Previously: Hank Waterson writes a story about woodland creatures with magical powers who have the names of Carrie’s friends. … Roll with it.
PART 3.20b: WOODLANDS DETOUR 2
“The others… are coming…” Carrie panted out as she skidded to a halt at the water’s edge. She reached out to splash a little water on her face. “Oh yes, didn’t even take the direct route, and I still win!”
“Some things never change?” Clarke said, swimming closer to the bank.
“Ooh, yes, you always seem to do it, Carrie!” Laurie said, having come closer herself. “You’re so cool, with the hopping and the bouncing and the dashing and it’s hard to say whether a bunny can tap into the magic better than we can or if you’re just naturally so athletic but either way you’re an inspiration to us all and I really wish I had some of your coordination because I can never seem to stand on my ball for very long without falling off of it though you know that stuff could be completely different from magical ability so forget I said anything about it and oooh, what’s that new thing you’ve got hanging around your neck??”
By the time Carrie had explained to Laurie about the charm Glen had given her, Frank, Luci and Chartreuse had all made their way to the lake. “I found, you know, most of the early sentients,” Chartreuse hooted at Clarke. “I figured we didn’t need Jeeves or Megan or especially Azure or…”
“This is fine,” Clarke assured. “Now, the reason for calling you all here is because of what I found while felling some saplings to the north.”
“Near the human settlement?” Corry said, arcing an eyebrow.
“Right,” Clarke answered. “See, there’s this place that’s kinda glowy and tingly which does not feel good and… well, you have to see it for yourself. I ran into Lee up there and he’s keeping an eye on things.”
“Freaky,” Luci said at last. None of the others had spoken since arriving at the outskirts of the small clearing. “So,” the squirrel continued, “any ideas on what’s causing the weird green glow? Or any of the other effects, like the dying trees?”
“Nope, but I wouldn’t suggest going in there to find out,” Lee said. “I tried shuffling closer to that tree in the clearing’s centre and nearly sank right into the bog.”
“It must have freaked you out,” Corry observed. “You’ve let your quills do a shredding job on your jacket again.”
Lee shrugged. “Life of a porcupine is never easy.”
“Well, I could totally fly out to that tree,” Chartreuse offered. “Except, you know, I’m more of a water bird and the thing looks like it’s dying so might not support my weight…”
“You see now why I thought we should check this out though, right?” Clarke noted.
“Yes,” Julie replied, frowning. “The question is what does this mean?”
“Ooh! Ooh, wait,” Laurie broke in. “I know this clearing! I used to play around here a couple years ago – in fact didn’t we all have that big forest glade party here? It was around the same time a number of us were getting that whole self awareness thing!” She began nodding vigorously. “Yeah, yeah, we were celebrating that, and I’m pretty sure the party was here, because it was shortly thereafter that I first conjured my clothes and my ball! Am I right or am I right??”
“I think you’re right,” Frank realized. “Except this clearing didn’t look the same, not back then. It wasn’t marshy, there was more grass, less of an odour…”
“And less general eerieness,” Corry agreed. “But we stopped coming here shortly thereafter. When the human settlement expanded.”
“Bah, you’re imagining things, I haven’t been here before,” Carrie countered. She had moved to a position a little ways around the perimeter. “Now c’mere and check this out, I’ve found some partially submerged human looking barrels!”
Everyone headed over to see what Carrie was looking at. “Um, hate to tell you this Carrie, but those barrels don’t look like humans at all,” Chartreuse noted.
“Thank you Miss Literal,” Carrie countered. “Sheesh, why couldn’t we have magically learned a language that was less ambiguous than English?”
“Barrels of human origin, I understood you,” Luci said. “Moreover, that has to be the source of the ground acting like some wacky bioengineered sports drink.”
“Say, I think that’s a label out there,” Lee said, pointing. “Fell off a barrel. Anyone want to get close enough to read it?”
“Allow me,” Clarke offered, pulling out his magic lacrosse stick and extending it into the clearing. He used the mesh to snare the paper and pull it back in to the group.
“Okay, um, it says… ‘Linquist’s Dribs and Drabs’,” Frank mused, after smoothing out the sheet. He looked up. “What’s a Linquist?”
“Whatever it is, it sounds really evil,” Luci decided.
“Look, guys… I really don’t think we should hang around here any longer,” Julie decided. “And when someone as fearless as me is saying that, I’d pay attention!”
“Much as I hate to admit it, Julie has a point,” Corry chimed in. “After all, what if we’re exposing ourselves to the very source of the recent magical drain? We could be getting dumber and less powerful without realizing it.”
“Hold on a minute,” Carrie said, having again moved a short distance away. Her ears twitched in the air. “I’ve found a wide path back here and… do you hear that? There’s some sort of engine approaching.”
There was a pause as everyone listened for the noise. Then Lee’s eyes went wide. “Truck!” the porcupine announced.
“Humans?” Laurie gasped.
“Scatter!” Clarke shouted.
The 4×4 backed carefully down the trail, up to the edge of the clearing, after which both driver and passenger exited the vehicle. The red haired driver turned to regard her companion, who kept his hat pulled down low over his eyes. “Hey, Shady,” she ventured as he climbed into the rear of the truck. “You SURE we should be dumping this stuff so close to our town?”
The man in the hat gave an irritated grunt as he undid the rope that was holding two new barrels in place. “It has to be here, Mindy,” he affirmed. “It’s the only way to deal with our little sentient animal problem.”
“Right. I know. But what we’re doing, it won’t harm anyone, right?” Mindy pressed.
“You say that like we’re blowing up a hospital or something,” Shady grumbled. “Trust me, all this glop will do is shut down a crazy ecosystem that should never have existed in the first place.” He threw the rope aside. “In a couple months, this whole area will be clear for more development, more businesses, more jobs, and better living conditions.” He pulled the top off of one barrel of green slime, and then kicked it out the back hatch of the truck. It fell into the edge of the bog.
“Ah. Good points, I guess…”
“Besides. Even if what we’re doing here comes to light, and people object, I’m reworking things so that Linquist takes the fall,” Shady added, his grin visible beneath his hat. “We have a bright future ahead of us, Mindy, mark my words!”
“Yes, well, I want to believe that,” Mindy sighed. “But then there are other times when I get to thinking about the animals, and I wonder…”
Shady cut Mindy off with a growl as he rolled the second barrel out the back. “First concern for humans, now animals?” he rasped. “For gosh sakes, Mindy, pick a damn side!”
“Can’t I be on both sides?” Mindy protested.
Shady mumbled something under his breath. “Look, I can guarantee to you that what we’re doing here is perfectly fine for the animals. Okay?!”
“Oh? And how can you do that?”
“Because I’ve been in contact with one of them sentient beasts for weeks now,” Shady said with a grin. “In fact, that’s the thing that assured me any so-called magical effects around here will dry up after another week or so of dumping. So don’t cry for the animals, Mindy. Because they want to be rid of their mistakenly acquired human-like sentience as much as we want it too!”
That said, Shady closed up the back of the truck and returned to the passenger seat. He only looked back out when he realized Mindy wasn’t following him. “Aw, what is it NOW?” he sighed.
Mindy blinked and shook her head. “Oh, sorry. It was the weirdest thing… but when you spoke of the animals that way, I could have sworn I heard a collective gasp coming from all around us.”
Shaking her head, she returned to the cabin of the truck, started the ignition, and drove away.
-Shady’s back! Kind of. Not really. Are you enjoying this? Care to vote for T&T, or otherwise let me know?
-Incidentally, at less than 1500 words and only 9 kB in a text file, this marks the shortest entry in the series… ever! Even Part 47 (Respite) was over 1500, and having completed edits on Book 4 last weekend, I can say all future parts are longer than this.