By Lim Hern Khoon
I opened my eyes to pitch darkness, soothed unexplainably by the obscurity. How long had it been since I was last asleep? I tried my hardest to remember, but no ideas came as to what I had been doing, or what had happened at all. One thing drummed repetitively in my head: I had to find food. I had to bring food back to my starving mother. All the questions in my head; the confusion I was overwhelmed with when I first awoken, they did not matter anymore. I had a burning duty to fulfill now, and I was not about to go home empty-handed this time.
Picking myself off the ground, I ran a few meters ahead, eyes darting left and right to make out where exactly I was. There was now a pale orange glow from tall, grey towers nearby, basking the area in slight illumination. It was not too long till I realized I was stuck in a maze, composed intricately of dull green, blade-edged shrubs that reached up to my upper body. They bent grudgingly as I ran and trampled across them, producing these shuck-shuck-shucking noises that seemed to voice out tones of irritation at me, the intruder. Afraid, I moved ahead blindly, hoping to reach a clear ending which would get me out of the maze and a direction back to my home. There was a sudden depression in the ground that I did not see, my legs could not hit solid earth the next second, and I tumbled into a pool of cold, murky water that reeked of mud and rotten shrubbery. The depth of the pool was neither that high nor its width very wide, but as I stumbled my way out of it, I could feel the hair on my skin standing on end, my heart thumping wildly against my chest. I paused, breathing heavily as I stood still among the seemingly never ending maze. I never really liked water. I had an older brother who fell into a deep lake a few months ago. After some struggle, his head never emerged from the ominously still water again. I witnessed the entire tragedy and screamed my throat hoarse, but nobody was there to save him. Maybe that explains my phobia with water ever since.
Steadying my nerves, I trudged through the foreign maze, desperate to leave this place and back to the safety net of familiarity. A sudden blaze of intense bright light trailed across the shrubs, blinding my eyes momentarily when they came into contact with the beam. I stopped in my tracks, taken aback by the sudden deafening roars that soon followed suit from the right. The clamor dwindled off after a while, only to pick up when a new blast of light hits, before dwindling back down again and so on in a repetitive manner. I knew I should just mind my business and continue ahead where things were still and safe, but my curiosity got the better of me. Taking a ninety degree change in direction, I headed off to my right, determined to uncover what had caused the ear-piercing racket. Keeping my head low amongst the shrubs, I started off slowly but soon broke into a light sprint towards the sounds. With more distance, I noticed the shrubbery growing shorter and scarcer, as though it was leading to an open clearing.
And then I saw them – the things that caused the blinding light and insane din – they looked nothing like what I'd seen before in this world. Flashes of red, of blue and black in all shapes and sizes flying past me with such intense speed and roars they almost swept me and the surrounding shrubbery off with the breathless wind movement generated. I backed timidly into a frontier formed by the shrubs around me, eyes widened and glued in shock at the unearthly matter ten or twenty times the size of myself, all rocketing past one after another towards the same horizon. Breaking myself off the stupor, I turned and ran back to where I came from, not stopping till I was deep back into the maze and far away from the gigantic machines that could kill me effortlessly, if they ever so much as laid eyes on me. I felt so alone, so small and vulnerable I wondered if I would be able to make it past tonight and return home again.
It must have been at least two or three hours. My legs were tired; the maze seemed like a cruel mockery with no solutions, and I still could not remember how I ended up here, estranged from my mother and four siblings who must be now worried sick for me. And then I smelt it – food, delicious food. My stomach rumbled loudly. How long had it been since we had something to eat? Two days? Three? Life has been hard ever since my father disappeared. He left that fateful night – four days ago, I now recalled – and he never returned the next morning. My siblings and I were puzzled and we asked our mother if he'll be back soon. No, my mother replied, we have to be strong and depend upon ourselves from now on. Being the eldest of the remaining lot, I asked my mother where he went. She said nothing, but I could see the tears in her eyes. The remaining food we had stocked in our home finished quickly in the next two days. My siblings were growing up and needed lots of nutrition. So I decided to leave the house and find some – my very first time out of the house with such heavy responsibility.
Be careful, my mother warned me, her black eyes filled with worry, it's really a chaotic and dangerous situation out there.
I smelt the sweet scent of citrus fruits – oranges! I saw them; half peeled and discarded a few meters ahead of me among the shrubbery. They must have belonged to the fortunate, who'd never fully appreciate what they had, things like food at every meal. Racing up ahead like my legs were not sore and aching at all, I felt ecstatic – finally something for my poor mother and siblings! When I was about to claim them as mine, I realized some others also had their eyes set on the oranges. Three of them, small in built as their beady eyes watched me murderously. I wanted to fight for the oranges, but one of the trio motioned to something a stone's throw away. My eyes followed and I saw a large group of their friends and family, watching me from the distance as they feasted on more oranges at their corner.
Giving the juicy fruits one last hopeful glance, I turned and headed off into a different direction, feeling useless. Indeed, my challengers were small in size, but they came in a large group. If only I had my family with me, I mused sadly, missing them more than ever.
That's when I felt the tremors and the familiar deafening roaring due south. Before I could stop to think, a wave of bright light hit me and I squinted my eyes shut, hardly daring to breathe. The noises stopped; the lights went off. I opened my eyes: one of the enormous entities I saw just now was right before me, looking larger than ever at such close proximity. I felt heat simmering off its bright red body as it vibrated, shaking the shrubbery it landed upon violently. It appeared to be angry, and I dare not move. Then, the vibrating stopped. Two wings sprouted off the red beast's bodies – one on each side. Staring at it with total horror, I saw two giants emerging from the insides of the beast, appearing from where its wings had sprouted. They moved awkwardly and unsteadily, every footstep they took sending loud thumps echoing through the shrubs. They yelled out loud in a language I could not understand. I turned silently, wanting to creep off unnoticed.
Something caught my tail, and soon, I was lifted high up from the shrubs and out of the maze. I could see the oranges; the little gangsters guarding it previously had abandoned their feasts and scampered off, their six little nimble feet moving quickly, feelers twitching in fear at the sight of the two giants. I could see my home, not too far off from where I was at, an empty square blue building where my parents had built a comfortable nest behind two years ago.
I struggled to be freed, only to be lifted up higher and higher. Craning my head back, I came face to face with two large, white globes, each filled with a smaller black circle in between that darted back and forth as they studied me.
And then I remembered how I'd gotten into the maze. It was them, giants like this one holding me with these peculiar white and black globed features, they caught me that night I left home and flung me into the far distance. I remembered soaring, before hitting solid ground and feeling extreme pain in my back, and then everything went black.
There were more giants out there, and now one had gotten hold of me.
"Look at this Sam, a rat! Let's kill it! Run it over the tires of your car or something!"
My eyes roamed back longingly to the distance where my nest was – my mother, my siblings. It was so close, yet never further.QLRS Vol. 7 No. 1 Jan 2008