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Mounted on Zha-Zha’s hips, Bubby was about to come when suddenly Axel’s fists landed full-force around his ears. He pulled out quickly and cringed, a mincing smile on his face. Last time Axel caught them, he warned there’d be no more forgiveness.
But instead of barking, “What d’ya think you’re doing!” the old alpha rolled his head and, as if questioning the sky itself, asked, “Where, oh where does it end? Say I punish you again. Sure, you’ll slink away to lick your wounds. But soon you’ll be back hornier than ever. Etcetera etcetera till the day you can beat me and — whoopee! — change your name to Adam or whatever. But what then? You’ll have to fight off your brothers for the rest of your life. Where’s the sense in that?”
Bubby didn’t answer right away. He still expected a surprise attack. He picked a louse, watched the blood spurt as he squeezed it, and finally said, “What do you mean by sense?”
Axel blew air noisily through his lips. “Look, I’m giving you this last chance. You better take it. I’m not going to claw your belly open or bite your knackers off or anything. Only I want you to do something for me: move on! You want Zha-Zha, take her. No exchanges, no returns. Start your own troop. Only do it out of my sight!”
“Go where?” Bubby laughed. “You know we’ve got Yankers on one side and Tuskies on t’other. Not a tree in the forest isn’t spoken for. Why d’you think I have to meet Zha-Zha out here on the edge of the prairie?”
“There’s your answer!” Axel pointed to the treeless plain. “You want a family? You take her out there and start one. Not a rival in earshot.”
Bubby studied the plain and wondered if he was being mocked. “No food there,” he grunted. “And ravenous monsters, zillions of them.”
“Bah, they’re gentle as snails and eat nothing but grass!” Axel said. “Only dangerous when they run in herds. Creep up on one, surprise it with a rock, and it’ll feed your family for a week.”
Bubby stared, wrinkled his brow, scratched his chin, stood on his head, and completing a cartwheel said, “What’s grass?”
“It’s what grows out there instead of trees. No trunk, no branches, tiny flowers. All leaf.”
“Tall as you, maybe. It’s what the monsters eat.”
“And you say we should eat them?”
The big-chested bruiser shook his head. “No, I say only this: You go! Got it? Good.” And with that he swung to the next tree and disappeared back into the forest, back home to his harem.
Looking far across the plain Bubby saw a clump of trees. If only he could reach that shelter with his bride . . . But he could think no further.
“Are we going then?” Zha-Zha’s voice startled him. She had already taken a few two-footed paces out onto the bare ground and began to eat some berries she found there. As she reached to pick more from the bush, the sight of a snake slithering through the grass made her scream.
Bubby came running. “I’m the one who’s banished,” he told her. “You don’t have to suffer with me. You can stay.”
Zha-Zha held him close and nuzzled his ear. “You still don’t get it, do you?” she said. “I love you.”