November 19, 2018


The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids


Kids never believe their elders about anything. Is it any wonder we can't stand them?

Danner sneezed four times in a row, her eyes streaming tears. "Oh, dammit, the wind's shifted again." She trudged to the rear with Guillaume, the younger of the two dog-headed baboons.

My nose was non-functional for most of the time, my sinuses swelled shut and the pressure pounding in my cheeks and forehead. What a journey this was. Five of us on the run and having to share our camp and now this.

Narsai sneezed, too, showing his fangs in disgust. He shook his head and continued along the trail in front of me.

Cloudraft the Great had pulled his shirt up over his nose to his eyeballs and anchored it there with a leather thong. He looked like an idiot but at least it kept him from breathing in unfiltered air.

Early that morning, a fine fat deer had sprung through the woods to our left and crossed the trail we were following through the mountains. Had we had a bow and arrows, we might have had something nice for dinner, but we hadn't, so the deer passed unbothered, gracefully bounding with tail fluffed and held high. We all stopped and looked to see what had spooked the deer, but the woods were thick and there was no indication of trouble.

"A deer, Narsai!" exclaimed Guillaume to his older brother. "I have never seen one alive before, only as a roast readied for the spit! It looks like the antelope which bounded on the veldt in the land from which we were taken!"

The two baboons in the party had been captured and brought across the sea as pets? as sideshow exhibits? but had ended up being magically transformed into talking creatures who were self-aware by an unscrupulous mage. They'd taken up with us in order to escape servitude. They could read and write, and were charmingly well-spoken; their wonder at this foreign land kept us smiling even when we were worried about our enemy catching us and blowing us all up.

Not much later, a family of crows had come flying through the forest canopy, cawing in annoyance. My friend and relative Dan Ur-Jennan and I stopped and looked at each other, for the crow-language had been full of epithets like "Ugly bastard!" and "Can't even eat breakfast in peace!" But once again, we saw nothing and heard nothing at which to take alarm.

The morning was beautiful, temperate and green-and-gold, though as we climbed higher on the trail, the leafy trees were giving way to piney ones. The underbrush was changing, too, becoming thicker with laurel rather than weeds. We'd spent the night safely, and felt optimistic about eluding our enemy in the balmy morning. The baboons, who had read many books in Cloudraft's library but had little experience in the field, so to speak, were telling each other the names of the vegetation they recognized from descriptions. "Look, Brother. Here is the plant called 'teaberry.' See the minute serrations of the glossy leaves, and the low, trailing habit?"

I picked a leaf of the plant and broke it into quarters. "You can absolutely identify this plant by its distinctive smell," I said, and gave them the leaf to sniff. "We could eat it, though it is rather tough."

"Look, O Honored Shaman! Rabbits!"

Surely enough, two rabbits appeared on the path, running from the left, and after pausing on the trail, darted into the laurel on the right.

"Stop," said Danner. "Something's got the game in an uproar over there." She pointed towards the north. We stopped and listened, but once again, could discern no particular reason for the movement of the deer, crows, and rabbits.

"What do you think, Aser," she asked me, "a lion?"

"Could be, or maybe a hunting party of some sort. The animals are on the move, but they're not panicky -- that means if it is a hunting party or a predator, it's far enough away we don't have to worry too much. There's no smell of smoke, so they're not running ahead of a forest fire."

We never did find out what they were running from that morning. But none of us was in the mood for lunch today, with all our coughing and sneezing. I trudged on, wiping my leaking nose on the sleeve of my robe from time to time. I heard Danner say something quietly to Cloudraft behind me.

"No!" he said, his voice muffled from the shirt around his face. "There's only one thing that can alleviate this condition and it does not exist in this dimension, at least not in sufficient quantity! If I use magic to bring it in from an alternate universe, the power will allow Fellmount to target us as though we had appeared in his parlor, wherever that might be at this time."

I hadn't been on this trail for about ten years, but I was certain that we wouldn't hit any major streams for another day at least. Maybe risking the evil magician Fellmount's revenge was worth it. At this point we were all close to wishing we were dead, anyway.

Well, that's an exaggeration. Maybe. Personally, I was ready to risk a couple dozen magical gallons of tomato juice.

One of the problems with adolescents is that they have to go from being children to being adults. Children are utterly dependent upon the adults around them for information and guidance. Adults have to figure things out for themselves. The transition is often a very big pain in the ass, as adolescents tend to focus upon "experience" rather than "reasoning."

The storekeeper warns his son that liquor is a dangerous thing, that the son should avoid it and keep to small beers, for liquor could be his downfall. The son takes his first sip of a vodka and cider at a bonfire party and decides that Dad must have just stopped living entirely to give advice like that. The next morning, minus his wallet and pants, the son tries to drape his shirt around his nether portions and slink home without drawing too much notice, and begins -- begins, mind you -- to think that perhaps his father has some important knowledge to pass on.

"Esteemed and Best Beloved of Apprentices," I heard Guillaume's voice entreat Danner (who was indeed Cloudraft's apprentice) "I did not mean to hug you when I was so unexpectedly accosted. Please forgive my timidity and my chagrin!"

She coughed rackingly.

Guillame was disconsolate. "I am the worst of baboons! I deserve only to be put in a pit and buried!"

"Tempt me not, Brother," muttered Narsai ahead of me.

"I did not know that the words 'fetid odor' in the dictionary carried this much significance!" wailed the younger baboon.

The last animal to cross our trail that morning had been a busily trundling creature, elegant in black and white. "Mephitus mephitus," said Narsai, giving the latin name, "a creature which emits a 'fetid odor.'"

"It is beautiful, Brother," said Guillaume, "and look how it stands to greet us!"

"No! Guillame! Don't go any closer!"

My cry was in vain. Total, utter, absolute, complete, and irreversible vain.

There is only one word to convey the condition of our company at this time: SKUNK.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-06-02

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In the same series:

The Accursed
The Aser Stories: Sidelong
The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever
The Aser Stories 79: Just Don't Say It Before Spring
The Aser Stories 78: Judgment Call
The Aser Stories 77: "Are We There Yet?"
The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick
The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces
The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys
The Aser Stories 73: Elspeth, Ad Nauseam
The Aser Stories 072: Starve a Cold
The Aser Stories 071: House Call
The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates
The Aser Stories 69: Fire in the Hole
The Aser Stories 68: The Silk Fable
The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life
The Aser Stories 66: For What You're Worth
The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot
The Aser Stories 64: Second Chances
The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step
The Aser Stories 63: Second Thoughts
The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story
The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole
The Aser Stories 58: Knowledge is Power
The Aser Stories 57: Animal Tracks
The Aser Stories 56: Oz Can Keep Them All
The Aser Stories 55: Small Comfort
The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go
The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing
The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids
The Aser Stories 51: No Words For It
The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need
The Aser Stories 49: Run for Cover
The Aser Stories 48: On the Fly
The Aser Stories 47: Just Thievery
The Aser Stories 46: Take My Shaman ... Please
The Aser Stories 45: Hot Stuff
The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call
The Aser Stories 43: Adding Insult to Injury
The Aser Stories 42: Natural Selection
The Aser Stories 41: Funny Business
The Aser Stories 40: Happy Endings
The Aser Stories 39: Working Dogs
The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides
The Aser Stories 37: Dumb Animals
The Aser Stories 36: Harsh Words
The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species
The Aser Stories 34: Common Language
The Aser Stories 33: Legal Torture
The Aser Stories 32: Whose Fault Is It?
The Aser Stories 31: Money Talks
The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy
The Aser Stories 29: Raccoons
The Aser Stories 28: The Ghost of Garfer Miller
The Aser Stories 27: Dynamite
The Aser Stories 26: Junk Mail
The Aser Stories 25: Rose-Covered Cottages
The Aser Stories 24: Crime and Punishment
The Aser Stories 23: Image Is Everything
The Aser Stories 22: Is As Does
The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining
The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are
The Aser Stories 19: The Difference Between Men and Women
The Aser Stories 18: On a Silver Platter
The Aser Stories 17: Point of View
The Aser Stories 16: Easy Street
The Aser Stories 15: Moguls
The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change
The Aser Stories 13: The Price of Freedom
The Aser Stories 12: A Question of Nudity
The Aser Stories 11: Rabbit From a Hat
The Aser Stories 10: Awards
The Aser Stories 09: On A Roll
The Aser Stories 08: Raising Children
The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market
The Aser Stories 06: Judge, Jury, Shaman
The Aser Stories 05:Habit and Stubbornness
The Aser Stories 04: The Wrong Question
The Aser Stories 03: The Labor of Love
The Aser Stories 02: Soup du Jour
The Aser Stories 01: Popping the Big Question
The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior
The Aser Stories 36a: Madly In Love
The Aser Stories 03a: Descent to the Underworld

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