Short Ears

Compiled by Michelle Aubrey Gladwin

Part 1: Men

In which Sheridan in found and identified

He was accustomed to fear. Inside himself fear was a convenient indicator of impending danger; however, It must not be given full reign. In other creatures it was a thing to be woken and excited until it gave birth to mindless terror. Success in terror or success in stealth were his livelihood.

This was a new feeling. It went beyond fear, but it wasn't terror. It went beyond it in a direction he had never been, a direction he had never considered going. Until now. This was hate. This time it was different. This creature had trapped him and made him helpless. Before when a creature scared him it was their right. Just as it was his right for him to hunt Sika and the others for food. Before he only had to get away or put up a fight, and his tormentor would eventually decide that this morsel was not worth the expenditure.

This time it had tracked him through all the forest, his forest. He had gone to the trees for safety but in the end it was no use. Eventually he had to come back down for food. It caught him then. It was like him but bigger. If it hadn't been bigger he wouldn't have run to start with. He would have just chased it off. If he had know how this one would cruelly use him he would have stayed in the trees and starved.

Yes, this was hate. Hate he had seen in other creatures. If he had been in the mood for companionship at those times, he might have stayed long enough to observe that hate tears down that which hates. He might have noticed that hate also drives off friends, but he didn't know, and he enjoyed the feeling. He thought it somehow revenged him on that which he hated.

Now he had gotten away but he couldn't help noticing that his tormentor didn't mind, that it had extracted all the pleasure it wanted from him. He could only go and recover as best he could. Now he had satisfied his hunger and thirst. Now he would go back to his own territory. Maybe if no large hunters were in that area he could relocate his territory farther from this uncivilized creature.

What was that sound? He looked around at these unfamiliar surroundings that the cruel beast had chased him to. He thought he saw movement. Wasn't that the smell of broken wood, broken green wood? Elephant, Man and lightening were the only things that caused green wood to break. All were things he had been taught to fear from a young age. Elephants had not been seen in this part of the forest for some time. And there had been no storms lately. Could there be men in the forest?

Deer and other creatures caused green wood to smell broken and he didn't see any broken wood just smelled it. He didn't see anything unusual. His heart was beating too loud for him to hear properly just now, something his brothers said they didn't have trouble with. He couldn't smell anything except himself and his last meal still clinging to his claws. He ought to have licked them clean by now. The wind was blowing the wrong direction. Whatever it was would be able to smell him. He must skirt the area and figure out what it was at least. Then he could decide what to do. He turned to make a circuit of the area. His ears weren't pounding now.

Ouch, something stung his leg. Did he hear it's buzz first? He tried to shoe it away. Why was he sleepy? There it was, his hand had brushed it, Ouch it stung him again. Why was he dizzy? He tripped on something. He never did remember hitting the ground.

When he awoke something smelled odd. No, everything smelled very peculiar. He opened his eyes. It didn't change anything. It was still pitch black. That was odd, the moon should be up most of the night tonight. How long had he slept? He couldn't answer that. Maybe if he knew where he was? The ground was smooth and hard like the rock at the bottom of the stream where the water spilled and spoke. Something was wrapped all around him except his forepaws and head; although it didn't restrict most of his movement. That was interesting, whatever it was that covered him up must have known that his hind paws weren't his preferred set. But then, what creature preferred to use his back claws where he couldn't see except to reach places his forepaws couldn't reach or during a fight when you attack whatever might be exposed even when you can't aim by direct sight but only by predicted persistent motion.

He looked around. He wished his eyes were like his brothers, they could see well in the dark. Though maybe not in darkness this complete. They liked sneaking up on him when he couldn't see them. He could smell them and hear them, but they knew he liked to be able to see what he was doing. Everything was still dark. He had waited for his eyes, but there was nothing to see. Or was there? Right over there, was that a speck of light? Yes, A star, the sky was bright there too, like the moon was still out. Was he in a cave then? If this was a cave, then he must be careful about getting up, there was no guarantee that it would stay the same height. He got up carefully. The roof was above his head beyond his reach. He must also be careful about his steps; the floor in caves could be treacherous. He took a step, and then another, the ground was still flat. There was something spooky about things being flat. The only things that he had seen that were flat were rocks with stripes, that broke on a stripe and they only broke that way if they were on an angle so they could fall, or had water push them off. This was level so it couldn't have broken and fallen. And it wasn't very damp so where had water come from or gone? He took another step his foot hit something, it clanged and went skidding across the cave floor resounding as stone against stone. It stopped, something grunted and it scratched again. Something struck him on the head. He snarled. Everything happened at once. There was angry shouts from everywhere. It was like that time when a whole pack of wolves had gotten him up a tree and they seemed to howl from miles around. Now he had no tree and he didn't recognize their sound or their smell.

Blinding light flashed from everywhere. If these creatures made light were they men? They must be, but what did they look like? His eyes were clearing now. This is what fearsome man who could speak death from a distance looks like. Man looks like, like... Was, he himself then, also, a man? or maybe a man-child? Did his brothers know that? These creatures thought he was, because they had covered him, like themselves, with these things that clung to him like so many spider webs.

He looked at them again. Some were still waking up others stood watching him. Most of them had things in their hands. They were waiting for him to move like he might have waited for some little animal to try to escape. They had not attacked when he moved his head to look around, so they did not mean to kill him. Neither did fear appear in their movements. Just readiness.

He was very tired and this light was too bright. He tried to shield his eyes without blocking too much of his view. The men seemed interested with this but made no move. Since they didn't seem inclined to hurt him again he lay down and tried to get comfortable. Immediately they relaxed and started talking. Many laid down again, and the others walked around looking for things. One of them threw him something. It was one of those things they burrowed under when they slept. He spread it out and wrinkled it up underneath himself for cushioning against the cold floor.

When he awoke the light was gone, but the day shone brightly through the many openings in the cave. He stood up and went over to one of these openings and looked out, it was sealed in some way with something hard but transparent. He really needed to dig a hole. Could he get out of these coverings? He knew from what his friends said about swimming that it would be better not to get them wet. One of the men by the window seemed to growl. So he went back to where he had slept and began to search for a way of loosening these things that men used for fur.

A man came over and said something while motioning with his hand. He watched the man make the movement three or more times but could derive no meaning from it. Finally the man held his wrist and drew gently after. He resisted the touch at first but gave into the leading. The man led him to a small tunnel and into a very small room. Then the man showed him how to release his clothes and nodded him towards an odd contraption that was immediately recognizable by smell as what men must use instead of holes in the ground. He was surprised to find that he was somehow relieved to have his clothes all back on. He felt less conspicuous when he followed their more obvious habits, and he somehow felt more protected.

All the men were going one way so he followed. The way they went led outside, but then they went in all different directions. He noticed that most of the men wore the same color clothes, but a few including himself wore bright color clothes with large symbols on their chests. On inspecting his clothes further he noticed that a likeness of a cat was on his chest, but it was the wrong color. It was like the color of a tiger without dark stripes, and it had almost enough hair to be a llama.

He wandered around looking at all the things that the men were doing. Some walked around lined up with their shiny sticks. Others filled bags with earth while still others stacked the bags up in another place, some of the men took apart their shiny sticks into tiny pieces and then put them back together again. Why they did these things he had no idea. It seemed odd to him to move dirt around or break things to put them back together. But if these men could make light and in some mysterious way kill from too far away to see, then maybe they knew what they were doing this for.

The Sun was hot now and making everything thirsty. Where was water? Where there was water there would be animals. But there were no animals except the birds and they never were any help because they didn't leave tracks to the water, just tracks at the water. The men seemed to be disappearing now too. He decided to follow this one. That one only led him to a very high, very slender building and wouldn't let him in. Soon another man came out. This one seemed to be a little excited, so maybe he will lead to something. Like water maybe? Ah, this man was leading to a much fatter building with many voices coming from inside. This must be where all the man had gone to. Yes, here were all the men, and they were eating too. He followed the man inside and took the same things from the same places the man did. He looked up and saw that all the men that had bright shirts were all together in one place, so he went and sat with them. Some of the men looked up at him but most just went on talking or eating.

Why did they pick up their food with those little shiny things? They seemed to be able to eat quickly enough. He tried it, maybe with practice he could too. Cups made sense to him. You could get plenty of water and drink it at your leisure instead of drinking at the stream quickly and moving off before something larger came up. These shiny things, though, were totally pointless it seemed. At least for picking things up he could do that much faster without them. So he used his hands. Now it began to dawn on him. When he used his fingers, he could taste the last three meals at least and the moss that was on that tree he slept in. After he had taken the edge off his hunger he went back to the strange utensils, for practice fitting in. If he was going to escape them he must act like them and hide among their things.

As he finished eating, some of the men began getting up and walking out. He looked around there were only three men with bright shirts on. All three were done eating two were still drinking while they talked loudly. The third man, the same one that showed him how to work his clothes, was watching him intently. The man touched himself on the chest and said something, then touched the boy's chest and looked at him funny. Was he talking about the food? No, that wasn't the right funny face. It wasn't the funny face that he would have made to complain about the food, and it wasn't the face that his friends would have made about food either. What did he mean? Now the man aimed a finger at one of the men that were still finishing their water and said something different. Maybe he meant a name. Then he pointed at the other and said "Oreste". The man looked over. Yes he must mean a name. The man made another motion and Oreste looked away. Should he repeat it? He tried. It sounded terrible, a cat might have recognized some similarity, but the man certainly did not. the man pointed to himself again and said what he had said when he had pointed to himself before, "Jean." He tried to repeat that too, much lower like the man said it. It sounded much better. The man smiled and pointed to him again. He wanted to know his name!

"roi" he said. "Oi roi rou"

The man groaned and said something loudly to Oreste. Oreste wasn't paying attention. The man called Oreste. Oreste and the other man that he was talking with came over and talked to Jean.

He was done eating. He stood up and picked up his plate and cup. When he did this, the men picked up their own things but kept talking. Then he followed the men over to the place where the men put their cups and things when they were done with them. He followed Jean's example and sorted his things into the pools of water that seemed to be reserved for each. After he finished doing this, he followed them back outside where they all walked together.

A while after they passed the last of the drab green and brown buildings and all the men who carried long shiny sticks, they neared more buildings, ones that seemed to be kneeling up off the ground. They all had symbols and pictures that matched his shirt. And most of the other brightly colored men's shirts also.

What was that smell? It smelled like sour milk and something. Hmm it smelled like... Oh, Of course, it smelled like kittens! Where were they? He retuned his ears from the voices of men to the cry of kittens. He heard them now. They must be in that one building with it's door closed. Jean was done talking to the other men and was following him. As he neared the building the smell of kittens became acute. Not all the kittens smelled like his friends. In fact some of them smelled distinctly like leopards, filthy animals. His mother told him that of all the other cats, never fight a leopard. If you got scratched you were likely to die even if you won. They had very poor hygiene, she said, the blood left over on their claws became almost like snake poison. He had succeeded in following her advice only by running away time and again.

He sniffed some more. How many leopards were there? There seemed to be many times more of other creatures, but what a variety. He smelled Manul and Tigers, also Markhor the wild goat but it was very faint. The smell of Bharal the wild Himalayan sheep and Sika the deer were very strong. Jean came up and said something motioning his noes and then to the door.

He pulled on the handle like he had seen done at the eating building; however, this handle, to which that one was similar, didn't seem to open a door. but Jean first worked a large hooking mechanism and then opened the door not out, or to the side, but up. He couldn't see into the building because the floor was at chest level. When he did climb up, what he saw inside almost made him fall back down. Bharal and Sika and the three litters of kittens he had expected, but they were in cages, which were something that he had not encountered before. He looked at Jean, who also seemed uncomfortable about something. He sprang into the building, the man didn't stop him. He growled and hissed and tried to bread open the cages. He tried all of them even the one with the litter of young leopards, but the cages were made of the same shiny stuff that men seemed to make every thing with except clothes. This topped everything he thought. "It was totally uncivilized" he raged to the kittens, but the kittens stopped him.

"The cages were nice and safe. where the men couldn't bother us." said each kitten, each a different way.

He looked back out at Jean and the men. What were they, these men? These kittens so feared them that they would rather be partly safe from them than to be able to escape. That they could kill he knew well from old tales. but that they would terrorize little kittens? That frightened him, that terrified him exceedingly. Jean motioned for him to come. He growled a little. Jean came in and pulled on his wrist. He hissed. Jean let go very quickly looking surprised. Then the man looked around at the other kittens and back. Then Jean nodded and pulled something long and flat like a snake skin and tied it around the cages, and went out closing the door behind him. He thought it odd that Jean would tie things that couldn't move, until the building itself started to move. He sat down quickly then. When the jolting became minimal, he found a comfortable place to lay down and sleep.

For Pierce the day had been normal but he had been expecting the live cargo for a week. Of course any large containers must be checked for contraband materials and illegal immigrants not to mention poached or dangerous items. Nevertheless with his new equipment he could take X-ray and chemical tests and be satisfied. Generally. He had been taught what results to take as hints that a manual inspection was required like skeletons or totally blank x-ray scans or certain cleaning agents. This season only one group had gotten collecting permits. It was his friend Oreste's group. Oreste always made things easy for him. Ah, there were his trucks now with that unmistakable design. After exchanging warm greetings, Oreste told him that everything that required his special permission was in the lead truck. Oreste opened it up.

As Pierce climbed into the truck with his heavily modified speech recognition package he noticed that all the cages were lined up and there was more luggage farther toward the front. Oreste handed him a clipboard with a list of animals they had collected along with a list of handlers and their license quantities. Pierce began checking off animals as he passed their cages. Oreste was making some disclaimer about one of his men finding something odd. Oreste's men always found some local piece of flora or fauna that they thought was peculiar. Sometimes they brought him a picture and expected him to be impressed. Pierce had learned to ignore this behavior in foreigners until a picture was produced. Once someone brought him a picture of an African woolly mammoth but eventually admitted that it had actually been taken on another continent. He waited for Oreste to finish so that he could confront him about the extra stowaway hidden in the luggage.

Something behind him growled. That was odd, he hadn't noticed that there was another cage behind him. He turned around, it was a boy about 12, looked foreign maybe European, just had a haircut, wore one of Oreste's group shirts. If it wore that shirt maybe it wasn't a stow away, just a sulking passenger. The boy snarled. That was too real. That was just too genuine. Pierce glanced at his A. S. A. system, Acoustic Specie Analysis.

  Tiger   (Very pure breed) 
  135 to 180 kg     (300 to 400 Lbs.) 

Pierce thought, "I knew it sounded authentic." aloud he said, "Interesting! Oreste, What is this?"

"That's what I've been trying to tell you!" said Oreste, "We found him wandering in the forest and thought that he looked a little out of place. I didn't know that he thought he was a cat but I did know that he didn't know that he was a man." he continued "Couldn't you look through old records and find out what vacationer lost a child and had to leave without it?"

"Yes I'll look" said Pierce "but first I need him to move so that I can finish checking your animals." Oreste called one of his men the man said something.

"He says that until he saw these cats he has been trying his best to become a man. but when he saw the cages he lost all interest and has just been trying to comfort them." translated Oreste "He says he probably can't get him to come out."

"This man is the only one that you can expect to get him to do anything?" asked Pierce.

"Yes, he is the only one that has had anything to do with him except when he got up in the middle of the night. All the soldiers were waiting for an alarm and when he tripped over something they were all up like shots." Oreste narrated.

"He will have to try." said Pierce at last "Should we move?"

"Probably" said Oreste before relaying the boarder guard's request.

The man climbed up. Oreste and the guard moved out of the way so that he could pass, but when the boy saw him, he jumped like he had stepped on a land mine and landed safely in the half meter space above the double stacked cages. The man smiled grimly and turned to climb back out of the truck.

"I guess that's good enough if he stays there" Pierce said uncomfortably. "Until I'm done at least."

Pierce finished checking the truck. There was only the animals that Oreste said there were, and the boy.

"Go and park over there. And I'll scan the rest of your trucks. Then I'll see how long it should take to find out where he's from," said Pierce indicating the parking places.

"Thanks Pierce," said Oreste and started giving orders to his drivers.

Pierce went in and called a friend of his in the immigration department.

"Hello" said a voice.

"Hello, this is Pierce Karnali, may I speak to Jung Bihadra"

"He's told me not to interrupt him today unless it's an emergency." Said the voice from the telephone.

"Tell him who it is." Suggested Pierce "You know that one never hears from old friends unless it's and emergency."

"Ok, I'll tell him sir" concurred the voice at last.

After a pause Jung said "Hello Pierce, What can I do for you? I'm in the middle of a report about expired visas. A coworker is on sick leave so I have to fill in for them. I didn't have a clue about any of this info until the last 2 weeks I'm glad I got as much warning as I did."

"I have a boy here with no passport." Interrupted Pierce. He new that Jung could talk forever about the injustices of the most tiny detail of anything.

"That's why I retired from being a Customs Official."

"He was found in the jungle. is about 13, and looks foreign, and doesn't speak anything that anybody around here knows"

"Oh that's different. Why didn't you say that he probably was in my files instead of yours?"

"Why do you think I called you?" Retorted Pierce.

"Oh. There is that." admitted Jung "Let me see. Where was he found?"

"Ah. Around the new military base. I can't remember. By a group of naturalists."

"Oh. I know where you mean, just south of the border? That place none of us had ever heard of until the hostilities started?"

"Yeah that place."

Muffled yelling could be heard that other voice answered.

"Ok, My secretary is looking for him. Is it possible that he walked in from the west?"

"Of course but I can't let him out unless I can prove that he came in and hasn't left yet. Or that he never came in."

"I had forgotten how much I like the way you put things." Jung said laughing. "Oh thanks, you're fast", "Ok, we have here two children here that are about the right age, A Gainor Gallagher age 10 and 3 months, that is in the wrong part of the country and a Sheridan Gaelan. age 12 and 9 months lost slightly farther east by two newly married mountain climbers. Hmm, the picture is of a baby." muffled voices "I'm getting the computer's guess at his current appearance. then I'll fax his info to you. He's our best guess. I guess I'll just fax the info on both kids."

"That was all I needed. You are so helpful. Thank you a lot. Is there anything I can do for you?" asked Pierce

"Keep me posted on whatever matches." came the reply. Oh, Can I call you back sometime this weekend?"

"Ok, I'd love it. Bye,"

Pierce hung up with a smile, and went over and picked up the x-ray scans of Oreste's trucks. None of them showed anything dense except six rifles, two boxes of cartridges, a crate of dart guns, dozens of canteens and cooking utensils, parts of the seats in the van showed up, of course, along with all the men's skeletons. He looked back at the scan of the first truck. There was the boy's skeleton all right. It was in fact the right size for a boy, not a man. That fax should be here sometime soon. There it was. Yes, it was the same kid all right. These computers were amazing. Pierce picked it up and went back outside.


After Oreste and the other man left, Jean came back in and whined something. Was he trying to say his name? Probably. Should he wait until Jean's attempts became more recognizable or just respond now? He should respond now, before Jean said something offensive by accident. He jumped down and stood up to face Jean. Nice that there were no roots to avoid, but the floor had no give. Jean was motioning him to follow him again. Where? Why? Now Jean was walking toward the opening. Was he trying to get him to leave before the building moved again? Maybe, but he didn't want to leave the Kittens since they had no one else. Now Jean had stopped at the door and pointing at the floor near the entrance. Jean wanted him to stand there. Okay but not any farther. When he stood still where Jean had indicated, Jean spoke to another man who was messing with a little black box. Oreste was coming back. Jean was motioning again, trying to explain something about the box. Suddenly the box flashed like lightning. Was that what Jean was trying to warn him about? After a moment, the box stuck out something. The man took it out and handed it to Oreste, who had just stopped to watch, and held up the box again. He was going to make it flash again! He growled at the man and closed his eyes, After he felt the flash again he reopened his eyes. The man pulled out the thing it stuck out again and handed it to Jean this time. The things were small and flat, black on one side and mostly white on the other. Oreste said something to Jean, who immediately left. The man with the black box followed him over to the other trucks. Oreste went back to the building that the truck must have stopped at. After everyone left, he tried to comfort the inmates, or maybe protectorates, of each cage; most of whom the light had upset.

Soon Jean was back with Oreste. They were discussing something heatedly and gesturing wildly. Finally Jean began climbing up inside again. What did he want now?

Jean pointed to his chest again. Did Jean want to hear his name again? He repeated it. Jean frowned a little and said "Sheridan, ... Sheridan Gaelan" and pointed to him again. Sheridan?! Where had he heard that before? Jean seemed to think it was his name. If Jean called him that, It would at least keep him from saying something embarrassing when he tried to imitate the name his friends had given him.

Jean gave the white thing from the black box to Sheridan. The almost white side had grown darker like a wilting flower. It was a picture of him with his eyes closed standing in the entrance of the truck. Jean took it away and put symbols on it. Then handed it back. Sheridan looked at the symbols below the picture, then at the symbols on his shirt the two sets were very different. Jean pointed to the picture and said "Sheridan" and pointed to the symbols moving his finger along them as he said "Sheridan" again. So that is what the symbols were for! "Come" said Jean as he climbed down and beckoned. Sheridan sat down. Jean looked back at him for a moment then pointed to his own mouth and said "Food?" Sheridan was hungry but that was because he hadn't taken a decent amount of food before when he ate with everyone else. So Sheridan followed him but only after he had told the kittens where he was going, he also inquired if they got enough to eat, or if he should bring them what ever he could. They were well provided for, they had been fed before he had found them, they said; although, it wasn't milk, it was plenty.

The food was just as strange as before, but there wasn't hard things to sit on so all the men sat on whatever they could find that wasn't the ground. Sheridan sat in the grass, it was softer and warmer than the things that the men sat on in the eating buildings and it was cooler than the rocks that were lying about that most of the men sat on. There was something odd that danced and glowed dull red, in some strange way it stole even the coolness of the shade, like it was some sort of second sun. Some of the men put things in it and then took them out and ate them. After they had eaten all there was to be had, the men started drifting back to the trucks.

Jean took him to the trucks that all the men had gone to. They were all finding places to sit or lay down. They must have come to this place in this truck just as he had come in the truck with the kittens. Sheridan went back to the truck that carried the kittens. It was already closed and as he approached it growled and moved away. If the truck that Jean rode in followed the truck with the kittens then maybe it would follow again.

Sheridan went back and got in. There was no more places to sit, most of the men including Jean were already asleep, so he laid down on the floor. He lay awake for a long time wondering about men, and the fact that they slept during the cool and lived during the hot. He did fall asleep eventually. He was awakened during the night by someone stepping on him by accident. He lay listening to the man stager to the back of the truck where he was quiet for awhile. Then there was the sound of rushing water then he started coming back. Sheridan decided that it would be best to get out of his way in case the sleepy man had forgotten that he was there. After the man passed him, he decided to investigate what kind of water the man had found that could flow in this thing where there were no hills for it to flow down. He found it with little difficulty; at the back of the truck, there was a door that opened into a small room like the one Jean had shown him back in the sleeping building. Only this one was even smaller. It was nice to know where it was, In fact he needed to use it right now. He would have needed it earlier had he not relieved himself in the forest after he had finished his supper before the men drowned the fire.

When he had finished he went back and lay down again. He fell asleep wondering why Oreste often paid attention to him but only Jean tried to tell him anything. He awoke again when all the men started waking up and making noise. The truck had stopped and some of the men had gotten out, but most of them were just talking. Sheridan stood up and looked out through the windows. Something was missing, it wasn't the trees although they were very sparse.

"Come Sheridan" called someone. He turned around it was Jean, who was about to get off the truck but had stopped to wait for him. Hadn't he used that word last time he wanted him to follow? Sheridan followed and soon found that men like to eat first thing it the morning as well as when the sun is all the way up and when it's about to go down.

They went on like this for a few days traveling day and night usually eating outside sometimes cooking over a campfire. Although they did buy food at local inns once or twice. Sheridan meanwhile picked up a few more words and managed to help feed the kittens most of the time. At the end of this period they arrived at Calcutta where most of the men left the party taking whatever route was most expedient.