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Chapter Four – Discovering again 

The further we walk from the goopy green battlefield behind us, the fatter ‘Ol-Purp gets.

We’ve been travelling through the most heavily panda-infested regions we come across, because I am confident panda-filled areas will be the safest. There is no risk of big predators if these plump bears are still around – their primary activities of lazing and eating cannot possibly leave them well adapted to fending off predators. I have to be cautious, so allowing panda population density to dictate my route makes the most sense – I’m starting from scratch here, after all. I don’t want to walk in the wrong direction and become the corpse that warns the next guy to be careful.

Right now, that means we have wandered along a river flanked by willow trees.

I considered at first that it was some sort of newt-indigestion, or homesickness, or that he was pregnant. Normal, everyday stuff that can lead to your newt-companion weighing down your scarf as you travel. But as we walked further and further on, it went from being a little extra of him to catch the eye, to being plump around the middle, to being plump in general.

Then he started getting really, really fat.

“We can’t both wear the scarf anymore, Big-Old-Purp.”

He looks up at me, his bloated roundness releasing a swishy, gushy sound as he moves. He is still scaly and slimey and all up to all the proper newt-things, but he has inflated to the size of a volleyball with a face and sentimental value, though still almost as light as when he was distinctly reptillian.

He doesn’t tuck neatly into my scarf anymore, so to make carrying him around a bit easier, I make a bindle out of my scarf and the hilt of my sword, holding it by bits of the blade that were warped, caked in mud or otherwise blunt and non-life threatening.

Carrying him in a pretty fashionable bindle helps, but it doesn’t stop him from expanding a little bit at a time.

I’ve come to another hill, and as I struggle uphill – earning each step, with the combined weight of my sword and newt pressing down hard against my shoulder – I hear shuffling around me.

I glance around, but there is nothing but ferns and trees on the hillface. The shuffling turns into high-pitched sniffling, and I narrow my eyes at an over-large fern.

Something wonderful plods out from behind it.

I stare, joy filling me and putting a warm smile on my face.

“I’m going to call you Pugaphant.”

It stares up at me with wide-eyes, its fluffy coat bristling as it did. The top of its wrinkly head came up to my hip, a square mound of flappy folds framing a big black snout.

“I mean, I doubt you get the reference, Pugaphant. There were these elephants’ back in the day, with big thick limbs like you have. They werent bipedal either, but they still had the leathery greyness down. Flat ends all around, though – No paws on the arms. And a Pug was a sort of dog, which-”

Pugaphant’s mouth fell open as he looked at me, releasing a slobbery gulp that sounded like his body was having trouble finding his lungs.

“Yup, they wheezed just like that!”

It’s tongue lolls out of it’s mouth as it looks up at me – cross-eyed, wheezy, fluffy perfection.

“We’re going to get along just fine, Pugaphant.”

Big-‘ol-Purp had bloated a little more and the sword was clung tight in my hands to hold him in place. Each step was getting that teensy bit harder to take, with my progressively heavier friend threatening to pull us both all the way downhill.

Still, Pugaphant had followed of his own accord, so I had it to keep me entertained.

It is short, squat, and padded with thick grey chunks of leathery hide visible through the fur by the joints and the face. His snout twitches in time with his tongue heaving up and down, like random bits of him had gotten connected on the inside in weird ways. The overall package looks like a particularly enterprising dog had mated with this thickest-hided animal around and then sort of avoided its rightful death for a few generations of tomfoolery and chance.

It sniffles and stares big-eyed at me as I walk, but doesn’t yap or bark or trumpet. It just follows, pleading (or naturally big eyed) all the way up the hillface. As we reach the crest of the hill and I finally reach the easy half of the journey, Pugaphant scampers forward, it’s flappy mounds of fat bundling into me and sending us to the floor. I drop my bindle-sword, rolling even as Pugaphant wheezes happily.

I look around among the ferns for any broken stick fallen from the trees above, but come up empty.

“I don’t have anything to play with, little guy!” I croon, watching as he shuffles happily over to my sword, pawing at it with his fluffy grey mitts.

“That’s not quite safe, bud.” I say, as gently as I can, watching him sniff and nibble at the cloth of my scarf.

Big-‘l-Purp grows a little extra.

“Hey, back away little guy-”

Fleck’s of drool slip from under Pugaphant’s snout and drip down onto the scarf.

B’l-Purp bloats that little bit more.

I rush forward, fumbling to pick up my bindle.

Pugaphant bites the scarf.

I lift the bindle as high as I can, but the dogthing is still latched on tight, ignoring his sudden flight an inch or so off the ground and instead focusing on letting out a choked growl as his thick pawed limbs prod the knot tying B’l-urp safely in place
I try to wrench the sword higher to deter the dogthing, but with all the extra weight I can barely lift my sword an inch off the ground. If it’s legs werent utterly flat, the pugaphant would just be standing on it’s tippy toes.

I twist my body and spin the blade around in a wobbly circle, but it just makes the pugaphant’s growling louder and even less friendly.

Bluurp bloats some more, but this time it isn’t incremental. He keeps going, surging outward and stretching the fabric of my scarf until the combined strain from his weight, size, and the furious attempts of Pugaphant’s paws make the scarf burst loose from the sword as the bindle breaks apart and Blurp spills out.

His wobbly roundness teeters for a minute perfectly down the middle of the hill without leaning either particular way.

I watch with baited breath, hoping against hope he will fall down the way we’re supposed to be going.

Thank goodness for small miracles – Pugaphant leaps at Blurp and sends them both tumbling down the way we were trying to go. I would enjoy the moment, if I had time.

For now, I rush after them – It’s like watching a ball get dropped into one of those peg-filled boards, a high stakes gameshow where guessing where the ball ends up is suddenly high stakes.

Blurp is being bounced and rebounded by trees, diverting his route and sending him along some chaotic route towards the bottom. More worryingly, each consequtive ‘plonk’ into a treetrunk robs him of the momentum that is keeping him ahead of the drooling Pugthing.

I bound down the hill as face as I can – my sword trailing in the dirt behind me – not sure what else there is to do other than run.

Pugaphant’s barking has reverted into wild whistles, his oddly shaped anatomy wheezing merrily down the hill as I give chase, red-faced.

I could drop my sword and hope to catch up a little more, but then I wouldn’t be much use when I catch up, and I doubt I have it in me to roll Blurp back up a hill to retrieve the blade…

Blurp rolls on, effortlessly bumping and bouncing down the hill even as he is knocked aside at random by stubborn trees – Pugaphant and I are making sharp turns and twists to follow his path. I’ve started panting, and I can feel my face turn a lovely shade of purple that I hope wont make Blurp homesick for his bowl.

Pugaphant’s wheezy roaring gets louder as he gets that little bit closer and closer to his bloated prey.

As we near the bottom of the hill – and the end of the patternless route changes – Pugaphant’s wheezing gets even louder. There is a rattle to it, menacing, trumpetted intent clear. It is still ahead of me, slightly moreso than when we started.

I push myself ahead as fast as I can.

Blurp bloats again, and snags between two trees. He comes to a stop, small branches snapping under the pressure but the rest holds steady.

Pugaphant leaps into him headfirst, and that extra push is enough to snap a limb and send Blurp rolling off, even as the dogthing stumbles on its flat feet and hits the ground. It’s wheezing is heavy now – heavier than sounds healthy. I rush past the floored animal and reach Blurp, spinning around to watch the Pugaphant cautiously – admittedly while smirking – and with my sword pointing as directly at the beast as I can manage while nudging Blurp away from the hostile little thing with my back and bum.

I stand like this for a bit, budging Blurp slowly along behind me and watching the Pugaphant and waiting for it to stand, but it’s wheezing continues. I watch it’s cross-eyed pleading resume again in its face as it shuffles and tries to stand, but it flops down again, defeated.

That little weirdly built thing couldn’t keep up with us. It was done, for now.

I feel the corners of my mouth curl up all of their own accord as my smirk slips into a grin.

I nudge Blurp gently with my shoulder, moving him slowly across the ground and hoping he wont burst. It’s a bit silly, because he’d done fine on his way down the hill, but it makes me feel a bit better about pushing him along if I take it slow. I’d used my scarf to wipe mud off of him both, so now it’s tied around my belly rather than covering my neck in dried mud.

My feet plant firmly and roll him along through lush grass and an otherwise gorgeous vista.

Big-‘Ol-Purp rolls along, his stretched face angled up to the sky. I check, but other than being cloudy there is nothing much up there. No birds for him to worry about, and it’s not like they could carry him off anymore anyway. He hadn’t actually gotten much heavier, but he was massive and he made a swishing noise when he moved, like he’d drunk far, far too much.

It’s getting hard to push him along like this, lugging a sword behind in my hand. We’re not getting very far, and our trail of crushed foliage and pockmarked soil can’t be hard to follow.

“Not exactly sure how I’m supposed to lug you and a sword around, buddy… Big-‘ol-Purp.”

The Humongous B.I.G looks up at me with glassy eyes. He was, after all, probably quite sick. His bowl wouldn’t have accomodated anything near this size. It could just be a mating display compensating for distance from other newts by being utterly ridiculously large, but thinking down that route was just a mess of uncomfortable questions I didn’t want answered.

I sit and lean gently against my newt-ball. He doesn’t burst. I make sure to point my sword away from him as we sit.

“I wish I’d answered more of your questions, buddy.”

He doesn’t say anything back. I like to see it as noble, maybe even accepting, even though I was there when the mechanized bowl he could’ve spoken through was stolen.

He expands again, just a little.

“I liked you best, straight away man. It wasn’t because you were purple, either. That is still my favourite colour, but it wasn’t why. Actually, I don’t think I even mentioned liking purple. I’m not racist or anything, colour doesn’t really matter. You were just a nice guy, is what I mean. You wanted to make me feel welcome.”

Again, he’s pretty quiet.

I take a minute to think.

My friend is fat. Unquestionably the most bloated creature I’ve ever come across, by a longshot. I have a scarf, and I could maybe push him slowly along and clean us off after, but we’re moving damn slow and all we have made so far are enemies. I could just push him along as I walk and stick to flat ground so he doesn’t roll down a hill again. That way, I am just hoping he doesn’t get any bigger, and it’ll take both hands to push him along with any speed.

I also have the sword. It’s huge, twisted, gnarled and badass. I hit my sister with a warped chunk of it, so I don’t know if I compromised the lethality of it at some point, but it’s my best defense in a world I can’t really anticipate. If we’re being rational, it’s my best chance to live. Even if it does dig into the floor as I walk and slow me down a bit, it’s still heavy, and it has a handle. I wish I’d answered enough questions to get a sheathe, but I doubt it’d fit into one anymore, anyway, as warped as it is.

I also have a dressing gown, which protects my decency to a certain degree, and a muddy scarf. Neither of those help much, or provide much companionship.

Blurp rolls a little, to look at me again.

I look down at my sword, my survival, and sigh.

It put my hands on either side of Blurp’s round bulk.

“You’re important.”

I miss my sword.