This is an extract from a novel I am writing about wildlife and water and follows the lives of a boy and a fox, I wondered if it might be of interest to you.
5 Castle Ashby Road
Earth & Sky
When hunger calls and the lemon washed moon rise high above the frost thin air and the owl hoots its lonely weary work ridden cry; that’s the time a fox goes out hunting.
When hunger gnaws at the guts and the low life man beast is asleep; that’s the time a fox goes out hunting.
When quiet solitude lays on a scent of musk and makes a raid on a hen house possible; that’s the time a fox goes out hunting.
When the feel of the earth that once was mud tears your pads like the ripples of a shark edged saw; that’s the time a fox goes out hunting.
When the taste of the last meal is a distant memory and starvation beckons; that’s the time a fox goes out hunting.
When the bewitching voice of the chase tells you to go forth and reap; that’s the time a fox goes out hunting.
When frosty air cuts into your fur and hair bristles up to keep a body warm; that’s the time a fox goes out hunting.
When others depend on you to survive and your life does not belong to you only; that’s the time a fox goes out hunting.
It was stark cold as Charley woke for the night’s work. Rats shuffled, the weasels stalked the dumbfounded rabbits and the stalks of grass lay dead and upright withered and burnt standing like crosses on Calgary with silver lined diamond edges. The trees spread their filigree foliage traced upon the moonlight and ducks flew silently like squadrons of ghosts ranging an empty sky making bewitchment reality. Charley smelt the scent of danger, its sharpness cut into him like a razor sliding down his throat, it told him that he must go out or starve but with the knowledge that rusty iron traps lay in wait or snares to throttle and suffocate him he must be careful or die. There could be poisoned bait to tempt him but he knew that it was not easy food that was best, he must earn his existence by the power of his own industry. He knew also that to be run over by a car, or eat a bird that has been poisoned were likelihoods that he had to contend with. He must be aware of men bests with dogs and lamps, a shotgun at their side who would dazzle him and drill hot lead holes in his heart. All these perils came from one source, the feared man beast, his only natural predator were eagles which had not been seen in this area for a long time.
Charley measured nearly a metre from his whiskered muzzle to the white tip of his tail. Thick reddish-orange winter coat sported a white chin, upper lip and underside with black ears, feet legs and nose. His deep amber eyes shone like the light that shines from a pumpkin lamp at Halloween. Overall he was monarch of the wild at his best age and had heard the cry of the wild for several Hunter’s Moons. Although autumn had passed it haunted him from deep within and he would soon feel the autumn of his life creeping upon him, the elements were beginning to feel the elements a little colder and his bones ached a little more than they used to. This was the third season that he had been fortunate, healthy and strong enough to attract a partner and he had sired several litters of cubs but few of them had survived, starvation or persecution was ever present and had taken many of them. The threat of the low life man beast was ever present and he detested the two leg upright one with a big head who roamed the world as though he owned it. This year was special because it would be his last chance to breed, the valuable cargo carried in Delilah’s belly was his reason for living so he must look after her to preserve his genes and pass them on to posterity.
He was hungry and thirsty as he looked out of his earth, it looked like a monk hole with a chamber that was primitive where he could lay safely and secluded, it was basic but the wind and cold rain could not reach him. Outside his nameplate was a scat near to the entrance and this told him and any other fox that it had better keep out, this was the home of Charley, a smell message for information of those who understood the smell signs of the world. The entrance faced south to avert the coldest east and north winds and as there was only one entrance he worried about hunt terriers attacking him there would be no escaping. Not far away was the spring that Henry had drank from that gurgled up from the layer of subterranean limestone that it had slowly filtered through from the forest plateau above. The two foxes drank their fill of the clear freezing water that sustained their lives
The winter cold moon was low in the sky as he viewed his domain, a territory which he had carefully marked by his scent that he had lay down by urinating on the boundary to keep others out. It was well past dark and Charlie sniffed the ground outside Delilah’s earth which was a little way from his. She emerged looking hungry and vexed, her face was sharp with a wickedly vicious gleam in her eye as though she would tear him apart with the least provocation. He made a peculiar squeak as if to communicate ‘I’m going hunting.’ Her face turned softer as she stared at him eerily with her vertically slit pupils that made her look like a witch.
Delilah’s earth was an old badger’s set that had been abandoned and converted. She was not a good digger so converted an old disused badger set throwing out the old dried grass and bedding so that she could live on bare earth of a Spartan existence, she would give birth to her cubs here and bring them up over the next few months. Her earth was not like Charley’s, it had several entrances and stretched a long way deep underground before coming to the chamber where she called home.
‘Did you smell the cackling fowl?’ Charley asked in vulpus, it was a language not understood by the man beast at all. They tasted the air to retrieve the sweet smell of poultry on a breeze that emanated from a low life settlement wafting over them like a medieval feast. Would the man beasts miss them? A fox would not even consider such nonsense, the hated man beasts had become so arrogant that they did not register themselves as animals any longer and as such were beyond the laws that govern all life on earth. They did not remember what it was like to go hungry as Charley had gone hungry ever since he was born when he had had to fight with his brothers and sisters to survive or die of starvation. He did not bother to ponder for more than a second before instinct told him that he must catch his food as easily as possible or he would starve and so would Delilah. Beyond his patch he had often visited the man beast settlement, low life had so much food that they threw it away as though it was worthless, there was sure to be an easy meal there. Sometimes there was carrion left from road kill, a dead cat or eggs, his favourite which made him goggle eyed with excitement.
The moon lingered and gradually sauntered above the filigree black laced trees like the planetary orb that it was. The fox was ready to parley with wilderness. It had been a full passage of a moon’s cycle since they were tied and the next generation had been conceived and now she would be dependant on him for food during the hard winter and hungry months until the spring grass generated new growth. Hunger niggled the stark bones of winter and flesh becomes more lean as action became more compulsive caution flew and leaving danger at every corner. The frost frozen ground was as hard as steel and no worms or slugs could be found as the easy meal he often had at other times. Neither could he find any insects limiting his choice of food. The conditions were austere and all of the animals of the forest were conscious of the need to survive, if they could make it for a little while longer, spring would arrive and they would be safe for another year. Rats and mice hid in their burrows safe from the weather and any predator for the undergrowth was sparse and burnt by raking frost cold east winds making the exposed ground an arctic desert with little cover to hide a mouse or give the opportunity for a fox to stalk its prey.
Charley listened for the sound of a cracking twig or the vibrations of a man’s foot but there was none. Caution had stood him well for his survival. He sniffed the air for danger but heard nothing. So with the patience of a stalactite wanting to grow he beheld a black and silver panorama, fields and woods spread out before him and set off in search of food. Below him two dim lights appeared like pinhole specks shining in the frost and sharpening their image competing with frosty stars in the sky to see which could be the brightest diamond. The air was stiff with the sickly sweet stench of the low life hens as he trotted smoothly as though cushioned on air, for he could be elegant, dainty or fast and speedy.
As he trotted past the man beast farm he checked out in case there were any lambs too weak to stand quickly enough and suckle life giving milk from young mothers like the young wool headed lambs he had last year. These were fox versions of a take away and were fair game when hunger called. The nearer he got, the stronger were the aromas of the fowl, what harm if he went to have a look? His senses locked on to them like a military machine as he approached the hen house.
The fox saw the hen house through a fence or rusty worn woven wire. Last summer at dawn he had often been scrumping for the eggs of his dreams. The wooden hen house was as old and rickety in keeping with the fence that was supposed to be fox proof. As he searched diligently he found a hole the size of an orange but he was wary, his suspicions made him search round the wooden shack trotting and sniffing as he went. The rickety shed was seated on a rough piece of ground but the old well on the outside of the village, it was made with rough planks creosoted for half a century but age had got the better and now the weather boarding was old and rotten as a piece of sponge. The hole was probably made by some of the rats and said to him in his mind.
‘Enter, these are yours for the taking.’
A cockerel shifted and made a squawk, he could hear the occupants and feel them breathing the hot warm scent of chicken muck, hot fat chickens ready for dinner. He tasted the flavour of fat cackling fowl in his mind, sedentary chickens that sat and ate like Herod, king and queens of excess, they deserved no mercy. He sniffed all round the house taking his time as his brain machinated a plan. What would happen if the farmer turned up with a gun? But he was too hungry to take much heed of this as he felt his way with his whiskers and fore legs, all of his senses were working as he felt the vibrations of the hen’s bodies becoming more restless with uncertainty and aware that danger was imminent. He forgot the cares that had beset him earlier in the night and proceeded with the relish of Genghis Kahn about to subdue the Mongul empire.
He squeezed through the rat hole and as he did more of the rotten wood broke off making it now a fox hole then he was inside. He stood still to calmly peruse what he saw before him, a Gestapo officer about annihilate some foreign enemy. He beheld row upon row of fat food ready meals to take away, hot bodied pampered protected hens safe from the weather but no longer safe from him. His blood became hotter and tingled as he sensed the quarry and started to prance, then he stood still as a statue. He leapt as he struck like a missile at dinner. He grabbed a big fat hen round her heart and pinned it down with his forelegs. It didn’t take him a second to bite her head off cleanly as an axe. The headless hen flapped and jumped high into the air as it did a headless jig on the dirty damp muck strewed floor its head looking staring as blankly the stare of a head from the chopping block of the Tower of London. The hen house was a flurry of feathers and dust with dying hens kicking the earth, scratching with frantic claws and smelling of ammonia. This was too easy, why did they not put up any resistance? The killing spree came as naturally as breathing. ‘Why didn’t they run away?’ He could not answer, it was as thought they just accepted their fate. ‘Ah well if they don’t mind, why should I?’ Charley thought as the warm bloodied carcasses littered the floor. When he had slaughtered every hen he realised that too much was as big a problem as too little, he had killed so many but what was he to do with the bodies? He couldn’t eat them and he could only carry one at a time. He would take them one at a time and bury each on individually but the man beasts were sure to be upon him before he could complete the job. He pulled one of them through the hole that he had entered by and carried it away as he retraced his steps and trotted home. It was a fine fat bird and it pleased him but his prize soon became heavy as he trotted in the moonlight ever higher to Cold Arbour Wood. He came to a hedge that had only a small hole in it but he managed to squeeze through, leaving feathers as evidence of his presence.
The undergrowth became denser once inside the wood, he felt less exposed and safe within the boundary of his trusted habitat. He was greeted by Delilah standing by her earth opposite Magog. Dropping his prize for her to eat he turned to fetch another whilst she tore skin and flesh which was still warm, plucking the feathers out with her teeth and using paws to clean them from her mouth.
He toiled back to the hen house there was nobody about so he took a second hen and had intended to bury it in the hedgerow of the field called Green Acre which was not far away but when he returned for a third it was daylight and he saw man beasts crawling round the hen house shouting. ‘Charley’s been.’ And ‘Only one other animal kills for fun.’ And ‘I’ll get him.’ He heard the yapping frenzy of a man dog, the poor demented tame creature was like a mercenary untrue to the clan of his blood.
Charley decided to disappear, he slunk off keeping low as he picked up a hen and ran off with it in his mouth to home and safety, mission accomplished.
The hen tasted good, a warm meal, it made his belly feel full and complete and tasted like the chicken of his dreams, a fox satisfied his gastric juices told him that his emptiness had been filled, appetite satiated. When the great celandine sun rose it warmed the trees and the hoar frost on the twigs dripped water to the ground making tiny crystals of ice frost on the earth. Satisfied with his meal Charley walked to the spring and took a long drink lapping the clear sharp water that made his teeth ache and had the smell of ice blue crystals, The Spring of Eternal Life was just as it described, it was his lifeline upon which he trusted his life.
When he had finished he looked at Magog standing close by and with more difficulty than normal because of his bloated state he climbed onto a bough. It was steep but Charley was used to climbing and found it easy, his sharp claws and long back legs were well adapted to climbing trees, a useful trick when he had to escape from the hunt. He laid prostrate, paws stretched out in front on the branch whilst he watched the hullabaloo going on below. Magog was an old tree, an Oak that had grown so big since William the Conqueror’s niece Judith had planted her a thousand years ago. He viewed the man beasts with horror for he knew what would inevitably come next.