The Heart of a Fox by T. Isilwath

Chapter One

        When Joanna came to she had no idea where she was. She sat up slowly because everything hurt and managed to slide her arm out of the strap of the backpack as she took stock of her surroundings. She was surprised to find herself on the edge of a small meadow surrounded by tall trees.

        ‘What the? Did I land in the middle of the Meiji Shrine? What happened?’

        Meiji was the only place in the urban center of Tokyo where she knew such tall trees could be found. She’d read about it in the Japanese travel books she had purchased for her trip, but if the meadow was part of the Meiji Shrine, it wasn’t what she was expecting.

        ‘Okay. Do not panic. First, are you injured?’ she asked herself, getting her emotions under control.

        She mentally examined her body for areas of pain, and tested all of her limbs and extremities to make sure they were intact. Aside from a headache that was building, and a few scrapes and bruises, she was unharmed.

        She rolled up her T-shirt and inspected her insulin pump, making sure it had not been damaged by the fall. She had one of the newer, very small nanopumps with a built-in glucometer that had just come out recently, and she had it attached to her abdomen with a special patch. The nanopump was about 1/2 the size of her old pump, and it was practically invisible under her clothes. It monitored her subcutaneous glucose levels at regular intervals and warned her if her sugars rose too high or fell too low. Thankfully, her pump looked fine.

        ‘Thank God for small favors. Okay. Next, check your gear.’

        Rolling over to her knees, she looked behind her to inspect the camping backpack and found that the frame was bent.

        “Crap. Well, you guys are buying me a new backpack,” she said to no one, then suddenly remembered her guitar. ‘Oh no, Iris!’

        She searched frantically for the instrument and found her nearby. Crawling over to the padded black case, she unclasped it and inspected the instrument for damage. Thankfully, Iris appeared to be unharmed.

        ‘Thank God. Next I need to check my diabetes bag.’

        The rolling suitcase had landed on her other side and she made her way to it. Cursing under her breath, she pulled out the gifts she had planned to give to her host family: a handmade wooden flute for their son, a hand-woven blanket shawl for their daughter, a small 2-cup cast iron teakettle for her host mother, and a hand-made deerskin wallet for her host father. Underneath was her black diabetes bag where she kept all of her insulin and related supplies. She opened the small, red bag inside the larger bag to make sure the vials of insulin were intact. Miracle of miracles, all five vials appeared whole and undamaged, as did her spare blood sugar monitor. She hadn’t needed the external glucometer since she had switched to the combination insulin pump/glucose meter, but it was always good to have a backup testing method just in case something went wrong with the pump.

        “You guys are sooooo lucky.”

        Unfortunately, the one item that had not survived the ordeal was her laptop/tablet PC. The small 12” computer had been in its case, strapped to the backpack, and it had come loose during the fall. It had been flung several feet away, and, even without trying to turn it on, she could see that it was damaged beyond saving. The casing was cracked in two places, and part of the corner had snapped off. Maybe the data on the hard drive could be salvaged.

        “Ok, you are so buying me a new laptop! And that’s just for starters!”

        Repacking everything, she unclipped her handheld pc/cell phone from the waist of her jeans and turned it on, intending to call for help, but was very distressed to find that she had no signal. That was odd because the service she used was based on satellite technology and she should get reception anywhere.

        ‘What’s going on here?’

        Without the phone to call for help, she had no choice but to settle down and wait for the cavalry to arrive. According to her watch, she’d been out for about fifteen minutes so she expected someone to show up shortly and explain to her what the hell had happened.

        As far as she could tell, she wasn’t in any immediate danger, and she saw no compelling reason to go searching for answers, at least not yet. Not knowing where she was, and uncertain as to exactly what had gone wrong with the Gate, she felt that it was best for her to just stay put and let the guys on the other end find her. With a little luck, someone would come running out of the trees carrying a remote receiver and a medical bag, and all would be well. In the meantime, she figured she’d focus on her list of demands and tried to recall if the wavier had covered anything like this.

        As she waited, her back set against the trunk of a tree, she took the time to look around and enjoy the view. In front of her was the meadow, warm and sunny in the afternoon light. Behind her was deep forest and lots of it, the kind where sunlight only barely reached the ground through the canopy. All around, she could hear the sounds of the trees and the creatures that lived within them, but nothing else. Somehow the lack of man-made sound seemed unnatural, and she wondered how far away she was from the nearest road. It had to be far because she couldn’t see any of Tokyo’s skyscrapers.

        ‘No road sounds. No machine sounds. I know Meiji is big, but is it big enough so that you can’t hear the city at all?’

        She looked up at the blue sky and noticed the absence of jet trails.

        ‘No jet-trails either. Am I even in Tokyo?’

        Twenty minutes passed and there wasn’t even a hint of anyone looking for her. She inspected the GPS around her neck and wondered if maybe she’d had the dumb luck of getting the one that had the dead batteries, but when she pressed the call button the indicator light came on, and the receiver made a loud chirp, so she guessed it was working, or at least she hoped so.

        “Any minute now guys. You can show up any minute. Really,” she said.

        Not that where she was wasn’t awfully nice. She rather liked the trees and meadow, and lack of human-made noise, but she knew she couldn’t stay there. Besides all she really wanted to do was take some medication for her headache and go lay down for a while.

        Another half hour went by. There was still no sign of anyone coming to her rescue, and she began to notice the forest taking an interest in her. Both Elisi and Michael had taught her the way of listening to nature, how to hear the voices of the trees and understand what they were saying. To most Anglos, or even an Indian who had turned his back on the old ways, such a notion was ridiculous, but Elisi was a traditional Cherokee, and she walked the path her people did before the White man came. It was this teaching that she had instilled in her orphaned granddaughter, and her beliefs were reinforced by Michael and his own Native path. She had learned that the earth would play dead if she wanted it to, but if she showed proper respect and acknowledged the beings around her as conscious entities, it would come alive for her and help her as much as it could.

        Right now, the trees that had a clear line of sight of her were whispering to the trees behind, and there was much excitement at her sudden arrival. When she turned to look at them she wasn’t sure what surprised them more: the fact that she could understand what they were saying or that she actually spoke to them.

        ‘Hello, Tree-brothers, could you please tell me where I am?’ she asked.

        Of course, asking a tree where it was was rather like asking a fish which way was up.

        :Where? Here. We are here,: they answered helpfully.

        ‘Yeah, I kinda figured that out already. Thanks anyway.’

        She settled back against the tree again and stared out at the meadow. So far she’d been there for over an hour, and there wasn’t even a peep from anyone looking for her. The pounding in her head didn’t seem to be getting any better either. Closing her eyes, she willed the pain away, hoping to alleviate some of her discomfort, and before she knew it she was feeling drowsy. The trees were lulling her, their calming energy creeping into her through the ground and the trunk she rested against.

        :Rest. Stay a while and be at peace,: they said.

        ‘I shouldn’t fall asleep. I should stay awake and listen for the search party. It will be hard for them to spot me in these trees,’ she answered, then her mind argued, ‘You have the GPS and the alarm will go off when they find you…’

        :Rest. You are safe here.:

        ‘Okay, just for a minute…’ she decided, closing her eyes.

        When she woke again it was getting on sunset, and she had been asleep for almost two hours. The sky was starting to turn a lovely shade of orange in preparation for the reds, purples and blues of twilight, and there was still no sign of a rescue party.

        ‘I guess they aren’t coming for me.’

        But in her heart she already knew that. It was obvious that something had gone horribly wrong with the Quantum Gate, and she’d been sent somewhere far from where she was supposed to be.

        ‘Wherever I am, I must be hard to find because it’s been three hours, and, if I am in Japan, they’d have located me by now. Maybe the distance was too far. The man behind the desk said it was the furthest they’d ever sent someone within the Private Sector. Maybe the Gates approved for civilian use aren’t as powerful as the ones the military has. It would make sense. The Army didn’t want the technology shared in the first place from what I’ve heard. It could be that this version of the Gate just isn’t capable of such a long distance trip.’

        Slowly she stood, still sore from her rough landing, and looked around.

        ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do about it right now. Even if I wanted to go looking around, it’ll be dark soon. I should stay nearby but I need to find shelter. I also need to build a fire to make food before my blood sugar bottoms out. I need water and a place to make camp.’

        The meadow looked inviting but there didn’t seem to be any water there and, for some reason, it just didn’t feel right. After years of refining her survival skills, she had learned to trust her instincts, and right now her instincts were telling her to head into the forest. Reaching into herself, she touched the warm place in her solar plexus and breathed deeply, feeling the energy of the earth moving under her feet.

        ‘Which way?’ she asked.

        Knowing the answer would reveal itself, she cast her eyes about and almost immediately spied a narrow game trail leading into the forest.


        She slipped her arms back into the straps of the backpack, grateful that the frame hadn’t been bent enough to poke her in the side, picked up Iris and her rollaway suitcase, and headed down the path. Several yards into the forest, the trail forked and she stopped at the juncture, trying to decide which way to go. Again she reached into her center, opening herself up to the voices of the trees and the breath of the forest.

        :This way,: the trees to the left beckoned, and she obeyed, turning down the left fork and following the narrow path.

        She took note of the types of trees, and she saw species that looked very similar to the ones she was familiar with like oak, maple, and pine. Most of them were deciduous, so that meant it was a temperate or sub-tropical climate.

        ‘Great, that really narrows it down, doesn’t it?’

        There was thick undergrowth and the pungent smell of decaying, wet plants. The forest could be considered a jungle, and the sounds of birds and other denizens of the woods made loud calls as she walked. She tried to identify the sounds, but the only one she was absolutely sure of was the caw of a nearby crow. Being that crows could be found just about everywhere, the presence of Crow didn’t tell her much at all.

        She walked on, going deeper and deeper into the trees, following the tiny, barely visible track through the forest, until she had traveled what she estimated to be about a mile before the game trail abruptly ended, and she found herself on the edge of a small clearing canopied by the forest. Here the undergrowth was sparse, leaving only a smattering of grass and some exposed tree roots, and she could hear running water somewhere nearby.

        The presence of a flat, dry area in close proximity to running water would have been enough to make her choose the clearing as her campsite, however there was one other factor that clinched it for her and that was the trees.

        The trees were huge, towering giants, and they bordered the clearing in almost a complete circle. They were cedars, a tree most sacred to her people, and their crisscrossing boughs created a high-ceilinged roof over the area, giving it the illusion of being enclosed when it really wasn’t. Directly to her left, in what would be the fourth quadrant of the clearing, was the largest tree of all, a massive King of the Forest at least nine feet across at its base, and its gnarled exposed roots enclosed what looked to be a hollow underneath. If it was large enough for her sleeping bag, it could be a dry shelter for her to store her gear and find refuge from the elements.

        When she stepped into the clearing a hush fell over the forest, as if the area was insulated in some way from the frenetic energy of the rest of the jungle. The place felt safe, protected and… almost sacred, and she felt engulfed in warmth and welcome when she entered the circle of the trees’ influence.

        :Hello. We’ve been waiting for you,: they said, their “voices” soft and old.

        She knew the trees had meant to soothe her, but somehow their greeting brought cold comfort. The very last thing she needed to hear was that the trees had been waiting for her. If they had been expecting her, then her being there wasn’t just happenstance. But then, wasn’t it true that there were no accidents? Elisi had taught her that all things happened for a reason, and it was up to her to figure out the reason.

        ‘Here is where I am at the moment. Here is where I am supposed to be.’

        She made her way over to the largest tree and set down her belongings in order to inspect the hollow. The entrance was about five feet wide and three feet high, and deep enough so that she couldn’t see the back of it in the gray haze of the twilight forest. She pulled out her flashlight from one of the backpack’s side pockets and shined the light into the dark space. The hollow was large and went back at least eight feet with probably a couple of more feet beyond that, but with a lower ceiling. She estimated it to be about ten feet across and just over four feet high. Most of the roof was a huge slab of rock that the tree had grown on top of, winding its roots around the stone.

        Upon closer examination of the tree, she recognized the peeling red bark. ‘This is a Sugi, a Japanese Red Cedar, but it must be at least 150ft high.’

        “Thank you for the shelter, Old One,” she said, placing her hand on one massive, tangled root.

        :We are glad you are here,: came the answer.

        She nodded, shaking off the feeling of unease and confusion, then she felt a familiar dryness and numbness in her mouth, and she knew that she needed to eat soon. She didn’t need to check her blood sugar to know that it was low. She had been an insulin dependent diabetic since the age of six, and she was well attuned to her body’s signs and signals.

        ‘Get water from the stream and gather deadfall. Build a fire to boil water. I know I have some dried soup mixes. In the meantime, I’ll grab a meal bar from my pack,’ she decided, rummaging in the pack for the food rations that no self-respecting diabetic would be caught without.

        As she ate the meal bar, she went on camp autopilot. She and Michael had set up camp so many times that the tasks were second nature to her now. It was odd not to have him there, but she managed without his help. By the time full dark fell, she had unpacked her supplies, made a fire pit ringed with stones she’d gathered from the stream that was just a few yards away, built a fire in the pit and set her camp grill on top, and boiled water for some bean soup.

        After dinner she took stock of her gear and inventoried what she had with her. She had no idea how long she would be there, so she needed to know what she had to work with. Most important was her insulin and testing supplies. She had five full vials of insulin and one half empty cartridge in her insulin pump that would last another day and a half. She had brought almost a full year’s worth of testing supplies, pump cannulas and infusion needles, and the batteries in her combination insulin pump/glucometer were good for two years. She also had some ketone test strips just in case she thought there might be a problem, her Glucagon Emergency kit, the tuberculin syringes, and her old glucometer in the event that the pump stopped working.

        She and Michael had restocked the packs after their last trip so she had plenty of matches and batteries. She also had the full regimen of first aid and anti-venom supplies in the medical kit, along with an electronic encyclopedia of medicinal and edible plants. For cooking, she had the fire grill, one small pot, the teakettle she had brought for her host mother, and (surprise, surprise) the cast iron frying pan.

        The real surprise, however, was finding her hunting knife duct taped to the back of the pan in an effort to conceal it from the security X-rays. She had noticed that security was lax around the Gates, probably because the Gates themselves screened for firearms and explosives, and because travel was instantaneous. The guard had most likely recognized the shape as a frying pan on the X-ray and hadn’t bothered to question it since it was in a camping backpack.

        ‘Doesn’t instill any confidence in the guards in me if they let something like that slip through, but life just got a hell of a lot easier.’

        She had two sets of bowls, cups, plates and eating utensils, and a set of serving and grill utensils like tongs and a spatula. She also had two Tupperware containers, several storage bags, and three 13-gal size trash bags. Between her own blanket shawl and the one she had brought for her host sister, she had two blanket shawls plus her sleeping bag and a camp bedroll for extra padding, and she had a rain tarp if the shelter turned out not to be waterproof.

        For tools and hunting gear she had her Swiss army knife, a canteen, a compass, fishing line and hooks, 25ft of nylon rope, her hunting leathers and her hunting knife. No bow or fishing net, though. That would make life a little more difficult, but she knew how to make a fishing spear. She could make a bow too, but the bowstring was more complicated.

        In addition to all of that, she had a few extras like a battery-powered lamp, a sewing kit, some maps of Japan and two travel books on the country highlighting places and history, an assortment of cooking spices, additives and food rations, instant coffee and tea bags, and a couple of rolls of camp-size toilet paper.

        Her rollaway suitcase held all of her clothes, toiletries, footwear, diabetes supplies, her digital camera, the remaining gifts she had brought for her host family, three small photo albums she had brought to show her host family, and her sacred bundle bag, plus three very special items: the journal Michael had bought her, an amazing, comprehensive English-Japanese dictionary that had been a gift from Elisi and two other Elders, and one special outfit- a hand dyed skirt, shirt and shawl she had named the Long Person because the blue and green swirling colors reminded her of flowing water.

        As soon as she had finished setting up camp, she opened her sacred bundle bag and took out her sage, tobacco and sweetgrass from their individually wrapped bundles. It was common practice for her and Michael to bless and sanctify their campsites to ensure a safe and pleasant stay, and she needed to honor her guides and Spirit for taking care of her. Lighting the sage, she smudged herself, her sacred items, the campsite and the trees, then she used the compass to determine north and made offerings to the spirits of the seven directions. She prayed for guidance and protection, and thanked the forest and the spirits for the aid they had given her.

        Once she had finished her prayers, the campsite felt safe and secure, and she felt more at ease. She rolled out her bedroll in the middle of the hollow under the tree and put her sleeping bag on top of it. The night was cool, but not cold, so she left her blanket shawls packed. She placed the backpack, her rollaway suitcase and Iris at the rear of the hollow, and arranged her other supplies along the back wall in groupings according to how often she would need them. Then she banked the fire and made sure that no coals could spark a forest fire overnight. The last thing she did before she settled down in the hollow was check her blood sugar to make sure she didn’t need to eat anything before she went to sleep.

        ‘I wonder if they’ll find me in the morning,’ she thought as she crawled into her sleeping bag. She was asleep almost immediately.

        She was awakened just before dawn by a snuffling at the hollow’s entrance, and she opened her eyes to see a tanuki, one of Japan’s nocturnal raccoon-dogs. It shuffled away the moment it heard her move, hurrying to find a less occupied place to settle down for the day, but its presence confirmed what she had already begun to suspect: that she was somewhere in Japan.

        ‘But where? Could it be that I’ve ended up on one of the smaller islands in the archipelago? Wouldn’t they have sent a helicopter or boat for me? And why don’t I have any cell phone signal? I need to get a better look around.’

        While she waited for full daylight, she made her way down to the stream to wash her face and fetch water for her breakfast. The Cherokee had a ritual of cleansing known as “going to water,” and this she performed in abbreviation, facing east as she dipped her hand in the stream and ran the water over her head and upper body. Once she was finished, she filled her canteen and returned to her camp. She had some oatmeal, but she needed boiling water.

        Her fasting blood glucose level was good when she checked her blood before eating, and her insulin pump automatically administered her morning dose of insulin after she entered her carbohydrate count. Then she ate her oatmeal and changed into her hunting leathers in preparation for a little tree climbing. The leathers were rough-hewn, but the buckskin jerkin and leggings would protect her from poking branches and parasites, and they also included a leg sheath for her hunting knife that she strapped around her thigh.

        As soon as it was full light, she took the rope and threw it to loop around the lower branch of a nearby tree so she could climb up. Her goal was to get into one of the big cedars, but their lowest branches were too high for her to reach or throw the rope around so she needed to start in a smaller tree next to a big cedar and find a way across. About two-thirds of the way up the smaller tree, she was able to make a small jump over to the big cedar, and she scrambled her way up the giant from there, going as high as she could go. The giant cedar stood tall above the canopy of the forest, and she had a true bird’s-eye view of the area. What she saw made a lump of dread settle into her stomach, and she fought to hold back tears.

        There was an endless sea of trees for as far as she could see with no signs of cities or civilization of any kind. Not only that, but the air smelled clean, as if no pollution had ever touched the place, yet she knew Japan had trouble with smog. And the trees, the massive trees, grew tall to kiss the sky.

        The wind blew through her hair as she stared at the forest beneath her, and she turned around to face west. One look answered all of her questions and brought up a whole host of new ones; some of which she dreaded the answers. There, as clear as any postcard or photograph, was the unmistakable profile of Mt. Fuji in the distance. The question now wasn’t where she had been sent. No, it was a much more frightening one with greater repercussions and consequences.

        The question wasn’t where. It was when.


        She slowly made her way back down to the ground as she tried to wrap her head around her new revelation. It took her a while because she found herself trembling, and she had to rest a time or two to wait for the feeling to come back into her limbs.

        It was fairly obvious that, unless she had been cast into the distant future where Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the 25th century had come true (part of which involved the whole of Japan being converted into a giant park, with all of the cities being torn down and all of the people relocating to Bora Bora), she had been sent back in time.

        How far back in time was yet to be determined, but it was definitely pre-industrial, and depending on how long it took for them to find her she could be in very serious trouble. She had almost five months’ worth of insulin, but once it was gone, there would be no way for her to obtain more. Since she didn’t know how long she would be trapped there, she needed to find a way to extend her insulin supply as much as possible. The first thing she did was adjust her insulin pump basal levels and profiles. The pump regularly checked her subcutaneous glucose and administered a basal rate which gave her enough insulin to maintain a steady blood sugar level. Now that she was who-knows-when in pre-industrial Japan, every unit of insulin she saved was a unit that might save her life.

        In addition to carefully regulating her insulin, she knew she could also control her blood sugar through exercise and a strict diet. If she went on a “caveman” diet of predominantly protein and vegetables, and avoided carbohydrates as much as possible, she could reduce her need for insulin as “coverage” for the carbs. It wasn’t optimal, and she knew she would need some carbohydrates for energy, but if she was smart about it, she could minimize their impact on her glucose levels.

        She had no idea when the engineers would be able to figure out what had happened to the Gate for it to have sent her back in time, and she did not envy their task in solving the mystery. She had no doubt that the odds were against her, and she needed to buy herself as much time as possible; she needed to buy them as much time as possible to find her before it was too late.

        The other thing she needed to do was avoid other people. While it would be very nice to find out exactly when she was, the risk of exposing herself, and the native Japanese living in the current time, to microbes and viruses was too great. History was riddled with accounts of devastating disease being unknowingly spread by foreign visitors, and she had no desire to be pre-industrial Japan’s equivalent of Typhoid Mary. Not to mention what they might give her. Infection and illness were to be avoided at all costs. Not only did diabetics recover and heal much more slowly than non-diabetics, any factor that compromised her body or added to her stress levels could drastically increase her need for insulin.

        She needed to stay calm, stay healthy, and survive as best she could until she was rescued. She had her camp and her gear, including the frying pan Michael had snuck into the pack. His sentimentality, and his diligence in keeping their packs stocked and ready for anything, had probably saved her life. As things were, as long as she could maintain adequate control of her blood sugar, she could survive indefinitely. Her sewing kit included a leather awl so if she had to make heavier clothes for winter weather she would be able to, but she had at least seven months before the temperatures would begin to get colder. The monsoon and typhoon seasons would come before that, and she might have to find a new camp on higher ground if the rains became too heavy.

        She knew she could do it. The forest would provide everything she needed. It was spring so food would be abundant, and there was deep enough cover for her to hide if she heard people nearby. She was Cherokee. She was Sings In Winter. She would adapt, adjust, and do what she had to do.

        In the meantime, she was going to scout around and establish a territory large enough to provide her with everything she needed to live. She also needed to know if there were any villages nearby so she could avoid them.

        She would record her activities in the journal Michael had given her to keep track of the days. And she would pray that the ones who could solve the mystery of what had happened to the Gate would find her quickly and bring her home.

On to Chapter Two

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