Child's Play

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Odd-Child's Story: Child's Play

"I'm gonna get you!" Odd-Child ran after Lop-Ear, grabbing for him.

He bolted away from her, looking back over his shoulder and grinning with his tongue hanging out. He made a sharp right turn and she cut the corner and lunged at him. She missed her grab but caught him by the tail. He skidded to a stop and turned, folding himself in half to snap his teeth at her. He caught her arm in his teeth, snarling playfully. She wrapped her other arm around his neck and they fell to the ground, rolling and growling.

After a few minutes of tussling, she broke free of Lop-Ear's grasp and ran with him close on her heels. "Run, Odd-Child! Run!"

As they rounded a large rock, Father appeared from the other side, in front of Odd-Child. Both children skidded to a halt at his feet. Lop-Ear ran into Odd-Child's long legs and she stumbled and fell over him. They untangled themselves and looked up at Father sheepishly.

"There you are," he said blandly. "Mother has been looking for you two."

"We were, um..." Odd-Child began.

"Gathering rocks," Lop-Ear finished for her. "There weren't any good ones over here though."

Was that what they were supposed to be doing? Odd-Child couldn't remember.

"So you decided to play tag?" Father sounded more amused than annoyed, at least. That was good.

"We have to practice our hunting skills," Lop-Ear pointed out earnestly.

Father shoved him affectionately with his nose, bowling him over again. "Of course. Now, go see Mother. Both of you. She needs help preparing for the feast tonight."

"Yes, Father," the children said in unison and darted off toward the camp.

When they arrived, Mother was fussing over bundles of meat, followed by one of the nursling pups.

Odd-Child waited until Mother looked up at them, "Father said you wanted us?"

"Ah, yes. We're a little short on food for tonight. I want you two to go gather some nice berries." She pressed a couple of wrapping skins into Odd-Child's hand.

"Berries?" asked Lop-Ear, sounding disgusted.

"Yes. Go." Mother gave him a shove to emphasize her point and he trotted off with his tail down. Odd-Child darted after him.

"Gather berries?" Lop-Ear repeated once they were out of earshot of the camp.

"What are we? Nurslings?" Odd-Child commiserated.

"At least you like berries."

"Not all of us are as picky eaters as you are. But I can still hunt. We could be hunting dassies or quail."

"Yes. You are a mighty hunter," Lop-Ear agreed with a wicked twinkle in his eyes. "You are strong and brave and fierce and one day you will be the terror of the onager and all the males will fight over you."

Odd-Child growled and shoved him. "Don't tease!" she complained.

He stumbled, regained his balance and snapped his teeth at her. She pounced on him and they tumbled over each other growling and biting and kicking. They ended finally with Odd-Child on her back in the grass and Lop-Ear sprawled on top of her, panting.

"Odd-Child, you're bleeding!" he said suddenly, sitting up and jumping off of her.

She looked down in surprise to see a pair of small puncture wounds in the bald skin of her arm.

"Did I do that?" Lop-Ear licked her arm, a worried expression on his face.

"I'll tell Mother it was berry thorns," Odd-Child told him, rubbing at the bite marks. Now that she knew they were they, they stung. "By the time we're done picking berries I'll be so covered in actual thorn scratches that she probably wont even notice these."

"She wont like that either."

"I can't pick berries without getting scratches."

"Maybe if you point that out she'll let us hunt something next time?" Lop-Ear suggested brightly.

They retrieved their wrapping skins and continued toward the strip of dense brush along the creek.

They found a large bush of ripe berries and began picking; Lop-Ear sitting on his hind legs and picking the lower growing berries and Odd-Child stretching out to her full, gangly hight to pick the high ones. For every two that she added to the wrapping skin one went in her mouth.

They had been picking for some time when Lop-Ear crept quietly over to where Odd-Child stood, licking blood and berry juice from her hands.

"Fat dassy around behind the bush," he whispered.

"Where?"

Lop-Ear sniffed the air and pointed.

Odd-Child sniffed, turned her heard and sniffed again, but she couldn't smell anything but berries.

"Around this bush, other there. Can you sneak up on it and spook it this way?"

"Get ready. Don't let it get away." She crept off.

Coming up behind the browsing dassy, she broke out of the brush, yelling and waving her arms. The dassy sprang off and bounded away. She chased after it crying, "Run, little dassy, run away!"

From the other side of the berry thicket, Lop-Ear charged to intersect the fleeing prey. His teeth snapped shut a hair's breadth from its head. The dassy made a surprisingly tight turn and ran away from the snapping jaws.

"Hey! You're letting it get away!" Odd-Child shouted and lunged for the escaping creature. Her lunge ended with her flat on her belly, slightly winded with her arms outstretched before her. But she had caught one of the dassy's hind feet in one hand. Once she realized she had it, she quickly brought the other hand up for a firmer grip and hauled the struggling animal back toward her face. She sank her teeth into the dassy's throat, tasting fur and blood but the dassy was still struggling. Its claws raked across her face and she struggled to get her teeth far enough into its throat to kill it.

Then Lop-Ear's gray face loomed in her vision. His teeth closed on the back of the dassy's neck with an audible crunch and the animal went limp. Odd-Child let go if it, spitting fur and wiped her face. Her hand came away bloody. She yelped as her hand touched the scratches on her face.

Lop-Ear looked worried. "Are you alright?"

"I think so," Odd-Child said, fingering her scratches more gingerly. "It's only a dassy after all."

Lop-Ear picked the dead dassy up in his mouth and Odd-Child went back and gathered up both of the skins full of berries and they trotted back toward the camp with their prizes.

Back at the camp they met Swift-Foot on her way out. Lop-Ear dropped the dassy to sniff noses with her and Odd-Child dropped to all fours to do the same.

"Hey, look everybody!" yelled Swift-Foot. "Lop-Ear caught a dassy."

"Wow! A whole dassy?" Flint-Teeth trotted up.

"Yup," said Swift-Foot, flipping the dassy over to inspect it.

"Odd-Child helped," said Lop-Ear.

"Helped?" Odd-Child was indignant. "I caught it."

They all looked at her.

"Lop-Ear was the one killed it, though," she admitted.

"And what happened to your face?" asked Swift-Foot.

"Dassy claws," answered Odd-Child.

"A dassy did this?" Flint-teeth padded closer to peer at her cuts and then give them a quick lick.

"It was a very sharp dassy," Odd-Child said defensively, cringing back a little. She knew he'd never really hurt her, not as long as she didn't challenge him, but still, Flint-Teeth was a little scary. Lop-Ear thought so too. Bright-Fangs didn't, but Odd-Child wasn't sure where was anyone Bright-Fangs was afraid of.

"Silly cub," Flint-Teeth said. "You've got to break the prey's neck before it can get its claws into you."

I tried! Odd-Child thought, but she only dropped her eyes away from his.

And then Mother's voice cut through the conversation and everyone fell silent. "What happened to Odd-Child?" There was a hint of a growl in her voice. She looked suspiciously at Flint-Teeth and then at Lop-Ear.

Lop-Ear pointed to the dassy.

Mother looked down, she was almost standing on it. Then she looked at Odd-Child. "What happened, puppy?"

Don't call me puppy! I'm not a nursling! "I was trying to kill the dassy and it scratched me. I'm fine, though. Really."

Odd-Child's eyes were beginning to sting and grow wet the way the did when she was sad or frustrated. It was all too much. First the dassy and her inability to kill it. Then no one believing she had really caught it. And Flint-Teeth being ... Flint-Teeth. And Mother treating her like a blind, deaf nursling. And despite her reassurances to Mother the scratches did hurt. And as the water from her eyes hit them they hurt even more.

"Let me see," Mother said firmly and Odd-Child obeyed, sitting down and letting Mother inspect her cuts. Mother made disproving little snorfling noises and herded Odd-Child away from the group toward the corner of camp where supplies were kept. There she found a bladder full of fresh water, untied it and began sloshing water over Odd-Child's face. Odd-Child sputtered.

"Hold your breath," Mother told her and wiped gently at the cuts.

At least now no one would notice the water dripping from her eyes.

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