Fend For Yourself

Nora lived right next to the waterfall Forest. The sky around the forest was always in perpetual sunset, so the ways the light hit the waterfall looked as if it was on fire. Nora never really noticed, but a water source kept her alive so she gave it some respect. Actually it was the only water source in the vicinity of fifty miles.  She lived on her own in the forest in a little grass hut. She got her water from the waterfall and salt from the ocean. She gathered roots and berries and set snares to catch the strange skinny birds. She was pretty self-dependent. She never noticed the beautiful setting or the pretty food that she gathered. The only thing about the nature that she really noticed was the crickets chirping that kept her from sleeping as early as she would like. Nora lived alone in her hut, but five miles away lived an old lady that seemed to know everything.

Every night when the crickets started to chirp, Nora started the long walk to the old lady’s grass hut and she learned about the possible plants and roots and edible birds that won’t give you bird fever. In return for the old lady’s knowledge, Nora fed her and shared her own knowledge , but since most of the useful things she knew were taught to her by the old lady, she mostly just told her stories of ancient gods and heroes. 

  One day when she was walking through the forest checking and resetting snares, she was unhappy to find that there were no edible birds, just the bright pink ones that were deadly poison. They were still alive so she let them go and walked over to the ocean to see if there was any fish to spear. None. She walked back into the forest and looked around for some roots and berries. She went to her favorite blackberry bush and found it untouched. She ran back to her hut, found a large basket, and stripped the berry bush clean of any fruit. 

She hauled the heavy basket inside and started eating. “Oh well,” she said to herself. “So much for a large lunch.” She sat down the half eaten blackberry basket and looked into the corner of the grass hut. There was an incredibly cute, little rabbit. Since Nora hardly noticed anything cute or pretty or nice she kicked it out of the hut and continued eating her berries. She set down the few remaining blackberries and wandered outside for a little afternoon stroll.

  After a mile or two, she noticed one of the strange skinny birds lying flat on its face. “Finally!” She said. “A real meal.” She kneeled down to pluck the bird when she noticed the the usually reddish brown skin of the strange skinny birds was paper white. Nora frowned and picked up the bird. Her stomach growled. She decided to consult the old lady. She took the long five mile hike up to the old lady’s house. She came running to the little grass hut. She walked into the hut.

Nora called the old lady Granny. Granny’s hut was strewn with thick, wooly rugs and sheepskin blankets from the real world.  Nora lived in the real world until she turned five. That was eight years ago. Bundles of good-smelling herbs hung from the ceiling.  Granny was sitting in a bundle of blankets cutting up meat Nora brought a few days ago on a large slab of wood that took up half the hut. Nora unclipped the bird from her belt. “Is that for me?” asked Granny. Nora’s cheeks turned red. She hadn’t anticipated this. “Sorry I will bring you your meat at the usual time but some weird things are happening.” Nora explained the vanished meat except for the paper white bird. “First you must not call it a bird. From now on you will call it a Apalaishan forest foul, and second give me the bird.” Granny said all in a hurry. “But you just said—” “No buts. Give me the bird.” Nora reluctantly gave Granny the bird.

Granny examined it for a solid five minutes. When she finally looked up from the Apalaishan forest foul she beckoned Nora to sit next to her. Nora sat down. Granny said, “Look at the slit in the side of your bird’s stomach.” She lifted the feathers that concealed the ugly gash. “The bird is completely sucked dry. There is not a trace of any blood. That explained why it is paper white. Your bird over here looked like he had an encounter with one of those giant leeches,” Granny paused and started plucking of the feathers.

 “You can have your dinner here. My cooking always tastes better than yours anyway.” Nora scowled at the floor, even though it was true. Granny always made good use of her herb bundles. It was starting to get dark. Nora walked over to close the grass curtain over the small hole in the hut and went around lighting candles with the fire that Granny had started to cook the food. Granny had three hundred and ninety-seven candles all stored away in a sheet of plastic to keep dry. It was unfortunate that she only had twenty candle holders. Granny had loads of stuff from the real world. That was the only thing that Nora did not like about Granny. 

After a long time of waiting for the stew to get ready, adding spices and unfamiliar herbs, supper was finally done. Granny spooned the stew into two wooden bowls and ate in silence. Nora was very hungry from her diminished lunch. She secretly thought that it was a bad idea that she showed Granny the bird. She wished she had eaten it all by herself. Even though the bird might have been poison, Nora had herbal remedies that Granny had taught her. 

Twenty minutes later, Nora got up and clipped the rest of the bird to her belt to be salted in her hut. A few years ago, she made a little trough out of sticks that she collected in the woods she filled it with salt. Now she had salted meat hanging from the roof of her hut as well as herbs and remedies. She salted the rest of the bird, hung it up, and crawled under a bear skin and went to sleep.   

The next day was a little more strange. Nora got up and pulled on a t-shirt and jeans that she brought to the from the real world, and went outside to check her snares all she found was paper white Apalashian forest foul. They were strewn across the forest floor. There were ten of them. She gathered them and took them to her hut. She plucked them and skinned them and did all sorts of things that you did to a piece of bird when you were hungry. She salted five and carried them over to Granny’s hut she dropped them off at the “Meat deposit” that Granny had installed for her. Since she already did the hunting and yesterday’s berries were still ripe, she decided to take a swim in the ocean.

 She walked to her hut, put on a bathing suit that used to fit Granny when she was thirteen, and headed to the ocean. Nora happened to be quite an accomplished swimmer, even when she was five and in the real world winning prizes for her back float and such. She went up to a cliff that looked down at the sea around forty feet down or so. She took a deep breath and dived into the blue-green waters once she touched the bottom she swam around face-down with her eyes open and she noticed something very strange. She got to her feet and swam deeper into the ocean and noticed fish lying on their backs. They were already dead. She looked up toward the cliff. There was a white flash of a tail disappearing into the woods. It looked like the rabbit she kicked out of her hut yesterday. 

She swam to the shore and ran to her hut and changed into her clothing. She got the long knife that she used for preparing meat and occasionally throwing a knife at a bird that wandered outside her hut. She silently slipped into her boots knife in hand and proceeded outside the hut. She was going to hunt down whoever was killing the animals. First she decided to tell Granny about her plan. She might give her something to help her. Last time something happened like this turned out to be a poacher. Nora had hit his head hard with a rock. He got amnesia, so instead of getting a buddy for Granny she led him over to the edge of the woods and pushed him out. He was probably now in some weird real world hospital.

Nora arrived at Granny’s hut and noticed that the meat was gone. She stepped into the hut and looked for some possible signs of life in the piles of blankets. “Granny! I need to tell you something,” Nora said loudly. No answer.  She looked and checked a couple of blanket piles. She checked the one nearest to the table. There she was! “Come here,” she croaked. Granny was very pale. As pale as the dead birds. Oh no. Nora hoped she was wrong about what she was thinking… Cause if she was right… “It the rabbit,” said Granny shakily. “The one who is killing the birds.” Her voice was barely a whisper. Granny collapsed. Nora’s eyes widened. She bit her lip. She felt Granny’s heart. Nothing. Nora made a small strangled sound. She carried Granny outside. 

  This could not be happening. Granny said that she wanted to have a proper, real-world burial. Hunting the rabbit could wait. She ran inside to fetch a shovel. She dug and dug and dug. Her hands were dotted with blisters. She set Granny down into the large hole and filled it in with dirt.  She went out to the meadow and picked Granny’s favorite purple flowers. She laid them around the grave. She went into Granny’s hut and collected all the herbs and meat. No use letting it go to waste. She carried them out to her own hut and hung them on the ceiling. 

‘Why did I like Granny so much? I guess she reminded me of my family in the real world. My dad my mom my sister. All of them. Even my infuriating cousins. I guess even Granny had a sassy side. I never actually knew my real grandmas. They died before I was born.  My grandma on my mom’s side died when my grandfather passed away due to a terrible sickness after the bombing of California. No one can even see the ruins because they are still toxic. My family lived In Nevada right near the border of California. Right near the bomb site. It wasn’t  even a normal bomb. It was the one that America swore to never use again. The Atom Bomb. Soon the sickness took hold of my whole family. My mother told me to flee to the Appalachian Trail. I did. I felt safe. But now no one is safe. I will avenge my adopted grandmother.’ Nora’s thinking time was over.

She picked up her knife filled with a new determination. She suddenly realized how ridiculous the whole situation was. A bloodsucking rabbit with a knife or an axe was out to get her. And Nora thought she had seen it all. Oh well. At least she had experience with killing animals. She might even enjoy rabbit stew. 

Nora trekked deeper into the woods. There was still no sign of the demon rabbit. At least he would stick out. There was no white rabbits in these woods. She decided to go in the direction of the cliff. The dead leaves crunched beneath her feet even though it was midsummer. She would scare of an elephant at this rate. Not that there were any elephants. She thought. Well with a demon rabbit who knew what was going to happen. She stepped onto the rocks. There wasn’t a sound. And suddenly behind a rock was the telltale flash of a white tail. She chased after it she threw her knife at it but missed. Appalashian forest foul were much slower. She yanked her knife out of the ground and threw again. This time the knife pinned the rabbit to the ground by its tail. Nora smiled. But something strange seemed to be happening. 

The rabbit’s tail looked like it was spinning. The tail lengthened and changed shape. Longer and longer and a strange square shape on top of the tail. The tail stopped spinning. The knife clattered to the ground. The tail had transformed into a large axe. The rabbit hopped around swinging the axe around and taunting Nora. The rabbit bared his teeth and jumped onto Nora swinging the axe like a madman. Nora did not know what to do. Her knife was still on the ground. All she had to do was get the knife. If that demon rabbit let her live long enough.  The rabbit started to shout meaningless things at her. The axe did not seem to ever get tired of flailing around. The rabbit’s pointy teeth were stained reddish brown from the fish and the birds. And Granny. Granny! She was the one who made Nora hunt the rabbit down not only because the birds were rotting but because the rabbit was the one who killed the only one who Nora liked anymore. Nora was so angry she could not see. She tore the rabbit off of her and lunged to get the fallen knife. She stomped down on the axe-tail an stabbed the rabbit. The rabbit still did not stop screaming. She stabbed it again and again but the rabbit did not cease to chatter. She held the rabbit by its neck and went to Granny ́s abandoned hut and got the big cooking pot. 

She started dumping herbal remedies into the pot that she brought with her everywhere. The water started to boil. She kept dumping random herbs into the pot until the water turned into a murky brown thick paste. Without thinking she dumped the rabbit into the pot and closed the lid on tightly this left her time to inspect her wounds. She had several deep gashes near her ankles and the rabbit left several puncture marks. She applied some dried seeds to her wounds and they immediately felt better. She checked on her rabbit stew. She knew that nothing could kill the rabbit. But she might put him in a state that will prevent them from ever doing harm to her and the forest. 

Nora reluctantly opened the pot lid. The murky brown had boiled down to a liquid that looked like the real world drink called coffee, only Nora’s concoction had brown mush floating around. The smell was overpowering. A tuft of brown sticky fur floated to the top. 

She went to Granny’s cabinet and retrieved a pair of tongs. She went back to the pot and fished around for awhile until she fished around for a while. She hit something. She pulled it out of the murky water and the rabbit was silent and sticky its eyes were closed and it mouth was only opened slightly as if it were asleep. Nora exhaled. She had avenged her Granny. She looked at the rabbit one last time to make sure it was dead. 

The rabbit opened its eyes and gave her a great big smile. “Peekaboo!” it said. The tail started to spin…


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