Fox wandered the cobbled streets. He wove through the swaying shadows from branches overhead. Sticking to the side-lines to ensure that he went unnoticed. Raindrop lights hung from the eves of the square-faced buildings and reflected like pearls in the pools of his eyes. As he padded towards the edge of town, the licks of a breeze raked through his coat, his tail bobbed along behind him, and his ears caught the slightest change in echoing voices. There were less people here.
Past the city’s walls, beyond the banking, the streetlights painted waterfalls of golden light down the road. The rocks that cradled these pools were parked cars. They looked almost mossy: grey and brown in the darkness. Fox whistled into the night. He ducked under a hedge into shadow once again as he sang. The skies were clear and cold and vast.
The chattering cry of a blackbird flew like a ghost from the hawthorn to a nearby birch tree. Then all fell quiet. Fox paused; ears tuned to the silence. As he sat, the wind tickled beneath his fur. But he waited patiently. He watched his shadow slide across the grass as a car drove past. No one emerged from the flower beds.
The breeze carried the sweet, honey-scent of crocuses. Fox followed the stretches of its reach until he came to a garden wall. The dusty red brick was spattered with plant life. An ivy clung to one end on a lattice. Chickweed poked out of the cracks. And holly bushes, robbed of their berries weeks ago, were threatening sentinels at the base. Fox began to turn, back the way he came. But then a whistle, that danced among the leaves, held him in place. It came from the garden beyond. A grin opened across his jowls. He whistled back: a haunting, hopeful, minor tune.
His tail swished like a cloak as he paced the length of the wall. His keen eyes assessed where best to attempt his ascent. The ivy formed a knotted ladder, thinning at the summit. The diamonds of the lattice behind were splintered and misshaped. He had fallen victim to such a climb before and he shook the stinging memory of wooden needles from his paws. Towards the corner of the wall there was a gap in the holly, large enough for a sly fox to brush through unscathed.
He scrambled, claws catching in the cement, up, up and onto the top of the wall. Balancing himself on the summit with a flick of his tail, he peered at the vertical climb he had accomplished. A breathless smirk sat proudly in his features. He had made it. Behind him the garden waited in darkness. The wall blocked any invading light from the roadside. The shadows here were peaceful, as if they slept.
The garden was much larger than Fox had anticipated. He traversed the wall like a tightrope walker. He bowed his head to the bricks, his eyes explored the garden. A willow tree hung its branches solemnly across the way. A bird bath reflected the sky in its bowl. Below him, a graveyard of raised flowerbeds were holding bony bouquets aloft. He scanned the shadows for signs of life; the only movement was the gentle swaying of the weeping willow as the wind passed overhead.
Fox jumped down. The white of his tailed flicked like a switch as he landed gracefully on the hardened soil. He froze, expecting his presence to stir life from the stillness, only his ears swivelled in anticipation. He breathed slowly, not wanting to disturb the bare stalks at his side. Nothing changed. He let a breath grow into a low whistle. His courage grew with it; he ventured out from his sheltered spot. The grass was thick and snatched at his legs as he prowled. Then a voice broke the silence.
‘She’s not here.’
Fox flattened his body to the ground in his surprise. His eyes were spheres of panic. Then he saw, nestled into the weeping branches, Owl looking down on him. Fox stood as he recognised her.
‘I’m looking for Bunny,’ Fox spoke as he stretched his neck up to the tree, ‘have you seen her?’
‘Like I said,’ Owl spoke softly. She repositioned her footing on her branch, ‘she’s not here.’
‘Where did she go? She called for me?’ Fox smelt the air, hoping catch Bunny’s warm, cut-grass, earthy scent. But all around him there was only the harsh, icy-cold of water and stone. He lowered his head and brushed a paw over his ear, ‘she called for me.’
‘She wasn’t going to wait forever.’
‘I –’ Fox gazed at the wall over his shoulder; had he hesitated for too long? The night was beginning to lift. The grass at his feet was crystallising, clawing at his fur with frosty fingertips. He looked up once again to Owl for guidance. She had disappeared as silently as she had arrived. Fox was alone. Before the sun could rise on his loneliness, he slunk into the bushes, weaving himself back into the shadows. Then he was gone. The only trace of him left in the garden were the pawprints by the wall and a strand of muted-brown fur astray in the grass.
Emily Jayne (22) is a contemporary writer and poet. She is currently studying a Creative Writing MA at York St John University. Winter weaves its way into her piece through the hints of seasonal flowers and decorations around the city. Foxes embody the wild to Emily and having spotted them around York this winter she had drawn on the classic fables/fairy-tale creatures as inspiration.
Photo by Yuriy Chemerys on Unsplash