She pokes her head out of the nest and looks up at the sky. It’s so blue that it looks violet against the sun. Light spills off the gum leaves that ripple in the breeze high above, while down below the ground is a crosshatch of stringy bark.
She withdraws back inside the safety of her nest.
The precious egg feels warm beneath her feathers. She can feel it pulsing with life inside the shell, and every now and then it stirs beneath her ever so slightly. She had spent weeks in preparation. Every twig had been carefully selected, and every blade of yellowed grass had been woven carefully through the nest so that it blended with the hillside.
Now she sits in her haven, guarding her egg.
A warm breeze carries the scent of spring into her midst. The land is coming back to life after the winter, and everywhere she looks there’s life sprouting and growing. Blades of new grass break through the soil. Leaves begin to take on a greener shade. The smaller, prettier birds are starting to replace the crows’ harsh caws with their sweet songs.
And then something else comes to her on the breeze.
It’s sickly sweet; almost rotten.
By instinct she withdraws deeper into the shadows of her nest. The first thing she sees is two eyes. They glow from the shrubs ahead, gazing straight in her direction. She doesn’t move. She hardly even dares to breathe as the eyes move closer. They grow larger and flicker with the fluorescent sheen of a predator stalking its prey.
The pointed nose appears next, followed by the bright red fur.
She sinks a little deeper into her nest. The egg feels suddenly small and helpless beneath her. The life within is so fragile.
The fox slinks closer to the nest, its pointed nose sniffing the air attentively. Its paws tread softly upon the forest floor as it moves. She sits as still as a stone, her heart racing in time with the little egg’s. It lowers its nose to the ground and begins to follow the scratch marks from the roots beneath the trees to the nest embedded in the hill.
She knows that it has found her.
Something deep inside her rebels against the horrible creature skulking towards her; towards her egg. She feels the spark of anger flare within her. It’s quickly fanned by a hatred as instinctive as her love for the egg.
Raising her head, she opens her beak and releases a noise like the crack of a gunshot. The sound bounces of the trees and echoes through the valley. Startled, the fox turns and flees into the bush.
Its form quickly dissolves into the shadows.
She waits, watching for fresh movement, but the fox doesn’t dare to return. Fluffing her feathers with satisfaction, she cradles her precious egg once more and feels the life stirring within.