Lights flashed and the air buzzed as the two creatures communicated so fast that I couldn’t pick up more than brief flashes of emotions. Denial, anger, bargaining… I almost laughed when I connected it to the stages of grief. It would have been a lot funnier if I wasn’t going through exactly the same thing they were.
I was crouched back on the floor trying to regulate my breathing before I had panic attack, or set off my asthma. I felt behind me for my backpack, and when I remembered that it wasn’t there, I really started panicking.
A panicked predator in the same room as a scared creature whose very concept of fear centered on things that lurk in the dark and have lots and lots of teeth… when I started running around on the dark floor, looking everywhere for my backpack, the creatures shot straight up and started swimming through the air in fast and panicked motions, flashing and vibrating even faster than before, so much that I couldn’t even pick up the emotions anymore. My ears were vibrating in time with them, and I clenched my hands over them to block out the noise.
It was then that I felt little things hiding just behind my ears like hearing aids. I pulled them off and looked at them. Two little bugs, like purple slugs with little horns, lay in my hands. I screamed and tried to throw them away, but like the Earth slug that they so reminded me of, they were sticky and refused to let go. They started wriggling and crawling up my arms. I screamed louder than I had before; I was dimly aware of my captors flinching away from the sound and trying to talk to me with their vibrations and lights, but nothing came through.
I fell over, the screaming only stopping as my throat closed and I started to choke. As I blacked out, I was simultaneously grateful for the relief from the situation I was convinced couldn’t possibly be real, and scared to death that I would suffocate as the strange creatures panicked overhead, swirling and twirling away from the strange predator suffocating on the floor.
The words echoed and repeated as I once again stirred from unconsciousness, forming a haze of noise that gradually deteriorated until I could no longer make out the words themselves. After the noise faded away, the only sound was my wheezing breath. I needed to find my inhaler before I had another asthma attack.
Wait. One other noise in the silence. My laptop had been in my backpack, and it was on when I left my apartment. The fan would kick on when it got too hot, even when it was supposed to be sleeping, and I could hear that glorious waste of battery somewhere nearby. And with it, my inhaler.
“What do you want?” I wheezed in response to the voice as I slowly got up and staggered over towards the sound of my laptop. I was halfway to it when it registered that the voice I had heard was just that: a voice, not images shoved into my head to convey meaning. I stopped and asked breathily, “You’re talking? And repeating me? What do you want?”
The word echoed and faded as I resumed my stagger to my backpack. I only just barely saw the black lump on the floor in time to avoid running into it. I sank to the floor and grabbed it, opening the front pocket and rifling through it for my inhaler. Keeping a first aid kit in it had seemed like a good idea before, but now it was just more junk in the way of my life-saving inhaler.
“HA!” I wheezed, pulling the inhaler out of the backpack.
I mentally ran through the steps to properly use the inhaler as I did them, to calm myself. Shake inhaler three or four times, remove cap, then breathe out. The last was always the hardest, because I couldn’t be sure I’d be able to breathe in again. After that, put inhaler in mouth, and breathe in slowly while depressing the button. Hold breath for ten seconds, trying not to panic, and then breathe out.
I repeated the process a second time, feeling my breathing become easier as I went. I put the cap back on the inhaler and breathed as normally as I could while I put it back in my bag. I could breathe easy for the moment, but panic was still waiting to strike at any moment. I still had no idea what was happening here.
“Breathe in, Kimberly,” I muttered to myself. “Maybe this is all a terrible dream…”
“Kimberly,” the voice echoed. “What is Kimberly?”
I was silent for a moment, then I took another moment to sit on the floor cross-legged with my bag at my side, reassuring me that I would be able to breathe, no matter what happened next. Then a deep breath, and I spoke.
“I am Kimberly,” I told the air…
…And the air, floor, and walls shook with a very loud sound that was laced with a tone of frustration.
“What?!” I yelled in frustration, throwing my hands in the air. “You asked, I answered!”
But what does “Kimberly” mean?!
I blinked. These words echoed and faded just like the audible ones I’d been listening too, but this time in my head; and once again, images on the edge of my mind appeared and disappeared once their meaning was clear. All except for my name. That was spoken out loud.
“What?” I asked in confusion.
I was trying to communicate with sound so as not to upset you, but “Kimberly” means nothing!
“How can you understand me?” I curiously asked my unseen conversation partner. It was nice that they were trying to make me comfortable, but I needed to know more.
In response, I felt a wiggling behind my ear, and I clapped my hands over my mouth to suppress a scream. I didn’t want to the other creatures to come looking for me. Whatever I was talking to was making an effort, and I decided to make one too.
“The bug is telling you what I’m saying,” I stated, and felt the bug wiggle again. I shuddered in revulsion before clenching my fists and carrying on. “Because of this, you can only repeat what I say?”
Yes. You are much quicker than the squid. It took a very long time to establish meaningful communication with them.
“What are you? Where are you? Why am I here?” I asked the air softly. I pulled my knees in and hugged them for comfort.
All around you.
The floor lit up with a gentle glow, and I could see the room... No. The walls, the floor, the ceiling that bulged toward me, and the darker areas on my left and right all were smooth like skin and had the graceful curves of a body. Looking closer, the deep red color that permeated the dark surroundings in long stripes was a faintly glowing liquid flowing through every surface.
“I think I’m going to puke,” I muttered, nausea washing over me as I realized what this meant. “You ate me?”
No. My stomach is in my core. You are in a pouch on my back. If you were in my stomach, you would be floating.
Images flashed through my mind, of some giant… whale? spinning gently in the water, and little ones moving in and around the entrance to a massive pouch on its back. A kangaroo-whale creature that had never even heard of Australia. The spinning would help them stay with the parent when it would burst forward at massive speeds, taking them to food or away from danger.
At least it helped distract from the nausea.
As for where we are, I cannot say.
“Don’t you know?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.
I know exactly where I am. I just cannot say because it would mean nothing to you. Kimberly means nothing to me, and where we are would mean nothing to you.
“I understood the squid. They think of sharks when they’re afraid. Sounds simple enough, yeah? So what’s so special about where we are that you can’t possibly tell me about it?” I demanded angrily, leaning forward a bit.
…you can SEE what they’re talking about?
“Yeah. They can see what I’m talking about too,” I said defensively. “Teeth when I said… dentist. They talk to each other through light, color, and humming, yeah? Humming reminds me of a dentist drill.”
This is wrong. If a creature has no concept of a word, the word is not passed on. I heard it earlier. You spoke of envy and the squid did not understand. They are simple and have nothing that another could want, so they don’t understand envy.
“Okay…” I said slowly. “So what about dentist?”
…Teeth. You’re sending me images. I can SEE what you’re talking about, even if I don’t understand it. You can see what I speak of?
“Yeah. That’s not supposed to happen?”
For a moment, a stray image scurried through my mind, accompanied by a furtive feeling. Slugs. The kangaroo-whale wanted to hold something back that had to do with the slugs, but thinking of hiding it had sent it my way.
“Discretion is the better part of valor,” I muttered, deciding that I wasn’t going to tell what had been let slip.
Interesting. Why say that?
In my head, I screamed, “PINK HIPPOS!”
…And the kangaroo-whale shuddered, the air roaring, and the slugs telling me that I had terrified it, possibly hurt it, and definitely changed the subject.
Never. Speak. of Hippos. Again. What kind of world are you from?!
“Wait. World?” I asked, confusion and horrified understanding hitting me like twin hammers.
What kind of world breeds such monstrosities?!
“NO. You do not ask the questions!” I yelled, standing and glaring at the wall, fists balled up so tight I could feel my nails cutting into my palms. “Where are we?! What are you?! AND WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME WHAT KIND OF WORLD I’M FROM?!”
Everything shuddered again as my questioning screams faded, and then all was silent for a moment. Then softly, the kangaroo-whale spoke.
We are near the Eagle Nebula, so far from your home that the distances cannot be described in any way that has meaning. I am a collector, from a world even farther from your home than we are now. Does that answer your third question?
“The Pillars of Creation,” I said as my whole body went limp and I crumpled to my knees. “You… stole me, and now we’re seven thousand light-years from Earth?”
My voice cracked and I felt tears beginning to form as I asked that question. My mind begged for it to be anything other than the truth, but the kangaroo-whale’s mind showed me everything. I could SEE the Pillars of Creation from its eyes, and they were even more magnificent than I could have imagined, staring at the poster on my bedroom wall.
…And I wept in fear, misery, and wonder.
Are you enjoying my ongoing story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, drakonwriterWrite a Review