Thursday, September 01, 2011

Flash fiction: Domesticated

NCE there was a wild thing that lived in the wood.

It slept in dark places, and it hunted in cool shadows. When it hunted well, it ate of warm salty redness, and when it did not hunt, it felt a deep hollow hurt from its ribs to its reins. At times it swam through swift waters, and at times it crackled through brittle leaves, and at times it keened a wordless cry when the cold light came.

And it did not know fear, or what it was to be alone.

But one time, after it had hunted well, it saw a strange sight. It was a light, like the warm light but low to the ground, and it flickered and moved like swift waters. And around the light moved many strange flickering shapes that wore skins not their own and bit the air with noises like brittle leaves and walked, not on all fours like the wild thing, but on their hind legs alone. And the wild thing's ears dropped low against its head, and the hairs rose on the ridge of its back, and it shrank back into the blind of the wood.

It found a dark place, but it did not sleep. Sluggish movements, like stones in still water in the darkness, disturbed its mind, and it thought of the light and the many shapes around the light. And so it knew that it was alone.

Another time, when the cold light had come, it saw the shapes with skins not their own moving through the wood, and it did not dare to cry out to the cold light. It crouched in the cool shadows and watched. And the shapes walked on their hind legs in the cold light, and their movements were the movements of the hunt. But they did not hunt and bite and crunch like the wild thing. They carried a tree branch with them, and when they pointed it there was a sound that bit the air, and the prey fell and did not move again. Then the wild thing thought they would eat of warm salty redness, but they did not. They gathered the fallen prey in their forepaws and took it away, toward the place of the warm light.

The wild thing lay so still in the cool shadows that it might have been a stone, and it watched the shapes and the tree branch they carried. Though it had hunted well, it felt a deep hollow hurt from its ribs to its reins. And so it knew fear.

Another time, when the brittle leaves crackled under its paws, it heard a sound it did not know. The wild thing crept closer to the sound as it rose and fell, like birdsong. And in the clearing, making its sounds in the warm light from the sky, was one of the shapes. Its forepaws were full of leaves, and it flickered and scattered them in all directions, making more strange sounds.

It was very close, closer than the wild thing had ever come to any of the strange shapes, and so the wild thing saw what it had not seen before. It saw that this shape sometimes walked on four legs instead of on two. It saw that this shape was small, like prey. It saw that this shape moved sluggishly, with no movements of the hunt, and that it carried no tree branch with it. It saw that this shape wore skins not its own, like the others, but that under the skins was the smell of warm salty redness. And it saw that the shape was alone, far from the others of its kind.

The wild thing thought of hunting well, of biting and crunching. It crept closer to the small shape, and its thoughts were dark thoughts of warm salty redness. And because the shape was so like prey, the wild thing thought it would flee like prey. It did not think the shape would rise up and grab its muzzle with its forepaws.

But that is just what it did.

"Da-da-da-da-da! Da-gee!" the small shape cried, clinging to the wild thing's fur, and the wild thing did not know what to do. The small shape looked at the wild thing, and the wild thing saw that its eyes were like the sky. And the small shape showed its teeth, but not to bite or crunch, only to make more of its strange sounds. And the wild thing felt a deep hollow hurt from its ribs to its reins. It saw the small shape was alone when it should be with the other shapes, and it knew what it was to be alone.

So the wild thing pushed and pulled and dragged the small shape back to the place where the warm light flickered on the ground, and the many shapes flickered around it. And when they saw the wild thing and the small shape, their strange sounds bit the air, and one of them raised a tree branch and the wild thing knew then what it was to be prey.

But they did not hunt the wild thing. Instead they gathered the small shape in their forepaws, and they saw it was not harmed. And they saw how the small shape put its forepaws close to the wild thing and made the strange sound of "Da-gee, da-gee." So they gave the wild thing some of the prey from their hunt, and the wild thing dragged it away and ate of warm salty redness and was full.

Another time the wild thing came back to the place of warm light, and the many shapes gave it some prey again, and this time the wild thing did not drag it away, but ate of warm salty redness by the flickering warm light before it went to find a dark place.

And then came the time when, as the wild thing was eating by the warm light, one of the shapes reached out with its forepaw and touched the wild thing's fur. And the wild thing's ears dropped low against its head, but it did not shrink back into the blind of the wood, and it suffered itself to be touched by the shapes.

Then there was a time when the cold light came and made the whole wood cold and the swift waters sluggish, and the wild thing did not hunt well. And it crept back toward the warm light with a deep hollow hurt from its ribs to its reins, but this time the many shapes did not give it prey to bite and crunch. They turned the warm light on the ground to cold ash, and they gathered the skins not their own in their forepaws, and they turned to move out of the wood, to be close to the warm light in the sky. And the wild thing again knew fear, and what it was to be alone, and it keened a wordless cry to the cold light.

And so the wild thing followed the strange shapes out of the wood, wherever they went. When they hunted, it hunted with them and had a share of the prey. When they touched it with their forepaws, it no longer shrank back. When they made warm light on the ground, it slept in warm places. And when the small shape named it "Da-gee" and curled up next to it and slept resting on its fur, the wild thing knew what it was not to be alone.

So it was that the wild thing was tamed. But not entirely.


Rachel said...

I enjoyed reading this. What prompted this bit of "flash fiction"?

Soozcat said...

Hard to say, really... sometimes I put up a blank page and try writing from the first sentence that pops into my head, just to see what develops. This time it gave me a wild thing that lived in the wood. It could have been a werewolf or a cryptid or something else fey and otherworldly, but as the story went on it seemed to want to be something a little more commonplace. I'm curious about the concept of domestication of animals--the human ability to charm other beings into living and working with us--and how much domestication shapes our history and culture. I've thought about writing a story in a world where animals exist but cannot be tamed, and how that messes with human civilization.