Monday, November 12, 2012
I can’t stop crying, except when I’m around Mom. I manage to barely hold it together for her, but I do. I have to. She can’t be upset, because I can’t control her when she’s upset.
I went out last night to find us a new place to hide. I was so scared, but there was nothing else I could do, right? Except give myself up to the Kalquorians. I’ll admit, I seriously thought about it. I mean, the one who brought us the food could have taken us prisoner at any time. It doesn’t make sense to try to convince us to walk in on our own if the aliens mean to make us slaves. But I don’t know how alien minds think. I don’t know what they have planned for us.
So as much as I’d like to swallow the sweet bedtime story of food, shelter, and being sent to one of the colonies, I just can’t. Not until I’m sure we won’t trade a lifeless planet for something worse.
So I crept out with only moonlight to illuminate my surroundings. I never knew what dark really was until there were no more streetlights to drive back all that black. Even after my eyes adjusted, it was a real feat not to walk into trees and stuff. I had a flashlight with me, but no way was I going to turn it on. Who knew what was out there, looking for a woman wandering around with only a kitchen knife as defense?
I found out. Oh God, I found out.
I’d gone two miles, moving closer to the Academy, still believing the proximity would keep unwanted gangs from venturing near. I figured at least I’d only have to worry about Kalquorians that way. Cut my enemies in half. It turned out I had more enemies than I imagined.
I walked along a stand of trees skirting the highway. The moon kept the road easy to see, like a quicksilver river running straight and true. The trees were good cover. I listened carefully too, and any time a Kalquorian shuttle hummed overhead or I heard anything besides the peepers and whippoorwills doing their nighttime concert, I froze. I held onto that knife with a death grip, ready to do whatever it took to fight off anything that came at me. I’ve never killed anyone, and I wasn’t sure I could even if my life was at stake. But it’s not just me I have to take care of. Mom needs me. I’m not much of a caretaker, but I’m all she’s got. Boy, I was feeling that responsibility last night as I snuck through the trees, keeping the road in sight.
The woods were getting a little sparse as I went along, and I began to look ahead to see the best route that would keep me hidden. It was mostly thin pines, with the occasional oak here and there. I kept low as I moved among the pine trees, practically crawling and straining to hear the least little sound. I got to one of the oaks, a big, massive thing, almost prehistoric in size. Another stretch of pines lay before me, which would put me in danger of exposure once more. On the other side of those waited a big boulder that I could hide behind and catch my breath. After that, the cover would thicken again.
I was halfway to the boulder when something putrid began to stink up the place. It smelled like a dumpster filled with rotting food. The farther I crept, the worst the stench got. I thought that once I got behind that rock, I’d have to puke my guts up. It smelled that horrible.
My eyes were absolutely watering only a few feet from my boulder. My stomach was twisting, getting ready to heave. I could even taste that noxious poison on my tongue. My thought was there was a dead animal up ahead, something bloated and decomposing in the hot, muggy Georgia summer. I kept my eyes open for it, because if I stumbled and landed on it, I would be projectile vomiting.
Then the fucking boulder I was heading for and was only an arm’s length away from -- it moved. It straightened up and stood on two thick legs, about seven feet of monster looming over me. Its chipped tusks gleamed in the moonlight, surrounding a rounded snout. A fucking Tragoom. A motherfucking, Shalia-killing Tragoom.
It’s no wonder the damned thing looked like a rock, crouching there at the edge of the trees. Tragooms look like the bastard children of a pig, a rhinoceros, and Mount Everest. That was where the stink was coming from. Those massive, nasty creatures will eat anything -- or anyone -- they can catch. And I had walked right up to it.
It lunged for me, and I didn’t even have to think. My arm was jackhammering the knife I held, trying to stab the thing in its massive chest. Rough, treebark hands -- paws -- hooves -- whatever it uses to grab, wrapped around my upper arms. The blade bounced harmlessly off its hide, and it jerked me close to its rancid body. Its mouth opened wide, sending carrion stench boiling out, and I thought, I’m going to die and the last thing I’ll know is this smell of other dead things it’s eaten.
Then something hit the Tragoom with the force of a runaway train. The Tragoom let go of me and squealed a shriek. Something roared just like a lion, and I thought maybe something had gotten loose from a zoo. Except the closest zoo I know of was in Atlanta, and that’s just a crater now.
So thinking these stupid thoughts, I fell to the ground as the Tragoom and something not quite as big fought. They rolled out of the trees towards the road. In the moonlight, I could see a human form struggling with the monster. Then the shwoop sound of a percussion blaster went off, and the Tragoom collapsed to the ground. It didn’t move any more.
The other figure that looked human stood up, its silhouette tall and muscled. He looked towards me and said, “Are you all right, Matara?”
I knew that deep, smooth voice even though it was a little out of breath. It was Dramok Dusa, the Kalquorian who’d left food for me and Mom, along with a promise he’d see us in a few days. The very reason I was out here tempting Tragooms to snack on me.
I didn’t answer. I turned and ran all the way back home, expecting the Kalquorian to grab me at any moment. I made it without being captured. And though my lungs were burning like fire and I did finally puke, I pushed furniture against the front and back doors, to try and keep Dusa out. To keep us safe from all the things running around out there in the dark.
When I was a kid, I thought the bogeyman was a real thing, something that could pounce on me at any moment after the lights went out. That monsters roamed the night. Turned out I was right.