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Story Time: Animals Like Me

So I was sitting there, wondering what I should write, and a phrase occurred to me that I couldn’t get out of my head: teenage Tode. And you thought middle school was bad for you! Try being raised by wolves! Try being a long-lived race with a decades-long childhood!

Enjoy this little coming-of-age story featuring teenage Tode.


Tode sat on a log in a clearing, thinking. He had a question he’d never had before: what kind of animal was he?

He had left the wolves. It was scary, and he was scared, but it was the sort of fear the wolves never seemed to feel, the fear of things that hadn’t happened yet but could. Tode had stopped trying to talk about this kind of fear with the wolves. They said he was a fool to borrow trouble, that they had enough to keep them busy without wasting time thinking such things.

They also told him that he was getting too old to do more playing than hunting, and they might have a point, because Tode still felt like a cub in some ways, even though the wolves who had found him were dead, and their children were too. The pack had less and less obligation to him as time went on. Tode could not blame them. He knew he was not a wolf.

Tode took a moment just to listen, and breathe. Wolves would not harm him, and there was no larger predator, but there were bears with cubs in the area and it paid to be cautious.

Perhaps he was a prey animal. His teeth and claws weren’t exactly ideal for hunting. He looked at his hands, flexing them. Mice had better claws than he did. What were these flat nails for? They were handy for little dextrous things, detaily things. He was great at grooming other wolves. Oh—wolves. Not other wolves.

Idly, Tode dug a finger into the log. It was old and rotten, and—oho! A grub! He ate it.

Maybe he was like a raccoon. He did like bugs better than the other—than the wolves. Obviously he was not a raccoon. Once again, he tried not to be self-conscious about his lack of tail. But something like a raccoon.

Tode scrambled up a tree, scuttling along a big branch like a raccoon. That felt…pretty good, but still not quite right. He kind of wanted to do less scuttling. Spread out a little. That, and raccoons love fish, and the last time he’d eaten a raw fish, he’d been horribly sick.

Some movement caught his eye—a crow, hopping along a branch of a nearby tree, ignoring him. The crow had something in her little talons, some kind of bent stick. Tode watched as she dug around in the bark with it.

“You’re using it to dig out bugs!” Tode said suddenly.

“If the vibrations of your voice don’t scare them away,” she croaked, turning a black eye on him. “Do you mind?”

“Sorry,” Tode said hastily. He got his feet underneath himself, stood up, and leaned until he could reach the trunk of the other tree. “Here.” He pulled the piece of bark the crow had been worrying at off the tree entirely.

The crow dove into the wood of the tree, picking out woodlice with precision, and then cawed happily. “A good turn. I’ll do one for you. Handy, those little things on the end of your arms.”

Again, Tode examined his hands. “I wish I knew what they were for.”

The crow cocked her head. “You don’t know?”

“No. Do you know?”

“You are the wolf boy,” the crow said sagely. “Have you never seen the village?”

He’d heard about the village. “Isn’t that dangerous?”

The crow coughed. “Those wolves. No curiosity. No imagination. It’s dangerous for them, but you’d be fine. Come, I’ll show you.”

She glided down to the ground, dropping her stick.

Tode had curiosity and imagination, and though he didn’t wish to speak ill of the wolves, the crow was right that they didn’t so much. He grabbed onto the branch below him and swung down to the ground after her.

The crow was talkative, and knew a lot of gossip that Tode hadn’t heard. Maybe, Tode thought, he was more like a bird. Not that he could fly—he had tried—but curious, someone who uses tools.

“Do you think my hands are for using tools?” he asked the crow.

“Using?” The crow cackled. “I use things I find. Sometimes I change them a little. But an animal like you? You can make tools.”

“Making things,” Tode muttered.

They approached the village, and Tode hesitated in a copse of trees a ways away. The wolves had said that the animals who lived in the village hated wolves. And Tode was not a wolf, but he wasn’t not one.

“I tell you, they will not harm you,” the crow said. She was starting to get impatient.

“I think I should…watch first.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, and hopped out of the copse of trees.

Tode watched her make her way across a small open space to a strangely square little spot of dark earth. The plants that grew there were strangely regular. Strawberries, Tode was pretty sure, but each plant sat square with its neighbor.

The crow paused to look for predators, and then hopped over to the nearest strawberry bush to pick off one of the unripe berries.

“Get out of there!” came a shout, with a voice that didn’t sound like any Tode had ever heard before. An animal came out of a little construction, running toward the patch of strawberries. The animal walked on two legs, and had a strangely colored pelt—bright green, like the plants it was growing. The animal picked up a rock and flung it at the crow.

With a harsh call and some choice profanity, the crow took flight, narrowly avoiding the flying rock, and wheeled back to the copse of trees where Tode was hiding. She landed on a branch near Tode’s head. “Well how do you like that? I hate it when they do that.”

Tode stared at the animal, which had loped over to the plant the crow had eaten off of and was examining it. Her hands. They were like his.

“Mom, I keep telling you we need a scarecrow,” the animal called, and pulled something out of…a small fold in her pelt? Something shining silver, like a fish. With a little flourish of the thing, the animal snipped off a damaged shoot of the strawberry plant.

“Obviously that one’s taller than you,” the crow said quietly. “Lanky thing, isn’t she?”

“Why is she green?” Tode whispered.

“That’s clothing. These animals make it out of plants or animals they kill and wear it. What do you do when it snows, anyway? You haven’t got so much as a down feather.”

Usually Tode huddled up with the wolves until he was warm again. It had occurred to him that this was no longer an option. “I suppose I must learn to make clothing.”

“If you need help from these animals, they know how to trade,” the crow said. “They like shiny things. Coins. Have you seen a coin before?”

“No,” said Tode, frowning. But if the animals were like him, then maybe they’d like to eat what he liked to eat, and he could trade some of that. Or perhaps they needed other things.

“What do you think, fair trade?” the crow asked. “Wood lice for information?”

“Fair trade,” Tode assured her, because telling her she’d changed everything for him would just mean he’d be getting her wood lice for weeks. “Thank you.”

“Let me know how this turns out,” the crow said. “I’m curious.”

She flew off, and Tode watched the animal like him go about her work. She tended to the strawberries, pulling a few other plants out from between them, and then tossed them out into the trees.

“What was wrong with those plants?” Tode wondered aloud.

The animal paused. She looked into the copse of trees, squinting. “Hello?”

“Oh.” Tode realized his mistake with a jolt of fear. But also…excitement? He understood the animal—there was no animal he didn’t understand—so maybe he should speak to her. He stood up, so she could see him. “Hello.”

Her eyes went wide, and then she covered her face. “Oh gods, you’re naked.”

Tode nodded gravely. “I have no clothing.”

The animal peeked in between her fingers. “None at all?”

“No,” Tode said. Apparently she didn’t like that he was naked. This was good to know. “Can I trade for some?”

“I’m not sure we’d have anything that would fit a gnome,” the animal muttered. “What do you have to trade?”

Tode thought about this for a moment. “You like berries. Do you like huckleberries? I know where they grow and can get you some.”

The animal’s hand fell away from her eyes entirely. “Oh, wow—I would certainly find you something to wear for huckleberries.”

Tode nodded thoughtfully. “Then I will be back tomorrow.”

“Oh, wait, hey,” the animal called, before he turned away to leave. “I’m Emi. Who are you?”

She had a name. The wolves didn’t have names! Only Tode had a name! She was like him. Tode beamed. “I am Tode.”

Published inStory Time