I know it’s not

realistic

But some days

I dream of

an open beach

Quiet

waves

at

sunrise

Not

a

person

or

structure

in sight

Just me

the sand

the sea

the sun

I know it’s not realistic

but I still dream of it

some days

in winter

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Irrawaddy led his ‘guests’ through the decrepit remains of the lab. “The funding was cut off in the 1970s. But what we were doing was too important to abandon, so some of us volunteered to stay on and continue the work. Over time hunger, disease, cold, and wolf attacks took their toll, and now only I remain.”

A squirrel scurried over the rusting remains of lab equipment. “It’s only through my research, my devotion to Aquerna the Norse goddess of squirrels, and the companionship of Nibbles here that’s these 30 years have been bearable.”

“Squirrels…don’t live that long.”

“Of course not. I’m not crazy,” snapped Irrawaddy. “Whenever Nibbles dies, he’s reincarnated as another squirrel. Like the Dalai Lama. It takes a few months, but I find his latest incarnation and restore it to its rightful place. This is Nibbles XII.”

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Without Bear to guide her, the girl could only wander aimlessly and desperately through the endless forest. She’d have given anything to have him back by her side, despite his often irritating old-fashioned demeanor, despite the secret fear that the others from school would laugh at her if they knew her childhood toy had escaped the dumpster (which had long since consumed her classmates’ toys).

Absent his determination, his steel, she was lost. It was painful to admit; twelve years old was practically grown up, after all, and what sort of grownup relied on teddy bears to guide them through far and enchanted wolds? What sort of grownup hovered on the verge of tears instead of taking charge?

And what sort was consumed by a deep and trembling fear when it was clear something was following her?

Horrified that it might be more gobs, or worse, the girl deliberately wandered through a muddy patch backwards, making it look like she had stumbled in the other direction, and then carefully doubled back through patches of fallen leaves that would betray no sign of her passing. It was a trick she had honed in years of hide and seek in the woods at Grandpa’s house, and her naturally light step allowed it to be pulled off without more than a soft rustle of fall foliage to betray her position.

The girl approached the shadow in the woods from behind, with the gob dagger drawn, though she had no idea how to use it. As the approached, the creature came into focus: a great grey blob that floated on the still air, controlling itself with large and gossamer fins. It looked like nothing so much as a large fish.

Hoping to scare it, the girl burst out of the underbrush with what she hoped was a very fierce yell and the gob dagger raised high. The curious fish-thing pivoted and faced her with a terrible gurgling sound, and the girl prepared to bury her dagger in her pursuer up to the hilt.

Then she saw its eyes.

Wide, sorrowful, fearful…they were like a mirror of her own. The girl lowered her weapon. “You’re just like me, aren’t you?” she said in her most soothing tone. “Lost and afraid.”

The creature bobbed, approximating a nod despite its lack of a neck.

“What do you say we travel together, then?” the girl said. She approached and calmly stroked the beast’s scaly surface. “We can be lost together.”

Gentle fins lofted her off the ground and onto the fish-thing’s neck, and the girl rode her newfound companion in the direction of the setting suns.

Inspired by this image.

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People are always making the mistake of either underestimating or over anthropomorphizing animals. The truth is that they understand much about us, much more than we would suspect, but do so in a profoundly different way.

The animals of Huntgren Wood had long known that man was a dangerous predator, one that used a strange and sometimes invisible throwing claw to kill from a great distance. But generations ago they had also noticed that some humans would stalk and go through the motions of hunting but not take a kill. They would raise a strange appendage to their face–like but unlike the one they used to throw claws–and yet nothing would burst forth, only a quiet click audible only to those extremely close.

Prey animals thought this another inscrutable behavior of a predator, much like the way bears would sometimes climb and claw at beehives despite their lack of any real meat. The predators, in turn, felt it was play-hunting of the sort they had engaged in as youngsters fresh from the den–the humans were no doubt practicing stalking a kill before actually taking it, largely because that’s what the predators themselves would have done.

It fell to the birds who lived on the edge of the wood and fed on the strange and miraculous self-replenishing trees near human caves to uncover the true secret. Their love songs incorporated what they had seen and heard, and the birds of Huntgren sang of humans stalking with the strange square hoofs and then retreating to their caves, only to produce strange miniature forests and animals with which they decorated their caves. A curious coyote confirmed the tale with a terrified squirrel, while a bobcat received a detailed and matching account from a housecat it was half-courting, half-stalking.

Each clade of the forest dwellers reacted to the news differently. The predators felt that the humans were stealing their essence, drawing some kind of nourishment from it, and vowed never to be thus captured. The prey, especially the deer, felt that the process was akin to being gathered into the next life, where their traditions held that they were forever safe from predation. They felt there was no harm in the process–perhaps even some good–though they continued to be skittish as it was often difficult to tell a human’s intent from a safe distance. For their part, the birds and squirrels made a game of it, delighting in moving out of the way before the human could bring its capture-box to bear.

And that’s all it was–yet another inscrutable activity by an inscrutable race–until the oldest and grandest stag in the forest began to feel the twin horns of disease and old age and decided that a human capture-box and eternal life on a cave wall would be the only fitting end to his reign.

Inspired by this image.

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It happened that, in the course of a hard-fought pursuit, a sparrow tricked a hawk into diving at its reflection in a human window. The sparrow, which had eaten seeds from the yard for many weeks, knew of the window’s presence and pulled up at the last second; the hawk did not know and was killed on impact.

Such a situation was quite unprecedented. Hawks were killed all the time in botched pursuits, but never in such a way that their prey could be blamed for the deed. The hawks claimed that their ancient prerogative as predators, recognized by all the avian elders who implicitly acquiesced thereto, had been upset by the act. They demanded the offending sparrow be surrendered to them for summary execution along with its kinsfolk–enough to equal the weight of the dead hawk.

The sparrows, for their part, held that they were well within their rights as prey to trick hawks–only the most foolish or clumsy birds would actually die or be injured, and weeding them out would actually be doing the hawks a favor. The hawk elders, they argued, implicitly recognized the right of prey to flee or defend itself.

Squabbles over the dispute continued for months; eventually the sparrows and the hawks were forced to agree to an outside party to review the situation and mediate. That was easier said than done, though, as the raptors would not countenance prey birds standing in judgement over them and the sparrows maintained that any bird of prey would be unfairly biased toward the hawk.

Eventually they agreed to ask the vultures, who ate meat but did not kill it, to mediate. Geier, the elder vulture of the area, agreed to study the case on the condition that whatever judgement he rendered be accepted without question. When the time came, this is what he said:

“We vultures can soar on thermals as well as any raptor and our talons are just as sharp, yet you have long derided us as weaklings as we do not kill. We are as clever and adept at locating food as any forager, yet the sparrows and their ilk shun us because we eat not nuts or berries but the honored dead. Our own view, that we are purifiers who guide the souls of the dead to oneness with the land, has never been seriously entertained by any but our own.”

“We will therefore carry a petition to the Creator to ask that the offending sparrow and the nestmate of the slain hawk be made to change places. Since they despise each other so, this will serve many constructive purposes from punishment to enlightenment. If they return after one full cycle of the night orb, we will hold the matter settled.”

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I still remember the time Sean tried to do a wolf whistle and a copse of trees showed up and chased him across town.

Turns out he’d done a “wold whistle” by mistake, and the trees of the Old Town Wold hadn’t been happy about it.

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To save on the cost of raking and bagging the leaves that fell every autumn, Southern Michigan University policy was to have the groundskeepers mow over the leaves in place, mulching them into a fine dust that would naturally fertilize the grounds. It was touted as a cheap and green solution to the problem, the hydrocarbon-spewing leafblowers and mulchers aside.

Then, ten years after the policy was enacted, SMU found itself in the crosshairs of a class-action suit.

Attorneys representing the groundskeepers claimed that the fine particulate generated during the annual fall leaf mulch had given their clients “leaf lung.” Characterized by shortness of breath, chlorophyll poisoning, halitosis, winter lethargy, and PTSD, “leaf lung” was said to have cost the groundskeepers any chance of earning a livelihood in the future. Their attorneys asked for a million-dollar settlement for each victim.

Horrified at the prospect of bad PR, SMU paid immediately and resumed the old practice of bagging leaves to be hauled away and become someone else’s problem. The doctor’s reports came in one week after the settlement checks cleared: there had been no sign of anything harmful in the groundskeepers’ lungs, and the physicians at the University Hospital cheekily prescribed facemasks and goggles for the condition, including a pair (total cost: $2) with the report.

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