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Wild Voices

Updated: May 24

Originally published in Razur Cuts

On her short stroll home from school, Emma sees metal fencing blocking off the

wooded area near her house. Gran and Grandpa have been talking about this at home. The

trees are to be cut down so new houses can be built. Emma is worried about what will happen to the animals that live there. She loves them. Her favourite is a fox. He even visits her.


#


He appeared a few weeks ago, a beautiful brown fox, sniffing around the garden

when Emma was in the kitchen, pouring cereal before school. There must have been a gap in

the fence hidden by the creeping bushes. There was no way she’d tell Grandpa or he’d block

it up.

He was there almost every day. She’d open the door to get a closer look just in time

to see him scarper off.

Emma sought to gain his trust with food. Grandpa wouldn’t notice one or two slices

of wafer thin ham missing from the pack. She sat a plate with the meat on the edge of their

decking area. Through the window, she watched him eat the meat, but still he refused to stay

when she went outside.

It took a few days, but Emma would never forget the moment when she opened the

door and he looked up at her, holding his position for a few seconds, yellow enquiring eyes

meeting hers. Momentary indeed, but long enough for her to give herself to the wild.


#


“Grandpa, what will happen to the animals?” she asks when she gets home from

school.

“They’ll find another place to go” he replies, not sounding overly interested as he

helps Gran make dinner.

The following morning, Emma stands outside the doorway nearer the decking than

before. The fox finishes eating then looks up as though thanking her. When she takes a step

towards him, he runs as usual.

Saturday morning and the fox finishes his meat. This time, he does not run. She

bends a little, making “tishing” sounds as she would to coax a cat. It might work. He looks

sharply at her. She takes a step closer, then another. She is now close enough to reach out her hand and finally clap him. Suddenly, he lashes out, teeth warning her. She squeals and draws her hand back, clutching the wound.

Back in the house, she wakes Gran and Grandpa to tell them what happened.

Grandpa cleans the wound. She can tell he is angry.

“Don’t go near them” he warns.

“But he didn’t mean it, Grandpa,” she says, defending her friend.

Grandpa drives to the local hospital to get her checked out. A crowd of people slow

the traffic down at the turn-in.

“Bloody picket lines,” says Grandpa.

“What’s picket lines?” Emma asks.

“The people want pay rises. This is how they complain about it.”

“Will they get it?”

“You never know sweetheart. They might. The union will fight for them.”

She wishes the animals could picket and stop their homes from being destroyed. She

wishes the animal had a union.

The doctor says her wound is not infected. It just needs to be cleaned and redressed

each day.

She doesn’t see him for a few days. Maybe he’s sorry he bit her. Then one day

before school, he appears in the garden. She steps outside. He looks straight at her. This time, she crouches down on the spot and holds out her arm. He makes to leave but then turns to face her again. She stays, offering her unbandaged hand.

He hesitantly treads towards her. She softens her green eyes, blinking slowly, calmly. That’s how to make a cat feel relaxed, she learned from the guide at the local wildlife

centre. Closer he gets, extending his snout until it sniffs at her fingers. She feels his

inquisitive breath. Her heart bursts with fear that he’ll bite. Then his tongue tentatively

touches her skin. After allowing him a few acquainting moments, her fingers stroke his chin,

then his neck. She sits on the ground, deliberately increasing the distance between them. He

comes over to her. She now knows without a doubt that he will not bite her again.

The following morning, Emma awakens to the scent of sausage and bacon frying. Gran and Grandpa must be up and making breakfast.

“We’re not having sausage and bacon,” says Gran when Emma is dressed and bounds into the kitchen, scanning the room for her fry-up. “It’s boiled eggs this morning.”

Emma squints in puzzlement. She can definitely smell bacon. She follows the aroma,

leading her to the front door. Must be coming from one of the houses across the road. She’ll

settle for boiled eggs.

Later that afternoon, she walks home from school passing the woods. Through the

metal fence, she sees men standing talking, pointing at trees. Some of the trees now have

markings painted on them. At home, Grandpa tells her that these are the trees which will be

cut down.

Before her bath, Grandpa checks her hand. The bite mark is a little darker around the

cut area. Grandpa says it looks inflamed.

“Is it sore?” he asks Emma.

“No. It’s just itchy.”

“I’ll phone the doctor tomorrow and make an appointment.” he says, before cleaning

it and putting on a fresh bandage.

Unable to sleep that night, Emma sits out in the garden after Gran and Grandpa have

gone to bed. She relaxes, enjoying the sounds and scents of night life. A streetlight from the

footpath beside her house illuminates part of the garden. The fox sits at peace beside her like an obedient dog, all anxiety between them now gone. He hears something. So does Emma.

They simultaneously cock their heads in the direction of the sound, straining their ears. It seems harmless, not worth investigating. They relax again.

“Emma, it’s time you were up. You’re going to be late for school” calls Grandpa. He

sounds impatient. She must have slept in. Two sausages wait for her on a plate on the kitchen table. She wolfs them down, frenziedly chewing.

“Slow down Emma,” says Gran.

After school, Grandpa drives them to the hospital for her appointment. Picket lines

are still there. Emma scans them all as they drive by, listening to their voices shouting. She

wishes the animals had voices so they could shout out and tell the men not to destroy their

homes.

“When are they going to cut down all the trees at our house Grandpa?”

“I’m not sure exactly when but it won’t be long.”

Doctor takes blood from a vein on the back of Emma’s hand. She twitches at the

needle going in, sorer than her bite wound, but at least it doesn’t last long and she and

Grandpa can go back home.

Emma relaxes in the living room with Gran and Grandpa that evening. Her

Grandparents watch television, Emma sits at Gran’s feet sipping hot chocolate, headphones

plugged into her iPad, listening to fox sounds online. Hwaaooow! She recognises this. She’s

heard this sound before late at night. According to the website, this is a danger call. She

rewinds it and listens several times. Hwaaooow! Hwaaaoow! Gran strokes her head gently,

the way she would stroke a cat’s or a dog’s. It comforts Emma and takes her mind off the

itching that started on her neck recently.

Later, Gran and Grandpa are asleep. Emma is wide awake. She feels unwell.

Whatever is wrong with her is getting worse. Her pains and itches are now combined with a confusing feeling gnawing away in the pit of her stomach that she doesn’t belong here anymore. She has to leave. She’s not sure exactly when but it won’t be long.


#


Nearly a month has passed. Emma has not been to school for two weeks. She has

been off sick. Friends have come round but they have not been allowed to see her because of her rash - at least that’s what Gran and Grandpa tell them. Her face has disfigured. She has pains in her legs and severe itching in her hands and neck. She has been to the hospital

several times for observations and blood tests. She can sense her Grandparents are worried

about her. Doctors are unable to figure out what is wrong. She knows.

Late that same night, Emma quietly leaves her room holding her hooded top they

bought her. After weeks wrestling with choices and decisions, the time has come. She opens

the door of Gran and Grandpa’s bedroom for a last look at them. The softness of the top

clutched in her hands will always be a reminder of how much she loves them. Though it hurt

to keep secrets, she couldn’t tell them where she was going. They would never understand,

but she will come back and visit.

She slips on the top after closing their door and silently scuttles downstairs. Before

opening the front door, Emma pulls her hood over to try and hide her altered face, then scans the street and the houses opposite to ensure no one can see her. After one last look at the home where her Grandparents raised her, she turns and scampers along the footpath at the side of the house, and to the stairs which take her up to the road running alongside the wooded area.

On her hands and knees, she slips her head under the metal fence, then her shoulders.

Arching her back, belly to the ground, constricting her body as much as possible, she

wriggles her way through, leaping to her feet and dashing off into the welcoming woods, legs pulsing with energy, drinking in the scent of grass, bark, and the faces of other animals as she runs. Slowing to a stop at a clearing in the midst of the wooded area, Emma looks around then throws her head up and barks the danger call.

HWAAOOOW! HWAAOOOW!”

As she hoped, the call brings them. Foxes start to appear one by one out of the

darkness, alerted by this sound that is like their own yet somehow different. So do the

squirrels and curious rabbits. A family of deer come to the source of the call. Emma stays in

the one spot, excitement making her heart beat faster the more they congregate, her head

jerking this way and that to register each animal in attendance.

Here, she is comfortable showing herself. Taking her hood down, she proudly displays her slightly elongated nose, a tint of yellow in her eyes overpowering her natural green, ears reaching up, pointing through thickening hair and a fine coat of fur slowly growing, making her fingers, face and neck itch.

They seem to study her. She wants them to see her not as some kind of hybrid, between human and animal, but as a member of their community. Her fox friend appears

from the gathering and walks closest to her. She smiles at him and she can tell he is surprised

but happy to see her. He looks into her eyes with a recognition and respect she could only

have gained from crossing boundaries.

One of the other foxes looks to a small rabbit as prey. Emma sees and points at it,

firmly. This is not the time. There is danger on the way. They must set all differences aside

and act together, so that when the machines come to tear down their homes, they will stand

like a picket line. There is a union now. They have a voice.



Andrew Newall lives near Falkirk in Scotland. His short story Wild Voices was published in 2022 by Scottish-based magazine Razur Cuts. Most recently, his work has been broadcast on the horror podcasts Tall Tale TV and Scare You to Sleep.




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