I came into this world a tiny thing. In my part of the world it’s still rather wild and many infants don’t make it to adulthood. I was one of the lucky ones, a golden child with the sun on my face; I grew up straight and tall. Life could be taken so quickly out here. We were a rare breed bound together by family ties rooted deep in the land. Whether it was protection or love, I was always surrounded by family. Cousins, aunts, and uncles mingled with even older members of our clan.
My great-great-grandmother Virginia reigned over all of us with the strength of an oak. No crow could circle overhead or alight nearby without her knowing of it. A wandering animal may look to us for shelter and sustenance. When they crept into our presence, it was on her command that we held some lives in the balance. Oddly (or maybe not when you think on it) she held a soft spot for the predators over the prey. Many of them found sanctuary in our shelter on the dark rainy nights.
We were remote, so while the collective history of our people knew of other tribes at the top of the food chain, their presence had been limited, bordering on non-existent to us. Most of the sprouts of our family had never even seen one of the upright ones. Our sense of dominion over the land had grown to the point where we’d become complacent and rather smug. We were not overbearing, mind you, we took our custody of the land seriously, as we felt one with it. However we did not think to build defenses for what was to come.
I was a youth, still tender and easily swayed by the changing winds the first time they came. Their movements were so fast and erratic. They chattered like the squirrels in the trees, but strangely the rest of the land became silent at their arrival. Unlike the animals of the forest, they seemed clumsy and uncomfortable in their coverings. We felt little for them that first time except surprise, and a slightly condescending pity. We did not even pretend to try to have the lithe movement of the furried ones but instead looked to the distant future and listened to the minuscule movements of the Earth. These people seemed to want both our tribe’s scope and understanding of the land, marveling at the wonders and great beauty here, and the grace of our small woodland companions. Instead they overreached themselves and succeed at neither. They offered homage by giving some of us decorations of red (we assumed it had some religious significance to them) then they were gone. We thought this was the end of it.
Then Uncle Fraser disappeared.
They came and dragged him from his home of 75 years. We looked on in shock and dumbfounded horror. Fighting had never been our way. Gamma Ginny looked on with deep sadness and anger, but even she did not have the resources to move into action. Our wails of anguish fell on deaf ears. Even though the forest echoed with our screams that sent rabbits and fox alike running for safety, they seemed not to hear. While we all looked on they took him away, chattering to each other until all that remained were the furrows where he tried to cling to us. He was gone.
That night we met to discuss what could be done. Some of us wanted to fight, but others said it was not our way. In truth, the time for creating a usable defense was probably decades or even centuries too late. I didn’t know it at the time, but their technologies and cruel inventions made any meager efforts we tried a lesson in futility.
For the first time in our family, there was a rift. Gamma, always a pillar of strength, used all of her influence to try and unify us once more. Over time, it may have even worked. Her presence among us towered over all others and her influence reached back through the years and spread far through the land. Months passed and her calm, serene assurance took hold in all of us We dared to hope this terrible tragedy was an isolated incident.
Douglas was the next to go. He was such a handsome thing, healthy and strong. It was no wonder they took him, but the fear and pain he felt as they carted him off broke us. We raged with each other for weeks on end, swaying the most peaceful of our clan to take action. Finally, when I thought I could not stand the turmoil, we decided to move against these terrible new interlopers. Some of the older ones sacrificed the few years they had left to block the upright one’s pathways. We called to our companions to trim our outreaching arms over their soft bodies. We thought the tide was turning… and then they took Gamma. The roar of her leaving the land was deafening, even for them. The mountains echoed with her screams.
After that it was only a matter of time.
I awoke to the dreaded buzzing sound. It always preceded them taking another one of us. It came more and more frequently these days. In the beginning of the terror time we were lucky to go a whole season without hearing it, but as fewer of us stood, the parasitic bipeds appeared more and more often, as if the smell of our death drove them to hunger. By now we were all conditioned to hold ourselves still when we heard the ripping scream of their machines, hoping that our stillness would make us invisible. I have learned a little of their world in the short time I have been with them, and they have done this to each other as well. Horrible places called concentration camps housed those waiting for death. The upright ones in those places would sit, unable to leave, hoping that when their torturers came it would not be their turn, reliving fresh fear over and over. They even marked them, like the red ribbons they gave us.
I wonder if it should make me feel a kind of kinship with my murderers. Instead it makes me wish they had been more thorough in their slaughter of each other. I realize that my desire to see their blood run like sap makes me a hypocrite to my people and more like one of them. I am past caring.
The noise of the doom machine was closer than I had ever heard it. I quivered in sickening fear, trying to look insignificant. I was still quite young and hoped they would go for one of the Aunts, or someone sturdier. While I had heard the screams of the others, I had never been close enough at the moment they were taken to see what this machine actually did. I knew by now it was called a machine. Their chatter, ever present, had at least taught me that. While I was scared beyond belief, conditioning to this constant state had dulled my fear. Despite my dread of being taken, my youthful curiosity held out a sliver of interest to the proceedings. What could happen to us to make this such a terrible experience?
To go back to that place and relive what happened is so awful words cannot do it justice. The sudden pressure at my ankle, followed by a wall of pain blinding and all-encompassing as they cut me from my lower extremity. That terrible nausea-inducing pain causing me to scream out and slam into the forest floor. And then realizing the indignity and humiliation of it all… unable to stop them, unable to do anything but cry and scream in anguish, impotent and completely defeated. When I finally blacked out it was the most merciful thing that could happen to me. It will remain so until the death I now hope for.
When I awoke, the pain was still there sharp and unrelenting. I was lying on the bodies of my brethren. I heard moans and pleas for help. I knew it was useless and drifted back into unconsciousness.
The next time I rose from blackness I was being lifted from the pile. “Here’s a good one” said the creature, handing me off to another. This one leaned me upright on my stump propping me against a hard surface. The intense flare of pain robbed me of my sanity and I sank back into blissful nothing.
Slowly I came to again. It was bright out, brighter than I had ever felt. The sun beat down on me and at first I welcomed it, until I realized how desperately thirsty I was. I was unable to find water. I had always been able to before but now, I was lost, adrift. Panic rose in me and I started to scream anew.
“It won’t help, they can’t hear you.” said an exhausted voice next to me. Another youngling leaned next to me. He looked pale and drooped. “We’re all dead. They are killing us slowly. And they don’t even care. They can’t even hear us scream.” His voice trailed off.
I tried to speak to him again, but after that, he never acknowledged me. I heard more singing sounds and laugher…or perhaps crying. I tried to ignore the talking, tried to ignore the thirst, tried to ignore the throbbing below and finally drifted back to sleep.
“This one Daddy! I want this one!” screamed a voice next to me.
One of their saplings stood next to me, their branches reaching for me. Its bright yellow petals flying wispily away from its head. “Pick up this one! Do it Daddy! Now!”
I felt myself being lifted and fastened to another hard surface. At first the wind rushing past me felt as though I was in a storm. I could almost pretend I was home. But the motion of their machine and the increasing pressure of the wind made me increasingly uncomfortable until it fought for position with my ankles as the lead sensation of agony. I once again looked for my familiar refuge of unconsciousness, but now the unrelenting wind would not let me. After what seemed like a lifetime, which is funny considering how long my tribe actually lives, we slowed and came to a halt.
Once again I was lifted up and carried, but this time into a cave like dwelling. It was much brighter than most caves, and all the light had started to hurt me. I ached all over and my thirst was even greater. The brightness and color looked tawdry compared to the subtle beauty of the forest. They stood me up and then dug bolts into my chopped stump layering fresh sharp pain to the dull throbbing pain below. Smiling and full of maniacal joy they adding more garish light to me as if the thought of nighttime was unimaginable.
“Please, I whispered, begging pathetically. “I’m so thirsty. I miss my home. What have we done to you? Why do you hate us?”
There was no response. They did not hear my plea, nor would they care. Like psychotic magpies they threw shiny trinkets all over me weighing down my tired limbs. They piled boxes under me, covered in the corpses of my people. By now their horrid cruelty ceased to shock me. They were as ignorant of my pain as they were apathetic. Even when they put water in the torture device that held me upright, it did little to quell my thirst, nor did it lessen my pain or increasing weariness.
I sit here now in the silent night. They say a great man will come tonight to visit; one who is friends with the deer, and has special powers. He travels far and wide they say and grants wishes to those who are good. They say he sees you at all times and knows if you’ve been bad. They say he is magical. And so I have hope.
I hope that he comes.
I hope that he hears my call.
I hope he sees how good I am.
And I hope he brings matches so I can take them all with me.