This short story is the first I submitted to a magazine (Prima, UK) in November, 2012 for their ‘Winning Story Competition’ and which, to my delight, they published as runner-up. I based this story on my happy memories of the walks I used to take with my dad and of the wonderful stories he told…
A Walk in the Woods
Shards of dappled light cut through the canopy of trees, remnants of the late afternoon sun. The girl and small boy followed the man as they trudged their way along the overgrown path in the woods. All around them ancient trees creaked and groaned, like old ships straining against the tide. Tired from their long walk the girl nevertheless was very alert and as she walked she turned at every noise, sharp eyes nervously piercing the ever-darkening shadows closing in around her.
Then, as always, it happened. The man stopped in his tracks, putting up his hand signalling the children to stop, which they immediately did with quiet gasps. The man began breathing in the air deeply, eyes closed. “He’s here, I can smell him!” he said with a quick rush of excitement. That was all the girl and the boy needed to hear. They rushed over to the man, huddling close together, excitement and fear all at once consuming them. “Shhhhhh,” he whispered, “Keep still, he’s very close.”
Not daring to move, they waited, still as posts, straining for every sound and looking for any movement nearby, hoping beyond hope that at last they might see ‘him’. Minutes passed, seemed much longer, but nothing. “He’s gone,” said the man, no longer whispering. “He beat us again but I know he was here. Maybe next time. Come on, let’s go home.” Disappointment weighed down the little group but the girl never gave up hope of seeing ‘him’.
The girl grew up and she always fondly remembered those walks with her dad and brother, although it never failed to amaze her that they never did find ‘him’. The years passed by and at last, whilst driving home one summer evening, she did. In the middle of the quiet road just ahead of her he arrived, completely unannounced. Childhood excitement she thought was long-buried surged up inside her as she quickly braked.
He looked up at her just long enough allowing her to admire his beauty and magnificence, although he was much smaller than the mythical creature she had long imagined. He allowed that much before darting into the nearby hedgerow, disappearing, gone. Breathing out a whoosh of air as she flopped back into her car seat she smiled, incredulous that she had waited so long for his appearance, that illusive, mysterious fox.
(c) Sherri Matthews 2012