Part 1 - abnom.deviantart.com/art/The-C…
It was late in the afternoon when Jessica made it home. She unhitched the horses herself, hung up the tack and brushed them down before going into the house to make supper from yesterday’s meager leftovers. The flour and other items she had picked up in town would be put to use tomorrow, but she placed one peach on the table in the center.
When Jacob came in he whistled at the sight of the peach. “Where’d that come from?”
“It’s an early peach from Georgia. Mrs. Smythe gave me half a dozen of them.”
“So she liked the portrait?”
“You should have seen her when she saw it. The peaches weren’t the only bonus she gave.” She held out the fancy purse. “Full price plus a $20 gold piece!”
Jacob was dumbstruck. “Twenty dollars?”“Mr. Smythe liked it as well, and gave me an old piece of furniture besides. Thought we might be able to restore it and sell it if we didn’t like it.”
“It’s a chest or something like that. With a cushion on top. Well, the cushion isn’t there anymore. He said the wood was Lebanese Cedar.”
“Hmm, I’ve never worked with that kind of cedar before. We’ll have to take a look at it in the morning.”“You can take a look at it tonight. You need to bring another sack of flour in from the cart so I can put it in the tins before the mice get into it in the barn.”
After supper Jacob went to get the flour and the chest. The chest was oval, with recessed hinges, and carved on the sides. Jessica had already told him about the key that didn’t work. He’d have to take a look more closely later. The flour sack was a large one; no wonder Jessica had not carried it in. That was enough flour to take them through until winter.
The next day when it was too hot to work in the sun, Jacob brought the chest to his work bench in the barn. With some effort he figured out how to remove the pieces that concealed the hinges and had one of them partially exposed by supper time. Jessica came out to get him and looked at it.
“This could make an interesting ottoman, with the right cushion placed on the top. I see the outlines of different figures on the sides. I’ll need to see it in different light and make some sketches.”
“Well, it’s well built, however old it may be. Clever how they built around the hinges but left them functional.”
“So you think you can open it?”
“Sure. Then maybe I can have a go at the lock mechanism to see why that key won’t work.”
“Let’s hope it’s not as complicated as the front door lock.” She made a face at him.
“Maybe you should take that bonus gold piece and purchase a new latch for the door if it bothers you so much.” But he smiled at her as he said this.
The chest became his afternoon project for the next few days. It really was a winter task, but for some reason it intrigued him, and working on it in the barn was an excuse to stay out of the heat of the afternoon. When he wasn’t working on it directly, Jessica sketched the faint designs of its side panels onto her papers, marveling at the details and variety of animals that had decorated it.
The following week when it was raining, he was finally able to push the hinge pins out and open the top. Tacked to the bottom of the lid was a cloth or skin of some type with writing on it. Setting it aside, he found an odd piece of metal jammed in the lock and after removing it was able to repair the lock mechanism so it opened with the key. By that evening, he had the hinged top re-assembled and it was opening without a hitch.
He showed the parchment to Jessica at dinner time.
“I’d like to sketch it first, but do you think you can get it off of the lid without damaging it? It might be similar to the patterns on the sides.” She had already drawn those in morning, noon, and evening light from several angles with her charcoal sticks.
“Take your time. I have plenty to do in the fields. I think the skin might fall apart when it comes off the wood. It’s hard to tell how strong it might be. There are even tacks in the middle and spaced around it.”
Jessica sketched and painted the picture. It was another week before Jacob was able to carefully remove what had held it in place, and she was there when he slowly lifted it off the lid that evening inside the house.
“Writing is on the back!” Jacob looked on in the fading light as he handed it to her.
The letters were angular, Greek perhaps? The words unrecognizable. But the vellum, although stiff and dry, did not fall apart as Jacob had feared.
After dinner, they looked at the skin again in the candle light. Jessica held it up in the light between her and Jacob and studied it, the table candle between her and the parchment.
“Move it a bit to your left.” Jacob squatted down a bit while Jessica continued to hold it. “There are holes that form an outline of a dog, no, it’s a fox! I can see it from the candle light.” Jessica moved it down a bit, not seeing it from her side. As she did, the illuminated outline of the fox moved up to Jacob’s face. Almost immediately, the outline became brighter, almost glowing, when it suddenly became almost dazzlingly bright. Jacob gasped as Jessica shut her eyes from the light. When she opened them again, and they re-adjusted to the low light, she saw Jacob shrinking before her.
He stared back at her as he did so. As he shrunk, he became hairy, and his nose started to grow. The hair became like fur, his face looking like a fox’s, his hands turning into black paws as they disappeared up his sleeves. It was Jessica’s turn to gasp, as her husband continued to change before her in the candle light, a tail appearing up from his breeches while his suspenders slipped from his shoulders. His face was now fully covered in fur, reddish on top and white under his nose and chin, with his ears forming points above his head. His nose was black, and the insides of his ears were white. His brown eyes were large with the shock, and he continued to become smaller while his tail became larger. His shirt nearly covered all of him as his pants fell to the floor in a heap, his underclothes draped about him under the shirt. He fell down on all fours, his long, full tail falling to the floor behind him.“What happened? Have I shrunk? Help me out of these cloths.” Jacob wiggled in his shirt and underclothes.
“Jacob! Hold still. Are you alright?” Jessica lifted the shirt from him without undoing a single button. She undid his undershirt and lifted it over his top half, brushing her hand on his fur as she did so. “You’re so soft!” She was as frightened for him as she was afraid herself.“I’m what? Look at my hands!” Jacob lifted his front paws, alternately turning them over and trying to flex them like his fingers, with limited response. They were black furred, which ran up almost all the way on the insides of his arms to his elbows, the outsides becoming a reddish color to match the rest of his back. “How can I work with my hands like this?” He looked up at her, quivering in disbelief.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. How could you change like this so fast? Did it hurt?”
“I felt very strange when the light became so bright.” Jacob tried to sit up, still tangled in his underclothes. “Why am I so small? And is that my nose?” He looked cross-eyed at his pointed snout.
Jessica helped him out of the clothing, his dark red tail swooshing from side to side in agitation as he looked back at it, first from one side, then the other.
“I have a fox’s tail! Am I…, am I…, a, … a, fox? Why? How is this possible?” He turned from looking at his tail and legs and looked back up at her as she sat on the floor beside him.
“I don’t know. There was an outline of a fox on your face from the light, it glowed, then there was a flash, and you changed! Could the light have been some sort of spell?”“There are no such things as spells! But, look at me. What can I do to change back?”
“I don’t know. I’ll study the rest of the box and parchment. I’ll ask Mr. Smythe if he can tell me anything else about the box. Maybe he knows something…”
“No Jessica, we can’t tell anyone that I’ve turned into a fox! If they even believed it, they’d think we had worked with the devil himself.”
“No one here is the condemning kind, especially the Smythes. But it makes no sense how you can be normal one moment and with a flash turn into an animal.”
“Do you think I’m an animal, Jessica?” Jacob seemed even more upset at that concept than the fact that he now looked, for all the world, like a fox. His ears practically drooped from his head.
“No, no, that’s not what I meant. I know you’re still my Jacob. You don’t feel like a fox, do you?” Jessica reached out and petted him.
“I don’t think so. What is a fox supposed to feel like?”
“Hungry, I guess. Feel like stealing our chickens?”“Now you’re just making fun of me.”
“Well I don’t know what to do. You do have a bit of a smell about you.”
“I have a what?” Sniffing the air, he lifted one of his fore-paws and smelled it. “Oh, I guess that is me. Well, now that’s annoying. I mean, more so than just being turned into a fox. ”
“Maybe it will clean off. But we have to study this parchment to see how to turn you back.”“Be careful it doesn’t turn you into a fox too!”
But they couldn’t make out anything from the strange writing. They finally fell asleep, Jacob so upset he insisted he would sleep on the floor rather than spread his smell around the house.
They re-examined the parchment in the morning, finding some additional pinholes in it they were careful to not look at with any light behind it, but unable to find the pattern that had looked like the fox Jacob had become. Later that morning they went to the barn and looked at the box itself. On one side of the octagon, a clear and bright image of a fox looking just like Jacob stood out from the rest of the faded images.
“I know that wasn’t there before. I sketched each side at least three times in different light and at different angles. I can get the sketches.”
“I remember it as well from working on it. Everything was old and faded, nothing like this was on there before. It must be related to what happened to me last night.” Jacob sniffed the box. “I didn’t notice it before but it does have a faint and old cedar scent, but different from the cedar I’ve worked on before.”
Jessica sniffed it as well. “I don’t smell anything from the wood, and I didn’t smell anything when it was in the sun, either. Maybe that long nose of yours is more sensitive now.”
Jacob gave her a look. “I suppose it might be. I don’t know anything about foxes, but I would guess they must have a better sense of smell than people do, so they can track things like dogs can.”
Jessica brought out her sketches and they compared them to the sides of the chest, looking at every bit of it to see what had changed, but the only difference was the addition of the one image of the fox.
“I don’t know what we can do now. None of this really tells us anything.” Jessica was clearly frustrated.
“I don’t either, but I do know I am hungry.” Jacob looked up at her.“No change there, you’re always hungry. Come on, let’s get some eggs from the chickens and I’ll make us an early lunch.”
Jacob was a little hesitant to go into the chicken coop as he was. The chickens fussed a little bit when he came in with Jessica, but since he did nothing to provoke them, they settled down quickly. Only the rooster pecked at him a bit, but backed off when he nipped at it.
During the week he stayed with Jessica as she worked the farm. There was little he could do to help, and it frustrated him even more. He went with her as she did her chores – the chickens, accustomed to his presence virtually ignored him unless he chased after them to bring them back into the yard or coup. When a carpetbagger came by he hid himself, sleeping until they left. However, that left him awake at night. Seeing the weeds growing in the field, he soon realized he was able to dig them out quickly with his paws, and he weeded the entire field in his attempt to get back to his normally busy routine. But that got him covered in dust and grime, and Jessica had to give him a bath. For Jessica’s part, she did the chores to the best of her ability, repair work aside. But her need to draw and paint finally got the best of her.
“I’ve always wanted to paint the picture of a wild animal in its natural setting, and I’ve always wanted to paint a portrait of you. Now I’m going to do both.”
Jacob wasn’t happy about it, but agreed he would stand still for her to sketch and paint in the early mornings or late evenings when there was little chance of someone coming by. She had him stand with his forepaws up on the large rocks near the field.
Part 3 - abnom.deviantart.com/art/The-C…