When He Reached The Town-O
By Jeff Baker
There was no moon, just a starry sky. Dark, the way the Fox liked it. He smiled to himself; with any luck there would be rabbit or egg or fowl for his den tonight as he raced across the field towards the edge of the town. There was a farm near the town where they did not always guard their stock, and that made it a fox’s larder. He heard and smelled a young mouse run across his path. Carless! It would become a mouse-morsel except the Fox could see the dark bulk of the barn and farmhouse ahead. He stopped and sniffed the air and listened.
The soft rustle and murmur of nesting hens. Distant sounds from the town. No other noises other than the rustle of leaves and grass. The Fox quickly squeezed under the wire fence around the small yard around the chicken coop. It would have to be quick; find a hen, a sharp, quick bite, the quick removal of the hen amid the noise and a quick run into the dark with his meal for the night.
The Fox was stealthily approaching the dark of the henhouse when there was a stirring and fluttering in the air in front of him. In the dark he could make out a form slightly larger than a hen; birdlike, with a beak, spread wings that glinted with color and a long tail that swished back and forth like a snake.
“I am Echeveriagallinapotel,” it said. Not in the tongue of the hens or the foxes, but understood plainly nonetheless. “I am the Protector-Lord of this flock. Who dares approach to feast of their flesh?”
“I, the Fox,” he said. “I seek what is mine, by the law of the land. I ask only a meal to fill my belly.”
“The laws of your land are not the laws of mine,” the bird-snake thing said “My brethren and I felt the blood of sacrifices spill on the land. It is consecrated to us. When those who worshipped us moved north, we moved with them. Who are you to claim the land?”
“My ancestors roamed here when yours were confined to the lands near the Equator,” the Fox said. “We know the grasses and the winds here. Our name is spoken in hushed whispers in this land’s nests and burrows. We are a part of its smells; the flash of our tails in the dusk is a sight well-known here. The taste of hens and mice is part our being. We claim the right to eat, as any creature does.”
“You seek what is under my protection,” the bird-snake thing said. “This I cannot allow.”
“I do not recognize your authority,” the Fox said, carefully eying the bird-snake thing’s beak. It was curved and sharp. “And I claim a hen as tribute.”
“You have not earned tribute,” Echeveriagallinapotel said, clicking his beak and fluttering his wings.
“I have earned it by raising my kits and providing for them. And by being a part of the non-human community here. We were here before humans, we will be here after,” the Fox said.
The bird-snake thing flapped its wings and clicked its beak. The Fox glared and barred his teeth.
The bird-snake thing began to swell and grow before the Fox’s eyes. The beak clicked menacingly, the Fox noticed, for the first time, a sharp spike at the end of the serpent tail.
“Hear me, intruder!” Echeveriagallinapotel said, voice booming. “I defend those in my protectorate! I will tear your flesh and strew it along the ground! You will become food for other flocks! Mine are sacred and eat of the grains, not the lesser animals!”
There are times to fight, the Fox thought, and times to retreat. This was the latter. The Fox quickly fled the way he came and was soon skirting the houses near the edge of town. There would be a rabbit or a mouse or some unwary bird. And they would not have protectors. He would not go hungry.
The Fox sniffed the air.