"Yes! Yes!" He yelled out with glee.
The boy made his way further into the belly of a perpetual darkness. An everlasting nightfall, which stretched out for miles before him. A place of destitution. However, he did not care. This world, he could swear to it, never breathed a spring nor summer. Of this, he was sure of.
Before him and in the middle of nowhere, he arrived at a towering wall. It almost seemed to touch the heavens if one existed here. No vegetation in the miles he had traveled. The wall had a ghastly gate where a sole tree stood. The gate was hitched to a wall composed of white, round bulbous protrusions. They looked like huge cropped off eggshells-like objects. Its circular ends protruding outward. A brownish pasty substance kept the objects intact effecting a three-dimension look. Dry branches tied together with rope-like vines weaved intricately throughout and tightly knotted into a latticework pattern compose the gate. The vines also formed a decorative arch overhead – a ghastly attempt at aesthetics.
A tree to its left of the wall, struggled to flourish in soil that mirrored his thirteen years of mental restraints. In his previous world, the boy struggled daily to interact within his world. No, he endeavored to steal his autonomy away from the codependent relationship with his twin sister.
Autonomy, a factor within the human condition many take for granted. A condition the boy never experienced except in this moment and in this strange and new world.
Walking closer to the latching device, his forehead furrowed. He fiddled with the bizarre object but quickly released it. The lock consisted of two clasped skeleton hands interlocking, which held the gate secure. With no way around or over the wall, he sat rested and waited.
seconds, slumber consumed him, the result of his severe narcolepsy. A
condition, which shrouded him as a child. In time, he was able to manipulate it and command it at will when his twins mental invasions were too severe to bare.
He sat in retrospective. Thoughts of his sister – his tormentor floods in. He could not do anything good enough for her. Nothing he thought or said went untouched and had to be redone to her satisfaction — always. To endure life after their surgical separation, the boy had to stash away all emotions. It a necessity to sustain an existence exclusively under her terms. The only benefit to their separation was that it allowed them the luxury of being two physical beings instead of one.
In this place, and in this moment were the longest duration in which he'd experience autonomy. He must remain for he had succeeded in ousting his twin's reign as the captain of his soul.
He sighed shaken by the hollow void he felt within. Somehow it was in sync with the ambiance of this place. He endeavored to remember how he entered into this obscure world. Nothing -- his mind a blank slate. Maybe, unconsciously he had become so dependent on their coexistence that he had lost all sense of recollection -- individualism, he wondered. Is this for real?
A whisper trailed through his consciousness. "Am you unable to function now that you have acquired what you have dreamed of your entire life only to loose your mental capabilities?
Was it his thoughts or hers, he pondered nervously. Startled, the boy jumped to his feet. He yelled out. Something or someone had scurried over his bare feet. Frantic, he spun around searching the darkness. The branches of the sole tree at the gate was all he could see but no intruder. Woozy, he stumbled somewhat to regain his balance. He had to sit yet again, momentarily. Perhaps the inertia was a temporary side effect of her absence from his consciousness. Although the twins shared one body at birth, they did not share the same psychosis.
The boy looked up, he did not hear either a creak or a clank. He was looking at the gate now opened. Quickly, he stepped through. Walking further into the wilderness, he gazed at a throng of robust trees stripped of their leaves and barks. Their outstretched limbs seemed to be begging for dosages of new life, but from whom? The ground from which they swell was caked and cracked beyond his line of sight. Its uniform pattern made his skin crawl.
midnight sky came alive, suddenly. Intermittent spotlights – small ones
sporadically illuminating the forest. The lights danced about revealing shadows darting in and out. Someone took hold of his hand. He was not afraid sensing the
stranger’s reticence. The boy allowed the gesture.
“How did you come to be in our world?” A raw unfinished voice streamed upward to reach the boy's ears.
The boy looked down finding the source -- knee high. Standing at just three feet tall, an odd looking creature stood gawking up at him. It had deep puncture holes as orafices. He could not fathom how it managed to form its words, much less speak out of such a minute hole. Its pachydermous skin -- hairless, gray and wrinkled like the impermeable skin of a Rhino.
Pulling his hand away -- repulsed by its appearance, the boy stepped back cautiously.
“Who are you … No … What are you?” The boy leans in somewhat to have a closer look at the thing's face.
“I should be asking you this question. You are not like us. Yet you are here.” The creature remarked.
“Whatever! The boy said as he moved in closer to stare at the thing's heel. "What’s up with your freakish feet … its all wrong. What are you?”
“I am Douen. Who allowed you entry into our world?” The creature approached the boy scrutinizing him further. The boy held his stance. The Douen's pear shaped head was the size of its body. The boy stood baffled expecting it to topple over at any minute. A smile sabotaged the dour from the boy's face.
The Douen tilted its head as far back as it could to absorb the boy's entire being but held his balance somehow -- amazing.
“I’m here, so what! Where am I, anyway?"
"The Belows. You must become like us to live here. It’s the only way to enter into the World of Htrae. It is essential for all to have this form to work the Mill of the Belows. To remain, you must earn your stay here! You were allowed entry in your human form?" The Douen walked around about the boy and stopped before him. Its movement made its head dance about its incredibly skinny neck like a bubble head.
"Belows!" The boy spoke with a chuckle -- humored by the thing's bouncing head. Then became distracted -- loss in thought for a brief moment pondering where he had heard the word phrased this way before.
“I've answered you in kind now return the favor.” The Douen chided staring intently at the boy. It eyes began to dilate wildly in its head.
The boy gestured with upturned palms and replied. “Don’t know! Fell asleep and ended up here.”
“I don’t believe you?”
“What’s not to believe? It happened exactly the way I say. I fell asleep at ... Ah! Yes, I floated through a ceiling and arrived here. That seems about right.”
“What’s a ceiling?”
“You don’t know? Well it’s … Um …” The boy stood stupefied. He had no recall of what a ceiling might be as hard as he tried to remember. He realized he had no concept of what food might be or even what it looked like. He hoped the condition was a temporary one due to his transition from his past world to this place. His emotions seemed to be in tact but memory was devoid of physical details.
The Douen's expressionless puncture holes for eyes gaped back at the boy waiting for a response which never came.
“Do you have a name?” The boy asked instead.
“Douen is what I’m called! Are you deaf! Human?”
“No! Douen is what you say you are. What is your name… fool! What is it ... you do have one, right!”
“Nick!” The Douen responded flatly followed by a grimace. Its full canines apparent, which seemed to glare at the boy or was it simply just a smile.
“What is yours?”
“Human! You can call me human for now! I don’t know anything about you and this world of yours… so…” The boy eyeballed the Douen hard. “You ain’t gonna know a great deal about me until I know better.” He scaled Nick up and down taking in the ridiculous twig hat that sitting on the Douen's head. It was fashioned after a lampshade and that was not the half of it.
up with your feet? It’s… uh… reversed ... walking must be a challenge! Yikes!” The boy instinctively didn't like the Douen not one bit.
“I was human once. Before I was allowed into Htrae. I was harvested … given this new body.”
“Twig hat and all, eh?”
“Yep!” Nick replied blithely.
“Well, your feet got to be a mistake!”
“Actually it serves its purposes here.” Nick stepped off at an accelerated gait leading the way. The boy followed closely behind and with intent reached for it. He tugged repeatedly at the hat but could not lift it. Instead all he managed to do was elongate the Nick's large pear shape head from the upward tug.
“What the…!” The boy cried out feeling a sting to his flesh. Nick’s canines penetrated his pajamas' leg. The boy immediately relinquished his hold of the hat. Nick stopped turned to face the boy.
“No! I will not call you human. I prefer Undouen ... Ditto!”
Ditto! Belows! These were familiar words to the boy. Had he known this Nick before now, he rehashed allowing the douen some distance between them. Nick up ahead, made haste to his intended destination.
"How what?" Nick shouted back.
"Who told you to say this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Ditto! Why use this word of all the words in the world? Who told you to say this to me? Who … tell me? Now!”
Nick stopped and did his best elephant twirl looking about the darkness. “I don’t see anyone else here besides us two! Come on! You paranoid Undouen!”
Before this world, the boy and his twin were unlike other twins who shared a companion in the womb. He thought it to be the norm. The noises inside the womb were no longer soothing to him … convoluted by her incessant chatter inside his head. It diminished the sweet overtures of gushing air and liquid bubbling -- natural rhythms within the womb. It was only after the boy had championed his ability to speak, walk, and think to realize that his mental state and his functionality in the world -- abnormal. As the years progressed, his twin’s childish-chatter matured into an exacting voice, which made his life insufferable. Liberation from her rule became his sole aspiration.
The boy lost in reflection didn’t realize that Nick had disappeared into the night or had blended with it.
was suddenly airborne. His feet dangling beneath him as he struggled to see his captor’s face.
His nostrils assaulted by pongs of raw flesh and the smell of wet feathers invaded the air.
Flapping sounds ushered in squalls of wind -- deafening. His bare chest
now chilled to the bone. Plummeting fast now, he hollered only to be swallowed up
by a passing thick cloud mass.
The boy did not crashed to the caked earth but was deposited gently at the mouth of a cave. Nick reappeared at the precise moment, ushering him inside.
“Hell no! I ain’t going in there … no way!”
the Mill where we work.” Nick turned towards the opening. "See! Don't you hear them inside?"
The boy's eyes widened as he pointed at Nick excitedly and said. “We? You said we. There are more like you inside?”
“Of course, I’m not alone.”
Grinding and pounding, shifting, dragging and shuffling sounds streamed out the large odd shaped opening of the cave.
“What’s going on in there – the grinding sounds what’s it all about?”
“We toil for inhabitant’s sake and to meet their fuel quotas each forthnights end. It is what our guardians’ demand. We are allowed the games if it is fulfilled on schedule.”“Guardians! How many? Who are they and where are they now?” The boy shot off question after question as he paced anxiously. He was instantly dismayed by the word guardian. He must know now, what he's up against in this world.
“They are anywhere but everywhere. You will discover this soon enough.”
The boy sighed. “Um Hum! Listen I ain't got time for riddles.”
Regulations and control so soon after his arrival in Htrae boiled the boy. He would have no part of it. He neither intended on nor wanted any part of subjection. Not from anybody or anything ever again.
Against the twilight skies, hung an ombre moon in all its glory. She flew across its circular visage as she did many nights before. Her red hair blowing in the wind like a banner in tow. Her milky white, face and shoulders visible -- contrasts against the sky's black fabric. Her full breasts and lower extremities covered in a thick red plume with wings to match. She maneuvered through the deadwood forest surveying the Belows. She noticed the stranger instantly – swooping down. She attached herself to the upper regions of an adjacent barkless tree. Her talons imbedded therein. Securing her grip, she quietly crawls down its backside head first. There she hung on and out of sight. She watched on eavesdropped in on conversation between the human boy and Douen.