In the hush of dawn, four soft paws pad across a hidden threshold. One step, two, four. The shadow-dappled body holds still for a moment, testing the air. Listening, ears perk.

Dust swirls.

Dark, heavy ivy twists into the concrete around her. Fresh grass pokes feathered shoots through cracks. Crepuscular insects whir their membranous wings and a few hopeful birds trill a welcome to the sun. In the hush of the derelict building, the vixen continues on, satisfied no danger lurks nearby. A hapless sparrow dangles from her jaws.

Barks and joyous leaps greet the mother on her return to the den. She drops the sparrow, watches her kits tear into the delicate morsel. The birdlife has increased here, year after year. Trees now cover most of the abandoned city, and her young will not suffer through starving winters as she did. The vixen huffs. She settles on her belly to watch them play.

A distant low thrum on the wind is a warning: invaders incoming. The vixen shields her kits, protective and alert. Sparrows flee, mice hide. A deer, caught at the city’s edges by the thwock, thwock, thwock of the helicopter, skitters and runs. Vegetation thinned by human hand lies flat as the giant bird lands, wind roaring around it.

Three suited figures jump from the aircraft. Around each neck hangs a radiation monitor. Rotors spin to a halt and the scientists disperse into the city. They are laden with instruments, cameras, traps. Perhaps this time one will catch a mouse. They are not as clever as the vixen.

The figures step into the scattered shade of the overgrown buildings. They stay a while, taking their readings whilst the city holds its breath against the intruders. Though scant years have passed since people lived here, the wild has taken back control and now it is humans who do not belong. They stumble through the transformed landscape in a bubble of silence broken only by the wind.

One scientist, a woman—lighter of step than the others—detours from her regular path, checking the ink-scrawled paper in her hand. Pushing through crumbling doors and digging in the half-dirt she finds a secret: a buried cross. She pockets the gold. Soon there will be no more loot to find. Lost to time and the city’s new residents. She kicks an old nest on the way out.

Hours later, the helicopter leaves. Sound creeps back into the city. Feathered wings soar again. Long after the whirring fades away, the vixen leaves her den in search of prey—she has little ones to feed. Though radiation may cut their lives short with tumours or disease, it is only another part of her environment.

Each time the researchers return they see how life flourishes, in spite of mankind’s legacy.

Red fox poised in room of abandoned gas masks, Pripyat.
Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in abandoned canteen. Image by Adrian Bliss. Header image: Pripyat (Ukraine) by Jorge Franganillo

I have not visited Pripyat. There are, however, a host of books, photos, TV shows and documentaries about the abandoned city. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone scenes in ‘Our Planet‘ made a huge impact on me. I was in awe of the concrete city covered in trees, amazed at the animals stalking its streets.

Last week’s Theme Thursday on Reddit:WritingPrompts addressed Nature. The theme and the above image inspired me to write about a vixen living in the overgrown city. I hope you liked the story.

Have you been to Pripyat? I would love to hear your insight. Please comment below!

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