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Ch. 8 - The Wished

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Lacey woke to the sounds of Mama in the kitchen. Relief washed over her, had the wolf-boy returned her home, or had it all been a bad dream? But her hands were wrapped in bandages—and this was not her bed. She was not home. And that was not the sound of Mama cooking breakfast.

Lacey did smell food however. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she had missed dinner. Wherever she was, they were obviously planning to feed her. Or at least she hoped. She sat up, propping herself on her elbows.  

The first thing she noticed was how low the ceiling was, and how “natural” everything was. The room was all browns and grays. The floor was dirt and the walls were animal skins stretched over rough-hewn poles. Furniture was fashioned crudely from knotty wood and twine, with little finishing. A black iron pot boiled over an open hearth. There was no chimney. Smoke and steam billowed up to a gap in the ceiling. Everything was half-sized. It was a patchwork hut built for someone not much taller than Ella.

She almost thought she was in a woodsman’s camp, until the creature walked in.

“You’re awake. Good morning,” said the creature, walking over to the iron pot and stirring. It, or she—the creature’s voice was feminine—was small and stocky, exactly Ella-sized. She was covered in a thick layer of brown and grey ticked fur. She wore a mask like a bandit. But Lacey quickly realized it was just a mask-like marking in her fur. This was a raccoon scooping out a bowl of savory stew from the pot. Partly raccoon at least. Just like Lacey and the wolf-boy, she was a mixture of human and animal. Only she was much more animal than either Lacey or the wolf-boy. She stood upright, she spoke from a human mouth, and her body was taller and more human-like than the typical raccoon. 

She was wearing a mottled brown cloak, but no other clothing. Her fur was thick enough for modesty and warmth.  

“Good afternoon, rather. You slept quite a long time. Who can blame you after being chased by Blayd across half the Wood. I apologize for him. He isn’t very bright sometimes.” The raccoon sat on the edge of the cot and set the bowl of stew down on a small table, chattering on about how excited everyone in the camp was at Lacey’s arrival.

Long canine teeth flashed from beneath her thin black lips as she spoke. Lacey half raised her bandaged hand to her own fangs. A whole camp of creatures like her? Her stomach growled again. She pulled her eyes away from the raccoon to look at the steaming bowl on the table. The bandages on her hands were wrapped overly thick. How was she supposed to eat? Lacey wiggled her fingers within their cocoon and tried to use her teeth to undo the cotton wrappings.

“Tut, tut, let the poultice do its work. I am Cooper. It’s very nice to meet you.” Cooper proceeded to stir the stew, “…one…two…three…,” she murmured, counting each sweep of the spoon around the bowl. Then she started to arrange, and re-arrange, the bowl and spoon on the table. “We haven’t had anyone new join the camp in…gosh a whole year…and a bat of all things, I don’t think we’ve had a bat before…we don’t get many flying creature really….ever. Can you fly?” 

“Umm, no. My name is Lacey.” Lacey stared at the stew wondering if it was some kind of cruel trick. “Is that stew for me?”

“Of course it is, dear.” Finished with her elaborate food ritual, Cooper held up a spoonful of stew, blew on it three times and held it toward Lacey’s mouth with her dainty black hands. Lacey felt a bit foolish, both for thinking this kindly creature was anything less than hospitable, and for being spoon fed like a baby. But she was too hungry to worry about it much. She opened her mouth.  

The spoon came closer, and then at the last moment was pulled back. Cooper’s eyebrows drew together. “He wouldn’t really have hurt you. He isn’t like the day hunters, you know. He scares humans away when he comes across them. For their good as well as ours.” 

Lacey eyed the spoon. “Umm—sure.”

“I’m so glad you understand. He is a good boy.” She looked at Lacey sideways. “What’s the matter child, don’t you want to eat?”

“Yes, please.” Lacey wondered if Cooper was insane. 

“That’s the magic word I like to hear!” Cooper obliged her with a spoonful of the most delicious stew she had ever tasted.

“Mmmm,” Lacey said, savoring the gamey taste of the meat. “What is it?” 

Cooper, who had started her ritual all over again, stopped mid-stir. “It’s stew, child. That’s all you need to know. But your new. Haven’t learned your manners yet. We don’t ask whose kin it is. It’s not so difficult for some of us—those who ate meat before the Wish. But some of the others—they only ever munched on grass before. And the well has a twisted sense of humor. Whatever else it doesn’t change, it’s always sure to change the bellies of the herbivores, and give them the need for meat.”

“Oh…” 

Cooper performed her rituals and offered another bite. Lacey hesitated, looking at the lump of mystery-meat, wondering if it was raccoon. 

“Come, child. Don’t waste it.”

Lacey tried not to enjoy the meat so much, chewing quickly and swallowing. What was the proper etiquette for eating what could be someone’s relative?

“Tut-tut, it’s important to take your time with your food.” Cooper began stirring and counting again. It was hard for Lacey to imagine taking more time to eat.

Lacey fidgeted with her bandages again. If she could just loosen them a bit maybe she could hold the spoon herself.

“Such an impatient child,” Cooper turned to her with the spoon ready again. “Open wide. Mama Cooper doesn’t mind taking care of you. It’s been a long time since I had a youngling.”

Lacey took another spoonful of stew. She eyed the door. “Am I—can I leave?”

The spoon clanked against the bowl and Cooper stopped mid-stir. “Dear me. I’ve frightened you. Of course you may leave. You are my guest until you make your Choice.”

“Choice? Where am I?” Lacey looked longingly at the spoon in the stew bowl.

“You are in the City of the Wished.” Cooper leaned closer and whispered, “It’s really just a camp.” She sat back and started stirring again. “I was surprised to hear where Blayd found you. You are lucky you didn’t stumble into the human village.” 

“How many of you are there?”

“Us, dear. You are part of our family now.” Cooper held up another spoonful.

“No I already have a family. I need to go home.”

“Child, you will not be able to live in the caves with the other bats now that you have been transformed.”

“Transformed? Caves? No. I mean my home in the village. Pine Ridge. I live in the bakery.” 

The raccoon creature dropped the spoon, and it clattered to the table.

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