Way back in the deep forest, far from the protected paths, lived a little man made of sticky sap. He looked like a flesh and blood creature at first glance. A very handsome flesh and blood creature, actually. Many forest creatures would gaze on his glistening skin and be mesmerized by the dazzling reflection of dappled sunlight on sap. It was quite the sight.
The sap man was not happy being made of sap. He wanted to be flesh and blood like the forest creatures around him, but he was not. He watched the other woodland creatures as they scurried around the forests. He saw them forage and hunt. He saw them play and relax. He saw them court in the spring, raise young together, and go their separate ways, according to their kind. He watched them all.
He was fascinated by all of the animals. Squirrels and weasels were the easiest to mimic, though, because he was around them all the time. On more than one occasion he had convinced these smaller animals that he was one of them- strange and beautiful but just like them in behavior and instinct.
The first time he got a squirrel to fall for it, he felt like a god! The insecurity he felt at not being flesh and blood like the rest vanished. But only for a short while. Soon the sap man realized, that being in close proximity to the living beasts, he would soon be found out.
See he didn't really feel hungry. He pretended to feel hunger. He didn't really desire to mate. He went through the motions of the mating play because he wanted to see if he could fool the living things. Getting a living thing to believe he was real was his motivation. But once he succeeded at that, then what?
The sap man knew that in order to keep the living things convinced he was one of them, he could not let them stay close long. Quickly his first squirrel started to question him. The sap man was really smart and most of the time he guessed correctly at the appropriate time and action: play bow or gather food or chatter noisily. But sometimes he guessed wrong, and the squirrel would notice.
The fear that the sap man felt in those moments is indescribable! Immediately the sap man would become very angry. He would begin to belittle the squirrel, question her actions and then threaten to abandon the squirrel. This terrified the young animal; she thought she had found a god for a mate, the most amazing mate a young squirrel could ever find! She could not lose him. The squirrel wound up groveling and apologizing and going through all the attraction behaviors that the sap man had observed and learned to mimic.
Power and satisfaction replaced the terror of discovery in the sap man's mind. He liked the idea of having so much power over another creature. He began to believe he was a god.
But the sap man was also smart, he knew that eventually that squirrel might figure it out. And whether or not she did, there was little challenge in getting her to adore him anymore. Too easy.
So the sap man pursued other squirrels. The challenge and the fun at first was keeping the squirrels from knowing about his other victims. It made life exhilarating and exciting. But eventually he was found out, and his shame at not being a living creature returned. Quickly though, he realized how he was able to control multiple squirrels by playing them against each other. That added to the challenge and for a time, kept the game interesting.
But only for a time. It was too easy too quickly. That's when the sap man began to study the weasels.
The sap man repeated the same game, studying the weasels until he thought he understood everything about them. He still had his dazzling appearance. Oddly his non-living aspects were what made him unique and attractive. By mimicking the behaviors of his target species so well, they were convinced that the sap man was a Super Squirrel or a Super Weasel, a god-like being who was better than they and yet one of them as well.
And so he tired of squirrels and moved on to weasels.
What became of the squirrels, you wonder? Many of the squirrels were so full of self-doubt and self-loathing at being fooled by the sap man that they ran off. They did not trust their instincts anymore. These squirrels did not know what being a squirrel really meant anymore. They had been berated and blamed so much by the sap man that they deadened their desires and doubted their drives. They stopped gathering food and starved during the winter.
Some tried to hurt the sap man and only got a sticky mess on their fur. These were the ones who realized that they had been tricked and they were furious! They rushed at the sap man with fangs bared and claws scratching. Soon their faces and paws were covered with sap.
For all these the experience was painful and embarrassing. Grass, dead leaves and fur stuck on top of the sap. This looked a mess and slowed the squirrels down. Some were handicapped so much by the sap mat that predators were able to catch them. One squirrel died shortly after first attacking the sap man. Sap filled her nostrils and she couldn't clear them. She died a horrible death, panicked and furious. The sap man observed emotionlessly. After all, he had never been a living creature so he didn't feel things like pity or remorse.
A few of those squirrels survived, but it took a long time for the sap mess to get fully covered with dirt and stop being sticky to the touch. It took longer still for the fur underneath to grow out so that the sap was no longer stuck to skin. Plus those who lived that long still had the pain to deal with when finally the sappy matted fur caught on something and was jerked out.
But oh, what a blessed feeling that was, to have every last bit of the sap man gone! These squirrels were the happiest squirrels you ever saw when that day of freedom finally came! But all them were the first to run away from new creatures and they were far less curious than they might otherwise have been. Better safe than sorry was their new motto. Not a bad motto for living for any animal.
Now in that forest there lived a gorgeous fox kit. Foxes, unlike squirrels, have a very wide range. Also they stay with their parents for a long time, learning to hunt and survive before they go off in search of their own territory. This particular family of foxes lived in a far part of the forest. And so these foxes had never seen the sap man, though the parents heard rumors that such a thing existed.
Unfortunately for the young vixen, her parents didn't put much stock in rumors. It was a quality they would all come to regret.
The sap man was already bored with weasels and restless the day the vixen first wandered into his territory. He had never seen such a powerful, attractive creature! Not that he was actually attracted, more like intrigued by the sight of something new. And not that he sensed power, but he observed how all the other forest creatures ran in fear when they vixen arrived. He watched as the vixen easily took a weasel and ate it on the spot. The sap man felt his inferiority for the first time in a long time.
At that moment, he became determined to deceive the vixen.
I would like to tell that he was unable to fool the vixen. After all, foxes are crafty creatures and great predators themselves. But this was a young vixen after all. And since there was no sap man in the part of the woods she grew up in, she was uninformed and unprepared for the danger that lie ahead.
The sap man stayed in the shadows and watched the vixen many days. Since he was not living, the vixen didn't hear him breath. Since he was made of sap, his scent did not alarm her. So the day he revealed himself, she was not aware that she was in the role of prey. That had never happened to her before.
The sap man had perfected his revealing through the previous months and years. He chose a quiet moment in the afternoon when the sun was streaming down. He quietly followed the fox until she stopped to rest and then circling ahead, he stepped into the clearing and struck his god-like pose.
The vixen was entranced by the beauty of the sap man from the moment she laid eyes on him. Here was something she had never seen before, so she immediately froze and went on high alert, but she could not help but notice his beauty.
The sap man began to speak to her in fox, casually as if her already knew the vixen. In fact, this was easy to do because he had been observing her and learning her ways and habits.
I would like to tell you that things went easier for the young vixen. I would like to tell you that the vixen was too well-informed (but remember her parents thought the sap man wasn't real) and too worldly-wise (but remember she was young and just started claiming her own territory).
I would like to tell you that when a sap-gobbed weasel tried to warn her, the vixen listened. But nope, the vixen pounced on the weasel and that was the end of that.
I would like to tell you that when a squirrel with bald spots, who stayed high up in the trees, tried to warn her, the vixen listened. But no, the vixen just called the squirrel ugly and stupid and dared her to come down and say that to her face. Of course the squirrel, wiser for her trouble, just leapt off through the treetops.
The vixen heard those words often lately, "ugly" and "stupid". That's why she hurled them at the squirrel.
You see the sap man treated the vixen exactly the same as he had treated the squirrels and weasels. Anytime it seemed his fox schtick was failing, he would rage at the vixen and belittle her. Then he would follow it up with the flattery and pretense of strength that attracted the little fox in the first place.
It was not pretty. One day rumor reached her old home that the vixen was involved with the sap man. Her mother hunted down the vixen, and tried to expose the sap man for what he was- not even a living thing. But the sap man had planned for this day and taught the vixen that all the other foxes were jealous of her god-fox mate. And so the vixen stayed.
Her father then hunted her down to warn her too, but with the same result. But by now the vixen was very confused and unsure of herself. Just like the smaller forest creatures before her, she had begun to doubt herself, to doubt that she was even a fox anymore. She knew her father might be right, but the shame she would feel if she admitted it was too much to bear. She ran away from the sap man (he wasn't worried; she always came back) and curled up under the roots of an old tree.
The vixen fell into a deep sleep and began to dream. In her dream, she was confident and self-assured, just like on the day she left home. She felt strong and capable, and dream-running through the forest was a joy. As she ran her dream-run, a nine-tailed fox caught up to her. He raced along beside her, and her heart was again full of foxiness and life. The vixen understood what it meant to be fox. She awoke.
Everything changed for the vixen that day. She knew the sap man was not a god-fox anymore. She had run with the god-fox in her dream and no counterfeit would ever fool her again!
I would like to say that the vixen remembered the bald squirrel and did NOT return to rage at the sap man. But remember, she was still a young fox. Bald squirrel's opinions don't mean much to young foxes.
Yes, the vixen left that part of the forest with some matted paws covered in sap.
She returned to vent her rage and get her revenge, only to discover that the sap man tried to entice her to the sort of fury that would destroy her. He laughed in her face and mocked her pain. (That was how he got the unfortunate squirrel to attack so fiercely her whole face was buried in sap, and he hoped it would work on the vixen too.) The power to destroy was what the sap man considered the highest and best he could achieve!
But instead of rushing forward in fury again and again, the vixen controlled her rage and took a step back to consider her next move. Her muzzle had sap on it, and so did her right paw.
At that moment a mangy looking weasel called out, "He ain't worth it!" Finally the young fox listened to another's experience. She realized that it wasn't mange patches on the weasel, but dirt-covered sap mats. The vixen glared at the sap man (if looks could kill!) turned her back and trotted away on sap-laden paws.
What happened to the young vixen after that, I do not know for sure. I like to think that she runs through the forest in power and grace, empowered by the spirit of the nine-tailed god-fox. I like to think that the sap mats have all fallen away, and a golden blond fur grown in to make the scars beautiful instead of leaving bald patches. I like to think that she found a flesh and blood mate and lived a flesh and blood life, maybe even raised some beautiful flesh and blood kits. And knowing that vixen, that probably IS what happened.
I do know what happened to the sap man, though. Being able to fool a fox stroked his ego over the top. His next victim was a wolf, and she had no more luck than the vixen. She did, however, have something the vixen did not have: a pack.
Since a sap man is not flesh and blood, he cannot be killed. And anything you attack the sap man with, it just sticks to him. Now usually, since it was living things attacking him, they would pull off a part of him in their fur and wind up the worst for it. Yet the sap man would be fine.
The she-wolf and her pack held counsel and thought about their options. The sap man could not be killed. The sap man could not be attacked in the conventional way. So the question was, how to neutralize the sap man?
"Drown him in the river?" offered one wolf. That idea was discarded as impractical. How could they force him into the water? Plus it wouldn't drown him. He's probably come out prettier for his bath.
The sap man just laughed at their council howls. He knew they could never attack.
The wolves were all silent, thinking, until a voice came out of the darkness. "Take away his beauty. Then he can no longer deceive. This takes away his power."
No one there recognized the voice. I heard a rumor that it was the vixen, but that can't be confirmed.
The surviving she-wolf looked at her patchy painfully matted fur. She thought of the scarred up squirrels and weasels and suddenly she knew what they must do.
Howls filled the air the night of the attack. The sap man, arrogant as always, didn't care. As the sounds got closer, he began to eagerly anticipate the opportunity to mock at such majestic creatures as wolves. He would make laughing sounds at their impotent fangs and muscles and enrage the stupid creatures! They would all see that he was a god!
At this point the sap man believed his own spiel. He had convinced himself that he was superior to flesh and blood creatures because they were so easily manipulated! Buffoons.
Howls filled the air now and all the other forest creatures slid deep into their burrows or cowered high up in the trees. A wolf pack is a dangerous thing. All wise things in the forest know this.
The first wolf came into sight. The sap man began to mock.
Two, three, six, a dozen wolves surrounded the sap man. He continued to belittle them, sure of their impotence. He was especially derisive of the she-wolf and told her how stupid she had been. But to his suprise, the wolves showed no reaction.
They simply surrounded him, glaring and silent. The sap man began to get nervous. He began to yell uglier disparaging comments, his voice getting more and more shrill at the impassive unchanging wolf pack around him. Panic set in.
The pack leader could tell by the change in the sap man's voice that he was finally and truly confused and afraid. This was what the pack wanted (and I think, the vixen, if indeed it was her counsel that sparked this action in the first place).
The leader gave the signal, and all the wolves turned their tails to the sap man and started furiously scratching up the earth in huge cloud of dirt and debris. The sap man lunged at the wolf in front of him, but the wolf deftly darted forward and the sap man fell.
It was a great humiliation. The noise, the dust, the feeling of shame pelting him like debris. Wait, it was debris. More panic. The sap man rose to his feet. He must stop the wolves before he was covered in debris!
But it was too late. Already the sap man was blinded by dust. He lunged here and there like a drunk zombie, unable to see where he was going, unable to stop the wolves from kicking up more dirt and leaves and rocks and mess onto the sap man's body.
The wolves were howling with delight at that point! They made a game of hunting the sap man through the forest, seeing who could get the closest or make the largest object stick to him. The game was over when the sap man was totally and completely covered in forest, and there was not a single sticky spot left on him. The wolves left him right before dawn broke through the trees.
The sap man's beauty was destroyed.
The sun rose that morning and streamed down through the trees like always. The sap man, confused, blinded and too heavy to move, could only feel a bit of warmth filter through the twigs, pine cones, acorns, leaves, rock, dirt and scat that covered his body, and that only when the sun came through the trees at just the right angle and only for a short time.
He is still there today. He can't die for he was never alive to begin with. It is possible, I suppose, that hundreds of years from now enough erosion may occur to allow the sap man to walk again.
But not as long as the wolf pack lives. They start every hunt there now, kicking up dust on the sap man, making sure he stays ugly and immobile. I've heard that all the other survivors of the sap man drop by on occasion too, to throw dust on the one who almost destroyed them.
Except the vixen of course, who is too busy enjoying life and foxiness to be bothered with an ugly pile of trash in a forest far away. =)