A Pack of Wild Krags
Krags are sharp toothed nasties with hair like scales running down their bodies. They have pointy ears and bright white eyes. The coats on this pack are oil-black. They walk on all fours. Their claws rip the surface beneath them. They keep a pinky finger extended up when feeding to show what rascals they are, like a crawler’s antenna surveying while their head is down in the meat. There is an abundance of drool. You don’t want to run into a pack of wild krags walking in the forest. It is known to be bad business.
As they sneer, snarl, and circle the travelers the women and the men, huddle together in fear, sheltering one another in a collected mass. The scientist looks at the alpha-beastie and comes to a startling realization: that krag can count. Of course he has no idea what the beast is called, or what the word for count is here on this planet, and no way of communicating this to anyone but his useless and limp companions, but the beast’s darting eyes tell its whole story.
The scientist is correct in his diagnosis. The krag in question has been frantically counting the fallen leaves on this particular section of forest floor for weeks, methodically finding patterns that don’t match up, variations in greens, yellows, and reds, that he hopes to thread through the story of how possibly to ascertain a total number, something to calm his restless mind. He isn’t thinking meat, meat, meat, or kill, kill, kill at all, he’s seeing the feet of these seven travelers stepping over the pattern of leaves, leaves, leaves that he’s been tracing.
This krag, it turns out, has had a pretty rough year. Tough times fell on his family, first with the loss of his accounting position in the pack, and then the failed hunt he led which resulted in the death of a kraggle cub.
Once a vital member in his pack - he could scout a field or clearing for possible scribblers and their various entryways and exit-ways, where the plump little morsels sought shelter, how they scattered, whichever many went whatever way and when - whether they spooked from sounds, scents, or sights. He’d survey large pockets of the forest before any hunting expeditions took place, determining the pace of scurrying scribbler and the distance from proper cover a krag would need to make a winning pounce. He’d report to his employer, a larger, darker, toothier krag, on all the details .
And then the fateful day, a plotted expedition on the calendar, weeks of work on his part, goes horribly wrong. The krags enter the community of scribblers, under cover of night. The place is barren. Not a scribbler in sight. As he surveyed in stealth the scribblers got wise, packed their squibbles and migrated to a fresh patch of mulch and mold.
His employer bit a nip off his ear, used his pinky finger claw to mark the accountant and punish him.
And now here he is, leading a pack of strays, smaller than a normal pack of kraggles. And sure enough, he’s a brute, losing his temper at those who follow him, losing himself in the counting while thirsting for the hunt, and threatening his position among the others. He doesn’t trust his accountant. She’s unfocused. He’s recounting her counts. They’re going in circles. His eyes in a frenzy.
It is in these wild eyes the scientist sees their way out. He, his cohorts, and the women from the trees aren’t what is being hunted. Oh, they’re certainly hungry, but mostly the pack is in the middle of a broader existential crisis.