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1

Nothing beats a peaceful walk through the marsh, K told herself. Whistling a cheerful tune, she followed the winding path around a pond of elegantly floating ducks.

This being spring, and the day being pleasantly warm but far from hot, lots of creatures had ventured out of their hiding places. Sparrows. Squirrels. Snakes.

The natural preserve, where the marsh was located, was a veritable urban oasis. It was open to humans and other inhabitants of the earth alike. Beautiful. Simply gorgeous. The sunlight danced on the surface of one pond, just as it did in the next, and K forgot all her woes.

Presently, K was the only human around. In her admittedly selfish opinion, that usually made things ten times better. Frankly, she didn’t care what others thought of this opinion of hers. The past month had been a nightmare of administrative red tape, which wouldn’t have existed, had it not been for human bureaucracy.

Heck, she deserved this break! Besides, she was in nature! Of course the absence of trash-throwing, camera-clicking humans made things ten times better!

Until she saw the gray bird on the path, several feet in front of her.

Wait. Was it a bird?

Yes, it was. It had a beak.

This “thing has beak, must be bird” logic sounded so obvious, yet K felt as if her brain had stopped functioning. She needed to think step by step.

She’d never seen a bird that large. It was as tall as her—literally. If it were to unfold its wings, their span would be longer than her height. Its yellow beak was as wide and long as her friggin’ face.

That giant gray bird stood smack in the middle of the path—

—the one and only path available to humans, who were forbidden from swimming in the pond or jumping over the ten-foot fence that surrounded the marsh preserve.

The bird stared at her.

It didn’t budge.

“Ehem.”

K cleared her throat, as if she expected the bird to follow the unspoken (human) social protocol of moving out of the way when someone ehem-ed.

But of course the bird didn’t do that.

“Eh…”

No. She wasn’t going to attempt to talk to the bird. Instead, she glanced back at the path that she’d followed up to this point.

No obstacle there. Good.

Slowly, she backed away. This was a natural preserve, after all. She was in the bird’s territory, not the other way around. And even if this weren’t a natural preserve, the bird was so huge, if they were to get in a fight—whether it be a match of slapping, punching, or kicking—the bird would win. Heck, it could peck her to death with that humongous beak.

You had to pick your battles. And having picked battles with the creators of administrative red tapes in the past month, K most definitely did not want another battle with yet another creature that clearly wasn’t going to communicate with her in understandable words. She’d had enough of that from the bureaucrats whose favorite go-to response was the canned one.

She kept backing away.

The bird didn’t move.

This was good.

Now she only needed to find the exit, which was also the entrance, and she’d easily return to the mostly-solely-human world, full of bureaucratic nonsense but free from five-foot giant gray birds…

…if the black snake hadn’t suddenly appeared.