This story is by Jennifer Alexander and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The moon dipped behind a cloud as Varna trotted through the scrub in search of food. She knew her little ones were hungry nestled in their nest. It was Varna’s responsibility to feed her young while her mate was away. She trotted through the scrubby bush but found nothing. A Southerly breeze was blowing and Varna stopped. Tilting her nose in the air, she sniffed. The heavenly scent wafted across from the small village nearby, enticing her taste buds, her stomach growled.
As a cub, stories of cruelty that man did were whispered among their den.
“Scum of the earth,” her father used to say.
Man, was bigger, stronger and savage, they were just tiny creatures.
Varna remembered clearly her mother’s words that had served as a warning all her life.
“You must promise me, Sweetheart, never ever put yourself in the man’s path. Otherwise, you will die too, like your father did.”
Varna slunk down low as she cautiously approached the town. The lights flickered and conversations a little muffed could still be heard. The town square was deserted, not a soul to be seen. She quickly darted across the town behind a small pub. A dog barked furiously. Varna stopped with one foot in the air, her ears pricked forward and listened. A window opened, and a woman stuck her head out.
“Sitddown you old fool; you wake the baby with your racket and I will skin ya.”
The chain rattled as the dog slunk back into its kennel. Varna peeped around from her hiding spot. The back door was open, the clutter of dishes and voices spilled out into the tranquil night.
“Table eight. Roast beef with Yorkshire pudding,” a man yelled, slamming the plate on the counter.
A figure came out the back door. Varna backed off and watched intently. He carried food scraps, Varna could smell them a million miles away. He stuffed them into the trash and slammed the lid down carelessly. The can was overfull and the lid sat at a precarious angle. Daintily she sniffed the variety of bags across the top layer. Peels didn’t hold interest, but the fish offal excited her. Across the road, the dog whined again. A train whistle was heard in the distance, then silence. She grabbed the loot but then a chain reaction of most dogs barking split the town like a clap of thunder. Varna bolted, as fast as her legs could take her, gradually easing to a trot as soon as she was out of the little town.
Before she entered the den, she placed the fish heads in a semi-circle away from the cubs. She knew she needed to train them to hunt. She gave them a brief high pitched bark and the cubs roused from their sleep and stumbled towards her. Laying down the cubs attached to her udder and drank furiously. The biggest cub smelled the tantalizing whiff of the food and waddled over, followed behind by the others. Finding the fish, the sleepy grunts, and leisurely stroll turned into a furious all-out battle for the tasty treats.
Varna had her eyes fixed on Silver, the youngest and only daughter. A clear favorite in the eyes of her mother. The males of the litter were strong and independent. Silver was the runt of the litter and Varna felt a strong bond with her. To even think of leaving her was hard to face, so much joy and delight were in watching her grow. She watched her now as a male cub snatched at her fish head. Silver clamped her teeth into his ear and hung on, towing him away from her fish head. Varna smiled, evidently, her daughter could hold her own. A skill that would be put to good use soon hunting on her own. This was only a matter of a day or two, she sighed, she knew she had to summon up the strength to let her go.
On another side of town, Reginald planned his leisure activity for tomorrow as he crawled into bed. Retirement served him well. Skilled at shooting since his army days, Hunting was just a natural progression for him. Mounts of his kills cluttered the walls. Testimony to the skills he developed over fifty years. Rolling over and contemplating the day to come, Reginald slept soundly.
Varna was restless for her mate now. Leaving the cubs, she trotted up past one Tree Hill and looked expectantly Northwards, the direction he would always come. There was no sign of him. Her body sagged as she trotted back towards the den. She stopped in her tracks, though, when she caught movement down by the creek. A man was walking with dogs at his heels. Varna crouched flat, uneasy that a man and his dogs should be so close to her den. She watched and waited, to hope they would go back from where they came.
Suddenly a fox cub puts its head up from a tussock, the man gave a piercing whistle.
“Sool him,” the battle cry echoed.
The dogs transformed instantly and spying their prey they raced after it.
“Sool Him,” Reginald yelled again excitedly as the dogs raced along the creek bed and crashed through the scrub.
Varna watching the cub realized there was something familiar about the pathetic little thing. With a wave of horror, she recognized it, the bedraggled little cub was Silver.
The exhausted little fox would never make it to the cover of the scrub. If she was to be saved, Varna would have to draw the hounds off.
Without a second thought, she raced down the hill, keeping herself out of sight. She stopped at the first melaleuca scrub and waited. Silver, wild-eyed, panted past. Varna knew what she had to do, she had to intercede.
A halfbreed stag-hound was approaching now, leaping smoothly along. Behind him was the beagle, nose on the ground and keeping up. Varna waited no longer, she broke cover and ran towards one tree hill that she had only recently left. Varna ran faster than she had ever done before. She ran to save Silvers life. The incentive was working, but the stag-hound was gaining on her faster than she expected. She thought of her mate and how proud he would be of her new turn of speed. The thought cheered her and she ran harder, but the stag-hound was still gaining and the beagle about twenty meters behind him. This would be closer than she thought. The hill was slowing her up, but the big dog was running as fast as ever. With two hundred meters to go, she realized she wasn’t going to make it. She could hear the big dog’s breathing close to her heels as he closed in.
Varna twisted around in an acrobatic spring that landed her facing the opposite way. The stag-hound thundered past twenty meters before he could stop. She was now in the path of the beagle. The beagle would have preferred not to attack the fox, but if he grabbed and held it, the stag-hound could kill it.
Varna watched with intent. She knew if she pressed her throat to the ground the dog wouldn’t get a quick victory. When the beagle rushed in, she tilted her head and with split second timing grabbed the dog by the throat and closed her jaws tight. The impact of the charge moved the combatants along the rough ground and Varna was soaked in the beagle’s blood as the doomed animal lay on top of her. The victory was Varna’s last. The big stag-hound raced back and grabbed her by the loins, paralyzing the fox, then he shook her like an empty bag.
Reginald let out a gleeful “Good boy,” as he approached.
Varna’s final feelings were of warmth and quiet as if dropping off to sleep. Her last impression of her surroundings was a misty cloud descending around her and the faint scent of the pine woods after the rain. Her last memory was of Silver grinning at her when she was a very small cub.
Then the breeze took the impressions and memories away with the cloud. Varna experienced a silent speed that she had never known during her life. Back to the womb of the universe, she rushed. Her own time clock already in reversal. Her memories of the earth gone forever. The recess of her spirits rebirth would begin again in the timelessness of space.