Waking and sleeping became somewhat hard to tell apart for Tal inside his cocoon. Every thought pretended to be a dream and every dream wore a mask of reality. After a while, he could not make himself feel the inside of the cocoon anymore. His body went so numb it ceased to be real. Which coincidentally meant that he no longer felt the claustrophobia of the confined space. His mind told him space was limitless but his arms and legs could no longer confirm it. Time became something he could not measure. It was not a comfortable place for all that, though he could not focus enough to say why and yet he would never have chosen to leave it. The word he may have chosen, if he had known it and chosen to choose one, would have been ‘invulnerable.’
That too turned out to be a dream. A dream shattered by the first audible sound he heard after the closing of the cocoon: a dull, insistent thump. Followed by another. Followed soon by the first crack. The crack, as it happened, was near his feet but he could tell from the warm air wafting past his legs that his cocoon had been breached. Something without was now able to get inside. He tried to pull his feet up. There wasn’t enough room to bend his knees. Another thump, another crack. Something cold touched his heel. Something cold and wiggly. It was inside.
“HellooOOooo!” hailed a young girl’s voice. “Wake up!” Tal’s panic was momentarily forgotten in the echo of the greeting. But when wiggly fingers retreated and the banging renewed with more calls to wake up, he tried harder to pull his legs away from the attack. He tried so hard that he actually had some success. It felt like he was able to pull them right up into his body. In fact, as the cocoon was systematically shredded under the assault and he had more freedom of movement, he rolled his body into a ball and was both amazed and relieved to find that he felt stiff, plate-like flanges running from his head to his rump.
A new voice interrupted the violence, “What are you yelling about in here, Soto? Oh no! Soto, stop that! You mustn’t… oh, stinkbugs! Of all the devils I’ve spawned, you are the most devilish! Of that I swear.” The thumping against his back stopped and Tal felt more gentle hands pulling the ruined remains of the cocoon away. He was still too scared to open up his defensive ball though. “I do hope you haven’t hurt it. If it wasn’t done forming… hmm. Why, it looks like a small armogila!”
“Like daddy!” exclaimed the first voice, the one that must be Soto.
“Yes, very much like daddy but this one is new, his shell is still soft and see how incomplete his ball is? Why I can reach in and tickle him still…like …this.” Tal felt a feathery touch on his side and his reaction was as instantaneous as it was involuntary. He wanted to explode in giggles, grinding his teeth to fight it but only partially winning. His crouch came apart as his body jerked and convulsed to escape the tickling. “But look at that, it only has two arms and two legs. How sad.”
“Daddy has hundreds,” Soto seemed to shout everything.
“Yes, if only he would use some of them around here,” the gentle voice groused. “Hello little armogila. It’s alright; we’re not going to hurt you.” The bruises on Tal’s back belied that statement but the silky voice sounded sincere. He opened his eyes and was surprised to see only darkness. Why can’t I see anymore? He wondered. Had something happened to his eyes? He remembered that it seemed as if things were getting dimmer even before he had cocooned himself. Like a light was dying. He looked at himself, his own body did not seem to glow any longer. He had never really noticed that it did before until now that the light was out. He wondered if it would come back?
“Nope, probably not,” said the other voice, the one that he had heard back in the wood. For even though he could not see, he could tell from the feel of the floor and the smell of the air that he was no longer in the wood. He had been moved while he was cocooned, he supposed. But the voice was still with him. Who are you? He asked. Whether it answered or not, he couldn’t tell because the silky voice was talking again.
“So, do you have a name little armogila? Or should we just call you little armogila?”
“I wanna name him!” Soto shouted.
“We must find out if he has a name first, it’s very rude to give people new names they don’t want. So, little one, do you have a name?”
Tal did have a name but he no longer had any desire to talk to voices he couldn’t see. He was scared and wanted to go home. He thought of the warm fire in Copper and Ub’s cave and of Copper holding him in her fever-hot, furry lap. He saw in his mind the colors of her pelt, the oranges and golds and reds and the single streak of silver running down her spine like a stream of molten metal from a lava vent that blazed and glowed in the firelight. He felt tears welling up but pulled himself tight again and choked them off.
“Aww, we’re scaring him, I think. We’ll have to wait, Soto, until he’s ready to talk to us. Where are your sisters, dear?”
“How true. Let’s go make some lunch and see who shows up.”
Tal thought he was alone now, though Soto’s exclamation that her sisters were everywhere caused him no small amount of doubt and unease. He cautiously uncurled again and looked around or tried to. It was still too dark to see though he thought he caught little wisps of weak lights blinking in and out. It was hard to tell what was in his imagination and what was real anymore. He reached around to his back and felt the hard, callous-like plates of his spine. He wasn’t sure he liked them. In fact, his whole skin felt different. The soft, smooth feel had been replaced by a stiff, scalyness. Even the hands he touched with felt odd. He didn’t think there was the right amount of fingers anymore. This he confirmed by touch, where once he had five pudgy little digits, he now had only three, thick, pointed ones. What had he become?
“Ub and Copper and Kurt probably won’t even recognize you now,” Other Voice whispered. Tal thought about that, it could be true but he didn’t want to believe it. It was like a real place, a room even darker than the one he was in and he didn’t want to enter it. He went back to his image of Copper-eye’s lap. He saw her toothy smile and metallic eye, soft and laughing. As he pictured it, the darkness in him seemed to retreat a little and he felt a little warmer. Other Voice became harder to hear and Tal’s belly seemed to uncurl too. In his mind he saw himself, still soft, smooth and scale-free crawl into her open arms and snuggle up. More tired than he realized, he drifted off to sleep as the room began to fill with the most horrible odor that he had ever smelled.