By: Talia Haven

Kerr heard it first. The distant sound of a blacksmith's hammer as it beat out a steady rhythm of metal on metal CLING, cling…CLING cling. My ponytail already pulled through the half–moon closure of my cap. I was more concerned with tucking stray strands of brown hair up under the rim than with being quiet as I lagged behind. Annoyed by the snaps and crunches that came from every stick and dried leaf I stepped on, my cousin Kerr motioned for me to be still.

"You need to be quieter." He hissed. He knelt down beside me, adjusted his empty game pouch across his shoulders. Its camouflage bottom almost touched the ground.

"It's over there," he murmured while pointing off to a clearing in the woods. Overhead, the morning sun had just begun to bath the area in a faint light that shone through an opening in the canopy. "We need to get closer, so walk as careful and lightly as you can." Kerr stood up, put his index finger to his lips.

He led the way; the red–rimmed visor of his favorite baseball team the Valley Titans covered the back of his short brown hair. Pinned to the back of his camouflage shirt, safe in a plastic protector hung his license to hunt from the Department of Wild Animal Control. I looked down at my empty game pouch just to make sure that my license from the DWAC was still attached to the outside.

I tried hard not to make a sound as I stepped, carefully as I could on the dead foliage that littered the forest floor. Kerr paused, turned to face me. Palm raised he motioned for me to stop. His brown eyes danced with the excitement of the hunt. He cautioned me to be quiet and pointed. There it was, in the clearing, the first wild colony I had ever seen.

Tiny figures moved among the straw–roofed buildings that lined the muddy streets. Alone in the center of the little colony, women and girls surrounded wood roofed well. Some left, their buckets full of water, while others stood in groups. I listened and could almost hear the rich high pitch tone they uttered as they chattered among themselves as they waited for their turn.

From this high up the only thing, I could hear the lone blacksmith's hammer that first drew Kerr's attention. The area bustled with activity; but as Kerr stood there next to a large tree, he tipped his head towards a small clearing closer to us. He seemed to be more interested in a lone farmer.

A farmer's little parcel of land, secluded by a clump of ferns, separated us from the colony. Rolls off freshly tilled earth stretched behind him as he drove his team of oxen down the partially finished field.

"Why hasn't he heard us by now? I whispered.

Kerr motioned for me to stay as he leaned toward me and spoke in a low voice. "They're used to the constant shaking of the ground as for sound; we're up to high." Gesturing back to the small team and their driver, "We'll catch him before he gets a chance to warn the rest. Watch how I do it Ama, and then you can try."

Frightened snorts came from the team as the agitated oxen strained against their harness in an attempt to get away when Kerr stepped onto the freshly plowed field. If the farmer was aware of the looming danger above him he did not show it. I watched fascinated as he struggled to keep his panicked team under control. It was a brief battle because of moments later, trophy in hand, a triumphant Kerr tossed his clenched fists in the air. At his feet, the driverless team bellowed with fear as they dragged the tipped plow across the field. Kerr had made the first catch of the morning look easy.

"Want me to grab them?" I asked hopefully. Mini oxen make excellent breakfast meat when they're rolled in flour and pan–fried in butter. It'd be a shame to let them go.

"Nope." One grimy tennis shoe stepping on the plow brought the rampaging team to a jolting stop. Oxen strained against the yokes as they bawled in terror. In one quick motion, Kerr's fingers snapped the teams harnesses like a thread. Regretfully I watched, as what could have been tomorrows breakfast continued their mad dash towards the tall grass. Kerr gestured his empty hand towards the miniature figure still clenched in his fist, "We don't keep them with anything else," he said. "They're too fragile."

Dirty, barefoot, and dressed in ragged clothes it was a repulsive little thing that stunk of urine, feces, and rotten waste that Kerr proudly held out for my inspection. The tiny farmer let out sounds high pitched like a mouse teased by a cat as he kicked his feet fighting to get free.

"Be careful how you grip them; we don't want to squish �em. Kerr said. "If they die on their own, we'll have to toss them out." My nose wrinkled in disgust as he put the foul human into his game bag. It was hard to believe that something that made such a tasty stew could smell so bad.

"Pretty strong isn't it?" Kerr laughed, "There's not an animal or bird that will touch them. Imagine what they must taste like unclean and raw."

"Ever see one up close, Ama?" Kerr asked as he flipped the flap of his game bag closed. A small bulge wiggled against the cloth; the captive was determined to get away.

"I've seen them at the Zoo." I wish I had brought gloves. I frowned as I rubbed my still clean hands against my blue jeaned thighs. "But it was crowded that day when we went to the midget animal exhibit." I explained, "So I didn't get a good look."

Kerr smirked he'd caught my worried expression. "You're not scared of them, are you? If you are we can go back to your house."

"Go back?" I couldn't go back home that would admit to Kerr's mom Reis what she already suspected, that I would never adjust to life in the county. Besides, I was sure I would prefer this to what Mom and Aunt Reis had planned for today.

"I'm fine." I lied, "I want to keep going."

Kerr shrugged his shoulders not seeming to believe my fib as he knelled in front of a barn–shaped building. "Common, I'll show you how to flush them out before we go and get some more of them." Kerr placed both of his hands on opposite sides of the building. "Be careful; we don't want to break it. After hunting season is over more will come and live in it." One swift pull and the building lifted from its foundation, sending it's human and midget animal occupants scattering off in different directions.

"There goes another one." Kerr gestured at a tiny figure. "That one is just too small," he continued. "It should be left alone so it can grow." The form stopped for just a moment before it changed direction and followed the fleeing livestock into low brushy shrubs that I guess could be woods to animals that little. "When you lift, make sure you have your other hand ready to grab," Kerr said as he flipped the building over and inspected the inside. "Then you check to see if they managed to hang on to something, so we can't find them. Sometimes they climb up into the rafters."

Appearing disappointed that he could not show me how I should correctly pluck one off the rafters, Kerr set the barn back on its foundation. "Have you ever been to a farm that raises em?" he asked.

"Nope," my attention focused on the bulge in Kerr's bag. Almost to the top the captive lost his grip and slid back down to the bottom.

"Ira Finn's dad, on the other side of town, has a farm." Kerr stood his blue jean knees covered in dirt. "Ira told me that they are raised in little boxes. You can't group them together like the other midget animal farms. They fight among themselves too much. Did you know it takes about eighteen years of good growing before they're ready to eat?"

Not bothering to wait for my answer Kerr turned his attention towards the direction of the unsuspecting colony. "Let's go and get some more."

Unable to shake my feelings of guilt, I followed Kerr across the hay field towards the old clapboard farmhouse that my family now called home. It had been harder to catch them than I had thought. Unaware of what was about to happen the tiny colony continued with their activities until Kerr scooped the first of them up into the air. The rest dashed for cover in buildings that were far more fragile than they looked. Ruined remains of the two buildings I accidentally destroyed remained back at the colony. Scatted among buildings still intact, they serve as a reminder of our visit. I had managed to catch three when I lifted up some other buildings to grab them. I discovered them as they scrambled to hide under what I thought were crudely built tables and beds.

To be continued…


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