A story about a different kind of exotic pet. A Writer's Cramp entry.
|I'll never forget the day Grampa came home with Ugly. I was still little then. I remember Grampa had been moping around in his den all that morning. Grandma chased him outside to find something more productive to do. He growled at her in his mock-grumpy way, but he knew who was the boss, so off he went.
A while later he reappeared, with a surprise. He put it down in front of us, where it started to whine and tremble. It was the ugliest creature we'd ever seen, and we'd rooted out some pretty heinous things in our adventures. It was so repulsive that we bestowed its name, to unanimous family approval, on the spot.
It smelled so bad and was so filthy that we all pitched in and gave it a bath, which revealed it to be a "he." He squirmed and wriggled and whimpered and tried to escape, but we were able to corral him. He calmed down and seemed to enjoy the attention, because he kept squealing noises of pleasure. When he was cleaned up he was, unbelievably, even more hideous, but in a cute kind of way.
He had almost no hair and a soft round little belly. I don't know how he was supposed to keep himself warm. He shivered and cried at night. We had to let him in with us or he would have frozen to death.
The first mealtime was our first problem. We had no idea what he ate; we didn't know what he was. We fed him what we ate, but that didn't go down so well. I mean that literally. The little guy choked it down, but we got to see it again shortly. We tried again, with the same result. We worried he would starve. Eventually he must have gotten so hungry his stomach gave in, because it stayed inside him. So he didn't starve after all.
When he got bigger he figured out what he liked to eat and we let him forage for himself. He used to come back with berry juice and honey and flies and dirt all over himself. What a mess. We could hardly recognize him except for his distinctive smell. You'd think all creatures would instinctively know how to clean themselves, but if we didn't give him a bath every night he would have become so sticky and covered with stuff he would have turned solid by sunrise. Some animals are not blessed with intelligence.
He must have been really young when Grampa found him, because he could hardly get around properly at first. After a while he finally got the right idea and would scamper about chasing one or the other of us. He was so awkward. His limbs seemed all out of proportion, like he was poorly designed. Funny thing though, when he got a little older he kept trying to get up on his hind legs and fasten himself to one of us. We discouraged that, because he'd grab on tight and hurt us.
Grampa died a few winters back. Grandma lost heart and went soon after. Ma and Pa were getting grey around the edges and slowing down. Ugly grew slowly, but his body didn't have the sense to know when to quit. He kept growing, season after season. We worried that something was wrong with him, but Ma thought there was just more of him to love. And we did love him; we were all family.
I said he wasn't intelligent. And he wasn't, not like us. But he was remarkable in his way. Of course he couldn't communicate the way we do, he was a dumb animal after all, but he seemed to understand our body language. He got so we could take him with us when we went out and he'd know what to do and what not to do. He rarely got himself in trouble; if he did he'd come scurrying home without bringing the trouble behind him.
All creatures are born with special talents. We thought Ugly was the exception. But he surprised us. One of my brothers went into the woods by himself one day and hadn't returned by nightfall. We searched and called for him, but couldn't find him. We feared the worst. When the sun came up Ugly disappeared into the trees. Before the sun was high he returned. My brother was limping behind him. We tended to the deep gash around his leg while he communicated to us an incredible story.
He had ventured deeper into the forest than he had ever been before. He was running down a trail when something suddenly grabbed his leg and flung him to the ground, in unbelievable pain. He fought to free himself but didn't have the strength. He called and called but no one came. He spent the night terrified. He had given up all hope when he heard footsteps on the trail. Ugly loped around the corner. Somehow he managed to spring the trap. No one had ever gotten free from a trap before! There was more to Ugly than we imagined.
I'm not little anymore; I'm fully grown now. Ugly is no longer here with us. Later that summer we all went to the place where my brother had encountered the trap. We came to a clearing, where there was a big shiny thing that smelled bad and made a loud noise. Suddenly two creatures ran toward us from the thing. They looked just like Ugly! Except much bigger and with different pelts, all multicolored and wrinkly, not like our fur. They pointed things at us that made terrible banging noises. We were scared and ran. We turned to look back from the safety of the trees. The creatures picked Ugly up and put him into the shiny thing. It went away and we have never seen him again. We go out and howl at every full moon, hoping he will hear us. We all miss him.