Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's my search party and i'll cry if i want to.

To Kurt’s left, unseen except for her swaying yellow lantern, Copper-eye made a yowling screech. Ub, somewhere on Kurt’s opposite shoulder, his pale-green lantern flickering in and out of the columns of the wood, answered her, “Better two that are late than three with no reason to leave, thought I.” From this Kurt assumed Copper had asked why they hadn’t taken Tal with them to the gathering. From what he could figure out, she had thought Tal was with them, while they knew they had left him at home. Where he actually went was anyone’s guess. She answered with a bark that faded into a growl.

“And what? Thou slumberest through truth, shall I wake thee for a duty plain?” Kurt thought this had something to do with the fact that Copper didn’t go to the gatherings with them anymore. He secretly wished Ub would stop waking him up for them too and wondered how Copper-eye got out of going? She hissed a retort. “Aye,” Ub’s voice was thick with sarcasm, “next time I’ll bind the lad neck to nethers and hang ‘im from the beams.” Kurt hoped that was a joke. She snarled in response. He said, “I should be so fortunate.” Then it was on. Her scathing bark coming a mile a minute and shriller by the second. When she paused for breath, he roared anger that shook the stones. Kurt, knowing what each of them was capable of, began to hang back so as not to be in the way of the spines, hammer and venom when it started flying. Instead, Ub made an exasperated snort and his light lifted off the cave floor and sailed into the air.

How the…? “How is he doing that?” he asked Copper-eye. She made a questioning, short-tempered noise. “That!” He pointed, forgetting that she probably couldn’t see his arm. Her scratchy growling became more impatient and he gave up. He probably wouldn’t understand the answer anyway. He just watched then in amazement as the sickly green lantern flared a little brighter and bobbed along to and fro above them. Was he climbing the smooth but knobbly stones? Was he hanging by some kind of spidery thread, Kurt had seen kids do that. Was he flying? If so, how? Kurt had never wished so hard for more light than he did right then. Which coincidentally, would also help them find Tal. How easily he forgot the reason they were stumbling along through the pitch-black wood. An image of Tal, alone and crying, appeared clearly in Kurt’s mind and his heart ached, tears came suddenly to his eyes. He wiped them away and tried to soldier on but it was as if he could hear his brother’s cries in his ears now, pitiful and scared. How stupid for them to be fighting when Tal was out there somewhere lost and afraid. Why did monsters have to be so stupid? Who cares whose fault it was? They needed to find Tal! They needed to find him before something else did.

He hadn’t realized that he had stopped until he felt a warm arm around his shoulders. He started then, shocked and alarmed but calmed down when he looked up into the soft, damp face of Copper-eye. In the light of both their lanterns he could see that she was crying too. The fur of her scarred face was wet and one jewel of a drop hung from her whiskers, about to fall on him. He gave her a fierce hug, forgetting and almost knocking her over. Her iron leg thumped the ground as she caught herself. Kurt could see it through her embrace and he remembered the night she had come home, torn and broken from the attack. He remembered there were many monsters that did not eat bread and fruit from the factories. What if…? What if some carnivore found Tal first? What if it already had? Kurt’s crying was in danger of becoming sobs. Copper-eye, hugged him tighter and purred. With his eyes closed, his world was completely dark but it was warm, soft, furry and purring, her heartbeat thumped against his face and in his ears. It was a good dark, a safe dark and Kurt soon felt strong enough to relax, just a little, as if Copper had somehow given some of her strength to him by sharing his weakness. She shoved him back and meowed a little question.

“Yeah,” he said, “I think I’m okay now.” She huffed, pleased, her one, good eye softer than he had seen it in some time. He wondered if she hadn’t gained a little strength from him too? From just one little hug, one little moment, so much could be gained and given without either of them losing anything. It was as if something had come into the world that wasn’t there before. They continued on, hand in paw now and Kurt thought the darkness didn’t look as dark anymore.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The bite of the Faeran

The worst part of being lost and alone in the dark is that there was no one to hear Tal’s whining. It didn’t stop him, to be sure, but he couldn’t help but feel the crushing futility of it and be even more miserable. He was sitting in as open an area as he could find, not to make himself more visible but to stay as far away from the fang-like structures of the cave that kept reminding him of being eaten. Even so, he could still make them out at the very edge of his body’s glow. They stood there, silent and stern, like they were waiting for him to come to them and they knew he would. A mouth full of silent teeth and each had a face and will and a hunger of it’s own.

He jumped and squealed as something touched his leg. Scrambling backwards on all fours, he bumped up against rock. He was most likely pressing his back into one of the “teeth” but he no longer cared about silent stone. It had returned to being a dead thing as his mind focused all its attention on the small black shape in the center of the clearing. He could just barely see it and wasn’t even sure it was the thing that had touched him but he hadn’t remembered seeing it before. As he stared at it, it would appear to swing around or hop but when he blinked it was still in the same place. Just as he was beginning to think he had imagined the whole thing and was freaking out over a rock, it really did move.

No doubting, no appearance of movement, it darted to his left and behind a twisted stalagmite-fang. He caught another glimpse of its furtive scurry between some close clusters of snarling rocks and then there were too many shadows to see it. He wasn’t sure but it didn’t appear to be coming right for him so he didn’t move. He just wished it would continue being out of sight and not touch his leg anymore. His back pressed to the cold stone, he waited, watched the hunching darkness and listened to the gulping of his breath as a cold prickle worked its way up his spine to the base of his neck.

“I may never get home.” He didn’t actually speak this out loud but the sentence formed in his mind so clearly it was like he heard it or heard himself say it. Which struck him as odd at first for he didn’t usually think in complete sentences. Then again, he’d never really thought about how he thought before. As soon as he thought it though, he knew it might be true. Except, “My family will find me.” Here he had never thought in complete sentences before and now he was carrying on a conversation in his head.

“Why haven’t they found me yet?” The other voice asked.

“I don’t know, maybe they will soon.”

“Maybe they’re lost too. Maybe I got my whole family lost and none of us will ever get home.” Tal couldn’t imagine Ub getting lost. Kurt, yes, Kurt could barely find his way to the bathroom if the lights were off, his body glowed so weakly but Ub always seemed to know where he was going, even though his body was as dim as the darkness. Copper might get lost, but she always rode the gecko when she went out. Her leg made it painful for her to walk far. Could the gecko get lost? “Ub won’t get lost,” he told his other voice, wanting it to be true.

“That doesn’t mean he’ll find me. Does Ub even like me?” Tal thought of all the disapproving stares he’d seen on Ub’s furry face. Granted, with his upper lip looking like it was being swallowed by his lower one all the time and his thick, black eyebrows shading his cold, blacker eyes, he always appeared to be scowling but… there was something in the way he just seemed vaguely disappointed by Tal. Like he didn’t measure up to something. Tal wasn’t as tall as Kurt or as talkative or as funny. Would Ub even care if he didn’t come home? The cold prickle on the back of his neck was spreading as if ice water was flowing through his blood from that point outward. He began to shiver.

“Kurt likes me, he’ll make Ub look for me.” Even as he said this, he knew it wouldn’t convince other voice.

Other voice’s laugh was mean. “Kurt couldn’t make Ub do anything. Face it, Ub doesn’t want me, Copper can’t look for me and Kurt is helpless. I. Am. Alone. I may die here, in the dark.” Tal looked all around him. He couldn’t really see the forest anymore. The stone fangs had faded into a deeper gloom. The shadow seemed to be creeping closer so that he could barely see his own feet in his footy pajamas. His hands felt wet.

When he wiped them on his jammies something stuck to them. He could barely see it but when he touched it with his fingers, it felt smooth and slightly sticky. His hands still felt wet and so he kept trying to get the damp stuff off but the more he did so, the more smooth, slightly sticky stuff stuck to him where he rubbed. He could work it with his fingers but the stuff clung to itself so fiercely that he had already glued his legs together at the knees. It occurred to him that this stuff might protect him from being eaten. Looking back later he would never know if he thought that or other voice suggested it. Either way, he felt desperate enough to try it and he kept working the smooth, slightly sticky stuff around his legs and feet. Then he worked it round his belly, sticking it to the rock at his back and wriggling and working. He worked quickly and hard but never seemed to get warmer. His shivering continued as he got his chest and arms inside and finally pulled the stuff over his head and sealed it all from the inside. He was protected now. Nothing could touch him but his fear did not go away. He cried, silent tears. His eyes burned, like touching ice. A false warmth but the only part of him that wasn’t shivering. He was completely encased, like being wrapped in a blanket too tightly but he was still cold and felt no protection. He couldn’t move, couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, he felt more vulnerable than ever and now he was helpless to boot. He closed his burning eyes to try and shut out the darkness and found that it was dark inside too.