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Fear: Irish for “man”
Etymology is important in the story of the fox.
They meet, as beings most often do, at the beginning. They open their eyes and see before them rolling green hills and tall, proud forests, quiet and serene, untouched save for a gentle breeze. Their eyes adjust to the light and take in every inch of sky, grass, earth, and water. His eyes pass over the horizon and drink in the sky and all that could lie beyond; hers settle on the earth, cutting deep into the forest and relishing the details in every blade of grass, every wrinkly cut in the bark of each tree. After a time, their eyes settle on one another—his, blue and vast, a reflection of that which he desired. Hers, an amber, deep and multifaceted, rooted to that which she held dear.
His assessment of her eyes was short-lived, however, as he was quickly taken with the sight of her hair. Red and vibrant, it simultaneously stood out against the cool-toned backdrop, and also felt as though the landscape would be incomplete without it. He reached out his hand, needing to capture the soft fire, and was surprised when she jumped back, just out of his reach. He reached out again, and, just as deftly, she dodged his advantage, one corner of her mouth pulling up in a half smile. It was amusing, how easily he thought he could touch that which was not his own. He wouldn’t be able to touch her without earning that privilege.
He walked toward her, eyes chaotic and pleading for her compliance, but her smile and lithe posture remained. He looked at the hillock around them, and spotted a patch of nearby wildflowers, dancing peacefully in the breeze.
Without much thought, he quickly approached them, stomping into the middle of the patch, eyes focused on a few delicate white flowers in the direct middle, and forcefully tore them from the ground.
He turned back towards her, and kicking at the flowers along the way, and extended them to her. But she did not receive them. Having witnessed him tear asunder anything in his path just to accomplish a goal was…unsettling. But she knew he would not let her run to the woods she so desperately wanted to explore without due cause.
She motioned for him to put the flowers on the ground, and he complied, nearly gleefully. She quickly approached them, picked them up, and put them delicately to her nose. Feigning disgust, she crumpled her face and quickly put them back on the ground. She stood, haughtily, with her nose in the air, communicating a silent, "is this the best you can do?" before turning and quickly trotting back to the forest.
She did not mean to be callous, you understand—besides being unsettled by his benign mistreatment of the world around him, she was just unsettled by the company. The forest called to her, and her curiosity for her surroundings trumped any sliver of interest she could show in a creature so pitiless.
She explored until the sun was low in the sky, and the moon began to reclaim its place in the heavens. She fell asleep, comfortable at the foot of a tree.
When she awoke the next day, she found the woods before her had been cleared. The tree she had nestled against in the night had been roughly hacked down to its roots, no longer a comforting presence, but simply a reminder of mortality. In the middle of the clearing, he was standing, waiting for her.
As she looked at him, he beamed at her and gestured to the structure behind him. It looked to be a collection of the trees that had once stood on the land, stacked in such a way to create a haven, a nook to sleep in. As she looked at his creation, confused, he walked in, to demonstrate. The structure surrounded him, and he looked content.
He beckoned to her. Come, see.
Nervous again that he’d uprooted a good section of forest just to appease her, she drew her courage and stood slowly. She came to the front of the structure and squinted her eyes, inspecting it. She walked around it, tracing her fingers along the sap-covered, freshly cut wood, attempting to hide her revulsion.
She came back to the front, lifted her nose and turned around, shaking her head. He watched her red hair shift from side to side, and let out a groan. He got up, and walked towards her, intent again on running his fingers in the soft fire.
Surprised that he was not so easily dissuaded, she once again dodged his advances and ran back into the woods. This time, she thought, I will go farther than he would ever be willing to go. Then I will be safe.
She ran, through the whole day, and then through the whole evening. As the next day dawned, she slowed, and walked on. For days she walked, until exhaustion forced her to stop. When it did, she collapsed where she stood, and slept.
Hours, days, weeks (who could tell?) later, she awoke to someone just on the edge of her vision, peering at her face. She was startled—and was ready once again to run, until the figure stepped out of the bushes. It was not the him to which she was accustomed.
This him, this Other, was cautious, curious, and, surprisingly, bore a striking resemblance to her. His eyes were warm yet guarded, and his hair glowed red against the foliage. They stood there for a moment, assessing one another, until she walked away.
After a few paces, she turned—he had not followed. Cautiously, she signaled to him come. He came up to her, and they walked. They walked, continuously growing more comfortable in each other’s presence, and in the silence. As the sun drew lower, they found a small divot in the earth and slept.
They continued this pattern for days, years, growing more and more attached with every passing moment. They were happy. But as they grew closer, she could not shake the feeling that something more sinister drew nearer as well.
One morning, she awoke to a burning smell. She opened her eyes, and noticed that everything was much darker than it should be. Smoke filled her eyes and nose, and, as she looked up she noticed eerily familiar structures, tall and looming, between pillars of smoke. They nearly blocked out the sun, and there were no trees in sight.
She sat up and noticed, at the edge of the clearing, the First. Him. Standing there, grinning manically, gesturing with one hand to the impressively large structures, and the other to her hair, hands grabbing at the phantom strands that had kept him bound to her from the first moment they awoke.
He stopped however, when he noticed, buried in the fine strands, another hand. The hand that belonged to her lover, her friend—the Other.
The First’s face contorted in anger. He approached them, his eyes shifting from blue to red, the flames reflected in his soul. He grabbed the still-sleeping Other, took from behind him a sharply carved tree branch and stabbed him, right in the heart. He ripped out a fistful of the Other’s hair, to see if it would compare—unimpressed, he hurled the chunk to the ground, and let the Other’s body fall, lifeless, to the earth. She was shocked. Her heart skipped a beat. And she stood there, stock still.
And then she uttered a sound no living soul on that earth had yet heard.
She howled, pain and sorrow clawing to get out of her throat so quickly it couldn’t be articulated in anything other than a shrill, anguished cry. The sound made even the fires growing around them take pause, and made the winds stop to hear their shrieking rival.
But the First did not wince at this sound. His eyes grew wide, and he smiled—he had finally elicited a reaction from his counterpart. He drank in her screams, and her tears, and, when they finally locked eyes, saw something that he hadn’t before.
He like what he saw in her eyes and the deafening screams that came from her lips as her form contorted, and decided to claim it for his own. He became, and would always bring with him, Fear.
She collapsed to the ground, holding herself together and pressing her face to the earth that reclaimed her love. The First, seeing this opportunity, approached, and reached out to touch her hair.
Sensing his presence, her head and body snapped to attention. She saw the gratification in his eyes, the greediness that only appears when someone gains a spiritual hunger that is nigh insatiable.
And so she bared her teeth through her tears, snapped at his hands, and ran. She ran through the smoke, and through the embers burning at her feet. She ran past the destruction, and the strange, unnecessary structures that had been built from so much death. She ran for days, weeks, months, until she realized that her belly had grown. Scared for her life, she ran to the nearest bramble and quickly dug a hole, hiding in there to keep safe.
Soon, she was not alone. The Other had given her one last gift—children. She kept them safe, and kept them in the dark, until she could hear the crackling of the fires of destruction in the distance die down.
As they emerged from the hole, the children standing and drinking in their first draughts of fresh air, she was vigilant. She scanned the horizon, and saw a sight that frightened her more than anything—The Fear, The First, approaching, at least a mile away—with what looked like more of his own.
She was not the only one that had found a kindred spirit.
Gathering her children, she continued to run. To traverse the wilderness faster, she dropped to all fours, and her children followed suit.
They ran for what felt like an eternity. They ran through and past the forest, through other terrain, both foreign and terrifying. As they ran, their hair grew to protect them from all weather. Their eyes, needing to work even in the darkest of terrain, adapted to see where they needed to.
Despite their versatility and agility, every time they stopped to rest, they could hear the buzzing of their growing foes behind them.
As time went on, the pups grew tired of running—they left their mother, one by one. Her eldest, hair white with exhaustion, found solace in the cold mountains of the arctic.
She let him go, knowing that he could hide where he wanted. The desert drew her youngest daughter—small, with ears large enough to hear any approaching threat.
And so they left, adapting and using their gifts and wiles to evade the grasp of the Fear and continue to explore what remained of the earth.
On the other side of the fight, Fear continued to grow his empire. He found more like him, and imbued them with his sense of purpose. Everything here is made for you, meant for you. Make sure you take it, all of it—and the last trophy to gain, is the soft fire.
Eventually, he withered, and passed, and was put into the earth that he so callously took advantage of for his whole existence. His heirs took to heart all of his teachings, and continued the hunt for the creature with the soft fire.
She, however, continues to run. Her babies have had babies, and their babies have had broods of their own—they have been hunted, and slain, but they will never be able to catch her. For she has never given them permission to touch her.
There will always be one piece of the earth that Fear cannot own—the wily red fox.