The black fox in question had little enough in common with its countryside fellows, for it made its home not in field and dale but upon the vertical face of a low brick wall running the length of one stream. Despite being a street artist’s stencil in uniform black, the fox’s depiction retained a certain motion about it. Having caught the trespasser’s scent on the wind, the stencil had raised its head to follow the approach, and its limbs tensed, right foreleg slightly raised, as though ready to spring into flight at the first sign of trouble. Though its eyes, two perfect circles opened in the unrelieved dark around, kept their watch night and day, its lack of movement could only lead me to believe that trouble had not yet come for fox.
Perhaps two hundred meters up the road, my fellow traveler and I came upon another of the stencil-clan, at which point G. felt it opportune to enlighten me as to Sheffield’s burgeoning fox population. From what I can recall of that conversation, it would seem that the foxes had appeared one by one over the course of several months with no more explanation than that. Their purpose in the city had at first eluded residents until it occurred to one of their number that the fox’s bearing might contain a clue of some kind. Following stencil’s unrelenting gaze, the intrepid had found some way off an elaborate piece of street art from a local artist.
As proof of concept, G. stooped to examine head and upper body and, without a word more, took off across the street until he had reached the stream which we had only a few moments before crossed. In truth, more artificial river than stream, the waterway was running low that day and so revealed on either side a span of concrete bottom on and the cut-stone embankment’s full height. Looking downstream, I could make out more than one tangle of log and branch, bush and refuse. In one such drift had a lawnchair, shorn of seat, lodged itself, along with plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes. Yet still farther downstream and upon one embankment did my eyes finally lock onto what my companion sought: a two-dimensional, life-size replica of a plesiosaur skeleton, bone-white mass stark against meticulous black outlining and shading.
Content in our discovery, we made our way back to the street. In time, we crossed paths with a third fox-fellow, quite secure behind a iron gate. Stretched its full length along the white wall of a through-tunnel, its head’s angular features beckoned away from the street towards another piece to which the gate then barred our way. Although I shall not speak for my companion, I can say of myself that I swore that watcher a mental oath to return and meet its secret, perhaps none other than the dead at Sheffield’s bounds.