Chapter 6 - Strange Echoes

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The panda chuckled. "Tomatoes seem innocent until you get slapped by a ripe fruit at 200km/h. But our Nana wasn't totally cruel, no. Hikers who accidentally get too close are alerted and thus warned away by the appearance of an animal, a herald. The locals know it as an out-of-place off-white animal. It's a well known legend, the white animal in the woods the presence of which foretells impossible unnatural natural disasters. Have you heard of it?"

It glanced back to be sure Nana's boys were still there. "You'll see what I mean. But don't worry, you're safe with me." 

"I feel like I should be more weirded out than I am." Eirik glanced toward his friend in search of agreement but instead found him deep in thought. He elbowed his buddy. "Nana was way cooler than anyone gave her credit for." 

"Nana...." said Anders. 

He remembered times when his mother and her sisters had argued with Nana, begging her to give up her silly talk, pleading for one normal holiday. Nana had smiled and laughed and carried on unaffected.

No one knew, he thought. She never let anyone in on the whole truth. It's incredible. She was amazing. This - all of this - is a amazing. I was her closest friend and I hadn't the faintest... The idea of that lovable old lady torn between a need to share her passion and a desire to keep it secret... Did she think I couldn't handle it? Did I give her thank impression? If he had, he wanted to apologize. 

Anders squinted ahead. "I miss her." 

The whistle-like noise returned.

There's the sound again. What is that? A chill touched his heart. The noise wasn't simply a sound, it was a voice. "You hear that?" 

"Hear what?" 

Anders stopped Eirik with a touch and they listened. The sound came from overhead in the sparse evergreen canopy. A faint, high-pitched voice with a breathy quality, at intervals it slipped through the stillness with an eerie warbling. It uttered a soft, drawn out hellooooooooo

Eirik shot Anders a blue-eyed stare. 

"Don't lollygag!" the  bear barked back at them. 

Like spooked schoolboys, the men pointed up at the trees. 

"Pausing, the panda's fluffy ears perked. "Oh. Pfft! That's the herald." It scurried on, muttering, "Such children, scared of little noises." 

They eagerly eyed the canopy like curious toddlers at a zoo. 

"Where is it?" whispered Eirik. 

"You can't miss it," said the panda. "To your left, to your left!" 

If a great bird could be carved from white marble and still be alive, that would've been the animal they beheld, perched on a sturdy branch. 'Twas an outsized parrot, egg-shell white, that seemed capable of effortlessly taking a small child for a turn about the sky. A regal turn of its head directed wise eyes like cosmic-blue pearls at the gawkers, as though that single bird contained the soul of every African grey ever born and had thus become all-knowing and too righteous for the world. 

"Holy crap," breathed Anders. 

Eirik broke into a smile. "So we got to see the herald..." He called ahead to the bear that conitnued to toddle on with purpose, "When do we drown in yarn?" 

"Careful what you wish for!" 

Anders wanted important answers, too. "Can it do impressionations?" 

"You two won't be joking for long!" 

The parrot ruffled a wealth of feathers and turns its icy gaze away. It hissed, "Never wear a red hat!" 

They friends shared a dumbfounded silence. Anders scratched his head. Eirik admitted to hoping for something slightly more profound. 

Never wear a red hat. It rang a bell, sort of. "I think I heard Nana say that once," said Anders. "But I don't think she was serious and I have no idea what it means. Oh, hey, he's leaving us." He gave Eirik a friendly shove and they jogged to catch up to their guide, coming upon an open field beneath a cloudless sky. 

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