Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
Forgive Me, Worm
Submitted by Actual Identity
They want to take my friend away.
That’s just unfair. It’s unfair because we’ve went through so much together. We’ve helped each other in times of need. We’ve overcome both the hostile world around us and our own conflicting natures. And all this we’ve done just so we could be together.
And in the end, we were together. And we stuck together. And we are together still. Even despite what he did at first. He rejected me. He didn’t want me. He didn’t want my friendship. But in the end, he accepted it anyway. And we were closer together than we ever thought we’d be. We’ve made this friendship work.
And now they want to take us apart. Forever. They’re calling me a parasite. My friend told me that. Things shouldn’t be like that. Nothing should be like that.
We were supposed to be together. Forever.
And it all started like so…
It was supposed to be a simple flight.
Hal took another look at the map. It depicted what was unofficially called the „Valley of Flowers”. The name wasn’t very fitting. What the research team thought to be flowers turned out to be grass. There was another name, too – „The Blue Valley”. It was even less fitting. There was nothing blue about the valley at all.
What it officially was, thought, was a map of known areas, without any flowers or blueness in sight. There was another thing on the map too. The Base. Where he was headed.
It was supposed to be a perfectly simple flight. A few hundred kilometres. In the air, so in a straight line. A few hours and it’ll be over. A computer might as well do a flight like that. But there had to be a human being. Just in case.
He closed a map and headed down to the landing pad.
-How are we feeling? –Someone laid a hand on his shoulder. –Eh? I hope you’re not nervous?
That was the voice of Niels. His immediate superior.
-Me? Of course I’m not! – He said and tried to laugh, as if there was something funny about the question
-That’s good. You know what to do, don’t you?
-Then go and do it. Just keep on schedule. We’ve got a very nervous Franny waiting for research equipment there.
The pilot climbed aboard his ship. It looked to be new – all white and shiny, unrealistically so. He sat down in the cockpit – it was just as shiny as the outside. The front window was round, like a bubble, so as to allow a wider range of view. It too was shiny.
There was no crazy future engine here. No new method of generating thrust. Just propellers. At least the ship could take off vertically. He turned the engine on to warm it up.
It was sixteen now, and his lift-off was already being announced. Now it was his turn to announce. He did so with pride in his voice.
-Just watch out for storms. – said a woman’s voice through the speaker. Whether that was the „very nervous Franny” Hal didn’t know. – There’s been warnings...
-I will! – He replied and pulled at his ship’s controls. It leapt into the air gracefully, its motion just as elegant as its appearance. Hal guided it forwards and so it left.
I always was alone.
I was born as one of the youngest in my family. What that actually meant was that I was born just as the best time for that was ending. I didn’t know that, though. I didn’t really know anything back then.
My earliest memories are all the same – blurred and ethereal. Light all around me. The feeling of being immersed in something that I can’t see, but which is holding me in place... Piercing through something softer than myself. Entering a new space, an unimaginably vast space. And then… Wandering without any idea where I should be going, walls of something hard that I couldn’t pierce through... I tried... Seeing bits of whatever it was that held me in place before... those had something hard inside... Ad blue, lots of blue. I was floating in a blue substance that kept me afloat, slowly and without direction. Above me was light, below me – a wall on which reflections of the light above me swayed and danced.
And more foggy, clouded memories… Catching something small that entered my body somehow… Many times, but I don’t remember how many... And the world around me, ever shrinking. I didn’t know I was growing back then, but that was not the only reason.
My first memories that I have full awareness of are from a time when I had already morphed somewhat. My body felt less soft, covered in something hard. I could no longer bend as well or swim as fast as before. I didn’t catch the tiny things I caught before. My body also felt heavier and heavier. I was starting to swim less – and crawl on the floor more. And then I found holes near the floor – and I hid in them – and thoughts came to me.
And one day came to me a very special thought – the thought that I was thinking. What a feeling – to be aware of your own thinking! Like a whole new world opening before you. Then came a question – of what was I doing in this world. And a new feeling – that I am.
And after those - unease.
I thought about my world, to keep the unease away. I swam as I knew now that what I was doing was swimming, around my world as much as I still could. I searched every nook and cranny of it – and I still felt that it was shrinking.
Each day I would swim up and down my world to see how long it took. And I searched its walls up and down too – and I saw that, each day, there was less of it.
One day – I remember it well – I got close to what I took as the roof of my world and saw it rippling and shaking. I got closer yet, and my front somehow made it beyond the roof.
Scared, I leapt back, and my front came back too. So there clearly was something on the other side too.
So I reached through to the other side. It was a view like no other.
I saw my world from above. It was grey. Not blue at all. Around me I had not a soft void that I could swim through, but a wide open space. I saw the grey walls of my world – even taller than I remembered. I saw for the first time the sky above, black, clouded, obscured by something on the sides of my world. And down from the sky came a rain, droplets of my world – it was water, for the first time not an entire world to me, but the part of a larger world, falling down onto my small one in a giant torrent, and around me – the tumultuous surface of my world
And what was the most shocking to me was that I could still be, even outside of my world. Despite the rain crashing down from above, despite the raging storm, I swam to the edge of my seasonal lake – of which I didn’t know it was seasonal or a lake – and I clung to the shore with my legs as firmly as I could. I managed the first step. And the second too.
I pulled myself up the walls of my world, dragging my growing body out of the water, and climbed as high up as I managed, just so I could see as much of this new world around me as possible!
I think I was not up to that task then yet. Because, once I reached the top of the wall, once I saw the field of something green before me, my legs, not accustomed to climbing, yet, let go of the stone and I fell through the surface of my world yet again, accompanied by the thunder of the raindrops hitting the surface all around. I tried to at least keep my head above the surface, just to see the sky again, and I saw the sky light up to a terrible noise, briefly turning those dark shapes that framed the sky green, just before the water washed over my head and I fell into the depths of my world yet again.
And I knew that I wouldn’t be spending the rest of my life in my water.
He was now going at a steady speed. The flight was uneventful enough to be relaxing. The ship was on autopilot now, so he didn’t have to do anything. Sure, Hal could take the controls or correct the course at any point, but there was no point to it, especially right now.
The ease of flight and the views below, he found very pleasing. While his speed prevented him from truly soaking in the landscape, he still had a very good view of the green forests and rocky mountains below.
Every now and then he looked to the sky. It was getting cloudy. He was not high up enough for this to trouble him, but the clouds were there still.
Hal checked the readings on his aparature. He was approaching the halfway point. The gathering clouds made him a bit nervous. He looked down, to the forest, and his calmness came back.
I knew I would have to leave my water sooner or later. I’m not sure if I reached that myself, or if it inherited the knowledge together with my instincts, but that did not trouble me then. I was more worried about when that would happen. I knew the time would come soon. It might as well have come at any moment, but whenever I was finally about to make the leap, something held me back. It could have been fear of the massive new world, it could have been me being adjusted to my puddle of water, maybe it was just instinctive knowledge that it was not the time yet. What I knew for certain was that a strange sense of fear kept me back every time I was about to begin the rest of my life.
That couldn’t have, of course, lasted forever. I would probably be driven out of the water by the simple fact of its level lowering, or that I was becoming less and less adapted to it, but before any of that happened, something else made me leave my residence. And very quickly at that.
Before then, I have stayed for some time in my water. I don’t know how long it was, only that I got heaver and worse at swimming – and better at walking. I also found out that I could push the bottom of my lake apart with my legs, forming a hole I could squeeze into. In that way, I discovered burying myself in the mud. A great relief, with how little space I had in my water now.
If it weren’t for that, I would probably have never came out of my water. Or did anything else, ever. That day, I was wondering when to leave my water, as usual, when I felt... that
A disturbance. A ripple. The water shaking around me. Felt as if I was struck by a wave. Something was coming. Something was disturbing the water. I turned around, to see if it was raining, and that saved me.
There was no rain. There was a shadow. Sharp, pointed. Even larger on the ground than it was on the sky. It swayed to and fro, in a motion different from anything else I’ve seen... as it was alive. Once I realized that, I was shaken by fear. It was probably my instinct speaking – waring me about this living... something, the first large living being other than me that I have seen.
On the edge of my water, a part of this thing had already breached the surface, sharp and bent - four of those hooks hung down into the water, supporting the shadow above the surface.
For the first time in my life, I was terrified – back when the rain had fallen, I was not calm, sure, but I was not afraid either. But this – this was a shock. All of my thoughts left save for one – get away from that shadow, hide somewhere, anywhere, just hide! I flung myself back, into the mud – never before have I been digging with such vigour. I sent a cloud of sand into the water – at another time this might have interested me, but now was not the time for that. If I hadn’t buried myself so quickly, I would have left this world then. When I was nearly completely hidden, that shadow, that terrible shadow suddenly pierced the surface of the water and reached down for me. It was not a shadow anymore, it was now a bright yellow, with a long blue bump at the top – and in that moment it split open, revealing its red interior and a few sharp, grey objects on its edges. I didn’t think I could be even more scared than before, but I was. And that terrible beak flung itself at me to grab me – but I was already buried in the sand and I was burying myself even deeper, just to escape the awful thing that invaded my water. Never before have buried myself so much that I couldn’t see above the mud – but now even that didn’t stop me from going even deeper. Anything to escape. At last I reached soil that I couldn’t dig through – and the thing above was still trying to tear up the mud to reach me! I don’t know for how long have I been buried there – but I know that, for as long as the beaked thing dug around in the mud for me, I didn’t dare to even twitch. Each movement of the mud made me think it was getting closer. Its attacks ceased after a short while – but I remained in the mud much longer, fearing that the first sight that awaited me above the surface would be the looming shadow of the beak – or the beak itself – and then would come the end.
I couldn’t, of course, remain there forever... After a long time of calmness, I finally climbed out of the mud. The water was as serene and undisturbed as I have left it. But something had changed here still. I have no longer felt safe. The longer I waited, the less water there was – the higher the risk. That beast could have come back at any moment. And then... I was afraid to even think of that
Eventually, I came back to my senses. And I also decided that I needed to leave the water. As soon as possible. There was no point in staying there anymore. Whatever awaited me in life surely awaited me outside of my water. And while many dangers could be waiting for me there... so could they be here. So what difference did it make – where would I face them?
Slowly, sinking my legs into the wall as much as possible, I climbed out of the water. Always in motion, so as not to lose my grip.
The way up was longer than when the rain had fallen. But I was larger too and my grip was stronger. And I didn’t stop climbing until I laid my entire body on the green material that I saw when I first reached out of the water and until I felt stable ground underneath me.
This was it. A new world. Massive, mysterious, possibly terrifying – but this was my place to be. I have left my old world. And I wasn’t coming back.
It was supposed to be a simple flight.
And it most likely wasn’t going to be.
Not only have the clouds not left, they’ve covered the entire sky. That was a while ago. Now the sky went dark, lit up only by the occasional flashes of lightning. Streams of rain hit the plane like wet whips. Water covered the window rendering it useless every few seconds.
Hal was cursing his self-assurance back on the ground. Of course, flying at the speed that he did, he still had a significant chance of leaving the thunderstorm before anything bad happened. He also had a just as significant chance of never leaving it. He couldn’t even go low. The risk of crashing into something he couldn’t even see was too high.
He lowered his flight just a little anyway. His plane got immediately hit by a gust of wind so powerful, he barely managed to restabilize. As soon as he managed it, he once again became blinded by water dust. There was no way to install wipes in the round window – they would probably be of no use anyway.
Hal cursed his overconfidence once again and tried to turn on the radio. It worked perfectly, apart from picking up nothing but static. That angered him even more. Clutching the controls tightly, he did his best to peer as far as he could through the watery mist, as his thoughts frantically searched for something calming.
Planes don’t really get damaged by lightning, right? Okay, he wasn’t really flying a plane there, but it was surely built the same way. Electric fields can’t get inside or something. And that means…
He didn’t finish that train of thought. Lightning struck before he could.
The lights went out. The radio screeched a final burst of static and went silent. The pilot leapt back from the controls as if he were the one who just got struck by lightning. He stood up reflexively, but the machine was already tumbling out of the air. The force threw him against the wall
Then came… nothing much. A few painful bumps against the walls, a moment when the cockpit’s sole window ended up facing the sky, the deafening crash of the plane as it hit the treetops – and an accidental blow to the head, and darkness, and silence.
Now I really had no idea of what to do. I just knew I couldn’t stay there, by my water.
So I went forth. Forward. No other direction. Just forward
Someone might think I’d check around my puddle of water first. I wanted to, but it turned out I couldn’t. Had I come back to this place, I could’ve taken a good look at it. But I didn’t. I wasn’t as ready to venture on land as I thought I was. I felt heavy, so dreadfully heavy… I just wasn’t ready to feel the pull of the world. The water kept me from experiencing it for now. But there was no water anymore.
And I… I really didn’t want to come back in the water. So I went forth.
That was what my life was like. Going somewhere without knowing where, searching for something and not knowing what for.
I learned to climb up steep slopes and trees. I had to feed myself for the first time in a long while. I managed it by having something green that I found on rocks enter the end of my body. It tasted like… I don’t know what. I only knew I ate it. Only from my friend would I learn that things taste like other things.
That… happened one day, when I was lying in the grass. And then… I don’t know how, but… I felt it. Like a smell, but it carried a… feeling. Before I realized I was feeling it, it already got to me. And in that moment, I became aware of what I was looking for
I was lonely.
And I wanted a friend.
That was… That was when my life changed. I can’t really describe how, though, or how I felt. Like I had suddenly found a purpose in my life, but… without actually feeling any purpose. Maybe it even felt like not having a purpose anymore, except… good? That was… weird.
So I went and started looking for a friend.
I thought I’d find one in the woods…
I saw many living things in the grass. There were tiny creatures that would always jump far away when I came close. But I knew they couldn’t be my friends even if they didn’t flee. My friend had to be bigger. Bigger than me. And smarter. Smarter than the jumping things, at least.
So I went on.
I saw a different thing too. It was dark and flat, and long. I thought it didn’t have any legs, but it turned out to actually have lots! Under its long, flat body it hid them. At the front of this thing were two long feelers and although I knew this thing wouldn’t probably be my friend, I tried to give it a friendly poke. But as soon as it laid a feeler on me, it froze in place… and then it bent its long body back and sprang into the grass in front of it. All in all, an understandable reaction… but still unpleasant.
So I went on…
I tried to look for friends up a tree, once. That was my worst idea yet.
On that tree was… a thing. I saw it once I reached the top. And I was terrified.
I saw the same monster that tried to eat me back in the water. For a moment I thought I was going to let go of the tree and fall down out of fear. But then I saw that was not the same monster. It only looked… similar to that one.
It was yellow too, but the beak was different. Shorter. And smaller. The whole thing was smaller. It had those four legs too, except they were thinner and longer. But the strangest change was that this one had something stretched out between its legs. I’d come to call that a membrane later.
This sight calmed me for a while… but then I realised that this thing might not just look like that monster, but act the same too. I think I was right, too, because once it saw me, it raised its head and membrane and started swaying slowly. It must have thought I was an enemy! I let go of the tree like I thought I would. And I did it too late. Once I was falling down, I saw it in the air… and it was flying through the air too, and in my direction! It must’ve wanted to intercept my fall, but it probably pulled up too early… because the next time I saw it, it was whizzing right over my head before I hit the ground. I tried to bury myself, but the ground here was too hard, there were probably roots in there, too… I had to run. And I’m telling you: Running from someone who’s faster than you and can fly through grass that you’re desperately trying not to disturb to not reveal yourself is not something I’d like to do again.
Not everything I did went badly. I learned to sense the voices of those flying animals and which other ones could harm me. The worst were the little glowing bugs who came out at night. They lived in nests up in the treetops, too high for me to reach. That was a good thing. Otherwise I might’ve tried to look for friends there too.
One more thing happened then… I saw falling water – rain, that is - again. That was near the tail end of my stay in the forest. Everything went dark… much darker than usual… and then it started. Water falling down from the sky, thunder lighting up the clouds. But this rainfall was not like back then. Back then I could see the raindrops fall and strike the surface of my pond. Now I could hear them strike the leaves and congeal there slowly before finally falling. Back then lightning lit up the sky; now it lit up the holes between the leaves… and its light hit the grass, and the tree trunks, and the undergrowth, and the forest became a surreal land of pure light and shadows… Cold light and wet shadows. This was probably not a good idea, but I started looking for a place where I could see beyond the grass. I just wanted to see the storm. I don’t know why. Maybe it reminding me of my first significant experience made it feel special.
And then came… A feeling that sometimes comes… A feeling that you’re not what you used to be. I can’t describe it in any other way. It’s not like a lot of time had passed since I came out of my water, I don’t even know how long, but I felt like that anyway. I didn’t usually look… backwards through my life. But I did then. It was odd. And oddly pleasant. Maybe that was why I wanted to see the storm. I didn’t know and I don’t know still.
But I knew I wouldn’t find my friend there, in the forest.
So I started going down. I went everywhere where the forest looked to be getting less thick. I went everywhere where the need for a friend felt stronger.
I was leaving the woods.
I think I was in luck, because I actually left. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew when it happened. Because the trees left. But the grass stayed.
Those were plains, grassy plains and meadows and hills. Every now and then you’d see the edge of some forest or other or a lonesome tree. But – this was a new place. Here I would find a friend.
Exactly where, though, I still didn’t know.
And while searching in the forest was bad, searching in this place was even worse! That place had trees and pathways between trees, overgrown, sure but they were there still. Here, everything looked to me exactly the same. I didn’t even know in what direction I was going. The wavy terrain around the hills didn’t help. Were it not for that inexplicable feeling that I had to look for a friend, I’d immediately declare this the wrong place. But I knew it was not. I knew the thing that made me long for friendship was hidden right here! Among those hills and flats! I was about to finally find it, and with it my friend. Strong and intelligent.
But who was my friend? Who were they, as I’d learn to say much later?
I saw a hole on the side of a hill. Exactly that, just a round hole in the ground. I nearly fell in there. Maybe it was worth checking out?
I took a peek in. Then I took a few steps. The hole was dark and cold on the inside. I tried to look up at the ceiling. I couldn’t see it. I appeared to be in a burrow leading deep underground. I have never been in a place like that before, so it was alien to me. Alien, unpleasant looking and, frankly, quite unsettling. The last part of my search for a friend was shaping up to be a bit scary.
I lowered myself down the hole as fast as my legs let me. Once the last ray of light had faded, I started going more slowly, two steps a time at most. The way ahead led down and down as it twisted and turned… I had no idea how long I was climbing down there, but it sure felt long… and then…
The ground turned flat. And then I felt something… new. As soon as I felt myself lying flat again… and that was not immediately after I laid on the floor of the hole… I felt that something had changed.
I was not alone anymore.
And now I was really in the dark as to what to do.
How would I befriend the thing that waited for me in the hole?
I searched my mid for the answer, hoping that I would know it instinctively. I had to do… something from above. Something with a part of their body. And I only had to do it once. Then I’d get to know them and get to befriend them for real. And then we’d be friends. Forever.
Now how to do all that with the thing in the dark?
I slowly lifted my leg. And slowly laid it down. And slowly pulled myself forward.
Something in the dark scraped weakly on the wall in response.
A step. A scrape. A step. A scrape. Less weak and coming from a closer place.
I shuddered… And in that moment I knew that if this place felt hostile and alien, then it was not because it seemed hostile and alien, but because it was hostile and alien. And that I was definitely not going to be friends with the thing I met in here. And that I’ve done something really stupid, and that now I just want to get out of it somehow. I don’t even care if my friend is far away or not, I just want to be out of this terrible hole where unknown things scrape in the dark, and far away from those things.
As fast as possible.
The Thing in the Dark started to move on its own, without waiting for me. All it did was make the faintest scraping sound… I reacted in an instant. I flung my entire body in the opposite direction with all the strength I could muster. And then… I ran. As fast as I could! As far as I could to make it up the walls of the hole, to leave the burrow and to get far away from the Thing behind me. I think I must’ve scared it with my leap a bit, because it froze for a split second… and I think that was what ultimately allowed me to make it out alive, because I heard it start to frantically scrape right behind me soon after. It was good that I had a body adapted for climbing, as speed wasn’t my strong suit… and falling down just once would surely land me right in the clutches of the Under-Dweller behind me. So I went up… The turns in the path suddenly felt much sharper than before, the path up steeper than it was… the hole itself, though; that didn’t feel longer. Soon, I saw the light and ran into it as fast as I could. I got flung into the grass. And I ran still. Not for long, though; the thing chasing me seemed to be a lot faster underground. It came back into the hole as soon as it came out, backwards… I know about it; I couldn’t resist the temptation to look back. I didn’t see much through the grass, but I saw four red limbs that terminated in either claws or hooked pincers; whatever it was, it looked sharp. I saw a body, like a cone with its point stuck in the hole; and I saw something halfway between those claws and the beaks of the flying beasts. Which was just a different kind of beak.
The Hole Thing came back where I came and I never saw it again.
All I did now was go forward. My visit to the hole just made me want to get far away from there.
I just went forward, as far as I could. The ground was starting to angle up again; this was another hill. I have never scaled one so high before; the way up took some time. There was not only dirt and grass here, but also rocks. And at the very top…
There was nothing. The entire hill was just… cut off on one side. I was now staring down a sheer cliff face. At the bottom there were more rocks. And in the distance was more grass, which I was viewing from such a distance for the first time – It looked like green fuzz. And in that grass…
In that grass stood entirely new creature. Big, blue and bulky. Their body, supported by a few short legs, ended in a smaller head with a slightly elongated snout. They somehow used it to eat grass.
This was it.
This was where I would find my friend.
And that moment was farther away than I thought…
I took a good look at those animals one I climbed down. From down here they looked to be even bigger than from above. That was good. I wanted a big, strong friend, who’d protect me, and who I would give… company and good advice.
They had something around four legs, different than mine, thick all the way down. They had flat faces, but their mouth poked out forward. Or at least I took those to be mouths. I thought they’d open up like the beaks of those scary things, but it turned out they were actually using a hole under their head to eat the grass. Under the false mouth was a pair of something that looked like my legs, except split at the end. I’ve never seen legs like that before. Actually, I have never seen legs like that, seeing as those weren’t legs. They used them to put grass into their actual mouth.
Now the only thing was to befriend one.
I came up to one and started circling it slowly. I have to admit: I was absolutely clueless as to what to do now. I was hoping it’d notice me and do something; something that’d let me know how to earn its friendship. Maybe it’d do that myself? Make friends with me?
Unfortunately, nothing of the sort happened. The big thing just kept on eating grass. And then, when I was right next to its head, it suddenly looked at me. I became filled with newfound hope. It noticed me! And it did something! I was worthy of this blue titan’s notice after all! Now just to make friends, and then…
Before I thought of anything that happened then, the blue thing turned around and started eating grass again. No – I thought – that won’t get me anywhere. I have to do everything myself. I knew how to, after all.
First I had to get on the blue thing’s back. And then… do something. Something with the end of my body and a piece of… their body. Then everything was much easier. I could communicate.
But first I had to get up. On the big blue thing’s back.
I circled it and circled it and… I couldn’t bring myself to do it! I knew it wouldn’t take long. All I had to do was climb up and… do something. I couldn’t bring myself to do it anyway.
The day was nearing its end. I came up to a few of the grass-eaters. But I never did anything.
Enough of that.
It was time to act.
I tried to find the one that I’ve circled earlier. I found one that looked similar. It could have been the same one. It could’ve been just a lookalike. I don’t know. I approached it from the side and tried to anchor myself to it. It was not an easy task.
Now I just had to climb it. Then… Then it was right here – right underneath me – the secret of eternal friendship. This creature carried it in itself. It was waiting here for me!
I lightly pressed the end of my body against it. Yes. That was how it was done. I started to increase the pressure as I clung to the blue thing’s back with my body...
And the thing under me started to shake and then reared suddenly. I didn’t think something so huge would be capable of tricks like that, but, alas, it was. I thought the entire world under me was swaying madly. I couldn’t bear it and let go… and fell back on the grass.
Could it be that this creature didn’t want to be my friend?
I tried to grab onto the side again. This time the blue thing sensed my presence immediately and bucked me off before I even reached the top. The message was clear. This thing didn’t want to be my friend. It didn’t want me
I was not one to give up. I was so close… I just had to find a friend. And this was clearly the place!
I tried to scale some of the other blue things. Some of them looked different – my friend gave me the thought that they may have been of a different gender. I wish I knew what that meant, though. They were not as tall, but the centre of their back was sharply raised. And bluer. Those were even easier to fall off.
I ended up spending the entire day with the blue creatures. And I accomplished nothing. At least I got to take a look at their way of living. There was a small lake nearby; the Blues would go in there sometimes, and they especially liked to take a dip at night. I don’t know why
They usually stuck together, in a large, slowly moving group. I stuck with them too. I don’t know how, but sooner or later everyone had caught wind of me. Initially they all let me climb then, but soon started bucking me off as soon as I touched them. That wasn’t even bad compared to the next thing. They starter reacting when I was just near. They either left hurriedly or tried to kick me away. Or maybe trample me, though not very well. They made creaky, agitated noises, and if any of them found itself facing me, it would try to toss me far away with a swift upwards motion of its head and those tiny front legs. The worst part was that it usually worked. Most of the time I fell on something soft, but the herd would always use the time gained to move away. It was obvious that they didn’t want me. They were afraid. Of me. And I don’t know why.
And then… THAT happened.
At first I thought I’d have to try to befriend everyone. As my attempts continued that goal seemed more and more unreachable. I kept on trying anyway. And eventually I found one Blue Thing who seemed… promising.
It acted different. I didn’t follow it; it followed me. I didn’t notice it at first, the Blues all looked the same anyway, but after a while I started to feel like I was being watched. And every time I felt so, I saw a Blue Thing looking at me.
Eventually I started to recognise it as the same one every time. And it really seemed to be watching me, and in a way more intelligent than the others. Did I not want an intelligent friend? And did I find them right there, and was about to start my great friendship right then?
I had no doubt about it. I have felt many strong feelings before, but never one as strong as this! I came up to the Blue slowly. It didn’t react, it just kept on staring. I was a bit nervous, but that stare… calmed me down somehow.
I approached its side. And it neither tried to kick me away or bail. I grabbed onto it. And no reaction again! Just like before. This was it.
Slowly, just as nervous as I were at the start, I crept up its side. Now was the time to befriend it! Do what I always had to do. My shining moment. Of course I’d be nervous! This moment would decide my life.
I reached the Blue’s back… and I froze.
It already had a friend! Never before have I seen anyone who’d look like me, but I had no doubt; this was the exact same kind of being. That’s why this Thing was so calm! The Friend suddenly lifted its face off the ground and looked right at me. I could finally see how I looked. Its body, after all, was just like mine. It too was made of many short segments that allowed it to bend, it had an eye just like mine and legs just like mine too; this individual, though was different from me in one thing; it had only three legs.
It slowly bent its legs and gave me a stare that seemed to say “Unfortunately I don’t have time for you… I hope I’m not interrupting anything?” I looked back as apologetically as I could and climbed back down in a way I hoped was polite. The friends did nothing to stop me. But once I was back on the ground… I was hurt.
Nobody wanted me here. Nobody could take me in. I couldn’t do a thing. Nobody would be my friend. I don’t know how the Friend atop that Blue Thing managed it. Maybe it clung on tighter or acted faster. Maybe that was how it lost a leg. But, alas… It is not a pleasant feeling – to know that you have a chance – and cannot use it! I felt that I had it. And I blew it. And it hurt me. Whatever the Blue Thing’s friend did, I surely couldn’t bring myself to do.
And after some time… The night was falling, and I was wrestling with my feelings. They don’t want me. So be it then. I wanted to be their friend, I couldn’t… and what have I done to deserve it? Nothing. I was small, alone, and only capable of running. They were strong and big... and hard-headed… and rude. I didn’t know that term then, but it fit well! The fault was theirs entirely. And I knew they needed me. I know they were stupid too. The only one who acted with any dose of intelligence was the one with a friend. The others just stood around eating grass all day. Did that sound like good company to me? Not at all. They didn’t want me. Fine, then. You want me to go? I’ll go. And you’ll regret it later.
They probably didn’t really come to regret it, but I never went back anyway.
And I knew I would find a friend somewhere. Of course I wouldn’t go looking in the treetops or in holes again… but it was impossible to not find a friend anywhere!
With that thought, I started marching forward. Into the forest.
On the way, I was stricken by doubt. Will the feeling that my friend’s right here not… fade? But I wasn’t feeling any hopes fading. So I kept on walking. Into the forest.
This was not the one from before. I know that for sure.
It was different. There were new things in it. There was a… glade. A forest glade
And on it….
It laid in the grass, completely immobile.
I didn’t even know what I was looking at. Certainly nothing I’ve seen before.
That new thing… It looked like one of those living things. But it didn’t look alive. It just laid there. But that was not all.
Once I stepped into the glade, one the initial feeling of shock subsided, I felt that something else was amiss here. I looked around all I could and I saw nothing. And then it hit me.
Some things are so large that it seems impossible to notice them. But even they can be easy to miss! They don’t blend into their surroundings; they are part of their surroundings. You do notice them. You just don’t pay attention to how out of place they are. And exactly that was going on here.
Though it might seem impossible, I didn’t see it at first. And was there much to be seen! An entire tree, no, a few trees laid there in pieces. I’ve never seen so much broken wood in my life. Or roots
Were it not for the other trees, they’d probably have fallen onto the ground. As it was, they fell too. Onto other trees
I approached the centre of the glade slowly. I could see the broken trees here too, one was snapped in half. Broken branches littered the floor.
And on the other side laid what broke them. Probably. Because I had no idea what it was. But it certainly was something new to me. All bright and shiny on the surface, or rather on what remained of the surface. Dark on the inside. It was torn in half – or maybe it was supposed to look like that, I don’t know what I was looking at. Some of the edges were straight and clearly defined, others torn and jagged. The outer shell bent oddly there. Either this thing destroyed the trees, or the same thing that destroyed the trees destroyed it. It had empty space inside. It smelt bad. I didn’t go in.
So I took a closer look at the thing laying in the middle…
This one was something new too.
It was big. Smaller than the Blues. Smaller than the broken thing. But still big.
I couldn’t make sense of its shape; I was clueless as to where its top and bottom were, nor front and back; or whether it had a front or all the sides were equally important, as each one looked different.
It seemed to split apart in many directions, like the Hole Thing; I wasn’t sure if I was looking at its top or side. It was black Mostly. The central part seemed to be made of two plates; on a closer look, I saw those divided into smaller pieces too. That made me think this part was supposed to move; for a while I thought I saw teeth between the plates too, though not like those of the beaked flyers. From that, I deduced that it was a living being.
I thought I had solved its riddle, but then I checked out its other sides and suddenly was a whole lot less sure about that. On one side it split into two branches, which would be smooth, had whatever broke those trees not damaged it too. Its outer layer, its… shell, or mantle, was torn in places. I could see more layers of armor underneath. From up close I could see similar holes in its central section. The inner layers there looked like white strands. But that was not all.
I came all around it; the back looked like the front, just without the maybe-mouth. I thought that may be its bottom and that the cataclysm here may have tipped it over. I tried to take a closer look and something stopped me.
It was something knocking against my leg.
I looked at it. It was… a thing. It could have been a rock I’ve never seen before. It could have been part of something larger. It… I know I say something was like nothing I’ve seen a lot, but it was exactly like that. That „rock”… I could see through it. The only thing like it I’ve known was the transparent stuff in my earliest memory, and of course water. But that was clearly not it. It was hard. And it laid in the grass.
Lots of it laid in the grass. Bits of it covered the meadow. Some were big, some were small… but they were everywhere.
On the other side it branched off too. There were two differences. First off: The branches here were different. Those on the other side ended like the legs of the Blues, except they were not flat; they had all sorts of grooves and patterns on the end. The ones here were more like the limbs the blue herd used to eat grass, only split into five parts. And they were flat at the end, just before they split. One branch was outstretched. Another bent oddly in the middle.
And second… There was a third branch here. Or maybe something else, between the branches.
It was… mostly round. Like someone tried to make a round shape and failed. A bit flat on the sides, a bit flat on the top too… but mostly round.
On the back it was covered with… something. I can’t really compare it to anything either. Maybe grass, except it wasn’t very much like grass, because grass is green and stands up, and this was brown and laid down. And it was thin. Really thin.
On the top it had a… hole. I don’t know what it was for. It was very irregular in shape, all bent, or maybe… wrinkled. I walked over it and took a look at the other side.
There it had even more bumps and holes. There were two holes in a large bump, there were two recessions with weird slits in them. And there was a hole too, a large one. It also had something of the stuff that grown on it there, except really short this time. But what caught my eye was something else.
Red… On part of the round growth, on the overgrown bit, was a dark stain. Those strands of „grass” were stuck together there. There… A narrow, red line led down to the ground.
There was more of the red around the central part. There wasn’t that much of it, but it still felt like it wasn’t supposed to be there. And then I asked myself a question.
Was this really a living being? And was it really… alive? A few times before my life had been in danger. Mainly because something was trying to eat me. But never before have I seen anything… dead. Never before have I seen a corpse. And I didn’t know if I was looking at one now.
So I came up close to it. I knew it might be dangerous. It might still be alive, alive and predatory. It could have really had teeth in the middle. But I… did it anyway. I really came up to it and touched it.
It didn’t react. But it didn’t seem… dead either. I can’t explain it well. I’ve never seen anything dead before, but it still didn’t seem like I was seeing one now. It was probably instinct speaking… The knowledge of what a corpse looks like, of what a corpse… feels like – that was knowledge my species must have gained many years ago. Knowledge with which both I and many previous generations were born with. Knowledge that just… came when I needed it.
It came now and was telling me that I was looking at a living being. Possibly still living.
And I didn’t know why, but I really hoped it wasn’t dead. Maybe I was just developing compassion. I don’t know. Even that would still be… progress. Something new. But that was not the point. That was a different feeling. Different and… deeper. Coming from so deep inside me that I couldn’t understand it.
I touched it and felt that… it was good, but not enough. I had to do something more. And I didn’t know why, but I felt that it entailed getting… closer to this creature?
Closer to its exposed parts. That was it.
So I moved closer to the exposed part. The round growth. And again came the feeling I knew back from trying to befriend the Blues. That… nervousness. The feeling something big was waiting for me and that I had to handle it. And that it was near.
First I came up to the overgrown side. And I touched it. Multiple times. I even pressed down. And… it did nothing. And then I understood that… this was not it. Not the right side. I was afraid of coming any closer to the other one. It was, after all, the most alien. But it was likely the right one. I had to… expose myself to it
So I touched it there too. I touched the exposed bits… and it did nothing. I squeezed it too. And it still didn’t feel right. Like I was doing whatever I was doing wrong.
And that this creature really wasn’t dead. Which didn’t change the fact that I still didn’t know what to do.
So I tried to touch those small holes with a leg. Slowly…
I nearly jumped away from fear.
It was not a return to consciousness. It was not an awakening. It was what comes before. The brain was already receiving signals from the body; it just wasn’t doing anything with them. This state was similar to that after a very heavy sleep, only strengthened, since it was not sleep but a loss of consciousness that brought it on.
Hal didn’t open his eyes and see the thing hanging over his head. He opened his eyes and they caught its image – and nothing else.
Should this state have lasted longer, Hal might have fully woken up and seen the thing trying to climb on his head.
But he did none of that.
He just sank back into nothingness…
...That thing… it went motionless again.
I have to admit: I have no idea what I thought then. I don’t even know if I thought at all. I just felt. At first I felt fear. But then it became… desire. The desire to do something.
I poked the large thing a few more times, to no avail. The most I did was cause the two round holes to twitch oddly. This was clearly not it. It was time for something different…
I touched the red bit.
Sudden pain. A shock. An awakening. A real one. Like after a false awakening from a dream comes a real one, so now came a real awakening for Hal. The pain brought it on. He opened his eyes and…
...still couldn’t form a coherent train of thought. He just stared.
It was looking at me!
Assuming what opened up was indeed eyes... It was looking at me!
And now I couldn’t think of anything to do anymore. So I climbed down and wondered what was going to happen now.
He stared at…
The… thing. What was it? Where was he?
And in that moment Hal realised he was thinking again.
Where was he? What happened? Okay, keep things in order… He was in a plane… there was a storm… lightning struck… and then…
...he was here. What happened? Something hit his head from the back… The roof? His chair? The plane crashed… it should’ve been resistant to lightning… that shouldn’t have happened.
He was lying on… something soft… no, it was hard. His head hurt and his side too.
He shuddered. How long had he been lying here? How come nothing happened to him? And why did his head hurt so much again?
...That… ...Was it… that? That thing. It looked like… A worm crossed with a hand. Without a thumb. And it had… an eye? Well, probably.
He turned around to look at the worm again. All he saw was its body. It appeared to have a segmented shell. Like… a centipede, maybe. And those things on the front… were those legs? It looked less like a hand at this angle
He couldn’t turn around more, even though he tried. So maybe of he got up…
He couldn’t get up. But his body started hurting again.
There was no doubt about it. That creature… was looking right at me.
At least it was looking at me. Now it tried to lift itself and fell back to the ground.
I still didn’t know what to do. Something was going on here, but I didn’t know what. So I just kept on watching
Now it was trying to move those branches. It could’ve been that they were meant to move like that, but I doubted that even then. Because how they moved didn’t look… right. It was as if something was restricting the movement of those parts. This was a first for me. Seeing something try to move and fail. And then it hit me.
I knew what a corpse looked like. Well, I thought I knew. But what I was seeing was a wounded creature. Wounded and weak. I don’t know where I got that from, but I had no doubt about it.
Damn it all!
He couldn’t even lift himself up to see what was wrong with him. He was too weak. Besides, he already knew what was wrong. Everything! He couldn’t feel half his body. Well, actually he could. But only when it hurt. The one arm he always felt he couldn’t move. It still felt looser than at the beginning. That was something.
What to do now? Try to get up? No way to. All he could do was assume a slightly comfortable position.
He did it and saw the worm again. It was here the entire time. Right. What was it even doing? Staring back? It was creepy. It seemed to be waiting for something. Unless it always looked like that. That eye didn’t seem to be very expressive. Its gaze was always the same. It didn’t even have eyelids. How did that worm keep it moist? Did the entire eye secrete something? It’d always be wet that way. That’s kind of gross. Boy, was he thinking some strange thoughts.
He soon stopped thinking them. The worm was coming closer. Yes, it came closer and was now trying to climb up his arm. What for? He waved his arm a bit and the worm fell off.
It didn’t make the arm hurt. Strange. Then he winced. Somehow, he’d made some unnoticeable arm movement that caused him pain.
No, this was not good.
It threw me off…
I just wanted to come closer. Feel it a bit. And it threw me off. Just like those blue things.
And I wasn’t even trying to befriend anyone.
And… that was it …
That was what I was waiting for. For myself to realise what was going on and what I have found. And I believed I have found a potential friend.
Why did I feel that way? Well… I think it was just a thought that crossed my mind for no real reason. I could’ve easily thought something else. Or maybe not. I think it struck a chord within me that I was not aware of. It agreed perfectly with something in my subconscious. Like finding an answer to a question I didn’t know existed. I’m not sure. But it was probably that. Or maybe I was just really lonely. Or both. On a second thought, probably both. And the fact that this creature threw me away didn’t mean it didn’t want me. After all, it was wounded, enough to make me think it was dead. It could’ve thought I wanted to hurt it just like what wounded it. Or that I wanted to eat it. That was what the Winged Things and the Hole Dweller and even the tiny glowing critters in the forest wanted to do, after all. Everything here except me and my kind seemed to either want to eat everyone, feared everyone, or just ignored everyone. So why should this wounded thing be thinking any different?
And if I wasn’t trying to befriend it before, then I could certainly try now.
But even before I started, I ran into an obstacle. I didn’t know how to befriend it. And that didn’t necessarily have to work the same as with the Blues. For them, you had to do something on their back. But where was the right spot on this being? The part with eyes, maybe? Or was it the other side? Because it most likely wasn’t any of those branches. They looked… unimportant. A piece of the whole, sure, but it could survive without them. No, those were definitely utility body parts, not… friendship parts. Maybe they were used for fighting? That would explain why the creature threw me off using one of them. It’s good that it was weak, then.
And I was stricken by doubt again. Was there any point to this? To befriending someone who can die at any time? Or is unable to do anything? Did picking this creature even make any sense?
My dream friend was big. So was it. I also wanted my friend to be strong. This was certainly true of a being that could throw me even when very weak. And I wanted them to be… intelligent?
And my friend, of course, would also want to befriend me.
Hal had nearly completely calmed down. He was no longer trying to stand up. He just laid in place. He didn’t really have anything to do except laying in place and accepting the fact that he was probably going to die alone in this alien forest and nobody will ever find out about it because the only witness of his death will be some worm who probably came here just to chew out a part of his corpse once he gives up the ghost as well as he could.
Okay, he actually had something else to do. Dying. It was not very interesting, but you can’t always really do what you want in life, so he just pulled his sleeves up and got down to it. Yes, and that was his third occupation now. Gallows humor. Kind of a pity he wasn’t a more active audience. Yes… humor. Because just because you’re dying doesn’t mean you have to be all stiff and serious. „Stiff”! That’s another joke right here! What else could he do? Oh, right. Take a look around.
What was there? There was grass, almost like at home, except thinner and softer. He remembered someone telling him that some plants here have leaves that are just one giant cell, but he had no idea how to tell them apart. There were rocks, too… he almost broke his head on one. And there were other plants, almost like wild flowers, except with tiny sphere instead of flowers. Almost… homey.
What ringed the plain reminded him of home too. There were trees, almost perfectly normal, except with tiny leaves. Some had a bit of green bark, though that might have been just lichen or something. If there was trees and grass here, there might be lichens. Yes. Convergent evolution. That was it.
Now, what happened to the ship? Did he fall out? Probably, otherwise he would still be inside it. Or rather its remains. But… If he fell here, then where was the ship? How far was he flung out?
He tried to turn his head in the direction of his body. He thought he was seeing something. Trying as hard as he could, despite the fact that it was very uncomfortable, he saw…
He saw the forest looking as if a tornado hit it. Torn off treetops, snapped trunks, branches lying all around, and although he couldn’t see it, probably a lot of leaves and splinters in the grass… Like after a windstorm. Except it was no wind. He knew all too well what it was.
He didn’t really know why this made him feel bad, but it did.
His ship crashed into the trees. He fell out… and now he’s here. He shivered.
Really, he was in luck. Who knows what could have happened? It was safe to assume he fell out through the window. He might have a face full of broken glass right now. Or rather, broken whatever they make those windows out of.
And on the other side… yes, on the other side laid his ship’s remains. And though he still didn’t know why the sight of the massacred trees made him feel so rotten, he suddenly really didn’t want to look the other way. As if he really didn’t want to see the wreck. Despite the fact that it logically shouldn’t matter to him. He didn’t feel attached to the ship at all, and he couldn’t bear to see it now. Maybe he was afraid that it’d make him feel bad, like the trees, but worse. Maybe the sight of it would extinguish his last slivers of hope. And maybe… just maybe…
…maybe it was because the very impatient head of research won’t be receiving her new equipment anytime soon.
He felt that he would have to turn around sooner or later, but his thoughts were drifting further and further away from that. And drifting in the direction… of that worm? Where’d it go?
Feeling something scratch his head nearly made him scream. And then the worm hung down onto his face.
I looked into what appeared to be eyes… Not eyes like mine, but similar, and eyes all the same… There was two of them. I didn’t know if one was more important or not; they looked the same; but it was nothing new to me. The Blues had two eyes too. There was a difference, in that I didn’t know if this thing’s eyes were arranged vertically or horizontally, or maybe in some completely different way, but that was unimportant. Back when I met the one Blue who had a friend, I could see intelligence in its eyes. Somehow. And I was trying to do the same here. It… wasn’t going well. Maybe I had to try a different method. I tried to make contact with it; I slowly touched it in some unimportant-looking place with one leg. This soft touch was supposed to show that I mean it no harm.
And that creature just… twitched. The whole growth with the eyes shook a bit… very little, but I felt it… and those eyes opened wide and started looking at me.
It didn’t look like a very intelligent reaction… That wasn’t all. Soon I felt something close around my body, softly at first, then more firmly, and try to pry me away from that thing’s eyes. I didn’t want to be moved, I wanted to make contact, but what was I to do? This felt like the earth under me leaving downwards somehow while I hung in place in the air. At least at first it did. Then it started to feel like what it was; me going up while the earth remained where it was. A feeling both similar to and unlike falling.
I didn’t feel it for long, though. I started to twist my body as I could… and then the big thing let go of me and I fell down to the ground. It could’ve even let go a bit earlier, for what I care. It was not a long fall, I wasn’t lifted even up to the length of my body, and the only consequence was that I was on the ground again. But even then…
This was not even a feeling of rejection, like before. It was more like… a lack of a point. Hopelessness.
I got thrown away. It was always the same. And it will be the same.
I tried approaching it a few more times, but it always threw me away somehow. I tried going to the other side or even the other end of its body, so that it couldn’t reach me. But that just made it start shaking or trying to move those appendages on the other side so much I thought it was going to fall over. As for the reaching, I was indeed out of reach there, but I didn’t feel like there was anything to be done with that part. So I left on my own. And on the umpteenth attempt…
I’m not going to say this creature understood me, because that was not the case at all, or that it stopped throwing me away, because that too was untrue, or that I somehow understood it by looking into its eyes, which didn’t happen either. I doubt that was ever possible. But anyway…
I came up to its eyes again… Not up close. I just got into its sight.
And it reached towards me with that grasping appendage again. This time I wasn’t even close enough to allow for reaching me. Or close enough to excuse throwing me away.
But that was not important, because it couldn’t get to me. That… limb wasn’t long enough. I didn’t know how it worked. Maybe those little branches at the end were sticky or closed together… In any case, it tried to reach me, but the appendage failed to move again, just like at the beginning… and the entire creature stopped moving.
Not forever. But for a while it did. And then it looked at me. And… I know it sounds really stupid, but its stare was different now. It looked at me like that before, but something was different now.
It probably had something to do with how those eyes could cover up. Mine couldn’t. But for the first time it was looking at me with… a feeling.
I didn’t know what feeling. But I felt it. And then… something made me touch that appendage. Slowly, in a friendly way. And it… Well, at first it tried to move it again. But it didn’t do it. And then it stopped trying, too. And I was looking at this creature… and suddenly I thought we were very much alike.
What I was to imagine myself in this creature’s position? Something bad’s happened to me and now I’m very weak. I can’t do anything. A stranger comes. I’m afraid of them. I don’t know what they want. And they’re not leaving.
Okay… then let be, whatever will be.
Not only was that creature afraid, not only was it weak, but it was alone. And it was giving up. Like how I gave up when I couldn’t befriend a Blue or make contact with this creature. It just had enough.
And now it was time for me to do my part…
Now I had to become this creature’s friend. It had given up, so it wasn’t going to put up any resistance. And once we’re friends, we will rise anew! Yes! That was how things must be. And although thinking of someone who might be about to die that way might be weird… My instinct wasn’t calling it a bad decision.
So let’s get down to it. Do it like it was supposed to be done.
I had to find a bit on this being that’d correspond to something the Blue Things had. Provided it had one. I already knew that. So I stopped trying to make contact and just started looking for that bit.
The growth with the eyes didn’t look promising. The armored center didn’t either… but all the other pieces looked even worse. I had to try the middle.
I poked at its carapace a few times. And I didn’t feel a thing.
Maybe that was the problem? The carapace? The Blues didn’t have one. It didn’t look like this thing’s growth or graspers either. I had to find a more… exposed place.
But… where those teeth were… I didn’t see any armor. So I poked around there and once I was sure these were not teeth, I touched whatever was inside the false mouth.
It looked to be a different kind of armor, more skin-like. And underneath it – I can’t say it in any other way – I felt life. And when I moved in closer, I felt it again – the feeling that this was the right place, the same the blue herd made me feel! Much weaker and not exactly the same… but this was still it.
But it was still too weak. So I thought I could try doing with this outer layer – whatever it was that I had to do to make friends.
So it ends like this…
Hal had nearly completely given in to fate. What was he to do once it gets dark? Go to sleep? That sounded like a good idea. Maybe he’d wake up stronger. Or fully accepting of his death. Or dead. One out of three.
Something like little prick at the stomach drew his attention. It was weak, but it still happened. After a while he turned his head a bit and saw that worm again. And, once he turned his head enough to make his neck turn, a tiny hole in his shirt
Of course. The worm was already up to something. And he was almost ready to believe that nothing but curiosity had brought it here.
How did it even eat, anyway?
The experiment was a smashing success. I still felt like I was doing something wrong, but I was now feeling something new too! This was it. I have found the right spot. And I knew exactly where it was.
Behind that creature, on its other side...
Getting there was a bit of trouble. I had to claw at the dirt a bit. But it was there, exactly there! There was no singular spot, it went across the length of that back side, but… it was there.
I positioned myself in a spot near the growth with the eyes. I thought it’d be good to take a look at them sometimes. Now to angle my body right. Yes… Perfect.
Now came the bit that I’d never done before. And there’d be no second chance to do it again, either. I had to get it right this time. And since it was my instinct that guided me this far, I put my trust in it.
The first layer, the carapace… It gave way easily. I don’t think it was really any kind of armor. Now the second layer. I could pierce it easily too. Now…
Now I was feeling it so, so close! In a few moments I’d be talking to my friend for the first time. This moment… there’d be no other like it in my life. And again I found myself… nervous. I had to fight that.
It was not easy, I admit it. But the knowledge that this was my only go at it helped. That I had gone too far to go back. And… that the toughest task had come, and I had to do it now.
So I started to do it.
And then came - pain! A terrible, piercing pain!
It was in the back this time. It was that worm at work, he knew it! –And now, my dear, you are done for- he thought. –You should’ve squashed that worm when you could, and now what? Now the end’s coming! That worm better at least be quick.
And the pain struck again.
Now that was a new experience! It was… strong? I can’t describe it otherwise! For the first time, I was feeling something moist, something liquid… and it was not water. For a moment I even thought I had swallowed something wet. This entire layer felt different than the others. It seemed to be all wet. But I could pierce it too.
The hardest part came now. Earlier than I thought. Why did I think it’d come later? I don’t know. The wet layer seemed to be very, very thin.
The thing I needed to make friends was right here. I could feel it! But first I had to dig through something hard! Something that resisted me
Some bits seemed to be a little weaker. But I felt the hard stuff there too. It wasn’t big. But what I was looking for, the start of my friendship, was right inside!
I cut through the previous layers. I would cut through this one, too.
I worked as if mad. I had to cut off very tiny bits, and very quickly, to get rid of them. I think I had to swallow them. It was not pleasant! And this all I had to do not only very fast, but also perfectly! There was no second try. Perfect or nothing.
What gave me strength was the knowledge that it was right here. Right here! Never before were I so excited. And never afterwards, I reckon. I cut as if my life depended on it. It might’ve. And then - then…
I felt something.
Wet again. Soft. And yet - different.
I pushed in…
And then I felt my friend.
The pain – the pain getting worse – unbearable – and then…
Then the pain just… went away. Became eased in an instant. That was strange…
Then came something else. Something was… invading him – this couldn’t be described in any other way. As if something was trying to stick a plug into him, grab him, and pull out a bit of him – and that pull got stronger and stronger – all at once, and then nothing. The feeling lasted only a few seconds, but it came from…
…the same place as his pain. His back
For a moment he felt as if something had scratched him there – but only for a moment. Then came a different feeling. Of… contact.
Why contact? He didn’t know. It was no longer than the previous feeling, but that was how his brain registered it. Contact. And then… more and more… something’s going up his body, something is IN his body… now it’s getting to his head… now it’s inside his head… now…
His mind lit up. His thoughts opened up to new horizons.
The thing inside his head…
He felt it.
That was it. The hardest bit… over. I already had a friend. For ever. Now to get to know them.
It was… harder than I expected. Also different. I could feel my friend being there… and that was about all. No clue on how to start talking. No clue on how to do anything. But I gave it all I had.
I couldn’t feel the right place to befriend this creature because of their shell. Now I couldn’t contact their mind properly. Maybe there was a shell on it too? Or they didn’t know how to talk to me either?
I did something to solve both matters. I used force. I broke through the mind’s shell. It required very strong thoughts, very aggressive, sometimes even threatening. Thoughts I would normally never think to a friend.
I thought that even if I don’t break the defense, I would at least get some sort of reaction.
And what a reaction it was! My friend retreated their thoughts deep into their mind with enough speed to scare me. They had very fast thoughts. Nothing was cleared up, though. My friend was as inaccessible as before. And despite this, I still felt good about this. I seemed to have really chosen someone smart enough to talk to!
Well, once I made contact, at least. And that required something more. I kept on pushing. Kept on applying force. They hid from me, ran, shrank, but not for long!
For a while I could almost touch their thoughts. And then they… changed.
The feeling was clear. They were forcing me away. Putting up resistance!
It was like always. They didn’t want me. Even if it was just from fear. But I have been rejected too many times and have gone too far now to back out!
I sharpened my thoughts against theirs and struck them repeatedly. They, in turn, would fortify theirs against mine. At first each strike seemed to weaken them, taking a while to be reflected, but soon their thoughts would solidify against mine quicker… until they stopped solidifying and just remained on the defensive all the time! They were now a wall, an impassable, impenetrable wall that always was in my way.
It was a terrible fight; bringing down that wall. There were moments where I thought I would give up and stop trying to fight, but I couldn’t stop, as soon as I tried to, all the damage I have done would heal in a flash. There was no respite for me. No respite for either of us. And no mercy.
But this was a battle of minds. Mine was born to do this, but my friend adapted quickly. But I could draw my strength from the knowledge that if my friend’s mind is a wall, then it can be broken. And that they, my friend, were waiting they for me on the other side.
If I didn’t know that our struggle was no longer than a minute or two, I’d have said it lasted for days on end.
But at last I tore down the wall. And I felt it. Or, more like… fell into it.
I fell into my friend.
And so started our first conversation.
My friend was acting very strangely…
For starters, he still didn’t want me. I couldn’t understand their thoughts enough to find out why, but I could ask them for the necessary knowledge. They didn’t want to give it up at first, either. I don’t know why. Eventually I got them to give it over. I don’t think they really knew what was going on.
At last, we could understand each other. Unfortunately, all my questions were answered with more questions. My friend wanted to know who I were. I explained that I was lonely and wanted a friend.
And when they weren’t asking questions, they were trying to reject me again. I still don’t understand most of their questions, either. They were asking if they, me, or us both were dead. Dead! Where’d they get that from?
For a while they were trying to convince me that I don’t exist, or even that they made me up. That was just silly! What even was the point of that? Did fear made them stop thinking rationally? I asked them that. They didn’t know. Then they asked me if they were insane. I said I hope they weren’t!
At last, they asked me if I was „that worm”. Fortunately, they let me know what that was. And when I answered in the affirmative, they asked again – if I was eating them! I said that I had come so that no one would eat them. At least this time they only said „yes, of course” and agreed that it makes sense.
Having decided that, so far, this conversation was headed nowhere, I decided to start asking myself. Who was my friend?
They didn’t want to tell me at all. But I… insisted. I insisted very hard. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand most of what they told me. There were more images in their mind than in my entire life! Images that I could only understand a very small part of, mind you.
I found out that my friend was in many different places, some very far away from this one, that he wanted to be in a different place right now, one that he has been to before, or maybe he just wanted to kept on going – sometimes he said both at once – and that he’s very, very weak and feels like he’s dying, and also wants to get up, but can’t because everything hurts too much. Then he was exhausted, exhausted and very sad, and still scared at that… so I left him alone. I told him that I’d help him out.
And he agreed with me again! He couldn’t wait to see what I’d do.
I’ll be using „he” now, though I only learned what it means later. Or never, actually. It just… feels like I should call my friend that, somehow. That’s what he is. To me. To him he’s „me”. And I’m „it” to him, apparently. I don’t know what any of those mean, they just started feeling right at one point. Somehow. Same with „they”. Why did I use it? Why did I stop? No idea. But that was much, much later.
Right now, I had no idea what I’d do. But I knew I could do something. And that I would. Or would try, at least. Anything to not disappoint my friend.
Hal hoped he would never experience anything like that again. That… think dug into his mind like a drill bore. And then… then that bizarre pseudo-discussion, not even with a voice in his head, but with a knowledge of what he was being asked… that insane talk about a „friend”, those questions and… the way this thing searched his mind… tearing out knowledge, probing his memories… It was unpleasant beyond all measure. Violent in an entirely new way. Was that really the worm talking there? And how was it supposed to help him, especially since it was inside his body now? By laying eggs in his spine or what?
Now, this was tricky. I’ve never done anything like this before. But my instinct was telling me I could.
I could use my mind, that is. Think of what my friend needed to do now.
And, of course, find out what was wrong with him.
He must try to get up. He said he couldn’t do it, so I had to find out why he couldn’t.
So I asked him to stand up.
And now the voice was telling him to stand up.
How on Earth was he to do it? He really couldn’t. But that non-voice in his mind, that worm, that so-called friend of his… it was very insistent.
He might as well try. Let that worm see how much he can’t.
My friend was listening to me! For the first time! And getting up! He started moving…
And he felt pain.
I don’t know what happened to him. But I didn’t want him to feel pain. I really didn’t. I didn’t know if I could make him stop feeling it, but I wanted to. I really wanted.
The pain flared up again…
What was going on? He didn’t know. Was this the promised „help”? Or did the pain just naturally go away? Did he accidentally straighten out his skeleton or something? He didn’t think much about it.
He kept on getting up. He stretched out his arm – something he couldn’t somehow do before – and flipped over, so as to stand up.
And the thought that he could stand up shook him somehow.
Before his eyes now was the part of the plain that he didn’t get a look at before. What was there was, of course, his ship. Or what remained of it.
It was a complete wreck. He couldn’t even recognise which-side up it was. One propeller was still identifiable, but the hull had been utterly trashed. The metal of the ship’s body was brutally torn in half, showing remains of internal mechanisms inside. Or maybe that was his cargo of research equipment. It wasn’t like it mattered now, anyway.
Behind the ship were trees, even more mangled than those on the other side. A cannon’s blast would do less damage.
Alright, then… time to get up.
He used one arm to raise and felt a series of small shocks in it, accompanied by a faint crack each time. The bones either were out of place before somehow, or suddenly all broke.
He now propped himself up on his other arm and…
Oh, right. He still couldn’t move his legs. The pain left as soon as it came back, but the immobile legs remained.
Whatever I was doing was working. I had to put more and more power into my thoughts, but it was working. Now my friend was having trouble moving a part of his body.
After a while I reached something that seemed to be responsible for that part’s movement. I felt a weak twitch when I nudged it. It was amazing either way; the way this creature stood was unlike anything I expected. These branches didn’t go in a different direction each; they were all pointed in the same one. And I’d never expect the main body to not be laid flat either!
There was one good think in this; Every time I helped him out, my friend felt better for a while. I could concentrate better then. It… gave me confidence.
After many, many attempts I finally got those… rear limbs of his to start moving. He tried to move them constantly at first, but then he fell on the grass.
And then… he started getting up again. And this time, he did it. Like I said before: I didn’t expect him to stand up like this, so it was a surprise to me, but… watching the world from the height of my friend’s body for the first time, even by itself, was an experience like no other. Yes… I will certainly never forget that.
The highest point of my friend was the growth with the eyes; logical, as this allowed him to see the most. All the limbs were pointed down now; those with flat ends were what he stood on, and the other two just hung, not used for anything now. And I… I, stuck to my friend’s back… was viewing the world from a new angle. When I clung my entire body to his, I was oriented completely vertically. When I detached myself, I could look forwards behind my friend, to the sides, downwards or even back… or at my friend… In short, in every direction. For the first time since I came out of the water.
And I had the feeling I have done something new. Never done before.
And now I stood here with my friend, ready to follow him everywhere.
If only we could get along better.
So there was something to this „help” after all.
He was standing up on the forest plain for the first time. It was just as littered with splintered wood as he had expected. Plenty of shards from the cockpit window, too.
He took a look at his body. His clothes were all torn on one side. There were stains there, too. Bloody stains. He didn’t want to do anything to them. Not only was the blood already dried and the wounds may have already started healing, but it also soaked through his outfit and made whatever was underneath hard to inspect. It appeared to be, though, that he was all in one piece. Nothing sharp sticking out of him, either. All in all – it could’ve been worse. Much, much worse. Okay, what now?
He was all alone, not counting the worm. Which, judging from the pain, was embedded in his spine now. He had nothing on him but his clothes, especially nothing edible, unless he was to eat his shoes or something like that. And he was lost. Except…
Was he completely lost? After all, he was flying in a straight line. Assuming that the wind didn’t blow his aircraft to the side, its landing trajectory might just show him…not the way. Just a line on which the Base laid. That he might not be able to follow on foot. Besides… It what kind of idea it was, to go on foot? A suicidal one, maybe. The road ahead was unknown and potentially highly difficult, if not impassable. And if it actually was passable, then he might not be strong enough to reach the end of it.
Okay… so what other options were there?
Waiting for someone to be sent? Of course he could. Provided he would survive there long enough. There might be… frogs the size of bears around. Or something worse. All things considered, going to the Base didn’t’ sound like a much worse idea. After all, they might’ve assumed that he’s surely died in the crash. After all, that nearly happened. Or the storm might make them start looking in all the wrong places– he did lose contact, after all…
He could either try to reach the Base, wait for help or… die. There were no other options.
He was about to leave the plain when new questions arose. How would he know which way to follow his flight trajectory? Wait a minute… He had already passed his midway point. So the way was the one in which his ship had fallen.
And what if that wasn’t the correct path anyway? Well, then… he’ll see the Base on the horizon? Maybe? Besides, there were mountains all around, he should at least know when he’d completely strayed from his path. What will he eat? Something might be growing here… He already could breathe… and if biochemical barriers are going to be then end of him, then…
…well, a lot of things here might be the end of him.
It’s not like the risk was that much greater.
And besides, as something in his mind whispered to him, he can’t give up…
Slowly, unsteadily, stumbling on his legs, he went into the woods.
And with him went his friend.
He was starting to think this idea wasn’t very good after all. Assuming it ever was good.
At first he could follow the path of his aircraft well enough, or so it seemed. Soo, though, he started becoming increasingly doubtful of that. The forest was thick and dark, and at a closer inspection all the trees had green bark, only incredibly dark. Only the bits that light somehow broke through to were lighter. The dimmed light made the trees, grass, and the entire forest undergrowth seem to have the same colour. This didn’t help.
The terrain wasn’t helping, either. Most of the time it was flat, sometimes it had its little hills and valleys, but they were all easily passable… and sometimes they weren’t. Sometimes a larger pit or standing rock would force him to change his path. The first few times around, he could easily see where he had come from, so then he could just go the other way
But as he entered a forest valley for the third or fourth time to go around the wall in front of him, he found to his horror that this one seemed to never end, and the wall that he wanted to avoid was, in fact, one of its walls. And it wasn’t going down. The valley itself wasn’t a good path to take, either. Flat as a paved road at first, it soon became uncomfortably narrow. Then its floor turned uneven, as if it was trying to split into multiple paths of varying depth. As it turned out, that was exactly the case. Hal took the path that seemed to lead in the direction closer to „his” direction and found that it actually seemed to go parallel to it. Assumed he hadn’t strayed from it long ago, because then it could lead pretty much anywhere. He tried following it for a while, but it didn’t seem to be ending anywhere near him. Right.
Now he really didn’t know what to do. He wanted to swear a bit, but there was no point. Frustrated to no end, he turned towards the valley’s wall. A large tree was growing there, its roots hanging down along the wall all the way to the ground beneath his feet. It must have been around those roots once, too. Maybe this „valley” was the bed of a seasonal river? It’s not like that mattered anyway, assuming a giant rainstorm wasn’t coming soon.
For a while he even wanted a rainstorm. It wouldn’t help a bit, but at least it’d change something.
He sat down on a root. He tried to lean his back on another, like on the back of a chair, but couldn’t. Something was pushing against his spine… was it a root, or was it something pushing against a root?
Whatever it was, it creaked unpleasantly.
Don’t do that, said something in his mind. It was not even a voice. Not even in the sense that there was no sound. It was nothing but raw meaning without words, a message delivered as directly to his mind as possible, and for its wordlessness, all the easier to understand.
It made him jump a little, but he sat down again.
Don’t move like that.
Despite what he thought of himself, he found himself answering. „How”?
The way you did.
-But… what’d I even do? – He said again.
You’re scratching me.
He didn’t really know how to answer. Eventually, he stammered:
-And that’s… who?
Me. Your friend. I’m with you. You should remember.
-Wait a minute… My friend? You’re that worm?
Yes. I’ve already told you.
-And you’re still in me?
Yes. Why have you asked that question? You yourself think that is the case.
Hal wanted to answer something, but his mind blanked out. He just opened his mouth
You find my answer surprising. Why is that so? You were not expecting any other answer.
-I… Why are you in me?
I am not fully inside you. I am connected to you. And I’m doing it because I’m your friend.
There’s no getting rid of that worm now.
Why would you want to get rid of me? I am your friend! I’ll be with you forever!
And now it knows what he’s thinking! Not only did he have worms now, but also no privacy. At all.
But I am not listening to you all the time.
-You’ve just did it! – He shouted, and felt that his situation now was simply absurd.
Did I? I’m sorry.
The voice went silent. Hal sat down on the root, but nothing new came to his mind.
Eventually he decided to try speaking to the worm again
-What are you doing here, anyway?
I am your friend. I go with you. Always.
-But why did you do it? Why enter me in the first place?
You were alone. You couldn’t stand up. You were afraid you’d die.
-That’s… what we’ve talked about… the first time you spoke to me. That was… unpleasant. Don’t do it again.
-And get out of me.
-Well… that’s just great!
It really it! I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you. I’m helping you! I helped you get up! I’ll help you do anything!
There was a period of awkward silence.
-How, I ask of you, do you intend to help me?
Silence again. And after a while…
I know that you want to find out if we are going in the direction that you have chosen or not.
-I do. Though… I’d rather you didn’t read stuff like that… from my mind.
You didn’t tell me.
He wanted to answer something, but then thought that the worm was kind of right there. Though, he realised after a while, it could’ve asked.
If you were to stand up and turn to face the roots you are sitting on, you would be facing the right way.
-How do you know?
I know you were going that way up to this point. It’s clear from… the outside.
-…but how am I to go that way if I’m down here?
I don’t know.
There their conversation ended. Hal had no answer but a dismissive snort. After a while he stood up and turned around, then backed up by a few steps...
So the correct path was straight ahead of him. Okay, then… it was time to climb. Maybe the roots would be good for that? They were thick and went all the way up to the ledge he needed to reach.
He took his first step, onto the root he sat on not long ago. It didn’t break. That was… good. Promising.
Clutching a root above his head tightly, he managed to pull himself up long enough to stand firmly on a new foothold. His other leg was now hanging in the air.
He wasn’t exactly sure what to do now.
It sounded stupid, but maybe it was worth a shot…
-Hey, you, worm…
There is no need to make sounds. I can hear you perfectly.
-Okay, but… just prefer to do it this way, alright? Can you make me stronger or something?
If you can’t do it, I can’t do it either.
-But you removed my paralysis…
Only because it was technically possible, although unlikely to happen on its own. If you can’t do it at all, I can’t make you do it.
-Okay. Then… I’ll have to do something.
He looked at the roots above his head. If he was to raise a hand just one bit, he could maybe grab one.
He let go with one hand and immediately lost support for half his body. With a sudden motion of his leg he didn’t as much as stand up as he bounced upwards. He caught the root he wanted, but was stretched out in a very uncomfortable way and one of his legs was still hanging.
What now? Oh, right… climbers do something like this…
He focused all his strength on his only supported leg. What he did now was an actual leap upwards. In the same moment, he raised up both of his legs and blindly laid them on any available footing. They nearly immediately started slipping. Taking advantage of temporarily being higher up, he reached up again and caught the highest-positioned roots he could.
His feet let go of their unsteady footing on the gnarled roots. A few seconds ago this would force him to start all over again.
But now he already had support under his arms and chest.
With a series of pulls, he raised himself up to stand on the root that supported him right before. Now all he had to do was to pull himself over the river valley’s wall.
Again, he had to bound off the wall, but it was easier this time. The only difficult bit was actually climbing onto the dirt at the top.
And then, trying not to stray to the sides one bit, he went on forwards.
He didn’t know how long he kept of walking. He found a fruit, or at least something that looked like one. And he ate it. He didn’t die. Then night fell. A night like any other, with the moon and the stars coming out onto the night sky, and when some creatures of the earth below seek shelter while others only now come out of their burrows.
He was the first kind of creature. And there was no shelter. None he knew of, that is. Were there dangerous animals here? He didn’t know. He could try asking the worm, but it could not know either. It didn’t know the fruit he found. Though… there was no harm in asking.
Why are you calling me that?
He wondered about it for a while. The answer seemed obvious, but all of a sudden he wasn’t so sure of it anymore. At last, he asked:
-You… look like a worm. You’ve got the… right shape.
But you don’t have to call me that. I am your friend.
-But it’s… a bit awkward to call you that. You’re a worm to me. Listen here… don’t you know what to watch out for in these woods?
I know what I used to watch out for. – was the answer. – But I don’t know if any of it applies to you. These creatures tried to eat me. But I don’t know if they’d try to eat you.
-What creatures? – He asked. He was a bit unnerved now.
Flying creatures. But I don’t think you’ll see any unless you climb the trees. There were other ones too. But they lived high up too. And they glew.
-I don’t think we’ll be seeing those either. – was Hal’s response. The forest was nearly, if not absolutely, dark at night.
He tried to look for a place to lay down in, but couldn’t find any. If it wasn’t so dark, he might’ve tried to climb a tree, except it was dark, and there was the worm’s warning of dangerous things that live in the trees, too.
He must’ve overestimated his strength, as he was turning tired very, very quickly. Too quickly of anything good
Eventually he just buried himself in some bushes, tormented by the thought that he might die. He tried thinking that he had no right to survive this long anyway, but it didn’t sound very convincing anymore. There was a strange feeling of guilt, too. He had no idea where it came from.
He stopped thinking about it when he fell asleep.
My friend fell onto the ground and stopped moving again, this time in a bush. But I knew he wasn’t dying this time. I felt it! So why was he just… laying there, like at the very beginning? I couldn’t understand it.
I tried to ask him about it. Now I could. But all he did was tell me not to speak. Without making sounds. Why wasn’t he making them now, if he was making them before?
I tried to talk to him again, thinking that maybe he’d be in a better mood, but I couldn’t feel him at all. Or rather, I could, but what I felt was… weird. Complete gibberish.
The entire night went down like that, though sometimes I could catch a bit of my friend in the bizarre jumble of his mind. Meanwhile, strange things were going on.
Somewhere in the middle… yes, the middle of the night… I heard a rustle.
I tried to raise myself, but my friend picked a very inconvenient place for that. I had to turn to the side, but the bush’s branches blocked my path. Pushing them all away, I could stand straight up, although very uncomfortably. I still didn’t see a thing, though. Only after a while did I become adjusted to the darkness around me.
And then I saw… nothing but leaves. And behind me… more leaves. And a tree. And the forest went silent again.
After a while, the rustling started up again. But this time I could see where it came from. And it came from around my friend. The bush was less thick there.
Looking in that direction was… rather uncomfortable. But the longer I kept on looking, the more I saw. The night was cold and quiet. And then… it came…
It was the same kind of creature I saw crawling on the ground before. Flat and many-legged. Except it was different now. Or rather, it was different, only it was acting differently.
It was going faster now. Still slowly, but faster. And even if it wasn’t, its movements were more... confident.
Of course it was! Flat, all black and grey, it was next to unnoticeable in the dark. And the way it suddenly stopped, I found… distressing.
It was acting as if it had found something. And what it found was… my friend. Now I was wondering what’d happen later.
I have to admit that I had no idea what this creature would do to my friend or why, but I didn’t like this situation at all. So I just kept on looking. And it was going slower now… slower and… slower… but always in the direction of my friend. Every now and then it’d stop for a while, change its direction, but not even once did it go away from my friend or change its general direction. I was liking this less and less.
I remember how this creature reacted to the sight of me the last time. Leapt away as if it’d seen… something really scary, I guess. Maybe it’d do the same if it saw me now. But I was behind my friend, and it was flat in the ground. I was out of its sight. I tried to bend over around my friend, but I couldn’t reach. Maybe something different would work?
Instead of downwards, I reached upwards and started scratching at the twigs above my head. The noises I made scared this creature enough to make it stop, but that clearly wasn’t enough, as the next thing it did was start crawling at my friend again.
Now I was getting outright scared. I whacked away at the bush, I even tried to scratch the tree, but it was too far away, and besides that, each attempt at scaring this creature was less and less effective.
I thought that whatever was going to happen, I was not capable of stopping. I was nearly… nauseous from fear. And then… then it turned out I was in luck.
Because once that thing reached my friend, it started to climb over him. And though it didn’t climb very high up, it was still high enough for me to touch.
All that made it to at first was back off a bit and then continue on its way. But once I repeated this motion, this time raking the bush’s branches with my legs and touching that creature much faster, the result was even greater than how it first reacted to the sight of me. It gave up stealth completely and flung itself back to the ground, turned its entire body around, as it fell on its back, and scrabbled back into the dark in a mad panic.
That was all. The faint footsteps of the creature that didn’t become my friend long ago disappeared and all that remained was darkness and silence. For the entire night.
I didn’t know what my friend was doing, so I watched over him. But his situation was stable, and nothing else disturbed us through the night.
He woke up. Then he started to gather his thoughts.
What did he know for certain? Oh yes… He was flying in an airship and got struck by lightning and then he fell and laid unconscious for… some time. And then… a worm went into him? Oh yeah, it did… and it still was in his back. At least it didn’t want to hurt him. Good. Now… how’d he get here? In the forest? Oh, right. He went in there himself. What was he trying to do here again…? Oh, yes, get to the Base somehow. He was an idiot, all right. What else did he do? He ate a fruit. Idiot indeed.
He might as well go up and keep on marching forward.
It’s not like anything good was going to happen anyway…
Do you hear me now?, spoke the „voice” in his head.
Oh, right. The worm.
He might as well try and get accustomed to it. It’s not like that worm wanted to leave. Or could. Right, then, let’s get down to… doing something.
It took a while, though, for him to actually do something. First, he decided to look around.
The forest appeared completely different at daytime. The canopy was less thick here and more light poured through it. This, the fact that nearly everything here was green, and the pristine state of the forest made it look like something out of a fairy tale. So much that Hal decided to stick around for a while and take his surroundings in.
The sense of wonder was quick to fade, though. What came to replace it was the question of how he was to leave this place alive. Thinking about this a bit, he came to the conclusion that first of all he needed to find his previous direction. After stumbling around the trees a bit, he came to the conclusion that this was not only impossible, but got the harder the more he tried. At last, he found the bush where he laid down to sleep. Then he moved a bit back, to a place that he thought he might have reached it from, and tried to find a - more or less - correct path from there. Taking the fact that first of all he’d need to go around a tree. This path, of course, was of no use at all. With how long of a way he still had to go, each and every deviation from the correct path would end up in him missing the Base completely. In other words, there was little to no hope for him now.
Though the worm did help last time…
Do you intend to keep on calling me that?
-I do. For a while, at least. Consider it a… nickname. Can you find the way from which I came?
I have to think.
This time, though, the worm was quick to answer:
-Wait, no? How?
-But you could do it yesterday! You remembered it perfectly!
Yes, but it’s harder at night. I see worse in the dark. And your vision was even worse…
-So what do you expect me to do now? Huh? – He shouted and suddenly found it strange that he was getting angry at a worm that lived in his back.
I can only tell you that you had this tree further ahead of you, and a different one to the side.
Although the hint wasn’t very clear, Hal still gave finding the tree that he was passing by his best shout. Unfortunately, he found two, and each pointed in a slightly different direction. Eventually, he decided to wing it and choose a path exactly in between. It must have been leading somewhere.
It would probably be much easier to find the right direction if his pointer was the end of the road, not its beginning point. But what was he to do? His situation was already improbable enough. He might as well leave his fate to… blind fate.
The road ahead got easier today. He had probably already passed all the mountain stones and crevices. The worm was silent. So was he. He did wonder a bit, though, what the worm was thinking about.
There was only one problem. Nutrition. He ate a fruit yesterday. And he was still alive to this hour, so there was probably no harm in eating others like it. Too bad he couldn’t find any, and he couldn’t go off his path to search for them. As long as he wouldn’t step off it.
Water was a problem too. He heard that it was „drinkable”, but this might have as well meant that it’s not poisonous. It probably still needed filtering.
Speaking of that… wasn’t there some way to filter water using only a few sticks, sand and fabric scraps? But what kind of fabric it was? And where to find the sand? Besides, it wasn’t like he even had any water to filter.
He spent the entire day walking, until something else came to worry him: his physical condition. He was completely sure that he couldn’t maintain it all the way. What strength he still had, he had to use now.
Somewhere around the time that he saw the ground start to slowly, but steadily rise, something prevented him from doing that.
His legs stopped working.
They just did. He was walking along some trees, and then… he nearly fell. His muscles just stopped putting up any resistance. He managed to stand up and take a few more steps, but his limbs soon stopped working again. At last, he laid down on one knee, supported by his arms. And he didn’t rise up again.
Then came the nausea, sudden, strong waves of nausea. And pain, internal pain. He thought it was the fruit he ate yesterday at work and waited for the vomiting to begin, but nothing of that sort happened. This state may have been even worse than regular nausea – there was no moment of relief after throwing up. After a short period of this the internal troubles started to die down a bit and some control over his body came back. He managed to crawl under a tree and assume a more comfortable position, only to fall back into the clutches of sickness right after.
Whether he wanted to or not, he had to stay where he was for now.
That happened that day…
Shortly before sunrise, I started feeling a bit… odd. Like I were… liquid inside. I can’t really describe it any other way. I haven’t really felt anything on the inside of me before. All I have ever sensed was on the outside.
It wasn’t unpleasant at first. It was even a bit amusing. Eventually I just stopped paying attention to it. That, or it got weaker to the point that I didn’t notice it anymore. But then…
We were just walking through the forest with my friend all day. Well, for now we were. I felt that we were going to leave it soon, though. And I wasn’t sure why. It must have reminded me of how the forest that I came from looked like before I left it. Though we were going up this time, not down.
But while we were walking along like that, I… felt it again. And much stronger this time. Like a kind of… pressure. But I was sure it’d disappear soon.
It didn’t. I felt it flare up again and again, stronger each time. The worst part was probably that it tended to do this when I thought it was starting to fade. And the pressure rose and rose…
It rose until I couldn’t bear it. And then… I think that feeling „leaked” out of me and into my friend somehow, as I felt something leaving me… or about to leave me.
I didn’t want to let that happen to my friend I cut off all connection with him. But then… But then what I did to him… all disappeared. I reversed it myself, to protect him from my pains. And he… started falling over like before.
What was I to do now? I connected myself to him again as fast as I could and tried to raise him. But then… That felt like something leaking again. But this time out of my mind. And into my friend again. I was sure of that. I tried to keep all the pain in me, but that just immobilised my friend again. I tried to fight it, but my fight was a losing one. Sooner or later I’d always give in. And then my friend would keel over, pained. All I managed to do was support him long enough for him to reach some roots. Then he fell on top of them
What was the cause of all this? I think it was food. Back in the water, I fed off tiny living beings in the water that I first hunted down, then inhaled together with the water… I think. Then I fed off lichens. But now? Now… my friend gave me nutrition.
And this friend… was not the kind of friend that life meant me to befriend. I was sure we’d be best friends in the end anyway, but now I was feeling how different we were much more… viscerally then before. Very… viscerally. It was not a pleasant situation. To have something both so simple and abhorrent stand in the way in our friendship…
We fought off our pains together.
He didn’t know how long it lasted. He wasn’t feeling like he sat under that tree for that long. It didn’t feel like a short time either… He was sure the sun had moved a bit in that time.
Whatever time it was, once it had passed, the internal pains stopped and control over his body came back. Not completely, but enough to get back up and unsteadily walk back into the forest. Except his walk now was different. Now he was going slowly and carefully inspecting every inch of his surroundings, searching for something.
As he laid there under the tree, he couldn’t continue on following his path. But he could think about it. And he had some good thoughts.
First off: He needed a stick. There were many uses for a stick right now. He could use it to support himself in case he lost all his strength again. He could use it as a tool, to shove twigs and branches out of the way or... knock fruit down if he got lucky; it could aid him in climbing; and if things came to that, in a pinch, it could serve as a weapon.
And second: he finally knew how to find the Base.
Although it was said to lay in a valley, it actually stood on a nearby high-rise. If he got close enough, he could climb up to a higher point and see it from there. Then it’d be easy to find a way.
And, seeing as the valley was surrounded by mountains on all sides, that shouldn’t be hard.
But for now, he kept on walking.
Not counting the sickness, this day… wasn’t that bad.
He found a berry bush. The berries had no smell, but they tasted almost exactly like the fruit from earlier, so he took as many as he could.
Sometime later his worm friend started profusely apologising to him about something it had to say. What it had to say was that „you have nearly poisoned me as a source of nutrition, but I, your friend, know that you didn’t mean to!”
So that „friend” was draining nutrients from him somehow! He could have probably guessed that if he tried to, but he didn’t try to, and once he found out, it felt… unsettling. Like his friend just became a lot less human.
That in itself was strange. Thinking about the worm like it was human! If things keep on going like this, then… something will happen. He wasn’t sure what. But something will.
He didn’t get anywhere in particular. He didn’t find water either. But he found a stick. It was actually a broken branch, but it was reasonably straight and about the right size. Now he got much less tired when walking.
If only he had water now…
If he had a knife, he could cut a tree apart. Maybe it’d have something inside. But he didn’t have one.
He still hadn’t quite found the right path, but he had found a way to keep on his current one. All he had to do was scrawl a line showing his current direction in the ground with the stick.
When night came, he climbed a tree, having first asked the worm what those tree monsters looked like. The description wasn’t clear, but they seemed to have leathery wings and beaks. They probably looked a bit like pterodactyls. Or pterosaurs. Yes, that was the correct term.
There was nothing like that on the tree he had climbed anyway. Before night fell, he fund some fruits like yesterday again. As he ate one, he wondered how his friend would react. The worm, that is. Maybe it was the fruits that disagreed with it then? Well, there was no point in thinking about that now, when he had already eaten.
He laid down to sleep in the tree’s branches. Normally that wouldn’t be a stellar idea, but the trees here had especially thick crowns. It was hard to squeeze through, but they were good support. As long as you didn’t move too much in your sleep.
This day… wasn’t that bad.
I did experience pain inside of me, yes, and my friend wasn’t really talking to me, but we didn’t really have any troubles today. My friend’s mental state seemed to be getting better too.
This time, he climbed a tree. I thought that this meant he wanted to spend this night in a more active way, but he entered the same inert state as before.
I thought this place would be dangerous. After all, my worst enemies, those beaked bests, dwelt up in the canopy! If there was any hope, then it was hope that they’d be scared of my friend. And that wasn’t likely as he did nothing at night.
I said „I thought”, because nothing really happened. We must have picked the most deserted spot in the entire forest to stay for the night.
I admit it… it was downright boring. So boring I tried to connect with my friend again. There was even a moment when he’d heard me and started talking to me, but all he said was nonsense about how „That thing drank all the water! It ate the guy! It shoved a bottle onto the green thing’s leg! That jerk!”… I think. His answers were barely understandable
So I had nothing to do again and started analysing his mind. It wasn’t an easy task. It’s hard enough to understand your own mind, let alone someone else’s! It felt, though, that this immobile state made him feel better.
We sat through the night like that.
It took him some time to gather this thoughts after waking up this time too. Realising that he was up a tree helped.
He had a weird dream. The worm was in it… for a while anyway. The rest was about a river on an alien planet.
Oh yes, the river! That was another thing that he had remembered. There should be a river here. Ad if you followed the river, you’d arrive… somewhere southwest of the Base. Still, it was not a bad pointer. Or it would, if he could find it.
The third day was another trek through the woods. He wasn’t dying of thirst yet. He found those berries again, and they were very juicy. He’d pick some for later, if he had something to keep them in. It clearly wasn’t enough, especially on the subject of hydration, but he wasn’t dying.
He didn’t see much in the forest, except for something resembling a cross between a centipede and a flat snake. The worm told him to watch out for it, so he gave it the widest berth he could.
And then the forest ended.
He had now entered a wide, grassy plain. Not just a plain. There were valleys. Hills. Mostly hills.
After three days of nothing but the forest, this was like… another world. This was like plunging into an ocean of flowers and grass. This was… Well, it did him good. He even wanted to lay down in the grass a bit. And for now, he just stood there looking at the flowering fields.
Except… those weren’t flowers. Those were tiny spheres on the ends of certain types of grass. He already knew that. But now that he had made it here, he knew why those who discovered this place were calling it the Valley of Flowers. With how much of them were there, and with how they were arranged, those spheres were just like flowers. And they seemed just as beautiful.
And the grass was a sight to be seen in itself! It was yellow or orange, or a light brown. And its tiny spheres were a bright pink, or red, or purple, or even some other colour.
Hal was not in a situation fit for watching nature right now. But this place – it was beautiful. It really was. It would even if he were here for a completely different reason.
So much, in fact, that…
-Do… Do you see that too?
Do I see what?
-This… place. Those fields of… grass. Those plains.
Yes, I can see them.
-I was asking if you see them the way I do. If you… like them too. – He wasn’t exactly sure how to speak to a worm like that about beauty. Or if he could describe it better to someone else.
It took some time for the answer to arrive.
Do you like them?
-Well… yes. I do like their… appearance.
Why does it occur to you that I should like them too?
-Honestly, I’m not sure. But maybe they… give you feelings?
Well, they do remind me of certain memories of mine. But why would I like that?
-I’m not sure. But… - He realised that he was, after all, talking to a parasitic worm. –But there must be something that makes you feel… certain feelings. Something unique. Something… special. Those plains… Okay, maybe not to that degree, but they make me feel… good.
It took the worm some time to answer…
Yes, it spoke at last. Such a thing exists. It’s not here, but it exists. And… And another long pause occurred. And I think I just might know why this place makes you… feel. Or how, maybe.
That was all.
And Hal was still taking a look around. And he liked what he saw.
Yes, he was in a high place now. But he needed to be higher yet. And this place was bordered by tall trees.
But if he were to just go to the left, he would wind up on top of an even taller hill.
So he turned to the left.
He might not have been going twice as fast now, but he was certainly doing it with twice the energy. All he wanted to do now was to reach the hill. And it was not far away.
Eventually he decided it’d be faster if he just ran. Having stopped using the stick for support, he broke into a sprint. Now, though, the stick became a hindrance. He had to go back to his normal walk. He had almost devised the perfect way of moving with it, so as to maximise his speed, when thinking about the stick brought something else to his mind: He hadn’t marked his path when he started to run!
So all was lost. Literally, even! What use was a beautiful meadow if it was so easy to get lost in it? Every inch of the ground looked the same there! Everything was overgrown with the same grass! How to find the right path now? All is lost, indeed!
Unless… the plan with the hill works.
It was not with doubled, but with tripled strength that he was walking through the fields and climbing the hill now. He didn’t care whether it was a good idea anymore. It was the only one he had now.
At last, he reached the top. Then he paused.
He didn’t want to turn around for a while. He was afraid of seeing what he didn’t want to see – no, of not seeing what he wanted to see. It was the Base. If he couldn’t see the Base… then that wouldn’t be good. And if he couldn’t see the river… then he would only know that he was lost.
First, he turned to the right...
And he saw trees. The bright green crowns of trees, swaying in the wind. And not from above.
But… he saw only the crowns.
Then he turned to the left…
And he saw trees again.
From above this time. And very far away.
The hill was on the very edge of the main area of the Valley of Flowers. In front of him, the ground only went down and down. He could see everything from above here.
Well, maybe not really. There were forests in the distance again. But all that came before them, all the fields of orange and green, and all the little hills and long stretches of flats, he could see clear as day. He saw the mountains in the distance and... something blue? Could it be?
Yes, it not only could be, but was certain! The river! He was saved! Now he knew where to find water! As long as it wouldn’t poison him. Now only to find… right, the Base. That was more important. If he can find water, then he can survive for longer.
And if he can’t find the Base…
Maybe he wasn’t saved after all. Because if he can’t find the Base, then there is no point to surviving. So he had to find it. He didn’t care how: he had to find it. Everything depended on that now.
So… where to start looking for it?
So… on a high-rise. But not really in the mountains. Heck, that might as well mean it was about on his level right now. Except… where? And how far away? Could it even be seen from here? What if it was in that forest? No, that was not possible. It was definitely too high up. He knew it well. He was there once.
Actually… that might be of some use. He wasn’t there for very long, he didn’t even go inside, but he should remember what he could see from there.
That began… not entirely unlike that fatal flight. He was standing on some landing pad… no, next to a landing pad, and enjoying the view below. What was that landscape like?
There was a forest… he could see it more or less from above. Further ahead, behind the forest, were flatlands… except probably not really. It was a long stretch of plains and foothills, but from where he was it looked flat. And through it flowed that river… It… looked different from there.
And on the other side… more plains, and more hills, and more flats, and another forest, and probably another plain behind that too. And behind that were hills for sure, and behind them… behind them, far, far away in the distance… mountains. And behind those mountains… the setting sun.
Now, how did that match up with the view from here?
Those flats seemed a lot… smaller back then. But then again, the trees were probably blocking his view. He was sure he wasn’t looking at a different part of the valley… he wouldn’t have seen the river then.
Indeed, the river should come in handy. How was he seeing it now? Now… If he were facing to the north right now, the river would be flowing northeast and turning to the east in the distance. So, if the base were in front of him, from that side he should be seeing it flowing straight at him.
But he didn’t see it like that. It looked to be flowing straight from the west to the east and only turning a bit to the north to his right. Well, his west, east and north from back then.
So there was no way to see the Base from here. He needed to look more to the west. His current „west” that was. And quickly. The lack of real directions was… confusing.
So he just turned to the left and…
Right. He couldn’t see a thing from here. No Base. Just… trees.
So that was the end, then! No way to find the right path anymore…
Except there was one.
He was… almost in a place that he knew. He had already seen it. Just from the other side.
One needed to think logically. He didn’t need to see the Base. The river could help him find the way.
He could see its diagonal part from both sides. And he was perfectly willing to bet that if he were to follow the river, he could reach the place he could see from the Base and the forest in whose middle it laid. And then he only needed to… take another long trek through a forest, without food and drink. Although, considering that he had already completed one, and probably longer than that last one, he might have a chance after all.
But on the other hand… What he had done so far was rather… improbable. It wasn’t likely to happen twice.
How did he even make it here?
I am helping you.
Oh, right. The worm was helping. Right. What’d it do? Tell him how to get back on track once?
And I will be helping you still, it spoke again.
Okay, then. Maybe if he was to get lost in a single day again…
Listen to me.
-Okay… what do you want to tell me? What am I supposed to listen to?
Go. I know you are going to a place somewhere and were recently looking for the way. I sense that you have found it or at least think so. Go!
Right, then. So the worm was already helping…
And so, we went on. My friend seemed to know where to go now. He had doubts, but I think I persuaded him to go.
And somehow, I still had… doubts. On the surface, everything seemed to be going perfectly. I had a friend from who I would never be separated. We did things together. I gave him advice. He carried me and protected me. And we clearly both profited from this relationship. But something… wasn’t right.
And what worried me the most, what kept gnawing through my mind and what always came back as I thought I had gotten rid of it, was the feeling that something wasn’t right with… our friendship.
And the worst part was that whenever this feeling came back, with it came the nagging, insistent thought that it was right.
Let us consider me and my friend.
I gave him what I could. I was able to move his body. I could give him energy when I knew he needed it, and it was no easy task. I had to get my strength from somewhere too! I fed off something… I think it was a liquid… that my friend gave to me. And I couldn’t feed off it forever. Instinct was telling me that would hurt my friend. And I didn’t want to hurt my friend. That would be just… mean.
I could also… allow him to move somehow, when he couldn’t do it on his own. And I don’t know how. It just… happened once we both thought about it. And although I’m not sure whether I really needed to scare the slithering thing away from him, no one would deny that I did help him find the way in that forest.
And what did he do?
Well, he carried me around. Like a friend should carry someone like me. And that was good. What else did he do? He tried to throw me away. But the sad truth was, everyone around here would probably try to throw me away… and he was most likely not acting logically then
He didn’t really do anything else, but there probably wasn’t anything more that he should. So what was missing?
On the surface, everything was perfect. I liked him and helped him as I could, and he replied to it with a sort of silent gratitude. Sometimes he spoke to me, and when he did, he seemed to treat me as being about equal to him. But something was wrong there still. With our feelings
I had none but the best for him. But what were his feelings for me? What did he think of me?
He was silent. And he spoke to me like an equal. But he never did anything else.
This, of course, didn’t prove a thing. After all, he did seem to be the silent sort. Whatever he was doing, he did it alone. And there were moments when we came closer.
Like that time he asked me about things that bring out special feelings in me. That was good. And not long ago. That was when he was being… friendly.
But most of the time… he wasn’t. But he wasn’t unfriendly either. He just… was there. He didn’t want to talk. I could sense it even when he answered. And he never said why. It filled me with… uncertainty.
Whenever we got close, the uncertainty faded. But soon after we started going down the hill, it came back.
I tried to force it away. I told myself that those moments when we came close were the start of a beautiful friendship. It might develop slowly, but it will be great. And I wanted it to be so.
I really wanted. I really wanted some proof of friendship. Something to prove that my friend really is my friend.
Something that would let me know for certain what I am being thought of as.
Something that would let me know whether I am accepted, or just… tolerated.
Thus, a new chapter of their journey began.
It was not like the previous ones. Before, they had a forest full of nothing but trees, grass and moss, and all the same shade of green, full of trees and crags that got in their way.
Now they had meadows, just as green except for the spherical „flowers”. Meadows where they could see the sky and the sun above, where nothing got in the way, where the river would point them in the right direction and where Hal would finally have his water. Food still posed a problem, but he hoped it could be solved. Maybe something lived on the water or something akin to mushrooms grew around those parts? Just… not poisonous ones.
Before Hal felt like he was going through a green labyrinth or citadel filled with columns. Now he felt like he had flown out onto a green sea.
Any way ahead would get them to the river, but by now he was paranoid that he would somehow miss it anyway. He tried to find a hill to climb it and see the river from there. He kept looking out for the forest that should be ahead of them in the distance. Nothing worked.
All he could do was keep telling himself that he was going the right way. After all, the exact direction was not important. Reaching the river was important, and it should not be possible to not reach it in some way right now. He repeated this to himself over and over again, but his doubts, as nonsensical as they were, didn’t want to leave.
After some time, his doubts got even worse. Yes, he may be going in the right direction now, but the longer he pondered on his decision, the worse it seemed.
Go through the fields? It might be easy, but the way ahead was very, very long… He certainly wouldn’t be reaching the river today.
And who knows what will happen before he reaches it? He might die of thirst before he gets the chance to sate it. Or he might die of something else. What if those fields so green are prowled at night by some sort of… local wolf or other large predator-equivalents?
Right, about that…
-Does anything dangerous live here?
-And… what is it? – He asked. This didn’t scare him as much as it could. After all, he expected it.
I’m… not sure. I’ve only seen it once. I don’t know how dangerous it is, but you should be able to avoid it. It mainly hides underground.
Yes, underground. It lives in a hole, deep and dark. Don’t go in the hole!
A moment of silence
Though I’m not sure how you would go in there…
Although that wasn’t funny, it amused him anyway. That was good. He hadn’t been amused by anything for some time.
-How… How big is that hole?
Too small for you. I don’t know if it matters for the thing inside, but it’s too small. I don’t even know if there’s holes like that where you’re going, though…
-I’m going to my Base. It’s… my place, okay?
Like the hole thing has its hole?
-Yes. Except not exactly …
Well, it looks like you’ve strayed far away from it!
-That’s… kind of why I said „not exactly”. I… don’t live there, like the hole thing. But I’m coming back there anyway. And it’s not a hole. You… I’m not sure if you understand… Did you have a home? Ever?
I used to live in water.
-Water? What water?
I don’t know. Some water. It kept shrinking. As in, there was less and less of it. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe from the rain.
He wasn’t sure how to answer. Eventually, he did so with a question:
-And… where did you come from? As in, how’d you come to me? To the place where you found me?
From the forest. I was going through the forest. Looking for a friend.
-Did you find one?
He felt like he had asked a stupid question.
I found some blue things. I tried to befriend them. But they didn’t want me. They were big and stupid.
Literally silence. He didn’t think it was possible to hear silence in your head, but he was hearing it now.
-And then what?
Then I found you.
Thing like this made my worries disappear for a while. Made me feel that my friend had the same affection for me that I had for him. That he was my friend.
For a while, because they always came back. As in… Was there any point to these discussions? Did they help us get closer? Or maybe I just had no idea what a friendship looked like?
And why did my friend ask me if I had found one?
Arguments for and against fought their eternal battle in me. And whichever side won depended only on my feelings at the time.
As in… We spoke actually kind of pleasantly that day… twice. And for the entirety of the rest of the day… we just… walked. And nothing that would give me answers. I tried to check what my friend was thinking of me, except he wasn’t thinking of me, and besides... it seemed a bit rude to just check on my friend’s thoughts like that. He certainly didn’t like it.
We didn’t reach anything that my friend wanted that day. Neither the Base nor the water river.
Worse yet, my friend’s strength was still shrinking. I supported him as I could, but I knew I couldn’t keep on doing it forever. His natural energy reserves were shrinking too. I checked why; not enough nutrition was the answer. I could help him with that, I knew I could, or rather I felt I could, but I got my food from him too, I would require more and more of it, and that would eventually harm my friend more than it’d help.
Despite all this, we made it until nighttime.
My friend entered that odd unresponsive state again. It seemed that this was normal for him. He regained some strength in it, which was good; or rather, he got less tired. He didn’t get real energy from it.
He didn’t seem to know what to do at night. He dawdled for a fair bit and seemed to be searching for something in the grass before he laid down.
I have not spent many nights outside the forest in my life; just one, I think, but I was there together with the Blue Herd then. Now, for the first time, I was… alone.
Alone, as my friend wouldn’t react to anything. There was only the dark, the star above and I.
A night like no other; the first like it in my life. No forest around me. Nothing around me. I was feeling something I have never felt before now: the vast, silent, dark, dead… emptiness. Emptiness all around me. And only the wind blew softly and only the stars shone.
To be honest, we were not completely alone here. I could hear it in the grass; Close now… Then far… And most of the time so far I could barely hear it. Or I couldn’t hear it. But somehow… it didn’t disrupt the emptiness at all. It made it even emptier. And even when something leapt out of the grass, sat on my friend for a while, and jumped back into the dark, it did nothing to fill the void around us. They were others here, but they lived different lives, in their own words. And they left us alone.
I wasn’t even thinking about my friend. Or me.
I think I really do know what he meant when he said he liked the fields after all.
He woke up expecting to see the forest above him again. Seeing only grass around him and feeling the sun’s rays on his face felt downright strange now.
The sun… It had barely rise, and it was already hot. He had to go up and keep on walking if he were to reach the river today.
He hadn’t forgotten to mark his path this time. There may have been many ways to get to the river now, but he decided to stick to this path no matter what. There was no guarantee that a different one might be shorter.
He also had other doubts. He hadn’t eaten for some time. So far, he was taking it well, shockingly well, in fact, but he knew that this couldn’t last forever. He hadn’t drank either, but he hoped to solve that at the river.
With those and other thoughts, he continued in his march. He had all sorts of thoughts. Some told him to change his path, others to stick to this one. He decided to listen to the second kind. Others were telling him that he would never reach the Base. Those were the worst.
He wasn’t sure for how long he had been walking, but he had already stopped for a while to rest a few times; going through the plains might be faster than through the forest, but it sure was monotonous.
At last, he saw something that drew his attention. Since he started going through the plains, they were becoming more and more, well, plain; they were practically flat now. He wasn’t sure what that meant, but he liked it. He was clearly getting somewhere. And there was only one place to get to right now.
He sped up.
All the worries were gone now; only the desire to go as fast as possible remained.
He still didn’t know how fast he was going; each and every minute seemed too long now. Every second was a second too many.
Then he saw the terrain get uneven again. What was going on? Did the river disappear? Or did he pass some completely unrelated plain? Impossible. The river can’t be that far away. Or maybe he was to get to it today after all, and just not now?
He went forward unsteadily. And then his face lit up.
What seemed to be hills ahead soon went down, and only down, until it formed a long, flat depression in the land. And through its centre flowed what he wanted to reach so badly: the river.
He didn’t even run up to it at first. He just stood on the elevated land above and looked at it. And though reaching it only now reminded him of how much he still had to go through, he was still happy.
He just stood there staring at the river until he decided that he had to do something.
So he went down to the river.
The river was wide. And its water shallow, clear, and cold.
He knew it was cold because had drank it. It might have been a stupid idea. And it really was cold. But he still felt good. It has been some time since he had drank water. Or… drank anything.
Now he was sitting on the riverside, staring in the water and wondering what to do.
He would follow the river. That was already decided upon. There was no point in leaving it. No other options.
But what then?
He knew the river eventually made it to a forest. And behind that forest was the Base. A large target, easy to reach.
That was what he had thought up above. Down here, though, things looked different. All he could see now was the river. He would probably know when he had reached the river. Unfortunately, he already knew that he would have to go blindly afterwards.
And then, nothing would be certain.
He also knew he would have to cross the river, sooner or later. The Base was on the other side. That he also knew. For a while he wondered whether to cross it now, but didn’t like the idea for some reason.
Sitting there, he knew that thinking about the road ahead was good and useful, but the most important part was walking that road. As soon as he knew that he could.
And something was telling him that time had come now. So he got up.
That day was… like the previous one. Just us two. Just walking. Endlessly.
Only our surroundings have changed.
I have seen plains and fields before. Only not as big. And less plain. With more hills. But the only impressive thing about those was their size.
Now I could see the river. Something new. I have not seen water like this since I left my pond. Actually, I haven’t seen it like that then either.
Only now did I see clear water and its bottom… from above. And that made me feel… strange.
Did my home really look like that? My world? Except small? Did it really use to be so giant? Once, I could kept on swimming around my little puddle until I got lost in it. And now? Now, even without my friend, I probably couldn’t swim at all. Would I even want to go in the water? Could I still dig through the mud and the sand at the bottom?
Well, I did dig through my friend…
Maybe that was why I learned it so well? Training before the real task?
I think I know how to describe how I felt. I felt… being a different person than before. And though my life certainly wasn’t very long, it still felt… long enough.
Long enough to become someone different than before.
That sounded a lot less strange when I had thought it.
He was feeling hunger now.
That was not good.
How come he was only feeling it now? In three or four days, he had eaten… a few fruits and some berries. And one day he ate nothing at all. And he was only feeling it now?
He had heard tales of people somehow surviving longer in times of great crisis. But he didn’t know if they were true, and besides that, he probably wasn’t in a time of great crisis anyway. From what he had heard, smelling something edible afterwards would make him throw up. And that seemed unlikely.
What possibilities did he have? He could… drink more water, in the hope that it would fool his hunger… or he could try eating grass. Yes, because there’s always at least one completely insane idea to fall back on.
He thought about that and realised that he was starting to be ironic again. The last time that happened, he was laying down on that forest plain, thinking about death. If it was indeed distress that made him start thinking like that, then his future was really looking quite bleak.
Walk all day.
Lie down all night.
Walk all day.
Lie down all night.
That was my friend now.
Just walking. Just forward. For two days. My friend. Never stopping, always on the move. For two days.
For the whole time, he followed the river that we had found. And for the whole time… nothing much happened.
We’ve passed green and yellow grasses. We’ve passed hills and we’ve passed crevices. And if my friend ever changed his path, then only so that he could follow the river better.
And for the whole time, he ate nearly nothing. It seems that he couldn’t find anything. He tried to swallow some sort of plant, but soon stopped trying. I don’t know what went wrong.
He did try to start taking in water, though. At first it seemed to let him get better, which made me hopeful again. But soon it turned out that it didn’t give him any real nutrition. And if it did, then not enough to make a difference. It did provide something else, which was good, but I had no idea what it did provide. I’ve never felt anything like that. I only knew that his state improved.
I didn’t think it could improve that much.
Unfortunately, that also means I didn’t think his state could be as bad as it was. That gave me… unpleasant thoughts.
For the first day… We’ve been walking all day, yes. It was… downright monotonous. Just walking and walking along the river. I thought we were going to get somewhere soon. Just… somewhere. I’ve never had thoughts like that before.
Then… things suddenly got worse. My friend was now… slower? Walking less?
I started paying attention to his way of. And the more things about it I noticed, the less I liked it.
Here he took an irregular step, although his previous one was perfect. There he suddenly took a longer pause between just two steps… Now he took two steps that looked like the wind was trying to blow him over, only to spring back up again. Here the stick that he used a mean of support seemed to slip out of his grip for a moment.
Was he walking like this before? Did I measure his strength wrong? Or rather, his lack of strength?
Every second became a second of dread. In each one I felt that something terrible was going to happen. And that I precisely knew just what.
I tried many ways to calm myself down. I told myself that my friend had fallen down worse before. And while that was true, was it not my doing back then
I told myself that I might be wrong. He might have been walking like this before. I wasn’t looking at him closely back then. But this did not seem likely.
I told myself I could be feeling him wrong. But… that couldn’t have been true. I have been together with him for a long time. Long enough, at least. And even though I was not familiar with what sort of creature he was, what I felt in him gave no room for misinterpretation… Thoughts or not, something in him was slowing down. I could feel it when I was starting to help him. And now I felt less and less of it. And even in spite of drinking water now, he seemed to be getting… drier.
The thought that ended up comforting me the most was the least likely one – „but nothing is sure yet”.
Because nothing was really completely sure yet. Eventually I stopped thinking about it. I stopped staring at my friend’s legs – I think I can call those legs if he thought of them that way – and began trying to come up with something else to thing about
And then… that happened.
We were… walking. That was still the first day and I was thinking that things might turn out okay when… things happened.
First, I was shaken. Not metaphorically shaken. It has been some time since I have actively done something on my own but still – my entire body was shaken! My entire friend was shaking. It felt much like falling from those blue things, though I was clearly not falling from anything. It wasn’t possible for me to fall anymore. It was my friend who was falling, falling over until he supported himself with his stick. It was much like what he had done before, only much stronger.
I thought he would soon get up and keep on moving.
He did stand up. But he didn’t move.
Well, not for long. He took a few steps, and all of them made it look like he was going to fall down at any moment. And then he stood up on his stick again. And he just stood there. Breathing. Nothing else.
And all my darkest suspicions came back…
This was what I had those unpleasant thoughts about. Really, was this a surprise at all? It was bound to happen, sooner or later. And I knew that well. I tried to mentally prepare myself for this, I knew it’s happen, but I was still not ready. I didn’t want to accept that this wouldn’t be happening later – it’d be happening sooner. Sooner than I’d want. Much sooner.
We were running out of strength. My friend had already ran out. I could feel it now. And if he had run out, then I had run out.
We just couldn’t take it anymore.
-Why have you stopped? – I asked him.
-I… I can’t keep going all the time, you know? I can’t. – He answered. Every time he spoke, he would emit noises. That was how he communicated. Back in the forest, I saw those winged monsters do something similar. Only all of their noises sounded alike to me, and my friend could make some very different ones.
I didn’t really understand them, but I could hear him even without it.
-You could do it before.
-Yes. I could… before. But… I’m just tired now, okay? That’s all. I’ve been going for a very long time… I’m tired. That’s all. Really. I’ll just… stand here for a bit. Just like… before. I’ve done this before… right?
-And… how long will that take?
-Just… enough to gain some strength. Thought it’s… - He took a long pause here. I don’t know why. - …a wonder I’ve made it here, really.
-I’m helping you.
-Alright. So you can make me get up if I fall again?
And now I really wasn’t sure about what to say…
I know I had doubts about how he was expressing his friendship before. But now I had trouble in choosing the friendlies answer myself.
-I’ll try. – I said.
Some time had passed…
I have a feeling it was more time than he wanted. I’m not sure why, I don’t know how long he wanted it to take, but it felt like too much time. At last, he continued forward.
He kept on walking for the rest of the rest of the day, as well as he could. And I think his movements were actually surer than before.
Something else had changed too. He was going slower now. Not that much, but noticeably slower.
And so we both made it until dusk.
And when he finally fell – I cannot call it anything else – onto the ground and entered his regenerative state, I wasn’t checking his state anymore. Or rather, I was, but it was not as important to me as it used to be. His state was gauged by other things now.
And when darkness came and were once again underneath the night sky, a lot less starry this time, I felt just as tired as he was.
I knew that what he couldn’t do, I couldn’t do either.
And he could do less and less.
Walk all day…
It was the second day of our journey through the plains. Not long after it began, he decided to cross the river there and now. I gave it all I could, but I couldn’t really do that much to help him. He walked across rocks that stuck out of the water or were the closest to the surface – the river was full of rocks here. And he made it to the other side. He nearly fell a few times, but with his stick, he made it.
My friend took two long rests this day. It was obvious he was trying to save up strength. He knew what was going on. He also bent over his central section a few times. I don’t know what that was about.
We were still going slowly, even slower than before. Sometimes, he would trip. But the worst part was, I really were struggling together with him now. My body was feeling weaker and weaker. Losing strength. And if it felt like that, that’s because it was like that!
Something else came too. Hunger. Something I thought I had left behind long ago. Emptiness in me… Sometimes it seemed to be pushing to the outside. Or the inside. A strange feeling. Unpleasant. I have never felt it like this before, but I knew well what it was and what I needed to do.
Of course, it was my friend who provided me with my food, but I couldn’t extract it by force…
We walked all day. And we were supposed to lie down all night. When I did less, I felt some of my strength come back too. I tried not to think then. I wonder how regeneration felt like to my friend.
We were supposed to, because… well, that’s a long story.
This entire day – this and a large portion of the last – we’ve been seeing the forest in the distance. Today we got closer to it than ever.
Once the Sun started going down, I was starting to be sure that we would reach it today.
When it was low, I was completely convinced.
Once it started to fade, we arrived at the edge of the woods…
It was about to get dark. Usually he’d be wondering where to go to sleep, but today was different. Something was about to happen, something that made him not want to rest just yet.
Reaching the forest took him two days. Two days of staring in the distance, hoping to sight his destination. Two days of the unshakable feeling that he was going too slowly.
And now, he had finally arrived.
When the sky was starting to darken, he reached the first trees. They were not part of the forest yet. They were lone trees whose seeds or whatever they used to reproduce fell further away from the forest than most of their kind.
And the edge of the actual forest was right in front of him.
This was the moment he had been waiting for. He hadn’t really made it to the forest yet. But he had it so, so near. He could go inside at any moment. But he didn’t. He just stood there.
The Sun was sinking beneath the horizon. Its last rays were shining from behind mountains far in the distance. He turned to face it.
The softly flowing river was now to his right, and the forest to his left. He looked there again.
From where he stood to the first line of trees, the same green trees that grew everywhere here, led one last stretch of grass. And throughout its entire length were scattered small and large clumps of trees. There were all sorts of them, solitary trees, two together, three, all the way to larger bunches that merged with the edge for the forest.
For the first time, he could see a tree standing alone. Their leaves were not big enough to capture all available light, so their trunks grew green too. If a tree was older and more robust, wherever its own shade fell on its trunk, it turned dark, painting it in a mix of light and dark greens. And where more trees grew together, their bark turned a nearly uniform dark shade. In the fading light, the trees looked to be unevenly lit up; an interplay of light and shadows, without light and in the shadows.
And behind him were the plains. The plains that he was very happy to have passed, and which he hoped to never have to pass again. He didn’t want to pass any of this journey again.
He could stop here. But he had nearly reached the forest. Just a bit now, until the river starts to run parallel to the edge of the forest. Then… he can go.
He didn’t care about how tired or hungry he was now. He wasn’t going very fat, but were it not for his weakness, he’d be running even faster than he climbed the hill on the other side of the valley.
He did feel how tired his arms and legs were. He just didn’t care. What he did care for was the last part of the road ahead, which he could embark on as soon as he sees the river run parallel to the forest. Hopefully even today.
He still had a bit of time left…
And then he heard the crowing.
Seriously, anything but that.
I was afraid of it. Very much.
Sure thing, I was here with a friend. But I was afraid anyway.
We’ve made it so far away from those parts… and now this.
He looked behind. But the plains were as empty as always
Then he looked at the trees…
On a lonely tree sat the crowing thing. It was a bird. Or maybe a pterosaur. Kind of.
It had wings, like a bird should. Except those were leathery wings, and they were stretched out between something resembling fleshier insect legs. It had at least four of those hooks. That many were holding onto the tree branch.
The head looked to be all beak. Or like an eyeless pterosaur’s. The „bird” crowed again and Hal thought he could see a few grey teeth in its beak.
The next observation was that the „bird” was actually quite close.
And it was taking flight. And not flying away. In fact, it was doing the exact opposite.
Although he was tired, Hal also, metaphorically, took flight.
He was running into the forest, hoping that the „bird” wouldn’t follow him in there. He wasn’t even looking back.
He heard a silent whine behind him and felt the air move. He threw himself at the ground, shielding his back with both his hands. The „bird” sailed right over his head, snagging some of his hair with something sharp, then started to rise again. His hands felt something hard. He squeezed it to his back.
Ow!, spoke the pseudo-voice in his head. He didn’t expect it was possible to yell in pain without making any sound, but what he had heard couldn’t be described as anything else.
Don’t squeeze me, said the worm’s „voice” in a familiar way.
-What was that thing? – He answered.
Terrible! I mean, it’s… an animal! Terribly dangerous, continued the worm. I warned you about it! One almost killed me! And something distantly related tried to eat me in the water!
-I know it’s dangerous! What do I do now? – He asked, rising up.
I don’t know! I’m not you!
-Right. Then… Into the forest! – He commandeered, looking up now. The „bird” was circling him like a vulture, waiting to strike.
They fly in the forest too!
-The what do we do? – asked Hal, backing up into the forest anyway. Slowly. He couldn’t bear to lose sight of the bird.
I don’t know! I always just ran!
-I don’t need your help to come up with that!
For no real reason, he decided to hide behind some trees. Roughly at this time the bird decided to attack again. Having decided that he might as well try using his stick as a weapon, Hal leapt to the side, turning himself to face the diving beast, and took a powerful swing.
The result was… nothing at all, really. He missed the bird, and it too flew to the side oddly, as if having lost sight of some other, invisible target. The difference that the bird just rose back into the sky to try again, and he… wasn’t sure what to do.
Predators give up when they start getting tired, right? Right. Okay, so gliding might be away to save up energy, but all this dive-bombing is bound to get tiring after a while…
He looked up again and his hope started fading. There were two of them now. The second one probably got drawn in by that crowing, or by the sight of a fellow bird hunting. That didn’t matter now, anyway.
They were circling him on opposite sides, their wings stretched wide. He could see them well, so thin they they were partially transparent, reaching all the way to the top of the thin stabilising tail. They really did look like some local birds of prey. Only…
-What do they want from me? – He shouted. – They’re smaller than me! Much smaller! Are these thing really that vicious?
I don’t know! Maybe they can feel me, said the worm.
They’ve always hunted me!, it continued. Maybe I’m their real target!
-Wait, really? But that’d mean…
That’d mean you’re safe!
Yes! As in… They wouldn’t bite you, only me!
The worm’s „voice” was not modulated, but it could carry emotion anyway. One just… felt it.
And in this discussion, its words were dripping with fear.
They want to eat me, right? Not you, said the worm. They want me. Not you.
One of the birds was starting to dive again. Hal primed his stick to strike. He tried to turn to face it, but fortunately realised that the other bird was probably going to attack too. He dodged sideways instead.
It was a good decision. Both birds whizzed right past his nose and fell onto the ground awkwardly. He tried to hit one, but they both rose up too fast.
-And what will they do with me?
I don’t know!
Those words came across as a scream to his mind.
But probably something different than with me…
He looked upwards. A third bird was coming now…
But they want to kill me!
-But not me. And that part’s good.
You’re not sure!
-But I can protect myself.
But… if they get me… they’ll pluck me out of you… straight out of your back… and then…
-That’s not my deal.
And this… was the mental equivalent of a shock-induced stop. It went silent just as suddenly. Only it was not its end or even beginning that was torn off. It was the whole thing
-I never asked for anyone to drill a hole in my back!
But… but… The words were like slivers of thoughts now. Unclearly defined. I… am your friend, I… want to be with you, I…
-Friends don’t do things like that!
-Friends don’t just go and parasitize people! And I never asked for a friend anyway!
And then he felt something in his mind… go silent. No… disappear. That was a better word.
I… I didn’t know… I couldn’t do it any other way… I…
And then… silence.
The „birds” were diving again. One couldn’t get him at all as a tree got in the way. The other two he managed to dodge.
He might have overestimated his ability to protect himself. He was running out of strength.
Though… He might just as well stop struggling and let them have the worm…
The worm whose voice spoke again.
And in a way he had never heard it speak before.
It was mad now. And it wasn’t just a raised voice. It was the raw feeling of anger striking his mind.
Listen here now, if you don’t want to die in a few seconds, do as I say!
The bird that had to change its angle of approach due to the trees was attacking now. The other two didn’t let it leave them behind. He now had to dodge an assault from all sides.
One, he managed to dodge. The second was scared away by his stick, or so it seemed. The third…
The third’s clawed wing gave him a painful scratch on the head.
-And what should I do not to die?
Remember when you pressed me against that tree?
-Er… no. Wait, wait a minute… I think that happened once, only it was a root.
So go and push your back against that tree. The one right behind you.
-And then… I just stay here?
Ig you’re afraid, listen to me!
-And that’ll help?
One of the birds was getting ready to dive-bomb him again.
Hal obediently retreated. Before he reached the tree, the bird reached him and tore his jacket apart with its wing. He hoped it hadn’t torn apart anything else.
Before another attack came, his back was already tightly squeezed against the tree.
But not this hard!
He wanted to shout something too, but the voice interrupted him.
You’d best just sit down.
He did. He heard something scratch against the wood behind him and fall onto the ground.
You were trying to attack them with that… stick?
-I was! But…
But it’s not working. So try to drive them off, at least. And wait
And he sat there.
Driving the birds off.
Until night came…
The worm was right that this idea would work. It seemed strange, but it worked. The birds really wanted the worm and not him. They were afraid of him. If they wanted to get the worm out from under him, they’d have to approach from the side. And that was a bad idea, because they came into the range of his stick then. He didn’t do any damage, but his blows at least brushed against the birds a few times, and that just made them more afraid. Managing to push one away once sure helped establish a fearsome reputation. The bird he pushed away just left. It had enough. So the other two burnt out quickly too. They tried to dive a few more times, but to no avail. Then they left.
They left him all alone at night.
Now he could go to sleep. He could lay down under a tree and go into the forest. But still... He felt that something was still missing.
Right. The worm.
The worm… still sitting in him. The worm that… saved his life? No, not really. It saved their lives. Both of them. Or came up with how to save them, at least.
Well, that was… helpful. Very much so. But… something here was still amiss.
He tried to fall asleep, but couldn’t. He couldn’t because something was - of course - amiss.
He laid there thinking on that for a while. A long while, in fact. All the tension of fighting off the birds had probably gotten to him.
The worm was silent.
Today... Today he told it he didn’t want it. And that was true. Nobody would probably want a worm to forcibly and very painfully insert itself into their spine, suck something out of them, and then tell them that it was their friend. But all things considered…
He had an argument with that worm today.
And as he laid there under the tree, thinking to himself, strange thoughts came to him. It was because he was calming down now. And nobody feels good when calmed down after an argument. Ever. Even if the argument was with a parasite. This might sound idiotic, but that was how things were. He didn’t feel well about what he had said. Or done.
Worm… - he began. - I…
And there, he stopped. Because he did feel weird about this whole thing. What was he to do now? Apologise to the worm? He could… but still…
But still, he was talking to a parasitic worm. A sentient parasitic worm
None of that sounded normal.
Though… none of the rest of this story was „normal” either…
So he just kept on thinking.
Normally, sleep came quickly here. Now, though, they didn’t.
Time after another he decided to apologise to the worm. And he never did it. He tried to explain this to himself. He told himself that there was no point in doing so, or that he didn’t know how, or that the worm wouldn’t answer anyway, but he knew that all those answers were false. Eventually, he just decided that he didn’t know why he couldn’t talk to the worm now… but he couldn’t.
Maybe that was how shy people felt. He didn’t know.
So what do shy people do, in times like this?
Maybe they just… spoke, eventually. Maybe they managed to stammer out a few words after a while. And in his current state, even that was worth trying. It just… was. Somehow. Heck, he had already started trying. So why not do it again?
-Worm… - he said. – Are you there?
-Are you there?
Silence in his head.
-Do you hear me?
-Worm, I… uh, I don’t know…
He cut off there. He thought that saying „I don’t know what to say” was not a very good idea. But he couldn’t think of anything else,
-I… I really don’t know what to say… right now. I...
Now was probably the time to say something nice.
-I… er, I’d like to thank you for…
For what, exactly? For telling him how to get rid of those birds. That sounded… a lot less helpful than it was.
-For telling me how to get rid of those birds.
It sounded really stupid.
-I… didn’t come up with that. Honestly, it’s… weird how I didn’t. But I’d like to thank you for…
Of course you didn’t come up with that!
Implying he could have was not a good decision. But at least the worm was speaking again.
I’ve been watching you! Do you seriously think you could see yourself the best there? I could see your thoughts! All you were thinking about was swinging your stick at those beasts! Do you think you were doing well? I could see you! Those birds hit you twice! And they would have hit you many more times!
And the bitter truth was, that was true.
-Yes. – He said after a while. – You are right. I am very thankful for…
No, you are not!
The voice in his head cut him off.
I know you don’t want me to listen in on your thoughts, so I don’t do that. But I feel them all the time anyway! I feel… your feelings. I know you don’t feel good, and I don’t feel good either! But when you were telling me that you’re thankful… I couldn’t feel that! It wasn’t like before! Before… your thoughts were more… sincere…
-I … I feel what you say. I feel your feelings too. When you speak, I do. And I… I know you don’t feel good either.
-I really do.
Silence. And then.
You do. But…
But… I’d like to apologise, now…
For… accusing you. Of… being insincere there. Now… now you’re sincere again. And I…
-You don’t know what to say?
Yes. I don’t know. I…
Is this what you’ve felt before?
And then, after a while, he added:
And his mind went silent again.
-So… Everything’s okay between us… right?
No, nothing is okay!
Maybe not nothing, but… not everything is okay! You… don’t know what’s going on! You just don’t! I don’t even know whose fault it is! Or if it’s anyone’s fault! And as long as you don’t know what’s going on, nothing will be okay?
-What’s going on?
You… you told me you didn’t want me…
-Yes… I did…
The worm was right about that „not feeling good” thing.
That… was not nice. You say that everything’s okay… but you don’t know… and you didn’t know it when you said that either…
And there, the worm really let everything out. And it had a lot to let out.
I’m helping you! I’ve helped you since we first met! If it weren’t for me, you would’ve never gotten up! I had to find a way to make your limbs move you up. Do you think it’s easy to find a thought that’d let you me do that? I was helping you all the way! I gave you strength!
You were wondering why you didn’t need to eat for so long. I… I fed you. I gave you food. Or rather, I gave you everything that you’d get from food. I took it out of my own food and me! Out of me, do you understand!
Silence. And he was silent, too.
You told me a friend wouldn’t attach to you like I did. But I couldn’t do anything else!
I… Remember when we first met… when you first saw me? When I tried to touch you and you kept throwing me away? I thought it was an irrational reaction… an instinct… now I know that’s not true. Now I know you think just like I do. Or I think just like you! I learned to think like you from you! And I know you’d never think that I can think back then either!
Thinking about it a bit, Hel decided that the worm was right there.
I… Listen to me now. I… only wanted a friend. I was alone for all of my life. All I wanted from you was friendship. The only reason why I helped you was so that you’d accept me. As a friend. You didn’t want me to attach to you, but that was the only thing I could have done. The only way for us to be friends. Drilling into you, as you put it. I know it hurts, now, and I’d prefer it hadn’t. But it couldn’t have been any other way. Never. We’d have never met if I hadn’t entered your body. The helping, that was… not important. Compared to this. I… I don’t know what you think about that. I… don’t know how much I did. But I… tried. I tried really, really hard. I… I just did the only things I knew. So you’d be my friend. We… we talked together. I liked that. For some time… and then…
And then… I’d tell you the truth now. Because I don’t feel good about this either. Then I got afraid that you… wouldn’t be my friend! And then… those birds came… and then…
Silence fell again. And for longer.
Much, much longer.
And Hal just laid there, and he just thought.
-Worm, I’m sorry.
-Really. I… feel the same as you now.
-Forgive me, Worm.
It took him some time to fully regain consciousness once he woke up. Haven’t had that since… his second day here? He looked up into the leaves above, his face lit up by the light shining in between them. He accepted how it fell onto his face without even thinking. Only after a while did his thoughts reach their usual full speed.
He was… yes, under a tree. He felt that he was supposed to be elsewhere. What happened yesterday, again? He was walking. What else? For long. He was walking really long. What else…
Oh, right… he got attacked by some pseud-birds… and he ran here, yes. He fought them off… they left… and then…
And then… he argued with the worm. And fell out with it? Maybe? They had a long talk at night. About… how bad they both felt. He wanted to, yes… apologise to the worm. It sounded awfully sappy… but he really wanted to.
Where was the worm now?
Oh, right. In him. Still in him.
It’d sure be good to get up now.
Except he was weak… really, really weak.
All the substances the worm injected him with may have reduced his tiredness, but they couldn’t have given him true strength. He could try to conserve energy, but that was only delaying the inevitable. And now… his exhaustion finally caught up with him.
He wanted to get up, but he felt too weak. Kind of like back at his crash site.
Eventually he decided to continue lying back until he can raise himself back up. Maybe the worm can do something. Right, the worm…
Silence. Just like yesterday.
-Worm, I… I’d like to talk to you…
Silence. And, after a while:
-Uh, listen… I feel like it’s really weird, but…
-Are you still mad?
-I… I’m sorry for what I have said. I… I’ll be honest, I feel really weird speaking to you now. I… hadn’t expected I’d ever be speaking to a worm stuck up my spine, that’s all. But I… really don’t want anything bad going on between us. After all, we… had potential. I… don’t want to be mad at you now. And I don’t want you to be mad either. And I… know that you probably want the same. So…
Let’s not talk about that.
Let’s not talk about that.
-About… the yesterday thing?
A moment of silence, and then:
And… you won’t say things like what you did again?
-No. I… don’t want to anymore.
-Worm… I really, REALLY don’t want to.
Silence. And then.
-For real. Now, let’s… eh, let’s not go back to that.
So… everything is okay?
-I… think it is. Yes, I suppose everything that can be okay is okay.
They both went silent, unsure what to say next. This happens, it has happened, and it will happen.
Hal was the first to speak:
He didn’t get an answer, just the vague feeling of a question. The worm still didn’t want to speak.
-Listen… if everything’s okay…
Silence, but not as silent as before. An unclear presence in his mind.
-…Do you still want to be my friend?
Silence. But then:
The answer came… weak. Nearly silent.
-Can you… help me? Can you help me get up?
Maybe. I’m weak myself. I don’t have the strength to do it. Give me… some time.
-Time? How much?
I’m not sure. But… it won’t be long… too long.
He laid there and waited for something to happen. And, as it usually was as he laid down, thoughts came to his head. One of them was much stronger than the others. It may have sounded strange, or unfit for his current predicament, but…
-Do you have a name?
-I mean… what do others call you.
You call me a worm.
-But… that’s not the point. I call you that because it’s what you look like. As in… you look like a creature that I’d call a worm. What I meant is… what would a worm like you call you? Or what would you want to be called
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
-Well, uh, for example… I get called Hal. That’s not the name of the being I am. It’s my personal name. The name of a particular individual.
No, I do not have anything like that. – The voice was still weak, but a bit livelier. – I have never met anyone like me and I have never been called anything. And I do not call myself anything. Why would I? After all, to me, I am always myself.
-Right. So… you don’t have a name?
-And you… you’ve never spoken with anyone?
Silence, this time from Hal.
-So… Can I still call you… the Worm?
-Thank you. That… makes talking to you much easier. It’s much more… specific than „my friend” or something. It gives me… a person to talk to.
But I’m still a friend?
-…Yes. You’re still a friend, Worm.
Silence. After a while, the worm spoke:
Did you say there was a word for only you in particular?
-Yes. Though… not really… but… yes.
And it’s „Hal”?
Right. That makes talking to you… much easier.
-Worm… don’t you feel insulted at being called a worm?
-Well, some take being called a worm to be a terrible insult… - Here, he cut off. – But you probably don’t.
Indeed, I do not.
-Well, then… - He paused for a bit. – Honestly, I’m not sure what now. Err, what to say now. Do you feel alright?
-You’re… not weak?
-And… you can still help me?
He thought about that for a while. Then he tried to rise up. He could probably do it without the Worm’s help now. He just needed to use his stick. But there was something else…
-Worm, I know you want to help me. But… how could I help you?
-As in… I just have to exist?
Yes. Just be alive.
He strode into the forest; his exhaustion made his walk both steadfast and unsure. He had regained enough strength to at least begin the final stretch; to tell himself that he had reached the final obstacle. Because that’s what the forest was; the final thing standing between him and the Base.
He staggered slowly through the woods, tired and hungry. The worm kept his body going as it could, but it wasn’t in very good shape itself, either. Every minute was a minute too many for him now; time weighed on him like never before.
Despite his exhaustion, he could keep up a stable pace perfectly well. For some time. Then he had to stop and take a break. He felt that he would take many more in the near future. The worst part, though, were the bad ideas he was starting to get. Suddenly, he would come up with the most capital thought – to build a sled! Most capital indeed, especially as he had neither the tools to make one, anyone to pull it, or anything to pull himself. Or maybe he could try chewing the grass growing all around – which actually might fool his hunger for a while, unless he were to chew on something full of poison. And with how improbably lucky he seemed to be in regards to that so far, he decided not to tempt fate.
He didn’t get far, once he got up. Soon he sat down again. And again. Going slower and slower. He didn’t really care about his speed anymore, though. Just going on was a success in itself.
Eventually, irregular as his pace was now, he ended up keeping it until night fell.
Night didn’t provide rest either. At least in the beginning it didn’t. He couldn’t fall asleep for some reason, but once he finally did, his sleep was as deep as death.
He woke up next to a pile of moss. Grass and small bushes grew off it. Seeing it reminded him that he should have been sleeping in trees. In his current state, though, that didn’t seem likely.
So began the second day of his long, miserable trek through the last stretch of the woods.
Only now did he come to truly appreciate the stick he had made. Before, it made him go faster. Now it made him tire less. Not that much less, but it was enough to make a difference.
He thought that he was probably headed straight for his Base. What he didn’t know was how far away it was. He was sure he had made it through longer roads. But never before had he been this tired.
He didn’t really care about keeping the exact direction anymore. All he needed now was to go in more or less the right one. Getting lost in a trench wouldn’t bother him anymore now, as long as he could actually leave it.
He would alternately lose track of time and feel that he was going too slowly. The first feeling came when he was in motion. The second, when he stopped. Then, he would feel that he needed to get up and go forward right now. When he did, though, he always felt that he had been walking for a very long time. So he sat down, until he felt that he ought to get up, and so it went on, until he gave up on reaching the Base today. Nevertheless, he decided to go as far as he could.
And he did, until night came.
Then… something had stopped him.
It had gotten dark and Hal was looking for a place to lay down in. Or trying to, at least. In the dark, it had gotten impossible to make out any shape. In spite of this, something drew his eyes.
It was a light, shining bright in the dark.
The first time he saw it, he thought he must be seeing things. The longer he looked at it, though, the surer he grew that they were real things. He saw the light and he knew that he could feel its source, just like he could feel the cold of the night and the bark of the tree he was leaning against, and that it was there as much as the stick that he was still clutching in his hand
He stood there, staring at the light, and unsure what to do.
The first thought was the most instinctive, but also the most rational. Run. Go anywhere but near that light. But soon, other different thoughts came.
What might be shining in a forest?
It could be some kind of animal that lured prey in with light. Of course it could be. But it didn’t have to be. It could be that decaying wood here glew this brightly. Why couldn’t it? Or it could be something completely different.
The light could not have been part of the forest at all. No, it could be the light of something – or someone from the Base.
He could have reached some sort of lit border and only seen it because of the light. He could have met a night patrolman, prowling the forest in search of… something. Sure thing, he’d never seen any sort of night watch in the Base, but he hadn’t been there for very long either. Who knew what the Light was? He sure didn’t. The Light could be his doom or his salvation.
And the only way to find out was to go there. Meet the Light. Face the Light.
Of course, he could also not go anywhere and not face anything. He could go to sleep there and then and find out what the Light was tomorrow… or never.
Having weighed all the possibilities in his mind, he decided to take the risk.
My friend – or Hal, since that was what he was called – had not entered his usual state of regeneration yet. Something has drawn his attention enough to interrupt that.
I knew it. He took a sudden stop and stared at something in the distance. And then… he turned in a different direction. The direction of the thing he was staring ar.
It was nothing but curiosity that made me want to peek over his shoulder. But before I did that, I saw the trees around us. And my curiosity became dread. Now I just had to look. For the sake of us both.
So I did. And I did not like what I saw.
And my dread became a very clearly defined fear.
I knew what I saw. And I knew why I didn’t like it.
The Light was not far away. But when he had found it, he didn’t know it. Its rays seemed to get less and less focused as he got close. The closer he was, the wider was their spread and the lower their intensity. They seemed to fade somewhere… above.
And then he stepped into the circle of the Light.
He could see it clear now. It was not at all like it seemed to be far away. It was neither the uniform white nor the single ray he had seen it as. The source of the Light shone in every direction.
The trees, the bushes, their leaves, his own body – everything was bathed in a cold, unearthly light. It seemed white at first, but as he looked at it closer, he saw specks of colour in it. Some were really white, but some shone pink or even red. Others bore a ghostly green hue, weaker or stronger.
And then the Worm spoke:
Run! And now!
The voice acted like a bucket of cold water.
What was he doing? Where was he? In an unfamiliar forest, where he got lured in by a mysterious light. What was it, even? What were those glowing particles? And where was the Light coming from?
Only then did he look up. And he saw what was glowing.
Roughly above his head, attached to a branch, hung down… something. Young, still green twigs, unnaturally contorted, incredibly thin, like their development had stopped, were woven together in a tight, spherical knot, forming a spongy, netlike cover around the Light’s source.
It was a pale white, glowing mass. From inside it shone through green or pink sparkles. Around it flew great numbers of similar tiny lights. Every now and then some of them would enter or leave through the holes in the net of twisted plant matter. Others sat down on the surface of the intricate construct.
Most of them, though, kept flying in a stable distance around the glowing thing. Hal felt that their ranks were constantly growing greater, and that there was ever more order to their movement.
And then he understood why he was to run. What he saw now reminded him of a familiar sight. A nest of wasps.
Whose swarm he had just willingly entered.
And who would probably be just as ready to drive intruders away from their hive as real wasps.
And once he looked around himself, he saw that the lights were not circling their hive anymore. They were circling him. And there was more of them than ever, dancing around him in the air with increasing speed and courage, getting closer and closer, suddenly flying right by his eyes or in place dangerously close to his face…
It was not easy.
The forest was so dark, he couldn’t see a thing. He had a stick, but running with a stick was not an easy task! Especially now, when it could easily snag on something.
Running now at all was not an easy task either. He was exhausted. Were it not for how terrified he was, he wouldn’t have even managed anything resembling a run. But fear cannot replace lost strength.
He ran, or tried to, holding himself up with a stick, trying not to crash into a tree. He knew perfectly well that he could end up lost because of this. Or rather, he already was lost since he went off the trail to see the light. What was he thinking? That it was a light from the Base?
Some ideas really did only seem good at the start.
He stopped thinking and stopped in place as he had nearly ran straight into a tree trunk.
The only reason why he didn’t was that he tripped on a root. He started flying forward, held his arms out in front of him to stop his fall, and ended up arched against a tree he couldn’t see.
And then he felt pain. In his neck.
It was… a very unpleasant feeling. Pain is overall unpleasant. But this pain was… strange. Like a cut with something hot and sticky. Like having a miniature hook made of molten wax pushed under his skin. Only insects inflict pain like this.
There was no doubt as to what had attacked him.
He couldn’t run now, or rather had no reason to. In his panic, he turned around. It was something he actually could do.
Like wasps and bees attack whoever they perceive as a threat and can pursue their target with admirable determination, so did these lights make it here all the way from their hive to enact their vengeance upon the intruder.
They were swarming all around him now. Although he couldn’t see them apart from their glow and couldn’t hear them at all, he was sure that they were something similar to insects. They stuck together like a thick cloud of fireflies, and when one of them flew close to a tree, a faint glow fell upon the bark.
Under different circumstances, it would be a pleasure to look at them. Now, though, not so much.
The Lights descended upon his body, trying to sting or bite him. He didn’t know what their weapon was, but its blows were painful.
White, pink and greenish fall upon him in great hundreds to stab at his face and hands. And there was no way to drive them off.
He tried to hide his face behind his hands, to prevent them from cutting at the most sensitive spots, but that just made them attack his hands. He tried to shoo them away, but that just annoyed them.
Lastly, he abandoned all common sense and took a swing at them with his stick.
It was a completely irrational idea. There was no way he could hit even one Light. But he went through with it anyway.
The stick hit a tree and he heard a loud crack, his weapon seemingly broken. And the Lights just continued their assault. They were everywhere, impossible to fend off, and utterly merciless.
Suddenly he felt a pain worse than ever before. And not even in any exposed place. How could it have happened? His clothes should have shielded him from the swarm’s wrath.
One of the lights got under his jacket where the bird tore it. And now it had stung him a second time. Where he got hurt back in the crash.
He didn’t know if it was possible, but he tried to squish it. With all his strength, he pressed against where it had attacked him. It appeared to have worked. The constant pain stopped.
But the Light Swarm was still all around him and striking at his exposed skin, at his head and at his hands, and at his arms when one got into his sleeves, and sometimes at his body when one entered the tears all around his outfit now …
And he couldn’t stop them. He looked at his hands. He didn’t see them well, but he could swear that instead of the swelling that would occur after a bee or wasp’s sting, they were covered in tiny, and yet painful cuts.
They didn’t seem that tiny, though. Probably because of their sheer number. After all, he was being attacked by an entire swarm. From the cuts trickled blood, but he didn’t know if it was a lack of conditions to dry or something the Lights injected him with that kept it flowing. Did that mean their usual targets had humanlike blood? Why was he even thinking of questions like that now? The pain in the cuts was constant. Maybe they really did inject something. Who knows?
And the Lights were still there and still on the offensive. He couldn’t fight them off, and besides, it was just as bad of an idea as fighting real wasps. What to do now?
Having been brought to the point of absolute desperation, he ran again.
Again, he thought that he was – more or less – willingly getting lost now. And again, he didn’t care. He just ran into the darkness, holding tight what remained of his stick. He was hoping that the Lights would leave him alone if he got far away enough from their nest. The thought only actually came to him after he started running. His run was now the final effort of someone with no options left anymore.
He ran bent down, like he was about to fall down, bouncing off the trees. Twigs and weak branches whipped him across the face. He didn’t see anything. Not even in the glow of the Lights. He didn’t see them either. He only felt his feet hitting the ground.
And then he fell.
Somewhat fortunately, really. He felt onto a pile of what may have been grass, but in actuality was moss. He didn’t even react to it. He didn’t try to stop his fall. He didn’t try to get up. He just laid down.
He was thinking about whether he had ran away.
Feeling the stings again snapped him out of it. Or rather acknowledging the stings.
The Lights might as well have been chasing and stinging him all the way. He didn’t feel them anymore. Or maybe just didn’t care. Exhaustion dimmed the pain.
And now he laid down, more helpless than even before. It turned out that that was possible.
He was much more tired than he had any earthly right to be. Pretty much anything could do him in now. Nothing to save him. All he had was himself and a broken stick, and neither was of any help.
Though… there was something else. Another pain, another fear. Similar to his, but seemingly originating from a different part of his mind. It was like a memory, a memory of something he had never experienced…
He knew what it was.
-Worm? – He thought. He didn’t say it. He just thought.
They’re biting!, said the worm.
I don’t know. But it sure hurts like they are!
He knew that pain. And then he remembered something, and a worrying thought struck him.
-…Did they get you in the eye?
What was he to do? He could roll on his back, but then all those lights would get in his face and eyes…
He tried to stand up. Whatever was he to do now, it would certainly be a better idea than letting himself be bled out by fireflies with anger issues.
Despite wanting to get up, he only did it partially. Crawling backwards, he bumped into something that may have been a tree laid down with his back against it. Then he tried to cover his body with his arms. Then with his legs. All he managed to do was make a light bite or sting his ankle.
Now, what else to do? All the options boiled down to moving around ineffectually, and none of them would deter the Lights in any way.
Could they kill him? Most people don’t die from a wasp or bee sting. Only if they’re allergic. But there are other bees, who attack in great swarms and can kill a grown man through their stings.
He didn’t know what the Lights exactly were and what they wanted to do, but they were sure to behave like that other kind of bee. They’ll sting him until he gives up the ghost, no matter how long it takes. And besides, they were not bees and their stings might be laced with lethal poison, for what he knew.
He didn’t know if he was still bleeding, or how much. All he could do was stay where he was and wait for the end. And the longer he stayed where he was, the more vicious grew the Lights.
Though, if they actually were intending to kill him…
There was still an idea left.
It was insane, but it was the only one he had. And besides, this entire story was insane. He had said it before and he could say it again.
-Worm? – He said out loud.
-Do you remember when we had a falling out…
I’d rather not go back to that.
…and you came up with a plan to save us?
-Well, now I’ve come up with a plan to save us.
What is it?
-Before I tell you… there’s one thing.
-You have to act like I did. Listen to me, even if you find my words stupid.
A pause. The Worm made them often. In this moment, he’d prefer it didn’t.
Okay. I will.
Another pause, but much shorter.
What am I to do?
-Make me dead.
-Make me seem dead. Don’t kill me. Just make me look like I’m dead.
-Or don’t kill me, but only barely. Anything that’ll make me seem dead, okay? No sign of life.
I don’t know how!
-There’s got to be a way! You used to give me strength. You should be able to take it.
Another pause. If this discussion dragged on, he could end up dead for real.
-Do it! Please!
-If you don’t want us both to slowly and painfully die here, then just do it!
And then… nothing happened.
Hal laid down and waited, but he didn’t feel anything. And only the Lights flew around him still.
And then he realised that he literally didn’t feel anything.
He didn’t feel the pain, at all. He didn’t feel his body. He could still feel a weak pressure on his spine, but apart from that, his body seemed to have disappeared.
And the forest around him felt more and more distant, and less and less real... With each passing second, he felt that he was present at all. His head was full of emptiness… and silence.
The Lights circled ever more slowly. Or maybe it was just his thoughts slowing down. The forest seemed to be floating away. He felt that he would snap out of this if he only were to move his head or blink, but he couldn’t do either.
Only moments remained now. Until the feeling of great heaviness comes. Not the heaviness of his body. He couldn’t feel his body. The heaviness of… nothing in particular. Or everything. So heavy he was being dragged down. Sinking into nothingness. It was getting even darker than before, but that was not the forest – those were his eyes closing. Or maybe his vision fading.
Just a moment – and then, darkness. And silence.
And then - nothing.
He woke up with his head resting on the moss on the ground, flat on his back, dim light shining on his face. Sunlight, this time. His face and hands were covered with miniscule, dried over wounds. Everywhere. He also had dry, black streaks on his skin.
He felt… oddly. Hollow and stupid.
He couldn’t describe that feeling then, and never tried to afterwards. But it was very much like falling into almost-death. Only backwards.
Like waking up on the plain for the first time, only even more. Alive, but not yet thinking.
Soon though, the thoughts came back. The thoughts that… he was. Here. Meaning… where? On the moss. In the forest. But where in the forest? Why on moss? In what forest? Why in a forest? Why laying down? Just what happened?
After the questions came the answers. He was flying… No, that was a long time ago. Oh, right. He was walking through a forest. Got attacked by glowing bugs… maybe bugs… couldn’t do a thing… the Worm killed him… because he asked it to? That made no sense. Right, it almost killed him… that was what he told it to do. Or… it slowed down his bodily processes. Or just made him go unconscious.
He sure felt like it almost killed him, though.
He sure felt bad indeed. Probably even worse than before. He didn’t even notice it when the exhaustion came back. But… just in what sort of situation was he now?
He was alive. And he could not be. Well, that was a start.
He lifted himself up on his arms. It almost hurt. He really did feel even worse than before.
At least he could do it at all.
And the Worm…
Was it still there? Was it still alive? Or did the Lights get it? Did they eat it alive or… whatever it is they did to people? Did they stab it in the eye with a stinger?
The perspective of not having the Worm around was, for the first time filling him with genuine fear. Or maybe rather – he feared for it now.
He’d never suspect that he ever would, but now he was.
Well… there was only one way to find out.
-Worm? – He asked.
There was no answer.
None at all.
Nothing but absolute silence in his mind. It had not been this silent for a very, very long time.
And then, softly and after a while:
And then, he felt that he should say something… different.
-Ate you hurt?
-I’m… not. – He thought this answer over again. – Well… not much. But I’m okay. – He thought this over too. – Okay enough. And… you? What about you?
-No? Just no? They didn’t poke out your eye?
No. I think it was you they were after. But they got me too. I’m okay enough too, but my entire body hurts – complained the Worm.
Then he took another pause to think.
-Maybe... let’s just keep going.
-Well… yes. That was what we were supposed to do. As long as we can, that is.
He didn’t even know where to go anymore, but the worm told him that the sun had only risen recently. Thinking about where east and west might be here, he decided that he should go either in the direction where the light fell from, or exactly in the opposite one. He thought on that longer and eventually decided that the correct course laid kind of diagonally to the opposite direction.
That „kind of” bit he couldn’t work out, so he just went towards the sun. He took up his stick, of which more remained than he had expected, and went into the forest again.
And that was all.
All that remained was walking, lots and lots of walking. More like shambling, actually. In the state the Worm left him in, he couldn’t do much more. After many days of marching without drink and nearly without food, on artificial support, and then exhausting his body on purpose until near death, it was difficult to get him back in working shape. The Worm even apologised for this.
He took breaks nearly constantly. Then he started tripping. Then he stopped caring about anything. His movements head become purely mechanical. Even his thoughts were starting to leave him.
And this dragged on for too long. He realised that once he saw that it was getting dark.
An entire day without reaching the Base now – that meant going in the wrong direction.
He thought well and long on how to turn now, and eventually turned left for no particular reason as his thoughts actually led him nowhere. Then night fell. Then day came.
He remembered the road worse as he went on. It was a drag. Literally. Sometimes he felt like he was dragging his body around. The Worm apologised for this too. Sometimes he felt like something had dimmed his vision or that his limbs had turned into lead.
He was walking through the forest like through a dream, from one unreal scene to another. He just wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around him anymore. His conscience would surface for a few seconds at best, only to go silent again.
There were moments, though, when his conscience not only came back, it did so stronger than ever. Those felt like an awakening; no, they felt like something more. His senses, his perception became more powerful than ever before; he noticed every little detail around him, knew exactly what was going on, anywhere. Those times felt like leaving his body somewhere far away.
He looked at his surroundings like at something he was seeing for the first time. That actually was true, but he had seen many forests. Now, though, everything felt special and unique. There, on a tree, were perched two critters akin to birds, only without beaks and with longer wings, reaching to the ends of their bodies like capes. There, something like a giant fern grew, and there, grass exactly like he had seen on the clearing where he crashed.
But after each moment of clarity, unawareness would descend on him and everything around.
The Worm tried to keep him anchored in reality as well as it could. It told him all sorts of things, but he didn’t remember them well. Sometimes it was telling him to remember where he was. Sometimes… it was asking him things? If he remembered something they did?
And then he started to forget.
He was barely conscious now. Parts of his journey were starting to get blacked out. Short flashes of reality; that was all he got. A tree. The light falling on his face. The worm saying something.
Then he saw something in the distance. A few times.
He didn’t know how fast he was going, but slower than ever, that was for sure.
The last thing he remembered was falling down and trying to crawl into a large empty space that opened up in front of him.
He raised his eyes to look at something high up, but what it was didn’t get through to him.
And when he opened his eyes, he was looking into a human face.
The shock made him close and open his eyes again. But the face was still there, so he looked at it.
That was someone from the Base. He knew that for sure. That… head of research? No, she was a woman. This was some… fleet commander? Military, maybe? The one who gave him a tour of this place, once. What was his name again? Carl? Or was it Karl?
-Can you hear me, Hal? Can you hear me? Is something wrong? – asked the commandeering face.
-I… hear you. Yeah. – was the answer.
-Good grief, finally! You’re awake! You’ve already opened your eyes a few times. Good heavens, s’ a real miracle we even found you!
-Wh- Where am I?
-„Where am I”, he says! „Where am I”? „Where am I”! Well, guess what? You’re in the Base!
Hal felt that he was lying on his back, so he got up. It turned out that he had been laid down in a hospital bed. In the Base’s own medical ward. He had white sheets and something plugged into his arm.
So… he made it here. And he was alive.
Thought there was something else he was curious about. And something that he felt he had forgotten…
-Yes, in the Base… And- how’d you find me?
-How’d we find you? I told you! A miracle, really. Well, more like an accident. We sent a recon squad out to take some pictures. You know, for science! So the pilot tells us there’s something weird on the ground, right next to the Base. S’ all she says. We could’ve paid no attention to that, but we decided to pay some anyway, we checked and, well, we found a body! Your body! –Karl/Carl leapt away from the bed. He seemed to be very excited, and sure had a lot to be excited about.
-So we took you here. – He continued his theatrical monologue. At first we thought you were dead, but this doctor says you weren’t, so we tried to do something about your… state. Saving your life was actually kind of easy, but waking you up, good grief, was that trouble for everyone involved! No, seriously! When you disappeared, they sent someone from that other base to search for you, so we knew you crashed. See, they found your ship’s remains, but not yours. Everyone wrote you off for dead, and then, well, look what we found! Oh, and by the way…
He leaned in closer to Hal’s face. –Did that crash hurt your brain? Getting all the way here? On foot? Without any supplies? What on Earth were you thinking? Look at yourself! What do you look like? I know some people made it through worse, but, good grief, no one goes through them willingly! We’d have found you for sure if you had only stayed on that plain!
Hid words were angry, but his voice was not. – See for yourself how you ended up! Your body’s a mess, you’re barely alive, your clothes are… in pieces… Doc said you had all sorts of weird bacteria… Look, were it not for that pilot and her unusually perceptive eyes, you’d be a goner right now!
And a parasite… Where’d you get that thing? Tell me, Hal, did you carry that thing all the way here? Or did that come from those tiny wounds? Didn’t it act up?
That was it.
The worm?! – Hal suddenly shouted. – You took out the worm? What’d you do with it?
-Nothing. – said the leader. – We wanted to extract it, but apparently an operation like that could’ve hurt you, with how weak you are. So we let it be, for now. Though it doesn’t seem dangerous. Good grief, it sure looks like a nasty piece of work, though!
-Wait a minute. That means… it’s still in me?
-It is. Do you have feelings for it or what?
Hello, said the Worm’s voice.
Hal didn’t know what to say anyway, but that really threw him off.
-Why so silent?
That is a greeting, isn’t it? I haven’t felt you in a long time.
-I… uh, nothing.
I’m sorry for interrupting your communication. I just wanted to confirm that I am here.
-And what are you looking at like that?
That is a creature like you, right? Are you its friend?
-I… yeah. – He said. Out loud. He realised that too late.
-„Yeah” to what? Who are you talking to? – asked Karl/Carl.
Can you tell it that I wish to be friendly to it too?
-I can… - began Hal and cut off. Then he thought a bit on what to do. And then he said:
-It says it’s a friend.
-Who says what? – said the commander. He was looking at Hal like something was wrong with him. Well, that was to be expected.
Sooner or later he’s going to have to tell the truth. So he might as well do it now.
-The worm says that.
-Yes. Because, see, that worm’s my friend.
And now here we are, in the Base, which is what my Hal calls it. We’ve been here for a few days and we don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Hal’s recuperating fast. That’s what the doctors say. He told me that. Soon, he’ll be able to go back to his work. And he doesn’t want to fly in storms anymore. He told me that too.
I wish I knew more about what all that means.
So… everything’s okay. Mostly. Except it’s not. I know that. Hal didn’t want to tell me that, but I know it anyway. I can sense it. I feel my friend’s feelings. Probably better than anyone else. And I know that something’s still troubling him. I also know that it’s got to do with me.
I can understand his voice-talk, as long as he understands it. And I know that I somehow don’t fit in.
At first, everything was good. But once he started to get better, other people came. That is, other humans. Creatures like he is. And they examined him. Then they started to examine me. I know that. They were looking at me. Very closely. And then… everything started getting worse.
From what I know, they were talking about me. And I didn’t like how Hal reacted to them at all. I think he didn’t like what they said about me either
And that happened many more times. I didn’t listen to everything they said, I admit it. But from those that I’ve heard, and could understand, I didn’t like much.
They said Hal wouldn’t be able to „go everywhere like that”. Or that something’s going to cause problems. They mentioned various areas of life in which it would. Sometimes Hal would respond that it’d make for new scientific material. And those other people – he called them doctors or Karl – sometimes replied that he couldn’t be walking scientific material. Not for the rest of his life.
I didn’t like that. And then I realised that I was somehow causing trouble.
I tried to ask Hal, but he didn’t say anything. And he and those other „humans” kept on talking without me. So I kept on asking. I even told him that I knew what he felt, so he couldn’t hide anything from me. I pressured him until he caved in. He told me all he knew.
He told me that they were calling me a parasite, and explained what it meant. He told me why those other people wanted to take me away. That he would never again be fully… normal. That other people will think he’s insane. That they’ll be afraid of him. That he’ll never be able to sit in a hard chair again.
They said that „nobody’ll want him” too. I don’t know what that means. They also asked what’d happen if I were to reproduce. I think that had something to do with him and water, but I don’t think it’d hurt him. I could probably only do it properly with those blue things, anyway. That was Nature’s plan for me. And now… Well, I went in a different direction. I did my own thing. And I liked it.
Well, I would like it. Something bad’s going on. Our friendship, as human people like Hal would say, is about to face difficult times.
So far, the other people have agreed to leave me alone for a while. Hal told them they can’t act too fast or something. So I’m safe. For now.
But I know that’s not the end yet. That they’ll try to make me leave anyway
Because that’s what they want to do.
They want to take my friend away.