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The Old Family Farm, Part 3: Apple of the Eye


Rodford Edmiston

      Clive paused a moment to lean on his shovel and catch his breath. The soil here hadn't been broken in years, and digging a hole for even a sapling was tough work. Still, each new tree brought a promise. In this case, of delicious Red Limbertwig apples. Though small now, properly tended the sapling would one day be a full-sized, old-fashioned apple tree. Still, that wouldn't happen unless he finished the job. Clive chuckled tiredly and got back to work.

      Deciding the hole was deep enough, he loosened the dirt in the bottom by chopping at it with the shovel. In went a handful of slow release fertilizer, then some dirt on top of that. He knelt, now, to hold the sapling upright in the hole with one gloved hand while scooping dirt around it with another. He piled the soil around the plant, then stood and gently compacted it with his feet while holding the small tree erect. Finally, he slowly poured water from a bucket, soaking the dirt with minimum runoff. Then it was back to the barn to refill the bucket and get another sapling.

      Clive had, in this slow, methodical way, planted nearly all of twenty apple tree seedlings, each of a different variety, over a three-day weekend. These were in addition to many other apple trees he'd already put in over the past months, as well as peach, pear, wild cherry, several varieties of nut, and even persimmon. His family and neighbors thought he was crazy, even the ones who hadn't before. Planting trees in neat, dense rows for harvesting was one thing, but Clive was just putting them in the ground at random. Or rather, where he thought they were most needed...

      This land had been a productive corn field, and before that graze for cattle, and before that old growth forest. But decades of intensive use and harsh chemicals had left the soil tired, one might even say sick. Clive was working on that, but using organic farming methods, modified to suit his particular needs. The fact that the land had lain fallow during the past 4 years had helped it heal, but it still had a long way to go. Which was why Clive had been purchasing materials local farmers saw as waste - mostly old, dead trees, corn stalks and the like - and was grinding those and mixing the results together with other ingredients in large composting bins.

      He'd already produced several batches of rich, loamy material which - spread judiciously around the area and seeded with earthworms - were going a long way towards revitalizing the fields. He'd had custody of this land for less than a year and already, his first Spring here, it looked greener and healthier than it had in many years. Of course, he couldn't take all the credit. Some definitely went to the side benefits his more interesting neighbors brought with their association.

      Inside the barn Ixion was reading from a stack of magazines Clive kept there to entertain his guests. The youngster barely reacted when the human entered, merely looking up and nodding. Clive did note, though, that he had filled the other bucket. Like most of his folk he didn't understand farming, and had little concept of planning for the future. Why plant trees now when they won't make fruit or nuts for years? Still, he was cooperative enough when asked for minor favors. And he and others had made some good suggestions about the right places for particular types of trees. Places which "felt right." Thanks to them Clive was developing a pretty good feeling for such places, himself.

      "Two more to go," said Clive, conversationally. "Then I am definitely calling it a day."

      Another nod from Ixion, who didn't even look up this time.

      "Say, isn't it about time you were heading home, too?"

      Ixion definitely looked up, now, and peered through the barn doors at the sun angle.

      "There's time," he said.

      However, he did put his magazine down, stand, yawn and stretch, arms out, forequarters dipping as his tail swished casually. With a perfunctory wave, he sashayed outside, heading for the trail up the hill to the gateway.

      Clive grinned and shook his head. Kids will be kids. Even the ones with four legs and hooves.

      He was nearly back to the field with the next sapling and freshly filled bucket when he heard the shout. He scowled, jaw muscles working. Telling distance and direction were difficult around here, but that sounded close... and towards the back of his property. Despite appearances, this farm wasn't very isolated. And despite being posted, and warded, he still got intruders. Hopefully, the sound was coming from the other side of the hill, which belonged to several farmers. Still, better to go check than just hope. He set the bucket down and lay the sapling in its shade, and headed towards the hill.

      Clive now heard Mary calling for him, which was a relief; at least the source wasn't a stranger. He called back, and waved when she came up out of the cut on the drive to the back part of the land. She hurried over, looking mildly concerned.

      "Okay, you told me they told you to expect to see some strange creatures," she announced. "Was one of those something looking like a live feather boa?"

      "A what?" said Clive, startled. "Better show me."

      "I was looking for places to put the roses and raspberries," she explained, as she led the way up a steep, narrow game trail which crossed the drive. "I heard something in the underbrush and thought it might be a snake."

      "Probably too cold for snakes, in the shade here."

      "Yeah, but I kept hearing it," said Mary, voice dropping to a whisper, "so I looked. And... yeah, it's still there."

      She held some underbrush aside so he could see. The thing did, indeed, look like a tie-dyed feather boa. Only it was moving. The strange creature was looped over some tree branches, crawling along in a rather snake-like manner as it explored it's perch.

      "I don't see a head," muttered Clive, puzzled.

      "Me, neither. But that end, there, seems to be in the lead."

      "We better go call on an expert," said Clive.

                  *                  *                  *

      "I've never seen anything like it," the centaur stallion announced, obviously baffled.

      "Do you think it's dangerous?" was Mary's nervous question.

      The centaur scowled at the thing. His real name was ancient Greek for "Chestnut," due to his coloring. He cheerfully answered to the English word as well.

      "Well, anything can be dangerous," said Chestnut, demonstrating true equine philosophy. "But this thing seems pretty safe. Just don't force contact."

      "That's not good enough, I'm afraid," said Clive, with a sigh. "No offense, Chestnut, but I have guests here frequently. Some of your people's children even play in these woods. I need to know more."

      "Oh, I intend to call in an expert," he assured the human, unknowingly echoing Clive's earlier words. "In the meantime, just keep an eye on it. From a distance."

                  *                  *                  *

      "It's a Quetzalcoatlus elusivi*," the strange little man announced. "Also known as a Pulvicuniculoraptor quetzalcoatli*. They're quite rare. This is the first one I've actually seen. In fact, most people who know about 'em say they're extinct."

      "But are they dangerous, Doctor?" Clive persisted.

      "Eh? No, not a bit. No teeth, no claws, not very strong. The mainly eat detritus. The 'feathers' - which aren't - collect dust and other small particles, which are transported to multiple small orifices. They survive by not smelling like food to a carnivore. Or an herbivore, for that matter."

      He grinned broadly, revealing canines which would have given Dracula pause.

      "I guess you could say their main prey is dust bunnies."

      The strange little elf stepped cautiously forward and carefully reached out a hand to touch the creature. It froze for a moment, then relaxed and began making an odd, trilling sound as he gently stroked it.

      "They groom each other like this, to clean the 'feathers,'" he explained. "Try it."

      Clive moved in cautiously and emulated the elf, conscious of towering over him. At his touch the boa increased it's trilling, and actually shifted its body to accommodate.

      "It likes you!" exclaimed Dr. Wolf, joyously. "You've got a way with animals."

      "So what's a rare - and presumably tropical - creature doing here?" Clive asked, almost mesmerized by the softness of the feathery growths on the creature's body and the pleasing sound it made.

      "Not tropical. Supernatural. They got that label because they reminded the person who named 'em of the legendary feathered serpent. No actual relation as far as anyone knows. And as for what it's doing here, I doubt anybody knows that, either. So just enjoy the fact that you've got a nearly extinct, mythical, magical animal with a nice disposition living in your woods."

      "So which end is the head?"

      Dr. Wolf peered under first one end, then the other.

      "You've got me," he replied, finally, looking puzzled.

                  *                  *                  *

      "So Dr. Wolf wants to come by regularly and examine the creature," sighed Clive.

      "More guests," grinned Mary. "You realize, don't you, that this thing will end up being named Fluffy."

      "Not if I have anything to say about it," Clive muttered. "I thought you hated cute names."

      "I do," she replied. "I'm just saying that's what it'll be called. It's just too obvious - and too obnoxious - a name to not be used. Clarion's Law: The most unpleasant name is the one which will catch on."

                  *                  *                  *

      Having a dust-eating creature around turned out to be beneficial, especially once it found the house and barn. Clive worried it would show itself when people who weren't in the know about the true nature of the farm were there, but fortunately, it was too shy for that to happen. Given its reflexes and super-ferret flexibility it would simply slip away quickly and unnoticed when someone it didn't know entered a room. Even Mary had a little trouble making friends with it. Clive, though, it seemed attracted to; it would sometimes follow him around as he worked. Which meant he had one more thing to worry about being underfoot. Fortunately, it was quite perceptive (despite lacking any discernable sensory organs) and very alert.

      Of course, the first time it crawled under the covers and wrapped itself around the sleeping Clive's feet was almost a disaster...

      Clive finished pumping the water and picked up the two buckets. As he turned to leave he saw the boa draped across a beam over the door. Almost unable to help himself, Clive put the buckets down and reached up to stroke a loop which hung low enough to reach. The odd creature stirred and purred. Clive grinned. Behind him he heard someone entering, and turned to see his most frequent centaur visitor coming through the other door. Ixion apparently took little notice of the boa... until it moved.

      "Ah!" yelled Ixion, shying back. "What is it?"

      "It's a Quetzalcoatlus elusivi," said Clive. "Also known as a Pulvi... Pulvisomethingorother quetzalcoatli. They're quite rare. And harmless."

      "But what is it?" the young centaur demanded, unsatisfied.

      "We're thinking of calling it Fluffy," sighed Clive, yielding gracefully to the inevitable.

      Hesitantly, the colt approached, and reached up to touch beside where his human host was petting. The boa shivered with delight, and the purring grew louder.

      "It's nice," said Ixion, grinning.

      "It's also an endangered species, and a bit fragile," Clive cautioned. "So be careful with it."

      "Sure," the colt, absently, as he continued to pet it.

      A little later Clive saw Ixion trotting through a nearby field, Fluffy draped over his shoulders and around his human torso. Clive had to lean on his shovel as he laughed at the sight of an otherwise naked male centaur wearing a multi-colored feather boa.

                  *                  *                  *

      Summer was in full swing and the particular day at an ebb when Clive heard the announcement bell out back ringing. He slipped on his boots and went to see who needed what. He was a bit surprised to see Corelander and several other elves of various types, most of whom were strangers.

      "Good day. What can I do for you?"

      "Good day, Clive," Corelander replied, smiling his charming smile. "Several people have expressed an interest in a recent addition to your menagerie and have requested a chance to examine it."

      "Uhm, not sure where it is, right now," muttered Clive, rubbing his chin as he thought back over the day. "Last time I saw it was about three, over in the barn."

      "You let it run loose?!" one of the strangers exclaimed.

      "Well, it's not dangerous, it's not in danger, and it gets in and out of places a mouse couldn't fit."

      There was some minor grumbling at this, which Corelander cut short by asking Clive to lead the way to the barn.

      As the procession entered there was a streak of multi-colored motion, accompanied by a loud whistling sound which Clive had never heard before. Of course, Fluffy had never before been confronted by so many strangers at once in Clive's presence, so he assumed it was simply some sort of alarm call.

      "There it is," Clive stated, once everyone was inside the barn. He pointed upwards. "There. On that upper beam."

      "Well, we can't see much with it there," one of the elves complained.

      "I did suggest we bring Dr. Wolf," Corelander noted. "Bluegrass Elves can levitate."

      "You need to bring it down here," the elf who had spoken back at the house stated, looking at Clive.

      "Sorry, but that's out of the question," said Clive. "I can try to coax it down, if you want. Maybe if you waited outside..."

      The elf looked like he was about to explode. Before he could, Corelander intervened again.

      "We've been told this creature is both shy and fragile," he said, overtly speaking to the group, but obviously focusing on the irate one. "That's why they're so endangered. I don't think forcing it to come down would be healthy for it."

      "All the more reason to take it back with us. It can't be properly cared for here."

      "Siolbaene, this is a formal bastion," Corelander stated, firmly. "Clive's word is, literally, law."

      "With exceptions," the other elf pointed out, triumphantly. "One of those is when a supernatural creature is under threat due to a situation in the bastion."

      "Given the way that thing moved as we came in, it seems pretty healthy," another elf stated. He stepped over to Clive and extended his hand. "Hello. I'm Hreeaulth, a college of Dr. Wolf's."

      "Pleased to meet you," said Clive, meaning it, given Siolbaene's attitude.

      "Well, can you at least provide us with such data as how long it is, how much it weighs, and whether the length and weight have changed since it arrived here?" demanded Siolbaene.

      "That I can do," said Clive. "I've got a notebook back at the house. I was curious, since it seemed to be getting both heavier and longer, so I started checking about once a week. It's definitely growing."

      There was a stir of surprised murmuring at this.

      "Well, it appears to be thriving," said Corelander, smiling. "Perhaps this habitat is good for it."

      "There are many diseases which can cause an increase in size and weight, including simple obesity," snapped Siolbaene.

      "I suggest we retire to Clive's home and examine his records," said Hreeaulth. "Since the creature is inaccessible at the moment that gives us something constructive to do while we wait for it to become used to our presence."

      There was more murmuring at this, mostly of agreement. Clive led the way back to the house.

      "Your measurements are hardly comprehensive, and your records are sloppy," judged Siolbaene.

      "As I said, this was an informal thing, something I did to satisfy my own curiosity," Clive replied. "If someone had requested that I..."

      Again, the announcement bell rang. Sighing, Clive excused himself and rose to answer. The Fluffy delegation trailed out behind him, still heatedly discussing the creature.

      Outside Clive was surprised to find the most centaurs he'd ever seen in one group. Among them were Ixion, Chestnut, a couple of others he knew casually, but most were strangers. Clive still found the female centaurs' bare breasts distracting. Which was why he was rather startled when Dr. Wolf hopped off the equine biologist's back and waved to Clive.

      "Good evening!" Clive called out to Chestnut, as he returned the little elf's wave. "What can I do for you?"

      "We were told that someone was trying to take a creature several of us have made friends with away from you," a deep-voiced older male stated. "We came to see if there were anything we could do to stop this."

      "The creature is quite rare and needs to be protected," stated Siolbaene, moving to the front.

      "You aren't going to take Fluffy!" Ixion announced, definitively, tail swishing in anger.

      Clive couldn't help but grin at the youngster's protectiveness. This was more than just a kid liking an affectionate pet. Centaurs were both strongly territorial and herd oriented. Clive was only a human, but he was their human, which meant anybody who wanted to go against him would have to deal with them, too.

      "Easy, Ixion," said Corelander. "We're not taking anything anywhere, yet."

      "Of course we are," huffed Siolbaene. "He doesn't have any qualifications for tending to this creature. It must be protected."

      "May I make a suggestion?" queried Dr. Wolf. "Let's go examine the creature. If it's in good health, we don't do anything right now, but wait and see how it does long-term, keeping an eye on it. If it's sick, we take it to the preserve."

      The high elf biologist thought it over, and acquiesced, though making clear that he thought the compromise a sop to the others' sentimentality.

      "Let me see if it's still in the barn," said Clive.

      He expected them to follow him there, but was irritated when Siolbaene followed him inside. Naturally, several of the centaurs followed the elf in, to keep an eye on him. Clive sighed quietly, and peered up into the shadows gathered under the roof.

      "Ixion, would you get the light, please?"

      The harsh illumination of the bare bulbs failed to reveal Fluffy.

      "Now see?!" demanded Siolbaene. "You've let it escape!"

      "Good!" said Ixion.

      "It's probably over in the briar patch," said Clive, though a bit reluctantly.

      Again, the human led the procession, along the old gravel drive, through the cut and up the side path to where Mary had found the creature.

      "There!" exclaimed Dr. Wolf, pointing.

      "No..." said Clive, with an odd sense of growing unreality. "That's too small."

      "It's over here," said Ixion, reaching for a patch of pastel feathers.

      The creature zipped away with a whistling squeal.

      "That's larger, but still too small," said Clive. "And it's got the wrong color pattern."

      Slowly, as more people made more sightings, they all realized that there was more than one Quetzalcoatlus elusivi present.

      "I count... six," said Siolbaene, looking as faint as his voice sounded.

      "And here's Fluffy," said Clive, as the original object of their search lowered itself from a branch to drape part of its length over his shoulder, purring.

      "There's... not supposed to be this many," said Dr. Wolf, coaxing one of the smaller ones over to be stroked.

      "This has to be some sort of..." Siolbaene's voice trailed off.

      The deep-voiced centaur roared with laughter, and clapped Clive on his unoccupied shoulder hard enough to stagger the human.

      "You have a very old soul!" he announced, before laughing again.

      Clive was baffled, but saw the other centaurs and some of the elves looking startled. Dr. Wolf nodded.

      "That would explain much."

      "But..." Clive tried..

      "Don't worry about it just now," said Corelander. He turned to Siolbaene. "None of these creatures will be removed. Neither will they be interfered with. Anyone who wishes to examine them must have Clive's permission."

      The other elf looked like he was going to protest, thought better of it, sighed and nodded.

                  *                  *                  *

      "How long do they live?" Clive asked, as he weighed the smallest one, which was making his job harder by wriggling with puppy-like excitement on the scale.

      "Like most supernatural creatures, until something kills them."

      "So how old is Fluffy? He's the biggest, so I assume he's the oldest."

      "No telling. We just don't know enough about them. But I suspect we will."

      They still didn't know if Fluffy had somehow reproduced, or if these had simply been attracted here for the same reason it had. The count was now up to eleven; half of them were under a meter in length, and had been tentatively identified as pups.

      "Ixion has certainly become more responsible since I made him assistant wrangler," said Clive, grinning.

      "That's natural for a centaur," Dr. Wolf observed. "They take herd guarding seriously. There. Finished for this trip."

      They walked back towards the house in silence, and were almost to the back porch steps before Clive spoke up.

      "Corelander says that this sort of thing happens in bastions. But I get the impression that the fluffys coming here was unusual, even for a bastion."

      "Definitely," Dr. Wolf replied. He turned to look at Clive. "Many humans have affinities. Most who do only have one or two. You have many. An affinity for animals, an affinity for plants, and affinity for the land itself. And perhaps one or more others, for supernatural creatures."

      "Is that what that big centaur meant about my soul?" Clive asked.

      "Yes. Not that you literally have been incarnated many times - though that is one sign of such a history - but that you are more mature than most humans."

      "Huh," said Clive, not sure what to make of this.

      "If it's any comfort, so does Mary. After all, she was the one who first found Fluffy."

      "True enough." Clive nodded. "I guess that she's..."

      Ixion came running up in a panic.

      "Clive, come quick! I accidentally dropped a rock in the well and the pump is making all kinds of bad sounds!"

      "Fortunately, old souls also have great patience," said Dr. Wolf, eyes twinkling, as Clive gritted his teeth and headed after the centaur.


*Some of the other names folks came up with:

Boa pennae

Boa plumae

Pulvisraptor quetzalcoatlii

Boa Sallyrandae

Boa pinnata

Boa plumosa

      This work is Copyright 2003 Rodford Edmiston Smith, who can be reached at: by those wanting permission to repost or reprint the document.