When a friend asks you to write a short story about an otter, you don’t walk, you run! (No, wait, you sit down and write it.) Inspired by this tweet/picture:
Emma swallowed another sob, trying to make as little noise as possible. It wouldn’t do for a passerby to think the shrub was crying, and the creek didn’t make enough noise to drown her out—just a soft bubbling sound that was no good to anyone. She hiccupped and curled tighter into herself, wishing she’d brought a coat as the dampness permeating her clothing made a chilly spring day colder.
It was the guilt more than anything. The guilt of taking someone’s babies and then not taking proper care of them. Mother Toad was probably cursing Emma’s name right now, wondering where all her spawn had got to.
Down a duck’s gullet, Emma answered her mentally, making herself more miserable. She should have known the ducks would come; she should have protected her tadpoles. All those poor tadpoles!
A rustling noise shocked her out of her reverie. She looked around, but there was no walker on the path beyond the shrubs she’d hidden in, and nothing happening in the creek. A frog jumping, maybe? Misery threatened to pull Emma back down, but before she could go back to her grief her eyes snagged on something—something brown in the field, on the other side of the path. She watched it through the hedges.
Not a deer, and not a bunny either. Curiosity pulled Emma from the hedge, and she stayed low as she crossed the path to stand along the side of the field peering. Her damp clothes were immaterial to her now—because she was looking at an otter.
And the otter was looking back at her.
She’d never seen an otter outside of an aquarium, and she didn’t think they usually stood like that, just staring at little girls as if they were waiting for them to come closer. Emma took a cautious step.
The otter didn’t move.
Another step, another—and Emma could see, now, that it held a stick. A wizard. It was a wizard otter, here to send her on a quest. It was obvious, for a moment—and then it wasn’t. The otter jumped away, the stick falling, and the illusion shattered.
The brief distraction was over. Just as well. A careless protector like Emma didn’t deserve—
Hold on. The otter had hopped up to something bright blue, down at the boggy end of the field. It looked at Emma again, pulling at the blue thing. Emma broke into a run to join it, scaring it away briefly, but they were companions now and it didn’t run far. It had led her to a backpack, the zips closed, mud splashed carelessly across its front. Emma hunkered down to open it up, pulling out a plastic bag with a—
She’d no more had a chance to identify the thing as a sandwich before the otter was snatching it out of her hand and running. Hey! Emma glared after it, offended, before bending back over the backpack. Inside were contents she might have found in her own backpack at home: books, notebooks, pencils. But maybe… maybe not normal books. Maybe not normal pencils.
Maybe this was a quest, and the otter had guided her on it. She had to find the backpack’s owner. There was probably a secret diary in here, and maybe instructions on how to get to a magical—no. She was getting ahead of herself. She had to take this backpack home and follow procedure, puzzle out the clue she’d come across. It was definitely a quest, and the otter had definitely chosen her. She had to live up to its expectations.
She looked up at the wizard otter stuffing its face a safe distance away, and was sure the sandwich was just a bonus.