Once upon a time, in the faraway land of Ruan, there lived a young zombie fox named Aefop. Aefop was not like the other young zombie foxes. Whereas the rest of his skulk were rotted, mangy, and full of flies—such was the typical fashion among zombie creatures big and small—Aefop was sleek, clean and kept his rusty red coat of fur as such. In fact, the only way one could tell he was a zombie fox at all, was by the gangrene green of his eyes, his partly chewed on left ear, and his appetite for living flesh. Every morning and every night, Aefop would go to the edge of the woods in search of an acorn, finger bone, or some other makeshift mane grooming device so that he might brush out all the burs, bugs, and bits that liked to stick to him. The other young zombie foxes of the skulk liked to tease and chase Aefop around while chanting:
“Aefop, Aefop, we’ll gobble you up! You look well! You look alive! So, first we’ll eat your pretty eyes!”
“Aefop, Aefop, your fur is clean! Where’s the rot? Where’s the flies? Where’s the guts? Are you alive? Let’s eat him up, before he dies!”
Chase him as they may, the other young zombie foxes could never catch up to Aefop because his fur was free from the extra weight of flies, burs, and bits. However, one day the skulk got lucky and was able to corner Aefop in a briar. Their leader—the most mangled and rotted of them all—stepped forward and said, “Aefop, since you are so different and refuse to change in order to suit us, then we hereby banish you to the Wicked Woods of Woodrow. You look too alive to be dead and we cannot have such a differing look running about in this skulk.”
“But,” Aefop protested, “I am the same as you! I am a zombie fox that craves living flesh and fresh brains!”
“But you do not look like a zombie fox that craves living flesh and fresh brains,” replied the mangy leader.
“So?” Aefop shrugged.
“So?!” the leader howled. “SO?! You think being a zombie fox is all about eating fresh brains and craving live flesh? Well, young Aefop, you are quite mistaken. It is also about looking scary and mean and all manner of other things that you obviously are not aware of.”
“I can look scary and mean,” Aefop offered.
“No, you can’t,” the leader said flatly. “Now, be gone! You are no longer welcome in this skulk of zombie foxes!”
With that, a mucus filled tear bubbled up in one of Aefop’s gangrene green eyes as he sulked away from the rest of the skulk and toward the Wicked Woods of Woodrow. Aefop arrived at the Wicked Woods of Woodrow by nightfall and crept into that dangerous place with the utmost stealth. It was told that there were creatures in those woods who would like nothing more than to add another skull to their collection of thousands that they were known to sleep on at night; creatures that did not crave flesh or fresh brains but only death. Aefop darted from tree to tree, keeping a keen nose and a sharp eye on his surroundings as he did so. After much darting and sneaking about, Aefop found a suitable hole under a rotund poplar tree and made a bed for the night, but not before finding a suitable makeshift grooming device to comb out his fur. This time, he found a fishbone which worked magnificently. True though it was that live foxes were nocturnal creatures and stayed out through the night, zombie foxes were the exact opposite.
The next morning, Aefop awoke to a peculiar smell.
“Brains,” he said to himself as his nose twitched with delight.
“Brains, indeed,” a voice grumbled from up in the rotund poplar tree.
“Who’s there?” Aefop called up. “Show yourself.”
A gunmetal gray fox hopped with ease from higher branches, down to lower ones and landed gently on a sturdy limb that was just out of Aefop’s reach. The gray fox was old and covered with dozens of pin-stripe scars that were visible through his fur. One of his eyes was milky white and honeycombed with blood vessels while the other was as black as pitch. The fox rested his chin on his paws and peered down at Aefop.
“Who, might I ask, are you young zombie fox?” The gray fox said in a low, aged-to-perfection voice.
Aefop frantically tried to claw his way up to the gray fox but always with the same unsuccessful result. After almost an hour of frantic clawing and continued falling, Aefop, exhausted and near unconscious, rested at the bottom of the tree.
“My name,” he huffed, “is Aefop. Now will you come down so I can eat your brains?”
“No,” the gray fox said, moving one branch higher. “However, I will tell you that my name is Woodrow and these are my woods. So, if any brains are to be eaten, they most certainly will be by me…except, I don’t eat brains because I am not a zombie. Now, tell me, Aefop, how did you come to be in my woods?”
“I was banished for being different,” Aefop replied dully. “It is my curse.”
“Could have fooled me,” Woodrow said with a smirk. “Actually, you almost did. You do not look like the other zombie foxes that I have seen. Your fur is, well to put it simply, nice.”
“You think my fur is nice?”
“Certainly much more nice than mine,” Woodrow chuckled as he indicated all of his scars with his nose.
“How did you get up in that tree?” Aefop asked.
“Come now, Aefop! If I told you that then you too would be able to climb this tree and could eat my brains. I’d like to avoid that at all costs if that’s okay with you. But I will share a secret with you. Gray foxes are the only type of fox that know the proper way to climb a tree which is how I know that you cannot climb this tree. For, you are a red fox. Or were, at some point. So, knowing that, how about we just have a civil chat and maybe I’ll let you pass through my woods unscathed.”
Aefop swallowed hard and thought for a moment, “okay,” he said.
Woodrow and Aefop talked and talked under the rotund poplar tree until day turned to night, night turned to day, and day turned to night once more. On the third day, Aefop—who had dozed off at some point during the second night—awoke to find a freshly killed marmot lying beside him. He looked up into the tree and saw Woodrow, with a blood-stained snout, staring down at him.
“Not exactly my brains,” Woodrow chuckled. “But it’s better than nothing.”
Aefop thanked Woodrow then proceeded to savagely feast on the remains of the marmot which included its, still warm, brains. After finishing his breakfast, the young zombie fox asked Woodrow, “Sir, have you seen fit to let me pass through this woods unscathed?”
Woodrow finished cleaning his paws and snout before answering, “Aefop, you are indeed different from any zombie fox that I have seen both by your looks and by the stoutness of your heart. Or what’s left of it anyway. For two days and two nights we talked and, my goodness! What a conversation it was! For this, I shall let you pass unscathed and give you two bits of advice that I advise you keep close to your stout heart. Or what’s left of it. The first bit of advice is that beyond my woods lies a burrow of zombie sables who you might find to be very accepting of you. The second bit of advice is that being different is not a curse. In many cases, being different can work to your advantage. Finally, take this gift so that you may never lose your ability to keep your fur clean.”
Woodrow dropped the fishbone that Aefop had used the first night to groom his mane, only there was now a string attached to it so he could slip it around his neck.
“Woodrow!” Aefop squealed with delight. “How can I ever thank you?”
“You can start by promising never to eat my brains,” replied Woodrow with a sly grin.
“Consider it promised! Now, why don’t you come down out of that tree so that I might properly eat your brains….er, shake your paw?”
Woodrow sighed then said, “You cannot outfox a fox, dear Aefop. Now, on your way! I will call ahead to the more terrible creatures of my woods and tell them to leave you alone.”
Woodrow disappeared into the rotund poplar tree as Aefop set out through the woods to find the burrow of zombie sables. Unbeknownst to both Woodrow and Aefop, a spy from the skulk of young zombie foxes was following Aefop and had listened to every word uttered during the two days and two nights of conversation.
Aefop passed through the Wicked Woods of Woodrow, as promised, unscathed and came upon the burrow of zombie sables, also as promised, in less than a day’s trek. It was then that Aefop understood the reasoning behind Woodrow’s first piece of advice. The zombie sables were sleek, clean, and had tree bark brown fur (with a patch of light yellow below their throats) that they kept as such. In fact, the only way one could tell they were zombie sables at all, was by the puss yellow of their eyes. Aefop introduced himself to the zombie sables and to his surprise, but again as promised, they accepted him with open paws and clean fur. The zombie sables spoke very little and were diligent workers. They had devised a plan—which they allowed Aefop to be privy to for two reasons: one, because Aefop was clean like them and two, because Woodrow had told the zombie sables that Aefop was trustworthy of such secrets before Aefop arrived—to overrun a group of farmers that were holed up in a shanty just over the bluff from their burrow. The farmers’ fresh brains and flesh would provide provisions enough to last the entire winter for the burrow. The zombie sables promised to let Aefop stay with them and to share their provisions if he could help with the attack on the unsuspecting farmers. Aefop replied, “I am a zombie fox! We are known for our cunningness and sly ways in attacking unsuspecting things. Of course I will help! In fact, I have a few additions to your plan that you may find to be quite useful.”
All the while, the spy sent from the young zombie fox skulk was listening in and as soon as he heard about the shanty of unsuspecting farmers, he ran double-fast back to the skulk to report to the mangy, rotted leader. The leader was pleased by the news and proclaimed, “Aefop and his sables are not deserving of such spoils and we, the true zombie foxes, will take it from them.”
So, the skulk of zombie foxes set off for the bounty and arrived two nights later. They slid about through the field, silent as death, and crept up on the shanty of unsuspecting farmers while keeping a look out for Aefop and his band of sables who were nowhere to be seen or smelled. “The brains are ours for the taking,” the leader said and in doing so did not notice the fine bit of string strung across the last bit of field before the shanty until the last possible moment. This particular length of string had a baker’s dozen worth of bells attached to it. As the leader quickly tried to readjust and duck under the string, the burs, bits, and other objects protruding from his fur caught hold of the string, sounding every bell in baker’s dozen worth. All of the other zombie foxes in the skulk followed suit, if only by accident, making an even louder ruckus while also getting stuck on the string. Within moments, the farmers were up, locked and loaded with double-barrel shotguns, and opened fire on the skulk of zombie foxes, killing every last one.
Upon Aefop’s arrival at the zombie sables’ burrow, four days earlier, Woodrow had appeared once more to inform them of the spy he spied from his treetops. Instead of killing the spy, Aefop let him eavesdrop of the plan about the shanty knowing that the leader would try to outfox Aefop and his sables. But as Woodrow said, “You cannot outfox a fox.” The plan then was to use the skulk of zombie foxes as a distraction and a way to lure the farmers out of hiding. Aefop and his sables waited patiently behind the woodpile at the side of the shanty until the massacre was over then leisurely waltzed out to confront the farmers.
“Look!” One of the farmers shouted. “There are more of them!”
But another farmer with a keener eye said, “Naw, look again. Their coats are clean as a whistle. They ain’t zombified like them others. Thems just plain old sables and a fox. Probably endangered now if I had to venture a guess. Put your guns away and observe their beauty. ”
Like lightning to a rod, Aefop and the group of zombie sables sprung upon the unsuspecting farmers and dispatched them in the most inhumane ways possible. The zombie sables kept their promise and Aefop continued to keep his fur free from burs, bugs and bits. And so, the moral of the tale is sometimes it pays to be different. Even for a zombie. The End.