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Home Sweet Home
THWAK! The palm like fronds whips at my already torn face. I can vaguely hear my comrades stumbling around me like newborn, clumsy calves.
“Hush!” I warn them, for I pick up a sound ahead. My eyes widen. Before I can utter a simple word, I hear a blood curdling scream omit from my right, and I know by pure instinct that Ewen is lost to us, even before his scream abruptly evolves into a sickening gurgle.
“Leave him!” I order. I can already picture Sicily’s horrified face from Ewen’s sudden death and my unforgiving order. I stop suddenly in my tracks. I turn around, my body tensed, waiting for an attack. As presumed, Sicily is flying at me, her cat-like claws un-sheathed, her eyes already omitting a shiny characteristic. I react immediately. By the time she reaches me, my biologically enhanced brain has every one of my muscles, voluntary and involuntary alike, shifting into hyper-mode. She should have known better.
“You monster!” she yowls as I pin her to the slick ground. I can already feel the soft yet sensitive fur of a hunter receding back into her rough skin. Without any conscious effort, I observe her every move, the very twitching of every one of her muscles, even the ones unnoticeable through the skin. Before she has time to deliberately think of a counter attack, I’ve probed her mind and am ready with a plan to retaliate. “Get out of my head!” she screeches, and since I, stupidly, am still searching her mind, I receive the screech doubled, through my ears and directly into my brains’ reaction center. I paw ineffectively at my searing head. Sicily takes my moment of distraction to her advantage. Next thing I know, she’s at my throat, her glimmering claws at the ready.
“How could you? He was our brother! You…you monster!” Her claws suddenly retract, releasing my now bleeding throat. Sicily dashes off in the general direction of Ewen’s gory body.
I clutch at my bleeding neck. I pull away my fingers, gasping at the sight of the slick red liquid now covering my hands. I sit in utter astonishment. I grab little Taddy’s hand and swing him onto my back, releasing him before he has a chance of grabbing hold of me. To make up for it, he grasps desperately at my hair, pulling it so hard, I feel my scalp start to tear away. I scream, not just out of pain, but also releasing all the anger and sorrow of the past week. I fall to the ground and lift Taddy up properly.
I throw all my instincts aside and scream like a banshee, hollering for Sis. We could be caught, but she could be anywhere. I haul myself up using a crooked, hissing branch…wait…hissing? I glance up and barely process the fact that there’s a venomous snake coiled up and ready to strike before I’ve caught my balance and am screeching at Taddy to run. I pull out my hunting knife and move fluidly into a hunter’s stance. The snake’s eyes send a wordless message… bring it. I make the first move and send my knife directly at its face, the snake dodges and the knife lodges itself into the snake’s scaly skin a few inches behind its head. The snake turns its head to stare in shock at its injury. The knife has sunk all the way through and is holding the snake against the tree, immobilizing it. I make another move, this one more sensible. While its head is turned I swiftly grab a jagged rock off the forest floor and hurdle it towards the snake’s head. Blood splatters with the sickening sound of squeezed pudding. I throw the now dead snake into the forest. Let the animals feed off it I think to myself.
I hear a small sound off to my right and know that it’s not an animal for the sound has no inhuman grace to it, instead it’s more of a lumbering, and it sounds as if it’s limping. I hear it fall to the ground and I holler out, thinking it must be Sicily. “Sissy?” No, I now see it is far too small in order to be Sicily. The human, male or female, I can’t tell, is cowering against the roots of a particularly large tree. I am far too distracted to even think of the possibility that this could, in fact, be a trap. I swing my light onto it, hoping to catch a glimpse of its face, but it reacts far too quickly for a chance of that. Then the creature leaps up a minimum of fifteen feet in the air, grabs onto a branch using an unusually long limb, and swings itself up, perching above… watching. It cackles, a sound consisting of ghastly noises such as boiling blood and frail bones snapping. I am utterly disgusted. I don’t have time to ponder a way of escape, for Sicily bursts into the small clearing. Then I hear a sound from above. It’s not the creature but something far above it, in the treetops. I hear the almost mournful sound of metal grinding against metal. I’m alert almost immediately…almost. An enormous metal cage comes crashing down from the treetops directly above us, surrounding us on all sides once it lands. Lovely.
I turn my face heavenward and notice the creature had utterly disappeared. Then a devilish cackle omits from behind me. I turn and scream, for the creature is directly in front of me, grinning ghoulishly at my terrified expression. I lash at its hideous face, only for it to part like fog. Foolish…foolish child…a cold hand runs down my spine, raising goose bumps and making me shiver. I squeeze my eyes shut, attempting to block out the ghouls next words. Follow me but don’t attempt to escape. Follow me obediently or suffer the…consequences, it whispers coolly into my ear. I can feel its hot but chilling breath on the nape of my neck. A hidden gateway to my right clicks open slowly. It would seem I have no choice in the matter so I gather up the quaking beings of Sicily and Taddy, and set to follow the…thing. Before I can cross the threshold, however, a cold wind sweeps into the cage and surrounds us, picking up speed in its haste to sweep our feet off the ground. I feel the phantom wind tearing at my thrashed body. I hear the distant sound of my friends screams. And with my mind’s eye I picture their horrified, hopeless faces.
They say when your about to die, your life flashes before your eyes, but all I flash back to is the day that began the end of humanity, the end of my people. The day our loved ones perished and I barely made it out the raging fires and burning bodies with my younger sister and brother, of course little Taddy, and a few other survivors I managed to save from the fires. I ran with all my strength with my small family towards the dreadful forest on top the mountain of Cylos. All but the three of us, Taddy, Sicily and I, succumbed to the cool hands of death. Our only resources were Sicily’s cat-like hunting instincts, Taddy’s astonishing ability of speaking to animals, and me, a mentally enhanced…experiment.
My flashback ends and I’m hurried back into the present. The phantom wind has settled and has dropped us off amidst a tangle of tree limbs and human limbs alike. My brief distraction has led me to think of an escape plan.
“Taddy!” I whisper as quietly as possible. “Can you speak to it?” In answer, he gives me a look that says well, duh. I proceed in following the creature, acting as if I hadn’t been talking to Taddy only moments ago.
I hear a faint rumble start up behind me, and I smile crookedly. The rumble slowly grows until I can physically feel it. The monster’s ears perk up. Taddy lets out an immobilizing scream and the monster halts in its path. Taddy persists, his voice deepening beyond his years, cracking and grumbling at seemingly random moments. The monster responds by making strange motions with its arms and legs and creating similar sounds to Taddy’s. It’s all very enticing. At times they speak over each other, as if they are finishing each others sentences. Then something happens that almost scares my last meal out of me.
The creature and Taddy smile in unison.
Out of nowhere, the animal bounds over to our little group, looking absolutely delighted. It scoops tiny Taddy up into its enormous arms, and, well…kisses him on the cheek. This encounter…It’s all very flabbergasting. Taddy giggles in his little boy way. Then the thing seems to remember Sicily and me. It looks at Taddy, as if asking permission. Taddy nods in response.
Without warning, the creature scoops Sicily and me up like scoops of ice cream, and starts off in a different direction than our last destination.
“Taddy!” I scream, for we are at complete mercy to this thing, all due to him.
“SHHH! Just trust me!” He gives me a meaningful glance
The creature bounds off with us clinging to its fuzzy arms for dear life. The creature is obviously excited at our new destination, one that is a complete mystery to Sicily and me, for Taddy seems to want to keep it a secret.
After what seems like an eternity, the creature slows, and eventually halts to a stop. He drops the three of us off onto a pile of soft underbrush. Then it begins in its strange language to Taddy once more. Their exchange lasts for no more than five minutes. Then the creature turns on its heel, and flies through the trees, backtracking. Taddy starts to head the opposite direction, intending for us to follow. I grab his tiny shoulder and spin him around roughly.
“What did it say?!” I demand in a commanding voice.
“It prefers to be called Hwan. And he said that due west of here is a small village surrounded by a tall wall, full of human ‘wonders’, just like us! C’mon, ladies, we must go quickly! The gate closes at sundown!” He scuttles off like a little crab.
“Taddy, wait up! How do we know we can trust this thing? I mean…Hwan.”
“We can’t,” he replies nonchalantly. “Not fully, anyway. But do we honestly have any other choice?”
I sigh and gesture for him to proceed.
We travel for nearly three hours, through dense underbrush and swarms of foreign insects. It is nearly sundown when we make out a barley visible wrought-iron gate, camouflaged with great amounts of foliage. It is nearly the height of the great tree surrounding it. Its obvious purpose is to keep intruders out. We look about, and see not a living soul.
“Yoo-hoo! Wondrous creatures of mysterious village! Where, oh where, could you be?” I holler mockingly. I sigh. That’s when I hear a slight humming sound, like the far off sound of a hummingbird…or a mechanism at work. I look past the gate and see a shadowy figure, which seems to have great spikes for hair, operating a device that is about ten yards from the gateway. I sigh once more, this time in a more impatient manner.
I step forward, gesturing for my comrades to do the same. “Er…Bonjour? Ah…Hola? Aloha, maybe?” I say sheepishly, for I am not positive on what their language is.
I hear an exasperated sigh. “We can speak English, you amateur. Now get in her before I have to close the gate in your pitiful faces.” The voice comes from Spike-guy on the other side of the fence. He seems nice. I hesitate, but eventually proceed.
We follow the mysterious shadowy figure uncertainly along a worn path, until we reach a small clearing consisting of a small handful of hastily put together huts. All around us, people stare, but it’s not just people…there are creatures, most human-animal hybrids…and the others are creatures I probably couldn’t dream up. I should be the one staring, not visa-versa. I glare back malevolently, but am astonished to realize that they aren’t just staring in awe, they are smiling at us. Even despite our bloody appearances. Our guide stops in the center of the circular clearing, holds up a hand signaling us to stop, turns to the crowd, and raises his arms in a welcoming gesture. He raises his voice and announces, “Ladies, gentlemen, and whatever else there is out there, please welcome our new addition to the family!” I look around, absolutely dumbfounded, at all the happy, accepting faces.
I had my doubts at first, that we would never survive the fires, the forest, and definitely not the creatures that had been chasing us for days. I realize now that these people, they are my new family, and I, for one, am going to accept their joyous faces.
I turn and smile at my new family. “Hi, I’m Zoë. And this is…”