Where foxes dance, where foxes sing, The white fox rules them all, The black fox is their king, You'll be sure to hear her call, As she welcomes you in.
It was the advert in the paper that first caught my eye, I've always wanted to live in the country, and finally it looked that it might actually be possible.
C 18th Detached house, in need of some renovation hence price. Rural location , three bedrooms £48,000.
Compared to some places I'd been staying in, as long as it had a fairly intact roof I didn't really care what the place looked like. After all, I wasn't out to impress anyone, just wanting somewhere to hide away for a while. I contacted the estate agent and arranged a viewing for the next day.
Driving out there, bemused by the lack of road signs and the twisting roads left me glad that he'd thoughtfully provided me with a full set of directions. Remote was an understatement, tucked on the end of a village was an unmarked lane, it's entrance nearly over grown by the hawthorn hedge. There was just enough room to drive a small car down, no room for vehicles to pass. The road wasn't even tarmaced for it's full length. As I drove down it, it progressively became worse. What was left of the road looked like a botched attempt at constructing a full sized scalextric set. Just enough concrete had been laid for a tire to rest on, on each side of the lane. To either side of these strips the surface was deeply indented, probably by some farm vehicle or another. My suspicions where confirmed when I met a tractor head-on , fortunately he had just turned out of a side entrance to a field a few yards further back and he was quite willing to reverse back into it. He did give me a strange look as I waved a cheery thank you in his direction but I thought it was just the natural reticence of the country folk to strangers.
Parked outside the house was a smart range-rover that put my poor old ford estate car to shame. Clutching a briefcase tightly was a small man in a suit, it didn't take a genius to guess that this was the estate agent. For some reason he looked slightly nervous and kept glancing above the door. It was only when I'd shut the car door that he seemed to notice me properly , then he visibly shook himself, put on his business face and warmly welcomed me. As I stood next to him at the entrance to the over-grown garden, I saw what had drawn his attention, fastened above the door was a strange piece of sculpture. It was a fox's face carved out of wood with glass eyes, mounted high at an angle the eyes caught the sunlight and seemed to stare right at you. From the darken state of the wood I guessed it had to be at least a hundred years old, probably more.
"The house is called the Fox's Mask, I've always wanted to see why myself, never had the chance before.", he said, "My late partner always handled this property before, now it's my turn. I warn you, this place needs a lot of work done to it."
If the garden was any indication I had the next few weeks at least taken with making the place livable, even by my broad standards. At least what I could see of the tiled roof seemed sound enough, and the walls showed no obvious cracks. Once many years ago the garden must have been someone's pride and joy but years of neglect had taken their toll. The roses where still there, swamped but meadow grass grown tall and lank but their scent wafted toward me on the slight breeze. Odd splashes of colour peeked between the grass stems, wild flowers reclaimed the seed beds from the foreign usurpers, but the occasional hardy marigold still stuck it out side by side with Sailor's Buttons. There was a path of sorts leading in from the gate to the front door, it must have been level at one time, but it was decidedly uneven now. Scuffing at the deep layer of moss revealed that the path had been made of red brick the same colour as the tiled roof. The house itself must have been white washed once in it's existence but now it looked faded and grey in the patches that weren't concealed by roses and ivy. In it's prime this house must have been a real picture, I wondered if I'd be the one to make it one again.
The door was locked with a large iron key, the estate agent smiled at me weakly when the door refused to open at first. " The hinges must have dropped," he said with a sorry smile. Together we managed to open the door which protested loudly at our intrusion. Inside the door we were greeted by the musty odour of a house that had been un-aired for too long. It smelled of old suitcases, books left in the rain, it smelled forgotten.
The electricity was still turned off, but enough light came in through the windows to give me a pretty accurate idea of what needed doing. My estimate of a few weeks lengthened into a few months as I took in the wall paper hanging in vast swathes from where you'd normally expect it to be. The ceiling of the main room appeared to be sound, as did most of the lower floor, but I noticed something strange about the kitchen wall. It appeared to be different from all the other walls. When I questioned him, Mr. Brown hurriedly read through the house description from the file in his briefcase. "Ah, yes, this is interesting. Apparently this rear wall is all that remains from the original sixteenth century building, an inn I believe. The building was destroyed by fire, all apart from this wall, and the house was built at a later date."
"Why has the house been empty for so long ? " I asked him , curious as to why no one had snapped up this property ages ago. " Erm, yes. The last owners of this house, erm... they vanished. At least the husband did, the wife, she was committed. The police, they think she might have been responsible for his disappearance, walked out on her, I guess. No real mystery, just the legal matters have taken five years to complete. A divorce was filed and in the husbands absence the property is reverting to his wife. Her family want the best of care so they've put the house on the market, they are anxious for a quick sale. "
I looked round the house for a while, sizing up what materials I'd need, making appropriate noises so I didn't sound too interested. From the kitchen window I could see a tall oak tree that marked the termination line of the property. Through gaps in the long grass I glimpsed the russet colour of a foxes coat and smiled quietly to myself. Yes, I knew then that I had to own this house. Back at the garden gate I shook hands with Mr. Brown, and told him I'd see him the next week to finalize agreements. He looked slightly surprised at my discussion and that I'd only dropped the asking price to £45,000 , he confided to me that his clients would have been willing to go lower but I knew that I could afford it, and after all the poor woman probably needed it more than me. The fox mask above the door winked at me in the sunlight and I knew that I had found my home.
The white fox leads the merry dance, Tailed touched you'll follow her, Her song, music to entrance. Clothed in your own fur, Oh so daintily you'll prance.
The week until I could finally legally take up residence in my new home seemed to drag. I longed to be able to go for walks in the countryside, to wake to the sound of bird song instead of traffic, to actually breathe in fresh air and not choke on the traffic fumes. Arrangements made, my few worldly goods I couldn't be parted with stacked in boxes, wedged inside my trusty, rusty, steed I set off to begin the life I always wanted.
After a little lubrication the key slid gently into the lock, fortunately I'd remembered to pack some oil for the hinges as well. After a few squeaks and groans the door finally got used to the idea it was intended to open as well as shut. Before attempting to move boxes inside, the path desperately needed attention. The last thing I needed was to fall on my arse whilst carrying my computer or some other vital piece of "civilised" life. Stacked beside the house was a pile of fallen branches obviously put there some time ago in the hope that they'd be chopped for winter fuel. One of these proved to be fairly sturdy or at least serviceable as a long handled scraper. A bit of effort soon put paid to the worst of the moss and made the footing slightly less treacherous.
One by one, stacking the boxes against the wall I ferried my stuff into my new humble abode. During the previous week an electrician had checked the wiring and his verdict was it was old yet still sound. Trusting in his judgement I turned the light on. On being greeted with a loud bang and a bit of flying glass I decided he was slightly optimistic. A replacement bulb however seemed to work just fine. Illuminated , I unpacked my kettle and had a welcome cup of tea.
Gazing out of the kitchen window, sipping slowly and wondering what I had done with the milk I watched movement under the oak. My patience was rewarded when I saw not one but five foxes romp in the distance, bouncing high over the long grass, crouching low and nearly vanishing. I decided they must have a den near by, and vowed that I'd visit it soon.
Looking about me I came to the conclusion the first thing to do was make one room inhabitable at least. When I'd view the upper floor with the estate agent there was too much in the way of dust and rot to make a bedroom feasible. The only answer was to concentrate on the kitchen and main room. Sagging wall paper was the first thing to go but as I tore it from the wall I noticed strange marks on the plaster exposed beneath. Carefully I uncovered all four walls, and stood there slowly rotating, taking in exactly what I'd found.
Someone had drawn in black paint on all the walls, or as I looked closer I realized that it wasn't paint but ink. Surrounding me was a meticulously rendered scene depicting foxes beneath the very oak tree I could see from the window. The drawings were so life like, full of detail, I could even see this house sketched in the background to one view. There was one strange detail, looking over all the other foxes, sitting on a slight rise to the left of the oak was a fox rendered pale in comparison to the others. Opposite , on the far wall was another fox, this one darker than the rest, with no white tip to it's tail.
There must be a story behind the artist and why someone had taken the trouble to paper over such a masterpiece. I resolved to contact the estate agent and find out at a later date. Fortunately the walls themselves seemed in good repair, although slightly grubby. Not knowing how durable the ink was I thought it best to live with a little grime just to enjoy the art. The remainder of the day was spent emptying all the rooms of their rotting furniture. All the mattresses and most of the beds themselves were filthy with neglect. Damp had laid is moist touch upon wardrobes and dressers alike. Maybe one or two pieces could be saved after they were diligently scrubbed but for now I thought the best idea was to totally empty the upstairs rooms. Moving a wardrobe on ones own down a staircase with twists and turns isn't the easiest thing to manage, but with a few scrapes shared equally between the furniture, the walls and myself I coped.
Unfortunately when it came to removing the chest of drawers from the largest bedroom that disaster struck. A floor board which I'd previously thought sound even though it creaked, gave way. The chest of drawers bucked and slid away from me as I threw myself backwards away from the stairs. Due to some precarious nature all of it's own it actually managed to avoid the corner that had plagued me so much, and chose to end it's useful life as a pile of fire wood, smashed against the front door. In the wreckage lay a small leather bound note book that must have been forgotten there since the previous owners vanished in their own cloud of mystery. It appeared to be a diary or journal of some kind. At least tonight I'd have something different to read.
The rest of the day until dusk was spent clearing away the wood, lighting a small fire and spreading my sleeping bag so my back was supported by the wall depicting the pale fox. Lying here, the fire flickering to my side, candle light dotted about the room, the drawings seemed to have a life of their own I began to read the book and as I read I must have dozed off.
A woman's voice spoke to me in my dreams of her husband, how he became obsessed with watching the foxes. He started spending nights away from their bed, coming home early in the morning tired and dirty. He'd never say anything to her, but occasionally he'd talk in his sleep as he slept his way through the morning. He'd talk of the silver hair, of the flashing green eyes, of how he loved this mystery which dragged him from his bed. She followed him ...........
The voice ended in bird song and I woke to a robin tapping it's way over my luggage. I looked at the book lying there by my side, the last pages had been torn out. All there was, was the woman saying that she'd follow him to find out who was courting her husband. The mystery still remained, did the husband tired of his wife, run off with his blonde bomb shell after all? What was the real reason behind the foxes hold over him?
The dance will lose you in it's flight, Round and round you'll spin, Never stopping 'til morning light, And the dark fox joins in. He'll release you from your plight.
Slowly I began to have an impact on the house, days spent shifting furniture out, repairing what could be saved, chopping and stacking what couldn't. At the end of the day I'd fall asleep, to tired to even dream, I'd sleep the night from dusk until dawn, until finally the house began to look as though some one cared about it again. My battle with the garden seemed to take forever, I'd hack and slash brambles and weeds only to realize that I was chopping up rose bushes. Finally I decided to let nature have it's way with most of the garden and just clear a patch around the immediate house. My efforts seemed to be appreciated by the neighboring fox family who obviously found catching their food easier in the denuded areas. From the sounds of scuffling round my door at night they were intending to enter and chase mice inside, as well as out, but I wasn't too keen on the idea. Foxes have a habit of marking their territory pungently, or at least the males do, from the smell wafting in he'd claimed my door as his, as well as most of the garden.
Curiosity began to grow, and most evenings would find me wrapped against the dew, sitting at the kitchen window opened wide just gazing at the family sporting under the trees. The fox cubs were well grown by now and I was no longer afraid of scaring them. Gradually I began a period of acclimatization, watching them sitting outside the window, and slowly over a week approaching just far enough to get a clear view. I'd never realized how beautiful foxes were, or how energetically they'd play with anything that caught their fancy. I watched a young one slowly creep up on a butterfly and pounce cat-like on it. Unfortunately though energetic he wasn't very accurate and the butterfly fluttered safely above his head. He looked under his paws then up with such a bemused expression that I just burst out laughing. Unfortunately the whole family heard me, and swiftly fled down their bolt hole at the base of the old oak tree.
Although I'd been at the house for nearly four weeks I'd not really met any of my neighbors, I'd even managed to avoid the road blocking tractor. A knock at my door one Sunday morning was quite unprecedented, fortunately I was up and dressed, out side I found the farmer himself who'd previously been partly concealed in the cab of the afore mentioned tractor. What was revealed in all it's glory was a semi-smart tweed wearing living caricature of a gentleman farmer right from his rosy cheeks to the battered but still serviceable Wellington boots. This was someone I knew I'd file away and introduce in one of my long planned but seldom written stories.
We stood looking at each other for about five minutes before I invited him in for the traditional way of breaking the ice in any English village, a cup of tea. Fortunately I'd thrown away the milk I'd mysteriously packed with my dirty washing and purchased some fresh the day before otherwise the tea ceremony would have been remarkable strained. After exchanging the usual pleasantries about the weather and the house improvements he finally got to the point, which was to inform me that the local fox hunt would be held in this area at the end of the month. Checking the calendar pinned to the wall I realized that this was probably in ten days time, it looked like my evening guests days were numbered.
After the stalwart farmer had clumped off towards his tractor parked further down the lane I began to wonder if there was anyway of saving the foxes from the hounds. Perhaps the best answer was to see if anyone knew any more about the hunt, and if it could be persuaded to leave my foxes alone. In rural places like this village, often the best place to find out details is at the local church. Country priests are often obsessed with local history, probably because in the fall of congregation numbers they are left with little else to do. On arrival at the church I was slightly disappointed to find it securely locked, even though I'm not the religious type I could remember when all churches were left open, for everyone to find spiritual comfort or just shelter from the rain. Stuck for something to do I began to wander around the grave yard until I stopped in front of a most peculiar tombstone. Carved on it was the spitting image of the foxes mask that hung above my door, below this was a skull, the writing how ever had faded over time.
"Quite a remarkable story, that one." said a voice from behind my left shoulder. I gasped and spun round face to face with a rather apologetic clergy man. " I didn't mean to cause such a stir," said he, " but it is such an interesting tale. He was torn to pieces by his own pack of hounds, they'd mistaken him for a fox so it seems. The story is that he'd killed a silver fox a few days before and that the fox was the innkeepers wife. Strange beliefs they had in those days, but so the story goes he was cursed, and haunted by her until he finally went mad. They locked him away in his house but he escaped somehow, so did the hounds. There wasn't much found, but they buried the remains here all the same. The locals burnt down the inn, I believe they thought that the innkeeper was some kind of witch."
As the priest talked I began to realize that there was only one house in this village that had been the inn. I questioned him and he confirmed my suspicions, my house was the one once owned by the fox-loving innkeeper, no wonder it was still popular with the foxes. Unfortunately according to the priest there was little I could do to protect the foxes short of standing guard over them myself. I was determined that there would be no deaths on my land, but I didn't want to harm the hounds either. A few phone calls later to some hunt saboteur friends I had made in University and a shopping trip to my local supermarket saw me armed and ready.
I started to dream that night of the foxes, at least I think it was a dream. I was watching them and the moon was full. They didn't seem to mind me watching, they jumped and played around me, chasing their tails, and each other around and around me. I watched them dance beneath the moon and longed to join them. Somehow I felt that there was someone, something behind me. I turned slowly, carefully and saw the most beautiful sight I'd ever seen. Sitting on a mound, just as she had been drawn on my wall by the unknown artist was the silver fox. I turned back, and in front of me the dark fox sat also watching the foxes play. I turned back to her, pleading with my eyes to be allowed to join the dance, to join their game. She smiled inside my mind, and twisted past me sinuously brushing me with her magnificent tail. My skin tingled like a million tiny electric shock, and I melted in her warmth. She left me panting, on all fours, as she strode past me towards her mate. All I wanted was her touch, but I knew that she was taken. The other foxes called to me and I joined their dance until the dark one stole my senses away. Each night I dreamed but each morning my feet were damp with dew and my bed hardly slept in.
On the day of the hunt, in the early hours of the morning when I knew the vixen and her cubs would be safely underground I blocked the entrance to the den with a large piece of plywood. Before taking this drastic measure I dropped several piece of chicken breast and pork fillet down the hole, and placed a bowl of water near the entrance wedged upright by roots. The last thing I wanted was for the vixen to desert her cubs or get more distressed than necessary. I knew that legally the hunt wasn't meant to kill nursing vixens but dogs don't read law books and even the most learned huntsman is likely to loose his priorities if suffering from bloodlust. The second stage of my plan was to surround the garden with pepper and other irritating substances, if the dogs couldn't smell the foxes they shouldn't be tempted to forage around the garden. My final line of defense was a stout bessom broom, the type Hollywood calls a witches broom. With long bristles and a stout handle it should be enough to dissuade a hound without actually doing any real damage. I knew that if I saw someone waving this at me I'd certainly go back the way I'd come.
My precautions paid off, the hunt had obviously been told about my foxy neighbors and had lead their hounds up towards the lane before sounding the off. The hounds picked up the scent at the bottom of the lane, then milled around confused as they neared my property. The night before I'd liberally sprayed the territory marks of the dog fox with vinegar, just to be sure that he hadn't lead the hounds too close to the den. After a few shouts and waved fists in my general direction the master lead the hounds off towards a nearby copse, just in case there were more foxes over there. I lost track of the hunt as it raced away, hounds bounding around the horses, obviously enjoying the game.
I thought I'd been successful until I over heard a conversation in the post office when I went to buy some stamps. The little snippets I heard confirmed my worst fears, they'd killed a fox and it was an unusual one at that. They'd gone on to say something about it being a pity that there wasn't enough to get stuffed and mounted but I'd lost interest after that. All I could think of was it was my silver lady who had been killed. I'd never share her warmth again, never dance with the foxes under the oak tree. That night, as I lay down I wondered if I'd dream again, if I'd ever sleep again.
The night came, and I walked out into the dew-covered garden answering her call. This night as the past ones she came to me, touched me, woke me inside with her warmth, but this time something was different. She didn't stray from my side, but looked into my eyes with a sad sweet smile. I looked across to where her mate should be, and saw emptiness. He'd been the victim, and as I looked down at my paws I realized why she had stayed. Instead of the familiar russet my paws were black, twitching my tail into view, it too was black including its very tip. Without a dark fox, I could never be released, as the dark fox I was her mate. Filled with a sense of sadness and joy I walked with her towards the dancing foxes, leaving an empty house and a mystery.
Foxes dance in the cold grey light, Birds startled burst into flight. Who can say why the foxes dance? Why they spin, caper and prance?
I come here most nights to sleep, my mate follows me, trying to get me to turn my back on what was, to concentrate on what is, what must be. I know she is right but I still find myself drawn back here. The house is falling back into disrepair. There is no paper now to fall off the walls but dirt and dust make their way in through the half open door. A thick drift of faded rose petals carpets the short hall before the main room, where I sleep curled up on a sleeping bag, going musty with damp and mouse droppings. I sleep there despite the scent because it is the only place I can dream and remember who I was, what I was, before I met my love.
Startled awake, after dreams of walking in the meadow, cycling through country lanes, driving my beaten up wreck of a car to this house the first time I visited it, I stretch out and try to get up and wake screaming and yelping in terror. I expected to see hands and feet and see my own paws. I expected to see bare skin and find only black fur and the memories rush in. My mate peers round the door nervous in this house of the two-legged ones, her silver fur flashing in the dawn light. Reassured that it was only silly fancies that scared me, she gives me one of her long suffering looks which seems to blend in both love and understanding and she quietly steps away. I wonder if I am a man dreaming I am a fox or a fox dreaming of being a man. It makes me think of that book by James Herbert, fluke I think it was.
Outside I nuzzle my mate's ear, showing her there is nothing wrong, and we pounce and jump, twisting in the air before we land, enjoying the feeling of being alive on a summer morning. Although my mate won't enter the house where most of the mice are, she always manages to find a few of the less cautious ones who venture outside. I have grown to love the taste of mouse, but somehow killing those ones who have made their homes in my boxes of belongings seems a form of betrayal. Inside that house I was once human, to behave like a fox there would seem wrong, a canceling out of memories.
Time seems to pass differently, days aren't so important now, the nights last longer so the year must be drawing in. I had expected that someone would have noticed that I was no longer living in the house by now, but no body comes this far up the lane without good reason. I used to travel into the village for my paper and milk, so no delivery people would be expected to call by. Not being much of a letter writer, the postman never seemed to be a frequent visitor either. It was as if I had vanished of the face of the Earth unnoticed by anyone. I guess it was about three months before the postman finally made the journey up to my door on his wobbling bicycle, bouncing over the ruts made by the tractors. Seeing the door ajar, he pushed it open, then dropping the letter he cycled faster but no less undulating back down the lane. Curious, I wandered back to the open door and looked down at the letter lying there cushioned by petals. Brown envelope, at least it wasn't white. Reading seemed to be increasingly difficult as time went by, but I managed to piece the letters together. It was the Tax office, typical, you could travel to the ends of the Earth and they'd still find you. However I think they'd have some trouble extracting money from me in my present form. I wonder exactly what taxes a black fox would have to pay?
Laughing quietly to myself, the echoes of laughter in my head, but the sounds of a snuffling wheeze coming out of my mouth, I wandered back towards the oak tree to wait for further developments. It took about an hour before a police car drove up the lane, sirens wailing and blue lights flashing. I don't know who they were trying to impress, but all it did was make us foxes seek better cover. The lone policeman must have been concerned because he called for back-up. More police men arrived, and a white van. I guess this was something to do with forensics. I heard a shriek as one white-coated lady opened a box used by a family of mice, it sounded just like a cartoon caper as she dashed outside to be calmed by a uniform colleague, the mice were evicted and the search continued. They cordoned the area of, and began searching through the boxes, checking my car, walking about the surrounding fields. Fortunately no one headed towards the oak tree, or if they did they didn't stay too long searching. The cubs had grown and moved out of that den, but they still liked to visit it occasionally. I couldn't remember if the small family I cared for was staying there or not. Night came and they erected lights inside the house, bright glaring lights. The mice gave up and headed outside, those foolish enough to wander too far away from their usual haunts ended up as a tasty snack.
Things seemed to calm down after a while, removal men took away my boxes after the police had done their thing. It seemed that with no clues as to where I was, where I might have gone, and no obvious evidence of a violent end they just gave up looking. The estate agents came and locked up the door and sealed the windows. Sometime later, when the nights were long and cold, a "For Sale" notice was erected in the garden. Curious as to what the future held, and locked out of my once home, I made myself a small den beneath the rose bushes, where I could hide and watch what time would bring.
Time passed, and I learned from my ever patient silver furred love all I needed to know to survive. At first I could only understand her more obvious gestures, the basic body language that all animals share, but I began to notice more nuances, slight differences of posture, and her scent. Thanks to her I learned how to communicate with the other foxes who shared this area, the family that denned beneath the old oak tree, the old grey muzzle who lived three fields away, and the young bachelor
foxes that passed through. I learned to recognize their calls, and their marks upon the boundaries of my domain.
I think that my greatest accomplishment was learning how to hunt, how to fend for myself. I had to be taught like any young cub the basics of stalking, the leap with front paws rigid to stun the prey, and the quick killing bite. With any young animal the first victim of the mock hunt is the ever patient mother, unfortunately I was in a unique position not being born into the body I currently occupied. The mother of the cubs wouldn't let me practise on her, even though her cubs delighted in perfecting their skills on me as well as her. Fortunately my mate was very understanding and I swear she quite enjoyed our mock battles. There was often laughter in her eyes as I pounced on her twitching tail. My first mouse was a big event though I nearly lost my prize, I was showing off, carrying it's limp body in my jaws when it suddenly returned to life and bit me on the nose. I yelped and in a reflex action bit it hard, severing it in two. My mind revolted at my action but my hunger said otherwise, the spurt of hot blood in my throat triggered my instincts and I gobbled my small victim up, even licking the surrounding grass clean of any spilled blood. I was gradually accepting that what ever I may have been before, I was now a fox, all be it an unusually coloured one, a black fox for the rest of my life.
The seasons passed, the days of the week no longer had any meaning to me, even months made little sense. Either the weather was warm or the weather was cold, there were no need for names for the seasons which meant little to me now. I learned about how the other animals were affected, of time measured by fruit and flower, of moult when the days grew longer and the nights shorter, and the thickening of the coat for the long dark nights. I guess I'd been a fox a season, from when the blackberries flower until the last of their fruit hangs dried and bitter on the bush, when I made a startling discovery. By this time I had grown quite proficient in communicating with the foxes, sharing surprisingly complex concepts , and tales of hunting, my own first kill being a favourite among the nearly full grown cubs. The discovery came about one evening as I pounced upon my dinner of a fat mouse down beneath the tangle of briars by the front wall of the still unoccupied house.
"Don't eat me.", said the mouse.
"What was that you said?" said I, totally confused by the mouse pinned beneath my fore paws.
"I said, "Don't eat me."
This budding conversation stopped suddenly when my silver coated love strolled over and ate the mouse. " But he was talking to me." I complained. " It's bad manners to talk to your food", she said as she strolled away as if it was and everyday occurrence . I rushed after her, begging her to explain but she couldn't understand why I was questioning her now. "The prey always talks to the hunter," she replied slowly as if teaching the basics of life to a slow cub," it is part of the thread of life, the prey moves, you respond, it is ready to die, you grant it a swift death. Sometimes the prey forgets it's place and pleads, othertimes it is strong and fights back, if it escapes then that too is part of life. Accept it, my love." " Why didn't the prey talk to me before?", I asked. " It has always talked to you," she whispered," but you did not know how to listen." I sat there under the oak tree, watching the moonbeams race each other through the dew washed leaves and thought of how much I had taken for granted before, and how much I was learning now. Little did I know that events were occurring in the outside world that would affect me and mine so greatly.
Time passed swiftly, the cold came, and with it the first snows. Like a cub I bounded over piles of snow just to catch a falling snowflake on my tongue. Into my territory came an old fox, wise and full of law and legend. Being no threat to any present and enjoyable company he was often welcomed to share the den beneath the old oak tree. From him I learned how the foxes knew where the snow came from, of how it was the cold tears of the great silver fox crying for her lost love to return. As the wandering grey muzzle told this tale I felt a shiver pass the length of my body, from tip of muzzle to tip of tail. My love curled close to me, and made me remember the joy we had shared, her touch against my body reminded me of our first mating and these thoughts swiftly banished my fears.
For some nights when ever the silver fox drew near to me I felt strange urgings, I wanted to hold her close, kiss her, run my fingers through her fur, caress her shapely body. I wanted her body and soul, I ached to be with her, but something held me back, the fact that I knew I was really a human. even though I could see that I had paws not hands, it was hard to accept that mating with her would be a natural act rather than some strange perversion. The only sin would be in my head, no law would be broken, no taboo wrecked, just my own concept of who or what I was. I began to act aggressive towards the young male cubs, driving them away from her whenever they came near. She paraded herself in front of me, and I was driven wild with desire but still I held back. I went back to hide beneath the bramble bush at the end of the garden and sat watching the bats darting after insects.
I felt a presence by my side, and I didn't need to turn my head to know it was her. I turned to her and tried to kiss her face but all I could manage was a lick to her muzzle. Laughing she pinned me down and proceeded to wash me like a young cub, I protested at first but soon the grooming calmed me, then awakened a fire within me. My head buzzing like a swarm of mayflies I mounted her, I felt myself swell within her and screamed out my passion. Her yelps wove themselves around mine as we rutted, two wild animals beneath the cold pale moon. I tried to remove myself from her back but only succeeded in causing us both to yelp with pain rather than passion. I had forgotten that foxes were members of the canine family, and like all males I was locked tight inside my mate. Carefully I managed to dismount but then realised that we were locked tail to tail unable to move. Remembering an unusual image once used by a strange friend of mine as his computer backdrop I whispered to my mate that we should try lying down on our sides slowly together. This was managed with a minimum of pain, and then came the tricky part. After getting my love to brace herself I manoeuvred round until I was lying within her embrace, and we lay there licking each others muzzles in a close approximation of the missionary position, finally nature took it's time and unlocked us.
Now many moons later wrapped in the warmth of her tail I slept and dreamed of when our cubs would be born and forgot my earlier feelings of premonition.
As the weather grew colder strange multi-coloured stars appeared inside the human's dens, they even began to move some trees inside though I'm sure that some of the trees could not have been real. Giant snow flakes were etched on their clear barriers, mimicking the real snow outside. Only their young seemed to appreciate the real snow, it's biting cold and revealing in the sounds of their footsteps crunching through the top layer of ice after a slight thaw. It seemed strange to me how close cubs of our kind were to the cubs of men, yet how different we were when full grown. My mate smiled at me, when I told her of my thoughts, and she reminded me, that not too long ago I was a full grown man. I had grown so used to my new life that I had began to forget I was anything other than a black fox, that I had never been a cub like the rest of my adopted family. I curled close to her side in our den and hoped that nothing would ever change the happiness I had found.
The baying of hounds snatched me awake, they were still distant but I could hear the menace in their voices, mingled in came the harsh trumpeting of a horn and the pounding of many hooves. My love was not by my side when I woke, but she was not far away. She sat judging the hunt's distance from us, I could feel the waves of fear wash through her body and I knew they were heading in our direction. We ran together side by side, past a building that was once mine, keeping our distance from the old oak where a new generation of foxes waited to be born. Our trail wound through hedgerow and over streams, leading the hounds as far away as we could, we split up twining our scents through the copse, laying false trails where ever we could, and we prayed that we had done enough.
From the ridge we looked down over the hunt, our backtracking and guile seemed to have tangled the main hunt deep within the over grown copse. I could hear the huntsmen swearing as their horses tried to follow the hounds beneath the low over hanging branches. We thought it was safe to leave our vantage point and head away from the valley, but we had not reckoned on the straggler who spotted us and gave tongue. The ridge was bare, very little cover nearby and the huntsmen were furious, ready for the chase. We ran, heads down, tails out straight the ground rushing beneath our paws, hoping that we could reach safety. I remembered the grey muzzle telling us of a piece of land that no huntsman dared enter, it was our only chance. The hounds gave tongue again, closer, and closer, until I could feel their hot breath. I could see that the sanctuary was just ahead and I knew that the only chance my love had, was if I sacrificed myself to delay our killers. I whispered goodbye to the wind and turned to welcome my death.
To a human, hounds seem playful kindly things but now I was seeing them in a totally different perspective. Their jaws gaped, spittle and foam blew back from their maw, teeth large and savage gripped my muzzle and threw me into the air. Another dog took it's place, this time my back paws were crushed and wrenched from their sockets and I knew I could never run again. The pain was worth it if my love survived but I saw a silver streak dash between the hounds, darting, nipping at their sides and I knew that she was giving up her life to save me. I don't know where I found the strength from but I dragged myself toward the fence, the hounds were too busy torturing their new prey to bother with such poor sport as I. By the time the first huntsman arrived I had reached shelter and my love was nothing more than a few tatters of flesh hung together with reddened silver fur. I was losing blood, everything grew dark and I knew I must be dying. I welcomed death, at least I knew that my love and I would be together, where ever fate sent us. It became colder, my body ached, my hearing grew dim and I released my hold on consciousness.
I woke aching body bound in strange ways, the scent was wrong, cold harsh chemicals forcing themselves over every other scent, masking everything. There was a noise close by, I thought this noise should mean something to me but it seemed wrong yet familiar. My muzzle itched and I raised a paw to scratch it, and saw not a dark furred paw but a pale pink furless hand. The sound came again and I realised it was a voice, that the person was saying my name, asking if I remembered who I was, if I had any idea how I came to be found naked on Boxing Day, five miles from my home, seven months after my disappearance. I tried to answer but only strangled yelps came out, my face felt strange, wrapped in constrictions which I knew must be bandages. The nurse must have sensed I was concerned about my injuries and she spoke quietly to me, doing her best to calm me. How could I tell her that they should have let me die?
Months passed and I learned to walk again, I convinced the hospital staff I was well enough to return home, no buyer had been found for the house so it was still my home. My last ounce of cash went to paying off the mortgage, I had no need for anything any more, no great dreams of wealth or happiness. My boxes came back from storage, and I made a half-hearted attempt at getting my human life back but I knew that there was nothing worth pretending for. I limped from room to room, watching the plaster crumble from the walls, listening to the mice as they set up home within my computer. Lost within my despair I locked myself away, eating only when I remembered, forgetting to wash or change my clothes, alone forever with out my silver furred love. Physical scars may heal with time but others, much deeper, never heal.