It had been long since this land was blessed with life. I of course hadn't ever laid eyes upon that day. But I found myself often imagining it, and wishing beyond anything else that the time would come again. When the threes would bare fruit, and the rains would fall. But all the food had long since passed away with the coming of the insects that were never far from this dead forest.
I had traveled a long way from my burrow in search of food. But, desperate times called for desperate measures. The hard, cracked ground was hot and uncomfortable beneath my paws as I walked. This land, like all the others I'd ever seen was dying. The other fox-squirrels were leaving in search of a place with some more life. Maybe it was my pride, but I intended to stay. Not forever, just until I was absolutely sure that all that was left had died. Most of this place was dead, but I had seen the very occasional branch or bush that bore a small, dry, un-ripe berry. It wasn't only that, but also, despite how dead this place was, it was my home. I had grown up here as a kit. Somehow, I couldn't bring myself to leave this place until I absolutely had to. And although my gut was in a constant state of groaning, I found that I had to stay just a bit longer each day.
I traveled in a daze till the early dawn the next day. The sun hadn't risen yet. I felt exhausted from walking only half asleep all night. Where was I? Had I walked beyond the dead forest? The air was thick, and I knew I must have been at the very edge of the forest territory. I quickly scanned the area for anything that wasn't a dead tree or sand. Then I spotted it. It was no bigger than one of my toes, and even from a distance I could tell it wasn't ripe. But that made no difference what so ever. It was a miracle fruit, I didn't care whether it was ripe or not! This fruit was my survival. My spirit lifted and I felt I would live another day.
Just as I was about to bolt towards it and claim my first food in weeks, a yellow flash sped past me in a blur. He had come out of nowhere, and somehow had all the energy of an evening wind! He didn't even look in my direction as he bent down over the berry, jaws wide and tongue eager. My fur stood on end as I hissed furiously at the fox-squirrel. He looked in my direction just long enough to see me charging towards him, claws outstretched as I tore across the decaying earth. He hissed back and prepared to meet my blow. I leapt into the air, and came down toppling my foe to the ground. I bit and scratched with all of what little energy I had left in my tired body, while the other fox-squirrel used most of his energy to waste mine. My claws were stronger than most other fox-squirrel's, so I used that to my advantage and focused mainly on tearing out his fur and digging my claws as deeply as I could into his skin. Somewhere in the scramble, one of us kicked the berry away, and it rolled across the hot, dry, dirt. We both stopped and looked at it for a moment as it rolled away, and as we did, we saw something in the distance that we otherwise would not have seen. I turned to the other fox-squirrel to see that he had already given up and was now rushing away as he made a sharp, whining sound. So much for him. I turned back to face the berry and the object steadily coming closer to me in the distance.
I was breathing heavily as blood dripped down my fur, and onto the dead earth beneath me. My heart beat faster with every moment the thing came closer. My wounds were bad, but if I could get the fruit and them run away before the thing saw me… It was close now, I could see its wings vibrating as it came closer, and closer. I had no choice, if I simply ran off now like my opponent had done, I would die of both hunger and these wounds. If I was seen, I would surely be eaten alive. The thing shrieked, and my ears rang. There was no more time for thinking, at least this way I had a chance!
As fast as my legs could carry me, I ran to the fruit with but a single intent; to take it, and escape with my life. I felt my heart beat furiously against my chest as I used every muscle in my body to race towards my one and only chance for life. My heart beat so fast that it was the only sound I could hear for a few moments that undoubtedly felt the length passing seasons. I willed my exhausted legs into the air, the berry only a few steps away from me. I bent forward, claws outstretched to meet the earth, and jaws wide to capture the tiny miracle. Then it caught me. It caught me in mid air just before my front paws could meet the ground.
The enormous insect shrieked and flew off with me in its claws. It took me a while to grasp the situation. I might as well be dead, but of course the insect wouldn't let me off that easily. She would probably feed me to her offspring or something. I was going to die. I hadn't even been allowed to grasp the tiny fruit in my jaws, and now this.
I didn't struggle, I was too tired. Even if I did escape somehow, where would I go? The results of my fight with the other fox-squirrel had ended in extremely painful injuries. I wouldn't be able to get very far before I would die anyway.
I wondered if my circumstances would have been any better if I had left the dead forest and gone in search of someplace else like all my family and friends had. Probably not, I decided. I closed my eyes and hoped with all the rest of my tiny, fast beating heart, that my inevitable death would be more or less painless.
When I awoke, the air was thick, sickly, and the dappled light through the immense towering trees above was bright. Suddenly the memory of the night before came back to me like a sudden powerful wind. The sleep had brought back some of my past strength. Despite my past lack of a great deal of energy, all of a sudden I forgot my pain and exhaustion when I found that I was in the middle of a toxic jungle. I squealed and as the toxins slowly filled my lungs, I remembered my will to live. My shriek rang throughout the jungle, but the insect just tightened her grip and tried to shut me up by breaking my ribs. It only made me scream louder.
I struggled and fought the insects hold until she clenched me so hard I couldn't breathe even the thick polluted air. Just when I thought that this was it, and my lungs felt they would burst, and my heart beat slowed, I heard a sound like the thunder I sometimes could hear from the dead forest.
I felt myself falling, and I could hear the insect give a cry of some pain. So this was what it felt like to die. Whatever had happened, I was glad that it had been so peaceful in the end. I didn't even feel a thing. Nothing mattered anymore, and in moments this world would be behind me once and for all. And for a few wonderful moments, I felt perfect and absolute bliss.
Instead of hitting the hard jungle floor, I landed in something warm, and soft. I wasn't dead. I opened my eyes to look up into the face of a human, who looked back at me through a threatening looking oxygen mask. This human…This human had saved me. I didn't know whether to be grateful, or furious. I decided to be furious.
I hissed angrily at the human. Humans weren't known to eat fox-squirrels, but I didn't want to take my chances. The human made a series of odd sounds that of course I couldn't recognize, and then stuffed me into a pouch at his side. The pouch was small, and cramped, but the air was easier to breathe somehow. I scratched at the insides of the pouch as if I was in the belly of a great beast. I screeched loudly for freedom, but to no avail. Whatever this human had in store for me, had to be horrible. This just kept getting worse and worse.
I couldn't help but imagine the horrifying knives that humans held on their person being used to cut me open and kill me in ways much more painful than any yet. Then I heard it. I froze, ears twitching from side to side in what little space there was. The sound of enraged insects steadily grew louder and louder. I needed to see what was happening! I felt the human turn and start running as the noise continued to grow. The pouch I was in shook as the human ran and I couldn't stick my head out of it to see anything. But I got a pretty good idea of what I might have seen. The sound of buzzing and screeching and other frightening sounds just got louder, and louder.
Just then, I could smell some other animal, not an insect, and not human, it was big though. It smelled somewhat like the sparrows that once inhabited the dead forest. Suddenly we were moving a lot faster, and I was sure humans couldn't run this fast. He must have been ridding it or something. I was told that humans rode other animals sometimes. The sound of insects subsided, I was amazed. It couldn't have been that easy. I was right. As if on cue, I heard the crashing of jungle trees toppling to the ground. And I smelled something that I had only ever smelled once before. That one day when the enormous insect destroyed all the rest of the living trees in my home.
I was only a kit then, and my brothers and sisters had all been killed in that scramble. I remembered how that one, only insect had alone turned my forest into just another dead part of the desert. Luckily, it was just one. And the insect hadn't stopped there, it had continued on, away from the forest before it could spread the toxic jungle with it. We were lucky, but I wasn't stupid enough to count on that happening again.
This was an ohmu following us. The sound of an explosion high above the canopy rang in the air, and the faint smell of gunpowder became present. It seemed similar to the object that the human had used to shoot the insect. After a few moments, the human fired the same sort of explosion into the air as the one before. Whatever was going on, I hoped that this human knew what he was doing. As much as I hated it, my life was in his hands now. I found myself clinging to the inside of the pocket I was trapped in.
The thumping of the animal's feet against the ground suddenly became soft, I knew we must have escaped the jungle now and were racing on the sand. I heard a crash as the ohmu behind us toppled over the last of the trees in its wake. We were wide out in the open now, nowhere to hide, only to run, and it was only a matter of time before the ohmu caught up with us. The ohmu must have been turning up a huge cloud of sand behind it as it ran. It surprised me to suddenly hear the sound of some kind of roaring, like that of an animal but clearly not. It must have been one of those human machines I'd heard stories about. Whatever it was, sounded fast. I heard it roar as it sped through the air around the human and his mount.
Somewhere through the noise of the rampaging ohmu, and the machine, I heard the voice of another human. This human had to be the one on the machine. It spoke to the other human who carried me, in a series of sounds I couldn't make sense of. It did seem though that this human's voice was very commanding, and urgent. Did they think they could stop it? Impossible! But at the same time, I couldn't help but wonder if maybe these humans were more powerful than I had given them credit for. No, if human were so powerful, than why couldn't they stop the toxic jungle which they (like all other beasts save the bugs) so feared? All the same, these humans seemed to think it was possible.
I instinctively clung tighter to the inside of the pouch, as if at any moment, I might fly out. If only I could see, then I would know when I was to die. Without this knowledge, I felt all the more fearful. The only sense I had were my ears, which were pressed tightly against my back. But they both lifted and twitched at a sound of an immense explosion shaking the earth and sky. Before I had a chance to think of what had suddenly happened, the human, and his animal must have tripped or something because I felt myself falling, and heard the animal cry out. The sound of the boom still rang in the wind. I heard the ohmu slide across the sand until it stopped.
My heart was still pounding, and my lungs still felt they would bust at any moment. I tried to calm myself, but I couldn't. I was still trying to make sense of whatever was happening. The human spoke and I was surprised to hear him, somehow I had almost forgotten he was even there.
The sound of a faint but strong ringing filled the air. It was soothing, and smooth. The anger and rage that had poisoned the ohmu was melting away. There was a long quiet, in which I heard the ohmu slowly slink away back to the toxic jungle. The flying machine soon sped away as suddenly as it had appeared. The human mounted the animal again and once again the human and I were headed somewhere I was too sure that I didn't want to go. I thought of trying to escape, but I had no idea where I would go. Perhaps I should simply wait and see where this human wished to take me. Nothing else happened for a while, so I took advantage of it, and curled up in the small leather pouch and waited for my strength to return to me.
I slept, and I dreamt of my forest. I dreamed that the rain fell in great pools from heaven. I dreamed that the sand turned to wet and fresh soil that emerald strands of grass sprung from. My brothers and sisters, mother, father and all of my long since dead friends were playing on the soft grass and eating the fat, juicy berries that were scattered in great numbers all around the forest. Enormous trees covered in moss and vibrant green leaves had replaced the old dead ones. Young kits played in the pond of sparkling water, and I stood there in the middle of it all. I ran towards them, and the wind whistled in my ears.
"Wait for me!" I called to them as I rushed, "I thought you were all dead!"
They looked up at me, and suddenly they fled. I stopped as they all left me and hurried into the trees. Confused, I tried to follow them, but they just ran in fear and hissed at me. I ran away, my ears low, and my tail high. I saw my mother hiding from me in the tree tops and trying not to look at me.
"Mother!" I called, "Why do you hate me now?" I cried to her in desperation.
She looked down at me in sympathy, and replied. "Your feet," She said. "Look at them."
I did. The ground that I walked had turned brown and dead again. I cried out in alarm and turned to look behind me. All the ground I had walked was dead now, and defaced the beauty of the forest. I was appalled with myself. I turned to look at my mother and utter some kind of apology, but when I turned, she was gone. And so were all my friends, and family. The forest became dark, and the death I had brought into this world was spreading like a disease. I screamed and ran but the death just kept coming.
I found a tree and curled up in its branches. I tried not to see the death consume everything in the forest. I hated myself for bringing it here. Now they would all die, and it was my fault that made it so. I didn't want this to happen, but could it really have been helped? The worst part was that there was nothing I could do. I closed my eyes and wanted to die with them all.
When I woke, I was in the pouch again. Memories flooded back, as well as my strength. I heard the same two humans as before talking to each other outside. I pawed and scratched at the inside of the pouch, trying to find an opening somewhere. To my surprise, the pouch was suddenly opened from the outside. I stuck my nose out and looked outside for the first time in a long while. The sky was bright, and stung my eyes a bit.
The second human stood before me. It held out its hand towards me. I climbed up its hand and ran onto its other arm, which was stretched out to the side. My fur stood on end and I hissed at it angrily. I could smell it clearly now, it was a she-human I realized. The fur on the top of her head was bright orange.
Despite how clearly I disliked her, she smiled back at me, and rather than hissing back, she whispered to me in such a way that it seemed like a mother would whisper to its kit. It only made me angrier.
She outstretched a hand towards me, without any fear. I swiftly sank my small sharp teeth into her finger. She became tense, but nothing else happened. I still didn't trust her. I continued to sink my teeth into her finger, growling for her to let me go. But she neither struck me, nor growled back at me. She whispered human words that I didn't know, and simply looked back at me and smiled. I may not have known the meaning of the words the she-human spoke, but her intention was clear. She was trying to calm me, trying to comfort me. This was the very human who had stopped the ohmu, and now when I was attacking her, she still felt sorry for me. If it hadn't been for her and the other human, I would be insect food. She saved my life, and here I was drawing her blood with my own two fangs.
I suddenly felt so sorry for biting her. My ears dropped, and I gently released her finger. I licked her apologetically, and hoped she would forgive me. She whispered to me again understandingly, and twirled around as I ran from one arm to the other. She rubbed her cheek against my head, and I purred.
A life for a life, I would go with her until my debt was paid. I could tell that she was strong, and would care for me as much as I needed. That wasn't the only reason I decided to go with her though. I couldn't explain it, but I felt a bond between me and her. I didn't know it at the time, but that bond would grow. No matter what I did for her, she would always return the favor, thus increasing my debt. I would never leave her side till the day I would join my family in the next world.