This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/
The theme for this story is ‘Trace’ This is my fiction piece.
“A Fountain Among the Fox”
It was less of a fountain and more of basin, filled with water from a small stream that snaked its way up a hill and out of sight, lost to anyone in the overgrown swamp brush but the animals that knew it.
There was a certain flock of birds that came to basin every year on their migration from the cold winters north. How long they had been coming is uncertain, but it’s been said that the same flock of birds stops there to even now.
It remained long undiscovered until one day, a sweaty, bearded man, dressed in gleaming armor and an oversize, wide brimmed hat, came crashing through the palm trees to the shores of the small basin.
He turned a full turn and looked down, then around again, as if someone had hidden his own house from him.
“This is it?” he cried. The palm trees answered with an affirmative sway in the breeze.
He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the water in the pool; clear and blue in the afternoon light. The water, for its part, did nothing. It didn’t care what this man’s ire, it was water.
The man sighed and produced a glass bottle from a calfskin bag. He knelt down to fill the bottle.
“I wouldn’t do that,” someone said. The man jumped to his feet and withdrew a long, sharp knife.
“Who said that? Who’s there?” he asked fervently.
“Leave the water alone. It’s not going to do what you think it will do,” the voice said again. The man turned, tripping over himself trying desperately to find the disparaging voice.
“Show yourself, you dog!” he cried.
A Fox jumped from a craggy rock and landed, soft as a pillow, on the ground next to the man.
“Woof,” it said.
“Um,” the man said.
“What’s your name, stranger?” the Fox asked. It grinned, which, all things considered, was impossible because Foxes can’t grin, but they can’t talk either and the Fox had clearly asked the man’s name.
“Diego,” he said, knife pointed between the dog’s eyes. “Yours?”
“You can call me Fox,” the dog said, licking a paw.
“Of course,” Diego said. “Are you the devil?” he asked, never moving the knife.
“I am not,” the Fox said. “I’m just a friendly, ordinary Fox.”
“Who can talk.”
“Who can talk, yes.”
“Yes, grin. I can also chase my tail and touch the sky and chase down the fastest rabbit, but you don’t see me bragging about it.”
“What was that about the sky?” Diego asked.
“Nothing,” Fox said. “Listen, about what I said before, about the water, disregard that.”
Diego gave Fox a sharp glare, but bent down again to fill his bottle.
“But don’t touch it!!” Fox yipped.
“Why not!? I traced my way here, through swamps and seas, I sailed from Spain!”
“And that is why, dear Diego, I would hate to see you fill your bottle with the wrong water! You’re looking for the water that will keep you forever young, am I correct?”
“Well! This is the wrong fountain! I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you, but it is!”
Diego shook his head. “It’s not,” he said gravely. “I procured a map from one of the local natives and, as I mentioned, traced my way here.” He unfolded a rough sketch of the stretch of land the fountain belonged to. He had quite literally traced the map; it was crude but aesthetically pleasing to see the world set out flat like that, mountains and hills small triangles and semicircles, little doodles of palm trees and shaded waters. Diego felt achingly attached to his map. It made this strange land easier to understand laid flat on the map.
“Yes, but-” Fox said.
“It’s here, this is the correct place.” Deigo once more knelt to fill his bottle, but Fox quickly ran through his legs and placed himself between the bearded man and the water.
“Move, beast! I have come too far-”
“All in search of the water that will keep you forever young, yes, I know. The problem with this water isn’t that it won’t do what you think it will do, it’s that it will do exactly what you think it will do. You will never stop getting younger, until you’re nothing but dust!”
“You want it all for yourself, don’t you!” Deigo realized.
“This water is not yours to take. I can trace my family back generations to these swamps, to this land. You are a thief, a usurper and you are not welcome here.”
Diego lunged, knife point searching for Fox’s grin, but in an instant he was stuck. His limbs felt like they were trapped at the bottom of a Rum barrel. Heavy rain began to fall despite the cloudless sky only moments before.
Diego struggled. “Please, you don’t understand. It’s not for me, it’s for the woman I love. She’s taken ill. Please, her father has stated that any doctor that can cure her may have her hand in marriage!”
“It’s not yours to take. And you’re not a doctor!”
“I’ll kill you!” Diego raged.
“You can’t,” Fox said as though he were remarking on a palm tree being a plant or the sun rising every morning. It was a fact, clear and sharp in Diego’s mind. He sighed. His hat sagged in the rain.
Fox let him go and the rain stopped. As long as he sat by the fountain, Diego could not take the water.
He straightened his armor and stood proudly, trying his best to accept defeat with poise and grace. The tear running down his cheek belied this feat, but he tried nonetheless.
“Fine. I will return home. Mark my words, I will save her with or-”
Fox had vanished.
“Without…” Diego finished lamely. Fox was gone, yes, but there was something there, unmoving and unseen, that growled at Diego to go.
With a heavy heart, Diego pulled out his map and traced his finger along the path he had taken away from the fountain and back to the coast.
Unbeknownst to him, in his calfskin bag was a bottle with one small sip of water.