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The fox and the rain by Adam Millard

Fox by David Naughton-Shires

I arrived on Halcyon Drive to the sound of rising birds. It was still dark, and I found myself wondering whether this could have waited until morning. The drive was ominously lit with staggered lamps; beneath one of them an inquisitive fox rifled through the remains of overturned rubbish. Strangely – and this only further fuelled my sudden sense of unease – it didn’t rush away at the sight of my approaching. Instead, it cocked an ear and made a horrific mewling noise, before returning to the pile of empty milk-cartons and stripped chicken bones scattered haphazardly along the kerb.

One of the houses suddenly lit-up, and I could see a silhouetted figure traipsing around beyond the curtains. I wondered if the occupants of the house had been roused by the fox’s reprehensible keen, or if they had seen me arrive and were in the process of calling the police. Either way, I didn’t care. I had been summoned to Halcyon Drive, not of my own accord, but on behalf of my transcendental dreams, which were never to be ignored.

In the dream, everything was as it appeared now. The rows of houses perfectly aligned with immaculately maintained gardens; the bicycle-path – on which I now stood – stretching the length of the road; even the monotonously chirruping birds sitting atop the hundred-year-old oak trees. The only aberration was the fox; that had not been part of the reverie, which was altogether unsettling, for I had never envisioned anything additional since the dreams began.

The shadow beyond the curtain moved from left to right, and the light went out once again. I couldn’t shake the idea that the residents were all watching me now – a stranger on their turf. In the spaghetti-westerns of yesteryear, I would have been the nameless protagonist arriving just in time to a gunfight. I listened carefully for the sounds of slammed and bolted wooden shutters, but was met with only silence and the sound of a tin-can being pushed nervously along the ground by the nose of the fox.

I walked, with some temerity, along the path; the fox mewled once again – as was its wont – and began to chew frantically on a piece of crusty bread peppered with grotesque blue and green spots of week-old decay. It shouldn’t be there, I told myself. It doesn’t belong…

A few drops of rain splashed my shoulders, and then it came harder; a torrential downpour that belonged just as much as the misplaced fox.

What was happening? This was all…wrong. The dreams were never wrong, which was what caused the hackles to rise on the nape of my neck and gooseflesh to appear beneath my dampening clothes. The fox and the rain were disheartening anomalies, mystifying me with their presence. I wanted to run, to race away from Halcyon Drive without glancing back. And yet I couldn’t. My legs felt coagulated, as if the bones had been removed and replaced with something viscous and fluid. I could barely walk, now, and the fox was staring at me, knowingly.

I could swear it smiled at me.

I composed myself, brushed the sodden hair away from my forehead. Somewhere, off in the distance, I heard sirens. Flying through the semi-darkness in perfect unison. My heart sped, staccato bursts threatening to erupt within me. The silhouette had called the police, after all, reporting a strange man standing out on their Utopian boulevard, a man who had brought with him – for some unbeknownst reason – a hungry fox and a rainstorm.

The sirens drew nearer; the fox sat back on its haunches. The only thing missing was its popcorn. I urged myself to move, and my recalcitrant legs finally obeyed. I made my way past the fox – smiling? – and past the house belonging to the silhouette. Crossing the road, I quickened my pace; jellied legs beneath me, as if I had recently competed in marathons I had no warrant to enter.

I was halfway across the road when the deafening sirens raucously pulled onto Halcyon drive. I turned, held my hands up in surrender, for I hadn’t done anything wrong…not really. It was then that I saw the black car, but only for a split-second. I think it hit me, though all I could see were stars, concrete, stars concrete, smiling fox, concrete…

The sirens hadn’t been for me; a high-speed chase – a group of drunken youths in the black car – had led the police to Halcyon Drive. Talk about unfortunate. As I lay on my back, staring up the length of a hundred-year-old oak, blood seeping from my shattered skull painting the crusty-brown fallen leaves an undesirable hue of crimson, I knew that things would have turned out very differently if it hadn’t been for that hungry fox, for that inappropriately-timed shower.

I closed my eyes and listened to the birdsong, for I had nothing else to do.

WRITTEN BY ADAM MILLARD
ILLUSTRATED BY DAVID NAUGHTON-SHIRES

Adam Millard is the author of Dead West and Dead Cells. He also writes reviews for This is Horror.

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