RP Where The Wild Things Are

Katpride

Story Collector
Staff member


Winters in the forest are always tricky. All of the small, warm things go to ground or fly off to warmer places. As a small, warm thing herself, Aspen has spent much of the winter in her den. The Fall was plentiful with berries and nuts and prey, but the snows were late and she had to eat the berries and prey before they went off. All that remain are the nuts. Nuts do not a meal make, she thinks, sitting on her pile of pelts and looking forlornly at her nearly empty stockpile.

It would be easier if she were truly a bear, and could sleep the long sleep to avoid her hunger. But she cannot ignore the gnawing of her stomach no matter what form she takes. Everything must eat.

She wraps herself in many layers of fabrics and squeezes out of the narrow entrance to the cave she calls her home. She’s lucky not to meet much competition for the shelter. Sometimes smaller animals will wander in and become her meal, but she thinks the larger ones are too big to get through the relatively small opening.

She keeps her belly low to the ground but above the snow as she creeps deeper into the forest, her four white paws spread wide to make less sound. She knows there are rabbit dens this way. Maybe she will be lucky again, and be able to catch one that has ventured out.

Her ears twitch, angling to catch the quiet sounds of little paws. There! - a small rabbit stretches out of the cover of a bush, and she stills. Perhaps, with her white fur and pale skin, she will be overlooked.

Her held breath pays off, and the rabbit hops further out into the open. Aspen shuffles as quietly as she can, angling just slightly closer. The still air carries the scent of the animal to her nose, and she knows she will not lose it. Just a little more-

Her stomach growls loudly, and the rabbit arrows away. Aspen breaks her own cover to give chase, swiping at the retreating tail. It remains just stubbornly out of reach, leading her around trees and through bushes in a merry chase. Maybe in the Summer, she would have caught it. But her limbs are weak with hunger and she slows before her prey, allowing it to dart off into the undergrowth unchased.

The running has made her more hungry, but she looks back at the torn path she has made and resigns herself to another meatless dinner. In her haste, she surely scared away any other easily frightened prey in the area.

So she begins the walk home, rising to her hind paws to rest her forepaws and spine.

 
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Warm prey of any kind is hard to come by this far away from cities. In lean times, he makes do with the frozen meat of people who died by stupidity rather than predators. A living lost soul is a rare treat, one he always makes sure to savor.

He’s been on his own for three winters now, and he’s learned most of his lessons on his own. While he thrives in the city, something about snow-drifted woods always calles to him when November rolls around. The high wind in the trees can carry the scent of any living prey for miles. And Lyle’s nose has never been wrong before.

He has his doubts about this one, though. He’s been stalking it most of last night and today, trying to figure out what exactly mixed with the scent that was definitely human enough to eat. If he’d tried to get into the cave, maybe he’d already have his answer. But he doesn’t see the potential prey until it leaves on all fours, deepening his doubt.

Most of his clothes are taken off of other food. A short, heavy white (well, formerly white) jacket, blue jeans, wool socks, and a turtleneck shirt under it all. He’s learned how to move so that he doesn’t make too much noise; humans have worse hearing than him, and he’s gotten to the point where he hardly hears himself anymore. Stalking the small prey is easy, if unfamiliar. It seems too focused on its own hunt to notice him anyway.

When it takes off after the rabbit, he goes still. The pawsteps recede, and he hunkers down beside a tree, hidden from the path it used to leave its den. Succeed or fail, it’ll have to come back this way. If it has the food, he’ll leave it be for now, letting it gain the calories that he can use when he decides to make his move.

He’s rewarded by the sight of something two-legged returning on the path. Under all the furs, he can tell it’s very small, and he’s disappointed by the idea of such a bony meal. It’s fast, at least, but he can’t even chase it without risking some of the nutrients it has to spare. As it gets closer he realizes that it’s not just scrawny. It’s very short. A juvenile, he realizes. It probably doesn’t have many natural predators out here, at least none that are awake this time of year. He weighs its inexperience against its relatively small size. An easy catch, something to tide over the hunger that burns inside of him – but one that might not even be human enough to count as a meal.

The cold inside of him beckons. He needs the food. Anything he needs to know he might learn in the chase. If he catches it and determines it’s not food, he can always let it go.

He lowers himself slowly into a crouch, and pulls himself taut. He rises to his toes on the thick blanket of snow, aware that it won’t hinder him in the slightest the way it will any prey. Intense blue eyes, rimmed with black, watch the figure, waiting for the right moment to release the growing tension.

Slowly, he exhales a cloud of white steam into the still forest. Just barely loud enough for the food to hear, to look in his direction. It won’t be until its eyes met his that he’ll release – unless it runs first, in which case he’ll move at once to cut off the route back to the safety of its den.
 


The fine hairs at the back of her neck rise, and Aspen goes very still. There is danger here, she can feel it. Her fur does not puff up as it might if she were more feline, but her caution is evident in the way she holds herself, nose raised to scent the air and ears twitching.

There is a smell she remembers, and it only makes her hackles rise further. Human. She has been lucky enough and smart enough to avoid any live ones since that night, many years ago, but it seems her luck has run short today. She is tired and hungry and in no shape for this fight, but energy surges through her veins as she breathes in the chilled air.

She drops carefully back to all fours, moving slowly in the stillness of the taut bow. Her head turns, milky eyes meeting arctic blue, and the line releases.

There is a threat before her. Her ursine instincts say to stand and fight, and so she meets the threat with sharp teeth and heavy claws poised to rend and tear. The bear paws are oversized on her own limbs, but they move as fluidly as if she was born with them. She will not give up her territory so easily. Perhaps it will not be the meal that she set out for, but blood on the snow will draw out other things for her to eat.

 
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He expects her to run, not turn and fight. But the little creature does exactly that, and he knows as soon as his charge begins that he’s made a mistake. He changes his mind, but waits to change his course until the last second, just before he’s in range of the creature’s paws. Then, he pulls back, opening his stance to a more defensive position. His feet barely leave a crease on the surface of the snow, each step almost silent and impossibly quick. Speed is his main advantage here.

As he pulls back, he looks at the creature again, breathes in lungfuls of her scent. It seems to be a girl, at least. Its face is human, but much of its body is covered in a thick, heavy coat of fur that smells like bear, now that he’s close enough to recognize it. The half-bear-half-girl has weapons he doesn’t, but now that their eyes have met, his gut won’t let him stand down. Both the hunger and his instincts demand he remain in the face of the smaller predator. He is still the predator, and this is human enough to be prey.

He licks his lips in a flash of pink as he backs away, creating space between himself and the paws and fangs. He crouches just a little, as if his crowning antlers are weighing him down, and never breaks eye contact with the creature he’s chosen for food. Then he turns to start to circle her, looking for a place where he can take advantage of her size without any damage from the heavy paws.
 


Her claws meet empty air and thud back to the snow, but Aspen only reaffirms her stance rather than letting it shake her. Stand strong, she tells herself. Show no weakness.

But she can’t help but be a little confused as she finally gets a good look at the non-creature creature threatening her. He smells human, but great antlers sprout from his head. She’s pretty sure most humans don’t grow antlers, unless lots of things have changed since she lost her family.

He’s still setting off her danger senses, so she turns as he does, keeping to her small circle to keep him in her sight, but all the while thoughts whirl in her head. If he is like her, why would he be attacking her? The only humans who were like her were her family, but he doesn’t smell like family.

Maybe he is confused, and thinks that she is a bear rather than a person. She makes that mistake herself, sometimes. Maybe he is family, but she has forgotten the smell and the sight over the years. She should ask.

“Whoo-” she starts, but her voice is creaky and high with disuse. She wrinkles her nose and clears her throat and tries again, “Who you? Why?”

The words come out jumbled, and she can’t get them to form the neat lines that she faintly remembers her parents speaking. She’s sure that her parents’ voices didn’t squeak like hers does.

 
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Her voice is high, a little soft at the edges with a creak of disuse like an old door. He tilts his head at her. That’s the last proof he needs that she’s human, but he pauses as he looks at those paws again. Most animals usually leave him alone, instinctively knowing he’s not a threat to them. But he knows knives and guns can hurt him. There’s nothing showing claws can’t do the same and, while he knows he’ll win, he doesn’t want to risk injury if he can help it.

Tooth and nail aren’t his only tools, though.

“You’re not a bear!” he exclaims, his lips turning up into a smile without teeth. His voice is deep, a little harsh at the edges and without the creak one would expect after months of disuse. A voice is only good for bringing prey to him, after all – or pretending to be one of them when he goes back to a city.

He relaxes his body language, stands up straight again, and stops circling, though he still stays out of her reach, just in case. He touches a gloveless hand to his chest, forgetting, for a moment, that most humans can’t survive these temperatures. “I’m Lyle. You just scared me, that’s all.”

He can hear lies, of course – but he speaks to people often enough that he recognizes them from experience, not instinct. Where he’s positioned, he can still intercept her if she wants to run back to her den. Assuming she doesn’t just barrel through him, anyway. This is going to be a lot trickier than he originally thought.
 


“Not bear,” she affirms, staying on her guard. She shuffles on her paws and adds- “Mostly.”

All her senses remain trained on him. Even with the tone of his voice and the way he stands, she hasn’t forgotten the danger. She is not so easily tricked by posturing, not with how something deep inside her still whispers wariness. Her mouth stays flat, her eyes narrowed. “You scared… me.”

She recognizes the shape of his sentences, and tries to copy them. It’s a language she hasn’t spoken in years, and a small part of her wants to hear more of it, despite everything. “Mama named Aspen. You know me?”

Maybe he’ll recognize her name, and take her to the rest of her family. She knows there are more of them. Even if she has to stay vigilant the whole way there, she’d do it. Hope is a hard thing to squash, even after all these years. Even after all she’s seen.

 
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“Aspen,” he repeated, scratching the back of his head like he was thinking. It sounded like a tree, but, well, there were all kinds of weird names. Aspen was as good as Ash, in his mind.

He was thinking, and thinking hard. “Mostly not bear” means “maybe enough human”, but looking her over again, he knows that whatever was human wouldn’t be worth facing whatever was bear. If he leaves her here and comes back in a few years… but with how scrawny she is already, she might starve by then, or move on, and he’d have to remember this place. No, that’s not really an option. It’s now or never.

Unless.

Unless she’s lost. He looks at her again, at her skinny form, and meets her eyes again. The hope behind them is unmistakable. She wants him to recognize her name. She wants him to know her – or if not her, then her Mama.

Hmm. If he wants this to work, he needs more information.

“It’s a very nice name. I think I’ve heard it before. I didn’t mean to scare you, Aspen, I promise.” That’s a lie, but he doesn’t let it show. Instead he looks around, and then frowns, a little bit sad. “Your Mama’s not around, is she?”

Of course she isn’t. The girl is living in the woods by herself, too weak to even catch rabbits, and clearly doesn’t talk to anybody. But Lyle has learned that with people, he can catch more with kind words and sympathy than by chasing them down in the forest. Even if he only catches them to release them to be chased again. Chasing this one is a bad idea, but it’s completely possible that he can get what he wants later, if he’s patient enough.

And, of course, if he can convince her he only wants to help.
 
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Aspen keeps her belly low against the snow as the man thinks. Her claws rake through the hard-packed powder and down to the dirt below, making furrows and then smoothing them over in a self-soothing motion.

Then the danger lessens. Aspen blinks, rising a little from her defensive crouch. Lyle still reads as a dangerous man, but not in such a present way. Maybe he was just scared, like he said, and was hiding. She knows what it means to be scared, and more than that she knows that people tend to attack what scares them.

“No,” she answers, and it’s the truth. She doesn’t think to ask if Lyle is lying; the forest, for all its harshness, is honest in the most brutal way. She has known nothing else for too many years to recognize trickery. “Mama and Papa… not around. Dead many years.”

It still stings, an open wound that never healed right. She rubs the scar that cuts across her lip with the back of her paw, trying to get the itching behind her eyes to settle down. “I couldn’t help.”

She sniffs, her whole body drooping. And, really, she is such a small thing. She looks younger like this, without the wariness in her eyes. She’s at the age where she should be making macaroni crafts in a classroom somewhere, not wandering the woods in too many layers of dirtied clothes.

 
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He nods sympathetically. Slowly, he drops down to a squat. He holds his hand out for her, like someone introducing themself to a strange dog. She’s crying; the right response to somebody crying is to offer comfort.

“I’m sure you miss them, and I’m sure it’s not your fault. Your mama and papa were very strong. They’d be happy that you survived. I promise.”

At least, he guesses they had to be strong, if their kid is a bear cub. He doesn’t ask himself what could’ve killed them, because he doesn’t want to think of the possibility. As long as it wasn’t something like him – but it can’t be, because then little bear Aspen would have an even more negative response to him if she recognized his scent. And any good parent, or at least any parent a little kid would cry over, would be happy their kid survived.

He squashes that thought. It’s hard sometimes, seeing his food like this, to not think about them as people. Or at least, not think of himself as people. This isn’t a little kid, it’s food that he has to put nutrition into to get nutrition out of it. He can pretend, but he can’t actually get attached to it. He has to start practicing now.
 


Aspen considers the hand before her through watery eyes. It has been so long, and she no longer remembers the touch of skin on hers. Nor kindness, even the false kind. She sniffs again, briefly touching her nose to the back of Lyle’s hand. A promise is a powerful thing. She remembers that much.

He’s cold. Her own skin isn’t terribly warm, but her fur and layers give her enough insulation to be comfortable for a good while longer. He must be freezing. She makes a short noise of surprise and draws back. Not out of fear, now, but concern. “Cold?”

Her den is warm, insulated from the winds and snows. She could lead him there, if he needs a place to warm up. But…

Her stomach grumbles again, reminding her of the sorry state of her stockpile. Could she really help him if she can’t even help herself? Maybe she should try to find some food first, if she can. “Hm.”

 
He laughs softly as she feels his cold. It isn’t intentional, but the soft sound fills the night air around them.

“No. Not cold,” he says, rubbing his hands together and then flexing them to prove they aren’t even a little stiff. The thick layers of clothing create the illusion of being human enough to be cold, but in reality, he’s as comfortable as he’d be on a sunny day in summer. The worst cold isn’t coming from outside of him after all.

Her stomach growls. That might be how she lost the rabbit, he realizes, and he smiles a little bit.

“Hungry?” he asks, tilting his own head. An idea is forming in his mind. “I can find food and bring it back. You look worn out.”
 
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Lyle isn’t cold, even with the layer of snow on the ground and the slight breeze further chilling the air. Only more evidence that he is like her. Aspen nods, because as long as he isn’t bothered by it then she isn’t either.

“Hungry. Not much food,” she admits. The idea of not having to hunt for herself is more appealing than it should be, and she doesn’t question the little details like how he’ll find food that she can’t. After all, he is so much larger than her. He must be able to hunt larger prey than she feels comfortable pursuing.

It is an easy thing to trust Lyle when her instincts say that he is no danger to her. If that changes, she has her claws and her teeth. He does not look that strong, and he has no claws of his own. She will be fine.

“Den there,” she tells him, pointing in the right direction. She grins with a mouth full of sharp teeth. “Luck!”

With no other interjections, she sets off towards her home, trudging through the snow. Her slight frame and pale coloring renders her harder to see once she’s a few meters away, which is just how she likes it.

 
He smiles pleasantly as she goes. He knows where she dens, but he doesn’t comment on that. She doesn’t need to know. He watches her leave, and then turns to set off in the other direction.

Lyle’s condition gives him many, many benefits. Faster and stronger than his food, with his nose sharp enough to catch scents humans wouldn’t notice. Normally, he’s looking for human scents. Artificial perfumes, heavy clothing, body smells. But tonight, he doesn’t go looking for human. He might want to fill out Aspen’s figure before tearing her apart, but he won’t do that to her, not against her knowledge.

Instead, he finds a deer. A deer is easy to find for him, because deer don’t run from him. The skittish animal sees him and knows he does not need to kill it. There’s innocence in its eyes, a pure kind of trust that reminds him of Aspen. She believed him when he spoke, unfamiliar with lying. The deer believes him as he holds out his hand, palm-up, as though promising help through the winter.

He sinks into the snow on his way back, unable to carry both his own weight and that of the animal with the broken neck. The doe is small, a black-tail who’s had little to eat this winter, but bigger than Aspen. He carries her around his shoulders like those pictures of shepherds churches sometimes have. He makes more than enough noise to announce his presence into the stillness, but he calls ahead of him anyway as the den entrance comes into view.

“Aspen, it’s Lyle! I have food. Not sure if it’ll fit in that hole you’ve made, but if you need help to break it down, we can do it together.”
 


Aspen has not had visitors to her den in… ever. She has the vague thought of… preparing? Somehow? But her parents did not have many visitors either, and if they taught her the customs she does not remember.

She makes some effort to nudge her pile of pelts and fabrics into place, then gets distracted chasing around an errant scrap. Her tiredness is forgotten as she bats the scrap between her paws, her tail flicking happily. Then her ears prick, swiveling towards the sound of approaching boots. Only one set, much heavier than before but familiar in their tread.

There’s a remarkable lack of blood, she thinks, when she pokes her face out from the entrance to her den. Said entrance is less a door and more a crack in the side of a small hill, barely wide enough at the base for a well-fed child to slip through. Aspen is not a well-fed child, and she exits her den with ease, circling Lyle once before settling in a crouch in front of him.

Her black fur is dark against the snow, now, her ears pointed and feline, but she grins the same grin, Cheshire and pleased. “Good hunt! Too big for one Aspen, maybe.”

She thinks she can store what she doesn’t eat in the snow for a while, but it still won’t last forever. “We break it down,” she agrees, waiting for him to set the deer down. The tail that she decidedly did not have in her bear form coils around her legs.

 
What comes out of the den isn’t the Aspen that went into it. Just as small, just as bony, but her fur and hair is black, not white. Her scent is feline, not ursine, though there’s no mistaking the way her body is both earthy and airy in undertone. He tilts his head at her, but he doesn’t mention it. He can change shape, too, between prey he’s taken. He doubts that’s what this is. But he doesn’t ask. At least she’ll be easier to find if she does figure out what’s going on.

“It should last this Aspen a few days at least,” he laughs, squatting down beside his meal’s meal. One deer isn’t going to be enough to make it worthwhile, but he can take care of that over time. He’s decided it’s enough to try it for a while. Something to distract him, some temporary company. An interesting project.

He doesn’t have claws, or even a knife. Normally he just tears his food apart with his teeth and hands. Right now, he’s not interested in putting his mouth on a deer carcass, so hands alone has to be enough. He’s stronger than his narrow frame suggests; and by targeting joints and wrenching somewhat, he starts to pull the deer into smaller pieces.

“The torso is going to be hardest,” he advises her. “You should eat some before you go in for the night, and we can bury some of the insides in the snow and cook it when you’re ready to eat them. You’ll have to be the one to cut it open for that, though. I don’t have claws.”

He flexes his hand to demonstrate that while his nails are sturdy and a little long, they’re just nails. All his strength is in his jaw, and even then, he knows that tools work best for this. He broke his last knife the last time he ate, a week or so ago now, and that was a hiker who didn’t have much that was useful to him. If he’s taking on this interesting project, he’ll need better supplies. Maybe he’ll go looking once she slips back into the cave that’s much too small for him to enter.
 


“Torso.” She repeats, watching Lyle break off the legs of the deer. By process of elimination, it is not the legs or the head or the haunches. She bats a paw at the deer’s chest, then lays her head against its ribs to listen to the emptiness, the lack of living sound. “Cook?”

The stillness beneath her ear reminds her of… something. Something she doesn’t like. Aspen draws her head back from the animal and sets to work with her claws, slicing through the deer’s hide and meat.

She’s surprisingly neat with her incisions, cutting from tail to snout to keep the hide as one big chunk. She’s done this with rabbits before, but never something this large. It will make a good addition to her pelt pile, if she can manage to get the sticky stuff off of it. Blood and meat smells just awful after a while.

Her claws aren’t the most precise of tools, even when she puts all her attention towards them. She decides to use her sharp teeth to tear at a difficult section, but she finds herself devouring mouthfuls of still-warm meat once she’s taken the first bite. Her previous neatness is forgotten until her belly is full and she has to sit back to take a breath that isn’t heavy with blood.

Then she remembers her earlier plan and the contentedness fades a little. A rumbly sound emanates from her throat as she surveys the damage.

“Wanted big pelt,” she says, a little sadly. There’s still plenty that’s salvageable, but she took a good chunk out of her previous work.

 
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