Malcolm scampered off into the darkness, heading towards the laughter. Normally, he would be cautious of running in the dark. But the excitement of berry night and adventure flew with Malcolm as he leapt over logs and brush. It was the same excitement he felt as the start of his journey for Nana Owl and the mountain and waterfall of his dreams.
As the laughter grew louder, Malcolm slowed down. He didn’t know the etiquette for berry night and the last thing he wanted to do was intrude on someone else’s good time. Still, Ozzie had invited him. That should count for something.
The trees were beginning to thin as Malcolm made his way closer. Moonlight now danced off the forest floor and overhead Malcolm could see stars twinkling in a deep blue sky. He hadn’t realized in his haste to find Ozzie he was nearing the southern edge of the forest.
For a moment, Malcolm hesitated. He had never been to this part of the forest before. What would happen when he broke through the final line of trees? What would he see? Would he be safe?
The freedom and excitement of his nighttime run slowly waned as he realized the uncertainty of the unknown. Yet, he was a fox of uncertainty, wasn’t he? Hadn’t he proven that to himself when he started on this journey in the first place? What would be the purpose now in being afraid? Just because it was dark and he had never been here before?
Malcolm laughed at himself. Had it been the daytime, these thoughts probably wouldn’t have even occurred to him. It’s the same forest it’s always been, thought Malcolm. The dark doesn’t change that. Still, it might be prudent to get a better sense of the area. Malcolm opened his senses to the world around him.
He heard new sounds, intermingled with the laughter from what he assumed was berry night. There had to be more than just Ozzie there. He could hear water running over stones, which reminded him of home. But there was also a more forceful sound to the water. A rushing, almost, as if the water was in a hurry to get somewhere.
A breeze ruffled Malcolm’s fur and he scented the air. Yes, he could smell water, cool and crisp. There was also the distinct musk of a skunk, though Malcolm could not tell for certain if it was Ozzie or not. With another whiff, Malcolm confirmed there was not one skunk, but several. Just as he was about to turn his nose back to the ground, a delicate sweetness enveloped him. He inhaled deeply and let the scents carry him away.
Strawberry was the only sweet scent he could identify. There was something else, too. Not just one something else, but several, as their fruity bouquet swirled together into a mouth-watering aroma. It made him want to sprint through the trees and dive head first into the berry bushes.
Malcolm could not see what was the out there past the tree line. He imagined Ozzie and other skunks, soon to be his new friends, he hoped. He pictured a creek, running over gray, brown, gold, and green stones. He pictured bushes and bushes of berries, lined up for all to eat.
His mouth watered. Malcolm’s feet began to move, as if he could not stop himself even if he wanted to. He was running again, only this time it was a very short distance. He burst through the trees and over a small hill. Then he stopped, amazed at what he saw.
To be continued….