Kerry’s-Story author:differential_Sloth bad_fluffy cat drone foreshadowing forest_fluffies herd_life questionable text

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Kerry's Story; Part Forty-Two

By differential_Sloth


####

When Daddeh said you’d be going into the forest with the big fluffies, even though you’re still small, you got so excited and happy. You really should have known better, though, since their idea of what you’d be doing was very different to yours. Finding nummies sounded like it’d be good; anything that didn’t involve the poopie place sounded good. Plus, Runny and Daddeh were both nummie finders, and never said bad things about it. No other fluffies you’ve talked to have either.

Right now, you think they were all lying.

The group you’re part of led by a couple of Daddeh’s friends set off a little after first brighttime nummies. They led you and the others into the forest, out past where the toughies keep watch, then where they walk around the safe place. It’s further than you’ve ever gone before, and you had some trouble handling your excitement. A couple of times, the other fluffies told you to shut up for talking to yourself.

It didn’t bother you much, though; you were going into the forest, further than ever before and no one would yell at you for being bad! The happies and excitement lasted until you arrived at the place you’d be finding nummies.

‘Wisten tu Fwuffy,’ Daddeh’s orange friend says, standing in front of everyone. ‘Dewe am mowe bewwies an gwound nummies hewe. Twy get aww dem.' When he's finished, the whole group splits up and heads in different ways. You look around feeling confused, a little scared and not knowing what to do. All they said was you’d work with the nummies finders; they didn't tell you anything about finding nummies! Did they expect you to ask? You wouldn't even know what to ask them.

‘Hey,’

You turn around and see a green fluffy standing in front of you. After a moment, you recognise it’s Daddeh’s green friend. This close up, you notice one of his see places looks wrong, and come of his teeth are-

‘Am Dawkhime dummeh?’ He says suddenly. ‘Wai yu nu findin nummehs? Dad am wai Bestesh tuffy say yu am hewe.’

‘N-nu am dummeh!’ You say back. ‘Day nu… Day nu say wat Dawkhime nee du!’

Daddeh’s green friend stares at you. ‘*Sigh* Den fowwow Fwuffy, an du ewyhing Fwuffy say.' With that, he turns and walks to some bushies. You trot after him, not wanting to get yelled at; you don’t want to know how his voice sounds when it's loud. Daddeh’s green friend stops in front of the bushie and looks at you. ‘Dish am how ged dah bewwehs off.’ He grabs a branch with lots of berries then pulls back. There are some popping sounds, then the part comes away. Daddeh's green friend puts it on his back, then looks at you.

‘Dewe. Jush du dad.’

‘O-otay.’ That won’t be hard, you’ve got all your teeth still! You open your nummie place, grab a branch and-

‘Nu,’

You let go and look at Daddeh’s green friend. ‘Wah?’

‘Doesh nu am gud bewwehs,’ he points at what you grabbed with his hoofie. ‘Day am same cowah ash weafies.’

‘Wai dah mattah?’

‘Caush dat mean nu can num dem!’ Daddeh’s green friend leans forward. ‘Doesh bewwehs giv bad tummeh huwtehs if num dem. Twy gain.’

Fighting the urge to puff out your cheeks and make meanie sounds at him, you turn to the bushie and look for berries you can actually take. You grab another branch; Daddeh's green friend didn't say anything, so maybe you got it right. Ok, the only thing to do now is pull; 'Ngh,' you pull your head back. The branch comes with you for a bit, then stops. 'Nngh,' You pull harder and take a step back, but the branch doesn't come away.

‘Nnngh!!' You dig your hoofie in and pull even harder. You think you hear some of the right sounds, but things still aren't happening. 'NNGH!!' If something doesn't happen soon, you'll- 'NH-EEEHH!' The branch you're pulling on comes away without warning. You move backwards too suddenly to stop and for some reason, you rear up; too far up. 'Eeeee!!' The world goes blurry and the wrong up, then 'Ooof!!' you land, hard. Your thinkie place is full of sillies, and there's a buzzing sound in your hear places.

‘Am Dawkhime otay?’

‘Uww,' You think so. Nothing has hurties, not bad ones anyway. 'Tink so...'

‘Den ged back on hoofehs.’

‘W-wah?’ Instead of answering, Daddeh’s green friend puts his hoofie against your side and pushes hard. ‘Eeeh!’ You roll onto your side and only just manage to stop yourself going any further. You’ve got one hoofie on the ground, but it’ll be a little longer before you’re standing again. That roll made your thinkie place sillies worse. Daddeh’s green friend isn’t having it.

‘Ged up,’ he says, poking you in the side. ‘Nao.’

‘Eh, Dawktime jus nee-’

‘Nu,’ he says, cutting you off. ‘Nummie findahs nee keep goin. Yu heaw fwend; nee ged aww dah nummehs fwom hewe.’ You want to argue more, try and make him give you a couple of moments to get better. Before you have the chance though, ‘If Dawhime nu get up, Fwuffy teww Bestesh tuffy yu nu du anyhing.’ A few shivers run down your back. No, you do not want that at all. Gritting your teeth, you put all your hoofies down and push yourself up.

‘Gud,' Daddeh's green friend says. 'Nao, pud doesh nummehs on backsie,' he points at the branch you managed to pull off. 'Den, get mowe.' With that, he turns and heads back to the bushie. You follow after a moment and search for another branch to grab. Problem is most branches have at least a couple of berries you were told not to grab. Now what? Should you grab the branches anyway, or search for one without any bad berries? It’d be nice if you’d been told what to-

‘Huwweh up an ged bewwehs!' You flinch a little and hope Daddeh's green friend doesn't see it. 'Nu jush du nuhing!' Alright then, you'll just grab what branches you can! Not your problem if something bad happens because no one told you what to do. You grab a branch with only a few bad berries and pull it off. It doesn't come off any easier than the first, but at least you don't tumble over backwards this time. You grab the next branch and pull it off; it comes off a little easier, but not by much.

Distracted by the noise from Daddeh’s green friend, you look over; how’s he working so quickly when he’s missing so many teeth? You look at the spot you’re picking from and at your back. Well, they said you had to work; they didn't say anything about being as good as the normal nummie finders. You carry on, working just fast enough so Daddeh's green friend or anyone else can't yell at you. As you're working, though, he steps closer and pushes you aside.

‘Move,’

‘Huh?’

‘Yu am tuu shwow,’ he says and goes about grabbing branches. You keep going too, but not any faster. Then, you feel Daddeh’s green friend drop a branchie on your back. ‘Yu can take mowe,’ he says before you have a chance to talk. Not that you were going to try. From the looks of it, this bushie is almost finished; maybe you’ll all go back to the safe place then.

‘Dish way nao,’ Daddeh’s green friend walked away from the bushie.

‘Fwuffies go back tu-’

‘Nu,’ he cuts you off again. ‘Dish nu am nuff nummehs tu go back. Nee mowe.’

You tummy sinks; you’ve got hurties and owwies from gathering what you already have, especially around your nummie place and leggies. They’re small now, but it won’t take much until they're big! You think about running back to the safe place on your own. But, you can barely remember how you got out here!

‘Hewe.’ Daddeh’s green friend stops suddenly and scrapes at the dirt.

‘Huh? Wat Fwuffy doin?’

‘Wookin fow gwound nummehs.’ He says, then ‘Dawkhime nee hewp dig tuu.’ He pauses digging and looks at you; ‘Nao.’ You put your berries in a pile, knowing they won’t stay your back while you dig, and help Daddeh’s green friend. Great, back to digging; at least you don’t have to deal with poopie smells.

#

Everything has hurties now, especially your leggies.

The first hole didn’t turn up any ground nummies. But instead of giving up, Daddeh’s green friend dug another hole in a different spot. It happened two more times until you found some. By then, your leggies, especially the front ones, were really starting to hurt. And, Daddeh’s green friend decided to dig another hole. It turned up nothing, but before he could start digging somewhere else,

‘Fwuffies wisten,’ you look and see Daddeh’s orange friend standing on a rock again. ‘Dewe nu mowe gud nummies hewe. Am time go back nao.’

Lots and lots of happies rush through you; they almost push out the hurties from digging. It’s over, you can go back now! Go, back… ‘Uhh,’ You have to walk all that way to the safe place, with nummies piled on your back and hurties in your-

‘Huwweh,’ Daddeh’s green friend says as he turns to go.

‘Bud, Dawktime stiww hav-’

‘If nee waid fow huwdehs get bettah,’ he says, ‘den waid. Bud fwuffies nu gun waid wiff yu.’

That can’t be right, surely! Looking around, though, everyone’s forming into one group, and no one else looks like they’re going to rest.

‘Otay, Fwuffy see Dawkhime ad safe pwace.’

‘Nu, wait!’ You walk over as fast as your hurties will allow and join the others. They set off just as you arrive, and the journey home starts. It only takes a few steps for you to tell it’ll be terrible.

#

You were right; every step hurts, no matter what you try. Walking slower seems to help a little, but everyone else goes the same speed.

‘Keep goin,’ Daddeh’s green friend says.

‘He am wight,’ another nummie finder adds. ‘Wan get back tu safe pwace. Nu gun wait fow yu.’

‘Bud-’

Before you can get another word out, they turn their heads forward and keep walking. More and more nummie finders walk past until you almost the last in line. It doesn't worry you that much though; everyone's leaving plenty of tracks, so what if you fall behind? You can always follow those back. Just as you're getting comfortable with the idea though, another nummie finder passing by says ‘Swow dummeh.’

Somehow, it gets to you. You? A wingie fluffy being slow? Before long it’s all your thinkie place can deal with. Now you want to show them otherwise, hurties or not. Gritting your teeth, you start to walk faster. Hurties shoot up through your leggies again, but you grit your teeth harder and ignore it as best you can. You won’t let anyone think hurties and nummies on your back will slow down a wingie fluffy like you.

The rest of the journey is horrible, though. Keeping up with everyone doesn’t make you leggie hurties worse, but you don’t get used to them either. Walking up and down the few hills in the way, not a problem on the way out, is especially horrible. At times it seems like the journey isn't going to end, and the hurties start working their way into your thinkie place. So, when you finally hear toughies up ahead calling out, it’s a huge relief.

‘*Haff… Haff… Haff…*’ Once you’re back at the safe place you stop walking and just breath to make the hurties leave.

‘Nu can stahp nao,' someone yells. 'Nee put nummies in nummie den.' You'd say something back, but your hurties are too big. Slowly, you walk to a nummie dens, put what you've found away and stumble back up the tunnel. You head for the long water but don't even get partway before your leggies stop working. Stumbling over to a bushie you lie in the shade to rest. Your see places start to close, but you don't try to stop them. Closing them for a bit won't hurt…

‘Dawktime.’

‘Zzz... W-wah?' You open your see places, but something isn't right; you can't see anything! Why is it so, dark…

‘Id am time fow sweepies nao,’ Mummah says.

‘Wah!?’ Time to sleep? But, it was still the brighttime when you got back! And you only closed your see places for-

‘*Sigh* Nao Dawktime,’ Mummah nudges you with a hoofie. ‘Nu can sweepies oudside!’

‘Otay!’ You get up before she can nudge you again. Your leggies hurt but not as bad as before. The real problem is, ‘Wat boud nummies?’

‘Dewe am nummies at den,’ Mummah says. ‘Jus huwwy.’

‘Ugh.’ Fine. Somehow, you’re still too sleepy to argue with anyone. You follow Mummah and hope they saved enough nummies. You did miss next brighttimes and darktime nummies.

####

‘Wunnie nee wisten. Dis am impowtant.’

‘Yes Bestest tuffy,’ a few scardies pop up, but it’s easy enough to ignore them.

‘Wunnie nee wook fow sumtin,’ he says. ‘Nee wook fow way hewd can wun way if hoomins find safe pwace.’

Shivers run down your back, but you push past them and try to focus. ‘O-otay, Bestest tuffy. Uh, how Wunnie find dat?’

‘Nu knu. Dat am wat Wunnie nee du,’ The Bestest toughie says. Not in a mean way, but it still makes you feel funny.

‘Um, o-otay. Wunnie go du dat nao,’

‘Gud.’ He says, then before you go adds ‘Wunnie, nu tawkies boud dis.’ You nod and head for the forest. Right, all you need to do is find a way for the herd to escape from humans. Well, at least after this the hardest part of this brighttime will be done. At the edge of the forest, you stop and use your thinkie place. How will you do this exactly? ‘Hmm,’ Well, you could follow a path you already know, then turn off into the forest somewhere you haven’t been before. ‘Hmm,’

Well, you don’t have a better plan. After taking a breath you head into the forest, following one of the main paths out. The nummies finders use it a lot, and most of the herd knows where it is. That'll probably be important if the whole herd needs to move at the same time. After a while, you pick a direction at random and turn off the path.

The forest stays familiar for quite a while after turning off the path. That’s not a surprise; you've seen most of the forest around the safe place even before you became a lookie fluffy. Further on, though, things get less familiar until you're somewhere new. You stop for a while to look around and think. You’ve gone pretty far; is this what the Bestest toughie meant? Maybe. If humans come to the safe place, it’s best to get as far away as possible. So, you keep going.

Further on, you run into some small rocky hills. ‘Hmm,’ They don’t look too hard to walk up, for a big fluffy at least. Little babbies won’t have a problem either, since they’ll be carried. The problem would be soon mummahs and babbies too big to be carried. Alright, you’ll have a look for an easier way up, and turn back and search for another path if there are none.

You walk along the bottom of the hill searching for an area that isn’t as steep or rocky. It takes a bit of searching, but you manage to find a spot most soon mummahs and babbies could get up with help. After climbing the hill you find flatter ground on the other side. You pause and use your thinkie place for a moment; not for as long though. It’ll be worth having a short look around here at least. There might even be nummies. It’s always good to keep track of them.

Nothing interesting or worth telling the Smarty about turns up at first. The bushies you find aren't the kind that makes berries. You find a fruit nummie tree, but it looks too small to make nummies yet. Moving further into the new area doesn't turn up nummies either. Maybe that means this isn’t a good way for the herd to escape. Then again, you haven't explored this place much. Maybe you’ll find some if you go a bit-
‘Hey,’

The fluff on your back stands on end, and your chest and tummy go tight. Slowly, you turn to where the voice came from and see a dull yellow fluffy. Your first thought is to turn and run; it’s the smart thing to do, but your leggies won’t listen! And if you run, what if other fluffies will-

‘Wat am fwuffy duin?’ The yellow fluffy’s question comes as a jolt, partly because of how he sounds; not angry or trying to be tricky. Before you can stop yourself, you say-

‘Jus wookin.’ You want to kick yourself in the special lumps for doing that.

‘Yu am wookie fwuffy?' The yellow fluffy asks. This time you don't answer. 'Fwuffy am wookie fwuffy tuu. Nu am twyin du bad tings.' So he says. After the bad fluffies did, you're not taking any chances. For a while, the two of you stare one another down; neither of you moves or try to talk. Scardies build in your tummy and parts of you start to tingle. This is stupid, just turn and run away. He's not a wingie fluffy like you, so you can get away from him. And, he doesn't know you’re one. At least, you think you still are. This would be a bad time to find out you're slower without-

‘Fwend? Wat am Fwend duin?’

More scardies wriggle through you, and your chest goes tighter. Out the corner of your see place, you watch a light blue fluffy trot over to the yellow one. ‘Wat am…’ the blue fluffy notices where his friend is looking and turns to you. ‘Uh, h-hewwo…’

Why didn’t you run when you had the perfect chance to get away!? Now’s there are two strange fluffies in front of you, and-

‘Dis fwuffy tink Fwuffy an fwend am bad fwuffies.’ The yellow one says. The blue fluffy looks at him, then to you.

‘Fwuffies nu am bad fwuffies. Nu wan giv-’

‘S-shud up!' You manage finally and take a step back. 'Wu… Fwuffy nu wan tawkies. Am goin nao.' You turn and start to trot away.

‘Wait!’ One of the fluffies, the yellow one you think, calls out. You ignore him, and keep- ‘Yu am wookin fow way tu wun way fwom hoomins!’ His wordies make you freeze; without meaning, you slowly turn around to face him.

‘How fwuffy knu dat?!’

‘Cause dat am wat fwuffy had du,’ the yellow fluffy says. ‘Hoomins awways twyin giv hewds fowewa sweepies.’ He pauses for a moment. ‘Wan knu sumtin boud hoomins?’

‘Y-yes.' You say before you can think properly. But it could be useful.

‘Hoomins awways twy make hewds go fowewa sweepies before dah cowd times.’ The yellow fluffy says. ‘Den id am hawd tuu get nummies gain fow cowd times.’

‘Yes, day am meanies,' the blue fluffy adds. Meanie sounds right. Destroying a herd's safe place and nummies before the cold times come? That's horrible! Even if everyone escapes and finds a new safe place, how would you find enough nummies to last the cold times? You don't even want to think about what would happen if you couldn't.

‘Be cawefuw when dah twee fwuff wook wike pee pees an poopies,’ the yellow fluffy goes on. ‘Dat am when hoomin cum.’

‘Tank yu, nice Fwuffy.’

The fluffies nod, and the yellow one says ‘Be cawefuw. Hoomins gun cum back tu fowest soon.’ With that they turn and trot away through the trees, You watch them go until you can’t see them, and a while longer after that. They could try to sneak back and follow you after all; best to make sure. When you’re sure the fluffies aren’t coming back, you turn and head for the safe place. You’ll have a lot more to talk about than you expected.

#

When you’re done talking, the Smarty, Bestest toughie and some of the Next bestest toughies sit and look at you, but don’t speak. After a few moments you start to get worried; are they mad at you for something? ‘Dese fwuffies nu twy fowwow?’ the Bestest toughie asks finally.

‘Nu, Bestest tuffy,' you tell him, shaking your head. 'Wunnie make suwe. Day nu fowwow Wunnie hewe.' You stopped and waited quite a few times, checking all around for signs you were being followed.

The Bestest toughie looks at you a moment, then nods. ‘Otay. Wan yu take Weaf an show him whewe yu go. He say if id am gud.’

‘Yes, Bestest tuffy.’ You say as Leaf walks over. Together, you turn and head for the forest. Part of you isn’t too excited to walk all that way again, but best to do what the Bestest toughie says.

####

‘Dawktime,’

‘Wat?’

‘Yu nee wawkies fastah,’ you say over your shoulder. ‘Nu can go dis swow.’

‘Bud weggies hav huwties!’ She complains. ‘Day nu wet Dawktime wawkies fastah!’

‘Fine,' you turn back to the path ahead. 'Be swow dummeh den.' You listen carefully and hear faster trotting from behind. Glancing back, careful not to let her notice, you see Darktime walking closer. Guess the hurties weren't stopping her after all. You smile to yourself; the "slow dummy" trick is great. You just wish someone had figured out earlier.

It’s strange how calling Darktime a slow dummy makes her do things; your thinkie place can’t even begin to figure out how it works. But it makes Darktime that much easier to deal with, so who cares why it works? You lead her and the young toughies past some rocks; you and the toughies watch carefully as you pass by in case something’s hiding. Darktime doesn’t, though. Sure, it’d be great if she did something, but she’s only here because the nummies finders can’t (or won’t) take her this brighttime. So long as you keep her out of trouble.

Further along the path, you spot some trees that lose their fluff when the cold times come. 'Yu tuffies knu does twees?'

‘Nu, Big Wed.’ One of them answers.

‘Du tuffies nee knu?’

‘Yes,’ when you get closer, you lead them and Darktime off the path and over to the trees. ‘Wook at dah fwuff.’ The toughies turn their heads up and stare at the trees for a while. Darktime just stands there, not looking at anything in particular. Or trying to make you think she isn’t.

‘Tuffy nu undewstan,’ one of the toughies says. ‘Wai am dis twee impowtant?’

‘Cause dese twees say when dah cowd times am cumin.’

‘Wah?’

‘How day du dat?’

‘When dah cowd times am cwose, dah twees wose dewe fwuff. Id stawt tu wook wike pee pees and poopies’ you explain. ‘When dat happen, dah cowd times am weawy cwose.’ The toughies look at you, amazed and also a little worried. One of them looks up to check the tree fluff again. Without meaning too, you follow his gaze even though you didn’t see any-

‘Hey!’

You look back down in time to catch Darktime trying to creep back to the path, and who knows where to then. She freezes in place, knowing you’ve caught her. ‘Dawktime,’ She turns to look at you.

‘Was… Was jus goin, tu…’ Darktime tries to come up with a good lie, but gives up when she figures out none of you will believe her. Or it might be the stares.

‘*Sigh* Wets go,' you lead the toughies and Darktime back to the path and lead them on. Things are quiet for a while until Darktime sighs and mumbles something. 'Wat?'

‘Dewe nu am anyting hewe,’ Darktime says. ‘Dis am dummeh.’

You’re not in the mood to explain why this job is important, and why it’s probably the reason she never ran into a monster all those times she snuck into the forest. 'Onwy tawkies if yu see sumtin,'

‘Bwudda was-’

‘Dat am diffawent,’ you interrupt. ‘Big Wed nee du dat so tuffies knu wat day nee knu.’ Darktime looks down and doesn't try to say anything more. Nothing happens the rest of the time you're out, and Darktime doesn't pull any tricks, which is a relief. You return to the safe place and go your separate ways. The young toughies thank you for teaching them about tree fluff, but Darktime just takes off; nothing strange there. Since it's about time for Next brighttime nummies, you go look for Snow. You search for a while, but can't find her anywhere. While you're looking, Gred comes over; 'Am Big Wed wookin fow Snow?'

‘Yes,’

‘She am stiww in Fowest wookin fow nummies,’ Gred says.

‘Otay. Tank yu Gwed.’

He nods and walks away. You feel some saddies as you wander off, but it’s nothing you can’t deal with, and you can always go sit with Tree. You find him near the long water and go find somewhere to have nummies.

‘Am Twee’s huwties bettah?’ you ask.

‘Yes,’ He nods. ‘Stiww get huwties when wawkies bud tink can go back tu fowest soon.’

‘Dat am gud.’ You've missed patrolling the forest and watching the safe place with him, and it'll be good when he's back, especially if you have to mind Darktime more often. The two of you have nummies in silence for a while; that's not strange, usually. But since the kitty monster attack, Tree's seemed different. It's hard to pick out, but it's there. You know he wouldn't want to talk about it, but just sitting here not doing anything feels worse. 'Twee,'

He looks up ‘Wat?’

‘Big Wed wan tawkies boud dah kitteh munstah.’

For a few moments Tree looks at you, not saying anything. Part of you expects him to get up and leave. Finally though, ‘Otay,’

You let out the breath you were holding and go on. ‘Was, Twee scawdies?’

'Yes,' Tree says. 'Was weawy scawdies.' You're not sure if he's quiet because thinking about it scares him, or he doesn't want anyone beside you to hear. Either way, you have to lean in to hear properly. ‘Was mowe scawdies dan dah bad fwuffies. Twee can fight bad fwuffies; nu cud fight kitteh munstah.’ Tree goes quiet again, looking down and to the side.

‘Twee stiww hav scawdies?’

‘Am scawdies boud watchin safe pwace in dah dawktime.’ Tree says. ‘Am scawdies boud kitteh munstah cumin back.’

Who wouldn’t be? That darktime you had to focus on keeping your scardies down more than usual. Each sound from forest made your fluff stand on end. At the same time though, ‘Bud, am Twee stiww gun du id?’

After a moment, Tree sighs. ‘Yes. Nu mattah if Twee am scawdies; nee keep hewd safe an show dah nyu tuffies how be gud.’

‘Dat am wight,’ you say after thinking for a moment. The new toughies won’t turn out good if you and the others aren't good. You just hope Tree doesn't do, something bad to himself trying to be a good toughie. As you’re thinking about it, Tree speaks up.

‘Du Big Wed wan Twee go way?’

‘Huh? Wai Twee say dat?’

‘Cause yuw Speciaw fwend cumin hewe.' Looking over your shoulder, you see Snow wandering over with some nummies. 'Weww?'

‘Uh, onwy if Twee wan go.’

Tree thinks for a moment. ‘Nu, Twee stay. Bud, nu wan tawkies boud-’

‘Hewwo,’ Snow says as she arrives and puts her nummies on the ground. She lies next to you, then looks at Tree. ‘Wat nu wan tawkies boud?’

‘Tuffy tings,’ he says. Then asks ‘Wat was fowest wike?’

‘Id was otay,' Snow says and starts telling you about what happened.

####

‘Wat Bestest tuffy tink boud wat Wunnie say?’ You ask as you walk around the edge of the safe place. ‘Tink dah fwuffies he tawkies tu wie?’

The Bestest toughie uses his thinkie place for a while, not saying anything. ‘Nu tink day wie,’ he says. ‘Nu can tink wai day wie boud id.’

Neither can you. Bad fluffies do lots of things; warning other fluffies about humans and their plans doesn’t sound like one. ‘So, am does fwuffies wight? Du hoomins cum when twee fwuff wook wike poopies?’

‘Maybe.’ Maybe? Only maybe? ‘Onwy see hoomins cum tu safe pwace one time. Nu can wememba wat twee fwuff wooked wike.’ He shakes his head. ‘Bestest tuffy am sowwies.’

You were hoping for a better answer than that. But then, it shouldn't be a surprise if there are things even the Bestest toughie doesn't know. You still have decisions to make either way; important ones. What Runny told you is scary, scary because it makes sense. If humans hate fluffies so much they'll destroy safe places, of course they'd do it just before the cold times. Anyone who escaped might not find enough nummies to last the cold times, never mind a new safe place.

A new safe place.

You stop thinking about the problem and look around at everyone doing their jobs. The herd searched for a long time to find this place and worked really hard building it. Lots of fluffies have made families babbies here, you included. Then there are the fluffies who went forever sleepies protecting the safe place and the herd, like Daddeh. The thought of giving all of it up send hot maddies all through you. But if humans do come, there'll be no choice, and not everyone will escape. Maybe not even most. Should you even give humans a chance?

‘Wat Bestest tuffy tink shud du boud hoomins?’

‘If day cum tu safe pwace?’ Wun way,’ he says right away.

‘Otay. Bud, shud hewd wun way nao? Den hoomins nu can-’

‘Nu,’ The bestest toughie says firmly. ‘Dewe tuu many nummies here nao. Nu can weave dem.’ He shakes his head. ‘Hewd onwy wun way if hav tuu. Nee make suwe hoomins nu find safe pwace tiww cowd times. Day nu go tu dah fowest den.’

‘Dat am wight,’ you say, feeling a bit better. The cold times have their own problems, but they’ll keep the herd safe from the humans at least. After that though, well, you’ll worry about that when you have to. For now, ‘Stiww wan wookie fwuffies tu wook fow ways hewd can wun way.’

‘Bestest tuffy nu teww dem stahp,’ he says. ‘Tinkin boud goin wif dem.’

‘Wai?’

‘Can teww wookie fwuffies if id am gud way.’

Makes sense. ‘Otay, Bestest tuffy du dat when can.’

‘Yes, Smawty.’

Right, that's one thing taken care of or talked about at least. Now then, ‘Smawty wan tawkies boud oda ting nao.’

‘Otay. Wat?’

You take a breath to get ready. It’s a bit silly, you can talk about whatever you want after all. 'Wan tawkies boud Big Wed an Twee. Boud makin dem Nex bestest tuffies.' You wait for the Bestest toughie to say something, then a little longer. But he doesn't. 'Bestest tuffy?'

‘Tink day am stiww tuu wittwe.’

‘Huh?’ Too little?

‘Nu mean day wittwe wike wittwe babbehs. Bestest tuffy sayin day nu knu how be nex bestest tuffies,’ he says. ‘Nex bestest tuffies nee knu wots of tings.’

He has a point. Still, ‘Hewd nee nyu nex bestest tuffies, an Twee an Big Wed be gud nex bestest tuffies.’

‘Bestest tuffy knu dat,’ he says. ‘Bud day nee knu mowe.’

‘When day gun knu tings?’ You ask, feeling annoyed. The Bestest toughie goes quiet, using his thinkie place.

‘Nu knu,’ he says after a while. Then says ‘Can make dem du tings dah Nex bestest tuffies du. Den, aftah dah cowd times maybe day knu tings.’

‘An den day can be nex bestest tuffies,’ you say, expecting the Bestest toughie to agree. Or at least, disagree right away, not go quiet again. ‘Bestest tuffy? Wai nu tawkies?’

‘Smawty nee be cawefuw.’

‘Huh? Wai nee be cawefuw?’

‘Cause nee tink boud wat wan du,’ he says.

What? ‘Wat Bestest tuffy sayin? Smawty wan Big Red an Twee be nex bestest tuffies cause day am gud!’

‘Bestest tuffy knu dat,’ he says. ‘Knu day am gud. Hewd nu knu dat.’

‘Wah? How hewd nu knu dat?!’ This makes no sense; who in the herd doesn't know by now Big Red and Tree are two of the best, strongest toughies around? Plenty of fluffies saw how well they fought against the bad fluffies. Even if they don’t know as much as the other Next bestest toughies that’s easy to fix. Why would the herd have a problem?

‘Smawty nee tink. Big Wed an Twee am fwends.’

‘Yes.’

‘Hewd knu dat.’

‘Yes...’ Where’s he going with this?

‘Wat Smawty tink hewd tink if yu wan fwends be nex bestest tuffies?’

You’re confused and more than a little mad, but you run what he says through your thinkie place. What would the herd think about it? ‘Hmm,’ it takes a moment for your thinkie place to catch on, but once it does the problem seems clear. Shivers run down your back, and your tummy wriggles again. You feel like a dummy for not realising before…

‘Bestest tuffy nu sayin nu make them nex bestest tuffies,’ he says. ‘Bud, nee wait.’

‘Ow, hewd tink Smawty onwy du gud tings fow fwends,’ you say, understanding it more. ‘Den tings get bad.’

‘Dat am wight,’ The Bestest toughie says, then looks at you. ‘Smawty gettin bettah at bein smawty. Gun be wike yuw daddeh soon.’

Some happies force the bad feelings out. ‘Bestest tuffy tink so?’

‘Yes.’

‘Tank yu.’

He nods, then says ‘Bestest tuffy an Smawty shud go du oda tings. Been tawkin tuu wong.’

‘Otay. Bai Bestest tuffy.’ You tell him, and the two of you head in different directions.

####

‘*Zzzzzz...*’

‘Dawktime,’

‘*Zzzzz...*’

‘Dawktime!’

‘*Zzzz* W-wah?’ Something jabs you in the side.

‘Dawktime, get up!’ Mummah yells and jabs you in the side again.

‘Dawktime gun get up!’ You stand and walk out of the nestie. ‘Stahp givin sowwie hoofies!’

‘Does nu wewe sowwie hoofies,’ Mummah says. ‘Bud gun get dem if nu huwwy! Yu nee go wif dah nummie findahs gain.’

Again? ‘Dawktime du dat wast bwight-’

‘An nao nee du id gain!’ Mummah says over you. ‘Wike aww nummie findahs. Nao go!’

‘Fine!’ You turn and trot out of the den; once outside you consider going somewhere else, maybe run and hide in the forest. But, they’ll figure out pretty quickly and come find you. You’re not sure why you care, though; maybe you’re just getting sick of being yelled at. So instead, you get a quick drink and find the nummie finders just before they leave.

‘Swow dummeh awmost nu make id,’ one of them says when you arrive. It makes you want to turn right around, but that would only make them happy. You grit your teeth and follow them into the forest. It’s a long walk, but you’re getting better at dealing with the leggie hurties. You still wish they’d just go away though…

‘Be cawefuw.’

You look up and see Snow, Big Red’s special friend. ‘Boud wat?’

‘Dah woud sky munstahs,’

Great… ‘Yes.’

‘Snu nu am bein siwwies,’ she goes on. ‘Dewe am mowe nao. Dawktime nu knu dat?’

How much does she think other fluffies tell you? Cause it’s not much more than “you’re a bad fluffy.” Saying no would just make her keeping going though. ‘Yes, Dawktime knu. Am jus, sweepies.’

'Otay, gud.' Snow says and actually turns her attention to something else. It worked! Now you have something to feel good about, even for just a little bit. Daddeh's orange friend leads the way to another patch of bushies. They’ve got lots of berries on them, which means you’ll be here a while. Your tummy sinks at the thought.

‘Stawt getting nummies,’ Daddeh’s orange friend says. ‘Gun nee wots of nummies fow dah cowd times.’ You pick a bushie, walk over to it and start grabbing branches, just fast enough to not get yelled at. After a while you notice someone nearby; glancing to the side, you see Snow grabbing berries from a bushie near yours. Guess they’re making her take care of you this brighttime. Well, you prefer her to Daddeh’s green friend, with his strange see place and bad sounding voice.

The two of you work quietly for a while, grabbing branches and putting them on your back. It's boring, but it gets easier to deal with so long as you don't think about how bored you are. That's the hard part. You're so focused on not paying attention to anything, you don't notice Snow talking. It isn't until she hisses at you to stop that you take notice.

‘Wat Snu-’

‘Shh!’

‘Wai-’

‘Nu tawkies ow be woud!' She hisses again; any excuse to not pick berries, even for just a little while. You try to figure out what’s got Snow’s attention, and everyone else for that matter while you’re waiting. There's not much to see other than trees and bushies, but you can hear something strange, at least you think you can. It sounds far away, and it’s not long before you lose it. You listen a while longer but can’t pick it up again.

‘*Sigh*’

Turning to Snow, you notice she looks like she just lost a lot of scardies. From what? ‘Wat?’

‘Dat was dah sky munstah,’ Snow says. ‘Id was oud dewe wookin.’ If she says so; could have been anything.

‘Otay.’ You turn back to the bushies and keep gathering berries, but Snow interrupts.

‘Dawktime,’

‘*Sigh* Wat?’

‘Nee be mowe cawefuw!’ Snow says, getting a worried look on her face. ‘Yu nu heaw dat sky munstah!’

‘Dawktime nu knu if heaw anyting.’ You tell her, feeling more annoyed. You just want to gather berries and-

‘Dis am impowtant, Dawktime. If nu wook an wisten, munstahs get yu.’

Really. ‘Nu cawe,’

Now it’s Snow’s turn to ask ‘Wah?’

‘Dawktime nu see Bestest tuffy fowwow Dawktime in fowest. Fwowah was gud fwuffy an stiww go fowewa sweepies. Bwudda’s fwend was bein cawefuw, an munstah giv him huwties.’ You turn back to your bushie again. ‘Id nu mattah; bad tings happen an munstahs stiww get fwuffies. Nu mattah.’ You start grabbing branches off the bushie again. Out the corner of your see place, you can tell Snow’s standing there looking at you.

Let her look, you don’t care. You know you’re right, it really doesn’t matter what anyone does; bad things still happen for no reason.

Soon enough you’re back in the rhythm you can stand, gathering branches until you can’t fit more on your back. Stepping away from the bushie you notice Snow isn’t where she was, and looks like she hasn’t been for a while. Whatever. You walk to where Daddeh’s orange friend is; ‘Dawktime nu can get mowe bewwies,’ you tell him. ‘Wat du?’

‘Go back tu safe pwace wif dem,’ he points at some fluffies with lots of berries on their backs. ‘Den cum back hewe.’

‘Otay,’ You join up with the fluffies, return to the safe place, dumb all the berries in a the nummie den and head back out. On the way you meet other fluffies headed back; Snow's with them, but she doesn't look at you as they go past. Whatever. Once you're back at the bushies you return to your spot and get back to work. No one comes to work on the bushies near you; maybe because they don't want to or for some other reason. Either way, it's fine by you.

Work gathering berries from the bushies goes on for a long while, and there’s another trip to the safe place and back before it’s all finished. You dump your last load of nummies, grab some for yourself and head to one of your usual spots. But on the way there, Big Red stops you.

‘Big Wed wan tawkies.’

‘Bud wan hav-’

‘Nao, Dawktime.’

You want to tell him to num poopies and walk away. But he won’t give up, and you’re too sleepy to argue, which is worryingly normal lately. ‘Fine…’ Big Red leads you to a spot by some trees, away from most of the herd.

‘Wai yu make Snu saddies?’

‘Wah?’

‘Wai yu make Snu saddies?’ Big Red asks again. ‘She was makin sad wawa when get back fwom fowest. She onwy twyin keep yu safe!’

‘Nu was twyin make hew saddies,’ you tell him. ‘Was just sayin-’

‘Tings nu mattah?’ Big Red finishes.

‘Yes,' Why would that be a problem? And, why does he look madder?

‘If aww hewd tink wike dat, dan aww fwuffies get wots of bad huwties. an fowewa sweepies!' Big Red looks you in the see places. 'Undewstan?' You're sleepy, have tummy hurties, and really don't feel like talking anymore. So, you tell him 'Yes,' hoping it will make him go away. Big Red stares at you a while longer, then says 'Nu du id gain.' He turns and trots away, probably to give Snow huggies until she stops crying. Ugh.

With that finally over you go to your spot and have your nummies. It fixes your tummy hurties, and your sleepies start to get better too. What doesn't go away are the maddies. Stupid Snow, what's her problem? If talking to you really made her that sad, why'd she do it? To keep you safe? If something was big and scary enough to find and attack you all out there, nothing would have made any difference.

Snow could have just minded her own business and not bother you. Why does she care so much anyway? Most of the herd doesn’t, and if Snow wanted to make Big Red happy, why not just have babbies with him already? ‘Ngh.’ Everyone just makes you so mad. All the yelling, forcing you to find nummies and walk around with the toughies doing nothing, calling you slow dummy, ‘*Sigh…*’ Sometimes you wonder if it’d be better to leave; go into the forest and just keep walking until, until…

Where would you go? Another herd wouldn't be any better than this one and might be even worse. You could just live in the forest by yourself; you've probably learnt enough about finding nummies by now. Water would be harder, a lot of things would be harder. But, no one would yell at you, call you a bad fluffy or anything else. It'd just be you. 'Hmm,' It does sound good, really good. So, why are you getting scardies from thinking about it? Maybe they’re not scardies. Maybe you’re just excited about… No, they’re scardies. Why?

Well, it might have something to do with everyone talking about the cold times; something called cold fluff covering the ground, and nummies running out. And, they're close. How close no one seems to know, but they're all sure it's coming. As fun being out on your own sounds doing it in the cold times, if what everyone says about them are true, isn't so great. Well, if the cold times are close, it might be smart to stay around here, at least until they're gone. Then, it might be different.

####

It’s good to be out of the safe place and back in the forest again. Being stuck with not much to do made it too easy to think about the kitty monster attack. When you do, your fluff stands on end, and your tummy goes tight. I feels like some hurties come back too. Now you have your old jobs to keep you busy, it's easier to cope. Sure, there's a chance of running into other kitty monsters in the forest, but there are lots of things to watch out for. That helps.

After first brighttime nummies, you meet up with Big Red and head into the forest. You’ll only be keeping watch in one place, but that’s still better than finding things to do in the safe place. Or lying in the nestie with hurties. A short walk brings you both to the spot, and you settle in, watching and listening for anything bad. It isn’t long until you’re mostly back to normal. Scardies and bad thinkie place pictures pop up every so often, but distracting yourself from them is easy.

Time passes, and nothing much happens. There are birdies, a few small breezy monsters and a small group of nummie finders headed out. Nothing out of the ordinary. You stay focused on the forest and its sounds. But something keeps distracting you, and not the thinkie place pictures. Big Red keeps making little noises and shifting about; it’s not much, but you’ve spent enough time around him to know it isn’t normal. Somethings up.

‘Big Wed,’

‘Wat?’

‘Wai hav maddies?’

Big Red doesn’t talk for a while. As you’re starting to think he’s not going to answer, he says ‘Id am Dawktime.’

‘She twy wun way gain?’ You’ve heard Daddeh’s making her work with the nummie finders and follow toughies around. Is it not working?

‘Nu,’ Big Red says. ‘Bud she stiww bein bad fwuffy.’

‘How bein bad?’

Big Red thinks for a moment; ‘She say meanie tings. Make Speciaw fwend saddies.’

‘Wat meanie tings?’

‘Dat tings hewd du nu mattah. Fwuffies stiww get huwties.’ He shakes his head, ‘Dummeh nu undewstan,’

That does sound like something that would make Big Red mad, and fluffies like Snow saddies. You feel some maddies too; you know just how hard keeping the herd safe is, and what it takes sometimes. But, you’re not sure what to say; nothing that would make Big Red feel better comes to mind. Plus, you’re talking too much as it is.

‘Tank yu,’ Big Red says, surprising you a little. ‘Big Wed feew bit bettah.’ Well, that makes things easier. Big Red seems a little calmer; you can still sense some maddies about him, but they shouldn’t cause problems. You settle back down to watch the forest, but Big Red’s not quite finished. ‘Twee?’

‘Hmm?’

‘Did Bestest tuffy say what happen when kitteh munstah take his see pwace way?’

Yes, he did; ‘Uh-huh. Big Wed wan knu?’ He thinks for a bit, then nods. ‘Twee say when back at safe pwace; knu tuffies nu can tawkies nao.’

‘Dat am wight’ Big Red says. The two of you go back to watching the forest properly, not talking and focusing on what’s around you. Later after a long brighttime, you and big Red return to the safe place. Fluffies are everywhere, having darktime nummies or playing. Getting some for yourselves, the two of you head for one of your usual spots. ‘Otay,’ you start, ‘dis am how Daddeh wose see pwace.’

####

The skyball wakes you up, shining through the bushie you slept under last darktime. You take your time getting up since you don’t have anything important to do. After finally getting up, you finish the berries you saved from earlier, then start walking. It’s the same thing you’ve done each brighttime for a very long time; wake up, walk through the forest until the darktime, find a place to sleep then do it all again.

You’ve done this for so long it’s hard to remember when you weren’t, partly because you force yourself not to think back too far. Sometimes, you’re not sure why you keep going; it’s not like you’re looking for anything. Still, what would you do instead? Stay in one place? Maybe. It’d be easier in some ways, but you just don’t care enough. So, walking it is.

After walking for a while, you find a sort of path heading through the forest. Without much thought you start following it; it’s not like there’s anything special about any other direction, and it’s a bit easier. Why not? Even better, the path leads you to a long water; not bad, you were starting to get thirsty hurties. After drinking you carry on, stepping over the long water and carrying on.

The path takes you away from the long water. It might be a better idea to follow it instead, but there’s not much point. It’s quite easy to find water around here if you know what you're doing. Plus, you might run into other fluffies if you follow the long water; you’re not really in the mood for fighting. Nothing much happens as you walk; some birdies fly between the trees above you, and a small breezie monster runs past at one point. It’s not very interesting; you hear the same things every brighttime, and they don’t have anything to do with you.

Slowly, the path disappears until you’re back to walking randomly among the trees. After some wandering, you come across some berry bushies. The berries look alright and trying one you find they taste pretty good. You take your time numming the berries, making sure to get as much as you can. The taste and feel of your tummy filling up are good, but something distracts you. It's like itchy hurties just behind your head. You lift your head from the bushie and search the forest; nothing, at least that you can see.

You turn back to the bushie and its berries, but you’re finding it harder to concentrate; the feeling won’t go away, and that’s never good. Once the last of your tummy hurties leave, you step away from the bushie. You look all over and use your hear places hard as you go. Nothing out of the ordinary turns up, but you could swear there's a few noises here and there. They're small, so small you're not sure if you're even hearing some of them.

Time and more of the forest passes by, but the itch behind your head doesn't go away. Now you're pretty sure something's following you, might have been since you found that bushie. Hopefully, it's just fluffies, mad you ate berries off their bushies; that’s easy to deal with. Sometimes, you just have to look at them, and they'll run away. They're not used to fluffies as big as you. But if it's not fluffies, that could be a problem. There are things out here, monsters that hurt and give fluffies forever sleepies. If something like that, barkie monsters, kitty monsters or even a human is out looking for you…

You keep going, watching and listening for anything out of the ordinary. Nothing turns up, but that doesn't mean anything. ‘*Sigh*’ This isn’t working, you’re making too much noise. You stand still and put all your focus into searching for what’s out there, carefully turning around on the spot to look everywhere. Even with all that nothing turns up, but something new happens; the birdies go quiet. You think back to the last little while; did they go quiet earlier? How long ago? You can't tell, but at least you know you're dealing with something bad. Tingles start in your leggies, and your chest and tummy tighten. You listen harder, trying to figure out where this monster will appear.

‘Whewe am id,’ you scan the bushies and trees, searching harder and harder. You need to know what you’re dealing with to have a chance. A sound comes from the side; you spin to the spot and catch a bushie moving. There, it's coming from there; your nummie place goes dry, and scardies wriggle their way in but you dig your hoofies into the ground, ready for anything.

Nothing happens for the next few moments; the forest seems to go quiet except the buzzing in your hear places. A breezy monster comes through suddenly, moving the trees and bushies around. That’s when it happens. A dark shape bursts from the bushies and charges forward. It’s so fast, you barely have time to move before it's on you. The thing leaps, aiming for your head or just behind it. In desperation, you jump forward to mess up its jump and maybe hurt it.

You get a little bit ahead, but the thing still lands on your back; not where it wanted, but the impact still knocks you off balances and nearly onto the ground. You manage to scramble away and turn around, but the thing is already attacking again. It grabs hold, digging sharp things into your sides. ‘Gahhh!!’ You buck and shake to try and get it off-

‘Screee!!!’ It bit you!! ‘Eeee!!’ You shake and buck harder, and try to run against the monster. It lets go with one of its sharp hoofie things but uses it to slap at you. It hurts, badly, but gives you enough of an opening to dig in your back hoofies and push hard. The thing lets go of you, runs back a few steps and spins around, all of it so fast you can barely keep track. Finally, you get a good look at it; kitty monster.

If you try to run it’ll chase after you, and you’ll never ever outrun a kitty monster. The only shot you have is to fight back enough to make it run away. 'Wagh!!' You charge forward, not giving your scardies a chance to do anything. The kitty monster seems a little surprised but dashes into the attack, batting out with its sharp hoofies. You tuck your head down and feel a hot sting on top of it. Nothing worse, though. You brush past the kitty monster, hitting it but not doing much.

Stopping and spinning as fast as you can you try to set up another charge, but the kitty monster is faster. You see it a moment before it slams into you, latching on to your head. ‘Scree!!’ Sharp hurties burst through your face, especially one of your see places! ‘Eeeee!!’ You buck and throw your head around, but the kitty monster isn’t letting go. It bites again, sending more hurties through you.

This is bad; if nothing changes, you’ll go forever sleepies right here! Even if forever sleepies don’t scare you, you’ won’t be monster nummies! You struggle with everything you have, not letting up for even a second. The Kitty monster scratches and bites you over and over, but in doing so gives you a chance. Some part of the kitty monster, you're not sure what gets into your nummie place. Knowing it's the only chance you'll get, you bit down hard as you can.

The kitty monster yells, making a horrible noise, then lets go. You catch a glimpse of it running away, but that's all until you collapse forward. You push yourself up to your hoofies in case the kitty monster comes back, though if it does, you won't stand much chance. There are hurties all over the front of your body, especially your face, and you can't look out of one of your see places. You think it's closed, but 'Eeee!!' trying to open it causes more hurties, so many it nearly forces you back down.

Breathing hard, you search for the kitty monster with your good see place. After a few moments of nothing happening, It seems like it’s not coming back, but you’re not out of trouble yet. With these hurties, you won’t be going much further. You have to find a place to lie down until you get better, or don’t. Spotting a patch of bushies that looks promising, you stumble over and crawl in, trying to to make the hurties worse.

In place, you do your best to curl up and hunker down. Now all you can do is wait.

####

‘Daddeh say he sweepies in dah bushie fow wong time,’ you tell big Red, getting close to the end. ‘When he cud wawkies gain, onwy one see pwace wowk,’

‘Wat he du den?’ Big Red asks, leaning forward.

‘He keep wawkin in dah fowest.’

‘Weawy?’

‘Dat wat Daddeh say,’ you tell him. ‘Wat Big Wed tink he du?’ His hear places drop a little and he looks at the ground while he thinks.

‘Big Wed nu knu,’ he says finally. ‘Bud he awmost get fowewa sweepies! Wai he keep wawkin in dah fowest?’

‘He nu say wai,’ you say. ‘Dat jus he was duin.’ Daddeh hardly ever talks about what he did before the old Smarty found him. Stories like this make it sound like it was mostly wandering the forest for no reason in particular. He might not like talking about it because there isn’t much to tell. At least, that’s what a small part of you hopes. Anyway, ‘Wat Big Wed tink?’

He looks right at you; ‘Tink newa wan see kitteh munstah gain. Ewa.’ A shiver runs through him. ‘An nu wan knu wai hoomins am mowe scawies.’

‘Who say hoomins am mowe scawies?’

‘Kitteh munstahs nu make fwuffies wun way fwom safe pwace,’ Big Red says.

He has a point, but you still hope you’ll never have the chance to find out for sure.

Comments

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Anonymous1: Thank you for the update!
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Stealthderp: Pitch your idea to a network and you will get your own cartoon "Watership Down" style.