When the barks first crack through the window of sleep, they sound like screams. Short and high pitched, screams of pain or terror. They slip into your dreams and confuse your sleep-befuddled brain, and then suddenly you're sitting upright, swearing, heart thudding, your ears straining for the direction of the sound- who..? But once you're awake, the realization is almost instantaneous. Because with open eyes comes a clarity.
This wasn't the first time I'd heard a fox bark. But never this close. I lean from the warmth of my bed and reach to open my skylight. The cold sweeps in from the street outside, and there it is, standing alert in the middle of the road just outside my house. Tail raised, it’s neck stretched with each high bark. It looks incredible. I cough as the night air tickles my throat, and, momentarily, it looks up at me. I have eye contact with a fox. Then it looks away, I am no threat, and it continues barking. Calling? I don’t know. For a full ten minutes I sit there, my duvet drawn about my shoulders, my skin rough from the cold, and watch it. My sister’s skylight next to mine opens, and we discuss the wild animal below us in whispers. It pays no attention to our speculating.
Suddenly it is joined by a second. Smaller and more fragile looking than the first, this fox wanders from the mouth of our road down to the pavement outside our neighbours house, and lies down. The first fox stops it’s barking. Walks up to a couple of meters away from it, lies down. They whine at each other, quietly, hardly noticeable. Then the first fox gets up, moves a meter closer, and lies down again. He repeats this til they are close, and both hidden behind the neighbour’s car. Ten seconds later, the second fox emerges and goes to sit in the middle of the road outside our house. The first fox departs. And the second restarts the barking.
I sit, shivering slightly, watching this strange event. My sister’s skylight closes, but I sit still and silent until, without due warning, the fox ups and leaves. A swish of the tail as she turns a quick circle, and then pads off down the road. I close my skylight with a clunk, and snuggle back down into the duvet, curling up small to try and make the most of the limited area of warmth. That night my dreams are followed by a small red fox. Tail raised high.