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Neopia's Fill in the Blank News Source | 13th day of Swimming, Yr 26
The Neopian Times Week 85 > Short Stories > A Gelert's Tail

A Gelert's Tail

by shelleylow

Treefur was a young Gelert. She lived with her father, Swiftfoot, and her mother Barkrose, in a Gelert pack in the woods.

     Every day she played with the other young Gelerts and together they raced through the forests, threading their way through trees and leaping over and through streams and rocks, playing games of skill and agility.

     Every night she and the other young ones would gather around Rowan, the old storyteller, to hear her tales. Sometimes she told of Faerie princesses that lived in the Cloud Palace high in the sky, other times of WereLupes and other fearsome creatures that lived deep in the darkest shadows of the Haunted Woods. The stories Treefur loved best were the ones about their pack elders when they were pups themselves.

     When the stories were over, the pack always gathered to sing their pack’s song, passed down since the first Gelert and his mate formed their pack, to the night as a proclamation of who they were and a warning that this was their territory and were prepared to defend it to the last. And then they would all go to sleep under the starry skies.

     All in all, it was a good life, and Treefur was very happy. Until one day…

     It dawned as any other day would, but it was going to make a significant impact on how Treefur saw life. She had just started a game of hide-and-seek with the other Gelert pups her own age. She ran deep into the forest to where she knew there was a small stream, and splashed into it, giggling to herself. Oh, that Rivereye would have a hard time finding her now. Not many of the other pups had discovered that scent didn't carry across water, as little gems of information like these were often left to the pups to find out for themselves. She traveled as fast as she could through the clear running water, until she felt she had gone far enough and emerged onto the bank, shaking droplets from her coat.

     Chuckling gleefully, Treefur slipped behind a large rock and crouched there. She was at the very edge of her pack’s territory.

     A flash of blue movement caught her eye. Treefur swiftly turned her head to see a creature she had never seen before. It was slightly smaller than her, with large pointed ears, brown eyes and a pink ruff of fur around its neck. But the thing that took Treefur’s breath away was its tail. Thick, long and bushy, it was carried high like a blue, waving furry banner. Treefur could only stare at it in admiration.

     "Well?" The creature's sudden question jerked Treefur out of her trance. The creature was looking at her strangely as she curled her magnificent tail around her body. "Something wrong with my tail?"

     "No… no, it’s a very fine tail," Treefur said somewhat shyly. "What exactly are you?"

     "I’m a Wocky," the creature replied. "My name is Sundell. Who and what are you?"

     "My name’s Treefur, and I’m a Gelert," said Treefur awkwardly. "You have such a lovely tail," she added breathlessly.

     "Thanks," nodded the Wocky proudly, much more friendly now they had been introduced. "Our tails aren’t just beautiful, they’re useful too!" she added, not without some pride. "For instance, we use them to signal to each other. Every Wocky cub is taught tail signals when they are young. We use the signals when we hunt, to guide each other along. And Wocky cubs follow their mothers’ tails too, to tell them where she is. What do you Gelerts use your tails for?" She peered at Treefur’s.

     "Well…"Treefur couldn’t think. "We ... um, I guess... they are used for... I..." She trailed off, embarrassed by not having more to say.

     Sundell’s ears suddenly perked as a growling call sounded from a distance.

     "There’s my group calling," she said. "Maybe we’ll meet again, Treefur." She ran off into the bushes.

     "Goodbye," Treefur called after her, somewhat forlornly. She sank back into a crouch and glanced over her shoulder at her long whippy tail. Somehow, it had never bothered her before, but now when she gazed at it the picture of the Wocky’s luxuriant glossy flag of a tail rose in her mind’s eye, her own tail now looked ugly to her. It was so long and awkward, what good was it besides a marker for different packs? And it wasn’t even beautiful; it was just like a long piece of string covered by thin yellow hair. She sighed, feeling rather plain.

     A long-eared blue head poked itself round the rock.

     "Found you, Treefur!" It was the young Gelert Rivereye who had been chosen to seek.

     "You’re the last one to be found, Treefur, and your scent trail was really hard to pick up," she continued, "so you get to seek now. Come on, the others are waiting."

     Treefur rose to her feet. "No, it’s alright," she mumbled. "I don’t want to play anymore."

     Rivereye’s ears rose in question. "But why not? We’ve got the whole day ahead of us."

     "It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to play anymore and I’m going back to the pack."

     She trotted off, with Rivereye wondering what could have happened to her jolly friend to make her look so downcast. Even her tail was drooping.

     That night Treefur couldn’t sleep for thinking about her tail and how ugly it was. Her parents had asked her what had happened too, but she hadn’t let on. They’d just laugh at her and call it silliness. They hadn’t seen the Wocky’s tail.

     "Why couldn’t I have been born a Wocky?" she murmured to herself, feeling miserable. "Or some other creature with a beautiful tail. Why did I have to be a Gelert with this ugly piece of skinny rope sticking onto my back?"

     And the more she thought it, the more drab and homely it seemed, until the knowledge that it was there was almost unbearable. Treefur couldn’t bear to look at her tail for another second.

     The next day Treefur wouldn’t go and play with the young ones, or listen to Rowan’s stories, or anything but mope around. When the pack brought in their food, she ate mechanically, hardly seeming to taste it.

     It was the evening of that day that Barkrose began to worry about her. That night when the rest of the pack was bedding down on comfortable grass tufts, she called her daughter to her.

     "Treefur, I know something is wrong, dear," she said gently. "You’ve been so dreadfully sad for the whole day. I want to know what’s the matter."

     Treefur looked up into her mother’s clear brown eyes in her slim green face and for need of an outlet poured out everything. Everything about meeting Sundell in the forest, about how Wockies’ tails were so lovely and useful, about how Gelert tails by comparison seemed so unsightly and useless.

     To her surprise, her mother didn’t laugh. Barkrose twined a comforting paw around her daughter. "My poor dear, you are in the stage of your life where you feel that you are the ugliest thing in the world by comparison with everything else, even if it was the most hideous creature in Neopia. I have been through that before, when I was your age."

     Treefur looked at her. "You did, Mother?"

     "Of course. And Gelert tails are useful- and beautiful too, in their own way. To me, well, they look very graceful and very attractive."

     "But how are Gelert tails useful, Mother?"

"That’s something you will discover for yourself, my Treefur. Now, let’s go to sleep. It’s late."

     As Treefur lay between the sleeping forms of her parents, she thought about what Barkrose had said. Somehow it helped her feel a little better.

     "Wocky tails are still more beautiful though," she said to herself. "Now if I could only find out how Gelert tails are useful…"

     She made up her mind to go exploring in the forest the very next day.

     Just as the sun began to show its light over the horizon, Treefur crept away from the sleeping pack and trotted through the dewy grass to find the answer to the usefulness of a Gelert’s tail.

     She trotted the length and breadth of her pack’s territory, being sure not to cross over to the neighbouring pack’s land. It would have meant trouble. She covered as much area as she could but didn’t find anything that could point her to what her tail could do. In despair she returned to the pack, who were just rising.

     The next morning she tried again, without any success. Several other days after that bore no fruit, and there seemed to be no situation in the world where a Gelert tail could possibly be of use to anyone.

     She was about to give up hope when one day a small squeal startled her. She looked up to see a baby Usul dangling by one paw from a tree branch. The baby had evidently wandered too far by himself and ventured onto a branch that could not stand even his slight weight. Treefur could see his mother and brothers and sisters crouched at the base of the branch, not daring to go any further in case their added weight sent the baby tumbling onto the ground below. The baby hung helplessly, too afraid even to squeak, while his family watched with horrified eyes.

     Treefur lost no time thinking, not even about the bushiness of the Usuls’ tails. She instinctively wrapped her own long flexible tail around the baby’s middle and lifted him from the branch, depositing him beside his family. As she watched the happy reunion of the Usul family, Treefur suddenly became aware of what she had done. Looking up, she realized that the branch was too high up for her to have reached by standing on her hind paws. It could only have been possible with her... tail.

     The mother Usul stopped hugging her young one and looked down at Treefur. "Thank you," she called gratefully downwards. "You saved my son’s life."

     Treefur looked at her tail again. It didn’t seem so useless anymore. Somehow Treefur doubted a Wocky’s tail could have done what hers had, even if it was useful in other ways. It didn’t even seem all that ugly anymore, either. Somehow her mother had been right. It didn’t have the plumy beauty of a Wocky’s or even a Lupe’s tail, but seen through new eyes it was rather graceful…and elegant.

     She turned beamingly to the Usuls.

     "Thank my tail," she said proudly.

The End

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