From the brick church tower in the stone-clad square, Christmas bells rang out to announce the holiday’s arrival. A very delicate flurry of snowflakes dusted the otherwise quiet town.
Down the road was a dormant field where pumpkins grew all summer for fall carving and baking. There, at odds with the peacefulness of the day, a drama was unfolding.
The fox had been hunting in the field all morning to no avail when he picked up on a most delectable scent. Mouse.
He followed carefully. Crouching and slinking through the early morning shadows, without disturbing even a blade of the brown, frosted grass that filled the clearing. He tracked what he hoped would be his first meal in a long wintry while.
The fox sensed movement in his periphery. Pausing to investigate, he picked up on another scent and a most vibrant sight: the blue Steller’s Jay. “That troublemaker!” he thought.
“Always hunting small prey when she could be eating berries–something far sweeter. Why does she insist on taking my mouse? She must be trying to starve me out of my own territory. Fat chance!”
The Steller’s jay had been scouting the small dormant pumpkin field all morning to no avail when she spotted a most delectable sight. Mouse.
She followed carefully. Soaring and swooping in the early morning shadows, without rustling even a single twig on the bare, frosted branches of the trees that lined the clearing. She tracked what she hoped would be her first meal in a long wintry while.
The jay sensed movement down in the grass. Pausing to investigate, she picked up on another, more vibrant sight: the red fox. “That troublemaker!” she thought.
“Always hunting small prey when he could be eating a rabbit–something much bigger. Why does he insist on taking my mouse? He must be trying to starve me out of my own territory. Fat chance!”
The fox and the jay continued their hunt, now a tense contest for a much-needed Christmas morning morsel. Having closed in, with the mouse seemingly unaware of the deadly competition, the two were finally within striking distance.
What they didn’t notice, due to intense focus on the lone mouse, were the two mice that scampered behind them. The mice stifled laughter. “Those fools!”
It just so happened that those mice were on their way to raid the cache of seeds and nuts that the jay had collected all autumn, meant to ensure survival over the long winter.
Suddenly and at lightning speed, the jay and fox attacked the mouse at the very same instant, shouting, “Mine!” Their cries served as a just-in-time warning for the mouse, who ducked into a dense leaf pile.
Just then, out from behind the pile leapt a coyote who’d been laying in wait! His patience had paid off in a golden opportunity.
Fangs flashed and the coyote’s wickedly sharp teeth snared the fox’s brush as he fled. Clumps of reddish brown fur fell to the ground from his mouth, and little crimson-tinged hairs floated in the air among scattered snowflakes.
The fox retreated to his den, finding part of his beautiful tail gone.
The jay retreated to her tree, finding her beautiful stores gone.
At the very same moment, both the fox and jay sighed in despair, “Worst Christmas ever.”
Late in the morning, the farmer’s daughter came out to the field with a bag of seed and a couple of mice that had been caught in the barn. She knew that there were plenty of wild creatures who would appreciate a Christmas feast, and it made her happy to provide just that.
The jay and fox watched longingly as the girl scattered the seeds and left the mice in the field. By now they were both so ravenous that as soon as she left for the farmhouse, each began approaching the gifts. Eyeing each other with untrusting glares, they paused.
“I’ll eat you up if it’s the last thing I do, jay,” warned the fox.
“I’ll scare away your prey forevermore, fox” warned the jay.
Hearty laughter rose up from behind them. It was the old coyote. Caught off guard yet again, the jay and fox froze in place. The coyote was so close, he could tear either of them apart in an instant.
“Thank you for making my life so much easier,” chuckled the coyote. “As it turns out, you’re in luck. It’s Christmas morning, and I’ve had my fill thanks to the mice.”
“You ate all the mice?” The rivals exclaimed, beginning to panic.
“Did you learn nothing this morning?” asked the coyote, rolling his eyes. “The mice and I work together.”
“You partner with the mice?” the fox and jay asked, both shocked.
“Of course,” replied the coyote. “How do you think I’ve lived this long, through so many winters? You two are so busy fighting each other, you’ve become blind to the possibilities of this world.”
“Hmph,” said the fox and jay at once. Both were pensive.
“Merry Christmas, fools. And do learn something from this. If you don’t, it will be your peril and my pleasure.”
With a wry grin, the coyote turned to the forest and was gone. There was a brief, stunned silence.
“I suppose it is Christmas,” mused the fox.
“And we’re both hungry,” added the jay.
Realizing that there was plenty to go around, they both slowly approached the farmgirl’s offerings. Keeping an eye on one another, the fox and jay began devouring their meal.
“I can restore my winter reserves with these seeds,” marveled the jay, beginning to relax a bit.
“I can restore my strength with these mice,” marveled the fox, also starting to feel more at ease.
The jay was struck by the idea that such a strong and stealthy fox could be left so hungry and weak. “Maybe he does need a mouse from time to time,” she thought.
Meanwhile, the fox was struck by the idea that such a clever and swift jay could be left with no stores or hope. “Maybe she does need a mouse from time to time,” he thought.
They finished their feast, nodded civilly, and returned to their homes. It had been months since they felt so content.
At the very same moment, now cozy and satisfied, both the fox and jay smiled.
“Best Christmas ever.”
(Note: Remaining holiday stories can be found here as they are released each day through 12/24, and ever after.)
It’s pretty obvious that when you’re starving it’s impossible to have any empathy for anyone who comes between you and your next meal!
At the end of the day what’s up with the mice?