A tale in Ice
“Hey, are you sure about this?"
"Not at all, but what's life without a little risk, eh?"
The snowy landscape at the backyard of the inn was spotted with two dark figures, handling a huge bag between them. From one of the oak trees above the hill, a third person crouched low behind a fern, equipped fully with a pair of binoculars and an ebony face mask. Porcelain skin peeked out from underneath tattered gloves as he struggled to hold the cold instrument to his face.
The two men were whispering to each other before suddenly dropping the bag in the snow. One of them dropped down to open the zipper, while the other seemed to hold a device to his ear. Rowoon's eyes widened as he flinched from his position beside the fern, pressing the binoculars further into his skin in hopes of getting a closer look. The bag was moving. It was jumping and writhing like one would when dropped onto a floor of hot coal, desperate to get away.
The man handling it quickly closed the zipper, sending a hesitant glance to the figure in front. He seemed to be quite busy with his phone call as his free hand flew up and about in various motions, before his whole stature suddenly stilled, as if hit by a tranquilizer. He slowly put his phone down, before looking at his partner with an unreadable expression. His partner nodded, proceeding to open the zipper. The bag had stopped writhing; giving the illusion of an inanimate object like any other. Rowoon held his breath as he felt himself go rigid in anticipation.
He watched, and he waited. Time seemed to pass by in the speed of a glacier. The man slowly unzipped the long bag as if he had all the time in the world. What Rowoon did not notice though, was the fear. The fear, the terror apparent in the faces of both the figures as they turned both their backs turned towards him, trying to stall as much as possible. The absence of a clock did not cease the ticking of time and finally, with a quick swoosh of the sudden pull of the zipper, emerged a figure clad in shadows and light.
There was a huge flash, and something that sounded like thunder as Rowoon found himself being flung back into the forest and slammed against a nearby oak tree. An alarming crack resounded in his ear as he struggled to lift himself up, still in shock from the incident. He was surrounded with branches and brambles, and the sanguine that stained the snow went unnoticed by the boy as he flung his head back against the bark, a groan escaping his lips.
All around him there was fog. Or was it smoke? Rowoon was too tired to tell the difference. His back was aching terribly, and he could barely feel his left hand. He opened his eyes, almost missing the shadow of a creature that bounded by the corner of his vision. He craned his neck towards it, not sure of what he was expecting when suddenly his ears were hit by a shrill cry.
Adrenaline pumped through his veins as a fight-or-flight instinct took over. Whatever it was, it was definitely not a human, and he was definitely not dying away from his campsite in the middle of winter before even getting to taste his aunt's famous hot chocolate. His pain was numbed by the urge to stay alive as he stood up, supporting himself on the tree. Another crash of thunder was heard, and shrill cries- human cries- mixed with the breeze, ruffling Rowoon's already unkempt hair while his eyebrows shot up, and mouth forming into an "O". It was midday- where was this coming from?
The smoke parted as if answering his question, revealing two unconscious figures sprawled on each other--- beside the very fern Rowoon was once behind. A small crack of a nearby bramble caused him to snap his neck in the direction, body immediately going rigid as his eyes met a pair of sapphire orbs. It seemed to be glowing in itself, surrounded by a mane of creamy white fur and a dark muzzle. It held a soft gaze hiding warmth, eyes unblinking, giving the appearance of someone who lived their life in the depths of an ancient library, their comfort emerging in the fragrance of crisp pages and bitter coffee, with reading glasses left unknown upon their head while they stumbled in search of what seemed to be lost.
It's eyes held the warmth of a steaming drink on an autumn day under wool and cotton, with the wind cradling dead leaves in its embrace as the trees shed to start over. Perhaps the soft audio played at a cafe in the background of clattering utensils and occasional chatter, or maybe the notes of an elegant piano in an empty theatre. It somehow gave off the aura of an old soul, but a dangerous one, thought Rowoon as he reminded himself of the duo stacked upon each other. The fox tilted its head, as if questioning him. Shoulders relaxed, it stalked forward lazily towards the boy.
The boy was terrified.
He stumbled back, wincing as pain shot up his legs before dropping to the ground. The fox didn't even flinch. Rowoon tried to shout for help as his hands pressured him backwards, clawing at the ground beneath the snow as he tried to get away. It was as if his throat was blocked; not a sound escaped him as his back hit a barrier. It was too late, he was already cornered.
The fox stopped in front of him, less than a hand's length away. Rowoon held his breath, pressing himself as close to whatever he was against as humanly possible. It was much, much bigger up front. Almost as big as that huge bag those people carried-
"Wait," whispered Rowoon. His eyes seemed to be stuck in a widened state."Oh my God, it was you-" his speech got cut off as suddenly, the fox lifted his paw.
"Wait wait wait I'm sorry you don't have to do this I promise I wasn't involved with whoever those people were I'm sorry-"
Rowoon's words died in his throat as the fox pressed its forehead against his.
Almost immediately he felt all his pain slipping away. His initial fear of the fox dissolved like soap in water as he closed his eyes. Even the temperature seemed to have risen to a comfortable warmth as a sudden lethargy overtook his being. He slumped back against the rock he was against, mind foggy and confused. The animal glowed a ghastly white as its sharp gaze pierced the clouded one of Rowoon.
"Wha-what..." he mumbled, eyes drooping. A little nudge from the snow animal, and the boy fell into a deep slumber on the small patch of grass that had grown, clean of ice but dotted with wildflowers.
Taking a few steps back, the fox sat elegantly on the fleece of snow, its glowing eyes now a soft crystal blue, tinted with cerulean shades that seemed to be glimmering like the northern lights.
The boy was asleep.
He would wake up at the inn, bleary-eyed and confused, with a warm mug of hot chocolate set at the coffee table. He would be brought there by the two unconscious men; who, despite appearing to be somewhat bad, actually felt guilty that a poor boy like him was unintentionally involved in this. Then they would leave in their search for the mysterious animal with an unconscious Rowoon slumped on the porch.
The fox gave a little laugh, and then bounded off into the woods; never to be seen again.