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Part 1: The Fox
Part 2: The Dog
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Part 1: The Fox
Thebes. The shepherd liked it here. He missed the sea, but the hills were nice too. His family had sent him off in an arranged marriage to get rid of him, so he left Chalkis and came to Thebes to meet his wife.
That was two weeks ago.
Life was good here. No one knew what a rascal he was, his wife was passably pretty, and her dowry was significant. He didn’t even have to work the sheep!
But he liked working the sheep. No, he said, I’m a hard working man. He even managed to say it with a straight face. Truth was, he wanted to have an excuse early on to stay away for long periods of time. He had learnt from an early age, just a wee little boy, that they who stuck around the house were getting chores forced upon them.
Where were you, Podargos?
My dear wife, I was chasing a sheep down the ravine! It had lost its way. Took me hours, you see.
It was the perfect excuse for all his lazing around all day.
I mean, really, the dog did all the work, didn’t it? Get a good dog, and you’re done. Literally. And they call themselves hard-working people, those shepherds!
It was getting late. Podargos looked around, made sure the dog was tending to the flock and he went back to sleep. He puffed his blanket into a nicer pillow and snored loudly.
He woke up to the sound of screams. Sheepish ones, but screams nonetheless. He hurried up and looked around. It was dark already!
And where was the bloody dog? You can’t find good help these days anywhere, can you?
There! There was a puffy little cloud, in the dark, between those trees. He ran towards it. It was a sheep.
But the puffy little cloud was torn apart, bloodied.
Podargos kicked it once to make sure. It was dead.
He looked around. It was a chilly night, that’s why he was carrying the blanket, but not by much. He looked for the rest of the fluffy clouds that went baah. Actually, there were supposed to go baah, a lot. This was too quiet. He had gotten used to sleeping with the sound of the sheep, and now the silence was deafening.
How many were there under his care? Four times his fingers on both hands? Yeah, something like that. They can’t all have run away.
He saw a blur at the edge of his sight. An orange blur. A furry blur? He squinted hard and forced his eyes to see in the dark.
Then he froze. A pair of glimmering, cunning eyes stared right at him. There it was, appearing under the moonlight, an enormous fox, big as three men, focused on him.
Someone yelled. He turned around, and saw an old man. It was the grumpy one who lived close to his house. He was waving his walking stick around.
Podargos found the way to save his own life. He just had to outrun the old man. He darted off to an angle that would bring the fox’s attention to the old git.
For a moment, the plan seemed to work. But the fox was too fast. She was onto him before he could even think. He felt paws and nails digging into his leg and hot, wet breath.
Then he was a beast. How had that happened?
He knew he what he was. A moment ago he was human, then the old git finished chanting and now Podargos was a beast. But what kind of beast? He felt enormous. Heavy. He had some sort of armor on him, his skin was practically covered in it. The fox clawed at his armor and sneezed as if angered. She turned him over in his back and lunged at his exposed belly. His skin was harder than a human’s, he knew, but much softer than his armoured back. The fox was clever. Too clever. And now she would eat him, just like his sheep.
People appeared and threw javelins, the young and strong ones, and shot stones with their slings, the older and weaker ones. It seemed the old man had given them the time they needed to gather and attack all together. The giant fox coiled away as the projectiles struck her, and she zig-zagged away into the night.
Podargos turned around, standing on his feet. All four of them. He still had his mind, but he also had the beast’s instincts. He knew where to find food, which leaves he preferred, where to burrow if it got too cold. But what sort of exotic animal was he? Something from Libya, perhaps.
The old man walked close to him and held Podargos’ snout. He cleared his throat, then spat in his face. Eww! What was the old man thinking? Podargos could trample the old bag of bones just by shrugging in this beastly form.
But then he felt himself shrinking, his skin becoming softer. He lay down on the ground, as a human, beast no more, exposed and weak and frail.
The villagers gasped in amazement.
Podargos’ wife arrived, running on the hills, her breath heavy. She fell on the old man’s feet and kissed them, thanking him for saving her newlywed husband.
Then she came on top of Podargos and slapped him again and again, scolding him for losing their entire flock of sheep.
Two weeks in and she had gotten the whiff of her loser of a husband.