Paper Thin Fox Dream

Several months ago I had a vivid dream which has stayed with me. These are the details.

I am on the grounds of an English manor in the 1920s. The house looks like Winston Churchill’s Chartwell except with even more ivy spidering into the cracks and crevices between the red bricks. The windows are rectangles blanketed on the outside by rust scarred prison bars and on the inside by water stained curtains. The stains form long, ghoulish faces on the curtains; so when the wind picks up, and the curtains flap, there looks like the face of an old, demented man trying to break through the bars. The dark columns on each side of the front door call to mind diseased teeth jutting up from the moss that passes for ground around here. The trees partially covering the brick facade are tall, spindly, bereft of even the memory of leaves. They crackle in the wind like the dry bones in the Book of Ezekiel. Occasionally, the wind is strong enough to kick up the fog that hovers over the moss. When that happens, the fog wraps around the columns, or the chimney on top, like emaciated arms clutching at whatever passes for food. The fog arms are vicious for a moment; but then that wind passes, and the fog settles back down, defeated, into the earth. A road snakes out like a loosed umbilical cord from the house to the rolling, moss covered hills beyond. This road is the only indication that the house is connected, however tenuously, to some kind of civic order. Otherwise, apart from the road, and the light just turned on inside the kitchen, the house could be dead already; a slowly decomposing corpse in a countryside rooted to the past.

It is another dreary, overcast dusk. I can feel the first hints of moonlit gloom settling on everything like a wet blanket. I rub my cold hands together and turn toward a side door that leads directly into the kitchen. The door is swinging on rusted hinges. I am careful when pushing it aside lest it falls off the hinges completely. The kitchen is large, for the manor house could house a small army, if necessary; but it is old, dark, decrepit, like a lung hardened and stained by years of burning charcoals. I pass by a scullery maid who is shoveling more charcoals into the bowels of a growling stove. The girl is young enough to be pretty still, notwithstanding the stoop in her shoulders and the strain burrowing a bit deeper each day into her forehead. She stands at attention as I pass. I smile at her in the reserved, noncommittal manner of a well bred man. The man handed everything has no need to commit to anything, and so the mark of leisure is the man who seems never tied to nor grounded in wherever he happens to be at the moment. I have studied that mark of leisure and am cultivating it in myself as much as I can. I am gifting myself the illusion that this manor is as stately as it once was and my inheritance is as envied as it once would have been. Leaving the scullery maid to tend to her chores, I find the older, top heavy cook wrapping badger steaks to be stored in the icebox. Though the cook has the horse face of an English countrywoman and the body of a German plow woman, she exercises considerable finesse with her cooking. She takes the time to debone the salty badger meat, to grind the bones into a fine powder, and to mix the powder back into the meat. The result is a badger steak that holds itself together better when it is thawed and buttered for supper. The cook whistles “God, Save the King,” as she takes the wrapped badger steaks, places them in a bucket, and hauls the bucket to the icebox.

I make small talk with the cook, because that is what a man of leisure does. She breaks up her whistling to say, “yes, sir,” now and then. Her responses are perfunctory, like she is not really hearing what I have to say. I cannot blame her, though, for my small talk by definition has no real substance to it. This is more like a charade of a conversation than the real thing. Perhaps, that is for the best, I think. If we were really speaking with each other, then the class distinction would be blurred, and that is not something that I want to risk. I look outside the window and see that it is pitch black. The candlelights hanging from the rafters and the fires inside the stoves are that much more brilliant in contrast to that thick blackness. The kitchen is a kind of womb protecting us from the night, and my thoughts are veering toward warm milk and buttered bread when the womb is shattered by the sound of an approaching automobile. It is so rare to hear a car out this way that I am startled and intrigued. I step closer to the window in order to look for the headlights. Before seeing any lights I hear the screeching of brakes and a crash. I look back into the kitchen. The cook and the scullery maid are looking at me like dumb deers caught in the headlights. As I am the only man in this house, I have no choice but to investigate this. I wave toward the lantern. The scullery maid retrieves it for me. I light the flame, and walk toward the side door that leads to the dark world outside.

Once I am outside I pick up the pace. I grip the lantern with my right hand up near to my face. It is hard to make out the road, since moss has covered over much of it, but I make out the headlights in the fog eventually. They draw me in like a lighthouse does an ocean weary sailor. By the time I get to the scene the headlights are flickering erratically. I lean up against what remains of the hood, and the headlights die. Now, I have only the flame in my lantern to guide me, for the fog is veiling the moonlight. The man behind the wheel is a bloodied corpse. Packages spread everywhere tells me that he was a deliveryman. I shall have to return in the morning to discover which of these packages is mine. The light from my lantern is too weak for me to read the scribble on the wrapping paper. I turn to leave when suddenly I see on the road before the headlights what looks like a paper thin fox. The fox is stained with the blood of the dead driver and the oil of the dead car, and it looks like it was about to pounce away when it was struck. I pull the paper thin fox away from the wreckage, and as I do so I sense that it is still barely alive. I cannot imagine any creature as flat and as hard as cardboard can be alive, but it is. I drag it back with my left hand, while holding the lantern up with my right hand. The blood and the oil leave a trail in the moss, as I haul this living cardboard through the dense fog back to the kitchen.

The cook and the scullery maid scream and step back, when I step into the kitchen with the breathing cardboard fox. I put the fox up on the counter and retrieve a badger steak from the icebox. I unwrap the meat and hold it near where I think the creature’s mouth would be. For a long time, nothing happens, and I fear that the fox has died. Then, much to my surprise, the cardboard opens up into a little mouth where the fox’s mouth would be and takes a bite. I hold the cardboard close to the meat, while the mouth takes a bite after another. I wave over the cook and order her to retrieve more steaks from the icebox at once. Together, we feed the cardboard fox until it starts to flesh out. When the fox has enough three-dimensional flesh and strength to stand on its own four legs, we take it off of the table so that it can eat the badger steaks from the floor.

Before sunrise, the fox is fully fed. I order the scullery maid to walk the fox to a basin and to wash away the blood and the oil. The fox is docile the whole time. It is smart enough to know that we three have saved it from certain death. The fox stays with us and in time becomes a trusted pet. Rather than being hunted, the fox walks the perimeter of the old manor daily hunting for anything or anyone that may be a threat to us. I never go back to the wreckage to see what package may have been intended for me. In my mind, this fox is the gift from that night. With his protection we can settle into our ageless pleasantries.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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