Fox and Witch – a fable – Part II
Exhausted and with a missing right ear and with both hind legs broken, the fox very slowly crawled up to the top of the sandy hill on the other side of the restless and hissing little stream. He felt no pain and thought that the release of all his left power would be still enough to continue his way. The moonlight swished through the tiny bilberry bushes along the edges of a rounded forest clearing. Dewdrops mirrored the light, and the ground sparkled and glinted, when suddenly hundreds of male fireflies started their flights in the air. And while these living tiny stars formed up a very motile starry sky directly around the fox’s head, his brain refused its attentiveness. He closed his eyes and tried to listen to the sound of his forest, with one ear only. Silence, only an incidental rough nasty grunt of the old owl from far away, no wind and no other birds, neither singing nor fluttering around. The fox laid immovably on the ground, where the white, grainy and supple sand, still warm from the daily summer heat, smoothly cuddled his body. Two streams of ruby-colored blood meandered downward the hill. A third one filled up his closed eyeballs from outside and made them both resemble very tiny little ponds. From there they flowed off to the chalky sand, which drop by drop changed its color from wine red to ebony.
He would only rest a little while and then continue his way, as this way was all he had, thus it needed to be continued in spite of his wounds. The fox’s front paws were strong, he knew they would bring him forward, step by step. But all of a sudden, he heard a fast rustle and crackles and a hoarse „hihihi“. And zap, a first ax blow, and zap, a second ax blow severed both of his hind legs.
„Hihihi, poor fox, you should have stayed, where you were, should have found a new way through another forest. You don’t belong here any more, hihihi, now see, what happened to you. You are dirty and full of parasites, you destroy the peaceful silence of our woods. You should have expected the woods beating back. Hihihi, but however I feel compassion with you, that’s how I am, my little heart is always filled up with too much sympathy. Hihi, your legs were both broken numerous times. You would have died by inflammations and blood poisoning….“. The fox opened his eyes and saw everything distorted and in red. His lungs lacked enough blood and thus he could scarcely breath. His tongue couldn’t form one word, and his whole body trembled, while his heart was beating irregularly and became louder and louder. Still no pain. „Good to know“, the fox thought, „that one can lose the ability to feel the pain“. And his eyeballs moved to all sides, searching for the mushroom man, whom they finally detected on top of an adjacent tree stump.
He was about as tall as the fox’s head, wore blue striped knee breeches and a wide green shirt with a yellowish necktie. His still young and reddish face lacked a dense beard growth, thus only some single grown long whiskers around his narrow mouth formed a fuzzy parody of a moustache and a goatee. His weird and curly brown protruding hair was intertwined with tiny withered leaves, while the upper part of his head covered by a flat, bulging and dried fruit body of a tree fungus as hat, almost hiding his crooked nose and his green narrow slit eyes. He giggled constantly, even when there was no reason at all to giggle. He giggled, because he considered generally all life a funny rhapsody. The fireflies dancing above his head. „Hihi,…“, he said, „this morning, I slew a too snoopy rat. I carefully eviscerated it, ate its tasty little heart and its vitamin-packed kidneys and draw off its fur, which I sew together into two elegant booties. I twirled its intestines to yarn, should be dried meanwhile, hihihi, …oh, you urgently need my treatment, can you hear me?“ The fox could only sigh, and saw the tiny man, stretching out his narrow chest, and standing there in his new hairy booties with his legs apart, seemingly hoping to appear that way much bigger than he was. „Hihihi,.. I’ll quickly pick up the yarn to suture your wounds, as I don’t want to see you bleed to death..“. And he disappeared, hectically hopping from one tree stump to the other, by keeping his balance with his extended skinny arms and his delicate slender fingers of both hands, alternately moving up and down.
The fox’s body was laying in a lake of blood and slowly attracted swarms of carrion flies, which he never saw flying at night, flying without any noise, no humming and no mumbling, it never was so silent in the fox’s life before. The moon had left the forest clearing, it became darker, and even the fireflies vanished without any trace from the scenery, instead only these legions of blackish carrion flies, buzzing around his head, without producing any noises, like an army of zombie souls of former flies, which already had died decades ago. The fox suddenly felt a short draught, then both of his thighbones were quickly grabbed and sewed up with the surrounding drooping lobes of meet. „Hihi, my old friend is saved, he won’t lose more blood, he will lick his wounds and survive. And see, I connected two small wooden wheels to each of your stumps“. And the mushroom man jumped with a nimble motion on the fox’s neck, with his tiny rat boots frenetically knocking against his bloody shoulders. „Hop, hop, hihi,..“, he said, „get up, trust in my navigation, stretch your shoulders, lift up your body, hihihi“. And the fox, feeling at least as dead as the clouds of zombie flies around him, tried his best to send signals via the neurons from his brain directly to both of his collapsed heart sacs and ordered them to beat. And, a miracle, they first twitched alternatingly, and then contracted faster and faster, bump, bump, bump, and the fox began to pant for oxygen, until the muscles of his forelegs received enough energy to finally and successfully fulfill their service. „hihi, yeah, walk like a fox, hihihi, one step after the other. You are doing it right, my friend, so right…“. And the fox walked forward, still slowly, but with his head courageously raised, while his hind body followed on squeaky wheels.
He left a lake of coagulating blood behind, at which all zombie flies lunged in their erroneous assumption to find dead meat underneath, where they could deposit their undead eggs. „Hihihi, well done, fox, now try to follow your path once again and then never come back. There is no space for foxes in this forest any more. I mean, all we inhabitants of these woods will always honor the good memory of you. But all kinds of external effects harmed our woods: the weather, the climate, the decrease of our species and the dispersal of foreign species from far away into our land, all these things have changed our habitat forever. It became dangerous for foxes, and we all became sensitive for their ticks, we all suffer from their diseases as never before, hihi“. With a slight jerk the fox threw his rider off. And with sticky blood around his tongue, he gurgled: „Do I have to be grateful to you now?“. And the mushroom man answered: „All I ever did was due to selflessness. Get well soon again. Your strong shoulders will always carry you. And I promise you that I will regularly send you a new set of handmade wheels to your foxhole, hihihi, there is only one thing I want to ask you for: You know that I am a passionate collector, hihi, leave me your hind legs, you don’t need them any more; hihi, I will prepare them to persist for hundreds of years; Future generations will study these of your remnants, and they will recognize that you once were a member of our community. Hihihi.“ And the fox, who now suddenly began to feel his pain all over his body, tried to respond, but a new surge of blood from his missing ear came into his mouth, and thus his answer was only a suffocated noise: „mpfff“. The mushroom man took the fox’s broken legs, which he had already covered with a blanket to repel the ghost flies, and nimbly disappeared without saying any other word.
The fox followed his path for a while with squeaking and rattling wheels. And always, when he felt exhausted and tried to rest, his entire body was filled up with a pain, which blazed like a flame inside his wounded body and forced him to continue. He never reached the big incrusted rock that stood far out in the forest landscape, the home of the old owl, which due to his enormous age was already for a long time unable to fly. His prey needed to move astray upward to his platform, where he sat inside a dome, formed by his own dried excrements. The owl couldn’t see any more, but his hearing was still exceptional. It helped him to localize his food and to hear all noises throughout the forest. What a useless ability in such a frightening silence, the fox thought.
Bravely and without complaints he slowly, but purposefully, with powerful steps of his forelegs, followed the sandy narrow path alongside the big snowberry hedge area; still no noise, and his still bloody eyes discolored his surrounding into red shades. Some of the undead carrion flies had followed him, but the many bats, whizzing lightning-fast through the air, discarded him accurately and silently from his somehow inanimate persecutors. His forward locomotion was a fight, and the fox thought that each forward direction is the most important aim in life, which always deserves all available investment. His badly wounded body begged for a rest, but he answered with more oxygen and panted with his widely opened mouth. He crossed the wet meadow, passed the birch grove and was on his way down to the rocky little valley, when he noticed that the wheels, which replaced both of his hind legs, tried to run faster than his paws could, it became an energy-sapping and tedious procedure. Finally down in the valley, there was a fork in his way. One path went further down to the stream, which at this point of the forest was already swollen into a little river, and continued along the riverbank, while the other led to the old owl’s rock. The fox didn’t know yet that he wouldn’t arrive at the lonely rock to talk to his former owl friend, but it was at least his intended destination, after a short rest at the waterside. His body entirely refused his service, and the fox needed water to quench his thirst and to carefully wash thoroughly his throbbing ear injury and finally to cool down his overheated head. The tight stony riverside welcomed him with a warm and humid air and the aromatic scents of marsh-marigold, water forget-me-not and ragged-robins. The moon had disappeared to the other side of the forest and thus, and the fox crouched down in the midst of a rather dark night scenery, interrupted by some single rays of light, which were wandering around.
When the fox was just in order to tilt his snout down to the water surface, at this point of the forest surprisingly calm and silent, a deep and croaking voice cut through the mysterious quietness of the forest: „Fox, I could hear the sound of your wheels, and I am very well informed about your misfortune, which is based on your own recklessness and stubbornness. Times have changed, fox, today, we prefer the silence. Your noise disturbed my trains of thought. I doubt that you’ll ever learn how to behave appropriately. Listen to my well intentioned advice. Get back to health soon, and when you then still think that this world was not fair to you, climb on the highest mountain, you can find, and then look down and see the minuteness of the world and the insignificance of all individual worries“. „I can’t climb up a mountain any more and I don’t think about fairness, only about survival and moving forward“, the fox thought, but couldn’t answer any more, as the weights of his wheel-apparatuses drew his hind body down into the water and his struggling paws couldn’t resist these forces at all, he fall.
The water was rather warm, and it smoothly washed around his sticky fur. The fox slowly drifted away, following the flow direction of the quiet river, and he did not oppose it. He felt weightless, and some occasional colder drifts from lower depths calmed his deep wounds. His eyes were clear again, and he saw extended reed beds passing by and even two sleeping swans, but both with an astonishing blackish plumage. The wood of his wheels increasingly swelled up due to the wetness, and after a while, both constructions broke coincidentally and came loose from the seams of his leg stumps. A relief, and soon, the fox noticed that he could even control his mutilated former hind legs, and he carefully began to paddle with his stumps, and seemingly thanks to the smooth and calming water, this caused him no pain at all any more. „An interesting phenomenon“, he thought, „first the shock prevented me from noticing the pain, which wounds would normally cause, then they appeared with delay and then unbearably heavy, while the later situation created an insensitivity again, an immunity based on a permanent stimulation, or was it a miracle? The river soon got wider, while the water flow was still surprisingly smooth. The reed beds were meanwhile replaced by carrs on both sides, mostly consisting of black alders. Again black swans. And even the mallards, sleeping on a tiny bald headland slope, seemed to have lost all colors. There was no audible, but visible active life: The moor frogs entirely replaced the water surface along the river banks. They submerged and emerged, a bustle consisting of heads, paddling legs and splashing water, all fully soundless.
The fox quickly learned performing meandering movements with his body, first barely noticeably, then always more confidently, and he paddled increasingly skillful with his leg stumps, moved them alternating up and down, until he found a stable rhythm, and lo and behold: he gathered speed, did not only float passively any more, but controlled his way with advancement and even a certain elegance. He then discovered the sideward rowing by turning his hind body slightly to one side that his hind-leg-rudders needed to change their angles and allowed him to swim a small circle, and even to stand against the soft water flow direction. He supported his maneuvers with courageous strokes of his paws, while the river made a sharp right turn. Shortly after, the fox lifted his head a bit above the water surface and blinked with his eyes, as if he was looking for a very tiny specific detail. And indeed, a greyish obstacle appeared in the near distance, coated with fumes, while the moon behind him generated billowing reflections on the body of water and irradiated the obfuscated tiny island.
The fox knew the little island very well and noted to his satisfaction that he was still on his way, another mode of locomotion, but yet the right direction. His maneuverability grew, and his sensation of pain decreased. And he turned around his own axis like a seal, but it was no expression of exuberance or recklessness, it was an expression of the awareness of new opportunities. Improvement instead of death, new advantages based on the woundings of his hurtful discrimination; and the fox puckered his mouth to a broad grin, he smiled at his own amazement, which seemed to be an amazement about the time in itself. About the last two single hours, standing fully against his entire life, which at least already had seen around 40.000 hours passing by; complete changes almost within a wink of an eye.
The closer he got to the island, the more it seemed released from its misty cover and presented a miniature landscape of tiny rocks, older conifers of a too small height, and it was covered with gloriously shining yellow blossoms of loosestrife flowers, softly illuminated by the last beams of an already very low standing moon. The small and sickle-shaped piece of land was a firm component of his daily route through the woods, which he usually passed via the narrow rabbit way on the opposite very close river bank. Thus its presence, meanwhile just ahead in front of his snout, was a proof for still being on the normal way, albeit under abnormal conditions; and with a certain satisfaction, he nodded imperceptibly with his head, which meanwhile had been sunken back down beneath the water surface.
His destination was the small gap of water between island and the rabbit trail ashore, where he planned a short rest, not from exhaustion any more, but to savor the mild fruity scent of the insular flowers, the deep flavor of the adjacent deep forest and the warm, somehow very complex, but also heavy smell of the water. When he arrived at his desired position, he could feel a network of roots closely beneath the water surface and could hold on the strongest of them with both of his remaining paws. The mere sight of the blooming loosestrife flowers awoke a warm and almost forgotten feeling of delight inside his head. The fox knew that blossoms of this beautiful plant, being colored like an golden hour evening sunlight, could differ from each other, depending on blooming in the shadow or being exposed to the daylight. Light bloomers owned a reddish-yellowish color shade and elongated pistills, while shadow bloomers were shining in a bright yellow shade with shorter pistills. Some flowers carried already seeds, and he saw a short and slight gust of wind blowing some of these rounded tiny capsules into the air, from where they slowly sailed down to the water. There, directly in front of the fox’s snout, they performed a quickly merry-go-round and then disappeared with the soft water flow.
All of a sudden, something inexplicable changed about the normal working procedures of his internal organs, his heart flickered in a surreal fast motion, while his lungs remained fixed in their inhalation mode, and daylight and moonlight alternated within seconds, blossoms withered in the rhythm of several winks of his eyes. The fox’s fur colored from orange-red to a muddy deep-brown and shrank piecewise from his body. Seasons had imperceptibly changed and suddenly autumn laid in the air, the forest was ablaze with motley colors, while the tendrils of the underwater featherfoil plants all at once enclosed the meanwhile fully naked body of the fox and relentlessly dragged him slowly deeper and deeper. And before the fox completely disappeared in the depth, a bitter cold winter moon emitted misty light beams through the bald skeletons of trees.
The fox’s body came to lay between a rocky protrusion with a hook-shaped tree root around his neck, still embraced by dozens of featherfoil tendrils. He couldn’t feel nor could he hear any more, but he saw. The water was clear, and the ground deeply beneath his body, which now more and more began to decompose. A „You are dead“ whispered through his head, while his brain was surely still alive. And it fought against its decay with an unearthly power, which the fox never released before. And indeed, his heart at once began to beat again, his lungs suddenly demanded for air, and blood began to circulate throughout his almost fully rotten corpse. He tried to move, but he couldn’t, and then forced by a rapidly increasing respiratory distress, he grasped an adjacent hollow tube of a reed plant only with his snout, and carefully bit a piece out of its wooden wall, and then began to breathe, to slowly inhale his new life.
The tiny Tit
The time was passing in a fast motion speed, and then all at once fell back to its normal rhythm: The early summer approached, when the fox stepwise awoke to all his former life functions, he began to hear the far away bird’s twittering as a muffled noise, the crawling of mice along the riverbank, and he became hungry for the first time, since he had died. But he saw no other option than crying for help. His hoarse and broken voice mutedly sounded out of the on-air part of the reed tube, „help, help, I want to live“, but no one responded. And the fox fall asleep and dreamed of a forest under water, through which he swam like an elegant dolphin and was friendly welcomed by all animals of these surreal woods. He saw a community of harmony and a never before seen goodwill, when he suddenly woke up. He had slept over months, and now it was midsummer already, when the fox again cried for help. But this time, he unexpectedly received an answer from the other end of the tube. „Who are you?“, the tender voice of a bird asked. And the fox answered: „I was the decaying fox, but I want to survive, oh please give me food, I am hungry.“ The small penduline tit chirped amused in a language, which the fox did not understand. Then he said: „I am just a small bird, but I feel sorry for you and thus will try to provide you with everything I can, I need to impose one condition only, tell me about your life and tell me everything about the forest, I am still so young, make me understand the life that is expecting me here.“ The fox happily agreed and told the tit all he knew about the forest from times, in which most trees of today were still sprouts. In fact stories that he had heard himself by the old owl, stories about health and development. The tit was a passionate listener and captured a small grasshopper, which he carefully dropped into the tube opening, from where it directly landed in the fox’s throat.
Years passed by, and fox and tit were connected by a growing deep friendship, although they never saw each other. The fox’s body kept fixed by his fetters, but his naked skin was soon covered by a new fur in grey with white stains. And his hind limbs grew to fins, and if he hadn’t been tied up, he would have swum away like a seal. In the warm season, tit and fox met each other daily, with the bird always bringing a small insect or even an earthworm to their meetings; and the fox told him about his former friendship with the witch and about times, in which he used to offer the tiny mushroom man a ride on his back, and about the old owl, whom he provided with all kinds of things, which the old lazy-to-move bird couldn’t reach from around his rocky nest. And the tiny tit was so fascinated from hearing about older times and soon also from the fox’s warm and friendly voice that he fell in love with him and never looked for a bird mate, and in the winter time he only followed his migrating conspecifics as short as possible towards the warmer South. He was always the first penduline tit arriving back from the Mediterranean in early spring and then couldn’t wait to meet his friend at the still stable old reed-tube. The fox, who used to oversleep the winter time, then got his first food for the year, and the presence of his new friend warmed his almost decomposed heart, and he began to love him back. He loved him for his impartiality, his curiosity, his optimism and his lovely character, which made him begin a friendship with a dead fox, which he could not even see.
In the fourth year, it was early spring, the fox awoke from his hibernation and turned his head to the left, then to the right and even tried to bend it as far as possible to his underside, and what he saw did not resemble the weak body of a seal from the former year any more. All his muscles were enormously grown during the season of his inactivity, and he seemed almost be ready to break his bonds. Punctually he heard the voice of the tit, excited and full of a loving friendliness. He brought him the first worm that he could catch from a still frozen forest ground and twittered:“My dear and beloved fox, I missed you more than anything, and I couldn’t wait to meet you. Listen, so much happened, while you were sleeping and me being abroad. I heard it from the blackbird. The witch, who used to rear trumpet lichens around her teeth, which she considered the latest fashion for witches, became seriously sick, after a giant bird tick had bitten into her right butt cheek, when she was sitting on her wooden witches toilet. She became so weak that the lichens grew out of her mouth and covered her entire body until she almost could not move any more. She lost all control over her whirlwinds, which disappeared forever somewhere in the air. Flightless and unable to walk or to talk, she was lastly seen to crawl on her knees around a smelly pond, where she tried to chew on rotten algae, while her voice resembled the sounds of fire-bellied toads and moor frogs so much that even the old and blind grass frog mistook her with his aunt. It is a terrible tragedy, and the whole woods talked about it. But listen, fox, unfortunately also other things happened: Once, when the winter was especially cold, a lonesome wolf got lost into our forest, and the first, he met, was the mushroom man in his nasty winter clothes. He first took a ride on the wolf without asking for permission and lately even tried to cut off the wolf’s ear for his collection. But the tall loner couldn’t take a joke at all and devoured the tiny man with skin and hair and everything around.“ The bird’s voice became quieter with a very sad sound. „dear tiny friend“, the fox answered, „these people were part of my life, and thus I do not feel any malicious joy.“ And the tit responded: „It was sad to hear all that, my whole body was trembling, when the blackbird continued his stories. Finally the wolf couldn’t digest the gnarled little man and excreted him undigested and still alive. But he had shrank to the size of a mouse, his skin became green like a frog, and since that, he almost always hides inside his tree cave, as all rats of the forest had discovered him as a suitable prey. And that’s still not all I need to tell you. The friendly swallow from my neighborhood yesterday morning discovered the old owl fully enclosed by walls of its own guano, being obviously still very much alive inside, but nobody knows, how and where he would find his future food, but so far he fortunately didn’t stop to comment all incidents in the forest, just being less well audible. Fox, that’s not the forest, you were telling me about. How can I survive in such a rough and immoral world. Miseries everywhere…“.
Metamorphosis and Rebirth
The little tit felt as a stranger in his world and fearful saw the time passing, clinging to the only thing he had, the friendship with an invisible fox, which seemingly and hopefully was on his way to get back to a normal life ashore. The summer time had just begun, and one day, a somehow stronger water flow released the fox all of a sudden from his bonds, he first drifted away, far away and almost reached the wetlands with the witch’s house, until he got used in the water locomotion of a seal, from which his outer appearance almost didn’t differ at all any more; but then, hours later and due to vigorous movements of his hind leg fins, he arrived back at its tiny island, where he happily several times circled around, when he all of a sudden felt a pulling and drawing along his entire skin, and within one deep breath of air, his seal fur burst open from all sides, and the fox, who had already become a seal-like creature, molted back to a fox in the way a lizard or a snail would repel their old skin. His new fur appeared deep red and clear, such an intense and shiny red, shinier and clearer than ever before he died as a fox. And the fox with hind leg stumps instead of fins crawled on shore, in order to finally see his new friend, after all these years, they had spent together, the fox in under-water bonds, the honest little tit ashore, on the other side of the tube: the only good soul he could find inside an increasingly evil surrounding, his new hope, which made him belief in the outstanding superiority of moral integrity. A new light in a malicious world. And the tit had desired nothing more than seeing his fox, his link to a better past and his hope for a bright future. But when the fox reached the outer part of the reed- tube, it was empty, nobody was waiting there. And the fox waited and waited and waited, but the tiny tit never came back, nor did they ever see again.
The wood fay visited the forest only once a hundred years. When she arrived this time, she flew along the river and sat down on an old tree stump, close to a tiny island, on which yellow blossoms in different shapes reflected a warm evening sun. While she enjoyed her rest, she discovered a lonely reed-tube, obviously dead since many years, on which a lonely little tit sat down with powerlessly hanging wings and waited. All other tits were busy with each other, only this one specimen stayed apart from everybody and seemed with sad eyes staring into the depth of the hollow tube. „What a beautiful little guy, so full of yearning and hope“, the fay thought, when suddenly an owl approached in flight and grabbed the tiny waiting tit, killed him with his giant beak and carried his lifeless bloody body away through the air. The fay couldn’t know that the owl was a son of the well known old owl, which meanwhile lived invisibly inside his guano cavity. But shocked by the unusual rudeness in a forest that she knew as a peaceful place from her last visit hundred years ago, she decided to stay for a while and to observe the changes that were going on. A week later, she discovered a very wondrous scenery. The most beautiful fox, she ever saw, with two ears of different sizes and with such vigorous hind legs, never ever seen on a fox, stood in front of the same reed-tube, and he waited there with tears in his eyes.
I will tell, and you will wonder, about the monstrous result of an ancient crime. But now the unaccustomed effort tires me, and, look, a poplar tree entices us with its welcome shade, and the turf yields a bed. I should like to rest here on the ground (Ovid’s metamorphoses: Orpheus sings Venus and Adonis).
“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said god to one of his angels; and the angel brought him the leaden heart and the dead bird. “You have rightly chosen,” said god, “for in my garden of paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the happy prince shall praise me.” (Oscar Wilde, the happy prince)
Copyrights of text and all paintings: Stefan F. Wirth, Berlin July 2020
Paintings: in tempera colors on canvas