Dated: March 2018
Photo Courtesy: Max Pixel
We sat huddled in a corner, keeping ourselves warm with the dying fire. As embers flew in the air around us, I tried to inch closer to it as noiselessly as possible.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, they wake me up to tell me to breathe less noisily. Who knows what would have happened if any of us snored?
I’ve heard stories about teams who gave themselves away because a member happened to sneeze at the wrong time. The Slayers picked their noise before they picked their scent and that was the end of it. Like how it always is.
This is my seventh team. I barely know any of them here. They do no speak my language, or each other’s. This tells me we are a team of survivors, it gets my hopes high. We are the toughest of the lot, and since we have survived so far, we will survive right till the end. I conveniently ignore the long bloody trail of companions and family members all of us have left behind.
We were a family of three, mom, dad and I, before the Slayers got them, my parents. I was with my parents till my third team. None of the members survived from that one except me. The luckiest of us were in the fifth one, eight of the twelve of us lived to join different teams, choose paths that led us as far away from the Slayers as possible. They say there’s no getting away from the Slayers, that they are everywhere, growing everyday in number and strength exponentially. But I believe otherwise, I’m still hopeful.
Back then teams used to be bigger. It was before we realised that they should be big enough to provide adequate protection, warmth and sustenance, but, at the same time, not become an encumbrance.
My current team has five members including myself. We travel during the night and hide (rest?) during the day. That’s when the Slayers are at their strongest. We, on the contrary, have major trouble with sight in daylight. Our vision is mostly like a blur of colours and light intermingling with a constant swirl of objects. We see best in dim light, during twilight and dawn, when we are at our strongest. Nights are moderately better than the day, because that’s when the Slayers are most incapacitated by the darkness.
I still remember how it started. I vaguely remember the last few vestiges of peace between us and them, when there was no ‘us’ and ‘them’. My Pop, my dad’s dad, even told me of a time when the Slayers were called by a different name, one I don’t recall now (not that anyone has even used it in years). He told me stories of a time when Slayers actually lived in harmony with us! I once brought it up with my last team, and almost risked being thrashed to death by a member who had lost his better half in a Slayer attack in his previous team.
Pop has been dead and gone for a while now. There’s no way I’ll ever know the truth of his tales. Slayers and us in harmony? I’d rather believe my ancestors could breathe under water. But if only I could recall what Pop called them.
Sitting next to the fire, I fell asleep…on my watch. Even though we normally are safe from them during the night, we still made it a point to keep watch. I had not slept properly in three nights, obsessing over trying to remember what Slayers were called when they lived peacefully with us in Pop’s tales.
As I steadily handed over myself to sleep, involuntarily of course, I failed to see how the fire had begun to flourish. The embers had found a safe harbour on nearby brambles setting them afire. The warmth patted my tired back like a gentle mother lulling her baby to sleep, and I forgot about the Pyro protocol -the fire was never supposed to be beyond five Tersa, our measuring unit. The Slayer vision started at six. We were supposed to risk freezing to death than let the fire go beyond five Tersa according to the rules.
As I delved deeper and deeper into sleep, the fire became a being now well over eigth Tersa.
The Slayers had been our friends for centuries until one day, Pop said, they ran out of space. And that’s when trouble started. We had mostly stayed out of each other’s way until then.
Was that the harmony Pop was referring to –steering clear of each other?
When they ran out of space, the encroachments began. Soon the birds lost their nests, rodents lost their burrows, herbivores ran out of fodder. We thought that was the worst of it, but it didn’t stop there. Huntings began, food webs were disrupted. Wherever Slayers went, bloodshed and destruction followed.
While I traversed the history of our kind and the starting of the War against the Slayers, I could feel myself getting closer to the name Pop had used for them. It was like a hiss.
They had enough space, food, everything they ever needed. But one day, it wasn’t enough.
The fire had reached ten Tersa. Someone in the team began to stir awake. There was a rustling noise outside our encampment. Now fully awake, she pounced on her four limbs and snarled into the darkness.
Sapiens. Homo Sapiens. Humans.
Someone shook me awake. Another team member howled with pain as a dart-like object hit him in his stomach. Blood matted his dark auburn fur.
I found myself trapped between the raging inferno and a trio of long, metallic nozzles pointed at me. There was a clicking sound inside the nozzles as three triggers were pulled simultaneously. The Slayers had arrived, I realised calmly.