Fox

Once, when I was free, they came from the grey-brown shrub, hooves lifting above the toppled Manna Gums onto the endless grassland, thundering across the Werribee Plains. Foxhounds ran ahead of huntsmen dressed in pink jackets, cream jodhpurs, black hats and leather boots mounted on a rangy breed of horse, a field hunter. The Master of Hounds led the field, calling out authoritatively and sounding the horn. The Joint Masters, Whippers-In and the other huntsmen followed obediently.

My vixen hid in an earth at the base of the You-Yangs, quaking with fear as I ran and turned, placing my back paws into the tracks of my front. Doubling back to confuse and escape the hounds and the dry-mouthed huntsmen.

My vixen and I celebrated our escape on the plains. We fed on swamp wallaby, ground-nesting birds and lizards. We stalked unsuspecting rabbits by the slender light shafts of the moon. We brought home live dunnart for our newborn pups to teach them to stalk and kill their own prey. We drank fresh rainwater caught rocky hollows enlarged by the Aboriginal people into wells to hold water even in dry seasons.

We were free.

More skilled, more numerous, they came again repeating their monthly ritual, their tradition, what they called their sport.

Their rage unleashed, the hounds bayed, horns blew and men cried out for blood. With my vixen’s throat opened and her heart stopped, the Master at Hounds called ‘Brought to Book’.

I fled the howling pack. With the ocean scent at my side, I ran the length of the Plain, through towns, fields, through the suburban sprawl to the city’s docks.

Clamour, frenetic activity and the scent of man were everywhere so I scurried inside an open container and hid behind a pile of boxes. Exhausted and afraid, I fell into a deep sleep. I dreamed I was rocking, dancing on the ocean of grass I had left behind. Nausea gripped my stomach but I couldn’t wake. The rocking became violent and saliva spilled out of my mouth and along the line of my jaw. Foaming sweat soaked my ruby coat and brush. Lifted and swung, I woke with a start as the container hit the ground with a thud and a deafening crash. A man opened the door.

I bolted amid his screams and the ensuing chaos of men running in pursuit. Vehicles blasted their horns and sirens sounded.

I had crossed Bass Strait and was in Tasmania. The frigid air burned my nostrils as I breathed in and turned to a platinum mist as I breathed out. I gathered my strength and fled through and away from the town, through deep green fields and crops, along coastline until my legs couldn’t carry me any further.

Hurriedly, I dug a shallow den. The earth was dry and hard, knotted with Boobyala and Correa roots so I broke them with my teeth, pushed them aside and made my underground nest where I curled into a tight ball and dozed.

I listened to familiar and unfamiliar sounds of life aboveground. The thud of wallabies and the slab of wombat punctuated Quoll yaps and Devil screeches. Birds called out dissonant songs. Ravens chanted, dropping and slurring three melancholy notes with exquisite irony. Grey currawongs clicked as if marking time. Wattlebirds retched and retched again. Plovers called a warning to stay away from their ill placed eggs.

Exhausted from my ordeal, I dozed and slept for days but was raised by pangs of hunger, twisting and turning my gut. I crawled above ground and began picking at drupes from a Currant Bush but was unsatisfied much to the amusement of gulls squawking mockingly about my head, spilling guano over the headland. I pushed my nose into the wind and smelled meat. Tracking it, I found it had been buried in a clearing just beyond the scrub. I waited, hiding until the dusk sky turned to an indigo bruise, until it was safe to make my move.

Breathing deeply, I recognised it as kangaroo, old and dried but perfectly edible. I dug, tore and devoured the tiny morsel.

Soon after, I began to feel ill. My heart raced and I became dizzy and unbalanced. I staggered haphazardly towards the drooping soft needles of a Casuarina to take shelter. The gentle sound of the ocean was lost to blood pounding through my veins. Occasionally my pulse would slow almost to a stop then race ahead again in a staccato rhythm. My vision became blurred and an agonising stomach cramp knocked me off my feet. My nerves began to tingle and all sense and sensation became acute and painful. Dragging myself through the dirt, inch by inch, I found my den and crawled inside. Delirious, I waited to die.

I had taken a 1080 bait.

Death came slowly.

Once it had, I travelled back over the foaming Bass Strait surge to the sweet Kangaroo and Quaking grasses of the Werribee Plains. My spirit rolled with the salty breeze, over the grass awns and florets, over the Manna and Yellow gums. As if caught in a gust of wind, I rose up the You-Yangs to Flinders Peak. There I sit gathering what warmth the sun has impregnated into the pink granite. I rest my head on my crossed paws and I stare out across the Plains towards the lights of the city and daydream.

Sometimes I see myself standing my ground, looking my hunter in the eye. Our thoughts transpose and we acknowledge that we are the same. Our presence here is both destructive and unwelcome. Silently we let the other pass, free to live with the burden of our mutual misplacement.

©

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