A Fox in the Field

Author’s Note: I humbly submit February’s edition of  Cait Gordon’s 2020 Flash Fiction Challenge,‘ featuring a field as this month’s setting, the object is a beard trimmer, and the genre is a mystery – all in 1000 words. Thanks for reading and enjoy!

A nightmare jolted Daryl awake in mid-snore at 3:15 a.m. Monday morning. He stretched his arms out and curled his hands to form a fist, then released them. His arthritic knuckles ached more than usual, so he applied some cream and returned to bed. He couldn’t escape the horror of the weekend retreat, and didn’t know how he could possibly work the next day. He worried. Daryl needed the job and was on probation.

Remaining in bed, he attempted to distract himself by counting sheep. He hit 12,382 when his alarm sounded, prompting him to prepare for the day ahead.

How on earth am I going to teach this morning?

  The automatic coffee maker percolated. The aroma of Folgers filling the basement apartment helped Daryl remember his only morning joy—being slightly caffeinated. He drank his first cup black after showering, and turned on an American news station blathering about Donald Trump.

This daily crap motivates me to move so I can shut this tripe off quickly.

A sudden knock from the entranceway made Daryl jump. Who on earth would visit before 8 a.m?

He opened the door and a cool fall breeze cleared the remaining cobwebs in his mind. A woman in her mid-thirties stood facing him wearing a trench-coat. Her brown hair smelled of fresh fruit, and Daryl was taken aback by her beauty. Being a middle-aged bachelor, no one ever visited him in his home, especially nothing this pretty. Her arrival represented a repressed fantasy of his where a gorgeous woman would land on his doorstep.

“Daryl Hodgkin?” she said. “I’m Inspector Bronywn Merrill from the North Vancouver Police department. May I have a few words?”

Daryl hesitated. “Certainly. Would you like to come in?”

“Yes.”

He ushered her to the living room. “Would you like a coffee? Pot is fresh.”

“No, I prefer we get straight to business.” She sat on the couch and crossed her legs. Daryl noticed her bare knee and calf protruding from the coat.

“What can I do you for, Inspector.” Daryl tensed, not being accustomed to speaking to women.

Bronwyn opened her bag, and produced a plastic see-through sac. “Does this look familiar to you.”

“Yes,” said Daryl. She held a gold-plated beard trimmer. “That belonged to my colleague Sterling Fox. He’s had that since his teens.”

Daryl and Sterling taught at an all boys private school in the heart of the city. They had known each other since breaking into their teens, and were both the same age. Sterling always looked older. In fact, he needed to shave every day when they first met and would produce a five-o’clock shadow. Daryl, on the other hand shaved once a month. Within a year, Sterling grew out a beard and needed to maintain it.

Sterling teased Daryl calling him “little boy” all the time. Sterling had the looks, he got the girls, and all the popularity. Daryl, though, sat in his shadow, being picked on. Even participating in sports, Daryl played second string to Sterling.

Daryl paused his reflection a moment to observe Bronwyn move her leg up and down.

Shaving and fashion were huge for Sterling. Every second week, they travelled together for school sports or events. Sure enough, Sterling would bring his damn beard trimmer. Every morning he would turn it on.

 “Hear that singing sound?” he’d say. “That’s my trimmer little boy. You know what I use that for? Big man stuff. You’d cut yourself if you used it without adult supervision.”

 Teacher’s in school had to break up their daily fights. Sterling continually ridiculed Daryl for looking young, and being worthless. One could imagine the shock Daryl had when he discovered they both taught at the same school, twenty-years later.

The tormenting continued. “Little boys can’t teach at this school. The students would be more mature than the teacher.”

Even more alarming, the headmaster ordered Daryl to support Sterling in preparing his class for a weekend campout. The boys would hone their skills in orienteering before putting them to the test at a competition in the forests north of the city. 

The trial run took place in the  fifteen-acre school-owned  field, last weekend. Daryl had to train the students how to camp on their own. His approach was to train three prefects: Johnathan, Ryan, and Trevor—all spoiled brats in his eyes—who’d lead the others.

They pitched the tents in the corner of the field. Saturday, morning Sterling woke first and announced to the teens, “You see this?” He turned on his beard trimmer. “That’s the sound of a real man. When you’re men, you’ll be able to trim beards, too. You see this ‘little boy?’” He pointed to Daryl. “He still doesn’t even shave.

Enraged, Daryl stormed from the field leaving Sterling alone to coordinate the orienteering. He returned after to help with a campfire and dinner. Determined not to be taunted again by Sterling, he ripped open his bag and extracted the trimmer with intention to smash it to pieces. 

Sterling caught him, and with one punch, knocked out the weaker man.

Bronwyn raised the plastic bag. Her hazel eyes peered at its contents.

“We found the body this morning, lying in the middle of the field. The cord to the trimmer wrapped around Sterling’s neck. The boys saw your fight, and your fingerprints are all over the weapon.”

Daryl knew this, of course. It’s why he couldn’t sleep.

Before he could say anything, Bronwyn issued the Miranda warning forcing Daryl to remain silent. She cuffed him, and phoned for a police car. She helped herself to a cup of coffee as they left.

Daryl was convicted for Sterling’s  murder.

Six months later, a post appeared on Facebook reading, “Thank goodness that bastard father is dead. And I sure as hell am glad I won’t inherit that bloody beard-trimmer.

“I’m no longer a ‘little boy.’ No one will ever call me that again.”

Jonathan and Trevor both liked Ryan’s status.


A Fox in the Field © 2020 Bruce Gordon. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations in critical articles and reviews. For more information, contact Bruce Gordon.


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