by Morgen Eljot
By the crystal spring lived a little fox and a little cat. Their burrow was cozy but strategic, hidden by ferns with three different exits.
Bossyfox and Sassycat didn’t have any cubs so their world was very tranquil. So tranquil, in fact, that sometimes Bossyfox got restless; sometimes he lost so much sleep tossing and turning that Sassycat would kick him out of the burrow so she could finally catch a catnap. “Walk it off! You’ll feel much better.”
Bossyfox blinked at the brightness of the moon. Frogs croaked at the spring. Crickets chirped in the field. Birdberries were in season. Maybe just a couple…
He walked to a thicket where birdberries grew. There stood Dopey Mope Mope gazing dazedly at his moon shadow. The badger slowly looked up, blinking glazed yellow eyes. “I was just deciding if I should go this way. Or that. Or that way. Or this…”
Bossyfox observed, “Have you been eating birdberries again?”
“No. Or maybe yes.” The badger shook his head, then nodded. “How’d you guess? I should cut back on the birdberries. If I eat more than a handful I start to shit blood.” The badger turned a pirouette, “Am I bleeding?”
The fox frowned, “Just a dribble.”
“I knew it!” The badger rubbed his butt in the grass. “I don’t want Batya Shat Shat” (the mother of Dopey Mope Mope’s many, many offspring) “to know I’ve been eating birdberries.”
“I avoid birdberries these days,” lied the little fox. On a truthful note he added, “I suspect they blunt my ability to conceive cubs with Sassycat.”
“Birdberries haven’t stopped me makin’ cubs–” the badger tried counting his toes to calculate the number of his many, many offspring– but quickly lost count– “I got a LOTTA pups,” he sighed, “too many, more than I can feed actually…” The badger looked grimly at the fox. “Now the problem with you ain’t the birdberries, Bossyfox, it’s that you are a fox and she is a cat.”
“And you are merely a badger,” said Bossyfox, “and such is your opinion.”
“But it’s all good,” said Dopey Mope Mope mawkishly, “It’s not like anybody judges you for not having cubs with Sassycat. The inter-species thing is very edgy. And when folks say you’re not a real fox–”
“WHO says that?”
“They don’t say it in a judgmental way,” said the badger grinning. “They just feel it’s a little strange for a fox and cat to cohabitate. But if you’re ever gonna make cubs–” he grinned, “Just sayin’.”
Bossyfox snapped back, “You’re so concerned about my unborn cubs, shouldn’t you be caring for your real cubs instead of getting stoned on birdberries?”
“Oh!” spat the badger, thunderstruck, “You think you can judge me? You haven’t a care in the world, Bossyfox, slouching by your crystal spring, regurgitating philosophy to a cat. I don’t envy you, in fact I pity you-”
“You should lay off the birdberries,” said Bossyfox, turning away. “Or don’t. It’s all the same to me.”
“Where do you think you’re going?” said Dopey Mope Mope. “Don’t you like me? I knew you never liked me.”
“It’s not about you.”
Dopey Mope Mope sniffed, “Isn’t it?”
Bossyfox scratched the back of his head. “I should find Sassycat something for breakfast. Maybe a blue jay.”
“But why just a blue jay?” said Dopey Mope Mope, “Don’t you think Sassycat deserves better than just a piddly blue jay?”
The fox sighed, “Probably.”
The badger licked his puffy lips. “Why not a woodrat? Or maybe a bunny. Or a nice plump quail. Or a big fat pocket gopher. Or… or…”
“Or a chicken,” said Bossyfox.
“Why stop at a chicken?” said Dopey Mope Mope. “You could bring her a turkey. Or why not a piglet? Or why not a lamb? Or… or…”
The fox said resolutely, “I shall bring Sassycat a chicken,” and walked in the direction of the closest farm. He said over his shoulder, “Now you can tag along and fetch a chicken for your children– or keep getting stoned on birdberries, the decision is yours.”
“Go on,” muttered the Badger, “I wouldn’t want to slow you down. Or bore you with stories of my ordinary life.” He watched the fox’s departure with a trembling lower lip, wearing a vapid grin but seething with resentment.
Bossyfox was glad to be away from Dopey Mope Mope. He would skip the birdberries and rustle up a chicken.
A shooting star streaked the sky. Bullfrogs croaked at the creek.
Bossyfox crossed the babbling brook to skirt the big oak meadow where he spied two more familiar figures, evidently stoned on birdberries and dancing the birdberry dance: the Sleaze Weasel and his simpering friend, Fidget the Ferret. Bossyfox started to retrace his steps when the ferret called out, “B-B-Bossyfox! Long time no smell!” Bossyfox sighed as he went to bid them a very good evening.
“Fidget and I are planning an adventure,” said the Sleaze Weasel, looking at the ground. “Howzabout you, Bossyfox? You down for an adventure?”
After a moment’s hesitation the fox admitted, “I am looking for a chicken.”
The weasel and ferret shared a meaningful glance. “I’ve seen some chickens like you wouldn’t believe,” said the weasel, studying the feet of Bossyfox, “Bigger than big, the meat looks SO tender. Plus it could be an excellent adventure.”
Fidget hiccupped, “B-B-Birdberries give me the munchies.”
As a rule, Bossyfox didn’t trust weasels. And he’d been on some of the Sleaze Weasel’s adventures before. “A regular chicken is all I need.”
The weasel exhaled, “Don’t be a pussy cat, Bossyfox. Go BIG or don’t bother.”
The fox looked to the ferret.
Fidget chewed his lip. The little critter wanted to please both his buddies. He stuttered, “P-p-plus there’s strength in numbers,” and smiled broadly to show his big yellow teeth.
“Alright,” said Bossyfox, frowning at the Sleaze Weasel. “But this better not turn out like the last adventure. Or the one before that. Or the one before that.”
“Of course not,” said the Sleaze Weasel, “that would be sleeeazy.”
They scurried through damp fields and shady glades and meadows of moonlight, under fences, over fences, around fences, across roads, through culverts. Finally they crossed the gravel path that fronts the fearful Crazy Shack where the skins of dead animals hang on barbed wire fences, fluttering in the breeze.
They tip-toed in sync with the crickets. Owls hooted from the trees.
Fidget whispered, “Humans s-s-sure are evil,” when suddenly a farm dog broke from the bracken to chomp on Fidget’s throat. It thrashed his body back and forth until every bone was broken!
The fox and weasel ran for their lives, running and running until their legs gave out. They caught their breath, gasping and coughing. “We should have taken the safe way,” said Bossyfox.
“It was an adventure,” said the weasel, wheezing for breath.
“Not for Fidget.”
“Especially for Fidget.”
“We could have tried to help him.”
“So why didn’t you?”
Hanging their heads, they both walked onward but not so proudly. It was depressing to think Fidget’s pet potato bug would never see him again. Finally they spied a fence and smelled the stench of domestic animals: goats, sheep and a strange type of chicken.
“Biggest chickens I’ve ever seen,” said the weasel eagerly. “Yonder coop.” The weasel made an instant of eye contact with Bossyfox. Bossyfox knew it meant trouble.
They crept quietly through the farmyard past stalls, a sty and small barn to a muddy pasture with a very large chicken coop. You could smell bird meat and LOTS of it. Neither fox nor weasel had eaten in many, many hours.
They circled the big chicken coop to a high-fenced coral and Bossyfox thought to himself, why the high fence? The Sleaze Weasel gestured to a small gap in the coop’s corrugated wall, “Through there.”
Bossyfox peeked through the gap. There were loose feathers on the other side, BIG feathers. Bossyfox also noticed a wood shingle nearby the gap, which could easily jam the gap and trap somebody inside. “Go on,” said the Sleaze Weasel.
“You first,” said Bossyfox.
The weasel looked disappointed. “Alright.” The weasel slipped inside the chicken coop.
Bossyfox looked at the wood shingle, thinking that maybe he should trap the weasel inside the coop. After all, that’s what the weasel had meant to do to him. And what about poor Fidget?
“Bossyfox!” screamed the Sleaze Weasel.
Bossyfox looked through the gap and saw the weasel rolling a giant green egg and chased by giant chicken feet. They were the biggest chickens Bossyfox had ever seen, man-sized and very angry. “Take the egg,” hissed the weasel, “Take it! Take it!” He pushed the egg through the gap, and the egg squeezed out just barely.
Bossyfox rolled the egg away from the gap to clear the weasel’s escape – but the weasel didn’t escape, instead it SCREAMED. The weasel’s echoing screams set farm dogs to barking and Bossyfox picked up the heavy egg and ran as fast as he could. It was hard work for a little fox! He could still hear the weasel shrieking in the distance and judging from the sound he was having quite an adventure.
As daybreak approached Bossyfox caught sight of the glade in the gully that led up to the crystal spring. He’d totally forgotten about Sassycat! He hoped she’d still be there.
Bossyfox came to the crystal spring and paused. The crystal spring, normally crystalline, was now brown with bloody badger crap and contained a bobbing badger corpse.
Intoxicated on birdberries and seeking revenge for some real or imagined slight, Dopey Mope Mope had been shitting in the crystal spring when he passed out and drowned. Or had he been pushed?
More importantly, where was Sassycat? There she was!
Sassycat perched atop the rock, wagging her tail. “You really shouldn’t run off like that. Or one day you’ll come back and find me gone.”
“I’m sorry,” said Bossyfox, “and as a token of my appreciation I brought you this.” He rolled the egg forward for Sassycat’s inspection.
A crack appeared in the shiny green shell and out popped a baby emu.
“We might not be able to make cubs,” said Bossyfox, “but we can have a chick!”
They named the chick Hope and raised her up like a cub; in time she grew to a massive emu.
She carried them away across the horizon and they all lived happily thereafter for a relatively long time.
With one foot in San Francisco and the other in Helsinki, Morgen Eljot grew up in the Bay Area and has an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. His fiction and comics have appeared in such publications as ZYZZYVA, Hobart, JUKED, the San Francisco Examiner and the Rumpus. To see more of his comics and drawings, feel free to visit his illustrated blog.