The Rabids: Part Two
Lunai crouches in a small, cold stream. Her ragged dark locks hang down and barely dip into the water. She stares curiously at her face a while before bending to look back at me. Over her the sun is just beginning to make its dip into night, obscuring her features in soft shadow.
“I don’t see anything,” she calls lamely.
“Just keep looking.” I stand and go to the stream for a drink next to her. As I lean over the clear water etched into the rocky terrain I catch sight of my own reflection. I am as ragged-looking as my sister with lighter hair and a more angular face. I share this face with my father, who is dead. Our likeness only serves to bring back ten-year-old painful memories; I look away and summon other memories to think over. It is memories to smother memories, after all. My sister and I are well acquainted with them, as they are what our people live and die for now. They are what we both run from now.
I see something else in the water besides the ghost of my father. It is the thing that Lunai looks for in her own reflection with squinting, concentrated eyes. It is a creature, face all black and with scales at a delicate blue. It flicks a tongue at me as I stare into its face which is aligned just so next to mine. “They are in there.” I regard the scaled dog-like thing while filling our water sacks, watching it glance from me to my sister with big glossy orbs. I imagine squishing them with my toe, finding them to be slimy but hard as rocks. The creature is very small, but I do not dare try and fish for it. Not with its mouth full of tearing teeth.
Lunai is still in the water about ankle-high when the creature slowly begins to drift towards her. My body tenses as I struggle for some scrap of my voice. I had been waiting, days now, for it to happen. I had begun to think it wouldn’t, but how silly am I to doubt what my ancestors spoke of all these years?
Lunai stares intently into the water, her eyes bugging with effort. “I can’t see any,” she lets out a big breath and falls onto her butt in the gentle current, unknowingly startling the blue tendril of scales and sending it speeding away upstream. A small wave cascades over to soak the ends of my skirt as it passes me. In fake annoyance I trudge back over to our packs. Lunai stays behind and squats in the frigid water like a baby again, her face pouted and her shoulders hunched. “I want to see one.”
“It’s hard. Even for Mother it was,” I speak casually as I roll up our things and strap the water sacks onto our pack’s sides with long leather strips I had cut from our tents. I heft mine onto my shoulder and turn to look at my half-soaking sister. “Get up. We need to keep going.”
“Where else could I see one?” Lunai asks as she stands to accept her pack that I drag over to her. Her body is small, yet her pack is by far the largest and heaviest for this trip and holds most of the supplies. For all of my life, Lunai has been the stronger even though I am three years her elder. Her body doesn’t even notice her slinging half her weight onto her back. She looks a little silly, but I know that she is fine and capable and could probably carry me as well if the need arose. I think about her question while finding direction from the sun.
“It’s easiest to see the ones in water and fire.” I begin walking away from the stream, Lunai padding just behind. The day continues to wane, and I know we must reach somewhere that would make a good place to rest. The stream was not a good place, stuck in the deep ridges of the rocks with little space around and an acrid smell in the air. We are surrounded by jutting rocks and awful scents, heading out to who knows what. Lunai lets me set the pace, since I am the one leading, though I can feel her restlessness as we slowly make our progress. Her bare feet keep steady rhythm behind me and I imagine her swinging her arms like a toy soldier to help expel some of her pent up energy.
It has been one week since we ran away from our home. Lunai suspects that no one from the village comes after us, I believe she is likely correct. Though a small part of me wishes that some adult would come and fetch us, reality tells me we’ve done what no elder would dare to do. We’ve left.
So far the surrounding Rabid Lands have been harsh and unwelcoming, a grim fact taught to us at a very young age. The huge expanse of jagged rock points behind us, back towards our home in great jutting cliffs or as eerie earthen molars. This land of rock had been a dark smudge from inside the village, giant forms that had always blocked us off from seeing further into distance. They are the padding that keeps us from the world, even the rest of the Rabids. The cliffs are impossible to climb. The gigantic black teeth are shaved to grotesque points. I catch Lunai staring at them peculiarly a few times, who usually pays nothing any mind. I know they scare her like they do me. I know we are both considering them to be some kind of warning, molded by the earth itself to deter any living thing. Yet the village lived as its neighbor for all generations.
It is no matter, since we are set on leaving all of this. I am relieved when we see something besides the rock forest, great fat tears popping up into my eyes as we look out at something other than great blackness. My leading was going well, in one week I had led my sister out of the wide stretch of rock and into what looked to be endless plains of beyond. Lunai and I stop to organize our thoughts and to wait for me to form a new plan for the wide open area.
These plains would be difficult, especially since they came as a surprise. I had been beginning to think that all of the Rabid Lands were made up of the razor sharp rock forest, which would make sense as to why no one really wanted to attempt to travel in them. The plains were relieving yes, yet soon I realized it was really no different than a field of rocks, with much less protection.
The ground rolls lazily beneath our feet as the rocky ground abruptly ends. The dips in the earth were barely moist but after some scratching Lunai declares she could find water in them with a little work. This was good, since I could see nothing but grass around us. No trees, or shrubs, or any source of water. Unlike the rock forest, this place held water in its ground. I was suddenly very glad I had my resourceful sister to worry about our thirst and our hunger, when I was much more apt with our rough map and the lay of the land. Though, I realize, our map would now be useless. Its rough scratchings barely cover the jagged forest.
I find the highest point on a particularly wide hill and spread out our beds under the now dark sky. Lunai disappears for a time, her pack still stuck to her back, and returns with a few small field mice. Our food had been exhausted somewhat within the rock where nothing could live besides the strange fish. I take and carefully learn to prepare these mice over a fire gladly.
Lunai keeps looking into the flame I had coaxed out of some dead grass stalks and the slow burning rock that she had stolen from the village Magic Mother. Her hand absently tosses slips of kindle into the hot center to keep it strong. She was looking for the creature that one could find inside a fire out in the Rabids. Much like the creatures in the water.
I knew she had no success when she fell on her back to stare grumpily at the sky. I was quiet in the face of her frustration for a while, playing the contemplative older sister I enjoyed to be. Besides, Lunai didn’t always receive words if she chose not to. She could be as quiet as a dead stump rotting to the ground, her stubbornness feeding her strength. She was especially quiet after failing at something. I knew not to pry her.
Instead I put her small pieces of meat and a hunk of bread in a shallow bowl and hand it to her. She grabs it quickly and gnaws on her food slowly, still looking at the sky. When I look back over at her after my own food, I see that she is asleep, bowl sitting empty on her stomach. I let her be and settle down to early watch, inwardly terrified of what could be out in the land we had come into that liked to hunt at night and hide in the sea of grasses by day.
I know death lurks out here. I've been expecting it this entire time. But Lunai and I, we have no choice. For us, it is to die at our home or die in the rest of the world. We have chosen the world.