The Pale Fox

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Chapter 16 - The Portent of a Crushed Bird

The mantrack wound away to the west of the moor. Always west. It was a smooth grey track like the stoneforest mantracks but there were no mancarriers in sight.

Some way along the mantrack Notail found a bird that had been crushed. It was not a bird Notail had seen before but he ate it anyway. It tasted old like the rabbit but he was hungry and did not care about tough meat. It tasted good enough. It was truefood.

He did not care that he was lingering on a mantrack. His father’s rules were as distant as the stoneforest. As ended as the life he had lived there. He ate and with every bite he tried to forget every word his father had spoken to him.

“You couldn’t ever fail me,” his father had said once.

Long ago. Before and beyond.

Notail spat a bone out.

“I have failed you,” he said to the silence. “Now leave me alone.”

The words stopped.

He chewed and he crunched and he swallowed the old meat.

Notail jumped back from the half-eaten bird. The lights of the mancarrier were bright and for a moment the world was all light and confusion.

His whole body was frozen rigid. He had seen many mancarriers but here on the moor it was different. The sudden explosion of light, the terrible growling of the mancarrier, it held him and made him stop.

He remembered the broken bodies of his friends, all thrown to the stone banks. Ignored by man. He wondered what it would feel like. The weight of the mancarrier coming over him. His body broken and ended.

There were no stone banks on the moor. He would be left upon the mantrack as crushed and wrecked as the bird he had fed on. Maybe some other hungry animal would feed on him. Maybe that was good. The way of the world.

The mancarrier sped closer. The lights held him, blinded him. He lifted a paw. He could move. He could walk towards the mancarrier, let it end him. Let it crush him and make him forgotten. It would be easy.

Notail wanted the mancarrier to keep coming.

The mancarrier came at him. It roared.

No. Not now.

And then he was moving. He leapt from the mantrack away from the light. He did not end.

He fell onto cold grass. He heard the mancarrier speeding away leaving just a gust of wind and a cloud of dust in its wake.

Notail lay there. Panting. Breathing. Alive.

He closed his eyes and in the silence his father’s words returned.

Bone. He shook his head but could not shake away what he had done. I left him, he thought, I should never have left him, he is all I have.

Notail rose. Yes, he thought to himself as the mancarrier’s lights faded into the blackness of the moor, he is my family now, I am all he has. With that he gave the air a sniff and then he was running. Back the way he came. Back over the moor. Back to Bone.

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