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“Now what?” said Handy.
“What do you mean, now what?”
“Jolly, we just killed a buffalo—”
“Whatever—and we’re supposed to haul it back home?”
“No, no—now’s where we get the others to help out.”
“And how do we keep the Rangers from finding out? We’ll have to dump the bones somewhere…”
“Look one bison’s not going to make much of a difference. That’s part of why we don’t hunt too often. And if they do find it—what are they going to report—death by child-sized arrow and several rocks to the face? They’ll get laughed at!”
“Or they’ll start looking for us and we’ll be found out.”
Jolly laughed. “The Rangers,” he said, “have been looking after us for years. You’ve been on foraging duty long enough to have gotten that into your brain. Come on, let’s get the others to help.”
Handy remembered, when he’d been practicing at the sling, thinking about how much nicer it would be to have a gun—one of the things the Rangers got to carry. He didn’t know a lot of things, then—guns were loud, and they drew the attention of the Rangers, who said you couldn’t have any. That was before Leroy had fired his in front of Handy—it made him start like a rabbit—and before he’d had a run-in with one of the Rangers who wasn’t entirely aware of the settlement of people in the park.
This was his first time far from home after that.
They cut up the buffalo on the spot. Handy’s father showed him how to leave enough meat on the bones so that animals would do the rest of the work. With any luck, the Rangers would assume that it was all animal work, and leave them alone. Then they carried all of their meat back home—it was too dangerous to cook it on the spot.
His mother was cooking their share of the meat down into a stew while Handy was watching his little sister Sara. He was still worried about the bad Rangers.
“Mom,” he said, “how did we become friends with the Rangers in the first place?”
“One of them let us stay here, and he told enough of the rest that they left us alone.”
“But why haven’t they kicked us off their land yet?”
His mother shrugged. What if the Rangers changed their mind? Handy thought.
“Mom,” he said, again, after a few minutes.
“What is it this time, dear?”
“What if we invited one of the Rangers over for dinner?”
“I don’t think they’d like that very much, Handy.”
“But it’s Midyear, and they’re nice to us, and—”
“How would you invite them, Handy?”
“I’d make sure it was someone nice, and then I’d ask him nicely.”
Mother shook her head at that. Handy wondered if he could find Leroy at this hour.
He found him, hunched over a computer in the Ranger’s station. He did not appear to be doing work, as the screen was filled with an image of a giant gun, pointed at… were those people?
“Excuse me?” he said.
It took a few moments for Leroy to notice him. “Handy?” he said. Leroy was very good with names.
“I wanted to invite you to dinner. It’s Midyear’s Day, and we try to do something nice for it…” Like kill one of your special buffalo, he thought, but he did not say that.
“Thanks,” said Leroy, “but I’ve already got dinner.” He held up a greasy-looking paper bag with a characteristic “M” on it. Handy wrinkled his nose in disgust at the same time that his mouth watered.
“Well,” he said, “we’d like your company, anyway,” and he darted out of the station before he got in any more trouble.
He did not tell Mom where he had been, but he thought she could guess anyway.
Dinner was fifteen minutes away when there was a knock at the door. It was Leroy. Mom sighed at that, but let him in. He looked over at the stew, smelled it, and didn’t say anything. “I know,” said Leroy, “that sometimes it’s considered rude to be a guest and not bring anything, so I thought—” and he pulled out the bag, and from that, a smaller bag containing French fries. “A good stew always needs some taters to it.”
That night, they all stayed up till sundown—Handy, Mom, Dad, Sara, and Leroy, talking. And when he went to bed that night, Handy thought that there was nothing so fine as buffalo-fry stew, though in hindsight such food was sitting in his stomach strangely. Maybe that was why, that night, he dreamed…
A/N: I was given free reign for this prompt, so I decided to pull out Larner's and my shared character from Back to Middle-earth Month, Handy the Seventh Age hobbit, because Pearl is one of the few authors I know who has also dealt with Seventh Age hobbits (and incidentally is also the only other author I know of who had the eggs to kill the Red Book off). For this, she deserves eternal glory.
Handy and his family live in an unnamed park in the American West, in an abandoned settler's cot. There are a few Park Rangers who know of their existence and protect them fiercely.
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