The Kitsune

by Candace Hartsuyker

This is what she knows: whiskers brushing and soft padded paws. Warm round belly and snuffles and whines. Their names were brother, sister. Now they are gone. She counted the moons. Snow fell, then froze, then melted.

Leaves scatter. She plays with one. Throws it in the air and bounces it off the tip of her nose. Eats prickly pear fruit that falls, sand gritty beneath her toes. Steals the leftovers from the meal that bear or coyote or wolf have left.

But the cold is coming, she can smell it on the wind. Soon, she will need to find shelter. Soon, she will have to hide. She is not as small as bird; she cannot hide in the hollow of the cactuses, leathery skin falling in strips on the ground. Nor can she be like fish and dart and jump and dash in the riverbed.

She leaps fleet-footed from rock to rock, to ledge, finally to hollow cave, makes it her den. Just big enough to stretch nose to tail. Let’s air caress skin. Nighttime: one eye open, one eye closed. Sleep. Then: a clumsy noise. A branch falling from a tree? Her eyes peek-a-boo. It is worse than bear; it is a boy-man. Hair like hawk feathers, downy. A naked face, a plucked face. Lips parched, peeling, fingernails lined with dirt. He has been searching. Mouth open like a baby bird, he searches for water. His companions have died. They lie by animal skeletons half buried in sand.

Days go by. In the hollow of another cliff she finds newborns, eyes closed shut. Pink bodies twitch, hairless and warm. She licks her lips. Swallows them whole. Passes by sloping sand dunes, pockmarked hills, emaciated trees, chalky white and dead, tiny sparrows perched on their branches. All is the same, except him.

He slips into patches of warmth in the night. Climbs and climbs. The cliff faces mock him with their sneering mouths and hands with broken fingers. Wind ruffles his hawk-feather hair. Then he sways and falls, tumbles down. Gasps for breath. Eyelids flutter closed. She should leave him. But he is like a newborn, helpless.

She longs to rub his face against hers: nose against nose. Dragging him with her teeth, she pulls him down, down, down to the riverbed below. Her mouth holds a pocket of water, delicate as an eggshell. He stirs, wakes and she drops it into his waiting hands. He drinks greedily, slurping. Finishes, falls back. Sometime before the sky becomes a gentle pink, he reaches for her. Hand around waist. Fingers stroking her hair. They are a valley of skin and dappled shadows.

This is her undoing: this boy-man who cannot fend for himself. She wants to be deep darkness, burrowing, listening to the pitter-patter of rain. She wants to be unreachable, a sack of furs, but he has stolen that from her. She is human skin. Untethered. She cannot be both: fox and girl. She can only be one. She must choose. If she becomes human, she will forget brother and sister and cactus and owl and sky. She’ll forget herself. In soft darkness she sees what she didn’t see before: his skin, feverish. The world: blurry. His touch. She: a bag, a vessel, a body. One word: mine.

Baring her teeth: a snarl, a growl. Back arched. She is not human; she is fox. He cannot have her, possess her, steal her. This what happens when a boy-man becomes lover to a girl-fox. Bird is what she eats: she breaks soft necks and pulls wings apart with sharp teeth. This is what she does: Leaps for his tender flesh exposed. Soft and yielding. Jerks his human body over dirt and rock. Cries human tears. Watches as his body snakes down the river, away. 

Candace Hartsuyker is a second-year fiction student in McNeese State University’s MFA Program.
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