A kit drank from a certain puddle near an old stone well. She startled— suddenly aware of her reflection. Surprised by the other pair of dark eyes staring back at her, she ran deep into the woods. As she ran faster and faster, her legs grew longer and longer. However, her back legs soon outpaced her front ones. After a mile, the fox had turned into a girl wearing a tawny-colored cloak with a white shirt and black breeches. Her teeth retained their sharpness.
For many years, the girl lived alone in the forest. She hunted mice and voles. She slept under bramble. Her red hair grew long and tangled. During the nights she chewed her nails, fashioning them into weapons. One day the girl encountered a huntsman crouched over a deer he had slain. The two stared at each other for a long time before the girl darted away. The huntsman imagined his eyes were playing tricks. All he had really seen was a wisp of sunlit shadow.
There came a summer when it did not rain for many days. Streams dried to trickles. The girl thirsted until she remembered the well she had visited once on an early morning the shape of a pearl. When she arrived at the well, she sent the bucket down, drew up water, and drank deeply. Water spilled down her no-longer white shirt. As the drops hit the ground, it began to drizzle. As the girl’s legs began to shrink, the skies opened up. The fox ran back into the forest’s shelter. The girl’s footprints filled with liquid and washed away.
Long ago, you were a fox.
Ray Ball grew up in a house full of snakes. She is a history professor, a Best of the Net and Pushcart-nominated poet, and an editor at Alaska Women Speak. Her chapbook Tithe of Salt came out with Louisiana Literature Press in the spring of 2019, and she has recent publications in Human/Kind Journal, Rivet, and SWWIM Every Day. You can find her in the classroom, in the archives, or on Twitter @ProfessorBall.