‘Someone once said that life was for living, life was for happiness, life was love. I cannot help but feel that I have been lied to. How can life be for love when all you have left is hate? How can life be for happiness when all you can do is scream in silence? How can life be for living when you have nothing to live for anymore? My life is nothing but a disaster. My parents, my people, and my son… I’ve let them all down… I just hope they cannot see through these walls and chains to stare upon my failure and my pain, for my soul would simply break.
I sit here now, writing for what seems like the millionth time, in the hope that someday, someone will read over this and think about what happened to us all. Maybe someday, somebody will find my writings and remember what we once were, before we were destroyed completely. Perhaps that would be for the best.
My only remaining hope concerns not my own well being, but that of the future generations, who will no doubt find themselves born into this situation I find myself in.
Outside again, in the bitter cold of what was fast becoming an evening setting. The sky formed a strange pink haze hanging over the edge of the horizon, beneath the grey clouds that foretold of more snow to come. My feet froze within the deep white blanket that had already fallen.
Linda had kindly given me a silken scarf to hang around my neck, and it wrapped around my skin and over the front of my chest to insulate the warmth. It was patterned with bright yellow spots on top of a light purple, and felt as thick as it was aesthetically pleasing.
For extra warmth, my tail clutched tightly around my waist, and my limbs shivered and pressed to the rest of my body. The influence of the snow on the ground and the taunting grey clouds up above made the air seem much colder than it really was, and the only sign of heat came from the restaurant, from which I was now departing. I would not be feeling warmth again for a while.
I was heading back towards the clinic. It was a little frustrating having to walk in ever-repeating circles like this, but Linda’s tapes showed Tal heading in its direction. The clinic was the best place to check. The crocodile within had taken Tal’s interest. It was not beyond him to remember his way down through the mazes of the clinic to find the large enclosure. Once again, security cameras could provide me with answers, and the clinic had plenty.
I followed the road which tracked closely around the Hork-Bajir sanctuary, and watched as the snow ploughs drove past, the buckets displacing large chunks of ice and sleet to my shins. I would have avoided straying too close to the roadside, but as the landscape became less and less distinguishable, it became my sole source of direction and no matter how loud the cars and trucks blasted their horns, I refused to change my route.
Their came a building sense of vulnerability as a close miss reminded me that some humans would see me as more of a target or a trophy. I was sure they had purposely aimed at me in an attempt to knock me down for a cheap feeling of power. Before I could have my say, they drove off, sounding their horn to little but their own ego.
It came as a blessing when the clinic came into view over the snow-covered horizon, and if it were not for my lack of body heat, i would have made a swift dash to the unusually appealing revolving doors.
The same problems applied with entering the building, but the moment I entered the gentle heat and the solid laminate floor, I breathed a loud sigh of relief. My tail unravelled and I shook off the remaining snow from my blades and shoulders. The receptionist had not looked up from a multitude of papers, and this enabled me to enter through the far doors undetected.
I tapped through several winding corridors that wove between and around staff offices and the occasional doctor, finishing the days shifts. It was not hard to pass them, having to prove my identity with a few select words. My presence here was not unwelcome, being friends with Cassie. They must have thought I was here to visit her.
With no sign of Cassie’s father, I breezed through his work station and descended deep within the building and down the concrete staircase that led to the enclosure. A lamp flickered on the wall to my right, and the light from the office was absorbed into the cracked grey walls until little was left but darkness.
The stairway opened out to a large grey room, where single neon lamps hanging from the ceiling shone harsh blue light onto the features that occupied the room. It was enough to guide me around stray tables and chairs.
To my left stood the massive enclosure, where Ultraviolet lights made it seem as bright as day, though solely for the interior where its blaze was suppressed by the thick walls. I peered up to the glass and observed the plastic trees and bushy undergrowth, a silent pool sat on one side, flat as the glass that I stained with my heated breath. A lone notice hung from a tree branch.
Recalling from my reading lessons that I had been having over the past two years, it did not take me too long to read.
‘DUE FOR CLEANING. NOT FOR USE UNTIL AFTER 2 MONTH RESTORATION PERIOD OR STERILIZATION’
Unless my reading skills were not entirely up to scratch, this meant that there was nothing alive within this enclosure that was supposed to be there.
“Tal?” I called out, searching from a stationary point around the black room, my voice echoing like a strained and meek reply, briefly fooling me into a false sense of relief. There was no reply. I did not expect one. I sighed and leant against the thick glass, watching the condensation take shape and make its hesitant retreat.
My mind wandered over more casual topics, and I found myself glazing over a select choice of words to share with one of the more corrupt members of the House of Representatives. Politicians, I had discovered, were not as trustworthy as they first appeared, and the whole ordeal was becoming tiresome. The appeal of just quitting and returning to a normal life was great. Unfortunately, the sense of duty to my people was greater. The empty and silent room gave me time for thought, a chance to sort things though my clotted mind. This sense of oncoming clarity did not, though, last long.
A clanging sound from within the room shook away the more familiar ponderings and brought me back to the reality that my mate was missing. Revising my current situation, I peeled myself from the glass and snorted away the dust that had fallen from the ceiling to my snout. Had I nearly fallen asleep?
That banging again! It rumbled like metal-on-metal which, with succession, became a harsh rhythm of increasing tempo and ferocity. Like a stomp it shook the ground, and the once still water behind the glass rippled and wavered. I covered my fragile ears and dropped back against the glass, facing inwards towards the bright light and the fauna that fluttered with each incoming blast.
It stopped, replaced by an eerie silence.
And there, laying still within the low-lying bush of the enclosure, was a tail.
My reaction was instantaneous. “Tal!”
With no consideration I bounded for the side of the enclosure. The steel door that separated me from the fake habitat inside was locked and too solid to break dow. The Ultraviolet light set onto a nearby desk. On it was a set of keys. Behind me, the banging restarted, but with increased vigour and volume, like a physical being booming up towards me.
I bundled into the desk in a stream of panic and fumbled with the keys. One of them would be for the enclosure door. The first key to be tested went straight into the key hole.
“Please, hurry up!” I told myself. The first key was unsuccessful, but my pace quickened, parallel to the increasing pace of the ‘thing’ behind me. It pounded quicker and more violent.
Another key went in. Another boom to my ear drums. The keys flew and jangled against the palm of my hand as I searched for the next, the presence growing ever nearer, now forming a freezing sensation over my collar bone.
And as if by some miracle, I found myself inside the enclosure. The door slammed shut and my shuddering body flattened with fear against its cold metal surface. The noise that pounded at my ear drums had suddenly ceased.
My feet touched against rough substrate. A mixture of bark chips and clumps of sand folded around my toes, and a humid air greeted my skin.
I edged forward, pulled along by scent that was familiar. The sand tugged at my feet as I moved through the thick flora toward the centre of the fake home.
Here the scent changed. I smelt death.
My hearts filled my clutching throat and beat like taut drums. The sand now felt like rough fingertips chaining my body to the ground.
Nevertheless, I inched forward, shivering all the way to a second patch of plastic fauna. The stench now became so overwhelming, so frightening that my eyes began to sting. They searched over the bushes and down into a small ditch.
I screamed. I screamed so hard that my voice became nothing more than a grinding whimper. The sheer terror that struck me as i stared into my own eyes was so great, so terrifying that my body went numb and ice cold.
A sensation hit me, spread across my back. I had fallen.
The smell was gone. But something else was here.
The surface I had fallen on vibrated, accompanied by a dense growl.
The crocodile was still here.
Sense of co-ordination instantly revived, I darted from the crocodiles back, and slammed into the glass of the enclosure. A desperate scratch against the glass indicated that it was not an easy escape route, and I turned over to see the reptile, slumped against the sand bank, staring down at my big and probably very tasty body.
It remained still. I could tell that it was sussing me out, perhaps curious as to what I was. The crocodile had probably never seen or smelt a Hork-Bajir before.
This crocodile was, however, hungry enough not to care.
It bounded forward, mouth agape. My position against the angle of the glass wall briefly held the crocodiles jaws open as it collided. The huge pair of jaws loomed over me, leaving me with a small opportunity of escape. My legs bent and sprang me forward and out of the danger area for the moment. The crocodile recoiled and shuffled after me as I started for the door.
I ran into the large bushes that blocked the straight route to the metal door. Bundling over them in an unfashionable manner, I managed to keep up enough speed, but the monster croc behind me was quicker than it let on. It brushed the flora aside like it was not even there.
The door refused to open as i pulled at the lock. It had caught on the latch and would not come loose. I turned and flattened my body against the cold metal, because stood merely a metre from my feet was the crocodile, snarling and baring big white teeth.
Why had it stopped? It seemed to look past me to the metal door. The snarling stopped, and the crocs head moved from side to side. It was confused.
My body stayed perfectly still. I did not want to agitate the reptile because, for some unknown reason, it seemed to have lost interest.
To my surprise, the crocodile gave up! It shook its head and slinked away back into the bushes.
This gave me plenty of time to undo the lock. I did it slowly and quietly, as to not draw attention to myself. I could still see the crocodiles tail beside a small tree.
The lock soon gave way, and I fell from the enclosure, slamming the door shut behind me. I slid back against the door until I sat, panicked and shaking on the cold hard floor.
My head was racing. The images panned over my vision. It was as if my eyes were no longer seeing the real world but some nightmare that seeped the life from my body. My legs went numb, and with the remaining energy in my arms I began to drag myself away from the enclosure.
A door opened nearby. I felt the vibrations of footsteps against the floor.
Two humans. Guards. They jogged up to my side.
“What the...?” One started. “How did a Hork-Bajir get in here?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it escaped from one of the rooms. Neil said that there was one being treated with a broken leg.”
“Either way, we’ve got to get it back to the patient block. Can’t have him down here.”
“I think it’s female.”
They disappeared for while to gather a trolley, leaving me lying on the floor, dead from the waist down. My vocal chords were dry, and words came out as grating mumbles that were inaudible and pained my throat.
As I stared across the cracked concrete floor, the face kept appearing, staring back at me with a manic grin sliced from ear to ear, dead eyes staring unblinking and threatening into mine. It even followed as the guards hoisted my body onto the trolley and took me away.
I returned to consciousness within the confines of a small office. My body had been dumped on a small bed that sat beside a desk and computer. Ahead, I saw the open door which gave way for bright streams of light that veered around the room and over my body. Out of the door was a long corridor, which ended at a set of white chairs. I heard the faint sounds of talking coming from the corridor. It was the two guards, revealed to me by the sounds of jangling keys.
My mind wished to go back to sleep, but it was jaded with questions. Why had the crocodile stopped in its attempt to eat me? What was that... “thing”? And why does this “thing” keep appearing?
I must have been whining, because the guards wandered into the room and shone flashlights over my body. My voice had recovered, and when they asked for my name, I was able to respond.
“Toby Hamee?!” They were shocked.
“Wow... Um... What are you doing here?”
“I was looking for a male named Tal Ganat. Have you seen him?”
“He ain’t been in the clinic. We would have found him.”
I sighed and laid my weary head on the pillow. My eyes fell back to the corridor and the once lone white chairs. I saw the “thing.”
I closed my eyes then re-opened them to the empty corridor.
“You don’t look so good.” The guard with the glasses commented. “You wanna stay here for the night?”
“Yes, please.” I smiled at the guard, if only to give myself comfort. “I will stay in this room, if that is fine with you.”
They agreed to let me stay on my bed, and kindly brought me a glass of water. After some questioning they left me to sleep on my own. I asked for them to close the door, telling them that I feared monsters. It was not too far from the truth.
So I sat alone, unable to sleep. After five minutes, my water was all gone, and my mouth became dry and bitter. I sat beside the window and looked down to the city that covered the horizon. I saw that headlights of cars flicker and fade, mixing with the dim glow of streetlights to create an aura that had become such a familiar sight.
“Where are you, Tal?”
Tomorrow, I would head back to camp. Perhaps Tal would be back, in which case he would have some explaining to do. If not, then... Where next?
The city was my best option. That was where he saw the parade. At night he could follow the lighting that so dominated the sky. He could walk there within an hour with the light to guide him.
The problem was where he would go from there. Could he find a place to stay?
I retreated to my bed and laid down there, hoping to finally fall asleep and leave the day behind.
My low hopes for what would have been a comparatively peaceful sleep were soon vanquished. Once again, I found myself crowded by the now familiar white nothingness. My feelings this time around were less shock or fright, but more a sense of frustration. This recurring “dream” was trying my nerves.
I turned slowly and with a tired sigh, to find the transformed figure of the Ellimist. He stood there proudly, and with a grin on his Hork-Bajir snout. He scraped a hoof and grinned, speaking to me in a gritty and deep voice.
“Good to see you again.”
“I cannot say that I share your feelings.” I replied, vacant of emotion.
“Are you willing to make you decision? I have given you plenty of time.”
I paused. It had never struck that the last dream was anything more than that. The decision I had been given, if the Ellimist was more than a figment of my imagination, was more real than I had realised. This needed clarification.
“This is a dream.” I said. “It must be.”
His grin faded, and his face rearranged to a frown. “Have I not given you enough clues, Toby?” The tone held a hint of frustration, and left me feeling a little embarrassed.
“Obviously not.” My comeback was pathetic, at best.
“I see. Well, I shall have to make it more realistic for you...”
That did not sound pleasant. The Ellimist was not here to play about. His expression assured me of that.
“So, Hork-Bajir seer,” He continued with a snort. “Will you make your decision?”
“Please, remind me of the conditions.”
He shuffled uncomfortably. Perhaps I was being a little too stubborn. “You must decide. Will you revive the human you knew as Rachel, or your father?”
“And why must I make such a decision?” I pressed.
He huffed. “I am in no mood for your questioning.” His arms crossed, and his stare became fiery.
“Well, Ellimist, I am questioning you. Do you refuse to answer, or is this question simply an attempt to fool me?”
“Trust me, Toby Hamee. There is no need for me make a fool of you. Now answer my question, because you are beginning to bore me.”
I stiffened up and raised my tail, trying my best to look tough. It was perhaps instinctively, as to suitably accommodate my answer.
And with that, he was gone.