"Fox Spell" is one of the April Writing Challenge entries that was chosen to be a featured story.
The forest stood before her. She had heard tales of its power and of the strange creatures living within it, but she had never been a believer in those old wives’ tales. And yet… a sudden twisting in her stomach almost made her turn back. No, she thought, I have to do this. And with that, she passed through the wall of fog that always separated the forest from her small village.
The forest, like many things in her village, was a mystery. It felt like an illusional black hole that swallowed anything and everything.
After each step that Val took, she could hear the hallowing of the foxes and the whistling of the trees. These foxes, her grandmother once told her, were the reason their village was separated from others. Their job was to guard the forest from creatures that journeyed into their territory. They could twist your thoughts around just by yelping. One second you would think you were perfectly normal. The next, you would hear a loud buzz in your ear. Your feet would turn numb. Your body would be frigid, and all you could do was stand there. Stories have said that staying inside for more than a few minutes could lead to screaming in pain until death comes. They call it the Fox Spell — though no one had come back alive to tell.
An hour before, Val sat in her grandmother’s house. It was a cottage on the outskirts of the village and the closest home, by far, to the forest. Not many tried to visit Val and her grandmother in fear of the fog barrier a few feet away, but when they did, it was never a pleasant visit.
Franco, the younger brother of the baker, rushed through Val’s doors. His wet hair was glued to his forehead. His plump face was the same white color as the fog. Looking down, Val saw Franco’s hands shaking and his pants, usually in pristine condition, tattered and wet.
In any normal circumstance, Val would have ignored the haughty baker’s brother. He was known for spreading rumors about Val’s grandmother’s uses with magic. He was fed better than Val could ever imagine. He mocked her for being related to the witch and threw his pastry scraps at her when she came into the village to beg. But at that moment, Franco looked distraught. She couldn’t ignore someone who may be in trouble, even if he was the cause of her grandmother’s exile to the edge of the village.
“ Marcio! He tripped. We were fooling around near the edge of the fog. He knocked me over, so I pushed him, but Marcio tripped on a branch. He’s inside the forest,” Franco said in between sobs.
Val’s grandmother rose from her chair. “Calm, child. Your brother will be fine. He is strong. He will know to turn around.”
“You need to help him. I tried screaming for him to come out, but you know fog eliminates any sight or sound from the outside.” Franco looked at Val pleadingly.
He was scared for his brother. Why wouldn’t he be? The strongest warriors of their village had ventured into the forest, and they had not returned in four years. She understood Franco’s fear. He may not be able to see his brother again for four years, or more if he had died.
“You can use your magic, Lady Brunela. It’s the only way. You can make some potion I will drink that can make me resistant to the Fox Spell.” Franco turned towards Val’s grandmother. His hands began to shake again. Tears streamed down his usually spotless face. His fingers idly grabbed a bottle with purple liquid from the counter.
“What is this?” Franco twirled the bottle close to his face. “I bet I could drink this one and become stronger — or this.” He picked up a bottle no larger than a thumb’s nail.
“I’ve heard the rumors. Is this the powder for going against the forest?” he said with a new hope in his eyes.
“Rumors that you spread,” Val threatened.
“Brace yourself, Valletta. He just wants to save his brother. You would do the same. We cannot tell if these are his true intentions, so we must not become accusive at him yet.” She turned back around to face Franco. “ Now, son, I am not saying this is the powder you speak of, but I do not know if I can truly trust you yet with any powder and the power that comes with it, even if the use is for a good cause.”
“Then give it to someone you trust. They can take the powder and then help Marcio. They could even look for the missing warriors,” Franco begged.
“I do not know of anyone in this village who would want to risk their life on the potion concocted by the town’s witch.” Her voice came out forced, as if she hated the village’s name for herself.
The room fell silent with defeat. Val could even hear the bubbling cauldron in the room over. The three understood how difficult it would be to find a volunteer. No one would want to believe Val’s grandmother, the town’s witch.
“Then give it to me.” Val grabbed the small bottle out of Franco’s hand. “You trust me, Grandmother. You know I am strong enough, and I am the only one willing to go.”
“You cannot! I will not lose another one of my children against the Fox Spell!”
“But if the powder works like you said it will, then I can go into the forest unharmed and retrieve Father,” said Val.
Val’s grandmother and Franco did not speak the truth that the warriors were probably dead. Even if they survived the Fox Spell, four years without food or contact outside would have killed them.
Val saw the looks on their faces. They now looked defeated but also sorrowful. Franco’s pudgy face could not meet Val’s eyes. Her grandmother sat back down in her chair.
“Well, I’m going,” she said. “ If not for Marcio, then at least to save Father.”
Val swallowed the grey powder. Her head felt light; she wanted to faint. No, she told herself, I must go. She walked out of the cottage, facing the forest’s fog three feet away.
Once inside the forest, she understood their fear. Val could hear the fast beating of her heart. She couldn’t stop wiping her clammy hands against her skirt. She heard the foxes yelping, but they were too far away at this point to daze her. Other than utter trepidation, she did not feel nauseous.
Val took a few more steps and turned to her right. Looking down, she saw a broad man in an apron. Franco’s brother. He had no wounds or sign of blood, but Val could tell he was not peacefully sleeping. His pale hands groped his cheeks, as if he died mid scream. She remembered the old wives’ tales. If one resisted, they would scream in pain until death. Was that the story of Marcio?
The foxes’ yelps grew louder. Val could see the herd treading closer. Their yelps became louder and louder. So loud, in fact, that all Val could hear was a constant ring. The ringing began in her ears but then slowly moved into her head. Her legs felt as delicate as soufflé. Any movement would cause her to collapse to the ground.
The foxes did not stop. They inched closer to Val until they were only a mere five feet away. She wanted to run. She wanted to storm into her grandmother’s cottage and yell at her of how the powder didn’t work, but her feet would not move. Her mind no longer controlled the rest of her body.
Then all of a sudden, Val crumpled. Her body fell to the ground at the feet of a fox. She lay limp, just as Franco’s brother did a few feet away. The main fox, realizing it had accomplished its deed, strolled off. The rest of its pack followed. The girl, Valletta, was sprawled across the woods, holding her hands to her cheeks as if she died mid scream.
Azura Ramsay is a 15-year-old student at an extremely artsy high school in Baltimore. She loves reading, dancing, writing, and unexpectedly peach iced tea. She used to be the owner of a guinea pig and one fish (but that’s a long story), and she dreams of moving to New York one day.