of the hunt
Part One: Puppyhood
It was April. Spring floated promisingly in the air, yet the woods were still cold and wet. Chilling rain sloshed through the barren woodland until the ground was swollen and flooded and could hold no more. Small anonymous flowers bloomed quietly at the tips of an old, gnarled vine, and every time the cold wind sliced through the maze of trees, the flowers shivered and rocked on their sheaths. Old, knobby birch trees stretched their worn branches straight into the air, making the small sunlight that came through patched and dappled. The animals withered into their dens, and through the whole day while the wind wove through the trees, the forest was still. Except for an occasional gurgle of a swollen stream pouring and spilling onto its banks, the forest was deadly quiet, all the animals holding their breaths, waiting for the first waft of warm wind.
Through the slick trees blistering with damp bark, a pair of red foxes slithered through the trees in search of shelter. They were Vulpus’s parents. The male, strong and muscular with piercing yellow eyes, was the first one who spotted the abandoned nest. Creeping up to it, he found it vacated with a stale smell of badger. Her motioned cautiously at his mate, and together they crept up to it and squeezed under the knobby roots that packed a dense shelter. Pressing up against each other, the pregnant female sought warmth against the male’s damp pelt. They waited with bated breath for the call of spring, and the female’s first litter of pups. The sharp, fierce wind swept through the forest, and the female huddled around her newborn litter of pups. The cracks in the roots of the maples let the wind pierce through their shelter, ruffling the females pelt as she curled closer to her pups. The male was always nearby, tracking prey or keeping guard.
Now the wind had stilled it’s chilling breath and the water crept down the soggy banks. Slowly, prey filtered back through the skinny branches of the birch trees and flowers bloomed. New buds nipped at the old vines and new, fresh vince slithered up to coil around the branches. Leaves uncoiled and new, fresh bark plastered onto the skinny birches. Inside the den, the female felt the whisper of spring through the cracks of the maple roots, and her pups stirred. Their eyes sealed shut, they relied on their mother’s warm milk until the next chapter of their lives.
Slowly, the pups unfurled themselves like dry, bristled leaves, crackling as they roamed blindly around the small space of the den. Their eyes were blinked open, and they still relied on their mother’s milk. The mother’s litter of seven pups had small demands. Milk, comfort, warmth, and sleep was all they needed.
Slowly, one young pup began to stand out from his littermates. His name was Vulpus. He was the first to bark for a bite of the fresh-kill the male brought the female. He soon was devouring the fresh meat while his siblings remained dependent on the milk. He was also adventurous. While the rest of the litter were content with snuggling up to their mother’s stomach and napping, Vulpus was curious of the world outside. Everyday, their father was slide under the gap in the roots of the maple and deposit fresh-kill, and Vulpus was the only pup who was allowed a bite. His father always smelled of something wonderful. A minty mix of leaves, bark, dew drops, fresh air, maple, and a waft of fresh, clean air. The space in the den became cramped as the pups slowly yet steadily grew, yet they were still slurping their mother’s milk. The young female knew that her milk supply was shriveling up, dwindling quickly, and soon her litter would all be dependent on meat.
Soon Vulpus began to yearn for the fresh air, stirring his heartbeat. Worming past the wriggling bundles of fur, Vulpus felt the warm spring air on his muzzle for the first time. The air was sweet and clear. Birds tittered in the canopy of fresh green leaves overhead, and golden sunlight streamed through leaves, dappling the springy mossy ground. Letting out an exuberant yowl and ran down he clump of rocks fanning the entrance of the den. A flinty butterfly swirled down from the sky, fluttering back and forth. Eyes widening, Vulpus balanced on his hind legs and swiped at the flitting form, the toppling over.
Suddenly, Vulpus felt eyes being trained on him. Pulling his paws away from the butterfly, he landed on all four legs and snapped around to snarl at the bushes. Glowing yellow eyes shone from the depths of the thick brush. The furs on the back of his neck prickled, and a throaty growl rose. The brush rustled, and the next moment, Vulpus’s father slithered out. The old male was a lush rusty red, with deep midnight black paws and a fluffy gray-white tail tip. Vulpus stared in wonder at the full grown fox, then fluffed up his pelt. Vulpus’s father chuckled. Vulpus was daring, he knew. Vulpus would make a fine hunter and a Vulpus was a young fox.
Barely eight moons old, yet he was able to run with the speed and grace of his father. He was the pride of his parents, the jewel of the litter. He could bound far and stretch his strong legs past miles of dense forest. He did not understand the squirming bundles of fur that were his siblings. He longed for more past the cramped, dark den, the pinprick of light in the distance. Before his littermates dared to venture out the den, Vulpus was exploring the forest. Everyday, his expeditions fanned further and further out from the den, and soon he was tracking along the edge of a muddy stream that marked the West end of their territory.
Presently, one by one, the rest of Vulpus’s siblings joined him outside, but they stayed in the outskirts of the clearing where they camped. Vulpus, instead, was already expanding his expeditions to the outer edge of their territory. The clearing near the fence that separated the forest from the human’s houses.
Once Vulpus was exploring his way through the ferns that lined the clearing next to the human dwelling. Suddenly, Vulpus pricked up his ears attentively. Something big was coming, crunching on the leafy blanket of the forest floor. Their voices were loud and harsh, echoing through the trees. Vulpus’s father, who was never far away from his son, shot out from the brush and sank his teeth into Vulpus’s scruff, dragging him backwards into hiding. Vulpus whimpered and withered back as the babbling voices came closer and the crunching grew louder.
Peering out from the fat leaves, Vulpus saw two brown forms romping thorough the forest. They were wearing long tan coats and walked on two legs like birds. As they passed straight in front of where Vulpus and his father were hiding, Vulpus stiffened and held his breath. Surely this strange animal would smell him? But the humans passed in front of his without ceasing, and Vulpus melted back into the ferns. He had discovered the strange creature’s weakness; they couldn’t smell. Slowly, he watched in wonder as the figures and their loud noises faded away into the distance. Turning around, he padded through the brush silently after his father. He had seen his first humans.

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