter Twenty-Five

Reid ran away with a vixen called Freya. She was beautiful: her coat slightly darker than other foxes, and speckled with grey (her grandmother was an arctic fox). As a woman, she was five-foot-six, with narrow shoulders and a lean physique. She had a secretive mouth that seemed as though it might smile at any moment. Sometimes her smile did not reach her eyes and she seemed as though she might be laughing or sneering. But her eyes always smiled for Reid. 

Freya’s parents loved Reid, but they forbade her to see him. They said that seventeen wasn’t old enough, but Freya knew the real reason: they didn’t think she was an equal match to Laura’s son, who was, in a fashion, their prince.

So they ran off to Ireland, then across the Atlantic Ocean and down to Brazil. For the better part of a year Reid had been unreachable and Steven would curse him, swearing that he was ‘More wild than most of the bloody foxes!’

Each month or so, Reid would send Laura affectionately-written postcards. He used his tiny writing to get as much on the postcards as possible. Sometimes Laura had to use a magnifying glass to read them. But there was no way to get a message back to him, because he never stayed in one place for long. So when the doctor told Laura that she had pancreatic cancer, she had no way of letting him know. No way of telling him that the doctor hadn’t even pretended to offer a cure. No way of bringing him back to her so that she could see him one last time before she died.

The foxes spread the word to their brothers and sisters and the search for Reid and Freya began. The elder foxes urged Laura to use the foxgrace to heal herself, but she couldn’t cry for herself. Not enough to call upon her foxgrace. Although she was sad, she was so thankful for the life she had had. She knew that others weren’t nearly as lucky or as fortunate as her and she took this as a sign that she was meant to die. A weird, messed up sign, but a sign all the same. She cried for Reid, because she missed him, but she couldn’t cry for herself.

Laura was bedridden by the time Reid was found. He was in Peru when he heard the grave news and he used the last of his money to get on the first flight home.

It took him little over a day to reach home. As he sprinted up the driveway Steven walked out to meet him. His face was raw.

“You’re too late,” he said. “She died an hour ago.”

Reid rushed into the house and up the stairs to his mother’s room. There, on the bed, lay Laura.  She looked asleep; she looked soft and at peace. Surely death was not such a bad thing after all?

Reid fell to his knees beside the bed, held her hand to his face and kissed it. He thought about his childhood and the love she had always given him. He thought about the games they played and how she used to sing to him. He thought about all of the things that had made Laura so unique. And he cried. As his tears touched her hand the room and the street outside were filled with a familiar blue light.

Copyright © 2015 by Peter McCune

Have your say. Leave a comment.
  1. Michael Graham says:

    I loved this story. The contrast between Laura’s actual fate and her ability to heal others in the fox story really got to me. Can’t wait to read the full novel!

  2. Jamie Ritchie says:

    Very well written, Peter. Great to see such literary finesse. Comgall Noster!

  3. Jemma Purdon says:

    Wonderful. I’ve watched this story evolve over several drafts and rewrites and I think the tone is perfect: poignantly so. Whimsical without being gimmicky. Well done Peter. Vixens rock!

  4. Laura Houston says:

    I thought Laura’s Story was beautifully written with characters leaping off the page. The story and subjects addressed are thought provoking, emotive and heartfelt. I have read all the work on this site so far & I cannot wait to read more from Peter McCune.

  5. Mark Scherler says:

    Wow! I can’t believe how attached I got to Laura in such a short time, and how emotional the last bit was in just reading a few snippets of the story. Absolutely fantastic!

  6. Jade Denby says:

    Fantastic piece of writing Peter. I was truly transfixed throughout. The balance of real life and fantasy really kept my intrugue and I didn’t want the story to end. Looking forward to reading more of your work!

  7. Jane Scherler says:

    I actually just read this for the second time. You are a very talented chap, you should like write a book or something.

  8. Liz Derby says:

    This is fantastic! It captured my attention from the beginning and had me tearing up at the end. I can’t wait to see more.

  9. Peter McCune says:

    Thanks Liz. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks to everyone for reading it and for sending in your feedback. If you go to the novel page of this site there are two more chapters from the novel that you can read.

  10. David Gilmour says:

    Like many others, finding this part of the story both moving and powerful. Really brought to life through the different layers of narrative moving at once – so refreshing.

  11. Lindzi says:

    Mystical, captivating and incredibly moving. Such beautiful writing and interesting characters, I was totally lost in this fascinating world. I can’t wait for more!

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