West Hills. Why did it have to be West Hills?
Heather trudged down the dirt and gravel path that led out of the main section of Ellowwood. A twenty-pound bag of wheat was in her arms, having been tasked to deliver it to an elderly couple out on the west side of town.
And not just west town, West Hills. Outside the town charter, maybe half a mile towards the heavy forest and where the island ended. Where more weird stuff lived, causing her imagination to freak out about what she could randomly encounter. It didn’t matter if it was late afternoon and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; the area still carried the same kind of connotations to it.
She honestly wished that Elizabeth would’ve sent someone with her. But no, both Janus and Tau’mi were recruited with tasks of their own. Heather even tried to ask to use their beast of burden, Sir Fluff. That didn’t work too well.
Heather had a bit of a pout, shifting her arms to carry the load more comfortably.
As the road was less traveled, it wasn’t maintained as those within the limits. Grass grew up on the sides, sometimes making Heather uneasy. Something could easily be hiding away, watching her and she wouldn’t know. That made her walk a bit faster, especially when places on the side of the road seemed real “remote”. She hadn’t seen a house since the sign that had stated where the town limits ended.
She dreaded this a little. Despite the nice day, the events a few weeks ago was still sour with her and the well. The scolding, the warning, the added scrutiny on her. (Yet they easily sent her on errands?) However Heather had started to do a little better. She slept more easily and was less terrified. She actually started to enjoy life.
After passing what was a large nut orchard on her left, she finally could make out a small house a small ways in from the road. It was a bit run down, having a blue roof and unpainted plank walls. The grass was a bit tall around it, almost covering up the path that led to the door. A large oak tree cast a shadow over the front yard.
Heather carefully approached the door, being careful not to step off the now narrow gravel path. She could smell ham as she got closer, a little bit calmer knowing that someone was living here. Ascending the steps to the door, she stretched out her hand and knocked somewhat loudly.
There was silence for a few seconds, then footsteps approached the door. Heather tensed as the door flew open, a unkempt and frazzled old man greeting her.
“What’s this now?” He had a loud half-mumble, his mustache overgrown and his short beard bushy.
“You’re the one who wanted the wheat, right? Martha and Edward?” Heather had started to stammer, but quickly regained her composure mid-sentence when she realized that the person didn’t pose a threat to her.
The man stared at her for a moment with an open mouth. A few teeth weremissing, his eyebrows contorted.
“Yeah, that’s us.” He motioned for her to simply put it down on the porch. Reaching back into the house, he gave her a fistful of gold coins. She took these as the man dragged the bag in himself without another word.
“Tha-” The door slammed in her face.
Heather stood there for a moment, shocked. Still put off by the man’s rudeness she left the yard quickly and started back home. It was only when she let out a deep sigh of relief, glad that her task was over.
Her pace quickened, eager to leave West Hills. Her arms felt so light, not carrying such a large load anymore. Hopefully Elizabeth didn’t have any more of these “errands” for the rest of the day.
When Heather was about three hundred feet from the town limits, she caught sight of a strange hand-drawn cart. An equally strange man was standing by it, with a monocle and a top hat. Upon seeing her, he beckoned her to the cart.
“May you fancy one of my…goods?” The man asked.
He had an edgy and suspicious tone to him. There was a small racket of squeaks, hisses and chirps coming from the inside of the cart. Heather realized that they must be animals of some sort.
Heather just stared at him without an answer, a skeptic look on his face. She wanted to say no, but was concerned about the animals. Why would he be all the way out here waiting on the roadside?
The man took her silence as a yes, going over and opening the small door of the back on the cart.
Inside were several small caged boxes. They held various creatures; birds, snakes, rats and even turtles. All of them were exotic, most of them having colorings or features that she had never seen with common Talmeron animals.
“Take home a special pet today. Tired of a fluff cat that knocks over your dishes? Dog being messy? One of these will do the trick! Strange creatures from near and far of this little-known globe. Embrace this world’s diversity.”
The man stretched out his hands, beckoning her even closer.
Heather dared to take three steps forward to get a better look. The animals quieted upon noticing a new person, many of them staring at her. Some of them had wide eyes, as if apprehensive to what she would do.
It unsettled her, the animals appearing captive rather than being pets. They seemed like “goods” like the man described. Nothing seemed joyful or happy about the domesticated animals she knew.Heather was about to walk backwards and leave when she heard a mewling.
It was soft, a half-screech, repeating itself over and over. The sound came from a large basket further in. There were no bars or any way for whatever was inside to get light or see outside.
“What’s in that one?” Heather dared to ask.
“Ah, that.” The man had a somewhat annoyed look on his face, but not at her. He reached for the basket, pulling it to the back and tossing off the lid.
There was a small dinosaur-like creature inside. It was bipedal, having a predator-type body. It’s skin was varying shades of gray, except for a bright blue tail and yellow markings behind its head. It had solid black eyes that had an empty look to them.
“This thing is a raptor-like beast from the Southern continents. I don’t know much about it except what it eats, but its a feisty and troublesome fellow. Makes too much noise and is sticks its head where it doesn’t belong.”
Heather felt for the creature almost immediately, the blank eyes and rigid body posture. It had become silent upon the removal of the lid, looking almost like some wax figure instead of a living animal.
“Maybe if you didn’t lock it up in a basket all day it’d feel different.” Heather’s voice had an edgy tone to it.
“Quite necessary. The creature “imprints” itself upon who it sees, so it can’t see anything or anyone.” The man countered.
Heather was silent. What would happen if it did go home? Did she even have enough money? Was it okay for her to have a pet?
But the last thing she wanted to do was leave the poor thing alone and it never have a good home again. She genuinely felt sorry for it. Of course she had no idea what kind of pet it would make, but from what she was seeing, it wasn’t the typical clammy reptile.
“How much are you asking?”
“Oh, a hundred pennice would be suitable. I’ve had it for quite awhile, so it needs to go.”
He really doesn’t want this thing around. Heather quickly did some math in her head, converting gold coins to pennice. She should have enough for the transaction. Elizabeth may be mad, but she could take it out of her allowance.
“All right. I’ll take it.” She reached into her pocket for the coins she had received earlier, giving it to the man.
“Good enough for me.” The man looked a bit pleased, sticking one hand in and pulling the creature out. It was much smaller than Heather had anticipated, noticing how it seemed…so infant. It looked so helpless and confused. The man grasped it with his other hand, holding it out to her.
Heather stretched both her hands out, her face melting into a kind smile. The creature looked up at her, its head tilting to her as it gave a small squeak. When the creature was planted in her hands, her fingers gently grasped around it, pulling it closer.
“Hi there. How are you?” She asked softly.
The creature seemed to have a natural smile on its face. It was warm in her hands, unlike a lizard or a frog. It just sat in her hands, making a series of low guttural noises.
Heather looked back up at the man, pulling the creature close.
“What did you feed it?”
“Bits of meat. Beef works better than pork.” He answered with a shrug.
Elizabeth didn’t really touch those two type of meat in the household. She could probably get by. Heather nodded.
“All right. Thank you.” She started to walk away.
The man tipped his hat, walking off the road.
Although Heather had the creature close to her chest, it really didn’t register what she did until she had walked for a few minutes. When the creature made a small noise again, she looked down at it, hugging it tighter.
“Guess I need to get you home. You need a name, too. What’s Elizabeth going to say?” Heather patted it on the head, watching the creature’s reaction. It seemed to like that, remaining quiet.
Despite her initial joy of getting it, Heather was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea. What was going to happen we she got home?
The bell jingled as the shop door opened. The store had a warm yellow glow as Elizabeth’s house always did, the myriad of spices and other things greeting Heather’s nose. She didn’t see the woman right away, walking over to the door that led to the house.
“Is that you?” Elizabeth’s voice called out from another area of the shop.
“Yes, its me.” Heather froze in her tracks, hesitantly turning around to meet her. Better now than later.
“Good. Tau’mi will have supper soon. I don’t have anything else for the day, so you can do what you need to.”
Elizabeth appeared from behind a shelf, a can in her hand. When she looked up her jaw dropped, almost dropping the can in her hands. Heather shrunk back, waiting for the worst.
“Heather, where did you find this?” Her voice had concern to it, coming close and looking her over.
“I bought it; from a man outside of town.”
“You bought it?” Elizabeth blinked, in disbelief of what she heard.
The creature let out a little squawk, causing Elizabeth’s eyes to widen.
“Do you know anything about this creature? What it eats, what it does? What it actually grows up into?” Elizabeth was having a hard time comprehending the whole situation.
“It’s a raptor. It eats meat. But its sick, sad and lonely. Look!” Heather held the creature out to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth pulled back in reflex, but stared at the creature in disbelief when it barely reacted to her. The creature hung its heads sideways, not looking at her at all. She dared to touch it, which caused no response.
“It does seem ill. How was this “man” carrying this creature around?” Her voice had softened, motioning for Heather to follow.
“In a basket. It didn’t have a spot to look out of; he said that it was because it couldn’t imprint.”
Elizabeth paused from pulling a large book off the shelf, a hurtful gasp leaving her mouth. Her whole face changed to sadness as she laid the book out on the sales counter, motioning for Heather to hand the creature over.
Heather was a little uneasy to do so, but carefully handed her new pet over.
Elizabeth gently took it with one hand, gasping softly with a smile of recognition. She stroked it before placing it on the counter next to the book. She bent over, patting the creature softly.
“Shhh. Hello dear, how are you?” She even reached out to take hold of its small forearm, shaking it ever so gently with her thumb and index finger.
The creature cocked its head a few times, slowly facing her with a short screech. Elizabeth patted its head as she opened the book, starting to go through the pages.
Heather recognized the book; it was a large bestiary dictionary that the family owned. The book was over a foot thick and had color illustrations of many plants and animals, most of them from the distant parts of their world. Janus had said the book was worth quite a lot; if she had sold it, only a king or a wealthy lord could afford to purchase it.
Elizabeth continued to turn through pages, pulling out a pair of reading glasses to glance through the pages.
“Your friend is something I’ve never though I would’ve seen before.”
“Really?” Heather leaned forward, placing a hand on her pet.
Elizabeth nodded. “It’s a warm-blooded beast; only dragons and wyverns are like this. But this is obviously no dragon…also the imprint that you mentioned is a trait among those creatures so the young recognize their parents. If they imprint, they have a high intelligence, acting much like a dog or cat. But the size…hm.”
She finally arrived at a page of some creatures that looked like her pet. There were several that looked close, but had a silhouette of a person next to them, indicating that the adult creature was several times larger. Heather looked worriedly at the creature; would this poor innocent thing grow into a large unmanageable beast that would cause danger?
“Here we go….an Azure Starstreak.” Elizabeth pushed her glasses up and leaned forward to read.
“A small beast with raptor properties of its larger cousins. Is in a family of its own as it shares characteristics of the dragon family. Azures rarely pass a length of a foot and sometimes sixteen inches. Males have blue tails, females have violet tails.”
“So you’re a boy.” Heather held onto her “Starstreak” with another hand from beneath. She could feel its heart throb faintly, the distant look remaining in its eyes.
“Your little bugger eats all manners of things; its a vegetarian as well as a carnivore. Fruits, berries, small game and sometimes even fish. And it gets its name from how fast it can run.” Elizabeth looked up over her glasses, studying the creature intently.
“Let’s get your friend something to eat. Let’s see if that helps change his demeanor.”
“Do you think he’ll be all right?”
By now the entire family had been aware of Heather’s new pet. They had clustered around as Elizabeth and Heather gave it water, some grapes and a sliver of fish. The creature was still unresponsive for the most part, eventually having ambled to a corner before laying down on the floor.
“I believe he’s stressed. Being locked up in that basket, not seeing any light, people, probably not even being fed or watered properly.” Elizabeth deposited the creature into a small wooden box in the living room, having laid several scraps of fabric for a cushion.
“Awww, I hope he get better soon.” Tau’mi dared to poke it softly.
The Starstreak’s eyes were almost closed, eventually shutting. Heather held a gasp as Elizabeth placed its hand over its flank.
“He’s still breathing, no cause for alarm. I would say he’s had a very tiring day.”
“Did you give him a name?” Janus looked up at Heather.
“I…not really.” She looked away in embarrassment. Heather stared at it for a few moments.
“I think Pipp is good.”
“Pipp? What makes you think that?” Elizabeth asked incredulously.
“It’s like this little thing thing in a big new world. I’m sure he’ll grow, get bigger and make his own mark.” Heather didn’t know how whimsical it sounded, but it was good enough for her.
“All right then, Pipp it is. Why don’t you do the honors?” Elizabeth held up a small towel, handing it to her.
Heather carefully draped it over Pipp’s body up to his neck like a blanket. Pipp shifted in response, as if to cuddle closer to the warmth.
“I don’t think we should leave him alone,” Janus admitted worriedly.
“He should be fine. We’ll check on him throughout the evening and night. Why don’t you two get ready for bed?” Elizabeth patted her son’s shoulder, urging both him and Tau’mi to their feet.
“All right, Mom.”
The two trudged out of the living room towards the stairs.
Heather looked up at Elizabeth as she rose to her feet.
“While I admire you trying to be ‘independent’, do try to tell us ahead of time if you’re doing something of this sort. An animal is a huge responsibility to bear; not just you, the entire family.”
“I know. But it looked so lost and I couldn’t leave it there…”
Heather almost broke down and cried right there. Elizabeth sighed, embracing the girl in a hug.
The hug helped. Heather sobbed quietly for a moment as Elizabeth rubbed her back.
“You tried to do a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with that.” She tried to console her. “I’m certain Pipp would be very grateful for your care.”
When Heather recomposed herself, she nodded in thanks with a sniffle. Elizabeth smiled and rubbed the girl’s head.
“Off to bed with you, too.”
Heather started up the stairs, giving one more glance at Pipp’s box.