Grandfather Fox lay down for a nap in his most dignified manner. This was not difficult. Grandfather Fox did everything in his most dignified manner, and as a result, was accustomed to the effort required. However, Grandfather Fox’s determination to nap did not prevent Franny the kit from pestering him.
The little cub poked and prodded her Grandfather, scampering around him on clickety-clackety little paws until the old fox finally snapped, nipping at his granddaughter’s tail, and biting just hard enough to elicit a yelp.
“Go pester someone else,” he growled.
Grandfather, it seemed, took his naps seriously, and so Franny took her wounded tail and moved on to pestering her Mama, who was in their burrow’s kitchen, making dinner.
“Mama,” she asked. “How come Grandfather only gots one eye?”
“Only has,” her mother corrected.
“Has.” Franny rolled her eyes, as much as foxes are capable of rolling them, anyhow. “How come Grandpa only has one eye?”
“He lost it in the Great Meadow War,” Mama Fox said.
Franny’s eyes grew round.
“There was a war?” she asked.
“Yes,” Mama sighed. “It was a long, long time ago, before I was even born.”
“Who were we fighting against?” Franny asked.
Mama Fox looked around quickly, making certain that Grandfather was, in fact, asleep. The old man didn’t like talk of the war – it brought back bad memories. And he still had nightmares about it. Sometimes, she could still hear him muttering in his sleep. But it looked like Grandfather was firmly asnooze, so she answered.
“We were fighting the forest foxes,” Mama said.
Franny had lived her whole life in the meadow. She didn’t know there were forest foxes. She didn’t even know that there was a forest. All Franny knew was long green grass, and stealing food from the Farmer, and curling up in a warm spot of sunshine on the grass. She had no idea that there could be forest foxes.
How different their lives must be, she thought.
“What are the forest foxes like?” she asked.
“They’re bad,” Mama said, more harshly than she’d meant to.
She glanced around again, making sure Grandpa was still asleep, and then offered more of an explanation.
“They’re not like us,” she said. “They’re …. Wild.”
“But Mama, we’re all wild,” she said.
Mama Fox shook her head.
“Not like they are,” she said ominously. “They’re savages. Beasts.”
Franny hadn’t known there was a forest until about a minute ago.
“How far away is ‘the forest’?” she wanted to know.
She imagined it to be a distant, mythical place. She thought it must be so far that she’d never be able to get there on her own.
“Not far,” Mama said. “It rests just beyond the meadow. It’s where the sunlight ends and the trees begin.”
Franny had never been to the end of the meadow, but she knew where it was – some of the older kits liked to lay in the shade, and had ventured into the darkness of the trees. But she hadn’t known before that the trees were ‘the forest.’
She hadn’t known that danger lurked so nearby. And she was scared.
“W-what do they look like?” she asked.
Mama Fox subconsciously fluffed up her own fur.
“They look nothing like us,” Mama Fox told her. “For one thing…”
She leaned closer her child, so she could whisper.
“Their fur is red.”
“Red?” Franny squeaked.
“Yes,” Mama Fox nodded. “It’s nothing like our beautiful deep orange fur. Their fur is red, like blood.”
Franny shivered, imagining these savage foxes.
“Mama?” she asked, her voice small and scared.
“W-will they ever come here?”
Franny was half-panicked. She hadn’t known these evil foxes existed before… but what was stopping them from coming here, especially since the forest was so close?
“No, sweetie,” Mama Fox said. “They won’t come here. They stay in the forest. That was part of the treaty that ended the war. They stay on their territory and we stay on ours.”
Franny couldn’t sleep that night. She tossed and turned, having turbulent nightmares about blood-red foxes with crazy eyes creeping up to her family’s burrow in the darkness.
And she made a choice. She had to see one. She had to know if they were real. She needed to know what they looked like, and if they meant her family harm.
And with those thoughts, she drifted into an uneasy sleep.
The morning dawned sunny and bright. It was almost bright enough for Franny to forget about her nightmares of the previous evening. Almost.
As usual, the kits played together, play-fighting and rolling around in the green meadow grass and lazing in the sun.
Somehow, as they tumbled around, their play brought them closer and closer to the dark woods on the opposite side of the meadow. Franny made sure of it, gently poking and nudging the other little ones, until they were mere feet away.
The other kits continued their play, but Franny stared into the darkness between the trees. Finally, the others noticed that she wasn’t playing with them. One of the other little cubs, Frank, came up to her, nudging her in the shoulder.
“Dare you to go in there,” he said.
They dared each other to do things all the time.
“Dare you to race to that tree and back.”
“Dare you to steal that pie from the farmer’s window.”
“Dare you to poke Grandpa.”
Frank hadn’t actually expected Franny to take this one, but it was what she’d been waiting for. She took one last look at him before darting into the woods.
She had to know what was in there. She had to know who was in there. She had to know if these foxes were as savage and evil as Mama had said.
She picked her way carefully between the trees, frightened and wary, feeling like danger lurked in every shadowed nook. Her body was tense.
And, before she knew it, the thing she’d been most frightened of happened.
A small, furry body slammed into her own, knocking her top over tail. By the time she landed, flat on her back, she’d had the breath knocked out of her. Still, she jumped up, hackles raised, and growled as fiercely as she could, which was, after all, not very fiercely. She was still a very small fox.
“Jeeez. Relax, will ya?” the other, surprisingly small fox said. “I was only playing.”
Franny took a step back in surprise. This kit looked …. Well, it looked just like her, and her brothers and sisters and cousins.
“Who’re you?” she asked.
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” the other fox said. “After all, you’re in my woods.”
She supposed he was right.
“I’m Franny,” she said.
The other fox approached her again, this time, it came right up close, and licked her on the nose.
“Nice to meet ya, Franny,” he said. “I’m Danny.”
The two circled each other.
Finally, Franny spoke.
“I thought you’d look different,” she said.
“You know… wild.”
“With bright red fur and sharp teeth,” she said.
Danny rolled his eyes.
“My teeth are as sharp as yours,” he said. “I’ll promise you that.”
His fur was certainly the same. He didn’t look any different from any other fox she’d known. Maybe he was a little more annoying, but she suspected that was a personal trait.
They were both little foxes, of approximately the same age. And so they did as young things do, when they meet and spend time together – they spent their afternoon playing in the woods.
And when Franny left the woods, late in the afternoon, as the sun was just beginning to touch the treetops, she trotted out smugly to meet her companions, all of whom had been waiting, worried about her.
That night, when Grandfather Fox took his after-dinner nap, Franny decided to tell her Mama the happy news.
“Mama,” she said. “I met one of them. They’re not bad at all.”
“One of what?” Mama asked.
Mama was distracted and not paying very much attention, trying to scrub a particularly tough stuck-on bit off of a plate. But the next words caught her attention.
“One of the forest foxes,” Franny said. “I played with him all afternoon. He was nice. And the forest foxes look just like us. They’re not crazy. They don’t have red fur or anything.”
Mama Fox’s mouth dropped open, and the plate she was holding fell, shattering on the floor.
Mama Fox grabbed Franny’s paw, forcing her into the living room, waking Grandfather from his nap. She forced Franny to tell her Grandfather everything that had happened.
Slowly, staring at the ground the whole time, Franny recited the entire story. She was unsure why Grandfather looked so worried. She didn’t know what she had done wrong. Or for that matter, what Danny had done.
When she finished her story, Grandfather didn’t stop to say anything. He got out of his easy chair with surprising speed, knocking Franny down and charging straight out of the burrow.
Franny let out a whimper. What had she done?
Grandfather Fox went from burrow to burrow, spreading the word and gathering the elders of the meadow community.
Franny watched as the council gathered in the center of the meadow, where Grandfather stood on the large central dirt mound, created for such occasions. There were foxes from every family there, looking oddly apprehensive.
He looked tall and dignified, Franny thought, but he also looked scared. Franny hopped around the outskirts of the crowd, trying to get a good view of Grandfather, and trying to hear what he was saying. She couldn’t hear very clearly from where she was, but she did catch a few snippets.
Grandfather was telling the story of what had happened in the forest that day. Or at least, Franny thought he was… It didn’t sound much like what she’d told him. In this version, the evil forest fox lured little Franny into the woods. In this version, he didn’t just tumble into her, but viciously attacked her. And in this version, he was about five times bigger than Franny, a full-grown fox hurting a poor, little kit.
Every time he said something untrue, Franny tried to shout over him, to correct him – to fix this. And every time, the adults hushed her, cuffing her around the ears and telling her to pipe down while the adults talked about important things.
Eventually, the adults began shouting, loudly proclaiming that they wouldn’t let evil forest foxes corrupt their sweet, innocent babies. They shouted that they wouldn’t let these foreigners invade their territory and destroy their way of life. They yelled about tradition and the importance of family, and how nothing mattered to these wicked invaders.
Franny slunk home with her tail between her legs, knowing that somehow, she had caused this, and desperately wishing that she could stop it.
The following day, Franny watched as Grandfather gathered a group of strong, young foxes. They sharpened their claws and gathered the sharpest sticks they could find. And they marched into the forest at sunrise. Franny could see the early morning light, ruby-red, glinting off of her Grandfather’s good eye, highlighting the fear and rage on his face as he marched.
Hours later, they came limping out of the forest, scratched and wounded, bleeding. Some of them had broken limbs.
Franny cried into the evening, listening as the other foxes discussed the savages in the forest, and the oncoming battle.
The next day, as the sun rose, the forest foxes counter-attacked. The foxes of the meadow were ready for them, standing stoic, with sharpened claws and teeth and twigs.
Franny hid in the burrow, occasionally lifting her little face to see the adult foxes in their dangerous dance, slashing at each other, stabbing and tearing into each other with their teeth.
She sobbed, crying out of sorrow, out of the utterly unjust way of the world, out of the cruelty creatures are capable of wreaking upon each other. She cried and cried, tears wetting her white-and-orange fur.
Not very far away, on the opposite end of the meadow, the farmer’s daughter looked out of the window.
“Come here, Dad!” she called. “Take a look at this! The foxes are playing together!”
She gave a little giggle and pressed her palm against the glass of the window before turning to look at her Dad.
“Aren’t they cute?” she asked.
I so much wish that we lived in a post-nationalist world. I wish that we lived in a society where who you are and what you do and what you think matters so much more than where you come from or what you look like.
We’ve got a long way to go. Here’s hoping we get there eventually.
Writing Prompt Courtesy of: