2021 - Spring

Mother and Cub

 Image: “Fox” by jans canon is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Author: Sorcha Walsh

The moon was hanging low in the sky as the young mother fox stuck her nose outside the den. She inhaled deeply and saw the whole forest before her – the muddy, wet scent of the leaves on the ground, the blank coolness of the flowing river, and the million busy scents of the animals in the forest. She could smell the birds’ feathers, agitated by their irritated flapping as they bustled around before twilight (the most important part of any bird’s day was when they got to sing). The badgers, too, were starting to creep out of their dens, she could tell by the deep musky scent which lazily and playfully curled its way around each tree. None of these brown, unsaturated smells truly drew her attention, however. She was waiting to catch a hint of the amazing technicolour smell of people.

It had been a long time since she’d ventured out of her den. She had kits to feed, and a mother took care of her young. That was a law which went deeper than most, a law which she felt in her blood and bones. But ever since that year’s mate had failed to return, she had felt something else in her blood and bones: hunger, of a kind she’d never felt before. A gnawing, aching, consuming hunger. So when her milk dried up, she left her growing kits in very bottom of the den and ventured out. She wouldn’t go far, that she knew. But the twin impulses, equally strong, of caring for her young and sating her hunger had raged for weeks. It wasn’t until she couldn’t feed her young any longer that the maternal instinct joined forces with the aching need to fill her belly and she was forced, not by any will of her own but rather the buffeting forces which live inside and rule all animals, to leave.

She sat sniffing outside the den for a number of minutes, waiting to make sure that the coast was clear. This was by no means an easy task – every rodent scurrying by smelled exactly like a meal and after weeks without so much as a scrap of food her instinct to feed was sharply honed. However, she retained just the scrap of self-preservation which required that she wait to have a full picture of the situation before venturing out. Eventually, she did just that, slinking along the forest floor, her bony body sticking to trees and shadows.

Hunting was made difficult by her weakened state. Several times she smelled a rat, close enough that she knew she could stalk it, but in her condition she wasn’t able to move subtly and she inevitably alerted her would-be prey to her presence.

After several failed attempts she smelled a familiar scent, and a most welcome one. Her entire body seemed to lift in the air with joy as she recognised it. It was, it could only be, her mate from that year, who she had thought dead or injured. Surely he was on his way back to her, surely he had been lost. She hurried towards the source of the scent, and found a den. Not thinking, only reacting, she ran to the source of comfort, the source of sustenance, and came upon not only her mate, but another vixen and seven plump young kits, the same age as her own. Bewilderingly, her mate didn’t appear surprised to see her, or concerned for her state. No, he simply placed his lithe, muscular, healthy body between her and the other vixen – and the kits. It was to no avail, however. Propelled by weeks of hunger and an instant of betrayal, her wasted muscles propelled her forward in one bound to push past the two adult foxes and take a cub into her jaws, snapping its neck instantly. And as the rich scent of blood burst onto her tongue like an opening flower, her only thought was of her next bite.

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