Fox raids hen house and is trcked back to its earth.
|‘Charley’s been.’ Grandpa said picking up a headless chicken. All that was left was a gore spattered white carcass with a gelatinous crimson stump, a fantastic breed of exotic flower, prize winner of this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
This was once Hetty.
‘Only one other animal kills for fun.’ Grandpa Conk spat out as he picked up his gun and rammed two twelve bore cartridges deliberately into the worn breech and snapped it shut. It rattled forebodingly. He pulled one hammer back, once for safety and then again to full cock for danger, spat on the ground and kicked the dog that yapped incessantly. It yelped but seemed to be spurred on by the pain as it ran ever more eager for blood along the line of attack.
‘I’ll get him.’ Conk gasped grasping the trigger with his index finger, white and callous, it shook with compression on the side of the trigger, a hair pressure from murder.
I could taste danger in my guts. I was scared.
‘Keep behind me if you don’t want to get shot.’ He snarled, gazing ahead with concentrated hate in his eyes, a killer excited at the scent of blood. He peered into the distance with perm-a-frost eyes like rods of hate searing through ice as his tall frame limped ahead. ‘Damned frost.’ He muttered touching his leg which obviously pained him as he staggered on. We tracked briskly through fields of winter solace as an amber sun rose slowly revealing God’s creation. But whilst God had blessed the land with the vibrancy of life, he had not conferred the same privilege upon Hetty whose feathers were scattered in an occasional line on fields of newly planted wheat, white with hoar frost. It was hard keeping up with Grandpa in spite of his bad leg. We leapt through stubble fields of sprouting corn that glistened with fairy tale tinsel. Pheasants with colours like iridescent Chinese Mandarins picked hopefully in the early morning. We rushed through gates and gaps and stumbled over ice edged streams that tumbled from Cold Arbour Wood high above. A quickthorn hedge loomed in front of us.
‘She’s been through here.’ Grandpa panted as he wiped the sweat from a scar on his forehead. The fox had pulled its victim through a hole too small for us to get through but he did not give up, he was a man of great courage, a colossus in a world of hypocrisy and not one to be stalled by such an insignificant obstacle.
He saw a gap where the hedge was thin. ‘Blast that hedge.’ He panted but before I could say anything more he turned and barged backwards to force a way leaving me to look down two black holes of death like Beelzebub’s torch. The mud smeared barrels had touched the bank of the brook we had leapt over and if the gun had stuck in the mud, the moment he pulled the trigger my grandfather would surely be dead. If he slipped or a thorn deflected and pierced the skin on his hand, it would be me who would be killed.
Rocky the dog put his nose down and yelped a fresh cry of promised blood, twitching and turning his wire haired body as he led them along the trail of feathers ever nearer to the forest that was dark with mystery like a parable of biblical proportions was about to be discovered.
We travelled like a biting East wind that was blowing a gale, it made me puff and blow and my legs began to feel like they belonged to a new born lamb than a boy but it did not slow me down because I had to keep up with Grandpa who stormed on like he was possessed by the devil and fuelled by the power of hate.
‘Mein Gott.’ He swore, a rare profanity from lips that betrayed a breathless heart but his finger was still on the trigger. A streak of blood trickled down his wrist from his hand where a dog rose had scratched him, he sucked it and spat red onto the frost like an old man with consumption, as his mouth twitched. He looked vexed. I had learnt by example that anger was a weakness that feigned control but resulted in disrespect and I found vulnerability in the person who I had most reason in the world to respect. This morning’s display contrasted violently and unacceptably with the peacefulness of the morning and the acceptance of my conscience making me feel trapped and longing for a freedom that I had never known. The air was crystal, it smelt pure as creation, but there was a wolf waiting in grandpa, it was his other side, the one we called Conk. He was ready to be satisfied, a killing machine in tune with the wild, a troubled mind and waiting to be liberated but in contention with something far more powerful.
‘I’ll get that bastard, you see if I don’t.’ He said in the slightly guttural accent he had let slip in the passion of the moment. I noticed that his nose was the colour of deep purple with veins that looked as though they were filled with sloe gin made it look like a road map on a bed of orange peel. He mopped the scar on his forehead again with the sleeve of the old army topcoat he wore, straightened his cap and summoned his terrier loudly. ‘Come here Rocky.’ If the mongrel had an excitable nature before bt now it was going ballistic, his irritating bark pierced my ears, his hair bristled like a rusty wire brush, and his teeth had pointed glints like a well used bow saw. His eyes were streaked with arteries of crimson that emulated the lust of killing.
We flew past the glades and thickets that kept ancient trees hidden for a thousand years and brooks that grew wild watercress, still following the dog that followed the trail of the wild dog. This was a long way from the days when we ventured into the forest hungry and destitute to gather wild food to bring home when the opportunity arose. I had the stitch in my side and exhaustion nearly overcame me but I kept going in spite of the pain. It was as though some supernatural force, some mystical power was in my grandfather’s possession and I had to keep up, I couldn’t let him down. The dog yapped and yelped, excitement overtaking his emotions and making him run round in circles and chase his tail at regular intervals in the demented delusion of terrier power. In his mind he was king raptor of Cold Arbour Wood. The dog sniffed the feather trail to where it ended and where Hetty had been squeezed and dragged down a hole that was a little smaller than her and then into the fox’s lair and the hell of Conk’s imagination.
I could not help but to consider the fox. It was the fox’s home and place of safety, a sanctuary where he could feed his children and see them grow up happily. This view was not shared by Conk who ranted and blasphemed and swore personal vendettas to draw blood for blood. The fox earth was not what I had expected, the thickets of blackthorn surrounding it had spikes like heat hardened lances that would puncture the roughest armour and it was well used with fresh earth dug carefully and hidden by a blackthorn bush. It had rabbit droppings round the top which I thought was mighty curious, how strange it seemed for rabbits to be so foolish to fraternise with a fox? But then I had learnt that complacency is the surest way to tragedy and If rabbits were that stupid they deserved to be caught by the fox. I understood then that what I had been taught to be security was, in fact a thin veneer that covered a sea of danger.
‘Spirit of the woods attend me now.’ Conk uttered stretching his hands both high in the air and looking up at the top of Magog like an ancient druid who craved the attention of the ancient God of Gaia.
Time was suspended. It seemed like an hour as he stood over the hole and solemnly and with the pace of slug creeping concentration of deliberate action he brought the gun to his shoulder. How long does it take for a dread to reach a conclusion? I did not know but I remember feeling sick as I waited and he aimed the gun carefully and deliberately.
‘Right you bugger, I’ll get you.’ He said, his eyes bulged and his face took on the shade of vermillion as the hammer gun roared into life with an ear splitting roar like the visitation of a bolt of thunder so close that I could feel it shake my head whilst it shook the earth. My head was not only thing that shook and quavered. The explosion rattled the gun almost as much as it recoiled on his shoulder visibly knocking him backwards. One and then the other barrel reported down the fox’s home, they would have woken a dead fox, let alone a living one and splayed a great cloud of earth and debris that rebounded on me, spattering my face like I had been in the trenches of Flanders years before, the acrid black smoke like mustard gas choking and suffocating me like a baby.
Conk’s displayed exercise turned out to be futile, but I suppose it was the best he could do on this occasion to satiate his temper and justify himself. It was typical of the inability he had to control himself, rather like the dog he suffered from the delusions of his own power which, I reasoned had been good enough considering his past history of survival under difficult if not almost impossible circumstances.
The result of the blasts was that my head sang with the ringing of a thousand clashes, shotgun blasts that shouted uncomfortably close to me a song of pity. It was a painful song and made my head muzzy whilst I looked at the damage. The lead shot had torn a hole, round as a cup and deep as a jug into the earth but earth is strong and flesh and blood weak but I had survived and that was good enough.
I suddenly felt sick inside, it was as though I was about to be transformed. Maybe the revelation of a secret that would change my life forever was about to be revealed. Was this to be an omen of ill fortune? Or would it be the opening that I was waiting for to take me on to a new and exciting future? I reasoned that the latter would be true because without risk there would be no change and without change there would be no progress, and I wanted to progress.
As I peered upwards and I could see nothing had changed. Crows wheeled above like giant black gnats in clouds as they squawked and croaked and dived and circled above the magenta trees of mysterious magic. Were they Black crows begetting a dark future? Or was it a step into another world that was to reveal a better and more exciting life than the one I had habited so far? I decided that a little hope for the future was worth more than a bundle of cares for the past. Experiment and hope would be my mascot for the future. Dark clouds that gathered round Magog who slowly revealed herself in my mind, she was tall and majestic, her secrets ingrained in her bark of antiquity. I figured that a tree that was a thousand years old must know a thing or two and had probably seen everything that man could throw at it, yet it had survived to be a living testament to the glory of nature and the wonder of life. It sort of got things into perspective for me. It dawned on me that the problems I faced today were inconsequential compared with the greater view of my future and there would be a solution to my problems just as there must have been on countless occasions for Magog kept secret within her venerated antiquity.
It was tough about the hen, I figured that a fox must live and feed her family, just like us and I knew exactly what it was like to be hunted, just like the fox that we hunted. If it came to choosing between the fox family and my family, which would I choose? Of course it would be mine but I had some sympathy for the fox for I knew what it was to be rejected, an alien, an angel wrapped in a piece of dirt.
Whilst I mused over these thoughts Conk simply said nothing. It was as though the deep and purposeful vendetta he had been nursing conceived a brooding resentment of the most unpleasant kind and he was savouring the memory of it for future use.
‘Do you want a drink boy?’ he said.
I knelt and cupped my hands into the cold pure waters of the spring that rose near to Magog and had no doubt furnished her with water all her life. The spring had been known as The Spring of Eternal Life in olden days because it was rumoured that it had healing properties and had been famous since ancient times.
I looked again at Magog, she was as round in girth as she was tall and in spite of her branches mostly having fallen off she clung on to life with a tenacity that only the old can muster, a magnificent triumph of life over death, an arboreal Goliath surviving the slings and arrows of many Davids.
It sort of got things into perspective because the fit of pique displayed by grandpa seemed irrelevant and swallowed up in the grandness of nature for I was about to discover something that would stay with me for the rest of my life. It was not so much what I knew or was about to learn but the acceptance of what I did not know that mattered. What I failed to see was another who was observing silently waiting like a ghost of the forest. What I failed to realise was that in the forest there were always eyes watching, ears always listening gleaning subliminal information that we humans would not understand.