General Fiction posted December 1, 2014


Exceptional
This work has reached the exceptional level
A young dog-fox fights for the vixen of his choice

The Challenge

by Margaret Snowdon








THE CHALLENGE
 






‘No one was going to take her away from me,’ young Dog-fox assured himself as he heard the bark of a challenger in pursuit of the vixen.
 
      The shadows of the crags were etched, hard, swart and ponderable on the virgin snow each time the moon sailed in the fathomless purple of the deeper heaven, but the breast of the fell was ever chequered with fleeting, inconstant shapes as the clouds travelled swiftly overhead.
 
     The sharp, staccato bark of Dog-fox cut clear across the silence. Faintly, as from a great distance, there came an answering call, a yelping squeal, mournful and most eerie. He pricked up his black-tipped ears as, with lifted paw and pointed muzzle, he stood silhouetted against the light. He was about to reply before bounding off to seek the vixen whose cry had thus come to him two nights in succession, and yet she had evaded him with a cunning persistency that kept him trailing till the laggard dawn sent him wearily to his lair. But in that moment the threatening bark rang out again, loud and clear, challenging and close at hand.

     In a flash Dog-fox whirled and sniffed the air. He gave a growl, a hiss, and then a snarl. A cloud veiled the moon and darkness enveloped the fell-tops. With its passing the misted beams poured down again upon the glittering jewels of the snow.

     A dim form drifted like a leaf within the dimness of the racing shadow.

     Swiftly Dog-fox reached the snowdrift-piled wall that dropped, black and sinuous, beside a tinkling beck to the distant valley. In that moment the darker form sprang out to meet him, scattering the snow in all directions. After the first tumbling, snarling flurry, the moonlight showed another big fox, his brush waving, his fangs bared as he faced the younger. For a while they watched each other, hissing and growling, but immobile save for the ominous grace of the waving brush. Then the older one lifted his head and sent forth, loud, sharp and very bold, the double bark of a courting fox.

     Young Dog-fox opened his jaws to reply, but his bark changed to a growl as the other suddenly rushed upon him: the battle surged in earnest. The weight of the older animal bore down the younger in that first unguarded moment, but he rolled swiftly upon himself and carried the aggressor with him, all the while tearing the fur from the challenger’s belly as he sought to sink his fangs in the sinewy throat.

     Fast and furious they bit and clawed. A shrewd, slashing rip opened the flank of the younger as they sprang apart, and drew from him a squeal of mingled pain and aggression. He made a rush and again a raking blow seared him like white-hot iron, so that he snarled and sprang aside. The invader whirled about, saw his adversary with lolling tongue and streaming flanks, and rushed anew. Dog-fox met him with craft and cunning in mid-air, rising to his falling body, and thus able to secure the lower, inner grip on the unguarded throat, all the while his claws soughting belly and flank.

     For the second time the weight of his bigger antagonist bore him down, but his fangs were gripped on the coarse white hairs where chest and throat are one, and though sharp nails tore at his back and shoulders, he worried home the grip, slowly but surely carrying it a little higher and nearer that vital spot he sought instinctively. All about the snow was trampled and stained with blood.  

     A panting snarl, a muffled groan, the sound of tumbling bodies profaned the silence—that white silence of the mountains in winter’s grip which is as clear and unbroken, as ineffably remote, as the first great silence of the upper air.

     Suddenly, from out the blackness flung by a dense and massive cloud, there rang a cry as from some tormented soul. The blackness passed with the long-drawn, quavering note. With the coming of the light the cry shrilled forth again. Boldly standing on the wall, her amber eyes gleaming in the moonshine, the vixen looked down upon the reeling combatants.

     Her presence distracted Dog-fox.  He started at the sound of her cry and glanced aside, for he was young, ardent, inexperienced, and he had long been seeking her for his mate. But his rival growled, a low, muffled growl because of the fangs at his throat, and used teeth and nails with unabated fury.

     The fight had been fierce before, but now it was ferocious, deadly, brutal in its violence. Dog-fox became a gory horror, his rival a blood-stained nightmare. The bloody slavering from their jaws dripped to the reddened slush in which they rolled and staggered, fell and stumbled up, and went down again. Their breath wheezed through wide-distended nostrils and smoked in the frosted air with steam that rose from their heaving bodies.  And from above the wall the gleaming eyes of the vixen burned like twin stars—steady, immovable, baleful in their intensity.

     The end came swiftly. Dog-fox slipped and went down, and his adversary fell heavily upon him. Nigh winded, he strove to shake off the crushing weight that threatened suffocation; yet doggedly he refused to relax his grip on the throat and so obtain the air he needed. He tried to roll, but the blood he had lost and was still losing, made him weak, so that he could not move. Blackness, shot with flashing stabs of red, descended upon him, and he knew the end was near. But then, shrill and loud, the vixen screamed. 

     Dog-fox heard. Savagely, recklessly, he shifted his grip and drove it home, and a red, warm flood gushed over him. The enemy quivered and then was still.

     Feebly, Dog-fox struggled to his feet. He tottered and swayed, but turned to where the vixen stood silhouetted in all the graceful beauty of her being. Twice he barked, a quivering, uncertain bark. From the wall the vixen answered, then sprang down and licked his gory muzzle.

     Together they loped slowly down the fell towards their lair.





 


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Word count: 1,022
Fells: open hillside
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