Another stupid dryad was loose in the park.
Of course it had to be a day that I was working, right in the middle of my shift. Of course. I was always the worst at these types of emergencies. Nymphs were quick to say the least, and I’d always been lacking when it came to athleticism. It was only natural that one spontaneously decided it was going to have a lark on that day.
We’d previously gotten a pretty good hold on keeping the local dryad population away from us, after a long struggle that began with the park’s inception in the area. They’d all but successfully migrated to an empty forest a good few miles from the park, but they’d continue to occasionally slip past our gates and onto the property, seemingly wanting to at least attempt to reclaim their old stomping grounds.
Normally, it wouldn’t be that much of a problem. We got all kinds of creatures coming in and out of the place. Harpies would rest in the trees some days. We caught water nymphs slithering around in the lake all the time. That was just life in the park.
The vital difference was that other creatures usually did their thing and got out before closing. The tree nymphs still thought they owned the place, running around and disturbing the other guests.
“Look, just catch it and take it back to the forest,” Chief Condor had said before sending me off equipped with nothing but the usual dart gun. “You know the protocol by now. Sedate and transport.”
Yeah, they were easy instructions when you were the one who got to sit behind the desk.
I visualized my two weeks’ notice with particularly imaginative detail as I headed off into the depths of the property. The day I dropped that on Chief Condor’s desk seemed infinitely far away, relying entirely on my acceptance into my postgraduate program. Then I could look at dirt under microscopes instead of performing wild goose chases and giving directions in it.
I’d become tired of my part-time job long before that day. I always remained low in rank, given a title that sounded more powerful than it was. It was like being an overworked waitress with a different backdrop.
The fantasy of working in the nature that I so loved to study had lost any novelty that it might have previously had, and had been morphed into nothing more than a sign that I wasn’t moving forward with my life. Nymph wrangling was just a particularly annoying reminder nestled within it.
I was stalking through an especially wooded section of the park when I first caught a glimpse of her, skipping through between the trees in a way that let me know catching her would take more than the bare minimum in terms of effort. She glanced in my direction for a sliver of a second before darting out of sight.
“There it goes.”
I turned around and grimaced at the voice I, unfortunately, was able to recognize. Cora, who had apparently showed up behind me sometime in the past few minutes, was smiling quite proudly at me when I did. This day really couldn’t stop improving.
“Did you have to be so loud?” I asked. “You probably just scared her off for me, so thanks.”
She smirked, looking to be having far more fun with this than I ever could. “Please. She ran away before I said anything, Heather. As if you’d have been able to get her, anyway. It was practically playing hopscotch and you just gawked at it.”
I stomped down one of my boots with indignation, ignoring how childish it made me feel to do so. The tiny bit of catharsis was worth it.
“You try catching it then!” I said. “I’m tired of playing zookeeper.” When I’d applied to work at the park, I’d hoped it would give me the biology-adjacent experience I needed for my studies. Within weeks, I’d come to realize that ranger duty around here didn’t give much to my brain besides migraines.
“Chief didn’t tell me to go after the thing,” she argued, walking a bit closer. “I just came here to watch the fun. I’m on ‘general patrol duty,’ anyway, so I can technically be here.”
I groaned and briefly wondered if I ought to report her to the front office. Surely this counted as slacking off, regardless of her loopholes. The more I thought about it, though, it didn’t feel worth it. They never took me seriously up front. If anything, I’d get scolded for Avoiding a Highly Important Duty, Ranger Kim.
Maybe I could use a sidekick, anyway.
“If you’re gonna watch, then you better help,” I said, knowing that she probably wouldn’t. Cora didn’t seem any better equipped than I was for this, so the only benefit I could really hope to glean was company.
I headed off further into the trees without bothering to see if she’d follow.