Elm, a young green Lupe, woke up in his wooden
bed. He felt as though there was something special about that day, but at the
moment he couldn't remember what it was. He decided to stay and rest for a while
until he remembered.
It was a bit colder than usual in his room, which
was because the Neo Heating System in his home had broken. Elm’s father, Forest,
wasn't in any particular hurry to get it fixed. “When I was a pup, we didn't
have thermostats,” was what he’d say if anyone tried to prod him about it. From
the stories Forest would tell, it seemed to Elm as though his father hadn't
had ANYTHING worthwhile when he was a pup.
Forest had always been resistant to change, but
he had become more so since Pearl, Elm’s mother, had died. Pearl had been a
city Lupess, and the only reason that Forest wasn't at the moment living in
a dugout den. They’d had to compromise quite a bit: their NeoHome had all of
the modern conveniences--electricity and plumbing--but it was completely surrounded
by woods. And Forest had made sure that his family observed the old traditions...
The thought of hunting suddenly sparked Elm’s
memory. He jumped out of bed and rushed to the dining room where Pine, his little
brother, was happily gulping down cocoa neocrunch. Hickory and Aspen, Elm’s
older brothers, were eating tiger squash.
“Well, well,” said Aspen, “looks like my BABY
BROTHER is late for his own birthday party.” Elm groaned inwardly. Somehow or
another, even after thirteen years Aspen hadn't gotten over Elm’s stealing his
title of “baby of the family”. It was a bit ironic that Aspen chose to vent
this type of jealousy by talking about Elm as though he were a little kid, but
Hickory would always tell him that “feelings of insecurity often show themselves
in the most illogical way.” Elm was still trying to figure out exactly how that
translated into English.
“You can't call him your baby brother ever again,”
Pine said proudly. “’Cause today he’s turning into a grown-up, aren't you big
brother Elm?” Pine, who for some reason looked up to Elm rather than Hickory
or Aspen, didn't seem to realise that there was more to becoming an adult than
the ceremony that made it official. Which, of course, Elm reminded himself,
is fully to be expected of a pup his age.
“IF he can complete the ceremony,” Aspen said,
sticking his tongue out at Pine. “And if you ask me, a little wimp like him
is most likely to mess up and have to wait another year.”
“Then he'll have beaten YOU by a year,” Hickory
said, reminding Aspen that he himself had been fifteen before he’d managed.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what
all this talk about a ceremony means. Well, it was a long-celebrated tradition
in Forest’s family that when a Lupe pup turned thirteen he would go into the
woods alone and bring back a Chia before nightfall. Once he did, he was considered
by all the extended family to be officially an adult... but if he didn't,
he’d have to wait till his next birthday.
Anyhow, after a bunch of prehunting rituals of
sorts (which I will not mention here because Elm found them very boring and
you probably would to), Elm found himself alone in the middle of the woods.
At least, he thought he was alone, but he was actually being watched by two
people. The first of whom was discovered rather quickly, when he let out a rather
Elm swirled around and saw a tuft of yellow Chia
fur peering over the top of a thick shrub. He was on it in a flash. The Chia
screeched and darted away as fast as its little legs could carry it (which wasn't
very fast at all). The chase was on.
The Chia used the cover-filled terrain as best
he could, but Elm had the advantage in both speed and stamina. Eventually, the
little creature collapsed from sheer exhaustion. Elm pounced mouth-first, ready
to sink his teeth into the Chia’s spine. But then something eerie happened.
Elm quite literally froze in mid-leap, supported
in thin air as though by magic. The cowering Chia suddenly realised that it
wasn't dead and looked up at Elm in astonishment. Then it scuttled away quickly.
A gust of wind swirled around in front of Elm, ruffling the dead leaves that
littered the forest floor. Then a person who had been watching Elm for quite
some time appeared.
She was a slender girl with white-blonde hair,
large brown eyes, and a delicate face. She wore a yellow dress and on her back
was a pair of gossamer wings. A light faerie.
The faerie’s face was sad as she looked at Elm.
“I expected better of you,” she said.
Elm was scared, confused, and mad. He wanted
to say something and he considered “Who are you,” “What are you talking about,”
“Why am I floating in mid air,” and “What just happened,” as good options. But,
as often happens to people when they are frustrated, he chose what was probably
the least logical thing to say in that situation. “Put me down now.”
“Why were you hunting that Chia?” the light faerie
This seemed like a very odd question to Elm because
he had about a million answers to it. He decided to state them all. “I’m a Lupe
It’s what I do. It’s tradition. It’s instinct. I’m supposed to. My father told
me to. I need to bring one home to my family.”
The faerie glared at him. “You’re family isn't
exactly starving, is it?”
Again, Elm replied in anyway he could think of.
“How would you know? What does that have to do with anything? Aren't we getting
off subject? This is getting annoying. Could you please put me down?”
The light faerie sighed. “I can see this isn't
getting anywhere. Oh well. My name is Estella. If you ever feel like talking,
just holler.” Then, with a strangely devilish smile, she disappeared.
At first Elm was afraid the faerie would leave
him stranded there, but a moment after Estella left he fell to the ground. He
quickly got back on his feet and brushed himself off. But something was very,
The forest and everything in it suddenly seemed
a lot bigger to him. He felt off balance, like he was standing on only two legs.
He looked down at his paws and screamed. He was a Chia.
Elm’s three brothers sat on the porch of their
NeoHome Aspen was playing an electronic handheld game called Virtual Chia Hunter
and the other two were watching him. “There it is! In that corner!” Pine shouted
excitedly. “Get it!”
“I’m trying, I’m trying!” Aspen replied. “It’s
not as easy as it looks so keep your shirt on!”
“At least I’m wearing a shirt!” Pine retorted
“It’s hot out here, okay! All that males really
need to wear is pants, anyway. So buzz off!’ The words “Game Over” flashed on
the game’s screen and Aspen groaned. “Now look what you made me do, you little
Hickory sighed. “I don't get you two at all.
It’s just a game. You don't need to get so frustrated about it.”
“YES I DO!” Aspen shouted. “All of my friends
are at least on level 7, and I’m still on level 2! It’s all Dad’s fault! He
held out on buying it for me for such a long time that I got way behind!”
Hickory decided it was time for a change of subject.
“I wonder how Elm is doing on his Chia hunt?”
Aspen snorted. “He probably got lost. Or maybe
an angry mob of Chias has taken him hostage.”
“No way!” Pine said. “I bet he has caught a dozen
Chias already and is trying to figure out a way to bring them all back.”
Hickory groaned inwardly. Didn't his little brothers
EVER stop fighting? “Come on you guys. Elm will be back soon enough. It’s not
that easy to find a Chia in these woods, much less catch one.”
As though for the sole purpose of making Hickory’s
last remark seem ridiculous, a little green Chia waddled up in front of the
porch. “Hickory! Aspen! Pine!” it squeaked. “Look what’s happened! You’ve got
to help me!” In an instant, three dark green Lupes had surrounded him.
“All right Chia, how do you know our names?”
“Aspen! It’s me, Elm! You’ve got to believe me!”
The three Lupes gave him odd looks. Elm turned towards Pine. “Pine? It’s me!
Your big brother!”
“Don't be ridiculous, Chia!” Pine snarled.
Elm gulped. Even a Lupe as tiny as Pine was a
considerable amount bigger than a Chia. “Hickory? Big brother? It’s me!” Hickory
just snarled. Elm looked at Aspen pleadingly. “Aspen?” was all he said, his
voice only a little louder than a whisper.
Aspen stared at Elm for a moment and then growled.
“Let’s eat him!”
As the three Lupes pounced, Elm turned to his
last resort. He took a deep breath then shouted at the top of his squeaky, high-pitched
Time seemed to freeze as the Lupes halted in
mid air. Estella appeared a couple of yards away and called to him. Elm went
“OK Miss Faerie,” Elm said feebly, “I get the
message. I promise I won't hunt Chias anymore.”
The light faerie smiled sadly. “If that’s what
you think I want, then I’m afraid that you don't get the message at all. There’s
more to it than simply not hunting.”
Now Elm was really frustrated. “Well what do
you want me to do then?!” he shouted. “If you expect me to all of a sudden love
Chias just because I am one now, I think you’re a nut case!”
“This is supposed to be a lesson, Elm. I don't
want you to simply stop hunting just so that you can be a Lupe again. Eventually,
you will see.” She disappeared and time started up again.
The three Lupes landed flat on the ground. They
looked over to where Elm was now standing and gaped in amazement. To them it
seemed as though he had suddenly teleported out of the way.
“What the...” Aspen started. “Hey, you little
runt! Get back here right now!” Elm knew it was time to start running. Aspen
dashed off after him.
“Don't do it, Aspen!” Pine shouted after his
brother’s retreating back. “He’s got magic! He'll turn you into a Mortog! And
then you'll have to actually kiss a girl if you ever want to be a Lupe again!”
Aspen turned around and growled. “First of all,
I wouldn't mind having a girlfriend. Second of all, that Chia is not... hey!
Come back here!” As he had done earlier with the game, Pine had just distracted
his older brother long enough to give the Chia he was chasing a definite advantage.
But Aspen wasn't giving up yet. He dashed after the Chia shouting something
over his shoulder as he ran.
Pine looked worried. “Should we go after him?”
he asked his oldest brother.
“Nah,” Hickory said mischievously, “I’ve been
wanting a pet Mortog anyway.”
Elm quickly found out that his natural abundance
of stamina did not endure the shape-shift. He soon collapsed gasping and panting
on the forest floor. “Aha! I’ve got you now!” called Aspen from about a dozen
“Psst!” a voice called to Elm from a nearby tree.
“In here!” Elm saw that the tree was hollow, and the voice was coming from a
hole in it. A little Halloween Chia was leaning out of it, gesturing frantically
at him. Elm quickly decided that his life was a bit more important than his
dignity and jumped into the hole.
Aspen slid to a halt in front of the tree, discouraged
by the fact that the hole wasn't quite big enough for him. “All right, Chia!”
he snarled. “You can't stay cooped up in a tree forever! You'll come out eventually,
and I'll be waiting right here when you do!”
The Halloween Chia clicked her tongue. “The poor
chap is obsessed,” she whispered with mock sympathy.
“Obsessed, but right,” Elm said, accepting for
the moment that he was conversing with a Chia. “We can't stay in here.”
“Who said anything about staying?” The Chia pointed
downward and Elm noticed that the inside of the tree was carved into a stairway
that seemed to lead underground. The Chia smiled. “Well, what are you waiting
for? After you!”
To be continued...