Maia growled with frustration as she watched the human load *her* bighorn on the back of a mule. It wasn’t fair. After all, she’d found the dead sheep first and she hadn’t had but a few nips before the man had shown up with his mules and his opposable thumbs and his gun. If it weren’t for the gun she’d have argued with him, or at least tried to come to some agreement that fell in her favor, but he was armed and he didn’t look as foolish as most of his kind. So, she watched in her frustration and she followed.
It wasn’t long before the man stopped at a tree, growing just to the side of the crumbling roadway, and began butchering the carcass. Maia crept closer to the oblivious human, her coat blending perfectly with the desert landscape. She drooled with excitement as the man skillfully removed the internal organs and bled the big ram.
Maia slunk into position to make a dash for the heart, or maybe the liver, but despite her vigilance, she was never given the opportunity for her snatch and grab. In short order the sheep was dressed and everything, including the liver, heart, hide and horns, packed up for transport.
Just as he was about to leave, the man turned, gave a little smile, and tossed the package of intestines to land just in front of the brush where Maia lay concealed. She gave a start and a small disconcerted yip as he chuckled and urged his team back into motion. Embarrassed but intrigued, Maia gorged herself on the delicious entrails and resumed her pursuit, following the man into the rising sun.
After several miles her nose detected the unmistakable odors of a human settlement and she became more cautious, dropping back to give her quarry a substantial lead. As she peered over the crest of a small rise she was relieved to see that the man had stopped at the outskirts of the town and was guiding his mules into a pen with a trough of water and a few shade trees.
After unloading and caring for his animals, the man proceeded to shoulder *her* sheep and carry it over to a long, wheeled box. It looked like it had once been part of some sort of large cargo hauler, similar to those she’d occasionally seen barrelling along in well guarded convoys on the human road. This one had been heavily modified and no longer appeared suited to high speed transit over post apocalyptic asphalt.
Still curious, Maia crept closer, careful to remain upwind of the mules with their keen noses. She dashed from cover to cover until she was concealed in a large patch of brittlebush just at the edge of a cleared area ringed with palo verde and mesquite trees. They provided shade for a number of tables and there was a cloth awning strung between a series of poles to protect those lacking the benefit of a tree.
Maia lost sight of the sheep thief during her approach, but she could hear him moving around inside the wheeled box, and she listened intently to try to catch what he was doing with her meal. A loud, hydraulic shriek nearly startled her into flight as the side of the trailer split horizontally and began to open.
When it had finished unfolding, the side facing the circle of trees was transformed, the bottom section had become a long, raised platform with over a dozen stools. A railing ran around the outside to keep clumsy humans from falling the nearly two meters to the ground, while the top section extended over it to offer shade. The stools provided seating for a counter that ran the length of the trailer. The opposite side of the structure opened to the breeze.
The last three meters or so of the trailer remained sealed and appeared to be quite secure. Maia observed the man carry her sheep within, soon reemerging with several boxes. Her nose twitched, and she began to salivate as the man removed various foodstuffs from the boxes, quickly processing the contents which soon sizzled on a hot grill. She slipped from the brittlebush to the dubious concealment provided by a table as the smell of sausage, onion and chile pepper overrode her natural caution.
Before Maia could finalize a plan revolving around scattered boxes, recklessly opened beer taps, and stolen sausage, two more humans appeared to take seats at the counter. Both seemed to be male and were dressed in the sturdy clothing she associated with salvagers. Maia listened with half an ear to their ongoing conversation as she reevaluated her culinary options.
“Well I don’t know Henry. Chicken ranching is a tough business around here. Take it from me, predators, disease, water shortages, feed shortages, they’re your constant companions in poultry in these parts,” the taller, light haired man was saying.
“I hear what yer sayin’ Frank, I do. But’cha gotta admit, ya can’t s’pply even half the orders ya git fer chicken. I’m just thinkin’ there’s gotta be ‘n opp’rtun’ty there and this feller from Bakers’ Feel is offer’n ta trade a whole mess a fert’lized eggs fer one a them two incabators I found on muh trip out west,” the other man, apparently Henry, replied.
At the mention of her favorite food, that most delectable of earthly delights, the chicken, Maia crept unconsciously forward. The slight movement caught Frank’s eye and he casually picked up a pepper shaker from the counter top.
“See what I mean Henry, damn coyotes are everywhere!” and with that, Frank spun and pitched the shaker with unerring accuracy at Maia’s exposed flank.
With an indignant yelp, she fled into the desert, her mind filled with plans of purloined poultry.
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