Title: Humans just ain't worth the trouble
Challenge: September 2001
Major Characters: Ezra and Vin
Archive: Yes please
Author: Lily of the West
Humans just ain't worth the trouble
Once again, he stopped and looked over his shoulder. But his mother wasn't there. He was alone, and there was a great emptiness in his belly. He sat on his haunches and sucked his paw and made a mournful sound in his throat. Mother had always been there. Mother had always known how to find food.
He sat there for a while listening to the hollowness inside his belly. Was it the hunger? Mother had shown him how to find food. She had found berries or dug up roots or prairie dogs and shared them with him. He turned his face to the wind and sniffed. He couldn't smell any prairie dogs now.
But then Mother had grown distant. She had wanted to eat the food herself and had growled and snapped her jaws at him. He had followed her around for a few days, sick with longing, never daring to come too close. Then, this morning, she had suddenly dashed at him from across the meadow and sunk her teeth into his flank. He had left then.
Now he was hungry. He had to find food on his own. He rolled to his feet and ambled towards the forest, his nose pointing into the breeze. Mother had always found berries and bird's nests in the forest.
It was night now. He strolled through the pitch-black forest, weaved around invisible trees. He had found some horsetails and a dead bird. He thought he would sleep; but then there had been a faint smell on the wind. Faint, far away, but enticing. A strange new smell. He followed in the darkness, his heart beating faster.
Humans. He had seen them before, but only from far away. He had come across them a few times with Mother. Mother had been very clear about what to do with them: She had always turned on her heels and run the other way: Run, run, run, when there are humans.
Why, he wondered? They smelled interesting. They smelled edible. He sat and played with the wind in his nostrils. So many different smells at once wafted through the trees. All new, all exciting. All belonging to the humans. Run, run, run. His muscles twitched. But his nose stuck to the wind. He was hungry, so hungry, and the human smells called to him. Mother was gone. Slowly, he strolled down the hill towards the humans' camp.
There were two. They sat around a small fire – odd, they seemed not afraid of it. A strange, beautiful smell came from the fire. He knew instantly, without doubt, that it was food: meat. Although it smelled different, very different, from any other meat he had ever tasted. But he knew. It was food, human food. Off in the shadows, he could hear and smell the horses. Horses were big; too big for him to kill. Humans always came with horses; they had power over horses. Humans had power over fire. Humans had many strange powers; maybe that was why mother had feared them. He licked saliva off his lips. Mother wasn't here, and he was hungry.
He padded nearer, close to the light cast by the fire. The humans looked small and not very strong. He had expected them to be bigger, much bigger. Maybe they were edible. They looked very different from one another. One looked like the dusty earth and had long fur growing from his head. The other had shorter fur and was very colorful, like a large flower. They were making curious sounds at one another; low and quiet, like the hum of many bees or the murmur of a creek. Intrigued, he lay down on his belly just outside the ring of light and cocked his fine ears towards the humans to listen to their strange, melodic voices.
"How d'ya like the stew, Ezra?"
"Surprisingly good, Mr. Tanner. Dare I inquire what went in it?"
"Aaw, mix o' things. Beaver, muskrat, some skunk…"
There was a harsh coughing sound from the colorful one. "Dear Lord, Vin!"
The earthen one made a series of rapid, breathy sounds. "Pullin' yer leg, Ez. It's elk shoulder."
"Do I have your solemn oath on that?"
"On my sainted mother's grave."
"Very funny, Mr. Tanner."
His ears twitched and played with the human voices. He liked to listen to them. Their sounds were fast and twittery, unlike those of bears. More like those of birds. Birds were edible, if you could catch them. Maybe humans were, too. They didn't look hard to catch. He didn't think they would fly away. He was hungry and his belly hurt. He remembered his mother and moaned with longing.
"Ssh, Ez. Did ya hear that?"
"Was that your stomach, Mr. Tanner?"
"Ssh! There it is again." The earthen one suddenly got to its hind legs. It looked tense. It stared towards the darkness, right towards where he sat.
"We got a visitor, Ez." Its voice was low and quiet.
The colorful one jumped to its hind legs, too. Its movements were faster. It twitched. Its voice was higher and quicker.
"Aw hell, Vin! Is that…"
"It's a griz, Ezra. Ya got yer gun?"
"Aw, shit. Good grief, it's still on my saddle." The flowery human was slowly moving backwards. Was it afraid?
"S' allright. Jus' stay here by the fire and stand yer ground. He'll leave; he'll want no trouble."
He focused on the earthen one. That one looked more formidable. It seemed calm, strong. It did not yield. In its front paws it held – was that a stick? A strange-looking stick. A human kind of stick. More strange powers. Run, run, run. But that smell…that beautiful
smell of food.
Slowly, his nose stretched towards the scent of meat, he moved forward into the ring of light. The flower human took another step back, towards the darkness. It made rapid sounds, its voice even higher.
"Grievin' Jesus, Vin. He's up to no good. I do hope that prehistoric thing is loaded?"
"It's loaded, Ez. Jus' stay calm and stand by the fire."
That one's voice was slow and quiet. He moved closer. The human stood behind the fire. It wasn't afraid of the flame. He moved sideways a bit, to get around the fire. But the human moved sideways, too, and kept the fire between itself and him. It had power over the fire; he must be careful with this human. He looked it in the face, and it looked boldly back at him. It had hard, bright eyes. It looked dangerous.
"Ya can't have our food, pard. Go home."
He paused and sat on his haunches. He was unsure what to do. Mother would know. That human would not leave its meat. Its voice was low and unafraid.
"Ya gonna be a mighty fine griz some day, friend. But ya gonna have some growin' to do yet. Just you stay away from humans, ya hear? They ain't worth the trouble."
The colorful one twittered loudly in the background. "Lovely. Lovely, Mr. Tanner. I whole-heartedly approve. What a brilliant idea to appeal to his intellect. Without a doubt your formidable skills of persuasion will…"
"Calm down, Ez. He's just a baby, look at `em. He can't be more'n two years old. I'll bet ya whatever ya got in that fancy boot that he just got kicked out by his Ma. He's probably hungry and scared."
"My heart goes out to him, Mr. Tanner. Now would you please employ that blunderbuss of yours and shoot the brute?" The flower human was still shuffling backwards, away from the light. Its voice was rapid and breathy. It was stumbling. It looked weak.
"Shoot `em? Aw, come on now, Ez. He's jus' a dumb cub missin' his Mama. Ain't no sport in shootin' him. He's barely grown outta his britches."
"A baby. Ah yes, of course. A four hundred pound baby. With fangs the size of cavalry sabers. And I wasn't aware that britches were part of a grizzly bear's wardrobe."
"Ya getting' hysterical, Ezra. He can't be more `n two-fifty."
The flower-human backed into a small tree at the edge of the light. It grunted. Then a strange thing happened. It reached upwards with one paw, then with the other – and pulled itself into the tree.
This intrigued him. He got to his feet and stared. Birds sat in trees. Maybe humans were like birds after all? But the human didn't move like a bird. It was huffing and snorting and there were branches breaking. It sounded like Mother that one time she tried to reach the bees' nest high off the ground. Or like a porcupine. Porcupines climbed very noisily. They weren't all that nice to eat.
He decided to investigate the colorful human. It looked weak. Maybe it was more edible than the other one. He wouldn't try to catch the earthy human. That one looked dangerous, and it guarded its food. Slowly, he moved towards the tree with the flower human. He heard it grunt. He saw its colorful fur in the branches. It wasn't very high up; the tree was small. He sniffed carefully. The human smelled interesting. There were different smells coming from it; some like fur, some like sweat. Some like flowers. The flower human smelled like flowers. How curious. He stood beneath the tree and looked up. The flower human stared down at him. Its eyes were pale, like the other one's, but it looked afraid. It began to twitter; its tongue came from its muzzle to lick its lips.
"Mr. Tanner. Your friend appears to take an inordinate interest in my person."
"That's `cause ya gotta look mighty funny up there in that tree. Ya shoulda stayed by the fire with me. He wouldn'a dared come close. Jus' sit still. He ain't aggressive, just curious."
He thought he should get a closer look at the one in the tree. He rose to his hind legs and braced a front paw against the tree trunk. The human drew its hind legs further up and chattered shrilly, like an excited squirrel.
"Oh. Oh no, you won't. Mr. Tanner, I do believe he intends to devour me. Won't you please shoot him? I'll pay you. I have three hundred and seventy two dollars in my right boot. It's yours. Just shoot the reprobate, will you."
"Can't do it, Ez. Not iffen he ain't aggressive. I ain't gonna shoot some dumb cub just `cause you're scared. It jus' won't be right."
Suddenly, another strange thing happened. The human let go of the tree with one front paw and began to punch it into the air. How curious.
"Don't do it, Ez!" The earthen one's voice suddenly sounded much sharper. "Ya can't kill a griz with that peashooter. Ya jus' gonna make `em mad, and then I gotta shoot `em."
Up in the tree, the flower-human made a new sound. It began to bark. "That. Is. The. Very. Idea. Mr. Tanner." It continued to punch its paw in the air with each loud bark that came from its muzzle. "Gawd dammit, it's jammed! Why! Gahg! Why now! Of all. Times…" It sounded the way a coyote does when you drove it off its kill. How curious. Humans had so many voices.
He decided right then that the punching and barking was annoying. It really had to stop. He stretched higher on his hind legs, reached up with one lazy paw and swiped loosely at the human's arm. Not too hard, just hard enough to stop the punching. To his surprise, there was a small, sharp noise, and a shiny thing flew from the human's front paw and landed in the dust below.
"Help! I've been disarmed."
"Ezra, ya really gotta stop yammerin'. Ya pissin' `em off."
"Oh please do relay my apologies to your furry friend."
He dropped to his feet to investigate the shiny thing that had come from the human. It was like a small stone. He licked it. It tasted like a stone, but different. Definitely not edible. He rolled onto his haunches and whimpered in disappointment.
He thought about what to do. The flower human looked edible, but he feared the other one. Mother had told him to run. He turned his head to look at the earthy human. It stood quietly, waiting. It wasn't afraid, but it wasn't aggressive either. Maybe it would not disturb him. He was hungry, and Mother wasn't here. He remembered the flower smell that had come from the human with the colorful fur. No animal smelled like that. He wanted to find out.
He rose and padded back to the tree. The human in it moaned. It was time to have a closer look at it. He stood on his hind legs and gingerly grabbed one of the human's legs between both of his front paws. He pulled. The human shrieked, just once, and very loud. A rabbit shrieked like that when you caught it. He was always surprised that a little thing like a rabbit could make such a loud sound. The human came off the tree easily. It really wasn't very strong. It slid to the ground onto its belly, its muzzle pointing at the earth. It made many sounds.
"Oh please. Oh Lord. This is the end. What an abominable, undignified death. Please. Please, Vin. Are you still there?"
The sounds were shrill and hurt his ears. He decided the human should be quiet. He swatted it across the rump, very lightly. It shut up immediately. He felt it tremble underneath his paw. He was delighted. He had power over this human.
He turned his head when he saw movement. The earthen human. It had come around the fire, pointing its stick at him. It moved slowly, with purpose. He grew uneasy. That human was dangerous. It made slow, deep sounds, like a growl.
"Easy there, fella. Don't ya hurt my friend now, or I'm gonna hafta shoot ya."
"How re…reassuring, Mr. Tanner. How much…how much more encou… encouragement to you need?"
The earthen human stopped a few paces away. It was cautious, but not afraid. He kept it in the corner of his vision. He didn't want it to
come any closer.
The colorful human underneath him began to wriggle again. He decided it should lie still and clamped an authoritative paw across its shoulders. To his delight, it froze instantly. Curious now, he thought it was time to investigate further. He stuck his long nose deep into the hollow of the human's armpit and drew a slow, intoxicating breath. It wriggled again and made a series of dull little sounds against the earth.
"Oh my good Lord."
"Just keep still now, Ez. He's jus' havin' a good look at ya."
The smell was sharper there, more like the way other animals smelled; more like the way the earthy-looking human smelled. Not so flowery. He pulled his nose out of the armpit and waved it over the human's head. The flowery smell came from there, from the human's fur. He pressed his nose against the fur right above the ear and snuffled a bit, delighted at the way it fluffed under his breath and tickled in his nostrils. He stuck out his long, hot tongue and played with the soft ear. The human whimpered.
From the side, the earthen one made the breathy sounds again. "Shoulda gone easy on that hair soap, Ez."
More muffled sounds. "Mr. Tanner. Vin. I beseech you. I implore you…"
"I got `em in my sights, Ez. I'll shoot `em iffen he tries to hurt ya. Ya gotta give `em a chance, ya know. This is his forest, too."
He decided then to open it up to see what was inside. He would be careful. Mother had taught him to be careful when eating something new. He remembered the first time Mother had killed a porcupine. He moaned sadly. Mother had warned him, but he had been greedy. Maybe humans were like porcupines. There were juicy bits inside, but you had to peel them very, very carefully.
The human's fur was short, loose and colorful. No animal had fur like that. He found a fold of fur up by the human's neck. Very carefully, he hooked a long sharp claw into the fold and pulled. The fur split with a strange hissing sound. How thin it was. The human whined and trembled. There were several layers of fur. All were thin, and weak. How curious. Underneath, there was flesh. Soft, white and hairless, like that of a baby bird. He stuck out a careful tongue to lick it. It tasted sweet and slightly salty. Maybe he should take a careful bite…
Noise, horrible noise! He jumped high in the air in terror. Thunder? What was it? There was the earthy human with its stick pointing up at the sky. It took long steps towards him. It was snarling. It looked aggressive. He was frightened. He backed away from his prey. The earthen human made deep rumbling sounds. It was angry!
"That's enough, fella. Next shot won't be a warning. Now git! Git outta here, before ya get hurt."
It suddenly bent towards the ground and then straightened and flungits paw at him; there was a stinging pain on his head, something bounced off. A rock? Did humans have power over rocks, too?
"Now git, do ya hear?"
Run run run!
He would leave. But the soft sweet flesh! He wanted to take his human with him. He wouldn't abandon his prey! He jumped at the flower human. He grabbed it by the hind paw, the right one, and pulled, pulled it towards the forest. It slid along the ground. To his surprise, the flower human suddenly came alive. It roared.
"Oh no, you won't. Not that boot. You want a boot? Take this one, you villain!"
It curled up its other hind paw and then struck out, hard! Ow, it hurt! It struck him between the hind legs, right at the spot that was always so sensitive. He moaned and let go of the hind paw in his jaws to grab the other one, the offending one. Ow! More pain. Another rock! The earthen one roared and bent down to the earth again. The flower one roared. So much noise! His ears rang painfully. And then a very odd thing happened. The hind paw in his mouth came off! It came off from the human's leg. The other leg kicked him in the nose. Another rock! Enough! He ran.
Run run run!
He ran into the darkness until he was safe. He stopped and sat on his haunches. He dropped the hind paw. He breathed hard. Ow, there was pain! He bent between his hind legs to lick that sore spot. The human voices were twittering out of the darkness behind him.
"Ya hurt, Ez?"
"No…no, I don't think so. Is he…is he gone?"
"Yeah, he's gone. Learned his lesson. Geez, Ez, the way ya kicked him in the balls – I ain't gonna forget that, ever."
"Forget? Did you say forget? Don't worry, I shall NOT forget. I shall not forget, Mr. Tanner, that a man I considered my friend – my friend! – stood idly by laughing – laughing! – while I was being dismembered by a wild animal."
"Ya gotta calm down, Ezra. He ain't dismembered ya. He barely touched ya."
"He destroyed my wardrobe! He stole my boot!"
"It's just a tear, Ez. And at least it weren't the boot ya keep all that money in."
"The shirt and vest are ruined, Mr. Tanner. The jacket I will have to send to Harrelson and Pike's in St. Louis to be repaired."
"I'll sew it up for ya. I got needle `n thread in my saddle bags. Here, let me have it…"
"Gaawd! Gah! Take your hands off me."
"Ya need to settle down, Ez. It's all over now…"
The human voices – one calm and slow, one fast and twittering like an excited magpie's – faded into the background as he slowly lumbered away into the dark forest, carrying his prize in his jaws.
He traveled for a while, until all sounds and smells of the humans had faded away. Then he rested. He lay on his belly with the human paw in front of him. Maybe he could eat it? He worked his teeth around it. It was tough and hard like the hide of an old badger. But maybe there were still some juicy bits inside. He held it upright in his paws and stuck his nose down the long shaft. It smelled interesting down there; like moist earth and sweat and many other things he hadn't smelled before. He sent his tongue all the way down and around into the tip and felt saliva run through his teeth in anticipation. But the scent was just an echo; the juicy bits were all gone. He remembered the sweet soft flesh he had tasted briefly, so briefly, before the noise and the pain. He moaned in disappointment and pulled the hide from his nose with his paws. He chewed on it some more, but the smells coming from it and the memory of the flesh only increased the empty pain in his belly. Disappointed, he swatted the thing and watched as it flew into the bushes. He thought of his mother, and all the good food she would find. He sighed and lay there for a while with his head on his front paws. Then he lumbered to his feet and moved on. He'd go down to the river. Maybe he could catch some fish.
Mother had been right all along. Humans just weren't worth the trouble.