Episode 7
By Bernard Doove © 2008

Jazmyn painting

Jazmyn stepped back from the easel, nodding in satisfaction. This was her fifth attempt to paint the view from the lookout, but only the first that was really starting to work. The other four had been learning exercises in what not to do, and practising techniques. She looked out again into the valley, glorious in its autumn colours. A cool breeze blew up from below, but Jazmyn was perfectly comfortable in her T-shirt and shorts. She much preferred this weather over the discomfort of summer heat. She took a drink from her water bottle and then resumed her work.

Several minutes later, she was totally absorbed in her efforts once more, and oblivious to everything else. Thus it came as a shock to her when a young voice said, "Whatcha doiní?"

Jazmyn was so startled that she smeared paint over several centimetres of her canvas. Turning towards the voice, she saw a young girl of maybe five years of age, give or take. She was looking intently curious. For a moment Jazmyn panicked. What was this child doing here? She gaped at the girl, lost for words.

Just then it got worse. From around a bend in the path, she heard a voice. "Tina! Where are ya, brat? If you get lost, momíll killÖ meÖ." The young boy jolted to a halt, staring at the vixen.

"Uh-oh!" was all that Jazmyn could say.

Yesterday, as Jazmyn tended to her garden, she heard the sound of an unfamiliar vehicle coming up the track. She retreated as usual into the cabin, peering through the blinds to see what was coming. A U-Haul truck laboured its way along the rough road, bypassing the turn-off to the cabin, and then disappearing behind the trees once more. When the sound of its engine had faded into the distance, Jazmyn emerged from the cabin, her curiosity aroused. During the summer, there had been the occasional car coming up to look at the old saw mill, or start a hike on one of the nearby trails, but none had come up in a truck, nor come at all recently since the cool weather had set in. She would have to ask Ken to check it out when he got home.

A few hours later, the truck made its return journey. It seemed to Jazmyn that it was lighter on its suspension, indicating that it had unloaded something somewhere. Ken was already curious about it though when he got home as he had passed it on the way home, so when Jazmyn asked him to check it out, he left immediately. Jazmyn accompanied him, but was ready to duck out of sight if necessary. They drove all the way up to the saw mill where they spotted fresh tyre tracks leading up to the old residence there. Jazmyn hunkered down while Ken went up to the door and knocked, then called out when he got no response. Finally he told Jazmyn that it was safe to come out.

They prowled around the house, peering into dirty windows where they could. They spotted piles of boxes and furniture haphazardly placed in the rooms.

"It looks like somebody is moving into this place," Jazmyn said.

"Yeah," agreed Ken, "but who would want a ramshackle old dump like this? It badly needs repairs, has no electricity, and maybe even no water."

"Maybe somebody wants a holiday house?" Jazmyn speculated. "Perhaps theyíre doing it up just enough to be liveable while they go hiking?"

"Or hunting," Ken added. "Itís possible, but thatís an awful lot of furniture for a temporary residence."

"I suppose it wonít be long before we know the real answer. Iím guessing that the only reason the people arenít here right now is that itís too late to do much without power for lighting."

"Which means that itís quite likely that theyíll be here early tomorrow. That means that you will have to watch out a bit more from now on," Ken advised.

It was a pity that she had not taken Kenís advice more to heart. She had heard a car make its way past as she did her chores in the morning, but the old logging mill was far enough away for her not to be concerned. She reckoned that theyíd be far too busy unpacking for days. She had never even thought about the possibility of children.

There was a tug on her shorts, and Jazmyn looked down at the little girl who must be Tina.

"Whatcha doiní?" Tina repeated.

For lack of a better course of action, Jazmyn replied, "Iím painting a picture of the valley."

"Youíre good!" Tina pronounced.

Jazmyn smiled. "Thank you, Tina."

Apparently Jazmynís rather toothy smile had shaken the boy, and he unfroze and said urgently, "Tina! Come here to me! Get away from that thing!"

Tina ignored her brother and patted Jazmynís tail. "Your fur is soft," she said.

"I wash and brush it a lot, just like your hair," Jazmyn said, starting to like the innocent child.

"Tina! Come on! You donít know what that creature will do," the boy urged again.

Jazmyn asked the girl, "Whatís your brotherís name, Tina?"

"Maffyoo," she replied.

"Maffyoo? Oh, you mean Matthew."

Tina nodded.

Jazmyn turned to Matthew and said, "First, Iím not a creature; Iím a person. Second, Iím not going to hurt either your sister or you, so please donít be afraid, Matthew."

"Yeah?" Matthew said suspiciously. "Why should I trust you?"

"Why shouldnít you? You found me painting, not hunting for prey. Does that sound dangerous to you?"

Matthew looked uncertain. "I dunno. Why does a werewolf paint anyway?"

"Werewolf? Do I look like a wolf? Iím a vulpeen, a fox-woman if you like, and thereís nothing fantastic about me. Where Iím from, Iím quite normal, and we paint if we want to, just like humans do."

"Whereíre you from?" asked Matthew, intrigued despite his fears.

"Another world, actually," Jazmyn replied.

"Youíre an alien?" Matthew asked sceptically.

"Not that kind. A parallel world Ė another universe, I mean."

"Oh! Like Star Trek?"

Fortunately Ken had exposed Jazmyn to the series. "Yes, like out of one of those episodes."

Suddenly Matthewís demeanour changed completely. "Wow! Thatís so cool! Howíd you get here?" he asked excitedly.

Jazmyn was quite happy to give him that answer and many more, as long as it allayed his fears and made the children her friends, and not her Ďpreyí. Jazmyn sat on a fallen tree trunk while she talked, and Tina kept petting her fur, apparently fascinated with the vixenís pelt.

Eventually Jazmyn got a chance to enquire about the children. "So, what are you two doing here by yourselves? And why was your sister alone on this dangerous cliff-side track?"

Matthew looked shamefaced. "I was supposed to be watching Tina, but I saw a squirrel. I thought that she was looking at it too, but when I turned around, she was gone. Momíll have a fit if she finds out. You wonít tell her, will you?" he asked earnestly.

"Tell you what Ė I wonít tell your mother about this if you promise not to tell anyone else about me. This will be our secret."

"Deal!" Matthew spat on his hand and held it out. Jazmyn caught on and did likewise, and they shook hands.

"Now fill me in on why youíre here," Jazmyn told Matthew.

"Mom moved us into the dump up the road. Sheís trying to clean it up, and she told us to get out from under her feet and play outside. She told us to stay out of the saw mill, but she didnít say anything about the hiking trails."

"As you can see for yourself, some of these trails can be dangerous. You should take Tina home and play near the house. Maybe you can even help your mother by cleaning up the yard."

"Why should I? I didnít want to move here."

"So why did you move here?"

"We got chucked out of our old place. Mom says that this is all we can afford."

"Thatís awful," Jazmyn said sympathetically.

"Yeah, this place is gross! Thereíre spiders this big in my room," Matthew said, indicating the size with his hands.

"Hee! Iíve seen a few of those. I like spiders Ė they eat the bad bugs."

"Not in my room!" Matthew insisted.

"OK, not in your room," Jazmyn agreed.

"Besides, the lights donít work and the toilet is outside!"

"Sounds like youíre going to have to put in a lot of hard work to make it liveable. Anyway, I think youíd better go back now. Your mother could find out that youíre missing and start worrying about you."

Matthew looked alarmed when he realised how long he had been talking with the vixen. "Oh boy! Weíd better hurry. See you later, Jazmyn. Come on, Tina!" He took the girlís hand and dragged her reluctantly away. They quickly disappeared back up the trail.

Jazmyn watched them depart, then started packing up her art gear. Hastily she carried everything back to the cabin.

Ken looked up from the shelf unit that he was building. "I thought that you intended to spend all afternoon on your painting?"

"I did, but something came up." Jazmyn told him what had happened, and Ken was alarmed despite her reassurances.

"Maybe I should go meet this lady and make her feel welcome. She could probably use some help, and besides if she does find out about you, she might be more inclined to be sympathetic."

"I would like to make them feel welcome anyway. How about you taking a load of vegetables up to them?" Jazmynís garden had been extremely productive, and they had far more than they needed stored away.

"Thatís a good idea. You start hauling those out and put them in my pickup. Iím going to grab a few things from the shed.

Even after giving away a large amount of the produce, Ken had still needed to build a cool store for the remainder of the crops. Jazmyn went inside and selected a range of food to give away. She stacked them in boxes and loaded them into Kenís vehicle. Meanwhile Ken grabbed his toolkit and several items from the lock-up shed.

"OK, thisíll do for now," Ken declared. He climbed into the cab of the pickup, saying, "I might be a while. From what the kids said, they might need a few things attended to immediately."

Jazmyn nodded. "Do what you can. Theyíre nice kids, and they deserve better."

It wasnít a very long drive to the old saw mill. Ken spotted the children as soon as he turned into the yard, and they came over to see the newcomer.

"Whoíre you?" Matthew asked a little suspiciously.

"My name is Ken. Iím Jazmynís friend."

Matthew thawed immediately. "Oh! Hi Ken! Have you come to see my mom?"

"Yep. I brought along a few things that you could use. Wanna help me carry the vegetables inside?"

"OK." Matt grabbed a handful of vegetables, and Ken let Matthew lead him to the front door. "Mom!" Matthew yelled as he entered. "You got a visitor!"

Moments later, a woman just a few years older than Ken emerged from one of the rooms. She was shorter than Ken or Jazmyn, and she had blond hair tied back into a ponytail. Her face would have been pretty if not for the grime and weariness etched onto her visage. She wore jeans and a sweater, both filthy from trying to clean up decades of neglect. Her eyes locked onto Ken and widened in surprise.

"Hello, Iím Ken Morita, your neighbour from the cabin down the road. I noticed you moving in and thought that Iíd give you something to welcome you to the neighbourhood." He held up the box of produce.

The woman had been eyeing the box and the small bag of potatoes that her son was holding. "Thank you, Mr Morita. Thatís a generous and welcome gift. Just put them on the table for now. My name is Elizabeth Mackenzie, and thatís my son, Matthew, and the quiet little girl is Tina."

"Iím happy to meet you all. What brings you up here, especially as this house must be scarcely liveable?"

Elizabeth visibly sagged. "Letís just say that it was my best option."

Ken nodded. "I see. This option doesnít come with power or running water, does it?"

Elizabeth shook her head. "No, it doesnít, but itís still better than the alternative."

"Well, letís see what we can do about remedying that situation, shall we? When I moved up here, I didnít have power either, so I bought a generator. I just happened to pack it into the back of my pickup, and I have leads and power boards to go with it."

Elizabeth smirked. "Just happened, hey?"

Ken grinned widely. "Well, it was either that or bake a cake, and I think youíll get more use out of this."

Elizabeth nodded. "This house has only rudimentary wiring though," she pointed out.

"Yeah," agreed Ken. "In fact I wouldnít trust it, so weíll just set you up with a couple of lamps for now. If you could ask Matthew to run the cords to the rooms where you most need the power, Iíll get the generator set up."

"Right. Matt, please help Mr Morita."

"OK, Mom."

Ken found a suitable spot that wasnít too close to the house, and he set up the generator after giving Matthew the longest heavy-duty cord to unwind into the house. They then connected a power board and ran shorter leads to various rooms and set up lamps. Then he went back outside and started the generator. Light came from several windows and Elizabeth came out with a smile on her face.

"Thatís so much better, thank you. Is the generator hard to start? I saw that it took you several tries."

"No, not really. I just havenít used it in a long time, so it just needed a bit of coaxing. It should start quickly from now on. Just a word of caution Ė although this is a heavy-duty generator, you shouldnít use it for electric kettles or heaters because that would put too much load on it. Stick to a few lamps and tools and youíll be fine."

"Right, Iíll remember that."

"Now whereís your water pump?" Ken asked.

"There are two. One is a hand-pump, but the other is over in the mill and it was operated by the machinery there, so it doesnít work."

"Whereís the hand-pump?"

"In the kitchen."

"Letís have a look at it then."

After inspecting it, Ken was amazed that it was working at all. "Whatís the water like?" he asked as he gave it a few experimental pumps.

"It was terrible at first, but after a while it cleared up," Elizabeth replied.

"Years of rust build-up, I presume. Still, we might be able to use the existing bore to run an electric pump."

"Except that I canít afford one," Elizabeth pointed out. "Youíre not going to tell me that you have one of those in the back of the truck also?"

Ken grinned. "No, but I know who to call to get one quickly. Leave it to me."

Elizabeth put her hand on his arm as if to curb his enthusiasm. "Mr MoritaÖ" she began.

"Ken," he insisted with a smile.

"KenÖ why are you doing all of this?"

Ken put on his serious face. "Honestly, I really do like fixing things up. My sister used to call me Mr Fixit when I was a teen. Still does, actually. My cabin wasnít in much better condition when I bought it, but it was solidly built, so a bit of TLC has made it into a very nice home. Secondly, anyone who willingly moves into this place really needs the help. And thirdly, one of these days you might be able to do me a favour or something in return when I really need it. And just to be perfectly clear, no, that wasnít a pick-up line. Itíll be nice to have a neighbour whom I can rely on in a pinch."

"All I can do for now is thank you again, Ken."

"Not a problem, Elizabeth."

"You can call me Liz if you like. Only my mother ever used my full name."

"Liz. I like that. Well, Iíd better go now, but I should be back tomorrow sometime with that pump." Ken turned for the door.

"Just one other thing, Ken," Elizabeth said.

ĎHere it comes," Ken thought with some trepidation. "Yes?"

"Do you keep wild animals?"

Ken made a puzzled frown. "No. Why do you ask?"

Elizabeth looked uncertain. "Itís something that Tina said. She told me she petted a Ďfoxyí. I was worried that she might have been fooling around with some animal of yours."

"Ah! I know what you mean now," Ken said as if enlightened. He had been rehearsing some speeches in case the girl had said something. She was too young to properly understand a secret yet. "Yes, thereís a female fox, but sheís not wild. Sheís about as friendly a vixen as you will ever meet. Believe me, Tina was safer than if she was trying to pet a strange dog. She likes having her fur stroked. Sheís a very unusual fox though, and perhaps one day you may see her for yourself and youíll understand how different, but if you do, you wonít have to worry about her harming you."

"Thatís reassuring," admitted Elizabeth.

"Iíd better keep going. Have a good evening, Liz," Ken said.

"You too, Ken. Goodbye."

Elizabeth saw him to the door, but as he walked to his car, Matthew followed him. Ken stopped at the car and looked at the boy. "Thanks for your help, Matt."

"Thatís okay. You lied to Mom though," Matthew accused.

"Oh? How so?" Ken enquired.

"About Jazmyn," Matthew pointed out.

Ken smiled. "No I didnít. Everything that I said about Jazmyn was the absolute truth. I just didnít tell your mother that sheís a two-legged fox woman, and not a four-legged animal."

Matthew grinned. "Yeah, youíre right. What happens if Mom ever sees her though?"

"I hope that we will have earned your motherís trust by then. In the meantime, just be careful, OK?"

"I promised her!" Matthew reminded him.

"You did indeed. See you tomorrow, Matt."

"Bye, Ken!"

Ken drove back to his cabin, satisfied with the results of his visit. Jazmyn met him at the carport, eager for the news.

"Well?" she asked.

"I havenít dug too deep as yet because itís too soon, but it seems like a single mother and her two children. Her name is Elizabeth Mackenzie Ė she said to just call her Liz Ė and it looks like she has fallen on hard times and that place is her last resort."

"Is it even liveable?" Jazmyn asked.

"Itís better than nothing, but not by much. The whole place needs a huge amount of work, especially the wiring and water. Iíll be getting them a pump tomorrow."

Jazmyn grinned. "I recognise that look in your eyes. Youíve found yourself a new project!"

Ken returned the grin. "I canít help myself. Ever since we finished the extension, Iíve been pottering around, like with that shelf unit Iím making. That old house will be just like when I was restoring this cabin."

"But a much larger project. If I can help you at all, tell me," Jazmyn insisted.

"There are sure to be many little things that I can leave with you if you wish. Iíll concentrate on the big stuff. Iíve laid the groundwork for getting Liz prepared to meet you. If sheís going to be there for the long term, itís too much to hope that sheís never going to see you, so we might as well prepare for the eventuality."

Jazmyn nodded thoughtfully. "Yes, I agree. Letís hope our luck holds."

Ken agreed fervently.

Installing the electric pump didnít go quite as easily as Ken had hoped, but eventually he had it hooked up and running. For the time, they would still need a hose or bucket to get water to rooms other than the kitchen, but Elizabeth was still extremely grateful.

As he cleaned up, Ken decided to take advantage of the good will and asked, "So, what forced you to come here? This place might be a good fixer-upper, but not while trying to live in it with two young children."

Elizabeth sighed. "Youíll find out sooner or later, I reckon. I suppose that itís obviously desperation. My husband left me a few months back, and shortly after came the divorce papers. I got the house, but also a big mortgage to keep paying off. Then the economy took a dive and I was laid off, and I havenít been able to get more than temp work ever since. I couldnít pay the mortgage, so the bank foreclosed and practically threw us out into the streets. The choice was being homeless or this place. I had been up here years ago to do a bit of hiking with my former husband, so I knew of the abandoned mill and the residence here, so I looked into it and found that it was still untenanted and moved in straight away."

"What about going to your family though?" queried Ken.

"That would be an obvious course of action, wouldnít it? Except Carlo was an Italian immigrant, and all his family are over there, and I havenít been on speaking terms with my parents since I left home years ago and moved to the other side of the country to get away from them, and incidentally from my other close relatives. Really burned my bridges there!"

"Iím sorry to hear that, but things could be even worse, I suppose. Donít worry Ė weíll make sure that you wonít be too badly off staying here. Youíve done wonders already."

"With a good water supply, I can clean a lot better also."

"True. Anyway, if you need something urgently, donít hesitate to come by and ask, or send Matt over for the proverbial cup of sugar."

"Thanks, Iíll do that. Anyway, Iíd better get started on a meal. Cooking on a wood stove requires a little more planning ahead."

Ken laughed. "I suppose it would. However, thereís one thing that you wonít have to cook." He held out a box that Jazmyn had given him before coming here.

Elizabeth took the box and opened it. She smiled when she saw its contents. "The traditional welcome cake! Donít tell me that you also baked this?"

"Oh no, Iím not the cook. My friend, Jazmyn, baked it for you last night."

"That was kind of her. Please give Jasmine my thanks."

"Iíll do that. And now I had better go. Iíve got a few things to do back home before I can stop for dinner."

"Goodbye, Ken. Iím happy that I got you for a neighbour."

Back at the cabin, Ken passed on Elizabethís thanks and explained what he had learned of them.

"They were lucky that they had that place to move into then," Jazmyn commented. "How many liveable places are abandoned?"

"Thatís a good question, Jaz. It doesnít seem to me that Elizabeth would have the money to purchase that property, even as run-down as it is, and somebody still has to own it. I think Iíll look into that on Monday. Right now though, Iím going to finish off that shelf unit and then quit for dinner."

The next morning, shortly after Ken had departed for work, Jazmyn heard another motor vehicle. Peering through the blinds, she glimpsed the car as it passed by their driveway. She thought that she saw Matt sitting in the passenger seat, and she guessed that Elizabeth was taking him to school. Probably Tina was with them Ė she doubted that the child would be left alone.

Elizabeth didnít make the return trip until after lunch, and Jazmyn could only speculate about what she had done in the meantime. When Ken came home, she told him of her movements.

"It could be that temp work that she mentioned, or perhaps searching for a job. She certainly needs the money. I did look into the property title today and, as I guessed, sheís a squatter. Nothing has been done with that property since the mill was abandoned after it became uncommercial, and since itís very unlikely that theyíll allow commercial logging in this area again, the place is virtually a write-off."

"What would happen if the legal owners ever found out about her and the children though?" asked Jazmyn.

"Good question. Itís a bit of a legal grey area. However, I did have an idea. This cabin came with a good chunk of land, and my property directly abuts the sawmill. It wouldnít seem too strange if I wanted to extend my holdings, would it?"

"Youíre going to buy the old house?" Jazmyn asked with surprise.

"A bit of a drastic measure, I admit, but one that I had considered before we met. I wanted to ensure that my country retreat remained unspoilt. Iíve just been saving my money towards that goal in the meantime. Of course that property is a tad more expensive than the tracts of forest that I had intended to purchase first, but the mill has a sizeable chunk of that too."

"So what would you do if you bought the place? How will Elizabeth and the children stand?"

"Well, as their landlord, Iíd have to charge them rent, I supposeÖ"

"What?! Are you kidding me?" Jazmyn exclaimed, her arms akimbo, ready to challenge him.

"Whoa! Calm down!" Ken said with a grin. "I was thinking of a dollar a month, just for a legal technicality, and the rest paid off in restoration work that she is doing already."

"Oh! I see now. Sneaky! She gets a chance to recover financially while she doesnít have a large mortgage or rent hanging over her head, while you get the value of the property gradually improved. Everybody wins!"

"Now youíve got it," Ken replied.

"How long would it take?"

"If we can settle on a fair price quickly, just a few days."

"Then go ahead and do it," Jazmyn told him.

"Yes, boss!" Ken said, still grinning.

Jazmynís ears pinked and folded back with the blush that she could not otherwise show. She had not meant to sound so bossy.

On Wednesday, Elizabeth pulled into their driveway instead of proceeding home as she had the past two days. As soon as she realised that Elizabeth was going to pay them a visit, Jazmyn retreated to her room. Ken opened the front door just as the car pulled up in front.

Elizabeth got out of the car and said, "Hello, Ken. I saw your car was here and I wanted to ask you something, if itís convenient."

"Sure. I work from home on Wednesdays, but I can spare a few minutes."

"Oh? What sort of work do you do?"

"I write computer software. I can either bring my work home on a portable drive, or I can link to my office directly."

"Link? Do you actually have the internet out here?" she asked incredulously.

"Sure do! Couldnít live without it!" Ken said with a grin.

"Could you do me a big favour? You know how school is nowadays – the students often need to use the internet for their homework. Matt used to go to the neighbourís house for that, but now he canít unless you would be willing to let him use yours a couple of times a week?"

"As long as he comes over at a reasonable time, that shouldnít be a problem at all," Ken reassured her.

"Thatís wonderful, thanks. Iíve been worried that Matt would be missing out. Could he come around after school today?"

"OK. Iíll even have something set up for him when he gets here."

"Youíre a life-saver, Ken. I donít know what I would have done without you."

Ken shrugged modestly. "I like helping. Anyway, is that all that you wanted to ask me about?"

Elizabeth blinked. "What? Oh! No, I needed to ask you about fuel for the generator. Weíve tried to be sparing in its use, but it will still run out sometime tomorrow."

"Oh yeah, I forgot that I needed to get more fuel. Iíll pick up a drum on the way home tomorrow. That should be well before sunset in case you run out before I arrive."

"Thanks again, Ken. Well, I wonít keep you from your work any longer. Good afternoon!"

"Good afternoon to you too, Liz."

Matt turned up promptly after his mother picked him up from school, apparently excited at getting to use the internet again. "Hi Ken!" he said as he was let inside. "Hi Jazmyn!" he added as he saw the vixen working on her laptop.

"Hello Matt," Jazmyn replied. "Ken tells me that you need to do some homework on the internet."

"Yeah, I thought that Iíd haveta do it at school somehow, thisís heaps better."

"Well, you get to use my laptop today," Jazmyn said as she switched accounts, "but weíll have a basic computer set up for your needs in future. Ken just has to fetch some parts home tomorrow."

"Okay by me," Matt said, taking the seat that Jazmyn vacated.

"Oh, and one other thing," Jazmyn added. "Work first, then play. Understand?"

Matt looked as if he was going to protest that that was what he was going to do, but thought better of it when he saw the look in the vixenís eyes. "Yes, Jazmyn," he replied.

From then on, Matt came over about three times a week, sometimes for only half an hour, sometimes much longer. Occasionally, with his motherís permission, he stayed afterwards to play a video game with them. Jazmyn often gave him something to take home with him, ranging from baked goods to casseroles. No one ever brought up the subject of payment for anything, but Elizabethís gratitude was palpable.

The week after the family had moved in, Ken had found the owner of the property, made an offer, and signed the papers. Ken was much happier once he legally owned the property. He could now make further major improvements to it without having to worry about the legality of it. The first thing that he did was to contact an electrical contractor about extending the power supply from his property to the sawmill. Next he booked a plumber to come and give him a quote on putting in piping and fixtures. He arranged for both of them to come on Saturday while he was there at the residence doing fixit jobs. Elizabeth had very conveniently had to go out and do some temp work, and had been grateful when Ken said that he and Jazmyn would keep an eye on the kids. They were able to get all the assessments done before she returned, so Ken planned to surprise her with the news later.

Jazmyn had been happy to look after Tina. The young girl was fascinated by the fox woman and liked to play with her. Matt liked to help Ken, so the two were kept amused and out of trouble. Jazmyn slipped away unnoticed when she heard Elizabeth returning. When the young mother came inside, she found her children at the kitchen table, eating sandwiches.

"You just missed Jazmyn," Ken told Elizabeth. "She made the kids something to eat, then left for home."

"I didnít see a car," Elizabeth pointed out.

"She likes to walk back to the cabin by one of the hiking trails," Ken explained.

"I see. I keep just missing her, donít I? Itís funny Ė Jazmyn is the first person that my children met, and yet I have consistently failed to do so." She saw her son grinning. "And something tells me that thereís a private little joke going on. If it wasnít for Tina, Iíd say that you were making her up!"

Ken affected an air of innocence. "Perhaps thereís something going on, perhaps not. I assure you though that sheís real, and itís certainly not me doing the cooking. Youíll meet her soon enough. In fact sheís eager to meet you also. Sheís planning to throw a welcoming dinner after things have settled down a bit more."

"Yes, that would be nice. We certainly canít keep just missing each other all the time," Elizabeth said confidently.

But Ďjust missingí was exactly what happened for the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile the electrical contractor started work installing the power cable down the track. The plumber beat him to the house though. The morning that he was due to do so, Ken went to the house before heading off to work. He knew that Elizabeth would already be up and getting Matt ready for school. He knocked on the front door and Elizabeth quickly answered.

"Hello Ken. I wasnít expecting you today. Whatís up?"

"I thought that Iíd better forewarn you that a plumber is going to be here later this morning to start work on putting a new pipe system into the house."

Elizabeth was surprised. "A whole new plumbing system? But I canít afford that!"

Before she could go any further, Ken put up a hand to forestall her words, then added, "And you may have noticed a work van between your place and mine in the past few days. Heís an electrician, and heís bringing power to the house also. Once he has the power box installed, heíll be replacing the wiring in the house, so if you have any particular requirements that you havenít mentioned before, it might be a good idea to make notes of them so that he can do them also."

A look of panic began to creep into Elizabethís expression. "I canítÖ I meanÖ" She paused and took a deep breath, then it let it out with a sigh. "I suppose that it was too much to hope that nothing would go wrong. IÖ donít exactly own this place. I donít even pay rent. You canít let those people do all that work to somebody elseís property."

"Oh, I donít think that the owner will mind," Ken reassured her.

"But how can you be sure? And the expense! This is going to cost a fortune, and I sure canít afford it. This is a ridiculously large amount of money to spend on somebodyÖ elseísÖ." Her voice trailed off as realisation set in. "YouÖ youíre the owner, arenít you?"

Ken smiled broadly and nodded.

"Oh God! I feel like such an idiot!" Elizabeth said as she hid her face in her hands. "I thought that nobody would even remember this place any more, but of course youíre just down the road a bit. It never occurred to me that this was your property also."

Ken patted her reassuringly on the shoulder. "To be honest, it wasnít always mine, but I had been intending to invest in a bit more property. Iíve just moved my plans up a bit. Seemed like as good a time as any."

"I suppose that youíre going to want rent money now? Iím barely earning enough for expenses at the moment. Thatís why I had to come here where I thought that I would not have to worry about rent or mortgage payments."

"Firstly, Liz, I want you to stop worrying about rent. Until such time as you get a full-time job and can afford it, you can live here rent-free. As long as you keep improving the place, Iíll take that as payment in lieu. This place is an investment for me, so getting it up to a good standard is in my best interests. Also, while youíre living here, I donít have to worry about the possibility of less congenial neighbours moving in, so weíre all getting something from this."

Elizabeth looked at him in wonder at his benevolence. Suddenly she stepped forward and hugged him hard, tears from strong emotions rolling down her cheeks. "Oh, thank you! Thank you, Ken! I couldnít have dreamed of a better outcome. Why have you been so good to me?"

"Because you and your kids are good folks and deserve better. I like to help you out, thatís all. Sometimes good things do happen to good people. But now, as much as I appreciate the hug, I need to leave for work. Youíll be alright with the plumber?"

"Yes, sure. Iíll even be his helper if it gets me running water and a shower more quickly."

Ken grinned. "Iím sure that heíll work as fast as he can. He did my cabin, so I know heís good. Anyhow, have a great day, Liz."

"I already am, Ken," she said as she waved him goodbye.

From the concealment of some nearby bushes, Jazmyn had watched and listened to the exchange with satisfaction. She had been surprised though when Elizabeth had given Ken the hug, and she experienced a strange twinge of emotion at the sight.

"Itís time that we met," Jazmyn told Ken when he got home from work.

"Are you sure, Jaz?" Ken asked.

"I doubt that Elizabethís good will could possibly get better than it is now, and sheís surely getting suspicious about always missing me, so Iíd like to arrange a dinner for tomorrow night."

"OK. Iíll just pop over to their house and see if that suits Liz."

Elizabeth was happy to accept the invitation, and Jazmyn went to special efforts to make a fancy meal. The time came and Elizabeth and the children duly arrived for dinner. Ken invited them all inside.

"Mmm! Something smells really good," Elizabeth said.

"Jazmynís been cooking up a storm," Ken explained.

"Where is she then?" Elizabeth said, looking around.

"Getting her best dress on, I think. Jazmyn! Come on out and meet Elizabeth!" Ken called out.

Matthew stood there watching in anticipation, an irrepressible grin on his face. The door to Jazmynís room opened and she stepped out in her best skirt and top, smiling gently, careful not to bare her teeth.

"Liz, Iíd like you to meet Jazmyn Fox," Ken said, watching Elizabethís face for her reaction. She had frozen to the spot the moment that she realised what she was looking at.

Jazmyn walked over to the woman and said, "Iím pleased to finally meet you, Elizabeth." The woman just continued to stare at her, speechless. Jazmyn continued, "Itís okay, Elizabeth. I know that I must look strange to you, but Iím really just a normal person even though Iím a fox woman. Thereís no need to be concerned." She reached out to touch Elizabethís arm, and the woman flinched away.

"Aw, Mom! Itís okay! Jazmyn is a nice fox girl," Matt insisted.

Elizabeth looked at her son. "You knew of this all the time?"

"Of course! Sheís supposed to be a secret, so I didnít tell you, but sheís just like any other grown-up. Sheís even been helping me with my homework. Tina loves playing with her tail too."

"So thatís Tinaís fox!" She looked at Jazmyn and asked, "What are you?"

"I am a vulpeen Ė a fox woman if you like, and the rest is a very long story which I will be happy to tell you over dinner. Are you going to be okay with that?"

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and said, "Iím talking to a fox and she wants to know if itís okay. No, Iím not okay. I donít like it that Iíve been fooled all this time either."

"Iím sorry, Liz," Ken interjected, "but our reasons were good, and we wanted to give you the chance to settle in before we hit you with this."

"Hit me is right. My children have been in the care of some strange creature all those times. How could they know that sheís safe?"

"How could they know anyone is safe? They discovered her, not the other way around. They made friends with her immediately despite her strangeness because Jazmyn is a person, just like us, but of another species is all."

"I still want to know more before Iíll be satisfied," Elizabeth insisted.

"Thatís why youíre here today," Jazmyn replied. "Please, wonít you take a seat at the table? The food is ready to serve, and we can answer all your questions as we eat."

Elizabeth nodded, not conceding anything as yet, but willing to listen. Ken showed her to her place at the end of the table, her children seated at either side. Ken helped Jazmyn serve up the roast beef and potatoes with plenty of gravy, plus sautéed green beans. Jazmyn sat next to Tina, and Ken opposite to Elizabeth.

The meal was a little tense at first, but as Jazmyn explained her origins and subsequent life, Elizabeth began to thaw out. By the time that dessert was served, she was intrigued despite herself. When the meal was finished, Elizabeth said, "Now itís apparent why you were so eager to come help me. You wanted to put me in your debt and get me to shut up about Jazmyn."

Ken said earnestly, "Liz, I admit that I wasnít totally altruistic, but believe me, I still would have helped you. I wasnít lying when I told you that I like to help out and fix things, and I do like your children. However, there was too much at stake to just leave things totally to chance, so I thought it would be best to have your good will. I hope that I still do?"

Elizabeth thought for a while then came to a decision. "I suppose that I canít fault you for wanting to take care of Jazmyn. I could only wish that my former husband cared half as much about me and the children. Your secret will be safe with me."

"With us!" Matthew piped up.

Elizabeth smiled. "Yes, with us. And now itís best that we get going. I have a lot to absorb tonight."

"Thanks for coming, Liz," Ken said.

"Please drop around again soon," Jazmyn added.

Elizabeth gave her a lopsided smile. "Yes, I believe that I will do that."

She herded her children out to the car after extracting Tina from Jazmynís tail with a bit of difficulty. The kids waved goodbye as the car pulled away, and Ken heaved a sigh of relief.

"Well, that could have gone a lot worse," he said.

"Perhaps," replied Jazmyn, "but I get the feeling that she will rebound from this just as she has from all the other things that have happened to her lately. I think that itíll all work out well once she has gotten used to the idea of having a vulpeen for a neighbour."

"I think that it helped that the kids like you so much," Ken added.

"And I like them. I think it shows, and thatís why Liz felt that it was okay. You noticed that she didnít stop Matt from coming here, nor scold Tina for petting my tail. Whether she realises it or not, I think sheís already decided that Iím not a threat, so itís just a matter of getting to be real friends now."

"If anyone can do it, you can," Ken said confidently.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Jazmyn said. "Right now though, letís clean up so that we can relax in front of the TV. Itís been a heck of a day!"


All characters and this story are copyright © 2008 Bernard Doove.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
To be continued in episode 8.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Link: Return to the Forest Tales main page.


Link: Return to the Chakat's DenTM main page.