I am well into my second book, tentatively titled, The Black Fox of Boltonshire which I hope to see published early next year. The story takes place in the English countryside where horses and fox hunting are a way of life especially among the well to do. The book will explore what it means to be different and how an unlikely friendship between a fourteen year old girl diagnosed with an intellectual disability, a Roma (Gypsy) widow, and a black fox unlocks something quite magical.
Here is a taste which I hope you will enjoy.
Arabella opened her eyes with a start when she realized what she thought was the distant rumble of thunder was in fact, something quite different. Something she had never heard before. She squinted her eyes concentrating on interpreting its meaning even as it continued to grow louder. Frightened, she didn’t dare peek outside as she promised her father she would remain deep inside the den where he told her it was safe. But, this was not safe she felt sure as the ground began to quake shaking loose clods of dirt that dropped on her from the roof of the den.
“What is that?” she called out to no one as yet another strange and terrifying noise like that of a crying animal could be heard above all the rumbling.
Then there was yelping and barking. Perhaps a coyote? No. It was a hound. Many hounds! Too many for her to imagine. She cocked her head toward the sound. It was clear they were coming closer. Then she heard the furless ones called humans shouting at one another outside the den. She knew it wasn’t safe. She panted, her breathing shallow and quick, eyes scanning the den from one end to the other instinctively looking for a safer place to which she could retreat. The barking and yelping grew more frenzied, the thunderous noise roared in her ears and shook the ground as if the entire forest were collapsing all around her den. She crawled deeper into the darkened den than she had ever gone before.
“Who is that? She called frantically into the darkness. With the sounds from outside growing closer, she had no choice but to move still further into the darkened den. Then, there it was again; an urgent voice from the darkened tunnel calling her name.
“Arabella!” Now louder, “Arabella! Follow me!” From the darkness of the tunnel there emerged the figure of a somewhat pear-shaped Badger.
“Eh, Benton, Arabella. My name is Benton. Now, please…. Eh…Just do as I say and…eh… follow me!” Arabella had learned of the reclusive and portly Badger called Benton from her parents but had never seen him before. They said he lived close by and had a decent, if cautious relationship with him. He cleaned up the scraps left in the den after the family ate.
“Now! Arabella! I need you to follow me NOW!” Benton raised his voice impatiently.
“I can’t!” she cried above the roaring chaos above. “I told my father I would stay.”
“Your father…” he yelled. Then hesitating he leaned in close to her, his mouth twisted into a painful grimace. “Your father is not coming home.” He looked at her sympathetically not entirely sure she grasped the meaning of what he just told her.
“I don’t understand.” She knew his look signaled something was very wrong but she was not able to make sense of it with the chaos outside the den.
“Arabella, I am doing for your father what he asked me to do. Now please, please, PLEASE! Follow me!”
Benton turned and lumbered deeper into the tunnel. Again, the haunting sound of the horn and the barking and yelping and thunderous noise of a thousand hooves pounding the earth above the den began to recede somewhat. Huffing and puffing, she kept her eyes on Benton’s ample bottom as it heaved one way then the other as he lumbered forward. “Are you with me, Arabella?” Benton called over his shoulder as he ran.
“I’m here.” She answered. “What is all that noise?”
“It’s the Foxhunt, I’m afraid.” He shouted. “The horn alerts all the dogs that they are on to a fox. I don’t think it’s you. I’ll explain it all. Just stay with me.” He hollered. And then suddenly he came to a halt and rose up on his hind legs and seemed to be carefully pushing his head against various places along the roof of the den.
“I think it’s right about here.” He mumbled as Arabella watched.
Suddenly, the hounds sounded like they were on top of them. They had discovered the entry to the den and were yelping and barking wildly into the entrance. Then the horn blew again.
“Here we go! Cried Benton and punched his head through the roof dropping tufts of grass and and soil into the den onto Arabella. A shaft of daylight shone now inside the den where Arabella waited.
“Oh! What is this? I never knew this was here.”
“I know. I live at this end of the den. We…your parents and I… had an arrangement. I helped keep your place clean and we shared the den. It worked. It’s an escape exit for just this sort of thing.”
“You lived here?” she asked incredulously.
“Um…well, yes I did.” Again feeling clumsy with his response. Then added curtly, “But that is a matter of no consequence now as I shall explain, dear girl. Now, out we go.” They both climbed from the den out onto a grassy patch that sat much further inside the tree line. Some ways away Arabella saw the horses and their riders milling about close to the entrance to the den but their sense of urgency seemed diminished. Several of the red jackets yelled something to the dogs and they all turned and began chasing after the horses and red jackets.
“They’re leaving?” Arabella asked Benton.
Yes, he answered. They are not interested in hunting down a badger which is I am sure whose den they thought it was.” Arabella looked out beyond the trees, at the familiar rolling hills and pastures.
“What’s happening, Benton? I don’t understand what’s going on.” Arabella looked at Benton pleading “Please, Benton tell me.”
Benton took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He was an odd looking creature, Arabella thought as she appraised him in the light. He was indeed quite portly, as her parents had claimed. His fur consisted of a mix of tans, browns and black with solid black stockings on all four legs. Benton’s face was quite unique. His head, unlike the rest of his body was mostly white with a good sized snout. But there were two very striking black stripes that ran on each side of his snout from its tip right across his eyes and up to his ears which stood like tiny half-moons on top of his head. The stripes along his head suggested to Arabella that he might be some sort of skunk, but she knew better than to ask such a question.
“Sit down, Arabella. What I have to tell you will be difficult for you to hear. Your father and, I believe, your mother too are both…eh… well…gone…victims of the foxhunt. The hounds, you know…you heard them barking and yelping… and the furless ones called humans in their red jackets and black hats on horses… giant beasts those horses… and just like the dogs will chase a fox until they can run no more and find no place to hide. It’s merciless, Arabella. Oh dear! I’m… I’m so sorry.” He agonized over how he might offer greater comfort but didn’t know what to do or what he could possibly say that would help.