Fox Strikes a Bargain


© A Mixed Bag – 2012

The Fantastic Mr. Fox was pissed. It wasn’t supposed to work out this way. He and his mates were supposed to outwit those three dumb farmers and steal all the food, but when he was raiding Bean’s henhouse, the old boy got the upper hand and caught him in a box trap.

Oh, it’s the middle of the night to be sure so he’s still in bed, but when dawn comes, the bastard and his two pals would have him cold and then where would the Fox’s family be?

“If you agree not to hurt us, we’ll let you out.”

“What? Who’s there?”

“Are you daft? You’re in a henhouse. We’re the hens.”

“If you let me out and I don’t hurt you, what is my family supposed to eat, not to mention my friend Badger and his brood? We have a right to live, too.”

“We know where the farmers keep their larder. Play it smart, and you’ll eat like kings.”

“Seems reasonable. Okay ladies, you have a bargain.”

Thanks to the tunneling skills of Fox and Badger, from that day forth, the livestock and the woodland animals cooperated and they all lived well.

I wrote this for the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge of October 1st 2017. The idea is to use the image above as the inspiration for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 200 words long. My word count is 195.

Yes, I leveraged Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s tale Fantastic Mr. Fox for this one. It was the second thing I thought of when I saw the photo. Actually, I thought three things.

First, that fox looked pissed. Second, the Fantastic Mr. Fox popped into my head, so I looked the book up on Wikipedia. The third was I didn’t have the heart to write about a dead and taxidermied animal.

I also didn’t think it appropriate (though it would be natural) for the fox to be freed only to kill and eat the hens, so I worked out a deal between the two “factions” where they’d all benefit.

True story. I used to live in a home in the local foothills and behind my house was a small wild area. We did periodically see a fox hunting out there who we dubbed “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” We even saw him once walking in our backyard with a mouse’s tail hanging out his mouth (presumably the rest of the mouse was inside).

Alas, he killed Mr. Duck’s mate at one point and the Duck was very cranky from that day on.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to

30 thoughts on “Fox Strikes a Bargain

  1. I presume that this fable could be read as a political parable. Of course, it would be naïve to expect that these natural adversaries would actually cooperate and thus benefit mutually, as logic might suggest they could. But, as you suggested in your epilogue, a realistic (though unpleasant) expectation would be that the predatory aggressor would agree to the deal, be released and learn the location of the hoard, then renege on the agreement and attack the hens anyway, maximizing his (ill-gotten) gains, because that is his nature and he cannot (or does not really wish to) change it. The hens would have been well-advised to consider carefully the nature of the beast, and let him suffer the consequences of his entrapment — and so also for any other predator.

    Now it is worthwhile to consider the purpose of fairy tales. They might be viewed merely as entertainment. But in some eras, fairy tales served an educational purpose, illustrating in coded form that shielded the youngest children from the grim (or Grimm) realities for which older children (and adults) must prepare themselves. Teaching children to be politically naïve, from listening to the wrong sort of fairy tales, could be hazardous to their health (and their lives). I suppose the same is true of politicians and diplomats. It’s a sobering thought.


    • I suppose I could have rendered it closer to the fable of The Scorpion and the Frog, but I wasn’t feeling that fatalistic this morning. I wanted to write about a “win-win” in which all the animals continued to live. Admittedly, that’s completely unrealistic, even in a fable such as this, and in any event, even if the hens escape being eaten by the fox, eventually the farmer is going to consume at least some of them. That’s life on a farm, and as you have suggested, that’s life.

      I did write another rather optimistic tale yesterday in which a young man, who lost his brother to a terrorist’s suicide bomb, decided not to kill the bomber’s only living relative in revenge, even though it won’t stop terrorism. While both stories may not be particularly realistic, and I suppose if a child grew up on a steady diet of them, they might have unrealistic expectations about the world around them, but I think for the sake of these “flash fiction linkups,” I can allow myself a bit of flexibility.


    • I wish, but no we can’t apparently. Visit my “The Night They Burned ‘The Cat in the Hat'” blog post, including the comments section to see why. Turns out the most beloved children’s story author in the history of humanity is evil

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, no. Your spoiler hint makes me not want to read it. I can’t stand any more heartbreaking news this week. Pardon me while I retreat into my happy denial cave…. It’s fully stocked with wine, chocolate, and purring cats,


      • I appreciated very much your inclusion of the rebuttal link, which showed how Ted Geisel’s early work was a product of its political environment, and how he changed afterward to foster better values in his children’s books and other writing. It seems that the purported evil was very much in the eye of a particular librarian, whose motivation seemed suspiciously aimed at a particular first lady or her husband, given a long history of first ladies who favoured these children’s stories.


  2. I’m trying to drag out my happiness that the hens’ tactic paid off, but I can’t help thinking this isn’t going to last. Good story though.
    I was please you included the word “daft” – I didn’t think it had made its way into American English.


    • It hasn’t but I’ve read it enough in UK publications and seen enough film and TV to be able to work it into a sentence. 😉

      As far as how long the deal between the fox and the hens last, probably as long as the food in the larder.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You used “daft” perfectly James. I suppose we Brits get so used to most of the trade in colloquial language being in the other direction that we’re surprised by examples of “our” words appearing in American fiction and drama. I don’t know whether you read or watched American Gods, but I was amazed when characters used salty words that I’d thought were peculiar to the UK and that I’d rarely heard used here since the 1970s. The explanation laid in the fact that the author, Neil Gaiman, is English and roughly my age.


    • @Sunday Fiction — I’m curious about what real-life example you have in mind to justify your notion of natural enemies being able to get along without antagonizing one another and neither slighting the another. I suppose it might depend on the source or cause of the enmity, and what one considers acceptable conditions for getting along. For example, there are political enemies who may coexist for long periods in a state of stalemated armed belligerency. The most notable, now historical, example may be the cold war between the USSR and the USA. Between them they developed a strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction, such that neither one could attack the other militarily. That is a truce of sorts, but it was notably unstable; and, in fact, it decayed into an economic competition in which one side collapsed and the other thereby won. As a result, the geo-political conflict could not be sustained, though the competing ideologies still exist in various places. Capitalism has shown itself to be more robust than Communism, but Socialism is still strongly competing with Privatism. However, when one considers other ideologies such as Islamism, one is faced with an unrelenting opponent who is willing to conduct stalemates over the course of generations, if necessary, to achieve ultimate conquest. It is willing to lie, dissemble, renege, kill, maim, destroy, or whatever is deemed necessary to achieve an ultimate victory of conquest and hegemony.

      Thus I must assert that the only way in which truly natural enemies can get along is if both of them are able and willing to relinquish, even temporarily, whatever aspect of their nature is deemed inimical by the other. They both must feel that they gain some benefit from the truce or stalemate. Note that if they could agree to some actual accommodation between themselves, they would not qualify as natural enemies but only as competitors. However, if such cooperative behavior could harm or damage their true nature, their innate sense of self-preservation would have to prevent them from doing so. Thus, ultimately one must destroy the other, even if that “destruction” is a relatively benign change to the one that is “destroyed”, because it cannot be allowed to continue to exist as it was. Regrettably, the conflict itself may be damaging even to the “winner”, though recovery may be possible after the conflict has subsided.

      On the other hand, James’ story is fiction, so one must allow for anything at all to happen, regardless of any appearance that might serve as a realistic analogy.


  3. In fiction anyone can get along with anyone. You don’t need to psychoanalyse everything that is done and said But if you want it that way, there are tigers that live with goats – the wild. Lions and lionesses who live with deer – in the wild. Even wolves and bears that can get along, so yes, enemies CAN be friends. I have noticed over the weeks you making some argumentative statements and comments. I challenge you to write a piece of fiction based on the prompts that come up.


  4. @Sunday… — I’m more of an editor than a fiction writer, as James knows well from years of our exchanges on his blogs. My comments here are meant to be discursive rather than argumentative, though this particular bit of fiction touched on consideration of the purposes to which an essay may be directed — which leads to consideration of political implications, among other matters. Such discussion can be quite beneficial, if taken in the right spirit.


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