Happy Halloween–and last day of Foxtober!

Happy Samhain, Halloween, or whatever name you give to the changing of the seasons. Today is the last day of our Foxtober celebration, and we’re sending it off properly. Two wonderful authors have donated their time and talent for your enjoyment in a story and a poem based on this prompt:

Foxtober graphic

Please enjoy, and surely the authors would love a quick note to thank them for their work.

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By Edie Montreux

Once upon a time, fox shifters had magic. They were known as kitsune, powerful spirit masters with nine tails.

No longer. Bijou was a fox shifter. He had one tail, and no magic. Hell, after all the bullying at school, he had very little spirit left.

Only his best friend Remmy, who was a cat shifter, understood why he smelled scents his human classmates, neighbors, and now coworkers could not. Remmy also understood why he avoided the men who smelled like gunpowder and death. Hunters. Bijou hated them.

The stench preceded them everywhere, so Bijou felt safe in the woods. He would have plenty of time to escape before a hunter came near.

He met Remmy in the usual clearing. A redwood downed by a lightning strike lay beside its hollowed-out stump. The fallen tree left a hole in the canopy, allowing sunlight to bathe the native grasses and flowering shrubs. The sky was an autumnal shade of dark blue overhead, the shade of Remmy’s cat eyes in his calico face.

“You’re late.”

“Had to work the morning shift.” Since graduating high school, Bijou worked at the gas station on the outskirts of their rural California town, north of San Francisco.

“You closed last night,” Remmy said. “What did you do, stay all night?”

“There’s a cot in the back room. Elsie’s going into labor, so Chuck needed the morning off.”

Remmy rolled his eyes. “Chuck wouldn’t do a damn thing to help you.”

Remmy had a point. Bijou didn’t want to waste any more time on fruitless conversations about his stupid job. He stripped out of his clothes and willed himself to change. It was easier now, easier without the fear of the first time, when his bones shrinking and popping felt like death. Now, all he had to do was focus on the pine needles and leaves beneath his human-shaped feet, and his paws transformed, taking the rest of his body with them.

“I thought I saw something up here,” Bijou heard someone say below them. His fox ears gave him better hearing than his human ears. The voice was maybe a mile away, and the person didn’t smell like a hunter. Still, Bijou remained cautious. He raced Remmy to the hollow stump of the fallen tree, where they could scamper through the gaping lightning scar and listen to the humans below without being seen.

“Not hunters,” Remmy said, confirming Bijou’s assessment. “All men, though. And one of them smells divine.”

Divine. Heh. Bijou didn’t know what humans could coat themselves with to smell…

His nostrils flared. He sniffed Remmy, and then sniffed the air. “Another cat shifter. Must be your lucky day.”

“Not just a cat,” Remmy purred, rubbing himself along Bijou’s side. “A leopard. Now I get to see if leopards really have spots everywhere.”

Bijou chuffed. “You would care.”

“Scientific purposes.” Remmy had always been better at school than Bijou, but neither of them had the money it took to go to college. At least Remmy had a family to go home to after his long days working road construction, so he could save his money for a bio-chemistry major. Bijou didn’t know what that entailed. He’d always avoided the strong stench of the chemistry lab in school.

The scent of cat on the prowl was strong, but two other strange scents permeated the woods, mingled with the smells of soap and leather. One seemed awfully familiar, almost like a fox, but Bijou couldn’t place it. The other, he feared. Wolverine.

“There’s a mean badger shifter with them,” Bijou said, using the nickname he’d given the creature with sharp teeth, claws, and attitude before he knew its true name. Bijou had gotten too close to a wolverine’s den on a winter run, deep into the woods. Wolverines were rare in northern California, and Bijou was thankful he didn’t run into them on a regular basis.

Remmy sat in one of the zags of the stump’s scar, grooming his paws. He looked down at Bijou in the center of the stump with his tongue lolling out of his mouth, paused: Remmy’s way of rolling his eyes in cat form.

“Wolverines aren’t that bad,” he said, and returned to grooming.

“Easy for you to say. It wasn’t biting your tail.”

Remmy stretched up the scar, extending his claws above him and raking them down the tree. “You should get cleaned up. Our new friends are almost here.”

“How do you know they’re friends?”

“They’re shifters,” Remmy said, like they’d never met a shifter they didn’t like. Well, so far, that was true. Remmy was the only other shifter Bijou knew, and they were best friends.

Bijou groomed his ears and whiskers, and brushed the pine needles from his tail. Cursory grooming would have to do.

By then, they heard the crunching of leaves beneath three sets of human hiking boots.

“Hello, friends!” one of the shifters called. He had an interesting accent, one Bijou couldn’t place. “I know you’re here somewhere. We are just passing through, and need a good run in your forest before we get on another plane.”

Remmy jumped out of the tree stump and landed with a hollow thunk on the fallen tree below. Remmy’s jumps were usually silent, so this was to grab attention. Bijou scrambled up to the scar so he could see, and intervene, if necessary.

Remmy leapt down and pranced to a man in a white shirt, staring up into the redwood canopy. The man was shorter than his friends and smelled like a cat to Bijou. The man had an attractive face, accentuated by light green eyes.

Bijou watched with interest as the three stripped out of their clothes. The wolverine was the most sensibly dressed for Northern California, with long sleeves for an autumn evening in the desert. The one with the walking stick, with the familiar scent, had a tattoo of a fan on his back, the base of which looked like a tramp stamp, but the blades of the fan stretched up to his shoulders. The nine blades resembled fluffy tails. Fox tails.

No way.

The wolverine shifter changed first, dropping to all fours. The white V in his hair framed his pointed, bear-like face. The claws, though. Bijou couldn’t get over the long, sharp claws now protruding from the wolverine’s paws. He also respected the powerful jaws beneath the adorable little bear face.

Remmy’s leopard kept his green eyes when he shifted. His black coat still showed the beautiful leopard spots Remmy wanted to count. For Science.

Last, the man with the fan tattoo shifted, dropping to all fours as the ink took on a life of its own. The silvery, white gleam of tails separated and danced above the back of a silver-colored creature the likes of which Bijou had never seen. As Bijou studied the creature, he realized he was rudely staring at his backside. Worse, the creature caught him staring. In two bounds, the creature with nine silver tails was on top of the fallen tree, and then inside the hollowed-out trunk, face to face with Bijou.

“Hi.” He was the one with the strange accent, the one who’d spoken of running through the forest before getting on a plane. Bijou knew he shouldn’t respond to the urge to reach out and touch noses with the beautiful silver fox with nine tails, but he couldn’t resist.

“Hi,” he said. The other fox’s nose was cold and wet. Bijou didn’t know what to do when he twisted his snout and left a scent imprint on Bijou’s jaw.

“My name is Kenshin, but you can call me Ken,” he said. “Where are the rest of your tails?”

“I’m just a fox. One tail.”

“You have forgotten,” Ken said under his breath. Louder, he said, “I need exercise and water, and some fun before we fly back to Japan. Do you live in these woods?”

Bijou nodded. Too many times of late, the hollowed-out trunk had been his home. He wanted to ask questions, to get to know Ken better, but he was too dumbstruck by the world traveler. Even so, Ken reminded him of home, a home he’d never had.

Instead, Bijou ran. Ken followed. Their fox feet carried them out of the hollow trunk, over the downed tree, and off through the woods toward the stream.

At one point, Bijou smelled a squirrel. Normally, he would chase his prey, but today he was more focused on the joy of running with another fox. Ken followed his every move, even the practiced jumps from tree trunk to tree trunk and over fallen trees and tangled roots.

They arrived at the mountain stream, panting from exertion. Ken drank first, lapping at the fast-moving water as it rushed past the bank. Bijou dared to jump onto a slippery rock in the middle of the stream, where a pool of cool water stayed still long enough for him to enjoy his drink. There was barely enough room for two foxes on the rock, but Ken joined Bijou, his tails giving him uncanny balance. Ken took another drink, watching Bijou as his tongue lapped the water.

“What?”

“You are kitsune,” Ken said. “Your eyes. I see magic, but it’s blocked somehow.”

“I’m a fox,” Bijou insisted.

“Come with us to Japan. The masters of the forest will help you.”

A home. A new, exciting friend. A possibility to be something more. As tempting as it was, Bijou liked his woods, and he would miss Remmy.

“I don’t have a passport,” he said.

Ken laughed. “I have a pass for a therapy animal. You can be my therapy fox. Most humans will think you’re a dog, anyway.”

Bijou frowned. He hated when people assumed he was a dog. And he’d be seen by many people on a journey to Japan. Too many people.

“It’s okay,” Ken said. “You don’t have to decide now. We come back to San Francisco several times a year, and these woods, though dry, were too beautiful to ignore. We will meet again, little one.”

“Bijou,” he said. “My name is Bijou.”

“A jewel, like your eyes, and your beautiful red mane. It fits you.”

Bijou had never thought about the meaning of his name before.

“Kenshin means truth,” Ken continued. “Kitsune value words as oaths. My parents chose my name with care. My older brother is a liar and a trickster. You have probably heard the stories. Kitsune is synonymous with trickster in Japan.”

Bijou shook his head. He knew nothing about kitsunes, other than basic anatomy and magic.

“I will not bother you with my troubles. They are unimportant,” Ken said. “We should return to our clothes.”

They ran, slower this time. Bijou had a lot on his mind, and Ken seemed saddened by Bijou’s indecision. Ken’s tails dipped as they stepped into the sunlight. He seemed to carry an increasingly heavier burden with each step toward his clothes.

“Finally,” Remmy said, his ears pricked up with excitement as he ran to rub himself along Bijou’s side. “I have great news! Theo is taking me to Japan.”

“What?” Bijou couldn’t hide his surprise. He’d wanted to discuss Japan with Remmy before making a decision, and now Remmy was leaving him. Remmy, his only friend in the entire world. “What about college?”

Remmy sighed. “Even if I could afford it, who says I’ll get in? At least this way, I’ll get to see the world.”

“What about your family?”

“I have time to say goodbye, Theo promised.” The leopard nodded from his spot in the sun, by the stump. “I’m just a burden to them, anyway. This will be better, you’ll see.” Remmy rubbed along Bijou’s side once more, before returning to Theo. “You’re coming with us, right?”

“College?” The wolverine said, still stuck on Bijou’s previous question. “They are too young,” he said. “Too young to be caught up in our war with the tricksters.”

“War?” Remmy and Bijou asked.

“They are tricksters, not soldiers,” Theo the leopard said. “Once we teach our new friends some magic, they will be able to defend themselves.”

“War?” Bijou asked again, turning to Ken, who had shifted back into his human form and now stood, fully clothed, leaning on his walking stick. Ken shrugged and pointed to his human ear. He could no longer understand Bijou’s fox words.

Bijou hopped onto the fallen log and changed into human form. The need for conversation won out over his modesty. “What does he mean, war?”

“If you join us, you may be caught in the war with my brother,” Ken explained. “It will be dangerous, but it would be worth it if you could fully shift into a kitsune after meeting with the masters of the forest.”

“Worth it to whom? You or me?”

Ken sighed. “I come here every year, looking for my promised mate. You are the first fox shifter I’ve ever seen in this part of the world. I hoped it would be you.”

Bijou didn’t know how to feel about that. Ken smelled familiar, like home, but not like Remmy’s claim that Theo smelled “divine.” He also didn’t know of anything worth war with supernatural beings in a foreign country.

“Why did you stop in these woods?” Bijou asked, suspicion making his spine tingle, even in human form.

“We smelled shifters in town, and followed you from the gas station,” the wolverine, now in human form, shared. Remmy and Theo shifted, too, still entwined with each other as they leaned against the hollow tree trunk.

“Will you join us, even if there’s a war?” Theo asked as he caressed Remmy’s cheek.

“Why not?” Remmy said. “I always wanted to travel the world.”

Bijou nodded. Remmy would be at home in Japan, or anywhere, for that matter. Bijou had no home, not in rural California, where he’d lived all his life.

“Come with us,” Ken said, sitting down beside Bijou on the fallen log. “It’s a long flight, but the woods are lush and beautiful, and the masters of the forest will guide you home, to your true self.” Ken’s eyes never left Bijou’s as he caressed his back with firm, soothing strokes.

Home. There was that word again.

Bijou sighed and leaned against Ken’s side. He wanted comfort. He wanted a home.

“Okay.”

Edie’s Blog

LOST FOX WOODS

by Regine Allison Claire

 

By one and one and one they come,

from human to fox they’ll come undone.

The wild scent of autumn crisp in the air,

with sun so bright and soft and fair,

steps tread softly, crunch, snap underfoot.

On the tip of my nose, a dash of soot,

its fire long gone though the spirit remains,

whispering hope like the warmest spring rains.

 

One and one, we found them each,

freedom and flight within our reach.

Curiosity in play, they followed us here

to search and think and secretly peer

into the heart of the Lost Fox Woods

and find its deep magic, if they could.

Magic will find them if they wait but a star;

come the night sky, they’ll need not go far.

 

One to one, up, up they’ll go,

to sway and dance and flutter like so,

as leaves on branches for years come,

releasing the foxes to where they’re from.

Fur so red, so soft and real,

paws and whiskers and all to feel,

no longer trapped by a cage of bark.

Breaking the spell shines light in the dark.

 

“One soul for one soul,” the curse once spoke,

always in debt to the sorcerer we woke,

buried within the soil so fine,

nudged and clawed before his time.

Bitten by anger and quick to grumble,

his spell came forth in a quiet mumble.

Of all the words spoken, no others had left

a skulk of foxes so alone and bereft.

 

“One fox for one wink makes a good trade.”

Up, up and away their bodies he bade,

“Into leaves they shall hang for all to see,

until craftier souls can set them free.”

Off he went, a puff of bluebird cloud,

with a huff and a grunt and all manner of sound.

Foxglove petals scattered where once he stood,

littering the floor of Lost Fox Woods.

 

One by one, and once more again,

each new autumn, the same old aim:

bring home a guest, and do what you must,

to keep them from fleeing like windborne dust,

for when darkness falls and stars are alight

on this the night of most magical nights,

leaves trade souls, two legs for four,

to bring home our kin forevermore.

Regina Allison Claire’s FB

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Fox Books!

Hate Mondays? What better way to ease the pain than a book with a fox character? Here are a few to check out. Know of any we’ve missed? Please mention them in the comments, because we can’t get enough foxes!

*Some of these books might contain adult content. Please refer to the blurbs/buy links.

CatchFox

Seeing both of his brothers find happiness with their fated mates has convinced Byron that he can’t simply go on doing nothing. He found his fated mate five years ago, but a tragedy kept him from confessing the truth to Kit. He decides to go back and take a chance, unable to go on living with nothing but dreams of what he could have with his mate.

Kit has lived a quiet, withdrawn life since his parents and brother were murdered, but he’s beginning to wonder what else is out there for him in the world. He’s stunned to learn he’s a vampire’s fated mate, but Byron wins him over quickly with his kindness and patience. Though he isn’t sure he can accept the mate bond yet, Kit sees his chance to explore the world as he learns more about this gentle vampire who has waited five years just to be with him.

Be Warned: m/m sex, rimming, glbt

Buy

DinnerFoxy

Law and Supernatural Order Book 3
Previous Book: Paws on Me

Fox shifter Luke runs Foxy’s Chicken Shack, known for the best and spiciest chicken in town. For months he’s had his eye on Silas, a young cop who patrols the area around his restaurant. When Silas arrives to question Luke about his cousins’ criminal activities, things blow up, literally, and Silas is injured. Luke will do whatever it takes to see his cousins brought to justice. He might not survive his crazy plan, but if he does, there could be a chance at love for this fox shifter and his cop.

Buy

Finders

A Heart’s Gate Story

The truth might ruin his dreams—or make them come true.

When Zane moves into an old gothic brownstone, he discovers the house comes equipped with a caretaker—Kit, who lives in the basement. Zane is immediately drawn to the charming and attractive Kit. But Kit is much more than he seems. He is a two-hundred-year-old half-human, half-red-fox spirit who guards a Gate between the mortal and spirit worlds—a fact Zane should recognize, but doesn’t.

Orphaned at a young age, Zane never learned he comes from a long line of mystical Keepers. Kit needs Zane’s help to protect the Gate, but how can he tell Zane of his legacy when that will crush Zane’s dreams of traveling the world? If he takes up the mantle, Zane will be bound to the Gate, unable to leave it. But when Zane realizes Kit’s true nature, and his own, he’ll have to make a choice—fight to protect Kit and the Gate, or deny his destiny and any chance of a future with Kit.

Buy

FoxHat

Tokyo high school student Tsukino Ayumu never wanted to stand out. He’s always been content to run at the middle of the pack and go unnoticed, and he doesn’t expect much to change when he moves to the small fishing village of Yuuyake to live with his grandfather.

In Yuuyake, Ayumu makes his first real friend in Ikehara Haruki and forges close ties with two girls, Shizuka and Chou. Together, the four friends muddle through the messy world of dating and relationships while trying to succeed in school and prepare for the world they’ll enter when it ends. Fate has other plans for them, though, and Ayumu in particular, as an invisible threat targets the village’s young people.

After being plagued by disturbing, violent dreams, Ayumu learns what the spirit world expects of him. He must learn to fight and to lead—but he’s only ever been ordinary. With the support of friends he would die to protect, Ayumu faces a destiny only he can fulfill. But others have taken an interest in Ayumu. The mysterious Fox-Hat and Neko know more about Ayumu than he knows about himself, and they lead him onto a path that might end in the destruction of them all.

Buy

Last but not least, a series of books featuring the fox’s countryside companion, the badger.

Is anyone truly prepared for the apocalypse? Well, Kerry certainly isn’t, and she fairly quickly discovers that looking sharp in a business suit and heels is not going to help anyone when there’s an I Wore Heels to the Apocalypse - C H Clepittapocalypse, with possible zombies!

Together with a super spy, an ex girl guide and a personal trainer with manly foraging skills Kerry must battle terrifying religious cults, rich people and her personal demons, all whilst having the daily chore of deciding what to wear!

This is a laugh out loud comedy with romance, heart and talking badgers, and is not to be missed.

What would you wear to the apocalypse? #IWoreHeels

Buy

P1010948Enjoy, don’t work too hard this Monday, and don’t forget to enter the Foxtober Giveaway!

Foxtober Guest I.J. Downey

Our Foxtober celebration continues with a beautiful original illustration and a short (but powerful) short by I.J. Downey. If you enjoy this contribution, why not comment to let I.J. know?

Kitsune waiting illustration

 

Waiting Under the Plum Tree

When we were young, we played beneath the plum tree’s branches. Later, we made love as sweet as the scent that drifted down to us.

Then, war came, and you asked me to wait in the shade of the ever changing branches.

Faithful, I stayed, waiting for your voice to wake my soul again.

Today, I saw your beautiful eyes in an unfamiliar face. Wrinkled hands cupped my face as dry lips kissed my cheek. I watched as a single tear tracked its way down the map of your face.

My heart, which had held a million unshed tears, burst.

Our sayonara, our final goodbye.

I will no longer wait under the plum blossoms; I will only mourn under the plum tree.

*****

Interested in seeing more beautiful artwork? Check out I.J. Downey’s Etsy Store.

Don’t forget to follow the blog so you won’t miss any upcoming guest offerings. All followers are also entered to win the cache of foxy treasure at the end of the month.

Foxtober Guest Freddy McKay and a Giveaway

The Foxtober party continues. Please welcome Freddy McKay with not only a free, completely new short story, but also a ten-dollar Amazon gift card to one random commenter. Why not comment to let Freddy know what you think of the story? Comments may be moderated; please be patient. The winner will be chosen Monday.

*****

Foundling

By Freddy MacKay

fox mask

 

Chances were Masao wouldn’t be able to face the humans again. Their prayers would be answered. He had been sent by the gods after all. But Masao had no intention of resolving the villagers pleas in the way they expected him too. His disgust and loathing of the humans cowardly actions made it hard to look at them. They had caused enough pain and misery for several lifetimes, would be paying for their actions for generations. Their false pleas now fell upon Masao’s deaf ears.

It didn’t matter Inari sent him to save the villagers. They had brought their plight upon themselves. They had broken sacred trusts then came running back to the gods because it suited their needs. No, Masao couldn’t face the humans any more.

Not because he was scared of them and how they might take their anger out on him for not complying to their wishes. No. He was stronger, faster, had magic and Inari on his side—probably. Masao felt confident his god would understand once the whole story came out. No, Masao couldn’t face them because he saw the furs the villagers used. Had heard their glorified tales of their triumphant hunt of the okami in the mountains. Felt the fury grow as they sung and boosted about the heavy furs they’d skinned off the okami. Tasted and smelled the wolves’ blood when he checked their empty den—the place where the pack had been slaughtered.

All of the pack murdered.

Except for ‘the Terror.’ The abomination, the yōkai, the reason the villages prayed and bowed before Inari and Masao had been sent to the remote mountain village.

The villagers had missed one of the pack.

Their mistake. Their doom, really. They had been so sure, so confident they had gotten all the wicked okami.

But no, their over-confident boasting and offers to Inari turned into prayers and pleas rather quickly once the spring thaw set in and trade opened back up.

Anyone walking the pass had become a target.

For the okami the humans had missed also happened to be the strongest male of the pack. Physically powerful. Angry. Strong spiritual powers. And the the young kit wasn’t just some kind of ordinary okami either.

No, the ignorant humans ambushed and killed a pack of okuri-okami. A foolish, arrogant action lead by the head villager’s son. A weak and fool hearty decision because they had turned on the very thing that had kept them prosperous for so long. The okuri—protectors of the good and hunters of those with an evil of heart who traveled through the mountains. Generations from the destroyed pack had watched over the village, keeping the humans safe from bandits and other men who would do evil.

But what happened to the pack’s loyalty when the food got scarce?

Slaughter. Gleeful, short-sighted slaughter.

“And arrogant,” Masao muttered. To place themselves above the yōkai who protected them.

“Abe-sama?” village head said quietly, and yes when Masao checked, still in seiza. “Have we displeased you?”

More than you could know. Masao refused to turn around. Not even the enticing smells of niku tofu or hiyayakko would persuade his thinking. The kit deserved to parse out vengeance he brought down upon the village.

Except kit has taken the killings too far.

“Abe-sama,” the village head said again. “We have prepared this feast for you to give our thanks.”

“I need no thanks.”

Why hadn’t Inari sent one of the Mizunos? That little clan of kitsunes were far better at dealing with humans than Masao, especially since they chose to live among the ridiculous humans. Hadn’t their oldest son taken a human lover recently?

Masao sighed. His ears swiveled back and forth as he listened to the murmur of concern running through the crowd. Inari should abandon this village if they were going to speak with such hush-toned of disrespect. A low growl vibrated his chest. Masao flicked out his tails. All nine of them trembling with anger.

A hush spread out among the temple room.

“Abe-sama—Kitsune—Messenger of the gods. Our savior.” The village head’s voice sounded lower than before. Masao flicked his ear back, and he turned his head briefly to catch a glimpse of the human bowing over, hands out in front of him. “Please save my people from this yōkai who hunts us.”

“No.”

A gasp went through the humans. The village head hushed them, his piercing tone almost a wail.

“But I will save him from you.”

Masao weaved through the villagers, out of the temple. A stunned silence followed him. None of the villagers tried to stop him. No one reached for him and begged for his help. He never once looked down. Masao didn’t even want to remember their faces let alone see what they felt now.

Never had he been so angry. It had been decades since he cared enough to hold this kind of fury within himself. But the absolute lack of remorse, the almost pure giddiness, the villagers had about their slaughter resonated Masao’s very bones.

The blood spilled in the den would stain the mountains for centuries to come. What kind of bad spirits

The young okami would end up being hunted if he was not stopped, and Masao found he cared about whether the wounded yōkai survived. It had been so long since he cared for anything. Why did it matter? What was this need to find the young kit and save him?

Trekking up the mountain pass took up hours, leaving Masao to wonder why he was so obsessed with what had taken place in the village. It also gave him time to wonder why he was sent instead of one of the Mizunos. Why had Inari agreed the villager’s request to begin with? The humans had obviously crossed a line and did not need saving. But then again, Inari’s tasks were never so straightforward. Masao had to be missing something important.

When the smell of old blood hit Masao’s nose he wrinkled it, sneezing at the fowl odor. The bodies might have been taken and desiccated by the village, but the blood would remember. Pain lived between the rocks now.

So much so Masao knew the young okami must’ve taken refuge away from the den.

Masao lifted his head and breathed in. Underneath the smells of trees, dirt mixed with dried blood, and wind, another weaker scent floated in the air.

Okami.

The young kit might have been driven out of his den, but that did not mean he abandoned his ancestral home. Masao debated on how he should sniff out and great the young kit. While he most certainly didn’t smell human, looking like one could provoke an attack Masao didn’t want. Then again, meeting the okami with his beast might cause other issues.

Wolves and foxes weren’t exactly friends at the best of times.

But his human appearance would leave him vulnerable if the kit somehow managed the upper hand in an attack.

Stripping it is.

A large bolder stood in the small clearing in front of the den. Seemed like a good as place as any. He tossed his kinchaku on top before kicking off his geta. The tabi went next. Masao unwrapped his obi and folded it neatly before placing it on the rock. Then he untied his koshi-himo and Masao’s yukata fell open, exposing him to the cooling night air. Before long it would be too cold to stay exposed to the elements. Masao pooled the sash on top of the obi before disrobing. A nip in the mountain wind caused a shiver to run through Masao. He quickly folded his yukata and placed it with with the rest of his belongings. After one quick deep breath in Masao stripped off his nagajuban.

“Cold!”

Almost too cold for someone as old as him.

Masao threw the nagajuban in the direction of the boulder, not caring if it made it. He was too focused on becoming his beast.

Fur rippled across Masao’s arms as his claws and fangs punched through his fingertips and gums. Masao fell forward, catching himself on his paws. A shudder wracked his boys as bones reformed themselves into a fox shape. This part never got easier, especially with age. Joints and tendons protested the change in form.

But now Masao wasn’t cold. Sounds and scents were louder, more pronounced in his beast as well. His kitsune nearly bounced in anticipation for being let out after so long. Masao shook out his legs and tails, swung his muzzle back and forth a few times to get teh crick out of his neck, then decided a good stretch was in order.

Those muscles feel new. They weren’t. Masao just hadn’t used them in… a long time. When was the last time he let his beast take over?

Masao raised his muzzle and breathed.

The okami’s scent came from higher up the the rocks. A little north and east of Masao’s current position.

Masao backed up then ran forward a few steps. He leaped onto a small ledge close to the mouth of the den. Lots of smells were on the spot, from many different okami. They’d probably taken turns watching for enemies and signs of trouble. It gave a decent view of the village.

Then why hadn’t the pack known the humans were coming?

Not far from the small ledge was another one, then one after that. Masao jumped from one outcropping to the next, following them up the mountain. By the time he reached the top he’d seen the path from multiple angles, a stream, the village from a few different vantage points, and several smaller dens.

What am I going to find at the top?

Agitation swarmed Masao like a bunch angry hornets. His tails flicked to and fro, waving about wildly.

Each leap brought a stronger scent of okami. It rattled Masao’s beast, they were the smaller, weaker predator compared to the wolves. But Masao was older, bigger, stronger than most kitsune. Maybe that was why Inari sent him and not one of the Mizunos?

At the end of the ledges, another rock den was hidden away in the mountainside. It overlooked the mountain pass and the village, everything really. It was also close to the roughest terrain of the pass.

No wonder he’s been so successful in hunting down the villagers.

Beside the acrid scent of pain, there were smells of death and decay. Masao nearly tripped over his paws thinking he’d gotten to the young kit too late when a loud growl echoed out from the den.

Masao lifted his muzzle and breathed in. Live wolf. Now or never.

With a growl of his own, Masao entered the den. A howl, angry and furious, met with his intrusion. Thrown into the abnormal blackness, Masao pushed against it with his light using a twig he stepped on. He filled the cave with his light, bright and sharp like the sun.

One corner of the den remained in shadow.

The kit.

Masao pressed his light up against it, hammering at the darkness swallowing up the okami. The howl from the corner grew, loud, frightening, a clear warning to stay away. But Masao wouldn’t leave the kit here. The villager’s fear was already simmering into anger, and those kind of resentments meant they’d be willing to take risks soon.

Each step brought Masao closer to the shadows, and with each of those steps the pressure increased, pushing him away. While the force was powered by the okami’s anger, it would only last so long against Masao’s light. He was older, stronger, and just as determined as the young kit, though only Inari seemed to be in on that secret.

The shadows splintered, reveling a bone-thin wolf in its place. Where once full, thick, glossy black fur should have been, dull patches covered the young male. Each of his breaths came out in a rasp, his chest rising and lowering with effort. He could barely hold up his head, and he had curled his body around something.

Masao breathed in. That something smelled like death. He pushed forward. The okami stood up, wobbling as he did, and revealed the bodies of two small kits. Neither of the wolves could’ve been more than a couple years old.

Gods.

“What have you done?” Masao growled out.

The okami howled in response, firmly planting his paws on either side of the kits. The stance was rigid and—protective? Yes, yes he was. The young okami was protecting the long dead kits.

Masao breathed in again. “Were they yours?”

The response to his question resulted in the most haunting howl Masao had heard in decades.

He’s protecting his dead children.

Another more heartbreaking howl pierced the air.

And he’s waiting for death.

“I am no nekomata, okami. Death is not coming for you.” Though he almost wished he was. Masao understood the pained cries from the okami. Over the decades and centuries Masao’s family had dwindled to only him. Lovers, parents, brothers, sisters, his children—all of them gone. Death, fading away, illness, all of them gone—leaving Masao alone in a world he no longer understood.

Oh.

Masao crept closer to the okami.

That’s why you sent me. Isn’t it, Inari? Though his god’s sense of humor certainly left something to be desired. The villagers had demanded retribution. The god gave Masao and the okami a new family.

Because I understand. I know what it’s like to be the only one left. He’d never seen a fox and a wolf make a family before, but the world was a strange place.

The kit lunged toward him, his jaws snapping. His teeth sunk into Masao’s foreleg. Not far, and there was a real lack of power behind it. Poor kit had almost starved himself to death over the winter.

Masao shook off his foundling and leaned down. The poor okami had no strength to fight him. He licked the kit’s muzzle, earning him a growl. It lacked conviction. He continued to groom the kit until the young male stopped wriggling.

“I can’t give you death, okami, but I can give you new light,” Masao growled out. He curled his larger body around the kit. They’d deal with everything in the morning. One step at a time. But for right now, they both needed some sleep. “Lay your head down. No one will come for you with me here. I am your pack now.”

*****

Freddy grew up in the Midwest, playing sports and running around outside. And honestly, that much has not changed since Freddy was small and throwing worms at other kids, expect worm throwing has been replaced with a healthy geocaching addiction. Freddy enjoys traveling and holds the view a person should continually to learn about new things and people whenever possible.

Freddy’s contemporary LGBTQ book, Incubation: Finding Peace 2, won 3rd Place – Best Gay Erotic Fiction in the 2012 Rainbow Awards. In 2013, Freddy’s story, Internment, tied for 3rd Place – Best Gay Fantasy in the Rainbow Awards. Freddy’s steampunk/SF story, Feel Me, was a finalist and honorable mention in the 2014 Rainbow Awards for SF. In addition, Freddy’s urban fantasy, Snow on Spirit Bridge, was also a honorable mention and finalist for the 2015 Rainbow Awards as well.

Freddy’s Books

Foxtober Guest S.R. Jones

Our annual fox celebration continues with a beautiful poem and graphic from author S.R. Jones.

urban fox

S.R. Jones is a sci-fi and horror author, launching their first book via Kickstarter in February 2018. You can connect with S.R. through their blog or Twitter.

Don’t forget the Foxtober prize–a cache of various foxy treasures collected throughout the year, including two plush blankets, art items, and knickknacks. Some of our guests might have gifts to offer as well. On November first, one person who is signed up to follow the blog (receive email notices) will be selected at random. That’s it! Make sure to sign up for a chance to win and so you don’t miss any of the cool Foxtober content.

Learn more here.

Foxtober!

Foxtober graphic textIt’s our favorite time of year here at Fox-Hat and Friends: pumpkin spice, colorful autumn leaves, Halloween around the corner, and foxes everywhere. To celebrate, we’ve enlisted some friends to contribute their creativity throughout the month. On the fifteenth, we’ll feature a list of fox-themed books and books with foxes as characters. Then on Halloween, a group of talented creators will share their take on the Foxtober image above. Expect some weird and wonderful things from that!

There’s also a prize–a cache of various foxy treasures collected throughout the year, including two plush blankets, art items, and knickknacks. Some of our guests might have gifts to offer as well. On November first, one person who is signed up to follow the blog (receive email notices) will be selected at random. That’s it! Make sure to sign up for a chance to win and so you don’t miss any of the cool Foxtober content.

Cruelty-free Product Review–Henna Color Labs

 

henna.jpgI’ve committed myself to living 100 percent cruelty-free, and so I’m investigating products that don’t test on animals and are preferably vegan. The Leaping Bunny Program has been very helpful, and that’s where I discovered this Henna Color Labs dye. Since the price is reasonable, I decided to give it a try. I went with the dark brown, which is closest to my natural hair color.

I have some gray hair, and my main goal was to cover it up.IMG_1299 The Henna Color Labs kit very helpfully comes with gloves and a cap. You’ll need something to mix up the dye, such as a small bowl. The dye itself comes in powder form and is designed to be mixed with water until a paste forms. Easy enough, though I imagine having a professional-quality applicator brush is helpful.

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You will want a paste thick enough not to drip. There’s really no need to measure; just gradually add water until you have the consistency you want. This stuff has a vegetal smell, kind of like alfalfa or the grass clippings you empty out of the lawnmower bag. It’s a bit strong but not unpleasant. It’s quite different to the strong chemical odor of many dyes, and it also doesn’t burn or sting skin.

It goes on pretty smoothly, and for my hair length, half a packet was enough to get the job done. You’ll notice it’s still green on my hair, but brownish where it got on the mirror.

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I put it under the cap to process. The instructions say it can be left on up to two hours, and because of those grays, I left it on for the maximum time and opened up the laptop to get some work done. Because it doesn’t contain the harsh chemicals, it’s easy to forget it’s there. There’s no skin irritation or eye-stinging smell.

After the two hours, I rinsed and conditioned without shampooing, per the instructions. My hair felt soft and smooth, but the grassy smell hung around. Did it do as I hoped and cover the gray? Well, mostly. Some of those stubborn bastards resisted it. The overall effect was much improved; at first glance, the gray was not noticeable. However… maybe because I spend a lot of time in the sun and saltwater, the grays began to reemerge pretty quickly–after about a week or so.

Pros:

Natural and cruelty-free; gentle; application is easy; economical. It really is a quality product at an affordable price.

Cons:

Didn’t quite cover all the gray; seemed to fade rather quickly. They offer only a limited range of natural colors (no pink or green, for example.) You can’t drastically change your hair color with these products.

Conclusion:

This product will be just the thing for someone who wants to give their hair a tint or color boost without the use of harsh chemicals, and I have the utmost respect for Henna Color Lab’s commitment to producing cruelty-free products. For me, the gray coverage was not quite what I wanted, but I would be curious to see if others’ experiences have been different. If you’re curious, try the product. The price is not prohibitive to experimentation, and the absolute worst result is a little less dramatic color than expected. Add the cinnamon exfoliating soap to your order–smells amazing!