A new feature by @KarenJMoss. I hope others join in. It’s a challenge to write something in 100 words, but it’s great to try different ways of writing
Cunning, sly, wily, sleekit. Never clever or smart. Well, we changed all that. We showed them. Who’s the clever ones now?
‘Where are we going?’
‘I told you, it’s a surprise. You’ll just have to be patient for once.’
‘I hate surprises and I have no patience.’
Rory wasn’t her usual type. His red hair for one thing would have normally been an outright ‘no’, but there was something about him. Unlike the usual boys who hung about her, vying for her attention like peacocks displaying their wares, Rory was an enigma. He was deep. Elusive even. There was something about him which intrigued her.
‘Rory, seriously, what is this place? I thought we were going to dinner?’ She pulled her light cashmere cardigan tighter around her and leaned in closer to him, shivering, as the clouds passed overhead. She stopped as they reached the edge of the forest. Ahead of them was a narrow dirt path, barely visible under the leaves and broken branches.
‘I am NOT going through there! I’ll ruin my shoes.’
‘Come on Lady Victoria. Get over yourself.’ He grabbed her hand and led her into the forest. The path soon disappeared, and she found herself treading across the soft, springy, moss covered forest floor, through a thicket of tress, so tightly packed they blocked out the light. Reaching a small clearance, they stopped. The smell of damp decaying earth underneath a layer of russet and gold-coloured leaves hung heavy in the air. The silence engulfed them.
Rory sat on a boulder in the middle of the clearing and unpacked his ruck sack. He laid out a picnic blanket and grinned as he pulled out a hipflask and a pack of sandwiches.
‘Dinner is served Madam!’
Victoria screwed up her face as she looked around for somewhere to sit. ‘This isn’t exactly what I had in mind. This place gives me the creeps. It’s so quiet.’
The leaves rustled and whirled around beneath her feet.
‘You’ve angered them now.’
‘The foxes of course. Have your really never heard of this place or the legend of Fox Forest?’
‘Never. But I have a feeling you’re going to tell me.’
He offered her the hipflask along with the box of sandwiches and leaned back against the stone as he recounted the tale.
‘Forsooth Mi’Lady. There’s been bloodshed in them here woods. It was your lot actually. The ‘Tally-Ho’ brigade. Ten men, six hounds, one terrified, exhausted fox, ripped apart in the name of sport.’ Bravery at its finest.’
Rory paused to take a swig from the hipflask, before continuing.
‘Now legend has it that, the foxes soon realised they could out-smart the stupid hounds if they worked as a pack, which isn’t typical fox behaviour you understand. They were usually chased into these woods by the hounds and surrounded by the hunt. It was simple. One fox would put itself in danger and lure the hounds deep into the woods, probably to this very point, before disappearing underground. The idiotic dogs raced around like headless chickens, howling and barking, and slowly, the foxes would appear from their underground stakeouts, surround the hounds, and well… you can guess the rest. This carried on over centuries, until the hounds would no longer enter the forest. It is said, that sometimes in the dead of night, the sounds of animals in pain can be heard coming out the forest, but no one is ever sure it’s the fox or the hound.’
‘You’re an idiot Rory! For your information my lot weren’t bloodthirsty killers. Fox hunting was purely about pest control. The fox were vermin. If you had done your research properly, you’d know that they weren’t ripped apart. The dogs were called off and the fox was shot. You’re a typical towney, you just don’t understand country life. You think you can impose your idealistic values and morals on us, yet you don’t realise how much you need us.’ She glared at Rory, her cheeks flushed despite the cool night air.
A twig snapped behind her.
‘Can we play with her mummy? Please?’
‘No! it’s not safe.’
‘But Rory is with her. Perhaps she will sing with us?’
‘What was that? Did you hear that? Someone’s here. Rory, this place is freaking me out. Can we go? Please?’
‘Relax. It’s probably just an animal,’ he smiled.
‘You and your bloody legends! It’s ridiculous. Animals can’t decide to stake out and ambush other animals
A gust of wind rushed through the forest, whipping the leaves up into a frenzy, like mini-tornadoes, swirling around in front of her.
‘I told you, didn’t I? She’s not the playful type.’
‘There it is again. I heard voices? I want to go now. Please.’
He smirked. ‘But I haven’t finished the story. You haven’t heard the best part.’
The leaves settled as he continued.
‘So, the hounds stopped coming in, but the idiotic huntsmen pack didn’t. The Laird’s son, a foolish young lad, about fourteen or so, keen to show his bravery, and frustrated by the hounds whimpering pathetically around the edge of the forest, declared he would follow the fox on foot and would show it no mercy when he found it. Did you know that the fox hunters often collected small trophies from their kill? No. Thought not. Anyway, poor lad. They heard his screams from the edge of the forest, but they were too late. They found him right here, laid out on this boulder. Died of multiple bite wounds. And worse, but I won’t go into detail.’
Victoria paled. ‘Okay. Enough now. You’ve had your fun. I don’t even know why you’re telling me this.’
‘Well, despite the ban, they seem to be gathering a head of steam again. Ýour lot. We knew they would of course, but these things are better nipped in the bud, don’t you think?’
A familiar horn sounded in the distance. Up ahead Victoria saw a streak of red, racing towards the forest, keeping low, the hounds hot on its heels. The leaves whipped up and moved swiftly towards the edge of the forest.
‘Run my boy, run. Fast as you can’
Victoria gasped as she watched the leaves transform into row upon row of snarling foxes standing their ground at the forest entrance. The hounds halted and paced back and forth, unwilling to go any further. Their cries and whimpers could be heard, alongside that of the huntsmen.
‘Get in you stupid bloody dogs. After it for God’s sake.’
‘I’ll go father.’
‘Rory, no! I recognise that voice. It’s the Pembleton boy. Please, we’ve got to stop this. We can’t let them harm him,’ she pleaded, scrambling to her feet.
Rory smirked. ‘Enough now’ he called.
‘Let us sing to him.’
‘No. He understands.’
The foxes retreated and the leaves rustled once more as they settled onto the forest floor. The boy, pale and shaking, turned and ran.
‘Oh my God. You spoke to them. What are YOU? What just happened?’ Victoria whispered. ‘I don’t understand.’ she backed away, horrified.
‘Just consider it a warning. Now go spread the legend amongst your own folk.’
Rory turned and disappeared into the leaves, singing his victory song.
A short story for Easter
‘Mummy? Is the Easter Bunny Real?’ my five-year-old son asks as we walk to school.
‘Of course he is.’ I reply without giving the question much thought, my focus on the mountain of things I need to do today. I’m wondering if I have to cook something fresh for dinner (I know I should) or whether I can justify a quick fish fingers and beans on the basis that it’s Monday and everyone is tired?
‘Why do you ask?’ I try to appear interested, guilty at my poor parenting skills.
‘Well, Gray May says he’s not real and anyone who believes in him is just stupid.’
‘Well, what does Grayson Mason know?’
‘Lots of things actually. He’s pretty smart.’
I seriously doubt it if his parent’s intellect is anything to go by. Anyone who names their offspring Grayson and Jason, with Mason as a surname, condemning their children to a lifetime of ridicule, must have the IQ of a rabbit. Although, to be fair Gray May is right. There is no Easter Bunny. It’s all a hoax by the chocolate industry to guilt trip parents into buying hoards of overpriced, poor quality bunny shaped confectionery. But how do I explain this to a five-year-old without sounding miserly?
‘Well just take the moral high ground and tell Gray May that in actual fact, Easter is all about God.’
‘The what ground? And what has God got to do with it?’
Actually, perhaps this isn’t the best advice. It might provoke a whole new conceptual belief-based discussion which I don’t think my five-year-old is ready for yet. I remember my own father telling my six-year-old self to ask the teacher to explain where Adam and Eve fitted into Darwin’s theory of Evolution. I duly did what I was told and was met with a withering stare from Mrs Templeton, the ogre who masked as a primary school teacher, and told to sit down and stop asking stupid questions. ‘And remember,’ she said, her shrill voice ringing in my ears, ‘No-one likes a smarty pants.’
I resort to my default advice. ‘Err, do you know what? Just ignore Gray May and try to avoid him if you can. Okay?’
He persists though. He is my child after all. ‘But if the Easter Bunny isn’t real, then what about Santa?’
‘Oh, good Lord. Santa is definitely real. No doubt about that,’ I laugh gayly. Perhaps too gayly.
I chew my lip, wondering if, in fact, it is me who is condemning my child to a lifetime of ridicule, colluding with him in his belief about, what are, all things considered, totally unbelievable stories.
We arrive at the school gates and I watch my son, face contorted, deep in concentration, trying to make sense of it all. Do all his classmates agree with Gray May? I imagine my precious little offspring being pushed around the playground, getting laughed at because he believes that an overgrown rabbit delivers eggs to all the children around the world in one night.
It niggles at me all day until I pick him up after school. I scan his face for traces of worry, sadness, fear and I make a mental note to check him later for bruises. He looks happy enough though.
‘How was school?’ I ask, keeping my tone light and cheery.
‘What did you do?’
‘Okaaay,’ I try an alternative approach. ‘So, tell me the best bit about today.’
My head whips around. I am immediately on high alert. ‘Oh?’ I am careful to keep the concern out of my voice. ‘Did anything happen?’
‘Well, I’m the best at skipping but Natalie Smythe says she’s the best and if she doesn’t win, she cries, so I always have to let her win. And today was a skipping day.’
‘Gotcha.’ Relief floods through me and I ruffle his thick brown hair. ‘Any more chat about the Easter Bunny?’
‘Oh, well Madeline Morrison told Gray May to shut up and that it doesn’t really matter if it’s real or not and that all children should just ask for one egg each because lots of children all over the world don’t get any eggs, and that if we just ask for one each, we’ll also be saving the planet with recycling and stuff.’ He finally stops for breath.
‘Wow! She said all that?’ I wish I had the persuasive and intellectual capacity of the five-year-old Madelaine Morrison, little eco-warrior that she is.
‘Yes, and she also said we’re to go to hers on Sunday and her mum will boil five hundred eggs and we’ll paint them and roll them down the hill at the back of her house.
‘Really? That’s very good of her. How many people are going?’
‘Twenty. But not Gray May. ‘
Five hundred eggs for twenty people? Maybe not so eco-friendly after all, but the thought of a few hours peace and quiet on a Sunday supersedes any thought of saving the planet. I make a mental note to buy Madelaine’s mother a bottle of wine to show my eternal gratitude. How many mental notes can a person make in one day?
I’m still pondering the whole Easter Bunny thing and weighing up the pros and cons of telling the truth versus the magic of childhood, when Nathan arrives home.
‘Okay, so tell me why ‘nothing’ has resulted in frown lines as deep as the Samaria Gorge then?’
I proceed to tell him about the conversation with Cameron and the whole Easter Bunny thing, hoping he’ll offer some support, re-assurance and fatherly words of wisdom, but instead he snorts.
‘Well, I’m not sure why you ever filled his head with all that nonsense about a whopping great Rabbit in the first place. He would have been just as happy with a chocolate egg which came from us.’
I look at him aghast. ‘I didn’t fill his head with that nonsense. I have no idea where it came from, nursery probably, but once he believed in it, I couldn’t exactly burst his bubble, could I?
‘Why not? I would have,’ he shrugs, taking a beer from the fridge.
‘Okay. I’ll let you explain away Santa as we approach Christmas then, shall I?’
‘Aw, that’s different Cats. Come on, every kid believes in Santa.’
‘They don’t actually.’
‘Look all I’m saying is, I don’t think he’ll be heartbroken to find out it’s not real. As long as he gets an egg.’
‘I know. It’s just that he expects shitloads of eggs from the rabbit.’
‘Well get him shitloads of eggs then. Just say they’re from us. You’re over thinking it. Now, at the risk of appearing insensitive, I was hoping to catch a bit of the football if that’s okay.’
‘Fine. Thankfully Madelaine Morrison has played the eco card, so we’ve been saved, as has the planet.’
He looks at me perplexed.
‘Don’t ask,’ I say, as he heads for the living room.
I try not to think about it anymore. I buy one large chocolate egg, and that’s that. Happy with my purchase I am fully confident that my intelligent, sensitive son will understand when we explain there is no bunny, but in effect, it doesn’t matter. He still gets an egg. He himself seems resolute that he will receive one egg thereby saving the children of the world and the planet itself.
So why, at bedtime on Saturday night, after I’ve had a few glasses of wine, does he announce that he’s super-excited about the Easter Bunny coming tomorrow and can’t wait to hunt for eggs in the garden.
‘But I thought we had agreed on just the one egg? I thought Eco princess Maddy Mo was all for one egg per child?’
‘Oh yeah, but she said she thought the Easter Bunny probably didn’t know about all the poor children and would still hide eggs in the garden. I think she’s right because it’s not like we’ve written a letter to tell him, so I think he’ll come anyway.’
I kiss him goodnight and race downstairs to explain the impending disaster to Nathan.
‘Och, don’t worry, he’ll be fine. Once he sees that giant egg he’ll forget all about it.’ He drains his glass and pours another.
‘It won’t be fine. He’ll be heartbroken and probably scarred for life. It’s the same as waking up on Christmas day with no presents. Would you say that’s fine? Oh God, I wonder if anyone has any spare eggs?’ I mutter, more to myself than Nathan.
‘Seriously, Cats, you’re not going to go begging eggs off people. Look, if he’s upset, we’ll just say the big daft rabbit made a mistake. I mean they’re not known for their intelligence, are they? And we’ll go to Tesco and get a few more. Half price. Win-win.’ He turns back to the TV. Conversation clearly over.
‘Aaaagh, why are men so one dimensional?’ I storm off.
There is clearly nothing I can do at this hour, but I fret for most of the evening, finally retiring to bed for a night of broken sleep. I toss and turn, vivid dreams of oversized rabbits and a small, sobbing boy, interrupting my sleep.
I am awoken at what feels like an ungodly hour by excited yelling.
‘Mummy, mummy. He’s been. I knew he would come. I knew he was real!’
I find it difficult to speak, my tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth. ‘Oh Cameron sweetheart, I don’t think he has been. I think there is maybe just one egg. It’s big though.’ I say hopefully.
‘No, he has been. I went into the garden just to check, and look? My bucket’s full of eggs.’
I manage to prise my eyes open to see him standing at the edge of my bed in his gorrilla onesie, chocolate smeared around his mouth and a bucket brimming with eggs of varying sizes.
‘And look, he also had a bite of a carrot. Just like Rudolph!’ he squeals
Nathan sits up in bed next to me, rubbing his eyes. ‘Eggscellent. Any for dad?’ he smirks, raising an eyebrow. ‘Good old Easter Bunny, eh?’