Cycle 9 - stories!

Posted by Kat 08/17/2020 2 Comment(s) Inanna's Game,

Ready, Set, Write!!

 

We are ready for the next batch of Inanna’s Game stories! What have you created with this cycle's inspirations?

 

This cycle’s stories should be utilizing the inspiration that was posted yesterday. Once you have written your tale and corrected it to make it as readable as possible, please post it here as a reply to this post, so that others can read your work. Make sure to put the snippet, character, and scenario numbers that you used in the top part of the post!

 

Two days before the next cycle starts, comments and voting for the best story will be cut off at EOD Central. The following day, a winner will be announced.

 

Each story remains the copyrighted material of the author posting the story. Please give us the title of the story, the identification of the snippets, characters, and scenes that you attempted to use, as well as any comments you think applicable.

2 Comment(s)

Paul C. Middleton:
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Hi all, Back again. This is Hunter's Apprentice Chapters 8 and 9. Pieces used: Snippet 1, Scene 1, Character 2

Chapter 8 – Preparations

The morning after the feast, both Rhodri and Aldrig were up at dawn. Both had been exhausted by the feast, and neither was looking forward to the judgment in two more days. In some ways, the Master Hunter wanted to start training Rhodri immediately, to take his mind away from any worry he might feel.

Aldrig was too experienced to attempt that before the end of the week. He needed to get his Apprentice fully prepared and equipped before they started working on his skills. The first thing the boy needed was warmer clothes.

First, they had a light breakfast of bread and cheese. Even Rhodri was not particularly hungry after how much he had eaten the night before.

Together, they sorted through the few fur overclothes from previous apprentices that Aldrig had kept. There, they found fur piece that comfortably stuffed Rhodri’s boots, as well as a set of fur leggings that fit with a belt. The gloves were all too big, and Rhodri’s shoulders were too small for the one fur jacket.

Still, there were options. Many apprentices had tasks that required them to have such clothes. The most likely place where they could find such clothes that fit was the charcoal burners. Using a hand-me-down from them would be an exercise in futility, however. Smoke impregnated their clothes, and that scent would send prey fleeing on the slightest shift in the wind. The next best choice was Swordmistress Caly, which was not a thought to please the Master Hunter.

Getting clothes organized was the most pressing issue, but not the only one. There was other hunting equipment the Apprentice would require. Still missing from what Rhodri needed was a bow, twine, simple traps, and other supplementary gear. As well as seeing Caly, they would have to visit the blacksmith and the boyer.

The discomfort Aldrig felt about approaching the Swordmistress ended up delaying their departure that morning. Instead, he checked what spare equipment he had in storage while Rhodri had a last play with the kitten. After the Master Hunter had taken full stock, he decided it would be best to purchase most of the gear for his Apprentice, but he had picked out a proper spear that was in good condition. Leaving himself without spare equipment would not be wise.

The town was starting to become busy by the time the pair left the house and headed towards Swordmistress Caly’s cottage and the training field that was cleared in front of it. Their first stop was at the Beastmaster’s lair, where they were warmly greeted, and the kitten was left in his care. She seemed happy to see her brothers, but let out a caterwaul when Rhodri left her in the large cage with them.

For their next stop, they had to pass the blacksmith that Aldrig preferred on their way to their destination. Leaving Rhodri outside, he ordered parts useful for trapmaking and a pair of darts for the boy.

Rhodri had no sword, but that could wait. The Lord was traditionally responsible for providing one to any apprentices brought into his lands. This was a sign the clan leader accepted their presence and expected their loyalty and service for their tenure in his territories. If they failed their apprenticeship, this sword was required to be returned.

Finally, they were on their way to their destination. Rhodri was somewhat surprised to see at least two dozen people on the field. A mix of blunt spear poles, as well as swords and axes with shields, were being used. There was an immense clatter of wood on wood. At least half were his age, and of them, only six were male. At least three women were among the older training group.

Women trained with weapons in Branawen, but usually with the bow and a long knife, not arms used in the crush of battle. Rhodri’s shocked expression compelled his older companion to explain.

“This is clan land, lad. When a clan goes to war, everyone must be prepared to fight. We are proud and free, and none want a wife or child to become a slave.” Rhodri’s eyes flashed at the implication that was not the case in Branawen, so Aldrig continued, “Your home is a freetown. It has no Lord, but its value is in trade and neutrality. No single clan of ours, nor tribe of the Horsepeople could survive attacking it. It is a safe place, with fewer dangers than we have in the mountains, with one clan constantly at another’s throat. So we have different traditions.”

Skirting the training melee, they headed for the large building with an attached house at the end of it. Caly spotted their presence and ordered the fight apart. Many of the combatants gratefully drifted to a nearby fire with a barrel and dipped the wooden cup hanging on it to get some water.

A few of the younger participants were taken aside by more experienced comrades and shown what they had been doing wrong. Soon, a softer and slower clack of weapon training began.

Rhodri paused and watched the pairs, trying to understand what he was seeing. He had some training with a spear and could see that one of the youths was being too aggressive with that weapon. Trying to push forward against someone with a shield and axe left a spearman vulnerable. Then the younger man’s front foot slid, and his opponent charged, knocking the pole of the spear aside. Once he closed, he battered the inexperienced opponent to the ground with the shield and swung the axe to his neck.

The blow stopped on the shoulder. At the same time, Aldrig noticed his Apprentice was no longer with him. Caly was almost upon the Master Hunter, so it was too late for him to use the proximity of his Apprentice to avoid her acid tongue.

“So the great and storied Hunter lowers himself to visit our humble training field,” Caly began. “What brings you here?”

Aldrig scowled before responding. “My Apprentice needs a warm jacket before I begin training him in this weather.”

Caly’s eyes narrowed, and anger glittered in her eyes briefly. “If that is all, then you should buy it yourself, you cheapskate.” Aldrig raised an eyebrow, knowing that Caly would not be able to deny him. There was a tension between them for a moment, and Caly started chewing her lower lip in thought.

“Fine, a compromise,” the Swordmistress offered. “You give axe lessons here at least three times a week over the winter. I train your lad in the weapons that seem to suit him after I assess him. I provide him with a jacket and bow.”

“Not in the bow, dart, or axe, and I don’t know you are the right person to teach him how to fight with a knife, either.” Aldrig riposted.

“Bows are for hunting,” Caly snorted automatically, then she paused, and her eyes narrowed. Aldrig would not be able to teach Rhodri the bow. He couldn’t use one and had not picked that weapon up in years. Having Caly teach the lad bowmanship should have been a blessing, even though she was only a gifted amateur at archery. Turning down assistance, he would otherwise have to pay for was unlike him.

Caly softened a little towards the Master Hunter. Perhaps he was not as driven by greed as she had thought. Even his request for extra clothes was pragmatic rather than selfish. She collected clothes people had grown out of and stored them carefully. The Lord had started to pay her for doing it when he found out.

Straightening, Caly called out across the field, “Rhodri, Vorana, get over here!”

The Apprentice and the Swordmistress’s daughter both looked up and started moving to the order given with such confidence and authority reflexively. Vorana grimaced as she realized the likely reason. She was the same age as Rhodri, so her mother wanted to see how he matched up against her.

After looking over Rhodri in the brighter light of daytime, Caly told her daughter, “A pair of training spears, shields, axes, knives and swords.”

“Why axes?” growled Aldrig, “You acknowledge I am better with them than you are.”

“Because I want to see how good this lad is with them. Why waste your time teaching him the basics if he needs them when you could be teaching those who are more experienced?”

Aldrig grunted and thought about considering this breaking their agreement before letting the matter drop. Meanwhile, Vorana headed off to the larger building nearby. Rhodri gallantly rushed to catch up to her. “I’ll help you.”

Vorana smiled shyly, “Thanks.”

Once they had returned with the weapons, the assessment soon began. First, Caly had them both pick up a wooden sword and shield. Rhodri fumbled with the latter, which worried the Swordmistress. Worse, rather than copy Vorana’s stance, Rhodri kept the blade wide of his own body and the shield.

They approached each other, and Vorana feinted in just past the edge of the shield. Rather than move his shield, Rhodri fell for the trick. Vorana’s training blade darted back, and her shield slammed forward, trapping his mock sword. Then she gently tapped Rhodri on the head with the pommel.

The Hunter’s Apprentice found his face heating with embarrassment. Both adults were concerned, but they needed to know how Rhodri would react. “No shields this time,” Caly ordered.

Relieved to be free of the encumbering weight, Rhodri recovered his confidence. They approached each other, Rhodri still holding his weapon wide. Vorana held her’s in front of and across her body. They approached each other, the better-trained young woman circling slightly to Rhodri’s empty side. Stabbing in, she was surprised that the lad pivoted and deflected the strike. She stepped back just in time to avoid his counterblow.
Stepping back in, she stabbed her wooden sword forward and struck. Caly muttered to herself, “That was an axe blow, not a sword strike.”

Next, they were given spears. Rhodri had to force himself to keep the strikes low. He was used to training to hit a horse’s chest. It was still an effective maneuver against other humans, and his lapses in concentration forced Vorna to remain on the defensive. Caly was angry, but not with the boy. Aldrig had a small smile on his face. Rhodri was pushing his opponent steadily backward, only taking small steps forward, maintaining his balance carefully.

There was a cheer from the younger trainees who had gathered to watch as Vorna was pushed back past her starting line. Caly called the assessment in Rhodri’s favor. “You still shouldn’t aim for a person’s face. It is very offputting.”

Rhodri flushed and stammered, “I’m sorry ma’am. That wasn’t really where my aim was, you know. Back home, my brother told me to aim for a point high on a horse’s chest. I guess I need to adjust up here in the mountains.” He looked around and nodded to himself. “No horse country here, right?” He finished in a sheepish tone.

Caly had to smile at his earnest response. Pushing forward, she said, “Knives next.”

They faced each other, both confident. Aldrig had praised Rhodri’s speed with a knife, and this time he was holding it in the correct position, close to his body. Vorana looked at a knife as a shorter sword, and her confidence was also strong.

It was over faster than anyone expected. Both of them charged forward recklessly, but Rhodri’s left hand darted out to grab Vorana’s wrist before she could land a blow. Her own eyes widened as she felt his wooden weapon strike her in the center of the chest, and she fell to the ground, dropping her own mock blade and gasping for air.

Rhodri was at her side, apologizing profusely for hurting her so badly. Caly shook her head and glanced at Aldrig, who was smiling back at her. The Swordmistress shook her head in mixed worry and wonder. The lad had been traveling with the Master Hunter for only three weeks and was too young to have begun formal training with weapons before then.

Either his family trained privately with more than just the spear, or he was naturally talented with a short knife.

“Still want to test him with the axe?” Aldrig asked.

Caly shook her head a little ruefully. Focused aggression was key to axe-fighting and knife-fighting. Some had to be taught to take the risks skilled use of those weapons needed.

It was clear Rhodri was not someone who needed to be taught this.

Chapter 9 – Training Begins

Rhodri had slept well that night. The next morning, Aldrig proposed the beginnings of a schedule for Rhodri’s week. On the first day, he would train with the Swordmistress and deal with other town-based responsibilities. The second and fifth days would always be spent outside, no matter the weather. A Hunter needed to be able to survive in all conditions, so they needed to be taught in all weather.

Breakfast was more substantial than the day before as well. Several people had delivered goods to Aldrig’s house the evening before. Rhodri learned that farmers owed the hunter for keeping boars, wolves, and sometimes less dangerous pests off their fields over the previous year. This was usually how the lodge system supported itself as well.

They ate a breakfast of smoked meats reheated on a pan over the fire, day-old bread, some cheese, and berries that would not keep. Aldrig was surprised that Rhodri did not complain at the age of the bread. Thinking back, he remembered how many plants of the forest the young man had known.

Perhaps, Aldrig thought, part of the reason Sedhi was successful was that he learned and encouraged frugality. Now he had time to think, he realized his Apprentice already possessed some of the skills a Hunter needed. He could forage well enough, and his instincts with a knife were good, although his technique needed some polish. That was both good and bad. On the good side was that there might be more time to train him in the skills he did not have. Conversely, Aldrig would have to be careful not to be too impressed with any talent the lad showed.

He was not an experienced teacher, like Caly, but he knew that if an Apprentice Hunter became too full of himself, it would lead to overconfidence and, most likely, death.

Once Aldrig started putting on his furs, Rhodri instantly followed his lead. The weather was clear, but that did not mean the air would not be chilly. Aldrig let Rhodri pack what he thought was best for food on their lesson. A loaf of bread, some cold sausage from the night before, hard cheese wrapped in cloth, and a pouch full of berries. Both carried their own water, and Aldrig slung his own, nearly empty pack.

The open snowfields were cold, but Rhodri and the Master Hunger were out in the chilled air because of the clear imprint of the tracks in the snow. This was the easiest way to start teaching someone how to track. Today, actually stalking something down in a hunt was not the focus for Aldrig.

In fact, the Master Hunter was more concerned with how many animals were left in the area. He had his suspicions that the Hunter’s Lodge had been taking more than they were saying close to town. This would be a good opportunity to show Rhodri that tracking skills could be translated into many things.

It took the pair an hour to make their way past the fields that supported the town. Aldrig was troubled by the time they reached the forest. There was plenty of sign for fox and rabbit. There were too many, in his opinion. Still, it was not more than he had seen in the past this early in the winter.

What concerned Aldrig was the lack of boar or deer sign at the edge of the woods. It was still early in the morning. The sun had not been up for much longer than they had been traveling briskly across the fields.
Aldrig showed Rhodri how to identify the prints in the snow. One trail among the many on the three-inch snow confused Rhodri. Weasels traveled across snow this deep in leaps, leaving a single, large print as a trail.

As they entered the forest, the snow thinned, but the amount on the ground was still deep enough for tracks to be left clearly between the trees. Aldrig started scanning the area for signs of the forest animals while having Rhodri keep his eyes on the snow cover for tracks. Then, cautious about being followed by Heneg or his henchmen, he gazed back across the field.

It was another hour and a half, and much effort, to find the first boar traces. There was still no deer sign in an area where it had been common in past years. As they went, Aldrig started pointing out broken branches on shrubs, a tuft of fur, and other sign of the boar’s passage. The whole time, worry sank deeper and deeper into his gut.

The forest did not look like a place where the wildlife was thriving. It would take another three or four weeks to check everywhere, but it seemed to be hunted out of deer and other game that the town relied upon during the winter when food was in short supply.

That might explain the lack of wolf sign as well. A mated pair of wolves, just forming a pack, might be able to squeeze survival out of the numerous rabbits and hares. They would rely on both hunting the small prey and stealing kills from foxes. No pack could survive without a herd of deer, forest antelope, some bison, or moose. And Briwanon was too far south for that last prey animal to be found nearby.

Aldrig held Rhodri back as the trace from the boar became more defined and fresher. They did not have the crossbarred boar spears, and encountering the aggressive foragers would be too dangerous.
Once he explained that to his Apprentice, the pair changed their path. There was a forest pool nearby, a gathering point for many animals needing water. It was part of a fast-flowing stream that never froze over in the winter or dried out in the summer.

This was also an opportunity to start teaching Rhodri the basics of walking softly to stalk prey.

Letting his Apprentice lead, Aldrig started giving instruction.

“Slow down. It is not a race,” The Master Hunter’s tutelage began at a normal speaking tone. Once the young man slowed down, he was a little quieter. Snow and the leaves beneath it still made a crunch that was loud to the teacher’s ears.

“Don’t put all your weight down at once. Shift your balance from your planted foot more slowly.” Aldrig softened his voice a little with this tone.

“Place your heel first, and roll forward.” By now, the sound was quieter. However, Rhodri was becoming unbalanced. Within a couple of minutes, he was continually looking at the ground. Aldrig could only shake his head, knowing what was coming. Soon, the Apprentice tumbled to the ground.

Sighing, the Master Hunter knew he had found a weak point in his charge’s skills. At least he did not cry out as he lost his balance. “All right, just focus on moving slowly, and shifting your weight carefully,” Aldrig instructed his Apprentice while offering his hand to help him up.

Rhodri was loud enough that by the time they reached the pool, there was no wildlife present. All of them had fled from the approaching sounds.

There was significant evidence of boar, fox, rabbit, and hare. It was with some time before Aldrig found what he was looking for. There were a half-dozen sets of tracks from different-sized deer. Only one seemed to be a mature adult. Three seemed to be juveniles, and two were too small to be anything other than late-season fawns. The herd was small enough that only the lack of any sign of wolves gave Aldrig hope for their chances of surviving the winter.

What was initially meant to be an opportunity for teaching Rhodri how to track had become an investigation. The young man sensed this, as apart from pointing out the shape of the deer prints in the snow and mud Aldrig had been quiet. The Master Hunter maintained a thoughtful expression. The Apprentice could see the older man’s concern through the twitching of his fingers on his knee as he squatted to examine the traces of the animals.

The tension made Rhodri twitchy, and the lack of any explanation worried him. Aldrig was struggling with his anger. That a Huntmaster would allow this to happen to any forest he was given stewardship over was an abrogation of their duty. Gritting his teeth, Aldrig knew there was nothing he could do about the problem. Not without more evidence.

A snapping twig caused Rhodri to spin around, hand on his knife. Aldrig was no slower, but his movements were more measured. He readied dart with his right hand and pushed Rhodri to the ground with his left. It took them a moment to spot something in the trees.

The silhouette was almost invisible between the tree trunks in the shadows. At the clear actions fearing an attack, the figure extended empty hands away from its body and stepped towards a better lit area.

“I would say that you are overly suspicious, Aldrig, but considering current circumstances, I have to commend your caution.” Both men recognized the voice. It was Lula, the Hunter who had sat next to Rhodri at the feast.

She stepped into a pool of light about fifty yards from them. When the huntress could be seen more clearly, both of them relaxed a little. Apart from the knife and hatchet at her hips, she had a cased bow on top of her backpack. That made clear that she had no intent to harm them. If Lula had intended harm, their first warning would have been an arrow from a greater distance than she had been when her presence had been noticed.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Aldrig asked.

“After last night, I thought I should check out certain sites. Besides, when I saw what had to be you and young Rhodri here, I thought I might test my own skills.” She sighed despondently at her failure to remain undetected. Aldrig was alerted that something was odd by her response. Lula was never heard or spotted unless she wanted to be. She had another reason to be out here.

“Well, you may as well come along then. Maybe you can give Rhodri a few pointers on walking silently.”

For the next hour, the group of three continued upstream, looking for more sign. Both the experienced hunters knew the weather was worsening. The wind was rising, and the woods were quieting.

Eventually, while the youngster was concentrating on some tracks, Lula lent into Aldrig and said, “We need to go back. The Lord called a court for tomorrow.” Aldrig sighed, nodded, and called back Rhodri. In the worsening conditions, the hike back to the fields took them another hour.

When Rhodri looked back, he could see the winter wind was blowing across the ocean of trees, bringing the scent of pine sap and snow. The weather had continued worsening, with green waves flowing along the tops of the forest. The tips of trees were bent so far that it seemed they would soon tear off and crash to the ground. The mackerel-ridged clouds in the sky warned of changes to come, although what the weather would become was still uncertain.

By the time they reached the town, Aldrig had decided to offer Lula shelter for the night. The weather had closed in, and the snow was falling in flurries.


Hope you enjoyed this! I plan to give you another pair of chapters in a couple of weeks, but we will have to see what the prompts are.

Marcus W.:
08/29/2020, 11:46:11 PM

Nice story! You have my vote!

George Fenster:
08/29/2020, 11:47:16 PM

Glad you are continuing!

Marianne224:
08/29/2020, 11:49:44 PM

The story is absolutely brilliant. Well written and very suitable for my children. Thank you for writing without overwhelming grossness, just good storytelling.

David D:
08/29/2020, 11:50:55 PM

Good story. Nice to see this type of adventure story. I just found them others on the story page - am listening them now.

Barbara Bennett:
08/29/2020, 11:45:11 PM
Reply

One Good Turn

By Barbara Bennett

Snippet 3, Scene 1, Characters 1 and 2

Sara Monroe ran desperately while her eyes never stopped the search of the surroundings. Where the dickens could Joshua have gone? He knows he’s not supposed to run off. If that storm surge comes inland as predicted, he might drown before I can get to him.

The young woman appeared to glide across the sand as she moved down the beach. Her stride, her every movement, marked her as a force to be acknowledged. Looking at her, one might guess from her posture and movement that she was a hunter or a trained combatant.

Just looking at her, a stranger would never have guessed at the power and intensity shown in her actions. Sara wore her long, blonde hair in a tight, no-nonsense bun on the top of her head. She wore a tan shirt, matching cargo-pocket shorts, and running shoes. Moving her athletic six-foot-two body in a smooth gait, the woman epitomized an image of controlled power.

Sara stopped a moment to sniff the sea air and glance worriedly at the lightning flashes that grew more numerous by the minute. The crescendo of sound grew louder as the air got denser, and the day slipped into a thunderous night. Shaking herself back into focus, she continued her rapid hunt along the shore.

Farther down the beach, two large cat-like eyes and a toothy grin glowed in the moonlight. A massive creature was mostly concealed by the shadows of the vegetation. It stood on two legs, taller than a basketball hoop.

The huge being looked down the beach as the rain intensified, and came from behind a palm tree to stand in plain view in the storm-covered moonlight.

Sara felt the presence of the creature before she saw it. It was as if force was being applied to her skin, and her heartbeat started to race. Slowing, the sense of being watched ratcheted up, and she felt goosebumps trail up her arms, and the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

Swinging her head around to scan for danger, Sara saw something two feet taller than her own height. Taking in the sharp teeth, long claws, and intelligent eyes looking at her calmly, Sara said, “I should be terrified of you, but somehow I’m not.”

<<That is good, because I mean you no harm. My name is hard to pronounce, but you may call me MomCat, which is close.>>

Sara heard the speech, not in her ears, but inside of her head, as the creature continued, << I sense your fear and your worry. It may be that I can help.>>

<<I hear you talking in my head, but don’t understand how that is possible.>>, Sara responded.

<<Apparently, mind speech is not as usual among your people as it is among mine. Yet you hear me very well and even can respond.>>

Sara laughed and answered quickly, <<My people have always thought me a bit crazy. They say I see and hear things that aren’t there. Some even laugh, but not to my face, at least not more than once. >> As a thought exploded in the young mother’s mind, she blurted out, <<What do you mean, your people?>>

MomCat shrugged her shoulders and said, <<I am not from this planet, so my people are much different than yours.>>

The young woman gulped slightly, but bravely responded, <<That explains why I was not freaked to meet you. If you were native to Earth, I might have more fear of your size and power.>>

The massive creature took a step closer and asked once more, <<What is causing the pain of your worry and the drive to run?>>

Taking a deep breath, Sara focused her thoughts to both answer the question and show a mental picture of Joshua as she had last seen her son this morning. The frantic mother had tears in her eyes as the picture of the boy with brown hair, lively blue eyes, and a face full of freckles formed in her mind.

Joshua had been wearing his favorite Paw Patrol tee shirt and a pair of overalls that almost fit. As Sara tried to fill out the rest of the picture, her stomach dropped with a cold sense of loss, thinking desperately, <<His shoes. I cannot remember his shoes. He was told to put them on before he left the house, but I cannot remember if he did!>>

MomCat reached out a long arm and place a densely furred hand on Sara’s forearm. The touch was gentle but helped lessen the rising panic that was starting to overwhelm the mother. The creature’s mental voice was calm and soothing as she asked, <<This is your youngling?>>

<< Yes, that is my son Joshua. My name is Sara, and I have to apologize for my incoherence. I thought he was safely playing in the front yard after lunch, but when I went to look, he wasn’t there. My boy is young and knows that he is not supposed to leave the yard by himself. I called for him, but there was no answer, so I started to search.>>

The creature asked, <<I can understand the worry, but why the sense of urgency? You appear to be racing against some sort of time limit.>>

Sara gasped out quickly, <<You can see how the storm is increasing? I don’t live far from the ocean. The weather predictors say a great wall of water will come from the sea and go many, many miles inland. I am afraid I won’t find him before that happens. >>

<< Then we must search quickly for the youngling with all our senses. Can you call your Joshua with your mind, as you talk to me?>>

<<My son is just a little boy, only six years old. He will not know mind speech.>>

<<That may be, but there is too much noise for your mouth sounds to be heard. We can try having you call, while I add power to make your mind voice go farther. Should we try that?>>

Sara stood next to the alien and called with both voice and mind, <<Josh, honey, where are you? Mama’s here, and I want to find you. Where are you, baby?>>

After the increasingly frantic mother had called several times, MomCat excited exclaimed, <<I hear two small, weak voices. I do not know if these are the ones we seek, but we must go quickly. Follow me!>>

Two voices? Sara thought as she took off after the suddenly running creature.

The young woman knew that she was a faster and powerful runner. She had gone mile after mile for days in full combat gear and had always led her squad from the front, but she couldn’t keep up with the alien.

MomCat heard the human gasping and panting for breath. She stopped and turned, scooping up the woman as if she were one of her kits before continuing to race onward.

After the first shock of the alien’s move, Sara relaxed and nestled more deeply into the cradling arms that were covered with a thick, tawny coat of soft fur. The young woman had not been carried like that since she was a small child. Oddly, she still wasn’t afraid of the alien, and the musky odor of the creature’s wet fur was strangely comforting.

Sara continued to call with her voice and her mind, hoping that Joshua would respond, but there was no answer. Slipping slight into a fugue state as the gait of MomCat fed her urgent need to move, the woman came back to high alert when the creature stopped in front of a large pile of rocks. The alien put her down gently. <<Make your call again. Let us see if this is the right place.>>

Desperate to hear her son’s voice, Sara called once more, <<Joshua, Joshua baby, where are you?>>

Sara heard an unintelligible, broken sound, but the mental voice was clear, as Joshua answered in terrified tones, <<Here, Mommy. In here. Kitty and I are here. It’s dark.>>

<<I heard him, MomCat!>> almost sobbed Sara, << How do we get them out?>>

MomCat answered, her mental voice soothing and supportive, << That is a good question. You and your youngling have great courage, but you are not alone in this. Remember, I am here to help!>>

While Sara kept talking to her son, the two females worked in concert to remove the blocking, fallen stones. The human climbed the loose pile of scree and started to throw any rock that she could lift off the to side, while MomCat attacked the larger boulders as they were uncovered.

MomCat used her sharp nails to bite into the softer limestone, moving with a blur of speed that made rocks of surprising size fly everywhere.

The two females focused on speed, with the feeling of an approaching danger always present at their back. Sweat trickled down Sara’s face, but the blockage was getting smaller, and the voice of her son was starting to be clearer.

Joshua yelled both out loud and with his mind, <<Mommy, it’s dark outside, and I see stars! I think we can get out!>>

Without any more warning, a wriggly, dusty form emerged from the small hole that had just opened in the rockpile. Sara was almost knocked over by a bundle of energy whose brown hair seemed to sparkle in the moonlight.

Flinging his arms around his mother, Joshua hugged so tightly that breathing was impossible. Sara did not care, since her son was once more at her side. She was shaking with the power of her emotions, but unable to speak. Instead, the young mother raised his head up and covered the dirty, snot-filled face with kisses.

MomCat stood next to them, watching outward to the ocean. Part of her attention was on the reunion, but her experience eyes bounced among the darkening horizon, the incoming tide, and the strange color of the water. The alien smiled as the human female switched from hugs to shaking her son and demanding, “What were you thinking? You know that you are not supposed to leave the yard without permission!”

Joshua looked down in embarrassment, tears starting to fall down his face. In a small voice, he said, “I saw the kitten, and it was running away, so I chased it. The kitten was scared and ran even more. By the time I caught it, everything was different. It was scary, but I tried to get home. It seemed a long way, and then I saw the water.”

With an endearing look of joy, Joshua reached carefully into his jacket pocket and pulled a tiny, sleeping Calico kitten out. “Mommy, look what I found. I could not leave her! She is too little to be out by herself!”

MomCat said, <<Perhaps, we should start back to your home. The water looks angry.>>

Startled, Sara exclaimed, <<How could I forget! We need to get away from the shore. Quickly!>>

The alien creature suggested, <<Let me carry you both. I can move much more quickly than you can, and I do not believe that Joshua could keep up even with you!>>

Sara quickly agreed and picked her son up, holding him against her chest. MomCat, in turn, swept the woman into her arms and immediately set off at a fast run back the way they had come. Realizing that the alien did not know where she lived, the young mother sent a mental image of the path to her home.

Nodding in acceptance, MomCat increased her speed as the rain intensified even more. The massive alien kept up the high-speed travel as the winds began to howl and the rain started to angle into a driven, painful barrage of stinging raindrops.

After a few moments, Joshua said excitedly, “Look, Mommy, I can see our house.”

Sara almost wept with relief when she could see the familiar lines of her home through the curtain of the heavy rain. The house appeared like a beacon of warmth and comfort, even with the threat of the storm.

MomCat skirted the edge of the woods that bordered Sara’s home, avoiding as much attention as she could. Cutting through the backyard, the alien stopped under the overhang of the back porch, letting the two shivering humans down gently.

Sara fumbled the door latch with hands made clumsy by exhaustion and the cold. Almost stumbling, the woman flung the door open and release her son. Turning to MomCat, Sara asked, <<Please, come in and warm yourself. I think if you duck through the door, you should be fine. My house is older and has very high ceilings.>>

The giant alien obediently entered the kitchen beyond the back, immediately sitting down on the floor. Sighing in relief, MomCat began to groom her fur. Sara took Joshua into the bathroom and began to run a warm bath for the young boy, returning to the kitchen with a stack of thick towels for her friend.

It did not take very long for the three to dry off and warm up. Sara had returned to the kitchen before Joshua had managed to wipe the kitten clean and dry. She sat at the table as the kettle heated, looking over at the alien in the corner.

<<MomCat, I can never thank you enough for everything you have done. Is there something that we can do for you in return?>> the woman asked.

MomCat shrugged, <<Now I must seek a place for myself, as I will be living on this planet from now on. Perhaps you could help me find that location.>>

Sara asked in bewilderment, <<Why would you choose to live on Earth, MomCat?>>

<<My exile is not of my choosing. In your words, I ran out of gas. An element necessary for the propulsion of my vehicle is depleted. It does not require much, but without it…>> Mom Cat sighed.

Just then, Joshua came in, dressed in pajamas, with hair sticking up in spikes. He cradled the tiny, purring kitten in his hands, but the tremor in his voice told both females that sleep was pulling on him strongly.

Before the young boy could talk, Sara said, “Time for bed, Joshua. Tell MomCat goodnight and thank you.”

Without the least sign of fear, the young boy walked over the alien and threw one little arm around her neck, whispering, “Thank you for helping Mommy find me.”

Touched, MomCat whispered back, <<You are welcome, small one. Just do not frighten your mother like that again!>>

Responding mentally, Joshua answered, <<I will not, I promise!>> The females exchanged glances of amused acknowledgment, knowing that promise would soon be broken. Quietly, they watched the youngster carry his little friend back to the bedroom.

Sara could feel exhaustion setting in but had several burning questions to ask MomCat. Turning to the alien, she wondered, <<What is the required element for your vehicle?>>

MomCat responded, saying, <<In your science, NaCl.>>

<<Table salt? You can’t get home because you ran out of salt?>>

<<That is the unfortunate truth, yes.>>

<<Would iodine harm the process? We add it to prevent sickness.>>

<<I do not think so. We have not used it before. It might even improve performance.>>

Jumping up, Sara moved quickly over to her pantry. MomCat could hear the rustle of plastic and paper containers before the human female emerged with a triumphant look on her face. Hurrying over to the alien, Sara handed a pair of dark blue paper cylinders to her friend.

<<Will this be enough, MomCat?>> Sara asked.

Startled, MomCat looked at the two cardboard containers stamped with the label of “Morton.” Shocked almost into incoherency, the alien exclaimed, <<Enough? These are both for me? The contents of each of them would power a whole battle fleet for centuries. This “salt” is rare. If I take this much back with me, I will have much status upon my return. Can you afford to award this much wealth?>>

Smiling broadly, Sara told MomCat, <<You did me such a favor. And we have a saying here on Earth. It goes something like this, One Good Turn Deserves Another!>>

Denise S.:
08/29/2020, 11:48:18 PM

OMG! Any parent will empthize with this story. It is a lovely one and I hope you write more.

Lisa D:
08/29/2020, 11:52:02 PM

My cousin pushed all of us to read your groups stories. It is amazing how well you all write.

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