A few years back, the Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis asked a foolish question. A question best left buried in the deeper recesses of the mind, or thousands of feet below the ground, or at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. And they sang it so casually, in a goddamned music video of all things. What does the fox say?
Idiots, I mutter into my beer down here at the pub, on this godforsaken rock in the middle of the Bering Sea, whenever I doff my cap and come in from my wanderings along the cobbled beaches or through the cold high grass. I’m here to tell you, if they had heard what the fox says, they would never ask such a thing. To do so is to conjure the bloodthirsty demons of old.
Do you have a little time? Of course you have time. You’re marooned here in the ocean just like me, halfway between the coasts of Siberia and Alaska. Let me buy you a beer and tell you more. You’d be wise to listen if you’re going to venture out to the top of the cliffs. And it’s important to be wise here, or you may never be heard from again. You see my beard? I have one because I’m wise. That’s what beards mean, you know.
So this fox. It’s a strain of Arctic fox unique to these Pribilof Islands. Vulpes lagopus pribilofensis. No other three words in any language cover such a multitude of evils. I call it the chocolate bear.
It’s one of just three land mammals native to the Pribilofs, the others being a lemming and a shrew, both very evil. There are hundreds of thousands of fur seals here as well – yes, evil too, which you can tell because they roar like hungry sea grizzlies. I’ve heard many a tale of them ripping hapless sightseers and birdwatchers limb from limb, and casting their lifeless bodies into the pounding surf. I’ve seen it myself. A bloody mess.
(There is a long, contemplative silence)
None of these creatures hold a candle to the cruelty and filth of Arctic foxes, though. They likely arrived from the north eons ago on drifting pack ice – a creepy, scurrying invasion over the sea’s winter skin that landed like a thermonuclear explosion in this kingdom of seabirds, where millions of beautiful, graceful kittiwakes, murres, fulmars, puffins and cormorants breed and nest in the cliffs.
What, you like mammals? Poor judgement on your part. I’m a bird guy. You may have been able to tell by my cargo pants and my sexy Leica scope sitting on the stool next to me. Betty, I call her.
Anyway, sure the fox bastards are pretty and snow white in the winter, but then they turn a ragged, muddy brown over the summer, like sickly wolverines. They’re the Spidermen of bird death, scaling the cracks, stealing eggs in their mangy little fox snouts. They tear the heads off of murres, eat the hearts out of their chests, and leave them bleeding in the grass, then watch me and my Leica with their cold, dead eyes, as if to say, “You see that? You’re next mother#@$&er.”
You don’t believe me? You listen here. They’re practically subterranean, lurking in the dark of burrow complexes covering up to 500 square feet, with 100 entrances. They come after you from the depths. They only weigh seven pounds and I’m scared of them. I’m a grown man. A grown man with a wise beard. One time, a fox bit me in the ass.
And they crap on everything. You leave your helmet sitting on your ATV, they’ll flip it over and take a dump right inside. Leave your backpack on the ground? They’ll crap on that too. Once we left the doors of a bus shuttling German bird tourists open and a fox crapped right in the center aisle.
If you don’t look where you put your hands or sit, you’re liable to smear right into a big greasy pile. I once spent 15 minutes rubbing the butt of my cargo pants on a good-sized tussock to get some off. It looked very inappropriate and was humiliating, not least because the fox watched the whole time from a nearby hilltop, making his unearthly sound.
Oh yes, the sound. That was where we started, wasn’t it.
What does the fox say? It says it wants to steal and gnaw your soul with its needle teeth, then poop on it. One of its calls is like that of a banshee ghost child, wailing on the Moors as it comes closer. I’m from the Moors, you see, so I know these things. That’s where I got my beard.
Another call is like an attic door creaking open, because a murderer is about to come out and bean you with a shillelagh.
And still another is half whooping cough, half scream. Kind of like the cries of an excited teenage boy of another era, in line for his first Pink Floyd concert, his voice cracking with confused elation and undirected rage.
One night, coming home from the pub, I decided to stop and take a rest between those shipping containers you can see across the road over there, by the salt lagoon. There’s a nice flat concrete pad that will keep you out of the wet grass. But no sooner had I laid my tired head on my arms than I heard it.
*COUGHSCREAM*, the fox said. Then, after a few moments, *COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM*.
*COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM COUGHSCREAM*.
Do you know what happened then?
Well I don’t either.
(Turns his face into the light, revealing an eyeless, weatherbeaten skull.)
Because she killed me. And then she crapped in my backpack.
With thanks to Ram Papish (from whom I stole most of the poop and biting stories), Ryan Mong (from whom I stole “chocolate bears” and one poop story), and Brady Deal (from whom I stole the growling fox video) for sharing their fox encounters, and to the fox that decided not to kill me when I slept between the shipping containers the other night, a bit too close to her pups.
Photos, fur seal video and fox coughscream video by the author.