Boredom, up here on the hill in my cosy little grave, was relieved today by a visit from Cranberry the Bear.
“I miss you, Wolfydog,” he grunted amiably. “Not one single wolf on the whole dang mountain to converse with any more!”
“Shouldn’t you be turning in for a long winter’s nap soon?”
Cranberry didn’t seem happy. “The berries were the pits this year. The human beat me to the pears and plums—and she’s stopped eating meat since you’re gone! She has the world’s lousiest compost heap! What’s a skinny bear to do?”
“Skinny was never your middle name,” I informed him. “And don’t insult my adorable human.”
“Yeah, well, one night she apparently convinced a visitor to leave a cooler full of salmon and crab outside. That was kind. I told my missus to take the kids down there for a picnic. ’Course, the kids had terrible tummy-aches from that see-through stuff humans wrap their food in. I must’ve told their mom a hundred times to teach the kids patience—take that poisonous junk off the meat first. Does she listen to me? Me, the old survivor?”
I had to laugh. “Didn’t you get your share of fresh salmon this year? I heard everybody got stuffed—bears, dogs, cats, humans…. Sorry to miss the fun!”
Damn! When I think about salmon, I sure miss being alive!
“Yeah, salmon was good—for once. A fluke. Everybody knows it. Just as that grizz said, the one who went through here the other day—I can still smell her mark. Whew! Sure am glad I’m a black bear—our girls smell good!”
“What did Her Ladyship say?” I am curious about Grizzly Philosophy.
“Too many humans! Too many tree-eaters! Too many stream-skruckers!’ She claimed to be starving—that they’re all starving. She did look pretty slim—a size 8, say. She said the weather’s different; the snow’s different; dens are flooding, and they’re going to bed for the winter with half-empty tummies.”
A sibilant snarl broke into Cranberry’s story: “Just try bringing up kittens nowadays!” Clarissa! Ms. Schwarzekitty, ubersexy in ways I could never quite appreciate. The merest whiff of that pungent cat scent was enough to turn me around on a pinecone in the path, bang into my human’s legs and absolutely insist on trotting home a.s.a.p.—the hell with pride or elegance. This bitch always means business and I didn’t want me or mine to become part of it!
“A modest proposal,” Clarissa purred on a note so deep it vibrated the dirt around my body. She licked a paw indolently. “We all agree, do we not, that humans are not the brightest animal on Gaia’s crust?”
I didn’t like the direction of that rhetoric, but one of the advantages of death is that you don’t have to nod your head in agreement with anyone, even a cougar.
Cranberry nodded, and Clarissa added to her argument. “And that there are far too many of them to keep the system balanced, anyway?”
Cranberry demurred with a growl. I allowed silence to express my doubts. After all, what do we know? How many humans do exist? Being the best traveled of us, I know that vast numbers of humans live in sterile areas called Cities or The Big Smoke, where they live unhappy, crowded lives, comforted only by pet cats and pathetically small, naked dogs. That probably means there are too many humans, if vast numbers of them must live like that. But I was not prepared to concede the point.
“Humans are never going to behave responsibly, “ Clarissa maintained. “It’s simply not in their nature. Therefore,” she licked her incredibly long, strong lips suggestively, “the only answer is a cull.”
“Huh?” grunted Cranberry.
I gasped. Hunt humans?
“You heard me.” Where do cougars pull that seductive, dangerous smile from? I’m so glad wolfy bitches don’t do that! “Somebody has to take responsibility—they won’t. They’ll never learn—the only answer is to have so few of them around that poor old Silva can recover from their insults and depredations.” I must have gasped again.
“Shut up or I’ll dig you up, you dumb dead wolf! Thought we cats didn’t know Silva?”
“Goddess of the True Woods?” I managed.
“If you like. You wolves are so literal! We kitties have more fanciful names: Mistress of the Skein of Being. Lady of Long Lazy Lie-abouts. Gagasphinx. The point is, we kitties know opportunity when we see it, and it’s time to stalk it and hunt it down.”
“The point is…?” said Cranberry and I together.
Clarissa switched her hawser tail. “The point is, there are tons of good food running around on two legs, if you take the trouble to learn how to undress it. The younger, the better: less fabric to rip off, and less disease and cancer in the meat.”
“You mean,” Cranberry huffed a little, “eat humans? Babies?”
“Try it; you’ll like it.” Clarissa used a paw the size of a dogdish to knock something from her lashes. “Tastes like chicken. And I believe they’ll appreciate our efforts to help them cut down their ridiculous population. Get a sense of balance going here.”
“W-would you eat my human?” I quavered. If I lose her, my anchor in the world will be gone for good.
“Nah.” Clarissa threw a dismissive glance at the kitchen window. “Too old and stringy. Besides, doesn’t she have cancer? No, thanks. Really does it to the meat.”
“Yuck,” pronounced Cranberry. He turned his butt to Clarissa and bravely wiped his paws at her. “Wouldn’t they just come out and kill us all? There must be a better way.”
“There is,” I broke in, without the slightest idea what it was. All the stories I’d ever heard, about carp and whales and dolphins, about elephants and chimps and pigs, about spiders and grey parrots and lions, and of course about bears, wolves and wolf hybrids like me—all the species who have been trying so long to talk with humans and help them—were crowding my mind, which is all I have left, really, when you think about it. Clarissa and Cranberry awaited my great idea. It came. “Writing,” I said. “You have to write to them!”
They threw up their paws in disgust, Cranberry lifting his dinner-plate mitts, Clarissa a ballet dancer with paws in boxing gloves. “Oh, go pounce!” she said in exasperation.
“On their walls!” I said, inspiration striking me more clearly than it ever had in life. “Write on their walls! They love it!’ (I wasn’t sure about that, but it sounded good.) “They all read it!”
“Read? And just where,” snarled Clarissa at the level of Mild Menace, “would you suggest we find…uh, ink?”
“Or opposable thumbs?” put in Cranberry. “And just what do we say?”
I was busy thinking, which is tough without an actual brain. Then it came to me.
“Simple. All you need to do is remind the humans we exist. We exist and we have a right to live. So pick a rainy day, find some black mud, and slap paw prints all over their walls. Any walls. They’ll get the message.”
“Puerile,” spat Clarissa. “Positively kittenish.” She flounced off.
“The humans call it graffiti,” I informed her retreating ears and tail. “They all read it.”
“You think making paw prints will put me to sleep?” yawned Cranberry.
“Oh, more than that,” I assured him. “Put up enough prints, you’ll win their hearts and minds. They’ll take it as a sign of the future. Like a horrorscope. You’ll be their prophet. Guru. Sage.”
“Black mud, eh?” said my single-minded friend, ambling off.
“You’ll be the Paw Prince of Profissey,” I told his retreating butt. Now there’s a word I never learned to spell.