“Does every tree have a chittery thing like you?” Gladius gazed at another chittery thing sinking claws deep into a tree as he strode past. Dark veins ran through the white bark now, all centering on the shadow that clung to it. This is not the normal way of things in the garden, of course, but Gladius had never been told that, so he thought nothing of it.
Gladius’s friend perched on his shoulder, nose held high, sniffing the light breeze of the night, as if he had scented some roast beef in the distance. “Yes. I was forced to leave my tree to go with you. Each of us has one tree to watch over.” It barked at one of its friends, who snarled in return.
“Forced? Oh, I can take you back, if you’d like. That doesn’t sound pleasant at all.”
“Oh, no, friend Gladius. I must teach you. And I have orders from above.”
“Oh! Someone has told you to come with me? Who is it?”
The thing scurried to Gladius’s other shoulder to sample the air over there. Perhaps it smelled more of gravy on that side of the pudding-head. “No one of importance. Someone of great consequence. You know how it is.”
“Actually… no. I don’t.”
The thing growled low in its throat. “Well, accept my pronouncement. This is the way things are.”
“Oh.” If that was the way things were, who was Gladius to argue about it? Reality had a way of not brooking argument with itself, so there was no point in shouting.
Gladius walked on in silence for a while. It was nice having this thing on his shoulder. Its weight kept reminding him where he was.
And the weight was gone.
Gladius looked around. “Hello?” he ventured.
A sore squeak sounded from the ground not far away. The little creature lay on its back, clawed feet twitching ever so slightly.
Something impacted on Gladius’s back. Now, there is something you must know about pudding-heads: They have a great many disadvantages compared with a human. You already know that their learning is much hampered, of course. But another thing that causes an average pudding-head much difficulty is his sense of touch. You see, when someone taps you on the shoulder, your skin tells your nerves tell your brain, “Someone would like to speak with you, and hopefully they won’t punch you in the nose when you turn around.” So you turn around and discover that you owe your friend five dollars and it’s time to pay the piper.
Well, a pudding-head’s nerves and his brain are rarely on speaking terms. Perhaps they fought over who should have won at bingo last Thursday, or perhaps the nerves thought that the skin had cooties. Stranger things have happened.
Anyway, Gladius only vaguely felt something impact against his back. He turned to see if perhaps someone was tapping him on the back to request some money, whatever that might be, and because his eyes and his brain communicated quite well, he saw a rock come speeding toward his head.
He bent sideways and let the projectile fall harmlessly to the ground. “Hello? Has someone lost their rock?” he called. “I found it!”
Out of the shadows more rocks flew at him.
“Oh, thank you for sharing your rocks, but I am not interested in starting a rock collection,” Gladius hollered.
A pudding-head’s ears usually are on speaking conditions with his brain, though not always. Thankfully, today they decided to tell Gladius that someone was stomping the ground behind him.
Gladius turned to discover a man stomping the spot where his chittery friend had been laying.
“Sir, I am sure that’s not how you help my friend,” Gladius said. He dimly felt more rocks hit his back. Oddly, no one thought the new stomping man should have a rock collection.
The man yelped and dashed away into the woods, swallowed by the darkness. Soon after the rock collection stopped being offered to Gladius. The pudding-head knelt down on the ground to discover a pool of thick black liquid.
His chittery friend was gone.
This is the nineteenth chapter of Summers’ End.