2017-09-18 14:01 short-story fiction science-fiction return-to-ebyx Benjamin Brood

Auka

One day two things walked into the village. Auka was there when they arrived. Auka heard them approaching, breaking tree branches, with hard crushing footsteps. They seemed unaware of how to walk properly through the jungle, they walked as if it were an open field. But then they weren't people. Nobody knew exactly what they were, they sort of had arms and legs, and they walked upright but they didn't have faces. And their bodies were covered in shells like beetles. When they stopped and stood motionless, after a long time she timidly walked up to one and tapped its chest, and it made a funny sound she'd never heard before, a little like a stone dropping into a pool of water. And when they stopped they were completely still, not like a man or an animal whose breathing would rise and fall, and not like the beetle who's wings might flutter or whose antennae might sway. Then they would suddenly move again, walking to another part of the village. She followed them.

The elders resolved to let the things stay since they did no harm. They were benign, the elders said, and they would no doubt eventually leave on their own. This decision came soon after a group of the village's strongest men tried lifting the things to put them outside the village. They could not lift them. They couldn't even knock them over. They were as heavy as mountains. Perhaps they are sentinels from the mountains, said the elders, and are passing through the jungle to the sea.

But Auka stayed by them. She waited. Like a stray cat in the distance, observing, watching them when they suddenly decided to relocate within the village. Over time she got closer as she felt like she knew them, and she ran her hands over the strangely cold shell. In one place it was warmer, as if there was a heart burning somewhere underneath the carapace.

Her parents became worried about the time she spent with them. She was near them almost always. They forbade her from doing this, but she did it anyway.

She noticed several things while watching them. They would relocate in two cycles, these periods of time happened one after the other, alternating. She also noticed the stripes at the top of them. Maybe where a face should be, the stripes were like the surface of water and she thought there was something behind them. It was made of something different than the body, but almost the same color. At times when she stared into this shiny pool she thought something was staring back, something that only eyes looking into eyes knew, a secret signal deep back in the place that knew what the things were.

One day she was looking at one of the things and its shell particularly closely and she noticed the outline of a square, faintly, the pattern of a box. She could feel the slight difference on its edges in comparison with the perfectly smooth surface. When she poked at this area, pressing into it with some force, it suddenly gave way and made a cracking sound and there was a fast violent grinding noise. She looked up at it, where the face should be, the place where the shiny stripe was, the entire top was gone and now there was the head of an animal. She wasn't sure what animal. It looked a little like a dog, but also a rabbit, and also like a rattiq. She didn't know. And as she looked it turned its animal head and looked down at her with deep brown oval eyes.

As she stood, moving in front of it, it continued to look at her, never taking its eyes off of her.

They stayed this way for a while, each looking. Then she turned to the other thing, surely it too must have something underneath. She examined the same place, on the back of it, and she ran her hand over the shell and she felt the slight difference. She pressed hard and the same thing happened, but this time she made sure to be looking and she saw the shell and that shiny bisection pull away like stiff flower petals. And the petals went somewhere inside, and what was revealed, what looked down at her was also an animal except it was not exactly like the other one. It was similar. But different, a different color, slightly longer features, slightly different nose and mouth. She stood in front of it and it looked at her with gray, moist eyes. Then it turned and stared at the other thing, the companion thing, and when they saw one another the air was like before a thunderstorm.

She wasn't sure, but she thought she heard a noise very low and thumping — but the harder she tried to discern what it was, the less sure she was that it existed. It might match the rhythm of her own heart, she thought.

And they looked at her in a way that little rattiq would look at her, the one who used to live by her window would after she'd gotten in the habit of feeding it.

I don't think I have anything to feed you, she said. They blinked.

She stayed with them like this for a long time until she became tired. But when she turned to go home they followed her. When she stopped they stopped. They blinked. She asked them where they were going. They blinked. She asked them not to follow her, they blinked. Eventually she gave up and went home, they followed her to her room and stood there, staring off into the corner.

When she woke up they were still there and as she got out of bed they looked at her and made little anticipatory shuffling motions. Then she found the severed rattiq tail in the floor. Oh, poor thing, she thought.

She went out before her parents were awake. What should she do? She didn't know if they would keep following her so she walked down to the river and they went with her. As she crouched by the water, looking at the fish, the things crouched too. And she spoke to them softly and they would glance at her then back to the fish, back and forth.

When she got sick of this she went back into the village. The sudden change in the two things, and that they followed her, was greeted with alarm. The elders must be told, people said. But what could the elders do? She wondered. And her parents told her to go to her room and she did but they followed her and they were there in her room with her being sulky.

But soon the elders summoned her and she went to the hall and she stood in front of them and the things stood behind her.

Did you cause the changes in the things? They asked.

I don't know, I guess so. She said.

Do you know how to reverse it? They asked her.

I don't know what would happen, she said.

But the elders told her to try.

Reluctantly, she went to the back of one of them, the first one she'd previously changed, and she ran her hand over the same area, feeling for the square button. When she pressed down on it, she felt her hair stand on end and there was a crackling noise. The head of the thing was now something made of light, a clear blue light, not like the sun, but like the blue sky. It remained still. But the other thing now turned in its direction, so that they were facing one another. She moved to it and did the same. It's head became an orange light, perhaps more like fire. There was a soft roaring noise. The light they gave off made the elders wince, it illuminated the hall.

Then the two things moved. More quickly and without hesitation this time. They appeared to ignore Auka. Where are you going? She asked. But they made no sound, they turned and left the hall. Auka and the elders went out after them. They'd gone to the center of the village, almost the center. And they moved synchronously, bending down towards the ground suddenly they began to dig.

What are they doing? Asked the elders. Auka had no idea what they were doing.

They'd dug a large hole in a short period of time, dirt flying up around them. There was something there in the bottom. They stopped digging and both reached down into the hole, pulling up something that had many edges. The blue thing held onto it while the orange thing filled the hole back in. When it was done it turned to its companion as if communicating something silently and then they both walked towards the jungle.

But where are you going? Auka ran after them. She followed them for a while, but they didn't pause, they didn't stop, making a new path straight through the heaviest jungle. And she yelled for them to stop, but they ignored her. Soon she gave up and watched them clomp away, carrying whatever it was they found, their bright burning heads lighting and making shadows in the trees around them.