Learning to Hunt
A Whateley Academy Vignette
Learning to Hunt
by Light-of-Fury (& ElrodW)
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 - Afternoon
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota
It was a beautiful day, the kind of day that made me want to go out and do something, and yet there I was sitting on the porch, kicking at the dirt by my feet. That had been happening more and more frequently ever since my brother, Brandon ... Kayda ... had manifested. There had just been one troubling thing after another after that.
"I'm bored," I sighed, knowing it was silly to complain. It wasn't like it would change anything. Besides, I clearly had it better than Kayda had since then. I hadn't almost died, after all. Instead, I'd had to watch friends, even those that had been okay with the mutant sister thing, drifting away as things in town grew more and more tense. If the mutant-thing wasn't bad enough, though, the rape accusation against Kayda's former friends, and the resultant miscarriage of justice at the trial, had factionalized the town. H1 supporters were radically vocal and implying a lot of threats - enough to intimidate the neutral or pro-mutant people in town to lie low and shut up - including my friends. Now, I was sure that if I tried to call any of them, they'd be too 'busy' to do anything. I only had one companion at the moment, and it was one I rather wish I didn't have.
"You should take a nap. It's hot and bright," a female voice purred inside my head.
That was my companion, the female cougar spirit Wihanape that was always with me now. Lord, how I wished she wasn't. I didn't want to be a mutant, and I certainly didn't want to be a girl, but from what everyone had been saying, I was stuck with the first and probably would be stuck with the second too. It sucked.
"Not tired," I answered, right before suddenly feeling a profound urge to yawn. Unable to resist, I did exactly that, stretching my hands over my head as I did to loosen up.
In my head, the catgirl giggled. "Cats are always tired enough for a nap."
Hearing that got a groan out of me. "You better not make it so I sleep all the time."
Wihanape sighed. "Well, if you don't want to sleep, how about taking care of that mouse over there."
"Mouse? What mouse?" I questioned, looking around for signs of the rodent.
"Don't look, listen," Wihanape chided. "Hunting requires all of your senses."
Frowning at the chastisement, I stopped jerking my gaze around and closed my eyes to really listen. For a moment, I couldn't hear anything unusual, just the slight breeze. I was just about to say exactly that, when I heard a faint rustle off to my left, the rustle of something small scurrying in brush. Involuntarily, my head twitched to the side at the noise, like I'd just heard some annoying noise.
"There you go. Now, go get it," Wihanape directed.
"I'm not chasing after some mouse," I rejected, right before I twitched again as the sound repeated itself. Now that I'd heard it, I couldn't stop hearing it. It was like nails on the chalkboard, too.
"Come on! Cats hunt!" Wihanape argued. "Besides, it's taunting you by being in your territory like this. It means it doesn't think you can catch it."
I rolled my eyes. "I don't want to catch it. What would I even do with it?"
I got the mental impression of a shrug. "Eat it?"
An involuntary shudder had me contorting in disgust. "Ew! I'm not eating a mouse!"
"Fine, then just bat it around a little to let it know who's in charge here," Wihanape suggested.
I shook my head in denial. "I'm not gonna do that."
"You're right. After all, you'd have to catch the thing to do that, and clearly you aren't half the hunter that Kayda is," Wihanape remarked.
"That's not true! I could totally catch it! I just don't want to!" I argued.
"It's okay. You're just not mature enough to be a hunter, yet. You should just stick to playing games with the other kids," Wihanape said reassuringly.
Clenching my teeth, I shoved myself up to my feet. "I'll show you! I'm plenty mature!"
With that, I started off toward the sound of the mouse, keeping my eyes peeled for signs of it. Before I could get anywhere near the thing, though, I saw a flash of movement as it scurried away. Zipping through the grass, it raced off toward the barn.
Inside my head, Wihanape giggled in amusement. "You'll never catch anything stomping around like that. You need to stay low and quiet, so you can sneak up on the thing. Then, once you're close, you pounce."
"I know that!" I insisted.
In spite of my claims, I did as instructed, crouching low and moving more slowly. This time, I got much closer, to within a few feet. Apparently the soft crinkle of my shoes on the grass was still too loud, though. Once I got that close, the mouse scurried off again, disappearing through a small hole in the barn door.
"Damn," I cursed in annoyance at my failure.
"Getting better," Wihanape encouraged.
Those words weren't really encouraging to me, however. It sounded like she was making fun of me for not being able to catch one little mouse. Well, I was going to show her. I'd get it next time.
Filled with determination, I hurried over to the door, intent upon my prey. As I moved, I thought about my strategy. Maybe I would be quieter without shoes on. Maybe I needed to get even lower. Perhaps all fours would help. Then, I promptly forgot about all of that when I saw what was beyond the door.
Inside the barn was the usual array of things: stalls for animals, tools that might be useful, hay and other feed. There was also something that was most unusual. Standing in front of the stall that housed the family milk cow was a tall, slim girl, with a very cute face and waist-length, bright pink hair. In spite of her slim build, she was developed enough for four girls, all crammed into a rather inadequate looking tank top and cutoff shorts. In short, she looked ... amazing.
For as surprised as I was to see the unfamiliar girl, she seemed every bit as surprised by my presence. The moment I opened the door, she let out a startled yelp, jumping in surprise. Her surprise didn't last long, though, as she immediately breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of me, clutching a hand to her chest.
"Jesus Christ, didn't anyone ever tell you not to sneak up on people?" the girl questioned as if I was the one that was out of place. Her voice matched her appearance quite well, bright, cute, and energetic.
"I ... uhm ... I'm sorry ...," I stammered out, finding words oddly difficult to form at the moment. Once I managed to get that out, though, my mind finally remembered the situation I was in. "Wait! What are you doing in here?! This is private property!"
The girl blinked in surprise, before glancing around. "Oh ... huh ... sorry. Y'see I was really bored 'cause my aunt wouldn't let me go into town, 'cause like I guess there's some kind of thing going on with mutants right now or whatever, so she suggested I try going to the Frank's ranch 'cause one of them is like a mutant, so they probably wouldn't have a problem with it. Is it you?"
I didn't really know how to answer that. I was a mutant, but I probably wasn't the one that the girl's aunt knew about. That had to be Kayda. "Uhm ... well I think she was talking about my sister, but I'm one too."
"Cool! Me too!" the girl chirped out the obvious before continuing her story. "Anyway ... so I decided to like come over and what not 'cause I've never actually been on a real cattle ranch before, and I was gonna go ring the bell, but then I heard a sound from this barn, and like look!" She paused to point at Bessy the cow. "It's a real cow, like in the flesh and everything! It's even got that big boob thingy under it! What's it called ...?"
"An udder?" I supplied.
The girl nodded vigorously. "Yeah! An udder! Anyway! I'd never seen a real cow before, I mean not in person anyway, so that was really cool, and ... hey, could you show me how to milk a cow?!"
"What?" I questioned, briefly lost in the sudden topic change.
"Can you show me how to milk a cow?" the girl repeated. "I mean you're like a farmer right ... well gonna be a farmer or whatever, so you must know how, right?"
I gave her sort of a mix between a shrug and a nod. "Well, yeah, I know how but ... she's already been milked today."
The pinkhaired girl gave me a look that seemed utterly crestfallen. It was like all the energy from before vanished, leaving behind a slouched, pouting, depressed mess. "Aw ... you mean I missed it? Damn ... I was like really looking forward to milking a real live cow. My friends back home would never have believed it!"
"Well ... if you don't mind getting up early, she'll get milked again tomorrow. You could come by then," I offered, hoping to cheer the girl back up.
The offer had the desired effect. The girl perked up instantly, a bright, expectant smile returning to her face. "Really?! Wow! I'm so excited! Thanks ... uhm ... wait what was your name again?"
"Uhm ... Danny," I answered.
"Dannyboy, huh?" the girl remarked, giggling to herself. It made me wonder if she didn't like my name for some reason. "Do you know what a glen is, Danny?"
I shrugged. "Like a meadow, maybe?"
The girl shook her head. "I don't think that's right ...," she trailed off before shrugging. "Well, anyway ... I guess if I'm gonna have to get back here like super early and everything, I should probably start walking back. It's a long, long, long way. Thanks again for the invite, Danny. I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" With that said, the girl gave me a friendly wave, and started to turn around to walk away.
Dazed from the last question and the suddenness of her departure, I almost just stood there, waving like an idiot as she left. "Wait! What's your name?"
The girl stopped to look back over her shoulder. "Cassie, Cassie Veras. See ya, Danny!"
"See ya," I replied as I watched the girl sashay away.
"I see my little hunter still hasn't figured out how to catch his prey," Wihanape remarked once Cassie was gone.
Snapped from my stupor, I furrowed my brow in confusion. "What? I haven't even tried to catch the mouse again."
Wihanape giggled at me. "Never mind."
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 - Dinnertime
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota
Absently pushing my food around on my plate, my mind never really focused on dinner. It was still back on Cassie. I couldn't wait for tomorrow when she'd be back. She'd probably be really impressed by how good I was at milking a cow too.
"Don't play with your food, dear," my mom chided gently.
"Huh? Oh ... sorry," I mumbled, snapping back to the table where I was eating with my parents and Julie, a girl that was staying with us. Quickly, I took a bite to show that I wasn't playing around.
My mom peered at me thoughtfully. "Something on your mind, sweetie?"
"Nope," I answered quickly, looking down at my plate. "Just uhm ... trying to come up with some more stuff to do. In fact ... I was thinking maybe I'd handle Bessy tomorrow."
My mom raised an eyebrow at that. "Really? Well, if you want to, I don't see why you can't. Just remember you're helping your father in the afternoon tomorrow too."
"Yeah, I remember. I just figured it was better than just sitting around with nothing to do all morning," I rationalized.
My parents shared a look at my explanation, but nodded. I was glad to see they were okay with that. It would have been bad if I hadn't thought of that and one of them had taken care of Bessy before Cassie got there.
Even more focused on tomorrow now, I glanced down at my plate. There was still a decent amount of food on it, but I wasn't really hungry. "May, I be excused?"
"Sure thing, Danny," my mom permitted.
As soon as I heard that, I hopped up, dropped my dishes off over by the sink, and hurried out of the kitchen. From there, I was off to my room where I flopped on my bed and stared up at the ceiling. As I did, I tried to think of anything else I might have forgotten to get ready.
"I know of something you've forgotten," Wihinape commented, interrupting my thoughts.
"What?" I asked.
"Well, it's important for a brave to look his best for a girl, strong and manly," Wihanape noted.
I nodded in understanding. "Yeah ... but how do I do that?"
"I don't know," Wihanape admitted. "You humans are very silly when it comes to such things. Clothes are usually important, though, aren't they?"
I snapped my fingers at that suggestion. "You're right. I should pick out what I'm going to wear."
Hopping up, I started digging through my clothes looking for something manly. Cassie seemed to like the whole rancher thing, so I figured some work clothes might work. I was worried that it would look too plain, though. Cassie was clearly from the city if she'd never seen a cow before. I didn't want her to think I was some hillbilly.
"Don't worry. Girls like what they aren't used to," Wihanape encouraged.
"You sure?" I asked uncertainly.
Wihanape giggled. "Trust me."
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 - Morning
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota
Nervously, I paced back and forth in the barn, occasionally tugging on the collar of my shirt. Even early in the morning it was a hot day, certainly too hot for the blue jeans and khaki shirt I was wearing. I'd even rolled up the sleeves to the elbow to help a bit, but it still wasn't cool.
Of course, the heat wasn't my main discomfort. What was, though, was the fact that the morning was already well underway and Cassie still wasn't here. With every second that ticked by that fact weighed more and more heavily on my mind.
"Maybe she isn't coming," I guessed aloud.
"She'll come." Wihanape reassured me, all the while making a sound like she was yawning.
"Something could have come up. It's not like she knows our number, so she couldn't call and tell me," I rationalized. "That kinda stuff happens. It's fine."
Wihanape sighed. "She'll come, and if she doesn't, you can always try to prove that you can hunt again."
"I can hunt!" I exclaimed defensively.
"Who are you talking to?" a new voice interrupted, bright and curious.
Hearing Cassie's voice had me jumping in surprise. Face burning, I spun to face her, trying to get my mind to come up with words to explain why I appeared to be talking to myself. "I'm ... uhm ... it's just ... "
Sashaying my way from the other side of the barn was Cassie, hair and ... other things bouncing with every step. When she stopped near me, she had a bright smile on her face that was slightly at odds with the curious tilt to her head. "It's just what?"
"I ... have a ... uhm ...," I struggled to complete the thought. "Spirit!" I finally blurted, happy and embarrassed to finally have the word. "She sometimes talks to me ... uhm ... telepathically."
"Wow! Really?" Cassie exclaimed in delight. "That is so cool! I wish I had a spirit. It would be like having an imaginary friend, but they'd be like totally real, plus then maybe I'd have magic or something. That would be. So. Awesome. Wait, she? Why do you have a girl spirit?"
That question got an involuntary wince from me. "I uhm ... didn't have a choice."
"Hey!" Wihanape protested in my head. "You're making it sound like you don't want me!"
"You see my sister's spirit, which is really important, wanted to make sure that I got a good one, and the best one she could get happened to be a girl," I explained.
"That's better," Wihanape chimed in.
Cassie just looked at me for a moment before responding. "Huh ... so that means you're both avatars then? You're so lucky. I wish I was in your family, so I could be one too. Ooh, then maybe I would've gotten the girl one! I guess that would be kinda like stealing from you, though, since it's the best one. What kind of spirit is it, anyway?"
"A uhm ... cougar spirit," I answered. "Her name is Wihanape."
"Wehanapay? That's a weird name," Cassie commented.
"Well it's Lakotan," I clarified only to get a confused look from Cassie. "The Lakota are a tribe of Native Americans, like the uhm ... Navajo."
The correction didn't remove Cassie's confused look. "Why do you have some Native American spirit? Shouldn't one of them have it? Aren't there enough Native Americans for all their spirits?"
"Oh. I am Native American, well like a quarter any," I informed her, feeling a little defensive like I was having to defend my heritage.
"Really?" Cassie asked for confirmation, getting a nod from me. "Wow. So like you're Native American, an avatar, and your family owns a ranch? That's awesome! Oh hey, that reminds me, are you still gonna show me how to like milk a cow?"
"Huh?" I mumbled at the sudden topic change. "Oh! Right. Yeah, of course."
Cassie clenched her hands into little excited fists. "Yay! This is so exciting! I hope it doesn't like ruin milk for me, though, 'cause I really like milk. It's really tasty, plus it's good for you, and you use it to bake cookies. Ugh ... I'd love some cookies right now. With a glass of milk, too! That would just be the best."
"Uhm ... I think we might have some cookies inside," I offered, vaguely remembering a few being left from a batch my mom had made.
"Really?! Oh Em Gee that is just what I ...!" Cassie started to exclaim before stopping herself. "Wait ... let's milk the cow first. That way I can like have fresh milk with my cookies, y'know, if it's not like totally gross or something. It's not, is it?"
I shook my head. "No, it's good. It's warm, though."
"Really? Huh ... I guess that makes sense," Cassie commented. "I mean ... cows are warm and it comes from inside them. Strange, how I thought it would be cold. Isn't that weird? Milk's just like always been cold, y'know?"
I nodded along with that train of thought, unsure of what I was supposed to say. I wasn't really sure what to do either. Cassie hadn't moved, so I wasn't sure if I was supposed to keep talking or lead the way to Bessy or what. "So ... uhm ... you wanna ... get started?"
"Oh, yeah, totally," Cassie responded. "I'm like super psyched. I can't believe I'm actually gonna get to milk a real cow. This is gonna be the best."
With clear purpose, I turned to lead the way over to Bessy, grabbing the bucket and stool I would need along the way. "So, this is actually really easy to do," I began to explain as I got into the stall and set up next to the cow. "First, we just need to relax her a little, by basically petting the udder." As I explained, I reached out a hand to rub and prod the bulbous thing. "Once that's done, you just reach out and take on of the teats in your hand. Don't tug on it, though," I warned as I grabbed on. "You make a circle with your thumb and forefinger around the teat, and then you push up a little bit to help get the milk down, and then squeeze your fingers one after another toward your palm."
Right at the word squeeze, I did exactly that. Immediately, a little squirt of white shot out of the teat, pinging softly against the metal of the can. After that, I repeated the motion a few more times to demonstrate.
Cassie started with surprise at the first spurt, letting out a little yelp. After her surprise, she stared at the little spurts with rapt fascination, bobbing her head in time with my efforts. "That's so cool ..."
"You wanna try now?" I asked.
Cassie nodded vigorously. "Hell ya!"
Soon, Cassie and I had swapped spots, and she was reaching out tentatively to touch Bessy. When her fingers first touched one of the teats, she jerked back, as if expecting the cow to freak out or something. Of course, she didn't, and Cassie quickly reached back in. Finally, Cassie did as I'd told her, and managed to produce her first squirt which had her giggling in delight. "I can't believe how it just shoots out of there. It's like a little squirt gun, except y'know, it's like attached to a living animal and it's shooting milk instead of water. Makes me wonder if humans can shoot milk like this. That might be a cool self defense, y'know like an octopus shooting ink. Pew! Right in the eye!"
Talk of humans shooting milk caused my gaze to dip down from Cassie's smile only to jerk back up when she turned to look my way. "Huh ... oh ... yeah ... that would be cool."
"Wow ... so everyone's this mad without Kayda even doing anything?" Cassie questioned as she and I sat in the kitchen enjoying milk and cookies.
I nodded. "Yep ... well ... I mean ... she did almost hatchet some guy when she was back for spring break, but that was selfdefense."
Cassie shook her head in disbelief. "Jeez ... these podunk little towns sure take stuff like super serious, huh. I mean ... other than my mom getting a little worried, no one even really cared that I manifested. The only person that flipped out about it was my dad."
"Your dad?" I asked.
"Yeah ... ever since then he's been all like focused on how I'm gonna carry on his legacy or whatever," Cassie grumbled dismissively. "He's a villain, and apparently kinda a big deal too, but who cares. He didn't want anything to do with mom and me until he found out that I was a mutant, so screw him. Who wants to be some stupid villain anyway? Like I'd want everyone hating my guts all the time. Anyway ... that's how I ended up out here. Mom was scared that he'd like come try to kidnap me or something."
Hearing about Cassie's dad made me appreciate my own parents even more. I'd already seen how awesome they were handling Kayda manifesting, and they were being pretty great with mine too. I'd thought that was just what parents did, though, but apparently not. I was definitely glad that they weren't trying to turn Kayda and me into the next generation of super villains.
Before I could say something in response, I heard my dad shout from the living room. "Danny! Where are you?!"
Glancing toward the kitchen clock, I winced. It was past noon already. I was supposed to be helping my dad. "In here, Dad!"
"You were supposed to meet ... me ..." my dad trailed off as he stepped into the kitchen to see me and Cassie sitting there. "Uhm ... hello."
"Hi!" Cassie chirped cheerfully. "Danny was just letting me have a few of his mom's cookies. They are just delicious by the way, all soft and moist, but not too soft y'know ... not like doughy or something, but with just a little bit of crisp to them. I'm like a big fan of foods with just a bit of crisp to them. It just makes them more fun to bite into, y'know?"
My dad nodded dazedly, still a little shocked by the pinkhaired girl that was in his kitchen. "Yeah ..."
Starting to get embarrassed, I coughed to interject myself into the conversation. "Dad, this is Cassie. Cassie, this is my Dad."
"A pleasure to meet you," my dad said politely before turning to me. "Sorry, Danny, but I really need your help."
"It's okay," Cassie cut in before I could respond, rising from her seat. "I should probably get home anyway. It was really fun learning to milk a cow, Danny, and tell your mom that I loved her cookies."
"Sure thing," I replied, doing my best to hide my annoyance at my dad butting in and ruining things. "If you want, you can ... uhm ... come back tomorrow."
Cassie scrunched her lips to one side thoughtfully. "Hmm ... okay! See ya tomorrow, Danny! Bye, Mr. Franks." With that she turned and walked out as my dad and I said farewell.
Once she was gone, my dad turned to me with a slight grin on his face. "Cute girl."
"Yeah ..." I breathed wistfully, still looking at the door Cassie had walked out of.
Thursday, June 14, 2007 - Afternoon
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota
"Do you think she'll come?" I asked, hoping that the answer was yes. It was already past noon, though, and there was no sign of Cassie.
"You need more confidence," Wihanape remarked. "Do you think male cougars sit around all day hoping their females come to them? Of course not!"
"Well then what do they do?" I inquired.
Wihanape giggled. "They go find their females and mount them!"
My cheeks pinkened in embarrassment. "I can't do that!"
"Why not?!" Wihanape questioned.
"Because you can't just go around 'mounting' people!" I exclaimed.
Wihanape sighed. "You like the female don't you?"
"Yeah, of course," I agreed.
"And I can tell that she likes you, so what's the problem?" Wihanape demanded.
My blush deepened. "Well ... I mean ... we barely know each other ... and ... that's ... uhm ..."
Wihanape sighed again. "You humans make everything so difficult."
"Yeah well, so do you spirits," I retorted.
"You don't mean that," Wihanape purred. "I'm lots of fun and you know it."
"Ha!" I scoffed, folding my arms haughtily. "As if!"
Wihanape giggled at my protest. "Suit yourself. By the way, that girl is here."
"What?!" I gasped, snapping my gaze upward.
Sure enough, just as Wihanape had claimed, Cassie was sashaying toward me on the road that led up to the house. She was still a ways off, but she seemed to realize she could be seen because she raised a hand to wave at me. The sight of that made the hot day seem all the hotter.
Hopping up from my seat on the porch, I quickly smoothed out my shirt before returning the wave. Rather than just wait there as Cassie walked, I started toward her, figuring we could meet in the middle. That way we could start talking sooner.
"Hi there!" Cassie called out once we were only a dozen or so feet away.
"Hey!" I replied, wishing I could think of something more to say. That was as far as we got before we met up.
"So what have you been up to today?" Cassie asked, though, she didn't pause long enough for me to answer. "Your mom didn't bake more of those cookies did she? I could like really use a cookie right now, and they were just delish."
I shook my head. "Uhm ... no sorry. I'll see about it tonight, though."
"Whatever. No big deal," Cassie said dismissively. "So, what do you wanna do today anyway?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. There's not really a lot to do ..."
"Huh ... well hmm," Cassie mumbled. Resting her chin in one hand, she seemed to really ponder that question hard, so hard as to cause her brow to furrow. A moment later, she was back to smiles as she snapped her fingers. "Hey. Why don't we go into town? I haven't been there yet, but I bet there's stuff we could do there, plus we could get something to eat 'cause I'm starving."
"There is, but ..." I began uncertainly. "It's just like your aunt said. Things in town really aren't so good right now."
Cassie rolled her eyes. "Come on. I'm not afraid of some prejudiced hicks, especially since I've got you to protect me."
I straightened up a little taller. "Well, sure, but we don't' have any way to get there either."
"Of course we do, silly," Cassie countered, wagging a hand at me dismissively. "We can just walk there."
"Walk?" I repeated the word as a question.
Cassie nodded. "Yeah. How do you think I get here every day?"
"You walk here every day?" I asked, realizing for the first time that I'd never seen anyone drop her off or pick her up. She'd even just been walking up the road a moment ago.
"From the other side of town actually," Cassie confirmed. "It's actually really annoying, 'cause I have to like go around the town 'cause of what my aunt said and everything. I guess that's fine, though, 'cause it's like really good exercise, and it's something to do, plus the countryside is pretty, though, it is starting to get a little samey, y'know? Anyway ... there's no other way to get here so it's kinda just whatever."
I furrowed my brow in confusion. "Couldn't your aunt drive you?"
"Oh she doesn't drive," Cassie answered. "She's like a hundred. She can barely stay awake long enough to eat meals, then she just zonks out in front of the TV or someone picks her up for some like knitting club or something. I think she said it was knitting .... anyway, are we going into town or what?"
"Uhm ..." I stalled, glancing back toward the house. I knew my parents wouldn't let me go if I asked, but Cassie really seemed to want to go. Turning back to the pinkhaired girl, I knew what I had to do. "... yeah. Let's do it."
"Yay!" Cassie cheered, before grabbing my arm and tugging me off toward the town. I quickly fell into step beside her, but she didn't release my arm, keeping me close to her. "This is going to be so much fun! I've never been to a town this small before. I bet there's like a general store, and a saloon, and like cowboy hats everywhere! Maybe we'll even see a shootout! That would be like the best ever!"
Thursday, June 14, 2007 - Afternoon
Danny's Hometown, South Dakota
"Oh Em Ge! This is awesome! Look at it! There's like one main street and everything!" Cassie exclaimed in delight when we finally made it to main street. "I don't see a general store, but there are lots of bars. I guess those are like saloons. And look cowboy hats!" She paused just long enough to point at a couple of guys in cowboy hats coming out of one of the stores along the street. "And there's some kind of ice cream shop or something! Can we stop there? I'm like literally dying of hunger right now."
Overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible enthusiasm Cassie had for the small town, I just nodded. "Yeah ... I've got a little money."
"Great!" Cassie chirped, tugging on my arm a bit as she picked up the pace. "Ice cream is just what I need after all this walking. It's just so hot, so I just feel all bleh and gross, y'know?"
"Yeah ..." I mumbled, for once not focused entirely on Cassie.
The cause for my distraction was the other people that were watching us walk down the street. There weren't a ton of people about, but there were some, and many of them looked angry about our presence, the two men that Cassie had pointed to earlier, especially. They were just standing there glaring our way, drawn by the bright beacon of Cassie's unusual hair. Underneath all that scrutiny, I was starting to regret this decision.
"Good after ... noon ... " the malt shop clerk greeted, starting out cheerfully, but trailing off quickly to a look of disdain when he saw who his customers were.
"Hi there!" Cassie replied as chipper as she ever was. For the first time since meeting at my house, she released my arm so that she could bound up to the counter. "Hmm ... let's see, I'd like a hot dog, and ooo a milkshake ... and maybe a hot fudge sundae too ... or should I get a banana split. What to do you think, Danny?"
"I'm sorry miss, but we're all out," the clerk apologized before I could answer, though the tone he used made it seem like he wasn't sorry at all.
Cassie blinked in surprise. "You're all out of what? Bananas?"
"All of it," the clerk stated.
"What? You can't be out of 'all of it'," Cassie argued, starting to look cross. "I can see you have things back there!"
"Spoiled. Refrigeration failed," the clerk countered without hesitation, staring at us defiantly.
Before Cassie could argue further, I stepped forward to tap her on the shoulder. "Come on, Cassie. Maybe we should try somewhere else."
"No good," the clerk cut in. "Whole town was hit. Freak power outage. No one will serve you."
"Yeah, well I think you're full of shit!" Cassie growled. For once, her face didn't sport a smile, but was contorted in anger. "I think you've got plenty of food back there, and I think our money is just as good as anyone else's, so you're gonna take it and gives us some food or I'm gonna come back there and–"
This time, I didn't just tap her shoulder, I grabbed Cassie's wrist and forcibly tugged, intending to pull her behind me. However, all I actually managed was a mild yank on her arm. At least it was enough to stop her before she started something. "Come on, Cassie. I'll call my mom, and she'll come get us and bake us cookies."
The pinkhaired girl's rage vanished at the mention of cookies. "She won't mind baking them for us?"
I shook my head. "Not at all."
"Fine, but I've got my eye on you mister," Cassie warned the clerk, wagging a threatening finger his way.
Luckily, the clerk didn't try harder to start a fight, so I managed to get Cassie out of there before things got out of hand. Outside, I quickly called my mom, which resulted in a good deal of yelling over my walking into town without asking. Once that was done, we just sat down on the curb to wait.
"Sorry you got in trouble with your mom," Cassie apologized, looking down glumly. "I like just thought it would be fun to see the town 'cause it's so different from home, but I guess that was stupid. I should've just listened to you and my aunt about how people were acting."
First I saw anger, and now there was sadness. I didn't like seeing either of them on a girl as nice as Cassie. "Don't worry about it. You had no way of knowing what would happen."
A smile spread across Cassie's face at my reassurances, right before the girl leaned her shoulder against mine. The moment we touched, I felt like my heart was about to explode out of my chest. It was just beating so fast.
"Thanks, Danny," Cassie murmured softly.
"You ... you ... you ingrate!" a whiney male voice suddenly screamed, ruining the moment and causing both Cassie and I to jerk upright in surprise.
A decent way down the street there was a car parked in the middle of the road next to a big feed truck outside one of the shops. Beside it stood a very irate-looking man dressed in what I could only assume was some kind of costume. He had on a highcollared black cape with gold embroidery tossed over his shoulders, matching with what looked like some kind of military uniform of the same color scheme, complete with cap. The outfit might have looked cool, if not for the person that was wearing it. Even at a distance, it was obvious he was short, with a scrawny build, thick glasses, and a gigantic nose. It was hard to be sure, but I thought I could even see the prominent red of a bad case of acne spattered across his face.
"Oh no ..." Cassie groaned at the sight, who even then was starting to stomp toward us. "It's my dad ..."
"That's your dad?!" I couldn't help but gasp as I glanced between the tall, beautiful girl and the shorty, nerdy man.
Cassie winced. "Yeah ... this is bad. If he's here, that means his drones must be around."
"Drones?" I questioned, as we both stood up to meet the oncoming man.
Cassie nodded. "Yeah, my dad and I are like gadgeteers. He likes to build these little drone whatchits that he controls with like a mix of his control bracelet and like AI and whatever. They're armed with all sorts of nasty weapons. You need to go."
"But what about you?" I asked.
I never got an answer because at that moment, Cassie's father arrived. "Remove yourself from my daughter's presence, you filthy ruffian, before I have you eviscerated!"
"Go!" Cassie hissed at me, giving me a rather forceful shove to the side.
I stumbled away a step, rubbing at where Cassie had shoved me while looking back at her. I couldn't believe she'd literally just shoved me away. "But ..."
"You heard the lady, cur, be gone with you," Cassie's dad declared haughtily.
Feeling dejected, I backed away, nodding as I did. After a couple of steps, I was just about to turn away when I saw Cassie glance my way. There was an expression of pain on her face.
Meanwhile, Cassie's father talked. "I am so relieved to find you alright, my lovely daughter. After that horrid wench sent you away, I feared the worst would befall you."
"Don't call Mom that," Cassie chastised unhappily.
Cassie's father shuddered at the M word. "Dreadful woman. Luckily, you will not have to endure her company any longer. I have come to free you from that life of mediocrity and elevate you to your rightful place as my heir."
"Like, how many times do I have to tell you?! I don't want to be your heir!" Cassie spat. "Just cause you're some lameo villain doesn't mean I have to be one."
"Nonsense," Cassie's father remarked dismissively. "There is no greater calling than mine. You will see that, once I have extricated that heinous propaganda that has been pumped into your brain by the so called 'education' system. Then, you and I will reshape the world together!"
By that point, I had long since heard enough. Cassie clearly didn't want to go with her father, and he just refused to listen. Plus, he sounded absolutely nuts. He had to be stopped, but I didn't know how. Cassie had said something about drones and a controller. A careful looked showed that Cassie's father's right arm had a black metal bracer on it. That had to be the control bracelet. If I could destroy that ....
"Look up," Wihanape suddenly cut into my thoughts.
Confused, I glanced up as requested. Immediately, I spotted what Wihanape was talking about. Up in the air above floated several small, black objects each a little bigger than a remote control car. Each also sported a pair of forward facing metal tubes that looked a lot like gun barrels, and they seemed to be patrolling back and forth watchfully like soldiers on guard. Those had to be the drones that the bracer controlled.
"Now, come along, my dear. We have no time to lose," Cassie's father declared, gesturing for Cassie to come with him. For a moment, Cassie hesitated. "Oh dear ... I hope I don't have to use the Debilitators to force you to comply, but I suppose it might be too much to expect you to overcome their brainwashing on your own." Whatever a Debilitator was, it was enough of a threat to get Cassie moving.
Seeing Cassie start to leave with her dad only increased my need to act. "How am I supposed to get to him with all those things up there watching?" I muttered. I was pretty sure that if I tried anything, those things would shoot me.
"Still, you know nothing of how to hunt," Wihanape chided inside my head. "Prey is always wary, but it can never see in all directions nor hear all sounds. You must hide in the places it can't perceive."
"Places it can't perceive," I repeated the last little bit, peering up at the patrolling drones.
Like a flash, an idea hit me, causing me to start searching my surroundings desperately for what I needed. Even as I searched, I saw Cassie trudging along behind her father, looking utterly despondent. They weren't too far from her father's car. That was when I saw what I needed.
Breaking into a run, I dashed across the street then turned up the sidewalk to shadow the pair's movements. As I did, I stayed low, quiet, and always behind the pair so that they wouldn't see me. The drones could see me still, but they didn't seem to care that I was following as long as I didn't try anything.
It wasn't long before I finally got to what I was looking for, the big feed truck. As soon as I could use the truck for cover, I darted up along it to about the midway point then ducked as low as I could go. Doing so allowed me to slip under the truck's high clearance between its front and back wheels and scurry along like a crab to get into position.
A moment after I got into position, Cassie's father walked by my hiding spot under the truck. He was spouting off more nonsense to Cassie, completely lost in his own world. It made it very easy to just reach out and snag one of his boots with my hands.
With a startled yelp, Cassie's dad toppled forward, tangling himself in his cape in the process. He thrashed about to try to free himself from the garment, nearly yanking his foot free of my grip in the process. Somehow, though, I managed to hold on, and started tugging him toward the truck.
"Why you little ... you ...!" Cassie's father stumbled for words, as he finally managed to flip his cape out of the way and reach for his bracer.
At the same time, I finally got the caped man close enough to me to lunge for the bracer myself, getting to it just before he could press anything. Tugging on it as hard as I could, I pulled it away from the surprised man's other hand and smashed it against the undercarriage of the truck, earning a loud cracking sound for my efforts. I was just rearing back for another slam when suddenly the bracer was ripped from my grip with incredible strength.
"Let go!" Cassie's dad growled as he yanked his wrist free from me. The next thing I knew, he kicked out at me, his boot driving right at my face.
Twisting away as best I could, I managed to get the boot to go from crushing my nose to grazing the side of my head. Even so, pain erupted in my head as bright spots filled my vision. The next thing I knew, I could feel asphalt on my cheek.
"Curses! Look what you've done you miserable worm!" Cassie's father howled in fury as he scurried back to his feet and started tapping on his bracer. From his anger, obvious even through my pain, I guessed that it wasn't working. "You'll pay for this!"
Bending down, Cassie's father reached under the truck to grab my shirt. In spite of his tiny build, he used that grip to bodily yank me out from under the vehicle, scrapping me painfully along the ground before lifting me up to my feet. Just as my feet were getting under me, he started to bring back his free hand in a fist that was aimed right at my face. I tried to fight against his grip and get out of the way, but he was freakishly strong.
"Hey dad!" Cassie's voice suddenly cut in, giving her father just enough time to look toward the sound before the girl's fist audibly cracked into his jaw.
Suddenly, no one was holding me up anymore and I nearly fell because of it. Cassie's father did fall, or more accurately crumpled, flopping limply to the side. He smacked the asphalt hard, but didn't even groan – out in one punch.
"Wow ... that was – " I started to say, turning toward Cassie.
"Get down!" the pinkhaired girl interrupted right before shoving me in the chest.
I had just enough time to register pain and confusion from the shove when I heard a series of loud cracks from above. I know what that sound was. It wasn't my first time hearing gunfire, after all.
The next moment, I hit the side of the feed truck which saved me from the ground. It also nearly knocked the wind out of me, leaving me gasping in pain. In spite of the pain, I looked up, afraid of the sight that awaited me.
Laying on her back in front of me was Cassie. Her clothes had several tears in them, but surprisingly, there was no sign of any blood. In fact, the skin beneath the tears seemed to be completely fine.
"Cassie?" I breathed, unable to believe my eyes.
"Hey ... can't really talk ... I'm like playing dead right now," Cassie whispered, speaking out of the corner of her mouth.
Taken aback by the odd claim, I furrowed my brow in confusion. "You're what?"
"The drones like ... think I'm dead ... but if ... they realize ... I'm totally not ... they'll shoot ... something ... more dangerous ... at me ... than bullets," Cassie explained, talking awkwardly in an effort to preserve her 'I'm dead' act.
I really wanted to ask why bullets weren't considered dangerous, but clearly it wasn't the right time. "What can I do?"
"In ... dad's car ... should be ... like ... a master recall ... switch ... thingy .... Hit that," Cassie told me.
Nodding, I turned toward the car. Above, I could see the drones hovering in their patrol pattern, but they didn't seem interested in me any longer. Apparently, my decision to use the truck as cover had kept them from recognizing me as a threat.
Getting to the car, I tugged the door open, relieved to find it unlocked. Inside, the dash was heavily modified with all sorts of screens, switches, and other gadgets installed. Frustratingly, absolutely none of them were labeled.
"Well ... damn ...," I muttered, peering at the dizzying array of options in front of me. Turning around, I poked my head back out to look at Cassie. "Uhm ... there's like a hundred buttons and switches in here and none of them are labeled. I'm not gonna blow up the town if I press the wrong one am I?"
"Uhm ... actually ... you like ... totally might ...," Cassie admitted while eyeing the drones floating above her.
"No pressure ...," I muttered, turning back to the numerous options to try to figure out which one I was supposed to flip. "Maybe there's something out of place about it ..."
With that guess in mind, I started scanning over each and every inch of the interior. It didn't take me long to notice at least one odd thing, which was that very few of the extensive array of switches were flipped up. Only two were, in fact. If it was a recall switch, that might mean that it was also the release switch, so it would make sense that it would be flipped up since the drones were out. I had no idea what the other one might do, though.
"I think ... my dad ... is waking up ..." Cassie murmured from outside.
Hearing that, I knew I needed to do something. If Cassie's dad got up while she still couldn't move, he'd beat the crap out of me and take her away. He was clearly strong enough to do it. I was willing to risk the town on a coin flip to stop that from happening.
"Here goes," I declared, reaching out for one of the switches. Even before I flipped it, I was already wincing, but I winced extra hard when I did finally flip it. Nothing seemed to happen, though.
Confused, I leaned out of the car to look up and the drones were still just hovering up there. Nothing in the car seemed different either. "That's weird ... dummy switch?"
Shrugging off the odd lack of change, I flipped the other one. This time, something happened, as I heard the distinct popping sound of the car's trunk unlocking, followed by the sound of pneumatics. By the time I could hop out of the car to see what was happening, the drones were already neatly storing themselves in the trunk.
"Yes!" I cheered happily, pumping my fist.
I was just about to turn to Cassie to share the success when suddenly something that was an odd mix of very strong and very soft wrapped me up in an almost painfully tight hug. "Oh Em Ge! I can't believe you like ambushed my dad like that! You could've been killed! It was so badass, though!" Cassie exclaimed in delight as she hugged me. "Thank you so much!"
"IIt ... it was nothin'," I played it off from within the smothering embracing, thinking my reward was totally worth the risk. Unfortunately, the sound of sirens seemed determined to not let me enjoy it.
Releasing me, Cassie stepped back, looking down and away from me. Her cheeks were a most adorable pink color that nearly matched her hair. The cute image didn't last, though, as she quickly focused on something else.
"I guess my dad's gonna get arrested now. He's like ... super wanted and everything," Cassie commented, looking at her still unconscious dad. "I guess that also means that I'll like get to go home now, 'cause he was the only reason my mom sent me here – not that it stopped him from finding me."
And suddenly the joy of victory was completely gone, leaving me with a stunned emptiness in its place. "Well ... that's ... uhm ... congratulations ..."
Cassie forced a smile onto her face. "Thanks."
Saturday, June 16, 2007 - Dinnertime
Franks Family Farm, South Dakota
It was a beautiful day, the kind of day that should have made me want to go out and do something, and yet there I was sitting on the porch, kicking at the dirt. To me, the day wasn't beautiful at all. It was drab and empty.
Letting out a melancholic sigh, I kicked the dirt yet again. It had been two days since the fight with Cassie's dad, and there'd been no sign of the pinkhaired girl since. Her mom had probably come to pick her up already.
"Are you just gonna mope around here forever?" Wihanape questioned.
I nodded. "Yep. Nothin' worth doin'."
"Ugh!" Wihanape groaned. "But it's so boring! Come on! Let's go hunt something! You were starting to get better. You even took down that idiot in the hat."
"Don't wanna," I grumbled.
Inside my head, Wihanape sighed heavily. "Come on. She wouldn't want to you mope around. She'd want you to have fun."
"She's not here," I countered.
"She's not?" Wihanape remarked, giggling softly.
Before I could even ask what the cougar spirit meant by that, I heard another sound. It was a car pulling up the road toward me. Looking up, I peered at the vehicle, not recognizing it as anyone that I knew. Still, it drove right up and pulled to a stop.
"Hi, Danny," Cassie greeted when she stepped out of the passenger side, her voice lacking some of its usual energy.
Instantly, I scurried to my feet. "Uhm ... hhi!"
"My ... uhm ... mom is about to ... like take me to the airport in Sioux Falls and stuff," Cassie announced, tilting her head toward the car, which had an older woman behind the driver seat. "I just wanted to come say goodbye."
"Oh ...," I mumbled. My gaze fell to the ground as hope faded away as fast as it had come. She really was leaving, just like she'd said.
Lost in my sadness, I didn't notice at all as Cassie closed the distance to me. I definitely noticed it, though, when I felt the moist warmth of her lips on my cheek. I started with surprise as so much blood rushed to my head that it made me feel woozy.
"Thanks for all the fun, and y'know, stopping my dad and everything," Cassie told me. "I hope I see you again sometime, but if I don't, I want you to know that you'll always be my knight in shining armor."
Dumbfounded by the kiss, all I could manage was a nod in reply. Cassie nodded too before turning away to trudge back to the car she'd gotten out of. Once she got in, we'd probably never see each other again.
"Hey!" I suddenly blurted, surprising even myself. It got Cassie to stop and turn back, though. "I ... uhm ... well ... there's this school ... Whateley ... for kids like us. If you ever need to hide from your dad again. You should try going there. My sister's there and ... well ... I'll probably start there in the fall too."
Cassie smiled brightly. "Whateley, huh? I won't forget it ... or you."
And with that, Cassie got in the car and drove out of my life.
(Editor's Note: This story plot is entirely the creation of Light-of-Fury. I've worked with Light in my Bikini Beach universe - I extended canon status to her after a few tales that highly impressed me. When she asked about a Danny tale in Whateley, I knew it'd be good, and after reading the first cut, I wasn't disappointed. From then, it was a matter of sponsoring it and editing it to make it canon. I hope you all found it as enjoyable a read as I did. If you like it, thank Light-of-Fury for the tale.)