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Samantha Douglas is a pretty, shy ten year old girl living in a remote area of Alaska with her parents. She is normal except for one very unique and exceptional talent: she has been able to talk to animals as far back as she can remember. There is only one problem: no one believes her, not even her family. .


Chapter Excerpt




Samantha's Talent



Darrell Bain and Robyn Pass



Part One



Chapter One

Elaine Douglas was getting tired. She flicked the fly rod one more time, then decided to call it quits. She secured the line and waited until she caught her husband's attention. He was fishing further downstream. When he looked her way, she waved and turned to point toward the shore to show him she was through for the day. That's when she saw the grizzly bear on the bank of the stream. It was sitting; much like a human might do with its rear legs splayed out in front of it. Her ten year old daughter was propped on one massive leg and pulling down on one of the bear's huge extended front legs. She was laughing.

"Oh my God! Ron!" Elaine screamed. "Come quick! Ronnnaallllddd! Hurry!"

Samantha Douglas hung on to the huge bear's paw and glanced toward the stream at the sound of her mother's voice. She laughed and stood up on the bear's back leg and wrapped her arms around a front one. "Look, Mom!" she shouted gleefully as the bear slowly raised its front leg and lifted her into the air, then set her back down as carefully as a mother placing a baby in its cradle.

Elaine Douglas stared at the scene in horror. Her throat constricted, leaving her unable to utter another word. At the same time Ronald Douglas saw what was happening. At first he couldn't believe it. He was farther away from Samantha and her mother, but close enough to see a curly lock of Samantha's auburn-colored hair fall across her face as the bear raised her up and down. Her hair and the brown pants and blouse she was wearing blended in with the massive grizzly bear's similarly colored pelt. He had a fleeting hope he wasn't seeing his daughter with the bear, but then she brushed the hair away from her face and became plainly visible. His heart jumped in his chest.

"Sammie! Get away from that bear!" His voice came out high and shrill, fraught with fear. He dropped his fly rod and began splashing toward the shore, his progress impeded by the heavy waders and thigh-deep water. As he ran, he fumbled for a grasp on the .38 caliber revolver he carried in a shoulder holster. He struggled toward his daughter while his mind raced, he wondered what affect his pistol would have on a bear weighing a thousand pounds, or whether he would get there before the grizzly killed Samantha.

"Sammie, get away!" he screamed again. He was scared to death that any moment the bear would hug Samantha to its chest and crush her as easily as wadding up a piece of scrap paper.

Samantha was an obedient child. She looked up at the bear's huge head, with its mouth open and tongue lolling. It looked funny with one normal ear and one shortened and notched from an encounter with a bad tempered wolverine. Whoofluff had told her it happened when he was a cub. She spoke some words to the beast's good ear, then jumped off its leg. The bear made a deep snuffling noise at her as it got to its feet and ambled away. It had a peculiar gait to its walk from two missing toes on a back paw, courtesy of the same wolverine that had mangled its ear. A moment later Samantha was almost being crushed in the embrace of both her parents.

"Sammie, don't you ever go near a bear again, ever, ever, ever!" Elaine Douglas admonished shrilly once she could speak coherently again.

"But Mom, he wasn't going to hurt me. He said he'd be careful."

"Oh Lord, not that again," Ronald Douglas said. He noticed his hands were still trembling, but the bear was already out of sight and he could feel his pulse slowing down. He saw that he was still holding his pistol and quickly re-holstered it. "Sammie, animals can't talk. I've told you that over and over. Why don't you listen to me?"

"I know Daddy, they can't talk like us, but they understand me all the same, and I know what they're saying when they talk to me. It's not really talking like we do, but I can tell what they mean. I can hear it plainly. Whoofluff just wanted to play with me. He said so."


"That's his name. He said he'll be back again sometime soon. He likes to play with me."

"Well, you're not to play with him again, do you understand!" Mrs. Douglas almost screamed at her daughter, horrified at what might have happened. In Alaska there were numerous stories of people being killed and eaten by the big grizzlies.

"But Mom, he..."

"I don't want to hear it! It was bad enough when you brought that pair of raccoons home. Wild animals are dangerous, Samantha! Don't you understand that?"

Samantha hung her head and didn't answer. She didn't know how to answer. No one believed her when she told them animals talked or that she could talk to them in turn. The bears wouldn't hurt her, not the ones she played with, like Whoofluff, or Loosmuff and her cubs, Soomum and Kolpumf, which Mom and Dad hadn't seen her with.

"Do you understand, young lady?!" Elaine gripped Samantha by her upper arms. She was so emotionally wrought that she couldn't decide whether to shake her daughter's teeth loose or hug her to death.

"Yes'm," Samantha said. Neither parent noticed she had one hand behind her back, fingers crossed.

Samantha couldn't remember when she first began talking with animals, just as she couldn't remember when she began to read. At first it was just an occasional thing, since one or both her parents were almost always with her until she began school in the first grade. She was six years old then and allowed to play outside so long as she stayed close to the house. The Douglas family lived at the end of a short dirt road that branched off a gravel road, which in turn led into the small rural town of Wikluk, Alaska.

There was an apple tree and a patch of salmon berries by the side of the road near their garden. She began saying hello to the small animals attracted to the scent of the vegetables. To them it seemed like a delicious banquet which unfortunately was guarded by an extremely sturdy fence. The rabbits began answering her once they got over their surprise of the strange human cub who unaccountably was able to talk to them in their own language and understood when they answered back. For a while it was fun, but the rabbits had a very limited vocabulary. Mom and Dad thought it was funny that she was pretending she could talk to rabbits. Samantha became exasperated when she insisted she was really talking to them, but her parents still thought she was pretending. They believed she was using the rabbits for friends since there were no children her age that lived nearby.

One morning, a fox wandered past while Samantha was outside playing.

"Hello, Mr. Fox," She said. "I'm Samantha. What's your name?"

The fox, with its gold and reddish pelt was a handsome creature. It cocked its head and looked at Samantha. I am Froxer. You speak fox! How?

"I don't know, Froxer. I just can, that's all. I guess I could talk to just about any animal. What are you doing?"

Look for rabbits or mice or voles. Feed my young. What you eat?

"Oh, we have vegetables from the garden and we have meat from my Dad hunting."

I hunt, too. Good-bye.

She waved. "Good-bye, Froxer. Come back when you have more time to talk."

And the fox did come back, intrigued by the young human who could talk to animals. If anyone had been watching and listening they wouldn't have heard Samantha making sounds like a fox. She spoke normally, but her words were mostly decipherable to the fox, who in turn made animal noises that meant nothing to anyone except Samantha. She understood them perfectly as Froxer's way of speaking. Each animal was different and she could talk to them all.

Unfortunately, her parents still didn't believe she could do anything of the sort.

"You're in school now, Sammie," her mother said. "You have friends at school you can talk to. You don't have to pretend you can talk to animals anymore."

"But I can talk to them, Mom! I can!"

Ronald remembered watching Samantha sitting inside of their fence in the yard and making noises at a passing fox one day and doing the same to a wolf that ambled by on another. On both occasions the animals stopped for a while. His daughter and the nominally wild mammals appeared to get along fine with each other. He knew it was very unusual for those animals to come so close to humans. It was even more remarkable for them to stay as long as they did, as if they had come for a visit.

"I think Sammie just has a way with animals," he said. "Some people do, you know. Animals seem to like her."

"That's all well and good, but she can't talk to them and she shouldn't say she can. People will think she's weird. You wouldn't want your friends to think you're strange, would you, honey?" her mother said imploringly.

"No ma'am."

"Good. Then stop pretending and don't tell people you can talk to animals. They won't understand that you were lonely and just pretending, like most children pretend to have imaginary friends."

"Yes, ma'am." Samantha decided it was best not to mention her talent, and not get into conversations with animals when adults were nearby. Her only slips were being seen talking to an old moose by the back fence and a half-grown skunk that wandered into the schoolyard one day. Fortunately, it wasn't old enough to stink up the place and left when Samantha asked it to. Of all the animals, skunks were one species she had no interest in at all, especially grown skunks!

* * *

Whoofluff was disappointed when the little human cub wasn't by the stream when he stopped to drink. He had encountered a few humans before, but she was the only one he knew who could talk to him and wasn't afraid to come near. She was one of his few interests in life besides food and drink. Well, and female bears, but they only interested him at mating season. He had looked forward to seeing her this year after waking from hibernation. He decided to see if he could find her again. He snuffled around the ground by the stream where she and the grown humans had been recently until he found their scent. He followed it slowly until he was sure of the direction, then sped up; heading toward the place where he knew the human herd lived.

Saturday was the day when the families of the little village of Wikluk normally did their weekly shopping at the combination general store and post office. It was located on the unpaved road named Main Street, which in fact was the only street in the village. The Douglas family was just carrying their last bundles out to their car when the shouts began.

"Good God, it's a bear!"

"Quick! Somebody bring a gun!"

Samantha stopped abruptly. She cocked her head like an alert bird listening for worms, then dropped her package of groceries and began running pell-mell down the street. She didn't have far to go since there were only two other commercial buildings and a couple of dozen houses in Wikluk.

"Sammie, come back!" Ronald called desperately, already knowing what his daughter must be up to. He discarded his bags and took off after her, followed by his wife, who had an agonized look on her face to match that of her husband.

Samantha paid not the least bit of attention to their shouts, not after she heard mention of a gun. She whizzed along and disappeared around the corner of the last house. She outdistanced Jeff Wesley, who was just coming outside with a rifle in his hands. The scruffy looking man always had a weapon handy.

Wesley, the Douglas couple and several other residents followed in Samantha's wake, spurred on by the sounds of horrendous screams coming from behind the house. As the crowd of townspeople ran past the yard and veered to the right, they all stopped abruptly, almost causing a pileup. The screams were coming from a young woman who had been out gardening. They cut off abruptly as she caught sight of the people following Samantha, then resumed even more shrilly as she saw the Douglas girl run full tilt, right into the bear.

Whoofluff ignored the hubbub and pretended the impact of Samantha hitting his bulk was sufficient to knock him over, even though he had barely felt the thump of her ten-year old body. Samantha immediately jumped onto his amply padded belly, swollen from hungry feeding after the long winter. She laughed, before rolling off. She ran around in front of him and put her arms around his neck as he turned onto his side and raised his head. Whoofluff was so big they would barely reach. She hugged him and faced the crowd.

"Sammie! Move out of the way so he can shoot!" Ronald shouted at his daughter.

"No! He just wants to play! Don't shoot, Mr. Wesley! He won't hurt anybody!" The big bear got to its feet, causing Samantha to lose her hold on its neck, but she stood in front of it and spread her arms wide in a protective gesture. "Please don't shoot!"

The very idea of the small girl trying to protect a huge grizzly bear with her body was so incongruous that Mr. Wesley lowered the barrel of his weapon, even though he would have loved to kill the bear. Seeing Mr. Douglas beside him, he said, "What about it Ron? Should I risk a shot?"

"No. I think she'll be all right. She." he hesitated for a moment, not wanting to admit publicly that his daughter thought bears could talk. "She sort of has a way with animals. Sammie!"

"Dad, it's okay. Whoofluff was just lonely and wanted to come play with me."

"Well, tell him to go away before someone shoots him."

"Yes, sir," Samantha said. She reached way up to hug the bear's neck while he lowered it to accommodate her.

Gasps came from the watching throng as she ruffled its thick fur. By then the ones watching the scene included almost every person who lived in Wikluk as well as the Saturday shoppers from the surrounding area. Samantha tugged at Whoofluff's good ear and began talking to him. She spoke so softly that her words were indecipherable to anyone else. Ronald began edging closer, intending to snatch Samantha away if he got a chance. Jeff Wesley began circling around in order to get a clear shot. The hell with Douglas, he thought.

Samantha saw them coming closer and spoke louder. "Dad, can we buy Mrs. Mobley's strawberries? He really just came to play with me, but he got distracted by their smell. Please?"

He looked toward the garden and saw an overturned straw basket. Samantha didn't seem to be in quite as much danger as he had thought, but it was still bad enough. Anything to get that bear away from her!

"Yes, yes, Sammie! I'll buy the strawberries. Now for goodness sake, see if you can get him to go away!"

"I will, but please, Dad, make everyone promise not to shoot him. He won't hurt anyone if they leave him alone."

Ronald hesitated.

"Please, Dad?" she pleaded. "I couldn't stand it if someone hurt Whoofluff." Just the thought caused a tear to escape and trickle down her face, weaving a streaked path. No fair maiden crying on the ramparts of a castle for a knight to save her from the evil Baron could have made a more appealing plea for help. Ronald turned around to face his friends and neighbors.

"Sammie says the bear will leave, but she wants everyone to promise not to harm him. Is that okay?"

A subdued muttering greeted his entreaty, but despite some dour faces, they all agreed not to hurt the bear if it would leave.

Jeff Wesley looked disgusted, but he nodded. Damn bear, coming right into town, threatening people. I see him again I'll take care of that problem right quick, no matter what that silly little Douglas girl thinks!

"Do they promise? They have to promise," Samantha said. She rubbed her face in Whoofluff's fur to wipe away the tears then looked back at the crowd.

Red-faced, and wondering what his friends and neighbors were thinking, Ronald relayed the request.

This time he heard a few nervous chuckles, but nods of heads and spoken answers indicated everyone agreed.

Promises to a bear! Next thing you know she'll be wanting us to stop catching salmon, Wesley thought, clutching his rifle. Damn foolishness is what it is.

"They all promise."

Samantha's face broke into a wide happy grin. She tugged affectionately at Whoofluff's pelt and said a few words to him, again too low to be heard.

The bear gobbled the remaining strawberries then walked away, not getting in a hurry, but still covering the ground at a remarkably fast pace.

Mr. and Mrs. Douglas rushed forward and claimed their daughter.

* * *

All the time during the drive home, Samantha was unnaturally silent, where normally she was a chatterbox. For the first time since she discovered that animals could talk to her with their few sounds that she heard as speech, she was wondering why no one else could understand them. The problem was absorbing all her attention. When she spoke to them she usually voiced whole words and sentences but she suddenly realized that at other times she spoke only a few words and sort of thought the rest, but that was with animals she knew well. Or maybe she was saying the words, but not audibly. It all occurred so naturally that she'd never really considered the mechanics of it. Now she did and knew that the reason Mom and Dad didn't believe her was just that simple. All they heard was her normal speech as she talked to the animals and they responded with animal noises. No wonder they didn't believe here. But the animals understood what she said and she understood them. It was a puzzle that she decided she would have to give a lot more thought to. Maybe when she was older there would come a time when she could study the process, but for now she decided there was nothing to do except keep her conversations with animals to herself. When she could.

But after today she wondered how they could possibly doubt her. No one else in the whole town had dared face friendly old Whoofluff except her and that was because she and the bear could talk to each other. Now she knew, but what she didn't know was how to convince anyone else that she could talk to animals.

Once back home, Elaine took her daughter aside for a heart to heart talk, an encounter she had been unconsciously avoiding, hoping Samantha would grow out of her imaginary conversations with animals.

"Sammie, what has gotten into you with this animal business? You have to stop it, do you hear? You know good and well that animals can't talk. It's time for you to drop this nonsense and begin growing up. You're not going to be a little girl much longer. You'll be a young lady. Ladies do not go around imagining they can talk to animals. "

"But Mom..."

"No, I don't want to hear excuses or stories about how animals talk to you. It's time to put that aside. Besides, didn't you see how frightened your father and I were?"

"You didn't have to be scared, Mom. Whoofluff just wanted to play. Honest."

"I don't care if he wanted to dance a jig with you. Either you put a stop to fraternizing with animals or I'm going to take away your library card. Is that clear?"

Fraternizing. That meant hanging around with. Samantha couldn't bear the thought of not being able to borrow books from the general store's library to read, especially since the area still didn't have the Internet. She sighed. Grownups just don't understand, she thought. Out loud, she said "Yes, ma'am. I won't play with Whoofluff anymore." She held her breath, hoping her mother wouldn't notice she wasn't promising not to talk to Whoofluff. That wasn't playing.

"All right then, that's the end of it. Now let's get the groceries put away and you can help me make us a pie for dinner."

* * *

Jeff Wesley spent a lot of time in the forest. He didn't pay much attention to the game laws. When he needed meat for his family he took it. If an animal showed the least sign of threatening behavior, he shot it. Sometimes it didn't even have to be threatening him. He liked to kill animals. It gave him a feeling of superiority, a feeling of power.

Several days after Whoofluff appearance in town, Wesley was just completing the dressing of a young caribou that had become separated from its herd. It had wandered too close to his little house located on the road leading to Wikluk and naturally he had killed it. He was in a hurry to finish the job and get his meat inside and in the freezer. He didn't want to be caught with a caribou after the season was closed in this area.

At the same time Wesley was beginning to cut the caribou meat into sections, Whoofluff was headed in the general direction of Wikluk. He was driven by a vague yearning to see the little human cub again when he crossed the path of Jeff Wesley. He sniffed, scenting the smell of fresh meat. Bears are never adverse to a bite to eat during the summer. A tremendous amount of food was necessary to store up fat to sustain them while they hibernated during the extreme cold of northern Alaska. As he got closer to the meat smell, another odor told him that one of the humans from the herd the girl cub belonged to was present.

Whoofluff's memory was directed almost exclusively toward food and drink and where and how to find it, but his mind had made room for the human cub who could talk to him. He also retained a few other odd bits of lore about humans.

Ordinarily Whoofluff was wary of the species. One of his other morsels of knowledge was the memory of seeing how easily humans could take the life force from animals. They did it by making loud noises from the odd smelling sticks some of them carried. But the girl cub had told him no one from her herd would hurt him. And she had quieted the hubbub over him eating some of the tasty berries the last time he saw her. Maybe this male human would be willing to share some of its kill, too. Confidently, sure that he would come to no harm, he waddled through the underbrush toward the man.

Wesley smelled the bear at the same time he heard it-and it was very near. His rifle was leaning against a tree several yards away. He cursed under his breath for being so careless, but Wesley never went anywhere without his pistol too, just to be on the safe side. He drew it from its holster and scanned the nearby brush. His eyes widened as he saw the bear, only a few short steps away. It was much nearer than he had thought. Then he noticed the scarred notched ear. It's the same damned bear that crazy little Douglas brat kept me from killing in town!

Whoofluff rumbled a greeting to the human and came closer. Wesley would have been fine if he had ignored the bear and simply left the caribou for him, but giving his kill to a bear was simply unthinkable. Besides, he purposely interpreted Whoofluff's deep-throated greeting as a threat so he would have an excuse to shoot, despite that silly promise to the stupid Douglas girl.

Wesley was a knowledgeable woodsman and ordinarily wouldn't have dreamed of trying to kill a grizzly with a pistol, but this one was so close he couldn't miss, and the heavy .45 with the high powered loads made him overconfident. Remembering how he had been thwarted before, he raised his gun, aiming at a spot between its eyes.

Just as he fired, the bear dipped his head to sniff at some of the caribou offal he had discarded. The bullet plowed a furrow across the pelt and underlying fat of Whoofluff's shoulder. Startled and hurt, Whoofluff roared into action and reared up, faster than Wesley imagined possible. He slapped the gun away with one huge paw just as Wesley fired a second shot, causing him to miss completely. The blow flung the weapon into the brush.

Wesley screamed and ran for his rifle, but he got no farther than a couple of steps before Whoofluff was on him.

* * *

The Douglas family lived a couple of miles from Wikluk. Ronald Douglas worked as an environmental specialist for the state of Alaska, exploring the possibility of both mining and recreation in the northern reaches of the state, but he had applied for several jobs in the lower forty eight. Samantha was nearing the age when she needed better schooling and an environment with more opportunities to stretch her mind. She was a very bright girl and loved to read. It was nearing noon and Ronald and his daughter were outside, waiting on the mail jeep. He was hoping for an offer on one of the new jobs listed in the professional journals he received in the mail and had applied for. She was waiting on a book her mother had ordered for her. When the jeep arrived, the driver honked.

"Must be that book your mother ordered," he said, then had second thoughts when the honking became urgent and the jeep turned into their driveway. He and Samantha met it at the front gate.

"Ron, you better get Sammie inside, then come on into town. Bring your rifle," the mail carrier said with some urgency.

"Why? What's happened?"

"Jeff Wesley was found near his home. He was mauled to death by a bear."

"Good God! I didn't particularly like the man, but I hate to hear about anyone dying like that."

"Yeah. Well, just wanted to let you know. We'll get a hunt organized and take care of the brute before it gets a kid out berry picking or something."

"I'll get my rifle," Ronald said. "Sammie, get in the house and stay there until your mother gets home. Hear me?"

"Yes, sir."

The mailman waited until Mr. Douglas's daughter was walking away from them, then beckoned Douglas closer.

"I didn't want her to overhear, Ron, but judging from the footprints around the body, it was the same bear she made friends with in town. Thought you might want to know." He said nothing about the remains of the caribou at the site.

"Thanks, George. I appreciate it. I'll see you in town, soon as I fetch Elaine and send her home to watch Sammie."

* * *

As soon as her father was out of sight, Samantha left the house and raced into the woods, taking a short cut toward where Mr. Wesley lived. All the way, she was hoping desperately it wasn't one of the grizzlies she had made friends with, but she suspected it was. She remembered the disgusted look on Mr. Wesley's face when she made everyone promise not to hurt Whoofluff.

She arrived before the hunting party had even gotten organized. The body was gone, of course, but it was easy to tell where the event occurred. The little scavengers were already busy with parts of the caribou carcass that had been left lying. In the distance she heard the howl of a wolf, but she barely noticed. All her attention was concentrated on examining the area for bear footprints.

"Oh no," Samantha said to herself when she saw the distinctive impression, a paw print with two toes missing. "Whoofluff. It was Whoofluff! She began following the tracks, as soon as she was certain of the direction she began running through the woods again. A little later she arrived at the stream where Mom and Dad had first seen her playing with the big grizzly. She was panting from the long run.

"Whoofluff!" she called. "Whoofluff, it's me. Come out!"

There was a rustling in the brush and the bear walked up to her. It lowered its head so she could get her arms around its huge neck. It was then that she saw the streak of dried blood running down from his shoulder.

"You're hurt! Poor Whoofluff. How did it happen?"

The bear told her how he had ran across Mr. Wesley while he was cutting up the caribou. Recognizing him as one of the human herd the girl cub had said wouldn't hurt him, he uttered a greeting and came nearer, hoping the man would share some of his kill. Despite his politeness, the man inflicted a painful wound with the little stick that made a loud noise, and was going to hurt him some more with the big stick if he could. That was when Whoofluff became angry and knocked him to the ground and bit him. Hard.

"That mean old man, and after he promised, too!" Samantha said to Whoofluff. "It serves him right, but now you have to go away. Go 'way off, Whoofluff, or the men will hunt you down and kill you. Please?"

The huge grizzly bear nuzzled his little human friend and turned away. Bears can't cry, but if they could, Whoofluff would have shed some tears at the thought of never seeing the little girl cub again, the only human he knew who could talk to bears.

As she watched him go, Samantha was the one who cried. She let the tears flow freely as she trudged back home, no longer hurrying. She knew that the town people would never believe it if she told them what really happened. She would have to admit she could talk to bears in order for her to have learned the details of Mr. Wesley's death. Besides, even if she were believed she thought they would still hunt down poor Whoofluff and kill him. Somehow, I have to stop it she thought and began to run.

* * *

Samantha heard her Mom and Dad frantically calling her name and sped up a little. If Dad was already back home she must have been gone longer than she thought. He would be angry, too, for her leaving the house after being ordered specifically not to.

"Sammie! Oh God, where have you been? Didn't I tell you to stay inside?" Her father was almost overwhelmed with relief at finding his daughter safe and sound. He had been frightened out of his wits when he returned from town and found her missing. He was so glad to find her safe that he forgot to be mad at her for disobeying his instructions.

Elaine was so distraught she couldn't even talk. She simply hugged her daughter close and whimpered. She had pictured her only child being killed by that enormous bear.

Eventually, the three were back in the house, and by this time Samantha's parents began demanding an explanation for her absence.

"I had to go warn Whoofluff so he wouldn't get shot," Samantha said, knowing the adults would be furious, but she wanted to explain.

"Do you mean to tell me you went and saw that.that man-eating bear after you said you wouldn't play with him again?" her mother asked, horrified at the thought.

"I wasn't playing with him. I was just talking to him, Mom. I told him to go way away from here so he wouldn't get shot."

"Well, he needs to be shot for killing and eating poor Mr. Wesley."

"Oh, Mom! He didn't eat anybody. He didn't even mean to kill Mr. Wesley. He just wanted to keep from being hurt any more. Mr. Wesley shot him, after he promised. People shouldn't break promises."

"Lord, have mercy," Elaine Douglas said, looking to the heavens. "Ronald, what are we going to do with her?"

"Put her in a circus if this goes on," Ronald said, at a loss for anything else to say. My God, I think she really can talk to animals he thought.

"Be serious, Ronald! She could have been killed!"

"Whoofluff wouldn't hurt me, Mom, any more than Loosmuff or her cubs would."

As soon as she saw her parents exchange startled glances, Samantha knew she had made a mistake. Whoops! I shouldn't have mentioned that, she thought. This was only going to make things worse.

"And just who might Loosmuff be, young lady? Another bear, I presume?"

Samantha hung her head. "Yes'm. A mother bear," she said, her voice barely audible.

"Did I hear you say 'cubs'," her father asked, aghast at the thought of his daughter going anywhere near a mother bear with cubs. They were notorious for the aggressiveness with which they defended their progeny. If she can get away with that, then she really must be able to talk to animals. Bears, at the very least. Good Lord. Elaine is right. What are we going to do with her?

"Loosmuff didn't mind, Dad. She knew I wouldn't hurt them. In fact, she was glad to have me watch them for her while she took a nap."

She wouldn't hurt them? How about the bear hurting her? Obviously, the mother bear had been as friendly to her as the one in town. Amazing. Ronald nodded, finally convinced.

But Elaine was still angry and unbelieving. "You're never to go near a bear again!" she shouted at Samantha, fear for her child's safety making her voice reach new volumes.

Samantha was momentarily saved from further recriminations by the sound of honking outside. Two jeeps with armed men in them had stopped by to pick up Mr. Douglas. They were on their way toward Wesley's place to begin the hunt.

Mr. Douglas started toward the door, but hesitated. He turned back around. "Sammie, which direction did you tell the bear to go?"

She looked up at her father, a despondent expression on her face. Then her eyes widened. She started to smile as she saw the slow, careful wink her father gave her, out of sight of her mother's unsympathetic gaze. She raised her arm and pointed in the opposite direction that Whoofluff had taken. "That way, Dad."

"I'll be back later," he said.

The hunters never did find Whoofluff, and the bear never returned to the vicinity of Wikluk again.



Chapter Two

It was several weeks before Elaine would let Samantha out of her sight, but eventually she relaxed. As summer neared its end, the Douglas household was almost back to normal. So normal, in fact, that Mrs. Douglas agreed to host Samantha's eleventh birthday party at their home.

Wikluk and the area around it was so sparsely populated that there wouldn't be many children attending. Nevertheless, Samantha was looking forward to it eagerly. She would be starting fifth grade in another month.

The day dawned beautifully. An early cool front chased the mosquito swarms away. Elaine made a large beautiful Salmon Berry cake with white icing, and somehow managed to find a package of candles in the general store. The cake was graced with eleven candles and her name was spelled out with salmon berries.

A dozen of her friends were supposed to be there, some coming from miles away, with their parents making special trips to bring them to the party. Ronald had made certain that his duties with the Alaskan Environmental Assessment Office allowed him to be present as well. Sometimes his work kept him away from home for weeks on end.

The home of Ronald and Elaine Douglas was fairly typical of rural Alaska. It was snug, well insulated and built to withstand the tree-bursting cold of winters in the northern part of the state. It had been built on a knoll higher than the surrounding area, allowing an adequate path for drainage of the spring snow-melt into a small creek a hundred yards below. The yard and garden were cleared, as well as the drive leading up to the gravel road that serviced the little town of Wikluk. Beyond that forest predominated, broken only by game trails and isolated meadows or telephone poles of the local phone company, operated by a generator, just as their electricity was.

Wildlife was abundant in the area. Grizzly bears fed on salmon where the creek fed into a slightly larger stream, the spawning bed of the delicious fish after their long and tortuous journey from the ocean. Caribou and elk roamed the forest as well as smaller varieties of ruminants, all of which provided prey for wolves, mountain lions, black bears and grizzlies. It was usually the old and weak and the very young which fell to the teeth and claws of the carnivores. When opportunity presented, smaller predators like wolverines and bobcats and lynx sometimes managed to kill the larger animals but mostly they stuck to rabbits, partridge and the like. Other animals were present as well. Beaver, fox, weasel, voles, and a plethora of others all played their part in the intricate dance of life, reproduction and death.

Samantha could communicate with most of them, although the more intelligent the animal, the plainer their language. Frequently, on her way to and from Wikluk when the weather was nice and she could walk, she had trysts with some of her favorites. There was Brfcut, the old bull moose who hung out by the lake above the little stream and Hostervut, the alpha male wolf which led the pack that sometimes roamed the area around the village.

Hostervut was fun to talk to. He was young to be an alpha male but his strength and cunning earned him the position. He was also a big beautiful animal. He sported a thick, dark brown pelt with a black-tipped, bushy tail. Hostervut had just reached his full body weight, almost a hundred pounds, large for a timber wolf. Consequently, he had very little competition from other males or females for the leadership position.

Game had been plentiful the year of Samantha's eleventh birthday. The pack had been well fed, giving ample opportunity for Hostervut and others of the pack to turn their attention to matters besides food. Since none of the females were in heat, that left time for those of the pack who had such notions to indulge in play and curiosity. The cubs, those less than a year old, were particularly prone to playful activities when they were well fed. Whenever Samantha had an opportunity, she snuck into the woods and rubbed old Brfcut's antlers where they itched from the last growth or found Hostervut and asked his permission to play with the cubs. The alpha wolf was glad to grant it, and the mothers of the cubs didn't mind a bit once Samantha assured them she would baby sit while they took the opportunity to grab a nap. Her favorites were the youngest cubs, Betus, Cetus and Ketus. They loved to act fierce and tug at the strange fur the human cub covered herself with, or roll in the grass with her while she rubbed their tummies and listened to their puppy growls of pleasure. Lately though, she hadn't seen the wolves nor had she seen any caribou. She knew most wolves followed the caribou herds which provided their chief source of food, so she assumed the wolves had left with the caribou.

The culmination of Samantha's birthday party was intended to be a demonstration of magic, performed by an itinerant showman who piloted his own plane over a wide area.

Ronald and Elaine Douglas were proud of themselves for thinking of this way to let Samantha know they were pleased with her. She was no longer making a spectacle of herself by claiming she could talk to animals. Not once in the last several months had they seen her with any animal other than the barn cat who earned his keep as a mouser. The only exception was Brfcut, the old moose, who was so gentle they allowed her to feed it and keep it on the place year round as a sort of free-roaming pet. Even then, it had taken a number of demonstrations before Elaine relented, and only because her husband had suggested that letting her talk to a harmless old moose would keep her away from bears and wolverines.

Elaine didn't believe for a minute the old moose understood a thing Samantha said to him, but it had been a fair compromise. She also never saw the winks that passed between her husband and her daughter. Ronald believed Samantha could really make at least a few animals understand what she said, although he still cautioned her about going near carnivores like bears. But even he didn't believe animals could really talk to her or her to them, not in any meaningful way.

* * *

Samantha laughed gaily after she blew all eleven candles out with one huge breath. The few adults and all the children cheered and clapped at her achievement. Elaine began serving the cake and ice cream outside on her husband's homemade picnic benches. They were made of logs split in half lengthwise and propped on cross sections of other logs. However, Samantha couldn't help but notice her parents both kept stealing glances toward where the airfield lay, the only means of egress in and out of the village.

Bush pilots served most of Alaska. The state was so huge and so wild and untamed that roads were scarce, and in most areas small light planes were the only means of transporting people and cargo. She knew the plane carrying Merlin Marston, the magician who was to perform at her party, was way overdue. It should have arrived that morning.

Once the cake and ice cream had been consumed with the alacrity that only tweens and teens can manage, Elaine motioned for Samantha to come inside the house with her. Heart dropping, Samantha followed her mother, knowing already what the summons meant.

"Sammie, we're so sorry," she began once Samantha was seated, "but.well." She hesitated, not really wanting to break the bad news.

"But Mr. Marston isn't coming."

"I'm sorry, baby, but there was an accident. The pilot of the mail plane said one of his motors quit as he was taking off, and he had to return."

"Can't it be fixed?" Samantha asked hopefully.

"No, not today. It needs a part that's not in stock and you know it's too dangerous to fly with only one engine."

Samantha knew. Children grew up in Alaska with bush pilots as much their heroes as movie stars or rock musicians.

"What will we do, then?"

Elaine had been thinking of that very predicament. "Your father suggested you take the kids and show them around the place. Hardly any of them have been here before and he thought they might like to see the shop. After that you can take them two by two to the waterfall on the Mule. You can let them see the rainbows and watch you scratch the moose's antlers."

Samantha could hardly believe her ears. Her father was going to let her drive her friends on the Mule, a refurbished World War II flat bed, light supply hauler that was his pride and joy. Not only that, her mother was actually going to let her talk to Brfcut while others were present! She knew her mother didn't believe she and Brfcut understood each other, but who cared? She and the moose knew, and maybe some of her friends and classmates would believe her once she showed them. It was almost as good as having the magic show!

* * *

Ronald had welded safety rails and bars in the cargo space of the Mule and attached an old car seat behind the driver's space for two passengers to ride on. When the groans and grumbles and tears over the announcement that the magician had plane trouble and couldn't make it subsided, Ronald grinned.

"But!" he said, "We have another surprise for you! Sammie is going to give you all a ride on our Mule, two at a time, to our waterfall and." He had to stop and explain to shouts and questions that the Mule was not an animal but a rare and expensive vehicle, a collector's item that very few kids were ever allowed near, and that Samantha would be driving them, ".and then, once you get to our waterfall, we have two treats for you. The first is letting you see how sunlight and mist can create beautiful natural spectacles such as rainbows, but the second is even better. Can you guess what it is?"

Of course none of the children could guess; he had simply paused for dramatic effect.

"All right, since you can't guess, I'll tell you. Sammie is going to show you one of her special friends, a bull moose! Up close!" He paused again to let them digest this information and then gave them the kicker. "And even better, Sammie will show you how to do something very few people have ever done in their life. She'll ask her friend the moose to let you scratch his antlers! They are shedding their velvet now and are very sensitive and they itch. The moose will be grateful to you for scratching him where he itches! How about that?"

Yells and cries of enthusiasm greeted the end of his announcement, tempered only by the doubtful looks of the few other adults present.

"Ron." One of the mothers began, but he smiled and held up his hand to stop her. "Don't worry, Judy. This is a tame old Moose and you all know Sammie has a.well, a way with animals. It's perfectly safe. She's kept the old fellow for a pet for the last few years, ever since the young bulls pushed him out of the herd. He just loves to have Sammie scratch his antlers. You know how they itch his time of year."

"Well.Okay, if you say it's safe. The kids were really disappointed when Merlin's plane broke down."

"It's perfectly safe, I promise."

Ronald called Samantha to the side before allowing her to begin transporting her guests. "Now Sammie, I want you to drive careful. Each time you get two passengers to the waterfall, tell them to stay close to the cabin, just in case a grizzly happens by. And until they're all there make certain that your moose stays on the other side of the stream, just to be sure. Okay?"

"Well.okay, Dad. He wouldn't hurt anyone but I'll tell him to stay on the other side until we're ready. I guess he can wait that long to get his antlers scratched."

"That's the way I want it for today."

Samantha smiled. "Then that's how we'll do it. They'll probably like it better that way anyhow. I guess old Brfcut could seem kinda scary if you can't talk to him like I can."

Her father nodded, wondering once again just how much Samantha could really understand of an animal's sounds and mannerisms. Some days he believed her utterly when she said she could talk to creatures of the wild, but in bright daylight his young daughter seemed perfectly normal and he believed hardly any of what she told him.

* * *

"Where's your moose?" Jed, a burly boy who was somewhat of a bully, asked as he jumped from the Mule. He and another boy were the last two members of the party Samantha had brought to the waterfall.

"Just look at the rainbows for now," she replied. "Aren't they pretty?

"They're beautiful," a girl named Sinuteit, who had an Inuit mother and Italian father agreed. "And there's lots of them if you stand just right."

"I want to see the moose," Jed insisted. "You said he'd be here."

"Yeah," his friend said. "Who wants to stare at rainbows all day?"

Samantha didn't answer at once. She didn't particularly like Jed or Tommy, either. They were the two oldest boys in the little school that handled children up through the fifth grade, but they had both failed one year. They would be moving on next year if they managed to graduate, which she thought was doubtful. Neither was doing very well in school. She wouldn't have invited them to her party had her parents not insisted. Since they were here, she supposed finding the big ungulate and showing him off was in order. Except.she glanced at the ground and saw prints, but they hadn't been made by hooves. They were paw prints, big ones.

Oh, drat! She thought. Hostervut has been nosing around here and scared Brfcut off! He doesn't like wolves, even after I asked Hostervut not to hurt him. Now what do I do?

"I bet she didn't have a moose here at all," Samantha heard one of the boys say. It made her mad, but she had no idea how to answer the challenge-until she heard a rustle of underbrush, barely audible over the increasingly frustrated noises coming from her classmates. She looked in that direction and saw a black nose and two eyes, shining in the darkened brushy alcove from reflected sunlight. A wolf was watching her!

She hurried over to the heavy growth and parted it with her hands. A full grown female wolf looked back at her. "Tetmulic! What are you doing here? Where are your pups?" she asked.

Hunting poor. Caribou gone. Pups not big to travel yet. Maybe you have food? The wolf's words weren't exactly that articulate, of course, but Samantha understood her perfectly. She thought for a moment, then smiled as an idea came to her.

"If they feed your pups, would you let the human cubs play with them?" Samantha asked the mother wolf.

Any animal Samantha talked to always trusted her. After all, she was the only human they knew who could speak to the animals of the forest.

Yes, she agreed. You help care for pups.

"Of course!" she agreed immediately. She ran to tell the other kids.

* * *

"Now they're not used to humans, so you have to be very careful with them," Samantha warned. "Don't try to force the pups to do anything they don't want to or Tetmulic will take them back into the forest. Just hold out bits of food and let them take it from your hands."

"Who's Tetmulic?"

"That's the mother wolf. Right there!" She pointed dramatically as the big animal came out of the brush, trailed by four fuzzy, bumbling baby wolves only six or seven weeks old. A few minutes later, all the kids had completely forgotten about the moose. They were vying with each other to feed the scraps of their meal to the wolf pups. Once the last bit of food was gone, Samantha had them sit in a circle with Tetmulic and her pups in the center. The pups were ready to play now and they did, with their mother watching benignly. It went so well that time flew and before Samantha quite knew what was happening; her father strode into the clearing by the waterfall and cabin.

Ronald was wise enough to realize what was going on, but he was frightened. What if that mother wolf with the pups became agitated at his appearance? She might do anything, thinking she had to protect her pups.

"Sammie," he said quietly. "It's time to go."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Dad. I wasn't watching the time. Okay, everyone can pet Tetmulic one time to thank her for letting you play with her pups, then we have to go."

Mr. Douglas held his breath as one by one the children stroked the full grown timber wolf. It outweighed half of them, and could have ripped out the throat from any of them in a second, had it been so inclined. But after it had been petted by each child, the circle broke and the mother wolf made a gruff noise, telling her pups it was time to go.

"Would you like to pet her, Dad? Her name is Tetmulic. She would like it, I think. She knows you're my father and we gave a lot of our food to her pups."

The wolf strode quickly to the elder Douglas, but rather than stand still to be petted, she raised her forequarters and put her front paws on his chest. Dazed, he began scratching behind her ears and on the top of her head, wondering if anyone would believe him if he told this story. On the other hand, he suddenly decided not to say anything. The children's parents probably wouldn't be so sanguine about them playing with wolf pups and their mother as he was! However, he gave the mother wolf a piece of jerky he carried to munch on at times. She licked his hand in gratitude and settled down to begin eating the unexpected treat.

Ronald thought Samantha could only communicate with selected animals. His wife didn't believe even that much. She thought her daughter just had a way with animals, and only some of them at that. Unknown to her parents, she could converse with almost any mammal, although she was very careful not to let them know how often and how varied were her trysts with her friends of the forest. Perhaps she wouldn't have gone into the woods so often had her mother allowed her to have a pet, but she was adamantly against it, since pets had to live inside homes during the fierce Alaskan winters.

* * *

Despite her father warning Samantha to keep quiet about what happened at the culmination of her birthday party and Samantha asking the guests not to tell their parents, the story got out. As it made the rounds at school and among the townspeople of Wikluk it became greatly exaggerated, until the tale had Samantha leading a whole pack of wolves to the birthday party and subjecting everyone there to fear of being torn apart.

Extremely religious individuals began whispering about witches and their familiars, animals such as cats that bonded with witches and did their bidding, according to legend. Of course most of the parents of her classmates knew she wasn't a witch or anything close to it, but then Sinuteit's mother passed stories around about evil Shamans from the olden days and how they consorted with special animals. The school children and teachers alike began ostracizing her. It became such a problem that one day she came home from school early, in tears.

Elaine hugged her and tried to allay the hurt by treating it as a "passing incident".

"I told you to quit pretending you can talk to animals, didn't I?" she asked.

"But Mom, I can talk to them! I can! I can! I can!" Samantha said fiercely, for once tired of not being believed. She knew her mother was just trying to protect her but she was so upset the words tumbled out in a burst of passion.

Ronald entered the room at that moment. He quickly analyzed the situation, but had no time to stake out a position before his wife jumped all over him.

"Ronald, this fixation of hers about talking with animals has gone far enough. No, it's gone way too far. You simply have to put a stop to it, right this moment."

He looked helplessly toward Samantha and shrugged his shoulders. He knew there was no way he could convince his wife Samantha actually did have such a talent. Elaine didn't want to have a daughter who was that abnormal and she had closed her mind to the very possibility that she could speak to animals and they to her.

"Dad, you know I can, don't you? The animals don't really talk like us, but the sounds they make are like they're talking to me and I hear them like that. Mom, how do you think I got Tetmulic to let us play with her pups?"

"And I suppose Tet.tetlu, well, whatever you call it, is that wolf's name isn't it?" her mother responded. Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Elaine, she can communicate with animals. You know she can."

The woman set her face firmly in its "no nonsense" expression. "She cannot talk to animals, Ronald. The most she is capable of is perhaps showing no fear so they don't attack her. But she has to get out of that or one day one of those dangerous creatures will wind up hurting her."

"Mom, I don't play with animals that are dangerous. Besides, I could tell if they were. And they like me. They think it's wonderful that at least one person can talk to them when no one else can."

Her mother threw up her hands in defeat and flounced from the room. But Samantha and her father knew they hadn't heard the last of it.

* * *

Samantha endured the school days by anticipating the three o'clock bell when she could go home and talk with the chipmunk and little half grown rabbit while pretending to help in the garden. Both animals lived at the edge of the fence and had created tunnels to get into the rows of lettuce, carrots, and other vegetable they liked. However, talking to them was rather like conversing with a not too bright baby just learning to say da-da and ma-ma. Most of their thoughts were of food, avoiding the weasel that periodically came into the area seeking prey, and curiosity about the human cub who could miraculously speak their language, such as it was.

Samantha never interfered with the food chain of the animals because she knew they accepted it as simply part of life. She also knew that all animals thought of humans as the top predator in the endless cycle of life. It was disheartening many times but she realized animals had to eat, just as humans did, and she had learned to accept it.

After talking to the chipmunk named Buk and the rabbit named Per, she found herself longing for a brighter animal to converse with. There was no chance though, because Elaine watched her very closely to make sure she didn't sneak off into the woods.

* * *

Curiously, it was an animal coming to Wikluk that capped the disparagement, scorn and ridicule Samantha was being subjected to. Ordinarily Alaska has little problem with rabies, but any time a creature came down with the disease it was naturally a cause for great alarm. Anyone who was bitten would have to wait while the anti-serum was flown in, then take the excruciatingly painful shots for a period of ten days.

The wolverine was in the last stages of rabies when it wandered into the school grounds. Wolverines are bad tempered at best, and really evil when stirred up like this one was, from its unquenchable thirst and constant buzzing pain in its head. Samantha heard the screams from the bench she was sitting on, having lunch with two other girls, the only ones at school who were still speaking kindly to her. She looked up and saw the animal approaching a group of first and second graders. The small children were frozen by fear of the grunting, slavering, dirty and snarling wolverine, who wanted nothing so much as to have its sickness end. Animals have no concept of suicide however, or the wolverine would certainly have done itself in somehow.

Samantha immediately saw what was happening and ran toward the children. She put herself between them and the wolverine.

Please don't bite any of them she pleaded. Be nice and I'll help you end your pain and suffering.

It snarled at her while ropes of saliva drooled from its open mouth, revealing very sharp white teeth. Samantha knew the saliva was loaded with the lethal infective stuff of rabies, but she stood fast.

I promise, she assured it again, while the madness roiled in its brain. Just lie down and wait right here for a little while. Will you?

It thought about its predicament for a moment then decided to let the human cub see what it could do. But only if it could stand the crazy, vile thoughts whirling in its mind for a just a little longer without going into a raging storm of violence. It lay down on the grass in front of her. Samantha approached and stroked its head, talking to it soothingly. She could tell by its garbled speech that its mind was mostly gone. She hoped it could concentrate on staying put long enough for someone to return with a gun.

Time seemed to stretch out endlessly as she knelt by the crazed wolverine. The younger children waited, unable to get past her and the sick animal and into the confines of the school house. Each time one moved, the wolverine snarled and slavered. Samantha stroked it, telling it to please wait.

At last a nearby shop owner appeared with a rifle. "Stand back, girl!" he yelled at her. The noise caused the rabid creature to move under Samantha's soothing hand.

Just a little longer. It will be over. I'm going to stand up and move. Shut your eyes and your suffering will end.

The wolverine's madness abated a moment at the thought that the pain that made it crazy and sick would go away. It closed its eyes, waiting.

Samantha stood up and backed away, not wanting to get splattered with infective particles when it was shot. The sound of the rifle boomed through the schoolyard. The Wolverine shuddered, twitched, then rolled over and died.

"What were you thinking of, you crazy girl?" The man who shot the rabid animal shouted. "You know it could have bitten you and given you rabies, too!"

"It wouldn't bite me and I couldn't let it get near the little kids. I told it to stay still and someone would put it out of its misery. It did."

She walked away, then went to the bathroom and washed her hands thoroughly. When she came out, teachers were waiting on her. They stared at her as if she were a goblin-or a witch with a forest full of familiars. The other students gazed morbidly at her as they would have a crazy person. Brave, but crazy just the same. All of them had heard of rabid animals and knew what they could do.

A few minutes later her mother arrived. She was concerned but it was covered by the grimness of her expression. After a brief explanation, she turned to her daughter. "Come on, we're going home."

That night Samantha was sent to bed early so that she couldn't hear the discussion taking place between her parents. Nothing was said the next day, nor the next. Or at least she heard nothing but snatches of conversation that were meaningless without knowing the whole context. When she went to school, she was avoided. There had been talk before, but after the wolverine incident it grew ugly. Parents told their children to avoid her for fear she might infect them with her strange ideas. They were afraid their children would take a notion to play with wolves or bears and get hurt or killed. The third day afterward one teacher flatly refused to have her in her class. She was sent to the principal's office. The principal called Mrs. Douglas to come get her child.

Although she was told to sit outside the office while her mother talked to the principal there was no one there to make her obey. It was nearing noon and the secretary had gone for lunch. Samantha stood near the closed door of the principal's office. She overheard every word of what the school head said to her mother.

"I'm sorry, but you'll have to withdraw her from school. These people are just normal folks and they don't understand a child who can.can.well, who associates with dangerous animals. They think she's too strange to be around other children. At the very least they think her idea of being able to talk to animals could spread and endanger their children. They fear they might try to talk to a bear or a wolf like she does and get hurt, or even killed. And frankly, Mrs. Douglas, people are beginning to say that if she is that abnormal, then you must be, too."

There was more but Samantha buried her face in her hands, then when that didn't work she put her hands over her ears. Now she did sit down, just as far from the closed door as she could get. She didn't want to listen to anything else. Just because she understood animals and talked to them, she and her mother were both thought to be demons of some sort. It was so terrible and so unfair.

The tear marks on her cheeks were still there as her mother came back outside. Elaine's face was white and strained, but for the first time since the incident with the wolverine she spoke gently to her daughter.

"Come on, Sammie. Let's go home. We'll take care of this problem soon, I promise."

* * *

That night after Samantha was in bed, Ronald and Elaine sat together discussing what they should do about their daughter's predicament.

"The only real solution I see is to move away from here," Elaine said. "I know you like your job, and living here has been a good experience for all of us, but.these episodes with Sammie and her animals have pretty well spoiled our lives here. And we've both agreed we need to move so that Sammie can get a better education. She's a brilliant child despite her fixation about animals."

"It's not Sammie's fault. It's the ones here who can't stand for anyone to be different."

"I know, I know, but.her fault or not, I still think we ought to move just as soon as possible. Have you had any answers to your resumes that you think you'd like?"

Ronald sighed. "Maybe. I want to check some more, though. And you're right. We should move. I just hate the thought of being run out of town, so to speak."

"It's not really like that, Ron. You know we need to move anyway, to somewhere Sammie can have access to the Internet and all the other advantages of life in the lower states. The school here has nothing for her anymore."

"Is she that far ahead?"
"You haven't been following her homework like I have. Most of the so-called curriculum is dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. She already knows most of what her classmates are studying just from how much she reads. She's way ahead of them in math, too. Did you see that book she ordered? It's a self-study course that takes her through second year High School algebra and she's been doing it on her own. And you know she read those old encyclopedias from cover to cover and she's almost through them again, but really studying and practically memorizing the interesting articles."

"My gosh, I guess I haven't been paying enough attention to her school work. You seemed to have it handled so well I saw no need of doing anything and she never asked me for help."

"It's darn little she asks me, either. Ron, I think she's much smarter than either one of us ever thought she was."

"Okay, you've convinced me. I've turned down a few offers, but I'll take just about anything now. I'll start looking again tomorrow, and in the meantime I guess we could home school her until we move."

"Good. Try to find something as soon as you can."

"Actually, I saw an opening for a teaching position down in Texas that's in my field. It was in one of my journals that came in the last mail run. I'll check into it and if it's no longer open I'll find something else. How does that sound?"

"It sounds great to me. Let's go to bed now and we'll tell Sammie tomorrow.

* * *

"We're moving as soon as the school year is over and maybe even before then. Until we do, you'll have to study and do your lessons at home," Ronald announced the next morning at the breakfast table. "I'm going to try for a job at Angelina College in Texas where I can teach environmental issues, but even if I don't get that job I'll find another. And Sammie.when we go, no matter what you can do with animals, you're not to let anyone know. You've seen what happens when people think you're different. We love you and we understand, but you'll just have to try to keep it a secret. Okay?"

"Okay, Dad. I will, I promise. But.what if an animal wants to talk to me? I can't help it if I hear it and it wouldn't be nice not to answer."

"Oh, Lord," Elaine declared. "I can't stand any more of this. Sammie."

"Tell you what, Sammie," her father interjected, "When we get settled, we'll get you your own puppy to be a companion to you. Maybe even a kitten, too. How would that be?"

Samantha broke into a big smile for the first time in weeks. "Oh, that would be wonderful! But, Mom..."

"Your mother has agreed you can have a dog when we find a house."

"Oh thank you, Mom. Thank you!" She got up from the table and hugged her mother in a tight embrace. She wondered why she had changed her mind about a pet in the house after all these years, but she wasn't going to argue. Besides, she understood her mother's fears and she loved both her mother and father. They were good to her, she thought, much better than some of the other kids' parents if even half the stories they told were true.

"I promise I'll just try to talk to him alone!" she said and kissed Elaine's cheek.

Neither of her parents told her that allowing her to have a pet was a compromise they had reached, thinking perhaps it would keep her from seeking out animals. And moving to a small city instead of living near a forest would surely put a stop to her conversing with wild animals. Neither of them noticed she said she would only try not to talk to animals other than the dog, not that she would. All in all, it seemed to them to be a happy solution for everyone.



Samantha's Talent Copyright 2014. Darrell Bain. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.




Author Bio

Darrell Bain is the author of more than sixty books, in many genres, running the gamut from humor to mystery and science fiction to non-fiction as well as several anthologies of his short stories. For the last several years he has concentrated on suspense and science fiction, with novels predominating.

Darrell served more than twelve years in the military and his two stints in Vietnam formed the basis for his first published novel, Medics Wild.

Recently he has written a complete trilogy, Apertures, a science fiction suspense/thriller of alternate worlds and Samantha's Talent, a novel about a girl whose ability to talk to animals constantly gets her into trouble before finally finding a fitting venue for her talent that will eventually take her off Earth.

He co-authored Human by Choice with Travis S. Taylor, PhD, a prominent scientist and popular science fiction novelist in his own right, then continued the Cresperian series with another scientist, Stephanie Osborn. Fans frequently comment on his originality and in some cases compare him favorably to Robert A. Heinlein. He is now concentrating on sequels for a number of his science fiction/adventure novels.

His most controversial work is almost certainly The Melanin Apocalypse, a novel featuring recent developments in virology and genetics. It depicts a White Supremacist group who use a tailored virus to attack people of color all over the world, and follows developments in the United States where a rumor that the Center For Disease Control developed and spread the virus among the black population. While rioting, death and martial law inflames the nation, vicious warfare of Whites versus Blacks ensues. The CDC must be defended against attacking mobs of Blacks while at the same time the scientists are working furiously to discover either a vaccine or a cure before the nation dissolves into anarchy.

He has a degree in Medical Technology and has spent most of his life attempting to stay abreast of scientific developments. His past profession and activities help lend verisimilitude to his speculative novels. In later years, he and his wife Betty owned a Choose and Cut Christmas tree farm. It and a succession of their dogs and cats formed the basis for much of his humorous work. He began writing about twenty years ago and has stayed very busy at it ever since. He retired ten years ago in order to write full time.

Darrell Bain is a well-known name in the ebook world and has won numerous awards, including three Eppies and two Dream Realm Awards. He was Fictionwise Author of the Year in 2005 for most ebook sales and best content in 2005. Another of his controversial novels, The Sex Gates, was selected as KnowBetter Book of the Year in 2003. All of his books are available in both print and ebook editions.

His web site is


Bain welcomes correspondence and may be contacted through his web site,

TTB titles:
Alien Infection
Doggie Biscuit!
Hotline to Heaven
Laughing All the Way
Life on Santa Claus Lane
Medics Wild
Samantha's Talent with Robyn Pass
Shadow Worlds with Barbara M. Hodges
Space Trails
Strange Valley
Tales from a Christmas Tree Farm
The Focus Factor with Gerald Mills
The Melanin Apocalypse
Warp Point

Human By Choice with Travis 'Doc' Taylor. Book 1 Cresperian series.
The Y Factor with Stephanie Osborn. Book 2 Cresperian series
The Cresperian Alliance with Stephanie Osborn. Book 3 Cresperian series.

Author web site.


Author Bio

Robyn Pass was born and raised in Houston, Texas. She holds a bachelor's of science degree from the University of Houston. Robyn is a writer, editor and voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy. She lives in Houston with her boyfriend and two cats.

TTB title: Samantha's Talent with Darrell Bain

Author web site.











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