“Did you see the bumper shhhticker?”
Adam stirred at the unfamiliar stutter.
“Yeah,” said another voice, one disconcertingly close to his ear. “Wabbit Season.”
Adam opened one eye, then the other. Gray clouds peeked through the canopy of pine and autumnal maples, the branches and leaves rustling in time with his head’s throb. Needles and cones poked his shoulders, back, and butt, the ground hard and cold. Dried sweat coated his skin and at a gust, he shivered.
Searching for the speakers, Adam swiveled his head. He came nose to nose with a white tailed bunny sitting on his haunches, front paws clasped into marshmallow fists, whiskers twitching.
“Finally, it shhhtopped sssleeping.”
A squirrel leaped from a granite mound where Adam thought the stuttering had come from. He landed with a crunch of dried earth, and straightened, shoulders square, his tail arched above his head like a crooked finger.
Adam chuckled but winced when his head pulsed. “Must have been one hell of a fall.”
He lifted his hand but something kept his armed pinned. Craning his neck, Adam found silken threads wrapped around his wrists, the lace twining with the cords across his chest. More crisscrossed his shorts and bare shins. His sneakers poked out of the steel-strong gauze, mud spatters from the puddle he remembered running through right before he tripped, staining the rubber. He wiggled his feet, but they moved impotently against the air and caused a herd of spiders to skitter.
After a fruitless thrash, Adam sought the speakers once more. “What the hell is this?”
“An intervention, human.”
Hoof steps preceded a doe-eyed deer. She halted at his head, neck arched as she gazed at him.
A stag decked with a rack of antlers worthy of the lodge’s wall appeared at her side. He snorted, and Adam scrunched his face when droplets smacked his cheeks.
“You are too gentle, Doe.”
Adam gaped as the stag spoke, and kept quiet when the deer peered down at him, the faint light twinkling on sharpened prongs.
“You heard what Squirrel and Rabbit saw.”
Squirrel flicked his tail. “He drives one of those SssssUVssss too.”
Adam scowled at the smaller critter. “How do you know that?”
“We’re not stupid,” said Rabbit.
“Just crafty.” A fox padded out from under a nearby bush and sat at Adam’s feet. He licked his paw and Adam began feeling less trapped and more like the evening’s meal by the way the fox’s amber eyes gleamed.
He squirmed against the silken cords. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this.” Still pinned, he slumped and panted. “How are you talking? Why are you holding me?”
Adam glared around the surrounding ring, waiting for someone to answer.
A cluster of mice vibrated with quickened breaths. A salamander lounged on a shaded rock. A warren of rabbits hid behind the vocal one, and other squirrels dashed about in the branches. Darker shapes suggested shyer rodents or reptiles staying sheltered by leaves and twigs and the moving pricks crawling up his sides told of the industrious spiders tending his manacles.
“We should leave him for the vultures,” said a high-pitched voice from overhead.
Adam met the beaded eyes of a crow or raven-he could never tell the difference. A murder of her fellows descended onto adjoining limbs, the cessation of flapping wings intensifying the expectation in the air.
Adam’s pulse raced. “Listen, I don’t know what this is all about.” He strained against the silken bindings, but again they failed to give.
The stag stomped at the ground beside his ear and Adam froze. “Then you are a fool.”
“Whatever I did, I’m sorry okay?”
“Apologizing before he even knows why.” The fox washed a pink tongue across pointed teeth. “Sly.”
“We shall explain.” Doe knelt, the warmth of her pelt radiating. “You fell, human.”
“Wasssss tripped,” said Squirrel, his tail twitching with what could only be pride.
Doe rolled her big, round eyes. “We brought you here to talk.”
Adam gulped. “You’re holding me prisoner.”
“Humans tend to move on too quickly.” Her curved ears flattened in what Adam took to be disapproval. “Sometimes you have to be stopped in order for you to listen.”
Another layer of silken thread coated his chest and the weight around his wrists doubled. The legs of spiders trekking up his arms seemed bent on his neck.
“Okay, okay,” said Adam, “I’m listening.”
Doe sighed. “Squirrel.”
Squirrel scampered onto a nearby nurse-log, fat body condensed in a dejected hunch.
When Doe faced him again, Adam offered what he hoped would be a friendly smile, one clear of the fear he felt bubbling.
“Your choices, human, have been less than thoughtful.”
“Of waste. Of transport.”
“Of stickers,” added Rabbit.
Adam frowned. “I don’t get it.”
Doe cocked her head and a sparrow swooped down, landing like a feather on Adam’s chest. The bird placed a crumpled power bar wrapper on to the spiders’ cords and then hopped back.
The scent of chocolate and nuts wafted from the aluminum, stirring its larger remains in Adam’s gut. His stomach rumbled and he licked his lips.
“I guess I dropped that.”
Squirrel chattered. “You threw it into the bussshes.”
“Maybe,” said Adam. “I don’t have any pockets in these shorts.”
“Bussshes don’t have pocketsss either.”
Doe’s lengthy exhale cut through his staring contest with Squirrel.
“Suffice to say, human, you are not paying attention to the world around you nor your impact upon it.” She nudged the wrapper with her wet nose. “You abandoned this in our home. How would you feel if we did the same?”
“What would a deer leave behind?”
“Behind begin the operative word,” said the fox.
“You’d shi—”, the ring of creatures tensed and Adam watched his tongue, “you’d do your business in my house?”
“It is an analogy,” said Doe. “You left your refuse behind without a thought. We have brought you here to give you time to think about what you’ve done.”
“Talk to him about the car,” said Rabbit.
“I’m not the only person in the world with an SUV,” said Adam.
Rabbit’s ears stiffened like spears. “And a gun rack?”
“So? I hunt on occasion. I figure you would understand the food chain.”
“The food chain is different than sport.” The stag pawed at the ground, making deep divots. “What exactly do you do with those you hunt?”
The stuffed animals at the lodge, posted upon stands with his name on it, sprang into Adam’s mind. He imagined the stag hung alongside and suddenly hoped the talking menagerie didn’t have psychic powers. Clearing his throat, he sought a different tact.
“Humans are the dominate species, you know.”
“You look truly dominate at the moment.” The fox peeled his lips back into a toothy smirk.
“What I mean is the survival of the fittest, of the strongest. Humans are in charge. We can do what we want.”
“Precisely,” said Doe, “and you do so without thinking of the consequences. If everyone slaughtered for decoration, drove poison spewing monsters like your transport, tossed their refuse wherever they felt like it, what kind of world would you be creating?”
“I come here to run,” said Adam, “not create.”
“Yet this is our home. This whole planet is our home, yours and ours. If you don’t treat it with proper respect, you’re going to be left with nothing, and so will we.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll try and remember to wear shorts with pockets.”
With a sharp jab and long grinding drag, the stag raked another groove into the ground.
“And I’ll think about the car,” said Adam. “Maybe I’ll get a hybrid or something next time, I hear they can fit a rack—”
Rabbit coughed and Adam cringed.
“I guess I can think about the hunting thing too, but really, humans have been doing that for centuries.”
Rabbit cocked an eyebrow Adam didn’t realize they had. “Bows and arrows are a little different than sniper rifles.”
“Believe it or not, I’m not too good with a bow.”
Adam chuckled, but the humor fell flat. The trail went as silent as the crow and/or raven mob overhead.
A breeze rippled through the clearing, making the wrapper on his chest tumble into Adam’s chin. An edge caught on his lip and he thrust at it with his tongue, trying to work it free. One of the spiders approached and with a spin of sticky thread, dragged the trash from his mouth.
“Thanks,” said Adam.
“We are all interconnected, human.”
Wincing at Doe’s guilt-ridden jab, Adam looked at the forest critters surrounding him. They seemed more expectant and edgy than the ones in the cartoons. As the spider glued their evidence his chest, the reasons why sunk through Adam’s thick skull.
“I see your point.” He met Doe’s watery gaze. “I’ll change, I promise.”
The stag snorted, more snot spraying.
“A promise means a lot out here.” Doe rose. “We’ll be holding you to it.”
“Can I do it now?” Out of the shadows, a raccoon appeared, masked eyes glittering mischievously.
Adam struggled to sit up. “What’s she going to do?”
“You can’t be expected to keep quiet about our conversation,” said Doe.
She nodded and the raccoon crept forward, a turtle shell dangling from her jaws. Doe’s gaze turned downward again and seemed to soften.
“You’ll forget we talked, human, but trust me, a part of you will remember.”
A shadow chilled the side of Adam’s face as the raccoon stood on her hind legs. She raised the turtle shell high and beamed.
“Wait!” Adam jerked away but the blow to his temple cast him into blackness.
When he came to, he sputtered and shoved up on his hands and knees. Water dripped from his tee shirt into the puddle on the trail, the surface rippling with his winded breath. Around him, the forest hummed like he’d never heard before.
Crows-he felt certain they were crows-launched through the trees with a cacophony of caws. Squirrels, rabbits, mice, and other critters scampered through the forest in every direction, under the brush, up trunks, out onto branches. Insects burrowed and crawled, flitted and nibbled.
An ache at his left ankle and the throb at his temple reminded him Adam of his trip, his tumble. Gathering himself, he plopped on a nearby nurse log and examined the damage.
His foot rolled with ease and when he stood, took his weight. Besides a few scrapes on his hands, a swelling bump on his head, a bit of dirt and spatter, he seemed no worse for wear.
A glitter beside his sneaker caught his eye, and he bent down, plucking a granola bar wrapper from beneath a rock. He snorted at the green and yellow paired with silver, and balled the litter into a fist. He drew back his arm for a fling but something in the back of his mind nagged.
Adam brought his hand down. Uncurling his fingers, he stared at the bit of trash. The green seemed too vibrant for the reds, yellows, and oranges of the maples, the silver too foreign for darkness of the evergreens.
“Not like it’s going to kill me.”
With a more than nervous titter and the sense of eyes watching on, Adam closed his hand again. The wrapper crinkled in his fist and the forest resumed its thrum. With the litter in tow, he started along the trail once more, enjoying the shade, the serenity, the beat of life as he matched the pace.