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Book extract: Fox Bites by Lloyd Markham

09 Jun 2024 7 minute read
Fox Bites by Lloyd Markham is published by Parthian

We are pleased to publish an extract from the new novel by Cardiff-based Lloyd Markham.
Set in Zimbabwe during the early 2000s, amidst a backdrop of political turmoil, Fox Bites is a dark coming-of-age horror fantasy about pain, loneliness, and stepping back from the abyss.

Black Diamond Fox Bite or A Giant Rests Beneath A Hateful Sun

Caleb is everything Taban is not. Tall. Tanned. Muscular. Possessing wide blue eyes full of expression and light. Wide blue eyes that are weeping.

Pale, short, sickly, Taban has never wept. In his fifteen years alive his face has been an uncrackable mask. Neutral or neutral-smile. A little dash or minus sign. Sometimes with a slight curve, but usually like this → ‘–’

His narrow eyes are near-black brown. They don’t let the light in. They don’t let anything out. Even when Taban wants them to.

Caleb’s mother, Gertrude, stands next to her grieving son, hands shaking, sharply inhaling, containing something violent inside. Her shark-fin quiff has gained new streaks of grey.

‘Sorry we’re late,’ Taban’s mother says. ‘Traffic was a nightmare.’

‘It’s okay.’ Gertrude squeezes Ann’s hand. ‘We’ve still got fifteen minutes. Catch your breath.’

A dusty wind blows. Ann’s auburn mane flickers up like flames and for a moment the stagnant smell of oil from the nearby petrol station is displaced by the heavy stink of cattle shit.

Ann’s nose curls. ‘Yuck.’

‘Probably a farm upwind,’ Gertrude says.

They turn to face the structure behind them. The Harare Fifth Church of Saint Maurice. White and green – the paint could use a touch up. The little cross sticking out from the top of its triangle roof is the only indication it’s a church and not a farmhouse.

Apart from the TOTAL petrol station opposite, The Fifth Church of Saint Maurice is the last building before the city breaks up into rural expanse. Pockmarked tarmac, brick, and concrete give way to sun-bleached grass. Lonely 2-to-4 lane highways melt into the horizon.

Ann smiles sadly. ‘Don’t know why we’re doing a service at this old place really. My brother was quite godless.’

Gertrude doesn’t register the statement. Her mind has been re-abducted by grief.

Ann’s smile dissolves into a grimace. ‘I guess Mom and Dad would be glad. Weird seeing the old place after all this time.’

Seeing a break in the conversation, Taban attempts to say something to Caleb, who is staring at his shoes, face wet with tears. He wants to say, ‘I’m sorry. I love you.’

Instead his mouth hangs open for a moment, then quickly shuts. He wanders a few metres back to the car, where his father, Cormack, is having a smoke.

Cormack points across the road. ‘Check out the old madala.’

On the sidewalk by the petrol station, a craftsman sat on a grass mat – soapstone sculptures splayed around him – is focused on a prowling tsetse fly. The bug affects disinterest – like a cat slinking nearer and nearer its master’s plate. The man doesn’t buy the act. Bony fingers twitch. Thwap. A rolled-up copy of the Daily News flattens the blue buzzing orb against the head of one his sculptures.

The old man spots Taban and Cormack watching. He waves – smile surfacing from his greying bristle beard.

Cormack waves back. His thick moustache crests – revealing a smile awkward and unequal to the old man’s sincere toothy beam. Looking both ways, he crosses the street.

A short conversation follows sprinkled with Shona and slang: Shamwaz. Mushe. Tatenda.

Cormack returns with a nyaminyami necklace. ‘Heard these little snakes are meant to bring good luck.’ He places the charm around Taban’s neck.

‘Why didn’t you get one for yourself then?’ he asks.

No answer. Another awkward smile.

Taban stares at the sculpture splatted with diseased insect guts.

It’s of a jackal.

Or maybe a fox.

Even here it is laughing at his pain.

Perhaps it is right to.

A voice, not his own, quiet, internal: You asked for this. 

Ann calls to them, ‘We better go in. It’s starting now.’

Taban heads towards the church. Cormack stubs out his half-finished cigarette, pops it into his top pocket, and follows after.

A priest, tired, overworked, greets them by the door and hurries them to their seats at the front where the seven-foot- long casket of the gigantic Uncle Athel dominates the room. He is dressed like his mourners – formally, in a manner he would’ve hated were he still alive. His face, usually earthy and red, is drained – the only face that isn’t sweaty in the freakish off-season heatwave.

Gertrude, Ann, Taban, and Caleb each take a seat. Taban in the middle, Ann is to his left, Caleb to his right, Gertrude at the end of the row, by the aisle – closest to her beloved Athel. Cormack hovers. There is no room for him. Someone rushes over with a chair, apologises for the mix up in the seating arrangement. He sits down – an awkward appendage to the row, obstructing the aisle.

The priest stands at the podium and attempts to transmute the life of the man who lies silent and boxed before the congregation into a story – into a sequence of soothing words. His tone is distant and professional. He is in a rush. He has many more funerals to get through.

Caleb raises his hands to his face as if trying to shield his eyes from a searing, painful light. His gentle weeping turns into a howling sob.

Taban tries again to say something, but cannot. Instead he lightly squeezes his cousin’s shoulder. He thinks that this is something he should do. A way of performing his love for Caleb who he admires more than anyone. A way of performing his sorrow for the loss of Athel who was dear to him. A way of suppressing his shame – his guilt.

Taban feels guilty.

He is responsible for this tragedy. Most here believe that Athel’s death was an accident – that he’d accidentally overdosed on his medication after having one too many drinks the evening before. Others whisper that it was an intentional act.

That he just couldn’t bear losing the old family farm – after spending so much effort and treasure to repurchase it. But Taban knows the truth. It is all his fault. Athel’s death was the result of a curse that is running out of control – a curse he let into the world.

Taban can feel the presence of the swollen moon above them. Ever since that horrible evening it has hung brazenly in the daylight sky. Though no one else seems to notice. Every morning he wakes to find it larger.

The Black Diamond Fox Bite by his collarbone itches. It smells of charcoal.

It looks like this →

Black Diamond Fox Bite, Illustration by Emily Rose Harrison

Lloyd Markham was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He spent his childhood in Zimbabwe before moving to and settling in south Wales at the age of thirteen. His first novel Bad Ideas\Chemicals was shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year and won a Betty Trask award. He was awarded a bursary from Literature Wales to develop his second novel Fox Bites. He likes making and listening to strange music.

Fox Bites by Lloyd Markham is published by Parthian Books and is available from all good bookshops.

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