Category Archives: Short stories

Dragons In The Tram

I lazily walked into the tram after the other passengers departed. I liked to stand, and I took up my standard position opposite of the door, holding onto the rails. It was like any other morning: I was still half asleep on my way to work, and we were nearing my stop. The usual message stating what stop we were coming to and what connections could be found there played throughout the tram, but then there was an additional message.

“Bitte achten sie Drachen, Ihre persönlichen Gegenstände mitzunehmen.”

Please remember to take your belongings….dragons? I couldn’t have heard that right, but it sure sounded like it. I must have just still been half-asleep. The tram stopped, I got out, and then went to work.

After I finished work for the day, I went back to the tram and was leaning on the wall when we passed by the central station. The normal announcement played as usual, but then again, I heard an additional message.

“Bitte achten sie Drachen, Ihre persönlichen Gegenstände mitzunehmen.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at this point. There was nothing else they could be saying, but it was too ludicrous. My laughter attracted the glares of some other passengers which instantly made me resume my silence, although I still chuckled on the inside. Several days went by, and again, I kept hearing this odd new message when passing by important tram stops.

It had been almost a week since this additional message started playing in the tram and I was going out for the evening with my girlfriend, who happens to be a native German speaker. We passed by another main stop and without fail, I heard it again.

“Bitte achten sie Drachen, Ihre persönlichen Gegenstände mitzunehmen.”

“Did you hear that?” I eagerly grabbed her arm, hoping for her to confirm what I was hearing.

“Hear what?”

“The announcement they just said! About remembering to take your stuff?”

She hesitated, trying to recall. “Umm, I suppose… Why?”

“Because it sounded like they said something about dragons remembering to take your things!” The way she furrowed her eyebrows together in slight confusion was a stark contrast to the boyish smile I had on my face.

“I don’t think that’s what they said…” She trailed off, not sure if I was being serious or not about my claim.

“They totally did! Listen next time he says it, you’ll hear it!”

We went out for the evening, and when we were coming back, I made sure that she was paying attention. She heard it with me this time, but remained insistent that I was just hearing it wrong. I figured she was probably right, and I dropped the matter.

A couple days later however, it happened. I got in the tram and there, standing like I usually did, near the next door, there was a dragon! Surprisingly enough, it was just standing there, looking as bored and annoyed as everyone else on their way to work. With red scales covering the majority of its bulking body, gnarled claws protruding from its hands and feet, it was the last thing I expected to see on the way to work.

It was slumped against the wall opposite of the door, its big underbelly reaching far out into the walkway. It was tall enough that it had to stoop down to prevent its head from hitting the ceiling of the tram, its long neck pushing its head almost 3 meters into the air. Its scaly arms dangled by its side, swaying back and forth with the motions of the tram. It had a dangerous looking tail which wrapped around its leg and crossed the walkway in the tram, almost going to the door itself, forcing everyone to delicately step over the tail and the spiked barb at the end. With its wings (which were smaller than I would have thought) pressed up against the tram, the morning sunlight was partially blocked out, further amplifying its ominous and intimidating presence by casting it in shadows.

I was afraid at first. I wanted to run out of the tram, but surprise and fear locked me in place, and I was stuck inside the tram with the dragon once the doors closed. What would it do? Would it attack anyone? Nobody else paid it much attention. How was nobody else as surprised by this as I was? I looked around the tram, hoping to see anybody else struggling with the situation like I was, but I only saw more bored and disinterested people.

The dragon wasn’t doing much, and just as I was starting to come to terms with the situation, it started to take in a deep breath. I could only think how that was was going to be the end, it was going to breath fire on all of us! But instead of turning the entire tram into an inferno, it let out a long, bored sigh, and then reached up and straightened its tie. A tie? I didn’t even notice it at first! I was too wrapped up in taking in the foreign, scaly beast in front of me, I didn’t even notice that it had a tie around its neck. It was a normal sized tie, but its bulky neck made it look more like a simple thread hanging around its neck, which is why I didn’t see it at first.

The dragon finally took notice of the fact that I had been staring at it for several stops. It slightly turned its head towards me and looked me dead in the eyes until our eyes locked with each other’s. Our eyes remained locked for a few seconds since I simply couldn’t look away until the dragon made a gesture by moving its head very slightly, but quickly in my direction. I instantly broke our mutual gaze and quickly started looking out the window instead, hoping that I didn’t anger the dragon into attacking me.

I awkwardly stood there, trying to look at everything else but the dragon, until we finally got to my stop. Shortly before getting there, the dragon had moved from its perch opposite of the door, and had shuffled over to the door, getting ready to disembark as well. As we approached the next stop, the familiar message rang throughout the tram.

“Bitte achten sie Drachen, Ihre persönlichen Gegenstände mitzunehmen.”

Most people didn’t pay the message any heed, but upon hearing this, the dragon perked up, turned around and shuffled back to where it was previously standing. It then then reached down with a loud groan and grabbed a briefcase which it had apparently almost forgotten. The tram stopped, the doors opened, and I watched dumbfounded as the dragon, along with all the other humans, and even a dog, shuffled their way out of the door. With my mouth agape, I couldn’t help but stare at the dragon as it walked away with all the other people shuffling around it without any care. The doors then closed, startling me into action since I should have also disembarked there. By the time I reached the doors, they were fully closed and the tram was in motion, forcing me to go an extra stop and making me late to work.

It isn’t every day that I see a dragon on the tram, but on average, I would say that I see one every few days. They don’t seem to bother anyone, nor does anyone else seem bothered or surprised to see them. I wanted to approach one and ask them, but I am not even sure what language to speak to them in. They all seem to understand German due to understanding the messages, but my German isn’t perfect, and the thought of attempting to speak to a dragon in German is intimidating to say the least.

One of these days I might ask one of them where they came from, and why I have only started seeing them in the past few weeks, and why nobody else is even slightly fazed to see dragons taking the tram. But until then, I will just continue to observe them getting on and off the trams, sometimes forgetting something behind, but always being saved by the helpful announcement:

“Bitte achten sie Drachen, Ihre persönlichen Gegenstände mitzunehmen.”

Fin

This story was inspired by the trams in Cologne, Germany. A few weeks ago, the trams started adding an automated message right before arriving at some of the more important stops and hubs. They are kindly reminding people to grab their stuff, but what I heard at first was “Bitte achten sie Drachen, Ihre persönlichen Gegenstände mitzunehmen,” which would translate more or less as “Dragons, please remember to bring your personal effects” (Drachen means dragons in German). I asked my S.O. what they were really saying, and even they wouldn’t give a straight answer, sometimes saying “Bitte denken sie daran, Ihre persönlichen Gegenstände mitzunehmen,” and sometime “Bitte achten sie darauf, Ihre persönlichen Gegenstände mitzunehmen.” Both would more or less mean “Please remember to take your personal effects with you.” Their indecisiveness has convinced me that I heard the announcement correctly, and they are just trying to hide the fact that there are now dragons taking the trams within the city. I tried many times to record it, but the ambient sounds kind of drown out the message. You can listen for yourself though by playing the following audio (unfortunately someone says something at the very beginning, but this was my best recording after several attempts):

Exotic Meats Club

I found a prompt called “Each month, a member of the Exotic Meats Club hosts a dinner and tries to one-up the last month’s host. Ever since Karl hunted and served a Yeti, things have started getting… weird.” I got a little liberal with the story. Of course, my initial instinct was to have things progress until they finally ended up eating humans, but I saw that the other responses to this prompt already had that pretty well covered. I decided to change it up a bit, and I deviated from the prompt a little bit, but I still think it turned out interesting enough.

Exotic Meats Club

Mike lived a relatively quiet life in retirement in a pleasant cabin in the woods in Northern Montana. It was quiet, and after a long and exciting life, it was exactly what he wanted. In violation of his peace, his daughter, her husband, and their 2 kids, his grandchildren, were to come and visit him for a weekend while they were driving across the country on a road trip. Mike wasn’t very thrilled about it, but it had been almost a decade since he saw them, and his grandchildren were just babies of 1 and 2 years old when he last saw them, so he grudgingly agreed to let them stay at his place for a few days.

It was about noon when their car pulled up into his driveway. A trail of dust followed the car from the bumpy dirt road they had to take to get to his house, and Mike couldn’t help but smirk knowing that Michael, his daughter’s husband, would be upset that the car was now dirty as he prided himself on looking sharp at all times. The car stopped and Michael, Amy, Mike’s daughter, and their 2 children, Ricky and Logan, all got out of the car. The children started running around the car, eager to get out and stretch their legs. As Mike anticipated, Michael closed the door and looked disapprovingly at the car and mumbled about needing it washed. Amy instantly went up to her father, excited to see him.

“Dad! It’s so great to see you! How have you been?” Her smile radiated as she embraced him.

“Hey there doll, it’s great to see you too.” Despite his previous apprehension, he was genuinely happy to see her. Mike didn’t dislike Michael, but he definitely enjoyed pulling on his leg. Loud enough for Michael to hear, Mike loudly asked “And how is ‘little Mikey’ doing? Fretting about the car I assume?” Only 1 minute, and he already had to start.

“Oh stop it dad! You know he doesn’t like that.” Amy laughed while playfully hitting his arm.

Michael had to resist rolling his eyes before he came over and shook hands. “Hello Mike, how are you doing?”

“Oh, still alive, still fighting.”

“Kids, come here and say hi to Grandpa!” Michael shouted at his kids. They both obediently came over and greeted and hugged Mike before hurrying off to run around some more.

“Come in! Let me show you guys where you will be sleeping.” Mike escorted them inside where they wound down, cleaned themselves up, and mildly conversed until dinner when they all sat down in the dining room. Mike had prepared steaks with potatoes and corn on the cob, which was laid down in front of everyone.

Like most younger people, Ricky was picking at his food after they started. “This meat is weird, what is it?” He inquired.

“It’s just a normal steak Ricky, be grateful and eat it” Michael snapped at his son.

“Oh it’s not just any steak” Mike began, “have you ever had bear?” Mike questioned Ricky. Ricky shook his head, causing Mike to laugh. “Well you have now, this is a black bear that I hunted myself a few weeks ago!”

“Wow, cool!” Logan was previously indifferent to the meal, but upon learning that it was bear he became much more enthusiastic about it. Seeing his enthusiasm, Ricky also started devouring his meal. Michael let out a slightly disapproving grunt, not excited to be eating a bear.

“Oh dad, stop it! We all know that you just bought some steaks from the store.” Amy was used to some interesting tales from her dad, and while she knew that he did hunt, she didn’t think he still had it in him to hunt a bear.

“Oh I did, I could show you the garage where I cleaned it up, but I don’t think the kids need to see that.” He was mildly annoyed that they didn’t believe him, but he was also used to it. A lot of his stories seemed to incredible to others, but this was just the tip of the iceberg.

While eating, the conversation turned to more benign topics like the family, work, retirement, and all of the other catching up they had to do. As dinner was winding down, Mike caught Logan staring at a mounted jackalope above the entryway to the dining room.

“Do you know what that is Logan?” Mike was obviously eager for an answer.

“Well…” Logan was unsure of himself. “It looks like a rabbit, but rabbits don’t usually have horns like that.”

“Aye, that’s correct. That’s because it’s not a rabbit, it’s a jackalope. Very similar, but jackalopes have antlers, and not horns actually.”

“I have never seen one before.”

“You probably haven’t, they are really rare. I hunted that one actually.”

“Really?!” Both Logan and Ricky were enthralled. This was new, exciting, and a bit odd for them.

“Oh stop it dad! You’re always messing with people.” Ashley was trying to calm down the kids before they got too caught up in Mike’s “stories.” “Ricky, Bobby, he’s just messing with you, you can buy those at souvenir shops, they don’t really exist.”

“Oh they most certainly do. They’re actually pretty territorial too. I had one chase me away while I was peeing too close to his den too.” That remark got Bobby and Ricky laughing.

“Did you eat that meat too?” asked Michael, somehow eager to get in on this conversation, which resulted in Amy rolling her eyes.

“I most certainly did. They don’t have too much meat, but it was some good jerky for sure!” Amy decided to get up and take the dishes to the sink. Even after so many years apart, she had heard so many stories while growing up she didn’t feel like hearing anymore. Michael got up to follow her and help with the dishes, leaving Mike and the children alone.

“What other meats have you tried?” Logan was slowly getting wrapped up in hearing his grandpa talking.

Mike couldn’t help but let out a very hearty laugh before growing somber. He looked happy, yet sad at the same time. “Funny you should ask that actually,” he softly said before resuming his normal volume, “let me tell you kids about the time I spent in the Exotic Meats Club.”

Both Logan and Ricky became very attentive and looked at him with greedy anticipation. “As you both know, I used to hunt a lot, and I still do. I like to be able to catch my own food and reap the fruits of my own labor. In my many years, I had joined various clubs and organizations devoted to hunting and food. I eventually found the perfect club, which merged exotic hunting with exotic foods, and it was called the Exotic Meats Club. It was there that I met a few good friends, namely Karl and Steve. All three of us enjoyed hunting and eating various animals. We tried it all: ostrich, llama, lion, camel, kangaroo, crocodile. We thought we had tried about everything crazy we could that we could hunt, but then Karl, Karl got something amazing. A Yeti! He was on a hunting trip in the Himalayas, hoping to get a rare snow leopard, but instead, he found a Yeti!”

“A Yeti?” asked Logan incredulously.

“Yes, I know, it sounds crazy, but he really did. He even managed to get a photo standing over it. One second, he gave me a copy and I have it somewhere.” Mike wandered off into his room for a few minutes while he searched for it. The kids silently looked at each other, but before either of them could say anything, Mike returned with a box filled with some of his most treasured items. He fumbled through it for a minute until he found the photo he was looking for. Mike carefully handled the picture as he showed it to them. It was an old black and white photo, grainy and worn out, but it did depict a man with a gun standing over a lightly colored, hairy, ape-like man in the snow.

As if that proved everything, Mike continued his story. “Yes, so Karl shot a yeti and managed to bring us back some meat for myself and Steve, as well as the other club members. We had all heard of yetis before, but much like you, we figured them to be the topics of folklore and nothing more. How wrong we were though. It was after Karl shared his yeti meat with the club that we met Steffan.

Steffan was a peculiar guy. He was German, had short hair, but a long beard, and he spoke flawless English except for the fact that he could never properly pronounce his ‘th’ sounds.” Mike had to chuckle to himself as he recalled Steffan speaking. “Anyways, Steffan approached us. You see, Steffan was also an exotic animal hunter who enjoyed trying various meats. Steffan was far more experienced than anyone else in the club though. He used to be in other even more private, secretive and exclusive clubs of a similar nature, but he didn’t care for the pretentious people, so he opted to hang out in more relaxed clubs like ours. Nobody else in our club even knew of yetis except for Steffan because he had indeed already hunted yetis before. There was a whole world of super rare animals that one could hunt, you just had to know where to go and how to find them.”

The Jackalope

“Alright you crazy bastard! I didn’t even know that such a thing existed, how are we going to top that for next month’s meeting?” Steve was besides himself. He was super excited to be eating yeti, but there just wasn’t any topping it.

Karl simply laughed. “I don’t know man, I was surprised by it myself. I guess I have achieved the magnum opus of getting exotic meats for our club.”

“Excuse me gentlemen.” Mike, Steve and Karl all turned to face the man who had approached their table they were sitting at with dirty, but empty plates in front of them from the Yeti steaks. “I couldn’t help but overhear you guys, and I must personally congratulate you, Karl was it?, on your recent find. Zat is something that not everyone gets to do.”

Karl, getting slightly cocky with all the compliments, boasted, “well I can’t imagine that anyone else has done this before,” finishing off his sentence with a triumphant laugh.

“I wouldn’t be so sure of yourself. While I can’t say zat I have personally ever shot a yeti, I have got some other more exemplary animals.”

“Such as?” Steve asked, almost sneering at him.

“Oh, we have different animals in Europe, I have hunted animals like Wolpertingers and even Werewolves, and I am now touring the Americas for other animals.”

“Who are you?” Mike asked. He found this mysterious man’s story hard to believe, but then again, they had just finished eating yeti steaks.

“Forgive me! I have not properly introduced myself. My name is Steffan Bergheim, I am from Germany and am also an avid exotic animal hunter and eater. Like I said, zere are many exotic animals, and I would like to show you more.”

“Why?” Mike asked, not out of suspicion, but solely because he didn’t understand why Steffan would want to show them these things.

“I find you 3 pleasant, like most people in this club. I have been a member of various other organizations that focus on more exotic, almost fairy-tale like animals, but I did not care for ze ozer members, so I more or less ‘retired’ to zis club. I figure I should pass on some information zough. As such, it would be my pleasure to invite you 3 out to a hunting trip in eastern Wyoming next month.”

“What is there?” Karl had hunted there before, and there wasn’t anything too exotic. “I have hunted antelope there. Bison tend to be a little more west, but we might find that there? On the other hand, bison aren’t that rare, and we have all had that.”

A grin crept across Steffan’s face. “Of course, but have you had jackalope? It’s like a rabbit, but with antlers.

“A jackalope?!” Mike laughed. “Those don’t really exist, they are just made up!”

“You do realize that you just ate a yeti, or?” Steffan was almost smug, and the other 3 grew quiet.

They decided to go hunting together, and after meeting up in Sheridan after a few weeks, they all went camping. Steffan made sure the location was right, the bait was correct, and all other variables were as needed. Sure enough, at midnight, prancing across the prairie was a small herd of jackalopes. They all got one, and the following Exotic Meat Club meeting was celebrated with a roast of jackalope stew and potatoes.

Interrupting Mikes story, Ricky posed a question to Mike, “Is that where the mounted jackalope came from?”

“Exactly,” Mike cheerily replied. “I didn’t buy a fake imitation, I actually hunted it, dressed it, stuffed it, and mounted it, along with eating the meat. But back to my story.”

The next month, they decided to get a little more adventurous. Steffan invited them all to Mexico. Again, Steffan knew how to find their next target, the elusive Chupracabra. They had to use goats as bait, which they bought from a rancher. The traps were correct, and they all managed to trap a Chupracabra each.

“I thought these were only made up, but now I am actually eating one!” Steve remarked at the next meeting. The Chupracabra meat had a consistency like cow tongue, and it was cut into thin fillets and friend in a pan with olive oil.

The other members were furiously curious at how these 4 were getting animals that they all previously thought had never existed. The 4 kept their secret to themselves though, and despite constant attempts at getting answers out of them, whether by coercion, tricking, or just following them, nobody managed to find out where they went.

Again interrupting Mike’s story, Amy and Michael had finished the dishes and had come back into the dining room.

“OK kids, I think you have annoyed your grandpa enough” Amy chided them.

“No really, I am enjoying myself” Mike declared.

“We want to keep listening!” Ricky and Logan simultaneously protested.

Amy and Michael looked at each other. “Well, if you want to keep them busy for a while dad, I think we will just go for a walk alone for a while if that’s alright?” She looked at Michael, who also seemed excited to have some peace from the children.

“Most certainly. Take a flashlight, they are by the door!” Amy and Michael left, leaving the 3 alone again. “Come on boys, let’s go in the living room where the fire is at.”

The boys hurriedly ran into the room while Mike prepared hot chocolate for them. Shortly afterwards, he entered the living room, handed his grandchildren the hot chocolate and sat in his chair in front of the fire, looking at the couch that the 2 boys sat on, sipping their drinks. Mike opened a beer he had brought into the room with him, took a sip, and then continued.

“So, where was I? Ah yes, we had found and eaten Chupracabra. It reminded me of snake actually, but a bit irony tasting for my taste. Anyways, Steffan invited us out again.”

Bigfoot and Europe

“One of ze more exclusive animals I would like to try is Bigfoot” Steffan explained to the other 3 at lunch one day while eating parboiled Koala.

“Bigfoot?” Karl was unsure of himself. “Is that different than the yeti that I shot?”

“A little, but zey are very similar. I am told zat while zey are not much different, ze bigfoot is unique to north America, and zat is part of the reason I am here, touring ze Americas.”

“Well we would gladly join you in that, if you would allow us to join?” Mike was eager to try anything new.

“Oh of course! It would be a delight, and a help, to have friends along.”

They assembled a week before the next club meeting and flew to Flagstaff, Arizona, where they would scour the Rocky Mountains for the elusive Bigfoot. This was also Steffan’s first time, but he had guides from other people, and although it did take a few days, they eventually did manage to find a Bigfoot, albeit just one. Steffan shot it, and they all posed in front of it for a picture, and in time for the meeting, the next Exotic Meats Club was presented with Bigfoot burgers.

While eating their meals, Steffan decided to break the news to the other 3 “It has been a pleasure hunting with you guys, but I have more or less tasted what I wanted to taste in America, and I zink I will return to Germany.”

“No way!” Steve was visibly upset. “It has been too amazing learning about all these new animals and trying the meat, we don’t want you to leave!”

“I know, but anytime you guys can come to Germany or Europe, I would be glad to show you around.”

They looked at each other. Steve, Karl and Mike all had jobs that allowed them to work anywhere. A silent confirmation between them happened, and then Mike asked “And what if we came next month, got the meat, and came back to our meeting? In fact, we could all fly out to Germany for the next few months if you would like to show us some European animals that we could taste.”

“Zat would be wonderful!” Steffan was excited to have them all join him in Europe on a regular basis.

The next few months went by as planned with Steve, Karl and Mike all going to Europe on a regular basis, hunting with Steffan who showed them a new animal, and then returning for the monthly Exotic Meet Club meetings. They hunted wolpertinger in Germany. It reminded them a lot of the jackalopes and rabbits of North America. They hunted centaurs in Scandinavia. They were tricky and dangerous. More intelligent beings that worked with tools and traveled in packs, they were all lucky to get out of there without any harm. The centaurs tasted unsurprisingly like a mix of horse, but also pig. They got bolder and Steffan got more comfortable showing them more dangerous things. They hunted werewolves in the eastern European Alps. Very tricky, they can only be hunted during full moons, and they are extremely violent and dangerous. Karl actually got clawed by it while they hunted it, but luckily nothing serious happened as a result. The werewolf was like dog, stringy, and tough. They started practicing with harpoons and eventually went down to the arctic circle and hunted mermaids. They needed scuba gear, and had to be very careful not to rupture their gear while underwater if a mermaid attacked them. The mermaids were quick, but they eventually cornered one and got it with their harpoons. The mermaid was like a very dense tuna, and they smoked it over oak planks.

Ricky and Logan were fixated on his stories. What he related to them was so incredible, they were in awe. Additionally, the descriptions of the different dishes they made with these new animals made their mouths water. At this point, Amy and Michael had returned from their walk and wanted the kids to go to bed.

“We don’t want to go to bed!” Logan protested. Ricky was less vocal as he was growing tired, but he still didn’t want to stop listening to Mike.

“Aw come on Amy, I am almost done. What about another 15 minutes?” Mike tried to barter with her over the right to keep telling his story to the kids.

Amy sighed. “Fine, whatever, we’re on vacation. Fifteen minutes. We are going to go get ready for bed, but I want you two brushing your teeth in 15 minutes!”

“Yes mom” Ricky and Logan obediently complied.

Mike let out a chuckle. “Yes mom!” he called after her sarcastically. “OK, so we have 15 minutes, but,” he hesitated for a second, recomposing himself, “luckily this story is almost over.” He paused and breathed in deeply. “So, Steffan wanted us to go after one of the biggest prizes an exotic animal hunter and eater can go after: a kraken!”

Kraken

“You see, not many people can take on a kraken” Steffan explained to them while dining over hippo confit. “You need a capable team, one that works well together, which is part of ze reason that I wanted to take you all under my wing at ze very beginning. I wanted us to get aquatic experience, because we will need it to get one of ze highest prizes you can get.”

“Wow, sounds exciting!” Steve was enthralled. Mike was cautiously optimistic.

Karl was much harder to persuade. “I don’t know,” he began. “It sounds dangerous.”

“Oh of course it is!” Steffan reassured him. “I know you got hurt while we were in the Alps, but I trust that if we work together, we could get a kraken!” There was such passion in Steffan, such a desire, that it infected the others. “Zey say that kraken meat is some of the most buttery and savory of meats that one can find” he decided to add on.

“OK, let’s do it then. The others in the Exotic Food Club will be so angry at us” Karl had to laugh about it, and eventually the whole table was laughing with anticipation, but also a healthy dose of nervousness.

The time came. They had rented a decent sized fishing boat and had equipped it with the necessary harpoon systems. They sailed into the northern Pacific Ocean. The bait was correct, the harpoons were right, everything was perfect. And yet, tragedies can happen, and so they did. Karl hesitated when the kraken surfaced, he froze up. The kraken came at them, and without Karl’s harpoon hindering the kraken, it hit the boat, wrapping its tentacles around it. Steffan, Mike and Steve all tried frantically to use their remaining harpoons, but it was too late. Steve slipped on the icy deck, the kraken grabbed him and pulled him below. Steffan loaded up his harpoon gun and fired it time and time again, no longer focusing on effective shots, but shooting wildly in a frantic haze. The harpoons didn’t do much other than anger the kraken, which then smashed its tentacle into Steffan.

The boat started to roll, getting tipped over so that it was upside down. With that, the kraken lost his grip on the boat, and with its injuries, it let itself float back into the water, away from these attackers. Steve was taken down to the bottom of the ocean with it. Steffan was still in the boat when it had rolled over. The kraken had crushed his ribs when it hit him, and with water flooding everywhere as the boat flipped over, Steffan had also met his end as a result of his injuries and the cold water. Karl had got enough of his wits about him as the boat started to flip to signal an SOS signal before he and Mike clambered on top of the overturned boat.

“I knew this was a bad idea, and now we are going to die out here” Karl said, huddled in a ball to ward off the cold.

“We were so close…” Mike started to cry and Karl just looked at him before lowering his head onto his knees.

Mike shifted his head away from Ricky and Logan as he was telling his story, hiding a tear rolling down his face. “And with that, Steffan and Steve died, and I stopped hunting extremely exotic animals and decided to be like Steffan and only hunt more commonly known and accepted animals, like the bear we had for dinner. Karl also retired, now fairly skittish of animals.”

The kids were awe struck. They were young enough to believe in fantasies, but old enough to not believe everything one said. Ricky wordlessly went up to mike and hugged him after seeing him sniffling, but they still weren’t sure. There were so many photos that he had though, which he had been showing them throughout his story. And he told it with such detail.

As if on cue, Amy came into the room, ushering the kids off to bed. “OK boys, go brush your teeth and go to bed, it’s bedtime!”

“But that was so amazing” Logan started to protest.

“Yes yes” Amy wanted them in bed half an hour ago and was getting impatient. “All of his stories are. Did he tell you how he used to race clouds, or how he got in trouble for accepting bribes from trolls to make unnecessary bridges, or how he used to teach crabs karate, or how he used to sell tree-hole permits to squirrels?” She looked at the kids and then at her dad with smug grin and raised eyebrows.

Mike just laughed. “I have had some odd jobs and hobbies in my days, I admit that. I have retired though, and I just hunt on occasion and still sample exotic meats.”

The kids were a little disappointed that his story might not be true, but they weren’t surprised in the end. Amy and the kids went to bed, and Mike sat there on his chair, watching the fire burn out while he reminisced about the past.

“My life has been full of extraordinary events, I give them that.” Mike was thinking out loud. “I can prove it to them though.”

Mike then went and oiled up his hunting rifle and prepare a lot of snacks. Wendigos usually came out at the early dawn, and he would use himself as bait. Wendigos fed on the gluttonous, so he would gorge himself in the field until a wendigo came. Then he would shoot it and show his family the dressed corpse, and also have a great dinner. Wendigo meat was a little gamey, but very tender, and quite fatty, and it was excellent when grilled with a lemon-herb spice. He set an alarm for 5 in the morning and then went to sleep. At 5 his alarm went off, he grabbed his warm clothes, his snacks, and his loaded gun and headed out the door.

I haven’t had wendigo in a long time. Mike though to himself. I am really going to enjoy this.

Escape into Society (complete)

This is the complete version of a short story I had been working on. In the end, I am fairly satisfied with it, but it could have been better. Had I more time, I would have liked to actually talk with some behavioral scientists, as well as linguists, to see how likely these events could have transpired over the few hundred years it did to possibly amend the story to make it more not necessarily believable, but potentially accurate. This is partially why I didn’t get into too much detail about Woota’s actual speech patterns , norms, or customs, because I just simply am not positive of what would be a realistic possibility.
The original 1st part is here, the original 2nd part is here, and the original 3rd part is here. This post is basically just all 3 put into one, although I did add a couple sentences which could be a basis for another story in the future, but we will see. As such, this is what I came up with.

Escape into Society

Sarah sat back in her chair as the leather cushion squeaked, closing her exhausted eyes hard enough that they started to water. After opening her eyes and wiping away the tears of exhaustion, she glanced at the clock on her computer to discover it was already well past midnight. Her last coffee was already several hours ago and her energy had finally ran out. She wanted to review her report that she had been working on one last time before sending it.

On the Development of Language among Cloister 16B

Dr. Sarah McMurdo, Head of Language Research for Project Embryo

Cloister 16B has shown the most advancement over the past 30 years in regards to the development of its language. While other cloisters have exhibited greater growth in technology or non-verbal communication, among other metrics we are observing, 16B’s language has evolved into the most complex of all of the cloisters’ languages at this time. It is hard to say what is the cause of their language’s success in comparison to other cloisters. It is worth noting that 16B also has one of the more intricate and pervasive religious-like belief structures. While there is a correlation, there is not currently enough data or a big enough sample size to determine if the religion is due to their advanced language or vice-versa. It is more likely the case that their religion is due to 16B’s form of containment, a large wall encircling their designated area, as their religion’s focal point is the wall.

The report then went on about how the humans in Cloister 16B had been slow at developing initially, much like the hundreds of other humans that were split into other cloisters. Most groups did manage to start using basic tools like wooden clubs and spears with stone tips quick enough, but not much happened after that for a while. There were enough deer that they could all lead successful hunter/forager lifestyles, and most stayed that way. Every cloister was given the resources to also develop agriculture, as plants that were farmable were also in every cloister, but only a few cloisters had become agrarian at this point.

This point being 240 years after the creation of Project Embryo, a mega-research project funded in cooperation with the American and Canadian governments in the year 2032. After many attempts, a researcher achieved the large grants necessary to create a facility where they would test human development from the beginning. The Canadian government was particularly excited to have this research project take place in Canada because that meant that the American government would be sending money to assist. While the Canadian government did properly use most of the funds as intended, as always, some funds did find a way to get appropriated into other projects.

That didn’t hamper the project though, and it proceeded as intended. The only way to accurately test that was to put humans at the beginning: back to before the stone age. The project entailed getting hundreds of humans from early childhood and putting them into different groups to see how they fend for themselves, and how they develop over time. Children from unwanted pregnancies, as well as some donors, gave their children to the program. The children were randomly separated into different groups and put into different areas, called cloisters. The children were never spoken too, so as to not give them any precognition about language, and they were simply nurtured as necessary before being shown how to forage for basic foods before they were abandoned in the cloisters. These cloisters were several dozen square kilometers in order to attempt to provide enough space for the humans to move around and adapt to their environments if necessary, as well as for the wild deer and other animals to move around, even if they couldn’t migrate very well. Different cloisters were isolated in different ways. Some cloisters were isolated just because there were on large islands or tracts of islands (with walls surrounding the far shores, just in case the water was crossed). Other cloisters were surround by walls or others had sets of speakers that would emanate loud and horrific sounds if anyone got too close, scaring them back.

All these groups of people in each cloister had been monitored by scientists for the past 240 years to see how they would develop with regards to their language, technology, culture, religion, science, and basically any facet of humanity as to get a better understanding on how humanity developed the way it did.

Due to the fact that there were no fully grown humans protecting them or teaching them, many cloisters perished at the beginning because the toddlers didn’t manage to find enough food and water on their own. The cloisters where all the humans perished were then rendered empty, necessitating that they be filled with some people who were drugged and moved from another more successful cloister, to further see how the 2 separate groups which originated from the same cloister would develop. Some cloisters did become agrarian, most stuck to hunting deer and foraging for berries and roots. Some groups had no language whatsoever and acted out of primal instinct. Other groups developed rituals and sometimes what was interpreted as religion. Some didn’t even discover fire, but most of the ones that did use fire were subtly shown how to do it by researches via secret service entrances.

Cloister 16B was one of the more exemplary cases.

The report continued:

Cloister 16B can be described as the most similar to ancient humanity. Their language has developed the furthest, far enough that I and other linguists can almost fully understand their primitive language. They have not discovered written language yet, but the verbal aspects are impressive to say the least, and it follows a grammar structure that we can piece together. Cloister 16B had also discovered farming, which led to them being able to live in one area, focusing on improving their homes and crop yield. 16B had also developed a fascination for the wall that surrounded their cloister. Cloister 16B had been one of the more successful cloisters ever since the beginning, and about half of their population had been moved to an empty cloister about 200 years ago, and while they didn’t have language to convey what happened to subsequent generations, it seems that the populace believed the wall was responsible, and a general cautious respect for the wall had been passed down ever since then. This is believed to be the reason the inhabitants of cloister 16B give offerings to the wall, but never dare get within arm’s reach of the wall. The Northern Lights, which are also sometimes visible here in the Northwest Territories, also seem to play a role in their religion, with offerings to the wall increasing after a Northern Lights sighting.

Since Project Embryo was ethically questionable at best, the location is would be conducted in was initially a secret. It didn’t take too long before the public discovered that the facility was being built in the Northwest Territories in Canada since it had gotten warm enough after the climate had gotten warmer, and the land was still cheap and desolate enough. As knowledge of the facility became public, there was lots of backlash and protests against the facility as it was seen as inhumane to just throw toddlers into the wild. Since the land was privately purchased through the grants, the land the facility was on became private property, and a security firm was hired to keep trespassers off the premise who were either protesting or sometimes trying to break in to free the human test subjects. As time wore on though, public opinion became apathetic as public opinion usually does, and interest in Project Embryo and the protests died down, and the project continued unabated until this day. Even so, it was hard for the researchers and scientists who were watching humans die easily preventable deaths, and they often felt guilty. They had to had to learn to separate their emotions from their work, but Sarah still felt twangs of sadness whenever any ill circumstances fell upon any of the members of any cloister, but particularly for those in 16B, as they were her star cloister since she writing a research paper on the development of their language.

One particular member of cloister 16B has caught my and other researchers’ attention. The others in 16B seem to address him by a name that sounded like “Woolta”, and he is a particularly curious member. His language skills, as primitive as their language is compared to modern languages, is still better than average for his cloister. He works in the fields sowing and harvesting corn and other vegetables, but his curiosity has led him to explore almost his entire cloister. He seems to have less fear for the wall, which is a problem since the wall didn’t have that much security. At one point, Woolta attempted to stack some dead trees in a fashion that would allow him to get up the wall. We reacted by increasing the height of the wall overnight to dissuade him and others. Not only did this dissuade Woolta himself, it also brought on the ire of the other members who believed that he had caused the walls to get higher, which also meant he was effectively ostracized by the others for attempting to scale the wall, which resulted in no further attempts at getting over the wall. This also led to the development of a few new words that cloister 16B invented. These new words seem to revolve around acts that make the wall higher, and they use these new words to sometimes express fear, and they are also used to describe someone who does a stupid or silly act. At the time of writing this, it appears that Woolta has been continuously ostracized for the most part, and excluded from group dinners, forcing him to steal and forage for food. His previous and current transgressions also seem to be used as an excuse for further ostracization. Some members of the group are discussing “Lokto”, which is another word they have recently developed. We are not sure what Lokto means at this point, as they haven’t expressed it in a way which gives enough context to ascertain its meaning yet, although it seems like it is some punishment that they intend to carry out based on other bodily and social cues exhibited when discussing this topic.

Sarah would have liked to see how things progress before submitting the report on the development of languages, as these new words were exciting, but she had a deadlines, and the paper needed to be submitted the following day. As such, Sarah was still working in the only illuminated office room in the small observation building. Everyone else had already gone back to their homes in the small town that had popped up for the research center in the Northwest Territories which was unimaginatively called Project Town. Sarah felt a shiver go down her spine as she contemplated how she was completely alone in the building before trying to focus on her work again.

After skimming through her entire report one last time, Sarah was satisfied enough, and exhausted enough, to decide that the paper was finished. She sleepily clicked the send button and watched as the email was sent off to her superiors. The monitor light reflected off of her glazed eyes as she shut down the computer and started lazily pushing her things into her bag. With her bag over her shoulder, she shut off the office light and started walking down the hallway towards the parking lot.

Curiosity got the best of Sarah as she decided to quickly pop her head in the observation room and look at the video feeds for the cloister surveillance systems. It was past midnight, so she didn’t expect to see much, but one monitor caught her eye as it was fairly well illuminated. Tiny cameras had been planted in all sorts of rocks, allowing for continued surveillance of the cloisters, and the monitor feed for cloister 16B curiously had some activity. She sat down on the desk and started flipping through the different feeds for 16B, trying to make sense of what was happening.

It seemed that most of the residents of 16B were looking for something as they were walking around in groups with torches. Sarah kept flipping through the feeds, trying to find a camera that was close enough to a group to hopefully eavesdrop and make some sense of the situation. The screen flashed with a bright light as the lens adjusted to take in less light for the next feed Sarah switched to. Sarah had switched to a feed for a camera that was directly next to a group of people as they were slowly and methodically walking and shouting. As she had feared, “Lokto” did mean a punishment, and based on the context, it seemed that the rest of the inhabitants had decided that killing Woolta was necessary, in hopes of making the wall go down again to its original size.

Sarah changed the settings to infrared mode in hopes of finding Woolta, as he was undoubtedly hiding in the darkness. Not all the cameras were equipped with infrared, but they gave enough of overview that she hoped she would find him. It didn’t take long because the infrared made it easy to spot human bodies, and she find him sneaking along the wall, away from the others.

Sometimes you make bad decisions when you aren’t in your normal mental state. Sarah was tired enough that this was one of those times. Woolta was one of the most interesting inhabitants of the entire program, and she would have been deeply saddened if he was unnecessarily killed. There was also the opportunity of talking with one of the test subjects directly. While against their entire credo, she just couldn’t resist.

Sarah quickly made her way out to the parking lot, forgetting to lock the door behind her in her haste. She got into her red Jeep and throw her bag in the back. She clicked the button to start the car and the electric engine silently activated. There was a brief squealing of tires as she zipped across the parking lot towards the exit, but instead of going towards Project Town, she made a left, further into the complex. Due to the size of the cloisters, the entire complex was huge, stretching across hundreds of kilometers, but cloister 16B was luckily relatively close, and if she drove fast, she could get there within 20 minutes.

The roads were relatively straight which allowed time for Sarah to bring up the video feeds on her phone. This also helped her concentrate because even though the adrenaline coursing through her was assisting in keeping her awake, it was still dreadfully late and she was tired. She managed to find a feed showing where Woota was just as she was getting close to cloister 16B. She brought up another window on her phone, showing the general schematics for the complex, and she managed to find a service entrance that led to a secret entry in a rock nearby Woota’s current location.

Sarah quickly stopped the car and put it in park, grabbing a flashlight and leaping out the door while the Jeep was still rocking back from her rapid parking of the vehicle. She leaped to the access door and entered the access code. Her flashlight illuminated the long and descending tunnel that disappeared into the earth. Her running left small clouds of dust as her feet stomped on the ground towards her destination. After a few dozen meters, the tunnel ended and the faint gleam of a metal ladder that went up into the ceiling was the only thing that broke the darkness. She ascended the ladder as the beam of light kept illuminating the area to her side as she simultaneously held the flashlight and used her hand to climb the ladder. After 5 or so meters, the tunnel ended as she neared the exit above her. Again, she entered the necessary security code, and the door opened. In the cloister, a solid rock opened up on the top like a submarine hatch, revealing the tunnel in the rock.

Sarah quickly turned off the flashlight and waited for her eyes to adjust as she scanned her surroundings, looking for Woota. As her eyesight started to adjust to the darkness without her flashlight, she started to make out the torchlights of search parties in the distance, and they seemed to be moving in her general direction.

Sarah loudly hissed his name as best as she could manage without being overly loud. “Woota!” Her ears prickled as she tried to make out any movement from him. “Woota!” She exclaimed again, this time as a quiet shout. She started to sweat with fear of being discovered by the search parties while looking for him.

Right before she attempted at quietly shouting his name again, a light rustling occurred as a shadow separated itself from a bush about 12 meters from Sarah. She could barely make out his silhouette in the darkness, but his trained and darkness-accustomed eyes could see her much more clearly. He could see that she was not one of the others from the cloister, and he was filled with an uncertain and morbid curiosity. He had never seen or heard of anyone else other than the few dozen people he was familiar with. Who could she be?

Woota slowly approached her in a stealthy crouch, still brandishing the club-like stick that he had been carrying around for the past couple hours in case it became necessary to defend himself. Sarah was head of the linguistics team, and it was now time to see if she and the rest of the team had understood their primitive language as well as she hoped they had.

“I, friend” Sarah struggled to convey her meaning in a language they had only briefly practiced with each other.

Woota seemed to understand her well enough though. “Who, you?” he asked as he inspected her. She had straight hair that was cut in an even line, unlike the others he knew. She wore a shirt and pants unlike any he had ever seen, although they were the norm in the outside world. Her clothes fit so perfectly, and the cloth material was unlike the leather they exclusively used. Her skin was unusually white and fair. Sarah was the strangest person he had ever seen in his life.

“I, friend. Outside, wall. Home.” She struggled to convey that she came from outside the wall where it was safe and that he should come with her.

Woota approached to within 3 meters of Sarah, and she could more clearly make him out in person for the first time with the aid of the moonlight. His leather dress, which was what everyone in his cloister wore, covered his torso and went down to his knees. His weathered face and skins were of a much darker tone than hers owing to a lifetime spent outdoors. He was shorter than average, but very lean and muscular, and his should length ratty hair reflected moonlight off of his greasy locks.

They stood there for a couple minutes inspecting each other until the silence was abruptly broken. “Woota!” A distant shout from a search party was heard, but it was much closer than before. A sense of urgency returned to the two, and Sarah quickly tried to convince him to come with her.

“Here, death. Outside, home!” She tried her best to pleadingly convince him to come with her. The surreality of encountering her, and his fear and doubts about being apprehended by the others convinced him to follow, but he wasn’t sure what to do, so he just awkwardly stood there, nervously looking over his shoulder at the impending search parties. “Home” Sarah tried to indicate into the hole in the rock that she was standing on. She started crawling down the ladder, indicating for him to follow. She started to descend, and Sarah turned on the flashlight about halfway down. Woota nervously peered into the hole, afraid of the flashlight, but his fear of being captured overrode his apprehension towards following her, and he also slowly descended into the hole, carefully using a ladder for the first time. Sarah impatiently waited at the bottom until Woota stepped down. “Rest” she told him, trying to convey that he should wait while she closed the hatch above them, which she moved to do by climbing the ladder again.

Woota’s fear crept up on him, and the thought of her abandoning him in the dark tunnel as she ascended the ladder again with the flashlight spooked him. He let out a crying whimper which got Sarah’s attention. “Home, rest!” she sternly told him, desperately trying to abate his fears as she hurriedly closed the hatch. She continued going up the ladder only to have Woota also start climbing the ladder behind her.

Sarah paused her ascent and considered saying something more to him before deciding to simply continue and just close the hatch. “Woota!” she heard a search party, and they sounded closer than ever. She hurriedly went up the last few rungs of the ladder and quietly closed the hatch and locked it. She started to descend only to find Woota halfway up the ladder underneath her. “Home!” Sarah exclaimed while pointing down, becoming quite exasperated at this point in her failed attempts to convey that they need to go out the other way. Woota remained motionless on the ladder, staring up at her with a confused look on his face. Frustrated, Sarah started climbing down the ladder, forcing him to go down as well until they were both on the ground again.

They stood there in silence for a moment, looking at each other in the flashlight-illuminated tunnel. It was obvious that Woota had seen hard work as his arms had scars on them. His legs were peppered with bug bites, and he would subconsciously stand on foot while he itched one leg with the other foot. He continued to hold the club that he previously wielded, still unsure of what was really happening and afraid he might have to use it.

“Home” Sarah said again, trying to show that it was safe with her. She beckoned for him to follow, and they started walking through the darkness towards the end of the tunnel. It took them a few minutes before reaching the end of the tunnel, where they pushed open the access door that she had previously left ajar.

Sarah’s Jeep stood in the clearing outside the door, and this immediately caused Woota to raise up his club in defense. Woota’s club was making her nervous, and she wanted to get rid of it. “Home, family” she softly said to him, trying to express that there was no danger of her car. She went over to the jeep and touched it, showing that it didn’t move. Woota cautiously lowered his club and followed her to the car. Sarah needed to start the car, and she could already tell that it would surprise him when it moved. She climbed into the jeep and tried to show how you could easily and comfortably sit inside of it. “Home” she beckoned for him to sit in the passenger seat. After a couple minutes of coaxing, he finally, yet cautiously entered the jeep. Sarah calmly took the club from him after some mild protests, but some comforting words of “family” managed to calm his senses enough to release it to her. She took the club and dropped it out the passenger side door, and then closed the passenger side door from the inside for him. In light of all the new experiences Woota was having, she opted to not attempting to buckle him in.

She was thankful that her electric engine was quiet, unlike automobiles of the past, as she started the engine. She turned on the lights and cautiously started rolling the car forward, hoping to show Woota that the car moved and that it was OK to be inside of as it moved.

Despite her efforts, Woota started panicking, grabbing the sides, distressingly moving around in his seat with an extremely alarmed look on his face. Sarah immediately stopped the car, cooing him with words of “Home” and “family” again, trying to calm him. Woota was not only unfamiliar with a large “beast” like this Jeep, made out of a metallic material that he didn’t recognize, but they didn’t even have horses or other beasts of burden in his cloister, and the entire concept of travel on something other than his 2 feet was lost on him. After repeating the procedure of starting and stopping a half dozen times, Woota seemed to finally come to terms with the car moving and him not being in danger while inside it, and he was calm enough for her to continue driving. The radio and music confused him, and Sarah quickly turned it off, opting to drive in silence with him as they drove back to the main exit.

The clock showed the bleak hour of 3:27 as they approached the security checkpoint. There was security 24/7, so she had to hide him long enough to get past the guard. After much struggling with conveying her intentions, Sarah eventually managed to get Woota to huddle up behind the driver seat with a blanket over him, in hopes that the guard wouldn’t look in the back.

With Woota hiding in the back, Sarah nervously resumed the last kilometer towards to gate where she was relieved to be stopped by Steve, a guard she was familiar, and luckily friendly, with.

“Sarah!” he surprisingly addressed her as he saw who was driving. “Bit of a late night tonight, eh?”

“Yea, I had a report due tomorrow, and I was up all night finishing it off. I hate to sound rude Steve, but it took everything out of me, and I need to get going before I fall asleep at the wheel.” She felt dirty lying to him since they had always been on good terms, but she justified her claims to herself in that they were half truths; she really did stay up late finishing the report, and she really was exhausted. She just failed to mention the person that she was smuggling in the back of her Jeep.

“Fair enough Sarah, you are used to a different schedule than I am” he chuckled as he clicked the button for the gate to open. “Have a good night and drive safe now!”

“Thanks Steve, have a good night yourself.” Feeling guilty for tricking him, she drove away from the check point and onto the highway.

Thrilled, exhausted, and anxious, Sarah continued driving down the road. She reached her right hand around the seat and pulled the jacket off of Woota. “Safety” she tried to convey that it was safe again, recalling some more words that they used. Sarah patted on the passenger seat, beckoning for him to come back up front. Woota clambered into the front seat and sat down. His face mirrored her exhaustion, but there was a deeper tone of confusion and apprehension in his expression. Not one, but 2 new people unlike any he had ever seen. A language that sounded much more fluid and unlike anything he had ever heard. An automobile. Flashlights, music on a radio, hard, black roads. These were all new things for Woota and he was awestruck, just trying to comprehend everything that he was experiencing for the first time.

They continued driving into the night away from the cloisters, research center and Project Embryo, heading towards a place that she deemed safe to sleep for the night before continuing their flight into this new world for Woota.

Sarah’s vision was blurred as she drove through the night. Woota had already fallen asleep, exhausted from being pursued in his cloister and then overwhelmed with the outside world.

She knew she couldn’t go home. Sarah wasn’t sure if the police would be called, or if the administrators at Project Embryo would just opt to use their personal security force that normally watched over the facility. In either case, her house would be the first place to check.

Sarah decided to go to a hunting and backpacking cabin that she and her coworkers partied at on some weekends. It wasn’t necessarily the best place to go, all things considered, but she couldn’t think of a better place in her current state at almost 4 in the morning.

After about an hour of driving and almost nodding off many times, Sarah pulled off the road and parked by the cabin. Woota was still sleeping so Sarah quietly exited the vehicle to investigate the cabin. After quietly entering the cabin and using her phone’s light, she determined that, as she hoped for, it was empty since it wasn’t the weekend yet.

Sarah went back out to the car and carefully rustled Woota from his slumber. As she anticipated, he was quick to get defensive and she tried to calm him down. “Home, safe” she cooed. She pointed towards the cabin “Sleep, nice.” Woota looked at the cabin. It was similar to the huts they lived in, but it was much more angled and organized looking. Small square holes in the side of the building made him think it was a similar clear material to the windows in the car. He was unsure how water could be so hard without it being frozen, as they had no glass in the cloisters, but it was the only thing he could compare it to. Brushing his thoughts aside while rubbing his bleary eyes, he silently followed Sarah inside the house.

They entered the house and Sarah closed the door behind them. Woota was slightly startled by the sudden brightness as she turned on the lights, but he remained composed enough. Woota was then led to one of the bedrooms where she showed him his bed. “Here, sleep, nice.” Her vocabulary was coming back to her now that she wasn’t as charged on adrenaline as before and she could start to express some more meanings than during their first encounter.

Woota said something that she didn’t quite understand, so he tried to express himself in a different way. “Scared” was all he said as his eyes started to water.

Sarah choked up looking at him. He didn’t look only scared, he looked terrified as he awkwardly stood there in the middle of the room. “Here, safe. I, watch” she said, trying to convey that he was safe with her. Sarah slowly closed the gap between them, intent on reassuring him. She originally wanted to hug him, but paused half an arm’s length away. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to hug him, but she recalled that Woota and the other members of his cloister had never really hugged each other. She quickly searched her memory, trying to recall what the members of 16B did to reassure each other. Sarah slowly rapped her right palm around his neck, drawing his head towards her. She touched his nose to hers, comforting him in a way that their tribe was more familiar with.

They stood like that in silence as Woota trembled for a few minutes. Eventually pulling back, Sarah showed him his bed, even telling him “Sleep” while pointing to the bed. They were used to sleeping on deer hides on the ground, so an elevated bed with cloth sheets was an unfamiliar thing to him. Still wearing his leather dress like tunic, he sat down on the bed. Sarah walked to the door, and tried to reassure him one more time. “Safe” she softly said. She then went to her room, took off her pants, turned off the light and lay down herself.

After a couple minutes, Sarah noticed that his light was still on since it illuminated the hallway. Curious, she got back up and poked her head through his doorway, only to find Woota half-glaring at the light before looking at her as he noticed her. She let out a short laugh, realizing that he didn’t understand how light switches quite worked. She put her arm in the doorway and touched the light switch. She wasn’t sure how to describe it, since they didn’t quite have an equivalent of “on” or “off.” “Night” she said, flicking the switch to turn off the light. Woota let out a surprised yelp, seeing how this light source turned off immediately by her merely touching a spot on the wall. “Day” she said, turning it back on. He just stared at her, almost as if he was expecting her to do something more. Unsure of what to do, Sarah demonstrated the light switch a couple times for him before he got up. She took his hand, showing him how to turn it on and off himself. Confident that he could do it, she went back to her room and lay back down.

After a minute or so, the light in Woota’s room turned off. Then back on. Then off and on again a few more time. After a few cycles of light, he let out a quiet, but still audible chuckle that Sarah could just barely manage to hear in her room.

Despite her exhaustion, it was nice to see Woota find some humor in his situation, and a slight grin crossed Sarah’s face as she lay in her bed. Knowing they had a long day tomorrow though, she had to get him to go to bed. “Sleep!” she half yelled across the cabin. One more cycle of lights followed by a chuckle from the other room, and then the lights went off and remained off.

So much had happened and Sarah felt like she was never going to be able to sleep. Where would they go in the morning? Who would be after them? What was she going to do with Woota? Those and many other concerns clouded her mind, and although she felt that she would never be able to sleep, her sheer exhaustion won over and she was fast asleep within a few minutes. Woota was scared of his new surroundings, but he wasn’t really aware of the situation he was in, and he didn’t have a specific thing to fear, like being caught or how to survive. His less crowded mind permitted him a much easier time going to sleep.

Sarah didn’t get much sleep as she was woken up by her phone at about 9am, only 4 or so hours after going to sleep, as a flurry of phone calls came in. As expected, all the calls were from the office; it was obvious that they had already discovered what happened and were trying to get a hold of her. The phone didn’t only wake up Sarah, but Woota was now hitting the main door of the cabin. Ignoring her phone, she quickly ran out of the room, forgetting to put her pants back on as she rushed out to address Woota’s issue. He seemed distressed, like he wanted to get outside but didn’t know how to. Woota saw her and pleaded with her, but she couldn’t quite understand what he was saying since she was still groggy-minded after just waking up after such little sleep.

Woota pointed at his crotch, repeating himself before banging on the door again. Not entirely sure what he wanted, she cautiously came up beside him. He slowed down and then stopped banging on the door as she got closer, eventually moving to the side as Sarah reached for the door handle. He watched intently as she turned the deadbolt and then pushed the lever down and then swung the door inwards. As she opened the door, Woota hurriedly sidestepped around her and half ran, half limped out the door. As soon as he was outside, he went to the nearest bush, pulled up the lower half of his tunic and started urinating.

It was too early after such little sleep, but Sarah couldn’t help but chuckle to herself as she considered the fact that Woota had yet to see a modern toilet. At least he was considerate enough to not go inside the house. Sarah turned to grant him some privacy and went back inside the cabin. While preparing a meager breakfast from the canned foods in the cabin, Woota cautiously entered the cabin, guided by the aroma of the canned vegetables that Sarah was frying in a pan. It was a basic dish, but both of them were famished and Woota kept eyeing the pan in anticipation.

“Hunger?” She ask him. Woota slowly thrust his head forward, much like someone imitating a chicken. They didn’t nod in his cloister, they had developed the forward head thrust visual cue for showing a positive response instead. To show a negative response, like how we would shake a head, they would thrust the head backwards, as if they were recoiling from something. That, and many other non verbal communication gestures, were different in all the cloisters compared to what we were used to. Sarah smiled and instructed him to sit and wait while she poured the food onto 2 plates and handed him one of them and sat down at the table in the corner of the room.

Woota stood there at first, holding his plate, unsure if he should seat himself as well until Sarah instructed him to sit down after pushing a chair away from the table for him to sit in. Woota took his place and gently set the food on the table like Sarah had. The food in front of him was a familiar concept to him. The metallic fork laying on his plate was not, and he curiously stared at it before questioningly looking back at Sarah for guidance. Sarah had already shoveled a mouthful of food into her mouth, and was already withdrawing her fork from her mouth at Woota glanced at her. She couldn’t help but silently chuckle again as she again considered the fact that he had never used a fork. Sarah demonstrated how to scoop and stab the vegetables in order to eat the food with modern table manners. Woota clearly hadn’t quite developed the ability to intricately hold a fork like most people do, and he held it in his hand like one would a tool with the tip sticking out of the top like a hammer. He tried to eat like her, but he ended up more or less using the fork in conjunction with his other hand to scoop the food into his mouth like they typically did in his cloister where they simply ate with their hands and without silverware.

They quickly finished their food, and Sarah pondered their next steps. They needed to move, but she wasn’t sure where. She also had many burning questions for Woota, and he also needed to know what was happening. Woota started asking her about items in their immediate surrounding in the cabin, and she explained what everything was and the ideas and concepts that went behind them. How they made pictures, what a radio was, what a microwave was, and all sorts of other things in the cabin. He was amazed at all these things, and since the technology simply didn’t exist for a lot of things, she found it challenging to explain things to him. She also posed some direct questions about beliefs and norms in his cloister that they weren’t sure of since they were never able to directly question anyone.

The conversation eventually shifted from him and his cloister, and Woota started asking other things about what she was doing and how she knew what was about to happen to him the previous night. He then asked why they were stuck in the cloister if everyone else was free, and why she and the others were just watching them. Sarah wasn’t ready to answer this question. She felt a lump in her throat as she held back tears when she saw how confused he was that he was forced to live in the cloister since he never chose that and everyone else outside of the cloister experienced a life full of these amazing gadgets he was asking her about. She told him that she would explain it later, but for now she broke off the conversation, explaining that they really needed to get moving, and fast.

It was likely that people would be looking and waiting for them. Woota didn’t understand how a warning could travel faster than a human, or car, since that was now the fastest thing he had seen. Sarah had to quickly explain that the phone she had, like everyone did, allowed her to instantly communicate with people anywhere around the world. The same device would be used by others to warn them that they escaped and to be ready for them. It was hard to explain because Woota didn’t understand electricity or wireless technology or any of the basic functions of a phone, so she had to settle with simply explaining that everyone had these things, and you could talk to anyone else with it, regardless of how close or far they were from you.

Sarah started searching on the internet for where she could safely take Woota. They couldn’t stay in the cabin or the wilderness forever. What she needed was some organization or group that could protect him and fight for his freedom. She found the Organization for the Discontinuation of Project Embryo, or the ODPE, which was an NGO that started shortly after Project Embryo became public knowledge more than 200 years ago. The ODPE had rapidly grown to thousands of members and activists, all fighting for the rights of the humans and babies within Project Embryo after its inception. Over time though, as public opinion became indifferent, the organization lost members and funding, slowly reducing it over the centuries to its current state. The ODPE was now just a shadow of its former self. There was now only a few dozen members, although most of them didn’t even participate that much. They had an office in Toronto, but only a half dozen people worked there, and they busied themselves with creating awareness pamphlets and posters which they tried to regularly distribute, as well organizing the occasional public rally that managed to attract a couple hundred attendees at best, but usually no more than a few dozen. A meager attendance turnout, dwarfed by the overflowing attendances at stadiums at its inception when the public was still very emotional about the whole situation.

Sarah was afraid that her phone might be tracked if she made a call now, so she opted to instead start driving in their direction and to contact them while on the road, either by Email or phone. For now, they would head out and start driving towards Toronto. She packed some provisions from the cabin in her car as Woota wordlessly watched her.

“We run much” Sarah explained over her shoulder as she packed the car, trying her best to convey that they had to travel a lot. They never had to really move or travel long distances in their enclosed cloister, so it was about the best explanation that she could think of giving.

“Where to?”

“To safety. Here are bad people. They want to catch us.” With that, Woota grew quiet as she finished packing.

They were both outside, and Sarah closed the cabin door behind her as she left the place. They entered the vehicle, Woota still apprehensive, but not nearly as much as his first encounter, and they drove on the dirt road past the cabin.

She didn’t want to go back the way she came, so she took back-roads to avoid Project Town until she got to another smaller village. After a few minutes of searching, she managed to find an ATM, which was lucky since ATMs were about as rare as payphones are today, with payphones being completely extinct. She withdrew as much cash as she could because she knew she was going to have to pay for gas and food along the way and she didn’t want her credit card to leave a paper trail for anyone to follow. After getting enough cash, they went to an attended gas station where she filled up her Jeep and got some food and drinks for both of them. She paid for everything with cash, which threw the attendant off since cash was used so infrequently. Sarah got back in the car where Woota was impatiently waiting. He again pointed at his crotch, and it dawned on her that she had failed to show him how to use a bathroom at the cabin.

“Wait please” she pleaded, deciding that here was not the best place to show him how to use a toilet, and fearing that letting him just go in the bushes near the gas station would attract too much attention. He looked confused and almost slightly angry, but he grudgingly thrust his head forward in silent agreement.

They started driving on a smaller road towards Toronto again until they got far enough out of the village that there were no more houses. Sarah pulled over and let Woota take care of business before continuing along the road.

They were both exhausted, having slept very little the previous night. She had bought 2 coffees while she was in the gas station, one for each of them, and she happily drank hers once they resumed driving. Sarah offered a coffee to Woota. He tried it and drank a big gulp of it which ended up burning his mouth. They never drank anything but cold stream water in his cloister, and he hadn’t expected a hot drink. He was also disgusted by the taste since he had never developed a taste for coffee. She ended up drinking his coffee as he angrily brooded, feeling tricked by her into drinking it.

During their first day on the road, Woota was content with watching the scenery flow by and asking questions about unknown things, which Sarah happily explained. He didn’t understand other cars, roads, street signs, large houses, and many other things they drove by, and Sarah had to explain all these things to him.

After the initial flurry of calls in the morning, the frequency of phone calls Sarah was getting had subsided. Nevertheless, she was still getting some calls from work. Since she was already driving, she decided to finally answer an incoming call. She briefly explained to Woota that she was going to have to talk to someone via her phone, but the sound would come through the car’s speakers. With butterflies in her stomach, her sweaty hand clicked the green button to accept a call on the Jeep’s screen.

“Hello?” she simply said, trying to contain her apprehension at answering the call.

“Sarah, what the hell is going on!?” Her immediate supervisor, Dave, was frantic. “We have been trying to get a hold of you all day long.” You didn’t show up this morning, and there was a lot of commotion in 16B. We decided to look at the security footage and it looks like you took a subject away from their cloister!”

Growing bolder and more defiant, she snapped at him. “He isn’t a subject, his name is Woota” she sternly said. Woota looked at her after hearing his name, but continued to look cluelessly on as she continued to talk in English, which he still didn’t understand.

“Sarah…” he sighed before continuing. He had calmed down, and he was speaking in a mellowing way a parent would speak to their scared child. “What happened? You knew what you were getting into when you first started researching this, and you never had a problem with it. I know it can feel questionable at times, but think of all the research you have been able to achieve and all that we have learned about human development.” Sarah remain silent, so he continued, “Please come back, bring him back, and we can work this out.”

“No.”

“What?” Dave was taken back. “What are you going to do then? I just don’t get what you’re trying to accomplish or why you took him from his cloister.”

“He should be free. They should all be free, and this just isn’t right to keep them all locked up like that.”

“Sarah, there’s nowhere for you to take him. Bring him-”

“No!” She shouted at him as she cut him off.

“Sarah, you are forcing me to call the police right now for theft and kidnapping if you don’t return with him.” Sarah was trembling, afraid, yet excited. She didn’t know what else to say or do, so she simply clicked the button to hang up the phone.

Silence resumed in the car. Sarah was obviously agitated, on the verge of tears, and Woota noticed that. He wasn’t sure what to say or do, so he just remained quiet, looking forward, but continuing to observe her from the corner of his eyes. Sarah was playing their conversation over in her head, and she realized that Dave said they would be forced to call the police. That implied that they hadn’t called the police yet, which meant that she likely wasn’t already being monitored or pursued by the police in any manner. She figured it would be better to call the ODPE before the situation got any worse. She fumbled around on her phone, relocating their phone number while she was driving until she found it and initiated a call.

The ring of her phone sounded throughout the car’s speakers. It rang again, and then again. The phone rang about 7 times, which meant that they didn’t have a voicemail set up, but it also meant that nobody was answering. She was about to hit the disconnect button and try again later when somebody finally answered.

“Hello, this is the Organization for the Discontinuation of Project Embryo. What can I help you with?” The voice greeting her was from a younger female, likely in her twenties. She sounded guarded, almost skeptical of the call, wondering if someone was calling with real interest, or if this was another prank or hate call.

“Hi, we need help” Sarah blurted out before really thinking of what to say.

The other voice turned more sarcastic, “If you are having a medical emergency, then you should hang up and dial 911.”

Unabashed, Sarah continued. “We need a place to go. I don’t know, I don’t know what to do. I have him and they are going to call the police and take him back, and he should be free.”

“Who exactly do you have” She returned to sounding skeptical, but more receptive than before.

“I am sorry, I am really on edge right now. Let me start from the beginning.” Sarah paused quickly to gather her thoughts before continuing. “My name is Sarah McMurdo and I am a scientist at Project Embryo. There was a conflict last night, and one of the people in one of our cloisters was going to be killed. I interfered and broke him out of there. We are now running away in my Jeep and I don’t know what to do or where to go.”

There was silence on the other end of the line until she managed to ask a less-than-reassuring, “What?”

Composing herself before losing her patience, she continued “Can you help us? I don’t know where to go or what to do with him. They are obviously going to call the police, and we obviously can’t remain in Project Town.”

“Yes, we can help, but our resources are really limited these days, and we are actually in Toronto, which is considerably far away from you guys.”

“Yea, we are already driving south, so we could head towards Toronto.”

“This isn’t a joke, right?”

Sarah started to almost get angry. This was an organization that was devoted to setting these people free. Now that the opportunity was knocking on their door, it seemed like they didn’t know what to do. “No I am not joking! I have him in my car, he’s sitting right next to me! What do I need to do to prove it to you?!” She turned her attention to him, “Woota, say something please.” In her frustration, she forgot to switch languages which resulted in him not understanding him, although he did catch hearing his name again. She addressed him again in his language. “Speak to her, ‘I am here.’”

He complied with a quick and confused “I am here.”

Sarah resumed talking at that point. “Do you see? You obviously didn’t understand him because he still only speaks his language, but I really have him in the car with me. His name is Woota, and we need help. My boss is going to call the police soon, and we need to get somewhere fast.”

“I also got some others on the line while you were talking, and one of them has an idea.”

“Hello” another voice broke in, this one from an older male. “My name is Steven and I am the project leader. Due to budget constraints, we don’t have an office in the Northwest Territories anymore, and we are only located in Toronto.”

“I know, we are driving there now, but I imagine it will take a few days.”

“Great, we have an unregistered apartment that we should be able to keep you guys at while we figure out something else more long-term. It will be obvious if you roll up to our address though, and you never know if the police will be able to access these calls. Let’s meet up in Sudbury, it’s a smaller town just north of Ontario. How long do you think it will take to drive there?”

“I am not sure, I would imagine 2 or 3 days, depending on how much I manage to drive each day.”

“That sounds about right. It doesn’t matter. In Sudbury, there is a restaurant called O’Malley’s on Elm Street. Simply call this number when you are there in the parking lot, and we will meet you there. I don’t imagine it will be hard to notice each other.”

“But what if they police listen in on the call then?”

“This is our office phone. We will leave it here, but then call one of the others who are there in Sudbury to notify them when we get another call from your number. We will wear some shirts of ours so you will recognize us. So just call us when you are in the parking lot and we will find you.”

“OK. Let’s do that then. We will try to get there as quick as possible.”

“Good luck and safe driving, Sarah, right?”

“Yep, and thanks.” With that, she hung up the phone and continued driving. Her mood had elevated noticeably. She felt like they now had a hope, they just had to get to Toronto. The rest of the day consisted of Sarah explaining what the 2 phone calls were about, and answering other questions about objects that they passed by while driving.

They drove until late in the evening. Their muscles ached after sitting all day, and they wanted to sleep more than anything. Woota never fell asleep in the car because it was all too unfamiliar for him to comfortably fall asleep in. They were not going to be able to get a hotel room without some identification, so it was decided that they would either sleep outside or in the car. They pulled off the main highway and took a back-road into the woods where she eventually pulled her car off the road into a clearing.

Due to their hasty escape, Sarah didn’t have a tent or even sleeping bags with her. It was luckily still the middle of summer, but it would still get chilly at night. Sarah told Woota that she didn’t have any suitable equipment with her, but Woota didn’t seem too worried. They both started collecting firewood for the night. Woota also insisted on finding some bigger rocks as well as sharp rocks. After making a fire, they ate some food that she previously bought at a gas station. Woota pushed some of the bigger rocks onto the fire in order to heat them up while the fire burned. He then dug what looked like two shallow graves near the fire. He explained that they would push the heated rocks into the holes and then push the dirt back on top of the rocks. The hot rocks would stay warm for a few hours and heat up the ground, allowing them to sleep a little more comfortably. Their only other sleeping supplies were Sarah’s jacket and a spare pullover that she had in her car. They both sat quietly by the fire until it got lower and the decided to go to sleep, both too tired to carry much more of a meaningful conversation.

They both awoke in the early morning with the sunrise. Shaking off the morning dew, they slowly got up and stretched their aching joints. They ate some more gas station food and drinks before getting in their car and resuming their journey towards Toronto. Sarah had long since turned off her phone in order to stop the barrage of phone calls she kept getting, but also to conserve her battery since she would need to call the ODPE in a couple days.

The day of driving luckily went by without any major difficulties. It was another day of continuous driving with the occasional stop to get gas or let Woota go to the backroom in the woods as Sarah had still not gotten the chance to teach him how to use a modern bathroom. Woota had seen a lot of the passing countryside during the previous day of driving, but today he finally started commenting on the distance itself. It was unbelievable to him how much distance they were covering. It took no more than a couple hours to traverse his cloister, but they had been driving at speeds that far surpassed walking speeds, and they had done it for hours upon hours. It started to blow his mind how big the world was, he wondered if there was ever an end, or if there was an even bigger wall around all of the land they were driving in, encapsulating them like his cloister was. He was also amazed at all the different things they drove by that didn’t exist in his cloister. The huge black road they drove on, the massive bridges over rivers wider than any creek in his cloister, all of the sharply built buildings, all of the other cars and so many people. Woota would occasionally ask who certain people were. Woota knew everyone in his cloister, and he was confused that Sarah didn’t know who all of these other people were.

Other than the barrage of questions that Woota proposed to Sarah, the day passed by without any complications. They kept driving towards Toronto, but after another 15 or so hours of driving, the shadows started to grow long and Sarah started to tire. They pulled off the highway and found another area to rest for the night in a clearing.

Like the previous night, they ate some food previously bought from a gas station as they huddled around a fire that Woota made, complete with rocks to bury for warmth. They talked again, this time about a more serious topic.

“Do you have fear?” Sarah quietly asked.

“No. Why would I?”

“At night, forests can give me fear. You don’t know what is there.”

“What would be there? Deer? They cause no harm.”

“Well there could be a…” struggling to find the word for a ‘Bear’. she realized that they didn’t have bears in his cloister so she simply said “Bear”, but as expected, he didn’t know what that was. “It’s not even ‘bears’ that give me most fear. It is other people.”

“What have other people done to give you fear?”

“Nothing specific. But you never know…”

“I don’t understand. Nothing done to give you fear, yet you have fear?”

“Well what about you?” Woota looked questioningly at her. She continued, “You were about to be killed or punished in your cloister. Does that not give you fear?”

Woota grew quiet, nervously looking over his should. “Yes… maybe I do have fear…”

“I’m sorry.” Sarah tried to apologize, but it seemed that she was too late and she had managed to instill a sense of fear in him. She instantly regretted projecting her fears onto him, and she tried to change the topic, but Woota didn’t react much. She didn’t know what else to do, so they silently watched the fire burn out before laying down next to each other on their heated beds and went to sleep.

Sarah woke up to find Woota clinging onto her arm in his sleep. It was such an innocent gesture, he just needed comfort, and she couldn’t help but smiling at him in his sleep as a mother would her child. After just enjoying the closeness for a few minutes, she eventually stirred enough to wake up Woota. The both silently got up and packed up their stuff and got back into the car. They were making good time, and she was hoping to be able to get to Sudbury by the end of the day.

As they neared Sudbury near the end of the day, she started to explain to Woota how the people were still following them, and they would have to meet up with some people who would try to help them. She ended up having to explain it to him in the framework that she had to speak to her village elders on his behalf so that their pursuers would hopefully stop and let them go. Inside though, she knew that it was going to be a long battle against the Project Embryo administration.

As she was getting close to Sudbury, she turned on her phone to call the ODPE. There were quite a few incoming text messages and voicemails, but she ignored them all. She called the ODPE, and it simply rang about 10 times. She wondered if the had said that they wouldn’t answer because he said they would call the people in Sudbury, so she hung up and hoped for the best. Pulling off the highway into Sudbury, her sweaty palms turned the steering wheel as she pulled onto Elm Street. She felt slightly more relaxed as she finally spotted O’Malley’s and pulled into the parking lot behind the restaurant. She told Woota to stay inside the car to avoid any unwanted attention as she stepped out and stood by the car, trying as best to inconspicuously scan the area for someone from the ODPE. About 15 minutes passed, and she was considering calling again when an unmarked white van eased into the parking lot from the road. There were 2 men in the front, an older man driving, and a younger man in the passenger seat. The van crawled past her, and stopped shortly afterwards. The younger man in the passenger seat opened the door, turned around and looked questioningly at Sarah. Sarah was getting nervous, not sure if this was the ODPE or undercover police, or maybe even just your typical robber. The man got out of the van though and started walking towards her.

Sarah let out a simply, questioning “Um?” as he approached, until he got close enough that she could read the letters on the left breast of his polo: ODPE. Sarah looked noticeably relieved, and he noticed that.

“Sarah?” he inquired, as he got closer.

Sarah simply nodded and reached her hand out, almost on the verge of tears with happiness that she had finally found some help that she could lean on.

He took her hand and shook it. “Hello Sarah, my name is John, and I am part of the Organization for the Discontinuation of Project Embryo. My colleague, Steven,” pausing to point out the older man who had stopped the car in the parking lot, disembarked, and was now walking towards them, “I believe you two spoke on the phone already, and I are here to help you get to Toronto. Where is Boota?”

“His name is Woota. He is in the Jeep.” She pointed towards the Jeep where they all looked and saw Woota staring back at them. Sarah couldn’t contain it and had to laugh at the way Woota was watching them. “So what is the plan from here?” she asked, looking back at John.

Steven cleared his throat before speaking. “I think the best course of action would be to simply abandon your Jeep for the time being. I would imagine the police would be looking for you, so I think it would be best if everyone got in our van and we could drive you two to a safe house we have on the outskirts of Toronto.”

Sarah didn’t like the idea of leaving her Jeep behind, but it couldn’t be helped. “You are probably right. Let me grab our things and lock my Jeep.”

Sarah went to her Jeep as the other 2 went to the van and opened the backdoor and quickly moved to gather up all the trash that was lying in the floorboard. “Come Woota, family, safe.” He got out with her and helped grabbed a bag that she was carrying. They then got into the back of the van and Steven started driving away from her Jeep.

Sarah explained to them that Woota still hadn’t quite learned English, so they wouldn’t be able to talk to him directly. She and the other 2 talked for a while as she explained what things were like for him, and ultimately why she decided to break him out. Woota had fallen asleep in the back of the van, and Sarah, exhausted after driving all day again, quickly followed suit as the conversation with the other 2 slowed down.

Woota and Sarah were awoken a couple hours later by Steven gently shaking their knees. Woota reacted quickly to push him back in surprise, but his seat belt kept him in place. Sarah was awake by then and calmed him down with some softly spoken words.

“I am sorry” Steven apologized. “I didn’t intend to startle either of you. However, we are here and I thought you two would be much more comfortable sleeping upstairs in some warm beds with blankets. I think a shower would do wonders too.” He laughed as he teased them about their general dirtiness and odor.

Sarah blushed in embarrassment, but still thanked him. She told Woota to follow, and they went up a flight of stairs to an apartment.

“This is an apartment that I pay for with cash only” Steven explained. “It has no official affiliation with anyone at the ODPE, so you guys should be safe here. Try to stay away from windows though and don’t answer the door without using the peephole, just to be safe.” He then showed them around the cozy 3 bedroom apartment with a kitchen and 1 bathroom. “I can see that you are both tired, so take care of business and we will figure out our next course of action in the morning. John and I will sleep in the 3rd bedroom so you both have some privacy.” It was almost midnight, and Sarah had no desire to shower nor how to show Woota how to use one, so she simply showed him his room, and she went to her room and laid down on the bed, elevated that she could sleep on a real bed for the first time in days. After 3 days of running, she finally felt a twinge of safety now that they were here. Woota also laid in bed and went to sleep, again confused at the change of location, but happy to be in such a soft bed.

A couple days prior, Sarah’s administrators had indeed called the police and said that she had stolen/kidnapped company property. The legality of the situation was questionable considering that he was a person and not an object, but the law wasn’t too clear on situations like this. In light of the confusion, a judge had approved a warrant for her arrest, and the police had been actively looking for her, and they would figure out what exact charges would apply when she and Woota were in custody.

In other events, the day after Sarah first called the ODPE, the ODPE’s Public Relations team got a little too excited with the information that they were going to assist someone who escaped from Project Embryo. They had made a public announcement that they were actively assisting “someone” who had helped someone escape. It had caught the media’s attention, and they were being constantly questioned by the public and news companies regarding what was really happening. It didn’t take long for the media to find out that there was an arrest warrant for Sarah, and the media was abuzz about how something that hadn’t happened since Project Embryo started was happening now. It also didn’t take long for police to connect the dots, and they had been actively monitoring any and all known members of the ODPE for a day or so.

The police used surveillance footage from cameras spread throughout the province, and they had been able to track the van up to Sudbury and back to the safe house. The fact that Steven had also used the van’s self driving feature to get them to the safe house only made it easier to find where they were since the police could access all self-driving cars’ recent driving history. Armed with the warrant for Sarah’s arrest, the police mobilized in the early morning after Sarah, Woota, John and Steven had arrived at the safe house.

It was shortly after 5 in the morning when the door to the apartment was kicked in. The sound startled all 4 of the people in the apartment awake. Their confusion was quickly cleared up when one of the officers shouted, “This is the Toronto Police department! You are all under arrest for robbery and kidnapping!”

Sarah froze in her bed, her biggest fear now realized, and just hours after getting somewhere where she thought they would finally be safe. She realized that Woota would not understand what was going on or what the police were saying. She sprang to the door and opened it, only to see Woota already in a scuffle with the police in front of his door. With all the yelling and loud noises, Woota had opened the door, and he was now fighting off the police officers who were yelling at him in a language he didn’t understand as they tried to arrest him. Woota was already bleeding from his nose, and he had his left arm close to his chest, both having been struck by batons from the officers.

“Stop! He doesn’t understand what is going on!” Sarah yelled frantically as 3 officers formed a half circle around him whom she ran to, shortly diverting their attention to her. She reached one of them and grabbed his arm, trying to prevent him from hitting Woota anymore. The police officer felt threatened and smacked her on the right side of her rib cage with his baton, causing Sarah to fall to the ground crying and clutching her side in pain as she struggled to breathe. Seeing this, Woota lashed out at the officer that hit her, violently hitting him with his right fist while the police officer was still looking at Sarah. One of the other offices turned and hit Woota on his back, and the third officer decided it was necessary to use his taser. He pulled out and aimed his taser as Woota and fired, causing Woota to tense up as he was electrocuted.

Sarah lay crumpled up on the floor, crying as she caressed her broken ribs. Woota was still lying on the ground, immobile after being electrocuted. The officers recomposed themselves, and then pushed both of them on their stomachs and handcuffed them as their rights were told to them. They were then pulled up and half carried through the door. Sarah saw Steven and John lying down in their bedroom as she passed by, both in handcuffs as well. They were all placed in the backs of separate cars where they were then taken to the local police station.

Sarah woke up with a start. She was cold; the hard bed she was sleeping on provided little warmth. She, and the others, had already been in jail for a full day, and she had just woken up on the morning of their second day of imprisonment. She had not had any contact with the others yet, and she had only seen the guards who had provided her food, as had the other 3. Woota, John and Steven were all in jail still as well, although John and Steven had been put together in the same cell, as this arrest was mostly focused on Sarah and Woota, and the other 2 were just accessories to their escape.

It was about nine in the morning when Sarah was startled to attention by the buzzing of the door as it was unlocked and a man in a suit was escorted into the cell by a police office. Sarah quietly observed him as he walked in. The officer then left the room, leaving the two alone as the door was locked behind him.

“Good Morning Ms. McMurdo. My name is Alex Wilson, and I am an attorney on your, and the others’ behalf. I was contacted by Steven, who I am to understand you are familiar with at this point. I was just talking with him and John, and they are-”

Sarah cut him off, “How are they? Are they still in jail? Where is Woota? Is he fine?” The questions were flowing out of her so quick, she was desperate for not only answers, but just for human contact after her previous day of isolation.

“Slow down Ms. McMurdo, I can’t answer everything if you don’t give me time. Let’s see, John and Steven are alright, I fear Steven might have a broken arm after the arrest, and it hasn’t been seen by a doctor yet, but otherwise they are managing. They are still in jail though, in the same situation you are in. Woota is… struggling. I don’t think he understands where he is at or what is going on, and… how should I put it? He is always trying to fight the guards and keeps hitting the door as if he is trying to escape.”

Sarah let out a whimper after hearing that and her eyes started to water. She struggled with the lump in her throat before continuing. “I need to see him. The poor thing doesn’t have any idea what is going on.”

“I will see what I can do, but I fear it may not be possible.”

“I have to at least explain what is going on.”

“Like I said, I will see what I can do.”

Silence ensued for a while until Sarah recomposed herself, and Alex was kind enough to patiently wait while she did so. “What are we even being charged with exactly? I know I broke Woota out, but I still don’t see what legal law was violated.”

Alex sighed, “well that is a little more complicated. The administration at Project Embryo is trying to kind of charge you with theft of company property and/or kidnapping.”

“That is ridiculous though! I thought that they might go for something like that because those are the only things that make sense, but he is a human being, just like all the rest of them, and not company property. And it couldn’t be kidnapping if he went on his own will. I mean, I saved him from likely being killed by the rest of his tribe!”

“I know, I know. I thought the same thing, but I wanted to talk to you first to hear what exactly happened to further know what points we can argue against. As far as it sounds though, it doesn’t sound like they have any solid charges against you. I can try and push for the judge to dismiss the entire case based on lack of legal basis for it even being a criminal act. Furthermore, I will try to get you all out on bail, but considering that you all already ran away from Project Embryo, I fear that they might consider you all a flight risk.”

“I see. How long do you think it would be before the case would be dismissed and we would all be released?”

“I am not really sure, at best, a few days. It could potentially drag out for weeks though. But believe me, this is a high profile case and is getting lots of media attention – I was hounded with questions just by entering this police station. But before we run out of time, let’s go over what happened, so I know exactly what we are dealing with.”

“What exactly do you want to know?”

“Just start from the beginning of this whole charade, a few days ago before you took Woota out and fled south. Do you mind if I sit next to you on your bed while I take notes?”

“Sure, no problem. So I was working late because I had a report due, and right before I left, I decided to just check the monitors of Cloister 16B….” and she continued to relate the story of what happened, up until that point. It took almost an hour for her to cover the major points while Alex sometimes interjected with questions to clarify certain points.

After Alex had a solid idea of what transpired and had his notes, he thanked Sarah, and again, reassured her that he would do his best to get them out of there as soon as possible, and hopefully make it so that she could see Woota.

Alex motioned for them all to be released on bail, but as expected, Sarah and Woota were denied, however John and Steven were released on bail. Steven visited Sarah the next day (with his arm in a sling) to brief her on what had happened, and to assure her that they were doing the best they could. He also had a press conference with the media at the ODPE office in Toronto, explaining what injustice had happened, and further rallying people behind stopping the inhumane practices at Project Embryo. It was all much more real now that the public had seen glimpses of an actual subject from Project Embryo and it made it much more relatable for them then it was before, especially in this generation where everyone was born with Project embryo being an already existing organization. All of this was related to Sarah by Steven.

Woota had hardly slept. After thrashing around for the first two days, trying to attack guards when they brought food and continuously smashing the door, he had retreated to the corner where he silently brooded. He didn’t know what was going on, and he was scared. Anytime the guards came and yelled, he didn’t understand what they were saying, and he wanted to attack them since they seemed to be bad people to him, considering that they had attacked him and the others and taken them away to this location. He also wasn’t eating enough, and he was starting to get weak.

A few days passed again before Sarah had any visitors. Steven and Alex came to her in the early morning, looking fairly grim.

“Good morning Sarah” Steven tried to kindly greet her.

“Good morning guys. So what’s the news?” Sarah was impatient to know what was going on.

Alex spoke up. “As you know, John and Steven have been released on bail. You and the other-”

“Woota” Sarah coolly reminded him.

“Yes, you and Woota are not eligible for bail unfortunately. The good news is that I have talked with the judge, and he also agrees that the charges don’t make sense. Unfortunately though, he feels this is a bit over him, and since this case didn’t just happen in this province, the decision on how this case will be handled is being elevated to the supreme court, who will then decide if it is even a legal charge, and whether or not this case will be dismissed. On the one hand, this is unfortunate because it prolongs how long you and,” he struggled to recall his name before continuing, “Woota must remain in jail until this is decided. On the other hand, this is great because the legality of this case, and by extension, how things will be handled at Project Embryo is being determined, and this should provide future guidance on how to handle anything out of Project Embryo, and whether it remains legal or not.”

“I see… and will I be able to see Woota? He must be so confused. I need to help him.”

This time Steven spoke up. “Um… I am afraid that he has been determined to be too dangerous for visitors, and he has been denied any guests due to how he lashed out at the guards.”

“But somebody needs to explain what is going on to him! Even if it’s one of the other scientists from Project Embryo who understands his language.” Tears started rolling down her cheeks, and she turned away from the other two. She felt so terrible. She had saved him from certain death from his fellow members of his cloister, but in doing that, she had brought him into a hell of unknowing. He was now stuck inside a tiny concrete jail cell, without anyone to explain what was happening, where he even was, and why he was there. She brought him here, and even though she saved his life, she now felt that she had brought on a fate even worse for him.

The other two waited for her shoulders to stop shaking as she sobbed. Eventually Steven continued, “at least the public’s opinion is rapidly changing from apathy to conviction against Project Embryo. Our member count in the ODPE is at its highest amount ever, even more than when Project Embryo was new and the public was first enraged. They are involved now more than ever, and we can hopefully use this to influence the supreme court in throwing out the case, and hopefully even shutting down Project Embryo.”

Sarah looked defeated. She was still turned away form them, with her head hopelessly staring at the floor. “I don’t really care about that anymore. I just want Woota to be free. He doesn’t deserve to be stuck in here like this.”

“I know,” Alex began, “we are trying our best, but the legal system can sometimes be agonizingly slow.”

Sarah just nodded her head. It was obvious that not much more was going to be said, Alex and Steven silently knocked on the door and were released from the room, leaving Sarah alone.

Woota was still hiding in the corner of his cell, only occasionally coming out of the corner to retrieve meager amounts of food from the tray that was pushed into his room. He was lost, frustrated, angry and confused. Where was he? Why was he here? Where was Sarah? He had too many questions, and absolutely no answers, nor the faintest idea of what was happening. He shuffled on the floor over to the soup that he was presented with today. The soup reminded him of being back in his cloister: the freedom he had and the soups he and the others prepared. He longed to be free. Anything was better than this. He noticed that there was a spoon next to the soup. They didn’t use spoons in his cloister, and would instead just sip the soup from the bowl. While the spoon itself was unfamiliar, it reminded him of his old hunting knife, which we would use to finish off a deer after shooting it with a bow and arrow. If he shot a deer and it lived, after catching it, he would slice the deer’s throat to kill it quicker, and then they would be able to use the meat in one of their stews. He silently sipped on his stew while eyeing the spoon that still lie on the plastic tray.

Several days passed again, and Sarah was continuously pacing the room, slowly coming to her wit’s end as she worried about Woota. It was at this point, days after their previous encounter, that Alex and Steven again came to Sarah, this time later in the evening, which was unusual because they normally came early in the morning. They looked grimmer than ever, and Sarah could see it.

Sarah struggled to speak after seeing their look.“What’s up?” She finally managed. “Did the supreme court say anything already?”

“Well, the supreme court has agreed to expedite the case to next week…” Alex began, but trailed off and couldn’t manage to continue.

“Well that’s great!” Sarah’s mood elevated, before becoming somber again after seeing their lack of enthusiasm. “…Right?” She paused for a few seconds as she looked between the two. “What’s wrong?”

“Sarah, I am so sorry.” Steven reached out and put his hand on her shoulder in the most comforting way he could manage. “Woota is dead.”

That was it. That was all the Sarah could handle. She broke down. Her shoulders buckled and she slumped on her bed. The tears flowed freely, and her loud gasps between breaths made Alex flinch a little. He and Steven felt so sorry for her. She had tried so hard, and she wanted nothing more than for him to be free, but she was helplessly stuck in a jail, just like Woota was.

Sarah was devastated. She had rescued Woota from certain death, only to bring him through hell where he ended up dying anyways. All of this frustration, anger and sadness boiled up in her, and she couldn’t contain it anymore. She clenched the edge of her bed with her hands, leaned forward and half cried, half screamed the loudest, hair-raising “FUCK!” that any of them had ever heard. She slumped down again, put her head in her hands with her elbows resting on her knees and just cried. She had failed. She had come so far, only to have the worst outcome possible happen.

Steven sat down on the bed with her and wrapped an arm over her and pulled her in close, attempting to comfort her like a father would. She cried and sobbed for about an hour before she finally stopped. There was nothing left to cry. She was dried up. Tired and thirsty, her sobbing calmed down, and the others felt it possible to talk to her again.

Steven still had his arm around her, despite the fact that the odd angle had caused it to fall asleep a while ago, but he kept it around her for comfort. “I am so sorry Sarah, we all are. This is the thing we wanted to prevent the most.”

She shuddered harshly, almost lapsing back into another long bout of crying, but she kept herself in control this time. It was hard to hear Sarah speak, she was so quiet they had to strain to hear her. “I failed him…”

“No you didn’t Sarah. You did your best, nobody could have asked for more out of you.” Steven attempted to hold her tighter with his numb arm.

She sat up straight, rolling Steven’s arm off of her back, which was a relief to him as the blood started flowing to his arm again. She half turned her head towards his, just enough so that she could glance at Steven and make some eye contact. “How did he die?” She had to know.

Steven hesitated before telling her. “He killed himself.” He said it blunt and to the point. Sarah sobbed once more and looked down. Alex shuffled his feet, he had been standing by the door the entire time and his feet were getting uncomfortable. “Woota had managed to sharpen a plastic spoon on the concrete ground by filing the edge down. He then used the rough ‘knife-like’ edge he made to cut his throat. He was found today at lunch as the guard put the tray in and found the breakfast one still untouched. I suppose he did it overnight. I am so sorry Sarah.”

Sarah continued crying, not as much as before, but it was clear that it was time to leave. Alex and Steven got up and left the cell again, leaving her to deal with the reality that the situation had become.

This reignited the entire debate about Project Embryo. Sarah remained in jail until the trial, which did happen the next week. The entire case and all events surrounding it were heavily watched nationally and internationally. Public opinion was no longer apathetic, and pressure was high to release Sarah and shut down Project Embryo. The charges against Sarah were dismissed by the supreme court, and in a move that surprised everyone, although it shouldn’t have and always should have been so, Project Embryo was declared to be in violation of human rights, and was ordered to close down. Even if the initial children were donated, it was not the initial children’s decision to be there, nor the subsequent generations. As such, it was ruled that proper measures needed to be incorporated so that all subjects from Project Embryo were to be made aware of the outside world, taught a proper and modern education, and then introduced into modern society.

This upset some certain branches of the Canadian government because not only did this hamper the economy in the Northwest Territories due to the closure or Project Embryo and the desolation of Project Town, but some of the funds from the USA had been put into other programs for a while, which also meant that there had to be budget cuts in some other sectors of the governments. The Canadian government rebounded without too many issues though, and the remaining budget was used in reparations to the previous cloister residents until they had been properly integrated.

Sarah moved on to join the ODPE with Steven and the others, which had re-branded as an organization devoted to the reintroduction of all humans from Project Embryo. She became the face of equal and fair treatment of all former cloister residents, and she worked tirelessly to ensure that the best treatment and education would be given to every individual, and to further fight against discrimination against them after moved into modern society.

Most of the cloisters were receptive and were able to be approached and taught about the outside world and integrated. Some cloisters resisted any outside contact, either fearing or hating the new people that came to make initial contact. It was decided that these resisting cloisters would be maintained in their current state, much like other indigenous groups that shied from outside contact, with the exception that a new attempt would be made every generation to approach them and integrate them.

In the end, the facility was mostly shut down and the people were free. Sarah continued to visit Woota’s grave on a regular basis, which she ensured was in his old cloister. While she regretted what happened to him and still blamed herself for it, she died satisfied with the part of her life that she spent working with the other members from other cloisters, ensuring that they were reintegrated properly, and that the inhumane Project Embryo was shut down once and for all.

Escape Into Society Part 3

This is the final part of my short story. It hopefully brings most things to a close, but I intened to recompile all 3 parts into one continuous text in the future, and maybe iron out some more details in the final version.

The first part of this story can be found here.
The second part of this story can be found here.

Escape Into Society Part 3

Sarah woke up with a start. She was cold; the hard bed she was sleeping on provided little warmth. She, and the others, had already been in jail for a full day, and she had just woken up on the morning of their second day of imprisonment. She had not had any contact with the others yet, and she had only seen the guards who had provided her food, as had the other 3. Woota, John and Steven were all in jail still as well, although John and Steven had been put together in the same cell, as this arrest was mostly focused on Sarah and Woota, and the other 2 were just accessories to their escape.

It was about nine in the morning when Sarah was startled to attention by the buzzing of the door as it was unlocked and a man in a suit was escorted into the cell by a police office. Sarah quietly observed him as he walked in. The officer then left the room, leaving the two alone as the door was locked behind him.

“Good Morning Ms. McMurdo. My name is Alex Wilson, and I am an attorney on your, and the others’ behalf. I was contacted by Steven, who I am to understand you are familiar with at this point. I was just talking with him and John, and they are-”

Sarah cut him off, “How are they? Are they still in jail? Where is Woota? Is he fine?” The questions were flowing out of her so quick, she was desperate for not only answers, but just for human contact after her previous day of isolation.

“Slow down Ms. McMurdo, I can’t answer everything if you don’t give me time. Let’s see, John and Steven are alright, I fear Steven might have a broken arm after the arrest, and it hasn’t been seen by a doctor yet, but otherwise they are managing. They are still in jail though, in the same situation you are in. Woota is… struggling. I don’t think he understands where he is at or what is going on, and… how should I put it? He is always trying to fight the guards and keeps hitting the door as if he is trying to escape.”

Sarah let out a whimper after hearing that and her eyes started to water. She struggled with the lump in her throat before continuing. “I need to see him. The poor thing doesn’t have any idea what is going on.”

“I will see what I can do, but I fear it may not be possible.”

“I have to at least explain what is going on.”

“Like I said, I will see what I can do.”

Silence ensued for a while until Sarah recomposed herself, and Alex was kind enough to patiently wait while she did so. “What are we even being charged with exactly? I know I broke Woota out, but I still don’t see what legal law was violated.”

Alex sighed, “well that is a little more complicated. The administration at Project Embryo is trying to kind of charge you with theft of company property and/or kidnapping.”

“That is ridiculous though! I thought that they might go for something like that because those are the only things that make sense, but he is a human being, just like all the rest of them, and not company property. And it couldn’t be kidnapping if he went on his own will. I mean, I saved him from likely being killed by the rest of his tribe!”

“I know, I know. I thought the same thing, but I wanted to talk to you first to hear what exactly happened to further know what points we can argue against. As far as it sounds though, it doesn’t sound like they have any solid charges against you. I can try and push for the judge to dismiss the entire case based on lack of legal basis for it even being a criminal act. Furthermore, I will try to get you all out on bail, but considering that you all already ran away from Project Embryo, I fear that they might consider you all a flight risk.”

“I see. How long do you think it would be before the case would be dismissed and we would all be released?”

“I am not really sure, at best, a few days. It could potentially drag out for weeks though. But believe me, this is a high profile case and is getting lots of media attention – I was hounded with questions just by entering this police station. But before we run out of time, let’s go over what happened, so I know exactly what we are dealing with.”

“What exactly do you want to know?”

“Just start from the beginning of this whole charade, a few days ago before you took Woota out and fled south. Do you mind if I sit next to you on your bed while I take notes?”

“Sure, no problem. So I was working late because I had a report due, and right before I left, I decided to just check the monitors of Cloister 16B….” and she continued to relate the story of what happened, up until that point. It took almost an hour for her to cover the major points while Alex sometimes interjected with questions to clarify certain points.

After Alex had a solid idea of what transpired and had his notes, he thanked Sarah, and again, reassured her that he would do his best to get them out of there as soon as possible, and hopefully make it so that she could see Woota.

Alex motioned for them all to be released on bail, but as expected, Sarah and Woota were denied, however John and Steven were released on bail. Steven visited Sarah the next day (with his arm in a sling) to brief her on what had happened, and to assure her that they were doing the best they could. He also had a press conference with the media at the ODPE office in Toronto, explaining what injustice had happened, and further rallying people behind stopping the inhumane practices at Project Embryo. It was all much more real now that the public had seen glimpses of an actual subject from Project Embryo and it made it much more relatable for them then it was before, especially in this generation where everyone was born with Project embryo being an already existing organization. All of this was related to Sarah by Steven.

Woota had hardly slept. After thrashing around for the first two days, trying to attack guards when they brought food and continuously smashing the door, he had retreated to the corner where he silently brooded. He didn’t know what was going on, and he was scared. Anytime the guards came and yelled, he didn’t understand what they were saying, and he wanted to attack them since they seemed to be bad people to him, considering that they had attacked him and the others and taken them away to this location. He also wasn’t eating enough, and he was starting to get weak.

A few days passed again before Sarah had any visitors. Steven and Alex came to her in the early morning, looking fairly grim.

“Good morning Sarah” Steven tried to kindly greet her.

“Good morning guys. So what’s the news?” Sarah was impatient to know what was going on.

Alex spoke up. “As you know, John and Steven have been released on bail. You and the other-”

“Woota” Sarah coolly reminded him.

“Yes, you and Woota are not eligible for bail unfortunately. The good news is that I have talked with the judge, and he also agrees that the charges don’t make sense. Unfortunately though, he feels this is a bit over him, and since this case didn’t just happen in this province, the decision on how this case will be handled is being elevated to the supreme court, who will then decide if it is even a legal charge, and whether or not this case will be dismissed. On the one hand, this is unfortunate because it prolongs how long you and,” he struggled to recall his name before continuing, “Woota must remain in jail until this is decided. On the other hand, this is great because the legality of this case, and by extension, how things will be handled at Project Embryo is being determined, and this should provide future guidance on how to handle anything out of Project Embryo, and whether it remains legal or not.”

“I see… and will I be able to see Woota? He must be so confused. I need to help him.”

This time Steven spoke up. “Um… I am afraid that he has been determined to be too dangerous for visitors, and he has been denied any guests due to how he lashed out at the guards.”

“But somebody needs to explain what is going on to him! Even if it’s one of the other scientists from Project Embryo who understands his language.” Tears started rolling down her cheeks, and she turned away from the other two. She felt so terrible. She had saved him from certain death from his fellow members of his cloister, but in doing that, she had brought him into a hell of unknowing. He was now stuck inside a tiny concrete jail cell, without anyone to explain what was happening, where he even was, and why he was there. She brought him here, and even though she saved his life, she now felt that she had brought on a fate even worse for him.

The other two waited for her shoulders to stop shaking as she sobbed. Eventually Steven continued, “at least the public’s opinion is rapidly changing from apathy to conviction against Project Embryo. Our member count in the ODPE is at its highest amount ever, even more than when Project Embryo was new and the public was first enraged. They are involved now more than ever, and we can hopefully use this to influence the supreme court in throwing out the case, and hopefully even shutting down Project Embryo.”

Sarah looked defeated. She was still turned away form them, with her head hopelessly staring at the floor. “I don’t really care about that anymore. I just want Woota to be free. He doesn’t deserve to be stuck in here like this.”

“I know,” Alex began, “we are trying our best, but the legal system can sometimes be agonizingly slow.”

Sarah just nodded her head. It was obvious that not much more was going to be said, Alex and Steven silently knocked on the door and were released from the room, leaving Sarah alone.

Woota was still hiding in the corner of his cell, only occasionally coming out of the corner to retrieve meager amounts of food from the tray that was pushed into his room. He was lost, frustrated, angry and confused. Where was he? Why was he here? Where was Sarah? He had too many questions, and absolutely no answers, nor the faintest idea of what was happening. He shuffled on the floor over to the soup that he was presented with today. The soup reminded him of being back in his cloister: the freedom he had and the soups he and the others prepared. He longed to be free. Anything was better than this. He noticed that there was a spoon next to the soup. They didn’t use spoons in his cloister, and would instead just sip the soup from the bowl. While the spoon itself was unfamiliar, it reminded him of his old hunting knife, which we would use to finish off a deer after shooting it with a bow and arrow. If he shot a deer and it lived, after catching it, he would slice the deer’s throat to kill it quicker, and then they would be able to use the meat in one of their stews. He silently sipped on his stew while eyeing the spoon that still lie on the plastic tray.

Several days passed again, and Sarah was continuously pacing the room, slowly coming to her wit’s end as she worried about Woota. It was at this point, days after their previous encounter, that Alex and Steven again came to Sarah, this time later in the evening, which was unusual because they normally came early in the morning. They looked grimmer than ever, and Sarah could see it.

Sarah struggled to speak after seeing their look.“What’s up?” She finally managed. “Did the supreme court say anything already?”

“Well, the supreme court has agreed to expedite the case to next week…” Alex began, but trailed off and couldn’t manage to continue.

“Well that’s great!” Sarah’s mood elevated, before becoming somber again after seeing their lack of enthusiasm. “…Right?” She paused for a few seconds as she looked between the two. “What’s wrong?”

“Sarah, I am so sorry.” Steven reached out and put his hand on her shoulder in the most comforting way he could manage. “Woota is dead.”

That was it. That was all the Sarah could handle. She broke down. Her shoulders buckled and she slumped on her bed. The tears flowed freely, and her loud gasps between breaths made Alex flinch a little. He and Steven felt so sorry for her. She had tried so hard, and she wanted nothing more than for him to be free, but she was helplessly stuck in a jail, just like Woota was.

Sarah was devastated. She had rescued Woota from certain death, only to bring him through hell where he ended up dying anyways. All of this frustration, anger and sadness boiled up in her, and she couldn’t contain it anymore. She clenched the edge of her bed with her hands, leaned forward and half cried, half screamed the loudest, hair-raising “FUCK!” that any of them had ever heard. She slumped down again, put her head in her hands with her elbows resting on her knees and just cried. She had failed. She had come so far, only to have the worst outcome possible happen.

Steven sat down on the bed with her and wrapped an arm over her and pulled her in close, attempting to comfort her like a father would. She cried and sobbed for about an hour before she finally stopped. There was nothing left to cry. She was dried up. Tired and thirsty, her sobbing calmed down, and the others felt it possible to talk to her again.

Steven still had his arm around her, despite the fact that the odd angle had caused it to fall asleep a while ago, but he kept it around her for comfort. “I am so sorry Sarah, we all are. This is the thing we wanted to prevent the most.”

She shuddered harshly, almost lapsing back into another long bout of crying, but she kept herself in control this time. It was hard to hear Sarah speak, she was so quiet they had to strain to hear her. “I failed him…”

“No you didn’t Sarah. You did your best, nobody could have asked for more out of you.” Steven attempted to hold her tighter with his numb arm.

She sat up straight, rolling Steven’s arm off of her back, which was a relief to him as the blood started flowing to his arm again. She half turned her head towards his, just enough so that she could glance at Steven and make some eye contact. “How did he die?” She had to know.

Steven hesitated before telling her. “He killed himself.” He said it blunt and to the point. Sarah sobbed once more and looked down. Alex shuffled his feet, he had been standing by the door the entire time and his feet were getting uncomfortable. “Woota had managed to sharpen a plastic spoon on the concrete ground by filing the edge down. He then used the rough ‘knife-like’ edge he made to cut his throat. He was found today at lunch as the guard put the tray in and found the breakfast one still untouched. I suppose he did it overnight. I am so sorry Sarah.”

Sarah continued crying, not as much as before, but it was clear that it was time to leave. Alex and Steven got up and left the cell again, leaving her to deal with the reality that the situation had become.

This reignited the entire debate about Project Embryo. Sarah remained in jail until the trial, which did happen the next week. The entire case and all events surrounding it were heavily watched nationally and internationally. Public opinion was no longer apathetic, and pressure was high to release Sarah and shut down Project Embryo. The charges against Sarah were dismissed by the supreme court, and in a move that surprised everyone, although it shouldn’t have and always should have been so, Project Embryo was declared to be in violation of human rights, and was ordered to close down. Even if the initial children were donated, it was not the initial children’s decision to be there, nor the subsequent generations. As such, it was ruled that proper measures needed to be incorporated so that all subjects from Project Embryo were to be made aware of the outside world, taught a proper and modern education, and then introduced into modern society.

Sarah moved on to join the ODPE with Steven and the others, which had re-branded as an organization devoted to the reintroduction of all humans from Project Embryo. She became the face of equal and fair treatment of all former cloister residents, and she worked tirelessly to ensure that the best treatment and education would be given to every individual, and to further fight against discrimination against them after moved into modern society.

Most of the cloisters were receptive and were able to be approached and taught about the outside world and integrated. Some cloisters resisted any outside contact, either fearing or hating the new people that came to make initial contact. It was decided that these resisting cloisters would be maintained in their current state, much like other indigenous groups that shied from outside contact, with the exception that a new attempt would be made every generation to approach them and integrate them.

In the end, the facility was mostly shut down and the people were free. Sarah continued to visit Woota’s grave on a regular basis, which she ensured was in his old cloister. While she regretted what happened to him and still blamed herself for it, she died satisfied with the part of her life that she spent working with the other members from other cloisters, ensuring that they were reintegrated properly, and that the inhumane Project Embryo was shut down once and for all.

Escape into Society Part 2

This is the second part of my short story, Escape into Society, the first part can be found here.

Escape into Society Part 2

Sarah’s vision was blurred as she drove through the night. Woota had already fallen asleep, exhausted from being pursued in his cloister and then overwhelmed with the outside world.

She knew she couldn’t go home. Sarah wasn’t sure if the police would be called, or if the administrators at Project Embryo would just opt to use their personal security force that normally watched over the facility. In either case, her house would be the first place to check.

Sarah decided to go to a hunting and backpacking cabin that she and her coworkers partied at on some weekends. It wasn’t necessarily the best place to go, all things considered, but she couldn’t think of a better place in her current state at almost 4 in the morning.

After about an hour of driving and almost nodding off many times, Sarah pulled off the road and parked by the cabin. Woota was still sleeping so Sarah quietly exited the vehicle to investigate the cabin. After quietly entering the cabin and using her phone’s light, she determined that, as she hoped for, it was empty since it wasn’t the weekend yet.

Sarah went back out to the car and carefully rustled Woota from his slumber. As she anticipated, he was quick to get defensive and she tried to calm him down. “Home, safe” she cooed. She pointed towards the cabin “Sleep, nice.” Woota looked at the cabin. It was similar to the huts they lived in, but it was much more angled and organized looking. Small square holes in the side of the building made him think it was a similar clear material to the windows in the car. He was unsure how water could be so hard without it being frozen, as they had no glass in the cloisters, but it was the only thing he could compare it to. Brushing his thoughts aside while rubbing his bleary eyes, he silently followed Sarah inside the house.

They entered the house and Sarah closed the door behind them. Woota was slightly startled by the sudden brightness as she turned on the lights, but he remained composed enough. Woota was then led to one of the bedrooms where she showed him his bed. “Here, sleep, nice.” Her vocabulary was coming back to her now that she wasn’t as charged on adrenaline as before and she could start to express some more meanings than during their first encounter.

Woota said something that she didn’t quite understand, so he tried to express himself in a different way. “Scared” was all he said as his eyes started to water.

Sarah choked up looking at him. He didn’t look only scared, he looked terrified as he awkwardly stood there in the middle of the room. “Here, safe. I, watch” she said, trying to convey that he was safe with her. Sarah slowly closed the gap between them, intent on reassuring him. She originally wanted to hug him, but paused half an arm’s length away. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to hug him, but she recalled that Woota and the other members of his cloister had never really hugged each other. She quickly searched her memory, trying to recall what the members of 16B did to reassure each other. Sarah slowly rapped her right palm around his neck, drawing his head towards her. She touched his nose to hers, comforting him in a way that their tribe was more familiar with.

They stood like that in silence as Woota trembled for a few minutes. Eventually pulling back, Sarah showed him his bed, even telling him “Sleep” while pointing to the bed. They were used to sleeping on deer hides on the ground, so an elevated bed with cloth sheets was an unfamiliar thing to him. Still wearing his leather dress like tunic, he sat down on the bed. Sarah walked to the door, and tried to reassure him one more time. “Safe” she softly said. She then went to her room, took off her pants, turned off the light and lay down herself.

After a couple minutes, Sarah noticed that his light was still on since it illuminated the hallway. Curious, she got back up and poked her head through his doorway, only to find Woota half-glaring at the light before looking at her as he noticed her. She let out a short laugh, realizing that he didn’t understand how light switches quite worked. She put her arm in the doorway and touched the light switch. She wasn’t sure how to describe it, since they didn’t quite have an equivalent of “on” or “off.” “Night” she said, flicking the switch to turn off the light. Woota let out a surprised yelp, seeing how this light source turned off immediately by her merely touching a spot on the wall. “Day” she said, turning it back on. He just stared at her, almost as if he was expecting her to do something more. Unsure of what to do, Sarah demonstrated the light switch a couple times for him before he got up. She took his hand, showing him how to turn it on and off himself. Confident that he could do it, she went back to her room and lay back down.

After a minute or so, the light in Woota’s room turned off. Then back on. Then off and on again a few more time. After a few cycles of light, he let out a quiet, but still audible chuckle that Sarah could just barely manage to hear in her room.

Despite her exhaustion, it was nice to see Woota find some humor in his situation, and a slight grin crossed Sarah’s face as she lay in her bed. Knowing they had a long day tomorrow though, she had to get him to go to bed. “Sleep!” she half yelled across the cabin. One more cycle of lights followed by a chuckle from the other room, and then the lights went off and remained off.

So much had happened and Sarah felt like she was never going to be able to sleep. Where would they go in the morning? Who would be after them? What was she going to do with Woota? Those and many other concerns clouded her mind, and although she felt that she would never be able to sleep, her sheer exhaustion won over and she was fast asleep within a few minutes. Woota was scared of his new surroundings, but he wasn’t really aware of the situation he was in, and he didn’t have a specific thing to fear, like being caught or how to survive. His less crowded mind permitted him a much easier time going to sleep.

Sarah didn’t get much sleep as she was woken up by her phone at about 9am, only 4 or so hours after going to sleep, as a flurry of phone calls came in. As expected, all the calls were from the office; it was obvious that they had already discovered what happened and were trying to get a hold of her. The phone didn’t only wake up Sarah, but Woota was now hitting the main door of the cabin. Ignoring her phone, she quickly ran out of the room, forgetting to put her pants back on as she rushed out to address Woota’s issue. He seemed distressed, like he wanted to get outside but didn’t know how to. Woota saw her and pleaded with her, but she couldn’t quite understand what he was saying since she was still groggy-minded after just waking up after such little sleep.

Woota pointed at his crotch, repeating himself before banging on the door again. Not entirely sure what he wanted, she cautiously came up beside him. He slowed down and then stopped banging on the door as she got closer, eventually moving to the side as Sarah reached for the door handle. He watched intently as she turned the deadbolt and then pushed the lever down and then swung the door inwards. As she opened the door, Woota hurriedly sidestepped around her and half ran, half limped out the door. As soon as he was outside, he went to the nearest bush, pulled up the lower half of his tunic and started urinating.

It was too early after such little sleep, but Sarah couldn’t help but chuckle to herself as she considered the fact that Woota had yet to see a modern toilet. At least he was considerate enough to not go inside the house. Sarah turned to grant him some privacy and went back inside the cabin. While preparing a meager breakfast from the canned foods in the cabin, Woota cautiously entered the cabin, guided by the aroma of the canned vegetables that Sarah was frying in a pan. It was a basic dish, but both of them were famished and Woota kept eyeing the pan in anticipation.

“Hunger?” She ask him. Woota slowly thrust his head forward, much like someone imitating a chicken. They didn’t nod in his cloister, they had developed the forward head thrust visual cue for showing a positive response instead. To show a negative response, like how we would shake a head, they would thrust the head backwards, as if they were recoiling from something. That, and many other non verbal communication gestures, were different in all the cloisters compared to what we were used to. Sarah smiled and instructed him to sit and wait while she poured the food onto 2 plates and handed him one of them and sat down at the table in the corner of the room.

Woota stood there at first, holding his plate, unsure if he should seat himself as well until Sarah instructed him to sit down after pushing a chair away from the table for him to sit in. Woota took his place and gently set the food on the table like Sarah had. The food in front of him was a familiar concept to him. The metallic fork laying on his plate was not, and he curiously stared at it before questioningly looking back at Sarah for guidance. Sarah had already shoveled a mouthful of food into her mouth, and was already withdrawing her fork from her mouth at Woota glanced at her. She couldn’t help but silently chuckle again as she again considered the fact that he had never used a fork. Sarah demonstrated how to scoop and stab the vegetables in order to eat the food with modern table manners. Woota clearly hadn’t quite developed the ability to intricately hold a fork like most people do, and he held it in his hand like one would a tool with the tip sticking out of the top like a hammer. He tried to eat like her, but he ended up more or less using the fork in conjunction with his other hand to scoop the food into his mouth like they typically did in his cloister where they simply ate with their hands and without silverware.

They quickly finished their food, and Sarah pondered their next steps. They needed to move, but she wasn’t sure where. She also had many burning questions for Woota, and he also needed to know what was happening. Woota started asking her about items in their immediate surrounding in the cabin, and she explained what everything was and the ideas and concepts that went behind them. How they made pictures, what a radio was, what a microwave was, and all sorts of other things in the cabin. He was amazed at all these things, and since the technology simply didn’t exist for a lot of things, she found it challenging to explain things to him. She also posed some direct questions about beliefs and norms in his cloister that they weren’t sure of since they were never able to directly question anyone.

The conversation eventually shifted from him and his cloister, and Woota started asking other things about what she was doing and how she knew what was about to happen to him the previous night. He then asked why they were stuck in the cloister if everyone else was free, and why she and the others were just watching them. Sarah wasn’t ready to answer this question. She felt a lump in her throat as she held back tears when she saw how confused he was that he was forced to live in the cloister since he never chose that and everyone else outside of the cloister experienced a life full of these amazing gadgets he was asking her about. She told him that she would explain it later, but for now she broke off the conversation, explaining that they really needed to get moving, and fast.

It was likely that people would be looking and waiting for them. Woota didn’t understand how a warning could travel faster than a human, or car, since that was now the fastest thing he had seen. Sarah had to quickly explain that the phone she had, like everyone did, allowed her to instantly communicate with people anywhere around the world. The same device would be used by others to warn them that they escaped and to be ready for them. It was hard to explain because Woota didn’t understand electricity or wireless technology or any of the basic functions of a phone, so she had to settle with simply explaining that everyone had these things, and you could talk to anyone else with it, regardless of how close or far they were from you.

Sarah started searching on the internet for where she could safely take Woota. They couldn’t stay in the cabin or the wilderness forever. What she needed was some organization or group that could protect him and fight for his freedom. She found the Organization for the Discontinuation of Project Embryo, or the ODPE, which was an NGO that started shortly after Project Embryo became public knowledge more than 200 years ago. The ODPE had rapidly grown to thousands of members and activists, all fighting for the rights of the humans and babies within Project Embryo after its inception. Over time though, as public opinion became indifferent, the organization lost members and funding, slowly reducing it over the centuries to its current state. The ODPE was now just a shadow of its former self. There was now only a few dozen members, although most of them didn’t even participate that much. They had an office in Toronto, but only a half dozen people worked there, and they busied themselves with creating awareness pamphlets and posters which they tried to regularly distribute, as well organizing the occasional public rally that managed to attract a couple hundred attendees at best, but usually no more than a few dozen. A meager attendance turnout, dwarfed by the overflowing attendances at stadiums at its inception when the public was still very emotional about the whole situation.

Sarah was afraid that her phone might be tracked if she made a call now, so she opted to instead start driving in their direction and to contact them while on the road, either by Email or phone. For now, they would head out and start driving towards Toronto. She packed some provisions from the cabin in her car as Woota wordlessly watched her.

“We run much” Sarah explained over her shoulder as she packed the car, trying her best to convey that they had to travel a lot. They never had to really move or travel long distances in their enclosed cloister, so it was about the best explanation that she could think of giving.

“Where to?”

“To safety. Here are bad people. They want to catch us.” With that, Woota grew quiet as she finished packing.

They were both outside, and Sarah closed the cabin door behind her as she left the place. They entered the vehicle, Woota still apprehensive, but not nearly as much as his first encounter, and they drove on the dirt road past the cabin.

She didn’t want to go back the way she came, so she took back-roads to avoid Project Town until she got to another smaller village. After a few minutes of searching, she managed to find an ATM, which was lucky since ATMs were about as rare as payphones are today, with payphones being completely extinct. She withdrew as much cash as she could because she knew she was going to have to pay for gas and food along the way and she didn’t want her credit card to leave a paper trail for anyone to follow. After getting enough cash, they went to an attended gas station where she filled up her Jeep and got some food and drinks for both of them. She paid for everything with cash, which threw the attendant off since cash was used so infrequently. Sarah got back in the car where Woota was impatiently waiting. He again pointed at his crotch, and it dawned on her that she had failed to show him how to use a bathroom at the cabin.

“Wait please” she pleaded, deciding that here was not the best place to show him how to use a toilet, and fearing that letting him just go in the bushes near the gas station would attract too much attention. He looked confused and almost slightly angry, but he grudgingly thrust his head forward in silent agreement.

They started driving on a smaller road towards Toronto again until they got far enough out of the village that there were no more houses. Sarah pulled over and let Woota take care of business before continuing along the road.

They were both exhausted, having slept very little the previous night. She had bought 2 coffees while she was in the gas station, one for each of them, and she happily drank hers once they resumed driving. Sarah offered a coffee to Woota. He tried it and drank a big gulp of it which ended up burning his mouth. They never drank anything but cold stream water in his cloister, and he hadn’t expected a hot drink. He was also disgusted by the taste since he had never developed a taste for coffee. She ended up drinking his coffee as he angrily brooded, feeling tricked by her into drinking it.

During their first day on the road, Woota was content with watching the scenery flow by and asking questions about unknown things, which Sarah happily explained. He didn’t understand other cars, roads, street signs, large houses, and many other things they drove by, and Sarah had to explain all these things to him.

After the initial flurry of calls in the morning, the frequency of phone calls Sarah was getting had subsided. Nevertheless, she was still getting some calls from work. Since she was already driving, she decided to finally answer an incoming call. She briefly explained to Woota that she was going to have to talk to someone via her phone, but the sound would come through the car’s speakers. With butterflies in her stomach, her sweaty hand clicked the green button to accept a call on the Jeep’s screen.

“Hello?” she simply said, trying to contain her apprehension at answering the call.

“Sarah, what the hell is going on!?” Her immediate supervisor, Dave, was frantic. “We have been trying to get a hold of you all day long.” You didn’t show up this morning, and there was a lot of commotion in 16B. We decided to look at the security footage and it looks like you took a subject away from their cloister!”

Growing bolder and more defiant, she snapped at him. “He isn’t a subject, his name is Woota” she sternly said. Woota looked at her after hearing his name, but continued to look cluelessly on as she continued to talk in English, which he still didn’t understand.

“Sarah…” he sighed before continuing. He had calmed down, and he was speaking in a mellowing way a parent would speak to their scared child. “What happened? You knew what you were getting into when you first started researching this, and you never had a problem with it. I know it can feel questionable at times, but think of all the research you have been able to achieve and all that we have learned about human development.” Sarah remain silent, so he continued, “Please come back, bring him back, and we can work this out.”

“No.”

“What?” Dave was taken back. “What are you going to do then? I just don’t get what you’re trying to accomplish or why you took him from his cloister.”

“He should be free. They should all be free, and this just isn’t right to keep them all locked up like that.”

“Sarah, there’s nowhere for you to take him. Bring him-”

“No!” She shouted at him as she cut him off.

“Sarah, you are forcing me to call the police right now for theft and kidnapping if you don’t return with him.” Sarah was trembling, afraid, yet excited. She didn’t know what else to say or do, so she simply clicked the button to hang up the phone.

Silence resumed in the car. Sarah was obviously agitated, on the verge of tears, and Woota noticed that. He wasn’t sure what to say or do, so he just remained quiet, looking forward, but continuing to observe her from the corner of his eyes. Sarah was playing their conversation over in her head, and she realized that Dave said they would be forced to call the police. That implied that they hadn’t called the police yet, which meant that she likely wasn’t already being monitored or pursued by the police in any manner. She figured it would be better to call the ODPE before the situation got any worse. She fumbled around on her phone, relocating their phone number while she was driving until she found it and initiated a call.

The ring of her phone sounded throughout the car’s speakers. It rang again, and then again. The phone rang about 7 times, which meant that they didn’t have a voicemail set up, but it also meant that nobody was answering. She was about to hit the disconnect button and try again later when somebody finally answered.

“Hello, this is the Organization for the Discontinuation of Project Embryo. What can I help you with?” The voice greeting her was from a younger female, likely in her twenties. She sounded guarded, almost skeptical of the call, wondering if someone was calling with real interest, or if this was another prank or hate call.

“Hi, we need help” Sarah blurted out before really thinking of what to say.

The other voice turned more sarcastic, “If you are having a medical emergency, then you should hang up and dial 911.”

Unabashed, Sarah continued. “We need a place to go. I don’t know, I don’t know what to do. I have him and they are going to call the police and take him back, and he should be free.”

“Who exactly do you have” She returned to sounding skeptical, but more receptive than before.

“I am sorry, I am really on edge right now. Let me start from the beginning.” Sarah paused quickly to gather her thoughts before continuing. “My name is Sarah McMurdo and I am a scientist at Project Embryo. There was a conflict last night, and one of the people in one of our cloisters was going to be killed. I interfered and broke him out of there. We are now running away in my Jeep and I don’t know what to do or where to go.”

There was silence on the other end of the line until she managed to ask a less-than-reassuring, “What?”

Composing herself before losing her patience, she continued “Can you help us? I don’t know where to go or what to do with him. They are obviously going to call the police, and we obviously can’t remain in Project Town.”

“Yes, we can help, but our resources are really limited these days, and we are actually in Toronto, which is considerably far away from you guys.”

“Yea, we are already driving south, so we could head towards Toronto.”

“This isn’t a joke, right?”

Sarah started to almost get angry. This was an organization that was devoted to setting these people free. Now that the opportunity was knocking on their door, it seemed like they didn’t know what to do. “No I am not joking! I have him in my car, he’s sitting right next to me! What do I need to do to prove it to you?!” She turned her attention to him, “Woota, say something please.” In her frustration, she forgot to switch languages which resulted in him not understanding him, although he did catch hearing his name again. She addressed him again in his language. “Speak to her, ‘I am here.’”

He complied with a quick and confused “I am here.”

Sarah resumed talking at that point. “Do you see? You obviously didn’t understand him because he still only speaks his language, but I really have him in the car with me. His name is Woota, and we need help. My boss is going to call the police soon, and we need to get somewhere fast.”

“I also got some others on the line while you were talking, and one of them has an idea.”

“Hello” another voice broke in, this one from an older male. “My name is Steven and I am the project leader. Due to budget constraints, we don’t have an office in the Northwest Territories anymore, and we are only located in Toronto.”

“I know, we are driving there now, but I imagine it will take a few days.”

“Great, we have an unregistered apartment that we should be able to keep you guys at while we figure out something else more long-term. It will be obvious if you roll up to our address though, and you never know if the police will be able to access these calls. Let’s meet up in Sudbury, it’s a smaller town just north of Ontario. How long do you think it will take to drive there?”

“I am not sure, I would imagine 2 or 3 days, depending on how much I manage to drive each day.”

“That sounds about right. It doesn’t matter. In Sudbury, there is a restaurant called O’Malley’s on Elm Street. Simply call this number when you are there in the parking lot, and we will meet you there. I don’t imagine it will be hard to notice each other.”

“But what if they police listen in on the call then?”

“This is our office phone. We will leave it here, but then call one of the others who are there in Sudbury to notify them when we get another call from your number. We will wear some shirts of ours so you will recognize us. So just call us when you are in the parking lot and we will find you.”

“OK. Let’s do that then. We will try to get there as quick as possible.”

“Good luck and safe driving, Sarah, right?”

“Yep, and thanks.” With that, she hung up the phone and continued driving. Her mood had elevated noticeably. She felt like they now had a hope, they just had to get to Toronto. The rest of the day consisted of Sarah explaining what the 2 phone calls were about, and answering other questions about objects that they passed by while driving.

They drove until late in the evening. Their muscles ached after sitting all day, and they wanted to sleep more than anything. Woota never fell asleep in the car because it was all too unfamiliar for him to comfortably fall asleep in. They were not going to be able to get a hotel room without some identification, so it was decided that they would either sleep outside or in the car. They pulled off the main highway and took a back-road into the woods where she eventually pulled her car off the road into a clearing.

Due to their hasty escape, Sarah didn’t have a tent or even sleeping bags with her. It was luckily still the middle of summer, but it would still get chilly at night. Sarah told Woota that she didn’t have any suitable equipment with her, but Woota didn’t seem too worried. They both started collecting firewood for the night. Woota also insisted on finding some bigger rocks as well as sharp rocks. After making a fire, they ate some food that she previously bought at a gas station. Woota pushed some of the bigger rocks onto the fire in order to heat them up while the fire burned. He then dug what looked like two shallow graves near the fire. He explained that they would push the heated rocks into the holes and then push the dirt back on top of the rocks. The hot rocks would stay warm for a few hours and heat up the ground, allowing them to sleep a little more comfortably. Their only other sleeping supplies were Sarah’s jacket and a spare pullover that she had in her car. They both sat quietly by the fire until it got lower and the decided to go to sleep, both too tired to carry much more of a meaningful conversation.

They both awoke in the early morning with the sunrise. Shaking off the morning dew, they slowly got up and stretched their aching joints. They ate some more gas station food and drinks before getting in their car and resuming their journey towards Toronto. Sarah had long since turned off her phone in order to stop the barrage of phone calls she kept getting, but also to conserve her battery since she would need to call the ODPE in a couple days.

The day of driving luckily went by without any major difficulties. It was another day of continuous driving with the occasional stop to get gas or let Woota go to the backroom in the woods as Sarah had still not gotten the chance to teach him how to use a modern bathroom. Woota had seen a lot of the passing countryside during the previous day of driving, but today he finally started commenting on the distance itself. It was unbelievable to him how much distance they were covering. It took no more than a couple hours to traverse his cloister, but they had been driving at speeds that far surpassed walking speeds, and they had done it for hours upon hours. It started to blow his mind how big the world was, he wondered if there was ever an end, or if there was an even bigger wall around all of the land they were driving in, encapsulating them like his cloister was. He was also amazed at all the different things they drove by that didn’t exist in his cloister. The huge black road they drove on, the massive bridges over rivers wider than any creek in his cloister, all of the sharply built buildings, all of the other cars and so many people. Woota would occasionally ask who certain people were. Woota knew everyone in his cloister, and he was confused that Sarah didn’t know who all of these other people were.

Other than the barrage of questions that Woota proposed to Sarah, the day passed by without any complications. They kept driving towards Toronto, but after another 15 or so hours of driving, the shadows started to grow long and Sarah started to tire. They pulled off the highway and found another area to rest for the night in a clearing.

Like the previous night, they ate some food previously bought from a gas station as they huddled around a fire that Woota made, complete with rocks to bury for warmth. They talked again, this time about a more serious topic.

“Do you have fear?” Sarah quietly asked.

“No. Why would I?”

“At night, forests can give me fear. You don’t know what is there.”

“What would be there? Deer? They cause no harm.”

“Well there could be a…” struggling to find the word for a ‘Bear’. she realized that they didn’t have bears in his cloister so she simply said “Bear”, but as expected, he didn’t know what that was. “It’s not even ‘bears’ that give me most fear. It is other people.”

“What have other people done to give you fear?”

“Nothing specific. But you never know…”

“I don’t understand. Nothing done to give you fear, yet you have fear?”

“Well what about you?” Woota looked questioningly at her. She continued, “You were about to be killed or punished in your cloister. Does that not give you fear?”

Woota grew quiet, nervously looking over his should. “Yes… maybe I do have fear…”

“I’m sorry.” Sarah tried to apologize, but it seemed that she was too late and she had managed to instill a sense of fear in him. She instantly regretted projecting her fears onto him, and she tried to change the topic, but Woota didn’t react much. She didn’t know what else to do, so they silently watched the fire burn out before laying down next to each other on their heated beds and went to sleep.

Sarah woke up to find Woota clinging onto her arm in his sleep. It was such an innocent gesture, he just needed comfort, and she couldn’t help but smiling at him in his sleep as a mother would her child. After just enjoying the closeness for a few minutes, she eventually stirred enough to wake up Woota. The both silently got up and packed up their stuff and got back into the car. They were making good time, and she was hoping to be able to get to Sudbury by the end of the day.

As they neared Sudbury near the end of the day, she started to explain to Woota how the people were still following them, and they would have to meet up with some people who would try to help them. She ended up having to explain it to him in the framework that she had to speak to her village elders on his behalf so that their pursuers would hopefully stop and let them go. Inside though, she knew that it was going to be a long battle against the Project Embryo administration.

As she was getting close to Sudbury, she turned on her phone to call the ODPE. There were quite a few incoming text messages and voicemails, but she ignored them all. She called the ODPE, and it simply rang about 10 times. She wondered if the had said that they wouldn’t answer because he said they would call the people in Sudbury, so she hung up and hoped for the best. Pulling off the highway into Sudbury, her sweaty palms turned the steering wheel as she pulled onto Elm Street. She felt slightly more relaxed as she finally spotted O’Malley’s and pulled into the parking lot behind the restaurant. She told Woota to stay inside the car to avoid any unwanted attention as she stepped out and stood by the car, trying as best to inconspicuously scan the area for someone from the ODPE. About 15 minutes passed, and she was considering calling again when an unmarked white van eased into the parking lot from the road. There were 2 men in the front, an older man driving, and a younger man in the passenger seat. The van crawled past her, and stopped shortly afterwards. The younger man in the passenger seat opened the door, turned around and looked questioningly at Sarah. Sarah was getting nervous, not sure if this was the ODPE or undercover police, or maybe even just your typical robber. The man got out of the van though and started walking towards her.

Sarah let out a simply, questioning “Um?” as he approached, until he got close enough that she could read the letters on the left breast of his polo: ODPE. Sarah looked noticeably relieved, and he noticed that.

“Sarah?” he inquired, as he got closer.

Sarah simply nodded and reached her hand out, almost on the verge of tears with happiness that she had finally found some help that she could lean on.

He took her hand and shook it. “Hello Sarah, my name is John, and I am part of the Organization for the Discontinuation of Project Embryo. My colleague, Steven,” pausing to point out the older man who had stopped the car in the parking lot, disembarked, and was now walking towards them, “I believe you two spoke on the phone already, and I are here to help you get to Toronto. Where is Boota?”

“His name is Woota. He is in the Jeep.” She pointed towards the Jeep where they all looked and saw Woota staring back at them. Sarah couldn’t contain it and had to laugh at the way Woota was watching them. “So what is the plan from here?” she asked, looking back at John.

Steven cleared his throat before speaking. “I think the best course of action would be to simply abandon your Jeep for the time being. I would imagine the police would be looking for you, so I think it would be best if everyone got in our van and we could drive you two to a safe house we have on the outskirts of Toronto.”

Sarah didn’t like the idea of leaving her Jeep behind, but it couldn’t be helped. “You are probably right. Let me grab our things and lock my Jeep.”

Sarah went to her Jeep as the other 2 went to the van and opened the backdoor and quickly moved to gather up all the trash that was lying in the floorboard. “Come Woota, family, safe.” He got out with her and helped grabbed a bag that she was carrying. They then got into the back of the van and Steven started driving away from her Jeep.

Sarah explained to them that Woota still hadn’t quite learned English, so they wouldn’t be able to talk to him directly. She and the other 2 talked for a while as she explained what things were like for him, and ultimately why she decided to break him out. Woota had fallen asleep in the back of the van, and Sarah, exhausted after driving all day again, quickly followed suit as the conversation with the other 2 slowed down.

Woota and Sarah were awoken a couple hours later by Steven gently shaking their knees. Woota reacted quickly to push him back in surprise, but his seat belt kept him in place. Sarah was awake by then and calmed him down with some softly spoken words.

“I am sorry” Steven apologized. “I didn’t intend to startle either of you. However, we are here and I thought you two would be much more comfortable sleeping upstairs in some warm beds with blankets. I think a shower would do wonders too.” He laughed as he teased them about their general dirtiness and odor.

Sarah blushed in embarrassment, but still thanked him. She told Woota to follow, and they went up a flight of stairs to an apartment.

“This is an apartment that I pay for with cash only” Steven explained. “It has no official affiliation with anyone at the ODPE, so you guys should be safe here. Try to stay away from windows though and don’t answer the door without using the peephole, just to be safe.” He then showed them around the cozy 3 bedroom apartment with a kitchen and 1 bathroom. “I can see that you are both tired, so take care of business and we will figure out our next course of action in the morning. John and I will sleep in the 3rd bedroom so you both have some privacy.” It was almost midnight, and Sarah had no desire to shower nor how to show Woota how to use one, so she simply showed him his room, and she went to her room and laid down on the bed, elevated that she could sleep on a real bed for the first time in days. After 3 days of running, she finally felt a twinge of safety now that they were here. Woota also laid in bed and went to sleep, again confused at the change of location, but happy to be in such a soft bed.

A couple days prior, Sarah’s administrators had indeed called the police and said that she had stolen/kidnapped company property. The legality of the situation was questionable considering that he was a person and not an object, but the law wasn’t too clear on situations like this. In light of the confusion, a judge had approved a warrant for her arrest, and the police had been actively looking for her, and they would figure out what exact charges would apply when she and Woota were in custody.

In other events, the day after Sarah first called the ODPE, the ODPE’s Public Relations team got a little too excited with the information that they were going to assist someone who escaped from Project Embryo. They had made a public announcement that they were actively assisting “someone” who had helped someone escape. It had caught the media’s attention, and they were being constantly questioned by the public and news companies regarding what was really happening. It didn’t take long for the media to find out that there was an arrest warrant for Sarah, and the media was abuzz about how something that hadn’t happened since Project Embryo started was happening now. It also didn’t take long for police to connect the dots, and they had been actively monitoring any and all known members of the ODPE for a day or so.

The police used surveillance footage from cameras spread throughout the province, and they had been able to track the van up to Sudbury and back to the safe house. The fact that Steven had also used the van’s self driving feature to get them to the safe house only made it easier to find where they were since the police could access all self-driving cars’ recent driving history. Armed with the warrant for Sarah’s arrest, the police mobilized in the early morning after Sarah, Woota, John and Steven had arrived at the safe house.

It was shortly after 5 in the morning when the door to the apartment was kicked in. The sound startled all 4 of the people in the apartment awake. Their confusion was quickly cleared up when one of the officers shouted, “This is the Toronto Police department! You are all under arrest for robbery and kidnapping!”

Sarah froze in her bed, her biggest fear now realized, and just hours after getting somewhere where she thought they would finally be safe. She realized that Woota would not understand what was going on or what the police were saying. She sprang to the door and opened it, only to see Woota already in a scuffle with the police in front of his door. With all the yelling and loud noises, Woota had opened the door, and he was now fighting off the police officers who were yelling at him in a language he didn’t understand as they tried to arrest him. Woota was already bleeding from his nose, and he had his left arm close to his chest, both having been struck by batons from the officers.

“Stop! He doesn’t understand what is going on!” Sarah yelled frantically as 3 officers formed a half circle around him whom she ran to, shortly diverting their attention to her. She reached one of them and grabbed his arm, trying to prevent him from hitting Woota anymore. The police officer felt threatened and smacked her on the right side of her rib cage with his baton, causing Sarah to fall to the ground crying and clutching her side in pain as she struggled to breathe. Seeing this, Woota lashed out at the officer that hit her, violently hitting him with his right fist while the police officer was still looking at Sarah. One of the other offices turned and hit Woota on his back, and the third officer decided it was necessary to use his taser. He pulled out and aimed his taser as Woota and fired, causing Woota to tense up as he was electrocuted.

Sarah lay crumpled up on the floor, crying as she caressed her broken ribs. Woota was still lying on the ground, immobile after being electrocuted. The officers recomposed themselves, and then pushed both of them on their stomachs and handcuffed them as their rights were told to them. They were then pulled up and half carried through the door. Sarah saw Steven and John lying down in their bedroom as she passed by, both in handcuffs as well. They were all placed in the backs of separate cars where they were then taken to the local police station.

Part 3 of this story can be found here.

Escape into Society Part 1

I started this last Wednesday, but I didn’t have enough time to finish it that evening. I wanted to finish it all last week, but just couldn’t get the drive to continue. It is Wednesday again though, and results require discipline, so I am finishing off the first part of my story now, which is taking me longer to write than usual. I also didn’t even cover the whole story, so part 2, and maybe a 3rd part, will come later.

Escape into Society

Sarah sat back in her chair as the leather cushion squeaked, closing her exhausted eyes hard enough that they started to water. After opening her eyes and wiping away the tears of exhaustion, she glanced at the clock on her computer to discover it was already well past midnight. Her last coffee was already several hours ago and her energy had finally ran out. She wanted to review her report that she had been working on one last time before sending it.

On the Development of Language among Cloister 16B
Dr. Sarah McMurdo, Head of Language Research for Project Embryo

Cloister 16B has shown the most advancement over the past 30 years in regards to the development of its language. While other cloisters have exhibited greater growth in technology or non-verbal communication, among other metrics we are observing, 16B’s language has evolved into the most complex of all of the cloisters’ languages at this time. It is hard to say what is the cause of their language’s success in comparison to other cloisters. It is worth noting that 16B also has one of the more intricate and pervasive religious-like belief structures. While there is a correlation, there is not currently enough data or a big enough sample size to determine if the religion is due to their advanced language or vice-versa. It is more likely the case that their religion is due to 16B’s form of containment, a large wall encircling their designated area, as their religion’s focal point is the wall.

The report then went on about how the humans in Cloister 16B had been slow at developing initially, much like the hundreds of other humans that were split into other cloisters. Most groups did manage to start using basic tools like wooden clubs and spears with stone tips quick enough, but not much happened after that for a while. There were enough deer that they could all lead successful hunter/forager lifestyles, and most stayed that way. Every cloister was given the resources to also develop agriculture, as plants that were farmable were also in every cloister, but only a few cloisters had become agrarian at this point.

This point being 240 years after the creation of Project Embryo, a mega-research project funded in cooperation with the American and Canadian governments in the year 2032. After many attempts, a researcher achieved the large grants necessary to create a facility where they would test human development from the beginning. The only way to accurately test that was to put humans at the beginning: back to before the stone age. The project entailed getting hundreds of humans from early childhood and putting them into different groups to see how they fend for themselves, and how they develop over time. Children from unwanted pregnancies, as well as some donors, gave their children to the program. The children were randomly separated into different groups and put into different areas, called cloisters. The children were never spoken too, so as to not give them any precognition about language, and they were simply nurtured as necessary before being shown how to forage for basic foods before they were abandoned in the cloisters. These cloisters were several dozen square kilometers in order to attempt to provide enough space for the humans to move around and adapt to their environments if necessary, as well as for the wild deer and other animals to move around, even if they couldn’t migrate very well. Different cloisters were isolated in different ways. Some cloisters were isolated just because there were on large islands or tracts of islands (with walls surrounding the far shores, just in case the water was crossed). Other cloisters were surround by walls or others had sets of speakers that would emanate loud and horrific sounds if anyone got too close, scaring them back.

All these groups of people in each cloister had been monitored by scientists for the past 240 years to see how they would develop with regards to their language, technology, culture, religion, science, and basically any facet of humanity as to get a better understanding on how humanity developed the way it did.

Due to the fact that there were no fully grown humans protecting them or teaching them, many cloisters perished at the beginning because the toddlers didn’t manage to find enough food and water on their own. The cloisters where all the humans perished were then rendered empty, necessitating that they be filled with some people who were drugged and moved from another more successful cloister, to further see how the 2 separate groups which originated from the same cloister would develop. Some cloisters did become agrarian, most stuck to hunting deer and foraging for berries and roots. Some groups had no language whatsoever and acted out of primal instinct. Other groups developed rituals and sometimes what was interpreted as religion. Some didn’t even discover fire, but most of the ones that did use fire were subtly shown how to do it by researches via secret service entrances.

Cloister 16B was one of the more exemplary cases.

The report continued:

Cloister 16B can be described as the most similar to ancient humanity. Their language has developed the furthest, far enough that I and other linguists can almost fully understand their primitive language. They have not discovered written language yet, but the verbal aspects are impressive to say the least, and it follows a grammar structure that we can piece together. Cloister 16B had also discovered farming, which led to them being able to live in one area, focusing on improving their homes and crop yield. 16B had also developed a fascination for the wall that surrounded their cloister. Cloister 16B had been one of the more successful cloisters ever since the beginning, and about half of their population had been moved to an empty cloister about 200 years ago, and while they didn’t have language to convey what happened to subsequent generations, it seems that the populace believed the wall was responsible, and a general cautious respect for the wall had been passed down ever since then. This is believed to be the reason the inhabitants of cloister 16B give offerings to the wall, but never dare get within arm’s reach of the wall. The Northern Lights, which are also sometimes visible here in the Northwest Territories, also seem to play a role in their religion, with offerings to the wall increasing after a Northern Lights sighting.

Since Project Embryo was ethically questionable at best, the location is would be conducted in was initially a secret. It didn’t take too long before the public discovered that the facility was being built in the Northwest Territories in Canada since it had gotten warm enough after the climate had gotten warmer, and the land was still cheap and desolate enough. As knowledge of the facility became public, there was lots of backlash and protests against the facility as it was seen as inhumane to just throw toddlers into the wild. Since the land was privately purchased through the grants, the land the facility was on became private property, and a security firm was hired to keep trespassers off the premise who were either protesting or sometimes trying to break in to free the human test subjects. As time wore on though, public opinion became apathetic as public opinion usually does, and interest in Project Embryo and the protests died down, and the project continued unabated until this day. Even so, it was hard for the researchers and scientists who were watching humans die easily preventable deaths, and they often felt guilty. They had to had to learn to separate their emotions from their work, but Sarah still felt twangs of sadness whenever any ill circumstances fell upon any of the members of any cloister, but particularly for those in 16B, as they were her star cloister since she writing a research paper on the development of their language.

One particular member of cloister 16B has caught my and other researchers’ attention. The others in 16B seem to address him by a name that sounded like “Woolta”, and he is a particularly curious member. His language skills, as primitive as their language is compared to modern languages, is still better than average for his cloister. He works in the fields sowing and harvesting corn and other vegetables, but his curiosity has led him to explore almost his entire cloister. He seems to have less fear for the wall, which is a problem since the wall didn’t have that much security. At one point, Woolta attempted to stack some dead trees in a fashion that would allow him to get up the wall. We reacted by increasing the height of the wall overnight to dissuade him and others. Not only did this dissuade Woolta himself, it also brought on the ire of the other members who believed that he had caused the walls to get higher, which also meant he was effectively ostracized by the others for attempting to scale the wall, which resulted in no further attempts at getting over the wall. This also led to the development of a few new words that cloister 16B invented. These new words seem to revolve around acts that make the wall higher, and they use these new words to sometimes express fear, and they are also used to describe someone who does a stupid or silly act. At the time of writing this, it appears that Woolta has been continuously ostracized for the most part, and excluded from group dinners, forcing him to steal and forage for food. His previous and current transgressions also seem to be used as an excuse for further ostracization. Some members of the group are discussing “Lokto”, which is another word they have recently developed. We are not sure what Lokto means at this point, as they haven’t expressed it in a way which gives enough context to ascertain its meaning yet, although it seems like it is some punishment that they intend to carry out based on other bodily and social cues exhibited when discussing this topic.

Sarah would have liked to see how things progress before submitting the report on the development of languages, as these new words were exciting, but she had a deadlines, and the paper needed to be submitted the following day. As such, Sarah was still working in the only illuminated office room in the small observation building. Everyone else had already gone back to their homes in the small town that had popped up for the research center in the Northwest Territories which was unimaginatively called Project Town. Sarah felt a shiver go down her spine as she contemplated how she was completely alone in the building before trying to focus on her work again.

After skimming through her entire report one last time, Sarah was satisfied enough, and exhausted enough, to decide that the paper was finished. She sleepily clicked the send button and watched as the email was sent off to her superiors. The monitor light reflected off of her glazed eyes as she shut down the computer and started lazily pushing her things into her bag. With her bag over her shoulder, she shut off the office light and started walking down the hallway towards the parking lot.

Curiosity got the best of Sarah as she decided to quickly pop her head in the observation room and look at the video feeds for the cloister surveillance systems. It was past midnight, so she didn’t expect to see much, but one monitor caught her eye as it was fairly well illuminated. Tiny cameras had been planted in all sorts of rocks, allowing for continued surveillance of the cloisters, and the monitor feed for cloister 16B curiously had some activity. She sat down on the desk and started flipping through the different feeds for 16B, trying to make sense of what was happening.

It seemed that most of the residents of 16B were looking for something as they were walking around in groups with torches. Sarah kept flipping through the feeds, trying to find a camera that was close enough to a group to hopefully eavesdrop and make some sense of the situation. The screen flashed with a bright light as the lens adjusted to take in less light for the next feed Sarah switched to. Sarah had switched to a feed for a camera that was directly next to a group of people as they were slowly and methodically walking and shouting. As she had feared, “Lokto” did mean a punishment, and based on the context, it seemed that the rest of the inhabitants had decided that killing Woolta was necessary, in hopes of making the wall go down again to its original size.

Sarah changed the settings to infrared mode in hopes of finding Woolta, as he was undoubtedly hiding in the darkness. Not all the cameras were equipped with infrared, but they gave enough of overview that she hoped she would find him. It didn’t take long because the infrared made it easy to spot human bodies, and she find him sneaking along the wall, away from the others.

Sometimes you make bad decisions when you aren’t in your normal mental state. Sarah was tired enough that this was one of those times. Woolta was one of the most interesting inhabitants of the entire program, and she would have been deeply saddened if he was unnecessarily killed. There was also the opportunity of talking with one of the test subjects directly. While against their entire credo, she just couldn’t resist.

Sarah quickly made her way out to the parking lot, forgetting to lock the door behind her in her haste. She got into her red Jeep and throw her bag in the back. She clicked the button to start the car and the electric engine silently activated. There was a brief squealing of tires as she zipped across the parking lot towards the exit, but instead of going towards Project Town, she made a left, further into the complex. Due to the size of the cloisters, the entire complex was huge, stretching across hundreds of kilometers, but cloister 16B was luckily relatively close, and if she drove fast, she could get there within 20 minutes.

The roads were relatively straight which allowed time for Sarah to bring up the video feeds on her phone. This also helped her concentrate because even though the adrenaline coursing through her was assisting in keeping her awake, it was still dreadfully late and she was tired. She managed to find a feed showing where Woota was just as she was getting close to cloister 16B. She brought up another window on her phone, showing the general schematics for the complex, and she managed to find a service entrance that led to a secret entry in a rock nearby Woota’s current location.

Sarah quickly stopped the car and put it in park, grabbing a flashlight and leaping out the door while the Jeep was still rocking back from her rapid parking of the vehicle. She leaped to the access door and entered the access code. Her flashlight illuminated the long and descending tunnel that disappeared into the earth. Her running left small clouds of dust as her feet stomped on the ground towards her destination. After a few dozen meters, the tunnel ended and the faint gleam of a metal ladder that went up into the ceiling was the only thing that broke the darkness. She ascended the ladder as the beam of light kept illuminating the area to her side as she simultaneously held the flashlight and used her hand to climb the ladder. After 5 or so meters, the tunnel ended as she neared the exit above her. Again, she entered the necessary security code, and the door opened. In the cloister, a solid rock opened up on the top like a submarine hatch, revealing the tunnel in the rock.

Sarah quickly turned off the flashlight and waited for her eyes to adjust as she scanned her surroundings, looking for Woota. As her eyesight started to adjust to the darkness without her flashlight, she started to make out the torchlights of search parties in the distance, and they seemed to be moving in her general direction.

Sarah loudly hissed his name as best as she could manage without being overly loud. “Woota!” Her ears prickled as she tried to make out any movement from him. “Woota!” She exclaimed again, this time as a quiet shout. She started to sweat with fear of being discovered by the search parties while looking for him.

Right before she attempted at quietly shouting his name again, a light rustling occurred as a shadow separated itself from a bush about 12 meters from Sarah. She could barely make out his silhouette in the darkness, but his trained and darkness-accustomed eyes could see her much more clearly. He could see that she was not one of the others from the cloister, and he was filled with an uncertain and morbid curiosity. He had never seen or heard of anyone else other than the few dozen people he was familiar with. Who could she be?

Woota slowly approached her in a stealthy crouch, still brandishing the club-like stick that he had been carrying around for the past couple hours in case it became necessary to defend himself. Sarah was head of the linguistics team, and it was now time to see if she and the rest of the team had understood their primitive language as well as she hoped they had.

“I, friend” Sarah struggled to convey her meaning in a language they had only briefly practiced with each other.

Woota seemed to understand her well enough though. “Who, you?” he asked as he inspected her. She had straight hair that was cut in an even line, unlike the others he knew. She wore a shirt and pants unlike any he had ever seen, although they were the norm in the outside world. Her clothes fit so perfectly, and the cloth material was unlike the leather they exclusively used. Her skin was unusually white and fair. Sarah was the strangest person he had ever seen in his life.

“I, friend. Outside, wall. Home.” She struggled to convey that she came from outside the wall where it was safe and that he should come with her.

Woota approached to within 3 meters of Sarah, and she could more clearly make him out in person for the first time with the aid of the moonlight. His leather dress, which was what everyone in his cloister wore, covered his torso and went down to his knees. His weathered face and skins were of a much darker tone than hers owing to a lifetime spent outdoors. He was shorter than average, but very lean and muscular, and his should length ratty hair reflected moonlight off of his greasy locks.

They stood there for a couple minutes inspecting each other until the silence was abruptly broken. “Woota!” A distant shout from a search party was heard, but it was much closer than before. A sense of urgency returned to the two, and Sarah quickly tried to convince him to come with her.

“Here, death. Outside, home!” She tried her best to pleadingly convince him to come with her. The surreality of encountering her, and his fear and doubts about being apprehended by the others convinced him to follow, but he wasn’t sure what to do, so he just awkwardly stood there, nervously looking over his shoulder at the impending search parties. “Home” Sarah tried to indicate into the hole in the rock that she was standing on. She started crawling down the ladder, indicating for him to follow. She started to descend, and Sarah turned on the flashlight about halfway down. Woota nervously peered into the hole, afraid of the flashlight, but his fear of being captured overrode his apprehension towards following her, and he also slowly descended into the hole, carefully using a ladder for the first time. Sarah impatiently waited at the bottom until Woota stepped down. “Rest” she told him, trying to convey that he should wait while she closed the hatch above them, which she moved to do by climbing the ladder again.

Woota’s fear crept up on him, and the thought of her abandoning him in the dark tunnel as she ascended the ladder again with the flashlight spooked him. He let out a crying whimper which got Sarah’s attention. “Home, rest!” she sternly told him, desperately trying to abate his fears as she hurriedly closed the hatch. She continued going up the ladder only to have Woota also start climbing the ladder behind her.

Sarah paused her ascent and considered saying something more to him before deciding to simply continue and just close the hatch. “Woota!” she heard a search party, and they sounded closer than ever. She hurriedly went up the last few rungs of the ladder and quietly closed the hatch and locked it. She started to descend only to find Woota halfway up the ladder underneath her. “Home!” Sarah exclaimed while pointing down, becoming quite exasperated at this point in her failed attempts to convey that they need to go out the other way. Woota remained motionless on the ladder, staring up at her with a confused look on his face. Frustrated, Sarah started climbing down the ladder, forcing him to go down as well until they were both on the ground again.

They stood there in silence for a moment, looking at each other in the flashlight-illuminated tunnel. It was obvious that Woota had seen hard work as his arms had scars on them. His legs were peppered with bug bites, and he would subconsciously stand on foot while he itched one leg with the other foot. He continued to hold the club that he previously wielded, still unsure of what was really happening and afraid he might have to use it.

“Home” Sarah said again, trying to show that it was safe with her. She beckoned for him to follow, and they started walking through the darkness towards the end of the tunnel. It took them a few minutes before reaching the end of the tunnel, where they pushed open the access door that she had previously left ajar.

Sarah’s Jeep stood in the clearing outside the door, and this immediately caused Woota to raise up his club in defense. Woota’s club was making her nervous, and she wanted to get rid of it. “Home, family” she softly said to him, trying to express that there was no danger of her car. She went over to the jeep and touched it, showing that it didn’t move. Woota cautiously lowered his club and followed her to the car. Sarah needed to start the car, and she could already tell that it would surprise him when it moved. She climbed into the jeep and tried to show how you could easily and comfortably sit inside of it. “Home” she beckoned for him to sit in the passenger seat. After a couple minutes of coaxing, he finally, yet cautiously entered the jeep. Sarah calmly took the club from him after some mild protests, but some comforting words of “family” managed to calm his senses enough to release it to her. She took the club and dropped it out the passenger side door, and then closed the passenger side door from the inside for him. In light of all the new experiences Woota was having, she opted to not attempting to buckle him in.

She was thankful that her electric engine was quiet, unlike automobiles of the past, as she started the engine. She turned on the lights and cautiously started rolling the car forward, hoping to show Woota that the car moved and that it was OK to be inside of as it moved.

Despite her efforts, Woota started panicking, grabbing the sides, distressingly moving around in his seat with an extremely alarmed look on his face. Sarah immediately stopped the car, cooing him with words of “Home” and “family” again, trying to calm him. Woota was not only unfamiliar with a large “beast” like this Jeep, made out of a metallic material that he didn’t recognize, but they didn’t even have horses or other beasts of burden in his cloister, and the entire concept of travel on something other than his 2 feet was lost on him. After repeating the procedure of starting and stopping a half dozen times, Woota seemed to finally come to terms with the car moving and him not being in danger while inside it, and he was calm enough for her to continue driving. The radio and music confused him, and Sarah quickly turned it off, opting to drive in silence with him as they drove back to the main exit.

The clock showed the bleak hour of 3:27 as they approached the security checkpoint. There was security 24/7, so she had to hide him long enough to get past the guard. After much struggling with conveying her intentions, Sarah eventually managed to get Woota to huddle up behind the driver seat with a blanket over him, in hopes that the guard wouldn’t look in the back.

With Woota hiding in the back, Sarah nervously resumed the last kilometer towards to gate where she was relieved to be stopped by Steve, a guard she was familiar, and luckily friendly, with.

“Sarah!” he surprisingly addressed her as he saw who was driving. “Bit of a late night tonight, eh?”

“Yea, I had a report due tomorrow, and I was up all night finishing it off. I hate to sound rude Steve, but it took everything out of me, and I need to get going before I fall asleep at the wheel.” She felt dirty lying to him since they had always been on good terms, but she justified her claims to herself in that they were half truths; she really did stay up late finishing the report, and she really was exhausted. She just failed to mention the person that she was smuggling in the back of her Jeep.

“Fair enough Sarah, you are used to a different schedule than I am” he chuckled as he clicked the button for the gate to open. “Have a good night and drive safe now!”

“Thanks Steve, have a good night yourself.” Feeling guilty for tricking him, she drove away from the check point and onto the highway.

Thrilled, exhausted, and anxious, Sarah continued driving down the road. She reached her right hand around the seat and pulled the jacket off of Woota. “Safety” she tried to convey that it was safe again, recalling some more words that they used. Sarah patted on the passenger seat, beckoning for him to come back up front. Woota clambered into the front seat and sat down. His face mirrored her exhaustion, but there was a deeper tone of confusion and apprehension in his expression. Not one, but 2 new people unlike any he had ever seen. A language that sounded much more fluid and unlike anything he had ever heard. An automobile. Flashlights, music on a radio, hard, black roads. These were all new things for Woota and he was awestruck, just trying to comprehend everything that he was experiencing for the first time.

They continued driving into the night away from the cloisters, research center and Project Embryo, heading towards a place that she deemed safe to sleep for the night before continuing their flight into this new world for Woota.

Part 2 of this story can be found here.

The Guardian of Mysteries

Another writing prompt, this time titled “Your job is to be the Guardian, and everyone refers you you as the Guardian, but you don’t know what you’re guarding.” I kind of instantly thought of Heimdall, that guy who guards Asgard in the Thor Marvel movies and comics. I was inspired by him per say, at least with the physique, but this is my take on a guardian who doesn’t know what he is guarding.

The Guardian of Mysteries

I was an exceptionally talented and effective guard. I stood watch at the castle gates for many years, ensuring that only those who were authorized entered the premises. Taller than average, and with an imposing posture and build, I was quite intimidating. A weathered face due to my upbringing in the fields, and small scars from previous engagements radiated that I was a grizzled and experienced man. Unlike many other guards who were swayed by temptations of more gold, I held my vigil and ensured only those with valid reasons and permissions could enter, no matter how much they offered me. I even imprisoned other corrupt officials and guards. I was not liked by many due to my resolute ways, but I was determined. I had a rough upbringing, coming from a destitute village, and I was going to be the best at my honorable job.

After several years, I had arrested hundreds of wrongdoers, prevented many more illegal entries and potentially crimes, and I had won countless skirmishes with my deft swordsmanship. I had risen through the ranks and was the Captain of the King’s Gate’s Guards. I help prestige and esteem. I was satisfied with where I had gotten in life, and all with a clean conscious at that. There wasn’t really anywhere else for me to advance to, so I was coming to terms with being a Captain for the rest of my life, which wasn’t a bad prospect in my mind.

It was one late evening as I sat there pondering over our month’s budget and resource allocation when an elderly fellow quietly stepped into my office, located near the main gate. He wore loose fitting clothes that were embroidered in a very elegant and colorful pattern.

I paused in my work and sat upright in my chair. “Good evening.” I curiously greeted. “And to whom do I owe the pleasure of this surprise visit?”

“Greetings Captain. My name is Melthano, I am a high wizard of the king’s inner sanctum.” That explained the clothing. “We have noticed your superior abilities as Captain of the King’s Gate’s Guards.”

“I am glad to hear that” I answered as I furrowed my eyebrows in slight confusion. “What about it exactly?”

“Your abilities and your valor are exceptional, and they are being squandered here.” I silently waited for him to continue. “We would like to invite you to become a guardian of some of the most important objects of the kingdom.”

I pondered what exactly he meant, it seemed like he was intentionally trying to be vague and to make the conversation tense. A simple “hmm” was all I emitted as I waited for him to continue again.

“There are things that need to be defended in order to ensure the lasting peace and prosperity of the kingdom, and we would like none other than you to become the new defender.” He half-grinned at me while I further thought about it.

“What happened to the last defender?”

“There was no ‘last defender’, you would be the first. After a few attempts from highly skilled thieves and traitors to get in, we realized that we need a more permanent entity guarding things in the keep itself. We would infuse you with permanent magical powers to further enhance your already amazing abilities and make you a warrior second to none.”

This seemed like an interesting possibility, and I was thoroughly interested. So much that I simply couldn’t refuse. “I accept.”

“Great, then come straight to the high sanctum tomorrow at noon. Ask the concierge at the Hall of Emperors, right before the throne room, and he will guide you to the higher sanctum.” And with that, he turned around and went out through the door, quietly closing it behind him. I nervously finished preparations for the night before considering who I would anoint as my successor as the Captain before settling on Frederick, who I anointed the following morning. Following his succession as the new captain, I took my armor and sword and made my way to the higher sanctum. I was greeted by Melthano and 5 other wizards, who brisked me into a darkened room. After waiting a moment, one of the others came back in with a potion and prompted me to drink it. I drank it hungrily in anticipation of the powers I would soon obtain, and the charge of guarding something greater than a castle gate.

I felt funny at first, and then I didn’t feel anything. I went numb, and I never felt anything again. I didn’t feel myself growing almost twice my original size. I didn’t feel my muscles get enormously big. I didn’t feel my body get quicker, or feel my eyes change as they became sharper. I never felt hunger or exhaustion or any desire but to uphold my responsibility of guarding my charge.

Days went by. Weeks. Years. I never tired in my quest to guard the entrance to a particular section of the dungeon in the castle I had been assigned to. In that time, a few people had attempted to enter: some rogue servants, some highly skilled thieves, and just some people who got too curious. I always noticed them though, and with a quick swipe of the sword, they would be cut clean in two. Their bodies would sometimes lay there for days, rotting, before a patrol would come by and take the bodies away. The stench didn’t bother me, and neither did the jeering of anyone like the patrols who walked past. I never left my post, and they started calling me “The Guardian”. Sometimes with respect, sometimes with sneers or with contempt. Nothing bothered me. The only thing that would have bothered me would have been to let somebody past my post.

Countless time passed, it didn’t matter to me anymore. At one point, chaos started erupting in the castle. People were frantic, running around, usually armed to the teeth. After many evenings of soldiers running around, sometimes wounded, Melthano and another high wizard approached me.

“We need to get through here in order to save the castle!” Melthano shouted at me, desperation in his exhausted eyes.

I monotonously addressed them without looking down, only seeing them in my peripheral vision below my gaze. “I am The Guardian. It is my duty to ensure that nobody ever gets past me.”

“We need to get past you! You can let us pass!” shouted the other wizard. He shifted to a more pleading tone, “our last chance to defeat the invaders is within this hall.”

“Nobody gets past me.”

“We made you!” Melthano had rapidly become livid as spit flew from his mouth as he screeched at me.

“Nobody gets past me. That is my charge.”

They looked at each other before raising their arms, conjuring spells. I anticipated that. They were my creators, but they had become my enemies, actively trying to kill me. I raised my left arm to absorb a stream of fire from Melthano to my left as I whipped my sword out of its sheath in one swift motion and decapitated the other wizard before he could do anything. Melthano was momentarily stunned, surprised at seeing his comrade fall so fast, and with such swift brutality.

“We made you too strong and with too much conviction” Melthano whispered to himself as he faltered with his spell. His senses came back to him as he tried to cast a warding spell against my impending sword, but it was too late. I had already begun swinging my sword around and had reached his groin before proceeding up to his head, separating his left and right sides.

He fell, and I used his robe to wipe my sword clean before returning to my post.

Nobody gets past me.

I saw kings and queens, fair leaders and tyrants. I saw theirs births. I saw them age and die. Countless centuries went on. Every time a new leader took control of the castle, they would attempt to get past me before coming to the all-too-familiar decision of just leaving me alone to guard this one entrance.

I don’t know what I am guarding, but I will keep guarding it, as per my charge, and nobody will get past me.

The man who could hear again

For this week, I decided to try doing another writing prompt, titled:

20 years ago, a mysterious illness caused everyone to go deaf, and life has been altered to accommodate it since. You just found the cure, and decide to use it on yourself. As your hearing returns, you instantly regret making that decision.”

The man who could hear again

The silencing had already occurred 20 years ago. I was a teenager when it happened, and I can faintly remember the last sound I ever heard. I was at the park at night with an orchestra of cicadas providing a pleasant white noise against the backdrop of cars thundering by on the nearby highway. I was yelling for our dog to come back to me, when suddenly, I couldn’t hear me yelling for our dog anymore. It was a frightening change, and I quickly stopped yelling and simply tried snapping my fingers by my ear to try and produce some sort of auditory response, but nothing worked and the silence persisted.

I ran home to find my parents, hoping they would be able to help me or take me to a hospital. As I ran home though, I spotted a few other people who also seemed to be in a similar state of distress. One man was furiously smacking the side of his head. Another younger woman had pulled over her car and was opening her mouth and closing it again, presumably yelling, but I couldn’t be sure.

As I got home, I burst through the door, desperately wanting to find relief with my parents. My father was in the living room watching TV, doing what I had just been doing before and snapping his fingers by his ears. It was his face that was ingrained into my memory. A defeated face of terror stared at me as he realized not only did his hearing abilities disappear, but so did his son’s, and the rest of the world’s.

The television had text blurbs explaining that everyone on the world had simultaneously lost their hearing. That was 20 years ago, and still nobody is sure why it happened. Like so many others though, I studied in hopes of finding a cure. I started studying biology until switching to neurology, convinced that the issue lay in the brain.

After graduating from University, I joined a research team (which have been heavily subsidized and a major outlet of public spending ever since the silencing), and studied potential cures. It was frustratingly difficult to research and test because no other animal seemed to be affected, so animal testing didn’t really work since they didn’t have the issue, and if we could easily replicate the issue, then we would have known what caused it and therefore, the cure. Most research was therefore actually hypothetical models in computer programs. If someone was sure enough that they had finally discovered a solution, they would ideally find a willing subject to try the potential cure, or in some cases, they would test their potential cure on themselves.

I had been tirelessly working on a solution with my team, and I had seen something that had eluded us before. It seemed that there were a few neurons in the brain that signaled in normal ape brains when hearing sounds, and I had found a missing link in the human brain in my model. By carrying out the complex simulation, it seemed to show that the ability to hear could be processed again.

“Look at this” I frantically signed to my colleagues, since everyone now understood sign language.

It was getting late, and we were all tired, but the other 3 humored me and came over to look at my simulation running on my computer. I ran the simulation, showing how changing certain neurons would result in similar brain activity as other similar animals with auditory stimuli. They watched wordlessly, dumbfounded by the implications. Stefanie even gasped as the simulation ended, although nobody heard her of course.

“This is incredible” one of my colleagues, Jim, signed. He was one of the brightest in our research group. While he was obviously excited to have potentially found a cure, it was painfully obvious that he was envious that I discovered this before he did. “We need to run this simulation with a few other variables” he further signed after a brief pause.

“Of course” I signed back. I showed them what neurons I had isolated, and what they should pay attention to.

After several hours of further testing, we reconvened with our findings. We were exhausted after staying so many hours later than normal, but we were too excited to stop and sleep as this discovery could change everything.

“I had the same results” signed Stefanie. “It seems that this is the closest we have come to a solution. What do we do now?” She looked between me Jim, not sure who to defer to.

“We test it” Jim simply signed as he looked at me. “But who will test it?” Human testers had become expensive since the willing ones had been tested on already, sometimes with collateral damage or even death, meaning that the few who were still willing and capable were increasingly rare, and they now started commanding high prices for the risks they would be taking. Our research grant didn’t have the budget anymore for this year, but we needed to test it, and I was convinced that I had found the cure.

I pointed out my chest with my index finger and then moved my right open palm by my head, pointing forward with my fingertips. “I will.”

“Are you sure?” signed Stefanie, as she furrowed her brows in an overly-concerned expression.

Jim almost seemed smug, as if he hoped it wouldn’t work, but he kept himself professional enough. “Are you sure?” he simply question.

I nodded my head, and told them that we would meet in 2 days at the neuro-lab to see if I was correct.

Two days later, and I was laying in the hospital bed, slowly losing consciousness as I was put under before the operation. I wondered if I would be greeted by the same silence when I woke up, or if I would be able to hear after all. Or if I would still be mentally capable after waking up, or if I would even wake up at all.

I did wake up sometime later to a bright hospital room whose light pierced my cloudy eyes and whose thunderous sound pounded on my ears. Sound?! I could hear! I sat up rapidly, only to have the presiding doctor slowly push me back down by my chest so I remained lying down. My eyes were still cloudy, but it was luckily just an after-effect of being anesthetized. I rubbed my eyes, and my vision returned to me, and the gale of sound continued to assail my eyes.

“I can hear!” I excitedly signed to the few people surrounding my bed. They smiled and nodded congratulations to each other, but their proud and joyousness turned to confusion when I slowly clapped my hands over my ears, trying to dampen the noise. It was so loud, so much hammered into my ears, the sheer volume made my head split.

“What is it?” one of the doctors worryingly signed to me.

“It’s… just…” I started to sign, but quickly returned my hand to my ear to shield it from the omnipresent drone. “…too… loud…” I finished signing.

Ever since the silencing, production of all products, from consumer to industrial, didn’t pay heed to how loud the end products were. Audio pollution was no longer something that concerned humans, so they didn’t bother ensuring they made quiet cars or medical equipment or factories anymore, and it turned out that everything managed to get quite loud over the past 2 decades. So loud that it became deafening, which was ironically what we had been trying to fix. It was terrible, everywhere the loud drone of medical equipment, loud vehicles, grinding gears, and all sorts of other sounds made a wall of sound waves that was neither pleasant nor desirable to hear.

Tears ran down my face. Tears of joy at discovering a cure. Tears of the realization that we had worked so hard to hear the worst sound in the world since a Justin Bieber concert. It was no wonder that the numbers of most wild animals like birds and even rats had drastically decreased in areas near humans and their loud devices.

It proved to be hard to lobby for companies to make products quiet again when the general public couldn’t hear anyways, and neither could their development teams. Many would get cured, only to have similar issues with the noise that I experienced. Some people killed themselves over the unbearable noise. Others, including me, moved into more rural settings where there were fewer humans and less noise. It was quieter there, although modern houses still had a loud and persistent drone to them. I discovered music again though, and I would regularly walk through the forests and fields, listening to birds singing their songs for me as I strolled away from the literal drone of humanity.

The large majority of humanity decided to remain deaf and live in modern society, whereas all who did cure themselves had to move out of the overbearingly loud cities. Society itself changed as well. The two-decade old goal of restoring hearing was accomplished, and all the public funding that spent on that needed to be diverted elsewhere. An entire generations of scientists had to find other areas to work, and there was less solidarity in the world now that humanity itself didn’t have one common goal anymore.

I generally tried to just stay away from most of humanity though, living in peace away from the thunderous noise that humans had created and instead tried to gain comfort from the birds’ songs.

Antonteo, Magical Attorney

I did a writing prompt titled “You’re a mage who specialises in magical law and, to be more specific, legally and magically binding contracts. Whether it’s about selling your soul or trading a firstborn child, you got the papers covered.” I ended up going more of a private investigator route than attorney, but whatever. It was interesting, and I myself am curious about the city that I created, as it seems to be a weird mix of people and demons in once city, only staying in line due to some high mages. I could have gone into more detail, but I only spent a couple hours on it. Check it out!

Antonteo, Magical Attorney

I was sitting on my office, leaning back in my chair with my feet propped up on my desk, sipping on some bourbon when she walked in. She was obviously distraught, and if I wasn’t mistaken, crying, although demons didn’t every cry. I immediately had my suspicion, but I let her walk across the dusty, dimly lit room and settle in the hovering chair before addressing her. She was obviously in distress, and I wanted to approach her carefully.

I withdrew my feet from the table before sitting normally and addressing her. “What can I do for you Ma’am?” I waited for her to collect herself before pressing her further.

Her convulsing sobs seemed to get under control before the barely whispered, “I was supposed to be beautiful…” She wasn’t bad, if you had a thing for demons, which I didn’t, which was good because I don’t like getting caught up with clients.

I wasn’t sure how to address that though, so I awkwardly responded. “I think you are pretty enough….” as I failed in my attempt to console her.

“I should be a human!” she shrieked and fell back into sobbing.

Bingo. I had seen cases like this before. Human wants something and sold their soul for it. They likely weren’t clear enough, and the malicious entity that carried out the bargain utilized that for their advantage. It made sense that she was in my office, she wanted this contract inspected and ideally nullified. This was my forté.

I waited for her to calm down before pressing on. It explained the sobbing, a human reaction, on this objectively attractive demon, as far as demons go, since demons didn’t cry or sob: those were human emotions.

After a few minutes, she composed herself, and she related that she had desired to be the most beautiful women in Zaloriva, the city we inhabited. In her quest to be the prettiest women, she eventually came into contact with Xul’ragi, a particularly infamous demon who basically ran a mafia ring. Xul’ragi agreed to make her the most prettiest woman ever, for her eternal servitude in his domain after she died. Tanora, as she finally introduced herself, had agreed. Unbeknownst to her, since she did not consult an attorney beforehand, the pact did not specify which race she would be the most beautiful in, so he turned her into the most beautiful demon to himself, which very much explained why he wanted her in eternal servitude after she died. She now wanted to see what she could do about repealing the pact and gaining her human body back.

“My fees are 100 gold coins per hour, plus other expenses” I informed her.

She sighed before resigning to the cost, “So be it, please just get me my body back”. I was curious how she was going to pay for it, and more importantly, why she wanted to be the prettiest women ever, but I didn’t question my clients motives, as long as they paid.

We departed my office, and I closed the door behind us, admiring the silver placard embedded into the door. Antonteo, Magical Attorney. I hadn’t been working as an attorney very long, only a couple years in fact, but my success had rapidly propelled me in the professional circle, although it would still be a long time before I had a better office. I told Tanora to come back in 2 days, and I would see what I could do. The first thing to do was to go to Xul’ragi.

I had to visit an old acquaintance of mine first. I hastily made my way through the market and arrived at the Judicial Academy, where all lawyers and judges, both in normal and magic affairs, trained. I went to Barthon’s office and patiently waited for him now that I was at my destination. After an hour or so of waiting, he came into my office, flustered, and then slightly annoyed at seeing me.

“Hello Antonteo” he almost sighed, “what brings you around these parts?” He seemed like he had more that he wanted to say, but he cut himself short.

“I think you might be interested in a case of mine.”

He eyed me doubtfully with a side-glance. “You say that every time Antonteo” he said while organizing the books that he had brought into the office with him from the class he had just taught. He had a knack of saying my name as often as possible, doubtless to display his distaste for me.

“This time it’s different. This time it has to do with Xul’ragi” I said while barely containing a smirk.

This got his attention. “OK Antonteo, you have my attention” he said as he turned around and sat in his desk, fully facing me. Like many others, Xul’ragi had also made a pact with Barthon’s brother which had resulted in him being eternally damned, only to settle a fued between him and another denizen. It was binding, and there was nothing anyone could do about it, and Barthon always wanted revenge, but since he was impartial, he could never judge in any case involving Xul’ragi, since Barthon was a Head Magical Judge in Zaloriva.

“I know I pester you with help from time to time, but I will particularly need your help with this one.”

“Go on…” he coolly compelled.

“I need to read the contract that Xul’ragi has, and while I am sure that it is rock-solid, as it always is, I might mention that I have a witness who can testify against the legality of the contract. We know he plays dirty, and by tampering with the investigation, in whichever way I am sure he will, we can catch him red handed, and make him settle with a plea deal.”

“That’s not entirely allowed-” Barthon Began.

“But it’s not entirely illegal to ‘mention’ that I have a witness who can testify against him!” I interrupted. “Besides, he tricked her, and that alone holds the possibility to charge him as he withheld that information.”

“The morality of the situation was briefly considered by Barthon before agreeing, as he desperately wanted to see Xul’ragi punished in some way or another.

After settling the specifics of how things would entail, I left his office and headed to the Harbor of the Damned on the south side of the city, where Xul’ragi and his cohorts tended to hang out. More than a couple shady people looked upon me with curiosity, but I carried a sense of superiority that left them unwilling to provoke me. I eventually managed to locate the current club where Xul’ragi was at, and I pushed my way in, demanding an audience with him.

I entered through some curtained doorways into the back. I suspected that the curtains might actually be strips of flesh, but it wasn’t the worst I had heard that these demons did. Xul’ragi was resting on a chair which was fashioned to look like a throne made out of a dragon skull. He was tall, with pale black skin. His long bony legs were crossed as he drank from a goblet which he held with one of his 4 arms. His short wings, which didn’t look big enough to be functional, were tucked behind him, and his piercing gaze with his toothy smile beamed down on me as I entered the room.

“Ahh, Antonteo… I have heard so much about you” he rasped with his surprisingly high pitched voice.

“And I, you” I simply replied.

“And what can I do for you on this glorious afternoon?” he said with a stiff upper lip.

“I have come to address the pact that has been created between you and a Ms. Tanora.”

“Hmm.. Ms.. Tanora you say?” and then after a brief pause of obvious stalling “Ah yes! I recall her, and what about our pact? It is signed in blood and is binding, just like all my pacts.”

“It is believed that Tanora may have signed that contract under duress, which would weaken the binding, but more importantly, I have an eye witness that states that Tanora did not in fact sign the contract with blood, as per requirements for all magical and supernatural contracts, but with a normal pen, only accepted with non-fantastic contracts. Additionally, you withheld information pertaining to which race she would be most beautiful in. As such, I demand access to inspect the contract and divine whether these claims hold any value.” I sat there waiting for his response as he eyed me with contempt for a few, long moments.

“My contracts are always performed to the letter so your magical judges can’t cause me any trouble, and yet, here you attorneys are, all the time, trying to get someone out of a pact.” Xul’ragi then made some odd sound that sound like snarling while a pot was being hit. I was a little on edge, but it must have been some command, as someone came from a side room carrying a scroll which he brought to the table in the center of the room and laid out.

I read through the contract. As expected, it was devoid of loopholes. I pondered which lawyers were writing his contracts, as they were the most solid contracts I had ever seen. Since I also had basic magic abilities, I divined the scroll, which, also as expected, revealed that the scroll was signed by 2 willing parties, and the signature was indeed blood. There wasn’t much to do against the contract, and I briefly worried that I wouldn’t be able to do anything for my client.

“The contract appears to be in order, but as I mentioned, there is a witness who claims to see Tanora signing the contract under duress, so I will have to meet up with them and see about possible litigation. Additionally, your lack of race in the contract is misleading.”

“This is a farce, and Tanora is lying, but please, carry on” he said, dismissing me with a wave as he sat back on his throne.

I left the club and then went back to the market district, where I would meet up with the “witness.” As I approached the witness, I asked about the conditions under which he saw Tanora signing the contract. About halfway through my question though, an arc of lightning erupted from behind me, hitting my supposed witness, which vanished in a cloud of smoke. The witness didn’t go up in ashes like a normal person would, but in smoke because it was simply an apparition, and a particularly strong one that was linked to a hex that would locate and stun the caster.

Barthon had cast the spell upon seeing me enter the market in hopes that this might happen, as per our plan. While Xul’ragi played by the books with legal matters where he could get in trouble with the high judges of the city, he still wasn’t apposed to criminal acts. Unsurprisingly, the culprit was one of his demons, and Barthon quickly found him and ensnared him with magical shackles. This demon wasn’t very strong willed, and he quickly confessed to being sent by Xul’ragi.

We rapidly informed the security division of the mage’s order, and a contingent of highly skilled mages was dispatched with me to Xul’ragi’s place. We arrested Xul’ragi under connections to the attempted murder, and what I was hoping for, Section 8.7, subsection a:

Any attempt to interfere in the investigation of magical contracts will null the contract if either of the 2 parties desires it.

Even though it had only been an apparition, the fact that they tried to eliminate a possible witness meant they had interfered, and Tanora could nullify the contract. It was a stretch, but Xul’ragi had a bad enough record that the High Judges would let it slide, as it was nothing compared to the other charges they had in store for him.

And all that in just a day’s work; that’s why I had such a good reputation, and even Barthon seemed to warm up to me after that. Two days later, as planned, Tanora came by my office. She nervously sat down while I sipped on my bourbon.

“…and?” she sheepishly asked, still visibly upset. I wordlessly slid her the contract.

“It’s a long story, but I managed to get him to interfere in the investigation, making the contract voidable by either party.”

“So that means that I can not be locked away indefinitely, and I can also get my old human body back?!” Her upset had quickly changed to excitement.

“Yes” I smugly said, proud of my own success.

“Great, then how do we do it?” She eagerly pressed me for a resolution.

“700 gold.” I simply said. She looked confused for a second, so I continued, “My hourly fees. I spent 7 hours on your case.”

“Oh… right…” she started slowly reaching for he coin purse.

“I am not running a charity, unfortunately” I jokingly said, but also slightly annoyed that she seemed so reluctant about paying. She wordlessly handed me the gold, and I then pushed the contract right in front of her to the edge of the table.

“What now?” she pressed.

“The ward’s protecting the contract are now removed for you, you can shred it if you desire.” Unsure if it would really work, she slowly went to shred the paper. As she did so, her body was engulfed in light. She continued shredding the paper in a delightful fervor. When the light enveloping her subsided, there was a remarkable woman sitting in front of me. She had long blonde hair, almost like the Naire of the Summer’s Plains. With a narrow physique and slanted eyes, she almost resembled a young woman, Asian in appearance, but with radiant blonde hair.

“I am sorry it cost so much, but I hope you are happy with not being stuck in eternal servitude, and that you have your human body back. And for what it’s worth, I think you’re pretty enough as is.”

She only seemed to be focused on the money part. “It doesn’t matter much anyways, I will get prettier other ways and find a rich man to marry and get all the money back after I leave him.” With her body back, and me paid, she promptly stood up and walked out the room, leaving in such a haste that she left the door slightly ajar. I paid no attention to the door though as I leaned back in my chair, setting my feet on my desk, and continued sipping my bourbon, waiting for another client to come into my office.

I may have not played fair in lying to Xul’ragi about the supposed witness, but he had performed much more heinous acts, and needed some dirt to finally get him in for it. I felt even less guilty about lying after considering that Tanora was trying to get better looks only for getting money from men. She was already pretty enough, and a human again, but sometimes you never know who is truly a demon on the inside, even if they don’t look like one.

Oh well, this whole city was full of demons, whether literally or figuratively, and I had to make a living somehow. I also had my own list of dirty laundry, so I couldn’t judge others.

Asmund, Sirensbane

I did another writing prompt titled “A group of Viking encounters a Siren at sea, her voice is luring the men to their doom – except one. Now it’s up to a closeted gay Viking to save the day.” and this is what I came up with.

Asmund, Sirensbane

Asmund and the others were camped near their boats. They had spent the past couple of days traveling across the strait, searching for their next target. They were vikings, and they were looking to do what vikings did best: plunder. They had heard about this village, Haldor, before, but they had never taken the time to attack it. Haldor didn’t lie immediately on the coast like most other villages they pillaged, but was removed from the beach by a few kilometers of dangerous swampy terrain, which afforded it a natural protection against attackers from the sea, like Asmund and his band. Haldor had a reputation of being a wealthy village due to the lack of frequent attackers. Haldor was also reputably completely walled in, and something worth protecting must also be worth plundering. A final rumor that circulated about Haldor was that its night watch was entirely women which bolstered Asmund’s clan’s resolve to attack it, ideally at night when the women would presumably be easier to beat than the battle hardened group of men they were with.

Gunnar, the leader of Asmund’s raiding party, barked orders for them to set up their camp. He appointed 4 of the three dozen men to stand watch over the night to ensure nothing took them by surprise. Asmund and Bjarke, one of Asmund’s closest friends, conversed with each other while eating dinner before retiring for the night, ready to head out early the next morning through the swamp which separated them and Haldor.

“EVERYBODY UP” Gunnar’s voice bellowed throughout the camp. Gunnar sprung our of bed, grabbing his sword, expecting an attack. There were no attackers though, just the confused vikings milling about, wondering why they were so suddenly woken. “I woke up early this morning, only to find that out night watch was not watching us. Where did they go?!” his rage was barely contained, with spittle flying out of his mouth with every word he yelled. The others had no idea, since they had slept through the night.

After a few minutes of trying to establish what happened to the 4 night watchers, another viking came back and addressed Gunnar. “Gunnar, it seems that 4 pairs of footprints left from the watch’s post and wandered into the swamp.”

“Wandered into the swamp?! Did they not come back out?”

“It appears not, they may have gotten lost. I looked briefly, but the tracks are hard to follow in the swamp.”

“Well we don’t have all day, we need to get to Haldor. Take a few men to investigate this while the rest of us pack up camp and start heading through this infernal swamp.” Asmund and Bjarke passed a confused look between them. Nobody had ever really deserted one of their raids, and the 4 that did disappear had been battle-hardened vikings.

Everyone packed up the camp and were marching through the swamp, filling their boots with muddy water and swatting mosquitoes. As they trudged through the muck, Bjarke struck up a conversation with Asmund. “So what do you think happened to last night’s watch?” asked Bjarke, seeming anxious to even ask.

“I am not really sure” Asmund slowly replied.

“I have heard weird stories about this swamp before. I was honestly a little afraid to come at all.”

“What sort of stories?” Asmund pressed, already suspecting what he would say.

“There have been stories of men getting swept away by creatures of the night, another one of the reasons Haldor is never attacked.”

“Yea” Asmund paused before continuing, searching for the right words. “I have heard similar things. I hoped the stories to exist only to scare off would-be attackers, but we will have to be extra vigil.”

“Let’s agree to watch each other?” Bjarke almost pleaded, hoping to find some sort of security amongst this unknown.

“Of course” Asmund smiled.

Other than mud holes, wet shoes, and swarms of mosquitoes, the rest of the day passed fairly uneventfully. They trudged through the swamp until they had gotten close to the edge of the swamp, and therefore had gotten within a short distance of Haldor. A relatively flat and dry clearing was found and a camp was set up where they would raid from. The 4 guards from the previous night were never found, so Gunnar wanted everyone to stay awake to protect against whatever caused the others to go missing before setting out on their raid.

The vikings were restless as they waited for darkness to come. A light meal and some ale was enjoyed before the impending raid, but appetites were low. As the shadows got longer and the sky grew darker, the vikings prepared to walk the last hour or so to Haldor before initiating their raid. It was then, as the twilight evolved to its darkest dusk, that a slow and entrancing voice started to flow from the swamp in the direction that they had traveled from. It started off barely audible, almost like a slight humming, but as it got louder, it started to get the attention of many of the men. The beautiful voice was soothing at first, but like a drug, the men wanted more.

“That voice… it’s so beautiful” Bjarke hungrily said, eager for more.

“But we have to leave for Haldor in a matter of minutes” objected Asmund.

“I know, but I have to find the source of this voice first, I need to hear it much closer.” Bjarke started to walk into the direction of the voice, along with the majority of the other vikings. It seemed like Asmund alone was immune to the call from the swamp. Asmund ran over to Gunnar in order to tell him that he needed to stop everyone from going into the wrong direction. Gunnar also seemed to be transfixed on the singing from the swamp. Asmund grabbed Gunnar by the arm in order to stop him and get his attention, but Gunnar just attempted to shrug off his hand before violently pushing Asmund away, desperate to continue to the source of the singing.

Asmund attempted to stop several others, but he was similarly shoved aside by the rest of his vikings, and he could do nothing more than helplessly watch as his entire group walked back into the swamp, zombily seeking out the singing. Asmund didn’t know what to do other than follow the rest, but he had enough wits about him to bring his sword.

As they got deeper into the swamp, the singing got louder, but it was joined by more voices, creating a chorus of ensnaring music. Asmund didn’t understand why he wasn’t as enthralled as the others, but he had always felt differently about certain things, and he wondered if this had anything to do with it because he knew he was a little different than most of the other men. His thoughts were cut short as he heard a short scream which was quickly muffled, followed by thrashing water. Asmund ran forward to see what had happened, only to see them. Sirens. There was 3 of them singing, leading the men to them. They were objectively pretty: tall, slender bodies almost stood on the water. They all had long, flowing blonde hair which curled at the ends. Frail arms were barely covering their perky breasts with sections of clothing as they innocently blushed with slight embarrassment. Petite faces with longing, blue eyes beckoned to the men as they sang from perfectly formed lips, but within those lips was a line of razor sharp teeth, almost like nails, ready to tear flesh apart.

Asmund had a dreading realization that the rumors of the swamp were true. Beautiful sirens with voices of angels that led men to their doom. Asmund didn’t seem to be affected by their singing due to the fact that he had never been interested in women, and instead had always been fond of men.

A fourth siren emerged from the water. Her teeth were still bared, and her razor-sheep teeth showed hints of red from the blood of his comrade that they had just lost. Asmund didn’t hesitate and moved towards her. While the siren assumed he would become her next victim, Asmund’s resolve held strong, much unlike her neck as he removed her head from her body with a swift stroke of his sword. The other sirens let out a screech that was a sharp contrast to their harmonic chorus from before which startled all of the other vikings who groggily came back to their senses.

The other men, who were still coming to their senses, weren’t any help though when the remaining 3 sirens set on Asmund, intent on killing him after recognizing that their singing didn’t affect him. Asmund was a battle hardened viking though, and he quickly dispatched the siren which was unlucky enough to be the first to reach him. The other 2 sirens hesitated, seeing that this man was going to cause them more trouble than it was worth for this night. They retreated into the murky water, leaving Asmund and the others fumbling in the darkness in the swamp.

Asmund knew which direction they came from and luckily managed to led the rest back to their camp after wandering back through the swamp for a couple hours. It was well into early morning by the time they got back to the camp and, exhausted from an entire night of walking through the swamp, almost everyone went immediately to sleep.

It wasn’t Gunnar’s angry call or a siren’s song that awoke the camp the following morning, but the thunderous drone of horses galloping into their camp. Still exhausted from the lack of sleep from the previous night, Asmund and the others offered little resistance as warriors from Haldor stormed into their camp, effectively capturing the would-be attackers and taking them prisoner.

Asmund, Bjarke, and the others were sitting in the holding pen while the Haldor’s elders spoke with Gunnar.

“What do you think is going to happen to us?” Bjarke nervously asked, his eyes continuously darting between Asmund and the door.

“I don’t know” Asmund exhaustingly replied. He was so tired, but the adrenaline of being captured by the very ones they came to pillage was too much to allow for sleep.

Silence overcame them until the door opened and one of the guards yelled for Asmund. Everyone slowly looked towards him, somehow half surprised that Asmund was specifically summoned, yet not surprised in light of last night and how he was the only one who fought against the sirens.

Asmund got up and walked towards the door. He was ushered into a room in the stone guardhouse overlooking the holding pens where he found Gunnar sitting with a man and woman across him at the table. Around the table was half a dozen guards, ready to strike Gunnar or Asmund down if they attempted to resist.

“Please, take a seat” the man at the table beckoned to the empty seat next to Gunnar while addressing Asmund. Asmund took his seat and the man continued “Gunnar, your leader, tells me that you and you alone were able to resist the call of the siren and even managed to slay some of them.”

“That is true. I heard their songs, but I wasn’t lost in it.” Asmund wasn’t sure how much to reveal, and Gunnar’s expression was too stoic to derive how to act.

“Let me introduce myself” the man continued. “My name is Egil and this is Eira” indicating the woman sitting to his side. “We are both elders in this village, this village that you planned to attack.” Asmund cast a furtive glance to Gunnar. “It’s OK, we know. It’s obvious too, you look like raiders, and we are mere farmers and shepherds, tending to our crop, ripe for the picking” Egil almost sneered as he continued “but we have some unfortunate defenses that you seemed to encounter. These sirens keep some attackers at bay, but even so, we have walls and food and have held out against all attackers. We can’t expand though due to the sirens, and our village will never become greater than it is due to the sirens luring off all of the men that are outside the walls at night.” Egil’s manner and tone shifted from his cocky behavior from before to an attitude more akin to an awed child. “The legends tell of a warrior sent from the heavens who would be immune to the siren’s call and lead our village to greatness. If what happened last night is true, then we believe you may be the one from the legends!”

Asmund didn’t know what to say. Until last night, they had been intent on ransacking this village, and now they were revering him. “And Gunnar?” He asked, not sure how else to respond as he looked at his leader.

“He is not needed, he is not part of the prophecy. We will send him away or let him reside here, whatever you wish, but you must aid us in our quest to eliminate the sirens and lead our village to greatness. If the others stay, they will have to farm, because we don’t need male warriors, they are susceptible to the sirens’ call. That is why we have women warriors; we have to lock all men in their houses and use women guards to ensure that we don’t lose anyone to the damned songs. But you have killed sirens! Your are the one!” Asmund didn’t know what to say, this was all too much too fast, but his contemplation were cut short as Egil continued “But, it is possible that you are all lying. To ensure that you truly are the one of legends, we are sending you out tonight with a small contingent of our best warrior women, along with Gunnar. If you come back victorious, then we will know you to be the one from the legends. If you die, then that’s 2 less prisoners we need to figure out what to do with.”

With that, Egil and Eira stood up and exited the room. Asmund and Gunnar were then led back to the holding pen where they regrouped with the others. They were questioned by the others on what happened, and they told them. After being fed a paltry ration, Asmund attempted to catch some sleep during the day before heading out again in the night.

Asmund was awoken by the nudge of a guard’s boot in his side. He stood up and saw that Gunnar was already standing by the door. The two were led to the armory, where they rendezvoused with 6 women adorned with armor, swords, and spears. Asmund and Gunnar were given lighter armor and no weapons in fear that they retaliate, before heading out into the night. As they approached the swamp, a heavenly song reached out to greet them. A siren was singing for the men, enticing them further into the swamp. Gunnar instantly was captivated, hungrily going deeper into the swamp, followed by Asmund and the women.

They proceeded deeper into the swamp and were met with more voices, the chorus of sirens starting up again. “As you can see,” Asmund addressed the women “Gunnar is completely infatuated, and while I do hear the singing, I am not taken over it like he is” as he pointed towards Gunnar, who was walking ever faster in order to find the source of the music.

One of the warriors just grunted and menacingly pulled out her sword. Afraid that they might attack them, Asmund prepared to flee, but instead she spoke to him for the first time that night. “Kill the siren and prove yourself to be from the legend” she simply said, handing him the sword. Asmund took the sword and turned around to see that Gunnar was no longer in sight. He took off in the direction of the singing and found Gunnar shortly before the water’s edge, only a dozen feet away from the sirens in the water.

Intent on saving Gunnar from the same fate as the others, Asmund charged ahead, followed by the women. He barreled past Gunnar and leapt into the water, bringing down his sword into the head of the nearest siren who immediately died under the blow. The other 2 sirens again let out that ear piercing screech, attacking him from either side. The siren on his left closed the distance quicker than Asmund could remove the sword from the fallen Siren and she lunged for his throat. Asmund barely got his arm up in time as the siren sunk her teeth into his forearm, causing a torrent of blood to erupt where her sharp teeth pierced his skin.

Asmund pushed her away with his arm that she was latched onto while removing his sword from the other siren. He then deftly flicked the sword to the left and impaled her. As she let go of his arm and let out a screech as she died, Asmund heard a thrashing from behind, in the direction of the remaining siren.

Asmund quickly turned around, swinging his sword and hitting nothing. The siren was already dead, impaled by 3 spears from the women. Gunnar stood up to his ankles in the muddy water, again regaining his senses after being dispelled from the entrance of the song. The other women were securing the perimeter when the one who gave Asmund his sword approached him. He moved to give the sword back to her, but she refused.

“The sword is yours to keep” she slowly pushed his outstretched arm with the sword down. “From this day on, you will be known as ‘Asmund, Sirensbane’.”

They made their way back to Haldor and Asmund was given a bed fit for a king to sleep in. The next morning he was paraded through the city as a hero. The other vikings opted to stay in the village and work in the fields while Asmund struck up a task force that went out on nightly runs to kills sirens.

Asmund’s task force eliminated many sirens, although they seemed to always be more. Regardless, the border was slowly pushed back and after many years, Haldor grew in size and prosperity since more people could safely live there with the siren’s call becoming an ever decreasing threat.

After an entire year of no deaths to sirens and in celebration of the city’s success, Asmund was named the first King of Haldor. Women were flocking to be his hand in marriage as his tales of greatness and legendary status were second to none. During his coronation feast, many women flirted with him, making all of the other men jealous. It didn’t matter much to Asmund though. While he was happy to have helped this village become the city it was today and to be its king, the women just didn’t interest him, and his eyes’ focus was on the shirtless male entertainers that paraded around in front of him, a desire which luckily afforded him an immunity to the siren’s call.

End