Chapter 5: Fascination and Repulsion

He doesn’t know how long has passed, but he does know that his “boat” has run aground, it’s dark and there’s a rustle of grass and leaves. In a pain filled daze, his arm slips off the boat, the ice cold moisture in the soil, sending a chill through every vein, snapping him into complete wakefulness. He musters the strength to raise his head, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light of a new moon. Not too far away, he sees tall squarish structures with many, many yellow lights, what is it? His only hope to survive at the source of those lights, forcing himself up on his feet the thief starts his slow limp through the long, dewy grass.

The moon rose and reached its peak overhead, a smile in the glittering void above, grinning like it knew a secret that it would never tell. Staring up, he manages a weak smile back, hoping the goddess watching him could spare a shred of kindness. He looks down to find himself on the edge of a camp, his heart jumped, beyond the camp are the structures. He sneaks into tent after tent, searching for a single morsel of food, but all he found was strange equipment, hoops, ribbons, bouncing balls of various sizes and weighted bottle-like things that don’t open or hold liquid. Surely the giant tent would have something… No, it was just an… Arena? Do people fight here? Executions? He doesn’t want to linger.

After leaving the arena tent, he noticed a small patch of cultivated land, with a beautiful wooden caravan beside it. After a thorough search, not even a single berry could be found, the plants were far too young to bear fruit. The closer he got to the caravan the more he noticed a strange smell in the air, it made his adrenaline rush. There was a strong buck rat nearby that the thief certainly didn’t want to tangle with. Backing away from the caravan and the crops realizing they must be the buck rat’s, he feels cold sheet metal against his back, he finds a whole new structure with a completely different fragrance. This one was a doe rat, young, healthy and fertile, what seemed to be her home was a block of metal and glass with what seemed to be a smaller building of the same kind built on top to create another floor.

In his starving desperation, he breaks the glass in the door and scurries in. To the right was a little kitchen, opening the cupboards he finds jars of dried fruit, rice and a tall pot of little yellow bows and spirals that snapped when he bit them. The fruit was so sweet, he’d gotten through half a jar of pitted apricots before the room suddenly became bright. Turing to see who was there, his gaze was met by two long adjoining pipes with a wooden handle at the other end, holding this strange object was the fiery-haired buck rat he detected earlier.

“Just what do you think you are doing here?” snarls Alroy, shoving the shotgun into the thief’s chest, pushing him onto his back, “Well?”

“I… I… I just…” the thief stutters, his voice was dry and rough, “…wanted…”

“I don’t care what you want, you break into someone’s home, you steal their food. What will you do next?” Alroy snaps, he opens his mouth to speak again.

“DAD!” Teagan cries, rushing to see just what was going on, tugging at her frilly blue night dress to keep herself covered up.

She walks around the island counter to see the thief cowering for his life. The panic clear as day in his earthy brown eyes, tears and burns stain the sandy coloured fur on his face. Looking at his body, she can just about see his ribs beneath the dark bruising on the right side of his chest, he has no shirt, no shoes, just some torn and bloodied brown trousers, a belt and a bandanna. Clearly an agouti buck, a wild rat, that’s has been suffering for some time.

His eyes widen at the sight of her, she could feel her own eyes welling with tears and her lower lip trembling.

“Daddy… how could you? He needs help why would you do this?” she wails, “LEAVE NOW! Do something helpful instead, get the doctor.”

“And what if he attacks you in the meantime, Teagan?”

“As if he’s in any condition for that! I can protect myself.” Teagan yells, pushing Alroy through the doorway.

The thief watches as Teagan rushes around her home, she finds a large, clean blanket and throws it over the settee, before returning to him. She lifts him up, one arm over her shoulder and her hand on his waist and lays him down slowly on the settee. Dashing off once again for scissors, bandages, a bowl of hot water, a clean cloth and some strong smelling antiseptic liquid. She kneels on the floor beside him and gently cuts the bloodied fabric away from his thigh and tends to his wounded leg.

He can’t help but stare, her fur is as bright and white as the moon he prayed to just hours before. Her hair is long, thick and as red as blood, her eyes were a green that not even the lushest forests or purest gemstones could match. She was very short, her figure was plump, strong and generous with large hips. His heart beat louder than it had ever before, he was scared she would hear it.

“T…”

Her eyes shift up to meet his.

“Teagan…” he mumbles.

“Yes?” she responds softly.

He blushes nervously, unable to say anything, for a long minute.

“Doesn’t this hurt?” she asks, dabbing the deep scrape on his leg.

“It’s numb.”

“Oh…”

“So, um… what’s your name?”

“It’s C… It’s Coinneach”

“Co-in-ock? Co-in-ock?” she repeats to herself slowly, breaking it down, “Such a strange name, I love it.” she smiles.

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 3: Crooked

The school bell chimes into life. Each classmate grabs their bag before darting haphazardly to the door, including Teagan, glancing at the glowering Ms Hayflower as she rushes past the desk. The pupils push, shove and barge carelessly to get out. A sudden almighty squeal echoes through the corridors. She clutches her crooked tail in pain after the door rebounds, Urso, standing behind her smirks, insincerely responding with:

“Oh, I’m so so sorry… It was a total accident, I was pushed.”

Unconvinced, her blood begins to boil, her little hands clench. She tries taking deep breaths to calm down, but her anger bubbles over and she launches her fist straight into Urso’s left cheekbone. Urso clutches his face in pain, the few other classmates left behind call for Ms Hayflower, who screams at Teagan, demanding she heads to the headmaster’s office immediately. Tail still clasped in her hands and her head hung low, she legs her way through the corridors as fast as she possibly can, which is difficult when the corridor resembles a tin of sardines. She makes it to the main doors and across the fields and makes her slow walk home. It’s dark, it’s starting to spit, a sea of umbrellas rise, they ebb and flow with every step. Teagan carries on swimming against the crowd, raindrops hitching a free ride in her hair and clothes. The white streetlights flicker into life, glittering off the water, lighting her path home. At the edge, she passes through the gate in the chain link fence, her soft feet meeting the grass; her lungs and senses, the caressing fragrance of petrichor. This moment of bliss was not to last. A tall, ghost-white buck rat in a deep red suit approaches, his bright fire-red hair freshly cut and brushed back. 43 years old and in good shape.

“Uh… Hi Daddy,” said Teagan.

“I’ve had a call from your teacher today, talking back, spreading lies, beating up your classmates and refusing to see your headmaster…” her father says.

“Hey, she’s the one spreading lies!” Teagan yells in disgust, “Urso slammed the door on my tail! It’s crooked! What if it deglov-”

“Shut up Teagan, just… Go home,” he says, rubbing his eyes and shaking his head, “I just can’t deal with your crap tonight,” and with an exhausted sigh, he walks away.

Teagan stomps off, tugging her hair in anger, walking past her two-tier static to an airstream caravan just beyond it. After a firm knock on the door, she is met by a black mole, a perfect white coat around his portly body.

“Hello Miss McCarthy, what can I do for you this evening?” greets Dr Hood with a pleasant smile.

“Urso trapped my tail in the door again…” said Teagan, gently rubbing the sore kink in her tail. “It’s going purple…” sorrowfully, she gazes down at the ground, her mind drifts off, going over what happened earlier that day. Dr Hood watches her, after a few seconds of silence, he reaches out his hand.

“Come on in then,” he says, a hint of sadness in his smile.

Inside, the caravan is immaculate and clean, there are small drawers and cupboards of varying sizes running the entire length, and a silver padded examination table at both ends, each with their own curtain, operating lamp and a little metal table. It has everything a doctor could need for tending to illnesses and injuries. Teagan takes a seat on one of the tables while Dr Hood puts on his glasses and a pair of thin white gloves, he then begins the examination. Teagan just sits there, twiddling her thumbs, staring down at her feet in silence.

“So… Uh… Have you seen Alroy since you got home?” he asks.

“Yeah… Daddy wasn’t too happy, ” she mumbles.

“More trouble at school?” he says.

“Mmm Hmm…” Teagan replies with a gentle nod, not even turning to look at the doctor.

“Don’t you tell your teachers?” he says, dabbing the broken skin on her tail with an antiseptic cotton bud.

“They won’t listen, I’m the bad one,” She says, flinching with each dab.

“You’re not, you’re really not,” he says, applying a tight bandage to the wound, “you’ll find someone who sees you for you. There, you’re all done.”

“Thanks,” She says, giving Dr Hood a hug. He hugs back and pats her softly on the head.

“You look tired, go get your tea and have a good sleep,” he says, smiling once again. He opens the door and they wish each other a good night.

Teagan walks home and cooks up a large pan of vegetable soup, some for now, some for freezing to have another day. Home safe, and a full tummy, she heads up to her room asking for the day to end. It doesn’t take long for her to drift off to sleep, which is good because she won’t be getting much sleep tonight.

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…