Excerpt of The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein
(Page 1 of 4)
Printer Friendly Excerpt
The Old Country
Gisella's brother had taught her how to shoot. She aimed at the
fox's chest. She had never killed anything before. She wondered if she could do
it now. Her anger at the theft of the chickens and sadness at the loss of her
brother were gone. She was alone, aiming an arrow at a fox who looked her in the
"What about my trial?" said the fox. "And why can't you look me
in the eye?"
Gisella was startled. A talking fox! She had a small, nasal
voice, like a little violin. An enchanted fox, thought Gisella. Then anger
replaced surprise. "You stole our chickens," she said. "Give them back!"
"But, my dear girl," said the fox, "I didn't steal them. My
lawyer will prove it, although really, you're the one who should do the proving.
I'm completely innocent."
"How can there be a trial?" asked Gisella. "Where's the court?
Where're the judge and jury?"
"We'll be the jury!" cawed a harsh voice, and she looked up to
see a large crow perched on a branch above the fox. And on branches all around,
there were other birds of all kinds. "We'll be the jury!" they sang in a chorus.
"And I am the judge," said a voice like a whisper of wind,
small, but every word ringing in the open space. Gisella saw a dot of light
descending in the middle of the clearing. It was a pure white spider lowering
itself on its thread. It stopped at about Gisella's height and hung there,
seeming to float in air.
"Order in the court," it said.
Around the edge of the clearing she now saw animals of all
kindssquirrels, hedgehogs, deer, snakes and toads, a wolf, and a huge black
bearall watching her. Mixed among them were little peoplesome no taller than a
toadstoolyoung and old, with pale green skin and pale green eyes, all dressed
in soft shades of dark green and brown. They sat quietly and watched, but if
Gisella looked directly at one, it disappeared. She sat down also and tried not
"Lawyer for the plaintiff!" called the spider judge. Into the
grassy clearing bounded Nubia, the cat. Gisella had never been so glad to see
anyone. Or so surprised.
"I was sorry to have to leave you alone," he said. "I was
preparing our case. Don't worry, the facts are on our side."
"But how is it you can speak? And how is it I can understand the
fox and the birds, and the spider judge?"
"This clearing is a place where worlds meet. A kind of
crossroads. The human world, the animal world, and the invisible world are all
open to each other here, and in other places like this. Here, we all understand
"And how did you get to be a lawyer?" Gisella asked him.
"Night school," he said, and sat beside her with his tail curled
"Lawyer for the accused," said the judge. The owl-faced stranger
waddled into the clearing, bowed to the judge, and sat near the fox. Was it a
person or a very large horned owl? Gisella couldn't be sure.
"Begin with the accusations," the judge ordered.
Nubia gave his tail a lick and began to pace back and forth
before the judge.
"Your honor," he said, "birds of the jury, we will easily prove
that this . . . fox . . . ," and he glared and hissed at the fox, "has stolen my
client's plump, juicy chickens in order to dine on them. In other words, to eat
"Objection!" screeched the owl-person. "That's a lie!"
"Order," whispered the judge. "The defense may now respond."
The owl-person arranged his cloak, which seemed to be made of
feathers, and paced before them.
From The Old Country by Mordecai Gerstein. Copyright 2005 Mordecai Gerstein. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Roaring Brook Press.