“I can’t sleep,” whispered Ella, her voice barely louder than the rustling leaves outside her window. She turned on her side, eyes wide open, staring at the city lights on the ceiling. The moonlight streamed through the window, casting long, eerie shadows across her room. She had been awake for hours, her mind a restless sea of thoughts.
Beside her, the Tesco guy stirred in his sleep, mumbling something unintelligible. Ella envied people who slipped into dreams with ease. For Ella, each night was a battle, her mind refusing to quieten, her thoughts spinning like the fan above.
Her room, awash in ghostly moonbeams, transformed at night. The distant car horns and the low hum of early commuters were familiar yet alien. Sleep had eluded Ella since childhood, her memories pocked with gaps she couldn’t fill. In recent years, her insomnia intensified, doctors blaming it on stress, on the precariousness strangling every aspect of her life.
Ella shut her eyes, trying to sync with the rhythm of her breath, hoping it would coax her into slumber. Instead, her mind conjured vivid images: towering trees rustling in the wind, the earthy scent of the forest, the thrill of darting through underbrush. The distant calls of unseen animals echoed in her ears, igniting an ancestral thrill.
These visions are always so vivid, so out of place.
Ella’s heart raced, and she couldn’t understand why these images flooded her mind. It was as if some primal part of her was awakening, stirring memories of a life she had never lived. The scents of the forest seemed so real, so tangible, that she could almost taste them in the air – the dampness of moss, the musky smell of fallen leaves, the sharp tang of pine.
She had only been to the woods a few times with Tania.
“I did everything I could” were her last words before closing the door of her Mini Cooper. Ella remained silent as always. And it seemed all her relationships ended because of her unbearable silence.
Yet, Tania had been the one who understood her the most, perhaps the only one. When they had met again at a class reunion dinner of now thirty-something ex-classmates, she had been struck by her well-put-together appearance, her hands deep in her pockets, her sparing interactions so direct and incisive they came across as sharp. Over time, those exceptional details had turned into neglect, indifference, selfishness, and arrogance on Tania’s lips.
She was accustomed to sleeping in a supine position, but now, she found it impossible. She tossed and turned, trying in vain to roll over, but inevitably ended up on her side again. After countless attempts, she gave up, her body aching in a dull, unfamiliar way.
“What in the world has happened?” she thought, bewildered. Her small bedroom, with its familiar, cosy clutter, lay quiet in the early morning light. Her laptop was open on the desk where she’d left it last night, surrounded by scattered notes and unpaid bills. A poster of a serene landscape hung on the wall, a recent addition intended to bring a touch of nature into her urban apartment. But that night, a strange feeling in the air settled deep in her bones.
Ella shifted under her blankets, trying to find a comfortable position, but her body felt oddly out of place, like a puzzle piece forced into the wrong spot. There was a tingling sensation in her limbs, a subtle but persistent itch that seemed to crawl beneath her skin. With a sigh, she slipped out of bed, her feet touching the smooth wooden floor. She finds it weird, as she was expecting a different sensation.
She stumbled toward the kitchen, her balance off, forcing her to crawl. Reaching the fridge, she poured herself a glass of milk. She held it with difficulty but managed to bring it to her mouth anyway. That’s when she heard a faint scratching sound, like something clawing at the back door. Ella froze, the glass of milk halfway to her lips. The sound was subtle but persistent, a desperate, rhythmic scraping that set her nerves on edge.
She considered ignoring it, dismissing it as a nocturnal animal or a branch swayed by the wind. But curiosity, perhaps a trace of fear, nudged her towards the back door. As she approached, the scratching grew more insistent, more urgent.
Ella’s hand trembled slightly as she reached for the doorknob. She hesitated, her heart pounding in her chest. What if it wasn’t just a stray animal? What if opening the door invited in something sinister, something that the darkness hid?
Taking a deep breath, Ella steeled herself and slowly turned the knob. The door creaked open, revealing the shadow-strewn backyard. Her eyes scanned the darkness, searching for the source of the noise.
Then she saw them – a pair of luminescent eyes, reflecting the moonlight, peering at her from the edge of the woods. Ella gasped, stepping back instinctively. The creature, whatever it was, didn’t move. It just watched her, its gaze unwavering and eerily intelligent.
She should have been afraid, closed the door and retreated to the safety of her home. But something about those eyes held her in place, a magnetic pull she couldn’t resist. They beckoned to her, promising answers to questions she hadn’t even realized she’d been asking. Ella found herself stepping outside, her bare feet touching the dewy grass. The night air was delicate against her body. She walked towards the creature, her heart racing with fear and fascination.
Closer now, the creature’s form resolved – a fox with fur like burnished copper and eyes aglow with otherworldly light. It regarded her with calm expectancy. The fox tilted its head, then turned, vanishing into the forest. Ella hesitated, then followed. The wood at night was a labyrinth of shadows and whispers. The fox led her deeper, its red fur a beacon in the darkness.
The forest embraced her, its ancient whispers enveloping her in a foreign and familiar world. She felt an awakening within, the world coming alive in vibrant hues and whispered secrets. A surge of energy electrified her, images flashing in her mind: endless forests, starlit skies, the exultation of the hunt. These weren’t mere dreams but memories resurfacing from a once-lived life.
“What is this?” Ella whispered, her heart racing.
Looking into the fox’s eyes, she felt an undeniable connection, a sense of belonging that she had never felt before.
"How can this be?" she asked, her voice trembling.
Ella thought of her endless nights, the insomnia that plagued her, the feeling of being out of place in her own life. It all made sense now – she was never meant to live a human life.
“What do I do?” she asked, a mix of fear and excitement coursing through her. Ella closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. She could feel it now, the pull of her true nature urging her to let go. She surrendered to it, feeling her body begin to change. The sensation was indescribable – a mingling of pain and euphoria as her form shifted. Her senses sharpened, the smells of the forest becoming more potent, the sounds clearer. She could feel her limbs altering, her skin giving way to fur. Colours were more vibrant, and the night was as clear as day. She looked down at her paws, silver fur glinting in the moonlight. A sense of freedom, pure and exhilarating, filled her.
The two foxes ran through the forest, the ground a blur beneath them. Ella had never felt such speed, such agility. She was a flash of silver, a spirit of the forest. As they ran, a deep joy filled her. She realized that she had finally found where she belonged. In the wilds of the forest, under the canopy of stars, she was indeed herself – a fox, free and untamed.
And as the dawn approached, painting the sky with hues of pink and gold, Ella felt a peace she had never known. In her heart, she was home.