Nar seemed somewhat embarrassed by his inability to construct the kind of loom that Zan had really wanted, so he tried to make up for it with several other projects. One of them was a "door," a small, movable wall that fit into the big opening in the front of the house. The door was attached to the opening on only one side, so it could swing back and forth if someone wanted to go in or out of the house. He also made a couple of "awnings," which were little flaps of tree bark that stuck out over the door and the window to keep the rain out. I failed to see the point of all this activity, but it seemed harmless enough and it kept him busy.
And then, one evening, Nar plucked something out of truffle-dream-land that was truly alarming, once I had the chance to think about it. He started bashing two flints together, which, by itself, wasn't unusual. What was unusual was that he was bashing them together over a pile of dried grass. Tiny sparks flew from the rocks, and some of the sparks landed on the grass and grew into bigger sparks that flickered and moved as if they were alive.
Zan saw the flicker and came over to investigate. "It's 'fire,'" Nar proudly announced. It was plain that he had regained the confidence that he had lost after being defeated by the loom. He put some twigs on the pile of grass, and a few moments later, the twigs had fire on them, too. The fire continued to grow as he fed it sticks and pieces of bark.
Wimsie and I had never seen sparks turn into fire before. I could hardly tear my eyes away from it, and I sat there, absolutely transfixed, as the fire crept along the sticks and jumped from twig to twig. I had thought that Zan's basket-making and blanket-weaving were fascinating to watch, but this new thing that Nar had come up with was right at the top of the list of Awesome Shit That I Could Stare At For Hours. Nar added some driftwood to the heap of burning sticks, and the fire got so big, and so hot, that we had to move away from it.
As we continued to observe the fire from a more prudent distance, Wimsie noticed that the bark, sticks, and driftwood were gradually disappearing. "The fire is eating the wood!" she exclaimed, and I had to agree. That's exactly what it looked like -- some sort of dream-animal, called here by Nar and hungry for wood. I wondered what would happen if the fire escaped and ate all of the trees around us, and I tried to picture it: nothing here but white sand, brown soil, and rocks. Maybe the fire would even leap across the water to the islands and eat the trees out there, too. I shivered in spite of the heat, and shook my head to get rid of the horrible image of a world without trees.
Zan and Nar stretched out on their mats and finally dozed off. So did Wimsie. I stayed awake so I could keep an eye on the fire, because I wanted to see what it would do when it ran out of wood. The fire got smaller and smaller until it returned to wherever it had come from, leaving behind some small black chunks on a layer of gray dust. The black chunks stayed warm for a long time, but no new sparks appeared. Well, that was a big relief. All you had to do was stop feeding the fire, and it would go away. That was nice to know.
The next morning, Nar hit us with another one of his new ideas: "music." He said that his rock-bashing had reminded him of it, and then he had fallen asleep and dreamed about it. But when he tried to explain what music was, I didn't get it. I really didn't. Our world was already full of pleasant sounds: singing birds, chirping crickets, the swish of the waves on the beach. That was the only music that Wimsie and I needed, but Nar wanted to make human music, like the kind he had heard in his dreams. Evidently, the birds and the crickets, just like the cave, were no longer good enough for the humans.
The first "musical instrument" that Nar tried to make was a "drum." He carefully cut a good-sized section of bark from a tree, going all the way around the trunk, and then he took a pointed object out of his tool basket and used it to punch holes along all four edges of the piece of bark. He tied the long edges back together with vine, so he had a big, hollow tube of bark with the ends still open. After measuring the distance across one end of the tube, he removed two more pieces of bark from the tree, cut them to the size and shape he wanted, punched holes around their edges, and used them to cover the open ends. Then he picked up a stick and rapped on various parts of the drum, which made several different sounds.
As far as I was concerned, it was more noise that we didn't need, and I hoped that Nar would give up on his music, just as Zan had given up on her cloth. Everything that the humans had made or built after they had eaten that first batch of truffles seemed to be more bother than it was worth. Why couldn't they be happy to visit those things in their dreams, and then say, oh, that was nice, now it's time to start our day? That's what dogs did. But humans, for some strange reason, had to keep messing around with stuff. I didn't understand it at all.
And Nar wasn't done messing around. His next project was a "flute," which he made by punching a row of holes in a long, thin section of a dried bamboo stalk. He blew into a hole at one end of the stalk, while covering some of the other holes with his fingers. His first flute sounded so awful that Wimsie and I started spending a lot of time across the river. He worked on a second one, and a third, and he finally achieved the result that he had wanted: a series of notes, at more or less regular intervals. After showing Zan how to play the flute, he let her practice with it for a while. She came up with a little tune that vaguely resembled the song of a bird we heard every morning, and as she played, he tapped on the drum. Apparently, that was "music."
A few days later, as I was snouting around on the beach, Wimsie shuffled up to me, her head and tail drooping. "What happened?" I said, startled at her demeanor. I'd never seen her like that before.
"There's no one left to play with," she said forlornly. "The seagulls are gone, and so are the chipmunks, and even the crows that used to steal our snacks. And the humans are always too busy to play throw-the-stick, and . . . " She stopped there, but I knew exactly where she had been going with that sentence. And you got lazy, Fez. You sleep too much, and you don't want to play anymore because you'd rather sit on your ass and watch the humans. Oh, she would never come right out and say so, dear soul that she was, but I could tell what she was thinking. My own tail drooped as I realized that she was right.
As lazy as I was, I had noticed that many of the animals that had lived at the beach were gone, no doubt trying to get away from the increasing quantity and volume of noise that the humans had been making. Ironically, even the bird that Zan had been trying to imitate with her flute had flown away! And if plants could uproot themselves, the shrubbery would have fled the scene along with the animals. I was sure of it. The humans were oblivious to the fact that most of our neighbors had left, because they were always occupied with their projects.
Of course, Wimsie and I could have taken off and resumed our wandering ways, but we liked Zan and Nar. We really did. I think the poor creatures meant well -- they just couldn't think clearly because the truffles had addled their wits. I was beginning to wish that I had dug up the Truffle Tree. I still could, but I would have to swim out there by myself, and if they saw me heading for Truffle Island, they would follow me. Digging up the tree would be a waste of time anyway, because the humans were already too far gone. It would have been irresponsible for us to abandon them, considering the sorry state they were in, so we hung around and tried to make the best of it.
And I'm glad that we did. One day, Zan presented us with our very own jewelry: braided "collars," one for each of us, with pretty stones woven in. Zan had quite a collection of jewelry, including "necklaces," "bracelets," and cute little "rings" made from curly grape-vine tendrils. Most of the dogs in our truffle-dreams had been wearing collars, but it wasn't clear whether Zan had seen those same dogs in her dreams, or if she had simply decided that we might like some jewelry, too. It didn't matter to us. After all, it was the thought that counted.
Zan fastened the collars around our necks, making sure that they weren't too tight, and then she stepped back to admire her work. "The pink stones look nice with your gray fur," she told Wimsie, and she laughed at the puzzled expression on Wimsie's face. Coordinating stone color with fur color wasn't an activity that dogs were normally interested in. It occurred to me that Zan wasn't really able to appreciate how her own jewelry looked, because she was wearing it herself, and if it made her happy to put jewelry on us so she could see it, then so be it. The collar felt strange at first, but I got used to it. Wimsie did look cute wearing sparkly pink pebbles, and I told her so.
"You look cute, Wimsie," I said. She yipped and spun in a circle, and then she ran to get one of her long-neglected sticks. We played tug-of-war with it until I was completely worn out. At that point, I felt I had earned an interval of laziness, so I went straight to my favorite pistachio bush and flopped down on the grass for a nap. It turned out to be the best nap I'd had in a long time.
Things really settled down after that. The humans abandoned their grandiose plans, and confined themselves to activities that didn't involve an axe. Nar used one of his smaller, pointier knives to carve "spoons" and "forks" out of driftwood. Spoons and forks were items that humans could use to pick up food with, instead of using their fingers, and they worked pretty well for things like cantaloupe and leafy salads. When he was done with those, he made another flute that was actually pleasant to listen to. Or maybe he was just better at playing the damn thing. It was hard to tell. Zan kept adding to her collection of jewelry, as if she didn't have enough already. I was surprised at some of the fancy pieces that she came up with. She certainly loved her jewelry, although she couldn't convince Nar to wear any of it. And Zan also invented a game called "marbles," in which the humans drew a circle in the sand, put some round pebbles in the middle of it, and took turns trying to knock the pebbles out of the circle with other pebbles that they flicked with their thumbs. The game was a hit with Wimsie, and she immediately devised a new game of her own: chase-the-marbles. She would crouch a short distance from the circle, like a cat watching for mice, and wait for one of the players to flick a marble. There was a bit of tension in the air at first, until Wimsie learned to chase only the marbles that rolled out of the circle.
As the peace and quiet returned, Wimsie's animal friends came out of hiding. She was thrilled to have her playmates back. It made me happy to see her happy, and, incidentally, it also made me happy because it gave me more time to relax. I turned into a lazy bugger again, but she didn't seem to mind as long as she had the gulls and squirrels to play with.
Every evening, if it wasn't raining, the four of us sat by a fire on the beach, eating snacks and staring at the flames while the waves lapped gently against the shore, the dolphins frolicked in the bay, and the geese honked as they paddled to their roosting-spot further up the beach. It didn't get much better than that.
But sometimes, as I gazed into the fire, I got a strange feeling that made the fur on my back prickle. It felt as if there was a huge thing, like some kind of big animal, but not quite an animal, out there somewhere, and it was sleeping and about to wake up. I didn't tell Wimsie, because I didn't want to spoil her fun. But every time I got that feeling, the same thought went through my mind: I should have dug up that fucking Truffle Tree.
To be continued...
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