That summer seemed to last forever. It was 1982 and James was 5. It was the last summer before he went to kindergarten.
He spent that whole summer playing underneath the back porch of his family’s old farmhouse.
It was dark and musty and comforting. Of course there were spider webs and mice and nasty things, but there was good stuff down there too.
There was a little burrow, long empty, probably from some long gone family of foxes or prairie dogs, that he filled with GI Joes or Hot Wheels or water. Way in the back where the sunlight barely cast itself was an old wooden box with a latch.
When James had finally found the courage to open it he had found it filled with papers that had turned to dust in his hands. He imagined that those papers had been treasure maps or secret papers from a spy.
None of that compared though, to what he found under there one summer day, right before he started school. He had been shopping with his mom for school clothes all morning and by the time he got to climb under that porch the summer sun was low in the sky, turning everything it touched to golden treasure.
James was just making his way under the porch when he noticed something. The smell was different. He could still smell the musty earthy smell that was always there but there was something else, something he couldn’t quite place. Later in life, if asked, he would say that it was a spicy smell, like cardamom and cloves and coriander all rolled into one, but then it was just something different. Something other.
He hesitated, there at the threshold of the darkness. He wasn’t afraid but he knew instinctively that he needed to proceed with caution. He moved deeper into the darkness, slowly and silently, like a hunter stalking its prey.
As he moved towards the back, closer and closer to the old wooden box, the spicy smell grew stronger until it filled his nostrils.
He stopped when he was almost beside the box. There was only a little empty space left behind. James waited there for an eternity of heartbeats. More than he could count on his fingers and toes but still nothing.
He was just about to turn back and seek refuge in the sunlight when something shifted outside. A cloud broke or a branch moving in the evening breeze. Whatever it was a shaft of light somehow penetrated to the back of the darkness and then he saw it.
Two eyes flashed red in the darkness. James’s breath caught in his throat. For a second he thought it was maybe the neighbor’s cat, Tom, but he new that wasn’t right. Tom’s cat eyes were green in the darkness not red.
He called out, his voice tight and quiet, “Is there someone there?”
The eyes flashed again and then something shot by him, so quick he couldn’t even see it. He turned as it flashed by, catching orange and white as it sprinted towards the summer light.
James would tell the story for years after of the fox that had scared him that day but when he dreamed of it he would always remember the part that he had put away and hidden. The face he had seen just before the fox started its flight had been that of a little girl, with the eyes of a fox.