In a peaceful estate, near a small village at the base of the mountain, there lived a young, hard-working Fox. He lived a quiet life, spending his days on his property tending to his garden, his orchard, sitting by the lake aside his home, and enjoying the serenity of his surroundings.
It was a lifestyle that Fox had easily adapted to when he came to inherit his family's land. Despite not being well acquainted with the distant Great-Uncle who had passed on and left the estate to the family, Fox had come to inherit the family estate nonetheless. When none of his older cousins had wanted to come to live their permanently, it passed to him despite being one of the youngest members of his family. As he was only distantly related, he didn't really know anyone from this side of his family tree, and has not spoken to any of the relatives who had been ahead of him in the line of inheritance. From what he'd been told by some of the locals, many of his relatives had tried to live there, but they rarely managed to last even a full week before they returned to their previous lifestyles. However, as soon as Fox stepped foot on the family land, he immediately felt a sense of belonging that he couldn't quite explain; it was almost as if he was destined to live there and care for the land the way his ancestors had before him.
Though he lived alone for the most part, Fox was never lonely, having a steady stream of visitors throughout the day. From the birds, to his friends, to his other visitors throughout the day, Fox may have lived his life in a fairly strict routine, but he was always welcoming any who stopped by. It was from piecing together the stories and anecdotes from his new friends that Fox began to develop an idea of what had driven away everyone else in his family.
"I trust you slept well?" Rooster asked him one morning after greeting the dawn and the rising sun. Though Fox was often already awake by the time Rooster arrived to greet the sunrise, he gladly welcomed the morning company, especially on a day like today when he awoke feeling more tired than expected.
"I got enough sleep," Fox replied. "I felt a bit under the weather during the night, and I feel like I had the strangest dreams, but I feel fine now." He turned his attention to the rest of the Chicken family. Yes, on days like today, the Chicken family and their brood of chicks were welcome company. The chicks never ceased to find something they enjoyed doing, be it playing in the spray of the hose or in the birdbath, or snacking on whatever food he had to give them. They played with the other birds who visited too, crane colts and chicks running around together along the edge of the water under the watchful eye of Fox and the other adults.
Much like the Chicken family, the Cranes were also frequent visitors. Fox loved his visits with the Crane family. At first, the young crane colts were only allowed to spend time with him when at least one of their parents were also present, but with time, Fox became a favorite babysitter of the family, and it wasn't at all unusual to see a young crane or two gliding across the lake as Fox did his laundry, or following him around as he tended to the orchard beside the lake. It was even the Cranes who first indicated that his other relatives had not been well-suited for the life he found himself in. "I hope you weren't offended that it took us some time to warm up to you," Mrs. Crane piped up one afternoon, "But after our children kept getting to know the prior residents who just kept moving on quickly, we thought it best to maintain some space until we knew you were planning to stay."
"Oh no, I completely understand that," Fox reassured her, "But…prior residents? Do you mean my relatives?"
"Yes, there were others in and out for months from the time your Great-Uncle passed away until you moved in. No one seemed to adjust to life here for some reason; not until you."
"That seems so strange to me," Fox admitted, "I felt like I was finally home the second I stepped foot on this land. I can't imagine ever wanting to live anywhere else."
Fox didn't just spend the day playing with the children or talking to their parents though; living on his family's estate meant that there was always a great deal of work to be done to take care of the house and the land. Cleaning the house and taking care of the laundry took hours just on their own, and that still left Fox with a great deal of land to take care of. He was grateful for his neighbor Turtle who wandered through the gardens whenever he felt a bit hungry, snacking on weeds and plants, helping to prune the plants in his own way. (And if perhaps he ate some fruit or some flowers as well in the process, Fox just considered it a special thank you for helping him out in the first place.) Turtle was old enough to have spent time with Fox' Great-Uncle as well over the years, and he revealed an interesting tidbit one day.
"Do you leave offerings of food and drink out by the lake at night?" Turtle asked him out of the blue.
"That's what your Great-Uncle called them. He never really explained what they were supposed to do, but he said that whenever he got a perfect night's sleep, the offerings were almost always gone."
"I didn't know about that," Fox said, thinking back on the photos he'd seen over the years. "I don't remember anyone ever mentioning them."
"Well, you Great-Uncle wasn't the kind to spread this sort of thing around, you know that. He may even have just been messing with me. You're sleeping fine, right?"
"Not all of the time. It can't hurt to give it a try, right?" That night Fox left a small tray of food and drinks outside by the lake's edge. In the morning, he awoke feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. The food was gone.
The Rabbit twins came by a few mornings a week for some tai chi and tea, catching Fox up on the latest news from town, and finding out about his visitors and friends in turn. The twins rarely had time to stay and spend more than an hour or two with him, but Fox loved that they went out of their way to welcome him to the town, even if he was barely on the outskirts himself.
"Do you know what your cousins did with the game of Go your Great-Uncle had?" the twins asked one morning. "We used to take turns playing with him sometimes. He had it out here just about every day."
"I think it was moved upstairs," Fox said. "When I find it, I'll bring it back out here though. It would be nice to learn how to play again; I barely remember learning the rules when I was little."
The Rabbits weren't his only acquaintances in town though; there were others Fox knew quite well, like the Ducks who came by to enjoy some good music from time to time, or of course, Monkey, his best friend. When Monkey came to visit, Fox put aside all of his other duties and just enjoyed the time gossiping and trading stories with Monkey. The two could carry on for hours over a good meal or tea, never tiring of one another's company, nor feeling any sort of need to return to the usual tasks at hand. Instead, Fox just took the opportunity to enjoy spending time with his friend.
"Seen any ghosts?" Monkey asked with a cheeky smile.
"Ghosts aren't real."
"Normally I'd agree with you, but half the townspeople remember seeing more than one of your cousins pack up and move out in the middle of the night due to 'creepy spirits' so either there are ghosts, or something here can cause hallucinations." Monkey took a sip of his tea and looked back at Fox expectantly.
"I've never seen any ghosts, but I do have weird dreams sometimes," Fox said slowly, "Things have been better since I started leaving offerings out by the water's edge though. That's something my Great-Uncle used to do, at least according to Turtle."
"So maybe there's something to that. Maybe you need to do more for the spirits, or ghosts, or whatever they are."
"Like what? Find a priest to help them move on?"
"I was thinking more along the line of lanterns," Monkey replied. "I know that you haven't been lighting lanterns lately because of all the fireflies, but maybe they could help as well. That's another thing your Great-Uncle used to do. Your cousins mostly relied on electricity and candles."
"Regular lanterns or the floating lantern boats on the lake?" Fox thought about the tradeoff between having the lanterns around, and indulging in his hobby of astronomy. With the mountain in the distance and the clear night skies reflecting in the lake below, nights when Fox viewed the stars seemed simply magical. But it was likely worth sacrificing some of that astronomy time if it meant that lanterns helped the spirits move through his family's land peacefully. "Am I crazy for taking this seriously?" he asked Monkey.
"Maybe. Or maybe your other relatives were crazy for not taking it seriously until it drove them away from here."
"You might be right about that," Fox said, "But regardless, I have a lot to learn about this place."
"But you're definitely staying, right?"
"I have no plans of leaving—this is my home now. This is where I belong."