Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 122



Not All Animals Are So Certain

“I am definitely a man.”

“Everything has a scent, although not everyone’s is as bad as Aniwye’s over there. You don’t have one at all. So what are you?” The fisher crawled closer on the branch, seemingly not scared at all. Then again, he was talking.

The soldier’s mouth opened in sudden comprehension. “I don’t have a smell?”

“Not a one. Interesting. You can’t turn it off and turn it on? I thought that’s how you got Aniwye to pass you by.”

“Aniwye is the creature that…”

The fisher crept closer still. “The giant skunk, yes. He’s bad news. Someday he’s going to cross the wrong creature. Until then, though, every creature that crosses him gets it. Like Brother Bear. Walked across Aniwye’s path and Aniwye came back to find out who dared do such a thing. He’s quite the tracker, that Aniwye. But he couldn’t smell you at all, not even when he was downwind of you.”

“A giant skunk?” He understood the horrible smell.

“Yes, yes. That’s how he killed Brother Bear, who still reeks of it. He’s bad, that one.” The fisher cocked his head and let his beady eyes run the length and breadth of the soldier’s body. “So you’ve got no smell at all is the story, eh?”

“I was dead until quite recently. Not for very long, I don’t think, but long enough that I don’t have my own breath any longer. I’m off to try and find it now. I guess besides my breath, I don’t have a smell, either.”

The fisher nodded his understanding. “Well, good luck to you. I’m for home, myself, as soon as I can find some proper food for my family’s meal. The trick is to make it back without crossing Aniwye’s path. I’ve got some ideas, but none of them are perfect.” He clambered down to the base of the tree and looked up at the soldier. “You should be fine, though. If he can’t smell you, Aniwye can’t track you. He might not even notice you crossed him. Where’s your guide, though? Shouldn’t he be helping you out?”

“His name is Cardinal and he doesn’t talk. We’ve got a cat of some sort, it looks like a lynx but it’s not – ”

“Bobcat,” agreed the fisher.

“We don’t have those in Russia.”

“We don’t have Russia in here,” countered the fisher.

The soldier wondered if the fisher were putting him on somehow. He found the animal’s conversational style rather all over the map. Maybe that was just animals talking, though. Maybe they thought differently from people. “Cardinal ran on ahead and indicated that I should stay and wait for him. So I did. The next thing I knew, your Aniwye started making noise and started hoping it wouldn’t notice me. I’m not exactly in the best shape of my life right now.”

“You have been dead, after all,” said the fisher, as though being dead and no longer being dead were either relatively normal or not terribly surprising. Maybe he was just very sympathetic and understanding, the soldier considered. “Thanks for the talk and good luck with your travels. I hope your companion proves to be better in the future.” Without further ado, the fisher sped off through the underbrush.

The soldier sighed. He could hear the first patter of rain and here he was alone again and waiting.

Until a new shadow of movement caught his eye.

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