I chose the image of the moss-covered, stone stairs leading up a hill for my twenty-minute prompt this time.
After months cooped up inside her apartment, Kelly was glad to get out of the house for a while. She’d been doing alright with online meetings for work and seeing her friends in online spaces and doing occasional calls with family and her best friends, but it was getting old staring at the same walls all the time.
So she’d driven up the mountain to find a place to hike for a while. It was safe enough to be out in nature as long as there weren’t too many people. It was still early in the season, and the parking lot hadn’t been very full, so she figured she’d be alright. She kept a mask in her pocket anyway, just in case.
The first part of the trail was a little busy, so she put her mask on and picked her way around people a little off the trail most of the time. She was an experienced hiker and even had a little climbing experience, so she was willing to go off trail a little, always careful where she stepped to avoid damaging anything, and she managed to get out away from the others by taking the more difficult option when the trail forked. It wasn’t long before she came to her favorite section of the trail.
There were stones set into the side of the hill to help make a rudimentary set of steps to get higher up the hill. They were covered in moss and could be very slippery in the wrong conditions, which was part of why this was a harder trail, but it was dry and bright today, so she was able to walk up them quickly to the top of the hill.
There were remains of a railing that hadn’t been kept in good repair. Back from an older period of trail tending. These days the goal was to change as little as possible. The trail was there to keep humans off the rest of the mountain, so they didn’t damage things. It wasn’t necessarily there to make the climb easier.
When she crested the hill, the light blinded her for a moment. She held up a hand to shield her eyes and blinked quickly, her eyes actually watering from how bright it was. She hadn’t been expecting that this early.
When her eyes had adjusted, she was able to lower her hands and gaze out at the mountains spread out before her. She was so glad she’d moved up here. So much better than being stifled in the city.
“Haven’t seen you around before,” someone said from her left.
Kelly shifted to her right as she grabbed her mask out of her pocket, slipping it over her mouth and nose and wrapping the elastic over her ears.
“Never got that reaction before either,” the voice said.
Kelly couldn’t see anyone on the trail to her left. That was weird.
“Down here,” the voice said, so Kelly looked down.
There was a fox sitting just off the path, front legs straight, head held high, tail wrapped around it’s feet.
“You seem surprised,” the fox said.
“That’s because foxes don’t talk,” Kelly replied. Had she slipped and fallen? Hit her head?
“Oh, right, you aren’t used to this,” the fox said, looking down at itself. “Is this better?” it asked before being enveloped in a puff of smoke.
The smoke cleared to reveal a slim figure about four and a half feet tall with fox ears poking out of it’s red hair, amber eyes with vertical pupils, and a bushy fox tail swishing slightly from side to side.
“No less unbelievable, but it’s been a weird year, so what the hell, I’ll roll with it,” Kelly replied to the fox person.
“They said belief was down these days, but I didn’t realize it was this bad,” the fox person said. “How about we start with names, then? You can call me Red.”
“Kelly,” she replied. “Nice to meet you,” she added. “Do you get human diseases? We’re dealing with a pandemic, that’s why I put the mask on when I heard you.”
“Oh dear, a plague?” Red asked.
“We’d probably have called it that back in the day,” Kelly said. “It’s a potentially deadly disease at any rate.”
“It shouldn’t hurt me any,” Red said. “Never heard of a puka getting a disease before. Probably because of all the magic. Keeps us healthy.”
“Magic, right,” Kelly said. “Is that how you do the fox to mostly human thing?”
“That doesn’t take magic,” Red said, waving one hand in denial. “That’s just something puka can do.”
“Cool,” Kelly said, carefully taking of her mask. “So what’s a puka doing here anyway?” She might as well have a conversation. It had been a long time since her last face-to-face conversation. So what if it was probably just a hallucination brought on by a head injury.
“I like to visit and people watch,” Red said. “Been a while since anyone’s been able to see me.”
“Not everyone can see you?” Kelly asked.
“Only humans with a little magic of their own can see us these days.”