Excerpt of The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein
(Page 3 of 4)
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"Next witness," said the judge.
"Where is May?" asked Gisella. "Where is my other hen? She
should be a witness, too!"
"She is," said the judge. "Will the hen called May please step
"I can't," said a muffled voice. It came from the fox, who
belched and then looked all around, as if to see where the voice and belch had
"I'm May," said the voice from the fox, whose mouth never moved.
She looked up at the trees like a ventriloquist misdirecting the audience. "But
I'm barely May," the voice continued. "Little by little, I feel myself becoming
fox. A part of me is becoming her liver. Another part is becoming her tongue;
I'm even becoming her teeth. It's a very odd sensation."
"Does it hurt, May?" Gisella called to her.
"Not really, not now," she answered. "It hurt when she woke me
in the chill before dawn. She dragged me away into the blackness of the woods,
to this place. And here, she devoured me."
"Would you say," asked Nubia, "that she ate you all up?"
"I would," said May. "It was strangely calming, for I felt no
pain. As it was happening, I suddenly remembered hatching from an egg. And this
was like being stuffed back into an egg. Like being born in reverse. And now . .
. I'm becoming . . . fox. Good-bye . . . good-bye . . ." The voice became less
and less distinct and faded away.
"Good-bye, May," Gisella sobbed. "Good-bye." May had been her
favorite hen. "You are a murderer!" Gisella screamed at the fox. "A thief and a
"Order in this court," whispered the spider. "Fox, do you have a
"My name," said the fox, "is Flame."
"How do you answer the charges against you?"
"I am a fox," said the fox. Gisella waited for more. There was
"Is that your defense?" asked the spider.
"Yes," said the fox. "I am a fox. I live by my nose, by my teeth
and feet. By my wits. How can I steal? How can one creature own anotherexcept
to eat it? Don't we all belong to ourselves? Until someone elsesomeone bigger,
faster, hungrier, smartercatches us? And eats us? I didn't steal. I hunted. I
didn't murder. I fed. I am accused of being a fox. If that's a crime, then so is
being an owl, or a cat . . . or a spider. Or a girl." She looked at Gisella.
Everyone looked at her.
Boom . . . boom, boom . . . She felt it in the earth.
"Do you, the plaintiff, Gisella, have anything to say?" the
judge asked her.
She stood up. "I believe the fox. We each do what we must to
live. I love our chickens and do my best to protect them. She loves them in her
way, and does her best to catch them. The jury will decide if these are crimes.
But if I catch her taking our chickens again, I will kill her. I give her fair
warning. And if that's a crime, do to me what you must."
The birds of the jury chattered and squawked for a long time
while Gisella waited. They rattled and ruffled their feathers. Then they became
quiet. The large crow coughed and cleared his throat.
"Jury," said the spider, "have you reached a verdict?"
"We have a verdict your honor," said the crow.
"How do you find the defendant: guilty or not guilty?"
"We find the defendant, Flamethe fox whom we hate and fear
because she kills and devours birds and small animalswe find her to be
"Court dismissed," said the spider. "It's time for my tea." She
rode quickly up her thread like a sunbeam, and in that instant, everyone else
was gone. The clearing was still and empty, except for the fox, and Nubia and
Gisella. She looked at the fox and the fox looked at her. They looked into each
other's eyes, and this time, Gisella did not look away.
From The Old Country by Mordecai Gerstein. Copyright 2005 Mordecai Gerstein. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Roaring Brook Press.