Chapter 4: Exile

He leaps awake to the sound of a distant scream, the ground convulses, his ceiling begins to crumble. Hobbling for the exit of his burrow, in scurrying up, he presses his now swollen leg into the dry dirt, opening the cut and causing it to bleed and weep. He grunts and grimaces with pain as he lifts himself onto his feet, his expression dropping, his eyes widen to take in the chaos before him. The clock tower has fallen, the walls have crumbled into the moat revealing a village occupied by smoke, fire and fear. The thief is snapped out of his shocked, frozen state by yet another tremor shifting the ground under his feet, small cracks begin to form.

He limps his way towards the village and climbs over the fallen rocks that once made a wall, the sharp squeals of a child cut through the air and the crackling of the flames. Making his way as fast as he can to the source of the cries, into a house on the verge of collapse. Up the stairs, his burgundy bandanna now down over his mouth and nose, the terrified wails of a little girl lead him to a cupboard, the fire is almost there. Swinging the door fully open the little girl, a tiny, young alligator, pounces into the thief’s arms.

“I twied to hide fwom the fire, but I fink it still found me!” the child sobs.

Child in his arms, he turns and runs to the window to hear the Captain’s voice.

“MAYELLE! WHERE ARE YOU?” Captain calls, the panic clear in his voice.

“DADDY!” the child screams.

The Captain looks up to see the thief holding his precious girl.

“CATCH!” Thief yells, tossing the girl through the window and into the air over bellowing fire.

Her descent felt as if it lasted an eternity, her little dress fluttering in the passing air, before landing safe and sound in her fathers loving arms. The captain glances up at the thief, whose gaze is fixated on the tender moment shared between parent and child, before yelling.

“GET OUT OF THERE!”

The thief is suddenly engulfed in dust, smoke and debris as the ceiling caves into the first floor. In the split moment he has to react, he clings to the windowsill and launches himself out, dropping to the ground with an obvious snap coming from his chest. Doubled over in pain, he scrambles to his feet and tries to make his way across the village.

A guard approaches and grabs him by the neck. As the guard opens his mouth to talk, the ground beneath them both opens up, separating the pair of them. The thief scurries behind a row of barrels as strange, black, shadowy creatures flood out of the cracks. Some drag themselves across the floor by their thick claws, others swim through the air like eels in the water. In no shape to provide any more help, the thief flees back out of the village dodging the horrific figures as they aid the fire in dragging down an entire colony and slaughtering everyone in their path.

Accompanied by vile screams, the thought crosses the thief’s mind to give in and accept death but something won’t allow him. No, he can’t, just can’t. He leaves, limping as fast as his wounded legs can carry him, doing his best to ignore the agony of his injuries. He makes his way over to a nearby river. After tripping into the water, he finds a split log on the riverbank. After pushing it into the water and dragging himself on, his body drops, weak and exhausted. The water rocks him as he drifts off into a deep, dreamless unconsciousness. It will soon get cold, now that the sun has set on this dark day.

Chapter 2.5: Meanwhile

“GET HIIIIIM!” calls the alligator Captain, taking pursuit alongside his troop of 10 armoured men of varying races, wielding swords, spears and bows.

The thieving rat makes a break for the village wall, lugging a tatty sack over his shoulder. Holding his paltry haul in his teeth, he leaps to the top of the nearest house, barely reaching, digging his claws into the thatched roof and pulling up before heading towards the edge of the village. The soldiers on the ground cease the chase and take aim with their spears and bows, launching bladed projectiles at the thief. A single arrow sliced against the thief’s thigh, stopping him only for a brief moment.

“REMOVING YOUR HANDS AREN’T ENOUGH TO COMPENSATE FOR YOUR CRIMES, IT’S TIME FOR THE GALLOWS! GIVE IN!”

Recovering from the initial sting of the wound, the thief dashes again, pouncing towards the high wall surrounding the village, clinging as hard as he can to the rough jagged stones. He climbs up, scrambling for his life, the clinking and clanking of arrows hitting the rock beside him. Finally, he reaches the top, looking up, he sees a lone guard on the walkway with a lit torch.

“Take that!” shouts the guard, beating the thief across the face with the torch, burning his fur, melting his whiskers and covering him in ash. The guard loses balance trying to grab the thief by the hair, nearly falling to his death over the wall. The thief seizes the opportunity to dash up, past the guard and leap off the other side into the glittering moat below.

The guard atop the wall rushes to see where the thief heads. Looking down, he only sees the disturbed water and a stream of bubbles emerging from a cloud of red slowly growing beneath.

“I guess that’s over,” the guard mutters under his breath, as he turns to report to the captain of their success.

Moments later the thief lunges out of the water, gasping desperately for air, before flopping exhausted onto the riverbank. His vision blurring with tears and fatigue, grasping at the grass tight in his fists and pounding on the dirt angrily, struggling to keep himself from screaming.

“I want to sleep, I don’t want to be here, I need to leave, can’t s… stay h-here,” he whimpers pulling himself to his feet and limping into the dead forest to the burrow in the ground he calls home. He collapses once again, onto a pile of dusty rags to rest and inspect his loot; wet bread, now-bruised fruit and a broken bottle that once held fresh-pressed tomato juice.

With very little choice he wolfs down what little food he has, and turns over to rest, falling asleep instantly despite every joint and muscle screaming with pain, his thigh still stinging and seeping with blood.

Praying tomorrow will be different…

Chapter 2: Welcome To Menthol City

A few steps into the city, just passing the broken “Welcome” sign. The nasty industrial fumes fill her lungs once again making them feel heavy and leaving a metallic bitterness on the back of her tongue. Coughing just makes it worse. She looks at the little watch on her right wrist, “Ten minutes?” she gasped, “I’m not going to make it!” Fast, faster and faster she ran, her pink scaled tail whipping left and right behind her, hearing the rush of the wind blast past her large round ears. She dashes nimbly, cutting it close leaping between the traffic and dodging the oil spills on the road.

Eventually, she comes to a tall grey concrete building, spanning wide, surrounded by small brown fields of prickly grass and the occasional lifeless tree. Entering in through the heavy double doors, she skips swiftly through the corridors to her classroom. A plain box with a concrete floor, the white plaster walls covered sparingly with “motivational” (more like threatening) posters and a large revolving blackboard.

“TEAGAN! You’re late again. Just because you’re one of those circus folk doesn’t mean you’re exempt from being disciplined for your behaviour within the city.” barked the old dog that was Ms Nora Hayflower, Teagan’s form room teacher. A tall black, lanky mutt of unknown breed, with a white mane like fuzz around her shoulders, and a foul temperament. Clean and smartly dressed, but by no means approachable.

“I’m sorry, Miss,” Teagan mumbles nervously lowering her head, eyes glancing up at the other classmates.

“Hey RAT! Come sit with me.” invited Urso, a young bear, turning to snigger with his pals.

“Not if you’re going to start plucking my scales agai-”

“JUST SIT DOWN TEAGAN!” shouts Ms Hayflower.

Almost in a panic, Teagan takes the seat and mentally prepares herself for the torment of her classmates.

“Right… May we begin now, Miss McCarthy?” Ms Hayflower growls.

“Y… Yes… Miss,” said Teagan.

“Thank you…” she snaps before turning away and sitting at her desk, “Our headmaster has requested that all teachers assist in clearing up a little rumour that’s been making its way around Menthol, for the safety of the students. The rumour in question is that there are other colonies… Civilisations out there other than our own city, what I’m trying to say is… They don’t exist.”

A hum of many whispers fills the classroom, emanating from disconcerted and dissatisfied faces. Students leaning in close, heads together, murmuring confused sentences that together formed unintelligible noise.

“QUIET!” she bellows, abruptly silencing the buzzing voices, students launch themselves back into their seats. “This is for your safety, do not go out there, every person that has ever left has never come back, there’s nothing to be found out there.”

“It may be treacherous, but it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing out there!” Teagan replies, before suddenly holding her breath and covering her lips with her little pink hands.

Subtle gasps can be heard across the classroom.

“Excuse me? Do you want to come up here and teach? You obviously know so much more about everything than I do…” Hayflower scornfully responds.

Teagan lowers her head, clasping her hands tight together, breathing heavily, “But we can’t be alone in the world… If we can survive, others can too!”

“Enough!” said Ms Hayflower as she slams a detention slip down on the desk in front of her, “You will give up your lunch today, and I expect you to write down ‘We are alone’ until you get it into your thick rat skull, have I made myself clear?”

“Yes, Miss…” Teagan mumbles.

As soon as Ms Hayflower looks away, a ball of paper is thrown at Teagan’s head, she looks back.

“Well done, Freak Show! She’ll be unbearable for the whole day.” jabs Urso, before kicking the back of her chair.

Three hours later and it’s time for break, the students stand up and leave the classroom in their usual noisy fashion, Teagan follows. Ms Hayflower stands in front of her as she heads for the door, passes her a piece of chalk and points at the blackboard.

“Fill it, and write small,” she demands before turning, leaving and closing the door.

Teagan clears the board, puts the white chalk to the black… and begins.

We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone We are alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am alone I am al-

She drops to her knees, and quietly… she weeps…

Chapter 1: Now

The alarm rings, she wakes with a disgruntled moan and turns it off. Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she sits on the edge of her bed, a twittering can be heard from outside. She gazes sorrowfully at the bright orange light beaming in from between the baby blue curtains. With a sigh, she lifts herself onto her feet and makes her way downstairs to the bathroom for a shower. Click!

“No hot water again?… how wonderful. My fur is going to be oily… I can just tell, today is going to be bloody fantastic.”

After dragging herself through her usual miserable routine, and a meagre slice of dry toast, she stands at her front door and takes a deep breath. Peering through the glass she sees the city, hazed by a foul, filthy smog. With one last deep breath, she unlocks the door and steps through, shivering as a chilling gust cuts through her, nearly lifting her grey pleated skirt. Down the steps and along the same narrow dirt path she’s been wearing away at for 17 years, gazing around at the tents and caravans that surround her odd two-tier static. She passed by a large traditional gypsy caravan, pristine and intricately painted.

“Good morning, Daddy…” she called, answered by only a faint howl in the wind.

Looking away from the hills on the horizon, she stands and stares up at the clouds hovering over the city. Strange how they never pass the city border, they never leave. Sadly, she must make her way into the city once again past that chain link fence, walk beneath those dreary dirty clouds, in a filthy crime-ridden city.

“Here I go again…”