Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Trick Tracks

Several days into our destinationless journey, Garnet surprised us by bringing a story back with dinner. She had said barely a dozen words altogether since we'd lost the caravan, so this was something of a shock.

It had started, she said, shortly after she'd set off hunting for the day. It hadn't taken her long to find something to track; we were passing through an area with dusty ground instead of sand, and the criss-crossing prints of many animals were quite clear. For most of an hour, she had been tracking a mikit, one of the little miniature antelope that live in the scrubbier areas of the Golden Desert. At least, that's what she thought it was. After a while, she realized that the tracks were bigger than she had thought at first. Not a mikit, perhaps, but some sort of full-sized deer or antelope.

A little while after that, the tracks sprouted toes and become the prints of a lion cub. These soon grew to the prints of a full-grown lion.

By then, it was obvious to Garnet that something strange was going on. She was expecting a shapeshifter of some kind, or perhaps an unusually clever trick - that is, until she heard the lion roar on the other side of a rocky outcropping. Carefully, barely so much as breathing, she peered over the top of the nearest rock.

On the other side was a little desert rabbit. It had stuck its head into a round hole in the rocks and was, somehow, using this to turn its high-pitched voice into a remarkably convincing roar. As Garnet watched, it turned away, making satisfied little chuckling noises, and hopped back to where the lion prints ended in the dust. It leaped into the air.

Its paws came down one, two, four at a time, over and over, tapping at the dust as precisely as the keys of a typewriter. In seconds, it had pounded out a perfect lion's paw print. A couple of tiptoe stabs even gave the print a set of claws. One long leap, and the rabbit had started another a little farther along.

Apparently, it had been forging the tracks the whole time, almost as quickly as Garnet had been following them.

She followed the rabbit for a while longer. (She can move in nearly complete silence when she wants to, which seems to be most of the time.) It didn't seem to have a particularly long attention span. From lion prints, it moved on to camel, then to the segmented claw-marks of a giant sand-mantis. It had just started making the parallel ripple tracks of a sidewinder when the wind changed direction. The rabbit found itself suddenly downwind of one of the most dangerous predators in the Golden Desert: a small, stealthy human. It whirled around, saw her, and vanished.

She would have missed it entirely if she hadn't been looking right at it. As it is, her eyesight must be incredibly sharp. She had only a fraction of a second to see the rabbit's coat ripple, exposing a different layer of fur to view, until it was dust-colored all over. Only a faint blur and a quick-moving shadow were visible as it darted into the rocks and disappeared.

Garnet said that she plans to leave the rabbits alone until we're well out of this part of the Desert. There's no telling how many of the ones in this area share this remarkable talent for footprint forgery. It's not something she wants to discourage.

Besides, what she brought back instead was a Desert iguana nearly her own weight, with sickle claws as long as my fingers. I think we can do without rabbit for a while.

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