A Walk in the Sun by David Macfie
The mother came to the entrance of her home and looked out at the day. Although it was still early, the sun was shining, birds were singing and bees were lazily buzzing from flower to delectable flower. The meadow was at its best, today. The greens were greener, the flower colors were almost artificially glowing and the air smelt sweet. The mother made a decision. On such a day she must bring her children out to play in the aromatic grass. She popped back inside and, shortly afterwards she led out her five small children. They looked apprehensively at the wide open spaces before them. They’d only just started to walk and scamper and run so the outside was new to them. The mother looked on with pride and encouraged the youngsters to go on into this adventure. She knew it was a risk, taking them while they were still so young, but she felt it would be alright as long as she kept them together. After all, their father was not far away and would come at a run if she called to him. And she was very careful and kept an eye on them all the time. She also kept scanning the area around where the tiny-tots were playing, particularly over towards the woods on the left. She felt sure that anything dangerous would come from that direction.
The kids were really enjoying the wide open space now that they had become used to the idea of being here in the first place. And they were behaving beautifully, staying close to each other and playing nicely. Watching them made her feel warm inside. She was so proud of her babies. Now they started playing rumble-tumble, one of their favorite games. The grass was so soft that they couldn’t hurt themselves and they loved rolling over and over. Even the pushing was being done gently. She relaxed and looked back at the woods and then she scanned the meadow one more time. She caught sight of the children’s father far off to the right, but he would still hear her if she called. Her eyes were drawn back to the frolicking youngsters. They were still all together and seemed totally immersed in their game.
She relaxed a little and sat on the grass, still alert and watchful but feeling that the risk of bringing them had been worth it. The morning gently passed and nothing went wrong. The children rested for a while then started to play again. Mother kept up her constant scanning and studying of the woods but there was no sign of anything that she needed to be concerned about. She caught sight of the father several more times so he wasn’t going much further away than when she had first seen him. She relaxed still further. She began to feel drowsy and sprang to her feet, angrily, berating herself for this unpardonable mistake. To fully rouse her body she rapidly walked round and round the play-area until she was fully alert again.
The father came by and joined in the play for a while. He rolled in the grass allowing the kids to climb all over him. He played chase and catch and rumble-tumble and hide and seek, then he went off about his own business again. The mother resumed her careful surveillance of the play-area, the surrounds and the woods. She thought she saw something move in the darkness under the trees, but the moment was fleeting and she saw nothing more. She put it down to an overactive imagination and scanned again. Still the area was clear and she relaxed once more.
The next conscious thought she had was that something was tugging at her ear. She woke up slowly then it all rushed back. Her littlest baby was tugging her ear and the look of abject terror on his face was like a cold shower. She jumped up and searched for the others. Immediately, she saw three but the biggest boy wasn’t in sight. She screamed for the father and rushed to the three, dragging the fourth gently after her. She calmed them a bit and screamed again. She didn’t see the father but heard his call from far away. She gathered the babies together and started to search to the right. The littlest baby tugged her leg and gestured towards the woods. The others didn’t know anything about the missing child so she assumed the smallest was the only one that had seen something. She changed her search and began to quarter the ground between the play-area and the woods. She was terrified and her heart fluttered, like a panicked bird, in her chest. Chastened by the disappearance, the four followed right at her heels as she moved back and forth through the grass. She tried not to get flustered and searched extremely carefully as she moved ever closer to the woods. She saw no signs of her boy’s passing, but he was so small, she didn’t really expect to. She called out again and again but there was no answer. She searched and searched and still moved closer and closer to the edge of the woods.
She was beginning to get a very bad feeling and called the father again. He answered but was still some distance away. She knew that, for now, she was on her own. She continued her painstaking examination of every inch of the meadow. Her progress was slow but sure – she definitely hadn’t missed him in the area she’d already covered. She kept at it, but now she stopped, from time to time, to scrutinize the edge of the woods. With a sinking feeling in her stomach she felt sure he was in the trees somewhere. Backwards and forwards she went, closer and closer she got, until the grass started to get shorter from the shade cast by the trees at certain times of the day. For the umpteenth time she stopped and scanned the woods. At first she saw nothing. And then there was the slightest movement almost directly in front of where she stood. She looked again and saw nothing. But this time, she was sure she hadn’t been mistaken and looked more carefully. Gradually she began to make out a hunched shape, just at the edge of a hummock that was shaded by the trees. The hunched shape was a similar contour and shade as the hummock so she wondered if the one was just a continuation of the other. She looked again … and again. She was just about to carry on, when the hummock definitely moved.
Her instincts shouted loudly at her. Her boy was there, she was sure of it. She told the four to hide as well as they could in the grass, and stay right where they were She’d come back for them soon. They dropped down onto the ground and made themselves as flat as they could. Satisfied, the mother moved more directly towards the hummock. She tried as well as she could to stay in cover, but it was impossible to stay completely invisible. She moved quicker and quicker and finally ran out of the grass and onto a sandy area just before the woods began. The hunched shape became clearer and she could see a smaller hump in front of it. Details were indistinct but she felt certain the smaller shape was her boy. She was running silently and getting closer and closer. Now she could see her boy clearly and her heart all but stopped. He was covered in blood and quite clearly dead. She screamed in anguish and rushed at her boy’s attacker. The hummock raised a head that had a bloody face. The attacker had been eating her child.
Something gave inside her and, with another scream, she closed in and attacked whoever or whatever had killed her baby. She came in with everything she had – feet, head, knees, elbows –everything. The attacker was initially taken by surprise and was pummeled by the enraged mother. But gradually he recovered and started to inflict damage. He also used everything but his teeth were the worst. He scratched and bit and tried to knock the mother onto the ground so that he could overpower her. She fought like one possessed and gave the attacker a run for his money. He was bleeding now as well as she was. But she was getting tired and he seemed as strong as ever. He bit her ear and tore a piece of it off with his teeth. He bit her thigh and left her limping. He was starting to wear her down, but she was determined and rallied. They were both roughly the same size and she was perhaps a bit heavier. She tried to use this slight advantage against him and, for a while, it seemed to be working. But he was experienced in the fight game and was just getting his breath back. Soon, he was gaining the upper-hand again. She realized that she would lose this fight and tried to disengage, but she had left it too late and couldn’t break free. Just as she thought she was going to die, the father arrived and attacked fiercely. Instantly, everything changed. She managed to crawl out of the way, then she turned back to watch. Clearly, the fight with her had taken a lot out of the attacker, because her mate was giving him a thrashing. She had seen the father fighting before, when they were still courting, and he was particularly strong with his feet. These same feet were doing plenty of damage to the attacker, who was obviously not comfortable at all. He did get in a few attacks of his own, but the damage inflicted was minimal. Her mate seemed to be in perpetual motion and the attacker was now tiring fast. Her mate pressed his attack, more and more fiercely, kicking and pushing and biting.
Seeing that her mate was going to win, the mother lost interest in the fight and moved to her boy. He was dead and half eaten. She collapsed beside his poor, little, broken body and nudged at it as if to wake her baby, but he was still and cold. She had no time for grief at this moment. She had four other children to worry about. Limping on her bad leg, she moved as quickly as she could to where she’d left them. She collected them and herded them back towards the fight that was just about done. They were in time to see the fox turn tail and run and the father rabbit celebrating his victory.