With a gentle pull, the round yellow fruit came away from the branch in his jaws, then it was crunched into pulp and gulped down. Before the first had even completed it’s long journey down the throat a second was seized, crushed and swallowed, and a third after that. The succulent yellow fruit of the luska tree were a rare treat and the beast squatting on his haunches beneath its spiny branches was well suited to take advantage of the bounty. Though highly coveted, the fruit grew among the upper branches and were available to most only after they became overripe and rot had weakened their bonds to the parent tree sufficiently to send them plummeting to the ground to lay in great composting piles. With the height needed to reach into the branches, the creature attending to them now could select the choicest fruits for himself while they were still on the tree. Stretching his long neck upward he had set to work probing his narrow muzzle into the latticework of thorny branches, delicately plucking those fruits whose color and smell told him they hadn’t yet crossed that important threshold between “ripe enough” and “too ripe”. Once he had selected a fruit and delicately plucked it from the branch he crushed it once in his jaws to enjoy the taste then swallowed the pulpy mass to clear the way for the next. At his leisurely pace he might eat dozens this way, then return tomorrow and eat dozens more. Read More »
And just like that, Jasper Mickel had become one of the most popular men in Kinze. The crowd at the Apothecary was still laughing from Pete’s story, about how Maggie had shown up at old man Grier’s place in her helicopter and made him follow her out to where one of Shovel’s killers lay dead in the ferns. By the time they’d arrived Jasper and Spencer had already hacked through the thick muscular hump behind the big animal’s head, and were working their way through the vertebrae and spinal cord. Both men had stripped to their underwear to avoid ruining their clothes, and Pete’s description of the two of them standing there with machetes in their hands, almost naked and covered in blood, had been both disturbing and hilarious.
Though it was only a few months old, the dormoth calf was already over two meters long and surprisingly powerful. When it was finally blindfolded the beast calmed somewhat and eased its frantic struggling, allowing Dr. Herodias to examine its wound. The calf had caught its wrist on a barbed wire fence, and it had become infected. Now flies buzzed around the hideously swollen joint.
Urzuk tilted her long, crested head and watched the akh calf with one opened eye as it gamboled awkwardly up to her and reared up, waving its forepaws as though it were trying to strike her and somehow managing to miss every time. When she didn’t move the calf grew bolder, tapping her on the side with its compact, heavily padded paws and bounding away before stopping and looking back to see if she would pursue. Urzuk simply yawned and rolled over onto her side, stretching her legs and neck before relaxing in the late afternoon sun.
Gina arrived home that evening to find the light flashing on her answering machine. Thinking it better not be from someone she didn’t want to deal with, like her landlord or the bank or the police, she pressed the replay button. She clenched a fist at her side and uttered a soft “Yes” when she heard Whittington’s voice.
The giants were nervous. There were new scents on the air, and they did not know why. The smells were similar to that of the strange noisy little creature they’d encountered the other day, intermingled with those of the odd hard-shelled things whose trails criss-crossed the prairie, but both scents were in such abundance now that it was making them apprehensive.
Thaddeus Whittington’s office could not have been any more stereotypical of an established university zoology professor. Thick, deeply varnished shelves lined an entire wall, populated by all manner of books, animal bones, and preserved specimens in jars. Perched atop a filing cabinet next to the window a taxidermy bird of prey glared across the room with glass eyes, while the mounted skeleton of a negren was frozen in mid-leap at one corner of the shelf hutch that stood above the desk. All over were photographs, some of them quite old. Mounted prominently near the door was an old black and white picture of a much younger Whittington, standing with two other men knee-deep in ferns and rushes, broad smiles on their faces. In the background rose the dark hard line of the Barrier; the picture had been taken nearly fifty years ago on the Havaania, the vast prairie that lay out beyond the wall that cut Gondolendia off from the rest of the supercontinent. Justin recognized one of the men as Gina’s uncle Stanley Pike, but he had no idea who the other one was.
The sun had not yet risen, but the birds were already beginning to sing in the trees when Justin Case’s SUV pulled up in front of Gina’s father’s house. The houses and trees of the neighborhood were silhouetted against the indigo sky, as it slowly faded to a lighter blue in the west. Gina shivered in the pre-dawn chill she stepped off the porch steps and crossed the front lawn.