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November 21, 2022
"Mes de los Muertos"

The Garden of Peed-In 14

By Paula Petruzzi

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

As Time went on, Zan had more babies, and those babies grew up and built houses of their own, and then they had babies of their own. Our meadow became a "village." The humans planted more crops, and they also made groups of food trees that were called "orchards." They made more fences to keep their ever-expanding herds of sheep from roaming. And they started keeping herds of goats so they could use the goats' milk, which was a bizarre thing to do, at least in my opinion. I thought the goats' milk was supposed to be for the little goats, but the humans stole the milk from the mother goats and made "cheese" with it. Cheese was a truly disgusting substance, and it smelled funny, and I, for one, refused to touch it. I wouldn't have eaten cheese anyway, on general principles, because I wasn't a baby goat.

Wimsie and I had our own little jobs to do, and we regarded them as payment for the endless amusement that the humans gave us. I went out with the hunters, scaring deer and turkeys out of the brush for them and catching rabbits. I never told Wimsie that I was the one who was supplying the rabbits. It would have given her yet another thing to be horrified about, because the bunnies had been her favorite playmates. I just let her keep on thinking that the guys with the bows were good enough to hit them. They had tried, but the rabbits were just too small and bouncy to make decent targets.

Wimsie had a gentler job: watching over the human children and keeping them out of trouble. The adults in the village quickly learned to recognize her special kind of bark that meant, "Someone had better come over here and get this kid, now!" She also kept the lambs, which were small enough to wriggle under the fences, from wandering away from the herds.

And both of us would go outside, several times during the night, and make sure that no wolves were prowling around the sheep-pens. If there were, we used our "Hey, you morons, there are wolves out here!" barks, which always got quick results -- sometimes too quick. One time, an intrepid young hunter took a shot at me, thinking that I was the wolf. Fortunately, he was too young to be much good with the damn bow, or I would have finally found out, for sure, whether or not we do go to the Big Dream when we're dead. I must admit that I was curious about that, but I didn't want to leave Wimsie behind with these loony, cheese-eating apes. It wouldn't have been right. I did my best not to wind up dead, and I didn't wind up dead, and neither did Wimsie. We were good at staying alive.

Not only did Wimsie and I not die, but we didn't make little dogs, either. It simply didn't enter our minds to make little dogs. Some of the villagers asked Hala why there weren't any other dogs around, because they wanted to have dogs, too. She just shrugged and said that she didn't know. One of the people who wanted a dog suggested that she try feeding us more food, or different food, which was fine with us, but it didn't change the fact that no little dogs would be forthcoming. The villagers finally gave up and found some wolf pups to bring home and train, and they pretended that the wolves were dogs. It was absurd, but at least it got folks to stop bothering us about "puppies."

Several decades passed, and we began to notice another effect of the destruction of the Time Tree: the humans were "getting older." Zan and Nar, who had been around the longest, were the most obvious examples. Their hair was turning gray, their faces were becoming weathered and wrinkled, and they walked more slowly than they used to. It was also harder for them to do certain things, like sewing, because their fingers didn't work very well. Hala and their other children were also showing signs of getting older. Their grandchildren weren't, but if the pattern held, they would, sooner or later, "get old" -- unless they Fucked Up, like several of the young men in the village had done. Those men hadn't lived long enough for their hair to turn gray. They had died in spectacular incidents involving a falling tree, a herd of stampeding cows, and a wounded bear. I had seen two of those incidents personally, and I thought they were awesome ways to wind up in the Dream.

Animals got older, too. Hala's oldest horse, the first one she had ever owned, spent most of his time dozing in a corner of the pasture. He had swollen knees and a swayback, and she was sad because she couldn't ride him any more. The first batch of wolf puppies that the humans had brought into the village had grown up, grown old, and died. And several times, the hunters had brought back bony, gray-muzzled deer that were so old they hardly had any teeth left to eat with. Getting older was something that all living creatures did -- all except me and Wimsie.

The question came up one evening, while we were patrolling for wolves along the fences. Wimsie asked, "Fez, why aren't we getting old? You look just like you did before all the Bad Things started happening."

"So do you!" I said. "But I'm not sure why." I thought about it for a while. "Maybe it's because we're carrying the Big Dream around in our minds. If we go back to the dream, then no one here will remember the Story at all."

"That would be sad," Wimsie said. "It's a shame we can't write down the Story, so it would stay here if we went to the Dream."

This was new. I stopped and cocked my head at her. "What does 'write down' mean?"

"It's something that Hala started," Wimsie replied. Well, that explained why I didn't know about it, whatever it was. Hala the Screaming Baby had grown into a pleasant, cheerful woman, and Wimsie loved to hang around with her and help her with her tasks. I preferred the company of the men, especially the ones who habitually Fucked Things Up.

Wimsie gave me a description of what her friend Hala had thought up. "Hala makes thin, flat things, called 'tablets,' out of clay, and then she uses a pointed stick to put rows of little marks on the tablets before the clay dries. That's 'writing down' something. I put my paws up on the table so I could see what she was doing. The marks are words, but they're on the clay, and they look like little bird tracks. And she can look at the marks and 'read' the words that she 'wrote.'"

"Yes, but what's it all for?" I asked her. "What is she writing down?"

Her answer surprised me. "A story, sort of like our Big Dream. Zan and Nar told her about things that happened a long time ago, like making the rafts and finding the islands and building the bamboo house, and she has all those stories written on tablets. And when new things happen, she writes those down, too, because humans don't have a Big Dream to help them remember."

"That would be handy," I agreed. "No one can remember everything, but everyone can remember something, and they can put it all down on the tablets."

Wimsie sneezed. "But tablets aren't as much fun as Dreaming."

"No, they certainly wouldn't be," I agreed.

We finished our patrol and went back to the house. The door was open, as it usually was in warm weather. When I peeked inside to see if dinner was in the works, I saw that the house was full of people. They were sitting on stools, benches, and mats, and listening to Nar as he entertained them with a story. Nar loved having an audience. I glanced at the fireplace and saw that Zan was stirring something in a pot, which meant that dinner wasn't far away. I figured we might as well hang around, so we lounged on a mat and listened to Nar as he told the tale of our first rafting trip to the islands. He described how he built the rafts, and how Zan came up with the idea of using paddles, and the various plants and trees we had found on the islands. Nar was a good storyteller, and it was going well until he brought up a topic that neither he nor Zan had ever mentioned to anyone before: that damned Truffle Tree.

"And then we found a small tree," Nar began. "It made little round fruits that tasted better than the best chocolate you ever had. And when we fell asleep after eating them, we had amazing dreams, full of things that we had never seen before. That's how we learned about houses, and farming, and clothes . . . "

His narrative was interrupted by someone at the other end of the room who yelled, "Is the tree still there?" It was Skeem, one of the largest men in the village. And by "largest," I mean "fattest." The guy waddled when he walked, like those black-and-white birds that Wimsie and I had seen in our travels. I couldn't remember what those damn birds were called, and I hadn't seen any in a long time, but Skeem reminded me of them. He avoided work as much as possible, and he was in the habit of showing up at other people's houses shortly before mealtime. Everyone in the village shared food and coffee with guests. That's just the way folks were. They shared what they had. The people he habitually took advantage of could have solved the problem rather quickly if they had started showing up at his house and eating his stuff and draining his coffeepot, but they didn't, because nobody liked him. He was always up to something.

Nar opened his mouth, and then he closed it again as he realized that he had made a big mistake by mentioning the Truffle Tree to anyone, let alone to Skeem. Several moments passed, during which Nar tried to think of a way to talk himself out of the corner that he had, figuratively speaking, talked himself into. Finally, he shrugged and said, "Probably not. It was a very small tree, only about as high as this room. We didn't go out on the lake again after the storms started, and I doubt if the tree survived the storms."

It was a nice try, but I knew it wouldn't work. Every person in the room wanted some of those wonderful truffles for themselves. Even from across the room, I could see that Skeem had the same look on his face that I had seen on the faces of Nar and Zan during a trip to Truffle Island. Shit, I thought. Here we go again.

A lively debate ensued, during which everyone in the room offered an opinion. They discussed different types of weather, the kinds of trees that could tolerate crappy weather, the kinds of trees that had grown on the islands and were still around, the likelihood that a tree like the Truffle Tree would still be there, the estimated travel time to get to the beach, and whether or not a putative Truffle Tree would be worth the trip in the first place. The debate continued during dinnertime and dessert until the matter was finally resolved. Nar and a couple of the other men began drawing up plans for a Truffle Expedition. I eavesdropped on the conversation, because I intended to go with them. Maybe I could get to the tree before they did and destroy it somehow. At the very least, I could stuff myself with truffles so there would be fewer for the humans to find. I didn't really want to, but I would. The last things we needed were more truffle-crazed humans having strange ideas.

Several days later, the half-dozen members of the Expedition loaded up their pack-horses and got ready to move out. I watched in amazement as Skeem, who had insisted on coming along, managed to hoist himself onto the back of his horse. I was even more amazed that the horse was able to stay on its feet. I felt sorry for the poor creature, and I hoped that Skeem would bail out of the trip on the very first day so the horse wouldn't have to carry his fat ass all the way to the beach and back. The other men were, no doubt, having similar thoughts. The long ride would be work and not leisure, and it wouldn't take Skeem very long to figure that out. Two hours in the saddle would probably do the trick.

Wimsie was watching the activity from the doorway of the house. We had never been apart for more than a few hours at a time, but she wanted to stay with Hala, and I wanted to go with Nar. So we wagged goodbye, and off I went.

We set off at a brisk pace, traveling downriver on the path that would eventually take us to the beach. All of the humans were on horseback, but I didn't have any trouble keeping up with them. In fact, I trotted ahead of them for most of the way, in order to avoid the horseshit. I would have more than enough horseshit to put up with if the humans found that Truffle Tree.

Sometime around noon, we arrived at the spot where a calladia tree had once stood. It was the last one that Nar, Zan, Wimsie and I had used as shelter before the humans had built the log-house. I had seen that tree many times over the years, because it marked one of the little side-valleys that was good for turkey hunting. The tree had blown down in a storm, and all that was left of it was a rotten stump. I had a brief moment of nostalgia, like I always did, but I shook it off and returned my attention to the trail ahead of me. Wimsie would be sad if I got eaten by a bear. On the other paw, if I did get eaten by a bear, it would give Nar and his men a chance to Watch Fez Fuck Things Up. That seemed fair enough. After all, they gave me a hell of a lot more entertainment than I gave them, and they didn't even realize it.

To everyone's surprise, Skeem didn't turn back. That's how determined he was to get his hands on those truffles. His panting horse was the last in line, but he kept the poor thing going. Nar frequently called a halt so we could have a rest and a snack. In fact, our rest stops were a lot more frequent than they usually were on hunting trips, or, for that matter, any trip that didn't include Skeem, and I knew that Nar was simply trying to keep Skeem's horse from keeling over.

We traveled until it was nearly dark, and then the men pitched their tents to sleep in. The weather was nice, with no smell of rain in the air, so I stayed outside to keep an eye on the horses and the gear. Skeem's horse was so exhausted that it fell asleep with its nose in the feed-bag. The night passed without incident, and early the next morning, we continued our journey. Along the way, I looked for more calladia trees, but there didn't seem to be any left. They were probably one of those kinds of trees that died off because they didn't like the cold. I hoped that Wimsie never noticed that the trees were gone, because she had thought they were cute.

We kept going, day after day, moving along the path toward the beach. For the first few days, I felt as good as I always had. But then, I started to get tired. It wasn't just the kind of tired that happened after playing Tag-The-Tail, or chasing a deer for the hunters. It was the kind of bone-weary tired that the humans often complained about. I found it quite alarming. I had never been tired like that, and I had done a lot of traveling. I was smart enough not to let it show, however, because I had seen the fate of animals that could no longer keep up. I didn't want to take any chances.

Finally, we arrived at the beach -- or what was left of it. The water had risen until it was right below the mouth of the cave, obliterating the strip of beach that I was familiar with and submerging all but two of the islands. The new beach was mostly gravel instead of sparkling white sand.

None of the men, except for Nar, had ever seen an island, and they were eager to explore the two that were left. It was a fairly windy day, and even if we'd had a raft all ready to go, the water was too rough to venture out on the lake. The men pitched their tents along the river, and spent the rest of the day chopping down trees to make a raft and a set of paddles with. The paddles had to be made entirely out of wood, because the palmettos had disappeared along with the calladia trees and the bamboo. Since there were only six people, Skeem wasn't able to avoid his share of the work. He was no good with an axe, so Nar sent him to collect the vines that would be needed to tie the logs together.

As darkness fell, the men put their tools away, had a quick dinner, and retired to their tents for the night. I wanted to stay outside and watch over the stuff, but I was so cold that I was actually shivering. Screw the horses, I thought, I'm going in the tent. I scratched at the front of Nar's tent, and he opened the flap and let me in. I curled up on a corner of his blanket and dropped right off to sleep.

The next morning, my back legs were so stiff I could hardly stand up. That was another problem that I had never had, and it worried me more than being tired had. I wondered if I had caught a disease, like the one that the goats had come down with that had made most of their hair fall out. But then, an even more troubling thought crossed my mind. I felt like I was . . . getting old. If I were, it was happening a hell of a lot faster than it should. I remembered the conversation that I'd had with Wimsie, about why we weren't getting old like everyone else did. At the time, it had seemed strange to us that we were the only ones who weren't getting old, and now it seemed even more strange to me that I was. Or might be. I still wasn't sure exactly what the hell was happening to me. What if I went back to the Dream, and Wimsie didn't? Even worse, what if Wimsie was falling apart, too?

In spite of my effort to hide it, Nar noticed that I was limping. He scratched my ears and said, "Are you finally showing your age, old-timer?" So it was true. I was getting old. Nar had more experience with it than I did, so he should know. I was appalled at the comment, but then he leaned close and whispered, in a conspiratorial fashion, "When I first get up, my legs hurt, too. But don't tell anyone, or they'll put me out to pasture like they did with Hala's horse." He winked at me and gave me some tidbits of jerky, and everything was okay after that. Nar and I had a Secret.

Article © Paula Petruzzi. All rights reserved.
Published on 2014-03-03
Image(s) are public domain.
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