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I was just sitting at my table, writing yet another report. Every week, every month, every year – I was sick of the whole thing!
“Brent, have you finished that report yet? Your boss called to say he needs it by next Monday or they’re going to lose another customer!”
I sighed. “Yes, dear. I’m on it.”
Closing the door, I slumped on the table. The new job was great for a fresh, young graduate, complete with a 5-figure monthly salary and other perks. But it took a lot out of me. Every night, I only got 5 hours of sleep – if I was lucky. And my wife saw me awake for less than 2 – going to work and coming home from work.
I couldn’t believe it. I was already sick of the rat-race! I fondly wished for my university days – when we had parties every now and then. For the last year, I hadn’t celebrated anything at all. Even Christmas at my folks’ had to be cancelled due to a meeting.
But the thing I missed most was writing stories. I used to be a prolific writer, but I had not done a single story since I left university.
I decided that the report could wait till the weekend. I kicked off my shoes and turned into bed. And I turned on the speakers. I had stopped at “Enter Sandman”.
I didn’t stay awake long, only about as far as the second verse. And, in my haste, I had neglected to turn off the power.
Now, as every electrician knew, two bare wires touching each other meant trouble. And my computer wire had run itself ragged over the past year.
What happened next was only a matter of time.
“Dreams of war, dreams of liars, dreams of dragon’s fire…”
I had an unusual dream.
In it, I had actually turned into a dragon, but in a human world. I was being shot at by a man in the shadows. It was a nightmare.
Then, I was dying. I was lying on an operation table. The surgeons were debating over whether to do something – but what? I couldn’t hear them; it was like they were a mile away.
Then, I was shaking a guy, who looked utterly calm. I heard myself saying, “Why did you do this to me?”
Finally, I met a talking fox. She told me, “I’ll meet you deeper in the forest. We’ll be safer there.”
I wanted to ask, but the next moment, I felt a terrible heat. It was as though a fire was roasting me in a pit…
…wait a second! This last part was no dream; my room was on fire! Already, flames were licking at my bed.
My wife was at the doorway, looking on in horror. I tried to tell her to get away, but I choked on the smoke.
The flames had already cut off my path to the door. My only escape was the window, so I jumped out.
Unfortunately, my clothes were already on fire when I jumped. I dropped 2 stories to the ground and landed on my back.
“Crunch!” I felt my lower body grow numb – I must have broken my spine. And the flames kept licking at my skin, but by then, I felt no more pain than I already did.
My last glance was that of someone running towards me, before I lost consciousness.
I was out of my body. I could see it lying on an operating table below me. I suspected I was having an NDE.
As I watched a surgeon cut into my bruised, battered and burnt body, I could not help but wince.
“Skin burns heavier than expected. We can’t operate on his skin safely.”
“The spine’s shattered. It’s impossible to repair it.”
“He’s a goner.”
“Carry on and see what you can do for him. As long as he’s alive, there’s hope.”
“Vitals critical! Engage heart resuscitation!”
“He’s just flatlined. We can’t do anything for him now.”
It had just occurred to me that this was exactly what had happened in my dream.
But if this part of the dream had come true, what about the rest? How could I transform into an animal? How could animals talk?
Without warning, I was sucked back into my body.
I awoke for real, but not in the hospital.
I was in some sort of lab, strapped to a table. I still couldn’t move my legs.
A face slowly swam into focus in front of me.
“Good morning Mr Thomson. I hope you’re not too badly injured.”
I groaned. I remembered the surgeons saying I had flatlined. I should have been dead. Why was I here? Maybe this was heaven – or hell.
“You are exactly the kind of subject I need, My Thomson – someone rejected for dead by the hospital, yet still alive – barely. After all these centuries, I had thought the hospitals would have known better by now. Tut tut.”
Now then only did I realize that my skin still ached with the agony of a thousand fires. My body was weak and aching all over. I tried to sit up.
“Don’t sit up. I need you intact for your body transfer. A sort of… resurrection? Quaint term, but a highly appropriate one, as you’ll soon find out.”
Lacking any strength to lift myself, I simply slumped onto the bed again.
The face left my vision. “Oh, and call me Dr Brown.”
When I woke up again, I felt different. For one thing, I could move my legs again. For another, my skin felt different. For a third, I felt several body parts I had never felt before. Notably, I now felt something behind me. It felt funny, something I only knew about out of primeval instinct. I turned my neck along and looked; my neck had suddenly become quite flexible. I saw something that no one else had ever seen before.
It was a tail.
Not just that; it was a tail covered in green scales.
Somehow, I didn’t panic. In fact, I had almost anticipated it. It was exactly like the dream I had, that fateful night.
Instead, I simply felt curious. I had always wondered what it was like to be an animal. I hadn’t expected to get the chance to, though. Certainly not a lizard; I had thought that, if it ever happened, it would be like a werewolf transformation.
It was then that I realized that I was lying on my front, and it was actually quite comfortable. I supposed that came with being a lizard. However, I did have to get off the table (apparently I was still on it), so I rolled over.
Halfway though, I snagged on something on my back. Not just that – I felt that something correspondingly respond by folding up. I decided to really stretch and look at my back.
It was a pair of wings. Green and fragile-looking, they nevertheless looked awesome, even if they seemed ready to snap at the slightest touch. No worries of that, though, since it survived being rolled on.
Okay, I thought. So I’m not just a lizard; I’m a dragon. The dream makes sense.
I stood up and gouged a hole in the ceiling. I felt the contours of my head and found out two things:
1. I had a pair of horns on my head, plus potentially other horns, including the one I now realized was on my muzzle, which I also realized was blocking my view slightly.
2. These horns, combined with my newly-enhanced height, were enough to reach the ceiling.
I looked around. I was in some sort of lab, pristine-white and clean. However, there wasn’t anyone around. I decided to yell, figuring someone would come and help me figure out what was going on.
Instead of a yell, though, I managed to produce a loud roar that shook the whole lab and caused flakes of paint to fall from the ceiling.
“I’m coming, I’m coming! Goodness, it seems that the vocal cords seem not to be working,” a voice replied. As a door opened, the speaker was revealed to be Dr Brown, complete with the characteristic curiosity all scientists seemed to have.
I cleared my throat. “Who are you, and where am I, and most importantly, what am I?”
“Ah, excellent! They seem to work properly after all… Forgive my imprudence. As I have said, I am Dr Brown, genetic scientist and this is my lab. Or rather, my testing area. Please be assured that you will be treated quite well while you are here.”
“Right, so I’m supposed to sit down here while you slice off bits of me for your tests?” I retorted.
“Not exactly… You are, of course, free to wander around the building except the actual lab. But you must not proceed outside. Who knows what might happen?”
I thought it couldn’t be worse than this place. But I kept my mouth shut for now.
I wandered around the building endlessly. I felt cooped up inside, without anywhere to go. My instincts were quite restless, and I contemplated simply bashing the door till it fell.
The doctor had explained that I had been extremely badly injured, so much so that I had recorded zero life readings, which was what made the doctors declare me dead. But Brown had contacts inside the hospital, who helped him smuggle out my body.
Then, he had managed to bring me back from the brink of death for a short while – enough for him to swap practically every single organ in my body for an equivalent, lizard-like counterpart. The dragon idea had come later, when he decided to add some more spare parts to me. It felt as though I was a recycling bin, but I liked the effect.
He told me I should be grateful, for now I had a second chance at life, in a different body. With my old, pulverized human body, I would have simply died after a few hours.
But I felt troubled. I used to have a job, a wife, chasing after the ideal life that was admittedly always out of reach. But still, I wondered how she was coping without me. She probably could not bear it.
We had been close at the start, but as my work slowly increased, the distance between us slowly increased. I could spare no more time for her, yet she had stood by my side all the time.
I couldn’t believe it took me one “death” to realize all this. But then again, I probably had taken things for granted in the past. I had never questioned her love for me, but had never acknowledged it either. I had assumed she would do so forever.
I decided not to take anything for granted anymore. I decided to go look for her, back in the city, and take her with me… somewhere. Anywhere away from here, from the city, from everything else.
So, I asked Dr Brown if I could leave for a while. But his answer was a straight negative, citing the dangers of the city and whatnot.
Freak the danger! I thought. I’m sure I can perfectly well take care of myself.
So, I left without him knowing. It was pathetically easy: I simply hit the roof – literally. Within seconds, it had crumbled. Within a few more seconds, I was on my way out.
I doubted he would go after me, or even notice I was gone. He was that absent-minded. I hoped I got back before he did notice – if he had the power to extract my body from a hospital, it might not be wise to cross him.
While walking to town, I had more time to reflect on everything that had happened, and before.
I noticed that my whole life was being slowly taken over by my work then. I was working all day and all night, to the extent of neglecting my own wife, my own health, my own self. I was falling into the dangerous cycle of the rat race. A divorce was bound to happen eventually.
In this way, I felt I ought to thank Dr Brown for patching me up, albeit in another form. At least, I was still alive to reflect upon my mistakes.
Or, even further back, I could thank the fire for everything, unusual as it sounded. It brought me back from the edge of sinking into a vicious cycle of work and cash. Granted, it did bring me to the other edge – of death – but still, I survived, didn’t I?
I wondered what the music had to do with it. I mean, I didn’t really think of the lyrics as significant, but it had specifically mentioned dreams and dragons within the same sentence. I had no doubt the band chose it randomly, but for it to play on that very night?
Of course, it could have been a coincidence, and I was getting too suspicious. It was an interesting coincidence, though.
I would no doubt have to explore further, if I was to know everything. I disliked unknowns and coincidences, and these were packaged together right now.
I was near my town, so I didn’t have far to walk (the wings didn’t work beyond gliding). However, to avoid any awkward questions, I stayed in the shadows and made my way to my house. It was here that I noticed I could see quite well in the dark.
Once or twice, I met the occasional drunk, but I simply got away quickly and the drunkard swore never to drink again.
I slipped through the forest at the edge of town as a shortcut, and that was where I first met her.
She was right in the middle of my path when I dashed across the empty road. I couldn’t stop myself and within seconds, we both found ourselves on the pavement.
As I stood up and began to apologized, I noticed something unusual about her:
She was a fox.
She slowly got up. “Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to…”
“Wait a minute. You’re a fox! And you’re…”
“Talking?” she guessed. “I know, it’s odd, but look at yourself. You’re one to talk, Mr…”
“Thomson. I was just trying to get back to my home. But what about you?”
She looked away. “I’m not human… never was.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
“I’ll explain later. Come on, we need to take cover.”
As we trudged through the forest, the fox told me about herself.
She used to be Dr Brown’s pet (he had an interesting taste), but when he decided to experiment on her, she had become more intelligent as a result. However, she had, in the process, become a fox-human hybrid, and Dr Brown had kept her in the lab.
“Then, one day, my instincts took over, and Dr Brown had left his door open. Next thing I knew, I was in this forest, and have been ever since. Even the animals don’t approach me,” she lamented.
The only thing I could think of was to keep her with me. She probably wouldn’t survive very much longer in the forest, and she was better off with me.
But still, I wondered. Was it really wise to take her along with me, since I was practically on the run? On the other hand, she would know how to handle Dr Brown, should I meet him again.
In the dead, it simply came down to morality. She would die here; therefore, I took her. And prayed she wouldn’t wreck my escape attempt.
We reached the house, and the fox (she was called Vulpie) was extremely apprehensive. I, however, was fairly certain she would understand. As a precaution, however, I told her to stay behind while I scouted the place.
She was outside, watering her plants while looking up at my (former) room every now and then, and sighing. I lay down behind several pots, camouflaged against the plants, and waited for her to approach, then called her name softly.
She turned and looked around. I called her again.
She bent down and looked. “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Brent.”
“Brent?” She did not seem to believe it. But then, she believed I was dead. “You’re dead…”
“Never underestimate miracles, my dear. Listen, could you come out into the forest for a while?”
She took a few paces forward, and I stood up.
She made as though to scream, and would have done so, had I not covered her mouth in time.
“Who… who are you? Brent?” she whimpered.
“Yes, it’s me! My old body died, so I got a new one. It’s perfectly okay.”
“No it’s not! You’re a dragon, or something! You’re an animal! You’re not Brent! You’re not even human! My husband was… is… human! You’re…”
“Calm down, all right? Take a deep breath, and listen,” I said while shaking her gently.
She breathed in and appeared to calm down. “All right, what exactly happened?”
I explained everything to else, right up till the moment I escaped.
“So, you’re SUPPOSED to be my former husband who got changed into a green dragon and made your way across the countryside just to see me? I’m so touched,” she said sarcastically.
“If you knew the trouble I went to for you…” I said angrily.
“Have you even considered how we’re supposed to live together? You’re a dragon. If people see you, they’ll go nuts! They’ll take you away and experiment on you till you die, and then they’ll experiment on your body and how am I supposed to live with that?”
“Actually, I was thinking that you’ll come with me instead.”
“To where? A forest? A swamp? A mountain? Face it, Brent. We simply can’t live together anymore. I appreciated the time you spent with me, but circumstances pull us apart, just like your old job. Go off. I can’t go with you, and you can’t live with me. So we’re better off apart.”
I sullenly trudged back to the forest.
“Did she join you?” Vulpie enthusiastically asked.
“No, and I now have no idea of what to do now. Looks like we have no alternative but to live with Brown forever, or run off somewhere. The thing is, where?
“Oh, don’t look so morose. Surely there’s something we can do.”
“Like what? Wander around endlessly for the rest of eternity? Stay in that damned lab, getting tested upon? She was my entire life, though I didn’t realize it, Vulpie! What the hell, I don’t know what to do! My life has no purpose, brought back only on the whim of a curious scientist!”
I managed to roar so loudly that we had apparently attracted attention, and it was probably unwelcome; I could hear boots crunching on the fallen leaves and a gun being cocked.
“We better go,” Vulpie said nervously.
Just then, a gunshot rang out and a bullet flew by, whistling past my wings and digging a hole in a tree trunk. We dove for cover.
“Too late for that,” I whispered to her. “Wait here.”
“No, I’ll meet you deeper in the forest. We’ll be safer there.” With that, she was gone.
I could feel my pulse racing, my wings unfolded slightly in a reflex while an inhuman instinct in my mind said, Kill.
The person, it turned out, was a middle-aged man holding a rifle, which was aimed in Vulpie’s general direction. This gave me some time to tackle him.
Unfortunately, he noticed me and was aiming the gun in my direction when I lunged at him. We both were knocked over onto the leaf carpet and he fired another shot in the air, disturbing the leaves of a tree.
I could tell by his wide-eyed expression that he had seen me. I really did not want to hurt anybody, but I couldn’t let him go. He would inform others, and they would all come after us.
Thus, I slit his throat with a claw. Then, I took his wallet and valuables, and made a note to discard them later. If anyone found him – and they were bound to – they would assume it was a robbery-murder. For good measure, I shot his chest with the rifle and took it along.
Apparently, I had attracted a bit of attention as well. My eccentric neighbor was looking into the darkness from his window, in my direction. Whether or not he had seen me was dubious, but I hoped he didn’t come to investigate.
Vulpie was waiting for me when I got back. “Is he gone?”
“Permanently,” I answered. Despite the initial repulsion I felt at taking a life, it actually felt… good, and that unnerved me.
“Oh, okay,” she said and walked on. She didn’t seem to understand what I had implied.
We decided to get away from the town first, so as to avoid more encounters. Besides my particularly nosy neighbor, there wasn’t anyone else around. Luckily, I doubted the guy had seen us talk, though we could never know with him.
I had another reason: to avoid killing again. I knew that everyone who saw us had to be silenced, one way or another. However, for most people, there would only be the one way, and I was desperate not to have to do that again. My feral rage back then showed how much I had lost my grip on humanity, and that was the one part of my former life I wanted to keep at all costs.
I quietly discarded the rifle in a trash bin on the way out, after stuffing it among a bag of leaves. With luck, no one would notice it.
I resumed pondering once out of town. A lot of unusual things had happened in the past few days, all circling around this mysterious Dr Brown. The man was, despite his guileless look, in the middle of something big, whether or not he knew it. Something had also been affecting my mind; the dream, for one. For another, my slaughtering of the man, which I had actually enjoyed, and would probably do so again. I could also count the impulsive decision to leave the building, despite Brown’s perfectly logical argument.
Something was happening to me, and I didn’t like it. I had already figured out how the fire had started. In fact, even before the fire, I had already noticed the wires wearing out. The past few times, I had readily changed them; but this time, they had worn their way down to the metal before I even noticed them. Add to them the fact that I had left the power on; I would never have done that, ordinarily, however sleepy I was. And the dream, and the fire, and so on…
I decided to go back to the lab and investigate. I needed to get to the bottom of this. I felt as though something was orchestrating the whole thing, actually making me doing all this. If so, I might as well accelerate the process. One way or another, I would find out.
I told Vulpie that we would be heading back to the lab. Naïve as she was, she didn’t question my intentions. I simply told her that it was to bring her back to Brown. In a sense, that was true; I couldn’t risk her tagging along and getting involved.
We both sneaked back into the house, the way I went out. Brown didn’t seem to have missed me, or even realize I had been gone. Instead, regular as clockwork, he came round to do tests, then headed off again.
With Vulpie back, I didn’t have to worry about her. Thus, I followed Brown back to his lab. However, I couldn’t get in – it was protected with a card-system.
Not to be deterred, I scouted around for a suitable card. Happily, I found one lying on the table; suspiciously, in fact, for it could simply be another manipulation by this mastermind. Nevertheless, I took the card.
At the next opportunity, I tapped the card and went right in. No one was around – I had expected the place to be flooded with assistants or other scientists. Instead, there was absolutely no one. Apparently, he did work alone.
That delusion was soon squashed the moment I headed further inside. On the contrary, there was a huge crowd of people. Luckily, they seemed to stay inside their respective labs most of the time. Still, I kept hiding around the corner, expecting to get caught at any moment.
The place was a real maze of corridors and rooms, with crossroads everywhere, making it extremely hard to hide. However, while hiding, I did manage to come across a room that nearly everyone kept entering. I assumed it was some sort of doorway, and bypassed it.
Somehow, I made it all the way into what I approximated was the centre of the house. Unlike the other labs, this door was locked and, by the looks of the footprints, used regularly by one person. I did not need to guess who.
For some reason, the door had also been left unlocked. Another bit of influence by the mastermind? Either way, I pushed open the door and stepped through…
…and immediately stepped back. I was standing at the edge of a cliff. Below me, rocks ominously tumbled down.
I wondered how Brown would proceed. There didn’t appear to be any sort of transportation or pathway down, and Brown was not an athlete. He couldn’t possibly climb all the way down, especially not regularly.
I chose to manually climb down. Brown must have had some sort of transportation, and I wasn’t about to take it. Thus, I headed down, gliding when I reached the lower part.
It was a desolate valley, without any life present at all. The valley was complete barren below a clear line. As I watched, a bird swooped down below the line and died within seconds. Overall, it was eerie, and I nearly turned and fled back up there and then.
As I turned to the cliff, I saw a figure rappel down the cliff, easily and calmly, as though he had been doing so since birth. I peered and couldn’t believe my eyes.
It was Brown.
As he approached, I tried to hide. However, the valley was void of all life, including any tall grass or trees. As a green dragon, I stood out like a sore thumb.
Brown had noticed me by then. He called out to me, and I came to him. Somehow, there was a reassurance that he meant no harm.
He walked over to me. “I knew you would come,” he said, matter-of-frankly.
“How did you know?” I asked him, but suspicions were already starting to gather in my head. It was him. It had to be him.
“I know all about you. I know what you thought, what you’re thinking right now. I know your past, how you got your job, how you met your wife. I know how you got your injuries, how you broke out of the house, how you confronted your wife and Vulpie.”
Impossible, I thought. Such things don’t exist. This doesn’t exist.
“I think you know better than that, Brent. I am a psychic. I influence minds. I read minds. In short, everything you did, I know. Especially how you made the fire start, because I made you do it.”
The same rage started rising in me again. I had to control it consciously.
“I am the one who made you ignore the wires and forget about the power. I am the one who made you jump out of your window, though you could have easily dashed to the door. Most importantly, I am the one who sent you that dream.”
And all that had led me here, in this screwed-up place, in this body that was not my own. I grasped him by the shoulders and yelled in his face, “Why? Why did you do this to me?!”
“Look around you, Brent,” was his calm answer.
I looked. Around me, grass had started growing. And it had around the body of the bird, and Brown as well.
“The grass sucks up life force. The longer you stay, the more you die.”
I panicked. “Then what the hell are we standing here for?”
“Calm down. First off, it feeds off despair, anger or determination first. And you’ve been showing a good bit of all – despair at your loss, anger at my causing that loss and determination to kill me for causing that loss.”
Now that he mentioned it, I did feel an instinct to kill him, like the other night with the man. I quickly attempted to squash it.
“Don’t. The determination will keep you alive. As long as you restrain it, it will serve.”
“Could we please get out of here first?!” I nearly screamed at him. The despair was keeping me alive, sure. But if we didn’t get out fast, it would kill him.
In answer, he slowly started to climb up the wall. “Stay above the line.”
Determined to get out alive, I climbed up in record-time.
Sitting at the edge of the cliff, I asked him, “What happened?”
He sighed. “Remember I said I was psychic? I came from a family of psychics, extraordinarily-gifted ones. We lived right in that valley.”
“However, one cousin I had lost her husband – a situation not too unlike yours – to disease. She went partially mad with grief and determination to eliminate the lifeform that caused her beloved to die. Thus, she somehow influenced the grass into doing so.”
“The grass took care of the parasite, sure – but it also started killing any life which did not feel what she felt. Thus, my whole clan was exterminated. In the end, the effort also consumed her, and she fell prey.”
He paused and looked away. When he regained his composure, he continued:
“I took her body and, using the techniques I used on you, converted her into a fox. I left her in the forest next to the city and fed her false memories, hoping she could take care of herself, especially without me.”
I gasped. “Vulpie!”
“You mean that nickname? She had always displayed an interest in foxes.”
“But why do you need me?”
“Simply put, I needed someone with enough grief and determination to head down there with her and shield her while she reverses the process. Hopefully, it will prevent any more tragedies.”
“But why me?”
“Weren’t you always unhappy with your job? Didn’t you want out?”
With a sudden shock, I realized it was true. I had always wanted out of the system. I had wanted more free time to myself, with my hobbies, with my wife…
“I know I’ve always wanted out, but I didn’t mean that I wanted my wife to leave me!” I roared at him. Everything I wanted, everything I dreamed, and the one person I wanted was not with me…
“Excellent, a state of extreme despair. I’ll call Vulpie here and you two can start,” he stated sarcastically.
“I didn’t mean…” I continued roaring. The echoes bounced off the valley and produced miniature roars.
“The sooner you shut up and get down, the sooner you can brood in your self-pity!” Brown shouted back. I had never seen him so fierce before. “I loved my family as much as you love yours, but I only keep this up to stay alive! Once I’ve prevented anyone else from suffering what I’ve have, I’ll put it aside forever!”
“You can put yours aside because they’re dead. But my wife is somewhere out there, and she actually rejected me!” I raged at him. Right then, I really wanted to kill him, the instincts were drowned out by my own desire to end his – and my – torture.
“Yes?” Vulpie came up from behind, making us both jump. We had been so involved in our argument, we had not noticed her.
“Do you know what’s going on?” I asked her, all the rage gone for now.
“My cousin gave me a basic idea of what’s happening; but I really don’t know what to do,” she replied. “And now that I know my past, it’s even more painful. Especially since I know how he planted that story in my mind.”
“Vulpie, I had to do what I had, so that you wouldn’t give anything away if you were caught,” Brown explained.
“Don’t give me that! I know you simply didn’t want to take care of me all along,” she snapped back. She turned to me and said, “I’ll do my best. But there’s no guarantee it will work.”
“If it’s not enough, I’ll simply inflame his temper even more,” he smirked. I glared at him.
“As long as he works, it’ll do.” With that, she climbed down the rope. I glided down on my wings and met her at the bottom of the rope.
As she touched the ground, she remained alive. I took it as a good sign, though I was concentrating more on what I had lost.
And as I brooded, it turned into outright hate and anger at the world. Everything that had been done to me, everything that screwed up my whole life, everything that had hit me, again and again and again. I channeled it all into a continuous rage and hate against the world, and fed the fire burning inside of me. The emotions were so intense, the grass around spouted at an unbelievable rate.
Suddenly, Vulpie grasped my shoulder. “It’s done,” she said. “What did you think of that was so intense?”
I shook off her hand. The instincts inside me were shouting for revenge. I tried to tone them down, but once thought, ideas were hard to let go of, and this one had taken firm root in my mind.
“It’s nothing,” I replied to her question half-heartedly.
She nodded but did not say anything. She looked suspiciously at me, then turned and started climbing.
I followed suit, but looked down halfway. Indeed, the valley was turning back into full-bloom.
But so had the idea in my mind, and I feared this time I could not control it.
Vulpie stormed into Dr Brown’s office. “You really do a good job of screwing up lives, dear cousin.”
“If this is about Brent, then just know I had to do what I had. And he’ll recover,” Brown replied calmly.
“I’ve probed his mind, and it’s far from calm. He’s practically a raging inferno inside, and he may not keep his sanity much longer. Who made you God, anyway – messing up his life on your whim, keeping him alive for your own experiments?”
Brown sighed. “I judged it more important to purge that valley, Vulpie. You know what happens to anyone who goes inside. And I have no time to build up a nice hate so that you can concentrate on your purging.”
“I don’t need anyone now, thank you very much. I’ve got a good hate of you right now. Brent can’t take this any longer. Not only did he change physically, but mentally, and you still expect him to remain sane?!”
“It was my priority to purge that valley. If he gets a bit broken, too bad. He’ll recover. The human mind has a great tolerance for this sort of thing.”
“Yes, but you’re pushing the limit here. You really think you know everything, but you don’t! You saw I like foxes; you thought I’ll rather turn into one!” She sat down heavily. “Sometimes, I see all the damage I’ve done, and think I’ll rather have stayed dead.”
“You corrected it, my equally dear cousin. And that should be worth something,” Brown pointed out.
“By roping in someone who was, at the very least, doing well at the peak – and suddenly you make it all come crashing down on his life! That, no one can ever heal, no time will ever hide.”
“I don’t want to argue with you over and over again, so I’ll say this just once – The valley’s been saved, you’ve been saved and Brent is perfectly okay. And he’s not going to murder everyone or even break his way out-“
“Crash!” A distant noise broke the heated argument.
Vulpie looked smug. “I told you so.”
“Damn, I have got to get that ceiling reinforced,” Brown muttered, picking up a tranquilizer gun. “Come on, we have got to stop him!”
I don’t remember much of what happened.
I simply remember having my instincts somehow taking over. Next thing I knew, I had bashed through the ceiling (again) and was gliding towards town.
I simply wanted to kill. And kill, and kill, until there was nothing left. Anything, everything, that could bleed, had become a target.
I came across a hunter. He was big, and carried a hunting rifle, yet was no match for my bloody claws. I sliced his arm, sliced his belly, and finally sliced his throat. And while a distant, weak part of me screamed in protest, I picked up the gun and loaded it, ready to fire.
Another man was in his tent, ostensibly the partner of the first hunter. I shot him in the head, and smashed that head like an overripe melon on the ground. I reveled in the blood and gore all around, all morality gone from me.
A woman had spotted me and turned to scream. I hit her first in the leg, then used the butt of the rifle to batter her body.
And on it went. A massive bloodbath, fueled with hate, anger, passion, despair… I wanted to kill, and nothing was going to stop me.
Brown furrowed his brow as he examined the carnage.
Brent had apparently gone past here recently, judging from the not-quite-dry blood. He certainly had passed – the ground was covered with gore from the animals’ bodies, their frail remains littering the ground.
Behind him, Vulpie was trudging on in grim silence. She couldn’t take her mind off the fact that the man – um, dragon – she knew had caused all this destruction and death. She had specifically warned her cousin about this, and yet, he had ignored her.
Particularly striking to both of them was the presence of a fox carcass lying on the ground. To Brown, it was an indication of Brent’s total detachment from his cognitive mental function – in other words, Brent was insane. To Vulpie, it represented another failing of her brother, as well as the unspoken threat that either of them might be next if they confronted him directly.
Then they came across the human corpse.
Brown had, in his day, seen much blood and gore as he operated, so it would not normally be an issue to him. To see it all scattered over the place was something else. He was shocked and wondered what drove Brent to do this.
Vulpie, however, was not accustomed to human gore. She turned away and refused to look, though the smell of blood was particularly overwhelming to her nose. She couldn’t take it, and ran off to clear her head, nose and mind of the horrible scene.
They had to quicken the pace. Reynard Brown swore by his name to stop him at all costs, even if it involved killing Brent.
Deep within the grip of my feral rage, something shook me out.
It was my wife.
She came running out of the woods and stopped in horror. I looked, and saw that my arms were covered in blood up to my elbow, sometimes higher.
“Brent, I heard… did you…”
I nodded. The atrocity of what I had just done was failing to register right then.
“How… could you? I mean… all those lives lost… did you know that they were about to send a search team to investigate?”
“No, they didn’t. They sent me first,” another voice came from the woods. As we both turned to look, the figure cocked a rifle. I lifted up my own rifle, but too late. He shot my hand, and I dropped the rifle and gripped my hand in agony.
“I knew you were the one behind all this murder, and that YOU were going to meet with him, you foul traitor,” he said. As he stepped into the light, he revealed himself to be my former neighbor, the one who had seen me the other night.
“Thus, I’m going to shoot you now, and I’ll hand your body along with HER to the police. She can explain what she’s doing with a filthy animal that murders people.”
“Like you use that rifle to murder animals, you hypocrite,” I muttered through clenched teeth.
“That’s simply hunting, you beast. And I’m about to add one more kill,” he replied. He aimed the rifle at my head.
Suddenly, he turned. “No, I think I’ll have some fun instead.” With that, he shot my wife.
It was just a moment, but it seemed to last for eternity.
She did not shout, just gasped and slowly – oh, so slowly – collapsed onto the ground.
And that was when my rage unleashed itself for the last time.
This time, I was more controlled in my choice of targets – I wanted to kill him, him and only him. I wanted to hurt him so badly, he would plead for life as never before. This time, it was personal.
I heaved his body up and smashed it into a tree so hard, the leaves came falling down. Then, as he shook his head to recover, I smashed him again, and again, and again. I turned his back into a bloody mess; however, he was still alive, and could feel his lower body, and that was all I needed.
I cut away his shoe and grasped his toe, and twisted it until it broke. He screamed in pain, and I relished the sound. I did the same with all his toes, and twisted them off his foot. Then I did the same with his foot itself, and stemmed the blood loss with a tourniquet. I did not want him to die – yet.
I did the same for the other leg, and the equivalent with his hands. By now, he had almost fainted from blood loss. Finally, I raked a single claw across his abdomen, and watched his guts spill out – a technique I had learnt from the Japanese hara-kiri.
It took him a long while to die.
Finally, I went back to my wife. To my surprise, she was still alive.
“I’m sorry… I never should have left you,” she muttered.
“I killed all those people back there. I should be the one apologizing,” I said. After so long, the deaths were starting to weigh on my conscience. I had killed… how many? A dozen? Two? I could not count. I doubted anyone would be able to.
“In that case, I forgive you. But can you forgive yourself? Can you forgive humanity? They’ve paid in blood, and so have you.”
I could not decide. I had suffered so much from them. The doctor. My wife. The sadist. But three people could not account for an entire population. Nor could one person substitute for another. We were both responsible for this. And forgiveness must come from both sides.
But I decided someone had to start. So I forgave us all.
“Don’t raise my body. Keep me dead.” With that, she expired.
I felt terrible. But I also felt renewed. The past had been washed away.
In that sense, I was truly resurrected.
Brown rushed to the scene, his cousin closely behind. There, they found two more bodies. One was bloodily dismembered. But the other looked perfectly whole.
I approached them and they backed away cautiously. “Are you okay?” they asked.
“I’m okay now,” I replied.
Brown gestured at the bodies. “What happened to you?”
“Long story. Help me move this body, we need to transport it back.
Reynard looked at the body on the table. He couldn’t really tell, but he thought he might be able to “renew” it, so to speak. He went to speak with Brent.
“Listen, Brent,” he begun. “I think I can restore her, bring her alive again. What do you say?”
Brent held up a hand. “No.”
“But don’t you want her back?”
“No, she specifically told me she didn’t want to come back.”
Reynard nearly fainted. “You told her?!”
“Does it matter now?”
He fell silent. Reynard couldn’t guess what he was thinking, but Brent had changed, somehow. He seemed less… angry. He couldn’t read his mind – Brent had somehow blocked off part of his mind.
He tried again. “I can…”
“Reynard, don’t you know now you can’t play God however you like? Sometimes, no means no, and it does here. No one should play God in any way.”
Reynard reflected. A lot of trouble had indeed come from that, though he had never realized it. Brent himself, for one. His cousin. He was not about to add a third.
“You’re right. I won’t.”
I sat in front of the television, nursing my bandaged hand. Beside me, Vulpie was twitching nervously.
“Tonight, we bring you the latest news. A mysterious massacre of people in the forest out of town has caught the city’s attention. No one knows exactly why these people were killed or what did the killing, but it is widely believed animals in the forest are responsible.”
They cut to a familiar figure, talking to a reporter.
“It is my belief that these animals, having their habitat reduced in size and food supply threatened, have, out of desperation, resorted to attacking people.”
“But wouldn’t they have eaten the bodies?”
“Perhaps humans just don’t taste nice?”
I wanted to laugh, but the memory of what I had done still lingered. Only time would heal this wound.
“Anyway, I’ll be staying in town to monitor this situation. We don’t want another incident happening, do we? And, for your own safety, please don’t go into the forest at all costs. I don’t want to have to do another autopsy.”
“What’s the body count?”
“Too many and too bloody to count, but there’s enough matter for at least 20+ bodies.”
I couldn’t believe it. 20+? I was definitely on a real rampage that night.
“Witnesses have reported seeing a figure that looks like a dragon, killing people.”
“Those witnesses need an eye checkup. There were not, are not and will not be any such things as dragons. Unless you want to wait for the apocalypse?”
Back to the anchor. “In other news, the mayor is requesting donations to buy a new city hall roof, as he is tired of getting wet every time it rains…”
‘Click’ I threw the remote onto the floor and leaned back (watch those wings). “So, he’s gonna move into the city while we remain here and twiddle our thumbs.”
“Not exactly. I have to go back to the valley and re-fertilize it. So you’re in charge of this joint.”
“But isn’t there a door to the valley from here?”
“That was just a temporary portal. It’s not good for the machine to keep it open or even open it more than once a month. Similarly, Reynard’s in the city and will only come back every so often, so you’re in charge.”
I thought of something. “What about the assistants?”
“That happened to be an illusion. He really did everything by himself.”
I had suddenly gained a little more respect for Brown.
“So I’m the one twiddling my thumbs here.”
“You also have work to do. You’re supposed to monitor the forest and scare off trespassers any means possible, up to and including mauling them with the real wolves – there are some, you know that?”
I got up and stretched. “I also have to make these tail-friendly.”
She also stood up and checked her tail. “Now that you mention it, yes.” She walked off.
I would never forget that fateful period of time. It had taught me one thing: forgiveness is essential to healing. Now that I could forgive humanity for screwing up my world, perhaps I could forgive myself for screwing up theirs.
I had lost everything. But I had also gained everything.