Once upon a time, there was a tiny brown fox in a great big forest.
The little fox opened its eyes for the first time, and saw that the world was filled with colors. Golden rays of sunlight streamed down through the gentle green leaves in the treetops. A clear, sparkling river rushed between its dark, brown banks. Rows of great rocks lazed around upon the forest floor, proud and tall, sunbathing in the early afternoon air. Their skins were covered in marvelous swirls of gray and white.
The young fox then noticed its mother, an enormous silver-furred beast who curled around her new son, caressing the matted tufts of his fur with her gentle tongue. He looked up and saw her loving eyes and her proud smile, and emitted a croon, as though to call out to her. Humming a soothing melody, she held the youngling closer to her chest, letting it nestle in the darkness and safety of her fur, where it could hide from all the loud, overwhelming colors of the world. Having made its first discovery, the discovery that the world existed, the little one fell into a deep sleep, not to awaken until it would later discover the existence of hunger.
I was there as well, my heart filling with joy as I witnessed my son's first moments of awareness. I shared a knowing smile with my mate. Because, you see, there was something we knew that the little one did not. Though I suppose that is to be expected, seeing that a baby is not born with any more knowledge besides its basic instincts… but still, I smiled. Because I knew that the little one had taken its first step, however small and insignificant it seemed, on a journey that would lead to so many more discoveries…
…And one day, the little one would discover his own special power. His gift. The blessing that was his birthright.
He would discover that the whole wide world, the world beyond the forest, above the clouds, underneath the earth, under the ocean, and as far and wide as it stretched... it was all open to him.
He would learn that he was different from other creatures. He would realize that his friends, enemies, and acquaintances did not share his power. They were not free. They did not have this blessing, this gift, that life had endowed him with. Indeed, they would all have their own powers, but they were enslaved to them, ushered through life on a fixed road which rarely branched. Some would look upon the ocean tides and know they would never have the chance to witness the spacious beauties which might lie beneath. Others would gaze wistfully at the sky, wishing to join the birds in soaring from the treetops to the mountaintops to the desolate islands… but knowing that it was not their fate to do so, because they were who they were, and could be nothing more.
But my son… he could be anything.
If he desired to soar the skies with the birds, he could.
If he desired to slice through the ocean's currents on the wicked fins of a fish, he could.
If he desired to tunnel underground and dwell in the deep, murky hallows of the earth, to walk amidst the raging flames unharmed, or to snuggle beneath the taiga's snow like a warm comforter as the bitter and cruel winds of the north sang him a calming lullaby, he could.
It would be his choice. When the time would come, he would choose.
Such a beautiful choice, it would be.
He only needed to walk the earth and find that place which called to him, that place which he felt he truly belonged.
The little fox lived with us, learning the things that every little fox should learn: how to scamper about the forest, but not too far; how to spot berry-bushes and stay away from poison-ivy; how to run and hide from the vicious hounds or duck under the shade when the raptors would fly past.
The little fox was quick to make friends, learn about the world from the elders, and soon was spending most of his daylight hours away from the company of my mate and I. We did, of course, insist he find his way back to us before the stone's shadow would touch the riverbank each night. And like a good little boy, he did, and we kept him safe from the creatures of the night in our hidden little den beneath the stone.
One particular evening, an evening I will never forget, the little fox came back to us just as night was falling. As the warm and vivid colors of the sunset shined down into the entrance, the little one crawled in.
It was in that moment, I first realized, that our little one was no longer a little one.
The fox that returned to us that night was handsome and cunning, strong and swift. His voice was deep, his legs were long, his tail flowing and majestic. When I saw him, standing in the sun-drenched foyer to our den, I wondered if I had been hallucinating for twelve years; surely, he had always been small and adorable, with that tiny crooning voice which had called to his mother on the first day of his life? Surely, each step was as a rabbit's leap on his tiny little paws, not the sturdy stride of a grown hound? Surely… he was still small enough that my mate could hold him between her front legs and give him a full bath with just two strokes of her tongue?
I asked my mate if I had fallen asleep, and let pass the majority of my son's childhood life, never noticing the ways he changed. To me, he was always my little kit. I had lived my life as though he had been born yesterday, never noticing the inches he grew, the knowledge and wisdom he learned… Never noticing that I could now stare him straight in the eye, and see a knowing, intelligent gaze staring back into mine.
Our son had become a fully-grown vulpine. An adult.
And I realized…
He was ready to make the choice.
One day, when I had gotten my son's attention, I sat with him upon the rocks beside the riverbank, and I had asked him if he had given any thought to the choice he would need to make.
I meant, for the first time, to speak to my son as a friend and an equal rather than a parent, and show him that, like the wide world beyond the forest, my knowledge and wisdom was open to him if only he would ask for it. I meant for the discussion to be warm and lighthearted an exchange, a celebration of the possibilities set out before him. I meant not to pressure him, or to coerce him into any particular choice. I had no right to, after all, especially considering the choices that my mate and I had made. Merely, I desired to get to know my son a measure more than I had in all those years which had passed so quickly.
I looked at him, my precious son who had grown so fast and was still growing before my very eyes. When he turned to me, I wanted to see if I could spot that particular twinkle in his eye as he thought about soaring above the clouds, diving beneath the ocean's waves, or prowling down in the depths of the earth…
I wanted nothing more than for him to be happy. Surely, any mother or father could understand?
But my son turned his eyes away from mine. His gaze fell to the river, and all the joy and mirth in his face turned cold and heavy-hearted. He did not speak to me.
I tried to reassure him, to tell him that I loved him and that I did not mean to force him into any choice. I tried to tell him that his life was his own to live, his choices were his own to make, and that he would have my support regardless of what changes may happen. I was only his guide, after all; I had already found my place in the world. My place in the world, now, was to help him find his.
But my son would have none of it. His forlorn expression was soon replaced with a flimsy mask of good humor, and he simply told me he did not know, laughing away his hesitance as though I had only been joking with him the whole time. He then told me he had obligations with the townspeople that day, politely thanked me for the talk, and left me.
I watched him bounding down our beaten path until he had disappeared into the woods. But still I watched the place I had last seen him, and I remained there for many hours after he had gone, wondering. Just wondering about many, many things. Wondering if I had been a good father to him. Wondering, also, if I had made the correct choice so many years ago when I was in my son's position.
I remained there until my mate came looking for me, ready to retire to the den for the night. She asked me what was on my mind.
I told her the news. I told her that our son may have already made his decision. I told her my fear: that he might not have wanted to change at all. It seemed as though his mind was made up long before I confronted him; it seemed as though there was nowhere on earth which appealed to him. It seemed as though he wished to remain, forever, our little brown fox.
She leaped up onto the rock and placed her head upon my shoulder. I felt her touch, and it drained all of my worries away. Softly into my ear, she spoke words that I had already begun to feel in my heart:
"If that is what will make him happy, then that is his choice."
I knew it to be true. How could we judge our son's desire to remain the same? He knew he had the power to make any of the world's far reaches his home. But what of our forest, our den, our territory, and our humble village? Could this also be his home? Could it also be one of his options?
Of course it was. After all, it was the place I had fallen in love with, the little corner of the earth I had chosen to dwell within. What right did I have to deny my son the one place on Earth I had deemed perfect for myself?
Though he was somewhere far away, I found that I had come to terms with my son after all. Without difficulty or hesitance, I came to respect his decision. And when he returned home to the den that night, I did not speak of our conversation, I did not apologize, and I did not make further attempts to broach the topic. Instead, I told him again that I loved him. It was all I felt I needed to say.
From that day on, though, I noticed a change in my son's behavior. The flimsy mask of good humor he wore when talking to me that day never seemed to come off. Though he rarely spent his daytime hours around the den anymore, I took whatever opportunities I could to share his company, to laugh at his fortunes and commiserate with his mistakes, and to show him whatever remaining wisdoms he asked to be taught. But through it all, his heart was closed to me. His words were awkward and restrained. The genuine honesty in his voice, the last relic of his long-past childhood, had finally left him. Instead, he appeared to be humoring me, acting happy to see me whenever we would meet. I knew there were others in the world he was honest to now, others in the world I might someday get the chance to meet, but he was clearly finished being honest with his parents.
That, too, was his choice. A choice I knew I had to respect.
Then, one night, when the shadow of the largest rock touched the riverbank, my son did not return to the den.
Worry struck my heart like the venom of a viper, insidiously working through my bloodstream, making my legs tremble and my breath short. Never, not once in his life, had my son failed to return to the den before nightfall. Surely, a raptor had struck him from the side, or he had stepped in a ditch and broken his ankle!
But my mate's words, like the cleansing antidote, cut through my unease:
"He is gone. He has spoken to me; he has found a mate of his own, and they have moved to a new home."
At once, I trembled and let out a yowl like a youngling; a convulsion tore through my form, something like a joyous laugh and a cry of lament all at once. Though I missed him, and could not at the moment fathom why he had chosen not to tell me farewell, my heart overflowed with pride and I collapsed into the loving embrace of my beautiful mate. I hoped that the wisdom and skill I had imparted to him over the years would be sufficient, and if not, I hoped the temperament of the wild or the wisdom of the townsfolk could fill in whatever I had missed. For better or worse, we had raised him, and he was gone. Our task was complete. Our little fox had taken the next step on his grand journey to discovery.
For a time, my mate and I were lonely. Together, we traveled the countryside for a few months, exploring the wilderness and enjoying the hospitality of the neighboring villages. It was relaxing to once again see all the colors of the world and to meet the other kinds of creatures we had forgotten existed, but our hearts were not focused on our travels. Chief among our thoughts was the prospect of having another child.
On one paw, raising our son was the most wondrous experience of my life, teaching me more about life and about myself than I felt twelve of the elders could impart upon me in the same span of time. My heart fluttered wistfully at the idea of beginning again with a new little kit, or two, or three. Now that I had enough experience to know what I was doing, I felt that I could put into practice all the things I had learned, and perhaps become a better father to our new children than I had to our first.
But on the other paw, there were some realities that we could not deny. For instance, my beautiful mate, though still as gorgeous and keen as the day I had first met her, was losing the sheen in her silver fur, and several wrinkles had begun to form upon her muzzle. And I had issues of my own; my fur was beginning to shed, sometimes in clumps, and my step did not have the spring and vigor it once had in the days I could cross the full span of the woods and back in less than a day. We slept longer during the night, and our enthused sprint was all too often substituted with a complacent stride.
Truth be told, we wondered how much longer it would be until we would make our final discovery: that of the spirit world. And even if we would survive long enough to see off our new litter of children, did we have enough spark left within us to keep up with them, to walk with them to and from the village, and to collect them when they would run off and get lost?
These questions distracted us as we traveled. We climbed mountains, never noticing the majestic, billowing formations of the clouds in the sky. We crossed prairies, never stopping to appreciate the golden stalks of grass which surrounded us as they bent in rhythm to the winds. We followed the seaside for hours, never caring how the waves sparked, or how the sun turned red and purple as it sank deep down into the depths.
It was I who realized the answer. It happened one day as we were tracing the sandy beach of the sea; I looked across the water and saw the sparkling tides glinting in the red-and-purple sun. And I stopped her and stared into her eyes. I showed her the ocean, and I commented on how gorgeous it was. I told her that I almost didn't notice it, because her own beauty had distracted me, the way it did every day of my life.
Blushing, she giggled and reprimanded me for being so sappy, playfully slapping a pawful of sand into my face.
I laughed along with her.
And when I was done laughing, I opened my mouth to tell her.
But… the words would not rise from my throat.
My legs locked, my heart heaved…
I couldn't speak. I couldn't tell her that, no, we could not have another child. Not while the sun was setting on our own lives. Not while there was still so much of the world we needed to explore, so much we needed to learn, before we expired. It was absolutely the truth; it was the answer stamped undeniably onto my heart, the answer which would make both of us happier for the remainder of our lives.
But… my throat seemed to close, my tongue grew limp. Though I stared into her eyes, the eyes of my perfect, silvery-furred one… the truth locked itself in my chest, refusing to leave.
So, instead, I told her something else. I wore the mask I had learned from my son, the flimsy mask of good humor, and I told my dear mate that we would decide when we returned back to our home. I told her that we needed to enjoy this journey, to appreciate the sights, without letting the question bother us. I convinced her to put it out of our mind until we were once more dwelling in the homely comfort of our own den, where we could ease our minds and make the final decision.
Even though, in my heart, the decision was already made. I just needed so much more time to accept it.
With the time I had purchased through my weakness, I enjoyed our journey, though perhaps not as much as I should have; each time she looked at me, I wore that mask, hiding my weakness. Hiding my shame. And I trembled at the thought of making the decision for the final time.
Well, after three wonderful months of visiting the world and letting its colors stir our hearts, we set our course back to the forest with the den beneath the big stone. The place I had picked as the most perfect place in the world to live with the most perfect mate in the world. The place which would always be home.
And I wondered, as we walked back, if I was ready to remove the mask and tell her how I felt. As the day drew nearer, I struggled with myself, gaining acceptance over the throes of regret I felt deep inside.
We found the den just as we had left it, all of our belongings having only accumulated a thin layer of dust in our absence. As the night fell, we entered into the deepest chamber and settled down together. I turned to my mate and I told her again that I loved her. It was all I felt I needed to say.
But then, even before the morning sun was able to rise, everything changed.
There was a disturbance outside of our den that morning. I dashed out of my room to confront the visitor, and found that a large brown raptor had come calling upon my residence.
The bird was civilized; it spoke to me, explaining to me that it was a messenger, sent by an unnamed client to give me an urgent notice. Apparently, there was a dire problem somewhere, and the client had specifically requested my presence as soon as I could come.
Immediately, my heart jumped into my throat; there was only one other creature in the whole wide world who knew the directions to this den. I knew who had sent the message.
The bird gave me directions to the destination: a hidden den, very similar to mine, on the other side of the forest. Once I had confirmed the information, it flew away.
Casting an uneasy glance back down into the darkness where I had come from, the darkness where my mate still rested, I bared my teeth against the decision and chose to see if I could still dash the full length of the forest and back in less than a day.
And I ran after my son.
I thought I had aged. I thought the weariness would pounce from the shadows and trip me up before even noon would pass. But that day, as I sprinted so feverously to the aid of my son, lightning filled my legs and lent its unending power to me. Perhaps it was pure adrenaline, or perhaps I was not as old as I had imagined, but the distance was simply no match for the yearning I had to see my son again, to see if he was happy, and to help him though whatever problem he had.
Midway through the day, I felt the beginnings of the dreadful cramps, but I breathed deeply and ignored them, pushing my weariness out of my mind. The forest continued to blur past me as a leaped over its trenches, rivers, and fallen logs, just as I had done in my childhood predatory days when chasing after the stray squirrel or rabbit.
As the sun began its descent across the western half of the sky, my chest was burning and my gasps for air had become grunts of pain. My legs were slowing and becoming clumsy, but I never stopped; the bird had said I was needed as soon as I could come, and so that's when I would be there.
After eleven hours of sprinting like a cheetah through the forest I called home, I arrived to the destination. It was a homely little den, opening between the gnarled roots of an old tree. At first glance, I was deeply impressed; it held some suspicious similarities to my own, such as the nearby river, the fish-catching net, the grinding stones… surely my son had taken some of my wisdom with him. I tried to give a chuckle of pride to no one in particular, but only a wheezing gasp left my throat.
I positioned myself at the entrance and called in, announcing my arrival.
A raspy female's voice replied, asking me to enter.
Without hesitating, I imposed myself upon my son's hospitality, crawling into his new home to admire his handiwork. I wondered how many rooms it would have, how many furnishings, and especially how many children he had taken upon himself to raise. But I saw none of these things, for there was not enough light; only a single glow-stone sat in the center of the room, casting dull shades of turquoise upon the walls.
Sitting beside the glowstone was a remarkable young lady; a night-fox, the kind with fur dark as ink and lustrous yellow rings upon her form to capture and emit moonlight. Her red eyes glowed with fiery strength and boldness. Truly, I imagined, a respectable mate for my son. I bowed to her, circling around the glow-stone to approach her.
As I did so, I noticed that the elegant form of the night-fox was marred; her two left limbs were missing.
In place of her limbs, there was only a pink, scratchy mess of scabs and gore. And though she did not bleed, I could tell the wounds were fresh. The stench of bloodstain was strong upon this crippled, unfortunate one.
Forgetting any pretense of formality, I demanded to know what had happened to her.
She lifted her head to me, a shadowy glaze upon her eyes. She told me, frankly, that she had been injured trying to save my son.
Dread came upon me, the darkness of the den filling my soul. I asked, in a solemn, steady voice, what had happened to my son.
She explained that my son had been killed.
She explained how, two days ago, they were exploring the prairie. She explained how they figured it was a place safe for hunting and playing. She explained how the pack of dark hounds had risen from an unseen cave, ambushing them. How he lacked the strength to defend himself, because he had never made the choice. He had never evolved.
She explained that she was able to kill three of the hounds and chase the rest away, losing one leg and fracturing the other in the process. How she used the last of her strength to carry him back to the den and spend her final moments with him, and how he bled to death the next day. How she respectfully buried him behind the tree before removing the rest of her twisted, infected limb by her own means.
She spoke with a steely soul to her voice, as though she was merely stating the truth and nothing more. She spoke as though she had long since run dry of tears to shed.
I staggered, the weariness of the day's run catching up to me at last. I collapsed onto the ground beside the glow-stone, ramming my head into the hardened clay floor. I did not feel the ensuing headache. The only ache I felt came from my chest.
My tears soon formed a pool upon the floor.
I asked her why she sent a messenger for me. I asked if it was only to tell me news of his passing.
She replied, "He wanted me to tell you something. He said there was something he never got to tell you, and he wanted you to know."
"He said you had him wrong… you thought that he never wanted to change. But that was never true. He wanted more than anything to find a place in the world, and to evolve…"
"But the choice was destroying him. He said he was overwhelmed by the choices, and he could never decide which choice was right for him. He said that he couldn't bear the thought of evolving and having all of the other possibilities taken away from him. He said it hurt every time he thought about it. And he said, that's why he didn't answer you when you asked. Because he already realized he would never be happy. No matter how he would evolve, he would never be happy."
I dug my fangs into the floor, lamenting my failure as a father. It was finally now, now that I had lost him, that I finally understood him.
At last, although he was truly gone, and the spirit world had claimed him… I understood why he had worn that mask to me, why he would hesitate to discuss his life's greatest decision.
In the end, he had made a choice; it was a choice born of shame, of confusion and uncertainty. It was the choice of indecision, the only choice which was truly bad. It was a choice which, truly, had destroyed him.
It was a choice I could have prevented! I could have helped! If only I had known…
"There was another reason he wanted me to call you," the broken one told me, her somber voice still betraying no great emotion.
I raised my head from the floor, trying to steel myself against reality, just as the broken one had done. I stared into her bright, crimson eyes, trying to muster the strength and resolution necessary to listen to her.
She nodded her head. After a few moments had passed, I realized she had been motioning towards something, something in the shadowy corner of the den. I gazed into those shadows, squinting to make out the shapes which sat just beyond the reach of the dull phosphorescent light.
They were eggs.
"He said you would know what to do with them," she spoke plainly. "He said to call you."
Holding my breath, I clambered to my feet and dashed to the far wall of the den, where several eggs – no, more than a dozen – were lined neatly across a crook in the floor.
Awe filled my heart, and a gasp escaped my lungs. I knew these were her eggs. His eggs. My…
I understood what the broken one meant. She and my son had quite ambitious plans to raise a large family. But now that her legs had been taken, she could not hope to raise even one of them on her own.
My voice wobbled and broke, becoming a pathetic squeal as I attempted to count the eggs. It took many tries, as there were so many eggs, and I couldn't quite think straight… finally, I decided that I had found the correct number. Eighteen.
Eighteen eggs. Eighteen little brown foxes who would soon emerge into the world for the first time.
I felt terrified. And honored. And outraged. And proud. I felt every emotion of the rainbow as I gazed upon those eggs, wondering just what would become of them. Wondering… just what I would do. My son, in his final moments, had trusted me with these eggs. Of course, given the circumstances, he didn't have so many options if he cared about the lives of his children… but still, I knew this was my son's final request of me. This was the last time he would ever ask for my wisdom and expertise to complement his own. I had dashed across the forest to help my son through a problem, and still now, I intended to do just that. I didn't know if I could raise them, but by the gods, I was going to grant my son's wish. I was going to do something.
I tried to converse with the broken one, to get to know her and to ask her if she had any plans. But she would have none of it. She insisted in the same stoic manner that I take the eggs, leave her alone, and forget that she existed. I offered her food, shelter, or anything I had in my power to give to her, but she lashed back at every offer, claiming that her sisters would soon arrive to aid her, and that she wanted to forget about my son as fast as she could.
I was in no position to do anything more than to honor her request. I found a large sack, gently bundled up the eggs into its girth, and like a beast of burden I secured them to my back. I rested for the night in silence, and in the early morning, I departed.
When I arrived back to my den the following evening, I collapsed upon our foyer from the weight, and I proceeded to tell my silver one the story of what had happened. I mourned with her for many days and many nights, wallowing in the tragedy of our loss until we, too, ran dry of our tears. After those days had passed and our inner strength had begun to return, our attention fell upon the dozen-and-a-half little eggs, all spotted in various shades of brown, which lined the wall of our innermost den.
In that moment, I knew I would keep them. I would hatch them and raise them all.
And I would do so with an idea in mind. It was an idea that had taken hold of me while I had remembered my son and the troubles he suffered. I reflected upon his mental struggle with evolving, the pain he must have felt whenever he considered taking one path and foregoing all the others, unable to reverse his decision. I iterated through his life, wondering how his feelings had affected the decisions he made.
In doing so, I had come to a decision of my own. I wanted to raise these children and show them the answer to the question, an answer I could have given my son so freely if ever he would have asked. An answer he must have realized too late, if it had ever crossed his mind during his final moments before his discovery of the spirit world.
I realized that my son would have wanted it this way. He would have wanted me to teach the children what he could not. His final words, after all, were that I would know what to do with the eggs. That's what he meant.
And so, though my mate and I were gaining more wrinkles and losing more fur as each year passed, we hatched those eggs, all eighteen of them. And soon, where there once was just a little fox waking up in a forest, there were many.
All those little foxes lived under our care, learning the things that every little fox should learn: how to scamper about the forest, but not too far; how to spot berry-bushes and stay away from poison-ivy; how to run and hide from the vicious hounds or duck under the shade when the raptors would fly past. But this time, I made certain something was different. This time, I watched them closely and carefully for those tiny tell-tale changes that I had somehow missed in my son. When their rabbit-hops became hound-strides, I took notice. When their voices grew deep and mature, taking on unique personalities, I took notice. When their legs grew long enough to leap across the rivers, their muscles and claws strong enough to climb trees, and their teeth sharp enough to carve wood, I took notice. Through each and every moment of my grandchildren's early lives, I watched them grow.
And when they were in my mate's care, I became a rock-collector in my spare time. I took it upon myself to fill the sack, the same sack that had come from my son's den, with exotic, colorful varieties of gemstones. I stole, I bartered, I purchased; I did whatever I could to fill that sack, so I would be ready when the proper time came.
It came so soon, even sooner, it seemed, than it had with my son. Though I had made sure to pay close attention to the passage of time, I will swear to the heavens that only a week passed before I realized I was no longer drowning in a swarm of kits, but an upright pack of bright young canines, all of them intelligent, well-developed, and just beginning to itch for a taste of the world which existed beyond the forest.
One night, my mate and I lit a campfire, and we invited all of our grandchildren to attend. It was the first night they were allowed outside of the den after the shadow of the stone had touched the riverbank, and most of them were giddy and excited at the prospect of breaking the rules for the first time, even though it had been done with our permission.
We laughed, we howled, we feasted on fire-roasted fish and rabbit, and when the feast was finished, I stood in front of the fire and I gave my announcement to them.
"There's a reason I have gathered you here tonight," I explained in my warbling old voice. "You might be wondering why I let you stay above ground after the stone's shadow has touched the riverbank; it is because this night is unlike any other night. Tonight… is the night you all will take a step in your journeys of discovery. See, there's something I want you to do for me."
I looked at them all, all of the boys and girls, their ears turned attentively to the sound of my voice, their eyes fixated on my silhouette upon the firelight.
"You are here tonight because you are going to write a story," I told them.
One of them, one of my clever little girls, spoke up. "But grandpapa, we're just foxes!" she retorted. "We can't write anything… we can barely hold the quill and the charcoal in our mouths. We can't write a whole story…"
I grinned. "You're not going to be writing the story with quills or charcoal," I answered her. "You will write the story… with your own lives. And the story begins as each of you travels somewhere very far, far away."
My grandchildren gasped in bewilderment. They had never expected that I would kick them out of the den so soon. And that was good, because I needed them to remember how they felt on this very night. I needed them to remember their shock and surprise. It had to be impressed upon their hearts as the beginning of their stories.
Before another word was spoken, I gathered the sack of rocks, the one I had so dutifully filled, and dumped its contents on the forest floor. I savored the howls of my awestricken grandchildren as they gazed upon the treasures. The stones were each and every color from the whole wide world; they were every color of the rainbow, the sunset, the flowers in the meadow. The firelight glinted from their surface like the sparkle of the sunset upon the ocean; tiny little rainbows were refracted upon the rocks and trees surrounding us.
"There are eighteen of these stones," I told the children. "Each of you may choose one, and only one. It doesn't matter how you pick them. You could choose the one that is your favorite color, or the one which has the design or shape you like the most. You can trade them, fight over them, whatever you wish. But by the end of tonight, I want each of you to choose one stone, and that stone will become yours for the rest of your life."
"Each stone is also a ticket to a faraway place," I continued to explain. "Fifteen days from now, I will take you into town, where I have several friends waiting. Depending on which stone you chose, you will be taken to a different place."
"What do we do, once we arrive?" one of my little boys, the eldest one, asked me.
"You will live there," I told him. "Or… you will leave, and find a different place to live. It is your decision for you to make when you arrive. But whatever the case, your home will no longer be here. You will need to find your new home for yourself. That… is where your story begins. So… use these final fifteen days to say your goodbyes, collect your belongings, and prepare for your journey of discovery."
"But why, grandpapa?" one of the children asked, the faces on the other children begging the same question. "Why are you making us leave? Why can't we stay? We like it here…"
I sighed heavily before answering, my old and grumbling voice growing tired from speaking for too long. "Because, little one, I honestly and truly believe, with all of my heart and with every fiber of my being… that… your father would have wanted this for you."
Already, the children were eyeing the pile of precious stones, wondering which one they would snatch up. Wondering what secrets each stone held. Wondering where they would be taken.
"There is one last thing, my young ones, that I want you to remember," I told to them. "Somewhere, up in the starry sky beyond the treetops, there is an object drifting in space named Amadeus's Comet. It passes by the earth only once per century, and when it passes, it is a beautiful sight to behold. It shines yellow, like the sun, and is nearly as bright. It will light up the sky for eight nights, after which it will disappear from sight for the next generation to behold. Truly, I have looked forward to witnessing this comet for all of my life. I would like it if you were to witness it with me."
"Let this mark the ending of your story, my children… when Amadeus's Comet lights up the sky, I would like all of you come back from wherever you have traveled, no matter how far, and find a way against all odds return here… to the place where this very campfire burned tonight. In fact, I would like to meet all of you together, so before you return, wait in the village for all of your brothers and sisters to arrive. When all of you have arrived, or when the final night of the comet is coming to pass, whichever is sooner, then come and meet me here. And I will share your stories with you and tell you the meaning of what you have accomplished."
"Wait, when is this comet coming?" One little girl asked me. "We can't just drop everything on a moment's notice and come back home, Grandpapa. How will we know when it's coming?"
"You won't!" I told her wryly. "I'm not telling you when it's coming. I can only promise that you will get to see it in your lifetime, if your life does not come to a premature end, of course. You will just have to drop everything at a moment's notice and return once it appears. Keep an eye to the night sky; you will not mistake it for anything. It will be brighter than the full moon; it will glow through even the darkest storm clouds."
At that, I let the children scramble to select their stones, each choosing just one colored gem to have and hold as their own. As they bickered and bartered, I, an elderly old fox, leaned against my elderly mate, and dreamed of the eighteen tales my grandchildren would soon create, tales which would combine to form the grand story which my son had inspired.
It would not be a story for me. It wouldn't be for the children. It would not even be for all the little brown foxes of the world, stricken with a decision that was difficult to make.
It would be a story about change, and it would be dedicated to everyone, everywhere, who faced it, fighting against or succumbing to its rash and sudden winds. For when it comes, to what should you cling? Of what should you let go? And in the end, just how do you tell if you've made the right choices?
I do not know. Perhaps there exists no answer which holds true for everyone. But for now, heed the stories of my grandchildren and the conclusions they found. Dear listener, whomever you are, this story is dedicated to you.