The Moon Fox

Amy Fontaine

 

Jamie lay in her bed. Warm summer air drifted in through the window along with cricket song. The moon was nowhere to be seen, but in the starlight she could just make out the shadowy shapes of the barn and the pasture fence.

A big shooting star streaked across the sky. She heard a crash on the other side of the house, then a thud …

Silence. Darkness. The chirp of crickets returning.

With a whispered prayer, Jamie tiptoed barefoot down the dark hall of the old farmhouse to the living room. Dimly, she saw something moving in the fireplace.

Jamie gasped. It was a little fox, with white-gray fur the color of memories and eyes as black as untold secrets. Two strange mounds were folded tight against his back like pillow down.

“Fire!” the fox cried, stumbling around dizzily in the fireplace soot. “Comets! They burned me! They burned my… my…” He keeled over and fell still.

Jamie stared, wide-eyed, at the limp, soot-covered animal. He was still breathing. She cleaned him as best she could, carried the furry form to her room, and laid him on her bed. She watched over him, hardly believing he was there, until she fell asleep.

 

At dawn, Jamie awoke to the smell of pancakes wafting in from the kitchen. The fox slept curled up at the foot of her bed.

“So I didn’t dream you,” said Jamie, patting his head.

The fox blinked awake and raised his head. “Where am I?”

Jamie’s eyes widened. “And I didn’t dream you could talk! You’re in my home.”

“What am I?”

“Don’t you know?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, you’re a fox, I think. A little fox. Can I call you that? Little Fox?”

“Sure!” Little Fox yipped, wagging his tail.

Just then, Jamie’s father appeared at the doorway. He was in his overalls and boots, ready for work. “Come eat your breakfast, Jamie. We’ve got chores to do.”

Little Fox yipped softly.

Jamie’s father narrowed his eyes at the fox. “What in tarnation!”

Jamie gulped. “It’s… it’s a dog, Daddy! Found it scratching at the back door last night!”

“Lost, I guess. He’s awful dirty. Why’d you bring him inside?”

“I… I thought maybe we could train him for herding? I could get him familiar with the sheep.”

“Hmm. Looks too small and timid to me. But you can try.” With a nod, Jamie’s father clomped down the hall.

Jamie breathed a sigh of relief. “Let’s go eat.”

 

After she had scarfed down her pancakes and eggs, and passed some under the table to Little Fox, Jamie hurried to the pastures, her ‘dog’ trotting at her heels. Early morning painted the fields with a rosy glow.

“Is he mean?” asked Little Fox.

“You mean Daddy?” Jamie laughed. “No! Just a little rough around the edges, is all.”

“Why’d you tell him I’m a dog?”

“Foxes aren’t good for farms.”

“Oh.” Little Fox’s ears drooped.

Jamie shook her head and smiled. “It’s okay. I can tell you’re a special fox.”

Little Fox lifted his head high. There was a spring in his step as he followed Jamie across the farmyard and through a creaky wooden gate into a field. He saw huge white puffs drifting through the grass.

“Clouds! Beautiful clouds!”

“No, Little Fox. Sheep. Daddy wants to shear them today. Usually, I chase them through the gate one by one, yelling and banging a bell. It takes forever. But it’ll go quick if you can be a herding dog.”

“What does a herding dog do?”

“Just nip a little at the sheep’s heels, and get them all moving together through the gate.”

Little Fox gazed up at the sheep. Up close, they towered over him. He swallowed, standing as tall as he could. “I’ll do my best!”

And with that, he charged, yipping sharply.

He soon forgot about herding, though. He pranced, almost danced, around the sheep and through the field. He was as graceful as a bird soaring through clouds. As he ran, he shook off the rest of the soot. The tips of his fur glowed.

But the sheep bleated fearfully and scattered. And then Jamie’s father came running from the barnyard.

“Bad dog!” he shouted.

Little Fox hunched down and tried to look like a herding dog.

But when Jamie’s father reached them, he could see that Little Fox was not a dog at all.

Back at the farmhouse, Jamie’s father scolded her. Little Fox curled up into a ball in the other room and shut his eyes. When Jamie returned to him, her eyes glistened with tears. She held him close and stroked his fur.

“I told Daddy you were different, but he’s sending you away,” Jamie whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Little Fox whimpered. “No! I want to stay with you! I’ll be a good dog! I—”

Jamie’s father came in carrying a small wooden crate. “Don’t worry, Jamie. Joe’s stopping by. He’s driving past the preserve on his way to a delivery in town. Your friend will get to live in the woods, where he can’t hurt any chickens.”

“He doesn’t belong in the woods.”

“Where else would he belong?”

Jamie looked down at Little Fox, trembling in her lap. “Where he’s safe and happy.”

Jamie’s father took Little Fox. “Sorry, Jamie, but I’ve gotta do this. C’mon, little guy.” He put Little Fox in the crate and closed the lid.

 

The crate bumped along in the back of Joe’s roaring truck. Little Fox could see flashes of light through gaps in the boards. In the cramped space, he felt squashed, his paws got scraped, and the mounds on his back ached as if they were on fire. He yowled, remembering the tears in Jamie’s eyes. Eventually, he fell asleep.

When Little Fox awoke, his crate was open, and he could see light. But it wasn’t sunlight, and the air felt stuffy. Gingerly, he placed his paws on the edge of the crate and peeked out into a strange, busy, noisy new world.

He was in the back of a stage. Red curtains rose up into darkness. Stagehands ran about with various items, including the old farm equipment that had been in the truck. Actors and actresses in wild costumes – kingly robes, scuba suits, fairy wings, animal suits – shuffled about, whistling, clapping, muttering lines. There were a lot of nooks and crannies where a little fox could hide. But Little Fox didn’t want to hide. Leaping out of the crate, he shook himself and padded through a gap in the velvet curtains to the center of the stage.

A woman in bejeweled blue robes and a porcelain mask was fanning herself, speaking to a ballerina. In the bright spotlights, Little Fox could see couches, chairs, fake windows, fake portraits on a fake wall. The area out past the stage was very dark, with little lights sprinkled about, like the vast reaches of starry space. His heart fluttered, and the mounds on his back stirred with something other than pain. His fur began to glow softly and he ran in happy circles.

“Cut!” roared an angry voice from the dark.

Little Fox froze.

The director leaped onto the stage, his mustache bristling.

Little Fox yelped as he was scooped up by the scruff of the neck and lifted to the director’s glaring eyes. “YOU are ruining my rehearsal!”

The woman in the blue robes and the ballerina stared at Little Fox. Stagehands, actors, and actresses gathered, circling.

Little Fox blinked. “I was supposed to go to a nature preserve, but maybe this is the wrong place.”

“For you this is absolutely the wrong place! I’ve got a play to put on and there are no parts for talking animals.”

“I’ll just sit quietly right here.”

“Not on the stage. The stage is for actors.”

“I’ll be an actor!”

The director snorted. “All our roles have been cast, except for the earthworm. Can you be an earthworm?”

“I could try!”

The director rolled his eyes. “Fine. Let’s see. You’re an earthworm. Go.”

Little Fox wiggled across the stage. He pretended to burrow into the ground.

The director nodded approvingly, and Little Fox glowed with pride.

The director’s face fell. “No glowing!”

Little Fox scrunched up his face. “Sorry!”

The director sighed. “It’s all right. It’s your first rehearsal. But don’t glow, don’t be a fox, don’t run.”

But later, Little Fox did run, around the stage with the children of some of the actors. He leaped over stools and raced around corners, laughing like frost shimmering on a tree. And he glowed brighter than a swarm of fireflies.

“Fox!” bellowed the director.

Startled, Little Fox crashed into a table. He wriggled out from under it, only to be grabbed by the scruff of his neck. The director hauled him back to the crate and dropped him in.

“Sorry,” said the director, “but you can’t be yourself here. Maybe the circus can use you.” He slammed the lid shut.

Little Fox whimpered.

Little Fox was loaded into another truck. He shut his eyes and ignored the darkness but couldn’t stop hearing all the angry things that had been said to him.

The crate jostled about in the truck. He bruised his tail, his paws, his nose, his ears, and the two crumpled mounds on his back. At least the pain in them had been lessening. He fell into a fitful sleep.

 

When Little Fox woke, someone had slid the lid off the crate. He poked his head out and looked around. Red and gold tents stood around him in a large field. He smelled popcorn, fried food, engine oil, perfume, sweat, lemonade, plastic, barnyard straw. He heard yelling, screaming, laughing, crying, buzzes, blares, whirs, and bleeps. The air tasted thick and smoky. People strolled about between the tents.

It was a cloudy night, but the lights of the Ferris wheel glowed like streaking comets as it spun. There were rides shaped like dragons that dipped and dove, tall slides, a carousel with fabulous wooden creatures. Little Fox felt drawn to a big ride shaped like a crescent moon. He watched it swing back and forth, mesmerized.

“Like what you see?”

Little Fox turned. A man was smiling down at him. He wore a red and gold suit that matched the circus tents, gloves and boots that gleamed in the lights flashing from the rides.

“I am Alfonso, the ringmaster. I hear you are a talking, glowing fox!”

Little Fox’s ears perked up, and the growths on his back fluttered.

“Yes! Yes, I am!”

Alfonso laughed and patted Little Fox’s head. “That’s nice. But we already have one of those.”

Little Fox jumped out of the crate. “Really? Where?”

Alfonso led Little Fox to a sideshow in a tent, to a fox puppet covered in gold paint, its puppeteer hidden behind a small wooden stage. A string waved the fox’s paw.

“Hi, I’m Lloyd the Magic Fox!” the puppeteer said in a deep, goofy voice.

The children sitting before the stage laughed and clapped.

Little Fox’s tail fell. “But I’m real! I should be your fox!”

Alfonso put a finger to his lips and led Little Fox outside. “Listen, fox, I don’t want you stealing Lloyd’s thunder, okay? What we really need is a goat. Our goat, Bertha, ran away two days ago. We could have just replaced her, but I said no, you people have no vision!” The ringmaster wagged a gloved finger. “Lots of circuses have goats, but none of them have a goat who’s really a fox!” The ringmaster slapped his knee and chuckled. “Get it?”

Little Fox didn’t get it but he smiled politely.

He followed the ringmaster into one of the tents. There were clowns with sad faces, lion tamers, and tightrope walkers in bright, sequined costumes. A woman balanced on the back of a galloping horse, and a man was swallowing fire. Little Fox’s act was not hard. He just trotted and bleated in a very goatish way, while knowing he could do so much more.

But the audience liked his act. They clapped, cheered, and threw flowers to him. He blushed, the white fur on his face turning rosy. And then, as they continued to applaud, he glowed brighter, brighter than the lights of the tent until the crowd shielded their eyes and the ringmaster bellowed.

But a strange joy was humming in his mind, and Little Fox leaped through the air in graceful arcs that shimmered like rainbows. Laughing, he shot from one end of the tent to the other, jumping right over the woman on horseback. The horse neighed in alarm, thundered across the tent, and knocked against a tent pole. The pole began tilting, the tent began sagging, and people began screaming and running out. Little Fox froze, and his glow faded.

The ringmaster glared at Little Fox. “You’re not supposed to act like yourself! You’re fired!” He ran after the departing crowd.

Little Fox wandered sadly through the lanes between the tents. Lights dimmed, the Ferris wheel came to the end of its last spin of the night, and the game booths closed one by one. The circus was settling into stillness.

Little Fox walked to the edge of the circus, gazing out across miles of grass and starry sky. When he looked up, he felt like he was swimming in a sea of stars. Behind a drifting patch of clouds, he glimpsed something big and round and bright, and a shiver of delight went through him.

Suddenly, Little Fox heard rough voices and a girl’s scream.

Jamie’s scream.

Little Fox bolted back and careened around a corner into a lane behind some tents, where Jamie was struggling in the grip of two women.

“Let go of me! I don’t want to join your circus!”

The women laughed. One of them put her face close to Jamie’s and grinned a big, crooked, yellow-toothed grin. “But of course you do, dearie! We always use runaways in our magic act!”

Little Fox growled. Jamie saw him and a grin spread across her face, but the women dragged her kicking and screaming toward one of the trailers.

Little Fox lunged at the women, biting at their boots much better than he’d nipped at the sheep.

“Vermin!” one of the women shouted, kicking Little Fox. He yelped and crumpled. Gasping at the pain in his ribs, he watched as the women pulled Jamie to their trailer.

But now the full moon emerged from the clouds, pouring cool silver light over him. He looked up and smiled. A shiver ran through him, a good shiver, like nostalgia, like the taste of cold water on a hot summer day. The feeling spread through him from ear tips to tail tip, healing his bruises and the burned, bent feathers of his wings.

            Wings!

Memories flooded back, and he knew. He was Moon Fox, the radiant Moon Fox. And he had wings! He didn’t have to herd or trot or wriggle or bleat.

With a warbling bark, Moon Fox glowed, filling the circus grounds with light. Releasing Jamie, the two women stumbled back.

Blazing, Moon Fox flew at the women. They cried out and sprinted for their trailer, locking themselves in.

Moon Fox sailed through the air, relishing the midnight breeze, the freedom of his wings. Then he swooped towards Jamie. He hovered in the air before her, winged, shining. “I’m Moon Fox!”

Jamie thrilled to the sight of him. “Yes, you are!”

Moon Fox nudged Jamie. “How did you find me?”

Jamie took a deep breath. “We heard about the mix-up with Joe. Daddy and I went to the theater, but the director had already sold you to the circus. We were looking for you here when a lot of people ran out of one of the tents and I got lost in the crowd. I’m glad you’re okay. More than okay,” she added with a smile.

Moon Fox smiled back, nuzzling Jamie’s hand. “Thank you for caring for me. I’m healed now, and I can go home. Let’s find your dad so you can head home, too.”

Jamie nodded. Once they spotted her dad, Jamie embraced Moon Fox. His body felt like a sparkling ray of light.

“I knew you were special,” Jamie whispered, wiping tears on her sleeve. Reluctantly, she let him go, but a little glow stayed with her.

When Jamie had gone, Moon Fox looked up at the moon. With a yip of joy, he flew home.

He lives there to this day. He does not have to squirm or trot, bark or bleat; he flies, and he glows to his heart’s content as he dances with the children of the moon.

Moon Fox feels he is always on center stage. He reflects the sun with radiant grace. He smiles, and the world smiles back at him.

“The Moon Fox” © Amy Fontaine
Amy Fontaine has studied wolves, hyenas, and other animals as a wildlife biologist since receiving her bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State University in 2015. Her work has taken her to beautiful places, including Yellowstone National Park, the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, and the Sierra Nevada. Amy writes short stories, poems, and novels, among other things, and her tales often involve fantastic creatures. She also works as an editor and editorial assistant. You can find more of her published work at https://amyfontaine.wordpress.com.

 

“Moon Fox Sleeping” photomanipulation by Fran Eisemann.  Stock used:
Arctic Fox Stock 02” by Malleni Stock
Moonlit Night” by Julie Langford
Flapping Wings” by StockProject1
Background Night Sky” by templep2k2
140” by  m-everham-stock
Full Moon”  by  raven2663

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