Way Of The Coondi
Fear and uncertainty hangs heavy and low over the heads of The Coondi. This predator, about twice the size of each Coondi, is somewhere above them. Zaloo holds his breath, knowing one miniscule movement can alert his position, and that of the rest of The Coondi, to the predator.
The tree The Coondi hide beneath is enormous, it provides much cover. But is it enough cover? Zaloo looks to his right, searching the familiar faces of his tribe. Janul, even in fear of death, manages to have a scowl on her face. Gobswee is to her right, his eyes dart around so fast, Zaloo is nervous they’ll start making noise and will alert the predator to their position. Gobswee’s erratic ways are not making Zaloo feel any better. To Gobswee’s right, Thulber, calm, cool, collected. Thulber sees Zaloo looking at him and delivers a reassuring nod.
Thulber can always make Zaloo feel better. Zaloo relaxes. It’s still tense among The Coondi… and it’s dead silent. So, they continue to wait it out. Waiting in silence… waiting without moving… they are statues… statues that cannot see the terrifying skies above.
Eventually, one of the elders motions to everyone that it is safe again. The predator has left the vicinity. The Coondi head back to Feeding Spot #3. A few of the elders go first, one by one, then the rest follow. Zaloo waits until Thulber heads over and then he follows him closely.
Zaloo happily munches away at the food at Feeding Spot #3. He had seen quite the array of food there beforehand, before they all had to flee from the predator sighting. Feeding Spot #3 was notorious for having a variety of food supply there. It was also the only feeding spot of all 14 that The Coondi visited that ever had chimisweeks. That is one of Zaloo’s favorite snacks, made even more delicious by its rarity.
Zaloo thinks about the nature of his life, eating food on the ground, the very ground he, the rest of The Coondi, and countless other species walk on. There’s no issue with it, really. But it is odd. He wonders if his life would be improved at all if he ate food off of a different surface, one his feet weren’t constantly on. Then again, he had brought this very notion up several times, and each time he was told it was a ridiculous thought.
“Crazy.” Janul had said.
“Preposterous.” Gobswee had said.
Preposterous. Zaloo thought. Gobswee had only just learned that word a week before saying that.
Zaloo finds another few chimisweeks and gobbles them up before anyone else can get to them. Next, a partan. Another of his favorites. Then, some karvals. These are Thulber’s favorites. Suddenly, an elder alerts everyone… the predator is back!
The Coondi race away… back to the tree they hid out underneath beforehand. Zaloo had seen the predator out of the corner of his eye as he turned and made a mad dash. Usually, he doesn’t see the predator. He is just fleeing. Seeing it made it even scarier… even if it was far away.
The Coondi all wait under the tree. No one can hear the predator at all. Zaloo hears murmurs of the others. The predator didn’t swoop down as low as it normally does. It didn’t get as close as it usually would when hunting The Coondi and other species. That’s reassuring. Then again, usually the predator comes by once… and then it leaves. It is rare that it circles back.
After a while, an elder announces the predator is gone. No one wants to leave the safety of the tree right away. They decide to wait it out a bit longer. They count three more minutes. Still no signs of the predator. But a second sighting like that… it shakes everyone to their core. They wait another three minutes. No predator in sight. It must be long gone. Off to scout another area.
The Coondi return to Feeding Spot #3. Zaloo looks for more chimisweeks. There are not many left. He moves closer to Thulber. Closer. Closer.
“Hey Thulber, I have a question.” Zaloo says.
“What are you doing?!” Thulber hisses in hushed tones. “Do you want us to get caught by… them?”
“They’re not around.” Zaloo reassures. “They won’t hear us.”
“Still, we’re not supposed to be speaking their language. They don’t know that we understand it and speak it.”
“I know, I know…” Zaloo looks down for a moment. He looks back up at Thulber. “But come on, it’s so much easier to speak than our language.”
“That’s true.” Thulber chuckles. “I was quite pleased once I had a strong grasp of their language. It is so much easier.”
“And it doesn’t hurt my neck as much.” Zaloo says. “Like this… this oak tree. Remember what we used to call it?”
Zaloo recites their word for oak tree by saying, “coo ca-coo” then flinging his right wing up and flicking his neck to the left in erratic fashion.
Oak tree was a tough one to say in their native tongue. In English… “oak tree.” So easy. So beautiful sounding.
“You remember that one week that I hurt my neck.” Thulber laughs. “Whenever anyone asked me about the oak trees I just refused to talk about them. Still, we’re only supposed to speak English when we are alone.”
“We are alone.” Zaloo motions to their surroundings. “No one here but us Coondi.”
“Well, they could come out at any moment. And if they do, I am returning to my “coo coo” and pretending I was never speaking English. I suggest you do the same.”
“So, can I ask my question?”
“Sure, Zaloo. What is your question.”
“What is their word for us again?” Zaloo smiles.
“Pigeon.” Thulber responds.
Thulber was one of the first to learn the language. So, he knows more about it than almost anyone. Zaloo was one of the last to learn it. So, he forgets a good deal of the language.
“That’s right. Pigeon.” Zaloo nods his head. He looks back at the rest of The Coondi, happily munching away at all the food in the dirt. “I kind of like it better.”
“Eh, I’m partial to Coondi.” Thulber responds.
“I have another question.” Zaloo smiles.
“What was their word for karval?”
“Okay. I have another question.”
“Zaloo, just ask me any questions you have. Stop prefacing them all with the fact that you have a question.”
“What’s a prefacing?”
“Just ask the questions, that’s all.”
“What’s their word for chimisweeks?”
“We never learned that one.”
“What’s their word for partan?”
“We didn’t learn that one either.”
“What’s their word for the thing they wear on their chests?”
“Of that, we are not sure. But we call them Nikes.”
“The one who puts the food out here for Feeding Station #3, the one called Heylouie, the things he wears on his chest often say Nike.”
“His Nikes looks comfortable, but I would imagine it would overheat one’s feathers.”
“I would think so too. But then again, Heylouie doesn’t have any feathers showing, so I am not positive he has any on his chest under his Nikes.”
“I am positive he does. Why wouldn’t he?”
Zaloo and Thulber return to eating the food off the ground. Zaloo looks back.
“Thulber, I have another question.”
“Don’t you think we should try talking to Heylouie and see what happens?”
“Absolutely not!” Thulber hisses, his eyes darting around as if he is doing his best Gobswee impression.
Zaloo looks with Thulber. The rest of The Coondi are happily munching away at food, beaks to the dirt.
“Why not?” Zaloo asks.
“We cannot let them know we speak their language.”
“Yeah but why not?”
“You remember Artrax and Morndi?”
Zaloo nods. Of course he remembers them. He looks over his shoulder and spots Morndi, slowly eating some chimisweeks.
“They thought it would be a good idea to speak to… one of them. And they were taken in to live with it. It was fascinated by them and their ability. And what did it do?”
“Wasn’t it a he?”
“Fine! What did he do? He caged them up and invited more of the things over to gawk at them. To rattle their cage. To yell at them. Poke them and prod them and force them to talk. And what did they all do it for? It was so that green paper bits could be exchanged! The thing did it so that people would give him green paper! He locked the two of them up and made them perform! Morndi was lucky to get away. Artrax… not lucky.”
“I know, but that was just one of them. Remember Goschwinn? She did the same thing! Went and talked to one of them. The thing took her in and gave her a great life. She came back to tell us, but only so that we would know of her whereabouts. Then, she returned to her life, flying around inside one of those square mountains with the windows. Mountaintop above her and mountain walls all around, so no predators can ever get to her. She is safe. And the thing feeds her food every day and doesn’t cage her up and lets her fly around inside the square mountain all day long.”
“Well, then it’s a 50% chance.” Thulber scoffs.
“50% chance you have a terrible outcome, 50% chance you have a good outcome. Those are not good odds. I would not want to chance it.”
“It might be better odds than that.” Zaloo insists.
“It might be worse.” Thulber looks at Zaloo with a critical eye.
“I just feel like Heylouie is one of the nice ones. I know they aren’t all nice. But he puts this food out specifically for us.”
“The ones that took in Artrax and Morndi put food out for us as well. Feeding Station #15. Remember? We don’t go there anymore. Just because they put food out, it doesn’t mean anything.”
“Right, but all the others put out the same food for the most part. Some varieties. You ever notice Heylouie puts out a lot of different food? Like he is really trying to give us some variety. He is the only one who puts out chimisweeks. Remember last week he had dragslocks and brifta? And two weeks before that, bint and cwouf. He doesn’t just lay out the same containers of food day after day. I think he really cares about us. He even talks to us when he’s out here with us.”
“They all talk to us.”
“Not like Heylouie. I am optimistic he is different.”
“Your optimism today is going to get you killed tomorrow.” Thulber says.
“Well, your pessimism every day is going to lead you to live a miserable life.” Zaloo says harshly.
Immediately he regrets being so harsh. It felt… he doesn’t know the word for it. Not in English anyway. In his language it feels “coo coooo” and then two head jerks straight backwards so that his beak would point to the sky. That. It felt like that.
“I’d rather live that way so long as it meant living a long life.” Thulber admits.
“I wouldn’t.” Zaloo responds. “I want to live happily. I want to feel safe. I never feel safe out here with the predators. And why must our food be on the dirt that we walk upon? I’ve seen through the window of Heylouie’s place.”
“When?!” Thulber is upset.
“Last week.” Zaloo responds in a cavalier way. “When I said I was out searching for new Feeding Spots, I actually came to Heylouie’s windowsill and looked inside.”
“You’re not supposed to do that! It’s dangerous!”
“Well, I saw inside his square mountain, and guess what he had.”
Thulber narrows his eyes.
“He had a crawn.”
“What?! Crawns are the worst of all predators! They’ll rip you to shreds!”
“Not a big brown crawn. A little yellow crawn. The chirpy ones. If he had a little yellow chirpy crawn in his house, and he cared for it, and fed it, then he would probably feed me too. And he would take good care of me. And he puts that crawn’s food in a bowl. The crawn doesn’t need to eat off the dirt it walks upon. It eats from a bowl, Thulber!”
“How do you know he won’t treat you differently because he knows you can speak to him?”
“I don’t. But I won’t know until I take a chance and find out.”
“You sound like you’ve made up your mind.” Thulber says.
“My what?” Zaloo asks.
“Your mind. Um, sounds like you have already come to a decision.”
“But what do you think I have made up. I am confused.”
“Stop it, Zaloo. Forget what I said.”
“How could I forget. You just said it.”
“It’s an expression.”
“Zaloo. Stop talking. It sounds to me like you are going to do this and there is no stopping you.”
“That’s for fayking sure.” Zaloo responds. “Why didn’t you just say that in the first place?”
“Zaloo, promise me this.” Thulber sighs. “Promise me that you will keep learning English. It needs practice.”
Zaloo nods. He knows Thulber is upset with his decision, but he is supportive, still. Zaloo eats a little more with Thulber and then all The Coondi fly off to Feeding Station #4. Zaloo stays with them for most of the rest of the daily routine. He stays with them all the way up until Feeding Station #10. And then he gives them the slip. Thulber is the only one to see Zaloo fly off in a different direction.
Thulber is sad that night. Thulber is sad the next night as well. That is when the others notice Zaloo is gone. Thulber lies and says he has no idea where Zaloo has gone. Everyone fears the worst. Thulber does as well. The Coondi say many prayers for Zaloo every night for the next eight nights. Everyone is sad, but eventually moves on, more or less. Thulber has more trouble moving on. On the 13th day, Thulber is out scouting for a new Feeding Station. Feeding Station #9 has grown tiresome. The things that put out the food have little things that come around, screaming and running, flapping their featherless wing-arm things in a pathetic attempt to fly that never amounts to anything. Feeding Station #9 is too stressful. And the food has been lacking.
Thulber thinks he might find another good spot, when suddenly, something smacks into him hard!
Nope. It’s Zaloo.
“Zaloo! It’s you! I can’t believe it!” Thulber is almost out of breath from how surprised he is.
“That’s right. It’s me, Thulber.” Zaloo smirks.
“Zaloo, tell me, what happened?! Was it harrowing?! Are you okay?! Did you escape?!”
“Quite the opposite.” Zaloo responds. “I’m going back there tonight. But I wanted to know if you wanted to join me. Heylouie has plenty of room for another Coondi… if you’d like to join.”
“You’ve been living there this whole time?”
“Quite comfortably.” Zaloo says. “With all the chimisweeks you could wish for. By the way, they’re called pee-nits? Something like that. Oh, and karvals too. Heylouie has plenty of karvals. Containers full of them. He leaves the square mountain and goes to a larger square mountain called the gross ree store. And he returns with loads of karvals and chimisweeks. Endless supplies of it, man.”
“It’s what we all call each other, man.”
“So, you call Heylouie a man? And Heylouie calls you a man?”
“Yeah, we’re all man at Heylouie’s. Me, Heylouie, the crawn. We’re all mans. We’re all the same.”
“That sounds nice.” Thulber smiles. “Heylouie will really take me in?”
“Yeah, man. For real.”
“For real?” Thulber is puzzled. “I don’t think you’re using those words correctly. That’s not how they are used.”
“That’s how Heylouie says it.”
“You must be hearing him wrong. That’s just wrong.”
“Ugh, it’s just so tough. I’m trying.”
“Good thing you have me, Zaloo.”
“Yeah, you’re right, Thulber. Come on, let’s head over there, man.”
“You got it… man.”
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