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Sunday, April 1, 2012

March Short Story Contest Second Place

Playing Human by Mara Nelms

Kiwi tumbled through the air on her spindly human legs, clutching her steal to her chest as she ducked into the safety of her hidden thicket. She swiped the thorny cover over the entrance, ignoring the pricks on the palm of her hand, and retreated away from the entrance until she had backed into a small cave that was tucked into the face of a rocky hill.
The inside of the cave was the place which was, tentatively, Kiwi’s new home. A bedroll was stacked neatly beside a pile of blankets, all stolen, and a lamp which had been snatched from the side of an unwary soldier.
Kiwi settled near the mouth of the cave, letting the pleasant afternoon light pool at her feet. She opened her basket and was unable to suppress a human sound of pleasure which bubbled out of her throat.
In a second, long limbs and sleek black hair were replaced by a scaled reptilian form that gleamed red. The creature was a small dragon with a long, slim body and four legs. Its face had disappeared inside the basket.
Kiwi withdrew her head, green juice dripping from her snout. Her large, mischievous amber eyes narrowed briefly in thought, and, quick as a blink, Kiwi was human again and had grabbed one of the brown-furred fruits from which she had stolen her name.
Kiwi noted absently that her human form was, once again, different—crimson curls teased in her peripheral vision, and the hands that gripped the kiwi fruit were paler and pinker. She bit into the fruit, curious about whether the taste would be different for her human form.
Kiwi spat out a chunk of green mess and brown skin into her free hand. Reflexively her human face frowned. The fruit’s skin, which as a dragon had caused her no displeasure, now rasped unpleasantly against her tongue and lent a bitter taste to the fruit.
“Hmmph,” Kiwi said, utilizing an expression she had learnt from a lazy fisherman.
Human ears caught the baying of hounds growing closer, and Kiwi tensed and disappeared to the back of her cave, rifling through a basket with her deft human hands. She pulled out a jumbled mess of stolen clothing, having learnt from experience when she first wandered into a human town that humans reacted harshly to the naked female form.
Kiwi struggled into a white blouse, discovering by trial and error which part was supposed to go where. She sifted through the pile for more clothing as the baying neared—how was she supposed to know how much clothing was acceptable?
Finally she found a pair of trousers which she had stolen off of a laundry line. Kiwi had seen very many humans wearing ones like these, so they should be safe. She wriggled into them.
 Kiwi put the cover back on the basket of kiwi and moved it into the very back of the cave. The hounds were very near now, and undoubtedly searching for the black-haired girl who had snatched a full basket of expensive kiwi fruit.
Kiwi backtracked over her old path, heading towards the hounds for as long as she dared to renew her scent. Then she took off down a forest path which led away from her hidden thicket, sprinting through any undergrowth and wincing when her tender human feet hit a rock. The hounds would follow the fresher scent, and leave her new home alone.
Kiwi eventually stumbled to a stop near a brook and plunged happily in, reveling in the coolness of the water. She was panting and quite exhausted, but she dared not ease her weariness by taking on her true form. If the hounds’ human masters got scent of that, she would have to abandon her home once again.
Kiwi gave a happy hum as she dipped her head back into the water, still breathing heavily. Crashing footfalls and barking announced the arrival of her pursuers.
Three pointy-eared dogs splashed into the water with Kiwi, clambering onto her human form with curious sniffs and tails a-wag. Although they had hunted Kiwi, they could not help but respond to the presence of a dragon. Still, though, they yipped confirmation back to their master, who lagged behind—they had found their quarry.
As the human stopped, panting, by the river, Kiwi bemusedly played with the ears of one of the dogs. They were so loose! Were they meant to move like that? Flip, flap, flip—she could flop them either way! Kiwi traced the curve of her human ear. It was flexible, but when she bent it, it simply fell back into place as soon as she let go. How boring.
“You,” the human gasped, “girl. What have you done to my dogs?”
Kiwi froze, and raced for words. “I like my dogs,” she offered cautiously.
“They’re not your dogs, they’re my dogs,” the man corrected, seeming more confused than angry. “And they’re professionals, not pets.”
Kiwi blinked. “Dogs like me,” Kiwi said, leaving out the possessive pronouns altogether. They were too confusing.
“Yes,” the man said. “Apparently. Listen, have you seen a girl—a young woman, really, rather tall, with long black hair? She was wearing a houserobe and mens’ trousers when she was last seen. She’s a thief. I’m looking for her, but you distracted my hounds.”
A simple answer in the negative should do the trick. “No,” Kiwi said hurriedly.
The man sighed. “Yes, alright,” the man said. “By the way, what are you doing out here? Are you lost? If you want, I can point you toward the nearest inn.”
Kiwi furrowed her brow, panic making her pulse pick up pace again. She didn’t know that many words!
The man noticed her disorientation. “Are you okay?” he asked, peering at her. “You’re not hurt, are you? And—what are you wearing?”
One of the dogs licked her face. Kiwi flinched, and sighed. “I don’t have words,” she said finally.
“What do you—oh,” the hunter said, realizing. “You’re not from around here. You don’t have an accent, though—where are you from?”
Kiwi hummed in anxiety. “I don’t know,” she said unhappily. This conversation was beyond her skills.
“You don’t know where you’re from, or you just don’t know how to say it?” the man sighed. “Nevermind, though. Are you lost?”
Kiwi pondered the question. ‘Lost’ she knew. Was she lost? Kiwi supposed she was. Although as a dragon she knew her way around both earth and the Dragon Plane—her other-dimensional home—quite well, in her experimental human forms, she was clumsy, bewildered, and yes, lost. “Lost,” Kiwi repeated, tasting the word. A small smile found its way onto her face. “Yes.”
“Oh, that’s not good,” the man said fretfully. He offered her a hand. “Come on, then. We have an extra room at my home. I’ll take you to meet my wife, and you can stay with us until we can get you back to your people. Is that alright?”
Kiwi took the hunter’s hand and he pulled her up. The dogs shifted around her, watching her brightly as water streamed from her clothes. “I like your dogs,” Kiwi grinned.
The hunter grunted. “It’s mutual, I think. What’s your name?”
The smile on her face was huge. “Kiwi,” she said, and she tasted that word too.

Mara Nelms is the author of My Purse bit my Best Friend -if it is half as entertaining as her gust posts (it is more so), it would be well worth your time to pay her a visit. 

She has also guest posted on this blog before HERE


Find information about my next writing contest, interviews, book news and more on my website.

In bookstores 6-5-2012

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