The Copper Fox grew just like normal children, and may even be counted as being a child, but never could they say that she was normal. Whilst normal children breathed in normal air she would breathe in the cold, black dust that lay on the street floor with upmost pleasure and yet never did she find that the air was unclean. To her the fresh air was a poisonous substance that should never touch the lungs of an average human being; and if any other Street Crawler dared to enter this strange other world then she would drag them back into their sanity without a second thought.
Plain Jane feared this other world; for that’s what it was, a new world with new creatures and a new landscape. A place even she didn’t dare to capture. To her the black alleys were the safest place to stand and eat, but even in the streets she didn’t dare to sleep heavily for fear that they would disappear whilst she was gone.
She saw herself as the protector of her home, the protector of her tenants, and the protector of their souls. Her tenants didn’t agree. They feared her more than anything else on the other side and they would do anything to escape her reach. Just when you thought you were close to reaching a normal care-free life, just when you reached your hand out to a nice semi-detached family house, her claw would fall onto your shoulder and pull you back in.
Everything around the Crawlers was the enemy and when you struggled to trust anyone, your life was bound to be something of a horror.
Many would argue that horrors in films or ancient old stories of monsters and demons were what created fear; the idea of winged creatures attacking from far above sends chills up spines; faces appearing through the darkness and the dank intimidates the mind and entices dark visions into imaginations. The Ordinaries feared these fictional monsters much more than they feared any man-eating reality hidden inside the deepest depths of the wild.
And yet the Street Crawlers knew the truth of what this fear really was. The Copper Fox wasn’t feared for being a monster; she wasn’t feared for sucking the blood from innocent victims; every Crawler knew that the Fox couldn’t harm them in a way that a Fairy Tale monster could, but she still remained an entity to run and hide from.
And why? Because you never knew what she would do next or where she was now. You could never know when she would walk up to you and demand payment. You could never know what she would do to you if you said no to her orders. Every person who could tell you the answer had never been seen again.
Yet though she remained a mystery rumours circulated of the sheer viciousness of her heart. The Fox didn’t feed on blood; she fed on life and the timidity that she garnered from the stories. Humans were so easy to scare. It wasn’t hard for her to collect her treat.
Arnold Barnett hadn’t been on the streets long before he was roughly pulled behind a large wooden crate. He looked up into the face of a tall, hairy ape-like man who held a finger to his lips and kept a hold upon his shoulder. The man, over six-feet tall, shivered in the cold of the night and kept his eyes closed in prayer and his breath slow so as not to be heard.
Arnold stared around him, dazed; he didn’t dare pull away from the large man’s grasp. He was sure he couldn’t if he tried. A shadow rounded the corner and the man’s grip grew tighter, crushing his thumb and finger into the sides of Arnold’s neck. Arnold wriggled around, trying to call out to his holder but couldn’t and they both fell silent. A rat’s beady black eyes glinted beside Arnold, backing away from his hand as he reached out to balance himself on the floor. Arnold didn’t notice that the rat was there, even though he had been conditioned in his normal life to fear the dirt-ridden creatures.
A small light shone upon the walls and a whistle sounded from nearby. The man beside Arnold shook himself and let out his held breath with a flourish. It was safe.
He stood up and walked nonchalantly past the young man beside him as if nothing had happened, as if Arnold wasn’t even there.
Another man moved forward into the opening, holding a large fire lamp high above his head. Arnold realised, worriedly, that a large gathering of sub-humans were appearing from around the alleys, many twice his size and possibly strength. Any of these men could beat him to the floor with just one blow, taking his life in the process; and surely these Street Crawlers wouldn’t hesitate to be rid of him if he stepped out of line? The stories he’d heard of them had made them out to be selfish, hard-hearted barely-humans and their appearance struck him as proving this personality type to be true.
He heard muttering amongst them and they nodded to one another. The man holding the lamp turned to look in Arnold’s direction and noticed his eyes peering over the top of the large crate. He whispered something into the ear of the ape-man and moved over to the wall. Arnold ducked down further as he came close.
“There’s no need to be afraid. There’s no danger around at the moment.” The man spoke with a softness in his voice, which was in complete contrast to his harsh appearance. In the light Arnold could see the man more clearly. The man’s hands were brushing against the brickwork, rubbed raw and red from his many years wandering over the streets; and his eyes, a deep lucid green, were cradled by black hammocks.
“Wh—What—What were you hiding from?” Arnold asked. His knees shook as his imagination ran every haunting image of his Ghost-Story-Filled Ordinary childhood, trying to conjure up anything that could possibly scare this crowd of giants. He couldn’t stand up.
It was another one of the men that answered. “The Fox has been seen in the area,” he said. “But they must have passed by without stopping. They do that sometimes.”
“They do that all the time,” the first man Arnold had met grumbled. “I’m fed up with it.”
“We all are,” the man closest to Arnold said. He reached out his red paw to Arnold and Arnold cautiously took it, not feeling like he had any other choice. At the minute they seemed to be in a good mood—at least towards him. He wanted to keep it that way.
The man noticed how nervous Arnold was as he got up onto his feet, legs quivering under his tissue-thin trousers and he patted him softly on the back. “You’re a newbie, aren’t you?” he said. “You don’t need to fear this crew. We’ll help you, I promise.”
“You’ll help me get out of here?” Arnold asked.
The men all shook their heads, the majority of them grimacing.
“Nobody leaves the streets, Newbie,” the ape-man said. “I’m sorry about how rough I was with you before. I didn’t realise you were a new one. We’ve lost more than we’ve gained recently.”
“What do you mean?” Arnold said, rubbing the dust off his jacket. He’d only bought it a couple of weeks ago and it had been expensive. He didn’t like the fact that it already had holes in it from yesterday night’s camp-out under a building site near to the streets.
“Ah, pay no attention to Hard Paws,” the red-handed man said. “He just means that we’ve had a few things happening recently—a lot of them Fox and Beast related.”
“What?” Arnold didn’t know what either of those things meant, but he knew they couldn’t be good. The Street Crawlers had been the beasts in his stories growing up. He imagined that anything the Crawlers called a Beast would be even worse—if that was possible.
“You’ll learn,” Hard Paws said, rubbing his arm. He was looking at the cracks in the floor miserably. “You give up a lot when you get here. Have you got any family?”
Arnold shook his head. “I was an only child. My parents died.”
“Any partner? Wife? Husband?” Red-Hand asked.
“So I guess that means you don’t have any kids then?” Hard Paws looked at him expectantly.
Arnold felt bad that he had to shake his head.
Hard Paws sighed and looked down at the cracks again. “You’re a lucky one then.”
“Lucky? I’m stuck on the Streets, aren’t I? How am I lucky?” Arnold said, his voice raised as much as he dared.
Red-Hand threw his hand over Arnold’s mouth, holding a finger to his own lips. “Don’t talk like that. We don’t know for sure that the Fox has gone.” He let go and his arms dropped to his sides, limply. “And the streets aren’t that bad a place to be. I can think of worse.”
Arnold followed his eyes as he looked upwards but he couldn’t see anything there.
Red-Hand clearly didn’t either because he quickly looked back to his crew again. “We should move on before they get back here.”
The crew nodded; all except Hard Paws who wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone anymore. His eyes were glazed, images of memories seeming to haunt him and trap him inside his own mind. Arnold shuddered, praying that he didn’t turn out the same way.
The Crawlers started to walk back into the darkness and Arnold watched them go, sadly. He didn’t know what he should do. He didn’t trust the walls or the boxes or the stones or the cracks. It was like he had walked towards the gates to Hell and he didn’t know how to claw his way back up to the clouds. He missed being an Ordinary person. Everything was so much simpler then. He couldn’t seem to find an answer in all of the stories he’d been told growing up. You couldn’t exactly just cast a spell or find a fairy to help you out. Arnold wished he had a fairy right now.
One of the crew stopped before disappearing. Arnold had thought it was a man because of their spiky hair, but honestly they could have been anything. They were covered in so much dirt that any amount of stylish clothing they may have once worn was barely recognizable. In actual truth she was a woman that the rest of her crew called Pegasus. Her Ordinary name had been Lilith.
“Are you coming, Newbie?” she asked, kindly.
“You want me to come with you? But I thought Street Crawlers…”
“They look out for each other. They always do. You need them, trust me.” She looked Arnold up and down. His legs and arms were skinny and underused. He kept brushing the dust off his fancy jacket. She sighed. She’d seen his type plenty of times before. Heck, once upon a time she’d been his type. “You don’t want to have to face the Fox,” she said. “And despite what the others say I know they’re not far away.”
Arnold gulped. The howl he’d heard last night when he’d been chucked out into the streets played in his mind. He hoped to god that that wasn’t the Fox everybody was so afraid of. It had frightened him enough just to hear it. “H—How do you know?” he squeaked, checking all around him. He still couldn’t see anything.
Pegasus turned around and started following her crew. “Because they’re always somewhere near.”
There was a howl. Arnold heard it and jumped up in fright. Pegasus had turned her walk into a run. There was no doubt her crew were diving for shelter wherever they were.
Arnold saw the loneliness he was facing if he stayed where he was and couldn’t stand it. He might have been an only child but that didn’t mean he wanted to be an only one forever. He chased after Pegasus, slightly afraid of losing her as she was as flighty and quick as her name suggested.
Plain Jane was counting some money out in another street. She heard the howl and tutted. She knew what that sound meant and she quickly climbed a ladder on a nearby wall, moving as silently and carefully as the Copper Fox should.
Whoever it was, they were going to get help—one way or another. After all, the Howler was her tenant and she had to protect them. She was always diligent with her job. Always.
The Copper Fox Hum
Dum Dum de da.
The Crawlers come out to play.
La la la la.
Thinking it could have been a better day.
‘Cause days feel like years
In the damp, matted street,
Where even the tiniest of whistles
Has lost its tune and its beat.
La la de da, la dum de du.
Lost of the even smallest of tunes.
So one simple beat from a
Street Crawler’s mouth
Makes it seem deranged,
No beats and no count.
Dum la la, de da de da.
The noise of a passing saint wandering far.
The Copper Fox, its whiskers bent low.
A small little child with a small little note.
Lost of its family,
Lost of its kin
But still in the dread
It holds out to sing.
Its friends have all gone.
Its pack leader now dead.
But still it sings.
On this it is fed.
Me oh ma, la ti ti.
Could their possibly be an angel
In those notes and those strings?
The Street Crawlers come to know
The sinister child hidden in the notes,
For although they are dainty, pretty and gay
They speak what they know
And know what they say.
A ray mi far
From this soft copper throat
Sends the Street Crawlers back hiding
Where they too sing the note…
La ti a, brrrrrrrummmm
A beat to the Street Crawlers is a Copper Fox’s hummmmmmm…………