In Which Fox 6 Outwits Brother Bear, and Other Capers

Posted on May 23, 2012 by


It didn’t surprise Fox 6 when she catch up with Brother Rabbit that last time, stuck in the tar trap between a pair of fallen cypresses in the dried creek rut. She had laid the trap, so that part of it didn’t surprise her at all, not at all; but the fulfillment of this chase completed an understanding that pass between rabbit and fox since before her idea for the tar ever come into Fox 6’s head, since the beginning probably, long before that day’s hunt begin, even up from the beginning of rabbits and the beginning of foxes, maybe.

Brother Rabbit and Fox 6 was playmates. In fact, Fox 6 did not remember a time when she did not chase Brother Rabbit. Fox 6 chased Brother Rabbit through hollow logs and across slippery rocks in the river shallows. They jagged in and out among branches or wheeled around big boulders. Ever since they were little ones, the two critturs come running, one after the other, through the woods, like a kite tail behind a kite.

If Brother Rabbit stumbled once in the meadow, Fox 6 might tackle him, them two making tumbleweed one moment, and a moment later straighten out into weaving, waving snakes in the grass.

When they tangled, they bit each other on the mouth, like this, or Fox 6 might pin Brother Rabbit down at the shoulder while Brother Rabbit try to twist away from under and gnaw Fox 6 on the hind part.

Most of the time when they ran together, Brother Rabbit’s cotton tail kept just outside Fox 6’s jaws, or so it appeared to critturs watching, such was the speed they ran. Sometimes, just for sport, Fox 6 let Brother Rabbit chase her about the woods, over logs and creeks, following the same million paths as always, only with a renewed desperation of pride in place of same old jeopardy. Sometimes the two of them, Brother Rabbit and Fox 6, paused by the river to share a drink and explore those reversals and absurdities in new directions.

“You ever wanted to be a big old elephant?” Brother Rabbit might say.

Fox 6 say, “Never.”

“Sometimes I like to be heavy and slow,” Brother Rabbit say. “With a hard skin and no need to run nowhere.”

“What fun in any of that?” Fox 6 say. “I like to be a blue jay, and weigh nothing at all, and chase the dragon flies about pine branches without never touching my feet to earth.”

Brother Rabbit, he laugh and laugh. “I bet I reach yonder fence post, over by the railroad tracks, without my lil feet never touching the earth.”

And like that Brother Rabbit might skip off and spark the chase all over.

So it’s true Fox 6 and Brother Rabbit was playmates, but don’t mistake their rivalry for the sort of friendship made in ignorance, like at the cinema, where young critturs don’t know well enough to be enemies. Brother Rabbit kept his tail outside Fox 6’s jaws as much as he could and still enjoyed, if not a partnership then, a splendid rivalry.

It happened that Brother Rabbit got so good at avoiding Fox 6 there wasn’t much tackling nor tussling no more. Not much tumbleweed. Brother Rabbit, he stay small and Fox 6, she grow bigger, while he get so good at ducking under and so good at kicking his old legs so fast, Fox 6 got mighty worn out chasing him. She set her head to studying his tricks. And she picture out some on her own.

Until by and by, Brother Rabbit come running, lickety-clippety, down the dried creek rut, and aim himself in that tight little wedge between the cypresses. It was one of his favorite tricks, you know, because Fox 6 was grown too big. She had to scramble over, while he laugh and laugh.

Only now he scream and holler, because Brother Rabbit, he all up in a heap of pitch and turpentine Fox 6 put there. He cain’t move, not at all. The more he try to kick his leg free, the stucker he got.

And Fox 6, she don’t waste no time. When her jaws close over Brother Rabbit’s head, ’twas just like a button hole on a button.

Brother Rabbit say, “We was made for each other.”

Fox 6, she say, “That’s exactly right,” and snapped his neck.

Now Fox 6 so blown up with excitement she didn’t stop for nothing. She ate him up. She separate the skin and fur that was caught in the tar and eat the rest. All she save was the rabbits feet, because old folks suppose those is lucky, and Brother Rabbit’s long rabbit ears, because they made her laugh, and his old cotton tail. She ate him right up, and licked her lips too.

Fox 6, she mighty pleased with herself. She took her little charms down the fox hole, and divvied up the rabbits feet amongst her cousins, named Fox 37, Fox 32, and Fox 109, according to the numbering system that all foxes use, as everybody knows. She kept one foot for herself, for luck, and give Brother Rabbit’s silly ears to her momma, Fox 61. The cotton tail, she pin to the wall in her own burrow.

After that, Fox 6 curl up and took a nap. She dreamt of chasing rabbits.

Now don’t go feeling so bad for Brother Rabbit. That was the end of his troubles, and where Fox 6’s begin. When Fox 6 wake up, still pleased with herself, there’s Fox 25, the burrow head. Fox 25, he don’t look pleased at all, not at all. Fox 25 stand up tall, all four legs, even though he in the burrow.

He say, “Fox 6, you done killed a rabbit?”

“Why, yes,” Fox 6 say.

Fox 25 say, “A whole rabbit. And you ain’t bring back none for yore dear cousins, or yore old momma? You ain’t bring back nothing for the burrow to share?”

“I bring back them charms, the rabbits feet,” Fox 6 say. “And I put that cotton tail on the wall. It’s like—a souvenir.”

Fox 25, he take down the cotton tail pinned to the wall and he throw it in the fire.

“Souvenirs! You done Fox 6. You don’t kill no rabbit around here and bring back none for yore cousins to eat! Indigestibles! They up there now chewing on rabbits feet, crying, wondering when the meat is. You taunt and tantalize us with ears and tail. Meantime the between is all in yore own belly! You done Fox 6. You want to be a lone fox, you about to be a lonesome lonesome. You be out of this burrow before the fire goes out, and you won’t be back till you learn some lessons.”

Fox 25, he snarl and his fur stand up alongside him. And his yellow teeth and grey fur set Fox 6 right backward out the fox hole.

So Fox 6, she skulk along the trail feeling mighty low. She wander and reckon how could one fox get to feeling so clever one moment and so foolish the next. But she also mighty sore at Fox 25 at the same time, not quite believing in any wrong she done.

Even worse, Fox 6 don’t even get to go off chasing Brother Rabbit, he just tumbling around in her belly, all by his self. Fox 6 wonder what else she might do, no foxes left and no more Brother Rabbit. And she continue on like that, weaving from the one side to the other side, all in a state of mixed up acrimony.

After some time pass, Fox 6 spy Brother Terrapin marching round the road bend from the other way, with his black shell on.

“Howdy Brother Terrapin,” Fox 6 say.

“Howdy Sis Fox.” Because all the other critturs call her that, they don’t know no better. All foxes look about alike I guess.

“What you doing so far from yore pond, Brother Terrapin? And without your fishin pole neither?”

“No fishin today, Sis Fox. Got a funeral.”

“A funeral?” Fox 6 make like she don’t know nothing about Brother Rabbit. “But who died?”

“Why it’s my cousin,” Brother Terrapin say. “You didn’t hear?”

“Surely not, Brother Terrapin. But which cousin? Brother Salamander?”

“Nope, not he,” Brother Terrapin say.

“Brother Lizard?”

“Nope, not he.”

“It weren’t Brother Gator was it?”

“I might to jes tell you,” Brother Terrapin say. “Sis Snake done choked herself on her own tail. Saddest thing I ever heard.”

“Own tail?” Fox 6 say. “Why in the whole world she do a thing like that?”

“They say she were having a dream,” Brother Terrapin say. “She dreamt she was eating a camel. Imagine that.”

“Camel?” Fox 6 say.

“You know, a camel. One those great yella critturs like you sometime see in the colored railroad cars, sticking their necks out. Next to the rhinos and spotted giraffe. Camels come in one lump or two, like a cup a coffee.”

“Like coffee.”

“Yes’m. So Sis Snake she dreaming she eating a camel. She stretch her self and stretch her self, trying to swallow the whole thing. Like she do, you know. And maybe she get around the first lump, only try as she might to stretch her self she just cain’t get around the next. So she just sit there swallowing and swallowing till she waked up. Choked to death on her own tail, like I say.”

Fox 6 found this about the queerest tale she ever heard.

“How you know what Sis Snake dreamt, she woke up already dead?” Fox 6 say.

“It’s just a coldblood truth,” Brother Terrapin say. “Well I best mosey on, Sis Fox. The funeral, you see.”

“My word,” Fox 6 say. “Do give my regrets to all the snakes, and all the rest yore cousins.”

“Obliged,” Brother Terrapin say. He go along the way he was headed, wearing his black shell.

Fox 6 go her way too, adding those wild pictures about snakes and terrapins, and camels too, to her thoughts.

As she wandered, the woods changed, grew taller, higher, even as the road spread out. Fox 6 see crows, and blue jays, and mocking birds, hawks and chicken hawks, wheeling up in the branches. She wonder if there any dragon flies up there. All she see below was horse flies and gnats. She beat at those with her tail.

At once Fox 6 see the flick of another tail, like a flame in the shadows of the branches. It was a fox, like her, only with a patch of white under his chin, not grey like Fox 25. She don’t know this strange fox, he must be from another burrow. How far she done traveled.

That other fox, he turn, he run, and Fox 6 chases without any pause. Through the trees they chase, under briars, up a tree, through the deep, deep river. The stranger move more slowly than Brother Rabbit, cut less sharply in his turns. But Fox 6 don’t know these woods, either, and she trail behind, scrambling to follow the flash of tail and spray of white collar.

At last the fox brake, rounding in a clearing, and stop, for no reason that Fox 6 did see. She had to reverse, almost circle her legs backward, to keep from tumbling into him.

“Howdy,” the new fox say. “I’m Fox 85.”

“Fox 6,” Fox 6 say.

“Wow,” Fox 85 say. “That’s quite a number.”

“What? 6?”

“How’d you get a number so low?” Fox 85 say.

“Weren’t nothing. When I came out, Fox 6 was the last fox died,” Fox 6 say. “They give me his. You know what it is.”

“Yes, but you must be a very special fox, to get a number like 6,” Fox 85 say.

Fox 6, she relished the compliment, circumstantial though it may be. It felt like a nuzzle under the neck, and her tail lift high in the air. Or maybe she just relieved to be in the company of foxes again. Or maybe it was Fox 85 had no memory of her disgrace, which renewed her natural pride.

Fox 6 trot along, shoulder to shoulder with Fox 85, exploring his woods or chasing scrambling in play, or get herself chased, almost like her childhood with Brother Rabbit. Only she never once thought of Brother Rabbit or those times, or Fox 25, or her old burrow at all. She corners her eyes to spy Fox 85’s white mane, while they walk together. Fox 85 show her how to amuse herself for hours with a pinecone. He step on her tail and try to frighten her off with noise. They dig holes together and swat butterflies in the sunlight. With each day, Fox 6 grow more comfortable at such distance from her past, and more. And her admiration for Fox 85’s independence grow, until freedom itself become something to rely on. And she was happy.

But before you get to wanting this story to be one way, let I remind you now, it’s the other way.

And like that, by and by, Fox 85 and Fox 6 was lying together in the hot hot heat, watching hoboes picking sunflowers by the railroad tracks.

Fox 6 say, “You ever wanted to be a man?” Meaning a human.

Fox 85 take his straw blade out from between his teeth. He say, “What? Naw.”

Fox 6 give him a look, like this.

“What you want to be then?” she say.

“Just a crittur I suppose,” Fox 85 say.

Fox 85, he go on down to the stream, swatted a snapping trout into his mouth. Then he laugh and laugh, and disappear deep in the woods.

Fox 6 go on down to the stream herself, but she didn’t see any snapping trout, or even any minnows. She did not realize until then how hungry she was, did not remember that she did not eat at all in the whole time she running with Fox 85, not at all.

So Fox 6 walk out the woods again, with her tail low, and felt mighty foolish for the second time. Only now she so hungry she don’t bother to reflect on what she done, or wonder about the hawks wheeling in the sky, or dragon flies.

Along the road, Fox 6 travel. She couldn’t tell where. She didn’t see no critturs good for eating, and don’t have no energy for chasing anyhow. All she do is look at the ferns alongside the rut, and try to eat the flower blossoms, maybe.

But by and by, round the bend in the road come Brother Bear, in his overalls and straw hat, carrying a fat jar of mole-ass.

“Howdy Brother bear,” Fox 6 say.

“Howdy Sis Fox,” Brother Bear say.

“Where you get all that mole-ass?”

“This here mole-ass I earnt it fair and square,” Brother Bear say. “Don’t let them tell you I swipet it crooked. Don’t you hear em say it, Sis Fox.”

“I ain’t saying you swiped it,” Fox 6 say. “I’m asking where you get it.”

“I earnt this mole-ass by being the patientest crittur around, that’s where. I seen old Brother Badger crawling thru de wood with this fat old jar and I says, Brother Bear, You jus be patient. And sho nuff I waited till that old Brother Badger mess with the wrong hornets, trying to add a jar of honey to his spoil. Well Brother Badger, he take what he want, and he get whats coming too, cause he run off going ‘Ow’ ‘Ow’ ‘Ow’ and I went and swipet the mole-ass from where he left it. Fair and square.”

Fox 6, she get an idea.

“Brother Bear, you shore is a patient crittur, and clever too,” Fox 6 say. “Waiting for Brother Badger to sloppy-slipup like that.”

“I’m about as patient as there is, Sis Fox,” Brother Bear say. “That’s how come I can hole up all winter’n don’t get bored at all, not at all.”

“Patient you is, Brother Bear,” Fox 6 say. “But I bet I’m patienter.”

Brother Bear about jumped out his overalls.

“How you aim to prove it, Sis Fox?” Brother Bear say.

“I bet if we go down to Brother Terrapin pond, I keep my breath longer’n you can, Brother Bear.”

“I’m betting you cain’t.”

“What if you bet me that fat jar a mole-ass you earnt, if I can keep my breath longer’n you?”

“Why shore. But how you reckon yore lil fox lungs might keep breath longer’n my big bear lungs—about bigger’n you head to tail?”

“Don’t you worry none, Brother Bear,” Fox 6 say. “It’s a certainty.”

“Death ’n’ Taxes onliest things certain, Sis Fox,” Brother Bear say, “in this life.”

First thing Fox 6 wonder is what in the whole world Brother Bear got to pay taxes on. Then she get over this and move on to the certitude of death. Of course Fox 6 was well acquainted with death itself. Brother Rabbit was dead. She ate him up. The first Fox 6 was dead, she inherited his name. But she had never reflected on the possibility of her own death, not at all.

“Well it’s yore death certain, Brother Bear,” Fox 6 say, “if you try keeping your breath longer’n me.”

Brother Bear agreed to the contest, with no collateral at all, that’s how sure he was of winning. Beside, if Fox 6 drowned in the pond like he expect, he might have dinner without so much as a chase through the woods.

So down they go to Brother Terrapin’s pond and Brother Bear, he go under first. He unhooked his overalls and removed his straw hat, and then he wade in and dive below, deep, in the middle of the pond, for a very long time. So long, so patient, that Fox 6 might have been duly impressed had she not got so immediately busy soon as Brother Bear go out of sight.

First she pluck many long reeds, hollow reeds, from amongst the cattails and rushes at the pond’s edge. She blow through each one to make sure they clean and not broken. The she crack that mole-ass, just a bit, and use the sticky mole-ass to bond the reeds, end to end, so no air gets out and no water gets in. At last, she sink one end of the long reed-tube at the far corner of the pond, where Brother Bear won’t see it, and hid the rest.

No sooner Fox 6 finish arranging all this than Brother Bear emerge from the muck like a sunken battleship brought to surface, wet and breathing heavy, but quite sure of his performance.

Fox 6, she clap her hands and act worried.

“You is might patient, Brother Bear,” Fox 6 say. “But let me test my lil fox lungs.”

Fox 6 swim under the water, down, down. Then she cross the pond to where the underwater reed lay hidden. It took all Fox 6’s breath just to blow what little water got in the sunken end all the way through the tube, but when she could breathe clearly, she drag her end way down to the bottom, where Brother Bear had so patiently kept his breath. Only there she breathe through the tube as easily as if she was laying on her back in the daylight.

Taking care to pass Brother Bear’s mark, and waiting just long enough later to turn the screw another twist, Fox 6 stay at the bottom a very long time. It was fortunate for Fox 6 Brother Bear really was a patient crittur, because as it went he was near to abandoning his wait, having already concluded Fox 6 long drowned and might never come up again.

Right when Brother Bear about to take his mole-ass and mosey on his way, Fox 6 burst from the pond, making like to gasp and sputter water. Astonished, embarrassed, Brother Bear surrendered the fat jar of mole-ass, and watch Fox 6 shake water out her fur as she hop along the trail.

Fox 6, she just laugh and laugh.

Flush with victory, Fox 6 now plot her return to the fox hole. Surely, with this fat jar of mole-ass to share with Fox 25, her momma Fox 61, and her cousins Fox 37, Fox 32, and Fox 109, she would be welcomed back home. She try to reckon whether to reveal her trickery, or make like she truly out-patiented Brother Bear, or tell some other tale entirely.

Fox 6 trot on her way, swinging the jar of mole-ass and whistling her favorite tune.

Before the fur dried on her coat, though, here come another crittur, without any warning, not around the bend in the road but from the branches one side. A crittur not greater in size than Brother Bear, but appearing to cast a larger shadow, a crittur blacker than Brother Terrapin’s funeral shell.

Fox 6 can see that this was a wolf, but can smell that this not any pure wilderness wolf. This wolf is part man, by which I mean part dog. And the dog part of it gave the wolf a monstrous size, and a shaggier, darker coat, and paws that end not in one place like Fox 6’s paws. Instead they spread out like the bottom of a live oak tree, split into knuckles and claws. Fox 6 also see a fiery-red bit of fur in the wolf’s mouth, with a fluff of white in it, that she already know was Fox 85.

She don’t wait to say “Howdy” or reckon a way to talk herself out of trouble. Fox 6 don’t even consider the jar of mole-ass. She just drop it and run. And the wolf drop Fox 85 and run after.

The wolf’s open mouth chop like a gator’s and its tongue spill out like a dead chicken. Fox 6 pin her ears back and try to remember everything Brother Rabbit done when she chased him. She flatten her back and become small like a mongoose, and spring her legs and leap like a pony.

Fox 6 duck under logs and the wolf stomp on top of them. Fox 6 skip from rock to rock while the wolf dodge right by them. She turn a sharp edge, and the wolf come crashing after. They chase just like Fox 6 and Brother Rabbit done as little ones, only many more lengths apart, a swinging chain instead of a fluid string.

When Brother Rabbit and Fox 6 were playmates, all their games and chases was indeed always known inside both critturs as an exercise, a piece of fearsome nature, like I say, not any kind of overturning of her order. Fox 6 and Brother Rabbit chased to learn the woods, them secrets of sure footfalls and rounding corners. Each crittur stretched the other. They grew faster, wilier, and so well matched that even nature seemed to join in the fancy-telling, to see what kind of critturs they might become.

Fox 6 ended their partnership abruptly, that splendid rivalry. Yet now it was renewed, almost as rehearsed in their playful silliness, with Fox 6 the hunted crittur, now with all desperation of certain jeopardy. Fox 6 did not know these woods, their million paths, not at all, but the wolf did not know her gambits.

Fox 6 run and run. The wolf chopped its jaws and flew its awful tongue. Fox 6 climbed a tree, spring from limb to limb, knocking pinecones on the wolf’s head. She rode a floating log in the river, the wolf waited at a beaver dam downstream. For hours after hours they chased. Fox 6 on reserves she don’t have left, the wolf determined, invincible. No crittur chase like this. Fox 6 try reaching into her mind, her bag of tricks. If the wolf’s stench derived from man, it’s fury come from nowhere Fox 6 know, like the blindness of gunpowder.

The forest thinned. The soil hardened. Fox 6 stumbled off a cliff edge, into mid-air.

She was now lost, now saved, now lost again.

The wolf had not chased beyond the limit of the woods. Fox 6 tumbled, crash landed in a wasteland of hardened earth. She might breathe the air but don’t taste no more life. She dare not go back in the woods, and so Fox 6 limped into the sun-dried valley.

By and by Fox 6 did wander across signs of critturs. Weird trails, tiny burrows, cacti, nests of eggs. But the earth too hard for her paws to dig. And so lizard eggs and huddled jackalopes, they stay out of her reach.

On the top of a very tall, dead tree, perched a buzzard. Fox 6 see the buzzard chewing something very tiny.

“Howdy Mr. Buzzard,” Fox 6 say.

“Howdy Sis Fox,” say the buzzard.

“I’m mighty hungry Mr. Buzzard,” Fox 6 say. “Might you bring down some yore food and share with me?”

The buzzard, he toss, with his beak, a little kernel that fly down, down and land on the hard earth, spinning like a diamond on a plate. It wasn’t nothing but a little stone.

“Beg pardon, Mr. Buzzard,” Fox 6 say. “How do you manage to eat rocks?”

“I don’t eat them, Sis Fox,” the buzzard say. “They go in my gizzard?”

“Gizzard?” Fox 6 say.

“Yes’m,” the buzzard say. “It’s a lil like a liver, but full of stones. It’s how I can digest the things I find out here. Dried worms, baked broken eggs, snakeskins. And all kind of sickly critturs.”

“Do I have a gizzard?” Fox 6 say.

“Not that I know of.”

Fox 6 limp along, if along can be said about a place with no roads. Or maybe it was all one great dirt road, out here. Paved to oblivion. Hard to say.

Sometimes Fox 6 spy coyotes way up on the tops of boulders and cliffs. She try to call out “Howdy” but the coyotes just turn their backs.

Fox 6, she mighty hungry, and feeling mighty low.

From time to time Fox 6 come across some desolate plant that look to give some shade, but then the sun move and shade narrow out like a feather blown on its side. Fox 6 never reckon she curse the sun like that. Never reckon she curse the daylight.

A little later Fox 6 run across Mr. Buzzard one more time, up in his high, dead tree. She wonder why he followed her, but he weren’t following her, not at all.

“What you doing up there, Mr. Buzzard?” Fox 6 say. “Have you returned to bring me something to eat?”

“I’ve not brought you anything, Sis Fox. I’m only waiting. It is you who have returned.”

“What you waiting on, Mr. Buzzard? Did you know I’m the most patient of all critturs? I proved it today, ask Brother Bear.”

“I have a hard time believing that, Sis Fox. And what I’m waiting on is you.”

Now Fox 6 see more buzzards wheeling in the sky, and she understand.

Fox 6 try to remember the last time she ate. She was so hungry. Then she reckon it was Brother Rabbit. She had eaten Brother Rabbit right up. But it seem more and more like he the one eaten her: Here she was, driven into a trap, all her resources used up, near swallowed by what she done.

Fox 6 remembered Brother Rabbit’s last words. “We were made for each other.” She wondered about that. How one crittur might eat another, and be eaten up by that very same. It seem a little like Sis Snake, swallowing her tail. Or maybe it was more like the circles she wandered in the desert, that brought her back across Mr. Buzzard. Round and round.

She wondered how all that were possible. It seemed like something else were needed, to make it all so. Where was that something else?

Fox 6 believed in life, in forgiveness, in transformation.


“Then what happened, Uncle Remus?”

“Now honey, that’s all for tonight,” Uncle Remus said.

“But what about the fox?”

Uncle Remus said, “You see that moon over yonder in the Mill Pond? All bright and crooked like a snapping trout’s mouth? Well if that moon get any higher it’s like to get up over that willow tree. And if it sees any chilluns about, it might just snap its mouth down on you! Like that fox done Brother Rabbit.”

Uncle Remus got up out of his rocker then, and shuffled the little boy and little girl off the porch, and up the creaky staircase off to bedtime. When he was done Uncle Remus came back to his porch and set up his pipe in his mouth. He stoked the pipe and drew the flame down into the stem. And then Uncle Remus watched the smoke curl upward, spiraling toward the moon.

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