“Let go! Got to get a video of this!” Willow tried to pull his arm and phone out of Lilly’s grip
“Shush! They’ll hear us.” She dragged him back into the surrounding trees. The clearing in front of them was a large circle, too perfect to have been formed by nature. But it wasn’t the clearing that raised the goosebumps on her arms.
They both stood there staring like mannequins in a store window. From the singing, Lilly had expected to see real people, sitting around a campfire. But this wasn’t a regular campsite. And the fire was not in a campground fire pit. She was certain that was against the rules. Mom always read the rules to them when they stayed at a new place.
Willow, his head full of stories about the campers lost in a wildfire years ago, expected to have his first glimpse of ghosts.
Neither twin saw what they expected.
Furry, red foxes with white faces, holding sticks in their hands (paws) and roasting marshmallows over a blue fire. Lilly knew fires were not usually blue, except natural gas flames under a stove. This was a blue fire coming out of a huge stack of logs piled in log cabin style.
And the foxes must have heard them arguing, because they stopped singing, and looked toward the trees where they crouched.
“Awesome!” Willow whisper-shouted. “They’re foxes!”
“What should we do?” Lilly asked, being the more practical twin.
At that moment, one of the larger foxes set its stick down on a rock, making sure that the partially browned marshmallow didn’t touch the ground. It walked on its back legs a few steps towards them.
“Come out from the trees, human kits,” it said in a low-pitched, deep voice. Lilly’s mouth dropped open. The voice was so human that if she wasn’t watching the words come out of the fox’s snout, she would be certain it was an adult man.
“Run!” Lilly grabbed her brother’s arm.
“Not only can they roast marshmallows, but they can talk!” Willow said, his smile ear to ear. “I want to meet them.”
“We should go. Mom said not to talk to strangers.”
“Strangers are human, silly. These are foxes. That can talk.”
“Come into the clearing,” the fox said. “We are eager to meet you. Did you hear our song?”
“Yes, we heard it,” Willow said. “It was awesome. We wanted to see who was singing it. Are you ghosts?”
The small foxes laughed, and it sounded like water tinkling on glass. Another large fox came near, standing by the first one.
“No, we are quite alive,” the second fox said in a high feminine voice. “But our true natures are concealed by glamour. Those who don’t hear our song, see only normal foxes in the woods.”
“If you’re not foxes, what, or who, are you?” Lilly asked.
The female fox gestured toward the campfire. “See for yourselves. We intend no harm toward you.”
Willow and Lilly looked at each other. When Mom had gone over all the rules about camping, she had not told them what to do when encountering magical talking foxes who ate marshmallows.
“Don’t be a baby, Lilly,” Willow said, making the decision for them both. He pushed her into the clearing where they took seats on large fallen logs around the roaring campfire. One of the smaller foxes handed each of them a carved stick with two marshmallows stuck on top.
“If this is one of those faerie tales, we really shouldn’t eat any food they offer us,” Lilly whispered to her brother.
“It’s only marshmallows,” Willow said. He thrust his stick into the fire. His marshmallows were a burning torch in seconds.
“That’s not the way to roast them,” Lilly said. She carefully dangled her stick at the edge of the fire, avoiding the strange blue flames. After a few minutes, she turned her stick. The side of her marshmallows facing the fire had turned golden brown.
“That’s the proper way to do it,” the largest of the small foxes said. “You can call me Rudy. What do you call yourselves?” The fox licked the gooey white from his claws. The other small foxes huddled together, staring at them with unblinking black eyes.
“I’m Willow, and this is Lilly,” her brother said. “We’re twins.”
“How delightful!” the older female fox said. She shared a knowing glance with the male fox, and then handed Willow two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate. After putting it together like a sandwich, he ate it quickly.
“Mmmm. This is delicious,” he mumbled with his mouth full.
Lilly was still not sure whether she should eat her perfectly roasted treat. She watched her brother, holding her breath. If something went wrong, she would grab him and run back to their campsite.
Willow jumped up from the log. “I can see you!” he shouted to Rudy. “You’re not a fox. You’re a boy!”
Lilly stared at her brother in horror. Did the food do something to him?
“Don’t worry. Your brother was not poisoned by our s’mores. When a visitor eats with us, they can see who we really are,” Rudy said. “Go ahead, eat it. You’ll see.”
She slowly pulled the marshmallow off the stick. Its crunchy gooey sweetness exploded in her mouth. It was the best roasted marshmallow she had ever tasted. As she swallowed it, her eyes were opened.
The foxes around the campfire were replaced by slender people dressed in various shades of brown and green. Two of them looked like adults and the rest were children of various ages from around four to twelve. Rudy looked like the oldest. They could have passed for survivalists living in the woods except for their long pointed ears that poked out from their silky dark brown hair.
“You’re faeries!” Lilly gasped.
“Summer Court, to be exact,” the father said. “You can call me Nettle. This is my wife, Thorn. You’ve already met Rudy. The others are Loden, Sunny, Tawny, and Golden.” The faeries nodded as Nettle named them.
Willow frowned. “What are you doing out here? Don’t faeries live in a different realm?”
Thorn smiled. Her glowing emerald green eyes framed by waves of shimmering dark brown hair were so lovely that Lilly and Willow’s hearts felt like they would break. “We’re camping. Like you and your family are,” she said.
Lilly pushed out of her mind the faery’s radiating bliss. From the books she’d read, she knew faeries were tricky and not usually nice to humans. Leaving right now would be the reasonable thing to do.
“Nice to meet all of you. Willow and I have to go now. Dad needs us to help with dinner.” She tried to pull her brother away, but he shook her off.
“Is there a portal around here?” he said, looking around. The surrounding woods, other than the perfect campfire clearing, looked like normal trees. There was no hint of magic.
“Sit down,” the mother said. “It is a long tale, but I would tell it to you.”
Willow sat back down on the log. Lilly sighed but joined him anyway. Her brother had no common sense whatsoever. She felt like she was born as his twin so that she could keep him out of trouble.
Sometimes it worked.