Monday, January 3

Confounding Influence: The Everyday Hound

The Everyday Hound
The Everyday Hound.
by Richard Becker

Once there was a tiny farm on the outskirts of town. And on the farm lived an everyday hound who loved a little boy.

He was called the everyday hound because every day, he and the little boy would spend as much time together as possible. They would play fetch in the field every morning, visit all of the other barnyard animals at noon, and lay in the grass to count the clouds as they rolled lazily above at sunset.

They were happy and loved each other. So much so that neither of them cared that the little boy's parents were poor or that the outside world had never even heard of this tiny little farm. As long as they had each other, they were happy.

But then one day, a fox came to the farm with his head held high. And as he approached, he pushed his chest out before him as if to show everyone his extraordinarily large heart, brimming over with pride.

When he first saw the fox, the hound acted on instinct. He quickly dropped his ball and stepped in front of the boy. He even offered a low, grumbling growl, but the fox, unflinching, just smiled.

"I am not here to cause any mischief," said the fox, stepping to one side. "See for yourself."

The little boy immediately relaxed at the most curious sight he had even seen. Even the hound was confounded. Right behind the fox stood two sheep that must have wandered away from the farm earlier that morning.

"You must be more careful," said the fox. "If I was a different sort of fox, I might have eaten them all up."

"Thank you," said the boy. "They must have wandered away while we were playing. However can I repay you?"

"Well, I am very hungry, going against my nature and all," said the fox. "Perhaps you could spare a morsel or two."

The hound, slightly embarrassed that the sheep had wandered off on his watch, offered up his own bowl to the boy. And, understanding this, the boy filled the bowl with food. When fox had finished, he thanked them both and away he went.

After he was gone, the little boy ran into the house to tell his parents. They could hardly believe it. Nobody had ever heard of a fox returning lost sheep before so they were quick to tell their friends. And their friends told more friends. And by the end of the day, the story of the unselfish fox quickly spread from one farm to the next and one town to the other.

People from all over the county, in fact, started talking about the unselfish fox. Many of them would even drive to the farm to hear the story first hand. And every time they did, they would smile and clap and buy a bushel of corn or a basket of fresh fruit.

The farm had never been more prosperous. The little boy's parents, for the first time in years, were worry free and happy.

Even more so as the story continued to spread. More and more people came to visit the farm until, eventually, the story of the unselfish fox reached the publisher of a big city newspaper. And even though the publisher had his doubts, he dispatched a reporter to see what was what and separate fact from fiction.

The reporter interviewed the neighbors. He talked to the little boy's parents. He patted the everyday hound on the head. And then he asked the boy to tell his story from the very beginning.

Listening intently but disbelieving, the reporter hurriedly took notes. He fully intended to write up the fantastical but unprovable story when, just as the boy was enthusiastically finishing, the fox was seen strolling up to the farm. Behind him, there were three chickens in tow.

"Amazing!" exclaimed the reporter.

"Remarkable!" said the little boy's parents.

"A miracle," the fox stated humbly, correcting them all.

"Whatever can we do to repay you?" asked the little boy.

"Well, I am very tired from chasing these chickens," said the fox. 'Perhaps you could lend me a bed for the night."

They did much more than that. As the reporter took pictures, the little boy cleaned out the the hound's house. His mother gave up her favorite down blanket to line it. And his father grilled a feast fit for a king, filling the hound's bowl for the unselfish fox.

There was so much excitement, in fact, that nobody had noticed the everyday hound. He had slid into the background, giving up the spotlight for the little boy's affection. He didn't even mind. Watching the sun over the field alone seemed like the smallest of sacrifices. Sleeping under the stars for one night wasn't like an adventure. His heart was still full from seeing the little boy happy that the hound didn't miss it when no one remembered his dinner. Tomorrow was a new day.

The next morning, just as the sun was rising above the farm, the hound climbed the steps of the front porch just like he always did, ball in mouth. But this time, instead of the little boy scratching his ears in delight, the front door burst open and the boy rushed right past him.

"No time today," said the boy over his shoulder. "I have to get the morning newspaper."

The little boy ran down the drive and up to the road. And there it was. He could barely believe his eyes. The farm, the boy, and the fox had made the front cover.

"The Amazing Miracle Of The Unselfish Fox," screamed the headline.

The boy grabbed it up and ran back past the hound and back into the house.

"It's here," he screamed. "I can't believe it ... it's here!"

As the household erupted in excitement like the day before, the hound understood that there would be no time to play today. So he let the ball drop from his mouth and it rolled off the porch, landing a few feet away from his house where the fox had slept in all morning.

"Say," said the fox, arching his back as he as woke up and crawled out of the hound's house. "What's this? Why I haven't played with one of these in a long time."

With a quick flick of his head, the fox tossed the ball in the air, caught it on the end of his nose, balancing it, just as the little boy had come outside to see if the fox had woken up yet.

"Mom!" cried the little boy in delight.

"What's this," said the little boy's mother, looking out the front window. "The fox does tricks too?"

"I'll call the paper," said the little boy's father. "They won't believe it."

"I wonder what else he can do," said the boy, rushing down the steps to see.

Within a few hours, the reporter had returned to take pictures. And he wasn't alone. Television crews were busy setting up live feeds. Journalists from national magazines were writing features. A crowd of people, some from hundreds and hundreds of miles away, surrounded the spectacle. All of them stared in amazement, offering up "oooohs" and "ahhhhs" as the boy would toss the ball in the air and the fox would catch it on his nose or swat it with his tail or perform any number of magical feats.

Everyone was happy. The little boy's parents were happy because their farm had never been more successful. The boy was happy because he felt almost as famous as the fox. The journalists, reporters, and television news crews were happy to find the story of the year. And the growing crowd of spectators were happy to be part of it all.

Everybody was happy, that is, except the hound. While he didn't mind so much at first, one day rolled into two days and two days into several and several days into weeks until one day the hound's heart was all but empty. The time had come for him to find a new home.

On the night he left, he took one last long look at the little boy through his bedroom window. The boy was asleep. And on his nightstand, the last remnant of what they once had together reflected in the moonlight. It was a small framed photo of the little boy and the everyday hound, when he was just a puppy. And then, when one last tear fell from his eyes, the hound was gone.

It would be days before anyone even noticed. The farm was much too busy with a celebrity in the midst. The fox would astound with more and more tricks. The farm's animals never went missing again. And when the sun set in the evening, the fox's red fur would blaze the same color as the clouds overhead.

It would have continued that way for weeks, maybe months. But the fox had bigger plans from the beginning. The little boy was the first to learn of them after being woken from a deep sleep in the middle of the night. There in the farmyard, he could see that the fox had gathered up the ball, the bowl, the blanket, and all of the other barnyard animals.

While the little boy wasn't sure why, it was clear that the fox was leaving and taking everything with him. He called to his parents, who were equally surprised.

"I can't believe it," cried his mother. "Maybe we did something wrong?"

"Yes, we trusted a cunning fox," cried his father, turning to the boy. "Hurry, call for your hound!"

"I don't understand," was all the boy could manage, after his pleas for the hound went unanswered.

"You don't understand?" grinned the fox. "You have all this because of me and the time has come for me to take what is mine."

"But you can't take everything," said the boy. "If you do, we'll tell everyone what you did."

"Do you really think so?" snorted the fox. "I don't. Nobody will be here tomorrow for you to tell. They'll be with me, don't you see? Everyone will remember me, but nobody will remember a tiny farm on the outskirts of town or an everyday hound who once loved a little boy. You couldn't even remember that."

And with a wave of his tail, his nose in the air, the fox was gone. Along with him, everything that made the farm special was gone too. Maybe none of it was special to crowds of people who stopped coming by, but it certainly was special to the little boy who was loved by an everyday hound on a tiny farm on the outskirts of town. Once upon a time.

***


This first draft fable was originally meant as a reminder that everyday visitors, not celebrities, make for a successful social media program. Special thanks to Geoff Livingston for inspiring the story. The final will be published later this year with illustrations as the lesson transcends the topic.

For my son and daughter. Hold onto those things that are special to you, even if no one else thinks they are special. For everyone, good night, good luck, and happy New Year.
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