by Maria Protopapadaki-Smith
You must understand, I meant no harm. I was only trying to help. Really, when you think about it, our people are no worse off this way. We are effectively dead already, and have been ever since They came. Ever since They interfered with the Dreamers. Don't look at me like that. You'd have done exactly the same thing if you'd had the opportunity. If you'd been the one to find the Dreamer They didn't manage to kill. If your ears hadn't already been shriveled and your fur turned coarse from living under the shadow Their world has cast upon ours.
I'm sure you remember the day They arrived as clearly as I do: the fire and smoke in the sky we all thought so pretty. The enormous beast that appeared a mile above us when the smoke cleared. How we all stood there in delight at the sight - for we knew nothing of fear, then. The smaller winged beasts flew out of the large one, down into the clearing and we saw for the first time our visitors. How we marvelled at Them! Their long limbs that made Them tower over us. Their bodies covered, not in fur, but in impossible materials. Their small, flat ears. They spoke to us in our language, and said They came as friends. How could we not believe Them - we knew nothing of enemies, then, either. Or treachery. Or lies.
I'm sure you remember how we welcomed Them, and showed Them round our land, and They admired its beauty. How we told Them that it is the Dreamers that make the beauty. We explained that in every generation, a handful of little ones are born that are different from the rest - with ears almost impossibly plump that never stop moving, and fur that glows under a certain light. That the Dreamers stand out from the rest of us in more ways than this: that they never speak, and never mate, not even with each other; that they do not see, as we see - their vision is within, but also extends beyond the outer limits of ours.
They were aghast when They witnessed the Dreamers at work, playing with tendrils of light, making the world around us grow: the trees that we live in, and the fruit that we live off. We asked, did They have no Dreamers? How did Their world grow without Dreamers to urge it along? They made Their world grow Themselves, They said, but not like the Dreamers do. I am pleased I will never set eyes on Their world; judging from the ugliness They have brought to ours it must be a horror to behold.
Remember the feeling of unease when we woke up the next day to find a big cloud over our land, making it almost as dark as night? We knew at once it was no raincloud. And the sight of rotting fruit peppered along the ground - how we milled about asking one another, what happened? Then the despair at the realisation that the Dreamers were gone. Of course, we looked to Them for answers. They denied any involvement, but even in our innocence we couldn't quite believe Them.
With every passing day, the cloud above our land got darker, until all days merged into one night. More and more fruit fell to the ground, rotten before it had even ripened, and no new fruit grew. Then the trees themselves started dying, and each and every one of us had found that our ears were starting to shrivel before their time, and that our fur was changing texture.
Remember how anger took over: we gathered in a mob and challenged our visitors to return the Dreamers. They responded by using the long black sticks that hang from Their shoulders – bursts of fire were sent coursing into our midst, bringing pain and death. We had but rocks and sticks to retaliate with. Then that commotion among Them: They piled into the small sky-boats that were still sitting in the clearing and flew up, beyond the black cloud, to the big sky-boat we could no longer see.
We scattered, our heads bowed, our shriveling ears aching. I remained in the clearing after everyone left. This was how I saw one of Their small crafts returning; its hatch opened and I saw three things being thrown onto the ground. My ears started tingling – as soon as the craft lifted off, I ran to find exactly what I expected: the bodies of the Dreamers. I covered my ears in despair – then caught something in the corner of my eye. One Dreamer wasn’t quite dead; his ears twitched a little. I carried him to my hut.
Don’t look at me like that. How was I to know? At my hut, I took a closer look at his injuries, which seemed to be mostly on his head – on his ears especially. They were covered in puncture wounds. I tended to these wounds as best I could and soon his ears started moving faster and faster and he got up and walked out of the hut. I was overjoyed – maybe one Dreamer would be enough to fix the state we were in. Then he started screaming.
You know what happened next. He held out his hands, and tendrils of light came out as they used to when he would make our world grow – but this light was a dark red; we could feel no fruit grow, and the black cloud did not lift. Then it started – in some quicker than in others, and the slower ones amongst us sought refuge as best we could. So here we sit, you and I - our fur growing longer and coarser, our teeth growing bigger and sharper, and our hunger for those of our own kind growing stronger and fiercer. I still say it’s for the best: we will be over it quicker.
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