In self-induced exile, I’m rather use to days where we do nothing. My family and I have been isolated for so long that loneliness is a bitter friend, one that I’d grown accustomed to. Sometimes, the days seem never ending. Most of the time I can’t quite tell if that’s a good thing or bad thing.
But today, today it’s a horrible thing.
I want nothing more than this day to be over. I want to wake up and find out it’s been nothing more than a nightmare. Yet I know what my reality is … and I hate it.
I hate the bastards who did this.
I hate them for killing my parents.
But most of all, I hate myself for being unable to stop it.
Even now, what I assume is hours later, the smell of thick smoke burns my lungs. The stench of burning wood singes my nose and scrapes at my dry eyes. The roaring crackle and sizzle of catching logs echoes in my ears like a morbid lullaby, lulling me into a false sense of security. After all, before now, the beauty of burning embers was a soothing sort of noise, one where you feel connected to nature and all the wildness of it.
Only now it signifies a loss of control and an unspeakable tragedy that left us all alone in this life. Thank fuck for small graces that at least Abel stands with me unharmed and singe free.
We had climbed from the tunnel mere moments ago, the sun long gone as the moon now stares down at us from high in the sky. I don’t know how long we stayed in the dark and humid dirt packed tunnel as Abel and I alternated guard shifts. One of us was always awake while the other took the brief reprieve to rest. All I know is that we stalled as long as we could before claustrophobia set in and we needed to breathe a breath of fresh air.
So now we stare out into the black night as the whisper of leaves and branches rustle in the wind. With nothing more than the clothing on our back, we face perhaps an even deadlier threat. Life in the wilderness is no easy feat, even for beings like us. Beasts haunt this neck of the woods and they don’t fear the power blazing through our blood.
I need to focus on the path forward, and put aside the gut-wrenching past in favor of survival. Yet even now it threatens to drag me down into the endless pit of agony curling in my gut.
Even if my brother and I manage to make it through this, I know we will never be the same. Young boys who enjoyed the simple pleasures in life are forever gone. In their place, hardened men with a vendetta wrapped around their hearts.
The bastards responsible will pay. We will make sure of that, even if it kills us.
But our first priority is to find shelter for the night, lest we become food for the beasts I can feel lurking in the forest surrounding us. Their eyes bore into my back and I know it’s only a matter of time before their patience runs out and they strike. Abel and I need to be long gone before then.
Saying nothing, I motion with a jerk of my head for Abel to follow me. He does so without a word, both of us instinctively knowing that we can’t afford to bring attention to ourselves. We march through the forest until I spot the perfect dol tree. On sure, but quick steps, we move to a massive tree with thick branches that will likely hold our weight.
I crouch with my hands cupped together, ready to lift my brother so he can grab the lowest branch that’s still too tall for us to reach alone. He complies without complaint and I launch him as high as I can. Abel manages to grip the branch on the first go and heave himself up.
Once he’s braced himself against the trunk and the thick branch, he reaches down where my arms are already outstretched and waiting. Clasping hands, Abel drags me up the tree with effort. It’s a slow process as I try not to shift my weight and make it more difficult for him.
Leaves crunch from behind me and the deep growl sets my hair to standing. I fight the urge to glance behind me as I peer up at Abel and silently plead with him to hurry. As soon as the branch is in reach of my hands, I release one of Abel’s hands to scramble up the tree. Bark scrapes under my feet just as I fling myself up to safety.
By this time, Abel has already started scaling the tree, slipping between branches, going as high as he dares. I’m close on his heels, breath heavy as I exert myself. In no time, we settle our backs against the trunk as we straddle separate branches and collect our breath.
At least we are out of that damn tunnel.
I scoff at the thought. What difference does it make if we are stuck in a pitch-black tunnel where anyone can stumble upon us once they figure out how to navigate the maze? We are still stuck. Stuck in a tree surrounded by an insane beast ready to tear out our throats and eat our organs. No matter how you look at it, our situation is dire and likely only to get worse from here.
Somehow, we made it through the tunnel by sheer luck. Had I not noticed the small faded emblem on the correct tunnels, Abel and I would have gotten trapped down there for who knows how long. There were so many divided tunnels and so many twists and turns. And if that symbol was in fact meant to draw people into the wrong tunnels?
Imagine not having Firvo either and having to navigate that maze in complete darkness. You’d never see the light of day again. Whoever built that place knew what they were doing.
With a glance down at the base of our shelter for the night, the black ragged furred beast prowls the trunk, waiting for us to fall and drop right into his rancid jaws. The menacing growls send chills up my spine and I grit my teeth against the sensation. Another Teasba, this one just as mangled as the other, joins in the hunt, head tilted high, searching for its meal that had escaped into the tree.
Yet still, Abel and I don’t say a word as the beasts linger below us, even as our stomachs rumble with hunger that rival the growls of the Teasba’s themselves. My head thunks against the trunk and a heavy sigh slips through gritted teeth.
It’s going to be a long ass night.