The sun was fully above the horizon now but the hills and the forest prevented the valley from being fully illuminated. Light still managed to slip between the tree trunks and the hill peaks, but the scene was still dull. It was morning, and the birds started to chirp. Caterpillars crawled slowly along stems and branches. Flowers opened up, revealing bright colors and sweet scents. Scents which combined with the lingering petrichor of the past nights rainfall to produce a pleasant and enchanting odour. The valley was alive.
In his stillness, Emorin could almost hear the plants growing. He would have loved to enjoy the moment a longer, but sightseeing had its downsides. Particularly when he had to hide in a bush to do it. His body started to itch, and he couldn’t tell if it was because of the insects or the moistened blades of grass cutting his body. He had to move soon. After all, he was on a mission.
He could hear them nesting above him, cawing and tweeting. They fluttered from branch to branch, and he could tell, from the several flaps it took for them to become airborne, and the persistent rustling of leaves after they had landed on a branch, that they were heavy with meat.
He had to be quiet now. He had encountered this species before, and they were skittish. Silently, he changed his position. Squatting behind the bush, he pulled his slingshot out of his belt. He had spent the previous evening looking for perfectly rounded rocks. From the few he kept in his pouch, he selected one and proceeded to load his weapon.
Emorin was excited to see what the slingshot could do. He had spent many nights carving it into its perfect “Y” shape. He hadn’t been granted an opportunity to test it, too late for that now. There was a nagging feeling in his mind, but with all his willpower, he ignored it. How could it fail with a shape like that? As if geometry was all there was to it.
With the shaft in his right hand, he used his left to pull the projectile back with all his might. The rubber strips, ceremonially named, were not nearly elastic enough and he had to compensate now with an extraordinary amount of force. He aimed above him, looking for the clear trajectory towards his sedentary target. Everything was perfect. He was ready for the shot. He was ready to release. He was ready for the kill.
Unfortunately for him, he pulled too hard, and the slingshot broke. The pent up momentum drove his fist into his eye. Luckily, none of the splinters followed. The pain was too much and he screamed, scaring the birds above. In their panic, they took flight. Leaving behind the dying echoes of their caws, and their feathers, as they glided slowly towards the ground.
Emorin continued to lie on the ground moments long after the birds had left and his pain had subsided. Beside him were the pieces of his broken slingshot, directly in his view. He knew in his subconscious that it wouldn’t work. Sure, the shape was perfect, but many other things about it weren’t. For one, after being soaked in the rain, bacterial decay had completely weakened the wood. Also the “leather strips” would never have flown the projectile that far.
He knew all this, yet in a fit of absurdity, he thought that all his hard work would be enough to overcome the laws of physics, endow him with great hunting skills and allow him to bring back to the village a grand prize.
Instead of heading immediately back, he wandered in the woods a little. Hoping that the overwhelming vegetation would take his mind of his failure. Hoping that the time spent would seal those wounds. In the forest, there were more plants in a square meter than he had ever seen in his life. More microbes in a square micrometer than people he had seen in his life. It was refreshing, therapeutic almost, being surrounded by so much green. All his life he had been surrounded by metal. Metal cabins, metal cutlery, metal weapons. The dull grey was almost driving him insane.
The sun was almost at the center point of the sky, and he had to be getting back. The psychedelics would be wearing off soon, and the Chief would be coming to his senses. It would be best that his favourite object of abuse was not so far from his reach.
As Emorin approached the village, he could tell something was wrong. Fear gripped his heart, and his throat dried up. It was so dry it almost hurt. He couldn’t even bring himself to gulp. The place was way too quiet.
He willed himself not to run, but the emotions controlling his movements were too primal for something as luxurious as free will. He never thought the day would come that he would be eager to return to his cabin.
Most of the huts in the village were made from scrap metal obtained from the Fallen Mothership. Wood and metal, a grotesque juxtaposition. The village was so empty that his footsteps produced loud echoes. Sounds which changed in quality as they bounced and ricocheted about the metal walls. Almost unrecognizable as they returned to him. The Pandora’s box in his brain seemed particularly elated with the idea that the echoes were rudimentary wails. Screams of the haunted lady, right before she turned into a banshee. He ran faster, the sounds grew louder, he ran faster.
In his hut, he found his brother, and his fear subsided, momentarily.
“Where have you been?”
“Don’t answer that. Just stay here and watch them”
His brother threw him a look and he knew not to ask any more questions. He couldn’t even ask what was going on. In moments, his brother was gone and he was alone once more.
His brother told him to watch them. Them. Plural. Not Her. Indicating that in his absence, his sister-in-law had given birth. This was a huge deal. The first natural birth in over a hundred years. Under normal circumstances, the village elders would inspect the baby. Looking for any abnormailities, and sign that procreation in this nuclear infected cesspool was possible. Any sign that the human race had a third chance. But something big was going on. Something more important than this. Something more life threatening
Emorin knew the newborn and her mother were in the backroom. He heard no noise, so both must have been asleep. He decided not to disturb them. At least for now. He needed answers, and isolation was not kind to that need.
The funny thing about fear, it is always better when you know what you are afraid of. Fear which possesses no form, possesses every form. And that is when it’s most powerful. That’s when it transcends into a truly unspeakable horror. Given the fact that Emorin was alone, his brain had the time to run through every possible scenario. It was imagination unmitigated by external interaction. It was torture.
How much time had passed, he did not know. Maybe everyone was dead already. He thought so much about his end. And now, he was starting to think about his beginning. How everything, from his conception to his miserable adolescence was a series of bad decisions. How he was fated to die young and alone because of his teratogenic diseases. Electromagnetic radiation had not been kind to him in the womb, and being bathed in them, he had come out weak and sickly. Unfit to hunt, unfit to lead, unfit to mate. An aberration. An abnormality. A freak.
Unlike most teenagers, Emorin was hyperaware of his own mortality. Not like anyone ever let him forget it. It was in the names they called him. It was in the looks they gave him. It was in the food they fed him. He knew he was going to die. More so than everyone else. And he had made his peace with that. But if there was anything that filled him with angst it was that he was going to die a nobody. This was his mortal problem.
He tried to avoid this as much as he could. He tried to do anything and everything to be of relevance. He failed mostly, and he took solace in his daydreams. The only space where he was king of the world, worshipped by all. A pathetic choice, but it distracted him sufficiently from reality.
And now here he was. At the end of the line. They wouldn’t even ask for his help in defending not just his home, but the entire existence of his species. He wasn’t even worth the chance to fight for his own survival. Left here not for the newborn’s protection, but for his brother’s own piece of mind.
A cry pulled him out of his train of thought and into the present. A baby’s cry. The newborn was hungry and so it made that sound, tearing through the silence, over and over.
It annoyed him deeply. And it did not stop.
Over and over, again and again, the same high pitch, the same goddamn frequency. The same annoying cry. What had been a mild annoyance was building up into rage. The vein in his forehead was popping and his fists were shaking.
Even in the face of oblivion, this one thing was finding a way to ruin it for him.
He didn’t know who made the rules, but he hated them. All his life he had been ostracized just for being born. Just for existing. The Chief and the babble of baboons known as the Elders always found new ways to suppress him. They didn’t let him mingle with the other children. They didn’t teach him to hunt or to farm. They had hoped, that like a plant deprived of nourishment, he would wither and die.
Well, there was no one here now, and he could take matters into his own hands. He still had a chance to make his impact. There might be no one left to record his final deed , and it might just be another tree falling in the forest, but at least, the knowledge that he took control would comfort him till his final hour.
He unsheathed his knife and started to walk towards the inner chamber. It was a walk that would never end, towards a destination he would never return from.