The Gray Fox

The full moon illuminated the expanse of virgin snow and the single set of tracks that bisected it. The fox that left them ran, heedless of his own exposure, as though something were calling him, urging him away from the village he had left behind, pulling him toward the wilds.

Some miles passed under the fox’s paws before he slowed. He was a handsome animal, with a gray back and red trimming his ears and snout, sleek and healthy despite his long run. His silver-gray eyes seemed to reflect the moonlight. But to an observer – had anyone observed him beyond the stars, the moon, or the bare black arms of the trees – he might have seemed disoriented. Whatever urge had pulled him here was fading, and now he felt only his heart hammering in his narrow ribcage. He sniffed the ground without understanding what he was looking for. Thirsty, he gulped a mouthful of snow. Eventually fatigue overtook him. He crawled beneath the low-hanging branches of a pine tree, curled up on a blanket of dry, dead needles, and fell asleep.

As the days passed the fox grew used to his surroundings. He survived off voles and rabbits, avoided the few other foxes he encountered, and every night bedded down under a pine tree. Nearly a week after his arrival, the man came.


Next the Wall

Thomas wriggled against the dirty straw that served as his mattress, trying to get himself as comfortable as possible with his hands bound in front of him. The room smelled like piss, and he had no idea what might be living in the makeshift bed, but he settled onto his back. The slice of sky visible through the single barred window was inky black, no trace of starlight piercing the clouds. With nothing to do, nothing to see, and no one to talk to, he was left with nothing but the inevitability of a morning trip to the gallows, and the memory of what had brought him to this.


Sun and Stone

Moxley Alten opened his eyes, cursed the daylight streaming through the cracks in the shutters, and pulled the heavy quilt up over his head. Damn that Elven wine, anyhow. This was the third time since he’d come to Alvarranen that it had snuck up and blindsided him, leaving him with a splitting headache. If only he could get a proper mug of Dwarven ale.

At the moment he may as well just have stayed in bed. The whole reason he’d gotten accidentally drunk the previous night was because of the end-of-term celebration; most of the students had already left, and his fellow teachers were heading off over the next few days to spend the winter solstice with their families. Moxley and the two other dwarves who had come to Skywhisper Academy to teach that fall would be left rattling around the empty halls. At least Finn and Jessa had each other.


Worse Than Rats

I guess it started with the death of Paul’s Great-Aunt Moira.

No, maybe it started with my freshman year at Western Michigan University in the fall of 2000. Paul was my randomly-assigned roommate and we hit it off right away, sharing a love of old movies, thrift stores, and clean bathrooms. I had been desperately hoping to get a roommate I didn’t want to strangle, and considered myself immensely lucky when I ended up with a new best friend.

But maybe it really started thousands of years ago, when a retreating glacier left behind a pile of dirt in what would eventually be the city of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Eventually a state-run asylum would be built on that hill – its water tower still stands like a sentinel over the city, a weird brick structure that looks like the lair of some evil wizard. The neighborhood that sprang up around the hospital is full of beautiful old houses, and Paul’s great-aunt lived all alone in one of them until her death in early 2001. Paul’s father, as the closest living relative, inherited it from her. I’ve never been clear on what Paul’s father does for a living other than that it involves a lot of business travel. He didn’t have much interest in the house himself, and offered to let Paul and me live there rent-free in exchange for our help cleaning it up. Neither of us were eager to return to dorm life; LeFevre Hall had somehow managed to constantly smell vaguely like rotting meat. The boxy old Victorian house, complete with a square cupola, was much more appealing.


Dropping the Ball

Lex pushed his way through the crowd, wanting nothing more than a nice tall beer. The club was hopping as usual, but somehow he found himself out of place. He used to come here all the time in college, but his visits had gotten fewer and farther between; after he’d met Jared they’d started to taper off altogether. The last time Lex had been here was almost a year ago, back when things with Jared had been getting serious. In that year apparently everyone here had gotten younger. Not that he minded skinny barely-legal boys in tight shorts; eye candy was eye candy, after all, but Lex himself was closer to thirty than to twenty, and the idea that he might be getting too old for this was rather distressing.