Rot and skunk filled the air. A figure lay sprawled amongst the brambles. The scents repulsed and allured me. I edged nearer my nose sniff-sniffing.
A man. Flies crawled across his face and in and out of his open mouth. Fear made me gag and I tasted my breakfast in my throat. My head swam. Then, I howled.
My legs trembled. I was alone with a dead man, and I desperately wanted to be anywhere but here. I started away, then glanced back over my shoulder. I didn’t want to look, but something drew me back to the body. The man seemed smaller dead, and helpless. I blinked back tears.
Blood pooled around his head. His dark blonde hair was matted with leaves and dirt. Face scraped and dirty, the front of his clothes torn and streaked with mud, missing one shoe, he looked like he had run in a panic, until, he fell and hit his head. Like something chased him.
The bad odor filled the space around him. I tried to breathe through my mouth, but tasted the putrid air. I felt I knew what it was, but couldn’t place it.
His dead brown eyes stared at me like he was trying to tell me something. I stared hard at him willing him to talk. What a strange place for him to be, half-mile to the nearest road; and not a trail people usually rode on. I thought about the time when I last saw him alive. He’d tried to feed me. Catch me. Mumbled about a new home. I’d growled my irritation and he left; now I wished I’d at least smiled good-bye.
It was about an hour since I’d observed the hunt at the kennels. When I’d heard “Gone Away” on the huntsman’s horn signaling they were on the scent of their quarry. I listened to the silence. I looked at his still form. “What happened to you?” His dead eyes remained blank.
A hound opened, near. His voice was true and strong and the rest of the pack joined him. “Over here.” Hooves drummed the earth. The sound grew. “Help, help,” I yelped. The riders would know what to do.
My composure left, and so did I. I deserted Mike and clawed my way through the brush looking for the hunters. The hounds ran past me, then moved on and circled around Mike’s body baying loudly. The huntsman appeared. He didn’t see me. His eyes were focused on his hounds. He put his horn to his lips and sounded “Gone to Ground”, the tune played when hounds have trapped their quarry. Terrible tearing sounds filled the air.
I gasped. The man was what they were hunting. Someone had covered him with the scent of fox. That was the smell, the familiar smell, used to trick hounds into thinking they were chasing live game. The field of hunters arrived. I stood frozen, hidden in the thicket.
One of the masters raised his flask. “Here’s to good sport. The animal rights people’ll be happy to know we didn’t kill a fox.” He laughed. I stepped back; a stick cracked like a pistol under my foot. The group of riders turned toward me.
“Who’s that?” someone asked.
“A vixen,” one yelled and pointed my way. I looked desperately from one rider to the next. Hyenas watching their next meal.
Dunwood stared down at me, his eyes dark and hooded like a buzzard’s.
“What’s the name of this town foxy lady?” His voice came out a snarl. Spittle formed at the corners of his mouth. My red tail with white tip met my nose as I spun about. I ran.
“Fair Game, girlie. Fair Game,” Dunwood shouted.
I heard the pack move through the tall grass behind me. The huntsman blew “Gone Away” on his horn.
I led them toward the hidden ravine. Fair game, I breathed in, fair game, I breathed out, and watched them tumble over the edge.