Cassandra sat at her desk in the midst of piles of papers and books. She had cleared a small space where a piece of paper and a few colored pencils were cramped together. A picture of a waterfall flooded into her mind. She hurriedly picked out the blue pencil and drew it.
As always, the picture didn’t come out just how she imagined it. The light didn’t hit the water the right way, making it sparkle, and where the waterfall hit the pond, it didn’t bubble and foam quite the way she would’ve liked. “Ah well,” she said, thrusting the picture into her pocket and grabbing her backpack. She hurried out of her room and stuffed a piece of toast down her throat without tasting it. She ran out of the door and into the ugly yellow school bus.
She arrived at school just in time to see a reddish-orange fox disappearing into the forest. She glanced quickly at her watch: five minutes till the bell rang. I’ll chance it, she thought, and chased the fox.
She reached a large, grassy clearing where it was sitting on a rock, its legs crossed and its elbows on its knees. Its face lit up when it saw Cassandra and it turned around, its tail bristling, and disappeared once again into the endless forest. Still astonished at what she had just seen, she followed the fox once more.
Cassandra arrived at a little spring of water she never knew existed. She didn’t think twice that she was supposed to be in math class but was instead following a fox through the woods. The fox turned to make sure it was still being followed and strode purposefully into the spring. To Cassandra’s surprise, it disappeared once more, but this time it left no trace.
Deciding quickly, Cassandra walked into the spring, her light blond hair darkening as the water washed over her. She closed her eyes to shield them from the cool water raining down on her face. After about thirty seconds of being thoroughly soaked through, she stepped out from the spring and wiped her wet eyes before opening them.
She was no longer surrounded by just green and brown but a marvelous array of colorful fruits. The fox was nowhere to be seen, but a girl with reddish-orange hair was sitting cross-legged on a rock with her elbows on her knees. Her face lit up when she saw Cassandra had stepped out of the spring.
“I’m Emily,” said the girl shortly. She picked up a blue fruit resembling a teardrop and threw it to Cassandra. “Eat it, it’s good,” said Emily, biting into one herself. Cassandra was hesitant to eat it but finally decided to try it. She bit off a small chunk of the fruit. It was the most unexplainable and delicious fruit she had ever tasted, and she quickly finished it. In a matter of seconds she was reaching for another.
“I’m Cassandra,” she said through a full mouth that had been craving food since her tiny breakfast. When she had had her fill of all the wonderful new fruits, the ground was littered with cores and pits and stems. Emily stood waiting for her.
“Where did that fox go?” asked Cassandra.
Emily smirked. “I am the fox,” she said. “When someone from this world goes into your world, they turn into an animal. I turn into a fox.”
Slightly confused, Cassandra followed Emily as she began making her way through the forest with fox-like agility. Cassandra struggled to keep up and, more than once, Emily had to stop and wait for her.
“What do you mean, my world? Isn’t this my world?” Cassandra asked.
“No,” said Emily, her reddish-orange hair trailing behind her as she cut a quick corner. Cassandra’s blond hair instead got caught by a bramble and caused a sharp pain in the back of her head when she tugged it out.
“Where are we going anyway?” asked Cassandra, clutching her head.
“You’ll see,” replied Emily.
Cassandra hated when people said things like that. Anyone who knew her knew that she hated waiting for surprises to be revealed, but when they finally came, she was glad no one had spoiled them by telling her.
“Water,” began Emily, snapping Cassandra out of her thoughts, “has a strange effect on the two worlds we were talking about. Certain bodies of water, ones that rain from above like springs and waterfalls, act as passageways between them. When you want to get back, just find another spring or waterfall and it’ll bring you to the closest spring or waterfall to your home. That’s the spring we used to get here, the one by your school.”
Cassandra soaked in the knowledge like a dry sponge thirsting for water. Something rang a bell in the back of her mind. She pulled out the picture of a waterfall she had made earlier that morning. The colors had run a little and the page was still wet but you could still see the picture. She shook her head and dismissed it as mere coincidence that she had drawn the passage between two worlds on the day she actually used it. She slipped it back into her pocket.
After what seemed like hours of walking in the cool, dark shade of the tall, leafy trees, they arrived at a tall stone building. Emily placed her hand on the door and indicated for Cassandra to do the same. Emily removed her hand and Cassandra followed her example. Two hands glowed, indented, on the door.
“Emily and visitor!” exclaimed a harsh, sinister voice. “Come in!”
Inside was a large, spiral staircase leading to the second floor. They climbed it and entered a room. Emily nudged Cassandra towards the large throne-like chair occupied by a portly man wearing robes of deep purple. Gold buttons strained at his rather large stomach.
“Who is this that you have brought me, Emily?” asked the same harsh voice they had heard outside, now issuing from the fat lips on the man.
“Cassandra, sir,” replied Emily, not looking at Cassandra.
“You can call me Cassie,” she whispered to Emily.
“Where did you find her?” asked the man.
“Earth,” replied Emily. “She followed me to a spring of water.”
“Very good,” he said, sitting up straighter. “Take her to the fields!”
Still avoiding Cassie’s eyes, Emily led her out, down the stairs and onto the fields.
“Who was that man?” asked Cassie.
“Master,” said Emily.
“Oh,” said Cassie hesitantly. “Why did he tell you to take me to the fields?”
A pained expression darted across Emily’s face but was hastily replaced by an apathetic one. “You’re going to work for him,” said Emily indifferently.
“Why?” Cassie asked, alarmed.
“Because I brought you as a slave for him,” Emily answered, barely concealing the guilt in her voice. Cassie was speechless. It all fit though. Emily turned into a fox. Foxes were known to be sly and trick people. She refused to tell Cassie where she was going so she wouldn’t try to run. The puzzle was almost complete but one piece was missing, and it was nowhere to be found. Why had Emily told her how to escape if she was working for Master? Why had she told her about the water? Utterly baffled, she tried to search for the lost puzzle piece. She racked her brain, searching in every corner, but was presented with nothing.
Cassie gave up her search and looked around at the field of corn. “OK,” said Emily, speaking rather shakily. “So, just harvest this corn. Here, I’ll show you how.”
The next three days consisted of eating, sleeping, and harvesting corn for Cassie. Emily visited Cassie on her third day and was greeted by silence. “Come on,” she whispered to Cassie. Cassie didn’t move. “I’m going to get you out of here! Come on!”
Cassie smiled and once more followed her through the woods. “How did you get away from him?” asked Cassie, speaking, of course, of Master.
“I’m a fox, Cassie, I tricked him,” replied Emily, glancing over her shoulder. No one was following them. “I think I hear a waterfall this way, come on!” Emily exclaimed.
They pushed through the last few trees and reached a clearing with a waterfall flooding into a pond, bubbling and foaming where they connected. The light hit it in just the right way to make it sparkle. Cassie took out her picture, which was almost identical to the scene in front of her. She replaced it into her pocket and dove in, followed by Emily.
Cassie stepped out of the spring and glanced around at the fox next to her. “Well, whatever those fairy tales say,” said Cassie, not sure why but whispering, “not all foxes are evil.”