CougarThe attack had been so sudden, Talia had had no time to avoid the gargantuan mountain lion that now pinned her to the ground. Struggling mightily against the heavy creature, she managed to get an arm free. Simply by instinct, she made a few arcane gestures with her hand and muttered an incantation under her breath, the same spell she had used on Dragon to transform the mighty beast into a tiny lizard. https://margecutter.wordpress.com/2020/10/04/the-search/

Nothing happened. Talia’s eyes widened and she gasped. I forgot! Once I entered the portal and was ushered into this world, my powers were gone!

snarling cougarThe cougar snarled and brought his face closer to Talia’s. Suddenly, he stopped, and his brow furrowed. He sniffed at Talia. “You aren’t the one I’m looking for.” He released Talia and stepped back. “I’m so sorry. You aren’t hurt, are you?”

Before Talia could answer, she heard the badger call out. “Hey, Rafferty! You gone crazy or something? Why’d you attack the puny human?”

Talia saw the big coyote snap at the badger and say something to him. The badger hung his head.

The other animals came running over. The coyote pup and the fox kit helped Talia up. The woman stood there, wobbling on rubbery legs.

The vixen nudged her kit aside and sniffed at Talia. “Here, dear, just lean on me and take a couple of deep breaths. You’ll be okay. I don’t think Rafferty injured you. I don’t smell any blood.” The fox then turned to the cougar, clucking gently at him in admonishment. “Rafferty, dear, what were you thinking?”

“I’m sorry.” He turned toward Talia. “I’m sorry lady. I saw you running after my friends and I thought you were the one who was trying to hurt them.” He threw himself to the ground and covered his face with his huge paws.

The giant coyote walked up to the cougar and put a paw on the other animal’s shoulder. “Rafferty, old buddy, that was a long time ago. That person isn’t here anymore. We’re all safe now.”

Rafferty looked up at the coyote and furrowed his brow again. “Are you sure, Chaz? I thought I saw her just yesterday, at the market.”

“Nah, Raff. You couldn’t have seen her. She’s long gone.” The coyote spoke gently.

Coyote pup and TaliaThe coyote pup whispered in Talia’s ear. “The person Rafferty thought he saw hasn’t been around since long before I was born. Poor cat. I don’t know exactly what happened all those years ago, but it must have been horrible for Raff. They say he hasn’t been quite right in the head since. When he gets really bad like this, my pop takes care of him, gets him the help he needs.”

Talia frowned. “But he’s a cougar. Why would your father help him?”

The pup scoffed and shot Talia a disgusted look. “Because he’s a friend.” The pup shook his head and curled his lip at Talia. “Don’t you help your friends? Isn’t that what you and the dragon are doing?”

Talia looked at the circle of animals and nodded thoughtfully.

Rafferty got up and shook, dust flying off his sleek, golden fur. “So, what were you all doing just now? The human was running after you. Were you playing a game?”

Chaz shook his head. “We’re looking for a little girl, a human child, who is lost.”

Cougar pleading“Oh, the poor little thing. I’ll help look for her! Can I help, Chaz? Can I?” The mountain lion closed his eyes and pleaded with the coyote.

“Sure, buddy, you can help. But she’s very small and delicate, Raff. Remember that if you find her. No claws. Velvet paws, Raff. You gotta use velvet paws.”

The cougar nodded and started jigging around, excited to help. “I’ll remember, Chaz. I promise.” Suddenly he stopped and his eyes widened. “Chaz! We gotta find that poor little thing before she gets hurt! What if that woman finds her? She’ll hurt the little girl, Chaz. She tried to hurt all of you.”

“Now, now, Raff. That’s all over, buddy. The woman’s gone. She’s gone, Raff.” Chaz patted his friend’s shoulder again.

“Are you sure he’s safe?” Talia addressed the foxes in a whisper while never taking her eyes off the mountain lion.

The reynard frowned and growled softly. “Of course, he’s safe. Do you think Chaz and I would allow him near our kids if he wasn’t?”

Talia blushed, but still looked unconvinced.

Rafferty and Chaz“Let’s go, then. Let’s find this poor little thing.” The mountain lion bounded off, only to come racing back. “Chaz? Which way do we go?” He looked confused, his whiskers trembling and his eyes unfocused.

“We’re going to follow the scent trail this way. I’ll take the lead. Why don’t you hang back and keep an eye on the young’uns, and on our human visitor? You can make sure they don’t get separated from the group.”

“Okay, Chaz. I’ll take good care of them.”

“I know you will, buddy. I know you will.” Chaz nuzzled Rafferty before loping off to take his lead at the head of the group.

The giant coyote led off, with Benny, the badger, close behind, still looking contrite over his earlier careless comments to Rafferty, the troubled mountain lion. The reynard and the vixen flanked them, and all four animals kept their noses to the ground.

Behind them, the coyote pup and the fox kit escorted Talia. The three of them kept their heads swiveling, their eyes peering at every ditch, furrow, tree, bush, and clod of dirt they passed.

They also kept a good eye on Rafferty, who trailed along behind. Sometimes the mountain lion strode along with purpose and determination; other times, he lagged, confused and unfocused. Several times he ran up to Talia and sniffed at her, then muttered, “No, you’re not the bad person. She’s not here anymore. She’s gone. Chaz said so.”

After one such incident, the fox kit bowed his head and whispered into Talia’s ear. “He’s been like this as long as I can remember. He’ll be fine for months at a time, then suddenly, something triggers his anxiety, and he imagines this woman around every corner or behind every bush.”

Junior nodded. “That’s why we have to watch him real close right now. If we find this missing child, my dad and Benny will want to get to her first. Rafferty might mistake her for that woman, since he keeps saying he’s seen her recently.”

Talia’s eyes flew wide, and her jaw dropped. She put her hand on the fox kit’s leg. “But your dad said the cat was safe.”

“He is.” The kit nodded confidently. “We make sure he stays that way.”

Raff sees DragonIt was late in the day with the sun dropping fast toward the horizon, when Talia and her group spotted Dragon and her troop coming toward them along the berm. As soon as he spotted Dragon, Rafferty stopped dead in his tracks. “What is that?”

“That’s just a dragon, Raff. She’s kinda like a big lizard with wings. She’s from another part of the world and she’s here with the lady looking for the lost child.” Junior spoke softly to the mountain lion. The cat shook his head as if to clear it, then started to back up, eyes wide and mouth slack.

“Dad? Dad!” Junior called to the big coyote several dozen yards ahead of them.

The big animal immediately sized up the situation and ran to his friend’s side. He spoke to the spooked cougar softly and reassuringly. “Hey, Raff, it’s okay, buddy. She’s a friend. She’s gentle as a kitten. See? The deer and the rabbits like her. She’s fine. Come on, Raff, I’ll introduce you.”

But Rafferty didn’t appear to want to meet the dragon. He threw himself down on the ground and covered his face with his paws. He lay there, trembling, until Dragon walked over and spoke to him.

Dragon approached the giant mountain lion quietly and gently. “Hello. You must be Rafferty. Your friends told me about you. I would consider it a great honor to meet you.”

Slowly, the big cat looked up. He furrowed his brow and tilted his head. “You would be honored to meet me?”

“Indeed, I would.” Dragon stood a few feet away, making herself look as small and nonthreatening as possible.

Rafferty looked at the other animals, who smiled and nodded at him. He slowly rose and timidly edged close enough to Dragon to sniff at her. “You smell funny.”

Dragon chuckled. “I imagine I do. My name is Dragon. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

BearsBefore the mountain lion could respond, two huge grizzly bears broke through the adjacent brush and lumbered into the field about a dozen yards away. The smaller bear was carrying something tiny in her arms, and the larger one looked around until he saw who he was looking for. “Hey! Hab’itt! Come on over here, buddy! Did you lose something?”

Rafferty’s eyes glazed over. “You caught her! You caught that dangerous woman! Good work!” He started bounding toward the bears, but Dragon tripped him.

“Oh, I am so sorry. Did I do that? Are you injured?” The scaly beast spoke gently, but positioned herself between the cat and the bears, blocking his view.

Marisol woke up as Hab’itt hopped over to the bears. “Hey, there, little one!” The giant rabbit smiled at the small girl, then looked at the bears. “Where did you find her?”

“She was asleep in our berry patch. She told us she had been with you in the carrot field but had wandered away. She was too tired to go back, so I offered to carry her. She fell back asleep halfway here.” The female bear gently placed the child on the ground. “There you go, Marisol.”

The bigger bear was looking over at Dragon and the mountain lion. “Is that Rafferty?”

Hab’itt followed the bear’s gaze and nodded.

The bear huffed and shook his head. “You better take care to keep him away from the child. He’s been a bit twitchy lately. If he’s having another of his episodes, there’s no telling what he might do.”

Hab’itt nodded. “I think he’ll be okay. It looks like Chaz is taking care of him. And there’s a dragon with him, blocking his view of the child. She came with the human female who came looking for Marisol. I don’t think that creature would let anything happen to Marisol.”

The bear nodded. “Well, Marisol, it was nice to meet you. Be sure to stop for a visit any time you’re in the neighborhood.”

Marisol smiled. “I will. And thank you.”

Marisol rubbed the sleep from her eyes and looked toward Dragon and Talia. She looked past them and stared at the cougar. After a few minutes, she frowned. “That big cat with my friends seems to need some help.”

Helping RaffWithout a second’s hesitation, the child skipped over to the other group, with Hab’itt following on her heels. Without a word, Marisol reached up and grabbed Dragon and Talia by the hand. She gazed silently at the mountain lion, who was nearby, shaking uncontrollably. “The cat needs your help. Say the words, Dragon. Say the words, Talia.”

“What words are those, child?” Dragon tilted her head and looked askance at Marisol.

The child pursed her lips. “The words that will help the big cat, of course.”

Dragon shook her head. “We have no power in this world.”

“I know.” Marisol smiled. “Say the words, Dragon, please. You, too, Talia.”

Dragon looked at Talia, who shrugged. Then they both began to intone an incantation. When they were finished, Marisol smiled again. The child tugged Dragon and Talia over to the mountain lion. “Hello, Rafferty. Are you feeling better now?”

Everyone fell silent as the big cat stopped trembling and slowly stood up. The cougar blinked several times rapidly, then squinted at Marisol. “I feel fine, thanks. Do I know you?”

Marisol shook her head.

Rafferty looked at Dragon. “I . . . I don’t know you either, do I?”

“No, you don’t know her, either.” Marisol nudged Dragon. “Well, if you’re feeling better, Rafferty, I think it’s time for me and my friends to go home. My mother will be worried.”

Hab’itt scratched behind his ear with one of his big back paws. “I . . . I guess I’ll take you back to the portal.”

“Thanks, Hab’itt, but I can find the way. I think Dragon and Talia want to talk to me.” Marisol patted the huge rabbit on his leg. “I hope you’ll come to our world . . . I mean our part of the world . . . and visit again sometime. I won’t tell my mommy if you eat any of her carrots.”

After a round of goodbyes and best wishes, the trio was on the way. As they began walking back to the portal, Marisol yawned. “Dragon, could you carry me?”

“Of course, little one.” The huge beast held out her arms, and soon Marisol was snuggled against her.

The early-rising full moon bathed the path with light, but Dragon still moved slowly so she would not trip and disturb the child in her arms.

As if sensing the beast’s concern, the child giggled. “It’s okay. I’m awake. We can talk if you’d like.”

Dragon furrowed her brow. “Yes, child, I would like to talk with you. Marisol, how did that spell work? Talia and I have no power here. I cannot even shapeshift.”

Marisol shrugged. “Your power is still within you; you just can’t call it forth. So, I did it for you. I called forth the power for you and for Talia.”

Dragon’s eyes widened, and she exchanged surprised glances with Talia. “But how did you know the mountain lion needed help?”

Saw his heartMarisol tilted her head and chewed her lower lip for several long moments before answering. “That’s harder to explain.” She paused again, choosing her words carefully. “I could see his heart.”

“You could see his what?” Talia furrowed her brow.

Marisol squirmed a bit in Dragon’s arms to better see Talia. “Well, you know how you say of someone who is kind and decent he has a good heart?”

Talia nodded.

“And if someone has lost someone he loves, you say he has a broken heart?”

Again, Talia nodded.

“Well, I could see Rafferty’s heart. I could see it was a good heart, and I could see it had been broken. I could see he needed help.”

Talia’s jaw dropped. “You could see the animal’s inner essence.”

Dragon gaped at the child as well. “That is a step beyond seeing a shapeshifter’s true nature. I have never known anyone who could see the very soul of a creature that clearly.”

Going homeMarisol shrugged, as if it were no big deal to her. She snuggled close to Dragon again and sighed. “I like that place. It was just like Hab’itt said – it’s a place of inclusion and acceptance and peace and tolerance, a place where everyone cares about everyone else, and no one cares if someone is different. I think I’d like to live in a place like that.”

Talia nodded and patted Marisol’s arm. “Perhaps you can, someday, child. Perhaps our world can be like that someday, if we all work hard enough to make it so.”

Be sure to come back next week and see what is happening with my little band of displaced characters. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

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