Foxy is the fantastical tale of a young woman seeking her identity. In a bid to discover her past she remembers life as a fox. Who is Foxy and what is she? Could it be that she possesses the power of therianthropy, the ability of human beings to change into animal form by means of shapeshifting?
FOXY STOOD AT THE CAR DOOR admiring the stars cut cold and clean in the night sky, well early morning sky. It was 5.59 a.m. and Foxy lamented hitting the snooze button. She’d swap the extra spell in bed for an added few minutes now just to stargaze. Instinctively she felt the light of the moon behind her back and side-stepped to the edge of the house. It was revealed, full and glorious. Foxy took a deep breath and sighed, noting the time again. She hopped in the car and turned on the ignition. She had been pleasantly surprised by the lack of frost on the windscreen.
‘Clare Fox!’ someone called as she filled her coffee cup from the machine at the petrol station forty minutes later. She turned around and recognised the face before her smiling.
‘Peter… Hi!’ she said.
‘Hi!’ he said. ‘It’s been ages, how are you? What’re you doing in this neck of the wood?’
Woods indeed! Clare thought.
They exchanged small talk. Foxy zoned in and out. Peter belonged to a period in her life almost ten years past. She looked at her watch. She was due in work soon. It was nice to see Peter but she really needed to get on.
‘Here’s my card,’ Peter said. ‘Don’t be a stranger!’
‘Ten years is a long time, it’s a wonder I recognised you,’ she said in jest.
‘You haven’t changed a bit,’ he told her.
But then how the words echoed in Foxy’s mind. Especially that night when she watched the moon again, now it was rising over the village and Carty’s farmyard and the treetops, viewed from the end-of-corridor window upstairs. It was an orange moon while it rose and the snow moon of February. It had been so long since she had seen moonlight on concrete the way she saw it now bathing the pillars and walls of the farmyard. It might be a palace she thought, a palace of the past.
‘You haven’t changed a bit,’ she remembered him saying with the shotgun slung across his shoulder like a teething child. Mikey Farrell. His name made her think of green glass shattering, green glass like the surface of the river reflecting the early green growth of spring, dark and verdant by the water. He was the hunter and she was the hunted. Oh but she was Foxy and she could outwit and outrun him.
‘Where do you think you’re going now?’ he asked with a forced drawl that could not mask simmering anger. For years he hadn’t been able to catch her. She counted her life in decades because most of her life was just being, like a prayer. She was content being free and wild. Happiness was in the moment.
Foxy pricked her ears and eyed Farrell carefully. She was cornered with the river to her left and the pump-field stone wall to her right. She was caught in this right-angled dilemma. Farrell grinned and stroked his baby before flicking it out as if were more a sword than a gun. He began to take aim.
‘I’ve got you now, by God I have!’ he declared and squinted his eyes. He was twenty metres from Foxy. It would be hard for him to miss.
Foxy took a deep breath and felt the drum of her heart beating. She eyed the crows gathered in the copse of beech in the field. They would help her. Suddenly they began to caw loudly and swooped over Farrell’s head. His gun blasted off missing Foxy. She leaped at the stone wall as he re-aimed while cursing the birds. Foxy fell backwards onto the grass but scrambled to her feet again and took another tremendous jump at the wall. She skittered over the top, barely making it. A bullet had entered her left paw. Farrell was shouting and running. Foxy pushed herself forward and ran as quickly as she was able to, injured and bleeding into the meadow where in the depth of the bladed foxtail waves she became lost to Farrell’s eye. On and on she ran, sometimes stopping to listen for sounds of pursuit, until she felt safe enough to stop and rest.
She limped cautiously on, far from her den as the moon sank and the sun began its ascent on the distant horizon. She nuzzled and licked her paw feeling her energy draining. She would backtrack to the river to bathe the hurt before daylight. Her last memory of being in animal form was this; her thin, blood-spattered leg being soothed by the cool, cleansing river water. She dropped down on the banks and fell unconscious.
When Foxy awoke she was a young girl. She lay on a hospital bed in a white night-shirt and the pain was in her foot, below her ankle. A nurse came in and smiled at her and then a doctor came to speak to her. Foxy could not speak but she could understand what was being said. It would take her two years to learn to use her voice. In time she came to learn that society considered her a feral child, brought up in nature without much human contact and therefore mute. Foxy read about the Wild Girl of Champagne and Victor of Aveyron, both children who had been captured living alone in the wilderness. People speculated about her. Who were her parents? Who had brought her up so far? Nobody knew the truth, and Foxy? Foxy did not know the whole of it either, she remembered only feelings and fleeting images; the freedom of running, the brown of the earth, the beauty of the sky, the sharpness of the frost and the warmth of the sun… She recalled her last day as a fox but the fact that she thought she had been an animal, well she kept that to herself.
Clare was ten in human age when she was found. A state hospital became her home for three years and as a teenager she tried foster care, eventually settling with a childless couple named Frank and Gertrude, Gerry for short. Clare was very fond of them and she eased into her life in the small village where they lived and continued her education in the community school surprising everyone with her ability to learn quickly and catch up on what she had missed out on in her formative years. Of course she received extra tuition but at the age of nineteen she was ready to leave school and look for a job.
Clare was beautiful. She turned heads wherever she went. She had long, wavy auburn hair and deep brown eyes filled with light. She paid no heed to her many admirers and she grew more and more preoccupied with her origin as she became older. By the age of 27 she was restless working in the office of an engineering company based in the suburbs of the city. She commuted the twenty miles to her job each day taking the motorway that bypassed the local town. She grew weary of the monotony.
She found herself reflecting on the day past, on meeting Peter, her friend from school, Peter who had told her once that he was in love with her. Love made little sense to Foxy, romantic love at least. She understood the necessity of the family and the protection friendship offered but she did not fathom the idea of a soul mate. He had called her cold. She did not care.
On her way home, after taking the exit off the motorway and following the secondary route that would take her by the graveyard before her final turn, Clare was forced to brake unexpectedly. She looked out the window screen and stared in surprise into the eyes of a fox. It gazed at her for a couple of seconds before running through the gate into the field beside the graveyard. Clare grinned from ear to ear and thought herself lucky to have seen such a wonderful creature but in a moment she remembered her nightmares, the recurring ones of being chased and hunted that in time had become less frequent. Clare saw Farrell again with his gun cocked. She gasped in recognition of the memory and slowly put the car in motion.
Gerry and Frank had asked her if she was okay when she came in from work.
‘You’re very pale, love,’ Gerry said, ‘are you not feeling well? Did something happen?’
‘No, not really. I just feel odd. Well – I saw Peter this morning in the garage near the office, remember Peter from school?’
‘Oh yes, Peter, of course, well that must have been a blast from the past? I thought he was abroad though?’
‘He was, Ger, but he’s home now. He’s working not far from me now.’
‘And I saw a fox up beside the graveyard. I had to stop or I’d have knocked it down.’
‘There’s plenty of them around these days I suppose.’
‘This one was different. I can’t explain why.’
‘I hope you’re okay,’ Gerry said with a worried expression on her face.
‘I will be,’ Foxy said trying to reassure them and her.
Now she lay awake in bed, twisting and turning, looking at the wall, fluffing the pillows. She thought for a while. The image of the fox crossed her mind. She decided to get up. In the kitchen she made herself a cup of tea and sat beside the stove that was still alive with some glowing embers. She was thankful for their warmth and the warmth of the cup of tea in her hands because it was a cold night. Clare sat deep in thought. Why had Mikey Farrell been so intent on killing her? Was it simply the thrill of the hunt and that she had seemingly eluded him for so long? She recognised a genuine nemesis in him. She knew that he had died seven years ago from a heart attack. She had always remembered his name and she had seen him now and then in the town. How had she even known his name? He was buried in the graveyard that the fox had slunk past earlier. Where had the fox been going? Was it still roaming the countryside? Clare resolved to go back to bed and in the morning to pay a visit to the graveyard.
The entrance to the graveyard was guarded by stone pillars, a brown gate and two pine trees. It was one of three graveyards within a couple of miles of each other and if they met by lines they would form a triangle by their grid reference points Foxy was sure. The place was on elevated land and Foxy looked to the southern sky that was spread out like a washed sheet put to dry on the line in the morning. In the distance she had a view of the mountains. It was a lovely sight and her vantage point was something of a hidden gem. The sound of traffic on the motorway filtered into her consciousness. She realised it must be less audible now, on a Saturday morning, than it would be on a weekday one. She walked about the graves carefully reading the inscriptions on the stones.
Mikey Farrell’s grave was to the rear left of the cemetery. It was bare and without ornamentation or flowers. She read the inscription and was surprised to find that he had had a wife and a daughter deceased before him. His daughter’s name was Maria and she had been ten when she died. Foxy was shaken. She felt herself grow faint. Her left foot stung from the old pain. Behind her a fox approached. Clare turned to leave and saw the fox padding softly towards her morphing quickly into the form of a woman.
Orla Fay is the editor of Boyne Berries Magazine. Recently her poetry has appeared in Hennessy New Irish Writing in The Irish Times, Cyphers, Poetry Ireland Review and Quarryman. In the past, her short stories have won The Meath Chronicle/Bookwise Short Story Competition and been selected for The Lonely Voice Short Story Introductions in The Irish Writers Centre. She blogs at http://orlafay.blogspot.com/ and created http://digitalagepoetry.com/ for her MA in Digital Arts and Humanities at UCC.