Flash Fiction! Penn's "Then There Were Foxes" was broadcast May 18th on CBC Radio One.
Then There Were Foxes.
Once when I was sleepily nestled in my mother's lap, a fox ran in front of the car. And was transfixed by the headlights. Ran and ran in front of the car but could not escape the trajectory of light. Caught, turning head back, tongue lolling, as in the pictures of foxes hunted. His eyes like cats' catching the light and transmuting it phosphorescent, bouncing it back. “Look!” He shook his head and disappeared into woods. Finally. I did not stir.
But that night, for nights afterward, there was a fox in my bed. Under my bed. In the closet. Mommy, there is a fox in my bed! He was very large and his coat shot off sparks in the dark. His eyes were lit coals. He had sharp white teeth. He was hungry. He smelled musty. He was prowling. The sudden switch of the light evaporated him. I could just catch his tail glimmer away, up into the fixture. He would curl behind the light, cunning, until the light was turned off. Then he would continue to search.
My father for comfort explained that foxes were quite small, really, like little dogs, and they were more scared of me than I was of them. Well, I couldn't imagine the extent of their fear then. The fox I knew wasn't scared one bit. He was going to eat me up. Unless I played dead. I froze into the mattress. The folds of the sheet turned marble, a frieze. The fox could not smell out the stiff and still. I could sleep. Warily.
Next day my father used his imagination. “Foxes are really tiny,” he said. “So small you can hardly see them.” That is because you watch from daylight eyes, I thought, and foxes come out in the dark. “Look! There's one now!”
Dad followed a something flying and caught, cupped it in his huge hands. Slowly he opened them to let me see. “Shh. It's a fox, he said, and they scare easy. Be very quiet.” I peered into the dark cavern of his hand. The something, nothing, was gone, not in the palm's hollow, nor the crevices between fingers. “Look, there he is! Flying, there!”
I followed his eyes, their darting, till catching on to the game. “Hey, another one!” He pointed, exulting. I'll catch it, I squealed and caught it. The nothing in my hand brushed my skin like a moth's wing, tickling, powder. See? Dad looked in. The fox flowed out and perched atop the china cabinet where no one could reach. “Never mind. There's another!”
We were all around the room after foxes. They never stayed in my palm for inspection the way they did in dad's. I tried to see their wings. I didn't know foxes had wings… They were all around the room, hovering, at the edge of sight, and prancing. Tiny pairs of eyes glowed from the chandelier, from the top bookshelves. They were like fire-flies whose lights went on, went out.
All illustrations are by Anne Anglin.
Published in two editions by Pendas Productions, 2005, with illustrations by Anne Anglin.
1. The original story, for children
2. The original story followed by a playscript version and a writing workshop based on the text (see also What Springs To Mind in myTown)
Available from firstname.lastname@example.org.