Chapter 23 - Between Shadow and Light
Day soon ended and night fell quickly. All that seemed to live in the manden were large striped spiders hanging from webs in its black hollows or hiding in lightless corners. More and more of them came out as the light lessened.
Notail padded back and forth over the ended grass. Soon, he knew the Pale Fox would come soon.
Bone eyed the spiders nervously while the grey fox curled herself up tight and settled down to sleep.
“When will the Pale Fox come?” Notail asked.
“Be calm. I promise you, he will come,” she said, looking away from Notail.
It was full of the scent of lost things. Every bit of the place told Notail to run. To leave. But still he stayed and waited.
I have come to the west, he told himself, the Pale Fox will come.
That belief made him stay.
“Have you met the Pale Fox many times?” Notail asked.
She smiled. He did not like her eyes when she smiled now.
“Many times,” she said and her voice was strange, slow and far away. “More times than any other fox has met him.”
Notail looked at her reddened skin and her wasted legs. The legend said the Pale Fox would welcome all foxes. Could that really include foxes like this one?
‘You’re wondering whether to believe me,” she said, still scratching. “You’re wondering if the Pale Fox would show himself to a fox like me.’
Notail could not reply. She ran her eyes down to his tail stub again.
‘I understand,” she said, standing and moving closer to him. She smiled her uneasy smile. “Many foxes would think the same way. But you, Notail? That is your name, isn’t it?’
Notail nodded. He looked away and was silent.
‘I am sorry,’ he said, his voice catching.
When he turned back, the grey fox was looking him in the eyes.
‘Then so am I. But it’s too late for that now. You wanted to meet the Pale Fox. Now you will.’
What little light the moon offered dimmed. He saw the black shape, darker than the dark of night, huge and stinking of man.
The Black Dog snorted and opened its black jaws. Its teeth glistened with saliva. It licked its teeth with its wet red tongue. It was huge. Bigger than any dog Notail had ever seen in the stoneforest. Stronger too. Its body rippled with muscles. A heat came from it. A deathly breath. A burning breath. A breath stinking of man.
Notail growled, waking Bone with a start. The young dog looked up and whimpered.
The Black Dog spoke.
“I…find…you…fox” it said, his voice heavy with the weight of all its massive body down on it. “I…end…you.”
The Black Dog gave a bark that shook the manden and sent the striped spiders fleeing into their holes.
It came at Notail.
Notail knew it was a hopeless battle but he leapt all the same to face the shadow that had stalked him for so long.
I will make this end, he thought to himself as he rose to meet the gaping jaws of the Black Dog.