|The Transformation Story Archive||Horses and Doggies and Cats, Oh my...|
Little Boy Lost
Each and every tree looked the same. What passed for a trail in either direction looked the same. The forest, usually so full of variety, was suddenly a monotonous, featureless landscape.
Bradley slumped against a tree and started to cry. He was lost. Completely lost.
He'd suspected it for the last couple of hours. There was no telling how long that he'd been off the trail before that. He'd lost site of Scoutmaster Bell for just a few moments, and somehow he must have wandered onto a deer trail or an erosion pathway. By now, he was sure, the rest of the scout troop realized that their eleven year old companion was missing. But as the sun began to set in the distance, he knew that it wasn't likely that they would find him before dark.
Wiping a tear away, he perked up. He dropped his backpack and started rummaging through the side pockets. "Yes!" he shouted as he pulled out the small, chrome coaches whistle. Putting it to his lips, he blew into it three times as hard as he could. Then he listened.
The only response was the slow chirping of the crickets.
Bradley tried to remember what else he'd been told about getting lost. He remembered something about finding water, that with a source of water he could survive until help arrived.
Reaching into his pack, he found his army surplus canteen. Hefting it a couple of times, he noted that it was only about half full. Silently, he took inventory of the rest of his supplies. He had a sleeping bag, but no tent. He'd planned on sleeping under the stars tonight. He didn't have any food, either. His troop had broken up the supplies, and he'd ended up carrying most of the cooking equipment. Other than a granola bar in his pocket, he had nothing to eat,.
Pushing the pack away in disgust, he slumped against the tree again. As the sky darkened, he cried himself to sleep.
Something warm, rough and wet woke him. He slowly opened his eyes and found himself nose to nose with a furry red face.
He sucked in a breath in surprise and tried to back himself further into the tree. Abruptly, he realized that he was looking at a red fox. It didn't seem at all startled by Brad's abrupt awakening and movement. It was still laying on the ground watching him.
Tentatively, Bradley reached his hand down and pat the reddish-brown head. He'd never been this close to a fox before, really had never seen one at all. This fox didn't look exactly like the fire engine red and white creatures that he was used to seeing on cartoons and in story books. Instead, it was smaller than he expected, maybe the size of a medium dog. It's body was covered in a fur that was colored red, but with definite brown tones. There was a white patch on it's tail as well as one on it's chest.
Bradley allowed himself to slide back down the tree again, and the fox began to gently lick his face again. Despite having fallen asleep easily the night before, Bradley wasn't rested. He didn't know how many times that he woke in the middle of the night, scared and alone.
The fox stopped licking his face and had pulled back ever so slightly. Strangely, Bradley wasn't scared. His scoutmaster had warned the troop that animals that acted strangely were to be avoided, that they may be sick. Bradley didn't know much about foxes, but he knew that this one was far friendlier than normal. The fox sniffed a few times and stood. It leaned forward and licked his face one more time, then started to walk away.
Bradley watched it slowly walk out of the clearing and under a low bush, vanishing into the long shadows of morning. Bradley shuddered a moment, suddenly cold. He felt the fear approaching again. Another tear began to form.
The tear stopped at the rustle of leaves at the other end of the clearing. A small red head poked out. The fox stared at him again.
Bradley stared back.
The fox didn't move.
Finally curious, Bradley stood and walked across the clearing. The fox stayed where it was until Bradley was about an arms length away, then it turned and walked away. Bradley stopped. The fox stopped again and looked back, making the first sound that morning, a quiet yip. It then slowly turned back away and kept walking.
It finally dawned on Bradley that he was being told to follow. He pushed his way through the bush and started after the russet animal. Now that he was being followed, the fox quickened his pace slightly, but seemed to take care to remain visible to Bradley.
They walked like that for almost half an hour before the fox stopped. Bradley slowed his own pace and walked carefully forward. He now saw another fox laying on the ground here. The two animals were each licking the others muzzle. Bradley stood perfectly still and watched.
The first fox then started the nuzzle something that Bradley couldn't see, but was apparently nestled near the second fox. The child took a few steps forward and craned his neck to see better. Nestled close to the belly of the second fox were two small, red bundles.
Bradley was young, but he realized quickly realized what he was seeing. The fox that had been licking his face was the father, the one here the mother, of these two fox kits. The mother looked at Bradley for the first time, and he was sure that he could see a look of concern, perhaps confusion, cross her face. She looked at her mate and started making quiet sounds, but the father didn't respond. Instead, he nuzzled the two kits again.
That's when he realized that neither of them had moved since he got there. The father looked up with his soft eyes, looked down and nuzzled his kits again, then looked back up at Bradley.
Bradley reached down and gently touched the two kits. He didn't know much, but he knew that they were both dead. It looked like they had died quietly. There wasn't any sign of injury that he could see.
But why did the father want Bradley to see this?
The mother looked at her mate again and made some quiet yips. The father looked at her mate again and quietly yipped. With that, both mother and father stared at the lost child.
They looked at him with mournful eyes, unblinking mournful eyes. Bradley still didn't know what they wanted, but his young mind could think of only one thing to do. One very human thing.
He took a few steps away and started to dig a hole.
It didn't take long, and neither the mother or father did anything but stare at him while he went about it. He buried the two kits, wrapped in his yellow boy scout T-shirt and recovered the hole. As a final gesture, he found several flat rocks laying nearby and laid them atop the slight mound..
As he finished and wiped the dirt from his hands, the mother and father walked over and sniffed at the grave. They then laid on the ground next to each other and rested their heads on the flat stones.
Bradley thought that it was time to leave these two unusual creatures, and he even started to walk away when he was struck with a sudden realization.
He was still lost. He had no place to go.
Suddenly tired again, he slumped against a pine tree and slid to the ground again. The sap irritated his bare back, but he didn't notice. He curled up into a ball and started to quietly cry again.
Then there was the feeling of something warm and soft on his face again. He sniffed once and looked up, finding the father again licking him gently. The mother stood from her position mourning her children and walked over. She stopped a few feet away and yipped. The father stopped his actions and looked at his mate, making not a sound.
The mother seemed suddenly frightened and took a single step back. She suddenly barked, loudly, for the first time.
The father simply stared at her.
She seemed to give in, but still walked to her mate and nuzzled him near his ear, her eyes closed. It was almost like a whisper. Perhaps it was, for the father silently nodded, and the mother let out a sigh.
The pair then turned their attention back to the child. They moved in closely, feeling soft against Bradley's bare skin. He felt the warmth of their bodies against his. Gradually, Bradley felt more and more relaxed until he finally fell asleep.
It was still daylight when he woke, but certainly no longer morning. The shadows were still small, the sun high in the sky, but not yet at it's apex. It was this sight that greeted Bradley as he opened his eyes from his short nap.
That, and the red furred muzzle at the bottom of his vision.
He crossed his eyes slightly to get a better look at it, but only succeeded in making it double. He turned his head to look himself over, and was somehow not surprised to find the small red fox that he had become.
Even as he experimentally swished his bushy tail, Bradley knew that he should be having some reaction, but he felt none. No panic, no fear, not even a sense of amazement. It simply was, and nothing more. His mouth opened in a wide grin as his long tongue rolled out.
He looked around the clearing and recognized that it was the same place that he had fallen asleep in, but the mother and father were missing. Reflexively, he sniffed the air and caught both there scents. He followed the more pungent of the two and found the mother, who was back in the nearby den Bradley had first seen her in.
He walked over and whined slightly, not even sure why. She looked at him with those dark, sorrowful eyes again and inclined her head slightly, an invitation to lay next to her. He did so, and she gently placed her head lovingly over his body.
As the shadows slowly stated to lengthen again, there was the sound of something bounding through the forest, and the father reappeared. Both mother and Bradley raised their heads expectantly as he toted the dead jackrabbit to them.
If it were not for what his new nose was telling him, Bradley would have thought this a different fox. The once dour animal now seemed a sly hunter again. His peaked red ears seemed straighter than before, his panting grin as he laid down the feast wide and his tail bobbed in excitement. He immediately walked to his adopted son and started licking his face.
Bradley found himself reciprocating, licking the blood from the fathers furred face. The taste was almost sweet on his tongue, and before long the three of them were tearing into dinner.
Playfully, Bradley nipped at the larger foxes legs, an attack the older fox avoided with practiced expertise. With a gleeful yip, the father pinned Bradley by lightly butting him with his head and holding him down. A playful nuzzle and lick followed, and Bradley leapt up again ready to try again.
The mother sat off to the side watching the romp, but not participating. At one point, the father broke off his playful assault and yipped an invitation to her. But she merely sighed.
Over the past several hours, Bradley had come to the verge of understanding some of their language, though he could not yet make out a single word. It was frustrating in a way, but he didn't mind that much. He was curious, though, as to why the mother acted as she did. She seemed to care for him, but there was still a deep feeling of impeding doom in her every action.
The father stopped his romp and perked his ears up. His gaze momentarily got serious, but then he seemed to take on the sly look of a hunter again. He glanced at Bradley, an invitation to join him certainly, as he trotted a few paces to the other end of the clearing.
Bradley stayed back so as to not disturb him. The wind was light, and the leaves rustled in the late afternoon sun. The father crouched low in the grass, creeping slowly forward, ever so slowly. Straining his own peaked ears, Bradley couldn't even hear the slightest rustle from that slow stalking movement.
Without warning, the fox leapt from the ground and into the air, coming down from above on his prey. Bradley, still straining to hear the slightest rustle, definitely heard the tiny, short squeak as the field mouse died.
Back at the den, the mother and Bradley shared the tiny snack as the father looked on gleefully.
Drained from the day, Bradley curled himself up against the mothers side, wrapping his long, bushy tail across his nose, and fell asleep.
He was learning to hunt when it happened.
This next morning, the young fox was beside his adoptive father crouched low in the earth amid the grass. The pair crept almost silently forward as the field mouse continued to eat, unaware that it's life was in grave danger. Bradley strained every sense as far as he could. The father lightly nipped at him as Bradley let his long tongue hang from his mouth. The sound of his panting was libel to frighten the prey.
Moments before he was about to pounce, he heard it. Something off in the distance, something familiar, but not that he could recognize. Startled, he jerked his head up and looked in the direction of the sound. The field mouse, suddenly startled, ran away.
The father seemed more than a little upset by the lost breakfast, but then noticed the intent look in the young foxes face. He followed the gaze, but saw nothing himself. He yipped a question, one that Bradley still couldn't understand.
Then the sound came again, more clearly now.
Bradley brought himself to his feet and stared even more intently in that direction. Something was coming.
The father started to get concerned, and tried to distract the boy. He playfully at first, then desperately, nipped at the boys flanks, tugged at his bushy tail, licked his ears. But Bradley ignored it.
The sound came again, carried on the morning breeze.
It sent Bradley running, running as fast as his four legs could carry him. His long tongue lolled out of his mouth as he bounded over the dead logs and dodged trees.
He heard the sounds again.
Then he felt the weight as he was roughly knocked to the forest floor. He found the father standing over him. He wasn't acting playful anymore, but now he looked desperate.
The mother raced into sight.
The sound came again.
The boy tried to stand.
The father wouldn't let him.
The larger fox was now using his own weight to keep the boy in place, not letting him move. Bradley cried out, desperate to stand and run to the sound, but not strong enough to fight the desperate actions of the father.
In a blur of red and white, the weight vanished. The mother and father rolled together across the forest floor for a few feet until they came to rest against a tree. The father tried to scramble to his feet, but was held back by the mother. Much like she had before, she pressed her muzzle next to his ear and seemed to whisper quietly. The father started to whine quietly, then slowly placed his head on the ground. Not seeming to want to take any chances, the mother stayed where she was as she looked across to Bradley, still sitting and panting from the short run and fight.
The sound came again.
Then the mother fox looked at Bradley sorrowfully and for the first time said something that he understood. "Go to your family."
The father whined loudly at that, but didn't move.
Stunned, Bradley brought himself up to his feet and started to walk quickly toward the sound. He stole one look back again, expecting to see the strange, sorrowful foxes again.
But they were gone.
He turned his head back to the sound again as two hulking figures stepped out from behind a large patch of ivy. The larger of the two was dressed in a tan uniform, the slightly smaller one in a flannel shirt and jeans. The smaller one stopped, and his eyes lit up. "Bradley?"
Bradley stood shakily to his feet, "Chris?"
His older brother raced across the few feet that separated them and hugged him tightly. No words were spoken, but Bradley knew that he was going home again.
Little Boy Lost copyright 1997 by Brian Eirik Coe.
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