Under the weight of the eggs the bird’s nest nestled between the deity’s thumb and nail. The mother perching carefully and puffing out her red breast let drop the blue shell and its embryo and then felt a tug as the nest gave way and the little brood fell out.
The desert was no home to twigs or leaves. And around the clutch of beasts there was no shade for miles, nor any water, save for what the stonegray giver handed down. The clouds held conclave around her head and condensed a little rain which dabbled down her hair and neck and back. Here and there a pebble fell from what used to be her scalp. Sometimes there were birds’ eggs too, for the weak grass by her toes was too delicate for nests. The gifts were handed with indifference, and when the night grew cold she gave no warmth, nor did she cool in the endless heat of day, and when the shadow that she cast drew in the fox and others who would covet precious eggs and bodies, she provided them with shelter too. Scavengers congregated at the edifice and lived bare lives of sleep and patience, waiting anxiously for death. All were free beneath her gaze, as free as stone.
From outstretched fingers the eggs went down and landed in the sand. None withstood the fall, and so the fox could feast without the robin’s pecks.
But as the egg yolk’s messy residue dried up, a miracle occurred. Fresh and terrible and cold, life-bestowing water fell in patters from the sky. In the lifetimes of a thousand desert birds there had been no rainfall save the small Niagara on the statue’s back, and this new abundance ruined them. Water pooled in the bends and crevices that for generations held the nests of tired birds, legacies of dust and dirt and droppings dissolved and fell into the mud, the tiny waves and folds that moved across the sand became the hills and valleys of a strange new world where water stretched its legs across the earth. The rude abundance of the sky filled the soil and sent it vomiting, and the flood became so greedy that it forced the fox from her burrow and sent her diving blindly, in the middle of the night, into the groundhog’s den. Quickly she sealed the hole with stones and turned upon the tiny family, which shivered by the statue’s buried toe. The fox approached, and the mother groundhog sprung and struck her cheek. The slash did not draw blood, and when the paw touched her face the fox with mindless speed bit and tore away the groundhog’s hand and swallowed it before she knew what she had done. Then, moving now with greater thought, she proceeded upon the fearful creature facing no resistance and tore upon her eyes, slowly cutting them until they deflated in their sockets, staring uselessly into the skull.
The mother groundhog remained still and shivering in a corner as the fox, for the many days the rainstorm lasted, rationed her children, eating them in pieces, one by one. Their blind shrieks as they felt the fox’s tooth filled the den and each day would nearly penetrate the mother’s fear. But nearly would not be enough. Mercifully, when the rainstorm stopped and the fox prepared to visit the unknown, she euthanized the mother, feasting on her skin and entrails, leaving her now fetid stump to finish rotting in the sun.
Half a day from the end of the storm, digging through the stone with careful paws, the fox saw in the desert green and budding shoots that flowed and bent between the rivers and the lakes. The terror from the sky had settled on the landscape like a tooth on skin. Around the statue was disaster: nests lay scattered with their smashed and rotten eggs, a small detachment of vultures circled above in search of food, and now new invaders in the form of countless mice and shrews and insects made pilgrimage to see the statue while the ground was safe. The fox’s home had been washed away, and so for the first time in a thousand years a set of black and padded foxfeet stepped beyond the deity’s penumbra and out into the wilds of the world.
The first day’s sojourn was hospitable. Finding plenty in the sand, the journeying rodents seemed to think that the fox would have no need for cruelty, and so her belly remained full. She ate the naive mice and when the sun assaulted her she drank the dew abundant at her feet, and at dusk she nestled in a crevice at the top of a hill and saw through the orange glare of the sun the statue of the god, her four arms stretching to the sky, her scalp just touching past the clouds, her two stoic faces shadowed in the falling light.
Six more hours of walking and the water had begun to dry up. Against the will of miracles, the mean began to re-assert itself, and so the world had begun to abandon this new cruelty for the old. The fox did not realize this, and eight hours into the second day she still believed the statue was the center of a world that flowed on infinite, desert and water and grass and rain repeating changeless to eternity. She would have to escape the call of the statue, which drew the desert’s life from all directions, and find a place where the birds and beasts had simply given up and settled in whatever watered crevice they had found. These first stragglers would be her food, as would their children after. She would line her burrow with their bones and feel no fear.
But by mid-day even the fox could notice the dryness of the soil, the decaying flower husks, the buzzards flying widely in search of death to eat. And the fox could see that this was not simply the edge of her new plenty, but the water’s final vanishing. For when she turned around she saw the dryness extend behind her, covering her journey in its dust.
The fox paced in circles, worrying the time away, barking at the sun and refusing to decide if she should push on or return. She had the time to act and wasted it: as she spun and yelled and cursed the sky, from behind a cloud a vulture swooped to catch the fox.
Under vengeful light the fox and vulture fled the grip of death. Hunger had robbed the bird of dignity, for as its brothers flayed the landscape the easy meat of the recently deceased became a precious thing. There was only so much energy and the vulture was going to spend it all. A confused and desperate fox, sun-mad and starving, would not even feel the talons in its back, or so the vulture thought. Now it would either catch the fox and scrape the marrow from its bones or it would land and rest and die and bequeath its body to the night. The fox skipped up across a dune and the bird turned wide and dove. The fox jumped across a stone and the bird reached out its claws. And missed. Its wings flapped fruitlessly against the wind. The fox skipped with fading desperation across a hill as the bird’s tail grasped the sand and its body bent and tumbled over and against itself and its hollow bones went snap snap snap upon the earth. The vulture was alive, but it would not get up. It felt the pain of every broken bone with perfect clarity, and so when the scavengers discovered it their careless bites and tears were almost merciful.
But where did the fox go? It had no choice now but to return to the statue, for it could not survive in the open wastes. But where was the statue? The trail was lost: fleeing the vulture, the fox had run in pure confusion, and when she stepped up to the highest point that she could find, she could not see her homeland piercing through the clouds. Or so she thought. The barest outline flicked across her eye as she scanned the bright horizon. But a fox’s eyes are not meant for the height of a desert day, and the bleached bright stone of the statue’s skin against the distant sky might as well have been invisible.
Indifferent, the deity would not beckon, nor intervene in mortal lives. The fox, betting randomly on its direction, turned and plodded slowly down the hill.
Jeremy Colangelo is a poet and fiction writer living in London, Ontario, where he is working on a PhD in English. His work has appeared in such places as The Dalhousie Review, Popshot Magazine, and ditch, as well as several academic journals.