The Lightsby Narratorway
Terra and Gau: The Learning Lights
"You know it's amazing how fast time flies, isn't it?" Terra said wistfully, not really talking to anyone in particular.
"Hmmm? Oh no, not at all. I hope this summer never ends."
Terra turned to Katarin. She was looking at her son in her lap, lost in his eyes. They named him Jonathan, after Duane's Grandfather, the day after Terra came back. And as happy as Terra was for Katarin and Duane, the feelings of regret and in smaller part envy, was inevitable. She looked at her with as much a sense of longing as of contentment.
"Katarin...?" tears welled up in Terra's eyes.
"What?" Katarin was still looking at Jonathan.
The front door swung open and something emerged too fast to identify. It made a sound that could've been mistaken for a roar, but Terra recognized Gau's version of a cheer. So did Katarin, but she still shrieked and held Jonathan close. Terra watched Gau's dust as he ran out onto the fields. The children stopped playing and watched him run off. Terra stood up.
"Alright children, bedtime.", she called and waited for the response.
"Do we have to?"
She was impressed at the synchronization. 'Course, they practiced every evening. Terra crossed her arms, raised her eyebrow, and tilted her head down just a little, sending just the right signal. She practiced too and they knew the answer. As they ran towards the house, she smiled and looked out onto the plains. Gau had already disappeared, quite literally into the sunset.
When she had the talk with Gau as he came in that first night, a lot of things caved in on her, realizations. She realized that living in the wild, Gau had become nocturnal. She realized that he understood, "speak" as he put it, the animals better than anyone else did in the world. She realized that Gau had prevented something very big that first night. She realized that Gau would be the new protector of Molbiz, not her. It was a lot for her to take, but she was one who was used to heavy emotional weight.
She turned to go inside and saw Duane by the door. He was waiting for her.
"I think we need to talk."
"I know." Terra sighed, he was right. This had to be dealt with, and she had waited long enough.
They went inside and into the 'family' room. It was the area of the cave with the fireplace and table. Duane went over and started a fire. Terra waited silently by the table. When he was finished he sat at the other end. For quite a while they just sat there...staring.
Duane was the first to start off. He cleared his throat, something Terra noticed he was doing a lot lately, "I've been wondering lately if we still need to live in this cave, you know?"
"Oh really?", this was small talk and a run-around tactic, but Terra decided to play along.
"Yeah, I mean, upstairs, the house is done. It doesn't need any more repairs. All the houses are livable in fact so I think it's time that, well, we move everyone out and seal up the cave."
"You don't think that's a little rash?" she spoke calmly and disconnected.
"I just can't think of any reason why we still have to be down here. In fact, I've considered having Katarin, Jonathan and I move into my grandfather's house."
"Why not? It's not like there's anymore danger from rogue monsters."
"And what were we doing with 'rogue' monsters in the first place, Duane?" It was time.
"What?" The tone caught Duane off guard.
"Before I left, the only monster we ever had any real problem with was Phunbaba. Then I come back, and the children are still forced inside day after day. Why?"
"O-of course the monsters were as afraid of Phunbaba as we were." he stammered, "With him out of the way, there was nothing to stop them from coming into town and taking over...except me." Terra heard the conviction in his voice as he finished his sentence. It suddenly occurred to her that Duane didn't think what he'd done was wrong, he may have realized that most anyone else wouldn't approve, but in his mind, he'd done the right thing. Enough with this nonsense, Terra wasn't any good at this kind of conversational flanking.
"Gau told me what happened while I was away." Duane looked away. He didn't reply. "According to him the animals stayed away from here after what happened to Phunbabba. But one night, one of the dogs ran away. Is that right?"
"Yes." Duane replied thickly.
"And how did you handle that, Duane?" she stared at him intently, but spoke calmly. Like a therapist.
Duane gulped again, very audible, almost comical, "Um...well I...well..." He took a very deep breath and looked up at Terra and she could see fire in his eyes, "I took care of it."
"You went hunting and brought back animal heads which you promptly put on stakes around the town. Duane, what the hell were you thinking?" Terra's voice was rising. "Did you think it would scare them off? These animals are different than what you or I knew from the world before. They don't react in the same way. You made them angry and you endangered the children's lives."
Terra stopped and waited for a response. Duane's eyes had a far away look in them, and he saw past Terra to a memory she knew nothing of. He said, "When I was very young, I think maybe seven or eight, my dad took me up on his knee one evening. He did this very rarely, and usually as a kind of, I don't know, coming of age thing. Anyway he told me a story about how the town was first settled by his forefathers. They settled right on the shore cause they couldn't penetrate deeper into the veldt. They almost didn't make it, not because of the environment or weather, but because of the animals. No one knew why, but the animals attacked constantly and viscously. Any attempts at farming were futile. There weren't enough supplies to create a decent defense against the veldt. They attacked mostly at night, going after the elders and children first. By the end of the first year, the settlement had dwindled from about two hundred to fifty settlers. Eventually it was learned that the animals feared fire. Unfortunately in order to make fire they needed wood, something that the veldt lacked a great deal of. Things were desperate, my dad told me. They had to tear up the boats during the summer months when the animals attacked most frequently. They were stranded. It was looking hopeless for the food had almost run out. All of a sudden the animals stopped attacking. After a week they found out why. Since they had run out of wood, they couldn't burn the carcasses of the animals they'd killed, so they left them. Turns out the animals didn't like the smell of death, not the dangerous ones at any rate. After that, they made a perimeter of animal heads. It worked, and the settlement turned into Molbiz." Duane looked up at Terra and shrugged, "Dad wasn't much for endings. But that's how the town survived, nobody liked it, but they knew there was no alternative."
Terra waited and Duane continued, "My dad died a year later. He told me more stories. But for some reason, that was the one I always remembered. When the dog disappeared, I had to do something."
"Duane, the dog ran away on it's own. It's happened before, and they ended up coming right back as did this one. You know that."
Duane jumped out of his chair, "Dammit, I didn't know that! All I knew was that one morning I woke up to find that the dog that guarded the orphanage was gone. What would you do, huh?"
"I would stay here and guard the house. I would never leave the orphanage unattended. Duane you have to be smarter than this. We are alone out here, cut off, abandoned. And you cannot afford to be reckless again."
Duane had stopped pacing. Terra saw a strange look in his eyes, she couldn't place it. She spoke solemnly, "They're children Duane, and they can't live without us."
He didn't say anything.
"You're thinking about Jonathan aren't you?"
"Yeah." He didn't say anything else for a long while. "He made me take them down, the animal heads I mean. I knew what I'd tried wasn't working, I could tell from the animal cries. They were closer than before and they were louder...or at least they sounded that way, you know, more aggressive. I wasn't sure now if they would attack if I took them away. I spent an entire night thinking it over. Then I thought of Jonathan. I didn't want him to see those rotting corpses everyday. I stuck 'em out too far for even the children to identify them, but they knew what they were, and so would he. That's why I decided to bury them and burn the stakes."
Terra stared at Duane in awe, and suddenly felt foolish. She had planned to confront him about this event and explain to him the error of his ways, but he had already done it for her. She should have realized that, but she didn't, and now she had wasted...how much time? She looked up at the clock. It was one in the morning.
"My God, is it that late?" she didn't mean to say it aloud.
Duane turned to look at her, then at the wall. "Yeah, it's getting late. How 'bout we talk about this tomorrow."
It was a pathetic excuse and Terra knew it. She was about to use it herself.
"Ok, I'm so tired, I might just sleep where I sit." She genuinely meant it. But she found the strength to get up and get to her bed, where she had dreams that turned into nightmares and back again into dreams.