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Stories from the Verse
For Better or Verse
Chapter 42: Brown 68
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Learning to fly at all had taken a couple of weeks; but now it was clear that learning to fly well was going to take a lot longer. As the summer warmed, Derek again and again returned to the air, encouraged by his progress, but discouraged by his weakness.
"At the rate I'm going," he said, "I might be able to fly up to the entrance in the tree in time for winter."
"That sounds like an excellent goal." He had not expected his ubiquitous mother again to answer when he spoke to himself. He did not want to explain that he was being sarcastic and cynical; that he hardly thought flying to the hole high in the tree that great an accomplishment. Whether she thought it was a good target for a child his age, or whether she thought to encourage him that he could do this, he wasn't certain. Either way, it did not have the desired effect.
"Shouldn't I be able to fly a lot farther than that by then?"
"Oh, not necessarily." There she went again; it was the don't compare yourself to other children speech. "Our winter home is very high; a lot of children would have trouble getting to it, until they were several years old."
A thought occurred to him. "Mostly girls, though, huh?"
His mother hesitated. "Mostly," she emphasized, "girls. Boys, too."
"So, if by the end of summer I can fly up there, that would be good?"
Lelach turned toward him, came to him in one wing-assisted hop, and touched her finger to his nose. "That would be very good," she said, in a motherly voice.
O.K., so he had something to work toward in his flying. But what about those mind powers? Could he learn to do more with those, in time to use them for–for whatever he was going to have to do in this world? Already he could read minds and talk thought to thought with people–that is, sprites. He wondered what sort of things would be easier, or safer, to try next. It occurred to him that doing something like what he already knew would probably be easier than doing something very different; but then he wasn't sure what made such things similar or different.
Maybe he could use his telepathy to talk with animals.
This seemed silly to him. Animals didn't think, did they? How could you communicate thought to thought with something that didn't think? But then again, animals weren't rocks; they weren't even trees. They acted in ways that suggested they could, in some sense, think. Besides, this wasn't Earth. On Earth (or at least, the one he remembered) sprites didn't exist (at least, as far as everyone believed). Even if somehow you could know that animals on Earth don't think–and he didn't quite see how you could know something like that with certainty–that wouldn't mean that they didn't think here.
If he was going to try to talk to an animal, it should be a friendly one, probably a pet. Pets? Did sprites have pets at all? If so, what kinds of pets would they have? The first image that came to mind made him laugh; he imagined a pet ladybug, huge in comparison to the tiny creatures of his human experience, perhaps perched on his shoulder. It was most reminiscent of a black-spotted red turtle. He laughed.
Mom was still close enough to hear.
"What's so funny?" she asked.
"Oh, I was wondering about having a pet, you know, an animal friend that sort of belonged specially to me; and I was trying to think of what kind of pet to have, but all I could think of was a ladybug, which seemed rather silly."
Lelach smiled. "That is a bit silly. Why would you want to have an animal?"
"It's kind of like having a kid, only for kids, I think. That is, you have to learn to take care of it, and you love it, and I think it teaches you responsibility and caring." Then, having heard his own explanation, he continued, "Of course, I'm probably too young for all that. At my age, it would probably be something you would have to care for that wouldn't be much more than entertainment for me."
Lelach had that thoughtful look on her face. "That's a very interesting idea. I wonder why no one has thought of it."
Probably, Derek thought, because sprites don't really have the resources to keep animals. We live outside when the weather is warm, and before it's cold we pack away as much food as we can store to eat all winter. It would hardly be fair to keep an animal all summer and then chase it away just when food was getting scarce; on the other hand, it would be very impractical to be walled up inside the tree for three months with an animal.
Still, having an animal friend that wasn't really a pet, but more like a neighbor's pet that kept coming over, or a wild animal that had grown accustomed to one person, interested him. He turned his thoughts back to what sort of animal might suit. Salamanders were interesting; they would be about the size of a small dog. Maybe a mouse would make a good pet. He wondered if there were chameleons or geckos around here, or whether moles were too big, or how big a lemming was. A sprite was bigger than a hummingbird or even a robin; but those probably didn't make good pets, he guessed. Bats were small, but maybe not that small; and anyway, sprites tended to be, what was the word, diurnal, awake in the day, and bats were nocturnal, creatures of the night, so there wouldn't be much time to spend together.
Then an odd thought struck him. Since he'd been here, he hadn't actually seen any animals. No, that wasn't entirely true. He had seen a lot of bugs, and a few birds; and maybe once or twice there had been a squirrel or something moving through the trees above. But this was the woods. Shouldn't there be animals living here?
It must be that they avoided the homes of sprites. He wasn't certain why that was; but then he remembered that his father was a hunter, that they had eaten mice, and quite a variety of other small animals, many times. Quite probably animals stayed away from sprites because they didn't want to be eaten.
That might be giving the animals quite a bit of credit. After all, mice didn't stay out of the basement in Mahwah despite the traps, the poison, the roaming cat, and the occasional humans passing through; they just ran for cover when anyone entered. But perhaps it was the same here. The animals could be here, just beyond view in the brush, and he hadn't seen them.
He would have to look harder.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with ten other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #174: Versers Achieve. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: