I drag my feet numbly behind the creature as he takes me to the infirmary. I keep a desirable distance between us so that we don’t touch by accident. Nothing good happens if a creature touches you. The first time I felt it was when I was twelve, the day I was taken, when a creature’s arms wrapped around my chest and lifted me from the ground. I couldn’t feel my body for several minutes, it was as though I was put on ice. Since then I have been trying my hardest to avoid their paralysis but sometimes it can’t be possible.
The creature is taking me to Tyler, the little boy that I’ve been caring for since he was transferred from another nannery at seven. He is ten now and for the last few days he has become severely sick. He doesn't have much time left. The creatures speculate that his soul is becoming impure. I’ve often wanted to ask what that meant but I never had the courage. No one has.
The creature stops outside the door to the infirmary and opens it for me. He doesn’t say a word to me, which I am grateful for. Humans are merely food to them; they do not speak to us unless it is essential.
Another creature, named Arabella, stands at the far wall to my left, her long white hair changes to golden yellow at the sight of me. That often happens when they become aroused by a soul nearby. She only works here as a guard; at home she will have her own humans that she feeds from. We are off limits to the creatures. We are called nannies, the carers of the younger humans. Basically, I am an older human fulfilling the role of a mother. That is until we all become too old to still be here and then we are transferred to be owned by a creature.
The feeding process is slow. They take their energy over several weeks, sometimes months. The humans are in unbearable pain when that happens, I’ve seen it. I watched them do it to my parents. The paralysis keeps us from moving, from fighting back, but they felt everything. I could see it in their eyes. Thankfully, the process wasn’t slow for them, it was over in seconds.
It was like that for most of the world. When the creatures fell, they were so hungry that they couldn’t wait. They fed until there was nothing left of their victims but frail bones. Weapons couldn’t kill them, bombs couldn’t blow them up, and humans were vastly outnumbered.
I don’t know much about them; where they came from or why they arrived here, but there is one thing I do know. Children were precious to them. All those under thirteen were spared, they called most of us pure souls. The oldest were required to raise the youngest. At twelve years old, I had to bottle feed new-born babies. The creatures could read their minds when they fed from their parents, they knew their needs and desires. They arranged for everything a baby would need to survive to be brought to the nanneries.
After they fed from all the adults, it was a waiting game for the children to grow up. It was their leader’s law that they had to wait. Most were sent from the nannery to the creatures’ homes as young as fifteen, others at eighteen, and I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m almost twenty and I haven’t been transferred yet.
Because the humans were not allowed to procreate unless they were transferred to the breeding centres, it’s very rare that we have new arrivals. There are no children here younger than eight, because it was eight years ago when the world ended.
Tyler lays in the infirmary bed with an IV drip imbedded into the back of his hand. He projects a delighted smile when he sees me enter, but my concerned gaze falls to Irene, the infirmary nurse.
“How bad?” I whisper.
She shakes her head at me.
“Hey, Tyler.” I drop into the chair beside his bed and I wipe away quick tears. “How are you feeling?”
“It hurts,” he says quietly.
“I’ll give you something for the pain,” Irene says, opening a metal box and extracting a syringe.
I watch her in the corner of my eye as she places the syringe into the bottle of morphine. “That dose is too much.”
Irene ignores me and brings the needle over to Tyler’s arm, she picks it up and places the needle into his arm, quickly pressing down the button before I can stop her.
“I said it’s too much,” I hiss.
“You have no idea what’s about to happen, do you?” Irene glares at me and then removes the needle, stepping away. She’s younger than me and was chosen to practise medicine to help the children when they were sick. She’s nothing close to a doctor.
“What?” I whisper. I look back to Tyler but he’s becoming tired, his heavy eyes are struggling to stay open as the morphine works its way through his system.
“He’s dying,” she says. “Do you really think they’re going to waste the food?”
My expression becomes still as I freeze in my place. I reach over and take Tyler’s small hand, gently rubbing it into mine so that he can feel that I’m here, that he’s not alone. This is why they brought me here, to say goodbye.
“No,” I say, my voice breaking into cries.
“Get out of here, Aurora. You don’t want to see this.”
She’s right but I can’t move. I can’t leave him, not like this. The door suddenly opens and four male creatures step into the room, flanked by Arabella. Their human forms are the greatest insult to us. I don’t believe that’s what they truly look like and I never have. I stand from the chair and I place myself in front of Tyler’s body, shielding him.
“Don’t do this,” I say. “He’s just a child!”
The creature closest to me places his hand out and halts the crowd following him. He twists his head in an alluring way, studying my defiance. I have never seen his face before, he must be new or visiting. It’s common that they visit from other lands.
“If you must feed today then take me,” I say. “But let him pass on peacefully, please.”
“You are not the one that is dying,” the creature says. “Move aside.”
I lift my head higher as the creature comes towards me confidently. His nose purrs against the air surrounding my body, he is sniffing my aura. He places a hand to my shoulder and pinches his fingers into my skin. The connection is instant. I become paralyzed against his hold, unable to feel a single cell of my body.
“How long has this girl been here?” the creature asks.
“Since the beginning,” Arabella responds. “Eight years.”
“And you’ve never touched her?”
“Briefly,” she says, sounding disappointment with that fact. “She’s quite the specimen, isn’t she?”
“She’s remarkable.” He takes away his hand and looks deep into my eyes. I shuffle my shoulders uncomfortably as feeling comes back to my limbs. “Her energy is delicious; how do you bear to be so close to her?”
“With difficulty,” she says. “But you know the law, Sirus. You are welcome to bid to own her once we have her transfer approved. Unfortunately, she is very popular.”
I widen my eyes at her proposal. I knew I would have to be transferred eventually, but I never imagined I’d be hearing about it over Tyler’s death bed. The moment I am transferred, my life ends. The creature before me will feed from my energy every day for weeks, I will become so weak that I won’t even remember my name. Death will seem like a mercy after that.
The creature places his hand to my shoulder again, not being able to resist a second helping. “I will surely place a bid,” he says. He keeps his gaze on mine as he licks his lips and removes his paralyzing touch once more.
“Please don’t hurt him,” I say. “Just let him die as he is. If you want me then take me.”
“The food is trying to negotiate, Arabella.” Sirus clicks his fingers and the female rushes over to me.
“No, wait.” I thrash my arms to stop him from moving around me but Arabella’s touch ensures that I cannot move anymore. She drags me over to the wall and keeps me there, her hand locked to my wrist. Her hair becomes yellow again as she gently shivers from the connection to my energy. Out of every creature here, she is the one that wants to taste me the most.
I can still see and hear everything. That’s the worst part.
“He was sick, this child?” Sirus says as he places his hand to Tyler’s cheek. “How sick?”
“He should still be of good condition,” Arabella says. “He is only ten.”
“Some souls begin to become impure at age ten,” Sirus declares doubtfully. “According to our studies in Dove. And yet we can only feed from them when they reach thirteen, how unfair is that?”
“I’m afraid that is an issue you will have to put forward to King Cain,” Arabella says. “That is his law. Thirteen, unless their energy levels drop so low that they are fatal.”
“I suppose his soul is still pure enough to satisfy. No sickness there.”
Tears roll down my face as I watch Sirus begin to feed from him. Tyler’s eyes open from the connection, they become so wide that I know the morphine hasn’t had enough time to shield him from the pain. Irene is watching quietly from the corner, she buries her tears within her thick blonde curls, but I can see them running down her cheeks.
It is over in a few minutes. Tyler’s eyes close for the very last time as his skin turns a pale white colour. He looks shrivelled and smaller, like how a prune looks when you take it out of water. The creature makes the noise that they all make after they feed. It’s between a gasp and a small squeal. He snaps his head up and twists it joyfully.
“How did he taste?” Arabella asks.
Sirus turns around with a large smile, his smile fades when he looks at me, his eyes locked on my wrist. “Good enough. Remove your hand from my human, Arabella.”
I hear a low snarl rip from Arabella’s mouth. “She isn’t yours yet.”
“I know that look.” He steps towards her slowly. “You will be bidding for her also. Why do we always fight over the same food? Hasn’t the previous planets taught us anything?”
From the other side of the room, the other creatures begin chuckling. I had forgotten they were even there. They are probably accompanying him on his travels.
“I have had to be close to this human for eight years and resist her every time,” Arabella hisses. “I can guarantee she will be mine.”
I push myself backwards into the wall after she releases my wrist. I rub it tenderly, trying to discreetly put distance between us.
“I heard you lock your humans in cages and torture them with shock collars,” Sirus says. “This girl’s energy is far too pure for that treatment.”
“It’s none of your business how I treat my food,” Arabella says. “And on the contrary, the torture makes them taste better. Fear makes them taste better.”
Does that mean if she owns me then she’ll extra torture me to make me taste better? I’m suddenly afraid and all the creatures in the room can smell it. Sirus stares at me, his eyes glowing a brighter red when he senses my terror.
“Perhaps you’re right,” he says. “Even after eight years, I am still trying to understand these humans. So many emotions, so many tastes. How many others are bidding?”
“Like I said, she’s popular.” Arabella stares at me in anger and then drops her eyes to the floor. “I tried to stop the visitors from touching her but they like to touch all of them.”
That is why the visitors come. Not to see the innocent children and talk to them, but to touch them and get a reading of their taste. So when the children come of age, or the nannies are released, then they can start the bidding for which they’d like to own. It’s a barbaric and evil transaction that I have witnessed hundreds of times. I have never personally seen what happens at the bidding, or how they even bid, but as the prize I will be made to watch this time. It’s thought of as an incentive for them to bid harder, having the food there.
“After so much interest, Raven has finally agreed to release her.”
“I understand his reluctance to transfer her,” Sirus says. “A soul like this is very rare, he wouldn’t let her go to just anyone.”
“No,” she says. “And I am not giving her up easily.”
Sirus laughs quietly as he heads towards the door. “Thank you for your hospitality, Arabella. I will be seeing you at the bidding battle.”
“I look forward to it,” she says.
Sirus and the three other creatures exit through the door. I still have to remain quiet and respectful until she leaves. I keep my eyes low as I hear her walk across the room.
“Clean this up,” she orders, before bursting through the door.
I let out my first breath, along with Irene, and we both run from our corners and fall down at Tyler’s bedside. I place my hand to his, tears streaming down my face until I collapse to the floor in anguish.
“I never wanted this for him,” I cry. “I tried to stop it, I tried.”
“You did what you could,” Irene says as she bends down in front of me. “He knew how much you loved him, Aurora. He knew.”
I nod my head, my lips trembling as I cradle my knees. “I have to face the others. I have to tell them that Tyler’s dead, that I’m leaving them soon. That I can’t protect them, that no one can. How do I do that?”
“I don’t know,” she whispers. “Maybe there just isn’t hope for any of us.”
I look up to her through my blurry eyes and I shake my head. “There has to be.”
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