"Out! Get out!" Jak had been caught with his pants down. A perky Fang batted his eyelids at Jak and dropped a drool dripping stick into the small clothes pooling around his ankles. Icky. Yuck! Jak was halfway through his necessaries and did not need this.
"Out," he shouted again, it was an outhouse after all, but his bluster backfired. Fang was love stricken with his sticky stick and wasn't going anywhere. Worse still, the kerfuffle had attracted Squirrel, like a dictionary always drew Westcott.
"No, you get out too!" Jak bellowed, bare-assed and embarrassed about it. "I told you both don't disturb me when I'm about my business - I do my best thinking in here."
"Chirp!" Squirrel agreed, albeit snarkily.
"Woof!" Fang didn't care. He'd found his fetch stick and that meant game on as far as he was concerned. Rain, hail or shine.
Fetch was Fang's favourite game, but not Squirrel’s - Jak could take it or leave it. Squirrel's problem was, he would take it and keep it. Or not take it, leaving it altogether. Acorns he'd happily retrieve, just not for you. Sticks or squirrel-sized twigs he simply ignored, squirrelly assuming you were throwing them away. Quite correctly according to his fuzzy logic. They're pretty useless as objects go, Jak ceded. And inedible. As far as fetch went, Squirrel's inaction and general disinterest actually made sense. In this instance, his disdainful squeak was the voice of reason.
"Wait all you want," Jak replied sulkily. "It'll take as long as it takes."
Jak truly couldn't fathom Fang's fascination with chasing a stick. Even more concerning was how the cub never tired of it. Never. Jak liked deer jerky. A lot. But he didn't want if for dinner every night. And he didn't pester the cook for it every five minutes either.
Chirrup," Squirrel was suggesting Lamb's Ear but out of spite Jak swiped a mullein leaf instead. He could pick his own privy paper for gods sakes- he'd just proven it! He was initially going to use the Lamb's Ear but he'd be damned if he'd give the little rat the satisfaction.
He dropped the despoiled leaf in the bucket below him, kicked the stick away and hauled up his shorts. Grabbing the business-bucket by the wire handle, he stalked out the screened entrance heading for the compost hole - trailing happily in his wake were a bounding squirrel and a trotting wolf cub with his sticky stick.
This afternoon Jak had a chore list as long as your arm to see to. First and foremost though was stirring his scat into the midden heap where the outhouse stump used to be - burying the stink amidst the food scraps and plant waste that would be the centre of his garden come spring. Once he collected the second sack holding all his seeds. Last week he'd cleared a large rectangle of space stretching from in front of the Towers to the front of the outhouse turning the grass over so, with roots exposed it would wither and die over winter.
Ungainly with his unwieldy plaything Fang was constantly underfoot. Sighing, Jak snatched at the stick, but all of a sudden the cub refused to surrender it and a tussle ensued.
Gods give me strength! And ideas. Over the last month Jak had to develop fetch strategies so he could accomplish his own tasks. Long throws seemed like the way forward, but proved a trap for young players. Once Fang lost sight of the stick in the air, he'd lose interest too - still staring expectantly, eyes wide and ears up, until a grumbling Jak would be forced to fetch another stick to throw.
Better to throw the stick close, but into a thicket or some other obstacle. That way the wolf would conduct a time-consuming investigation - not very thorough though, as he'd often return with an altogether different stick. Although always with the same silly grin plastered across his furry face.
"Wait, this isn't my child," Jak would complain. "You've grabbed the wrong boy!"
His sarcasm was wasted on the wolfling who only wanted the stick thrown again - preferably without commentary.
Another tactic was to throw a big stick, because the wee cub's ambition knew no bounds. If he could get his jaw around it, he'd give it a go. His stumbling, bumbling return was certainly time consuming, but could be a little heartbreaking to behold. Usually Jak caved-in before the cub did, meeting him halfway to give him a big hug well-done.
One time it was funny though. Fang had clamped down on the end of a long tapered log, leaving the heavy end churning in mud, while he continually trotted around in circles - like the proverbial donkey chasing a carrot... Facing away, Fang was confused, but as soon as he turned the corner he'd believe he was back on track, and his eyes would light up all over again. Fang had a lot to learn...
Finally, Fang relinquished his prize. Jak faked a few throws to both tease the little beast and flick the drool off the stick then wound up and heaved it hard as he could over the outhouse, into the trees of Haven's eastern corner.
Wide-eyed Fang traced its trajectory with his eyes then tore off towards the trees, threading his way between them into the shadows. Jak, with Squirrel now on his shoulder, wandered over. He was expecting to meet the happy fool halfway there but he didn't return. Jak made a mental to-do list of his tasks while they waited. A minute later Jak began growing worried, when a rustling in the brush became a soaking wet and sandy wolf cub. Time slowed as a dripping-wet Fang dragged and dropped a soaking stick at Jak's feet. Jak could only stare at it aghast. It was the exact same stick. Jak must have thrown it into the Torrence. It should have been swept away.
"Good boy Fang," Jak apologised profusely. "Good boy. “
Fang could have drowned. Should have drowned. Why didn't he drown? He felt nauseous. Queasy. His selfishness could have killed his little friend... he only wanted to play his silly game...
"Good boy," he cried, hugging the obliviously happy cub. "Now let's go see what you've found."
Retracing Fang's route only required cutting down two trees. One was an elm Jak had already earmarked for a bow and undoubtedly he'd find a use for the birch too. Pushing beyond the last bush, he forgot all about trees. And the forest altogether. Because he was on a beach... A beach! A beach in his own backyard, literally a stone's throw away from the Towers.
It was only the second beach he had ever seen, the first being Wellington Beach back in town. No more than a score of yards long, it was nothing but muddy sand and a small jetty to jump off in summer. Or for Noron boats to moor on, he supposed.
This beach - his beach - was much better. Similar in size to Wellington, but with sparkling yellow sand, it curved north near side - south on the other side - widening the river from six to sixteen or seventeen yards, creating a shallows that dropped away to a deep pool in the middle. Here on the shallower side, the current was naturally slow moving. Made more so by two massive boulders upstream - behind his outhouse - funnelling the faster flow towards a small waterfall on the far side of the stream.
With snow set to fall in a few days, a beach wasn't really the bee's knees, but come spring and summer it would be a boon indeed. Bathing, swimming, fishing, washing clothes - the possibilities were endless. Even in winter, it was a better source of water than the entrance way with its single span embankment a full yard above the treacherous stream. It was only a few feet further away from the towers too... But best of all, it was a private beach.
The bank opposite was a cliff-face topped by a thick copse of young pine trees. From his hounding, he recalled the trail lay someway inland at this point and also several yards below the tree line. Downstream a series of small rapids turned south for a furlong, before narrowing, deepening, speeding up and twisting due west again. The hitch hid Haven entirely. From the trail - even from where he jumped - there would be no sign of the beach or even the falls. Out of sight; out of mind. Jak smiled, his enemies would never find him.
He could find them easily enough though. He could construct a bridge from the boulders to the far side, simply by dropping a tree or two. If he carved footholds in the cliff on the other side he'd have a secret access to the Terron Trail. It would be a much faster way to Norwood...Saving two to four hours on foot. And give him instant access to the other half of his forest territories... Which made him think of Gran again...Which gave him the name for the beach: Lyfsa. After a saying Gran rolled out whenever he whined about unfairness. Jak figured the saying meant that life was like a beach: Only good for half the year... Or no good if you can't swim…
To be honest, he'd never really worked that saying out. It still sort of cheered him up - confused being better than bitter he supposed. He altered the spelling of "Lifeisa" to "Lyfsa" in the hopes no-one would bother him about what the saying meant. Not that Squirrel or Fang had shown any interest in semantics or spelling so far... Only acorns and sticks.