A/N: Continuing on….
Ordinarily, most moons have some economical benefits for the planets they orbit. If they orbit planets with severe over population such as the ones in the Cancri system, pleasant suburbs and condominiums with neatly trimmed lawns will often dotting their surfaces. All in the hopes that people will buy them and move off the planet. Usually that doesn't work, so hotel resorts are put up instead to ensure that a minor percentage will always at the least, be on vacation. I say this because the moon I lived on, is the exact opposite of all that. it's a dry, flat, barren, desert of a wasteland and had always been a dry, flat, barren desert of a wasteland, really, the worst excuse imaginable for a moon.
It's called Ypres and it's the smallest and farthest out of all the moons that orbit Betelgeuse Five. Which can always be seen looming large and ominous on the horizon, silhouetted by the bright glare of Betelgeuse and
The first thing that becomes apparent upon stepping out onto the surface of Ypres is the stifling heat. From just coming out of a cool interior of the house, which resembled a pile of rubble from the outside, the heat welcomed you like a pillow being stuffed in the face.
The surface as I've said is flat and insipid, with an occasional rock formation jutting up into the sky like a sore thumb. The gravel beneath my feet was red as well as uninteresting, baked dry by the blazing sun. I scuffed my feet in it, until they were the same color as the ground, and started to make my way in the direction of the smoke rising into the sky.
I had ventured out here many times before, both alone and with Maej. I was very much acquainted with the area, so getting lost wasn't a problem. But in the particular direction I was heading, there was a rare spot of fascination. A Grabbite hole.
Yes, there was life unfortunate enough to live here, excluding Maej, the Head, and I, of course. After all, we all know that life has managed to find a way to live in all kinds of nooks and crannies, some quite remarkable, others unimaginable, and a few I'd rather not mention.
A Grabbite, by the way, is a small furry animal, about the size of a shoebox with long ears and a bushy tale. They live off the lichens clinging to rocks underground and hop around on the surface from hole to hole. They're very shy creatures and are extremely wary of anything that does not resemble another Grabbite. Why they're called Grabbites, is because the first person to actually see one tried to turn it into a handbag and died of rabies shortly after. That this Grabbite hole just so happened to be in the same direction as the smoke, and as I stared down at the deep depths of its underground system of tunnels in hopes of spotting one, doing whatever it is they do underground, I noticed the Dengos watching me.
The Dengos were the other unfortunates living here. Normally they would come out at dusk or right before sunrise, being out here like this was unusual. They were often the subjects my nightmares when I was little. If Maej became extremely frustrated with me, she'd threaten to leave me outside and let the Dengos have me. It was an empty threat but I always went quiet afterwards.
These Dengos were waiting for a Grabbite to come out of the hole obviously. But seeing them standing there, their sandy, lithe forms rippling in the rising heat, made one think maybe that's not what they were here for.
I froze, than started to back away from them, slowly, never looking away, feeling unusually cold. They continued to watch me with interest, cocking their heads, ears swiveling in my direction, one of their tales twitched, another raised its nose to sniff the air.
One thing to know about Ypresian Dengos is that you're safe as long as you don't do anything incompetent. But it's hard not to be incompetent, when you're five. I tripped over my own feet and fell heavily to the ground.
Upon that, the Dengos deciding I was far more interesting than a Grabbite, and began their pursuit. I bolted, terrified. The Dengos fell in step behind me, never running ahead of me, barking to each other and panting in time with their strides. As if they were toying with me. One of them gave a howl, long, and eerie. The others replied. To them, this was fun. This was what they were good at.
Involuntarily I ran in the direction of the smoke seeing it more and more as a haven. Thoughts raced through me alongside vivid reenactments of past nightmares. Would Maej and the Head know what had happened to me if I didn't come home? Would I become another post-it Maej would forget about next month?
Suddenly the ground beneath me disappeared, I saw the sky, then ground, sky, ground, sky, ground. I landed at the bottom of a crater staring up at a spinning sky. Brushing off pebbles I had dislodged on my way down, I sat up and looked around. There was a piece from the hull of a cargo ship, charred and smoldering. The source of the smoke.
The Dengos stood along the rim of the crater, their tails waving like victory banners. Tongues hanging out the sides of their mouths in sardonic smiles. However, the smiles vanished when a loud "DAMN IT!!!" rang out over the landscape. Striking all of us hard with its foreign, and odd familiarity.
There was a crashing sound and humanoid figure appear around the corner, lugging a fire extinguisher behind him. "It's a matter of consideration, not dumping your junk on poor unsuspecting planets. Especially if I'm IN IT!!!" He growled. The Dengos, tails between their legs, took this as their cue to leave. I dashed behind a rock to hide. "Just because I may be living with the cargo doesn't make me apart of it." The man continued. A cloud of carbon dioxide gushed from the fire extinguisher with a whoosh, "Honestly, I don't care," He kicked the hull just for spite. "Really I don't, and if that bothers you than fine! But that doesn't give you the right to trap me inside a giant fireball of death, Zar-qu-on!" He gave the wreckage a few more blasts, quenching whatever was left of the fire. "Oh, and by the way," He turned to address the wreckage like it was a person. "THAT WAS THE WORST SONNET I EVER HEARD!!" Cautiously, I perched myself on top of the rock I was hiding behind, fascinated by this stranger from the sky, berating the ship with what seemed to be all the derogatory terms known to the Milky Way, all in their original languages.
"What's a sonnet?" I asked innocently. He whirled around, stared at me, shocked that there was life here at all, especially in the form of a small boy sitting cross-legged on a rock.
The next second, quicker than I thought it possible for him, he lunged at me, one hand was holding my mouth shut so I wouldn't scream, his wild eyes boring into me.
"How long have you been sitting here? Where did you come from? How many of you are there? They're not invisible are they?" He shook me vigorously when I gave no response, I was too terrified too. "Come on, answer me!" He shouted, shaking me harder. I did, but not in the way he expected.
He gave a tremendous howl! Immediately letting go of me, he jumped backwards, hopped around in a circle, shook his hand as if trying to shake off the throbbing pain, and finally resorted to sucking on his finger. I wiped my mouth on my sleeve and glared at him. He moved a couple steps away from me, watching warily.
"You bit me!" He paused, then with a gasp said, "I knew it!" He moved further away and crouched as if I was going to attack. "You're carnivorous aren't you?"
"No," I didn't even know what that meant. "You were hurting me." I replied simply.
"Oh… sorry." was all he said, he sat down and continued to nurse his finger. We both watched each other for a few minutes. "You're not telepathic are you?" he asked hesitantly. I didn't know what that meant either and he must've sensed it because after a pause he said, "Didn't think so, you don't talk enough. D'you know anyone else who is?" I shook my head. "Good," he said. "They always assume you can read their mind, so they do thier best not to think by not shutting up." We sat in more silence. "No strange religions?"
"No strange rituals involving sacrificing travelers?"
"Cause once I went to this planet where the inhabitants were so xenophobic, they'd toss newcomers out of their tree houses. They weren't a very pleasant lot." Silence resumed. I took the time to study him.
He was unlike anybody I'd ever seen in my short life. He wore a battered, torn trench coat that had been repatched several times and a faded tie-die tee shirt underneath. His skin, burned by countless suns, was a dull orange. Discolored shreds were fastened around his neck like a scarf and stiff black hair poked out from beneath a bandana wrapped around his head. But what was even stranger, were the pair of scratched ski goggles resting on his forehead, a large bulge on his back that was conspicuously covered up by the patched trench coat, and straps around his torso, almost as if whatever was being hidden in the bulge behind him needed to be kept close to him or would otherwise escape. And lastly, he was wearing what looked like a pair of very comfortable shoes.
His facial features were bold, rash, almost dangerous. But sitting on the ground, finger in his mouth, and watching me like I was going to pounce, revealed him as merely an outlier, the kind who gets dragged, chewed and spat out with indifference by normal society.
"What planet is this?" he asked, getting to his feet.
"It's not a planet, it's a moon." I replied.
"That would explain the gravity difference." He began to climb up the crater wall. Not wanting him to go away just yet, I hopped off my rock and climbed up after him. When he got to top, he peered around, but when I finally caught up to him, he suddenly ducked his head and yanked mine down with him, as if he didn't want us to be seen.
"How many of you are there?" He whispered,
"Who?" I said,
"Shhhht, don't talk so loud." He hissed franticly. "How many of you live here? Do all you little people live in a village of some kind near by?" he asked. I stared at him, utterly confused. "Okay… maybe I haven't explained it properly," He sighed and tried again. "Are there any other beings, such as yourself, who live here?"
"There's Grabbites, Maej, Dengos, lichens-"
"I meant intelligent beings." He said, getting irritated by my indolence.
"Just Maej and the Head." I said quickly. He looked a little taken aback.
"Is that it?"
"Pretty much." He peered over the edge of the crater again. I poked my head up to, trying to figure out who he was so afraid would see us. He ducked both our heads down again.
"They're not hostile are they?" he asked, still whispering. I thought for a moment.
"Maej might be if she's having a bad day." I said, remembering why delivery services preferred to throw packages out for us to catch rather than deliver them directly. "But the Heads' not."
"The… Head?" he asked nervously.
"Yes, we keep it in a pickle jar. I feed it every day, and it talks complete nonsense. But it's very friendly." He gave me an odd look before sliding back down to the bottom, mumbling something like,
"And I dared to ask." I slid down after him, curious to see what he would do next. However, what he did next wasn't very interesting. He sat there, gave a deep sigh as if trying to collect his thoughts, and chewed on his bottom lip a little. It took awhile before he noticed that I was still their looking at him expectantly. His brow furrowing slightly he asked, "What's your name?" unable to answer that I shrugged. "You don't have a name?" He continued.
"No, I have one." I said.
"But, you don't know it, do you?" For the first time in my life, I began to feel uncomfortable about the fact that I didn't know my own name. It was a very similar feeling to the one you get when everyone around you is laughing at a joke you don't get, and then you realize you're the butt of it. He must have sensed this because he immediately said, "Well, okay, there's nothing wrong with that." He grinned. "You'd be shocked to know how many strags in this Galaxy walk around not knowing their own names. It gets a little disturbing when you think about it. You can call me Hox by the way." He said thrusting his hand out with such force it made me jump. When I continued to stare at it blankly, he picked up my hand, put into his and shook it vigorously.
And, that's how I met Hox. After introductions, he got up and asked me to help him look for something. We spent a large part of the afternoon rummaging through the charred pieces of the wreckage until Hox found a rucksack, apparently his, still intact and mostly untouched except for a burnt hole on the bottom. Hox immediately over turned it, dumping out what few contents it had. He sifted through the items, checking to see if everything was there. He sat back on his heels. His lip curled slightly as his black murky eyes fixed upon me. I could almost hear an idea click in his head.
"There's a small favor I need to ask of you and that means you have to do everything I say. You think you can do that?" he asked slowly. I nodded. He leaned in. as if he was going to tell me a secret. "What I need you to do, is go back to where ever it is you live, and bring me back a toothbrush, and some tooth paste. With me so far?"
"But," I began, "Why do you need a toothbrush?"
"Because…" Hox paused, "My halitosis is so bad, I could knock a Bugblatter Beast unconscious, want me to demonstrate?"
"Exactly," He said. Hox looked up at the sky for a moment. "Er, how long are the days here?" He asked. I looked at the horizon, to see Betelguese slowly making its way down below the rocks.
"Not long, today's almost over." I said. "I should be getting back soon."
"Okay, come back tomorrow then. But don't forget what I said. Now off with you." He gave me a slight push in the back. I took a few steps forward before suddenly feeling a pang of fear in the pit of my stomach as the earlier events of the day flooded back into my memory.
"What?" Hox asked impatiently upon seeing my horrified expression.
"Dengos," was all I said.
"What about Dengos?" As if on cue, a Dengo howled in the distance. Hoxs' eyes flick up to the crater wall then back down to me. He unraveled his scarf from around his neck and plopped it on my head.
"There," He said "Happy now?" Surprisingly, what he had given me was in fact a worn out towel with a pungent, unpleasant odor.
"What's this supposed to do?" I asked.
"Nothing," said Hox, "Just keep it on your head like that while you walk home, now off!" he gave me another push, and sent me on my way.
At such a young age, I was baffled as to how a towel could keep Dengos away. But thinking about it now, it makes perfect sense. Not only would a Dengo never get close to something so rancid, but as I walked back home I admit I felt a certain sense of security with it wrapped about me.
I never saw any Dengos along the way.
A/N: There's a specific reason I decided to call the moon Ypres. It's the same name as a town in a very special country. Guess which one.