PROLOGUE

The cold winds from the North blew stronger that evening. Darkness started to enshroud the woods. The white of the snow was stained with crimson all around. The blood was still warm, settling. There had been a moment of vengeance. A battle for survival. A fight for family.

When the Red foxes, after almost five years, had returned back to their neighborhood, they did not only see the new stream of water flowing South from the higher regions of the Arctic into the Arctic Ocean, but also a small family of seven Arctic foxes. It didn’t take the pack of fifteen Red foxes long to tear down the outnumbered seven.

They ripped them apart and hungrily devoured their flesh, leaving only their silky white hide now patched with the red of their own blood.

As twilight crept in noiselessly, the pack had disappeared into the woods. Silver moon rays lit up the stream of water overlooking the leftovers from the deep dark woods. The stars began to pop out one by one. The blood was turning black with time. Overhearing the sound of water flow, a low-pitched sounds started to rise from the woods, grief-stricken howls of a 4 months old, the youngest and the 8th member of the family, the victory over 7 sacrifices, Cooper.

***

CURRENT DAY

Katherine stared at the softly blanketing snow through the fogged glass window. Lost in thoughts, she was hardly blinking. Her feet rested on the computer desk, her fingers holding an unlit cigarette for the past hour. Her gaze still on the window, she said, “You know I love you, don’t you, David?”

Sitting in the corner, David was bent over his paper, engrossed in whatever he was doing.

“I know you do,” she assured herself.

Katherine broke her gaze from the window and now turned to look at David, letting an uneasy smile grasp her face. She took the heat controller and tapped the heat up a few degrees.

“You know we’re gonna die here, don’t you, David?” she almost whispered into the deathly calm atmosphere.

“It’s already warm in here. Why do you keep doing that, Katy?” David remarked, still engrossed in his work.

“It’s not real, David. The warmth here is not real. It’s not going to last long.”

*

Animals International, a growing American TV channel were planning to air a series about the life of animals in the Arctic region. With this innovative idea in mind, they had set up a small station in the Northern region of Alaska with a crew of six members. The station was located in one of the remotest areas of Alaska. To reach the station, one had to cross a fifteen-mile wide water body dotted with icebergs. It took a lot of time for them to find the safest place and set camp in the Arctic. But, lucky for the channel, the investors were enthusiastic. They were well-equipped, well-supplied and had enough rations and provision to last almost half a year. The team was finally packed off to the North Pole.

Four of the crew members were assigned to scout around and bring home footage and still-clicks from the Arctic wild, while the other two, David and Katherine stayed back at the station to monitor and maintain communication with headquarters.

Two and a half months had passed and the series was almost ready to be launched. Unfortunately, though, the crew had started to give up. The cold was setting a dark impact on their selves and they were more than a little homesick. Their initial enthusiasm started fading. The temperature was falling each day and the crew couldn’t go any farther than they had already gone. On the 85th day, the temperature plunged down to an insane -45°C and the four camera crew made a drastic decision to quit! They left the Arctic for good, breaking their contract for nothing.

“They will obviously replace us, but you guys take care of yourselves. This is no place for a human being. Not at least for this long.”

David and Kate didn’t really understand the depth of it then. They needed the money. But, it didn’t take long for them to realize what was important than money. On the very same day the crew had left, late at night, the station received a warning from the headquarters. It was not just about the snow stuck inside their hub this time, but an ice storm.

*

It had been a month since the ice storm, which completely crashed their communication network and they hadn’t heard anything from anyone from the mainland. They just kept waiting for someone to come.

Kate finally got up to her feet and walked towards David to see what he had been doing all along.

“Never knew you were into drawing, Dave. Your dogs from home?”

“You don’t know?” David almost gave a wide grin but, “Wait. What? Do they look like dogs to you, Katy?!” Apparently, David was not your average sketch artist. “These little precious creatures are Snow foxes.”

“Oh. You mean these dogs are snow foxes?” Katherine sat beside him and lit her cigarette. “Mm.. interesting.”

David narrowed his eyes and gave her a sideways glance. Katherine couldn’t suppress her laughter anymore.

“Alright. Alright. I’m sorry. Please keep talking,” She was still laughing as David shook his head in disbelief.

“John told me that these are the only animals living near our station. You know, they used to come here every day in the morning. All six of them.”

“Here? I never saw them come say Hi..”

“Maybe try waking up early in the morning sometimes,” David replied mockingly and started to sketch the woods in the background. “Although, they’ve stopped coming since the storm. I just hope they survived it.”

“Snow foxes. Mm..  I’m sure some extra snow would not have hurt them.” Kate said as she took a small puff of her cigarette. “Want some?”

David ignored her offer and tapped on the parchment with the pencil and said, “John said that they live here.”

Katherine studied his drawing for almost half a minute and said, “Oh. This place. Right.” She had no idea what it was.

“The woods, Katy. The woods. God! How am I going to survive you?”

“Don’t worry, Dave. If they don’t come for us, with all the food and power we have here, we’ll hardly last 5 more months and we’ll either freeze to death or die of hunger. Or maybe both.”

***

FOUR MONTHS AGO

The pack of 7 Arctic foxes is in search of a safe place. The rising heat of the South left them no choice but to move up North. With the prospective addition of new family members to the pack, what with one of the vixens being pregnant, the pack had been moving slow. They had been moving for almost a fortnight without any trouble so far. But, today had been different. The expecting mother’s health was dwindling. As darkness crept in, she was tired to the bone, exhausted beyond movement and couldn’t keep another paw forward. They had to halt in the woods on the bank of a gushing cold stream. While a few from the pack pranced about making sure there were no predators around, the rest went hunting for the food.

In no time, the cloudless sky turned a deep purple and a full moon rose. The pack felt grateful for the light. They knew tonight was the night.

Post midnight, while the rest of the pack watched, the female fox got to her feet making her way towards the water stream.

Something didn’t feel right. She lapped in the cold water and came back to her spot. As soon as she made it back, the rest of the foxes started to howl, one after the other. Their howls had something to tell. It was a moment of happiness. A moment of emotion. The vixen’s howl was the loudest – hers was a howl of agony mixed with pride.

A few minutes later, beside her lay three beautiful cubs, the snow blanketing them. With mounting ecstasy, the mother fox lovingly turned her eyes towards her cubs. Their eyes were closed like all newborns’ were. But something didn’t feel right, she had that feeling again. She moved the cubs with her paw. They lay still. And they weren’t breathing. The pain of having given birth to three stillborn’s was unbearable. Her howl that pierced the still air that moment was bloodcurdling. Following her, the howls of anger from the pack brought the dark woods wide awake.

“Guys, do you hear that?” David pressed his forefinger on his temple, concentrating on the howls coming from nearby.

“Yeah. Right. I actually believed them when they said they had built the station in a No-Animal Zone in the Arctic,” Jared said while he adjusted his camera lens for the early morning shoot. “Lucky for us. Don’t have to go long on our very first day.”

The mother fox howled into the night when she saw no movement in her babies. Her howls echoed around through the woods and amplified by the rest of the pack, it was in fact, a terrifying occurrence that night.

Suddenly, the vixen snapped her jaws. She gave a short bark –  a command for silence. One by one, the other foxes dropped their howls and when quiet had finally settled down over the woods they heard a muffled squeal. It was so tiny a squeal, that it had been buried in the pandemonium of the foxes’ howls. The throe at witnessing three stillborn cubs was gone. She was delighted at seeing one cub fighting for breath – struggling to survive. The Arctic sky shimmered over the woods and seemed to wink at the cozy family. Theirs was a pack of Eight now.

***

The pack had decided to stay there for a few weeks until the new baby is ready to walk along North. Days passed in the woods. The little snow fox started growing, nurtured with love.

30 days ago

It had been snowing heavily all day, like never before. The pack moved deeper into the woods and found refuge in an abandoned cave. From the looks of it, it seemed as if it had been occupied by somebody before, somebody of their own kind. The weather changed for the worse that day. Neither the wind nor the snow calmed down. They were both battling furiously in proving their strength.

From the cave, the pack watched the heavy wind make the trees, weighed down with snow in their branches, shudder.

They had to stay sealed in inside the cave for a few days as they couldn’t fight the hailstorm outside.

By morning, a few days later, the snow had almost caved them inside the den that they had to struggle for a while to widen the entrance to step out. Leaving the mother and the little one in the cave, the rest of the pack left to get food from the place they’ve been getting, the station which is half a mile away. But, the station didn’t look like it seemed a few days before. It’s all covered in snow and the guy who used to sit outside with food waiting for them every day in the morning is nowhere to be found. Now, the pack had to move further North for food. Little did they know what’s in the North is not their food, but…

***

CURRENT DAY

Days had passed with lesser food each day. The little one is almost 4 months old now and they thought they are ready to move, but this time the plan was not to move North, but back to the warm climate in the South. That evening, for the first time after the storm, the sky was cleared. The pack had decided to start their journey by moonrise, but it was already too late.

“David, wake up!” Katherine woke David who had fallen asleep with his drawing in his hand. “You don’t wanna miss this. There’s a troop of foxes outside who have come looking for you.” Katherine lead David to the window and showed him a pack of fifteen Red foxes making their way towards the woods.

“No, that’s not them, Kate. These are not our friends.” David sighed and placed a kissed on Katherine’s forehead.

“Our friends?” Katherine’s brow creased into a frown and she laughingly teased, “You mean.. our friends I never handshaked?”

“Looks like the snow is finally stopping. Maybe we can try opening the door and go shake hands- Paws? -with them tomorrow?” David reached for Katherine’s lips.

“Why not now?” Katherine said as she ignored his attempts and looked out through the window. “Look at the sky filled with polar lights. We can try now.”

“We cannot try now, Katherine,” David pulled her into his arms and as he was about to immerse his lips on Katherine’s, he said, “Because I have something else to try tonight.”

As the pack waited outside the cave for the moon to rise, they saw someone of their own kind, but a bit taller and deep brown approaching. They wanted to leave the cave to hide somewhere safer, but the red foxes were already near the cave. The 4 months old was aware that something was wrong and that he has to run along with his people, but the pack didn’t want him running along. They knew they won’t make it. As they saw them come closer, they left the little one in the cave and started running towards the end of the woods where they halted on the first night. The red foxes chased them to the water stream and ripped them apart.

*

Where is everybody?  Lost and left alone Cooper started to wander in the woods. The 4 months old looked at the wild around him, but fear didn’t stop him from moving forward.

The full Moon started shining as bright as it can, as though it wants to help him. The snowfall ceased. Wind stopped. Firs stood still. Snow owls stopped hooting. Quietness filled the woods and let the little ones’ squeals reverberate.

Cooper slowly walked in the way his pack was chased. In the middle of the night, he reached the end. He sniffed around and walked past the blood that almost settled in black and gulped some water from the stream and sat on the bank of it. Staring at the full moon, Cooper let a low sounded howl. A call for his family.

*

The 4 months old woke up from his sleep on the bank of the stream as a new day dawned on him. Cooper felt hungry and he somehow understood that the food won’t be coming to his mouth anymore. He has to find his own. He started walking on the bank across the woods sniffing around. It didn’t take long for the little Cooper to find his first prey, a small fish from the flowing water. He ate half of it and walked with the remaining half between his teeth.

The little one didn’t know that the threat was still there. As he walked for almost half a mile, Cooper sensed something coming from behind, something coming after him and started running without looking back. He kept running, the remaining half of the fish still clenched between his teeth. Series of heavy thuds followed him and in no time Cooper was doomed. He saw what he saw the before night. A Red fox, again. Not just one but five of them, right in front of him.

***

About midday, a sudden knock on the station door startled David and Katherine. It was John along with the rest of the team.

“Holy cow! John? Jared? Juliet? Robert??” David and Katherine were surprised to see them again. “How? What? Why?” They asked series of questions in unison as they came in.

“Long story. AI decided to sue us for breaking the contract and..” Juliet paused for a second as she saw a snow fox behind Katherine and pointed her finger at him saying, “Is he who I think he is?”

“He’s our guest.” Katherine and David answered, again in unison.

“Did he come from the woods?” John asked and realized something almost instantly and said, “Of course, he did. They even named him.”

“What?” David was confused, “You know him? And who exactly named him?”

“Yeah, he was probably a day old when we first saw him. He stars in our very first episode. I saw the voiced version of the episode. They call him Cooper.” Jared said and as he fell on the couch, continued, “What’s he doing here anyway?”

David looked at Katherine and said, “Cooper had lost his family. So, we decided we’re gonna adopt him.”

“We’re sure he’s gonna survive in Forks.” Katherine turned around and smiled at him, “Won’t you, Cooper?”

*****

Written by Mithru

Mithru is a voracious reader, travel blogger. He wishes to bring various kinds of arts, artists and art-enthusiasts together. Mithru believes that one can do anything if they really wish to. He is the founder of ArtoonsInn and working on developing the community.