Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 123

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Not All Animals Are So Curious (or Big)

At first, the soldier couldn’t see more than a flash of movement. Then there was another. It was only a matter of moments before he realized that what he was seeing was animals running, tearing ahead at full speed. At first it was only small animals – snakes and mice and rabbits. Then the weasels and skunks (normal-sized ones) and dogs and cats and badgers. Then the bears and deer and the larger creatures. Predators and prey ran alongside one another, paying each other no mind. Crows flew next to hawks, owls flew in spite of the hour, squirrels leapt from tree to tree.

Edging his way around the trunk so that he would be less of a target, the soldier muttered, “This is about the most dangerous tree I could have stopped at. First the giant skunk monster Aniwye, now a horde of fleeing animals of each and every kind?” In the meantime, the air was splitting with cracks of lightning and his body shivered with the thunder that followed. The forest, already dark overhead under leafed boughs, was beginning to look a great deal more like night as the clouds filled in overhead. “Stay and wait?” the soldier asked himself. “I’m supposed to stay and wait?” He was having a harder and harder time believing that the queens had chosen the right companion or guide or whatever Cardinal was supposed to be to help him out.

In the midst of the gathering darkness, a burst of familiar red caught his eye. “There you are!” the soldier nearly said, but stopped himself when he realized it was not the man Cardinal, but a bird cardinal. Instead he sighed, “Close but not close enough?” Unlike the rest of the birds and beasts, however, this one wove a path between the rest of the frightened creatures and landed on a branch just above the soldier’s head. It looked down on him with beady, black eyes. Except for the fact that it was not behaving like the rest of the animals, and in any other circumstance, the soldier would have said it was a normal, unexceptional bird. Under current conditions, he decided, something was clearly up. “I apologize if I jumped to a wrong conclusion,” he said, thinking back to his greeting of No Legs and No Eyes. It was always best to be polite. Just in case. “Are you from Cardinal?” A new thought occurred to him. “Are you Cardinal?”

The bird looked back down on him without saying a word, which could have meant that it most definitely was Cardinal, or that it was no more than a bird after all. Then it did the oddest thing. It hopped first on one leg three times. Then on the other leg three times. Then, all the while looking at the soldier, it walked along the branch until it arrived at the tree trunk, where it kept walking and disappeared into the tree. The soldier was so surprised he didn’t move. He didn’t even drop his mouth open in shock, he was so surprised. He stood for so long, in fact, that the bird poked its head out from the bark to cock its head at him, only to disappear almost at once with the latest rumble of thunder, a thunder which rolled on and on and on for long enough that the soldier finally looked around, because it didn’t seem to be coming from sky.

Steps away from him, glaring and slavering, hunched a pair of giant black dogs, their growls shaking the air around them.

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