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The Korbat Who Couldn't Hang: Part One


by janejinn

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It all started with a sleepover.

"Dad!" Isabel Broadtail called out excitedly. Dragging her friend Aimee Longear by the hand, she ran towards where her father was dangling from the lowest branch of the family tree. Her father hastily covered his eyes with his wings, pretending to be deeply asleep, and she poked him in the arm. "Dad!"

Her father shifted his wings slightly to reveal one of his eyes, and looked reproachfully up at them.

"Dad, Aimee's invited me to sleep over at their tree! Can I, Dad, can I?"

"Can she, Mr. Broadtail, can she?" Aimee chimed in.

"Are you sure you want to?" her father asked sleepily.

"Well, of course!" Isabel replied. "Why wouldn't I?"

"I don't know," he replied, unfolding his wings and flipping down from the branch to land on his feet. Mr. Broadtail was a tall red Korbat with an unusually wide wingspan, and as he stretched, Isabel was aware of her small green friend looking up at him in awe.

"All right," he grumbled good-naturedly. "Run along. Have fun."

"Wow," Aimee breathed. "How long are your wings, Mr. Broadtail?"

"Long enough to grab my little girl and give her a hug!" Dad exclaimed, coming forward and wrapping his arms around Isabel's neck. His wings covered her completely, like a tent, and she grinned with pleasure at the feeling of being loved and protected. All too soon, he let go, and gave her a gentle push. "Go on, then. Have a good time."

Isabel opened up her family trunk and gathered up a few necessary items such as her sketch pad, her coloured pencils, and her toothbrush. When Aimee urged her to bring the Usuki doll that she'd given Isabel for her birthday the week before, Isabel reluctantly reached in and picked it up as well. They walked down the path and around the village hall to the Longear family tree, where they spent the evening playing together. Isabel suffered through several rounds of Usuki Fashion Show, which was Aimee's newest interest, before managing to convince Aimee to play a new game that she made up on the spot called Usuki Explorer. Because she got to make up the story as they went along, Isabel found it infinitely more satisfying. She even had the chance to draw a few pictures. Just as she was getting to the exciting part, however, it was bedtime.

"Time to sleep, everybody," Aimee's mother announced. "Have you all brushed your teeth?"

"Mom!" wailed Aimee, looking into the Longear family trunk and then at her younger brother. "Ricky's using my toothbrush!"

"No I'm not!" Ricky shouted back, hiding both hands behind his back and then bringing only one of them forward. There was a purple toothbrush clutched in his fingers. "See? It's mine!"

He flew away to the top of the family tree. A moment later, a green toothbrush fell from above and hit Aimee on the head.

"Mom, look! Ricky really did have my toothbrush in his mouth! Yuck!"

"Well, wash it off," Aimee's mother sighed and poked around in the trunk herself. "Now where's my toothbrush?"

A red toothbrush sailed down from the top of the tree as well, and Mrs. Longear shouted, "Ricky!"

"Ewww! You disgusting mutant!" Aimee shrieked.

Isabel quietly got out her own toothbrush, thankful that she was an only child. She finished first, and moved over to the base of the tree, preparing to make a little nest for the night.

"What are you doing down there?" Aimee asked. "Come on, my branch is up here!"

Isabel hesitated. "Um, I always sleep on the ground. Come down and keep me company!"

"Sleep on the ground?" Aimee sounded shocked. "Where's your sense of pride, Izzie? We're Korbats, not Gelerts! Come on - what are you, crippled?"

Isabel glanced down at her right foot, suddenly ashamed of the fact that two of the three claws hadn't developed properly before birth. Although they were there, they were somewhat shorter than the other claw, and practically useless. She'd never been able to hang from a branch, but it hadn't mattered until now. Her family had always just accepted it and, except for the fact that they usually hung from the lowest branch to keep her company, had never made a big deal out of it.

Still, Isabel thought to herself, she was older now. Maybe her good claw had become strong enough in the meantime to hold her in place. Shyly, she flew up to where Aimee was waiting, closed her feet around the branch, and let herself slide backwards into the traditional sleeping position.

But her claw wasn't strong enough, and she lost her grip. For a moment, she dangled by one foot, swinging wildly, but then the weight caused by her momentum was too much for her to hold, and she slipped off, crashing to the ground.

"Are you all right?" Aimee called down.

"Uh - yeah, I'm fine," Isabel called back, sitting up and rubbing her knees. She was too embarrassed to explain the real reason, so she added, "I just … slipped."

Gritting her teeth with determination, she flew to the branch and tried again, with the same results. On her third attempt, she managed to avoid the ground by falling onto the branch where Aimee's parents were already hanging.

"Whispering Wadjets, you really are crippled!" Ricky laughed.

"Shut up, Ricky!" Aimee shouted, then added impatiently, "Come on, Izzie, nobody slips three times in a row!"

The fourth time, Isabel tried to avoid swinging by lowering herself gingerly into an upside down position. It seemed to work at first, but after a few moments, her good claw gave out, and she plummeted to the ground yet again, narrowly missing the family trunk.

"Izzie!" Aimee cried petulantly. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Isabel murmured.

"No-Hang Hizzie, that's our Izzie!" Ricky called out, and to Isabell's shock, she heard Aimee giggle just a little.

"That wasn't very nice, Ricky," said Aimee's mother.

"Sorry," said Ricky in a laughing voice. A moment later, another whisper of "No-Hang Hizzie" floated down from the top of the tree.

"Bite your tongue, Ricky," said Mr. Longear sternly. "Isabel, get to your branch and let's all get some sleep."

"Yeah, come on, Hi-Izzie," Aimee called out, then belatedly added her own insincere, "Sorry."

Isabel blinked away hot tears of humiliation from her eyes, and tried to keep her voice from breaking. "Um … I've scraped my wing. Yeah - I'm going to go ask my dad if he's got some salve for it."

"We've got salve here, Isabell," said Mrs. Longear, but Isabell had already gathered up her sketchpad and her pencils, and was flying away.

By the time she reached her family tree, Isabel was sobbing.

"Isabel? What's wrong?" Her parents flipped off their branch and crouched down next to her, one on each side.

"Aimee and Ricky laughed at me because I couldn't hang from a branch!" Isabel wailed. "Ricky said I was crippled, and he called me 'No-Hang Hizzie,' and Aimee laughed!"

"Did you tell them about your foot?" Isabell's mother asked.

"No!"

"Why not?" Isabel's father spoke in a low, comforting tone of voice.

"Because I thought - I thought I could do it. I thought maybe my foot was strong enough to hold me now. But it wasn't, and I fell off, and they laughed! Even Aimee laughed! I was so embarrassed!"

"Oh, Isabel," both her parents sighed sadly at the time time, and she felt them extend their wings around her. Isabel leaned her head against her father's shoulder, and he gently rubbed his cheek along one of her ears a few times.

"Well, go to Aimee tomorrow and explain about your foot," Isabell's mother suggested quietly. "Then she won't laugh anymore."

The next day, Isabel went in search of her friend Aimee. She found her in a clearing just outside the village, playing Usuki dolls in a circle of other young female Korbats.

"Hi, Aimee," said Isabel, ignoring the others. As she'd never shared their enthusiasm for dolls, she wasn't close friends with any of them, and she knew that Aimee wasn't, either. "Can I talk to you - alone?"

"Um …" said Aimee, looking uncomfortable.

"Come on," Isabell urged. "We can go to my tree for a snack."

"You can't be in our group anymore if you go with her," said a pudgy blue Korbat, who was, despite the colour of her wings, named Olga Yellowfoot. She was the daughter of the richest Korbat in the village, and had two Usuki dolls, not just one.

"Who wants to be in your group anyway?" Isabell shot back.

"People who like to play dress-up with Usuki dolls, that's who," said Olga, looking significantly at Aimee. Isabel looked over and saw that Aimee was also holding two Usuki dolls, one of which looked vaguely familiar. She'd have thought Aimee would have returned the doll after Isabell had left it behind last night, but apparently Aimee had decided that Isabell didn't want it anymore. Although she was right in that Isabel didn't care about the doll one way or another, it still wasn't hers to take, and Isabel felt disgruntled at seeing her appropriate it just like that.

"Aimee, are you coming or not?" Isabel asked impatiently. Usuki dolls, at their age! Surely they were supposed to be more grown up by now.

"Um, maybe later," said Aimee, glancing away.

"Aimee!" Isabell protested. What was the matter with her friend? Isabel desperately wanted to explain about the night before, but now Aimee seemed to be more interested in playing stupid dolls with the other Korbats!

At that moment, Aimee's younger brother Ricky ran through the circle and began to dance around Isabell. "No-Hang Hizzie, that's our Izzie! No-Hang Hizzie, that's our Izzie!"

Several of the Korbats began to giggle.

"Push off, you toothbrush-chewing mutant," Isabel snarled at him, angry and hurt. She lunged at him, and Ricky ran off with a smug shriek. Isabel chased him, trying to grab his tail, until she eventually realized he wasn't worth the energy. She turned back towards the clearing, hoping that she could still manage to convince Aimee to come with her, but to her horror, she saw all the Korbats leaning close to Aimee, listening intently.

"…four times!" Aimee was obviously recounting the story of the night before. "Like she really was crippled!"

"No-Hang Hizzie!" Olga crowed, and all the others laughed.

Isabel didn't stay to hear more.

To be continued...

 
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