This story is by Susan Liddle and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Leaf huddled in the tree-shelter, shivering and exhausted in the cool morning light of October. She needed rest and food, and she ached to get back to her babies. She tamped down the panic of the chase that led her here. And she tried not to think about Cone searching for her.
She heard movement and shrunk into the corner wishing for a branch, anything with some green on it, that would allow her natural defence to hide her. It had been the best hiding place she could find last night, but now she felt trapped. She was too weak to climb up, jump down, or fight.
One of the Monsters was climbing the tree, humming in a high voice. It didn’t sound like the doctor-monster who had chased her last night, but that one could be nearby. Leaf would do anything to avoid ending up trapped in a zoo like her mother and father had been. Wasn’t it bad enough that the Monsters poisoned the water and wrecked the land? Did they have to steal her family too?
A small hairless arm reached up through the opening in the floor. Hands gripped, then a young monster appeared. It sat down, feet dangling, and started opening up a bag. It looked up and stopped humming. Its eyes widened.
Leaf tried to look harmless. She retracted her claws, curled her sleek green tail around herself and almost closed her eyes. She kept her mouth closed to hide her sharp teeth.
“Hi,” said the monster-child.
Leaf made a soft purring noise. Even to her ears it sounded weak and scared.
“It’s okay,” said the monster. “I won’t hurt you.”
It took something from the bag and set it down near Leaf.
It looked like food, but there were smells Leaf didn’t recognize. The grapes made her mouth water.
When the monster-child nudged the container closer, eyes wide, Leaf reached out a wary paw and picked up a grape, then ate it, and another, and another. She watched the monster-child watching her. She’d never been this close to one of the creatures. She’d heard they were unpredictable.
Leaf pushed the container away when the grapes were gone.
“You don’t like cheese? How about some water?”
The child reached into her bag again and pulled out a bright pink water bottle. Leaf had seen these when the monsters ventured into the wild. The monsters would fill them from streams. Often they left them behind.
The child took off the lid and swished the liquid around, then set it down between them.
“It’s water. You must be thirsty.”
Leaf reached out and grasped the bottle with two paws and tipped it up to her mouth as she’d seen monsters do. It tasted funny, but she drank every drop, then set the bottle down and rolled it back to the monster-child.
Leaf’s belly growled.
“I’ll get more food,” said the monster-child, and disappeared down the ladder.
Leaf settled into the corner again, listening to the sound of feet running through the grass.
The monster-child came back, still alone.
“I’m Sandra.” She pointed at herself and looked at Leaf.
Leaf huffed out a soft word: “Leaf.”
“Leaf,” repeated Sandra, then placed three apples and three bananas in front of Leaf.
After eating all but one banana, which she was saving for later, Leaf curled up in the corner and laid her head on her paws. She drifted to sleep trying to figure out how to tell the monster-child — Sandra — that she needed to get away. Would the child help her?
Leaf woke in a panic, dreaming that the hunters were chasing her, that they’d caught one of her babies. That she’d given away her family’s existence to the monsters. She sat up and a blanket fell off her. She saw Sandra sitting nearby with a piece of paper in front of her. She was drawing Leaf.
Leaf watched, then inched closer until she could reach out a paw and pluck the green pencil from Sandra’s hands. She drew three small balls of darkest green, with eyes.
“Babies!” said Sandra. “You have babies? But where are they?” She looked around as though they might be hiding somewhere.
Leaf uttered a growl, fierce and sad. She lay her head down on her paws again. How was she going to get back to her babies without the monster-doctor and her monster-hunters finding her? She needed to get home to the group and warn them to go deeper into the trees.
Getting back to the wild was going to be almost impossible. She’d led the hunters away from her babies and the group, but in doing so she’d gone right into the city. There weren’t enough trees for her to hide in to get back home without being seen. The roads alone were too dangerous.
Sandra disappeared down the ladder again. A few minutes later, Leaf heard her footsteps on the grass and peeked through a crack between two walls. A loud voice echoed out and Leaf froze.
She recognized the voice of the monster-doctor who’d been chasing her.
“Sandra! Sandra, I need to talk to you!”
Sandra stopped walking.
“Hi Dr. James.”
“Have you seen any strange animals around? Some of my colleagues are looking for an escaped animal. It’s very dangerous.”
“No, Dr. James. I haven’t seen anything.”
Leaf saw the monster-doctor take something from Sandra’s hand. Paper crinkled.
“What’s this in your drawing?”
There was a moment of quiet, then the monster-doctor sounded just like she did last night. Leaf’s fur stood up. She growled a low growl, the kind humans can’t hear, but can feel with their goosebumps.
“Sandra, have you seen a creature like this?”
The monster-doctor was holding onto Sandra’s shoulders, leaning into her face. Leaf knew it was safer to stay hidden, but she wanted to rescue Sandra, as if she were one of Leaf’s own babies.
The monster-doctor was shaking Sandra now, yelling at her, “Sandra, where did you see it? You must tell me! It’s vitally important.”
Leaf heard running footsteps and a full-grown male monster pulled the monster-doctor away from Sandra.
“Take your hands off my daughter and get off my property, or I’m calling the police,” he said. Leaf admired his intimidating stance and the growl in his voice. He was doing a good job of protecting Sandra.
“Call them right now!” said a full-grown female monster who’d also come running from the big shelter and now stood with her arms around Sandra.
The parents stared at the monster-doctor.
“You’ll regret hindering the path of science. Science knows no borders! You can’t hide forever.”
The male took a step towards the monster-doctor, and she turned and fled.
The three monsters walked towards their big shelter. Sandra bent to pick up her drawing, then turned around and looked back at the tree-shelter.
The moon was up and bright when Sandra came back, and this time she had the monster-parents with her. They stayed at the bottom of the ladder when Sandra climbed up with a flashlight and a big paper that she spread out on the floor of the tree shelter.
Sandra shone the light on the paper, then pointed.
“This is where we are,” she said.
She traced a line of blue with her finger. “See, this is water, the Rideau River. Do you live here somewhere?”
Leaf leaned over the map, staring at the blue line and the green along it. She’d never seen a drawing of home. She ran her eyes along the water and back, looking at familiar shapes of land, inlets and islands. She’d know it anywhere.
She pointed at one spot on the map, then rested her head right there. A whimper escaped her.
“Don’t worry,” said Sandra, “We’re going to get you home, tonight.”
Sandra climbed down the ladder and gave the map to her mother.
“Mom, her home is near Kemptville.”
The female stared at Sandra, then at the male.
“Right now? Wouldn’t you rather wait…”
She stopped talking when Leaf poked her head through the entrance and looked down at her.
“Please,” said Leaf.
The male and female looked at each other for a moment, then back up at Leaf.
“Looks like we’re taking a night trip to Kemptville,” said the female.