Danger by Bob Stein (Warning: Adult Material)
Sequel: Shudderings by Me. ^.^
Confuzzeled about all the colons replacing quotes? The answer lies here.
:(Sigh) Now, on with the story.:
Brian was in a black mood.
He looked over the forest gravely. Eternal daylight poured from an
unknown source far in the sky, falling gently, so gently on the tender
saplings extending away as far as the eye could see. They didn’t
allow anything to grow old here. Nothing could be less than ideal
for Them. There were saplings, miles and miles of saplings, going
on forever. A forest full of saplings. Always saplings... If
he could have laughed, he would have. All that came out from his
small muzzle were a few short barks, then a chirping trill.
It’s not that he minded being a raccoon. He picked idly at the remains of the silvery trout he’d pulled from the river...Always trout.... Right now, being a raccoon was the only thing keeping him fed. It was probably the only way he could have survived in this God-awful place. Goodness knows how many fish he’d caught in the past months. Amongst other things.
His sensitive nose could seek out tender mushrooms in their hidden nests, in tree stumps and under logs. Berries he might wisely have eschewed as a human became tasty, edible treats. Some of the oak and cedar had struggled to maturity enough to produce some nuts. As a raccoon, he found that his stomach handled the tannic acid with a minimum of complaint. As a human, he’d surely have become violently ill, trying to eat raw acorns.
There weren't many small animals...here. The best Brian had managed to do for himself was catching fish. Raw fish was not the first thing he'd have chosen to eat, but it was fresh, and his stomach thanked him for it. They were hard to catch, though! Brian must have spent a good hour trying to find a suitable spot, and then he had to wait while his tummy rumbled, for the fish to fall into the slow moving section of the river.
Here, now, Brian waited patiently while a silver little fish jumped over the tiny cascades into the pool of stillenss. Almost faster than he could see, Brian's paw snaked out and dashed the fish from the stream. Yes! Dinner. He jumped on the flopping fish, biting its head with his teeth. It stopped, dead, almost instantly. Brian had done this more times than he could count, and it still gave him the chills. But he had to eat, and he needed the protein. Consuming a fish raw was not as fun as he would have thought. There were all of those annoying scales, and the uncooked meat stuck to the bones. The blood wasn't nice either, but it washed off well when Brian cleaned his paws in the stream.
Brian paused for a moment, before picking at the body of the fish again. He remembered the time a mouse had crossed his path. More trouble than it was worth, all he managed to do was give it the scare of its life. He could have caught it, trapping it from its hole, but it scampered by when he hesitated. Despite the attractiveness *ugh* of eating a mouse, Brian didn't know how many people had been led here by Puck. Imagine if the mouse had been a person once, or even worse, one of his friends! Brian quailed at the very idea. He couldn't take that risk.
Eating was certainly easier. There were some other things he discovered about himself that made things easier.
Since he passing tender age of adolescence, he’d been unable to find a comfortable way of sleeping. As he had advanced in maturity, he remembered the nagging irritation as one of his extremities had become wedged under his gangly body, cut off from blood flow. No matter how he slept, on his back, or on his side, there had never been a time when he woke up without tingly pains in his arms or legs. Who could have predicted that the ideal sleeping position for him was curled in a ball, on a slight incline, inside one of the fallen logs that seemed to be deliberately placed at regular intervals throughout this forest? Despite being on all fours, and furry, he was glad to get a good night’s sleep, well a good day’s sleep. If only night would come.
Once, being a raccoon had saved his life.
Where did that wolf come
from?! Of course. The gate had been left open again!
Where was that pacifistic Puck when you needed him? The wolf seemed
lost, going in no particular direction, sniffing around aimlessly.
Thankfully upwind, it still almost walked on top of Brian. It
looked straight at him, huddled in the shadowy brush, then moved on, oblivious
of his presence. Brian didn’t know if wolves would eat raccoons,
but he didn’t want to take any chances. He thanked lady Fortune that
day. If he'd still been human, wearing his bright orange life preserver,
yellow shirt, and white shorts, he would have been an easy target.
Raccoon colored as he was now, he probably looked just like another shadow
to that wolf when hiding under the brush.
Brian briefly felt a pang of sympathy. The poor wolf. It had gotten waylaid, separated from its pack through one of the dimensional gates that They had “accidentally” left open. He knew its fate wasn't going to be pleasant. They didn’t tolerate predators in Their forest, but They loved to torment them. As an omnivore, Brian was about the tolerable limit. The wolf was...over the limit. Brian hid, trying to shut out the sounds of that wolf, pitiful high barks probably designed to summon his pack, or warn them away from this terrible place. He never stood a chance. His pack couldn’t hear him across from another world.
The barks vanished as the wolf began to change. His body shrunk, and his ears grew. His fur lightened to downy whiteness. Soon he was unable to sound at all. They made him long ears and a cute little fluffy tail. They’d made him into a white cottontail, a bunny! Of all the nerve. Their gay laughter floated across the hills for hours as that poor wolf (rabbit?) scampered about trying to chase itself. By the time they left, he had been totally regressed, and was calmly hopping around, munching on the greenery.
The creature hopped up to Brian, still unaware of his presence. Then, Brian poked his nose out of the brush. Once again seeing prey, the rabbit jumped at him, knocking him over with a powerful leap. It seemed to forget what to do with him at that point, and began licking his face. Spluttering, Brian used his greater mass to push the rabbit off of him. The rabbit stayed close, and Brian began scratching it behind the ears. :Well, boy. It looks like Puck was sloppy. You still think you’re a wolf don’t you?: The bunny’s ears went down in pleasure, and his eyes closed. Its tongue hung loosely from the side of its mouth. :Still tired from all that running around, huh? I know of a cool place you can rest, c’mon.: His last mental word was punctuated by a short chirp that seemed to get the rabbit’s attention. Brian led it off into the bushes until it was sleeping peacefully in a shaded glen, where the trees pressed close and the underbrush was thick
. :That oughta hold you for awhile.: Brian thought, leaving a little bit of his depression behind. Brian sighed. What would he do with a totally devoted pet rabbit (wolf?).
Brian paused in his musing,
settling squat back on his haunches. Idly, he traced equations in
the brown soil (always the same perfect brown shade...) forcing himself
to focus on the meaning of the symbols, and the memory of the world he’d
1+1=2. He was determined not to lose it.
e^(i*pi) – 1 = 0. All those years of education.
::The little brown fox jumped....:: A lifetime of experience.
::The capital of the United States is Washington. The states are....:: And They were going to take that away from him!
“It’s the natural order.” They’d said. “It’s your obligation.” They’d said. We like it...they never said that, but you could see it in their eyes, black and insect-like. They liked it. You could hear it in their laughter. Soft and tinkling, like bells. They liked it. The bells took him back...
Brian’s world turned upside
down. The boat tipped crazily, and he was in the water. He
tried frantically to find the canoe, but the river was carrying him downstream.
Brian hoped he would drown quickly, his uncoordinated body sinking to the
bottom of the river. Then he realized he what he was doing.
“I’m swimming!” he thought, incredulous even in the chaotic tumble of the
river. I can swim, even though it’s been less than an hour since
those...bug people changed me—.” Something didn’t quite ring true
in his head about that last statement, “But first things first”, he told
himself. “Get to shore.”
Brian swam in short, fast strokes to the side of the river. The thrill of swimming the river was soon replaced by darker feelings. “We can’t fight them.” he thought, crawling wet and miserable out on the bank. “There are too many of them. Better to hide. Yes, hide.” Brian did the smartest thing he could think of. Partly prompted from instinct and partly from common sense, he slipped into the concealing bushes.
Soon however, Brian winced from his hiding place as he saw Bob run through by the unicorn. ::Spitted! Gutted, like a common anim...:: Brian suppressed his ill-advised thought. Instead, his mind was racing, but he couldn’t figure out how they could get out of this mess. “Oh, no. Is it happening to me again? Am I turning into an animal, all the way this time?” His thoughts, though confused, seemed curiously unhindered. Ever since he’d evaded those fairies, he could think clearly again. He shuddered. ::But would I even notice I was thinking differently? How would I know if I was thinking like a raccoon? How can someone understand that they are losing their understanding?::
As Bob flew off the unicorn’s horn like a rag doll, Eric turned and ran until he left Brian’s sight. Eric’s scent lingered on the breeze, and Brian began following him. “At least he might get away.” Brian thought miserably. “But I’m done for. When those fairies find me, they’re going to get me. I won’t be able to fight them. I know it.
“Only Eric’s left. Chip’s some kind of mind dead faun. Bob’s, oh god, I don’t even know if he’s still alive. And I’m...already taken care of.” Brian slunk through the bushes, eyes out for any more of those fairies. He found Eric more by smell than anything else. He didn’t see Eric until reaching the perimeter of a very large clearing. As he drew closer, Brian could hear Eric talking with someone.
Brian poked his head out of the brush, cautiously. ::Wha--? It’s a kid, a little teeny kid! Curly hair, cute as the world, and buck-naked? Is he going to help us?:: Brian edged a little closer, then gazed at the white crack of light that appeared over Eric in the sky. It pulsed, emitting a booming voice. When Brian looked back down, Eric had already began to change.
:Brian::Oh, no! Why isn’t that kid doing anything? Eric’s in trouble! Why isn’t he helping? Why isn’t that kid changing too?! Oh god, he’s laughing.::
The little boy threw his head back and laughed as Eric went from a Shakespearean horror to a full-blown donkey. The child’s laughter was distant and bell-like, both aloof and innocent, the same as the fairies. The child was one of Them.
Eric looked down at the fey boy, whom he now towered over, as confused as an ass could be. Brian wanted to race forward, shouting “Don’t listen to him! He’ll destroy you!” He almost couldn’t stop himself. “Remember, idiot!” Brian told himself reprehensibly. “You can’t speak! You’re three feet long, and most of that is tail. That kid is bigger than you!”
He watched, helpless, as the boy leaned up and whispered soothing words into one of Eric’s long ears. To Brian’s dismay, Eric nickered softly, and allowed the child up on his back. “He’s gone now.” Brian thought sadly. “Just like Chip, and Bob.”
Eric and the boy rode off slowly down the road that suddenly appeared before them, leaving Brian standing alone in the sun dappled clearing. Even as he watched them go, he felt strangely uneasy. He was standing in the clearing...in the clearing...alone. Fully. Exposed.
“It’s your turn now.” the voice above him boomed, as he desperately tried to leap back into the bushes. He could hear their laughter as the fairies flew up in a swarm after him. Their tinkling, bell-like...
It was the laughter that
brought him back. He could hear it, in the present, sounding from
farther down the hill. Oh, no. Puck was coming. Brian
leapt towards his scratchings, erasing the equations with his paw.
E=mc^2. Sorry Einstein, it look like you were a little off in my case.
e^(i*pi) – 1=0. A little equation relating the 5 most meaningless numbers in the universe.
::The...capital...:: he brushed away the long sentence with his tail, getting thoroughly dirty in the process. ::I can get cleaned up later.:: he thought hurriedly. ::Puck’s seen me dust-bathe often enough. No reason for him to suspect...::
Dog chose that inopportune moment to come hopping up to Brian, tongue lolling out in a very unrabbitlike manner. Brian’s hasty *hissst!* sent him scrambling back into the bushes. There Dog watched, fearfully, as Brian prepared for the coming of Puck.
Puck came dancing around the lane. He looked for the entire world like a lost farm boy, whistling at the breezes, taking his time to get home. A buck naked, lost farm boy. Brian dove down, this time mentally, deep into his consciousness and hid, too hasty to think about leaving a window. He plunged into the lowest layers of self, and allowed the other part of his being to come bubbling up into awareness.
To an outside observer, the dirty raccoon’s eyes had no gleam of intelligence. It sauntered down to the riverbank, sniffing at the remains of its food. Turning, it snarled suspiciously at the strange intruder who would disturb its meal. Puck was pleased at the progress.
::No window out.:: Brian was plunged into darkness. Familiar darkness. ::That was close.:: he said to himself. There was nothing else to talk to down here beside himself, anyway. He knew that far above, his raccoon side was putting on the perfect show for Puck. He hoped everything was going okay. If Puck suspected anything.... His Other sent him a reassuring snuggle-emotion, and offered him a hand (paw) up. Brian began climbing, slowly rising through the dark layers of the mind. He was still too deep to see out of his own eyes. ::At least it’s not as bad as last time.:: he thought, struggling upwards. ::Or the first time.:: In darkness, the memory became life.
They sought him out.
In the bushes, under logs, they would not let him go, would not let him hide. Brian ran away from the sun dappled clearing, but they followed him effortlessly. He panicked further and further as he felt their whirring wings at his back. They kept behind, letting Brian run until his raccoonish instincts were at full. Then they struck.
How do you fight someone who uses fists you cannot see? How do you argue with words you cannot hear? Brain could only tell that his thoughts were dulling. His mind was turned towards a thousand distractions, the scent of the female raccoons, the fear in his flight, the curious smell coming out of that tree hollow. He forced himself to ignore the unnaturally strong emotions that They must be pushing on him. He found it hard to remember his own name.
::Brian.:: he screamed inwardly. ::Brian! Bri--. Brian!:: He fought them as a child fights sleep, refusing to let his mind droop. He knew if they made him sleep now, he wasn’t going to be waking up.
They seemed to grow tired of the subtle play and hammered his consciousness down. They broke him, overriding his being, mental and physical. He stumbled and fell, twitching spasmodically, as he lost consciousness, going...where?...down.
Brian woke in a black pit. He could not see, hear, smell, or feel anything. His soul drifted, free from pain, in a vast lake with no top and no bottom. He dreamed. He was a man again. He was a fish. Puck was chasing him with glowing red eyes. Brian-self began to unravel, to dissolve in the lake of nothing. He was dying...
Far above, a raccoon stopped at the Lake. Looking curiously, it saw a silver flash. Beating the water with its forepaws, it pulled out a tasty Fish. But the fish was no longer a Fish. It was a raccoon. Like himself...
Brian stared at his double as the fish dream dissolved. Another raccoon stood, in mirror opposition to him. It looked exactly like he did, but was somehow different. He could feel its simple nervousness as it washed its face in agitation. Aggression was not in its eyes. How could it be aggressive to something that smelled exactly like itself? All it smelled was himself. He smelled himself. He woke up.
The fairies were lying limp all around. Their lights were dimmed with exhaustion. Had Brian been able to move a muscle, he might have crushed some of them. But he was as limp as them. His body responded slowly. He raised his head. They looked at him coldly.
:Target has regained consciousness—mobility. Program –iteration countdown: The fairies carefully reserved their energy for the next iteration. The first step was completed. The fourth mind strike was specifically calculated, through extensive diagnostics, to perform the final memory override. Everything was logged and tabulated and planned with meticulous detail to complete their program. They knew no fear, love, hate, only purpose.
Brian looked back. Through his foggy vision, he could see how many it’d taken to bring him down. ::Mus’ have put on quite a fight.:: Somehow, his thoughts managed to lisp. He turned his head higher. Puck, the golden child was standing over him...laughing...
That had been the worst. A rather rude introduction to his split personality. Thanks to Rac, Brian’d gotten back to himself before they could recover to beat him again. Brian promised silently that he’d never make another split personality joke again. Rac was as helpful has he could ever hope to expect. It had not been long after...
After They came the second
time, Brian was ready to give up. He wallowed in darkness and self-pity.
::Why don’t you listen to them? Be a raccoon. Isn’t it what
you’ve always wanted?:: he remarked bitterly. Deep down, though,
he knew that being a raccoon, as They saw it, was not what he wanted at
To lose all sentient thought, a tragedy almost worse than death! Without his mind, being a raccoon was nothing. What good to be a raccoon if you can’t remember ever wanting it? No, Brian did not want to be a raccoon without his mind to go along with it. If only such a thing were possible...
::Idle dreams.:: he remarked, depressedly. ::You can’t have both. One or the other. Hey, look on the dark side! Now you don’t even have a choice! There could never be a sentient raccoon.:: Never. But...
Mind lightning cracked above him. His ears flicked up suddenly. His depression was cut by astonishment. :There is a sentient raccoon.: he realized. :Me.: For the first time in Brian’s life, he knew. It was possible. ‘Coon and sentience were one inside him.
Then, his ears flattened again. They were going to take that away from him. It was Their fault, and They were the bad ones. He would never, ever give in to Them. He turned to look at his double.
Together, they rested at the shores of that night lake in his mind. The other noticed his attention, and perked up, but then it warbled confusedly. His fury must have been noticeable. He smoothed out his fur and calmed down. Brian felt its worry following him, concern over his anxiety. :Why are you so worried?: Brian grumbled. :You’re the one who’s going to take over when those fairies are through with me. You should be glad. You’re what they want me to be.: Normal in every way.
It waddled over, and plopped down beside him. ::It must think I’m family or something.:: Brian settled down beside his Other. It nuzzled at him affectionately. :You really like me don’t you? I guess I haven’t been treating you quite fair. It’s not that I don’t like you, it’s...hey! Leggo my leg!:
The ‘coon had a hold of his leg! He twisted around and grappled with the other raccoon. They both rolled down the hill above the lake, until his Other suddenly broke free and ran, chittering off into the darkness. It came back, smiling. ::How can a raccoon smile?:: Oh, something about the way that tail moves... then Brian realized he was doing it himself. :You want to play, do you? Well watch out!:
He jumped up, and grabbed it by the shoulders. They wrestled until their two forms bowled over the edge of the lake and into the water. Then, it became a diving game to see who could come up under the other. They played for what seemed like hours, until finally Brian flopped on shore, exhausted. Stars began twinkling in the darkness above. “I’ll call you Rac.” he thought, slipping down to sleep.
When he awoke, he saw Puck. The boy was still smiling, though he looked weary himself. The exhausted fairies had been cleared away. Brian began to wonder if They’d met with such resistance before.
“Well, you were down for longer this time!” <<that laughter...>> “C’mon! Don’t be such a spoilsport! It’s not like we could have kept you human!” <<laughter>> “You take things too seriously, y’know. You’d be much more happy if you just let us finish with you. You’re just stubborn. As stubborn as any normal raccoon should be. Hahahaha...” Puck vanished, laughing, even as Brian lashed out with his claws and teeth, biting air. Puck’s disembodied voice came back across the clearing. “Just to let you know, you’ve got about two weeks, then we’ll be back. We’ll fix you right up!”
They’d fix him up. They’d fix him up. He chittered angrily at the eternal light shining above. From an unknown source in the sky, the forest was bathed in perpetual daylight. An endless paradise, a garden of never-night, a place of life and beauty hidden from the evils of our flaw’d planet. He spit and hissed as he attacked the log he’d been living in for the last few days. This was the place he was supposed to love and enjoy as a raccoon. With the tree logs so evenly spaced, probably artificial; with no live trees big enough to climb on; with all that eternal daylight. Raccoons are nocturnal, for goodness sake! Brian was as miserable as he could be. But his black mood didn’t spoil that tender bead of hope he’d found while playing with Rac. Brian had a plan.
He began practicing. Brian forced himself down into his mind, until his senses failed and he was once again beside that starlit lake. Then, he swam up as before, breaking out into sunlight. It was easier than he thought. ::I must be half mad, to be able to do this. I don’t think I could have done it before the fairies broke me the first time. I wonder if this is how catatonic patients feel? Or maybe brainwashed people...::
He dove down and resurfaced over and over again. Each time, it became a little easier to return, his body reawakening, the twitching paralysis subsiding quickly. After 3 days with nothing else to do in his spare time, Brian was handling himself much like a skillful diver, passing easily through the regions of his mind. When Brian felt ready, Rac was only too willing to oblige. He seemed to understand that Brian needed the exercise, and he was glad to explore the world as only a raccoon could. Brian carefully led the other raccoon up to the top of his mind, where it could take care of things while he slumbered. The week was passing quickly, though, and everything had to be perfect when they came for him.
When he wasn’t eating, or doing his strange form of meditation, Brian was drawing in the dirt. Raccoon paws were ideal for fine manipulation, he found, and writing things down helped him remember who he had been. ::Who I am.:: Brian thought furiously. He quizzed himself constantly about all of the simple trivia, and most of the grand concepts he’d learned back home. From history to art to mathematics, Brian found an endless number of things to transcribe, even if he had to erase it when Puck found him. ::Maybe the dirt will remember.:: He found himself idly wishing one day.
He began teaching Rac too. Rac took it all in stride. It was natural for him after all. At first, Brian was afraid of teaching Rac too much, but he soon came to realize that Rac was as much a part of himself as he was. They were just unnaturally separated. Rac wouldn’t think of killing Brian any more than Brian would think of killing Rac. The fairies were the ones to watch out for, and the more Brian and Rac knew about each other, the harder it was to pull them apart.
Brian stayed far away from the few trees large enough to climb. He shuddered in horror when he remembered what they'd done to Chip, who could be seen a satyr, flicking among the bushes, dancing in the reeds. Chip never woke up. His mind was gone, burned away by the transformation that the trees had imposed on him. Nothing left but a simple animal lust, he lived only to further the trees' reproduction. It was clear why the trees had done that to him. They were stifled, unnaturallly controlled. In this eternally young world, they fought with a frenzy that never possessed a plant before, to be allowed to mature. Unfortunately, Chip was in the way of this ongoing, and pointless battle. It is a tree's nature to grow and seed. Prevent that nature, and be ready for it to fight back.
In a blinding flash of light,
Puck, the golden child was standing over him...laughing. Brian snapped
himself back to the present. Was he seeing? ::Alright!::
He’d gotten his eyes working again! He looked out through the 'window'
while his raccoon self took care of the rest.
They were apparantly hiding in the bushes. Good. Rac didn’t trust Puck either. Rac probably bolted when the child came along. Puck was standing almost on top of Brian, but Puck’s back was turned so Brian remained hidden. Rac wanted to bite, but Brian demurred, showed him the memory of the last time he’d caught Puck off guard.
The wound on the child’s
hand had begun closing up. It healed instantly. Brian had not
gotten away though. Puck had his fairies install a tracking device
under the back of Brian’s neck. Nasty little thing, that tracking
device. All spindly arms gyrating about like a chrome spider.
It latched onto his back, and sliced open his skin. He’d screamed
his raccoon form of a scream, and spent a good 30 seconds ineffectively
clawing at his neck. Soon, the thing had sewn his skin seamlessly
shut, and stopped moving inside him. “That way,” Puck said angrily,
“we’ll be able to see you no matter where you hide.” Brian had never
seen Puck angry before. It was not a pleasant sight. Those
curls were just as cute, the little naked child just as sweet and innocent.
But the face was horrid in a twisted grimace of fury, something beyond
what a human child should ever express. Puck’s face smoothed out,
and he ventured forth his beaming grin. Laughing, he remarked playfully.
“Well, now that that’s done Mr. Raccoon, you c’n go off and play.
Of course you could play with me y’know. It would be a lot faster
Brian fled as fast as his aching neck could allow. “Three days left.” Puck called after him.
Had that really been two
days ago? It seemed like so much shorter. Then again, Brian
could only measure days by how often he fell asleep. It never got
dark in this forest.
Puck was laughing as he played with Brian’s rabbit, Dog. “Well, he wasn’t originally a dog.” Brian thought. “But it seemed too obvious to name him ‘Wolf’.”
Dog was playing fetch. Fetch. A strange game indeed when the object of play was suddenly edible. Dog had introduced Brian to cedar-bark. It really wasn’t that bad to eat though he suspected that (as usual) his human form would have had some problems with digestion. Still, despite Dog’s “expert” culinary advice, Brian didn’t partake too much of the grass and clover that Dog seemed to love so much. Brian had a feeling that it didn’t do much for him except help his digestion. But for Dog, it was an endless feast.
The dog-like rabbit eagerly brought the stick back, entirely scraped clean of tasty cedar bark. Puck took the stick, and threw it away, sending Dog bounding with delight back into the bushes. They set an idyllic scene. In a forest of saplings, a young naked boy played innocently with his rabbit. It was worthy of a romantic painting. Brian wondered briefly how his hands would hold up to painting. The wonder was tinged, however, with sadness. Would he ever get home? Would he ever see a painting? Would he ever see the stars again?
“If only Puck wasn’t so manipulative.” Brian thought sadly. “He might be a nice guy.”
Puck laughed once more, then turned his golden curls, walked off to the trail, and mounted...Eric.
The demon horse reeked of
power, every muscle underneath that black hide rippling like an ocean wave.
A donkey no longer, Puck had changed him...horribly.
In slow measures at first, as Eric became more and more the pawn of Puck, Puck found a childish delight in experimentation. The end result had lost its homely donkey stature, in exchange for a shape right out from a nightmare. Eric’s ebony fur concealed an impenetrable armor of scales, from his horse-like head to the tip of his sinuous, reptilian tail. He ran like no horse could, legs blurring, hooves sparking like fire on the stones he passed. His breath came out in hot blasts, and his teeth were sharply pointed. :Sharp.: Rac agreed, scratching at the scar Eric had given him, a week before, on the command of Puck.
Eric belonged only to the Fairies now, Puck’s trusted steed and slave. They thundered off together, a study in contrast. The tiny child atop the nightmare steed. Ironic, but then, that was Puck’s cruel brand of humor. Brian watched them go, then suddenly focused on something more closely in front of him. There was a fairy, glowing with light. “Time.” it said simply.
He backed away in horror. :No-o! It’s too soon! I-I’m...: but Brian was ready. He kept up the facade, taking control of his body enough to back away. Another fairy appeared next to the first. Then another. “Time.time.time” Their quiet voices were echoes. More and more fairies appeared, surrounding him in a cloud. Brian felt a momentary stab of fear. Could he do it? He’d worked so hard. He had nothing to lose, but he could still fail. He felt their minds pressing him down. Gathering his will, he struck back.
He lashed out with as much power as he could. ::They can’t think I held back.:: He pushed his mind up against the weight of theirs, straining to break free. ::It’s got to be convincing.:: He pulled on them teasingly, dragging them around like thousands of kites on his back. ::Almost enough. They’ve almost got me. I—I—. I’m winning?::
As the fairies began to drop, their lights dimming, they looked at the raccoon standing a little straighter. Brian was so surprised that he was winning, he paused in shock. ::What do I do now?:: He hadn’t planned on winning, and hesitated.
They knocked him back into the mind lake so fast, his head spun, if he’d had a head...if he’d had a body...if he’d had a soul...
...Rac pulled him out again. Brian stood on the bank dripping, but hopeful. :Thanks. That was weird. How could I have been winning?: Rac chittered encouragingly. Brian chittered back, and they touched noses briefly. Then, Rac jumped back up through the layers of consciousness, leaving Brian alone. ::First night’s sleep I’ve gotten in weeks.:: he thought, as he slumped down to dream...
Puck surveyed the damage.
Broken fairies lay all around the prone body that once was a man called
Brian. His voice was strangely dispassionate. “We had to risk
it though. The fourth stage would have taken too long.” He
laughed, and the strange music danced through his ears. Puck would
never get used to his own laughter. He picked up one of the fairies.
It fell in two, the severed ends sparking briefly. The other fairies
looked on unemotionally. “You may return.” he said formally.
They vanished into the sky. A booming voice sounded above him.
“Is he taken care of?”
“How many lost?”
“My, he was a feisty one. I think that until we find out how he got so strong, we should refrain from our...recreation with the gates.”
“Are we to close down?”
“Shut entirely. Let not one creature in through the gate.”
“I’ll take care of it immediately.”
“Look, our friend is stirring.”
The raccoon rose unsteadily, fairy corpses falling off of its fur. Looking around confusedly, it fled from the strange human looking at it critically. It vanished into the bushes, but the Pharon diode in its lower neck continued to pulse. Puck watched the pulsing signal easily through the bushes, as the raccoon wandered into one of the hollow logs scattered here and there around the forest (10m avg. separation according to the pseudorandom Gauss position algorithm. Good ol’ Gauss. He didn’t suffer long after he died.) , and went to sleep.
A fairy appeared before Puck. “Scan completed. Subject: Brian. Neural activity: 0.143.”
“A little high.” he laughed. “But certainly low enough that he won’t be waking up again. Ever. Honored Gatekeeper, Brian is gone for good.”
“I’ll expect a report back.”
The hole in the sky vanished and the light of the Gatekeeper faded into the normal daylight.
Brian listened from his dark lake, as Rac dutifully went about his curious ways, creeping closer to Puck. :Yes. Good. Follow him. Good, Rac.: ::Puck will go to the gate now. It’s my only chance to ever get through before he closes it.::
Puck found the little raccoon
easily, and measured its neural activity himself. 0.141. “It’s
gone down. Excellent. Brian now has the mental capacity of
a raccoon. A dumb one at that.” Puck generously allowed a little
pride. He had succeeded as he always did. The Gatekeeper was
so distrustful. As anyone could see, Puck was completely reliable.
The Gatekeeper had given him harsh orders, but Puck’d had centuries to
learn how to twist orders. “He said no one gets in. That won’t
stop me from getting out occasionally for some fun. I’ll just put
the gate on a one-way valve.”
He felt more confident, even spry. “Who do those bureaucrats think they are? Are they out in the field? Do they deal with these stupid humans every day? They’re going to take away the one bit of fun I have. I’ll just have to do something about that.”
Maybe he should move to a higher status. The ranks of Heaven were always full of opportunities. Maybe he could move up in those ranks. Saddle someone else with this kid’s body for awhile. But Puck was not one for desk jobs, and he’d have to get a desk job before he went anywhere...up there.
Okay, so no desk job. But what could it hurt to keep the gate open for him to play a bit? As long as no one could get into this forest from Earth, there was no problem. There was certainly no one on this side that wanted to get back to Earth, since he most efficiently dealt with that Brian character. Nothing to worry about at all. His problems solved, Puck whistled for his horse. “No need to walk to the gate when you can fly.” he told himself.
:Brian: Good. Keep following. Good, Rac. Don’t worry. Hungry? Just pretend ole man Puck has fish in his pockets. We’ll get food soon.:
Eric felt positively invigorated.
The sweet water of the stream had nourished his strong body, and he practically
leapt onto the run that appeared before him. The trees parted to
let him pass, and he flew. Like the wind, everything whipped past
him in a blur. He was lost in the fun and the fury. His breath
came out fire as the heat built up inside his body. Today was a very
good day. Very good. Eric could not think when it had been
better. He heard the whistle.
Puck, the little boy who took care of him! He turned in his course and sprang towards the sound. His whinny, a terror to others, seemed light and carefree to his ears. Life was so much better than before, but Eric didn’t think about before anymore. Not until he saw Brian.
The world snapped into a slow weaving motion. The trees blurred into greyness, and his strides seemed to slow as his senses heightened acutely. There, on the side of the trail, was Brian. Or what was left of him. Brian the raccoon stood frozen on the side of the trail, looking solemnly at him. Eric floated by, almost in a dream. Shouldn’t he stop and check on his friend? How was Brian doing? Had he had any luck being a raccoon? Then, a memory tore Eric’s calm mood apart. He saw Brian again, pinned under one of his hooves. “Do it.” Puck had told him. All was seething rage and anger. He bit down hard, just as Brian tore free of his grasp. Eric’s head had come away bloody, but empty and his hoof still held a tuft of tail.
He was pacing alongside Brian now. The little raccoon stared back at him in cold recognition, bitter anger, and sorrow. The last emotion was clear in the hunch of Brian’s shoulders, and it was the one thing Eric could stand the least. Didn’t he understand? He should have listened! Brian never listened. He hurt the Master! He had to be punished! Why didn’t Brian understand? Why didn’t Brian listen to the words that calmed Eric so much? The soothing words of a child...
Brian barely managed to turn
his head fast enough to follow the nightmare horse as it flew past him.
Was the Eric he knew still in there? Did he know what he was doing?
Eric raced to Puck’s beck and call without questioning. But even
as a donkey, his eyes had not been those of a dumb animal. In all
these weeks they’d been trapped here, Eric had never showed any signs of
recognizing his friend, and Brian’s latest scar proved it. But Brian
just could not accept that his friend was gone forever. There had
to be something left!
Poor Eric. In a way, he was worse off than Brian. At least Brian had himself to rely on. Eric had Puck, only Puck, and seemed perfectly happy about it.
“Don’t cry over losing your friend.”, Brian told himself, letting Rac take him along Puck’s trail. “It happens. Eric’s just fallen for Puck’s charm. What is there not to like about Puck--.” A thousand things popped through his head, small acts of cruelty that left scars, like the one on his side, from Eric. Puck could have healed it, but instead he chose to let the wound close badly. “Was he hoping to cripple me?” Brian wondered, “Or was it just another attempt to break my spirit?”
“It doesn’t matter. If I want to save Eric, I’ll have to get out of this place first, and away from Puck. All I have to do is follow him until he reaches that gate.” Brian walked a little further, following Puck’s scent.
“I wonder why Puck wants to ride Eric now? He only uses the horse when he wants to get somewhere very far away, very fast. The gate’s not that far. It’s—it’s—where is that gate anyway?...uh, oh.”
Brian/Rac began to run.
The blinding rush ended in
an instant. Eric was panting, looking down at his Master. Puck
was beaming a child’s smile as he climbed on Eric’s back. The horse’s
heavy breathing managed to disguise the sound of a smaller body scrambling
up behind them, in the bushes. “Toward the mountains.” Puck
said, waving an imaginary sword like a child playing soldier. “About
4 miles so I can check on the Barrier, then we’ll go 4 more miles along
the range. We’ll reach the gate in no time. Then, after I’m
done there, we can play “hunt” again!”
At the mention of his favorite game, the dark steed chortled in joy. It was what substituted for a whinny, not exactly normal, but Puck understood immediately. Puck joined, and his sweet bells rang along with the strange sounds of the nightmare horse. The dissonance spun Eric’s head, and for a moment, he began to remember.... Then, Puck kicked his sides and he was running again. Happy. Fast as the wind. To the mountains.
As the thunder died down,
Brian sank to the ground. How would he ever get that far before Puck
closed the gate forever? Rac chittered soothingly. Brian barked
(it was more of a meep than a bark) his laughter. “It must look strange,”
Brian thought, “To see a raccoon comforting itself. I hope I’m not
crazy.” He felt a cold stab of fear letting him know how serious
that last statement was. “I had to do some bad things with my mind
to get away from those fairies. I wonder if those wounds ever heal?”
Brian began calming down as Rac washed his face soothingly. Eventually,
he stopped, and Rac went back *down* to the lake. He could sense
Brian’s need to be alone.
Brian began drawing in the dirt. He made a right triangle, one leg pointing at the mountains and one leg running parallel to their course. The mountains were an impassable line that bordered the edge of the forest. But a line was all he needed. “Glad I paid attention back in Trig.” Brian thought, drawing some more mathematical figures. Finally, he put his head down at the level of the ground, and sited along the leg of the triangle drawn in the dirt. It pointed toward a purple mountain, the only one capped with snow, far in the distance.
“My only chance is to go as the crow flies.” Brian thought. “Puck is taking the long way, and I’ll have about 3/4ths the ground to travel. That snow mountain is in the direction of the gate. I should run right into the gate if I go that way.”
Puck brushed away the dead
bodies of birds on the Barrier machine, which had tried to fly over the
mountains. They lay all around the pulsing machine that contained
the forest within its specified boundaries. All beyond the boundary
was wasteland, the remains of some old dead planet that Puck had forgotten
the name of. Normally, the boundary only repelled the organisms that
tried to pass, but here it killed them. An unfortunate property
of the energy field of the Barrier: since it had to span the whole mountain
range, it was unavoidably concentrated near the main reactor. Puck
sighed. He was going to have to find a way to fix that little error
since they weren’t going to let him bring any more birds in through the
gate. After dispelling the protective magic surrounding the metal
casing, he carefully inspected it, poking and prodding, and tinkering.
There were a few loose relays, but he sutured them up quickly and soon
the machine was running smoothly again. Perfect, as usual...Puck
had to smile.
They’d picked him because he was the best. Nothing had ever gotten away from him. Nothing. He crawled out from the machine, and reset the wards. Some time had passed, and his black stallion was nickering eagerly. What had that horse been called, Cory, Joey...? Well, it didn’t matter. Now, he was called horse. Puck hopped on his back, but paused for a moment to admire his handiwork on the steed.
Imagine finding a mortal capable of adopting any equine form! It was miraculous, but true. Now, Puck could make his horse whatever he wanted. He hadn’t used his full creativity in the design of this form, but the next one would be even more fantastic. He was sure Joey, or whatever, would like it. No more messing with those boring unicorns.
The unicorn colt leveled
its tiny horn directly at Brian. The wicked thing gleamed brightly
in the golden light from above. Brian didn’t move a whisker.
It pawed the ground, angrily. :I should gut you right now, or turn
you in to the Master.: it said in its strange mind-voice.
Brian moved, shaking his head from side to side. He began trembling. That horn really was sharp, and Brian wasn’t fast enough to avoid it. :Colt: You’ve been nothing but trouble to Puck, and I see that his best efforts to exterminate you failed miserably. That’s good.:
Brian meeparked once in surprise, never looking away from that horn. It lowered a fraction of an inch. :I’ll let you go, find your precious gate. Puck never cared about us anyway. I hate him! Once he found that other mount, and mother was left alone to founder...:
Brian looked around for the mother. She was never far from her colt...
:Colt: She’s dead, you idiot! Was I wrong? Did those fairy totally wipe your mind?:
Brian shook his head vigorously.
:Colt: She died when her feet pained her so much. Puck didn’t even stop to help. He was riding around on Eric. I love this forest! I love who I am, but I can’t forgive Puck for what he did. He let mother die! He could have saved her! She always followed him so faithfully. Now she’s dead! Do you know, I once had a name?:
Brian shook his head again. Who was this little unicorn? Somehow familiar.
:Colt: Puck took that away too. Mother would have let me keep it, but Puck had to have his way. We should never have listened to him! He was bad from the start. Mother was...:
His equine face betrayed no emotion, but the tears dropped from his eyes. Brian couldn’t help himself. He went right up to that dangerous horn, and brushed the side of his muzzle up against one of those long gangly legs. Trying to keep the rattle out of his voice, he conjured up the most sympathetic sound he could think of. The young colt seemed to understand. He didn’t stop crying, though.
:Colt: And...now...we’re stuck here, with this...madman Puck. If there was only some way out. I can’t stand it here anymore. The blessed light has become just another shade of darkness for me.:
:Brian: There is a way out! I know where it is!: Brian so wished he could say those words. He wanted to do more than his silly agitated chittering. But his words were as lost as his humanity.
The unicorn turned his head up straight, a dark silhouette in the golden light. :Get on my back, then.:
Brian looked up quizzically. What did he mean?
:Colt: Get on my back, and I’ll take you where you need to go. What’s wrong, you told me there was a way out.:
Had the unicorn read his thoughts? Did it know what he was thinking? The unicorn stood inconsolably glaring at him. Brian looked at his claws. They wouldn’t fold all the way back. He wanted to say :I could hurt you...: but maybe a growl and pantomime would work for communication--.
:Colt: Don’t worry about hurting me. Not even wasps can penetrate this skin. Just be careful.:
Again! Brian was desperately curious how he’d communicated with the unicorn, but time was running out. He took a small hop, and struggled his way onto the colt’s back. ::Good thing this wasn’t your mother.:: Brian thought, ::or I’d never be able to climb up.:: Oh, no. :Did you just hear me?: Brian asked fearfully.
:Colt: Hear you what? No, I didn’t hear you and if you don’t tell me where this way out is, I’ll buck you so hard, you won’t land for a day!:
Fear breeds ingenuity. Brian tried thinking once more. It felt like when he was fighting the fairies. He pushed outward with his mind. :I need to go towards the purple mountain covered with snow.: he ventured carefully. The world lurched as the unicorn sprang into motion, making a beeline for the mountain. Brian held on miserably, but gladly. They would make it to the gate on time!
The thunder gathered in clouds
overhead. The air filled with unreleased potential. The gate
was huge, spanning the river and both banks, a thin net of aether designed
to pull foolish mortals into the in-between realm that Puck presided over.
Puck’s hands glowed with an eerie fire that crawled from his tiny shoulders
before wisping off the tips of his fingers. The scene through the
gate shimmered and changed, until the familiar night of Earth could be
seen. “Foolish mortals, they still can’t get rid of the night.
Not like here where everything is perfect.”
As his hands touched the ground, thunder boomed and lightning cracked, sounding for all the world like the pounding of cloven hooves approaching from behind. Eric looked up from his grazing, his face wet with the blood of the field mouse he’d caught. Puck ignored him, absolutely concentrating on the ground. Tendrils of force began to trickle away from him, towards the gate. He remembered the ancient incantation as though he’d cast it yesterday...
As Puck concentrated his
power, Eric came out of the haze slowly. “Where am I? Where
is the Master?” All Eric could see was a demon-child pouring force
into the ground. And a gate, a strange mirror that did not reflect
the scene set within it. Instead, it was filled with a dark not-day,
a strange scene devoid of light. It seemed to call him forward, a
land of blackness. A land he once knew. Eric suddenly longed
to return home, to the distant lands of his memories before Puck.
He was filled with indecision and he began to doubt that the master had
all good intentions. “Such an innocent boy, but look. He is
closing the gate! He’s taking away my home!”
The dark forest through the gate was vanishing, as the edges were eased in by Puck’s machinations. It distorted in a strange way that made Eric’s head hurt. Even though the gate was perfectly flat, it became the shape of a funnel. The Earth scene diminished to a small hole, then a point, while the opening he looked through remained the same size. Eric blinked, but could not make his eyes see the gate properly. He snorted in frustration. However Puck was doing it, he was driving away that cool night.
Brian watched, hiding as
usual. Because of that tracking device, Puck could see him through
any cover of bushes, so Brian made sure to stay at Puck’s back, where he
wasn’t looking. Eric was off to the side watching the gate distort.
He seemed confused. “Is he coming to his senses?” Brian wondered.
But he didn’t trust that horse anymore to check.
:They’re closing the gate!: said one young large black unicorn standing over him.
:I know that.: Brian responded. :But what can we do? Anyway, it looks like Puck’s only closing one end. (confusion) Wow, the gate looks strange. I can’t see it right without going all cross-eyed.:
:Colt: I can *see* it.: the unicorn remarked emphatically. :You are right. He is only closing one end.:
:Brian: We still might be able to get through.: Brian hoped fervently. :But we can’t move until Puck leaves.:
:Colt: Why not? I’ll spit the bastard where he stands?:
:Brian: No, you don’t understand. We’ve got to hide—it’s.... (tail-droop) It’s more than the fact I’m a raccoon. Puck is powerful. Not even you could hurt him. I tried before. It doesn’t work. He didn’t even blink. Then, he did something to me, to punish me. It hurt. It hurt worse than anything you would ever want to experience. Look at the back of my neck. Can you *see* that?:
:Colt: Wow, yes. You’re flashing like a goddam Christmas tree!:
:A what?: Brian turned his nose upward, towards the Unicorn. :Do you know what a Christmas tree is?:
:Sure, what? You mean the tree with all the colorful lights and ornaments? I remem...hey. I remember! Tell me about Christmas trees! I want to remember more.:
:Brian: There may be hope for you yet. Stop nickering like that! He’ll hear us.:
The ceremony completed, Eric
watched the little boy slowly stand up and straighten his shoulders as
though shaking off a great burden. He turned briefly with the weariness
of an old man. The fire on him died, and he looked up at Eric, his
blue eyes shining like gems.
Eric started from the relief that washed over him. The Master was okay. Everything was okay. He nuzzled at the hand the small boy offered. Puck smiled grimly, but Eric didn’t notice. Everything was happy again. There was nothing to worry about. He soon forgot about the gate entirely.
Puck felt a pang of tenderness
for his horse. He repressed it quickly. “Stupid animal.”
he thought to himself. “So intelligent, yet so weak to my charm.”
He turned around, facing the gate again. Beaming his false smile, he spoke cheerfully. “Well, glad that’s over with! There’s only one more security measure to put in place.” A fairy appeared before him, struggling under the weight of a tiny stone. Puck took the stone gingerly. He placed it before the entryway of the gate. It swelled and sank, becoming flat and smooth. A granite tablet sat rooted into the soil while underneath, the magic rock extended its tendrils, and bound itself to the gate. Words appeared in blue on its face, flashing briefly then fading. “Enter password.”
“Let’s see.” Puck smiled to himself. “Nothing special, just something to keep the animals from slipping through. Something suitably ironic.” He paused in thought. “I know! I’ll use the name of that decrepit planet those humans wanted so much to return to.” He looked back at Oren, or whatever his steed was called. The horse looked back at him lovingly. “No chance of that now. With that Brian character at 0.141, there’s no chance that he could even remember his own name, much less how to write the password. I didn’t totally suppress Eric, but I don’t think he’s able to consider disobeying me.”
Eric was contentedly munching on a brown rabbit whose neck he’d broken when it came out of its hole to cautiously inspect this strange horse. Part of his mind remembered the gate, and his friends, but that part was very small, and it didn’t scream very loudly when it was way down there...
“No my horse isn’t a problem. Hmm... But that unicorn colt...he’ll have to go. I should probably have finished him off when I gave his mother the founder. Now, he might remember something I wouldn’t want him to.”
Brian was suddenly aware of the very dangerous animal above him. The horn caught the sunlight like a wicked blade. It spoke, barely controlled in rage. :He...killed...her...: Puck went on oblivious to the deadly gaze behind him.
“No, no, no. I wouldn’t want that unicorn tracing the password with its horn, or something. I’ll have to kill it now, just to be safe.”
Brian knew what was going
to happen. :No! Don’t! You’ll get us both killed!:
:Colt: I don’t care! He killed mother! Bastard! I don’t care if I never see another Christmas tree! He dies on my horn. Now.:
The situation was becoming desperate for Brian. The unicorn colt was stamping, and moving forward. His horn gleamed in a beam of light that shone from above. Puck was moving towards his stallion, but eeever so slooowly. Brian had no choice. Brian stood in the way.
:Brian: You’ll have to kill me before you kill yourself trying to kill him!: Suddenly, Brian realized how futile his situation was. These claws of his had not marked the unicorn’s hide. :Go for the nose.: Rac assured him. Brian did not want to have to do that. He looked up helplessly, waiting for the enraged unicorn to strike a fatal blow.
:Colt...:: Yesss. Kill
him. Kill Brian then kill Puck. KillBrianthenkillPuck.
Brian? No Brian. Just a raccoon.:: :You’re just a silly
raccoon.: he taunted. ::Kill the raccoon. Remove all
obstacles. Trees, rocks, mountains,...raccoons.::
: Please, I don’t want to die.: came the frightened response from the obstacle below him. But its thoughts were accompanied by a fearful growl. The foolish creature thought to stand before him!
:Colt...:: Mother is dead, and I will not be stopped, not even by Brian!:: Tears that flowed down from his eyes were ignored angrily. ::Brian? Who is Brian? Yes, my opponent. Brian is the raccoon. The raccoon is Brian and I am...Bob.::
:Oh, god I’m Bob.: Bob slipped onto his forelocks, and thudded point-first into the ground. His head wasn’t stuck but he didn’t pull it up, instead stared at the ground, weeping. The implications of what he would have done crashed in on him with the fury of a hailstorm. He heard Puck, the golden boy step onto his dark stallion. He heard the words out of Puck’s mouth.
“C’mon boy! Let’s go. We have a unicorn to hunt!” Eric gleefully chortled as they went off like the wind, to comb the forests, to hunt and kill...him. They were going to kill him! He’d almost walked right into his death. Puck was so powerful, and Eric would have defended him...Bob was horrified. His mother told him that they unicorns were guardians of everything full of life and living, that they were protectors of the very things he’d tried to destroy in his rage against Puck. :I’m all broken inside.: was all he could say, as the silent equine tears ran down his muzzle.
Brian seemed to try to console him; the little raccoon was still bristling from head to foot at the previous encounter.
:Brian: Calm down. Nothing happened. They didn’t hear us. They still think you’re back at the clearing. Everything’s going to be okay. We’re going to make it.:
The ridiculous sight of the raccoon, who was not much more than a scared puffball of fur, trying to console him greatly alleviated his grief. He stopped crying, then pulled his horn out of the ground. Looking at Brian, he remarked, :Speak for yourself. You’re all puffed out like a dandelion.:
Brian chittered, in what must have been disgust. He started smoothing down his fur. :I do not look like a dandelion.:
:Bob: You do. Even the fur on your ears is standing up!:
:Brian: Look, it just happens when I get scared, okay? You try facing down an animal 3 times as high as you and see if your fur doesn’t stand on end!:
:Bob: What you mean me? I’d never hurt you!:
:Brian: Could have fooled me.: Now Brian was using his tongue. Bob watched, fascinated. How long had Brian been a raccoon, to figure that one out? As Brian's tongue drew across his fur, smoothing it out in short strokes, Bob continued, slowly.
: I’m sorry, it’s just that I couldn’t stand losing Mother like that. When Puck said that he killed her, I—I just couldn’t stop.:
: It’s okay. Like I said, nothing happened. Bob, how’d you...I mean, you were dead! That momma unicorn didn’t birth you, she impaled you through the chest! I saw the body!:
: I don’t remember. Everything is fuzzy. I know my name is Bob, and I’ll never let Puck take that away from me again. But that is all I can remember. Mother would never have impaled me! I was her colt!:
: You weren’t always a unicorn...: Brian ventured.
: No, I have always...what do you mean? Well, you might be right. I mean, you weren’t always a raccoon, were you?:
: I suppose I’ll have to work on remembering more.: Bob stood up carefully. The dirt fell from his flawless hide like it had never been there. He straightened and watched Brian a bit more. Brian finished licking himself off, then looked back.
: Brian: What?:
At that moment, a stubborn tuft of fur sprang back up on Brian’s head, like a misplaced cowlick, bouncing forward as on a spring. Bob drew out the tension a bit, then blurted :You missed a spot.:
Brian looked back angrily
as the unicorn threw back its head and laughed. It was hard to stay
angry though. The laughter of a unicorn can be found in the babbling
of a quiet brook, or the rustle of trees in the evening wind. It
rings through church bells, and sings in the sounds of a summer rain.
Brian found himself laughing, or at least his tail was laughing. He couldn't help but laugh in the face of such joy. Bob seemed to get the meaning of his tail, laughing harder. At last, Brian found the spot of fur on his head and smoothed it down carefully. He forced himself to stop laughing. They were running out of time.
:Bob, we’ve got to get through that gate.: Brian warned. Prompted by the sudden seriousness of the matter, Bob calmed down too. Together, they went down to inspect the smooth stone tablet set into the earth.
Puck leapt off the horse
and landed running. The unicorn’s clearing had been trampled and
marked with hooves, but there was no sign of the unicorn anywhere.
“Where is he? He’s the only one that could ruin my plans! He’s
been gone from here for about an hour. He must have left before I
started the gate closing ceremony. Could it be that he remembered
himself? Maybe it was unwise to let his mother die like that.
No, it can’t be. Even if he did remember, he’d be confused.
He wouldn’t wander far. C’mon horse, we’ll find him soon, then you
can have a real feast!”
After another 2.78 minutes of searching, Puck found nothing. “A unicorn leaves no trace as it travels the wood. But there must be something! He can’t just have gone and left! I don’t believe this. The only one who can ruin my plans, and disfavor me with the Gatekeeper, and I can’t find him.”
:Not the only one.: his horse prompted helpfully, pointing its muzzle northeast. Puck looked, then horror dawned in his eyes. Horror and rage. For far in the distance, the Pharon diode within Brian’s neck was pulsing. Its clear signal spanned the distance between Puck and the raccoon. He carefully measured its intensity, and trajectory, and...
“He’s at the gate!” Puck screamed, leaping 6 feet onto the back of his horse. Blindly kicking it into a rage, Puck flew like the wind.
There was no breeze at the
gate. Everything was strangely quiet. The wind was late, it
seemed. Brian paused, frustrated.
:Brian: I don’t understand. I tried Earth, and nothing happened.:
:Bob: Did you do it right?:
:Brian: Yes, I made the imaginary letters with my...claw and nothing happened.:
:Bob: Try something else.:
:Brian: What else could it possibly be? Wait. Earth has more than one name.:
He traced the words Gaea, Planet, World, Terra. Nothing worked.
:Hurry!: Bob urged. :They are coming!:
Brian quickened his pace. What would Puck have called Earth anyway? Globe, Vale, Tellus, Geosphere.
The wind was picking up now. Soon, Eric would be along with it. Brian was getting desperate. He scratched frustratedly at the unmarked stone. The whole thing was pointless! What was he thinking, trying to escape? He might as well have kept drawing things in the dirt. The dirt. Dirt...?
The gate hummed back to life. Bob looked at Brian, incredulous.
:Of all the nerve.: was all Brian could say. :He thinks our planet is called Dirt.: Brian looked down the impossibly long tunnel that diminished to an obscenely small point at the end. Did the Earth still lie beyond that gate? Was he, instead, walking to his death? Brian stepped forward in the whipping winds. :I wonder if this’ll hurt...:
Eric screamed as his quarry
vanished from his senses, the sonic wave of the gate’s magic ruffling through
the trees. Puck was shouting as they burst in on the mouth of the
river. They rushed into the scene, only to find an empty gate, with
the markings of a raccoon and a unicorn foal in the dirt all around it.
There were some other footprints too, lapine in nature. They seemed
to lead a straighter path directly into the gate. The word Dirt,
scratched by a raccoon paw was glowing red on the stone tablet. "Blast!"
his master said furiously, shaking his fist at the gate. "They didn't
open it properly! The transmit signal has been ruined! They
could be anywhere by now."
Puck started forward, toward the gate, then stopped, cupping his chin in his hand thoughtfully. He summoned a fairy. It appeared before him, querulous. “Turn off the Pharon diode.” he instructed it, in icy fury. It responded in mind-voice. :Course of action not advisable. Subject becomes completely undetectable when the Pharon diode is deactivated.:
“Continue as ordered.” Puck said. He had to turn off the diode, now. 'Couldn’t risk any of Them getting a hold of Brian. They surely knew Brian had come through the gate, but without the diode They wouldn’t be able to locate Brian any better than Puck could. Puck slowly stopped raging and thought “Yes. This is what I need. Time to think and plan. Once we’re prepared, we can turn on the diode and have Brian and his friend snatched up before....They can get Their slimy hands on him. Until then, we’ll lay our traps.” He turned to his horse and said cheerfully. “Don’t worry, we’ll go hunting soon. This time, for raccoon...”
Eric shuddered involuntarily, as he feared that golden child, for the first time.
Copyright 2000, Starling. Please do not reprint without permission.
To main stories page
I have used a special notation
designed to overcome the limitation of quotation marks. I hope it’s
not too confusing. Just to clear anything up, quotes are still
normal. Where you see quotation marks, they can be interpreted as
words, speech, or private thought, depending on the context of the sentence.
Any clause enclosed in colons is similar to a quote, but more accurately
termed as an “active thought.”
In my story, I am proposing an entirely new medium of communication, which requires a new grammatical notation. Words and ideas are sent directly from one mind to another. This far surpasses speech and communication in some ways, but also has its limitations. Without a media such as sound, communication can not be recorded (at least, not without magic). However, language, and ability to generate sound is not required for mindspeak. Words, as abstract concepts, are still important. They help us connect ideas together abstractly. However, the meaning of the word is sent, not the word itself.
This is not mind reading. Thoughts are *transmitted* not invaded. Someone must actively try to send their message (in a magically enabled universe). All sentient animals, and magical beings share this system of communication. It was developed, or evolved depending on the historian, so that all creatures of every size and shape could communicate on the same level. If you want to know more about its ancient history, you’ll have to ask the trees.
This is not a replacement for quotations. Just a clarification. All the following ideas may be written in context, with quotation marks, though I'll try to stick to one way or the other.
The name of the sender of the message is often identified at the beginning. This is an actual element in the story. Characters can learn each other’s names, just by speaking to one another. The name must be known by the sender. If the sender doesn’t know their own name, a more general term is used. The ‘name’ is really the defining characteristic about onesself, and does not neccessarily have to be a word. In some cases, when the context is well established, no name must be sent.
Messages are thoughts, conversations, recollections. For creatures with languages, the grammatical statements go here. The statements within parentheses are emotions, feelings, impressions, body language.
:Starling: Wallah! (flickofthewrist) This is a sentence I’m sending to you. I didn’t actually flick my wrist. The emotional clause is intended to give the *impression* of flicking my wrist. I could have emoted (proudly whimsical) for an equal effect.:
My thoughts on thoughts:
I considered that since my :: notation was being used for non-vocal conversation, I would confuse people to death if I reverted back to “” notation for private thoughts. Here is an example of the problem I’m worried about.
“Hello, Joe.” Steve said.
“Hello, Steve.” Joe replied.
“I’m telepathically active!” Steve said.
“Well, I’m not.” Joe pouted.
:Adrian: Hey Steve! :
:Steve: Hello Adrian. Where did you come from? :
:Adrian: Writers liscense. How have you been? :
:Steve: Just fine.:
“I can’t hear what anyone is saying!” Joe thought.
Notice how the last sentance
seems almost to be shouting, even though it is a private thought.
We were led to expect that thoughts are spoken with ::, then, out of the
blue, a thought was thrown at us with “”! For this reason, I made
:::: clauses. (That’s four colons folks!)
:: clauses can be heard and understood by those who are sensitive to direct transfer of thoughts. Clauses enclosed in two *double* colons are similar, except that they refer to private thoughts, not transmitted, only known by one person (and one personality in Brian’s case.) :::: clauses are only heard when the listener really *is* reading the victim’s mind.
While normally public, :: clauses can be focused specifically at another, much like whispering, but that must be taken from the context of the situation. Examples will probably make things clear.
“I am speaking, thinking privately, or actively sending my thoughts to others.” Starling says.
:Starling: I am not necessarily emitting sound. I am communicating on a more basic level. This form of comunication can include emotions (in parenthesis) :
:Starling::I am now only thinking to myself. To know these thoughts is an invasion of the privacy of my mind. (outrage/fear/struggle) Typically, private thoughts are less controlled, though they are more often true.::
Before each thought, the speaker’s name is prepended, unless the identity of the speaker is deliberately concealed or unknown. In a well established conversation, the name-tag might be omitted, since people already know who they are talking to.
^.^ Just a litte rant from a finicky programmer at heart.