Peace and Disquiet~B&B
Finally, some peace and quiet.
Everything seemed perfect, actually. It was late at night, which was hardly surprising-I rarely got a break at any other time-and the shawl of storm clouds covered the island. A dark and stormy night, maybe? Hardly. More like a dark and cloudy night, accompanied by a slight drizzle. Calm, damp, and peaceful. That was a circumstance that didn't happen often.
Of course, I still had work to do, but I didn't really mind at the moment. While I liked the feel of the sun on my skin as much as the next pygmy, I actually liked it when this sort of thing came about. After all, it was warm almost every day, but this kind of weather didn't happen often. And since no one else ever wanted to be out in the damp, be it the tribe or the mosquitoes around here, it almost always brought a brief calm with it.
There wasn't much left to do, just mending a few torn nets and cords. The rhythm was a simple, familiar one that came easily to me; after years of practice, it was almost second nature. Maybe that was why our tribe excelled at our personal things, but sometimes struggled with new concepts? Our way of life was a simple one, but we had had eternity to perfect it. Maybe that was why I could build and fix things the way I could, why all of our talents had grown to be what they were now. It was little more than a routine, with little in the ways of change.
Except there was change, wasn't there? There had been change before, and slowly the waters had stirred until our entire world was completely different. It had started when the Gem of Life had faded, and had gradually mounted over time. We had changed to match, I suppose-one only had to look at us to see that. In the cases of some, skill had increased; for others, the change was deeper. Some of us had grown more responsible, more certain, like Ooga. And some had fallen, declined... like me.
It hadn't been all bad. I knew well that this change had taught me more than it had any of the others. There was still much that I didn't know, much that didn't conform to my ways of seeing. I knew more, yes, but there was still more for me to learn. I had known this then, and I knew it now. The difference was that I had had to unlearn things-I had to learn to accept that my life, everything I had known, had been built upon falsity. Not a lie, not really, but not the truth either. I had needed to begin again.
So I had, and here I was. Change had come and gone, and we were left with a rare moment of peace. And while some things might have changed, I could still treasure those moments. I could listen to the blissful sound of silence and remember the past, muse over the present, dream for the future. I could heal old wounds and dream new dreams. I could repair my life.
Yes, I had changed. We all had. A painful change, a shattering declination, but a necessary one. I had had enough lies to last more lifetimes than I would ever live-it was time for truth. Time for change.
And now... now what was left of what we had once been?
What if we had lost our past in the midst of the present? What part of us had we left behind as we strode forward? What was left of us... of me? Had change warped us beyond recognition?
No, I decided, carefully retying one of the broken cords in the net. No, there was still something left. Because back then, I would be sitting in this small ocean-side cabin, tying the same knots and musing over what was and what might be. There were times when I would stop and think it all over, even if the thoughts were different. No matter how much things changed, there would be the sweet moments of clarity when I would sit alone and remember. That wouldn't change, no matter how much I did. I would always remember the past and hope for the future.
There would always be those rare moments of peace and quiet.
I jumped as sound from outside broke the comfortable silence, my head shooting up to watch the exit. The sound was a familiar one, and I recognized it almost immediately: footsteps. Faltering and unsteady, yes, but still footsteps that squelched through the mud. And they were getting closer by the second.
Who would be out here at this hour?
Before I had time to move, the door swung open. I tensed, unsure what to expect, then relaxed as I saw who it was.
Ooga stood in the doorway, looking pale and bedraggled. Strange-surely it hadn't been so wet as to drench him completely, had it? Yes, there were a few stray raindrops caught in his hair, but his body seemed much wetter than that... and even stranger, it seemed to be gathering on one side of his body. Just the upper left part of him glistened with water.
"Klik?" he asked, blinking in the dim light. "You in here?"
"Yes." I frowned. "What are you doing here?"
That was when I noticed the red liquid dripping down his arm, how the dark wetness streaked over his shoulder and chest was thick and oozing, how his side and arm were stained completely red. A deep crimson, one that spoke of fresh blood.
Lots of it.
"Oh." I stared at him. "Oh, my. What in the name of the gods did you do?"
"Don't ask." he muttered, stepping into the room and revealing the depths of his injuries. His arm had been ripped apart, long and jagged gashes criss-crossing up and down his entire left side. Blood was streaming out of these wounds at a frighteningly fast pace, and he was pale from losing that amount.
"Gods, Ooga, what-" I began, scrambling to my feet.
"No, seriously. Don't." Ooga winced, glancing ruefully at his mutilated arm and plopping down on the cot. "You got any painkillers lying around here?"
"No, not on me right now." I frowned at him, finally realizing why this situation was so odd. "Why not just regenerate? No wound, no problem."
"Because they'd see me!" His head shot up, but his glare was cut off by a gasp of pain. "Damn, that hurts. No painkillers? Nothing like that?"
"Alright, stop." I held up a hand. "I have no idea what's going on. A little enlightenment might be helpful, because I so long as I'm confused, I have no idea how to help you."
Ooga grit his teeth, biting back what might have been a cry of pain. "Maybe I can tell you after I can think straight? Because this hurts. A lot. I don't really see what you don't get about this."
"I might be able to find some poppy seeds, but in the dark it might take a while." I considered, mapping out the island mentally. Yes, I had a vague idea of where I might find what he needed. "It's a ways off, and there might not be enough left to do much. Are you alright here on your own?"
"Yeah." He nodded weakly.
"Then stay here, and I'll go get some." I turned towards the doorway, then halted. "And don't touch anything. Got it?"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever!" He scowled at me. "I won't touch whatever junk you've got here. Just
That simple statement was enough to erase any doubt. This wasn't some sort of trick-if Ooga of all pygmies was asking for help, then it was serious. And his definition of 'serious' meant that he was probably in a lot of pain.
"I'll be back." I promised, stepping out of the hut and shutting the door behind me. "Don't worry."
I knew the way. Poppies were out of season, but there were still a few flowers left here and there. The bright red would be easy to spot, or at least easier than most colors in this gloom. The light was feeble at best, as clouds hung about in a grey shawl that covered the moon and the stars, but a faint light from the moon remained to guide the way.
Not much, but it would have to do. Between that dim light and my own knowledge of this island, I could navigate the shadowy paths. I had totime was of the essence.
Still, one thought lingered in my head as I hurried away from the cabin, a thought that persisted loudly in the back of my mind.
So much for peace and quiet
Just how much time passed out there I didn't know, but it couldn't have been too long. Rain sprinkled down from the sky, not enough to get me too wet but enough to make me shiver. I made my way there as fast as I could without losing track of where I was, which admittedly wasn't all that swift. Then again, it was probably faster than any of the others could have done, and I didn't stop once to get my bearings.
All the while I was scanning the ground for the telltale flashes of red that would indicate my goal. It wasn't easy in the dark and the gloom, especially when I had to keep a mental fixation on where I was, but it seemed to work somewhat. Then again, there were no signs of poppies anywhere, so I couldn't really be sure.
I pressed on, heading steadily north-east. The flowers would be closer inland, if anywhere. Though at this rate, the only way I would find them was by hearing their precious poppyheads shatter under my feet.
After gods knew how long of trudging blindly through the woods, I finally found what I was looking for-a grove. Higher ground, that was what I needed. These flowers wouldn't grow where the rain could drown them, at least not the few that would have survived the wet season. Somewhere where the sun could let them grow.
Slowing my pace, I scoured the area for the precious flower. If there were any, it wouldn't take long to find them-even in the dark, the red petals would stand out like beacons.
By the time I finally did find one, I was shivering and covered in what seemed to be a fine layer or water. Now I was growing dew, was I? Wasn't that just perfect?
Kneeling down to pick the precious little flower, I held it close to my face to inspect it. An older one-good. I could reach the seeds easily, and they would also be a more potent painkiller.
Shaking out a few seeds and scattering them on the ground in hopes of growing more of the plant, I set off at a quick trot back to the cabin. Whatever Ooga had been doing, it had better be worth it...
It didn't take nearly as long to return, of course. My guess was that it took about half the time, or somewhere around there. In any case, when I got back Ooga was still where I left him: collapsed weakly on the cot, awake but motionless.
"That you, Klik?" he asked, not looking up.
"Yes." I shut the door behind me, shaking off the water that was still clinging to me. "I found your painkillers."
"Great." He struggled to sit up, wincing as his wounded arm jostled. The bed had bloodstains on it, a fact that made me grit my teeth. Now I had to wash it, probably in the rain. Whatever this was, it had better be good.
I showed him the poppyhead. "Seen this before?"
"Yeah." He nodded. "Once or twice. Not a lot of other red flowers out here."
"You've never taken poppy seed before, though?" I shook out a couple of seeds. "They'll kill the pain, but they'll also make you very drowsy."
"Honestly, I just care that it's a painkiller." he said with another wince. "It could make me grow scales for all I care. A nap is nothing."
"Unless you overdose it." I pointed out, carefully picking out three tiny black seeds. "I don't think I have enough here for that, but if you eat too many there could be more serous effects. So go easy on it, okay?"
"Sure, whatever." He held out his good hand. "Just give them to me, will you?"
I tipped them carefully into his hand, and he popped them into his mouth. After a moment he swallowed them. "Thanks."
"Thank me when they start working." I said, returning to my earlier work of mending the broken nets. "That won't take too long."
Sure enough, after a few minutes of tying knots, he relaxed a bit and shifted his position on the bed. He didn't say anything, but he did yawn once or twice and rubbed his eyes a bit.
"You're sure you can't just regenerate?" I said eventually. "Get rid of the wound that way?"
"No." he said firmly, blinking to keep his eyes open. "Not yet."
"At least let me bandage it, then." I offered, searching around on the small table until I found a strip of fabric. "If you don't want to die, keeping your blood in is the first step."
He grunted acquiescence, leaning back on the wall again. "Do what you want."
Unfurling the fabric to its full length, I crossed to where he lay on the bed and sat down beside him. He didn't speak as I started to bind his wounds, making little to no noise at all. Occasionally he winced a bit, but he gave no sign of feeling the pain other than that.
"What happened?" I asked, carefully winding the cloth around his arm. "Why can't you tell the others?"
"The same reason that I can't tell you." he answered.
"Oh, come on." I frowned at him. "I fix up your arm, bind your wound, go running around in the dark and in the rain to fetch you poppy for the pain, and I agree to not tell the others that you somehow managed to severely injure yourself. The least you could do is tell me why."
" he hesitated, looking down at the ground. "I don't know. It's
"Isn't it always?" I said dryly.
"It's a long story." He stifled a yawn, rubbing his eyes with his good hand. "And one that I don't particularly feel like telling, if you know what I mean."
"Well, it's one that I'm intending to find out." I raised an eyebrow at him, careful to hold the bandage still while I halted my work. "You don't come barging in here with an injury and not tell me how you got it."
"What, no sympathy for the wounded?"
"Absolutely not. So far as I know, you accidentally impaled yourself on a trap meant to kill Nooby. If you want my sympathy, you have to earn it."
Ooga glared at me again. "And if I say no?"
"The doors open." I gestured at the exit. "You can leave now if you want. Good luck explaining whatever this is to the others."
"You wouldn't kick me out."
He had a point, but I wasn't about to tell him that. "Try me."
He glowered at me, and I glowered right back. And we both knew that when it came to scowling, I had eons of experience of glaring down misbehavers at my disposal. He had only pulled off the occasional disapproving frown for the past millennia.
Eventually he shrugged his good shoulder. "Let's just say that our least favorite fish and I got into a bit of a disagreement."
"You picked a fight with the shark?" I looked back up at him, astonished. "And you didn't get eaten?"
"It was a little busy chowing on the what, three dozen fish I had just caught." His scowl returned, and he kicked at the dirt. "Now it not only eats us, it has to chomp up our food, too?"
"What did you do?" I resumed tying the last knots in the cloth.
"I saved some of the fish." He grinned. "Sort of."
"By the gods, Ooga, you couldn't have just caught more?" I raised an eyebrow at him again. "Or did you not think of that?"
"Well, that thing was sort of two feet away from me, and I had spent hours catching those fish." Ooga glanced down at his wound. "No way, no how was I letting some overgrown piranha snatch all that without a fight."
"Right." I sighed, returning my attention to the wound. "I won't comment on your flawed logic for now."
"Hey, it was in the heat of the moment." he protested.
"I can see that." I finished the final knot, and sat up. "What I don't see is why you think you need to keep it a secret. So you fought the shark over some fish and got cut--what's the big deal?"
He hesitated. "I'd
rather just leave it at that."
And there was the rub. It was a simple story
but not really. There was something he wasn't telling me, something he didn't want to tell me. Something he didn't want the others to know.
Part of me wanted to demand answers, that part of me that was forever pursuing new things. That part of me had gotten me far in life, pressed me to keep searching for knowledge when the world went dark around me, offered me questions that I needed to answer. It gave me goals, it understood the world. It was the question and the answer.
Ooga was expecting that part of me to refuse to let up until he gave in, until he told me the whole story. I didn't blame him--I was certainly tempted. The driving need for answers to my innumerable questions never really left, just dimmed and brightened depending on the situation. Normally I could restrain it if there was danger of some kind, though I always welcomed a new tidbit of knowledge, but there was no real danger here. And the curiosity was burning like a wildfire.
But even so, I could see that this wasn't just another secret. Whatever it was, it was really bothering him. Maybe it was in the droop of his neck, the way his fingers were clenching and unclenching restlessly, how his eyes flickered from side to side even as he fought off the drowsiness that came with the poppy seeds I had given him. Whatever it was, I could see that he didn't want to pursue the subject further--and that he was nearly resigned to doing so.
Maybe that was why I pushed the questions out of my mind. Maybe not. Either way, I just offered him the poppy head again. "Do you need more of these, or do you think you can sleep without it?"
He blinked, his momentary confusion quickly giving way to astonishment as he realized that I wasn't going to press him. Then he smiled, a small but grateful smile that was quite unlike his usual snarky grin. "Maybe a couple more."
I nodded, tapping the side of the small flower until a couple of seeds fell out. "Not too many, or you'll sleep past noon." I warned. "And we can't have that."
"This won't be healed by tomorrow, will it?" he asked.
"No." I admitted. "It won't. But you could probably squeeze an excuse for regeneration in the morning somewhere."
My friend nodded, the smile growing slightly on his face. "Gotcha."
I tipped the seeds into his palm. "Do me a favor, and let he shark have the fish next time."
He laughed softly, lying back down on the cot. "I'll try. I make no promises."
I watched him tilt his head back, swallowing the tiny black seeds and shutting his eyes. That would definitely put him to sleep for a few hours at least, and after that he would sleep normally until morning. Still, I should probably stay here to look after him.
"Hey." Ooga said abruptly, opening those dancing blue eyes of his and regarding me sleepily. "Thanks, Klik."
I smiled, nodding. "Don't worry about it."
He shut his eyes again, yawning and curling his legs under him for warmth. "G'night."
I got no response. The poppy seeds had pulled him under, and he was already fast asleep.
For a moment I watched him lay there, curled up in a ball on the cot. This had to be the most peaceful I had seen him in a long time, sleeping and still. Or maybe it was just the first time I had bothered to notice.
Sighing softly, I rose to my feet and made my way over to the cot. I had mended enough of the nets, and I didn't really think I could get much more work done anyways, so I might as well just go to sleep. There was only one bed, for I was the only one who ever stayed here overnight--and those visits were rare at best--but it would do for both of us. Besides, there wasn't a lot of other options available, and this was certainly the best one.
Tugging the blanket off of the side of the cot and carefully placing my glasses on a side table, I draped the quilt over Ooga's oblivious form before slipping under myself. It was a little awkward lying down this way instead of lengthwise, but if I tucked in my feet, they wouldn't dangle over the edge and would be covered by the blanket.
Curling into a position similar to that of my companion's, I shifted my weight--careful not to jostle his injured arm--until I was comfortable. I ended up with my back pressed against his, but it was that or lose circulation in one of my arms. Besides, it wasn't altogether unpleasant, either.
I shut my eyes, listening to the faint sounds of Ooga's breathing and the soft sound of light rain outside, awaiting the soft grasp of sleep to wrap around me. I didn't have to wait long--it took a lot less time than I had expected for me to doze, and eventually sink into gentle dreams.
Maybe I would have some peace and quiet after all.