By Adam Brown
There was only one thing I hated about spring: the water. Even with winter being over, meaning my family and I could finally eat after months of idleness, I would always be discouraged by the flooded fields, the overflowing tunnels, and the mud stuck between my toes. The year before I met my mate, I was in one of those hard, grey tunnels that Man makes, stuck on an island from a rush of water that came out of nowhere. I had to swim through filthy water for what felt like an entire night until I finally found a way out of that place. The things we do to mate! Not like I found one anyhow, being covered in excrement. Anybody could have smelled me from a horizon away and thought, “Man!”
I had waited, against the demands of my mate and our children, an extra couple of days after the snow had melted to begin the epic hunt for both food and a new burrow. Food always came first of course, but a new burrow was a necessity. Soon Man would send dogs after us, and the night birds would be after our children. I dreaded seeing such creatures. I let out a long yawn and savoured the dusk as I emerged from the burrow that spring, after my fourth long winter. Looking round the forest, I wondered where to begin. I was tired already, and had a long night of walking ahead of me. I scavenged the area for hours until I found something across a patch of hard man-ground; a large dead tree in the middle of a small clearing. It had been used before, but it would do as a temporary spot. I searched on for food.
After the clearing, I continued in the same direction for a short while, until I came to a massive field. It was perfectly flat, and had white lines going all across. It had Man all over it. Still, the berries and other food grown in the forest would not be found until midsummer, so I didn't rule out the possibility of stealing food from Man, risky as it was. I advanced alongside the treeline, making my way closer to where Man live, following my nose through the artificial smell and towards the scent of food.
I made a dash across the field towards the place of Man as soon as I had reached the tip of the forest. As I approached, I realized how foreign the world of Man was to me. Structures as tall as trees and as wide as rivers were everywhere, with these strange dim suns coming out of every one. A fool would have been drawn to them and I’ll admit I was curious, but it wasn't worth the risk, with the lives of my family at stake. I drove the dim suns out of my head, and followed my nose closely. I didn't have long to go until I found what I was looking for.
I'll never forget the first time I saw those things. At a glance, they appeared to be burly black dogs, however so still that they had to be a work of Man. They had this shimmer to them, like a river that reflects glimpses of the sun. All huge, black shiny stones they looked like. I soon came to understand them better, as the smell of food inside them caused me to tear one open. It was filled almost entirely of food, like a juicy worm or an egg. As soon as the hole was torn, leftovers came toppling out of it, but not with a flow like blood or yolk. It was much more solid. It was like a giant food egg with different kinds of food inside of it.
After being bottled up in the burrow for so long, not smelling or tasting sweet food for almost a whole winter, I could hardly contain myself from devouring the contents of these black food eggs. Such smells, although mixed with the putrid odours of Man, intoxicated me with a hunger I had never before felt. I continued to rip through, even though I thought I'd heard a rumbling or sorts, sounding distant but also close, as if muffled by trees.
This is where I first saw Man. Part of the structure opened from in itself, and a small youngling appeared, maybe about the size of three or four raccoons. Of course, I was as scared as I had ever been, but the thought of food was still fresh in my mind, the smell as present and pungent as ever. “You won't take this food from me Man!” I growled and hissed at him. He shot me a fierce look back, although it was shaky and half-heartedly. I could tell me wasn't used to confronting animals like me, but I was also vulnerable, just as he was. So we stared each other down, both of us snarling and growling every so often. There was someone saying something in Man-speak in the distance, probably talking to this youngling here, but his stare did not falter, nor did mine.
He held something in his hands, a long straight white branch with thin twigs coming out the end. He readjusted his grip around it, and I could tell that whatever it was, he was inexperienced with it. The voice of Man continued to cry out in the distance. All this time, we had been creeping closer to one another, waiting to break out of this trance of battle and attack the other. I had moved right under one of the dim suns coming high out of the structure, and it opened, just like when the boy had emerged. But, instead of another Man coming out, a splash of rain hailed from up above. I rushed away instinctively when I had become wet, and continued running until I had gone back into the forest and arrived at the tree in the small clearing again. I caught my breath and my thoughts.
It would be a long while before I dared go near the homes of Man again.
Photo Credit: Tammy Grimes