April 6, 2019

MOONSHADOW by Jennie Brass

Welcome to the shadow realm.
I grant access to any who proves clever enough...
In a saying older than the earth beneath my paws it's been said that a spirit is never more powerful than when their paws follow destiny's path. Who am I to question that. Especially after that night.

The wind whisked my breath away with each desperate leap I took. My paws stumbled in the darkened brush that slashed my sides threatening to detain me. No one came to my aid. I spared a glance at the star-strewn sky. A black void where the moon should be.

No one came, not even her.

A baying chorus pierced the night. A betrayal of their nearness just behind the dell.

I shivered to recall the stomp of the horse hooves through the ground, the rattle of the metal the men used to control them, their breaths preserved in puffs before them. Dancing beneath their hooves the pack of snuffling dogs storming through the undergrowth toward the burrow. They brought the promise of pain and death.

That moment it was every fox for themselves. All we could do to shake of the hunters on both four and two legs.

I shook my head. If I did not wish to be torn to bits, I needed my wits, not my memories.

In my headlong flight, I vaulted over a log and the streaks of faint tree shadow vanished. My world became a black void beneath as I plunged into the frigid embrace of the pond.



My paws fought for purchase as the water closed over my head. Faint outlines of the world above swirled.

“Be calm.” A gentle voice echoed all around me. The source nowhere to be seen. “Take your ease, Moonshadow.”

“Yo—you know my name?” Like a leaf a-drift in an eddy, I realized that not only had I spoken and not drown, but within this strange void I had slowly rolled over. My paws came to rest on the underside of the water's rippling surface.

“Of course I do, daughter of the night.” It was as a mother smiling down to her child. “You bear my name, after all.”

“The moon? Where are you? You were gone this night.”

She laughed. “I am never gone, young vixen. You have but to look up to see me.”

I lifted my head and from the twinkling darkness her bright full eye bathed me in light. In that halo of her embrace my rusted red coat faded to black, the end of each hair shimmered with her silvery touch.

“Welcome to the shadow realm. I grant access to any who prove clever enough to use the blessing of my hidden domain. Your pursuers are still after you and your kin. Can you save them?”

I swept the surface with my tail. “You honor me, great mother in the sky.”

In a swirl of shadow I ran along the underside of the water, each paw hardly leaving a trace. My paws reached up to meet the living realm. Upon reaching land I dashed through a mirror of the thicket, shadows of the realm above danced in mists.

There they swarmed, the dogs whipped up into a lather of saliva. Up the hill, just above them I spied a glint of red fur and two bright gold eyes wrought with worry. Spindrift, my brother, hastily concealed in a pile of rocks. I ducked behind the shadow of a thick tree. My heart thundered in my chest. I couldn't let the dogs see me.

...clever enough to use the blessings of this hidden realm... I glanced at my paw, ethereal against the other plain, and wondered.

Swift as the wind, I rushed beneath the dogs. My paws touched the pads of theirs. At my unseen touch every dog froze in place. Their nostrils sucked in the air. Slowly, one by one, they fixed their puzzled gazes at the ground beneath them. The ground on which I stood toe-to-toe with kin-slayers.

One of the hounds nosed the leaves and pawed at the ground. He opened his throat into a half-hearted bay.

I grinned and cut circles around them, watching in delight as they spun in patterns, tying the pack into a boisterous knot of confusion. Undercut by the wild dogs, the horses reared and nickered in dismay, assaulted by the angry shouts of their riders. Chaos.

In the shadows beneath them my frolicking set them on a chase of their own tails. Up the hill, over the valley and deep into the thickest briar I knew. I abandoned them to their punishment.

They'd sought blood this night, and soley found their own.

Beside the pond I stood, bathed in the moon's light. Once more she smiled at me. “Your parents named you justly, Moonshadow. Now your clever paws are welcome in my realm and you shall forever bear my mark, great trickster.”

I bowed my head until my nose touched the water. “Thank you, oh blessed mother of the night.”
Into the surface I dove, the water dripped from my fur as I emerged back into the forest secure within the darkness of the new moon. But this time I smiled up where I knew her to be.

A shaft of rust red emerged from the rock pile. Spindrift slunk down glancing over his shoulder at the path the hounds had taken. “Something in the air tonight. I don't like it. Don't know what got into those dogs.”

I breathed in the air and let it out slowly. “I do.”

He flicked an ear. “Eh? What'd you say sister?”

I smiled as my brother's breath caught in his chest. “Moonshadow … what happened to your fur?”

In the starlight the pond rippled with my dark reflection. The rebirth that I would keep.

Jennie Brass is a New England soul transplanted to the Upper Midwest. A born storyteller steeped in the rich folklore of the coast gave her a fondness for twisting history into dark fantasies. Her work has appeared in Bards and Sages Quarterly, the Arcanist, an award winning novella featured in Frankenstein Project Novella Anthology, among others.
Follow her writing exploits on Facebook HERE

Cover: Amanda Bergloff @AmandaBergloff
 

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