It was a sickening sight, which rendered young Byron simultaneously livid and distraught. His temperament was not further aided by the steady downpour bouncing off his scalp, nor by the vicious winds. He pulled his windbreaker against his shirt, cursing its misleading name, and blew forth a cloud of his finest dope. Byron watched the smoke dissipate, a vain attempt to remove his attention from the sight which had so befouled his mood.
The fox was lying in the middle of the road as if sleeping, though two of its legs twitched erratically. Its tufted tail had been severed and flung a good distance away from the rest of the carcass. Byron considered himself a gentle soul, one who loved animals in an appropriate manner, and resolved never to cause another living being any form of harm. Because of this, the notion of traversing so near the carcass filled Byron with dread. Still, his homestead was on the other side of the creature, and thus, their paths were doomed to cross inevitably.
“Excuse me,” called a voice, high in timbre. “Would you kindly stop and take a seat? I’m somewhat indisposed, and yelling like this is hardly ideal.”
Byron came to a halt, tilting his head in an effort to identify the source of the voice.
“Young sir,” it said again. “I must say, you look rather confused.”
Byron turned to the fox, and was horrified to see that the creature was staring directly at him.
“You can’t be talking,” said Byron. “You’re dead.”
“Dead?” said the fox. He barked laughter, sending a bloody gob of spittle into the air. “I wish somebody would have told me.”
“Right,” said Byron. “Foxes can’t talk. This is clearly a hallucination brought on by the dope.”
“Dope, you say?” said the fox. “Might I have some? I’m in quite a lot of pain, and some good dope would surely help to ease my suffering.”
“Wait a minute,” said Byron. “I’m a little confused here. How is it you can speak English?”
“I can’t,” said the fox. “You’re speaking Foxish.”
“Foxish?” said Byron. Against his better judgment, young Byron sat cross-legged in front of the fox. “I don’t think I follow, but I can’t deny that we are presently communicating. I suppose whether we’re speaking English or Foxish is a moot point.”
“That’s the spirit. Do you have a name?”
“Pleasure to meet you, Byron. I go by Carver.” “Carver?”
“That’s an odd name for a Fox,” said Byron.
“My mother once read it in a book,” said Carver. “Now that we’re properly acquainted, young Byron, what say you about that dope?”
Byron looked around to ensure solitude. When he was satisfied that the coast was clear, he inhaled a vast dope-cloud and exhaled directly into the fox’s snout. Carver received the offering, his lips parting in a shattered grin.
“Small comforts,” said Carver. “I feel better already.”
“Are you going to die?”
“If I’m fortunate, though I’m afraid it won’t be the celebration I was hoping for.”
“People don’t usually consider death to be a celebration,” said Byron.
“How sad for them,” sighed Carver.
Byron raised an eyebrow. “I have to say, you’re not making much sense.”
Carver coughed a vicious sounding cough as an open wound in his flank began to ooze scarlet trickles. “I’ve heard tell of a wonderful forest, you see. This forest, well, it’s far beyond the realm of the living.”
“Right,” said Byron. “Like a fox-heaven?”
“In a manner of speaking,” said Carver. “Though it goes by many different names.”
“And what might this fox-heaven consist of?”
“Well, seeing as I’ve never been there, the best I can offer is an educated guess - vast meadows, with plenty of mice and birds to eat. There would be the warmest of springs of course, and trees that reach the sky. No guns, no cars, no traps, no people.”
“That sounds nice, I suppose.” Byron shifted uncomfortably. “I have to ask. Why won’t it be the celebration you were hoping for? Fox-heaven sounds like a decent enough place.”
Carver chuckled humorlessly. “In order to gain admittance, it’s said that only one thing is required. Alas, I appear to have lost mine.”
“What is it?”
Carver lifted his head and gestured further down the road. “Your tail?” said Byron.
“It’s appeared to have escaped me.”
“Oh.” Byron gazed at the severed tail, which was longer and bushier than any fox-tail he had ever laid eyes on. “I see,” said Byron.
“A fox is only as good as his tail,” said Carver. “Any true fox will tell you that much.”
Byron was surprised to see that Carver’s eyes were welling with tears.
“Now, now,” said Byron, awkwardly reaching out a hand and stroking a tuft of fox-fur. “You shouldn’t cry.”
“If I shed tears, Byron, it is for the opportunity that I have lost. My mate and litter have long roamed the great forest, waiting for me to join them, but it appears I will never get that chance.”
“That’s quite unfortunate,” said Byron. “I’m sorry.”
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” said Carver. “You’ve provided me with some good dope before passing into the eternal darkness. For that I thank you.”
“There has to be something I can do,” said Byron. And then it occurred to him. He shot to his feet, and pointed further down the road.
“I’ve got it,” said Byron. “It might appear crazy, but the best ideas often do.”
“Are you leaving?” said Carver. “Only for a moment. Wait here.” “If only I had another choice.” “Er. Sorry,” said Byron.
Byron pumped his legs until his quadriceps were molten. By the time he made it home, he was red-faced and breathless, but it didn’t take long for him to obtain what he sought. When he returned, the rain had come to a complete stop, and Carver was licking a puddle that had accumulated beside his snout.
“You’ve brought gifts?” asked Carver.
“My mother’s sewing kit,” said Byron, holding up a large wicker basket. “And my sister’s art supplies. She’s something of a glue connoisseur.”
“I fear I don’t understand you.”
“It’s simple, really,” said Byron. “I’m going to put you back together.”
Carver raised an eyebrow. “You can’t be serious.”
“To be honest, I am a little high,” said Byron. “But I believe I can do this.”
Byron picked up the severed tail, doing his best to avoid any errant bits of gore. He then proceeded to dab the base in a container of “Red Nick’s Suicide Glue”, a pale paste with the texture of molasses. Byron bit his lower lip as he pressed the glue-laden tail against Carver’s fur, and subsequently leaned in closer to apply ten gentle breaths.
“That feels...oddly pleasant,” said Carver, whose voice had taken on a dreamlike weightiness. “It’s the perfect amount of...of cold.”
“Hang in there,” said Byron, as he readied the thread and needle. “I’m nearly through.”
Carver didn’t respond, and Byron felt sweat trickle down his forehead. The needle pierced through skin and glue, as Byron watched Carver’s chest rise and fall with an increasingly lethargic rhythm.
“Carver?” whispered Byron. His hands were coated with an amalgamation of glue, fur, and blood, but the surgery was at last complete. Carver’s tail had been reattached successfully, albeit rather crudely. “Are you still with me?” said Byron.
There was no response. Byron looked over his shoulder once again, to ensure solitude. He could feel tears welling in his own eyes, and blinked them back. His hands were shaking, so he shoved them into the pockets of his windbreaker.
“Did it work?” said Byron.
Carver’s chest was no longer rising and falling.
“It’s not fair,” said Byron. “How am I supposed to know if it worked?”
And so young Byron waited on his knees in the middle of the desolate road for well over an hour. Nothing changed but the darkening sky. Carver remained still, and Byron decided it was time to return home. He gathered his things and commenced a defeated trek back to routine and responsibility.
It was only much later, when young Byron was sound asleep, dreaming of fox-heavens and endless forests, that the fox known as Carver, who lingered so precariously on the brink of death, let out the faintest wisp of a sigh. His marble-black eyes rolled upward, and he caught one last glimpse of the incandescent moon before passing on from this world of ours and into the strange and exciting world of who-knows-where.
Short(er) Fiction Vol. 2 is a collection of Blasted Tree original short stories.
ISBN [Digital]: 978-1-987906-02-8
Cover Design by Kyle Flemmer - Cover Image by Jesse Anger
Feature Image by Craig Letourneau