The Dying Cocoon
Cold. I was so cold. Water flowed around me, swallowing me up until I couldn't breathe. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry. My tears were lost in the torrents and I could do nothing but wait to drown.
Then the water lifted from beneath me. I was left lying on the sand, heavy and tired. I could breathe again, but another cold wave of water descended upon me. I choked again, struggling to find the way up.
Pulsing and shuddering, the water left me once more to struggle. I managed to lift my weary head stared up at a rising wall of sea. The wave seemed to wait for me to try and stand upright, and then it swept me off of my feet again. I shouted out in the depths, taking in great mouthfuls.
Am I going to die?
I was still floating, lying face down in the water… but it felt different. It was warm, inviting, calming…
Slowly, I opened my eyes.
I was surrounded by spherical walls, each a livid green, as though I were inside of a pea. The shock of the sudden scenery change hit me and I panicked, my eyes darting around and searching for a way out. I realised then that I could breathe, but it only made me more surprised.
"Can you hear me in there?"
A voice? From outside?
I swam towards the sound and pressed an ear to one of the walls. There was more than one voice now, each muttering to each other. They sounded concerned, and they should be. What was going to happen to me in here?
I knocked on the wall, but my hands were weak and I barely made a sound. I tried again, but I still lacked the energy to make my answer. Despair wreaked havoc inside of me as I grew more and more fearful until I gave up and sank to the bottom of the giant pea that was my cage.
"She won't die in there will she, Reki?"
The motherly woman turned to Kuu, the youngest of the girls in the room, and smiled. "We won't let that happen."
"What makes you think it's a girl?" another asked, her dark brown eyes staring at Kuu as she leaned casually against the pod.
Kuu crossed her arms. "Almost all of the Haibane born in this house have been females. What are the chances that this will be a boy, Kana?"
Kana shrugged and prodded a finger against the surface of the pod. "Either way, they need to get out of there. How many days has it been full grown now?"
Reki heaved a great sigh and leaned back against a bare table, holding her head up to stare at the ceiling. "Three days. I have never had to wait so long before for a birth."
Concern crossed the faces of the two girls as they looked at each other nervously. If Reki, whom had the most experience with the births hadn't had to wait this long before, than there was definitely something that wasn't right about this Haibane.
"They'll be okay."
All eyes turned to the latest Haibane, Rakka, a thin, messy brown haired girl with a bright smile almost always on her face. "They probably just need more time to work out how to claw their way outside to us. Give them some more time, and they'll come when they're ready."
Kana rolled her eyes. "Come on, Rakka. It's been three days. Three days! You'd think they would have worked it out by now."
"Maybe they're scared," Rakka suggested, remembering her own time in the cocoon, floating in the pod and listening to the unknown voices outside without any idea of what awaited her. She had taken her time as well, but they had a point… she had been in there for a long time.
"Maybe Nemu was right. Maybe we should contact the Communicator and ask him to come down and take a look," Reki said, settling herself on the table and staring at the cocoon. "It wouldn't really do any harm…"
"Yeah, apart from the fact that he creeps me out!" Kana muttered. "Sure, he's all friendly to Rakka and even you now, Reki, but he always stares at me and won't permit me to talk!"
"So he annoys you rather than scares you because he doesn't want to put up with your constant talk like we do," Reki said, pressing a thumb to her chin as though she had worked out a hard maths sum.
Kana poked her tongue out and fell silent, listening intently at the side of the cocoon again.
Another shadow appeared in the doorway, this time the eldest Haibane of the group appearing. "How is the cocoon today?" she asked with a wide yawn.
Rakka smiled a greeting to her friend. "I was wondering when you would wake up, Nemu. You sure were up late last night."
Nemu nodded. "Well I had to keep an eye on our newest member here. After all, it's been…"
"Three days. We know," Kana finished with slight annoyance. It seemed the fear was getting to her. She rarely left the side of the cocoon after all, showing a sisterly side that she didn't often reveal to the others. They assumed it was merely her way of growing up.
"Let's not get ourselves worked up about this," Reki said to everyone in the room, though her gaze lingered on Kana. "If it dies, which we all hope it won't, than there is nothing we can do. Sometimes the births fail and the person inside doesn't make it out in time."
"How long does it take until it's too late?" Rakka asked anxiously.
Reki sighed. "About three days."
Everyone fell silent at her words.
"Dinner's ready, everyone!"
The girls gathered themselves from the floor in the cocoon room and left it in the darkness. They reached the kitchen in low spirits as every mind was on the possibly dying Haibane. No one spoke as they trudged past the cook and took their seats.
"It's the cocoon, isn't it?"
Reki raised her head to the final member of the Haibane's of Old Home and ignored the question. "You should have asked one of us to help you cook, Hikari. It isn't fair that you take on all of the meals by yourself."
Hikari, a blonde, pony tailed girl smiled, her eyes glistening from behind her glasses. "I don't mind that you all want to watch the cocoon, and I don't want to interrupt."
"Don't worry about me, okay? Just eat up and enjoy!"
Though Hikari was a good cook, none of the Haibane felt much like eating. They all shovelled the food down without even paying attention to the taste, then departed to the cocoon room one by one until only Reki and Hikari remained.
With a tired sigh, Hikari leaned back in her chair and gave a tiny yawn.
Reki noted this immediately. "Hikari, go to bed. You look exhausted."
She shook her head stubbornly. "Don't even think about it. I don't want to miss another birth!"
"As soon as anything happens, trust me, you'll hear Kana screaming," Reki pointed out, lighting a cigarette and smoking thoughtlessly in the kitchen.
Hikari stared at her in disgust. "Do you have to do that around food?" she asked as innocently as she could manage.
"Sorry," Reki mumbled, but she didn't stop. She wasn't even paying attention. She was busy thinking about the birth of her fellow friends in the house, and especially Rakka's. It had taken her some time, but not as long as this. The cocoon which was in her art studio, was fully grown, and still it waited for its occupant to find its way out.
"It's dying, isn't it?"
Reki glanced at Hikari, surprised to see the strong willed girl in tears, sniffling and turning away shyly. Reki's instincts brought her to her friend's side where she gripped her shoulders and hugged her gently from behind.
"I won't let it die," she said to her gently. "I'll stay by its side and talk to it, begging it to find its way out. I'll do everything I can."
"W-what if y-you can't save it?" Hikari asked, trying to steady her shaking voice.
Reki shook her head. "Don't say that. I got all of you out okay, didn't I?"
The blonde haired girl couldn't deny that and started to calm down. Reki left her to her thoughts and headed up to the studio again. Once she had reached the room, she stood in the doorway and stared at the cocoon as her friends surrounded it and listened at its sides. It was so pale, and the surface was dry unlike the moist soft texture it was supposed to have. The roots that protruded from the ceiling and ground were like bark now, sticking out stiffly.
The cocoon already looked dead.
Night time came and the entire house was bathed in ink from the pitch black sky. Hikari had taken Reki's advice and retired to her bed for the night after she had chained her emotions again after dinner. Nemu had almost fallen asleep in the cocoon room and left with an equally drowsy Kuu at her heels. Rakka, Reki, and Kana remained, staring at the cocoon and jumping at every sound it made, but now it lay silent as though it too were sleeping.
Kana's eye lids were growing heavy as she pressed her head against the pod and waited as she had been for the past three days. She didn't move for anything at all unless it was food or a toilet break. She had told her master that she couldn't work because of the new cocoon, as had Rakka and Kuu, but Nemu and Hikari had not been able to get away with free time, and the housemother wanted Reki to distract herself with the children.
The rest of the hours of the day everyone spent looking at the cocoon and waiting expectantly for the newest member to show themselves.
With a jerk, the tomboy awakened to the world again and glanced over at Reki. "Yeah?"
"You're too tired to last the night in here. Go to bed before you damage your back sitting like that."
Kana shook her head, being almost as stubborn as Hikari. "I want to… be here… for… when…" She fell asleep before she could finish, much to Rakka's quiet amusement.
Reki stood from a wooden chair she had brought with her and lifted a light Kana into her arms. "Call me if anything changes," she said to Rakka as she carried Kana out to take her to her bed.
Rakka, being left in charge, knew that she had to try her best for Reki. She sat up straight, slapped herself in the face to stay awake, stared right at the cocoon… and fell asleep as her exhaustion caught up with her.
Inside of the cocoon, things were even less lively.
I floated in a curled up ball, trying to forget about everything: this cage, the dream, and my swirling emotions that never ceased or slowed. I wanted to be free more than anything, but whenever I tried, my efforts were in vein. All I could do was wait for someone to find me and free me. I could hear them when they spoke, those outside of this pea pod. Maybe my growing fear of them was what kept me here. I wasn't sure if I wanted them to come to my aid. After all, they could be anyone. Maybe they were the ones who put me in here.
I wasn't really sure of anything, but I knew one thing. I was getting weaker by the minute. At first I thought it was the emotional stress, but the draining energy came so fast that it felt as though I were ill. My head was spinning and I could barely keep my eyes open.
What was happening to me?
I let another minute pass in silence, and I couldn't bare it, being alone in this unknown place. It felt like my mind and body were both breaking down. I couldn't connect a single though, and all of my muscles and joints were growing weary, each a separate numbness.
It can't end like this, I thought, making a decision then and there. I have to get out of here before I can't move at all.
With the little strength I still had, I pushed myself forward through the water. I kicked my legs feebly, letting my weakening body flow through the water painfully slow. I clenched my teeth and reached as far as I could until pain ached in my arm, recognisable even through the disappearing sensation in the limb.
I did it. I touched the wall, my fingertip denting the mushy sides and leaving a mark. I would have smiled if I had any strength left to do so. My eyesight was clouding and everything was disappearing before me, turning into black.
I just have to reach a little more… a little more…
I gave a final grasp with my hand, my fingers clawing out and ripping away a deep layer of the cocoon. It fell away, floating beneath me as everything finally became nothing more to me and I fell steadily into the darkness… only to slide out into the light.
Rakka, dozing on the spot, wiped away at a drop of water that had pattered against her face. She opened one eye lazily to see why it was raining in the art studio… and gasped at the sight of the cocoon splitting from a deep crack in the side.
Water gushed into the room and engulfed her, swallowing her words. She twisted and turned under the torrent, trying to reach for the air again, but something was pressing against her. She tried to push the object away, blinded from the sight by the thick liquid, but it was too heavy to budge.
A pair of arms came to her rescue, tightening around her waist and dragging her out of the water. She was pulled away and sat down on the ground roughly as her saviour, Reki, ran back into the flowing water and bent down over a pale form.
"The Haibane!" Rakka gasped out, running over to Reki as she leaned down into the knee deep watery fluid.
It was a girl, lying naked in the mess with her eyes closed and her body thin and frail. Reki gently pulled her into her arms, flipping her onto her back and stared down at her face. She looked horrified.
"What is it Reki?" Rakka asked fearfully. "Is she okay?"
Reki didn't answer the question. She lifted the girl up in her arms and hurried to the door wordlessly only to have it open in her face with Nemu, Kana, Kuu, and Hikari staring wide eyed at the newest Haibane.
"She's so white," Kuu noted, standing on her toes to peer at the girl's face.
"Move!" Reki demanded without responding, and Nemu swept the girls aside in an instant before following Reki down the hall quickly.
"What's wrong?" Kana asked, her voice naturally loud when she needed to be heard in a house of noise.
Reki didn't answer straight away, but as she continued to be pestered by the girls she finally replied with words that turned their blood to ice.
"She's not breathing."
In the shock, Hikari stopped dead in the hall and stared after Reki as she disappeared around the corner with a stunned Kuu and Nemu still in her shadow. Kana grimaced and stared at the floor as tears welled in her eyes.
"H-how c-could this happen?" Hikari stuttered, shaking on the spot.
Rakka grasped Kana's and Hikari's hands and pulled them both down towards the main room where Reki had headed. "It's not over!" she growled. "Reki will save her! I know she will!"
Although she sounded confident, Rakka was doubting the fact. She bit her lip and hoped that her gut mind was wrong as it told her again and again that the life of the Haibane was already over.
In the main room, Reki laid the girl down on the bed and left briefly to gather an armful of towels as Nemu felt for a pulse in the Haibane's neck. She almost collapsed in relief as she felt a weak but evident beat and shouted the news to Reki as she ran back into the room with five towels hanging from her arms.
Reki felt the relief wash over her and threw the towels over the girl. So not all hope is lost, she thought, tucking the Haibane in as Kuu hung anxiously at the end of the bed.
"Is she going to make it?" she asked worriedly, staring at the pale and motionless girl before her.
Reki didn't know how to answer the young girl. She bent over the Haibane and rested an ear against her chest to make sure her heart still beat as minutes passed. She could hear it a little, but not well enough to keep her calm any longer. She knew that she wasn't breathing, and unless she started, all was lost.
Rakka burst into the room with Kana and Hikari struggling to keep up.
"Is she okay?" Kana demanded, gathering herself and rushing over to the side of her bed to stand beside a paled Nemu.
Reki sat beside the girl on the bed with her head on her lap. She was almost weeping, a shocking sight.
"Well?" Kana demanded, trying to see any signs of life on the new girl.
"She's not breathing," Reki finally answered, her voice deadly quiet. "There isn't anything I can do but wait."
"What do you mean you can't do anything?" Kana asked. "Isn't there a doctor in this town?"
"It won't work. She needs to breathe on her own…" Reki answered, hopelessness appearing in her dark eyes. "Haibane's need to go through the process of awakening completely on their own, and she hasn't awakened yet."
"That's stupid!" Kana roared.
Reki took in a shuddering breath and slapped the girl hard in the face. "Breathe! Damn it!" she growled. "Please, don't let it end before its begun…"
As though answering the calls, the Haibane gave a small cough that caught everyone's attention, then she gave a great heave and coughed up a mouthful of water that coated her. Reki sat her up properly and beat her on the back as she spewed out the fluid of the pod onto the bed.
In gleeful delight, Rakka punched a fist into the air and caught Kuu in a tight embrace as the young girl threw herself at her. Kana wiped away her tears furiously as though ashamed, and helped to cover the girl up with the fallen towels.
"Thank goodness," Nemu gasped, letting Hikari place an arm over her shoulders and beam at the girl as she snuggled into the towels.
"Welcome to the world," Reki said to her softly, wiping some loose threads of hair out of her face to find the girl had passed out. Her hands clung tightly to the warmth she had received, looking painfully fragile, but she was alive. She had made it.
Bidding the others leave so the new Haibane would not panic when she woke, Reki found herself immediately examining the girl's back to make sure the wings had not come out in the cocoon. She was quiet surprised to find that they had not, however the tips were spiking through the skin, coated in blood. It wouldn't be long, and she only hoped that the girl could remain unconscious during the next frightening ordeal.
Seeing that there was no urgent matter to take care of, Reki took the time to concentrate on the rest of the girl's features. Her hair was thick and short, standing out at all angles. It was almost completely dry by this point, and she saw that it was a light copper colour that seemed almost like a dying fire with her pale complexion. She was also very thin, almost bony, but Hikari would change all of that with her unrefusable meals.
In her sleep, the Haibane clawed her hands and shuddered. She was dreaming of the frightening world she had been in for the three days she floated dormant, and Reki wanted nothing more than to comfort her.
"Don't worry, we'll take care of you. We'll all be standing right beside you until you can walk on your own, so don't fear."