Long ago, a boy made a wish to be one of the quicksilver foxes he saw in the woods. He was one of the few who could see them, darting hither and thither between trees like spirits of the air and earth – which they were, the stormfoxes. However, when his wish was granted – for it was, for he had taken an offering to the Winter King – he found it was not as he’d expected: instead of becoming a sprite like them, he was stuck between worlds, both man and fox – a werefox. In winter, when the Winter King held sway, he was a fox, but in summer the power of the Winter King waned and he became human once more. And even while he was a fox, unless it was in the weeks around solstice when the King was at his peak, the boy was merely a fox – not a stormfox like the ones he’d seen.
Worse, the stormfoxes resented his change, and harassed him, abusing him, nipping, biting, bullying. Year after year he sought to be accepted, but all in vain, for never would they accept a human so brazen as to assume he could become one of them.
One year, they killed him. They’d driven him mercilessly for days, and it was the time between winter’s true start and solstice when the Winter King was strong enough to keep the boy in fox form, but not strong enough to make him a stormfox – so he was hungry, and weak, and after four days of being hunted without rest his body gave in. The stormfoxes caught up with him in a small clearing where his fur bristled red against the snow, and they killed him – not quickly, not gently, but mauled him to death with nips like needles, letting the life drain from him slowly, like oozing blood.
He died, and then the girl found him.
She was only eight, and her dog back home had just been put down, and her grandmother had died of cancer, and she couldn’t bear any more death. She’d been walking in the woods behind their house, her mother too grief-stricken to care, her father too bound up with caring for Mother to worry, when she saw him, blood already turning brown.
She lay down and curled herself around him, weeping tears that burned her face in the cold. The snow seeped its way into her clothes, her gloves, her hat and shoes, and she shivered with cold that was warmer than grief, and thought about how much she’d loved her grandmother, how much she’d loved her dog, how much she loved her mother and her father and how she never wanted anything to die again.
She was an ordinary girl, perfectly ordinary, but she had that rare and special talent instilled in some at birth: when she loved something, it grew. The fox shuddered beneath her arms, a rattled intake of breath like dead leaves across the road. He twisted, turned, and licked her face.
The girl lay stunned just long enough for the fox, the boy, the creature who’d been dead, to squirm out from her arms and away.
Later, she told herself it must have been her imagination. The fox must not really have been dead, only cold, and her body warmth had defrosted it enough for it to recover. And she forgot that though she was ordinary, when she loved things, they grew.