Fiction Feature: “Fox” by Eliza Hunt

They moved into the big old farmhouse on Friday, and on Sunday Evan Matthew packed a few soil sample jars and his pH testing kit in his backpack and went outside to meet the neighbors.

For a town with a population high of seventy people, it was surprisingly spread out. Their immediate neighbors could barely be seen from the house. To say this wasn’t what Evan Matthew was used to would be an understatement; the yellow townhouse in the city, after all, had touched its neighbors on either side, and from his window, Evan Matthew could see the buildings getting higher and higher, denser and denser, coalescing into the city center. In the city, you could know no one’s name and never be alone.

Somehow, he doubted that he’d remain anonymous in their new town.

He was halfway down the road when something darted out from behind a tree and swung a stick at him. Evan Matthew shrieked and fell, thankfully not landing on his backpack. The person stopped, holding their stick like a baseball bat. “Who’re you?” they demanded.

“Evan Matthew. Who’re you?”

“Fox. These are my places. You don’t belong here.” They peered at him with suspicion.

“Do so.” Evan Matthew got up, dusting off his pants. “I live there now.”

Fox looked back at the farmhouse, narrowing their eyes. “Really.”

“Really!” Evan Matthew crossed his arms.

Fox opened their mouth to say something else when someone called from the house ahead, “Andy! Come on!”

Fox’s eyes widened and they grabbed Evan Matthew’s wrist. “Come with me!” they demanded, dragging Evan Matthew off the road and into the woods.

Evan Matthew nearly fell as Fox leaped over logs and darted between trees with practiced ease, still gripping his wrist. “Where are we going?”

“Away!” Fox came to a halt in front of a small, odd fort. It was made of living trees and dead branches, leaves and clay, and had a small opening. Fox pushed Evan Matthew towards it, “Inside!”

Evan Matthew went inside. The fort was rather well-equipped, with the “floor” covered in leaves, a sleeping bag rolled up, a tarp by the opening, and a lot of junk scattered around. “What is this?”

“My place.” Fox crawled in, allowing Evan Matthew to finally get a good look at them. Their age was indefinable, but they weren’t much taller than he was; they had a grubby, freckled face and dark eyes. Their hair was tangled and tied into two short, low pigtails, the ends of the auburn hair bleached white. They wore an overlarge and…well-loved might have been an  overstatement, sweater, dirty rainbow stripes reaching their knees overworn jeans, and bare feet. They glared at Evan Matthew, “You really live in that house?”

“Uh-huh. My- Agatha made us move. I wanted to meet the neighbors.”

Fox scowled. “Don’t bother. They’re assholes.”

“You know them?”

“They’re my family.” They said the word with great disdain. “So I come here instead, when I can.”

“What’s all that?” Evan Matthew motioned to the objects surrounding them—a brass cup and bowl, tarnished silverware, an old gas lamp.

“My collection. Ma said I was too old to keep it, and she tried to throw it out. That’s when I started coming here.” Fox tapped the lamp slightly. “I hate them.”

“I hate Agatha a little,” Evan Matthew muttered. “For making us move.”

Fox looked up. “What’s in your bag?”

“Science stuff.”

“Cool.” They smiled a little, crooked and wary. “You wanna be friends?”

Evan Matthew blinked. “…Sure.”

“I’ve never had a best friend before.” Fox scrambled around in their collection, finally pulling something out. “Here. This is for you.” They shoved it into Evan Matthew’s hand.

Evan Matthew looked at it. A pendant swung on a tarnished chain; it was an odd, flower-like sun. “What is it?”

“Got it from the witch. It’s for protection.” Fox pulled an identical pendant from under their sweater, then dropped it back in. “If we’re gonna be friends, you gotta be protected from the bad stuff too.”

“Oh.” Evan Matthew put it on, tucking it under his T-shirt.

Fox looked pleased. “I’ve never had a best friend before.”

“I have. But…I haven’t for a while.”

From the forest came a shout. “ANDREA! WHERE ARE YOU!”

Fox tugged Evan Matthew’s hand and led him out of the fort, towards the voice. “If I go to them, they don’t find my hiding spot.”

“Makes sense.”

The two pushed through bushes and nearly ran into an older teenager with curly hair the same shade of auburn as Fox’s. “Andy, there you are!” she said. “Who’s this?”

“Evan Matthew. He lives next door now.”

The girl’s brow furrowed. “I think Ma told me about that. Come on. You can bring your friend, but we gotta go home. Storm’s coming.”

Fox glanced up at the sky. “One sec!”

They darted back into the bushes. The teenager sighed. “Dammit, Andy.” She looked down at Evan Matthew. “Hey, kid. Sorry my sister dragged you into this. I’m Nami.”

“I’m not your sister.” Fox popped back out from the bushes. “I’m not a girl!

Nami rolled her eyes. “Right. C’mon.”

Evan Matthew followed the two out of the woods and back up the road, on the way to the neighbor’s house. Nami walked with a purpose and Fox slumped behind her.

“So you live in the old Lockheart place?” Nami asked. “We thought no one would move there. Makes sense that it was a newcomer.”

“Why? ‘cause everyone’s already got a house?”

Nami turned, smiling mischievously. “Nah. ‘cause someone died there once.”

Evan Matthew startled slightly, almost tripping over a rock. “Really?”

“Well, not in the house.” Nami shoved her hands in her pockets. “On the property. The lake at the bottom of the hill.”


Fox scoffed. “No one died there, Nami.”

“That’s what Mom and Dad told you. You were too young. But it happened.” Nami’s sparkly green thumbnail poked out from her pocket; the polish reminded Evan Matthew of the girls in his class in the city. “Janice Evers drowned in the lake. It was in the city paper and everything, ‘cause she was with someone, and he went missing.”

Evan Matthew’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “How?”

“Nami’s bein’ dumb, don’t listen to her,” said Fox. Evan Matthew barely heard them.

“I mean, we don’t all the way know.” Nami kicked a rock lightly, sending it bouncing ahead. “Maybe I shouldn’t say. You’re what, eight?”

“I’m twelve!”

“You look eight. And I’m not supposed to say around Andy.”

“I am not listening and do not care,” Fox announced, having dug a dirty rubber band out of their pocket. “You can tell ‘em if he wants to hear.”

“Alright.” Nami caught up with the rock, kicked it again, and looked down at Evan. “The Lockhearts lived there before you did—like ten years ago. I think they lived here before the village was founded, even. But ten years ago it was Mr. and Mrs. Lockheart and their son, Lucas. He was, like, fourteen then. And you’ve seen the lake, right?”

Evan Matthew had, in fact, seen the lake. The bottom of the hill behind his new house was even muggier than the rest of the town, a perfect habitat for frogs and mosquitoes. He’d wanted to go down to catch samples, but Agatha had forbidden him from swimming. At first, he was disappointed—the heat was overwhelming—but as soon as he’d seen the cold, dark water, barely visible from the attic window, he’d lost all interest in going anywhere near that. Not even the  lack of algae on the glassy surface tempted him.

Once Evan Matthew had read a Time article about a river in South America that was so deep, no one had successfully reached the bottom and the bodies of divers were never recovered. In his head, under the black of the lake, sat skeletons, the maw of a pit to the center of the earth. “Yeah, I’ve seen the lake.”

“Right, so you know what it’s like. Dunno how or why, but Lucas reallyloved swimming in that thing. He was a strong swimmer too, which is why—well, no one expected him to drown.” Nami picked up the rock as they reached it again, tossing it up and down in her hand. “He was nice. I remember, he was nice. I was just six, but he always offered to help me out with my homework, and Mom wanted him to teach me to swim—but I didn’t like the lake, so I kept pretending I was sick. Maybe she would have made me, eventually, if Lucas hadn’t disappeared, but he did. And even more than that, he did while teaching Janice to swim—which put Mom off swimming lessons forever anyway.”

“How did they die, though?” Evan Matthew demanded. He was paying no attention to the road. Even Fox, initially apathetic, seemed somewhat interested.

“Well, I don’t know. No one knows. He went down to swim with Janice and he didn’t come back.” Nami inspected the rock, holding it delicately between two glitter-green fingertips. “Janice’s little sister went to get her from the Lockheart’s, and Mrs. Lockheart went down to get them and came back screaming. Pretty soon the whole town was down at the Lockheart place. I was supposed to be watching Fox, but they were sleeping and I was curious so I went down and got there just as the police from the city showed up with an ambulance and the coroner. I remember I’d never met a coroner or seen an ambulance before. I was excited.”

“And they were both dead?”

“That’s the rub—they only ever found Janice. Lucas just disappeared into thin air. I saw the body under sheets. I asked Marlene Fairsworth’s son, after, because he said he’d seen her, all bloated and white and gross.” Nami shrugged. “I think he was lying about seeing the body, but that’s what it would have looked like.”

“But Lucas went missing?” Fox asked. Nami didn’t seem surprised or bothered that they had stopped pretending not to listen.

“Well, there were search parties for days and days. They looked everywhere; the woods are big, but they’re not really that big. Eventually they ruled that maybe he’d gotten stuck on something and never, uh, floated back up. The lake’s a sinkhole, you know—goes down and down, no one’s ever really been all the way down there.”

“Did they ever find him?” Evan Matthew asked.

“Nope.” Nami hefted the rock up. “They buried an empty coffin eventually, for ceremony I guess. The Lockhearts moved out a month later and no one’s been in the house since then. Not until you. That’s sort of just the village though, I think. We don’t get new folks too often—and no one already here wanted to move down the street, much less into thathouse.” She reached back and let go. The rock arched up, up, and off the road, into the woods where Evan Matthew couldn’t see where it landed. “You brave, kid?”

Evan Matthew was more than a little startled by the teen’s sudden question. “I—I hope so.”

“Good. If you’re brave, you might do okay.”

Fox and Evan Matthew were silent the rest of the way up.

“So you met the neighbors today?” Agatha asked, setting down a platter of something vegetable-y. “What were they like?”

“They were okay.” Evan Matthew frowned in dismay as Eden spooned a large portion of whatever-it-was onto his plate. “I mostly met their kids: Nami and Fox.”

Agatha tilted her head. “Marlene said the daughters were Nami and Andrea.”

“They don’t like the name Andrea. Or being called a girl. We’re best friends.” Evan Matthew poked at his possibly-food.

Eden smirked. “That was quick.”

“They decided it, not me. It happened fast.”
“Well, I’m glad you have a friend already.” Agatha was all smiles again. “You should invite them over sometime.”

“I don’t think they like houses. They like playing in the woods. Can I go play with them tomorrow?”

“Sure, if the rain dies down.” As if on cue, lightning flashed outside the front window and thunder rumbled over the village. “You’ll wear your boots, though.”

“Yessss.” Evan Matthew wiggled. He liked his boots, thick black Wellingtons that reached his knees, with orange rubber soles. They were good science boots. “Can I take my sample kit?”

“If you eat all your dinner.”

Evan Matthew looked down at the plate of could-be-vegetables and scowled.

That night, the bed which had seemed so comfortable the night before felt cold and unwelcoming. Evan Matthew burrowed underneath the quilt as thunder roared outside and rain threw itself at the house.

If Nami had told a ghost story, that would have been one thing—ghosts were scientifically impossible. People dying, though—that was bad luck. It would be easy to drown in the lake, if you were unlucky; if the lake was a sinkhole, Evan Matthew had read about sinkholes—how most of them were unexplored, opening to vast caverns below the earth, and how dangerous they were, how even experienced divers could easily get trapped in a cave and drown and no one would find their bodies. And maybe bad luck was real and it was in the house, in the lake.

It was nearly one in the morning when Evan Matthew finally fell into fitful sleep.



Eliza Hunt has decided that she won’t take any chances when it comes to giving her true name to the Fair Folk and heartily suggests you do the same. You can find her at lizard_hunt on Twitter, playtesting RPGs, and making pithy remarks.