Kanive's "money" idea seemed harmless enough, at first. Kanive finished his math lessons, the Elders decreed that the villagers could start using money but that no one would be forced to, Hala was chosen by the Elders to set the prices, and Kanive went on another Crystal Expedition all by himself. People who wanted to start using money, and who had items to trade, gave those items to Kanive in exchange for their equivalent in crystals. The use of money did cut down on the bickering for a little while, and that was unfortunate, because it also cut down on my entertainment. It had been fun to watch people's good-natured wrangling.
But then, something happened that the Elders hadn't anticipated. The village divided into two groups: people who wanted to use money, and people who didn't. The ones who didn't were mainly the older people, who enjoyed haggling with each other and who wanted to do things they way they had always done them. The younger folks, on the other paw, saw the money system as more efficient and more sensible. The two groups came into increasing conflict with each other, and that caused some ugly arguments that weren't entertaining at all. The Elders finally decreed that everyone would have to use money.
After that, things got worse. People changed, and not in a good way. They didn't share with each other like they had before. The custom of giving food and drink to guests, which everyone had followed for as long as I could remember, disappeared. Everyone kept track of every little thing, and no one gave anything to anyone without expecting to be "paid back."
Things that had been regarded as belonging to the whole village, such as the crops and herds, became the "property" of the people who worked in the fields and took care of the herds. Those people kept all the corn, and tomatoes, and milk, and meat, and made other people give them money for those items. And everyone else did the same thing with their own products and skills.
It wasn't long before some of the villagers had a hell of a lot more stuff than the rest of them did, and one of them was Kanive. As the population grew, more money was needed, and Kanive always seemed to have more crystals. There was a stench in the village that had nothing to do with smell, and it had all started with Kanive and his "money."
One day, I saw Wimsie walking slowly up the path toward me, head down and tail drooping. I thought she might be sick or something, so I raced over to see what had happened.
"I don't want to stay here any more, Fez," she said sadly.
I had been thinking the same thing. "I don't, either," I said, and I licked her face.
"I was at Hala's," she said, "and Burka came in and started a fight. She said Hala was making her pay too much for math lessons for her two children."
"Kanive really messed things up, didn't he?" I said.
She pawed at the ground like a small, gray-furred bull. "It's awful here. Where can we go?"
"We'll just go away," I said. "We should leave now, before the weather gets shitty."
And that's exactly what we did. We started down the path toward the river, but then Wimsie said, "Wait a minute!" and she ran back toward the village. A few minutes later, she came trotting back, with her crystal in her mouth.
I was surprised. "I didn't think you would ever want to see another crystal again!" I said.
She put the crystal down long enough to say, "But this is the one you gave me, and I don't want anyone to find it," and then she picked it up again. When we were well away from the village, she found a place that would be easy to remember, and buried the crystal there.
It felt good to be traveling again. Before Wimsie and I had met Zan and Nar, we had roamed all over, and stayed wherever we happened to be when it got dark. I began to realize how much I had missed the freedom.
At one point, Wimsie stopped in her tracks and looked at me in alarm. "Fez, what if you start getting old again?" she said.
"So what if I do?" I said. "I'm not going back to Moneyville! And no matter what happens, I'll see you in the Dream, right?"
"Oh, right!" she said, and she cheered up a bit.
We had a hard time finding food. Killing animals was out of the question, because Wimsie would have been too horrified to eat them. And neither of us would eat raw meat, anyway. We got hungry, but not starving hungry, just the kind of hunger that made us wish we had a snack. And when winter arrived, we shivered a bit, but we didn't freeze no matter how cold it was.
About ten years passed, and we became curious about how the humans were doing. I hoped that the situation had been as intolerable to them as it was to us, and that they had finally come to their senses. We decided to check in on them, and we began to wander in the general direction of the village.
One day, we came to a small, ramshackle hut in the middle of a clearing. Two scrawny goats were grazing near the hut, and they began to bleat loudly when they saw us coming. The door opened, and an old woman came out, carrying a broom. "Shoo, wolves!" she shouted, and she waved the broom at us.
"It's Hala!" Wimsie yelped, and she ran toward the woman.
Shit. "Wimsie, watch out!" I called, and I ran after her.
"Shoo!" Hala said again, swinging the broom at Wimsie.
Wimsie dodged under the broom and lay down right at Hala's feet, wagging and whining so Hala would recognize her. And finally, she did.
"You're one of Nar's dogs!" Hala said, dropping her broom and bending over slowly to scratch Wimsie's ears. I woofed to let Hala know I was there, because, obviously, she couldn't see very well any more. Hala reached toward me with her other hand and patted me on the head. "And I see your friend is still with you." She picked up her broom and went back into the cottage, leaving the door open as the villagers had always done before everything went bad.
The hut had a dirt floor, with moldy straw strewn over it. There were several puddles on the floor, and when I looked up, I saw slivers of sky through the roof. Plainly, the roof leaked when it rained. Why didn't someone fix her roof? The whole place was in desperate need of repairs. There was a small table, one bench, and a pallet that served as her bed.
Hala bustled around as if she hadn't had visitors for a long time. "I'm sorry, dogs, but I don't have much to give you," she said. "I have to do for myself, these days." She put two small bowls down for us.
Well, she may not have thought it was much, but I regarded the contents of my bowl as a feast! Scraps of cooked chicken and several chunks of yam! We hadn't had that kind of food since we had left the village. I gobbled mine up while Wimsie politely nibbled at hers.
"I see that you two haven't changed!" Hala said, and she laughed and clapped her hands. "That's good. At least you haven't changed." Then she looked around the hut, and her smile faded. She was obviously embarrassed by her surroundings. Abruptly, she picked up the broom and began sweeping the moldy straw into the fireplace.
"Fez, what happened to Hala?" Wimsie whispered. "Why doesn't anyone help her?"
"People stopped wanting to help each other, remember?" I said grimly. "And Hala was one of those folks who didn't want to use money."
Wimsie looked at the dried herbs that hung over the fireplace. "We could find things for her."
"We certainly will, my dear. We certainly will." Unfortunately, Wimsie would finally find out that I was the one who had caught all those rabbits for the villagers. But I knew she wouldn't mind, if I was catching them for Hala.
When Hala had swept all of the straw into the fireplace, she put the broom away and went outside to sit on a mat in the sunshine. We followed her out and curled up right at the edge of the mat. She rested in the sun for a while, and then she looked down at us and said, "You two need a good brushing." Taking a battered old brush from one of the pockets in her apron, she went to work on Wimsie, removing travel-dust from her fur and untangling the snarls in her tail. Then she gently lifted one of Wimsie's ears, to see if it needed a cleaning. "What's this?" she said, plucking at something that was stuck in Wimsie's long ear-hair. She finally teased it loose and squinted at it as she held it between her thumb and forefinger. "It's some kind of seed. I don't recognize it, though, but it might grow into something useful."
Wimsie peered at the seed, and then she yipped and spun in circles. "It's a Fuzzie Tree seed! It's a Fuzzie Tree seed!" she yelped, and she danced and pranced around Hala, just like she had danced and pranced around . . .
The Time Tree. I could hardly believe it. Wimsie had been running around, all these years, with a seed from the Time Tree stuck in her ear. Well, that explained why she didn't get older. That little seed had kept itself alive by sucking up the Time in her vicinity. And when I was close to her, such as when we were curled up together in our doghouse, the seed sucked up the Time around me, too. That's why I had aged on the Truffle Expedition: Wimsie hadn't gone with me, and so the seed hadn't, either. How it had stayed in her ear so long, I'll never know. I suppose that since the seed did funny things with Time, it had kept itself right at the instant when it had lodged in her ear. And now that we had found it . . . maybe the Bad Things would stop.
Hala went over to her small, meager garden and used a twig to make a tiny hole for the seed. She put the seed in the hole, carefully covered it with a pinch of dirt, and sprinkled some water on it. Wimsie lay down with her nose about an inch away from the seed, waiting for it to grow.
"A watched pot doesn't boil," Hala said to Wimsie. Wimsie wagged her tail but stayed right where she was.
Hala went into the house and gathered several items, and then she came outside again and sat on a bench. Humming to herself, she began to mend an old cloak that was more patch than cloak.
The sun set, and the seed hadn't sprouted. "Come on, doggie," Hala said, calling her inside. "You can watch it tomorrow." Wimsie reluctantly got up, and we went into the hut. Hala had put new straw on the floor, and she folded a blanket and put it right next to her bed for us.
The next morning, as soon as Hala had hauled herself out of bed, Wimsie went straight to the door and whined to go out. "Things don't grow overnight, you know," Hala said as she opened the door.
And the first thing we noticed was that Hala was wrong. The Time Tree had grown overnight, and it was taller than the roof of the hut.
"The squeaky-birds are back!" Wimsie yelped. Sure enough, the little black-and-yellow birds that had lived on Time Tree Island had returned. The birds were perched on the branches, squeaking at each other and patiently waiting for the tree to start making its seeds.
Hala came to the door to see what all the fuss was about. When she saw the tree, she just stood there with her mouth open. Wimsie ran over to her, then back to the tree, yipping the whole way. Hala shuffled over to the tree and put a hand on its trunk, and then she looked up at the silver leaves. "This is a very strange tree," she said. Then she noticed the birds, watching her with their bright little eyes. "I've never seen birds like that, either," Hala muttered. She finally turned and walked away, shaking her head at what she had just seen. Was it my imagination, or was her hair a bit less gray, her back not quite as bent, her step a little more lively?
Wimsie and I looked at each other. Yes, it was a very strange tree, and it was going to make the Bad Things stop.
The dog slept, and as he slept, he dreamed. There was a new part to the Dream, and the dog recognized the new part as The Time When Humans Fucked Things Up. The new part was scary and horrible and full of Bad Things, but it was part of the Story and so it had to be remembered. As the dog dreamed, the Bad Things passed away into the past, just like Time itself had passed away into the past. Time had, so to speak, disappeared up its own asshole, and that was just fine with the dog. Everything was now the way that it was supposed to have always been.
The dog dreamed on, and the Story continued.