The Fox Hunt
by Sean Pessin
The Late Afternoon
In the golden hours of the day, on the bank of the river, the fox, quick and brown, jumps over the lazy dog while chasing after a white rabbit for just a taste of its hind legs. But so long as those legs hold out, they remain lucky for the rabbit and they bestow an advantage that aids its yearning to continue to be attached, to continue to be whole. The fox persists, regardless of the rabbit’s desires, mostly for the thrill of the hunt. Even as the rabbit runs through the rabbit hole, down into the dark tube system that is filled with china cabinets and mason jars loaded with preserves and compotes, the fox is convinced that it will eventually catch the rabbit. It is not until the white rabbit disappears from sight that the fox begins to worry that its dinner has escaped the meal. The fox still has a sense of the scent trail, and follows it feverishly since it is the only mode of orientation available in the lot of vertical antiques the rabbit disappeared into. What begins as a slight decline transitions into a full-scale freefall and the fox wonders not if it will survive the plummet, but how long will it last.
The Bottom of the Burrow
When the fox comes to on the floor of some cylindrical room, it realizes this whole time it has also been a girl with flaxen hair. And she is thirsty. And above her there is a huge glass table. The fox notices on the other side of the table a hanger holding a blue dress just the size to fit her girlish body and slips it off the hanger and slips it on, and then returns to the table where snacks engraved with instructions rest. How did I not notice the snacks, she thinks, how did I not notice the table, but realistically it does not matter either way for she follows the command: eat me, which is inscribed on the cookie and she is made small by the hunger and the obedience she does not recognize in the confection. Only after she takes a bite does the fox realize the change in her size, and through the bottom of the glass table she spies a key to open the door that she is now just the right size to pass through. But the key is so high yonder, the fox thinks, how will I ever get to it? She runs in circles around the table, cutting corners and howling with rage at her predicament. The fox collides with the table at every turn, rocking the glass table back and forth until it falls and shatters, relinquishing the key and giving the fox a space to pursue an exit.
10,000 Monkey Shakespeares
The fox enters the next room which is full of what she estimates as ten thousand monkeys, each sitting at a writing desk and working hard. She wonders what is it they do while they chatter over the clatter of typewriter keys. But the room is so large and the monkeys are so intent on finishing whatever it is they started that they don't look up for a second to scan the girl as she moves through their space. Finally the fox is so curious of the place that she has to ask one of them what is going on. A monkey turns to her and the fox asks, what is your aim here and the monkey says that they hack the typewriters all day making the buttons clack and the reams of paper ring at the end of each line because if we keep at it the Unicorn says that we can all produce that great literature everybody wants to read. And if the Unicorn believes in us and our work, then we must do the work because the belief is mandate enough, because while some poetry is original, no original work is producible at will. And how, the fox asks, would you recognize the great literature once it is produced, to which the monkey replies its greatness would be self- evident. And what, the fox asks, would you do with the great literature once you have produced it, and the monkey says that we’d need one hundred of us to produce the literature and to be aware of the production, and that after one hundred of us knew about it then we all would know about great literature because the information would spread like the knowledge of washing sweet potatoes. When the fox knows that this is probably all the information that she is likely to get, she brushes her golden locks behind her pointy ear with her paw and curtsies. At this, the monkey offers a friendly palm and off the fox goes, exiting into the wilds beyond the workspace.
Some Kind of Madness
The fox comes up on a table in a clearing set for a tea party which she invites herself to. The fox has never been invited to a tea party, but from afar they have always looked fun. She pulls up a seat with a complete place setting and hopes that the tea is as good as she has frequently imagined and the food is as satisfying as the rabbit’s leg will be if the fox ever comes back across it. Out from the wild growths comes a poisoned man, a mangy hare, and up pops a dormouse that apparently resides in a teapot on the table that she only just notices is in front of her. While she has no interest in socializing with the emergent forest population joining the party, the fox is keen on conversing with the mouse, who seemed not completely aware of the strange guests that came to sit at its table. It begins the dialog on the fact that it never daydreams because it never wakes up long enough to be able to tell the difference, and in such a place one could not be so certain anyway. When the fox reaches for some pastries sitting on the table, the mouse declares authoritatively on historical facts and poetry, reciting them with what would appear to be equal facility; some of the facts are not accurate and some of the poetry is not properly attributed, but at the same time, there can always be the hope that the errors are merely prophetic and not outright falsities, and so the babble continues on as the dormouse remains essentially dormant in the teapot. Before she can get suckered into a conversation with the two other vagabonds at this party and find herself infirmed along with them, the fox hikes up her skirt and flees through the undergrowth that the sickly guests emerged from without even getting half a cup of tea.
At the Shoreline
After cutting through the dense underbrush, through everything that is dark and overgrown, the fox muses on the sound of crashing waves audible from off in the distance. She can smell the salt in the air, as well as a specific melancholy: each crest seemed to carry sorrow from distant shores. And it is only affirmed by the mauve color of the tides that wash over what appear to be abandoned beaches. Then right as she decides to turn away, a procession of birds and fish and crustaceans and small mammals march out of the sea foam playing instruments of all kinds. They set up a gigantic bonfire and dance and sing around it, with birds on woodwinds, fish and crustaceans on percussion, mammals playing strings. While they circulate their impromptu camp, the girl hesitantly crawls, trying not to scare them; the dress throws them off their guard, and the blonde hair does not threaten them. But the fox only has one thing in mind. She still has not eaten anything besides the cookie, and after having been tempted by the party, she is ravenous. And the salt in the air is exaggerating her dehydration. So she crouches low, assumes a predatory stance, and the rest of the animals take it as a dance; they all crouch low, they all stalk each other. With everyone sneaking, everyone is obvious, and the girl cannot hunt. So she pricks up her whiskers and points her little black nose down in defeat, settling on the possibilities of scavenging. The scent of oysters draws her away.
The Mock Turtle Dishes
She follows the scent all the way up to the craggy cliff face that overlooks the festivities happening on the beach. The fox discovers there are no oysters so high up, but there are a lot of discarded shells. There were oysters up here, she deduces. She sits and watches the moon rise and the flames of the bonfire die down, and the fox strains her ears to listen to the sounds of the tide overtake the last hurrahs of the beach critters as they return to the ocean. Her paws fiddle with her dress; at some point she has become filthy. Just as she is beginning to let her ears down, the scene is broken by the appearance of what was once a turtle. It shambles over to the cliff edge the fox is sitting at with its fake shell dragging behind. I am going to do it, it shrieks, I am going to launch myself again. In the moonlight the girl can see the Mock Turtle’s shell drags behind him, and in his arms, a book. She asks the Mock Turtle if he has any reason to stay up there with her, and the turtle confesses that there are plenty, but none of them could be found in the book he was reading. What book is it, the fox asks, hoping for a familiar tale shared amongst her fellow vixens. The mock turtle says that he has no idea. He confesses to carrying it about in his shell, and to taking it out at leisure times, to puzzling over the riddles which composed it- to holding it in different positions and at different distances, till at last the meaning of some hopeless scrawl would flash upon him, but he never had such luck, so he became despondent. The monkeys, the fox says, it may just be the monkeys. The turtles, he says, are supposed to be wise here, but I just don’t have the capacity for this kind of thing; if I were as wise as that I’d have a headache all day long. So he says goodbye to the fox, tightens up the slack of his shell, and dives into the soup.
The Rabbit Reappears Briefly
Wandering down from the cliff, the fox marvels at what just happened. It occupies her mind for most of the walk back down to sea level, in the moments between stomach growls. She has always had elaborate fantasies of being honored with a funeral; foxes rarely are afforded the luxury. Sometimes they die, and sometimes they are eaten by larger animals or smaller insects. Mostly, the carcasses are discarded. There is a savagery with which all non-web-spinning creatures conduct themselves. Spiders catch their prey, tuck them in, inject them, and put them to sleep, she thinks, and caterpillars, too, spin, but only manage to catch themselves in the midst of magnificent transformations. A cotton tail flashes in the moonlight, but the fox is too tired to give chase. In the morning, she thinks, the first thing I will do is get some water.
Flora / Khôra
The girl awakens and climbs out of the ball she slept in, reaching arms out in front of her and arching her back, only to bounce down at the shoulder and rock at the hip. The fox asks the flowers around her where she can find water but they only know about the water beneath the surface, and the fox just doesn’t have time for that. Thirst and hunger preclude much of the patience she’d otherwise have. The fox insists that the flowers know about water; plants are chiefly experts on the movement of liquids. Only aquifers, she thinks, are more conversant on the subject of subterranean water. And they refuse, regardless of the fox’s protests, to divert their conversations to the paths that would send her in the right direction. This is irritating to the girl because the scent of water is everywhere and notes of rabbit trail underneath. To the flowers, talk of the sun is paramount. And when some small shrub brings up the fear of the dreaded herbivores, all conversation becomes wooly, since none of the plants have ever seen one personally, though they are known to exist. And the fox tries again to ask, to get a simple answer to her problem. After all, they tell her, like the monkeys say in their new volume: it is as much what we are talking about as what we are not. With that, the berries whortled, the dragons snapped, the willows wept. And the fox walks off in the opposite direction, hearing behind her the flowers asking: wasn’t she a queer little vegetable?
The Reasonable Lobster
She comes upon a dry riverbed. Surely this leads to at least one of my goals, the fox thinks, or at least it has in the past. The fox chases the bends with the ghosts of currents, her skirt tracing behind her, until she stops abruptly upon spying a lobster sitting on a rock in the middle of her path. Well, you aren’t fording this river, the lobster says, so you must be swimming it. The fox introduces herself with a curtsy and says that she was following the path to try and find water to sate her thirst so she can find the rabbit and sate her hunger. I haven’t seen anyone run this river since that school of salmon came through here, the lobster states, and in order for them to run, they needed water; since there is no water, you must be swimming. The girl furls her muzzle. She asks if it knows how long the water has been gone. The lobster says that it has been gone all day, and offers to host her until the river returns in the evening. The fox wonders how long the river will be out, and the lobster says it will come back when it tires and wants to go to bed, to which the fox asks if that means it will be back early. And the fox rolls its eyes when the lobster says that no reasonable creatures expect impossibilities. The girl asks where the next body of water is and the lobster lifts a claw to gesture just further upstream. As she rounds the corner and sees the pond the lobster referenced, she hears the river get home. The lobster continues, you see, no lobsters are unreasonable.
The Lesser Weasel
The first lap the girl takes of the pond hydrates her long tongue before it rinses over her fangs. And the second lap rejuvenates her parched throat. After several more moments of gulping water, the fox notices that she is not alone. A cagey rodent was staring at her from across the little pond; it too was drinking more than a passing sip. I am not going to eat you, the girl says, you are not nearly meaty enough to be worth the effort. Good, the rodent says, for I am the lesser weasel. Why are you the lesser weasel, the girl asks, and the weasel replies that there are weasels out there that are lesser than he, so he is not the least weasel, and probably not by far. It is a good thing you are not going to eat me because I, he continues, can kill a rabbit more than five times my size if I can catch them. The fox’s eyes widen and they are both aware the other is stalking the white rabbit. The girl brushes her fur from her forehead, she crouches low, her ears roll back, her snout scrunches a little...
... and she really is a fox after all.
Journey to the Surface
Once the fox is full and exits the burrow, after a series of victories and parades, it seeks out its nest and crawls in for a long rest. The sun, still golden, still hangs in the sky. Tomorrow, the fox thinks, tomorrow I will return. Tomorrow I will be crowned. I will pick up my trophies, I will mark my territories, I will sentence my adversaries, I will feast again. I will tell my tale and my kingdom will listen. I will talk of turning tables, of moving past monkeys, of reflecting the dreams of others, of inventing a dance, of swallowing schadenfreude, of creature meditation, of flowery conversation, of crustacean logic, of friendly foes, of nostalgia, of the pain of the return home. And as the fox drifts to sleep, questions cross its mind: what is the use of a story without pictures or conversations? Or the use of a crown? Gilding, she thinks, yes, gilding.
A Brief Commentary
the Use and Function
Literary Conversation in an Age
Intense Romantic Naturalists and their Detractors
In an age of imitation, I can claim no special merit for this slight attempt at doing what is known to be so easy. In one respect, this story is an experiment, and may chance to prove a failure: I mean that I have not thought it necessary to maintain throughout the gravity of style which scientific writers usually affect, and which has somehow come to be regarded as an ‘inseparable accident’ of scientific teaching. In part, this is a matter of function; primarily this story seeks to challenge the stakes higher education has placed in the development of the natural science while recasting the endeavor of plumbing the depths of the human spirit as the goal of perpetual novices. In part, this is a matter of pride; this story seeks to prove that an argument that is just as invested in the historical understanding and potential futures of our race and its identity as the human animal can emerge from this genre. These subtle difficulties seem to lie at the root of every Tree of Knowledge, and they are far more hopeless to grapple with than any that occur in its higher branches.
It is certainly, a most bewildering and unsatisfactory theory: one cannot help feeling that there is a great lack of substance in all this shadowy host——that, as the procession of phantoms glides before us, there is not one that we can pounce upon, and say “Here is a Proposition that must be either true or false!”——that it is but a Barmecide Feast, to which we have been bidden——and that its prototype is to be found in that mythical island, whose inhabitants “earned a precarious living by writing each others’ writing”!
Pitying friends have warned me of the fate upon which I am rushing: they have predicted that, in thus abandoning the assumed dignity of a scientific writer, I shall alienate the sympathies of all true scientific readers, who will regard the book as a mere jeu d’espirit, and will not trouble themselves to look for no serious argument in it. But it must be borne in mind that, if there is a Scylla before me, there is also a Charybdis—and that, in my fear or being read as a jest, I may incur the darker destiny of not being read at all. In view of this painful possibility, I will not (as I might) appeal indignantly to my other writings as a proof that I am incapable of such a deed: I will not (as I might) point to the strong moral purpose of this story itself, to the theoretical principles so cautiously inculcated in it, or to its noble teachings in Literary History—I will take the more prosaic course of simply explaining how it happened.
The writer's intention was to embody in each Knot (like the medicine so dexterously, but ineffectually, concealed in the jam of our early childhood) one or more critical questions—in Narratology, Historicism, or Queer Theory, as the case might be— for the amusement, and possible edification, of the fair reader. Following this practice, the writing emerged over the course of a great many days. And thus it came to pass that I found myself at last in possession of a huge unwieldy mass of litterature—if the reader will kindly excuse the spelling—which only needed stringing together, upon the thread of a consecutive story, to constitute the story I hoped to write.
Having, then, distinctly stated that I challenge no attention in the following little story to its merely mimetic stance, I must beg the candid reader to confine his criticism to its treatment of the subject.
Begin at the beginning, and do not allow yourself to gratify a mere idle curiosity by dipping into the book, here and there. Don’t begin any fresh Chapter until you are certain that you thoroughly understand the whole story up to that point, and that you have worked, correctly, most if not all of the examples which have been set. So long as you are conscious that all the land you have passed through is absolutely conquered, and that you are leaving no unsolved difficulties behind you, which will be sure to turn up again later on, your triumphal progress will be easy and delightful. Otherwise, you will find your state of puzzlement get worse and worse as you proceed, till you give up the whole thing in utter disgust. If these prescriptions are beyond the practice of the reader, they are free to delineate any path through these chapters, though it is outside the intended use of this text and possible results of continuing on in this manner are unanticipated.
Sean Pessin has lived in Los Angeles his whole life; he earned an B.A. and M.A. in English at CSU Northridge (where he teaches), and an M.F.A. from Otis College of Art and Design. He is the founding editor of agape: a journal of literary goodwill and editor-at-large for Magra Books. His work has appeared in The Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, Interfictions Online, The New Short Fiction Series, and is always fabulous and strange and queer.