The cougar crept forward, crouched well down, belly hairs tickling the earth. She stopped several times, when the prey moved, when the wind shifted, or just as a precaution. Finally close enough, she leapt. The mule deer looked up, saw her, and tensed to run, but too late. The cougar landed solidly on target, left paw on the back of the head, right on the shoulder. One quick bite at the base of the skull and the spine was severed. The mule deer went down heavily, the cougar on top of it, holding on for a moment in case the kill hadn't been as clean as it felt. Detecting no sign of life the cougar seized the dead animal's neck in its mouth and began dragging the kill away. It weighed more than she did, but she had little trouble moving it up the slope and across, into the small valley beyond.
Once in a clear area she stopped, dropping the carcass. There was no obvious reason for leaving it there... until she lifted her head and gave an odd, high-pitched grunt several times. Immediately, three nearly-grown cubs came bounding out. They first greeted her, with sniffs and rubs. Then the oldest turned to the mule deer and began aggressively tearing at the hide, stripping it away. After a moment's hesitation the male - marked with oversized incisors that made him resemble an ancient saber-tooth - joined her. Where the oldest cub was all business he was mostly playing, but he still made reasonable progress at getting a meal. The third cub sat for a moment, watching. Then, when the male in his careless play accidentally lost track of a piece of meat, the youngest casually snatched it away, unseen except by the mother.
The youngest cub made several such thefts, occasionally getting caught, but that only earned her a half-meant growl. Then, after the older two had taken the edge off their initial hunger, she moved in, searching through the carcass for her favorite treats, which the older cubs had been too impatient to seek. The mother looked on, wondering. None of her cubs were exactly normal, but the youngest was in many ways the strangest. Sometimes the mother worried about her. Of course, the male was the one getting most of her attention, and for good reason.
He had torn an ear off the mule deer carcass and was playing with it, while the oldest looked on with mild reproach. To her, hunting was business, and play was only to practice for the hunt. She had already made many kills of small game, more than the other two put together, and had begun stalking larger prey. The mother felt pride for her children. Had there ever been such cubs? Had any mother ever had such offspring? Except for the male they would soon be ready for life on their own. The male, though, was a special case, even more so than his sisters... at least so far.
The male tossed the ear into the air, too hard. It landed between two large rocks. He tried to reach it with both paws and his mouth, but it was obviously too far in. He sat down. And shifted form. Within seconds there was a naked, dark-skinned boy - looking to be about eight years old - sitting where the cougar had been. He reached into the cleft and easily retrieved the ear, then resumed playing. After a few more moments he grew bored and stopped, and began cleaning himself. The mother shifted to human form. sp
"No, Mihos," said Lisa. "If you want to lick yourself clean do it as a cougar. If you want to wash as a human use water from the creek."
He considered this for a moment, nodded, and changed back into a cougar cub. He completed his cleaning, then returned to the mule deer for another few bites, getting himself bloody-gory all over again. Lisa, still human, rolled her eyes and sighed, then smiled. It seemed that no matter what their origins, kids were still kids.
Mihos, named after the son of Bast, was the only one so far to learn how to change. His oldest sister was named Roda, after Nimrod the hunter. The youngest was Crofta, after Mycroft Holmes, who was famous for sitting and thinking.
Who has ever had such gifted children? thought Lisa Dawnwind, a warm feeling sweeping through her. Even if the females never changed, they would be wonders of nature. Bigger, stronger and smarter than ordinary cougars. And if they did... well, three of the Changing Folk from one litter would make her rather special, herself, now, wouldn't it? But then, Lisa already knew that she was special.
This story is Copyright 2010 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to repost or reprint it must get the author's permission.